I know the feeling. You’re head long into the difficulties of tax season and hoping to just survive it. It may be too late to make major changes to systems, policies or procedures, but there are steps you can take to make tax season more survivable.
I have discovered while running my own practice that maintaining a good mental attitude and spirit of gratitude, can be the best medicine during tough times, especially when combined with stretches of long working hours. Assessing your own time management is something that can make the biggest difference. Here are some of my best tips, antidotes and practical advice for a busy tax season.
- Plan for the Future – If tax season isn’t going as well as you hoped then plan to make changes. Spend a few hours meeting with your team and make positive plans towards the future. Tax season is not the time to make dramatic changes but is the right time to document what you don’t like and collect ideas for improvement. Look to course work, conferences and strategic meetings as early as May for getting a jump on enhancing next year’s tax season.
- Stay on top – As tax season progresses, take a few minutes at the end of each day to keep your desk and office organized and uncluttered. Time spent searching for documents that are buried under piles of paper and file folders is wasted and stressful, and coming in to a clean office in the morning will give that little boost you need to hit the ground running.
- Close your door – Find concentrated time where you can focus. Continual interruptions from phone calls, emails, and meetings can be real time killers! I find it beneficial to pick the most challenging task at hand, and work on it until it's completed. If this means closing your door, so be it. Creating an office policy that allows for this could be advantageous.
- Phone Calls and Email – Attempt to return calls just before lunchtime or at the end of the day. Individuals who you call back at those times tend to want to head out to lunch or go home for the day and will keep their conversations short. In addition, strive for a clean inbox. I don't go home until my inbox is empty. Write your emails in no more than three sentences. If you can’t fit it into three sentences, get on the phone, or better yet, utilize video conference. Whatever method you choose, keep phone calls and email from being the time management killer.
- Delegate/Outsource - Whenever possible, delegate. Keep your team working, by handing off some administrative tasks. This means you'll have more time and energy to focus on what you do best – preparing tax returns. Spend some time delegating some of the easier returns to your junior staff. This not only frees you up but allows your firm to grow.
- Keep Work and Personal Time Separate.You need the ability to unwind and carrying work home doesn't make you a more effective employee or person. If you're a home-based worker, keep your business space separate from your personal space so you can enjoy your family. Personal and family time recharges us and allows us to return to the grind refreshed. Make sure your priorities are in place.
- Be Kind to Others – Everyone is in this together. You need your team and they need you. Finding ways to be kind elevates the entire culture of your office. No one loves tax season, and a negative environment only adds to the strain. Make sure you have a brief weekly meeting to applaud successes and recognize individual contributions. Let your team pick the lunch or snack for these meetings. Don’t use this time to ask them to do more. Simply create a culture of kindness
- Take a Break - Take time for yourself, even if it’s only for a few minutes. A quick break from your desk every couple of hours will recharge your batteries so you can remain focused. I find that taking a walk clears my head and energizes my thought processes. If you work at home, find non-work-related activities as a brief diversion. You will feel refreshed and get more done in less time because you’ll have a concentrated focus.
- Clients Come First – Don’t forget who pays the bills! It is easy to focus on work and not client communication. No one likes to be left in the dark. A quick call, text or email serves you well to keep your client in the loop. If necessary, have an administrative team member assist with daily client interaction.
- Don’t Make Any Major Changes Now – I know things can go haywire at any time, avoid the temptation to make major changes. Understand the difference between tweaks and reconstruction. A full re-vamping of the office must come after tax season unless disaster strikes. Check with your team first if you are tempted to make full on changes.
Whether you implement some or all these concepts, be sure to plan a reward, you’re going to need some R&R after the busy season ends. As a bonus give yourself something to look forward to by planning a vacation, golf weekend, or other fun activity. Once that’s over, get ready for the next tax season by developing the right time management practices that make you and your team successful.
by Mike Giardina, EVP of Product, OfficeTools