And We’re Off! The Tax Accountant’s Busy Season Survival Guide

This month marks my fourth busy season in public accounting. If you’ve never experienced a tax season before, buckle up – things are about to get interesting (aka hectic, chaotic, and at times, overwhelming). That’s the not-so-good the news. The good news? Whether it’s your first or your 21st tax go-round, there are a multitude of proven tips and tricks to make the next few months as manageable as possible. For some, now begins a prolonged stretch full of calming teas, aromatherapy candles, chocolate, coffee, and Advil to make things better. While these items may provide a momentary reprieve from the breakneck seasonal pace (especially the coffee), I’ve personally found that they are more of a temporary fix instead of a sustainable solution to the annual frenzy.

In my short time in public accounting, I have realized that there are a few key items that help me power through the busiest months of the year, with my sanity intact:

Whether you are a first-year staff or a senior manager, communicating your needs to your teammates is essential to both foster trust and minimize misunderstandings. It’s perfectly natural to feel like you’re in over your head sometimes, so when you do – speak up. Voicing your concerns early and soliciting extra support is so much more productive than waiting until the deadline is on the horizon and you’re completely overwhelmed. Yes, I get it; asking for help is hard. However, no one on your team will resent you for being open and honest about your ability to complete a task by deadline. Remember, our industry is team-based for a reason. You’re never in it alone. Your team will either help you achieve the task at hand, or find ways for you to work more effectively with available resources for a better final solution.

I am a textbook perfectionist, which is great most of the time. However, when things don’t go precisely as planned, I can find myself trending towards panic. Newsflash: in public accounting, “precisely as planned” often feels like an urban legend. Give up the notion of perfection and embrace your ability to think on your feet. Presented with new information? Use it an opportunity consult with your seniors, your staff, and your partners to adjust your game plan before things begin to veer off-course. Having these small team meetings when a project is getting derailed will help lower the stress levels and keep the team communication channels open.

One of my favorite authors is Brené Brown. In her most recent book, she discusses the TASC Approach, which stands for the “Accountability and Success Checklist”. In the book, Brown breaks down TASC as follows:

  1. T—Who owns the task?
  2. A—Do they have the authority to be held accountable?
  3. S—Do we agree that they are set up for success (time, resources, clarity)?
  4. C—Do we have a checklist of what needs to happen to accomplish the task?

Delegation can (at least at first) seem like we are ridding ourselves from certain tasks on our to-do list. However, delegating various jobs plays a key role in retaining ownership of responsibilities and ensuring our team is set-up for successful project completion. Working with our colleagues and carefully choosing what we delegate and what we perform ourselves can build the skills of our team while also increasing efficiency. Reaching out to mentors within your firm can help you gauge when (and when not) to pass along projects to other team members.

It’s easy to put yourself on the backburner when work ramps up with looming deadlines. My first busy season, I seldom exercised and was consumed by my work. The last few years, however, I have prioritized my health; as a result, my productivity and performance have both improved. Put simply: I have realized that my work gets better when I set aside some time for myself. When we care for ourselves, we can care for our clients. This can be difficult to see at first, but was a realization that helped me tremendously.

Good luck, buckle up and we’ll see you on the other side!