Time management strategies for CPAs: Surviving the busy season with a smile

woman looking at her watch with an open planner to represent time management strategies for accountants

Picture this: You look up from the mountain of paperwork on your desk to glance at the clock. It's already 3:00 p.m. and you wonder, "Where did the day go?" 

As a CPA, this scenario might hit too close to home, especially as the busy season looms large on the horizon. Managing time isn't just about squeezing more hours into your day (if only!), it's about making those hours count. And let's face it: when tax season rolls around, every minute is as precious as that last doughnut in the break room. 

5 time management strategies for CPAs 

Below is a list of time management strategies to improve your productivity without increasing your workload or stress levels. Start practicing these now, before the long hours of accounting busy season push you into survival mode. 

Become a morning person 

Start your day earlier than usual. Yes, the snooze button is tempting, but those extra minutes in the morning can be a game-changer. Use this quiet time to plan your day, tackle the most challenging tasks, or enjoy a peaceful cup of coffee before the emails start flying. 

Remember, a productive morning starts the night before. You won’t feel refreshed and ready to start your workday early if you burned the midnight oil the night before. Decide when you want to wake up, then count backward seven or eight hours to determine when to go to bed so you can wake up ready to start the day. 

Prioritize your most important tasks

 Your to-do list might have 70 items on it, but not all tasks are created equal. It's important to ask yourself which items on your to-do list really need to get done today and focus on those.

James Clear, author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Atomic Habits, recommends the Ivy Lee Method1 for deciding what you need to work on first. The Ivy Lee Method has five steps: 

  1. At the end of each workday, write down the six most important things you must accomplish tomorrow. Don’t write down more than six to-dos! 
  2. Rank those six tasks in order of importance, from most important to least important. 
  3. When you begin work the following day, concentrate only on the first task. Finish it before moving on to the second task. 
  4. Continue working through your list in the same way. Move any unfinished tasks to your new list of six tasks for tomorrow. 
  5. Repeat this process every workday. When you focus on the essential work, you won’t spend precious time color-coding your calendar when you have a stack of tax returns that need to be reviewed. 

Build short breaks into your day 

Working in short bursts may seem counterintuitive but it can help you maintain your focus throughout the entire workday. Try the Pomodoro Technique2 which involves working for 25 minutes and then taking a 5-minute break. After four “pomodoros,” or 25-minute sessions, you take a longer, more restorative 15- to 30-minute break. 

During a pomodoro, don’t let anything distract you from the task at hand—don’t check email, look at notifications on your phone, or switch to another task unless you’ve finished one and are moving to the next on your list. 

The Pomodoro Technique makes it easy to start working on a big project by breaking it down into small chunks and gamifies productivity by encouraging you to finish a challenging project in a certain number of pomodoros or fit an extra pomodoro into your workday. It's like interval training for your brain, helping keep your mind fresh and preventing you from burning out by 2 p.m. 

Delegate like a pro 

Remember, you're not an army of one. Delegate tasks that don't require your specific expertise or experience level. Of course, delegation is only truly effective when you do it right, so follow these tips to delegate like a pro: 

  • Clearly communicate who you’re giving the task to and why. Ensure the person receiving the task has all the information and instructions they need to complete the assignment and what you consider a successful result. 
  • Empower and support your team along the way. Don’t micromanage your team, but when you delegate a project, ensure they know you’re available for questions or clarifications. For large projects, like an audit that spans several weeks, you might want to schedule daily or weekly check-ins to offer guidance and constructive feedback. 
  • Be open to new ideas or ways of doing the work. Delegating means focusing on the results—not the process for getting the job done. Don’t shut down delegation just because the other person doesn’t handle a task the way you would’ve done it. Handing off work effectively will free up your time for the high-level work that genuinely needs your attention. 

Put away your phone

If better managing your time management is one of your goals this year, you need to be aware of the #1 enemy of productivity: your smartphone—specifically, all those notifications from emails, text messages, social media platforms, and other apps. They might seem helpful, but they’re a time management killer. 

Right about now, you’re thinking, “But I need email notifications! What if I get an email I need to respond to right away?” Writing for Wired Magazine, Dan Ariely of Duke University explains a survey his team conducted to understand email usage for employees at a mid-size company. According to their research3

  • 12% of emails need to be seen within five minutes of being sent 
  • 11% of emails need to be seen within a few hours 
  • 17% of emails need to be seen by the end of the day 
  • 10% of emails need to be seen by the end of the week 
  • 15% of emails need to be seen “at some point” 
  • 35% of emails fall into the “no need to see” category 

Instead of letting your smartphone or email app run your day, turn off all push notifications. Set specific times to check your phone and email and keep it out of sight when focusing on a task. 

Build time management skills through Becker CPE

If you want to learn more about how to improve your productivity and manage your time, why not earn CPE credits at the same time? Consider these CPE courses that can help you work more effectively: 

With a Prime CPE subscription, you can access over 700 on-demand courses that easily fit your busy schedule and help you build your skills.

Discover why Prime CPE is the leading CPE subscription for CPAs in this video review from Crush the CPA!

Featured Articles


  1. James Clear, “The Ivy Lee Method: The Daily Routine Experts Recommend for Peak Productivity,” accessed January 30, 2024. 
  2. Laura Scroggs, “The Pomodoro Technique,” Todoist, accessed January 30, 2024. 
  3. Dan Ariely, “Why you should turn off push notifications right now,” Wired, published April 12, 2016, accessed January 30, 2024.

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