10 tips to help accountants get ahead of tax busy season
When is tax busy season? From January to April, typically the first quarter of the year, tax accountants can expect to be incredibly busy. Whether you’re a solo practitioner or work for a large accounting firm, a newly minted CPA or a grizzled veteran, tax busy season is a beast. The long hours and high stress can take a toll on you physically, mentally and emotionally. But with some advance preparation, you can set yourself up to not just survive but thrive during this busy time.
Below are 10 tips to help CPAs weather the upcoming tax busy season.
1. Stay current on tax news
Given the pandemic-related tax credits, energy-related tax provisions and the potential changes coming to personal, business and estate tax laws, experts expect a surge in demand for professional tax services this busy season. COVID-related changes, such as the Employee Retention Credit and the Expanded Child Tax Credit, will add to your workload.
It’s also a good idea to review the basics. Even if you have a strong grasp of tax regulations, they are changing constantly. Inflation, for example, has pushed income tax brackets higher for 2022. And while Congress is still debating changes to the personal and corporate income tax codes, some of those changes could be retroactive to tax year 2021.
To stay up to date, sign up for accounting busy season news alerts from professional accounting resources like the Journal of Accountancy, or even from mainstream news and business outlets. And check out our overview of the year’s hottest tax topics to get up to speed on what will likely impact the upcoming tax busy season.
2. Anticipate your workload
You know you’ll be busy at work, but you’ll want to have an idea of just how busy you’ll be before busy season officially starts. Do you anticipate taking on new clients? You will likely need to spend more time with them upfront to understand their unique needs. If you are accepting new clients, remind your returning clients well in advance to prepare and submit their information as quickly as possible. If you do anticipate a heavier workload, do you have sufficient staff in place? If not, can you outsource certain tasks? Review all of these factors well ahead of busy season so you can manage workload accordingly.
3. Set realistic expectations
Overpromising when you can’t deliver is setting yourself up to fail. Setting realistic deadlines will keep your clients happy and help you maintain your sanity and other commitments. Similarly, establish constant communication with your team, both to convey what’s expected of them and to get an understanding of what they can realistically handle.
4. Get CPE out of the way
If you live in a state where CPE requirements are due mid-year, you’ll want to ensure you have enough time to complete these requirements with tax busy season and preparation in the first half of the year. You likely won’t have time to earn CPE credits around this busy time, and you may find it stressful to cram in credits after the fact. In fact, it may be beneficial to fulfill your CPE before the craziness begins so you have one less thing to worry about. Becker CPE offers a host of on-demand courses, webcasts and other CPE products across key topic areas that are important to tax professionals, including tax CPE courses to refresh your knowledge ahead of busy season. Browse the course catalog today.
5. Make sure your systems and processes are up to date
Your focus should be on serving your clients, not on maintenance. Before the rush of work comes in, make sure your computers, printers, operating systems and accounting software are all up to date, and stock up on printer cartridges and other necessary office supplies.
Being organized is crucial, so it’s also a good time to determine whether your process for organizing both paper and digital files needs updating.
6. Be mindful of how you work
Just because a typical day during tax season will be busy, doesn’t mean you always have to feel overwhelmed. Getting through a long day will be easier if you start with setting your priorities accordingly, some of which involves developing self-awareness about how you work.
If you’re more productive early in the day, for example, schedule your most critical or time-consuming tasks in the morning. Conversely, if you take more time to get going, start with the easier tasks and build your way up to the harder ones. And if you’re part of an accounting team, determine which tasks you can delegate to others.
7. Set daily goals
Setting daily goals can also help alleviate stress and allow you to focus more on a complicated task. If you have a complex project, establishing a schedule with broken down, specific daily tasks can help you see that you’re making progress toward your larger goals. Adjust these goals if you feel you can take more on, or if you feel overwhelmed.
8. Know your clients
Some clients are more challenging than others. Do certain clients take more time to deliver all their tax information? Are some clients more or less responsive than others? You’ll need to factor all of these considerations into your scheduling.
9. Use technology tools
Are there technology tools you can use to make your job easier during busy season? New tools can serve functions as basic as keeping a to-do list, like the Apple Notes or Microsoft OneNote apps. Or, you might use more advanced tools, like a cloud hosting service to make your tax data available to you anywhere, anytime. Cloud services can also make collaboration easier for accounting teams.
10. Schedule breaks
Yes, it’s crunch time, but you won’t be at your most effective if you’re burned out. Taking breaks has been shown to help people improve focus and retain information. Studies have shown that taking a break every 50 to 90 minutes is most effective.
The mental energy you expend during busy season can also be physically draining. So set aside time to get some exercise during the day, even if it’s just a walk around the block to clear your head and get your blood flowing. Similarly, don’t be afraid to schedule a weekend or two off during busy season. You’ll find yourself refreshed heading back into the office on Monday.
Preparing for the rush of tax busy season requires a mix of well-thought-out tactics, from professional development to taking care of your physical and emotional well-being. The time you spend preparing for tax season now, ahead of the rush, can help you stay focused and productive during tax time, which in the end will benefit both you and your clients.
Becker can help you stay up to date with all things tax. Explore our tax resources and courses.