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Mark Washburn

A Personal Guide to Surviving Tax Season

Five practical tips revealed.

February 14, 2008
by Mark Washburn, CPA/MST

As accountants and tax practitioners, we both relish and revile this time of year. With the coming of the new year, office activity ramps up as we install and test new software, prepare and send out organizers, work to get our clients’ fourth quarter reports submitted on time and prepare W-2s and 1099s. All this activity after a short break for some of us gets our adrenalin flowing as we take on the awesome responsibilities entrusted to us by our clients. Yet at the same time, we know we are about to immerse ourselves in a work pattern of 50 to 70 hours per week for the next 10 weeks. Little time for family, friends and maybe more importantly, ourselves.

So, just how can tax practitioners maintain some balance in their lives during the filing season? Here are some practical tips to help you through this hectic time.

Plan Your Workday

Start each day with a plan. Regardless of whether you are a morning person or an evening person, plan your most difficult tasks early in your workday. The sharper focus you have early on during the workday will allow you to resolve difficult issues more quickly. Also, make sure that the issues that did not get your attention today be placed at the top of tomorrow’s list of things to do.

Have a Set Time to Communicate

Phone calls can be time-consuming interruptions. Aside from the fact they interrupt your thinking processes, you may find yourself tending to issues that sidetrack you from your planned work. Reserve some time late in the morning, mid-afternoon and just prior to going home for returning phone calls. Then, make sure your receptionist knows you are not to be interrupted and that you will return calls during these times promptly.

Reserve Time Just for Yourself

Most of you probably work with the doors to your offices wide open. While this creates a friendly, open workplace, it invites interruptions. Though you can’t keep your doors shut all day, you can close them for short periods of time in the morning and afternoons. And while that door is closed, do not allow interruptions under any circumstances. Slip on the earphones and listen to your favorite music, or close your eyes and recall a happy memory. Visualize a peaceful, tranquil setting and get lost in the thought for five to 10 minutes. Very refreshing!

Maintain Healthy Habits

Most everyone is aware of the power of exercise. During exercise, the body releases endorphins, which are a type of mood elevator. Endorphins create that feel-good feeling in our bodies. Exercise also raises your metabolism, the body’s way of fueling our engines, so to speak. Even short periods of five to 10 minutes, performed several times a day, provide our bodies with benefits that often last for hours.

Unfortunate as it may be, tax-filing season usually coincides with cold and flu season. That places you in a position of shaking lots of hands, which transmits lots of germs. To fight back, wash your hands often using hot water and soap. A brisk scrubbing of about 15 to 20 seconds will get the job done. Also, avoid touching your face. Anytime you move the germs closer to soft mucus membranes, you increase the likelihood of these germs finding a path to your respiratory system and affecting you. Have a policy that if you or any member of your staff is sick with cold or flu, they must stay home. The spread of respiratory germs in such confined spaces could incapacitate an entire office for a week or more!

To the extent possible, resist eating foods with high fat content. While that candy bar may boost your energy level, the effect is only short-term. As soon as the effect of the sugar is over, fatigue will set back in, often worse than before. Better to eat healthy snacks, such as fruits or nuts. Of course, balanced meals in correct proportions will help ensure proper nutrition.

Control Your Stress

We all have our favorite ways to combat stress, but remember, use of nicotine and/or caffeine doesn’t help. By restricting your blood vessels, these toxins raise your blood pressure. So, limit the use of, or eliminate the use of, cigarettes or soft drinks. Do not partake of these activities within one hour of the time you plan to go to sleep.

Conclusion

Controlling your environment and having a daily plan go a long way toward reducing your stress. The more unknowns you can control or eliminate, the better you will be able keep your stress levels down. It may sound somewhat anal, but by structuring your workday to what works best for you, you can keep any surprises down to a minimum. As long as you feel you are in control of your situation, you minimize the stress caused by unplanned events.

Finally, I work by a credo I once saw on a sign on the desk of city employee in Columbia, S.C. The sign said: “A lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.” You may not be able to be quite so ruthless, but you don’t have to let everyone else’s problems disrupt your schedule.

Have a Great Tax Filing Season!

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Mark Washburn, CPA/MST, is a Senior Lecturer in Accounting at The University of Texas at Tyler. He teaches both Individual and Corporation tax courses at the undergraduate level. He is a certified public accountant licensed in Texas and holds a Master of Science in Taxation from The University of Texas at Arlington.