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Guide for Accountants on How to Survive the Busy Tax Season Marathon

Guide for Accountants on How to Survive the Busy Tax Season Marathon

Robins chirping in the backyard, geese flying back north, opening day of baseball season, the smell of blooming flowers……
Sure signs of spring.

Long hours at the office, short weekends, little time with family and friends…..
Sure signs of Busy Season for many accountants.

We all know Busy Season is that work marathon that so many accountants run each spring to get their work done before taxes are due. To be able to compete in such prestigious marathons as the Boston Marathon, takes a great deal of training and you must be in peak physical form. But even to run the ‘Busy Season’ marathon, you must be in shape – both physically and mentally. And, number “crunching” does not count as an exercise.

Exercise is not only important for your body’s health, it is also important for your brain. According to a study done by the Department of Exercise Science at the University of Georgia, even briefly exercising for 20 minutes a day improves information processing and memory functions. This means you also get a brain boost by hitting the gym or going for a jog.

Many accounting firms provide fitness credits or even have fitness classes within the office to keep their employees in shape. Some firms sponsor a variety of employee sports teams and clubs including running, scuba diving, curling, hockey and cricket to help their accountants have fun and reduce stress.

And during the chaotic times, many firms offer stress busters which can range from chair massages to bean bag throwing contests. But, what seems to make stressed accountants the most happy is food. Some firms will provide their staff with treats like ice cream socials, catered meals or breakfast on those “I want to hit the Snooze button again” Saturday mornings.

While food can be a big incentive, it can also lead to problems as many people will use food to relieve stress. A 2010 study from the University of Michigan showed that when levels of the stress hormone cortisol, were boosted in healthy, non-stressed adults, they ate more snack foods. Many nights at the office can result in late night snacks and trips through the fast food drive through.

And then there is coffee – the official beverage of Busy Season. For some it is what is needed to start the day and stay alert. And for others, it is what is needed all day long – it really could be listed as a dependent on their tax return. A study by researchers at Duke University Medical Center shows caffeine taken in the morning has effects on the body that persist until bedtime and amplifies stress consistently throughout the day.

The long grueling days in the office can also have a major impact on one’s sleep. Sleep is essential to allow your body to function properly. Not only does a lack of sleep increase stress and cause one to be irritable – sleep deprivation can have many negative side effects including overeating, headaches, and lack of judgement impacting decision making. A recent study performed at the Sleep Disorders and Research Centre found that sleepiness takes a significant toll on effective decision making. A good night’s sleep is important to accountants to help them make accurate and informative decisions for their clients.

Potential Unlimited, a coaching and stress management firm, works with accountants to help them avoid burnout and stress during this hectic time offers a few tips.

– Don’t skip breakfast or work through lunch just because you’re busy. You’ll become fatigued or starved and end up filling the void with junk food. Instead, fuel up at regular intervals on foods like fruit, nuts, and yogurt. These foods are healthy and easy to pack.

– Get a good night’s sleep.

– Don’t use food to relieve your stress. Try stretching, deep breathing, or a little exercise instead.

– Exercise is a great way to manage stress levels. Even just 20 minutes a day can help keep you energized. Or if you have to, modify your fitness program during busy times. If it takes too much time to go to the gym, then do light exercise at work. Take the stairs or walk to work.

– Limit caffeine.

– Be sure to build time into your schedule for the important people in your life – your family and friends. Work-life balance is so important.

– Try meditation.

– Laugh.

Not only does Busy Season take its toll on accountants but also on the families of these professionals. Some spouses consider themselves to be “tax season widow(ers)” during this time as their accounting spouse becomes married to his or her job.

“The increased workload requires sacrifices from the accountant’s family who don’t get to see their loved one as much as they would like”, says Barry Heaney, Chartered Accountant at BDO and father of four young boys. “But the light at the end of the tunnel for most accountants’ is the chance of getting some extra time off during the summer when things typically slow down at the office.”

While it may not be considered part of the Income Tax Act, there are some unwritten rules when it comes to this time of the year for accountants. No weddings or births should be planned during this time. And needless to say, no one would want their birthday during this hectic period.

There is a finish line at the end of the marathon.

A beautiful afternoon round on the golf course, a nice evening out with family or friends, a day at the spa, a well earned day off or vacation….
Sure signs of the end of busy season for accountants.