insight magazine

The Newbie's Guide to Surviving Busy Season

These eight strategies will make your first foray into 70-hour workweeks just a little less daunting. By Judy Giannetto | Digital Exclusive

Busy Season

“Busy Season.” Two words that summon their fair share of anxiety among newly minted CPAs getting ready to experience the real world of tax returns. Our advice? Start as you mean to go on.

Here are eight tips for maintaining your sanity during the most labor-intensive, fast-paced season you’ve likely ever experienced.

1. Send out the alert

Rather than leaving family and friends wondering if you’ve fallen off the face of the Earth or been abducted by aliens, let everyone know that you’re about to dive headfirst into your first ever Busy Season, and make sure they know exactly what that means—working long hours, that carry a heavy responsibility to both your clients and employer. While the hours you’re required to work will depend on your firm, it’s not unusual to find yourself committed to 10-plus hour days, 6 or 7 days a week for a couple of months when you first get started.  

 2. Give social media a break

You know all too well how many hours you spend surfing Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, etc., so once you’ve posted the fact that you’ll be out of commission for a while, you need to accept the fact that you’ll be pretty much MIA from newsfeeds. Your 70-plus-hour work weeks will leave you with trace amounts of energy to “like,” comment and post the way you usually do.

3. Have some app-titude

Ok, no. 2 is admittedly hard to do. Which is why an app that helps you not use apps might be the answer. Sounds counterintuitive doesn’t it? Well, it isn’t. Apps such as Focus Lock (Android), Offtime (iOS, Android) and Moments (iOS, Android) either block social and gaming apps or limit your usage of them. Focus Lock, for example, allows you to select those apps that are most distracting and physically locks you out of them for a set amount of time. You can also schedule breaks that unlock those productivity-stealing applications. Best of all, it’s free for Android devices.

4. Limit your smartphone use

While you may be in the habit of checking your smartphone every five minutes (or five seconds if you’re truly obsessed), the reality is that you simply won’t have time for that during Busy Season. However, communicating with peers, supervisors and clients is an absolute necessity. The best way to find balance is to allocate a specific period in the day to responding to email and returning phone calls. Say, 30 minutes just before lunch and 15 minutes at the end of the day.

5. Give yourself a break

All work and no play doesn’t necessarily make you a dull boy (or girl), but it definitely makes you a prime candidate for burn out. Which is why, at the very time when hours in the day are at a premium, you should claim back one of those hours for yourself. Yes, you heard me right. Leave work an hour early just once a week to take in a 60-minute Swedish massage, or to meet a friend for dinner, or to see that movie everyone’s raving about. You get the idea.

6. Pack your lunch

It’s easy to find yourself in a junk food quagmire during Busy Season, sitting at your desk, chomping down on a mystery meat burger. But at no other time is it so important to maintain your health. For that reason, pack a lunch filled with energy-boosting, vitamin-boasting goodies. And rather than sitting at your desk taking bites between keystrokes, take advantage of the time you would have spent standing in line at the burger joint to grab a seat somewhere other than your desk and take in the scenery (in these parts, that scenery most likely will be snow-capped).

7. Get enough sleep

Insomnia is fairly common when you’re over stressed. Nevertheless, come morning, you need to be unfalteringly focused and detail-oriented. To bring an end to sleepless nights, you might try something as simple as taking an aromatic bath before bed (lavender is particularly soothing), or reading a book while sipping a cup of chamomile tea. Or you could go the app route. Simply Being (iOS, Android), for example, offers step-by-step voice-guided meditation sessions that can go from 5, 10, 15, 20 to 30 minutes. Or the charmingly named Sleep Pillow (iOS, Android) is a white noise generator with more than 70 sounds to help with your slumber. This app also allows you to create your own relaxing combination of sounds, such as wind and waves or birdsong and rain. (I’m feeling more relaxed just thinking about it.)

8. Plan your big vacation

True enough, the whole office most likely will be scrambling for vacation time right after Busy Season. Think early on about where you’d most like to recharge your batteries. No doubt at sometime over those 70-hour workweeks your mind wandered to that beach in the Bahamas or that streetside café in Paris. Simply imagining and planning for that dream vacation is therapeutic in itself.

And don’t forget, you’ll likely be doing this all again the same time next year, so recouping when Busy Season closes is a very good idea.