How do you define “success?” For me and most other tax professionals I know, finishing tax season on top means you’ve reached April 15 relatively unscathed by last-minute clients, kept a positive attitude, and improved your firm in various ways, such as moving from tax preparer to proactive tax planning with your clients for tax year 2020.
Here’s my list of five ways to successfully finish tax season.
Organize Your Practice for Maximum Efficiency
We all know that when tax season rolls around, it seems there are just not enough hours in the day to get everything done. We all want to be responsive to our clients, but as our client base grows, we have less time to spend on each one.
There are so many practice management tools, online tools and apps, work methods, and books we can use to improve our efficiency and sharpen our focus. I’m not promoting specific products, but here are some ideas:
- I maintain a shared database of all clients and the tasks we need to perform for each one, from preparing engagement letters to obtaining signed e-file authorization forms. With the database, our staff never has to ask each other if a specific task was done or what needs to be done next. When we meet each morning, we know exactly what we need to do to keep things moving.
- We set up an online filing system where it’s easy to find client documents. Each file name contains the tax year, client name, document type and source name. It may take some extra time to rename documents in a client folder, but the process saves us a significant amount of time, especially when clients ask for prior information.
Create a Disciplined Routine
In order to maintain my focus on the daily workload and manage larger projects, at the beginning of the week I “calendarize” my to-do list. What that means is that not only are client meetings on my calendar, but return preparation and review are planned for specific times. I also always leave a few hours a day open for emergency requests, pushing out my to-dos as necessary.
When I do have a set time for a particular task, I treat it as a meeting. It’s natural to want to answer every email as it comes in, but that’s not the best way to work. In addition, checking emails and messages in the middle of working on a return can make you lose your place or train of thought.
I also meet with my team at a set time every day to discuss what we need from each other to complete our scheduled tasks. If we miss a couple of days, we wind up with an unorganized mess and a lot of half-finished returns, piles of documents to be scanned, and other assorted unpleasantness.
Delegate Tax Prep
Often, we feel we want to do everything ourselves because we think that others won’t be as careful or don’t have the experience to spot every potential issue. The more experienced you are, the better your time is spent reviewing the work of others instead of preparing the returns yourself. Train your tax preparers well during the off-season; give them a point-by-point plan on how to check their work so that there’s less chance for error during the first review.
Get Some Rest
It’s easy to say you’re going to work 18 hours a day from January through April, but at some point, you’ll definitely hit a wall. Fatigue and stress leads to mistakes, especially in a numbers game like ours. To give your mind a break and boost your morale, give yourself a day off, or at least a half day to do something completely mindless.
As much as I love to grab fast food and chocolate, I know that quick and easy is not always the best alternative for health and productivity. Eating these things slows me down and makes me want to take a nap instead of tackling a new client’s complex return. My family tries to use Sunday as a time to cook simple proteins that can be refrigerated or frozen; the goal is to use these meals quickly as the base of a healthy lunch or dinner during the week.
What’s Your Success Plan?
My hope is that by incorporating all of these ideas into my work and personal life, I’ll be ready to head out of town on that long-planned vacation when tax season is over – and avoid being much worse for wear. What’s your plan for success, and what are your tips? Leave a comment below to share with other readers.