2023 Busy Season Reset: Tips and Tricks for a Fresh Start
About the Author: Katie Thomas, CPA, is a content creator, 2021 & 2022 40 under 40 CPA Practice Advisor recipient, Top 50 Women in Accounting recipient, and the owner of Leaders Online, where they help accounting professionals increase their impact, influence, and income through thought leadership and digital marketing. Feel free to visit Leaders Online or connect with her on LinkedIn to get in touch with Katie.
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2023 Busy Season Reset Tips and Tricks
The curtain is finally closing on the 2023 busy season. After weeks of long hours, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. For many of us, the end of the season can feel like the start of a new year. It’s a time to reset, reflect, set goals, and implement changes to make the next busy season even better than the last.
To set you on the right path, I’m going to share my tried-and-true tips and tricks for resetting after the busy season.
Take Time Off to Reset
You’ve finally reached the finish line. Busy season is officially over. It’s time to take a much-needed break.
Taking time off to reset will help you avoid burnout, and it will also give you an opportunity to recognize and reflect on your achievements.
You’ve worked hard over the last few months, and you overcame every challenge and obstacle you faced. That’s something to celebrate! Do a little happy dance, and take some time for self-care.
In fact, I recommend taking a real vacation. It can be anywhere you want (even a staycation is acceptable) as long as you disconnect from work and truly allow yourself the time to reset. Do something that brings you joy, or tick off a destination on your bucket list.
- Spend time with your loved ones
- Get back to your hobbies
- Book that trip that you’ve been dreaming about
Research has shown that taking time off from work can help improve your motivation, outlook on life, and physical and mental health. So, think of this time off as an investment in your future productivity and well-being.
Let your team know ahead of time that you will be taking a break so that you can truly disconnect. Set up an out-of-office message with an emergency contact so that you don’t even have to think about emails and phone calls.
After you’ve taken some time to reset and recharge, take a moment to think about the future. What personal and professional goals do you hope to achieve in the next 12 months? How can you achieve these goals? Start building a roadmap to reach these goals and continue steering your life in the right direction. Be sure to have a feedback loop in place as a part of this process. Regularly check-in and ask yourself if the steps you’re taking are getting you closer to your goals.
When it comes to success and reaching your goals, the past leaves clues. Assessing the past will help you navigate the future.
Assess How the Season Went
Taking a rest will put you in the right headspace for reflection. When you return from your break, assess how the season went.
- What went right?
- What went wrong?
Make a note of the things that are working because these are things you want to keep doing. But what about the things that didn’t quite work as well as you had planned?
Make a list of things that you feel could use improvement and analyze their cause.
- Is it a soft skill problem?
- Is it a skill set problem?
- Is it a technical problem?
Soft skill problems are often related to communication, perception, or time management. For example, maybe you failed to communicate to leadership about how much was on your plate this busy season, which created unnecessary stress in your life. I know I failed to speak up more than once, and it left me working around the clock.
When it comes to skill set problems, I’ve also seen people be pushed to do things that they’re not trained to do. Often, these individuals end up making errors or never completing the work properly. This can put a lot of strain on managers (or those above whoever the work was assigned to) to pick up and complete additional work at the last minute. On the other hand, it leaves staff feeling defeated and frustrated. How do I know? Because I’ve been in both positions.
Technical problems are typically related to things like your software, workflow, and file structures. These are issues that should be reviewed and updated carefully by leadership. In fact, tech is so important that it’s a major part of the next section.
Review and Address Problems
Digital transformation and adoption are on the rise as companies hope to improve productivity and streamline operations. This can help reduce the many problems from soft skills to technical problems you experience as an accountant, but you’ll still need to review for any problems that may hinder your success.
Major bottlenecks may include:
- Technical Communication and Collaboration: The communication tools and protocols among team members and other teams must be the same. For example, if one person is using email to communicate and another is using Slack, it can cause major communication and collaboration breakdowns that lead to delays and frustration..
- Approvals: Approving changes or final documents should be a streamlined, smooth process. Look at how many times work is going back and forth between team members. If there are bottlenecks around the approval process, discuss with your team potential changes to improve in this area. For example, you may find when working with one team member, you are constantly sending documents back and forth until the final deliverable is ready. Is that team member properly trained, is there simply a workflow issue, or what is the cause of this breakdown?
- File structure: Are files named and stored consistently? Are they easy for team members to find? If not, it’s time to implement standard file protocols.
- Software: What software is missing or slowing teams up? Are there opportunities to add software or upgrade to another service or solution? Where can automate and improve workflows?
If you can address technical problems, you’ll enhance internal productivity and alleviate a lot of stress in the process. For example, implementing software solutions can automate the mundane, ease the audit process, and enable your team to close the books every month with time to spare. Solutions like this will give your team members hours of their time back each month to focus on higher-level tasks or simply have more free time,
When it comes to gaps in skill sets, leadership may need to find ways to better understand the skill set of their workforce. Review training and learning protocols to identify any holes and work to fill them.
Additionally, you’ll want to review the soft skill issues that you and your team faced, such as failing to communicate needs, managing time properly or critical thinking. These should be evaluated and addressed on a case-by-case basis.
Help Teams Master Stress Before the Next Busy Season
Stress is very real during hectic periods. Your team needs to find a way to manage their stress. However, some people seem to brush off the long hours or frequent meetings and deal with this time of year far better than others.
A few ways to help teams master their emotions and cortisol levels are:
- Offer teams gym memberships
- Provide healthy food options in the break room
- Ensure team members have at least one night a week to go home and rest
- Build in mandatory breaks with your team throughout the day/week to make sure they decompress (think coffee, trivia, group lead stretches)
Many of these changes are the responsibility of each team member. Jim may not enjoy the gym, but offering a gym membership as a perk to him may encourage him to adopt a regular exercise routine. After all, 33% of high-stress individuals experience less stress after exercising. Similarly, as accountants, we aren’t always good about “turning off,” even when we are told we can. It’s up to us to shut the computer and take a break.
Build Out Your Plan for the Next Six Months
Whew, there’s a lot to do when solving busy-season problems, but if you’ve followed the advice above, you’re off to a great start. Every accounting team is different, right? Your team’s approach to fixing issues will differ from another accounting team’s strategy.
However, most teams can use the insights below to plan their next six months:
- What went wrong? When you find room for improvement, be sure to list each issue in terms of priority so that you can begin fixing the issues that are most impactful first.
- Don’t try to boil the ocean. Be realistic about what you can accomplish and when. As mentioned previously, you want to begin fixing the issues that are most impactful first. For the issues you can get to now, keep track of them so you can circle back to them later on.
- Create unique projects for each issue. Use whatever platform or software you find suitable to manage projects to help you make and track your desired corrections. For example, you can have a main project to “implement FloQast to manage month-end Close tasks.” Sub-tasks can then be added to train employees, integrate FloQast into your existing systems, and meet with related teams to learn how to best utilize this software.
- Dedicate time to these changes. Changes and advancements in business take time and resources. Studies show that 3-in-10 businesses are “laggards” in technology adoption. If you’re integrating new technology, processes or systems into your team, it’s important to block off time for each project that you created in the last point.
Once you have everything in place, you can select “champions” for each project who will be responsible for ensuring that the project is completed in a timely manner. You’ll also want to implement a feedback loop, so that ongoing you can assess what’s working, what’s not working, and then adjust as needed.
Planning for the next six months will allow you to correct many of your team’s problems before the next busy season is in full swing.
Pat Yourself on the Back
Surviving the busy season is not an easy feat. It’s an exhausting time of year for everyone. Teams and their members need to rest, recuperate and learn from what transpired in the last few weeks/months.
Small, integral improvements in your team’s approach and strategies can make the next busy season less stressful and tiring.
However, it’s important to start implementing the steps above now while everything that transpired is still fresh in you and your team’s minds. Small, incremental steps over the next few weeks can make next season a breeze.