The Ultimate Busy Season Survival Guide for Accountants
Dec 14, 2022 | By Katie Thomas, CPA
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.
If you're interested in learning more about Katie and FloQast, check out her episode of FloQast CEO Mike Whitmire's podcast Blood, Sweat & Balance Sheets on Apple, Spotify, Stitcher, or YouTube, and don't forget to subscribe!
The Year-end is near, which means two words for many accountants: busy season.
Busy season is often associated with long hours in the office (or working remotely) for accounting departments and their teams. This is the time of the year that accounting professionals often dread the most. I still have flashbacks to being at the office until well after midnight on a Saturday evening.
Truth be told, my first busy season was miserable. As a result, I ended up in the hospital for 9 days due to burning myself out. On one side of the coin, employers should not let work get this out of hand, but on the other side of the coin, it is equally important we become writers of our own destinies and take control of the narrative. Surviving busy season requires the right approach by all parties involved.
The right approach to busy season is multifaceted. It requires taking certain steps before, during, and after the season. Doing so will help reduce stress and the risk of burnout while making it a more positive overall experience. Let’s dive into those steps now.
3 Things to Do Before the Season Starts
There is little time left before the busy season begins. However, you can still do a few things to make the next few months less stressful.
1. Optimize Core Processes
Your core processes need to be routinely under review and optimized. When looking to optimize your core processes, consider:
- Reviewing your core processes
- Identifying gaps and bottlenecks
- Measuring process efficiency
Now, analyze your data and implement key changes to make these processes more efficient. Look to see where you can automate, streamline workflows, and reduce using disparate applications.
Consider using software like FloQast. With FloQast, you can streamline and automate time-consuming workflows such as reconciliations, documentation requests, month-end close, financial reporting, and more. Making your workflows more efficient before the busy season can be key to keeping operations running smoothly and you maintaining your sanity.
2. Review Your Team’s Capacity and Build a Plan
Capacity planning reviews should be conducted before the season starts, including:
- Measuring the workflow ahead
- Analyzing the realistic workload your team can handle
- Reviewing deadlines with the team to ensure that they can be met and getting buy-in from them for accountability
You also want to set clear expectations for your team. Make sure everyone knows what needs to be done and when it needs to be done.
Accountants know that the busy season will often include long hours and pushing their limits, but you should do everything possible to support your team. Set realistic goals for your employees and ensure you don’t fill their plates too much. You want your employees to have time to still ask questions, go to lunch and take care of non-work needs. Make sure you factor these needs into your capacity planning.
3. Give Friends and Family a Head’s Up
Work is going to be busy. I found one of the most difficult parts of busy season was constantly having to say “no” to people. What I wish I learned to do sooner was to warn people in advance. I recommend warning your family, friends, and others in your circle that:
- You’ll be working long hours
- You might be slower to reply to calls or messages
- A “no” isn’t personal. You still love them; you’re just busy with work right now
- Once the busy season is over, your schedule will return to normal
You might be a bit out of touch with friends and family, and while you may be in a busy season, they probably will not be. Giving everyone a heads-up will help them understand that you’re not ignoring or ghosting them. For you, it’ll help you feel at peace as you may be more distant for a while.
Alright, now that we’ve discussed what to do before busy season, let’s look at what to do during busy season to make it as successful as possible.
3 Things to Do During the Busy Season
1. Optimize Your Work Habits
Work habits get out of kilter every once and a while, but you need to work on optimizing them to make this season less stressful. A quick review of the following will help:
- Are you multitasking too much? Only 2.5% of the population can do this effectively. Limit multitasking as much as you can. Yes, this means to stop scrolling Facebook while also trying to work.
- Reduce meetings and use tools like Loom to record explanation videos or hold fast team meetings.
- Consider setting office hours where your Zoom is up, and others can join as they need. This can help reduce interruptions throughout the day and consolidate all of your questions to a certain time frame
- Mute all of those time-consuming and pesky messages that distract you. Consider putting your phone on do not disturb for certain hours of the day.
- Outline clear tasks to do every day. Be realistic about what these tasks are. Don't add it to your task list if you don’t think you can get it done. I used to be the Queen of making never-ending to-do lists. All these do is set yourself up for failure and unrealistic expectations.
- Start delegating tasks whenever possible to reduce unnecessary work that someone else can handle better.
Now, there’s also something easy to overlook at this time: yourself.
2. Take Care of Yourself
One of the best things you can do during the busy season is to prioritize self-care. Yes, this is the busy season, but you should not let your mental, physical and spiritual health fall to the wayside.
To perform your best, you need to feel your best. Research has shown that having a self-care routine reduces stress, improves concentration, and boosts happiness levels.
Make sure that you’re:
- Exercising: You may have less time, but it’s important to keep moving. Whether it’s shorter gym sessions or 15-minute walks during lunch, ensure you’re staying active. Personally, I always had a workout accountability partner for the busy season and recommend others do the same. We’d use one another to hold each other accountable to our workouts. Even on the days we didn’t feel like going to the gym or working out, we were always glad once we did.
- Eat Healthy: Make sure you’re eating well and taking your vitamins (if that’s your thing). Eating healthy, whatever healthy means to you, will help keep your energy levels up.
- Leave Work at the Door: Leave your work behind when you leave the office (or close your laptop if you work from home). Shut off for the night and focus on enjoying whatever time you have left in the day. Consider implementing rituals here to help you create a separation between work and home life. For me, this means turning off the computer, changing my clothes, and turning on a fun podcast to take me out of work mode.
- Prioritize Sleep: Don’t neglect sleep - it plays a vital role in your physical and mental health. Getting enough sleep will ensure that start the day feeling refreshed and perform your best. Unfortunately, your next Netflix binge may need to wait!
- Set Boundaries: I promise you that whatever task you have to finish, it can likely wait. 99 percent of the time, the world will not stop turning if you complete the task in the morning when you’re fresh and at your best. Trying to drag through a task at 10 PM when you’re already tired won’t do you or anyone else any good.
- Don’t Neglect Your Relationships: No matter what happens at work, commit to the relationships that matter most. Maybe it’s having a Saturday date night, or maybe your date nights become lunch dates. Regardless, making time for your most important relationships is critical. Spending quality time with the person or people you care about the most will help take your mind off of work and lift your mood.
Self-care is crucial during the busy season. Even if your self-care looks different this time of the year, make sure you’re committed to taking care of yourself so you can be at your best.
3. Speak Up if You’re Feeling Overwhelmed
If you feel like a sinking ship, speak up. The last thing you want is to burn out in the middle of busy season. I promise your team doesn’t want this either.
We’ve all been at our breaking point - I know I have. Reach out and ask for help before you get to this point. As mentioned, delegate tasks rather than trying to do everything independently. At the end of the day, busy season is a team effort. You’re not in this alone.
The good thing is that no matter how long busy season seems, it always comes to an end.
2 Things to Do After the Season
1. Take Time Off to Reset and Recharge
After those long weeks, you deserve some time off to reset and recharge. Plan a trip or event right after the busy season, and start planning early. Early planning will give you something to look forward to and ensure that you secure that time off.
Maybe you want to lounge on a beach for a week or stroll the streets of Paris. Whatever vacation you’re dreaming of, book it. When the busy season gets tough and overwhelming, you can remind yourself that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.
2. Reflect on the Season
There aren’t too many guarantees in life, but one thing’s for sure - there will be a busy season again next year. Reflecting can help make next year a little less stressful and overwhelming.
After the season is over and you’ve taken some much-needed time off, take notes on:
- What went well
- What didn’t go well
- How you can improve for next year
Be sure to gather feedback from your team, too. Their input can help make next year’s busy season better for everyone. Once you’ve done all this reflection, be sure to have a follow-up plan of execution in place to implement all the data you’ve gathered. Reflection without execution doesn’t get you far.
The Bottom Line
Having a survival plan for the busy season will make it far less stressful and overwhelming. Use the tips above to take steps before, during, and after the season to be at your best and save your sanity.