10 Tips For Staying Sane During Tax Season
It’s now halfway through tax season, and you've already filed more returns than last year at this time. Customers are lined up out the door, workflow is dragging, and the stress is mounting.
It doesn't help that you have been through this for many years. In 2014, the requirements are greater than ever before. Between the certification controversy, the Affordable Care Act, requirements for security of client data and increasing competition, tax prepares continue to face new challenges in this ever-changing industry.
And the stress can harm you. Anxiety attacks, heart attacks, vision and hearing problems, and even suicide rates show a measurable increase during tax season.
But there are ways to keep your sanity during the season. Here are 10 ideas for staying healthy and sane until after April 15:
- Eat Healthy. The two worst habits during tax season are skipping meals and eating high-fat, high-sugar fast food. Remember that 28 million Americans are diabetic, and 7 million of those do not know it, according to the National Diabetes Education Program. Another 78 million Americans are considered pre-diabetic. This means that control of blood sugar becomes critical in times of stress such as tax season. Keep fruits and nuts on hand for snacks, and focus on meals that balance protein with vegetables. By keeping meals healthy, tax preparers can avoid the peaks and valleys of blood sugar, eliminating the fast sugar burn and crash typical of unhealthy eating.
- Drink water. Sounds silly, but the best thing you can drink is plain old water. It keeps you hydrated, but avoids the caffeine and other additives in coffee and tea. It also avoids the high levels of sugar in sodas, while helping to fight off daytime fatigue. At all costs, avoid drinking alcohol during tax season. A single alcoholic drink in the evening disrupts sleep patterns sufficiently to keep you fatigued through the following day.
- Use ergonomic furniture and equipment. Remember that a comfortable desk chair is the single most important piece of office equipment you can own. Invest in a good one, and replace it any time it stops being comfortable. Make sure you have the right height of desk chair, so that your feet rest comfortably on the floor and your arms are at the right angle for the keyboard.
- Get up and move every 30 minutes. The issue is not just a sedentary lifestyle, but rather stimulation of the spinal cord and brain. Sitting for hours on end, preparing and approving returns, decreases stimulation to the brain. Move every 30 minutes to keep sharp.
- Use your biorhythms to your advantage. Everyone has a different sleep/work schedule that is “wired” into their bodies. Some people work best from 9-5, while others work better at night. Some people work straight through a 7-hour shift, while others need frequent breaks. And in truth, the biorhythm rules apply to everyone in the office, including the owners. Learn what your optimal work schedule is, and tailor your day around it.
These are, of course, the five tough ones. They require some lifestyle changes and some introspection that may not be easy in the midst of tax season. So let’s also consider the five “easy” fixes to de-stress at this point:
- Use a Task List. I favor the daily “big three, little three” list of six items. First, prioritize the top three things you need to accomplish today. The bottom three are things you can get done if you have time, but could also be put off to another day. And here’s another management technique that may help – “management by ignoring it.” Many problems resolve themselves within 24 hours with no action at all from you. It is perfectly all right to put the problem on the top left corner of your desk and ignore it. If it has not resolved itself in 24 hours, deal with it then.
- Make time for yourself. Every day, take at least one hour for yourself, to do something you want to do – watch March Madness, read, go out to breakfast, or just take a nap. Whatever it is that you do, do it for yourself. In addition, take half a day each week to spend with your family. It may seem impossible, but it is not.
- Check in with your doctor…three times. The first is a general checkup prior to tax season (you did this, right?), just to make sure there are no problems lurking that could sideline you in the middle of the season. Remember that you are the single most important person in the office – if anything happens to you, the whole firm and your future suffer. Get a general physical before tax season. Then, a quick check-up halfway through the season. Finally, check in with your doctor to see where you stand at season’s end.
- Laugh. Watch a funny YouTube video or read some tweets from your favorite comedian – do something to make yourself laugh. Laughter breaks tension and relieves stress. It takes your mind off of that stack of returns on your desk, the 20 emails you need to respond to and the four voicemails you haven’t listened to yet. And the best part is that you’ll be in a more positive frame of mind when you dive back into your work.
- Be imperfect. The customer is not always right, and neither are you. By admitting that you can make a mistake, you take the stress out of the worst situations. Bear in mind what we teach our children about mistakes – when you make one, admit it. Then apologize for it. Then fix it if you can. Then forget it and move on. Your staff and customers will appreciate your honesty and integrity, and will only think more highly of you.
Simple? Not always. But you can survive the stress of tax season and end the busy season with your heart and soul intact. These 10 tips will help.