6 ways CPAs can manage time during busy season
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6 ways CPAs can manage time during busy season

1 month ago · 3 min read · AICPA Insights Blog

There’s busy. And then there are CPAs at the height of tax season. Although many firms are trying to provide a better work/life balance for employees, practitioners still work anywhere from 50–80 hours a week during busy season.

To thrive during busy times, CPAs need excellent time management skills and strong boundaries. Accountants do important work, but no one should sacrifice their well-being for the profession.

Achieve calm during the seasonal rush by scheduling everything, prioritizing the essentials, batching tasks, delegating, automating and taking frequent breaks.

Build breathing room into your schedule.

When you have dozens of discrete tasks on your plate, add them all to your schedule so nothing falls through the cracks. And as you compose your schedule, leave gaps between tasks to accommodate the inevitable interruptions and delays.

Carve out time for personal priorities to strike a balance with professional demands. Putting everything on your calendar like this gives you flexibility and ensures others won’t steal your time.

This practice can also provide a clear idea of where your time goes.

Conduct regular time audits.

Start keeping track of how you spend your time each week so you can identify — and cut back on — your biggest time-wasters.

According to the Pareto principle, 80% of outcomes derive from 20% of the work. By “auditing” your time each week, you can learn which tasks require the heavy lifting.

Find ways to maximize time spent on these heavy lifts and minimize that spent on activities that could be delegated or eliminated. For example, you may realize that time spent with clients and on focused work produces the most outcomes, while answering emails and attending meetings that could have been emails do not help you achieve your goals and should be curtailed.

Prioritize the essentials.

Without unlimited time, some things simply won’t get done during the eight-hour workday. And that’s okay as long as you complete the important tasks.

At the beginning of each week, list your tasks in order of importance and select three to five items as top priorities. Schedule these tasks on your calendar to focus your effort and reduce the likelihood of interruptions.

At the end of each workday, choose the top priority for the following day that you can complete first before tending to less important responsibilities.

Batch similar tasks.

According to research from the University of California at Irvine, switching tasks comes with a cost. Every time you start a new task or return to a project after an interruption, it takes an average of 23 minutes to refocus.

Avoid wasting that time by batching similar tasks together and blocking time to complete them in one go. When planning this time, schedule higher-level tasks for when you usually have the most energy, whether that’s first thing in the morning or following your afternoon coffee.

Leave tasks that require less focus, such as responding to emails, for times when your energy level dips.

Delegate and automate whenever possible.

One perk of the modern workplace is the wide variety of tools available for delegation and automation.

Are you spending hours a week cooking, cleaning and shopping? It might make sense to hire a cleaner or sign up for a grocery delivery service during busy season.

And if you haven’t already, automate accounts reconciliation, data collection, financial statement preparation and similar tasks. Taking these steps can provide the additional time and energy needed to focus on the important tasks you can’t automate or delegate.

Don’t sacrifice your mental and physical health.

No matter how busy things get, remember that nothing is worth risking your mental or physical health. You can’t excel at your job and be there for clients if you’re not taking care of yourself.

Take short breaks every few hours. Walk around the block or grab a glass of water. Allow yourself real lunch breaks, away from your computer, to rest your eyes and brain. Block time on your calendar for wellness, whether that means going to the gym, taking a hike, practicing mindfulness, going to therapy or getting a massage.

Don’t be afraid to enforce boundaries. Say no to that meeting that could have been an email. Limiting intrusions on your time helps you preserve your mental, physical and emotional health.

Find these tips helpful? There are even more time management tools and resources available to you.

And if you’re having trouble finding the time to complete CPE, you’ll want to try CPExpress. For 20 years, CPExpress has been a comprehensive and convenient source of CPE for accounting and finance professionals. Content is updated regularly and is available in a short-duration format, covering essential accounting topics like tax, assurance, ethics, employee benefit plans, not-for-profit, fraud and forensics.

Hannah Pitstick, B.A.

Hannah Pitstick is a content writer at AICPA & CIMA, together as the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants.

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