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Confessions of a Tax Season Junkie

Dancing-womanAs I shot up in bed last night in a cold sweat, I realized that a nightmare must have interrupted my peaceful night’s sleep. Waking up during tax season in a panic was pretty common during my over 20 years in public accounting, but why now? As a recent convert from tax practice, this spring is the first one since the early ‘90s that I am not preparing tax returns.

After some reflection, I discovered my dream was, in fact, about tax returns: phones ringing, emails and all of the anxiety-causing triggers for CPAs during tax season. Having sold my practice after last tax season, the only tax return I have to worry about is my own, so what was my trigger? 

I realized that the source of my anxiety was a recent project where I had to draw on my prior tax season experiences. I was preparing for the AICPA’s Tax Power Hour webcast on managing tax season burnout. To truly empathize with the participants, I mentally placed myself back at my old office during the height of tax season. I could hear the phones ringing and the postage machine humming, I could smell the hot printers being overused, and I remembered the sight of peers walking into my office to ask a “quick question.”  The experience was so real for me that I actually felt the urge to pick up my computer and hurl it at the wall.

The exercise was a tremendous success because it put me right back in the shoes of my peers who are still grinding away at those tax returns into the wee hours. While I am no mental health expert, it did strike me as odd that this exercise was able to elicit such a physical response. The other realization was that my feelings were not all bad. Part of me actually craved tax season. Could I have woken up in the middle of the night because I missed tax season? 

I always knew that it took a certain type of person to work in public accounting this long and still love it.  As much as I am enjoying my first spring away from preparing tax returns, the rush I would get leading up to tax season was very invigorating. The pleasure in seeing my calendar fill up, building relationships with my clients, and even the late nights with loud music and piles of returns to review was real and rewarding.

I now think tax season addiction actually exists.  But, just in case you are at that point where you want to scream, here are a few takeaways from the webcast.  To get through the final stretch, we suggested that you concentrate on:

  • Systems and structure – Use your processes, tackle the big items first, start extensions early and don’t spin your wheels
  • Wellness – Try to eat right, get away from the desk and visualize life after April 15
  • Recognition and reward for staff (and yourself) – Remember to be thankful for having a busy practice, acknowledge and recognize both the little and big things your staff do for you, and customize rewards to make them more meaningful

If all else fails, take a deep breath, and know it’s almost over! You too will be able to enjoy spring in just a few days.  And don’t worry.  Spring was late coming this year, so you didn’t miss much.

Cari Weston, CPA, Senior Technical Manager - Taxation, American Institute of CPAs. 

Dancing woman image via Shutterstock


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