Three hour week: Is a relaxing self assessment season even possible?
Unfortunately, the blunt answer for an accountant knee deep in tax returns wanting an easier work schedule is ‘not at this late stage’ – but for those wanting to let go of their self assessment stress next year, the three hour week is a real possibility.
At the end of every self assessment season many accountants dust themselves off and vow to make next year’s annual tax drudgery much more organised and if it’s even possible, relaxing. But the next year comes with the same stresses.
Practice coach Rudi Jansen is someone leading the charge saying life as an accountant doesn’t always have to be this stressful. In fact, he believes accountants with the right processes can let go of their practice and work a slim three hour week.
The nature of the beast
Intending to work three hours a week is, of course, easier said than done – especially at this time of year, many accountants probably see this as a mere pipedream, consigned to the fact that chasing sluggish clients throughout January for information is the nature of the tax return beast.
Every January the hair-raising self assessment stories on AccountingWEB hardly whets the appetite of those expecting to clock off early – the time-consuming process of dealing with clients moaning about their tax bill or shaking the invoice money out of clients now hampered by an “unexpected tax bill” is not something anyone can really anticipate.
Even the lively Christmas ‘Are you a workaholic?’ treated the viability of a three hour week with sceptiscism. AccountingWEB regular Glenn Martin was one of many who accepted the winter’s extra hours as a trade-off for a lighter summer schedule. “I don't mind working extra in the winter if it means I don’t have to in the spring and summer months leaving me time to enjoy myself, and do my hobbies.”
He added: “I am not a workaholic just someone who believes you only get out of your business what you put in,” he said.
Jansen, though, is living proof that January can be business as usual. He has three practices and he’s not spending more than an hour in any of those. While Jansen’s hands-off busy season can be attributed to his full-time coaching position, his unbuttoned January is not unique.
Jansen recalled a husband and wife team based in London who last year around mid-January jetted off for a two week break in Thailand, relaxed with the knowledge that all their tax returns were complete.
Devotees of the three hour week ascribe to Jansen’s ‘A+ triangle’ technique. For many, it’s a process that lasts 12 – 36 months but once they’ve ticked off the attributes of having an A+ team, A+ systems and A+ growth, “as the owner of the practice, you can go to the beach in January”.
However, Jansen strongly advises fed up accountants against downing calculator and tools and working a three hour shift tomorrow. Taking a break at this stage in the game is a bad idea – that’s the brutal reality. As Jansen dramatically described, “They're in front of this massive volcano that is exploding and they've got to keep their eyes open and watch the lava, basically.”
The only advice he could offer to those in the thick of tax returns wanting to let go was to focus on “keeping their head above water” and to try and “get as much sleep” as they can.
You can still take some baby steps
“The three hour week is the result of implementing a whole range of processes in the practice over a period of time,” he said. Jansen’s A+ triangle training programme includes changing your team structure to consider outsourcing or offshoring instead, using automation to save hours of work and to increase client numbers and sorting out your pricing system. “It’s not an overnight thing, it’s a process.”
But when people don’t see immediate evidence that the process works or if they’ve tried without the desired results, it can be difficult for them to keep going. We asked Jansen what’s the first thing a practice owner can do which will show results and ensure they don't make the same mistakes next year.
The first steps to achieving a three hour week should come in days after the self assessment deadline, he said. For change-adverse accountants, it’s best to relive the January pitfalls when it’s still fresh in your mind. As Jansen said: “I remember an old saying: people only change when they're either very happy or they're very sad.”
Accounting team, assemble!
That’s why he recommends taking a couple of days out in February or March with the whole team. “If I was an accountant right now stuck in the middle of things, I would block out two days and I would sit the team down and all we'd do is to work on our systems and record it,” he said.
“Even if I don't change a single member of my team the biggest difference maker would be the systems we'd implement during this year. Just reading about it but until you sit down and make it yours, nothing changes.”
So, for example, Jansen advises accountants to use this two-day team meeting to outline what happens when a new client walks in through the front door? And then what happens throughout the year and in preparation for tax return season? “That’s the biggest difference maker for me over the next 12 months,” he said.
With the flowchart mapped out, the next task for the team is to look at how they can use practice management systems like AccountancyManager, Glide, Karbon, Senta and others to manage it. “They're good at sending out automated reminders for people when their VAT bill is due and for them to get their information in or if you need information for your tax returns.”
Letting go is not just about SA season
The lessons the three hour week teach around letting go can be applied to other common practitioner predicaments such as email attachment. Accountants regular confess in our weekly Practice Talk series how checking emails can spill into the evenings and weekends.
Delegation plays a key role in Jansen’s training programme, whether that’s through outsourcing or automation. This inbox addiction could be starting place for accountants who work long hours and stuck in an old belief system or habit where every facet of the practice is engraved with their fingerprints. But email overload is treatable.
“It could be as simple as getting a different email address that you only give to only a few VIPs in your world and you get a team member you trust to manage your emails coming in so they know which clients they can respond to, which work they need to forward to other people within the practice to deal with,” said Jansen.
Whether or not the three hour week is realistic for all, a change of old habits could end up easing the January rush. “We are where we are because of what's gotten us to today. So what's going to get me to the next level? I'm going to need different habits and perspectives.”