Staying motivated during tax return season

Triathletes At Start of Triathlon Running Into The Water
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Della Hudson draws on her triathlon training experience to physically and mentally prepare for the busy self assessment tax return season.

Mental strength

No matter how much preparation we do and how much we nag and chase clients throughout the year, tax return season always seems to be upon us before we are really ready. This year I did an iron distance triathlon. Whilst the physical side is quite tough it is mainly an exercise in mental strength, and it taught me a lot about how to handle relentless, busy periods of work.

As with triathlon, you will be at your strongest mentally if you are in good physical shape. Build time into your week for exercise (at whatever level is appropriate), sleep and proper food.

Eat well

Food is particularly important for me with a young family, so I either cook ahead for the freezer or stock up on healthy ready meals. This means that I’m less inclined to eat junk food because I’m too tired to cook.

I’m a real comfort eater so I also keep lots of snacks on hand to ward off the chocolate cravings. Popcorn and rice cakes make healthy alternatives to crisps, while dried fruit or pre-chopped fresh fruit are a good alternative to sweets. As we get closer to the deadline, cakes, chocolate and bacon butties creep into the office but at least we’ve made a good start.

Sleep well

I know that if I work long hours I become less and less productive, so I try to keep to my normal sleep routine. I find that fresh air and exercise help my brain to unwind enough for a good night’s sleep most of the time. Some people use meditation techniques to achieve the same thing, so experiment in plenty of time to find what helps you to sleep well.

Sometimes I wake in the middle of the night as I remember something, so I make a quick note of it on my phone (yes, I’m one of those addicts who sleeps with their phone by the bedside!) which usually allows me to get back to sleep having captured the idea. If I can’t get back to sleep, then I’ll often get up and work anyway with the intention of finishing earlier to compensate.

Arrange your day

Once you’ve taken care of the physical things, it’s a case of arranging the work to suit your best working hours. If I come across anything tricky towards the end of the day I leave it until I can check it the next day. I’ve learned my lesson from sending out work completed in a hurry when I’m tired. As far as possible we try to complete the bigger tax returns earlier in the year so that the work gets easier as we become more tired. Obviously, this relies on the tax return information coming in as you request it.

Manage deadlines

My major stress comes not from the volume of work, but the fear of missing a deadline. Remember that your client is responsible for ensuring that their tax return is submitted on time (it’s probably in your engagement letter). In practice, we know that they rely on us to remind them.

During the year we chase each client three times, then check our jobs list in September before sending a final email telling tardy clients that, if we don’t have everything by the end of October, they are in danger of missing the deadline. As I don’t expect to remind my own kids about things that are this obvious, I am satisfied that this is sufficient for adults, so I don’t stay awake at night fretting about clients who haven’t bothered to respond to our fourth, fifth or even sixth reminder.

Many accountants stress about clients who haven’t yet sent in information, so decide for yourself when you feel that enough chasing is enough. Even though we keep chasing we add these clients to our ‘D’ list to deal with in the new year. The only exception last year was a new client who had cancer, so we worked flat out to submit on time, although he may have had a reasonable excuse for lateness due to his illness.

Tardy clients

There are various ways of dealing with clients who provide information late. Increasing your fees after a certain date may make you more cash, but still leaves you with the hassle of overtime. From the beginning of December, we prioritise work in the order in which we receive it. We generally don’t penalise clients but warn them that they may be late and remind them that it is their responsibility.

After the deadline, we sit down with our list of ‘D’ clients to decide whether:

  1. they can be trained to bring things in earlier next year;
  2. we could speed up the process by improving their bookkeeping through training or by taking it in-house; or
  3. sadly, we have to let them go.

When we let clients go we try to refer them to other local accountants who are more flexible on working overtime in January, and we provide information promptly to make this transition as smooth as possible. All remaining clients go onto the job list for the next year’s tax return season and their first reminder in May.

How do you keep yourself motivated during tax return season?

About Della Hudson

della hudson

Della Hudson was part of the class of 2009. She built up Hudson Business Accountants and Advisers from her kitchen table to a small team of flexible workers with independent premises in Nailsea, near Bristol. The firm ran regular Money Matters seminars and other training and webinars. Della sold the firm in 2017 in order to focus on the business consultancy side and to write her first business book

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08th Dec 2017 09:21

What a load of tosh.

Yet another consultant telling what we should be doing. Could I please borrow your watch so I can tell you the time - and by the way I will charge you for doing so.

Anyone who cannot plan for the traditional December and January rush and can't cope with the workload should get out of the business and go and work in the public sector where things will be a lot more comfortable.

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to Trethi Teg
11th Dec 2017 08:53

Another keyboard warrior - this forum is full of them!

This is like saying "anyone that can't deal with shoe box records should go elsewhere" - there's ways to mitigate this problem that Della is trying to share with us.

I liked the article - the workload is a real issue for most practices at this time of year and there were a couple of good ideas here.

Thank you Della

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By chatman
to ryanmillward
11th Dec 2017 10:07

What is a "keyboard warrior"?

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08th Dec 2017 11:08

How Rude Trethi Tig - Della is simply giving her opinion

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By chatman
08th Dec 2017 10:51

What is "the class of 2009"?

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to chatman
08th Dec 2017 13:26

Thanks for the question chatman. Della started her firm in 2009 - here's a link to a piece about her firm's first year in business:

https://www.accountingweb.co.uk/practice/general-practice/profile-della-...

And here's an article revisiting 'the class of 2009' written in 2015:

https://www.accountingweb.co.uk/practice/general-practice/class-of-2009-...

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08th Dec 2017 10:58

Hi Robert

AW carries many very interesting articles and insights which are valuable and that is why I regulalry visit the site. However from time to time some of the contributions are of little value and simply take the place of other more valuable content.

The site is usedd by contributors to promote themselves or thier services. This is, I believe, one of those.

In itself there is nothing wrong with that provided the content is useful.

The content of this particular article is of very little value.

That is my opinion.

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08th Dec 2017 11:07

I find it is interesting to read how other professionals deal with the stresses and strains of busy work periods.

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08th Dec 2017 11:41

I normally do a daily triathlon, except the weekend, which for me starts on a friday. My triathlon consists of getting up in the morning. This is probably the most important and tiring of all. Spending a proportion of the morning, most of the afternoon, and a proportion of the evening indulging in a mixture of earning money, stimulating conversation, the occassional pint or glass of wine, sometimes a little doze, making future plans and a bit of admin. This gets the adrenaline going (except for the little doze) and can be quite rewarding. The final part is to wind down, chill, maybe watch a film cuddled up with the wife, going for a bike ride or walk even, then drifting off into lala land. My book, which will be out in the future, will have nothing to do with business but is all about the alien influence on our lives.

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08th Dec 2017 11:42

Don't worry so much about deadlines. Clients should be trained to know that if the information isn't delivered in a timely fashion then they might be filed late and they will incur a penalty. Some are happy to pay the fine, others will learn from it.

Don't kill yourself because clients are tardy.

I personally find sending out reminders during the year to be utterly pointless, and May would just be a waste of an email.

I know more or less exactly who will be giving me information and when.

It's part and parcel of the way my clients work- I don't expect to have a day off in January but then again I can happily work a 3 day week mid summer and enjoy my golf: work/life balance.

I did smile at the 'final reminder end of September saying if not in by end of October they might be late'. Really? Three months to process information?

Also, you might want to write the article in the past tense as you sold the firm in 2017. Which is probably the best advice you could give anyone!

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09th Dec 2017 15:30

I premeditate each nite before I go to bed. This gives me some detailed insight of the work ahead. It takes away all the time hitherto I would spend awake in the middle of the nite pondering on the work load.

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09th Dec 2017 20:52

I find a holiday in the sun either during Christmas or after 1st Feb works wonders. Normally we go for February, but this winter we are going Christmas week and coming back Christmas Eve. Can't go for longer as kids school holidays are in the way.

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to Manchester_man
11th Dec 2017 09:50

If you're anywhere near Blackpool Christmas day look out for the "skinny dippers". I will be literally freezing my nuts off.

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