How to Survive Your First Tax Busy Season

Are you a first – year external auditor?

So you’re in your first year as an external auditor in an auditing firm. You just graduated from college, may or may not be a licensed accountant and you are about to embark in a (hopefully, long – term) auditing career. You don’t know quite what to expect, you just know that becoming an external auditor was a very highly recommended career path for you. Hence, your decision to become one.

But wait! What exactly is a busy season or rather, a tax busy season? It is the quarter or the three months before the deadline for filing the annual income tax return and the audited financial statements. In the case of the Philippines, the requirement is to file the annual income tax return and the audited financial statements on or before April 15 so the busy season starts (technically) around January and should ideally end on April 15.

So what characterizes a busy season? I mean, what’s so special about it? Well, this is the time when auditors experience late nights, overtime, sometimes even overnights, a lot of pressure, lots of things to do and not enough time to do them and, in general, spends more time in the office (or in the client) than at home. And if you think I’m kidding, think again. I should know, I worked like that for 13 busy seasons.

So how would you survive your first ever tax busy season?

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Do Your Research, Know What to Expect

Ask around. Ask your friends who have been working in audit for more than a year, ask the senior auditors or better yet, ask your audit managers what is the busy season like. Better yet, ask what your client is like. Knowing what to expect during the busy season and how easy or difficult is it to audit your client means you can better prepare yourself, mentally, physically and psychologically, for the coming busy season.

Maintain a Good Attitude

Don’t sweat the small stuff. Always maintain a positive attitude. Think of it as a good (if not, great) experience for you. Keep in mind that this is only for three or three and a half months and once it’s over, you’ll be free of the pressure and overtime. If your manager or boss or one of your colleagues or even your client is having a bad mood and taking it out on you, let it go and don’t let it affect you. Let them have their bad day and keep yours a good one. You’ll feel a lot better and I swear, your blood pressure will thank you for it.

Plan and Prepare

Auditing involves planning. Chances are, your time in your client’s office and the time it takes to finalize the working papers and everything were already scheduled ahead of time. Know what your schedule is and plan your time accordingly. If you anticipate any special events like birthdays or anniversaries during the busy season, plan your work schedule and your progress so that you will have enough time to attend these events. Plan how you will deal with your house work, your laundry, your groceries, etc. during the busy season. If you can, have a fixed schedule when you will do all these during the week so that you’ll know what to expect during this time.

Prepare yourself physically by keeping yourself fit, eating the right food and taking your vitamins. Prepare yourself mentally by reading last year’s working papers, your audit work plan, memos and write – ups and any other relevant audit literature you can get your hands on.

Plan for Some ‘Me’ Time

This technically falls under planning, but it’s a tip all by itself. During the tax busy season, your time is no longer your own or at least you feel like it’s no longer your own. So take control of it by planning how you will spend any free time you can get. The number one activity is usually sleeping; you don’t get enough of this during the busy season so it’s always a priority when you have free time. But that doesn’t mean you will not do anything else. Plan how you want to spend your ‘me’ time when you see yourself having one. Go out for dinner with your friends and your loved ones, watch a good movie, go out of town, go to the gym, go and update your blogs or your Facebook account, listen to your favorite music, get in touch with your friends or do something that you know will not remind you of work. Planning for some ‘me’ time and going through with your plans will re – energize you when you go back to work.

And one more thing, when you’re in your free time, turn off your cell phone or let your voice mail pick up any calls you have so that you can fully relax during this time.

Manage Your Time and Stay Focused

Time management will not necessarily reduce your overtimes or the pressure but it will make it easier for you to balance your work and your personal time. Prioritize your most important work and do them during the time that you know you’re in peak form. Focus yourself and let go of your personal distractions. When you want to relax a little bit, do the easier work like filing your working papers or summarizing your work or scheduling your time for the next day.

During the busy season, try to avoid doing personal activities that are time consuming. Things like preparing for a wedding or having a honeymoon or competing in sports, stuff like these. Yes, I know, your personal life is your own but this is a busy season, you signed up for it so you need to finish it and finish it in the best way possible. Doing all these personal stuffs will only overstretch you and cause you to be more pressured and more tired during this time.

Celebrate Your Achievements

During the tax busy season, you will find that your days blend like crazy. You don’t have a week – end, a holiday or any free day for that matter. But that doesn’t mean you can’t appreciate what you have achieved during this time. Take the time to feel proud or happy or both because you just finished your work and you were already released from the engagement and on your way to another one. Take the time to feel great when your team releases the audited financial statements to your client and your client has filed these financial statements and their tax return. When you finish a job, take a few hours off to eat something special or catch some sleep or to just simply get away from your work. Celebrating your (and your team’s) achievements is one way for you to re – charge and to keep your sanity, I mean your perspective, during the busiest time of an auditor’s year.

Last Words

As an external auditor, surviving your first tax busy season is critical because it will set the tone of your audit career. It can also spell the difference between staying for another busy season and resigning after your first busy season. I can’t count the number of staff I lost after their first busy season. But then again, the first busy season is when you’ll know if you’re really cut out for this career. In any case, whether you will leave or not, you still need to survive your first every tax busy season. Doing the above tips may not necessarily guarantee that you’ll come out of the busy season unscathed but they will certainly guarantee that you will have an easier time during these buy season months. So here’s to your first busy season and good luck!

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