How Accounting Professionals Can Reduce Stress And Stay Sane Tax Season and Year RoundMar 15, 2023
If you are an accounting professional who is sick and tired of abusive clients, who never get you what you need on time, and then call at the last minute expecting you to perform miracles, you are not alone.
I see what’s going on. I watch from afar. In fact, the complaints seem to flow on the #TaxTwitter hashtag about ridiculous and abusive clients.
I’ve read horror stories about the ridiculous expectations of clients. During the early part of the pandemic, one accountant I work with shared with me that one of her clients told that he should not have to pay her fees, because she got a PPP Loan and that covers it!!!!
That’s not how that works sir!
It took her a while, but with a strong push from me, she eventually let that client go! And he was VERY upset – couldn’t understand why she would not want to work for him.
I couldn’t make this stuff up, and I am frequently reminded of this post from Tim Ferris:
Spoiler alert – the short of it is that the more people you get exposed to, the larger the population, the more people you will encounter who have (apparently) gone off their meds. It sounds like I am being funny, but I’m not. If you read his article, you will realize how serious this is. What Tim has had to endure as he got more famous, would be a lot for anyone.
Now, you may not be famous, nor may you aspire to be, but as you grow your business in today’s world with social media and the many channels we have to reach all kinds of people from all walks of life, that reach will undoubtedly increase.
Another thing I recently read that I thought was hilarious, but sadly true is that the “person you’re arguing with” on the internet is probably that same kid in class who liked to eat glue. Don’t do it. Move on.
The same thing goes for our clients.
Your job is hard enough. You keep up with all of the regulations so that you can inform and complete the work your clients hire you to do, and then not only do they not appreciate it, they expect so much more from you than they pay you for.
Your clients don’t understand that your fees for, for example, tax prep do not include a full quarterly report on the performance of their company. They just include tax preparation. By the way, it might help to make this point clear in your engagement letter, as in, “our tax prep services don’t include analysis, advisory…” And of course there’s your opportunity to upsell them on those services for a very healthy fee.
Want to reduce stress during tax season and all year round?
Get rid of every single one of those clients. You do not need clients adding to your stress. You have enough stress without that.
Your clients should be like family to you. You should be so in love with your clients that you can’t wait to get on Zoom or on the phone with them and find out what’s going on in their world today.
And you should know everything about their business because that’s how much you love them and their business.
Handle the client part, and that should relieve 50% or more of your stress right there.
And every single time I’ve parted company with a client I no longer loved working with (whether it was their choice or mine), I have been relieved. I’ve also replaced them in short order, often nearly tripling what they were paying me. This is because I learn from every experience and I adjust my fees accordingly.
Plus, the more clients pay me, the more they value my services. This is not magic. It’s inherent.
You will fall deeply in love with your own practice when you have the kind of practice that consists of clients, employees, and other colleagues you LOVE to work with. These are the people that surround you all day, every day.
You have a responsibility to yourself and your family at home to set up your practice this way. When you accomplish this, I can promise that YOU will be much more pleasant to be around. In fact, people will be attracted to you, because you’ll be so happy and excited about what you are doing, and who you are doing it with, that your whole personality will be energetic and attractive.
So where does the other 50% of the stress relief come from?
It’s in your systems and processes. It’s based on getting to your office every day, and feeling excited and confident because you have everything you need right at your fingertips. You know exactly what you need to do and how to prioritize your tasks and projects. Sounds like a miracle, right? An unattainable holy grail?
It isn’t. I can promise you this. I can promise you that the problem is not in using your imagination. It’s about pointing your imagination at the right objectives. Then you build your systems around that.
It all starts with how you organize your time!
You’re going to use apps to manage your systems and processes. You already are. For example, many – maybe most of you (if you’re reading an article of mine) – are using QuickBooks Online to manage your clients and your own accounting. Why? Because it works. Because when you put the data INTO QuickBooks Online and you do it right, a.k.a. “Bulletproof”, then you can get really useful and reliable data OUT of QuickBooks Online.
When I can review my clients’ bookkeeping with them, and I can see that they have a lot of confidence in the numbers I’ve prepared, that reduces stress. A TON of it, actually. What reinforces this even more is when I know the books are bulletproof. That means if the client has doubts, I can prove my numbers. That will not only restore their confidence, it will boost their confidence so dramatically that they will be less and less likely to question my work, which again reduces stress.
Not to mention that QuickBooks Online makes it so effective and efficient to collaborate with my clients, which also reduces stress. When I can get the information I need quickly and easily, and then update it in QBO with ridiculous speed, my stress levels go down.
Then there are the rest of the systems that we need in order to track the other accounting tangent data, as well as non-accounting data, like our own schedules, a.k.a. time management.
Hint: time management is where most of us fail, causing the most stress.
The Six Hour Workday, by Seth David
I want to share a quick story with you. It was 2022, and we were nearing the end of the year. By October, I already had my calendar blocked off, as follows:
1 Full week over thanksgiving break.
2 Full weeks at the end of the year.
It was about March of 2022 when I remembered that I need to jump way ahead in my calendar and block off these times. I started doing this a few years ago, when I had a client who “needed” me to work with him on December 26th. He didn’t think it was a big deal because he knew that neither of us celebrated Christmas. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want the day off. And HIS client, who was a demanding Real Estate Investment firm, wanted reports that Monday, right after the holiday. They clearly did not care about the people they worked with. They only cared about “results.”
So, my client’s client’s problem became mine. I helped him that day and then I said, “never again.”
The above is what I did to protect myself. And now it’s MY job to fiercely protect my time.
Now we’re back to October 2022. I was looking at the many positive changes I’ve made in my life over the previous two years. Despite all of these changes, including dramatic improvements to my physical health, I was still pretty stressed out a lot of the time.
How was this possible?
I am the most organized person I know. I have the systems and the processes and I am constantly tweaking them. Any time something goes wrong, I look at myself, and ask how I can improve my process so that this doesn’t happen again? The above is a perfect example of what that looks like.
So why was I still stressed out?
Because, as much as I am organized and in control of my calendar, I was not entirely in control of my calendar.
The Rehab Schedule
I read a lot about productivity. That’s probably the Number One reason I’ve learned to be so productive. I am frequently told by people that they don’t know how I “do it all” and I am sure any of those people would be shocked if they knew how little I work compared to what they might think. Especially now.
I have had quite the health journey over the past two years. My workouts have become more important to me than anything else. As of this writing, I have lost forty-two pounds and increased so much muscle that I am now squatting 315 pounds in my workouts. This is a big accomplishment. Most people can’t squat their own weight. I am well over that.
And that should be noted as my Number One tip for how to reduce stress:
Exercise. Specifically lift weights. It will improve your confidence in so many ways, and as it turns out, if losing fat is a goal of yours (as it was and is for me), lifting weights is far more effective than cardio. Although both are important, lifting weights is more important.
As it turns out, lifting weights has also helped my mental health. There is something about getting in there and knowing there is nothing else I need to do, nowhere else I need to be, and that I will focus 100% on my workout. I’m insulated. No one can touch me during this hour to hour-and-a-half each day.
And by the way, I don’t work out to punish myself for what I ate. I workout to celebrate what my body can do.
Number Two tip for how to reduce stress:
Meal Plan. I am far from perfect in my diet, but my eating habits have also dramatically changed. About a year in, I was referred to a nutritionist. Her name is Annie Mabashov. You can follow her on Instagram. She literally changed my life. I was eating much better than ever before, on top of lifting weights, but I wasn’t losing that much weight, and I couldn’t understand why.
Annie had me start tracking everything I ate with the MyFitnessPal app. Once we had some data to work with (after tracking it for a few weeks), she saw what I needed to do:
Cut out all inflammatory foods.
No more bread (except for Ezekiel bread).
No more dairy.
And then I applied the formula that my fitness coach, Aaron Rashkin, had given me for eating. I used the ratio of 40/30/30 – carbs, fat, protein. You can enter this in MyFitnessPal along with your desired daily calorie intake and it tracks it for you to see where you are under/over.
It turns out that in this ratio, our bodies are able to achieve maximum efficiency in burning fat and converting carbs to glucose at an even rate, so we don’t spike our sugars. There are more benefits, but that was that part that was most important to me.
Improving my physical health has made all of the difference in terms of reducing stress, and has also improved my mental health! If you get into a routine of three to five workouts per week, which isn’t a lot, you will experience this yourself. I can promise you that.
And please consult a medical professional before getting into any kind of exercise routine. As referenced above, I’ve consulted with several people on this, plus a Functional Medicine Doctor, and a cardiologist.
Now let’s get back to owning your calendar. My trainer laughs and says I am “consistently inconsistent.” I would work out at all different times. I wanted to do it first thing in the morning, but oftentimes I was too tired. Especially if I worked late the night before. During the day I was busy, so I would do it at four or five PM, and that worked… except when it didn’t.
I was getting the workouts done, but not consistently. Yet I was still getting results.
The productivity stuff I was reading started speaking to me in a way that was probably always there, but I was just now noticing. We tend to find what we’re looking for when we realize we need it.
If you want to succeed and accomplish your goals, whatever they are, the key is consistency. And that means routine.
For working out, that means the same time every day. That becomes more important than anything else. A client can call me and tell me his business is on fire and I will say “I am so sorry, please call the fire department and let them know. And let me know what I can do to help. Thank goodness YOU are ok, and we have your accounting in QuickBooks Online and all of your records in the cloud, so the only thing you’ll need to replace is any hardware!”
Then I’m off to my workout.
One of the key ways I plan to grow my business now more than ever is content. So I’ve set aside Mondays and Wednesdays for that.
And here’s what it says in the description for the all day appointment I have in Google Calendar for Monday and Wednesday:
- I don't care whose shopping cart is broken.
- I don't care whose reconciliation fell apart.
- This is not the day for those things.
- This is the day for content and nothing else.
Going into 2023, I said I need to put extreme structure on my day.
Another thing I saw in what I was reading was about how we make much better use of our resources when they are scarce.
And time is the most important resource!!!
So what if I made time scarce?
On the one hand, I was worried this would increase my stress instead of relieving it, but I had a theory that it would do the opposite, and I wanted to test it.
So I created my “Rehab Schedule.”
When you’re in rehab (for alcohol and drug addiction), every single hour of your day is accounted for. I knew that this aspect of it would relieve stress because I would give myself the exact formula for everything I wanted to achieve, especially reduced stress, which comes from balance.
This formula will never be found in any spreadsheet (as much as I love spreadsheets).
It’s in how I organize my time on my calendar.
Starting with the #1 priority, my health, that was going to happen at 2:30 PM every day. And I knew that would mark the end of the workday for me, because at 4 PM my wife and I like to take The Goddesses out to “Goddess Park” (a.k.a our backyard).
By 5 PM, we are winding down, making dinner, and I might spend some time catching up on emails, Slack, and Discord messages.
By 6 PM, I am either playing video games on my new PS5 (A gift I bought myself at the end of last year), or watching some show on some streaming service. I may substitute more reading around this time. Not articles on productivity, but books on anything from productivity to pleasure).
Around 8 PM, I am making myself some chamomile tea and watching one last episode of whatever I’m watching.
Next, I look at my morning routine.
5 AM wake up every day, and the first hour of the day is spent with The Goddesses on our new Sofa!.
6 AM, I start getting ready.
7 AM, I meditate for twenty-five minutes with a Deep Concentration meditation on Calm.com.
By 8 AM, I am drinking my coffee and starting my work.
I crafted this schedule and plotted it out right in Google Calendar. Every block is non-negotiable. I was worried that only giving myself a six hour workday (8-2:30, minus lunch) would create more stress.
It has had the opposite effect. My wife remarked almost immediately that I seem more relaxed than I’ve ever been since she’s known me. And that is a REALLY long time 😜.
Meanwhile, my production has gone way up. My theory proved correct. I am MUCH more focused knowing I have limited time to get my work done. I can’t remember the last time I was THIS consistent about producing content.
Imagine how much more vigilant you’ll be when you have a short work day, using things like Bank Feed Rules in QuickBooks Online to make sure you are spending the absolute minimum amount of time needed coding those. And if you update bank feeds once per week on a designated day for each client, you will find that monthly reconciliations, and financial statement analysis will take very little time.
One little process feeds the next!
To recap the above very succinctly, here’s how I reduce my stress, not just at tax time but all year round:
- I take care of my physical health, and that in turn takes care of my mental health.
- I organize my calendar (which means my time) around every routine I need to drive success in every area of my life.
- Then I fiercely protect my time.
It’s important to note here that I have built my schedule around a fair amount of flexibility. I don’t need an hour to shower and get ready in the morning, but I gave myself a full hour so that I can take my time. If I am still playing and snuggling with my Goddesses at 6:30 AM, I am still ok.
I only meditate for twenty-five minutes, but I give myself the whole hour, from seven to eight, to allow plenty of time.
Most of you don’t do this. You try to squeeze way too much in, and time block based on the bare minimum you can allow yourself. Change that. Intentionally overestimate your time and I promise you it will dramatically reduce your stress.
This will also have you less inclined to overpromise.
In December, someone wanted me to start working on his books before the end of the year. I knew this meant I would need to work over that two week break I had planned. I told him that if he could wait until January I would be happy to help him. He said he couldn’t wait, and I said I couldn’t help him.
That’s what “non-negotiable” looks like. I finally divorced myself from the thinking that I had to rake in every dollar I could no matter what the cost to me.
It’s not worth it.
There’s one last thing I have to offer you here. Above I mentioned systems and processes. And I’ve given you a big part of it in terms of how to manage your time by structuring your schedule.
But there’s another important part to this.
We live in a MIMO world. That’s not a lost fish. It means Multiple Inputs and Multiple Outputs. How do you manage that? How do you manage every request, email, follow up, to-do, project, and generally every little thing you need to do or be reminded of?
Of course, there are many “apps for that.” As someone who has seemingly played with them all, I can share a ton of experience with you on this subject. And rather than overwhelm you with all of the choices, I am going to tell you what I’ve landed on as THE tool that I think everyone should be using.
The biggest mistake that I see almost every accounting professional make is in choosing the best app for YOU and your team.
Most of you do this backwards!
You hear a bunch of other accountants buzzing around about this app or that app, and which one is making the rounds this week, so you assume you need to jump on the bandwagon and start using that app.
But you haven’t outlined the exact problems you want to solve with said app.
So let’s start from the very beginning. I heard that’s a very good place to start 😉.
What are we trying to accomplish here?
Let’s try this on for size:
We want to capture, clarify, and organize every thing that comes our way and represents something we need to do.
It sounds simple, but it’s actually a LOT when you think about how many things are thrown at you every single day, not to mention all of your own thoughts.
I asked ChatGPT how many thoughts the average person has each day and this was the answer:
The number of thoughts an average person has in a day is difficult to determine and can vary greatly from person to person. Some estimates suggest that the average person has around 60,000 thoughts per day, although this number is not scientifically verified. Factors such as age, mental state, and external environment can all impact the number of thoughts a person experiences in a day.
Somewhere in that very rough estimate of 60,000 thoughts are many reminders your brain serves up all day long, often at the most inopportune times. For example, you are standing in line at a supermarket and that’s when the random thought creeps in about that thing you promised that client you would do before the day is over! Now what? Can’t really whip out your laptop and start working on it there. But you CAN and should probably whip out your mobile app, and jot it down.
The next question is, where in your mobile device did that thought just go?
Is it in a system you know you are going to check, even if you completely forget about it after this moment?
You need a system you can trust, which means it is in a place where you know you are going to check throughout the day. Better still, you can set reminders that you will pay attention to, at the right time, when you can act on it.
The system also needs to allow the space for you to clarify what needs to be done. More specifically, what does this thing look like when it’s finished? What is the next thing you need to do, to move it forward, and when do you need to work on it next to get it done on time?
Where does this item belong? Is it something you have to do for a client? For your own practice? Or is it a personal item?
After you capture and clarify it, you’ll need a way to organize it.
If your system accomplishes all of the above, then you should find yourself experiencing much lower stress levels immediately.
Choose your weapon
NOW you can pick an app, or evaluate the one you’ve already started with. In most cases, any app you use will allow you to accomplish this. They all do things a little differently, but it really comes down to you figuring out your own process with the app you choose to use.
Go back to your calendar and add a routine for reading and learning. Use that time to focus on learning your app.
And now for my suggestion.
One thing you’ll want to know for sure for those of you offering accounting and bookkeeping services is that your app makes it easy for you to work with, say, QuickBooks Online?
In this video, I am going to show you how I have all of my client projects, to-do items, and any other kind of information available right at my fingertips. I’ll show you how easy I’ve made it to access what I need, when I need it, and why I never stress about how to find it.
I am constantly working at this because I am always learning, and the more I learn, the more I come up with better ways for accomplishing what I need to. This means I am coming up with better ways to capture, clarify, and organize everything I need to do in every area of my life.
From my workouts, to my body composition, to my client work – it’s all in Notion. And I can generally find anything I am looking for in thirty seconds or less.
That’s the rule.
If I can’t find it in thirty seconds or less, no matter how long it’s been, then it’s not organized and I need to fix that.
Watch the video above if you haven’t already, to see everything I am talking about.
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