Books to read before busy season starts

CPAs recommend reading that offers advice on how to make work easier and decrease stress.
By Cheryl Meyer

Busy season is fast approaching and with that comes the inevitable: long hours, clients to serve, and, of course, stress for CPAs balancing work with their personal lives.

We asked several CPAs to recommend books to help others in the profession prepare for the busy season. Here are their top choices:

Clockwork: Design Your Business to Run Itself. Published in August 2018, Clockwork advises business owners on how to free up time for doing more important things, both professionally and personally. Author Mike Michalowicz discusses how to prioritize, automate business processes, and prompt employees to perform like owners (and, in turn, take on more responsibilities). "[The book] puts everything that I do into perspective, and it helps me pick and choose which projects I should be working on," said Brett Neal, CPA, founder of his own firm in Clovis, Calif. "It is time to delegate your routine tasks to technology and to people that can handle it for you."

Moneyball. Written by noted author Michael Lewis in 2003 and later made into a film, Moneyball describes how Oakland Athletics General Manager Billy Beane used statistical analyses to evaluate players, create a team, and outsmart baseball clubs with heftier payrolls. Bennet Tchaikovsky, CPA, J.D., a former CFO and an accounting professor at California's Irvine Valley College, recommended the book because it prompts CPAs to look "outside the box" and use their downtime to analyze clients, employees, and even partners by using statistics or other methods. If challenging clients took up too much of your time last busy season, for instance, find better ways to interact with them or release them, Tchaikovsky suggested. "Try to use your time now to evaluate what metrics you are using," he said.

The Ultimate CPA Practice in the New Economy. Published in 2011 and written by consultant Salim Omar, CPA, this book aims to help public accounting firm owners grow their practice and avoid being overworked. Greg O'Brien, CPA, president of Greg O'Brien, CPA, in Boston, said the book outlines planning and scheduling techniques, along with streamlined and automated procedures. "CPAs simply cannot lose focus of the importance of growing their business during the busy season," O'Brien said. "The book showed me that as an owner of a new and growing firm, it's important not to get bogged down in all the details, and make sure I am setting the proper time aside to work 'on' the firm versus 'in' the firm, especially during the busy times."

The New One Minute Manager. A sequel to the 1982 classic "The One-Minute Manager," this 2015 update by Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson strives to help people succeed by understanding their strengths, motivators, and time-management issues, among other things. "This book has helped me understand how to prioritize my time and realize areas I need to improve upon in my personal and professional life," said Michael Chelena, CPA, an assurance supervisor at RSM US in McLean, Va.

The Decision Loom: A Design for Interactive Decision-Making in Organizations. This 2011 book, authored by Vincent Barabba, a market researcher and former director of the U.S. Census Bureau, focuses on how organizations can systemize their decision-making processes to make better choices. The book advises business owners on how to deal with technological changes that could affect their organizations daily, said James Bourke, CPA/CITP/CFF, CGMA, a partner at Withum, in Red Bank, N.J. "I personally learned to keep an open eye on new and emerging technologies as a way to ease the burden brought on by busy season," he said.

Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers. Originally published in 1994 and now in its third edition, this book examines how prolonged stress can cause both physical and mental issues, including ulcers, depression, and heart disease. The book was written by Robert M. Sapolsky, a Stanford University professor of neuroendocrinology, and combines humor and practical advice on controlling one's responses to pressure and anxiety. Christopher Fenn, CPA, an accounting professor at Georgia State University and CEO of American Capital Corp., said this book is pertinent for everyday life. "It will draw the CPA in while reviewing the different ways that stress affects one mentally, physically, socially and emotionally," he noted.

The 4-Hour Work Week. Serial entrepreneur Timothy Ferriss first published this best-selling book in 2007, and its main premise is simple: People can work less and enjoy life more. Shauna Wekherlien, CPA, president and CEO of Tax Goddess Business Services, a firm based in Scottsdale, Ariz., said the book helped her systemize her business so that she could enjoy life away from her desk, even when busy. Ferriss offered tips like automating processes and delegating to others. "I have read and reread this book every single year" since it was published, Wekherlien said. "I love it and recommend it to everyone."

Cheryl Meyer is a California-based freelance writer. To comment on this article or suggest an idea for another article, contact Chris Baysden, a JofA associate director, at

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