Keith Joyce, CPA, was in desperate need of a break by the end of this year's busy tax season.
The run-up to the tax deadline had him and his staff working longer than typical days at Joyce and Company, CPA, a public accounting firm he owns in Cary, N.C.
"Most of our staff works 55 to 58 hours per week during a typical busy season. The partners work up to 85 hours, and I work anywhere from 95 to 100 hours," he said.
But it helped that he had something to look forward to: This year, like every year, when the clock struck noon on April 15, Joyce took a week off and went fishing.
"I pick a different lake each day, turn off my phone, and try not to think about work," he said.
After recovering from the busy tax season, Joyce spends the rest of the year working mostly four-day weeks with Fridays off, enjoying long weekends fishing and working on maintenance projects at a vacation home he owns.
"Shoveling mulch seems like a break after busy season," he quipped.
Lynn Taylor, an author and CEO of Lynn Taylor Consulting, a Newport Beach, Calif., workplace coaching organization, agrees with Joyce's strategy of getting back to nature to decompress after busy season.
"There are few things more relaxing than taking in nature," she said. "Spring is an optimal time of year to take advantage of the outdoors and celebrate the aftermath of tax season."
Here are some more tips from experts on how to gear down after working at maximum capacity during the first three-and-a-half months of the year.
Make sure your office remains staffed. Freedom from tax season may feel great, but clients are still important. You likely will enjoy your downtime more if you know the office is covered. Have a firm administrator or a trusted colleague handle your calls when you go on vacation, Taylor suggested.
"If you are part of a small firm, you may even work out a relationship with a 'sister' firm to cover when you're not there," she said.
Communicate with your clients ahead of time that you'll be out and let those covering for you know what constitutes a true emergency.
Reconnect with family and friends. When you are immersed in busy season, some of life's pleasures go on the back burner and you make many sacrifices, including spending time away from friends and family. Your sacrifice becomes theirs, too. "The weeks following April 15 are the precise time to engage once again with the important people in your life," Taylor said. Scheduling coffee dates, grabbing a meal, or getting out and taking a long walk with family or friends will help rebuild relationships and provide quality time with those you care about.
Go on vacation. Put some distance between your life and tax season by taking a vacation. Alice Boyes, Ph.D., a Las Vegas-based writer and former clinical psychologist who authored The Healthy Mind Toolkit, recommends keeping it simple by visiting a favorite resort or campsite or enjoying an annual family trip to the beach.
"After tax season, focus on a relaxing vacation, one that doesn't require a lot of scheduling or decision-making," she said.
It also helps to plan your escape before tax season starts so when you're ready, all you have to do is pack, go, and enjoy.
Take a mental break from work. Let your mind drift from worrisome thoughts related to accounting in the days following the end of busy season. Set time periods when you are not connected to your phone or email, Taylor advised. To set boundaries for both yourself and your clients, while letting them know you are not ignoring them, use the auto-reply function on your email and set your voicemail to alert clients that you are out and when you will be back.
"Our digital world can challenge our work and leisure boundaries, so be clear on what those boundaries are and stick to them," Taylor said.
Joyce, while enjoying precious hours on the lake, generally keeps his email turned off, but checks in once a day to avoid leaving clients stranded.
"I feel like I need to stay on top of various odds and ends, like clients who missed deadlines, are filing late, or left some information off their returns," he said.
Build in some unplanned time. After working at what feels like 100 miles per hour during busy season, coming to a screeching halt when it's over can be a jolting experience.
"You do crash at some point, and you may enter the zombie zone," Boyes said. "Give yourself time to be a zombie and let your mind and body slow down."
This is a good time to indulge in mindless rituals, like wandering through your favorite mall, bingeing on movies or television shows, reading, or pursuing other activities that don't require much thought and give your brain a chance to recover.
Nurture your brain and body. After busy season ends, line up some activities to feed your brain and care for your body. Tackle that novel you have been waiting months to read. Or sign up for an activity you've always wanted to try, such as art or gardening.
"This is also a good time to replenish your energy and improve your health by exercising, eating healthier foods, or getting your annual physical," Boyes said.
Relax and enjoy the down time. Busy season may be stressful, but it's a small percentage of your entire work year, Joyce said. He acknowledges that most CPAs could not work at that pace endlessly, and having something fun and relaxing to look forward to when it's over is motivating.
"Anticipating time to enjoy hobbies and activities is like the carrot at the end of tax season," he said.
Teri Saylor is a freelance writer based in North Carolina. To comment on this article or suggest an idea for another article, contact Chris Baysden, JofA associate director, at Chris.Baysden@aicpa-cima.com.