I have spoken to a few practitioners already this year who are feeling stressed, fed up and very alone. One was even considering throwing in the towel! How do you get through the next few weeks when you have a mountain of tax returns to do?
It can be a very lonely job when you are working for yourself and you cannot see the wood for the trees while everyone wants a piece of you. In this short blog, I have come up with some ideas to help you get through January in one piece.
Starting Point, start planning.
Take five minutes now to work out exactly what has to be done and draw up a plan. If you can see it all mapped out it will not seem so daunting. Think about how climbers climb Everest, or a marathon runner preparing for a run. They think about each part of the journey and set way markers to break it all down, so why not do the same.
I spoke to a chap the other day with 117 returns still to do. He has twenty-one full days before the deadline. So let's give him Sundays off. That leaves him eighteen days. That is now only 6 and a half returns per day. Obviously, you cannot do half a return, so if he does seven returns a day for the next ten days, he’ll only need to do 6 returns for the remaining eight days.
Yes, I appreciate that he also has other work to do, and calls and emails to deal with, but if you break down the work that is causing him stress it seems more palatable. He now needs to work out when during the day he does these returns and all his other work.
Reduce Interruptions, or even eliminate them if you can.
Try to minimise interruptions. Put an answer message on the phone. For example. “Thank you for calling, but as it is busy this time of year I am out at clients. I am back every afternoon between 3:00 pm and 5:00 pm so can take your call then. If your matter is urgent, please email me.’ Ignore the phone when it rings. Or better still, turn it off.
You then need to put an out of office on your email and turn off ALL notifications. Every interruption is going to cause a distraction so you need to lock yourself away from any intrusion. This is probably why this guy is working until 2:00 am every morning. I bet he doesn't get any interruptions at this time of day, but it is a bit drastic. A nicely worded out of office email response will not upset anyone. They need to know how busy you are, therefore will more likely give you some space if their issue isn’t urgent.
Set a target with a reward.
If you aim to sit down and plough through a number of returns, reward yourself with a break and a treat. It may be a biscuit, a coffee or a nice glass of freshly squeezed orange juice. Whatever it takes to give you something to look forward too. Why not set bigger goals and rewards for the week. But use this reward as a motivator to help you focus and get the job done. With something to focus on, you’ll feel more motivated. Especially if you have a plan and something to aim for.
Do the easy ones first.
This is psychological and I do not know the right answer. If you do all the easy ones first you’ll soon reduce your long list to something more manageable. Out of say 100 returns at least 50 of them will be a doddle. You can probably get these out of the way pretty quickly thus leaving you with only 50 to do.
You may prefer to get the difficult ones out of the way first, so then as a reward, it's just the easy ones left. Or how about doing one difficult one then two easy ones and then a chocolate biscuit? Whatever way you do it, put them all in a list so that you can focus and manage your progress so that you can see the pile reducing.
Pay the fine.
You may, in extreme cases consider paying the fine yourself, or asking your client to pay the fine, especially if they have been tardy in bringing you the information. If you have a really complicated return, by paying the fine you can push this to next month to lighten the load. Don’t go mad though as you’ll soon be out of pocket, but another idea to consider as a last resort.
Share the problem
Do you have anyone in your network who may be able to take a few off your hands to reduce the load? Or at least have someone to talk to. They are probably feeling the same stress as you so how about calling each other to monitor progress between you. This way you’ll be helping each other and have a shoulder to cry on. At this time of year, it is very easy to feel isolated, you are not alone, so pick up the phone. If any of my contacts who want to chat, you know where I am.
Take a break.
I am a big advocate of a walk. I put my music on and take a stroll. Some days I get as far as the coast, other days it’s just around the block, but it does help clear my head and get me ready for the next chunk of work that I do. You may enjoy cycling, or weights or a crossword. Whatever it is, take five to fifteen minutes out every so often to clear your head. When you get back you’ll feel energised and ready to crack on.
Your Turn, over to you....
Good luck and keep smiling and remember that you are not alone, there are plenty of other practitioners working silly hours, so have a quick chat with them to keep all your spirits up.