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5 Self-Care Tips to Avoid Burnout in an Unusual Tax Season


The deadline extensions meant to offer relief to taxpayers have resulted in a “never-ending” tax season, leading to exhaustion for many bookkeepers. To avoid burnout, you must prioritize your own self-care.

May 11th 2020
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I talk to accountants and bookkeepers every day who are on the edge of exhaustion. The deadline extensions meant to offer relief to taxpayers have resulted in a “never-ending” tax season for us. Vacations celebrating the end of the busy season have been canceled or postponed due to lockdowns. Not that we could have taken those vacations, anyway: Instead of getting lighter, client demands and workloads are increasing during a time when many of us have the added responsibilities of educating children at home, cooking more than usual, and navigating a socially-distanced lifestyle.

It’s tempting to work non-stop when your clients need you and your to-do list seems to never shrink. We feel the pressure to get it all done RIGHT NOW. But if you work yourself to the point of exhaustion, you won’t be able to take care of your clients or the others who depend on you.

In short, you have to prioritize your own self-care. Here are five tips for taking care of yourself while taking care of your clients.

Tip #1: Maintain a Work Schedule

Even during “normal” times, many of us throw our work schedules out the window when our workloads seem insurmountable. This is actually when we need to maintain a work schedule the most.

That doesn’t mean your current work schedule has to look exactly like it did in January and February. It’s perfectly acceptable to alter your schedule to accommodate your current situation. Having no schedule at all, though, will lead to overwork and burnout.

Establish working hours for yourself…and stick to them. If you’re working from home, set up a comfortable working environment away from the areas where you relax. Close up the office when you are done working for the day. This “closing” can be literal (turning off the light and closing the door to your office space) or symbolic (shutting the lid on your laptop and walking to a different part of the house.) If you’re still working in an office outside of your home – or if you’ve recently returned to the office – resist the temptation to put in longer hours on a regular basis.

Once you’re done working for the day, stay away from your email. Resist the urge to answer work-related calls or text messages. If you feel like it’s necessary, you can set autoresponders and outgoing messages stating your current work schedule and when the sender or caller can expect a response.

Your clients understand you can’t be “on” all the time. They would rather you be well-rested and able to think creatively for them than exhausted and prone to making mistakes.

Tip #2: Accept Your To-Do List Will Never Be Completely Done

When we’re used to completing our to-do lists every day, it’s hard to watch them seemingly grow out of control. Our inclination becomes to ignore Tip #1 and work until we’ve done everything.

I would argue it’s not possible to complete your to-do list even during “normal” times. Regardless of what is happening in the economy, there are always things that could be done right away but that don’t have to be done right now. We’re just noticing it more now because we are under more stress than usual.

When you can accept there will always be something left undone on your to-do list, you can walk away from your work at the end of the day without guilt. I’ve found doing a “brain dump” into Excel and prioritizing works well. Here’s how I do it:

  1. In Column A, type out every task you need to complete. Don’t worry about spelling or duplication right now…just get it out of your head.
  2. In Column B, type out whether the task is High, Medium, Low, or No Priority.
  3. In Column C, enter a due date for each task with an actual due date. Don’t assign arbitrary due dates, at least not at first.
  4. Sort on Column C, then Column B.
  5. Hide all but the top 3 rows of the spreadsheet. If it’s helpful, highlight the highest priority task.
  6. Work on the task with the highest priority and the closest due date until it is done.
  7. Use the Strikethrough feature to mark off the completed task.
  8. Celebrate. Seriously. Take a moment to celebrate the completion of the first task on your list.
  9. Repeat steps 6 through 8 until all three items have been completed OR until you are at the end of your working time for the day.
  10. Once the first three items on your list are done, unhide the next three and repeat steps 5 through 9.

The idea is to avoid overwhelm by only allowing yourself to see the top three things you have to do at any given time. You’ll want to review your entire list each day to make sure none of the tasks have risen in priority, but this should only take a few moments.

Often, by the time you get to the tasks that are low-priority or don’t have a due date, you’ll discover they have either resolved themselves or they weren’t worth doing in the first place. When that happens, just mark them off your list.

Note: Some days you will only be able to complete one item on your list. That’s okay! As long as you are meeting deadlines and focusing on your highest priority task first, your day will be a success.

Tip #3: Make Self-Care Non-Negotiable

Making self-care non-negotiable seems easier said than done. Once you’ve implemented Tip #1 and Tip #2, though, prioritizing self-care becomes much easier.

Make time to exercise, read, meditate, eat right or do whatever else self-care means for you. Put self-care on your calendar, even if your self-care habits don’t happen during your working day. Treat this time the same way you’d treat an appointment with your best client – don’t schedule over it or work through it.

Self-care isn’t selfish. It’s necessary to do the things that nurture you FIRST so you can show up as the best version of yourself for your clients.

Tip #4: Be Kind to Yourself

You worked two hours later than your Tip #1 schedule says you should have because you looked at your entire Tip #2 list and panicked. As a result, you completely skipped Tip #3…two days in a row.

It’s okay.

Remember, you’re trying to break an old habit (overwork) and build a new one (taking care of yourself.) Just like with any other habit you’ve tried to break or build, you’re going to have slip-ups. The great thing about taking care of yourself is you can’t do it “wrong.” If you slip up a few times – or a few times every week – be kind to yourself. Reprioritize and resolve to do better tomorrow.

Tip #5: Give It Time to Work

When you first start prioritizing taking care of yourself, you might feel like you are causing more harm than good. Your to-do list will grow. Some clients might push back with a “dig” about your chosen work hours. You might feel a little more stressed out than you did before.

With time, though, you will realize you are more effective and efficient when you put your own needs first and take care of yourself. When this happens, you will rarely need Tip #4, because you won’t be able to imagine going back to the overworked and stressed-out person you once were. And your clients won’t want you to.

Final Thoughts

As service providers, bookkeepers and accountants are prone to putting their own needs last in order to serve their clients. This is especially true now, when our clients need us more than ever. It’s crucial for us to realize we can only be our best for our clients when we take care of ourselves and our own needs first and that doing so isn’t selfish. In fact, it’s much less selfish than working ourselves to the point of exhaustion and not being able to serve our clients to the best of our abilities.

Setting aside an entrenched habit can be hard, even if this habit is one that doesn’t serve us. Give yourself some grace as you work to prioritize taking care of yourself.

If you’re not sure these five tips will work for you, commit to a short, two-week trial period. You can always go back to the way you’ve been doing things…but I don’t think you’ll want to.

Take care of yourself.

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