Tax time survival guide

In April, it showers. It pours tax returns and audits for at least 10 hours a day, including weekends. Even for accountants who don’t do taxes, April thunders with office chaos and well-intentioned friends and family prodding for tax advice. This year, stay calm and dry with these tax-time survival tips.

Whether you’re busy preparing income tax returns or coping with workplace madness, you can beat tax-time chaos with these sanity-saving tips.

Tip #1: Create an ER environment

Vancouver’s Loren Nancke & Company, which has three partners and 24 staff processing 2,000 returns, practises triage. Partner Gabrielle Loren says CPA students do basic data entry and scanning. Then they route returns — depending on “severity” — to a mid-level CPA or a partner.

John McCormack pays his 20-something daughters to collate. The sole practitioner based in Oakville, Ont., completes 350 tax returns and always does the hardest ones at the start of the day when he’s fresh.

Tip #2: Manage favours

Since “accountant” is often considered synonymous with “someone who can do tax returns,” you can end up being busy even if calculating taxes is not your day job. “It’s hard to say no to friends and family because you have the body of knowledge that they don’t,” says Bill Mandelman, principal of Auditing and Assurance Standards at CPA Canada.

Accountants who feel the situation is spinning out of control may want to recruit immediate family to intercept requests for personal returns. Try well-rehearsed lines such as “Sorry, mom’s really up to her ears this year, I wouldn’t even ask” or “Dad’s doing audits at work. It’s brutal.”

Tip #3: Play, or plan to play

Every Monday night, Mitch Kujavsky of MK and Associates in Montreal heads out for his league’s hour-long dodgeball game. “Dodgeball is key,” Kujavsky says, for keeping stress in check.

CPAs who don’t do returns by day risk devoting all evenings and weekends to helping out family and friends, too. Carve out set times for work. When you’re on the squash court or at family movie night, keep your phone and laptop far, far away.

Loren has zero fun during tax season, but knows exactly when she’ll be living it up. “I’m a cruise-aholic,” she admits. She booked her August cruise long ago.

Tip #4: Control client meetings

McCormack protects work time by holding marathon client meetings two days a week at an executive business centre. The rest of the week he saves commute time by working from home. “Save the planet, save your sleep” is his motto.

Last year, Kujavsky began offering a tax return pick-up and delivery service for seniors. But those home visits took forever! This year, he’s bringing along his three year-old, Rose. “They get to play with my daughter, but I get out of there faster,” he says.

Tip #5: Get family buy-in

Years ago, Loren recalls dropping off her two-year-old son at daycare. A parent commented that he was always the first to arrive and the last to leave. The toddler sighed: “I know, it’s tax season.”

Today, Loren’s teen kids and husband still understand and lower their expectations when she’s busy. Their support and her tech tools help her stay balanced. “Ten hours a day during the month of April doesn’t seem like that big a deal.”

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