How to manage your time in tax return season and keep control of your sanity!

Well.....Summer is now a distant memory and thoughts are turning to Christmas already. This means that panic for many practitioners is beginning to creep in and I hear cries of 'I can't possibly think about business strategy or business planning until the 31st January has passed !'

Below I want to share some helpful tips I have seen used to good effect over the years which will help you manage your time, feel more in control and even allow you to take time off over the Christmas period without guilt or worry;

  • The more successful accountancy firms have systems in place to ensure that clients know that they will pay a premium fee if information isn't received by a certain date. This usually motivates clients and, at worst, relieves some of the last minute pain of completing late returns if you know you are being paid a premium for doing so.
  • Work out and document how many returns (and sets of accounts to go with them ) you need to complete between now and the end of January in the available working days that are left.
  • Analyse this list (something you will feel comfortable doing as an accountant!) into categories to show; 'In not started','In progress but awaiting information'. 'No info in as yet'
  • Ensure this list is updated weekly for movement so you can readily monitor 'the score on the doors' and plan how many returns need to be processed in the available remaining days and what resources you have to hit this target.
  • People like to work to targets and when they can see clearly that they will achieve them it tends to remove the 'panic and stress' factor which often leads to low morale and silly mistakes.
  • Look at when your clients provided you with the information and work on a 'first in first out' basis. The one thing any client truly hates their accountant for is being told with minimal notice what tax they have to pay in January ! This is one of the most common reasons clients look to change advisors every New Year. Be warned and take action now !
  • Manage the clients perception and expectation; many clients will think (in error) that they have provided you with all the information you require months ago and then get frustrated when you write or call asking for the same thing again.Frustration builds when you feel you have worked around the clock to get the return complete only to find an ungrateful client who curses you for being the bearer of bad news and a tax liablity due at the end of Januray when their cashflow is groaning ! To add insult to injury the client then doesn't pay you your fee for months to come...........sound familiar ?
  • The solution is to call and talk to your client.. Confirm what information you need (if any remains outstanding), apologise if you have sat on some information they sent in months ago without getting back to them, tell them when you will complete the return and provide an estimate of what their tax liability will be. A simple call will usually keep a client happy and you can learn from this process to put systems in place so the same poor level of client service doesn't happen again in years to come. Result is happy client and happy accountant !
  • Communiaction really is the key to keeping a client happy and making your own life easier.Don't write but call- this is more personal, takes less time and is more highly valued by the client.
  • Trying to drag last minute overdue information in from clients is a perennial headache. In future you can try managing this process from April but now that we are in November you have to take remedial action. We all have some 'A' grade clients who are last minute merchants but we will jump through the hoops for them becase they pay a handsome fee and this allows for the pain factor factor. However, for those clients who don't fall into this category you need to decide if they are actually your ideal type of client going forward and whether you do actually want to act for them.
  • For those clients who are good clients but dragging their heels you may want to consider offereing a service to collect the information you need and at least this gives you better control over planning your own work production schedule.
  • The majority of a firms' clients are now on a fixed fee and standing order arrangement. This is fast becoming the 'norm' within the profession. For those clients of yours who are not on this system it is worth considering you ask clients to pay for their tax retrun completion when they bring the records in. Again, this is becoming the 'norm' for the profession and your cashflow is preserved even though stress levels are rising !


  • Systems, systems, systems.....remain the key to good time management and dealing with the annual flow of tax returns. Hopefully the above will help you steer a steady course through to January. If nothing else, make it your New Year resolution to put these systems in place for next year so you can have peace of mind going forward.
  • You also need to structure your business to ensure it is your staff who are trained on these systems and can complete the technical work. It is not the role of a partner and business owner to be burning the midnight oil in December and January processing tax returns ! If this happens, you need to take stock and think about whether you are a technician with a job or truly a business owner ? This will drive you forward into changing your business into what you want it to be in the future.

If you have any specific questions on the above or any other practice management issues then please e-mail me at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it


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