Don’t take your post-tax season vacation yet
You’re past the finish line of another frantic busy season. Congrats!
Before you pack your bags and hightail it to the airport, take a half day with your team to review all the moving pieces involved in your latest busy season. Tax Day may be April 15, but tax season should officially end on April 16. Let your team sleep in. Order lunch for the office. But make sure everyone shows up. Sure, there were days and clients that you’d like to forget ASAP. But right now is exactly the time to spend a few hours with your team to do a thorough debrief — while it’s still fresh in your mind.
Celebrate all the good feedback you got from clients this season. It’s also the ideal time to look at what could have gone better. Be honest with each other. Write down all the things that could have been done to make those bottlenecks, potholes and speed bumps less disruptive next time around. Again, the key is to do it right now, while the experience is still fresh in your mind.
Very important: You don’t have to solve all your challenges before you leave. Just get the issues on the table and document them. Everything should fit onto a single sheet containing three columns:
1. Left-hand column: Everything that went well during tax season.
2. Middle column: Everything that could have gone better.
3. Right-hand column: Proposed solutions.
Don’t fall victim to the “Forgetting Curve”
If you’re like most CPAs, this past tax season was one of the most arduous, most confusing ones in a long time. Now that it’s over (for now), you’ve earned some R&R. But, if you can delay your vacation by just half a day to document all the things that went well during tax season and all the things that could have gone better, you’ll hit the ground running upon your return with some clearly identified goals and objectives to work on.
If you don’t do this, however, any lessons to take away from tax season will be gone by the time you get back from mending your wounds. Not convinced? Research shows we tend to forget the vast majority of what we learned or experienced within 24 hours of encountering it—in fact, almost 50 percent vaporizes within the first 20 minutes. There’s even a name for this phenomenon called the Forgetting Curve, developed over a century ago by German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus. It’s the Forgetting Curve that causes many of us to succumb to “marathon runner’s fallacy” when they get back from vacation. Let me explain.
Most runners (including my wife) say, “Never again!” after grinding their way through a 26.2-mile run. Then they take some time off to recover. Everyone’s congratulating them. The medals and finishing photos come in. And before they know it, they tell themselves, “That wasn’t so bad.” Next thing you know, they’re Googling other marathons to enter. Long forgotten are the blisters, the shaking knees, the cramps, the chafing, the abdominal distress, and the poor decision to start out way too fast the first 10 miles.
If you’re a runner and you don’t take some time right after the race to review what went well and what could have gone better, you’ll end up making mistakes all over again in your next race. Same goes for accountants who grind their way through another arduous tax season and then sweep it under the rug on April 16.
Ever wonder why the Boston Marathon so often falls on Tax Day (aka Patriots Day in New England)? OK, so maybe it’s just a coincidence, but here’s one thing I’m certain of. Most CPAs, like most runners, are looking for ways to get better. Most want to keep learning and most want to grow. But, none of that’s going to happen if you don’t put the time on the calendar to do it. If you don’t tell yourself that your tax season is not over until 2 p.m. on April 16, 2019 — the day after tax season — then you’re not going to make a commitment to breaking through and getting better. It’s so tempting not to relive a stressful experience.
Great CPAs and great firms know the difference between the Performance Zone and the Learning Zone.
As I explained in my earlier column, the Performance Zone is where you do your core work. It’s where you apply your skills, execute, try to minimize mistakes and achieve your best results. The Learning Zone is where you make improvements and focus on what you don’t know how to do yet. The Learning Zone is where you experiment and make mistakes in a low-risk setting, so you can keep learning and getting better.
So, put your tax season debrief on the calendar ASAP. Make sure everybody knows it’s a mandatory meeting (not a cruel joke). Come with an agenda. Take good notes. Record the meeting if possible. If you can’t set aside three hours to make three whole months better next tax season, then you’re not doing yourself any favors. You’re basically giving your future self (i.e. you, 12 months from now) the middle finger. But, suppose you went through the debrief process every April for the last 10 years. How much better would your work (and personal) life be right now? A half day on April 16 won’t be easy. A 2019 tax season without any improvements will be much worse.