Think of busy season as the Super Bowl of a CPA firm. CPAs spend a majority of the year planning, preparing, and training for this high stakes time of year. The major difference is that rather than one day of football, busy season lasts around 10 weeks. So it requires the stamina, endurance, and long-term focus of a marathoner. But it all comes down to the team working together to meet demanding client needs.

Game parameters

So why is there such a time crunch? The majority of companies have a calendar year-end (December 31). To meet deadlines for SEC filings, bank requirements, tax reporting, and more, these companies often need a signed audit opinion anywhere between 45 to 120 days after their year-end. Most companies’ tax return deadlines are either March 15 or April 15, and everyone’s individual tax returns are also due April 15. Managing these deadlines alone is enough to keep anyone busy the first three and half months of the year, let alone serving all of your other clients from many industries with their ongoing business needs.

Keeping time

The hours you work depend on the number and impact of the obstacles you face, but typically you can plan for an average week’s effort. For most, that is a minimum of 55 to 60 hours per week. That’s around 10-11 hours a day and sometimes weekends. Add to that an hour for lunch, other non-chargeable time, and your commute and your weekday probably ends up consisting of leaving home around 7 - 7:30am and getting home around 7 - 8pm, sometimes later. You may spend 4-6 hours in the office on Saturdays too. As your time runs out and it comes closer to the buzzer, more hours than the average may be required to complete the work.

And remember, you now have to fit all of your social time, personal time, cleaning/ laundry time into the remaining hours. And let’s not forget the precious hours of sleep you need to keep yourself going.

What it takes

So now that you know what busy season is, learn from the real CPAs we interviewed about how to get through it. Their 10 tips to bringing your A-Game just might land you MVP status at the end of the season:

  1. Before you dive into busy season, write down all of the reasons why you are there. Be specific. For example, “I really love getting extra time off during the summer.” Or, “This is a great career opportunity and is helping me achieve my career goals in the following ways.” Then, when you’re mid-season, you can look back at the list and remember why you’re pushing so hard.
  2. Prioritize your personal favorites. Make a list of your top three personal goals to focus on during busy season. These priorities will keep you sane when work gets tough. Your list could be as simple as,
    a. Enjoy dinner with a loved one at least twice a week.
    b. Get to Zumba class every Wednesday.
    c. Catch my favorite sports teams’ games whenever possible.
  3. Bring something from home. When traveling, bring something from home to help you relax. Whether it’s seasons of your favorite show on DVD or your childhood teddy (probably a good idea to keep that one to yourself), a little taste of home can help you get through the stressful times.
  4. Manage your energy level. If a particular task will require a high level of energy from you, consider doing it in the morning or at a time when you will have enough energy to push through.
  5. Maintain a healthy lifestyle. Healthy eating and working out are great ways to release stress and feel good. As one CPA said, “No matter how hard my day is, I feel 10 times better when I get my exercise.”
  6. Socialize. While working long hours is difficult and makes it easy to isolate yourself, the support of others is important and you have to find time to get it. On your ride home from work, take the time to call someone to catch up.
  7. Reward Yourself. “My present to myself this year was a new iPhone. It gives me something to be excited about during the more difficult times.” You could also schedule a nice dinner with a friend. It doesn’t have to be big, just rewarding.
  8. Get plenty of sleep. Try to get a good night’s sleep each night. One CPA stated, “If I work on a Saturday, I try not to do any work on a Sunday. I give myself at least one full day off each week.”
  9. Enjoy the team experience. You’ll be interacting with many people on your team as well as on the client side. Appreciate the people that you work with by getting to know them. Laugh with each other, learn from each other, and lean on each other.
  10. Remember you are learning. It’s hard in this profession not to continually grow and learn. Request new challenges even if it brings you out of your comfort zone. Mixing it up will help you develop professionally and look forward to conquering a new task each day.
The aftermath

Once it’s over, your “coach” will thank you for your hard work and hopefully host a celebration for the team. Your team will review the season, draft new players (if necessary), and come up with more effective plays.

And more importantly, your life will return to normal.

Now get out there and bring your A-game. It just might land you a champion spot at the end of the season. And while you’re at it, get more advice from our CPA all-stars.


Contributing authors
  • Annie Boudreau, CPA
  • Brian Beckett, CPA
  • Corey Cines, CPA
  • Dan Griffiths, CPA
  • Amy Smith, CPA