For Alpa Patel, the success of a day during tax season often depends on what she gets done on the drive to her office. But she isn't filing tax returns from the freeway. The work she does on her commute is all in her head.
"On my drive in, I start thinking about what I absolutely need to get done for the best use of my time," says Patel, a senior tax manager at accounting firm Dixon Hughes in the Atlanta area.
With dozens of tasks to attend to and clients that need flawless returns, planning is an important part of Patel's day.
We caught up with her to get a rundown of a senior tax accountant's typical day during tax season and spoke with her about her to-do list, the importance of lunch and her relationship with the snooze button.
Wake up: 5:30 a.m.
I usually wake up around 5:30 year-round, but it's more important during busy season that I don't hit the snooze.
Ready to rock: 7 a.m.
I write down what I've been thinking about what I'm going to do for the day, and I put it in order. And then I just start working. I know a lot of people come in and surf the Internet, but I get right to it. There's a window between when I get in and other folks get in.
When people start to roll in, you start to get questions. And I start to get phone calls from clients -- things that aren't so much emergencies but are emergencies for clients.
I try not to let my clients know how busy we are -- I want them to know we're in control, because we are. It's a busy time of year for us, but it's just business as usual for them. So, the conversations for clients aren't that quick. They're 30 minutes and longer. And I do that until lunch time.
On the List
-- Review tax returns
-- Practice development
-- Phone prospective clients
-- Return calls from the previous day
-- Return emails from the previous day
I typically bring my lunch and take 20 minutes to eat it in the break room and then get back to work. I don't eat at my desk. I go to the break room to relax and engage in nonbusiness conversation -- something that is not work-related.
Grinding It Out: 12:20 p.m.
I go back to my desk, I check my emails. One reason I try to do a 20-minute lunch is because that's another window of time when there are less things to do.
I make my way down my to-do list for about an hour, and between 1:30 and 2:00 p.m., things start popping up again. I answer more questions, take more phone calls, and return more phone calls.
I do that until about 4 p.m. By then, it starts to taper off a little bit. I go back to my list from the morning, and I work through it. And I work about 10-to-12 hours a day. By around 7 p.m., I wrap things up to go home.
Dinner: 7:30 p.m.
I don't eat dinner at work. A lot of people do. I go home and have a shake or something and try to decompress.
Time to Bed: 9:30 p.m.
When you get home from work, you're like, "Oh, thank God this day is over with." So, I watch some mindless television to clear my brain.
By 9 p.m., I'm exhausted. Everything is very fast-paced all day. There's a reason it's called busy season -- it's busy.
FINS: What do you like most about tax season?
Patel: I really enjoy my clients and I like talking to them. When they call me with questions, it's a bit of a break from the reality of crunching out tax returns.
FINS: What do you dislike about tax season?
Patel: The worst thing is when something sort of blows up. We do a good job of setting people's expectations. If something blows up, it's going to ruin the next three days. A special project that comes up during busy season -- it's great, but it's also bad at the same time.
FINS: What are some perks that make the ordeal a bit more bearable?
Patel: We have chair massages twice a month. We have so much candy around here that it's ridiculous. We've got a flat-screen TV in the office so we can run up there and watch some television. There's a new ping-pong table. It's on the eighth floor. I haven't been up there yet.
FINS: How do you decompress after your last filing deadline is met?
Patel: I absolutely go on vacation. I go and sit on the beach for a week to 10 days. We go to the islands. My husband is also in public accounting. He deals with the same stuff I deal with. And, when we go on that vacation, nobody calls.
Write to Jeremy Greenfield