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Tax Season Tips: Train Your Brain to Focus

How to reduce your stress during tax season?

You know that tax season is all about multi-tasking, to-dolists, workflow, stress, stretch and of course, earning. As a tax professional, your brain (and body) is really taxed during the tax season.

As a service provider to the accounting and tax profession, I engage with several accountants and tax professionals on a day-to-day basis. One of the most common terms they use to describe themselves is that they are “control freaks”. And neuroscience proves that whenever we feel any loss of control, it drives negative emotions such as anxiety, worry, lack of clarity in thoughts, anger etc. And when such negative emotions take over our brain, they reduce brain’s response to problems.

In other words, during tax season when your problem solving ability is at peak demand, you actually face situations that reduce that ability. What a paradox!

But the good news is that the brain can learn to ignore distractions, making you more focused, creative, and productive, according to Paul Hammerness, M.D., and Margaret Moore, in the Harvard Business Review.

What can you do?

It is a well-known fact that good sleep, meditation, deep breathing and physical exercise help you overcome stress and anxiety. The core strategy is to create routines that help overcome negative emotions and trigger positive emotions to help increase brain’s ability to focus.

  1. So, how about a 5 minutes “breathing break” a few times a day when everyone at your firm just takes deep breaths?

  2. How about a “stretch captain” who comes out of his cubicle every 90 minutes and says loudly “stretch your hands, stretch your legs. And repeat. And repeat?” Physical exercise “switches on” good things in our brains.

  3. And how about recording when clients say something good about your firm and then playing those recordings on a small speaker that everyone can hear?

Know your brain’s routines and pick the positive ones to replicate

  1. I never understood this in my student days but for a few years I used to just try and try to understand some concepts no matter how much time it took me. I used to hit a wall but used to keep banging my head against that wall. It never worked. Later, somehow, I figured out that when I hit the wall, it was better to start with the next subject and my brain would start absorbing things instantly, overcoming that block I faced in the previous subject.

  2. During tests, I used to read the whole test questionnaire and pick the ones that I was more confident of answering and attempt those first. Within first 15-20 minutes of starting the test, I would feel positive and then go on to attempt the whole test more confidently.

I now understand that those were the routines my brain devised to help me more productive and more positive, in response to situations that stressed me out. The bestseller author Charles Duhigg states in his book “The Power of Habit” that almost any habit can be changed by following a simple framework of identifying routines and changing them. To know how to change your habits, you can download for free his brief Guide to Change Habits.

These are just starting ideas to break the tense routine of the tax season to shift your brain’s attention to things that create positive emotions. The net impact is improved productivity, higher motivation and better customer service delivery.

If you like this article, please share with your team and friends. If you are a tax payer who uses services of a professional tax preparer / Enrolled Agent / CPA, please share this with your tax preparer.

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