The Hidden Costs of Busy Season

The Hidden Cost of Busy Season

I've previously discussed the benefits of busy season.  And I certainly understand it's a time where we generate significant revenue.  As we know, there are costs as well, some of which are considerable.  Deadline compression can lead to employee burnout and turnover, a higher likelihood of mistakes, and an overall decrease in client experience leading to client defections, to name a few.  The highest cost, however, is the excuse that it provides for us to not working on the very things that can help solve these problems and move us forward.

CPAs are an achievement-oriented breed.  As with any group of high achievers, there is typically a delta between where we are today and where we want to be tomorrow.  Today may be causing us pain - I'm not at the rank or income level I want to be, or our firm's market share is less than it should be, etc. - but there is a level of comfort associated with it.  Today is known, and what's in between today's reality and tomorrow's preferred vision for our firms or us is not.  The unknown creates risk, and risk creates noise, and noise leads to behavior designed to quiet it.  Enter the excuse.

The excuse gives us an out and allows us to save face.  I can keep the dream alive.  I get to continue believing and continue to convince others that I/we will be the "fill in the blank" if only "fill in the blank" didn't exist or stand in the way.  Another version – when "fill in the blank" resolves itself or is over; then I can move forward.  The best excuses have a victim component to them.  Something that makes others feel bad for us.  Not only do I get an out, I may get a hug!

Enter the busy season, or what may be the perfect excuse. It's predictable.  We know when it is thereby allowing for "It's busy season. Let's tackle that after". We know when it's coming allowing for "busy season is coming. Let's get together after".  It's for an extended period and may occur more than once a year.  The cumulative time spent in the busy season keeps expectations low as to what we can reasonably achieve in the off months. It's acknowledged by the rest of the world and accepted by many as a reasonable explanation to defer.  And, most are sympathetically providing the symbolic hug we are yearning for.

I'm not understating the demands of the busy season. I've been through my share.  But we can't underestimate the impact it has on our career and business if we don't find a way to keep our feet moving.  The time lost to pre-busy season's mental preparation, the busy season itself, and the post-busy season decompression is too costly.  As daunting as it is, we must challenge the belief that our initiatives can continuously be put on hold.  The speed of change in our current environment won't allow for it. 

As Hannibal, the Carthaginian General stated with resolve as he faced the seemingly impossible task of crossing the Alps with his small army to attack Rome, "we will find a way, or we will make one!"