Avoid work nightmares by switching off once in a while

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Are you your own boss? Wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat over work? To mark Halloween and the Self Assessment deadline this week, goth accountant and AAT member in practice (MIP), Psyche Coderre MAAT, argues it’s important to keep your inner zombie at bay to avoid nightmares about work

You need only watch a zombie film to see how important brains can be to those who don’t have them. And beware – zombification is coming to you unless you give your brain a rest once in a while and relax. You need to; certain times of year can leave an accountant frazzled.

Dreaming of spreadsheets : the stuff of nightmares?

Over-stimulation of the brain cells leads to unhappy experiences. How many of us have woken in a cold sweat after dreaming about spreadsheets or discovering that our best client hasn’t filed a VAT return in five years?

Clearly the brain needs switching off every so often. Fortunately, even with perennial tasks such as bookkeeping, VAT returns and quarterly management accounts, an accountant’s workload is not always unmanageable.

There are slower times – and we should feel entitled to a few hours on Facebook without feeling guilty. Unlike accountants working in industry, MIPs have no employment contract that states how many hours per week our bums are expected to be on our office chairs. We work when there is work to be done.

The advantages of being your own boss

I like to tell clients that instead of working five seven-hour days, I work seven five-hour days – which isn’t too far off the mark. There are many advantages to this kind of working arrangement. Being able to run personal errands during the day and wait at home for deliveries without taking time off work are two obvious ones.

There’s also the upside of not having to ask for holiday time. When a group trip is being planned, the MIP isn’t the one who has to report to her friends – somewhat sheepishly – that her boss won’t give her the time off.

The disadvantages of being your own boss

However, before those AAT members with office jobs turn green with envy, the life of a MIP isn’t as flexible as you might think. If that group trip is being planned for April, you don’t need a boss to tell you there’s no way you’ll be able to attend.

And any accountant who’s been in practice for a few years has a feel for the busier times. January and April to May, obviously. But it’s not as if we only have three busy months and can spend the rest of the year sunning ourselves in Majorca.

February can be nearly as busy as January, as time is spent catching up on work put off in January in order to squeeze in all the self-assessment returns. March can be the calm before the storm, but it depends on your clients.

If they are mainly micro-businesses that run things day-to-day, with accounting done retrospectively, March may be a time to relax – while plotting time-management strategies for April and May, not to mention clearing your social calendar.

June can be a repeat of February: catching up with the quarterly management accounts and year-end fi ling that took a backburner to the PAYE deadline pressure. After this, it’s easy to yearn for the break many clients take over the summer.

However, the danger of relaxing in July and August is that once cooler temperatures prod motivation levels back to normal, there’s a backlog of self-employed accounts that could already have been finished and filed away, but which are now competing with new client queries for your attention.

An autumn spike in workload for a MIP

Autumn, the most dynamic season in the British psyche (those summer rest days do bear fruit), is when people think about new ventures. They go self-employed or start contracting.

New client queries mean a spike in workload that begins in September and doesn’t stop until the self-assessment season of December/January. Still, better to have these queries in the autumn than at the other time of year when people think about switching accountants: the dreaded January. (Has it ever occurred to people that a new client is the last thing an accountant wants at their busiest time of year?).

There’s also the 31 October paper return filing deadline, when, if you don’t use proprietary software, you’ll need to finish any returns for partnerships, ministers of religion, part-year residents or non-doms.

So, even without a boss, MIPs know holidays can really only take place in March, November or summer. Which makes them good times to turn off, tune out, and keep your inner zombie at bay.

Psyche Coderre, who set up her own goth accountancy business in 2008

Psyche Coderre, who set up her own goth accountancy business in 2008

Psyche has a degree in political science from the University of North Carolina and worked as a journalist before moving to the UK. In 2002 she moved to London and began work as a housing finance officer. She set up her own business, Death and Taxes, in 2008 – just two months after completing the AAT Accounting Qualification.

Psyche Coderre MAAT, is the owner of London-based Accountancy firm Death and Taxes.

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