Work-life balance for accountants

By Jack Castonguay

work life balance accounting

Tips for creating a proper work-life balance for accountants 

In the food chain of life, does your career feel like the whale gobbling up the plankton of personal time? As an accountant, you expect busy seasons and long hours, and now you’re thinking of studying for the CPA Exam?  

Take a deep breath. Before your head officially explodes, remember that work-life balance is not only possible but necessary. You went into accounting because you love the challenge that comes with managing finances and solving problems. Creating boundaries keeps you fresh for work and family, while it also opens the time you need to take the CPA Exam and steer your career toward success. 

Work smarter, not harder 

Begin the search for work-life balance by scrutinizing your work. Trimming out excess tasks and learning to rely on colleagues add hours to your week: 

  • Use technology and automation. Tools such as Excel calculations make the job easier and reduce the number of hours spent on mundane tasks.  
  • Delegate assignments to team members, and trust them to do the work.  
  • Don’t do everything at once. Stick to what you’re good at, and create workable schedules. When someone asks about your bandwidth for a project, be honest.  
  • Set realistic expectations. Clue in everyone involved – teammates, bosses, clients – when they can expect to see deliverables.  
  • Speak up when a project deadline is unrealistic or you and the team need help.  

Understand your commitments 

Everyone has promises to keep, but are you managing these commitments or letting them manage you? Think about your commitments and ask how much of daily life they consume: 

  • Understand your absolute priorities and the commitments you must juggle outside of work.  
  • Be conscious of the time you devote to your commitments. Keep a log or use apps to track the minutes and hours spent on them each day. 
  • Assess your workload. Are you constantly working overtime? The occasional busy season is expected, but 16-hour days shouldn’t be the norm. 
  • How many clients have you booked? Until you learn the art of saying no (see the note about bandwidth), you will be constantly overwhelmed.  
  • If you’re studying for the CPA Exam, you’ve added another layer of commitment. It’s a promise to yourself for a better life, but getting it right the first time is essential to career advancement. 

Set your boundaries 

Now that you have a handle on your commitments, adopt rules for making work manageable:  

  • Say no to new projects when it’s necessary (there’s bandwidth again). Explain that your schedule is full. Be reasonable and draw a line on what you can and can’t do. If you’re already providing excellent results in your assigned work, no one will want your performance to suffer. 
  • Set boundaries for when you can and can’t work.  
  • Consider approaching your employer about establishing flexible scheduling that rewards you for performance, not for hours spent at a desk. 
  • What does your ideal workday and routine look like? Dream it up, and rework your schedule to fit.  
  • If you constantly feel overworked, speak up. Talk to your supervisor or HR department. Your company should care about your well-being and mental health.  
  • Discuss ways to allocate your work to someone else who might have more capacity, or find a team member who can join your group to share responsibilities.  

Communicate effectively with your team 

Work-life balance is a team effort, and every team is fueled by constant communications. On the work side, try these tips:  

  • Block off time in your schedule for personal commitments so work colleagues can book around your availability. If a meeting is running long, politely interrupt and excuse yourself. No explanation is needed when teammates know about your commitments. 
  • Communicate effectively and know what’s expected of you when you’re assigned a new project. Ask about the timeline and important deadlines. Spot potential train wrecks by overlaying the new timeline on the timing of existing commitments.  
  • Be polite and firm in your stance when communicating your availability.  

Be flexible 

We all know what happens to best-laid plans, and after all, you didn’t sign up for a job with predictable hours. When work interferes with outside commitments, use these pointers to keep an upbeat attitude and go with the flow: 

  • Remember that your boss and clients expect you to work hard and be available for business needs.  
  • Busy season demands overtime. There will be moments outside of your control, when your brother schedules an April wedding, or a family emergency calls you away. In those times, colleagues will be supportive. But don’t plan your vacation for March or join that winter basketball league. Your boss and teammates are counting on you to be there.  
  • Keep the flexible mindset in shape all year long. Always be prepared for that 4:30 p.m. call that says you’re not going anywhere for a while.  
  • If you’re flexible and on the job for business needs during the busy season, you should be allowed time off when business slows down.  

Signs you’re being overworked 

Stress comes on little cat feet, creeping up so quietly that you don’t notice the moment when it becomes overwhelming. Do a regular self-check for these signs of being overworked: 

  • You can’t relax, even when you’re not working. 
  • You have more work than can possibly be completed in one workweek. 
  • Tasks are falling through the cracks. No one likes that sinking feeling when the boss asks for a progress report on an assignment that slipped your mind. 
  • Your sleep habits are erratic. You have trouble sleeping, or you’re sleeping and napping too much.  
  • You’ve become moody or irritable, cranky even with loved ones.  
  • You can’t get rid of that tense feeling in your gut from stress and anxiety. 

What leads to being overworked 

You were instilled with a work ethic and are proud that others rely on you. But worker bees don’t recognize when diligence turns into overpromising and underdelivering. Check your week for these signs that you are overcommitted:  

  • You work long hours with few breaks. 
  • You’re constantly pressured to meet the demands of clients or stakeholders. 
  • You endure severe repercussions for mistakes. 
  • You’re required to be available outside normal work hours or are frequently on call. 
  • Your workplace imposes vacation black-out periods.  
  • You’re juggling numerous high-priority projects with competing deadlines, and you’re terrified that those plates will all come crashing down.  

Consequences of being overworked 

The reward for hard work is more work. So goes the old saying. However, overwork can hardly be considered rewarding. Be on the lookout for these signs that the typical slate of hard work has become too much:  

  • Fatigue. You will be tired sometimes, but constant fatigue is destructive. 
  • Job burnout and lower job satisfaction. If your love for accounting is gone, it’s time to make adjustments.  
  • Poor sleep patterns. When work becomes overwhelming, you can’t sleep. When you can’t sleep, work starts to slip. It’s a vicious cycle.  
  • Quality of work suffers. When you lose focus on the tasks at hand, your work product no longer lives up to your standards – or your employer’s. 
  • Increased irritability. You’re uncharacteristically cranky with colleagues, family and friends.  
  • Interpersonal relationships suffer. After all, you’re irritable, sleepless and stressed. Your loved ones aren’t getting the benefit of your full attention.  
  • Reliance on mood-altering chemicals and substances. When things don’t go right, you reach for more caffeine, nicotine, alcohol or meds.  

How to improve work-life balance 

Now that you’ve uncovered the stressors in your life, it’s time to get a handle on them. Try these tips: 

  • Prioritize your time. Classify items as urgent and important, important but not urgent, urgent but not important, neither urgent nor important.  
  • Stick to your work schedule. Start at a set time, and leave at a set time as often as possible.  
  • Take frequent breaks. Stretch every 15 minutes to clear your head and re-energize your body. Take regular breaks every hour or two, including lunch break. Even if you work from home, it’s OK to take a few minutes to play with the dog or cuddle with the kids.  
  • Use your vacation time. Time unplugged from work actually enhances your career prospects by making you more productive at work and boosting brain power.  
  • Practice self-care. Eat right. Keep tabs on your mental health. Do not skip workouts. That is non-negotiable, because exercise keeps body and mind in peak condition. Find exercise that works for you, and put it in your schedule.   
  • Set quality time for friends and family. Do what you love with the people you love. Once again, put it in your schedule to make it as irrevocable as the weekly huddle with the boss.  
  • Unplug and unwind. Turn off your phone or set an “away” message on your text and emails. Pay attention to the kids’ soccer game, not your texts. Be sure to take “me” time every day, whether it’s a few minutes with a favorite author, or meditation to clear out the mental cobwebs. 
  • Don’t talk about work outside of work. Give friends and family your full attention. Pursue fun hobbies or activities, to give your brain a break from thoughts of work. 

 Advocate for yourself if you’re overworked 

There’s a difference between advocating for your well-being at work and suddenly exploding in frustration in front of the boss and your firm’s biggest client. Plan your approach, and self-advocacy becomes a valuable tool in the work-life balance toolbox.   

  • Ask yourself: Are these working conditions temporary and evenly distributed? Seasonal upticks in the workload are expected and predictable. Just make sure that you’re not bearing someone else’s load. Beware – temporary workloads can become permanent if you don’t speak up. 
  • If overwork and stress are impacting your health or outside life, be direct but thoughtful. Schedule a meeting with your manager about setting priorities. Ask for their advice and potential solutions. Establish clear goals that you expect to come from this meeting. Don’t focus on negative aspects, and don’t look for sympathy. Work on finding amicable solutions that benefit your employer as well as yourself. 

What can your organization do to improve work-life balance? 

As you work on those amicable solutions, consider the options available to your employer.  

  • Flex time. The American Psychological Association notes that work flexibility boosts work performance, lowers stress and improves work-life balance. Find sweet spots in the regular workday that allow alteration of your work hours. Maybe you can start early and leave early, to avoid rush-hour traffic. Or, extend your daily hours in order to take off one afternoon a week to volunteer at your kids’ school. 
  • Work from home, hybrid or telecommuting. Working remotely has grown exponentially during the Covid-19 pandemic. Professional fields such as accounting are especially suited to WFH situations. 
  • Part-time work. Cutting hours can be a practical solution when you can’t work full time. There might be financial sacrifices, but you’ll see the ROI by focusing on long-term goals, whether that’s restoring your health, or earning the CPA credential. 
  • Job sharing. If you need to take an extended leave or cut your hours, job sharing assures your employer that the work will be accomplished.

What makes Surgent CPA Review unique 

With everything happening in your life, is there ever a right time to take the CPA Exam? Probably not, but the window of opportunity opens when your priorities are aligned. Surgent CPA Exam Review is the review course that helps busy professionals maintain equilibrium and work-life balance while they scale new career heights.   

Surgent’s state-of-the-art adaptive learning platform helps you better manage your time. You study smarter and pass faster with help from these unique features: 

  • A.S.A.P. ® Technology that identifies your strengths and weaknesses. You know what you know and don’t know, but other review courses don’t account for the skills base you’ve built. Surgent’s A.S.A.P. Technology assesses your knowledge and customizes a study plan to fill in the gaps. 
  • Personalized Dashboard with Your Daily Surge to help determine what you should be studying. You don’t waste time reviewing materials that you already know inside-out. Your Daily Surge drives you forward with personalized recommendations of the areas to pursue with each precious hour of study.  
  • Peace of mind. Surgent’s groundbreaking ReadySCORE™ is your most valuable study buddy. With remarkable accuracy of 98%, ReadySCORE estimates your score for each exam section if you were to sit for it on that day. You’re not wasting your precious shot at the exam by guesstimating your readiness. The power of ReadySCORE explains why Surgent has the confidence to offer a 100% pass guarantee. 
  • Strong support. Surgent offers expert instructors and support when you need it. We can refine your study plan with 1-on-1 coaching, while tech support helps resolve glitches. 

Work-life balance in accounting 

When it comes to work-life balance, remember that perfection is not, and never should be, the goal. Think of it as the bucket containing your job, family life, and outside activities. The bucket will tip, but with the right strategies and tools, you can prevent it from spilling.  

When you decide that a CPA credential is the step up to a better life, Surgent CPA Review is there with customized guidance. With Surgent, you maximize your study time and maintain a healthy work-life balance as you juggle work, home life and CPA Exam studies.  

Need help achieving a better work-life balance? 

Discover how Surgent CPA Review can help restore balance to your life. Start your free trial today!