During the third week of February our office gets ready for busy season. Around lunchtime we get a memo that outlines the stepwise increase in hours, which begins with working every Saturday morning.
It’s a first blow. Working Saturday mornings sucks no matter how you look at it, but you know that’s only the beginning. In a few short weeks you’ll be working full days on Saturday and well past 8 during the week.
It’s easy to take for granted the gradual increase in knowledge that comes from working at a steady pace. I mean it’s easy to take for granted the relationship between what you learn and how fast your have to learn it – the relationship between necessity and application.
Busy season isn’t hard because the work is more complex. Busy season is hard because the pace has increased to such a level that learning can no longer be passive. You can’t work slowly and incidentally learn. You have to learn purposefully and focus your attention on the things you don’t know and aren’t comfortable with.
Here’s some examples of what I’m talking about. The first one I managed to come out on top. And the second, well, not so much.
Example 1 (conversation between CEO and myself re upcoming audit)
Me: Hey how come this amount is sitting as a due from your subsidiary when we’re doing the consolidation?
CEO: Do you have the subs bank statements?
CEO: Well if you have the subs bank statements, then you also have the subs bank activity for the year. And if you have the subs bank activity for the year, then you’ll have the information you need to determine what that balance relates too. Plus, you have the GL, so you can see exactly what’s going through that account. I think you have enough information to figure this out on your own.
Me: [while feeling emotionally and mentally crushed] True, I do have that information. However, the bank activity does not explain the nature of the $1,000 and the GL detail is a single line item with no description in the memo field. There’s no description because the accounting software you are using runs on DOS and doesn’t allow this – but that’s a different issue we’ll bring up in the management letter. I know we can both say that $1,000 is well below materiality, and probably was just a transfer to cover the small legal costs in the sub, but I was just curious what the amount related to, so I can reverse it correctly instead of just plugging it.
Me: [you just got served]
Example 2 – (conversation between me and my partner)
Partner: Where’s this rental income coming from?
Me: I think the operating company is renting space from him
Partner: Well why the hell are they doing that?! The operating company is in a loss position, so they don’t need the extra expenses and we’re trying to minimize the guy’s taxable income so he’s getting screwed as a result.
Partner: The client pays us to be smart, not [insert very colourful words] dumb.
Me: [I just got served….big time]
These aren’t isolated incidents. I have conversations like this every day. And everyday, at some point, I feel insignificant, mentally inferior and generally stupid. But if you bang your head against something long enough, it’ll usually leave a mark.
In the past two months I’ve done close to 50 tax returns, seniored 3 different audits (at once) and I’m starting another junior mining company tomorrow. I’ve done research on support payments eligible for deductions, flow-through shares, principle residence when a change in use occurs, whether same sex married couples can couple their tax returns, the audit implications of determining the rights and existence of mining claims and impairment testing on resource properties. I’ve written a qualified audit report, sat in on two audit committee meetings and experienced what it’s like to drop a client.
Throughout all of this I screwed up often and people let me know it – usually very quickly too. It’s an awful experience not knowing how to complete a file when you’ve been given a ridiculous deadline. It’s sink or swim. There’s no way around it.
This is why busy season is awful. Not because it’s hard, but because it makes you better. And to do that, you need to focus on everything you’re not good at and accomplish it in half the time you’re used to.