Balancing effort and energy: The role of mindfulness, intentionality, and self-care

Working in an accounting firm isn’t an easy gig these days. Staffing shortages have many firms operating at skeleton-crew level, requiring employees to assume more responsibilities and work longer hours. The transition to remote workspaces has further tipped the work-life balance scales (in favor of work)—creating an always-on environment where it can be difficult to unplug.

Whether dealing with a rarefied staff or skewed work-life balance (or both), these challenges create work stressors that require a solution. And who better to discuss those solutions than Jina Etienne, CPA, CDE®, Principal of Etienne Consulting LLC, and a top influencer on the topic of mindfulness and self-care. 

Having made a career working for a large CPA firm and the AICPA before starting her own firm, Etienne knows better than anyone the negative effects of “busy season fatigue.” The long hours and seemingly endless work cycles can have a debilitating impact on the human body and psyche. 

Mindfulness, intentionality, and self care are at the core of balancing effort and energy and maintaining positive mental and physical health during stressful times—like tax season. For those who have mastered these elements, the result is higher levels of performance, confidence, and stamina—as well as heightened feelings of belonging, resilience, and engagement. For those who haven’t, the result can often be an increase in feelings of isolation and absenteeism.

“40% of employees report feeling a sense of isolation at work.”

— Jina Etienne


Read on to learn how you can lessen “busy season fatigue” and help ensure the well-being of all team members.

Tips for building a healthy team

A typical tax season, according to Etienne, often includes a few or all of the following: 

  • Longer work hours

  • Email overload

  • Reduced social engagement

  • Increased demands

  • Uncaring managers

  • Meaningless targets

These are all common workplace stressors that take a toll on staff—leading to short- or long-term stress and emotional exhaustion. All the more reason to weave mindfulness, intentionality, and self-care into your business model.

Get ahead of tax season stressors now by following a few (if not all) of these proven and tested tips …

Tip 1: Actively look for signs of stress (AKA: Be intentional)

Part of being mindful is paying attention to what’s going on in your firm. This includes the mood of the firm and of individual employees. When you’re mindful, it’s much easier to pick up on signs of stress before they get out of hand. 

Look for:

  • Physical changes: Headaches, insomnia, digestive issues.

  • Behavioral changes: Irritability, lack of patience, being dismissive, difficulty concentrating.

  • Psychological changes: Anxiety, depression, nervousness.

  • Emotional changes: Moodiness, anger, sadness.

Tip 2: Practice the principles of mindfulness

On a day-to-day basis, it’s important for firm leaders and staff to be mindful of individual feelings and the overall mood of the office. This requires looking up from work regularly to gauge the environment and self—identifying signs of burnout or lack of engagement.

According to Etienne, there are three basic mindfulness principles:

  1. Notice what’s happening: Be aware of what’s going on in your firm in real time and without judgment.

  2. Interrupt “non-conscious” thoughts, actions, and behaviors: Use the insights and observations collected during the first principle of mindfulness (notice what’s happening), and interrupt negative actions before they escalate. This where focused awareness is critical.

  3. Be intentional about how you move forward: This involves having a sound, intentional plan in place for how you respond. A few mindfulness practices to consider include meditation, body scanning, breathing exercises, and yoga—to name only a few. 

“There are a host of apps that support mindfulness practices, including Calm, Headspace, and various other guided meditation and breathing apps … You’d be amazed at how deep breathing can knock out a headache.”

— Jina Etienne 

Tip 3: Manage time appropriately to make room for self-care

Time management is critical to well-being. It’s easy to fill up your calendar with meetings and forget about taking breaks and making room for self care. This is the quickest way to reach a state of burnout. To avoid this, make sure to:

  • Be the master of your own calendar: Schedule time blocks to focus on wellness (e.g., exercise, meal breaks, yoga, meditation).

  • Question if meetings are necessary: Audit your calendar and remove unnecessary meetings.

  • Manage meetings effectively: Have an agenda and objectives to move meetings along and keep them within proper time limits (e.g., chunk meetings in 15-, 25-, or 50-minute spans).

  • Color-code your calendar: Use color codes to emphasize wellness blocks. For example, highlight meal times or meditation breaks in green for effective visual reminders.

Self-care is more important than ever. Extended tax seasons and elevated responsibilities require firm leaders and staff to take care of themselves first because, according to Etienne, “It’s hard to show up for clients if you don’t show up for yourself.”

As part of a solid self-care routine, always be mindful of:

  • Maintaining a healthy relationship with yourself.

  • Staying consistent with activities that keep the body and mind healthy
    (e.g., exercise, eating right, and time management).

  • Acknowledging that your needs and feelings are valid.

  • Engaging in activities that create a sense of well-being (e.g., yoga,
    meditation, positive self-talk).

Tip 4: Develop a plan of action

Etienne provides a structured, three-step approach to developing a solid plan of action.

  1. Notice (real-time awareness): Stay in tune with your body and mind, and take notice of stressors. The goal is to be more intentional with your response … rather than always operating in reactive mode.

“Anything we want to do to try and address our stress starts by noticing when we are in a state of stress.”

— Jina Etienne

  1. Reset: This involves going back to one’s original intentions. How did I want to show up? How did I want to present myself? This requires follow through of your intentions, such as going to a yoga class twice a week, knocking off at a certain time to have dinner with family, or simply taking a walk mid-day. 

When you’re intentional about your well-being, you can quickly reset your mood or reverse physical signs of stress.

  1. Reframe: This step involves self-reflection. It requires taking the time to understand what brought you to the stressful moment, recalling how you wanted to show up (awareness), and then moving yourself back to a positive state.

Putting YOU first

Already in the heart of tax season, many may be feeling the burn(out). Even more reason to turn your focus to intentionality, mindfulness, and self-care. It can be easy (and all too common) to transition into tax-season mode—heads down, churning out work, and with little awareness of your overall well-being. Make this the year of change.

The time is now to elevate awareness of self. Follow the tips in this article to ensure not only a successful tax season, but a mentally and physically healthy one!

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