It happens every year. We know the dreaded day is coming, yet some of us still wait until the last minute to file our tax returns. Why do we do this to ourselves? Tax season isn’t a pleasant time for everyone. It’s a time that gives rise to stress, anxiety, and an unwanted use of our valuable time. But here’s the thing; waiting until the last second only amplifies these negative experiences. By taking a proactive approach, we can avoid a lot of unnecessary pain and frustration.
What is procrastination?
Humans have evolved into procrastinating beings. Over 20% of the population chronically puts off tasks for no logical reason. We are biologically programmed to choose immediate gratification over long-term effort. Unless there is a major reward or pleasure in the moment, we are reluctant to take action. We have a difficult time feeling rewards in the future and believe that the current status is more important than the stress of extended effort. The default behavior, due to this subconscious programming, is to procrastinate. After a while, the pain of the stress becomes greater than the pleasure of procrastinating and we finally do what needs to be done. Bringing awareness to this inclination is the first step in reconditioning ourselves to behave differently.
Procrastination on taxes
Paying our taxes is an annual chore, and we all know the routine. The requirement to file has always been there! It existed before we were born and will continue to torture people long after we are gone. No dreadful task suddenly became enjoyable because we waited long enough. If anything, it turned out to be worse, and we cursed ourselves for not getting it done sooner.
Have you ever thought about why you dislike filing taxes? It is an excellent question to ask yourself. Prove your dislikes wrong. Procrastination promotes negative feelings. With finances and debt already in our minds, it is best not to contribute to the stress and negativity. Take time to reprogram your mindset around filing.
The importance of deadlines
There are two types of procrastination: one when deadlines exist, and one when they do not. Procrastination without a deadline is the most dangerous form, since you may never get the task done. These are things like writing that book you’ve always wanted to write or taking that trip you always wanted. Luckily, filing taxes does have a deadline. When we miss the deadline, it costs us in more ways than one. We already complain about the government taking money from us; why would we want to give them even more? Think about the consequences of not doing the task. Added interest cost was never anybody’s birthday wish. Be smart and start early! You aren’t going to change the deadline.
Future rewards over current pleasures
When there is a gap between future and present interests, we tend to let the work slide. If we were to receive the punishment as soon as we chose not to complete a task, we would be more apt to begin right away. We like immediate gratification and respond to instant pain. When you put off your taxes, you do not imagine the future pain because you are experiencing the current joy of not tackling the task. Perhaps you are watching the 7th episode of your favorite show instead. Imagine the stress your future self will feel as the deadline approaches and now you have to get it done.
Thinking of the future in terms of years or months, can change the way we perceive it. We tend to respond sooner to deadlines when we break down the time into smaller groups. If we say taxes are due 365 days away, or better yet, 52 weeks away, even though it is still a year, the language will compel us to plan sooner.
Sometimes it is helpful to turn a large unmanageable job into several smaller tasks. Perhaps organizing receipts one day and then looking for an accountant the next day. List out all the requirements to file taxes and make a to-do list of each required action and in what sequence. Breaking it down makes it less intimidating and more manageable.
The price you pay
When we wait too long, we lower the quality of work and of our well-being. Usually, we are burdened with stress and anxiety to meet the deadline and cannot think clearly. When we are in a panic state, our decisions are generally not wise. Having time to organize expenses and revenue deliberately helps us to compile a well thought out and proper return, and perhaps even find a loophole. Also, having time to double check is invaluable. Think of all the spelling errors and mistakes that turn up, even when we proofread emails or written works. It is always helpful to read through the next day or get a second opinion. Leave time for editing. ALWAYS.
When we finish before the deadline, we can relax. Just like it’s nice to arrive ten minutes before a job interview or meeting, being ahead of deadlines feels just as good. We have time to let go and unwind. Wouldn’t you rather be on a patio without a care in the world instead of frantically trying to get your financial affairs in order?
Seek out help
Filing a tax return can seem like an overwhelming job. Accountants greatly help us understand what we are entitled to, lower our tax bracket, and ensure we do not overpay. Taxpayers overpay more than 1 billion dollars to the government by not filing or collecting eligible credits. Last-minute Christmas shopping is everyone’s nightmare, and last-minute accountant shopping isn’t much different. Value your assets and optimize your return by choosing an experienced and well-rated accountant before it’s too late … and you have to do them yourself!
By the way, hiring a life coach is another great way to beat procrastination. They are great resources to hold you accountable to your highest goals and motivate you. Consider investing in a life coach if you are a chronic procrastinator so that you don’t find yourself in the same position next year.
Invite yourself to re-think your mindset on tax paying. Part of what makes the economy work is spending. Remind yourself of all the good things tax money supports such as assisting the veterans and elderly and contributing to the country we so proudly call home. Our tax money helps conserve natural resources and land. It funds our national defense and education. We may not feel like what we owe is fair, but rather than thinking about what we are sacrificing, we should invite ourselves to focus on what we receive. Many privileges go unnoticed when we are in a negative thought pattern. Stay positive, practice gratitude, and with all that in mind, stop reading this and go finish your tax return!