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Procrastinating Doing Your Taxes?

How a procrastination coach is getting his tax returns done.

MoneyBlogNewz, CC 2.0
Source: MoneyBlogNewz, CC 2.0

Like most people, I don’t enjoy preparing my income tax returns. And sure, I could hire an accountant to do it, but s/he would require me to do most of the work anyway: separating all the income sources and deduction receipts. So I do my own tax returns.

Before and during the process, I’m tempted to procrastinate—and often succumb. I prefer even cleaning to doing my taxes: My house has never been cleaner: from toilets to, would you believe, the dust just underneath the rugs.

Yet, here we are on March 23, more than three weeks before the April 15 deadline and my tax returns are almost done. Perhaps you might find it helpful to see how I avoided needing an extension

I started early, on around March 1, which gave me plenty of time to procrastinate and still get my taxes done on time.

When I found myself with a scintilla of motivation to work on my taxes, I simply asked myself, "What’s the first one-minute task I need to do?" Buy TurboTax. (Alas, it's not deductible for most people.) What’s next? Open the file. What’s next? Use TurboTax’s auto-transfer feature to transfer the basic information from last year’s return. Those few mini-tasks got me started. And when I reached a problem I couldn’t quickly solve or I simply got sick of sitting at my computer, I got up guilt-free and did whatever I felt like: played with the dog, took a hike with the dog, dusted the bookcases, whatever. I returned to the problem with fresh eyes and renewed motivation and could solve it, if only by googling the problem.

I kept trying to find ways to make doing my taxes fun, well, at least borderline interesting. For example, whenever I reached a gray-area decision, I pretended I were a wise judge: What would said judge do? (Not a Christian, sking myself, ”What would Jesus do?” wouldn’t quite work for me. Besides, I’m not sure Jesus’s explanation would hold up in an IRS audit.

Another tactic that worked for me was to create time pressure. For example, if nature called, I’d say, “I’m going to enter all my 1099s before I go." That kept me on-task.

When my motivation flagged, I thought about how good it will feel to get my taxes done and what I’d then have more time to do: watch movies, prepare for the course in career counseling I’ll start teaching in a few weeks, whatever.

What worked better than that was to invoke the responsibility in me: You get your taxes done and done right because it’s your responsibility. It’s not negotiable. It’s just something you have to do, like your responsibility to work diligently on your job. It doesn’t even enter my mind that I won’t get my taxes done before April 15. It’s just one of those responsibilities of being an adult. There just are times when grown-ups simply have to get comfortable being uncomfortable.

I welcome your comments on whether these tips or others worked for you, or whether you're planning to file for an extension.

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