“I’m proud to pay my taxes,” the old saw goes. “But I could be just as proud for half the amount.” And half the time, I would add.
A recent study found that it takes the average medium-sized company 264 hours to comply with its tax requirements. Daily Finance reports that the average 1040 filer spends about 16 hours on it.
Most people are already so busy that tax time, besides being a chore, leaves them feeling positively overwhelmed. And when you’re feeling overwhelmed, your obligations feel like an avalanche, instead of separate, doable tasks.
If that describes you when it comes time to “render unto Ceasar,” here are five time management and productivity tips that will turn the avalanche into something you can dispense with efficiently and maybe even pleasantly.
- Avoid Interruptions. People tend to underestimate how much harm interruptions inflict.
Remember, it’s not just the interruption itself that throws you off task. There’s the time wasted to reassemble your thoughts and resources, a little staler this time. There’s loss of momentum or physiological shortcuts created to accomplish the task. There’s frustration at having to regroup, which dissipates the energy that work thrives on. There is the distress and fatigue of having to make up for time lost. There’s the likelihood of errors, which take even more time to correct. “When you start to take Vienna, take Vienna,” counseled Napoleon. When you start to do your taxes, do them. Get in the tax zone and stay in it without interruption.
- Practice Mindfulness. That is, don’t let yourself be distracted by your worst Time Bandit (you). The data it takes to file your taxes can be revelatory about your financial matters. You see numbers aggregated for the first time and they make you think: Maybe I should get out of those investments. Have rental rates risen since we priced those units? Might be time to pay off that mortgage.
Do you call up your financial planner about your investments? Start researching rental rates? Call your banker about the mortgage? No. Distracting yourself causes the same problems as being interrupted by someone else. If today is the day you planned to do your taxes, then stick to what must be accomplished to meet that goal. Find all the documents. Sort and collate them. Read all the instructions. Run your calculations.
If doing your taxes gives you ideas for your financial future, make note of the ideas but avoid allowing it to be a distraction — finish the task you started. Otherwise you’ll find yourself sighing a dozen times, Now where WAS I? Leveraging mindfulness will make you more productive and let you finish the job faster.
- Don’t Let a Negative Attitude Eat Up Time and Energy
Tax filers can waste an incredible amount of time and energy by griping – sometimes verbally, often just mentally. Granted, taxes are a prime source if you want to gripe. You can get worked up about unfairness, loopholes, rates, the tax code, the impenetrable language, the balky web site, sitting on hold, getting contradictory answers, and being stuck inside when the golf course or garden beckons.
But when you permit your mind to go off task like that, you reap the same time loss and emotional issues that external interruptions cause. Plus you turn an anodyne responsibility into an unpleasant burden.
Instead, practice adopting an attitude of constructive acceptance. That means accepting gracefully the things that can’t be changed and turning your deliberate acceptance into a constructive tactic. So it’s not accepting with a sigh, but with newfound eagerness.
A fair price for the privilege of being an American. Well, at least I’m in the black. Whatever thought works for you.
- Similar Tasks? Batch Them Up. Think ahead: What actions in preparing your taxes will you have to repeat multiple times? Running calculations? Sorting receipts?
Whatever they are, batch them up, and do all of those like tasks at once. Repetition builds up muscle memory. If it’s doing calculations on your computer, and you do all of them at once, you get faster and faster until your fingers are fairly flying. It will feel good. That won’t happen if you intersperse phone calls or form filling between the calculations.
Batching is also useful for the way it keeps your mind focused. Concentration stimulates the brain. Again, it feels good. Okay, not like sinking a hole in one, but so much more positive than the alternative. If you have a pile of receipts to sort through, do it all in one sitting. Don’t break it up with other activities so that you have to ask, “Now where was I?” and try to recall what your sorting system was.
- Separate Hard from Easy. Do hard tasks when you have energy or creativity for them. Hold the easy ones for when your energy flags.
Usually each person’s hard/easy is pretty subjective, but deciphering new tax instructions would be hard for Albert Einstein. Don’t crack that instruction manual in the evening when you’re weary. Don’t use up your energetic hours doing mindless tasks such as sorting. If you’re bad at math, doing calculations is stressful. If you’re good at it, it’s a breeze. Schedule accordingly.
I hope these tips make your tax-time a more cheerful and productive effort. But more than that, I hope you use these tips in your daily life, especially when you have duties that are low on the delight scale. These and many other time management tips are contained in our book The Time Bandit Solution. When you make these practices a part of your daily life you will, as the book’s subtitle promises, “recover stolen time you never knew you had.”
Are you running a business? Our company’s time management and business productivity solutions have helped corporations save billions in loss productivity for over 30 years through a methodology called structured time and workflow management (STWM). Contact us to learn more about our 45 day fee free pilot.