3 Tips to Make Tax Time Less Stressful
“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.
Most people are already so busy that it leaves many feeling 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 Caesar,” here are three tips that will turn the avalanche into something you can dispense with efficiently and maybe even pleasantly.
1. 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. For instance, 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 pretty much flying. 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.
2. 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 our 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.
3. Constructive acceptance.
A good frame of mind also helps reduce the avalanche. At tax time it’s easy to get worked up about unfairness, loopholes, rates, the tax code, waiting on hold, getting contradictory answers and the list goes on.
But that just subtracts time and pleasure that should come from a necessary job well done. Instead, try constructive acceptance: Accepting gracefully the things that can’t be changed and turning your deliberate acceptance into a constructive tactic.
Edward G. Brown is the author of The Time Bandit Solution: Recovering Stolen Time You Never Knew You Had and co-founder of a culture-change management consulting and training firm for the financial services industry, Cohen Brown Management Group.