This is the time of year we dread! Once again we need to pull together financial
information to submit our federal and state taxes. Even if you’ve kept good records or you get someone to do your taxes, it’s a task that produces inner angst. That emotional angst can lead to procrastination of doing your taxes or getting your tax information to your tax preparer. That procrastination then leads to more angst.
Avoid the angst this year! Following are ways I’ve learned to manage my anxiety and get taxes done.
- Stop thinking you have to do things perfectly. For years I was frozen in fear and inaction because I was so sure I was going to make a mistake in my tax reporting. Instead of focusing on the need to get everything just right in a process I barely understand, I now focus on doing the task to the best of my ability. If the IRS finds a mistake, I won’t be thrown in jail or judged harshly by anyone but myself. I might have to pay a penalty, but I can handle a penalty.
- Gather all papers associated with your taxes (personal property tax information, W-2s, 1099s, interest statements, mortgage interest records, real estate tax information, tax preparation document from your tax preparer if you use one, etc.) into one file or box. Don’t look at the papers carefully, just assemble them together. Looking at the information will only generate unnecessary anxiety and lead to procrastination.
- Schedule a time to organize your tax-related papers. Tell someone else of your plan and ask them to call or text you at the designated time. Instruct them that you want them to check to see if you followed through with your plan to work on your taxes. Let them know you need support and encouragement, not nagging or judgment.
- Set the stage for successfully organizing your papers. Make sure you are in a comfortable location with lots of room to spread out documents. The space should have lots of light, both natural and artificial light. It should be free of distractions, like noise, demanding pets, children and other family members. Put on some relaxing music. Get yourself a beverage of your choice, preferably not alcohol. Doing those activities will increase the odds that you get started on the work you intend to accomplish. Combining pleasure with a dreaded task makes the dreaded task easier to face.
- Remind yourself that your goal is to make progress, not to complete the task perfectly. It can take several sessions to assemble all the information you need to submit for taxes. A realistic goal, one that is less likely to generate anxiety and overwhelm, is to get as much done as is possible in that session given the information you have. At the end of the first session you will probably have identified additional information and/or documents that you need to obtain. If you stick to the task until all the papers are sorted and missing items identified, you will have reached a good completion point and be armed with a to do list of next actions to take.
- Use the previous year’s tax form or the tax prep document provided by your tax preparer to help you identify the types of information you need to assemble.
- Separate the papers in your tax folder or box into two categories: 1) those you know you need like personal property tax information, W2s, etc.; 2) those that you might need to refer to, but may not need. Set aside the papers in the second category.
- Make a list information that is missing. As you sort, identify information that you don’t have, but will need to complete your taxes.
- Gather the missing items, and you are ready to do your taxes or submit information to your tax preparer.
- Get help from family, friends or a professional organizer if despite your best intentions you cannot make yourself take action. Tax preparation is a boring, sometimes overwhelming and almost always a process that stirs uncomfortable feelings. Involve a supportive other to reduce your anxiety and make completion possible.
Thinking about tax preparation will likely always produce some dread. Perhaps it is associated with paying the government your hard earned money. Or, you see it as an opportunity to demonstrate how disorganized you and your papers are. Or, you view it as an opportunity to fail. It definitely makes you touch in on your financial reality. All those conditions can provoke anxiety.
Facing tax preparation from a grounded place with your emotions in check, with both knowledge of the process of preparation and strategies for managing uncomfortable feelings, however, you can transform the task from a highly charged event into just another annoying task to be done. What can you do today to jumpstart yourself into tax preparation?