Procrastinating is a behavior that springs from wanting to avoid a task that's unpleasant or daunting. Take the example of taxes. What's interesting is that the act of just sitting down and doing them is usually much easier than dealing with the emotions triggered by putting them off -- emotions such as feeling worried about getting a penalty, fearful of doing them wrong and risking an audit, and stressed-out about locating all those records from the past year.
The good news is that there is an effective step-by-step way to stop procrastinating -- on your taxes or any other hated task. Doing so yields numerous benefits, which include enhanced mood, less stress, better personal relationships, and a sense of accomplishment.
Writing down the task helps your mind focus on the job. For example, "I need to get our personal taxes done."
Identifying your emotions helps you see the act of dragging your heels for what it truly is -- an emotional reaction.
Ask yourself, "What's keeping me from diving in to this project?" It's typically one or more of three core emotions. Fear: Perhaps you're afraid of what you'll owe or the task seems overwhelming. Anger: Maybe you resent having to pay such high taxes when you work so hard for your money. Sadness: Or you're feeling diminished and insecure because working with numbers is not your thing.
Don't let emotional energy get trapped inside your body. Release emotions by expressing them constructively and physically. Find a time and place where you can be alone. If fear is your main emotion, do some exaggerated shivering. For anger, try punching or yelling into a pillow or stomping around to release it. Express sadness by crying. The energy dissipates and you won't feel stuck. It's like letting steam out of a pressure cooker, and feels so liberating.
Good planning is the foundation of success. Start by getting clear on your goal. Your goal is your beacon to keep you safe in treacherous waters. For example, "I want to get my paperwork to my accountant by the end of February." Having a clear goal will keep you oriented and motivated. With your goal in mind, make a strategy and write it down so you have it for ready reference. Figure out when you'll work on your taxes, and block the times out on a calendar.
Break your goal into a series of small, doable steps. In the case of doing your taxes, steps might be: Finish balancing my bank accounts and Quicken. Organize my receipts. Total up my credit card statements, checkbook, and cash receipts. Collect my W-2s, dividend reports, and other sources of income. Enter my numbers in the worksheet the accountant sent.
If a goal seems overwhelming, break it into even smaller steps. Then start on the first task and keep your focus on completing just that. When you've finished, congratulate yourself, then start on the next thing that needs to be done.
Pay attention to sabotaging thoughts that come up, and then find an indisputable statement of truth that contradicts them. For example, if you're thinking, "I'll never be able to do all of this," you can counter it with something like, "I take one step at a time." That's a plain and simple truth. To neutralize your frustration at having to devote a couple of weekends to this task, you might say, "I'll feel better when my taxes are done."
Once you've created a game plan, step back and imagine challenges and obstacles that are likely to pop up along the way. For example, an invitation might present itself just when you decided to work. How will you keep moving forward? For every imaginable scenario, have a tactic ready so you won't get derailed. Buddy up with a friend who's also doing taxes, and check in with each other. Stick to your schedule, which means saying no to distractions and at those moments reminding yourself of your goal.
Instead, focus on the upside. Finishing your taxes is incredibly satisfying. Praise each little step along the way. Make a check mark or cross off each item as you accomplish it. Remind yourself at every step that you'll feel fantastic and virtuous when you're done.
Accomplishing what you're avoiding will simplify your life. You'll feel good about yourself. You'll feel more energetic. You'll sleep better at night. Your family will notice the difference too.
More expert advice about Taxes
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