I hate adding up income and expenses. I hate wading through invoices and receipts. I hate paperwork anyway. And the whole thing takes up too much time.
So how do I make myself do this awful work? Read on. The steps I take and the methods I use to keep myself focused and in the saddle are things you can do, too, whenever you have some unpleasant task ahead of you.
1. If there is a deadline, start work very early
In a sense the income tax job is clear. I always know exactly what I have to do and why. I’ve been doing it for decades. I also know the deadline: April 15 for us Americans.
I cannot change the date when taxes are due, but I can start as early as I like. I often start in November. If I start early, then I acknowledge and accommodate my basic dislike of the job and my urge to put off doing it.
That is, I make it possible to comply with my deadline while also allowing for some procrastination just in case. In this way I give myself wiggle room. I also allow for early filing (ideally in January).
2. If the unwelcome chore crops up unexpectedly, do it right away
When I have an unpleasant task ahead of me, I always try to do it immediately. That way I can quickly forget it.
Things that fall in this category for me include unanticipated bills, tedious paperwork, and car repairs.
3. Subdivide the job into small steps
The first order of business is to break the work down into its components so that I can tackle one at a time. Parts of the job are mindless, and parts require thought and calculation. It helps if I do the job in brief stints.
4. Designate a time and place to do the work
It’s important to create favorable working conditions. I need a dedicated workspace that is clear and free from distraction. I need to make sure no one interrupts me.
All ingredients must be ready to hand. My papers must be organized ahead of time so that I can find what I need (this may be a separate step). Nice background music may help.
Small incentives sometimes help keep me on task. You can chew gum if you like. You can also put a bouquet of flowers in your workspace to soothe you.
5. Withhold treats until the work is done or reward yourself afterward
I often bribe myself. That is, I can tell myself that I don’t get to go see that wonderful new movie until I have finished x amount of work on taxes.
If some special event is coming up—a visit from a friend who lives out of town or a vacation trip out of state, for instance—I can make the work on taxes something I must do first so that I can enjoy the event properly.
Alternatively, I offer myself compelling rewards. Wouldn’t you as a parent do something nice for a five-year-old who had just performed some really distasteful household chore? Since you are equally deserving, you must do the same for yourself. It’s a “me too” principle.
When I finish my income taxes, I might buy myself a fantastic new cell phone, a material reward, or a new outfit.
There is of course also a powerful psychic reward: I can remind myself how good it feels to be able to forget about income taxes for another year. I am also pleasantly aware that I have once again been responsible.
6. Organize the job for efficiency
All of the ploys I have suggested make it sound as if there is no problem with the middle ground between start and finish. But of course staying in the chair and slogging through may be an issue. How to cope?
Sometimes I alternate easy tasks with especially unpleasant ones. My best work time is early morning, and I might be sure to schedule the tough stuff then. I might also create a work plan: two hours of labor followed by a half-hour break.
Notice how you think about the day’s assignment. Put on psychic blinders so that you won’t be overwhelmed by the thought of all the work still to be done. Just focus on the task at hand. One step at a time.
If I save the worst part until last, everything else has been done. Sometimes it helps me to do the worst parts of the job first. Then I know that the stuff that’s left is pretty easy. I can remind myself of how much I have already done and how little remains.
Once I had a bad filing task to do from A to Z. Since the twenty-six letters of the alphabet looked dauntingly long, I started in the middle, at the letter M, and proceeded to Z. Then I could see that only the first half of the alphabet remained. Somehow this approach helped motivate me.
7. Conquer the fear of failure by remembering past successes
You may well find yourself struggling to complete some project other than tax preparation that involves different obstacles.
If you’re giving a speech or anticipating a job interview, you may have performance anxiety. If so, it may help you to remind yourself of times in the past when you did similar things well.
If the daunting task looks totally foreign, analyze it. Break it down into parts. How many of the parts are things you have done in other situations? How many genuinely unfamiliar parts remain?
For instance, even if you haven’t given a speech in public, you may have stood at the front of a room to teach a class. Talking in front of a group of people is something you have done before.
You can also rehearse in a safe setting. Plan successive rehearsals that under conditions that closely resemble those of the actual event for which you are preparing.
Wear the same clothes. Find some supportive listeners. See whether you can practice in the venue where the event will be held.
8. Keep your goals in mind
As you tackle different challenges, you may need to set a deadline and prepare yourself psychologically. One great method for doing so is to write out ten goals longhand on a sheet of paper or a notebook page once or twice a day.
Each time you word the goal as if you had already accomplished it: “I have finished my income taxes for last year.” Then you assign dates for completion. When you are done writing, you have ten goals, each with an end date alongside it.
The next time you sit down, you write out ten goals once again but without looking at the ones you previously specified.
At first the list may vary somewhat. Over time you will probably find that you are writing the same ten each day but in different order, dropping one or more goals as you achieve them.
In this way you stay mindful of the work you want to get done. You can’t push the goals aside. As you keep thinking about them, day in and day out, you will be amazed at how much you are able to accomplish.
9. Take pride in your achievements
Staying productive and organized will boost your self-confidence and the pride you take in your work. We all need to stop and notice our accomplishments.
I like to admire my handiwork and congratulate myself on a job well done. Way to go! Good job! We all need as many opportunities as possible to feel good about ourselves.