7 Effective Ways to Stop Procrastinating at Tax Time

For many business owners, the end of the financial year means frantically checking what needs to be done before 30 June and what can wait until after. That usually means that tax accountants work crazy hours trying to keep up with the demand. Then, after an initial rush to process tax returns, it all starts again in the weeks before the return deadlines.

Episode 60 Blog

Everyone seems to take it as a given that tax deadlines will always be preceded by a mad dash of activity, so a wide range of resources spring up to help people work their way through it all.

For example, our gurus, Paul and Dave, recently shared some practical tips on this topic in their From The Trenches podcast episode EOFY for Tax and Advisory Clients. Both see it as a time when they can not only help their clients deal with the urgent issues, but they can also help them refocus on their goals and revise their current financial strategies.

The Commonwealth Bank also recently shared the helpful article 5 Things Every Small Business Should Do Before 30 June which you might like to check out.

It’s great that resources like this exist, but have you ever stopped to consider why they are needed in the first place?

Putting things off until the last minute

We are all guilty of procrastination at times. You know what it’s like. The boss asks you to write a report and gives you, say, 3 weeks to do it, but you don’t look at it until the final week then you panic.

Maybe you always end up shopping for gifts on Christmas Eve or submit assignments for your course right on the death knock?

Whatever the scenario, our physical reactions tend to be universal. Calm at first leading to a growing sense of unease, and finally, all our systems fire up to help us get the task done NOW. This sort of stress switches our bodies into fight or flight mode, just as if we were fighting for survival in the jungle. Our adrenaline levels skyrocket and our brain shuts everything else out and narrows our focus to the situation at hand. In that mode, we are capable of amazing feats, but once the ‘danger’ subsides, our systems return to normal.

This approach to deadlines has its pros and cons.

Procrastination advantages

For many, the sense of urgency that follows procrastination is what enables them to get things done. The end result ticks all the boxes without being bogged down by the non-essentials. On top of that, the adrenaline rush we get from achieving the goal despite the odds can be rather addictive, so we do the same thing next time.

Procrastination disadvantages

Achieving your objective, such as writing that report, at the last minute might keep the boss happy, but there is a cost. Chances are that you’ve missed some key issues or you could have presented the information in a better way if you had taken more time with it. Or, if you’d looked around a bit more, you could have found the perfect gift for your family and friends instead of making do with the things you could find in your last-minute shopping spree.

Going through the procrastination/panic cycle repeatedly isn’t going to do your health any good either. Prolonged stress can lead to things like anxiety disorders, heart problems, and digestive issues if you don’t address it. Chronic procrastination can also mask other problematic behaviours such as the inability to make decisions.

Breaking the procrastination cycle

If you are ready to start tackling your procrastination habits, try these proven tips.

1.     Track your current use of time. If you’re so busy being busy that nothing gets done, then it helps to know where your time is being wasted. Keep a note of your activities in hourly blocks for the next week and you may notice some patterns appear. (How often does ‘chatting with co-workers in the tea room’ come up, for example?)

2.     Learn to prioritise. Author Stephen Covey listed this as one of the essential habits in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. You’ll find a great run down on this topic in Shana Lebowitz’s article for Business Insider Australia A decades-old time-management strategy can help you become more productive and less stressed at work

3.     Take an early peek at the full task to get an idea of what’s involved. That way, you won’t get a shock when you find there is more work involved than you expected and you can start planning accordingly.

4.     Don’t wait for big blocks of time. You’re not likely to get them. Chunk things down into smaller tasks that you can do when you have a free half hour and give them your full attention before you have to switch to something else. As the saying goes, ‘Little piddles make a big puddle’.

5.     Make time in your calendar for the important things first. Planning apps like Harvest and Cushion allow you to list all your projects and their components, give each a deadline, and place them on your calendar so you can see where the bottlenecks and clashes are.

6.     Involve other people. Find a buddy and work together or sign up for coaching or a class that will help you achieve your goal. Say you’ve been putting off starting a regular exercise regime. You might find it too hard to get going at home on your own, but if you go to a weekly class, you’re more likely to show up and put in the effort.

7.     Look for the value in doing the task. Even if it is not something that you would voluntarily do (like your taxes), try finding ways to make it meaningful to you. For example, is there a cost to not doing it (such as a fine from the ATO)?. Is there an incentive to do it early? Will it help those around you?

So, now that you know how to avoid the dreaded deadline panic why not use that knowledge to ensure next year’s tax time is calm and peaceful. Maybe you can even plan a holiday and leave the mayhem behind?

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Many of the themes in this article came from Episode 60 EOFY for Tax and Advisory Clients presented by Paul Meissner and David Boyer. Paul & David are passionate CA's who care deeply about the accounting industry.

Paul quit his accounting day job seven years ago and now owns and runs the Melbourne-based firm, 5ways Group Chartered Accountants, and his online Freedom Accounting System firm which allows him to travel and work from anywhere.

For the last 4 years, David has worked as a Virtual CFO. At the start of 2016 he co-founded the Virtual CFO Association and in December 2016 his company, Sequel VCFO began franchising to mobilise the experienced work force of accountants in industry and bring their expertise to SMEs.

Together with their impressive list of guest presenters, Paul and David are the brave souls needed to fight through the noise and give accountants in practice the support and information they deserve.


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