Organizing For Doing Your Taxes

Most people dread the approach of tax season and people with clutter issues generally have greater distress and difficulty with it than others. But it isn't necessary to live with having a quarter of the year spoiled by anxiety and upset. There are some easy-to-learn and -apply techniques that will enable you to sail through doing your taxes.

* The first requisite for painless taxes is to break the task down into its component elements so that every piece is something that takes no more than half an hour. Examples of this might be a) acquire needed forms, b) identify supporting documents, c) assemble receipts. Each of these component tasks can be further broken down; usually the first item as an example, you have 1) identify forms needed (or plan on getting every possible form), 2) learn where forms are available, 3) plan trip to place where forms can be gotten. Even these tasks may break down into smaller pieces. The point is to get each element reduced to a non-intimidating, quick and easy piece that you can drop onto your calendar on a daily basis.

* See how many of the tasks on your list are items that can be incorporated into other things you are doing. For example, if you need to pick up forms, are you making a trip downtown or anywhere near a place where the forms are available? If you need to make copies, are you going to a copy center for any other task, such as buying office supplies?

* Identify any sequencing issues with your task list, such as items A and B need to be done before C or D. You will probably find quite a few of them.

* Determine how long it will take to get your taxes done and submitted on time if you just do one of the tasks on your list each day.

* Schedule each component task on your organizer. If there are days when you cannot do any task from your list or when you do not accomplish the scheduled task, double them up on the next day. If you find that you are regularly not doing what you need to do, what remedies are needed to change the dynamic? If you cannot get the tasks done on time at the rate of one item per day, what number of tasks or bunching of them is needed to ensure that you are not late? If it is not working for you to do small bits each day, can you plan a block of time to get the tasks done? The goal should be to finish on time so you don't have to request a delay or pay fines and avoid being a nervous wreck at the end.

* Look for more efficient ways to do things. Some examples might be downloading forms from the IRS website and printing them yourself, or laying out your expenses in Excel rather than on a calculator (Excel lets you find errors easily, sort expenses into categories, and creates a record you can go back to whenever needed.) For each task on your list, there are no doubt easier and harder ways to do them - you deserve to have the easy but you have to plan for it.

* Create a special area, box, or tray reserved only for items relating to doing your taxes. This will save you from having to repetitively look for items.

* Best times to do anxiety-inducing activities such as sorting receipts are when you are doing something that keeps you relaxed and at least part of your mind occupied, such as while watching TV or talking to a friend. If you can't do that, plan a calming activity for after you are finished.

* After your return is submitted and you have given yourself a day's break, immediately begin setting up, not planning but doing, to ensure that next year's return is even easier:

    - get a divided container for your receipts, and other relevant documents. You could use one divided by months or categorized by the type of expense. Accordion files, canceled checks boxes, and many similar tools can be used for the purpose.

    - consider setting up a spreadsheet or accounting software that tracks your expenses and deductions as you go.

    - if hiring a tax consultant to do your return is too expensive, a software package may be a good investment. The deductions it may help you find may be worth the cost of the program several times over.

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