Why is getting motivated to do taxes so hard?
It’s true—despite knowing we can avoid this stress by getting started earlier in the year, the majority of Canucks procrastinate hard on their tax returns. An H&R Block Canada survey released at the end of March 2021, for example, found that 60% of Canadians still hadn’t filed their taxes a month out from the deadline.
Moreover, one-third of the poll respondents also said they were dreading income tax season more than usual because they were afraid they owed money. In such cases, procrastinating is not only stressful, but it can also be costly.
If you have income taxes owing and miss the filing deadline, the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) will charge you a late filing penalty—5% of your owing balance, and an additional 1% for each full month you file after the due date—as well as compound daily interest on any outstanding amount due.
Why do we do this to ourselves? It’s gotten to the point that income tax procrastination has nearly become a perverse national sport. According to Carleton University associate professor of psychology Tim Pychyl, who studies procrastination and its relation to personal well-being, it’s a coping mechanism—albeit one that doesn’t serve us particularly well.
We tend to put off tasks, such as doing taxes, that are associated with negative emotions like disinterest, boredom or fear because we don’t want to deal with those bad feelings. Unfortunately, the tasks—and the negative emotions that come with them—don’t disappear. You must face up to them eventually, so there’s really no upside to procrastination, says Pychyl, author of Solving the Procrastination Puzzle: A Concise Guide to Strategies for Change.
Thankfully, there are ways to overcome your “never do today what you can put off until tomorrow” habits. Here are a few tips you can use to finally beat procrastination this tax season.
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How to do your taxes: Set a plan that focuses on the next action
Procrastination makes its home in your brain’s amygdala, a part of the limbic system that controls the “fight or flight” response. So, instead of telling yourself you just need to get started—which will likely make you want to run away from the task—you need to shift your attention toward taking action.
Now you might be thinking, if that were so easy nobody would have a procrastination problem to begin with. But the key, says Pychyl, is to focus only on the next small action that you can take. With taxes, that could mean just gathering your receipts or estimating your net income and checking your tax bracket. And the next action after that could be categorizing the receipts into charitable donations, entertainment or business expenses. By focusing on the next action, you’ve taken your attention off your emotions, which fuel procrastination.