The saying "there's no time like the last minute to get things done" was no doubt coined by a procrastinator. If this is your motto for everything from studying to filing your taxes, turns out there might actually be a scientific reason for it. According to an April 2019 article by R. Douglas Fields Ph.D. on Psychology Today, if you always file taxes late and have a knack for procrastination, it could have something to do with your brain structure. "Brain imaging is giving researchers neurological insight into procrastinators’ brains by revealing differences in brain structure in people who habitually put off doing things until the last minute," Dr. Fields explained in the article.
If you haven't filed your taxes yet, you're probably skilled at putting other things off until the last minute, too. (Personally, I know I'm guilty.) A 2016 study published in the journal Nature used MRI imaging to explore the brains of habitual procrastinators, and the results are pretty interesting. "The present study demonstrated that the key process underpinning procrastination is the trade-off between cognitive control and affective processing," the research stated.
Basically, it all has to do with how different regions of your pre-frontal cortex process things like self-control, immediate versus delayed rewards, distraction, cognition, and emotions. While it's always nice to be validated — it's not my fault, it's my bajiggity brain — tax day is here nonetheless.
What's more, 2019's new tax laws could make the idea of filing taxes even more daunting than before. If you're like me, you keep telling yourself that you'll do it tomorrow. Or the next day. Or this weekend. In addition, with tasks that feel scary, like taxes, you're more likely to procrastinate, which can increase anxiety. While you can file for an extension on your taxes — I've done this more times than I care to admit — they still need to get done eventually.
"You have a general tendency to stay stuck on pause whenever you feel uncertain about doing something (you avoid situations and tasks that involve feeling unsure)," Alice Boyes Ph.D. wrote for Psychology Today. "You overcomplicate the issue of where to start. You don't know how to do all the steps in a task so you avoid doing the first logical step."
If you don't want to endure six more months of dread about filing, getting started right now can help alleviate your anxiety. But just how do you do this? Fear not my friendlies. Tackling the task an hour at a time can make it feel less overwhelming. In fact, actor and author Lauren Graham of Gilmore Girls used this trick to stop procrastinating and finish her book Talking as Fast as I Can. "I now spend fewer hours being way more productive. It gave me structure where there was none," Graham said in her book.
Here's how it works. Set a timer on your phone or use a kitchen timer. Set it for one hour, and for that hour commit to sitting down and doing nothing but focusing on your taxes. Avoid watching videos on YouTube about how to cut your own bangs, resist the urge to clean your house from top to bottom, and stay off social media. When that hour is up, take a break and reward yourself with something that makes you feel good, like cute kitten photos on Instagram. Then repeat the process until you're done.
You can also do your taxes with a buddy. My roommate and I do ours together, and it helps us hold each other accountable. If you're not sure where to start, or this is your first time filing taxes on your own, there are tons of online tools to help. Numbers are my nemesis, so I use TurboTax because it walks me through every single step and helps me find deductions. It also doesn't make me do complicated math, which means I am less likely to cry during the process.
With the deadline looming, there's no time like the present to get started and show those taxes who's boss. After all, you're officially out of tomorrows. And if you're getting a refund, you deserve that money now.