Stuck in a Work Slump? How to Get Out Before Tax Season
It’s dark before you get home from the office, you haven’t felt warm since December, and gray skies are all you see out your window. The winter doldrums can be tough to beat, especially in terms of making headway on those career resolutions you set just a month ago. Sure, this is when half of nature hibernates. But for the sake of your goals and your peace of mind, you don’t have that luxury. With spring comes the demand for activity outside of the office, meaning this is the perfect time to power through that to-do list before home improvements and those springtime hikes call. Plus, tax season is right around the corner, and you don’t want to be left unprepared.
It’s probably not your fault that you’re struggling to get work done. Productivity coach Casey Moore told Forbes that by this time of year, some people are feeling discouraged because they’ve already broken their New Year’s resolutions. If you live in a wet and cold climate, you’re probably also fighting cabin fever, with spring too far away to feel hopeful yet. And for some, Seasonal Affective Disorder can wreak havoc on your desire to be effective in the office.
To get some tips about how to stay productive over the winter and make sure you’re ahead of the game in terms of your tax filings, The Cheat Sheet talked with Laura Stack, the Productivity Pro and author of Doing the Right Things Right: How the Effective Executive Spends Time, for advice about how to make the most of the winter months.
“Most people aren’t staying on track because they don’t have a good system in place,” Stack said. She referenced one productivity study conducted by Fellowes, which found that people can be disrupted for at least two hours of their workday, often because of being disorganized or inefficient. In some cases, using faulty equipment was another reason work got delayed. Only about half of the respondents felt they were “very productive” during their day, Stack summarized. “It’s really impacting our ability to get out of the office,” Stack said, adding that a healthy work-life balance can suffer as a result. Here are a few things Stack suggests for making the most of the winter months, and getting ready for the inevitable tax filings you’re facing.
1. Get organized
Whether it’s sifting through your inbox and deleting all the chain emails and irrelevant office updates or organizing the Mount Everest of paperwork on your desk – or both – there’s no better time than the present to organize your information. That way you can find the information you need quickly, and get rid of the rest. “It’s really critical to get on top of that and purge things that you don’t need,” Stack said, whether it’s your personal financial information or documents for your latest work project.
Stack suggests shredding any documents you won’t need any longer, which gets them out of your way for good without risking identity theft or other compromised information. (As unpleasant as tax season already is, there’s also a constant uptick in related ID theft during this time.) Stack uses one shredder in particular, but of course take advantage of any tools your office already has.
When you get organized and have a clear plan, you’ll avoid the pitfall of trying to keep everything laid out in your head, Stack said. “They try to remember everything they need to do,” she said, which ultimately tends to fail. Using apps or an organizer of some kind is vital, Stack said, because it allows you to capture your to-do list in one place without the stress of trying to remember everything.
2. Start early
When it comes to taxes and other important deadlines, there’s never a better time to start than right away. “So many people put it off until April,” Stack said, who advises against this. “As soon as you get your W-2s, start getting organized.” Collect receipts and documentation for any expenses and write-offs you might have for the year, she suggests. That means tracking down travel receipts for business trips, compiling a record of your mortgage payments and medical bills, or figuring out how much you spent on higher education either for yourself or your children.
By getting this paperwork together ahead of time, you’ll be prepared for a relatively low-stress filing period, whether you’re preparing your taxes yourself or getting help from a professional. “That way, you’re not scrambling by the time April rolls around,” Stack said.
3. Eliminate time-wasters
Of all the advice Stack gives for setting goals big and small, the strategy that has the most success is getting rid of the time-wasters that act like productivity quicksand. “I really look at where you feel your time is being wasted,” Stack explained, adding that issues of self-discipline are often the most necessary to overcome. Instead of wallowing in ineffectiveness, take an honest look at how you spend your day.
If checking email or your phone too often are the culprits, turn off notifications that tempt you to check in every five minutes. Block websites like Facebook, and set yourself up to have a structured workday. You’ll be amazed by how quickly you power through your to-do list, and even have time to track down your business expenses for the last year.
4. Have a weekend to-do list, too
The weekend might be your time to do whatever you want, and often that means a break from rigid structure and a limiting checklist. But having at least a rough idea of what you want to accomplish on your days off will help your overall productivity, Stack said. If you’ve started binge-watching Making A Murderer on Friday night and suddenly it’s Monday morning without accomplishing anything else, you’ll head into work feeling guilty and unaccomplished, she explained.
Mondays don’t need any help being tough, so do yourself a favor and have a general to-do list for what you want to do with your spare time. Add a healthy dose of Netflix to the list, sure, but make sure you’ve also got time to clean the gutters, organize your paperwork, and anything else you want to check off that nagging mental list. It doesn’t need to be as structured as your weekday list, Stack said – you deserve a break – but you’ll feel more refreshed if you’re working toward at least a few goals.