5 Accountant-Approved Organizational Tips That Will Make Your Whole Life Easier

published Apr 24, 2021
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Of all the things that surprised me about becoming an adult, one of the biggest shocks was how utterly unprepared I was to pay taxes. Some part of me thought that after getting my first post-college job, the knowledge of how to file my taxes would just come to me naturally. Turns out, this isn’t really how adulthood works at all, and I didn’t have a clue how to file my taxes correctly. 

For most of my 20s, I entered tax season with a sense of utter dread and confusion. I would use online services designed to help non-tax-savvy people like me, but I still felt like it was completely possible I was messing everything up anyway. It wasn’t until I started freelancing full-time that I finally got my own accountant and I learned that things you should really know before doing your taxes — whether you use an in-person accountant, an online service, or something else entirely. I also learned rather quickly that the biggest, most important lessons you learn during tax season are often lessons that apply to the rest of your life, too. 

As JustAnswer tax expert Angela Anderson CPA, CFA, explains, the most important part of tax season prep for anyone is always going to be record-keeping. “If a person keeps their tax information organized, self-preparing your tax return, or handing off your information to a tax professional should be stress-free,” Anderson says, adding that this doesn’t necessarily mean you have to use one type of record-keeping system in particular. This is an overarching lesson that accountants can teach you: How perfectly you organize your life doesn’t matter as much as doing it in the first place.

Credit: Emma Fiala

Chose just a few methods of organization and stick to them.

If you find yourself constantly tempted to try out the newest, flashiest organization app or system, then odds are this impulse has resulted in you feeling anything but organized. If you can’t remember which app or system applies to which aspect of your life, it can seem even more overwhelming to manage your social life, work schedule, and other daily obligations. Instead, try to streamline things — choose the bare minimum of tools to stay organized, and stick to those. Take it from Stacy Kildal, a QuickBooks ProAdvisor and the founder of Kildal Services, who only uses three things to stay organized. 

“To keep myself organized, I rely on three things: my calendar, my inbox…and a handwritten To Do list. I use my calendar to block out time for biking and hiking as well as working on projects — not just for appointments,” Kidal says, demonstrating how one simple tool can have multiple uses. “I have a couple different email addresses and my work email is just for work; bills and subscriptions go to an old personal account; one that is not set up on my phone or that I use on a daily basis. If it’s in my inbox, it needs attention. The last is a handwritten list that includes things from my inbox and not there, because I tend to remember things better if I write them down and also… it’s just very satisfying to cross things off.”

Procrastination is never, ever your friend. 

The single biggest thing you can do to help yourself when it comes to taxes is to avoid one of the most common pitfalls of all: Waiting until the last minute. This can be easy to do if you’re stressed out by the mere idea of filing taxes, but it will only make your life more difficult in the long run. Unsurprisingly, this applies to most aspects of life. When you put off an important task, your life will be more difficult. Period.

“From my experience, it is almost like there is a subliminal thing that goes on with people when it comes to tax matters. People tend to cringe, or for that matter, shut down when it comes to tax preparation, and anything related to it,” JustAnswer tax expert Angela Anderson, CPA, CFA, explains, adding that there are a few universal reasons why this might happen. “For some individuals, it is simply that they do not want to deal with it, and for others, it is the fact that they owe money.” 

Try to figure out what it is, exactly, about a task that is stressing you out. Ask yourself what is the root cause of why you’re avoiding it, and be honest about the answer. Then ask yourself if completing the task will make your life more or less stressful. When you admit to yourself that you are procrastinating (and figure out why you’re procrastinating), it’s that much easier to finally stop doing so.

When in doubt, make a checklist.

When it comes to tax season and gathering the appropriate documents, CPA and business owner Wendy Barlin says it’s important to make a checklist. 

“Have a checklist of documents you need to have for your tax preparer or for yourself to do your income tax return,” Barlin says. “Getting halfway and realizing you are missing something is so frustrating.”

While making a checklist to complete work tasks is certainly nothing new or groundbreaking, this tip is a good reminder that it’s worth thinking about other areas of your life that could benefit from a checklist. Outdoor work? Check list of supplies and priorities. Closet clean-out? Check list of items you’re keeping, and which you’re donating. Writing a novel? Check list of plot points and other important details. When in doubt, going back to this idea of making a list will always be helpful – and yes, that applies to doing your taxes, too.

Credit: Jessica Rapp

Budget your time.

As Katherine Bunschoten, a QuickBooks ProAdvisor and the president of Certum Solutions, shares, a helpful way to stay organized and efficient is to budget your time in the same way you would your money. Bunschoten says she makes a daily to-do list, breaks it into subjects, and then divides the tasks accordingly. 

“Each evening I go through and stage my next day. Professionals are taking on more roles than ever before, but our available time has remained constant through history,” Bunschoten says. “It follows, therefore, that we have to make sure that we have a way to create time budgets that focus on the most impactful goals for each day.”

Take Bunschoten’s advice and think of your time as an important commodity, and set aside certain amounts of it accordingly. 

Just do it. 

Ultimately, the biggest “hack” when it comes to successfully doing your taxes is the biggest, simplest life hack as well. If there is a task you’re putting off again and again, then you’re inviting more stress into your life. So when in doubt, just do it. 

“If you are required to file a tax return, you know that the return must be prepared and you know that certain information will be needed to prepare the return, so why not set aside some time, and gather your documents and other needed information. Do not wait until the last minute to get your documents and information together. Waiting until the last minute, in my opinion, is the biggest stressor.”

Take a second to think about doing taxes last year. What was it that stressed you out the most about them? Was it finding and gathering the documents themselves, or the fact that you did  everything at the very last minute? Odds are, for a lot of people, it’s the latter — and this applies to so many aspects of life. If you had a dime for every time you avoided doing a task for weeks or months only to realize that it would have taken you just a few minutes to complete, well, you’d likely have a lot of dimes. The next time you feel yourself giving into a bad case of the avoidances, remember that — and then roll up your sleeves and get the work done.