I have never filed my taxes on time. Ever. It’s very annoying when people blame every little thing on their parents, so I’m not going to tell you that year after year my mom would let my dad do their taxes, my dad would wait until the last minute, and then he’d ask my mom to sign at 11:45 pm so he could drive to the post office and get it postmarked and she would say she has to read it and he would throw a fit. Then the police would come and stop the fight.
You might ask why did my mom not trust my dad, or why did they did not hire an accountant when they were earning truckloads of money, or why did they not file for an extension?
But we will not explore any of that because I’m too old to be a person who blames everything on my parents. Anyway, I hire an accountant. But I get an extension every year, and I want to do better than my parents, so this year I decided to file on time.
To do something hard, like taxes, I need an hour to gather my stuff and send it to the accountant. And today is the deadline for getting on the accountant’s calendar. Fortunately I have a bunch of hour-long time slots that would be great for gathering tax info.
I write my to do list because that’s what people who get stuff done do. Then they do the first thing on their list first. I sort of do that. I make A’s, B’s and C’s.
I get up at 5 am because productive people are early risers. Do not tell me there are productive late risers. That’s like when people tell me they know where everything is on their messy desk. The research says people who have messy desks look overwhelmed and unproductive. And if you look that way then people treat you that way and then you become that.
Everyone on the farm gets up early for chores. So by 5:30 am I already don’t want to do my A’s so I tell Matthew and my son that I have a great video for them to watch. It’s one I just found in my email: First Kiss. A video artist had twenty people who have never met each other kiss. Ten seconds into the video my son, who has been known to search suspiciously sexual terms in YouTube, can recognize this as more art than porn and he goes back to his Rainbow Loom. Matthew and I watch. It’s touching. And disturbing.
So I watch three times.
Then I organize the boots. There are a lot of boots on a farm. And I organize the spices. The bigger my list the more organized our boots are.
Now, since there is not an hour left to do my taxes, so I send an email to Cassie:
I’m teaching you about about working with people, okay? You don’t work with Paul and he doesn’t take orders from you. So it’s insubordinate that you emailed him. I don’t care, and I don’t think he does either, but I think you have no idea that this is jarringly awful office politics that you exhibit here. I think it’s why people hate working with you.
And Cassie writes back:
Paul and I have a system, which we created because you are so terrible at office politics. Everytime you send him directions to change something he calls or emails me to find out what you are talking about. You give him such vague instructions that he has no idea what to do.
Stressing over whether I am incompetent at management takes the rest of my hour.
The next hour I have is after I make breakfast and do music practice with the kids. I check my email first, which you should not do. You should do the first thing on your to do list and then use email as a reward system. Melita Smilovic sent me a link to a speech she gave about our coaching session. I told her her resume sucks. And she still liked the coaching session. I am happy. She tells me to start looking at the video at 8:45 but I watch the whole thing because it’s so much better than doing my taxes.
Now I have used fifteen minutes of my hour. So I can’t do taxes. I do fun things on my list that are not A’s. No one has high priority items on their to do list that are fun because if they are fun you do them before they even get on the list.
I read that people who skip going to the gym and get mad at themselves about it stop going to the gym. But people who tell themselves it’s okay, just start going now—those people are lifelong gym-goers. I have to go into Madison for my son’s violin lesson. But instead of scolding myself for pissing away tons of time, I tell myself it’s okay. I can organize my tax stuff in the car. People who meet their personal goals cut themselves slack.
I start sorting through piles of disorganized papers while Carla drives. Having a driver means you have more time to tell yourself you’re going to do the number-one thing on your to do list.
We stop at a hotel for a bathroom. And there is a wedding vendor convention and I have to go in, of course. And the first booth is Ken whose company is Flip’n Sweet, and he can make a flip book of people doing something in just one minute. The examples are wedding couples kissing. He lets my son do a little dance and then we have a flip book. So fun!
We get in the car and I’m flipping instead of doing taxes, and Carla says, “Remember that article in New York magazine about the prisoners who starved themselves to protest the inhumane nature of solitary confinement? They should use these flip books to create protest materials.”
I wish I thought of that idea. Then I could have crossed out on my to do list: Make time for thinking clever thoughts.
I cannot organize my taxes because the wedding stop made us late for violin so I have to call the teacher to convince her to wait for us.
On the drive home I don’t even pretend I’m going to do taxes because good time managers are realists. So I read my articles from my folder of articles to read later. One is about the book Happier by Tal Ben-Shar. The research in his book says we would be happier by doing these things:
- Create rituals around the things we love to do.
- Express gratitude for the good things in our lives.
- Set meaningful goals that reflect our values and interests.
- Play to our strengths instead of dwelling on weaknesses.
- Simplify our lives — not just the stuff, but the time.
And then I realize: The way for me to be better than my parents isn’t to do my taxes on time. That would be nice. But really I need to not give myself choices about how I spend my time. The more choices I have throughout the day, the more decisions I make, the more willpower I need, the more I get distracted from paying attention to the building blocks of a fulfilling life: gratitude, meaning, and ritual.
Being productive means simplifying how you use your time. Which in turn, simplifies your life.