Before Duane, my husband with ADHD, and I, got our act together, we were five years behind filing our income tax returns.
Part of the issue was that, at the time, we didn’t know about Duane’s ADHD. Since he wasn’t receiving treatment and had no strategies in place to help him cope, the responsibility for all household details (managing the kids’ schoolwork and communications with school, grocery shopping and meal preparation, bill payment, home and car repairs and maintenance, etc.) fell to me. I don’t have to tell you that a lot of details fell through the cracks. To make matters worse, we had moved four times in fewer than four years and some documents got lost in transit.
Some years, it was a mad scramble the week before the tax deadline to find all the various documents to get the taxes done. Some years, we didn’t get to it at all!
Eventually, Duane was diagnosed with ADHD, received treatment and coaching (and put in a lot of hard work himself) and I finally had a partner I could count on for help, instead of another child (he’s still very much a kid at heart, but that’s one of the things I love about him). Together, we worked on a plan to avoid the mess in the future.
Our Turning Point
Fifteen years ago, after realizing we were not going to make the deadline once again, despite a huge amount of work and stress trying to get all the documents in on time, we decided that preparing for the next tax season was going to start that very day. Here’s how we did it:
Document Drop-Off Center
First, we created a space where all documents were dropped off all year long to be processed. This “Documents Drop-Off” space is a clear plastic box that is easily accessible (you don’t have to look for it, you don’t have to move things, you don’t have to think about it) to put any potentially relevant papers in whenever you come across them.
Once a week, or once a month, depending on how many papers we had, I performed triage on the documents in the box. This took place in two steps.
First, I sorted through the papers and asked “Do we need this for tax purposes?” If not, garbage!
I then separated the documents into separate, clear plastic folders according to category, since these needed to be added up and recorded before being included in our personal income-tax returns. Our group of file folders included:
One for medical expenses
One for expenses related to our property, and
One “catch-all” for personal income tax purposes, like donations, income-tax documents from employers, tuition and student loan receipts, interest revenue, childcare expenses, contributions to our personal retirement savings plans, etc.
H&R Block has a great checklist (click the link for the American checklist, for the Canadian checklist or do a search for “Income tax documents <your country>) for the types of documents most people need to collect. If you own businesses or have a complicated income tax situation, check with your accountant for a list of documents you need to collect.
We tallied medical and revenue property expenses monthly. I did this by adding up the expenses in each category, putting the corresponding documents in envelopes, and then writing the total on the envelop and/or recording the totals in a spreadsheet.
If this is something you find yourself procrastinating, do yourself a favor and hire someone to do it for you. If you’d like to hire someone, but are concerned about money, I suggest Duane’s approach to delegation: “Instead of wasting time trying to coax myself into doing something and then finding time to get it done, I hire someone to do it and work a few extra hours to make the money to pay for it.” Believe me, it is totally worth it.
By delegating tasks such as tallying expenses and filing taxes, we save:
Time and energy
Frustration and sleepless nights worrying about what’s not done
THE Game Changer
Taking these steps to prepare our documents in advance has relieved a lot of strain on our lives, especially in the spring when we could be enjoying nature’s awakening. However, the biggest change that has occurred for us is delegating the actual preparation of our income tax returns.
While you may think you’re saving money doing it yourself, you don’t know what deductions you might be missing out on or what costly mistakes you might be making. It’s difficult to stay up-to-date on all tax laws and even with new tax software, you’re bound to miss some things.
Many ADHDers think “normal people” do their own taxes, but contrary to ADHDers’ beliefs, most sane neurotypicals don’t prepare their own income tax returns. Instead, they use the time they would have spent preparing their taxes (usually a stress-filled weekend) to develop their strengths or do something they truly enjoy doing and leave the taxes to the experts.
Your mission, should you choose to change your tax filing experience next year, is to:
Purchase one clear box for your Document Drop-Off space that’s convenient for and visible to everyone who needs to use it.
Purchase clear folders/envelopes (9 X 12” or bigger), one for each category of document and one as a catch-all space for all other tax documents.
Let everyone in your household know where every document goes:
Make sure your Documents Drop-Off space is easy to access and is visible so it will trigger everyone to drop off their documents there.
Create a fool-proof system for processing each month:
Set recurring dates (and reminders!) for processing these documents. We used to do this on the first and third Sunday morning of the month because it was usually a quiet time and we used to pay bills during that time, but now once a month is enough since most of our household bills are paid automatically.
Delegate what you know you hate or are not great at doing.
Enjoy a stress-free tax season in 2017.
Following these steps, we have never ever been late filing our taxes since and tax time is stress-free. (Yes, really!)
Linda Walker is an ADHD coach and trainer who offers online and mentored programs to help adults with ADHD manage their lives. Want more tips on unleashing your creative genius by freeing up more time for yourself, enroll in her free Productivity Myths Busted program.