When procrastination makes things feel way bigger than they are, start small.
I really didn’t want to file the tax extension.
I am on the board of a small nonprofit. And I oversee the financial work. We are in the midst of finding a new accountant. And because it’s run on a shoe string, I said I would be in charge of filing the extension for the nonprofit’s tax returns.
But, I wasn’t sure how to do it.
I’ve never filed an extension, and this is for a different kind of tax return than my own personal filing or an LLC. Where am I supposed to go to get the right information and what am I supposed to do?
So, I put it off. It felt both vague and enormous at the same time. I wasn’t sure where to start. I wasn’t sure that I’d do it right. So, I put it on a list that I keep on my desk and let it stare at me. It hung over my head as the days ticked by. It started to feel bigger and more ominous each time I looked at it.
Four months later, it was still on a neon yellow post-it note on my desk. The deadline was 3 weeks away, and another board meeting was on my calendar in a few days. Part of me wanted to avoid the board meeting altogether. I was worried what the other members would think of me, what I would say when they asked about the extension. The size and weight of the task had reached epic proportions in my mind.
But, I remembered something. I know that I can do hard things. I’ve done a lot of them in my life, whether I want to or not. I guarantee that you have too. Much harder things than filing a nonprofit tax extension.
So, I told myself that I would take 15 minutes. Just 15 minutes to get started and figure it out.
I started by Googling “File 990 tax extension”.
I also sent one text to an accountant friend. Despite the vague concern that they would be shocked that someone like me, with a Wall Street background, wouldn’t know how to do something like this.
In about 15 minutes, before I could even hear back from my accountant friend, I found the online form. It an 8868 for those of you that are interested. And filled out most of it. It was one page. All I had left to do was ask two questions of our previous accountant to fill in two more lines.
And submit it online.
And suddenly, the bulging balloon of the task popped and all that remained was a deflated shell. I knew exactly what I had to do next, and what needed to happen. I had one more email to send, about 15 minutes of work, and the entire task would be complete.
The task that had stared at me, that I had dreaded for 4 months, would be done in less than 30 minutes.
But I would never have realized that. Never grasped it. If I hadn’t told myself that I can do hard things for 15 minutes.
I didn’t tell myself I had to understand the whole thing, or finish it, or even start at a pre-determined “beginning.” I told myself that I’d throw something against the wall for 15 minutes. And see what sticks.
What are you dreading right now? I bet it’s sitting on a pile on your desk or on an old tattered post-it note or it keeps showing up in an email from a co-worker. You’ve procrastinated it for days, for weeks, for months. And it’s become an enormous task in your mind. You’ll never have enough time to complete it, based upon how big it is in your head.
But instead, try it. Try to stumble around and figure it out for 15 minutes.Even if it’s boring. Even if you’re not sure what you’re doing. 15 minutes. See what happens. I bet you’ll be surprised.
What are you doing for the next 15 minutes?