Procrastinating on taxes? 6 things to do about it

Dustin Johnson
By Dustin Johnson

Wrapping up your books at the end of the month can be a stressful time for any small business owner. The final dollar amount you’ll owe to the IRS and the time-consuming process of filing your taxes combine to stress you out. It’s only natural for us to crawl into our little shells when we get stressed.

We call this procrastination.

Given our many demands in business and life, it's easy to procrastinate on taxes (even though we know we shouldn't).

If you struggle to file your taxes on time, given everything you have going on, you don't just need tactical tax advice. You may also benefit from a few tips on avoiding procrastination and perhaps why you’re inclined to procrastinate in the first place.

We are not psychologists but business owners and tax experts who know a thing or two about the stress of tax season and how to overcome it.

Why do you procrastinate?

Writing this article reminds me of a quote by actor Christopher Parker. I’ll admit, I’ve never seen his movies, but his quote stuck with me.

“Procrastination is like a credit card: it's a lot of fun until you get the bill" - Christopher Parker

Sometimes that is true. We consciously engage in “more fun” activities over more important ones we enjoy less. But tell me this. Do you ever experience times when you procrastinate and it’s not fun? It might fill you with dread the longer you engage in it This proves that we’re not rational, calculating machines; we’re human.

Why do we do that? And when we catch ourselves in that pattern during tax season, what do we do?

The truth is that procrastination is a habit. If you understand how it shows up in your life, you can replace it with a better one. Examine the common reasons people procrastinate below and determine which aligns with you.

  • Perfectionism: The perfectionist struggles to start and complete projects because nothing is ever good enough. They wait until the last minute to start tasks because shrinking their time to finish a task leaves them no choice. This is not sustainable, especially when you start a task like filing taxes but underestimate how long it will take.
  • Self-Sabotage: It’s a human instinct to fear losing control. The toxic cycle of self-sabotage begins with us doubting our ability to take the next step may be in life or business. It finishes with us intentionally not doing things like filing our taxes. Why? Because it allows us to predict what will happen, creating an illusion of self-control.
  • Workaholic: Highly-motivated, driven people like you procrastinate too. The problem with the workaholic is they fill their schedule with too much, forcing themselves to work late. As a result, they burn themselves out and experience poor outcomes. If you’re a workaholic, do you have an unhealthy attachment to defining yourself by your productivity?
  • Low Self-Confidence: If you don’t believe in your ability to complete a task, you may avoid starting. Doubting your skill and fear of failure can lead to procrastinating, and ultimately you feel defeated before you even begin.

Understand that we are all emotional beings that often appeal to emotion rather than logic. Just because you can clearly see the flaw in the thought patterns we shared above doesn’t mean you’ll never engage in them.

What to do instead?

The first thing you need to do is read the four possible reasons for your procrastination. Which ones can you relate to? If you’re not sure, read them again. Next, we’ll share a few strategies you can use to “reroute” those default thought patterns that do not serve you.

First, confront your stress

Tax stress is a common experience, but we all have our own reasons and unique triggers. It takes a lot of self-reflection to understand why you respond the way you do. And it takes a bit of bravery and humility to confront yourself and admit that there may be a better way. We don’t mean to scold ourselves when we say confront your stress. Instead, take the path of acceptance and acknowledge that your response to triggers was valid.

Maybe journal your feelings or talk with someone you trust. 

  • Are you concerned you’ll learn that your business hasn’t been doing as well as you’d hoped?
  • Are you afraid to make a mistake?
  • Do you take on too much because you’re attached to the identity of being accomplished/successful/high-achieving?
  • Are you concerned that you’re going to owe more taxes than you can afford to pay? 
  • Are you subtly holding yourself back because you don’t believe you’re ready to take the next step in business or life?

Whatever the reasons, small or big, rational or irrational, write them all down. Ask yourself these two questions:

  • Is this fear or concern valid enough to elicit my default response? Or is it an overreaction?
  • What’s the worst-case scenario if I confront this fear/concern?

What you’re doing is training yourself to break the habit of procrastination. Now we can move on to creating more useful habits.

Break things down in chunks

A great strategy for beating procrastination is to break filing your tax return into small chunks. 

Here’s what you can do:

  • Create a list of every task involved in filing your tax return
  • Try your best to order them chronologically
  • Place an estimated amount of time for each task
  • Place a time on your schedule for each of these broken-down tasks

One trick procrastination experts often suggest is the “you can do anything for 15 minutes” technique. Rather than tell yourself you will complete your full return, ask yourself what you can accomplish in 15 minutes.

Give yourself deadlines

Instead of fixating on April 18th, set calendar reminders for each milestone you created in the last step. As a business owner, this may mean knocking out a quarter of taxes to make your estimated tax payments on time.

Sacrifice something

The great thing about tough times is that they empower/force us to adapt so we can thrive in our new environment. Are you putting in the hours but still finding it difficult to finish everything on your plate? Maybe you need to consider removing things from your life, especially if you use them as a coping mechanism. 

The biggest example is social media. An average social media user spends 2 hours and 31 minutes daily on social media. According to the IRS, the average taxpayer is estimated to spend 13 hours preparing and filing one annual tax return. Theoretically, if you cut out social media, you could file your tax return in 5-6 days.


If you procrastinate because you’re in a rut, visualizing your future self may help. If the IRS owes you money, picture what you’ll do if you receive the national average tax refund of $3,012. If you owe the IRS money, consider what you’ll do when you’re past the stress of filing taxes.

Admit your weakness and hire accordingly

If you look at the idea of spending 13 hours on your tax return (or more if you are a business owner), then maybe it’s time to hire outside help. If you’re a perfectionist, you may subscribe to the idea that if you want something done right, you do it yourself. However, in business, this limiting belief can hold you back. Instead,  Do the activities that bring in money and hire someone to help you get control of what is costing you money.

There’s a misconception that tax help is expensive and prohibitive. A tax professional will cost more than online software or doing taxes yourself. Has procrastinating caused you anxiety, forced you to invest time you could spend elsewhere, or got you hit with a penalty? Then a good accountant may help get you out of the rut and help you beat tax procrastination once and for all. 

Finish procrastination for good

We aim to provide as many resources to taxpayers so they can pay their taxes on time and accurately. Sometimes, it’s not a lack of knowledge that keeps us from filing our taxes but simply getting out of our own way. If you’re ready to let go of the stress, then tap into some of the resources and strategies we suggested.

Hiring isn’t the only way to get help with your taxes.

Avoid missing deadlines or getting late-payment penalties, so stay on top of upcoming tax deadlines. Sign up for a free account with ComplYant for custom calendars and business tax management.

Dustin Johnson
By Dustin Johnson
Dustin Johnson is a Senior Tax Research Specialist at ComplYant. Prior to joining ComplYant, he spent over eleven years performing tax research at the world’s largest tax preparation company. Dustin holds a Bachelor of Business Administration and a Juris Doctor. Outside of work, Dustin enjoys biking and spending time with his family.

Related posts

Customer pays with their phone on a POS system at a store

Will a third-party payment platform work for your business?

For small businesses, accepting payments has never been easier with the rise of third-party platforms. It's important for small business owners to understand third-party platforms are, how they can help grow a business, and what advantages and disadvantages they present.
Wooden blocks spell out "LLC" on a table with pencils, paperclips, and notebooks nearby

Choosing a business structure: Is an LLC the best choice?

If you’re forming a business, then you need to choose a structure for your business. The structure you choose will have implications on your tax obligations, investment opportunities, filing requirements, and more. Read this article to discover if an LLC is right for you.
Dice that read "LLC" sit on an open ledger with closed ledgers, a calculator, and pencils behind them

A basic guide to how LLCs are taxed

With the right preparation, filing taxes for your LLC doesn’t have to be complicated. Taking some basic steps can help make the process simpler and help you manage your taxes more easily for years to come.