The pre-deadline that worked

TurboTax sent around a catchy press release today naming San Francisco the “Most Tax Procrastinating City in America.” We file our online tax returns at the last possible minute—moments later than Houston, New York and Chicago.

It could be fun to speculate about the reasons—we’re so wired we can afford to be lackadaisical? We’re such crazed multitaskers that deadline pressure is the only thing that gets our attention?

But here’s what really interested me. I’m a San Franciscan, I’ve been known to procrastinate, and I got my return in early. How’d that happen?

Interim deadlines. Financial incentives. From a smart tax preparer who didn’t want to spend the first two weeks of April camping in his office.

My tax guy has always given discounts to clients who mail their materials to him instead of making an in-person appointment. This year he added a new twist: 15% off for returning your receipts in February, 10% in March, and 5% in April. I read that memo and thought, You had me at February.

Most years, I do my scrambling at the end of March—sending him my docs after he’s made a couple of reminder calls. We end up filing just before April 15.

Not this year. He had my stuff on February 28. It’s a recession. I wanted the discount.

I know that a fake deadline, well ahead of the actual due date, is one way—theoretically—to keep a project on schedule. I also know that it’s tough to take a fake deadline seriously.

So now I’m looking around at my stalled projects and asking: Who can be my tax guy for these other deadlines? And what incentive will motivate me?


  1. JoVE says:

    There is more than one reason that was smart on his part. Even if he camps in his office (which he probably will still do), he has only so much capacity in April. One human being can only prepare x tax returns in 2 weeks.

    What his promotion did was allow him to prepare MORE tax returns this year. So even though you paid less to get your taxes done early. Every penny is additional to what he could earn just in the first two weeks of April.

    This is interesting. Because I also do work that is related to someone else’s deadline. I currently encourage people to get things to me early but I haven’t tied it to pricing. I might need to try that model out.

  2. I have two incentives for early deadlines: CYA padding and play days. Sometimes the editing project I estimated to take 20 hours really takes 30, and that extra week between my personal deadline and the real deadline has saved my butt more than once. I know that I have a tendency to put off starting something until I really have to, and if I wait, I could be really screwed. I also reward myself with play days (or mornings or afternoons) when I meet my early deadlines. I refocus the time and energy I would have spent procrastinating into getting the job done early, then spend that time and energy later doing something fun. I’ll go to the park and take photos or go to the zoo or spend the afternoon in the bookstore or at a movie.

  3. Janet Bailey says:

    @JoVe – Good point. The incentive not only preserved his sanity (I’m guessing) but also allowed for greater volume.

    @Lori – Play dates sound like a good reward, and this reminds me that I’m overdue for one…

  4. Jonathan says:

    I find that since I came back from the Persian Gulf, I am less intimidated by artificial stressors like “deadlines”. Taking them seriously is one of the hardest things I do, and I am supposed to do it daily. I like your accountant’s method. I find myself using Scotty’s method from Star Trek. Pad the time by half again as much. Then if you pull it off early, you’re a miracle worker. I think that’s the same method that Lori was talking about.

  5. Janet Bailey says:

    @ Jonathan – Wow, that experience must have completely shaken up your perspective on what’s really important and what doesn’t matter so much. A tricky balancing act, when the day-to-day stuff still needs to get done and other people expect it.
    Scotty as mentor/model — love it!

  6. TheGirlPie says:

    “I got yer deadline riiiight, little lady!”

    Swell post, and great reminder that deadlines can work for us, but as more than just sticks or carrots. Looking forward to more posts on how you handle being creative on a deadline, rather than just finishing tasks. Thanks for thinking aloud with us ~ keep at it ~!


  7. Janet Bailey says:

    @GirlPie – “thinking aloud with us” captures it well! Blogging in a nutshell, eh? More on creativity to come.

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