Around this time every year, I wallow in that grand freelance ritual of tallying receipts for my tax return. As a self-employed person, I can deduct a number of things as business expenses, and given that I live in an extremely high tax state and city, it really behooves me to do so.
Of course, that knowledge doesn’t mitigate the fact that I really hate doing this. So every year, I face a dilemma. Do I log my receipts diligently as I go? Or stick them all in a pile, and then log them all at once?
I used to think that the former option was the more virtuous one. Do a bit at a time and the task never gets overwhelming. That sounds like something Benjamin Franklin would say. But then in 2009, I decided not to bother. The receipts piled up and I had to log them all at once.
But you know what? It wasn’t that bad. It took me 5 hours (I’d check receipts against my work calendar and credit card statements to confirm what any ones I’d forgotten were for). There were hundreds of receipts, which means that if I’d logged each one individually, even if it only took 2 minutes each time to open that computer program and then file the receipt, it would have taken me more than 5 hours over the course of the year to keep on top of them. And I’m guessing it might have taken more than 2 minutes. Once we use the mental energy to start a task, it’s hard to get back into the flow of work (even checking your email often involves a 20-25 minute break from the flow of your main project).
The downside is that I may have missed receipts, so that would have cost me money. The question is how many receipts I missed, and the dollar amount I thus owe in additional taxes, and the amount of time I save by not logging frequently. I’m not entirely sure how this calculation would turn out, but in general, batching tasks is more efficient. You focus on one thing, get it done, and move on.