The bad girl in the letter box.

Grab that paper bag and breathe…… In. Out. In. Out. Any other day, I would have be tempted to add “….and shake it all about” before enthusiastically dancing the hokey-pokey, but not today. As I clocked the beautiful weather and the tulip leaves poking out of the earth, my good mood plummeted: I realised with horror that this beautiful weather also announces her arrival. She’ll be back soon. Like every year. Lurking dangerously at the bottom of the letter box and cackling sadistically. Meet CERFA 2042, the evil French income tax form.

Evil Queen

Be afraid. Be very afraid. She may be lurking in your letter box: CERFA, the evil Queen of Tax Administromia. (Photo credit: DoodleDeMoon)

How I long for the British PAYE system. Filling in a form to get money back every year is somehow so much more motivating that having to calculate how much income tax you have to pay to the French state. It’s a bit like having to choose your own poison. So when I pull CERFA out of her tricolour cellophane sarcophagus, I generally scream with a mixture of rage and anxiety at the sight of the A3 recto verso sheet of A-level maths exam, ironically dubbed “the short version” by the powers that be. (Apparently Cerfa’s big brother is called “the full version”: if he ever turns up in my letter box, I’m bailing out in my Tardis.)

Wonder Woman makes short work of the beast: She digs the appropriate paperwork out of well-organised files, fills in the forms with self-satisfied flicking of hair and noisy clicking of perfectly manicured fingernails on her pink calculator, and has the damned thing back in the post before you have time to say “tax office”. But I am not Wonder Woman. So step two kicks in: a state I call “tax form denial”. Whilst Good Sense and Responsibility batter at the door, Cowardice holes up in a paperwork-resistant bunker and pulls out a bar of chocolate to share with her best chum, Procrastination.

Procrastination is a great pal of mine. She and I have been wandering along life’s road together for a long time now; she’s always there to comfort me when something I don’t enjoy rears its ugly head. With her help, I finish all my work well ahead of deadlines for as long as Cerfa is around. I suddenly and inexplicably become an excessively responsible pet owner and take Smelly Dog for very long walks, making sure she gets enough exercise even if it is pouring down with rain. I could even justify cleaning the car with a toothbrush. For a short period, my family is astounded to have a clean home and is perplexed to see me being so enthusiastic about the laundry that I practically rip the clothing off their backs to have an excuse to put a load on to wash. Yes, I admit it: I would rather gouge my own eyes out with a blunt spatula than pamper to the evil Cerfa’s needs.

Pandora's Box Side

Pandora’s Box (Photo credit: yum9me)

By two weeks before the deadline every year, the drawer of my desk becomes my personal Pandora’s Box, and every time I walk past I swear I can hear growling and scratching in its murky depths. I generally give up at this point and hit phase three: “hit the problem before it hits you”. After this date, time strangely accelerates, children mysteriously get sick, and before you know what’s happening you only have a few hours left before the clock strikes midnight, and you are turned into the tax equivalent of a pumpkin. Anyone who has experienced the stress of pounding on their keyboard with sweaty fingers as they try to submit their tax form at the same time as the rest of the French nation (-except Wondeure Woumane, of course, who is already in bed with organic, planet-friendly night cream on her wrinkle-free face-) will understand what I am getting at.

You have to be a hybrid of lawyer, mathematician and accountant with nerves of steel to fill in a French tax form. Before completing this administrative marathon, I make sure that I have not drunk any coffee and put away any sharp objects. Then I get the paperwork together. These receipts, bills, invoices and certificates from the bank are vital if you hope to knock some euros off your tax bill. In my case, this involves emptying drawers and boxes of paperwork located anywhere from the garage to the bedroom, until I emerge clutching my precious paperwork, muttering triumphantly like Gollum after a day looting Tiffany & Co.

First comes the expenses part of the form. If you don’t think that 10% of your salary is enough, you have to do a few complicated mathematic equations based on the power of your car, and the distance travelled. Then it’s time to tally up the value of P.F’s packed lunches for the entire tax year. Followed by the interest paid on the mortgage and the cost of insulating work on the house, and extra paperwork for my freelance work…. By the time I have finished filling in the form and submitting it online, I feel nauseous and light-headed, and have the distinct feeling that the Tax Office know everything there is to know about us bar the content of PF’s Tupperware boxes and the size of his underpants.

The first Captain Underpants book.

Tax forms are a pile of pants.  Does the Tax man wear Captain Underpants undies? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The French government often debate about whether immigrants should be let in, and on what conditions. I’d say it’s easily solved. Give them a sheet of paper detailing a fictitious home, family, income and various additional criteria (childcare, mortgage, work to improve home insulation, free-lance working parent, a pension plan, a given number of children of which one or two study, etc). Give them a calculator and the form, and two days to complete it. If you succeed without the help of humans, alcohol or Prozac, you can stay. Hey presto, immigration problem solved. I’m going into politics…….

Procrastination: A waste of time?

As I patted the loose earth around the newly planted inhabitant of my garden, I feebly reassured myself that tomorrow would be the day I finally completed my tax form. Just like I had decided yesterday, and all the days before. Tomorrow, voted “day of the week” by Procrastinators Anonymous.

Procrastination, which could be termed “the art of putting off until tomorrow what you should have done yesterday”, has been around poisoning people’s lives for a fair while. Way back in 1st Century BC, Publilius Syrus noted: “Deliberando saepe perit occasio”: “the opportunity often slips away whilst we deliberate about it”. Numerous authors and politicians mention the big P in their works and speeches.  It seems to be part and parcel of human nature, handed out to Adam & Eve whilst He Upstairs was distributing the less charming human attributes like farting, hairy legs and addictions to peanuts.

So is procrastination really a waste of time? Not in my book. Since the infamous annual tax form arrived, I have successfully accomplished many other activities that I had been actively avoiding until then. Apart from the unavoidable issue of bringing home the bacon, P.F’s shirts have been impeccably ironed, the dump has been run done on a regular basis rather than waiting until there is a skip load of rubble in front of the house, the fridge-freezer has been defrosted and cleaned. Even my usual Vesuvius of dirty laundry diminished to a point where I was practically ripping the dirty clothing off my family’s backs to have a good excuse for a machine load.

So we can safely say that in my case, procrastination is part of the equation for getting things done, but in a very twisted kind of way. Not wanting to fill in “The Form” pushed me to do other necessary things that suddenly appeared much more exciting. Even cleaning the family car with my own toothbrush seemed an attractive activity in comparison. There are so many other valid excuses to use as an avoidance tactic as the clock ticks and counts down to that “last minute” crisis situation which becomes inevitable, although it could just as easily be avoided.

So why do people procrastinate? Isn’t it easier just to do things as they come up? Curious to know, I cleaned the earth off my hands, left the tax form growling dangerously in the drawer along with my Filofax and went for a wander on Internet.

If I believe the hype I found, people who procrastinate love contact with other people, and escape the “boredom” of work via the more immediate rewards of social contact. Not really negative in itself.

However, the plot then thickened. Other authors claim that procrastinators seek an immediate fix of happiness. They do not understand or enjoy delayed gratification, have little self control, and apparently also lack in self-esteem such an extent that they avoid difficult tasks simply because they are either scared of not succeeding, or of succeeding so well that others could expect too much of them. They put off the work for longer and longer, until the final date rolls up and the mission is so impossible that even James Bond would burst into tears and throw in the towel. Ah, now things are looking decidedly more morose.

So how do you define when you are doing something because you are avoiding something else, because it’s necessary, or simply because you enjoy it? Difficult to know.  Anyone who has filled in the French income tax declaration will perhaps understand my overt lack of motivation.

Now that I’ve spent an interesting afternoon writing about procrastination, I’m off to fill in that form. Once I’ve weeded the garden, that is……