I forgot to pay my taxes. Yes, I know it’s September, and no, I’m not talking about my annual tax return. For the last few months, I forgot to pay estimated tax, which is a thing that some individuals and corporations in the United States are required to pay, four times a year. Most people pay their taxes primarily in the form of payroll tax withholding, but as someone who is both self-employed and regular employed, I basically have to estimate my remaining year-end tax burden and pay one-fourth of that every 3 months. These payments are subsequently deducted from my tax bill at the end of the year. If I don’t pay them, there’s an additional “underpayment penalty” of about 3%. Luckily, I can still make payments now and avoid most of that penalty. I typically set up calendar reminders to remember to pay my estimated taxes, but I had forgotten to set them up this year (and didn’t have the foresight to just make them recurring reminders). I’ve got periodic reminders to do lots of things: updating my checkbook every 2 months, exporting my Chrome bookmarks every month, scheduling car maintenance once a year, and going to the dentist… I should probably create a reminder for that. At this stage in life, I can hardly remember to do anything without automatic reminders. But reminders aside, I had never forgotten to pay my estimated taxes before.
Unexpected tax payments suck, especially when they cost more than a whole year’s worth of rent (have I already mentioned how rent is also absurdly high here?). But at the end of the day, taxes and penalties are only a matter of money. I’m actually more uncomfortable that this oversight is probably a red flag for how my life has been progressing so far this year. Not only did I forget to pay my taxes, but it took me more than 5 months to notice. It feels like half a year has flown by on autopilot. What else might I have forgotten?
I never forget to brush my teeth or eat breakfast in the morning. Fortunately, paying taxes isn’t part of my daily routine, but it’s still unusual for me to have forgotten about doing it entirely. I’d have expected my thoughts to just stumble upon the topic by chance, given enough time. Even so, I forgot. That must mean I just haven’t had enough free time lately, right? But I can’t imagine that truthfully. Although my work day has gotten busier since last autumn, I’ve made sure to keep strict business hours, which leaves me plenty of leisure time in the evenings and on the weekends. I have time to cook dinner, exercise, watch anime, and practice lots of social distancing. It would be awfully convenient if I could blame my forgetfulness on a busy schedule, but I really don’t think that’s right.
I’ve been watching a lot more YouTube this year. Since the pandemic began, I’ve found comfort in the constant background noise of humans speaking (even if most of that speaking is actually incomprehensible Japanese). I listen while driving, while making dinner, while brushing my teeth, and even while taking a shower. For most people, these solo activities offer important opportunities to spend time alone with their thoughts. While the hands are busy performing easy routine tasks, the mind is allowed to wander. Did I inadvertently ruin this time for myself by filling it with YouTube videos? Instead of listening to my own thoughts, I listen to tech news, legal commentary, urban design, history, and seiyuu radio programs. As a result, there’s hardly any time in my day anymore when I’m not working, sleeping, or being entertained.
Perhaps free time and leisure time are different things. Free time ought to mean sitting still, not looking at anything, not listening to anything, and not needing to focus on anything in particular. It’s different from leisure time, which occupies your thoughts with entertainment. It’s also different from meditation, which requires focus and mindfulness. Free time offers a chance for your mind to stop working, to just be idle, and to think about whatever it wants. I think it’s important to protect your free time and allow your mind to take breaks. Just like an overutilized CPU starves low priority threads, an overutilized mind easily forgets nonessential thoughts—remembering your friend’s birthday, calling home, visiting the dentist, and paying taxes.
How long have I been at 100% utilization? Probably at least a few months. Nobody likes sitting idle, so we fill our time with pointless activities to stave off the boredom. Time rushes forward. Take a paid vacation to catch up, but waste the whole time being stressed about what to do. After all, you’re only allowed to make plans until the day you return to work. Maximize leisure. Never sit still. When you return, rejoice because you missed working, not because anything has materially improved. Maybe what you really needed wasn’t a vacation, but just a chance to properly reflect on your thoughts (and then also a vacation). It won’t make time move any slower, but it might offer a chance to change its course once in a while.
- It’s the first time I haven’t used a single footnote in a while. ↩︎