filing taxesAre you a participant in the last-minute dash to the post office every Tax Day? Does the sprint to get your tax return post-marked by midnight stress you out each year?

If so, break the cycle. Jumpstart the tax filing process and avoid the long lines. If you’re entitled to a refund, you’ll get it faster, and you’ll alleviate a major source of strain in your life.

1. Put the tax-filing process in motion now.

One of your problems could be putting off the opening stages of preparing your taxes. If you normally have a tax professional prepare your return, call right now and set up an appointment. You can set the appointment for three or four weeks down the road if you want—but call now.

If you do your own taxes, make it a point to buy the tax prep software you plan to use, download it your computer, and begin entering your information. For those who use online versions of tax prep programs, start now and fill in your basic information. The important thing is to get started—and you’ll be more motivated to finish.

2. Make a list.

Create a list of all the tax documents you expect to receive in the mail. From a statement of mortgage interest you have paid, to your W-2s and 1099s, to statements from your retirement account or investment broker, take a few minutes to think about what might be coming. As each item arrives, check it off the list. If you get toward the middle of March and you have not received something, make the necessary phone calls to find out how you might be able to get your hands on the information.

In some cases, you have to download your tax forms from the Internet. Many banks and brokers are starting to provide tax forms online rather than mail them out. Check your online accounts for this information. Many sites have “tax centers” where you can find your forms.

3. Organize your paperwork.

Start organizing your paperwork today. Set aside 15 minutes to begin. Look through the documents you have received in the mail, and hunt up receipts that you need for confirming deductions.

You don’t have to organize everything all at once. Devote 15 to 30 minutes two or three times a week. Start today and you’ll have your paperwork organized well before the tax-filing deadline.

An even better habit is to keep your tax documents organized all year. I have a folder that I keep on my desk. Every time I come across something tax-related, it goes straight into the file folder. No need to hunt for it later.

4. Ask for help.

Look over your forms ahead of time (they are all available online for free). To get help, you can use the IRS website or call 1-800-829-1040. If you find yourself lost and think your tax return may be too complicated to handle on your own, don’t hesitate to make an appointment with a tax professional.

Clear up any confusion now, before tax season progresses too far. Understanding your tax return now can help you avoid problems later.

5. Use e-File.

The IRS offers e-File as a convenient way for you to file your tax return. In fact, this is the way that the IRS prefers to receive your paperwork. Major tax prep programs, as well as most tax professionals, can help you e-File your taxes. In some cases, you might even qualify for Free File on your federal taxes.

Miranda Marquit is a freelance writer and professional blogger specializing in personal finance, family finance and business topics. She writes for several online and offline publications. Miranda is the co-author of Community 101: How to Grow an Online Community, and the writer behind PlantingMoneySeeds.com.