Procrastination is something many of us are guilty of doing on a regular basis, whether consciously or unconsciously. It can be on tasks as small as answering an email or as big as filing your tax return or saving for retirement. While a little procrastination here and there can actually be beneficial for your overall psyche, it becomes a problem when tasks go completely ignored and delaying items on your to-do list is a regular occurrence.
For true procrastinators, some 20% of adults, it can be simply unnatural to curb these habits.1 After all, putting off tasks has likely worked out fairly well for many in the past. Some may even attribute their past successes to having a “deadline-driven” work ethic, meaning having a looming deadline is more motivational than completing something with plenty of time to spare. However, there are many tasks and topics where putting off progress is not only a bad habit—it can also have adverse effects on your success later in life. Your financial picture is one of these topics.
Habits or tendencies of financial procrastination could include continuously paying bills late, failing to plan ahead for miscellaneous expenses, putting off setting up or updating a retirement savings plan, delaying putting together a comprehensive budget, and much more. Whether you find yourself guilty of these items or more, each one on its own can seem relatively harmless at the time. For example, you may consider a budget as something you’ll need to put together in the future—but definitely not right now. The same could be said for starting a retirement savings plan or developing a strategy for any other future goals, such as buying a house, saving for your children’s educations, or even planning for an upcoming vacation. While you may recognize the importance of the end goal for each, the process of getting there may not be something you feel is necessary to take on for the time being.
There are some obvious and not-so-obvious disadvantages to this sort of procrastination. The most obvious setbacks include the late fees, the accumulated credit card debt, and the general anxiety of constantly juggling your expenses and savings. There is also an opportunity cost to financial procrastination. Had you mapped out a strategy for your financial goals and wishes, you could have already identified how to pay down your debts, how much to contribute to your retirement plan and savings accounts, how to plan for both short- and long-term goals, and more. The longer you put off taking action, the more difficult it will be to get back on track to a healthy position.
That being said, it is one thing to recognize that you may procrastinate a bit too often and another to take action to correct these habits. Here are a few ideas on how to overcome financial procrastination:
Identify why you procrastinate. Many of us procrastinate for different reasons, whether it’s a general dislike for the task you need to complete, an underlying fear of failure, or more. Whatever your reason is, it becomes easier to just put off the task or tasks at hand. Give some thought as to why you may be delaying taking action on your financial to-do list. Once you understand what’s holding you back, you can derive a more appropriate strategy to take action.
Start somewhere—anywhere. Often the tasks at hand can seem so insurmountable that getting started is in itself a paralyzing thought. Thus, it becomes easier to just push it off to another day. The simple act of starting somewhere will break the ice just enough so that you feel more comfortable working towards the completion of the task.
Focus. Forcing yourself to drown out the noise around you and get some work done can be one of the most difficult parts of curbing procrastination tendencies. By reducing the distractions around you, making progress will become much easier. Turn your phone on silent, close out any unnecessary tabs or applications on your electronic devices, and find a work environment that will help you concentrate.
Break up the tasks into more incremental portions. Instead of being overwhelmed by a few daunting tasks, set yourself up for steadier progress by making the items on your to-do list more attainable. Eventually, many of these small tasks may become habitual. An example: start with something like “Make a list of due dates for all recurring monthly bills,” rather than “Create a budget for all of 2018.” Start small and move on from there.
Hold yourself accountable. Without some sort of accountability, you’ll have no way to hold yourself to the commitments you’ve made. Setting up checkpoints along the way can be instrumental in accomplishing what you set out to do. Set calendar reminders to review your progress in whatever time frame works best with your schedule and the tasks at hand. For example: “Review progress made on paying student loans on the 5th of every month.” You can also set up small rewards for yourself each time you complete one of your tasks. For example, “I can watch the latest episode of my favorite Netflix show once I pay my credit card bill.” Another way to hold yourself accountable is to have someone else be aware of the changes you’re trying to implement and check in on your progress. A financial advisor is an excellent resource to consult on not only how best to approach your goals, but also to evaluate your progress and keep all of your goals aligned with your values.
Procrastination is not always a bad thing. However, by switching your mindset to acknowledge the value of getting things done now—rather than at some distant, future date—you’ll find yourself much more at ease and in control of your financial future. As Thomas Jefferson said, “Never put off for tomorrow, what you can do today.”
Written by North Star Resource Group.
1 “Psychology of Procrastination: Why People Put Off Important Tasks Until the Last Minute.” American Psychological Association. Published April 5, 2010. http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2010/04/procrastination.aspx
Financial Advisors do not provide specific tax or legal advice. This information should not be considered as specific tax or legal advice. You should consult your tax or legal advisor regarding your own specific tax or legal situation.
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