Stop the Financial Procrastination Now
So how did those New Year Resolutions work out for you in 2009? Did you succeed with any of them? Probably not. New Year’s resolutions are one of our culturally approved ways of promoting procrastination. But wait, there’s more.
“After the holidays, I plan on spending less.”
“After the holidays, I plan on saving more.”
“After the holidays, I plan on paying off those credit cards.”
Sure you will.
Occasionally, the “after the holidays” promise is more specific, such as:
“After the holidays, I will drop those costly extras from my gold-plated cable plan.”
“After the holidays, I will end my daily visits to Starbucks.”
Seriously, will any of this really happen?
Mr. ToughMoneyLove wonders: Why wait until “after the holidays?” Is common sense optional during December? Who made the rule that you could skip right through to January before making tough money decisions? Why are “New Year” resolutions favored over “New Day” resolutions?
It’s December procrastination. Admit it. Repeat after me: “I am a procrastinator.” (Yes, I am one of you.)
Now do something about it. I did.
Mr. ToughMoneyLove is still a procrastinator about many things, but not so much anymore in personal finance. I took the bull by the horns ten or so years ago, throwing myself into personal finance learning then doing.
With the able assistance and cooperation of Mrs. ToughMoneyLove, we began to convert plans into action. It has rewarded us. One highlight – buying our lake house as a 25th anniversary present to ourselves then paying off the mortgage five years later. Now the lake house is the gift that keeps on giving. (The foregoing statements intended to be a motivator, not a boast.)
Admitting that you are a financial procrastinator is the easy part. Changing your behavior is more difficult. Where should you start?
First, start now – not “after the holidays.” (Can any promise be more ludicrous than “After the holidays I will stop procrastinating?”)
Second, I recommend that you read this article from the PsyBlog: “How to Avoid Procrastination: Think Concrete.”
The article is helpful in several respects. First, it cites studies showing that self-imposed deadlines were helpful in “improving task performance.”
I agree with this, as I am a deadline kind of guy. However, New Year resolutions and “after the holidays” promises don’t qualify as “deadlines.” A deadline in this context is for completing a task, not starting one. Sorry about that.
So what about this “think concrete” procrastination angle?
One study in the article was based on a fake survey concerning works of art. Based merely on what two different survey groups were told about different paintings, one group procrastinated in completing the survey, the other did not. Crazy but true stuff. Read it yourself.
But here is how the author summarized the research on curing procrastination with concrete thinking:
1. To avoid procrastinating on a task, focus on its details and use self-imposed deadlines.
2. To stick to a task, while actually carrying it out, now it is beneficial to keep the ultimate, abstract goal in mind.
3. When evaluating progress on a hard task, when the chance of failure is high, stay focused on the details of the task.
4. Once tasks are easier or the end is in sight, a more abstract, goal focus is once again the psychological approach to choose.
I have my own interpretation of how “thinking concrete” can help with financial procrastination. An example:
Instead of “I will increase my savings after the holidays”, substitute “I will save $5 today and $25 this week.”
Or, instead of “I want to be debt free at age 50,” try “We will pay this mortgage off starting with an extra $100 equity payment today and ending five years from today.”
I think you get the picture.
Save the New Year’s resolutions for the losers – those who are doomed to failure by procrastination. Don’t wait until “after the holidays” to begin something that can and should be started now.
Meanwhile, it’s time for me to talk to Mrs. ToughMoneyLove about downsizing unnecessary parts of our cable service. I’ve put that task off too long. (I’m not 100% cured, obviously.)
Do any of you have procrastination-buster techniques that have succeeded?