Financial planning and maintenance are easy to put off. That’s why they appear on so many top 10 lists about how to help stop procrastination and how to keep your financial New Year’s resolutions. We know that organizing our finances, like exercising and eating right, will improve our quality of life and make us feel better. We know that it’s important to track spending, boost savings, set up an emergency fund, and plan for the future. And yet, many of us have a hard time actually sitting down and doing these things!
As we near the end of the calendar year, many of us start to think about the goals we set last January 1 and evaluate our progress. If you have a few goals that you haven’t even started on yet, you’re not alone. I have a couple of financial goals that have been on my list for a couple of years now: 1) I want to create an effective retirement plan, and 2) I want to set up a financial summary document that details all of our accounts, passwords, and critical financial information in case something happens to me, or heaven forbid, both my husband and me.
I think about these goals now and then, and I know they’re important. But I have yet to take concrete steps to achieve either one. I set up and follow an annual and monthly budget, and I pay the bills on time and never carry a credit card balance, but I continue to neglect some of our big picture financial goals. Lately, I’ve been wondering why this behavior might exist, and I’ve come up with a theory.
I’ve been wondering whether Parkinson’s Law might provide at least a partial explanation for why I procrastinate these important financial matters. Parkinson’s Law states that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” The tasks that I’ve been putting off are not urgent. Retirement is at least 25 years away and it’s no fun to think about my untimely demise, or that of my husband.
Moreover, each day brings along many more pressing issues than making sure I have the money I need to retire or documenting passwords. Between work, meals, and taking care of my family and home, my plate is already pretty full.
Still, I manage to make time for other financial priorities. Why some and not others? Perhaps it’s because the tasks I do stay on top of come with built-in deadlines and well-defined consequences. If I’m late paying a bill, that will cost us in late payment fees and interest. If I don’t track our spending and make sure we’re sticking to our budget, we’ll end up in debt. That’s simply not an option. Then, Parkinson’s Law comes into play in that I somehow manage to use up all of my free time on these priorities, leaving me no time to spare for some of the big picture priorities like saving for retirement.
One of the key factors in my behaviors is that there’s no immediate consequence for neglecting longer term goals – except for the fact that it bothers me that I haven’t completed them yet. Although I may regret not having a better retirement plan in the future, nothing bad is going to happen in the next few years if I put it off a little longer. And even though I hate to think of my husband scrambling to figure out our finances if something were to happen to me, the irrational, superstitious part of me doesn’t want to test fate by actually planning for that eventuality.
If the lack of a short-term deadline is the reason for my procrastination, the solution is obvious: Set one. Here are a 4 tips for setting a deadline to accomplish your financial planning goals:
1. Be Realistic
Be careful not to set your deadline so soon that you can’t meet it effectively, or so far in the future that you end up right back on the procrastination train.
2. Break Up Complex Tasks
Breaking tasks into more easily digestible bites and giving yourself a definitive, realistic deadline for each sub-task makes you more likely to tackle them. Step by step, your goals will be achieved. Going with smaller tasks will allow you to build up confidence.
3. One at a Time, Please
If you have a few relatively complicated goals, focusing your attention on one task at a time can keep you from feeling overwhelmed or distracted. This is one example of where multitasking is a bad idea.
4. Celebrate Small Victories
Each time you complete a task or sub-task, give yourself a reward of some sort. It can be as simple as a mental pat on the back, or an extra hour of relaxation. Don’t minimize your accomplishments!
While Parkinson’s Law may not completely explain my inability to achieve some of my financial goals, I think it’s a big part of it. I’m determined not to see those two goals once again go untouched on my list next year. Just because I have 25 years until retirement doesn’t mean I should wait that long to plan for it.
Do you have any financial goals that keep reappearing on your list year after year? What are your strategies to make yourself more productive?
(photo credit: sgame)