We all have experienced the feeling of putting something off that we know is of utmost importance. Maybe it’s that project or task we need to finish, an important phone call to make, a letter we need to write or an email to send. It could even be a critical work issue or deadline that needs our attention or a relationship conflict that needs addressing.
For some reason, despite our best intentions, we just keep putting it off. We move it forward on our to do list from day to day or week to week, sometimes even longer. We intend to do it, but for some reason it gets the best of us. It either remains on the back burner for an indefinite period of time or we exert that frustrating twelfth hour push often saved by some eternally imposed sinister deadline.
For most of us procrastination isn’t a pleasant experience. Typically, it’s an anxious feeling, even a growing pressure, a sense of not being able to manage what we eventually know we must deal with, but for some reason, do not. For some it’s more chronic than others, but we all have likely had this experience. It manifests itself differently depending on what facet of our life it infects, but in our financial lives it can present a whole range of challenges and consequences, none of which are positive.
The consequence of procrastinating or neglecting important financial choices or actions creates increased stress and discomfort. If this is so, then why do so many procrastinate important financial decisions or tasks? This is largely because we often do not understand the short and long-term financial ramifications of not taking action. If we had a clearer sense of these consequences then we might take these decisions more seriously.
To understand more fully, let’s first address the kinds of financial behaviors, issues and/or decisions people tend to put off. The most obvious is establishing a consistent savings program, both for the short and long term. Second, simply being current in paying one’s obligations. Third, adhering to important personal or business tax filings or reporting deadlines. Fourth, putting off prospective financial planning discussions. Fifth, failing to address basic economic risks and the related strategies important for financial peace. Sixth, not being honest with one’s self-regarding one’s financial position.
When we fail to take action on the most basic financial priorities, we open ourselves up to unnecessary anxiety and worry. For example, procrastinating the establishment of a cash emergency fund can create needless distress when an emergency arises like an automobile braking down, a roof leaking or when a serious illness or lay-off disrupts one’s income. Had three to six months of income been set-aside for a rainy day, these unexpected occurrences could have been handled.
Sometimes we procrastinate important decisions that we know we should make, but we choose to foolishly leave our lives to chance. For example, believing we are invincible, we put off the positioning of basic insurance products because we are in denial as to our own mortality. This can have a devastating impact on others and often to those we love the most. Consider the emotional trauma to a child because of the loss of a parent in a freak auto accident. The emotional loss is compounded with a host of financial consequences because life insurance was not secured. Suddenly, the child is forced to move in with a family member in a distant city, enter an unfamiliar school with strangers and lay in bed at night wondering what the future holds.
So, why do so many put off important financial priorities? The reasons can vary widely. Many are unclear regarding the technical aspects of a topic, so they do nothing. Others lack the education on the particular subject so they put off making a decision. Many perceive the task to be so unpleasant, like planning for an untimely death, disability or catastrophic illness that they remain disengaged.
Sometime being overwhelmed delays action. We put off moving forward saying, “When I get my ducks in a row, I will deal with it.” The reality is most never get their ducks in a row. Some are paralyzed with the fear of not making the right choice and then get stuck in what I call, “the paralysis of analysis.”
Lastly, many are simply in denial as to the real difficulties they face and the pain that can follow if left unattended. They refuse to deal with the impending problem or looming economic risks, thinking that if they simply ignore the problem, it will go away. Proverbs counsels us, “where there is no vision, the people perish.”
Aristotle said, “Well begun is half done.” Begin with one of these seven helpful insights to curb financial procrastination.
- Seek professional assistance to increase your education on the topic.
- Establish an accountability system or partner to help you move forward.
- Focus on the consequential pain of not getting the task accomplished.
- Break the project down into manageable pieces.
- Don’t over estimate the unpleasantness or difficulty of a task.
- Develop a schedule with artificial deadlines that will guide you to the next step.
- Set a goal to work on the task for a short period of time and then reassess.
Of all the remedies, education is the key! This is why I spend so much time in my practice helping others better understand their financial lives, the risks they face and the necessary strategies needed to help them feel financial peace. Happy trails!