‘I’m not a procrastinator, I just prefer doing everything in a dead-line induced panic!’……Honest words shared with me by an acquaintance recently. And to be fair it totally struck a chord with me, as a former repeat procrastinator it sounded so accurate a description of the logic a procrastinator uses to rationalise their behaviour (or lack thereof). It is only when the pressure is on, the procrastinator will them him or herself, that I am at my best….so there really is no point in that particular item until such time as it is time-sensitive or urgent! We did touch on the subject previously and shared a story about a granny and €8k! We are not now here to criticise or condemn that approach, rather to try and understand why it is a default for so many of us in lots of aspects of our lives, and not just financial planning & money aspects.
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It is said that the avoidance of a task, postponing until tomorrow what can (and often should) be done today, is one of the main obstacles to us achieving success in our professional and personal lives. Think about that, how many times has an idea, a picture of a desired outcome, a goal or a wish entered your head, and for you to talk yourself out of it, for whatever reason? This is procrastination at work, and it nigh-on constantly prevents many of us from doing stuff that we want to do!
Piers Steel is a US professor and is reported as the world’s foremost authority on procrastination. He has is own website Procrastinus.com which yes sells his books, but also has procrastination surveys and all sorts of blogs on the topic. Who’d have thought you could be an expert on procrastination, image how much stuff he gets done every day!!
Anyway, leading by example didn’t put off what he could have done ‘tomorrow’ and conducted extensive research on the topic and wrote a aforementioned book titled ‘The Procrastination Equation’. In it he suggests that 15-20% of us ‘do’ procrastination at a problematic level while 95% of us do it at least occasionally in regards important tasks. This, if accurate, is pretty scary and might go some way to explaining why so many of put off important (yet potentially tedious and effort-inducing) topics such as fitness, financial organisation/education, study etc etc.
The impact of procrastination not only affects our preparedness and our success in regards the given topic but also commonly invokes feelings such as guilt, concern and lowered self-respect. If we were to delve deep into the psychological aspects we’d probably unearth a myriad of aspects involved however we’re here to share a few key causes of it, which can broadly be grouped into three headings; Lack of purpose, Fear and what I call our Internal Lies! (Cognitive Distortions)
Lack Of Purpose:
Simon Sinek popularised an idea that has been around for centuries through a (rather grainy yet 40m times viewed) Tedx video. The concept he shared was that of an individual, or company connecting with a meaningful purpose in order to motivate themselves. Sinek refers to as an individuals ‘why’. Here on the blog I often refer to the concept of ‘beginning with the end in mind’ and it is very closely related as a concept. In Sineks’s video he talks about the fact that if we can connect with a real purpose or ‘why’ then we will inevitably find a way or ‘how’ to make it happen, and are therefore much less likely to put it off or procrastinate about it.
For example if I have the thought it would be really beneficial to review what I spent my money on over the past 3 months, in order to make sure we stuck to budget for that period our thoughts almost immediately jump to how tedious and laborious a task that might be! We start thinking that it’s going to be zero fun to actually do the task, sure what good is it anyway, and therefore are inclined to park it entirely, for now!! What may be a far more effective way to approach it may be to pause before jumping-in, to consider the reason that you are considering doing this task, how it stands to benefit you and what the underlying reason for doing it is. If it is genuinely an important task then there will be compelling reasons for doing it, which will now be front of mind. If that is the case we are more likely to be motivated to take the pain of the laborious task and do it now and put our best foot forward.
One of the most common documented fears in regards putting things off is the need for perfection. Whether it is waiting for the perfect time, the perfect place, the perfect circumstances, the perfect market timing to get invested, the perfect house price to buy, the perfect month of spending to review, the perfect financial advisor to advise, the perfect forest to buy. You name it this need for perfect, or rather the fear of ‘less than perfect’ is a major barrier for a lot of us. The truth is that there is no such thing as perfection for most things in financial world, there is always a pro and con of a certain item or course of action, it is just finding the one which offers a heavy weight of pro than con!
Some suggest that an effective way to get over the need for perfection before taking action is to do some honest reflection and question your own beliefs about what is or is not a healthy level of perfection of a certain situation/outcome before taking action. For example, a dear friend of mine over the past 10 years of working and saving hard has accumulated north of €200,000 on deposit. He doesn’t need the money for the foreseeable, he has an interest in finance and investing etc, and has been looking at his options for the past 4 years! He wants to ultimately beat inflation and pass the money to the kids in future or access it if there is some family emergency. His own view is that deposits are not the right place to keep his funds but yet he admits that he doesn’t see an option which presents the ‘perfect’ solution for him. Indeed maybe he’s better off leaving it on deposit, but he knows that over the long term it ain’t the place to be; I know it, you know it, the dog on the street knows it, yet it is still there! Fear.
Now we’re in danger of getting a little too psychological with a heading like this however it is a very real and very common thing for us to have these so called ‘mis-connections’ in our thinking. Ultimately cognitive distortions are biased perspectives we have of ourselves and our environment. They are irrational thoughts and beliefs we typically unknowingly reinforce over time. An example of how we display cognitive distortions is how we relinquish responsibility and blame external forces when something does’t go to plan…..it is a condition that many of us suffer, and the funny thing is that when we are blaming that external force for the failure we really and truly have ourselves convinced that it wasn’t our fault!
In the same way procrastinators tell themselves these lies such as ‘I’ll definitely do it next month’, ‘It’ll be the perfect time to do that next year’, or any other number of lies, which they have convinced themselves to be true! Another lie that we tell ourselves is that when the pressure is on then we’ll really start to ramp things up and get it done, that we’re best when we cram! Whether that is academic, professional, financial, health or recreational activity many of us reckon we’re at our best when under time pressure. For certain things that may well be true of some of us, however for many topic the simple fact is that by not doing the important activities early the gap may just be that bit too far to close in the latter stages. A perfect example of this is when I see some folk who have put off doing any form of planning for income in retirement (whether that is property, pension, savings, inheritance! or otherwise). They are then sitting with say 10 years before they are forced to leave the workforce, nothing of any consequence in place that will sustain them when their income falls from €80,000 to the state pension of €12,000. That is a very real and troubling gap to bridge, and is was most often caused by repeated lies told to themselves such as ‘I’ll talk to someone about that next year, now is not a good time’.
We all do it to one degree of another, we all know that we do it, and quite often it feels satisfying because we can postpone the ‘effort’ and instead cut the grass or whatever your vice is! But we all know that if it is a meaningful activity it will result in a positive outcome when we do it. Sure it might not be a perfect outcome but it’s likely to be better than doing nothing. And sure we might have ourselves convinced that there’ll be another opportunity next year to tackle it, but for heaven’s sake please be aware that by not doing it now we many very well not ever get the chance to do it, whatever it is!
Thanks for reading,
QFA |RPA | APA | Qualified Coach