Note: This is a guest post from John Suter of Money Saving Challenge
Busy modern lives leave us with little time for managing our finances and we often have to compromise on getting the best deals or completing tasks efficiently, simply because we don’t have enough time.
But in many cases, being time poor is just an excuse for procrastination and the reality is that we are either too lazy or too perfectionist to properly find deals and plan for the future.
In fact, the whole business of being time poor is big business and there are companies of all sizes making very good money out of people who don’t believe they have enough time to cook their own food, iron their own shirts, hunt around for cheaper insurance deals, move their money to higher-interest bank accounts or properly research their shopping purchases.
Worse than that, those who are too busy to spend time planning their financial future are more likely to end up poorer than those who pro-actively research the best pensions, mortgages, insurance polices and investments.
Getting Things Done
As a project manager, I’m in the business of getting things done. No matter the size of the task, if it needs doing then I am responsible for organising my team to understand the problem, putting together a plan and implementing the solution effectively.
In the business world, time is money and that requires tasks to be completed as quickly and efficiently as possible. Yet in my personal life, I have been equally guilty of financial procrastination, making do with the first quotes I was given and not planning for the future.
Why We Put Off Financial Tasks
To overcome procrastination, it is necessary to understand the factors that cause it. More often than not, it is a combination of the following factors:
- Lack of understanding – Tasks always become more challenging if it is not clear how to complete them. For example, many people don’t know where to start with setting up a pension, so it is no surprise this task gets put off for many years.
- Immensity of the task – It is easy to be over-awed by the size of some tasks and often in our minds molehills can quickly turn themselves into mountains. The bigger the task becomes, the less likely we are to start it.
- Afraid of not achieving perfection – Most people take pride in the things they do, but for many the fear of not doing a task perfectly prevents them from even starting it.
- Failure to see the importance / significance – This is more than just not understanding how to do a task; it is the failure to understand why the task is even necessary. For example: why do I need to set up my own pension when the government will provide one for me?
How To Beat Financial Task Procrastination
Here are some time management tips that I have applied to my personal life to beat my financial procrastination:
1. To-Do List
Whilst everyone knows that a to-do list is probably the simplest and most effective task management tool, it is surprising how many people fail to make one and continue to go about their lives, trying to keep track of all their tasks in their heads.
To-do lists not only help people with poor memories (like me), they also help us begin difficult tasks, as the simple act of writing things down on paper has the psychological benefit of making them seem less immense and more accomplishable.
There are plenty of apps and websites designed to help people manage their to-do list, but good old fashioned pen and paper works just as well, if not better.
2. Break Big Tasks Down Into Achievable Sub-Tasks
I’ve always found that the more simplistic the to-do list, the more effective it is (the same applies with project plans!). However, in some cases it is necessary to break big tasks down into smaller sub-tasks, making them achievable.
Setting up a pension is a relatively big task, but if you begin to break it down into the individual steps (e.g. research on internet, speak to financial advisor, choose the pension scheme, fill in application form, etc), it quickly becomes less daunting and helps you to understand how to complete the task.
3. Plan and Set Deadlines
One of the biggest blockers of progress is being overwhelmed by trying to complete too many tasks at once. Multi-tasking is just a modern day euphemism for being disorganised.
Better to concentrate on one task at a time and get it done properly, starting with the highest priority item and working down your list in that order.
But at the same time you need to impose deadlines to ensure a good flow of progress through your tasks. As I don’t like to waste too much time undertaking detailed planning, I simply set myself targets to complete a small number of tasks each month.
This is as simple as: By the end of April, I will have completed Task 1, Task 2 and Task 3.
The number of tasks you choose to target will depend on their size and complexity.
Maintaining a smaller target prevents me from being overwhelmed and allows me to work through an individual task effectively. If I meet my targets before the month-end I can simply pick up the next highest priority task on the list.
4. 80% Rule of Quality
You’ve probably heard of the 80/20 rule – a rule of thumb where 80% of your output comes from 20% of your effort. Well, a variation of this rule also applies to the quality of your tasks.
In many cases it is better to complete a task at 80% quality level, than never actually starting it because you are scared of not getting it 100% right first time.
Better to have a pension set up and working to build your future wealth than have nothing set up at all. The pension may not be 100% finely-tuned to take advantages of the rises and falls of world commerce, but at least it is doing something and you can always modify your fund at a later date.
5. Just Do It
Often in large organisations, the bureaucracy involved in carrying out tasks can be mind numbingly dull and painful, with employees crying out in despair that they just want to get the job done quickly in the same way that small, entrepreneurial businesses do.
If you feel that your personal task management process is growing into an uncontrollable monster or that you are spending too long trying to do the task perfectly, just remember the concept of Just Do it – JDI.
The concept is simple and straightforward – stop procrastinating and just get the job done.
Why wait till next weekend to research cheaper car insurance deals? Instead start looking tonight after work, whilst you are watching television.
Need to sort out all your files or update you budget – just do it now whilst the thought is fresh in your mind.
The point is that we all need to make time to get these tasks done. Don’t let your busy schedule fool you into thinking you can’t do them for a week – everyone has 24 hours a day and it is up to us as individuals to make the best use of that time possible.
John Suter writes for www.moneysavingchallenge.com and challenges his readers to make savings of £250 per month with a range of great money saving ideas. You can also follow him at http://twitter.com/MoneySavingPig – The Times Money Central No. 1 Twitter Account for saving you money.