Most of us occasionally procrastinate by putting off something we should do now. But procrastinating about getting your finances in order – such as delaying investing or making important financial decisions – can come with big consequences for your future self.
The good news is that you can get a grip on procrastination and stop it from getting between you and your financial goals. To help you, here's a look at the key reasons why we procrastinate, along with some tips on how to overcome it once and for all.
The science of procrastination (blame it on your brain)
Our brains can be said to comprise two distinct regions: the ‘responsible’ prefrontal cortex region, and the more ’impulsive’ thalamus region. The responsible part helps you exercise willpower in your daily life, but willpower is like a muscle – it gets tired from being exercised. So to successfully overcome procrastination, it's important to recognise your brain's limitations and learn to work within them.
Top tips for beating procrastination
To overcome your financial procrastination, try some of the following strategies.
Take a break and come back
Regular breaks give your brain (and your willpower) a rest so you have the energy to continue with the task when you return; experts recommend resting 15 to 20 minutes for every 90 minutes of intensive work. So when you’re comparing superannuation products, remember to take a break!
Get started with smaller tasks
Because getting started is the biggest barrier to productivity, sometimes you just need to start. By breaking down big tasks into smaller, simpler ones, you can overcome resistance more easily and make your task seem more manageable. For example, consolidating your superannuation can seem like a large task, but you could break it down into separate, smaller steps, such as:
- looking for your lost super;
- comparing superannuation funds;
- deciding which fund is best for you;
- consolidating your super into that fund.
Set deadlines and stick to them
When you set a deadline you make yourself accountable. And by making yourself accountable you give yourself the impetus to take the steps you need to meet that deadline. For example, you might have a deadline of July for investing $5,000; once you’ve set this deadline, you can work out individual steps and mini deadlines such as opening a share-trading account, researching companies, and making an appointment with a financial planner to help you decide where and how to invest.
Visually mark deadlines on your calendar and make sure you track your progress. By tracking your activities you gain a realistic picture of what you've actually done versus what you think you did. The bonus is that the closer you are to realising a goal, the harder you will work to see it through.
Self-discipline is like a muscle. The more you exercise it, the stronger it gets.
Tackle the hardest tasks first
It may seem counterintuitive, but focusing on the hardest or most unpleasant tasks first while simultaneously minimising distractions trains your brain to become more disciplined. As psychologist Daniel Goldstein says: "Self-discipline is like a muscle. The more you exercise it, the stronger it gets."
You also have more willpower at the start of the day, so you’re more likely to complete the task if you do it in the morning. So if (like most of us) you don’t like comparing insurance policies, do it at the start of the day before the rest of the day’s tasks.
If you still have difficulty sticking to your commitments, get an outsider involved – you’re less likely to break a commitment when other people are of aware of it. Talk to an expert to help you manage your finances and create the results you want in life. Alternatively, you can enlist the aid of a supportive anti-procrastination app such as Procraster, Balanced or Goal Trainer.
By following these simple guidelines you can set small, achievable steps that will bring you closer to meeting your financial goals every day.