5 Ways to Beat Personal Financial Procrastination

personal finances and procrastination

What do Netflix’s amazing new show Westworld, drinks with friends, and rock climbing in Yosemite all have in common? They’re all activities I enjoy while procrastinating on the steps necessary to get on top of my financial goals! Financial procrastination isn’t uncommon and, like other common goals many have – such as get in shape or be more organized – it’s about understanding the approach that works best with your habits and lifestyle.

Do your financial goals include early retirement, getting out of debt, or saving money? These worthwhile objectives frequently get pushed to the back burner. While everyone knows it pays to stay on top of their finances, putting in the work can feel too stressful, tedious, and unrewarding to begin. Whether you feel that you could benefit from more attention to the basics (saving, effective budgeting, staying on top of your bills, paying off debt) or other issues like loans, retirement, and investing, it’s worth it – to you! – to find a way to overcome any hurdles.

If you want to break free from the drudgery and master your finances once and for all, here are five methods to consider. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution – pick one that speaks to you, and start sailing your way through the most difficult of financial chores.

Whip Financial Procrastination Into Shape

Boot camps are short, intense training programs geared towards results. They’re often centered around physical goals, but you can easily re-engineer the format to beat that financial procrastination. For best results, you’ll want to borrow these common components:

  • Accountability through camaraderie
  • Specific, quantifiable goals
  • Short overall duration

You’re not alone in avoiding your financial goals, so start by enlisting a friend. Camaraderie and support make the boot camp work in both directions. In my own boot camp, my friend and I check in on our daily progress with a 10-minute phone call every morning before work. It works like a charm and gets us both back on track when we slack off.

Next, set actionable goals. Over the course of a few boot camps, I’ve found that vague goals spell the premature collapse of the entire endeavor, while specific, quantifiable goals are easy to track and achieve (apps like Strides make it even easier).

If you don’t have a piggy bank, you can always automate the money-saving process. Digit transfers a few bucks from your bank to a dedicated savings account every few days. It never charges fees or takes more than you can afford, and it offers a no-overdraft guarantee. Set it and forget it – you’ll be in for a nice surprise.

Lastly, keep your boot camp short. Nobody wants a year-long boot camp! I’ve reached a lot of my own goals in two-week intervals. You can accomplish a lot in a single day of boot camp. Set up something sustainable for you and your friend, and you’ll be much more successful.

The Deep Work Approach

The distractions of Twitter, email, text alerts, and news tickers have their pros and cons. On one hand, we can reach our loved ones at any time of day and watch current events unfold around the world in real time. But on the other hand, it’s hard to escape the compelling shackles of constant communication, and they hinder productivity with a vengeance.

Earlier this year, Georgetown professor Cal Newport published Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. To summarize its thesis, you can stay afloat amidst constant distractions, but to reach your potential, you need to set aside ample time to work on specific tasks in distraction-free environments. Put another way, shallow work prevents you from being fired, but deep work gets you promoted.

If the prospect of tackling your financial chores and goals fills you with dread, consider knocking them out with some deep work. Newport suggests four different styles:

  • Monastic deep work – this involves maximizing effort by eliminating shallow obligations. Case in point, Newport himself is not on Facebook or Twitter. This is a useful approach to addressing your finances, with the added benefit of opening up time and space in your everyday life. Apps like OFFTIME and Moment can help by ensuring screen-free time.
  • Bimodal deep work – this style divvies up time into stretches devoted solely to deep work and stretches devoted to everything else. For our purposes, this could look like setting aside an hour each week to work on your finances in quiet solitude.
  • Rhythmic deep work – this one takes the “habits are helpful” approach. Could you set aside a consistent time every week to work through a checklist of financial tasks? Check out Better Than Before for bestselling tips on turning habits into happiness.
  • Journalistic deep work – this happens wherever it can fit in your schedule. If your schedule tends to be hectic or unpredictable, this might be your best bet – do the work as you’re able, but do it intentionally and with full focus.

The Treat Yourself Approach

If you aren’t the type to motivate through boot camp discipline or Twitter-free seclusion, perhaps some fun and games are in order! Gamify your finances with Qapital. By setting up rules like the Guilty Pleasure Rule (for example, save $5 every time you buy indie cosmetics) or the Spend Less Rule (set spending caps at your favorite shops, and save by challenging yourself to come in under budget), you’ll automate your savings while taking tedious out of the equation.

You can also gamify your finances on your own. Set clear goals (have you noticed the motif yet?) with objectives to reach along the way, and assign a reward for each objective. Let’s say you have $5,000 of debt spread across three credit cards, and you want to get debt free. First of all, you’re in good company – according to NerdWallet’s analysis, the average American household carries $6,124 of credit debt. With your debt-free goal in mind, set up objectives and rewards that will get you there. For example, every time you knock out $1,000 of debt, take a friend to lunch, or every time you pay off an entire card, treat yourself to a nice bottle of wine!

The Start-at-the-End Approach

Have you ever put hours of hard work into a project only to discover that you were aiming in the wrong direction the whole time? If you’re already feeling depleted by the thought of taking on your financial goals, the last thing you need is to flush good work down the drain. That’s why Harvard Business School professor Bob Pozen recommends that you focus on the finish line as soon as possible. It’s one of his “Three Big Ideas,” which include prioritizing your most important goals and being willing to move on to other tasks after earning a B+ on the most vital ones.

Here’s how you can adapt this approach to help you make progress on your finances: start at the end – what does success look like for you? Do you want to feel confident that you’re doing everything you can to save effectively for retirement? Do you want to get an auto loan with the best terms, or pay off your credit card debt by next June? Look into the future and envision yourself beaming with pleasure, having just achieved the goal at hand. Now that you’ve connected with that joy, work backwards and map out the steps you need to get there. If any steps feel impossible, add a note to reach out to a savvy friend or financial professional when you get to those steps. With your roadmap in place, it’s time to hit the gas and tackle that first step. Don’t get mired in perfectionism – remember to move on once you’ve reached that B+ result!

The Journey of a Thousand Miles Approach

When I was growing up, one of my mom’s favorite sayings was “the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” She trotted it out every time I wailed about an “impossible” new violin piece that I’d “never be able to play,” or an essay that I “just didn’t have enough time to write.” I hated it. These days, I find challenges like getting debt-free or taking my first steps towards investment feel just as overwhelming. Ten-year-old me would never admit this to my mom, but I often return to her favorite saying for guidance.

Getting started is often the hardest part of any challenge, and the point of this approach is simply to set your wheels in motion. Establish your goal, ask yourself what steps are in front of you to take, and take them! And don’t wait – do it right now. Once you’ve started down the path towards your goal, set manageable, progress-oriented tasks for yourself, and keep taking steps.

If you’re working towards the goal of investing (enjoy this hug from your future self), you can enlist the help of Acorns to round up every purchase you make and invest the difference. If you’re ready for a more hands-on approach to investment, Robinhood is the perfect place to start. It’s the first stock-trading service to offer commission-free trading with no minimum account balance. If stocks feel too risky, Betterment invests your money in dependable, low-cost index funds while helping you optimize your investments for target dates like retirement.

Towards a Better, More Manageable Future

When it comes to financial goals that feel too big or off-putting to handle, don’t just avoid them! You don’t have to start by paying someone to work miracles for you. Start by putting one of the approaches I’ve listed in play, and go for it. Have a little faith – it’s possible to master your financial goals! You’re going to feel fantastic engaging with your goals and even better when you achieve them.


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About the author
Adam Murray

Adam Murray

Adam Murray is an author, editor, and a member of the Independent Publishing Resource Center in Portland, OR. As a Truebill contributor, he is passionate about giving readers actionable ideas that support financial wellbeing.

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