Beating procrastination

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 actionable 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.

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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 something like KiwiSaver fund options, 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, deciding which KiwiSaver fund to invest in can seem like a large task, but you could break it down into separate, smaller steps, such as:

  1. Review the available funds, including the risk/return profiles, associated fees and historical performance
  2. Identify your appetite for risk, and the type of fund that might suit you, by using a risk profile tool or speaking to a financial adviser
  3. Choose a fund
  4. Change your 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 changing your KiwiSaver contribution rate; once you’ve set this deadline, you can work out individual steps and mini deadlines such as determining the impact on your take home salary, reviewing your budget, calculating the impact on your retirement savings balance at age 65, and how to actually request the change.

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.

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 you don’t like comparing figures and facts, do it at the start of the day before the rest of the day’s tasks.

Get support

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 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 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. 

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Published July 2015

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