Overcoming Procrastination: How to Avoid the High Cost of Putting Things Off

Once again, my finely-honed procrastination abilities have cost me cold, hard cash. I seem to be an expert at putting things off…and paying for it.

My passport expires next April. But because many (most?) countries require that you have six months left on your passport before you enter their country, I need to renew it before traveling to Ecuador in November. I've known that I need to renew my passport since February but keep finding reasons not to.

  • First it was because we were still in Savannah, and I didn't want to do the transaction from there. What if it was mailed back to me after we resumed our RV trip back to Portland?
  • Then, of course, I couldn't do the renewal because we were on the road. There was a chance we'd be going to Mexico, so I needed to keep my passport with me.
  • I started the paperwork when we got back to Portland. I printed everything out, then signed and dated the renewal application in mid-July. But I didn't mail it in. I know I have some spare passport photos around here somewhere and I wanted to use them. But I could never find them.
  • Finally, life got in the way. I got busy with the dog and the blog. I did a workshop at World Domination Summit. Then there was Fincon.

Bottom line? When I found the paperwork on my desk yesterday, I realized I only had five weeks to get my passport renewed. That meant I had to request expedited service, which costs $170 instead of $110. My chronic procrastination cost me sixty bucks.

Passport to adventure photo by Mike

Believe it or not, that's cheap. Lots of times, my procrastination costs me more. Sometimes much more.

The High Cost of Procrastination

For instance, I knew for a long time that I needed to get braces. I even started the process once about seven or eight years ago. In the olden days, when I was under my wife's insurance, braces would have been cheap. Perhaps even “free”. But, of course, I did not get braces when I had good insurance. Nope. Not me.

Instead, I waited until after the divorce to consider fixing my teeth. (Honestly, my primary motivation was the fact that I was dating again.) That meant I was paying for the procedure out of my own pocket. I can't remember the exact cost, but it was somewhere north of $5000. Ouch!

I'm not the only one. I know lots of smart people who pay more because they put things off. (Taxes, anyone?)

For instance, my cousin Nick has plenty of money and plenty of time. There's no reason he should ever pay his bills late. But he does. (Or at least he used to.) His tendency is to grab the mail when he gets home from work, then throw it on the table. He doesn't process it right away, but allows it to pile up. Over the days (and weeks), the pile grows until it becomes an onerous task to deal with. Before long, he's missed a payment or two.

Or there's my good friend, whom we'll call Wayne for the sake of this article. (I know he'll see this, and I hope he doesn't mind I share.) Wayne has a motorcycle he's been repairing over the past year. Because it needed work, he let the registration lapse. He figured he'd renew it when it was functional again. Eventually he got it working and took it out for a spin. A cop saw his expired tags, pulled him over, and gave him a ticket. Oops. (Then Wayne put off paying the ticket, so his license was suspended. Oops again!)

Look, I'm not judging Nick and Wayne. I'm no better than they are when it comes to putting things off. Nor, I suspect, are many money boss readers. I'll bet most of you could share a story (or two) about how procrastination has cost you money — possibly lots of money.

But here's the thing: A small-business owner can't afford to put things off. She can't ignore bills. If she does, her suppliers will refuse to sell to her. She can't delay ordering raw material. If she does, she'll have nothing to sell. She can't decide to improve her products “someday”. If she puts it off, another business will beat her to the punch.

As a money boss, you can't afford to put things off either.

Three Steps to Overcoming Procrastination

Here at Money Boss, our aim is to manage our money as if we were managing a business, a business called You, Inc. You are the boss of you. You are the CFO of your own life. You need to take that job seriously. (And truthfully, so do I.) That means drafting a personal mission statement and creating a personal profit, of course, but it also means developing self-discipline. It means guarding against problems like procrastination.

How?

For me, defeating procrastination involves three steps: awareness, administration, and action.

  • Awareness. First up, you have to be aware of what your obligations are. As CFO of You, Inc., you need to keep track of what you owe and to whom. For some folks, especially those just starting down the path to financial freedom, that means tracking every penny you earn and spend. (This is sometimes useful even for folks who've met all of their financial goals. In 2017, for instance, I plan to track all of my income and expenses to be sure there are no leaks in my financial ship.) Awareness is the first step to overcoming procrastination.
  • Administration. Next, you have to be at least a little bit organized. The more organized you are the better. This is why I urge Money Boss readers to designate a specific place to deal with money matters and to set aside a specific time each week. (Early Saturday morning is good for many people.) But there's more to it than that. Instead of just throwing his bills on the table, my cousin Nick ought to open the mail as it comes in each day, then spend thirty seconds putting each item in its proper place. With a simple stack for bills due (or “accounts payable”, in business speak), he could avoid late fees. When you make time and space for money management, it's easier to avoid procrastination.
  • Action. The final piece of the puzzle is the most important — and the one I struggle with most. As CFO of JD, Inc., I do a good job of acting on things that will improve my bottom line. Obviously I'm not perfect. It doesn't do any good to be aware that my passport needs renewal and to have it set in a specific spot if I never follow through. A lot of times I get stuck and fail to act because the task I've set seems too big. I'm not sure what to do next. If you run into this situation too, the key is to break things down into smaller steps. When I finally realized “get a passport photo” was my sticking point, I listed what needed to be done: find a place to get the photo, set aside time for errands, drive to the place, get the photo taken, assemble the renewal application, and mail it. Ultimately, it took about half an hour. Not bad. I ought to have done it in July. It would have saved me sixty bucks.

I believe a lot of my personal procrastination right now comes because I no longer have a specific time set aside to manage my money. Before we left for our RV trip, I handled the affairs of JD, Inc. on Saturday morning, as I recommend most people do. During the trip, I didn't have a regular routine. And I haven't resumed one since returning home. That needs to change.

As I said, I plan to track my earning and spending in 2017. Before we reach the new year, however, I'm going to use my Saturday mornings like I used to: to take care of the things I've been putting off. From past experience, I know that if I keep a “to-do pile” in my office, I can plow through it on Saturday. This gives me a feeling of accomplishment but better yet, it also helps me defeat my natural inclination toward procrastination. And it keeps me from paying more because I put things off.

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Shara G.
Shara G.
3 years ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

Do it the old fashioned way and carry a notebook. I carry a notebook most of the time as a sort of journal. I find forcing myself to think in a narrative helps me organize my thoughts. I tend toward multi-task thinking and if I’m tired or overwhelmed getting ideas to fully form can be hard.

Plus using an actual pen on actual paper can be calming.

LennStar
LennStar
3 years ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

Yes, if you have the feeling “now that would be a good article and I have some good ideas”, then start writing it down. Its a bit like writing a book I guess. The biggest hindrance is the fear of the empty sheet. The second biggest block is the fear of having to write a full article. So that is what I recommend: Commit to writing 100 words – thats all, 5-10 minutes depending on your speed – a day. Once if you are a full working person, 3 times (morning, midday, evening…) if you have lots of free time.… Read more »

Matt @ Optimize Your Life
Matt @ Optimize Your Life
3 years ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

This is a problem that I have. I have an note pad app on my phone that contains tons of article ideas. They were all vivid and detailed when I thought of them, but were summarized in a few words for the sake of the list. Sometimes those few words will trigger an image of where I was and what I was thinking when I wrote the note, but often it will just be a vague topic and I will have to start over. I think I need to do what you did on this article and just start writing… Read more »

Angela L.
Angela L.
3 years ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

I’ve found that using a Google doc works well for me. Quick to find and have on hand across all devices (phone, tablet, laptop, work computer). I can open it anywhere and enter any random idea. And there’s enough space to elaborate, so if there are themes or steps associated with the original idea, I’ll add those at the same time. Or, if it’s just a vague notion, it’s there and I can go back when my mind has been able to process and form a more clear or fully formed idea. I tend to think of it as an… Read more »

PhysicianOnFIRE
PhysicianOnFIRE
3 years ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

I’m an efficient procrastinator. I know bloggers who have 3 posts a week lined up for the next 3 – 4 months. I need to write something for Tuesday.

I use OneNote to organize my post ideas and starts. Most are just titles with a few lines underneath and maybe a link or two. Beats scraps of paper and e-mails to myself.

Cheers!
-PoF

Financial Panther
Financial Panther
3 years ago

Very true about procrastination. I recently switched jobs and have been meaning to roll over my 401(k) into my new employer sponsored plan, but I just keep putting it off! Meanwhile, I’m paying two administration fees – 1 fee for my 457(b) in my new employer plan, and 1 fee for my old 401(k)). Need to just get those rollover forms filled out and get the ball moving!

Shara G.
Shara G.
3 years ago

I procrastinate in a very emotional way. When I get tired and overwhelmed I contract and don’t want to interact. That will include making calls and running errands. Or when I suspect I won’t enjoy information I won’t seek it out (like the expiration on a Groupon that may have already passed) even though I know this makes it more likely to be a problem. To me procrastination seems to be one or the other of our problems and knowing which one and how to best overcome it is important. Also reminding myself what a relief it is to take… Read more »

LennStar
LennStar
3 years ago

One of my general tricks against procrastination is to have one item that is necessary but neither important nor has to be done today and that I dont like.
I put it on top of my (mental) list. Mostly something like cleaning X.
I will avoid it for 2 or 3 days. But in doing that I will automatically start item 2 on the list. I know it sounds strange, but I am not the only person that works for. The brain is strange.

The Green Swan
The Green Swan
3 years ago

I’m the CFO and my wife is the COO in our household. Together we do a fairly good job of juggling all the balls in the air. And we try to remind ourselves of key things to do, it works well. Funny you bring up the passport though. I don’t have any trips planned, but I stumbled across it just last week while organizing my file cabinet and realized it’s over a year expired! I’m only six months away from not being able to do the simple mail renewal. So I jumped on that right away. Pretty costly renewal, but… Read more »

Ali
Ali
3 years ago
Reply to  The Green Swan

If it helps emotionally, I worked it out – each of my passports costs me less than $25/year for the lifetime of the passport (I’m including things like the cost of new photos and postage too), which means I get the world at my fingertips for less than a Starbucks a month. Totally worth it, no?

Full Time Finance
Full Time Finance
3 years ago

I personally force myself to execute things as close to immediately as possible as my natural tendency is to do it too late. This sometimes leads to overdueing it too though, for existence I have 7 weeks of prewritten blog posts as a result. Still searching for that healthy medium.

Shara G.
Shara G.
3 years ago

I find I do things right away, or not at all. There is just something about striking when an idea is new and it’s in my head. Versus procrastination feeds on itself.

Timothy Carter
Timothy Carter
3 years ago

Wow good way to put things into perspective. Procrastination has cost me too. For instance, there is a bridge near my house that costs $20 a year if you buy an ez pass transponder. I have put off getting my ez pass for the past 6 months, costing me tons of money. Usually I will drive through the toll and let them send me the bill ($12) each time. I usually only go over the bridge on the weekends or late evenings to visit family. The office where I get the ez pass just happens to never be open when… Read more »

Jon @ Be Net Worthy
Jon @ Be Net Worthy
3 years ago

Seems like a good article, I’m going to read it later… Ha! Too easy. Anyway, I have a system to avoid procrastination, at least the financial kind. All week long, I throw any financial related material (mostly mail) into the inbox by the computer. On Sunday evenings, usually after dinner when I take out the garbage, I sit down and take care o’ business! It usually works out pretty well unless we are out of town for a few weekends in a row which can happen sometimes. Other than that, I have as many bills as possible charged directly to… Read more »

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