Procrastination and why we can’t afford it

I was 11 years old when I first started trying to write a book. It was about a teenage boy who found out he’d been adopted by a pair of spies who’d murdered his parents. I filled a 64-page exercise book and stopped writing when I ran out of the room, convinced it was a sign that I should give up.

My next attempt was a couple of years later when my parents bought our first computer – an IBM 486, capable of running a word processor and Snake. I poured my soul into page after digital page of angst-ridden teenage fiction until my sister deleted the file as revenge for a long-forgotten slight.

It’s taken me more than 20 years to really try again in earnest, and my word count currently sits at 71,906. There’s just one problem – I haven’t worked on it in months.

When later becomes never

After seven years at home with my kids, I took on a once-off project that was followed by another once-off. And then the once-offs turned into a more permanent role, and the evenings I was spending on my book now involve writing about ETFs, bear markets, self-managed super funds and the importance of compound interest for robo advisor Six Park.

And I’m not complaining, by the way, because all those topics are actually far more interesting than I would have imagined possible six months ago. Maybe that’s why it’s easy to find myself working instead of finishing my book.

This week, as I found myself unnaturally free of loose ends, I considered working on my book but instead of clicking on it I redrafted an awards submission that wasn’t due for two weeks.

And I realized, at that moment, that I’m afraid of finishing.


The fear of moving forward

Procrastination is usually driven by fear of the unknown or a dislike of the task at hand. It’s easy to put things off – even things we know are important. Sometimes it’s because they’re hard, other times it’s because they’re scary. For me, finishing my book is both hard and scary, because when it’s done the logical next step is to work out if it’s any good. And what if it’s not…?

Writing isn’t the only thing I find myself procrastinating about. The Barefoot Investor’s excellent book is on my bedside table gathering dust right now because even the most engaging book on cleaning up my finances seems too hard to put into action when life is getting busier by the day.

And, of course, most banks and super funds and insurance companies and other service providers rely on exactly that feeling to maintain their profits and their client base. Apathy and fear of change shouldn’t be the basis for a relationship, but there are plenty of marriages that survive in these conditions and worse, and the same goes for the people we pay to manage our money.


Why we need to prioritize the hard stuff

I want to finish my book and I’ll work through my goals to make sure I get there in the end. But in the past couple of weeks, I’ve also decided that prioritizing my financial future is worth a lot more – literally – than the sense of accomplishment that will come with completing my novel. There’s been a slew of news articles about the huge differential between men’s and women’s superannuation balances by retirement, and after almost seven years out of the workforce as a full-time mother I know I have some catching up to do. The logical way to start is by understanding my fund’s performance and the fees that I’m paying, then following that up with an assessment of whether I can do better. (And I didn’t even read Barefoot to work that out.)

Frankly, I can think of a bunch of stuff that I’d rather do than sit around with my super statements. But none of that stuff is going to potentially add tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars to my retirement.

If I can save half a percentage point in fees without going backward on performance, it could be the difference between traveling the world or staying at home when my working life is over. And that’s a pretty compelling thought.

I kick-started my resolution to do better with my finances today when I reviewed my annual bills for car insurance and contents insurance. I jumped online, completed a couple of quotes, and compared the PDS to make sure I wouldn’t be dropping any cover if I switched providers, and in that half hour, I saved $350. Not a bad effort.

Putting off the hard stuff doesn’t make it any easier. But I can’t afford to procrastinate anymore.

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