There’s a great quote from former President Eisenhower that underpins one of the main issues I’ve always had with managing my finances:
"I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent." - Dwight D. Eisenhower
I've always found it challenging to make the time to answer financial questions that I know are very important, but rarely seem urgent. Maybe these kinds of questions haunt you too? It’s stuff like “Am I on track for retirement?” This is a pivotal question for a lot of people, but it’s also related to something that probably seems like it’s a million years off.
So what’s the solution to bridging the ‘important-urgent’ gap?
According to the ‘Eisenhower Matrix,’ a tool I’ve seen applied in corporate settings to improve employee productivity, you should be planning ahead and setting aside time to answer these kinds of questions. Here’s the complete matrix, including what you're supposed to do to address each type of task:
The Eisenhower Matrix for Time Management:
Do it right away
Decide when you'll do it
Don't do it
Sounds great in theory, right?
In practice, even when I do have some free time, I have found myself scanning through all those newsletters piled up in my inbox (definitely not important and not urgent) to avoid getting on the phone to start rolling over my old 401(k). And I’m sure I’m not alone in my tendency to procrastinate when it comes to financial planning. I'm not saying that it's not a good idea to set aside time to work on important tasks. Of course it's a good idea. It's just that I sometimes find myself straying from the task at hand.
So I’d like to propose another possible solution to this problem: do one small thing, today, to get started. This will shift you from the “I need get around to working on this” camp to the “I’m working on this” camp. It’s a subtle shift, but for me, it’s one that creates the momentum I need to start making real progress.
Want one small thing you can do right now to get more on top of your finances? Try figuring out what needs to be true for you to accomplish a financial goal you have in mind. What do you need to save every month to have enough to be able to afford X within a certain time horizon?
- What do you need to save every month to afford college for your toddler?
- What do you need to save to retire at age 67 when you’ll get 100% of your social security benefits (at least if the whole system isn’t insolvent by then!)
- What should you set aside to afford a dream trip?
Figure that out and you’re one step closer to actually making it happen.
Here are some super simple web calculators to get you started:
And here’s a generic one I built that you can download and use to run simple numbers. (Note that you might be asked to sign-in to Google before you'll be able to download a copy.)
I would love to hear how others get moving and make progress on un-sexy financial planning topics. Or if you have found useful calculators, please share them in the comments, as I’m always looking for good examples of this sort of thing.