Saturday, February 7, 2009

If You Can Handle It Now, Handle It Now

This simple motto has served my very well over the years in a number of contexts. The gist of it is that a good way to avoid the procrastinator's predicament is by dispensing with little tasks as soon as they come up. My rule of thumb is that, if it takes less than 5 minutes to handle something important and be done with it, then I will drop whatever I'm doing at the time to handle that task.

This might seem to contradict the importance of setting time-budgeting priorities. For example, I try to spend an hour every morning practicing piano. Nobody pays me to do it, it only happens because I make it a priority. But if, in the middle of my practice session, it occurs to me that I need to write a check or make a quick phone call, I will give myself a 5 minute break to take care of that. If it's under 5 minutes, then it's really not significantly cutting into my practice time, it's just a healthy, normal break. And handling it as soon as it occurs to me ensures that the task won't be forgotten.

This rule applies to a lot of money management issues. Balancing a checkbook, paying a bill, even transferring balances between accounts are all tasks that can be handled in almost no time, but how many of us let these tasks accumulate to the point of becoming an intimidating mountain of work? Remember, if you're letting too much of your money sit in a low-interest or no-interest account, then you're cheating yourself out of potentially significant annual interest income. It wouldn't take 5 minutes to write a check and transfer that money into your money market account.

Of course, there are many important tasks that cannot be properly handled in under 5 minutes, so time must be scheduled for dealing with bigger issues like devising a retirement plan. But you might be surprised at how many of life's tasks can be dealt with quickly and easily.

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