Have you ever had a huge task in front of you that seemed so daunting it just made your stomach sink? Oftentimes we approach our financial tasks with this sinking feeling. It’s not fun, so we find ourselves behaving like small children who don’t want to clean up their bedrooms. We procrastinate, or whine, or try to think we can get out of doing it… but in the end, we know the task must get done, somehow.
What if we encouraged that small inner child to come out and play, instead of sulking or throwing a tantrum?
Mary Poppins said it best: “In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun. You find the fun, and – snap! – the job’s a game!” My mother raised us by this maxim, and looking back, I think she got my brother and me to do a lot more by introducing “fun” into tasks, than she would have by using force (ie, the adult “because I said so!”).
Why not use this tactic on ourselves as adults and get some work done on our finances at the same time? Here are 3 “games” we can play in getting financial tasks done:
1. The first “game” is psychological. Rather than approaching your task as one HUGE thing that MUST get done, break it down into smaller, bite-sized pieces. Your sense of overwhelm will diminish, and your motivation will increase when the task seems simple and do-able. For example, if you are tackling the task of “doing your taxes,” rather than telling yourself you will lock yourself into a room and not come out until the task is done – instead, try telling yourself you will simply create a folder for all of this year’s tax forms. That’s it. Once you’ve done that, your brain’s natural curiosity will probably take over, and you may find yourself thinking, “well now that I’ve got this folder, I may as well put something in it…” Then go ahead. But tell yourself you only need to put 1 thing in there. Just one form. Then sit back and give yourself a high five. Feels good, doesn’t it? Once you’ve done that, you might find your brain saying (like a child), “let’s do it again!” Indulge that feeling. Find just one more form and file it. And one more… If you get overwhelmed again, stop and take a break. Tell yourself you’re doing great and step away from the area for a moment. Moral of this game: You can fool yourself into getting a much larger task done, by starting with something small – even if it seems trivial – and psychologically lighten the load.
2. The next “game” is physical. Before you start your task, create an atmosphere so pleasant that you WANT to be there. For example, make your favorite cup of tea and play your favorite music. Have fun using all 5 senses. In addition to taste and sound above, you could also put on your favorite warm sweater (touch) and light your favorite candle (smell). Sit in your favorite spot (sight). If you are working on a device, put an inspiring picture as your background, or change the theme of your software to something that you find satisfying. When you put all of these pleasant elements together, who wouldn’t want to be a part of that – even if the task itself isn’t quite so fun? I believe that atmosphere is hugely important to getting a task done. Think of all the people who do work on laptops at coffeeshops: they prefer the coffeeshop atmosphere. I had a friend tell me she was far more productive in this atmosphere than she was sitting in an office. Go figure!
3. The last “game” helps with time and focus. Create a ritual and stick to it. I know, this can be the hard part. But if you’ve made it a pleasant treat with the suggestions above, it gets less problematic. For example, I like to do my weekly financial tasks on Saturday mornings. I get on the computer and go through the bank accounts, credit cards, enter my business mileage for the week, etc. Doing this weekly takes me less than a half hour. I used to put these tasks off until tax time, when I had to wade through a year’s worth of data – ugh! That was painful. Now I take a few minutes every Saturday morning, and then reward myself with a pancake breakfast with my husband! YEA! Much better. Whatever your ritual is, remember that consistency is key. If you fall off the wagon, so be it. Don’t beat yourself up. Get back up and start again.
4. BONUS! Rewards big and small: I believe a key element here is rewarding yourself for good behavior, just as you would when training a small child or a pet. No matter how old or young we are, we respond to positive reinforcement. Why not use this to your own advantage? For example, I knew a salesperson who would put a chocolate bar on her desk when she had to make phone calls. Each time she completed a call, she would reward herself with a bite of the chocolate bar. This small-steps approach helped motivate her to make each call, rather than waiting for the entire chore to be done for the full candy bar. Of course, you can celebrate large tasks with larger rewards, too. For example, let’s say you finished gathering all that tax information. That’s a big deal! What would help you to recognize and celebrate it? A refreshing walk in nature? A luxurious bath? Watching your favorite series on Netflix? Rewards don’t have to be public or expensive. They should simply express appreciation and praise for getting the task done.
Overall, the lesson we can get from Mary Poppins is to Lighten it up! So often we take ourselves too seriously when it comes to our personal finances. Yes, this is important – don’t get me wrong – but even important things in life can be improved by approaching them with a sense of humor and playfulness. And you might even find that you get more done!
Do you have a favorite financial “game” or “trick” you play on yourself? I’d love to hear it! Please send me an email!