The psychology of procrastination:
Why clients delay and what to do about it
Neil Bage, Co-Founder, Shaping Wealth
It’s no secret that deadlines are part of life. Whether it’s a work report that’s due tomorrow or a financial planning decision that needs to be made by the end of the month, deadlines are an unavoidable reality.
Unfortunately, many of us put off completing a task or making important decisions for as long as possible. We procrastinate and push the task further down the road.
While procrastination itself may seem harmless, it can have serious consequences on our ability to make sound financial planning decisions. Tax year end is one deadline where procrastination can rear its head.1
The good news is that while procrastination is an issue that affects many people, it is also something that can be managed and overcome. However, before we look at solutions, let’s look at why this happens in the first place.
The noisiest of times
We live in a busy, noisy world, a world in which we’re seemingly always busy. Juggling diaries, fitting things in, grabbing lunch on the go. Life can be relentless and overwhelming. Given the volume of “stuff” vying for our attention, it’s inevitable that we put things off, especially those things that seem labour-intensive, difficult, or (dare I say it!) boring or dull.
Whatever the case, when we fail to act in our own best interest, procrastination becomes a form of self-sabotage. In fact, there is a growing body of behavioural research that suggests procrastination is a problem of emotion regulation and not time management.
This points to a fundamentally different approach in how we help people navigate a landscape driven more by anxiety, frustration, or self-doubt. Telling them to “find more time” isn’t the answer. It often runs deeper than that.
Thankfully, as financial advisers, we get to play a pivotal role in helping clients overcome their tendency to procrastinate.
Research has shown that procrastination or the need to hit a deadline can be significantly improved if people have an “Accountability Partner” – someone who can help enhance motivation and increase the odds of follow-through.
Additionally, given that procrastination is likely an emotional challenge and not wholly a time-management challenge, we should approach those who are struggling with financial behaviour not with an iron fist but with curiosity and empathy.
Here are eight tips to help you help clients hit those important deadlines:
1. Start with validation. Normalise that it’s challenging to balance competing demands in life for our time, energy, and attention.
2. Help manage procrastination by breaking down difficult tasks into smaller, more manageable chunks. By breaking down a complex task into smaller pieces, clients are less likely to be overwhelmed and more likely to complete the task on time.
3. When a client isn’t taking action, even if it’s something they’ve previously agreed to, approach them with questions that catalyse self-reflection. Invite individuals to examine and identify the barriers in their way. There are reasons that underlie all of our decisions, even inaction. Help clients identify what is truly driving their current set of choices.
4. Paint a picture of the natural consequences of the current set of choices. Help clients connect their present selves with their future selves by illuminating what will happen if they continue down their current path uninterrupted.
5. Together, talk about how to reduce the friction for taking action. Develop a collaborative plan to make it as easy as possible to make decisions that are in your client’s best interest.
6. Help anchor individuals to their personal motivation. When we reconnect with our “why” we increase the likelihood that we will follow through.
7. Reject the excuse of “busyness.” Help clients take ownership and buy into the reality that we make time for what truly matters most to us.
8. Instead of taking an overly-prescriptive approach, promote agency. Empower clients to make their own decisions rather than simply following directions.
All of these strategies can aid better, deeper conversations with clients, allowing all parties to explore the emotional challenges connected to their procrastination. It provides a framework to explore certain behavioural patterns and examine whether they are habits that can be changed or whether there is something more serious happening beneath the surface.
Helping clients make decisions that will promote financial wellbeing starts with better conversations and a recognition that we live in a busy, noisy world. Each interaction we have with our clients, every conversation we take part in, is an opportunity not only to transmit information but to deepen your impact.
Don’t put off until tomorrow what can start helping you and your clients today. Engage with curiosity and empathy in order to have conversations that will help create meaningful change.
- Procrastination is often talked of in a negative light. However, human behaviour is far from binary. There is always a yin to any yang. For example, purposefully putting something off gives us the opportunity to pause and consider divergent ideas, to think outside the box, and try different solutions before committing to a definitive course of action.
The statements and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Wealthtime or any of its employees. The company does not take any responsibility for the views of the author.