Productive Procrastination and Other Investing Hurdles

Investing comes with its fair share of obstacles. If it were easy, everyone would be investing their 10-15%. But, in reality, nearly half of us don’t own a single stock.

One of the key obstacles I had to overcome in order to truly tap into the power of investing was productive procrastination.

Productive Procrastination

Simply put, productive procrastination is getting a few “important” things done here and there while intentionally — or otherwise subconsciously — avoiding those tasks which are MOST important to complete.

An example I’ve used before is when I was studying for my CPA exams. Instead of buckling down on the lectures and practice questions, I found myself dusting my blinds. Don’t get me wrong, dusting the blinds was most definitely a priority (because they were disgusting), but I should’ve done it AFTER I studied that day.

This cycle repeated itself many times before I realized that productive procrastination was the name of the game I was playing with my precious time.

Here’s more on this topic as covered by our podcast:

The same held true with investing. I always knew was it was important, but I always found other ways to spend the money..

I would research which stocks to buy instead of buying any. I would focus on ways to save more money without putting that money to work for me. I would speculate on where the stock market will go tomorrow, without putting any skin in the game.

Once the problem was identified, it didn’t make the solution any more evident. That’s part of the danger with productive procrastination; it finds a way to creep into our lives daily.

So here I was, having accumulated some cash from my first full time job, but I wasn’t putting the money to work.

I had read the books, but my actions were still far from optimal.

My version of being “productive,” was to research even more books on the subject of investing as whole. I thought that if I knew a100% of the information, I would finally be able to make the correct decision.

My Solution to Productive Procrastination

Reading about investing is much like theorizing; not as beneficial as the act of investing itself. I  learned this lesson from first hand experience.

Back in the day, I would receive my paycheck and express the intent to invest. I would try to piece things together, but in the end, I still hadn’t put a single dollar to work in the market.As a result, my small pile of cash was slowly growing.

A few small shifts helped me and they might help you if you’re in a similar position.

Instead of viewing investing as a big annual goal, I broke it down to  a per-paycheck basis. Meaning that, instead of aiming to invest $10,000 over the year, my new goal was to invest ~$400 per paycheck.

The next step was deciding to take SOME form of action. I knew that if I decided on a suboptimal choice, I could course correct down the road by transferring funds from Account A to Account B.

The final step for me was deciding to pick one index fund and stick with it. After years of research on portfolio strategy, I settled on one fund.

With these three steps I went from, “I should invest $10,000 this year,” to, “I will invest $400 on my next paycheck into my chosen fund.”

The last two steps came later: I would make sure to not miss a paycheck and I would make sure to check back in on the plan from time to time.

By being specific, establishing a timeline, and clarifying the appropriate action, I was able to achieve the desired result.

Productive Procrastination took a backseat to Productive Investing!

Did you face similar struggles when you FIRST invested? Did you have any mental hurdles you had to overcome?


8 comments… add one
  • [email protected] Mar 6, 2017, 3:29 am

    Fortunately I never had the procrastination problem with investing, but I most definitely have experienced it in my daily life. After all, who needs to study for that GMAT when there’s laundry to be done? Or create that detailed, comprehensive project plan when there’s e-mails to answer? I’ve been experiencing that second one rather frequently at work lately, finding there’s so many fires to put out, meetings to attend, and e-mails to respond to that I’m not getting the major things on my “to do” list done. But today I’ve made my schedule have as few meetings as possible and I’m planning to shut down my e-mail/put my instant messenger on “do not disturb” so I can tackle the things I need to get done. Several hours of focused work goes a long way!

    • Distilled Dollar Mar 6, 2017, 7:11 pm

      Haha, I laughed out loud at the laundry line because I’ve done that plenty of times.

      I hope your day of work was productive. I find it helps to follow the same approach with turning off phones or putting them on airplane mode. Something that works well for me is setting an alarm. This way I know there’s a hard stop to the end of my short jam session.

  • Katherine Mar 6, 2017, 7:46 am

    I am struggling with setting up a Vanguard account or hiring a financial advisor.

    • Distilled Dollar Mar 6, 2017, 7:09 pm

      Hey Katherine, thanks for leaving a comment!

      Setting up an IRA with Vanguard takes less than a few minutes. Before investing, I’m obligated to ask if you have any high interest bearing loans (credit cards or auto loans for example). Placing your extra cash to tackle a 10% interest bearing debt is a much more effective move than hoping for a 7% return in the market.

      If debts are situated, the last question before you should get started is if your employer offers a 401k with a match. If they do, then you should start by investing into the match.

      If you’re all squared away after all that, I would recommend checking out my Investing 101 post where I detail the same two steps I took to launch my investing career. If you have any other questions, please let me know!

  • Mrs. Picky Pincher Mar 6, 2017, 9:07 am

    Oooh, I didn’t know productive procrastination was a thing, but I realize I fall prey to it quite often. Oops. I do agree that smaller, more achievable goals are a great way to beat productive procrastination. The goal doesn’t seem as big and scary, so you’re more likely to tackle it head-on.

    • Distilled Dollar Mar 6, 2017, 7:12 pm

      Exactly. Sometimes small goals keep things in perspective as we link together the small actions to get the big results.

  • Ryan @ Just Another Dollar Mar 6, 2017, 9:30 am

    I can totally relate; when I was studying for the CPA my apartment was spotless! Fortunately my other half was usually there to snap me out of it and get me back on track. I still find myself doing this now; I caught myself washing my coffee maker the other day while avoiding a nightmare tax return that was sitting on my desk (California sucks.. am I right?).

    Setting large goals and then breaking them down into bite-size pieces is how we’re approaching getting out of debt, saving, and budgeting in 2017, and so far it’s going very well. Setting automatic transfers is a great way to keep on task with money; treat your savings/investment account like a bill! Great post, see you around!


    • Distilled Dollar Mar 6, 2017, 7:17 pm

      Thanks Ryan! I’m starting to follow the same approach with automating my non-401k investments. I’m not sure why I waited so long!

      Part of me feels great when I send over an amount to my IRA manually, but I know the smarter move is automating it.

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