The Long Haul

I sometimes struggle with consistency in my efforts – and I bet you do to. Making the decision to change your financial future isn’t all that hard; a moment of clear thinking is all that it takes to understand that you can and should be doing more with your money. Setting up a plan to accomplish your new found goals isn’t all that hard either; you know you need to spend less then you make, pay off debt, and save.

The hard part is to follow the plan long term – way past that first month. Why is this so tough?  Because in order to accomplish this, or any other behavior changes long term, you must change the way you think. That’s hard enough by itself; but you also have to maintain this new attitude in the face of incredible pressure from others to go back to your old non-thinking, fun-loving, easy-spending ways. Dang it! How’s somebody supposed to do that?


In our enthusiasm for change, or distaste for the stuff required to accomplish it, we often try to do it all in one night. So, you know that debt it took you 4 years to accumulate? Chances are you are not going to wipe it out tonight. And, if you did by some unexpected windfall have the ability to do so, chances are you would just run it up again. We need to change our thoughts and behaviors and the best way to do that is a little at a time.

Your first spending cuts should not be to expenses that are near and dear to you. Cut things you won’t notice  much or  find lower cost substitutes. In an earlier article, I named my first three cuts; I substituted purchased books for library books; I ironed my own shirts and we changed our phone service.  The phone service never bothered me for a minute; the books took a little effort; but I found that if I kept several unread library books at all times, I could easily talk myself out of the temptation to pick up a paperback when I was out. The shirts were a different story.

Of the three cuts, eliminating the laundering of my shirts offered the least significant savings, but it may have been the most important in terms of behavior change. Every Sunday, I spend 45 minutes ironing my shirts for the upcoming workweek. Sometimes I really do not want to iron those shirts, but once I get started, it’s not so bad. This active participation serves to remind me what our financial goals are and what we are willing to do to achieve them. If I spend four hours a month saving $35, I am much less likely to go over budget for something unnecessary. If you don’t have shirts to iron, what can you do that you used to pay someone to do? Find a way to be happy accomplishing the task and remind yourself about the mission you are on.

When you are comfortable with the first round of cuts, you can start round two. Don’t be in a hurry, deeply cutting an expense that you really care about can led to rejecting the whole plan.


Work has always been important in our house. Much of our fun has been working together on projects. We can even find enjoyment in everyday chores of cleaning or yard work as long as everyone participates. In our house, you won’t find anyone kicked up in the lazy boy while the vacuum is running.

The same goes for financial goals, we are all pulling in the same direction. Change is so much easier when you surround yourself with others on the same path. Seek out friends and family that can understand and support your efforts. It’s imperative that your spouse or significant other is on board; fighting their reluctance while trying to change is like waging war on two fronts. Put your whole plan on hold and get on the same page. You might have to go slower than you want in order to walk together – but it will be worth it.


Keep your plan simple. Do one thing at a time. It’s really easy to get sucked into trying to accomplish a whole lot at one time. It won’t work. Diluting your effort across a whole bunch of goals means nothing gets accomplished quickly. We need some quick wins to stay motivated. Focus with laser intensity on one small goal at a time and get it done.

Don’t go it Alone

Many businesses spend lots of time and money blocking non-business websites from their employees. These businesses are trying to protect themselves from decreased productivity caused by high time-demand sites like Facebook, YouTube and twitter – as well as the problems caused by allowing access to inappropriate sites and the malware frequently found there.

Often the response from the employees to this restriction is anger. Employees grumble about not being trusted and being treated like children. Of course, if you are a business owner and your employees carry cellphones, you may have succeeded blocking the traffic from your network but you did not stop the access. I have spent some time on the management side of this problem and it is a sticky situation; you want to trust your good employees to be motivated and stay on task, but you know trust is not enough. Additionally, you understand that social media can be an important piece of your marketing efforts.

Unfortunately, most jobs have lots of boring or difficult tasks that are easily postponed by grabbing a few minutes surfing the web, checking your “watch items” on eBay or catching up with your friends on Facebook. Depending on the difficulty or boredom factor of the waiting tasks, a few minutes can stretch out to an hour or more without any problem.

I have recently made the move back to self-employment. I get to decide what I do and how and when I do it – and where my success is related directly to my productivity.

Guess who uses an internet filter now. If you want to get things done, be creative or just think – you need to focus. If you really want to focus, you need to eliminate distractions.

How to get stuff done:

  • Define the task and set a deadline.

Clearly define the objective. Are you writing a first draft or a completed report?

Need to make cold calls? Will you dial 15 numbers, make 10 connections, talk to 3 people or set on appointment?

How much time will you allocate to this task? Remember the task will grow to fill the allotted time. Set a count-down timer that you can easily view on your system or your phone.

  • Eliminate all distractions for the time period

Turn off email notifications (you should do this anyway).

Quiet the phone. Put it on DND; turn off the ringer or turn it completely off if you cannot ignore it.

Turn off your internet unless you absolutely need it for the task. If you’ve gotta have it, block your “time-suck” sites.

Freedom for Mac or Windows ($10) locks your networking for the number of minutes you set, up to eight hours. What to cheat? You’ll have to reboot!

LeechBlock for Firefox (free) allows you to block 6 sets of sites. You can block sites within fixed time periods (e.g., between 9am and 5pm), after a time limit (e.g., 10 minutes in every hour), or with a combination of time periods and time limit (e.g., 10 minutes in every hour between 9am and 5pm).

Put on your headphones; put up the “DO NOT DISTURB sign; close the door and make them leave you alone!

  • Focus fully on the task at hand

Stay with it. Calling? Then call; or sit quietly until you can. Writing? Then write; or sit quietly and refuse to get up until you actually write something. Don’t do anything except the task at hand. Remember why you want to accomplish this and get excited about it.

  • Count it down

Get it done on time. Check you count-down timer once in a while and see how you’re doing when focus fades.

  • Celebrate or recommit

You got it done! Yippee! Get up and take a walk, check that twitter feed and reward yourself. If you failed to accomplish your task, try to figure out where the train left the tracks and schedule a new session at a later time.

Focus takes practice; don’t expect to be perfect. Start with important tasks you really care about and set up your distraction-free environment for a short period of time. You will be able to use these techniques for harder tasks and longer periods as you progress.

The important thing to remember is to use every trick or tool available when you what to accomplish something. Don’t carry that credit card; don’t bring Twinkies in the house and turn off the internet when you need to get something done. You are a crafty devil and it takes a lot to keep yourself on track.