Why Do We Put Off Important Things?

We all have our to-do lists, whether on scraps of paper or some digital device. They contain the usual stuff like groceries, leaking faucets needing repair, and dinner parties to plan. But they also contain what I’ll call ‘big heavies.‘ Those to-do’s that invariably find their way to the bottom of our lists that take root there for months or years. Big heavies are things like life insurance planning, writing or updating wills, and moving to a better financial advisory relationship. We absolutely understand how tremendously important these things are when we think about them, but those thoughts are so quickly eclipsed by more immediate thoughts like getting those steaks for tonight’s dinner party.

If it doesn’t fill an immediate need or isn’t life threatening we tend to simply put off the big heavies. Why is that? It’s not that we don’t think them important – they are on our list for goodness sake. They may even be starred and underlined a few times!! In large part, the answer lies in where they appear on our list – the bottom vs. the top. A couple of weeks ago in a blog entitled Happy Independence Day I wrote about Gary Keller’s advice on how to change your to-do list into a ‘success list,’ by lining up the tactical steps necessary to achieve your most important goals.

However, the concepts of list strategy and our natural tendency to address pressing and immediate needs before long-term needs, fail to adequately address the question of why we put off doing important things. A significant part of the answer, I believe, lies in how we view time, specifically how we value or do not value the time we have available to address long-term issues.

If you are like I am, its easy to get caught thinking of time as cyclical. What I can’t do today I’ll do tomorrow, or next week, month, or . . . . Today is pretty much like yesterday and tomorrow is likely to be pretty much like today. In short, I’m too busy doing the things I’m comfortable doing to do something new, even when I’m pretty sure it will be better. That new thing is not on my circular track, its not my habit. A cyclical view of time is an image of endless repetition without progress.

A cyclical view of time also creates an illusion of an unlimited amount of time. We can see the hands of an analog clock moving around the dial, but we know they will be back around again, and again, and again. The same is true of the digital clock, the numbers repeat themselves every twelve hours. Tick, tick, tick.



But our time on this earth is not unlimited. Nor do we have unlimited time to seize an opportunity, act on an idea, start a new way of doing something, or reach for a dream. No, time for us is not circular, it is linear and it is finite; our lives and the opportunities we encounter have end points. Tick, tick, tick.



Reminding ourselves that tempis fugit (time flies – think like a fugitive) can be a highly constructive exercise, especially when we examine the benefits of doing important things sooner. The most obvious, financially speaking is investing, where we know time is the most important component of the compounding process.

Consider the diagram below. It suggests an amazingly simple, yet powerful paradigm, that by doing an important thing sooner provides the benefits of that thing longer and/or more abundantly. Anything less, by definition is sub-optimal.



Fill in the blanks for the things you are putting off. Is it starting a business you’ve always wanted but haven’t had the time or money to begin? Is it mastering an instrument, writing a book, or starting a ministry? We believe the first thing, the ONE Thing on your success list, should be to share your ‘optimal’ with us. No matter how many ticks you have left, we will make it our mission to empower you to achieve, even to exceed it. Tick tick tick.