I try to ignore it, but I really am at heart a perfectionist. I like to do things well, and do things right. But too often I aspire to be perfect, and instead of planning a course of action and starting something, I don’t actually get anywhere. Aspiring to always finish what I start has actually made it harder for me to complete anything, ever.
The idea behind finishing what you start, is, of course, simple. Set aside time, focus on the task, and go through everything until it is complete. Don’t put off part of the project and come back to it. Get to the end point and then move on to a different task, knowing you have finished with the first. In theory it sounds wonderful. I love the concept. Deal with everything, be done, move on. And I have thought for a long time that an efficient person operates this way. Start something and completely finish it. And then move on to the next thing. Excellent.
In reality – I don’t operate this way. The idea of processing everything related to a task and completing it before starting anything else has made me avoid more tasks than I’ve completed. It stymies me from even attempting certain things because I know I won’t be able to finish, and it has caused me to abandon many tasks midstream because I realize there’s no way I’ll complete them any time soon. In the past, it has even led me to pay bills late – I would set aside time to sit down and pay all my bills, and then realize I was missing a statement for something, and just abandon the idea entirely for another day. And then I’d forget and… whoops. Some people can’t see the forest for the trees. I have the opposite problem. I can’t see the trees for the forest.
In my present financial life, it may look like I ascribe to the single-minded focus philosophy that finishing what you start entails. I concentrate on one debt, I pay it off, I concentrate on the next. This has worked for me, and continues to work much better than any other method I have tried, as far as concentrating my focus on one debt task at a time. That’s because I am finishing really small pieces of the overall puzzle, not concentrating on my entire debt profile. This week, when I started thinking about being done with the credit card debt, and looking at the debts we had left, instead of being excited, I became overwhelmed. $26,000+ to go! Oh… my. So to make any progress, I have to narrow my focus and think about the really small picture. If I think about the big picture – like my debt in general – I just feel overwhelmed. One thing at a time is how I operate.
As an overall philosophy for my finances being a perfectionist really doesn’t work for me. There are many parts of my financial life that need attention, and many of them are too overwhelming for me to think about dealing with all at once. For example, our retirement accounts. I have done some things – I moved my IRA to a company and investment I was happy with, and we’ve developed a plan to increase my spouse’s 401K contributions. But there are a lot of other pieces of the retirement puzzle that need to be figured out – how much do we need to save now? I’ve started that but I still haven’t gotten to an answer. What allocation is really best for my spouse’s 401K? Again, I have started thinking about it, but I have only done the most preliminary of research. In my brain, I feel like I should sit down, do the work, and be done, but in reality I don’t operate in that manner. If I tell myself I need to do this start to finish, that will be enough reason to never start. But letting myself do things at a slower pace, little by little, I will get them done, and not be intimidated by the overwhelming process, to boot.
And so I ascribe to a less than perfect philosophy, both in my financial life as well as the rest of my life. Ninety percent is the new one hundred percent. This morning, when I thought for the thousandth time, I really need to clean off my desk, instead of starting, finding a few things I didn’t know how to deal with right then, and abandoning the project, I just made a pile of “later” stuff. Now my desk is 90% cleaned off and yes, the “later” pile might take as long itself as the other 90% did to deal with, but at least it looks small and annoys me a lot less. And I can see my desk. Throughout the day today, I’ve been picking up tasks to do from that small pile and actually completing them and putting them away, something I wouldn’t be doing if they were still buried in the other 90% of randomness that used to be on my desk.
Little things add up, and if I make it a goal to get a little bit done every day, instead of trying to do everything all at once, it does get done. Eventually. But at least, it gets done. In everything from my finances to cleaning my desk to organizing my kitchen. It gets done. I make progress, instead of trying to be perfect. With money and with life.