The mental mechanics of procrastination

November 26, 2019

Even the most productive amongst us is prone to procrastination at times. So, what can we do about it? And how can we make sure it’s not getting in the way of us achieving our goals? Understanding the mental mechanisms at play is a good place to start.

At the core of procrastination is impulsiveness. Those who tend to procrastinate often have difficulty in delaying gratification. What’s happening here is that two parts of the brain are working in opposition. The prefrontal cortex which controls your willpower is fighting a losing battle against your thalamus which thrives on the sensory pleasures of the here and now.

 

How it manifests

Procrastination manifests differently in everyone but it usually entails putting off a boring, difficult or important task in favour of something easy or instantly gratifying. Some common symptoms include: random web browsing, social media scrolling, snacking, cleaning and TV binging. Less obvious, but just as prevalent, is the phenomenon of priority dilution where a frenzy of busyness can mask the fact that we are just avoiding harder tasks.

Procrastination can also be a self-perpetuating cycle. Some psychologists have labelled this the procrastination doom loop. You begin procrastinating because you ‘don’t feel in the mood’ which then incurs feelings of guilt for not having got onto the job sooner. This guilt makes you feel worse, making you more likely to continue procrastinating.

 

So how do you fix it?

Before you put in place some strategies to combat procrastination, it’s good to reflect on why you do it in the first place. We all procrastinate for different reasons. Here are some of the most common:

  • You feel like an imposter. This is really a self-esteem issue. Many of us put off hard tasks because we don’t believe in our own abilities.
  • You’re a perfectionist. While perfectionists can often deliver incredible outcomes, they can also be unproductive, especially when their perfectionism is driven out of a fear of failure. The result can be wasting time on details and forgetting the big picture, or constantly missing deadlines because the product is ‘not ready’.
  • You love that last-minute thrill. Like the kid in school that occasionally got A’s in spite of completing their homework on the bus, some of us get a thrill out of leaving tasks until the last minute, mistakenly believing that the quality doesn’t suffer.

 

Changing your habits

Once you’ve reflected on what sort of procrastinator you are, you can choose the tools that will best help you.

If you suffer from imposter syndrome, positive self-talk can help, using mantras to break the negative feedback loop.

For a perfectionist, sometimes fear of not doing something impeccably can stop you from starting at all. The task can just feel too big to overcome. If this sounds like you, break the project into smaller units and find a point of entry that is not too daunting.

For the thrill seekers, why not try a series of incremental deadlines? Remember self-imposed deadlines are more malleable than those set by others, so it may well be worth telling a friend or family member your goals so they can hold you accountable.

The other thing to remember is that your willpower can fatigue. Planning mindful breaks is important to allow your prefrontal cortex to recharge.

 

Keep it positive

Some tasks bring us more pleasure than others. We’re far less likely to procrastinate when we love what we’re doing. So, when thinking about your goals, make sure they line up with your passions.

And when you do find your mind wandering—or reaching for your phone at work—gently acknowledge what you’re doing then return your mind to the task. By recognising your triggers and knowing which tools work for you, you might just find yourself picking up speed and achieving more in your day.

 


References

https://www.nationalgeographic.org/media/procrastination-and-brain/

https://www.inc.com/jessica-stillman/is-priority-dilution-the-new-procrastination.html?cid=readmore

https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/08/the-procrastination-loop-and-how-to-break-it/379142/

Artificial intelligence and the future of finance

We often like to think of artificial intelligence as some fantasy of the distant future, the stuff of sci-fi movies. But the reality is, it’s already here. From flight comparison websites to predictive text, AI is everywhere, but what is it exactly?

AI is the development of computer systems that have the ability to perform tasks normally requiring human intelligence. These processes include learning, reasoning, and self-correction. The first AI algorithms were in fact written way back in the fifties, but it’s only been in the last twenty years, with huge advances in computer processing power, that we’ve really been able to see the tangible effects of AI in our lives and on our finances.

Big data, changing legislation and technological advances are feeding an AI revolution in the finance sector that is having wide-ranging repercussions for stock market trading and our personal finances.

 

Impact on trading

Since the late 90s when electronic trading became widespread, the proliferation of AI has totally changed the functioning of the global economy. Most of this is done through algorithmic trading, which, though nothing new, has been enhanced by huge advances in computational power.

Advocates of this sort of trading talk about how it eradicates human error, and removes emotion from investment decisions. While others argue that if algorithms aren’t thoroughly back-tested over a long enough period—or if the input data is somehow compromised—people’s assets are at risk. Many point to the inability of AI to predict the GFC as an example of this. The 2010 Flash Crash is another, wiping nearly $1 trillion USD from the market in seconds because of spoofing algorithms (which have since been banned), before rapidly rebounding.

The truth is, as AI has developed so has its regulation, meaning hiccoughs experienced even ten years ago are less likely to occur today. And you need only look at changing rules around data sharing and instant transactions occurring globally, or the massive returns last year on quantitative hedge funds—which employ algorithms and machine learning to inform their investment decisions—to know that this sort of trading is here to stay.

 

Personal Finances

AI has already had a big effect on how we manage our personal finances. The credit card industry for example has benefited from increased data security and reductions in fraud as a result.

Similarly, banks are now able to analyse the data of billions of transactions to predict the spending of consumers and market their products accordingly. This same technology allows individuals to automate their expenditure, with many banking apps now sorting purchases by type and alerting users when they’re reaching their limits.

AI is also changing processes around lending and borrowing. This is especially true in the developing world, where credit scores might not be available. Startups such as LenddoEFl in Singapore are tracking people’s behaviours on their smartphones to glean the likelihood of them meeting their repayments. The algorithm they’ve developed recognises behaviours indicative of financial responsibility and therefore can advise lenders, with a high degree of accuracy, on whether the loan should be approved. This technology will be interesting to watch as banks tighten lending standards and start to look not just at salary but also spending habits to determine if a loan is approved.

 

The robots aren’t coming… yet

In the world of AI, scholars often make the distinction between Artificial Intelligence, which is now common place in many industries, and Artificial General Intelligence (AGI), the sort that might mimic a human brain and create links between disparate ideas and deal in abstract notions. We are still a long way from achieving the latter. And it has been argued that there are some aspects of the human experience that can’t be replaced by code, however clever it is.

 

When it comes to your financial life, technology can certainly provide us with useful tools. There is no substitute however for knowledgeable advice that takes into consideration your unique circumstances, goals and dreams. We can help you navigate this brave new world, while also assisting you in a way that no algorithm is yet capable of.

 


References

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-security-fraud/uk-speed-trader-arrested-over-role-in-2010-flash-crash-idUSKBN0NC21220150421

https://www.marketwatch.com/story/ai-based-credit-scores-will-soon-give-one-billion-people-access-to-banking-services-2018-10-09

https://www.theguardian.com/future-focused-it/2018/nov/12/is-ai-the-new-electricity

Making yourself accountable for your success

When it comes to career or life goals, a crucial element often missing from the discussion is that of personal accountability. Accountability is fundamental to effective government and successful business, but we often neglect it in regards to our own ambitions. Practicing personal accountability isn’t easy, but if you embrace it, the effect can be transformative.

 

Transparency

A critical first step in any accountability process is transparency. This means being honest about your prior successes and failures. You can then use what you’ve learned from them to frame your strategy going forward.

Often what stops us from being honest with ourselves is an inability to accept responsibility for our own contribution to our successes or failures. This in turn can often result in a blame mentality. In every person’s life there is a mixture of internal and external obstacles that prevent us from getting what we want. The problem with always blaming what’s outside of us, is that we lose sight of what we can control. It reduces our power. The outcome can be inertia. To blame is to tread water. To be accountable is to build a raft.

 

Skin in the game

Indecision, procrastination and laziness are three common factors that get in the way of us achieving our goals. So how do we show some accountability and mitigate these habits? The answer is to put some skin in the game – to raise the stakes.

Let’s take the gym as an example. Your building has a free one for the tenants, but you never use it. Maybe it’s because it’s not very well equipped, but you’re also not really losing anything if you don’t go. But say the gym charges a fee. That might mean it’s better resourced, sure, but you’re also getting charged every week. Nobody wants to waste money so you go. You’ve got skin in the game.

Let’s extend the metaphor. You might decide to pay a bit more and join a class, or even splash out and get a personal trainer. Now you’ve really invested, because not only are you giving up your hard-earned cash, but you’ve got someone who will be disappointed in you if you don’t make the session. Someone else to hold you accountable.

 

Engaging an ally

When a task is set for you by someone else, the stakes are naturally higher because you’re accountable to them. It’s much harder to let someone else down, than it is yourself. This is why it is important to engage an ally, when working towards your goals. And to be honest, the more the better.

Allies can sort fact from fiction, give constructive feedback and encourage you when you’re feeling flat. And it is a lot harder to veer off course when you have a crowd cheering you on.

 

Practicing accountability

Practicing accountability becomes easier when you have in place a good set of processes. That’s why we’ve come up with this four-step process.

  1. Make sure your goals are concrete. This means being specific about what they are and what they’re not. You can’t kick a goal if you don’t know where the goal posts are.
  2. Record your progress. Ask any business leader, and they’ll tell you accountability requires accurate reporting. This is where transparency and diligence come in. Make sure you keep records of your successes and failures, the tasks you did, the time they took, and what they cost. Then let this frame your strategy going forward, including incremental deadlines.
  3. Invest and put some more skin the game. This means giving up something that has currency to you in order to compel you to keep going. There needs to be an outcome, a material loss, that comes from not reaching your deadlines.
  4. Finally, engage an ally. This can be a mentor or a friend. Someone who checks in with you and encourages you but can also give constructive criticism.

 

If you’ve got big dreams and need some help making them financially viable, come talk to us. We can help make a plan, and ensure you stay accountable each step of the way.

Steering through choppy seas

November 19, 2019

Like it or not, we live in interesting times. More than a decade after the Global Financial Crisis, the global economy is facing fresh headwinds creating uncertainty for policy makers and investors alike.

This time around it’s not a debt crisis, although debt levels are extremely high, but geopolitical instability.

The ongoing US-China trade war and Brexit confusion in Europe have increased market uncertainty and volatility and put a spoke in the wheel of global growth. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) forecasts global economic growth to ease to 3.3 per cent over 2019. It expects Australia to grow at 2.7 per cent.

Against this backdrop, there has even been speculation that the Reserve Bank may need to resort to ‘unconventional measures’ such as negative interest rates and quantitative easing to boost growth.

These measures have been widely used overseas but are foreign concepts to most Australians. So what are they?

 

Why negative rates?

Negative interest rates have been a feature of the global financial landscape since the GFC, in Japan and in Europe. European central banks charged banks to hold their deposits, encouraging them to lend out cash instead to kick start economic activity.

So far, the Reserve Bank hasn’t followed suit, but we are edging closer. The cash rate is at a record low of 0.75 per cent with further cuts expected.

Most economists think the Reserve Bank is unlikely to take rates below zero. Taking interest rates too low could run the risk of igniting another property boom.

If negative rates are off the table, another way to bankroll economic growth is quantitative easing.

 

What is quantitative easing?

In the aftermath of the GFC, central banks in the US, Japan and Europe printed money to buy government bonds and other assets. By pumping cash into the system they hoped to boost economic activity.

There has been much debate about whether quantitative easing worked as intended. What it did do was push investors into higher-risk assets such as shares and property in pursuit of better returns.

It has also increased global public and private debt to $200 trillion, or 225 per cent of global GDP. Until now, high debt levels have been supported by high asset prices. But when coupled with geopolitical and trade tensions, debt adds to the downward pressure on growth.

The slowdown in economic growth in Australia and elsewhere is reflected in falling bond rates. In recent times more than 10 European governments have issued bonds with negative interest rates.

In recent months, yields on Australian government 3-year and 10-year bonds have dipped below 1 per cent, an indication that the market expects growth to slow over the next decade.

 

What does this mean for me?

It seems more than likely that bank deposit rates will stay low for some time. That means investors seeking yield will continue to look to property and shares with sustainable dividends. But it may not be plain sailing.

Trade wars, Brexit, high asset prices and slowing economic growth are creating a great deal of uncertainty. Each new twist and turn in trade talks sends markets up in relief or down in disappointment.

After a decade of positive returns, and average annual returns of 7 per cent from their superannuation funds, investors may need to trim their expectations.

 

Time to plan ahead

If retirement is still a long way off, you can afford to ride out short-term market fluctuations. Even so, it’s important to make sure you are comfortable with the level of risk in your portfolio.

If you are close to retirement or already there, you need to have enough cash to fund your pension needs without having to sell assets during a period of market weakness. For the balance of your portfolio, you need a mix of investments that will allow you to sleep at night but still provide growth for the decades ahead. When markets recover, you want to catch the upswing.

Successful investing requires patience but also adaptability. If you would like to discuss your overall portfolio in the light of market developments, give us a call.

 


References

https://www.imf.org/en/Publications/WEO/Issues/2019/10/01/world-economic-outlook-october-2019

https://www.smh.com.au/politics/federal/200-trillion-in-global-debt-at-risk-if-trust-falters-oecd-20190909-p52pdr.html

https://www.ricewarner.com/can-super-funds-continue-to-meet-their-investment-targets/

Stretching your travel budget further

November 11, 2019

Many Australians will soon be jetting or sailing away on their annual overseas getaway. Unfortunately, the value of the Australian dollar has been falling against the US dollar, British pound, euro, yen and even the Indonesian rupiah.

Here are some suggestions on how to maximise your travel budget and have a memorable holiday.

 

Get the right cover

Taking out travel insurance is a sensible precaution, but you don’t want to pay more for it than necessary. Or pay for it, then discover it’s worthless.

Always read the fine print about limits, excesses and exclusions. As with all insurance, the more comprehensive the policy, the more it is likely to cost. If you’re motorcycling down Route 66, the expensive policy with greater coverage is probably a good investment. On the flip side, if you plan to laze away the days on a Fijian beach, you may be able to get away with a more basic policy.

While it’s convenient to arrange insurance via a travel agent, airline or credit card, it can pay to shop around for the best price and most relevant cover. Some credit cards come with free travel insurance but, be warned, the coverage is often modest.

And while your health, car or home insurer may also offer you a discount on travel insurance, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re getting value for money. Thanks to comparison sites, it’s now easy to get quotes from a variety of insurers. So do shop around before making a final decision.

 

Go online

Travel agents have their uses but booking your own flights and accommodation can save hundreds, even thousands, of dollars.

Hotels are great if you want to keep things simple and stress-free. But if you’re travelling as a group or wanting to immerse yourself in the city outside the walls of a hotel, Airbnb may be a cheaper alternative that gives you your own space to relax.

Thanks to the internet, you may even be able to arrange an international home-swap although this can take time. The two most popular sites for this are lovehomeswap.com and homeexchange.com.

A warning though – the digital age isn’t all upside for holidaymakers. If you use your mobile while abroad, keep an eye on your data usage and phone calls, so you don’t return home to eye-watering international roaming charges. Consider buying a local SIM card once you reach your destination (it will have a pay-as-you-go option or a flat rate for a set period). And only use your phone when you have access to free Wi-Fi at hotels, cafes and airports.

 

Choose the best payment option

Most travel experts these days suggest you carry a ‘mixed wallet’ for overseas trips, with a combination of some or all the following:

  • You can exchange your Australian dollars for foreign currency before or after departure. Typically, the more conveniently located the money changer, the higher the commission. (This is why savvy travellers avoid changing money at airports.)
  • Pre-paid travel cards. These are available at places such as banks and post offices. You pay to deposit specific amounts of foreign currency onto the card. You can then use the card to make purchases and withdraw cash from ATMs in your destination country. ATM fees are lower than if you used your regular bank cards, but you are generally also charged fees for loading up the card, using it to buy something in a currency other than the one it’s loaded up with and deactivating the card.
  • Your Australian debit or credit card – the upside of using these is convenience. The downside is having to pay significant withdrawal fees, currency conversion fees, foreign transaction fees and cash advance fees.

 

Dodge the ‘tourist tax’

It’s also worth keeping in mind that you can save money and get a richer experience of the country you’re visiting by acting like a local rather than a tourist.

For instance, buy alcohol from a supermarket rather than ordering it on room service. Catch public transport and dine where the locals eat rather than at overpriced restaurants next to major attractions.

Watching your travel spending does not mean you have to compromise on fantastic experiences and with a little bit of planning, you can still enjoy your overseas trip without breaking the bank.