The Productivity Spending Trap
Living and working in NYC, I suffer supremely from our national affliction of “busy-ness.” You know, that very common condition where you basically look, and even feel, extremely busy, rushed and overwhelmed, even if you just spent half your day reading the internet.
For some people, it’s a badge of honor: “I’m sooooooo busy!” I don’t bask in the glow of busy-ness. I don’t check my work email at night, I’m fading off of social media. I’m weaning myself off of too much news and I only wish I was taking exercise classes all week long.
But I do suffer from a general compulsion of being productive. Working mother syndrome. This can be just as insidious, especially as it relates to my precarious finances. Because here’s the thing: I associate spending money with getting things done. This is very, very bad.
Some people spend money to make themselves feel good. I spend money to feel little pings of relief from my mental to do list. The problem, of course, is that it is usually an illusion and the money I am spending is not really about being productive or getting things done at all. It’s about what can I do in 7 minutes (since that is all the attention span I have) that feels good.
Here’s an example – I have a small chunk of somewhat free time before I need to pick my son up at school. What can I accomplish with this time? Probably I will uselessly check my email (because I am working from home). Then I will check the news. Then I will walk from my dining room to my kitchen and back 6 or 7 times putting things where they belong. And then I will think to myself, what do I need – oh, yes, the dog needs treats. Let me go do a Chewy.com order.
Will I eventually need to get more treats? Yes. Do I really need them now? Probably not. So basically – bad move. If you can put a purchase off and it is not saving you money to buy it now, then the smart thing is to delay. But my busy-infected neurons are telling me that I am accomplishing something by incurring the cost now.
And that is one of the more innocuous examples. Often the thought process is more like, “I should really paint the kitchen and replace that ugly bakers rack,” which inevitably results in hours of online searches for inspiration, money being spent or both. This is not a smart financial strategy and it is one of the reasons I had to dig myself out of a hole.
Like checking email 100 times a day, hitting click on a purchase is an easy way to feel like we are doing something that we need to do. If I really wanted to be productive in that small free moment, I should have planned out dinner for the next two nights. That actually would have been productive, and saved money by ensuring I did not order out.
I am trying to be a lot more aware of those purchases that my brain disguises as “getting stuff done.” I keep analogue to do and shopping lists now in a little notebook and I only work from my list. It’s easier to be more discerning when you are adding something to an official list on paper. “Buy planters for tomato seedlings” does kind of have to happen because I planted the damn seeds and they’re growing. But “replace decrepit brown chair” is not on the list and will not be until such a time as is financially feasible.
Visit me on Pinterest...