May 06 2016
Busy-ness/Productivity/Saving Money

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.

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    • Thank you Michelle! I still struggle with it, like yesterday when I bought two months worth of greeting cards. Between graduations, Father’s Day (can’t forget the grandpa’s!) and yet more niece and nephew birthdays (my sisters went forth and multiplied) I’m dropped major money. On greeting cards, and not the fancy ones! Probably would have been better to spread it out. Grrr…

  • “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.’

    ^Yes! Mrs. Superhero and I have found this to be very true. Like you, I often fall into the trap of trying to make small batches of idle time become productive. I am learning that it is OK to have unproductive moments from time to time.

    Great insights!

    • Yes! This is because our brains are so trained not to have a moment of boredom. It’s not good. Not only is it bad for our bottom line, it is ruining our ability to focus and get real work done…

  • I think of actually getting stuff done as “getting stuff done.” Mowing the lawn, taking the dog for a walk, responding to e-mails, etc… Spending, a.k.a. “getting stuff” is pretty much the opposite of “getting stuff done.” The more stuff you have, the more stuff you have to deal with.

    Cheers!
    -PoF

  • I hate the appearance and glorification of busy. I am so often the only one in the park or line who is looking up at others, the architecture, the bear that just entered and is an immediate threat to my welfare.

  • This sounds similar to the phenomenon of people equating having fun and spending money. “I’m not spending money, so how can I be having fun?” Yet when we reflect on our most fun days, the connection to spending money evaporates…

    • Honestly… when you look back on those moments that really give your life meaning, the weight always comes from the connection with those you love. File under ridiculously obvious things we need to be constantly reminded of…

  • This was such an interesting read & quite frankly, so true! When I run errands I feel like a boss and then later when I check my bank account feel sick to my stomach! haha
    Love your writing!

    xoxo,
    Anna
    LifeandLattes.com

    1. shelley 02:40pm 05 February - 2017 - Reply

      I absolutely agree! We’ve got this national obsession with being busy – like whoever is the busiest gets a prize.

      • Brooklyn Bread 11:24am 06 February - 2017 - Reply

        Thank you Shelley – it is something I struggle with a lot!

    2. Anna Mullikin Freeman 10:52pm 16 August - 2016 - Reply

      This was such an interesting read & quite frankly, so true! When I run errands I feel like a boss and then later when I check my bank account feel sick to my stomach! haha
      Love your writing!

      xoxo,
      Anna
      LifeandLattes.com

      • Brooklyn Bread 07:59am 17 August - 2016 - Reply

        Ah, Thank you Anna. And thank you for checking out my site!

        -Linda

    3. Portia @ Obsessed by Portia 02:28pm 14 August - 2016 - Reply

      Great advice! Nice work!!!

    4. Millennial Moola 11:16am 27 June - 2016 - Reply

      Maybe decorate decrepit brown chair to make it “hipster alternative beautiful brown chair that might have been purchased at anthropologie for $10,000”

      • Brooklyn Bread 06:01am 28 June - 2016 - Reply

        Ha! I wish… It’s kind of beyond that. Instead I drool over the chair I really do covet from Anthropologie!

    5. Kurt 03:18pm 07 June - 2016 - Reply

      This sounds similar to the phenomenon of people equating having fun and spending money. “I’m not spending money, so how can I be having fun?” Yet when we reflect on our most fun days, the connection to spending money evaporates…

      • Brooklyn Bread 04:14pm 07 June - 2016 - Reply

        Honestly… when you look back on those moments that really give your life meaning, the weight always comes from the connection with those you love. File under ridiculously obvious things we need to be constantly reminded of…

    6. […] The Productivity Spending Trap | Brooklyn Bread via Rockstar Finance […]

    7. ZJ Thorne 09:19pm 06 June - 2016 - Reply

      I hate the appearance and glorification of busy. I am so often the only one in the park or line who is looking up at others, the architecture, the bear that just entered and is an immediate threat to my welfare.

      • Brooklyn Bread 10:08pm 06 June - 2016 - Reply

        There is something disturbing about looking around and seeing nothing but people staring into their phones. Dystopian future!

    8. Physician on FIRE 05:52pm 06 June - 2016 - Reply

      I think of actually getting stuff done as “getting stuff done.” Mowing the lawn, taking the dog for a walk, responding to e-mails, etc… Spending, a.k.a. “getting stuff” is pretty much the opposite of “getting stuff done.” The more stuff you have, the more stuff you have to deal with.

      Cheers!
      -PoF

    9. FinanceSuperhero 03:15pm 06 June - 2016 - Reply

      “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.’

      ^Yes! Mrs. Superhero and I have found this to be very true. Like you, I often fall into the trap of trying to make small batches of idle time become productive. I am learning that it is OK to have unproductive moments from time to time.

      Great insights!

      • Brooklyn Bread 05:03pm 06 June - 2016 - Reply

        Yes! This is because our brains are so trained not to have a moment of boredom. It’s not good. Not only is it bad for our bottom line, it is ruining our ability to focus and get real work done…

    10. Michelle @ These Two Things 01:25pm 06 June - 2016 - Reply

      This is so great. I have also tried to adopt this mindset. No more wandering around the shops without a list. Thank you for sharing.

      • Brooklyn Bread 02:08pm 06 June - 2016 - Reply

        Thank you Michelle! I still struggle with it, like yesterday when I bought two months worth of greeting cards. Between graduations, Father’s Day (can’t forget the grandpa’s!) and yet more niece and nephew birthdays (my sisters went forth and multiplied) I’m dropped major money. On greeting cards, and not the fancy ones! Probably would have been better to spread it out. Grrr…

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