Almost no one would say they don’t really care about making progress financially. “Sure some people might want to be better off a month from now or a year or 5 years from now. That’s fine for them. Me, I just like limping along with my mediocre paycheck to paycheck life”. Who would say that?
The reality is most of us have goals we want to accomplish. The problem is we have too many goals. We know we should be getting out of debt. But then we also should be building up our savings. Of course, the roof is starting to show some signs of age and one of the cars has too many miles. Of course, Jr. hopes to go to college and we’d like to help. And of course how could I forget about retirement. Don’t really want to still be working when I’m 85. Phew! Where do I start?
Like a rat on a wheel
When you are trying to do too many things at once, most likely you will soon feel like a rat running in one of those little wheels. You try harder and harder, run faster and faster, but at the end of the day you feel like you have accomplished very little. It is discouraging and very easy to just give up.
This is where I was for many years. I made a decent wage, but it just never seemed like I could quite get ahead. No matter how hard I tried there was never quite enough to go around. Success was a dream that always seemed just one step out of reach.
The problem was I was trying to accomplish too many things at once and wasn’t really able to make much progress on any of them. The end result was a lot of frustration and discouragement.
The key to progress
The real secret to getting anything accomplished is focus. I think this is one of the primary reasons that Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University has been successful in getting so many people out of debt. The key to the “baby steps” is that you focus on each one in turn.
First, you put all your efforts into building a small starter emergency fund. At this point you aren’t saving for retirement or college or even worrying about paying anything but minimum payments. Then you move on to the debt snowball and you focus all your attention, every penny you can squeeze out of your budget on one debt at a time until it is paid off. When those are taken care of you focus all of your attention on expanding that starter emergency fund out to a real 3-6 month emergency fund.
The reason this works is focus and intensity. When you are trying to do so many things at once, you find that you make only minimal progress on each one. It becomes overwhelming and it is so easy to just give up. When you are focused only on one thing at a time, you feel like you are actually accomplishing something. You see real progress as savings go up and debt goes down. It helps provide the catalyst to pursue your goal with even more intensity.
I love the image that Alexander Graham Bell presented in this quote:
Concentrate all your thoughts upon the work at hand. The sun’s rays do not burn until brought to a focus. – Alexander Graham Bell
I spent many years trying to do a little bit of this and a little of that. It always felt a little like a juggler struggling to keep one too many plates in the air. If you can relate to that thought, take advantage of the power of focus.
What do you need to focus on today?
Photo credit: John “Pathfinder” Lester (creative commons)