FYI: Procrastination – Science and Remedy

FYI: Procrastination – Science and Remedy

INTRO: During the course of my 22 years of practicing law in the estate planning arena, a large percentage of my clients communicate that they: i) are uncomfortable about having procrastinated – some for years and others for decades – in establishing and/or reviewing and updating their estate plans; ii) feel relieved and pleased about having completed the project; and iii) indicate that the process was much easier and less stressful than they expected.

So, why do people procrastinate, and how can one overcome the tendency to procrastinate – both in general, and in connection with something as important as estate planning? I read with a keen interest a recent article in the Wall St. Journal, captioned “Never Procrastinate Again”. In this blog post, I’ll outline some interesting points raised in that article and highlight what I believe to be the key “take aways”.

The article states that procrastination is defined by scientists as “the intentional delay of an action despite foreseeable negative future consequences”. The author, Shirley S. Wang, points out that procrastination is not synonymous with laziness nor simply poor time management. We all know procrastinators – even chronic ones – whom we would be hard- pressed to label “lazy” or even bad time managers.

Most of my clients (and those who live in this community) are widely viewed as successful. It would therefore be logical to think that many of them procrastinate on certain projects because: a) they are perfectionists; b) they are somewhat paralyzed by their desire to do everything perfectly; and c) their associated anxiety causes them to avoid getting started.

Interestingly, however, studies indicate that it is not perfectionism or anxiety that prevents people from getting started. The article reflects that procrastinators “often seem unable to see clearly into the future about their choices and behaviors – a phenomenon she [Dr. Sirois] calls “temporal myopia”. In other words, “[T]heir vision of their future selves is often more abstract and impersonal, and they are less connected emotionally to these future selves”. Understandably, the high levels of stress experienced by procrastinators causes them to shift focus to immediate rather than distant matters.

Fascinating studies are being conducted in many countries with therapy and even software being developed for habitual procrastinators. Fortunately, some scientists believe the following represent constructive tools to remedy – break the cycle of – procrastination:

1) Break down the project goal into concrete sub-goals and commit to the exact time you will start to work on the task;

2) “Just get started”! – don’t get overwhelmed by a long list of tasks or intermediate steps that may be required to complete the project;

3) Remind yourself that completing a task now will help you in the future (and putting it off won’t make it more enjoyable);

4) Give yourself a reward for not only completing the whole project, but also for finishing each sub-goal.

Examples of the kinds of foreseeable negative future consequences you and your loved ones could suffer by procrastinating about estate planning are: tens of thousands of dollars in unnecessary probate fees and costs; substantial time and inconvenience in estate administration; unnecessary and stressful court intervention; causing your estate affairs to be open to the public instead of being handled privately; no control over distribution of assets to young adults or beneficiaries with special needs; and court appointment of people authorized to manage your finances, health care and/or minor children whom you would not want to do so.

On a more positive and constructive note, what tools would the above-referenced studies suggest to help you break the procrastination cycle and thus avoid such negative future consequences?

In estate planning, the process is typically broken down into concrete sub-goals or steps: i) contact an experienced estate planning attorney to discuss your situation, obtain a fee quote, and answer your preliminary questions; ii) complete the attorney’s Confidential Client Questionnaire; iii) schedule a meeting to discuss and decide upon key provisions of each estate planning document, with the attorney’s guidance and support; iv) review the documents prepared by your attorney; v) schedule an appointment to discuss and sign the documents, and vi) (assuming you establish a Living Trust) retitle assets into your Trust with the attorney’s instructions and advice.

Forgive yourself for procrastinating. Just get started and reward yourself each step of the way!

This article is intended to provide information of a general nature, and should not be relied upon as legal, tax, financial and/or business advice. Readers should obtain and rely upon specific advice only from their own qualified professional advisors. This communication is not intended or written to be used, for the purpose of: i) avoiding penalties under the Internal Revenue Code; or ii) promoting, marketing, or recommending to another party any matters addressed herein.

ESTATE & TRUST ADMINISTRATION: Need to find an experienced estate & trust administrator in Walnut Creek CA? Contact Robert Silverman at 925-705-4474 for legal advice on a Revocable Living Trust, “Summary” Estate Administration, Trust/Estate Beneficiary Representation and Will & Trust Disputes.

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