Many financial goals are fairly broad or generic such as building cash reserves, retiring or paying for a child’s college education. Unfortunately, there are many distractions that keep us from ever refining and achieving our goals. Taking a cue from personal productivity guru David Allen, the key to achieving any of these goals is defining the next specific action. In particular, the next specific action that moves you one step closer towards your goal.

Some of the distractions or obstacles that prevent us from achieving our goals include lack of clarity around the desired outcome, other commitments for our time or money, and difficulty with determining the specific next action. Entire books are written about building financial plans around your various goals which can be helpful with determining the feasibility and understanding the decisions that are specific action

It can also be debilitating in terms of making progress when just getting started appears overwhelming. Rather than rehashing the same old adages to make a plan or work with an advisor, I’d rather just see people get started doing something. The inertia of overcoming the first step is arguably the greatest obstacle to achieving financial success.

What does the first step look like? Here are a couple of examples based on the different goals outlined above. If you’re lacking a “rainy day” fund, the next time you’re at the bank (or online), open a separate savings account and setup an automatic transfer each month for a nominal amount of $50-$100. They key is to start with an amount that isn’t too large that you’ll give up after a couple of months because you needed the money for something else.

If your goal is retiring, ask your payroll department or go online to increase your retirement plan contribution rate by one percent. Once again, the idea is to gradually make the change so you don’t reduce it six months from now. Will this magically allow you to retire at age 65? Probably not, but it starts the process without a whole lot of effort on your part. Plus, you probably won’t even notice the reduction in income.

Do you want to help your children or grandchildren go to college? Consider opening a college savings plan for $50 per month through Wisconsin’s state-sponsored plan at This won’t cover all their expenses either but it’s a start and better than what most people have done because they just haven’t gotten around to it.

The key is not to figure everything out before starting but rather start doing something now. You’ll be ahead of everyone with the perfect plan but no results because they never acted on it. What’s your next action you’ll take today? Write it down and you’re even more likely to achieve your goals.

As published in the Racine Journal Times | May 3, 2017

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