The Hawthorne Effect (also known as the Observer Effect), is something I have observed in my life more than once. The main thing I have seen is that when I start observing and taking close note of what I am doing, financially, I change how I act with money, thus I end up changing my lifestyle, but then having the wrong perspective on my financial life.
The specific example I can give, is when I decide that I am spending too much money (usually happens at least 3 times a year) and I want to see where the money is going. I start watching what I am spending, by becoming (even more) anal about recording expenditures in Quicken (my normal method for watching spending).
Typically when I start noting my financial life I end up:
Not buying lunch at the cafeteria at work, or limiting it to 1 or 2 meals a week, and eating more left overs for lunch
Attempt to have “no spending days” where at the end of the day I have the same amount of money in my pocket as when I started, but that becomes a bit of a cheat with Interac and Credit Cards.
Doing weekly and monthly reports to look at where the spending is happening and then “discussing” that with Mrs. C8j (OK, so it ends up in a fight because inevitably in the discussion I use the “What were YOU buying at Store Z?” phrase).
Doing all of this causes me to alter my spending habits, thus the data I am collecting is at best skewed and at worse, incorrect.
The best way I can do a real study on my spending habits is by looking at past data (in Quicken) and act on that data, however, when I do try to watch myself financially, I end up acting like I am supposed to act, so maybe that side-effect makes the whole exercise well worth while ?
One of the better “time management” tricks I have run in to over the years, has been the 10 minute rule, where my interpretation of it is:
If something takes 10 minutes or less to get done, do that first, and do the other stuff afterwards
It has been useful for me, as I have a tendency to get “stuck” and be unable to select any task to complete, but now, I simply find the little tasks and start doing those (which then gets me going to work on larger tasks), but how can we carry out this in terms of personal finance?
I guess the question is, what is a 600 second task financially ?
Updating your books (in Excel, Quicken, or whatever) should take less than 10 minutes, if you are doing it regularly.
Pay a bill as it arrives. Michael James commented on my Too Many Bill delivery Mechanisms posts that this is how he makes sure all bills get paid, pay them when they show up.