With Star Wars back on the front burner of our entertainment culture, I am reminded of Yoda,
a Jedi master who was small of stature but had a way with words. A philosopher, he was.

Let me say this right up front: The SMI staff and I are pretty excited each month about the financial content and investing recommendations we bring you. You get easy-to-understand articles that build your understanding of sound financial practices and principles, and a variety of historically tested do-it-yourself investment strategies designed for either capital preservation or growth, depending on your goals and risk tolerance. We’re all about providing our members with “financial wisdom for living well.”

And yet our membership stats have shown that for every 100 new members who join the SMI family, about half of them leave our ranks after the first year. And another 20% drop out in the second or third year. Only about 30% continue to hang in after three years. Admittedly, some of those folks may have good reasons for departing. But based on reader feedback, we know that in a great many cases they just don’t seem to be willing to change from their present way of doing things to a new way of planning, spending, saving, and investing.

For most of us, change is hard. We may know we should change, want to change, and even begin the process of change, but seeing the effort through until new attitudes and habit patterns are established and change is actually accomplished takes time as well as commitment. And who among us has a lot of extra time on our hands?

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by the late Stephen Covey has sold more than 25 million copies. In it, Covey explained a way of thinking about time management that has been used by top-level business and ministry executives around the world. He divided the way in which we spend our time into four groups, distinguishing between tasks that are important versus those that are not, and tasks that are urgent versus those that are not:

  • Quadrant 1 are those things of importance that are happening right now or very soon — dealing with a crisis or problem, or meeting an important deadline. They are both important and urgent, and demand our attention.
  • Quadrant 2 items are also very important, but they don’t have a “must do now” imperative associated with them. Most planning, preparation, and problem-prevention activities fall here. Nothing obviously bad happens if we don’t get around to them this week or month. That makes them easy to postpone.
  • Quadrant 3 activities — phone calls, interruptions, much email, some meetings — also take up our time, but they’re usually not helpful. We should ignore these more than we do.
  • Quadrant 4 items are, by definition, optional. They’re neither pressing nor important. We can save valuable time here if we choose to. They include most online activities, TV viewing, and various busywork.

Covey maintained that Quadrant 2 items are the critical ones. They’re easy to postpone, but they have important long-term consequences. Investing time here requires discipline, but it offers the greatest returns — in family relationships, career advancement, and financial rewards.

Becoming an SMI member shows an openness to change, possibly even an awareness that change is needed. But when it becomes apparent to the newer member that a time commitment is required to work one’s way through the Four Levels process and get on the road to building a financial house that will stand the test of time, too many fall by the wayside. “I found I just wasn’t reading it each month” and “I just don’t have the time” are two common responses from those who don’t renew their subscriptions.

If this describes you, it’s not too late to change how you manage your time. You’ve got us coming alongside you each month with biblically based guidance. You know you’ve got the time — all you have to do is take it from Quadrants 3 and 4. And you’ve got the encouraging example of others like yourself who have gone before you — about 4,000 current members have been with SMI for five years or longer. They’ve made the effort to become Quadrant 2 people.

As Yoda might say, “Join them. Someday thankful you will be!”