As a regular writer for this magazine, I am intimately familiar with procrastination. It is a rare month indeed, when my column is safely tucked away in my hard drive, days ahead of the due date. The almost invariable course is for me to be scribbling away into the night just before deadline (or even, to my editor’s chagrin, the night after deadline) having postponed the inevitable until the last possible moment. I have heard of writers who routinely plan ahead and complete their work well ahead of the appointed hour (I even knew a woman in college who always had her assignments done well in advance, and was sure to let us know with a sense of smug self-assurance), but they are surely the rare exception.
Why, you might ask, would a writer on business topics such as succession planning deign to bore his readers with reflections on what might appear to be a merely personal problem? Because, as it turns out, procrastination in my clients is one of the chief problems in my professional practice. Before you jump up and exclaim “Poetic Justice,” allow me to continue. Because you, my kind readers, might be subject to the same malady to your own detriment.
Famously, among the inevitabilities in life, are death and taxes. But for my business owner clients, there is an additional closely related inevitability—leaving their business. My clients think about leaving their business all the time, but procrastinate about actually doing something to prepare for that exit. My clients are hard-working, industrious folks. They don’t procrastinate about everything—they are not reluctant to plan a vacation or plan to go to an Eagles game, or plan to go out to dinner—so how can I get them to plan for their business exits?
An estate planning lawyer of my acquaintance also commiserates that her clients are tremendous procrastinators. They know that they need to plan their estates, and that, yes, someday they will die, and that they don’t want to leave their affairs disordered for spouse and children, yet are still reluctant to plan for the inevitable. Interestingly, my lawyer acquaintance reports, that sometimes the prospect of foreign travel will spur her clients into action. Similarly, I have observed that there is nothing like a sudden medical reverse—say a mild heart attack—to cause my clients to want to focus intently on planning their business exit. But need it require the near prospect of disaster to motivate us to plan for the inevitable?
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