Millionaire Planning, Not Retirement Planning

Black Branch in Smoke

One of the big problems I have been pondering lately is that people just don’t understand that “saving for retirement” should start NOW not later, because of the incredible tax advantages of Roth IRAs (which have been around since 1997), et cetera. If you haven’t started, you don’t ever get that chance to have contributed $5500 per year for prior years back. Secondly, people don’t realize these accounts are just wrappers for many types of investments. A Roth IRA in a “safe” money market fund, T-bills, et cetera is a terrible loss. These accounts provide a rare, easily accessible form of lawful tax sheltering by which no capital gains tax are assessed when withdrawals are made at Age 59.5 or older. The way to maximize capital gains over long periods of time (e.g., 15+ years) is to invest your Roth IRA in the stock market (e.g., an S&P 500 index fund). Thirdly, you can start very young, and the additive and compounding benefits are both incredible. Even a 14-year-old working at Publix can lawfully contribute to a Roth IRA, up to his/her total IRS-reported gross income for the year or $5500, whichever is less. How many parents encourage or set something like this up for their children? One broader principle here is that, for tax reasons, years where income is low are missed opportunities (e.g., the college graduate’s “late start” earnings disadvantage).

Additionally, I think financial education has so butchered the topic of “retirement” that people do not understand what they are missing out on. Looking at retirement planning as something nebulous or that something one can “catch up” on later, after their immediate financial challenges are overcome (news flash: never), is common among American young and middle-aged adults. This perception is atrocious and must be eradicated. Perhaps we should call it “millionaire planning” or “the guaranteed path to being rich” to capture people’s attention. Secondly, people are living longer, and many will keep working past 59.5, 65, 70, et cetera. We could reasonably replace the idea that you are planning for retirement with the idea that you are planning to be wealthy, free, and financially independent at a time when you might still have 30–40 good years left.

To facilitate this change in perception, we need to stop calling the Age 50+ IRA contribution limits “catch-up limits.” Unless the U.S. government is going to start letting people contribute for prior missed years (and even then, lost capital gains would be enormous), there is NO catching up, because you could have contributed the maximum in all prior working years PLUS the catch-up maximum each year after Age 50. A simple change wording change to “increased limits” might suffice. Behavioral economics shows us that people, including even experts, cannot reliably assess opportunity cost. We need to get people picturing tax-advantaged retirement contributions visually as buckets for each year where the lid for the 2017 bucket gets permanently sealed on 4/17/2018 and whoops, you just lost $50K+ by not contributing $5500 to your IRA for 2017. Simultaneously, we must convincingly convey that the optimal solution is to contribute the maximum this year and every year going forward—prior missed opportunities should not be an excuse to throw one’s hands up in defeat, nor to say things like “you’ve got to live your life sometime” or “I deserve a new car” rather than contributing to one’s tax-advantaged retirement account. Sadly, the phrase “retirement planning” and even the word “retirement” itself have been poisoned in the minds of many Americans—forever consigned to the status of should-but-won’t-do.

Photo by Richard Thripp, © 2012. Every year you do not contribute to a tax-advantaged retirement account is akin to money going up in flames.

Consumer Susceptibility to Bank Overdraft Fees: Evidence and Implications

Consumer Susceptibility to Bank Overdraft Fees: Evidence and Implications
Richard Thripp
University of Central Florida

Even in 2001, Soman noted the dizzying array of payment mechanisms available to consumers. While traveler’s checks have vanished, many more mechanisms have emerged—near-field communication (NFC) payment methods like Apple and Android Pay, mobile apps, Bitcoin, PayPal, and digital gift cards, to name a few. Nevertheless, the factors that Soman (2001) experimentally substantiated remain—the “learning and rehearsal of the price paid” and “immediacy with which wealth is depleted” (p. 466). Cash has both, paper checks have the former, and credit cards and many emergent payment methods have neither. The presence of these factors makes spending painful, while their absence encourages buying by making it less real, including by bundling the purchases together to be paid at a later date. However, a consideration Soman (2001) did not examine is that debit cards’ direct connection to one’s bank account engenders delinquency and overdraft fees—a fee of about $35 a bank charges for your account going negative. At times, immediacy can do this—a credit card is paid monthly in a lump sum, which gives just one opportunity for overdraft. At other times, delayed or recurring debits, due to their lack of immediacy and/or variability in cost, can cause costly overdraft fees.

Stango and Zinman (2009, 2014) lament that consumers pay an annual average of about $150 per checking account in overdraft fees, and more than half of these are “avoidable,” meaning the consumer has funds available elsewhere that could have paid for their purchase. They recruited panelists who not only completed questionnaires, but also provided access to their transaction-level checking account data. Their 7448 panelists participated for a median of 16 months, with over 95% reporting having only one checking account. A majority (52%) incurred an overdraft fee during the panel or in the past. Questionnaire responses revealed that 60% attributed overdrafts to mental overestimation of available balance, while the remainder generally reported deposit holds or other unexpected liquidity irregularities. An economist who erroneously models humans as rational maximizers might surmise that consumers pay overdraft fees because the marginal utility of the debit exceeds the sum of the debit amount and overdraft fee—but Stango and Zinman’s (2014) data and questionnaires point toward a limited attention model, meaning consumers simply are not paying close enough attention to their checking accounts. However, drawing consumers’ attention to overdraft fees via questionnaires was found, by examination of their transaction-level bank data, to result in fewer overdrafts in subsequent months.

Employing the inattention model, one is empowered to advocate for regulatory reform to improve social welfare (Grubb, 2015). The Federal Reserve took an important step when they required banks to make opting in the requirement for overdraft protection on debit cards. This nudge (Thaler & Sunstein, 2008) prevents many overdrafts, and the requisite fees, at the point of sale. However, it does nothing for recurring intrabank transfers, automated clearinghouse transactions, or checks, all of which may still trigger overdraft fees. Notably, in addition to attention, quantitative literacy and numerical skills have been shown to positively correlate with financial behaviors that are future-oriented, rather than impulsive (Nye & Hillyard, 2013).

Lusardi and Mitchell (2014) discuss a saddening finding from the U.S. Financial Capability Study (www.usfinancialcapability.org): While 70% of Americans rate their financial knowledge highly, only 30% can actually answer a small number of quite basic financial questions correctly. Less education and being in a vulnerable group, such as African Americans, women, young or old, and rural residence, are all correlated with less financial literacy and by consequence, susceptibility to overdraft fees. At a macro level, this undermines American economic stability and perpetuates wealth inequality, including the subjugation and disenfranchisement of vulnerable and protected groups (Lusardi, Michaud, & Mitchell, 2017).

Implications and More Evidence

Here is a simple inductive leap: If consumers cannot even manage their bank accounts prudently, how can we expect them to accumulate wealth judiciously and copiously? “Retirement”—which might be characterized as a prolonged period of reduced earnings subsidized by decumulation of capital—is a pricey proposition. Financial literacy education (FLE), or, providing students and consumers with general-purpose instruction on relevant financial topics, intuitively appears to be a practical and effective solution.

However, L. E. Willis argues, with astonishing prolificacy, that financial literacy education (FLE) is misguided and pointless (e.g., Willis, 2008). A law professor, she paints personal finance as a fast-moving river where yesterday’s advice—and regulations, for that matter—are soon stale and even detrimental, in part because the financial services industry prospers on complexity and chaos. For example, adjustable-rate mortgages were rare before the mid-2000s, and sadly, homebuying education only warned strenuously about such mortgages after the crisis. Of course, mistaking your mortgage broker for a fiduciary (i.e., Ross & Squires, 2011) transcends FLE—avoiding confidence tricks requires a different set of psychosocial skills that only partially overlaps with financial literacy.

While it would be disingenuous to depict Willis’s dourness as more than a fringe view, the coalition behind FLE can rightly be depicted as Pollyannaish—or even, in certain quarters, diabolical (cf. English, 2014). When Fernandes, Lynch, and Netemeyer (2014) completed their meta-analysis of FLE interventions, they found FLE curdles like milk—even sprawling, semester-long courses do nothing to improve behavior two years in the future. In fact, complementary to Willis (2008), they propose to disembowel FLE right in their abstract— “just-in-time” FLE is their neutered, potentially-useful alternative. Even Lewis Mandell, professor emeritus, at the forefront of financial education and research for over 40 years, in 2012 called for a moratorium on mandatory financial literacy courses in secondary school, because “successful implementation of [financial] educational programs has not occurred” (Mandell, 2012, p. 107)— they simply do not work as presently conceived.

What We Can Do

In the field of instructional design, there is a widely voiced reverence for principles over technology. While technologies are like rapids, principles—such as the alignment of assessment tools with learning objectives—are timeless. In a similar vein, to encourage avoidance of bank and credit fees, we might focus on teaching strategies rather than financial content. For instance, numeracy and quantitative literacy are important (Nye & Hillyard, 2013), yet distinct from FLE and perhaps not actually taught in most FLE programs.

Ironically, Willis (2009) proposes a promising yet untested alternative: financial norms education (FNE). FNE principles, or benchmarks[1], are more accessible, memorable, and require less cognitive load (e.g., Drexler, Fischer, & Schoar, 2014). For bank fees, you could start with a piece of empirical evidence from Stango and Zinman’s (2009, 2014) research: 83% of panelists who incurred overdraft fees regularly let their balance slip below $100, while only 56% of panelists who did not incur overdraft fees did so. Consequently, a teachable benchmark would be to maintain a cushion of at least $100 in your checking account. Instructionally, you could integrate this with stories and videos from individuals who did not keep $100 in their checking account, and suffered the consequences.

The inattention model (Grubb, 2015; Stango & Zinman, 2014) serves as a useful and empirically supported framework for characterizing susceptibility to overdraft fees. In fact, it could be applied to many other personal-finance issues such as late payment fees, not knowing terms of loans or interest rates, failure to shop around for insurance, and misplaced priorities when acquiring income, making purchases, or paying debts. Surprisingly, if we compare to Fernandes et al.’s (2014) findings, salience—merely bringing a matter to the student’s attention—may be more important than education when it comes to overdraft fees.

Finally, credit unions—which are widespread, not-for-profit alternatives to banks—might borrow a page from Thaler and Sunstein’s (2008) “nudge theory” by displaying members’ checking account balances in red with a warning message when below $100. We can expect Bank of America to continue their Better Money Habits educational program—corporate citizenship has little cost if Fernandes et al. (2014) holds true. However, being that bank overdrafts are a $30–40 billion annual industry (Stango & Zinman, 2014), nudging customers away from making the bank money is a hard sell to executives and shareholders. Thus, we might suggest another benchmark to financial students: Join a credit union. Even if FLE is dead, the outlook for research, innovation, and real progress in financial education are optimistic—but only if effective strategies are employed.

References

Drexler, A., Fischer, G., & Schoar, A. (2014). Keeping it simple: Financial literacy and rules of thumb. American Economic Journal: Applied Economics6(2), 1–31. https://doi.org/10.1257/app.6.2.1

English, L. M. (2014). Financial literacy: A critical adult education appraisal. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, 2014(141), 47–55. https://doi.org/10.1002/ace.20084

Fernandes, D., Lynch, J. G., Jr., & Netemeyer, R. G. (2014). Financial literacy, financial education, and downstream financial behaviors. Management Science, 60, 1861–1883. https://doi.org/10.1287/mnsc.2013.1849

Grubb, M. D. (2015). Consumer inattention and bill-shock regulation. Review of Economic Studies, 82, 219–257. https://doi.org/10.1093/restud/rdu024

Lusardi, A., Michaud, P.-C., & Mitchell, O. S. (2017). Optimal financial knowledge and wealth inequality. Journal of Political Economy, 125, 431–477. https://doi.org/10.1086/690950

Lusardi, A., & Mitchell, O. S. (2014). The economic importance of financial literacy: Theory and evidence. Journal of Economic Literature, 52, 5–44. https://doi.org/10.1257/jel.52.1.5

Mandell, L. (2012). School-based financial education: Not ready for prime time. CFA Institute Research Foundation, 2012(3), 107–124.

Nye, P., & Hillyard, C. (2013). Personal financial behavior: The influence of quantitative literacy and material values. Numeracy, 6(1), 1–24. https://doi.org/10.5038/1936-4660.6.1.3

Ross, L. M., & Squires, G. D. (2011). The personal costs of subprime lending and the foreclosure crisis: A matter of trust, insecurity, and institutional deception. Social Science Quarterly, 92, 140–163. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1540-6237.2011.00761.x

Soman, D. (2001). Effects of payment mechanism on spending behavior: The role of rehearsal and immediacy of payments. Journal of Consumer Research, 27, 460–474. https://doi.org/10.1086/319621

Stango, V., & Zinman, J. (2009). What do consumers really pay on their checking and credit card accounts? Explicit, implicit, and avoidable costs. The American Economic Review, 99, 424–429. https://doi.org/10.1257/aer.99.2.424

Stango, V., & Zinman, J. (2014). Limited and varying consumer attention: Evidence from shocks to the salience of bank overdraft fees. The Review of Financial Studies, 27, 990–1030. https://doi.org/10.1093/rfs/hhu008

Thaler, R. H., & Sunstein, C. R. (2008). Nudge: Improving decisions about health, wealth, and happiness. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Willis, L. E. (2008). Against financial-literacy education. Iowa Law Review94, 197–285.

Willis, L. E. (2009). Evidence and ideology in assessing the effectiveness of financial literacy education. San Diego Law Review46, 415–458.

  1. I refrain from calling them rules of thumb because of the association with domestic violence, even though the tale has been discredited. (Return to text)

Critique of “Exploring the spiritual needs of people dying of lung cancer or heart failure” by Murray et al. (2004)

This is a critique of a qualitative empirical study by Murray,
Kendall, Boyd, Worth, and Benton (2004)
that I wrote on 2017-11-01 for the class, EDF 7475: Qualitative Research in Education taught by David Boote, Ph.D. at University of Central Florida. Note that all three critiques of qualitative articles I wrote for this course were articles I personally selected.

EDF 7475 Article Critique Three
Richard Thripp
University of Central Florida

Article Citation

Murray, S. A., Kendall, M., Boyd, K., Worth, A., & Benton, T. F. (2004). Exploring the spiritual needs of people dying of lung cancer or heart failure: A prospective qualitative interview study of patients and their carers. Palliative Medicine, 18, 39–45. https://doi.org/10.1191/0269216304pm837oa

Summary

The authors interviewed Scottish patients (n = 40) and carers, longitudinally with quarterly, in-home interviews over a one-year period (each of 40 to 120 minutes in length). Patients all suffered terminal, inoperable lung cancer or advanced heart disease. This article focuses on interviewees’ spiritual needs while dealing with their illnesses, both mentally and physically. The authors used semi-structured interviews, ostensibly in the narrative tradition evidenced by prominent placement of interviewees’ quotes and resultant themes. Findings were that spiritual needs are important yet often go unfulfilled, in particular for heart failure patients, although this is often due to reluctance to seek help from chaplains and others.

Contribution to the Field

Terminally ill patients are a difficult population to gain access to. Despite this, the authors managed to interview 40 such patients from two different disease trajectories (inoperable lung cancer and heart failure), with multiple follow-ups and, in this article, a focus on spiritual needs which, by itself, is a difficult field of inquiry. Consequently, the authors’ research has a strong intrinsic contribution. While it joins a chorus of research saying that health professionals have too high a patient load and not enough time to provide individualized care, here, it is patients’ worth, dignity, and spiritual fulfillment that is on the line—intangibles that are complementary to medicine. A small but potentially important contribution is Patient 10’s complaint on Page 42 about bedrails and dignity—other research has shown bedrails are ineffective at preventing serious falls, and in the past decade they have been disappearing.

Strengths and Weaknesses

A primary weakness of this article is that the longitudinal element was not employed. On Pages 40–41 the authors outline attrition at each interview—the modal cause was death, with 18 of 28 attritions decimating the sample size from 40 in the first interview to 12 in the fourth interview. However, quotes, the narrative, and the discussion all talk about participants in general terms, with no indication of participants’ gender, Scottish heritage, how spirituality changed between interviews, or whether spirituality was different for survivors as compared to the 18 subjects who passed away during the study. This seems like a large, missed opportunity. The authors claim to follow the “techniques of narrative analysis” (p. 41)—and yet, do not weave together the different interviews of subjects at three-month intervals into cohesive narratives. What we have is more of an ad-hoc selection of quotes and themes that fails even to effectively delineate or allow comparisons between the narratives of carers and patients. Moreover, spiritual needs were just one of several foci for the authors’ interviews—although this facilitates multiple publications, it does not give us a holistic picture of the participants. Another weakness is the authors say “the social context of each interview was considered in the analysis of the resulting data” (p. 40) but with no elaboration—“trust us” is the implication.

A strength is that the authors elucidated stark contrasts between lung cancer and heart failure patients. Their underlying methodology to recruit 20 patients from each group was well-documented and contributed to these findings. Ethical concerns were admirably addressed with approval and informed consent at multiple levels, including written consent before each quarterly interview. Occasionally, the authors distilled the interviews into generalizations, such as heart failure patients being less spiritually fulfilled due in part to not knowing when they will die, unlike terminal lung cancer patients. Fortunately, these generalizations were backed up with thick description of themes derived from patient and carer quotes. In particular, interviewing many participants simultaneously with their carers revealed that carers may be harsh—for example: “I think he probably needs a gun”… [carer turns toward patient] … “if you were a horse, they would shoot you” (p. 43) was shocking. It would have been nice to see more from these informal, primarily family or spouse carers on what patients were like before their diagnosis, which health professionals would not typically know firsthand. Nonetheless, a big strength of this article is simply that this is a difficult and sensitive population to gain access to.

Contribution to My Understanding

This article helped me understand that qualitative research can be combined with quasi-experimental grouping. Here, the groups were terminal lung cancer and heart failure patients. Today, I talked with my doctoral adviser about dissertation designs in financial education—my area of interest. He suggested developing a training program with pre- and post-questionnaires to different populations—or, alternately, simple survey research—for instance, tax-advantaged investing could be surveyed and/or taught to low-, mid-, and high-income participants. The underlying thread of studying different groups is similar. This article had good examples of theory-guided thematic analysis, semi-structured interviewing techniques (see “useful prompts”; p. 40), and comparison and contrast of two groups (i.e., lung and heart patients). Although my research will mainly be quantitative, many principles remain the same (e.g., use of theory and avoiding loaded prompts). In particular, the “intermingling” of hope and despair (p. 42) among terminal patients may also be seen among the financially challenged, although less acutely. Finally, the authors drew on their connections, expertise and social acumen to gain access to this population. Because finance is a sensitive topic, there are parallels with my research interests.

Critique of “The buying impulse” by Rook (1987)

This is a critique of a qualitative empirical study by Rook (1987) that I wrote on 2017-10-18 for the class, EDF 7475: Qualitative Research in Education taught by David Boote, Ph.D. at University of Central Florida.

EDF 7475 Article Critique Two
Richard Thripp
University of Central Florida

Article Citation

Rook, D. W. (1987). The buying impulse. Journal of Consumer Research, 14, 189–199. https://doi.org/10.1086/209105

Summary

Rook (1987), working as a research associate for a large advertising agency, asked participants (n = 133; mainly college students) three retrospective, open-ended questions about the “sudden urge to buy something” (p. 192), which asked participants to articulate the origins of the impulses, recall in-the-moment feelings, and describe detrimental consequences of impulse shopping. Rook criticizes past literature for characterizing impulse shopping merely as “unplanned purchasing”; proposes a new definition recognizing the overwhelming urge to buy, hedonic complexity and “emotional conflict” (p. 191); and justifies this exploratory study as addressing a literature gap, a need for “thicker description” (Geertz, 1973 as cited by Rook, 1987), and as a counterpoint to “excessive reductivism in behavioral research” (p. 192). In analyzing responses, themes emerged such as the “BUY NOW!” urge (p. 193), excitement, feelings of synchronicity, hedonism and regret, and, notably, 80% of participants detailing some sort of negative consequences.

Contribution to the Field

This is a staple citation in literature reviews on purchasing decisions and consumer behavior, perhaps because it refined impulse buying, phenomenologically examined the nature of buying impulses, and argued, armed with thick descriptions, that such impulses are fundamentally different from other purchasing behaviors. In fact, Rook is audacious enough to impugn past research as having “suffered from a phenomenological failure to identify what a buying impulse actually is” (p. 196). Rook’s paper is part of the zeitgeist of the emerging prominence of behavioral economics as a field of inquiry, along with Prospect Theory (Kahneman & Tversky, 1979) and papers like Thaler and Shefrin’s (1981) “An economic theory of self-control.” However, its contribution is hindered by (a) lack of methodological innovation, with an emphasis on self-completed written questionnaires, and (b) reliance on retrospective self-report, which is in conflict with behavioral economics’ contention that people behave irrationally and may not be able to describe, reflect on, or even notice this irrationality. Nevertheless, it was a starting point for further research by Rook and others on impulse buying, and, with over 2000 citations (according to Google Scholar), also had a broader impact on consumer research.

Strengths and Weaknesses

This paper had several methodological strengths, such as using quota sampling to sample across genders and age groups evenly, a rigorous content-analysis procedure with thematic coding requiring 1862 separate judgements for 14 coding categories from two graduate-student judges, and a design that allowed the 133 participants to freely reflect on their impulse buying. Ideally, this design might have been augmented by following a small number of participants to a mall, in a protocol analysis where they verbalized their cognitive processes while shopping. With only reflective questionnaires, both response and memory biases may have affected results.

Rook notes that half of participants self-completed the instrument in writing while half were interviewed, but modality is not mentioned regarding quotes and inferences in the qualitative narrative. Quotes from participants and the surrounding narrative are vivid, riveting, and insightful. However, with only eight headings in this section, it is not clear what the 14 coding categories were. A table with categories and percentages would be helpful, both in this section and the negative consequences section, the latter also being hindered by its surprising brevity. How the included quotes were selected is also not clarified. Nonetheless, Rook’s discussion section is pointed, addressing memory bias, situational factors, and his study’s methodological limitations. Rook even suggests that credit cards and 24-hour retailing may enable impulse buying, foreshadowing the “dark nudges” Sunstein and Thaler would warn of two decades later in Nudge.

Contribution to My Understanding

The data analysis section of this article showed me that a priori coding categories can justifiably be used, and that if I had 133 responses to analyze with an average of 181 words, which is as long as a dissertation, I would want to use software such as NVivo 11 to manage and graphically guide the coding procedure. Nonetheless, two graduate assistants, with enough time, can do this without software. Rook (1987) prominently features quotes and terms used by respondents, which lets their experiences speak for themselves, but is guided by the overall narrative of impulse buying being intense but bittersweet. Overall, before reading this I had discounted the value of reflective free-response interviews and questionnaires, but I learned they can be used to frame a problem, guide future research, gain insights, and argue a point, as Rook (1987) did with impulse buying. Therefore, I will consider this method as an alternative or supplement to a protocol analysis of individuals interacting with mobile banking interfaces. After reading this article, I learned more about behavioral economics from reading encyclopedia entries, book descriptions, and other studies, which contributes to my understanding of the psychological and irrational elements of consumer spending and financial decision-making. Methodologically, respect for allowing participants to respond uninterrupted—and to record and incorporate their writings or utterances verbatim—was evident throughout this paper and is something I need to work on, as I have a sort of compulsion to copy-edit and otherwise “clean up” others’ writing and speech.

High- vs. low-cognitive load work, environments, and mental fatigue

Some tasks simply require more cognitive load than others. Certain work environments are conducive to low-cognitive load (LCL) work while it would be foolish to attempt high-cognitive load (HCL) work in these environments. Further, one’s mental state and energy level (e.g., Staal, 2004) also matter. I am a person who best performs HCL work in complete silence, but might be more productive doing LCL work with music or a podcast playing. However, one’s energy level also matters. Pulling an all-nighter to complete an essay requiring HCL is generally a bad strategy, for instance.

High levels of mental fatigue increase the probability of errors and reduce efficiency when doing HCL work (Meijman, 1997). Lengthy work shifts with HCL work should be interrupted with frequent, short breaks (Boucsein & Thum, 1997). In fact, several short breaks are probably superior to one long break.

Applying this to the typical office worker’s workday and work-week, it becomes clear that HCL work should be scheduled early in the day, and perhaps, additionally, early in the week. For most people, this is when more cognitive load capacity is available. On the other hand, afternoons and Fridays should be geared toward LCL work because this is when many people are more fatigued, but, fortunately, LCL work is resilient toward mental fatigue.

For academics, this may also mean that office hours should be scheduled in the afternoons and, if possible, later in the week. Because there are many interruptions from students, phone calls, et cetera during office hours, one is not going to be getting much HCL work done anyway, but most student visits are LCL rather than HCL.

Further, this conceptual framework lends credence to the idea that email is a massive waste of time and probably shouldn’t even be looked at until late in the day (or, if you can get away with it, Friday afternoon). It also repudiates open-door office policies, at least with respect to getting any HCL work done.

We are at the stage where one’s physical environment is finally being recognized as important to cognitive load theory (Choi, van Merriënboer, & Paas, 2014). Beyond the cognitive load of the task at hand, one should think both about how one’s physical environment is organized and one’s level of mental fatigue. In fact, this should partly guide one’s schedule. For example, many people find that an early-morning workout leads to a more productive workday.

The consequences of one’s physical environment being important toward productivity are numerous and far-reaching. In fact, taking steps in advance to minimize distractions and temptations in one’s work environment is a piece of this puzzle. For instance, workers may be more productive if are militant about disabling or blocking smartphone notifications and installing browser add-ons such as Facebook News Feed Eradicator to impede viewing the Facebook news feed. More extreme solutions might be to physically sequester one’s smartphone and physically disconnect from the Internet for HCL work, in addition to doing this work with one’s door closed, early in the morning before the kids wake up, or late in the night for nightowls.

A full appreciation of cognitive load requires us to recognize the stark finiteness of our mental energy, and to appropriately limit our expectations and orient our lives toward what is most important. Being efficient at LCL tasks does not make one a leader nor innovator. HCL work is key, and it is facilitated by a streamlined work environment with respect for mental energy and cyclical rhythms. If I want to encourage myself to play piano, I don’t do this by leaving the piano lid closed or placing the piano bench on the opposite side of the room.

When I criticized University of Central Florida’s College of Education and Human Performance for not allowing student nor instructor PCs to display labels nor ungroup items on the Windows 10 taskbar (in June 2017 on my blog and again in September 2017 on Twitter), it was with an appreciation that if you want students and faculty to work better and get more done, you don’t force Microsoft’s stupid default taskbar window management settings on them. When doing HCL work, having your taskbar icons identified only by the programs’ icons—and grouped together so that one must hover and then choose the correct window—is inarguably an unwise imposition.

One might posit that some sort of invisible hand of market competitiveness might drive institutions and organizations toward providing workplace and learning environments conducive to HCL work. Neither in the “free” market nor the contrived worlds of academia, churches, NGOs, or governments do I see evidence of this. I suppose it might be true for small, hypercompetitive startup companies, but firms with a modicum of largess are inclined toward systemic dysfunction. For the gainfully employed, optimizing one’s schedule and work environment for HCL is, regretfully, frequently an exercise in futility.

Writing on education, finance, psychology, et cetera