Several months ago a news story probably caught your eye: a hole opened in a jet while flying from Phoenix to Sacramento. Luckily, skilled pilots and the closeness of a nearby airport averted what could have been a disaster. Follow up checks revealed problems with other planes of the same style resulting in flight disruptions and enhanced maintenance procedures being put into effect.
It got me to thinking about maintenance in our lives. The type that might have caused the airplane's problem is delayed maintenance. We know that something will require fixing but decide it can wait a while longer. That toilet is more difficult to flush, but it still works. The front door is showing wear and the wood is starting to crack. But, hey, there's no budget right now for a new $2,000 door. The roof should last another few years, I hope. I know the car battery is pretty old but it still works. Let's wait until fall.
My experience with delayed maintenance is that the eventual cost is always higher than when the problem is first recognized. I have always wondered why I wait until it is time to move or until something stops working completely before I repaint, repair, or replace. The hassle is always worse than if I had simply taken care of it when I should have.
When building a satisfying retirement, delayed maintenance can describe similar behavior. One example might be our investment plan isn't really working well for us anymore. With the upheaval of the last few years we know we should spend time reviewing our approach. But, that is a lot of work and it might force us to admit we are not in the type of financial shape we thought we were. Things will turn around, they always do. We'll just wait awhile and see how it goes.
Another type of delayed maintenance might involve a business venture of yours. I have personal experience with this type of delayed maintenance. For at least four years before my consulting business declined to the point I decided to shut it down and retire, there were plenty of signals that things weren't going as well as they once did. The industry had changed dramatically a few years before that, resulting in a drop in demand for what I offered. The number of clients had grown regularly every year for the previous decade. Then, the growth stopped. I decided that was fine with me. I was overextended and tired.
Suddenly, the number of clients I served began to drop, one this month, two a fews months later, a couple more at the end of the year. I was concerned, but still convinced things would stabilize at a comfortable level. That was not the case. The loss of business continued and accelerated.
Suddenly I was at the point where my cash flow was dangerously close to my expenses. I knew what I needed to do: increase the marketing and promotion of my business, become much more focused on the clients and their particular needs, and find a way to rebrand myself for the changes the industry was undergoing.
Unfortunately, I had delayed that business maintenance too long. When things were good I didn't spend time looking for cracks in the foundation. I didn't figure out I needed a major overhaul. When I realized things had slipped to a near-fatal level, it was too late.
Your most significant relationship can certainly suffer from delayed maintenance. Last October my post on Relationship Maintenance suggested steps you can take for a relational tuneup. Just like a car that misses regular oil changes, new brakes, or a new set of spark plugs, your marriage or key relationship can't be ignored for too long before trouble will surface.
Health is certainly a key area of delayed maintenance for many of us. We know a diet of fatty foods, a lack of fruits and vegetables, and a sedentary lifestyle will probably end badly for us. We know sun screen is important. We know about checkups and tests that should be conducted. But, the future is still way out there. We can change later. We can adjust our living habits when we turn 65…or 70…or 75…or…
Not doing what we know we should will hurt us. Our quality of life will suffer. Our ability to do what we like will be curtailed. Taken to its logical conclusion, our delayed maintenance in taking care of ourselves could end our life early.
What is the answer? Preventive maintenance. This is a proactive, deal-with-a-problem-before-it-gets-out-of-hand type maintenance. I act before something becomes critical or dangerous. Maybe there are no visible signs of a problem today, but I know the consequences of a certain action is likely to cause problems.
Preventive maintenance is the best way to build your satisfying retirement. It may be a tough habit to develop. I think most of us are hardwired for avoidance. But, waiting until things break or decay or become much too difficult and expensive to repair is the wrong choice.
What in your life requires some preventive maintenance? What delayed maintenance have you put off because the task is too difficult or the answers too unsettling?