Former university professor of marketing and communications, Sallie is an independent publisher and marketing communications consultant.
“He that observeth the wind shall not sow; and he that regardeth the clouds shall not reap.” (Ecclesiastes 11:4)
Procrastination can permeate your life, causing you to put off both the big and the little things you need or want to do. What do you do when you feel the slothful monster of procrastination trying to creep into your life?
There’s nothing wrong with spending an inordinate amount of time observing the wind and watching the clouds if you're a meteorologist. But, if you're someone who is making observations of wind and clouds instead of or to avoid doing work that you need to be doing, then there's plenty wrong with it. Or, if you're sitting idly by waiting for the "perfect time" to do a particular chore you're dreading, then it could be that you will put it off forever.
So make up your mind, right now, to get up and get going. Just take one step toward completing your goal. Once you take a step, you're in the process; you're working on it.
There's just something wonderful and "right" about doing what you need to do when you need to do it. Something solid. Something liberating. Something good. Something that feels like empowerment. I’m not even borrowing from Nike’s slogan when I say it solves so many of life’s problems to just do it.
Because God sees and is concerned with even the most intricate details of our lives when we invite Him in, there is hope—even for procrastinators.
Procrastination: A Thief of Time
What does the Bible tell us about procrastination? Is there anything in God’s word that addresses this kind of behavior? Yes. The Bible actually addresses any and every kind of behavioral challenge possible, including procrastination. Procrastination is a destroyer of blessings. It can rob you of self-confidence, reliability, and personal peace. In Proverbs 18:9, the Bible says, "He also who is slack in his work Is brother to him who destroys."
Making a habit of putting things off is related to having a lack of self-control, and remember that self-control, or temperance, is among the fruit of the spirit (Galatians 5:23). When we learn to live in the spirit, we become empowered by the Holy Spirit. Scripture teaches us that while Satan can control our flesh, our spirit can rise above him and take back control of our flesh. It is the power of the Holy Spirit that enables us to transcend weaknesses of the flesh. Just as fasting and praying allows us to transcend and temporarily suspend our fleshly desires and need for food, the human spirit can be tapped into to transcend any and all fleshly desires or weaknesses.
Several of the many reasons we put things off include:
Not only is it wrong, it is unhealthy and unholy to allow yourself to remain paralyzed by doubt, uncertainty, fear, laziness, or weakness. The Bible teaches us in 2 Timothy 1:7: “Wherefore I put thee in remembrance that thou stir up the gift of God, which is in thee by the putting on of my hands. For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” Therefore, if God has not given us fear, and if the lack of self-control is not of God, it should be obvious that these negative human traits are sinful. Had Adam and Eve not sinned against God in the Garden of Eden, none of us would be struggling today against the ravages of such personal evils as procrastination.
Procrastination Means Putting Things Off, Big and Small
It is possible to become so good at procrastinating that many things actually become piled up high enough to stress you out because of the mere number of things you need to do because you kept putting things off. By the time you reach this "black belt" level of procrastination, you should know it has become a major handicap, and that it is time for change. In its chronic stages, the act of procrastinating creates a blockade. It prevents the achieving of anything. Instead of moving things aside to allow the placing of one thing ahead of doing something else, it becomes a mental brick wall that can become formidable, nearly impossible to break through.
Why do we sometimes allow ourselves to erect such a wall? Is it mostly just outright laziness? Or is it more often caused by fear? The fear that completing a task might change our lives, and we’re just not comfortable with the idea of change. I’m not talking about a big, colossal life change. I'm talking about mundane, everyday things that can bring about even the slightest little change in the way you’ve done things in the past. Rearranging and straightening the garage, or the basement will erase memories of "the way things were." I believe the fear of change within us can be so insidious we don't even know it's there, and that it can sometimes be manifested in the exercising of tight control over personal space, something we can control.
I’m talking now about the little things we don't want to change—such as clearing off a desk or straightening up and cleaning out a closet, allowing books, papers, clothing, shoes, and personal belongings to become stacked in piles. Not the clutter that forms while you’re actively working on a project. I’m talking about the months and years of pile-up that happens gradually, and that can get out of hand.
If you allow such pile-ups to occur, it can become easy to pretend you actually have a system, and that you're only keeping things a certain way because you “know where everything is.” But the truth is probably related to the fear of changing how you do things, and to laziness. It takes less effort to put something in a pile than to organize it or create a filing system for it. And even though a filing system is a much better solution—and is actually much easier in the short and long-run because it creates a place for everything—fear of changing methodology and mental laziness can creep in and overwhelm you, convincing you that it is easier to sloppily place things, indefinitely, into a pile or a stack.
How do we end such bad habits? Do we really need to involve God in something that can seem to be such a mundane matter?
Procrastination, while it might seem like a mundane thing, can actually derail your life in many ways. It can cause/be implicated in:
- Delaying work/projects that are important to your personal/family life, or your career/job.
- Impeding the efforts of others by not doing your part.
- Attempts to avoid making important or necessary decisions and/or commitments.
- Becoming involved, habitually, in health-damaging, time-wasting behavior (such as becoming a physical activity avoiding couch potato).
- Often being late for appointments, or irresponsibly avoiding attending to financial obligations/commitments.
- Overloading others by forcing them to have to complete your tasks/responsibilities.
If you want to break the habit of procrastinating, and you've tried but don't believe you can do it in your own strength, then it may be that reaching out to God is exactly what you need to do. To stir up the gifts of God, you must ask Him to be in your life in all ways, large and small. Ending your habit of procrastinating may seem small, but who knows what you might be able to accomplish once you learn to stop putting things off?
Ending Procrastination is Possible
Remember, as long as you and I live in a physical body, we are going to face physical and mental challenges. Because our bodies are made of flesh, we are physically and mentally chained to the temptations and weaknesses of flesh. For this reason, it is not possible to overcome any of our weaknesses completely. We will always be engaged, to some degree, in a battle between spirit and flesh. And we can only hope to live a life that allows us to tap into spiritual power, so that God will help us, every day, to rise above our fleshly weaknesses and limitations.
Although it is easy to laugh at the silliness of procrastination and it’s cousin, blame—it’s really not a laughing matter. Whenever we put off for tomorrow what we need to or should do today, we are actually overloading tomorrow, and throwing away an important chunk of today. We’re also putting off our own blessings; demonstrating lack of self-control, and choosing not to exercise power over our spirit. I don’t believe there is any way God could be pleased with procrastination.
While I am not a notorious procrastinator, I must admit there have been times in my life when I have put off doing things that I really needed to do, or that I believed I wanted to do. Whenever I procrastinated, I always found a way to blame something other than myself for my procrastination. I was (a) too tired, (b) too sleepy, (c) too busy, or (d) too stressed. Other times, I found mental blockades to blame such as (a) I was too unfocused on what needed to be done, (b) too focused on doing something else, (c) I had too much on my mind and couldn't focus on any one thing, or (d) I couldn’t think of a reason, I just didn't want to do whatever it was I needed to do, so I didn't do it.
In other words, whenever I have needed an excuse or something to blame for procrastinating, I surely have been able to find (or to invent) one. I know from my own experiences that if you always look at something as standing between you and your ability to get it done, no matter what it was, then you don't ever really hold yourself responsible for not doing it. Right? But this is wrong thinking, because the end result of all procrastination is destruction: The destruction of progress, accomplishment, dreams and, ultimately, human potential and spirit.
What Happens to a Procrastinator's Dreams?
I sometimes think about a poem by Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes. In this poem, titled “A Dream Deferred,” even though Hughes wasn't necessarily speaking of procrastination, I believe his words also reveal what can happen to many of a procrastinator‘s dream. Hughes wrote:
“What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun? Or fester like a sore—and then run? Does it stink like rotten meat? Or crust and sugar over—like a syrupy sweet? Maybe it just sags like a heavy load. Or does it just explode?”
The point of what Langston Hughes is saying is that we can never really know what might have been. What happens to unrealized potential? To dreams that are put on the back burner? Whenever any of our dreams get put aside or left to rot, for any reason, we really miss out—our whole life through, on what might have been.
When any of us procrastinates, what are we waiting for? Why do we often defer the very thing we want to do—more than anything else, to some later date? Are we waiting to become more “perfect,” or are we waiting for the perfect time? I think deferring dreams has as much to do with the fear of success, as it has to do with the fear of failure. I think a lot of times when our dreams are in a “dream world,” we’re actually a lot more comfortable with them. They’re not threatening to our ego, or our self-confidence, when they don’t hold the possibility for failure. As long as they’re just dreams, we can have what we dream of in its entirety—as a dream—and we don’t have to worry about losing the joy we get from dreaming the dream, to failure. Dreaming allows us the freedom of never having to worry about losing control of how things turn out in the dream.
Dreams are safe and under our control, in our mind and in our hearts. And if we’re able to conquer, long enough, the desire to act on trying to achieve a dream, then eventually that desire will quiet down, and we’ll actually start to feel good about having the dream tucked away in some neat little corner of a tomorrow that will never come.
God wants us to manage properly what we have now, before He will entrust us with more. In fact, if we don’t learn to appreciate and manage well the time and the responsibilities we have, we run the risk of losing even that (read the “Parable of the Talents” in Matthew 25:14-30 ).
For example, if you are working and want to be promoted, yet you’re constantly putting off efforts that might show your commitment and dedication to the responsibilities of the position or job you have now, most people would see you as not being ready for more responsibility. Why would anyone feel you could handle more if you’re not willing to handle what you now have? Even if you feel you are capable of doing more, what you’re showing is that you’re not capable of doing what you’re responsible for now. Therefore, your actions and/or inaction, is not presenting a convincing argument in favor of your being promoted.
Something You Can Do Right Now to End Procrastination
Begin by making a list of the steps you know you need to take to get yourself in motion. It doesn't matter whether what you want to accomplish is a small thing or a big dream, remember, “the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
Here’s a tip. Scribble down anything you can think of at first, just to get your list started. Then, after brainstorming your list, edit and organize your thoughts. Put things at the top of the list that are most immediately “doable.” These should be things that require the smallest effort on your part. Maybe there are supplies you’ll need to buy. That’s easy enough, as long as the items are inexpensive.
Starting your list with things that you can do fairly easily still represents a start. Those things requiring a little more effort should come next on your list. Finally, at the bottom of the list should be things requiring other people’s input, or that require the most time, effort, or money to accomplish. By using the easy-to-do things to get yourself in motion, you will have made a fantastic start towards accomplishing some of your goals while spending as little money as possible. When it comes to the “big items,“ you might have to juggle some time commitments, or you might need to save a while to have the cash needed to complete a project requiring a large financial investment. In the meantime, by doing the more "doable" things on your list, you will have at least gotten underway. You're actually working on something, and you're not procrastinating.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2012 Sallie B Middlebrook PhD