Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. (Romans 7:20-21)Recently, I decided to get serious about procrastination and stop making excuses. Yes, procrastinating is totally understandable and complete normal...but that doesn't mean it's part of God's best plan for my life. It doesn't mean I'll get right results.
The confounding thing about procrastination is that it's one of the few temptations that doesn't bring pleasure in the moment. If you eat half of a delicious chocolate cake when you meant to just have a bite, it's because you got so much pleasure from eating it that you couldn't stop. If you overspend when you're out shopping, it's because you were so excited about finding that new pair of shoes that it was too hard to say no. Indulging ourselves in gluttony, lust, greed, angry outbursts--they're all pretty gratifying in the moment, and it's easy to understand how we get sucked into those habits.
Procrastinating is different--it helps us avoid unpleasant tasks, but ironically doesn't bring much inherent pleasure itself! Whenever I'm wasting time, I feel restless, guilty, distracted, or like something's hanging over my head. I don't fully enjoy the non-productive activity, and I certainly doesn't feel good about it later. Sabotaging your productivity for something that's not even enjoyable while you're in the midst of indulging? It's completely irrational.
So what's the opposite of procrastination? Exercising wisdom. Joyce Meyer once said, "Wisdom always chooses to do now what it will be satisfied with later on." We can choose to be led by wisdom rather than our feelings. We can choose to make smart decisions for ourselves that make us good stewards of the time God has given us.
Applying this principle practically has taken some experimentation, but I think I've finally found a way to outmaneuver myself. I often try re-prioritizing my tasks so that the tendency to stall works in my favor.
I used to think, "I need to grade papers and clean my house, but I want to watch T.V. I'll just lay here and watch one show and then get my work done." Of course, one show turned into three and the next thing I knew, it was time for bed and I was procrastinating with that, too. Now I'm accepting of the fact that I will probably get wrapped up in whatever's happening in the moment and use that tendency to my advantage. It's the opposite frame of mind: "I want to get this stack of papers graded and clean my house so that I can watch my favorite show in an hour. Let me just wipe down the kitchen counter and correct this one test and then I'll be ready to watch T.V."
In this way, I've minimized the unpleasant tasks and made my end goal getting to do something fun. This is the reverse of whining to myself about the tons of stuff I need to get down and pretending that I'll only spend a few minutes doing something fun. I've told myself I'll just take a minute to clean so that it doesn't seem so bad. But of course, as soon as I wipe down the counter, I want to rinse out the sink, too. And hey, why not unload the dishwasher since I'm standing right there?
After that, I realize the frig needs to be cleaned out, but since I only intended to wipe off the counter, I don't feel bad for not doing it--I actually feel really good about myself since I did more than I even intended! That feeling of accomplishment energizes me to grade the test papers. And typically after I'm done, I go ahead and knock out another set of papers, too, since I'm on such a roll. And if I don't get through them all? No problem, I only committed to one set of tests. I can actually relax and enjoy my favorite show without guilt. And because I haven't spiraled into a depressing procrastination cycle, when the show is over, I'm often excited to tackle more tasks.
"I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. Everything is permissible, but not everything is constructive. (1 Cor 10:23)This system has really worked well for me: I choose to perceive my work as quick and manageable so I can get it out of the way and spend time doing what I really want to. The more I use this strategy, the better it works. Since I made good decisions today, tomorrow the kitchen will still be relatively clean and I'll have only a few papers to grade. I can tell myself, "Just get rid of a few things in the frig, you don't have to scrub it--that's for another day--and then grade the kids' essays. After that, free time!" The cycle of delaying and stalling will continue and I'll actually feel good about it!
Changing my procrastination habits has been an ongoing process. Walking in wisdom is always ultimately a moment by moment decision. We can't decide we're only going to make smart choices from now on and never procrastinate again. Instead, we have to choose in this moment to do what's honoring to God and the calling He's placed on our lives. Sometimes praying for strength and disciplining ourselves is effective; other times, the battle against procrastination can mean re-framing unpleasant tasks in your mind so they seem manageable and rewarded. However you choose to address it, procrastination is a habit worth reconsidering.
Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time... (Ephesians 5:15-16)How do YOU battle procrastination? Share your strategies and experiences with us in the comments!