Overcoming Procrastination

Proverbs 13:4 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing,
while the soul of the diligent will be made fat.[1]

Ver. 4.—(Comp. ch. 10:4.) The soul of the sluggard desireth, and hath nothing; literally, and nothing is there—he gains nothing (ch. 14:6; 20:4). He has the wish, but not the will, and the empty wish without corresponding exertion is useless (ch. 21:25, etc.). Vulgate, “The indolent wishes, and wishes not;” he wishes for something, but he wishes not for the labour of getting it; he would like the result, but he hates the process by which the result is to be obtained. Septuagint, “In desires every idle man is occupied;” his mind is fixed wholly on aimless wishes, not on action. Shall be made fat (ch. 11:25); Septuagint, “The hands of the valiant are fully occupied (ἐν ἐπιμελείᾳ).”[2]

Even back in 1742, Edward Young was well aware of the issues of procrastination, when he wrote, “Procrastination is the thief of time.”

If you are reading this, you are one who habitually postpones doing something, especially anything that is a regular practice. In other words, you put off for tomorrow what ought to be done today, even though you know in your heart of hearts, tomorrow never comes.

We might be a wife who is waiting on our husband to get around to fixing something, having heard every excuse imaginable. We may be an employer, who is waiting for a report from an employee, and are still waiting. We may be a parent waiting for our child to clean his or her room, which will likely be a very long wait. Few of us are of the personality that is organized, arrive early at most appointments, and complete tasks in a timely manner. We procrastinate even though we have experienced the problems that come with it dozens of times. We plan to go on a diet, starting January 01, and next thing we know, it is June, and we are saying to ourselves, “If only I had stayed with it, imagines how much weight I would have lost by now.”

We have known the bitterness of scrubbing the dishes after we have let them set through procrastination, and then forgetting about them until the next morning. We may be one who has put off making a repair to our car and has broken down alongside the road. We may have also suffered the late fees from putting off paying the bills until we have missed the due date.

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Thief of Time

Yes, “Procrastination is the thief of time.” If we were to calculate the time that procrastination costs us on a yearly basis, we might find hundreds of hours spent wasted; as a result. An example might be the time we spend looking for misplaced items. Well, the items are not misplaced; we just failed to put them back in their right place, where we would remember them. We come in, and we throw our keys down instead of putting them in a regular place. The dryer beeps, and we put off going to get the clothes out. When we do remember that we put that off, the clothes are wrinkled, and we need to run the dryer some more to take the wrinkles out.

We may be a person, who puts off starting a project because it seems we have time, or it appears insurmountable. On the other hand, maybe we are the type that starts new projects with energy and enthusiasm, to find ourselves putting it off about half way through. Thus, we find many things in our lives half way done. Alternatively, we might be one that gets to the finish line of projects, before the procrastination bug takes over. Regardless of which category we may fall into, or why we procrastinate, we are on our way to recovery, because we accept that we have a problem. Otherwise, we would not be reading this chapter.

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Catching the Time Thief

First, we need to understand why we are procrastinating. Below are some possible reasons, which may very well be going through our subconscious mind:

Habit:

  • When I wait until the last minute, I seem to have more motivation.
  • I get a rush when I am doing it at the very last moment.
  • I’ll wait until I have been told a few times, then I will be motivated.
  • I am so busy that I wait until something takes on great importance.
  • I am always late for every appointment.

Attitude:

  • I don’t feel motivated.
  • I just do things when I feel like it.
  • I have more important things to do.
  • I lack the discipline to get things done.

Fear:

  • I’m afraid of failure.
  • I can’t get it done in time.
  • I can’t do it alone.
  • What if I fail, I will look foolish?
  • I have not gotten the materials yet.
  • I feel bad but I’m not to blame, I just can’t get to appointments on time.

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Irrational thinking is the Enemy

Irrational thinking produces irrational feelings, which will create wrong moods, leading to wrong behavior. Those of us, who are habitual procrastinators, tell ourselves outright lies, which we believe every time. “I will get at it tomorrow.” “I am going to take a short break.” “This can wait.” “I need a break.” Then, we postpone it far longer than we should have, which means that we now have anxiety over getting it done and a sickening feeling that we are going to fall short. Now, we must rush, and the quality of our work suffers.

For example, maybe you have been assigned to write a 20 -page paper for a college course. It is not due until the last week of class. However, you wait until the last week to write a paper, and now you are anxiety ridden. Therefore, you put it of day-after-day until you are on the last day, and can put it off no more. You must rush in the research, and the typing is hectic. Your paper lacks any real depth, and the grammar and style are inferior, and the paper just does not flow.

Yet one other penalty results from procrastination. When we get beyond the point of being able to complete the project comfortably, we can no longer enjoy life because in the back of our mind is the stress of knowing it is undone, and the clock is still clicking.

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Take Action!

Proverbs 12:24, 27 English Standard Version (ESV)

24 The hand of the diligent will rule,
while the slothful will be put to forced labor.

27 Whoever is slothful will not roast his game,
but the diligent man will get precious wealth.

In vv. 24 and 27 the very serious matter of one’s diligence determining whether one will be a master or a slave is linked to a humorous proverb that shows a lazy man to be foolish enough to go to the trouble of hunting game but then be too slack to get around to roasting it (and thus lets it go to waste).[3]

We need to self-talk back to ourselves. Whatever we said to delay the project, we need to tell ourselves that this is irrational thinking and the consequences. We then need to spell out what we need to do to get back on task. This has to be done every time those irrational thoughts pass thoughts our mind.

We need to get a daily planner. We need to write down the tasks that are to be done the next day, and the time they are to be done. We need to check them off and on time as this is our written contract to us. Say we need to drink four 20 oz. bottles of water each day as part of our diet. It is more efficient to write them down, and then check them off as you drink them, than to write them in the daily planner as you drink them. There are good feelings that come from getting tasks done, and seeing a line through the projects. Habits die hard, which is a both bad and good. If you have a bad habit, it means work to overcome it and establish a good habit in its place. Yes, any bad habit that is overcome has to be replaced with something good in its place, or it will likely return. On the other hand, once you remove the bad and establish the new, it will be just as firmly entrenched as the bad habit was.

You know that being late is the habit of the procrastinator. Know this, you do not respect nor love anyone that you are late for, regardless of how you rationalize it. If you are habitually late, your self-centeredness makes you so, unless you legitimately have a mental or physical illness, which a doctor has justified, not you. The fiddling that you do, the procrastinating that you do before leaving to make an appointment needs to be recognized. You need to prepare to go. Get what you need, and have it sitting by the door. Leave ten minutes before you are scheduled to leave. You need to allow for things that may slow you down, like catching every red light on your way to the appointment. However, never blame yourself for things that are out of your control, like a flat tire, unless you procrastinated in getting new tires.

Another helper is training those around you to share the load. If you are a wife that works too, your children and husband should share in the housework so that you need not be limited in time. Also, help yourself further by breaking big projects into smaller parts. Train yourself to think analytically, as you contemplate how to approach a project before ever beginning.

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Four people who work a lawn service crew get a yard done 30-40 percent faster than one might think, not because there are four people, but because they are trained to approach the yard logically. All four get out of the truck, and one grabs the weed eater, the other push mower, and two get riding mowers. The weed eater and the push mower are going to get around trees, sidewalks, and fences, so the riding mowers do not have to slow down. The riding mowers start out where there are no objects to go around while the one with the weed eater trims and the push mower follows him. The weed eater can go around a tree a few times very quickly, and then the push mower follows it and takes a few times around. Once they set up the yard for the riding mowers, they take hold of their own riding mowers.

Make allowances for things that may interfere with your day. You may lay out your daily planner with things scheduled to close together. You cannot get from one meeting that ended at noon, and be at the next at noon. Just because one meeting is over at a set time, does not mean you should schedule another immediately thereafter. Allow for interruptions, going over, and time to recoup after the meeting.

Remember; take breaks about every two hours, giving your mind a chance to regroup. Do not take your break sitting at your desk. Get up, move around, get the blood flowing. Maybe, eat a snack while standing on your break.

  • Self-talk those irrational thoughts with rational ones
  • Write it down in a daily planner
  • Love and respect your fellow human by not being late
  • Replace bad habits with good habits
  • Break big projects into smaller ones
  • Share the load
  • Approach a project logically
  • Make allowances for things that may interfere
  • Take a break to regroup

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Personal Bible Study Can seem overwhelming

Let’s face it, be honest with ourselves, approach Bible study can seem overwhelming before we ever get started. It can be made easier if we determine what we are going to study, what material we will need, the days that are best, and the best time. Once we have established that, we should begin slowly, to get a rhythm. Maybe, we start with 15 minutes a day, to begin with, if it is our Bible study program where we are working our way through the Bible. After we have been consistent for two weeks, we can move it to a 20-minute study. We increase the study by five-minute increments every two weeks until we get it where we want it. In addition, we need to make a schedule that fits us as a person and our other responsibilities. A schedule means that we are being organized about it and that we are determined to follow through with it. We need to make a prayerful vow to God, which will commit us to the study.

What If We Do Not Feel Motivated

If Bible study is boring to us, like some history class from high school, this could be because we are not very good at studying the Bible. One way to increase our interest is to find reasons why Bible study is important. Imagine the feeling of bringing a person to Christ because you knew the Bible well enough to overturn his or her objections. Imagine losing less Bible conversations online when a Bible critic attacks. Imagine seeing several people in the church that God used us to bring them into the faith. Imagine people’s eyes light up when we share nuggets of Bible truths with them. Imagine our life vastly improving because we truly have a biblical mindset and worldview and are able to wisely choose which course to follow. As we study every day, pick out one interesting thing that we learn, Each Sunday, at church, share a couple of those interesting truths with a few members before the meeting and a few members afterward. This will move them to want to study, improve our ability to share Bible information, and help us to start reasoning from the Scriptures with those who are not going to reject what is being shared.

Now, consider the consequences of not having a regular, consistent personal Bible study. Imagine our life of many difficult times because we followed our emotions, our feeling, as opposed to Bible principles. Imagine our never talking to others about the Bible because we fear that we will not know what to say. They might ask us something we know nothing about. Imagine the humiliation every time a Bible critic attacks one of our comments online when we post about the Bible, the faith, or God, and we do not have the response. We just fall back on the old lame argument, “I am not going to argue about my faith.” Imagine the people who are struggling with their faith as they see a Christian repeatedly not have the answer to simple Bible difficulties. They begin to believe there are no real answers. Imagine those who were considering Christianity and then they see that the Bible critics are never challenged or reasoned with. They think, “I guess there just no answers to these issues. Now, imagine as we are walking by the empty seats at the church, they could have been filled with the disciples that we brought to Jesus. Lastly, imagine facing Jesus on the end when he asks, ‘Did you do the will of my father, sharing the good news, making disciples?’ Our setting aside our personal Bible study is all about mindset. If you perceive it as boring, too difficult, not enough time, it will become those things.

Start our Bible study program with the New Testament first and then do the Old Testament after you finish Revelation. Have the study place already with a Bible, commentaries, Bible background commentary, Bible dictionary, Bible encyclopedia, word study books, Bible difficult book, pens, highlighters, and so forth. Many Bible study tools are online for free, or you can buy them used on Amazon, or get the Kindle edition. Read a chapter in the Bible. Read that section from the commentary. Investigate things that we do not know, special words, historical settings, and so on. Read that same section in your Bible background commentary. Read any Bible difficulties that might be in the chapter. It might take one session to get through a Bible chapter or might take several sessions. Turn off the cellphone. Do not play the radio. Remove any distractions. Once we have a few months in, we will be completely surprised (1) how much we are enjoying our study, (2) how rewarding it is, (3) how much our lives have improved, (4) the joy of sharing truths, (5) how much material we have covered, (6) the tremendous amount of Bible knowledge we have acquired, and far more.

[1] I.e., will be fully satisfied

[2] H. D. M. Spence-Jones, ed., Proverbs, The Pulpit Commentary (London; New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1909), 251.

[3] Duane A. Garrett, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, vol. 14, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1993), 134.