Procrastination is the ‘Thief’ of Time

A hiker overlooks the sunset. Text "Not all classrooms have four walls" appears on the graphic.

Procrastination was the cause of all my sorrow. I don’t know

what that big word means. I’ll look it up tomorrow.

- Mary Alice Sherman

Doesn’t it frustrate you when you have to do something you need to do, but you just don’t want to do it or you can’t get yourself motivated?

Are tickets for everything always double what they cost originally by the time you get around to buying them?

Do you deny being a procrastinator claiming instead that you just prefer doing all your work in a deadline-induced panic?

Can you relate to the following poem?

I spent a fortune

On a trampoline,

A stationary bike,

And a rowing machine.

Complete with gadgets

To read my pulse,

And gadgets to prove,

My progress results.

And others to show

The miles I’ve charted.

But they left off the gadget

To get me started.

Procrastination is the one fault most people put off correcting.

If procrastination has become a lifetime companion for you, always keep these thoughts in mind:

  • One of these days is none of these days.

  • Someday is not a day of the week.

  • Indecision is a decision.

If there was a pill to cure procrastination, would you take it today or wait until tomorrow?

Calvin (from Calvin and Hobbes) reflects, “A day can really slip by when you are deliberately avoiding what you’re supposed to do.” It continues to amaze me how some people can spend several years putting off a ten-minute job.

There are four general things you can do with your hands:

  1. Put them in your pockets for safekeeping.

  2. Fold them in apathy.

  3. Wring them in despair.

  4. Lay them on a job that needs doing.

If you don’t start today, then what makes you think you’ll start tomorrow?

Do you believe that tomorrow is a mystical land where 99% of all human productivity, motivation and achievement is stored? We only have a finite amount of time to live. Why waste it?

If you make a list of things that leads to poor time and self-management, you will find a nasty villain in it - Procrastination! Someone once called procrastination the fertilizer that makes difficulties grow. Charles Dickens wrote, “My advice is to never do tomorrow what you can do today. Procrastination is the thief of time.” It robs you of all the great things you could do in the world. It steals your time, productivity, and potential. As John F. Kennedy said, “There are risks and costs to a program of action, but they are far less than the long-range risks and costs of comfortable inaction.”

The effects of wasting time and not meeting deadlines can be devastating at both professional and personal levels. Procrastination can result in stress, severe health issues, a sense of guilt and crisis, a severe loss of personal productivity, as well as professional and social disapproval for not meeting responsibilities and commitments. In addition, procrastination doesn’t only impact you; it impacts the people who depend on you.

We only have a finite amount of time to live. Why waste it?

Procrastination is a habit that most people slip into at certain times in their lives. Often, some procrastination is harmless. But if it becomes a habit or occurs too regularly, or if it interferes with your work or the work of others, and is affecting your relationships with others, then it becomes necessary to break the procrastination pattern.

What is Procrastination?

The word procrastination comes from the Latin word, ‘Pro’ meaning ‘in favor of’ and ‘Cras’ meaning ‘tomorrow.’ It is defined therefore as, ‘The act or the habit of delaying or putting things off.’

Procrastination occurs when we are faced with too many decisions and are unable to complete matters of importance.

Procrastination is to keep delaying something that must be done, often because it is unpleasant or boring.

Procrastination is the practice of carrying out less urgent tasks in preference to more urgent ones, or doing pleasurable things in place of less pleasurable ones, and thus putting off impending tasks to a later time.

Procrastination is the avoidance of doing a task that needs to be accomplished by a certain deadline. It should be further stated as a habitual or intentional delay of starting or finishing a task despite knowing that it might have negative consequences.

Dr. Samuel Johnson, who wrote the first comprehensive English dictionary, had procrastination defined simply as delay. Dr. Johnson was a well renowned writer and generally knew of what he spoke. But apparently, the good doctor put off writing an article on procrastination until the last possible moment, composing it while an errand boy waited outside to bring it to press. It appeared in the weekly periodical, The Rambler in 1751.

There is no single type of procrastinator, but each instance of your procrastination is likely due to either of the following:

  1. Chronic procrastinators have problems finishing a variety of tasks.

  2. Situational procrastinators delay based on the task itself.

The type of person who has a high level of impulsive behavior and lacks self-control and discipline is likely to find themselves procrastinating more than those who have a high level of discipline.

From a cultural perspective, students from both Western and non-western cultures have been found to exhibit ‘academic procrastination.’ When I reflect back to when I was a student, I think the most comforting words I often heard were, “I haven’t started either.” Bill Gates, the Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist had to break a bad habit before he could get serious about business. Gates recalled his habit of procrastination. “I liked to show people that I didn’t do any work and that I didn’t go to classes and I didn’t care,” he told students. But with sometimes two days before a test, Gates would race through his studies and catch up. “People thought that was funny,” he said. “That was my positioning; the guy who did nothing until the last minute.” However, Gates knew that was a lousy way to get ahead. “When I went into business, that was realty a bad habit, and it took me a couple of years to get over that,” Gates said. “Nobody praised me because I would do things at the last minute.”

Let’s take a look at some factors which can result in you procrastinating. The following is my top ten list (chosen from a list of over 30 choices):

  • You lack personal self-discipline.

  • You can’t seem to get started.

  • You lack motivation.

  • You don’t feel like doing it (Lackawanna).

  • You are lazy or tired.

  • You are overly dependent on others.

  • You find the task is overwhelming.

  • You’re hooked on the adrenalin flow of last-minute excitement.

  • You insist on results that meet your perfectionistic standards.

  • You have no deadline, so there’s no real motivation to start.

Are you an excusiologist? None of the above list are reasons to procrastinate, they are all excuses. No excuse is good enough to be called a reason; if it matters, you’ll make time. Those who want badly to do something, find ways; those who want badly not to do something find excuses. There really are only two options, make progress or make excuses.

If you are finally getting around to tackling a task you have been putting off, there can often be a motivation bump at the last minute.

A man went to his doctor for his yearly physical. He had been extremely overweight for a few years and commented to the doctor, “Laziness runs in my family.” The doctor, who knew his family well, responded, “Nobody runs in your family.” It’s up to us to break generational curses. When they say, “It runs in the family,” you tell them “this is where it runs out.” Don’t be a quitter, but if you’re going to quit anything, quit being lazy, quit making excuses and quit waiting for the right time. Maturity comes when you stop making excuses and start making changes.

In all my workshops and personal coaching sessions over the years, I have been able to easily identify the number one problem that prevents people from reaching their potential. That issue is a lack of personal self-discipline. Discipline is the ability to do what’s important before it becomes urgent. Furthermore, discipline is being able to force yourself to do something, in spite of how you feel. You can’t get much done in life if you only work on the days when you feel good. Don’t be upset by the results you didn’t get with the work you didn’t do. Pearl S. Buck wrote, “I don’t wait for moods. You accomplish nothing if you do that. Your mind must know it has to get down to work.”

In the world according to Mr. Rogers, he wrote, “I like to swim, but there are some days I just don’t feel like doing it, but I do it anyway! I know it’s good for me and I promised myself that I would do it every day, and I like to keep my promises. That’s one of my disciplines. And it’s a good feeling after you’ve tried and done something well. Inside you think. I’ve kept at this and I’ve really learned it-not by magic, but by my own work.”

Question: Suppose you have five birds sitting on a fence. Three decide to fly off. How many birds are left on the fence?

Answer: Five. Did you answer two as most people do? Did you fall for the procrastination trap?

Explanation: Although almost everyone answers two, the correct answer is five.

Making a decision to fly off without acting on the decision is a waste of both time and energy. The momentum to do something about our decisions is energized by action. It’s a common misconception that motivation leads to action, but when it comes to putting things off, the reverse is generally true. Action precedes motivation. Just because the birds decided to fly off the fence does not necessarily mean they actually did it. Without action, these birds are going nowhere. Paul Bailey adds, “The funny thing about motivation is that it comes after taking action, not before.” Procrastination is the gap between intention and action. Were these birds subject to overthinking and perhaps, paralysis by analysis? We want due diligence and we want people to think through their decision making. When does it become overthinking, the art of creating problems that weren’t even there?

Procrastination is the avoidance of doing a task that needs to be accomplished by a certain deadline.

Mark Twain once said, “If the first thing you do each morning is to eat a live frog, you can go through the day with the satisfaction of knowing that it is probably the worst thing that is going to happen to you all day long!” In his best seller book, “Eat the Frog,” Brian Tracy talks about several ways to stop procrastination. He says, our ‘frog’ is our biggest, most important task, the one we are most likely to procrastinate on if we don’t do something about it. It might be the one task that can have the greatest positive impact on our lives and results.

Why do so many people have difficulty getting started? Mark Twain once wrote, “The secret of getting started is breaking your complex, overwhelming tasks into small, manageable ones, then starting on the first one.”

Imagine a thick bundle of sticks bound tightly together. Suppose someone asked you to break the bundle in two. If you attempted to break all the sticks at once, you’d be in trouble. After hours of trying, you would only have sore hands and a sour disposition for your efforts. Suppose, however, you tried a different tactic. You untied the bundle and proceeded to break each stick individually. This one-at-a-time method would be far superior since single stick is easier to break than a whole bundle. The moral: breaking work into smaller units makes those impossible jobs seem possible. Always ask yourself when faced with gigantic tasks, “How do you eat an elephant? The answer: bite size pieces. Nothing is particularly hard if you divide it into small jobs. Slice and dice the task. Break large complex tasks down into bite-size pieces, and then do one small part of the task to get started.

I hopefully envision a world where people would stop the excuses, stop the blaming of everyone else and take personal responsibility for the world they have created for themselves. I would love to hear this declaration, “I’ve officially run out of excuses. I will likely be a little late because of who I am as a person.”

All procrastination is delay, but not all delay is procrastination.

Since we can’t do everything, we must learn to deliberately put off those tasks that are of low value so that we have enough time to do the few things that really matter. Patricia, a lifeguard at a gym facility I regularly frequent, calls this ‘Procrastinating Responsibly.’ In my research, I’ve seen this principle referred to as “The Law of Forced Efficiency: There is never enough time to do everything, but there is always enough time to do the most important thing.”

Why do so many people have difficulty getting started?

A young concert violinist was asked the secret of her success. She replied, “Planned neglect.” Then she explained, “When I was in school, there were many things that demanded my time. When I went to my room after breakfast, I made my bed, straightened the room, dusted the floor, and did whatever came to my attention. Then I hurried to violin practice. I found I wasn’t progressing as I thought I should, so I reversed things. Until my practice was completed, I deliberately neglected everything else. That program of planned neglect, I believe accounts for my success.”

Some people will claim, “Procrastination is a good thing. You’ll always have something to do tomorrow, plus you have nothing to do today.” So, can procrastination a good thing? Rarely, it ever. If you put off something purposefully because you think it’s beneficial to delay, you’re not actually procrastinating. I would call that justifiable delay; you’re scheduling or prioritizing effectively. Procrastination is when you planned or felt that you should have done the thing earlier, and then delayed anyway. In short, it is putting off despite expecting to be worse off.

Is it your belief that tasks will magically disappear if they are ignored? Piers Steel in his delightful book, The Procrastination Equation, writes, “Now the world doesn’t always unfold according to our expectations, and sometimes ‘Lady Luck’ steps in and we find the task we have been putting off didn’t need to be done at all- a truly happy moment- like when a project gets cancelled and it turns out the boss doesn’t need the report you never got around to writing in the first place. This is ‘beneficial procrastination.’ But because it only happens when the world operates against our own expectations, on average, procrastination is only a good strategy for the clinically insane or the perpetually deluded. The way the world is and the way you believe it to be are at odds. Otherwise, you are just getting lucky occasionally by procrastinating.” It’s like going to Las Vegas and spinning the roulette wheel, once is a while you’ll win, but most of the time you won’t.

If you are finally getting around to tackling a task you have been putting off, there can often be a motivation bump at the last minute. If so, follow this process:

Practice the five second rule. Mel Robbins writes, “The five second rule is simple. If you have an instinct to act on a goal, you must physically move within five seconds or your brain will kill it. The moment you feel a desire to act on a commitment, use the rule. When you feel yourself hesitate before doing something that you know you should do, count 5-4-3-2-1. Go and move toward action. There is a window that exists between the moment you have an instinct to change and your mind killing it. It’s a five second window and it exists for everyone. By doing this one simple thing you can prevent your mind from working against you; you can start the momentum before the barrage of thoughts and excuses hit you at full force.”

Now, let’s combine the five second rule with an additional ten-minute rule. Once you have committed to a plan of action, agree that you will work on the task for ten minutes. Set a timer. That gets you over the hard work of initiation. After being involved in the activity for ten minutes, stop! Then decide whether to continue for another ten minutes. Once you are involved, it’s easier to stay with a task. Just do it! At least for 10 minutes.

M.J. Ryan writes, “All of the people I work with feel time starved. They have too many tasks to accomplish in a day, a week, a month, or a year. Each of us has the choice of how we spend our time. I know I can easily fall into the ‘no time’ trap when it comes to exercising, but what I’m really saying to myself is I don’t want to do it. And so, I challenge myself to quit making excuses and her back to the gym. This is not to say finding the time is easy. It may require sacrifice. In some cases, the trade-offs we make reveal what we really care about. What time choices do you need to make so you can have what you really want?”

Food for Thought

Do you procrastinate on a regular basis?

What are some things you have been putting off at work or in your home life?

Are you more of a ‘situational or chronic’ procrastinator?

Do you have at least one success story of how you overcame procrastination?

Are you willing to give up some things you like to do, to move on to those you must do?

Choose one quote every day or perhaps one or two every week if you like. How do these quotes speak to you? What applications do you see in your life? Share your chosen quotes with a family member, a friend, a business colleague. Create a ‘quote of the day’ club at work.

If you wait until tomorrow comes, tomorrow comes. If you don’t wait for tomorrow, tomorrow comes.

- West African Saying

Everyone must choose one of two pains, the pain of discipline or the pain of regret. - Jim Rohn

The time is now, stop hitting the snooze button on your life.

- Mel Robbins

The secret of getting ahead is getting started.

- Agatha Christie

You don’t have to see the whole staircase. Just take the first step.

- Martin Luther King Jr.

If you wait until you are really sure, you’ll never take off the training wheels.

- Kids

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

- Lao-Tzu

When they come up with a riding vacuum cleaner, then I’ll clean the house.

- Roseanne Barr

Some people watt so long for their ship to come in, their pier collapses.

- John Goddard

I can only do one thing at a time, but I can avoid doing many things simultaneously.

- Ashleigh Brilliant

The time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining.

- John F. Kennedy

Tomorrow is often the busiest day of the week.

- Spanish Proverb

If you want to spend tomorrow being glad you did it, you have to do it today.

- Ashleigh Brilliant

I’ve tried to lose weight but I always have this problem with my feet. I can’t keep them out of the fish and chips shop.

- Roy Brown

Being able to delay pleasure for a greater result is a sign of maturity.

- Dave Ramsay

Emmet’s Law: The dread of doing a task uses up more time and energy than doing the task itself.

- Rita Emmet

Procrastination is putting off until tomorrow what you put off yesterday, until today.

- Laurence Peter

You’re more likely to act yourself into feeling, than feel yourself into action.

- Jerome Bruner

There’s a huge difference between said and done.

- Puerto Rican Proverb

It’s amazing how long it takes to complete something you’re not working on.

- R.D. Clyde

The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.

- Walt Disney

The most difficult thing is the decision to act. The rest is merely tenacity.

- Amelia Earhart

Time is a created thing. To say, “I don’t have time” is to say, “I don’t want to.”

- Lao Tzu

Next Lesson: Age Only Matters if You Are a Cheese

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