Procrastination. At five syllables even the word takes a long time to say. Say it slowly and you’re liable to evoke images of unbalanced checkbooks, people you meant to call back, and honey-do lists that have no end in sight. Each of us has a propensity to put off certain tasks. Perhaps you’re among those who thought that procrastination was your spiritual gift, and that you had been given a double portion.
Most books on procrastination will talk about time-management. But procrastinating is more than a time issue. It’s root cause lies deeper. We can’t simply address how we stop putting off the important tasks, without answering why we were putting them off in the first place. Here are three primary causes. Choose the one that applies to you and start to work on it today – not tomorrow.
Fear: The secret motivator
Jesus told the story of three stewards who were entrusted with various amounts of wealth. The first two invested wisely, but the final steward hid his talent in the ground. Notice his confession when his boss returns home.
Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours (Matt. 25:24-25).
The unwise steward was afraid. Fear is often the motivator for putting off what is difficult. Perhaps we’re afraid of failure or what others might think of us. This perpetrator works in secret, because rarely do we confess our fear to others until it is too late. How much better to confess your fears early on, seek help, and then walk by faith.
Sloth: The stubborn enabler
A wild sloth can sleep 15-18 hours a day. Which is about as much as a domestic house cat (but that’s another story). Talk about an unproductive life. By contrast, the Bible holds up the ant as a model for the sluggard to examine.
Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise. Without having any chief, officer, or ruler, she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest. How long will you lie there, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep? (Prov. 6:6-11)
The ant is thinking about her future, and she busies herself over making sure she’s prepared. Even hard workers can struggle with laziness, when it comes to what they don’t want to do. When I received my grandmother’s Bible upon her death, a small note fell out of it. In her own handwriting I read: The longer you wait to solve a problem — the more serious it quickly becomes. Don’t put off tomorrow what should be done today.
Pride: The overconfident optimist
The procrastinator always believes that tomorrow will provide a better opportunity than today. This is pride’s subtle lie. We don’t know that we will have tomorrow. We do know that we have today. James gave this strong warning:
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance (James 4:13-16).
James reminds the procrastinator that he has a pride problem. He is overconfident in his optimism. He has arrogantly assumed that he will be in a better position tomorrow. But we don’t know that we will have tomorrow, so we ought to make a humble investment in tomorrow by being diligent today.