We have all encountered the problem of procrastination, and in the Old Testament book of Proverbs, God provides instruction for how we can do something about it. In Proverbs 24:30-34, we meet the procrastinator par-excellence. King Solomon writes about the field owner who is a sluggard; whose field is covered in thorns and weeds. The sluggard would rather procrastinate than do the work that needs to be done, and pays the price: poverty and scarcity. Procrastinators always have excuses for their delays, for their lack of initiative. Sometimes their excuses border on the ridiculous. Consider Proverbs 22:13: “The sluggard says, ‘There is a lion outside!’ or, ‘I will be murdered in the streets!’”
If you are going to be successful in God’s world, if you are going to overcome the problem of procrastination, you must cultivate that quality of self-discipline. As a Christian, you have an advantage over your non-Christian friends. The Spirit of God who lives within you wants to progressively produce self-discipline in your life as you submit to his leadership on a daily basis and trust in him. Self-control is really synonym for self-discipline. We usually think of self-control as the ability to refrain from doing those things we shouldn’t. But that is only half the story! It also involves the motivation to do those things that we should do, when we should do them. Procrastination is a spiritual issue, not just a personal management issue. How do you solve this problem of procrastination? The first and most important step is to ask God to help you in this area, to commit your lack of initiative to God. With that spiritual basis in place, you may wish to apply one of the following strategies:
The Divide and Conquer Approach
When you realize that you are procrastinating on a major task, divide it up into as many manageable “instant tasks” as possible. Promise yourself that you won’t force yourself to get involved with the main job, provided you do at least one of the small steps on the list. If the task to be done is an especially involved, the number of slices into which you need to divide the task may be quite large. So make a long list. The key is to make each incremental task so simple and quick that, by itself, it doesn’t amount to much. If possible, make it something that you can accomplished in a few minutes.
The Balance Sheet Method
Another method that can help you get started on tasks you have been putting off is to analyze in writing what you are doing. On the left side of a sheet of paper, make a list of all the reasons you are procrastinating on a particular task. On the right side, list all the benefits that will accrue if you go ahead and get the job done. The effect is usually striking. On the left side you will usually have one or two pathetic excuses such as, “It make be an awkward confrontation” or “I might be bored.” On the other side, you will have a long list of benefits, the first of which usually will be a feeling of relief which comes from putting an unpleasant task behind you.
The third approach to dealing with procrastination is really the most fundamental. It recognizes that when we fail to act as promptly as we should, it is usually not because the task in question is extremely difficult, but rather because we have formed a habit of procrastinating whenever possible. Procrastination is seldom related to a single item; it is usually an ingrained behavior pattern. If we can change our habits of thinking, these first two methods will be unnecessary. How do you change an ingrained habit of procrastination? There are three steps: (1) Decide to start making the change immediately, while you are still motivated. Taking this first step promptly is crucial. (2) Don’t try to do too much too quickly. Instead of trying to revolutionize your entire approach, just force yourself right now to do one thing you have been putting off. Then, beginning tomorrow morning, start each day by doing the most unpleasant thing on your “to do” list. (3) There is one caution: during the period when your new habit is taking root, especially during the first couple of weeks, permit no exceptions. It is like rolling up a ball of string. A single slip can undo more than many turns can wind up. So be tough with yourself, just for the first few minutes of each day for the next two weeks.
Application / Challenge
- Identify one area of responsibility, one project, or one task that you’ve been procrastinating on. Apply one of the methods above. Try tracking your progress through prayer and journaling.