Written By Jolene Cheng, Singapore
Procrastinate: To be slow or late about doing something that should be done: to delay doing something until a later time because you do not want to do it, because you are lazy etc. (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)
I’m a procrastinator. It’s been a battle since birth. In fact, I even delayed my birth: I refused to get into the proper position for delivery—maybe because I was too comfortable to leave—so my mother had to undergo a Caesarean section.
I delay the start of any task by doing plenty of “planning” and “research”, and justify it by saying that I want to make sure that everything is in perfect place before I begin. Or, I tell myself, “My life doesn’t revolve around my work”, put off my work and proceed to catch up with friends, listen to podcasts, learn new songs on the ukulele, go for a workout, meet my cousins . . . right until I am cornered by deadlines.
After the inevitable mad rush to complete the task on time (and, usually, not doing it well), I’ll then go through the by-now-familiar monologue: “I know I’m better than this.” “I won’t let this happen again, I promise.” But it does. I break my own promise time and again. The habit has even become a self-fulfilling prophecy: I’ve started to believe subconsciously that I will always fail my task—so I fail to start.
Deep down, however, I really do want to be productive. I want to do work that adds value and is purposeful, and I’m sure most procrastinators feel the same way. Besides, I’m getting tired of my procrastination. It sounds ironic, but it’s true.
I also feel a renewed sense of purpose to do something about my bad habit because I’m reminded that Christ freed us from our bondage to sin. He bought our lives with His, and He bought our time too. All of our being—including our time—now belongs to God. Our Creator has placed us on this earth for a purpose.
Here are five strategies I’m currently using to fight procrastination, and I hope they can help you too.
Procrastinate on procrastination.
Sometimes, I think we underestimate our own power to change. “I can’t stop procrastinating!” we might wail. But if work can wait, can’t procrastination wait too?
I think it can. Delay procrastination by closing that Google Chrome window with 10 opened tabs on “The Psychology behind Sociopaths”. Yes, it makes for interesting reading—but not during work!
Instead, go out for a 10-minute walk, talk to Jesus, clear the fog in our heads. Or try telling yourself, “Jesus didn’t save me so I could laze around in bed and escape writing my assignment that’s been overdue for two weeks . . .”
Don’t avoid or ignore procrastination; it just makes it all the more attractive. Give it attention, but not power.
Talk to yourself.
I often spend too much time thinking about my actions—and not actually doing them. To stop this, I try to talk to myself:
“Just a few more minutes in bed . . . The weather is really nice today . . . Can we run tomorrow instead please?”
“Hello, you just need to roll out of bed, put on your socks, wear your shoes, and get out of the room. You can do it, let’s go. NOW.”
Talking can help us to stop over-thinking, and get us to do things more quickly and effectively. This strategy is particularly useful for less brain-stimulating tasks like making our bed, doing the laundry, showering, exercising, etc. And if we have bigger tasks, we can break them down into smaller tasks that are easier to start—and easier to complete.
It’s also a helpful strategy if we always find ourselves falling into bad habits and not being on task.
Make yourself accountable.
The impact of my procrastination didn’t really hit me until I saw how it affected my friends. I realized that my delays and half-hearted efforts were putting them in jeopardy, giving them emotional stress, and making them work extra hours. In procrastinating, I was betraying their trust in me, to do my part. That’s when I knew it was time to be honest and admit my failings, and work on them.
God knew that humans have a knack for escaping responsibility and playing the game of hide-and-seek, so He gave us one another to support and walk alongside. Instead of just trying to beat the procrastination habit on your own, you can enlist the help of friends to remind you to do your tasks, and make yourself accountable to them. Remind yourself that your delay can hurt them.
“Believe in the me who believes in you,” my friends have told me. We will fail again and again because we are human, but those who truly care will stick around because they believe in the person we can be. Likewise, let’s do the same for them.
Stop being a superhero, try being a zero
I’ve come to realize that not knowing how much I could take meant that I tended to over-promise and make commitments I couldn’t meet. When there’s too much on my plate, I get overwhelmed and too paralyzed to start on anything. Naturally, that leads to a mad rush at the end. So I’m learning to stop thinking that I can do everything, given the limited time I have and the limits of the body I reside in. And I’m learning to carry my own knapsack first and make sure I finish my own work before I try to carry someone else’s burden.
Zero in on what’s really important. And keep your list of things to do short, if it’s possible.
Unplug from your phone (or whatever is a distraction).
When we’re working, switch off our phone or put it into “flight” mode. We’ll come to realize that the world won’t collapse, and friends who are just looking to chat will find others who are free. In the meantime, we’ll manage to do some work.
We could also try to explain your predicament to people around us, so they understand why we go offline. After all, technology should be just a useful tool to manage life, not something that manages our lives.
No one can make us stop procrastinating except ourselves. Not even apps like “SelfControl”, which stops us from accessing selected websites for a length of time, nor the incessant nagging of a friend or parent.
We may never use our time perfectly, but let’s persevere in our fight against procrastination. Let us learn to be faithful and to be good stewards of our God-given gifts in our limited time on earth.
I want my life to count—in the seconds, minutes, and hours of every passing day. Let’s clock in those productive hours and keep watch together.