Imagine: a picture of a man standing beside a fire extinguisher contemplatively looking at his home on the verge of going up in flames. You are looking at a picture of procrastination.
Part of this was written in the woods and there were still distractions tempting me to procrastinate. Partly because I wrote this on my phone in the woods. I was getting Snapchat messages and I was tempted to start taking pictures and posting them on Instagram. I was wondering what hashtags I should use, #tree? #trees? #woods? #treesinthewoods? Or is that too redundant? Or should I use all of the hashtags? And then there’s the question of location. Should I include the location or not? Should I zoom in a cool leaf and then use the little blurry feature to make it look cool?
That’s where our minds can go and do go, and super quickly. So, how, from a Christian perspective, can we take action against inaction? How can we have victory over procrastination?
First, it’s important that we know what procrastination is. Procrastination is the action of avoiding things that you need to do. “Procrastination… [is] willingly deferring something even though you expect the delay to make you worse off.” Actually, “The essence of procrastination lies in not doing what you think you should be doing.” So, one article I read said that procrastination is “the action of ruining your life for no apparent reason.”
It may be an action, and even an art and science, but it sure doesn’t feel like it. It feels like there was no action involved. It feels like it was inevitable. It feels…
[[My mind just interpreted me for something really important. So, I stopped writing this, and texted a friend to say: “I can probably go to a baseball game.”]]
That’s how our minds work, or at least my mind. Of course, distraction is different than procrastination but it’s en route.
Procrastination is intentional (or unintentional) distraction. And intentional action, which leads to accomplishing something, is the opposite of procrastination. It is purposing to do something and then avoiding the many distractions, good (texting your friend, enjoying leaves) and bad (e.g. Facebook stocking old friends), to accomplish that goal.
Why is productivity prized and procrastination penalized? What’s the big deal about watching endless loops of funny dog videos on YouTube? What’s the big deal about interrupting writing to text a friend (and take pictures of leaves and post pictures on Instagram and… and…)?
Proverbs and Procrastination
Most people say that they struggle with procrastination. There is so much to be done and so much to do to distract us.
Congratulations! The human attention span has shrunk from 12 to 8 seconds in around the span of a decade. Goldfish now have a longer attention span than humans!
Sometimes it seems like we’re helplessly stuck in destination procrastination. So, what can help us?
The book of Proverbs teaches us that productivity is good and procrastination is bad. For example:
“Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise” (Prov. 6:6).
“Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits lacks sense” (Prov. 12:11).
And there’s many others: Proverbs 10:5; 14:23; 19:15; 20:4, 13; 24:30-34; Ecclesiastes 5:12; Titus 3:14. “Wise wants” inform the counsel in Proverbs. Presumably, people desire to have a reputation for trustworthiness and honor; healthy friendships, including delightful romance; a sense of security and confidence; usefulness; and competence and success at work.
Many Proverbs capitalize on our “wise wants.” “Lazy people are soon poor; hard workers get rich” (Prov. 10:4 NLT). “A man is praised for his insight, but a twisted mind is despised” (Prov. 12:8 HCSB). These verses capitalize on the fact that we want to avoid poverty and want approval. Proverbs teaches us that if we want to avoid poverty and want to obtain approval we must work hard. So, Proverbs uses “wise wants” to speak to the issue of procrastination.
Enjoying life and having fun is good. Even having wealth is good, when used to God’s glory. Paul tells us that we are to receive all God’s blessing with thanksgiving (I think that even includes funny dog videos, but of course in moderation) (1 Tim. 4:4).
So, I’m not knocking on fun, pleasure, and leisure. They are God-given and good. But God has also given us things to accomplish and we flourish in life as we are functioning in His ordained will. We were meant to live for more than just distraction. We were meant to live for a purpose. It’s as we understand that purpose that we begin to experience freedom from distraction and procrastination. So, what purpose are we ultimately called to?
We’re called to…
Work for the Lord (Col. 3:23)
We are to work for the Lord in “whatever” we do. There is no area of our life that is ok for our ultimate motivation to be for ourselves. What about school? Sports? Family life? Work? All of it is supposed to be done as work unto the Lord, not men, not anything else.
Our work is not to be done in a begrudging manner. Our work is to be done “heartedly.” That is, fully, sincerely, enthusiastically, energetically, to the Lord.
However, we can’t manufacture this. It can, as we have seen, be hard enough to get something done, but now I’m saying not only do we need to work and get something done, we are to do so with a happy heart. This is hard so what can motivate us to defeat procrastination and live with purpose?
Work for the Reward from the Lord (Col. 3:24a)
Ultimately procrastination, as the opening illustration shows us, is not helpful and is actually illogical. But that’s not it. Procrastination doesn’t lead to prospering. We were created in the image of God not to procrastinate but to be productive, to create and “subdue the earth.” When we are functioning according to our design, doing what God has given us to do, it is then that we prosper (and realize I do not mean financially, I mean teleologically).
However, that’s not it. Not only does life and our purpose in it just fit when we are carrying out what God has given us to do (that is not to say that life is easy) we also see that there is a “reward.” We have reason to keep our hand to the plow and purposely avoid distractions because we have a reward we’re working for, an “inheritance.” One that does not fade and won’t be destroyed (1 Pet 1:4).
So, hear Paul’s words from 1 Corinthians:
“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air” (1 Cor. 9: 24-26).
Serve the Lord (Col. 3:24b)
We’ve clearly seen that it’s not about us. It’s about the Lord, we see that very clearly from Colossians 3:23-24.
So, if the “Lord Christ” is what it’s all about, if seeing Him, and keeping Him at the forefront of our lives helps us defeat procrastination and instead live God-glorifying and productive lives then it’s important that we see and know Him. Only then will we understand the purpose He’s given us. So, what is so glorious about Christ that can arrest our attention and make us drop everything thing to live for Him?
That question has been answered by many book-length treatments so I will just quote from earlier in Colossians:
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together… For in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of His cross. And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, He has now reconciled in His body of flesh by His death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before Him.”
That’s what led Paul to say “I count everything as loss compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Christ” (Phi. 3:8). As we know Christ more and more we will strive to live for Him more and more and not to earn His approval but simply out of love. We will put away distractions because they’re just that, they’re distractions.
A Few Suggestions
- If your same old proven-not-to-work methods aren’t working then get new methods
- Don’t let short-term temptations overwhelm your more important long-term goals by intentionally remembering what it is you’re working towards
- Break tasks down into smaller goals that can be more easily accomplished (“A remarkable, glorious achievement is just what a long series of unremarkable, unglorious tasks look like from far away”)
- Ensure the task is specific, not vague
- Put checks in place to ensure that your tasks get done and you don’t get sidetracked (e.g. Ulysses’ knew he needed to be bound to the ship’s mast)
- Put your phone on airplane mode or throw it away
- Do what you have to do, not everything that comes into your mind
- Remember, putting things off only piles them up and makes them heavier
- Do the things you really hate first
- If you procrastinate you’re not doing the best that you can, you’re also missing a lot of real fun, like enjoying your hard earned accomplishments
As we live on purpose for the Lord we will more and more stop procrastinating because we are given amazing motivation to do so.
 James Surowiecki, “Later: What does procrastination tell us about ourselves.”
 “How sad to see brilliant, creative people pouring hours and days of their lives into creating cities and armies and adventures that have no connection with reality. We have one life to live. All our powers are given to us by the real God for the real world leading to a real heaven or hell” (John Piper, Taste and See [Colorado Springs: Multnomah Books, 2005], 139).
 Interestingly, although procrastination “seems to involve avoiding unpleasant tasks, indulging in it generally doesn’t make you happy” (Surowiecki, “Later”).
 Urban, “How to Beat Procrastination.”