“Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. Remember that the Lord will give you an inheritance as your reward, and that the Master you are serving is Christ.” Colossians 3:23-24 (NLT)
I am not proud of it, but procrastination can cling to me like a second skin.
My earliest recollection of my struggles with procrastination occurred in my preparation for the fifth grade spelling bee. Each evening for weeks, I would glance at the booklet filled with words I should have been learning and avert my gaze, finding anything else to do. I did not want to learn hundreds of boring words or even think about standing in front of the whole school for any reason. So I would do my homework, read, watch television- anything to push my responsibility out of my mind.
In the final days, fear of embarrassment led me to skim some of the words and hope I could absorb them. Eventually, the day came and anxiety stretched my nerves taut. I got up to the podium for each round in a haze, barely aware of what was happening. I made it farther than I would have expected, but ultimately, it was a pretty easy word that took me out of the running- one I could have known if I had put effort into my preparation. You would think this frustrating experience would teach me a lesson about time management and prioritizing, but this was a theme that would play out again and again in my life.
There were exams I would put off studying for, plays where I would delay learning my lines, speeches I would avoid writing, and instruments I would neglect to practice. Each time, the stress would catch up to me, and I would give myself a stern lecture. Of course, it would be quickly forgotten once the crisis was past.
Most of us have dealt with procrastination and its consequences at one time or another. How can this be overcome? This is a lesson I am still learning, but there are a few principles that are proving helpful so far.
Address your fear
Fear can be a major contributor to procrastination. Fear of making mistakes, fear of failure, even fear of success- they can all lead to paralysis. Not acting feels safer, but like the saying goes, “A ship in the harbor is safe, but that’s not what ships are for.” I am learning to go to God honestly with my fears and insecurities and allowing His peace and encouragement to push me out to sea.
Make manageable to-do lists
I LOVE making lists. It is a great way to break a big task down into smaller steps with measurable outcomes. For example, preparing a 30-minute presentation can feel overwhelming, but it can be broken down over several days into steps: i) Research theme
ii) Make presentation outline; iii) Make first draft of presentation; iv) Edit presentation; vi) Practice presentation; vii) Get feedback and make changes.
Reward good behavior
When you accomplish what you set out to do, give yourself a treat. Instead of watching your favorite show, chatting with a friend, or eating a snack as a distraction from the task at hand, use it as a prize for a job well done.
Give yourself grace
Perfectionism is a hard taskmaster and an impossible standard. Don’t give in to negative self-talk when you fall off the productivity wagon. Instead, forgive yourself and move forward, seeking God’s strength to be a better steward of the time He has blessed you with.
God has given each of us 24 hours each day to use in fulfilling His purposes and bringing glory to Him. Do you have a packed schedule and a mile-long to-do list? Our Father can give energy, efficiency, and wisdom for the way forward. Maybe your days involve more free time than you know what to do with, and you find yourself passing the day binge-watching Netflix and scrolling aimlessly on social media. God can give you a sense of direction and guidance in the best use of your time.
Let us pray with King David, “Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom… and may the Lord our God show us His approval and make our efforts successful. Yes, make our efforts successful!” (Psalm 90: 12, 17 NLT)