Conquering ProcrastinationBy Dan Vis
May 21, 2017
Note: Since we've been focusing this month on goal setting, projects, planning, and the like, it seemed appropriate to pull this old article out of the archives. Enjoy reviewing the suggestions!
I believe procrastination is a sin. If you define procrastination as putting something off that we should be doing now, then it certainly falls into this Bible definition:
Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.
And if it is a sin, we know at least two things from I Corinthians 10:13There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.:
First, procrastination is something we all struggle with. It's one of those things that are "common to man".
But second, when tempted to procrastinate, there's always a way to avoid it. God will, "with the temptation make a way to escape".
If you struggle with procrastination, having a few tricks in your back pocket to help get you started on something you are putting off, is important. Here's a few suggestions that may work for you:
The Swiss Cheese Technique
Sometimes we procrastinate because we have a big project and just a small window of time available. At first glance, it makes more sense to focus on some small, less important task, that can fit into your available slot. The problem is, you may never get that giant block of uninterrupted time you need. If you end up filling all your free snippets of time with trivial tasks, you will never get around to that important project with the looming deadline.
The solution is to turn that project into Swiss cheese. That is, start poking holes in it. Even if you just have 5 or 10 minutes, try to find some tiny task you can do to advance your project. One of those tasks might just be making a quick list of more tiny tasks required by the project. Another might be prioritizing those tasks. But there will be many more. Pick one or two and squeeze them into your slot. You will feel a sense of progress. Make enough holes, and finishing the project will come into view more quickly than you would expect.
The White Knuckle Approach
Another reason we put priority tasks off, is they are unpleasant. Our natural tendency is to gravitate toward those activities we like to do, and avoid those we don't. But priority tasks don't go away. They keep coming back until they are dealt with. And if we struggle with procrastination, these can get backlogged--until we find ourselves overwhelmed with a long list of imminent deadlines for unpleasant tasks. Who wants that kind of stress?
Try "white knuckling' it. That is, address the situation face on. Acknowledge what you are doing, and determine to make at least some progress on one of those tasks you have been avoiding. Tell yourself that you are surely able to endure it for at least 5 minutes. You are going to have to do these tasks eventually--so why not do at least a bit of one of them now? Tough it out. Once you get into it, you may just find it is not near as bad as you thought.
The Straw Man Solution
You may have heard something described as a "straw man" argument. Basically an inaccurate description of someone's position is presented, and then that imaginary position is discredited. You can use an imaginary "straw man" to help you overcome procrastination as well.
Let's say you are procrastinating because you are intimidated by the complexity or challenge of some project. You don't feel you are up to the task, so you hesitate to tackle it.
Take a moment to imagine someone else were doing that task. What steps would they take? What would a competent solution look like? Write out a quick list of the details involved in your "straw man" getting it done. Then take a look at the list: what on that list could you do to help your "straw man" out? Pick something you feel comfortable doing and start on that. Do this a few times, and the task will soon begin to seem more doable.
The Research Method
There's an old saying that goes "familiarity breeds contempt". That may be true in some situations, but the opposite is true when it comes to procrastination. We're actually more inclined to put something off if we don't know much about it, and more inclined to dive right in if it is something we are knowledgeable about and comfortable doing. In fact, experiments have shown that the more information you have on a subject, the more interested you become in it. So use this fact to your advantage.
If you suspect you may be struggling with a task because you lack information relevant to completing it, take a little time to do some research. Do a quick internet search. Drop by the library for a how-to book. Talk to someone who may know more about the subject. Try to gather a few bits of information, and make some notes. It may just jumpstart your engagement in the process.
Sometimes, all it takes to get moving down a track is to identify a trigger for a familiar process. If you find yourself facing an important project and having difficulty committing to it head on--you may be able to slide into it by committing to the trigger instead.
Suppose for example, setting an alarm isn't enough to get you up in the morning, because you keep snoozing it. Try putting your alarm across the room. Getting up out of bed to silence it, may be enough to trigger your wake up process. Once out of bed it's just as easy to continue on to the bathroom or wherever you need to go next. Getting out of bed is the leading task. You may not be fully committed to starting your day when the alarm goes off, but once you are across the room, it becomes easier to make that choice.
Have a big writing project you need to work on? Why not sharpen a pencil and put a blank sheet of paper in front of you on your desk? Been putting off some exercise program? Go grab your running shoes and start putting them on. Been wanting to read some book? Purchase a copy of it and place it on your nightstand. Learning to find and use these leading triggers may be enough to get you going.
One reason we procrastinate is shortsighted thinking. That is, when confronted with some task, our focus tends to be on what is involved in completing that task rather than what completing that task (or failing to complete it) will create. In other words, we are focused on the present rather than the future.
You can overcome this tendency by being intentional about shifting our focus to the future. Take a moment to reflect on what that task will accomplish. Why is it important? What will it make possible? How will your life be better. Thinking about those benefits may inspire you to get started!
The reverse works too. What will happen if you fail to complete that task? Or don't complete it on time? What is the potential impact of missing your target completion date? What other projects will be delayed or otherwise affected? How will it affect the people around you? Visualizing these negative consequences may also motivate you to get started.
This is one of my favorites: the reward. You can try this approach anytime you are having a difficult time getting started on something important. Do a bit of negotiation with yourself. Agree to do something positive if and only if you are able to achieve some specified level of progress on your project.
Spend one hour doing some activity, writing so many pages, exercising so many minutes, whatever. In return, you will reward yourself with a guilt-free break to take a walk, spend a few moments on some hobby, read something you enjoy, call a friend you've been dying to catch up with. As long as you can come up with an appropriate (positive) reward, and discipline yourself to stick to the terms of your agreement--dwelling on the reward can be a powerful motivator to action.
The next time you find yourself tempted to procrastinate, try one of these strategies. See if you can't find the way of escape that works best for you!
There are two more things we know about procrastination, from I John 1:9If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness..
First, if we confess it as a sin, God is faithful and just "to forgive us our sin". That means, we don't have to let our past failures keep beating us down.
Second, God is willing to "cleanse us from all unrighteousness". In fact, ultimately, He is the only one who can truly empower us to overcome! After all, God alone can change the heart.
CommentsWhat about you? Do you struggle with procrastination? What solutions have you found to work for you? How important is it to defeat this sin?
|Posted by Doug Schoch on 02/06/23|
|I have struggled with procrastinating. Having a time management system help a lot. Great posts Barbara, Louise, Colette, Sam, and Daniel. And Tamara has been making holes in some big projects.|
|Posted by Dan Vis on 11/21/22|
|I like that last line Daniel! Some tasks take a crowbar! Definitely! I don't think I mentioned that, but I definitely should. :)|
|Posted by Daniel on 11/19/22|
|I find that breaking a job/task down helps.
Also rewards help and sometimes the reward is the finished product/task.
But yes, there are some tasks that need a crowbar.
|Posted by Colette Guthrie on 11/05/22|
|Sam I need to remember that pitchfork too!😁
Dan I'm not a runner of any means. I just got the shoes for walking.
|Posted by Shawnda McKnight on 11/05/22|
|Procrastination used to be a huge problem for me.. It still creeps in every now and then- But if I keep the pitchfork in mind and stick to my to-do lists, I think I will be ok-|
|Posted by Colette Guthrie on 11/04/22|
|I tend to put off asking for help so I like the Strawman. Time to take my running shoes out of the box too. Best foot forward. 😁|
|Posted by Dan Vis on 10/31/22|
|Thank you Amanda for pointing people back to our site. Much appreciated! :)|
|Posted by Dan Vis on 10/30/22|
|That's one of my favorites as well Louise! :) Though the swiss cheese approach seems to work best for me--though I've pretty much used all of them...|
|Posted by Louise P on 10/29/22|
|Procrastination being a sin makes sense, because it is a time and energy waster. The first three suggestions for combatting procrastination are memorable because of the images they evoke, but the last suggestion, The Reward, is a definite winner.
I John 1:9If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. is a wonderful promise to complement this reading!
|Posted by Tamara Schoch on 10/29/22|
|Great article. I have some big projects I plan to make into Swiss cheese.|
|Posted by Dan Vis on 05/25/18|
|Agreed Musa Sibisi! There is tremendous power in just thinking a bit about heaven. One of my favorite things to do! I've already made lot's of detailed plans for things I want to do in heaven. Can't wait... :)|
|Posted by Dan Vis on 05/11/18|
|Yes Kelly, the bigger issue is being able to choose which actions to do, and which to delegate or delete. But once we have our list, being able to get stuff done without dragging our feet is pretty important! :)|
|Posted by Karin on 04/25/18|
|I was just praying that God would help me know how to tackle procrastination. Then I saw your email about this article! It was a direct answer to prayer. I'm looking forward to applying these suggestions!|
|Posted by Qing Ling on 04/23/18|
|Jackie you summarised the strategies well. Those two things stood out to me too.
1) Poke holes at it/attack the project bit by bit.
2) persist with step 1.
|Posted by Dan Vis on 01/26/18|
|It's been said, "procrastination is the thief of time". So true, isn't it Arlene? Here's an interesting quote from the great little book Steps to Christ:
"Beware of procrastination. Do not put off the work of forsaking your sins and seeking purity of heart through Jesus. Here is where thousands upon thousands have erred to their eternal loss. I will not here dwell upon the shortness and uncertainty of life; but there is a terrible danger-a danger not sufficiently understood-in delaying to yield to the pleading voice of God's Holy Spirit, in choosing to live in sin; for such this delay really is" (Steps to Christ, p. 32).
Just so I don't forget, here's where I stumbled on to both these quotes. It's a great article on the subject: Confessions of a Procrastinator. It's worth the read...
|Posted by Sheila Schroeder on 01/22/18|
|Thanks so much for the great suggestions! I really appreciate how practical you are. I love how God invites us to move forward and then inspires and motivates us as we do. Taking steps today in His strength...|
|Posted by Dan Vis on 01/22/18|
|Glad you enjoyed today's article Valerie, Lynn! Always appreciate the feedback. :)
Interesting point about it being "presumption". Quite a thought!
|Posted by David Jeffrey Grabe on 01/22/18|
|Greetings to all my FAST friends in Jesus's Holy, Mighty-& Overcoming procrastination Name!
I totally agree, Sister Valerie & Sister Lynn! It is presumption-and it is a sin..."But Thanks be to GOD which gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! I Corinthians 15:57But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Thank you Pastor Dan for this powerful, "eye opening"
I was especially impressed by your statement, "One reason we procrastinate is shortsighted thinking. That is, when confronted with some task, our focus tends to be on what is involved in completing that task rather than what completing that task (or failing to complete it) will create. In other words, we are focused on the present rather than the future."
I like the "Swiss Cheese" & the "White Knuckle" approaches best, and will begin to implement them right away!
I see a terrific promise from God in this area of my life:
"I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with Mine eye."
Psalms 32:8I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye. And that will be @ every step of the way in all our "projects, tasks, plans, & purposes!
"The LORD direct your hearts into the love of God" this day, and always! II Thessalonians 3:5And the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God, and into the patient waiting for Christ.
|Posted by Metron Ziga on 06/01/17|
|Wow, thank you very much for the tips. I will definitely try them out.|
|Posted by Dan Vis on 05/31/17|
|Thanks Penny! Glad this information was helpful. And good point, that sometimes we need to try a combination of approaches! :)|
|Posted by Qing Ling on 05/30/17|
|Diane - I procrastinated in reading this memo too ;) (was wanting to be in the 'right headspace' - but actually, it's good to 'just do it' sometimes and not put it off because of some made up excuse)
perfect corresponding verse, Pam!!! Psalms 119:60I made haste, and delayed not to keep thy commandments. - here's a reference connection tip: 60 seconds in a min, 60mins in an hour - don't waste time, delay not to keep His commandments! :)
Valerie, You hit the nail on the head about committing to prayer this area of sin in our lives. AMEN! As the memo says - I Corinthians 10:13There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it. - God will make a way to escape. But if we even refuse to admit our procrastination as sin, then we are refusing to give God a chance to save us from it!
Linda, to add to what Dan has already said, I would re-read James 4:17Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin. and allow God to show You His plans for you. This is a really good memo relating to our lessons from the Life Focus System :)
Dan I actually have trouble understanding the Straw Man thing. Are you saying to pretend someone else is doing the job and I look at it as a 3rd person/external helper?
|Posted by Dan Vis on 05/27/17|
|I don't know about the worst! I think it is a pretty common problem Lillian. A lot of us out there... :)|
|Posted by Dan Vis on 05/25/17|
|Great point about presumption, Valerie! Thank you for sharing that perspective. Very insightful.|
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