Putting off for Tomorrow: A Series on the Problem of Procrastination

In this new series, we will explore the nettlesome problem of procrastination, which affects the most of us at some point in our lives. In fact, one study found that 95% of the population has experienced procrastination in one form or another.  Silver and Sabini (1981) label it a psychopathology of everyday life.  Its manifestations can cause havoc in our personal relationships, careers, and our spiritual life. Not getting a term paper done in time may not be the end of the world, but not preparing for the Kingdom of Heaven in time could mean being shut out of the bridal chamber like the foolish virgins of the Gospel. If procrastination is so prevalent and powerful in our society, if its consequences can be potentially so dire at every level of our existence, it’s certainly worthwhile examining not only its root causes, but also strategies to minimize it in our everyday lives.

As civilizations progressed, the opportunities for procrastination arose such that civic leaders warned against such tendencies.  The ancient Babylonian leader Hammurabi codified penalties for procrastination, recognizing the harm to society in such behavior.  Benjamin Franklin listed decisiveness and prompt attention to the work at hand as one of his 13 virtues.  Franklin wrote, “Resolve to perform what you ought.  Perform without fail what you resolve.”

According to William J. Knaus, in his paper entitled, “Procrastination, Blame, and Change”, procrastination became an issue with the dawn of the Industrial Revolution as societies moved from an agrarian economy to one that utilized machinery to enhance efficiency and performance.  However, it is only in the cyber era where procrastination becomes a ubiquitous phenomenon.  The advent of the personal computer, as Knaus notes, has become a double-edged sword “used by some for gain and by others to dally and procrastinate.”

As societies have progressed in making production more prized, more efficient, and less physically burdensome, there has been a corresponding growth in putting off tasks, delaying projects, or ignoring deadlines. Some of this stems from feelings of being overwhelmed or being distracted by more pleasurable pursuits.  This often leaves the individual in a state where he languishes rather than flourishes.  This leads to feelings of guilt, inadequacy, and a general sense of being burdened with unwanted tasks.

The holy fathers were also well aware of the problem of procrastination and urge us to wake from slumber and do what we can to approach the Lord at this very moment, the only moment that is truly ours. For instance, Saint Augustine would ask, “Why then are you putting off the One who is calling you, being certain of a reward, but uncertain of the day? Be careful lest what He is to give you by promise, you take from yourself by delay?” (Sermon 37) Delaying or procrastinating on the spiritual plane can be a self-inflicted wound causing us to lose what matters most, even the “kingdom prepared for us from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25:4).

Procrastination is problem of achieving worthwhile goal. It is a problem of consistently laboring in the vineyard. It is a problem that involves who we are and who we become. There are conditions that precede it, consequences that follow it, and also choices that can lead to different outcomes. It’s a psychological problem, but also a spiritual one as well. As we delve further into the causes and issues that stem from procrastination, it is hoped that strategies for overcoming this issue will be presented and procrastinators will find peace and joy in their daily lives.