Thursday, December 8, 2011

Advice for Tomorrow You Can Use Today

ProcraStinationImage by Viktor Hertz via FlickrBy Frank McKinley

Someone once said, "Procrastination is my sin. It brings me naught but sorrow. I know that I should stop it. In fact, I will - tomorrow!"

How many of you know well the meaning of the phrase, "if it weren't for the last minute, I'd never get anything done"?

We are a nation of procrastinators. Consider this. The average American spends more than 4 hours a day watching television. That equals two months of nonstop watching each year. If you lived to be sixty-five, you'd have spent nine of those years watching television.

Now what if much of that time was spent delaying something urgent and important?

That is procrastination defined.

Procrastination is trading a high priority task for one of low priority. Zig Ziglar described it as "trading what you want most for what you want now." It's putting something off, knowing that you'll be worse off for doing it.

What if you were standing on train tracks and saw a train approaching in the distance and said to yourself, "I know I should move. It would really be the smart thing to do. But you know, I think I'll wait until the time is right."

The time is right now.

Chances are there's something in your life about which you procrastinate. Maybe it's Christmas shopping, for example. You might think it's great to wait until the week of Christmas to do your shopping because you tell yourself that is when the best deals are. Besides, you don't really like going shopping. And why do you need to buy Cousin Eddie a sweater he'll never wear anyway? Maybe you could just pay someone to do it for you, right?

Well, if you want to make an easy job seem mighty hard, just keep putting it off. The pressure will come on you like a waterfall feeding a funnel into a garden hose. At some point it will burst and you'll have a flood like the one two year ago that covered I-20 with water twenty inches deep.

So why do we put things off anyway?

There are three reasons.

First, there's fear. One we can all relate to is giving a speech. It's in the top ten American fears. Fortunately, you have a chance to overcome that, don't you? The first time I gave a speech I was petrified. All I could think about was how scared I was. I felt like a bug under a microscope.

Now of course some fears are healthy. A lot of our fears aren't.

Another reason we put off tasks is that we are doubtful we'll ever complete them anyway. If you're in sales, you might call it quits after lunch if you've had a hard morning. You tell yourself, "Rest up this afternoon. Tomorrow is another day." Yes, it is. But it won't be better if you rest and do the same thing tomorrow.

The third reason we procrastinate is that we're lazy. If you've ever heard the alarm go off in the morning and hit the snooze because the bed feels better than getting up, you might be lazy. Maybe you're tired from working hard the day before, but chances are if you hit the snooze because you spent four hours before bed watching TV, you might be lazy.

Our emotional responses to difficult tasks reveal some things.

If we're afraid, it's most likely because we haven't examined our fears. Will the walls close in when you give a speech? Probably not. Will people make fun of you when you make a mistake? Not likely, especially if they know you'll be watching them give a presentation sometime.

If we're doubtful, the problem is with what we believe. Often, if you think things will turn out badly, you won't be disappointed because you've already made the choice to view your day as cloudy whether or not there's sunshine outside. If you don't believe you'll make a sale, you probably won't. If you think you'll give a dull speech, chances are you'll deliver one that will turn your audience into another cast of "Dawn of the Dead".

If you're lazy, then the lights will turn green and you won't be ready to go. Opportunity will pass you by like a bus pulling away from the stop just seconds before you get there. You can wave and yell all you want but no one will hear you.

Let's face it. Fear, doubt and laziness can tempt us all from time to time. Now what can be done to overcome those feelings?

Look at tasks as green lights of opportunity.

Let's take Christmas shopping. It comes every year at the same time. Isn't that amazing? Here's what you do to keep it from ruining your holidays. Make a list early. Decide who will and who won't be getting gifts this year. Make a budget. It takes money if you buy everything. If you make some things, you will need time to get that done. You'll also need time to shop, so budget for that. Put it on the calendar. Figure out how long it might take and if you need anyone to help you. If you do all that, you'll see the lights were green all along. And that train is further away than it was in year past when you waited until the last minute to get off the tracks.

Who knows, you might not even see the train.

So, in summary, if you want to use some of those American television hours to your advantage, dedicate yourself to fighting procrastination. Honestly assess your emotional responses to burdensome tasks and see if what bothers you can be overcome. If you need help, get it. Do things sooner rather than later so they don't weigh on you like a millstone hanging from your neck.

If you'll do these things, you'll not only feel better, but you'll get some of those nine years back.

Just don't use them to put off living.

Frank McKinley is an avid reader, an incessant thinker, and a daily blogger. He is author of Praying God's Way: A Guide to Biblical Prayer, which is available on His work can also be seen on his blog at He lives in Georgia with his wife and family.

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