In praise of procrastination? Really?
Mark, when was the last time someone told you “nicely done” after you procrastinated?
Good question. I can’t remember. Like you, the predominant message I’ve heard my entire life is “get it done now.” Procrastination is bad. Authors, speakers, preachers, parents, teachers, bosses, clients, great quotations, and trusted advisors, have delivered the same message in unison: Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today. Heck, Larry the Cable Guy built a stand-up career around the phrase “Git-R-Done.” Hard to argue with Larry. And by the way, I largely agree with the sentiment of getting things down now. But I would also suggest that there are times when procrastination conveys an important personal message that we should heed.
Consider this an ode to putting some things off until tomorrow (or forever): In Praise of Procrastination.
The wise adage tells to not let small problems turn into big problems. So attack your problem right now. Right? Yes, but not always.
Have you noticed that sometimes tackling a problem straightway and head-on actually makes the problem bigger—and sometimes ignoring a problem lets a problem solve itself and disappear? Some disagreements with a neighbor, friend, spouse or colleague will only be exacerbated by immediate attention. If you give the quarrel some space and time—in other words, if you procrastinate—you both might discover it really wasn’t that big of a deal in the first place. Striking while the fire is hot often increases emotional outbursts and harsh words that make the original disagreement pale in comparison.
Some disagreements can’t be ignored and avoided. But giving problems breathing room affords better perspective, which can lead to better solutions or at least lessen intense emotions that turn mole hills into mountains. Strike while the fire is hot—but not always. Sometimes it is better to stall and let problems sort themselves out.
Procrastination might be telling you not to make matters worse. As a wise sage once said: “If you’re in a hole, stop digging.”
We actually don’t need to do everything we do. (Duh.) We all like to put check marks in those little boxes scrawled next to the items on our to-do list, but do all of them really matter?
As a long time publisher, I’ve had countless people tell me they want to write a book but are struggling to get started. When I ask why they want to write a book, the answer is often nothing more than some version of, “It would be cool to write a book.” It is cool. But why devote time and energy if you really don’t have anything unique and compelling on your heart and mind?
But I want to leave something personal with my kids.
That’s different. That’s now a priority for you. Write it and self-publish it. But if it isn’t something that saps your time and energy in light of other priorities, more important priorities (like actually spending time with your kids), find a book that is already beautifully written that means a lot to you and to pass on with a nice inscription.
Procrastination might be telling you that your to-do list doesn’t realistically reflect your priorities.
What is my reason for being on planet earth? That’s the heavy existential question that has been addressed by theologians, philosophers, psychologists, politicians, and everyday thinkers. If you are stalling and delaying on something you want to accomplish, could it be that you are struggling to align the effort with your life purpose?
I taught a class for young adults in my church a number of years ago. I remember talking to a young man over a cup of coffee about his start-and-stop struggle to finish college. (He was well acquainted with the drop-class form at the registrar’s office.) I’m very pro-education and have encouraged my children to get as much education as they can. So I reverted to my default position and encouraged him to hang in there. I threw in a few time-management tips at no extra cost. But as we continued the conversation in other settings, it was obvious; college just wasn’t working for him. I finally asked him what he could see himself doing.
Probably something with my hands. Maybe electrical work.
His aptitudes and interests were better suited to take up a specific trade, which didn’t require a college degree. When I started listening to him and taking seriously what he was interested in doing, I was able to affirm him when he decided to attend a one-year technical school and move on with his life.
He went from feeling like a failure because everyone was telling to stop being a lazy procrastinator to feeling like a million bucks because he found an educational model that better fit his career goals and purpose. He never did become an electrician, but there’s nothing wrong with being a plumber!
Procrastination might be telling you that you can’t get started because you haven’t aligned what you are doing with what you are meant to do.
Whenever I’m in New York City just south of the Central Park, I like to pose a question to random strangers on the street. I know it’s goofy, but I can count on a particular response that gets a laugh out of both of us. “How do I get to Carnegie Hall?” I ask. Seasoned New Yorkers are always ready with the quip reserved for out-of-towners: “Lots of practice!”
If you think you’re passionate about music but don’t like to practice your instrument … If you think you are passionate about playing football but don’t like the weight room … If you think you are passionate about being an author but don’t write for months at a time … If you think you’re passionate about gardening but don’t like to pull weeds … If you think you’re passionate about helping the poor but don’t like to tutor or serve soup …
I think you know where I’m going with this. If you aren’t willing to take baby steps and move onto the heavy-lifting, I doubt that what you think is a passion is really a passion. Either adjust your priorities or let it go. Find your own purpose, which I think is the first step in discovering what you are passionate about. I’m not saying we are supposed to love everything about pursuing a passion—as an author I can wax eloquent on the love-hate relationship I have with inputting words into my Mac—but realizing we have limited time and resources, you may be flirting with a passing fancy rather than pursuing what really matters to you.
Procrastination might be telling you that you haven’t discovered what matters most to you.
Do all of us need a swift boot to the behind at times? Absolutely. Our media-saturated society is filled with tons of distractions. We need to turn off the TV, get rid of the games, and get down to business. But don’t ignore the real and important lessons that your procrastination is telling you about your problem-solving, priorities, purpose, and passion. When you pursue what really matters to you, perseverance will follow, which makes procrastination an item in your rearview mirror.
About Mark Gilroy
Mark “M.K.” Gilroy is a veteran publishing executive who has acquired, developed, authored, and ghostwritten numerous books that have landed on various bestseller lists.
His newest novel, Rise of the Beast, is the first in a new series called The Patmos Conspiracy. Filled with international intrigue, it follows the plot of a megalomaniacal billionaire whose goal is to save the world by destroying it. “I will do what others fear to do. I will rise from the seas and ride the blood red horse of the Apocalypse.”
Cold As Ice is his newest novel in the Kristen Conner Mystery Series. Conner is a character USA TODAY calls “Miss Congeniality meets Castle’s Kate Beckett; a lethal, smart, and fun combo.”
When not writing novels, Gilroy creates and publishes book products for retailers, ministries, and businesses. He recently launched a new publishing company, Sydney Lane Press.
Gilroy holds undergraduate degrees in Speech Communications/Journalism and Biblical Literature, and two graduate degrees, the M.Div. and MBA.
The father of six adult children, he resides with his wife, Amy, in Brentwood, Tennessee.