A friend of mine believes very strongly that no one should do today what they can put off until tomorrow. He is the ultimate procrastinator; and he’s quite happy with where that’s taken him in life. He simply does not buy in to the notion that any non-emergency has to be dealt with today. His rationale is all based on a Rolling Stones’ hit titled “Time Is on My Side.”

While many of us do not share his viewpoint, we also suffer with putting things off, hoping that somehow some magic will happen and whatever it is that needs to be done will somehow get done without extraordinary action on our part.

Why do we procrastinate? There are as many reasons as there are people. The most common reasons include motivation to spend time and energy on other things; a lack of clarity about what needs to be done; no clue as to how to do it; no belief that it really needs to be done; and a track record of successful upward delegation. I am certain there are others, and I’ll study them another day.

In the meantime, let’s talk about how we can move from being either reactive or inactive to being proactive. I recently read an article that identified 10 steps people can take to become more action oriented. I’m relatively certain that you have probably heard some, possibly all, of them before in your life. Here are the ones that seemed most important to me:

  1. Get some sleep. Sleep deprivation drains your energy and confuses your brain. The recommended number of hours keeps changing. Currently the magic number of continuous hours most of us need is seven. It’s ok to stock pile on the weekends. Sometimes a good power nap during the lunch hour (or some other time during the day) also works well to rejuvenate the brain.

  2. Eat the right foods. I have always thought the major food groups are cookies, cakes, pies, and ice cream. Lately I’ve taken to eating more fruits and vegetables. As a result, my clothes fit a little better and my energy level stays more constant throughout the day.

  3. Stay focused. Sometimes we all get so busy we end up spending so much time in busyness that we lose sight of the reason for all the activity. We often hold grand openings or similar events to draw people to us. In the course of doing so, we begin to focus on an outcome that is related to the size of the crowd rather than why we wanted to draw the people in the first place.

  4. Break your chains. Samuel Johnson, a mid-18th century English philosopher, wrote that “the chains of a habit are so weak they cannot be felt until they become so strong they cannot be broken”. So, look for ways to break the procrastination habit. This can mean a change in the people you hang with; it can mean a change in how you work; it can mean a change in where you work. The main point here is stay away from what the nuns called the “near occasions of sin (procrastination in this case)”.

Procrastination is natural; and it naturally leads to stressful moments for us, for our colleagues, for those to whom we report, and to those we want to serve. If the only thing you remember from this post is this, remember much of the stress we experience in life doesn’t come from all the work in front of us. It comes from not finishing what we started.


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