4 Tips for Dealing with Procrastination

Imagine you have read Douglas Adams’ quip before: “I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.” It’s funny because we can all identify with it. We all know the panic of approaching deadlines, the pain of watching them fly on by, the guilt of explaining why we missed again. We all the know problem of procrastination that leads to so many of those misses.

Procrastination is a tricky little problem that can take different and even opposite forms. Procrastination can come in the form of laziness or the form of busyness. We procrastinate lazily when we neglect productivity in favor of entertainment—getting lost in a novel instead of cleaning the house, or watching Netflix instead of writing that report. We procrastinate busily when we neglect the most urgent and important tasks in favor of ones that are less important but a whole lot easier—we answer emails instead of working on the sermon, or we sweep the house when we should be painting it. Procrastination can take a million different forms.

There was a time in my life where I was awfully good at procrastination. Or awfully bad, depending on your perspective. I still can be if I don’t watch it. But along the way I learned how to (mostly) beat it (most of the time). Today I am going to offer you 2 big-picture tips and follow them with 2 very practical ones. These are the very things that I have found so helpful in my own life.

First, I had to see this: Procrastination is a problem of spirituality before it is a problem of productivity. I came to understand that God has put me on this earth to bring glory to him by doing good for others. If that is the case, then procrastination hinders my ability to carry out my purpose. It is downright evil. Whether I am avoiding the most urgent tasks by being very busy or very lazy, procrastination stems from sin and leads to sin. I had to learn that of all the things I could do on a given day or in a given moment, I was responsible to focus on the one or the few that I should do. And the way to do this was to begin my day with prayer, to commit all of my tasks to the Lord, and to remind myself each day that the best and highest kind of productivity is to effectively steward my gifts, talents, time, energy, and enthusiasm for the good of others and the glory of God. I formally remind myself of this each and every day.

Second, I had to learn a very important lesson: Not all procrastination is bad. At least, not if we allow God to define it on his terms. In the Old Testament God set a pattern that we are wise to follow: a pattern of work and rest. God worked for 6 days and then rested for 1. And later he commanded his people to do the same, to work for 6 days and then to stop their labor for the 7th. While our relationship to the Law is not the same as it was for the theocracy of Israel, and while the Sabbath has been fulfilled in Christ, the pattern is ingrained and enduring. We are wise to deliberately put off all of our tasks for 1 day out of every 7, to deliberately leave them for another time. When I take 1 day out of every 7 to focus on worship, fellowship, and rest, I am far more capable and motivated in the 6 that remain. I suffer no drop in productivity when I carefully and deliberately take a 24-hour period of rest each week.

Now, let me give two practical tips that have been especially important for me.

The first is to do the hardest thing on your list first. As I said earlier, we can masquerade as efficient people by doing many things, but still neglect the most important things. At the end of the day, it is far more important that I prepare my sermon than complete those 11 other small tasks. But it is easier and can feel far more fulfilling to go after the list and start crossing them off. After all, there is a feeling of accomplishment that comes when I can say at 11 AM that I have already accomplished 11 out of 12 things. But what I have actually done is used my best, most focused, and most productive hours of the day to avoid the task that takes the most focus and creative energy. So I always try to force myself to do the hardest thing first. I need to use the best of my day to do the single most important thing. It is a hard discipline, but a very important one.

My second tip is to break big tasks into small ones. Sometimes I find myself procrastinating because the task before me is daunting in its sheer size. “Write a book” is an overwhelming task. “Write chapter 1” is far more attainable, and “Write 1,000 words” even more so. I can overcome task paralysis by making my tasks much more reasonable in their size. Sure, it’s all really a mind trick, but it is an effective one that can motivate action.

There is much more I could say on the subject, of course. I have read many books and many articles on procrastination, but do believe that these 4 tips are the ones that have most helped me in overcoming what was once a losing battle. I hope they prove valuable to you.

You don’t really know who your friends are until their relationship with you becomes a liability instead of a benefit. Many celebrities, and even Christian celebrities, have learned this lesson the hard way. In the blink of an eye, or the release of a news story, they went from fêted to ignored, from celebrated to invisible. They learned quickly that many of their so-called friends had actually not been friends at all, but people thriving on a kind of symbiotic relationship where each benefited the other. When the relationship become a liability, their friends were suddenly nowhere to be found.

This happened to Jesus. When he was performing miracles and laying verbal beatings on the Pharisees and healing men who had been born blind, his friends were only too happy to ally themselves with him. They were proud to know him, to be known in relation to him, and to be in his inner circle. But when he became a hated criminal, when he was dragged before the courts and accused of crimes, his friends quickly made themselves scarce. They disappeared into the night, leaving him to fend for himself.

For as long as you and I have lived, at least if you have lived in this Western, first-world culture, friendship with Jesus has been beneficial. At worst this friendship has been neutral so the benefits have balanced the drawbacks. And while I am no prognosticator of doom, it seems increasingly clear that a relationship with Jesus will soon be more and a more of a liability before this watching, judging world.

Looking at the people around me who have professed faith in Christ, and looking at many of the Christians I know through social media, I see two kinds of concerning reaction.

Some are denying him and rejecting him. They have determined that the cost of associating with Jesus is too high, and they have walked away from him altogether. Any association with Jesus typecasts them as bigoted, as intolerant, as judgmental, as trapped in an appallingly outmoded system of morality. They have chosen to leave him behind.

Many more are redefining the terms of their friendship by redefining their friend. They are creating a new version of their friend Jesus, rewriting him in their own image, or in the image of the culture around them, making him into a figure who has been misunderstood and who is far more tolerant, far more accepting, far more palatable. This inoffensive Jesus loves without judgment, he gives without expectation, he proudly waves a rainbow flag.

But, of course, Jesus is unchanged and unchanging. He will not bow to the changing culture, he will not cede to the rising tide. Jesus will only ever be who he is and who he has always been. And each of us has a choice to make.

You don’t really know who your friends are until their relationship with you becomes a liability instead of a benefit. We don’t really know who Jesus’ friends are until a relationship with him becomes a liability instead of a benefit. We know that Jesus is proud to be the friend of sinners, and in the days to come, we will discover which sinners are truly proud to be friends with him.

When God Flips That Switch

I suppose we are all familiar with the categories of sin and depravity. We are all familiar with the Bible’s ugly descriptions of fallen humanity and equally familiar with the internal corroboration of our hearts and the external corroboration of our lives. The simple fact is, we are sinners. We are people who have offended a holy God and people who act out that rebellion every day.

I know you have read the second chapter of Ephesians and reveled in the beauty of what God has done in calling some people away from a life of rebellion and toward a life of righteousness. What Christian hasn’t read it with joy? What Christian hasn’t seen the word “but” there and rejoiced that God entered in and changed everything? “But God…”

I wonder if you’ve noticed one fascinating little part of the text—the change in actors or the change in agency.

Read the first three verses of the text, and allow me just a little bit of liberty with the pronouns:

And I was dead in the trespasses and sins in which I once walked, as I followed the course of this world, as I followed the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in me and in all the sons of disobedience—among whom I once lived in the passions of my flesh, carrying out the desires of my body and my mind, and I was by nature a child of wrath, like the rest of mankind. - (Ephesians 2:1-3)

You can hardly fail to notice that it’s all about me. This is who I am when left on my own, when left to live my own life in my own way. And it’s not a pretty picture. It’s an ugly plummet from sin to sin, from spiritual disobedience to spiritual death and destruction.

And then there is the word “but,” and look what happens after that.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which God loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, God made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and God raised us up with him and God seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages God might show the immeasurable riches of God’s grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

You can hardly fail to notice that it’s all about God. This is who God is when God acts in accordance with his character. And it’s a beautiful picture. It’s a beautiful progression from love to mercy to grace to life to righteousness to glory.

The point and the purpose is simple. When we take action, we find only destruction. When God begins to move, we are given grace.

How Should Christians Fast?

Fasting is a subject for which I have a lot of curiosity but little practice. It is the subject of an excellent and helpful little booklet by Daniel Hyde, part of the “Cultivating Biblical Godliness” series. He defines Christian fasting as “a religious abstaining from food or any other legitimate provision of God for a set period of time.” He addresses the practice of fasting with these 6 guidelines.

We fast freely. “Under the new covenant you are free to fast or not fast. There is no prescribed time of the year or week in which you must fast. There is no prescribed length of time for which you must fast. … There is no particular method required of you. In all of these you are free. … This point is so important to stress because if we began to regulate fasting beyond Scripture, then we would turn what should be done freely into an oppressive burden.”

We fast humbly. “We should look and act outwardly normal, while inwardly we must humble ourselves before God and seek His face in prayer. Your reward for this is that God sees, while your friends may not. Motivation does matter in fasting, then. The proper motivation behind our fasting is to have God as our reward rather than any human approval.”

We fast seriously. “Biblical fasting is not medical fasting or fasting to lose weight. This is serious business with God. … The seriousness of fasting implies some preparation, both bodily and spiritually. Again, we are free in fasting, but that does not mean that there are not some guidelines that are helpful to follow. Bodily speaking, prepare yourself for a fast the night before with enough rest, food, and water so that you will have strength to endure a fast. Spiritually speaking, set your mind upon the goal of your fast: seeking the Lord’s help for the matter for which you are fasting.”

We fast evangelically. It is important to qualify the above point about seriousness. Our fasting is serious, but we do not fast with all the outward rites and expressions of the old covenant. … Also, this means that we do not fast in a legal spirit, as if fasting somehow earned favor with God. … Since we are under the new covenant because of the work of Jesus Christ for us, we fast in a gospel-centered way. This means the believer’s fasting is an act of grateful response to Christ’s grace accomplished and applied to His church.”

We fast earnestly. In response to the gospel-centeredness of fasting, the temptation for us is to think the new covenant is a more ‘relaxed’ covenant. In contrast to this, it is because of what Jesus Christ has done that we must fast earnestly. In fact, we should fast with more eagerness and earnestness than those who fasted in the time of promise and shadow and not the time of fulfillment and substance.”

We fast prayerfully. “Fasting must be done prayerfully. … Fasting has an outward and an inward aspect. This is why our forefathers belabored the point that it is not fasting itself that brings us before the face of God, but the prayer that arises out of it. Fasting is an aid and help to prayer. Fasting, by itself, is not a good work; it is what we call an indifferent matter. Fasting is only a good work when it is linked to the purpose of prayer. This means that whether or not we fast, we can still pray. But if we don’t pray, fasting is futile.”

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