Procrastination—The Thief of Time

“Procrastination is the thief of time.”—Edward Young, c. 1742.

STOP! Don’t stop reading this article! You know what might happen. You might stop and say: “That’s an interesting title, but I don’t have time to read it now. I’ll read it later.” But later may never come.

Don’t procrastinate about reading an article on procrastination! Time yourself. Likely you’ll be able to read this article in about five minutes. You will then have completed about 10 percent of this article! Look at your watch and start timing now. (You’re already 5 percent done!)

Is It Procrastination?

If you put it off—postpone what you could or should do now—then you procrastinate. In other words, you put off for tomorrow what you can do now, today. A procrastinator delays action when it is action that is needed.

A supervisor asks an employee for a report; parents ask their child to clean his room; a wife asks her husband to fix the faucet. “I got too busy” or, “I forgot” or, “I didn’t have time” are excuses given for not getting around to it. The reality is, few of us like to do reports or clean rooms or fix plumbing when there are more enjoyable things to do. So we put it off, we delay doing it.

However, did you know that sometimes it is not procrastination when we put off doing something? One businesswoman who receives a request and doesn’t know what to do with it files it in a box labeled “suspend” on her desk. After a few weeks, she reviews these items and finds that half of them need no action. They have solved themselves or are no longer required. If you are uncertain whether to delay or to act, try to determine what will happen if you never do what you’re postponing. Is the outcome likely to be better if you get it done or to be worse?

If we can and should take action now and delaying needed action could cause more problems later, then delaying is procrastination. For example, washing dishes after they’ve sat for some time makes it harder to scrub them clean. Postponing car maintenance can result in costly repairs later. Falling behind in paying a bill can result in heavier charges or the loss of services. One woman calculated that her overdue traffic tickets, videotapes, and library books totaled 46 dollars in late fees! That was for just one month!

Catching the Thief

Understand why you are procrastinating. Take a look at the following reasons, and see if you can identify which one fits a current project you haven’t started or finished:


If I wait until the last minute, I’ll have more motivation to finish it.

I enjoy the excitement I get by doing it at the very last moment.

I’ll wait until the boss reminds me a couple of times, then I’ll know it’s something he really wants done.

I have so much to do that only the crisis things get my attention.


I don’t have the desire or the drive to do the assignment.

I just get to things when I feel up to doing them.

I want to do something else.

I lack self-discipline.


I’m not sure I can do it.

I don’t have enough time to do it.

It’s too big a project. I need help.

What if I don’t succeed or finish?

I have to get the materials to complete the project.

I’m afraid I’ll be criticized or embarrassed.

Different people procrastinate at different stages. Some procrastinate before starting because they view the project as too big. Others begin, but about halfway through, enthusiasm wanes, and they put off finishing it. Still others get close to completing it but start another project, leaving the first unfinished. (You’re doing fine, by the way. You’re already halfway through this article.)

Your reasons for not starting or completing a project may fall into all three categories. In the book The Now Habit, Neil Fiore wrote: “The three main issues that are at the bottom of most procrastination problems: feeling like a victim, being overwhelmed, and fear of failure.” Whatever the reasons, if you can put your finger on the causes, you’ll be closer to the solution.

If you are uncertain why you procrastinate, make a log of your activities for a week by half-hour intervals. Determine how you’re spending time. It can be a real eye-opener to see how much time we spend on relatively unimportant things between important tasks. But then what?

Think of the Consequences

Expecting that something will get done without putting effort into it can produce a sickening feeling. As you get closer to the expected deadline, you begin to feel pressure and anxiety. As these feelings build, your creative ability may be hampered. You are not as inclined to measure or weigh various ways to accomplish the goal but are mainly interested in getting it done.

For example: You’re assigned to give a presentation. The night before, you sit down to get a few words on paper. You have not spent enough time to research your subject, so you wing it. Perhaps with just a little more effort, you could have included experiences, supporting information, or charts to help your audience visualize the subject.

Another consequence that comes when we delay a project is the inability to relax when we have free time. That’s because we have a nagging feeling (or a nagging someone who reminds us) that we have left a project undone.

What Can I Do?

Make a list. Do this the night before. Put on paper the things you want to accomplish the next day. This way you won’t forget something, and you’ll see your progress as you check off the completed items. To the right of each item, write how long you estimate it will take to accomplish the assignment. If you are making a ‘To Do’ list for the day, use minutes. If you are making a project list, use hours. Make this list the night before. Take a few minutes to prepare your list for the next day. Keep a monthly calendar at hand. As you accept assignments and appointments, write them in.

When you review the jobs for the next day, prioritize the items from your calendar, placing A, B, C, and so on next to each item to be accomplished. Some people do better work in the morning, others in the afternoon or evening. Schedule your biggest projects for your prime time. Put less enjoyable jobs before the enjoyable ones.

Tell time. If you are always running late, literally running because you’re late, learn to tell time. That is, make an accurate assessment of how long you’ll need to do a task. Add a few extra minutes to the task for the “disaster” that may happen. Don’t forget to allow time between appointments. You need to add travel time. You can’t end a meeting at 10:00 a.m. and be at another one at 10:00 a.m. even if it is in the next room, let alone across town. Allow sufficient time between.

Delegate. We often try to do everything ourselves although we may not always need to. Another person may be able to drop off a package for us if we know he is going to the post office.

Slice it. Sometimes we don’t start a new project because of its size. Why not slice the large task into smaller ones? As we complete the smaller tasks, we’ll see our progress and be encouraged to complete the next phase.

Plan for interruptions. There are always interruptions in our workday—phone calls, visitors, problems, mail. We want to work effectively, which includes working with other people who also have deadlines. If we are concerned only with working efficiently, we’ll become upset when others get in the way of our activities. Therefore, plan for interruptions. Allow time daily for unplanned developments. When these arise, you can take care of them, knowing that you’ve allowed some time for them.

Reward. When you do your scheduling, you should plan for intense or concentrated performance for about 90 minutes. Don’t forget to schedule time for preparation of the job. After you’ve actually started the job and have been working for about an hour and a half, you may need to take a short break. If you work in an office, pause, stretch, and reflect. If you work outside, get some refreshment. Reward yourself for your work, says an old saying.

Just think, you’ve completed this article in about five minutes after you read the title. You may be on your way to recovery!

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