The Paper Pulpit
The biggest lie we tell ourselves in the area of action is, “I’ll do it later.” Putting things off is, of course, known as procrastination. The prefix “pro” means for, and “crastination” comes from the Latin word crastinus, which refers to things pertaining to tomorrow. Thus, procrastination is “putting off things until an ambiguous later.” It is always easier to put something off until tomorrow than it is to do it today, isn’t it?
“Never put off ‘till tomorrow,” Mark Twain once said, “what you can do the day after tomorrow.” Procrastinators have adopted the lifestyle expressed in Twain’s statement. The trouble with putting things off until tomorrow is that tomorrow never comes. Each new day they can be put off until the next tomorrow.
The interesting thing about “later” is that it can never be proven false, and no one can reproach you. If you are confronted, you can always say, “I said I would do it later. It is not later yet.” In this way, you can put it off indefinitely. You only run out of laters the day you breathe your last breath. Death is nature’s brutal way of saying, “No more laters left!” Following death, you won’t have to listen to what people say about the things you kept putting off until the next day.
The important thing is not “who cares?” when you are dead; it is “who cares?” while you are still alive. And the answer to that question is you. If you are a procrastinator, you know how many laters you have stockpiled from the past. You are aware that adding another and another and still another is like adding grains of sand to a beach. You don’t have to be told that “later” is a lie.
I have tried to live by the philosophy, “What I get done today I won’t still have to do.” Notice that I said “I have tried” to live by this philosophy. Like most people I know, I have sometimes been guilty of being a procrastinator. Still, the best policy to follow is this: if you can do now what needs to be done, do it. If it can’t be done now, decide (1) it’s not going to get done, or (2) when it will get done.
If something doesn’t get done, and you decide you will still do it, schedule a specific date and time when it will get done. Write it in your appointment book if you have one. If not, write it on your calendar. Schedule it in now. If it is not worth the amount of time it takes now to schedule it to be done at a later specific time, it is probably not going to get done at all.
Ask yourself, “Do I tend to procrastinate? Do I find it easy to put until tomorrow the things that need to be done today?” If you answer these two questions in the affirmative, be aware that to do so drags the past into the future. The burden of yesterday’s incompletions becomes today’s and tomorrow’s burden. Refuse to carry it. When you develop the habit of doing each day what should be done — whether it needs to be done at the moment or not — it creates an inner freedom for the next moment, the next activity, the next day.
Hopefully this clever little poem by Gloria Pitzer doesn’t describe you:
“Procrastination is my sin
It brings me naught but sorrow.
I know that I should stop it
In fact, I will….tomorrow.”
The Rev. D.E. Parkerson is retired pastor of First Baptist Church of Sanford.