Procrastination – The Thief of Time

I am starting a new series of articles on productivity and getting things done. First of all I am focusing on the topic of procrastination – something we have all struggled with at some time in our lives.

Have you delayed starting work on a school or university assignment then realised you needed more time? How quickly do you start writing speeches, articles or completing your tax return?

In my next article I write about Neil Fiore’s book The Now Habit, but first of all I present an article I published in 2006 based on a speech titled “Live Tomorrow or Live Today”.

Live Tomorrow or Live Today

 This is a speech I gave in 2006 at my Toastmasters club (Chatswood Early Risers) as part of my Communication and Leadership Manual. I am posting the text of the speech with some minor changes.


It’s your six year old daughter’s birthday party. Her face is beaming as she is poised ready to blow out the candles. You raise the camera… press the shutter…. then nothing.

Flat batteries! You remember the camera stopped working last weekend and you intended to recharge it when you got home…. but ….you didn’t. You’ve just paid the price of procrastination … by forgetting to charge the batteries, you lost a very special photograph.

Procrastination means putting off or deferring an action until a later time. The word has its origins in the Latin word crastinus meaning “belonging to tomorrow”. When you procrastinate you are deferring your living until tomorrow…. and avoiding doing the things you should do today. Procrastination is bad because it often has a high price attached.

My wife once gave me a medical bill to pay. I put it in the folder with all the other bills intending to pay it in the next couple of days. Two weeks later I reviewed these bills, and rediscovered the medical bill and read it closely. “Discount of $50 if paid within seven days”. I couldn’t believe it! A substantial discount yet I had ignored the offer! I felt so stupid as I wrote a cheque and posted it that day.

Procrastination can not only incur overdue fees, but can cost you a lot more money when things break down because you didn’t bother to maintain them earlier. Do you get your car serviced regularly or wait for a breakdown on your big holiday trip? When was your last cholesterol check and medical checkup?

The worst cost of all is when you procrastinate on spending time with the people you love. Have you been meaning to visit an elderly friend or relative and you told yourself you were too busy? Then you receive news of that person’s death. The opportunity of spending time with that person is lost for ever.

How can we overcome procrastination?

First of all, we need to understand the causes — and there are many: laziness, distractions, and choosing to do pleasurable activities instead of important tasks. Often we don’t want to start because we have a fear of failure, or even the fear of success. Sometimes we don’t know what to do, or we don’t have the skills or resources to do something.

My first tip is you should write down everything you need to get done. Once written down you can stop worrying about forgetting Our minds are like chattering monkeys constantly reminding us of things to do.. buy milk ring John about that appointment, wife’s birthday present? Listening to this chatter is STRESSFUL, so write things down.

The next tip will energise this list using two questions:

  • What is the desired outcome?
  • What is the next physical action required to move close to the successful outcome.

Having a clear picture of what the completed task will look like creates momentum and energy to move closer to the finish line. Having a picture shows you the target, but it is the second question that makes you take aim and get moving. You are forced to make a decision up front. For example, “Get Car serviced” is a vague term. Telephoning the service station and making the appointment would be a good next action.

Someone told me that Macdonalds teach their staff the motto: “Clean up as you go”. This is a powerful principle for the many short tasks we need to do each day. Instead of adding tasks to lists requiring later attention, do the task done immediately and get it out of the way.

Our daughters often bring home permission slip from school that require a signature. We’ve made it a habit to sign the form immediately and the form goes back in the school bag. The whole process only takes a minute or two and I don’t have to clutter up my mind thinking about that task. That medical bill I spoke about earlier — I should have written the cheque and put it in the post the same day shouldn’t I? An easy $50 saving.

My final tip is how to motivate yourself to do the really boring stuff? The answer is a simple kitchen timer. Imagine you have a huge tidying up job at home that has overwhelmed you for months! Set the timer for 30 minutes and see how much you can get done. You may be surprised at how much you actually achieve in that time.

A good way to boost your productivity yet still allow time to play is to set the timer for 12 minutes then give 100% effort to the task. Set the timer for a two minute break then do whatever you want – coffee break, Internet, or whatever. When the timer goes off, repeat the cycle. You will be amazed at what you can achieve.

If you are prone to habits of procrastination, make the decision now to do your living today and not tomorrow. Try these techniques and adapt them to your personal style. It is possible to get the important things done as well as having fun and relaxation.

Each day is precious and unique and deserves living to the maximum.

So what are you going to do today that you have always been putting off until tomorrow?

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