Procrastination is the single most common word I hear whenever I bring up the topic of Time Management. “I’m a procrastinator” is the common reply people give me for why they are unable to meet deadlines or organize themselves well. Procrastination is treated like a fact of life, something inherit that can’t be changed or overcome, but this is nothing more than deceiving ourselves.
Procrastination is a habit, and a terrible habit too. However, like all other bad habits it can be overcome with strong will power, commitment and a reason to succeed.
The ability to change a bad habit and replace it with a good one is something every human has the ability to do, all we really need is motivation, and that is what I hope this chapter serves as, motivation to finally let it go.
In order to overcome procrastination, it is important that we understand its roots and causes. There are four main reasons why people procrastinate:
1. Lack of goals or vision
This has already been covered in details in a previous chapter. Goals are our motivation to go the distance and make something of our lives. Goals serve to motivate us, inspire us and give us a reason to face each day with renewed energy.
If someone lacks goals, they see no reason to commit to something, to do a good job or even to get it done on time. Life for such people is just a series of obstacles to survive with minimum effort, and so they leave every task for last minute and don’t really focus on quality either.
The first step to overcoming procrastination is to have goals to work towards. This will motivate you to organize your life in such a way that these goals are accomplished over time.
Shaytaan uses the trick of deception to get people to procrastinate, especially when it comes to righteousness and repentance. The common phrase “I’ll repent when I get older,” is a classic example of deceptive procrastination. We fool ourselves into thinking we have plenty of time to do something in the future.
In the case of repentance, procrastination is deadly and can cause great harm to one’s life in this world and especially in the Afterlife. Yet we apply this same mentality to other aspects of our lives. We think we have plenty of time to write that assignment, submit that report, prepare that class or prepare the meeting notes, until we realize that we don’t.
Then the rush is on, with great anxiety, fear and worry we rush to complete something at the last minute and the result is poor shoddy quality work, and a lot of unneeded stress.
The key here is to understand the deception of “later”. As Muslims we are taught to never leave anything for the future without saying “inshaa Allah” (If Allah Wills).
وَلَا تَقُولَنَّ لِشَيْءٍ إِنِّي فَاعِلٌ ذَٰلِكَ غَدًا
إِلَّا أَنْ يَشَاءَ اللَّهُ
“And do not say about anything that I will do it tomorrow without saying if Allah wills,”
(Surah Al-Kahf 18:23-24)
This statement “inshaa Allah” is meant to be a reminder to us that the future is in Allah’s control so we shouldn’t delay anything that can be done today.
We don’t know what tomorrow has in store for us, so let us lift the veil from our eyes and realize that every moment lost through procrastination is wasted time that you can never get back for the rest of your life. The time for action is now, not tomorrow.
Another cause of procrastination is perfectionism. This is the one thing that caused me to procrastinate in launching my writing career. I always wanted to be an author and to spend my days writing books.
I had many ideas and wrote many outlines, summaries and first chapters. However, I found myself unable to move forward beyond that due to my desire for my writing to be perfect.
I would look at my first draft, full of mistakes and in major need of editing, and think to myself that nobody is going to read this. I would end up putting it away frustrated and moving on to attempt my next project. Perfectionism stood in the way of writing or completing any important project.
One day I finally realized that my chain of thought was ridiculous. I am a human being, and the writings of human beings are never perfect. First drafts, in general, are always a mess. This is why we edit, and hire editors, and even have to publish revised editions.
I realized that if I want to have a career in writing, I need to let go of my desire to be perfect and just write. Write whatever comes to mind, I can always edit, rephrase, delete or expand upon it later. Once I realized this, the procrastination ended and the writings began to flow.
You too may have a goal that you have been putting off because it isn’t perfect. The only way forward is to realize that it never will be perfect. It is a human project and being human means embracing imperfection. It doesn’t need to be perfect, it just needs to be your best effort. So let go of your desire for perfection and just focus on doing your best.
John Perry, the author of The Art of Procrastination, offers some valuable insight into how to overcome this problem:
You have to get into the habit of forcing yourself to analyse, at the time you accept a task, the costs and benefits of doing a less-than-perfect job. You must ask yourself some questions: How useful would a perfect job be here? How much more useful would it be than a merely adequate job…and you got to ask yourself: What is the probability that I will really do anything like a remotely perfect job on this? And: What difference will it make to me, and to others, whether I do or not?
Often the answer will be that a less-than-perfect job will be just fine, and moreover it’s all I am ever going to do anyway. So I give myself permission to do a less-than-perfect job now, rather than waiting until the task is overdue. Which means I may as well do it now. (Or at least start tomorrow)
4. Instant Gratification
The fourth major cause of procrastination is the fact that many of us are programmed mentally to focus on instant gratification. The modern advertising industry thrives on instant gratification. From the time a child is able to understand, he is taught to prefer immediate delights over long-term deals. We grow up with this mentality and it has a detrimental effect on every aspect of our lives.
As Muslims, many fall into major sins like fornication because of focusing on instant gratification, instead of the long-term deal of marriage and the responsibilities that come with it. Likewise, people are looking for the instant fix, instant high, get rich quick schemes and even shortcuts to Paradise and Caliphate.
Islamic teachings emphasize the concept of Sabr which translates into many concepts like patience, persistence, self-restraint and consistency. All of these indicate long-term effort and long-term success. The idea of quick methods to success in this world or the Afterlife is a deception, unrealistic and unislamic.
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