Procrastination

How to overcome procrastination

How to overcome procrastination

This is an extract from Getting The Barakah: An Islamic Guide to Time Management. Access the full ebook here or grab the Self Help Bundle to get this and nine other life-changing ebooks today!

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.

2. Deception

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.

3. Perfectionism

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)[1]

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.

It is this instant gratification mentality that has led to the birth of modern extremist movements like ISIS and Al-Qaeda, who look for violent shortcuts to Paradise and Caliphate, instead of focusing on the long-term deal of purifying their souls and striving against their desires.

This mentality crosses over into our time management too. We may have goals and dreams, but the instant gratification of that next chat, next funny video, and next snack break gets in the way and causes us to procrastinate and often give up on anything that requires long-term effort.

This mentality is completely unislamic and destructive. The state of the ummah today is proof of this, on one hand the violent extremists seek shortcuts to Paradise, and on the other side the average Muslim prefers instantly satisfying his desires over working toward righteousness.

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.

Overcoming this barrier requires a shift in how we think and view the world. We need to understand that success, be it worldly or Afterworldly, can only be attained through long-term hard work. There is no shortcut to fixing the problems of the Middle East, just like there is no shortcut to training your soul or attaining financial success. If you want something, you need to be ready to commit to it long-term.

I will speak more about the concept of Sabr and its role in time management in a future chapter. The purpose here was to help us understand why we procrastinate. It is only when we understand why we have bad habits that we are able to move on and overcome them.

Positive Procrastination

As anti-procrastination as I may sound, I too procrastinate when it is beneficial. Procrastination, when planned, can actually be a very beneficial time management skill. Positive procrastination means to put things off until the right time to do it.

For example, if I am tired and it is after work hours, I choose to rest and have fun and put off any tasks until the next day. If it is work hours, and I am feeling drained, I take a short break and do something fun before getting back to work.

Some people might think I am procrastinating. After all, why put off until tomorrow what you can do today? My reply to that is, “Because I know I will do a better job at it tomorrow than if I do it now,”

If you have very high goals and aspirations, it is not possible to do everything in one day, one week, one month, one year or even one decade. You will have to plan and prioritise, and that means procrastinating the things you don’t need to do yet, in order to make time for the things you need to do now.

Sometimes the thing you need to do later is hard work and what you need to do right now is take a vacation. You shouldn’t feel guilty about that, it is in your best interest to take that vacation, recharge your body and mind and return revitalized ready to do a much better job than you would have done had you not taken the vacation.

This form of procrastination is good, as it is part of prioritizing and planning, and so it should be done without any feeling of guilt. Anything that benefits you in the long run is a good thing, even if that thing is a form of procrastination.

Just get started

So you have a goal, you know you shouldn’t procrastinate, you have a plan but you haven’t committed to it yet. Something is holding you back. Your mind is filling with excuses. If this is the case then you need to look yourself in the mirror and firmly remind yourself that there is no benefit in delaying anything good.

Every day wasted can never be returned. Why waste this precious resource? What do you have to lose if get started today on changing your lifestyle and focusing on your goals?

Think about your life in ten or twenty years’ time and where you would like to be then, and realize that if you want that, you need to start working towards it today. Delaying is not going to get you anywhere.

Remember that this whole drama is playing out in your mind and you control what you focus on and which thoughts you act on. So put aside the excuses, take control of your time and start changing.

“He who counts tomorrow as part of his life does not recognize death as it should be merited. How many days are to come but he will not be there! How many wishes he has for the days to come that he will not get! If you comprehend the terms of life and the speed with which it flees, then you will detest your desires and wishes,” Awn Ibn Abdullah[2]

New Habits – New Beginnings

Time management is a matter of replacing bad habits with good habits. We all have some habits that waste time or cause delays. Procrastination was focused on because it is the most common, but there are many others like laziness, oversleeping, overeating, and excessive socializing. Interestingly, the classical scholars referred to these things as corrupters of the heart.

Not only do they waste our time but they eat away at our souls and lead us down the part of wastage of other resources too like wealth and knowledge. If you are committed to time management then you need to be ready to change many habits over time.

The key to changing a habit is the following formula:

1. Identify bad habit
2. Identify good habit to replace it
3. Start replacing the bad habit with the good one today
4. Be consistent until the new habit is truly a habit (average 30 days)
5. After that, it gets easier, so you can move on to focus on changing another habit. Changing habits requires commitment and Sabr, but they serve only to benefit you and you have nothing to lose when replacing a bad habit with a good one.


[1] John Perry, The Art of Procrastination, p. 20

[2] Ibn Jawzi, Time Is Valuable, pp. 23-24

You can read the rest of this chapter in Getting The Barakah: An Islamic Guide to Time Management. Access the full ebook here or grab the Self Help Bundle to get this and nine other life-changing ebooks today!

Posted by Ismail Kamdar in Time Management, 0 comments

Sometimes procrastination and distractions are a good thing

I previously spoke about overcoming procrastination. But I need to admit something: I procrastinate daily…on purpose. And it really helps me get work done.

This may sound really confusing to folks to assume that procrastination is always a bad thing. However, my time management experience has thought me to embrace procrastination as another tool for productivity.

Don’t get me wrong. Procrastination can be really distracting and unproductive when left unchecked. But when done purposely, it can be very beneficial and productive. Here are some of the times I purposely procrastinate to stay productive.

When I need time to think

A lot of the work I do is mental work. It takes place in my head while I am busy with something else. I learned a long time ago that when I focus too much on trying to think up a solution, I get stuck. But if I leave it to go have some fun and relax, then a solution pops into my mind.

This is because is you think up a problem and then do something else, your subconscious works on the problems. And your subconscious is often better at thinking up solutions than your conscious. So yes, sometimes when I have a serious issue to deal with and solve, I may choose to sleep, drink coffee, play game or watch a funny YouTube video instead. And it often helps me find a solution.

When the timing isn’t right

We often try to rush things out the door as soon as we get new ideas. But sometimes an idea is ahead of its time and needs to incubate for a while before being released. In such situations, procrastination is key to success.

Even if your idea is 100% ready for release today, it may be better to delay the release date in order to test, fix and improve it. At the very least, to find a better timing for releasing it. Doing something right now isn’t always the best option.

When I know I’ll do a better job later

There are times of the day when we work better than others. For example, I write best in the afternoon. This is why even if I have time for writing in the morning, I’d rather have fun or relax. I leave my writing for the afternoon even if it means doing nothing for an entire hour in the morning.

The result: high quality writing during my peak concentration time. I get more writing done, faster, at a better quality because I left it for later. If you know you will be in a better state of mind to study, work or produce later in the day, then do not feel bad to put things off until later.

When I need an idea

Ideas don’t come to me when I am working hard or consumed by boring tasks. They pop into my head when I am relaxed or having fun. This is why I choose to distract myself when I need a new idea. I often find within a few minutes of relaxing or having fun a really good idea will come to mind…like writing this blog post. 🙂

So there you have it. Procrastination can be a part of productivity if done for the right reasons at the right time.

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Procrastination Book
Posted by Ismail Kamdar in Productivity, 0 comments