(This article first appeared at Crosswalk.com)
The pandemic gave procrastinators an excellent source of excuses, many legitimate. In fact, I meant to write this article sooner but, you know, the quarantine and Hamilton on Disney+ and all.
Those of us who struggle with procrastination can become adept rationalizers. Miss a deadline? We’ll just hit the “extended deadline.” Miss an opportunity because of putting something off? It’s OK, there will be more opportunities, right? Lose some money to penalties or late fees? We’ll make more.
In truth, almost everyone procrastinates at least occasionally, and in his timing and grace God can even use our procrastination. It can certainly be a good thing to wait on some things, especially for those who tend toward impulsiveness. But those of us who have a problem with procrastination generally know it, and know we need to do something about it, someday.
There can be many reasons for procrastination; fear, lack of confidence, depression, being overwhelmed, illness, pandemic, self-sabotage, perfectionism, etc. There is a lot of material available on what causes it and tips for overcoming it, and you can see some of those and helpful links at the end of this article. But change usually takes a bit more than knowledge.
We are often blind to the real consequences of our procrastination. We might need a little pain to remind us of the real effects of the habit.
I once helped a family who had significant struggles with procrastination make a major life transition, moving across the country. They’d encountered problems and felt unable to make decisions, so for years they put many things off, resulting in hording tendencies and massive disorganization. As I helped them sort through things and navigate a change in location, I observed the effects of years of ongoing procrastination. They had to waste serious money, time, and energy trying to catch up and set things right before they could go forward. The painful effects of procrastination played out explicitly before my eyes and woke me up to the price I was paying for my own procrastination.
Five Costs of Procrastination
I’ve discovered there are at least five areas we and our families pay for procrastination. If your procrastination habit needs a little dose of reality, read on, but please take these as motivation, not condemnation.
- Procrastination costs you money. The situation I described required these dear people to pay thousands of dollars in extra fees and unnecessary costs because of poor planning and delayed decisions. Procrastination can cost money that you must pay to reverse situations that never should have been neglected. Procrastination can also cost you money that could have been made were you prepared when an opportunity came along. I shudder to think about the money I’ve lost because of procrastination, let alone the lost income that I may never see.
- Your procrastination costs those around you. They may be too “nice” to say it, but your family, friends, and co-workers will pay for your procrastination. They’ll pay in lost time doing what you did not do, in time lost waiting as you negotiate an exception or extension, or as you recount excuses. They pay in time waiting while you get things together that you should have already prepared. And they pay in anxiety, worrying about the problems your procrastination my cause.
- Procrastination can cost you relationships. People may avoid you instead of being willing to deal with your procrastination. The people I mentioned seemed to have no friends to help when they desperately needed it, or they were too ashamed to reach out to them. People may not ask you to do something, knowing you may put it off. Some who have put up with your procrastination of quitting that bad habit, taking care of your health, or getting a better job will grow thin on patience. You might not meet those who can help you move forward in life because procrastination held you back from stepping into the chain of events that would have led to meeting them.
- Procrastination perpetuates the lies and misconceptions you have about your life. When we procrastinate, we rationalize and agree with lies that we’ve believed about ourselves (like “I’m not good enough, smart enough, etc.”) and the misperceptions (“Things will never change” or “It’s too hard”). And that keeps us stuck in our bad habits and faulty thinking, making those lies seem like self-fulfilling prophecies. As it is said, the truth will set you free, and sometimes the best way to get at your truth is to overcome putting off what you know you need to do. Even taking the smallest steps in the right direction can give truth a significant foothold.
- Procrastination delays your destiny. I believe that God put each of us on this earth at this particular time and place to do things (“good works” in Ephesians 2:10) that possibly only we can do. And I’ve observed that people who find and do those things are more likely to experience consistent joy. Procrastination tempts us to trade that destiny of joy for an illusion of current comfort. It’s a bad trade. Heed the surprisingly sage advice of actor Will Smith: “Easy choices, hard life. Hard choices, easy life.” 
There is hope. If you struggle with procrastination but want to overcome it, try making a list of ways you’ve paid some of these 5 prices. Let that revelation motivate you to initiate a change. And practice the following principles.
Five Ways to Fight Procrastination
- Get honest with God and ask him for help. Our Father doesn’t abandon us because of our failings, but instead invites us to ask for his strength to overcome them. 2 Timothy 1:7 says he gives us a spirit of “power, love and self – discipline.” Proclaim that over yourself. Psalm 46:1 says he is an “ever present help in trouble,” and Ephesians 3:20 and Philippians 2:13 assure us that we can count on his strength—not only our effort—to work in us to “will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” With a stubborn habit like procrastination its best to ask for God’s strength and keep asking, and to look for ways he may be providing that help, such as
through friends (#3) and science (#5).
- Make overcoming procrastination a daily prayer. In the Lord’s prayer Jesus provides us with way to name the things we struggle with (temptations we are susceptible to) and give them daily to God, when he directs us to pray, “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” (Matthew 6:13 NIV) Jesus knew that when we bring the things we struggle with (and we all struggle with something) into God’s light, they begin to lose their power over us. (For more on the power of the Lord’s Prayer in our daily life, see my book Finding Divine Inspiration.)
- Ask a friend or family member to pray for you and keep you accountable. Another step in being honest with ourselves and with God is to ask for someone safe to help us stay on track with overcoming procrastination. James 5:16 (ESV) instructs us to, “confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”
- Choose one small area of procrastination to work on first. Along with our gift for rationalization, recovering procrastinators can have a tendency to make big plans then become overwhelmed by the specifics of accomplishing them. Start with the larger process of overcoming procrastination by focusing on one small area first. Internalize the good feeling of overcoming in that one area, then you can begin to build on that success.
- Utilize scientifically backed research to fight against procrastination. A good amount of research has been done on understanding and overcoming procrastination. Here are excellent tips from Princeton University’s McGraw Center for Learning and from the Harvard Business Review.
So, from one recovering procrastinator to another, let’s not go another week without addressing this costly habit, for ourselves, our families, our communities. With God’s help and in his strength let us step into the healthy, productive, joyous life that he prepared for us before time began. And on a personal note, please forgive me for putting off the writing of this article for so long. May its existence bring you hope.
- Scott McElroy writes about faith and advocates for the arts and creativity in the local church. He is the author of Finding Divine Inspiration and Creative Church Handbook, and lives in Indianapolis with his lovely wife, Danielle. Reach him at email@example.com
 This quote originated with former alcoholic turned 4-time world weightlifting champ, Jerzy Gregorek.
Good writing….. “With God’s help and in his strength let us step into the healthy, productive, joyous life that he prepared for us before time began….”
J Scott McElroy
Thank you, Mark! It is writing in collaboration with the Holy Spirit. That’s the source of all the best ideas.