Procrastination or Prudence?

By: Eric Betts

One of the greatest hindrances to effective leadership in non-profits, business, academia, and religious organizations is the tendency for procrastination. Procrastination is often confused with laziness, but this is not always the case. Procrastination is the mindset that delays important tasks and replaces them with others that are more convenient. One virtual leadership resource called defines procrastination as the following: Procrastination usually involves ignoring an unpleasant, but likely more important task, in favor of one that is more enjoyable or easier.

Leaders who procrastinate are often guilty in two areas. They make the mistake of thinking a task is extremely easy and can be quickly dealt with in a short amount of time and they put it off, or they seek to avoid the pain or energy required in the present for the more difficult ones. As a result, opportunities are lost, important details are lost, terrible mistakes are made, and unnecessary pressures are placed upon both themselves and their fellow workers when the deadline edges closer. American entrepreneur Victor Kiam said, “Procrastination is opportunity’s natural assassin.” Additionally, one must not forget the important warning and admonition that “procrastination is the thief of time.” Procrastination is often a tricky trade-off of present comfort for delayed burdens. John Maxwell said, “Procrastination may relieve short-term pressure. But it often impedes long-term progress.”

Another mistake leaders often make is confusing prudence when it comes to seeking the right moments to act, and the pitfall of procrastination. It is important to distinguish between evaluating the best time to implement a plan and procrastination. It always important to get your timing correct when making important decisions.

A leader doesn’t want to be too early and suffer negative results because of the lack of preparation. In addition, a leader doesn’t want to be too late and miss a vital opportunity. Timing is critical, but procrastination is detrimental. One might ask, “How does one understand whether an action represents procrastination and prudence?” John Maxwell writes about this very issue. He offers five ways to determine whether a leader is acting with prudence or procrastination. Notice the following signs that indicate procrastination:

1. When missing deadlines becomes a regular occurrence.
2. When you often ask, “When is the latest that I can do this?” instead of “When is the soonest that I can tackle it?”
3. When you frequently come across old documents and to-do lists that you haven’t missed in weeks or months.
4. When items on your to-do list continually roll over to the next day, week, or month.
5. When items get crossed off your to-do list not because they’ve been completed, but because they’re too out of date to be done.

One of the important lessons of the pandemic is that procrastination is a terrible gamble. The pandemic has taught society something about how times can easily change and how delaying important decisions can be detrimental. There are many businesses, non-profits, religious organizations, and educational institutions who had delayed updating and upgrading their online presence and virtual communication systems and had to scramble when the lockdowns occurred. We have learned that it always better to be proactive and a step ahead of the times. Some scientists and medical experts report that if lockdowns, stay-at-home orders, and the move toward mask wearing had occurred just a few weeks earlier, thousands of lives could have been saved. Moreover, there are many plans that could have been implemented in 2019 but were unnecessarily delayed until 2020, and the door of opportunity closed due to COVID-19.

If one has developed the habit of procrastination, what are some of the things that can be done to avoid this tendency? The online leadership resource center called Skills You Need, identifies a few practical tips that can be implemented to escape the procrastination trap. Notice these five suggestions:

  • Do it first, then reward yourself with something you’d rather do. It can also be helpful to do unpleasant things first thing in the morning, when you’re a bit more resilient, and also when you can’t think of a really good excuse.
  • Do it more often, not less. If you find yourself struggling with a task that you feel you ought to do once a week, or twice a week, try doing it every day instead. That way, it will be harder to put off, and you will feel worse if you don’t get it done that day.
  • Write it down. It sounds odd, but it’s much harder to ignore a task once you have written it on your to-do list, especially if it’s a list of things to do today. A more extreme version of this is to tell someone else what you plan to do. You can even ask them to call and check whether you’ve done it.
  • Arrange to do it with someone else. If you struggle to motivate yourself to go to the gym, or to exercise, or even to take your child out somewhere, arrange to go with a friend. This has two benefits. First of all, you’ve arranged to meet at a particular time, and you will feel bad if you let your friend down. Secondly, we all enjoy things more if we do them with someone else.
  • If it will take less than 2 minutes, just do it now. Stop arguing with yourself and just do whatever it is.

So remember, whether it is extremely easy or a highly difficult task, if it can be done, do it now. You will not regret it and will be glad you acted when you did.
By: Eric Betts
Assistant Director, Curtis Coleman Center for Religious Studies and Ethics at Athens State University