Procrastination

You may know it as the student’s curse or the thief of time, but the fact of the matter is that 95% of us have been guilty of it

You may know it as the student’s curse or the thief of time, but the fact of the matter is that 95% of us have been guilty of it. I hope to provide for the readers an understanding of what procrastination is and why they fall victim to it.

Procrastination is defined as ‘the action of delaying or postponing something’. That something may be an essay you need to hand in by the end of the week, a project that has been assigned to you or simply booking the overdue appointment at the dentist’s. The reasons we do so may not necessarily be the same; it differs from person to person, but ultimately the results are telling and easily noticeable.

If we are brutally honest with ourselves, we are aware when procrastinating. It is easy to leave something for tomorrow that doesn’t absolutely need to be done today.

How Can We Recognise a Procrastinator?

20% of people chronically avoid difficult tasks and deliberately look for distractions. Procrastinators avoid revealing information about their abilities, they make poor time estimates and they tend to focus on the past and do not act on their intentions. These characteristics are linked to low self-esteem, perfectionism, non-competitiveness, self-deception, self-control, selfconfidence, depression and anxiety. You may argue that in today’s society there are far more distractions than there were 100 years ago. How often do we find ourselves unnecessarily checking our phones, or flicking through the TV channels knowing there is nothing on of interest or taking a long nap to forget about the stress and all the tasks at hand?

Of course technology has played a vital part in shaping today’s society; some may even say we would simply not be able to live without all the apps, gadgets and inventions that our lives revolve around. For example, if one’s mobile phone were to be taken away, would many of us not feel distressed and overwhelmed? After all, it is only a small piece of equipment that fits into our pocket yet, without it we feel a loss of control in our lives. In reality, we have been constructing this environment over the last century or so where we are constantly bombarded by stimuli and being led towards temptation. Facebook and WhatsApp are only ever a button away. Why do homework when you can watch your favourite series online? In short, you can make procrastination worse within the right environment.

This is No New Phenomenon

To believe that this is some new phenomenon which has come about due to the exponential advancement in technology would be wrong. Rather procrastination has been ingrained in the very fibre of man. History bears witness to the fact that man is prone to procrastinate. Ancient Greek orator Demosthenes used to shave one side of his head so he’d remain indoors practising speeches rather than go outside and be ridiculed. The ancient Egyptians even made hieroglyphs purely in regards to procrastination!

Thus we have established that we are not the only procrastinators on this earth; our forefathers made a habit of it as well. But so what! Is it really something to worry about? In the end we mostly get the work done that is asked of us, do we not? This is the answer of a chronic procrastinator who has deceived himself to think that it is the same thing whether he completes his tasks well in time or he does it at the eleventh hour. Work done at the last minute usually has more mistakes in it than when it is done on time.

Negative Impacts

The negative impacts of procrastination include diminished performance, poorer mental and physical health, and increased stress, worry and guilt. Long-term studies of procrastination have indicated that it ‘appears to be a self-defeating behaviour pattern marked by shortterm benefits and long-term costs.’Tice, Dianne M ; Baumeister, Roy F (1997). Longitudinal study of procrastination, performance, stress, and health: The costs and benefits of dawdling. Psychological Science 8.6, 454-458.

Surveys show that people who procrastinate almost always become unhappy as a consequence. They fail in fulfilling their goals in life, become overwhelmed by the buildup of duties, laziness becomes their trait and they become devoid of motivation.

Now assess yourself and really ask yourself – are these traits found in you? If so then let this be the time when you take a stand against this tendency and remind yourself of what you really want to be. No student wants to fail in his studies, nor does any man accept that he is happy with the feeling that he will remain unsuccessful in his field of work. It will take an effort on your part to overcome this habit, because old habits die hard. But know this – you can and you will overcome this old lifestyle of yours and things will turn for the better.

Reasons for Procrastination

Laziness is seen as one of the main factors which inhibits man from fulfilling his tasks. Often we feel too tired, mentally and physically, that even simple tasks seem to be too much. If this is the case then you should try to break this habit as soon as possible; the longer you let this go on the weaker your resolve will become. Fear not, for the solution to this is simple and straightforward. Get up and do some physical exercise to raise your energy levels. Make a habit of this and it won’t be long until you will feel physically and mentally much better. In turn you will find yourself in a good state to relieve yourself from the burdens on your shoulders.

Another factor is the lack of motivation. In reality this is a very juvenile thought pattern and the simple answer to solving this is to just embrace the fact that you are an adult and it is time to let go of childish behaviour. What most people find effective is that you centre your work around something which inspires you or a goal you really want to achieve. If you have started some work and later feel that you don’t have the motivation to complete it then try to remind yourself why you started it in the first place. This should be the boost of motivation you were looking for.

Sometimes we find ourselves falling behind because we have overslept or because we have been so disorganised. This poor time management breeds procrastination, albeit unintentional. Identify what is holding you back and take steps to replace it. For example, if we find ourselves oversleeping wasting our time in unimportant tasks then we should contemplate allocating time slots for each activity we want to get done in the day. Give a time slot for sleep and do not overstep your set limit. Allocate at least an hour slot for sports. In the same way there should be a slot solely for work. Once we follow and respect these timings in the day we may find ourselves so delved in our work that we want to carry on working. But again, this will only happen once we take that first step to get work done. The writer Dennis Waitley has rightly stated:

‘Time is an equal opportunity employer. Each human being has exactly the same number of hours and minutes every day. Rich people can’t buy more hours. Scientists can’t invent new minutes. And you can’t save time to spend it on another day. Even so, time is amazingly fair and forgiving. No matter how much time you’ve wasted in the past, you still have an entire tomorrow.’

Stress can be an issue which forces us to work but it can have the adverse effect of leaving one unable to understand where to begin and ultimately no progress being made. In certain situations, procrastination aids one in reducing stress. Nevertheless, the end outcome is that the stress will not go away and you will have just forced yourself into doing your work with much less time until the deadline. Benjamin Franklin advised that the optimal strategy for high productivity is to split your days into one-third work, one-third play, and one-third rest. Once again the suggestion is to guarantee your leisure time. Hold your work time and your play time as equally important, so one doesn’t encroach upon the other.

In reality the definition of procrastination – ‘the action of delaying or postponing something’ does not do justice to its nature. Author David Nicholls argues:

‘Procrastination is more than merely delaying a task – it’s doing so despite expecting to be worse off’.

Understanding this difference is essential if we wish to truly comprehend why humans procrastinate. Man seemingly does not just leave things until the last minute as a result of his laziness or his lack of ability. Instead, he willingly allows his responsibilities to slip past him with the knowledge that he will be worse off when he eventually gets round to addressing them. Chronic procrastinators will present their classic excuse that they are perfectionists. When the right time comes they are sure that all will be arranged. This is nonsense. The one who gives himself sufficient time to research, prepare, complete his task and recheck it cannot be likened to he who does the bare minimum and fails to produce a work of a high standard.

Napoleon Hill advises all sufferers:

“Don’t wait. The time will never be just right.”

A Quranic Perspective

Up until now the reader has been presented advice and information from modern-day scientists and researchers. Now it is time to turn your attention to another aspect of this topic; which is the focal idea for which this article has been written. This article would be incomplete without laying out the Quranic view on this condition. When given a task, the Quran gives us the following instruction:

وَلَا تَقُولَنَّ لِشَيْءٍ إِنِّي فَاعِلٌ ذَلِكَ غَدًا

‘And say not of anything, ‘I am going do it tomorrow,’

The Holy Quran (18:24)

Being the All-Knowing, God Almighty has foretold of a time when Christianity will be rife and will make great advancements in the world, while the state of the Muslims will be such that all their activities will remain confined to talking about the future and they would do nothing to improve their miserable lot.

Hence, God has warned us against this behaviour and admonished us to abandon the approach of leaving a task till tomorrow. Instead it should be done as soon as possible.

Then God has put down the law that man can only attain to that which he tries for.

وَأَنْ لَيْسَ لِلْإِنْسَانِ إِلَّا مَا سَعَى

‘And that man will have nothing but what he strives for’

The Holy Qur’an (53:40)

Here a golden principle has been pointed out. In Islam, man has to work to earn his reward. The more he endeavours the more he will attain to. God Almighty also states that the more good you do the more I will give you. On the other hand, Christianity preaches that man can sin all his life and ignore the Divine Law, and all he has to do to attain salvation is declare belief in Jesus as before he dies. All his sins will be forgiven and he will enter paradise. This teaching is inconsistent with the way of the elect of God i.e. His prophets and messengers. In fact, they demonstrated to the world that it is not enough to merely believe.

If this were the master plan of God then no one on earth would feel the need to do good deeds and all would indulge in every kind of sin and vice, knowing that they are guaranteed salvation from the mere uttering of a few words. Good deeds are absolutely necessary in order to achieve complete faith. Being the Perfect Book, the Quran has provided a totally rational and comprehensible instruction – that you will be rewarded or punished in whatever you do, you will not be rewarded or punished for the deeds of anyone else.

In another passage we read:

يَا أَيُّهَا الْإِنْسَانُ إِنَّكَ كَادِحٌ إِلَى رَبِّكَ كَدْحًا فَمُلَاقِيهِ

“Thou, O man, art verily labouring towards thy Lord, a hard labouring; then thou art going to meet Him.” (Al-Inshiqaq 84:7)

Our religion does not give man the guarantee of Paradise. He has to work hard to attain God and suffer physical, mental and monetary sacrifices in order to achieve this goal. This alone should be enough for any reasonable person to realise that one is at a loss until and unless he makes a real improvement of his present state. To remain stationary and think that one is doing enough in life is a foolish thought that leaves man in the ebb of deceit. The only way to really achieve anything is to take that first step up the stairs of progress; even if that first step is not a successful one. Rome was not built in a day. And it’s true. It takes time – sometimes years – to master a skill, craft, or habit. As the German proverb goes “Begin to weave and God will give you the thread.”

Now, if one continues to disregard God’s word; or on a smaller scale, the word of one’s in-charge, then God beforehand has warned man of the state in which he will be after death. God states in the Holy Quran:

لَعَلِّي أَعْمَلُ صَالِحًا فِيمَا تَرَكْتُ كَلَّا إِنَّهَا كَلِمَةٌ هُوَ قَائِلُهَا وَمِنْ وَرَائِهِمْ بَرْزَخٌ إِلَى يَوْمِ يُبْعَثُونَ

“That I may do righteous deeds in the life that I have left behind.’ Never, it is but a word that he utters. And behind them is a barrier until the day when they shall be raised again.”

The Holy Qur’an (23:101)

In other words do what you will O man. But know this! A day will come when you will regret not having done more and you will wish you could return and have a chance at this life once again. By then it will be too late and eternal remorse will be your fate.

So dear reader, today you have that chance. Today you have been given the opportunity to take the steps needed to achieve your goals. Do not let it go to waste.

“A year from now you may wish you had started today.”

Karen Lamb (lecturer in orating)

“You should try all you can to get yourself included in the list of those who are dear to God so that no hardship and trouble can get hold of you, for nothing happens on the earth unless it has been permitted by God. You should remove every cause of conflict, dissension and enmity. This, now, is the time that you should set aside minor things and get yourself busy with great and important matters.”

Malfoozat Vol. I, p. 139

Disclaimer

This article was originally published in the Annual Printed Edition of Majallatul Jamia

Nooruddeen Jahangir

Nooruddeen Jahangir

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