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The Life Less Traveled


September 28, 2011
Twelve years ago I bought a book about how to avoid procrastination. I still haven't read it. I've started it a couple of times, but I keep putting it off. I'm sure I'll get to it eventually.

Really, I will.

You can just add it to my to-do list, a list so long it puts Santa's naughty and nice list to shame. Tomorrow, tomorrow. I love ya, tomorrow. If you're a procrastinator, you know exactly what I mean. Even if you're not prone to it yourself, though, your life is probably frustrated by someone who is.

So, what's the deal? Why do people like me love to push our deadlines and responsibilities as far into the future as possible? Here are four reasons I love to procrastinate. Maybe some of them will sound familiar.

1.) Dread. The No. 1 reason I procrastinate is simple. I make time for the things I really want to do, and I put off the things I dread. Whether it's tackling a complicated house project or having a difficult conversation, I am the master at finding fun distractions to keep me from doing what I know I need to do. We all gravitate toward activities we like and tend to avoid the things we don't.

2.) Busyness. Even when I want to tackle the tough stuff, I struggle with making the time to do it. Between work, home and writing, I have plenty of tasks and relationships that fill my life with constant activity. I can't even begin to finish all of the things that I need to do. So, what typically happens? The squeaky wheel gets the grease. The tyranny of the urgent rules my day.

3.) Perfectionism. Sometimes I put off doing things because I'm a perfectionist. I want to wait until I can devote the time and resources to do whatever it is I'm doing to the best of my ability. I want to have just the right conditions, the right equipment or the right circumstances to do it with excellence. That moment never comes, and so I'm left with a string of dreams never explored, projects never launched and life never lived.

4.) Uncertainty. Still other times in my life I find myself procrastinating because of uncertainty. I need more information, counsel or wisdom so that I can be absolutely certain how to proceed. These are the times I can mask my procrastination as waiting on God. Sometimes I have a sense that God is nudging me in one particular direction, but I don't know for sure. I want a burning bush, commandments carved in stone or handwriting on the wall so that I can move with confidence. Yet, if I were honest with myself, what I really want isn't mere confidence, but an iron-clad guarantee that leaves no room for faith.

After reviewing that miserable list, I realize what a miracle it is that I ever get anything done. I'm thankful because left unchecked, this tendency to procrastinate would rob me of a lot of joy and accomplishment. I'm thankful for good friends and a great wife who have helped me to learn a few tricks to keep me from becoming my own worst enemy.

What am I learning? I'm learning to do the hard stuff first. Whenever I find myself dreading something, that's my cue to tackle it.

I'm also learning to schedule the things that really matter to me in life. I'm making appointments with myself to spend time with God, to exercise, to hang out with my family and to write. This stuff is life-giving but rarely urgent.

I'm learning to trade perfection for just getting things done. I have to keep telling myself there won't be a better time later. Just do it! Do it now. An imperfect, finished product is far better than a perfect idea that never makes it out of your head. If I waited until I could get it perfect, you'd never read anything I wrote.

Finally, I'm learning that trusting God is more important than always making the right decision. Yes, it's important to seek wise counsel. Yes, it's important to pray and listen for God's prompting. But I wonder if God ever gets sick of us overanalyzing everything. Sometimes I think God just wants us to go for it with Him and take a risk.

So, there you have it, four reasons why I tend to put things off and what God's teaching me to do about them. I originally planned on writing 10 reasons, but I probably won't get around to writing the other six until tomorrow, right after I finish reading that book about procrastination.

Jason Byerly, a 1990 graduate of Crawford County Junior-Senior High School, is the children's pastor at Southland Christian Church near Lexington, Ky. He and his wife have two daughters. For more from Byerly, visit www.jasonbyerly.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/jasondbyerly.

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