Defeating Procrastination

procrastination beast

Procrastination is rearing its head around here, and it’s as ugly as ever.

At times like this, I often remind myself of the wisdom of J.R.R. Tolkien placed on the lips of Samwise Gamgee: “It’s the job that’s never started that takes the longest to finish.”

Sadly, that shrewd insight seldom solves my problem. You see, the breed of procrastibeast that typically plagues me isn’t the one that prevents a person from beginning.

The species that lurks in the shadows of my office is the variety that derails “jobs” that are already well begun.

My problem—and you may share it—is that I’m juggling too many projects simultaneously. A detailed book proposal, a literary contest entry, Mere Inkling, a half dozen articles in various stages, and a technical PTSD article I just agreed to review for a professional journal . . . all of these beckon to me and continue to grow more and more urgent in their pleas.

Sometimes I envy the people who tell me they find it challenging to come up with ideas. That’s never been my difficulty. I normally have a surfeit of topics that juice my creativity.

It has only recently dawned on me that this too easily transforms into procrastination.

Unable or unwilling to see works through to conclusion, I constantly initiate new projects. I often struggle with the need to push my writing through to conclusion.

In my own case it seems to boils down to discipline. I have to focus and consciously strive to revisit manuscripts near their deadlines, even when I’m “inspired” to be working on one of the other projects. Too often, I’m resigned to believe, my Muse is simply out of synch with reality.

C.S. Lewis was highly disciplined. An excellent example of this is found in his devotion to responding to the mountains of correspondence he received. In this burdensome activity he was assisted by his brother Warnie, who absence during his drinking binges created an extreme hardship. At the end of his life, Lewis was appreciative to have gained the assistance of Walter Hooper

Fixing the Problem

We who struggle with procrastination do not need to despair. According to psychologists, “This is a learned behavior and therefore can be unlearned.”

Procrastinators are made and not born. That’s both the good news and the bad news. Good because it’s a learned response, and what’s learned can be unlearned. The bad news is that while it’s possible to change, it takes a lot of psychic energy and you don’t necessarily feel transformed internally.

You should know that some people who think of themselves as procrastinators really aren’t. In a world of unending deadlines, they just put too many things on their “To Do” list. They’re not avoiding tasks, the mark of a bona fide procrastinator; they’re getting things done, just not as many as they would like.

In my own case, I would alter that final sentence to: “they’re getting things done, just not in the order that they would like.”

The article quoted here includes some suggestions for defeating procrastination. The one I like best is “Promise yourself a reward.”

Unfortunately, my most effective rewards seem to be food-based, with items of the chocolate tier in the hierarchy pyramid being the most effective.

I have, however, come upon a tentative substitute. I thought of it while writing this very column.

I have accumulated some writings by and about C.S. Lewis during the past few years that I have yet to read. Too busy. Well, I’ve decided that when I finished some of the most pressing projects that are strangling me, I will treat myself to simply reading some Lewis.

I doubt it will be as effective as chocolate . . . but it is best substitute I can imagine.


The medieval illumination above may represent one version of the procrastination beast which afflicts Christians… since it did manage to deter at least one monk from carrying on with his proper duties.

13 thoughts on “Defeating Procrastination

    1. :) Thought-provoking comments are always welcome. Argumentative comments are often welcome. Nasty comments are occasionally welcome.

      Only blasphemous comments are never welcome at Mere Inkling.

      Whoa, you really did send me off on a tangent, didn’t you!

  1. Hello Rob,

    Yes, I hear you. Me, too. It is easy to have so many things and fear the time will run out. You are right, do Less and do it better. Think Forest Gump. He had seasons in his life( a runner, a soidier, a shrimp boat captain) but not all at the same time. Maybe we are better off working through the stack one at a time and have the joy of completion. That is what gets us to the next season.

    Thank you,


  2. All those eager ideas pressing forward demanding the stage – it is a big problem. Impressive you are lining up a schedule…but the reward of sitting down and reading – that’s a pretty great motivator (and less fattening than chocolate…which here only leads to “oh, what else is there to snack on…ice cream…glass of milk…”and before you know it, scheduled work time is gone!)

    1. Actually, you’ll notice that I didn’t mention the name of the journal it would eventually be appearing in (should it be “accepted” by the editor, since I am only one reviewer). Anonymity issues for such things. Truth is, this particular manuscript doesn’t address spiritual considerations, so it might be of little value to you.

      On the other hand, there are tons of good stuff online. Case in point, the Military Chaplain Association (of which I’m a life member) recently devoted an entire issue of its magazine to Moral Injury (a major component of PTSD for people with wounded consciences). You can download it for free at:

    1. I enjoyed your article too. As you say, self-discipline is the key to overcoming our inclination to procrastinate.

      Your comment about successful people got me to wondering whether or not some of them do struggle with this too. It would be a minority, to be sure. However, I would not be surprised to hear some of them identify it as one of the major challenges in their lives.

      I’m glad you didn’t procrastinate on writing this comment and sharing your link!

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