By Shterna Karp, Brooklyn, NY
MyLife Essay Contest 2018
The twenty minutes it takes from when the alarm goes until you are out of bed… The stack of books waiting to be read… The mending and fixing that still needs your attention… Supposedly only 20% of the population procrastinates,(1) but the number would probably be higher if people got around to filling out the survey. “The wise act immediately; a fool pushes things off,” the Rebbe Rashab said.(2) In pursuit of wisdom, this essay will explore the cause of and solution to delaying work. In the course of researching, this article went from a plan that I did not think I would carry through to a completed work. I knew I wouldn’t start until only a few days before, which is unrealistic if I wanted to finish it. Instead of the project being ditched, it gave me the thesis. You reading this completed piece is proof that Chassidus’s tools work. There is an end to procrastination.
Phase One: Become Motivated
Phase one of overcoming procrastination is building enough motivation to fuel action.
Don’t Fall for the Trap
Whatever the reason—lack of drive, reason, passion, energy—procrastination manifests itself as unwillingness to work, or laziness.(3)
Laziness renders everything into abeyance. Powerful tools are worthless if one is too lazy to use them—a fact of which the Yetzer Hara is quite aware. That is why laziness is his sneakiest trick.(4)
Knowing that the evil inclination is behind idleness gives perspective. It is a prank and we are playing right into the plan—walking into a booby-trap. Once we recognize the plot—“Hey, the Yetzer Hara is making me lazy so that I don’t do any good”—we are wiser. Instead of falling for it, we prove him wrong.
Know What There is to Lose
In Tanya, the Alter Rebbe brings a contemporary example. A wrestler uses the most energy when fighting to get out of his opponent’s hold—when he realizes that he is losing the game. The Satan pulls out his dirtiest tricks, like procrastination, when he realizes we have the upper hand.(5)
Why does the Yetzer Hara care to duel for our time? Well, apparently he’s aware of something that we choose to ignore: Time and our unique abilities are gifts, so precious that they are irreplaceable.(6) This person will never again live through this moment. Every moment the Satan delays us from using the combined force is lost. So he’s investing an awful lot of energy in making sure that happens. The system works in his favor—convincing us to waste just a few moments of time throws myriads of impact to the trash. If we appreciate the power of the time and energies we currently have—a combination that will never again appear—how could we throw it away?( 7)
Procrastination raises the simple problem of being rude. It’s like the designer sweater with purple and yellow stars that Aunt Merna bought for Chanukah. Sure, it’s ugly—you don’t want to wear it—but she’s smiling as you unwrap the parcel. The polite thing is to put it on while she is around. Three hours later, when the party has gone to bed and she is no longer showing you off to the family, you wriggle out of it. She’s not there to see you in it anymore.
Here’s the thing—G-d is always standing before us. And even if we don’t appreciate the time He has gifted us, there’s no taking it off because Someone sees what we do with our lives.(8) “Suppose a great and majestic king gave you a gift, and He stands by to watch what you do with it. What would it look like if you dropped it with complete disregard and engaged in some other pastime?”(9)
The motivation to combat procrastination comes when we TAP into three thoughts:
● Trap – it’s a trick of the Yetzer Hara, so don’t fall for it.
● Appreciate – know that time and energies are a gift.
● Polite – use the gift when G-d is around, which is always.
Phase Two: Take Action
The way to combat procrastination is by facing it head-on. There is no antonym for the word(10) because of the opposite of procrastination is “not procrastinating.”
Meet G-d Halfway
If one struggles to accomplish, a simple solution is engaging in things that are exciting to do. Problem solved. But houses need to be cleaned, prayers need to be davened, emails need to be answered. What about things one doesn’t have a choice in?
A woman appeared at Eli Kohen Gadol’s doorstep.(11) “My husband died and now the tax collector is coming,” she frantically cried.
“What do you have in your house?” Eli asked. Only a jug of oil. “Gather the empty vessels in your home and pour the small amount of oil into them,” the navi advised.
Hasn’t she told him that it was barely full? How would it be enough to fill the jugs? Yet, with her pure faith in the words of the tzaddik, the woman followed his directives. Instead of running empty, the jug filled every vessel she poured into.
The Rebbe uses in the story as a parable for the struggling Jew. What to do when there is no passion to fulfill (represented by the Hebrew words “ אשי מת —my fiery passion for G-d died”)?
Eli advised: “Gather all your empty vessels—actions that are currently devoid of purpose. Fill them anyway and then you will continue flourishing.” The Rebbe’s explanation promises that if we fill vessels even when we don’t want to, G-d will help by giving the passion needed to continue.(12)
How to take that first step? When there is something one doesn’t want to do, whether because it is too daunting, boring, or because sitting on the couch sound better, strike a deal: commit to only a few minutes.(13) After the time passes, he can resume the dilly-dallying from before.
After sixty seconds of davening Shacharis, hopefully he will remember why he loves it and continue longer. After two minutes of cleaning a room, the mess seems manageable and she can commit to tackling it. All they needed was to start. So the first step to combatting procrastination? Get working and G-d will meet halfway.
Eat the Frog
After is a pair of shoes is thrown in the corner, the pile will grow bigger. Procrastination breeds procrastination. The solution is to breed success.
Mark Twain touched upon this when he advised, “If your job is to eat a frog, best to do it first thing in the morning.” Eating a squirming amphibian, or tackling something dreaded, builds momentum. Success feels good so we want more of it.
Costco’s free samples follow the same equation. Get free food, like food, be willing to pay for food. Once buyers know what the product is, they pull out their wallets. Once we know how it feels to get things done, we will push through laziness to accomplish more.(14)
When introducing the concept of one who truly “serves G-d” in Tanya,(15) the Alter Rebbe quotes the Gemara on the habits of donkey-drivers.(16) When traveling ten measures, the standard fare was one zuz (the common currency). If the passenger wished to travel eleven measures, the fare doubled.
Traveling the normal amount did not require effort on their animals’ part. The extra measure of travel meant that the animals went beyond their usual, so the fare doubled.
Non-habitual tasks require the most willingness and are thus the easiest to be lazy about. The hardest steps are the ones that go beyond our norm. So, make those steps a part of the norm and they will become easier.(17)
The long-term solution to procrastination is to make habits of the things you push off most. Have a hard time making your bed? For a few days, don’t leave your room without tidying the sheets, no matter how much you dread it. Once it’s part of the morning routine, it will be over before you can think about how much you don’t want to do it.
The short- and long-term solutions to procrastinating come when we SEE the value of action.
● Small action – take small steps to meet G-d halfway.
● Eat the frog – check some things off the list and feel accomplished.
● Establish habits – build the things you push off into your schedule.
Phase One: TAP into three thoughts
Ask: Am I going to play into the trap?
Ask: If the Yetzer Hara is never lazy, how can I be and still expect to be victorious?
Ask: Is what I am wasting time on truly more important?
Ask: Is what I am doing showing G-d that I am grateful for the time and energies I have?
Phase Two: SEE the value of action
Commit to meet G-d halfway by working for a few minutes.
Eat the Frog
Finish the task you dread most.
Make habits of doing the things you used to procrastinate.
1 “Procrastination Statistics Show… – My Time Management.” http://www.mytimemanagement.com/procrastination-statistics.html.
2 Sefer Hasichos 5702, pg. 115
3 “Definition of laziness in English by Oxford Dictionaries.” https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/laziness.
4 Letter of the Rebbe dated 13 Teves 5726
5 Tanya, Chapter 28
7 Sichas 15 Shvat 5741
8 Tanya, Chapter 41
9 Letter of the Rebbe dated 13 Teves 5726
10 “Definition of procrastination … – Oxford Dictionaries.” https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/procrastination.
11 Melachim Beis 4:1
12 Ma’amer Isha Achas 5746
13 Inspired by the concept of a Beinoni’s minute-by-minute battle in Tanya, Chapter 13
14 “How to Stop Procrastinating – The Meaningful Life Center.” https://www.meaningfullife.com/mlc-tv/how-to-stop-procrastinating/
15 Tanya, Chapter 15
16 Chagigah 9b
17 Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 1, pg. 115