“An ancient proverb states: ‘It is not the size of the tree but the depth of its roots that make it strong.’ Procrastination usually has very deep roots. The problem of procrastination is one that often goes beyond self-discipline and whipping oneself from stasis to stress.” T. Quek
Comparing this to the way of a Benedictine monk, I notice his fluent transition from one activity to the next, at the sound of a bell, without dragging his feet.
Quek mentions 4 possible causes for procrastination:
- poor distinction between urgency and priority
- rational vs. irrational
- discipline vs. comfort
(4) Procrastination as an indicator of underlying illnesses (like ADD or mental disorders)
This is the first article in a series of three, where I go into these causes and present a Benedictine inspired solution for them.
Disorganization: The luring illusion of ‘comfort’ tasks
This is characterized by a poor distinction between urgency and importance.
Quek’s theory is that the typical procrastinator tends to procrastinate doing a lot of so-called ‘comfort‘ tasks, which are easy to reach, convenient or interesting to perform.
This causes a pile-up of old and new tasks wich start crying out for attention, thus becoming urgent, regardless of their level of importance.
The ‘tyranny’ of all the open loops of important tasks start weighing down on the procrastinator and she will want to perform even more comfort tasks to relieve that stress: a vicious cycle is born.
Distractibility: “What does THIS button doooo?”
Distractions are a multitude of off-task behaviours
This is a HUGE issue for me. Midsentence I fall prey to the lure of Facebook, What’sApp, texting, email – not so much anymore these days because I get so repelled by all the unanswered emails sitting in my inbox – eating, drinking, sudden cleaning urges, old-fashioned daydreaming, or doing non-important, non-urgent comfort tasks, *sigh*…
Forgetfulness: “Yeah, I was just about to do it…”
I can be really short about this: Put your mind on paper (or electronics). Author and guru of GTD (Getting Things Done): David Allen states we can only consciously remember a list of 10 things, if we put in another, then we “erase” the first again.
“The mind is for having ideas not holding them” -
It’s key though to keep reminders of things to do in a dedicated place! Not in ten!
In my next post I will elaborate on this, with regards to the GTD-method.
Lumping or chunking is the errant perception that most tasks come as an inseperable whole (a “lump”) and cannot be subdivided and dealt with systematically.
Whoa! I feel so relieved to see that my plight actually has a name. How many fears in my life stem from this misconception.
Lumping my writing, lumping my household, lumping my life!
Ok, now that I’ve acknowledged my utter state of disorganization, I feel relieved yet inspired to change this. But: babysteps, one step at a time, towards no more lumping.
How would a typical Benedictine monk go about his tasks? Can I borrow some of his wisdom to infuse into my disorganized life?
- A Benedictine monk would divide his attention well, praying for discernment in setting priorities at the beginning of his day, after a period of empty mind: meditation.
- He would neither make a distinction between Ora et Labora (Pray and Work), nor between eating, loving or praying, because he knows that everything is equally important. The mundane is just as key as the heavenly.
- He would also set emotional boundaries for himself: saying “no” to himself in case of distraction. So when the bell tolls: change of scenes. No: ” I quickly finish this…” or “Hey, I am praying but I actually have to give my abbot a phone call right now”.
- He would take notes on his little notepad, which he takes with him everywhere, hidden in his habit. (Don’t you like the pun that monks are creatures of habit? A monk’s “habit” is also his cape.) He would then place a reminder on his to-dolist, but there wouldn’t even be the need for an agenda, because his day is being shaped by the ever present bell.
- And he would not need an intricate productivity system, because his life were already stripped to the bare essentials: eat, pray, love your neighbour, work and recreate.
- The monk would keep it simple, and progress slowly but steadily. He would give each different activity his undivided* attention, mindfully and slowly going from one thing to the next.
- The daily timetable or horarium** of the monk automatically prevents him from “lumping”, because his day is already neatly subdivided. The great thing for him though, is that his abbot makes that table already for him, following the Rule of Benedict. We in turn have to let our own wise mind (our own ‘abbot’) sternly but lovingly set boundaries for ourselves, using a timer and planning ahead at the start of each new day.
To be continued!
In the next post we are going to look at fear-based procrastination.
Let me know if you recognize anything in my article, I’d love to talk with you about it! Maybe we can inspire each other with ways to tackle the problem of procrastination.
*to divide comes from dividere (Latin), which means: to force apart or to cleave.
**Traditionally, the daily life of the Benedictine revolved around the eight canonical hours. The monastic timetable or Horarium would begin at midnight with the service, or “office”, of Matins (today also called the Office of Readings), followed by the morning office of Lauds at 3am. Before the advent of wax candles in the 14th century, this office was said in the dark or with minimal lighting; and monks were expected to memorise everything. These services could be very long, sometimes lasting till dawn, but usually consisted of a chant, three antiphons, three psalms, and three lessons, along with celebrations of any local saints’ days. Afterwards the monks would retire for a few hours of sleep and then rise at 6am to wash and attend the office of Prime. They then gathered in Chapter to receive instructions for the day and to attend to any judicial business. Then came private Mass or spiritual reading or work until 9am when the office of Terce was said, and then High Mass. At noon came the office of Sext and the midday meal. After a brief period of communal recreation, the monk could retire to rest until the office of None at 3pm. This was followed by farming and housekeeping work until after twilight, the evening prayer of Vespers at 6pm, then the night prayer of Compline at 9pm, and off to blessed bed before beginning the cycle again. In modern times, this timetable is often changed to accommodate any apostolate outside the monastic enclosure (e.g. the running of a school or parish).