A Benedictine solution to procrastination: pt 1: Organize


“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:

(1) Disorganization:

  • poor distinction between urgency and priority
  • distractibility
  • forgetfulness
  • ‘lumping’

(2) Fear

  • rational vs. irrational
  • discipline vs. comfort

(3) Perfectionism

(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 ‘comforttasks, 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” –

David Allen

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.

Here’s already a nice teaser for you: David’s terrific video talk for “Dolectures“, on this subject.


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.

You can also find me on Facebook or Twitter.

*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).

Source: wikipedia

4 thoughts on “A Benedictine solution to procrastination: pt 1: Organize

  1. Hi Ester,
    How are you doing? Last week I’ve had some difficult things to take care about. Managing family things. I like to leave a comment at your post. Think I can do it this week. Procrastination? 😉 Well ……
    Recognice some things about proctastiation (also pt. 4). For me it’s hard to deal with, sometimes. But I’ve learned a lot, and still making progress.

    As I wrote, I like to leave a comment later on.

    Peace and blessings,

    1. I’d like to heat from you soon. I already posted a second article about procrastination and will post a third one soon.

      Take care with everything! Ester

      1. Hi Ester,

        How are you? Hope you are allright. Thanks for your post (pt. 1, Organize)
        I’m sorry for responding so late. Procrastination, oh my .., sometimes it’s a big problem for me ;-(

        I can tell you; it is right now. A couple of weeks ago I want to respond, after reading at your post; pnt. 4. This is about me. I was very schocked and glad at the same time, when ADD was diagnosed in my life (2008). Shocked, about the impact this for a long time undentified disorder must have been for the people who are sharing there life with me. Thought about this a lot; even now; the effects of living with ADD for my beloved wife, my family, my friends and: myself. Glad also, because it seems to be a part of my life for many years, from the time I was a kid. After years of medical research they know by now ADD definitely will not disappear when you are an adult. To know and realize this, it brought me pain and grief but, how strange it sounds; also peace of mind. It’s because some pieces of the puzzle of my life are fitting now. However, sometimes I felt (and feel) guilt about the things that happened in my life because of this disorder, wich I want but never can distroy. Education, training, group – and solo sessions, and in my case also medication, it worked out very well. Procrastination can be a difficult issue to deal with for ADD diagnosed people. For me it is. My experience is I can not live without medication (Methylfenidate), even when I lived without it for so many years. And nowadays I have to live with the ‘problem’ of ADD on my own. Next week it will be two years ago my beloved soulmate died (because of a rare sort of cancer). It’s very important to me keeping discipline and beating procrastination, every new day the Lord will give me. These are essential issues for me to go on with my life. Despair is a choice, you know.

        Last sunday the theme of worship and service was very special for me: “Be still, and know that I’m God” I remember you told me once; these words are special to you also. This week, it feels like one of the worst weeks ever. But I never give up praying, at least two times a day, in my silent room. There’s a longing to be with God in silence. Even when I don’t feel it (like today), I know He is with me; every new day in my life. God is near. Do you recognize this? It’s my wish and prayer for you.

        I don’t know if anyone – except you – will read this. Also I don’t know it may be helpfull for someone (at least you must be ADD diagnosed, have another mental disorder or a regular problem child 😉 ), but I can tell you; this book was and is a great help to me (next living the “Benedictine way”…):

        “Mastering Your Adult AD(H)D – A Cognitive-Behavioral Treatment Program” Client Workbook. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005
        The Netherlands: Uitgeverij Nieuwezijds, Amsterdam, 2006

        I Like to respond also at your next post about “fear based procastinaton”
        On my to-do list : at the end of this week 😉

        Peace and blessings,

        ‘Despair Is A Choice’

      2. Wow despair is a choice,

        thanks for your very honest post, I am moved by it and I am also so very sorry that your wife died, I notice you love her very very much!

        I am not diagnosed with ADD, however I have some character traits that are very related to it, so I empathize with add’ers. I am very impulsive and associative, very very easily distracted and have great trouble in setting priorities and having a helicopter view, and I cannot multi-task either. This means however that my strengths are on the flipside of the medal: like being creative, fantasy-rich, associative and visual thinker, great brainstormer, a little visionary too and if something interests me I get into a hyper-focus and produce wonderful stuff. I am also very passionate for things I do. And in the shop I work, they know that when I am working with a customer, I give them 200% attention and I am a selling-machine haha :0) but I don’t notice other people coming into our shop.

        Also procrastination is a BIG thing for me, and sometimes I make progress sometimes I fall back… 2 steps forward 1 step back.

        I am glad I don’t have to do it alone but God is always with me. This morning I had a meditation in my silent room and I also started living as a vegan from this week. More about that later. But I love it!

        Bless you with the love of Jesus,


        ps I will pass on the title of the book to two people with add I know, thanks!

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