Next week I will graduate from the University of Birmingham, marking the end of three exciting years full of some wonderful memories. However, there have been other times when I have felt less like a Bachelor of Science and more like a Master of Procrastination.
A particular low was taking part in an all-day Fifa session two days before an exam. Another time I found myself staring at the page in front of me after three hours, to find a sentence of work surrounded by an artistic array of mindless doodles.
And I am not alone: procrastination is a skill shared by many others, albeit in different forms. Honed in childhood, it is put to use throughout bedrooms, offices and libraries across the country. It is made even easier by advances in technology. Smartphones provide people to connect with, puzzles to be solved and high scores on Temple Run to be achieved, all from the proximity of our pocket. Working at a computer leaves you vulnerable to the biggest distractor of them all, the internet. When billions of web pages, from the social, informative and bizarre to the downright sinister are just a click away, it can be hard not to resist.
The dangers of distraction
The things we do while procrastinating are not necessarily bad in their own right. In fact, we can often justify them to ourselves as good or even necessary. Just ask Lev Yilmaz. However procrastination can be a dangerous beast, as it can prevent the important stuff from getting finished.
It has taken me an astonishingly long time to realise essays don’t write themselves, even if you leave them for absolutely ages. This means they have to be written another time, usually when something far more enjoyable is happening. Time is lost and we can be left wracked with guilt at our wastefulness.
What can we do?
There is no quick fix or one method fits all approach for avoiding distractions. Self-imposed resolutions and restrictions may help some people but can add to the guilt when they are not kept. What is more often required is a change of mindset.
If a task is viewed as something to endure, the chances are you are not going to get very far without veering off course. However when viewed as a way to honour God, things tend to turn out better. It was Mother Teresa who said
“None of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”
This can apply to all aspects of our lives, from serving others to the simple, mundane tasks which simply require doing. Honouring God in what we do is equally important in church on a Sunday, as it is in carrying out tasks that can appear to have no spiritual relevance.
The opening lyrics to Bastille’s song Pompeii hold another clue to overcoming distraction.
“I was left to my own devices. Many days fell away with nothing to show. And the walls kept crumbling down in the city that we loved.”
It becomes much easier to procrastinate when alone. Therefore working with others around, when possible, can be hugely beneficial. There is no shame in asking someone to help keep you on track and you may find you’re able to help them too.
Jesus has been through it too
Distractions and temptations will never go away, and there will always be times when we succumb. Yet it is good to remember that we have a saviour in Jesus who can sympathise. Paul writes in Hebrews 4:15
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are — yet he did not sin.”
With Jesus, there is no guilt in distraction, rather a call to a more purposeful life.
If you have any stories about particular distractions in your life and ways you’ve overcome them, I’d love to hear, so please use the comments section below. Although if there is something else you should be doing right now, maybe you should come back later!
Robbie lives in Birmingham where he is a member of Riverside Church and is currently thinking about doing a proper masters degree.