Work Backward and Defeat Procrastination

When I was a teenager, my grandfather laughingly said to me, “Why do today what you can put off until tomorrow?”

“No, Grandpa, that’s not right!” I said.”You shouldn’t put things off!”

At that time, I thought Grandpa’s advice sounded silly, and I wondered why he gave it to me. He may have seen that, in reality, I was putting off a lot of things until tomorrow.

As a Christian, I want to use the time that I have to accomplish the tasks God has equipped me and called me to do. That means I must come to grips with the fact that I Connemara Mountainshave limited time on this earth. Like morning fog, it quickly disappears. (James 4:14 NLT) Knowing my time is limited, it’s crucial that I determine what events and tasks are truly important and do not procrastinate in doing them. That can be challenging.

Procrastination—intentionally delaying what I need to do—has been a difficult habit for me to break. I think that’s partly because it’s hard for me to estimate the time it will take me to complete a task. When I get up in the morning I know in my mind that I have a limited number of hours before nightfall, but I feel as if I have unlimited time. So throughout the day I put off doing necessary tasks, thinking that I will have time to do it later. The consequence is: I end up with a number of uncompleted tasks; I feel stressed and unhappy, and in order to complete a few more tasks, I work up until the point I go to bed.

Last weekend, I decided to try a different approach. I decided to work backward through my day. Starting with the last event, I listed my commitments and important tasks for the day.

This was my list:

  • 8:15  p.m. Give personal care products to friends who ordered them at my party
  • 7:30 p.m. Attend church service and say “good-bye” to friends who are leaving
  • 5:00 p.m. Attend wedding reception
  • 1:00 p.m. Attend wedding
  • 11:50a.m. Leave early for wedding because my husband, who is officiating, must be there on time

Next I listed what I needed to do for each event and began working on my list by doing the task that I needed to accomplish for the last (8:15 p. m.) event, first.

After breakfast, I packaged the products for my friends. If I would have waited until I came home from the wedding reception, I would not have had time to do it. I could have done it in the time between the wedding and the reception, but then I would not have been able to visit with friends in a relaxed way.

Next, I made soup so that I would have it to eat before going to the wedding reception. (If I go to a party when I’m hungry, it’s hard for me to stick to my limited diet. I eat a lot of food that disagrees with me.)

Then, after I printed a poem for my wedding card, I had just enough time to get dressed before needing to leave for the wedding. I felt relaxed for the rest of the day because I was not rushing to finish some needed task.

In January, I wrote down seven goals that I wanted to accomplish this year. One of them was to finish writing a book, to publish it, and to begin marketing it by April 1. I missed the April 1 goal, but now my book is in production. I expect to hold a copy in my hands in two or three weeks. What will I do during that time? Work on other goals that I’ve neglected through procrastination.

Questions for you to consider:

  • What important, end-of-the day event do you often not get done because you procrastinated preparing for it?
  • What could you do earlier in the day to prepare for that event?

What Kind of a Game-player Are You?

Along with my grandchildren, I love playing games.  They enjoy sports, such as baseball, soccer, and basketball, as well as board games. Not being good at sports, I prefer board games. This summer, we’ve been playing Uno, Dominoes, Chess, Rummikub, and Yahtzee. We can get pretty intense in our game-playing. Most of the time it’s been fun but occasionally someone gets upset. Complaints, such as “You can’t do that!”, “You are breaking the rules!”, or “Grandma, so-and-so broke the rules!” disrupt the peaceful atmosphere. Some children get discouraged and quit playing the game. Others start out with a commitment to obey the rules, but when they see someone else cheating they change their mind, get angry and say, “I can do that, too!” No one enjoys the game when there is conflict about the rules or when the rules are broken.Charles at bat

So why have rules in the first place? Why not let every child play the way he or she wants to play? The result would be chaos and confusion. Games need rules in order to facilitate order, define what is fair and legal, and declare the consequence for rule-breakers and the reward for rule-keepers. Players need an authority (someone who possesses knowledge, wisdom, and hopefully compassion) to set the rules, negotiate conflict, and hand out consequences and rewards.

Despite their tendency to want to run-the-show, my grandchildren recognize their parents, Grandpa, or me as authorities. We decide what the rule are, whether or not a play is fair or legal, and what happens when someone breaks a rule. Even though they might not fully agree to the rules we set down, our grandchildren usually cooperate. They respect our decisions and follow our rules. Happiness is the result.

Whether it’s a board game, a sports event, a political contest, or something as serious as the “game of life.” I don’t think that we adults are much different than children when it comes to setting and breaking rules.

  • We don’t like to live by rules set by someone else.
  • We tend to be more concerned about how the other person plays than how we play.
  • There’s something within all of us that likes to break rules.

Perhaps, that contributes to our frequent feelings of discontent and unhappiness. What would be the result if we, like children, submitted to the rules laid down by an authority superior to ourselves? An authority who–unlike us–is totally wise, all powerful, always just, and entirely good?  What would life be like if we stopped looking at how everyone else is playing the game and focused on how we are playing the game? What would happen if we actually had the ability to keep the rules of the game?

Decades ago, when I was about the age that my middle school grandchildren now are, I recognized that God is the ultimate wise, powerful, just and good authority in the game of life, and I believed what the psalmist declared: “Happy are those who live pure lives, who follow the Lord’s teachings.  Happy are those who keep his rules, who try to obey him with their whole heart” (Psalm 119:1, 2 NCV).

I was quite confident of my ability to keep the rules of God’s game—The Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule, and I became pretty good at noticing when other people broke those rules. I tended to overlook my infringements; God, in his mercy, showed them to me—gradually. Faced with my inability to keep the rules of the game, as well as the failures of others, there have been times when I’ve felt like quitting the game. I’m thankful that I’ve remained in it and confident, now, that I will end up a winner. My confidence rests not in my great ability to keep the rules but in God’s empowerment and grace.

If you have children or grandchildren, I hope that you are enjoying their games and playing with them. I hope, also, that you are doing well in the “game of life.” Here are some questions to consider:

  • Am I a rule-breaker or a rule-follower?
  • Whose rules am I following?
  • How satisfied am I with my performance?
  • On what or in whom is my confidence resting?

How I Benefited from a Sabbath Day

One of the goals that I set for myself on January 1, 2015 was to submit the manuscript of my book, Emotional Freedom: The Choices We Must Make, to my publisher by January 31. I missed that deadline, changed it to February 28, then to March 31, then to June 30, and then stopped setting deadlines. I felt frustrated and discouraged but I did not give up. Having the final draft of my manuscript very close to completion last Saturday night, I planned to work on it all day Sunday and send it in early Monday morning. On Sunday morning, something happened that caused me to change my mind and set aside my plan.

As I was waking up, I heard in my mind the words and music to the song “Oh Day of Rest and Gladness.” Laying there in the quietness, I recalled a memory in which I was sitting with my parents in a little country church and listening to everyone sing this hymn. I went to my computer, looked up the lyrics (You can find them here. ) and printed them.  As I read the words, I felt a longing for the peace and rest that they describe. I realized for the first time what a great gift the Sabbath is!


While growing up, I did not consider it a gift; I thought that was a bother.  I felt not joy and gladness but frustration and sadness. My parents appreciated it. They worked hard every other day of the week, so on Sunday (the day that they practiced the Sabbath) they felt thankful for an opportunity to rest their bodies and souls. In the morning, they went to church; there, they met with the Lord and with friends whom they often invited home for Sunday dinner. In the afternoons, they usually took naps. Although I enjoyed the “having friends over for dinner”part of the day, I did not appreciate the “resting” part. Taking a nap was the last thing I wanted to do. I did not want to bother with napping because I did not think I needed to rest, and I vowed in my heart that I would not rest.

As I got older that vow, along with other unwise childish vows, was forgotten. Well, I thought it was but God brought it back to my memory.  While I was meditating on the lyrics of the hymn, what I had vowed over fifty years ago surfaced to my conscious mind, and I saw that it has been blocking my ability to rest. My whole perspective of the Sabbath changed because, through understanding the lyrics of the song, I saw that its intended purpose is to make my life easier instead of harder. Although Sabbath keeping can become legalistic, God did not intend for it to be so. Jesus revealed the intent of the Sabbath when said, “the Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath” Mark 2:27 NLT).

So instead of working on my manuscript, I A Breakfast Fit for a Hobbitprepared a special breakfast: a generous serving of the smoked salmon that I’d received as a birthday gift, cucumbers fresh from my garden, organic red grapes, and a large pot of green tea. I placed this food on my favorite china.

After that, I walked, prayed, sang, wrote in my journal, and edited some of my photos. By the end of my Sabbath day, I felt more rested than I’d felt for months.

On Monday, feeling energetic and relaxed, I completed the final draft of my book and submitted it to my publisher.