In the 1957 Broadway show, “The Music Man,” the character named Professor Harold Hill said to a librarian named Marian Paroo: “You pile up enough tomorrows, and you’ll find you’ve collected a lot of empty yesterdays.” How many of us have either heard or said, “I’ll do that tomorrow, or mañana?”
Otherwise known as procrastination, the habit of putting things off to do later is often a sign of something more serious. Yes, there is a difference between procrastination and laziness. For some people, they delay doing things they know they must do because they have an uncomfortable feeling about it. Sometimes it’s a feeling of potential failure or low self-worth. They know that they are not perfect, but they have no interest in proving it.
It’s not surprising that unpleasurable tasks are often put off for later. It’s another way of waiting for just the right time and conditions before starting. A person wants to be in the right frame of mind before they tackle the job. But in reality, it is a case of “avoidance behavior.” The person is not sure that once they start, they’ll have enough motivation to finish. But that doesn’t solve the problem, it only complicates it. The longer a person waits, the harder it will become to get moving. Then they start beating up on themselves for being so indecisive.
Some psychologists suggest that it is a matter of subjective value. That’s when an individual feels that the value of what they want or need to do is not high enough to start working on it right away. To overcome this, they must find a way to boost the subjective value of their project. That begins by comparing it to other things they are doing and see if it comes out more important than what they are involved in now.
One of America’s founders and Presidents, Thomas Jefferson, advised: “Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today.”1 This certainly conforms to what Jesus said about making things right with others before we try to make things right with God.2 And the Apostle Paul warned that we should not let the sun go down on our anger.3 In other words, don’t drag disagreements and grudges from one day to the next. But the Apostle James put it more succinctly when he wrote: “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’ – yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.”4
So don’t let yourself get caught in this trap of procrastination. Things only get harder the longer you wait. By letting time go by, new factors may enter the picture that makes what you need to do even more complicated. As Professor Hill said, if you pile up enough tomorrows, you’ll find that you’ve collected a lot of empty yesterdays. But I like the way he finishes his advice, “I don’t know about you, but I’d like to make today worth remembering. – Dr. Robert R Seyda
1 Thomas Jefferson on a list sent to Cornelia J. Randolph, July 12, 1817
2 Matthew 5:23-24
4 James 4:13-14