Do it now or do it tomorrow? The art of procrastination

Amy Fenster Brown

By Amy Fenster Brown, Special to the Jewish Light

Focus is a funny thing.  Funny, strange, not funny, haha.  It can be such a gift when it fuels you to accomplish a daunting task or helps you achieve a goal. When you’ve lost focus it can be nearly impossible to find, even for the sharpest of detectives like Sherlock Holmes or Scooby Doo and the gang. Maybe it isn’t really lost. It’s probably just misplaced.

Often we say we can’t focus when really we are procrastinating. Focus and procrastination are long-running enemies. They’re both misunderstood and unfairly judged, too. Having focus always sounds so positive, like you’ve really got your stuff together, your to-do list is always crossed off at the end of the day, and you probably have all the healthy food groups well-represented on your perfectly plated home-cooked dinner you planned for two weeks ago.  Procrastination gets a negative connotation, like someone who has half-finished home projects, at least three jars of condiments in the refrigerator containing only a teaspoon-sized blob that is basically trash, and a list of books a mile long they plan to read “someday.”   

Focus and procrastination should be friends. If I were a matchmaker, I would set up these two on a blind date pronto. They’d make a dynamic duo. Focus and procrastination really should be able to coexist in a healthy relationship, with each getting its time to shine and be celebrated.

Sure, focus is great, and we all know why… results!

Procrastination can be great, too.  If you have ever played hooky, or as it’s now called, taken a mental health day, you know the benefits of putting off tasks to just do… nothing. 

I bet as students a few of us waited until the night before a school assignment was due to get started on it. We had to force ourselves to focus amid pure stress. Maybe that set us up for failure after not giving proper attention to the task at hand. Plus that whole “this goes on your permanent record” threat really piled on the pressure.

Yet some of us might have had great success waiting until the night before the deadline. The adrenaline of having to perform, the looming threat of getting an “incomplete” assignment mark, and your fight or flight response kicking in can be all the motivation procrastinators need to make it to the finish line. 

Thomas Jefferson would argue, with his famous quote “Never put off for tomorrow what you can do today.” If he were my dad, I would feel pressure all day, every day, to accomplish thing after thing after thing. If only Thomas Jefferson had Netflix or TikTok he would understand the gravitational pull to put away the laundry tomorrow so he could binge-watch “Bridgerton” and learn to make those triangle-folded quesadillas today.  

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Charles Dickens once said, “Procrastination is the thief of time.”  Pretty harsh, Chuck. Replace “thief” with “borrower” and you no longer feel guilty that your missed grocery store trip resulted in serving your family cereal for dinner… in Styrofoam bowls with plastic spoons because you fell asleep before running the dishwasher last night. Some might even call that their “secret recipe.” It’s all in the mind set.  

We should take a tip from one of Missouri’s biggest success stories, Mark Twain, who once said, “Never put off until tomorrow what may be done day after tomorrow just as well.” No one knew about avoiding tasks better. 

While I spend most of my days fueled by the panic of not making it through my to-do list, I recognize the beauty of procrastination to give myself a break. A long break.  In a hammock. With a magazine.  And iced tea. 

How can we harness our energy to accomplish small tasks, large goals and still be able to put things off without feeling guilty?  How about a manageable daily to-do list with a couple goals for the week — a few daily errands or tasks, a bigger goal for the week and wiggle room to do nothing. Actually write the words “free time” or “take a break” on your list.  It’s kind of like the suggestions experts make to schedule time to exercise on the calendar.  Couples often schedule date nights and sometimes a little hubba-hubba if the week is busy and they want to make sexy time a priority.  (Apologies to my mother, in-laws and children.  Reading “sexy time” authored by me has got to be somewhat nausea inducing. Ew.)

Speaking of “eww,” I’ll never forget this quote from my late father, a master procrastinator.  He said, “I got a book from the library called ‘Do it Now!’ I thought it was going to be about sex, but it’s about procrastination. Either way, I’m not going to get to it for a while.”

Monthly columnist Amy Fenster Brown is married to Jeff and has two teenage sons, Davis and Leo. She volunteers for several Jewish not-for-profit groups. Fenster Brown is an Emmy Award-winning TV news writer and counts time with family and friends, talking and eating peanut butter among her hobbies.