We’ve all been there – a stack of emails plagues your inbox, a daunting paper or report hangs over your head, or maybe the walls need to be repainted and are staring you in the face. Procrastination is a difficult habit to kick and takes many forms – even writing a blog post on a Sunday.
Marcus Aurelius had some particularly inspiring perspecitves on procrastination. He argued that to work is in our nature.
Feeling sleepy? Snooze button on it’s fourth cycle?
“At dawn, when you have trouble getting out of bed, tell yourself: ‘I have to go to work – as a human being. What do I have to complain of, if I’m going to do what I was born for – the things I was brought into the world to do? Or is this what I was created for? To huddle under the blankets and stay warm?”
Aurelius argued that there is no reason to complain about the tasks ahead – despite what we recall of our lives past, or what we envision for the future, nothing that lies ahead for the present day is truly insurmountable.
“Do not disturb yourself by picturing your life as a whole; do not assemble in your mind the many and varied troubles which have come to you in the past and will come again in the future, but ask yourself with regard to every present difficulty: ‘What is there in this that is unbearable and beyond endurance?’ You would be ashamed to confess it! And then remind yourself that it is not the future or what has passed that afflicts you, but always the present, and the power of this is much diminished if you take it in isolation and call your mind to task if it thinks that it cannot stand up to it when taken on its own.”
In this spirit, this week we’re trying to nip proscrastination in the butt. One goal we’ve been struggling with is getting up early – we find it much easier to be productive before the world around us starts moving, but we also find it easy to stay in bed when it is warm and dark.
Aurelius rebutted this argument: “So you were born to feel ‘nice’? Instead of doing things and experiencing them? Don’t you see the plants, the birds, the ants and spiders and bees going about their individual tasks, putting the world in order, as best they can? And you’re not willing to do your job as a human being? Why aren’t you running to do what your nature demands?”
This touches on another interesting point in Stoicism – that of apathy. At first glance, Stoicism can appear to encourage apathy. Stoicisms asks us to not obsess and fret over “externals” (those thoughts, actions and events that are outside of your control). However, that doesn’t mean that we should simply exist and not apply our influence to the world around us. Each of us has our own skills and strengths, and Stoicism sees it as our duty to work and apply them to our fullest ability.
Our challenge this week is to get up at 5:30am every morning, and use this extra time to exercise, mentally prepare for our day, and clear our emails before the regular 9-5 work day begins. We hope to habitualize this, continuing beyond the week’s post to become our new norm (accountability from each other and from our readers certainly helps!). Reinforcing an earlier theme, we are also committing to not make any complaints about being tired. For we awake to do the work of humans, and as Benjamin Franklin said, there is enough time for sleep in the grave.