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Looking Back: Procrastination

From January 1933


It was probably the approach of the New Year season that turned my thoughts to the subject of Procrastination. Everyone knows the feeling – another year nearly gone and so many things undone that we had meant to do, letters unwritten, books unread, friends unvisited, duties unfinished. A melancholy list. But it was a neighbouring shopkeeper who, so to speak, added to the catalogue an illustration I had not thought of.

He was looking so worried that afternoon as he stood by his desk at the end of the counter that I hesitated to ask about business lest I should be rubbing salt into his wounds, but as the traffic in and out seemed rather more brisk than of late, I did venture at last to put the question. And then he told me his trouble.

“Business is not so bad,” he said. “This season always helps trade for a little while. I shouldn’t worry about that if only I could get in my money.”

“Do you mean that your customers are too hard up to pay you?” I asked.

“I do not,” he said with some emphasis. “Of course some of them are out of work and allowance has to be made for them. But the real sinners are the people who could quite well pay their bills but just don’t. They come in here week by week with their orders; I render their accounts regularly, and nothing happens.  They could pay if they wanted to, but they put off and put off until I am nearly crazy.

"They do not seem to understand – or, if they do, it never seems to touch their conscience – that all the while I have to go on paying my bills. Wholesalers will not wait long for their money these days. Yet how can I pay out if there is nothing coming in? This heartless procrastination on the part of so many people is making things very hard and is putting many a man out of business altogether.  I wish my customers would add to their New Year resolutions this one – to pay their debts promptly, or, as the Scripture puts it, 'to owe no man anything’. That would help make the New Year a happy time for me – and for themselves too."

I came out of his shop thinking of the multitudes of other shopkeepers similarly harassed, butchers and bakers and candle-stick makers in every town and village, who, I felt sure, would endorse his words, victims as they all are, more or less, of a form of particularly careless and callous procrastination.

Often the habit of putting-off is harmless enough in its results. Some letters may, indeed, be wiser if written tomorrow and not today; some books may be a richer savour if read next year instead of now. But, as a rule, the habit is hurtful both to ourselves and our neighbours. On the matter of the payment of our debts there can be no dubiety. Here procrastination is the thief of time – and of much more.

-          P.D

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