Cyril Northcote Parkinson, the 20th-century British historian and author, coined a proverb subsequently known as Parkinson’s Law which tells us that ‘work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion’.
For instance, if there are two hours available in which to do a task that would normally be finished in one, it might just stretch to the full two hours. There are drawbacks: the extra time complicates matters with ‘additional extras’ that would otherwise have been avoided.
The COVID-19 lockdown has constantly helped procrastinators to maximise their delaying tactics. Abundant and hitherto unforeseen extra time has supported their ability to contemplate – rather than to complete – any backlog of work and to find excuses for not doing the tasks immediately.
As a student nurse, my late submission of an assignment generated a rapid response from my Sister tutor, a lovely SMG nun, despite my having given what I thought a perfectly plausible explanation. ‘If excuses could get us into heaven, nurse, you’d be there in a flash!’ she said. My self-justification had obviously failed to impress.
Excuses can become so much a part of our lives that they block us from reaching our full potential. Blinded by our self-created explanations, we can fail to look beyond such habitual, unproductive, lazy and spirit-draining thinking. It is easy to blame others or blame the mistakes or events of our past for this psychological traffic jam which stops us moving forward. The ‘tried and tested’ is so much simpler and safer than risk-taking and making changes, providing a good excuse to avoid doing things differently.
An old Chinese proverb declares: ‘The journey of 1,000 miles begins with the first step.’ A new venture, or the prompt completion of a task, can be a journey of joy, fulfilment and sense of achievement. It need not be a cul-de-sac. Worrying over imagined obstacles allows yet more precious and unrecoverable time to slip through our fingers.
To use past mistakes or hurtful events as excuses for present difficulties is a trap which blinds us to the wonderful blessings, opportunities and blank canvas of each new day. The past should not define the present. We do not live in the world of ‘Once upon a time’. Picasso famously declared: ‘Only put off until tomorrow what you are willing to die having left undone.’
True freedom exists in an attitude of ‘Let go and let God’. Let me end with the following prayer by St Josemaria Escriva, priest and founder of Opus Dei, who was canonised by Pope St John Paul II in Rome on 6 October 2002:
Come, O Holy Spirit:
Enlighten my understanding
to know your commands;
strengthen my heart
against the wiles of the enemy; inflame my will.
I have heard your voice,
and I don’t want to harden my heart to resisting,
by saying ‘later … tomorrow.’
Nunc coepi! Now!
Lest there be no tomorrow for me!
O, Spirit of truth and wisdom,
Spirit of understanding and counsel,
Spirit of joy and peace!
I want what you want,
I want it because you want it,
I want it as you want it,
I want it when you want it.