Thought for the Week: The Museum of Procrastination

Nick Tyldesley reflects on procrastination

I don’t usually take much notice of the adverts screened before a feature film – distracted no doubt by a tub of popcorn – but recently one caught my attention. It was for a high street bank and opened with a guide taking some tourists round ‘The Museum of Procrastination’.

The first room featured a collection of gym membership cards that had only been used on a few occasions. The second room showed a pile of unfinished drafts of first novels and the third room showed musical instruments that had only been used to play Frère Jacques. We can have some fun suggesting some other rooms: a library full of those worthy novels we have always intended to read; diet sheets that we were going to follow but abandoned after a few days…

There might well be some rooms devoted to Quakerly topics – perhaps a room full of microphones and loudspeakers emitting white noise to represent the hours and hours of Quakers talking the talk rather than walking the walk. Another might be a mound of agendas and minutes from our Meetings as a monument to pious hopes and, again, no actions.

There are some wider questions that need to be considered. Why is it that we often fail to achieve our intentions? Is it because we are simply too busy with jobs and basic living? Are we naturally lazy? Are we persuaded into taking on projects though peer pressure and advertising or are we unrealistic in our aspirations, so we fail at the first hurdles?

The other question to consider is what might be done to be more successful? The bank’s message was that creativity can be enhanced with some form of support and, certainly, having mentors to encourage us is important. But a more strategic and focused approach to deciding priorities, and taking incremental steps, can give a structure that develops self confidence.

There may, however, be some virtue in pursuing the path of serendipity through simple enjoyment of a range of activities, achieving no great mastery but essentially having fun and happiness. The early retired are adept at taking this approach through classes, the University of the Third Age (U3A) and self-help groups.

This is something of a luxury. In running a Meeting house, the effective conduct of a Business Meeting demands that Quakers take a more managerial role. We live in a busy world, people are impatient with delays and change is inherently part of the human condition. Procrastination is a wasteful indulgence; but, of course, we have all been there in the museum.

It requires a robust effort to fulfill our dreams and it is good to have friends to help us on the journey. Risk and setbacks are inevitable but we have to keep moving on. Waiting until the next Local Meeting, referring matters to a focus group and declaring that the time is not yet right for action are common Quaker delaying tactics. We need to be more confident in proceeding. Discernment is not about putting off decisions. Let’s try to close down the Quaker rooms in the museum.

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