Do you ever have a task that you must do but really don’t want to do? Do you procrastinate and push it off until the last possible minute? This usually leads to missed deadlines and lost opportunities.
Even if you successfully complete tasks, does the dread of working on them and the guilt of not working on them hover over you like a gloomy haze and tempestuous cloud throughout the process?
To avoid this process of procrastination, social psychologist Dr. Ian Newby-Clark suggests that we put the “worst things first.” By prioritizing what we don’t want to do and getting it done at the beginning of the day, we take advantage of our morning willpower (which will deplete over the course of the day), avoid that looming, negative feeling, and generate more positive momentum for later tasks.
Avraham is a paradigm of alacrity and productivity. We are awed at how this pillar of kindness swiftly tends to the needs of his guests. Even when he was recovering from his brit mila, the Torah tells us that he “ran” and “quickly” cared for the three angels. The Sages learn from this scene that the righteous say little but do much (Bava Metzia 87a).
Rabbi Yerucham Levovitz (Daat Torah, pp. 117-118) suggests that the Sages, with this comment, are not just commending those who follow through on their word. Rather, they are emphasizing the importance of not spending time talking about accomplishing. Discussing, deliberating, and debating about action is essentially procrastination. The righteous don’t talk about what they’re going to do. They just do. They “talk” through their actions.
It’s one thing, though, to be prompt, proactive, and productive when you’re doing what you love. It is an entirely different challenge when the required task is one you dread. After seeing Yishmael behave inappropriately, Sarah asks Avraham to send Yishmael away. Avraham is terribly pained by her request (see Bereishit 21:11 and Rashi), but G-d tells him to listen to her.
Avraham loved Yishmael deeply. Follow G-d’s will was very difficult for him in this instance. Yet, the Torah tells us, “Va’yashkam Avraham ba’boker” – Avraham woke up early in the morning to follow through on sending Yishmael away.
Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan notes that, despite the difficulty, Avraham acted with alacrity to complete the task (Chofetz Chaim al HaTorah, p. 62). He didn’t wait until after breakfast or until the end of the day. He did the worst thing first.
We can learn from Avraham not to spend too much time talking about doing, especially in relation to things we value and enjoy. But Avraham also serves as a model for how to accomplish important tasks that are distressing. By doing the worst things first, we ensure that we don’t fall into the enticing trap of procrastination.