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Welcome to another Monday, and another Say What?.  As much as we try to complete things in an expedient fashion, sometimes the evil of procrastination takes hold and we’re left scrambling at the last minute.  Therefore, without delay, we’ll be looking at never put off until tomorrow what you can do today and procrastination is the thief of time, with some timely help from the characters of Jodi Taylor’s Chronicles of St. Mary’s.



Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today.

This proverb has been around a long time, and in that time, it’s gained a lot of different versions.  Some of the better known ones include “Never put off until tomorrow what you can put off until the day after tomorrow,” credited to Mark Twain, and “Never put off until tomorrow what you can avoid altogether,” which first appeared in The Power of Positive Pessimism: Proverbs for Our Times by Howard Kandel in 1964.

Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today is variously attributed to Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and Philip Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chestefield.  However, the Yale Book of Quotations (2006) states that it appeared in Adages by Thomas Draxe in 1616.  The wording in Draxe’s book is “deferre not vntill to morrow, if thou canst do it to day,” which is pretty close to the saying as we know it.  In case the 17th century isn’t old enough for you, the Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs has similar sayings that date from the 14th century.

History and variations are great, but what does it mean?  Well, in a nutshell, it means “don’t procrastinate.”  If you have the time and ability to do something today, don’t wait until tomorrow to do it, because you may not have the time or ability then.  As a college student with essays due, I learned this lesson well.

Sometimes, though, the lesson needs a little extra oomph:

“Dr. Maxwell.” Miss Lee’s voice carried into my office, where I sat typing furiously.  “Is your budget done yet? Director Bairstow is…”

“Yes, I know, Miss Lee,” I said through gritted teeth.

“Max?” Tim stuck his head around my office door, and grinned at the sight of me drowning in paper.  “Left the budget to the last minute, did you? You should know better – never put off until tomorrow what you can do today!”

I resisted the urge to bang my head off the desk at his “helpful” suggestion.  “It was that extra bloody week in Troy.”  How else could I work for an institute that traveled through time and still not have enough?


Procrastination is the thief of time.

Unlike the previous saying, this one does have a definite source.  It comes to us from Edward Young, and his poem “Night I” from Night Thoughts (1742-1745).  The lines are as follows:

Be wise to-day; ’t is madness to defer;
Next day the fatal precedent will plead;
Thus on, till wisdom is pushed out of life.
Procrastination is the thief of time;
Year after year it steals, till all are fled,
And to the mercies of a moment leaves
The vast concerns of an eternal scene.


Fans of the late Terry Pratchett might also recognize part of the quote, as it appears as Thief of Time, the 26th Discworld novel.

This saying means nearly the same thing as our first proverb—that procrastination steals away all the time that we might have used for doing what we’re supposed to do, until time just runs out.

Maybe the lesson will get through if it’s worded more colorfully… then again, maybe not.

There.  Done at last.  I pushed my budget calculations into Miss Lee’s hands and returned to my desk to slump the slump of the mathematically exhausted.

I hadn’t yet begun to recover much cognitive function when a rap on the door drew my eyes up from staring at nothing.  Leon stood in the doorway, eyeing me with a look between disappointment and amusement.  “Forgot about lunch, did we?” he asked.

I groaned.  “I’m sorry, Leon, but I had to get the budget done for the director, and—”

“And you put it off until the last minute.” He shook his head, amusement winning out even over our lost lunch date.  “Procrastination is the thief of time, you know.”

“Not you, too!”  I shoved him out of my office.  “I wasn’t procrastinating!  I just… lost time in a very creative fashion.”


While putting aside what we have to do in order to do other things we want to do may be fun at the time, procrastination always has a cost.  After all, tasks still come due, the budget must be completed, and we can’t count on inventing a time machine in order to kick our younger self into gear.

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