The Dilemma of Procrastination

Get started for free


I was a government major in college, which meant I had to write a lot of papers. A normal student would spread out their work out, but I ran into a problem when it came to my 90 page senior thesis paper. It was too big of a project to do with my normal workflow.

The Plan

So I planned things out and decided I had to go something like this. I would start off light and then increase the intensity in the middle months and then kick it into high gear at the end. It seemed simple enough, but then the funniest thing happened. Those first few months came and went and I still had not written anything.

The Crunch Time

Fast forward two months and I now had two weeks left with still not having written a word. I knew I had no other choice, so I wrote 90 pages over 72 hours, pulling two all-nighters in the process.

The Results

A week later, I got a call from the school telling me that my thesis was the best one they've ever seen. Of course, that was not the case. It was a very bad thesis.

Exploring Procrastination

This experience inspired me to write about procrastination. I wanted to explain to the non-procrastinators of the world what goes on in the heads of procrastinators and why we are the way we are. I hypothesized that the brains of procrastinators were different than the brains of other people, so I found an MRI lab that let me scan both my brain and the brain of a proven non-procrastinator.

The Difference

The rational decision maker in both brains would make the rational decision to do something productive, but the procrastinator’s brain also had an instant gratification monkey. This meant that the monkey would take the wheel and prioritize easy and fun activities, such as reading the entire Wikipedia page of the Nancy Kerrigan Tonya Harding scandal or watching interviews with Justin Bieber’s mom. The monkey’s behavior worked for animals in the wild, but it does not work for humans in an advanced civilization.

The Two Faces of Procrastination

Sometimes our rational decision maker and our inner procrastinator can be on the same page, like when it comes to enjoying leisure time. But other times they conflict, with the procrastinator usually winning out and leaving us stuck in the ‘dark playground’ – an unearned, guilt-filled place of procrastinator feelings. So how do we get ourselves out of this rut into the ‘makes sense’ circle?

The Panic Monster to the Rescue

The procrastinator has a guardian angel: the Panic Monster! This monster will wake up anytime there’s a looming deadline or any other kind of scary consequence. The only thing that the procrastinator's inner monkey fears is the panic monster, so this being is essential for the procrastinator to get out of the dark playground and into the ‘makes sense’ circle.

A Real Life Example

The Panic Monster recently came to the rescue for the narrator. They accepted an invitation to do a TED talk and – despite all the excitement – the rational decision maker was saying they needed to start working on the talk now. But then the Panic Monster suddenly woke up and the monkey was up the tree, allowing the rational decision maker to take the wheel.

The Procrastinator's System

The procrastinator's system, with its three characters, works – even if it’s not pretty! But there are two forms of procrastination: one that’s deadline-based, and another that’s not. When there’s no deadline, the Panic Monster won’t come to the rescue, and the procrastinator’s effects don’t stay contained. This less visible, long-term procrastination can be silently suffered without the Panic Monster’s help.

Procrastination and The Life Calendar

We all procrastinate. Although some of us are better at managing deadlines than others, the sneaky trick of procrastination is when there is no deadline. Procrastination is the source of long term unhappiness and regrets. People feel like a spectator in their own lives because they are not able to start chasing their dreams.

The Monkey's Trick

The Monkey, a term referring to our inner procrastinator, is always present. His sneakiest trick is when the deadlines aren’t there.

The Life Calendar

The Life Calendar is a concept of a box for every week of a 90 year life. This calendar serves as a reminder to stay aware of the instant gratification monkey and think about what we are really procrastinating on.

Start Today

We need to start today, or sometimes soon, to best utilize the limited number of boxes on the life calendar. It is a job that should start today - but maybe not today - but soon.

Get started for free