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Inside the Mind of a Master Procrastinator

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You open your laptop to start working on a research paper and the moment you launched Google for related literature, online notifications from Facebook, Twitter and email pop up. You check it one by one and browse through your social media accounts. Without you noticing, you have spent the entire day and forgot about the paper you needed to write, thinking you still have two weeks to finish it. This is what procrastination looks like.

Procrastination is intentionally and habitually putting off things that should be done. It is derived from the Latin word “procrastinare,” which means to put off until tomorrow. And for people who procrastinate, there are many tomorrows. They think that there is more time to finish the to-do list, spending all their energy doing things irrelevant to what needs to be done. By this point, they have already run out of time.

Tim Urban, a self-proclaimed master procrastinator, shared on his TedTalk how a procrastinator’s brain functions. While non-procrastinator brain only has the Rational Decision-Maker that puts work into motion instantly, the procrastinator’s brain has the Rational Decision-Maker plus the Instant Gratification Monkey. This pet, as he calls it, makes it impossible for the Rational Decision-Maker to do his job. This monkey is only concerned about maximizing the ease and the pleasure of the moment. It hijacks the control from the Rational Decision-Maker and takes charge of the procrastinator. In this situation, the procrastinator finds himself in the Dark Playground, the place where leisure activities happen when it is not supposed to be happening so he ends up accomplishing nothing. Then the Panic Monster emerges and scares away the Instant Gratification Monkey. This monster wakes up in the procrastinator’s brain when the deadline gets too close and this makes him work double time.

A deadline creates a difference in procrastination. It sets a pace for which a person works on what needs to be done. The reason why a person delays a task like school essays and projects up to the point of the deadline may be associated with laziness or lack of urgency to accomplish things while there’s still time. These people are waiting for the Panic Monster to arise when the reality of the deadline sets in. But there are tasks that don’t necessarily have deadlines so the Panic Monster is of no use, like pursuing dreams, getting in shape, or working on relationships. Procrastinators in this situation find themselves filled with regret and guilt for killing time without them making the most of it.

While procrastination is not just about laziness, but an avoidance behavior caused by anxiety or fear of the important task awaiting, there is something we can do to fight it. One is the five-second rule that involves acting on a goal 5 seconds after you feel an instinct or desire. You count 5-4-3-2-1 and then immediately push yourself to get started and move towards action or else your brain will kill it.

A life calendar might also help. Urban showed on his talk this calendar on a 90-year life span of a person. When we take a hard look at it, we realize there aren’t so many boxes left for us, so it’s time we start to be aware of how much of our life we’re wasting procrastinating.

Know and pay attention to those that truly matter.