Are some people born with a tendency to leave everything to the last minute or is this a habit acquired from own behaviours?
If it is all in the mind, then when exactly does the drive to finish or start a task finally occur? What instigates us to finally start writing an hour before the deadline and rush until 11:59pm to submit that term paper? You see, it’s not so simple of an answer, nor too complex–it’s a bit of both. Simply stated, procrastinators know that tasks must be done (we are aware of this) but the last minute rush gives us a boost of adrenaline that allows us to spark up creative ideas on the spot, spilling a genius flow of talent that is paralleled to about three weeks of effort or more; it’s a spontaneous thrill that we so love and dread at the same time. The hard part is explaining this to non-procrastinators, who might be able to understand and perhaps fall into this high after following the footsteps of the master procrastinators themselves.
Without batting an eyelash, I can say that I am a procrastinator. I leave deadlines and work to pile up on a desk. I would rather do more desirable tasks like binge watching Youtube videos and scrolling through Reddit until the wee hours of the night, letting loose a wave of guilt and disappointment once dawn approaches. But the huge stack of regret that rouses out of my rational and fearful side is soon replaced by what Tim Urban so cleverly describes in his excellent Wait But Why blog as “the Instant Gratification Monkey”. This monkey exists in all of us. The monkey is silly and playful and seduces you to crave everything fun, free, and satisfying. In the procrastinator’s mind, think of a colossally obese and addicted simian occupying the larger portion of our brains. This monkey is tricking the mother board to reason that the only concern right now is to finish watching the next dog rescue or dance choreography video on your screen right now, nothing else. So what in the world can stop this cheeky monkey from wreaking havoc and utterly destroying your reputation and everything else at stake? There is one creature. That creature is what Tim Urban calls “The Panic Monster”. Yes, this monster is the mortal enemy of all instant gratification monkeys out there because it snatches away this illusion of a wild and happy-go-lucky jungle gym. The panic monster “yeets” the silly monkey face first into hard, concrete reality; a place that consists of boring, stressful, and time-constrained deadlines.
Procrastinators find a reason to delay things because the task at hand has a time stamp not necessarily enforced by you, but by someone superior to you. If that deadline isn’t met, then your life or career is at stake. The panic monster and concrete reality really check out. But what about tasks without any deadlines, like buying groceries, taking a shower, hanging out with family, or settling a broken relationship? How do we procrastinators handle those situations? Do we ever settle those tasks and if so, the question is, when?
The answer, again, is foggy and unscrupulous. Every passing second turns into minutes, hours, and days. Only when we realize that we need to get shit together and force our monkeys do we get a few things done. But sooner or later, that cheeky bastard finds a way to get back… with a vengeance. Schedules, beautiful to-do lists or decorative sticky-note wallpapers are for naught because in my mind, it won’t really matter. The only thing I will take a risk with is time. The only way to change that is if something is in the way to prevent me from doing just that. Perhaps we should try forcing our minds into the opposite extreme for a little while…into pre-crastinator mode. Could we then, little by little, accustom our deadly habits, accomplish things way in advance, and tweak them once the deadline nears? Can we or our peers find an ingenious way to trick our monkeys and panic monsters alike into believing in earlier deadlines by warping our sense of time? Is trickery the way to fix this or are we forever doomed to be adrenaline-rushed junkies governed by instant gratification? What do you think?