From the Keys of a Chronic Procrastinator
The YouTube link in the beginning is a TED Talk. Specifically, the one that granted this post it’s title. In case you didn’t guess, the talk is about procrastination. The speaker is a blogger, Tim Urban, writing at http://waitbutwhy.com/wait-but-who. Here’s how he breaks down the mind of a procrastinator: there’s a Rational Decision Maker, which is the same as the mind of a normal, non-procrastinating person, and an Instant Gratification Monkey. There’s also a Panic Monster, who however isn’t a permanent player. So what happens is the Rational Decision Maker does exactly what he sounds like. He thinks a situation through and comes up with the sane thing to do.
So, say I have an exam tomorrow (I do have one the day after, but anyhow), the RDM will tell me to stop this right now and get down to study. The Monkey is the one that messes all this up by saying go on, do what you like, finish off the whole post at one go. Then, read up on the different kinds of biriyani in India. And if you’re done somewhat early, reorganise your Music folder.
The Monkey wants immediate fun. The here and the now and the this. FUN. NOW! The RDM works more rationally, and thinks of longer term stuff. So giving the test well gets me a good grade which increases my chances of having a better job and so on, but may not be very interesting or fun at the immediate moment. The RDM is a grown up in these ways. It’ll allow you to relax and everything, but only on times that are actually relaxation times, like Sunday afternoons when all the chores are done. The Monkey is more of childish and wants, well, instant gratification.
And so, when the deadline is tomorrow and it is crunch time, the Monkey will want… well, anything that might make it happy. And thus, it descends down a spiral of worthless unproductivity (there’s a very nice Lennon quote which goes “Time enjoyed wasting is not wasted”, but try saying that when you find yourself watching all of Taher Shah’s masterpieces on YouTube) until it gets to the point where it’s now or never, and if you miss your chance then, you miss it forever. And that’s where the third guy, the panic monster steps in. What he does is, he scares the hell out of the Monkey and hands the control over to the Decision Maker, who then makes the best of a bad job. And this cycle loops for whatever work a procrastinator does.
The life of any procrastinator who wants to get anything done involves setting traps for himself that may somehow force him to get stuff done. Take for example, me. Resolving to wake up early and get lots of work done, thus making the day nice and productive (inner self sniggers), I decided to get one of those puzzle solving alarm clocks (https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.kog.alarmclock | I never sleep through alarms, but I do snooze a lot of them, which is just as bad. These apps make you solve puzzles to turn them off, or even snooze them. Sounds perfectly ghastly, is so too). Day one of the new alarm, I go to bed at 12:00 am, confident that the new alarm will do it’s job and wake me at 7. At 7, the alarm wakes me, interrupting a particularly nice dream involving a chocolate sauce fountain. I turn off the alarm, uninstall the app and go on sleeping till 8:30. The Monkey, well rested, ensured my day was a very wholesomely happy one.
I could give you a bajillion examples. The countless times I stayed up nights trying to finish homework. The night before exams, crashing through the entire semester’s worth of knowledge in hours. The blog articles written after missing three posting deadlines and multiple stern admonitions from Aditi (who am I kidding? Aditi just nudges me ever so gently as yet another deadline whooshes by). And the cycle repeats. Relaxation and delay, realisation and panic, rush and regret. And so on.
So I have decided to stop. It’s sort of simple really, to kick the habit. And it’s not that bad. “Everything in moderation, including moderation”, and so on. That was Oscar Wilde. And he was right. Mild procrastination increases creativity. Letting those ideas marinade at the back of your mind really helps them cook, so to speak. And once in a while maybe it’s good to let go and relax. Emphasis on ‘once in a while’.
So I have to make detailed timetables and timelines, dividing upcoming tasks into bite sized chunks and arranging them in such a way that I don’t get bored. I’ve got most of it planned out in my head. I’ve even allowed little breaks for relaxation. So all I need to do is make an actual timetable or feed it into my calendar. Heck, I’ll start on it tomorrow. Till then, remember people, consistency, punctuality and a serious approach to work is key.