In the last semester of my senior year of college, I faced the daunting challenge of completing one final honors research paper necessary to graduate cum laude. Although I had the entire semester to write, the end of April suddenly arrived and, after taking stock of what I had written so far and what I needed to accomplish by the end of finals week, I took a hard swallow.
I had spent four years challenging myself with honors courses and extra work to graduate cum laude, but in that moment a part of me wanted to throw years of hard work away and cut my losses. I found myself weighing my desire to graduate cum laude against my desire to procrastinate and avoid writing one last paper, and the procrastinator's side was winning!
Popular blogger Tim Urban understands my predicament all too well. In a Ted Talk titled, “Inside the mind of a master procrastinator,” Urban explains how he also was once a college student who wrote far too many papers at the very last possible moment.
In a lecture tinged with wry humor, Urban explains how perfectly rational people can have their productivity derailed by what he calls the “Instant Gratification Monkey.” Urban believes that giving in to the monkey leads to two types of procrastination, one that can be overcome by panic as deadlines approach and another that is much more difficult to vanquish.
The second, more nefarious type of procrastination is infinitely more dangerous because it occurs in situations when deadlines are not present. Getting in shape, investing in family relationships and starting your own business are all laudable goals, but none of them come with deadlines.
Urban hypothesizes that everyone is procrastinating on something in life, even if we don’t talk about it or acknowledge it, and that our personal instant gratification monkeys can often have heartbreaking effects on our lives that lead to long-term unhappiness, regrets and unfulfillment.
The solution to this problem? Urban pulls up a massive grid of boxes that fills the projector screen behind him that he calls a “Life Calendar.” Each box, he says, represents one week of a 90-year lifespan. In that context, the grid of boxes appears far smaller.
Urban challenges us to live like we are continually working against the deadline of the last box on our life calendar and to not wait on whatever we are procrastinating. Everyone is procrastinating on something, he reminds us, and we should guard against the instant gratification monkey.
What are you procrastinating on in your life?