How to Beat Procrastination

This is Part 2. You won’t get Part 2 if you haven’t read Part 1 yet. For Part 1, click here.
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pro-cras-ti-na-tion |prəˌkrastəˈnāSHən, prō-|

noun
the action of ruining your own life for no apparent reason
 

Let me start by saying that I’ve had just about enough of the irony of battling through crippling procrastination while trying to write posts on procrastination and how to beat it. I’ve spent the last two weeks being this guy, who shoots himself in the foot while talking about gun safety, and I look forward to getting back to irony-free procrastination following this post.
A few notes before we begin:
  • I’m not a professional at any of this, just a lifelong procrastinator who thinks about this topic all the time. I’m still in a total battle with my own habits, but I have made some progress in the last few years, and I’m drawing my thoughts from what’s worked for me.
  • In this post, I’m referring to both ADD and non-ADD procrastinators (and the line is often pretty hazy between the two), but not those with severe ADD/ADHD, who need something different than anything in this post can provide.
  • This post was posted late, not only because it took me 2,000 years to do, but also because I decided that Monday night was an urgent time to open Google Earth, hover a few hundred feet above the southern tip of India, and scroll all the way up India to the top of the country, to “get a better feel for India.” I have problems.

All right, so last week we dove into the everyday inner struggle of the procrastinator to examine the underlying psychology going on. But this week, when we’re actually trying to do something about it, we need to dig even deeper. Let’s begin by trying to unwrap the procrastinator’s psychology and see what’s really at the core of things:

We know about the Instant Gratification Monkey (the part of your brain that makes you procrastinate) and his dominion over the Rational Decision Maker, but what’s really happening there?
The procrastinator is in the bad habit, bordering on addiction, of letting the monkey win. He continues to have the intention to control the monkey, but he puts forth a hapless effort, using the same proven-not-to-work methods he’s used for years, and deep down, he knows the monkey will win. He vows to change, but the patterns just stay the same. So why would an otherwise capable person put forth such a lame and futile effort again and again?
The answer is that he has incredibly low confidence when it comes to this part of his life, allowing himself to become enslaved by a self-defeating, self-fulfilling prophecy. Let’s call this self-fulfilling prophecy his Storyline. The procrastinator’s Storyline goes something like this:
For the Have-To-Dos in my life, I’ll end up waiting until the last minute, panicking, and then either doing less than my best work or shutting down and not doing anything at all. For the Want-To-Dos in my life, let’s be honest—I’ll either start one and quit or more likely, I just won’t ever get around to it.
The procrastinator’s problems run deep, and it takes something more than “being more self-disciplined” or “changing his bad habits” for him to change his ways—the root of the problem is embedded in his Storyline, and his Storyline is what must change.
           *    *    *
Before we talk about how Storylines change, let’s examine, concretely, what the procrastinator even wants to change into. What do the right habits even look like, and where exactly will the procrastinator run into trouble?
There are two components of being able to achieve things in a healthy and effective manner—planning and doing. Let’s start with the easy one:

Planning

 

Procrastinators love planning, quite simply because planning does not involve doing, and doing is the procrastinator’s Kryptonite.

But when procrastinators plan, they like to do it in a vague way that doesn’t consider details or reality too closely, and their planning leaves them perfectly set up to not actually accomplish anything. A procrastinator’s planning session leaves him with a doer’s nightmare:
A big list of icky, daunting tasks and undertakings.

 

 

A big list of vague and daunting things makes the Instant Gratification Monkey laugh. When you make a list like that, the monkey says, “Oh perfect, this is easy.” Even if your gullible conscious mind believes it intends to accomplish the items on that list in an efficient manner, the monkey knows that in your subconscious, you have no intention of doing so.
Effective planning, on the other hand, sets you up for success. Its purpose is to do the exact opposite of everything in that sentence:

Effective planning takes a big list and selects a winner

 

A big list is perhaps an early phase of planning, but planning must end with rigorous prioritizing and one item that emerges as the winner—the item you’re going to make your first priority. And the item that wins should be the one that means the most to you—the item that’s most important for your happiness. If urgent items are involved, those will have to come first and should be knocked out as quickly as possible in order to make way for the important items (procrastinators love to use unimportant but urgent items as an excuse to forever put off the important ones).

Effective planning makes an icky item un-icky:

 

We all know what an icky item is. An icky item is vague and murky, and you’re not really sure where you’d start, how you’d go about doing it, or where you’d get answers to your questions about it.
So let’s say your dream is to make your own app, and you know that if you build a successful app you could quit your job and become a full-time developer. You also think that programming ability is the literacy of the 21st century, and you don’t have money to spend outsourcing development anyway, so you decide to anoint “Learn how to code” the winning item on your list—the number one priority. Exciting, right?
Well, no, because “Learn how to code” is an intensely icky item—and every time you decide it’s time to get started, you will coincidentally also decide your inbox needs to be cleaned out and your kitchen floor needs to be mopped, ASAP. It’ll never end up happening.
To un-icky the item, you need to read, research, and ask questions to find out exactly how one learns how to code, the specific means necessary for each step along the way, and how long each one should take. Un-ickying a list item turns it from this:

 

Into this:

 

Effective planning turns a daunting item into a series of small, clear, manageable tasks:

 

Icky combines with Daunting into an Instant Gratification Monkey steroid potion. And just because you un-icky an item, it doesn’t mean it’s still not horribly big and daunting. The key to de-dauntifying an item is to absorb this fact:
A remarkable, glorious achievement is just what a long series of unremarkable, unglorious tasks looks like from far away.

No one “builds a house.” They lay one brick again and again and again and the end result is a house. Procrastinators are great visionaries—they love to fantasize about the beautiful mansion they will one day have built—but what they need to be are gritty construction workers, who methodically lay one brick after the other, day after day, without giving up, until a house is built.

Nearly every big undertaking can be boiled down to a core unit of progress—its brick. A 45-minute gym visit is the brick of getting in great shape. A 30-minute practice session is the brick of becoming a great guitarist.
The average day in a wannabe author’s week and a real author’s week looks almost the same. The real author writes a couple pages, laying a brick, and the wannabe author writes nothing. 98% of their day is otherwise identical. But a year later, the real author has a completed first draft of a book and the wannabe author has…nothing.
It’s all about the bricks.
And the good news is, laying one brick isn’t daunting. But bricks do require scheduling. So the final step in planning is to make a Brick Timeline, which slots bricks into the calendar. The slots are non-negotiable and non-cancellable—after all, it’s your first priority and the thing that matters most to you, isn’t it? The most important date is the first one. You can’t start learning to code “in November.” But you can start learning to code on November 21st from 6:00 – 7:00pm.
Now you’re effectively planned—just follow the schedule and you’ll be a programmer. Only thing left is to do

Doing

 

It’s not that procrastinators don’t like the concept of doing. They look at the bricks on their calendar and they think, “Great, this will be fun.” And that’s because when they picture the moment in the future when they sit down and knock out a work session, they picture things without the presence of the Instant Gratification Monkey. Procrastinators’ visions of future scenarios never seem to include the monkey.
But when the actual moment arrives to begin that scheduled brick-laying, the procrastinator does what the procrastinator does best—he lets the monkey take over and ruin everything.
And since we just stressed above that all achievement boils down to the ability to lay that one brick during that slot when it’s on your schedule, we seem to have isolated the core struggle here. Let’s examine this specific challenge of laying a single brick:
So this diagram represents the challenge at hand anytime you take on a task, whether it’s making a PowerPoint for work, going on a jog, working on a script, or anything else you do in your life. The Critical Entrance is where you go to officially start work on the task, the Dark Woods are the process of actually doing the work, and once you finish, you’re rewarded by ending up in The Happy Playground—a place where you feel satisfaction and where leisure time is pleasant and rewarding because you got something hard done. You occasionally even end up super-engaged with what you’re working on and enter a state of Flow, where you’re so blissfully immersed in the task that you lose track of time.
Those paths look something like this:
Sounds pretty simple, right?
Well unfortunately for procrastinators, they tend to miss out on both The Happy Playground and Flow.
For example, here’s a procrastinator that never even gets started on the task he’s supposed to do, because he never makes it through the Critical Entrance. Instead, he spends hours wallowing in The Dark Playground, hating himself:

Here’s a procrastinator who gets started on the task, but she can’t stay focused, and she keeps taking long breaks to play on the internet and make food. She doesn’t end up finishing the task:

Here’s a procrastinator who couldn’t bring himself to get started, even though a work deadline was approaching, and he spent hours in The Dark Playground, knowing the looming deadline was drawing near and he was only making his life harder by not starting. Eventually, the deadline got so close, the Panic Monster suddenly came roaring into the room, freaking him out and causing him to fly through the task to hit the deadline.

After he finishes, he feels decent because he accomplished something, but he’s also not that pleased because he knows he did an underwhelming job on the project because he had to rush so much, and he feels like he wasted most of his day procrastinating for no reason. This lands him in Mixed Feelings Park.

So if you’re a procrastinator, let’s look at what you need to do to get on the right path, one that will leave you much happier.

The first thing you must do is make it through the Critical Entrance. This means stopping whatever you’re doing when it’s time to begin the task, putting away all distractions, and getting started. It sounds simple, but this is the hardest part. This is where the Instant Gratification Monkey puts up his fiercest resistance:

The monkey absolutely hates stopping something fun to start something hard, and this is where you need to be the strongest. If you can get started and force the monkey into the Dark Woods, you’ve broken a bit of his will.

Of course, he’s not going to give up anytime soon.

The Dark Woods is where you are when you’re working. It’s not a fun place to be, and the Instant Gratification Monkey wants nothing to do with it. To make things harder, the Dark Woods is surrounded by the Dark Playground, one of the monkey’s favorite places, and since he can see how close it is, he’ll try as hard as he can to leave the Dark Woods.

There will also be times when you bump into a tree—maybe the jog is taking you on an uphill street, maybe you need to use an Excel formula you don’t know, maybe that song you’re writing just isn’t coming together the way you thought it would—and this is when the monkey will make his boldest attempt at an escape.

It makes no sense to leave the Dark Woods in favor of the Dark Playground—they’re both dark. They both suck to be in, but the big difference is the Dark Woods leads to happiness and the Dark Playground leads only to more misery. But the Instant Gratification Monkey isn’t logical and to him, the Dark Playground seems like much more fun.

The good news is, if you can power through a bit of the Dark Woods, something funny happens. Making progress on a task produces positive feelings of accomplishment and raises your self-esteem. The monkey gains his strength off of low self-esteem, and when you feel a jolt of self-satisfaction, the monkey finds a High Self-Esteem Banana in his path. It doesn’t quell his resistance entirely, but it goes a long way to distracting him for a while, and you’ll find that the urge to procrastinate has diminished.

Then, if you continue along, something magical happens. Once you get 2/3 or 3/4 of the way through a task, especially if it’s going well, you start to feel great about things and suddenly, the end is in sight. This is a key tipping point—

 

 

The Tipping Point is important because it’s not just you who can smell the Happy Playground up ahead—the monkey can smell it too. The monkey doesn’t care if his instant gratification comes alongside you or at your expense, he just loves things that are easy and fun. Once you hit the Tipping Point, the monkey becomes more interested in getting to the Happy Playground than the Dark Playground. When this happens, you lose all impulse to procrastinate and now both you and the monkey are speeding toward the finish.

Before you know it, you’re done, and you’re in the Happy Playground. Now, for the first time in a while, you and the monkey are a team. You both want to have fun, and it feels great because it’s earned. When you and the monkey are on a team, you’re almost always happy.

The other thing that might happen when you pass the Tipping Point, depending on the type of task and how well it’s going, is that you might start feeling fantastic about what you’re working on, so fantastic that continuing to work sounds like much more fun than stopping to do leisure activities. You’ve become obsessed with the task and you lose interest in basically everything else, including food and time—this is called Flow. Flow is not only a blissful feeling, it’s usually when you do great things.

The monkey is just as addicted to the bliss as you are, and you two are again a team.

 

Fighting through to the Tipping Point is hard, but what makes procrastination so hard to beat is that the Instant Gratification Monkey has a terribly short-term memory—even if you wildly succeed on Monday, when you begin a task on Tuesday, the monkey has forgotten everything and will again resist entering the Dark Woods or working through them.

And that’s why persistence is such a critical component of success. Laying each brick yields an inner struggle—and in the end, your ability to win this very specific struggle and lay brick after brick, day after day, is what lies at the core of a procrastinator’s struggle to gain control over his world.

So that’s what needs to happen—but if procrastination could be solved by reading a blog entry, it wouldn’t be such a large problem in so many people’s lives. There’s only one way to truly beat procrastination:

You need to prove to yourself that you can do it.

 

You need to show yourself you can do it, not tell yourself. Things will change when you show yourself that they can. Until then, you won’t believe it, and nothing will change. Think of yourself like a basketball player on a cold streak. For basketball players, it’s all about confidence, and an ice cold shooter can tell himself 1000 times, “I’m a great shooter, I’m going to hit this next one,” but it’s not until he physically hits a shot that his confidence goes up and his touch comes back.
So how do you start hitting shots?
1) Try to internalize the fact that everything you do is a choice. 
Start by thinking about the terms we’ve used in these posts, and if they resonated with you, write them down. Part of the reason I assigned terms to so many of these feelings or phenomena—the Instant Gratification Monkey, the Rational Decision-Maker, the Panic Monster, the Dark Playground, Ickiness, Bricks, the Critical Entrance, the Dark Woods, the Tipping Point, the Happy Playground, Flow, your Storyline—is that terms help you clarify the reality of the choices you’re making. It helps expose bad choices and highlights when it’s most critical to make good ones.

2) Create methods to help you defeat the monkey. 
Some possible methods:
  • Solicit external support by telling one or more friends or family members about a goal you’re trying to accomplish and asking them to hold you to it. If that’s hard for whatever reason, email it to me—I’m a stranger (contact@waitbutwhy.com)—and just typing out a goal and sending it to a real person can help make it more real.
  • Create a Panic Monster if there’s not already one in place—if you’re trying to finish an album, schedule a performance for a few months from now, book a space, and send out an invitation to a group of people.
  • If you really want to start a business, quitting your job makes the Panic Monster your new roommate.
  • If you’re trying to write a consistent blog, put “new post every Tuesday” at the top of the page…
  • Leave post-it notes for yourself, reminding you to make good choices.
  • Set an alarm to remind yourself to start a task, or to remind you of the stakes.
  • Minimize distractions by all means necessary. If TV’s a huge problem, sell your TV. If the internet’s a huge problem, get a second computer for work that has Wifi disabled, and turn your phone on Airplane Mode during work sessions.
  • Lock yourself into something—put down a non-refundable deposit for lessons or a membership.

And if the methods you set up aren’t working, change them. Set a reminder for a month from now that says, “Have things improved? If not, change my methods.”

3) Aim for slow, steady progress—Storylines are rewritten one page at a time.
In the same way a great achievement happens unglorious brick by unglorious brick, a deeply-engrained habit like procrastination doesn’t change all at once, it changes one modest improvement at a time. Remember, this is all about showing yourself you can do it, so the key isn’t to be perfect, but to simply improve. The author who writes one page a day has written a book after a year. The procrastinator who gets slightly better every week is a totally changed person a year later.
So don’t think about going from A to Z—just start with A to B. Change the Storyline from “I procrastinate on every hard task I do” to “Once a week, I do a hard task without procrastinating.” If you can do that, you’ve started a trend. I’m still a wretched procrastinator, but I’m definitely better than I was last year, so I feel hopeful about the future.
Why do I think about this topic so much, and why did I just write a 19,000 page blog post on it?
Because defeating procrastination is the same thing as gaining control over your own life. So much of what makes people happy or unhappy—their level of fulfillment and satisfaction, their self-esteem, the regrets they carry with them, the amount of free time they have to dedicate to their relationships—is severely affected by procrastination. So it’s worthy of being taken dead seriously, and the time to start improving is now.

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289 comments - jump to comment field »

    • jaily

      The description of the “dark playground” is spot on. I have found one of the best ways to fight progractination habits especially with a long project (PhD Dissertation) is to schedule guilt-free pleasure time. Friday-night-Saturday -morning (or whatever slot you choose) is play time, no matter what else is going on. You NEED some time out of the darkness. Somehow having that pre-planned space brings strcutre to the work periods. It makes life worth living again.

  1. Anonymous

    I’ll start beating the monkey once I’ve figured out why that guy is trying to saw a piece out of the corner of that house. And what practical use a nail on the exterior of the house could be used for.

  2. Ralph Booth

    Dude this was fantastic….and I can imagine how dreadful it was to start writing this particular post. I even had goosebumps when I reached the part with the happy playground. Your words kind of opened my eyes today! I never looked at this problem like this before. Thanks a lot man! Respectful and earnest greeting from far away Switzerland!

    • Cool! I know what that means! A 140 IQ and two Ph.D.’s don’t help a poor boy integrate much when he doesn’t even speak the language. However, thanks to Google, once upon a time I looked up those very letters—TLDR—and so now as I read your brilliant reply to this blog, I already know what they mean! And I didn’t even have to re-google them to be certain. Yea, for me!

      You there, Mr./Ms. TLDR, have given me wonderful feelers of great knowledgeability; you further causeth these feelers to overfloweth with overflowing overflowingness, and proveth upon more and increasing provingnation that 20 years of alcoholism haven’t totally destroyed my ability to learn and remember. Most importantly of all, you have reminded me that sometimes a little goodness can EVEN come from people being insensitive and ignorant. Thank you!

  3. Anonymous

    I’ve been in the procrastination pits of hell for a long time now. The way you describe it all is amazing, and I think your advice is spot on. Unfortunately for me, I’m not strong enough to follow it, so I’m stuck here crying in the dark playground for life now.

    (Wish Adderall was an option, but I’m in the UK and it’s not used here. It’s also pretty much impossible to import.)

    • If you think you may have ADD/ADHD (procrastination was the main symptom that led to my diagnosis of ADD) then get your GP to refer you to the Adult ADHD service in your area (they should have one, NICE guidelines say there should be one and if your GP tries to fob you off or says adult ADHD doesn’t exist, show them the guidelines and insist on the referral, or change GP) – although you won’t get Adderall, the NHS does allow prescribing of Ritalin, Concerta and Dexedrine which all have similar effects. Good luck!

      • Alistair

        NICE guidelines are just that. There is no requirement for individual trusts or CCGs to follow them if they don’t feel it is a priority versus balancing their budget with other critical areas.

  4. Anonymous

    I think it’s very important to try integrate long tasks or projects in to your daily life. Basically faking your mind that’s just a regular chore you just do like going to work, vacuum your place or eating lunch. Just something you do every day without having the big overarching goal in mind.
    This is really something that helped me on my diet. It allowed me to do sports on almost every day for over 2 years now and I HATED sports before all that. But because it just became part of my daily life I just did it – still with minor procrastinating of course, but in the end I never quit and with 50 kilos less on my ribs it really paid off.

  5. Anonymous

    I’m definitely a Mixed Feelings Park person. If anything’s got a deadline and isn’t one of my own goals, that’s where I’ll end up. If it’s something I want, I’ll just stay in the Dark Playground. How crazy is it that I always put my own desires after things like university, work, etc?

    • Anonymous

      oh mine is a HUGE nihilist. i can’t ever get anything done because my monkey tells me i may as well skip it since nothing matters anyway and we’re all going to die. still, AMAZING post.

    • Anonymous

      A nihilist monkey is right. Nothing matters anyway. Question is whether YOU prefer to have this conversation with the nihilist monkey in a happy playground or a dark playground.

  6. Anonymous

    Another great post. I imagine if you did it all once, or a part each day, like brick layering. Congratulations, from Brazil.

  7. I waited all week for this blog post. The first time in my life I’ve ever looked forward to a blog post actually. I checked last night at around midnight (it was actually now Wednesday on the East coast) and it still wasn’t live, realizing what a huge problem procrastination is even for the guy who is writing about the cure. Amazing article, your the king of the Internet right now and people are going to see it soon.

  8. Anonymous

    I guess I still don’t get what you’re talking about. As I said in part 1, I consider myself to be a chronic procrastinator. On most things, I wait until the last minute. But I also think, “So what?” Going to your house analogy, when I compare the house I made at the eleventh hour to the ones I make when I take the time to lay one brick at a time, the two aren’t significantly different, and honestly a lot of times the houses I make in a rush look better to me.

    Not only that, but it only took me one day to build the hurried house, whereas it took me 10 days for the other one. Why would I take 10 days to do something I can do in one?

    Also, I still have to say that procrastination (IMO) is when you wait to the last minute to do something, but you still do it. If it never gets done, you didn’t procrastinate, you just didn’t do it. That’s the difference between “procrastination” and “being irresponsible”.

    Finally, I wonder if some of what you’re dealing with relates to your Generation Y post, where you seem to set some incredibly lofty goals for yourself. Look at what you wrote in the post….be a great guitarist, get in great shape, be an independently wealthy app developer. OF COURSE those things are hard to do and frustrating, because in most cases, unless you’re truly special, they are beyond your abilities. Remember your Gen Y post? “You can be anything! You’re special!” Well, the reality is you’re probably not.

    So maybe one factor at play here is by setting such lofty goals for yourself, some of which are likely out of your reach, you doom yourself to failure and disappointment. “I wanna be a great guitar player” —> years of frustrated practice because you’re not talented enough. Try setting more achievable goals for yourself, e.g., “I wanna learn to play the guitar”, and if you end up being great, it’ll happen because you have a natural love for it and will never want to stop playing (it becomes your dark playground). If not, you have to learn to be satisfied with just knowing how to play guitar a little.

    • Jim

      It’s about how you feel in those other 9 days, and while you’re doing the work on the 10th.

      If procrastinating doesn’t make you feel bad, and rushing/cramming doesn’t make you feel bad… you don’t have a problem, I guess. Procrastination isn’t something that negatively affects you.

      However, most people who procrastinate feel like crap while they’re procrastinating and feel just as bad after finishing something they procrastinated on. The looming nature of a task put off can provoke anxiety. In this case, procrastination has a significant negative impact on the emotional state of the person procrastinating.

    • Anonymous

      “when I compare the house I made at the eleventh hour to the ones I make when I take the time to lay one brick at a time, the two aren’t significantly different, and honestly a lot of times the houses I make in a rush look better to me. ”

      I agree with this statement. Maybe this is the irony. In art the Monkey probably plays a pretty important role in beauty and meaning.

      I really love this analogy of the monkey and agree it gives clarity to the subject of procrastination. I just wonder… The building is made of neatly laid ‘bricks’, small tasks like ‘write 100 words in 5 minutes’ or ‘go to a 30 minute class’. I agree, it is. Could the whole reason you’re building, you’re purpose, could be thought of as it’s foundation. Ironically, in art, the monkey may be the key to building the foundation.

      Can a monkey be a muse, I wonder? In Betty Edwards book “drawing with the right side of the brain” she mentions that our rational brain has a lot of preconceived notions about what things look like. It distorts, not in a good way, but in a rather predictable and boring way. So we have to frustrate our rational brain until it shuts down and shares the power. Turning your picture upside down usually pisses it off. This switch then calls in the spatial side to make decisions. Getting away from the verbal side to the spatial side can be a step toward our intuition or, at least, our unconscious side. Maybe this transition to the right brain is a step toward our monkey. A key to creativity. (there is definitely a feeling of struggle as it happens, same as you describe. She is also a genius for suggesting we fight this fight. Very helpful)

      Artistic considerations-unconscious choices of color, line, direction and imagery, guided by emotions, could be the domain of the monkey. They feel like a whim. ‘I Just Felt Like It’-type decisions. These are the things that give life, beauty and personal meaning to your building. They separate your building from every other brick building on your street. They give you a reason to build it.

      I would never give my Monkey the steering wheel to the car. It is a trickster, after all. But, a good switching system, knowing when to defer to your monkey, when to take the reigns, seems key. If you value a meaningful life.

    • Anonymous

      Jim,

      I used to feel the way you describe when I procrastinated. But now I don’t, because I’ve learned to look at it differently. Rather than being upset that I waited until the last minute, I think it’s pretty cool that I can work one-tenth as hard as most everyone else around me, and still usually out-perform them. IOW, my last-minute-house is usually as good as, or better than, their one-brick-at-a-time-house.

      I think the “feeling bad” came from my mom. She would see me in my room, cramming for a test or writing a paper the night before it’s due, and yell “Why do you do this? You should have started a month ago! What’s wrong with you??!!” As a kid, you get the message: when you procrastinate, you should feel bad and guilty.

      It took a while, but with some deep introspection I got past that. Now I love the fact that I can have both a rational person pilot AND an instant gratification monkey and still be successful. I can’t imagine going through life without that monkey. Must be boring as hell.

    • Anonymous

      As far as the monkey being a muse, yeah I can see that. I’m not terribly artistic, even though I am creative (more of a problem solver), and now that I think about it, I think you’re right. That monkey and the places he takes me are a big source of my creative ideas.

    • @Anonymous: “Remember your Gen Y post? ‘You can be anything! You’re special!’ Well, the reality is you’re probably not.”

      If happiness is fulfilling one’s potential, then hell is being a tested, proven, and certified genius that can’t help but amount to nothing. Sadly, nobody has much sympathy for tortured, underachieving geniuses—except other tortured and underachieving geniuses. Like the Beautiful Prom Queen crying in a bathroom stall during the dance about how lonely it is to be pretty, because nobody sees you as a real person: those to whom much has been given must mostly cry alone. Nonetheless, it’s the worst kind of nightmare, if suicide statistics are any measure of pain, and any person who works to mitigate human suffering of ANY kind deserves our praise and great respect.

  9. Anonymous

    WOW! These last two articles just saved me $700 in cognitive behavioral therapy sessions. Talk about timely – THANK-YOU!

  10. This. Is. Brilliant. Please turn it into a book. Just a short one. An ebook. If you don’t (or can’t get around to it) can I do it for you? I liked Mixed Feelings Park especially. And the Panic Monster. Absolutely genius. Thank you. :)

  11. Great post, and very entertaining!

    We actually developed web app called “Alive” (https://www.alive.do) that helps you use the exact same methods you recommended in your post – breaking goals into small steps, getting external support from friends, creating reminders etc. (and I don’t usually advertise this in comments, but here it just fits perfectly).

    Keep up the great work!

  12. I think this was written for me! I am in the process of learning SharePoint and one of my goals is to learn coding.. it’ll take me some time but I am guilty of massive procrastination! I’ve definitely learned to take smaller chunks and lay one brick at a time otherwise the overwhelming factor kicks in and things seem impossible. It’s all about perception; we handle things better in smaller doses! Have a great one -Iva

  13. There is also something to be said for **allowing** your instant gratification monkey to have free reign for a little while. It helps me to actually schedule some dark playground time. If I give my monkey 15 minutes over my lunch break and fifteen minutes before I leave work I find that I’m less likely to run home and get on my laptop and procrastinate the dishes, tape off that room that needs painted and watering my plants. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m a procrastinator, I accept this. But, I don’t feel the **guilt** that comes with this affliction as often if along with scheduling time for the brick laying i schedule time for my monkey too. Maybe it wont make sense to some that I actually schedule time throughout my day to procrastinate but it works for me. I give myself some time to check this blog on Wednesdays even though I should be working and i don’t feel guilty about it all because it is part of my Wednesday schedule. Now, back to work.

    • Jon

      This is a procrastinators dream mate! We schedule tasks & breaks, but always make the wrong choice. It’s seriously awful – you should feel blessed that you don’t understand the problem :) Planning to take 15 mins on the net DURING YOUR LUNCH is not procrastination…

  14. Dude. The fact that a tried-and-true procrastinator, as you must be (since you know the feelings so well), and as I am, can still end up creating this magnificent blog, is already an inspiration.

  15. There are two more characters we could add to this:

    1. The “Give Me Attention” Puppy Dog

    The Give Me Attention Puppy Dog hangs out all day in the dark playground waiting to be played with. Sometimes, it’s the IG Monkey’s good friend, and he’ll beg you to be nice to the GMA Puppy Dog by replying to his/her constant texts, phonecalls, emails and social media stuff.

    Other times, the IG Monkey doesn’t really like the GMA Puppy Dog, but he sure as heck likes it more than the Dark Woods. So either way he’ll try to pull you out of the Dark Woods to join his friend. No matter the IG monkey’s true feelings for GMA Puppy Dog, he/she won’t care. So the more time the two of them spent together, the louder the GMA Puppy Dog’s whine becomes.

    If the GMA Puppy Dog is your roommate, this is BAD news.

    2. “You Shall Not Pass” Troll

    The You Shall Not Pass Troll is a formidable enemy who lives in the Dark Woods. Depending on your task, he can appear regularly, tormenting and wasting your precious time. Some YSNP Trolls appear when you encounter mentally challenging roadblocks in your work. They can also appear when you have to wait on hold for half an hour to solve a problem with your Internet connection, or you get stuck in line at the post office when a bunch of old ladies (who are permanently in the Happy Playground) don’t understand basic instructions. Defeating the trolls (sometimes many a day) is necessary, and they reveal everything that the IG Monkey hates about the Dark Woods.

    The longer you spend engaging with the YSNP Trolls, the louder the IG Monkey’s begging to go to the Dark Playground becomes. You’ll need the cunning wit of Bilbo Baggins to proceed with spirits high.

    • Yeap, I know those two. U don’t have to be a compulsive procrastinator to deal with them constantly. Moments like those wouldnt be bad to have a magic wand, or a magic Ak47, bazooka, or anything else that clears the path nice and easy. (Don’t F*ck with my concentration B*tches!)

      Kill the Instant Gratification Monkey!

  16. Anonymous

    Excuse me, but is that a tiny pygmy marmoset lurking in the dark playgroud in the illustration of the instant gratification monkey’s boldest attempt at an escape? (The first time I saw a picture of a marmoset was after reading about it here. It cost me two hours of work time, but it was worth it). Oh, and thank you for a post full of innsight and useful advice and thank you even more for the best blog on internet. Keep on fighting that monkey. -Karen from Norway-

  17. Anonymous

    I love that little reddit alien you got there in the dark playground. haha. but thank you so much, this gives me hope.

  18. Anonymous

    “Nobody wants to be on Adderall”

    Really? I strongly beg to differ. Adderrall basically teleports me to Flow and I fucking love it.

  19. If you ever get tired of blogging once a week, consider expanding this into a book (it wouldn’t take too much time in the “Dark Woods” and hit the lecture circuit. This is brilliant! My Instant Gratification Monkey took a lot of spins on the tiller this week because it knew its days were numbered! Now with the second half of your missive, I’m outfitting that monkey with a harness, and we are going to MOVE FORWARD to The Happy Playground, brick by brick.

  20. Mai

    I am going to lure the Instant Gratification Monkey and myself to the Critical Entrance. Tomorrow. Yes, definitely. No, really!

    (Thank you, WBW Person! I love your blog and this post is one of my favorites. Love from France <3)

  21. This is hands down your most informative, and helpful, yet.

    Btw, you had said in your earlier post (Putting Time in Perspective) that “The most important skill of a species intelligent enough to understand both their insignificance and their mortality is the capability for distraction.” If I put this statement and the above post together, it seems that the instant gratification monkey is of some use after all, whether in the dark or happy playground. Without the instant gratification monkey, we’d do nothing. We’d just waste away, knowing we don’t matter and never will. The instant gratification monkey is responsible for fantasizing about the beautiful mansion, while the rational decision maker is responsible for laying the bricks while preventing the monkey from getting ahead of himself. By the time they cross the tipping point and enter the happy playground together, they’d have finally begun to co-exist. Hence, it appears that it is necessary for them both to co-exist. This is why I think even the non-procrastinator’s brain would have an instant gratification monkey, except, it’d be on a leash. “I think long-term” sounds like the non-procrastinator is romanticizing about the future. Any plan of action is acted upon only after romanticizing about it, which, I assume, is the job of the instant gratification monkey.

    Irrespectively, this is a great post and those terms have been burned into my brain for life. My instant gratification monkey is already romanticizing about my eventual state of flow. :)

    • Anonymous

      You make a good point: “Maybe the instant gratification monkey is of some use” but, what if you take this a step further. What if the ‘Rational Mind’ is of some use…to the Monkey. Maybe the Monkey should be needs to be consulted before ordering the bricks to be laid.

      Does the monkey always want to derail us? Or does it know who we really are and what we really want and need at some basic level. Should we pay attention to some of its diversions? An example: someone working as an accountant who obsessively wants to play guitar instead. Maybe the monkey is saying, “Putting numbers into columns is not who you are” Maybe listening to one’s inner monkey can get you to re-think a practical but unfulfilling career choice. Couldn’t your monkey be the one who makes you decide to stay up late playing guitar only to miss work the next day, gives you a stomach ache at every meeting, spills coffee on your boss, makes you forget to set the alarm clock? Would it help to ‘kill the monkey’ or should you look at these things as a sign that, deep inside, you may not be cut out to be an accountant?

      Maybe the ‘Standard Procedure-Rational Brained Bricklayer’, the one who figures out time schedules and divvies out bite sized tasks, is the b*tch. In service of the inner Monkey. Who holds the leash and who wears the collar?

      What is ‘higher intelligence’, could it be a matter of figuring out when to be guided by our monkey and when he is derailing us. He does both. But maybe he’s got an ‘in’ to our subconscious and we can learn from him. Our decision making brain needs his services because the rational mind deals only with the outer world.

      ‘Romanticizing’ , I agree, is important. I like that term, it implies that tasks and practical concerns haven’t been taken into consideration. But, more importantly I think, ‘romanticizing’ is a good term because it’s like a daydream that feels good. Daydreaming about something that feels good is the start of knowing who you are and obsessing on what we daydream about tells us if we can stick to it or are good at it-Only then should you order all those bricks. Call in the rational mind.

      These labels, monkey and dark playground, etc, are a wonderful start to discuss this subject. WBW person, you’re amazing. But some of the comments about ‘kill the monkey’ are on the wrong track. I wish we could understand the good and bad sides of both the rational and irrational decisions. And not choose sides.

  22. I’ve refused to read blog posts over 2000 words, but with this, I was riveted – I didn’t think anyone could come up with a single effective suggestion that could be employed against my personal procrastination. However, “create a Panic Monster” just might be a stroke of genius. I’ve only ever gotten anything done under the gun.

    Your panel – the tug of war with the monkey at the border of The Dark Woods and The Dark Playground: Going to make it my desktop picture until I start and finish the six or so tasks that have been tormenting me for weeks.

    • Is it weird to reply to yourself? I feel an obligation to report that right after I posted the above comment, I did indeed make that image my desktop. I chuckle every time I open my laptop, because that monkey’s funny. And um, I haven’t once thought about the admonishment the entry sign is supposed to represent. Sigh. My procrastination goes deep and might require electroshock… I mean, who tracks their own comment among hundreds?!

  23. Just today I started telling people that “I am going to take the patent bar on December 2nd” after I’ve been telling people I’ll take it when I’m ready for the last three months. So I guess I better start studying for it :)
    But first I have to take a bar tending course I bought from Groupon. Damn monkey.

  24. Somebody recently shared an insight with me about her procrastination, that made me think about it slightly differently. (I also suffer a lot from it) She recounted that when she was a student, she would do her assignments at the last minute and usually not end up getting a very good mark. Okay, but not great. BUT she could blame not getting a good mark on having done it at the last minute. It was an excuse that was always available. She realized that she had a terrible fear of failure. Which seems contradictory but actually makes sense. The worst possibility was that she would do HER VERY BEST on something and STILL FAIL. That was her fear. So by sabotaging her own efforts, she always had something she could blame her poor performance on. It made a lot of sense to me, and I realize I do the same thing. I’m trying to get more comfortable with the idea of failure. Some people I know have even suggested as an exercise trying to do something BADLY as a way of defusing perfectionism. There’s something about the excitement of starting something with a beginner’s mind, not really knowing how it will turn out out, without a huge burden of expectations, that’s so much more fun than forcing myself to do something I have to do a very good job of. But I’m not very good at it myself and all of this is theoretical as I continue to self-sabotage and play with the monkey. Just thought I’d share. I love your blog.

  25. Anonymous

    Not sure if it was mentioned above but David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” has a lot of useful tools and techniques that are well applicable to this challenge (esp. breaking stuff up into manageable steps).

  26. Anonymous

    The Tipping point is absolutely true. That’s why its so SO SO important to break your goals and tasks into smaller chunks. If instead of saying “I’m gonna write 100 pages today” you say “I’m gonna write 20 pages today,” it becomes that much more manageable.

    For me, I’m a writer, so I keep track of 1000 word increments. I use pomodoro timers to keep myself on task, and the first 2000 words of a day are the absolute hardest. If I can push past 2300 words, I can always get to 5000-6000 words super easily.

    At 2300 words, I can say “Well, I really want to stop, but I’m only 700 words from 3000….” then “I’m only 1000 from 4k, and that last 700 wasn’t very hard…” then “Well I’m so close…” and it just gets easier and easier.

    I also put my phone in the corner of the room so I can’t pick it up mindlessly. That helps a ton too.

    Make habits and structure for yourself to combat your desire to screw around in the dark playground. It won’t cure it, but it will help.

  27. Tom

    Hah wow, it’s like you peer deep inside the inner workings of my brain! Thanks so much for this post! The brick analogy sounds a lot like Kaizen

  28. Anonymous

    Thank you so much for this post – I’ve never, ever, seen the topic of procrastination explained so lucidly, so accurately. I’ve read bits and pieces like this before, but you’ve put it together in a way that is so accurate, and accurately explains how to beat it. Thank you so much. I think this will be a life-changer for many readers.

  29. Anonymous

    Admittedly, I did enjoy the fact that you went on Google Earth to get a better feel of India (pretty cool) I realized I would do something like that too. What a great article, now that my coffee internet time is done, I should get back to my essay writing. Thank you :)

  30. Anonymous

    I read A LOT, and whilst I have admittedly read this amazing piece on bad-monkey time, it wasn’t guilt-inducing in the slightest because it has shown me the way! Off to lay some bricks

    • Ditto. My cousin gave me the links to parts 1&2 three days ago. I only read part one last night because I needed a reason to put off doing this other project I’m supposed to be doing. I read part two just now for the same reason. Was it good for me? It’s not unpleasant to know my struggle is not unique, but on the other hand, if I could wave a magic wand and become the only person in the world with this problem, I would gladly do it.

      The difference between pleasure and pain while reading this article is a person’s capacity for hope. As I read, I couldn’t help thinking, “This guy/girl has good intentions, and maybe I’m about to find the magic bullet to happiness, but when I reach the end of this blog, and have read all the comments, and look up at my physical surroundings, the vast silent emptiness will be waiting.”

      Then again, that’s why I have Adderall, two dogs, and three computers. The Dark Playground won’t seem so bad, if one arrives at the Happy Playground and discovers it’s just a vacant lot.

      Don’t listen to me. Like the blog author wrote, “I have problems.”

  31. What about the haunting uncertainty about whether there isn’t some other grand project (with completely different bricks) that you’d be better off working on? Grand visionaries can have multiple incompatible grand visions, you know.

    • donjoe: you’ve nailed the essence of my personal tendency for procrastination. Although I don’t claim to be a “grand visionary” [at least not without proper encouragement, such as financial remuneration, flattery I can't see through, or the chance to give every dog on Earth a safe and loving home], and without making claims to greatness, I nonetheless register my assured status as a person who unceasingly strives for virtue. The extent to which I succeed is under debate, naturally, until I find a satisfactory definition of “virtue.”

      Meanwhile, the voice in my head continues to defend my every action against imaginary parental disapproval (a.k.a. “the superego,” for the Freudians among us). Even now, donjoe, your post begs the question: would my parents not condemn my contributions here? Is this what I “should” be doing? Do I give a rip? If not—where did the question come from? Growing up, honestly, I never much cared (consciously) whether my parents approved. I learned early on they would always criticize my independent choices. Isn’t that what parents do?

      Gosh, how insensitive of me. To any parents reading this, I intend no offense. [That part, at least, I mean sincerely.] Please don’t think I’m prejudiced against parents. [I detect a joke approaching.] No, really, some of my best friends are parents. [Is this going where I think?] Actually, I’m cool with anything parents do in private. [Careful—irony’s a crime in some states.] I’ve heard parents even teach in public schools nowadays. [Dude, don't say it...] Who am I to judge? [Doh!! He said it. I wash my hands. I don't know this guy.]

  32. Anonymous

    I… I laughed a little bit TOO hysterical at the Reddit alien up there… Thank you VERY MUCH for these blog posts, they’re arriving at just the right moment for me.
    I think I’ll take you up on your offer of email-reminding me about my task. First, I need to decide what’s most important right now.

  33. Excellent essay! You are an inspiration! Also, your Tuesday posts inspired me to post every Saturday. At first I worried that on Saturday morning I wouldn’t be able to come up with anything. But my friend BJ told me, “You don’t have to wait until Saturday to write.”

    Whoa! So now I write whenever I want and publish on Saturday. Which works great as long as I stay ahead of the game. Thanks for the inspiration. Your blog is my new favorite blog!

  34. M

    I think I was not procrastinating while reading your two posts on that topic.
    You conducted such an in-depth analysis! You made me laugh but also think seriously. I love the idea of creating a Panic Monster.

    Questions: when you are a true procrastinator, do you procrastinate in everything: job, sports, relationships, projects….? Or can we be “specialized” procrastinators? (For example you can succeed in completing your job tasks on time but always failing in doing sports..).

    Thank you from a new French reader.

    • A true procrastinator procrastinates on everything that’s hard that no one is making him/her do and that doesn’t involve panic. And usually the important things are the biggest victims.

    • Samantha W.

      I think you can be a bit specialized. I am a full blown procrastinator with everything but I started a job in June and am doing pretty well keeping up. It is only part time but the environment is so conducive to getting your stuff done. There are not too many distractions. I would say that, some dark playgrounds are less enticing than others. I mean, if you are blowing off schoolwork and can leave the house, the dark playground has tons of great play equipment. There are monkey bars and games and room to run and play and tire swings and slides and so on. But, if you are stuck in an office that blocks all the social networking sites and does not have many distractions, well, the dark playground is more like a playground you would find in an underfunded ghetto. There is some patchy grass and maybe a crooked swing, but the monkey is not going to fight as hard to stay.

  35. Anonymous

    Hi man,

    I just wanted to thank you for your great blogs. They are well written and spot on (at least for me). Thank you for writing them!

  36. Anonymous

    Thank you. Your apt description of Procrastination and how to overcome it has set me free.
    Characterising the key parts involved in procrastination within the human psyche and describing how they all interact with one another was the missing piece of the puzzle for me.

    I, like you, am trying to cure myself. I’ve made a tonne of notes which I revisit every so often, but you have brought them all together with this series of posts.

    One image that helped bring it together for me is the Rational Decision Maker and The Instant Gratification Monkey watching TV together on the couch and flying together in the FLOW rainbow.

    They are not enemies or parties who have had to grudgingly form an alliance working to put fires out afterall (as I once positioned them to be in my mind (think Vegeta vs Goku / Kakarot)), they’re two members of the same family who did not understand one another.

    Now that I understand this, I can make them communicate and work together on common goals. I’m guessing my next research piece is going to be on schizophrenia *twisted grin* — quite seriously though – a very genuine “thank you”; you have made a difference in my life.

    Thank you again.

  37. On NPR recently, “This American Life,” I believe, a man told the story of his recovery from mental illness. His symptoms included debilitating over-analysis and self-doubt, which caused him to check and recheck and plan and re-plan, ad infinitum. After more than a dozen sessions (20+, I think) of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), he was doing well enough that the doctors allowed him to leave the hospital grounds for a day of unsupervised freedom. When he was out and about, at a gas-station, I think, with a convenience store, he found himself conversing with a mechanic on duty who said something that completely changed his life for the better.

    According to the patient’s story, what the mechanic said that day seemed to cure him in an instant. It took a while to convince the doctors, and even longer to assemble a decent life for himself, but according to the man’s story, after hearing what the mechanic said, no more psychiatric therapy was needed. During the conversation, responding to the mechanic’s questions, the man had explained what had happened, all the symptoms he had been having, how it had ruined his life, and how much progress he had made.

    The mechanic was unimpressed. “You’re not sick,” the mechanic said. “You don’t need doctors. You just need to say, ‘Fuck it.’ Just keep saying ‘Fuck it.’ You’ll be better in no time.”

    Maybe it happened that way. Maybe it’s just a story. Food for thought.

  38. Anonymous

    It’s hard to put into words how much this article and its first part have meant to a serial procrastinator like me. I’ve gone through the gamut of articles on this to get to the bottom of the problem, since without that I knew I couldn’t permanently solve it. Some came very close, but you completely nailed it!

    As a procrastinator I finally feel understood and see light at the end of the endless tunnel because:

    1-You know what it’s like personally, so you don’t use frustrating platitudes and oversimplifications
    2-You give concrete images and names to abstract, hazy things we feel but have trouble disambiguating
    3-You keep it funny and light, just the opposite of all those dark, depressing feelings of the Dark Playground and the Dark Woods
    4-You give a sense of hope because of your clear reasoning and steps for the way out!

    Even though I’d already known some of what you mentioned, such as the clear and measurable goals, it was your sympathetic presentation that got it through to me in a meaningful way. It’s been a while since I laughed so hard, gasping for air at your descriptions of your tangent off to India on Google Earth, at the Instant Gratification Monkey’s resistance to make the Critical Entrance…just everything.

    What eye openers. It all rings so true. And the truth sets us free.

    Thank you, more than I can say, for your honesty in writing this and for the time invested in putting this together!

  39. I wonder a lot about the link between procrastination and perfectionism. I tried to use the mantra “done is good” and it helped just about as much as it sounds. Not really at all. I think I have crafted my entire adult life into one huge procrastination station. It isn’t so much a playground anymore because it is a bit outside of my head, but I volunteer for shit, deal with other people’s problems, support them at events. This could all take on the label of good friendship. Instead I think I have checked into procrastination station. If I fill all my available hours of the day with “helping” then how can I possibly create or WORSE maintain something by and for myself. Impossible really. That little monkey has gotten much smarter than he was when I earned a- s instead of a’s on my college papers. As I explore Zen Buddhism I begin to wonder if this is the ultimate answer, or the ultimate avoidance, staying mindful and present, unattached and without ego, is like the fun mirror version of procrastination.

  40. Vita

    Hi Tim! Terribly liked your text. Would you mind if I post the Russian translation of it on my facebook? Just as an excercise in translation, which I procrastinated for a month by the way!))

    • Sonya

      I’ve also tried to do good translation of this amazing articles and realized that this is so difficult to create valid Russian versions of all the names of that specific creatures, because it sounds so weird if simply translate it. In Russian even Procrastination is not very spread term and definitely not clear for all the readers.

      Can you share link with Russian translation with me? I’m really curious how you dealed with it!

      sonya.shmatenko@gmail.com

  41. Toiling in the dark playground externalizes my locus of control and leaves me feeling emasculated. Since I read this piece, I’ve been better able to keep myself off the dark playground by effectively finding way to sustain my IGM on self-esteem bananas. But at one point, I manage to stop and realize that self-esteem bananas are only a way to distract myself from the reality of my insignificance. That I cannot handle this reality and that I need to feed my IGM with self-esteem bananas to ‘feel’ in control (when I actually am not) is also emasculating on another level. However, this sense of emasculation is not as strongly and deeply felt as the one felt from the former scenario i.e. toiling in the dark playground.

  42. Anonymous

    Thank you for all the effort, it feels like you care!…
    BTW: I kinda read these 2 posts as work, and not as playing in the dark playground (both because it’s in English, and because I was recommended to read it, as “something that actually helps!”).
    Genie

  43. AlrightBab?

    This is flipping amazing. I’ve read loads of ‘professional advice’ articles about getting things done, but this is unique. You bring character and humour to the problem. My IGM is ALWAYS dragging me off somewhere else. I’m gonna tame that b*tch.

  44. Anonymous

    Loved your article. I’ve been dealing with procrastination/ADHD for years and have done a lot of the same self-interpretation of it as you have (although I have different names like the Dark Void and the 4-year-old).

    To expand on the monkey’s repulsion of the Dark Woods, I’ve found that he’s not only motivated by fun, but also repelled from the woods by several monsters. (failure, rejection, and negative judgement) The key to getting the monkey into the forest is re-assuring him he’ll have lots of fun on the other side of the woods, AND convincing him that the monsters he fears won’t hurt him.

    In the case of ADHD, the monkey is so high-anxiety and nervous that it can be extremely difficult to coax it into the woods. Adderall does an amazing job of calming the monkey down and creating a sense of confidence that allows him to walk into the woods without fear.

  45. Anonymous

    for me the only way to calm down the monkey has been pills. I tried for years to play it nice with this tricks but it was becoming a god damn gorilla. For person with anxiety disorders I would also suggest in your list go to a Psychiatrist :p

  46. Anonymous

    As I was reading these articles, I remembered that Eric Berne talked about procrastination somewhere in Games People Play (possibly one of his other books). It seems a lot of procrastination has to do with perfectionism — as long as I don’t produce, I won’t be shown up for the failure I am. The commenter who said he decided he could produce just as well in a day as in 10 seems to be blessedly free of this.

  47. Anonymous

    Funny, just this morning, I found out that I am scheduled for a “come-to-Jesus” meeting with the Dean over my department. The subject? My performance, deeply rooted in procrastination.

  48. I ABSOLUTELY LOVE these two posts about procrastination, because they articulate and clarify exactly the madness I have struggled with everyday of my life. However, there is a couple more dimensions of it for me. They have to do with indecision/second-guessing decisions, perfectionism, and getting stuck in flow.

    So, the “Instant Gratification Monkey” is just one of the reasons I have a hard time getting to “The Critical Entrance” and through “The Dark Woods” of the task to the “Tipping Point.” Another contributing factor is that as I am on my way to start a task, or as I am doing it. I am haunted by the “Ghost of Doubt.” This ghost is comes around and brings up questions like. “Should you even be doing this? Maybe you picked the wrong thing to make a priority, or chose it for the wrong reasons. Maybe you have forgotten something really important while trying to focus on this that you will regret later once you realize it. You know that urgent thing, or other also important thing, you decided to put off, because this was more important, maybe that really was more important to deal with now. If you don’t check into XYorZ you will forget about it till its to late.”….etc. All sorts of reasons to stop the task and go elsewhere.

    ALSO, guilt of doing something I want, or think is important is something I struggle will too.

    Then, there is the “Growing Power Pill of Perfectionism.” It sometimes appears within the “Dark Woods” and sometimes within “Flow.” Either way, it lengthens the task, expands the brick. The result is that I don’t ever get to the tipping point, or if it is in the flow portion, it expands “what needs to be done” more and more until the panic monster shows up for another reason, jarring me out of the happy flow state.

    Even if perfectionism is not a contributing factor, I can get stuck in the flow state and this takes up a lot of time needed to accomplish other necessary bricks in my life.

    In these cases I end up landing back in “Mixed Feelings Park,” because even though I accomplished the task, and maybe even very well, it was at the expense of something else important. Add, that I tend to take longer to do things than “typical” anyway and people tend to be unhappy with what I do no matter how well done, or brilliant it is, because it took too long.

    So, I could go into more nuances of the whys and results of my predicament and/or I could spend more time perfecting the points I have already made. However, in an attempt to not let the “Growing Power Pill of Perfectionism” kick in, I will stop now.

    Any suggestions for these topics?

    • Jon

      Hey Acoumerilh, I hated feeling exactly the same as you. I would start the task positively and 10 minutes in… think of new possibilities and BOOM!!!!! worry i’ve made the wrong choice. fill up with anxiety and feel like smashing the computer up/crying/smoking etc…
      I have been enjoying CBT for 9 months. A huge problem was the rumination. Get all your possibilities on paper, make the best choice you can and stick with it. STAND by your decision. I use “Edward Debonos 6 hats’ to make my decisions – once the decision is made I write it on a whiteboard and follow through. Hope this helps :)

  49. Chris

    Great piece. What I find difficult:
    - When you under-perform with Mixed Feelings but everyone around you is still impressed. What is the point of doing even better?
    - Also, and unfortunately, when I’m in the flow…. I have to have some dinner, do other priority stuff first…and the flow is gone. Sometimes hard to get back to it.

  50. Please, please do not stop writing things like this. It so so so so applies to me. I have ADD and I’m a major procrastinator (yet also strangely a perfectionist). Also, maybe you could write an article discussing how to get over procrastination, specifically as a writer. I’m in college and an aspiring journalist/writer and this would be so helpful. :)

  51. Anonymous

    My monkey loved the first post. It didn’t like the second. Skipped to the end. Eating cake now and scolling through the comments.

    Can you perhaps make a summary version please. I really want to read the long one, but the monkey

  52. Samantha W

    Wow, I read this 2 or 3 days ago and commented and farted around and didn’t do my schoolwork while thinking about how great this article is. But tonight I was on facebook and I just thought, “I’m in the dark playground.” and I realized I didn’t want to be there and I got to work! I finished my 5 1/2 pg spanish essay and submitted it to officially finish up one of my 3 classes this term. 2 to go but I feel more confident even just having the vocabulary to pinpoint what I am doing and why. Thank you!

  53. As a writer who also struggles with procrastination, the paragraph about getting back to irony-free procrastination may be my favorite thing written this year.

  54. What is your advise for the people who get to the happy playground, remember how many things were on the first list, and try to jump back to the critical point for another run… making the happy playground morph into a new dark playground?

  55. Anonymous

    Hello,
    An advanced procrastinator here. First, thank you for the most accurate depiction of a procrastinators mind so far. It’s all there. Great work!
    Second – a question –
    I can’t convince myself that a fake deadline that I put for myself, for a want-to-project (not need-to) is not fake.
    For example, I tell myself – “This project must be done by the end of this month!” – but the monkey tells me “Bullshit, nothing will happen if it won’t be done. You’ll finish it later”.
    Same goes with anything that’s not a true external deadline with high visible stakes.
    Everything else that is relying on my willpower to do – is considered a fake goal that has no real deadline for it and therefore can be avoided for now. (BTW, It’s the same with an exact hour on a schedule – the monkey understands that it’s there randomly and therefore – not real).
    How can I defy this feeling?

    • This is a huge problem for every procrastinator. That’s why there have to be other methods. Book a rehearsal space and invite friends, email your boss and promise her a draft by a certain day, give a friend $100 and tell him he can only give it back to you if you do something by a deadline you set. Whatever works for you—set up some method that will get the panic monster involved at interim steps.

      Of course, in the long run, the goal is to learn to change your Storyline and actually do stuff without the panic monster—but set up some monsters in the meantime.

  56. Lee

    Great posts, thanks. There’s a children’s book called ‘So Say the Little Monkeys’ by Nancy Van Laan that ties very nicely into your theory, you should check it out!

  57. Again, this is awesome and so completely the way my brain works it’s like you got inside. You have earned a new fan/follower/reader here. I’m even going all-in and e-mailing my little concrete goal because you’re right – concrete end dates and accountability make all the difference. Heck, I even committed to an exercise and weight loss buddy plan yesterday. OMG, is my rational brain trying to take control of the monkey? A frightening thought because, well, it’s familiar and comfortable here. Change is hard and scary but I’ve just spent an entire year in the land of “I’d like to but I don’t know where to begin, so…oh look a bunny!”

    I am so glad my friend sent the link to part one of this post and thanks to you for having written it.

  58. Paul Rothrock

    I’ve found a good motivator for my Instant Gratification Monkey is to schedule time in the Dark Playground. For instance, I’ll write down very small tasks I’ve got to do, less than an hour each, and I’ll pepper in things like playing Kerbal Space Program or reading Reddit. Sometimes just knowing I’ve got time to do those things keeps the monkey satiated and I’ll skip them entirely.

    Another tip is to make daily plans of things I have to do. This is especially useful for things I hate, like making phone calls. If I have it on my list, I have to do it. And I keep my lists in a small spiral-bound notebook by my computer so I can check off things I do and keep it to one page per day.

  59. FearItself

    Thanks for writing this. As a college writing teacher, I’m a professional enemy of procrastination. I’m also a horrible procrastinator myself. From both those perspectives, your posts seem insightful and valuable. I’d like to emphasize the importance of thinking carefully about defining your individual “bricks,” because I think this is where some of your readers may still bog down. (Apologies if this post repeats ideas from earlier in comments; I read both your posts, but I haven’t read all the comments.)

    Here’s how I talk about this with my students:
    1) Writing an essay seems hard because it is; few people can sit down, say, “I’ll write an essay,” and then do it successfully. The task is too big and complicated. To compare: if we’re standing on the sidewalk and I point to a three-story building and say, “get up onto that roof,” you know you can’t do it in one jump. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to get to the roof; just take the stairway. Each ten-inch step is easy, and if you simply take one step after the next, sooner or later you get there. (Steps, bricks, whatever.)
    2) So instead of saying “I’m going to write an essay,” just say “I’m going to write down some ideas that I might want to put in my essay.” Some (even many) of the ideas you write down might be silly, or repetitive, or off-topic, or just plain dumb. It doesn’t matter. They just have to be written down. That’s the first step/brick.
    3) Once I’ve done that, I can look at the ideas I’ve written down, decide which ones I actually want to use, and make a list of them. That’s easier to do because I’ve already written them down; I’m already standing on the first step, so I’m close to the top of the next one. Each successful step brings me closer to the next, and therefore to the final destination.

    I’m only going into this in such detail (and using an example from my own are of expertise) because I want to stress how important it is to /properly define/ each step (or brick). Some people may struggle with the process you’ve described because even after they focus on a single brick, they still get trapped in the same pattern. Often this is because the brick is still to big. They may need to break their task down into even smaller parts to succeed. The more specific and more manageable the task is, the bigger (and harder to miss) the entrance to the Dark Woods becomes.

    It can help a lot to talk to someone else who both 1) really understands the task you’re trying to achieve, and 2) knows what its like to struggle with procrastination. That kind of person can serve as a mentor to suggest exactly what size and shape the bricks you divide your task into should be as you begin this process. We often don’t want admit to people we respect that we procrastinate. That means there are lots of secret procrastinators out there! Some of them may be your tutors, teachers, co-workers, and bosses! If you’re having trouble with individual bricks, reaching out to someone else can help a lot. The trick is to find someone who not only can help, will do so without being too judgmental.
    Anyway, that’s my two cents, and I wanted to let you know I’ll be sending some of my students to read these two posts in the future.
    Best wishes.

  60. KO

    So glad a friend shared the first of these two posts on Facebook (aka the super-cool monkey bars in my Dark Playground). As a life-long procrastinating perfectionist who also enjoys the special torture that is being self-employed, I had to laugh at the funny names and images you attached to my demons. I also had to cry a little for feeling understood–without judgment or condemnation–for the first time in my life. Then–especially as I read the second post–crying a little more at how overwhelming taming the monkey still seems. (seriously, sometimes just breaking the big task down into smaller bricks is an overwhelming task in itself)

    But, there is a glimmer of hope that I might somehow throw off the frustration and futility of a Storyline that dead ends directly at the cesspool of learned helplessness (total desensitization to the Panic Monster). This is the first thing I’ve read that doesn’t just feel like some super-productive and successful person telling me to just put in the effort to get more organized and just try harder. Thanks for that glimmer.

    I hope to reread these a few times over the next few days to internalize things, make some notes, and start training that monkey. Hopefully the monkey doesn’t have other plans.

  61. Reanna

    This and why procrastinators procrastinate resonated so well with me. I could never figure out why, even when I try so hard to not procrastinate and I hate the feelings associated with it I procrastinate any way. Having such a visual representation of procrastination helps me so much. Thank you!

  62. Kareles

    Wow. Thank you for writing! I must forward this to my counselor, as I have been unable to verbalize what the hell is wrong with me.

    The new college semester is about to begin. Praying that I will recognize The Dark Playground when I see it. Thanks again.

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  64. Trix

    Best ever analogy and the pics are awesome. :-)

    I only wish that you’d mixed up a few pronouns. He, he, he sounds so 1950s. If you had a couple of sentences with “he” and another couple with “she”, that’d be just that bit more inclusive.

  65. OMG a friend just put the link to your first post on my FB wall as a bit of joke as we are both procrastinators (as are many of my codependent friends!) and I swear, I could have written them both about myself… if I could be arced! You are an amazing writer, so witty, so astute. This post in particular has spoken to me on a profound level. You will probably find an email from me once I work out what my big goal is so I can be sure of completing it ;) Thank you so much for writing this. It has made my day and is perfect for this period post-New Year, when I am desperately battling down the road of self improvement, when I’m not on FaceBook or taking extended breaks to look what food is in the fridge ;)

    THANK YOU! :D

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  67. mike

    This is an awesome article. It actually took me 2 hours to read it though. I have a project for work due at 9am so I am reading this to procrastinate, but between every paragraph I had to check reddit to keep my interest going. I just need constant input.

  68. Anonymous

    Thank you for writing this article, it feels as though I could have written it myself.

    Read on if you want the a glimpse into the twisted mind and experiences of one of the many kings of procrastination.

    I consider myself among the top echelon of procrastinators both in terms of severity of procrastination as well as the ability to live a successful life due to the brilliance of myself and my panic monster. I almost failed my chemical engineering degree because I could not force myself to study (it certainly wasn’t because I didn’t have the brains, I know I’m a genius :P), but I passed and now have my dream job. When I received my diploma I was the happiest person alive because I knew I did not deserve it.

    I think procrastinators represent the smartest subset of people on the planet. They want to do the smallest amount of work possible to achieve the same result as another who may have put in 10 times the work (In engineering, it is know as the 80:20 rule: 80% of the result with 20% of the effort. The thought is you don’t want to waste time doing something that doesn’t truly need to be done). My chemical engineering degree is no different than that of my classmates, so who says I didn’t approach school with the perfect level of effort? I am the perfect engineer by definition!

    Secretly, I am proud of my ability to be “good” at procrastinating. I had thoughts like “I am smarter than my classmate because I beat him on a test, despite the fact I studied 1 hour and he studied 30″, even though my grade was 29th best out of 30 people. I would be almost excited going into a test knowing I was hardly prepared. I’d be like, “Here goes nothing!”. Waking up at 4 in the morning, hitting snooze til 6, then cranking out homework due at 8 was exhilarating. It is thrilling to be a procrastinator, it makes life so exciting in some weird and twisted way, and I think actually builds some good self esteem because you set yourself up for a feeling of over-achievement and surpassing expectations of yourself. The thought pattern of, “Sweet, I got a C on the paper I wrote in half an hour during the class in which it was due! I’m a beast!” is something I have felt many times.

    But in all seriousness, this is how bad procrastination can get. I struggle to fight it everyday (I don’t eat breakfast, have stopped eating dinners I just eat chips or something, have trouble going to sleep (It is 3am in the morning as I’m writing this), don’t exercise, show up to work late by an hour almost everyday, have started sleeping at my desk sometimes, dump my clean laundry on the floor instead of hanging my shirts and whatnot, never empty the clean dishes from the dish washer, and the list goes on and on). I literally do the bare minimum, nothing more.

    The funny thing is I am mostly happy with my life, and on paper am successful, but it hurts me to think about how much happier I could be if I didn’t procrastinate.

    I will be placing bricks soon, hopefully along with the rest of you.

  69. Excellent write-up that deeply resonates with the tormented psyche of millions of
    procrastinators out there. Just wanted to expose a few thoughts on the
    subject:

    It is a popular theory – also talked about in some comments above – that
    procrastination has a lot to do with perfectionism and fear of failure,that is,
    people delay everything to the very last minute thereby giving themselves the
    perfect excuse if they underperform .
    While I can’t statistically prove it, I suspect that this affects only a small
    minority of “heavy procrastinators”. I think the #1 reason for procrastinating
    is “simply” lack of will-power which directly translates into an inability to control
    the damned IG monkey. A lot of interesting research has been done in recent years and I
    recommend the books by Roy Baumeister and Kelly McGonnigal on the subject.

    A second reason is what I like to call the “linux-dependency-hell-effect”:
    Essentially it is the inability to correctly assess how long a complex task is
    going to take: Assume that you try to follow the advice and break down the
    complex task into many little “bricks” as analysed in the article: It happens
    very often – especially if you work in science/engineering- that in order to “lay
    each brick” there are certain prerequisites in terms of knowledge you must
    acquire. Unfortunately these prerequisites often have their own prerequisites
    and this *appears* to branch out ad infinitum, scaring the heck out of the poor
    procrastinator and giving the impression that it *doesn’t matter* how early
    he/she will start because the god-damned prerequisites are just going expand and
    consume all the available time. The “smart” thing to do – much to the proverbial
    Monkey’s great joy- is to artificially reduce the available time by putting off
    everything until the last minute.
    Unfortunately, the only way to overcome this is through years of experience
    that will give you the ability of “knowing when to stop” the branching and also
    that you simply cannot understand *everything* you read. Some stuff you just have
    to take for granted.

  70. It is appropriate time to make a few plans for the
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  71. KAro

    Thanks a lot! I have read so many thinks about life organization, doing things, etc, but what was/is my worst problem was/is procrastination. You have written the best thing I have ever read about my problem. For the first time I feel the seriousness of the problem and how huge are its consequences. Simultaneously I feel full of hope and, to not leave it sealed only with words, but with actions, in this very moment I start my first page of copy portfolio (postponed from 2 months) and once done it, I’ll do the hand washing (postponed from 1 month or more…mooore for sure ;) The list contains lots of postponed things, but now I know…only few…not everything at 1 time. We’re not supermen, we’re not supermen ;)

  72. Nick

    Superb post. I’ve shown it to my 17 year old daughter who recognises everything you’ve described. I hope she pulls herself together in this last year of school to achieve her goals, but that bloody monkey is getting more active. I have now borrowed some of your pics to produce a couple of motivational posters for her wall telling her: “Don’t Let The Monkey Drive” and “Overcome Your Idiot Monkey”. Fingers crossed!

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  74. FAB

    Just some extra help for achieving your goals:
    * Use a website like 43 things to list your goals. Total strangers will cheer you and you can send yourself reminders. After using it for five years, my monkey is less and less in control. The brickwork is still boring, but it gives you back the perspective on the house you want to build
    * Use the creative whack pack card game or app. We procrastinators have a wonderful brain for expanding our thoughts and ideas. But the creative whack pack teaches you that this is only the start of creativity. You will also need a judge and warrior to start realizing stuff; pick the right idea and be brave enough to execute it. My favorite card is: slay a dragon!

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  77. Bruce

    All my years of procrastinating have finally met their match. It actually feels like a guilty, secret addiction. In my life I can present a facade of being organised, disciplined and productive. In reality it’s mostly terror and self-loathing.

    At this point, writing too long a reply will only see me slip back into the deep forest rather than getting on with my work day. (1 hour and 50 minutes into that so far and I have sent one work-related email.) So I am going to write two things only.

    1. Your analysis of what happens when monkey and I work together is the key. I’m never happier than when I’m working properly. Everything else is a good description of what makes it so hard to be man and monkey in perfect harmony.

    2. I’m going to try an experiment. I’m going to read this post every morning for a week and then on every Monday morning until the end of the year. I’m going to do it to remind myself of how easy it is to procrastinate, how good it feels not to and how important it is to remember that there is nothing unusual in my failings.

    So as I sign off I’m going to take a risk and read through the comments. I’m on a timer. 10 minutes only.

    Finally.
    Most importantly.
    Thank you.

  78. Megan

    So Great – from naming/labeling these conflicting emotions to the process from start to finish, and the bad feeling hangover after. Thankfully, I’m really, really good at creating panic monsters to prevent me from doom and gloom, but really I just want to dominate the dark forest and win with the monkey. I’ve confirmed time and again that when I make it to the happy playground, it feels amazing, and I feel amazing. I think I need to get some sort of monkey for my desk to remind me of this post, and how to beat procrastination – THANK YOU!

  79. Rose Matthews

    That monkey is such a sneaky little bugger!

    Having spent the morning making an A3 poster out of your spot-in article and hanging it by my desk, I took a deep breath and decided absolutely to launch through the Critical Entrance. I opened my project document and picked up my paper notes…
    … Next thing I knew, I was feeding peach pieces to a lizard. I have no memory of the transition!

  80. AC

    Spot on article and helps to explain a lot for me personally. It may also help to explain these things to those with no Instant Gratification Monkey of their own. And the timing of seeing this article was pretty serendipitous also.

    Thanks!

    –AC

  81. Anonymous

    I read this article a few days ago. Just coming back to say I’ve been figuratively punching the shit out of monkeys all week and has really helped my productivity.

    Ironically, I’m writing this comment at work while avoiding a major report I need to do. *sigh*

  82. Kate

    My God.

    I have actually spent hours at work googling “how to stop procrastinating” and THIS is what I needed. Thanks.

  83. Jo

    I think that the fear of failure is pretty big up there and the perfect excuse for this failure of procrastinating is a compelling one. BUT I also seem to suffer from a fear of success. When I do start to write ( and it seems to happen specifically with writing) and things start to move forwards, I panic, feel slightly dizzy and then stop. Not sure if this is connected to my dyslexia? I would be really interested to hear about anyone else’s similar experiences.
    BTW Thank you sooo much for the fab post :0)

  84. Anonymous

    These two posts are dead on. My wife read this earlier today and had me read it because she said it sounded like I could have written it myself. She was right. I’m intelligent enough that I’m usually able to get away with waiting until the last minute on deadlines, but this has left me a regular patron of mixed feelings park, even after a graduate degree. I kept hoping that my habits would change as I moved into the work force, but that hasn’t happened, and I’ve just found myself torn between feeling “It’s okay, I still accomplish what I need to,” and “I’m a horrible person because I can’t get anything done.” It’s helpful knowing that there are others who have the same issue with that freaking monkey.

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  86. Karen

    It’s a much nicer idea to be fighting against a monkey than against yourself, and being able to create panic monsters before the actual time to panic. Thanks

  87. Anonymous

    I have been trying for hours to start doing my last homework for this semester, but instead my monkey took me here… Well written, a lot of people seem to have same problems. A few personal notes on topic: My monkey usually goes to sleep at midnight. It’s easy to do things until 3 or 4:00 AM. A long list of urgent things keeps monkey under control. I perform really well at work when there is a lot of things going on. And vice versa, I might forget or finish too late a single task for the entire day. I’ve tried to give me fake deadlines and daily task lists, but that doesn’t work. Monkey knows when the Panic Monster is not real. He is not stupid. That’s why procrastinators actually perform so well. You and monkey together and panic monster behind you – that is one hell of a team.

  88. Deborah

    This is wonderful, and I know I will re-read this and keep thinking about it as I battle with procrastination and anxiety. Your descriptions resonated deeply with me, and you have a real talent for illustrating these experiences and feelings.
    For those of us dealing with anxiety-driven procrastination, I would only add that the entrance to the Dark Forest is even more terrifying than the Dark Forest itself. The entrance sometimes feels like a light that’s too bright to look at, or a fire that will burn me if I cross it to get into the forest. The entrance yells so loudly I have to cover my ears to walk even close enough to consider whether I can go in. Sometimes I make it in anyway, but it’s not easy.
    Thank you.

  89. Pola

    I’ve read a few books on procrastination written by experts, academics researching the issue, but none of these publications ever filled me with this kind of real sensation that, following their advice, things may truly change. — And your article actually does that. Both of your posts on procrastination are absolutely brilliant – spot-on, creative, insightful, genuine. I really admire your talent :-) With the experts’ books on procrastination, it seems as though they were all the same and I sometimes have a feeling I could actually write one myself (extremely big-headed of me, I know ;-)) Your articles, however, are pure genius – the writing, the drawings, the ideas/ explanations/ line of thought – how are you able to produce such brilliant work on a regular, weekly basis?

    Kind regards :-)

  90. Pola

    Oh, and another fantastic idea (feeding procrastination, not helping to beat it ;-)) – “you clicked the turtle” :-)

    (The true author of this comment is not Pola, but her Instant Gratification Monkey :-( )

  91. K

    This is a remarkable post. I have been a procrastinator with ADD for my entire life and I just turned in my master’s thesis a year late. I did exactly what you describe in part 2, enlisted the help of friends who understood what was going on in my head and they helped me focus on laying brick by brick. I honestly never thought I would finish and when I did I curled up like a baby and wept with relief.

    I’m now a nascent therapist trying to help other people deal with their own mental health problems. The thing you did with labeling and personifying thoughts and emotions is actually a cognitive-behavioral therapy technique that I use all the time! Another technique I would add is mentally taking care of your cast of characters to improve your self-esteem and reduce your guilt and self-loathing. I think the self loathing comes from dissing yourself and hating on the monkey throughout the whole process, and even though the monkey is trying to ruin our lives, it is still a part of you. I’ve found that many people’s monkeys were born out of something scary/terrible/bad from the past, and sometimes we have to hold the monkey’s hand and pet its fur and spoon with him before giving him a bushel of self-esteem bananas. That’s actually something my own therapist has been encouraging me to do more of, as another way to try and change my storyline. Forgiving the monkey (he knows not what he does) has helped a lot with reducing the pervasive self-loathing.

    Anyways, thank you so much for this thoughtful and helpful post. I am so impressed by it I would like to print it out and give it to some of my clients if its all right with you :)

  92. Monkey Tamer

    I think this is one of my first comments on a blog / website…Great article! I didn’t read quite all the comments (although my monkey pushed me..) but I see a lot of people vibrating on the subject – so I am not the only one that feels you wrote about him :) Thank you!

  93. db

    Hang on… if so many ppl can relate to the plight of the procrastinator maybe there is something wrong with the system that makes us feel guilty. I’m a procrastinator. I read the first post, and skimmed the pictures in the second post just like the rest of you. why doesn’t anyone see anything wrong with the system that forces us to feel like underachievers?

    Fug that. I have better things to do than let the system make me feel guilty for doing ONLY what I feel like. If more people were happy to procrastinate the world would be a happier place. Monkeys are a part of human nature–a fundamental part that would be unhealthy to deny! If ppl wanted less, and enjoyed their time more, and weren’t coerced into feeling guilt over enjoying that time because they weren’t being socially responsible citizens (ie. weren’t producing, conforming, consuming and repeating) I humbly assert that the earth would be better off.

    Lets get out of here monkey brother and daydream about building a tree house. Or maybe take a nap first…

    • Secret_treaties

      While I see your point, however, it appears you have never really experienced the Panic monster in it’s full unadulterated form.

      Therefore, what you describe is time in the happy playground.

      When you fully experience the “oh $h1t, if I don’t get this done I’ll be fired, but, those shinny objects are so beautiful…” moment, you have never experienced true procrastination.

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  95. imajoebob

    To be honest, I couldn’t read through the entire post. kept skipping for bullet points. But then I’m and actual ADHD type. But I like and appreciate the stuff i did manage to read.

  96. Anonymous

    Great article. My only recommendation to every one is to complement it by reading “Willpower Instinct”, it actually goes into the science of why we procrastinate and how the “instant gratification monkey” actually works.

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  98. Dr Duh

    Well that worked great… finished analyzing data and got the greater part of an experiment done. Now home for some well deserved sleep. Thank you so much. I think I’ll make this article my home page.

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  100. ZahavaMira

    I loved your post. Thank you! But I have a question–my particular brand of procrastination revolves around smaller tasks and chores, like folding clothes, paying bills, making necessary phone calls. It’s hard to break these chores up into “bricks,” so the planning stage doesn’t help. Then what?

  101. Poop Stain

    I never feel the need to comment on anything, but this article truly hit home for me. Thank you for writing it and making it so easy to understand why I act the way I do. And ultimately, it is all about an intense fear of to fail. I know I’m smart and I know I’m talented, but I never finish any project that proves it. Always going back to the Dark Woods. Also, it’s nice to see how many others out there (based on the amount of comments) that have the same problem as I do. This article has seriously changed my life for the better. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

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  103. scully

    Amazing article. Thank you so-ooo-o much for this. Awareness has been raised, literally. Naming the inner-gollums, all the situations and mental “places” is working for me so well.
    Now every time I’m murdering my time by internet or whatever, I suddenly become aware that this is the Dark Playground and that nothing good will come out of it.

    Even though my Monkey cries “noo! you need to read everything that’s written about Flow in psychology on Wikipedia!” it can’t fool me cause I know, it is still the Dark Playground. And I’m not enjoying myself.

    My problem is that (omg this reply is turning into an article on it’s own) ..I play until the panic monster appears at the end of the day, and if I have a tiny bit of strength, I push myself to do the one-day work in an hour, which then stretches to a few hours, then I end up working till 3:30, which I kind of enjoy cause of all the darkness and silence and creepiness. Anyway..

    A woman asked me once, all excited, us both being artists, “why do you think that is???” after I told her that I always worked (better) at night. And now I know the true answer.

    One thing I don’t agree with the article, or maybe haven’t understood well, is the part about confidence. Instead of not having enough confidence, I think I have too much of it.

    I find myself thinking “I don’t need to start working now, I’ll do an amazing job and finish it all up in one hour anyway.” Maybe what Tim meant is not working hard to out-do ourselves, and settling with; what we normally do, or the rushed work outcome? Yeah, that must be it..

    Last thing: I get super motivated from negative challenges. I was discussing how procrastinatey we are with my friend last week, and she told me something that really resonated with me, “we will never manage to ‘be’ anything” a great artist, etc. And the moment I hear something like that, a new character jumps out: a humongous Knight, pushing my Monkey and Rational Decision Captain all aside. He is super proud and is just appalled from hearing such insult. “NO, OF COURSE I WILL. I shall be the GREATEST”

    All in all, thank you very much for this wake-up-post. Becoming aware where we are mentally, and why we do these things is a HUGE thing, even though it ends with the individual and his/her effort to actually do something. (internet addicts anonymous) I will do my best! Good luck to everybody else on their quest for defeating your Gollum!

  104. Tree root

    Started reading the comments, realized i was just using them as further procrastination, apply motivation i have received through reading this article to better myself, now to start cleaning my kitchen… It’s a start.

    And thank you, this is a beautifully written article, witty and understandable. You are a wonderful person, good luck with defeating the Instant gratification monkey (which I was considering stealing for a track title)

    Peace.

  105. AllOfTheProblems

    Thank for for writing this article, for some reason the visualisation of that forest gave me a mental image to focus on as I worked through one of the hardest assignments in my life.

    Life-long procrastinator here, but am hoping this marks a turning point!

  106. MONKEY-BACK

    Thankyou so much for your two articles – I laughed so much at part 1, and the monkey analogy is so spot on. I’m glad you managed to stop procrastinating long enough to write this!

  107. Anonymous

    I cannot thank you enough for writing this. It really hit home while reading it. I relate to all of it- the monkey has been causing serious emotional distress and self-loathe for years.

    Always a procrastinator, in school I still had it somewhat in control – getting good grades by writing essays in the lunch hour due later that day, to progressively getting worse throughout university every year.

    The monkey kept pushing the Panic Monster closer and closer to the deadline each time I made it the previous time. Till the moment came when I never gave anything on time at all, ever.
    I’m trying to cure this, and this article has really helped me understand my problem.
    Thank you so much.

  108. Batsheva

    Amazing. I have read so much on procrastination. This is the first thing I’ve found that might be helpful. Just brilliant. If there were a Nobel Prize for blogs, you’d deserve it.

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  110. Andromeda

    excellent post. It has spread like wild fire and I personally have found it helpful. I dislike my PhD and so never before has the monkey been so reluctant to cooperate. I have tried everything and have to constantly change methods to power through. And this helps, particularly because it is really clear and memorable…and fun, more than other self-help online courses on procrastination. My friends, family and I now even speak in terms of the monkey and the panic monster!

  111. Kitty Levy

    I have been smelling a gas leak off and on for a few months coming from a shut off line in my fireplace. Yesterday was overwhelming do today I remember I got the kids to school ON TIME, drank a cup of coffee,went to the bank to get momey to pay bills, got a large dipped ice cream cone at DQ for todays meal so far, sat on the car listening music in my driveway with the money to avoid potential productivity till my husband came out to go to work, noticed, told Mr it was unsafe to sit in the car like that with cash laying in the front seat. My bladder told the money we had to go in the house and pee. So took care of that grabbed a DP took it up to bed and slept till 2. Woke up came downstairs saw fireplace, oh yeah, I have an hour to fix this before the kids need to be picked up. Got the fake wood and had log set up out of the fireplace covered in dust. Plugged in shopvac. Remembered concerned husband and checked phone to see if he called while I was upstairs. Saw this blog sent by my highly-productive daughter to me. Read it. Wondered about the saw hammer building thing. Wrote this comment and it’s 2:55, fine to leave to get kids, fire place dusty stuff scattered, nothing but a big mess accomplished!

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  113. Krish

    Hats off to you sir! Best post I’ve ever read!
    You revealed the mystery of life. Your terms aptly describe my inner feelings that hurt me mentally and subconsciously guide me to choose unhelpful mind-pleasing treats like sweets, movies, TV, or dreaming perfect scenarios.
    I wish I read this in my High School. I’ve finished my Master’s last year and thought the guilt of underwhelming work I did during my education is going to haunt me for a long time. But from your post, I’ve gained useful knowledge and a pathway to beat the mysterious voice(gratitude monkey) in my head. I’ll get better now.
    Can’t thank you enough!
    Cheers from an Indian in Australia!

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  115. anonymousp

    Confession of a procrastinator… Excellent article…
    I don’t know if people like these can be called procrastinators. i would like to call them the tipping point procrastinators.. in this case whenever a procrastinator does a work and he is just about to finish it, he realizes that he is before schedule, which is quite odd for him and so he takes break and again starts to work when the deadline panic monster comes in…
    out of all the bad things a procrastinator does to him… the only good thing he is at is finding the most optimized ways to complete a work, it is not his best but that’s the best that could happen in that much amount of time.

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  117. Krusty Shakelford

    I have some pretty major unresolved childhood emotional stress, which (like compound interest) lead me to more situations of emotional stress as an adult, and eventually I had a pretty serious mental break with permanent consequences. In my mid-20s, my marijuana habit became a daily mechanism for coping with my years (i.e., my life) of continually increasing emotional distress. In my view, marijuana has exacerbated my serial procrastination (I fit the mold of this article perfectly) and IGM has grown strong enough to put RDM in chains. Mindfulness and CBT have helped, but I think it’s time for a low dose Adderall.

    • Procrastinnnn

      I couldn’t even stimulate myself enough to reach the end of the article. Three sentences in, I scrolled the length of the post and thought, “Another time perhaps.” I’ll probably never see this site again.

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  119. Mr Procrastination

    Read more than 20 comments – Instant Gratification Monkey wins.

    Gets up to plan life… we’ll see.

    BTW – to the Krusty above:

    Cannabis is the Instant Gratification Monkey’s drug of choice and it makes him immune to the fear of the panic monster. Drop the dope my friend because without the panic monster a procrastinator can get lost in the dark playground and never find the entrance to the dark woods.

    Note that by writing my aside to Krusty I once again got lost in the dark playground!

  120. stressed out new teacher

    Fantastic couple of posts, you have just written and illustrated all the thoughts about procrastination that I’ve been wondering about for years, as my procrastination has got worse over time! Reading this might have just come at the right time while I really want to do things to the best of my ability instead of doing a half arsed job that i know I could have done better! Right I’m starting with a brick- gonna go mark 5 books over the next hour. I WILL get all my frigging classes marked!

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  124. Linda

    Loved the articles. When I reach the “happy playground” I often feel smug, self righteous , and ticked off. I feel as though “they” finally won – I have given in to “them.” I want to get there because I want to be there not because “they” said I SHOULD! Sounds like I need a bit more help, doesn’t it!!!

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  126. Lana

    Did anyone else get the World of Warcraft “Play Free Now” Ad on the side of the page while reading this and think, oh I’ve always wanted to play WoW. This is probably a good time to start.

  127. anonymous

    Not sure if someone has already commented on this because I’m currently procrastinating by even reading this post (so I’m not going to make it worse by reading the entire comments section), but just wanted to add that procrastination can also be driven by a paralyzing fear of doing something imperfectly. I suppose avoiding that discomfort by avoiding the task is a relative form of instant gratification…so perhaps this is just another layer of what motivates procrastination.

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  129. Dianne Mosley

    I may be the oldest person to have ever read your posts in re procrastination. I am 85 and was never a procrastinator until maybe 30 years or so ago. Now I can put off even something I want to do ( like watching the Olympics, which I can hear from the TV in the other room) in order to check FB, where I found you. And you can see what happened. and who–or what–won. I thought both articles and the illustrations were wonderful. Whether I will be able to apply them remains to be seen. But at least, now I am going to watch the Olympics!

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  133. Yo

    Thanks so much! I am a classic procrastinator and though I’ve come up with the occassional tool to help (like, giving myself a limited time to clean my room and whatever i don’t get done in 15 minutes, I let myself off the hook for but not let myself do anything else in that time) I’ve begged people to help me understand this horrid habit and this inability to be disciplined. This article makes loads of sense!!

  134. Laurie Swenson

    I read part 1, and it made a lot of sense. Things feel daunting, and it’s easier to read Buzzfeed, play a game, follow link after link, watch something on the DVR, find a new app for the tablet, etc., etc., etc., and in the process I don’t make the phone calls I need to make, or fill out the form I need to send in, or go to the post office and mail the bills, or change the cat pan, or vacuum the carpet. And at the end of the night, after obsessively following a string of IMDB threads or watching cat videos on YouTube, I still have to play a game of Phase 10 on the tablet in bed, even though it’s 5 a.m. And it’s not that I don’t get anything done. I have a ridiculous load of responsibilities right now, living with my elderly parents, having just moved them into a new house, making real estate deals that involve cleaning and hauling and sorting, doing their shopping, doing their finances, cleaning, cooking, getting the furnace fixed on the unoccupied house, dealing with the frozen sewer lines on said house, etc., etc., etc. It’s that I do the important things, for them (except the ones that involve phone calls; I procrastinate on those more than anything), but it’s all so complicated and chaotic that I crash and don’t do the important things for me, or the things that don’t absolutely have to be done. So it was really interesting to read part 1 and see myself reflected.

    Part 2, though, depresses me. Besides being a procrastinator, I *hate* to be told what to do, even by myself. I’ve never been able to diet effectively (although I’m currently trying to!), keep good sleep patterns, avoid compulsively eating anything sweet and free, etc. Part 2 feels like *losing*, in a way, which is weird.

    And it’s not like I can’t envision a life without procrastination. I don’t like to have things hanging over my head. The more simple everything is, the easier it is for me to accomplish things, the more *pleasant* it is to cross them off my list (and of *course* have a lists. Many lists.) … when I stay in a motel for a few days, life is completely organized. I’m the master of that domain.

    But the more complicated, the more chaotic, the more nebulous the choices become and the more distanced I feel from the responsibilities. And the less important, in the greater scheme of things, those responsibilities are, the less likely I will tackle them, *because I don’t have to*.

    I like the Post-It note tip a lot. Reminders are good. I will use that one, and think about the others … soon … :) I did make a phone call today that I have literally been putting off for months, so there’s some progress. :)

    Thank you for putting this into relatively simple and non-daunting language. :)

  135. Beck

    I love this article. I shared particularly hilariously, relatable paragraphs with my housemate, and felt it was aimed directly at me.

    I read part of it and felt I understood the gist of it. Then, realising what that meant I sat and made myself read it all.

    A brilliantly written article. Thank you for making change look less daunting, and more achievable.

    Now excuse me while I dust off the old Spanish language lesson tapes.

  136. Anonymous

    Love love loveeeee your blog!

    Especially this article (part 1 & 2). It’s extremely helpful ( I’m a huge procrastinator). I especially like your metaphorical examples, really puts a lot into perspective.

    Thanks :)

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  139. Anonymous

    LOVED the article, esp the visuals–they were awesome in explaining the dark playground (where i, personally, spend a lot of enjoyable but unsatisfying time), the dark woods, etc.
    here is a quote a boy with asperger’s wrote (i find it helpful):
    “perfectionism and procrastination are the enemy”

  140. mark

    Fantastic! I couldn’t stop laughing! You got it! I officially took early retirement this past year, but am soon to be teaching part-time at a university. I have had two months to do “x” tasks, but have not done any of them as there’s still eight days left! Yes, a class A procrastinator! But, I have found the last micro-second when I can start a given project and come up with a very good “product”, whatever that might be. I will, nevertheless, try to grab just one brick, one damn brick, and see if I can ward off the pleasure monkey with it, and then gently put it into place and move forward as I build my upcoming project. It would be quite the accomplishment for all of us to get “stuff” done without the big struggle. Thanks for your beautiful insight!

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  142. Adam

    Your insight on my problem was so accurate i wanted to cry at all the wasted time and your solution so simple to follow that I smiled at the future I can shape. Thank you.

  143. Mia Meeps

    Thank you so much, I now know everything there is to know about Glock handguns and some of their safety issues. In fact I know so much that I’m reluctant to use the term ‘safety issues’ as there’s quite a debate out there as to whether the claim that Glocks have inherent safety issues it valid or not. So anyways, what did your post end up being about?

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  146. Michelle

    It is so invigorating to have your daily routine described for what it really is and followed up with a solution. I’ve never read such a great analogy for procrastination. Thank you for being so honest and for taking the time to write about the light at the end of the tunnel. I feel like I have more tools for taking on the instant gratification monkey now.

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  148. chad

    Wasn’t supposed to be on Facebook. I was supposed to be downloading stuff for a project I am working on. But here I was, putting it all off, and this looked like fun, so I started in. And it was fun. It totally gratified the monkey, made me honestly acknowledge that all the horrible things that I pretend aren’t true about me are in fact true. They were all so clear and obvious to me, every word tingled with the realization *someone gets me*. But this gave me hope about doing something about it someday.

    Or wait…that was me missing the point again, wasn’t it?

    *self-loathing*

  149. Francesco

    Hi there Dear, are you truly visiting this web site regularly, if so after that you will without doubt obtain fastidious experience.

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  152. Lucy

    Brilliant and insightful. I succumbed to the Instant Gratification Monkey to read this article and it paid off. Thank you for articulating the perils of procrastination so neatly. My two cents: I think people that work from home are far more vulnerable to the depredations of the IGM than those that work in an office. At least in an office there’s a chance that someone will notice that you’re procrastinating and set off the panic monster prematurely. At home, when no-one is watching, the TV/ Internet/ Nintendo tell no tales…

  153. theatron

    Fabulously helpful, thank you! I DO have ADHD, but that just means my instant gratification monkey is the size of a gorilla. Framing it this way helps me a lot, and I actually used the image of the monkey trying to push me off track to keep me on track yesterday. It worked quite well, despite having forgotten to refill my ADHD meds. So, many thanks again!

  154. Anonymous

    Thank you, thank you, thank you.
    My only regret is that I couldn’t read this two years ago, when the Panic Monster ceased having any effect on my and my PhD. I have never, ever, experienced anything so debilitating.
    Giving names to these emotions is incredibly powerful – I’m going to make them work for me.

    Massively grateful,
    100 year phd student.

  155. Margot

    Wow. Thank you so much for this wonderful post. I like how you explained this horrible phenomenon so easy and understandable and I felt like it was written for me all the way through the first and second post. I am a hopeless procrastinator, actuallly right now it’s 11:53pm and I need to turn in a paper answerring 15 questions about a subject I haven’t read a thing about in Spanish (and that’s not my mother tongue …). So instead of enterring the Dark Woods I’m still in the Dark Playground, reading about procrastination. So maybe I should feel guilty about reading this and writing this comment but thanks anyway … I really loved it, and maybe it will help me figure out how to end these bad habits I have putting off schoolwork, exercising, etc. “Tomorrow everything will change” I always think. But I’ve known for a long time I’m only lying to myself when I believe that .. :)

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  157. Simon

    I’m a life long procrastinator… I’ve changed three jobs in the past 10 years because of it… I start off great, but then as tasks get more and more monotonous, I just loose interest and spend all day doing nothing… Even the Panic Monster doesn’t help anymore, it’s as if I want to get punished… I just got a new job and I need to shake this habit ASAP… I specifically chose a smaller firm (more difficult to hide your inactivity) and a line of career where results are everything (sales). I hope this will be a constant Panic Monster until I change my MO…

    Great post BTW, it was as if you were describing my life…

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  159. Likes walking round in repetitive circular motions

    This is amazing – this is literally my life, and although it’s not good, it makes me feel better to know there are others out there like me. I’m the worst kind of procrastinator, because I’m the secret one that covers up their tracks later, so those around me have no idea how bad things really are.

    I don’t mean to offend anyone, but I almost wish I had a condition that caused or determined my actions, because I’d at least know that there was an aspect of my conscientious, self-destructive decisions that I couldn’t control. Unfortunately, I am perfectly aware of what I’m doing, the inevitable repercussions, and I could stop myself if I really wanted to.

    I’m going to try out the advice in this article – at this stage, I’ve tried so much, I’ll try anything new to overcome this cycle.

    Good luck to everyone trying to defeat their Instant Gratification Monster.

  160. Thomas

    You’re in my head, reading my thoughts. I really connected with Part 1 where you describe the helplessness of the Rational Decision Maker to control the Instant Gratification Monkey. That is so frustrating, and I used to get so frustrated and angry with myself for being unable to control that monkey. I think trying to control the monkey is doomed to fail; it feels like I’m trying to beat the monkey on his own turf and with the same weapons he uses.

    Another insight I’ve had is that the rational decision maker is not action oriented — and the monkey is. While my brain is busy making decisions and planning, my hands are idle, and boom! the monkey takes over and there goes an hour or five or the whole damn day.

    So a couple of my key techniques for handling the monkey are to bring him to my turf, and beat him at the action game. Here are two things I’ve learned in relation to that: (1) as soon as I start to take action I have a good chance of completing the task; and (2) if I can give the monkey some instant gratification by fooling him into being happy about some part of what I’m doing, I have a great chance of completing the task.

    Putting that into practice, let’s take vacuuming (my most hated chore). Here’s how I get it done:

    1) Break it down into smaller chunks. I’ve adopted a mentality of “I can do *anything* for five minutes”. So I find a task that can be done in five minutes: vacuuming one room. Usually that five minutes creates enough momentum for me to keep going and I’ll end up vacuuming at least one floor. The key though is to break the bigger task down into smaller pieces. And those tasks need to be specific and concrete with a precise definition of done. “Start vacuuming the house” isn’t concrete. “Vacuum the living room” is because you know you’re done when the living room is clean. “Take care of the bills” is too big and non-specific. “Open mail and sort into recycling/file/actionable” is small and concrete.

    2) Give the monkey the instant gratification he craves by congratulating myself for every accomplishment along the way, no matter how small. I got out of my chair to go get the vacuum cleaner? Yes, way to go! I got out the vacuum and plugged it in? Awesome, go me! Yes, it has the feel of treating yourself like a three year old. Guess what — the monkey *is* a three year old. And so what if it takes something stupidly tiny to make the monkey happy: it works, so do it. Also, when I complete the task, I take a moment to glory in its completeness. I’m happy, the monkey’s happy.

    Regarding that critical, critical, Critical Entry Point, I use several techniques to get through that: (1) remove distractions and temptations, (2) lower the barrier of entry for the task, (3) schedule it, (4) write it down on a To Do list, (5) create accountability with someone. I use different techniques depending on the task, and sometimes multiple techniques. For example with running, I will get my shoes/shorts/shirt out the night before, and I pretty much need a running partner to help keep me accountable.

    Also, I absolutely hate the Panic Monster. If I’ve delayed so long that the Panic Monster takes over and urges me to action, I’ve lost the battle. When I finish I’m going to mostly be emotionally frazzled and mentally drained.

    Along the way I’ve also gotten rid of some bad mental programming. Perfectionism and the need to do things ‘right’ is probably the worst. I’m still a perfectionist, and I indulge in perfectionism from time to time, but I’ve learned to prioritize “done” over “perfect”.

    Well, this turned out to be a lot longer than I planned…. Thanks for these two posts, and putting words and names to some of my inner thoughts and feelings, and for some fresh encouragement. I’ve fought my war against procrastination for a long time, and have had some degree of success. Like an addiction though, it’s a never-ending, sometimes daily struggle, and I bitterly hate the monkey inside me and just want him to go away. He won’t, though — which is why posts like yours are so important and valuable.

  161. Kyle

    THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU! This explains so much of the frustration, guilt, and difficulty that I’ve struggled with for years and years. I hope your battle with procrastination is still going well…thank you for giving me a place to start with my own battle.

  162. M

    Thank you for this! A great summary of how I’m living my life (and hating it) and it feels nice to have it put into words/pictures that make sense.

  163. Jon T

    Excellent! Very clear and easy to follow.
    I have been a terrible procrastinator. I try to aim for perfection but in the end get nothing done!
    Thanks for the time and effort in writing these 2 posts, they’ve given me solid information to take away and finally get my business moving.

  164. Sergio Felix

    Hey guys, just want to thank you for writing this massive article, it is definitely going to be the highlight of my day!

    Sergio

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