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The Joys Of Procastination

Wrritten By:

Michael W. Ndiomu

Storyteller, Writer, Filmmaker, NYFA Alumni

Our story starts in a small village, any small village.

There was a small path that everyone had to take daily. This path was the only way to get to the village market where the daily exchange of goods and services for money was conducted. No trading could be done anywhere else apart from this market and the only way to get to the market was this narrow path.

The problem was that there were two sisters, highway robbers who seduced the travelers and robbed them. They robbed travelers of their most precious belonging; time!

The elder sister was called “You Can Do it Tomorrow.”

The younger, even more sly than the eldest was called “You Can Do It Today, Just Not Now” aka, “You Can Do It Later”.

We’ve all met these sisters.

We’ve all strayed off the path, lured by their seductive voices and voluptuous bodies, driven by our lusts for the easy way out and the pursuit of instant gratification. They’ve robbed us of our productivity, and our ability to accomplish our goals, and left us feeling all manner of unpleasant emotions from sadness all the way to depression.

They operate in this small but extremely powerful village called the human mind, and together, they use their wiles to cause procrastination.

Procrastination is a bad word.

In the business world especially, where business problems arise and deadlines happen very often, the very idea of a procrastinator is akin to a sex offender or a terrorist. What about procrastinating in the medical profession? Just the thought of it makes my head ache and my heart palpitate. That’s the beginning of a medical malpractice lawsuit, right there.

There are a myriad of books on the topics of productivity, personal development, personal growth, and so forth that deal with the topic of goal setting and ending procrastination. As a chronic procrastinator myself, I have read quite a few, but unfortunately, between procrastinating about the various steps and techniques they advocated and the inability to continue for long enough to form the right habits, I still have a very big issue with procrastination. I’ve been in a deep relationship with both sisters and it’s usually a running battle about which of them to spend the day with.

For the aforementioned reason, I have quite a lot of regrets, personally and professionally. So much more I could have accomplished if only I read more, studied more, planned more, worked more, practiced more, exercised more, and invested more.

Recently, I came across a TED Talk on YouTube by Tim Urban titled “Inside the Mind of A Master Procrastinator”. As a rule, I try not to take advice from non-experts, so I was very happy when he explained his credentials as an expert in the field of procrastination.

He was able to break down the process of procrastination in such a way that it not only made sense, but it also essentially led me down a path of deep introspection. I will attempt to summarise his presentation below:

In the human brain, there are several players, each with individual characteristics and desires.

First, we have the Rational Decision Maker. This guy is the sensible, rational “adult” in our brains that give us good advice and helps us make logical decisions. He/she makes us do the hard, non-fun things we typically do not like to do but are necessary to make us function as useful and productive members of the human society. This guy is usually in charge of the wheel of our Mind Ship, steering our decision-making process and taking action accordingly.

Then we have the Instant Gratification Monkey. This guy, on the other hand, just wants to have fun. A spirited child, any suggestion of serious thought or work is met with riotous screaming and jumping. To avoid chaos, the Rational Decision Maker gives in to the antics of the Monkey, who then takes over the wheel and steers us off the straight and narrow path, following the two treacherous sisters and happily jumping from one pleasure tree to the other.

Let’s say you must wake up at a certain time, say 6 am, prepare and then go to work. You must be at your desk at a specified time and lateness has direct financial, social, and career implications. You set your alarm for 5.45am and happily go to bed at 10pm. However, you stay awake chatting on your phone, playing games, or just hopping from one Social Media app to the other until you finally fall asleep by 1 am.

When your alarm goes off at 5.45am, you actually wake up and pick up your phone and see “Cancel” or “Snooze for 5 mins”. The following encounter then ensues.

Rational Decision Maker (RDM): Okay, cancel the alarm, and get out of bed.

Instant Gratification Monkey (Monkey): NOOOOO!!!!!!! ME! ME!! ME!!!

The Monkey screams and jumps around so much that the RDM relents and hands the wheel of the ship to him. The Monkey immediately steers the ship away to Snooze land and you fall back into the silky arms of the two sisters, smiling as you sink back into the depths of sleep.

And then from the depths of sleep, you are jolted violently awake to the insistent shrilling of the alarm. You grab your phone and see the time; 6.30 am. This is where things get crazy.

Your brain goes to DEFCON 2 mode and the third entity in the brain is activated. He is the PANIC MONSTER!

The Panic Monster (Monster) is the only thing that scares the Monkey. So, the Monster comes out, roaring and baring its fangs and the Monkey runs away. The RDM then takes over the wheel and you rush, brush your teeth, shower (hopefully), dress, and run out the door. Hopefully, you make it to work in time.

The process applies to everything you set out to do from waking up and getting out of bed to studying for an exam and to researching and delivering a project at your job.

The problem with this process is that these actions form patterns of behaviour which then lead to creating self-defeating habits over time. And once these habits are formed, it becomes extremely difficult to break the cycle. It gets to a point when you have no idea that it’s happening at all. It just happens, time and again.

At the end of the day, you are left unproductive, unfulfilled, and full of regrets at lost opportunities. The older you get, the deeper the regrets, the worse the depression, and the more suicidal the thoughts.

After watching the TED Talk, I went on a walk just to reflect on what he said, and hopefully, finally get some order around my life. I then spent the next few weeks distilling my thoughts and writing them down. The following is a summary of these thoughts and some actions that I have started implementing. You can pick and choose what you wish to try and find what works for you.

Confronting Your Procrastination

You have to take control of your life. It’s YOUR life and the stakes are highest for YOU. No one else has the motivation or the opportunity to do it for you. No one else can.

Recently I came across the book Mindset; The New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D., where she wrote very eloquently on the subject of the two mindsets. In summary, people with a fixed mindset believe that you are born with a certain amount of intelligence, skill, and talent, and there is not much you can do to change this, while those with a growth mindset believe that effort, learning, and hard work can lead to significant improvements in your skill, intelligence, and ability.

No matter where you are in your life, you can make the required changes to lead to a better outcome. If you do not believe you can confront and control your procrastination, the battle is already lost.

One of my favourite movies is the 1999 John McTiernan and Michael Crichton movie, The 13th Warrior, starring Antonio Banderas. One line from that movie comes to mind here “Wars are won in the will”. The only time you are truly defeated is when you lose the will to fight. Don’t! Life is short and we are all moving inexorably toward our inevitable deaths. Join me, confront your procrastination and take back control of your life.

Review Your Procrastination Process

History. I believe that to fully understand your present, you should explore your past and how you came to be the person you are today. Each one of us has a history and it usually begins in our childhood. Most if not all human behaviour is learned. As children, we love to play. Children should be encouraged to play, explore and learn. But without guidance and supervision, most children would play indefinitely and develop a strong desire for ease.

Children start out on a blank slate, and somewhere down the line, their brains are programmed to decide what “fun” is and what “not fun” is. For example, how many ten-year-olds see homework as fun? Somewhere in the formative years, most kids came to see household chores, and schoolwork as boring and too much work, and playing games, playing on their phones and tablets, talking to their friends, listening to their favourite artistes, etc. as fun and cool things.

Unfortunately, we carry these ideas, biases, and habits into teenage and adulthood. Our brains become wired to avoid work and seek pleasure. Intellectual pursuits become such a chore. Exercise becomes something for “fitness buffs” and not for regular folk. The more we go through life and get away with just cruising, the more we encourage and entrench these unproductive behaviors, feeding our Monkeys until they are almost always in control, and we end up with the Panic Monster whenever we have an important task to complete.

So, the first step is to take some time and think through your specific process for procrastination. It is most likely different for each person. When focused and working on a specific “not-fun” task, how specifically do you lose focus? For me, it can be anything from an item on my desk to a word on the screen, and then I’m off on a mental adventure akin to the Hobbit’s Tale. It can be a notification on my phone or computer (those pesky pop-up notifications on the bottom-right of the Windows screen, DON’T CLICK IT!), me leaning back to rest, and then my mind wandering off about the fabric of my trousers — I wonder how and where it was manufactured, hmm.

My point is that you should analyse how and when the Monkey wrests the wheel away from the RDM. Once you do, then you can better understand your triggers, and hopefully, begin to formulate a plan that works for you. What happens, just before the Monkey takes over? What happens next? And after that? And so on. Think through the emotional rollercoaster you go through. FEEL the feelings, the struggle/confusion/discontent while trying to do the work, the short spark of happiness when the Monkey takes over, the worry about the deadline or uncompleted task, all the way down to the shame of repeatedly giving in to the Monkey and regrets over the possible different life outcomes.

Remember, it’s not going to be easy. This is work, the specific type of work that the Monkey hates and he/she’s going to fight you.

As your specific procrastination process becomes clearer to you, you then need to work out actionable steps to become a more productive person.

To my mind, and I’m by no means an expert, I will try to approach the problem from two fronts: strengthening the Rational Decision Maker and controlling the Instant Gratification Monkey.

To this end, I will spend the next sections discussing some steps I am currently implementing myself. There will be broad ideas, and some actions I am taking. You would have to pick and choose and adapt them to suit your specific situation.

Strengthen your Rational Decision Maker

Have you ever seen any movies about the military during training? How they would take a regular guy, sometimes with a chip on his shoulder, and then through rigorous daily routine and physical labour, break him, and then reform him into an efficient machine?

One thing about that process is the routine and structure. Everything has a time; everything has an approved way of doing it, from how they stand, the uniform, how they march, and so on. This is repeated so many times, and with real consequences for failure that the soldiers get to a point where they are able to perform these tasks almost without thinking.

Wars are not won on the battlefield. A more disciplined and dedicated group of fighters with inspirational leadership is more likely to beat a larger, but undisciplined and badly trained force, even with superior equipment. This discipline comes from relentless training. This training is accomplished by setting clear, unambiguous goals, daily. From tasks as simple as push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups, running, swimming, and climbing, to weapons, ordinance training, military strategy, and tactics, no one has any doubts as to what success or failure means. The goals are crystal clear, and the consequences of failure were equally clear. In the military, discipline is everything!

For you and me, we do not have a military barracks to confine our minds. So, what do we do?

· Set clear and detailed goals.

You need to not just have grand desires but be willing to write them down as clear goals. Use the SMART methodology; Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-Bound. There are numerous materials online to assist you with this. Again, remember that the work of clarifying your goals would help you strengthen your Rational Decision Maker. As exercise is to muscle-building, so is mental and intellectual work to strengthening your RDM. For example, you may want to earn more money (everyone does, duh!). The question is, how much more? Is this goal measurable? When do you want to start earning this increased amount? Is this amount realistic?

Let’s say your current annual income is $50,000 gross, and of course you want more money! Your goal for increased income should consider your skill level, education, environmental factors, your geography, opportunities available, etc. You don’t wake up and say, I want to make $1m a year.

It’s the same principle irrespective of the goal. The same way you cannot go from a dad body with man boobs to Chris Evans fitness levels in one month. Or go from having never invested in the Stock Market to achieving Warren Buffet level success in one year.

Your goals must be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound. Otherwise, they’re just wishes. Instead of saying I want to make more money, say I want to move from $50,000 to $100,000 within two years and then increase my income by 50% annually for the next three years. This is more specific, it is measurable, it is achievable, realistic, and time-bound.

· Break down goals into plans.

I’m sure you must have read this a thousand times. Your goals cannot become reality without actual plans.

To earn more, you could increase your skills and get a promotion, you may need to change jobs, start a side hustle, or invest in someone else’s business or a financial asset, or a combination of different routes. There are literally hundreds if not thousands of routes. You must narrow them down to what is applicable to you given the factors listed above.

Let’s use the goal set above; to move from $50,000 to $100,000 within two years. You could raise some capital, buy two rental properties in a fast-growing area, and start renting to tenants. Or use the properties for Airbnb.

Note however that during this planning stage, depending on how bad your procrastination is, the Monkey WILL constantly try to take over the wheel and drag you off course, so you need to treat this planning phase as a mini goal with a very hard deadline, in order to invoke the Panic Monster.

Write down several routes, do the research, do a comparative analysis of possible outcomes, and once you realise that that plan would not take you to the desired destination, be quick to stop and move on to the next plan. DO NOT dilly dally, or you will end up with analysis paralysis. By the way, if you want to make more money, you have to learn to be very good at analyzing numbers.

All the while, be wary of the sisters on the path.

· Break plans down into small daily actions.

Once you have locked on the plan(s), break them down into small, incremental actions/activities, again using the SMART methodology.

WRITE down the actions, put them on a calendar, and then JUST START! Conditions are not likely to be perfect, so do not wait. The research and planning phase would have helped you identify the actions you need to take, so by this time, you should have more confidence in the chosen approach. This confidence is very important to take you through periods of self-doubt when things aren’t working out the way you expected.

Review, review, review. As you review, you may need to make tweaks to your plan, but that is part of the game. Get into it and keep going.

Once you have done all these, it is time to act. Start from the Day 1 of your actions, and just do them day after day. Consistency is more important than brilliance in this case. The more you follow the plan, the easier it gets to keep following the plan. The same thing that applies to the physical muscle is the same way you build mental muscle; by doing.

I read somewhere that when dreaming, dream big, but when taking action, think small. This I think is key to overcoming the initial inertia that is part of procrastination.

The beauty of this process is that while going through these steps, you are unconsciously training your RDM to be stronger and more assertive. Your level of self-discipline increases, as well as your confidence and your mood, improve. That sense of purpose should drive you and change the energy around you.

By the way, you may need to change your circle or be more deliberate about those you allow into your circle. It’s all part of the process of change. You would need to say “NO!” more often than you ever did. Protect your time.

Also, note that these steps typically overlap. Do not always wait to finish one step completely before starting the next. In the same way, while working on a subsequent step, you may need to go back and review the preceding step.

As Bruce Lee famously said, “Be fluid like water”.

Control Your Monkey

I’ve learned to take long walks as often as possible. I started with one per week and now I feel weird if I don’t do it at least three times a week. It helps me clear my head and think. On one of these walks, I was ruminating on this Monkey analogy from the TED Talk I referenced earlier. I imagined a monkey jumping from tree to tree, jumping to the ground, creating havoc, and jumping back and swinging from tree to tree. My mind wandered to videos I had seen of people trapping monkeys, and I asked myself; what if I could apply the same principle to my Instant Gratification Monkey?

These trappers would cut a hole in a coconut and hollow it out. The hole is just big enough for the hand of the monkey to pass through, but not the closed fist. Then they put bait like a nut or some fruit inside the coconut. Next, they tie the coconut to a tree and wait.

Sure enough, along comes the Monkey, feeling all smart and crafty, and promptly sticks his hand into the hole and grabs the bait. But when he tries to pull out his hand, it’s stuck. Now, one thing about the Monkey is that it is extremely greedy. It won’t let go of the fruit and ends up getting captured.

People have also been known to train monkeys (and other animals) to perform in circuses, deliver messages, and even paint pictures.

Call me crazy if you wish, but what if we did the following:

· Trap Your Monkey

Find a way to trap your Monkey. Starve the monkey of attention by getting rid of all sources of distraction. In the forest, that would be akin to burning down all the trees so the monkey cannot keep jumping from one tree to another.

The following are some of my new habits.

– I deactivated all email alerts on my computer, so I’m not tempted to open an “interesting” or “urgent” email. No email is really urgent.

– On my phone, I deactivated the notifications of all but a few apps.

– In addition, when I want to do focused work, I either switch off my phone completely or disable all data.

– Absolutely no TV, food, or drinks in my workspace. I now don’t work with music as I find that I start either singing along if I know the lyrics or start trying to learn the correct lyrics, which leads me to google the song and search for the lyrics etc. See how sneaky the Monkey can be? Always trying to find new ways to take the wheel and steer the ship off course.

So, find creative ways to starve your monkey of attention, trap it and force it to obey you. You have to be honest with yourself, especially in identifying your typical procrastination path and then doing everything possible to put your coconut and bait in place and trap your monkey.

· Train Your Monkey

Once you have gotten your monkey under some sort of control, you need to train it. I found that the best way to concentrate is to control your breathing. Sounds simple, doesn’t it?

One of the main ways to meditate starts with taking slow, measured, and controlled breaths. Monks meditate for long periods and exercise such control over their minds and bodies that some have been known to control their actual body functions.

You aren’t trying to become a monk but controlling your breathing and meditating will do wonders for your concentration and help you train your monkey. Same with positing self-talk and daily positive affirmation.

Another way is to do your work in time blocks. Batch all your serious work and set aside specific time periods for them.

Create time for monkey business. Your Monkey likes to play, so create specific time slots for play. This is when you do the “fun things” like check your social media, watch TV, etc. Be careful that this does not get out of hand. The point is to maintain control of your time.

· Trick Your Monkey — Summon the Panic Monster

Recall that the only thing that scares the Monkey is the Panic Monster. We can use this to our advantage, tricking the monkey by invoking the Panic Monster at will. The following are some ways I think this can be done.

– Set deadlines, the tighter the better. With tight deadlines, the Panic Monster is automatically activated, and the Monkey runs and hides in terror.

– Use Accountability Partners. Find a friend a colleague at work or a family member who would hold you accountable to the deadlines you set. Find creative ways to make it work. Make sure it is someone whose disapproval would be hurtful to you, someone whose respect is important to you.

– Make Failure Painful. I have a deal with a friend whom I picked as an accountability partner that if I don’t finish an agreed piece of work within the scheduled time, I would pay him a specified amount of money, which he is free to spend as he sees fit.

– Make Success Pleasurable. Reward yourself for successfully completing tasks on schedule. I give myself chocolate (I love chocolate, lol). The size of the reward should be commensurate with the task or goal.


Assume you would live to ninety years. Using any tool you are familiar with (I used Microsoft Excel), break this down to months. This would give you 1,080 months. Now, you have already lived for a relatively long time. Say you are thirty years old, that means you have already used 360 months or 33.33% of your life. Colour the used months a different colour from the unused months.

This gives you a pictorial view of how much time you have left.

Now consider that your mental and physical strength does not remain constant all through your life. Depending on a lot of factors including your genes, lifestyle, diet, alcohol intake, exercise, emotional state, etc., most people begin to decline after sixty years. We can’t all be Colonel Sanders and start a multibillion-dollar business at seventy-five, so the earlier you work and accomplish those big dreams, the better.

In effect, if you are already thirty years old, you have roughly another thirty to thirty-five years of hard work in you. Can you feel the Panic Monster roaring yet?

Do you want to keep procrastinating or do you want to buckle down and get to it now?

The choice is yours.

By the way, I started writing this two weeks ago, but those pesky sisters waylaid me on the path, and I only just managed to extricate myself from their silky arms and sweet words.

I wish you better luck and a stronger will than I have.

Michael W. Ndiomu, 2023

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