Procrastination Strategies -
The Monkey on Your Back

Procrastination strategies are outlined here for you as both a story and a series of steps below. We hope you enjoy our favorite story about a monkey on your back.  

A Monkey On Your Back - A Story and Analogy on Habitual Procrastination 

Imagine facing a field of tall grasses with a large monkey on your back.  This darn monkey weighs you down day after day, but you made a commitment to this monkey, and you want him off your back.

The only way to free yourself of the monkey is make a pathway to the other side of the field…then the monkey can run free, and so can you. 

So, what's the fastest way to get rid of the monkey?  Make the quickest path to the other side.  Just start chopping grass to make a path.

Yet, there is no visible end to this field head. It looks like it goes on forever. This monkey is becoming a burden, but you've already committed.   Your fatigue, boredom, and aggravation is rising. 

You begin getting really tired of this monkey and you crave a break. You're now resenting this monkey and yourself for helping it.  Who cares about effective procrastination strategies right now? The monkey is heavy! You want to get rid of it - and now. With that thought - you suddenly come upon a ditch.    

Hmmm....An easy way out comes to mind: You could just toss the monkey in the ditch for now.  You'll return later to deal with him, right?  This ditch becomes more appealing by the second! By doing this, you'll get relief in more than one way. The weight of the monkey is off your back, and you're free from it's burden.

So, you toss the monkey in the ditch. What a relief! You turn around, head back the way you came, and distract yourself with something much more fun.  Initially, you think you're free of this monkey, but everyday, you can hear him in the ditch shouting cruel words about your character, integrity, and laziness because you left him there. His voices ring through in your head constantly reminding you that you failed at his freedom and yours.

Oh well, at least he’s not on your back. 

The next week, you're back at the same field with a new monkey on your back, because you made a new commitment. Some days, you realize you have 2, 3 or 4 monkeys on your back. 

The fastest way to get these the monkeys off your back is simply walking the same pathway you created before...the one that leads to the ditch so you can put the monkeys down. This pathway to the ditch becomes increasingly familiar, smoother, and easier travel.  

How many monkeys are in your ditch? Maybe you've lost track, but their voices remain in your head causing you grief, guilt, and uneasiness at night when you need to sleep.

You often think, "maybe I should just go back and help the monkeys." Instead, feelings of anxiety and worry arise. What will you say to them? Where do you begin? You recall the burden of them on your back and decide to avoid them once more. 

 It’s just too overwhelming to sort through all the monkeys and the promises you made them without useful procrastination strategies in place to fix this.  Instead, you just distract yourself with meaningless tasks because you feel too mentally exhausted from guilt and worry about the monkeys to progress in other ways.

Every so often an angry monkey propels itself from the ditch and surprises you.  They just show up at your door, call you, or hassle you about your commitment to them. You promise the monkey you'll finish the job, and disappear.

But, you never know when a monkey will escape the ditch or find you, so you stay worried about it, highly guarded, and tense most days.  

Is this freedom or prison? Both you and the monkeys are trapped. You need alternative procrastination strategies to end this harrowing cycle!

About the Monkey Story - The Analagies

So, let's break this story down before applying appropriate procrastination strategies:

  • The field is your brain. It's a beautiful canvas that you can shape depending on the pathways you build.
  • The path itself is called a neuro-pathway or habitual way of doing something that you created and cultivated by doing the same thing over and over again. 
  • The path becomes easier to travel the more you use it. This is the pathway you walk regularly...it becomes your pattern or way of dealing with most things.
  • Each monkey on your back or in the ditch is a obligation or commitment you made.
  • When you're overwhelmed, you can sprint to the ditch and dump a monkey there for the time being. Running to this pathway for relief becomes your procrastination habit. 
  • They monkeys' voices you hear are the guilt, shame, failure, and self-loathing that crosses your mind day after day.   
  • Monkeys still living in the ditch are commitments that never go away. 

We create patterns in our brains the same way we make a path through the woods…by repeating the same steps, and ending up at the same destination.  Yet, without procrastination strategies in place, to create a new path, we're lost.

So, if someone says to you, “Just stop procrastinating!,” they’re actually saying, chop down new grasses in the field ahead of you, even though you’re exhausted with twelve monkeys on your back, and jump into the ditch with all those monkeys!  What? That's way too stressful to deal with. 

What you need most now is an alternate path that feels reasonable and that doesn't make you want to flee.  A new pathway needs cultivation - a new pattern you can handle and live with.

If you're waiting on 'good feelings' and will power to face all the monkeys at one time, you'll abandon the ditch again, feeling even more burdened. It's too stressful and emotionally difficult to sort through mountains of work that have been ignored.

Procrastination Strategies to Save the Monkeys!

Throughout this site, we've got several procrastination strategies that relate to the monkeys but can also be applied to any time management problems you're facing. It's our alternate path to sweet freedom!

Right now, however, it's time to create a new pathway.          I know, it means chopping down more grass.  Yet, stopping your procrastination lifestyle means deliberately choosing NOT to follow the neuro-pathway you made into the ditch.   

Here’s how:

1.      Reconsider future commitments. Every time you say yes without being sure, there’s a new monkey on your back that threatens your freedom.

2.      Pause.  Before cultivating your new pathway, ensure that your time management system is clear, efficient, and offers you freedom from the task.  Plan out specific ways and times that you’ll get your tasks done.  Make it short and sweet. If you can’t foresee any closure or deadline to the commitment, consider if you really want to take it on.

3.    Practice, practice, practice your new pathway. As you practice your new way to honor commitments, you’re making an alternative path in your brain that can avoid the procrastination pathway. Keep in mind however that the old pathway is still a visible option and the pull to procrastinate will still be present. But grass will start growing over that procrastination pathway, and it becomes visible and less tempting. Because now, you have an alternative. ..a new way across the field that offers the gratification of progress, improved confidence, and real freedom.

4.       Get one monkey out of the ditch.  Assign each monkey a number. Then deal with them one by one, taking time to fully acknowledge each monkey.  Take specific action steps to completely free that one monkey and yourself.  Just help one monkey at a time. When making progress with the first monkey, you'll taste real freedom, and be proud of yourself for handling it. 

Before you know it, the monkeys chatter quiets down and the ditch empties.  Now, you've got a new pathway to walk, you’re free from procrastination, and your obligations are met.Sweet Freedom!

Rule of Thumb! Before you make a new commitment, consider if you’re willing to carry another monkey on your back until you're both genuinely free.


Home > Overcoming Procrastination > Procrastination Strategies