Inside the mind of a master procrastinator | Tim Urban

Inside the mind of a master procrastinator | Tim Urban

So in college, I was a government major, which means I had to write
a lot of papers. Now, when a normal student writes a paper, they might spread the work out
a little like this. So, you know — (Laughter) you get started maybe a little slowly, but you get enough done in the first week that, with some heavier days later on, everything gets done, things stay civil. (Laughter) And I would want to do that like that. That would be the plan. I would have it all ready to go, but then, actually, the paper
would come along, and then I would kind of do this. (Laughter) And that would happen every single paper. But then came my 90-page senior thesis, a paper you’re supposed
to spend a year on. And I knew for a paper like that,
my normal work flow was not an option. It was way too big a project. So I planned things out, and I decided I kind of had
to go something like this. This is how the year would go. So I’d start off light, and I’d bump it up in the middle months, and then at the end,
I would kick it up into high gear just like a little staircase. How hard could it be
to walk up the stairs? No big deal, right? But then, the funniest thing happened. Those first few months? They came and went, and I couldn’t quite do stuff. So we had an awesome new revised plan. (Laughter) And then — (Laughter) But then those middle months
actually went by, and I didn’t really write words, and so we were here. And then two months turned into one month, which turned into two weeks. And one day I woke up with three days until the deadline, still not having written a word, and so I did the only thing I could: I wrote 90 pages over 72 hours, pulling not one but two all-nighters — humans are not supposed to pull
two all-nighters — sprinted across campus, dove in slow motion, and got it in just at the deadline. I thought that was the end of everything. But a week later I get a call, and it’s the school. And they say, “Is this Tim Urban?” And I say, “Yeah.” And they say, “We need
to talk about your thesis.” And I say, “OK.” And they say, “It’s the best one we’ve ever seen.” (Laughter) (Applause) That did not happen. (Laughter) It was a very, very bad thesis. (Laughter) I just wanted to enjoy that one moment
when all of you thought, “This guy is amazing!” (Laughter) No, no, it was very, very bad. Anyway, today I’m a writer-blogger guy. I write the blog Wait But Why. And a couple of years ago,
I decided to write about procrastination. My behavior has always perplexed
the non-procrastinators around me, and I wanted to explain
to the non-procrastinators of the world what goes on in the heads
of procrastinators, and why we are the way we are. Now, I had a hypothesis that the brains of procrastinators
were actually different than the brains of other people. And to test this, I found an MRI lab that actually let me scan both my brain and the brain of a proven
non-procrastinator, so I could compare them. I actually brought them here
to show you today. I want you to take a look carefully
to see if you can notice a difference. I know that if you’re not
a trained brain expert, it’s not that obvious,
but just take a look, OK? So here’s the brain
of a non-procrastinator. (Laughter) Now … here’s my brain. (Laughter) There is a difference. Both brains have a Rational
Decision-Maker in them, but the procrastinator’s brain also has an Instant Gratification Monkey. Now, what does this mean
for the procrastinator? Well, it means everything’s fine
until this happens. [This is a perfect time
to get some work done.] [Nope!] So the Rational Decision-Maker
will make the rational decision to do something productive, but the Monkey doesn’t like that plan, so he actually takes the wheel, and he says, “Actually, let’s read
the entire Wikipedia page of the Nancy Kerrigan/
Tonya Harding scandal, because I just remembered
that that happened. (Laughter) Then — (Laughter) Then we’re going to go over to the fridge, to see if there’s anything new
in there since 10 minutes ago. After that, we’re going to go
on a YouTube spiral that starts with videos
of Richard Feynman talking about magnets and ends much, much later
with us watching interviews with Justin Bieber’s mom. (Laughter) “All of that’s going to take a while, so we’re not going to really have room
on the schedule for any work today. Sorry!” (Sigh) Now, what is going on here? The Instant Gratification Monkey
does not seem like a guy you want behind the wheel. He lives entirely in the present moment. He has no memory of the past,
no knowledge of the future, and he only cares about two things: easy and fun. Now, in the animal world, that works fine. If you’re a dog and you spend your whole life doing
nothing other than easy and fun things, you’re a huge success! (Laughter) And to the Monkey, humans are just another animal species. You have to keep well-slept, well-fed
and propagating into the next generation, which in tribal times
might have worked OK. But, if you haven’t noticed,
now we’re not in tribal times. We’re in an advanced civilization,
and the Monkey does not know what that is. Which is why we have
another guy in our brain, the Rational Decision-Maker, who gives us the ability to do things
no other animal can do. We can visualize the future. We can see the big picture. We can make long-term plans. And he wants to take
all of that into account. And he wants to just have us do whatever makes sense
to be doing right now. Now, sometimes it makes sense to be doing things that are easy and fun, like when you’re having dinner
or going to bed or enjoying well-earned leisure time. That’s why there’s an overlap. Sometimes they agree. But other times, it makes much more sense to be doing things that are harder
and less pleasant, for the sake of the big picture. And that’s when we have a conflict. And for the procrastinator, that conflict tends to end
a certain way every time, leaving him spending a lot of time
in this orange zone, an easy and fun place that’s entirely
out of the Makes Sense circle. I call it the Dark Playground. (Laughter) Now, the Dark Playground is a place that all of you procrastinators
out there know very well. It’s where leisure activities happen at times when leisure activities
are not supposed to be happening. The fun you have in the Dark Playground isn’t actually fun,
because it’s completely unearned, and the air is filled with guilt,
dread, anxiety, self-hatred — all of those good procrastinator feelings. And the question is, in this situation,
with the Monkey behind the wheel, how does the procrastinator ever get
himself over here to this blue zone, a less pleasant place, but where
really important things happen? Well, turns out the procrastinator
has a guardian angel, someone who’s always looking
down on him and watching over him in his darkest moments — someone called the Panic Monster. (Laughter) Now, the Panic Monster
is dormant most of the time, but he suddenly wakes up
anytime a deadline gets too close or there’s danger of public embarrassment, a career disaster or some other
scary consequence. And importantly, he’s the only thing
the Monkey is terrified of. Now, he became very relevant
in my life pretty recently, because the people of TED
reached out to me about six months ago and invited me to do a TED Talk. (Laughter) Now, of course, I said yes. It’s always been a dream of mine
to have done a TED Talk in the past. (Laughter) (Applause) But in the middle of all this excitement, the Rational Decision-Maker seemed
to have something else on his mind. He was saying, “Are we clear
on what we just accepted? Do we get what’s going to be now
happening one day in the future? We need to sit down
and work on this right now.” And the Monkey said, “Totally agree,
but let’s just open Google Earth and zoom in to the bottom of India,
like 200 feet above the ground, and scroll up for two and a half hours
til we get to the top of the country, so we can get a better feel for India.” (Laughter) So that’s what we did that day. (Laughter) As six months turned into four
and then two and then one, the people of TED decided
to release the speakers. And I opened up the website,
and there was my face staring right back at me. And guess who woke up? (Laughter) So the Panic Monster
starts losing his mind, and a few seconds later,
the whole system’s in mayhem. (Laughter) And the Monkey — remember,
he’s terrified of the Panic Monster — boom, he’s up the tree! And finally, finally, the Rational Decision-Maker
can take the wheel and I can start working on the talk. Now, the Panic Monster explains all kinds of pretty insane
procrastinator behavior, like how someone like me
could spend two weeks unable to start the opening
sentence of a paper, and then miraculously find
the unbelievable work ethic to stay up all night
and write eight pages. And this entire situation,
with the three characters — this is the procrastinator’s system. It’s not pretty, but in the end, it works. This is what I decided to write about
on the blog a couple of years ago. When I did, I was amazed by the response. Literally thousands of emails came in, from all different kinds of people
from all over the world, doing all different kinds of things. These are people who were nurses,
bankers, painters, engineers and lots and lots of PhD students. (Laughter) And they were all writing,
saying the same thing: “I have this problem too.” But what struck me was the contrast
between the light tone of the post and the heaviness of these emails. These people were writing
with intense frustration about what procrastination
had done to their lives, about what this Monkey had done to them. And I thought about this, and I said, well, if the procrastinator’s system
works, then what’s going on? Why are all of these people
in such a dark place? Well, it turns out that there’s
two kinds of procrastination. Everything I’ve talked about today,
the examples I’ve given, they all have deadlines. And when there’s deadlines, the effects of procrastination
are contained to the short term because the Panic Monster gets involved. But there’s a second kind
of procrastination that happens in situations
when there is no deadline. So if you wanted a career
where you’re a self-starter — something in the arts,
something entrepreneurial — there’s no deadlines on those things
at first, because nothing’s happening, not until you’ve gone out
and done the hard work to get momentum, get things going. There’s also all kinds of important things
outside of your career that don’t involve any deadlines, like seeing your family or exercising
and taking care of your health, working on your relationship or getting out of a relationship
that isn’t working. Now if the procrastinator’s only mechanism
of doing these hard things is the Panic Monster, that’s a problem, because in all of these
non-deadline situations, the Panic Monster doesn’t show up. He has nothing to wake up for, so the effects of procrastination,
they’re not contained; they just extend outward forever. And it’s this long-term
kind of procrastination that’s much less visible
and much less talked about than the funnier, short-term
deadline-based kind. It’s usually suffered
quietly and privately. And it can be the source of a huge amount of long-term
unhappiness, and regrets. And I thought, that’s why
those people are emailing, and that’s why they’re
in such a bad place. It’s not that they’re cramming
for some project. It’s that long-term procrastination
has made them feel like a spectator, at times, in their own lives. The frustration is not
that they couldn’t achieve their dreams; it’s that they weren’t even
able to start chasing them. So I read these emails
and I had a little bit of an epiphany — that I don’t think
non-procrastinators exist. That’s right — I think all of you
are procrastinators. Now, you might not all be a mess, like some of us, (Laughter) and some of you may have
a healthy relationship with deadlines, but remember: the Monkey’s sneakiest trick is when the deadlines aren’t there. Now, I want to show you one last thing. I call this a Life Calendar. That’s one box for every week
of a 90-year life. That’s not that many boxes, especially since we’ve already
used a bunch of those. So I think we need to all take a long,
hard look at that calendar. We need to think about what
we’re really procrastinating on, because everyone is procrastinating
on something in life. We need to stay aware
of the Instant Gratification Monkey. That’s a job for all of us. And because there’s not
that many boxes on there, it’s a job that should
probably start today. Well, maybe not today, but … (Laughter) You know. Sometime soon. Thank you. (Applause)

Comments (100)

  1. Now I´m procrastinating watching this video (-_-)/.
    To fight procrastination I make my own deadlines having a calendar where I write my achivements and obligations of the day in my phone.

  2. The best part is that even when you want to do something to relax like playing a game, you'll end up wasting your time on something else that you'll end up regretting

    You can't even choose what you end up watching your time on

  3. I felt like he was talking to me!!!

  4. I would have to be writing my thesis now, but the spirial of youtube bring me here. I regret nothing Oo

  5. Procrastinating on a procrastination paper on this procrastination Ted Talk…

  6. I now have 1063 videos saved to "watch later".

  7. Watch later👍👍

  8. I have two uni assignments and now I am watching this instead of doing them.

  9. Eh, I think I’ll study tomorrow

  10. I have ADHD and procrastinate constantly. Thing is I just do whatever I either want to do or is short. Just go into low level classes and go into something that fits your habits. They probably wont go away so you might as well adapt. Im personally planning to go into the cannabis industry through botany.

  11. “Inside the mind of master procrastinator”

    Me:*leaves it on a tab and procrastinate on watching it*
    I still haven't watched the video

  12. I can't believe this..i google earthed India to feel it😂

  13. Literally using this to procrastinate right now….

  14. Now I know I am a procrastinator😐

  15. Great speech! Stay safe and God bless!

  16. Comic: Hey finish me! I'm due tomorrow!!

    Me: oh yeah! Let me find something to watch in the background! * clicks video *

    She never did finish that comic and just ended up watching the video

  17. My best Ted talk ever .

  18. I'm watching this at work! it was very important 🙂 a colleague of mine recommended it! 🙂

  19. Ahh, ill put this in the watch later playlist

  20. Gee I have a test tomorrow but I'm procrastinating while watching a video about procrastination

  21. I watched this video a couple of years ago and I remember laughing along with everyone else and thinking about how I would never find myself in such a situation. Your thesis/dissertation is far too important to procrastinate on. Yet here I am, in my final week of university. A week and 2 days left to write my dissertation that I should have been working on for the last 7 months. Ugh, where did all the time go? My panic monster is still a no-show. God help me!

  22. This is what Ritalin is for.

  23. I saved this video to 'watch later' 6 months ago and I just watched it today.

  24. There must be a reason for which youtube is recommending me this… i feel attacked

  25. I'm triggered but will deal with this later

  26. I am triggered,will start working tomorrow

    But tommorow never comes

  27. I am procrastinating by watching this video…

  28. I procrastinate the exact same way. Matter of fact, I'm watching this while I have a paper due at midnight for college.

  29. "Im procrastinate my assigment by watching this video"

  30. Hey , what brought me here , i was preparing for Microsoft Exam?

  31. I literally procrastinated watching this video by putting it off on watch later for almost two years now

  32. Aaaahhh, these guys talking about me arrghh

  33. I've added it to "save to watch later"

  34. Interestingly, my homework was to watch a TED talk so I’m actually not procrastinating rn😂

  35. Watched this video as recommended and couldn’t help but feel as though everything I’d been thinking/doing for years…had been reported & my name was gonna be mentioned at the end… 🤭🤔😬🤣

  36. i am finally able to understand my life

  37. No one is talking about how good and brilliant this ted talk was. It was the best I have seen in my life.

  38. I absolutely love this❤

  39. I think we all know why we are hear today.,.

  40. While I am pretty happy right now procrastinating for a year not getting further in university, I am pretty sure it will bite me in the future.

  41. I'm a manga writer and I'm sure anyone can see how bad of an effect procrastination has on that

  42. This title is what got the video so many views

  43. Ok I’m going to go do my English speech of a 1000words which is due tomorrow😊

  44. Yo I literally just added this to 'watch later'

    I think I need help


    I never liked HaSS anyway…

  46. I work under the following motto: Diamonds are produced under great pressure.

  47. Watching this instead of drawing up my maths homework

  48. I'm devastated I wasn't invited

  49. I need to get round to watching this

  50. I'm really gonna share my opinions on this. Soon but not now.

  51. i think the week calendar is 60 years, not ninety.

  52. If you’re a procrastinator and you know it clap your hands 👏🏻!

    I will clap mine later….

  53. Warning: using the adrenaline caused by the panic monster wears off, and things like deadlines and public embarrassment cease to work

  54. Me: I need to finish the next chapter of my book
    Also Me: binge watches videos on procrastinating for four hours

  55. I am very influenced by your speech and I still dont know how to move forward in my current situation.

  56. watches this video instead of studying for my APUSH test tomorrow

  57. I'm surprised dopamine wasn't mentioned

  58. Who else is procrastinating while watching this video? 😂

  59. No entendí todo pero igual le dejo su like

  60. jesus… never had a video more relatable

  61. This drawings make things 1000 times better.

  62. YouTube sure knows what's up with me lately 👀 .

  63. I'm supposed to be at a shop deciding on a camera that will take my life in a direction of my dreams… Yet, here I am…


  64. there are intelligent and dumb procrastinators

  65. This is my morning coffee now

  66. You are here
    So you are procrastinater

  67. "Inside the mind of a master procrastinator", this has been on my "Watch later" list since 2017. Today, I'm about to see it.

  68. i started laughing and ended up crying "clapclapclap"

  69. I’m supposed to do homework so…

  70. If tomorrow’s not the due date, then today’s not the do date

  71. Congratulations, you made a procrastination video

  72. You’ve literally explained my struggles to a T. Any time someone asks about my procrastination I’ll send them this.

  73. When you're watching this to procrastinate

  74. I feel like he is telling the story of me doing homework (・o・)


  76. I should be working now. ffs.

  77. the closing is epic

  78. I hv better scientific explanation about procrastinator than this person does. I mean it.

    i'll write it tomorrow

  79. This is the most relatable thing ever

  80. Oh god I have a science assignment due 8:00 am and it’s currently 12:02 am and I’m procrastinating by watching a video about procrastination.

  81. Adds the video to watch later😂

  82. I thought i was the only master procrastinator until i watched this video and , besides, this man has done the science of it. Much respect, lord procrastinator.

  83. every word of tim hit me hard.

  84. I was gonna write this comment 3 and a half years ago but………

  85. I am watching this to procrastinate.

  86. Would have been nice to some tips to get over this art

  87. Im procrastinating whatching this video xd

  88. I think Youtube tryna tell me something lol

  89. why actually do work when instead you can learn to code in html in order to send fake grade screenshots to your parents

  90. How did this man get into my head?

  91. This is my type of video lol

  92. there are non-procrastinators?

  93. Actually I told myself I will watch one ted talk and then go back to work and this is my 5th Ted talk.

  94. … watching it at work procrastinating …

  95. This is my favorite ted talk 😂😂

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