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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. I bet he procrastinated making this

  2. Omg I’ve an exam in a day and a half and I’m watching this instead of studying ! I’ve never related to a video so much!

  3. I tried to procrastinate by writing this comment..

  4. 14 minutes of speak and say nothing new, congratulations, for nothing

  5. I don’t think I even have a panic monster.

  6. Me: "I hate this frustratingly hard game, I'll put it down for a good while and cool off"
    Me: "I'm gonna practice piano hardcore, tonight I'll finally learn how to play it"
    Also me, 10 mins later: "Man that game is fun, I'm gonna play it"

  7. I'm in the dark playground watching this TED video!

  8. meh i can always watch this video later

  9. WHY IS THIS VIDEO SO LOUDDDD 😩

  10. Who's in THE DARK PLAYGROUND? 🙋🏽‍♀️

  11. thank you, YouTube

  12. Great TED talk!!
    So the major take away is…..have DEADLINES for everything!

  13. The look on his face as he was walking off was like “woo. Winged it and it went well”

  14. This video has beem sitting in my watch later playlist for WAYYYYY too long. And i finally watched it a couple weeks later:D

  15. guess why i am here

  16. Soooo true😁😁😁

  17. I think procrastination is a mental illness, but too common to be diagnosed.

  18. The comments on this video are the most hilarious😂💯

  19. me watching this while I have 3 exams tomorrow:
    my fbi agent: dissapointment

  20. this really inspired me. thank you.

  21. Beginning of video: HAMILTON WROTE THE OTHER 51!!

  22. I procrastinated to watch this video for 700 days

  23. 'haha, I do that'

  24. My gosh! This guy described me to a T! I can't even begin to count how many times that I have asked God, "What's wrong with me? What's wrong with me?" when I have knowingly shirked what I know that I should be doing. If I could kill that stinkin procrastination monkey, I would. My procrastination has caused so much unnecessary grief that I it is hard to explain.

  25. i’m watching this video while i need to study for a psychology exam

  26. I was about to watch this video and suddenly decided to mark it as watch later

  27. So yes, i m procrastinating by watching this video……………….tons of studies, but naaaa lol

  28. Why do today what you can put off for tomorrow? The true definition of procrastination lolol!

  29. Question, what if I don’t have a panic monster?

  30. Oh, my God. This was hilarious 😆

    But, seriously, didn’t this guy get slapped around as a kid? This kind of problem must have been with him since he was in kindergarten.

  31. Started procrastinating by reading comments instead of listening to the video😭

  32. i've never felt more exposed in my whole life

  33. I'm Procrastinating On This Video😂

  34. my procastination lead me here

  35. I guess I’m both like some things I do the minute I get the task or realize it needs to be done and then I procrastinate stuff and I just don’t know what I’m thinking

  36. I think the panic monster eventually awakes, but that's called a mid-life crisis.

  37. Im already panicking while watching this

  38. Supposed to be studying for a hard exam. #LookAtMeNow

    The panic monster is real you guys. Haha.
    #HowILiveMyLife

    Also how i manage my procrastinator self: set deadlines for myself (need to meet friends at least once a month, have a decent conversation with my mom at least once a week, workout at least thrice a week, etc.). This kind of works for me. 🙂

  39. Omg thank God for your love

  40. https://youtu.be/TYTvAF15iN4

  41. Tim: I pulled two all-nighters
    Me: Those are rookie numbers

  42. the bags under his eyes tell us that he is who he claims o be

  43. But I really don't wanna study Biology 😩😩

  44. If you apply the method, you stop being a procrastinator and start being an anxious person

  45. I'm procrastinating right now hahaha

  46. had to study for a test,but here i am,watching a 15 minute video about procrastination.

  47. Procrastinated watching this and now my brain is like 'huh I wonder if there are any videos on WHY we procrastinate… let's google that instead of sleeping'

  48. my bf sent this to me five months ago, i procrastinated watching it till now

  49. I'm in the dark playground right now instead of doing history homework

  50. so boring! he put me to sleep with his annoying style! 🙄

  51. going for google earth 😂

  52. If you look at the wheel of the brain the monkey and the rational decision maker are facing the wrong way

  53. My procrastination habit is so bad, I found the panic monsters cave and shot in the face 20 times

  54. Two and a half weeks before the summer ends, and I haven’t even started my summer homework…

  55. I got main exams tomorrow and panic monster just appeared on my screen but I decided to play in the dark background and the rational decision maker went to sleep 😫😫

  56. The problem is i can ignore my panic monster very good

  57. love thiz speaker ! You're Amazing! xoxo< one of the Master of procrastination from Philippines<WHAHAH

  58. My problem is I don’t have a panic monster

  59. I just procrastinate by watching this video…

  60. added it in watch later section…

  61. Ok i got it, just need to constantly visualise my time of death

  62. Me telling my friend about how bad I am at procrastinating by saying the monkey got out :O
    Me realising my friend doesn't know about the monkey 🙂
    Me showing my friend the video about the monkey 😀
    Me procrastinating and getting distracted by the video of the monkey that I've watched many times before, because I sent it to my friend, so I had to watch it again D:

  63. Maybe I'll just watch it later.

  64. This was the best 15 minutes I spent on procrastination! Now I realize that I need to set my own deadlines to be successful. I'm planning to look for more of your videos as well.

  65. I am should be working instead I'm watching this video lol 😆

  66. Can anyone explain what to do if the panic monster is afraid of the monkey??

  67. This meant a lot to me! Thank you!

  68. This video was on my Watch Later playlist.

  69. The Panic Monster is my savior

  70. Many thanks for that priceless information sir. My God bless you in abundance for aiding His children in this complicated task named life! 🙌👊✝️✝️✝️

  71. Me watching this video: I’m so enlightened by this video that I’m going to change my procrastinating habits starting tmr.

    Goes on to make a daily schedule to maximize time…….

    Two days later: Eating chips on the couch when I’m supposed to be working out and waiting to complete an assignment due the next day.

  72. This is soooooooooooooooooooooooo true!

  73. Watching this while procrastinating

  74. me procastinating while watching this hahaha

  75. I procrastinate my sleep

  76. Impressively…I Agree…

  77. sooo , im supposed to be doing my summer work, and school starts in two days. Most of the time i not only procasinate but then i give up, so apperantly that means i have no panic monster, just a monkey, and a rational person ,that wont stand up to the monkey.

  78. I'm supposed to be studying for my driving test……..but a YouTube video about procastination seemed cool.

  79. Great video! But what’s the solution?

  80. Is this stand up or ted talk either way he is funny

  81. Meet someone with adhd. Then come back to report findings.

  82. Procrastinates by watching this video for the 20th time

  83. That final picture… You killed me 🙁
    Excellent lecture

  84. In Latin
    pro=through/throughout
    cras=tomorrow

  85. I should be doing something productive such as sleeping but the monkey in my brain says nope

  86. 22 million procrastinator for sure

  87. I’m procrastinating just by watching this video cause I’m supposed to do my homework but who cares I still have twenty days

  88. 2016 no
    2017 no
    2018 no
    2019 hehe boy
    Me: I am joke for you?

  89. I was going to watch this video when it came out, but I put it off for a while.

  90. You mean to say you're in my mind now!!?

  91. Informal yet cool enough.(I need overdose panic monster, don't you ?.)

  92. 9:26 There's a guy taking f**king notes!!!😂😂

  93. I was supposed to be doing my homework right now… oops lol

  94. Apparently, this video was already in my ˋwatch later’ list … oh, well.

  95. OMG! This is so me. Reason why I never pursued a career in journalism. I barely made all my papers in time! I had the idea what to write but… My teachers in highschool always tell me I have a brilliant mind but lazy.

  96. I'm literally watching this instead of doing my first assignment

  97. I'm literally watching this while procrastinating on my work.

  98. I’ve watched this so many times…

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