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)

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100 thoughts on “Inside the mind of a master procrastinator | Tim Urban”

  1. Nugroho D says:

    Such a great theory

  2. Ncle Alviola says:

    I thought this was gonna be motivational

  3. Afitterhealthieryou01 says:

    One of the best talks ever. Panic monster is now awake and I am chasing my dreams. Thank you!

  4. David Jin says:

    Lol I’m watching this when I’m supposed to be studying

  5. lateefa abdullateef says:

    One time I had Spanish hw, it was the only hw i had that day. So i procrastinated the whole day until 8PM and then I was like, oh it's okay I'll do it at 9PM. 9PM came and went and I was like, I'll do it soon, 15mins later I was like oh yeah I still haven't done that hw. I didn't get to it until 9:45 and I procrastinated while doing the hw, so what should've taken me thirty mins took an hour. Life is sad.

  6. Consultant says:

    looks at this video in my recommended

    I’ll watch this later

  7. Steve Stark says:

    I felt this in my soul!

  8. Jacob Salas says:

    Day 2 of my weekend and i only managed to pick up about half of the trash in my room. If i dont get it done by today I'll be waiting until next week to get it done.

  9. Alyssa Shoemaker says:

    My mom is a panic monster 🤣🤣🤣

  10. TheParkkilaShow says:

    Since when did they make a ted talk about my life?

  11. Christy Tran says:

    Watching this when I should be doing summer reading

  12. Hi Hikikomori says:

    imagine this for global warming

  13. Elizabeth Spain says:

    I’m a genius.
    I tricked myself into doing my work
    I’d think “it’s time to work out!”
    Me: “oh crap, no, I’m just gonna… finish my homework!! Kk? bY3

  14. David Harris says:

    as a "master procrastinator" myself (not sure about anyone else) this stuff, while funny on the surface…is TRUE!

  15. ryan vaughn says:

    I feel attacked.

  16. UberDozer says:

    As of now, I am cramming 17 weeks of school content into the 4.5 days i have left till my exams begin. Not just for one subject. 17 weeks for EACH. straight up suicidal, and I'm still watching this video.

  17. Laura Elizabeth Goodwin says:

    Had to watch this 15 minute video for a college procrastination reflection report paper.

  18. ameya aken says:

    Exams start tomorrow
    I'll start the day after


  19. Ikramuddin Zwane says:

    Brilliant! Brilliant!

  20. AndreasM8686 says:

    im going to the gym

  21. Alexandre Goudeau says:

    I literally watch this while I was supposed to study for a maths test 🙁

  22. jennie bergman says:

    i was working….now i watch this…thinking about working…

  23. Dark Wolf says:

    my monkey killed my panic monster in his sleep

  24. Imad RC says:

    me watching this video knowing fully that I have 2 chapters of my AP chemistry summer homework to do and 3 weeks to do it but Im going somewhere that I cant work for 2 of those weeks

    also me studying for tests.

    everyone else: go over everything covered in the chapter a week before the test.

    me: the day of the test on the period before when I have the test or the short time I have before the test in the class looking over everything but still getting A's and A-'s on the tests

  25. Anelia Martin says:

    "no deadline, not an obligation" – me 2019

  26. Anthony Alves says:

    So I bought a monkey toy and I slap him when I feel like procrastinating. Works everytime! 😀

  27. J Angel says:

    This guy looks and sounds like Ninja 😳😳😳😳

  28. Pantherz says:

    So glad that one of my school teachers played this to the class , i'm going to watch some more content from Tim Urban for sure haha

  29. Squidja Boy says:

    I have 10 days to finish an insanely big math work with a ton of exercises. Thx Tim.

  30. stone heart says:

    My panic monster faded idk what to do

  31. neelu koli says:

    You are The Enemy of Yours😐

  32. Slimeustas says:

    The ending got me in my deepest recess'.

  33. Svetlana Dear says:

    I loved this… Gosh. So right.

  34. IN-DIAN GAMER says:

    All those dislikes are from rational decision makers

  35. Yash Gulia says:

    This video is meant for me. He is an awesome speaker and has a great sense of humour.

  36. Fatema mahmud says:

    I have just learned so much about myself

  37. * Plastacia * says:

    That is so tru

  38. João Luis Falangola says:

    at this moment I should be studying for a test, I don't know which one, I just know then I should

  39. Reuben Giles says:

    I wonder how long he procrastinated this presentation

  40. Cengiz Demir says:

    Selam bir apps buldum.Bu konuşmayı cümle cümle istediğin kadar tekrar edebiliyorsun hatta kayıt bile yapıyor sonra dinleme yapabiliyorsun.TEDme Google playda bulabilirsiniz

  41. Omotolani Oreofe says:

    I’ve been procrastinating on watching this video but welp finally here I am

  42. PrayForJoe says:

    The end really hit me as I finished school this year and just realised I didn´t do anything significant for the last 5 months

  43. Jesus rocks says:

    I have to start my internship report finish a websitr and clear my room i promised myself id sleep early at 12 pm today.

    Its 6 am🤦🏾

  44. Zoie Broughton says:

    That long term procrastination hit home

  45. KaiMinG says:

    procrastination means u r not enjoying your work at all .
    do what u love !
    y r u layghing !?
    that is not fun to live your whole life in a "panic monster-driven" situation
    and do nothing meaningful in the rest of the time!

    Do wt u enjoy !

  46. SisterGray says:

    This video made me procrastinate more. 😂
    Don't worry I will be okay.
    I will get better. Try harder. Focuse more. And stop playing Sims 4.

  47. SoleroGC says:

    My monkey told me I had to see this…

  48. jotun hime says:

    Me seeing this in my recommendations
    flash back last year
    My friend: omg sent u a link u gotta watch it, it's a TED talk about procrastination
    Me: yah sure i'll watch it
    flash back ends
    Me: … yah I'm on it

    True story 😂

  49. Steven Cao says:

    This guy studied me without my permission

  50. Elsie Campbell says:

    Finished my thesis. So happy. No more thinking "I could spend this time more wisely"

  51. banana jin says:

    oh my god. this is very accurate..

  52. iblood art says:

    Thank you

  53. Nicholas Bestevaar says:

    Thank you so much for doing this talk! As a recovering procrastinator, it’s gold in helping my RDM tame the monkey. 😀

  54. Emma Smith says:

    Am I writing my thesis rn which is due in two or three days? Maybe?

  55. Macaroon_Nuggets says:

    Watching this while procrastinating.

  56. Dozy says:

    I bet he procrastinated making this

  57. shannen haugh says:

    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!

  58. Jivyansh Mittal says:

    I tried to procrastinate by writing this comment..

  59. Josep G. says:

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

  60. Zorin Ralte says:

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

  61. Maoh says:

    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"

  62. Ivonne Giles says:

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

  63. iLLLOGIC says:

    meh i can always watch this video later

  64. thank u next says:


  65. Kanga Roo [runii26] says:

    Who's in THE DARK PLAYGROUND? 🙋🏽‍♀️

  66. gnanambal govin says:

    thank you, YouTube

  67. sarvo k says:

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

  68. Jay Kay says:

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

  69. johnathon colman says:

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

  70. Das Gehirn says:

    guess why i am here

  71. abhishek kumar says:

    Soooo true😁😁😁

  72. George Missailidis says:

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

  73. Saurabh Pisal says:

    The comments on this video are the most hilarious😂💯

  74. uwu says:

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

  75. Karl Magnus says:

    this really inspired me. thank you.

  76. Nessy Parks says:

    Beginning of video: HAMILTON WROTE THE OTHER 51!!

  77. sumit rawat says:

    I procrastinated to watch this video for 700 days

  78. Kamal Bring says:

    Me- adding the video to watch later

  79. Adonis Garcia DLF says:

    'haha, I do that'

  80. Christopher Stone says:

    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.

  81. Pepe The frog says:

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

  82. Ejie Bucag says:

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

  83. Shohrat Rizvi says:

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

  84. Donald Bass says:

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

  85. Clair Bright says:

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

  86. Cole McCafferty says:

    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.

  87. David Ramirez says:

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

  88. Pemmi says:

    i've never felt more exposed in my whole life

  89. Imam Mehdi says:

    I'm Procrastinating On This Video😂

  90. It'sKeiraMamahit says:

    my procastination lead me here

  91. Greydenbo says:

    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

  92. Katelyn Fisher says:

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

  93. Helene Harrow says:

    Im already panicking while watching this

  94. homaygawd says:

    Supposed to be studying for a hard exam. #LookAtMeNow

    The panic monster is real you guys. Haha.

    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. 🙂

  95. heather hill says:

    Omg thank God for your love

  96. heather hill says:


  97. L R says:

  98. Kiran rev says:

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

  99. musAKulture says:

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

  100. Miku Kyut says:

    But I really don't wanna study Biology 😩😩

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