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How a TED Talk on procrastination changed my perspective

If procrastination is a problem for you, at least bookmark this editorial to revisit within the month.

Procrastination is a huge challenge

Did you know that there are PhDs studying procrastination and that there are experts on the topic? People that have devoted their careers to understanding the science and psychology behind why it is our human nature to put things off?

I was talking with my dad on the phone today, and it turns out that we both randomly wanted to talk about a topic we have never discussed – procrastination (we had put it off long enough – see what I did there?). He ordered a book months ago on the topic that he finally read, and I watched a TED Talk on it over the weekend, both of which stuck with us and altered our perspective slightly. He learned about the roots of his specific type of procrastination, and while sharing it with me, I realized that because of the way he raised me (giving me ample room to row my own boat), I am absolutely not a procrastinator.

Or am I?

First things first, watch this:

It’s 15 minutes, and what follows won’t make sense unless you watch the entire talk (don’t procrastinate, you’re already here):

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How this altered my perspective… at first

I really loved Tim Urban’s take on procrastination, positing that the instant gratification monkey often derails us, but the panic monster gets us back on track when it is required. The simplicity of the message is such that anyone can imagine the monkey upstairs and tell it to shut the hell up if they want to.

Like I said, Urban’s talk stuck with me, which is rare – I’m more of a watch something, instantly digest, and move on type. But I kept thinking of this. And it upset me. Not because I had to acknowledge my personal feelings toward procrastination, but because something was missing.

I spent a great deal of time these past few days considering why I was so upset about this – who cares? It’s a video, move on, Lani. But I can’t.

At first, I concluded that I can’t relate to Urban’s theory because I’m not a procrastinator. In fact, I’m very list oriented. I’m a classic over-achiever, I’m that kid in class that finished every test before any student was halfway through. I’m not exaggerating, ask anyone on FB that I went to school with. So of course I’m not a procrastinator.

But that wasn’t right, I’m not NOT a procrastinator

But that’s wrong. Everyone procrastinates – some people put off big life decisions, others minutiae, but everyone does it. So the next conclusion that I came to is that Urban’s theory rubbed me the wrong way because I am a procrastinator, but also a workaholic. Hear me out.

You see, I procrastinate constantly. In fact, I’m currently procrastinating from finalizing a speech I’m giving next month, by writing this editorial. Yes, next month, that’s what is on my agenda during this exact hour. But I’m not tackling that – this editorial isn’t even on my to do list. I’ve gone rogue.

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And this is what rubbed me the wrong way about Urban’s otherwise flawless theory: Procrastination doesn’t necessarily mean that I go play Xbox or decide to read an entire Wikipedia entry about the Boston Marathon, then click on another link and another and another, and fall down a useless rabbit hole for fun.

For me, procrastination means consciously altering the order of prioritized tasks or adding new (easier)tasks. And they’re always work (I already told you I’m a workaholic), not entertainment or useless.

So today, instead of finalizing a speech, I created content here. Instead of scrubbing the email list this morning, I scheduled out a series of emailers. Rather than repoint a list of URLs that I committed to changing today, I hand-wrote a flowchart of rules for a massive and unruly jobs group we operate. See? The instant gratification monkey didn’t say “hey, let’s go pet the cats and learn how to play guitar and do a cartwheel,” my instant gratification monkey said, “these things are all important, but this work item would be easier or more interesting right now than the other and I’m lazy efficient.”

So my takeaways? I have three:

  1. A speaker/writer has done a good job if you’re digesting their works long after they’re fully consumed (whether you agree or disagree with their premise).
  2. Procrastination is nuanced, and people much smarter than I have dedicated their lives to studying it. I can’t fully understand it after one gd Ted Talk, so I’ll continue pondering. Again, proof that Urban did a great job.
  3. Procrastination is different for every person. My personal method of procrastinating is doing easier work tasks first (not meandering around the web aimlessly).

Next time I am off task, I can fight my version of the instant gratification monkey and put myself back on the tracks.

After watching the video, I urge you to consider what procrastination is for you.

What does procrastination look like for you? Does your monkey tell you to re-prioritize, clean your desk, or learn about wombats via YouTube?

#Procrastination

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Lani is the COO and News Director at The American Genius, has co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH, Austin Digital Jobs, Remote Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.

10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. everliaa

    April 25, 2016 at 3:57 pm

    Want to know how to beat procrastination? It’s possible. I’ve been struggling with it for the last 15 years maybe. I tried everything. Keeping myself organized, making to do lists, writing down my dreams, keeping pictures of all the things I wanted in life and so on. The only thing that really worked for me and helped me turn my life around was procrastination bulldozer method.

    • Southpaw66

      June 7, 2016 at 11:53 am

      Want to know how to beat procrastination? Google procrastination bulldozer method, click the link, read the enthralling, short article you can relate to. Then run into the paywall… -_-

    • Jamie

      April 2, 2017 at 10:44 am

      Wow, this is so funny, I’ve seen the EXACT SAME COMMENT ON MULTIPLE DIFFERENT SITES just with different profiles/profile pictures! So crazy, and most DEFINITELY not a clear sign of a SCAM!!!

  2. Brittney

    July 3, 2016 at 12:00 pm

    I love the Ted Talk, but I like the articles he originally wrote about it much more. They are far more in-dept and painfully accurate. Anyway, I read this article because I was searching for more articles on procrastination. I can’t stop thinking about how early you get things done. I would love to pick your brain about how this is possible. I’m a semi-successful person, but at master procrastinator who is obsessed with figuring out how to break this cycle. Would you mind if I asked you some questions?

  3. Dan Dascalescu

    August 10, 2016 at 1:25 am

    What you’ve experienced is an old concept, called constructive procrastination. Nothing new to write about.

    See for example https://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/15/science/positive-procrastination-not-an-oxymoron.html

  4. Angelo

    September 26, 2016 at 5:59 am

    Thank you for the article “How a recent TED Talk on procrastination changed my perspective.” It also changed mine

  5. Pingback: How to find the sweet spot between procrastination and desperation - The American Genius

  6. Pingback: 10 tips for anyone looking to up their professional work game

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