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Sam Woolfe - Mar 10, 2020

If You’re a Procrastinator, You Should Listen to These TED Talks

Don’t feel guilty about being a procrastinator; it’s something we all struggle with, to varying degrees. You might be in a position, though, where you feel your level of procrastinating is a bit much, and it seems to be out of control. You keep telling yourself to stop procrastinating, you know why you need to stop, and you have tried to implement techniques to manage those urges to distract yourself from your tasks – but all to no avail. This doesn’t mean that you’re stuck with the affliction of chronic procrastination forever. It just means you haven’t yet found the effective methods for sustaining your focus.

To help you in this endeavor, here are some essential TED talks to watch. They feature experts from a wide range of professions who know, from experience and research, how best to resolve a procrastination problem.

Inside the Mind of a Procrastinator by Tim Urban

Tim Urban is a writer, illustrator, and founder of the highly successful website Wait But Why, which features long-form blog posts on a range of topics, from procrastination to artificial intelligence. In his TED talk on procrastination, he discusses the problem of YouTube binges, Wikipedia rabbit holes, and spending far too long staring out the window. With humor and insight, Urban distinguishes between two kinds of tasks we procrastinate on: short-term plans that have deadlines (e.g. a work assignment) and long-term plans with no deadlines (e.g. improving one’s relationships, physical health, and mental health, or building a career).

Most of us can procrastinate but still be able to meet deadlines by cramming. It’s a stressful way of doing things. But it works. Long-term procrastinating, on the other hand, causes people much more distress. These are the things we may never even get started on since there’s no deadline to motivate us at the last minute. Urban shows the audience a ‘life calendar’, with each box representing a week, with the total number of boxes equalling a 90-year life. There aren’t really that many boxes and many of them have been used already. He urges us to keep this life calendar in mind when we procrastinate and to be aware of our long-term procrastination and how our desire for instant gratification is to blame.

Why We Procrastinate by Vik Nithy

At the age of just 20, Vik Nithy had founded three companies. But he used to have a massive problem with procrastination as a student. He would spend hours on social media each day, putting off the work he had planned to do. Indeed, for many of us, social media and technology, in general, are the primary ways in which we distract ourselves from what we should be doing. Nithy points out in his Ted talk, based on research, that there is often a conflict between our brain’s prefrontal cortex (responsible for higher-level functions like planning and rational decision-making) and the limbic system (a more primitive system that leads us to act impulsively and irrationally).

Nithy presents a five-point method for overcoming procrastination, ensuring that the rational part of our brain takes the driving seat, rather than the part of our nature that craves instant gratification. The five steps to take are to plan goals, plan time, plan resources, and plan for distractions. Yes, there’s nothing inherently wrong with distractions. They are part of what makes life relaxing and enjoyable. But it’s untethered distractions that underlie procrastination. By setting aside time for focused work as well as distractions, we can ensure that we both get the work done and have something to look forward to when it’s done.

The Vaccination for Procrastination by Bronwyn Clee

Bronwyn Clee is the CEO of the Institute of Hope, which aims to foster sustainable change in individuals, organizations, and communities by prioritizing self-care. In her Ted talk, she underscores psychological findings which show that the number one reason why people postpone things is because of fear. Clee explains that fear (e.g. fear of failing) blocks our creativity and freezes our desire to take action and initiative. Her talk is inspiring and motivational. It can help you to combat any doubts you have about acting fearlessly and explain – using Clee’s own personal struggles with procrastination – about how to become a more effective decision-maker.

If you’re a procrastinator, be sure to check out these TED talks. Be sure, however, to not procrastinate by watching them, as you may end up going down a how-not-to-procrastinate rabbit hole (which would be a kind of meta-procrastination). Set aside some time to watch the talks and then approach your tasks with the insight, knowledge, and tips that will allow you to get them done, efficiently and with less stress.

Written by Sam Woolfe

I'm a freelance writer who is interested in mindfulness, mental health and the evolving concept of masculinity.

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