TED Talks: ‘Inside the Mind of a Master Procrastinator’

UPDATED: April 11, 2020
PUBLISHED: August 17, 2016
tim urban

In this TED Talk, internet writer Tim Urban explains what happens in the mind of a procrastinator—and why one specific form of waiting until the last minute leaves a lot of people feeling unfulfilled.

Related: The 3 Types of Procrastination and How to Beat It

For procrastinators and non-procrastinators alike, both brains have a rational decision-maker in them, he says. It’s just that procrastinators fall prey to the instant gratification monkey, a feeling that encourages fun tasks over productive, sensible ones. Ultimately, he says rational decisions and instant gratification are both needed—just at the right times.

“That’s why there’s an overlap; sometimes they agree,” Urban says. “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.”

As deadlines approach, this conflicts plays out in a place called the dark playground, where leisurely activities take over— that is, until the panic monster arrives, and the procrastinator kicks into high-gear.

Urban says that everyone procrastinates, but that deadline-driven procrastination differs from situational procrastination, like waiting to start a business. When there’s no real deadline, the panic monster doesn’t appear to give that extra push—which Urban says is the real source of some people’s frustration.

“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,” Urban says. “The frustration is not that they couldn’t achieve their dreams; it’s that they weren’t even able to start chasing them.”

Related: The Best Ways to Beat Procrastination


TED is a nonprofit devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks (18 minutes or less). TED began in 1984 as a conference where Technology, Entertainment and Design converged, and today covers almost all topics—from science to business to global issues—in more than 100 languages. Meanwhile, independently run TEDx events help share ideas in communities around the world. See more at TED.com.