Op/Ed

How a TED Talk on procrastination actually changed my perspective

(EDITORIAL) 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):

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.

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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