Sunday Snippet: Tim Urban on Procrastination

“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.”

You think I enjoy falling down the bottomless pit of related YouTube videos? You think I enjoy open up Facebook every few minutes to see if there’s anything good, just like how I open up the fridge somehow expecting the contents to be different? Procrastination, despite how it may appear on the outside, largely is not pleasurable for procrastinators. I can’t speak for everyone else, but I get riddled with guilt when I find myself meandering through the web rather than working on client projects.

Wait But Why long form blogger Tim Urban really hit the nail on the head with his recent TED talk on the topic of procrastination. If you were to imagine a Venn diagram with one circle encompassing the things you need to do that make sense and another circle encompassing the things that are easy and fun, there probably isn’t much of an overlap. You know you should be doing the things that make sense, but the Instant Gratification Monkey steers your ship in an entirely different direction.

The temptations for procrastination are endless, especially in this age of instant access to practically anything on the Internet. Want to spend hours following tangents on Wikipedia? You can do that. Want to troll around the social networks to spy on past loves and current colleagues? You can do that too. All the while, the things you should be doing go unattended.

But playing in the “Dark Playground” isn’t fun, because you know you should be doing something else. You know you should be productive. So, while binging on Netflix or playing video games could be fun under other circumstances, the joy is drastically diminished because of this overwhelming guilt. You hate yourself for doing it.

“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.”

Most of us have this unfortunate habit of leaving everything to the last minute. You probably experienced this in school. You may have been assigned an essay to write weeks in advance, and yet you find yourself burning the midnight oil on the night before it’s due because you kept putting it off. The Panic Monster kicks you into high gear, but it’s only called upon at the very last minute.

Years ago, I wrote how you can increase your productivity by giving yourself a false sense of urgency. This works on the same fundamental principle, if only to trick yourself temporarily into getting the work done. But that’s not sustainable. And it doesn’t work in circumstances where there are no real deadlines.

As a freelance writer and blogger, I am faced with this scenario far too often. I don’t have to write this article today. It could wait until tomorrow. I don’t have to publish this e-book this month. It can wait until next month or next year or next probably-never-going-to-get-done. It’s a horrible feeling, one that many of us recognize but fail to act upon.

Tim Urban does not offer a definitive solution to this problem in this TED talk, which was shot right here in Vancouver this past February. But if you’re looking for a productive way to “waste” 14 minutes of your time procrastinating on YouTube, the video is certainly worth watching.