This article is due tonight and I have been working like crazy on it the last few hours — yet I had over a week to complete it. Story of my life.
This is what many people like to call procrastination. The idea of procrastination is one of the most prevalent topics, whether we know it or not, in our life. We have seen it all throughout school, work, family, and self. In February of 2016, Tim Urban gave one of the most popular TED Talks known to this day. The non-profit organization of TED defines their purpose as being “devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks.” With this in mind, you might imagine that Tim Urban gave an eloquent speech on an idea that is so inspiring and innovative that it has captivated the attentions of millions, including my own. But, no. He speaks on this ever so common, and perhaps simple, topic of procrastination.
Tim Urban’s talk is entitled, “Inside the mind of a master procrastinator.” In this talk, he explains what procrastination really is in its simplest terms, why procrastinators procrastinate, and why that system works for them. The interesting point, however, is the broader concept that he eludes to throughout his talk: Don’t waste your time. This is a concept that is so basic and overstated that it has lost much, if not most, of its meaning to all that have heard it. Not only that, but his main point is almost the exact opposite of the topic he speaks on. Yet, Urban crafts a talk that inspires and motivates his audience (including myself) to get to work using this simple principle of life. So how did he do it?
1. He builds his credibility.
With his talk being named, “Inside the mind of a master procrastinator,” he places himself in the role of a master procrastinator. This credibility is created through the personal anecdotes he shares. To begin his talk, he tells the story about how he put off his 90-page senior thesis until 3 days before the deadline. He pulls two all-nighters and somehow manages to complete it.
He then tells us, “A week later I get a call, and it’s the school. And they say, ‘We need to talk about your thesis.’ and I say, ‘OK.’ And they say, ‘It’s the best one we’ve ever seen.’”
We later hear from him: “That did not happen. I just wanted to enjoy that one moment when all of you thought, ‘This guy is amazing!’” And that really would have been amazing, wouldn’t it?
Even though the story he told ended up not being true, that “one moment” that he refers to becomes his audience’s first impression of him — and first impressions are important. Right from the beginning, he gets us to label him as a master procrastinator. This method he uses helps him to make himself credible as 1. One giving a TED Talk and 2. A master procrastinator.
Urban also speaks about his successful blogging career. In his blog “Wait But Why,” he once wrote on the subject of procrastination and it became very well known. Urban explains to us about the thousands of responses he got and how, “These people were writing with intense frustration about what procrastination had done to their lives…” He appeals to the values that Americans have of self-improvement, determination, and productivity through the struggles that these thousands of people were having.
We as humans relate to struggle, that’s for sure. If thousands of people emailed him specifically about this, it is likely to assume that millions have felt this way. Heck, it is more likely to assume that we have all felt this way at some point in our lives: that feeling of regret, knowing that if we went back in time, we could have done things differently or have used our time more wisely.
I am a college student, so I relate to that on a spiritual level. This makes his audience look to him as one with answers, one we can look to solve the problems that we have with procrastination. I mean, thousands of others have already done it!
2. He makes it funny!
Tim Urban is simply hilarious and is able to connect and relate to an entire audience through his humor. Humor is a funny thing, isn’t it? (pun intended) Humor is a mechanism that neutralizes tension. When you are laughing, you feel comfortable. When someone else makes you laugh, that makes you like them more. Tim Urban beautifully infuses his talk with jokes, self-deprecating statements, and sarcasm in order to relate more to others. He is trying to make everyone feel adequate! Like a friend.
“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.”
Showing the mindset behind a master procrastinator in a funny way allows for his audience to establish a common ground and not feel alone in their procrastination struggles. They feel like they are enough and that they aren’t a complete waste in life (because they aren’t, and you aren’t either!). Instead of it feeling like a speaker giving a speech, it feels like a friend giving you some much needed advice.
3. He hits his audience with knowledge.
Lastly, Urban uses the final minutes of his speech as an insightful teaching opportunity. He teaches us that real deadlines make procrastination contained, whereas the real trouble, the silent killers, are the tasks without deadlines. When you don’t have deadlines, there is nothing making you do anything, or in his words, “…in all of these non-deadline situations, the Panic Monster doesn’t show up.” For example, starting your own business. This is something that you have to do for yourself — no one is going to force you to put in the work to get your business up and running. The Panic Monster isn’t there to make you be productive!
Look at this “Life Calendar” that he displays in his talk. This calendar represents a 90 year life in boxes, one box for every week of that life.
This should wake anyone up to the fact that life is short. Urban then poses: “…I think we need to all take a long, hard look on that calendar. We need to think about what we’re really procrastinating on, because everyone is procrastinating on something in life.” This is true. Don’t we all have something — a goal, a dream, a project — that we have but haven’t started yet? This wake up to reality is the logic that makes anyone realize the true effects of procrastination. Every week you put off chasing your dream, accomplishing your goal, or working on your aspirations, is another box crossed off that calendar.
4. He challenges his audience.
After showing everyone the Life Calendar, he extends a challenge to them. We all have a job to do somewhere, “And because there’s not that many boxes on there, it’s a job that should probably start today.” This challenge he extends is the cherry on top of a rhetorical sundae. The act of him challenging his audience inherently influences them. Challenging someone to help them live up to their potential is what makes people want to take action; especially when the challenger has credibility. They want to live up to that potential! This again appeals to the values of productivity, determination, and self-improvement mentioned earlier.
When all is said and done, Tim Urban’s rhetoric leaves his audience and I both feeling inspired and determined to make the most out of this short life. He exemplifies the values that make us become the best that we can be, which allow us to connect and join him in his cause. He treats us as if we are a friend, and uses humor to help establish a binding connection with us. He shows us the fact that life is really not that long — the life calendar should speak that to anyone. Not to mention that, “That’s not that many boxes, especially since we’ve already used a bunch of those.”
If you feel inspired or now have a desire to listen to his talk, then I have done my job. With that being said, we need to all take a lesson from Tim Urban and not procrastinate our life. We can’t put off what we have been wanting to do for our whole lives. If we do, we will look back on how we lived full of regret. So take action, today. “Well, maybe not today, but…you know. Sometime soon.”