Why We Procrastinate with Wait But Why’s Tim Urban


For the average college student, procrastinating is a friendly foe. Sometimes, I feel like the phrase “How can it be so wrong when it feels so right?” highlights my procrastinating experience. You experience immediate joy when you’re trumping Donald repeatedly on www.trumpdonald.com or watching a video about how this Brooklyn bakery makes rainbow bagels.

But when crunch time rolls around and you’ve got a research paper due at 11:59 p.m. that day, 7 p.m. seems like a good time to open Microsoft Word. Often we wonder: how did I get to this place and did I mean for this to happen?

On Tuesday night, the Brown University Entrepreneurship Program brought Tim Urban from the popular blog Wait But Why to come speak about the reasons underlying procrastination. His lecture was in preparation for a TED talk that he is scheduled to do in the coming week.

Through friendly stick-figure characters, Urban illustrated the process of procrastination and how he developed ways to avoid it. One of the most impactful parts of his presentation was how he deconstructed our minds into an easily comprehensible way, namely positioning our brains as having a “rational decision-maker” and an “instant gratification monkey.” The monkey takes control of the steering wheel inside our heads until a “panic monster” runs in and scares the monkey away, allowing us to take control of our brains and start that damn paper.

He ended his talk with a technique that he’s found helpful for avoiding the monkey’s taunts: prove that you can do something to give your rational decision-maker the confidence it needs to fight off the monkey. Do something once, and next time you can say to yourself “I’ve done it before … why not do it again?” A notable point he made was that setting personal deadlines was not an effective way of managing procrastination, BUT a great alternative is to inflict a large amount of pressure by holding yourself accountable to a large group of people.

Tim held a Q&A during the last half hour of the event that revealed more about the content of this future posts and his thoughts on artificial intelligence. He plans on eventually writing about genetic engineering, mindfulness and meditation, among other fascinating topics that seem fuzzy to most people. Tim then explained his stance on artificial intelligence, which is based on his belief that a life-changing event in that sector is bound to happen within our lifetimes based on the exponential rate of technological growth the world has seen recently.

He also revealed the initial intentions of Wait But Why. The idea was conceived when Tim and his business partner, Andrew, noticed the vast sea of content on social media platforms like Facebook. A majority of content was either targeting an extremely specific audience, or was too broad in the sense that it had been rewritten over several iterations (AKA “How Millennials can de-stress in 20 steps”). However, when a really great article popped up, it was shared and re-shared until it went to the top of our newsfeeds. They sought to bring back that good-quality content. Food for thought for us bloggers.

Tim not only gave us something to think about, but also made us reflect on the way we think. Procrastination is often rooted in something much deeper, and rather than putting duct tape on the boat several times, perhaps we ought to investigate those issues and just build a better boat.

Check out more of his articles here. My personal favorites are his series on Elon Musk, artificial intelligence, and “what makes you you?” Read them now…or put it off until tomorrow.

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