TED Talk: Procrastination, Increasing Motivation, Boosting Productivity

If you’re a procrastinator, you probably find it difficult to get things done—whether at work or in life.

Does this sound familiar: Even though you know procrastination hinders you from reaching your goals, you just can’t seem to break the habit.

Maybe you’ve even compared yourself to non-procrastinators, who appear to have so much self-control and self-discipline.

Beating procrastination isn’t that simple, though.

That’s why we’ve rounded up the best TED talks below to help you learn more about procrastination—including common causes, effects, and strategies to overcome it—from experts with different views on the subject.

9 TED Talks About Procrastination

An End to Procrastination – Archana Murthy

As a chronic procrastinator, Archana Murthy struggled with meeting school deadlines and producing quality work.

Every time she’d try to get started on a project or a paper, she’d find herself giving in to distractions and finding creative ways to postpone doing the task.

After procrastinating, she would immediately experience guilt and feel like a failure, but she wouldn’t be able to stop herself from repeating the same habit the next time around.

After her research on the topic, she found out that 20% of Americans share this problem too!

Consequently, she developed ‘Murthy’s Method to Mindful, Metacognitive Meaning’ as an end to procrastination.

This technique consists of the following steps:

#1 Set a Concrete and Specific Goal

An example could be to study one hour per day for your Physics class.

While you set up and get used to your routine, make sure to eliminate any distractions that could be tempting you to procrastinate—these could include your phone, social media, or your television.

#2 Be Positive

For Murthy, it helped to put a positive spin on the situation after making an error so that she didn’t feel trapped in a cycle of procrastination.

Therefore, you should surround yourself with positive feelings and push negative thoughts away

#3 Acknowledge Your Feelings After Success or Failure

Through self-reflection, you’ll understand how procrastination really makes you feel in the long-term and not just the short-term. Mindfulness will also help you create lasting change within yourself.

#4 Be Grateful

Being able to do certain tasks is an opportunity that not everyone has. When you realize this, you’ll find meaning in every little thing you do.

#5 Keep a Reflection Journal

Writing down your experiences will help you understand yourself better and adjust accordingly throughout your journey.

Using these 5 guidelines, Murthy was finally able to put an end to her procrastination, and maybe you can too!

This Is Perfect for:

Chronic procrastinators and people who are only extrinsically motivated to do tasks

I’m Not Lazy, I’m Procrastinating – Victoria Gonzalez

For Victoria Gonzalez, people should understand that laziness is not procrastination.

Instead, procrastination is caused by a deep-rooted fear of failure and a lack of self-confidence, which is why people have such a hard time overcoming it.

The difference between procrastinators and laziness?

Basically, a procrastinator has the intention to finish a task, but a lazy person won’t even bother trying.

How, then, should procrastinators solve their issues? Gonzales says it’s important to accept your true feelings before you try to change them:

#1 Accept Your True Feelings

First, acknowledge that your time management skills aren’t the problem. Then, ask yourself why you’re intentionally delaying tasks until the last minute, even when you know it’ll harm you in the end.

Are you scared your work will be subpar? Do you believe you’re not capable of performing well? Do you often compare yourself to others and put yourself down?

Chances are, your low self-esteem is unconsciously causing you to procrastinate so that you ‘fail’ because of time, not because of your own abilities.

#2 Take a Different Perspective

However, to move forward in life, you have to face the truth: Success (and failure) only happens when you actually try.

Yes, there’s a risk of failing, but conversely, there’s a big opportunity to succeed as well.

With that said, if you do fail, it isn’t the end of the world for you. Simply get back up, try again, and accept that all humans make mistakes.

Shifting your mindset will not only help you bounce back from any situation; it’ll also push you to work harder towards your goals.

For the younger generation, this talk will definitely help boost morale and increase motivation to stop procrastinating.

This Is Perfect for:

Young people lacking confidence and people with perfectionist attitudes

Inside the Mind of a Master Procrastinator – Tim Urban

In his TED talk, Tim Urban claims there are two entities fighting for attention in procrastinators’ brains: The Rational Decision-Maker and the Instant Gratification Monkey.

  • The Rational Decision-Maker tells you to do what makes sense for both your short-term and long-term goals.
  • The Instant Gratification Monkey pushes you to do things that are easy and fun.

Then, when your deadline approaches, the Panic Monster enters and scares away the Instant Gratification Monkey so you can finally start on the project.

Now, this doesn’t seem like such a horrible situation because you eventually get to work on your tasks, right?

Well, on the contrary, depending on the Panic Monster isn’t sustainable, and it’s also ineffective for life goals without deadlines.

#1 Dangerous Effects of Long-Term Procrastination

Because people often have goals without strict deadlines or time constraints, procrastination can really harm your growth, according to Tim Urban.

If you want to become an entrepreneur and earn a significant amount of money, for instance, there’s no specific task you have to complete by Friday.

Given this, you have to possess enough self-discipline throughout the whole process while you work towards that goal.

If you always give in to procrastination, you could miss tons of great opportunities, experience a lot of regrets, and become unhappier in the long run.

#2 Steps to Take

To combat this, Urban says you should be aware of the two entities in your mind and learn to prioritize what’s most important.

People are always procrastinating on something, but if they learn to be mindful of their actions and the limited time they have on their hands, it becomes a little bit easier to focus on the things that matter.

Urban’s views of procrastination in this TED conference are very relatable and easy to understand, so this one is great if you want to learn more about the subject matter.

This Is Perfect for:

People who want a humorous, engaging, and informative take on procrastination

Procrastination is the Key to Problem Solving – Andrea Jackson

What’s interesting about this TED talk is that Andrea Jackson discusses the benefits of procrastination, not its harms.

For her, procrastination actually boosts productivity and creativity in workplaces because people are more likely to formulate a better idea over a longer period of time.

In the video, Jackson classifies procrastinators into two types: Accidental procrastinators and deliberate procrastinators.

Let’s look at two of society’s greatest inventors:

  • Leonardo da Vinci, who delayed working on the Mona Lisa for years, falls in the Accidental Procrastinators category.

Although it seemed like he was wasting time on tasks unrelated to his project, Leonardo da Vinci was able to absorb new ideas, techniques, and styles that probably impacted the quality of that masterpiece.

  • Thomas Edison, on the other hand, practiced deliberate procrastination by purposely postponing his work until the ‘right moment’.

Because his mind had time to process all these bits and pieces of new information, Thomas Edison was able to come up with a more flexible and innovative idea.

How do you practice this kind of productive procrastination, though?

#1 Put Off Procrastinating

To activate the ‘supersonic jigsaw puzzle’ that spurs creativity in your mind, you have to do a little bit of work on the task.

This gets your brain focused on things related to your big idea without committing entirely to just one way of thinking.

#2 Distract Yourself

Next, you have to distract yourself with one thing that won’t require full brainpower or focus.

Things like short TED talks/videos, easy computer games, and simple chores will leave room for your brain to play around with your ideas and keep engaging with its supersonic jigsaw puzzle.

#3 Have Firm Deadlines

However, to make sure you actually progress, it makes sense to set limits. Firm deadlines will help your supersonic jigsaw puzzle focus on pulling the pieces together so you finish your work on time.

If you’re having trouble with your procrastination, this video may help you figure out how to use it to your advantage.

This Is Perfect for:

People who want to boost their creativity and productivity through deliberate procrastination

The Surprising Habits of Original Thinkers – Adam Grant

In his TED talk (and book), Adam Grant reveals that many healthy procrastinators are actually the ones who successfully implement revolutionary ideas in the real world.

To be an ‘original’, you should be quick to start but slow to finish.

As a precrastinator, Grant is used to getting things done ahead of time. On the flip side, an extreme procrastinator is someone who waits until the very last minute to get to work.

According to his research, though, both types score quite low in terms of creativity.

The ones in the sweet spot—in between procrastinators and procrastinators—are often originals.

For example, Martin King Luther Jr., who delayed final edits for his speech, came up with the famous phrase “I have a dream” on the day itself.

Although he had a speech written, he came up with one genius line because he wasn’t closed off to improvisation and experimentation.

What makes originals so successful?

#1 They Try the Most

Well, originals don’t get deterred by failure.

Instead of feeling self-doubt, which can be paralyzing, they channel this negative energy instead towards idea-doubt, which drives them to find innovative ways to improve.

They also accept that their first few drafts will most probably be bad but that it’s nothing to be ashamed of.

Rather, these are opportunities for growth and learning that will lead to success in the end.

#2 They Give Themselves Time to Think

Contrary to popular belief, originals aren’t always ‘first movers’.

They improve on things that are already out there by giving themselves time to process information and ideas.

Companies like Facebook and Apple didn’t create something entirely new; they built on existing concepts and made them better through thorough, careful research and analysis.

Thus, to be a leader, you have to allow your brain to think and be agile—search for new approaches to conventional methods, be flexible, and get creative!

This Is Perfect for:

Those interested in the correlations between procrastination, productivity, and the creative process

The Vaccination for Procrastination – Bronwyn Clee

According to Bronwyn Clee, one of the leading causes of procrastination is fear.

In her TED talk, she discusses the role psychology plays in our decision-making habits—while some individuals are natural decision-makers, others find it difficult to take action because of their self-doubt.

The reason is that this fear blocks initiative and creativity, which are necessary for productivity and effective time management.

Now, if you want to get out of your procrastination rut, she recommends the following steps:

#1 Allow Yourself to Change

First, give yourself permission to change.

Be kind to yourself and recognize that every day is a new opportunity to take action. After all, past failures or mistakes do not dictate the things you can achieve in the future.

To kickstart real growth, you have to change your negative views on the matter.

#2 Get Specific About What You Want to Change

Next, identify what exactly you want to change.

Sometimes, saying one goal out loud or jotting it down on paper helps you clearly visualize what you want to achieve.

Once you’ve settled on it, it’ll be much easier to figure out the next steps.

#3 Identify Steps to Achieve This

Now that you’ve stated the problem, plan out your next steps.

If you want to change your unhealthy lifestyle, for instance, these might include:

  • Drinking at least 8 glasses of water a day
  • Getting 30 minutes of daily exercise
  • Cutting out junk food from your diet

#4 Take Action

All that’s left to do is take action! The process will not be easy when you first start out, but you’ll definitely get used to it over time.

Remember, it’s okay to make mistakes as long as you pick yourself up and try again. Repetition is key to sustainable and long-lasting change.

This Is Perfect for:

Those who want to boost their confidence, take action, and change themselves for the better

Trust the Procrastinator – Valerie Brown

Another interesting video is this TED talk by Valerie Brown, who looks at the positive side of procrastination.

As a procrastinator herself, Brown used to have issues working with those who possessed different views on work habits and productivity.

This all changed when a procrastinator saw her rise to the occasion despite not having ‘prepared’ for it.

Brown suggests there’s no one, right way to do things. In her case, working near the deadline made her more creative and innovative, which led to better results for everyone involved.

Procrastinators merely have to trust that procrastinators won’t work on their time, but they’ll definitely get it done on time. However, Brown also reminds us to be mindful of how we procrastinate.

#1 Mindful Procrastination

Leonardo da Vinci, who worked for 16 years before completing the Mona Lisa, didn’t spend his time doing useless things.

Although he wasn’t working on his artwork, he was learning more about light, optics, and other techniques, which developed his skills as a painter.

Similarly, Brown tells us there’s a difference between mindful procrastination and giving in to distractions.

Playing games all day won’t add a lot of significant value to your life, but taking a step back from your project to recharge and refocus will.

Here’s one piece of useful advice she gives: The next time you have the urge to procrastinate, choose between two options:

  1. Either do the task you’ve been putting off, or
  2. Do nothing for an hour—no Facebook, Instagram, Netflix, or anything else.

Chances are unless you really need a break, you’ll choose the former.

This Is Perfect for:

Procrastinators who struggle working with non-procrastinators (or vice versa)

Why We Procrastinate – Vik Nithy

In this TED talk/video, Vik Nithy explores the different areas of our brain and why we give in to procrastination.

He explains that the prefrontal cortex, which helps us make rational decisions, shuts down when the amygdala and the limbic system activate.

These subconscious, primitive systems prioritize our physiological needs, so it becomes more difficult for us to view the bigger picture at that moment.

Given this, how do we move past our mind’s automatic response?

#1 Use Metacognition

First, Nithy says it’s helpful to use metacognition—thinking about thinking.

If we’re more aware of what’s going on in our brains, we can plan out more effective solutions to combat the problem.

Thus, before we impulsively act on anything, we should always take some time to think about the situation and our decision.

#2 Plan Goals, Deadlines, and Steps

Then, it’s imperative to plan out your next steps:

  1. Plan goals and break them up into parts so that it’s less overwhelming for you. Plan a schedule you can realistically work around, and make this routine part of your life.
  2. Next, prepare everything you need for the task beforehand so you don’t have an excuse to stop working.
  3. Plan the process so you don’t get lost in the middle and lose momentum. Eliminate all distractions and temptations from your work environment.
  4. Lastly, plan for failure. Accept that a lot of things will be tough, but acknowledge that you have the ability to get through them eventually too.

This Is Perfect for:

Individuals who want to overcome procrastination but don’t know where to start

Overcome Your Demons

Clearly, procrastination isn’t black or white.

The videos above touch on both its advantages and disadvantages, so you can understand both sides of the spectrum and decide on the best course of action for you.

We hope you enjoyed watching the best TED talks and TED events on procrastination and that you learned a lot from them! Feel free to post a comment on this page if you have any other questions.

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