Tim Urban: Inside the mind of a master procrastinator | TED | Summary and Q&A

April 6, 2016
YouTube video player
Tim Urban: Inside the mind of a master procrastinator | TED


Procrastinators have a "Rational Decision-Maker" and an "Instant Gratification Monkey" in their brain, which leads to conflict and long-term procrastination.

Install to Summarize YouTube Videos and Get Transcripts

Key Insights

  • šŸ›ļø Procrastination is a common behavior that affects people in various aspects of their lives, including academic, personal, and professional endeavors.
  • šŸ§  Procrastinators have both a Rational Decision-Maker and an Instant Gratification Monkey in their brains, causing conflict between long-term goals and instant gratification.
  • šŸµ The Instant Gratification Monkey often takes control, leading procrastinators into the "Dark Playground," where they engage in unproductive activities.
  • šŸšØ The Panic Monster wakes up when deadlines approach, forcing procrastinators to prioritize and complete tasks under pressure. ā° Procrastination can have short-term effects when deadlines are involved, but for long-term goals without deadlines, it can lead to chronic unhappiness and regrets.
  • šŸ“§ Procrastination is a relatable issue for many people, as illustrated by the thousands of emails the speaker received from individuals in various professions and walks of life.
  • šŸ—“ļø The Life Calendar serves as a reminder for everyone to reflect on what they are procrastinating on and to actively combat the Instant Gratification Monkey in order to pursue their goals.
  • šŸ“… Overcoming procrastination requires self-awareness and a conscious effort to take action, even in the absence of external deadlines.


So in college, I was a government major, which means I had to write a lot of papers. Now, when a normal student writes a paper, they might spread the work out a little like this. So, you know -- (Laughter) you get started maybe a little slowly, but you get enough done in the first week that, with some heavier days later on, everything gets done, th... Read More

Questions & Answers

Q: How does the Instant Gratification Monkey affect the decision-making process of a procrastinator?

The Instant Gratification Monkey is a part of the brain that is solely focused on seeking immediate pleasure and avoiding difficult tasks. When confronted with a choice between a task that requires effort and one that provides instant gratification, the Monkey often takes control, leading to procrastination.

Q: What is the role of the Rational Decision-Maker in the procrastinator's brain?

The Rational Decision-Maker is the part of the brain that represents logic, long-term planning, and goal-oriented thinking. It tries to prioritize important tasks over easy and fun activities. However, its efforts are often overridden by the Instant Gratification Monkey.

Q: Can procrastination have long-term negative effects on an individual's life?

Yes, procrastination can lead to significant long-term consequences. By continuously putting off important tasks, individuals may miss out on opportunities, experience increased stress and anxiety, and have regrets about not pursuing their goals. Procrastination can also harm relationships and negatively impact one's overall well-being.

Q: How can individuals overcome procrastination and become more productive?

Overcoming procrastination requires self-awareness and the ability to manage the Instant Gratification Monkey. Setting clear goals, breaking tasks into smaller, manageable parts, creating a structured schedule, and seeking external accountability can all help in overcoming procrastination. Developing effective time management and self-discipline skills is also beneficial.


In this video, Tim Urban shares his personal experience with procrastination and explores the different parts of the procrastinator's brain. He introduces the Instant Gratification Monkey, the Rational Decision-Maker, and the Panic Monster, and how they interact with each other. Tim also discusses the two types of procrastination, deadline-based and long-term, and how it can impact people's lives. He concludes with the idea that everyone is a procrastinator to some extent and encourages viewers to reflect on their own procrastination habits using a Life Calendar.

Questions & Answers

Q: How did Tim Urban's normal work flow for writing papers differ from the typical student?

When writing papers, Tim would start slowly but would eventually catch up and finish them on time with some heavier work days later on. However, he always ended up procrastinating and writing the papers at the last minute.

Q: How did Tim approach his 90-page senior thesis differently?

Since the senior thesis was a much larger project, Tim knew his normal work flow wouldn't work. He planned to start off light, gradually increase his efforts in the middle months, and then kick it up into high gear towards the end.

Q: Did Tim's revised plan for his senior thesis work?

No, his first few months passed without much progress, and he found himself in the same situation as before, needing a new plan.

Q: What is the "Instant Gratification Monkey"?

The Instant Gratification Monkey is a part of the procrastinator's brain. It lives in the present moment, seeks easy and fun things, and can hijack the Rational Decision-Maker's plans for productivity.

Q: How does the Instant Gratification Monkey affect a procrastinator's ability to work?

When the Rational Decision-Maker tries to make a rational decision to be productive, the Monkey takes over and suggests engaging in more enjoyable activities instead. This leads to the procrastinator spending time in an easy and fun place known as the Dark Playground.

Q: What are some examples of activities that the Instant Gratification Monkey might suggest?

The Monkey might suggest reading Wikipedia articles, checking the refrigerator, going on a YouTube spiral, or engaging in any other activities that provide instant gratification rather than doing productive work.

Q: What role does the Rational Decision-Maker play in the procrastinator's brain?

The Rational Decision-Maker is another part of the procrastinator's brain that enables long-term planning, visualization of the future, and making sense of what needs to be done. It aims to balance easy, fun activities with harder, less pleasant tasks for the sake of the big picture.

Q: How does the Rational Decision-Maker and the Instant Gratification Monkey conflict with each other?

The Rational Decision-Maker wants to prioritize productive tasks, while the Instant Gratification Monkey seeks instant gratification and prefers easy, fun activities. This conflict often leads to the procrastinator spending a lot of time in the easy and fun zone, rather than the productive one.

Q: Who is the "Panic Monster"?

The Panic Monster is another part of the procrastinator's brain that wakes up when a deadline gets too close or there is a threat of severe consequences. The Monkey is terrified of the Panic Monster.

Q: How does the Panic Monster affect the procrastinator's behavior?

When the Panic Monster wakes up, it causes the whole system to go into mayhem, and the Instant Gratification Monkey gets scared and retreats. This allows the Rational Decision-Maker to take control and start working on the task at hand.

Q: What are the two kinds of procrastination?

The first kind of procrastination is deadline-based, where the effects are contained to the short term because the Panic Monster gets involved. The second kind is long-term procrastination, which happens in situations without deadlines, and it can extend outward indefinitely.


Procrastination affects everyone to some extent, and it can have both short-term and long-term consequences. The procrastinator's brain is made up of different parts, such as the Rational Decision-Maker, the Instant Gratification Monkey, and the Panic Monster. While deadline-based procrastination can be managed through the involvement of the Panic Monster, long-term procrastination often leads to unhappiness and regret. Reflecting on our own procrastination habits and being aware of the Instant Gratification Monkey can help us take control of our lives and prioritize important tasks.

Summary & Key Takeaways

  • Procrastination is a common behavior that affects not just college students, but people in various fields and walks of life.

  • The brain of a procrastinator is different from that of a non-procrastinator, with the Instant Gratification Monkey often taking control.

  • Procrastination can have serious long-term consequences and prevent individuals from pursuing their dreams and goals.

Share This Summary šŸ“š

Summarize YouTube Videos and Get Video Transcripts with 1-Click

Download browser extensions on:

Explore More Summaries from TED šŸ“š

Summarize YouTube Videos and Get Video Transcripts with 1-Click

Download browser extensions on: