Watch Tim Urban’s TED talk, Inside the mind of a master procrastinator.

Tim Urban

The talk is humorous, and it confirms the rule for writers and speakers: know what you’re talking about. Tim wrote a post on the same subject at Wait But Why. The talk is based on the post. Anything that makes you take yourself less seriously is usually a good thing, so Tim’s thoughts on the subject will probably help you look at your own patterns of procrastination in a lighter way.

Writing this post, you could say, is a form of procrastination for me. I should be outside today. I could write a long post about the thoughts I had after watching Tim’s TED talk. I’ll refrain from that, however, to note a few statistics instead. Today I see that I completed the 2,299th game of FreeCell on my iPad. The average time per game is 7:24, or 444 seconds per game. 2,299 x 444 = 1,020,756: over a million seconds!

I don’t even want to convert those seconds to hours, but here we go. 1,020,756 / 3,600 = 283.5 hours. That’s a lot. You remember that a week has 168 hours in it. We are talking about almost twelve days of FreeCell here, twenty-four hours a day.

Will those numbers make me stop playing FreeCell? Probably not. When I calculated total playing time back when the number of games was a lot less, the total time played was still appalling. But I like the game. I don’t mind that it’s an addiction. It will pass, like other addictive games pass. You can call it a time waster, or you can call it an escape that prepares your mind for other things. Our minds seem to need plenty of time off, where we pursue apparently unproductive activities while other things ripen in the background.

So let me finish with a book a friend recommended a long time ago, Alan Lakein’s How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life. Lakein suggests, for those of us who deal with procrastination – and I’d say that’s pretty much everybody – don’t dwell on it. Remind yourself, “I did what I wanted to do,” and go to whatever comes next. If you’re confident that everything happens for a reason, you’ll be confident that what you did while you procrastinated happened for a reason, too.

Tim ends his talk with a graphic that shows with little squares the number of weeks – 4,680 – in a ninety-year life. That seems like a lot, but we know how fast weeks go by. Tim offers up a serious remark as he concludes: deferring what we really want to do can make us feel like spectators in our own life. I would say we switch between active participation and watching life go by quite a lot, and that we need to spend time in both modes. Yet the clock advances, and we’ll always be aware of it. I suppose we’ll always wonder, too, if we were in the arena long enough.