How often do you catch yourself putting things off until tomorrow? Does “tomorrow” ever really come? In Solving the Procrastination Puzzle, you’ll learn what causes you to procrastinate, how it can negatively affect your life, and some practical ways to fight it off.
Solving the Procrastination Puzzle: A Concise Guide to Strategies for Change, by Timothy A. Pychyl, Ph.D., is actually based on nearly twenty years of procrastination research. Pychyl has been writing about procrastination and how to overcome it’s dark powers in Psychology Today’s “Don’t Delay” blog for years, and he also hosts the iProcrastinate Podcast, which has been downloaded millions of times. At Pychyl’s website, procrastination.ca, you can learn more about his research group and find tons of academic publications on the subject.
Who This Book Is For
This book is for anyone that puts things off or believes they “work better under pressure.” Solving the Procrastination Puzzle is full of research-supported explanations for why we procrastinate, and how your mind tricks you into to misjudging your ability. Pychyl’s use of language keeps concepts grounded and easy to understand, and if you’re a fast reader, you can probably get through the whole book in a couple of hours. It’s self-help, but its tips are straightforward and grounded, and the delivery is streamlined so you’re only learning what you need to. As Pychyl clarifies early on, this book talks about psychological research in a way that is accessible to someone who doesn’t normally read about psychological research.
Lastly, this book is for you if you’re reading this right now instead of doing something else you’re supposed to.
What You’ll Get
In Solving the Procrastination Puzzle, you’ll learn the important difference between experiencing a delay and procrastinating your tasks. You’ll also see how your procrastination’s seemingly harmless consequences can actually compound over time and negatively affect your personal well-being, as well as the well-being of those around you. The book is filled with tips that will help you learn how to self-regulate your need to always feel good in the moment, so you can begin any tasks regardless of how you might feel about them. In each chapter, Pychyl uses real-life examples or stories to make the concepts and strategies being discussed understandable to anyone. Here is what you’ll learn in a few of the book’s key chapters:
- In the chapter “Is Procrastination Really a Problem?”, you’ll learn research shows that procrastinating often leads to lousy work (despite people’s claims of “working well under pressure”), poor health, and that procrastination won’t likely make you feel any happier overall when you put things off. As Pychyl explains, “Procrastination is a problem with not getting on with life itself. When we procrastinate on our goals, we are our own worst enemy, These are our goals… When we procrastinate on our goals, we are basically putting off our lives.”
- In the chapter “Why We Won’t Feel Like It Tomorrow”, you’ll learn that always saving things for tomorrow is a problem because more often than not, “tomorrow” never comes. You’ll also learn why it feels so good to say that you’ll do something later, even if you know it’s not a good idea in general. For example, when you decide to put off work now, it feels rewarding in the moment (yay free time!), and the intention to act tomorrow (“I’ll do it first thing in the morning”) can lead to you rewarding yourself for being so proactive. Procrastination becomes a way for you to manufacture your own short-term happiness as a coping mechanism for dealing with the stress you’re actually creating for yourself.
- In the chapter “Excuses and Self-deception”, you’ll learn the psychology of why you say things like “it’s not due for weeks,” “I can finish that in a couple of hours,” and “I work better under pressure.” Excuses come in all shapes and sizes, likely hiding the real reason you can’t buckle down and get to work. It has nothing to do with laziness and more to do with a few strong cognitive biases. For example, procrastination can be a way to self-handicap. If you wait til the last minute to do something and it turns out great, it’s a monumental achievement. If you do the same thing, but it turns out poorly, you can say that you didn’t have that much time to do it anyway. Becoming aware of those biases makes procrastination a lot easier to manage.
- In the chapter “Willpower, Willpower: If We Only Had the Willpower”, you’ll learn that building willpower is like building muscle. If you don’t exercise it, you won’t get any stronger. Your willpower can be exhausted and it can make procrastination an endless loop of lost motivation. When willpower fades, you need to stop and remember why it was important for you to do the task in the first place. Focus on your intention for doing the task, not the way you feel in the moment.
Each chapter also has exercises that can help you become more aware of your procrastination tendencies, as well as how those tendencies might be causing issues in other parts of your life. Pychyl provides blank tables and diagrams in the book for you to fill out and do the exercises, but he also suggests that doing the exercises mentally can be just as effective. I tried all of the exercises mentally as I read through the book and actually found them pretty effective. It’s not easy to do, but facing up to your procrastination issues can put a big spotlight on your inefficiencies. Once your issues are in the light, it’s a lot easier to catch yourself doing the things that cause your procrastination issues in the first place. You don’t have to write anything down, but don’t skip the exercises; they help.
One Trick You’ll Take Away
While each chapter in this book has a solid selection of helpful tips, I had one personal favourite. You probably already know how big a part motivation plays in pursuing your goals, but the concept of “needing motivation” can also become an excuse in of itself. Pychyl suggests a simple mantra to avoid falling into the “I need motivation to get started” trap:
“My current motivational state does not need to match my intention in order to act.”
This is a common misconception about goal pursuit: We believe that we have to actually feel like it. We don’t. And, with many of the tasks in our lives, we won’t feel like it…ever! The thing is, our motivational state does not need to match the intention. We can do something even if we do not feel like it. Parents spend a lot of time explaining this to their children.
Yet, somewhere along the way we forget. We wait and hope that we’ll finally wake up one day and “feel like it,” but it doesn’t come. Motivation can come, however, from getting started and building a little momentum. To move past your motivation excuses, Pychyl suggests a technique called “implementation intention.” Essentially, it’s an “if-then” trigger that you create for yourself. For example, if you find yourself at work thinking “I just don’t feel like doing this right now,” then you should tell yourself that you only have to work on it for a few minutes. As we’ve said before, getting started is everything, and even a few minutes of work is better than nothing at all. Self awareness is key to beating procrastination, and it takes practice to catch yourself trying to take the easy way out, so find an implementation intention that works for you and run with it.
Solving the Procrastination Puzzle is the perfect field guide for fighting off one of productivity’s greatest enemies. All of the information provided in the book is based on legitimate research and translated into a form that pretty much anyone can understand. If a term needs to be explained, Pychyl will explain it. Otherwise, most of the book is just a down-to-Earth procrastination expert sitting in his backwards chair like a hip school counsellor to level with you. There are no magic tricks, no shortcuts, and the mantras are there to be a simple reminder for each main concept. Pychyl strongly emphasises that overcoming procrastination takes a lot more effort than reading a book, and at one point even suggests you stop reading if you can’t accept the fact that taking action is necessary to change.
With all the good it does, however, there are a few aspects of the book that might not click with some people. Throughout the book there are comic strips specifically written and drawn to help explain some of the concepts in each chapter. Some are funny, but most just seem a little corny, and they don’t really seem necessary when Pychyl already explains the concepts well enough with his real-life examples. Fortunately, they’re easy to skip over. Also, the book isn’t a single page longer than it needs to be. For some, it might look too short to be worthwhile, but rest assured, Solving the Procrastination Puzzle is a handy how-to guide without all the unnecessary fluff you might find in a lot of other self-help type books.
Pychyl kept the book short intentionally, and he even talks about why he thought it was important that a book about procrastination not be something that eats up too much of your time. And despite it being a quick read, it doesn’t feel thin, and you’re still provided with plenty of details about the important studies referenced in the book. Pychyl explains where you can learn more about procrastination research if you so choose, but he also cautions that too much reading about procrastination is just another way to procrastinate. A little procrastination here and there isn’t always bad for you, but if you’re looking for a straight-shootin’ book that will help kick your butt into gear, this one is certainly worth adding to your list.
You can grab Solving the Procrastination Puzzle: A Concise Guide to Strategies for Positive Change on paperback for $15.67. You can also learn more about procrastination at Pychyl’s web site.