The Procrastination Equation (by Dr Piers Steel)

In browsing online, reading about procrastination at the end of last year, I came across recommendations for this book. I then looked on Amazon for reviews and further recommendations; I had never heard of Dr Piers Steel, and there were many different books on the topic. But eventually I decided to get hold of this one, and was delighted to find it inexpensively available on the AwesomeBooks site.

I started reading ‘The Procrastination Equation’ a few weeks ago, and found it extremely interesting. The author has done a great deal of research on the field, and acknowledges that he is as prone to putting things off as anyone is. The subtitle to the book is ‘How to stop putting things off and start getting things done’; I was somewhat cynical about this lofty claim, but also intrigued.

In the first chapter the author defines procrastination as voluntarily putting things off even though we know that it would be better to do them now. I thought this a helpful definition, and I also appreciated the point that sometimes we deliberately put things off for good reasons. This may be, for instance, because we know that something will change, or perhaps because we know that we’re unable to do a good job at the moment. However this is not procrastination and should not be confused with it.

In the second chapter there’s a useful questionnaire, reduced from a lengthy one on the author’s website, which calculates the tendency of each person to procrastinate for one of three main reasons: lack of value in what we know we should do, low expectations about it, or a tendency to act in the moment and put off things that we can probably do in future. I scored fairly highly in all, but was surprised to learn that my highest form of procrastination is the time-sensitive one. I have never thought of myself as impulsive, but the word is used in a somewhat different way in this book, and it made a lot of sense.

The rest of the book looks more deeply into what makes people procrastinate, using a somewhat contrived ‘equation’ relating to value, expectancy and time. It also looks briefly at the physical makeup of our brains, related to this issue, and why people (particularly children) are prone to putting off important things even when they know they may regret it. Most importantly, it gives suggestions and methods for helping people to overcome procrastinating tendencies.

I don’t know that I’ve become less of a procrastinator by reading this book (it’s a little ironic that it has taken me four days to get around to reviewing it….) but I’m a lot more aware of what procrastination is. I am also starting to question my motives and to distinguish putting things off for positive reasons from the anxiety that can arise when truly procrastinating.

The book is very readable, written for non-academics but without any hint of talking down, and there's some low-key humour in places. I would recommend it highly to anyone interested in the topic.

Review by copyright 2017 Sue's Book Reviews

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