Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Procrastination Equation by Piers Steel

Steel, Piers. The Procrastination Equation: How to stop Putting Things Off and Start Getting Stuff Done. New York: Harper, 2011.

I don’t have a reputation as a procrastinator. In fact, some employers and clients have hired me because of my ability to get things done. However, looking around my home and office I saw many unfinished and delayed projects that indicated procrastination was a problem for me in some areas.

In The Procrastination Equation, Piers Steel describes the reasons behind procrastination and its scary costs, both to individuals and society. Fortunately, he also provides strategies for overcoming procrastination.

The big issue for procrastinators is impulsivity. I balked at this at first; I didn’t see myself as an impulsive person. When I read Steels description of how it works, I admitted to myself that I was more impulsive than I realized.



Impulsivity is an issue for nearly all procrastinators, indeed for nearly all people. Our limbic system drives use to respond to immediate concrete payoffs. Most of us live and work in a world of more distant, abstract goals, the realm of the prefrontal cortex. In the battle between the will of the prefrontal cortex and the urges of the limbic system, the limbic system is much stronger, so most of us are wired to give in to immediate gratification and give up, for a while, on seemingly far off, ethereal and uncertain objectives.

The way we live hits us from both sides. The greatest benefits accrue to those who can delay immediate gratification for greater, later benefits (eat vegetables instead of cookies, exercise instead of sleep in late, save money rather than spending it on the latest gadget). On the other side, we are bombarded with distractions that have immediate payoffs (especially television and the internet).

Steel offers methods for bolstering the prefrontal cortex, reducing distractions and even turning our impulsivity to our advantage. Even before I was finished with the book, I was seeing ways I could put some of these techniques into practice for myself.

There are other reasons for procrastination, but not many. You can take a short test in the book to find out why you procrastinate. In my case, one other factor in Steel’s equation was significant in my procrastination. I could see how it influenced my delaying habits throughout my life, even going back to my rebellion against spelling homework and multiplication tables in third grade (it’s amazing that I passed third grade).

I haven’t eliminated procrastination overnight (I just finished reading the book), and Steel doesn’t suggest anyone can. One can start doing something about it right away, and the science-based approaches offered in this book offer a reasonable expectation of success.

As an aside, I tweeted that I was reading the book and Dr. Steel and he replied with a humorous tweet that demonstrates my theory that published authors are also salesmen. (By the way, the tone of his book is often humorous, too.) Any of us who have a product or service to offer are salesmen, including me. Anyway, if you’re reading this, Dr. Steel, I managed to return the book to the library on time. Perhaps a few of the readers of this review will due us both the favor of buying a copy of the book.

If you’re interested in this book, you may also be interested in
How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life by Alan Lakein
One Small Step Can Change Your Life by Robert Maurer
The Richest Man Who Ever Lived by Steven K. Scott