Sunday, January 09, 2011

Books: Still Procrastinating

Still Procrastinating?
the no-regrets guide to getting it done
By Joseph R. Ferrari, Ph.D.
Copyright 2010
237 pages
Published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

It is no secret that I have trouble with certain projects, most particularly some of my own work such as book writing, querying, etc. You know, the things I am supposed to be doing as a writer.

I am not late for appointments or meetings (unless there is an emergency), I return phone calls, and don't miss deadlines on assignments. I always turned in my schoolwork on time, too. Still, I consider procrastination a problem for me because of my inability to stay focused on my personal tasks.

I have read a number of time management books and other ways to boost productivity and end procrastination. A few have helped but nothing has been a full-scale saving grace. That goes for this book, too.
Here is a Guidepost article which quotes the author of this book. If you have any interest in this topic at all, I suggest reading this just as an FYI.

Still Procrastinating, written by a "distinguished professor of psychology at DePaul University," was the first book on procrastination that I actually found insulting. The author's writing reminded me of the attitude Jillian has on The Biggest Losers; i.e., she absolutely loathes obese people and has made it her life's work to eradicate them from the world in whatever mean way she possibly can. The author of Still Procrastinating apparently feels the same way about people who are late for meetings.

Additionally, I had a lot of trouble getting past a single sentence: "I try never to be late (eg., I leave my house at 5:15 a.m. for an 8 a.m. class, and it is only a thirty-five minute ride from home to campus - but you never know how bad the traffic will be, which could prevent you from getting to Chicago.). Okay then.

Maybe that is normal for you, but leaving three hours early for an appointment that is 35 minutes away seems like some other kind of personality issue to me - unless the appointment really is 2.5 hours away.

Anyway, the author uses words like "maladaptive" to describe procrastinators and blames this segment of society for most of the ills of the world, right down to the Christmas holiday sales and the way the government runs. Wow. I had no idea.

Additionally, he finds absolutely no validity in procrastination, even though his studies have determined that fully 1/5 of the world population has a serious procrastination problem, and that everyone procrastinates at some point in his or her life. He dismissed notions that procrastination is a part of the creative process although he did concede that many people in the arts are procrastinators.

I had a difficult time getting past the author's attitude but read the entire book hoping for some kind of hint that would help me with what I perceive as my procrastination problem. Unfortunately, while there were one or two good ideas in this book, the main message was "just do it," as if we all are Nike commercials waiting to happen. I do believe I've gotten more out of a good time management book.

One of his discussions talked about "minding the gap" and this was one I liked but he offered little in the way of solutions. The idea is there is a problem between intention and action; i.e., I set about to write something but never complete the action, or even move into performing the action. I have this trouble with longer creative works in particular, and according to this author, this is because I see the whole and not the parts. The whole is scary but the parts are doable, but the breaking down of the project, or the inability to do so, is the issue. While the author acknowledged and accurately described all of this, his only solution was to break it into parts and "do it." Well, I am pretty sure that anyone who acknowledges they have an issue knows that this is what needs to be done; there is still a gap there that went unaddressed, and inaction to action for some people takes a little something more. Or at least, it does for me on some things.

The author writes that people who claim to be night owls really are procrastinating, that people really do not work best under deadline pressures - pretty much every belief or myth one may hold about procrastination he considers an excuse not to perform. Perfectionists are really procrastinators in disguise, by the way.  Perfectionists need to get real and go for 80 percent perfect or right; anything more is overkill, according to this author.

Procrastinators also have as much time as everybody else; their perception of it is different, though.

Basically, procrastination boils down to a self-esteem issue. Doesn't everything?

Some of the information in this book sounded correct and I readily concede that procrastination is a problem for me and many others. I am not arguing with the correctness of the information. I do take issue with the tone in which it is delivered, though. If you wish to learn about procrastination from the point of view that it's a terrible problem and maybe gain a little understanding about that, then I recommend this book. If you don't like being called "maladaptive" for being human, and obviously I took offense at this, then I recommend you leave this one on the shelf.

Here are some of his tips for getting organized:

Create a sense of time urgency for the tasks you need to get done.
Figure out how long the task will take
Jot down a to-do list
Hold yourself accountable for getting things done
Keep your desk and workplace decluttered
Throw away the trash
Recognize the times in your work plan when you must focus on other tasks
For unpleasant tasks, give yourself 15 minute blocks of time to accomplish them
Don't be a "people pleaser".
Reward yourself if you accomplish 80 percent or more of your to-do list. (107-109)

Here are a few other quotes from the book:

"Popular theories would have us believe that procrastinators are unable to engage in strong self-control or to delay their gratification. In other words, they experience a failure to self-regulate." (86)

"do the difficult tasks before the easy ones" (86)

"Knowing the difference between what is important to get right and what is less important may save you lots of time and countless headaches." (94)

"...procrastinators delay just about any task - it doesn't matter what it is. They perceive the tasks that they delay, however, as unpleasant and possibly revealing of their level of skills and abilities." (133)

"learning to deal with procrastination means taking ownership of your strengths and your weaknesses. Change occurs when you realize that you must conquer your challenges. . . . Don't blame others, don't blame yourself - just take ownership of your life and move forward." (158) (Just Do It, damnit!)

"Prevention, not procrastination, is the message I am asking Americans to adopt. Let's postpone procrastination as a nation! ... As a culture, as a society, we need to focus on getting things done. We need to have new systems to promote people's meeting deadlines. Incentives need to be created for folks to act." (215-216) (I thought we were human beings, not human doings; guess I was wrong.)


  1. Hmmm. I wonder if this guy has some issues? Sounds like it to me! I love the way different folks figure out how to get things done. Different styles of getting things done makes the world an interesting, unpredictable place, and that is all right with me. Albeit messy and occasionally annoying! Sounds like I will pass on this book, as I don't respond very well to the condemning, beat yourself up over personality traits type of lecture. Thanks for the good
    review! Now, I had better stop procrastinating and get out to finish chores!

  2. Good Lord. He leave 3 hours early for appointments 35 minutes away?? I'm not a psychologist, but it sounds like this fellow might benefit from a book how to overcome one's extreme obsessive/compulsive behavior!
    Or maybe How to Win Friends and Influence People. But, of course, OBVIOUSLY he's vastly superior to the rest of us. :-)

    Thanks for a great (and revealing) review, Anita.


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