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The Procrastination Equation: How to Stop Putting Things Off and Start Getting Stuff Done [Paperback]

Piers Steel
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
Price: £9.11 & FREE Delivery in the UK on orders over £10. Details
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Product details

  • Paperback: 339 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (3 Jan 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061703621
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061703621
  • Product Dimensions: 20.6 x 13.7 x 2.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 586,709 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The hard way is the best way 15 Sep 2011
I decided in writing this review, to draw attention to the hardback version which at the time of looking is cheaper to buy than the paperback. If this is true at the time you read this review, then I suggest you pat yourself on the back and place your order now, as you clearly have researched hard to reach this point and are a contrarian thinker who picks the higher fruit from the tree. The book will reward you first by being a well researched academic piece that is written with humour and skill to deliver a very powerful and personal message. It will absolutely destroy all the lies that you have told yourself about how you know where everything is in your piled high "filing" system and that doing everything at the last minute is motivating to you. The book gets to the very core about what your real motivations are in procrastination and will explain to you either why you are not a leader, or not as good a leader as you could be. It will cause you to recognise the difference it has made and will make to your life. Unfortunately the author makes the rigid decision of tying himself entirely to the academic world in that if it hasn't been researched and scientifically proven then it doesn't exist. Therefore in his world Billy-Bob Hokey and all the unlearned but wise old sages who have homespun advice are entirely ignored in favour of research about dinosaurs and neuro science. Ok so in summary you have a sound book based on academic rigour and translated into humanspeak, which doesn't tell you that other non academic books also have great merit. The writer offers many good techniques at a Guardian reader rather than Sun reader level and explains that your procrastination is powerfully linked to traits such as impulsiveness. Read more ›
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best book on this topic I’ve read 5 Feb 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Absolutely jammed full of good ideas and insights of use and interest beyond solving procrastination. Well written and clear. I’ve read a number of books on this topic and this is easily the best. I would say though, as with all self-help books, they don’t know you and your specific problems and that is often very significant. In my case I concluded that I don’t really have a procrastination problem I have a problem with hating my life situation and procrastination was the outcome.
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Amazon.com: 3.8 out of 5 stars  64 reviews
82 of 85 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Overwritten and underplanned 11 Jan 2011
By D. Scott - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
While this book has an exhaustive (and exhausting) explanation for *why* people procrastinate, the "solutions" are actually rather skimpy and already well known, seemingly added as almost an afterthought. I respect author Piers Steel's research and expertise on the causes of procrastination, and I think his "procrastination equation" (motivation = [expectancy x value] / [impulsiveness x delay]) could be useful in seeking ways to overcome procrastination. But, unfortunately, he just has not presented nearly enough of them here (and certainly not in an easily accessible format).

Throughout the book, Steel uses three fictional characters to illustrate his points. This is a common technique in self-help books, but he uses it so extensively, I got the feeling that Steel would actually rather be writing novels: his fictional procrastinators meet up and get romantically involved! I found all of this to be distracting (and time wasting), not illustrative. Procrastinators don't want to wade through page after page of dialogue; they want bulleted lists!

Steel repeatedly says that he wanted to keep the nature of his audience in mind; thus, his intent was to keep the book lively. But he drones on like a self-amused college professor who is fond of telling irrelevant stories (Steel is, in fact, an associate professor). Perhaps his numerous and often extensive tangents were intended to keep the reader interested, but most of them seem to be included for the sole purpose of showing off that Steel is a walking compendium of information. And he seems a little too proud of himself. He praises his own work and cites his own credentials far too often throughout the book. He comes across as being a little bit insecure, as if he *expects* to be questioned. He's the painfully nerdy (but brilliant) boy in school who just doesn't get why he gets a blank stare from the other kids when he giggles and declares that Parus major is the "best studied bird in the world."

Among the pointers in the book:
* Build your self-confidence by trying new and difficult things.
* Watch inspirational movies.
* Turn off your cell phone when you need to work.
* Avoid distractions and temptations.
* Give yourself rewards.
* Get a job you love.
* Make specific goals.
* Break down big projects into manageable chunks.
* Get in the habit of not procrastinating.

Yeah, nothing really new or useful. However, if you have several hours to blow, you might learn a few things. Despite its shortcomings, there is a lot of information (fully cited) in this book. You just have to wade through a lot to get to it. I don't blame Steel so much as I blame Harper Collins for not extracting a better book out of him. With some slash-and-burn editing and a full reorganization, this book might have had a lot to offer.
79 of 82 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars We All Do It. Here's An Interesting and Plausible Explanation 2 Jan 2011
By frankp93 - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
If I come away from a book with one new idea or a fresh take on a familiar one, I consider the read worthwhile. The takeaway in Piers Steel's `The Procrastination Equation' is the notion that procrastination, contrary to popular perception, is neither the result of perfectionism nor of simple laziness.

Perfectionism might be a comforting rationale (`If I can't do something to my exacting high standards, it's a real struggle for me to do it at all.'). Nice try but, according to Steel and his research, true perfectionists actually accomplish quite a lot in spite of their high standards. And blaming it all on laziness is a too simple cop-out that our culture too often buys into with stereotypes.

For most of us, according to the author, the root cause of this tendency to delay tasks is impulsiveness, which lies at the core of a complex interplay of personality traits and environment. It's not a question of what we can't bring ourselves to do but rather a question of what we too easily and too often uncontrollably choose to do instead.

The jargon-free neurobiological overview of how our brains regard short and longer spans of time was clear and informative. It turns out those Zen monks were right: we truly are wired to live in the moment. It's only since civilization has allowed us to plan for the longer term (weeks, months, even years ahead) that procrastination has truly come into its own, with a solid majority of people now acknowledging some degree of it in their lives.

This short-term mindset served us well in our hunter-gatherer past and still has a place today. But modern society continues to fragment our lives and abstract our goals to the point where the benefits of today's actions often can't be known or enjoyed until some vaguely imagined future. It's no surprise we easily shift our focus to tasks that give more immediate pleasure until that inevitable day our longer-term tasks suddenly become as urgent as running out of the cave to find tonight's dinner.

Most of us then proceed to hack through the job with little satisfaction and a gnawing sense of, 'I know this isn't the best I can do but I've squandered the time I had'.

The techniques Steel presents to deal with procrastination can be classified as internal and external: Distractions are very much a part of our external environment, be it the workplace or leisure space. But often we have more control over those spaces then we realize. Small adjustments such as turning off your email notification sound/icon can eliminate a major source of distraction and allow you to remain focused. The classic example of relocating your alarm clock out of arm's reach to prevent easy snoozing is almost a cliché but it's an effective illustration of modifying your environment to combat short-term distraction.

The single most effective technique the author describes is to convert long term, vaguely defined tasks into a series of shorter term but more precisely-defined goals. As you learn to achieve these small goals and celebrate your achievement you gradually build a `success spiral' that in turn increases your confidence and your expectations of succeeding. Subdividing large tasks this way is not a particularly original idea, but the book provides some fresh context and justification for it.

While many of the techniques in the book address common family/work issues, procrastination can affect any practical (or impractical) endeavor you find yourself involved in. The tools are the same whether you're writing business reports, a novel, studying a musical instrument, cleaning out the basement, or painting that half-bathroom - not to mention the classics: trying to lose weight, quit smoking, or get that physical you're overdue for.

At first I found the author's writing style a bit too breezy and his humor ineffective. If you agree that procrastination has had a limiting effect on your life the last thing you want to read is someone making light of it. The opening chapter (complete with quizzes) struck me as the kind of pop-psychology writing geared towards the very easily-distracted.

Fortunately Steel comes clean that he's deliberately keeping the tone extra lively for the benefit of those very readers (and he confides it's not an easy thing to do). It's soon evident however that he knows his stuff, has done his research, and has an interesting and effective argument to make. If it's true we're not to judge a book by its cover, a corollary here might be to go easy on the first chapter.

Speaking of chapters there's an interesting one on attitudes towards procrastination throughout history, describing some fantastically tragic characters and the price they paid. It will leave you feeling part of some pretty illustrious (or notorious) company.

I didn't find the chapter on the economic costs of procrastination as convincing. The idea that you can quantify workers' collective non-productive hours and project some equivalent economic gain sounds like wishful statistics. I've worked for companies whose executives prayed they could inspire such realignment but it never happened. So long as humans are part of the equation, I don't believe it ever will.

I think it's important to note that `The Procrastination Equation' is not offering some `five steps to completely reinvent your life' kind of advice. The author makes a critical point near the end that over-regulating your life by attempting to wring out every `non-productive' moment of whimsy, reflection, and just plain goofing off can be just as unhealthy as excessive procrastination.

The goal is to apply these tools to your specific issues - not to eliminate procrastination entirely - but to find that illusive balance between the scheduled and unscheduled, keeping on top of those essentials in our lives that truly deserve our focus but doing so efficiently to preserve some of that genuine guilt-free slacker time we're all entitled to.

Finally, I have to mention a personal peeve: the large amount of notes at the back of the book. I expect this in a thesis or university press edition, but a 307 page mass-market book with almost 100 pages of notes doesn't feel balanced and suggests questionable editing. Cynical readers will suspect a higher price is being charged for the padding. The fact that many of the notes provide interesting detail and helpful links makes it even more puzzling they weren't better integrated into the main text as sidebars, etc. Steel is an academic and admits part of his goal in writing the book is to promote cross-disciplinary adoption of his ideas. Nothing wrong with that but it's awkward to address different audiences and at times the book has the unmistakable whiff of an academic writing for other academics.
24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How To Manage the Moment 27 Dec 2010
By Kevin L. Nenstiel - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I'm writing this review during time I reserved to write my novel, so I have plenty invested in this book's topic. But as a teacher, I see procrastination's lingering, destructive consequences daily. As my colleagues dither about grading and administrators dilly-dally over budgets, students take their cues from us and do as little as possible, right up to the moment their work is due. How can we break this cycle?

Dr. Steel identifies three procrastination categories: we expect to fail; we don't value the work; and we let momentary impulses rule us. We may show any or all of these. Each reason begins in different brain regions, incubates under different conditions, and expresses itself in different ways. But each costs us, not only as individuals who miss our rewards, but as a society, when lost productivity translates into economic doldrums.

Steel, a psychologist, combines new research in psychology, neurology, economics, political science, and more fields, extracting a broad overview of what procrastination is, where it originates, what it costs us, and how we can redress it. His suggestions for fixing bad habits require fine-tuning for your individual situation, but they can get you started pulling your time together and accomplishing your long-held goals as painlessly as possible.

While I wonder if those who most need this advice will ever plow through such a book, I applaud Steel for presenting his research and counsel in such lucid terms. He writes with humor, humility, and a lively tone that keeps readers engaged. While he's unlikely to pry everyone away from his identified sources of procrastination, if a few make even mild gains, the individual and social rewards will be profound.
18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting information, but maybe not so helpful advice... 22 Jan 2011
By S. Horwatt - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I thought most of the first half of this book, which talks about the causes of procrastination (which can more-or-less be boiled down to "people put off doing stuff they don't like, people put off stuff they think is pointless, and people put off stuff that seems like it's not due for quite a while"), was interesting. The author does go on a bit about the societal costs of procrastination (we GET it...it's bad), but the information on the behavioral science and evolutionary roots of procrastination was interesting stuff.

However, when I got to the author's revolutionary techniques for eliminating procrastination, they seemed...less than revolutionary. Maybe part of the reason is that he speeds through the description of many of the techniques, not really providing enough information to implement many of them unless you go out and do more reading on them. There were one or two tips that I thought were good, and that may be enough for anyone who has a huge problem with procrastination to make some significant improvements.

The final chapter, in which the author writes a series of short stories about fictitious procrastinators who change their lives radically after reading his book was just tiresome and annoying. Sort of like being forced to watch a 30-minute infomercial about a product you've ALREADY BOUGHT. So skip that, because there's really nothing worthwhile in the "putting it all together chapter."

And a bit of personal advice: if you read this book, don't tell anyone you're reading it, because you'll be subjected to a series of rants about how stupid it seems to try to remedy procrastination by reading a book about it (for some reason, even people who believe in self-help books seem to think that procrastination is a problem that any type of self-help effort can only aggravate, not alleviate).
37 of 41 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A good article's worth of information here for what I wanted to know 16 Jan 2011
By Joanna - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Although I was interested in the author's ideas about how we're hardwired for procrastination and the way it's often tied to impulsiveness, I got tired of the way he went on about its ubiquitous-ness and myriad negative effects. Just a look at the table of contents could have told me that some of the chapters wouldn't be of much interest since I don't feel any particular need to know more about "The Personal Price of Procrastination" or "The Economic Cost of Procrastination." My interest lies in what causes it and how to eliminate it, and to my mind this book doesn't focus nearly enough on that. I grew impatient, wanting to hear the remedies, and when they came there was nothing all that new or enlightening but rather a lot of basic behaviorism I've been hearing about for years and some nice find-your passion-type stuff. Though well-written and entertaining in places, the book struck me as too long-winded and not nearly to-the-point enough for what I sought to know. The author also seems to see procrastination everywhere, which began to make it almost lose meaning.
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