Want to read a good self-help book about overcoming chronic procrastination?
Here's a review of my favorite self-help book about the topic. The review was written by my friend Liz Brown, an editor who is helping some of my coaching clients on their dissertation revisions and book proposals:
Procrastination: Why You Do It, What To Do About It, by Jane B. Burka, Ph.D., and Lenora M. Yuen, Ph.D.
This is a great book with something for everyone. Written by psychologists Jane Burka and Lenora Yuen, the book contains two sections: understanding why we procrastinate, and outlining how to overcome it. It’s a quick but useful read; the writing is clear, and the descriptions precise. Given brief examples of the authors’ real-life clients, readers will certainly find themselves reflected in the array of problems, excuses, insecurities, stumbling blocks, and workable solutions. Whether you’re a graduate student putting off that dissertation, or a weekend carpenter stuck with an unfinished backyard fence, you’ll discover WHY you procrastinate, and WHAT STEPS you can take to start moving forward.
Fear is the basis of all procrastination, say the authors, including fear of failure, of success, and of “losing the battle” – some of us procrastinate to show that we’re in control of the situation. “You can’t MAKE me do this!” we say, silently, as we refuse to comply with a demanding teacher, an unappreciative boss, a nagging spouse, or even (OK, some folks are REALLY stubborn) an empty gas tank!
But the authors don’t stop at the usual “whys” of putting things off, which makes this book one of the best (if not the best) in its field. Perhaps you don’t see yourself as being afraid of success, yet you delay submitting that job application because you don’t want to leave your colleagues behind – lose them as friends, make them feel inadequate or resentful as you progress in your career. On the other hand, you might be, in the authors’ words, “trying hard to be number 2,” like the graduate student who wants to remain dependent on instructors she thinks she needs to navigate the grown-up world, or the worker who prefers taking orders to taking the initiative and risking ridicule if his ideas don’t pan out.
The authors include a chapter on delving into your past – family attitudes, school patterns, etc. -- to learn why you’ve come to use procrastination as your chief coping mechanism.
The cures in the second half of the book are realistic. You didn’t start procrastinating overnight, and you’re not going to quit like that either. Rome wasn’t built in a day, but it started with that first day; likewise, changing the habits and self-justifications that have served you well, (but have also worked against you), won’t come easily, or quickly, but rather methodically, one step at a time.
The authors recommend starting a 2-week program using these key techniques:
- Make goals that are observable. Use a mental movie camera to truly “picture yourself” doing something specific. Instead of setting the goal to be “less overwhelmed,” picture yourself mailing out 10 resumes to prospective employers.
- Be specific. Not “organize my life,” but “go through one file drawer and discard unneeded papers.”
- Take small steps. Writing down a goal can help you get a more realistic timeline – sometimes longer than you guessed, other times shorter than you had feared.
- Beware of “choice points” which serve as a crossroads between success and sabotage. You finally call that client, but she’s away on vacation. Take the next step, instead of giving up (and falling into the old habit which you’re trying to break).
- Reward yourself! Many people procrastinate because they feel they deserve to suffer, to struggle, to stagnate. See yourself as the success you are trying to become.
- Remember: “It doesn’t have to be perfect; it just has to be done!” It’s better to get the holiday cards sent, rather than to delay them until you can personalize each one.
The “un-schedule” (from Dr. Neil Fiore) is another tool the authors include to help procrastinators learn to “tell time” more realistically.
The last chapter, “Living and Working with Procrastinators,” doesn’t go much beyond the advice to stop nagging, but that’s easier said than done if you’re a mother whose child refuses to finish homework or an employee whose boss ignores deadlines. How do you deal with someone who procrastinates to “even the score” on a cheating spouse or a rigid work environment? In small, compassionate steps.
How do you break your habits of procrastination? You start one day at a time. Get this book to help you begin.