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VINE VOICEon January 1, 2011
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.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon January 11, 2011
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.
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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.
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on January 22, 2011
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).
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VINE VOICEon August 25, 2011
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Joke aside, Piers Steel's The Procrastination Equation is a bit daunting for general readers, which is too bad because buried beneath the over academic prose and endless footnotes he does have something interesting to say.

Usually procrastination is attributed to perfectionism, which cripples you, or laziness which prevents you from acting.

Steel's premise is that there are three procrastination categories: expectation of failure (the perfectionist thing); we don't value our work; and impulsiveness, which is his main premise.

He feels it is the things we choose to do in the moment that keep us from doing the things that really matter (read - time on facebook, twitter,etc. keeps you from your work). But lest you think this is a blame game, he goes to great length to spin out theories as to why we are hardwired to be impulsive (mothers of toddlers might agree).

However, wading through the chapter on the personal price and economics of procrastination was tedious. My impulsive brain wanted the gist - and some solutions. Both, are in shorter supply than the endless citations.

Steels has some good things to say, but ths book needed a good editor.
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VINE VOICEon April 23, 2011
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I was hoping to get something out of this book, because I do suffer from procrastination. But I couldn't get into the book enough to get anything out of it at all.

Part of my problem was the author's casual style. It was a bit too "cute" for my taste, and didn't fit the material. Part of it was the page density. Lots of text broken up with occasionaly charts and graphs. And a big part of it was Ed, Valerie and Tom.

These are composite characters that represent three styles of procrastination, based on the author's research and experience. They're with you through the whole book, and I got tired of them pretty quickly. Even at the end, in the last chapter, which the author promises "pushes you to put these proven practices into your own life", we get a discussion of how Ed, Valerie and Tom overcame their procrastination.

And I have to say I was confused by the author's advice at the end of the first chapter: "The advice here is evidence-based, as scientifically vetted and pharmecutically pure as it gets; it's the good stuff from behind the counter, so don't overdo it."

I'm not sure what that means in the context of the book. Don't stop putting things off too much?

There may be some good material in this book, but the presentation made is difficult for me to get to it.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
If you're reading this review you probably have the same problem I do or are close to someone who does. I've read a few other books on procrastination over the years that didn't put a dent in my habit. Most of what I'd read previously told me I was a perfectionist and due to the fear of not being able to do something perfect, I'd put it off. I worked on the perfectionist thing and think I made some good progress. But there were still things that I constantly put off, even though it often took less effort to just do them than it would have to keep making excuses and cover up problems caused by the procrastination. (I know a bunch of you can relate.) This book is different. Piers Steel is one of us, or WAS one of us. He totally gets it and knows all the tricks we use to delay doing things we need to do and all the ways we justify it to ourselves. His writing is sympathetic and not condescending. He's says procrastination has been his life's work, both as a researcher and practitioner. He's a professor of human resources and organizational dynamics at the University of Calgary's Haskayne School of Business and a leading researcher and speaker on motivation and procrastination.

Now I don't have long term experience using his techniques, since I just finished the book, (Hey, I didn't procrastinate about writing the review!) but they all make sense and are well researched. There are a couple of techniques that were, for me, "Aha!" moments, things I kinda knew before but that didn't really connect. Some of his techniques are also things you've probably read about, but once you realize the real reasons you procrastinate, they make more sense and you'll likely approach them a different way. I could never understand before why I rarely procrastinate about work related things (other than doing expense reports) but I do put off doing many other things that I also enjoy. (And a lot that I don't.) He explains why.

The book is easy to read and not overly wordy. My review copy of the book was 218 pages of reading and 74 pages of footnotes and comments. I like when authors on topics like this note all of their research and Steel did a great deal of it. He drew from a lot of studies and also from research that wasn't necessarily on procrastination, but that contributes or relates to it. He has a friendly writing style, one that makes you feel like you might be sitting in a comfy room with him having a chat over a drink. Maybe that's because he realizes that people like us would put the book aside and never get around to finishing it if it was the least bit boring. I really like this book and am glad I read it. It's already starting to make my life easier with some of the techniques he suggests.

Don't put off reading this book.
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on January 22, 2011
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Let me open in saying if you are going to write a book on how not to procrastinate don't make it long winded as your target audience will never get into it.That being said the book does make some interesting points once you can get into it.I have been a procrastinator all my life (Over 50 years) and have always struggled with forgetting to do things and in putting things off. This book proved to me that I am not alone.Much of the world procrastinates including most politicians and heads of state.
Unfortunately the book doesn't tell much about how to break yourself of the habit other to say not to do it or that is what I got out of it. If you are a college student it may help as it has a big section on not procrastinating in college (Too late for me alas).It is an interesting read once you can get into it but the getting there may not be worth the trouble of plowing through the long winded boring verbiage.(See I can use long words too)
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on February 28, 2012
I really, really, really like this book! I found it at the public library and thought it would be another lame, "make lists, set goals and priorities" book but boy was I wrong! Rather than letting it sit for a week, like I normally do, I read it straight thru in two evenings. I'm a recovering "world class procrastinator" so I was ready to be disappointed, as I have been with so many other books on this subject, but it wasn't to be! Bottom line: I like the fact that he has science to back up his suggestions and some clear, step-by-step ways to implement them. I bought the book so I could highlight the heck out of it (libraries tend to frown on that practice. Go figure?) and have started using the ideas that fit my pattern of "addiction" - and they are working! Maybe its just me, maybe its the book or a combination, but I'm getting results that other books haven't provided. Don't skip the evaluation quizzes in the first chapter and do the full online version as well - you may not like the results! If you really suffer from procrastination this might be a book for you. Don't procrastinate! Buy it now and read it!
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Based on the premise that we cannot expect to have a handle on procrastination until we fully understand what it is that drives us to procrastinate, this book addresses the problem of procrastination by first tackling the fundamental question of why we procrastinate.

So, why do we *persist* in engaging in this self-defeating behavior? The book identifies the 2 culprits to procrastination and addresses each one in turn. These are, namely, (1) Low Expectancy (which diminishes Value) and (2) Impulsiveness (which increases Delay).

The Procrastination Equation is thus formulated as Expectancy x Value / Impulsiveness x Delay, where Expectancy is the value of the end result you *expect* from accomplishing a task (i.e. optimism vs. pessimism), and Impulsiveness is your proclivity for choosing a more pleasurable activity over one that is onerous but potentially rewarding.

The treatment of the subject matter may not seem like much on the surface, but really, it is deceptively simple. The findings in the book are backed by a wealth of scientific research in both biological (e.g. limbic system, prefrontal lobe) and behavioral sciences (e.g. motivation, impulsiveness). The book provides an in-depth exploration into why certain people are more optimistic than others or why some people are more predisposed to impulsive behavior. In fact, it has a test that helps to gauge how optimistic or how impulsive you are (an unabridged version is available online). Based on your score, it helps you uncover your shortcomings and offers proven techniques for countering them.

A true measure of the value of a self-help book is in its power to inspire, motivate, and spur the reader into action and in its power to transform lives. This book succeeds, in my opinion, on all counts. I personally found the book a compelling read from cover to cover and an immensely helpful guide for combating procrastination. Highly recommended.

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Also Recommended: The Now Habit: A Strategic Program for Overcoming Procrastination and Enjoying Guilt-Free Play.
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