Review: Solving the Procastination Puzzle by Timothy A. Pychyl

Title: Solving the Procrastination Puzzle
Author: Timothy A. Pychyl
Format/Source: Paperback/Library
Published: December 2013
Publisher: Jeremy P. Tarcher
Length: 107 pages
Genre: Non-fiction
Why I Read: Solid recommendation from Lifehacker on a practical book for tackling a bad habit
Read If You: Procrastinate!
Links: GoodReads IndieBound Chapters | Amazon 

Solving the Procrastination Puzzle is a book written by an author who really knows what he’s talking about. Timothy A. Pychyl is a Canadian academic known in psychology for his research on procrastination. He founded the Procrastination Research Group in 1995 and has published numerous academic articles about procrastination. He put together this book to organize the ideas published on his blog and podcasts (xvi), and to “communicate ideas outside of formal scholarly journal articles” (ix). I appreciated that Pychyl wrote this book to make accessible the results of his research that would otherwise be locked up in academia, unable to benefit the population at large who could really use help with their bad habits. This book will help you understand, at a deeper level than you may have considered previously, why you procrastinate and how to get past those problems.

Pychyl knows his audience. He answers the question, “Why is the book so short?”, in his introduction. He doesn’t want to contribute to procrastination habits by writing a dense book that might motivate us to instead procrastinate and never finish reading. He also believes “less is more”. He writes, “[W]hen it comes to learning strategies for change, a few key ideas are what is required” (xvii). Extensive background research and technical descriptions are not what those of us who are looking to make real change need. I definitely appreciate this sentiment! I felt motivated to complete this book, and take notes for future reference, because its length made it feel very manageable.

The most finite, limited resource in our lives is time. (13)

Pychyl doesn’t fill his book with wishy-washy feel good advice. Nearly every page includes practical and useful information. Each chapter opens with a nugget of good advice – “a key phrase that may become your mantra for change” (xviii). One phrase that particularly stuck with me is “I need to be more aware of my rationalizations” (36). This comes from Chapter 5, which then lists and explains a number of rationalizations we use when we procrastinate. For example, we manufacture our happiness conflict by ‘rationalizing’ our procrastination through reactions such as trivialization, denial of responsibility, saying ‘it could have been worse’, etc. (42-44). This is a big thing for me! Some of this stuff might seem obvious when you read it, but to see it logically explained and set out as a problem many people have was really a kick in the pants for me. Pychyl provides clear and concrete explanations of procrastination habits and proposes actionable solutions to overcome them. For me, just being aware of those habits is already helping me work past them. I also especially appreciated the ‘implementation intentions’ (self-regulatory statements) that he suggests. Here are a couple:

 IF I feel negative emotions when I face the task at hand, THEN I will stay put and not stop, put off the task, or run away. (24)

IF I say “I’ll feel more like doing this later”, THEN I will just get started on some aspect of the task. (55)

My one negative criticism is that the comic strips scattered throughout don’t add anything to the book. Though, they aren’t integrated with the text so they’re easily skippable.

Finally, as an afterthought, I wonder how people with depression would feel about this book. I’m not sure it would be the best resource for them. When I experienced culture shock (which can include a period of depression), I had a very hard time getting anything done outside of work. I think this was a different experience than when I’m simply procrastinating, and I could recognize that difference. I’m not sure what my point is here, exactly, but I feel like giving this book to a person with depression who appears to be ‘procrastinating’ might not be beneficial. 

The Bottom Line: An invaluable resource for anyone who finds themselves procrastinating. Solving the Procrastination Puzzle is an easily digestible book by an author who knows his stuff. This book will help you understand why you procrastinate (really why, not just ‘because you don’t want to do the thing’) and how to overcome it (really how, not just ‘by doing the thing’).

Further Reading: 

24 in 48!

I feel like this event has snuck up on me. When I first signed up, I thought I would be at my lake with a lot of time for light reading. I hadn’t given a further thought to the readathon until now. No longer will be I at my lake, so since I’m stuck in the city, I can’t resist sneaking in a few extra Fringe Festival shows. The last month has been a little chaotic for me. I plan to take advantage of this event and spend lots of quiet time snuggling up with some great books. I’ve been visiting the library a lot – my library TBR pile is growing faster than I can keep up with it. I’ll have lots of choices for reading this weekend! I intend to be active on Twitter, with my updates happening there. My goal is 12 hours of reading, with the majority being on Sunday. On Saturday I might see a show around lunch and a show around dinner – then I could read at my favourite library in between. Here are some books I might tackle:

  • Dreams of Distant Shores by Patricia A. McKillip – I might finish this one tonight.
  • The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly by Sun-Mi Hwang – The only book I actually own on this list.
  • A Knock on the Door: The Essential History of Residential Schools from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada – Not exactly light reading but something I definitely want to work through. I imagine this should/will be required reading in many Canadian high schools and universities.
  • This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab – I’ve only read her A Darker Shade of Magic books. Looking forward to this new one!
  • Roses and Rot by Kat Howard – Another new book I’ve heard a lot of great things about. I love the premise.
  • A Secret Vice by J.R.R. Tolkien (edited by Dmitri Fimi and Andrew Higgins) – Would have loved to have this book when I wrote a paper for my undergrad about Tolkien’s passion for language inventing!
  • Good Medicine: The Art of Ethical Care in Canada by Philip Hebert – I recently read a couple of books about aging and dying. I also spent a lot of time discussing the ethics of assisted suicide when I was doing my ESL teaching practicum. When I came across this title, I thought it would be a good option to round out my reading with a Canadian perspective.
  • The Portable MLIS edited by Ken Haycock and Brooke E. Sheldon – A book I signed out ages ago, to teach and remind of my future career goals 😛

Are you participating in 24 in 48? 

Family Reads: Medicine Walk by Richard Wagamese

Born out of a desire to get a family of book lovers to connect more over what they’re reading, Family Reads is an occasional feature where my mom, dad or sister and I read and discuss a book. 

Why Dad chose this book: It was in my to read on December 25 (WPF review?) and then it was picked for CBC Books group read for June with a high rating so I wanted to try it, also because it has high aboriginal content which I have a special interest in. I reserved the ebook but I wanted to follow along with the group and didn’t want to wait, so I had my bookstore daughter buy it for me.

Dad gives this book 4.5 stars and I give it 4 stars. Here’s our thoughts on how this story kept us interested, even though it didn’t sound too exciting based on the back description.

He wondered how time worked on a person. He wondered how he would look years on and what effect this history would have on him. He’d expected that it might have filled him but all he felt was emptiness and a fear that there would be nothing that could fill that void. (232)

When Dad and I tried to summarize this book to each other, we agreed we would have a hard time convincing someone Medicine Walk isn’t as dull as we made it sound. We both enjoyed the steady pacing and the considered prose. I also liked the dialogue, which has a natural cadence and dialect that conveys a stronger sense of character. Wagamese writes in a calm tone while still building anticipation in a tale that doesn’t have a lot of hills and valleys. The story fills you with wonder about the questions it proposes without being melodramatic.

At times the plot surprised us. Dad never expected the connection between the old man and Eldon. I didn’t expect Eldon’s heartbreaking war story or that he didn’t try to find his mother. We both struggled to sympathize with certain characters (Dad with Eldon, me with Franklin’s mother). Even though a large part of this is Eldon telling his story, it’s still hard to understand without having gone through the same experiences. We agreed it can be too easy to judge people. I also thought this was quite a man’s story, as Franklin’s mother is a key but undeveloped character who has no story of her own. The only named characters are Franklin and Eldon; this is really their story.

As we talked about the book, Dad searched for reviews on his iPad. He thought these descriptions hit the nail on the head:

To be alive is to be vulnerable to the myriad shocks and disappointments of the human condition, but Medicine Walk is also testament to the redemptive power of love and compassion. (Globe and Mail)

For Frank, a “hunt was a process.” And so is the way Wagamese pursues his story: biding his time, never rushing, calibrating each word so carefully that he too never seems to waste a shot. But he isn’t after the kill. Rather, it’s something more complicated — finding a way to honor or at least acknowledge a life ill-lived as it enters its final bitter days. (NYT)

If you handed us this book five years and asked if we thought we would enjoy it, we both would have said no. Now, though, we find we have a deeper appreciation for realistic stories about human relationships Medicine Walk is a particularly fine example of the genre.  

Have you read any works by Richard Wagamese? Are there any similar stories by Indigenous authors you would recommend?

Brief Thoughts: The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All the Way Home by Catherynne M. Valente

Blogger’s autosave ate my full review (which I was quite pleased with) of this book 🙁 I am reminded of why I draft locally in Word… There’s nothing I hate more than rewriting, but I’m going to try to recall as many of my thoughts as possible and share them here. At least I made a few notes while reading…

Quite by accident, September has been crowned as Queen of Fairyland – but she inherits a Kingdom in chaos. The magic of a Dodo’s egg has brought every King, Queen, or Marquess of Fairyland back to life, each with a fair and good claim on the throne, each with their own schemes and plots and horrible, hilarious, hungry histories. In order to make sense of it all, and to save their friend from a job she doesn’t want, A-Through-L and Saturday devise a Royal Race, a Monarckical Marathon, in which every outlandish would-be ruler of Fairyland will chase the Stoat of Arms across the whole of the nation – and the first to seize the poor beast will seize the crown. Caught up in the madness are the changelings Hawthorn and Tamburlaine, the combat wombat Blunderbuss, the gramophone Scratch, the Green Wind, and September’s parents, who have crossed the universe to find their daughter…

  • I didn’t remember a lot of stuff from the previous books, but the characters felt familiar (I certainly didn’t remember that her Dad was in Fairyland Below!).  
  • This book wraps up September’s story, but I would have liked to see more of Tam and Hawthorn, after we spent an entire book getting to know them. I’m crossing my fingers for a novella of their adventures during the race.
  • September has grown believably over the course of the series. She’s not a little girl anymore and her words and actions reflect that. Sometimes I feel a character’s growth over time can be forced or jagged (as opposed to the natural flow of maturing). September’s growth felt very real to me.
  • The prose I adored in the first book and occasionally felt tired of in the other books seems to have found a balance here. Rather, Valente’s busy creativity occupies itself with a vast array of characters. The simple camaraderie of September, Ell and Saturday can at times feel crowded by all other character encounters. When you arrive at the end of series like Fairyland, where your MCs have travelled far and encountered many, you have a lot of characters to catch up with at the end! But then, I suppose you also can’t have a race without other racers to go up against.
  • I liked the conclusion, which wraps everything up nicely without being predictable. I also liked the inclusion of September’s parents – I actually would have liked to hear more about them.
  • A brief narrator interlude towards the end nearly made me cry. The passage as I understood is about returning to the stories we love (told through the metaphor of returning home). I’ve never heard the experience described so accurately or eloquently. Here’s a piece of it:

I will always be here, in my old chair by the door, waiting for you, whenever you are lonesome. Our little house will always look just the same as when we first blew the dust off the bookshelves, and the kettle will always be just about to boil. Sometimes I will be young, and sometimes I will be old, sometimes you will be young, and sometimes you will be old. But for as long as forever, I will keep a room for you. I swear by the sparkle in my eye and the spring in your step. (299-300).

  • The Bottom Line: A fitting conclusion to a delightful series. I hope these books will be enjoyed as classics by many in years to come.

Further Reading:

Brief Thoughts: In The House on The Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods by Matt Bell

In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods tells the story of a newly married couple who take up a lonely existence in the title’s mythical location.In this blank and barren plot, far from the world they’ve known, they mean to start a family. But every pregnancy fails, and as their grief swells, the husband – a hot-tempered and impatient fisherman and trapper – attempts to prove his dominion in other ways, emptying both the lake and the woods of their many beasts. As the years pass, the wife changes, too; her powerful voice sings new objects into being, including a threatening moon hung above their house, its doomed weight already slowly falling, bending the now star-less sky. (jacket description)

  • The cover, description, and strong of praise of this book drew me to it. The back of the book includes quotes such as “The story’s ferocity is matched by Matt Bell’s glorious sentences: sinuous and darkly magical, they are taproots of the strange.” and “This book, which will grip you in an otherworldly trance, reads like something divined from tea leaves or translated from a charcoal cipher on a cave wall”. Unfortunately, I didn’t get those feelings. The book fell short for me, though I can see where it would appeal to some. Not quite my type of mystical prose, though.
  • The third page lets you know what you’re actually getting into. I read the paragraph quoted below, thought “Whoa wait did that actually just happen?” and had to go back to reread it. At that point I had to take a 24 hour break to reset my expectations for this book (despite all the clues, I thought it was going to be more like Gaiman or Valente).
    • Then no kiss at all, but something else, some compulsion that even then I knew was wrong but could not help, so strong was my sadness, so sudden my desire: Into my body I partook what my wife’s had rejected, and while she buried her face in the red ruin of our blankets I swallowed it whole – its ghost and its flesh small enough to have in my fist like an extra finger, to fit into my mouth like an extra tongue, to fit slide farther in without the use of teeth – and I imagined perhaps that I would succeed where she had failed, that my want for family could again give our child some home, some better body within which to grow. (6)

  • When I tried to describe this scene to my Mom, I realized it sounds a lot crazier than it reads – “This guy eats his miscarried child and then he calls it the fingerling and it gives him bad ideas.” (Her response: “I don’t want to hear anymore about that book.”). The prose is, in some sense, very poetic. There’s a lot of dancing around actual actions.
  • I felt a bit squirmy awkward at the beginning that the man is already so opposed to his wife. I hoped to their relationship when it was fresh and loving. The man is an unlikable character (which is usually neither here nor there but he was the dominant character out of just a few and I didn’t enjoy spending so much time in his head). I couldn’t get over his attitude towards his wife.
  • “I dug more holes, and because I could not dig a hole without wanting for something to put in it, for the first time I began to kill what I did not intend to use: In one hole I buried a muskrat and in another a rabbit and in another a wrench-necked goose, caught by my own hands after it squawked me away from its clutch of goslings, themselves doomed beneath my frustrated heels” (43).

  • I seriously considered giving up around the halfway point. The man and the fingerling and their actions were beginning to bore me. Somehow, I persevered.
  • I wondered how the story could fill a whole novel. I certainly got a short story/novella vibe from it. I still wondered that by the end.
  • The atmosphere (and the endless cottage) brought to mind House of Leaves at times.
  • The Bottom Line: Two stars for the prose that kept me reading (also driven by my curiosity of whether something more was going to happen), but I really should have DNF’d at that halfway point.