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: