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Review: Procrastination: Why You Do It, What To Do About It 
1st-Aug-2016 09:41 pm
Procrastination: Why You Do It, What To Do About ItProcrastination: Why You Do It, What To Do About It by Jane B. Burka

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Probably one of the most comprehensive overviews of the causes of procrastination that I've read. I think this book does a really good job of demonstrating that procrastination is a complex thing, with many possible causes behind it. I particularly liked the discussion of how some procrastinators have a different relationship with time than non-procrastinators - I've personally found that a lot of my procrastination comes not so much from a reluctance to do a task but from things like vastly underestimating the amount of time it will take, assuming there will be time "later" to do it, or just getting completely caught up in something else and losing track of time.

The second half of the book, the "what to do about it" part, goes over slightly more familiar territory, with recommendations to do things like break tasks into smaller pieces, give yourself rewards, and enlist social support.

I won't say that the book is life changing, but having a better understanding of the reasons why I procrastinate has helped me tweak my anti-procrastination strategies to be a bit more effective. Which is enough for me - my procrastination is not bad enough to be crippling, although it does annoy me sometimes.

Finally, I just want to say that I've seen several reviews dissing the authors for admitting to their own struggles with procrastination. I don't get it - why would you read a book on overcoming procrastination written by people who had never struggled with procrastination? (Come to think of it, although I've used words like "non-procrastinators" and "people who have never struggled with procrastination", I'm not sure that such people exist. If you can honestly say that you've never procrastinated on anything, I would be fascinated to hear your experiences.)

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2nd-Aug-2016 07:26 am (UTC)
I suspect many people would describe me as a "non-procrastinator," but hell yeah I've put things off. Way more than I think I should. So I share your doubt that any such people exist.
2nd-Aug-2016 11:14 am (UTC)
I think the question in that self-description (or, I suppose, external description) becomes whether you are a habitual procrastinator or not, whether it feels like a problem to you or not. Never putting something off and never feeling it as a major struggle are two different things. I can't honestly say I've never put something off, but I don't feel it as a struggle--I know what to do if I start to drift in that direction, and I have no problem doing it. The things that I have put off several weeks or months are generally things that I have triaged to an appropriate priority level, not things that I honestly believe ought to be done today or this week but I just haven't.

Filing paperwork, for example: my "to be filed" folder is pretty full, but scheduling that for the fortnight of August 14-27 is not procrastination, it's accurate assessment of August 2-13. Further, if I don't get it done in that fortnight, it will likely be because something came up that was genuinely higher priority and I ran out of Mris hours and had to reschedule the task, not because I procrastinated on it. So yeah, I'll put a hand up here.
2nd-Aug-2016 06:54 pm (UTC)
Agreed that scheduling things at a time suitable to their priority level is not the same as procrastination. But even with scheduling, I know there have been times when the "I don't wanna" impulse has gotten to me -- not as a habitual thing, but there are certain kinds of tasks I can become avoidant about if I'm not careful. But from the sounds of "I know what to do if I start to drift in that direction, and I have no problem doing it," you don't generally even have that level of difficulty?
2nd-Aug-2016 09:18 pm (UTC)
Not really. I mean, there are tasks that are not high priority and don't get done very promptly, but they are not high priority and I have a lot to do. So I think that instead of thinking, "I read a book for 20 minutes, I talked to friends on the internet for 20 minutes, those 40 minutes should have been spent filing paperwork," I actually should and do go with, "I will not plan on filing paperwork until the fortnight of August 14-27, since I will need certain amounts of down time, and that ain't it."
2nd-Aug-2016 07:12 pm (UTC)
You were pretty high on my list of "if anyone is going to put their hand up as a non-procrastinator, it will be one of these people."

Your comment did bring me back to that whole "procrastinators have a different relationship with time" idea from the book, though, because apart from very strictly time-bound tasks (my time card is due on the 23; I fly to Las Vegas for VMworld on the 27th), I have no clue what I'll be doing in the fortnight of August 14-27. You've given me something to think about there.

Another thing I'm learning is that sometimes procrastination is actually my brain telling me that I shouldn't actually be doing a thing - I should just delegate it or leave it undone.
2nd-Aug-2016 09:20 pm (UTC)
Really yes. I come up with loads of projects, some of them interesting and some mundane. Triaging them is one of the most useful skills I have.

But my to-do lists are on a weekly basis, usually planned out for a couple of months, and then I also have the calendar that goes out as far as I like.
2nd-Aug-2016 11:40 pm (UTC)
That is fascinating to me, and I can't help but mentally link it to the way you outline stories. In both cases, that mode of thought is very alien to me.

I've been using Habitica for my to-do list, and it has three important keywords for organizational purposes. "Today" is for the stuff that I genuinely mean to do today; as you can imagine, that one gets reassigned frequently. "Priority" is for stuff I need to do soon; when I'm picking what to label Today, or I've finished all of those tasks and want/have the time to get something else done, I consult the Priority list before eyeing the general pile of "stuff to do when I have some time for it." And then In Progress is for stuff that is generally not a one-shot task, but will require more continual effort over a long period of time. When I was hugely slammed with stuff earlier this year, my general goal was to check off at least five items each day (usually, but not always, from the Today or Priority lists), and to finish one sub-item from something In Progress. It helped me break down the giant list of things-to-do into more manageable bites, without -- and for me, this is the key difference -- knowing what I was going to be doing next week or the week after that or the month after that.
3rd-Aug-2016 12:02 am (UTC)
Well, and there are things like--I don't have "write new story while visiting in-laws" on the list, because it'll happen or it won't. But if it does happen, "revise [new title]" will get put on the list.

There are some things on my to-do list that are marked with the day of the week, some even with the time of day--"Call AE--WED 8-9 a," for example, and "vote--WED." And then there are things marked with no particular day within the particular week. There's a set of things I want to remember eventually, but I try not to put too many things on that--stories I might at some point write should be compelling enough that I remember to go looking for my notes on them.
2nd-Aug-2016 11:02 pm (UTC)
Oh, one of the things about this: one of the purposes of my to-do lists being broken down by week is to keep myself from trying to do too much. When there was just one endless "reminders of things to do" list, there was no sense of what was reasonable in a time frame. Now next week's list not only contains things like "fetch Mark suit from cleaners," which cannot happen this week because "take Mark suit to cleaners" has not happened, but also things like "revise 'Across Pack Ice, A Fire,'" which could happen this week if I wasn't busy doing too many other things, but I should not reasonably expect it to.
2nd-Aug-2016 02:28 pm (UTC)
I read a book on procrastination some years ago, it might even have been this one, because I was getting so sick of my own self-sabotage. (If that book hadn't helped I was thinking counseling as a next step, that's how bad it was.)

Not that I never put things off anymore, but things have gotten so much better—and my expectations of myself so much more realistic.
2nd-Aug-2016 07:21 pm (UTC)
Wow, that is very cool. I certainly don't think of you as a self-sabotager.
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