Books on Procrastination: Two Reviews

art of procrastinationI read two books about procrastination last weekend.

Warning:  I’m not very nice about the first one. Sarcasm ahead.

The first is The On-Time, On-Target Manager.  If you are a novice procrastinator (or have a “friend” who is and out of sheer generosity you bone up on the issue in order to help your “friend”) that may be the book for you.  It maps out, through a fable about Bob, the downsides of procrastination.

Bob learns, evidently for the first time, that the effects of procrastination; in this case lateness, poor quality of work and stress, are bad.  These things are not only bad for him but bad for his co-workers and his family.  (I’d make a comment about how in the world a person this dumb got to be a manager, but sadly, I don’t have to, do I.) Once Bob realizes this mind-blowing news he is instantly able to stop procrastinating and even gets a promotion to teach other people how to stop procrastinating.  It’s as easy as that!

C’mon.  Really?

It’s my job to work with clients on this problem, so I never assume that they have studied this issue as deeply as I have. However, I would be shocked — shocked I tell you — that any procrastinator is not aware that lateness, poor quality of work and stress are bad things with a bad impact on self and others.  And I would be similarly shocked to hear of more than three procrastinators on the planet who were able stop procrastinating immediately upon becoming aware of these bad side effects.

Procrastination is a multi-layered, complex challenge that has been studied for years with no definitive fix. Anyone who says they have the solution for everyone is lying.  Nothing works for everyone.  This book may work for some people, but I fear that a greater majority will read this book and then feel even worse because they already know these “bad” outcomes and still procrastinate. People who procrastinate (being one does not define your entire self) are hard enough on themselves as it is.

The  Better Book Choice

If you are a chronic procrastinator – and many people are about one type of task or another, (Not very many people procrastinate about everything.) the book to read is The Art of Procrastination (pictured here) by John Perry. He is an Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at Stanford University and the essay upon which this book was built, “Structured Procrastination” won a 2011 Ig Nobel Prize in Literature.

It’s a small book with only 92 pages.  You can read it word for word in just hours.  He packs a lot into those pages, touching on self acceptance, perfectionism, akrasia (choosing to act against our better judgment) and methods to resist the urge to procrastinate.  Plus he’s witty and charmingly self-deprecating.

There is no need to treat procrastinators like self-absorbed, clueless nitwits. Nor is there any benefit (much less truth) in telling people that procrastination is easily fixed. Progress counts.  Mr. Perry gets it right.  And you should get this book.