"The Procrastination Equation" by Piers Steel (best book on procrastination!)
This is a really important book, and if you haven't read it, you need to read it. I'm not going to summarize the whole thing, but here are the important points you need to know:
- This book is 100% research based, not anecdotal. It was written by an academic.
- He confirms what I intuited when I started this fellowship: procrastination is, at its core, an impulse control problem - just like drug addiction.
- Procrastination is not mainly due to perfectionism, as we've been told for years. In fact, based on research duplicated many times, perfectionists tend not to procrastinate.
- Steel discusses two other dimensions that affect procrastination - low expectation of reward (low confidence) and low value of reward (seeing what you have to do as pointless), but the big driver is impulsiveness, lack of self-control, the same problem that drives any other compulsive behavior (overeating, excessive drinking, promiscuity, etc.). He talks about the "craving" to do something more fun rather than what you should be doing (which I certainly have experienced). That is the language of addiction.
- He specifically says that a 12-step program can be helpful with procrastination.
- He quotes from forum posts on this Web site, Procrastinators Anonymous, in Chapter 7.
Steel says that 12-step programs work by removing denial - acknowledging that single failures of willpower will lead to a collapse of self-control. This made a lightbulb go off in my head:
We here in PA need to set personal bottom lines, just as they do in certain other fellowships (notably SLAA). For example, my personal bottom line in PA may be sticking to my daily work routine - I may need to count days on that, and that may constitute my PA "sobriety" or "abstinence" (we need a vocabulary).
I've known for a while now that we need a Big Book in this fellowship and I have had it in the back of my mind for a while now to write one, but I haven't because I wasn't quite sure what to write. It's starting to gel now! This book from Piers Steel is putting it all together for me.
If you haven't yet read this book, I can't recommend it strongly enough. It is qualitatively different from any other book on procrastination you have ever read, and it will contradict much of what you have read. It's extensively footnoted. Everything he says is rooted in hard research.
In the article I wrote when I launched this Web site and fellowship, Chronic Procrastination is NOT a Time Management Problem!, I said chronic procrastination was a form of "addictive escapism", "compulsive task avoidance". And that is what it turns out to be. Science concurs.
June 25, 2012
I'm adding to my previous comments with an important exception to the "not related to perfectionism" finding. It probably matters quite a bit how "perfectionism" is defined operationally in the studies that Steel refers to. He doesn't say. In 1978, a psychologist named D. E. Hamacheck wrote an article titled "Psychodynamics of normal and neurotic perfectionism", drawing a distinction between the two. I think this is key.
I still believe that impulsivity plays a major role in procrastination, but I think neurotic perfectionism is in there, too. This is beautifully laid out in Allan Mallinger's book Too Perfect. Mallinger describes the obsessive personality type (obsessiveness is associated with addiction), and how it is linked to both obsessive (neurotic) perfectionism and procrastination. He talks about how a neurotic need to do everything flawlessly can make every task loom impossibly large, how obsessive perfectionists can't distinguish between important and unimportant details and hold onto tasks too long, thus turning in assignments late, how they can't prioritize, how they can't discard things and thus can have clutter problems, and - most important of all - the role of Demand Sensitivity and Demand Resistance.
There is one brief article on Demand Resistance on the PA Web site, reprinted with permission, but it doesn't tell the full story. Mallinger defines it thusly: "A chronic and automatic negative inner response to the perception of pressure, expectations, or demands (from within or without)." That is, if you feel you have to do it, you automatically don't want to do it. And for obsessive perfectionists, everything feels like a "should". Even "wants" become "shoulds".
So this is a big issue - not to be dismissed out of hand with "most perfectionists don't procrastinate". I think we can say, most "normal perfectionists" (non-obsessive, non-neurotic) don't procrastinate. But obsessive perfectionists? They procrastinate.