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Summary: Solving the Procrastination Puzzle: A Concise Guide to Strategies for Change by Timothy A. Pychyl

In the following book summary, you’ll learn two rarely discussed reasons for procrastination and two surprising solutions.

“‘It will only take a minute’ puts me on a slippery slope toward procrastination.” – Timothy Pychyl

Procrastination takes a series toll on our mental and physical well-being.

Putting off actions that move us closer to important goals erodes self-esteem and lowers life satisfaction. Wasting valuable work time procrastinating generates intense guilt and stress, which leads to bad eating habits and poor sleep. Studies on procrastination find that frequent procrastinators suffer from stomach aches and headaches. One study found a strong correlation between procrastination and heart disease.

Book Summary: Solving the Procrastination Puzzle - A Concise Guide to Strategies for Change

Despite the long-term consequences of procrastinating, we still do it for two reasons:

The future self forecasting fallacy: When we put off a task, we assume our future selves will be in a better mood and have the energy to do it. Essentially, we tell ourselves, “I don’t feel like doing this now, but my future self will!” However, we fail to predict the events that will make our future selves just as busy and just as unwilling to do a task as our current selves are.

The mood enhancement effect: If the thought of doing a task makes us feel down, we can put it off until tomorrow and instantly improve our mood. Studies show that people in a bad mood are more likely to procrastinate on difficult tasks and seek immediate pleasure. Combine that with the fact that we value our current emotional state more than a future emotional state – just as we prefer $100 today to $100 in one month – and it’s easy to see why we have a procrastination bias.

L.E.A.R.N. a new response

The urge to avoid a task starts in an area of the brain called the amygdala. When the amygdala is active, we experience the “fight-or-flight” response. Luckily, we can L.E.A.R.N. to calm down the amygdala when we encounter a task that we don’t feel like doing and reduce the urge to run away by labeling, exhaling, accepting, releasing, and noticing.

  • Label the emotion leading to procrastination. When we feel the urge to procrastinate, we must call it out by thinking, “This is overwhelm,” or “This is anxiety.” Consciously acknowledging a fear-based emotion is proven to reduce activity in the amygdala.
  • Exhale slowly. By consciously exhaling longer than we inhale, we activate a parasympathetic response that counteracts the fight-or-flight response.
  • Accept whatever you’re feeling. When we resist an uncomfortable emotion, we prolong its presence. But when we accept a negative emotion, that emotion is no longer perceived as a threat, which further calms the amygdala.
  • Release muscle tension. Letting go of muscle tension relaxes the body, which relaxes the amygdala.
  • Notice where the urge to procrastinate is coming from. Searching our bodies for the source of our procrastination urge puts us in a curious state, which we can then use to explore and move toward a task we didn’t feel like doing.

Set an anti-procrastination intention

An anti-procrastination intention (also known as an implementation intention) is a specific “when-then” statement directed at a frequently procrastinated task. For example, “When I hear my ‘book writing’ calendar notification at 9 AM, I will open a new Word document on my laptop and do stream of conscious typing for 5 minutes to generate ideas for the writing session.” Give the brain an explicit cue and a simple action sequence, and it will act without thought or resistance.

But sometimes, we need extra motivation to start a frequently procrastinated task. That’s why psychologists have come up with the W.O.O.P. method – Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, Plan. Think of it like implementation intentions on steroids. Complete the following W.O.O.P. statements for a task or project you’ve been putting off and you’ll find that you need very little willpower to move past your procrastination and get your work done:

Wish: “I wish to complete ______________________________.”

I fill out this statement by thinking of something I want to finish by the end of the day – it’s typically a project or task I’ve been putting off.

Outcome: “After I complete ______________________________, I will experience ______________________________.”

I complete this statement by imagining the emotional high I’ll experience when I fulfill my wish in statement one. I typically write “immense pride,” “excitement,” or “complete satisfaction.”

Obstacle: “However, I won’t experience ______________________________ if I ______________________________.”

I complete this statement by writing the experience I want to have followed by the procrastination tactic that will prevent me from having it. I typically write: Go down a researching rabbit hole or insist “I’m too tired.” Paradoxically, imagining an optimistic vision of the future destroyed by procrastination is motivating (not demoralizing) because we hate the feeling of being held back.

Plan: “When I start to ______________________________, I will ______________________________.”

This is the anti-procrastination intention (implementation intention). Here I might write, “When I start to think ‘I’m too tired to work,’ I will get on the floor, do five push-ups, and get to work.” OR “When I start to browse YouTube, Reddit, or check my email, I will turn off the phone and stare at the wall until I feel like working again.”

About the Author

Timothy A. Pychyl


“Solving the Procrastination Puzzle: A Concise Guide to Strategies for Change” by Timothy A. Pychyl is a well-structured and informative book that provides practical advice on how to overcome procrastination. I have thoroughly read the book and provide a detailed review to help readers understand the author’s message and its relevance in today’s fast-paced world.

The book is divided into five chapters, each focusing on a different aspect of procrastination and how to overcome it. Pychyl, a psychology professor and expert on procrastination, provides insights into the reasons behind procrastination, its consequences, and the strategies to overcome it. The book is written in an approachable and easy-to-understand style, making it accessible to readers of all levels of knowledge on the subject.

Chapter 1: Understanding Procrastination

In the first chapter, Pychyl defines procrastination as a pattern of behavior where individuals delay or put off tasks, often leading to feelings of guilt, stress, and lost productivity. He highlights the different types of procrastination, including avoidant, arousal, and impulsive procrastination, and explains how they can affect individuals differently.

Chapter 2: The Psychology of Procrastination

In this chapter, Pychyl explores the underlying psychological factors that contribute to procrastination, including the fear of failure, perfectionism, and lack of self-efficacy. He also discusses the role of cognitive biases, such as the availability heuristic and the sunk cost fallacy, in procrastination.

Chapter 3: Strategies for Change

The third chapter presents various strategies for overcoming procrastination, including the use of implementation intentions, goal-setting, and time management techniques. Pychyl also discusses the importance of self-monitoring and self-reward systems in promoting productivity.

Chapter 4: The Role of Emotions

In this chapter, Pychyl examines the emotional aspects of procrastination, including the role of emotional regulation and the impact of negative emotions on productivity. He also discusses the importance of developing emotional awareness and self-regulation skills to overcome procrastination.

Chapter 5: Conclusion and Future Directions

In the final chapter, Pychyl summarizes the key takeaways from the book and discusses future directions for research on procrastination. He emphasizes the importance of incorporating the strategies outlined in the book into daily life to overcome procrastination and achieve personal and professional goals.

Solving the Procrastination Puzzle by Timothy A. Pychyl is an insightful and practical guide that delves into the complex issue of procrastination and provides readers with effective strategies to overcome this common habit. With a concise and focused approach, Pychyl offers a wealth of knowledge and actionable advice for individuals struggling to break free from the cycle of procrastination.

One of the book’s greatest strengths lies in Pychyl’s ability to blend psychological research and real-life examples seamlessly. He begins by exploring the underlying causes of procrastination, emphasizing the role of emotions, self-regulation, and our tendency to prioritize short-term gratification over long-term goals. By unraveling the psychological aspects of procrastination, Pychyl lays a solid foundation for readers to understand their own procrastination patterns and the reasons behind them.

Throughout the book, Pychyl introduces a range of practical strategies that enable readers to take control of their procrastination tendencies. These strategies are not mere quick fixes but rather long-term solutions aimed at cultivating effective habits and facilitating lasting change. From understanding the importance of setting clear goals and creating structured schedules to utilizing self-compassion and managing distractions, Pychyl offers a comprehensive toolbox for readers to tailor their approach and find what works best for them.

A notable aspect of Solving the Procrastination Puzzle is Pychyl’s compassionate and non-judgmental tone. He acknowledges that procrastination is a common struggle experienced by many, and he encourages readers to approach their procrastination habits with self-acceptance and understanding. By adopting this mindset, readers can begin to break free from feelings of guilt and shame, fostering a positive environment for personal growth and change.

Another strength of the book is its readability. Pychyl presents the material in a clear and accessible manner, making it suitable for readers of all backgrounds. The concepts are explained in straightforward language, free from excessive jargon, ensuring that the book remains engaging and relatable throughout.

While Solving the Procrastination Puzzle is primarily focused on individual strategies, Pychyl also acknowledges the importance of seeking external support when needed. He emphasizes the value of accountability partners, therapy, and other resources that can aid individuals on their journey towards overcoming procrastination.

If there is one potential drawback to the book, it is that some readers may find certain sections repetitive. Pychyl reiterates key concepts and strategies throughout the book, which, while reinforcing their importance, may feel redundant to those already well-versed in the topic. However, this repetition can also serve as a helpful reminder for readers who benefit from reinforcement and need a consistent reminder of the strategies presented.

In conclusion, Solving the Procrastination Puzzle is an invaluable resource for anyone seeking to understand and conquer the habit of procrastination. Timothy A. Pychyl provides readers with a concise yet comprehensive guide filled with practical strategies, psychological insights, and a compassionate approach. By combining theory with actionable steps, this book empowers individuals to take charge of their procrastination tendencies and achieve their goals. Whether you are a chronic procrastinator or simply looking to enhance your productivity, this book is a must-read that will undoubtedly lead to positive change in your life.

Alex Lim is a certified book reviewer and editor with over 10 years of experience in the publishing industry. He has reviewed hundreds of books for reputable magazines and websites, such as The New York Times, The Guardian, and Goodreads. Alex has a master’s degree in comparative literature from Harvard University and a PhD in literary criticism from Oxford University. He is also the author of several acclaimed books on literary theory and analysis, such as The Art of Reading and How to Write a Book Review. Alex lives in London, England with his wife and two children. You can contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Website | Twitter | Facebook

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