The Procrastination Equation

"The Achilles Heel of procrastination turns out to be impulsiveness; that is, living impatiently in the moment and wanting it all now."

- The Procrastination Equation, page 13

Are you impulsive? Are you distracted by shiny things? If so, you are probably a procrastinator.

I wanted to start 2013 off on the right foot – do a little less procrastinating.  What better way to reduce my procrastination than to better understand it?

In The Procrastination Equation: How to Stop Putting Things Off and Start Getting Stuff Done, author Piers Steel does an excellent job in defining procrastination and provides several assessments to determine how much you procrastinate and more importantly – what type of procrastinator you are by referring to three fictional characters. Who knew there were different kinds of procrastinators!  Low Expectancy Eddie believes that he will fail, has low self-confidence and little optimism, which deflates his motivation.  Valerie Without Value tends to put off what she doesn’t like doing (sound familiar?!).  She doesn’t value the tasks she needs to complete so they don’t get done.  Time Sensitive Tom always over-estimates how much time he has left until it’s too late. “Never do today what you can do tomorrow” and then something else comes up which delays the task again.

To better understand procrastination, Steel provides a mathematical equation that explains how this problem causes much stress and in turn costs the economy billions of dollars each year. By breaking down each component of the equation, he also provides solutions to help you eliminate this nasty habit.  Motivation is the key in limiting procrastination.  Admittedly, his solutions aren’t anything earth-shattering or new, but his reinforcement of them makes you take note.

The Big Idea

The Big Idea: The biggest takeaway from the book

The Quick Impulsive Test

"The greater the delay, the less your motivation."
- The Procrastination Equation, page 29

Time is the one part of the procrastination equation that resonated with me personally. To demonstrate how powerful time (delay) is on motivation, Steel uses this quick test.

Let’s say I put $1,000 cash into your hands (10 crisp $100 bills). You can keep this money and walk right now.  However, I also have a certified cheque, post-dated for one year from today.  Here is the dilemma. What is the minimum amount that I have to put on that cheque for you to reach into your pocket and hand back the $1,000 cash, take the cheque, and wait a year to cash it. Quick! Immediate gut reaction! How much?!

Steel finds that most people are between $2,000 and $3,000.  If you have been taught calculations of common interest rates and give it some thought, you’ll have a much lower answer, but a quick emotional reaction drives that cheque figure much higher. The higher the amount on the cheque, the more impulsive you are; the more that you like to satisfy immediate needs and put off future enjoyment.  Really when you think about it, that is why we procrastinate:  because we are impulsive. We trade short term pleasure for long term pain.

Insight #1

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Frame Your Goals in Specific Terms

"Goal setting – proper goal setting – is the smartest thing you can do to battle procrastination."
- The Procrastination Equation, page 191

Like most of you, I set personal and professional goals. We have all heard of the SMART method, where your goals must be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely.  Without addressing those specific criteria, goals will usually fail. However, Steel breaks down the SMART theory and adds in some depth to the Timely criteria.  Example, frame your goals in specific terms so that you know precisely when you have to achieve them. Instead of “Do my expense report tomorrow”, it should be “Gather all my receipts, itemize them and record them by lunchtime tomorrow.”  Instead of “Lose weight this year”, it should be “Limit my calories to 1,700 per day by eating a set menu for each meal and exercising for one hour at 4:30pm each day.”  By putting a time-stamp on it and by breaking down the goal into manageable chunks, we tend not to blow it off so easily.

Insight #2

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Visualize and Contrast

"Whether the task is preparing for exams, getting a job, smoking less, or improving personal relationships, she (the researcher) found that the worst-performing group used positive fantasies alone. You are better off not using this technique at all."
- The Procrastination Equation, page 129

Basically, just visualizing yourself doing the task (Creative Visualization) isn’t enough, and in some cases it’s actually worse than doing nothing.  You need to take a few extra steps to help make your visualization a reality:

  • Break off a manageable piece of your future by focusing on just one aspect of your desire.
  • Elaborate on all that makes this mental picture attractive to you.
  • Mentally contrast this future with where you are now. Focus on the gap. Put the same emphasis on vividly reflecting on this discrepancy as you did on imagining your idealized future.

You should feel optimistic about realizing this ideal future which in turn creates motivation. Motivation is the key in limiting procrastination. The procrastination should disappear as you actively close the gap. You know what to do and you have the drive to do it.


Piers Steel does a great job dissecting procrastination: what it is, its financial costs, the stress it causes, and how we are naturally wired to do it.  By using personal examples (that I related to more than I care to admit), he really helped me develop a connection with the book.   I was totally impressed with the last chapter where he takes the three fictional characters and implements his solutions into their lives.  It makes it real and gives the reader the motivation to take steps in reducing the enormous stress that procrastination puts on our already busy lives.

How much less stress would you have in your life if you stopped procrastinating?

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Steve Riley

ABOUT Steve Riley

Steve Riley (in no particular order of course): - the Founder and President of® Ltd. - father of 2 awesome kids - ex-restaurant guy - beer guy (Certified Cicerone & recognized Beer Judge) - cottage guy - Pats fan - proud Canadian - husband to the World's Most Patient Woman - serial entrepreneur
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