Book review: Joseph Ferrari’s Still Procrastinating

Still Procrastinating: The No Regrets Guide to Getting It Done is a book that explains, in an easy-to-read format, the results of the past 20 years of scientific studies on procrastination and procrastinators.

The book defines procrastination as “the purposive delay of the starting or completing a task to the point of subjective discomfort.” More simply, procrastinators voluntarily do not work on important tasks and feel bad or uncomfortable about their delays because they know that this course of action will have negative effects in the future.

Studies cited in the book indicate that although everyone procrastinates about a few things, approximately 20 per cent of adult men and women are chronic procrastinators — they procrastinate habitually in many different areas of their lives. The studies also show that procrastination is a learned behaviour. If people understand why they procrastinate, they can get the support they need and develop strategies to help them learn new behaviours.

There are several types of procrastinators identified in the book.

Thrill-Seekers: These procrastinators claim they do better under pressure, when they feel the deadline is looming. Scientific studies show that these types of people are easily bored and the adrenaline rush of completing the task just before the deadline is a thrill they enjoy. What the studies also show is that even those these types of procrastinators believe they produce better results at the last minute, in reality they make more errors and do not complete all of the task’s components thoroughly.

Indecisives: These types of procrastinators delay making a decision until a choice is made for them. For example, they may wish to purchase tickets for the symphony but they can’t decide which night to attend and they delay so long that there are no tickets available. Studies show that Indecisives may have grown up in situations that did not allow them to acquire good decision-making skills.

Self-Saboteurs: These procrastinators intentionally place obstacles in their paths to prevent successful performance of a task. In this way they can blame external factors, such as not having enough time, to mask their anxiety and self-doubt. However, if this type of procrastinator completes the task successfully despite the obstacle, he/she will protect his/her self-esteem. Many of these self-saboteurs have low self-control. They are unable to delay their need for instant gratification and focus on the task at hand. They do not often reward themselves for a job well done and instead enjoy the “fun stuff” before they get their work done.

Perfectionists: Perfectionist procrastinators maintain impossibly high standards. They delay starting or finishing a task because being perfect is not realistically achievable. These types of procrastinators have a strong desire to be liked by others and show how hard they are working. They often justify their procrastination by saying delays will result in a better quality of work but this is not usually the case.

Regardless of the type of procrastinator with which people identify, Dr. Ferrari is optimistic about procrastinators changing their habits and behaviours. He suggests starting with small changes and gradually progressing. He indicates that getting organized is “Your Secret Weapon in Task Completion.” Do any of these four types of procrastination ring true with you or are you someone who only occasionally puts off tasks?

Professional organizers can certainly help procrastinators in their efforts to become non-procrastinators by helping them declutter, minimize distractions, and improve their time and task management skills. Sometimes consulting a mental health professional such as a cognitive behavioural therapist, may be helpful. Seeking support from family and friends who are non-procrastinators is advisable. These are the people that care for you and will hold you accountable for your changes in behaviour. Checking in daily with an accountability partner or having someone hangout with you as you work on a project at home (like cleaning out your closet) can be beneficial.

Dr. Ferrari states that procrastination is more than just having poor time management skills. Procrastination is an ineffective strategy to cope with the challenges of everyday life. By focusing on the positive aspects of your life and taking action, you can become less stressed and more productive.

Useful book to help you care for and preserve prized possessions

Do you have some precious heirlooms — things with great value, sentimental or monetary — you want to preserve and pass down to other family members?

If you do, it’s well worth the effort to make sure these items are taken care of properly. And, whenever I get questions about how best to do it — for art, books, textiles, etc. — I pull out my copy of Saving Stuff. I’ve owned the book since 2008, when it first came out, and it’s a reference I always keep close at hand.

As Deb Lee mentioned before, Saving Stuff encourages you to be selective about what you keep. But once you’ve decided something is a keeper, it teaches you how to make sure you’re taking good care of it.

Saving Stuff was written by Don Williams and Louisa Jaggar. Williams is a senior conservator at the Smithsonian Institution, so I trust his advice. Pair him up with a professional writer like Jaggar, and you’ve got a winning combination.

Jaggar got interested in the subject when she had a flood in her basement, and lost many items she treasured: old scrapbooks, photos, her daughter’s art projects, and more. She shared the story with her friend, Williams, and asked for advice. I loved this bit from The Christian Science Monitor’s interview with Jaggar:

“He helped save the Wright Brothers’ airplane, and he’s helped save Archie Bunker’s chair,” she says. “And I’m sitting there asking, ‘How do you save the macaroni art that my daughter made?'”

So how do you save stuff? Williams begins by explaining about perfect preservation:

The best way to ensure that stuff lasts is to place all your collectibles in an Egyptian tomb and then seal them in — after leaving the prerequisite deadly curse on all who dare enter. Stuff lasts for a really long time in a cursed tomb. Why? No light, no humidity, no contaminants, no bugs, no furry friends, and no people.

But since that’s not what anyone is going to do, he goes on to explain the major risk factors, and then tells us which ones are most relevant to different kinds of stuff we might be saving. The remaining chapters deal with the different forms of items we save: photos, newspapers, linens, old letters, sports memorabilia, etc.

While there’s plenty of detail for the dedicated preservationist, there are also numbered lists of simple rules: seven rules for photographs, eight rules for preserving coins and stamps, 20 rules for preserving textiles, 22 rules for caring for stringed wooden instruments, etc.

And the book sometimes gives you multiple ways to preserve a category of stuff. For example, for vintage books, there’s the “quick ’n’ dirty method,” the “middle road,” and “Pharaoh’s tomb” (the last one being for books you want to preserve forever).

If you have stuff you want to be sure you’re saving properly, this may be a book to buy or to borrow from your library to help you protect the few cherished sentimental items you choose to keep.

Uncluttering books: What to let go

Earlier this month, the post “Books: To donate or not to donate?” provided insider information on donating books to libraries. Many of us love our books, so pruning the collection can be difficult. Still, it’s sometimes useful to do a little discarding and donate books to your local Friends of the Library or other group — such as when you want to make room for new books. And, you’ll likely have a good feeling when you let go books that no longer serve you.

In my latest round of bookshelf clearing, I found 25 books I really didn’t have any reason to keep. Maybe you have similar books taking up space on your shelves:

Books you won’t read again

I really enjoyed reading The To-Do List, but I’m never going to re-read it; someone else may as well enjoy it! I’ll never re-read The Poisonwood Bible or The Tipping Point, either.

Books you won’t ever read

There were a number of books I realized I’m just not going to read. I’m sure Stilwell and the American Experience in China, 1911-45 is a wonderful book (it won a Pulitzer Prize), but given how long it’s been on my bookshelf, I thought it was time to admit I’m just not going to read it. I had a few other history books in the same category: good books that deserve to have an owner who will read them.

Books that just don’t work for you

The Synonym Finder was recommended to me as an alternative to a thesaurus. While it sounds like a book that a writer would find quite useful, I only tried using it twice in all the years I owned it — and it didn’t really help me. Different tools work for different people, and this was a tool that didn’t work for me.

Books with information you can find online

I had two books related to green cleaning. After writing about uncluttering your cleaning supplies, I realized I can easily find equivalent information on the Web.

What-were-you-thinking books

These are books that are good, but just not right for me — and I should have realized that before I ever bought them. Home Comforts got rave reviews, but I’m just not the type of person who needs or wants an 837-page book on “the art and science of keeping house.” I’m much more casual about housekeeping than the author is. But, I’m sure someone will love this book, so I’m glad to let it go.

Travel-related books

I had some really nice books about places I’ve been — with the kind of information you don’t easily find online. But, I’m highly unlikely to ever go back to those places or refer back to these books (which are likely outdated). Even through they served me well at the time, there’s no reason to keep them now.

Next steps: After I identified the books I was happy to remove from my shelves, I sold some to a local used bookstore and freecycled others. The remainder went to a local charity that is about to have its annual book sale — I’ll get a small itemized tax deduction for that donation.

Books: To donate or not to donate?

Today’s guest post is written by Ruth DeWitt, the Friends Coordinator at the Lawrence Public Library in Kansas. She is responsible for overseeing all the book donations that come to the library. We contacted her to give us deeper insight as to what to donate, what to trash, and what to sell or Freecycle. Her insights taught us a great deal. You can learn more about the Lawrence Public Library — an extremely vibrant and technology-driving library — on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Uncluttering? One of the hardest things to get rid of is our books. We have emotional ties to our books. Whether we bonded with a character, learned a lesson from the story, or were inspired by someone’s biography, books make personal memories for us — and because of that, they are almost impossible to throw away. But … they take up room, and there are only so many bookshelves we can put in our house, they are heavy to move around, and are we really going to re-read that mystery when we already know the ending?

So, how do you get rid of your books? First, the hard truth is, some books actually can be thrown away. If books have gotten wet in a damp basement, are moldy with brown spots, have covers torn off or pages missing, it is time for them to be recycled. (Note: it is not always easy to find a waste company that recycles books, please check with your local service first.) Even very old books usually lose their value when they are in terrible condition. So, be brave, honestly assess the condition of some of your favorite reads, and if they are bad, please discard.

Second, check with your local library to see if they have a Friends group. Generally, Friends groups are separate entities from your library, which have as their mission raising money in support of the local library’s programming, collections, equipment, or activities. Not all, but many Friends groups resell donated books either through online sales, used book sales, book stores in the library, or honor-system displays scattered around the town, or a combination. In other words, many Friends groups’ very bread and butter are your gently used, donated books. It is a great way to unclutter your space, and feel great about passing your books on to a new home. And, in some instances, you can get a receipt for a tax donation.

But, before you back the moving van up to your library, please check with your Friends group. They probably have a list of what they will and can’t accept, and please respect that list. You can probably find it on your library’s website. If you have a huge donation, please contact them directly, as it is sometimes difficult to accept huge amounts of books at once or there may be a different place to drop large donations, rather than a typical lobby drop box for a couple of bags. Because of liability issues, it is not easy for a Friends group (who are mostly staffed by volunteers) to come to your house and pick up your books. It may be possible, but that is based on the group’s policy. Most likely, you will need to get the books to the library yourself.

Our Friends group in Lawrence, Kansas, recently adopted some guidelines when we moved into a smaller space because of a library renovation. We had to stop accepting vinyl (which we plan to resume when we move into the renovated building), but many Friends groups have stopped taking it all together. We followed the lead of many of our local Friends entities, and are no longer accepting VHS or cassette tapes. We cannot take magazines, yes, even National Geographic, or Encyclopedia sets. A lot of us have found our beautiful Encyclopedia sets are taking up a lot of room, and have been displaced by something called “the internet,” but they don’t sell at Friends sales regardless of what terrific shape they’re in. They do, however, often get snatched up on Craigslist or if you have a local Freecycle network where they can be listed for free. There are some folks out there who are happy to give them a good home. DVDs, Audiobooks, and sheet music are usually good sellers, and we accept both video and board games, and they do very well.

Again, please be sure to check with your local library before you bring your piles of books to them. No matter where you are, it is a guarantee that your library Friends will put your donation to good use by not only selling your books, but giving the proceeds back to the library. The group also serves to promote literacy by getting low priced books into the community, and makes reading and the love of books accessible to all. There is hardly a better cause, and you’ve created more space in your living area at the same time.

Manage Your Day-to-Day: A new productivity book from 99U featuring advice from Unclutterer

This past fall, I was contacted by the amazing people at Behance and 99U about contributing to a book series they’re editing and curating. I’m a big fan of 99U and have been in the LifeRemix network with Scott Belsky (the publisher behind Behance and 99U) for years. It took me exactly one second to agree to the project before I even really understood what it entailed.

The book, Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus and Sharpen Your Creative Mind, released today is the first in a three-part series exploring creative productivity, time management, individually tailored processes, and great design. 99U’s traditional focus is the creative community (artists, designers, writers, etc.), but the information in this book is applicable to most everyone — especially those of us tied to desks all day.

Jocelyn K. Glei, the editor-in-chief of 99U and this book series, explains:

In Manage Your Day-to-Day, we address the specific challenges that this 21st-century influx of information presents for creative professionals, and offer solutions for how to build a daily routine, maintain focus amidst a constant stream of distractions, and keep your creative mind (and work) fresh … Rather than taking a one-size-fits-all approach, Manage Your Day-to-Day provides a playbook of tried-and-true best practices for producing great work. To accomplish this, we recruited 20 of the smartest creatives and researchers we knew—from Stefan Sagmeister to Seth Godin to Gretchen Rubin to Tony Schwartz to Dan Ariely—and asked them to share their road-tested insights on what helps them do great creative work.

The chapter I wrote for the book is “Learning To Create Amidst Chaos” and admits that “like it or not, we are constantly forced to juggle tasks and battle unwanted distractions” while working and to “truly set ourselves apart, we must learn to be creative amidst chaos.” I provide advice for ways you can train yourself to find focus in disruptive circumstances, much like a basketball player has to learn control so he or she can be successful throwing free throws on a rival team’s court.

The official book trailer:

The book is published by Amazon’s new publishing house and is available in paperback, audio, and digital format for the Kindle. Learn even more about the project and the contributors at 99U.

The challenge of letting go of books

Do you love books? I mean, do you love books with paper pages? Do you enjoy the feel of turning the pages? Do you relish that experience? While digital books offer the same content as their paper counterparts, the experience is not exactly the same, is it? You can’t smell the paper. You can’t feel the paper’s texture. I used to think that it was these nuances that made books so difficult to let go. But, could it be more than that?

The author of the blog Epic Writer summed up the complex relationship she has with books (and that many people have with books) in her post Show Me Your Book Clutter:

The problem is I have so many books I want to read. Or, that I need to read. It’s funny how varied the genres are–from reference to family history to novels to religious to just about everything. Aside from my cluttered side table, I have digital and paper clutter where I have recorded books I want to read. From my “wants” list on to titles scribbled on scraps of paper, I am overwhelmed with the amount of books I will get to someday. Even with feeling almost buried by it all, I have no desire to change. I love books. I want to see books everywhere.

I also discovered that how one selects a book to purchase seemed almost as important as the book itself. From Dell Smith’s post on the blog Beyond the Margins, The Psychology of Books: Why We Read What We Read:

Buying and reading books are deeply emotional and personal acts. Your choices of reading material are based on an intricate and truly limitless combination of marketing influences and mercurial emotions. This goes for both buying books and deciding which book to read next. Two different things, but closely related as each is influenced by a mysterious algorithm of instinct and urge, want and need, stimulus both external and internal. Your desire to buy and read a book uncovers the dark hinterland of your soul. Your choices are often a reflection of your id.

Clearly, people love books and everything about them. But, it is possible keep a reasonable number so that they don’t contribute to the clutter in your living spaces. As challenging as it may be to let your books go, if they are truly meaningful to you, you won’t let them languish haphazardly on bookshelves and nightstands. Otherwise, they would simply be taking up space and you wouldn’t benefit from having them.

And, if your books feel like old friends, then it would seem like a one-sided relationship if they simply lay about your home, untouched and waiting to be read someday. Most people tend to interact with their friends, to call them on the phone, and even meet them for coffee. So, instead of waiting for some far-off day to eventually read (or finish) that book that you will probably never read, why not pass it on to someone else who would appreciate it? Like an interesting movie or new restaurant, books are meant to be shared with others. When you share (let go), you’ll be creating new memories (that you can capture with pictures or record in your journal).

The books you choose to have in your life can indeed be very meaningful to you. They may very well be an extension of who you are, of who you aspire to be. You can honor them by being selective about the ones you purchase and by keeping your collection in order. Then you wouldn’t have to choose between enjoying them and having a uncluttered space.

Digital books: Reducing physical clutter and overtaking the market

On September 10, The Economist published the article “Great digital expectations” discussing the consumer shift from print to digital books:

In the first five months of this year sales of consumer e-books in America overtook those from adult hardback books. Just a year earlier hardbacks had been worth more than three times as much as e-books, according to the Association of American Publishers. Amazon now sells more copies of e-books than paper books.

As someone who reads an average of three books a week, I have embraced digital books and advocate their use for numerous uncluttered reasons. First, my library allows me to check out digital books for free using their Overdrive service. (Yours probably does, too.) Not all digital books are available this way, but I still use this service a great deal for research and books I wouldn’t usually buy. And, I can download the books at home and skip the drive to the library. Second, digital books are usually less expensive than print books because you’re only paying for the content not the paper and binding and ink. This keeps more money in my wallet, which I like, and saves a few trees (although the components in my digital book reader probably aren’t super environmentally friendly). Third, digital books keep physical books from cluttering up and overwhelming my bookshelf. I love having books in the house, especially children’s books for my son to read, but my house is a home, not a library. I don’t need all books on display. Fourth, and this is my favorite benefit, my digital reader weighs the same if I choose to carry one book or three dozen books with me at a time. I can read whatever book fits my mood, without having to lug around multiple physical books in a bag.

That being said, I still acquire a lot of books in print. Any book that isn’t available in digital form that I want to read, travel books, children’s books, and cookbooks still end up in my house. These come in on a one-in-one-out basis, however, as I am out of bookshelf space.

Speaking of bookshelves, not only are publishers responding to consumers desiring digital books, but so are bookshelf manufacturers:

Next month IKEA will introduce a new, deeper version of its ubiquitous “BILLY” bookcase. The flat-pack furniture giant is already promoting glass doors for its bookshelves. The firm reckons customers will increasingly use them for ornaments, tchotchkes and the odd coffee-table tome—anything, that is, except books that are actually read.

As a way to curb book clutter, have you made the switch (or a partial switch) to digital books? Could a digital book reader help you to get an out-of-control book collection down to a more meaningful size? As someone who consumes a ridiculous number of books a year, digital books have certainly saved space in my home and office, as well as kept some money in my pocketbook. (FYI: I primarily use a Kindle, but for library downloads I use my laptop since they’re usually research related.) Are you surprised to learn that Amazon sells more digital books than print books? What might be keeping you from making the switch to a digital reader?

Check out the full article.

Book review: Keeping It Straight

Over the weekend, I had the opportunity to read Keeping It Straight — You, Me, and Everything Else by Patrick Rhone. It’s a digital book that is part memoir, part simple living and productivity guide, which through a collection of short essays addresses clearing clutter from your life to greater experience happiness. If you are a Mac user, you may be familiar with Patrick’s website

It is a quick read, but an intimate look at how and why someone has embraced simple living practices. I certainly gained some wonderful insights from the text, and wanted to share a handful of excerpts with you.

I really liked his approach to smart consumerism:

… anywhere I can make a buying choice that I, with proper care and maintenance, will never have to make again for the rest of my life, I do. In those cases, I’m willing to pay far more for an item if I know it will last a lifetime and, even more importantly to me, if I will never have to spend the mental energy making a choice again. Especially because making final choices often requires far more time and research then making regular ones. In fact, I would argue that the more final the choice, the longer it should take to make it. Also, what you spend on the front end usually repays exponentially, and in many different ways, on the back end.

His thoughts on saving time by learning a piece of software and its associated short-cut keys:

if you use an application more than once a day you can save so much time and effort by learning the keyboard shortcuts for the features you use. Do you know how to reload a page in your browser without touching the mouse? How about opening a new window in the Finder? While those may seem like no-brainers to some, I can tell you from personal experience that it still takes me conscious effort to use my keyboard to jump into the Google search field in Safari because the muscle memory of clicking it is so strong. Bottom line, if you find yourself performing regular actions, see if there is a way to automate those.

A non-traditional perspective on creating to-do lists (especially in contrast to the Getting Things Done maybe/someday list):

Your to-do list should be a sacred place. It should be filled only with the things you really plan on doing, things you are constantly evaluating, and things you are taking active steps to move forward and to get them done.

And his humorous, yet poignant view of productivity tools:

The Three Most Important Productivity Tools — The trash can, the delete key, and the word “no.”

If you enjoy a memoir with helpful simple living and productivity advice, Patrick’s book of essays is available for sale at and It is also available for download from Amazon for the Kindle.

Links for April 21, 2011

These items caught my attention over the past couple weeks, and I wanted to share them with you. They weren’t large enough to stand on their own as full posts, so I gathered them together in a link roundup:

  • The company Electrolux sponsored nine teams at the Domus Academy in Milan to design the kitchen of the future. The concepts are pretty impressive, especially for small space and storage design. Electrolux ReSource.
  • The show Clean House is looking for cluttered homes to be made over for future episodes. The show is filming next season in the greater Los Angeles and New York City areas, and to be considered you must own your home and at least two adults must live in the place. If you want to be on the show, email your name, address, phone number, list of everyone in the house and relationship to them, photos or videos of three rooms in your home that are messy, and a brief explanation for why you want to be on the show to Rose at [email protected] for LA consideration and Amy at [email protected] for NYC consideration. You must submit your email by tomorrow, April 22, 2011.
  • SwissMiss featured a great little product that bands your writing utensils to your favorite notebook, clipboard, or book. The pencil holders are called Clever Hands and they’re made by an artist on Etsy. I think these would be a great organizing tool for students.
  • A website, hysterically named BookshelfPorn, features daily pictures of (usually) organized bookshelves from amazing libraries around the world. After our post earlier this month about keeping clutter off your bookshelf, I thought you all might enjoy seeing these (mostly) amazing solutions.
  • My friend Julie Bestry, a professional organizer based in Chattanooga, Tennessee, recently wrote a post for the Metropolitan Organizing website on how to become a Certified Professional Organizer. If you’ve ever thought about a career as a professional organizer or are already a professional organizer and want to be a CPO, I highly recommend checking out her post.
  • Another professional organizer friend of mine, Allison Carter based in the Atlanta area, has a quick post on uncluttered gift ideas for moms for this upcoming Mother’s Day.
  • Last August, NPR featured a 40-minute segment on Fresh Air exploring “Digital Overload.” It’s a long segment, but it’s interesting as it looks at people’s addiction to multi-tasking.

Keeping book clutter off the bookshelf

I’m possibly taking my April resolution for a Super Simple Month a bit too seriously. Instead of starting to read new books, I’m re-reading a few of my favorites — they’re books I love, books that entertain, as well as books that cause me to examine my view of the world. They’re also books that are so complex I fear I may have missed some insights the first time I read them.

I’m currently re-reading Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. Murakami is a gifted storyteller and I’ve wanted to re-read this mystery since I made it through the first time. However, the book lingered for many years on my bookshelf, and it was starting to become a “look-how-cool-I-am” book (one that sits on your shelf for the sole purpose of impressing other people, not because you’ll actually read it again).

When we were packing up books for our move, I committed to getting rid of all of my books that fell into the “look-how-cool-I-am” category. I thought I had been good at keeping these books off my shelves, but I certainly found a number of them when I was sorting titles. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle was one that I initially put in the Donation pile because I hadn’t re-read it like I had thought I would. After a few minutes in the Donation pile, though, I moved it to the Keep pile and gave myself three months to re-read it. I wrote on June 1 in my calendar to donate it if it wasn’t re-read. I did this with three titles, all of which I hope to re-read this month before donating them to our library’s annual book sale.

When packing up our bookshelves, these are the standards I used for deciding what moved and what didn’t:


  1. Current reference books. These are books that are as up-to-date as possible and are more accurate or specific than what you might find online. For example, I kept two dictionaries — one Scrabble dictionary (because it’s nice to have a copy on the table during game play) and one illustrated French dictionary for my son (he’s learning French so he can speak with my husband’s family). I got rid of our other dictionaries since finding words online is easier than retrieving a book off the shelf.
  2. Regularly accessed cookbooks. Technically, these are reference books, but I think they deserve a mention independently. If you use the cookbook at least once a month, I think it’s a good book to keep. If you use it less than that, you might want to consider giving it away.
  3. Books you plan to read. My rule of thumb is that I can only have four months of future reading material in the house. Any more than that, and the books start overwhelming the bookcase. I read four to eight books a month, so for me that means only 20 or 30 to-read books on the bookshelf at a time. I have a Kindle, so I also count my Kindle books in this number, even though they don’t take up physical space.
  4. Books you have scheduled time to re-read. If it’s not on the calendar, it’s not really to going happen. Keep only the books you will actually re-read, and then get rid of them.
  5. Books of great sentimental or financial value. Maybe the book is a first edition and it’s signed by the author? Maybe it was the first book you ever read after you learned to read? Keep only those, however, that would break your heart to lose. A copy of The Scarlet Letter that you bought to read for an English class in high school can go (especially if you hated it). Keep the copy of the book that changed your life.
  6. If you have children, books for children. It’s easy for kids to work on their reading skills when they have many options for reading materials.

Donate, Recycle, or Toss

  1. Damaged books. If a book is damaged and it’s not worth salvaging, get rid of it. Toss it if it’s covered in mold/mildew, and put it in the recycling bin if it’s only structurally damaged.
  2. Books you’ll never read/re-read. Maybe you purchased the book thinking you should read it, but never got around to it. If you know deep down that you’ll never read it (or re-read it), get rid of it.
  3. Look-how-cool-I-am books. Bookshelves are for storing reference books, books of great value to you, and books you plan to read. Bookshelves are not for trying to impress other people. If you want to impress other people, get a trophy case.

We ended up moving 17 boxes of books, and 6 of those boxes were full of my son’s books. For a bibliophile like me, I felt like I did a decent job of getting rid of all (or at least most of) the clutter. Could your bookshelves use a good review? What standards do you use to decide what stays and what goes? If you plan to re-read a book, do you have a due date set on your calendar? Do you have more books on your to-read shelf than you could possibly read this year (or in your lifetime)? Can you stop buying books until you’ve worked through your to-read list?

Review: The Procrastination Equation

Piers Steel’s new book The Procrastination Equation made its way to my door last week. I’ll admit, the title taunted me to put off reading it — it’s as if just seeing the word procrastination could create a self-fulfilling prophecy — but, I didn’t. I finished it three days after first picking it up.

Steel has produced an exhaustive look at the research, history, definition, forms, and treatment of procrastination. (Note: Exhaustive may be underselling it, as there are 73 pages of endnotes following the 220 pages of manuscript.) The research, history, and forms of procrastination sections of his book are its strength and most captivating. Until I read Steel’s book, I had no idea ancient Egyptians had eight hieroglyphs referring to delay, one of which specifically implies neglect and/or forgetfulness. Procrastination clearly isn’t a new problem created by modern workers’ addictions to Facebook. Although, I also learned from reading the book that Facebook has such an addictive draw that half of people who personally close their accounts reactivate them.

From a section of the text, “What Procrastination Is and Isn’t”:

By procrastinating you are not just delaying, though delay is an integral part of what you are doing. Procrastination comes from the Latin pro, which means “forward, forth, or in favor of,” and crastinus, which means “of tomorrow.” But procrastination means so much more than its literal meaning. Prudence, patience, and prioritizing all have elements of delay, yet none means the same as procrastination. Since its first appearance in the English language in the sixteen century, procrastination has identified not just any delay but an irrational one — this is, when we voluntarily put off tasks despite believing ourselves to be worse off for doing so. When we procrastinate, we know we are acting against our own best interests.

Steel uses the later sections of the book to talk through his procrastination equation, which is:

Motivation = (Expectancy x Value)/(Impulsiveness x Delay)

He identifies motivation as the opposite of procrastination, and that a lack of motivation is a result of troubles with expectancy (such as you expect to fail at the task, so you don’t do it), value (such as you don’t value the work you’re supposed to do, so you don’t do it), or impulsiveness (I explain this one in more detail below).

The book provides tips for overcoming these three roots of procrastination with “action items.” If you’ve read any books or articles on procrastination in the past, the suggestions Steel provides are all ones you’ve seen before: Watch inspirational movies, visualize a positive outcome, identify that you’re procrastinating, positively frame outcomes, do hardest work when you are most alert, keep up your energy levels, reward yourself for reaching milestones, remove temptations and distractions, use specific language when setting goals, break down long-term goals into multiple milestones, schedule time for tasks, etc. In fact, I don’t think there are but one or two tips we’ve never covered on Unclutterer.

As I mentioned earlier, though, the “action items” wouldn’t be why you would read the book. It’s the first part of the book exploring the research, history, and forms of procrastination that make this book worth your time.

One of the items I found most interesting in the book is the discussion of types of procrastination. Steel’s research led him to discover that the more impulsive a person is, the more likely she is to procrastinate:

People who act without thinking, who are unable to keep their feelings under control, who act on impulse, are also people who procrastinate.

Delayed gratification isn’t an option for many procrastinators. If given the choice between watching television or studying for a test, they’ll watch television because it will be instantly gratifying. Even if performing well on a test will be more gratifying, they are unable to ignore the temptation in the present. I had never thought of procrastination as an impulse control issue until reading Steel’s book. This discovery will certainly color (for the better, I hope) my future advice about fighting procrastination.