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by Jane B. Burka and Lenora M.Yuen
Da Capo Press, 1983
Review by A. P. Bober on May 14th 2005

Procrastination

This book reveals the following assets: straightforward language absent of jargon, cinema-verité vignettes from lives of workshop participants, logical organization including summary points and typical dialogues, small-chunk behavioral suggestions for change, social-reinforcement (support) techniques, practical checklists of situations, motivations, excuses, and (unhelpful) styles among other tactics. A simple index would have been a boon. As must be so with any self-help book, the typified conditioning factors producing and suggested techniques for transcending procrastination ("P" hereafter), reflecting the two major parts of the book, constitute an extensive buffet from which the reader may select the elements that apply.

The choice of this book for review arose from the real-life reality of a family Scion ("S" hereafter). My existential experience of his "P" in completing a course finished a year earlier showed me which of the book's buttons "S" found in him pushed. I present this real person's foibles at risk of disownment by my clan: "I'm doing everything but. . . ." (p. 8); "I can't enjoy anything." (p. 9; guilt prevents full enjoyment); "I hope no one finds out" (p. 9; the "Stonewall-Jackson incommunicado technique" [my term]); the final choices (of four "Do or Don't do's," p. 10), "I can't wait any longer." and "This isn't so bad. Why didn't I start sooner?," a realization not I alone have made just before the Ides of April. Of the elements of the P-er's Code (p. 16) he activates the following: I must be perfect. Everything I do should go easily and without effort. I should have no limitations. If I do well this time, I must always do well. IF IT'S NOT DONE RIGHT, IT'S NOT WORTH DOING AT ALL. FOLLOWING SOMEONE ELSE'S RULES MEANS I'M GIVING IN AND I'M NOT IN CONTROL. These last two pass on in our family by observation and inculcation. I observed him as a child interacting with his father on opposite sides of the Battleship game. "No. That's wrong! Follow the rules!" or something of that ilk was the father's imposing reaction. I suggested life is a process of "successive approximation" like "horseshoes and hand grenades." But he overruled me, not being in accord with "Mary's" (p. 86) response when her boss pointed out a mistake, "Oh good. Tell me about it." Finally, "S" combines the "all or nothing" put-off with the "thrill" of deadline pressure and the drive for independence from an authoritarian father that allowed the young "S" little more than the delay and deception that passive resistance could afford, oddly combined with a "Jack-of-all-trades" Renaissance Man (p. 110) identity.

 Central for the authors is the litany of troubles "P" produces whenever it moves from "comfortable" to "troublesome" (p. 5), producing a clearly not exhaustive list of 28 external (interpersonal) and internal (intrapsychic) consequences that systematic reflection would enable any of us to produce. The authors devote chapters describing delay as a strategy of protection against anxieties around the "five" fears of: failure, success, being controlled, becoming too separate and also being too attached to people. The key solution is the "un-schedule" (pp. 148-58), a chart of all your "committed" activities of any kind from serious to silly likely to occur in the coming week. Blocks of time are darkened for your free use as rewards for productive behavior (rather than for vague, unrealistic "plans"). Those who remember Werner Erhard's est recall that you cannot "try" to do something; you do it or don't. (I used to tell my social-science students that "trying" is tantamount to a statement that you are not going to do "it.") The authors propose many other practical aids, including the recognition of stress and techniques for its reduction.

By now it has become clear that this book offers a wide ranging analysis of what leads up to and what leads out of the learned habit of procrastination. And it presents its cogent case in a form that will easily reach general audiences with effect.

 

© 2005 A. P. Bober 

A. P. Bober has studied a psychology spanning Skinner and a humanistic-clinical view based on existential phenomenology and had been a PhD candidate in a substantive yet philosophic European-based sociology including the "critical" view.  His teaching augmented courses in group theory/"small-group developmental dynamics" (lab) while introducing "sociology of knowledge" and "issues in biological anthropology," with publications in the first two fields.  Currently he is writing a book on mystical experience as metaphorically tied to neurophysiology.




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