Solving The Procrastination Puzzle by Timothy A. Pychyl: Summary and Notes

solving the procrastination puzzle

“The most finite, limited resource in our lives is time. We only have a finite amount of time to live. Why waste it?”

Rating: 8/10

Related Books: The Now Habit, The Science of Getting StartedEat That FrogThe More You Do, The Better You FeelThe Procrastination EquationAtomic Habits

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Solving The Procrastination Puzzle: Short Summary

In Solving the Procrastination Puzzle, Timothy A. Pychyl offers strategies on how to overcome one of the most common productivity issues — procrastination. Timothy also goes a step further and explains why you tend to procrastinate. By knowing why you procrastinate, you will be less inclined to do so.

What Is Procrastination? And Why Does It Matter?

Procrastination is the voluntary delay of an intended action despite knowing such delay can cause harm in terms of task performance and even to one’s self-image.

Procrastination undermines the pursuit of our goals. Compared to their peers, people who procrastinate achieve less in life, report more negative feelings, and have greater health problems.

To prevent procrastination, start by categorizing the delays in your life. Identify the delays that are voluntary and that undermine your performance and well-being.

Create a list of the things that you tend to procrastinate on. You may find that the tasks have something in common or elicit a common feeling.

Is Procrastination Really A Problem? What Are The Costs Of Procrastinating?

People regret the things that they never got to do the most. These are called regrets of omission.

Even when we are procrastinating, it is not that we are happier overall. A mixture of emotions is experienced including guilt.

Procrastination affects our health because it causes stress and leads people to needlessly delay exercising, eating healthy, and getting enough sleep.

“Procrastination is a problem with not getting on with life itself. When we procrastinate on our goals, we are our own worst enemy. These are our goals, our tasks, and we are needlessly putting them off. Our goals are the things that make up a good portion of our lives.

Make a deep commitment to change by focusing on the costs of procrastination. Ask yourself: “Am I ready to live with them?”

Strengthen your goal intention by recognizing the benefits of acting now. Take the time to think about how your goals align with your long-term objectives and values.

Examine your intentions regularly as a way to reduce your tendency to procrastinate.

What Is The Most Important Thing We Need to Know About Procrastination

Procrastination is a form of regulation failure. You fail to self-regulate because you want to feel good now at the expense of carrying out your long-term goals.

“If you find that you are chronically procrastinating, it may well be that you are running away from negative feelings by putting off your tasks.”

To address procrastination, you need to tackle short-term mood repair in favor of long-term goals.

Emotional intelligence: The ability to effectively identify and utilize emotions to guide behavior” 

If you are likely to procrastinate, use if X then Y format of an intention.

For example:

 IF I feel negative emotions when doing a task, THEN I will commit to finishing the task rather than abandoning it.

Why We Won’t Feel Like It Tomorrow

We tend to focus too much on our current situation without regard to how future events will make us feel.

Focuslism: “The tendency to underestimate the extent to which events will influence our feelings and thoughts in the future”

Presentism: “Putting too much emphasis on the present in the prediction of the future” 

When you plan for the future, you feel positive and get relieved that you don’t have to act in the now.

“If we intend to go for a run tomorrow, we feel good about ourselves for making such a proactive health-related intention. Good for us! Our current affective state is positive, and we incorrectly forecast that our affective state tomorrow at the intended time of the run will be the same.

To overcome presentism, you can forecast the future and try to imagine how you will feel at the time. Another strategy is to accept that you will be wrong.

For Example:

If you think you will feel better doing a task tomorrow, tell yourself that you are probably wrong and that it won’t be any better.

You need to build momentum.

Excuses And Self-deception: How Our Thinking Contributes To Our Procrastination

Biases in your thinking that contribute to procrastination:

  • You tend to discount future rewards in relation to short-term goals
  • Underestimate how long things will take and how much you can do
  • Prefer tomorrow over today
  • Self-handicap to protect your self-esteem
  • Think irrationally about the task at hand and your ability to accomplish the task
  • Manufacture happiness that is consistent with your behavior

Identifying you have these biases is an important step in addressing the reasons why you procrastinate. Write down the typical excuses leading to needless delays.

The Power Of Getting Started

Once you get started on a task, it is not often as bad as you think. Starting a task demonstrates progress towards your goals which makes a very big difference in your lives.

When you feel like putting off a task for tomorrow, get started on some aspect of the task.

If on the other hand, the task feels overwhelming, break it into subtasks.

One of the techniques I use when I feel overwhelmed is a Brain Dump. Here is my video on the topic.

Getting started is just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to solving procrastination. You must also recognize the points at which you are likely to abandon your goals. At the same time, you need to be prepared to deal with changes to your moods, setbacks, and disappointments.


Our willpower is a limited resource. If you are constantly fighting off the temptation to do one thing over another, you will likely give up.

Ways to boost your willpower:

  • Exercise your self-discipline by holding out longer than usual
  • Sleep and rest well
  • Take strategic naps during the day
  • Boost your positive emotion. Find people or events that make you feel good about yourself
  • Use implementation intentions to boost your willpower
  • Keep a piece of fruit to restore your glucose level
  • Be aware of the social situation and interactions and how they erode your willpower
  • Cultivate your motivation. Much of our willpower depends on the reason we are doing something in the first place

Personality and Procrastination

Some personalities are prone to procrastination than others. However, you don’t have to change your personality to succeed. You can choose to act counter to your dispositions or traits.

Cyberslacking on the Procrastination Superhighway

The internet is one of the top reasons why people procrastinate. This is because the internet and especially social media is made to be addictive. The way to avoid procrastination is to minimize distractions while we are working online.

Disconnect social media sites such as Facebook while working online. You can also schedule a time for social media and other internet-related activities.