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The Procrastinator's Guide to Getting Things Done
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The Procrastinator's Guide to Getting Things Done

by Monica Ramirez Basco

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Everyone waits till the last minute sometimes. But 1 in 5 adults are procrastinators who pay a significant price, from poor job performance to stress, financial problems, and relationship conflicts. Expressly designed for people who want to make changes but would be easily daunted by an elaborate self-help program, this concise, motivating guide is packed with


Everyone waits till the last minute sometimes. But 1 in 5 adults are procrastinators who pay a significant price, from poor job performance to stress, financial problems, and relationship conflicts. Expressly designed for people who want to make changes but would be easily daunted by an elaborate self-help program, this concise, motivating guide is packed with highly practical tips and suggestions. Engaging quizzes and exercises help readers determine what type of procrastinator they are, outsmart their own delaying tactics, and build crucial skills for getting things done today. Cognitive-behavioral therapy expert Monica Ramirez Basco peppers the book with easy-to-relate-to examples from recovering procrastinators including herself.

Editorial Reviews

Cognitive Behaviour Therapy
"The strength of this latest addition to a large and growing number of titles about procrastination is the clear cognitive behavioral approach. From the beginning to the end of the book, Ramirez Basco makes it clear to her readers that they can learn to do things differently."--Cognitive Behaviour Therapy

Human Givens Journal
"An insightful book. Many readers will recognize themselves again and again in the various scenarios, case histories, and personal stories which bring it to life."--Human Givens Journal

From the Publisher
"I thought I had my self-defeating procrastination habits under control, but when I saw myself in so many of this book's scenarios, I realized I still have work to do. Fortunately, Dr. Basco provides simple steps to move from overwhelmed to active; from stalling to success. I gained new insights, great reminders, and thoughtful encouragement—all of which have helped me to shift the way I approach tasks and safeguard against falling into the same old traps."—Susan L. Franzen, Director, Leadership Institute, University of Texas System

"Do you hold off to the last minute on those less-than-pleasant tasks? Are you typically off by 50% on your 'that-won’t-take-long-I’ve-got-time' estimates? Think you are a capital-P Procrastinator for life? With this guide, you’ll get the quick-and-easy shortcuts around all your excuses. You’ll gain the tools to find your personal stall tactics and the repair kit to fix them. When you’re done, get ready for your reward: efficient productivity and more time for fun."—Reid Wilson, PhD, author of Don't Panic

"Filled with examples of people who have overcome procrastination, practical and powerful advice, and helpful forms, this book can help you change your life. Read it and use it—what are you waiting for?"—Robert L. Leahy, PhD, author of The Worry Cure

"Turns out it does take one to know one! As a procrastinator of many years, I found observations and examples I could relate to in every chapter. Dr. Basco will help you understand why you keep procrastinating, even though it does more harm than good—and how to beat it once and for all."—Eric A., lawyer

"This book is a treasure trove of practical methods to break procrastinating habits. Dr. Basco will inspire you and cheer you on as you learn how to become a 'doer.' I wish this book had been available sooner. It would have saved me many hours and days of spinning my wheels."—Jesse H. Wright, MD, PhD, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences; Director, Depression Center; and Vice Chair for Academic Affairs, University of Louisville

CBT Today Magazine
"As a lifelong procrastinator, I found this book an amusing, encouraging, and informative read....The Guide enables readers to identify the emotions that are behind their avoidance and the thinking errors and self talk that maintain the problem. It is packed with practical exercises and advice for achieving behavioural change, mixed in with case studies and success stories to illustrate and motivate. The Guide ends with a rallying call to action: goal setting and relapse prevention. Thanks to this excellent self help book, I do now believe the last line of the Procrastinator's Pledge: I can learn to do things differently."

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Read an Excerpt

The Procrastinator's Guide to Getting Things Done

By Monica Ramirez Basco

The Guilford Press

Copyright © 2010 The Guilford Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-60623-293-4


Why Do I Procrastinate?


START: Find out why people procrastinate.

* Admit that procrastination works for you.

* Measure the severity of your problem.

* Learn to recognize the urge to procrastinate.

END: Commit to making a change.

There is a good chance that you are reading this book because you are unhappy with yourself. You have probably been procrastinating on things for some time, have tried to change on your own, and have not been very successful. If you are like most procrastinators, you have probably made promises to yourself that the next time you are faced with a task you will not wait until the last minute to get it done. In fact, you have probably made that promise more than once and have had trouble keeping it. This book is for people who:

• Don't understand why they procrastinate.

• Feel bad about doing it.

• Wish that they didn't.

• Want to change, but don't know how.

Procrastination is hard to change. It is not something you can just decide to give up and then completely let it go. It is a well-worn path in your life, a habit that is so automatic that it does not require thought or planning. It is not like you open your eyes in the morning and say, "I think I'm going to procrastinate today." It is actually quite the opposite. You start your day saying that you will not take that path, fall into that habit, and yet without realizing it you find yourself there again. Procrastination might be that slight pause where you intend to do a task but hesitate and then turn away. Maybe you reach for the phone to call someone and then change your mind and tell yourself that you will do it later. Or you go to the kitchen with the intention of washing the dishes, you see the mess, and then you leave the room to do something else. Procrastination occurs when you start a task like paying your bills and then find yourself cleaning out a drawer instead. It's also those times when you find yourself spending more time getting ready to do a task, like straightening up your office before you work, than actually doing the work. It is like driving down the road toward your destination and then turning off in another direction at the last moment.

Procrastination is our comfort zone. It is where we feel the most at ease. It is familiar. We know how to do it. It doesn't challenge us or scare us. Procrastination gives us temporary comfort in a world full of demands and uncertainties. It is our rest stop on the long road of life and responsibilities.

Procrastination is also an altered state of reality. It is our happy place. It allows us to believe temporarily that we have nothing to do. It pushes our to-do list so far out of our minds that for a short while we can almost believe the list does not exist. It makes us believe we deserve to rest, relax, and take it easy. It makes us feel bold in justifying our inaction, inactivity, hesitation, and avoidance.

Procrastination is a roadblock on your life path. It slows your progress and sometimes takes you off course altogether.

Procrastination is seductive. It allows you to have a little bit of joy or pleasure or relief from stress. It takes away the things you hate to do and replaces them with something better. It keeps you from having to deal with unpleasant people and difficult chores. It allows you to delay getting bad news. It gives you five more minutes in the comfort of your bed on a cold winter morning.

Procrastination is, however, only a disguise. It masks your true thoughts and feelings. It masquerades as laziness, but it is much more than that. On the surface, procrastination looks like a comfortable, relaxing experience, but underneath it is full of guilt and self-loathing. Peacefulness is what we pretend to feel while we are procrastinating, yet it is anything but peaceful. While we are procrastinating we are watching ourselves do it. We are criticizing the behavior. We are filled with guilt for putting things off. We dread what will happen if we wait any longer to get started. We hate ourselves for doing it and call ourselves names such as "lazy," "irresponsible," "uncaring," "stupid," and "worthless." We act like we are relieved not to have to deal with whatever we are trying to ignore, but we are stressing on the inside, worrying about what we will eventually have to face. You have probably had experiences where you sat in front of the TV to watch the news for a few moments before getting started on your chores but were distracted by thoughts of what you needed to do next, so you missed what the announcer had to say. Or maybe for those extra few minutes you stayed in bed after turning off the alarm you lay there physically resting but mentally running through your list of responsibilities for the day. During these times we know that by procrastinating we are probably making it worse. That makes us anxious and also robs us of the desire to take action.

The number one reason that we procrastinate is BECAUSE WE CAN. The majority of the time things still get done and no real consequence is suffered. We get away with it when we are students by cramming at the last minute. We get away with it as adults by changing our minds and deciding not to do the task after all. We get away with it at work when another member of the team gets worried and picks up the slack. We get away with it at home because we can work around chores that are not finished or count on someone else doing them for us. We may suffer consequences, but they are usually not substantial. We get a late fee on our credit card bill or on our rent for not sending a payment in on time. So what? We pay it and manage without the extra money.

We live in a world of extra chances. The IRS will give us an extension when our taxes are not done on time. There are grace periods that allow us to delay without penalty. If we lose an opportunity, we can often find another one. We get warnings that we are approaching a deadline. We get alerts when we are about to run out of time, or power in our batteries, or minutes on our cell phones. For many everyday things we can afford to put things off a little, take our time, sit on it for a while, or sleep on it. Our modern world is full of opportunities to procrastinate.

How many times have you waited until the last minute but still gotten things done? How many extensions have you needed? How many apologies have you given for being late? How many late fees have you paid? You are probably aware of the many tasks you have consciously avoided because you just didn't feel like doing them, but how many more do you think you unconsciously avoided? Consider all these times when either nothing bad happened or the consequence was small and not a big deal. You were able to get away with it.

The big question is why we would want to give it up. Why do we feel guilty about it? Why do we pledge time and time again to change our ways? The reason may be that procrastination works only in the short run. It provides only temporary relief. In the long run, it does not get us where we want to go. We feel angry at our-selves for it when we step back and see the stress that it causes and how it interferes with our lives. If we could hold on to the big picture and see clearly where we want to go in life, we would choose not to procrastinate. If we could remember how much trouble it causes, we probably wouldn't procrastinate the next time. The problem is that we are so used to using procrastination as our coping strategy that we do it automatically, without considering the big picture. In the moment, when faced with something unpleasant, we just want to detour around it, and so we avoid, delay, put off, forget about, and otherwise procrastinate on it.

Procrastination is a common behavior. Some do it more than others. This book probably caught your attention because, just like me, you are not a blissful procrastinator. You want to change. That desire makes all the difference.

A Personal Note

Like everyone else, I don't like doing tasks that are unpleasant or stressful. There are some things I would like to avoid forever, but that is usually not possible in my world. I don't like that feeling of hesitation where my mind does a quick tug of war with my emotions: "You should do that now." "No, I don't want to!" I feel my gut tightening and a pressure in my chest. My upbringing leads me to feel a sensation of guilt while this is happening. Sometimes the guilt for thinking about putting something off is more unpleasant than the dread of doing the task. It's better if I just do the thing that I am avoiding and get it over with. My goal is to stop the tug of war and either put off a task intentionally, with good reason, and enjoy my moment of relief or just get up and take care of the task that is nagging at me.

What is your goal?

Procrastination Is a Way to Cope

If you are like most people, you probably associate procrastination with laziness. That is most likely because your parents or teachers told you to stop being lazy whenever they saw you put your work aside to relax, have some fun, watch TV, goof off, spend time on the computer, talk to your friends, or do anything else they thought was a waste of time. I remember teachers saying things like "Never put off till tomorrow what you can do today" or "Don't dillydally" or "You have to get your work done before you can go out and play." My mom had a few colorful words in Spanish for laziness that I would hear when I was parked in front of the television instead of doing my chores.

What I have come to learn through my personal experience as a mom, a psychologist, and a college professor is that there is much more to procrastination than laziness. Behind most procrastination is a task or activity that the person would like to get out of doing if he or she could. Often it is something that the person believes will be hard to do, unpleasant, or even painful in some way. Just the thought of it stirs up uncomfortable feelings like anxiety, dread, or anger. Procrastination is a way of shutting down those bad feelings. In this way, it is a type of self-preservation, a way to cope.

A Personal Note

I teach college students in the Psychology Department at the University of Texas at Arlington. It is a great deal of fun for me, and my students seem to enjoy my classes as well. I am one of those professors, however, who make their students write papers as part of their course requirements, and I never accept late papers unless there is a verifiable medical emergency. When I first began to do this, I got lots of calls from students within the last few days before the assignment was due, asking about the instructions for the paper. Clearly they had waited until the last minute, and most of the time their papers ended up showing a lack of preparation. My students are quite intelligent, so their poor performance was not due to lack of brainpower. It was due to procrastinating and running out of time.

In subsequent semesters I took time to ask students early in the semester if they were having trouble getting started on their papers. Many had not started and had no idea how to begin. Several voiced fear that they would "do it wrong" and were stuck in their fear. Some were busy having fun and told themselves that they had all the time in the world and were not at all worried about it.

They should have been worried. What they showed me is that procrastination is not laziness or irresponsibility. It is the way my students coped with their fear of making a mistake, their uncertainty and lack of self-confidence about the task, and it was a product of their false belief that they write better under pressure. Knowing this helps me address their concerns before the final paper is due. While we talk about the paper in class, I make them anxious because I force them to think about what they have been avoiding. For a while, I take away their ability to use procrastination as a way to cope. In the long run, however, they are pleased to have their questions answered and get their fears off their chest.

Read through Changing Directions 1 to determine whether you are using procrastination as a coping strategy.

How Bad Is It?

Procrastination is a common behavior, and doing it once in a while doesn't usually cause problems. Most of the time you are the only person who suffers. At least that is what you tell yourself. Your first step toward overcoming procrastination is to be honest with yourself about how often it happens and how much trouble it is causing you. Try Changing Directions 2. See if you really are the world's worst procrastinator or just a normal everyday procrastinator.

Add up your subscale scores in the following table. Next to each subscale is a description of the type of procrastinator you might be. Read on to learn more about these subtypes.

What Type of Procrastinator Are You?

There are six types of procrastinators, each with a unique reason for putting things off. Each of the Procrastination Quiz subscales relates to a different type. Items 1 through 5 are general problems with procrastination that are common to all types of procrastinators such as Bob. Bob knows he puts things off when he shouldn't, and he feels guilty about it. When he was married, his wife got on his case about it, especially when his delays made them both late for appointments.

Items 6 through 10 are rated highly by avoiders. Avoiders cope with stress and unpleasantness by putting things off as long as possible. Donna has to tell her grandmother that she is getting a divorce. Donna knows her grandmother will not approve of this because no one in her family has ever been divorced. The conversation is going to be very stressful, so Donna keeps putting it off.

Items 11 to 15 are typically checked by the disorganized type of procrastinator. People in this group underestimate how long tasks can take and overestimate how much time they have available. They have trouble setting priorities when there is too much to do. Freddie, for example, wastes time on small tasks as a way of avoiding bigger ones; he will, for example, reorganize his CDs instead of cleaning his room.

Items 16 through 20 pertain to procrastinators who are self-doubters. They hesitate to take action because they lack confidence in their abilities. They think they will make a mistake or fail. Arthur, for example, isn't sure how to put together the end-of-year budget summary for his procrastination support group. He puts off doing it because he is afraid it won't be right.

Items 21 through 25 pertain to the interpersonal type of procrastinator. These people procrastinate intentionally as a way of making a point. For example, Carla hates being told what to do, especially by someone at work who is not her boss. She always gets things done on time, but she stalls in getting started just to make people nervous that the job won't get done.

Items 26 to 30 relate to all-or-nothing procrastination. These are people who take on too much and work at full speed until they run out of steam. They can be binge workers who try to do it all until they get overwhelmed and shut down altogether. Olivia is an example of an all-or-nothing procrastinator. She agrees to help out on too many things and then gets completely overwhelmed by how much she has to do and how little time she has to do it all, so she shuts down and does nothing.

Items 31 through 35 fall into the pleasure-seeking subtype. Evelyn, for example, watches TV instead of typing up her report for class even though she knows she has a deadline and is running out of time. People who fall into this category sometimes call them-selves "lazy" or "unmotivated."

How to Use This Book

The rest of the chapters in this book are organized around these various subtypes of procrastinators. You might be tempted to use the subscale scores as a guide and skip to the section that pertains to the reasons you procrastinate. That's fine if it seems like the best way to get yourself going. But if your overall score is in the moderate or severe range, you probably procrastinate for a lot of different reasons, meaning several chapters may pertain to your kind of procrastination. To get the most out of this book, I recommend that you work through the chapters from beginning to end and perhaps use only the exercises that pertain to your specific problem. Keep in mind that the exercises presented throughout the book might pertain to more than one type of procrastination.

Another reason to consider reading this book from cover to cover is that the people just introduced are discussed throughout the chapters. You will learn more about them as you go through the examples, with each building on the characters' stories.

A strategy you might use as you work your way through this book is to focus on the area of your life where procrastination is causing you the most trouble. Review the domains you checked off at the bottom of each subscale. Is there a pattern of procrastinating more at work than in your personal life? Is it a bigger problem at school? Pick the area of your life where you may be procrastinating the most or where your problem is the most severe. Focus your energy on fixing the type of procrastination that occurs in that trouble spot. Or do what some people find gets them started and begin with the area that is easiest to improve on. Once you feel more confident in your ability to steer clear of procrastination, you can take on new life domains. Examples of how to address procrastination at work, school, and home, and in your personal life are provided in each chapter. You will pick up clues to coping as you read along.

The exercises that are presented start simple and build in complexity. If you can master some of the basic skills presented in the first few chapters, you will be more prepared to take on bigger changes as you read on.

You Are Not Alone

When people are at the crossroads of procrastination or action, they pause there thinking about what they should do and how much they don't want to do it. They assume they are alone at that juncture because everyone else seems to be on top of things. This could not be further from the truth. If you don't believe it, ask ten people you know if they ever procrastinate. Then ask them if they wish they didn't. You are in good company.


Excerpted from The Procrastinator's Guide to Getting Things Done by Monica Ramirez Basco. Copyright © 2010 The Guilford Press. Excerpted by permission of The Guilford Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.


Meet the Author

Monica Ramirez Basco, PhD, is a clinical psychologist, author, and researcher at the National Institutes of Health. She currently serves as Assistant Director for Neuroscience, Mental Health, and Broadening Participation at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Dr. Basco is an internationally recognized expert in cognitive-behavioral therapy and a founding fellow of the Academy of Cognitive Therapy.

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