I recently stumbled upon a book about overcoming procrastination and moving to a place of leadership in your own life, The Now Habit by Dr. Neil Fiore. Everyone has procrastinated. Whether working to complete a paper, a project, or a training regimen, procrastination is the bane of success and achievement. How staggering, then, to overcome this all-too-common pitfall and manage to get up every day knowing you can and will accomplish all that you set out to do. While Fiore’s book was published in 2007, reader comments and my own experience suggest the success of the strategies detailed within have been found to stand the test of time.
What The Now Habit aims to do is free readers from the usual shame and blame stemming from the conflict between “knowing you have to” and “knowing you don’t want to.” According to Fiore the first step is learning to live your life from “choice” allowing you to let go of the need to procrastinate. Fiore notes: “Procrastination is a habit you develop to cope with anxiety about starting or completing a task. It is your attempted solution to cope with tasks that are boring or overwhelming… When you learn to work efficiently, in the Flow State or Zone…, you have less reason to avoid important, top-priority tasks.” The Now Habit, is based on the premise that we are all naturally motivated and productive people if we could only rid ourselves of distractions and the habit of hiding from uncertainty and potential failure.
The book outlines the many forms of procrastination : You may be organized with large work projects but find that small essential tasks for everyday living get ignored; you have a busy schedule that doesn’t allow for leisure time because you often feel guilty; you suffer from extreme panic and blocks when confronted by pressure to perform. What readers and fellow procrastinators may be surprised to learn is that this habit isn’t about being unable to complete work on time, in fact most typically complete assignments by deadline. The Now Habit instead focuses on the pressure that stems from doing work at the last minute and helps readers create new systems that remove and diminish unnecessary anxiety, which reduces the quality of the end result. From reading The Now Habit it became clear that we all have areas in our lives where we delay tasks (whether balancing the budget or painting the spare bedroom) in favor of more pleasurable pursuits.
The book first helps readers identify the procrastination cycle: “Get overwhelmed, feel pressured, fear failure, try harder, work longer, feel resentful, lose motivation, and then procrastinate.” From there we learn to cultivate the “Now Habit: The ability to put aside the fear of failure, the terror of feeling overwhelmed, and low self-esteem, and focus your mind on what you can start now.” Instead of offering recycled advice on procrastination such as: break it into small pieces or set priorities, Fiore accepts that you would do these things if you could and if it was that simple. The Now Habit, therefore, builds every exercise and tip on the belief that somewhere in our lives there are leisure activities and forms of work that we choose to do without hesitation and by cultivating the positive qualities found in the activities we enjoy we can spread this motivation to other, more difficult, areas of our life.
For example, “The Unschedule” invites users to schedule leisure time instead of work. The intended effect is for you to see the freedom awaiting you during these times of scheduled guilt-free play and create a realistic image of the amount of time available for work. The unscheduled can also be used to record quality time spent on projects so you can better see what you’ve actually accomplished. In this and so many other ways, The Now Habit was the best book I’ve encountered on identifying and accepting the ways in which we procrastinate and establishing concrete strategies for overcoming this unfortunate habit.
Neil A. Fiore, Ph.D., is a management consultant and licensed psychologist with a private practice in Berkley, California. He has been published in The New England Journal of Medicine, Science Digest, and Boardroom Reports and appeared on numerous radio and T.V. shows across the country.