The one-sentence summary

Self-deception and procrastination go hand-in-hand, exploiting the thin line between couldn’t and wouldn’t, but there are things you can do about it.


  • It is subtitled How to stop putting things off and start getting things done.
  • The author is the world’s leading authority on the science of motivation and procrastination. He uses a decade of research to suggest ways we can combat our failure to get stuff done, and the nasty effects of stress, unhappiness, poor health and financial problems that inevitably follow.
  • Self-deception and procrastination go hand-in-hand, exploiting the thin line between couldn’t and wouldn’t.
  • 95% of us procrastinate, but interestingly perfectionists aren’t the guilty ones.
  • The Procrastination equation is: Motivation = Expectancy x Value divided by Impulsiveness x Delay.
  • Impulsiveness leads procrastinators to be disorganised and distractible – what people want now seems more attractive than the true goal (70% of students suffer from it).
  • Expectancy is high in optimists and low for those with learned helplessness.
  • Expectancy x Value is the basis of Expected Utility Theory
  • Hating the work, proximity to temptation and failing to plan all contribute, and the virulence of the temptation is crucial.


“If the human mind was simple enough to understand, we’d be too simple to understand it.” Emerson Pugh

  • Drawing a line between onset and completion, procrastinators always fall below it with regard to achievement and effort, and suddenly start working at the last minute.
  • Modernisation increases procrastination – up from 5% in the western world in the 70s to 20-25% now.
  • In a work context, people procrastinate on average for 2 hours a day, out of 8 hours, costing the USA alone over a trillion dollars a year.
  • Email takes up 40% of working life, and the snooze button is ‘the devil’s device’.
  • Avoidance goals are bad (“I won’t do x…”) Approach goals are good (“I will do y…”)
  • Precommitment decreases the chances of procrastination
  • Sophisticates acknowledge their self-control problems and take steps, while naifs are constantly caught unaware by sudden shifts in their inclinations.


  • It is part science, part self-help. You can try applying the ideas, unless you want to put it off…