Career Advice Career Books Recommendations

Stop putting it off

SJ Scott’s latest book helps you avoid procrastination.

Author SJ Scott is evidently a driven and organised man who lives by numbers. Before penning his latest book – 23 Anti-Procrastination Habits: How to Stop Being Lazy and Get Results in Your Life – his previous publications included in their titles “70 healthy habits”, “97 small life changes” and “nine proven steps to eliminate e-mail overload”.  

Short, at 114 pages, and penned in Scott’s typically breezy, straightforward style, 23 Anti-Procrastination Habits is a useful, but fairly superficial, look at addressing procrastination – the malady of many an employer, and of the odd CEO, too. 

Procrastination may be a thief of time, but it has proved a bountiful font of quotes, particularly from famous creative types. The father of all zingers, Mark Twain, said: “Never put off till tomorrow what may be done the day after tomorrow just as well.” A more contemporary voice, Calvin & Hobbes creator and cartoonist Bill Watterson, said: “You can’t just turn on creativity like a faucet. You have to be in the right mood. What mood is that? Last-minute panic.” 

I like what mystery writer Rita Mae Brown had to say on the subject. “If it weren’t for the last minute, nothing would get done.” Novelist Ella Varner goes further, stating: “I’m a big believer in putting things off. In fact, I even put off procrastinating.”

As a book reviewer I particularly identify with the view of Hollywood screenplay writer Paul Rudnick. “As a writer, I need an enormous amount of time alone. Writing is 90 per cent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials. It’s a matter of doing everything you can to avoid writing, until it is about four in the morning and you reach the point where you have to write. Having anybody watching that or attempting to share it with me would be grisly.” 

 Like most scribes, I’m a procrastinator of distinction. Indeed, I was planning to pen this review sometime last week, but a slew of distractions crept in the way. Scott, however, doesn’t dawdle, and cuts straight to the chase, with his pick-and-choose list – which is more of an inviting buffet than a dry set of instructions. The reader might not find every single one of these 23 anti-procrastination habits helpful or even sustainable, but there is something here for everyone. 

A key message that Scott puts forward is that when we put off important tasks, we get overwhelmed by the compounded build-up – procrastination causes one to “stress out” when we’re not completing tasks in a systematic manner. 

Scott’s proposed solution is to develop an “anti-procrastination mindset” that will enable the reader to make the best use of his or her time and never get overwhelmed by that swelling to-do list. The author says it is really not that hard to stop procrastinating – all that is required is to develop the same habits used by countless high-fliers and adapt them into one’s own routine. 

While “succeeders” and “do-now types” are often beset by the same fears and limitations as us guilt-ridden procrastinators, they’re able to take consistent action because they have programmed themselves to eliminate procrastination from their working lives. 
Scott’s list is enriched by information on why each specific strategy works, what limiting belief it eliminates, and how it can be applied. Along the way, the reader learns the root causes of procrastination and how to overcome them. 

Among the items I found most helpful – and believe will be of greatest use to the general Hong Kong reader – was: “Identify what’s really important in your life and then happily ignore everything else.” In the digital epoch, our temporal environment is so vast that prioritising in this way is crucial. 

Anti-procrastination habit number 11 is a good one too. “Say ‘no’ to pointless tasks. However, be assertive without upsetting your boss, friends or loved ones.” Scott gives some vague tips on how to do this. 

The next is obvious, but has to be included. “Start your day by completing your most important projects.” 

Number 17 is flawed in my view. “Take action on a task, even when you’re not in the mood.” Workers engaged in creative jobs often need to strike when the right mood presents itself to create their best work. But I do like number 18: “Reward yourself when reaching a milestone.” That’s more like it. 

There’s a fair bit of redundancy in the book though. For example: “Organise your life so you’re not buried in paperwork or your to-do list” is not sufficiently profound to be included here. 

The last item on the list is Scott’s somewhat schoolteacherly suggestion to “take the 30-day challenge to change one habit at a time”. This seems unrealistic. And, in my view, the best way to use this book is to select the tips you believe would benefit you the most personally. 

After all, nobody knows you better than yourself, and certainly not expert-at-almost-everything Scott. In person, his advice-giving would likely soon become irksome. But packaged into this neat little book, Scott has provided a gift to every procrastinator. 
And there are a lot of us. Some pondering what we’re going to have for lunch, others keying in a totally vacuous Facebook posts, others still organising their office stationary in pleasing patterns. However, the work’s not going to go away. 

If you have recently been reprimanded for poor time-management, you might find 23 Anti-Procrastination Habits, especially useful. 

Scott’s ninth book won’t set the world on fire, and it lacks the depth of Michael Linenberger’s 2010 title Master Your Workday Now, but if Scott’s action list lights a firecracker under your lazy backside, it has done its job.