The Procrastination Equation - Piers Steel PhD

The Procrastination Equation - Piers Steel PhD

 Video Book Summary

Download all of the Mind Maps here.

Book Summary Notes

The Procrastination Equation

“This book is about every promise you made to yourself but broke."

"It is about every goal you set but let slide, never finding the motivation. It is about diets postponed, late-night scrambles to finish projects, and disappointed looks from the people who depend on you—or from the one you see in the mirror."

"It is about being the slacker in your family and the straggler in your circle of friends. It is about that menacing cloud of uncompleted chores, from the late bill payments to the clutter that fills your home. It is about that doctor’s appointment you have been putting off and the finances still in disarray. It is about dawdling, delay, opportunity lost, and more."

"Much more. This book is also about the other side, the moments of action when procrastination gives way to crystal clarity and attention, work is devoured without hesitation, and giving up never even occurs to you. It is about personal transformation, about unencumbered desire free of internal competition, and the guiltless leisure you can enjoy when your daily tasks are done."

"This book is about potential, wasted and fulfilled; about dreams that fade into obscurity and dreams we can make come true. Best of all, this book is about shifting the rest of your life away from putting it off to getting it done.”

What are you procrastinating on right now?

But not only that..  It's likely that you've got a sick guilt feeling in your stomach (especially after I called you out).

That' a feeling we've all had when we should be doing something but for some reason can't find the motivation to do it!  Right?

This book is about how you can get rid of that feeling..  Hopefully for good!

And we're doing it through Science!  Piers is one of the worlds leading researchers into procrastination!

He says: “Procrastinators who understand the processes behind their inaction can master them and become less stressed about their deadlines and more able to meet them.”

Procrastination is happening for a reason!

Hint: It's not because you're a bad person!  (Even though that might be what your guilt is telling you). 

Really it's about balancing an equation!  More on that next. 



"And there it is: the Procrastination Equation—inspired by the common elements that determine when we procrastinate, and crafted together from the most deeply researched elements of social sciences’ strongest motivation theories."   

"The Procrastination Equation accounts for every major finding for procrastination."

"As the deadline for any task gets pushed further into the future, Delay increases and our motivation to tackle the tasks decreases.

"Impulsiveness multiplies the effects of Delay, and so impulsive people feel the effects of time far less acutely, at least at first."

"Consequences have to be on their doorstep before they start paying attention to them—unless they are particularly large. And what makes consequences large? Expectancy and Value. The bigger the payoff and the greater the likelihood of receiving it, the sooner it will capture your attention.”

I love when Psychology can be broken down into a mathematical formula.

Let's look at this formula a little deeper!



How confident are you in your ability to create whatever it is your aspire to create?


Does whatever you're trying to create have real meaning to you?


Are you being easily sidetracked via immediate gratification?


How far in the future is your deadline?

How do we optimize the formula?

  • Increase our Expectancy and Value
  • Decrease Impulsiveness and Delay

Reflection time!

  • Look at the last project (or the current) project you procrastinated on..
  • What is your expectancy?  How sure are you that you can achieve it?
  • What is your value?  Does this work have actual meaning to you?
  • What is your impulsiveness?  How likely are you to be distracted by instant gratification?
  • What is your delay?  How long is this project going to take to complete?
  • This book is full of techniques to help you balance each part of this equation!


“This is an example of a success spiral: if we set ourselves an ongoing series of challenging but ultimately achievable goals, we maximize our motivation and make the achievement meaningful, reflecting our capabilities." 

"Each hard-won victory gives a new sense of self and a desire to strive for more."

"It is similar to the way Polynesian explorers colonized the South Pacific. From their home port they saw in the distance signs of a new island—a new goal—reachable if they made the proper provisions. Setting sail, they eventually made land, only to see another distant island from their new vantage point."

"Every step forward is enabled by the step just taken.”

Want to increase your expectancy?  Create a Success Spiral!

Expectancy is kind of obvious when you think about it.. 

  • If you don't have confidence you're going to accomplish something why would you even try?
  • Similarly if you haven't achieved something recently why would you think you could achieve this?
  • That's how procrastination can get you stuck in a Downward Spiral!

Luckily as Piers points out here.  The ability to Spiral Downwards also means we have the ability to Spiral Upwards!

  • Gary Keller inside his book 'The One Thing' has a great analogy of Dominos..  
  • Knocking down that first Domino takes effort and you have to focus on that one thing! 

This has heavily influenced how I plan my day..

  • Here are a couple of principles I use to plan my day in order to create a Success Spiral EVERYDAY!
  • 1: The day starts the night before.  Have a plan for how to attack the morning!  
  • 2: Get some pre-input wins (before email or social do something meaningful)!
  • 3: Make sure to create a checklist and cross items off the list.  Reminding yourself of your wins!

Mental Constrast

“What happens if you forgo the second step and just focus on the positive fantasies alone?" 

"Creative visualization advocates just that. It involves creating vivid and compelling pictures of your heart’s desire, with the aim of drawing this vision toward you."

"But Oettingen, who has researched this for twenty years, finds that such fantasies tend to have the opposite effect than advertised; they sap motivational energy." 

"The only wealth created by creative visualization is a rich fantasy life. Whether the task is preparing for exams, getting a job, recovering from surgery, smoking less, dating an attractive stranger, or improving personal relationships, she found that the worst-performing group used positive fantasies alone. You are better off not using the technique at all.”

Let's talk about value..  AND what not to do!

Value is an important part of the Equation.

  • But there is some bad advice out there!
  • Positive Thinking Advocates will tell you that you simply need to imagine your compelling future!
  • (Increasing the value and motivating you to go out and get what you want). 

Turns out..  This actually makes you value the thing you want to accomplish LESS!

  • Gabriele Ottingen inside her book Re-Thinking Positive Thinking researched this DEEPLY!
  • Finding that people who focused only on 'Positive Thinking' actually zapped their motivation and were less likely to accomplish their goals!

So what might we do instead?

  • Rub that Compelling Vision of the Future up with Reality by WOOPing!
  • Wish: What is an important wish you want to accomplish?
  • Outcome: What would be the best result from accomplishing your wish?
  • Obstacles: What is the main obstacle that might prevent you from accomplishing this goal?
  • Plan: What's an effective action to tackle that obstacle?

Extra Month

“Here is a trick that will give you an extra month of efficiency each year."   

"It’s easy to implement, immediately effective, and doesn’t cost a cent. First, go to your e-mail program. Second, disable all the audio alerts and mailbox pop-ups... That’s it, there is no third step.

"Banishing e-mail notifications will make you about 10 percent more efficient and over a year that translates into one more month of productivity."

"The best work happens when you engage deeply on a single task. Every time you stop your flow, you have to once again decide to work and then it takes time to become fully re-engaged."

"Unfortunately, we are conditioned to answer e-mail instantly, responding to the tell-tale ‘ding’ like Pavlov’s dogs. Unless you have a pressing reason, check your e-mail at your convenience, during natural breaks in your productivity.”

Let's talk about reducing our impulsiveness.. 

Creating Expectancy and Value are an important part of the Equation but if we don't work on Impulsiveness and delay we're dead in the water!

First: Let's get rid of the distractions!

Piers says here we should all eliminate notifications..  I think that's great!  If you haven't done that yet start there.

But we're going to go a little deeper!  Remember 'Pre-Input Wins' that means no checking email, social media or texts before your most important work.

These will derail your best work before you even start!  

Here are my steps:

1: Phone on Airplane mode and in another room.

2: Browser extension to shut off all distracting websites. 

3: YOU WILL be tempted to stop doing this.  But it's worth it to push through those temptations.

Second: Step into Flow and become 10x more productive!

Flow is a mental state where we can get 10x the amount of work done in the same amount of time we would normally..

It's a state that we can create and re-create if we setup out environment correctly.

  • 1: Adhere to the no-distraction steps above.
  • 2: Pick a specific goal and time period. 
  • 3: Most activities benefit from some focusing music.


“Get plenty of sleep."   

"Being too tired is the number one reason people cite for putting things off. If you are not getting eight hours of sleep a night, you are harming your performance during the day."

"Lack of sleep significantly lowers all forms of cognitive performance, making everything you do more difficult."

"Here’s an idea: instead of setting your alarm clock to get yourself up, set it to cue you to go to sleep. When you hear that buzz, start your wind-down routine.”

This is kind of a bonus point!  Hopefully it's obvious by now..  But sleep makes just about everything better!

Helpful tip: Setup a sleep routine. 

  • 1: Specific time to be in bed by (8 1/2 hours)
  • 2: Pre-bed ritual to calm your nervous system.
  • 3: Create a good sleep environment.

Here is my routine:

  • 1: Time for bed at 8:30 everynight. 
  • 2: Stretching, tea, lavander and CBD oil starting at 8pm with reading fiction in bed at 8:30pm.
  • 3: Black out curtains, noise reduction where possible and a cool room. 


“Goal setting—proper goal setting—is the smartest thing you can do to battle procrastination." 

"Though every other technique discussed so far has its place, goal setting alone may be all you need. Along with making your goals challenging and meaningful, follow these remaining steps. Regardless of what other books say, this is what’s proven to maximize your motivation."

"Frame your goals in specific terms so that you know precisely when you have to achieve them. What exactly do you have to do? And when do you have to do it by?"

"Break down long-term goals into a series of short-term objectives. For particularly daunting tasks, begin with a mini-goal to break the motivational surface tension. For example, a goal of tackling just the first few pages of any required reading can often be enough to get you to finish the entire text."

"Organize your goals into routines that occur regularly at the same time and place. Predictability is your pal, so open your schedule and pencil in recurring tasks. Better yet, use an indelible pen.”

The number one thing to increase motivation and reduce procrastination?  GOALS

More specifically..  Goals that are:

  • Specific and Time Based
  • Broken Down into Manageable Tasks
  • Organized into Routines

Here we go let's set a goal for whatever you're procrastinating on!

Follow Along: 

  • Step One: What specifically do you want to accomplish and when?
  • Step Two: Can we break that into a few shorter term objectives?
  • Step Three: How can we add movement towards that goal into your (ideally) your daily life?
Back to blog