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Burka’s book Essay

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On the surface ‘procrastination’ is an ideologically and psychologically fixed term – it is presumed that procrastination is definitely bad and is to be avoided. Thus there exists a whole plethora of books which seek to cure this tendency of ‘delaying. ’ And as far as such efforts go, this book is no exception, rather her book like so many others in its category systematically prescribes how to overcome what the ancients like St. Augustine called ‘acedia’ (depression leading to inordinate delays in doing anything within a time frame.

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What Burka misses is that it may be fine to procrastinate on doing one’s laundry over writing a thesis; to delay shaving over finishing a novel started from last night. Burka’s book suffers from giving equal importance to every work and an overt tendency to pre-plan everything. This need to plan and work towards goals is a recent phenomenon in self-help literature. Time – management books especially hinge on the setting of goals. There is a fear that by over-regimentation they kill all spontaneity and joy from life and make us automatons.

But if one argues that the book is intended for clinically malefficient procrastinators then one ought to point out that self-help books are hardly written for those who need mental help. There is another point regarding this book. It is definitely a secularization of the concept of procrastination. In the seventeenth and the eighteenth centuries and even later, ‘delaying’ was inevitably associated with the cardinal sin of sloth. This book opens up the issue for humanistic debates, albeit their humanism is rooted in the ontogeny of Freud.

Burka and Yeun devote a whole chapter to the interrogation of procrastination as a formed infantile reaction to clinically significant psychological events. Fear is seen as the source for the ultimate interiorization of chronically delayed work habits. They list many different fears — the fear of losing, the fear of being humiliated, etc. Ultimately it is seen that all the various phobias are just related to the process of self-actualization and Jungian individuation. In a very interesting and significant paper Jennifer M. Kosmas1 gives a similar phobic-oriented account of procrastination.

Whereas she and other experts in the field are highly technical and do not try to see how the tendency to delay can be prevented; Burka and Yeun posit a reductive approach to problem solving and thus, delay – negation. In this they follow the beaten path, not merely of psychiatrists but of self-help gurus and time management experts like the legendary Stephen Covey. Covey in his The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People asks us all to problem-solve by breaking the problem into parts and then working towards the solution within fixed time frames.

All this is traditional and time-tested but the real problem for true procrastinators in not to only know the cause of their disease but rather for them, it is a mortal combat against the inertia caused by time itself. This is where the book fails. It falls short of giving any really effective formula to any reader which would impel him or her to just get up and doing a thing. One can plan and write all sorts of goals and have strict time frames; this book creates a programme of two weeks for procrastination de-addiction; but at the end one might just refuse to go running according to the planned start of any exercise regimen.

In the final analysis, this book is a clearly written and popular account of procrastination but it fails miserably as a serious book with any real clinical significance. Innumerable studies have shown that procrastination is often psychosomatic and related with depression. The authors, in spite of being practicing psychiatrists, do not really tackle these issues. The parable like examples strewn throughout the book are just Chicken Soup (the popular series) sort of stories. The more serious sort of reader and patient will do better to study the original Freudian works on infantile hysteria and then read Stephen Covey’s books.

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