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Ask HN: Can't concentrate to focus, until it's last minute or later
351 points by kbody on Apr 17, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 191 comments
I have been having this issue for some months now, but it has been present for a long time.

Basically, I can't make me to focus on my work until it's really close to the deadline of my task or even later. I keep procrastinating or code other things, but the one task that I know is my highest priority and the one that should be done, always gets ignored until last minute.

The weird thing is that even when I took a break from full-time work for a year or so, I eventually got to the point that even for my own (low or high importance) projects I would do the same and procrastinate instead of working on the project that I know I must work on to accomplish my goals. I think I generally do this not only on code stuff though. Anyone else had this?




Take a step back and think about the environment you were in when you were the most productive. When your mind was the sharpest it has ever been and you were knocking shit out left and right.

Maybe that was in high school or college, or during your first few years in your career. Ask yourself: What was different back then? What was your daily routine? What did you eat? Did you play sports or stay active?

A lot of people suffer from low dopamine levels. You've essentially trained your brain to crave short term reward vs long term reward, which affects your attention span and ability to focus on anything that doesn't provide instant gratification.

http://mentalhealthdaily.com/2015/04/02/low-dopamine-levels-...

Get enough sleep, exercise every day, clean up your diet, stop fapping, don't drink for a while, detox from caffeine, try meditation.

You want a radical lifestyle change to rewire your brain and fix any chemical imbalances and/or dietary issues you might have.

Attack from all angles!

Your life will change in a matter of weeks if not days.


Think about the environment you were in when you were the most productive. Maybe that was in high school or college, or during your first few years in your career. Ask yourself: What was different back then?

I was younger.


I knew less about how the system actually works.


I was beloved. By my parents.


Don't give up. Get out and meet people. Friends are easier to find than romance and love from friends is quiet and unflashy and good and powerful.

If I misunderstood your situation from your six word post, forgive me.


I agree a 100% with you.

Find & surround yourself with people who you admire & who are go-getters.

When I wanted to push myself to exercise more frequently, I surrounded myself with people on snapchat, FB, periscope, twitter etc who put out photos and texts which kept me motivated (sub-consciously).

I consider it a special kind of sub-conscious visualization and it works well for me. The key is to find people who you admire.

In your case, go and watch Brian Tracy video and talks. Listen to or read about people who are go-getters (Forbes/Altucher etc) Find other productivity podcasts and listen to them when coding.

Just exposing yourself to these will bring out changes in you.

We are what we choose to focus on.


Apart from exposing a pesonal situation, I was also answering the parent's "I was younger". Yes it is possible to find friends, a partner, maybe even love, but it takes much time and effort, and until I build that, adult life is still solitary.


haha why did you mention that whole "no fapping" thing? All I can picture now is some 20 year old guy feeling guilty he jerked off 4 times in a day and feels like his life is out of control.


I don't think the idea has anything to do with guilt. From what I've read about the anti-fap movement, there are two camps (that do overlap). The first camp is made of those that think masturbation is morally wrong (for religious reasons or simply because it leads to easy objectification of others) and those that realize that limiting something with such strong urges can do wonders for your focus and self control (I think because masturbation is such a short-term feeling of gratification). Since OP is asking "how can I focus?" instead of "how can I not go to hell?" the response was more in line with the latter mentality.


>or simply because it leads to easy objectification of others

The tired puritan idea of "objectification" must be given the Old Yeller treatment.

What people call "objectification" is basically focusing on a specific quality (an isolated aspect) of another person -- only 99% of the time, they mean specifically focusing on their sexual qualities.

You're then supposing to be treating them as "means to an end" (objects to satisfy your desire" e.g.), as opposed to full people, with other interests, traits, etc.

This is pure old puritan mindset re-invented for the 21st century.

There's nothing wrong about focusing on the sexual appeal of someone, as long as it's OK for the given context. If you want to hire someone, you don't check their physical beauty. If you're looking for a sex partner, or fapping, it's bloody OK to consider their looks.

The message of the whole bloody "sex revolution" was that it's ok to have sex, including casual sex. It might not be how one wants to spend their life, or the most fulfilling thing to always have (same as eating stakes or ice cream all the time), but it's nothing to be ashamed of either.

Not all sexual relationships should turn into marriages or long term "meaningful" relationships. And it's OK.

Looking at a man/woman/gay/lesbian whatever purely on a sexual basis it's perfectly fine -- at least as long as you don't do that on every context and under every situation and social encounter.

Besides it's never 100% "just body" (tits and ass etc), as the naive thing, since myriads of conscious and subconscious hits from the person's personality inform how sexual/sensual they look to us too (even when picking someone up in the bar).

IQ, good manners, clothes, career, etc are all isolated aspects of a person too, but people wouldn't blink on judging people on those alone neither would they consider it "objectification" (which is as much as , since those don't trigger the puritan "sex is somehow evil" sentiment as easily.


It drains energy/drive, that could be used in productive ways.


One day? Ok. Every day, bad...


These are correct. I would like to add that your life may be boring and unimportant. You're brain (my brain as well) is correctly calibrated on a evolutionary timescale and so most of life's tasks are just not important enough to care about. It's only when fear of serious consequences ramps past as certain threshold that we act. You probably have plenty of food and shelter. (If that's not the case stop reading and seek professional help, if basic needs stop being motivating you're sick)

So what to do? Get a new job, for a while it will feel important. Accept that you may need to change jobs regularly.

Get a job that matters. Life and death matters. Go be an EMT.

Live somewhere where basic needs are not a given. Help make that place better.

Try an SSRI or meth derivative, if for no other reason to kill the idea that a pill can solve your problems. (Tried both, not worth it.)

I've also heard starting judo or other violent contact hobby helps, no idea why.

Edit: corrected initialism


Please don't become an EMT because you are depressed and feel that your work doesn't matter. This will likely exacerbate the problem given the nature of the work and is bad advice. That's like wanting to be President to get the nuclear launch codes; it's the wrong reason to want it and is not the kind of thing you really want anyway.

You know how when you try acid you need to be in a good frame of mind? Choosing the discipline that involves being present for and tirelessly, mostly-unsuccessfully fighting against routine death is similar. I've learned to keep shop talk to a minimum with those in my family who drive ambulances despite their tales putting my complaints about work into perspective.

That's not a livelihood to approach lightly. Not trying to talk anybody out of it because I respect first responders immensely; just want it for the right reason, to help who you can, not to 'fix' yourself. (I can't see that working and people wash out of that work all the time.)


If all of these things only work for a while or not a all then perhaps there is nothing that will match the expectations of importance. Maybe one could figure out the reason for those expectations.


The 21 days rule is a nice trick. Usually by the time 3rd week's finished you realigned enough stuff stably to sustain.

anecdote: in college I would work in any context, the hubris and desire was strong enough to make me forget about everything else. Nowadays I'm very much context sensitive. Being in a library is godsend. A dedicated work spot (could be anything) is also required.

Basically, don't parallelize, linearize, but in a focused manner.


"stop fapping"... I wonder why you mention that? :p where can I read about that


http://reddit.com/r/nofap (start with sidebar info)


You have to breath into your balls!


Perhaps his work is not rewarding as it was, say, 5 years ago. I can certainly relate that myself. When I was a kid, making new stuff (e.g. computer programs) and showing them to my family and friends was rewarding, and addictive in a certain way. But, of course, at a certain point hobby becomes work, and things are less exciting. Perhaps time to find more interesting work and/or hobby?

Another explanation could be the anxiety that is involved in doing anything new. You have this great idea, but you are not sure if it will succeed once you start implementing it. So the mind figures it is better to just dream on a little (and imagine that what you want to do will work), rather than have anxious feelings while entering the code.

The latter explanation, if true, makes me wonder if anti-anxiety drugs could help with procrastination.


This 'low dopamine' hypothesis just doesn't sound like it can be true to me. However, I've heard a psychopharmacologist use those exact words.

I don't know what to think :/


One take-home from gt565k's comment is to treat this simply as a psychological issue.

If you approach it this way, it just becomes a matter of re-programming your 'liquidware'.


Wow, I was about to stop reading at the beginning of the third line only to realize that I was about to commit the same type of behavior.

Thank you, this is very good advice.


One thing I've noticed is that in some people procrastination is some sort of protection system. (Not saying this is what op has, just a discussion point)

They seem to feel that most tasks in life are a bit beneath them (of course I can do this course work / assignment / deliver this project / get great grades / ace this interview - I don't really need to try). Then they keep waiting and waiting until there is little time left to do the work. If they get praise/good grade/the job they have proof that they are cleverer than most and can knock work out in no time. If they fail, well it's because they didn't try that hard, so their ego isn't damaged.

Anyone else noticed this kind of procrastination? Since realising it I've noticed it more and more in people around me.


> If they get praise/good grade/the job they have proof that they are cleverer than most and can knock work out in no time. If they fail, well it's because they didn't try that hard, so their ego isn't damaged.

I've done this for as long as a can remember, in all aspects of life.

In my mind, there's nothing more pitiful than a person who tries his best and fails. Because that's the last thing I wish for, I rarely put much effort in things that I know could fail. When I do put a lot of effort, I usually don't make it known and act as if it was trivial.

In the end, the only work I'm proud to share with people is the one I never actually started. I've been chasing the same vision/ideal for more than 10 years, told everyone about it, and still haven't accomplished a thing. Fortunately, having done nothing prevents it from being a failure (in my mind), and the expected outcome is so great that nobody expects actual results anyways.

Now if only there was a fix that didn't involve a downgrade from thinker to doer.


>Now if only there was a fix that didn't involve a downgrade from thinker to doer.

If you think that being a doer would be a downgrade, it seriously sounds like you should try it out.

Why go through life imagining you are better than other people when there is a way for you to know for sure?


Exactly, if anything a doer is a step above the thinker - when you do you can review and adapt to be better next time. If you just think you never actually know what the outcome would have looked like, just what you believe.

That what I mean a bit in my reply above about breaking work down in a scrum/lean way and just doing the individual pieces and not thinking just about the great big scary whole.


A fortune cookie from the top of /r/getMotivated today:

http://i.imgur.com/faEh2Rb.jpg


> Now if only there was a fix that didn't involve a downgrade from thinker to doer.

Lowered inhibitions (more than one path there).


Yes, I have noticed this, in myself even.

The only explanation I have is that the general difficulty is slowly going downwards. I was in school in two different countries (France/Germany) and on both sides there were some similarities, a shortage of funding and said funding being dependent on the number of people getting through the system.

So you have this sort of pressure that acts on the difficulty, since if the difficulty is too high less people graduate.

Then you also have the accomplishment of those before us. I remember looking at things from tests a few years ago, I would not have been able to solve that. (They were tests on mechanical forces.) What we were doing was a lot simpler, yet most did not realize this. So you have this idea that those that came before us were 'less smart' because we are acing it without much thought!

Obviously I only have a picture of my immediate surrounding. I've been in school from 2000-2014. Am currently studying. Perhaps someone from earlier or later could give their point of view on that matter?

---

On another matter, I really dislike how my current reward system works. Am trying to fix it by eating regularly, something that looks like a sleep schedule, and actually giving a shit about the stuff that I produce.


Indeed, the way I try to avoid it is to make public commitments (that are achievable but timely) which will become obvious to others. This will include milestones along the way. Possibly the commitment won't be all to one person, maybe I'll be telling someone that reports to me that they can expect a list of requirements by X, then someone else that we will review the first wire frames by Y and then those I report to that they can expect to feedback on Z date. This keep me continually moving and fits nicely with the scrum/lean methodologies that we follow.


I have noticed exactly the same thing, having been in High School in France until 2013. However, I wonder if this idea isn't a red herring since it looks like some people have had this feeling for decades (or maybe there has been a steady decline of our academic level since then).


Unfortunately I have observed exactly the described behaviour on myself from time to time. You have also described the thoughts I have regarding this. Sometimes I procrastinate to prevent possible negative outcome of things I am not sure if I am able to solve them and focus on things I am certain I am able to instead. I am someone who gets up late and I feel way too happy if am able to be on time while getting up late. Can anyone provide more information regarding this?


I think this has to do with a mixture of fear of failure, having "smart" be part of your identity and having somewhat of a fixed mindset instead of a growth mindset.

The procrastination protects your self identity because you can discount failure as having not tried that hard.

It's better to keep your identity small and value continually learning over "being smart".


You described it beautifully - thanks.


You have described me perfectly. However, I have an adrenaline rush when I have to do things that are close to the deadline.

What do you think would be a solution to this - since you did observe it from a side and how does this behavior differ from your own behavior?


My advice is not to look at the whole but to look at pieces that you can do, make public commitments to doing them and the just do it, don't care at first if it is good or even right, just do it. Then review it (if possible review it publicly with someone you respect and trust) and then adapt it and continue.

You have to commit to starting it and being clear about what else you have on at the time and where this sits it the priority. Classic Scrum, but it works for me (mostly...)


I've noticed the problem in my peers and in myself too. One good remedy is this: http://mindingourway.com/have-no-excuses/ "In refusing to generate an excuse when everyone else is doing so, you violate some unspoken pact of mediocrity"


Thanks, bookmarked and will be sending this around!


Maybe I am wrong, but this reminds me of narcissistic personality disorder. Check out the videos of Sam Vaknin on youtube.


Why is this down voted? I am being honest here. Avoiding hurting your ego is a classic sign of a covert narcissist. I might be one myself. Not trying to insult anyone here, but trying to shed some light on the matter.

Let's break apart the parent's post and compare to what articles on narcissism say:

> most tasks in life are a bit beneath them

However quite a few Overt and Covert Narcissists will tend to feel many tasks at home and in life are beneath them. At work they may avoid and lose interest in long term, hard grind projects, as there is no quick payoff.

Source: http://energeticsinstitute.com.au/narcissism/

Narcissists hate routine. When a narcissist finds himself doing the same things over and over again, he gets depressed. He oversleeps, over-eats, over-drinks and, in general, engages in addictive, impulsive, reckless, and compulsive behaviours. This is his way of re-introducing risk and excitement into what he (emotionally) perceives to be a barren life.

The narcissist feels entitled to more. He feels it is his right – due to his intellectual superiority – to lead a thrilling, rewarding, kaleidoscopic life. He feels entitled to force life itself, or, at least, people around him, to yield to his wishes and needs, supreme among them the need for stimulating variety. This rejection of habit is part of a larger pattern of aggressive entitlement. The narcissist feels that the very existence of a sublime intellect (such as himself) warrants concessions and allowances by others. Standing in line is a waste of time better spent pursuing knowledge, inventing and creating. The narcissist should avail himself of the best medical treatment proffered by the most prominent medical authorities – lest the asset that he is lost to Mankind. He should not be bothered with trivial pursuits – these lowly functions are best assigned to the less gifted. The devil is in paying precious attention to detail.

Source: http://samvak.tripod.com/narcissisttime.html

> (of course I can do this course work / assignment / deliver this project / get great grades / ace this interview - I don't really need to try).

The narcissist constructs a narrative in which he figures as the hero - brilliant, perfect, irresistibly handsome, destined for great things, entitled, powerful, wealthy, the centre of attention, etc. The bigger the strain on this delusional charade - the greater the gap between fantasy and reality - the more the delusion coalesces and solidifies.

Source: http://samvak.tripod.com/journal42.html

> If they get praise/good grade/the job they have proof that they are cleverer than most...

> If they fail, well it's because they didn't try that hard, so their ego isn't damaged.

Self-administered punishment often manifests as self-handicapping masochism - a narcissistic cop-out. By undermining his work, his relationships, and his efforts, the increasingly fragile narcissist avoids additional criticism and censure (negative supply). Self-inflicted failure is the narcissist's doing and thus proves that he is the master of his own fate. Masochistic narcissists keep finding themselves in self-defeating circumstances which render success impossible - and "an objective assessment of their performance improbable" (Millon, 2000). They act carelessly, withdraw in mid-effort, are constantly fatigued, bored, or disaffected and thus passive-aggressively sabotage their lives. Their suffering is defiant and by "deciding to abort" they reassert their omnipotence.

Source: http://samvak.tripod.com/journal42.html


It's called Self-handicapping, and yes it's a thing.


This post hits too close to home. I suffered through this and was the worst during my Masters. I wrote my masters thesis in about two sleepless days. It was the worst period in my life.

I was alarmed, so I went to a psychiatrist and diagnosed me as ADHD, and the stimulants worked wonderfully until I started feeling the long term effects : chronic dry mouth leading me to losing one teeth, insufferable tiredness when not on my meds, and many other to mention.

Recently, my mother has being going trough chemo, and one night when she wasn't using her supplemental oxygen I put it on and went to sleep. In the morning I was my old self.

Went to a sleep center and realized that it was sleep apnea all along decreasing my motivation, my will to do things, my libido. I felt like a 70 year old in the body of a 30 year old.

Such a simple, drug-free solution to my life's woes.

Just putting it out there.


https://www.youtube.com/user/jodywhiteley/videos?flow=grid&v...

These video series have really helped waking hours as well. Sleep quality has been much better and I feel a lot more in touch with who I am. A lot more focused during the day.


Thanks for sharing. Do you sleep with a CPAP now?


Yes, I do. Not the most comfortable thing at first; in fact, it sucks. But every bit of discomfort when falling asleep is worth it when you wake up.


Its just a pump, right? Not a special oxygen mix..?


I find I can get into this mode when I don't believe I'm doing what I am supposed to be doing. I know that sounds weird but a couple of times when I was in a job where the "goal" of the company or the group wasn't in line with what I was trying to do in my own life I would find all sorts of excuses to work on other things. My therapist said that I was self sabotaging my work because my subconscious wanted out but my conscious brain was still feeling duty bound to carry on. That question led me to re-examine my own feelings of what I was doing and why. It helped me to have a neutral third party to talk to, sometimes saying things out loud gave them a different spin than they had when they were inside my head.

One of the core forces of my World Of Warcraft habit was I could spend several hours "getting stuff done that showed results". Understanding that this was a huge motivator for me I went back to journaling progress against my goals and with that visibility got back on track. To this day I think it would be useful to have an AI 'assistant' that would essentially create a quest log for you as you went through your day talking to people.


My format for this is a daily checklist to begin my work. I also left space to gather tasks to do and check those off as I go. I log these "quests" on sticky notes as I continue working throughout the day.

How do you do this?

Edit: I see your answer to a commenter below. I'm picturing journal pages with big headers for each project and accompanying subtasks in a list beneath them...


I use an engineering notebook and I've got a system of colored "flags" that has sort of evolved over they years. When I work on a project I journal it into the notebook, I add a 'prev' link with the page number where I last journaled it, when I create a new entry I go back one and add a 'forward' link to the page number where I came back. In the index I add a reference to the 'start' of the project. Very simple doubly linked list in ink. I used colored post-it flags (like those 'sign here' ones) on pages that I have some sort of follow up on. So red for action items, yellow for invention ideas, blue for waiting for something to happen (someone else's action item), etc. When I journal my current state I try to get as much as possible down of my current mental state. That way when I come back to it I'll be able to spin up quickly with the bread crumbs left behind.

I've also done some of this with Evernote, and I'm playing around with OneNote on my Surface book and the stylus, I find it is the writing it down that is important to me.


Do you mind sharing more about this AI assistant? I'm very curious about it.


Similar to habitrpg (great link!) basically when you talk to people they will sometimes ask you to perform a task. In the case of your manager that can happen often :-) And that task might have a number of sub-tasks that it includes. In RPG games, like WoW and others, the user interface lets you open up your current "quests" and on each quest you can get details about how much of the quest you have done. That is called your "quest log."

Much of that can be done with a journal, if you are diligent about updating it, but I can fantasize about an "always on siri" type application that would recognize such a request, and keep the log automatically. That would make it pretty frictionless to just check my phone to see where I am in terms of things asked of me. It will require a much better context decoder than current speech recognition and dialog bots.


I would say that is possible with the technology we have today. Even if it would not be the same as what one would call an AI, you do not need it to be intelligent. I say it is enough if the user is.

If you want an intelligent todo list I suggest taking a look at something like taskwarrior[1]. It is rather powerful and really fast. It is a console application though.

[1]: https://taskwarrior.org/


What if that assistant were a bot that responded from the context of what you did or did not journal?


It sounds a lot like HabitRPG[1]. I've never tried it though.

[1]: https://github.com/HabitRPG/habitrpg


Thank you for the link. I had not been aware of that project. It's really interesting to see life as an RPG game.


Here's a contrarian viewpoint-

There's nothing wrong with you- your subconscious is doing its job. Procrastination is an unpopular but nonetheless effective method of time and task management. In fact, I'd argue it's the most effective.

Take a college class for example. Your instructor gives you a weeklong homework assignment. While a few type-A personalities may dive in right away and have it done by the following day's class, they run into two problems: one, the instructor may revise the assignment (you don't have to do problem 36, it's a typo in the textbook); and two, their subconscious didn't spend a week thinking about the problems.

Compare to doing it the night before it's due. You end up spending no more time doing the homework than is necessary (whereas type-A will have to go back and spend more time at it than you), and you've had the benefit of your massively parallel subconscious cranking through it for a week.

If you find your procrastination actually results in lateness (and actual detriment to your performance), then what you should consider targeting is better deadline management (change how you define "last minute"). I consider deadline management more an art to be practiced rather than a science you can be taught. Still, I find our subconscious gets short shrift when it comes to managing our time.

I may still occasionally instinctively kick myself for waiting to the last minute (anyone else still doing their taxes?) but it's probably healthier to procrastinate with awareness of its benefits than to procrastinate without.


Of course, that assumes you've even thought about or glanced at the material or project at all throughout the week leading up to your deadline. There is definitely a benefit to letting something "marinate" for awhile, and spending time on other things while your subconscious plays around with the problem. But that's different from unstructured/avoidant procrastination, wherein you don't even open the proverbial textbook until the day before the homework is due.

You can call this "deadline management," sure, but that feels like another way of saying "don't completely put stuff off." You're qualifying and delineating your purported benefits of procrastination. But there's something interesting in that thought, nonetheless. If you know you're going to procrastinate, set an artificially early deadline to drop everything and actually get to work, like it or not. That way you gice yourself some permission to goof off and decompress, but you're putting a backstop on your "last minute." It's interesting.


>subconscious didn't spend a week thinking about the problems

Is there another person hiding in the corners of your brain doing the work? What does subconciocus even mean in this context? I think if we replaced 'subconscious' with 'mojo' here it would sound the same for me.


It means thought processes that aren't the focus of your attention. As you read or think about other things, your brain tries connecting them to this thing and seeing if they form a story. If they do, you have a flash of insight.


It's that: "the solution came to me in the shower this morning"...


For me, once I know that a problem exists and the constraints around, my brain starts working on it in its downtime.

I've always felt like most clean code ideas I come up with come from marinating. Perhaps it' my brain arriving at the first solution, then seeking more elegance.

For me, this results in committing a cleaner solution on paper at deadline time, even if I spend the same amount of hours of "active" mental energy on it by not starting until the day before it was due, etc.


Haha -- about to start my taxes. Just wanting to catch up on HN first...


This is from my experience:

Start working as soon as your day begins (the moment your hands touch the keyboard/mouse). Do not allow yourself to go down the rabbit hole for even a second by checking/playing/reading whatever. You'll quickly get into your task and put good time into it (again, this is just my experience).

Your glucose levels are at their highest when you start your day, take advantage of that. Screwing off after you put in a few good hours becomes a reward, not a vice.

Good article on glucose's function in the brain: http://www.wsj.com/articles/how-the-brain-uses-glucose-to-fu...


I also recommend getting into deep work environments, with no distractions (IM, email) or noise (open plan). Sadly this is not often possible in modern work environments.

Cal Newport wrote a pretty nice book about the deep work concept and its importance for makers, full of interesting annecdotes [1].

Another critical point is to limit work in progress. If you work on too much stuff at the same time you can become overwhelmed, and thus this will lead to procrastination.

Starting tasks late, close to the deadline, might indicate you have incredible high expectations about yourself and you are afraid of underdelivering. If you are a perfectionist, understand that perfection is achieved by iterating not by getting it right initially.

[1] http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/25744928-deep-work


I can't attest to your no noise tip, I'm one of those people that likes/needs background noise to focus, but IM, phone, and email are task-killers for me, as well. I also agree with limiting progress; I set a daily task goal in my head for each task as I start it. I often work through that daily goal, but it has really helped me tackle large projects without getting burned-out.


I use a fan for my background noise in my (quiet) home office.

At the (open floor plan) work office, I wear headphones playing SimplyNoise (https://www.simplynoise.com). Also, there's an iOS app version.


Is there a way to "hack" glucose levels so you get a "second wind" in the afternoon with equally high levels?


You can boost it by eating chocolate or other high-energy foods, but all digestion takes some energy and you aren't replenishing the brain benefits of sleep/rest (and you'll probably start packing on weight if you do it daily...).

I have found getting out of the office for some exercise after a good morning session can get you a good hour or two of similar focus/concentration when you return (again, you must get right on task). It's not the same quality, a squirrel running down the wire out my window can easily take me off task, but I'm in the bonus round for the day, anyway.


Many of us are training our bodies to prefer the quick fix of chemicals that come from clicking our way to enjoyment, and this can carry over into even our most cherished endeavors.

No one will be able to prescribe a single solution for listlessness because it is a symptom of many smaller problems, and it may be some time before you find the right combination of changes that effect a total positive outcome. That said, I'll try to make some suggestions.

Never underestimate the importance of physical health. Our cognitive ability is tied very closely to our breathing and heart rate variability, and our moods are swayed more by diet than we'd like to believe. I've found a combination of ketogenic diet and weight training to work well, but your own mileage may vary.

Consider setting clear boundaries in your day for work and leisure. It becomes easy to confuse these things when we dedicate so much time to code, but requiring a clear delineation of yourself will help you separate your unconscious response, which is a start.

Distance yourself from the keyboard, screens of all kinds, and especially notifications. When was the last time you sat quietly by yourself with only your thoughts to keep you company? How long did you do so? If not long, try it for a couple hours and see how you fare. This can be a nice stand-in for meditation (unless you like the idea of practicing zazen; it isn't for everyone).

Over time, with practice, I've come to enjoy sitting in the open air with just a pen and a notebook, and it helps me to clear my head, organize my thoughts, and return to the keyboard more eager than before.

Failing that, I break my current task into smaller and smaller steps until I can finish the first little step. Then I try to finish the second little step, and the third. Eventually, the restless I feel is supplanted by a desire to organize these small tasks I've made into more efficient task bundles, and I soon go on to make real progress. When my success subsides, I force myself to scrutinize the current obstacle awhile before taking a break and starting all over again.

I hope you find a set of tactics that work well for you. Good luck!


Re: mental effects of diet - Likewise for dehydration.

I try to keep a cup of water on my desk all the time now, or at least have a few ounces on each break.

Also for me personally, it isn't listlessness necessarily. Sometimes I have boundless amounts of energy, but it's just not appropriate for the task I have at hand -- ex. working on a data structure & algorithms puzzle vs. writing a rest endpoint.

In college, this was easy to circumvent because I had 100% control of what work I did at what time of day. I spent many nights during grad school working between 11 pm and 3 am (because I wanted to and it worked well for me).


As a solo indie game developer, who has to self motivate everyday, here's what I've found:

1. Programming is a completely mental/brain activity as you know, requiring no real physical exertion. So it should be easy to work on code problems all day right? Wrong.

2. The body requires physical exercise of some sort, it is literally how we are architectured, and if you don't move about then the immune system can't function properly [1]. This can quickly cause feelings of anxiety, depression and a lack of wanting to do anything. And because our brains are inference machines, you instead associate these bad feelings with your current thoughts ('need to get this coding work done'), leading you to where you are now, unable to face the problem out of fear of the bad feelings.

3. The solution I have found is Yoga! You can buy a mat for something cheap, and can keep it unrolled in the house. Then every time you have feelings of stress, go and do some poses on the mat. Specifically downward dog [1] [2], also Cobra Pose. Ideally watch a yoga video that goes though a set of poses and then pick the ones you feel most comfortable with and do those throughout the day.

4. The productivity increases I have got from this are ridiculous, and this all stems from me feeling relaxed. Programming can be full of frustration, and letting it build up can cause real physical problems. But once you incorporate yoga, and take care of your body, suddenly those challenges will no longer feel insurmountable, and instead of worrying about everything, your brain will work on finding solutions instead.

[1] http://www.livestrong.com/article/422920-how-to-cleanse-lymp...

[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rbJaj0Aqw5k

[3] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TFCIT1Y7HmI


I second this, I have health issues (spine condition) and last year it impaired my ability to move around which led to a negative spiral.

I lost some weight and started exercising, gradually increasing my strength, now I have a pull up bar on the door whenever I'm feeling stressed or demotivated I go do a dozen pressups or pullups, it definitely helps to get the blood moving.


(I fat fingered and accidentally downvoted you -- I completely agree with your comment though.)

For [3], just curious if you have tried group yoga classes? I like a lot of the concepts and ideas around yoga, but each time I've tried a class it's been extremely anxiety inducing due to either feeling claustrophobic or struggling to keep up from not knowing the positions (and deductive reasoning leads to frustration from looking around to find everyone else doing the position a little different, yet somehow acting like they either don't notice or aren't concerned with the nuances). I want to like it, but it has stressed me out each time.

My current solution is 15-30 minute cardio sessions on an elliptical, but having a gym 20 minutes from where I work is far enough I'll often skip it or find going midday impractical.


I don't think a Yoga class really gives you any benefits if the tutor is not helping you or correcting your positions. All you need to remember is 1) know what muscles the pose is meant to be targeting and make sure you can feel those muscles being stretched and 2) remember to breath, do not hold your breathe!

Only go as far into the pose as you feel comfortable, this is meant to be relaxing, and no one starts off flexible enough to do all the poses perfectly! Keep it up over time though and you will improve.

Also for me I do a max of 3-4 yoga stretches over roughly ~5 minutes, then get back up and do work. I might do this about 5x a day.


Find a beginner class, the instructor will be going into more detail as to how to do a position.

Also keep in mind that some more advanced people in class may be doing a different, but related pose that gives them a stretch that the basic pose no longer does. What matters is that you are feeling a stretch (and not a painful one) in roughly the place the instructor says you are; if you're not, then speak up and ask about it!


When this sort of thing happens to me, I attribute it to a combination of factors.

1. The work is complex and not actively "doing something" lets it simmer on the back burner of my brain.

2. I'm not overly busy.

3. I'm too busy.

4. The work isn't really interesting at a deep down level.

5. The work is so interesting that it sparks curiosity about related topics that might help me do it better.

6. I'm burned out.

7. I'm not in the habit of working on problems that require that particular way of thinking.

Which is to say that if the work gets done and done well, then it's not really procrastination it's just that the process isn't particularly straight forward. Of course, that's not to say that what I do and how I do it is a particularly great model to follow. It's more about understanding myself in the way Torvalds shows in his recent TED interview...and it's an interview not a talk because Torvalds knows his own personality. And if you watch it, you'll probably understand why Torvalds does what he does and why it's sort of fruitless to compare one's own life with his.

Good luck.



I never want to do anything. I only want to play World of Warcraft everyday (on the Emerald Dream realm which is an RP-PvP but it's actually more PvP than RP and features lots of World PvP so it's actually amazing).

That said, there are things that I want, and since I want them I take the steps toward achieving those things.

Here is an example:

Goal: I want to eat. Steps: 1. Get money. 2. Get food. 3. Make food. 4. eat it.

However, each step may need to be broken down as it is accomplished. 1. Get money. a. Look in couches; b. Look in floors. c. Try to get gigs on freelancer. d. Apply to McD's. e. Apply to YC. f. Sell WoW gold, items and services with Bitcoin.

Either way, once you know what you're doing and why you're doing it, it makes it a lot easier to do it. If you don't know why you're doing something - or more importantly - can't figure out why you CAN'T do something, it might be pertinent to explore what that something is and if you really want to be doing that something.

Lastly, one word of advice, every day when you wake up and every time you go in the bathroom or are in front of a mirror, look at yourself and say:

I get it in. I get it done. I am a champion. I am a winner. I am beautiful. Everyone loves me. I love everyone. I am a billionaire. I am so smart. I never procrastinate.

If you say that to yourself every single time you're in front of a mirror, you'll slowly never procrastinate. You don't even have to believe the things you're saying either. Just say it to yourself anyway everytime.

Hope someone finds value in this comment. Going back to WoW now.

edit: if interested, im hanging out in goldshire. im horde. ;)


The fact that you're not doing what you're "supposed" to do means there is a conflict that hinders you. In order to get your tasks done you have to dissolve your conflict(s) first.

However, I am afraid this is not straight forward and something no one on the Internet can do for you.

Suggestions like exercise, a healthy diet and meditation are great advice but there is only so much these things can do for you.

I guess your issues are on a subconscious level as it seems that you haven't identified them yourself. It could be anything, really:

Regrets of the past, a lack of social life, low self-esteem, worries about the future that need to be addressed ...

I haven't cracked it myself but it is astonishing how powerful your own body's mechanisms are that keep you from solving your real problems. Stuff like never feeling you have enough information to get started or even physical pain that makes you believe you have to solve a health problem (that actually isn't really there in the first place) first before you can do anything else.


When you start looking for jobs, only join a company that does TDD and pair programming. Ask about this in interviews.

TDD helps you break down tasks and, when you lose focus, you can regain it by re-running your test suite and seeing which test fails.

Pair programming help you because:

- They'll tend to have closer to a 10-6 schedule rather than encouraging you to stay up late.

- When talking through the problem with a colleague, you break the task down more easily and get through whatever mental block you have.

- You can't get distracted when someone else is right there.

It may be harder to find a company that does this because many folks think that they can move faster if they build something the "quick and dirty" way. "Quick and dirty" doesn't exist for you. "Quick and dirty" means that the project either fails outright or is one that you start procrastinating on until you get fired.

Take a look at the book The Clean Coder (http://www.amazon.com/The-Clean-Coder-Professional-Programme...). It talks about procrastination and how to overcome it.

For a practical introduction to TDD, I'm a fan of Test-Driven Web Development with Python. It is Free. http://chimera.labs.oreilly.com/books/1234000000754


Re: pair programming

The Pragmatic Bookshelf published a neat related book that's a light ~100-page read called Remote Pairing: Collaborative Tools for Distributed Development [0]. It also mentions a few companies that do pair programming exclusively. Pivotal Labs is one that comes to mind.

0: https://pragprog.com/book/jkrp/remote-pairing


Five lines of code. Each day, just get to the point where you've written five lines of code, immediately when you get to work, before looking at twitter or news or whatever. Tell yourself that once you get those five lines in, even if it takes two minutes, you can take the rest of the day off. Justify it because ultimately five lines is better than the zero lines you'd have written otherwise.

Likely, once those five lines are behind you you'll whip out 100 more because you've gotten over the hump. But don't think about that initially, lest it overwhelm you. Just think about the five lines and how much better it is to have those out of the way and the rest of the day to do whatever you want, while feeling like you've at least done something that day.

Use a website blocker like "stop procrastinating". Yes they just work by updating your `hosts` file. You may think "that won't work because I know how to override it", but they do: usually you're only going to twitter because it's a single button click away; if it involves more effort then it's not worth it. And yes you could write it yourself but I think don't: otherwise you'll spend too many hours gold-plating a dumb utility.

Finally, try to end each day with an interesting task five lines of code away from completion. It'll annoy the crap out of you as you toss and turn all night thinking about it. When you get to work you can't wait to get that done and out of the way.


Great recipe to burnout yourself.


It's a common problem. Watch this TED Talk about why we procrastinate by Tim Urban and read his articles. They're both funny and insightful.

https://www.ted.com/talks/tim_urban_inside_the_mind_of_a_mas...


It's pretty bad for me, I dream about bailing to a blue collar life because then I can focus and work with my hands, and not click around online procrastinating.

All that talk did was talk about the symptoms of what it's like to be a procrastinator. Including the link in another comment. Who wants to talk about how to fix it other than "stop procrastinating!"


Do you keep a simple list of things to finish? Whenever you think of something that needs to be done, jot it down. Carry that black book everywhere. See if that works.


Keeping an "easy" list is one idea from Getting Things Done that still works for me. Energy level was one type of context, but there are others as well.

https://hamberg.no/gtd/#contexts


I am horrible at lists and calendars. Even if I start keeping a Todo list or an organized calendar or Evernote ideas log, I just stop paying attention to the list eventually. I see how coworkers are constantly looking at their calendar, and that's just confusing to me.


Me too. I just stopped trying to follow any productivity technique time ago, because all of them ask you a minimum of discipline and consistency, and I'm too chaotic for that.

So I just try to be responsible and get the job done.

(Well, I sometimes keep a todo list of features/bugs I have to do/fix, but not as a task list I have to follow, but as a backup memory)


I too am horrible with lists. But when you get started - just a simple list of things (no calendar due dates etc) - just the list ... you start thinking differently.

Step 1: Make a list.

Step 2: Do nothing!

Jokes aside, soon enough you'll execute on the list and then you can show your cat what a badass you are at getting things done.

Good luck friend.


Have you tried a methodology like GTD?


Hadn't heard of it before. Thanks. Researching it and will set some time to setting up the framework. It seems like quite a lot of administrative overhead but I'm willing to give it a shot.


There's definitely some overhead to start, but you don't have to do everything on day 1. You can simplify that a bit with existing GTD-friendly software. There are many, but one of the most popular is Wunderlist (https://www.wunderlist.com/).

If you don't have time to sit down to read the book right now, here's a nice 15-minute overview - https://hamberg.no/gtd/.


Well, maybe you're being too hard on yourself. Seeing that this is a widespread problem might help that.


Don't blue collar workers procrastinate by chatting with each other?


Maybe later.


I think you're underselling this TED talk. The entire 14 minutes is about OP's exact problem.


Thought I'd never bother with a TED talk again, but having now spent the 14 minutes watching this one, I think you've actually oversold it. It's 10 minutes restating the OP's problem (the urge to procrastinate with what is easy and fun until time pressure and fear provide enough motivation to finally work) with the visual of a funny monkey. Worse, the last 4 minutes is just the speaker throwing up his hands and saying, "Well, I'm fine with this being my way of working (it's even how I prepped for this talk) but I got lots of letters from people who find this to be a totally crushing and painful way to live. But rather than discuss solutions to the affected, I'll just blithely say that everyone is a procrastinator and we should all stop procrastinating so much, because life is short."

Gee, thanks, TED guy!


I never said anything about solutions.


Agreed. Unfortunately the solution to procrastination is unlikely to be found in a 14 minute TED Talk. However, I hoped that the OP could find some solace in recognizing that he is not inherently worse than other people. Procrastination is part of the human condition!


Well, there's also the scarier point made at the end of the talk that a lot of procrastinators find a way to get through life by using deadline pressure to trigger productivity, but that while this can seem like a perfectly functional, if gut-wrenching, system, it actually leads to long-term life problems that are hard to notice until it's too late to do anything about them.


This isn't really your fault (nor is it uncommon). Everyone and everything is fighting for your attention 24/7 (including HN).

As far as I can tell there are two ways to deal with it: The first one is to remove every distraction from your live: Install a browser extension that allows you to block specific websites when you're working, close your Twitter client, check your email only once a days, etc. This doesn't really work though because most of us need all this stuff to do our work.

The second way is to learn to focus your attention. Here[1] is a nice introduction to mindfulness/meditation that Jon Kabat-Zinn gave at Google and here[2] are some guided meditations you can use to practice on your own. It works really well and has other useful consequences as well (e.g., stress reduction).

[1]: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3nwwKbM_vJc

[2]: http://health.ucsd.edu/specialties/mindfulness/programs/mbsr...


When you consider doing the project, notice what internal language you use. If you find yourself coding something else rather than your prioritized goal, or perusing hackernews instead of coding at all, what do you think to yourself? If you say something like, "shoot, I should be doing such and such instead of this!" or "I'm supposed to be doing this other thing. What's wrong with me?!" You might be creating an internal negative reinforcement that creates an aversion to doing things you have prioritized.

Instead of saying "I should be doing this", instead just say to yourself "I am doing this". I'll eat my own poop if you're not feeling more at ease working on your goals in no time flat.


That's quite a confident endorsement of this mentality shift you've got there.

(Unless you enjoy that sort of thing)


I've been down your road.

That's a bit of ADD. You need the stimulation of the excitement of the moment to get your focus. You can self-medicate with alcohol (in moderate intake will help you focus in a non-distracting environment). Not a great lifestyle choice, but occasionally it's not a bad thing.

You can also try ADD meds (Concerta, Ritalin), but I went down this route, it's not a good solution because the ADD meds are stimulants and they just get your brain racing and make you exhausted at the end of the day. You can be productive though, but this is also not a great way to live.

I was most productive when I was biking / running daily and experimenting with meditation. I would use my bike rides to visualize getting done what I needed to do for the day and it would bring me greater focus.


For a counterintuitive remedy, I'd suggest this: get busier. Have more stuff going on in your life. Pick up a hobby or two. Take on more projects. Busy people don't have time to procrastinate. Your projects, like gasses, will expand to fill the free time allotted to getting them done. So give yourself less time to get them done. Structure your time. Have at least two or three things of significance to worry about each day.

I'm not saying this will work for everyone. But if you're the kind of person who doesn't do well with unstructured time, you will want to acknowledge that and put some structure in place. I did my best academic work in high school, for instance, and that's largely because I was overloaded in high school. I'm not saying you want to overload yourself, as that's not emotionally sustainable. But if you really want to perform at your best, you need to be at least a little stressed every day. (See: the concept of "good stress" or "eustress" vs. "bad stress.") I struggled at first in college, and in my first year in the professional world, until I realized as much and added high school-like structure (of a sort) back into my life.

I also find that productivity benefits from a sort of momentum. I'm never more productive than when I've just knocked one or two smaller tasks out of the way and build up an energy to keep clearing through the list. Atomize bigger projects, and also chain them together with smaller, easier projects in clustered to-do lists.

To use another physics analogy, consider the inertia of productivity. The more time you spend idle, the harder it is to get started. The more time you spend working, the harder it is to slow down.

(Lest someone read the above and think it's a recipe for burnout: I'm not saying to work yourself into a frenzy at all times. Schedule breaks. Hell, have entire days where you do absolutely nothing unless the spirit moves you. But have enough going on in your life that you never find your days totally bereft of structure or things to get done.)


"If you want something done, ask a busy person" - Ben Franklin

Or, have kids: http://todaymix.com/picture/1631-returning-to-work-after-a-l...


Note that if you already aren't sleeping enough or taking care of your body, this is a very very bad idea. I tried this in college and the result was that I spent even more time wandering on the internet, was miserable and sleep-deprived, had chalk thrown at me by a professor when I fell asleep in his class, and was a complete flake.


Taking care of yourself is definitely a must. Especially sleep and exercise and diet. No question, and sorry if I gave the wrong impression. I'm not an advocate for the coffee-and-pharmaceauticals grindcore crowd.

I should probably clarify: I'm not saying people need to fill their days with random tasks or meaningless busywork. Nor am I saying that people need to overcommit themselves. Rather, I'm saying that, if you believe you're the kind of person who doesn't handle unstructured time very well, then some small amount of structure is your answer.

Everyone procrastinates for his or her own reasons, and I can't claim to have a magic bullet for all types. But I know what my type used to look like, and when I turned the lens of objective introspection on myself, I realized that my issue was not dealing well with unstructured time. I am guessing there are quite a few of us out there, and those who grok what I'm putting down will probably self-identify as such.

Note, too, that "finding more to do" should come from a goal-directed place. Make life goals, then atomize them into tangible steps, then atomize those steps into action items. Even hobbies and leisure have a place in the mix -- as things you'd like to get better at, or hell, just fun ways to kill time that refresh and reenergize you, or help you decompress.

(The opposite of this, which is just randomly committing to a laundry list of things with no overarching purpose, is indeed a recipe for burnout and thinly spread attention.)

My only real point is, procrastination is remarkably easy to do in a void. So next time you find yourself procrastinating constantly, look around the void. See how big and empty it is. (Or isn't.) Think about what that means in terms of how you're spending your time and planning your life.


It's a very common problem, perhaps especially among programmers: PG talked about primarily working on a computer that had no Internet, RMS talked about using only a computer with no browser, and limited graphical capabilities.

There's a book written about the science behind motivation called The Procrastination Equation by Piers Steel: http://www.amazon.com/The-Procrastination-Equation-Putting-G...

The following has a pretty good summary: https://alexvermeer.com/how-we-use-the-procrastination-equat...


IANAD, but sounds like a potential ADHD case:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Attention_deficit_hyperactivit...


I wanted to make sure this was in the thread. People have given you great tips to help you manage your problem better but maybe you need extra help.

Just be aware that this might be your problem and if it is, medication might do wonders. I'm not saying to jump on that conclusion but make sure you explore it.

If it feels like you just can't get your brain in first gear to start the work, if it feels like you're an old steam locomotive slowly starting to get moving and it takes enormous effort to do it.

The worst part apparently is a mix of high IQ and ADHD which causes people to get a diagnostic at a late age. (early to late twenties or later).


add in female and you get messes - women tend to also get diagnosed later

Accepting that I had ADHD was a blessing. I finally stopped walking around with bruises on my legs from not completely clearing my furniture

Still, ADHD can cause hyperfocusing, and if he is hyperfocusing on the Anxiety side of not getting things done, medication will only partially help. He'll need therapy/other techniques to get over that hump


Its hard to make any meaningful conclusions about that based on just descriptions of someone's problems, since ADHD is so outwardly subtle.

OP indicated that this was a recent trend, which would cast doubt on the ADHD explanation. Not that it's impossible. Maybe OP cut their coffee intake in the past year, or maybe some recent event sent them spiraling into a depressive loop. There are a number of ways that previously controlled ADHD symptoms can suddenly run wild.


My thoughts exactly. OP, watch this video, and see if it resonates: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zq8zVgumJ6I&ab_channel=Total...


The "Pomodoro Technique" works for me. http://pomodorotechnique.com/get-started/#how

I don't do all the extra stuff with time-tracking that the full method goes into; I just sit for a bit and make a little list of a few Things I'd Like To Do Today, with 6-8 checkboxes (for the total list, not each task) next to them, each representing a 25-minute block of work. Then I take the timer sitting on my desk (it's shaped like a cute ladybug, and has had everything after the 25 minute mark painted over, whimsey is important), wind it up, and start working on one of those things. When it dings, I stop for a break. Get up and stretch, go to the bathroom, get more water. Maybe get right back to working on what I was doing, if it needs more work and I'm excited about it; maybe work on one of the other things because I need a break from that thing, maybe just fuck off and take a longer break for lunch/slacking off/whatever.

There are ways to do this entirely in software, but I find I like the physicality of winding up the timer and having it sitting there on my desk ticking away.

And all that said, (a) I haven't been doing this lately, (b) I've procrastinated on my taxes until the last minute. Which is pretty much today I guess, ugh.


I've been mixing pomorodoros with walks outside.

Lots of programmers die young and I think too much time sitting is the culprit. Sedentary standing may not help.

Plus, if you can walk outside in nature, there are recent studies that show your brain just figures things out then.

You can use the walk time to work out what you have been working on. If you don't need to work it out, then listen to a podcast, or have google text to speech read you your HN articles that you have sent to pocket.


do you track how many pomodoros you do each day?

do you have a daily target?


No. Unless "having a pile of post-its kicking around my desk, each with 6-8 checkboxes and 2-6 of them checked" counts as "tracking".

Yes, usually around 4 of the 6 or so I write down at the day's start.


I've had this problem forever. My take on this:

One - address the problem in short term. Second - its not a problem, but a signal to do something better. Its better not to stay absolutely at one end, but keep taking sides as the situation requires - works best for me.

TodoLists help a bit. But these don't work for too long. The problem with todolists is these keep growing and then our inherent nature to not-focus turns us against these grown todos

Certain medications help too (like the ones containing ginseng root). These really turn on focus. But leave those for 12 days and its starts the problem again. Plus they turn addictive because they work. And I have found these causing consistent high BP - not that it resulted in any health issues. Personally I stopped medications because my creativity suffers and I feel somebody else. May be discipline and creativity cannot work together

Exercise helps. But I know we get bored with same sets of exercises every day.

Routine helps. I mean routine outside of your work. Exercising, gardening or just going out to get the sun exactly at the same time every day.

There is something inherent within that doesn't want to fit in to whatever we are doing. Like somebody mentioned - this may be ADHD, however I have found my passion by not controlling the unfocused-ness. And the same energy that "unfocuses" us tends to make us obsessed and focused at our passion(s) (when we find it).


You might be a scanner.

Read this book: Refuse to Choose!: A Revolutionary Program for Doing Everything That You Love

It is an interesting perspective on a particular personality type.


Now see, if not for procrastination, I may never have heard of this book.


1) all suggestions here come from other people, that mean well, but that don't know the details of your situation

2) go to a therapist (by which i mean, go to 5 before you find the one that you can work with, it's a process) and work with them to find solutions that work for you to get you to goals that you set and that meet your needs. it's a long process. 18 months on the very short end.

3) realize that the idea of "concentration", "deadline", "productivity", "goals", etc are all culturally relative. 10,000 years ago, anyone that was able to sit in one spot and block out all "distractions" and focus on the one thing in front of them,,, would probably been eaten by a predator. they probably wouldn't have had an innate desire to constantly seek novel experiences and so wouldn't have moved around enough to varied the geographic and genetic diversity of their group.

not, what others expect from you, or what you think others expect of you. instead, what works for you, now, in your current context.


Different tricks work for different people.

Here's one I find works for me: given a pile of tasks sufficiently daunting that it's hard to get started, take the easiest. Not the most important, the easiest, the one that can be completed fastest. Burn some (scarce, precious) willpower doing that. Then use the morale boost from successful completion of that first task, as activation energy to do the second easiest, and so on.

If the easiest task is so unimportant that it doesn't feel like a good idea to spend time on it, should it be on your to-do list at all? It's sometimes a good idea to physically or mentally designate tasks to not be done at all. No, cleaning up files on your computer is not worth doing. Yes, you've been meaning to get around to writing to your old high school friend for the last five years and haven't yet done it - so admit that, stop wasting morale beating yourself up about it, and just cross it off your to-do list.


I started writing a table:

  start_time, end_time, activity, project
  08:00, 08:30, emails,
  08:00, 08:35, facebook, procrastination
  08:35: 09:00, work, project1
  09:00: 09:30, hackernews, procrastination
It helped me tremendously to reduce the amount of wasted time. The key is to be absolutely, brutally honest in this table.


Tip : You can use RescueTime to make it easier.


These are hallmark signs of major depression; depression that is so intense, it impairs your basic function. Some other questions you might want to ask yourself are.

* Am I getting too little/too much sleep. * Have I lost interest in things I used to enjoy. * Am I talking less than I usually do. * Do I find the need to be around people but when I am around them I just want to get away.

If any of this sounds familiar to you I implore you find professional help, depression should be treated the same as any major Illness and is life threatening if left unchecked.

You are not alone, you are not the only person who has ever felt this way, there is a definite way out, humans are smart we have learned how to deal with these things :)


The problem you have is called procrastination. Everyone has it. Just in different doses.

I had a serious problem with this. but these articles by Tim Urban helped alot.

For a solid understanding on why you procastinate, read this http://waitbutwhy.com/2013/10/why-procrastinators-procrastin...

To know how to beat procrastination read this http://waitbutwhy.com/2013/11/how-to-beat-procrastination.ht...


Besides the great suggestions already on this thread: sleep, exercise, diet and meditation;

- Consider getting a job where you pair program the majority of the time, this will completely change your ability to focus as you are in a partnership with another human to get things done.

- Alternatively, try using the 'Pomodoro Technique' https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pomodoro_Technique


One of my favorite focus hacks is "start before you start".

For example, suppose I know that Monday morning that I'll be adding a certain API feature.

On Sunday late at night, I'll fire up my IDE, open the project, and scroll to the specific methods that I'll edit (or the place where a new one will be added). I'll also launch my terminal, and start the app server.

Then with everything ready to go, I shut my laptop. This works better for me than starting from a fresh context in the morning.


As yet another variation of the "something might be physically wrong with me" theme, please have yourself tested for thyroid issues if you feel yourself feeling foggy when trying to tackle something and if that is the cause of your procrastination. Low levels of some thyroid hormones can result in this condition of feeling a "brain-fog". It is simple to get tested for and is a relatively common problem and in most cases is a simple fix.


Regular, long (60min) sessions of meditation has helped me a lot. Not only will it increase your ability to concentrate on one idea for a longer period of time, it also provides a conceptual framework to get rid of the anxieties, and fears that are causing you to procrastinate in the first place.

The biggest problem is that it is difficult, and it's quite easy to find yourself 'resetting' to your baseline if you miss a couple of days.


Many people procrastinate on both large and small tasks. It's especially hard to get going on large tasks due to, as others have mentioned, a lengthier span of time before you get a sense of completion/accomplishment instead of a quick fix reward. Different methods exist for combating this and tricking your mind into getting its quick fix sooner.

One such method I would suggest trying is 'timeboxing': dividing up tasks into smaller pieces and forcing yourself into 25 or so minute windows that are uninterruptible. This forces you to get into a flow state and also feel accomplished by the end, knowing that you've made progress on any given task. Given enough 25 minute periods, you'll have done more work than you may have otherwise.

The biggest pattern amongst productivity methods is to predetermine a calendar or pattern to stick to for when you do work. In general, when it comes time to doing work without a plan, it's quite easy to get distracted by a quick fix activity instead. Extrapolate this over a long enough period of time, and you'll feel like you never get anything done until the last minute.


My amature analysis:

You associate fear/bad feelings with the work that needs doing because there are bad consequences if you screw it up - I'm the same with my tax return.

The answer is to understand that and use self discipline to overcome it. Making yourself do a smaller task such as working on it for 20 minutes or in my tax case just getting the documents can be a good thing to do if you can't make yourself do the whole thing.


Two things:

1) Figure out your MBTI type, and research it. I found that my own type (INTP) really described my work pattern quite well. I found it a bit liberating, as I can try to plan towards my strengths a bit.

2) Exercise can really help here. If you're procrastinating, you're not doing useful work. So work out instead. The exercise can help your motivation and focus substantially. Much more than coffee or red bull.



Those points all have validity to them, but have you ever met an INTJ who procrastinates? I can't say I have. Look at Musk — he's essentially the embodiment of pure INTJ.


While knowing your MBTI type can be useful in some aspects, it certainly does not help with the issues OP is describing. Excercise is probably the right answer.

Source: chronic procrastinator who has been studying MBTI for years.


You're holding too many things in RAM. Get paper, pen, sit down. Write a todo list of everyhing you need to do except the work.

Now do the easy things to shrink the list.

Now work.


This is exactly what works for me. To add to this strategy, I tend to note (not fix) easy todos and leave them as a warm up for the next day. It can be difficult to start cold on hard problems.


1) pomodoro will fix your procrastination. just say you will do like 6 pomodoros a day and you will be more productive than 8 hours of multitasking. work up from there.

2) "working on the project that I know I must work on to accomplish my goals" sounds like a fundamental mis-step. what makes you think things will change once you achieve those goals? are you certain your goals are what should be your goals?

3) buy a 12 kg kettlebell (i don't care how beast you are, 12 kg is enough to start or you're gonna fuck your back). fuck around with it for half an hour every night watching TV like 2-3 hours before bed. don't do a regimen, or a program or any of that bs, you're not van damme and you never will be. just fuck around with it and have fun. eat an egg and drink a craft beer go to sleep. move to 16 kg, you should see mental and physical results in a week.

4) some people saying stop fapping? that's absurd, fap every day if possible, good for your testosterone. although, maybe stay away from the dehumanizing kink shit, that definitely gave me interpersonal problems for a while. I see a connection between personal relationships and fapping, but not productivity so much. besides, there will come a day when you can't do it more than once every few days, or once a week, or whatever, and believe me it's fucking depressing. there is absolutely no reason to not fap.

5) screen killers like lux f.lux etc. that gradually shut all your screens down in intensity as the night goes on. blue light sends wake up chemicals, wake up chemicals for 18 hours a day will fuck you up.

6) if you drink more than 10 beers a night, try cutting it down by 1 per week until you're at a normal person level. it's a bitch and a half to get to sleep, but it really does feel great the next day. but if you go from 10-0 in a day it will feel like fucking ebola. quit smoking cigarettes.

7) if you don't smoke weed, smoke some and watch youtube tutorials on like whittling, don't take notes. if you do smoke weed, go sober a day and go to the park to read a book. both of those are amazing after prolonged time of being the other state. adderall, cocaine, anything from the amphetamine family is not your friend. benzos, ketamine, anything from the barituate family is not your friend. mushrooms are your friend. ecstasy / lsd i have mixed feelings on. basically find anything that gets your eyes wide open _and makes you feel awake_. The goal is to feel childlike wonder, _NOT EUPHORIA_ euphoria is a dangerous emotion and should be shunned.

8) drink your weight in ounces of water each day. It is difficult.

9) walk, but not like chore walking running jogging fitbit bullshit. just opt for the stairs, or park at the far end of the lot. people say you should meditate like half an hour a day, but that's just because we're so fucking busy optimizing our movements all the time that we can't think in between actions.

10) similarly disable facebook and twitter and instagram and whatever they've made in the last 5 years I don't know about. Mine are all deleted, you don't have to do that, but when they are installed, and you get notifications on your phone, you are in a state of anxiety at all times of the day because you feel good when you get a notification so you're always waiting for one and pop-psychology pop-psychology pop-psychology. Around day 3 or 4 of having it off it starts to feel good, like really fucking good. I'm well known as "the guy that sends emails" and people love it. similarly with browser notifications, system notifications, etc. If it beeps at you or rumbles at you, it is offensive.

11) self help books, ted talks, anything that makes money from things being wrong in the world and promising to make it better is a fucking waste of space. Avoid these things at all costs. you intrinsically know what is wrong, you just have severe cognitive dissonance naming it so you psychologically pretend you don't. if you're going to read something to make you feel better, the answer is to read something that has nothing to do with anything, it's not work so don't read a machine learning text, it's not a social game so don't read whatever is on the NYT bestseller list in the sci fi section, read something that's purely fun. I'm in the middle of a textbook on ancient chinese history. Or watch some conspiracy theory videos. Or start growing designer peppers. Again, the goal is anything that opens your eyes wide.

Not being able to focus is a common problem that happens when your entire life revolves around one thing, one routine, one goal, one person, one whatever. You just need to do something, anything that's not that one thing, whether it's playing catch with a 12kg metal ball, getting high and watching some redneck whittling wood for half an hour, or reading a hundred pages about the Yuan Dynasty of China. You need to turn off -- so stop letting bright blue lights, email chimes on your cell phone, rushing up and down elevators and hunting for the most efficient parking spaces dictate your actions, intentionally say "fuck you" to that. Also chemical balance is a thing and almost everything I've said directly has an effect on that balance.


Have you considered that you may not like your current job? I know this isn't always possible, but if you can, consider looking for a job that you care and feel more passionate about. You are less likely to procrastinate if you like what you are doing.


This is completely normal.

It does get better. Though in my case I'm not sure whether it's because I got older or because I landed a job that I find fulfilling.

In the short term try the Pomodoro technique. It's easy enough get started and it works.


Can you add more external deadlines to your important work? I've setup weekly calls with three clients, spread out through the week. This way no matter how much I feel like not working, I'm going to be having a phone call either today or tomorrow about code that's not yet written. This makes work just get done.

Do you need more sleep? I have a pile of little people at home who wake up all hours of the night and need me to do something. I've found that taking a half hour nap in the morning and one in the afternoon gives me one to two extremely productive hours after a nap.


Try breaking your assignments / objectives into bit sized tasks.

That serves two purposes -- you get to futz around with something before doing work, but you can also set deadlines for each task to give yourself some urgency.


Sure do. Do now, which is why I'm here ;) Just stop reading and responding to HN and your life will improve immensely. But seriously, if you have no self-control against web distractions, then either: a. disable those sites all together (using opendns.org for example) b. set router rules so that you only have access to those sites for 10 minutes every hour (sort of an enforced Pomodoro) If you are just bored, then go do something more interesting/challenging.


One way I get round this is make lists (I use clear for mac because it is so simple. Otherwise I end up procrastinating making overly complex plans in JIRA etc).

Firstly make a list of all the tasks. Then of the big task you're putting off, split it into loads of small component tasks. Smaller the better - even if it is is 'make a GitHub repo'.

I then find that I do the first small component tasks and after marking them off start ploughing through the rest of the stuff.


I'd add to this excellent suggestion which has worked for me:

If we complete things that are not on the list, go note it on the list even though you've done it.

I get frustrated whenever I end up doing things that are not on my list which throws everything out of kilter and I stop doing my list ... which is a disaster. So I found that I feel better whenever I add a completed item to my list. :-)

The lengths we go to trick our mind.


I have this problem. Things that I find helpful fall into three categories:

1) Make sure I'm taking care of my body because my brain is part of my body.

2) Make sure I have a super-clear idea of what the task is.

3) Do things to block distractions.

For the first:

- Keep to a regular sleep schedule. Spend $10 on a sleeping mask and buy an alarm clock and white noise machine.

- Regularly eat a balanced diet. If you're poor or super-busy, get a blender bottle, chocolate powder, and Soylent subscription. You can make a meal in 30s and $2 with that. Otherwise, get a slow cooker with a timer and the app Paprika for iOS/Android.

- Regularly do at least 30 minutes of intense excercise. This will improve your sleep and is also great to do in the moment when you feel jittery. Running is good.

For the second:

- Get a notebook and step away from a screen write down what you think you need to do in order to complete the task. Break it down into a super-granular level.

- Make a list of all of questions you need answers to in order to do the task. Often, procrastination results from not actually being able to complete something, but having consciously realized it.

- Send emails with all those questions at once so you give people time to respond.

For the third:

- Download an app like https://getcoldturkey.com/ (for windows) or https://selfcontrolapp.com/ (for OSX) (for linux, this might work http://svn.jklmnop.net/projects/SelfControl.html, but if it doesn't, it is cheaper for you to buy an OSX machine). It lets you block a list of urls for a specified period of time.

- Put your phone in another room.

- Go to https://appear.in/kbody and turn on screensharing. open as many tabs on that url as you have monitors. Then, pay a friend to periodically check up on you and, if they see you distracted, to charge you even more money.



I use music (EDM, Ambient, etc.) that I really like to get myself into a zone.

After the productivity surge, I emotionally reward myself by thinking (unintentionally, actually) about how great it felt to be productive and how awesome the music was at helping me hone in on the work at hand.

I also recently started using https://www.brain.fm/ and alternate between it and music.


I do. Frex, I should be writing a dissertation outline rather than fooling around on HN (and I'm sure you have better things to do also, hint-hint, nudge-nudge).

"Why" is difficult to answer. For myself, I guess somehow I can't really recall how bad the previous last-minute rush was, so I can't motivate myself hard enough to avoid it this time around. Or maybe I just enjoy the adrenaline rush, who knows.


Wait... You should take a look to The Definitive Guide To Procrastination (involving a monkey, a monster and a darkwood) : http://waitbutwhy.com/2013/10/why-procrastinators-procrastin...

Part 1 gives you a reasonnable understanding of the issue. Part 2 include practical advices.


It could be depression. Nothing to be ashamed of or embarrassed by. Talk to a professional, seek information from a good source online. Don't wait any longer bro, call in sick, go to a library or café if the situation at home is not pleasant. Tell the world: "sit and wait, I have something I need to take care of and it's more important." and get some help.


Ask yourself this question. Where are you now?

Where will you be tomorrow?

Where will you be in a month?

Where will you be in a year?

Now as yourself where you will be if you made the choice to spend an hour a day on task X. Where will you be?

Repeat every time you decide to open a new browser tab. It is a very slippery slope every time you unconsciously go to youtube, forums, etc. The first step is to become conscious of the time sucking activities.


Consider your emotional state. I just had a bout of situational depression which resulted in exactly what you're describing.


My entire life has been spent dealing with this issue.

One of the unavoidable facts of life is uncertainty. You don't know whether any particular course of action will get you where you want to go. A lot of times, you're not even sure you know where you want to go.

Let's call these two issues "uncertainty of effort" and "uncertainty of goals".

For goals, there are externally-derived goals, and internally-derived ones. You can put this on a spectrum. Your dad tells you you need to get a job, you know you need a job and independence and all that, but the fact that your dad is hounding you places this on the 'externally-derived' part of the spectrum.

Essentially, when you wait until the last minute, the goal is pushed all the way to the external side of the equation. What you want is the capacity to act on internally-derived goals, progress on these feels like you're "going places," and "getting your shit together," and all that.

Pushing goals over in the internal direction is all about finding motivation. The motivation to accomplish external goals is clear, it's outside of yourself, you know exactly what's going to happen if you put it off any longer, you'll lose your job / house whatever. The motivation to accomplish internally-derived goals has to come from within.

This is where I find the thinking behind Maslow's hierarchy of needs useful. Sit and meditate for a bit to locate where on the hierarchy you are right now. Do you need to eat something? Do you need social interaction? Treat this need as a box you have to fill and go fill the box with whatever it is you've just determined you needed. Congratulations, you have just accomplished an internally-derived goal. Finding life satisfaction is really a system of boxes that need to all be filled before you can check this one off.

You can sit and think and come up with various types of needs. You'll have immediate needs and long-term needs. Also needs where the path to getting what you want is clear, and needs where the path isn't so clear. List these all on a sheet of paper along with their classification. Immediate / long-term, clear path / unclear.

Lack of motivation derives from not satisfying immediate needs. Your very subconscious is resisting you, and it's always a bad idea to act against your subconscious. You need to identify what it is your subconscious wants and then you'll be naturally motivated to go get it. Something that nerdier types always neglect is social interaction. Also sunshine and activity. Once you've identified something that sounds nice, take the easiest and most available path to getting it. There's no point in challenging yourself if you have a lack of motivation, unless it's actually a challenge that you need.

Finally, there's effort uncertainty. Once you fix the motivation problem, you'll run into the next issue, that you have no idea what to do to accomplish the goals that you have. You have several tools for tackling this. The first and most useful that I reach for, I call fishing for lessons. You don't know what will work, but you will have a model of how the world works. That model is wrong in some way, keeping you from what you want. You just have to find out how it's wrong.

Root around in your brain until you come up with a statement like, "If I do X, it should get me closer to Y because of Z." Now you have a testable expression. You have 3 relationships there, between X and Y, between X and Z, and between Y and Z. One of two or all three of these relationships that you think are causal are in fact not related at all, and it's your job to find out.

It doesn't even have to relate to your goals. You can also analyze the reasons why you think you can't accomplish your goal. "If I ask Marcy out, she'll turn me down because she only likes jocks." My guess would be that last part of the statement is false, and would be the first thing that I'd test. Not by asking her out, but by asking her what kinds of guys she goes out with. You can test all the things you believe about Marcy by talking to her, more social people call that "getting to know her," and is probably the best approach one can think of if you were interested in her romantically.

We feel daunted by goals that we don't feel we can accomplish because the way we think about the world is inconsistent and wrong. The way out is to substitute those wrong beliefs with correct ones, and the only way to find out the correct ones is to let the world tell you. Everybody says failure is the best, but what they don't say is that failure doesn't have to suck. If you do things for the express purpose of testing out whether the way you believe the world is actually works or not, finding out you're wrong is a happy occasion, because that directly leads into more goal-accomplishment ability.


One thing that helped me was getting and using glasses when I'm working at the computer - eye strain can really mess you up.


Try to analyse if you have noise in your mind. I sometimes feel that procrastination is due to a non focused state of mind. I lately feel that is caused by Internet addiction and a lack of routine.

Also, I use to procrastinate when I have personal projects much more appealing than the project I must do.

Try to unplug from the net, go for a long walk, try to tidy up your mind.


Yes all the time. Once I'm started I'm OK though.

I solve it by identifying one very small thing - the first first, smallest task. When that is done I do it again, find the smallest possible next thing that needs doing and do that. Repeat.

The problem with programming is that it is easy to be overwhelmed by the ultimate scale of the big picture. Keep it small.



Wow, this is the exact issue I'm having as well. Really hope to see some insightful comments here on possible solutions.



Don't get me the wrong way, but this is your problem, and only you can solve it. Eventually, you will probably try some stuff, only to understand that there isn't really an advice that can help you (some might help for a while but will eventually become useless). The solution is all yours to discover.


I really liked this practical approach to working with bad habits:

  http://www.vox.com/2016/3/4/11147432/immunity-to-change
In short, it's a technique for identifying what semi-conscious goal that procrastination (etc) serves, so you can address it consciously.


What u need is a different perspective...and someone to kick your ass, but more of perspective. Try going off grid sometime and spend some quality time with BOOKS. Don't try to escape your temperament,rather mould it to suit your needs. Yeah that was my best Oogway, but yeah, thats pretty much it.


Now that I think about it, there was an article a while ago by someone who hired someone to sit beside him and prompt him whenever he drifted off track, to make him get back to work. I would expect that to work, and apparently it did, very well. Maybe that should go on the list of things to try.


In the end you have to do it despite your feelings, but I like these 4 articles better than the average GTD ones: http://sebastianmarshall.com/community/51134


I've found freedom.to has personally be a huge help to me. I'm bad at transitioning and tend to "check something" between tasks. This has largely fixed the problem for me.

YMMV of course, but for me it was a huge help especially because it fixed the iPhone channel too.


Maybe you turn away from your procrastinating for moment, open the editor window, type two or three lines, and then go back to procrastinating. I bet this happens a few times throughout the day.

Just as you are typing the three lines and turning back to procrastinating, how do you feel?


> realize that if you are procrastinating it might be because part of your brain disagrees with a decision you have made

[1]: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=9285481


Start small. You can start pomodoro technique https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pomodoro_Technique.

Love your boredom!


It's fairly typical in the general population. The only solution? Don't do it. Fight it. Eventually, it won't feel like a challenge.

That's the good thing about conscientiousness -- it is trainable, improvable.



The way I do it is by creating fake deadlines in my head. I know I am not going to achieve them but it's like milestones without the extra baggage of planning and it being boring.


Accept imperfection. Get a shitty version out of the way as fast as you can. Make incremental improvements from there. Or don't. A "D" is better than an "F".


I have an ADHD diagnosis. I started a pair programming company. It is amazing. Zero non-zone hours per day.


Go do 5 minutes of the work right now. Only five minutes, no more.

Reward yourself afterwards with a banana.


I feel this too. I find that exercise and diet help me control it the most.


It means you just don't truly care about your work. There's nothing wrong with that though. Take a step back and evaluate what you'd truly wish to be doing with your life. When those things are aligned, endless motivation is the byproduct.


It feels like its almost a fear/adversion to completion.

Weird question..Do you tend to fail to shut doors all the way?


Adderall or Vyvanse man. Couple it with a magnesium and theanine supplement to avoid building tolerance.


I'm procrastinating right now reading this post.



It is first sign of burnout: your brain need time to clean, repair or/and rewire your brain.

Sleep well, exercise often, take long vacation, i.e. procrastinate well.


This is often one of the ways to get a better life through chemistry. Talk to a doctor, tell them what you told us, and listen to what they say.



>code other things

Drop everything else and do this. Donot fight yourself.


This is a question for a professional (especially if it's hurting your ability to hold a job), not Hacker News.


That's not very namaste of you.




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