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Ask HN: How do you create productive habits?
253 points by lilcarlyung on July 10, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 99 comments
One of the things I do to deal with procrastination, and that I've had the most success with, is to develop what I consider to be productive habits. Basically, it just means me using a daily todo with tasks that I consider to be productive. I've tried out apps such as Streaks (http://streaksapp.com/) and I'm currently using Daisy (http://daisyapp.xyz/) to aid me with this.

Although I am successful with this, I'm always on the lookout for more efficient (and perhaps more fun) ways of doing this. So I'm curious to hear what you people do to create productive habits? Any apps or other methods you suggest for habit creation?

Personally speaking, no apps helped me beat procrastination. What actually helped me a lot is figuring out that I am unhappy and depressed in my life and why is that. Once I figured that out I set for big changes, and stopped caring a lot for things that made me unhappy. I appreciated things I got, I started going on trips around the world and met my wife. After being happy in life I found my self in a very positive mood and very keen to explore things and not just sit in-front of a computer browsing youtube or other things that didn't help me in life.

Another thing that helped me a lot, although am a software engineer and I write code for a living, I said I'll only use computers, phones and whatsoever while I am at work. When am off work I am completely off tech, including TV. That forces me to enjoy time with my wife and go out do things, workout etc. Now of course this might not work if your goal is to make research or I don't know create app's per se or your own company. Although making sure that your hobby, goals, work whatever that is only takes part of your time a day and not the whole day tends to help into having a balanced life.

Good luck.

Edit: also something I forgot to mention those apps you mentioned might work for some people that like task specific programs etc, personally I find it that I couldn't program my life at all, I'd rather having it in a natural flow than having appointments with life, but thats just me, I see people that are quite happy with having a schedule.

I absolutely agree with you. I downgraded to a smart phone that only runs maps and has a camera and this has forced me to semi switch off tech when I'm away from my computer. My friends think I'm crazy (mostly because I'm a developer who doesn't have a "smart" phone).

I'm genuinely curious to know what phone or plan you use that only runs maps and camera. Google Maps or soemthing like openstreet map? I'm looking to do something similar. Any info would be appreciated.

I did this also. Switched from a best of breed Android phone, to a Blackberry.

Yes. A Blackberry. One of newer ones that runs BB10. It supports just enough to enable me to read mail, and message my friends, but there are hardly any useful apps for it, and most of the Android apps that you try to install on it barely work either.

Added bonus - The built in Facebook app no longer works either.

End result, the Blackberry sits in my pocket 99% of the time. My phone is now a tool again, and not a distraction.

It's perfect for me - but your mileage may vary, of course.

Edit: like Fratlas, I also get about 2-3 days of usage out of one charge.

It's an iPhone 4 with a broken mic which I got for free. It's too old to run a lot of distracting apps (VSCO, Snapchat etc) and I can't call people. I have a $20/month (AUD) prepaid plan for 1GB data which gets me through easily. I guess it can only figuratively run maps/camera, but it's enough to keep me from using it 24/7. Battery also lasts several days because I use it so little.

I use and iPhone 4 (conveniently my mic is also broken) and I am not upgrading since I get /so/ much use of it. I feel it can run everything I would want from a smart phone.

My battery lasts like 10 minutes though, and the camera is kind of broken.

I swear every iPhone 4 has their home button and mic broken eventually. I think the battery life dives dramatically after some point which I haven't reached. Will probably upgrade after that happens.

Actually the mic works, I just get/give no sound when in a call. Works perfectly everywhere else. Home button works as well, but I mainly use something like Assistive Touch anyways.

i had that happen on my nexus 5. for me, it was a bug in the headphone jack, though i didnt bother to go about fixing it.

in a call, the phone thinks theres another mic installed, and tried to use that instead.

lol, I do something similar. I've had to add a few apps finally for various reasons, but I basically just use my phone as a phone, I have email just so I have calendar reminders, and will occasionally do light web browsing when stuck waiting in lines (checking HN of course). Pretty much all notifications are turned off so that it's not distracting.

The funny bit for me, is I work for the phone company, on the data/signaling networks running the phones, and I barely use my cell.

I knew a person who owned 20 liquor stores but did not drink.

I just use my iPhone 4S with IOS9, which is too slow to be used practically :).

>> I appreciated things I got . . .

This reminds of me of the book that I read in this year named : "A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy" [1]

Its really a good book and changed my life literally.

[1]: https://www.amazon.com/Guide-Good-Life-Ancient-Stoic/dp/0195...

Agree with you, one of the first thing for me to beat procrastination was to stop wasting time on useless things like checking facebook/twitter every 5 mins and getting rid of the FOMO completely, this is easier said that done, but feels great once achieved. i removed facebook and twitter from my phone, put your phone to Do not disturb and suddenly i have all the time in the world. I use this time to think/plan and create efficient habits/methodologies to beat procrastination.

When I really have to work I use a chess clock. Old fashioned, mechanical, large and an ugly reminder of my time 'off the clock' because then the other clock starts to tick. The ratio between those two is the thing to maximize and it's extremely easy to use. Stop working just push one button, start working press again on the opposite side.

Very useful little trick and way easier to use than anything online or in an 'app'.

Thanks for this. I've been looking for an excuse to buy a chess clock.

RescueTime is a pretty good approximation of this for me and is automatic.

Two different solutions; RescueTime is good at analysing how your time is spent after the fact. A chess clock is a great real time stopwatch "oh man i've been googling rhubarb crumble recipes for 14 minutes..."

If you're on Mac then Qbserve[1] (our app) will show feedback on your productivity in real time.

[1] https://qotoqot.com/qbserve/

Ok here's an obvious list of things that should be useful. Obviously you agree (as I do) with the Leo Babuta concept of 'habits' versus 'discipline' [0]. I'd say these are just the basis - but I believe all of them will help if you can apply them consistently. But I'd also say that there's not much point in trying other techniques until you feel you've consistently tried these for a year or more (potentially I'd say up to a life time of trying).

1. Headspace (daily meditation) [1] - helps with focus

2. Wait But Why on procrastination [2]

3. 4 Ways to get motivated [3] - I like the second one about a 'pre-game routine' doing the same physical activity just before starting work. I do the yoga 'sun salutation' twice (takes about 5 minutes, helps with back problems)

4. Leo Babuta's free 'Focus' book [4]

  [0]: http://zenhabits.net/discipline/
  [1]: https://headspace.com
  [2]: http://waitbutwhy.com/2013/10/why-procrastinators-procrastinate.html
  [3]: http://plan.io/blog/post/146892730063/4-ways-to-get-motivated-when-you-dont-feel-like
  [4]: http://focusmanifesto.com/

Constrain the time you have to do something.

Work often fills the time you give it. If you try to achieve something in a short amount of time, you'll be forced to work at 100% with full focus to get it done ASAP. I'm always amazed at how sometimes a dreadful task takes 10-20 minutes when I'm forced to do it in that timespan, but if I have an hour to do it, it'll take an hour.

To make the constraint feel real, put yourself in a situation where you only have a short period of time before something else must happen, like a meeting. Then you can trick yourself to get started and see how far you can get in 20 minutes.

When I had a kid, this definitely happened to me. While he's awake, there's a lot of time spent watching/minding him, however, while you're not actively doing anything it gives you time to plan. When I next get some free time, I find myself working at 100% without having to put much mental effort into it.

This does seem like a sensible way to invoke the panic monster - but for me it's often undermined by the fact that it's just me that tried to put the artificial deadline there and my brain happily ignores it moving onto the next deadline.

There was something similar laid out in this blog [1].

  [1]: http://www.raptitude.com/2015/03/how-to-get-yourself-to-do-things/

Thanks for sharing that blog post! I really liked this aspect of it:

"You finish a thing by starting it until it’s done."

I read another blog post whose thesis was "To avoid procrastinating, think about starting instead of finishing". That helped me a lot too. Once you start, work isn't as bad as it seemed.

This may work for some things, but fails spectacularly for creative and learning tasks.

Read The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. He has some good suggestions. One of the best ideas in there is that certain small habit changes create behavioral cascades. For people trying to lose weight, just writing down what they eat at each meal has a huge effect. When you make up in the morning, making your bed increases the likelihood that you'll do other things that require discipline. The idea is to get many small wins, because they accumulate and give you momentum to tackle harder and harder tasks. When you draw up your goals, the trick is to state the goal, imagine the obstacle that might prevent you from achieving it, and then figure out what you'll do in that scenario. That's the thinking behind the WOOP app: http://www.woopmylife.org/ which I'm not affiliated with, fwiw. Finally, in your HN profile set "noprocrast" to yes. ;)

The best takeaway from that book is the "cycle" of habit: cue -> routine -> reward. The message of the book is that if you have a bad habit, e.g. smoking, there is a "cue" that causes you to engage in the "routine" of smoking, for the "reward" of nicotine. Unfortunately, these cycles are hard wired into our brain, so once they're fully established, we can't change them. The author offers the solution: keep the "cue" and the "reward," but change the "routine." The first step is recognizing the cue. Once you know what it is, you can replace the "routine" with something more benign, that also leads to a reward.

So for procrastination, maybe the "cue" is your code compiling, and the "routine" is typing "n -> down -> enter" into your address bar to get to hacker news, and the reward is some sort of stimulus. You can fix this habit by recognizing the "cue" of code compiling, and swapping it out for a new routine, like 30 pushups, to get a stimulus reward of energy.

totally agree! digging in a little more, he talked about the cycle of:

cue -> craving -> action -> reward

and the whole question is, how do you find rewards that instill craving which will lead you to an action that changes your lifestyle?

Charles Duhigg changed my life.

Beeminder (https://www.beeminder.com/overview#how_beeminder_works) has been life-changing for me, taking me from zero to working out 3x/week and meditating 4x/week, and currently helping me learn to blog more regularly.

It's in the same category (habit formation) as Daisy and Streaks but with a somewhat power-usery focus. You commit to any number of quantifiable goals (e.g. "work out three times a week for the next 6 months"), it reminds you to stay on track, and if you fall behind, actually charges you money. The idea is to tie your long-term goal ("work out regularly") to your short-term sense of immediate priority ("work out today or it'll cost ya").

One of the reasons it works for me is that it fits with a flexible schedule. I don't have to work out at 8am every Monday; I just have to work out sometime early in the week. I can build up a "backlog" and "spend" it later. Conversely if I have a crappy week and let habits slide, it reminds me to make up for it the following week.

The Beeminder team also blogs regularly on the subject of habit formation and self-control - e.g. http://blog.beeminder.com/flexbind/ which goes into more detail on why they've designed the system the way they have.

Pomodoro technique [1].

Break your time/tasks into 25-minute chunks, where you focus on a single task (no context-switching, pauses, breaking). Rinse, repeat.

I use Flat Tomato on the iPhone, and I can track how many pomodoros I complete each day/month, which gives a good feedback as to my goal tracking.

[1] http://caps.ucsd.edu/Downloads/tx_forms/koch/pomodoro_handou...

I tried the pomodoro technique multiple times, and it failed. The reason for its failure was the lack of emphasis on setting up the right atmosphere.

Now a pomodoro (I use Productivity Planner, made by the guys who made 5 Minute Journal, so I keep track of my pomodoros) doesn't "count" unless I check everything off of the pomodoro prep checklist.

1. Airplane Mode / Turn Cellular Data Off (for urgent calls)

2. Freedom app (blocks websites)

3. Music (atmospheric, mostly)

4. Sign & Lights (let people know I am working, and have the right lighting)

5. Snacks & Tea / Energy Drink

6. Water

Then I lock the door, start the timer, and off I go.

Ever since I created this checklist, I have rarely been disrupted from my work. Sharpening the saw is quite important to saving willpower.

I used to do this during exams, suits me perfectly.

Another suggestion, If you're working on a side project or studying, try to do it early in the morning ( for me it's 4am ), you'll feel less distracted.

Early morning works well. Most of my effective pomodoros are before 11 am. I start around 6 or 7 am, and get most of the crucial things I want done for the day, done.

I don't even try to work after dinnertime if the work requires a lot of discipline. They never pan out for me. Better to sleep earlier and spend morning hours more effectively.

Used this and found it very useful!

If you have a Pebble, Solanum is fantastic.

I find that my procrastination comes from tasks that my brain thinks are too hard, so what I do is I make todo lists, I break the task down into smaller more manageable tasks until they're small enough to digest easily. The more tired/cbf/bored I am, the smaller I make the tasks.

Also, for avoiding distractions I usually keep a piece of paper on my desk titled "distractions", if my mind wanders, I write down the thing it wandered to, if it happens again I put a dot next to that thing, surprisingly I never get more than a few dots before it's completely out of my mind for the day.

I kind of feel like this is somewhat related to the whole concept of mindfulness, rather than being stuck in your own distractions you observe them and move on... These two things help me immensely.

I recommoned BJ Fogg's tiny habits course: http://tinyhabits.com/. It's a really simple and easy free email course that shows one way of creating new habits.

How do you like those two apps? I'm currently trying out strides, but it seems like I only use it when I'm logging stuff. I'm kind of wondering if a paper calendar would be better to keep the logs right in front of me.

I keep this on my desk, in a spot where my eyes land whenever my head starts to wander: https://bwitzenhausen.files.wordpress.com/2013/11/butler-wal...

"First forget inspiration. Habit is more dependable. Habit will sustain you whether you're inspired or not. Habit will help you finish and polish your stories. Inspiration won't. Habit is persistence in practice."

I have a set of mandatory activities, which I do for one hour and forty minutes.

When I have motivation or interest, I pushed on.

With this, I released a rewritten version of a factorio mod(thank god that I didn't decide to try to rewrite all of it). I am also on the last leg in completing a story.

However, I got whacked with a computer hardware failure, exiling me from osx and data...

Now, I'll have to find other activities worth doing in lieu of a working computer until it get fixed. :(

> [The] idea — that your emotions about doing something must fall in line in order for you to actually do the thing — is what much of the existing motivational advice is based on, and yet it’s not entirely true

> You don’t have to feel like getting something done in order to actually get it done.


Funny enough, the moment I stopped caring so much about time and optimizing it, the more productive I got.

Before I found that no matter how much time I had, I was always scrambling. This may be a bit too philosophical, but focusing on moment to moment and bringing attention to the problem at hand really helps.

I recommend reading Jacob Needleman's book about Time and the Soul.

"It is not, therefore, the rapidity of change as such that is the source of our problem of time. It is the metaphysical fact that the being of man is diminishing."

--Jacob Needleman, in Time and the Soul

My phone's calendar app has become crucial to me. Recurring tasks - work cycles, fitness, etc. - get a recurring block, with a well-defined start and end time. Non-programmed to-dos("remember to bring a..." "don't forget to take care of...") are accomplished by throwing in the task somewhat arbitrarily at a moment in the future when I might be able to do it. Between those two I always "find the time" to work on what I intended to work on and my stress about what needs doing goes way down, while my consistency goes up.

Sometimes the schedule slips or I sleep in and let a bunch of tasks slide; this is an expected failure mode and I build it into how I use the calendar. I do not think about strategies to be productive anymore - my maximum capacity per day is acknowledged by setting those start and end times, and if I want to produce a lot then I aim for consistency.

Personally, I'm a big fan of "Baby Steps" by Dr. Leo Marvin. It means setting small, reasonable goals for yourself, one day at a time, one tiny step at a time. Just set up long range plans and when executing, focus on the immediate step you are facing. Baby steps.

Here's a meta comment.

When I look this thread as of now (11 July 18:00 in Amsterdam), I see almost no nested comments in the middle.

Typically when I read nested comments I see: agreements, disagreements or new perspectives. In most HN threads the most upvoted comments have the most nested comments, but it is also quite common to see a lot of nested comments somewhere in the middle in topics that have this many upvotes and I don't see them.

The upvoted comments and the nested versions are quite original -- 'soul searching'/self therapy, broken iPhones, blackberries and chess clocks. I haven't seen half of it in productivity books, perhaps variations of it, but the variations wouldn't allow me to think of a chess clock.

I'm thinking of why there are fewer nested comments in the middle. It might be because: 1. big enough personal differences in habit formation (my hunch) 2. we're all saying the same thing but we don't recognize it or we do but don't react 3. there's simply no need for further comment

After years of trying to learn Japanese through osmosis by living here, this year I managed to get myself to seriously study again despite not going to school anymore.

It's a combination of a study app called Nihongo and a reminder/streak app called Commit. Now after studying about 30 mins daily for 6 months I've started to really enjoy my study sessions, and the joy of seeing the characters I've learned in my daily life. Now when the Commit reminder comes up I've usually already started my study.

Not related to habit formation, but may I say what worked for me when learning Japanese in Japan?

Take the Nihongo Nouryoku Shiken. Bookstores sell material to study for it. It's great having a study milestone.

Start reading, if you haven't already. Books, magazines, anything. A kanji you see "out in the field' for three times becomes yours.

To improve listening skills, I recommend watching lots of jdrama. If you don't understand a dialog, listen again.

And most importantly, interact as much as you can with Japanese people. This is harder than it sounds, because... Japan.

I made my own app to learn the kanjis from the book; it was the same as the book but I'd just flip cards on my phone and I'd learn more than in any lesson

I find it useful (essential, really) to understand how my todo tasks relate to my longterm goals. If I can't draw a line from my task to my goals, then it's less motivating.

Nobody's mentioned Strava yet. (Other sports trackers work as well)

Cycling and running every morning does the trick for me. Starting the day early with the burning desire to complete something in the shortest possible time leaves you applying that mindset to everything else you do. Sadly, this also means I'm noticeably less efficient on days I don't exercise in the morning.

Keeping track of my rides and runs gives me a good perspective on competition. I'm trying to beat my own records, and see how I compare to others. I feel a constant need to improve, and this helps me push myself in a healthy way in other tasks.

What we are dealing with here is what the author Steven Pressfield calls "Resistance". He has two great books on the subject that helped me a lot and you should check out: The War of Art (2002) and Do The Work (2011)

Procrastination is basically a consequence of letting resistance run amok and by dismantling the resistance, all the wind goes out of the procrastination.

Looking for an app or some cutting edge new way to deal with a 10.000 year old problem (that was also solved 10.000 years ago) is pretty much just putting a band-aid on it.

Nothing beats the Productivity Planner[1]. A simple, well-designed, and minimalist planner that gets the job done. I have never been more in flow during work hours.

Five Minute Journal, made by the same guys, is also great for worrying less and living in day-tight compartments.

I highly recommend using both in concert.

[1]: https://www.intelligentchange.com/products/the-productivity-...

Can I hijack and ask, how do I become a "determined" person with grit? Is it learnable? If something becomes too hard, I just convince myself the success is not worth it or not attainable.

I might actually be right. Success might not be worth it. It seems winners are usually more motivated by hatred and fear of losing / failure than the joy of winning. You see this with sports stars all the time (MJ).

Have you listened to the Freakonomics podcast [1] on this exact question? It was an interesting exploration of "How to get more grit". If I remember correctly, many of the episodes around that time period (May of this year) were about getting good at things/self-improvement [2].

[1] http://freakonomics.com/podcast/grit/

[2] http://freakonomics.com/archive/ (Around episode 245)

It's your life, and you define what success means for you.

How can it possibly be "not worth it"? Do you really just want to go through the motions until you die, without caring about achieving even the tiniest thing in the time you have?

The best app is probably sitting in front of you. It is called an old fashioned calendar. Intention and discipline are the keys to getting stuff done. You have to develop a powerful WHY. Why do you want this change so bad? Once done the next thing is to not leave it to will power and chance. Schedule the time on your calendar. I believe in starting small and using the lowest barrier to entry. Plan your day the night before and time block what needs to be done. Don't worry about perfection. You need consistency first. You need to become the person that shows up when you say you will. You have to develop character. The last piece of the puzzle is understanding that motivation is not a prerequisite to creativity and taking action. You will find both of these bubbling from within as you start to act in a consistent manner. Do it later translates to do it never and robs energy from your creative genius that can and should be spent on the task at hand.

Good luck and let me know how it goes.

For me to do lists are waste of time. I use Wunderlist to keep lists of things that i might do/read/work on sometime in future. I use my calendar for things that must happen.

None of this is a way to 'solve' procrastination. The best way to overcome it is to do something. Anything. 5 minutes on 'the task' is better than 5 minutes wasted on something unrelated. Find a method to get yourself to do something. Even 60 seconds is enough because it is more than nothing. As you do that regularly you will overcome your procrastination.

As other posters have mentioned though you do sooner or later need to find the root cause. It could be one of many things, but only finding that will help you to make real progress.

Wish you all the best.

The most effective way that I have used: 45 minute work, then 5 minute bathroom break + stretches, then 45 minute work, then 15 minute break. Repeat.

The key is to understand that your body needs many little break from time to time, regardless of what your brain thinks.

For me, this typically involves a lot of analysis as to what the obstacles are. There are typically multiple things conspiring to turn me into a slacker and it doesn't generally work to just knuckle down and do it. Figuring out the underlying causes and addressing those is what works for me.

So, you might try spending some time asking yourself 'Why?' x, y or z is failing to get done. Be really honest with yourself. Don't tell yourself anything PC. Then, if you still want to get it done, solve those issues first.

Nice advice. Its inspiring.

I created an email course (also available in book form) about this exact thing! [0]

But a few things I've found really useful are:

The Momentum app, which lets you quickly check off habits in the iOS notification centre widget. [1]

Starting small until the behaviour of a habit is ingrained, then increasing the time and effort. Eg. start with a 15 minute run until you're used to running 3x/week, then increase your time gradually until you're running 45 minutes every time, rather than jumping in the deep end. It's easier to keep up a habit that's small and easy, and to increase the activity once you've made it habitual. [2]

Only work on one new habit at a time, because it will take focus and discipline at first. [3]

Once your habit is solid, develop others by stacking them together. [4]

[0]: https://habits.bellebethcooper.com/ [1]: http://momentum.cc/ [2]: http://blog.bellebethcooper.com/french-habit.html [3]: https://exist.io/blog/keeping-up-habits/ [4]: http://blog.bellebethcooper.com/pushups.html

Maintain a healthy balance in life. Read fiction, listen to podcasts, go on long walks, chat about non-technical things over coffee/lunch everyday. Oh, and get ample sleep. Beyond that, it's creature comforts around your desk: a good coffee machine, a sitting+standing desk, good natural lighting, a whiteboard, a scratchpad, a relatively new iMac.

Habits are easy to create when it's convenient to have them. That's mostly what I'm pitching.

I finally developed a daily meditation practice by starting small and focusing more on developing a habit first. I read somewhere that if you do something every day for 45 days you create new neural pathways. I don't know if the research backs it up but it's a nice thought.

So for six weeks I committed to meditating for any amount of time every day. I didn't care what the time was though I strove for five minutes.

After successfully doing that I bumped it up to a minimum of ten minutes every day for the next six weeks. The next six weeks I upped it again to 15 minutes. And on and on.

I actually found when I got to 25 minutes that my commitment felt like it was waning a little. No problem, I dropped it back down to 15 minutes. When I feel I'm ready I'll start increasing it again.

That all started last October and I've only missed two days. More importantly, I feel better than I think I ever have. I think soon I'm going to apply the same approach to exercise.

By being interested in what you are working on.

But you have to get to the point of developing interest in the first place. Developing Passion needs hardwork.

Most work requires periods of repetitive and boring work. Rockstar excepted.

I think you're definitely on the right track, but I have a slightly different philosophy.

I try not to use any sort of app -- as I believe that can be used as a crux -- other than what I have learned. So, I have learned a few key points.

* Focus on less things [http://jamesclear.com/buffett-focus]

* Don't break the chain [https://www.writersstore.com/dont-break-the-chain-jerry-sein...]

* Be present in every moment (don't multi-task, either with thought or action) [https://www.amazon.com/Way-Peaceful-Warrior-Changes-Lives/dp...]

Block the "Hot Network Questions" div on Stack Overflow using a little browser script. Saved hours per day...

I wrote an application that I use for exactly this purpose: https://github.com/ioddly/meditations

It's a little rough around the edges at the moment, and there are no executable builds, but it tracks completion so that you get a big picture view. For example it tells me I have exercised 9 days this month, 100% of the days I've set out for this month, and am on a streak of 100+ days.

Aside from that, meditation and removing distracting things from my environment have been most important (for example blocking timesink websites on my work computer). And the work of James Clear has been very influential on all of this: http://jamesclear.com/

Work on something you would be really excited to work on even if you were a retired billionaire. Great projects pull work out of you.

The important thing is not to fool yourself into working on something you think you're excited about but deep down are really not that excited about.

The following applies to all methods:

1. Keep in mind that "forcing" yourself to do something takes considerable energy.

You can imagine a second inner you, that's, for one reason or another, actively sabotaging your efforts to get something done. Now you can barter with that second you and get it to agree to work, but if you push it too far it will relapse.

So: It's important to get a feeling for your motivational energy. If you managed to overcome procrastination successfully yesterday, don't expect the same today.

Just like in sports, give yourself a rest when needed and be realistic about your daily potential.

2. Not all work is created equal. There is more creative and more repetitive work. If you don't feel productive, do the chores.

I've personally had success with starting small and simple. I pick a habit that promises improvements and do one small and simple thing every day related to it. As it becomes a habit I can see results and adjust accordingly.

The best habit I have formed is to see the benefits of actions and forcing me every day to do them (by starting small and simple).

Its not a race. It takes time. Sometimes years. Be kind to yourself. You will make mistakes. Identify the mistake and learn from it. Then move on.

For regular, consistent productivity (not just the occasional project over a day or two) I have to change my physical environment. This means having an office I go to (or library when I was a student) that--and this is key--is far away enough from my home that it's not convenient to just leave and go home when I'm sick of working. It has to be more of a hassle to go home than to just do another half hour of work (and then another, and another, and so on).

Whilst @ work, I try the following: __Stayfocusd -> Nuclear option (blocks access to websites you identify as blocked. 2-3 hour sprints is what I attempt) __Switcheroo (I redirect multiple click-bait news websites that I involuntarily type to HN) __Use 'Distraction Free' mode on editors I use for programming (IDE / TextEditor - e.g. SublimeText) __RescueTime (to reflect on how it all turned out) __I mute conversations in apps that permit it

Oh, and I'm never logged into FB / Twitter in my browser and my password is 50+ characters long.

The underlying theme is context switching is pretty darn expensive.

My solution is to embrace procrastination. Just makesure your procrastination tasks are worth doing. If its the TV or reddit thats bad. If it's housework thats a step up. If it's a side project you would otherwise procrastinate starting thats actually perfect. Ive been my most productive when I was procrastinating trying to avoid writing my PhD thesis. I ended up with more research I had to write about which was the main danger!

Highly recommend reading The Power of Habit (https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0055PGUYU/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?...)

It goes over strategies and psychology of habits and how to change bad ones and form good ones. I literally just finished this book before opening HN to see this, and I loved it.

HabitBull(http://www.habitbull.com/) is great app for this. It also ties into quantified self analysis pretty well. I had some great luck with implementing GTD with Omnifocus and Focus GTD for personal projects.

What helps with procrastination is Adrafinil (precursor to Modafinil that doesn't require a prescription), Memantine, PhenylPiracetam Hydrazide, working on things that are interesting, and filing away (or having someone/something else do) whatever you don't like doing.

Putting off or tasking someone else with jobs you don't want to do doesn't seem like the healthiest long-term strategy.

Do something productive. Do it again. At whatever frequency. Continue. Solved/answered.

Have something I really, really want to do, and do that thing until it's done. Sort of the top idea in your mind: http://paulgraham.com/top.html.

This is difficult when you have 3 things that all tie for #1, and since they need to be sorted into #1 through #3, that sorting isn't stable sorting, so each time you mentally sort it, they might end up in another order. So #1 changes all the time.

If they tie just make an arbitrary decision. E.g. pick the least fun one. Or more analysis on which should win if that is appropriate.

Mind-expanding drugs and doing things I like doing have removed the need for extrinsic motivation to produce. I've never been able to keep up a solid habit (except weight lifting, of which I enjoy the benefits).

Change is very hard ..

my favorite:

ALAN DEUTSCHMAN :Change or Die (2005)


One way of staying productive is to add the following entry to one's /etc/hosts file: facebook.com twitter.com

I use Dopamine.


Full disclosure, I'm it's co-founder.

If you were able to defeat procrastination with a todo list, you were not a procrastinator.

You just needed some organisation in your daily activities :)

Best thing is to commit yourself with other people and through those commitments you will feel forced to do whatever you need to do.

I have to say, Google Inbox has utterly changed my life with its Reminders feature

though it's dangerous to tie yourself into these things...

For me, the ritual of measuring progress or adherence to a desired habit is a huge help, but I find that the presentation and availability of this measurement in app form is not helpful and generally is actively harmful for progress.

Here is an example. I have lost a significant amount of weight in the past year and managed to build good exercise habits and eating habits, keep the weight off, and feel very happy with the physical shape and condition I am in.

I tried using apps like Lose It to count calories, record exercise, etc., and it did not work at all. The neurotic clawing feeling that the app was always there to get me, to demand me to check it, to obsess over my progress, pressure to share my progress on social media, etc. etc., was self-defeating.

What ended up working was I bought a cheap electronic scale from CVS and I weighed myself whenever I felt like it, and did not write down or record that number. Sometimes I would weigh myself consistently, other times I would weight myself very frequently / very sparsely. I put no pressure on myself to weigh myself every day, to record or keep track of my current weight, or anything similar.

Basically, weighing myself was like a throw-away activity. I happened to see a number on the tiny LED screen. I might remember it; I might not. Who cares. But I did make sure to check in with that scale any time I felt like it.

It was similar with counting calories. Actually, what I found worked very well here is to establish decent calorie estimates for composable food items. Know the calories in the things I usually combine for a salad. Know the calories in the pasta I buy. Know the calories in bread, condiments, sauces, basic foods.

Then when I combine them together for a meal, I can get a rough estimate of the total calories. I'm not obsessively scanning the barcode of everything I buy, but I'm also rarely ever flying blind with ingredients I can't estimate.

Same goes for exercise. Know roughly how many calories you burn walking some certain distance, or running some certain distance, or doing aerobics or calisthenics. Many people recommend keeping a fitness journal, but for me this again turned it into a pressure point, ominously looking at me from across the room, tell-tale-hearting me into feeling guilty about not working out enough.

So I started writing down the exercises I did, quickly getting a ballpark on the calories (when it wasn't obvious, like reading it off a treadmill display), and then throwing the piece of paper away. Who cares.

I made rituals out of these actions, and it started to guide me a lot. I found that it focused me on things I needed to do (e.g. skip that extra helping of food because I estimated the calories) but it didn't function like self-flagellation (e.g. obsessing over my weight in an app, or stressing out about eating something minor because I've already eaten 1,799 calories today or something).

I experienced way less ego depletion in my decision making, but still felt like I was keeping tabs on things.

I don't think this would work for everyone nor for every kind of task. For example, when I want to be more productive with writing and personal tech projects, I haven't found a great sort of "throw away" equivalent for to-do lists.

But in general, I think it's worth a try. Don't go for things that will be overbearing, ever-present, or come with a high degree of pressure. The effects of all that stuff will be counter-productive. Instead, think about what those things are, and find ways to measure them that are cheap, easy, give you only the info you need for situational decision making, and can be easily thrown away / forgotten / ignored whenever you need to.

I had to get to a point where I could understand the concept that the best way to get the work done is to just get the work done.

There's no magic pill. There's no yoga. There's no special coffee. There's no long walks on the beach. There's nothing that will get the work done for you. You're the only one capable of getting the work done, and it just takes sitting down and doing it.

Of course, that is easier said than done. But try it some time. Try repeating to yourself "the work does not get done until I choose to do it."

I also started getting very comfortable with the idea of giving up on things. I either choose to do a thing now or I throw it away completely. If there was something that I couldn't give up on, then the whole process sort of naturally collapsed into a propensity for starting things right away.

We make up these lies to ourselves. TODO lists, with multiple things marked as "high priority". There can only ever be one priority. If someone says two or more things are a priority, they are confused. You have to figure out what the actual, real, priority task is. There is always one thing, one real thing, that is the actual priority, and people can often lose sight of it because they think they have their planning covered. Tasks are always on the backlog until they are being worked on, and only one thing can be worked on at a time. Certainly order the backlog by what is important, but don't delude yourself into thinking you can work on more than one thing at a time.

I got more comfortable with the concept of living a lifestyle, rather than achieving goals. When you define success by goals-achieved, then you are constantly a failure, until a brief moment when you succeed, and then you need to define new goals and are right back into being a failure. I am a success because I live the lifestyle I want. Because I'm not living in a constant state of failure, then there is no sense that any particular action is woefully inadequate towards achieving success. No task can be inadequate towards achieving success, because all tasks that I engage in are a symptom of my notion of success.

And I grew an understanding that living a certain lifestyle meant not living other lifestyles. To choose to be a certain way is equally to choose to stop being another way. If there is some way that you want to be that you are not achieving, it means there is some way that you are that you need to choose to stop. I'm overweight, I could choose to stop drinking beer, and I would lose weight. I choose to have a lifestyle that involves drinking beer in front of my computer at night. I choose to not have a lifestyle that involves rock climbing on weekends. I choose to work on Virtual Reality software. That means I also choose to stop working on electronics, painting, photography, writing novels, or whatever other low-grade hobbies I had before I finally found focus.

So long as you understand your choices and their consequences, I don't think they can become psychological weights around your neck, keeping you dragged down in the duldrums of anti-productivity.

find solid attainable goals and no matter focus on attaining your goals. Don't get caught in the details.

www.coach.me The website and the app have already helped me create many new habits.

Shameless plug: The Success Manual https://www.thesuccessmanual.in/category/time-management-pro...

45 Things You Should Know About Being A Productivity Superstar http://www.thesuccessmanual.in/chapter/45-things-you-should-...

The 25 Most Useful Productivity Methods http://www.thesuccessmanual.in/chapter/the-25-most-useful-pr...

20+ Best Productivity Techniques For The Workplace http://www.thesuccessmanual.in/chapter/20-best-productivity-...

The 3 Best Clickbait Titles for Procrastinators.

Check out "How we learn" course on Coursera. It deals with procrastination among other things.

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