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Ask HN: Were you a procrastinator and could overcome it? How did you do?
73 points by ussser on Mar 16, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 27 comments

I was a (I'd call it hard-core) procrastinator. I still am a procrastinator, but I've come (relatively) quite a long way.

I have never been a lazy person in terms of physical activity. I like all kinds of sportive activities - hiking, biking, football (soccer), swimming, working out, etc. But over years I had become very lazy for mental gym, a master of procrastination, developing a massive fear of intellectual activity. A few years passed, and I became so tired of myself not doing a useful cognitive work. I hated it - if you ever been a mentally-active person even in a childhood and in later years you realize you've become slacker, then you will hate yourself for not doing useful things. It's a good thing if it bothers you - it should bother you.

What started my recovery from procrastination was reading. It was like going back to roots - I was an avid reader as a child, so, it really helped me to kick-start. At this point, I guess everyone has some kind of useful hobby, or habit, as a mental activity and if it has gone rusty, they should clean that up and start rotating the gears. BTW, I should also mention the "Learning How To Learn" course (MOOC on Coursera by Barbara Oakley). It helped me a lot too, as I like learning by listening and it motivated me to set a daily goals & complete them. Essentially, it taught me to follow a lesson/lecture again. Maybe this course (it's like "brain 101" or "how a brain works and how to use it efficiently") will not do the same for everyone, but is't not about this exact course - it's about to start learning again, you choose your own one.

All in all, IMHO, procrastination is a massive fear of mental activity (rather than lazyness) and it's so harmful as almost all other fears & one should face it to get rid of it - again, like other fears, it frightens you as long as you avoid facing it. After the face-off, it's just downhill and you feel relieved. (And procrastination can never be overcomed enough and one should never let languor overtake them, IMO.)

Upvote for being the only person on this thread to have actually given a relevant reply (request was for people who used to procrastinate and have to some extent overcome it). Also I wish I could vote twice because - as a procrastinator myself - I've never heard it called "a massive fear of mental activity". But that rings absolutely true to me. Facing that fear seems to be the best route to overcoming procrastination.

I agree mostly and I am in a similar position. What I don't entirely agree with is that "procrastination is a massive fear of mental activity". For instance, even though I'm not a big gamer, when I procrastinate I can spend hours playing one of my favorite strategy games and strategy games require quite a bit of mental activity. I think procrastination is a fear of boring mental activity, something that doesn't provide immediate reward.

I suspect the problem is less boredom and more ambiguity. Goal pursuit is easy to figure out with a health bar, mana bar, and purse with two few gold pieces.

I was a terrible student in K-12 and then I college before I dropped out. Starting probably in middle school, I didn't do homework at home. I would do it in a panic the class before. Then in high school, I'd barely do it at all. I did well on tests so I suppose that's how I got by at all.

In college, I got a part time job which I started taking more shifts at and stopped going to classes altogether because I was anxious about doing classwork.

After dropping out, I went full time self studying 3D art and animation through DigitalTutors (now Pluralsight). I found myself more interested in programming so traded that for Pluralsight and Safari Books Online.

Both 3D art and programming were immensely more interesting to me than Physics (which I was studying before) which I think influenced my work ethic.

I got a programming job which forced me to learn as an additional full time job.

I'm a relatively successful professional now, but I still suffer from devastating procrastination​. I put off launching an engineering blog for my company for almost a year because there was a step I avoided which eventually I did and it took 15 mins.

The things which have been effective for me are the pomodoro technique. I use kanbanflow for this which also has a kanban board. I don't use this for everything, but I rely on it when I'm unmotivated or the task is really important.

I also became more effective when I switched managers and made it a point to ask them to bug me about things. I tend to take on a lot of side projects and get them 80% done. Having a accountability (peer and/or manager) whom you actually care about impressing (or disappointing) is important, even if they're not in tech or at your company.

Just want you to know that your post inspired me to setup kanbanflow and to try the pomodoro technique. Thanks! Even if it doesn't work for me, at least it got me trying something.

I wish I had learned this trick 50 years ago.

Sit on the couch and get feeling "good" and guilty about not doing a given task.

Then, promise yourself that if you get up and just get it started (assemble the materials, or scrape the dishes, or define the variables...) you will have pushed the project forward and earned the right to sit back down.

That's surprisingly easy to do. Once your are started though, there will be no way you will want to sit back down. You have got this thing on the run. You are wining!

I KNOW it sounds silly. It works for me, and it works for others I've talked to. It's your life. Good luck.

Just do it. shrugs

The biggest thing would be to shift from future mentality to now mentality. Be interested in the process, not the results. When you visualize or anticipate the results, it robs required energy from the present to perform the action that leads to those results...

Basically you've got to rewire yourself to derive satisfaction from doing, not resting in anticipation of a future outlook. A future which never actually matches the visualization exactly, because if it did, you'd be a gotdamn oracle.

> Just do it.

Were you ever a procrastinator? Because that is something I mostly hear from folks who weren't. Sometimes people who think they are procrastinators are actually just being lazy, which is completely different.

I don't mean that in a pejorative sense. Here is the difference, in a sitation here a task becomes larger the longer you wait: A lazy person will usually think "If I do it now it will be less work than if I wait until later", whereas a procrastinator will almost always think "if I do it later, it will only be a little bit of extra work".

To add to the "Just do it" bandwagon.

Someone told me once that she is able to accomplish so much because she does things when she thinks of them. It's a technique that she applies and when she is feeling really productive, she might loosen up on it and prioritize or delay things. She explained to me that when you think of things and say, "I'll do it later", they literally exit your mind as if you have done them.

Sometimes, there are actually reasons for procrastination. I've mentioned my disability a few times here, and now I'm going to again: as a result of it, I tend to avoid situations that make me uncomfortable, ones that I've not been in before, and just about anything that involves paperwork or having to read something and really comprehend it.

As an example of the situations I avoid, right now I'm meant to get in touch with my doctor and ask for a referral to an organization who can help me with my disability. I've been at this point for the last 25 days - because I don't know if I talk to the office administrator, the nurse, or the doctor.

That's it. That's the only reason, and like omarchowdhury says, it's a case of "just do it." But - and this is the killer - I have a really powerful compulsion to avoid it. It's similar to the compulsion not to climb a scaffold for those of us scared of heights, a strong driving compulsion that is difficult to overcome.

Similarly, I've got a stack of books the length of my arm, all waiting to be read, but I haven't touched them in probably five years. I used to read a book every few days, sometimes two a day if they were short enough, but I haven't (re)developed the rule set that allows me to get back into that.

A friend and I are developing a project (and game), and I haven't done anything on that in two or three weeks. Longer, if I'm honest with myself. Again, that same compulsion drives me to avoid working on it.

I have an email waiting to be sent. It's almost ready, I just need to read it to be sure it's correct, re-write a small bit of it, and then I can send it. Three weeks.

Instead, I just sit here, reading short but pointless crap on the internet, watching videos on YouTube, going off to work for a couple of hours a day, which brings me to my next point - that if I'm doing something for someone else, I can usually fly right through it with ease.

I have no explanation for this, just that it can be a symptom of my disability, and I have no understanding on how to approach it or beat it, so I will be watching this thread with some interest.


Think I should point out that when I reply on here, quite often I'll forget to check and see if anybody's replied to me. When I do remember, it's often while I'm out and I'll plan to do it later, but then I don't remember. Not strictly a procrastination problem, but it falls roughly in line with it.

Put yourself in a position where you would have to publicly admit it on a constant basis and it would make you uncomfortable. I started spending more time with my significant other and hating to admit that I spent all day doing nothing, I just started doing stuff to avoid the shame. As a side note, I also became good at giving (increased) value to what I do, or at least presenting it as something important. Also, if I need to do something, I will sometimes go to a cafe or a coworking, because when I come there I think to myself "Well I didn't get here to do nothing, so I will be working". If you have people who support you a lot to the point where you could do something just for them - just keep a reminder of it somewhere on your eyes level.

For me, the biggest problem is the start of the (boring) activity. Once I'm already in it, I can work for hours -- just the first step.

So my solution is simple. I say to myself: "I'm not gonna work on that boring thing, I'll just have a look at it." This relieves the pressure and allows me to get started. Next thing is: "Ok, so I'll just do this one little thing." Three hours later: "Shit, it's done.".

Also it helped me to write down activities I want to stop, e.g. "No HN before 5pm; No news before 5pm".

And the last thing is to remove all possible distractions. Put your phone out of your visual field, block sites, etc.

I became a really bad procrastinator after being a university professor (I am slowly getting over his). What caused this was being given tasks that changed 3 or 4 times before the deadline and/or were not missed if they weren't done.

Administration would give me tasks to do, then change them multiple times, and finally do nothing if I didn't do them 95% of the time. I got to the point where I could not complete any paperwork unless someone from admin was standing beside me saying this had to be completed that minute or else the university was shutting down.

I don't know if I'm a "real" procrastinator but I am definitely a "P" on the MBTI scale. This means I usually do things at the last minute. I can rarely manage to get interested in a task (especially a boring one) until just before the deadline. Also, I can't seem to do any productive work if I don't have a huge workload. (As an example, after putting off stuff all week long I'm now hauling ass to get everything done by the WE - despite posting on HN at the same time - and I'm fairly confident I'll get most of it done)

The flip side for me is that I'm very driven by deadlines: I hate to be late (or more specifically, too late). So, to overcome my ingrained habits, I split up tasks and set intermediate deadlines for each subtask, not too far in the future. If I have a real, hard deadline I'll impose myself an arbitrary deadline the day before; this way I may slip my own deadline by a few hours, but I'll definitely make the real deadline. I may also sit on tasks for a few days (or weeks), until the accumulated feeling of urgency from all those chores to be done is enough to get me moving.

It's more coping than overcoming, but I find it useful in practice, at least for my natural inclination. Taking an MBTI course really helped as well, it helped me understand why I behaved in certain ways and identify my coping mechanisms for what they are - I've behaved this way for a long time, but I always felt kind of guilty for having to use tactics to get anything done.

Figure out the reason you are procrastinating.

For me it was ADHD; the stress of a deadline is stimulating which increases my focus. That's a shitty way to live though so getting it treated helped a lot.

I see another comment where it was anxiety.

If you only procrastinate certain things, you just might find those activities aversive. You can adress that, to a certain degree, by scheduling. Do X amount of the work you hate followed immediately by Y amount of work you like; it's a simple way of rewarding yourself for doing what you don't like. If all of your work is work you hate, prepare yourself for a different job if at all possible.

Some people procrastinate just because they are poorly organized; any system (GtD seems to be popular) can fix a lot of this.

Other times procrastination can just be a form of self-sabotage (there are many reasons for doing this; you think you don't deserve success; you are avoiding the greater responsibility that will come with success &c.). "I left it to the last-minute" is a simple excuse for doing a mediocre job and lets you avoid self-reflection for why you are sabotaging yourself.

There's probably lots of other reasons for procrastination, but the one pattern for myself and friends who had procrastination persist into adulthood was that it was a symptom, and while treating the symptom can help in the short term, treating the problem is a better long-term fix.

I keep it in check now, but it has taken years. What was instrumental: - discovering something I really love to do, programming - realizing what my procrastination always happens when I don't understand what is expected of me

Taking these into account, I set up some nets: - started a therapy to work on the why - before starting a task, I try to identify all unknowns before running into them. If it comes from me and is not discovered while trying to accomplish the task, it's easier to overcome, and often not an issue at all - I work in programming, so I have a very high incentive to do all chores quickly so that I can go back doing something I love (not always effective!) - my coworkers/family know me and often check with me my progress on whatever I need to do for them - I know how I procrastinate and try to justify it to myself, so when I catch myself doing it I start identifying explicitly what I am avoiding and what would unlock me, even if I can't stop procrastinating on the spot. When I regain control of myself later, I know what to do and its easier. - I ask help when I am stuck for more than one week, and people has always helped me, for instance by doing the one bit I can't. Just speaking is rarely enough at that point - I try to sleep at least 6 hours a night, I love so much having energy and a working brain - I emphasis the positive consequences of my actions - I choose to procrastinate when I am too tired, I won't be able to do something of quality anyways, so I can enjoy these moments almost guilt free

So in short, reflect on what is triggering your procrastination, and create various safety nets to catch yourself. If you have a problem solving mindset, it's quite fun to "solve" yourself. Try also to discover some solid ground within yourself, so you can use it. For instance, I can't stand boredom and if I procrastinate for too long, I get so much bored I am willing to do anything to stop feeling it, even doing what I was supposed to do.

I am not sure I can say I have overcome it but I can say that my productivity has improved ever since I started doing little apps to help me be more productive, like custom todolists, custom kanban boards, etc. I've just finished an app to help me form habits ( https://everydaycheck.com )

I've realized that if I do something every day at some point I don't see it as a task anymore but as something I do without thinking, like brushing my teeth, so I have more time of the day allocated to useful/productive stuff and procrastinate much less.

Procrastination doesn`t start at your work. I`m sure there are other areas in your life that could be better. Start establishing healthy habits. It will affect every part of your life and thereby reduce procrastination.

One important point is your level of energy and a fresh mind.

* Stand up earlier

* Decrease your coffee consumption

* Get used to cold showers

* Eat healthy

* Do sports

* Stop using social media

* Don't watch TV or series (make it a rule to only watch with others)

* Don't listen to music all the time. Enjoy music. If you definitely need it, listen to some without vocals. Vocals are more distracting and so you are less focused and so you get less stuff done and so you are less motivated and BOOM, back on HN.

My procrastination is basically an anxiety problem. How do I deal with it now and stay somewhat sane?

Most importantly I do a lot of working on my self-awareness, and recognizing when I'm not in control.

Next would be medication so I can actually do something when I hit that realization. I'm fine without it until the stress hits and then it's too late. I've considered that maybe it's a placebo effect thing, but at this point I don't really care. I don't have horrible side effects or feel weird or anything I can't live with.

I have to be extremely honest about myself all the time. If I'm behind, I say so. If I'm stressed I say so. It rarely bites me and it keeps me from having to scramble to cover a lie or exaggeration. Anxiety feeds on anxiety.

Then there's all that agile bullcrap. I try to think in 1 or 2 week sprints depending on the project. Occasionally I look up to see what my bigger goals are and make sure my small ones make progress towards them.

I have to work in a supportive team, so we keep each other on track and in perspective. We have to be able to cross-delegate so we don't get bogged down. It's way more fun to share in success and failure with friends.

I get killed by long-term deadlines. Give me 6 months and I'll turn a shell script into a new language project. So I ignore the "cure world hunger" stuff and just make sure I'm making progress all the time. That way I enjoy my success rather than constantly feeling like I'll never make utopia. I focus on MVP, then MVP + 1, and so on. I never fall in love with my own work or some piece of tech, so I'm happy to scrap it when it stops being useful.

Now I get a lot done. I have a reputation for getting a lot done in short periods of time. But I still always have to combat the feeling that I'm not moving fast enough and I'm letting people down. Talking with people who care about you (because they're friends, your spouse, or you're paying them to help) is the only way to really deal with that.

I guess the common themes here are to be self-aware, communicate, and keep moving forward in as small iterations as is reasonable.

I've had a lot of success recently forcing myself to do something "boring" in the morning, while I still have willpower remaining, avoiding high-stimulation activities (internet/apps/junk news etc.) until later.

After getting better at beating procrastination, the main problem has been is the feeling that my brain is totally dead and "heavy" after working on mentally-taxing things for hours - napping seems to help with this, but I can't always just nap whenever I want.

Also Chrome plugins to block Reddit and HN (sorry, HN).

I have health issues. Getting them under control is the crux of getting my time management issues under control.I suspect this is far more common than is recognized.

I was called "lazy" my whole life. Then I got the right diagnosis in my mid thirties and began getting my act together. I wasn't lazy. I just didn't have the energy to do the things I needed to do.

I still am not as productive as I would like to be, but it is vastly better than it used to be.

Procrastination is basically you being out of alignment with what you really want to be doing. On a larger scale that just that task that you are wanting to do at the moment.

I've found that when I align myself mentally, spiritually and physically with what I feel I truly should be doing, procrastination reduces dramatically.

That's a hard thing to do, though. Takes a lot of thinking and meditation. But it's achievable.

When I was working on something I thought I had to work on, I used an app called Freedom to block the web. When I dropped the thing I thought I had to work on, and started working on something I really wanted to work on, then I didn't need external help.

I buy candy. Then I don't eat the candy until I have completed all important tasks I have to do.

for me I use a quote by Derek Sivers

"You have to meet inspiration half way"

What that means is just sit down and start doing something. After about 30 minutes you get in the flow and it carries you the rest of the way.

Procrastination is a holistic issue with no single fix.

I am not a psychologist, so take the next 5 points with a HUGE grain of salt.

1. Ask yourself if you are suppressing an impulse to perform tasks, or waiting the impulse out, or simply not experiencing the impulse at all. Ask yourself what dots need to be connected to actually lead you to performing the task. Some people procrastinate tasks that require nearly zero effort... often at great personal cost. If you notice yourself doing this, take some time to reflect(non-judgmentally) on your behavior-- its profoundness, irrationality, and what could be gained if it were changed. Think about the day-to-day reasons that a 5-minute task gets drawn out over 2 months. Rephrase your question to "am I accidentally thinking procrastination is helpful?" Procrastination may be a mood regulation technique; rather than thinking of it as "avoiding a boring task", ask if it is "the pleasurable experience of defying or hiding from an 'undesirable' task". When viewed through that lens, procrastination is a maladaptive coping mechanism vaguely like binge-eating or self-harm. The next questions become "why would I think procrastination is helpful?" and "why would I feel the need to cope?" Hypothesize your reasons-- the self-fulfilling prophesy of underachievement. The avoidance of engagement with real life. The assertion of control. What else? Be with these ideas for a while, and ask what is best for you.

2. (rephrasing oldmancoyote's comment) 1/10 rule: for 1 minute of work, you earn 10 minutes of "break." Seriously, get 10 minutes of break guilt-free for 1 minute of work. It's a great deal.

3. Present and patient. Practice mindfulness meditation to help with your emotional state and train your ability to be "present" in your current task. (see omarchowdhury's comment) Being able to be present without thinking about the future is difficult, but it is paradoxically important for your future. Also realize that by being fully patient and present in this menial task, you can sometimes be in a self-healing, meditative state.

4. http://www.procrastination.ca / https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mhFQA998WiA

5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitive_load (feel free to assert that cognitive load does not affect work avoidance) You may be experiencing a self-regulation failure due to high cognitive load. "Abnormal" brain chemistry like ADHD, bipolar, depression, etc., ... dysphoria sometimes due to a sedentary or unhealthy lifestyle, and social or personal problems will eventually sap your emotional energy and cause you to revert to coping mechanisms(see point 1). Invest in that emotional energy. Also blood sugar/insulin

A Exercise B 1/10 idea C Therapy D Healthy Lifestyle E Meditation F Brain Chemistry

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