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How I got to 200 productive hours a month (qotoqot.com)
853 points by miqkt on Sept 22, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 291 comments

> Caution: The mentioned amount of hours is not advisable for people working on someone else's business for illusory stock options, with no payment for overtime. There's also no point in going beyond this number because working over 50 hours a week actually decreases productivity. Life should come first in the "work-life balance."

Great disclaimer in the article. The only problem is that many employers will be quite happy with people working 50+ hours per week. It's up to the employee to not let an employer take that much advantage of them (this includes having enough savings to be able to put in notice at the job at any point, assuming no contract or law would prevent it). The current landscape of the technology field, while lucrative for an employee, especially in the United States, is tremendously skewed toward the business where many employers see high turn-around as the rule, and no longer the exception, leading the employer to expect employees to work such high numbers of hours.

If a person likes working 200 hours per month, I wish them all the best and hope they are hourly-paid. Being salary-paid and having a family means I will continue to limit myself to 40 hours per week working for someone else. At a point where I work for myself, then, of course, that number may change.

A well run company will always have more work for each employee than is possible for them to complete. This is because the employee is then forced to prioritise their work themselves and only focus on the pieces of work that align with their incentives. Which should align with the company incentivies.

If this was not the case, then the organization would need to employ additional staff to plan work, in order to maximise efficiency. Which would be waste.

So if you're working for someone else, prioritize and cut what you don't have time for. You'll be surprised what you can cut.

When I started out, I thought you would be assigned work with the expectation that you could complete it. I basically murdered myself for a half a year and developed minor health problems, since I was broke and worried about losing my income. As my energy and stuff deteriorated I lost the ability to concentrate or do much work, and I started getting warnings for not working fast enough etc. At that point I felt manipulated and got angry, and thought that actual work output counted for nothing, since it just lead to raised expectations, accusations of not working hard enough, and no upside.

So I spent half a year doing the minimum amount of actual work I thought I could get away while spending the rest of my time socializing and helping out coworkers. I think this basically made my manager lose her mind. She started badmouthing me to my skip level and using me as a scape goat for our project not working out (we were a small team and I went from the highest output worker to the slowest) but all my skip level manager would hear from other employees was how great an employee I was. Eventually she seemed to start avoiding me, and then went psycho and left the organization.

Overall, I think that this only works if everyone is straight forward and doesn't do any creepy things out of greed or ambition.

> Eventually she seemed to start avoiding me, and then went psycho and left the organization.

I often think that people say that someone is "psycho" when the person is actually just someone stupid who ended up with some power, perhaps through physical attractiveness, or through simple dishonesty, or maybe even both. Was that woman less intelligent than you? Was she not very intelligent to begin with? I think it's actually more helpful and more accurate for people to replace a psychoanalytic view of others, with a straightfoward smart-or-stupid view, and of course that is to be done in context. It's important not to overthink things. A professional chef may think I'm "crazy" for how inefficiently and poorly I cook my food every day, but actually I'm just stupid at it.

No, she was pretty smart and sort of obese. She got in shape during the time period and was normal weight by the time she quit.

> A well run company will always have more work for each employee than is possible for them to complete.

In a high-level view, sure. But if the employee is given more to do than they could possibly do, it can be very damaging to morale. At review time of things one was expected to work on, there are things you accomplished, and things you failed to accomplish.

In particular, if one responds to "I accomplished task1 and task2" with "Okay. What about task3, task4, ...?", that employee is being trained to believe they cannot succeed in this position. At that point, they are left with finding the fault either with this management style, or in themselves (...leading to imposter syndrome? I dunno, but maybe that's part of why that's so common in our sector).

There's a difference between "must do", "should do" and "can do". The list of "can do" should stretch years into the future, but the list of "must do" should always be shorter than available labor capacity.

The devil is always in the details. You need a unified approach from first-line managers up to directors setting big picture goals for it to work. There's about 20 things we'd like to do as an organization every year. But, to stay focused and execute well we need to choose the 3-5 most important things. The same applies at the individual level. If everyone's on the same page then it works great.

> A well run company will always have more work for each employee than is possible for them to complete.

I'm not sure that's really true of a well-run company, but it's definitely true of badly run ones. In chaotic organizations, an unrealistic (or absent) sense of capacity and unclear priorities combine to create large amounts of work in process. Individual prioritization is definitely a survival skill there.

> A well run company will always have more work for each employee than is possible for them to complete.

That depends.

It may do wonders for efficiency, yet there are a number of ways it can breakdown: failing to complete regulatory or contractual requirements is a big one, since they rarely allow for flexibility. Clients may not receive the service they expect, so the organisation's reputation will be damaged. In cases like that, prioritisation only really works to diminish the possibility that too much time is spent on small tasks or that efficiency is reduced by doing things out of order.

It also turn small problems into a crisis. With staff already working at capacity, there are very few options for handling the problem.

No, there should ALWAYS be more work. If there is not more work, then as soon as work runs out the team is idle.

So you have to plan ahead.

I think that there should always be more work, but there should not always be more critical work. This minimizes idleness while allowing non-critical tasks to be pushed aside when handling emergencies.

For example, my team has a backlog of work to be done. There are certain things that cannot slip. There are plenty of things that could be pushed out to handle a production outage, or a shiny object, etc.

Indeed, critical dead after critical deadline is a good way to burn out. One a year is critical in a well planning system if that.

This seems like an assertion that may need to be challenged. I'm not convinced a team with no downtime is working at maximum output, let alone maximum efficiency. My experience is that teams that are constantly busy are rarely working on the most important thing, either for the short term or for the long term.

Isn't that poor planning? I never want a team "busy", I want everyone to see where we are going and why.

The solution there is to have a gradient of criticality to each individual workload. If you have 100% capacity of an individual assigned to contractually obligated work then you are under-resourced and have a problem. In my experience, there are always nice-to-haves, and a resource allocation plan should include a good amount of those goals at all levels of granularity to give overall flexibility. I realize that's hard to achieve, and maybe even impossible for some types of organizations, but to me it's the only way to operate without either causing massive burnout or paying people to sit around.

"A well run company will always have more work for each employee than is possible for them to complete."

That's the whole problem, right there. Sometimes, this "well run" company will generate work that might not matter, not at all.

All companies that are well run will have a queue of work for each employee, but not all companies that have a queue of work for each employee are well run.

Not really. I'm currently working in a factory (Temporary job, but hey, it is the first one working in my non-native language, so it works out). For most employees, there is a set amount of work that can be done. The machines only go so fast, only need refilled so often, and so on. Gotta have enough truck drivers to comply with regulations. Mechanics sometimes have more work than they have allotted time for, but sometimes they sit around as well. Janitorial has enough time to clean - if they can't get their work done, it can be a safety hazard since we produce food products. Some employees surely have a queue of work or the company might have technically unnecessary work the employees can do during downtime if it goes on too long, but it doesn't necessarily filter to everyone.

Sweep the floor, organize your tools, take out the trash. Make coffee. See somebody else working? Find out what they're doing and ask if you can help.

That's already done. No need to organize tools since they are already that way simply by doing the job. Refilling things is part of the job and done in the natural course of things as folks shift positions and whatnot. Cleaning is similar. Trash? there isn't much need to change it unless full - otherwise, one is wasting trash bags and boxes. Where I am, that's once or twice a shift. Again, this is accounted for in the normal course of the job, just like breaks and lunches.

Coffee is in the cafeteria or filled/cleaned on breaks and lunches. The machine makes a cup at a time so it isn't sitting around. It can't be in the production area anyway since it has the possibility of either messing up the machines or messing up the actual product (chocolate and candy) and ups the chance of making a customer sick.

Yup, sometimes you see the mechanic working or someone fixing the machine. Untrained folks can't help. Sometimes the problem is in another section of the factory which you aren't trained on or even see. Can't exactly help that nor can you generally leave the production area without absolutely knowing you'll be down for some time. Then there are generally a few things to do, but since it requires moving staff, this is a last resort as it would negatively affect production.

The place is obviously designed for nearly 100% production during all shifts that are scheduled (not always 24 hours), obviously allowing time for startup, shutdown, and cleaning.

A well run factory doesn't have excess work for every employee every day. It will aim for as little downtime as possible and not having excess employees. Excess work, every day for every employee means some things just can't get done if you don't have downtime.

Interesting statement. From my perspective this has been true of well run and poorly run companies alike.

Perhaps part of the difference is that well run companies allow the employees to prioritize, and poorly run companies don't. Either due to lack of trust or lack of clear/aligned company goals.

Additionally, poorly run companies/departments, and their employees may not realize this tacit agreement exists, leading to employee burnout, poor outcomes, etc.

Personally I've always known there would be more work than can be done, and part of my job is to "manage up," expectations. However, I've known many many colleagues over the years who have not been able to prioritize work in the same way. Wondering if more openness around this concept would lead to better outcomes.

> the employee is then forced to prioritise their work themselves and only focus on the pieces of work that align with their incentives. Which should align with the company incentivies.

Why would their incentives align at all?

Ok, either you never worked for a big company or all the places where I worked were not well run accordingly to your definition. I guess it is a mixture of both options.

This comment is an oversimplification.

There are many situations where the marginal cost per employee is negligible, but the cost to missing deadlines or failing to complete every item is significant.

Assuming the employee is working under some kind of team leader, wouldn't it be the job of said leader to filter out the less important tasks?

I'm thankful for working at a position where I enjoy putting in hours above and beyond what's required by contract. I'd advise anyone to prioritize having a work they thoroughly enjoy well ahead of a work that requires less hours. When you enjoy something, it makes sense to want to be doing that something for a prolonged duration.

It sounds like you feel a sense of ownership around the work you do. That is great but I hope you understand that you do not own the code. You are a contractor and have no stake in the future success of the project.

All of the extra free hours you are spending could be used to build your own product that you would have a stake in.

I've built my own product, now building someone else's product at a scale that was inaccessible to me in my previous adventures. I've had lots of back and forth with myself on that as it's the first time I hold a corporate position in 10 years and I found the idea of working for someone else very unlike myself.

Eventually I understood I just like building stuff, the monetary compensation is just a bonus. If you let me build big enough stuff and pay me enough so that money is inconsequential, I'll be happy, at least temporarily; the end game is taking a startup "all the way", but what I'm doing now is an indispensable lesson in large scale stuff.

The scale thing is one way of seeing you've found a place where you can be much more than you could be by yourself. I've put my exact same work ethic into other jobs and projects and gotten nowhere; in the current case where what I can provide is actually just what they need, I want to work as many hours as I can while the opportunity lasts. It's just wasteful not to.

> I'd advise anyone to prioritize having a work they thoroughly enjoy well ahead of a work that requires less hours.

Thanks, that's really insightful. I've been trying to minimize my work hours lately, but am starting to realize it might be that I'm not enjoying the job as much as I should be.

Seems like the ideal job would be one that you _could_ get done in minimal hours but _don't want to_. If you find yourself in that situation, you have a lot of control of your work/life balance.

At that point whether you are doing it for yourself or an employer doesn't matter as much, though it's pretty hard to find companies that measure employees on output rather than input. Or rather, ones that understand that more input _from a given developer_ won't necessarily deliver more, or at least higher quality, output.

I work around 50hours a week on salary, and always productively. I do it because I enjoy programming, I like making our products better, and want to be recognized for being a key employee. I also work out 5 Times a week, and spend every evening and weekend with my family.

I second the disclaimer. The hourly path for money is fine, or also consider a hard focused normal work week followed by the same level of focus on complementary tasks on the weekend or evenings, such as a side project, open source contributions, or further studies. The same habits around environment, body, and mind carry over to benefit both projects and only the exact artifacts of the effort need change. As Csikszentmihalyi points out in Flow, many of make ourselves miserable by having no focus whatsoever in our leisure time.

the big problem is the lax use of the word 'productive'

creativity requires headspace. this article has some ideas that help. but fundamentally productive .neq. hours. Yes to achieve things you need to work hard, but its got to be smart.

headspaces, streams, blocks, downtime, outcomes. time-away-from-keyboard, physical movement, purpose. these turn your 20 hours into 2000 hours of impact.

measure outcome metrics not input metrics like hours

TL;DR: Basically getting up early and doing 4 hours of deep work has changed my life from really stressful and bad to really productive and nice.

One thing really fundamentally helped me, as someone who works from home on a large project in an asynchronous 100% remote organization.

I work on a fairly involved project that demands a lot of hard work. At the same time there are other things I want to get done: some administrative duties, some nonprofit work, etc etc.

That makes me stressed and anxious, and my natural response to that is to buckle down and try to "finish" the big projects, by overworking...

Except overworking doesn't actually tend to mean getting a lot of work done, because I spend more mental energy being stressed about how much I have to do than I spend on actually doing it.

It's a pretty vicious cycle and I guess it is a proximate cause of burnout.

It all changed when I realized I cannot sustainably do more than a few hours of hard work every day, and took that to heart.

Now I don't try to get more done in a day than is sustainably possible.

I wake up pretty early, around 6, sometimes 7, sometimes 5. Then I make a cup of coffee, some small breakfast, and sit down in my comfortable coding environment, and do a sprint of serious working.

About 4 hours of that is usually enough to land a decent series of commits that definitely advance the project.

Then I do the mental magic that previous me never did. I think: "Wow, that's great work for one day! I'm definitely on track!"

And at this point it's like 11 AM. So I can happily go have lunch, another cup of coffee, listen to a podcast or something, and know that I have plenty of time in the afternoon for paying bills and whatnot.

I also like to take some time in the afternoon to improve my work life in some rewarding way. This includes Emacs tweaking, build server and CI setup, etc. Lately I've managed to get my business email into a form that I enjoy.

(Details: my maildir gets mined for all the important recurring PDFs which end up in monthly folders, and since yesterday I even have a shell script that uses "pdftotext -layout" to parse out due amounts and OCR/reference numbers from the few recurring bills we need to pay manually. This eliminates a type of drudgery that I really loathe, so it's a huge win in terms of mental energy.)

Sounds to me like you had some issues with distractions during the day, amplified by working at home.

Other people (like me) prefer to work late at night for the same reason, it also allows for a more social lifestyle (i.e. going out occasionally) than having to be in bed early.

It's less about distractions and more about never having the feeling of having done enough.

Being done with work by lunchtime is a way for me to be more social, but that's a matter of situation. I do "go out" sometimes; shifting my sleep time by a couple of hours isn't a big problem for me.

I'm sorry but I'm missing how can you have a more social lifestyle if you are working while the others are going out..

Not having to ”be in bed early” makes ”going out occasionally” easier!

I miss the times developers would optimize their lives without all the online rants and the sensitive encouraging, nodding and enabling of said behavior.

That said, don't you have banks which automatically pay your bills (electricity/gas/water)? Which country are you from?

I think 'paying bills' here is shorthand for the general administrative burden of being alive, which seems to have grown substantially in recent decades.

In what ways has it grown? It seems easier than ever to track and automate personal finance.

For me, "paying bills" is not the literal act of making payments to vendors and creditors. It is the act of exporting one's labor outside the family, in exchange for the medium of exchange required to pay one's bills.

I don't "pay my bills" by writing checks and mailing them. I "pay my bills" by working at a corporate peon job for 40 hours a week. If I do the same kind of work at home on a side project, that is still work, but not "bill paying" work.

The literal act of paying bills takes me all of five minutes every month. An hour per year, whenever I don't have to add any new payees to the system. I spend more time voiding my bowels, which I always seem to have enough time for, regardless of how much time I spend working.

Maybe ancestor post was referring to doing accounts payable and accounts receivable accounting work for the business? Seems like that might be more labor intensive than hitting the "pay" button for the electric bill, even with modern business accounting software. Even then, it wouldn't be something I'd do every day, and if all I felt I could do in the afternoons is light administrative work, I think I'd just knock off early if I didn't have enough to fill at least a solid 2 hours, or if it was the last day of the month.

I'm the ancestor, and yeah, I do work through my own firm and there are some monthly bills and bookkeeping that's not automatic. I also live overseas and pay my utilities and rent via EU bank transfer.

exactly.. it's literally a job in itself.

You probably should stay away from comment threads about personal productivity then?

If someone writes about how THEY do things it's a good way to improve MY process. If it improves things for me, what's wrong with saying thanks to the writer?

Most of my bills can be automated, but a few cannot. I also take time to read over my statements to check for fraud/bad habits.

My bank doesn't know how much my bill is going to be every month, so I have to put the amount in. Fortunately, I use simple.com and paying a bill with their mobile app takes a couple of seconds (once I have entered the companies info). Some companies have decent recurring billing via ACH, and I use that on most of my credit cards (I still check the statements each month), but my electric, water, sewer, and gas companies (all separate where I am) all have absolutely terrible websites (and the electric company just plain sucks generally), so I often find myself just paying those bills manually as they come in (after checking them for accuracy).

You don't have direct debits for this sort of thing ie bill is paid automatically?

I can't speak for others, but there's no way in hell I'm giving any company direct debit abilities to my bank account. Given the fuck-ups we see here daily by banks and businesses, I think anyone who does that is playing with fire. But if it works for you, go for it! I'll spend the 5 minutes every other week to type in the amount needed on my bank's website to send whoever an electronic payment rather than letting them pull money from my account. It's worth the time to me.

In the UK, and I think many other European countries, the direct debit system is very heavily slanted in favour of the customer.

Here[1] is the UK Direct Debit Guarantee. It's extremely easy for the customer to reverse a transaction, and (advising the merchant) "Given the limited scope for appeals [against counterclaims] within the Direct Debit scheme, most disputes happen outside of it".


YOu have to setup the ACH/Direct Debit with each utility here, you can't just set it up at the bank. And the utilities have crappy websites/processes for doing so- if they allow you to do it at all. They have a monopoly, so why bother with improving customer service?

They should bother because it saves administration, and they get the money at the expected time.

Most utilities companies in the UK are private and must compete, but even the few exceptions encourage people to pay using direct debit.

Yeah this amazed me too. Usually gas and electric companies make a yearly estimate based on last year's use, then divide that by 12 months. If the estimate overshot, you get money back, otherwise you have to pay a little extra at the end of a 12 month cycle.

That is an option for most of my utilities, but I haven't set it up. I moved a year ago so it would have been difficult to estimate usage at that point. I guess I could set it up now.

Same, it's usually the utility companies that I have trouble getting automated. They have shoddy websites/weird rules/etc.

I prefer not to pay my bills automatically because it doesn't take much time and lets me make sure they are correct.

You can still check if they're correct if you do it automatically though. You can just cancel the tranfer.

My bank doesn't make that easy for me. Besides, it only takes me a few minutes each month to review and pay bills.

Plus, you can more easily switch banks.

Provision and migrate accounts with Ansible?

Manually pay bills every month, or whatever period, so that it's easier to switch account? Even if you're switching every year that doesn't sound like a good deal.

In the UK the banks take care of switching over your direct debits and standing orders when you switch bank accounts.

Everything should have automatic payments, and if they don't then they don't deserve to get paid. That said I use Prisim to take care of the rest that don't.

How did you get your employer to agree to 4-hour work days?

The first half and one of your comment replies spoke to me deeply - especifically the part about having the feeling of never having done enough, haunts me everyday, but also pushes me.

So thanks so much for writing this! Just wish you could speak more about how you were able to negotiate your current work schedule.

I don't have an employer that cares about my schedule. It's literally never come up. My daily productivity has increased noticably since this regimen, and if my employer didn't understand that as a benefit, they'd be silly.

By the way I'm active for more than 4 hours a day, and after the morning sprint I'll spend some time chatting about business, reading and learning, triaging issues, etc. It's just that I don't spend more than 4 hours intensively coding or debugging.

Great response, thanks!

I'm guessing that his employer is agreeing to take the 4 hours of productive work he achieves, which is likely much more than the average "sit in front of the keyboard for 8 hours" worker.

Yeah, that must be the case: a smart employer and demonstrably productive employee.

This is so much relatable to my situation. Thanks for the tips!

i agree with this. as i've gotten older i've become a morning person, usually starting around 6, but sometimes earlier. you can easily belt out 4-5 hours of real work before lunch time, and then take a leisurely lunch/walk/coffee, and do administrative / non-intense tasks in the early afternoon, leaving a relaxed afternoon and evening to do real life things.

and, when a true emergency pops up, it's rare, and it doesn't trigger your stress/frustration response.

When I read the article I was thinking there was actually something quite simple missing from it. I found that just measuring the number of productive hours per day was enough to be very helpful in breaking some bad habits, because it made me mindful of how I was spending my time.

I was going to suggest the Qbserve tracker for this --- then I saw that that's actually your app! I guess you didn't want to plug it more, but anyway -- it's really good. I really missed it when I switched to Ubuntu.

I have been using the Hamster time tracking application for the past 5 years (Ubuntu/Gnome3).

It works very nicely, you can export everything as XML and you can query the database with Python. I am using the XML export to generate static work logs for my customers and the Python bindings (dbus) to generate some special efficiency stats for me.

Thank you! I like to keep it subtle, especially considering that many readers are not Mac users. I think it's totally possible to measure everything with a start/stop kind of tracker.

I heard good things about Selfspy for Linux: https://github.com/gurgeh/selfspy

I've been using Timing, an amazing software with a very small memory and resource footprint. [0] If it matters, Timing's UX is very macOS-y both in my experience and in the opinion of Mac aficionado John Gruber. [1]

I have no relation to product except that I'm a satisfied customer.

[0] https://timingapp.com

[1] (disclosure: advert) https://daringfireball.net/linked/2017/07/02/timing

Am I missing something? It looks like it is actually a macOS app, not available for Linux?

Anything like this good for Windows?

I read this as a single article distillation of the principles in Deep Work by Cal Newport, very well done. It's been a while since I read Pragmatic Thinking and Learning by Andy Hunt, but the article feels familiar with that, as well (I recall a helpful section on meditation). The Accidental Creative by Todd Henry is another great resource.

Newport's sources showed that most people are capable of about four hours of deep work per day. If you hit that level, add in 2-3 hours of shallower tasks, and do it every day, you reach 200 "productive hours" in a month. I'm not sure how many people are willing or able to carve out two 3-hour blocks more than five days a week, but it seems highly worthwhile to step back once a month or quarter, with one's s.o. or family, if present, and think about what is possible and what makes sense in support of mutual goals. From there, in light of the goals and constraints, the article's breakdown for cultivating the environment, body, and mind are clarifying. Ok, I'm sitting down with my wife and doing this this weekend.

The gist of the article is what I try to practice, and I find the strategy refresher motivating. I have had good success with removing push notifications, removing the phone from the workspace, sleeping at the same time, regular breaks to stay limber, targeted muscle work (rowing during winter until it gets too boring, the Roam Strong workout plan currently), and reducing junk calories intake. I've had less success building deep work persistence by making streaks and subdividing tasks. I think it's time to force the break to a separate device for leisure.

How much is it worth spending on a CO2 monitor? As a remote worker, I'm in the same air space almost all day every day, so if there is a low grade problem, I'm cooked.

You can get one for $60-$100 on amazon. I'd say it's worth it. What gets measured gets managed. If you can deduct such expenses, even better. And the effects on cognitive function of high co2 are stark, according to the linked article.

These two had good reviews on amazon. Same company, one keeps a log, one just displays current. I ordered the one with a log.



Great post. What I am struggling with is the following: These processes of deep work seem to be much easier to implement if you are doing remote work, coding, reasearch and more solitary work.

Anyone successfully implement this in a business with staff? What are your strategies?

Interesting question. I work three hours ahead of most people in my company, so I take the offline time I can get in the morning and make myself available the rest of the day. Something like that may work for a morning person in an office, but without a time zone limitation blessing an early exit every day, that may not be culturally feasible without just working more.

In the book Newport runs down more strategies than regular daily blocks, everything from offsite retreats to people who can go deep on command whenever they get a small window. He described one professor who would use different modes based on his academic calendar, I think roughly by week or month granularity. During teaching times he was 100% available to students and staff, but during writing times his door was shut and everyone knew not to go in. The book is definitely worth a read if you're interested in more strategies.

> Two years ago I could spend a week not working because I was avoiding some task.

This is a great article and there’s plenty to talk about in organizational systems, even if this seems to be subtly pitching his own products in places. But if anyone reading this identifies with this sort of chronic procrastination, consider seeking psychiatric help. This is a giant red flag for adult ADHD, which is a serious and often misunderstood issue, and one of the few psychiatric diagnoses for which there is solid treatments (stimulants) with near universal efficacy and very few side effects. Getting on Adderall, then Vyvanse changed my life for the better, and basically solved this issue overnight, as well as a bunch of other benefits.

Mental health professional here (well, currently on internship). "Giant red flag" is a bit of an overstatement in this particular situation. It is very common for people without significant attention problems otherwise to have major difficulty self-motivating and structuring when working independently. Many of my depressed and anxious clients became so by getting further and further behind, because there was no structure or accountability imposed on them and they simply did not know how to do it themselves. Most of them did not meet criteria for ADHD and improved quickly with scheduling, goal-setting and accountability systems.

That's not to say that procrastination is not a symptom of ADHD. It is. But the modern world is built to distract even the normal, and most people are capable of developing bad habits.

Also, the actual ADHD diagnostic procedure is very involved (3-5 hours of testing that can cost upwards of 2k). A lot of diagnoses aren't actual diagnoses, and no one is qualified to make a Dx from a brief verbal assessment.

So long as we keep those cautions in mind, I agree that if a person thinks they might have ADHD, by all means look into the symptoms, do a little research and consider getting tested.

To add a counterpoint to all the apologetics, ADHD as a cause rather than as a symptom is a point of view dominant in the US and not shared by most of the rest of the world. If you're inclined to take drugs to try to fix it then so be it, but you might want to try behaviour change first.

[FWIW this reply and "advice" is not directed at the parent, kobeya, but is a general point of information.]

> "Not shared by the rest of the world"

And that is their loss. ADHD is very much a cause whose impact goes far beyond just procrastrination. It causes people to be terrible spouses who are never there when they are needed. It causes lost friendships through blinkered social conduct. It causes persistent self hatred and anxiety and depression.

"you might want to try behaviour change first"

This is such a, forgive the harshness, ignorant way of thinking about ADHD that it makes my blood boil. Behaviour change works when the person in question has the capabilities of making that change stick. This is the equivalent of telling a handicapped person to try b-mod to climb the stairs.

It. Just. Won't. Work. A shortage of persistence cannot be solved through more vigorous exhortations towards greater persistence. Here's how I think of the drugs. The drugs lay the platform so that I can implement the behaviour change. They don't let me study better. They let me start studying in the first place, at which point, all the best practices and behaviour modifications can come into play.

Thank you. It's such a toxic sentiment which seems to only originate from people with limited exposure to the condition. It makes my blood boil as well to hear/read things like "you might want to try behaviour change first". I want to be like, "what do you think I've been trying to do since the age of 8?"

Meds have been absolutely indispensable for at least starting to implement good habits, extended focus, etc. And it's still a huge struggle.

As disinclined as I am to enter a discussion about this I'd like to suggest interpreting my hasty terminology "behaviour change" as encompassing a wide variety of behaviours, and not just of the affected individual. "Environment" might have been a better word. For example, under "behaviour" or "environment" as opposed to "medication", I include the poor conditions in public schools, the poor quality of food, the addicting quality of television, internet and computer games and the poor quality of many interpersonal relationships.

Thank you for saying the things I wanted to say. Environment is certainly the better word. Really, how much can an 8-year-old change? Not much.

*edit - of course, there is a level of individual responsibility as well.

As someone diagnosed with ADHD in their mid 30's, I've had plenty of environment changes over the years (including with a Psychiatrist who understood my then-reluctant view on meds); honestly none helped me nearly as much as meds.

Eight year olds can't change the environment much. But if we are making a lot of eight year olds struggle when we put them in an artificial environment, I hope we're considering whether we've make mistakes designing that environment.

agreed. I assume you are talking about the school environment?

I would add home environment (parents and siblings especially), culture, entertainment, friends, religion, sleeping habits, socioeconomic status... etc.

> ADHD is very much a cause whose impact goes far beyond just procrastrination. It causes people to

Just because ADHD causes other problems doesn't mean that ADHD itself comes out of nowhere. The previous post has a valid point that ADHD itself is a symptom of something else and that drugs aren't necessarily the best way to reduce/eliminate ADHD at the source.

The currently understood source of ADHD is a mis-wiring of the brain. Currently we don't know of a better way than meds to alleviate such a condition. CBT helps to a degree, CBT + meds works much better for more severe cases.

> The currently understood source of ADHD is a mis-wiring of the brain.

Is that actually understood, though? We had the heavily promoted social consensus for a long while that depression is caused by a chemical imbalance, which is now seen as a somewhat disproven theory that never had much evidence.

Very little about the brain is really well understood. That said, this is about the best we have so far.

From a video I linked elsewhere in this discussion:

Gallo, E. F., & Posner, J. (2016). Moving towards causality in attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder: overview of neural and genetic mechanisms. Lancet Psychiatry, 3(1), 555-567. Konrad, K., & Eickhoff, S. B. (2010).

Is the ADHD brain wired differenctly? A review on structural and functional connectivity in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Human Brain Mapping, 31(1), 904-916.


How is it ignorant to suggest behavior change as a first option? If the person can't make it stick then sure try the drugs, but if they don't need the drugs they're likely better off without them. Add in the fact that ADHD is commonly over-diagnosed and yeah, I'd try behavior modification first. People can display the "signs" of ADHD for a whole host of non-ADHD reasons.

You are right of course. The frustration comes because people with adult ADHD have likely had a lifetime of this suggestion, and a lifetime of failing to stick to such modifications, often to the point of developing comorbid issues like low self esteem. When medications finally open the door they have fruitlessly banging their head against, it's frustrating to hear people espousing that, actually, behavior modification is all you really need, even if it is not intended as such (though often it is).

This is very accurate. Thanks.

Learned inattention is different from ADHD. The whole world has learned innattentive behavior at this point. This can be solved without medication fairly simply. ADHD or as Dr Russell Barkley calls it, Executive Function Disorder, is neurological in origin. By all means try behavior changes first, like you said, but if that works, it was never ADHD to begin with. Finding a youtube video of Dr Russell Barkley was a godsend for me.

> but if that works, it was never ADHD to begin with

You're putting yourself in an irrefutable position then.

Yes, because the argument is that the US over-diagnoses ADHD. As in kids being kids and not being laser-focused are suddenly diagnosed with ADHD. In this case, someone procrastinating because they have something difficult to do would be ADHD. It may not be the case.

No, it's just saying that under scrutiny, it's not all that hard to differentiate "learned inattention " and bad habits from genuine ADHD.

What is most of the rest of the world? Most countries in Europe recognize it. International medical associations also recognize it. Are there countries where a psychiatrist would never diagnose ADHD?

I think this is about adult ADHD.

Some quick video material about the belief that ADHD doesn't exist, and is not a treatable condition: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V5tLi1bYilA - informative and entertaining.

But don't just take their word for it, have a look at the reference material in the video description.

Another interesting, and emotional, view of the effect of not being on meds from the same artist: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rD9qK8-sMGQ

Not even a just diagnosis as specific as ADHD. I was a chronic procrastinator due to anxiety and high expectations of perfectionism. Working with a psychologist using CBT has transformed my productivity by allowing me to learn that it's possible to let things not be 'perfect', whatever that meant anyway.

Thanks for posting this. I suffer from perfectionism too and it leads to a lot of procrastination. Realizing that getting things to 'okay' was fine was an important step for me, because my okay was often others 'good' or 'excellent'.

My pleasure. It was only about halfway through my course of CBT that procrastination and perfectionism came up as related to anxiety. It was a mind-blowing moment.

The weird thing was I knew it all, but something hadn't connected in my thinking that it was better to do/make/release things than to not. The mind is weird place.

Regarding the universal efficacy of stimulants, it should be noted that stimulants helping with something is not diagnostic of a medical issue. Stimulants help everybody with with getting-work-done issues. That's why the majority of Americans take stimulants daily, and many workplaces give them away for free.

So sure, if someone is having trouble keeping up with the pace of their societally assigned hamster wheel and find stimulants help, sure, they should go for it. But they should not mistake that for an illness, any more than a person needing a step-stool to get to the top cupboard should think they have some sort of growth hormone deficiency. Artificial environments can require artificial compensation, but that doesn't mean there's some sort of medical problem.

Can I ask what is considered chronic procrastination. For instance, I am sitting on a tax filing task for almost 2 months now. It's not gonna endanger my life, but it's one of those things I can't get my mind to do.

Do something, do anything. Set a timer for ridiculously small amount of time, 2mins or something, and do something towards it. Like just logging into the filling web site, or looking at the forms. More often than not this gives me the motivation to do more.

Easier said than done though!

A few years ago I finally filed my income taxes, all 15 years of it that I had been procrastinating on since I was 18 years old. Achievement unlocked!

Afaik, it's not chronic in the sense that you procrastinate the one thing, but that you procrastinate lots of things constantly.

The worst part is when you procrastinate on everything that's not as important (but still important!) as the main thing you're avoiding, because how can you justify doing those things instead of working on that other, more important thing?

Thank you. I was suspecting that I might have ADHD for a while now but never got to actually test it. The country I'm living in is still very backwards when it comes to ADHD treatment and until recently only children could get diagnosed. For adult immigrants it was almost impossible.

Your comment was a good reminder though. I right away googled for a mental clinic, picked up my phone and asked if they are able to diagnose adults. Now I have an appointment for next week.

I hope of course that I don't have it, but if I do, and if I actually can get medicine for it, and if it would actually change my life, a big thank you!

That’s great! Glad you’re making progress.

I had my appointment. It looks like I indeed might have ADD and a hint of depression.

The next step is to try ADD medication and potentially undergo TMS treatment.

Glad I learned that there might indeed be something wrong with me. Now it’s time to fix that

Well actually I think people should first try getting off social media - and not just that - getting off Internet.

If you have ADHD it’s not so simple. When I’m off my pills — which is to say every day of my life before I was diagnosed — I don’t really make conscious decisions about such things. I open my computer to work and find myself on Twitter or Facebook or HN or whatever 20min later without thinking about it.

I mean that literally with no hyperbole. ADHD manifests from an under developed or under stimulated prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for such task prioritization and decision making. Without stimulants I’m not really making conscious decisions about most things. Much like how you’ve probably driven your commute sometimes and arrived without really much memory of how you got there (“driving on autopilot”). That’s every moment of every day in the most extreme ADHD case (it’s a spectrum of course and you should seek treatment if you think you’re anywhere on it, even if the above sounds more extreme than you).

I absolutely don't want to be rude, but the 'inventor' of ADHD (Eisenberg), when he died, said that ADHD is a pharmaceutical dease and the cause is social. Wrong food, bad sleeping habits, wrong teaching methods all influence the way we get stimulated. Studies agree with this.

I am not saying you don't have a problem, because I also feel like someone who has ADHD and feel a lot like the author of the article.

But I also think that, just like the author, you can change your 'ADHD' by changing your behaviour.

Again: I dont want to put anyone down that is labelled with ADHD, but I think this culture is on it's way to create an ADHDer of everyone.

> Wrong food, bad sleeping habits, wrong teaching methods all influence the way we get stimulated. Studies agree with this.

This part is severely misunderstood. If I don't sleep, eat, and exercise reasonably I completely lose focus. Taking adderall will help, but it treating the symptom rather than the cause. This looks like ADHD, but isn't.

If my children lack sleep and are overburden (thanks modern school system), it looks like ADHD, but it isn't.

Now, some people, children and adults, do have ADHD no matter how well they sleep, meditate, eat, and exercise. With our current understanding, their best bet is medication. But for the vast majority, they simply need to slow down.

You may both be right. There is an increasing amount of scientific evidence that screens (TV in particular) and junk food (sugar and saturated fat in particular) are severely impairing brain development in children, leading among other issues to difficulty to focus and ADHD. So yes, keeping children off screens as much as possible (+ healthy food + sport) looks like a good advice.

However, when you have this condition as an adult... well, there is some level of plasticity in the brain, but it looks harder than just "change your behavior", it may be required to also treat the symptoms.

The same argument can be made about user's of cholesterol and blood pressure medicine, as well.

Exercise more, eat 'better'.

> I absolutely don't want to be rude, but the 'inventor' of ADHD (Eisenberg), when he died, said that ADHD is a pharmaceutical dease and the cause is social. Wrong food, bad sleeping habits, wrong teaching methods all influence the way we get stimulated. Studies agree with this.

Do you know anyone with ADHD? When you talk with them and something happens, like a phone rings, their minds completely zoom out and they instead become focused on something else. It is not possible to continue the original conversation because they have forgot everything about it. It can be incredibly frustrating because it is like talking to a human gold fish. Although they can't do anything about it because it is just the way they are.

My point is that it is incredibly obviously a clinical condition and not something "behavior change" can fix.

It is very likely to be a combination of innate predisposition and behavioral effects. Like almost all diseases that are not caused by external bodies, or extremely hereditary. So ADHD is not really a condition, rather, it is an axis on which you can fit somewhere. In extreme cases, I can imagine it's very hard to manage without pills. In most cases, one can probably work through it without pills.

FMRI Brain scans tell a different story. If Dr. Eisenberg really believed that in the end, he was wrong.

I don't understand how what you described is ADHD and not average human behavior. If people were not easily distracted by Twitter and Facebook, they wouldn't have a functioning business. There are entire business models that rely on the truism that a huge fraction of the population will procrastinate on a trivial task that will clearly and unambiguously benefit them. Mail in rebates for instance. When does this become ADHD?

Were there things on the other hand that you could focus on very well, were you dived in deeply? Or did your autopilot drive you away from everything you were focused on after a while?

thanks for sharing your experience

This is anti-advice.

This is like telling depressed people to be happy or victims of violence with PTSD to 'grow a pair' and 'snap out of it'.

This is the kind of simplistic, unhelpful, shaming advice that keeps mental illness taboo.

I think you misrepresent the parent post. Suppose you had insomnia. Wouldn't it be a fair suggestion to cut back on coffee and other stimulants first, before trying sleeping pills?

I think the point is that by the nature of ADHD telling people to "get off the internet" as a solution to the problem would be more akin to telling the insomniac "just stop staying awake all the time!"

Not really. Leaving a phone at home and taking a notebook or book with you while sitting outside is not like "stop staying awake". It will, in fact, get you off the Internet and is unlikely to result in withdrawal symptoms for most people.

Unlike "stop staying awake" which is not actionable.

A book might not be a good suggestion for everyone, and finding the right "off internet thinking environment" is not easy for some, but it's doable for most.

> Unlike "stop staying awake" which is not actionable.

That's the problem: you think "stop staying awake" is not actionable, while "leave your phone at home" is actionable for a person with ADHD.

Again, this is not different than saying "just be happy" to a depressed person. To that person, in that moment, "stop wasting time on the internet" is not actionable just as much, otherwise it would not be a problem in the first place.

Going with your examples, I think "leave your phone at home" is more actionable than "stop wasting time on the internet", and both are vastly more actionable than "stop staying awake" and "just be happy".

Right, and his point is that actionability of advice depends on brain configuration. I have no problem lifting my mood, or falling asleep. So those actually seem more actionable to me. However, I have empathy for people whose brains work differently, who struggle with different things, and who might need intense therapy and medication just to stay afloat at these kinds of mental tasks.

> you think "stop staying awake" is not actionable, while "leave your phone at home" is actionable for a person with ADHD.

I'm not an insomniac; nor do I have ADHD, as far I know.

I assure you that I cannot action an instruction to 'stop staying awake'. I certainly can 'leave [my] phone at home', and frequently do.

It's more like telling a person with symptoms of depression or PTSD that they should see a therapist to get to the bottom of things rather than just popping pills. In fact, PTSD suffers really should be in therapy instead of on a drug regimen. Many people are wrongly diagnosed with a depressive illness when they have psychological problems better addressed by therapy, so it's actually good advice and can avoid a lifetime of drug dependance that doesn't solve the actual problem.

>This is like telling depressed people to be happy or victims of violence with PTSD to 'grow a pair' and 'snap out of it'.

It might go against the "just feed them drugs" mentality, but lots of times it totally works.

They had plenty of "traumatic stress" before the 21st century, in all parts of the world -- huge wars, conflicts, disasters, even genocide. But those involved (like older friends and relatives that have survived bombings and wars and dictatorship) also could grow a pair and snap out of it, and even thrive afterwards. I don't believe they had a different DNA or mental wiring back then.

  At an FDA hearing on March 23, 2006, I testified: “Saying any 
  psychiatric diagnosis ‘is a brain-based problem and that the medications 
  are normalizing function’ is an anti-scientific, pro-drug lie” [ 14]. 
  Yet this has become standard practice throughout medicine, for example,   at the American Psychiatric Association [ 15], American Medical 
  Association [ 16], American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 
  American Academy of Pediatrics, Child Neurology Society, American 
  Academy of Family Physicians [ 17], FDA [ 13], and virtually all US 
  government health-care agencies.

  Journal articles [ 6], press releases, ads [ 18], drug inserts, and 
  research informed consent documents say, or infer, that psychological 
  diagnoses are abnormalities/diseases. All patients and research 
  participants with psychological problems are led to believe they have an 
  abnormality/disease, biasing them in favor of medical interventions, and 
  against nonmedical interventions (e.g., love, will power, or talk 
  therapy), which presume, as is the case, that the individual is 
  physically and medically normal and without need of a 
  medical/pharmaceutical intervention.

  Currently, depression is not diagnosed via objective chemical
  tests, nor is treatment guided by any such tests. If depression did
  result primarily from a known chemical imbalance, such tests
  would likely be available and in widespread use, and depression
  would be easily and quickly resolved for most patients.

  Luckily, a number of effective interventions are available for
  treating depression. Such interventions include a variety of 
  pharmacological as well as nonpharmacological approaches, sometimes
  used alone and sometimes in combination with one another

> They had plenty of "traumatic stress" before the 21st century, in all parts of the world -- huge wars, conflicts, disasters, even genocide. But those involved (like older friends and relatives that have survived bombings and wars and dictatorship) also could grow a pair and snap out of it, and even thrive afterwards.

To the contrary, I think the past generations of my family who have survived WW2 and Stalinism were, till the end of their days, heavily impaired by it. They "snapped out of it" to the degree that was required for not starving, but I would not say they had developed nearly up to their full potential.

As someone growing up in rural Austria in the 80s, when lots of grandfathers had been Wermacht soldiers, I firmly agree.

In hindsight, it was painfully obvious with so many of them. And the number of functional alcoholics (with often a rather loose definition of "functional") was huge.

Dunno, we have had huge WWII impact, dictatorship, civil war, and other such things in my parts, and they didn't impact much the generations involved in everyday life. I know tons of people that survived those events. Speaking to friends and relatives it was just things that happened. So it goes, etc.

Maybe they were more lucky. In case of my grandparents, they were children whose parents were executed by Nazis or sent to Auschwitz to die, or who themselves were sent, as teenagers, to a Stalinist prison.

Yes, both kinds of concentration camps are very extreme experiences.

I'm talking more general war and civil war scenarios (e.g. having your city bombed, being in a war, having family members die in such scenarios, etc -- which have been common in many places in the developing world (and Europe).

But the constant terror of a concentration camp for months or years on end is another thing.

I think this is why we need to get back to using books for our resources, looking on the internet is too distracting.

The books still exist. I still use books as a crash course or refresher from time to time. And I've gotten back into reading more on my Kindle or phone while walking my dog in the mornings.

I wrote about this last year. I called it the "social loop of death":


It's super distracting, but you can easily break out of it with being accountable for your time.

Nowadays I've found a healthy balance and am more productive / happy / successful than ever.

A lot of it had to due with following these 3 things too: https://nickjanetakis.com/blog/how-to-overcome-procrastinati....

I was trying to get tested/diagnosed ran out of insurance before getting out of school. I don't know, they say (who?) if the stimulant "Adderall" makes you feel "pumped" or "happy/excited" then you probably don't have ADD/ADHD

No doubt though, being able to sit down and work 12 hours straight without eating, absorb a crazy amount of information... crazy. But then the come down/depression afterwards. Also the effects on your body, weight loss is cool but other stuff not so much.

This is mostly correct, although it is a matter of dosage. People can exhibit symptoms that to the average person seem the same either because of a deficiency or an excess of the pathways amphetamine (the active ingredient of Adderral) controls.

In the case of someone recreationally taking stimulants, whether Adderall or methamphetamine/speed, they’re putting the control centers of the brain in overdrive which makes them feel pumped up and exhibit excited off-the-wall behavior.

In the case of someone with ADHD they have a deficiency that ameasured amount of the drug will address, bringing them back up to “normal” levels. Without the drug this might seem excited it off the wall with distraction, but this is due to a lack of self-control rather than too much stimulation. Even though the symptoms are nearly identical externally.

Hence the “paradoxical” effect on ADHD patients where the application of stimulants results in focused, normalizing behavior.

Yeah without a prescription hard to sustain namely the tolerance problem in my experience eg. need more and more not saying indefinitely but say 1 20mg xr for a day versus eventually 3 of them in a day

I second this advice. My symptoms didn't show up until I started being challenged - which was about the middle of college. Took a while before going to therapy and even longer to get medication, but it's been good so far.

I have the same issue due to depression and Lexapro has helped immensely. The negative feelings persist but the motivation and lack of apathy toward work has been greatly improved.

I take Lexapro with Vyvanse. Fantastic combo. The persistently negative thoughts just turned off. I try to take "medication vacations" for tolerance and I can tell by the end of the 1st day the shitty thought patterns come right back in a hurry. It's incredible. The self-loathing and obsessive perfectionism (including having to correct everyone on everything, and not being able to be wrong without getting angry) has nearly completely vanished.

I literally just started this combo. I've been on Vyvanse but just added Lexapro to address other issues. My psych seems to think med vacations are a bad idea due to instability. Any thoughts on how they're helping out?

Interesting. Thanks for the information. I'll discuss it with my psychiatrist.

Can you share your story in a bit more detail?

Who works 200 hours a month? That's either five 10 hour days a week or roughly seven 7 hour days a week. My time off work is far, far too important to me to be working either of those options.

It seems I value working less than other people. I'm fine with that.

To be completely honest I work 2 - 100 hour weeks per month. It is tough, but I work much better in bursts.

I then basically take a 2 week vacation, but nobody knows about it except me. I schedule good chunks of Git Commits to push during my off weeks.

In the off time, I still respond to email, and occasionally take meetings. Which might take an hour per day. But I don't do anything productive. I play a lot of Nintendo.

I think this style would work better for lots of people, but regular 9-5 companies would never accept it. Its basically how college students work during Finals week, then take a nice break. I always wonder how many other people are out there like me? I think there has to be some.

I've always joked about doing this, but I'm surprised to hear this actually works for you. How long have you been doing this? How far do you go for your vacations? What kind of team do you work on?

I work at company with about 50 people. Most of my projects are mostly independent, which helps a lot. Launching a new micro-site, automating notification systems, stuff like that.

I don't travel on my vacations, because there is still the chance I have to go into the office for a meeting. I just focus on relaxing and recharging. Working on my own projects, learning new stuff, and being easy on myself.

From the article it looks like he works 7 days a week, in two 3hr+ sessions. Not so punishing perhaps in terms purely of hours, but .. really? Not even one day off a week? In 2017?

> It seems I value working less than other people

I don't know anyone who works 7 days a week.

I work 7 days most of the weeks but its physical labor. (the mind is reserved for personal use) I've convinced myself that the joy of relaxing depends on how hard you've worked and that the longer you relax the less enjoyable it gets. You pretty much have to get back to work asap.

I stay productive by eliminating idle time between tasks. Switching should be seamless. If at any time you don't know what you are going to do after you've done the thing you are doing you are doing it wrong.

My coworkers all work harder than I do. End of the shift I've done just as much but they are totally worn out (when I go to my next job)

I do procrastinate for a total of 20 min or so by spending excessive attention on details. This amuses me greatly specially when it infuriates coworkers.

It is like a sport, the work it self is not important it is all about the experience. If I ever get bored with this routine I take 3 or 12 months off right at that very moment. The thought is very comforting. No way I'm going to push it into burnout.

> I stay productive by eliminating idle time between tasks. Switching should be seamless.

This is typically easier with physical labour I think (only 'typically': of course there are variations). Our bodies are far better designed for physical tasks than our minds are for purely mental ones. The latter mismatch forces a variety of coping workarounds, amongst which are task-switching costs.

It also seems that he works at least partially on his own stuff. For me personally, there is a big difference between working on something for someone, and working on my own ideas. The latter tires me much less.

This is quite true. I guess I don't count the hours I work on my own projects and learning.

I think this may be actually the source of much confusion in discussions of how much "work" is good.

My day off is usually 4-5 hours and then I work 7-8 hours on the following days. Since I have multiple projects, a full day of entertainment feels boring because my mind still wants to think about some of them.

For example, I spend some hours each month helping a local non-profit with their site and promotion. Switching to their simpler tasks is similar to rest for me.

Right. Reading that though does prompt me to identify very thoroughly with the 'work-to-live' rather than 'live-to-work' category. Even the characterisation of non-work (non-computing?) activities as mere 'entertainment' or 'rest' is deeply foreign to my way of being. At least 1 non-device/screen day is a crucial act of balance and independence to me. And I think the only way I could be 'bored' would be in solitary confinement in an empty cell. Otherwise there's too much to do, read, listen to, think about, etc.

Just goes to show how different people can be. Which I guess we already knew.

I should rephrase that to "some people"! And likewise, neither do I.

I'd be interested to read a follow up blog post titled: "How I got down from 200 productive hours a month to something a bit more reasonable for sanity and health's sake".

You can set your goal lower and still use all the described methods.

Yes of course. It's all good advice.

I did 100 hours plus my full time job 220 a month for the last 9 months. Helped me get more out of debt. Helped that I was doing different things. Helped and hurt in terms of switching mental mindsets.

Glad to be off of that train since September 1. Really takes a toll.

Umm, more than half of full-time US salaried workers? <a href="http://news.gallup.com/poll/175286/hour-workweek-actually-lo... My perspective is that working 40 hours a week is the rare unicorn of a job you'll only find in Europe or enterprise software. Every line operator in my plastics factory job got mandatory overtime for that much, too.

Of the 4 jobs I've had (in US), none have in any way encouraged people to work more than 40.

That was my first thought too. Maybe it works for some people but I think I would burn myself out if I was putting in 200 hours of work each month for an extended period of time.

> The next step is taming your pocket monster.

This really meant something quite different to me. I think sex (in whatever form) is an issue that needs to be taken semi-seriously within this context.

Professors Mitchell and Webb have good advice: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=co_DNpTMKXk

These type of articles are always shit, I expected it to be shit but clicked the link anyway. Imagine my surprise when it wasn't shit.

Now if only implementation didn't terrify me.... hah...

The big "trick" described seems to be an instance of: You are the product of your environment if you like it or not. There is very little you can do to fight its influences. The environment is there and you are becoming it. The only conscious remedy is to make the environment into what you want to be.

I think the article provides the means to do a check list that could convince companies to allow remote work.

EDIT: Not that sneaky, just me completely blanking on the sentence after the actual link! Original comment below.


Sneaky. I clicked around on the links he had on his tools and found one that looked interesting (Qbserve) and it turns out it's one of his products which I felt would have been nice to have as a note. The only indication of this is the bottom footer header which also says Qbserve.

I'll vouch for Qbserve. I've been using it for a year and it's the first thing I install on a new machine. It's a lifesaver if you have to fill out time sheets and just the act of tracking your productive time can be a huge boost to productivity. I've probably spent a total of 20 minutes configuring it in the last year, which is pretty amazing.

I bought it partly because I like the offline tracker idea, other stuff seems to have some cloud backend. Also wanted to support development, it was on the front page a couple months ago.

Decent product, if you are looking for something like this.

I was using RescueTime for long time but then discover Timing[1] (which also works offline). Never tried Qbserve but I highly recommend Timing.


I downloaded this and Qbserve both over the weekend. So far is seems like Timing is better (but time will tell). However I am irked that I can't see the whole day for adding 'tasks'. For example yesterday I went out around 5PM for a movie. However the day kinda stops around that time as well.

Hi, developer of Timing here. FYI, the Timeline currently only shows the times for which it has data. If you want to add Tasks outside that time range, simply click "Add Task", then enter a different time range manually.

Timing is also good but our initial goal was to make a RescueTime alternative, so Qbserve is similar to it in many ways.

Did the copy change? It says "our automatic time tracker" and it is also on the same domain.

It's an excellent tool. I have only tried the free trial though. $40 feels a bit high. $25 or below would have been an instant buy.

I think he will also get better conversions if the free trial is 30 days instead of 10

I've been using Qbserve for maybe 6 months. It has saved me, I don't know, 4-6 hours a month ret-conning and tuning timesheets. It's also meant I've gotten paid for those trivial jobs that I always forget to enter into even the simplest manual tracker. The productivity boost (which I have absolutely noticed) is a nice bonus. I don't know what you charge for your time, but Qbserve paid for it for me several times over in the first month.

Thank you, I'm happy to hear that it works as intended!

Thank you. We set this price because it's not a subscription and you don't need to pay for upgrades.

It's not a lucrative pricing model compared to $70-150/yr competitors and going lower in a niche market would be too uncomfortable.

I totally understand. Btw I didn't know that upgrades for free. If it's on the website, then I missed it. That makes it good value.

It's in the FAQ but probably we should put a note on the landing page.

You are probably right, it just didn't register in my head. I've edited my comment.

> I think he will also get better conversions if the free trial is 30 days instead of 10

I agree. It seems that 10 days is not sufficient to get a good opinion on it.

For those people that manage to get up pretty early, 4-5 in the morning, how do they cope with the weekend and what kind of weekend schedule do they have ?

What time do they usually go to sleep and what is their noon daily pattern (weekday and weekends).

Most importantly how do they spend their time after 7pm during workdays and weekends ?

I'm generally up between 4:45 and 5am during the week. I either go to the gym or work on one of my side projects before work (or go through HN like today). Around 730am I'll shower and take the train to work.

On the weekend I often go out with friends until 1 or 2am. I'll naturally get up around 5am, but I'll just get a glass of water and go back to sleep until 9am.

Admittedly, I do go to bed very early during the week. I'm often in bed by 8pm and usually read for an hour. I try to be asleep by 930pm. If I have a date or meet friends for drinks during the week, it does throw things off.

"early to rise, early to bed, socially dead"

Social life is overrated anyway.

I used to be "late to rise, late to bed, fuck parties, let me live in peace when everyone else sleeps and doesn't distract me with nonsense", but recently my SO beat some sense into me, and I'm slowly joining the "early to rise" crowd now.

Care to share some of the arguments that made you change your views? For instance, wanting to build a family (having kids tends to force a morning schedule).

Wanting to be "in the same timezone" as her (she's an early bird). Plus wanting to start a family somewhat soon-ish.

"Early to rise and early to bed makes a man healthy but socially dead."

...from the Animaniacs

It's a different take on:

"Early to bed and early to rise makes and man healthy, wealthy and wise"

Here's an idea. I'd be interested in fellow HNers thoughts on it.

Get up really early, say 5am. Finish work perhaps 3pm. Sleep for four hours until 7pm. Go out, do other stuff, party as much as you like until 1am. Sleep.

8 hours sleep a day in 2 chunks of 4 hours. Would that work?

This is called polyphasic sleep. Wikipedia can give you a much better understanding than I can: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polyphasic_sleep

From personal experience when I tried this briefly in high school, I wasn't getting very deep sleep and just kept ending up tired. Perhaps if I had continued I would have adjusted, but I gave up after just one week.

I've done this sometimes, I think it's pretty dependent on you being able to fall asleep quickly. Which you can train yourself to do. But it would usually be more of a 3hr/4.5hr split to match with REM cycles. Or just 3&3. I felt fine. If anything I prefer it, but realistically I've found it hard to do while working 9-6. I end up wanting a sleep time in the afternoon.

Sometimes I do 6hrs at night and take a nap on lunch for about 45minutes. This is okay, but hard to do outside of winter as it's too hot to sleep in my car.

I used to sleep in (11AM, 12PM)... then I had a baby. Here I am, 7AM, already doing 2 hours of work because baby woke up for a feeding. This is my normal now. After work (which is now 3 or 4 depending on when I wake up), I spend my entire time with my family. No work, no distractions, lots of play, and lots of fun.

I'm one of the early birds. I'm awake by about 5 AM without an alarm, regardless of weekday or weekend. That keeps my sleep schedule consistent.

I get to the office between 6 and 6:30 in the morning and take a 30 minute lunch, so I'm out by 3 PM. This gives me several daylight hours in the afternoon before heading to bed around 8 PM to start the cycle over again.

> Most importantly how do they spend their time after 7pm during workdays and weekends ?

Netflix has enough content to burn though the time between 7pm and bed time.

This is probably longer/more detailed than you wanted but here it goes. I'll preface it by saying that I think I'm lucky in that I'm not the type that needs 8h of sleep every night. I usually start waking up naturally after 6h-7h, but I can regularly go weeks on end with 5h-6h. The plus side is my body is very good at letting me know when I'm not getting enough sleep, and I pay careful attention to that. While I actually wish I could sleep even less, I value it greatly and know how important it is. But I don't force myself to get 8h if my body wants to be up.

I'm up at 5am M-F using my alarm. I do my usual routine of showering, getting dressed, feeding and playing with my dogs, etc and I'm on my computer by 6:30am.

I usually spend about 30m drinking my coffee and watching some quick (but informational/educational) youtube videos or reading on HN/reddit/etc; this gets my brain ready to work. This is what I'm doing right now while I type this.

At 7am I'll start my actual work. How my workday goes varies by the day, but I'm always done by 4pm.

If I am working on a personal project at the time (I'm usually trying to better myself in some way; learning a new programming language or getting better at one I already know is the most common thing for me) then I'll do that until around 5p. From 5p-6p I'll wind down and do some more redditing or something similar. Something that is a little mindless but again, usually informative in some way.

Around 6p-10p is spent with my girlfriend doing whatever. Usually we cook dinner together but other than that it's just whatever we feel like doing that day. I do my best to stay off my phone and such during this time.

I'm typically heading to bed by 10:30p and asleep by 11p. Having a good night time routine is very important. I don't go up to bed until I'm actually tired, and I follow the same routine when I do. I am usually fast asleep within 10 minutes of putting my head down.

If at any point I start to feel tired or burned out then I don't change my routine much, but I'll spend more time doing things like watching random youtube videos or reading on here than I do normally. Every so often I have to totally disconnect and just work on some home projects. Doing actual work with my hands has been a great rejuvenator for me.

On the weekends I don't set an alarm but I'm usually up by 7am. This is a combination of me waking up naturally, or my dogs waking me up because they're wondering why I wasn't up 2 hours earlier to feed them.

My girlfriend typically sleeps until at least 9a-10a on the weekends so I'll spend those first few hours doing the same things I do from 4p-5p during the week (working on personal projects, learning a new programming language, etc). If it has been a particularly tiresome week then I'll just watch tv or do something else that doesn't require my actual attention.

Starting in the early afternoon on the weekends my focus shifts to my girlfriend and whatever we have to / need to / want to do. Could be the usual chores that come along with owning a home, or running errands, or going out to some event. Bed time on the weekends is just whenever I feel tired. It's almost always later than during the week, but not by too much. I'm usually heading up to bed around midnight or 1am on the weekend

"Some people report success with Pomodoro, but I find it too short to make a deep dive into work."

Pomodoro technique has been working for me very well. I started with 25 minute Pomodoros, gradually increased the duration to now 50 minutes per Pomodoro. I am able to do deep work (per my needs) consistently for about 4 Pomodoros per day.

Interesting. Yet another "Mac" time tracker and todo management app. Do all these apps make some ramen income (at least)? An article on this would've been more useful ;)

> Do all these apps make some ramen income (at least)?

Yes, but 3-4 times less than I can earn by just freelancing. But it's mostly a visibility problem — time tracking keywords are too competitive.

I wouldn't recommend developing Mac-only apps because they are too hard to promote. Press is not interested in reviewing software for 15-20% of their readers. Even Apple-centered press is more about iPhones nowadays.

Btw, any reason not going cross-platform (Win/Linux along with Mac)? Judging by screenshots it doesn't look like a native Cocoa app, neither download size corresponds to Electron - what framework did you use for the UI?

It's a native Cocoa app, we just styled it a bit.

Automatic tracking is the main reason for focusing on a single platform – it's too close to the system. Even on Mac I encounter complex special cases too often. Plus I have zero experience in Windows or Linux development.

I thought the article was quite good. It only mentions their product once, in an appropriate place, and aloud lists alternatives (along with a clear message this is their product).

I built a minor one - FocusList (http://focuslist.co) and it makes ramen income.

Here's an article about Timing: https://www.indiehackers.com/businesses/timing

I think he's doing much better now since he's released the new version. It's a great app too, worth the money.

I don't use it to actually track my time, but I use it to track my internet time - how much time I spent browsing.

If you're looking for something simpler for that purpose there's also this: http://focuslist.co/escape2/

There is too much good advice in this article. ;) By that I mean all the advice is great, but it's very difficult to change multiple habits at the same time, especially core habits like eating and sleeping and entertainment and work. Whenever I do that I revert pretty quickly. Changing one thing at a time and figuring out how to remove the friction from that one thing has been my path to success.

For work hours, a simple work timer is what does the trick for me. I use Toggl - I have no affiliation, I dont know if it's the best, and I don't necessarily recommend it, but it does make it easy to keep track of how many minutes a day I'm sitting at my desk, and to assign those minutes to various tasks. Just having a metric for work hours is a big change and has helped me stay more focused.

Reading this while procrastinating feels good

I found a lot of this advice, coincidentally, in the book "Respawn" over at game quitters (I had a horrible video game addiction that I decided I needed to break) -- that is the advice to apply the same psychological principles that get people hooked to video games to other things in life. This is the ultimate life hack for me and something I am still working on.

Could you say more about this? I was just talking with somebody about video game addictions, and I'd love to have more resources to offer people struggling with it.

Well depends on what angle I could talk all day -- it's cathartic!

In any case, video game addiction is real, it is an addiction, and it fits the bill just like any other type of addiction. Granted it is without the heavy consequences sometimes faced by substance addictions, but nonetheless, it can have real direct consequenses on your health.

To me the signs were clear:

1. At the point where the instant you get bored and have free time, you automatically think to play video games

2. Thinking about video games or wishing to play while doing other activities

3. Other important areas in life suffer as a result of your video game addiction, such as neglecting a spouse or significant other, or falling behind in work, or showing up to work late all the time because you stayed up all night playing video games. Starting to lie about your problem or how much you actually play ("oh I don't really play that much" when really you recorded 20k hours of Counterstrike or you have played 1,000+ games in S7 to try and hit Platinum for the first time in League of Legends), lieing to your friends and family about your free time and missing out on important events "oh I am busy, sorry I can't come" but then you just go play video games.

4. Physical symptoms -- sleep deprivation due to playing video games, getting out of shape from sitting in a computer chair hours on end, eating junk food and takeout because cooking takes too much time and it cuts into your game time, posture being affected, eye sight affected, constant headaches, wrist pain, etc.

5. The most important sign to me -- the feeling of regret that you aren't accomplishing the things you wish to accomplish. Video games give you that false sense of accomplishment, but deep down inside, you wish you could do that side project, you wish you could hang out more with friends, or even get out more to make friends, you wish you could go to the gym and eat healthier to be in shape, etc. But even if it's not in this list, the most important thing is you wish you weren't playing video games because you want to be doing other things, but it's just so enticing. That's why this article is good advice -- you have to take those same reasons it's addicting (provides the sense of accomplishment, it's social, it's fun) and apply it to other areas in life, almost like a replacement strategy.

https://gamequitters.com/ was the website I eventually landed on. I saw Cam Adair's Ted talk and was inspired. I recommend watching it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EHmC2D0_Hdg

a tl;dr is he outlines 4 major reasons people play games:

1. They are a temporary escape

2. They are social

3. They provide a challenge

4. They provide constant measurable growth

Understanding these help you overcome it.

Finally, the most difficult challenge I think in overcoming video game addiction is that no one takes video gaming addiction seriously, therefore it is hard to find support. It is a real addiction, and people are really struggling with it, it is really damaging lives.

P.S: If you read this post and are struggling with video game addiction, I would love to help and talk about it.

This is great. Thanks!

Personally, I avoid most video games because I recognize how addictive they are for me. But I definitely know people who struggle with this, and for them it's hard to even recognize that this could be a problem.

Thanks for great article, I found some good ideas how to optimise my workflow. I think everyone should spend some time adopting these techniques, instead of relying on "autopilot" mode.

Here's my mindmap of this article if anyone is interested: https://imgur.com/a/RnRgV

Nice mind map. Is there a larger version? It is very blurry when viewed on my ipad.

Sure no problem, here's the larger one https://imgur.com/gallery/Nc2MP


This is awesome, thanks! I will definitely make some mindmaps for our future articles.

What did you use to create this? Anyone have good recommendation for mind map tools?

I've used Omnigraffle for this one, but there are open source alternatives like FreeMind. Or you could use online tool like https://www.draw.io/

I don't believe anybody is really productive 200 hours in a month. Focus on fewer things if you feel you need to work 50 hours a week, every week.

It's 46 hours a week and if he works 6 days a week that would be 9h per day. Considering that he has no commute it's probably not more than a 40h workday for most people working in an office. Rather less than that.

I went for the simplifying but technically inaccurate "four weeks in a month."

Anyway, I'm not sure that commuting should be counted in the same bucket as work, but, more importantly, you seem to rather glibly gloss over having only one-day weekends. Like, OK, maybe I could do that a few weeks in a year, but all the time? It's a big difference.

I'd like to focus on fewer things but I still feel that 50hrs are ok. We are awake about 16 hours each day. If less than 7 are spent working, there are still 9 hours each day for other stuff.

OK, but plenty of that is spent on chores, washing, getting dressed, transportation, and other drudgery, so it's not as much time as it sounds like.

So optimize away the chores?

In my case, marrying a woman who wanted to be a stay at home mom worked pretty well. I'd rather be working than doing chores, she'd rather stay home and feel productive cleaning the house, and we're both super happy.

OK, let me tell my wife to stop working and become a homemaker so I can "optimize away the chores" from my life. That sounds like a more sensible solution than working a normal amount of hours.

Both busy earning? Hire a housekeeper.

OK, it's one example. Nobody is going to brush my teeth for me, and I'm not sure why this should be the first answer rather than not working an insane amount of hours.

The personal part is actually quite small. I spent a month working in a country where the host family did all my cleaning and cooking. All I had to do was eat, clean myself, and exercise. I felt I had a vast wealth of time. I was extremely productive yet had more leisure than normal.

A stay at home spouse or a full time housekeeper is a vast multiplier. However, the former is rare/undesirable, and the latter costs a lot of money + introduces management complexity.

Still, it's worth thinking cleanly about which part of chores actually require personal effort.

I mean, sure, I think I am probably going to hire someone to cut grass next year because I hate doing it. But still. If I'm going to optimize my time it's so I can spend more time doing things I like to do or spending time with my wife, not so I can work more.

Besides the larger issues of whether or not this is something you should be doing, this seems a decent overview.

Except for one part, the amount of exercise is terribly low. A swim a couple times a week and 30 minute walks every day is not good enough for your health or if you are chasing peak performance. First of all, this isn't even enough to offset the damage this much inactivity will cause.

If you want peak mental performance and endurance then you want to be very active and very fit. Doesn't really matter what it is, although it should favour cardio over muscle mass at least a little.

I thought the latest was that it's diminishing returns (of life expectancy gains) after 30min of cardio (Assuming swimming is that) every day is not required.

Source on that?

>Such news don't actually inform us but spread sensationalism, negative emotions, and outright lies to capture attention. What do you gain from following the latest political crisis or some scandal? You can't do anything meaningful about these events. They only depress you and occupy space in your mind. It's better to direct your focus toward things that we can actually impact and improve.

This is a depressing point of view to have and dangerous to the future of democratic system.

That statement doesn't preclude some political activity if you consider it to be something that you can actually "impact and improve", in the author's words. Of course I can only speculate about the author's original intent, but I think I agree insofar that most daily news out there is irrelevant for most individuals. Even if you have a political cause you are interested in, you have limited time and energy, so it might be better to just stay informed in those areas that concern you and ignore the rest of the daily news.

You can't fix the world as an individual, so it's pointless to concern yourself with things you can't impact. Of course that still means that everyone should probably find a little thing where they can try to make a change.

Yes, I still read the local news once a week and the biggest events pass my filters anyway.

Intentionally following the popular news also steals your attention from the small tragedies that are never picked up by the big media.

Perfectly reasonable stance to take. Of course that assumes you do not ever vote, because you are not an informed citizen and voting would be both ethically and morally wrong.

It's easy enough in our lesser-of-two-evils system in the US to spend an hour (or less) before an election and nail down pretty well which is the lesser for each race on the ballot. Day-to-day following the news 100% not required unless you just like doing that, or have the means and/or will to contribute substantially outside of voting.

This assumes a general awareness and understanding of political, economic, and social topics that one might not have without having spent at least a few years "plugged in", though, so maybe only viable for oldsters.

Sure, american federal elections are simple enough for this to not apply in that case.

While I specifically disagree with the OP that "You can't do anything meaningful about these events," the rest of the advice is pretty dead-on. I've read it from a spectrum of authors as wide as Dale Carnegie ("How To Stop Worrying and Start Living") to Dr. Andrew Weil ("8 Weeks to Optimum Health") to Cal Newport ("Deep Work").

Think of it this way: it's good to be well-informed about the state of political affairs today and to understand the issues. What's not healthy is obsessively reading Twitter every hour, constantly being outraged and getting into flame wars (does anyone even use that term anymore?)

I agree. There's a wonderful statement that says that even if you don't take an interest in politics, politics will take an interest in you. It definitely is the responsibility of every citizen in a democratic nation to stay informed of what the government is doing.

I think, however, the point here is to avoid obsessing over politics. If you learn of something that deeply disturbs or affect you, arguing about it on Reddit will not help, you need to take action. Contact your representatives, get involved in a PAC or political party, etc. You need to take as much action as you can.

It is depressing but it is accurate, ignore the media and you are uninformed, consume the media and you are misinformed.

I was expecting the answer to be "hired a employee", not "worked 50h work weeks".

I get what you're saying, but "productive hours a month" as a metric has to really be per-person, because hiring a new person should cause "reversion to the mean" in the productivity calculus, instead of magically increasing the total. Mythical Man Month logic dictates that a boss that is ~90% efficient at using their own time, that hires and delegates work to someone who is only 50% efficient, will end up getting less done (due to the quadratic communication overhead) than they would have with no subordinates.

The best "productivity hacks", given communication overhead is a thing, aren't those that increase the total number of people trying to be productive, but rather those that increase each individual employee's productivity in a reliable way—such that they can be applied successfully by a large portion of the organization, rather than just to one hypomanic dude.

Over the years, I've employed a lot of people. Unless there is a crisis, I don't want anyone working that many hours. If there is a crisis, then I still don't want anyone working that many hours, so we need to figure out how to avoid that crisis in the future.

I found that people start to lose productivity after about 36 hours per week. Just four more hours, a full 40 hours, saw a drop in production. Over 40 hours and it was very noticeable.

This mostly applied to mentally taxing jobs.

My solution was, as best as I could, to hire people to do certain jobs, not hire them to fill seats for certain hours. Employees had a job to do and I was happy so long as they got it done well and on time. If they got it done early, they still got paid the same.

I'd not much care if they just went home after their job was done. So long as they met the time constraints, it was all good. Now, they usually stuck around and worked on other stuff, helped out, or refined their work. We also had, at one office, a pool table and small bar in the back - so they could opt to just hang around.

Still, once knowledge workers go past about 36 hours, they start to really slow down - by my observations. It really wasn't worth it, most of the time, to have someone working overtime. They get sloppy, slow, and unhappy. It can be done for a crunch time, but that I found that should be a rare thing.

The Seattle Hundreds that I hear about? Yeah, if I caught an employee trying to do something like that, I'd probably have reprimanded them. If they kept it up, I'd have probably terminated their employment with us. I don't want worn out employees and I don't want others feeling pressured to work long hours.

Heh... Sometimes I kinda miss the office. Threads like these bring back fond memories.

Wow! Where do I apply?

LOL I sold and retired ten years ago. The now-parent company has pretty much completely rid themselves of the old culture.

By the way, I never took a course in management or anything. My methods are all learned in the trenches. Theoretically, I'm working on a book that is about my experiences and why I ended up managing the way I did.

In many ways, it was a bit like the Old West, with slightly less prostitution and better hygiene. Also less murder... Come to think of it, it wasn't that much like the Old West, but it was very different than what I read about today.

The most important lessons I learned were to remember that I'd hired them to do things that I could not. As such, they knew their job better than I did. If I could have done it myself, I'd not have had to hire them.

Hire people you can trust. You have to trust them to be adults. Give them clear goals and then get the hell out of the way so that they can do their job.

Give them the tools they ask for, not the tools a vendor suggested. They have a reason they asked for a proprietary compiler, get it for them.

Respect goes a long way and begins in the recruitment phase. It surely doesn't end there. To get respect, you have to give respect.

Train, train, train. If you treat your employee right, you can absolutely train them and not worry about them being poached. Salary is actually a small part of overhead. Pay them well and treat them well. Our print room cost more than a senior employee. There's no reason to pay crap wages.

At the same time, wages aren't everything. Everyone wants to make good money but when you're already assured of making good money, other things start to count. Help your employees in their goals. If you have a QA that wants to move to dev, don't offer to pay back their educational expenses, but pay their expenses outright, pay for their child care, pay for their books, and keep paying their salary while they work a reduced schedule. Really, if you're treating them right, they won't just up and go to a new company after you've trained them.

I can go on, but there's a few things I've learned.


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