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Resistance to Being Productive (standardnotes.org)
215 points by mobitar on Nov 22, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 82 comments

I was hoping for something more scientific or at least psychological, but alas.

I would say these reasons don't line up with my observances at all.

For instance, one of mine is "this project is so big, I don't know where to start". Once I find a piece that seems like something I can get done quickly and ease me in, things tend to go a lot easier.

Another is "I have so many (different) things to do that I don't want to do any". Presumably this is not so different than the earlier one, and it's hard to get started without an obvious plan of attack that having only one or more tasks ahead of you brings with it.

Lastly, as a lifelong procrastinator, I've noticed that waiting until the last minute to do something you need to do OFTEN results in never having to do it at all. You end up doing only things that really needed to get done.

In the end, I don't really worry about it, or I hunt for tiny tasks to get my momentum going.

As for the article's "I'm not sure how doing that work will take me to the next step" I guess? Maybe? But "I'm not sure what I would do after I finish that work (what the next step is)" I don't believe has every been a factor a single time in my life.

I'm convincing myself that a lot of cases of procrastination, especially at work, are just from bad management. There's a lot of bad self-management too, but for those of us in organizations with explicit management, I think there's a lot of productivity gains that could be had by having more competent management... Software really needs someone who gets Deming's management ideas but who can fully integrate them with the unique differences in software development... For "this project is so big, I don't know where to start": if you admitted that to some managers, they'd think "oh this person is incompetent" instead of "how can I help them start?" (to which there are many answers)

That and the incentives you receive differs to the incentives the business has. Align those two together and you will find you will work your ass off because you not only get a income but a passive income from your work.

> I've noticed that waiting until the last minute to do something you need to do OFTEN results in never having to do it at all. You end up doing only things that really needed to get done.

Don't tell my boss this, but I have noticed it too.

Seems you can recognize the smell of unnecessary work!


>Don't tell my boss this, but I have noticed it too.

Likely, he/she uses this more than you do. It's standard in management, and I've heard some managers listing it as the key to furthering your career. You'll always be given more stuff than you can handle. So you learn not to do all of it.

“I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.” -- Douglas Adams

Protip : Wait even a little bit after it's too late and you might not even have anything to do at all.

What if you are being yelled at/under pressure?

If I may explain a joke, if you are being yelled at then you are not fired yet, so you must procrastinate a bit more until you can not do anything at all.

Oh, I thought it referred to being dead, not fired. Whoops.

That would do too. In fact, only the OP can tell the difference.

The GP was referring to being fired.

Indeed. And think about the amount of damage accomplished by those people who do everything that's asked of them.

Specifically 3 "I'm not sure what I would do after I finish that work (what the next step is)", has definitely been something I've personally identified in the past. This article is actually the first time I've seen anyone else identify it as well.

For me personally, this list is pretty much spot on.

I can relate to your list a lot more than the one in the original article (though his last point about just plain being tired does ring very true). Addressing this one specifically:

For instance, one of mine is "this project is so big, I don't know where to start". Once I find a piece that seems like something I can get done quickly and ease me in, things tend to go a lot easier.

It's really hard to start a big task, and there are all kinds of good reasons to break it down into smaller ones, beating procrastination being just one. I tend to tackle it in this sort of way:

1. Break the task down into lots of smaller tasks.

2. Make sure the tasks have varying degrees of difficulty, with at least a few utterly trivial ones (like the actual meta-task of creating the tasks, and then sticking them onto a Trello board, for instance), some fairly easy ones that will still feel like you've actually done something substantive, and a few genuinely difficult ones.

3. The difficult tasks will, inevitably, be difficult, but if you've already accomplished 10 out of the 13 tasks, you will psychologically feel a lot better, because you'll be able to think, "I've only got three things to go!" even though you know that the three remaining things are much harder, and will in all likelihood take more time than the easy tasks you've already done.

4. Because you've structured this neatly in such a way that you've already wiped out the easy tasks, you'll be able to focus better on the remaining difficult tasks.

> Lastly, as a lifelong procrastinator, I've noticed that waiting until the last minute to do something you need to do OFTEN results in never having to do it at all. You end up doing only things that really needed to get done.

From impostor syndrom to proper fake it until you make it impostor :p

About the main point, it's true that most procrastination is often feeling overwhelmed intellectually by a system.

Depending on context and age, I used to drive head first but now it takes a lot more to do so. I try to test approaches (minimally viable x,...) so I can get even minute amount of things done and iterate but that's not very efficient so far.

"it's true that most procrastination is often feeling overwhelmed intellectually by a system"

That is definitely not true for me. And it definitely does not explain why procrastinate with small boring tasks nor why challenging interesting tasks are less procrastinated about.

It's about the stuff that you just don't want to do. It can be because they're boring, it can be because they're overly complicated or otherwise scary, bottom line is the incapability to control your basic urge to avoid things that are unpleasant. My best guess is that some of us just never properly learned that skill as kids.

Oh that's definitely but I'd say pc-ing boring tasks feels sadder in a way, which adds to the negativity. It's true that way often I'd be ready to jump for adventure, but maybe because I have no real expectation for success nor responsibility to do so.

" … waiting until the last minute to do something you need to do OFTEN results in never having to do it at all."

Like I always say: "Never put off till tomorrow something you can get out of altogether..."

>For instance, one of mine is "this project is so big, I don't know where to start". Once I find a piece that seems like something I can get done quickly and ease me in, things tend to go a lot easier. Another is "I have so many (different) things to do that I don't want to do any". Presumably this is not so different than the earlier one

And they are already covered in TFA.

I'm the same exact way

> waiting until the last minute to do something you need to do OFTEN results in never having to do it at all

True, but that can be done as part of careful planning. It does not justify procrastination. (I wish it could)

I can't imagine doing careful planning and also doing a lot of procrastinating.

Careful planning is a hell of a variety of procrastination. Do enough careful planning, and really figure out what it will take to get things done, and more often than not the powers that be won't think they can pull it off with the resources available, and you then won't have to dive in and try.

Sounds more like overthinking :)

There is something much deeper happening.

As you become successful in your field (or wherever), and further internalize the habits that are necessary to be successful, it's clear that many of these things are easy to do, it's just that people don't want to do them.

In other words ... it's obvious that many people don't want to be successful, and if they were to introspect deeply, they would see this clearly. In fact what they want is to be somewhere comfortable in the middle of the herd, not having to do too much work.

Most people want to be comfortable, not 'successful' in a way that requires ambition. But many people are brainwashed enough by the rhetoric of success that they don't realize it's not what they want.

There's also something I haven't figured out yet. Every time I give advice, I get a number of responses from people with self-defeating attitudes, explaining how this advice can't possibly apply to them because blah blah blah. These people build up belief structures that are obviously intended to keep them mired in their current situation, smelling of low self-esteem and defeatism. "Obviously" it's better not to be stuck in these belief structures, yet people will defend them vigorously, and in some cases fiercely. I don't yet fully understand why, except maybe that if someone believes there is a solution to their problem, then it must be their fault that they haven't solved it, and/or that there will be a clear failure that is their fault if they attempt to solve it.

Just a stab at a potential reason (for the attitude in some of the responses).

Cause it may be obvious: lack of energy both mentally and physically (and by extension, lack of motivation and positivity). This seems to be a systemic problem of modern men (and women too, though at a base level women have more inherent positivity & survival skills IMO).

Put it this way - if you are lost in a cave (maybe a bad relationship, terrible job, difficult financial situation or combination thereof) and starved of nutrients (lack of exercise, bad diet, including maybe addiction to salt/carbs/sugar/caffine) you will have little energy to do what is required to find your way out.

God forbid dark paths, bad judgment, and bad luck has taken you even deeper. You may be approaching the point of no return - hopeless and without any chance of survival.

In this situation, it could be easier to simply curl up into fetal position and die.

I think unfortunately - when starved and depleted like this - that this is the option many will take.

Is it the fault of this starving, depleted individual that they should choose to die ? (is basically what you are pondering)

Some, perhaps many, people are past the point of no return - mentally, that is (most physical conditions easier to solve than mental). Choosing maybe not fetal position and death - but whatever substance or quick fixes they can use to ease the pain while they attempt to coast through the rest of whatever remains of their life with minimal effort or 'comfort' as you describe. This hopeless, self-defeating attitude a defense of their decision to go fetal and maybe protect that little area of the dark cave they choose to live and die now.

If we had to reach a conclusion or solution from this, maybe it too is obvious: eat healthy again, exercise; keep your body sustained and mind stable - for then it will be easier to climb out.

Alternatively - you might just get lucky, and someone may find and help you out of that dark place. Hopefully by allowing you to build the strength you need to get up and walk out on your own two feet. But we shouldn't necessarily reserve judgment on those who can't even get up. Who knows how long they've been down there, how many missteps were taken that got them to that point.

This is one of the major flaws of current society. We've pushed adulthood so far out that people don't seriously start thinking about their place in society until 22 or 23 years old. That is a lot of time to wonder deeper into your metaphorical cave.

Learned helplessness?

In the last years, I have noticed that I don’t start things because it’s much easier to hang out online like on this site. For example, I have told myself to read books. But everytime I have the time to do that, I start hanging out online. There, I still read a lot, but it’s much more fragmented and I kinda feel “drained” afterwards. I feel a lot more energized after reading a book, but somehow it’s not enough to get me started. Shame

I'm in the same boat, and I seriously think it's a form of addiction.

It's falling for the small short-term reward that you will regret later, rather than choosing the delayed but bigger reward that is ultimately more genuinely satisfying.

Sadly I don't have a solution for it yet. I've given up other addictions by quitting completely, but that doesn't look like a good option in this case. Although it also didn't seem like a good option in the other cases at first.

So true... Maybe a budget would work? Similar to a blocker app like 1Blocker but that works on budgets, e.g. 30min web surfing per day

I'm toying with getting rid of the Internet at home. I have it at work anyway (unfortunately), and coffee shops and libraries are a thing if I have to get online. I'm increasingly convinced that having it's not worth the time I lose to it, and the cost of it. ~$110-120+/month for the Internet portion of my phone plan, plus our home connection, plus Netflix and such... that'd pay for a fair amount of physical media a month. Between purchasing, the library, and borrowing from friends, I could save both time and money and still have plenty of entertainment. Maybe download one of those curated local copies of Wikipedia. Update it once a year at a friend's house, haha.

Benefits: Tons, tons of time saved thanks to more friction to access low-value entertainment (HN, news generally, endless reading about how to do stuff or what to read instead of doing the stuff or the reading), and even too-easy access to practically stress-inducingly large amount of actually good entertainment. So, so much time. And some money saved.

Concerns: my wife needs it for work (teacher, and so much of that's online now, and you can't really be a teacher and not work evenings a fair amount)—that's the trickiest part. All our photos of the kids and such are digital now, and no Internet means no (convenient) offsite backup. I don't love the idea of having a bunch of physical media again, but then again I can just resell a bunch of it any time the clutter starts to annoy me, and be no worse off than when that money was going purely to services (slightly better actually, since even lazily Craigslisting a ton of it in a lot for $20 is at least some money). WhatsApp/Riot/et c. are a hell of a lot better than non-MMS text (mainly because group messaging is broken without MMS, and sometimes even with it) and offer really high value-to-waste ratio since I consider chatting with close friends valuable, even when it's not productive—I'd pay $10/m for a connection that just let me do email and use a decent messaging client like that. If I wanted to keep Steam games working I'd have to connect it from time to time, somehow, but that's probably another distraction I could do without.

Heh, I guess I could go back to dial up, if that's still a thing, so I'd have inconvenient access if I really had to have it, or to pop on to do messaging/email once an evening or so, though then I'd need a phone line and service, so a good chunk of the money-savings would be gone. Might be good enough to let the Google school stuff work for my wife without driving her nuts? And I'd need to buy a modem.

If you're interested in it, you should try it! I did it for about a year, and thoroughly enjoyed it.. though it's not without its negatives as you say. For me, the positives outweighed the negatives. Consider getting a mobile hotspot and set yourself a house rule of only using it in emergencies, or on the road.

How do the Amish use the internet? I imagine they're facing a similar dilemma, having to have access for certain purposes, but not wanting to let the unrestricted flood pour in.

Great! Sounds like the modern way of living in a cabin in the woods. I think it is impractical though unless you live by yourself

There are definitely apps for it. A quick search turned up this article: https://www.artofmanliness.com/2011/10/17/how-to-quit-mindle...

It can't hurt to give it a try.

Addiction is a side effect of how the brain works.

That's true. Every human behaviour is a (side-)effect of how the brain works, isn't it?

And the brain also has other mechanisms that can offset behaviour induced by addiction.

Hmm, as a life-long high-performer I am thinking maybe slackers are right; meeting or accelerating deadlines never resulted in bonuses/appreciation, always resulted in more and more work; when it came to promotions slackers were fast tracked and work horses were kept where they were. Frankly, empirically it doesn't make any sense to exceed average team velocity unless you work on your own stuff. Being "too good" often brings resentment, fear and super nasty backstabbing from those that underperform, so why bother if rewards are out of place?

Not all times are super hard workers doing super smart things. I'm not saying never; just not often. Most smart people do figure out how not to work so hard - automate, delegate,...etc They seem to do all the right things to avoid having to work hard (as in overwork).

> slackers were fast tracked and work horses were kept where they were.

Why would I want to move a cog from a mechanism where it's working great, to a different mechanism where it may or may not fit? Might as well get a cog that you know it's not fitting already, and try it out elsewhere: in the worst case it will keep working badly, and in the best case it will actually start working properly. No downside!

Yeah, probably that kind of momentarily thinking. Just the cog suddenly leaves to a better company and blacklists the whole company for lifetime, including giving non-positive recommendations to potential hires; the mechanism suddenly stops on that level and most likely on slacker's new level as well.

The slackers that survive are deeply tuned to what their managers care about. This is what allows them to stay alive while cutting corners.

Knowing what to work on is exactly the skill that a manager needs.

see also The Gervais Principle

In my experience as engineer(personal responsibility), manager(group responsibility) and entrepreneur(company responsibility), the main reason for procrastinating is always fear and anxiety.

Tim ferris simplifies it well: https://www.ted.com/talks/tim_ferriss_why_you_should_define_...

The adventure to master your personal fears, and the fears of your groups, your family, your coworkers never ends.

I think this factor is overplayed sometimes. Why can't people simply be lazy and not driven or motivated enough to overcome that laziness? It doesn't help that internet and TV feeds into that laziness and lack of motivation by providing quick escapes from thinking about what needs to be done.

Because laziness has never been found and diagnosed in psychology and psychiatry.

It's a moral attribute originally stemming from some religions.

Laziness is about doing what you want to do, not what someone who calls you lazy wants you to do.

Not always. For a true procrastinator you end up doing stuff you both don't want to do and don't need to do. Think, "least positive possible" Pure self sabotage.

Wait but why has an incredible read on the subject.


If you have determined that the task is a net negative, is avoiding that task still a fear? At that point, wouldn't avoiding the task be the most rational/optimal decision?

There have been many times where I have followed something to its conclusion due to fear of feeling like a quitter.

Seems to me the most rational decision at that point is explaining to your boss why it's a net negative. I'm sure there are a few folks out there whose bosses might react negatively, but they are far outnumbered by the number of folks whose bosses would appreciate it if the employee had the balls to share their honest opinion.

That's an extremely deep starting point.. but it's interesting.

>it usually comes down to three reasons why I don’t feel like doing the work I should clearly be doing

I've spent a lot of time thinking about this and eventually came to a conclusion: it comes down to one thing. Simply, your brain doesn't feel like doing something because that something can't compete with a source of easily attainable dopamine. Brain candy. It comes in different forms: actual candy (simple carbs), visual candy (facebook, instagram), intellectual candy (HN). Turn off that source or at least make it bland and black and white (eg. you can make your phone's screen B&W) and your brain will find actual work exciting (ie. dopamine-inducing) again.

PS. Reading and watching videos about beating procrastination is a form of candy, too. Stop it.

I notice that when I begin to procrastinate, I actually am thinking about the task intensely. So intensely that I believe I overwhelm myself and subconsciously decide to put off working on the task.

When I silence my mind prior to starting work on a task I find I'm more easily able to actually start.

I am similar. If I think of something to do now, then I have no hesitation. But if my 'past self' thought of it and 'demanded' that my present self do it, then my rebellious nature takes over. I really think procrastination is mainly just rebelling against your past self, as if he/she was someone else.

If I write something down, then I stop thinking about it. Usually I forget about the list as well, and oftentimes writing things down makes it LESS likely to get done. BUT by no longer thinking about it and nagging myself, I can hopefully discover the task again afresh and get it done that way.

Happy self-hacking.

> 1. I don’t care about the work > If you don’t care about the work, it’s going be a long and agonizing journey to completing this task and its descendant tasks in the future.

I'm sure there are some good life hacks to trick you into liking this or that work that you by default dislike.

I have a corollary problem to this #1. Not that I dislike writing per se but I like coding so much more. I have to really fight away not coding to put more time into writing. This may be because I've been at coding for a long time, so I am good at it, therefore the dopamine comes easier. There's probably some theory here that goes like once you're good at a thing, it's harder to get good at some other thing. When my noviceness/incompetence at writing frustrates me, instead of pushing through it's easy to go feel better about myself doing something (programming) that I have some good capacity for. Thinking out loud...

In some modern cultures people expect from themselves to be always productive and happy regardless of the task at hand.

Yet - point one "I could not summon a single fuck to give" is presented honestly.

What if it's actually a sign of health to be disinterested in writing yet another $thing in order to pay rent?

I find that I jump ship to new projects too easily. It's tricky to find the discipline to stick with what you already have.

Novelty addiction, plus you're probably more of a "big picture" thinker.

You gain more from the process than the result. It's not "wrong", although you DO build up a frustrating pile of half-done projects.

Some very shallow points, but this article looks like it only applies for the author.

I think its great that everyone knows why they are hesitant to do things, and I see some great comments here.

I've also been collecting my thoughts on why I'm "hesitant" as well.

I've made a site to document my thought processes.


I've also thought about other keywords such as "start" and "focus"



This process has really helped me better understand myself, and how I operate. I hope it can help others as well.

Just to flip it around, maybe "lazy" would be interesting as well.


For me, I have a hard time starting mundane tasks that I think are going to run for days or weeks. It's hard enough for me to muster up enough motivation to start today. The prospect of having to do that day after day or month after month is depressing. I've found this is much less an issue it teams that do Kanban or Scrum well.

The author is confusing productivity with doing work. If you overcome all these things and work all day, non-stop... you may be still be unproductive because you're doing things inefficiently, or doing unnecessary work.

The key to productivity is achieving the same results with less work, which basically means learning how to avoid unnecessary effort. The unachievable ideal of maximum productivity would finishing everything immediately and with no effort.

(https://codewithoutrules.com/2017/10/04/technical-skills-pro... has a list of ways you can be unproductive even while being not tired, fully focused, undistracted, and not procrastinating.)

Anyone know the answer or have good recommendations for this thought:

As a freelance (marketing but could be anything) consultant, I have 4 hours of client work to do a day, and 4 hours of side project work. The client work has to be done, but is less exciting or long term since I'm working for other people. The side project work requires self-motivation because no one is holding me to it, but has more upside in the long term, and I like working on it.

Is it better to do:

A) Get all client work done from 8am-12pm, then side project from 1pm-5pm -or- B) Side project from 8am-12pm, client work 1pm-5pm. -or- C) Some other method like Monday - Wed client work only, Thurs-Fri side project only

I had started with version A, but then throughout the day I look for an escape from client work so I go on Hacker News and read blog posts.

I'm thinking version B is better so I can pump out the stuff I like first, and get the ball rolling. Then the less brain-intensive client work I'll have a shorter window to finish, so I have to focus and get it done.

Right now, my client work expands to fill the whole day by having fragmented focus, and I can't get to side project work ever.

In my experience, work before play is the most productive strategy. Two things that I think might help your situation:

1) Pomodoro technique - I modify this to be 45-60 minutes of work, 10-15 minute breaks. I do six of these throughout the day. When I'm in the work phase, no news/social media/any distractions, focus is important. Do whatever you want in your breaks. And stick to the timers, don't go over on either your work periods or your break periods.

2) If you're doing client work 8am-12pm, stop at 12pm, regardless of whether you've accomplished what you were hoping to. Stopping when you say you'll stop makes it a lot easier to stay mentally focused when you first pick it back up the next day: even if you don't like what you're working on, you know you only have to focus on it until lunchtime, and then you get to work on the fun stuff.

Great tips, appreciate it! I’ve gone off and on pomodoro for years. I think the missing part is strict discipline on ending. Hard when there’s no one overseeing!

A work in progress!

My reasons:

1) I just seriously don't have the energy because of my medical condition. I suspect this broadly applies to many people: They don't have the energy for some reason, then they or others call them lazy or a procrastinator, things I was called my whole life until I finally got the right diagnosis.

2) Trying to accomplish stuff has been so much drama in the past that I want to try to find a path forward that doesn't essentially explode in my face. Having things explode in my face always felt like 2 steps forward, 27 steps back. It wasn't productive. It was counterproductive.

3) Having figured out some of the things I want to do and how to (mostly) avoid terrible explosions, I still have only the most slender concept of how to make that actually fly. I am working on fleshing out those plans. Sorting that out strikes me as the difference between the Wright Brothers launching their first test flight and hurling myself off a cliff willy nilly like a lemming.

This fits my own experience exactly!

I personally am sometimes able to push through boring long tasks that I don't care about simply by using some form of timer or pomodoro. I just set a goal to have accomplished before the deadline of the timer. rinse/repeat

Interesting list, but as someone who has seriously struggled with productivity at many points in my life due to ADHD, I cannot relate at all.

> 1. I don't care about the work

This was a problem in school, but not in my career. I built my career around problem domains that interested me, and often times the work I'm struggling to get going with is work that I chose for myself and prioritized accordingly. Also, I have a financial interest in the company I work for, so that's another reason I care about the work.

> 2. I'm not sure how doing that work will take me to the next step

I guess I'm not a "future-minded being", because this has never crossed my mind. I think about next steps when I'm planning or strategizing, I don't do either of those things when I'm trying to execute.

> 3. I'm not sure what I would do after I finish that work (what the next step is)

Same thing as the second one, I'm really not thinking about the future most of the time. In fact, I have the opposite problem. Once I've fully defined the problem domain, designed everything and done the challenging work, the really obvious next steps which will let me get it out (cleaning things up, writing good messaging and docs, tests, deploys) are just tedious noise. I'd always prefer to build a new system to automate boring things than do them, which can be a good or bad thing depending on time constraints.

I read somewhere that for people without ADHD, Importance, Rewards, and Consequences are the big motivators. However, for ADHD folks, the only things that matter when getting stuff done are: Interest, Novelty, Challenge, Urgency.

That's been 100% the case for me. When I'm stuck with tedious things, I NEED solid and close deadlines that I am accountable to (to create urgency). Another thing I do is find novel to-do systems to organize it all and follow. I use Bullet Journals, GTD, Sticky Notes, Pomodoro Timers, etc. I can't actually stick to any of those for more than a few weeks, but jumping between and finding new systems keeps me engaged enough to make progress.

A much bigger reason for me is that I don't know if/how I'm going to make any money out of it. The things I personally want are aesthetic or social capital, and for a variety of reasons (which I'd rather not articulate in public) acquiring money capital of any kind if tremendously difficult for me and so 95% of my ideas go unrealized for lack of resources. I'm also terrible at asking people for help, and especially at asking people to donate time or attention because I resent unsolicited demands on mine and don't want to impose them on others.

For me personally the third reason isn't really the problem. It's more "I'm overwhelmed by the task" or something similar. I think most people have problems with actual task setting. Like in the means of "how do I tackle this task best? What steps do I take?". Here´s an article about that: https://blog.zenkit.com/7-mistakes-to-avoid-when-tackling-yo...

Completely unrelated to article content—I very much hope that standardnotes’ publishing feature becomes a real medium competitor. They’ve made a great product so far and I’d love to see it take off.

This is the first I'm seeing it and I really dig the design, I just wish the paragraphs were a little more narrow.

I mean, there are a whole bunch of other reasons that aren't on here. Sick of your workplace. Unhappy with some personal events going on in your life. Haven't slept enough. And so on.

My wife read some great advice recently. The five minute rule. If you are inclined to procrastinate just do five minutes of work and then take a break.

I have found getting started to be the hardest part. Once I have a project started my brain starts working on it and it’s much easier to go back to it

Some tweet gave me this:


interesting view too, worth two reads

The author forgot the most obvious one: I'm too tired to do the work. Its hard to get daily tasks done when you are mentally and physically exhausted.

>If you’ve gotten all three of these potential productivity resistors already locked in place, but still find yourself unproductive, you may just simply be tired.

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