1. Give yourself permission to just try, for a little while
2. use fear-setting for really tough moments
A technique that I've found helpful when dealing with anxious thoughts is I become mindful of the anxious feeling, realize what I'm feeling anxious about, and then give myself permission to just try, regardless of the outcome. I'll explicitly granting myself permission to "just try" and even throw in "just for a little while, see how things go". This at times has turned into a productive, multi-hour session.
Tim Ferriss talks about a technique use to confront fears, called "fear setting" . Essentially, I put together a 3-column table and think through the worst that can possibly happen. It helps me think about risks and realize what I can handle. This helps to manage worry.
Get the menial, "paperwork tasks" out of the way before you to get to the hard, problem-solving stuff.
Also, know when to walk away and think about things away from sitting in front of a monitor and keyboard. Showers are great for thinking. I also like to swim laps to do hard work - thinking work.
Another point is that many things are "anxious" because we are doing it for the first time. Like something you used to fear about few years ago, now turns out easy because you have done it tons of time.
Something we can do better is speed up this process intentionally, by deliberate practicing.
While fear-setting can help you get started on "anxious" tasks when you have to do, dedicate some time to exercise the same thing everyday will make "anxious" thing less anxious to you in the long run.
Ben Franklin method: https://medium.com/personal-growth/the-benjamin-franklin-met...
In the first column, write down all of the things that could go wrong should your attempt fail. Think of the most terrible things possible.
In the second column, determine ways that you can mitigate the possibility of each of those bad consequences from happening.
In the third column, think of how you would recover from each of the scenarios you imagined and wrote in the first column.
"I'm just gonna sit here and do taxes for 25 minutes and then eat some chocolate" rather then "I'm going to finish my taxes".
The reasoning is that by removing the pressure of completing the whole task you can sometimes convince yourself to stop procrastinating.
If that still doesn't do it for you then at least you have the chocolate.
Of course, then I have to push through the discomfort of resolving that ambiguity. But that is easier now that I'm an adult and:
1) Know how to frame questions in a way that sets the answerer up for success.
2) Can ask "why are we doing this?" (better phrased "what is our goal in doing this?") and get an actual answer this rather than "because I said so".
3) Have the backbone & confidence to push back when someone says "stop procrastinating, just write the damn essay." and press until I get the question answered or decide that I'm not going to do the task.
For me, the first step is to commit to only a five minute overview and information gathering session. During those five minutes I will figure out what output is expected from me, write down a couple of concrete tasks, and then start with the one that either looks like it will add the most value or, if I'm low on energy, the one that's most fun. When I tick it off, I'm at least closer to completion and hopefully has enough momentum to start the another task on the list.
All of the above are best case scenarios, as I still usually put off things for way too long and have to work through the night to catch up. I constantly try to improve this, but as soon as one deadline has passed with a marathon work session, I relax because the next deadline is far off.
I think in the 2018 workplace, this kind of ambiguity about problem (or solution) is as responsible for procrastination as social media. Subtle and hidden, but a big-gey, at least that's my guess/anecdata.
I forced myself, through the resistance, just to start.
I said I'd do it for an hour then I could stop. Note that this was beginning a new, big task. If I was in the middle of it I probably wouldn't have had such a huge urge to resist it.
Anyway, once I started it was cripplingly painful for about 5 minutes. Then I couldn't stop for the next few hours - I think because the thing I was working on was incrementally rewarding - every 5 minutes or so I could see the progress I was making.
Also, it helped a lot that I put on an interesting podcast that makes me feel great.
I suppose my point is that this guy is pretty correct, at least for me: it was pain I was avoiding, and just starting was the biggest hurdle.
I'm a bit ADD-ish, I think, so YMMV.
But once I'm into it it's not that bad. It's crazy how aware I am of this behavior, and yet always fall back in it. I've tried every single advice I could find on the internet, but none of them worked because in the end, the only way for me to do something is to start doing it. It sounds easy, but it is so, so, soooo hard.
And the worst thing is that people sometimes associate it with lazyness. I don't think I am lazy. This honestly feels more like something is broken in my brain, and I don't have much control over it.
I'm not giving up tho, still try to fight it daily. Sometimes I spend a whole day with a foggy head, trying to start do get things done, but I just can't...
The way he visualizes is splitting down the goals to smaller portions. "I only think about the next 15 minutes, if I would think about the whole thing I would go crazy.".
If I don't have bugs, I'll usually work on a Kata for 15 min or so. Something I've written hundreds of times and can do from memory. This helps my momentum get caught up, too.
I prefer working on bugs, though. I feel more productive.
1. Identify the dread tasks.
2. Ask someone who cares (about you) to help you.
3. Do them together, with the other person not letting you get distracted.
For big tasks asking other people to help you chunk them also helps. After that avoid thinking about whole thing and just look at the small chunks.
Joking aside. A life partner, children, or an impending bankruptcy can all be constant, strong motivators.
On second thought this sounds like a life coach
The reason I say this is because clinical studies have a limit. Both in the sense that as an individual you may be an outlier, but also in the amount of attention you can get from trained clinicians. By all means, if you are suffering, seek professional help, but sometimes you still have to figure out a way to help yourself even if there's not a double-blind study to back it up.
>Don’t “do your taxes”. Just change the label to “gather finance documents”
Finance documents? What finance documents? Which ones? How would I know without having started on my taxes? Wherever did I put them? They're all over the place. This is hopeless. Maybe tomorrow.
"I don't know where to start! Well, I could start with document A, but then I'd need some information from document B, which requires document C, but I can't do C until I've done A -- oh no, a loop! I can't see how to get round this at all; maybe my head will be clearer tomorrow. Time for a break.
(NB the "loops" often aren't really 100% circular, but seem insurmountable in my head; this is the point where talking to someone is invaluable, if I can get past the usually correct suspicion I'm going to sound stupid for making a big deal about a block which seems totally trivial and non-blocking when I try to put it into words)
...Also, didn't I already work on document B? But I can't remember where I got to, or where I put my notes, or what they mean..."
I do suspect I might have AD(H)D but I live in a country where adult ADHD is not really recognised, so I guess I'll have to do the best I can using some of the good tips posted here instead.
1 - Nasty work and bikini waxes are both painful to do.
2 - you must move decisively and quickly for both nasty tasks and waxes, getting it over as quickly and competently as possible.
3 - if you fail to execute #2 properly the results will be a bloody and even more painful mess, likely taking more time to achieve the desired results.
I've shared this theory with close colleagues. Nobody has told me I'm wrong to my face.
(Yes, they're painful. It's about 5 minutes of ripping off band-aids at 30-second intervals. Then it's over and it doesn't hurt at all any more, though the cortisone cream is soothing.)
Oh, the reason to go through that? It saves 6-8 weeks of shaving a very sensitive (and awkwardly shaped and difficult to inspect) area and dealing with 5-o'clock shadows and stubble and ingrown hairs and razor nicks. If you're self-conscious about wearing a swimsuit (or, for some, about your appearance in the bedroom), it's totally worth it.
Now, that nasty work that you're procrastinating on: why do you want it to be done in the first place?
I have done my taxes about 18 times in my life. I have yet to organize my finances.
Beyond the laugh, though, I find that a very strange rewording suggestion. Usually the advice (and I've found this good) is to make the to-do more specific and concrete. An open-ended project-sized item like "organize my finances" is a foolproof candidate for procrastination. "Do my taxes" is better, but might still be too big depending on the complexity.
A real to-do for either would be something like "Collect tax forms and order by date (note: there may be one under the couch?)" -- it's reasonably scoped and has a very clear "I'm done" criterion.
(EDIT: Looking at the article, it seems that "breaking it down" is indeed the suggestion. The specific wording chosen is still strange; it seems the author means something close to "gather documents" by "organize my finances".)
Thing is, watch a 'professional' work in the field you dread, and you will quickly pick on tricks of the trade and workflows that really change it to something quite easy (if you find the right person). Then the dreaded task becomes emulating that person, which is a lot easier the subsequent years. (e.g. have spreadsheets set up like them, follow the same steps, etc.)
From coding perspective, there is a point where rewriting is better than refactoring. Then you get to piecemeal attack the rewrite with the same resources allocated to refactoring, which rarely is possible.
Oh, looks like it was edited. :-)
Sometimes I'm at a point where I would put my hand in a running blender together with a live kitten or something painful and horrible like that, just to get NOT to have to FIX something that needs fixing and instead to START something new or to completely replace or refactor something or to buy something new and set it up in the place of the thing needing fixing... anything, just not repairing, not debugging, not fixing or not optimizing one more little half/broken thing.
The only thing I similarly dread is "going the last mile" from 80% to 100% and finishing any project/task, but for this at least I have a big bag of tricks that works most of the time.
But fixing / repairing instead of replacing something or starting with something completely new... This is HELL for me. Even visually, a blank piece of paper or a blank screen pumps me up with energy. But when I see something already half-working / half-written but know that there are some serious bugs/defects that I need to hunt down and repair somewhere in that. It sometimes fills me with so much dread that my subconscious makes me "forget" that that task exists, or forget what its components are so I end up miss-estimating by factors of up to 100x (with obviously horrific consequences for everyone's budget and sanity).
You mention that "refactoring" doesn't give you the same dread? Could it be because you know the problem better if you are tackling a refactoring but you don't when you are bugfixing? I've found that that dread wasn't from bugfixing, but was from a lack of confidence about the part of the codebase i'm working on.
Personally, I've found good results with tricking my brain into thinking i'm "refactoring" while really "bugfixing". Schedule the time to review the codebase that i'll be bugfixing, talk to the author if possible (and it's not you). If I want to indulge myself I'll sometimes "mock refactor" it, I'll open a new tab in my editor and almost pseudocode rewrite the component or module that needs fixing/debugging. Then once I feel I understand it enough, I can actually dive in and fix the bugs in the original code. And by that time i'm familiar enough with that section that i'm not fearing every letter typed as I know what will happen, I understand the intent behind the code.
I also struggle with the fear of "wasting time" a lot with this kind of stuff. I have this incorrect feeling that if I was able to develop these 300 lines of code in 6 hours, that I can't possibly devote 6 more hours to fixing a few lines. But the reality is that often the small 1-2 line bugfixes are the largest timesinks of all, and that I can't be afraid to schedule those 6 hours to look into that bug. Once I get over that hump that I'm somehow "cheating" the system by allocating so much time to what ends up being so little change, I feel a LOT better about actually doing it.
I can do what I like in there, experiment, break things, doesn't matter. That way if I have a problem I can't seem to even get started with in my main app, I go in my playground app and start there instead. It's like my cosy developer "safe zone".
When something is in a degraded or broken state, it's just that: broken or degraded, but for unspecified reasons.
Once you start messing with it, you're likely to discover numerous unpleasant truths. These are small revelations or griefs:
The damage is worse than you thought.
There is other damage, previously unrealised.
You lack the tools, equipment, or parts to diagnose, repair, or replace broken equipment.
You're in over your depth.
Others around you don't respect or trust in your skills.
You need to dedicate space over time to the repair, contested with other uses or people.
If a repair is in a domain I have experience, skill, tools, trust (or full independence), then it's little problem.
Large or novel projects, or social interference (co-workers, management, vendors, clients, household members, neighbours, politicians) make the prospect far less appealing.
I still don't know why, and it's still both amusing and puzzling when I encounter similar things with coding and other tasks as a grown up.
This post would have been less impressive but more honest without the veneer of psychological authority.
The topic really doesn't have to be about the brain. We all have experience confronting tasks we dread, but we don't have to know anything about the brain to talk about that experience.
Now, maybe neuroscience comes along and tells us something new about how that dread happens, how to confront it, etc. If so, that's great--but it should be properly cited. Also note that simply invoking the brain does not necessarily add anything: if you find out dread involves the XYZ subsystem of the brain, that is irrelevant to a discussion of the experience of dread, until you say what we've learned from it being the XYZ subsystem.
So my demand is intellectual honesty. Which parts of your post are grounded in science, which are personal experiences, which are just fluff?
Shutting down the system is not a life threatening situation but it is annoying and a minor inconvenience. Especially since it takes a few minutes to restart the system and load all the applications.
Are there any folks out there who like to get difficult things done without caffeine?
edit: I guess not.
edit #2: You're sending me mixed messages, Hacker News.
Who would like that?
I will add some things I consider very important:
Use paper, write things down. Dividing a big task means nothing if you have no external memory you could trust to free the brain short term memory but you could recover it later. Paper today is the cheapest and more advanced external memory there is.
You could also use a tape recorder if you prefer audio memory.
After creating small sub task(tactics) from your general strategic thinking, put a checklist square near it. When you finish the task, check it.
Every hour of deep work, mark it on a calendar like a prisoner does with sticks. This provides visual feedback for your brain of your accomplishments, specially with hard tasks that takes months to complete.
The word for managing to do dread task is "reframing" into something that is important and positive for you.
Of course if you have money and power you could delegate most of the dreaded task, like googlers do with most of their domestic chores.
There are more things but the important thing is that you need practice, practice and practice until you get it. And like in anything else you will learn it much much faster if you personally know someone who "gets it" and learn from this person directly.
I have met some "naturals" of this processes in my life but I am not. I developed this skill over a long period of time, making me super productive compared to when I started.
I've tried setting up bullet journals, but paper discourages me for a few reasons.
- What if I need to edit or add extra content? I generally write in pen so that what I write down sticks around.
- I prefer to write in a stream of thoughts. To organize the paper, I try to think ahead and categorize my nebulous thoughts. This extra effort discourages me from writing and eventually, from using any organization system with paper.
I like Evernote because I can throw it in there and search will eventually help me find it.
But some people have strong resistance to doing anything that will get them closer to the dread task, and will instead distract themselves (say with video games or any number of other distractions), or by doing some other less-dreaded task, etc.
There could be some underlying cause for such resistance which no amount of visualization, coaching, coffee, or workouts could touch.
This is where working with the right therapist might help. "Right therapist" being the key phrase there. There are so many different therapists out there, and so many different approaches to therapy too. What might work for one person might not for another.
What exactly would a therapist do? Saying consult a therapist seems a bit like a trope. It isn't within itself an answer.
Simply talking through the mental block as if it is a rational decision isn't particularly helpful, a lot of the bad roadblocks are something deeper than your conscious mind or inner monologue.
For example, there are many people who have read the books, followed the steps, and still struggle daily with these kind of dread task problem that seemingly get worse the longer you avoid them.
Seeing a therapist won't magically make your problems disappear, but it could give you insight in to their cause, and if the therapist is good they could help you overcome those problems.
No one should be under the illusion that it'll be the therapist doing all the hard work. The hard work will have to mostly come from you. As the saying goes, you have to want to change.. and also you have to be able to put in the work to change.
The difference between this and trying to go it alone is that you'll have a trained professional on your side helping you to see your own blind spots, making suggestions you might not have thought of, and hopefully helping you to open up and look at issues you, your family, and your friends aren't trained to or necessarily willing or able to uncover or face.
It's no guarantee, however. Maybe you'll wind up with an ineffective therapist, or a therapist you can't trust, or a therapist you don't like, or one that's using the wrong methodology for you, or maybe you just won't be willing or able to put in the hard work or face the pain you might encounter along the way of self-discovery and change. No guarantees. But hope and professional help and support -- things you might be lacking if you've tried to go it alone and failed.
Some of us are stuck in a loop and need more than another self-help book or blog post to make progress with our issues.
Actual scientists are having problems formulating good effectiveness studies there. Much less a person with problems who is geographically limited and cannot shop around.
While in some cases there is clear evidence, trying to fix personal issues with work like this is not one of them.
Diagnose your ADHD and prescribe you medication.
A therapist is usually what people refer to as a licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT), who does "talk therapy". They are typically NOT MDs, so they do NOT prescribe meds, because they can't.
They are not mutually exclusive, and everyone's thoughts and bodies are "wired" differently, so it's very common to have a combination of both solutions (talking & meds) to achieve the same goal.
I think too many people think "therapy" == meds 100%, and that is absolutely not true. Many people can benefit from just the "talk" therapy (no meds) and feel better about it.
 I say "mere" conversation in jest, but it is no less significant (IMHO), than that of a lawyer's output (mere words too, right?)
I'm not getting this. Of course you would start by breaking down the task. This is what you do with every task. You don't just gulp down an entire task without planning ahead or thinking about steps. So this is no different than saying "now start doing the task". It is silly self-encouragement, trying to trick your brain into thinking that you did something to alleviate the problem. You did not. You just started the dreaded task and made yourself focus.
I am tired of seeing these kinds of "advices from experts" online and in self development books.
For example: Is it obvious to you that faced with a task you're dreading and procrastinating on, it helps to replace it in your mind with something smaller? It was not obvious to me, and was learned after years of misery, and even now I have to consciously remember to do it, and whenever I do do it, I find it helps immensely. (For example, when there's an email I'm dreading replying to, and have been procrastinating for weeks—it hanging on my mind every day of course—it helps when I replace “reply to Ram's email” with “just write a reply to Ram's email” or (if that doesn't work) even “write a garbage outline of a reply…” or even “reread Ram's email”. For another example, I had to apply for a travel visa and was procrastinating for months, and what finally helped was mentally replacing “finish the rest of application process” with “create a travel history document” with (when that didn't work) “collect all travel history”… along with the “talk to people” trick.)
And yes, the idea is indeed to “trick your brain“ into doing the dreaded thing. At least, I have found it to help.
The matter-of-fact way in which you say “You don't just gulp down an entire task without planning ahead or thinking about steps” is really inspirational, because that's not my mental model of doing things, and I have to consciously practice it. I wish I learned these things in school, instead of just coasting by and now struggling with getting anything done at all.
I am not immune to procrastination, I did it for five years straight and dropped out of a college. I just don't experience frustration or anxiety when trying to figure out how to do something in general. It isn't really education or upbringing, but perhaps I watched carefully when I saw people trying to do things that are hard for me and easier for them.
To take the example from the OP, “do your taxes” is probably something that I have done a few times before: so I don't think of it as something to figure out how to do. (Maybe the fact that I'm so unsuccessful every year at doing it until the last minute means that I really do need to figure out how to do it, but it doesn't seem that way: it seems that I know roughly what it involves.) The mental model is that I'm just going to sit down for a few hours to “do my taxes”, and do all the things it usually involves. And it causes dread, avoidance, resistance. And the OP's suggested fix, the one you're commenting about, of replacing it in one's todo list with things like “gather bank statements” (or something smaller and concrete like that) seems to help immensely. Does this not fit your experience? (Maybe not with doing taxes, but with some dreaded task… or is there usually nothing you dread?)
Therein lies the distinction. I don't figure things out roughly. Perhaps it is a habit of generalized thought about Todo lists that I got rid of at some point. Instead, I keep in mind just the first exact thing I need to do, avoiding the thought of seeing the whole picture instinctively.
However, the rest of us still exist.
Working out and the resulting endorphin rush is great, but once again that's a temporary fix. You probably got a couple hours of the endorphin rush until you're more tired than you normally would be. Don't overdo the workouts, know when the best time for you to workout is, and get plenty of rest.
After a work out, I can clean the entire house, pumping music in my ears, for example.