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How to Get Things Done When You Don't Feel Like It (acm.org)
1165 points by tchalla on Oct 9, 2018 | hide | past | favorite | 183 comments

I've seen these tips before, but unlike most people here I've tried them without any long term success. Breaking tasks down and gamification sounds beautiful in theory, but usually I don't have the discipline to do that.

In case someone else feels the same way, what worked for me is to talk to my coworkers. I usually go out for coffee or long walks and let my mind wander. I'd talk about work, politics, our families, and usually the conversation wanders back to work and what we are doing.

Many scenarios usually come up from those talks. Sometimes I'll find what my coworkers working on pretty interesting and get involved (which sometimes makes coming back to my work easier). Sometimes I ended up talking about my work (explaining my problems to others helps me clarify and solidify what I needed to do). Sometimes I realize that another team has already done the work and all I have to do is ask them for a library. Once I realize that my work was meaningless and purely a political play and I left the company soon after.

So going out for long walks and just talking with different people in my company has worked out really well for me.

Sometimes, brain function is actually to blame for procrastination, and not attitude or perception of the work before you. When I‘d slept too little, or am going through caffeine withdrawal, my procrastination goes through the roof. I‘d just rather sleep than do anything productive then. My anti-procrastination toolkit is:

- Like you said, going for a walk (activates beneficial genes, helps circadian rhythm)

- Stop caffeine as soon and often as you can. Sometimes situations force me to use a pick-me-up, but I try and stop the day after.

- Go to bed early (10PM ideally)

- Vitamin D, Magnesium, etc. also check out near infrared therapy to improve mitochondrial function

- Moderate exercise (overtraining has a bad net effect on nearly everything, so stop if working out makes you feel worse; if you have a heart rate variability monitor, you can use that as a metric for overtraining)

- Small talk (works for me to „wake the brain up“)

But really, 90% of the time I just have to sleep more. The others are just hacks to keep me going if I can’t get enough sleep (sometimes not easy with 2 kids).

> 90% of the time I just have to sleep more

I don't know about a lot of the rest of your post, but this bit is key. If you aren't getting enough sleep, nothing will help. The legends of politicians and executives who sleep 3 hours a day are either outliers for whom 3 hours genuinely is enough, or speed-freaks, or often enough both.

I can function on 3 hours a day -- if the only thing I have to do is talking and reacting to incoming stimuli. Which is precisely what high-flying politicians and execs do: talk, talk, talk, with some occasional reasoning thrown in. They don't have to break down complex problems or create complex artefacts, there are aides doing it for them. They just go through briefing after briefing and react to what is thrown at them.

Actual creative workers and engineers require a different set of brain functionality, which requires deeper concentration, and hence need more sleep.

Great distinction that doesn’t get brought up enough. At the same time, we also want politicians and CEOs making optimal decisions rather than just surface level ones.

That is often a function of having good (or convincing) reports available to them.

Seriously this. Sleep and hydration. This sounds as trivial and stupid that most of the people will dismiss this advice for this very reason. People often prefer complex solutions which they do not really understand instead.

One more thing is just as important: Water.

Another tip that worked for me is not eating any fast sugars at all.

A couple nights ago I tried to force myself to get some coding done ("just a little a day adds up over time"), and woke up to a line of "ssssssssssss" on my screen. I erased it and went straight to bed.

Or you force yourself and get the thing done on your list ... but discovered later that it was just a half baked solution creating all kinds of other problems later. Coding when too tired is really, really not a smart idea.

Or just old. Often as people age some need less sleep. Reports of old people sleeping 3 to 4 hours a night are common.

Or lies.

> But really, 90% of the time I just have to sleep more.

I agree to this but I think the bigger problem is - How much more is actually "more"? Do you any literature about how to actually find your sleep length time?

I recently read the book Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker (a professor at Berkeley). It's pop-sciency in style but more nuanced and well-supported than most pop science books I've read. I definitely recommend picking it up. It made me value sleep a lot more than I used to, both for long- and short-term reasons.

Among other things, the book talks about how much sleep people need. Almost everyone needs around 8 hours—it varies with age, but it pretty consistent among people at the same with very rare exceptions. For most people, being short even by just one hour (ie a night with seven hours of sleep) has a number of measurable negative effects.


I'm no expert, but from what I've read you should awaken without feeling groggy or tired. I've personally had the luxury of being able to sleep according to my own schedule (without waking times or alarms, simply sleeping when I was tired). For myself to reach that well-rested feeling, I should give myself 9 hours a night. Sometimes I need 7, but sometimes I need the 9 hours. I very occasionally need more, and very rarely sleep less (though it happens).

What I know affects how much sleep I need or how long I should give myself to sleep varies. I'm female and follow a cycle closely linked to hormones as a baseline. If I wake up at night (for toilet, etc), I need a bit more time. If I increase physical activity, I have an adjustment period that requires more sleep.

I'll also note that time of sleep impacts me. I'm better off waking after 9am (naturally this is 11am or so). I cannot always get enough quality sleep waking at 6am and 7am leaves me slightly deprived. I tried keeping a schedule even on the weekends, but I felt horrible and found it better to sleep a bit more to catch up.

Test out what happens to you when you alter sleep habits. How much uninterrupted sleep do you prefer and when? What are the effects of naps during the day on metrics you care about? Keep the traditional sleep log, and track your other related behaviors & habits like eating/nutrition, exercise, etc. National averages are useful, but nothing beats learning how our own bodies function in various situations.

Here is one example paper https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28545315 and while it isn't a direct example of how to find your own ideal sleep patterns, it does highlight the relationship between sleep and body weight in the study population and it again mentions the 6-8 hour recommended minimum sleep period. This source might be better https://www.sleepfoundation.org/excessivesleepiness/content/...

I'm by far no expert on this, just listened to a lot of podcasts and read articles. So, grain of salt etc...

AFAIK the only way to be sure is to either go to a sleep lab, or get an accurate tracker like the Oura ring, which reportedly has a 80-90% accuracy compared to sleep lab data. With that data you can see the distribution of your various sleep phases, and the people in the lab or the app will tell you how much of each phase you'd ideally have.

But, why not just experiment a bit? Sleep 7/8/8.5h for a couple of days in a row, and keep track of how you feel and how much you procrastinate. E.g. for Mac, the Timing app is great at tracking how much time you spend in each app - one could use the amount of "productive" apps (text editor, IDE, graphical editor...) as a measure of productivity.

I sleep way better since I'm following the keto diet, and surprisingly my sleep is "perfect" since I take Vitamin c just before going to bed, and I'm now super-motivated in the morning.

I followed this advice: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xbHnpdtQKUA

I'm doing very badly on ketogenic diets, it's definitely not for anyone. Hypoglycemic etc.

8 days of water only fasting stimulates hippocampal neurogenesis so you will sleep better than you are currently doing, besides also improving neuroplasticity and thus your future earning potential.

Or just sleep at the appropriate times and cut out screens hours before bed. You don't have to water fast for your circadian rhythm.

It helps, studies have shown it.

Can you link to some of these studies?

> Stop caffeine as soon and often as you can.



I suffer from caffeine addiction: a cup of coffee in the morning just to make myself feel normal. I got terrible mental melt-down once I stopped coffee for a few days.

Chronic caffeine consumption builds a tolerance fast. At that point you will need a coffee just yo feel normal.

Caffeine interferes with sleep.

When is procrastination not a form of depression? I cant find any study to show SSRI's help or hinder with procrastination probably because no one has thought to study it properly.

Plus some people just need more sleep than the 8hr average and need to wake and work later than most in society. I for example, have just slept 11hrs and woken at 11am, but I will get more done than if I had woken at 7-8am.

My suspicion is that the circadian rhythm plays a big role in productivity (and well-being in general). It's not enough to just sleep, it's also important to reset your body's clock when the sun rises. Spending the night in a club in artificial lighting might not be made up for by sleeping in for 10 hours.

AFAIK almost everybody procrastinates (more or less), but not so many people are suffering from depression.

Some jobs/tasks are just depressing so its valid comment. Put another way if the job was fun would people procrastinate?

The problem is IMO that NOTHING is really fun if you are depressed (or sleep deprived, for that matter). Sure there is some reciprocity, mundane tasks make you even more depressed. But if you get depression under control, then you will either find a way out of those tasks, or learn to enjoy them.

I don’t think that shitty tasks themselves can cause depression; it’s all about the social context of the work you are doing. Is your boss bullying you, or telling you that you are not important to the organization, or does she try to punish your mistakes? Are you working just to support a study you are not really into, because you think you owe it to your parents? Is there another job you would like better, but you dare not change jobs because you are afraid you won’t earn enough to support yourself? That’s the way to get depressed about the tasks you are doing. Sort out the social context, and you might even realize afterwards that the tasks were not so mundane after all.

I did try to game things, analyse them, find approaches etc etc... I went nowhere, only deeper into paralysis.

These days I have a simpler trick: stop thinking, do <it>, don't stop until it's done (avoid multitasking, unless you're already into flow or you sense high motivation).

welcome to adulthood.

Well said. There is no game, it's simply doing. How is any journey started? By taking a step.

I think sometimes peoples intelligence works against them. A deep analysis of procrastination is itself procrastination. The fact that someone recognizes they are procrastinating is 90% of the way there to stopping. Next, they just need to step. Eventually, taking a step becomes habit.

I have no real way to convey how I feel about this topic. All I know is that I tried so many side tricks.. but at one point the only thing that felt good, outside of ideology or anything, just good, is the stopping of overthinking, the pleasure to actually doing something instead of the stress of idle, and the satisfaction of finishing it. For years these weren't clear emotions, so trying to think seemed a better idea.

> the pleasure to actually doing something instead of the stress of idle, and the satisfaction of finishing it

This is great. Focus on the after feeling, and then work to get there as quickly as possible. What I found is that feeling of procrastination caused way more stress than just doing. Of course it's hard to see this in the moment, and requires discipline to get going. But after, it's a great feeling to crush through all these things that would otherwise drag on for a long period, and now enjoy my free time.

There's also a notion of uselesness that changes, for a while you'd spend time hesitating between choices and then you'd just pick one, throw out the rest.

A few tips from my personal experience; may not necessarily work for anyone else:

- As the other reply here says, getting enough sleep seems to make a massive difference. It's easy to say "I haven't got enough done on this today, I'll stay up late and just do a bit more..." and ending up in a cycle of being tired and not working enough where you really just needed a good rest.

- The article mentions the 10 minute timer thing. I've done a different timer thing, where I start a timer and tell myself I have to stop the timer any time I stop working. If I starting reading Hacker News or something, I have to pause the timer, and the pain of having my work minutes conspicuously not counting up as real time marches on is significant. The fact that you have to go and manually stop the timer when you stop working is also a mental barrier that gives you a chance to think rationally about whether you should be stopping. Unfortunately it's also easy to just forget to stop or restart it.

- The article and many like it talk about all these ways to "trick" your brain. Do x and y to "get that dopamine hit." Another comment here starts "You can't do a thing you don't feel like doing." But you're capable of thinking rationally. Sure it's easy to get into these habits of procrastination where you just naturally start getting away from work. But it's also possible to take a mental step back and just say NO, I'm in control of my own actions, and I'm going to work on this thing. And then just do it. Feels really bad when you're doing the work and you really want to be doing something else. Feels really good when you get the work done.

> I've done a different timer thing, where I start a timer and tell myself I have to stop the timer any time I stop working.

This is a great trick... also informing yourself honestly how many 'productive' hours you had at the end of a day. With all kinds of interruptions (many of those self-inflicted) some days the timer registered less than 3 hours when I was studying in university.

That realization prompted me to stop studying at home, and travel to the university library daily. There my pattern was similar to 50 minute periods of work (before Pomodoros were a thing) followed by 10 minute breaks. After that, I easily clocked 6 hours of real work daily.

I totally agree about talking to co-workers. Another tip in the same direction which helps me:

I try to create collaboration setting so that I don't work alone on a task I don't like. For example, I tell my work mate "I need to finish this document, do you have time tomorrow afternoon to read it and give me feedback?". That creates a social obligation to get the task done.

The thing that worked for me is to have a personal mission statement, which goes beyond the project and company I’m working for. Currently it’s the idea of digitalization as a greater good, which in turn propells humanity into a more well-connected and globalized state. So I just take on jobs that align with that personal mission statement. Then everything from doing mundane tasks to strategic work actually makes sense, and are easier to do.

I'm not sure if you read the entire article, but two of the tips mentioned are talking to coworkers, and taking breaks like walking around. I think it would've been nice if you gave credit to the article for mentioning tips that have worked for you, instead of making it seem like the article didn't provide these tips. Some people might read your comment and think the article only discusses gamification.

Is it counter-intuitive to think that people are much more productive when they are happy, having arrived at the work through their own initiative, with their own inspiration, and in their own time?

Great story. So basically you’re saying your gut outsmarted you because it knew it wouldn’t be worth it...

Couple tricks on getting started:

- Use the 15 minute rule to get started, only agree to do 15-20 minutes of work to see if you are flowing in that project, most of the time once you get started and loaded up the project in your mental space you can easily flow on it. Pomodoro is nice as well, but the 15 minute get started rule has less commitment needed and usually works, or just plan to do at least one tomato and you end up doing many.

- Leave a currently solved code part partially done or leave a compile issue on the area you were working on, then wake up the next day, finish that part and you can flow right into other work because the domain is in your mind.

- Multiple projects and work on another project during procrastination or a thinking spot of the current project. Have main work projects, side projects, fun projects, some are more fun, more work or just tedious/rote that you can use depending on your productivity or work style of the day.

- Motivators and triggers: music (usually a playlist that is used during work to make it more regular), coffee/gum/work food, focus by turning off distractions except for breaks, stand up regularly and walk around when stuck on any issues that need to be done, and visualize shipping.

- Creative Open/Focused Closed state: do creative work in the open state, block out time and explore, do must be done work in the closed state, minimize distractions and exploration [1].

- Start the day right, work on something simple or one check in for instance before reddit/HN/news or distractions, sometimes the first thing you do in the morning can influence your whole day, reward yourself with distractions but base yourself in production at least 2 to 1 productivity to fun/distraction.

Ultimately be a pro, a pro can start working to a high level even when they don't want to, sometimes you need to jump start or get a rolling start but you can develop a habit to get moving and ship.

[1] https://genius.com/John-cleese-lecture-on-creativity-annotat...

Even just aiming to spend 1 minute now can be enough if it's an open ended task I can enter flow on. Add doc comments for a class. Fix a few typos. Wash a dish. One, tiny little thing.

"I'll just get this one thing done real quick" instead of "I'll just check reddit real quick" - makes the lies one tells oneself work in your productivity's favor instead of against it for once ;)

I'm using a weekly checklist to keep routine chores small and "1 minute"able. Instead of letting mail pile up for months, once a week makes it a trivial task of immediately dumping a few opened letters into the recycling, and occasionally putting one in a filing cabinet.

Practice self care: Sleep, eat, groom, exercise, organize, relax, and socialize well (even if that's just a few minutes with a trusted friend for an introvert.) A tired, ill-fed, slovenly, disorganized, stressed out, anti-social couch potato will have difficulty being as motivated no matter how many productivity hacks they practice. Speaking from experience. (The mindset: "That's not important right now - I should be working on X instead! But I'm lazy...")

I like the idea of substituting:

I'll check Reddit real quick with I'll wash this dish real quick

I guess bad habits can inspire good ones...

> Start the day right, work on something simple

I always start/restart my job after a break by doing some trivial refactoring or writing comments at various parts of the code. This is a great way to "reload" the big picture into your memory. Eventually your brain will be active enough to tackle a more tricky part. I'd recommend this to anyone who feels down in morning.

These are really really good!

I can add a few, which helped me a lot through my depression and getting things done in general:

- Plan your breaks: "I'll do one hours of this and then have a quick break and go for a walk"

- Set yourself rewards. It doesn't matter how tiny they are, but - atleast for me - they are effective: "When I finish this today I'll get a nice meal at my favorite restaurant".

- Set yourself a time limit. This goes more or less with the one above. Set yourself some time limit that you'll only work til something like 5pm and then enjoy your free time. It doesn't matter if you have finished your work today or not. Maybe it wasn't even possible to finish it in one day at the first place. Plus what helps me a lot is, if you don't finish your current task in time make a quick bullet list for your task for next day. Be realistic and start with super simple goals.

Use a website blocker for the last one. Make sure you set it first thing in the morning, otherwise you have lost the battle.

Another thing I add is accept five lines of code as an acceptable day of work. Because usually it leads to more, but if it's just one of those days, five lines is infinitely better than zero, and you are far more likely to get out of your rut tomorrow because it's a new starting point. Feeling bad about things just gets you into a writers block state and exacerbates the situation. If you have done five lines and know your brain is toast, don't feel bad about taking a mental break for the rest of the day.

Some additions to this I find useful:

> - Use the 15 minute rule to get started

I like to take this a step further, and I think I read it in a Brian Tracey book once. If I have a list of things that need doing that I am not especially excited about, I'll go through them doing five minutes max on each. This normally sufficiently unsticks each, but if it doesn't, then do a round of 10m on each.

> - Leave a currently solved code part partially done or leave a compile issue on the area you were working on

One way I handle this is by forcing myself to keep and update a "Next Work" list (in an outliner) that keeps a very current todo list for each project. Generally I'll update it each morning and break down the immediate next work into tasks that only take a minute or two to get that momentum going

> - Motivators and triggers

I'm only slightly ashamed to admit I make heavy use of:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A6OwnNe9nMU (usually while walking, or very very first thing in the morning -- I downloaded the audio only)




and Apple's Think Different advert

I also really like writing out the answer to "What'll be different in a week's/month's time due to what you're about to do?"

> - Start the day right, work on something simple or one check in for instance before reddit/HN/news or distractions

Phone goes on airplane mode overnight, and comes out of airplane mode once I've completed my morning ritual, which takes about an hour and a half.

> Phone goes on airplane mode overnight, and comes out of airplane mode once I've completed my morning ritual, which takes about an hour and a half

Yeah, no. How are people going to contact in case of an emergency?

This will not work for everyone as I do the same with airplane mode. I figure if it is that much of an emergency, a police officer will show to my door with terrible news.

I am in the privileged position that nobody needs to contact me in an emergency. Alternatively they can call my land line, or if they know who I'm with, ring her instead.

What's the morning ritual, Peter?

On motivators: I've decided to make jasmine tea my "get shit done" drink - the intense flavour is great for prompting an associated state of mind.

I like diluted rose water , like a refreshing punch to the gut lol

> Use the 15 minute rule to get started, only agree to do 15-20 minutes of work to see if you are flowing in that project, most of the time once you get started and loaded up the project in your mental space you can easily flow on it.

I used to have a cheap but nice looking 20 min hourglass on my desk for just this reason. When I needed to get started on something, I just flip it and commit to working for just that amount of time. More often than not, before I know it, I only notice the hourglass empty when I'm on a roll with the task.

Inertia works both ways.

Some great advice here, especially the item to leave unfinished a simple task that you can pick up first thing the following morning.

I'd also add, consider the day worthwhile if you just achieve one task. Do that for a few days and you'll find you can move on to 2 tasks, 3 tasks, etc quite easily.

- Multiple projects and work on another project during procrastination or a thinking spot of the current project. Have main work projects, side projects, fun projects, some are more fun, more work or just tedious/rote that you can use depending on your productivity or work style of the day.

I try and avoid this as I find my side-tasks far too interesting and distractive!

I use all of these and they work for me. I'll add that sometimes at the end of my day I'll do a bunch of @todo comments in code I am working on. Either stuff I want to do tomorrow or notes on figuring out a problem.

If I was struggling with those, I generally resolve them very quickly the next day. Subconscious, fresh brain, or both. I don't know, but it works for me.

+1, can vouch for: >Leave a currently solved code part partially done or leave a compile issue on the area you were working on, then wake up the next day, finish that part and you can flow right into other work because the domain is in your mind.

If you have really serious procrastination issues, not only in your work, but in your life in general, if you lose your keys or phone a lot, have trouble keeping up with bills, forget appointments, if you're late to things constantly, zone out at meetings, forget things people say to you almost immediately, concentrate better when either tired or stimulated, have a bad habit of interrupting people cause you'll forget what you wanted to say otherwise, if your house is a constant mess...

Do yourself a huge favor and see a psych who specializes in ADHD. You might be undiagnosed, and treatment could make a significant difference in your life.

If you were smart enough to coast through schooling as a child, and have the inattentive-type ADHD, it's quite likely your ADHD was missed as a child. It's not something you "grow out of" as an adult.

Even if you aren't ready for the psych step yet (it took me years of suspecting I was ADHD before I took that leap), read up on Adult ADHD. If you see yourself in everything you read, see a psych. It's worth it, even just to know you're not "broken" you just have ADHD. Once you know, you can get treatment, and find strategies that work for your brain.

I am this exact way. I've come to the conclusion that I seem to be addicted to stress, and my mind purposefully avoids important tasks until almost no time is left, and then it is so much more easy for my brain to concentrate on the task and I achieve a level of focus that honestly produces much better work than when I've deliberately tried to work on a task in a timely manner. I have no idea what to do about this, and my family would be incredibly dismissive and judgmental if I ever tried to seriously see my doctor about this. Any time I have mentioned the potential for ADD I am scoffed at and called lazy. I am not lazy at all, I actually can't stand being unbusy and will find something to do to always be busy. I just have a huge problem focusing on what I actually should be focusing on until the last minute, and my brain is often somewhere else which causes me to forget where I put things all the time. Yet I am the person people seem to trust most if they need help with a critical decision

Does this sound like it could be an issue? I am on Kaiser and I hear they have a TERRIBLE program for psych stuff in general. I hear I would need family to be interviewed or asked if they feel I have issues which, again, they will just say Im lazy and have no problems. Is there a place I can identify a doctor in my area that is either reasonably priced or does not require visits frequently? Even a web based doctor that you visit infrequently?

>and my mind purposefully avoids important tasks until almost no time is left, and then it is so much more easy for my brain to concentrate on the task and I achieve a level of focus that honestly produces much better work than when I've deliberately tried to work on a task in a timely manner

This was high school for me. I would have weeks to finish a significant paper. I would inadvertently wait until the night before, stay up all night working on it, and generally I would get a good grade, often an A. It was like the time and effort I would have spent on it was concentrated into a single 12-hour rush where the deadline pressure squeezed my best efforts out of me.

At no point did I think "I should work on this paper, but, nah". In my head I was always getting around to it, but never did. Same was true for homework. I would be trying to finish first period's assignment on the school bus, next period's assignment in homeroom, another assignment in study hall, another assignment at lunch, etc. A lot of copying people's work.

Also I have crippling ADHD and can barely hold a job.

Yes, that sounds like ADHD. I was only very recently diagnosed. After my diagnosis, I read the book "You Mean I'm Not Lazy, Stupid or Crazy?" and it explains how ADHD is a problem both of over- and under-stimulation (recommend picking that book up, btw. It made me cry a few times as I recognized myself in it).

You're addicted to stress because it gives you enough stimulation to focus.

You keep yourself constantly busy to keep yourself stimulated enough for your brain to function.

You are distracted by things because your brain lacks the filter to determine which stimulus is "important" so instead of focusing on the actual important thing, everything feels like it's of equal importance, and your thoughts race from one thing to the next. I can't hear people correctly if there's a lot of other conversations going on at once, or too much visual noise in the background. It's overwhelming.

I saw a psychologist who specializes in ADHD. He did not interview my family (I was afraid of that too, my mom insists I can't possibly be ADHD because "I did so well in school."). He interviewed me about my history and symptoms going back to childhood, and I took a psychological profile test that involved ~400 true/false questions to rule out other problems. It was two visits to get my diagnosis, and now medication is in the hands of my regular physician. If Kaiser won't cover it, it might be worth paying out of pocket to get your diagnosis. Not very familiar with Kaiser, but hopefully once you were diagnosed, they would still cover your meds?

I think https://add.org/ has a page somewhere where you can search for professionals in your area. Or just call a psych, any psych, and ask for their recommendations on someone who specializes in ADD.

I spent a good chunk of change to get tested for learning disabilities this year. I've thought I was dyslexic for a long time but never got tested.

Was diagnosed with ADHD along with depression and anxiety. The doctor gave me a whole slew of resources to help with it all. It sounds silly but one of the things he advised was getting a guided meditation app for my phone and doing 10 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes at night. Changed my life almost overnight. I don't try and think about, "nothing". I just try to be aware of my thoughts and not to follow them. Almost immediately my mind became clearer.

I haven't actually dug into all the resources I was given (recent diagnosis) but hopefully they will be just as helpful.

I encourage everyone who have a racing mind or procrastination issues to see someone and get tested.

What app are you using? I've read that meditation is essential for treating ADHD, and would love to try it too.

Simply Being. My doctor told me to check it out. It's does the job but it doesn't have a lot of options. That may be for the best though because otherwise I'd spend time messing around trying to find my favorite one instead of meditating.

iOS: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/simply-being-guided-meditati...

Android: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.meditation...

Cost $2-$3 I believe. I set it on 10 minutes and use music 3.

ADHD is Sometimes a mental construct that people have to try to explain lapses in motivation and general laziness. To be fair, there are legitimate cases but people will do anything to be diagnosed and find a way to hide behind prescriptions blaming ADHD. Seen it happen.

Below are two questions that I ask myself, when I need to do a task I do not feel like. My experience has always been that the impedance is higher at only start of the task, and if the answer to any of below two questions is Yes, then the value of outcome would supersede my initial uneasiness.

1. Would the value created by this task reduce over time? In other words, is it better to do this task today than in future?

2. Does the effort required by the task increase (or remain same), if delayed? In other words, is it easier for me to do this task today than in future?

That's a good strategy. What if the answer is no to both questions?

In the case, where answer is No to both the questions, I have come to terms with being comfortable with procrastinating on that task. If I cannot convince myself of value added vs effort required today vs in future, it is okay to delay the task.

Also, choosing not to do a task now and procrastinate can be a powerful and useful tactic.

Strangely, the one thing that worked for me doesn't appear to be on this list:

The resistance to starting a task is geometrically proportional to the SIZE of the task.

So I try to break everything down into tasks that take no more than a few minutes. I wouldn't have tasks like "Write FooBar architecture document", but rather "Write FooBar intro", or "sketch connection diagram on paper" or "copy connection diagram to Visio/Draw.io".

The article does mention your trick:

> My solution was to approach a project by turning it into as many tiny steps as possible. That way I could get a few really easy wins under my belt. For example, each step would be a task such as "Search for ______ on Google" or "Have a conversation with ______." Crossing things off your to-do list gives your brain a happy little dopamine hit, even if the tasks are tiny—it keeps your motivation up and your excuses down.

You're right. I think one of my other tricks failed me: reading paragraph headings, following by the minimum number of sentences per heading required to get its gist.

This is literally the first tip he describes in the article.

I have procrastination problems. I have a theory that I haven't heard other people that seems to work for me - its that my brain works too quickly for coding and gets frustrated then moves onto "more interesting distractions". I find I am most productive when I get tired at night, or I'm not feeling well, or I have a few beers.

I love coding and getting in flow state but it just seems much coding is too boring a process.

Could this be true? Or maybe I'm just a classic procrastinator on HN again.

You're not alone. I don't have an explanation, but I noticed the same thing - getting tired or slightly intoxicated makes it much easier to code the things I have to (as opposed to things I'd like to, e.g. for a side project). I always attributed it to taking the edge off anxiety I often feel.

You are describing attention deficit disorder.

Agreed. I was recently (6 months) diagnosed as an adult with ADHD. The experiences of the parent are in line with mine.

Yep, just diagnosed a week ago at age 38. If you did well enough in school, and have the inattentive-type ADHD, it's really easy for it to get missed in childhood.

If you were smart enough to coast through school despite your procrastination and attention issues, definitely go see a psych for an evaluation.

Wow I never considered, maybe I should talk to them.

The Wender-Utah scale for adult ADD is available online, and could give you a firmer indication, though obviously this is something you would want a medical professional to confirm and help you treat.

Works too quickly or gets distracted too easily?

I find I'm the same way, but wouldn't characterize it as more quickly. I can work on something with little to show for it all day. Then I get tired, sit in bed with the laptop and it comes easily. I think this has contributed to me being a night owl, because I just get more done at night.

See siblings - ADHD is very treatable, and treatment is life-changing.

When I find myself procrastinating, it’s usually because the problem feels to me like some combination of unclear and overwhelming, in the sense that it will take a lot of mental energy to even get started and then I’ll have to maintain focus for a long time after that.

What helps me a lot in that case is to break the problem down into simpler pieces. Then the first piece doesn’t seem so bad, and then I’m rolling.

You can't do a thing you don't feel like doing. Ask David Hume, or ask any depressed person.

In reality our ideas about what we should be doing co-evolve with our feelings about doing those things.

You can. An experiment, pick a task you don't feel like doing, and try to do the actions required, for the sake of the experiment (not for the sake of the outcome of the task itself). Obviously, you can make your body do whatever you want.

Now, you might counter this argument by saying you were only able to do it because you "felt" like doing the experiment.

Here, we must acknowledge a distinction between wanting to do something and feeling like doing something. And a further distinction between different reasons for wanting, and the ways you think about those reasons (logical steps, assumptions, context).

I dunno, sounds slightly circular, prone to the "If you did it you must have felt like doing it" kind of response.

> "If you did it you must have felt like doing it"

That's exactly correct. Every action you took voluntarily was your choice.

You are always doing whatever you want to do. You may tell yourself many stories in your head, and we can dispute free will, but as long as we assume it for the purpose of this discussion, what you do is your choice.

So to me the biggest step in fighting procrastination seems to be deciding what do you really want to be doing with your life and eliminating wishful thinking (i.e. thinking that you can get foo without doing bar in case where that is not possible)

> That's exactly correct. Every action you took voluntarily was your choice.

> You are always doing whatever you want to do. You may tell yourself many stories in your head, and we can dispute free will, but as long as we assume it for the purpose of this discussion, what you do is your choice.

I understand what you are getting at, and I agree with the basic fundamental idea within a certain context. However, we have to be careful with how we extrapolate and attempt to re-interpret words and phrases such as "choice", "want", "feel like doing [x]", "deciding" , and so on.

The part quoted above basically makes those words meaningless. Regardless of what one thinks about free will, those words have great utility and fulfill roles in the human experience for which there isn't really any replacement.

You yourself demonstrate this quite plainly in your last sentence, when you say we should "decide" what we really "want" to be doing with our life.

That's a fair point. I think we inevitably end up in a discussion about free will if we try to pin those words down. That part of the last sentence could have been written as "thinking what values are important to you".

But yes it's just rephrasing. I explained myself in a bit more detail here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=17524210

I'm not going to presume to argue with David Hume, but I'm not sure what I can do with something that tells me I have agency. Or is that the point, that I do have agency?

I guess I knew that already, but probably thanks to him and his intellectual descendants. Free will arguments have never really interested me...

You are conflating different senses of "feeling". Our minds are not monolithic. We may have a deeper feeling that something must be done, but have a short term lethargic feeling pushing against doing that thing.

Some of this debate might on the semantics of what it means to say you feel like doing something. If someone actually does something, sure, arguably there was at some level a process by which the ideation happened and passed through a gauntlet of potential inhibitors motivated by some set of judgments that doing it had some value. So you could say they "felt like it." But that doesn't cover the ways in which they didn't feel like it.

What most people mean when they say "you can do something even if you don't feel like it" is "you can do something even if some other task sounds more appealing, even if inaction provides a refuge from the tension of engaging the task, even if you've been experiencing anhedonia for days/weeks."

Something which I have found helps me when I'm in one of those motivation funks which last longer than a day and which I can't seem to shake is to spend a bit of time consuming impressive work that other people have done in fields outside of software development.

There's something about spending time in an art gallery, a library or even taking a walk around the central business district of a major city checking out the more impressive buildings and absorbing the pace and atmosphere that seems to wake up what I would almost call a competitiveness (in the sense of "shit, all of these people are doing such amazing, focused, long-term and brilliant things. I should get back to work", but truly without any elements of self-pity that might be read into that if I don't spell it out) on top of the other more general inspiration which these things give me.

For whatever reason, it seems to be more effective if these works are outside of software development.

I'm going to share my tip which has worked excellently for me in the past few months (this is after years of iterating to find a solution).

I have a note book, and I write timestamped logs into it as I go along. The emotions I feel when I take some extra time to do a tiny task because I got distracted by HN or something else is quite strong. I feel like this has had a very positive effect on self accountability. I can't bear to look at a log where it's written:

10:12 - Discovered that a file is missing locally. Which one is it? (extra note of file name)

10:14 - Going to check github to see if the file exists still and if not, when it got removed.

10:50 - (Insert expletive). Got distracted with Twitter. Back now. Checked file. It was removed in the last commit.

There are lots of other little elements I've included in my workflow like regular reflections and end of day planning for next day. But I feel like the physical logging activity is the element that actually makes it all work.

Happy to share more details on this workflow if anyone is interested. My build just finished so it's back to work before I become embarrassed by my log ;).

Edit - I was in a hurry to write this because of a build about to finish. I've got another build going and wanted to add that one other important effect of this process is forcing myself to think of the next step without the burden of keeping the previous contexts in my head. That's all written down so I can always pick up where I left off even in the case of an interruption.

Yeah, this works for me as well. I keep a log in Org mode which is essentially the same thing. When I go back and read my log and say, "What the heck happened in this one hour gap", it makes me think.

the log of shame. that's a good idea. im going to try this today thanks

I presume you don't log when you're in flow. To clarify, you only begin logging your actions when you notice you're procrastinating?

Good question. No. I log during every stage. To clarify how it works, it's not a minute by minute logging. It's logging at every stage that one might normally pause and think. "Hmm.. ok that step is done, now on to the next.. which is..." . So when I'm in the flow which happens rarely, it'll be like:

11:47 - Alright. Time to implement the functionality to read the JWT token and store it and cache it for future requests.

11:52 - Test has been setup and is failing as expected. Let's pass this!

12:20 - Phew. Finally got that working. Making the function testable was a little harder than expected. Had trouble mocking the call to requests so that I don't actually get a token from the service for each test. Any way, that's done. Now I need to test if it actually works when running. How should I do that though?

12:26 - I have an idea! <there's be a flow chart diagram here and a bullet point list>

12:40 - NICE! It worked!

Does that help clarify how I might go about logging? I find that the flow doesn't come all that often and most tasks I'm working on requires me to pause and think often. And the maximum time of work to pause is usually 20-25 minutes.

I have a notification with a timer set at every n:15 time of the working day, e.g. 9:15, 10:15, 11:15. This is because I find meetings rarely fall on to this time at my current place of work. The notification works well and constantly reminds you to keep an active journal.

Thanks for this. I've been giving it a go for a couple of hours now and it's quite useful.

My best tip is to get more sleep. It is way easier to complete stuff and do stuff you don't want to with a well rested mind.

When I am sleep deprived, I procrastinate a lot. When I get about 8 hours I don't.

Something I've found very helpful at breaking the habit of going to HN/Reddit/whatever when I start waiting for something to finish running - set up a cronjob that checks what time it is, and if it's within working hours, it adds a bunch of sites to my hosts file, pointed to a server I control. It also grabs my current todo text file, and formats/pastes that into the index page of that server. The page also does some light shaming. Outside of work hours, it removes those host file items automatically. It helps in those cases where you reflexively visit a time waster without really meaning to.

Having todo on replaced website is a great idea, thanks!

One thing that I didn't realize until I was in a work environment that prevented it - I need procrastination or I can't get things done. Without multiple irons in the fire - not that there can't be too many - I can't keep myself in the interesting part of work, and if I can't batch administrative stuff the interrupt time dwarfs the actual effect of what I'm doing.

To help 'gamify' getting things done, I recently added the ability to set the timer in Lanes (https://lanes.io) to sync with any Youtube video.

So instead of tidying for 10 minutes, for example, you can tidy for the length of your favorite track - the timer will match the length of the video, the audio will play and the time will be logged. If you have routine tasks this turns out to be a pretty effective way of breezing through them.

How it looks: https://gfycat.com/HonoredHatefulIndianelephant

What's the rationale behind Lanes using a round radio button in todolists, where you'd expect to see a square checkbox? I know it's a trivial thing, but for some reason it jumped at me.

Aesthetics mainly. Circles feel neater.

Listening to ambient music somehow seems to makes me seek other distractions less, allowing me to actually get started with or focuns on the task at hand.

I find this to be the case too. I prefer listening to rain ambient, like A Soft Murmur [1] or lofi hip hop beats.

Apparently, there's even some research that shows that ambient music which isn't at a high volume level can boost creativity [2], and that it can also improve performance in performing repetitive tasks.

Edit: Also found a reference to a 2005 study which is said to show that music can increase performance in software developers. [3]

[1] https://asoftmurmur.com/

[2] Mehta, Ravi, et al. “Is Noise Always Bad? Exploring the Effects of Ambient Noise On Creative Cognition.” Journal of Consumer Research, vol. 39, no. 4, 2012, pp. 784–799. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/665048.

Edit: [3] http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0305735605050650

i despise ambient music

It might sound a bit more extreme, but I just think of not having any money, me and my family being thrown out of our house, and my kids thinking I'm a failure. That usually sorts it out.

Although I don't think it's an extraordinarily novel concept, something about the framing of "Gumption Traps" [1] in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance resonated with me strongly, and sensitivity to them has helped me get a lot more done.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gumption_trap

Worthwhile reading, IMHO. Every idea is one that has worked for me at one time or another. I haven't seen them all together in a single article before.

I especially like the explanation that taking a break to successfully complete some other straightforward task (e.g. sweeping the floor) creates dopamine which gives rise to more creative thinking which can help you reach a break through on the original task.

Well done.

What works best for me is to meditate during the inevitable downtimes - compiling, training, uploading, downloading... Find beauty in the scrolling logs. Take a look outside. Before you know it, you'll be excited about the next important thing you can do while waiting on the first. Also makes for a much happier work day!

When it comes to project work, more so in a corporate or team environment, I also like to consider the people involved as a motivating factor: by not doing the work involved, you impact the people around you. Ultimately everything we do, have done, or ever will do is all about people and society.

Who are you hurting by not doing the work?

"Get other people involved" has been really helping me over the last few weeks. I have a new customer who needs a new feature, and they've basically been my temporary co-founder while I'm working on it. I'm a solo founder, so it's been really helpful to listen to their feature requests, and they're helping me with a lot of QA.

I didn't really feel a lot of motivation to work on this feature before, because I had many other things to do. But once I started, I really got into it, and now I'm excited about launching it. It should make a huge difference to my company.

How to procrastinate: Read an article about procrastination

Build your projects in such a way that the difficulty of diving back in is easy as possible. Nothing enables my procrastination quite as much as not remembering how to get back to working.

One strategy that has consistently worked for me when there's something I need to do that I really don't want to face: set aside some time to work on it, and then start casually thinking about it before that time arrives while I'm doing something else. That seems to help a lot with "swapping in" the mental state for the task, and when I actually sit down to work I find I'm a lot more productive than if I have not pre-loaded my mental caches this way.

"Talk about it to others" may seem intuitive, but apparently there is some study to the contrary:


So, as the article suggest, the talking should be with regards to problems you have during a project, not so much your intentions to complete your tasks.

I like Adam Savage's approach: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GVnoTrJNAtc which can be summarised as "future me is really happy when past me takes care of their crap."

Thinking about what the future will be like when this task is done (and done properly) almost seems to bring some of the gratification/reward into the present.

And here I am reading HN instead of doing the work I don't feel like doing ;-)

Take up running. Running is about learning the power of decisions, because it's one long, agonizing decision to better yourself. With every step your body tells you to stop, and it's up to you to choose not to stop.

That's what worked for me. I was terrible at procrastination until I took up running. Now I just apply the lesson I learned from running:

Every moment is a choice.

Good tips... setting timers really helps me. It's mini-accountability.

Start a timer and say "I'll finish this task in 30 minutes". It helps my brain skip the random "new tab twitter.com" behavior.

On HN stories (ie here, not the article itself), I can get a "readable" version on mobile firefox (ie the icon left of the tab square). All but this one. Weird.

EDIT and now, an hour later, I can. Also weird.

We have evolved mechanisms that direct attention and make most efficient use of our energy. When the brain turns its attention away from a task don't fight it, go with it. Listen to your intuition and you'll find there's something else that needs attention. Once that's been addressed, the motivation to complete the task at hand will naturally renew. You might think you can simply do what you want when you want, but life's not like that: you can't have what you want when you want it.

What works for me is being able to toggle between a few different projects that requires slightly different skills and tasks. If I get stuck or tired of one, I can toggle to another project and still accomplish something.

Something else that works for me is letting go the guilt when I don't feel like something something (that's not urgent or time sensitive). If I'm not in the mood, I take a long break and allow myself to properly enjoy it without the guilt. This usually restores my motivation.

One thing I like to do to motivate myself and get stuff done is mini-hackathons. Its essentially a mixture of setting time aside and gamyfication. Essentially you have a task and you challenge yourself to get a workable solution complete within a short period of time, say 15 min or an hour, or maybe even a day... really depends on the task. Basically a hackathon but for a shorter period of time and maybe smaller predefined task.

Back in university, I rewarded myself with one attempt at 3-ball juggling after 30 minutes of studying. So, my hackathons were throwathons :-) Worked great, and I learned to juggle within a week.

Somewhere else I read that someone did push-ups, squats or planks during breaks. That would be a great tip for me nowadays. Pushathons?

“procrastination is a bad thing. It comes from a fear of getting started“

Is it really from fear?

I believe it comes from a basic human need for constant changes, or often called ‘news value’.

Definitely anxiety driven. What produces the anxiety is the bigger mystery typically.

I see it as a fear for sure. “I can’t do this thing”, “if I do this thing it won’t be any good anyway”, that sort of thing.

I feel sources of procrastination need to be discussed somewhat separately. I know a fear like yours is frequently reported to be one. But myself, I don't have such fear for the tasks I procrastinate the most on. Hell, I'm usually overconfident about doing them (that's why I agreed to do them in the first place). For me it's closer to "news value", but it really boils down to sudden anxiety attacks and desperate need to do something else, anything else whenever I face a task I actually should be doing.

So, different people, different flavours of procrastination.

I feel the same way. By being overconfident I mean that I am sure I can plan every aspect in my head, and the work boils down to ‘boring todo’. When I first start I find new ascpects that I believe give me the necessary news-value/flow to continue the task, as long as there is such a value when you work on it.. basic routine work is the worst and I often find my self want to automate the task, even if it is faster to do it manually.

This is me, this is the article that resonates with me


We always make the best decisions we can with the information we have at the time. The more time you have to make a decision the more information you will acquire to make it. Procrastinate and use it to build and balance a healthy anxiety before you start your work. Sharpen that axe until you really need to start cutting and the task will seem significantly easier with the right informational tools to perform it.

I work remotely, and being allowed by a friendly tech company (for whom I also occasionally do work) to use their offices as a working hub has transformed my procrastination tendencies. The context just takes over: there is nothing else to do there, but work, so I get on with it. It's maybe a different argument than the OP discusses, but I think for a lot of us, it's a related one.

Regarding accountability, I’ve found Focusmate to be indispensable: https://www.focusmate.com

I often enjoy it even more then being accountable to a co-worker because it frees you to be a bit more honest with the challenges you’re facing and how you’re genuinely feeling.

You could use consequential thinking strategies. In other words, motivate yourself by reminding yourself of the consequences of not taking certain actions. Really imagine the bad things that will happen if you don't take action.

Of the suggestions on this list, only the "precrastination" one makes any kind of sense to me. In fact, most of the others are anti-productive for me and I have tried them.

When I was young I read a quote that basically said, "you aren't ever going to feel like it." This struck me immediately as true: given any list of tasks, basically, there is always a fraction you won't want to do or which some form of constructive procrastination will prevent you from doing _even if you are otherwise productive_. This realization has been incredibly helpful for me in my career.

Later on, years ago but years after I was already pretty senior, I ran into the blog that Robert Hodgin used to have where he made a point that just plotting the first pixel was the hardest part of any of his projects.

So .. plot the first pixel, write the first line of code, write the first sentence, do the first set of squats, walk down the driveway, ... forcing these simple first steps make it substantially easier to do the next steps.

TL;DR: the most valuable solution to getting things done when you don't feel like it is to _start_.

I often find that when I'm tired I'm much more effective and less prone to procrastinate. I've always wondered how to achieve this effect while not messing with my sleep.


- break task in to tiny steps

- allocate time on calendar

- buddy up with someone

- Talk about it to others

- just relax and something else you want

This article is not deep study but just someone’s opinion.

In my opinion this article misses the two most important points: having a clear long term purpose and learning how to be present and love your life.

This is daily life at work, though... you just divide your job in smaller tasks and keep going one by one up to the nearest milestone.

i think the author mentions divide and conquer (not by name), breaking things down to the smallest scope.

it's harder for me to keep track of all my things to do, for work, home, etc, i've actually created a tool to use for this, there's an iphone app if anyone's interested:


I've had great success with a pomodoro timer that forces set breaks, and an actionable todo list for the day.

FAO all procrastinators: read “the Now Habit”.

This feels like someone discovered that multitasking doesn't really work (some studies show it causes brain damage). I've grown to hate multitasking. Do not try to design your project while building it. Do not try to understand what it is supposed to do while debugging it. Separate all things, focus on them individually. I've found without effort it is easy to find yourself working on several tasks at the same time that would each be completed much faster if focused on one at a time.

Don Knuth has the right idea; he batches all tasks. However, we don't all have the luxury of working at our own pace.

I believe Knuth worked at his own pace before he had the luxury to do so. That is: if you’re doing great work other things will matter much less. But it’s a gamble and Knuth’s version of “working as his own pace” probably means working harder than most people.

> some studies show it causes brain damage

What? That can't be true, are you sure?

A study by the University of Sussex found that multitasking (specifically, consuming multiple media sources at the same time) is _associated_ with reduced density in the grey matter of the part of the brain associated with empathy, cognitive control and control over emotions.

The study doesn't say whether one thing causes the other.


>The questionnaire consisted of two main sections: The first section listed 12 common media types and participants reported the total number of hours per week they spent using each medium. In the modified version used in the present study, 10 media types were retained from [2]: Print media, television, computer-based video, music, voice calls using mobile or telephone, instant messaging, Short Messaging Service (SMS) messaging, Email, web surfing and other computer-based applications. The item ‘‘video or computer games’’ was modified to include games on mobile phones. The item ‘‘non-music audio’’ was replaced with ‘‘using social networking sites’’. The changes were made to better reflect current trends in media consumption. The second section consisted of a matrix that involved participants indicating how much they concurrently used all the other types of medium as they used a primary medium. Amount of concurrent use was indicated on a scale of 1 to 4 (1 = ‘‘Never’’, 2 = ‘‘A little of the time’’, 3 = ‘‘Some of the time’’ and 4 = ‘‘Most of the time’’). The participants’ responses were first recoded as follows: ‘‘Never’’ = 0, ‘‘A little of the time’’ = 0.33, ‘‘Some of the time’’ = 0.67 and ‘‘Most of the time’’ = 1.

This seems like a bit of a silly study to me. It would be incredibly difficult for anyone in the software sector to say they aren't multitasking considering what they consider to be multitasking. I would be willing to bet most people use some forms of that concurrently, whether it's dealing with emails while in a web meeting or listening to music while coding.

FWIW I don’t do any of what you describe as a matter of normal practice.

Sometimes I will listen to a podcast while doing a routine task.

Otherwise I don’t multitask at all, for at least 90% of my working hours.

You never have a browser open with documentation/stackoverflow etc while coding?

Or checking and responding to emails while in the middle of fixing a bug?

Or managing texts from family members while doing whatever else on your PC?

Sometimes I stop coding and go look something up because I am stuck. At that point I’m doing a different activity: I’m research/learning/generally frustrated and not really coding.

For the others you bring up, I truly do not. I don’t text or email while I’m trying to do something productive.

This is what I can gather from skimming some articles in a lazy research attempt:

* Almost all evidence shows multitasking is not actually possible

* Some evidence shows attempting to do so anyway results in IQ reduction and loss of ability to focus

* Some evidence shows this reduction lasts even after you are done

* Some evidence shows this reduction is due to permanent physiological changes in the brain

'Brain damage' might be going to far.

I can have a conversation with someone while driving a car. Is that not multitasking?

To anticipate an objection, I would agree that the competence of both tasks diminishes somewhat. However the overall competence of both is sufficient.

My brain also seems capable of detecting when more attention is required, and automatically stopping the lower priority task. For example, if I had to quickly merge across many lanes on a busy freeway, then I would likely cease conversation during that maneuver. I don’t have to think too much about this consciously. The brain understands that driving is paramount and it will automatically preempt anything lower priority when more cognitive attention is required.

I would be interested to know what the research says about phenomena like that. There must be research like this supporting aviation, space flight, and nautical activities.

It seems easiest to multitask across different modes, e.g., I can work with my hands or drive a car while listening to an audiobook. I can have a social conversation with friends over voice chat while playing a video game.

Maybe the degree to which you can multitask depends upon the type of task and to what extent your brain can perform it automatically. The rote tasks involved in driving for example require very little attention to perform safely and correctly.

Yes, I had a lot of similar questions. Maybe 'task' is a misnomer? Maybe it's context switching that is the issue. Like talking and driving and having music playing in the background all exist in the same context of operating a vehicle. Just like using a calculator, reading a textbook and writing in a notebook are all different tasks you switch between to study, but are all in the same context of studying.

Side note, Wikipedia claims you can multitask between tasks you are already highly proficient at.

I think the idea is that the neocortex doesn't multitask. So you can talk and drive a car but not talk and learn abstract algebra.

>Some Evidence

Obviously the studies aren't definitive, but if they were and multitasking caused me to be less intelligent and less able to focus due to "permanent physiological changes in the brain", I would consider my brain to be damaged regardless of whether it meets the literal medical definition of brain damage.

If one is free to ignore or alter the definition of anything, then one could consider anything to be anything one wants.

But I get what you mean. We can only hope that permanent means permanent if you don't do anything to reverse it like being overweight.

There's a phrase for that. "not permanent."

There's a word for that!


Isn’t that anything we do is actually always multitasking, coding - you use your fingers to type and brain to think what to type and at the same time you are thinking about why you are typing that.

I absolutely can't multitask: I can't drive properly and talk (I can do it, but my driving isn't good). I could never talk and play piano, nor even sing along as I played (I don't have opportunity to play anymore).

I can however talk and type, but it's done in a way where I fill a mental register with the sentence I'm typing, switch focus whilst my hands operate on that register; then fill the register in a pause from the conversation. It's just rapid task switching for me except the typing. Probably took me a decade of touch typing to get there.

I'm also I've of those people who ends up writing down the conversation if I'm handwriting and conversing.

-- reflecting now when playing piano I'd try and fill a mental register with the forthcoming musical phrase whilst I switched to speaking. I think perhaps it didn't work because I struggle with rhythm and so need central focus to maintain any semblance of rhythm.


Why not? Parent raises a good point, how do we define a single task?

If you are playing one melody with your left hand on the piano and one with your right, is that one task or two?

Because everything but the executive task flow is being handled via processes known as automaticity.


We don't have a definitive diagram of the mind to point to, but I feel we all really can feel what is and what isn't multitasking.

Once internalized through experience, hand movements on piano (or computer) keyboard are subconscious. They don't tax your brain. Thinking about what you're playing/writing and why are you doing it is still within one "context of execution". They are closely related mental activities sharing most of the same data. Starting to simultaneously think about or engage in an unrelated, cognitively demanding activity - this is multitasking, or the so-called "context switch".

> multitasking doesn't really work (some studies show it causes brain damage).

Haha, whaaaaat!?

Would love to see some links, that's crazy!

What you really seem to be getting at is the importance of planning—which I agree with wholeheartedly. Do your homework before trying to write a half-baked implementation and then backtracking when it doesn’t work.

All humans are different - psychologically. So, same psychological trick may not work with everyone.

& sometimes, it also depends on the type of work

I'm terrible at "tricking" myself into doing things. It's like trying to tickle myself, it just doesn't work that way. If I don't want to do something it's simply very difficult to motivate myself to do it. Maybe imagining the repercussions of not doing the thing, if they are sufficiently grave, but that's all I can think of.

This is horrible advice.

If you have the discipline to do that, you have the discipline to complete the task.

These tricks work sometimes but ultimate solution is to control your brain, through mediation.

Then you will be one who is in control, not the other way around.

Heavy doses of atomoxetine, clonidine, mirtazapine and procrastination. WFM.

To translate: alleviate ADHD > reduce BP + alleviate ADHD > antidepressant > but there's always tomorrow > sounds good to me :)

But did you find the mirtazapine really does counteract any side effects of the atomoxetine that crop up?

I also took terazosin for a couple of weeks due to insane sweating (secondary hyperhydrosis; cold sweating) and goosebumps response (shiver) when not cold.

Overall, the effects of atomoxetine (80 mg/day) are slight (IME) but helpful: reducing by an order or two the magnitude of tracks my mind wants to wander in.

CBD (10 mg 4x/day) has been the biggest help.

Also, I take heavy doses (~200 mg/day ER in the morning) of propranolol.

Mirtazapine (60 mg/day at night)

Clonidine (0.1 mg/day at night)

I would avoid SSRI's at all costs (Maslow's hierarchy of need habits optimization: exercise, sleep, diet, caffeine (which is a mild anticholinergic) elimination, CBT, regular socializing, etc.) because the vestibular and discontinuation side-effects are horrendous and possibly permanently-damaging.

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