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Do you read HackerNews all day and never actually do anything?
389 points by tossit on Nov 18, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 142 comments
I'm sure there are many of us out there. I have a good eye for usability, proficient enough with HTML5/CSS3+jquery, have TONS of ideas (some of which I'm pretty convinced are good, maybe even good enough for YC) but it seems like every day I just sit around and read HN. Something about reading other people's opinions, success stories and failures makes me sort of feel like I'm "in the game" even though I'm not actually DOING anything. It's terrible. I guess what I'm wondering is: has anyone else gone through this, did you eventually do something real, and how?

Well, I'm working on something real right now. It's a web application that works now but it's a total hack. I want to actually make it into something usable by others so a couple days ago I black holed Reddit in /etc/hosts. It worked so well I'm considering the same for Hacker News, too.

There's the comment by "AgentConundrum" who argues that any method of limiting access to an addiction such as HN can be circumvented -- the simple truth is that you can't outsmart yourself. However, I see it differently.

When I open a browser window and click the Reddit bookmark, it gives me an error. While I'm staring at that error message, my higher thought processes have a chance to kick in and argue about what to do next. I think, "Editing my hosts file would be an admission of defeat. I'm better than that."

It's like the "brush your teeth" diet. You know, the one where you brush your teeth after you've had enough to eat. Whenever you want to have a snack, you think, "I can't... I just brushed my teeth. Snacking would undo my progress with dental hygeine."

Both of these tricks are flat-out illogical. A hypothetical rational person would not be affected by these tricks. However, if you were a hypothetical rational person, you wouldn't need to change your behavior in the first place.

"Brush your teeth" never worked me. I'd get hungry and eat anyway. Two servings of whey protein powder a day, on the other hand, completely nukes my interest in snacks.

As for HN and such, I find my interest waxes and wanes. I definitely have days where it's a big distraction, particularly when I'm waiting 10 seconds for something to compile and come back ten minutes later. Then there are days when I'm too focused on coding, marketing or whatever I'm doing for it to be a big distraction.

I do the same when I have a deadline, but I point all the time consumers websites(facebook, HN, ) to my bug tracker url so instead of getting an error I just see the list of things that need to be done or fix. It works like magic.

HN should put a little entrepreneur badge next to your name for having shipped a product. That would motivate some people.

It could make a psychological difference by putting a shame/pride/credibility/game achievement effect in place. I'd put it in "feature requests" here and see what pg thinks--he is definitely interested in keeping the HN addiction in check for YC companies too.


In terms of an easy implementation, it could be something users self-manage on the honor system, and perhaps a "ship" icon could link to the product if applicable.

I took the liberty of submitting the feature request here:


As an angel investor, does that mean I can start funding companies with badges instead of money?

You may laugh, but there is actually research showing people are motivated by recognition more than money. Sure, you need so much money to live. But really we want to be recognized by our peers.

Dan Ariely has a short podcast titled "Why peer recognition is worth more than monetary compensation" where he talked with economist Bruno Frey. He has a number of papers on motivating people with awards and prizes.


That's a great idea, but how do you define 'product' though? Plenty of people here work on things that are really just tech demos, which don't necessarily have an audience beyond, "Look at this cool thing I was able to do." E.g. that color-picker/slider thing that changed the colors are you moved the mouse (and the scroll wheel changed the contrast). I wouldn't necessarily call it a 'product,' but I would qualify the time spent making it as productive.

Like a Ship-It award? ;)

What's the allusion here?


I like to equate these sorts of ideas with the "grinds" that one sees in MMORPGS. We have reputation grinds on places like HN already, where you gain special privileges based on your point total (actually, it is your average now, right?). So do we want to add more of these things? Instead of talking about gaming the system, it will actually be a game.

Or a badge for having > 10 customers for your shipped product.

There was a story recently on HN about a guy who splits his work hours into 30 minutes of work and 30 minutes of distraction. It turned out to work quite well for him. I guess I'm almost doing the same, spending most of my "distraction" time on HN.

There's a good trick however if you want to stop doing that: work with someone else, with each one being able to look at the other's monitor. Even better: do that with people you actually hired. I can guarantee you won't be spending any minute of your time procrastinating.

There was a story recently on HN about a guy who splits his work hours into 30 minutes of work and 30 minutes of distraction


"work with someone else, with each one being able to look at the other's monitor."

This trick works even when the other person is remote: for the last 6 weeks, I have spent about 25 or 30 hours a week using VNC to watch someone 11 time zones away while he in turn watches me. While we watch each other, we spend almost no time procrastinating.

We both work from home, do not have TV sets in our homes, and do almost all of our procrastination on the internet.

Both of us would like to increase the number of people using this trick, so if you are interested in trying this way of using VNC to reduce procrastination, write to vladimir.slepnev@gmail.com.

There was a story recently on HN about a guy who splits his work hours into 30 minutes of work and 30 minutes of distraction.

I still have my timer I used through college except I did 45 minutes on 15 minutes off. It works amazingly well for things that you don't want to be working on. Now that I work on mostly interesting problems the hardest part is getting into the zone, but once I'm there I can work for hours.

Simple hack: 2 computers, one for work and one for the internet. Different workstations, preferably in different rooms.

It's a lot harder to get up off your ass than to hit alt-tab.

Harness that laziness to your advantage.

Buy and iPad. use ipad strictly for consuming content - reading HN, facebook, twitter , Instapaper etc.

use your computer strictly to create stuff - code, write, design, photoshop etc etc. If you want you can install some software to block sites and apps on your computer.

This will reduce the distractions enormously. If you find yourself on ipad all the time you will feel guilty that you didnt create anything today and thus will be motivated to do something abt it.

A variation on this, I have certain music that I only listen to when writing code. One the one hand, this means that A Momentary Lapse of Reason has been lost for general enjoyment, but on the other, if I want to listen to it...

I did exactly this, combined with a variant of the chair method above. My reading, posting, tweeting, and video watching is now all on my sofa, and my working is all at my desk. It's worked wonders.

Cheaper hack if you can't afford two computers. Two seats. I don't work when sitting in my bedroom, but when I sit at my living room table I only work.

This. Also do not use wifi.

If I need to concentrate, I physically unplug my notebook from the net (my only connection is ethernet cable) and move to a different room.

It works wonders. It makes me think hard whether it's really needed to check something on the web. Usually I just preload in tabs background info I may need later in the day to get the job done.

When I need to concentrate, I reboot into another partition where I have neglected to enable wifi, and have a rather drab, but efficient-looking environment set up. Turns out FreeBSD and wmaker are great productivity tools.

Even cheaper hack: two logins. I have one account for projects, one for play. On my project account, I run Self Control (http://visitsteve.com/work/selfcontrol/) to block distractions (now experimenting with Concentrate: http://getconcentrating.com/). I find just having two differently configured environments is a good cue which sets me in my work groove.

Really you can't afford 2 computers? I can build a machine good enough for web-browsing for under $200. You need a monitor, sure, but people are giving away CRTs. I got a 19" 1600x1200@70Hz CRT for free last year.

edit This is with all new components in the box; it's even cheaper if you can get "hand-me-down" components, which should be easy for anyone on HN.

I just can't afford more computers space-wise.

i do this too. i have an "office" area at home, and when i'm there i focus on work. i also often hang out at the kitchen table, and there it's much more a mix of working and reading HN.

Impressive that you not only had the wherewithal to do this, but also are not being lazy by moving yourself to the other room to post this comment.

Seriously, though, how do you make yourself sit down at the work computer?

Find more interesting work.

What if you move and never come back :)

you need internet for work.

Most people like edw519 have talked about practical solutions to it, but have you ever considered why you do it?

Maybe you just need excitement and intellectual company? Maybe you just want to have someone in your life that inspires you to do something? Maybe you just need to find the right people?

The point is that physical hacks for behavioral problems are ineffective until emotional hacks are taken into account. Just take a deep breath and try to understand yourself.

I'm saying this because I used to be addicted to HN, but now it just doesn't matter. After a series of realizations I'm simply indifferent to that high, and that's something far more long lasting than a firefox extension.

Take care.

So you got more or better or smarter friends or work partners in your life, which stopped your HN addiction?

Or by "someone in your life that inspires" do you mean a sexual or romantic partner?

Specifics please.

You know there are different types of relationships in life and this sort of stimulation can come through any one of them.

For details sake I found better friends.

The /etc/hosts hack actually works. I don't use noprocrast since I need to visit news.yc for other good reasons during my work.

But the trick that really made the difference is this. I run a cron job which will over write the /etc/hosts with a file which has yc/reddit blocked. This way, when ever I open access for good reasons or even to have my 30 minutes per day of YC reading, the file gets overwritten in the next 30 min window and I get fed up with editing it again and again. So I give up and go back to work, sort of like nagging myself very effectively.

I use the /etc/hosts block, but defeat myself if I edit it... would you be willing to share the cron job? Much oblidged!

If I understood correctly it should be as simple as having an extra file setup to replace your hosts file say /etc/hosts.override and put all your blocked hosts there along with your regular hosts file.

Then you just add a 30 minute cron job to do

    cp /etc/hosts.override /etc/hosts

This is exactly how you do it. Setting up a cron job to run every 30 minutes can be done like this: crontab -e and put this line in there 0,30 * * * * your_command or like 0/30 * * * * your_command. The second one works for me, I am on a mac.

Make sure the user who runs the job has permission to overwrite the file.

Fantastic thanks. Running with that and extending it a bit.. I want it to turn distractions off between 8am to 11am, I'm doing it with hosts.on and hosts.off, so I can have it all come back online again at 11am. Cheers!

I've never been at the stage where I don't do _anything_, but I'm often frustrated that I don't do _enough_.

I went through a stage of spending way too much time on Reddit - on the order of 4-5 hours a day. This has been discussed often, but it can be crippling - as soon as you hit the tiniest mental roadblock, you switch your browser to Reddit, next thing you know it's 20 minutes later and not only is your roadblock not solved, you even forgot what you were doing. So then you read more Reddit while you try to remember.

It's terrible, and a lot of it isn't even conscious, until the day is over and you realize how little you did.

My friend made a good point - you don't NEED more than 15 minutes a day to keep up to date with what's on sites like Reddit or HN. You can spend a lot more time, but beyond a certain point it's just frustration that you've already read all of it.

So I installed LeechBlock:


I set it to allow 15 minutes of access every 6 hours to my timesinks, and I set it to not allow access to its settings during the blocked times (so I can't easily turn it off).

At first I would hit the blocked page every few minutes, without even realizing that I intended to do so. The frequency was a bit shocking, to be honest - part of it was honestly muscle memory by then (alt-tab to browser, type "re", down, enter). The blocked page made it possible to force myself to focus on work again, every time, but it also made me realize how badly my brain patterns had been disrupted - my brain just craved distractions and did NOT want to focus for more than a few minutes at a time, which is never enough to do anything meaningful.

After about a week, the cravings for distraction were a lot lower. After about two weeks, they were mostly gone. I've now settled into a good rhythm, I complete tasks without interruption and check the time sinks for a few minutes at a time in between tasks - and I always have the safety net of the 15 minutes per 6 hours limit. I usually hit that limit, but not always.

Sure, it's trivial to circumvent LeechBlock (just use a different browser, for example), but that's not the point. The point is that you are making a conscious decision that what your brain is doing is not OK, and you need to re-train it to do what you want. Things like LeechBlock are not magical solutions, but just tools to help you do that.

Edit: I prefer LeechBlock to the hostsfile hacks because it's not as rigid: it lets me settle into a natural rhythm that works for me, which also means I'm a lot less likely to turn it off and "forget" to turn it back on.

I just have a "startwork" script that uncomments my etc/hosts files.

    bash -c "awk '{sub(/#127/, "127")};{print}' /etc/hosts > /etc/hosts.new; mv /etc/hosts.new /etc/hosts;"
And my etc/hosts looks like this:               www.onemorelevel.com               onemorelevel.com
    #               www.hulu.com
    #               news.ycombinator.com
    #               www.facebook.com
    #               www.youtube.com
    #               www.netflix.com
    #               mail.google.com
    #               www.reddit.com               www.techcrunch.com
Once I run the startwork script, sites are blocked by uncommenting the sites. There is no "startplay" script or "stop work" script, since I want to make it more painful to undo. To undo, you simply comment out the sites you want to visit.

It's been pretty effective so far. The mere fact of putting up barriers to the things that you don't want to do more of, and lowering barriers to those that you do want to do more of goes a long way.

startwork script should be on a cron job which runs every 30 minutes. (details:http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1917827)

I installed the StayFocusd extension a week ago, and set 20 minute limits for Hacker News and Facebook. From that alone, my productivity has gone up tenfold. The amount of time I wasted wandering the internet was ridiculous!

In short: I highly recommend StayFocusd for Chrome users.

I concur, StayFocusd is good. Now, if only it could prevent me from using firefox as well...

Thanks for this, I was persuaded by parent's argument, but am a Chrome user.

LeechBlock is awesome. It actually includes wildcard blocking of subdomains as well -- that's extremely helpful to me (sadly I've found myself visiting de.reddit.com when the site was blocked in my hostfile.)

I also love the custom redirect. Great addon.

Nice addon will have to give it a try at work.

One thing that has worked well for me is the Postrank addon for Chrome for Hacker news: http://bit.ly/aKLjCT

It means rather than spending hours on Hacker news I can quickly glance to see if there is anything interesting to read and add it to Instapaper. Then read it later on Instapaper app on my phone when I have downtime on the train for example. Kind of best of both worlds, get my fix of interesting info on HN and don't lose too much productivity at work.

Installed on your recommendation. Will try it out, though I probably need a few more than 15... :)

I experienced your same situation but with "get shit done": http://userstyles.org/styles/28042

But what if I miss out on an insightful "How to get on TechCrunch" article or fail to provide my $0.02 advice for a "Ask HN" post?

Or worse -- what if someone is wrong on the internet? http://xkcd.com/386/

Ha ha. Though I've shamefully spent all-nighters "working" on that problem, even while knowing the futility of it all. The upside is that in the process I often end up updating, refining, and researching my own opinions on important topics. The downside is that the sometimes egregious lack of sleep probably shortens my life.

Here's what sucked up a chunk of my should-be-sleeping time recently: http://www.fanfiction.net/s/5782108/1/Harry_Potter_and_the_M...

(found via HN, I think?)

Is there a chrome equivalent?

I have a huge problem with this. My problem is getting started. Sometimes I'm so overwhelmed by what I have to do that I either don't want to start or I don't know where to start. However, when I begin, I can code/study for hours on end. Maybe some of you are in the same boat.

Here are some tools I'm using to keep myself focused. Concentrate (http://getconcentrating.com/) blocks websites that distract me, opens/closes apps, blocks distracting apps (RSS reader, Twitter), and reminds me every ten minutes of my goals via Growl. I'm also using it with Vitamin-R (http://www.publicspace.net/Vitamin-R/index.html) to help me work in pomodoro cycles. Hope you get some use out of those apps! :-)

Yes, which is why there is a useful noprocrast setting in your profile.

I've never used the noprocrast option on HN, but I've tried other things. The problem is that pretty much any roadblock you put up can be trivially defeated.

For example, if I were to put sites like reddit or HN in my hosts file, and point them to, it really wouldn't take me more than 30 seconds or so to get around it. It should work as a reminder that, "oh yeah, I should be doing something else" but that never seems to work for me.

In this case, I have to assume that just logging out of HN is enough to get around the noprocrast. Assuming also that when the noprocrast is in effect you can't access HN to log out, it still only takes 30 seconds to kill the cookie(s). Even with some sort of unkillable cookie, I do webdev, so I've got easy access to Firefox, Chrome, Opera, Safari, and IE8. Even with something like a flash cookie which (I think) remembers you cross-browser, I also have VMs to run IE6 and IE7. Admittedly, by the time I boot up a new VM to visit HN, I'd definitely get the point that "oh, I should be working" but that's a bit beside my point.

Besides, HN is nothing compared to the time sink that is StackOverflow. There's always something I can research ad nauseum there. I've learned a lot from my procrastination, but I've got shockingly little done.

For example, if I were to put sites like reddit or HN in my hosts file, and point them to, it really wouldn't take me more than 30 seconds or so to get around it. It should work as a reminder that, "oh yeah, I should be doing something else" but that never seems to work for me.

I did this when writing my dissertation. It worked really well. I find that most of my browsing comes from clicking through to the sites in my "Most visited sites" homepage. Blocking them was a good neg that broke this harmful browsing pattern.

It's just too easily defeated for it to really work on me, since I convince myself that I'll just check this one thing, then I'll go back to working.

It's the exact same thought process that, after I've been up all night and I'm trying to stay up all day to reset my internal clock, convinces me that it's ok to lay down in my bed for a minute. I inevitably wake up quite confused a number of hours later.

I saw a site once that you can route your procrastination sites to. When you browse the site (by IP address, naturally) it displays a message saying basically "you blocked this for a reason... slacker." Since I can't remember the address anymore, I've been thinking about installing a web server on my laptop to emulate it.

Edit: I found it. The address is and it just displays the message "You've chosen to block this site in your hosts file."

Okay - you need some semblance of self control.

For me, it's a subconscious thing. It's close to mindlessly browsing.

Forwarding to that message wouldn't do anything for me. I think the most important thing was just that "neg" to break out of the mindlessness and get back on track :)

I'm told it's like quitting smoking. If you still find ways around the hurdles you put up for yourself, you're never gonna quit.

I still find it useful, because it slows you down, and forces you to take steps which are not habitual (at least at first.) This gives me time to think about what I'm doing, before the positive feedback loop sets in.

I find the Stayfocusd (sic) Google Chrome extension quite useful for a friendly "you should be working" kick in the pants: https://chrome.google.com/extensions/detail/laankejkbhbdhmip...

Sure you can overcome it using various ways, but for me the fact that it gets in the way is enough to prompt me to go back to what I should be doing (i.e. something productive)

Which is easily bypassed through private mode in any webbrowser.

If you've gotten to this stage it may be time to get professional help.

haha, I used noprocrast once, but it has the opposite effect. Whenever somebody says that I can't do something, this is when I try harder. It always does not work.

Two ideas:

A large part of the reason HN is so distracting, is that usually, when you read it, you look at the front page and open everything that looks interesting in new tabs. So when you're using your browser for something productive, you see a tab open that you haven't had a chance to read, and you want to go read it. Solution? Firefox profiles. Start firefox with firefox -P work --no-remote, and use that for all your work related things, while your should-read-later-eventually-maybe tabs stay happily open in another profile.

Second idea,

  echo "" `sqlite3 ~/.mozilla/firefox/*default/places.sqlite "select url from moz_places order by -visit_count limit 100" | cut -d/ -f 3|sort -u| tr "\n" " "` | sudo tee -a /etc/hosts
Maybe HN isn't your only distraction, and this saves you having to figure it out.

No, but for me Hacker News is like having the radio on in the background. It's always open in a tab and I'll read it frequently. If I wasn't doing that I'd probably be day dreaming listening to Radio 4.

Same here. I just started to get out of it, this is how I'm trying:

1. I made a list with all my (good!) projects ideas 2. I tried to estimate how long each would take to have a Minimum Viable Product ready for launch 3. I chose the one with the shortest time estimate 4. I split the whole project in tiny todo items (things you can do in a few hours: like "create the sitemap", "create the db structure", "outline the homepage", "make that script" etc) 5. I put the list on my desktop in a long Stickie 6. I commit to myself to mark as done at least one todo each day

And it seems to work, I'm halfway through my project now.

No, I read reddit all day, and when I want to actually do something, I read HackerNews. It's (almost) work-related.

If you're easily distracted, it doesn't matter what you're wasting time with. If it's not HN, then it's Reddit. If it's not Reddit, then it's Facebook. If it's not Facebook.. and on and on.

I keep myself going by setting personal deadlines: I don't browse the internet if I 'need' to finish something before, say, going to lunch.

EDIT: Also, before stopping work, I always try to have a good idea of what to do next. It's much easier to dive back into work because I know what to do, and my subconscious has had time to think about how to do it. This was inspired by Hemingway's 'hack':

"The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day … you will never be stuck. Always stop while you are going good and don’t think about it or worry about it until you start to write the next day. That way your subconscious will work on it all the time. But if you think about it consciously or worry about it you will kill it and your brain will be tired before you start."

And Less Wrong, and reddit... and my day generally starts in the afternoon, so the day itself isn't very long.

I would recommend Rescue Time (http://www.rescuetime.com/ - YC08). You can try to block HN (and other time wasting sites) multiple ways, but they are easy to get around. However if you see the total time spent it might make you change your ways. Plus you can see how much time you are in programming mode and have a couple weeks can really see some trends and work on them.

Rescuetime is my savior. It is way too easy to open your browser and click on those tempting little icons you've bookmarked for your self. Unfortunately, I can't save my self from external distractions but as long as I'm "wired-in" from external distractions Rescuetime allows me to work and stay focused.

I can't vote you high enough. Rescue time is the biggest thing that happened to my working discipline. I don't even use the tools to block non-productive work, but seeing a report in which 70% of your time is spent on non-productive activities can be life changing.

Yes, I do this. However, the reason is not because I am unproductive or distracted. It's because I'm at work. If I have work to do at work, I do it. Then I have no work to do. I would work on my own personal projects, but then they would be works for hire. I have to work on them at home in order to own them. Even if I get them to agree to let me work from home, I have to work on the things outside of work hours to get them to be my own property.

I would be glad to quit and just work on my own personal projects. Will you pay my rent? Didn't think so.

The best thing I've found for distractions is a program called "Concentrate" on OS X. You can set time to block certain classifications of sites, such as social networks. I do the pomodoro technique which is 25 minutes code, 5 minute break alternations. You'd be surprised that you get just about the same amount of HN time in your 5 minute allotments.

I did a blog post about it here: http://jasonseifer.com/2010/02/08/using-concentrate-for-pomo....

I just wrote a comment to this submission before reading yours. :-) I totally agree. Concentrate is a lifesaver.

You're in a good company, Paul Graham himself wrote about this problem several times.



realizing that you have a problem is the first step.

you just need to get started doing something, once you are actually doing instead of dreaming, you won't have the free time to waste on distractions

HackerNews is an example of a larger problem: addiction to intellectual stimulation. Reality is, human brains move very slowly and most often in predictable paths. Therefore, the odds of you hearing of a breakthrough in your chosen discipline on any given day are approximately the same as winning a national lottery. But the probability of hearing on any given day about inventive false starts that will eventually lead nowhere or something some intelligent person said somewhere that might have a glimmer of promise approaches one. These constant bursts of stimulation are sufficiently pleasurable, if you can't clamp down on them, to occupy your entire day. Here's a litmus test: If you read HackerNews from start to dregs and are let down because you didn't find anything really new, you're reading too frequently. Don't read it or anything like it for a month. If you have the same experience after a month, extend the wait to two months, and so on. Genuine novelty comes along once in a blue moon. False novelty is an addiction.

As long as you making plans and analyze why to do something or not, you are losing your time on over-analysis. Instead of reading super-analytical and pseudo philosophical 'less wrong' or marketing crap from 'techcrunch', that have little to do with reality, start to do something REAL. When you do something REAL, ideas will pop-up on the course and some believes will be challenged, but this is the only way.

HN is great community but there are some stereotypes that need to be chalenged on personal level:

1. The "SWEAT CAPITAL" is better than Venture Capital, and you have access to it already.

2. If you want to make money, do not think in the box. Here people tend to analyze what already been done. This is not a way - you need to innovate.

3. People will laugh with your ideas and failures. You need to be firm believer in what you do. Respect is gained and not granted.

4. Start doing something "stupid", without prospects of economical gain. you will see that you will end up with something completely different than when you started thinking about it.

5. Stop dreaming -- Start Doing. It is much more rewarding and interesting.

Let It Be.

Solution I found (globally, in a lot of scenarios, not just related to HN) is: Don't do anything unless it's specific.

I try to only sit at the PC if I'm "doing" something on it. Even in micro bursts. Shortlist of examples:

- If I'm thinking, I'll stand up away from the station

- If I need to code, I'll sit down with the purpose of coding to a goal / time window

- If I'm stuck, then again, I'll get off the station / away from the keyboard and think

- If I fire up HN, its specific - I'm checking HN for 20 mins to see whats happening, browsing some articles, then stopping.

- I try to avoid randomly tabbing back into mail clients and etc, I'd rather tackle it as a distinct thing as well

It applies pretty much everywhere though. If I want to game, I don't just sit down and play, I'll decide - take a break, 20 mins, gaming, do it. Done is done, get back on task.

The higher level thing is to hit your day / hour / afternoon period etc with a clear idea of what you actually want to get done. I find when you're carrying a bigger idea (eg, shit, i need to get this document out today!), it automagically structures your time a bit more.

Ben Franklin has a saying "experience keeps a dear school but a fool will learn at no other". In other words, seek wisdom and experience vicariously, and as Isaac Newton said, "stand on the shoulders of giants". The word vicarious means "experienced in the imagination through the feelings or actions of another person".

But there's a cost to vicarious experience when we start to derive feelings of fulfillment ("being in the game") from success stories at the neglect of reaching for our own. A telltale sign is when people start calling Steve Jobs "Jobs" or Bob Dylan "Dylan", as if they know them. Don't live in the movies. The real world is a better movie.

There's a Biblical saying that goes something like this "the Kingdom of Heaven is not a matter of talk, but of power". The earthly realm is certainly no different. Use vicarious experience to gain wisdom, not to trigger endorphins. Keep your head down, your mouth shut, and get on with your own business.

I'm working on something real. The trick for the overload:

1) http://jeffmiller.github.com/2010/07/23/a-cure-for-hacker-ne... 2) Never read it immediatly, use instapaper first, and only read at the end of the day.

- sometimes I just go take a peak, just like this story =)

I usually read HN once in the morning, once at lunch, and maybe before falling asleep. I find it doesn't really change enough for me to read it "all day". But I never leave the first page ;p

May be you need a coding buddy. Sharing the ideas and working together on a project always gives me strong motivational boosts. Plus having to explain ideas to others helps in finding flaws.


I have faced (maybe still facing) the same issue and have started to employee 3 techniques, first two of which Tim Ferris mentioned. 1- Cultivate selective ignorance 2- Batching tasks up 3- Create a schedule

How would this help? HN, Reddit, and the other news and information sites out there are awesome but can become time-thieves if you let them. We come to these sites to see what is the latest and greatest in the news, for inspiration, and also to learn so that we can do things better. The question is: how much information do we need to be adequately informed and how much do we need to learn in order to get to work on something we are passionate about? Not as much as we would think in my opinion. Cultivating selective ignorance is necessary to ward off the feelings of "I need to read more in order to get this thing going", or "I am falling behind, need to catch up with the news". We will never be able to get it all and thus just need to focus and specialize to some extent. Well rounded-ness is great, but in excess it will give you no depth in anything. Do not try to consume all data from all sources; we cannot keep up with the data deluge and will drown in it if we foolishly attempt to do so. Use what you already know, get started and focus on your ideas. If you do not you will just build up all kinds of anxieties and will feel down on yourself for not doing anything. In addition, this data deluge is also overwhelming and you may feel like you are not smart enough or the product will not be good enough for launch. It feels good to even do the simplest of tasks you set out to do and makes you want to do more. I blog about something similar to this here: http://techjobsspace.blogspot.com/2010/11/and-furthermore-my...

Batching and scheduling are awesome concepts to start using immediately. Information addict? I know I am and love to consume much data. My information-rich diet includes all the stuff you guys are reading but what I do slightly differently than some is set dates and times during the week on my phone calendar to read this data. Instead of reading everyday I pick some days of the week to get it all in and limit myself to that. If you have a calendar on your phone or pc or the web, use that to control the addiction. You do not need to deprive yourself completely (unless it is a severe problem) just schedule when it is ok to read. I use this for errands and other things as well. We all need breaks from work to unwind; use this time to catch up with friends and family, errands, and reading. Stick to your schedule and it will all fall into place eventually. Paul Graham definitely does not want this site to be a time-sink.

Hope this helps!

Yes, but it's ok - my code is compiling...

These days all the cool kids are using the "my test suite is running" excuse instead.

Since i've handed in my resignation letter it is very hard to actually do any work at all. I spend almost all my time at work reading HN and other similar sites. I do feel very bad for this but can't help it.

Try Leech Block:


It blocks selected websites during hours / days you select, or allows you to say "No more than 30 minutes of Hacker News every 4 hours." It's highly configurable.

Of course, you're smart enough to find a way round its blocking if you want to. But really, deep down, you want to be productive and when Leech block pops up with its "Site blocked" screen, it will be a helpful reminder of this.

Yes, but only at work. It works out quite well actually, when work is over, I am pretty sick of HN, so it isn't quite as appealing a distraction at home as it is at work.

Part of the problem is Variable Ratio Rewards, or random rewards. MMOs use them intentionally to get people addicted, but they're also inherent in social news sites.

Sometimes you find real gems, either in the articles or the discussions (on HN often the latter as much or more than the former), and sometimes just noise. But you never know which will turn up on the front page and when, so you keep checking back over and over.

A mentor of mine always says: Do you want to be the one who reads the news, or the one who makes the news?

Also: Learn more just in time instead of just in case.

What I would do if I where you would be to start writing a blog and then feed that into the HN community. That way you are forcing yourself to do something while still being able to read HN.

After a while someone will probably tell you that some of your ideas are great enough that you will build the necessary will power to get started.

Remember ideas are a dime a dozen, execution is king.

No, I work at my 9-5 job all day. I usually peruse HN over breakfast or dinner. After dinner, and on weekends, I work on coding a little application of my own.

I find that it helps to read HN to keep me motivated. I doubt I'll ever make much money off of the applications I create. But it's encouraging to read about people who do.

Since this community is largely made up of smart people, and since it seems pretty common to spend 'too much time' doing things like HN, and since we are currently the product of a lot of evolution I wonder if focus is actually all that's its cracked up to be. Possibly our overall productivity when viewed on a larger scale is better because we get distracted, possibly idea generation, possibly just the social aspect, or learning of a new technology etc. I just wonder if this is so bad really.

The Web2.0 Summit said that the tech sector is innovating at an unprecedented rate. One of the changes in the software industry in recent years is the rise of the social network and sites like HN. Maybe 'time wasting' isn't so bad after all - viewed at a higher altitude that personal productivity.

Yes, a little. I have a day job, and unfortunately am unable to break away from that to join the entrepreneurial pool. Like you, I have a background littered with technical acumen and actually helped with a few start ups. I enjoyed it, but the instability just isn't for me right now.

I still do things and make things, but they aren't start ups. Some are school projects, others are for my day job, and some are just for fun. I read HN because there are great people with interesting opinions on stories I want to read.

That said, I feel the same way. I want to break out and do things. I get that feeling sometimes, and it hurts to feel trapped, but then my paycheck goes through and I log my 40 hours and go home.

Suppose you're working on debugging java threads. You can open browser tabs like these, instead. Works for me.




Hacker news has wasted a lot of my time.

But it has also provided a lot of information that constitutes authentic "professional development" - links to important algorithms, debate over software process and similar things.

I don't know have any idea how the equation balances but if I didn't read Hacker News I'd have to find some more active way to make sure I read enough papers.

What seems like an opportunity would be to build a discussion forum where the posts and discussion was at a high enough level that the time essentially wasn't wasted. HN isn't there yet but it's a hint about what might be...

Download Selfcontrol, set it for 8 hours, and block HN, Fb, news sites, etc.

It blocks those sites you waste time on, and you cannot change the settings by quitting the app or even restarting your computer. It's great.

MacOS only for now.

Linux port: http://svn.jklmnop.net/projects/SelfControl.html

Has perl module and deb package

This happens to me all the time. For a while I stopped visiting HN to make myself feel better. Reading all the comments on this page, I feel people are just proposing hacks that stop you from visiting sites like HN or reddit. I think best hack is to start your own project. Do anything, it could even be reading a book and typing code from the book into your computer. Doing _anything_ will make you feel better about yourself. Remember, it does NOT have to be a product that magically changes the world and brings unicorns to life

How many hours does HN distraction cost you? For me it was like 2 hours per day, until I reached a point where I felt that I knew just enough to actually go and start doing something. Building something was the way to test my knowledge. Now I'm in progress with my first startup and HN browsing takes 15 minutes, I mainly bookmark stories that might benefit the project I am working with, it keeps me going.

So my advice would be, go and test how well you know "THE GAME", build something!

Underwear. Never get out of bed.

Just me and Hacker News.

Big picture of Paul Graham on the wall.

May I suggest my noprocrast gem? Designed to solve exactly this problem.


If your problem is spending too much time on HN, do you really think the solution involves posting on HN?

If this is really a problem, close your browser and never come back here and you'll have a much more productive life. If you find yourself coming up with substitutes, do the same with them. Think of this as your alcoholism, and realize that moderation, while it works for some people, is not an option for you.

My problem is that my time is occupied by other things at the moment. I read Hacker News (and Hackers Monthly) every day before heading to University and during my afternoon cup(s) of coffee and feel really inspired to get something done, but work for University and for an upcoming language exam keep me so busy that I don't have the time to actually get some coding done.

I hope that changes sometime soon..

As a self confessed HN addict, I want to share a new technique I found that massively improved my productivity in an instant.

Too good to be true ? Read on....

The technique is slightly different, depending in which operating system you have, but in general the instructions are:

(i) switch to your browser (ii) select "Exit" from the "File" menu.

Voila! Productivity improves. [[ assuming your not using the browser for work, of course ]]

Try it.


I do. But I've come to accept it like that, for me it's not that terrible anymore. After all, I am not "in the game", really, even if it would be nice. It's a shame you cannot get the entrepreneurial gene after being born. But it's nice to be able to watch things unfold from a close distance.

Do similar things only when there is nothing else really interesting ready to hand. So if I have an assignment due and have a total dislike for it, yes I will waste a lot of time reading various site like HN. But if I have something fun available, maybe only a few moments when I am taking a break.

Click on your username, set "noprocrast" to yes, then you will find yourself often staring at the "Sorry you can't view this site" text but you will get more productive. You can even select how long you want to work between reading HN there. It really helps and I can't thank PG enough for this :)

Not so much (mind you I was on HN a lot by my standards yesterday, but I was off sick), although lately I've been going through my morning browsing and submitting the tabs I found interesting, which I've noticed tends to result in a minor surge in posts by me on the new page.

same here, ehm I don't whether to feel ashamed or happy to see somebody else in the same situation

If you are on Windows, you can download CherryTomato which is designed to help you with procrastination even though it sounds like your condition might be severe :-)


CherryTomato uses the Pomodoro technique, and I have found it handy (occasionally).

If you are on a Mac, here is one that I use - http://pomodoro.ugolandini.com/

No, I divide my time on two fronts: quality time, when I'm fresh and full with energy, and rest time.

Hacker news is always part of the rest time, when I'm tired and lazy so no problem quitting.

On quality time focus and only interrupt it for resting.

i find that small distractions of 10 minutes at a time are fine, but often we get stuck on a site because we haven't finished reading it fully before we tell ourselves to get back to work. long pages (like these comment threads on HN and other sites) don't seem to help the matter.

someone should make a browser extension that visually blocks out parts of a page while you're supposed to be working. it would slowly reveal (say from top to bottom) parts of it the more time you're away from it and actually working. this way, your "reward" would be a fully rendered page every 10 minutes or so.

well... all my work is scripted... so its ok to spend a little time on HN B-)

I read it through feeds and keep checking every 3-4 hours. This gives me time to do others things as well. As of now, not very active in discussions, but trying to hop in.

on your profile page fill in these fields

    noprocrast: yes
    maxvisit: 15
    minaway: 180
That will allow you spend no more than 15 minutes every 3 hours

For the past month etc/host block on my macbook. Access with my ipad at night and in the morning. I gained a lot of productivity!

You seem to be doing something, since you are reflecting about your own problems and making this little post about doing nothing.

Was this posted by Ryan of The Office while he was supposed to be selling WUPHF.com?

Me weekend, full of plans, ended in only reading HN (except when I went out)...

I don't see a reason to up-vote that post.

I guess you don't feel the incredible urge to make things. Perhaps making things is not for you then. I don't think its laziness, it's simply that you don't NEED to do anything.

on mon-fri - yes..it helps me to run....on weekends - no, cause - HN walks on weekends

nope , mine is Google Reader i want to make a filter to help me do reading quickly

Just shift+a it

Count me in.



yes every day!

Keep in mind sites like Reddit and HN are pretty addictive in a chemical way (so can your email be). When you see something interesting or that agrees with your identity your brain gives you a hit of dopamine. You browse and look for the funny or fascinating because you remember finding somehting great earlier.

It's funny because Reddit hates advertising/mass manipulation etc but are being manipulated by the group all the time in many ways.

For dopamine, try http://hackerbra.in/ (specifically http://hackerbra.in/ask ) (you get it faster and easier - top comments without page refreshes.)

I am glad I have never had this problem. I really dont care about HN @ all and just use it as a resource to learn from the same as TC and a plethora of other websites. I enjoy making things so thats what I do and the same goes for my friends. If you enjoy studying startups more than launching products etc... then perhaps you should shift your career in that direction.

There are addictions in this world far worse than HN.

I may have a monkey on my back but at least he is fairly civil and always has something interesting to say.

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