The section on why notecards and todo lists have never worked for him (and for me) was particularly salient:
"The problem with "systems" is that they are authorities. They have to be. If you decide "I'll prioritize things with a stack of notecards" then you are telling yourself the following:
"The notecards replace my own brain. Everything that I do must be on a notecard. If it isn't on a notecard, it can't be done. If I want it done, it has to be on a notecard."
The problem is that when you have a crisis (a day full of emergencies) that forces you to break from this system you will lose all respect for its authority. Your brain will learn that it doesn't have to respect the notecards, that they aren't in charge, and this sense of freedom is addictive and will persist. Most ADHD sufferers have left a trail of systems - notecards, whiteboards, lists, post-its, apps, alarms - that worked great for [a month, a week, three days] but are now dead to them, scorched earth we can't return to."
Systems are better when they're an augmentation of your memory that you can appreciate. For example, I always put events in my google calendar so I can remember when they are and catch overlaps early.
I've had a bad relationship with todo lists. They get stale really quickly. If I look at a todo list that's a few days old, I might think, "Why should I do that now? Why should I factor the work in this way? Just so I can say I'm done with this item?" In practice, the way I factor a task changes constantly. So now the way I do todo lists is more like an aid to my memory. When I have time to do stuff (which is rare) I'll write down the things that are most important at that exact moment. Sometimes I'll skim through todo lists from previous days to jog my memory, but I won't copy over everything. I'll arrange the things into an itinerary for the day and see how many of them I can get done. Usually it's not all of them. And that's OK.
"Screw you (me). You don't know what now is like. This is a priority now."
The ego is a tricky thing to navigate...
> "But I had a good uncle, my late Uncle Alex. He was my father’s kid brother, a childless graduate of Harvard who was an honest life-insurance salesman in Indianapolis. He was well-read and wise. And his principal complaint about other human beings was that they so seldom noticed it when they were happy. So when we were drinking lemonade under an apple tree in the summer, say, and talking lazily about this and that, almost buzzing like honeybees, Uncle Alex would suddenly interrupt the agreeable blather to exclaim, “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”
> So I do the same now, and so do my kids and grandkids. And I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, 'If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is."
I think your ability to navigate the ego can be trained.
This section spoke to me in the same way, as each time I a new system up (or an old one back up) it works until I have to deal with an emergency day, where even the act of updating the list goes out the window. And then, the next day it's "hey, I made it through yesterday, I don't need that system today." and then it's done... until my emergency is "holy hell, I have no clue what's on my plate for the day/week/month, I need to fix that." where I'll pick up my go to old system (kanban style Trello board) and repeat the cycle anew.
If someone reading this feels the same and would like to hack together something like that, let me know and we could try it together.
I've been coming up and using various GTD systems for a better part of the last two decades. I'd be slipping in and out of different setups, tools, solutions, systems... Some would stick for years, the others I'd abandon pretty quickly.
All of them worked for me to a degree, and were very helpful in keeping me organised and efficient, but never did I find a perfect setup that I'd be perfectly comfortable and happy with.
I guess the most useful thing I learned from all these years and years of trying to get a system in place and trying to get organised is to be perfectly comfortable with changing the systems as I go along. Keep experimenting. Keep what works for you, discard what doesn't.
For a long time I've been using a combination of a Trello based implementation of a GTD-gone-wild kind of a todo list (with the centerpiece being week-by-week daily todos) and an Evernote based journal that I kept surprisingly consistently almost every day for years.
A few months ago, I got in one of those overwhelmingly busy crises, which made me drop the journal. Rather than daily, I'd do it occasionally. To an extent it was a relief, and I rationalised the hiatus by thinking in terms of the benefit from the valuable extra time that I could spend on other work, but I quickly realised that I lost an important information repository I could comfortably and consistently rely on.
And then I stumbled upon Roam Research (RR). The experience was so great that I started keeping a daily journal again. Went from 'nah, I'm not writing shit' mode to an almost obsessive 'gotta record everything' in an instant. And I'm actually enjoying it.
I've ditched Evernote (I still have all my old data there), and I did not think twice, cause I got used to evolving my system without looking back if I find something that i feel works better.
At the moment I'm still using Trello for tasks, but the todos are so easy and natural to do in RR that I'm increasingly using it for my tasks, and finding that I am having to open Trello less and less.
RR is so powerful and flexible and natural and easy, that I am genuinely excited about a prospect of evolving my next system on it. I have a sense this one will stick for a while.
There's a very helpful article on Medium, written by a guy that's quite serious about getting the most out of RR. I'll try to find it and link it below.
Personalny I just use git repo with markdown files and Bash script miss.sh to quickly send/get new content to central repo
It's been one of my better attempts at trying to circumvent the 'scorched earth' leaving of the task management process.
The mechanism you describe is what is the basis for the "Getting things done" framework. You learn your brain to "trust" the "authority" so it can let go of all loose ends that keep your brain busy (like stuff it needs to remember, like appointment, paying a bill, fixing something in the house, etc). But if you are able to trick your brain in not checking in with the authority (as GTD dictates) you are left with a lot of spare room in your brain to think creative, at least thats my theory.
I use a typical kanban wip system (Backlog, Today, Blocked, Done) to organize pretty much all task-related things in my life and it works extremely well. Once I know its on the trello board, I know I don't have to worry about keeping it in my head anymore, and that gives me a lot more space to relax and not worry things are being missed/forgotten.
This is key. I don't care if I miss a few weeks because of being lazy. I know my life/future/path/journey is ready to start again when I get tired of being disorganized.
The trick is not to let the notes and calendar act like a "master". I usually view it as a friend who suggests things to do in a given time frame. The friend(calendar with notes) and I are symbiotic, our interests are linked.
Changing the view from an "authoritative master" to a "benevolent friend" would help. Sometimes I would discard the note and keep binging youtube video/or hackernews. Other times, I would reschedule the work for some other time. But most of the time I am able to get things done on time, without any help.
It does require some discipline, but once you get a hang of it, it becomes easy.
This is even more effective if it's a weekend, and I'm drinking.
I do have a large trail of systems and nothing has worked permanently. However, I’m nowhere near as unfocussed as the author of that article. That one section resonated however.
Yes, there are systems that don't work. And yes, the dynamic by which they don't work tends to resemble the scorched-earth dynamic mentioned.
I've been keeping a Bullet Journal (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bullet_Journal) for several years now.
I'll be the first to admit that I maintain it inconsistently, skipping days, weeks, even months. Much as I have with other paper-based planning systems.
But, and this is critical: the bullet-journal method facilitates for me at least returning to the system. That is, if I take a hiatus, I'm not confronted with pages-on-end of blank, unfilled dates as with a pre-printed planner.
I've seen some people suggest omitting the index, and can only say from my experience DON'T DO THAT!!! It's the most critical part of the journal, as it lets you find things. That's what distinguishes the bullet journal from a simple sequential notebook without an index. Everything else -- bullet notation, brief-vs-long notes, spreads, etc., builds off the index IMO.
The flexibility of the system is fantastic as it suits my highly ideosyncratic needs. Sometimes a day needs a dozen pages. Sometimes I really need to make a spread. Sometimes I'll just have a few notes, or none, for days on end. There's no pre-printed form I'm fitting into, I just make what I need (or skip what I don't).
And again: if time goes by and I don't use it, I can re-start.
I've been looking at other systems, some covered in Getting Things Done (which ... took me nine years to read, just sayin'), including the notion of 43 folders, a tickler file. Not yet implemented, but after looking at ring / circular buffers (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Circular_buffer), I totally grok the concept.
I've recently started a journal-based research/reading journal based on a similar concept of "BOTI" -- best of the interval -- pages.
Rather than Starting a List and Simply Letting It Grow, the BOTI is either time- or space-constrained. You add to it, and when completed, open a new page, later in the journal.
Individual items on the BOTI aren't
You can also skim the top items from individual BOTI lists and create a next-higher-aggregation BOTI, the best of the best. And so forth. So you might have BOTW, BOTM, BOTY for week, month, and year. Yes, rolling weeks into months is inexact, this is not a precise system.
(Dev-Ops and sysadmin types will recognise this as similar to an RRD aggregation, and the idea borrows from this.)
And "best" can be multiple categories. I'm thinking of books, articles, authors, and ideas, but you might include, say, wines, beers, films, components, devices, or anything else that has a wide range of properties and quality levels that are otherwise hard to track with time.
The handy thing is that at the end of a year, you have a way to easily list out the top items of a year, or decade. Or should the Singularity arrive any time soon, centuries and millennia.
I've also been accumulating a collection of index cards related to research interests, now approaching a decade old. That's also proved an interesting journey.
One thing I'll point out is that recordkeeping and planning tools require both time and space. Your journal, your files, your index cards, need a place to live. If you're living a highly disrupted or mobile life, that can be very hard to arrange. I tend to find physical systems far superior to digital ones, for numerous reasons.
And no, I'm not expecting any one system to solve All My Personal Organisational Failings. But there are systems which have been used and evolved over time, there's a certain amount of sheer technique and practice to many of them, and operating within a loose but supportive structure really can help.
1. I'm not especially convinced it will.
2. Or, rather than travelling through time, you might dig back through past history and identify notable exemplars of whatever classes you're interested in tracking from the past. Or, converting time to space, a BOTP -- best of the place -- tracking faves associated with location. The concept is readily extensible.
3. Distractions (or freedom from), format durability, media stability, and privacy are key among these. But just the psychology of having tangible physical media, as well as the freedom from Someone Else's Notion of How to Arrange Your Brain seems also to matter a lot.
I’ve read the article. I would caution against labeling yourself as having ADHD, IMO it is very dangerous. Every high-achieving person I know has major problem with procrastination. I was nodding while reading the article until the ADHD part. Does it mean we all have ADHD? Consider an alternative: our brains have to operate nonstop at near max capacity just to handle complexities of modern society with computers and Internet. They rebel and as a result we slap them with “defective, ADHD” labels. By analogy, if you would feed somebody ungodly amounts of cake day in, day out, it is no wonder if they develop diabetes. The problem is not that you are inherently defective; the problem is you (or rather – modern society) brought you to the brink and now you wonder why you are breaking down. Perhaps try to unplug for some months in the woods and see if the symptoms persist? If they do, I stand corrected.
Since I wrote this article, I got professionally diagnosed and treated. Turns out, yeah, I'm doing a lot better now. On most days I don't have these symptoms, I can in fact study for classes and work, while also doing the things I love. I'm getting back into doodling, I've schedules all the appointments I need to, I have a great friend group, etc. etc. It's not perfect, I relapse sometimes, but I'm doing a lot better.
I'm not claiming everyone that procrastinates has ADHD. I'm claiming that it's a potential cause of chronic procrastination.
Also, I really can't afford to live in the woods for a few months. I still need to pay for rent and food and healthcare and such. I'm glad that's an option for you but I can't do that.
Give up social media (all of it: Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, HN), porn, and TV (including Netflix) for a couple of months. Take up some form of exercise (lifting, running, even pilates or something), and re-evaluate your attention span.
I'm not being flippant. If your therapist hasn't recommended this as at least a starting point to better diagnose you, then you need a better therapist.
Whenever a friend tells me they're depressed, or anxious, or have attention difficulties or whatever, the first thing I ask is "what did you spend most of your time doing last week?". If the answer is "Oh, I found this cool new show and binged it", or "Oh not much, I wasn't motivated to do anything so mostly just scrolling the feed haha" - I immediately sit them down and suggest that maybe those things are the cause and not the symptoms. You aren't depressed, therefore you watch TV and observe other people's lives on Instagram. You are depressed because you do those things with the majority of your waking hours.
Sure, many people suffer from depression, anxiety, etc. for plenty of other reasons they cannot control. But the rates of this in Western countries are skyrocketing. There has to be a better reason for that than "it's just who I am".
- I don't watch TV, and I don't have a Netflix account
- I'm asexual. I don't consume porn.
- I tried taking a social media break in the past. It didn't fix anything. I would just either nap or stare at the wall while my thoughts raced in circles.
- I bike and walk long distances on a regular basis.
I understand you're trying to help but I'm not you. My brain works differently than yours. Maybe the rates in Western countries are skyrocketing because more people are learning this is a thing they have.
Apologies if I'm being flippant, but it's very important to understand that not everyone is the same. Some people need therapy or medication or surgery or etc. to be at their best. That's not a bad thing. There's nothing wrong with treatments that are known and proven to resolve a set of symptoms that you have.
Lots of people don't understand this.
For me personally, having done all these things, even major lifestyle changes, diet, exercise, etc, causing extreme amounts of stress, there was VERY LITTLE benefit. I spend 99.9% of my energy to move my mood 10%, which reverted immediately upon anything knocking me out of the new routine for even a short amount of time. Being a couch potato will make a normative person a little more depressed or anxious. But thats like someone being depressed because of a life event, rather than something they deal with chronically.
There's something to people not being harmonious with their environment, and there's also something to environments not being harmonious to people. But most people have responsibilities and must go to work for a living, and don't have fully control over their environment. Western culture may be somewhat to blame, but for people who need help NOW just telling them to go on an information diet and exercise isn't going to help.
On the other hand, your comment is not unlike telling a depressed person to just exercise when having the wherewithal to exercise is galactically out of reach for them.
There is no blanket advice that works for everyone, no one-size-fits-all solution. It simply does not exist and never will, because humans are a quite diverse bunch.
Super ADHD dude chiming in. If I went to the woods without meds, I'd just be hyper in the woods.
Very few people can truly manage ADHD without medication. Some say they do but are completely delusional. Psychotherapy is also essential since it helps to cope with the emotional and existential toll of the disorder. But, at least in my experience, it has negligible effects on the actual symptoms.
That's exactly a big part of the problem; the way current society makes it impossible for most people to unwind, decouple and truly relax.
I'm struggling with my attention span and motivation, so I've been considering getting out of the tech business and greatly reducing stress levels in my life. I've already gotten out of the mindset of always needing to have the latest new thing and the mindset of trying to keep up with the Joneses, but my IT job keeps stressing me out. It's just pointless corporate busywork and dysfunctional processes and workflows all the way down.
I want something more straightforward, more beneficial to the world or even just to my local environment. It's never too late to make a change.
Let me elaborate on my point. Consider a thought experiment: If you would spend 3 months in the woods, do you think it is plausible your symptoms would disappear? If you don’t think this as being plausible (likely even) then we have to agree to disagree and that’s it. Not enough data. If you do agree that might cure you then what does it mean about your ADHD diagnosis? It means that you have ADHD in the context of the demands society puts on you and not you have ADHD, period. That should give you some perspective on what is really going on here. To pile up on the diagnosis: in the article you linked a doctor was quoted saying "You're an engineer, that's not a field that people with ADHD have any success like you in.". That’s my point. If I have an ambition to be in the top ~1% of most performing population and sometimes (even often!) I cannot keep up, I won’t conclude I need to take medications, make it become part of my identity, and accept as an excuse. Not being in top 1% all the time is not the same as requiring diagnosis and treatment.
Would my symptoms be an issue? Possibly not, depending on how brutal the camping experience is.
I will concede that this semester I've reduced my workload and it's helping me avoid burnout and stress. Stress makes my symptoms significantly worse. I'd bet most people don't do well under sustained pressure, though.
That said, my problems aren't just limited to classwork and such. Doing laundry and cooking and other stuff I'd always have to do can be a genuine struggle for me. Even on the weekend, even on holiday break. Even with no pressure, I have these symptoms.
I only went on the ADHD route after exhausting all other alternatives. As I gain more responsibilities in life it's becoming obvious that I need treatment. And it works for me. Maybe something else is better for you. IDK. But don't write off ADHD. Nobody would go through these tests and take these medications if it wasn't genuinely helpful.
If I lived alone in the woods and had supplies regularly brought to me I'd probably be mostly fine. I might sometimes run out of clean towels because I put off doing the washing or something, but in the woods I can afford to skip showering for a while.
When I got diagnosed I argued with my doctor at first, how could I have ADHD - I got good grades in school, I don't fidget noticeably, etc. My doctor then pointed out that even if I wasn't fidgeting in class I had told him that I often just read novels during class instead of giving my full attention to the teacher. He also asked if I did anything that is fidgeting but that people tend not to notice such as biting my nails (yes), or drawing patterns on my teeth (yes!).
He then pointed out that intelligence can compensate for issues with attention, but only so far.
Another thing to be aware of is that I had started to lose my capacity to enjoy hobbies of mine, because despite wanting to do them I'd end up just sitting around, or constantly bouncing between 8 different things.
Back when this was becoming an issue I didn't have social media at all, not even something like a HN account so you can't blame that
But that is exactly what ADHD is about. People with ADHD can't do future-oriented behavior very well. This makes it much more difficult for them to do well at work and in relationships. A person with ADHD would probably manage fine in the woods, but that would mean a life where they are alone and have no income. It's not about not hitting the top 1%, it's about not ending up homeless or addicted to drugs.
I tend to agree with this to an extent. But, for me, even in a situation with unlimited resources and time, I simply can't get done things that I actually (truly truly) want to get done.
Discovered and written about before WW1, decades before a drug not working out in the 1980s. How very peculiar.
There are multiple studies, brain scans and what have you showing the treatment is not placebo effect.
I love that a large group of people that are well and don’t have ADHD seem to think they can tell people with ADHD that they’re full of shit and really don’t have it.
I think the bigger problem we have as a society is that we don’t do a good enough job identifying people’s strengths and finding ways to leverage them while downplaying their weaknesses. It’s something that I think exceptional managers do with their teams, but I suspect is a rare skill.
>so who cares if a person can’t help but chase butterflies the rest of the time?
Because chasing butterflies is not useful. A person whose interests change all the time is unlikely to become very good at a specific skill or even if they do become good at it, they won't use it to its full extent, because they will be off chasing butterflies.
That also doesn't solve the non-economic problems such as relationships. A person with ADHD is less likely to keep their relationships healthy.
> Perhaps try to unplug for some months in the woods and see if the symptoms persist? If they do, I stand corrected.
Sure, moving to Walden Pond for a few months would probably reboot your brain, but that's not a realistic possibility for 99.9% of people.
> By analogy, if you would feed somebody ungodly amounts of cake day in, day out, it is no wonder if they develop diabetes.
No amount of sugar in your diet causes diabetes, type 1 or type 2. Being overweight and otherwise unhealthy, or genetic predisposition does cause pancreatic degradation.
If you eat cake all day, but have sparse genetic history of diabetes, get your other nutrients, maintain a good fitness regime and stay on top of your physiological needs, you are unlikely to develop diabetes.
AKA: Often you are inherently defective, and only secondarily a product of modern society.
If I break my leg, will you tell me to "think it out"?
Pretty sure this is egregiously false.
Maybe its fair to say we have brain capacity sufficient for a normal distribution of operating requirements. Instead of 'nonstop'. But we certainly don't have any brain in excess of requirements, according to natural selection logic.
I'd probably be a CTO or a successful startup founder by now if I'd had a solution early in life. As it is I've done OK but it's always a struggle because work by its very nature is doing something you don't want to do because they're paying you... and doing something I don't want to do is very VERY hard. Almost impossible at times.
If you're a teenager or in your 20s, try and get some help now so you don't toil in futility for the next 20 years. Trust me.
I emphasize with this, and work certainly has this aspect, but I think there's a better way to think about it: the nature of work is doing something valuable to somebody else for money. You don't get money for doing something you dislike and, crucially, people will still pay you to do useful things even if you enjoy them!
The practical upside is that it is possible to find work you enjoy. There is nothing wrong with prioritizing this as much as you are able, and you shouldn't feel guilty once you do find work you enjoy. It's easy to internalize a Puritan "work as penance" point of view living in the US, but I think it's not a useful (or accurate) way to think about it.
Of course, none of this changes your conclusion—if you feel this way, you should get some help. And, hell, even if you don't feel these things, chatting with a therapist will probably have a healthy effect on your life.
With the skills I have that do pay well, I'm not sure what role I'd enjoy. I always thought being a physical penetration tester would be amazing fun, but those roles usually go to ex military types, not random joes like me with no formal background. I like designing systems, but architects aren't really a "thing" anymore. Writing code all day long is drudgery now.
I certainly should get some help, I'm 99% certain I have unofficially diagnosed ADHD. It just seems like a lot of work figuring out what to do, and then I get distracted by something else I'm doing... heh.
I'm pretty successful by most people's (external) measures. But every single day is a miserable fight against my own brain. Some coping mechanisms are really harmful.
> If you're a teenager or in your 20s, try and get some help now so you don't toil in futility for the next 20 years. Trust me.
I second that.
I suspect also that you may have an outdated view of ADHD. It's more about a lack of executive function than 'hyperactivity'. In fact one of the ADHD types is 'inattentive'. Did you read the whole article? The author discusses some of this.
RE reading the article, that's where I'm getting it.
"My mind flutters from the window to reading the little scribbles people left on the desk to my imagination and then back out again" = I am observant of my environment and probably the first one to be aware of new opportunities or threats arising from that environment. And I dream.
"I'm really prone to letting my thoughts get off on the worst tangents..." = I pay attention to tangential (i.e. "touching," related) things and take action on them, investigate them. She looks them up on Wikipedia, learns all about them, and suffers no loss of attentiveness when the topic is meaningful to her and chosen by her. Given that new knowledge tends to come most readily from tangents, and not from out of the blue, and not from some well-intentioned-but-flawed, "legible" (i.e. bureaucratic/"makes logical sense"/industrialized) lesson plan, this is not a bad approach to learning. The problem only comes when you need to get through school, where those lesson plans are de rigueur and the pertinent skill is actually overruling/ignoring what you are interested in and not taking action on it. Huge waste BTW, whether ADHD or not.
"Executive function" - well I would simply open the question of whether the "executive" (slight pun) who is in charge, inside us, is always the one who we think it is. Our parents'/teachers' voices, or our own? Something is always being executed, even when we're not executing on our plan to do homework. The "fitting in, getting by" part of you made a plan to do homework, but the (I would argue) real part of you already realizes it's all silly bullshit & doesn't matter. The former is the one we reward with good grades & good jobs, but the latter is the one who's right.
As for the rest, it's hard to know what to make of it. It's like you're building a superpower out of failure to be able to focus when it's necessary to focus. Like if someone couldn't stand still, and you said something like "I bet it's really useful, because you never get stiff, and you burn more calories", but ignoring that it's fucking terrible, because you can't ever sit still even when it would be advantageous to sit still.
Note that executive control is also about planning. Of course it can be useful to rush of without planning, like when being chased by a panther. But it's not a good idea to have a significant deficit in the ability to plan. "Silly bullshit [that] doesn't matter" can mean not having the ability to pay for food, and it can mean having terrible stress over accomplishing trivial tasks (like filing out tax paperwork!).
Anyway. You're welcome to continue to not-buy ADHD, but recognize that people who live with, and who study it, think it's a thing.
It might've sounded like I was accusing you of something - I wasn't, sorry, just pointing out that rushing to a conclusion is part of why Twitter sucks. Nobody can just talk about an idea or let's say, one particular side of an idea, without it being construed as carrying a flag for that idea to take over the world and exterminate all other ideas. I'm only mentioning one thing, that doesn't mean all other things are false. But I'm focusing on this one side of it partly because nobody really needs me to enumerate the BAD aspects of having ADHD, I mean that's the side everyone has already heard!
ADHD is a "disorder", but it's root cause is intrinsic, genetic.
Different people are different. ADHD isn't about "being human", it's about being a certain type of human. Everyone is somewhat maladapted to the inhumane world that has been created, but people with personalities at certain extremes adapt much worse.
I "have ADHD". Most of my relatives have ADHD. I view the modern world as an act of aggression, as an attack. If I want to survive, and I want my descendants to survive, then the modern world must be destroyed.
To some degree, you are right. Many illnesses are defined by "suffers from ___ to a degree that it interferes with their ability to function effectively". The latter half of that means that mental illness really is affected by our surrounding culture and institutions.
You need food to live and in our world you need a job to buy food. In a world where all the jobs require effective social interaction, even mild autism could be debilitating. But in a world where there are jobs that mostly involve working with machines or animals, it could simply be within the realm of healthy mental variation. So is being on the autism spectrum a disorder or just a difference? Depends on what's on the classified page today.
But it's also important to realize that for ADHD, ASD, and other mental conditions, many people are far enough along their respective spectra that these are unequivocally real diseases that cause them profound suffering in ways that can't be blamed on "society".
Watching someone with untreated ADHD fail to hold down a mind-numbing meaninless dystopian capitalist hellhole job is one thing. Watching them struggle to reach their own personal goals ("just one more YouTube video and then I'll work on that novel"), take care of their physical health ("I'll start exercising tomorrow"), and build healthy long-term personal relationships is another ("I'm so sorry I forgot to call you back, again").
ADHD fundamentally interferes with a person's ability to enact long-term planning over time. This is a fundamental human need independent of the effects of industrial civilization.
I have come to believe that procrastination is a healthy and necessary condition for outstanding productivity. It is like REM sleep or something :-)
I think that without some level of procrastination nothing amazing would ever be done.
I'm not talking about that here. I'm talking about severe procrastination, when it's very difficult to do the work you need to do. The goal is to strike a healthy balance.
Sometimes I'll be listening to an audiobook and I'll start thinking about something else. By rewinding the audiobook I can figure out how long the distraction was (could be over a minute). It also amazes me how I have no recollection of the portions of the audiobook that were playing while I was distracted.
Too slow and I'll be bored and my mind will wander a lot, and too fast and I'll miss chunks even with the smallest mind wandering. The sweet spot is somewhere in the middle.
For reading written material, I found a trick that worked for me in college, when I had mountains of assigned books to read. Whenever I noticed my mind wandering, I'd make an arbitrary mark (like a simple checkmark) on a piece of paper and immediately go back to reading. This kept my focus and I was able to barrel through a ton of reading.
If you're going to comment on someone's article, and their blog has an "about" page, read it before leaving the comment. It's baseline etiquette.
Some other keywords to look for are "impossible task" and "executive dysfunction", both maladies being seen predominantly in millennials. I just happened to get them 10 or 20 years ahead of time by starting computers when I was 12 as a Gen Xer.
What worked for me: (1) getting more sleep - counterintuitive, as one gets less time to be productive, but I find that sleep deprivation affects my mood, attention, and executive function big time (2) writing it down and drawing up my day hour by hour. Even if I do not follow the plan to the tee - it helps me visualize the day and find large chunk of times that are best for getting into the zone (3) batching up small but mundane tasks and sticking them into the short available chunks of time that would not be good for deep work, then focus on this list of tasks and racing to compete as many of them as possible, using the short rush of pleasure of completing one task as a burst of energy for the next one and create momentum.
See, this is the piece some people have a problem with. That requires you to actually start those tasks.
I say all this as someone who has had severe problems with laziness and I empathize with the author of the article a lot, so I'm not trying to make light of the problem. I'm just suggesting an alternative perspective that may be useful.
Yesterday was decent, I started off a bit sluggish but okay, but by mid afternoon I really got going and got a bunch of good things done. I was actually on a productivity high!
Today I came in with that same good energy, and then an alert came in: "user suchNsuch has been blocked due to high volume of suspicious emails sent!" Damn! Total derail. I've been able to do the basics to mitigate that situation, but lost all of my enthusiasm for other projects.
Maybe getting out of the office for a second lunch will help! If I feel like reading these articles after, I will know some progress has been made.
I definitely agree with the other procrastination post today that its mostly to do with emotional state. Part of the issue at work is that I hesitate to get into big projects when I know I will just be interrupted by trivial shit again. Beyond that it's just mustering up the discipline to make myself start. It's not really that hard, but it still feels like it is.
For me, it was when I watched Dr. Russell Barkley's talk and halfway through, it brought me to tears. No one before then had described exactly the way I felt on a daily basis.
Since going through a full day of neuropsychological testing and being diagnosed with ADHD-I and starting medication, I feel like the me I think I am, naturally curious, optimistic, and actually following through with the things that interest me. Planning and grad school assignments just click so effortlessly now, and my stress is way down, as I am completing things in a timely manner and not fighting myself at every step of the way.
If any of this resonates with you, please talk with a psychiatrist to see if this is something you're unknowingly (and unnecessarily) struggling with.
Also,if you're like me and like listening to audio books at 2 or 3x speed, check out Speechify, it allows you to listen to any kind of text including rough scans of books/PDFs. It's been incredibly helpful for required readings in classes.
edit: wrong video url
I procrastinate to the point where it’s causing me real problems in life, yet it feels kinda indulgent to say that as if I’m the victim of some disease, when I’m actually just failing to deal with something that’s hard for everyone.
Perhaps this feeling is actually contributing to the problem, because I’m continually frustrated that I can’t just snap out of it like (most) other people.
It's normal, to a degree. When you are failing classes and having problems with your job, relationships and even your hobbies, then it is no longer normal.
I’ve often wondered whether I have ADHD, but I don’t have the other symptoms of forgetfulness, disorganisation and hyperactivity.
Procrastination is a huge problem for me and I’d love to have a label for it, but I don’t think procrastination alone qualifies as a mental disorder.
In truth I think that a binary classification is too much of a blunt instrument. The reality is probably more of a spectrum.
No, really, I'm waiting for an O(n^4) algorithm to finish processing a full HD frame to confirm that it works before I put in the effort of building a GPU version.
For the kind of person who frequents this site and endures suffering due to procrastination, even seeing their clinical definition of maladaptive perfectionism (and learning why procrastinating provides relief from it) could reduce your level of anxiety and self-flagellation, if not help you change your behavior.
The first section of their book provides a framework for understanding what is happening when you procrastinate, then orients your investigation into the underlying causes specific to you (or those not applicable to you). The book's second section offers self-directed cognitive behavioral therapies.
"Procrastination" is based on decades of the authors’ clinical experience. The 25th anniversary edition pulls in updated academic research from as far afield as behavioral economics (future discounting) that didn't exist when the book was first published.
[This comment is a reposted version of one of my own previous comments]
I've watched a ton of videos on procrastination, and read a lot about it, and this video is head and shoulders above everything else. Highly recommended.
He also has the iProcrastinate Podcast, which also has some useful and interesting episodes.
 - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mhFQA998WiA
 - http://iprocrastinate.libsyn.com/
Dare I say it: I don't like context switches and would prefer first come first serve, until completion. The real world, however, is unforgiving on which scheduler I can choose.
You use bold text well before and after these sections, when you're only bolding a few words at most at a time. Once you start bolding whole phrases your paragraphs start looking like striped lines. It was very distracting to try to follow your sentences when my attention is getting drawn to all the bolded text around me. It almost felt wrong at times to read the plain formatted text.
Your content was very engaging and I relate to it quite a bit. The illustrations are fantastic thanks for posting.
I’ve found myself thinking those exact thoughts ever since I suspected I suffered from ADHD, and I plan to quote them at my doctors when I seek my own ADHD diagnosis.
This is the case for many (all?) people. I've found that you need to intentionally train your ability to not let your mind do this. I recommend this book for some exercises to help:
So, it doesn't just take intentionality, as most people can clip off daydreaming or rabbithole trains of thought with minimal friction, but for many of us with ADHD the act of attempting to break the "distraction cycle" can essentially have the opposite effect, or just left turn us into another avenue of distraction. I know for myself, there's an anxiety that builds when actively (we can't passively quiet our brains) attempting to quiet my brain; as the doubt builds as you find it more and more difficult to step away from your racing brain and into the now. This becomes a self defeating cycle which is difficult to steer out of when attempting something like meditation.
Just out of curiosity, what meditation technique do you use, and what's been the longest meditation session that you've had without quieting your mind?
For me, who doesn't suffer from ADHD, and whose technique of meditation consists of simply focusing on the sensation of air flowing past my nostrils as I breathe, I'll always eventually quiet my mind if I meditate long enough. The primary challenge is just giving it enough of a chance instead of getting up and doing something else.
Of course, even when mind quieting is achieved, the moments of quietness are of finite duration, and some thought or other will eventually (usually sooner rather than later) pop in.
That being said, I do martial arts, and I would compare intense focus on performing an intermediate to long kata to the generally expressed trance or meditative states; and in those times I would consider it similar to either art or programming flow.
And I think that's where the distinction is, as 'traditional' meditation tends to be a more passive meditation style that doesn't work well with the active needs to essentially distract my brain into a present tense form.
I've gone for 3 to 4 hours stretches myself, with valuable results, and I know some people meditate all day, for days, weeks, or months at a time. Most people don't have the luxury to do such extended meditation sessions except maybe on vacation, but several hours a day on weekends should be doable. Try to stretch your limits.
 - https://www.amazon.com/Mindfulness-English-Bhante-Henepola-G...
 - http://www.khamkoo.com/uploads/9/0/0/4/9004485/the_heart_of_...
As soon as I sit around and get bored, my brain will make up absurd daydreams and stories. Usually they are pretty funny, so afterwards I feel relaxed and happy. Isn't that the whole point of taking a break?
- In the middle of flow
- Trying to fall asleep
- Trying to go back to sleep
- In the middle of important conversations
- During meetings - even one's you're leading
- When you're getting dressed
- When you're making breakfast (where the hell did I put the 3rd spoon I've pulled from the drawer)
- When you're in intimate moments with a partner (or by yourself - no judgement here)
- When you're making lunch (just burned my second grilled cheese because I can't stay on task for 5 minutes)
- During exercise
- During free-time and hobbies
- Between small tasks
- In the middle of small tasks
I would say the article nicely highlights the problems with ADHD diagnosis, because when I read it, I thought for pretty much every point "oh I also do that sometimes"
Like for me, depending on where I'm at in existence from day to day my therapist has said the 'H' portion of ADHD is minor for me, other times it's been a major contributor to issues; but I have to have a level of introspection to even catch when certain parts of my diagnosis are sitting at high tide or low tide...
Sometimes I can remember every detail of every interaction and task for weeks at a time, nearing eidedic memory; but most days I'll misplace a knife I was just using for butter.. and yesterday I forgot all the time I spent doing chores because I essentially was on auto-pilot, my wife thanked me, I said "for what?" high tide and low tide...
I'll hyperfocus on creating a task-list for a project I'm super excited about, and __usually__ forget the Trello board exists or misplace the papers or let the notes go through the wash or... high tide and low tide...
Some days I'll be able to fall asleep as soon as I lay down. Most days though I can't get my brain to shut up, taking notes to free up the brain space makes more room for something else to jump in, meditation/breathing exercises are momentary fixes that don't last long enough to allow sleep to come, a glass of water or bathroom break turns into an hour on reddit, etc and then suddenly it's 5am... high tide and low tide...
I'm coping by putting podcasts on almost audible levels when going to sleep, otherwise there would be no sleep. This helps to distract the mind just enough to pass out. But lately it's working worse and worse....
I guess I'll reconsider seeking professional help and medication
- travelling and staying in a hotel for a month. Just job and hotel. All bookmarks, Todo lists, and everything else like that gone. Helped me forget it all and have a clear mind.
- brushing teeth twice. I saw study that linked gum disease to depression. Aka unhealthy mind. I feel keeping mouth clean keeps inflammation down. I feel really positive once I had dental cleaning and decided I want to continue feeling that.
- sleep apnea treatment with CPAP machine. It works I get tired 5 hours late now. before I'd be tired by 2pm, now I'm tired by 11 pm. I hate the mask I'm gonna get p10 that goes into nostrils I've nasal mask which sits under the noise and I feel it's affecting my teeth by putting gradual pressure.
- accomplishing anything. I did an online course. Something different than my usual grind. And in world of evolving frameworks where you can never be good. It was refereshing to take the test and pass it many tests. Grow confidence.
- don't mess your internal rythm. Just how blue light can alter your cycle so can eating very much. Infact there was a study by Harvard that to counter just lag and start waking up at certain time, fast almost a day then wake up at the time you wanna wake up daily and have big breakfast. It will instantly changes internal clock. So eating past 5-6pm is very bad. With Exception of milk.
Unlike every other investment where you give up your time, your health, your optimism and you get nothing.
I'll sign myself up for a therapist now. Thanks.
Generally, try to find out the last day something is due, figure out if that's a hard or soft deadline (if soft, get an extension), estimate how long it'll take to do the work, and then start the work exactly within that time limit. Doing it any sooner means that you're likely putting off even earlier deadlines.
Procrastinating is not a problem, submitting work late or low quality is.
My feeling is that anyone w/o an A average going into college should have a first term class in time/study strategies, and register for no more than 4 classes (outside Loafers 101). Many people much brighter than I crashed and burned early in college and our vaunted centers of learning had nothing for them.
To say it is ADHD is to suggest it is neurological e.g. some chemical imbalance in the brain, but if it’s really an emotional response then saying you have ADHD is more like pointing out the symptom rather than the cause here.
Most psychologists and psychiatrists worth their salt will tell you that ADHD and Anxiety are kissing-cousins; and will usually look for the other if someone has one of them. Guess what is a great emotional inhibitor to doing things... Anxiety.
More generally, a strong emotional response of any kind could be considered as a chemical imbalance by how you're categorizing ADHD. ADHD isn't as hard and fast assigned a "chemical imbalance" like Depression, and more closely related to Asperger/Autism as an executive function/communication disorder (via DSM 4r9 and all of DSM 5). The reason that some of us are given something like Welbutrin or Proponolol instead of a straight stimulant like Ritalin or Aderall is because ADHD can in many cases be clustered with Depression, Anxiety, or other mood disorders (which are in the "chemical imbalance" group, and knocking out one can help the other).
So, short story long, there's no contradiction; but like with most things, there can be multiple root causes for a single, broadly defined outcome like procrastination.
ADHD is a shortcoming of executive function, which manages near-term memory and keeps people "on task".
"I'm going to endure this unpleasantness for a better future" is a goal that requires executive function to hang on to – you have to continue grasping it with the part of your subconscious that ADHD undermines.
So you end up prone to a brand of nearsighted emotional hedonism because it's difficult to keep track of the "why"s that motivate long term management of emotions. It's basically time blindness.
In other words, keeping your cool, keeping your word, and keeping your car keys are all "keep doing X", and ADHD will kneecap all of those in equal measure.
A second component – and this is just anecdotal – is that ADHD makes the emotional component of procrastination worse. You drop tasks more often, and if you've got any self awareness at all, you'll notice that. Of course you feel a little bad about it. Now noticing dropped tasks makes you feel a bit worse. But your ADHD means dropping more threads, so you feel more badly more often. The pit of emotional misregulation surrounding procrastination gets steeper, faster, for someone with ADHD, because there's a compounding fit where you're twice as likely to take blows to your productivity, and half as able to recover.
I don't think this is inherently contradictory. ADHD isn't _just_ a neurochemical imbalance (and imbalance is weird because that 'balance' differs from person to person (and characterizing all neurological issues as chemical imbalances is a bit reductionistic) ). ADHD is also characterized by an under-developed prefrontal cortex, which is the region of the brain responsible for executive function.
More directly addressing your point, as far as I understand, emotions are largely just temporary changes in the availability of your neurotransmitters/your neurochemical balance. So yeah, sure, procrastination is an emotional thing, which is just minor changes in your neurology.
Ultimately, ADHD is kinda characterized by the Severity of these neurochemical changes and, more specifically how they affect behavior. It's a label for behavior, and also a number of traits that result in that behavior, but not a Thing in and of itself, if that makes sense.
In other words, saying it's both isn't inherently contradictory, cuz ADHD also has an "emotional" component to it. You could argue that the emotional part is a symptom or side effect.
Not to be offensive to those diagnosed with ADHD or something related, but there is absolutely too much ADHD going around at the moment for it to be a coincidence.
My wife is a teacher, and the number of kids "diagnosed" with ADHD is insane. What do they do with their time instead of homework or listening in class? Playing video games for hours on end, browsing social media, sending Snaps, creating Tik Tok videos, watching porn, watching Netflix, and so on ...
See a pattern here? Sure, it is probably an old trope at this point, but the entertainment modern society has given us has drastically lowered our attention spans. Those of us in our mid to late 20s are on the border. We didn't grow up with social media, but we're young enough to have started using it fairly early (but not early enough - usually - for it to effect us /too/ badly, though those using it too much have suffered from it). Those a bit younger (high school age, freshman age) are absolutely suffering from it, and God knows how badly the primary and middle schoolers will suffer.
In this article, the OP talks about what they do instead of study most of the time: lay in bed and browse Twitter and Reddit. Sorry but - and not to sound trite - but that there is a huge problem. It is not a symptom, it is a problem (not the problem, but it contributes) in and of itself. Cut it out.
Unfortunately, I find myself sucked back into social media after giving it up for any length of time, whether by friends, family, a new venture that needs a Facebook page, whatever. But when I do give it up (and I mean all of it: Reddit, Twitter, Facebook, HN, the lot) I am the most productive I have ever been. I get things done. It's not a magic cure, and it must be combined with other stuff (exercise, reading, meditation), but honestly, our lazy modern lives are the cause of most "ADHD" and nothing else.
2019 - everyone thinks they have ADHD on some level
Constant: you're human and you are a fine human. Hormones and interests fluctuate throughout the weeks, months, years. Pursue what feels right. The human brain wasn't designed to pursue long term goals, it takes an extraordinary interest in something for it to be a life goal. Nothing is ever finished, it's just tabled for now. One day you'll be old and leave all that crap behind for the next generation. It's nature.
I found that 10mg of desipramine once a night obliterated most of the procrastination.
Stimulants also effect people with ADHD differently than those without. I won't pretend nto be an expert on the subject, but stimulants tend to make people with ADHD calmer, able to control their thoughts better, and sometimes even sleepier. People without ADHD tend to feel agitated and jittery and hyper.
Obviously, YMMV regarding the effectiveness of your treatment. I'm still sometimes up and down but the baseline is higher. Even if you decide not to take medication (it's not right for everyone and I won't pretend otherwise), do seek therapy. It's so incredibly helpful.
I procrastinate a lot. I am also extremely successful by most measures. I have a lot of education and an advanced degree. I have started companies and sold them. I have worked for VCs. I consult. I make a lot more money than almost anyone else in the world by percentage.
I did ALL of those things while fighting with and tackling procrastination. And sometimes, I lose. I lose really hard. I procrastinate for weeks on important things that could take minutes.
I am glad you don't have these social anxieties and disorders. But they are quite real and take real work to get past. Successful people are not those who don't procrastinate. Successful people are those who take challenges and find ways to work around them.
I am interested where your viewpoint comes form, can you elaborate? Maybe you are trolling? Or in your experience of life, people and your own mind can you bootstrap your way out of anything going on in your mind?
Anyway, related to your actual post – you said:
> Buckle up and get it done, it's that simple.
Would you tell a depressed person
> Cheer up and go outside, it's that simple.
If so, what evidence do you have that this is an effective treatment?
If not, what makes the two situations (w/r/r "culpability" for ones cognitive abilities) different?
> Would you tell a depressed person
Yes I would absolutely tell that to a depressed person. And I have said it. I was depressed for a decade. And yet people spoke to me this way, because that's life. I was on antidepressants. I took care of my problem(s) and I still got my job done while struggling, medicating, and going to therapy. A big part of therapy was learning to separate "them" from "me" in my internal dialog.
You know what? I'm glad someone spoke to me that way. It got me up and motivated to work on myself. I can't imagine how poorly I would have turned out if I was coddled and allowed to stay in bed and read about all of these new pop-psych diseases I could blame. But that's just me. Maybe I can reach someone the way I was reached.
However, you are conflating two completely unrelated things. I am not responsible for your internal mental state, nor is anyone responsible for mine. This is a crucial skill that I believe is sorely lacking.
I think that is the problem. Maybe it is just you. The language you use, coddling, and how you speak of mental diseases as if it's some made up thing suggest maybe you weren't going through what others are going through.
> Maybe I can reach someone the way I was reached.
I doubt it. I read your first comment and then the edit, and thought maybe you'd come to your senses, but no. You do lack empathy and understanding. You sound very like your not trying to reach some one, instead, you're trying to tell them how it is from your point of view. No empathy. People actually suffering don't need that from you.
A brand new HN post on
I'm starting to see a pattern here.
It should be demoralizing, because it's bullshit and it's not what you want to be doing.
The key takeaway is that if you don't become excellent at something that society appreciates (will pay good money for), the remainder of your life will be spent with dimwits at work.
The solution to being in a shitty situation is seeing a clear path out, not pills and blog articles.