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Ask HN: How do you guys deal with laziness?
75 points by kkthxbb 18 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 45 comments
Hello everyone!

I usually think of myself as a curious, open-minded person. When I think about things they are all sounds interesting to me, especially if they are connected to technology.

Unfortunatelly, the last week shows that I just cannot win with my laziness. I spend all the time lurking on the internet or watching youtube vides. I've tried ti blocked time-wasting pages (like 9gag/reddit/etc.) but it clearly didn't help at all. I have a lot of books and articles to read, topics to explore, projects to finish but every time when I'm trying to dig into it I end up feeling tired and resigned. It really makes me worry about myself, because I'm wasting so much time!

What can I do to improve my attitude toward useful areas of my life and convince myself to stop wasting time?

Dealt with sleep/concentration issues for over a decade. Some anecdotes:

- No caffeine after 1/2/3PM (even "sleep-friendly" tea throws me off)

- Melatonin / Sleep aids: See if they work for you

- Don't drink before bed (because it means a bathroom break in the middle of the night) [1]

- If you do wake up in the middle of the night, a snack may help. (https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/food-and-drink-prom...). Though I don't know, I've tried Chamomile tea and it keeps me up.

- Sleep study. Screen for sleep apnea. You may be able to get a CPAP machine depending on insurance.

- Find a psychiatrist to screen for adult ADD/ADHD.

- Consider a single monitor, ultra wide screen, and tiling/snapping window. Always have your content you need to get done open.

- Take a few days to clean and unclutter stuff. It takes an upfront emotional toll to get rid of stuff (loss aversion), but most stuff you forget. Junk is burdensome on the mind.

- A nice podcast on procrastination: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YWFWsR0iPqI

- Dietary: Any sensitivities? Consider simplifying your diet to be very plain (cut carbs?) and experiment. I do keto. Simple carbs can impact me heavily!

- Bed: Do you have a comfy bed frame? Blankey? Pillow? Latex pillows are nice. I like soft pillows and hard mattresses. Amazon has cheap, high quality bed frames and mattresses-in-a-box, and I'm a big guy. My bed setup is ~$350 all included, with a comfy comfy pillow. Walmart has mattress-in-a-box.

[1] my hypothesis is for certain people, when they wake up at night, go to the bathroom, it's enough excitement to make it hard to go back to bed.

Subsystems to fix: Unclutter physical possessions, Streamline info spaces (computer workflows, email), avoid stimulants in afternoon / evening. Check for sleep apnea and ADD/ADHD.

Great items to throw out there. Getting the clutter out of my workspace and moving to one big monitor has bee huge for me. Just makes you focus on work. I don’t allow myself to do distracting things when in my workspace. Make sure to take breaks and walk away, then you can check whatever online vices.

"Simple carbs can impact me heavily!"

What effects do they have on you?

Not OP. Simple carbs, like glucose, have a very measurable impact on my day's mood: after the sugar rush, I usually feel depressed and without energy.

Indirectly, it affects my bedtime routine, as I get way less done on the day, and feel guilty going to bed. (Even as I lay in bed after taking melatonin at a certain time.)

You have a never ending set of goals. You sound like a classic goal oriented person, but you don’t derive satisfaction from discipline which is the only strategy that works for continuous goals.

Shift your strategy and aim for the simplest possible task, it’s gonna hurt your ego but you have to do this if you’re seriously asking:

Pick the easiest thing on that list (reading that book for example) and aim to read 1 paragraph every day.

In fact, start with 1 sentence every day. It sounds insulting right? You just need a framework for doing the same thing everyday and gaining satisfaction from that, even if it’s just one sentence. Your ego is totally in the way.

A technique I use is to use the thing I'm avoiding to make progress on the 2nd thing I'm avoiding.

It's strange, but if I'm overscheduled and REALLY don't want to work on my taxes, somehow I have a lot of energy to clean up the garage.

I've also found that if I work on something and finish it, the next day I bumble around when getting started. But if I stop right at some obvious place in the middle, the next day I immediately jump in and finish it, then use the momentum for the next thing.

> A technique I use is to use the thing I'm avoiding to make progress on the 2nd thing I'm avoiding.

This is called structured procrastination.

> I've also found that if I work on something and finish it, the next day I bumble around when getting started.

And this one is called Ovsiankina effect.

LOL. I thought I was the only one...

If it's just the last week, I wouldn't worry about it. The world is changing dramatically. A little escapism and an aversion to spending brain power on deep dives is perfectly normal.

You may be having a low week. I find that I cycle on about a six week cadence. At the top I absorb deep information like a sponge. At the bottom I stare blankly into space and don't do much. I'm not diagnosible as bipolar, but there's a bit of that. It's been a constant pattern of my life and I beat myself up over the lows for some years until I just accepted that this is what I am.

You also might be telling yourself that you're interested in something, but you're not (possibly not anymore). That's fine, too. You might develop interest again. You might have developed enough depth where the things you're thinking you should look at are simply not interesting anymore and you need to find deeper material.

Don't beat yourself up over it. Take the pressure off. Relax. If something comes up that you want to play with, play with it, but consciously don't make it a goal or expectation of yourself. A few nights ago I started writing a pedagogical implementation of a relational database in Python. A couple weeks ago I wrote tetris in JavaScript. It would be so easy to say, "Oh, now I have to make this project a finished thing to show I can do blah blah..." But I'm not going to. I'll pick it up again if I feel like it. Or I won't. No one was paying me. They were for my own entertainment. It didn't matter if I didn't finish.

It could just be your personality - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Revised_NEO_Personality_Invent...

Some people are open, curious but not disciplined(Conscientiousness). I know cause I fall into that group :) So if discipline doesn't come naturally, or it evaporates when obstacles are hit, then a little extra energy is required to handle those situations.

To get that energy you have to be aware of what kinds of events/people/triggers have produced energy in you to act in the past.

Try to create conditions, put yourself into situations, where those things happen everyday.

For me I know there are certain people in my life I need to be around, when I am low on energy or require extra energy that produces discipline. I make sure they understand why. And I make sure I am contributing back to their lives, needs and well being in someway.

Also be very aware of what drains your energy and root it out or actively reduce it. Its not easy or happens overnight. But when you make it a daily ritual to seek out what generates energy that causes action and reduce what drains energy that causes inaction you slowly start seeing progress.

I embrace it. Sometimes laziness/procrastination for me is a sign of something deeper going on that I want to avoid, or a sign that the things I'm supposed to be doing aren't actually all that important.

I struggle with the same problem.

One trick I've learned is to keep a separate list of "low-barrier" tasks for those times when I just can't get started on something important. I get a big emotional boost from getting things done. Once I've completed one or two of those, I'm sufficiently revved up to start on a top-of-my-priority-list task.

By "low barrier", I mean simple, stand-alone tasks that don't require lots of thinking. A good example might be re-shelving a stack of books or sorting through a small box of hardware. These tend to be very low priority tasks, but it's especially satisfying if they're things that have been on your physical/mental to-do list for a long time.

> What can I do to improve my attitude toward useful areas of my life and convince myself to stop wasting time?

You need to decide whether you're procrastinating, or you have a deeper problem like being a loser.

If you have finished substantial projects in the past, and are taking a break, for whatever reason, that's fine.

If you really haven't accomplished anything in life and are still fantasizing about doing something, you're a loser. All those dreams are just noise in your brain. I'd suggest setting those aside and focusing on things you must do, like your job.

I can give you an example. I knew a young guy who seriously dreamed of joining the Army, but was 300+ pounds. I said to him, "Have you ever exercised in your life?" His answer was no, so I said the Army is not the right place for you. None of his friends was willing to offer objective advice.

The old school way to get things done is with a todo list. By writing down 5 - 10 tasks and then turning to that as your boss, you add structure (discipline) and reduce your internal debate over what to do and instead turn your energy into action.

Try a todo list for a couple weeks and if that doesn't help, then embrace the fact that you're a loser, and focus on necessary things.

Also, two of the hardest things to do are learn guitar or build an airplane. They both take about 2 years part-time to make substantial progress. The best advice I've heard for both is the same: every day, pick up the guitar, or the airplane plans or parts.

I will accept this advice of "embrace being a loser" as good advice only if you can claim to have done it successfully yourself. Paradoxically I suspect it's really hard to do without losing all hope.

> "embrace being a loser"

I like how you worded that - I plan to borrow it.

Hmm ... if you're good at even one thing, then you're not a loser. If you're not good at anything, then it's time to do some self-reflection.

> When I think about things they are all sounds interesting to me

Are they really interesting to you or do you feel like those things should be interesting to you? Did it come from you or something or someone external to you.

> What can I do to improve my attitude toward useful areas of my life and convince myself to stop wasting time?

Find what you really want to do. If you truly enjoyed those books/articles/projects/etc, you wouldn't have to convince yourself to "waste time on those things". You'd "waste time on them" out of your own volition.

You'll never improve your attitude to like something you don't like deep down. It's like marrying someone you hate and hoping your attitude towards your wife will change. All you'll do is just increase resentment of everything including yourself. So instead of wasting your time on an impossible endeavor, find out what you really enjoy doing.

Also, laziness isn't necessarily a bad thing. It's one of the three virtues of a programmer.

"Laziness: The quality that makes you go to great effort to reduce overall energy expenditure. It makes you write labor-saving programs that other people will find useful and document what you wrote so you don't have to answer so many questions about it.

Also, laziness can be an antidote to useless busy-body work.


I see a lot of fixes here to bring back the productivity but those may only worsen the problem in the long run. Depending on e.g. Work/life balance lately what you (and your brain) really need is a break. Just accept it, take that break and it'll get better soon. If it doesn't then you could consider actively solving the problem in any of the ways other commenters have given.

Just keep in mind that you cannot keep sprinting forever.

Welcome in the Procrastination Kingdom. If you have taken care of your physical health already (sleep, diet, sport, fresh air) then there is not much cure. However there are coping strategies - I keep this as my desktop wallpaper: https://alexvermeer.com/getmotivated/ although with inverted colors.

Many good tips answered already like chunking tasks. But like a few people have mentioned the might be a deeper problem.

There might be some pent up trauma in your mind (could just be something totally mundane like not feeling heard when you were 5 years old, or could be something more serious). Somehow that trauma may be associated in the mind with the idea of things you 'have to do' or whatever, and the procrastination is a subconscious defence against having those feelings bubbling to the surface.

Do an experiment: can you close your eyes and find something in your mind to think about that makes you feel negative emotion? Try find something, maybe cry or just let yourself feel those feelings for say 20 mins. Having done that, do you feel more able to complete or organise your tasks? If so, something like what I'm talking about might be going on.

The road to really getting there might be long, but just realising this connection can be a big help and lead to more and more improvement as long as long as you can keep not shying away from those negative emotions.

But also, don't get into a self-negative interpretation of these thoughts or experiences. Letting yourself be upset is good, but also self-sooth and be forgiving on yourself. It won't work if you just blame yourself and tell yourself you're bad/stupid etc.

I guess you already know some common strategies such as breaking the challenges ahead into small, manageable tasks and making sure you're laziness is not fatigue which may come from a bad diet or lack of exercise (especially the latter).

I don't think you're going to find a helpful answer here because in the end, even asking that question on HN might be a form of procrastination.

What I recommend is thinking hard about yourself: What are your goals? What motivates you? What are you afraid of? What thinks make you enter "the flow" and bring you in the right mood to be productive (e.g. change of scenery)?

Finally, a very personal suggestion which usually receives many downvotes: At least for me, there is a certain kind of movie which really makes me want to get things done. These movies are mostly documentaries and they usually show how other people get things done and actively do stuff. Such movies might include "The Social Network" or "The Brink" (no matter what you think of Steve Bannon - you actually see him being active in the movie).

What helps me is a mild anti-depressant. Ask your Dr to proscribe something cheap and mild. Coffee or tea helps a little but something a little stronger could help a lot. I speak from personal experience. It also helps to determine the very next step necessary to get something done. Be extremely explicit about that step. There is a vague "fear of the unknown" acting here.

Good luck

Do you have any goals that you've set for yourself? I've found that having specific goals with specific actionable and measurable items in them, helps with my procrastination.

Everyone is different, but sometimes external pressure keeps me on my toes. If I feel laziness setting in, I pre-emptively make a promise to someone that I'm going to deliver X by Y date.

Another thing cuold be to meet often with your team and discuss how you guys are making progress. It can give you a sense of purpose when you discuss shared-goals with your teammates.

Or maybe your job has gotten to be too mundane and you might benefit from switching jobs (although that can obviously backfire if your new job sucks worse :P).

Basically you need to just figure out what makes you tick and apply pressure accordingly. Nobody has a internal fountain of infinite intrinsic motivation. Everyone needs a nudge/push/shove every now and then.

Does any of the subjects on your list excite you REALLY? I know that, if I don't have such thing, I'm having hard time to motive myself to do much (and also, am grumpy).

On the other hand, if I can work on something which is genuinely exciting for me, I often literally cannot wait till I start engaging with it. I think this is the state in which we should be in our personal projects, otherwise they're just another chore.

Also, one piece of wisdom from Jordan Peterson (I wish I heard it ten years ago, it would have saved me a lot of wasted time): you cannot make yourself like something. You like what you like, each one of us is an individual with unique sets of likes and dislikes.

In my case, it was simply a matter of coming to grips with the fact I wasn't lazy, I just had adult ADHD. After realizing that and having a proper diagnostic, things got far easier for me to cope. Of course, I'm well aware it's something that not everybody will have and some people are genuinely lazy without any underlying mental condition, but it's something to be aware of and it's best to screen for it before attempting any drastic lifestyle changes.

If it’s just this week, it’s probably anxiety rather than laziness. If you stop beating yourself up over it and focus on self care, it may lessen a bit.

Covid19 quarantines and "shelter in place" policies and the like have caused a really big drop in air pollution in quite a lot of places.

I have serious respiratory problems. I'm quite sensitive to environmental factors. The sudden improvement in air quality is making me extremely tired.

I think of it as being a little like drug withdrawal, if that makes sense.

> What can I do to improve my attitude toward useful areas of my life and convince myself to stop wasting time?

I've been lucky since about 25 and haven't had major bouts of laziness since.

My solution before 25? Methylphenidate Hydrochloride. I wish that wasn't the answer, but it helped.

It may not be laziness but anxiety at not internalizing you can't do everything and not meeting defined goals. In which case try internalize it, define goals, and work with yourself. None of us are always objective.

Today is my off day. On my off days, when I catch myself feeling guilty for not getting stuff done, I remind myself it’s my off day, and my job is to rest. This, I think, makes the other days a little easier.

Pomodoro technique.

--> Use pomodoro technique to get something done in 25 minutes.

--> Take 5 minutes break

--> Repeat

In this video we will be talking about The 10 ways to manage time from the writings of Seneca. Seneca was a Roman statesman and a stoic philosopher, who in his moral essay, On the Shortness of Life, offers us time management tips.

So here are 10 time management tips from Seneca. 01. Treat time as a commodity 02. Don’t invest your time preparing for life 03. Live life for your own self 04. Practice Premeditatio Malorum 05. Make long term rewards immediate 06. Make the most of your free time 07. Spend time reflecting on your past 08. Stop wasting time in life’s trivialities 09. Invest your time creating new memories 10. Invest your time in philosophies

These are crazy times especially last week if you are in covid affected areas. What you perceive as laziness can actually be high level of anxiety or even depression.

I recommend the podcast "Pragmatic 96: I’ll Do The Procrastination Episode Tomorrow" It discuss what may be causing "laziness"

Real deadlines with consequences

I switch off between things I'm passionate about to be more productive. If I'm tired of coding, I write some music.

It might not be laziness. It could be ADHD.

But, if it is laziness, try Pomodoro techniques. They work well. So simple but effective.

I usually put off dealing with it.

I won't repeat most of the common advice - sleep, diet, drugs, etc. But let's go into willpower.

Willpower is like a muscle. There are 3 types: will (trying to do something, like exercise), won't (avoiding something like 9GAG), and want (being driven by a higher purpose).

Dopamine fuels want. Dopamine makes you do things, no matter how painful. It starts you off with arousal and excitement, and then forces you to finish, using anxiety. But if you don't want anything badly enough, it grasps nearby things - memes, porn, emptying your inbox.

One cure is to spend a little time, maybe 10 minutes a day (or before bed) thinking about what you really want. Keep aligning that. Watch motivational videos. You'll be high on dopamine when you start procrastinating, and if you can master redirecting it towards something you actually want, that makes you very productive.

The other treatment is to bolster up your will/won't power enough to keep you off Reddit and start working. Willpower is like a muscle. Exercise strengthens it. Overtraining kills it. I find what works is tiny reps. Find the smallest thing to train your will and won't power. What worked for me was trying to walk faster and putting cookies on my desk and trying not to eat them. This trains your brain not to give in.

One big, completely unintuitive thing you can do is to not feel bad about yourself. Feeling bad saps your willpower. Which makes you indulge. Which makes you feel worse.

A hack around that is to simply track how many times you've indulged. Just observe. And don't try to reduce it. Forcing yourself to reduce it leads to a willpower trap, where you'll keep failing week by week, try to make up for it, making the gap from reality bigger and making you feel worse. What worked for me is try to maintain the number... it naturally went from 11/week to 2/week to 1 the next week. If you tell yourself you'll watch Reddit 4 hours a day, it starts to feel less appealing.

In the short term, you can also try to hold off on an impulse. We are wired to give in to instant gratification. Give yourself 10 minutes before indulging, and after that 10 minutes do it if you still want to. Even if you fail, it trains up your willpower. This is a big part of how Pomodoro works.

A lot of this is taken from the book Maximum Willpower, by Dr. K. McGonigal. A lot of advice on the Internet and books is incomplete and conflicting, based on anecdotes on what's worked for someone. It's good to reward yourself, but also bad. You can slog through it, but there's a limit and a cost to it. Hacks like dopamine suppression works, but overdo it and you'll lose interest in everything. The book covers most of the scenarios, and generally it's good to look to psychologists on advice on how to hack your brain.

Talk about hacking willpower, I used to have a group of friends which we will set our own goals each month and place a $150 bet on it, to keep each other motivated throughout the month.

You don’t actually want to do the things you think you want to.

Otherwise, you would.

last week the entire world began shutting down.

sounds like you might be distracting yourself from the anxiety you might be feeling.

maybe try meditation?

Backlog, scope, and deadlines.

- Backlog:

>When I think about things they are all sounds interesting to me, especially if they are connected to technology.

Writing ideas down with a timestamp "frees" up your head, reduces overwhelm, and makes ideas that feel grandiose in the fog of your mind look puny. Writing down ideas reveals the adjacent possible, the most urgent, and the most actionable.

I use taskwarrior with a "+musing" tag. Many times some ideas will morph and get combined with others, and make their way into product.

Writing ideas down allows you to be lazily productive and gives you perspective.

- Scope:

>I have a lot of books and articles to read, topics to explore, projects to finish but every time when I'm trying to dig into it I end up feeling tired and resigned.

You are overwhelmed. Depending on context, some times call for having one book or one article to read, one topic to explore, one project to finish.

Other times benefit from having five books open and cross referencing/checking/complementing.

It appears you need at least one win and so having one book to read one page at a time may help. The scope is one page, then another, then another. That said, I wouldn't feel guilty about dropping a book like a hot rock. I will not waste life on a lousy book I started reading for the sake of discipline. Not all books are equal, that's why I curate. I get references to content from content I respect and like, not from a ready-made best selling list. This increases the odds of reading books I start.

- Deadlines:

>I've tried ti blocked time-wasting pages (like 9gag/reddit/etc.)

Given two processes competing for the same reagents or resources, making one of them efficient can make it consume resources faster than the other. One resource is time, one process is productive, the other is unproductive; both compete for time.

Deadlines increase focus to the point you will not need to force yourself to avoid distractions, you will simply not have enough time because you spent it on more useful things.

Sometimes I'll say: this hour, I'll read this article and will do this only. I'll refactor this sub-system by end-of day. I'll increase code coverage by X% in one day.

I find it good to set agressive deadlines. Whenever I say "it'll probably take X" I usually halve it and feel a "mini-panic" that shows I'm not confident I can do it by that deadline. Not feeling a mini-panic means I'm comfortable with the allocated time, which means I'm either clueless and can't estimate, or that I'm getting complacent.

One of the things that was making me less productive was - ending up scrolling social media every-time I was taking a call on phone(android). What I did to boost it? I used an app that let me make/receive phone calls on my Mac. :D (the app I use is called "Connecton")

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