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Kick the Shit Out of Procrastination (davidthorpe.dev)
448 points by davzie 47 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 157 comments



I think I've successfully managed to "beat" procrastination by adopting the pomodoro technique. I've shipped software for years now.

What I've come to realise however is that the brain/body can only do so much work in a day. I can program for a few hours a day (on a good day) and then it becomes increasingly more effort to do more coding. Sometimes, depending on the task, I'll be able to switch to another task. However, my point in all of this is, if you have a serious procrastination problem -- find a way to overcome it, but also recognise that your brain/body only has so much "fuel" each day, and you need to decide what to put it towards (e.g. work, hobbies, exercise, study, family, etc).


Listened to "Daily Ritual: How artists work" recently and the most common pattern seemed to be, work intensely for 2-4 hours in the morning, most people being finished by 1-2 in the afternoon, then go out for a long walk before doing light admin stuff in the mid-late afternoon.

It's also been my observation that this is how I actually want to work. I feel ready and able to tackle anything first thing in the morning, but past 1 o clock nothing I produce will be that much good and my productivity will be a shadow of what it was in the morning.

I work freelance so that's how I work nowadays, it feels like it comes naturally in a way that no other method I've ever tried does including pomodoro.


I think each one have to find where those 2-4hours lies.

For me they start between 5pm and 6pm.

I can spend the day in front of my screen doing (almost) nothing or admin stuff. And then it kicks on and I’m (a lot more) productive.

The problem is that it’s around the time I have to take care of the kids when my wife can’t...


Weird! I'm nearly the same - I can sit in front of my machine for most of the day, completely unproductive, and then in the late afternoon it's like there's a switch in my brain and suddenly I can work without any distractions at all. What really botheres me is that I finish nearly every day thinking "I'm just going to do exactly what I've been doing now, but first thing in the morning, and then have the afternoon and evening free", and it almost never happens. I just can't find the right focus/frame of mind until after lunch. It's extremely rare that it happens.


>I think each one have to find where those 2-4 hours lies.

True, and I don't think it has anything to do with a personal biological<->time of day connection. The time of day that works for you is probably related to the contexts of what happen before and after in your day. The events which lead you into one mindset or another. So you could change your day to change what time of day it is, as well. You aren't "stuck."


I often seem to experience these productivity bursts when I know I have to leave work soon, regardless of time of day.


What about afternoon/evening people?

I seem to have a pathological inability to get much done before midday/afternoon/evening/night (depending on severity)

I wonder if this is a belief I'm self-reinforcing by identifying as an "evening coder". I mean, I doubt there's a physiological reason for this. It's probably a matter of this being a habit of a lifetime that I've never fought back against hard enough.


> It's probably a matter of this being a habit of a lifetime that I've never fought back against hard enough.

You could try what worked for me:

Make a list of 2-5 healthy habits or routines that don't naturally fit into your current rhythms. Things like being an early riser, going to the gym in the morning, finishing all of your work before 5PM, and so on.

Then, pick 2-week periods to try them out, one at a time. For example, I always thought I was a night owl and and had delayed sleep phase syndrome until I made a deliberate effort to go to bed at 9PM every night for 2 weeks straight. The first few days were painful, but it's easy to push through when you're only looking at 2 weeks maximum. After those 2 weeks, I realized I'm a much happier, healthier, and more productive person if I go to bed at 9PM and wake up at 5AM, but it doesn't happen naturally.

Alternatively, you may discover that a routine doesn't work for you, but you're not losing much by trying it out for 2 weeks.

On average, you have about 4000-4500 weeks in a life time. It's worth taking some of those weeks to run easy experiments that could pay dividends for years to come.


There were certainly artists in that book who could only work in the evening or at night, it's just the most common pattern seemed to be the one I described which also happens to work for me. That being said there were times in my life where I would only get productive at 11pm till 2-4 in the morning.


I wonder if there's an age component. I read that same book and I remember (maybe erroneously) that the artists who worked best in the morning were older, whereas the artists who worked better at night were younger and oftentimes addicted to stimulants.

That more or less describes my working patterns over time, too, including the addicted to stimulants part. When I was young, my most productive time of day was after everybody fell asleep. Now, it's before everybody wakes up.


> but past 1 o clock nothing I produce will be that much good and my productivity will be a shadow of what it was in the morning.

This used to be me until 4 years or so ago when I started skipping breakfast.

I love breakfast, but not because I feel hungry in the morning so once I discovered this I started skipping breakfast.

I'm fully convinced however that a good number of people would become more productive if they did eat breakfast.

FTR: I often wake up extremely early (often before 04 for days in a row) and can hardly get anything except extremely simple work done after 2100 (even back when I used to sleep more normal hours.)


I feel the same, just with the times flipped around. For me the morning is great for small random/admin type tasks. Even reading a research paper or spending some time learning about something I need to do/use.

In the afternoon is when I can concentrate for 2-4 hours and do some intense work. Take a break after that, and iron out anything small before calling it a day.


I read the book and I could't find any pattern at all; all these "geniuses" did whatever worked for them.


I’ve had success doing somewhat the opposite. I usually am not fully awake until 9/10 am, even when I wake up at 7:30/8. So I do my light admin stuff in the morning, eat lunch (I eat lunch at 11:30 usually), go on a walk or do something not work, and then do 2-4 hours of intensive work.


> ..."beat" procrastination by adopting the pomodoro technique.

There are six steps in the original technique:

1. Decide on the task to be done.

2. Set the pomodoro timer (traditionally to 25 minutes).

3. Work on the task.

4. End work when the timer rings and put a checkmark on a piece of paper.

5. If you have fewer than four checkmarks, take a short break (3–5 minutes), then go to step 2.

6. After four pomodoros, take a longer break (15–30 minutes), reset your checkmark count to zero, then go to step 1.

From: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pomodoro_Technique


I don't really find mental fuel to be a thing[1]. In fact, I find the opposite. The more discipline I instill, the more discipline I have. Each block of discipline makes the next that much easier. That includes discipline over procrastination.

[1] Of course there is general fatigue, but this is different from only being able to focus on something for a couple of hours/day or not being able to start something at all.


Of course everyone is different, but there are at least some studies the does lend credence to the "willpower as a finite resource" theme.


As someone else mentioned, that study has come under fire. It's also one I never agreed with because for me personally it wasn't true. I have always found things like discipline and willpower to be more about inertia than anything else.

If I wake up and start playing a video game or eating crap, that inertia carries through the day. The reverse is also true, if I get up, workout, and start being productive that will carry through the whole day. Once I realized this about myself I adjusted my whole schedule around. Instead of after work workouts, I moved them to the morning. Instead of staying up late, I get up earlier and naturally go to bed earlier. So instead of wake up and chill and ease into my day, I wake up and go. And, that go carries through the entire day.


The way I look at it, you can push past your ordinary daily soft limit in this area, but there will be a cost, and the more you disrupt your routine in pursuit of your goals, the higher that cost will be-- past a certain point (likely different for everyone), you will get diminishing returns & risk of a breakdown goes up.

The balance to strike here, I think, is to give your mind & body a chance to recuperate before you get too close to that breaking point. Or phrased another way, look at 'pushing yourself into a second wind' as a critical tool for certain situations, but one to be used sparingly (preferably when you have some open calendar spots ahead).


There's only really one study that backs up the "willpower is finite" thing, and it has failed replication.

https://getpocket.com/explore/item/the-way-you-think-about-w...


I've come to a different conclusion. I used to think it was a "fuel" problem until I realised that if I moved onto some other non work related task that I was interested in, which could include programming, all of a sudden fuel wasn't an issue. For me it came down to motivation and interest with "mental fuel" rarely being the deciding factor. I manage to conjure up fuel when I'm sufficiently motivated by a problem. Obviously this might not be the case for everyone and I have hunch it is related to ADD behaviour I exhibit (self diagnosed).

Tricking my brain into investing into the outcome of work I am not interested in takes up most of my time now trying to get over procrastination. And of course I have a deadline today and I'm writing this message on HN... but like any good developer that needs some pressure to work I've got the plates all spinning for now.


> but also recognise that your brain/body only has so much "fuel" each day ...

My experience is similar to yours, and I would also add that that "fuel" grows if you maintain the effort throughout the days/weeks. But some of the days you'll have more fuel, others less, just to the best you can (I struggle a lot to keep that balance, not easy at all..)


The Pomodoro technique has been hugely valuable to me over the years. So much so that I recently built a web app for it that doubles as a work log with social accountability:

https://timmytimer.com


I successfully used the pomodoro method during my PhD. I just couldn't bring myself to do the really boring stuff like the nth iteration of corrections on a section of writing. I developed some features for emacs so I could have my pomodoro timer right there at all times. It also means I have logs of exactly what I worked on and for how long.

But by far my most productive times are when the problem is clear and I feel compelled to solve it. I've always thought that I'd be overall a much more useful person if I could hack my brain to be compelled to do what needs to be done rather than whatever random thing has taken my interest.


Good insights. I've also noticed a cap on my productive output, but I find that it's elastic. I've been putting time into learning to analyze my self-state and predict what kind of day it's going to be. I've gotten good results by choosing to work on productive days and choosing not to work when my reserves are low.


pomodoro also works for me, I've had weeks of doing almost nothing, after I started simple 25 min bits with pauses, for some reason it can go on forever.


Any mobile or desktop app you use specifically for this that you'd recommend?


I find that there are so many that you have to just use one for a while and see if you like it (kind of meta, that).

The biggest differentiators are the UI, configurability (of times, alarms, etc.), and for me, oddly, the ability to have/not have a "ticking" sound while it's going. I like it to keep me motivated, others hate it and prefer music. Sometimes I use both.


I use https://github.com/michaelvillar/timer-app and TextEdit to write my pomodoros for every day. Take 5 minute breaks, and a big 15-30 minute break, pomodoros of size 25-30 minutes (25 mins get prolonged a little if I need to stop in a wrong moment, usually just write a note what I was doing and force myself to take a pause). I end up doing ~12 pomodoros a day.

I don't like long stretches of work, it might be just me but I end up obsessing over unnecessary details the longer I concentrate on some problems, if I take a forced pause and then continue, I seem to use less time for the same amount of work.


I've been using https://pomelloapp.com/


To be honest, that is my main problem.

I know that i can develop much longer then i'm actually doing.

The biggest issue for me with procrastination is not pushing every single thing until i really have to do it but that my idea of myself feels that i can do more than i'm doing.

I spend plenty of hours coding from 16-6 when i was 16 and learning php. I have plenty of experiences where i did not just stop.

The most visible to me is it with something new like a new job or task: First few weeks in a new job is great. I do a lot, i'm quite productive.

And the other thing is: If i really only can do 2-4h real development and then i need a break, i definitly don't need a break of 20h. So how to get back to it without that 20h break?


> I think I've successfully managed to "beat" procrastination by adopting the pomodoro technique.

Says one of the first commenters. Are you sure what you are doing here now is not procrastination?


I'm not EU/US based. Work finished 4 hours ago. I don't have social media. I don't watch TV. I've walked the dog, I made dinner and ate. I took literally 10 mins to see what was on HN and this was the first link. I'm going to jump into bed and read a book in about an hour.


Maybe he's taking his pomodoro break?


Having had some success with Pomodoro, I'll say that it's dangerous to spend your break (really only 5-10 mins) surfing the web or checking your phone.

What happens in my experience, is that you come across a video you really want to watch, or come across a comment that you absolutely must respond to; perhaps that's what happening to me right now!

Before you know it, you've spent 30 mins away from work, and completely lost the momentum and concentration that was accumulating via the pomodoro. Now you have to use more mental energy to get back to that state.


I used to think that eventually you should reach a flow with whatever you're doing and for this, taking a break after a pomodoro seems not effective ...


There is an alternative method called Flowtime: https://zapier.com/blog/flowtime-technique/ where you focus on a task until you feel you need a break (I think it is still crucial that you don't let yourself get distracted during this).

Another alternative is to treat the 25m as a minimum time in Pomodoro: if you are tired or have reached a natural break point for your task then stop. If you're in the flow continue.

You may want to enforce a maximum amount of time for health reasons (e.g. to get up from your chain every now and then).


"Another alternative is to treat the 25m as a minimum time in Pomodoro: if you are tired or have reached a natural break point for your task then stop. If you're in the flow continue."

This. The pomodoro technique has helped me greatly, but the time limit is really just about motivation to get started (in my case). It helps by allowing me to tell myself: "You can do this... you can do anything for 35 minutes (the time limit I prefer)."

However, it is very often the case that once the timer expires, I just turn off the alarm and remain focused on my work. Sometimes my session lasts up to an hour or more. And of course, at other times, I finish the task I wanted to work on before the timer expires because the level of focus/flow I was able to achieve enabled me to finish the task more quickly than I thought.

My story is just one, of course, but I highly recommend at least trying the pomodoro method or some variation of it, just to see if you have similar success.


I've found the 25 minute timer to have multiple benefits:

1. If I'm struggling to start, telling myself I only need to spend 25 minutes on it gets me started

2. I can pretty easily hold myself back from checking slack/email or context-switching when the block is 25 minutes - I can always peek at messages after to make sure nothing important happened.

3. It gives me a target - frequently there is something concrete I think I can _complete_ in 25 minutes, and that gives me motivation to push to get it done by then. If it goes a little over, that's fine

4. Because these periods of 25 minutes are really intense, I can't do them back-to-back all day. I have found switching to an interesting YouTube video for 5 minutes during a break (and trying to completely rest the brain during this time) re-energizes me more quickly, and lets me do more pomodoros without needing to stop for a while


The guy who first published the technique documented that it is effective (where effective means 'more productive'), and countless others have replicated his finding that they, too, found pomodoro to be effective. Don't let your own speculation overrule actual evidence. That's what start procrastination.


Sometimes I have to make sure I am not switching tasks during breaks, even to something like reading the news. Get up, step away from computer, refill cup of water, bathroom break, etc, but not switching to something that would actually redirect your brain elsewhere and break the flow. Ideally it makes it more sustainable.


For me, productivity killers are PRs. This ruins my flow so much. Side projects I can code forever, but at work being stuck having to wait for reviews and trying to juggle what I can do without having to wait for the first review kills me.


do you use any tools for pomodoro? Or just the stopwatch on your phone?


I have to switch between various machines so I use my phone. Then I find any app to be overkill and limiting at the same time. I recommend using a timer and your phone's timer will do. Set timers for 25mins, 5 mins and 15mins and go!


I use cheap timers like these (search for the best seller with free shipping in your country) https://www.aliexpress.com/item/32930941458.html

They are magnetic, start the countdown at the given time (like 25 min and they remember it), the beeper is very soft and you can't procrastinate exploring hundreds of features.


I find that a lot of my procrastination comes from the anxiety of the thing I want to start doing not being completed. Literally, because I am worrying that the thing I want to work on is not already completed, I procrastinate from doing it. This is obviously counter productive and creates a feedback loop.

Something I'm bad at but seems to work is to have a conversation with myself that sort of comforts me about the anxiety and says "hey, what does this todo list look like? does it really matter that everything won't be completed today? You've spent years on this project so why would it be done today? Okay now go and address this one thing you have to do."


Another source for me is things that I want my "ideal self" to do, but I don't enjoy in reality. Like finishing a project. Once you have enough those on list you feel constantly bad and start using procrastination as an easy escape. It has been good to just terminate projects that don't really excite me anymore. When the "I'm feeling bad about not doing x" disappears, the amount of procrastination seems to shrink also.


I'm usually very scared of "breaking" something and if there's nothing there to break in the first place, why would I create something that will potentially break at some point.

I'm getting better at knowing that this is my issue though and just think to myself "If I break it, I can go back a few steps or just fix the problem as it comes".


That can be another productivity killer. You inherit some app to maintain/modify, and you're afraid to touch it. So you essentially fork the code, start making small tweaks to reassure yourself that you're not breaking anything and it's all good. But at some point you have to take a bigger bite and it's still scary.


Oh god x1000 this. I need to write something really complex, and I have grasp of few components. But not so sure how those would interconnect, and how exactly all should work.

I am anxious and discouraged when working on it and often fallback on safety of procrastination.

This is exacerbated by the fact that I like to have a holistic view and understanding of something before implementing something. And I can't do that here :/


As a variation on this, I've discovered over the years that "resistance" to working on a task sometimes comes from a clash between a conscious thought that the task should be easy and an unconscious realization that it's actually not going to be easy at all.

It's sort of the internal version of having a manager present you with a task and telling you up front that it will be "easy". That's enough to elicit a silent, knowing groan from most of us.

The good news is that often once I accept that a task is really quite complex and will take a long time, the resistance fades, and it becomes easier to start working on.


I see the same on a micro-scale. I have a task that will take an hour of concentrated effort - I'm afraid to start because I know I'll be interrupted. But it accumulates.


Wow, that one really hit home. I knew I rarely get work done when there's upcoming events on my calendar, but I think _fear of being interrupted_ is the real source of procrastination there.


> Procrastination is actually my mind trying to tell me something that I’m not attuned enough to realise in the first place.

Yeah, procrastination is a teacher. There's a reason why you or I procrastinate. Sometimes it takes only a couple minutes to figure out.

Regarding the fear part, I find re-framing it to be useful.

Fearing failure? Well, if you haven't started yet, you're already failing. What will you learn, even if you fail?

Fearing endless work? Do you enjoy the process? If not, could you make it more enjoyable?

Fearing judgement or putting something imperfect into the world? 1) We're all imperfect. 2) You can create, try, and fail in private. You don't have to show your first bad attempt to anyone. You can work on it until it's good enough and then show it to someone else.

And about that "break it down" advice, yes it does help, but I prefer to think about it as clarifying.

Clarify the work, identify the unresolved issue, hazy details, decisions not made. What am I ignoring? What's unclear? What's giving me anxiety? Any of those questions help.

Hope that helps a bit.

And as you say in the article that you're looking for more tools for defeating procrastination, I feel obliged to point you to the collection of anti-procrastination tools I've built at deprocrastination.co.


I see lot of people focusing on some kind of lifehacks and tips to beat procrastination. The truth is(in my opinion) that it doesn't really matter how ergonomic your workflow is, or how distraction free your office/desktop/phone becomes. In the back of your mind you still know about these things. You know you can open youtube any time you want and browse for videos aimlessly.

For me, it's all about stress. Procrastination is a good sign when I feel too much pressure and there's too much weight on my shoulders. Procrastination becomes a way of self-medication, shutting your mind off and forgetting about all the issues you might be facing in daily life. For some people, the only time they have the luxury to be alone and not disturbed, is when they are at work, sitting behind their computer, headphones on -- and that's the best time to procrastinate.


I agree that developing "lifehacks", when taken too far, can be a form of procrastination itself. ...and that the underlying cause is emotional.

Nevertheless - we still need to do them.

I think the answer is both simpler and more difficult than most people are characterizing here.

1. Discipline takes training (preferably from a young age). If you practice overcoming those mental blocks, you will be more accustomed to doing them and recognizing and avoiding those escape behaviors that we call procrastination.

2. Visualizing and regularly reinforcing the Goal - that final benefit that puts all the work in between in context.

3. Planning/chunking the work. It's a form of gamification - but don't let it itself become a form of procrastination. 99% of people _already_ _know_ what needs to be done, right now.

Personally, I have a simple system. Three Google Docs. 1. Is a short, somewhat vague list of goals I revisit every year at tax time. 2. Is a list of projects in a rough order of priority (actually it's a folder of Docs with one doc for each project). ...and most importantly, 3. The daily journal, where I add to the top each day the date and a rough list of things I'm working on.

People get lost in making sure their prioritizing is perfect, or adding too many things to their daily TODOs. In fact, in the context of doing what's important, I find that one of the key skills is being militant about things you're NOT going to do - and ignoring requests from others that don't fall in line with your own goals.


Very similar to my process.

Most people struggle with prioritising because they think that it is deciding what order to do things in - I like to say that far more important than that is deciding what things you are NOT going to do.


True, stress is the central motivator of procrastination, but if you get a handle on it, suddenly other things become important as well. Such as not being disturbed or eating well or task management or whatever. It's like oxygen: if you don't get it, you feel like it's the only thing you need. Once you have it, there's a whole bunch of things you need.


In my case, procrastination is a sign of depression. It is an escape mechanism. I found myself dropping clients after procrastinating instead of completing their projects because something about them always stressed me, made me hate money or what I do for a living. 30 minutes or 3 hours of shutting my brain off, telling myself I will do it later is my way of escaping. There is something subconscious about it always after I 'meditate' enough to pinpoint what the problem was. These are episodes coming and going once in a while.


Also could be your brain saying "Ok I have enough input data, now let me do some backend processing subconsciously while you do more mundane stuff" and then 3 hours later what has to be done makes way more sense. I find sometimes that constantly nagging myself to keep working/stay on task is self-defeating in this way. I like to do "cron" stuff in the morning while my brain gets fully online like, walk, work out, any scheduled task that is basically no brainer and needs to be done. Once I get all that out of the way then I focus on projects and other activities that require more deliberate and profound thought. I think someone else commented in this thread that "setting the cadence" for the day like this is important to be productive but I try not to be so grind-y in the afternoons because I know my brain is chugging away on its own. YMMV


This is true for me as well. Procrastinating happens when I feel shitty (which is essentially every morning). It's my brain requesting easy dopamine hits like YouTube or CS:GO so that it can feel better. But those things only help your brain feel better in the very short term (ie. while they are occurring). After you're done and you close YouTube or the video game, you still feel shitty so you need another easy dopamine source to stimulate your brain again. This continues the cycle and it's very hard to break out of because each source of easy dopamine leaves you feeling crappy after engaging with it, so you find another one which does the same thing. Once you've started that cycle for any given day it's extremely difficult to break because your brain was built to be addicted to dopamine. This worked when we only got hits of dopamine for following animal tracks to hunt or when we saw the smoke from the sticks we were rubbing together and were about to start fire, but today it just doesn't work.

To solve this the steps listed in the article are pretty good actually, but for me it is unrealistic to just remove all the apps on my phone/computer. It doesn't solve the underlying problem and is pretty simple to just download whatever app again or use my tv instead in a moment of boredom/sadness/frustration. The real key is to make each task that you have to do for work so incredibly simple (ie break them down to the smallest units possible) that avoiding the task becomes an absolute joke. I basically start with super specific tasks to get me started, and then ramp up once I'm engaged. Sometimes the first few tasks are literally "Open the codebase", "Change the header text to something better", "make element x have a border radius". One thing I've noticed is that I always try to think of every edge case and what the best way to code something would be before even typing anything. Planning is good, but eventually it hits a point where I get annoyed or stressed because I can't find the most optimal way to do something and then....I procrastinate. So what I've started doing is if I feel this starting to happen I implement the feature or whatever I'm working on in the EASIEST way I can think of at that moment. If I have even a tiny idea of how it could be done, I start working on it that way, and then later as I get further along I can clean it up or reimplement it a different way. That's been pretty useful to me, it kind of goes back to breaking problems down but it's slightly different.

The last thing is exercise in the morning. Starting my day with something difficult sets the tone for the whole day. Sure, I could still go watch YouTube after working out but usually I feel good about the workout and my body that I don't need the easy dopamine hits after that and it's easier for me to get started on work.

I do wish there was an inherent way to make productive work the source of easy dopamine hits but I haven't quite figured that one out, yet. Depression is momentum. If you're feeling bad, it's a spiral down (wasting time watching TV, then your brain is so fried from that that you don't cook dinner and instead just eat an unhealthy meal, then dessert because you're still sad, etc). If you're feeling good it's a spiral up. Keep trying, keep working at it. Harder things (like work and exercise) will help you feel better in the long term. The things we try to avoid; YouTube, tv, video games, will make your brain stimulated in the moment but you fall further and further into depression (or I do at least).

Hopefully any of that was helpful but it may not even apply to you at all


A lot of this resonated with me. Thanks for posting it. I've been struggling in my career as a software engineer for several years now. I used to love it and didn't need any "tricks" to get myself to do the job. I have countless theories as to what happened but don't know for sure.

I certainly struggle with the dopamine hit problem. I have a little will power in the morning and then things drop off rapidly. I can force myself to do urgent things like meetings or something like fix production going down. Anything else though is very difficult to chug through. I won't let myself play video games or watch movies during work hours out of some deep seated moralistic responsibility. This doesn't help me work though. Instead, I'll let myself procrastinate on things that I find "acceptable" for people on work hours (but for far less time than what I do them). This is primarily browsing news sites and eating. I can't stock snacks in my home or my desk at work as I will just compulsively devour them if I have resistance to the task at hand. I then also like you say, feel energy drained after something like browsing the web compulsively.

It then sucks seeing other engineers in the field, with far less experience than myself, just pumping out code hour after hour. I've tried different industries, jobs and even moved cities in an effort to fix things. If I don't like programming anymore, I don't know what else I would do that pays even half as much. I've tried engineering management which is a lot more urgent timed stuff with more admin like work. I was able to force myself to do the job but not super well and I faced weekly negative feedback for mistakes I was making which would also zap my energy to perform.

I find a lot of the "tricks" posted in this thread however to be gimmicks. I know that's a bit cynical but to explain, I try them out to keep an open mind, but then within days or a week, they seem to stop working. It's as if my brain is sabotaging itself. Like it's saying -- oh that technique worked yesterday, we can't have that, so you should just not have the will power to do it today --. Makes it feel like there's a deeper underlying issue that needs solved but no amount of contemplation on this seems to help.

I like to think that the right programming role exists for me somewhere, but it's super hard to study for interviews after a day's work. I feel like I have 100 will power points a day, I spend 200 of them trying to force myself to work, and then have nothing left for when the day is done.

Sorry for the long rant but it was refreshing hearing your story and seeing that I'm not the only one with these symptoms.


I might be off base here, but the "I feel like I have 100 will power points a day, I spend 200 of them trying to force myself to work, and then have nothing left for when the day is done" line struck me. This is something my mom has always had trouble with. She would spend the ENTIRE day talking about, planning, and getting ready to go to the gym but she would rarely actually go.

To me, it seems that the act of preparing/motivating yourself to do something can be more tiring or drain more energy than doing the work itself. I used to try to wait to do my exercise for the day until I felt like it, which of course rarely ever came. Then I felt bad about myself for not working out and the problem kept getting worse. Eventually I realized that the only option is to ignore how I'm feeling when I first wake up and workout anyways, no matter how hard it is to start (see Mel Robbins' 5 second rule for getting started or getting out of bed). A couple of sets or laps in I usually feel the motivation kick in. This seems to be true of many things, and reminds me of this graph that explains how the things our brain wants to do (easy dopamine / instant gratification) leaves us net-negative over time (depression) vs. the things we should do (delayed gratification) leave us somewhat unhappy in the very short term (ie. when you are getting started each morning) but net-positive (happy!) in the long term.

Here's the graph: https://s3.amazonaws.com/skinner-production/story_images/fil...

Full source article (not advocating for this strategy just providing source): https://thriveglobal.com/stories/how-to-overcome-procrastina...

It seems like once you understand this and can act on it (some people even do it subconsciously or as a result of how they were raised), you are part of a small percentage of the population that can do big things in this world. Success is heavily dependent on your consistency.

I used to work an office job, and would try to go home and work on my side projects or course work. It was always quite difficult to do. I eventually learned that I was giving myself the option to do the side project after work, and when given the choice I almost always chose to do something else (like watch YouTube and play video games). At the time, I absolutely hated my job and was completely drained at the end of the day so I thought I needed time to relax before starting my other work. Of course once I started playing a video game I never moved on/recovered and didn't start my side project work. So instead of giving myself the option to do the work, I made a rule for myself that when I got home from my job I would start working on the side project, regardless of how I felt. No motivation was needed now, because it was the rule. Doing the work was the only choice available, there's no alternative.

I eventually quit my job and still the motivation to do my side project isn't really there. I finally realized it will never come. Even if you didn't have your job it's unlikely that you would want to study for interviews, but you may (monetarily or otherwise) be forced into a position where it's required, and thus you do it. It may be beneficial to create this position artificially for yourself now. Every day when you come home from work you do 3 leetcode questions (just an example, maybe instead it's writing an answer to a potential interview question or something like that). That's the rule, don't do anything else until those are completed. Somedays, you will feel motivated after finishing those 3 questions and will continue on to other productive things. Other days, maybe you don't want to do anymore after that. But even those 3 questions over an extended period of time will put you much further ahead than you are now. At the moment, you are slowly drowning by doing nothing.

As a general rule, I am personally able to engage myself (to a reasonable extent -- if I hit a hard task or problem sometimes I feel the urge to distract myself) in the work after getting started. The getting started step is the part that trips me up. If that's also the case for you, then I would seriously try to create structure for yourself. Discipline will get you started with the work, and the motivation should come after doing it for 20 or so minutes. If you feel yourself slipping for multiple days in a row then you have to reset yourself and start again as quickly as possible. You build more and more resistance (more stress, task seems more daunting) as time goes on and you're not doing anything.


If you are have a lot of procrastination problems and if you have always had those problems from an early age, don't dismiss the idea that you may actually have ADHD.

There really isn't adult onset ADHD, but there are a fair number of adults who have undiagnosed ADHD. Take an online screening test and that will tell you if you might want to see somebody about a full test.

This article is talking about the idea that we can train our brains to act like we have ADHD and how to break that brain plasticity cycle, but these techniques would be helpful if you also have ADHD.


At this stage I'm beginning to wonder if not having ADHD is the condition and ADHD is the norm?


In some people, sensory overload can trigger ADHD like symptoms.

For most of us, lack of sleep or poor sleep quality can trigger a mountain of different symptoms.


> there are a fair number of adults who have undiagnosed ADHD

Are there even people who don't have ADHD these days?


but people should be careful assuming they have it. people should do as you say and simply see professionals about it and be tested for it.

stress and anxiety can present symptoms that overlap with ADHD symptoms.


Yep, that's why a big part of a real diagnosis is "did you have these problems in elementary school". If they started when you got your first iPhone after university ... it's not ADHD.


> On my iPhone I move every single application into a folder named “.”. I then move that onto the second screen. My phone dock has four apps: Phone, Headspace, Things and SMS:

Yawn. When I read these minimalism tips I always wonder if people giving this advice ever had a real job or if their job is actually giving people minimalism advice. Good luck trying to justify being the only one without Skype/Slack/Gmail


It's moving the apps out of sight, not uninstalling them. I've done this, and found that if I just idly pick up my phone I have to consciously decide what I'm going to waste time on, and often that bit of friction is enough to make using the phone less rewarding.

I've also set the new tab page in my browsers to be blank and found that useful in the same way.


I'm happy that it works for you, but If I started to lock my phone in a safe and throw away the key, next thing I'd learn to pick the safe every five minnutes.


Yeah it’s interesting because usually these sorts of things (like editing my hosts file) don’t work for me because I get annoyed by the restriction when I legitimately need to access something and undo it.

I guess in this case it’s a small amount of friction not a complete block that works for me.


At which point you'd have learned a new skill, and you're otherwise no worse off than when youu started.


Yawn. When I read such low-effort comments, I wonder if the people writing them ever read the article or if their job is just to spout off uninformed opinions.


I think it's a valid comment that operating without email is a non-starter if you're employed.


Your employer shouldn't expect you to be available on your phone via Skype/Slack. Gmail I guess it's ok, as long as it is the employee's choice when to check it or not.

In my case the very urgent messages which needed to be done right at that moment (or at the first moment when I got the chance to be in front of a computer screen) have been sent either through SMS or via direct social app messaging (we're a small shop, we all know each other). I've had only a handful of such messages in 10 years of us working together.


It's about being mindful, the blank page gives him an opportunity to "catch" himself before he swipes and does something that may be time wasting.

If you don't need anti-procrastination advice why did you read (skim?) the article and why are you commenting here?


I was scared of this kind of thing.. but when i have done it its actually way less harmful than expected.

i am just honest with people and say i have not read their email or whatever, they tend not to mind that much.. as long as the things i say i will do get done.

IMHO most need for constant communication is just tight coupling manifest in business logic i.e. bad design that needs addressing.

When you can also follow up accusations of slacking with wasted clock cycle discussions its also handy (e.g. i tend to use toggl excessively if i think there is any chance of questioning my motives.. then i can switch to the always connected version of me they are asking for and show just how much time it wastes)


I am already fully booked for side projects, but one I've been wanting to tackle is to write a plugin for my IDE that just watches for signs of activity and temporarily sets the Do Not Disturb settings for up to some time limit.

But just getting a pomodoro app that also manipulates DND would probably be a lot simpler.


Its like the advice "set your watch 10 mins behind" so you always reach on time. No shit I know its 10 mins behind every time I see the watch.


You need to set it ahead, not behind. ;) Otherwise you'll be even more late.

I'm sure it doesn't work for everyone, but I've been doing this for years, and it does help me. Yes, of course you always know that it's ahead, but it takes a moment for that fact to register, and that moment can be just long enough to incite action.

(For those who have read Thinking Fast and Slow, I think this is sort of a "hack" of System 1.) Basically I'm leveraging the reactive part of my mind to help me achieve the result that the more strategic part wants.


> You need to set it ahead, not behind

Yeah I actually realized that mistake some 30 mins after posting that I think but then left it like just wondering who will notice that :p


Sure, and yet... why is anyone ever late to anything? Let alone why are some people persistently late, in circumstances where that matters, and they know it's an issue?

Rationally that makes no sense so dismissing techniques for resolving it that also don't make rational sense on that basis seems wrong.


In my opinion, the #1 reason why people are often late is because being early sucks, so they prefer to underestimate the time it will take to be there and all the (not so) unforeseen problems that may make them arrive late.

I hate very much to be late, so I leave early and prepare a way to spend time if I arrive too early, like bringing a book to read or a podcast to listen to.


Not sure what you are trying to say here. Do you mean "because we don't know why people are getting late so dismissing a solution which I know doesn't work seems wrong" ? But you do being the reply with "sure" so was that an agreement ?


If you know that it doesn't work for you then obviously that's simply a fact.

I thought you were making a more general statement that this doesn't work because it doesn't make sense (anyone using it would just adjust their timings).


Humans are not rational (for the most part).


they are late because being on time is inherently inefficient and detrimental to maximal value extraction from the lives of individuals and humanity as a whole.

if you code then easiest analogy i can think of is that people tend to optimise for a certain wait time on average rather than always have cpu time available exactly when you need it.this is like - everyone should shoot to be at a meeting / event within a certain time frame that reflect the length of time this event is going to block them out for, how far it deviates from their planned activities and how much noticed they had.

If everyone is sometimes late then many more important things will get done much faster as people didn't just drop what they were doing to be on time.

rather than get upset by lateness I try to just never ask for people to be anywhere any given time..and if i am asking them then i think about how much extra time it takes out of their life to do it exactly when i asked (not 5 mins after or before - as both cause problems).

I also factor into these considerations that time is an abstract concept - so humans will never really give a hoot what it has to say, outcomes matter. i have never met an "always on time" person that doesn't spend way to much pointless time checking the time and thinking about the time... much like the ridiculous lengths you have to go to when programming to stop processing something at the correct time (e.g. truly deterministic control systems or games with a strong commitment to never drop a frame but carry out tasks that take way more than a frame to do)


It depends what you are on time for.

I occasionally miss a train or a flight and that is deliberate because I optimise for minimal unproductive time waiting. The train/plane will leave without me if I am not there.

However if people are persistently late to multi-attendee meetings it increases total wait time over all the attendees which is not optimal for the group.

The more people are present and the less possible it is to start without them, the more wait time is being introduced by any person's lateness. Of course, there are far too many meetings with far too many people but that is a separate problem.

If someone just needs to chat with me at some point online or at my desk if in the office, we will usually agree a vague time slot as that is a 2 sided problem only and I can work on other things until they arrive. If they ask me to meet in a particular place where I cannot work while in a wait-state, I expect them to be on time.


u got it wrong he moved the apps, not uninstalled.


I wonder how beating procrastination can be bootstrapped. A professional procrastinator will also procrastinate reading this article even though they know it's exactly what they need. For example, I clicked the "how to be ultra spiritual" video in that article and was then curious about other videos made by the same person and pretty soon found myself in the usual procrastinator's state, forgetting the article or the fact that I got to this article in the first place by procrastinating implementing an algorithm that I've been wanting to complete for a couple of weeks and instead checking what's new on HN ... I guess one needs to get to a certain point of being determined enough to make a strategic change in one's productivity, and the incentives required for such a change are probably specific to each person


For a professional procrastinator, bargaining to defer an onerous task will often include doing less onerous tasks that are more often overlooked.

I know I'm not studying for my final but look at how clean the bathroom is!


A key insight that helped me beat procrastination is to recognise when your brain is trying to procrastinate. We all experience lulls in productivity and instinctively open that social or news website link - when you do this you need to actively tell yourself that your brain is getting distracted.

This comes from a study (which I can't find, but I think it was featured on the BBC not too long ago) - procrastination impulses come and go in waves - when you know how to effectively tackle the wave, you can return to the calm seas of productivity.


I like his writing style.

One of the biggest tools that I employ, is a fairly rigid schedule.

I work @home, these days (like everyone, but I've been at it longer).

I get up at 5AM, even though I don't need to.

I do my morning exercise, even though I don't need to.

I start my workday at around 6:30AM, and try to wrap it up by 5 (seven days a week -my GitHub page is solid green).

I plan to do unpleasant, boring things when I set up my projects; for example, configuration management, refactoring, testing, release coordination, and...yuck...documentation.

And then...I do it!

Shipping (as opposed to writing) software has a lot of boring, repetitive, pedantic stuff.

I have to be careful not to fall into the automation trap, where I see automation (especially release automation) as a "silver bullet" cure for boredom.

But that's just me. YMMV.


I use #2 (blocking distractions by editing the /etc/hosts) and it does work. Mostly because it's already a reflex strategy to go on these websites. Stuck on a problem? Check Hacker News or Reddit for a short-term dopamine trigger.

But just adding the 127.0.0.1 to the 3-5 most frequented websites is enough to stop me from reading them. It's like now I have to consciously decide: "Do you REALLY want to check this website?"

It would be similar to Netflix not jumping to the next episode during a binge watch, but rather pushing you to their homepage after an episode.

You "break the default" in a way.


"Stuck on a problem? Check Hacker News or Reddit for a short-term dopamine trigger"

This sucks and it is absolutely true, but to me it's more about boredom, you know that monkey job you absolutely need to do but is terribly boring to the sleep inducing level?

That immediately makes me search for some other thing to focys, fighting it is very hard, I don't smoke but I think this is the closest that comes to my mind when I feel the "rush".


Yep, boredom is definitely one reason.

Also, when I was assigned to a new project where I get to work on a modern tech stack and create a proof of concept, I was able to got 6-10 hours of high productivity (sort of like a honeymoon phase with new tech) for several days.

But then I got re-assigned to a project with a tech stack that I really don't like e.g. a "hot reload" would take 5-10 seconds and it would trigger every time I save a file + the project structure doesn't make sense - but people who worked on it have since left the project + I'm not learning anything useful. I've tried focusing on the tech challenges, but my tasks are mostly to fix bugs. Refactoring is not wanted, since the idea is to ship a less buggy version as soon as possible.

Fortunately I'm a contract freelancer, once this project ends in 2 months, I won't extend and will look for a new company.


> One of the biggest things that can get you drawn into procrastinating is to go into a crazy website checking loop where you loop through Twitter, Hackernews, Reddit, BBC, etc in the hope for a new bit of information that probably has no real relevance to your life.

As someone personally familiar with this phenomenon (for example, I remember smiling at https://xkcd.com/477/ when it was posted in 2008, nearly 12 years ago), and as someone too familiar with procrastination in general, here's one insight I had recently, and an old insight:

1. Firstly, “epiphany addiction” — I encountered it on the blog of Aaron Swartz (http://www.aaronsw.com/weblog/anders):

> The irony, of course, is that the books are totally useless unless you take their advice. If you just keep reading them, thinking “that’s so insightful! that changes everything,” but never actually doing anything different, then pretty quickly the feeling will wear off and you’ll start searching for another book to fill the void. Chris Macleod calls this “epiphany addiction”: “Each time they feel like they’ve stumbled on some life changing discovery, feel energized for a bit without going on to achieve any real world changes, and then return to their default […]. They always end up back at the drawing board of trying to think their way out of their problem, and it’s not long before they come up with the latest pseudo earth shattering insight.”

2. Beware of searching for one true method by which you will finally “defeat” procrastination. I remember this excitement when some trick used to work, and the urge to write a post like this (BTW, congrats on writing and finishing this post — I never got around to writing something so “finished”), having found “the answer”. But eventually some trick that used to make you productive may stop helping so much. (Because there are other unaddressed root issues, which seem to find a “workaround”: this is the "procrastination as wily adversary" metaphor, as in War of Art etc.) Ultimately, it seems we need a complementary set of approaches, both external (like Steps 1 to 3 in this blog post: changing your habits), and internal (being more aware of your feelings and drives, etc). Procrastination (for many) seems to be discomfort-avoidance, where the discomfort can be some combination of fear, anxiety, distaste, dread, uncertainty, ambiguity, conflict with (some of) one's values, etc. It helps to become more aware about the nature of your discomfort, and get to the root of it. But ultimately you can't think your way out of the procrastination problem. Things like mindfulness, talking to a therapist, good exercise,… all help; just don't pin your hopes too strongly on one of them, to the exclusion of other approaches. (I had given up blocking websites as it had stopped working for me, but after reading this post I just added a major time-waster to my /etc/hosts file, thank you.)

The goal is to get to a state where you don't feel out of control of your own mind, where you can decide to do something and just do it — but it can be a process to get there. Good luck to you, me, and all of us. “You can't think your way into right action, but you can act your way into right thinking.”


Procrastination is a very delicate problem.

I mostly embraced it. As long as I'm procrastinating good things by doing other good things, it works pretty well.

It also helps to do things you like.

I'm still on my smartphone 90% of the day and sleeping until 12 every day, btw.


I think that's it too. It's another thing that is considered odd/not normal when it is probably a perfectly valid condition/feeling that needs to be handled kindly.

I have come to see it as having a parallel in extrovert/introvert - for many introverts interacting with people is just fine, but it cannot be a marathon - we have to recharge after that. Interaction is very brain energy consuming in such scenarios.

Similarly, procrastination is something similar on a different time scale. I can be intensively 'productive' for a long time (2-3 days or so), but then I have to do nothing or, in some rare cases, something else that does not involve, I am guessing, that part of the brain. Rinse repeat.


I have made "device of purpose" that fixes this behavior over time.

1) Laptop is for work only ( every thing else is blocked )

2) Mobile is for social media and procrastination ( I switch off internet while working. )


This is my next thing I want to trial. Complete block on anything non work related on the laptop. Complete block on anything that doesn't further my values on the phone. But then have an iPad for mucking around and consuming junk content. The idea that it's not easily accessible since the iPad won't be with me at work and it won't be in my pocket being constantly accessible.


I used to have Twitter (my main source of distraction) on my phone and iPad, now I don't have it on any device and it's helped tremendously.

On my computer, I block all distracting sites with the extension I built until noon, then I have 20 minutes for mostly Twitter, then all blocked until 4PM, another 20 min break, and then blocked until 8PM. 8PM-midnight, I do whatever I want. I've found this a fair agreement with myself that I have no reason to break. It created a rhythm for me.

So perhaps if a complete block is too big a stretch, you can give yourself a couple well-defined "fun breaks".


You can just turn the internet back on though...


Because the action of checking the feeds or whatever is so ingrained, it's effortless and, more importantly, thoughtless. Even though that extra step is tiny, it can often be just enough of a jolt to make you notice the habit and decide more consciously whether to indulge it this time. After becoming conscious of it more and more, you can choose to break it. Although, in my experience, it's easy for it to come creeping back, too. Once you've destroyed the reflexive nature of it, setting some rules around it can be helpful. And again, even though those rules are just simple, easily-overcome agreements with yourself, they can be enough.


I may try this, but a couple thoughts I'd love feedback/ideas on:

1) I routinely get into these "browser time loops" while waiting for a build. App's got 30s build time? Ah, I'll check reddit. 30 minutes later ... I have found that autosave has helped, and hot module reload in Webpack, but for server code that requires build (.NET), still looking for a way to reduce that. Similar for publishing code. It takes a few minutes to publish to web host, let's go read the news... I feel like a really good CI would help with this.

2) I value being informed. I use Feedly to monitor news, especially industry news. So part of me doesn't want to block sites on principal. I keep saying "I value staying up to date on these topics. I'll just avoid when I should be working" but never do. A way to time access would probably be worthwhile.

3) I question too much focus on "productivity" as defined by spending time looking at an IDE. I don't have 24x7 cranking out code as a goal. I'd much rather focus on extending time "in the zone" where I'm focused and writing quality code. Pomodoro breaks that for me. Music helps sometimes, but can also distract. Caffeine helps, but requires more and more.


For years I was a major procrastinator to the point that it was really affecting my job performance and my relationship.

That all changed when I got a sleep evaluation and realized I had severe sleep apnea. My quality of sleep was terrible. As a result I had zero motivation.

I got a CPAP machine, and after an initial period of adjustment, it was a profound change. The year after I received the machine was the most productive in my entire life.

Take sleeping seriously. It may help you in ways you never imagined!


One thing i'd like to post here:

I started talking ritalin when i tried a degree again with ~22?) and it was day and night to the same year before:

My metal wall of starting/doing was gone.

I'm still struggling with even talking ritalin regularly and there are downsides to it, but i do have the feeling that it is something which helps, something i actually really should talk regularly.

Its like 'i don't need glasses' 'holy shit how was i able to walk around without glasses?' 'Oh no wonder why i had to sit at thefirst row while everyone else had no issue at all reading' 'how did that go so bad suddenly?'


If you're in your home office, don't keep your private phone around. Put it in a separate room, ideally in flight mode and on silent.

On your work phone, remove all distractions.

Fore Firefox, the "impulse blocker" add-on can be helpful.


This article really helped me realise what's behind my procrastination habits. It's not about time management, or self control, but managing emotions.

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/25/smarter-living/why-you-pr...

Discussion: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19482238


I would encourage everyone who struggles with procrastination to try CBT techniques as described in "Feeling Good" by Dr. Burns. These address the psychological reasons for procrastination directly.


What boosted my productivity was thinking about and realizing that procrastination is a choice you make.

Anything you do, you choose to do so. Even the things that seem like you have no choice. You do.

You dont HAVE to eat. The consequence is that at some point your body doesnt get what it needs but you have the power to choose to not to eat.

You dont have to work on your project. But each choice has a consequence nonetheless.

So in short. What worked for me is realizing that EVERYTHING is a choice. You have to think back from the consequence and then choose what happens if you do something now vs you do something later


Is anyone aware a way to identify this window of potential high productivity using a Fitbit/Apple Watch or other device that measure physical body characteristics like heart rate, temperature, etc?

I find that on some days my productivity window comes and goes and is wasted during times I have a meeting, or need to deal with something urgent but simple and then my brain is fried when I need to tackle a complex creative task. Knowing with some certainty that the window has arrived might help more actively block out other things.


No, learn how to listen to your body. Heart rate, temperature are side effects in response to an emotional block (e.g. anxiety, fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of the unknown).

We have been taught a giant lie that the head is separate, reigning over the “dumb” body. “I think therefore I am” is a load of bull, or a delusion. Your body is your subconscious, your stomach your primitive brain. Your body is chock-full of hard-learned lessons, all delivered to you subconsciously as instincts. Don’t ignore these instincts. We are animalistic creatures, heavily driven by instinct, and rightly so. To discard your instincts is actually irrational!

Observe what your body is telling you. Why is there anxiety? Think to a physical manifestation of your anxiety. Is it tightness in your chest or a lump in your throat, where do you feel that anxiety? Observe it. Do not rationalize it, do not explain it, do not deconstruct it, do not jump to any conclusions. The moment you reach to touch it with your fingers of reason, the truth (body instinct) will slip away. That’s why you just have to observe, non-judgementally.

As you observe and think more about the physical manifestation of your anxiety, see what thoughts and reasons rise up. The more in touch you get with your body, the less information you will be throwing out.

You don’t need external devices to tell you how you are feeling for productivity potential, you just need to A) accept that observing subconscious reactions is a huge source of information, B) your gut feel is correct, but it takes time to process and understand what the gut is telling you, and C) it will take time to get in touch with all your body.

Urgent but simple — have you considered how much of an emotional toll that takes on you? No wonder that can put you into a state where you feel maybe knocked off rails, or some kind of self criticism starts up and you’re beating yourself up for the root cause of urgent task or you’re lamenting the team situation that got you there. These are heavy background burdens, though they may be emotional, are still background threads your brain gives slices to. Now your brain scheduler has less brainpower available for your complex task. Another way to put it is: They are clouds in your heads sky, obscuring the sun of creativity and productivity.

Learn to feel the productivity window by feel, by gut. The same gut feeling will also tell you when to stop. Procrastination often involves avoidance of something, for whatever reason. The trick is to observe what you are avoiding and what feelings are there when you think about this avoidance.


The only thing that helps me concentrate on work (coding) is exercising. When I come back from bike/run/whatever, catch my breath and take a shower, only after that my mind is calm enough so that I can concentrate well for ~2 hours. After that, you have to eat again, participate in a meeting, read your email, deal with messages from family, check the news, the latest coding tutorial, etc etc, and the concentration is gone, no matter how hard I try again later.


I am also a procrastinator! Keeping distractions away, especially the phone, is the most important to me as well, although I don't go to the extremes the author does!

I found that the bigger and more open ended the task is, the quicker I fizzle out and get distracted. The key for me is to get to some quicker reward point. For example I am currently working on an electronic toy project, and my current goal is to only test the music generation. Anything bigger gets hard to focus!


I've found that when I procrastinate it's due to the fact when I start a new project I can work on it for days until I realize, why am I doing X when I can do Y? and in this case X could be using a good o'l rest api instead of graphql or a completely new way of fetching data.

Then I stop working because I did realize I can use something else that will be smarter and more efficient in the long run, So then my mind goes: OK! lets start working on that, and there the endless cycle begins. Because when I start working on the thing that will make the first thing better I also realize a day or two in, that this is stupid and I need to get back to the original thing but I can't do it because X is not as efficient as Y would have been. Then I try to think of something else for Y. So in a sense I'm stuck in a cycle where I try to improve and get my self to write less code before the project even has taken off in a meaningful way. It's just like in devops when people try to scale something before you have the users... which doesn't even make sense. And I'm guilty of that as well.


There’s actually some science behind procrastination and the steps you can do to beat it: http://nickswan.net/procrastination/ These are my notes from Tim Pychyl’s lecture that was posted on here a few months ago. Link to the YouTube video included in my blog posts. It’s a really good watch.


> Ask myself : What negative emotions do I have associated with project or task x,y,z?

That's a valuable tip. Drilling down to what stresses you out and finding a way to integrate that into self is central to overcoming procrastination.


Disable internet. It takes 2 clicks. You can always get it back, it doesn't go anywhere. Do this for your workstation.

Use a laptop to browse stackexchange. Set email to sync every hour, unless your job is to answer emails as they come. Checking once an hour is enough.


I have found that having a decent computer really helps my productivity. As a grad student, an adjunct, and now a full time faculty member, I have consistently had shitty slow computers in my office on campus. I have found that because it is so slow that when I grade a paper online, i hit submit and the browser takes so long to load the next paper that I get distracted by checking email or twitter or facebook. Now that I'm stuck at home, I have noticed that my personal computer is so much faster that the next paper loads almost instantly and I get less distracted even though i have tons of more things here that could distract me than in the office.


I often put my phone on DND and only allow calls , that really helps. From morning 9 to 6 and everytime I am on my bed. Removing social media apps also helps. I wont say its 100% effective but I see drastic reduction in my screen time.


To me there are two keys:

1) Keep the phone far out of reach

2) Every time I get overwhelmed, try to stop thinking about the big picture and think "What's the smallest piece I can do right now?" Starting my IDE, starting the software, fixing some obvious typo. Whatever.

3) Yes, block distracting apps, but not permanently. If I do that, I relapse and feel guilty. Instead, I use a Chrome app called Focus (there's a million of them out there) to block distractions for 30 minutes at a time. Enough for me to do work, but not enough where I want to give up.


I fundamentally disagree with all the tips in the article. Mostly because I’ve tried them and tips like this in the past. They work but only for brief periods. They all require force. Forcing behavior on yourself. The mind becomes a critical parent to the mind. I realize this is a negative comment. “What works then?” you might ask. That’s something I’m still figuring out. However a negative result is useful because it saves you from wasting time on dead ends.


What has somewhat worked for me is Focusmate. You make a video call to a stranger, and you both commit to 50 minutes of work. I guess you could do that with a workmate or a friend, if you dare be honest in needing that kind of basic childlish psychological support. Actually, I have almost picked a habit of doing the same commitment alone, which is nice. :-)

Even that does not work, if you are tired, exhausted, depressed, sad, angry, desperate and lost. Fix that first.


I've long had the habit of putting stuff that I know I can waste a lot of time on into my /etc/hosts to point to the void (news sites, forums).


I'm sure it's been said many times before, but there's a special irony to reading an essay about procrastination in order to avoid doing work.


I think the main problem with advice on 'how to beat procrastination' is the assumption that everyone is the same. Which is not the case, of course, because people have different sleep patterns, different habits, and different reasons to procrastinate.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution, and one trick or tool that works for me wouldn't necessarily work for you. And it can be really hard to find something that works.


If you don't want to modify your /etc/hosts file manually you can always use https://selfcontrolapp.com/ which will do it for you.

Pomodoro technique has really helped me as well. I feel it forces me to just start right away and get into the flow. The only thing you have to build the habit of is actually starting the timer.


I too believed that my procrastination problem was ADHD. Almost everything I read about ADHD symptoms agreed on to my behaviour. This went on for like 8 years and one day I decided to visit a Psychiatrist.

He said it could be general anxiety and prescribed me medicines. I came back home and googled the medicine to find out that it is an anti-depressant, SSRI if you want to know.

Then I said to myself, "crap ADHD is due to the lack of Dopamine and not Serotonin, this is not going to workout". But I chose to take it according to the prescription, hoping that after the tablets are over I can go back to the second session and get my psychiatrist prescribe me ADHD medications.

After two weeks, I could feel the change. Suddenly there was motivation to work, my mind was not constantly fantasizing about the "perfect" work that will interest me. I could see interesting tasks to do in my current job (I am a web developer). I could sense business needs rather than writing the perfect code. I was productive. Challenges did not scare me. I could understand things in meetings without confusion, or obsessing over details. I stopped using pomodoro.

My obsession to constantly check Reddit, HN, Twitter, Youtube was rapidly dying out. Going to sleep did finally feel like going to rest, rather than one more "task" to struggle.

Most surprisingly, I did not give up on physical tasks. Usually I would give up the last rep when I am lifting, but under the medication I did reps to failure and that was the first time I did not give up something which is difficult.

I was still checking Reddit, HN out of habit, but I could stop when I want to. Even my relationship with my wife improved. This was indeed magical. Things I struggled to do or couldn't do became easier and I could do it naturally.

All of this, though lasted only for a few months, as I discontinued the medication for various reasons: people close to me were questioning like, "for how long are you going to depend on it", slowly I developed some tolerance for it, and some minor reversible-side-effects. Now I regret not forming habits when I had the chance with the medication.

The point being, the symptoms of OCD, anxiety disorder, ADHD and ADD all overlap, and don't assume yourself anything. Talk to a psychiatrist, because they know better. Hope this information helps someone or at the least gives them hope.


I'm identifying myself a lot with your story. I think I might have ADHD and my psychiatrist is thinking of prescribing me SSRI. Do you end up taking ADHD medication or was the SSRI enough for you to fell the change?


Here's what worked for me in lockdown (I had issues working at home) : aim to do minimum 6 pomodoros a day, where each pomodoro is 55 minutes long. When measuring time I try to focus on a single task that's not related to admin work (answering emails etc.) I figured that 6 hours of productive work is not far off from what most people probably get done in an office environment anyway.


How long of a break in between?


5 minutes. Sometime if I get in the flow or I'm in a middle of the meeting I'll skip the break and restart the timer.


The DNS hack is a nice low fidelity way to avoid procrastination helpers. I have also used https://www.rescuetime.com/ which provides a bit more of a polished interface for accomplishing the same effect.


I'm gonna read that one, later.


I'm glad that the article acknowledges procrastination as an emotional issue, not an organisational one. Reading Getting Things Done or using a new Todo list app does not do anything for procrastination. The slight bump is just down to novelty.


Implement all these life hacks and you too can crank out 4% more JavaScript per day and don’t even have to worry about politics, current affairs or what is going on in the country or the world.

It’s not like being informed is an important part of being a citizen.


I know plenty of people consider it some form of cheating, but medication can help. I've been regularly taking armodafinil for quite some time now and it helps immensely to start doing things, to get into concentrated work and to stay there.


Another cruel tip is to put all your procrastination prone Web accounts behind complex login controls (passwords behind 2 factor authentication Lastpass with paranoid settings), and purge your cookies often.


In a similar vein: put your guilty pleasure accounts in a browser that you hate, log yourself out of there. Make fake accounts on your primary browser, so that whenever you have the urge to log in or are accidentally logged in, you find nothing there.

I do this for Facebook. I'm considering to do it for YouTube.


I've bookmarked this to go in the large folder of articles on beating procrastination that I've amassed.

I'll get around to reading them all sometime soon.


Write your distractions down. Look at them at lunch / end of the day (and by then you'll find they don't seem so important).


It's great to see this article at the top of Hacker News, my number one source of procrastination.


The problem when the procrastination has nothing to do with the phone or applications, or fear, but instead with reading and writing a lot because you actually want to write at least one novel but that isn't going to make you money (most likely).

Oh, well, still a good article.


Step one: Stay out of Hacker News comments section...


"That mother-fucker!"


Self-discipline is key. Either get better at it, or don't own a smartphone or a computer.


This has been a problem since long before smartphones or even computers. Socializing, gardening, etc. Anything including literally self harming seems to be done by someone somewhere in this world to postpone work.

I had to find a way to deal with procrastination a few years ago and the most important thkng I learned was to banish perfectionism and admit that good results are more likely to emerge from repeated iterations than from carefully acting out a perfect plan made the first day you heard about the project.


The brain is very good at self-sabotaging when it can't figure out what or how to deal with certain situations though. The best thing to do is figure out why you're procrastinating before trying to fix it.


Paradoxically, I think just acknowledging procrastination as an example of a bad thing, but not the most important one, might work well.

I say this because anxiety around needing to do something important is one possible cause of procrastination in the first place, and yet there is nothing more anxiety-inducing than telling yourself that by procrastinating, you're failing to do the most important things first. Whereas instead, if you only go so far as to make a mental note of it when you catch yourself procrastinating, you'll give yourself a moment to reflect without giving yourself anxiety that perpetuates further procrastination.

Also, you may have a subconscious reason for not doing something. Procrastinating could simply just be your brain's way of letting a better idea about how to do it percolate. That said, forming habits of doing certain unproductive things could be a pointless loss of productivity. Like if you have a habit of checking social media several times a day you might try blocking yourself from that and see how much productivity you've gained. And after all, there are better ways of procrastinating than by checking social media, like going for walks, trying new healthy recipes if you cook, or even cleaning (I actually don't know how many times I've thought of a good solution while cleaning), etc.

Once you've done that, you can think about it in terms of optimizing time spent working vs. time spent in leisure, and acknowledge that the "good" forms of procrastinating are an important form of leisure, which, if you've optimized the ratio well, boost your productivity by restoring mental energy and increasing creativity. Technically this includes sleep as well. :-)


That's the "what". Many people would like to know the "how" though.


Indeed. And I'm hoping that the steps I've taken here help build that self-discipline to a level that I'm personally happy with :)


Bookmarked to read later.


[deleted]


Maybe your posts would be more appreciated if you posted them with your personal account and didn't write totally write them like ads. Oh, and if they were more relevant to what's being posted. I don't procrastinate because of clickbait.

I'm afraid that you'll get this account restricted if you continue like this. You're also tarnishing your brand.

Edit: Another notorious project-poster is burtonator, which I also find mildly annoying, but whenever he posts about his project at least it's actually tangentially related to what is being discussed. He's a good bit less over the line than you are, in my opinion.




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