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Procrastination is driven by our desire to avoid difficult emotions, says expert (cbc.ca)
613 points by pseudolus 10 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 312 comments



Words of warning from a not so young (36) chronic procrastinator with a rather messed up life: Take it seriously. I'm not talking about reading HN in your 7th work hour when doing stupid Excel sheets. I'm talking about messing up years and years of your life. I believe it's a symptom of some deeper issues and it won't go away from alone. Lack of sleep, stress, work overload, information overload amplify the effects but once it crept into your life outside of work it really can wreak havoc. Simple things start to become complicated and you are in a constant negative feedback loop. The worst is that you procrastinate not only work but rather your own existence because you'll constantly attempt to catch up but just can't.

At the moment doing pomodoro and putting everything in kanban charts and devide&conquer seem to work somewhat. I don't really have any clever advice beyond that, it just sucks.


Yeah, agreed. For me avoidance of tasks was just the visible problem; the root was avoidance of feelings.

I don't really struggle with procrastination much any more, but it took all sorts of work that would have seemed apparently unrelated to me. E.g., a regular sleep schedule is really helpful, and that required an automated lighting system that helps me keep in sync with the sun. Regular cardio helps keep my baseline anxiety level much lower. Meditation, therapy, medication, food choices, and an awful lot of introspection and self-experimentation were necessary. And time, just a lot of time to unwind the bad habits and bad associations.

I get that it feels hopeless sometimes, but I hope you'll continue. Note that you can't catch up if your baseline is some arbitrary standard. But the right way to measure it is improvement from where you are now. Then there's no "catching up". There's just today, and whether you're going to make things better by one day's worth.


> the root was avoidance of feelings.

To put this in perspective, one of the hallmarks of addiction is avoidance of feelings. It's a deeply psychological coping mechanism, and obviously a symptom of a larger problem.


Yes, exactly. One way I think about procrastination is addiction to the pain relief that comes from distraction.


> There's just today, and whether you're going to > make things better by one day's worth.

So true. The guest post on Ferriss's blog on this is quite good -- https://tim.blog/2009/07/28/the-big-question-are-you-better-...


> E.g., a regular sleep schedule is really helpful, and that required an automated lighting system that helps me keep in sync with the sun.

Wouldn't letting the curtains open achieve the same thing?


Depending on your location (urban or rural) having your curtains open could expose other light sources (street or car lights) and make it harder to get to sleep.


At least where I live, that's not enough light for me, especially in the winter. But if I turn on regular lights when it's too dark, I may leave them on and then blow my sleep schedule.


Would you mind expanding on what this automated lighting system is?


You can buy a wake up lamp and aim it at your face while you sleep. They automatically turn on at a time you set, and the light intensifies slowly, like the sun. It’s a lot comfier than waking up to a loud noise.


I bought a Philips light-based alarm clock, which I liked, but it wasn't enough. So I built a whole-house system out of Hue bulbs and custom software:

https://github.com/wpietri/sunrise

To my surprise, the most valuable part for me was not sunrise but sunset. If the lights auto-dim in the evening, I go to bed on time, which means I wake up on time.


Well said.


I hear you.

For me, it is a feeling like you said, of never being able to catch up. Like with debt, for years, I would just keep spending on my credit cards. I tried consolidating several times, and finally, I have used a 401k loan against myself to consolidate. My student loans and car loan are paid off, and I have < $10,000 of actual credit debt for the first time since college.

When something seems hopeless, or too much to overcome, I think the mind says "fuck it", and wants to escape.

I find myself very productive at cleaning when I am on the phone with friends and family. I will pace the house, sweeping or mopping or throwing away papers that need sorted. Why? Because doing it alone is lonely, boring, unfulfilling.

I'm lonely. Despite several good friends and family who care about me, I am very lonely for someone to love and care for me in the way I feel I can care for them - I've had love before, though I didn't know it when I was younger. I miss it.

With debt finally going away, and with a good job, I at least see the light at the end of that tunnel. I may finally be able to travel more, buy a sailboat, buy a house. I have been more intentional about my spending, that I don't use any credit I can't pay off immediately. See? having hope, seeing that things can be better, really helps.

I had to get that out there. TLDR: I procrastinate on doing chores and making hard decisions because it is overwhelming at times, hard to envision the immediate benefit, and so I go a bar to chat with other people who are running from something, too.

Fuck, there should be a support group for this.


This is a really insightful and heartfelt comment; thank you very much for sharing it. It really resonated with me, and has highlighted problems I really should think about for myself. Thank you


I felt this comment!

I racked up plenty of debt during my school years and it only increased after that for no good reason. I felt overwhelmed most of the time and the marginal increases in debt didn't feel like much. So my debt grew another 30%, which for me was a lot.

I've finally got a handle on my debt and I'm paying it off, but this turn of events only came about after a lot of suffering and feeling awful about my debt. It took years to smarten up and realize the pain of limiting myself in my purchases is less than the pain of having the debt hanging over my head.


"Fuck, there should be a support group for this."

Be the change you want to see!


At the risk of going completely opposite to what you meant here: I would join such a group if it existed on-line. Hell, I've used HN for that purpose in the past.


> I believe it's a symptom of some deeper issues and it won't go away from alone. [...] Simple things start to become complicated and you are in a constant negative feedback loop.

+1

I neglected this, thought that I could force myself to work, instead of seeking help. I did 100h weeks after all, I'd always get stuff done. I quit my job, started looking for more rewarding things to do, finally had time to do things right.

And, one day I ended up crying on the floor, hurting myself and spending 3 days on a task that was supposed to take 5-15 minutes. Then a simple coding exercise (2-3h) took me a week, because I couldn't focus, I couldn't accept any solutions because they weren't perfect. I ended up not sending my job application because I lost my shit, even speaking to the recruiter was too intimidating. The whole situation was ridiculous, surreal.

I felt embarrassed because I went throught some difficult (arguably waaay more stressful) situations when I was younger and just couldn't cope with the fact that at the age of 32 my brain gave up on a high school grade CS task. It still perplexes me.

> At the moment doing pomodoro and putting everything in kanban charts and devide&conquer seem to work somewhat. I don't really have any clever advice beyond that, it just sucks.

I'm not sure if you're the same but I used to hate routine. I'm learning to enjoy it now, because I realised that it allows me to deal with the previously neglected parts of my life (exercise, meditation, sleep, food) with less friction. I hate self-help books, but Atomic Habits was surprisingly helpful.

I'm still getting to the point where I enjoy things around me (instead of constantly solving problems), but I hope this will go when the lockdown ends.

I used to have much, much more control over myself. I feel that what I did to myself was reckless, because now keeping my emotional health at the level allowing me to work can be really hard.

I wish I was brought up to care about myself, because now even though I slowed down and made some changes in my life: 1) I don't feel like a better person 2) I'm not better to anyone around me. I'm just tired. I can find a nice 6-figure job, but can't guarantee that I'll be strong enough emotionally to support my partner. Please consider this a warning, so you don't end up like me. Making small changes and taking care of yourself is easier than damage control.


> spending 3 days on a task that was supposed to take 5-15 minutes. Then a simple coding exercise (2-3h) took me a week, because I couldn't focus,

I hope I'm not too intrusive, but did you happen to quit some sort of addictive substances before that, like caffeine, nicotine, etc? Did you happen to go through a breakup or something? Or was it a super random, out of the blue kind of thing?


Pomodoro is magic and should be worshipped.

It's the only thing that seems to consistently work for me. When I was so emotionally overwhelmed I couldn't focus and it took me half a day to begin working, I would switch to doing pomodoros and rewarding myself for achieving a certain amount any given day. I tried punishing myself through not achieving too (via Beeminder), but that ended up worsening my emotional negative feedback loop, so I stopped.

Over the past decade, with tremendous help of my wife, I've managed to resolve some of my anxiety issues, so these days my main sources of work anxiety are: 1) trying to do a thing I have no first clue how to approach, and 2) the tension between spending time coding for money vs. doing hobby projects. If I do too much of the latter, I don't have money, but if I do too little, I burn out quickly. So I reward my work time with hobby project time. I keep a small pad on which I put a tally mark for each pomodoro spent on working. These tally marks represent pomodoros I can then spend on hobby projects (software on otherwise) guilt-free. This satisfies my emotional self, as I literally work to earn time to spend doing something else.

In practice, I end up buffering tally marks and then spending them in batches, this fits well with me being an independent contractor (I can work less today if I worked more yesterday), and also works well for the state of flow: if I have 10 pomodoros buffered up, I can let myself spend them all in 5 hours of continuous hacking.

I'd say the key thing here is getting rid of the guilt: I've agreed with myself that as long as I never exceed the accumulated pomodoro budget, I can spend it without feeling bad about not working.

(Well, the second big trick was to block HN on my router during work hours; this ensures I actually get to both earn and spend my pomodoros, instead of procrastinating here all day.)

(EDIT: Well, the third big trick, one which lets me keep anxiety down, is that I keep running journals - both personal and work - and I dump my train of thoughts straight into them whenever I start feeling even slightly anxious or confused. I almost never read them again, but the act of going through my thoughts in writing calms me down, and lets me pinpoint the sources of anxiety.)


> I'd say the key thing here is getting rid of the guilt: I've agreed with myself that as long as I never exceed the accumulated pomodoro budget, I can spend it without feeling bad about not working.

I found this to be a key factor. I can enjoy myself as long as there are no matters unresolved.

>(EDIT: Well, the third big trick, one which lets me keep anxiety down, is that I keep running journals - both personal and work - and I dump my train of thoughts straight into them whenever I start feeling even slightly anxious or confused. I almost never read them again, but the act of going through my thoughts in writing calms me down, and lets me pinpoint the sources of anxiety.)

Reminds me of "getting things done"


+1 for journals. At some point I used to run three: personal, work and one for my masters.

I don't know why, but they work way better when hand-written


“Spending” the work on hobbies is a masterful insight. Thank you for that.


Thank you!


I don't think it's about "avoiding difficult emotions" anymore. You'd think after years of procrastinating and as a result, getting even worse emotions, the brain would learn to not procrastinate in order to avoid unpleasant emotions.

Imo, it's a brain malfunction/illness. Some spectrum of ADD, some people being affected more than others. Perhaps it was useful in the millions of years of evolution, but it's counterproductive in a modern society.

Which is why I would love for (more) doctors to recognize procrastination/Attention Deficit as a real problem in itself and not just wave it away as a symptom of something else.

A real problem for which there is real, working medication, that thousands of people are happy with. But unfortunately due to the nature of these drugs, everyone shies away from it.

It's not the perfect solution, but it's a working solution. Medication would've changed my life, but I can not get it. And so I continue wasting hours, days, months and years of my life.

Not to mention it causes anxiety and depression, and they continue reinforcing each other, making things much worse.


> You'd think after years of procrastinating and as a result, getting even worse emotions, the brain would learn to not procrastinate in order to avoid unpleasant emotions.

An alternative is that the reinforcement mechanism in the brain only responds to rewards on a short timescale. The reward from procrastination (not having to face xyz) comes immediately. The punishment from procrastination (your job/life is in shambles) comes months or years later. So you end up adopting a policy of procrastination.


Unless your brain has some sort of trauma associated to whatever you’re avoiding. Brains are flawed. You may never learn without intentional therapy.


Indeed, Complex PTSD is an example condition that has symptoms that resemble ADHD.


Tagging this on: If one is a chronic procrastinator and also find the idea that people doesn't think about something exactly all the time to be a very strange thought, it might be worth doing at least an initial evaluation for ADD.

ADD/ADHD-PI is kind of a terrible name, but procrastination and a mind that never rests is a combination that while not unique, is quite uncommon outside "ADD type" brains/people.

It's not that a diagnosis is going to solve all problems instantly, but it can help avoid depression, burnout, and various secondary issues.

For me personally, I would say it brought me back to life. That's why I encourage others, because there was almost nothing left of me when I finally got the help I needed, and maybe I can help someone else take the same step someone once helped me take!


I came here to say exactly this. I found this article[0] here a few months ago on HN and it dramatically changed my life for the better. I had always thought I was just "easily distracted" and a "natural procrastinator", when in reality I actually had ADHD.

Now that I am medicated and it is mind-blowing how my life has changed. I can hold more than one thought in my head at a time, I can get back on track to what I was doing before without forgetting what I was doing, I don't sleep in until 10am anymore and I don't binge eat anymore. Consequently my self-esteem has improved dramatically too.

[0] https://gekk.info/articles/adhd.html


> find the idea that people doesn't think about something exactly all the time to be a very strange thought

I'm not sure I understand; how could one not be thinking about things constantly? If I try to just sit there and think about nothing, it doesn't work. The only time when the thinking has stopped for me is while under anesthesia.


throwaway713, you can definitely not think about things. I'm no doctor or mental health expert so I'm not sure if thinking all the time is bad... But it _sounds_ bad to me.

For me I day dream all the time. I don't think about anything when I play guitar. I don't think about anything when I do the dishes. I don't think about anything when I'm laying in a hammock looking at the sky. I don't really think when I'm exercising outside of "this is hard!".

Even when I'm dating someone she'll ask "What are you thinking about?" and more often then not the response is "literally nothing."

So yeah, it's definitely possible to not think about things. Maybe it's worth the cash on a therapy session just to double check? https://www.betterhelp.com/ Is a good source.

To me this sounds like the equivalent of a tooth ache for your mental health, better to get it checked now then wait.


Yeah. I always feel that I "strategically" messed up my life by:

Not having a real passion on pretty much anything, but have small impulses for pretty much EVERYTHING. Means that I wasted a lot of hours/days/weeks but didn't gain much. Plus no experience of major positive feedback makes me less and less confident.


Try reducing the scope of your projects, so that you can ride on your impulses. I find it a lot easier to maintain something I use than a half-completed project, so I try to get there as soon as possible. It worked really well for me.


Yeah I can complete anything if it's someone else request, or at least if I can convince myself it will be used by someone else. But I don't work as a programmer so I don't get a lot of those requests.

On the other side, if it's purely from my impulse then I found it difficult to finish it.


Does it solve a problem you have?

My longest-running projects are all in active use. I maintain them because they are useful to me, and update them to fit my needs.

It's a lot harder to maintain something for an imaginary customer.


>My longest-running projects are all in active use. I maintain them because they are useful to me, and update them to fit my needs.

This makes sense. A lot side projects (that are not for others but just for me) only spinned from semi-interest, not for active use. This could be the reason. Someone has to use it.


A really good book on getting to the emotional root of procrastination is "Procrastination Why you do it, what to do about it now" by Burka & Yuen. It takes a psychoanalytic approach, with a chapter on neuroscience and some practical steps to manage and improve.

One fact I found really interesting is that fear is embedded in your brain & body. A fear response is triggered immediately (30ms) even decades after the original incident. Learning to identify and resolve causes of fear can help you lower the barrier to doing your tasks. If we consider procrastination as a barrier preventing you from doing something, you can either up your will power, lower the barrier, or a combination of both. Good luck on your journey!


I'd suggest you to check a book "A Mind For Numbers" [1]. You don't have to be science/math guy to read it, and it covers procrastination among other things.

What I like about it is that many facts are backed by science research.

[1] https://www.amazon.ca/Mind-Numbers-Science-Flunked-Algebra/d...


why the downvotes?


I haven't been able to find a "final" solution. Most recently I've been writing things down with pen and paper to keep me on task. To make the ethereal physical and break it down into steps and checklists.

Again totally recommend this video on the wall of awful for ADHD procrastination https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uo08uS904Rg


Not sure that there is a final solution. It's an ongoing, everyday perpetual sort of thing...like waves:

When you catch a wave, you ride it out knowing that eventually it ends. And when it does, you get off the wave and paddle back out to catch another one. Repeat forever :)



Thanks I guess. Whenever I think Final I automatically think Fantasy. In this case "final" in quotes was to imply that there isn't really a final ... uhh, what is another word for solution that really fits the definition? I looked up synonyms but nothing sounds quite right. Any idea how I might re-word it?


You could've just said you haven't been able to find a solution.


[flagged]


Your green username indicates you're new to HN. Gratuitous swearing and accusing are not really part of the culture here, which is why you're being downvoted. There are already (too) many places on the internet for that sort of behavior.


I doubt it was intentional


You're right. I'm not sure I want to educate myself on why that might have been Nazi-esque. Thanks for giving me the benefit of the doubt.


I'm not sure if you can echo this, but I've been in negative spirals in the past and the only thing that really helped me get out was to focus ALL my efforts on creating a positive spiral to counter the negative one. It often started with questions like

- What is the the thing making me feel the worst at the moment? - What is the largest small thing I can do with my current energy to offset my biggest problem?

For example, one time when money was really bad and I knew I'd get some money from tax returns, I focused all my energy (to the exclusion of other things even work) on trying to get it done, which resulted in some money and reducing my pain. This allowed me to re-focus on the next small challenge that I felt I could tackle reasonably well.

Sometimes the spiral is so deep and the challenges so multidimensional that it's hard to pick on the right thread of the ball of yarn to start making progress, but it's possible.


> The worst is that you procrastinate not only work but rather your own existence because you'll constantly attempt to catch up but just can't.

Idea/suggestion: How about the old "delete all your emails" trick: Sell everything you have. Quit your job. Move to another place.

Having said/suggested that, I've done this email trick a couple of times and while it works wonders short term - I stop worrying about those highlighted emails I should do something about that are getting older and older - I tend to just end up in the same situation later.

But, having moved around a couple of times, it also does work wonders, as long as you keep focus on the "new you" while everything's fresh.


Watch out, this can be a even bigger trap. Most of the times your issues are not external, but internal, and doing that will only add to the stress since you lose security and your support network.

From experience, I suffered what a lot here describe. Used to be a lawyer, hated it, and the procrastination bled from work to my personal life. I basically stopped living for 3-4 years because I couldn't do anything. Outside of work and basic life necessities, I'd just watch Netflix, play videogames and drink

I thought quitting and moving was the answer. So I did. I found the strength to save money and study coding. After 2 years, moved to another country and am now graduating from CS and just got promoted to intermediate developer.

While life seems better because I've accomplished things, I noticed I still have the exact same feelings as soon as I stop working. I love my work now. I have a nice salary. The problem is that my issues are with me, and no external factor.

I used to blame those feelings on a boring bog, a lack of money (since I used to spend all my nice salary on bad things), a violent country... I eliminated all that, but it didn't work.

So, just a warn here. If the issue is internal, no amount of turning your external life around will change your internal feelings and problems. Work on that instead.


Are you Rick Sanchez?

I moved to another country some time ago. To me, it was difficult. Starting your social life from scratch is difficult. Learning a new culture, a new language and a new bureaucracy is difficult. Buying everything again is difficult. Upping the difficulty level doesn't solve your procrastination problem, it exacerbates it.

To me, this sounds more like running away from your problems than solving them.


Agree with all of the above although I've never done it completely myself, I've either had a job waiting or a partner along at the new country, which has helped. And you don't need to be so drastic as to move to a parallel universe, you could just move within your own country.


I experienced a much minuscule version recently when I accidentally closed a browser window full of tabs. It was like letting go. It felt cleansing.


I know what you mean. I currently have 10 windows open, each containing various tabs of stuff I've been researching and I can't wait to get them closed off. I would be fine with an accident but unfortunately I'm too smart for my own good and have setup safeguards for that, like having [SessionBuddy](https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/session-buddy/edac...) installed in Chrome (which keeps snapshots of all open tabs and windows with the option of saving/naming/editing windows/sessions).


Nothing feels better than being 15 tabs deep and finally finding what you were looking for and hitting "Close Other Tabs"


I've done the latter a few times, or, rather, had a chance to do it a few times do to natural circumstances. The first was going off to college (6 hours from home), where I knew absolutely nobody. It really put things in perspective for me, and allowed me to change some habits I didn't like, and it also brought some mental health issues to light.

The second was when I studied abroad. Completely different culture and everything, allowed me to shift my personality more towards what I wanted to be, though it was sadly only temporary and when I returned back to school I slowly shifted back.

In fact, I've noticed it again. I moved back home after college (to my hometown, etc.) and started teaching at my old high school, and I'm kinda falling back into the same habits I had then, and I feel I'm almost regressing as a person in a sense. I think it's time for another change, though I also think the fact that I'm regressing is because there's some internal issues I haven't fixed.

But, overall, I think moving and taking those leaps are a good chance to get started on fixing some of those issues when you're stuck in a rut and just can't get out of it.


YMMV. You can find out you're still the same person with the same issues, just in a different location.


You can change. There's a technique called Releasing outlined by David Hawkins in his book Letting Go. I've undergone a metamorphosis since starting this practice. Not 10% better, but life altering, horizon expanding shifts I never thought were possible for me. It's inner work that resolves the feelings that create your outer reality.


I'm not sure about this recommendation. It seems to be unscientific spiritual / new age 'negative energy' type stuff. If you like that, go for it. Otherwise, avoid.


Alright man, let's try this out.

Looked it up on amazon and the book was free with an audible trial. Hope it works.

There was one other book, a very short one, it's more like an excercise book really with space for you to write your answers.

Has a very "commercial" title I'd say, it's called Self Discipline in 10 days.

It's a bit of a psychological rollercoaster and but I did find it pretty effective when I went through it years ago. It will ask you to write down and articulate your biggest failures fears etc.. Try it out :)


Procrastination is a symptom and stuff like pomodoro is the band-aid.


Often a band-aid is all what you need to heal, instead of getting the wound infected and making things worse over time.


Agreed. I feel like I manage procrastination with a bunch of band-aids. But I will never not have the tendencies.


Diet & exercise have been the cure for me, simple as that.


I'm in the same boat but several years younger. I'm witnessing how I throw my life away and there's nothing I can do.

Nothing works.


If it makes you feel any better, know you're not alone there.


It doesn't actually. Finding a solution for us would make me feel way better.


The answer is to "just get started". Figure out what the immediate next step is and just do that. Don't worry about the rest of it. One step at a time. Joel on Software alludes to this by saying he just needed to open the code editor. I think PG has a similar strategy.


Thank you for saying that. I'm glad I'm not the only one.


pomodoro works great against procrastination. it works even better if synchronized over slack/telegram/twitter with peer developers. we call that bloody Mary


It smells like neglecting important things rather than delaying until become acute/urgent (this latter is my definition for procrastination).


Actually it started with delaying until it became acute/urgent and lot's of badly executed last-minute shit was created and that's probably okay, but at some point it changed for me - especially during times when you are not well off anyway and that kick to get it done somehow at the last minute doesn't fire anymore. You are just tired and exhausted.


> I don't really have any clever advice beyond that, it just sucks.

I found BJ Fogg’s behavior model [0] useful. His model let’s you plot a behavior on a graph. If you create two plots for two behaviors, the one closest to the top-right corner is the one you will do.

Procrastination then is just choosing one behavior over another. Doing nothing over doing something. And you can plot it, and then figure out how you can position the levers (there are only 3) to make “something” the chosen behavior over “staring at the wall”.

His book Tiny Habits goes into more detail about how you might run this diagnostic process. Atomic Habits is also good here for the actionable changes, but I found Fogg’s simple model to be wickedly effective for wrangling my executive dysfunction.

Once you have a habit framework in place, you need a wholistic approach, which I would listen to the 1st question of this Q&A [1] (around 2min mark) for an example of a daily routine (which starts the night before), and in some cases professional help works wonders (therapy, medication, CBT).

In terms of rescue from the acute fog-of-anxiety, I use 3 meditation tools that, if I follow them, have never failed.

One is a general observe-and-dissipate meditation, something like Sam Harris’s course, to build awareness and the ability to pause life for a brief second so you can inject habit loop triggers.

Second is meditation for calm, using modified box breathing to mitigate acute anxiety. In each of the 4 parts of the breath (in, hold, out, hold), wait for the most pleasurable part, and repeat. Something out waiting for the moment of most pleasure is (a) mildly pleasurable and (b) very focusing.

Third is the same as the second, but taking a break after each box breath cycle to pause and acknowledge to yourself that you are moving in the right direction. I added this after hearing a neuroscientist talk about hacking the brain’s reward system using this approach: pick any goal (even if it’s short-term counterproductive), take the smallest possible physical step toward that goal, pause and acknowledge your effort toward moving in the right direction, and repeat. The pause-and-acknowledge step triggers a dopamine response, which he said has the effect of buffering or titrating adrenaline, meaning this cycle is energizing and can be sustained for a very long time compared to an acute adrenaline spike and subsequent crash. Once you get forward momentum you can redirect to a better goal, so the initial goal is rather unimportant. Just building the momentum in this dopamine reward cycle overcomes all of the crushing anxiety, negative self-talk, and so forth.

[0] https://www.behaviormodel.org/

[1] https://impacttheory.libsyn.com/ama-8121-190416-pod-for-post


Well, the difficult emotion is often some form of fear. Fear of failing, of making a mistake, in some cases, of making the problem worse. All of these fears are in a fundamental sense legitimate, but the direct solution is, insofar as it is possible, to prepare and practice.

The alternative is to tackle something even harder that includes the thing you want to make as a special case. This is a recent discovery of mine. The pressure of accomplishing the bigger, harder thing can often drive you to simply knock out the smaller thing to get it out of the way, and that's often good enough.

There's an apocryphal story in rabbinical lore about a farmer who's frustrated that his home is so noisy that he can't sleep. The Rabbi sympathizes and tells the farmer to invite another animal into his home night after night. The farmer gets more frantic, angry even that this "solution" isn't working. Then the rabbi tells the farmer to remove all the animals, and the farmer, now in peace and quiet, could fall soundly asleep. The solution above is the same: you don't eliminate the fear, you replace it with a greater fear such that the original fear doesn't seem to matter!


This may work.... for some people.

Recognize that procrastination based on avoidance of difficult emotions is likely as unique as each individual's emotions.

I'm glad you found a solution for yourself, but please do remember how unique each person in the world is.


Procrastination for me has nothing to do with fear of failing or making a mistake and is almost entirely about avoiding mental effort. It's akin to avoiding physical exercise.


> The alternative is to tackle something even harder that includes the thing you want to make as a special case.

This is the main operating principle of http://www.structuredprocrastination.com


After reading that article a while back, I started making longer to-do lists. I found that it's hard for me to do a task on a three item to-do list. But if my list has 20 items, it's somehow easier to pick an item from the middle of the list and bang it out.


Amazing that after a distinguished career as a respected philosopy professor at Stanford, Perry's greatest contribution to humanity may be that humorous article on procrastiantion.


By John Perry, co-host of the delightful radio show Philosophy Talk (or at least that's how I know him). I'm sold.


> The pressure of accomplishing the bigger, harder thing can often drive you to simply knock out the smaller thing to get it out of the way, and that's often good enough.

That's a really interesting observation, and I recently experienced it I think.

I am installing a new ECU in my car in order to tune it myself, something I'm really looking forward to but is honestly quite daunting and possibly expensive to fail at. The entire time the tuning has been on my mind, I've been learning and doing dozens of little things while installing the ECU. Things I'd normally be a bit worried about. Soldering, wiring, drilling and tapping. I've learned a bunch of new things along the way, none of them tuning. Now I'm at the point where I need to do the tuning and I'm so invigorated by the process of getting here that I feel much more prepared to do it.


Ha, I know that story from the Julia Donaldson kids book (and song) "A Squash and a Squeeze" [1]. So true too. We don't appreciate how good things are, or how much we are capable of, until they get a lot worse.

[1]: https://www.panmacmillan.com/authors/julia-donaldson/a-squas....


I heard that story and I did not understand its meaning until today. I wonder how many small insights like that I may be missing.


I always read here and there people commenting about certain tips not working well on their own procrastination issues. My experience is no different.

Some months ago I wrote about how procrastination had harmed my life. I was going through a lot. Thankfully, things have hugely improved since then. Step by step, I'm getting my life together.

Way before my ex-wife left me, I had been reading some books on the subject. I had already identified the emotional nature of my procrastination, but I was still struggling to find a solution.

If I could give one advice to people who are facing very bad cases of procrastination, that would be: if you have the chance, get some psychotherapy. That was instrumental in my recovering.

My case had a complex emotional background. The extreme pressure I was putting over myself. The insanely huge goals I had established. My inclination to define my own value as a person based solely on my intellectual accomplishments. Everything mixed together. Overwhelming.

Don't get me wrong, the books helped. But mine was too complex a case and some personalized advice was needed.


"The extreme pressure I was putting over myself. The insanely huge goals I had established. My inclination to define my own value as a person based solely on my intellectual accomplishments. Everything mixed together. Overwhelming."

Thank you for writing, this really jives with my experience. I would read HN or various articles or do "fun" work to get dopamine hits, but the reality my psychotherapist revealed was that I internalized a lot of external pressures/expectations to do X Y Z in my career. It led to me resigning my job as an SQL/R programmer in February...bright-eyed looking for the next position...

And now I'm unemployed, so things are going super.


Thanks for sharing this. I'm glad that you looked for a therapy. We are all going through tough times regarding jobs and economy, but I'm pretty sure you'll be OK. Stay safe and don't let the present times let you down, things are going to be normal again soon.


Honestly, I expect most are in this same boat. Humans are very complex at best, and the outside perspective a therapist can offer is hard to overestimate.


> Procrastination is driven by our desire to avoid difficult emotions, says expert

I love this tagline! I think this is as accurate as one can get about why we procrastinate, in one sentence.

---

> What research has indicated across a wide variety of studies is that it is an emotion regulation situation.

So CBT, meditation and similar things might help. I'd like to see studies on that.

Hypothesis:

emotion regulation (bad) --> coping (none-existent) --> procrastination

emotion regulation (bad) --> coping (e.g. mindfulness or CBT) --> less procrastination

---

> What's the song of the procrastinator: "I don't want to, I don't feel like it," and usually there's the chorus of: "I'll feel more like it tomorrow."

That's a very playful way to phrase a characterization: what's the song of. I'm stealing it ;-)


“ > Procrastination is driven by our desire to avoid difficult emotions, says expert”

That makes sense for some procrastination, but other procrastination is laziness.

Mopping the floor, taking out the garbage, mowing the lawn types of procrastination... those are under your own purview and don’t involve big emotions or decisions...

So I think it explains some kinds of procrastination but not all.


It's not about just doing the dishes, it's about the sum of all the other chores and things you have to do. It's overwhelming in its entirety, not the individual tasks.

When they look at the washing up a procrastinator doesn't just see the washing up, they also see that they have to do a laundry, fix the cupboard creak, do a full clean of the cupboards, clean under the fridge, wash the floors, dust the cobwebs, fix the dripping tap, take out the recycling, decide what to do with those old jars, etc., etc.

Even if they do eventually manage to do a flurry of chores, and usually feel great, it's not a habit to do it again. It's not a scheduled minor, automatic, task. Your brain deals with habits much easier than things you have to consciously do.

So it inadvertently builds up, and BAM, as if from nowhere, there's a massive pile of washing up with a whole load of OTHER tasks mentally attached to it again.

You see it as easy and lazinness, but we don't. The irony is that living like this is actually a lot harder, you're having to ultimately put more work in for often worse results.


> When they look at the washing up a procrastinator doesn't just see the washing up, they also see that they have to do a laundry, fix the cupboard creak, do a full clean of the cupboards, clean under the fridge, wash the floors, dust the cobwebs, fix the dripping tap, take out the recycling, decide what to do with those old jars, etc., etc

This reminds me: is there a word to describe a related phenomenon, that I find incredibly frustrating? It goes as follows: say I want to take a one minute break to fetch myself some coffee. I go to the kitchen, find the dishwasher running and no clean cup, so I have to clean one myself. I do that, then discover I have to refill the water and the beans in the coffee machine. I make the coffee, and the machine flashes red. The dredgewater bin is full. I need to pour it out and clean it. I get dirty and coffee-smelly, so I want to wash my hands. Doing that, I use the last bit of soap in the dispenser, so now I have to fetch the 5L jug and carefully refill it. By this time, what started as a one-minute break turned into 10 minutes of chores, and I'm already anxious about getting back to work.

Some form of the story above happens to me pretty much every other day. Is there a name for this kind of unexpected recursive expansion of chores?



I don't know but I call it "the stack". If the stack gets big enough, it can get overwhelming.

Maybe it would make sense to have a todo list organized like a hierarchical bullet point list for things like these... where you don't have to store the whole dependency graph in your head. I find that that's often why I don't get the actual task intended complete; because in the process of emptying the stack, I forget what got me there in the first place.


My wife is like you, she sees everything she has to do as a huge "lump" of work and gets overwhelmed and distracted trying to make progress on everything at once. She's also ADHD which means she very easily gets distracted by something, which then leads to hyperfocus on that seemingly unproductive thing.

I see the kitchen and I think "this is going to make my back and legs hurt so much, I'm going to rest a bit before tackling it." Then I get distracted with reddit or HN or whatever, and suddenly it's the next morning and I have to work again.


I don’t mean it as an attack. I’m affected by the above too. Sometimes it’s because you look too far down the road as you allude to. But that could be part of an “excuse” mechanism.

Breaking things down into more discrete unconnected units allows addressing neater (less messy) problems/chores.

In myself I do notice over complicating things as an excuse to put them off and waste time. But as others suggest, sometimes you just have to power through and get things done.

And in most cases it’s not a hard or difficult work. The hard part is committing to doing it. Once you actually start it’s mostly a breeze.


Ah, ok, I've removed the first paragraph as I was being too defensive and it didn't really add anything.

I've been personally struggling with this for decades, I've found solutions that work for months, or even sometimes years and had long periods of effective productivity. But they all seem to eventually get forgotten and then don't work the 2nd time round.

It's very frustrating.

It's funny as I can easily work hard for other people and clients, etc.


When you procrastinate on mopping the floor or mowing the lawn, you're making a choice to live with dirtier floors or longer grass in exchange for more time to spend on other things. Some of that work actually goes away forever when you procrastinate. It's not like you mow the grass twice to make up for missing a week!

Perhaps the difficult emotion that 'lazy' people are avoiding is admitting to themselves that they're ok making that trade-off.


> Perhaps the difficult emotion that 'lazy' people are avoiding is admitting to themselves that they're ok making that trade-off.

I don't think it's that simple. During low periods, I let plates/wrappers/leftovers pile in the dishwasher, in the sink, on the sides, and in trash bags. The result is that when I need to eat, I clean a single dish, make room (more piling), and make a trivial meal.

The pending cleaning grows, yet I avoid doing it, live in filth and avoid cooking.

I'd be better putting a trash bag in, putting the wrappers/food in the bin, and using my dishwasher to batch clean, rather than JIT clean by hand. But I don't.

That's a problem, not a conscious trade off.


The worst thing is when you put something off, like a project at work, and then it gets cancelled. That's the type of positive reinforcement that leads to even more procrastiantion. :-)


> The first week after getting an assignment is called 'The Wally Period.' Never do work during the Wally period because most tasks become unnecessary within seven days.

https://dilbert.com/strip/2002-02-27


Sometimes the best action is inaction?


Not unless it got cancelled because you procrastinated on it, and your superiors decided to cut the loss.


It might not be laziness if the difficult emotions would have to be confronted by the mopping the floor kind of procrastination. Or, worse, if realising you need to mow the lawn makes you realise your entire yard is a mess and probably a shame to your community and you feel worse because of it - so you suppress and procrastinate.


One of the best things I've ever learned was to recognize that voice when it says "I can do that later" and instead decide to do it right now. The payoff is huge!


My hack is that I'll start doing a thing while wondering if I should do it. Instead of standing around thinking about whether you should do dishes, do a bit while you think about it. And usually then it's easier to just finish.


I suspect the phenomenon is different for each person. Myself, I have little problem procrastinating household chores--they feel easy and not particularly stressful. For whatever reason, it hits me hardest for tasks that I "like" to do, like programming. It's quite paradoxical.

It's certainly true for me that procrastination is essentially avoiding a form of anxiety. But I don't think there's some deeper, larger problem. It feels more like "choking", just a fairly specific learned, maladaptive response. At some times in my life, I've pushed it into the background and become more productive, but it always seems to creep back.

Drinking seems to reliably reduce it, but I can't very well program lit all day.


I will let the dishes sit because the thought of doing them feels overwhelming.


I have no desire to perform any manual labor task that can easily be automated, it seems such a pointless waste of time. Time better spent procrastinating.


To me, mopping the floor reminds me of all those times I said to myself "I'll clean the apartment top to bottom today" and I tried hard, but by the end of the day it was still far from perfect. Then 3 days later it was dirty again. I failed and I was a loser.

I'm not really looking forward to reliving that.

You can have strong, negative emotions in any area of your life.


But you discount that some people might start feelings lots of big emotions while mentally understimulated such as when doing these kinds of chores.

Please be careful when dismissing something you don't understand as laziness.


Taking out the trash is easy, but mopping, that is a process.


>That's a very playful way to phrase a characterization: what's the song of. I'm stealing it ;-)

Reminds me of one of my favorite books from childhood, Goose Goofs Off.

https://www.goodreads.com/en/book/show/967059.Goose_Goofs_Of...


What is CBT?


Typically in this context "Cognitive Behavioral Therapy"


Cognitive behavioral therapy


I have had a weird relationship with procrastination, I find I get more appropriate work done when I'm exhausted. When I have no energy it will take all my concentration to stick to the job at hand but I do stick to it, when I have plenty of energy my monkey brain gets distracted easier. I've also found the the GTD technique of breaking items into smaller tasks, setting a next action and make sure the action starts with a verb helps.


Same.

My interpretation is a little different, though: I think that a lot of my emotional struggle with procrastination is some fear of creating something less than perfect (or, for that matter, at least less than what I'm capable of). When exhaustion and/or stress over a very near deadline override that, I end up tossing something together.. and in the clear light of the next day, I usually find what whatever I did is at least a good start at whatever I need to do.

As a side note, I've also found that setting a next action helps - I usually take it a step further and make sure it's a simple and/or easy action, though. Very often, without intentionally making sure to save something easy, I'll knock out anything simple that's in line with what I've been doing. If something is complex enough to think "well, that will take a long time, this is a good stopping point" it's also a task that will be harder to get started whenever I come back to what I'm doing.


So your interpretation is kind of based on fear?

Like, you want to to your work perfectly, because otherwise ... will happen?

You procrastinate so that you have to finish the work on the last hour and then can tell yourself that you did not use your full potential, so that no one can judge you (as they did not see the full potential), because otherwise ... would happen?


I'm not sure if you mean to, but you sound a bit dismissive.

It seems exactly like the kind of habits complex emotional creatures like humans develop. And it's not nearly as bad a habit as some other stuff, like addiction etc, which most people do understand. Even though the effects on ones life can be just as catastrophic.


I am sorry. I did not mean to sound dismissive. I was just observing.

I guess the strongest emotion is fear which “motivates” us. And one should verify whether some actions are based on fear and how it influences our lives. And maybe now this is only procrastination. But as the previous commenter said, one had to watch out for themselves.


Perfectionism (which is what I feel like you’re describing) is usually covering something deeper. Might be worth looking inside yourself, past the various layers.

Hint: big or small, it’s always a fear


Likewise. I've long thought it analogous to the "Balmer's Peak".

It's frustrating, because it's not like it's a solution to be tired all the time. If I'm sleeping better, I get less work done and more life done, feel happier and better, but get swamped by work later. If I'm exhausted, I get some work done and no life done, feel horrible and eventually dip back into depression, but I'm a little bit more on top of work.

Eventually I get too exhausted to even do that, so again it's no solution, but it is interesting none the less.


I had never heard of Balmers Peak, however it's a well understood phenomenon when playing pool, magic spot for me is between pints 2 and 3.


I think it's a thing in most "sports" that both don't really require a lot of physical exertion, and that are turn-based, where you're given enough time to fall into the mental trap of overthinking things.

For me, this applies to traditional bar sports like pool, darts, shuffleboard, beer pong, etc., but also to some more traditional sports like golf and bowling (where drinking is also semi-acceptable). I'm much better after 2 drinks, but by 4 drinks I'm absolutely awful.

I've read alcohol is actually banned as a performance enhancing drug in olympic shooting (along with most other depressants), allegedly because they help to steady your hand from shaking due to nervousness in a high-stakes competition. Personally, I'm sure there's also a mental benefit to just not overthinking things, which applies to all the activities above, and can help with programming as well.


I got diagnosed with ADD in my late thirties, and by then I could only do the dishes and clean my apartment if I didn't sleep the night before. Since then, I've met several people with ADD/ADHD that has the same experience, and barely anyone else that have the same experience.


How did you end up getting diagnosed, what does the treatment and result look like, any side affects?


This is too long, weird, and yeah. I was too tired, sorry about that. But anyway, meds+therapy+physical movement+probably magnesium and zinc is good, only meds usually a bit pointless.

If your near term memory is especially crap, prescription n-back training when you are on meds can help improve it a little, and sometimes a lot. I sort of broke the scale on that one, apparently, was weird.

Side effects, I haven't had a lot except while trying out new medication.

I'll look at this sorry mess tomorrow, if you have any question I can answer :)

For me it was a very circuitous way, but after multiple doctor appointments in my late 30's for what looked as a depression without the depressive part, or getting burnt out by essentially doing almost nothing, I got sent to a therapist that sent me to a psychiatrist, and a few convolutions later I got a thorough evaluation by some specialists in Stockholm. They had no doubt at all, I ticked all the boxes for ADD. Probably on the autism spectra too, but I was in such a terrible shape that they felt it pointless to bother with it at least before I was somewhat on my feet again.

My scoring for attention to boring tasks was apparently through the floor terrible.

By the way, if you find yourself trying to find a reason why everything I write is crap, it's okay. I would have too, because it would have felt impossible, and nobody wants to do the impossible. That feeling is true, but maybe not entirely reliable!

The treatment varies as there are yet no clear roadmap. However, if you only get offered a stimulant, that's a bad sign. Go somewhere else if you can.

The treatment should be quite individual, the effects of ADHD on mind and body over time can vary a lot, and the most important role of the stimulants for most people is that it enables purposeful change. You probably won't have much experience of that, so it's no good to be entirely on your own.

You would start with figuring out if one of the stimulants works for you, and at what dose. This should be a bit annoying, take a fair bit of time, and you'll probably end up trying more than one until you find something you tolerate well. It can take a while because your body adapts, especially the first week(s) can be rather odd. This is commonly the first step, because it makes everything easier, or at least possible.

They may have an introductory course which covers the basics of what it is to live with ADHD, and if you have an SO that's not exactly like you, it's recommended they attend something similar but target at them. We're not always easy to live with, and they might also need someone to went at that knows what's up. My ex wife tried to talk to her friend before I got my diagnosis, and she only felt even more alone.

After figuring out medication, or in parallel you should see a some kind of therapist that is specialized in attention deficit disorder, because a) unless you are very young, you have issues that your superhuman avoidance algorithms has made you avoid, you might start noticing them, and they need to be dealt with b) It's nice to have someone that doesn't lie to you, can help you understand your fellow humans. Autistic traits are extremely common if you are anywhere near tech and have ADHD, and if not, it is easier for some to keep sane and also keep your friends as friends if you can tell someone who is not your friend why everything sucks, and why people are stupid. YMMV c) You'll probably not notice your own progress at first, but a decent therapist will, and you get valuable feedback to get the ball rolling. d) Don't stop going to the therapist to early if you can avoid it, you'll probably improve rather quickly, but if it's not habit yet, and if you're not very lucky on the medical side, you might need someone to keep you heading in the right direction.

Most people have some side effects during the time the medicine is active during the day, but usually quite minor.

Results vary immensely, but even for me which in many ways have not had fantastic results, mostly because I was so terribly burnt out that it alone has taken years to recover from, it still was so worth it every step of the way.

My life is still rather messy, but I feel like it's my own life now, I'm not only drifting along. I still plan terribly, but I am in time more often than not, that didn't use to be the case.

It's actually really hard to understand the results beforehand. It's as if trying to understand how blue smells. I wouldn't have understood my own descriptions, because my brain


There's a big overlap. Recent research shows that 80% of people on the autism spectrum also have adhd, and 50% of people with adhd also are on the autism spectrum.


I've had the same experience. More work gets done when I'm exhausted. Especially if it only requires 80% concentration.


That's a really interesting point. For years I got my best work done between 11pm and 2am. Maybe this is why.


I can relate to that as well, 11pm sometimes feels like the right energy level to concentrate on that one task that you know needs about 3 hours with no distractions.


My understanding is that, when you are fatigued, you might experience higher levels of dopamine because the brain works in mysterious ways. The reverse also seems true: low levels of dopamine can make you feel tired or sluggish despite being well-rested.


I did come across a study once which argued this. You feel more productive when tired and stressed but in reality you are less productive.


Thing is procrastinators often get no work done until they get over their procrastination. So while they're probably not as productive as they feel at level of sleep deprevation and stress, it might still be a whole lot better than it would be otherwise.


At the risk of being a bad trope, if you’re struggling with the emotional half of things I would recommend therapy.

Even if you don’t “discover” something traumatic in your past that explains everything, having someone to explain your feelings to often does wonders for your emotional well being in general. A lot of therapists will also specialize in procrastination, and may have extra strategies that help.


I highly recommend therapy. Generally, men in the US find it difficult to seek out help. Often they think it's a failing and avoid it, especially in the context of relationships. Therapy is something you could almost do for yourself, if you could work out the puzzle. Therapy can do wonders at breaking the initial problem and giving you some things you can work on.

Therapists can also provide useful inputs for career and work optimization. They get treated as mental health problem solvers, but you may get more optimization out of therapy than attending a conference or doing something that's traditional for career development.

Finding the right therapist takes some effort. Don't expect it to help initially. Do some education on the kinds of things they treat and mental health in general. I suffer from anxiety, but I never made that connection before.


I would also add to give it time and not give up after one or two sessions. It takes time to establish a relationship with a therapist you connect with and to see patterns in your life emerge.


At one point (maybe 15~20 years ago?), I had two sessions/week with a therapist for about a year. 3 therapists in a row.

I must be crap at finding therapists. The ones I found were really against being "interventionists" and didn't want to share with me what they were seeing from our very lightly guided conversation (where I didn't even know what I should be talking about).

"A little intervention and a little guidance would be cool folks! Otherwise, why am I not talking to a tape recorder?"


Please don't interpret this comment as against therapy in any way because therapy is an important and useful tool.

But the tape recorder kind of conversations (and you can just do these yourself) is actually a really effective tool when you are feeling overwhelmed. I use a journal instead of a tape recorder but it lets me establish how I am feeling at that moment, and then I can revisit later and evaluate what was going on.

If you're able to do this consistently, it becomes a really valuable tool because you can start to find correlations. "I notice I get depressed when I spend too much time just playing games". Correlations aren't necessarily causation, but even just that simple correlative analysis can be a meaningful tool.


Thanks for that.

Also I need to find a way to find better therapists! :-)

EDIT: Or maybe just realize that I get more depressed (and anxious) when I drink massive amounts of depressants, and, you know, stop? :-)


For me, and this is entirely anecdotal, I was typically overindulging in alcohol when I was upset about something and wanted to get my mind off of it. Which is great in theory except of course you end up stewing instead, but stopping the drinking didn't actually fix the root problem either, just a particular expression of it.

Ultimately I ended up adjusting my environment by both accepting it was OK to end some relationships with some angry people in my life (not angry at me, but angry generally) and adjusting how I approach work.


Fair enough. That makes sense. And Thank you for that.

In my case, I had a couple of back-to-back life-events that I just couldn't process/accept, (and frankly using alcohol to deal with the first probably lead to the second), but, then, hey! I was an addict! It probably took me 15~20 years to stop using that as my go-to avoidance technique (even though I knew how unhealthy/unuseful it was, I didn't really have another. Shame on me)


Finding a good therapist is both hard, and a very trial & error process.


The founders of NLP used to joke that there are many paths to mental health, but none so lucrative as Freudian psychotherapy.

I tend to try to seek out CBT people, but I found that a lot of them started out as classicists themselves, and then we find our way back into being "non-interventionists".

My mental model now is that the cycle of life goes something like this: Born -> WTF is Going on Here? -> Death

Maybe that's cynical, but it helps me believe that I'm not the only one who is fucked up between the ears .


Hmmm curiously, just read a book about how Freud brought about modernity and was conscious of how people would keep looking for some life guidance even though he had basically got rid of Tradition/Culture.

That said, keep looking, it has been terribly helpful for me to have someone who can analytically call on any bullshit I tell myself. I've learned to catch a lot of my patterns myself, but this guy simply catches the ones I miss or helps me understand why something is troubling me. I'd say our conversations are pretty balanced in who is speaking.


Practically speaking, what would a therapiat tell me that I can't find or learn on my own?


If you’re extremely self reflective; nothing.

For most of us, a therapist can tell you a lot of things that you could observe about yourself but won’t admit to. Most people have a blind spot the size of themselves.


Some things can be so intensively painful that we can't even acknowledge they exist within us, let alone begin to unpack and talk about them.

Speaking from my own experience it took me two years of therapy to get to acknowledge something very traumatic. Then the work could finally begin to start working on it.


It's easy to underestimate just how deep the "humans are social creatures" thing goes. Your mind has capabilities that more or less only work in the context of an interaction. Communication orders your thoughts in a way that rumination doesn't. Cues from others calibrate your level of certainty.

The better question is why do you need a such an expensive, highly trained listener? It seems to me that some people (particularly women) get what amounts to therapy from very close and secure friendships. Universities also sometimes have programs to facilitate a similar kind of communication with lightly trained volunteers from your peer group. You may still get a decent proportion of the benefit from something like this. But it stands to reason that a pro is better at it.


Nothing.

You can learn ballroom dancing alone in a room too, it's just much easier with a partner.


Sometimes comments like "Oh I'm procrastinating by reading this article while at work (at my successful software engineering job)" seem a little insensitive. It's like telling a blind man "Yeah, I close my eyes too sometimes".


I'm not sure what you mean, it's not like procrastinating is a mental disorder or permanent disability like being blind. If you are avoiding work that you need to be doing then by definition you are procrastinating, career success has nothing to do with it.

It's not like it's insensitive to say you are anxious about something minor when there exists people with more severe anxiety problems. It's just the name of a symptom.


I'm fairly sure the author means that if you're still able to maintain a more or less demanding job and all the social obligations thereof, the degree of your suffering is nowhere near as serious as it could be. Take for instance someone suffering from debilitating/easily triggered mental breakdowns/ seizures.

You may think that these conditions are not strongly related to procrastination, I can argue against that.


> I'm not sure what you mean, it's not like procrastinating is a mental disorder or permanent disability like being blind

It can be symptom of a mental disorder when it impacts normal functioning.


Or a closer analogy, like someone saying "Oh I'm such OCD" because they arranged their pens in colour order.


Because having a variety of pens in various colors is a privilege or ?


Pop culture OCD: I like to organize my pens and post-it notes on my desk.

OCD in my life: I have a tourretic tic that forces me to grunt forcibly and wink whenever there is a square around me (side note, why is everything a fucking square?). The grunt is misinterpreted as a rude gesture, often. The wink has caused me to get punched regularly, so I don't go to social gatherings anymore. When I do go out, I have to plan to leave the house 45 minutes before I actually need to so I can complete my routine of window, door, lightswitch, stove, and sharp object checks 7 times each, 7 times around the house. I have to physically bite my tongue when my child is playing in the park, because I know he's going to get hit by an asteroid or abducted or whatever the thing is I'm concerned about that day if he plays on the third swing instead of the second swing. I have to plan my routes to the park in advance to avoid busy intersections, so that I don't get hit by a car, and so my child doesn't get stolen from me along the way. I could give two shits where the pens are, because I am too busy washing my red, raw hands for the 300th time in the last 18 hours. I haven't slept in two days because when I entered the bed after completing the night time routine of checking everything 7 times each, 7 times around the house, the second to the last lightswitch of the 38 lightswitches in my house didn't click in the way it was supposed to, and I stay awake so when the house burns down due to faulty wiring, I can save the family.

That's the difference.


I hope you don't suffer through all of these simultaneously. I'm at the stage of repeatedly checking the gas stove after each use and whenever I enter or leave the kitchen, plus closing the water faucet in the bathroom repeatedly until it clicks the right way several times in a row (there's a pattern to it). And triple-checking if I closed the apartment (sometimes with additional gas stove check) when I'm leaving anywhere. Overall, it eats only ~20 minutes from my day, but it's still incredibly frustrating (and I worry it's going to get worse over time). I can't begin to imagine how it must be to experience everything you've described over the course of one day (or week). If that's really how things are for you, you have my deepest sympathy.

(The worst thing is, several times I was this close to stopping with my gas routine, but then I always discovered someone left one of the knobs half-turned, which suddenly justified my OCD. My stove has auto-shutoff, so it isn't all that dangerous, but I grew up with a stove without this safety feature, and my brain just latched onto that and can't let go.)


The nice thing about OCD is that it doesn't have to make any sense, and you get to know and understand that it doesn't make any sense!

That paragraph generally sums up my day, but you do learn coping strategies.

I'm not sure if OCD generally gets worse, but mine definitely has gotten worse over the years. Therapy and counseling have helped in the last few years. I can at least leave the house now. I'm told there are medications that can help as well, but I'm pretty anti-psychotropic of any kind after a bad experience some years back; so that's a grave that I've dug for myself.

I'll be thinking of you brother/sister. It's never so bad you can't get out of it, even when it seems like it's impossible.

Looking for silver linings, people like us at least can say we're worried about the people around us, so we can't be completely terrible people!


one thing that works wonderfully for me is to replace the ritual with an easier one, for example,

wear a circle ring around your ankle, or draw a circle on your underwear, so you are all the time inside a circle , and all the time protected inside a circle, so when you enter a square, you dont need to perform any ritual, because you are already protected by your circle and this neutralizes all the squares

sounds funny and irrational but our rituals arent rational too , lol

i used to perform rituals all day, sometimes, when crossing a street, the traffic light opened for the cars when i was still performing my ritual, and i continue performing in the middle of the road, and the cars came and i had to run to the other side and the cars drivers thinking i was crazy

i had wounds in my hands because knocking the wood for hours nonstop

i used to miss the subway ride because i had to wait for someone dressing in pink to get in the subway before me

i didnt try any medication because i didnt want to mess my brain with brain affecting medicines

one day i decided couldnt live like this, and i tied a string with my protection color around my wrist and i said to myself the string protects me and i didnt need any other ritual anymore, then i was free of 99% of the rituals

its so good to feel free

in the beggining, when i feel the urge of performing some ritual, because of the habit, I remembered myself that I dont need and remember im already protected

after some time you dont remember the other rituals and your brain gets the habit of being free

you can try to find some ritual to perform just once a day after wake up, that is valid for the whole day, so you dont need any other ritual along the day, then you are free the whole day

this helped me and changed my life , hope can help you too


Because "actual" OCD is much more intense and negatively impacting your life than someone who likes their pens neat and tidy... People washing hands until they bleed every day, being unable to open a door without performing some sort of ritual, etc...


Its interesting, I never really thought about it like this. In high school I was an extreme procrastinator. Avoiding the boredom of doing the task is certainly part of it, everything was too easy. But when I know I can finish an assignment in two hours the night before its due, why would I ever start it early? There was no benefit to completing things early. But, there was always a high from getting away with procrastinating to the last minute. Just like that rush from solving a hard programming problem. Essentially I experienced a reward for procrastinating, and was always chasing that. At least that is how it felt to me.

But eventually, after some time not doing so well at college because of this, I ended up joining the Marine Corps. Since then, I have been much less of a procrastinator. Not really because my motivation or anything changed, its entirely because my tolerance for uncomfortable situations and tasks went way way up. So this explanation actually makes sense to me once I really consider it.


I had the same high school - college experience as you. HS was easy to pull off with no work and last minute efforts. Then it caught up with me in college. Instead of the Marines, I did a restart at a lesser college, and ended up becoming friends with a group of dudes who had had the same exact experience. I think part of it is related to the growth/fixed mindset theory.


My solution is similar (breaking down the problem), the cause is - at least partially - different.

If I am procrastinating in software development or research it is

(1) for complexity reasons, (2) for foreseeable vast grunt work I have already done and solved in the past.

Example (1): I have to choose between at least two fundamental different ways to get ahead in writing software. I know that implications come late, wasted time can be a lot. I will often pause until it comes to me.

Example (2): Writing a new library in Julia, when I covered the topic in Python or C++ years ago, but cannot directly reuse it, the whole thing intensifies when it has already been done in several incarnations. Becomes more and more difficult ("been there, done that") with age, especially if the occasion is determined from outside. The same applies to research which requires a larger amount of knowledge from the past that needs to be reactivated.

(2) could be attributed to negative emotions (boredom, and yes, even laziness), but (1) is different, more a search for an optimal strategy prior to the start, because the cost for doing otherwise could be prohibitive. It is simply unwillingness in decision-making (too early).


I'm familiar with your (1) and I think it fits extremely well with the negative emotion explanation.

At least for me, making a difficult decision that might have far-reaching consequences can be very uncomfortable if I don't have all the information. And it can be very easy to procrastinate because I tell myself that more information might be available in the future (even when that is clearly not true).

So, it's not so much that I search for an optimal strategy and more that I know there isn't one and I don't want to bite the bullet yet and make a decision.


My brain latches onto the few examples where it did pay off, though. "Imagine if I would've started earlier - all that work I did would've been completely wasted."

In reality, that work probably wouldn't have been completely wasted, and even then, I certainly wouldn't be any further behind on the project if I'd done it instead of slacking off.


Those resonate with me as well. For (1), it seems to strike for tasks that I feel "should" be simple, but in fact simply are not. Accepting that seems to help.

For (2), I do indeed loathe retracing some task that's similar to something I've done in the past. One thing that sometimes helps is to find a way to put a new spin on it. Maybe use an unfamiliar language or data structure. Or optimize for something different. Or push 'git' to the max while working on it.


Also there is a thin line between procrastination and brutal prioritization. I often feel that procrastination ping and think to myself, is this really the next most important thing for me to do? Often times it is not, and once in a while it is. A lot of my work is creative in nature and forcing the creative process when you’re blocked is not always a good use of time. There is a balance between deadline, now and the time it comes to you with a force that screams to leave your body. The trick is understanding yourself and being honest, am I putting this off because it’s too fuzzy, not clear what the next step is etc? or is it just brutal prioritization?

Also note that I’ve changed roles quite a bit in my life and when I delete the final TODO list I look back at the things I did not get done. It’s as informative to review your accomplishments as it is your failures, but also what you never got around to doing. Often that last category will make me laugh “look at all those stupid things I thought were important”... rm -f TODO

And as I tell people all the time, the day after you die there will be more email in your inbox. If you focus on emptying your inbox your life will be empty when you leave. But your inbox will still be filling up.


> A lot of my work is creative in nature and forcing the creative process when you’re blocked is not always a good use of time.

Yeah I gotta agree with this. Sometimes it's like you are trying to walk through a wall and it's just not working. Our subconscious tells us "this is not working, try something else". Now the dysfunctional reaction is to pass time waiting for the wall to collapse under its own weight. And the "correct" solution is to search for a door. But the tricky thingy is we may not realize on a conscious level that the wall is even there or that the wall is the reason we are passing time.


> We believed that it was poor time management and that if we just worked a bit harder and had more self-discipline, we could do the job

It's frustrating that the "experts" still see things this way. As if it's some moral defect that people are too lazy to overcome.

Can't stop procrastinating? "Just work a little harder and get started already"

Depressed? "Just cheer up and get over it."

Addicted to drugs? "Just look at the negative consequences and stop using them"

I guess I could see this article as a step in the right direction, but it's still frustrating to see how the casual stigmatization of behavioral health and its symptoms continues to linger.


>'Just get started'? If I could just get started then I wouldn't have a procrastination problem." I thought: fair enough.

This never worked for me. I write one sentence or do the small task and then I go off and do something else. Perhaps it's due to my (bad) habit of context-switching but either way I've never benefited much from this approach despite often trying it.


It helps for me because starting neutralizes all the exaggerated ideas I had built up in my mind about how horrible it was going to be. When I start on a task, it usually turns out to be only mildly annoying rather than pure misery.

However, I think there is a huge trap with the just get started trick. Often, what is driving you to get started is guilt. If your only promise to yourself is that you will start, then starting alleviates the guilt. And then the motivation disappears.

One possible way around that is to commit to a little bit more. Instead of committing to just getting started, commit to doing a small but significant piece of the work.

Another idea is to just be aware that, if you do the bare minimum that counts as getting started, you're not really applying the method in good faith. Essentially you're just wasting your time by trying to game the system that you yourself created.


Yes but once you're in the trap, you have to play the game.


I am exactly the same, though ADHD medication has helped tremendously in this respect. Terrible context switching, not lack of attention, is the bane of my existence.

Have you ever had a test?


Here are a few things I noticed when I started using ADHD medication.

I was suddenly able to focus on a task in a way that I wasn't able before. It was such an epiphany to experience what other people call focus.

That made me also notice that I'm really good at context switching. It's what I naturally do. It also makes me good at breadth first approaches.

Which makes me ask: Are you lamenting terrible context switching or the amount of context switching that you experience?


The latter. I’ve heard someone explain it this way before, and I think it neatly sums up my own experience: “your brain is like a TV, except there’s 30 channels on at once, and someone else has the remote” (paraphrasing).

If I can just get into “The Zone” things do work out, and I’m finally able to direct my attention towards a single task. Taking Ritalin greatly increases the probability of this occurring, and so does, amazingly, cannabis.

In general, I have trouble both starting, and then consistently doing a task for any reasonable amount of time. I’ll start watching a movie, then 30 minutes in go for a walk, then come home and cook dinner, then forget about it and go back to watching the movie, then remember the dinner and start eating, then... and on an on.

I’ve been told it doesn’t look that bad from the outside, but it gives me great anxiety that I can’t consistently finish anything I start :(


>Have you ever had a test?

At university a councilor (or similar) said they believe I have ADHD but it was near the end of a school year so nothing came out of it.

For what is worth, I've tried most common adhd meds on my own and while they definitely they also ruin my sleep so I am not convinced that going through the hassle of getting an official diagnosis will help all that much.


I agree, it’s definitely a difficult balance to strike.

I found that even small amounts of stimulant medication does help even if it’s not super obvious in the moment, and the upside is that it doesn’t interfere with sleep too much, but I try hard not to make a habit out of it. Sleep, above all else, is the best predictor of my mood / productivity / physical health.

I try not to take anything after about noon, though. This is especially true about caffeine, for me. I might get a crash in the late afternoon, but it’s a price worth paying for a good night’s sleep.


Have you considered going to someone who is qualified to diagnose the condition and prescribe medication?


You're absolutely right! I've personally only just been diagnosed, well into my thirties, and am on month 3 of trying to get my medication correct, compounded with fun things like pandemic lockdown. It's a ride.


I know the struggle all too well, but once you’re (very slowly) able to form healthier habits, things do get easier, I promise!


I’ve been reading “Deep Work“ which talks about the negatives of context switching. I wonder what could be done in cases like yours to avoid needless context switching. Do you have any feeling as to how or why it happens? Eg do you get bored of tasks easily or something else?


I tried to ditch as much context switching from my workstation as possible, it has helped in those low-hanging fruit distractions like switching windows and finding yourself on reddit/HN. To the point where I have done my best to eliminate the mouse, because it would often trigger habits that caused me to context switch.

"Alt-tab" was a trigger to forget what I was doing, even if I was alt-tabbing to something I needed. I would alt-tab, instantly forget what I wanted to do, then start something else. Any window switch would trigger procrastination habits too.

So now my code, terminal, file manager, database etc are all in one tool in front of me all the time, and if I am at my workstation, that is what I'm doing. Most of the time.


For me it depends strongly on the task whether 'just get started' works or not. With menial tasks like emptying the dishwasher I only have to convince myself to do the minimum possible amount of progress and I will usually keep doing until I'm done. I might even get inspired to do some related task afterwards. But if it is something boring but purely cognitive, like say data entry, I start, congratulate myself for making progress and promptly switch to something more fun.


Even in those cases it doesn't work for me. I actually try this with the dishwasher all the time and end up emptying a few dishes at a time. Laundry is more time-sensitive though so with that one I often do do it in one swoop when I start.


Just want to say that if someone here truly has tried to overcome procrastination, but still fails, try to get screened for ADD/ADHD.

Even though it's a condition that is also quite over diagnosed, it's simultaneously a condition that's underdiagnosed IMO - it really depends on where you're looking / sampling. A lot of kids fly under the radar, because they don't show any obvious signs, even more so those with ADD / non-hyperactive.


It also gets progressively worse, adult AD(spectrum) can be life ruining. I wish it was more recognized and I wish it was easier to get medication/treatment. The side effects are nothing compared to half a life wasted.


Yes, it's quite sad. For a lot of adults, their lives don't really start until they've been diagnosed, and gotten on some treatment - usually a medication that works for them. Lots of these people have tried and failed school, tried and failed jobs, etc.

But then the bricks fall in their place, and they can try to redo all that. Unfortunately, by that time, a lot of doors have been closed - especially if you want to work in tech or professional industries.

Now, I'm not trying to scare posters, but it's much better to get that stuff figured out before you've gone too long to make lasting damage, both to your own health, and to your professional life.


Absolutely. The years in my life between when my daughter was ~ 7-11 I don't really remember at all, it's still quite painful to not really remember those years.

I was alive, but not really living. I could not get the simplest things done, only things that were fun or immediately rewarding, at times barely that. It reminded me of what people referred to as depression, but without much of anything that could actually be called depression, not without doing injustice to anyone who have ever suffered an actual depression.


ADD doesn’t really exist anymore. The way they classify it nowadays is by assigning a score to each of the three main “pillars” of ADHD: Hyperactivity, Attention, and Impulsivity, and if one of these is especially dominant, they classify you into that category (eg. ADHD-Primarily Inattentive - which is the replacement for ADD).


Good point, Tracker! I didn’t find out I had ADHD until after college. Now I see all the normal adolescent problems like sleeplessness, impulsivity, stress, lack of direction are amplified by ADHD. I don’t know how I graduated, haha I guess by ramming into the same walls until breaking through.


I probably have that, but then what? The treatment seems to be doses of speed, essentially, and I worry that the cure would be as bad as the disease.


Trust me, if I could’ve gotten on medication sooner, my life would be clearly better today.

Don’t let the years go by, moderate consumption of stimulants can be really beneficial for someone with ADHD, and you don’t realise this until you’ve tried.

No harm in talking to a professional about it.


This may be true for some forms of procrastination, but there's one kind in particular that has a much cleaner and more precise story behind it. Your intuitive task planning system will simply refuse to go down paths that it knows has a reward-to-effort ratio incompatible with long-term flourishing. Instead, it will prune that task planning process in favor of either something known to be of higher value, or some strategy that it believes will help find high-value tasks. Modelling procrastination this way explains several phenomena:

1. The "honeymoon period" of organizational methods. This is simply the period of time where your intuitive task-planning system hasn't figured out that your new organizational method is generating insufficiently rewarding plans. Once you learn that it has you tilting at windmills, the honeymoon "ends" as the system itself gets pruned for something easier or novel enough that it might be more effective.

2. The unreasonable effectiveness of breaking things down into simple steps. Every piece of uncertainty and risk that your plan has to overcome adds to the amount of expected reward necessary to successfully motivate the effort. Listing out simple, well-understood steps significantly reduces the sense of venturing into the unknown, and the lower perceived risk directly affects your short-term willingness to engage in the process.

3. The loop people often get stuck in of closing a social media feed (eg, reddit), only to re-open it 30 seconds later. When you don't have a good short-term plan, finding something interesting is the "default". Competition between social media sites has generated several highly popular super-stimuli for this niche.


the downside of knowing more than one language is I have access to too many social media sites. The pull is insane.


Whenever I do something. I assume that it's going to be a business failure. That helps me to avoid procrastination which could otherwise arise out of a fear of failure. Business success is not within my own control so everything I do needs to have a "fallback purpose".

Everything I do is at once a business opportunity, a learning experience and a technical stepping stone which I can re-use for future projects. All of my work builds on top of my previous work and I constantly combine it with other people's work. This strategy is failure-proof and it stops procrastination. I've been doing it for almost 10 years. It does get a bit closer to business success every time. You have to set yourself up for success and sometimes that requires redefining success.


Thank you for sharing this perspective, it really resonated with me. I've always struggled with procrastination at a moderate level, but the last 6 months or so have been especially bad.

I had worked my heart out on a project that the business decided not to pursue. It killed me, all my time was wasted, business was fucking up, would have to re-do all this work in subpar tools etc. As I got moved onto a new project, it has been insanely hard to get motivated to work on it.

Just assuming that it will be a business failure again... it relieves a lot of pressure off me. And you are right - at this scale I have almost no say on whether the business decides to run with it or not, so why worry about it?


I know the feeling. I think this is one of the major challenges of working for a big company, there is no sense of ownership over the project and you usually can't reuse that code for your own purposes later.

I highly recommend working for an open source company if possible. I find it motivating to think that some people I've never met from a future generation could pick up ideas from my work and continue the mission.


Is this just to shard yourself from perfectionistic impulses? As in you allow yourselves to do a "subpar" job, and in thinking that way, it relieves you from the stress that you need to hit a certain bar?

As I understand it, you approach your work as if it were a prototype to be discarded soon. That actually makes sense if you have a natural tendency to fret about quality.


One of my open source projects became quite popular so I wouldn't say that my approach reduces my degree of perfectionism or hurts my projects' chances of adoption; if anything, it has the opposite effect. It provides me unlimited time which allows me to think really hard about every decision I make - It gives me the freedom to always choose the most long term solution. I'm not trying to get lucky catching the next big wave and timing it just right. Not looking for a lucky break. I'm trying to work towards a reliable result in the long term and I'm getting closer every year.

Not caring too much about the economic results behind the work is absolutely critical for this approach to work at all. If I broke down or considered giving up every time I experienced an economic disappointment or my project didn't get any attention, I wouldn't have gotten anywhere near as far as I did today.

It took me 10 years before I could monetize my project such that I could work on it full time. It was literally a decade of almost no income at all and almost nobody taking my work seriously. Then suddenly one day in the 10th year I started earning good passive income from that project. If I was even slightly focused on financial results or even popularity score, I would have given up on year 2.


Ritalin.

Yepp went from a very bad grade to a very good grade.

You can't tell me its about 'avoiding negative emotions' if i have prepared my learning desk with everything i need, cleaned it, etc. then i open the book and i literlay can't learn.

That wall is much easier to break with ritalin.

Is that shitty? Probably. Is it healthy? Probably not. But it brought me much further then before and i'm pretty sure that through that i have more habbits which stay without ritalin.


Ritalin suppresses some of those deeper emotions. It also gives you additional rewarding feelings for completing tasks here and now. Unless you have ADHD due to genetic factors then imo it's just a mask over the real emotional issue. A very effective and useful one but still a temporary measure.


I view Ritalin and Adderall as a performance enhancer. I have never seen a biological study proving ADHD except perhaps some EEG. Virtually everyone I have known prescribed amphetamines abused them.

(Anecdotal warning) And my ex roommate was a large prescriber of Adderall. He would see patients for 3 minutes. He had 3 homes (one an $8m condo) and drove a matte black Lamborghini Aventador. He was way overweight and dressed like Mick Jagger on LSD. That’s the type of person diagnosing ADHD at least in Los Angeles.


If you are interested in seeing a biological study "proving" ADHD, here are two. This meta-analysis from 2010 found a link between duplication of specific genes and ADHD [0]. This 2016 study [1] links the precise gene duplication mechanism with irregular neurogenesis, and subsequently hyperactive behavior.

[0]: Williams NM, Zaharieva I, Martin A, et al. Rare chromosomal deletions and duplications in attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder: a genome-wide analysis. Lancet. 2010;376(9750):1401-1408. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(10)61109-9 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20888040/

[1]: Fujitani, M., Zhang, S., Fujiki, R. et al. A chromosome 16p13.11 microduplication causes hyperactivity through dysregulation of miR-484/protocadherin-19 signaling. Mol Psychiatry 22, 364–374 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1038/mp.2016.106


See, that ancedote tells me absolutely nothing.

If he was rich, why did he have a roomate? Was this pre-riches? How in the world would you know he was a 'large' prescriber of Adderall? How would anyone go about making that claim? Did he happen to be a psychiatrist in a private practice and/or a specialist in his field? Was he in a lot of debt? I know it is an ancedote, but it doesn't really say much.

As far as "I've never seen a biological study...". This goes for a lot of things. People only usually bring it up with things like ADHD or whatever favorite thing is viewed as 'over-diagnosed', though. In this case, a quick google search can get you information that explains the brain scan differences comparing ADHD to neurotypical kids - like this one: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3016271/


That view is actually both extremely common, and very dangerous for the people genuinely suffering from ADHD symptoms, like myself.

Many years of misery could’ve been avoided had I not met people that thought this way, earlier in life.


Yeah, I’m still struggling with taking this seriously for myself. Not only am I contending with the inevitable procrastination of setting an appointment with a doctor, but there’s also a chunk of my brain screaming, “don’t tell anyone, everyone will think you’re a druggy, adhd is bullshit!”


I have to remind myself to take ritalin.

I get it through subscription, so no black market or shit and i'm still not taking it every day


Do you have any good resources for readers who think they may have symptoms? Or actions they could take?


All that anecdote tells me is that your ex roommate had a lot of patients. Just because a doctor does well, doesn't automatically mean they're wrongfully prescribing people things.

I could just as easily say "my ex roommate was an orthopedic surgeon and had supercars and mansions". Does that mean they're doing hip replacements that aren't needed? No, all it tells me is they have a successful practice.


Does it matter?

If i personally struggle with my mental image of being smart enough to study and i want to but i cant because my grades are shit and i take ritalin and suddenly i can go to university, my life is better of.

Tell me, why can i get glasses but its wrong to take ritalin?

Are glasses Performance enhancers?

What/how do you define 'abused them'?


There's no "biological proof" of a lot of things that has to do with a brain, and while some people do anything for money - even if their title say "doctor" - ADD/ADHD is still a very, very, real thing.

We might still don't know of if it's really a disability of the mind, or of the society, but for those who suffer it, it doesn't really matter.

The drugs can certainly be used as performance enhancers, but that doesn't change anything. Nitroglycerin can be used as to blow things up, but it's still useful for people with heart disease, and for some I believe there are still few options.

ADHD or ADD for me, is suffering.

Visibly, palpably, in one or several ways.

It's not "some things are hard to do", no. It's not that.

It's trying to do the basic of life, and simply not be able to, no matter how talented you are.

Not for the lack of will power and determination, those are largely irrelevant on this side of the border, they mean something completely different here.

If you ever want anything else out of life than that what your compulsion drives you to do, to get away from the boredom that makes your skin crawl and itch?

You'll believe it'll work this time too, as you have the 3649 times before.

The eternal optimist, still seemingly doomed to fail.

"See a therapist" they say, when it was the therapist who sent me to the psychiatrist.

"You need to try harder", when my body and brain simply stopped working because I tried so hard.

When anyone claim something like ADD/ADHD doesn't exist, I don't really get mad any more.

I think I used to.

Now I feel sad, because that sentiment is common enough that people don't get help when they should.

Instead they pointlessly loose years, or even decades of their lives to their own whims, because some people refuse to believe the accounts of thousands.

Never able to either choose their path, or live as they choose.

Our existence seems to scare people, and our inability to function in society can't easily be discounted without consequence for ones own image of self and what we as humans are, so instead our accounts are discredited.

It's okay if you don't understand how it is. It is hard to understand how someone can be so alike oneself, and yet so different, I've experienced that myself, but from a different perspective.

I will be content if you accept that I write from experience, and that my account is in no way unique, thought I've been told that the way I tell it is.


When you say doing the basics of life what specifically do you mean?

I'm asking because I get the feeling that other people consider the basics to be a wider set of things than I do. For me the basics means feeding yourself and having some relationships. But for other people it means being able to keep appointments, basic planning and follow through, ability to sit still through long ceremonies, not letting dishes/laundry get to the point where you have no clean dishes/clothes every single time.

The second set of stuff is things I've struggled with in my life to a further degree than my peers. It's the kind of things that teenagers are bad at and imagine adults with ADHD continue to be bad at.

The problem I think is everybody occasionally struggles with this stuff. They don't understand what it would mean to always struggle with all of it all the time. What it means for it not to be a choice.

Is that what you had in mind?


>Ritalin suppresses some of those deeper emotions.

How would that be?

>Unless you have ADHD due to genetic factors then imo it's just a mask over the real emotional issue. A very effective and useful one but still a temporary measure.

If it's not a neurodevelopmental issue it wouldn't be ADHD to begin with since it doesn't fit the description, no?


I wouldn't say its just temprary.

I'm not taking ritalin every day anymore. I did that when i was going to school etc. and i do still see habits/behaviours i got through ritalin.

Stuff like cleaning up everything and reorganizing it.


Looks like I'm late the party but I submitted a YouTube video talking about this as "The Wall of Awful" emotions and experiences you need to get through in order to start a task that has negative emotions associated with it. It totally changed how I approached my procrastination by simply asking myself "why" I was avoiding a task.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uo08uS904Rg


Just supporting this since I was going to share it too but searched and found yours first. It is related to ADHD but I think applies to everyone to some degree.

The part about conflating emotion and time (in the follow up) really gets to me. How he says mowing the lawn is "an all day project" simply because it's been built up to feel that way.


For me the biggest help has been David D. Burns (the author of feeling good) technique called the TIC-TOC technique(1).

It's basically like a Pros and Cons list but targeted to cure procrastination but identifying the cognitive distortions in the TICs (or task-interfering cognitions). It has been so helpful for me that I ended up writing a small web-app for myself to do this whenever I don't feel like doing anything!

(1) http://www.elizakingsford.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/TIC...


Mind sharing a link to your web-app? I ask this while actively procrastinating from work.


Sure, it's here: https://www.feelhappy.win/app.html#/dashboard

It's not just this TIC-TOC thing but I've kinda converted all his CBT exercises like Cost Benefit Analysis, Daily mood log, Acceptance paradox, tec into my web app.

Small disclaimer: I made this site only for myself so it is buggy and unpolished as hell. Get's the work done for me though, but ymmv.


Time boxing is the best treatment I've found. A project may feel overwelming, but usually I can bring myself to bite off one tomato (25 minutes) of it. I can generally make a noticeable amount of progress in that time, and more importantly, clarify the next actions whose ambiguities have been leading me to procrastinate.

In one such session I actually completed a project I had put off for years


Three years ago a friend and I were looking at different divisions of time -- in one of our Eastern Philosophy books there was a mention of splitting the day into 60 segments. We were puzzled. If there are 60 snaps in a day, how many minutes are in each snap? The answer is delightfully simple: 24 minutes per snap. (60 minutes an hour with 24 hours or 24 minutes a snap with 60 snaps). We have started using the 24-minute mark as a more flexible form of time measurement and of "see you soon" -- see you in a couple of snaps.


What book is this if you don't mind me asking?


Myriad Worlds (The Treasury of Knowledge). There is a portion on calculating days and the keyword is "clepsydra measure"


Same here. I tend to do work in super efficient batches. I've completed two months worth of small tasks in under an hour sometimes.

My default is to put everything off and do it in a batch right before (or after) it's due. But the past few years I've focused on doing batches way ahead of time. Less stressful and much more satisfying. Getting into Project Management certainly helped with that!


I use a similar trick, but focused on that last part where you search for ambiguities. I will spend 10 minutes just understanding the scope better, and not doing any work. It lets me start without actually starting, and then I'm usually much more comfortable getting to work once I've cleared some things up.


> Randy Pausch, an M.I.T. professor who died of cancer

How does this get into the article without basic fact-checking? He was a professor at CMU.


> Randy Pausch, an M.I.T. professor who died of cancer

The piece also referred to his "final lecture," when it wasn't; the lecture was a part of series titled "Last Lectures" (note the capitalization).


Perhaps in the minds of the authors and producers, all prestigious technical universities blur together in their minds, with MIT being the default?


I read the article while procrastinating on a work task I should be doing. I think the author nails it. When I just get started on a task, picking the simplest thing to do first without much planning, then I naturally get into a flow where small sub-tasks present themselves as I go.

If instead I start planning out all that is left to do, I quickly become demotivated and overwhelmed not knowing where to start. A sort of "analysis-paralysis".

The big problem for me is that even if I get into a productive flow its much to easy to run into a blocker that pulls me out into paralysis again (could be a family interruption, a harder sub-task, etc).


Procrastination was been hitting me hard recently. I was so stressed out that I found myself literally saying "I'm not good enough." I knew that was not accurate, but I was still feeling inadequate. So I look a long lunch. While I was out I realized that I could pivot to saying "My code's not good enough" and "I am not my code". I was working through a lot, but I just wanted to share that it is possible to make incremental gains when you're feeling like krapola.


In a similar vein, when I start to feel like that I try to remind myself that I should be "questioning my knowledge, not my self".

I think it's quite a powerful idea. Questioning your knowledge can lead to positive introspection and growth, whereas questioning or doubting yourself will not.


Yeah, When I reached "my code's not good enough", I started to come up with some actionable steps to take to resolve that.


A lot of people talking about their struggles. I’m going to plug HealthyGamerGG and suggest people take a watch of this https://youtu.be/WQ5bkdFuFhg because it might help them.

Basically he explains an equation that goes on in our head when we procrastinate and how to change that equation. This is done through a live therapy session with a Twitch streamer who struggles with laziness.

I think this will help more than one person here.


That was great, thanks. I've studied Buddhism a bit, but I feel like I learned something new by watching this :). This Dr was very articulate with his ideas, and I loved the honesty of the "troubled gamer".


Dr. K is great, his streams are so cool and he really is one of the most wholesome creators on twitch. The branding still confuses me a little, his advice and talks are useful for everyone, definitely not just gamers.


This article gives great advice, but there's also the other end that I personally struggle with, namely: where's the reward?

I noticed that it's especially hard for me to bring things to the state of "100% done", because the emotional reward for that is so much smaller than getting to the first 70%.

I tried shifting my thinking about this by treating that 70% as an actual 50% (given the time spent), but it feels like a half-measure.


Theres this thing called "the 80/20 rule".

Story time:

My dad used to work at Sainsbury's (big UK supermarket chain). One day the CEO (Lord Sainsbury I think he said it was) popped over to his desk.

"<Dad's name>, you do great work. I know I can always count on you."

"But... You spend so much effort on details that don't end up being important. The first 80% of your work takes as long as the last 20%."

"The thing is, that first 80% is more usually good enough for what we need. Why don't you try and hit 80% and then wait and see if we need that last 20% next time? It might save you some time."

Caveat - I may have made the name up. But it quite often works in practice.


I think you've remembered the name correctly.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Sainsbury,_Baron_Sainsbu...


I use the moniker "CEO Richard Johnson" for such stories.

Anyway I'm so painfully aware of the 80/20 rule that during college I came up with the concept of "lifetime success rate" as in - "the end result of any endeavor done with the maximum effort one could apply".

Mine is at around 83%[0], which makes getting to 90% of anything a nightmare.

[0] This was my result of the final high school exam in Physics - a subject I almost failed a year before and managed to learn from scratch with the guidance of the best tutor I ever had.


He's asking your dad not to finish any work? This is really hard to apply to development or, say, mowing the lawn.


No, he asked him to do 80% of what he would normally do (something like 95%) because the last 20% usually takes the same amount of the effort.

Development example: cover 80% of the possible file types an application might need to ingest. If users start asking for one of the 20% of filetypes then you can add said filetype later on.

Mowing the lawn: it's fine to skip the absolute edges of the lawn. You can come back with a strimmer later on to tidy up.


It is applicable to most things. You can omit some bells and whistles while doing development, or skip edging after mowing the lawn.


Maybe 70% really is good enough and you don't need to be so hard on yourself?


Reminds me of the old saying "The only difficult part is to get started". So when I am struggling with starting a huge task, I tell myself that this task consists of parts "a+b+c+d..." but I am only going to do part 'a' today/now. And the surpising part is that when I am finished with part 'a', I am eager to keep on going! You don't have to but you just might.


I'll say it again: procrastination is a bullshit detector of the free and cry for the help of non-free.


Can you say it again, but with some more context? I have no idea what that sentence could possibly mean!


The claim seems to be: (i) if you are economically independent, procrastination is an indication that the postponed task is not worth doing after all; (ii) if you are forced to do it for money, procrastination is just a natural reaction to being forced to do something one doesn't want to do, namely not doing it for as long as possible.


Agreed. External factors aside (e.g. ADHD) to me procrastination is a good indicator of whether what I'm working on is meaningful or not.

Quoting some other post I've read on HN:

> Remember that you are going to die. Time flies, have you noticed? Is that status symbol that you are pursuing really that important? Is it ever going to make you happy?

> There is more wisdom in one of your cells than in all self-help and management books combined. Maybe you can't focus for a good reason? What could that reason be?

> Remember the last time you felt glad to be alive? Was it related to being productive?


You seem to imply that, if one is free and just follows one's immediate impulses, one automatically ends up doing something worthwhile and non-bullshit. But there are lots of free men (economically independent men) who give their lives to bullshit; so that can't be quite right.


As a non-free procrastinator, this certainly rings true.


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