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'Ugh fields', or why you can’t even bear to think about that task (medium.com/robertwiblin)
543 points by robertwiblin on Sept 11, 2020 | hide | past | favorite | 135 comments

>Most people experience this from time to time.

If you're unlucky enough to be at the tail end of the distribution where basic tasks make you feel this way every day it's no longer called an 'Ugh Field' instead it's called the "Wall of Awful"


One of the absolute best techniques I've found for breaking it is a trick I learned from DBT called "Improve the moment" where you simply think about what pleasant sensory experience could you introduce right now to make you feel better and then you do that quickly. I find if I put on a song or smell the lemon scented dishwashing liquid or run my hand under warm water it helps me to get moving on a task. It's not fool proof but it's a good tool to have in the toolbox.

If you're unlucky enough to have ADHD, literally everything except the task you have arbitrary hyper-focus on is an ugh field. Daily chores and maintenance like paying bills are ugh.

Life is one big maze of ugh, and it's designed by people that don't get us. It feels inescapable and arbitrary. The only exit seems to be financial independence.

I often really hate how we're expected to work in this framework.

My hyperfocus is a super-power (https://vo.codes, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x034jVB1avs&t=15s, and a bunch of other awesome but non-monetizable projects). Too bad I can't get paid for it.

I'm enough ADD (when that was the thing) to have prescribed Ritalin and all that jazz, but not ADHD enough to _really_ get your experience.

An unsolicited suggestion - A specific form of meditation that is incredible active (because that "clear your mind" stuff really never worked) that I really, really enjoyed, and think helped me handle my lesser ADD symptoms.

Pick something moderately significant; your breastbone, a flame, a cup of water. Right? Not totally random, but not like an idol or anything.

Then you alternate focusing really, really into it - very much like tensing a muscle - with expanding your focus as wide as it'll go. Narrow & pointed, oscillate to wide & receptive. Straight up kinda squinting real hard / super-wide eyes helps get you started, but isn't really it.

And... that's it. Just do that for a bunch of reps.

Did two things for me: 1) Usual "workout" / "training" of focus/attention that all meditation does 2) Got to know the 'feel' / 'shape' / ?? of my sense-of-attention.

And, didn't run into "mind does NOT sit still" problem of the "clear your mind" variety. I'm doing something the whole time.

Thoughts? Questions? Comments?

Is this something you came up with yourself? Or is it a well known meditation technique? Or derived from one? And for how long do you do this at a time?

Friend of mine did weekly classes, and labeled the classes as "Tantra", but the only interpersonal interaction was a ~5m eye gaze with the teacher sometime during ~1-2 hour class. So I don't have any clue what terms to use to find it on the 'net.

There are thousands of named/documented meditation techniques; I would be stunned if this weren’t one of them.

I think the really tough part about it is that the same task can be a thick marsh of ugh I either never get around to wading through or somehow get myself through it one day, then the next day it's no problem. And it fluctuates day in day out depending on so many variables.

The toughest thing is the ughness of every task is predominantly dominated by how much Im just dying to do something I wanna do. Mostly all I want to do is just what I want to do, and I'm sure the ADHDers get what I mean when I say that, but there are some days or periods rather where even the easiest tasks I usually am okay at just go right out the window because today I've just learned about the existence of X and I'm totally off in my own little world utterly absorbed by it.

I just have no way to predict when that's going to be either.

You’re definitely a developer! It’s good to be curious. Sometimes you have to rein it in but it’s better to be interested in stuff than not to be. I’m a average to below average developer but I make a good living at it, and put food on the table for my 2 kids and so on. It’s also worth remembering that the “ugh” tasks can have potential to be interesting as well - just have to look at them from a different perspective.

I too find ADHD to be a super power. We've been forced to adapt to our inability to pay attention to uninteresting things. But a lot of the day-to-day life doesn't really help you in the long run.

Props on vo.codes; I'm [refactoring my website](http://blog.con.rs/2020/09/11/mash-rehash.html), one piece of which is a "say" command currently powered by online dictionary. Seems a super simple fit to power it using your tool instead :)

I don't find it a super power. It's a trade-off. Very often education, health, finance and relationships get pretty damaged by it.

The upside is I don't do shit I don't find incredibly interesting. I'm perfectly happy as long as everything is on my terms.

The downsides have been my chronic inability to engage with anything not immediately interesting to me led me through a decade of very difficult unemployment, wrecking my health, being a terrible parent, and not being a great husband.

Though it's been a benefit to my professional software career, that has been at the expense of my health.

My water bill is a week late. I know it's late, I've gotten two emails about it. I've got plenty of money in my account to pay it right now. It would take less than five minutes. I still haven't done it.

And the above for most of my other "mundane" responsibilities which aren't automated yet too.

Auto-pay is your friend. I would never pay any bills if I had to do them manually. My bank also has a feature where you get notified if a bill is higher than usual so they help you catch if you are being overbilled.

Okay, I've now paid my water bill.

I'm unlucky enough, but I started getting treatment in the last 12 months (I'm 37).

I have 12 months worths of tolls to pay for my cars, but because the organisation of who to register for tolls and where is so batshit insane in Australia, I just have a pile of toll invoices on my desk, and the reminders keep coming.

I don't regret who I am or what I've done, but since being diagnosed I have this niggling sense of sadness of how much unavoidable suffering I could have not endured had I been diagnosed earlier (despite all the signs being present for years and years).

I reckon if we had financial independence there'd still be a whole lot of 'ugh' though!

Your post makes me think I should talk to a professional to check if I have ADHD.

Over the years I’ve read many things that hinted at it, but this is by far the most relatable thing I’ve ever read.

At basically any point in time I always have something that I’m massively obsessed about (and it’s usually something super weird, non-monetizable like you say). Everything else feels like an ugh field.

> The only exit seems to be financial independence.

This is what got me. It’s a daily thought.

Wow, I've never thought about the linkage been ADHD an financial independence movement. Very interesting.

Wow, you really described a lot of how I feel. I've found the pomodoro technique is a nice arbitrary way of honing in on my focus and helping me stay on task. I also still manage to stray away from it time to time.

I think that's the fun of it though. The fact that we can make awesome projects without needing monetary incentives. I pity the people who need a monetary incentives to get up and do something interesting.

I dunno man my 50 unfinished "this is gonna be so awesome" projects ain't really something I'm proud of. Like they are but they aren't. I can't show them off and be proud.

Though it seems I've found one project I just keep coming back to and it's been going for a year now, and I think it is going to be awesome. It's just a solo endeavour to build a non-toy example project to the level of polish you'd find in a real company. It's an absolute mission, but I just use it teach myself new aspects of the job and explore different approaches to things in a semi-realistic piece of software. It's still kinda half baked at the moment but there are definitely parts of it I'm really proud of and each time I manage to finish one part of it to a decent level of polish it elevates the utility of the entire project to me. I refer to the concept as a "project stack". It's the only approach that has seen me get all the way through something.

Self acceptance is super key to adhd... Do you have a portfolio site or presentation? I've gotten good at presenting the concepts of past projects... People rarely have time for more.

What is a project stack?

It's one big umbrella project under which you can do many mini projects that build on one another. For example you make an API first. Now you have an API you can do a front end. Now you have a piece of working software you can do IaC. Now you can do CI/CD. Now you can do Chaos Engineering or dashboards or anything you like.

The key thing is you aren't trying to build and launch a piece of commercial software, just incrementally building a series of smaller related projects which are additive in nature.

For me, washing my face with cold water does the trick. It somehow breaks me out of that "ugh" thought pattern, to start thinking afresh. Also taking a shower - interesting how these both involve water.

Giving a name to this feeling, the "ugh field" and "wall of awful" (I hadn't heard of that one, thanks!) - it helps to recognize it as it happens. It takes practice to catch it as soon as it starts, because the longer you sit in it, the deeper hold it has on you.

It's related to anxiety disorder, I think, in that there's a spectrum of how bad it gets, how much it affects your work and personal life. It's also a symptom (or a cause?) of the burn out syndrome.

Having broken through countless walls of aweful, I've learned that patience and persistence are key. It's important to be patient with yourself, to lovingly steer the mind and body towards your goals, and forgive yourself for feeling how you do.

If you feel so bad about doing a task, it's a sign that something is out of balance. Sometimes the best thing to do is let go, whether it's prioritizing your mental health over work demands, or searching for a better job situation.

I do the cold water on face and the shower thing on an almost-daily basis. I mean, I shower daily in the morning because it feels good and I prefer not to alienate the people I interact with over the course of my day.

Since my daily activities sometimes involve outside work in a tropical climate, I found myself needing the occasional evening shower. I also do a lot of work in the evening, working with computers instead of plants, and eventually I came to notice that I performed that work much better, with less resistance, on days when I had the evening shower.

I added the shower to my evening routine, and it is helpful regardless of whether or not I did any labor-type work.

The water-on-face thing is a habit I picked up this year, and I never connected it with the shower routine. But thinking about it now, it seems clear that it may well be. I do the cold water routine more frequently on days I feel overwhelmed, and it seems obvious in retrospect.

I appreciate your insights; thank you.

Ever try cold showers?

The water thing (particularly cold to the face) is probably the mammalian diving reflex. Your heartbeat (and other factors relating to stress level) drop to maximize your time under water.

> where you simply think about what pleasant sensory experience could you introduce right now to make you feel better and then you do that quickly

Oh that does not play well with addiction logic haha

Not that unusual though for a functioning addict to say "I need a (coffee|cigarette) before I tackle this".

Also, not that unusual for an information addict to say "just one more (article|tweet|post|academic paper|etc) before I tackle this."

Those don't make the moment better: they take you away from the moment.

Or too well?

> "Improve the moment" where you simply think about what pleasant sensory experience could you introduce right now to make you feel better and then you do that quickly

This is (un)surprisingly similar to a dog training technique called counterconditioning where you change your dog's emotional response to a scary bad thing. If your dog barks aggressively every time they see a person in a wheelchair, you give them a treat every time they notice a wheelchair. The more immediate the response the better, so you have to watch your dog's eyes to know exactly when they see it. You try to find their threshold (e.g. they get scared when the wheelchair is 20 ft away and not moving) and work right around that threshold. Once they're comfortable you push their threshold again (e.g. now the wheelchair is closer or moving or in a different environment). Eventually they have a neutral or positive reaction to a person in a wheelchair because they know that 1) nothing bad will happen and 2) they'll get a treat!

On the other hand, when untreated, this scared reaction can be self-reinforcing like the ugh field. Wheelchairs are a little scary. Then your dog saw another one and borked and it was a bad experience so your dog figures wheelchairs are even more scary.

Anyway, it helps to realize that we're constantly training ourselves based on the stimuli we introduce into our lives. It's just easier to see with the simpler dog model. (I guess Pavlov had something to say about that.)

> One of the absolute best techniques I've found for breaking it is a trick I learned from DBT called "Improve the moment" where you simply think about what pleasant sensory experience could you introduce right now to make you feel better and then you do that quickly.

That'd probably be smoking a cigarette. But that's no good, either.

That sort of thing is usually how people self medicate. I know I did for years. This technique is about using your senses in ways other than your default go-to self medication.

Nicotine is one of the safest and best known nootropics.

Nicotine is still extremely addictive by itself. So much so that if it weren’t “best known” you’d have to buy it in the same places you buy peptides with cryptocurrency. No other nootropic generates the level of irrational desire to consume it.

If you read stuff like this comment and just dive right in, best case scenario is that you end up at 105% of baseline and higher blood pressure, as long as you’re constantly using nicotine, but 70% of baseline when you don’t use it, and weeks of brain fog when you try to quit.

Harm reduction is to use only patches or nicotine replacement gum (not commercial nicotine patches), and to set strict windows and use cases.

> Harm reduction is to use only patches or nicotine replacement gum

I'd assume when GP wrote "nicotine", they meant nicotine and not tobacco. So gums, not cigarettes. Based on Gwern's rather extensive summary, I believe nicotine alone is not dangerously addictive.

No, I mean nicotine. Almost all the sources in Gwern’s summary come from before the commercialization of vapes and other nicotine products. All of these use nicotine salt which is absorbed much faster than freebase nicotine from old-style vape juice or nicotine polacrilex from gum, making it more familiar for former smokers but also more addictive.

If you’re convinced it’s impossible, it’s really easy to test it out by just buying a Juul. I don’t recommend it.

But cigarettes are so bad for your lungs. Likely the worst way of intaking nicotine.

That... that channel is amazing. Wow. Thanks!

I feel like the opposite - they're popularizing ADHD and I just watched "What is ADHD?" episode and pretty much every human on this planet can relate to it.

Who doesn't make careless mistakes? Who isn't ever late to anything? Who hasn't had a hard time to focus on something?

It is doing a disservice because people who actually have severe ADHD are perhaps shunned and the weight of the word "ADHD" becomes less meaningful.

It is similar to the urban popularization of "OCD". It is even used in regular conversation without people realizing that it is a serious condition that can't be lightly taken.

It's not popularizing it. It's a channel by ADHDers for ADHDers.

Everyone has _most_ of the same experiences, yes, but frequency, intensity, and duration are markedly different for those of us with ADHD. When it's such that all major facets of your life are negatively impacted by it you have a problem.

I remember watching the ADHD Tax video and it was like lightbulbs going off in my head. That channel helped a lot when I was first figuring it out.

> Who doesn't make careless mistakes? Who isn't ever late to anything? Who hasn't had a hard time to focus on something?

Severe ADHD means having a hard time focusing on everything, making careless mistakes constantly and being late all of the time.

Why? Especially when it makes it easier to relate or empathize to those same severe symptoms.

And why does the intensity of ADHD correspond to its meaningfulness as a condition or a concept?

The first thing I noticed about that channel is it's one of the few that are mostly talking but I don't have to turn the speed up. I think that's called "knowing your audience"

By contrast, I couldn't sit through any of the episodes I've tried. IMHO, the series feels targeted at people who are only slightly on the spectrum.

I think there are lots of other issues that are comorbid with ADHD that would make those episodes inaccessible (e.g. APD), but I'm certainly not only slightly ADHD.

Oh, I guess I must be trapped in a Cubicle of Awful. The Improve the Moment technique sounds perfect. One thing that I do when I need to wash dishes or other tedium is put on headphones and listen to music, otherwise the “ugh” is too overwhelming.

What a bunch of bullshit.

There is a single source for this concept and it isn't backed by anything.

Please don't break the site guidelines by calling names like this.


You mean Executive Function Disorder and ADHD? Both are highly documented and you can use Wikipedia (and follow its citations, which includes DSM 5) as well as I can. The title of the YouTube channel includes “ADHD”.


Please don't break the site guidelines like this regardless of how badly you were provoked.


This is me too.

I have learned, slowly and painfully, that I need to wait 24 hours before saying yes to any optional assignment. I'm too optimistic about my available time and wired to be a people pleaser. When I'm asked to help and I recognize a gap I can fill, I tend to volunteer, even if I'm not the right person for the job. Days or weeks later, I realize it was the wrong decision then the Ugh feelings start up in earnest.

It's important for me to realistically assess whether I have the knowledge, desire, and time to do the task. I'm learning to say no more often than I would like, and to be less afraid of the consequences of saying no. Promising to do something I can't or won't do is bad for everyone.

Better to think on the decision and politely say no up front if I don't have the time or interest or enthusiasm required to get the job done.

I can relate. One thing that's helped me has been to remember that saying "yes" to thing A means saying "no" to many other things B-Z (not to mention sometimes then being _expected_ to say yes to A again in future). Good luck!

That's really great introspection. I have the same tendency which has led to creating some really deeply unpleasant situations for myself. I hadn't thought about it quite in the same way until I read your comment, thank you for sharing this. I think I've just had a light blink on in my head.

Yeah same - I get excited about new balls to chase which has on multiple occasions left me feeling overwhelmed and stuck with a longer to-do list than I can handle without wanting to pull my hair out.

I like the 24 hours tip, that seems like a good tool to help let the initial excitement of something new and exciting cool off a bit.

Me: You need it when? Whenever? Whenever is never. Pick a date.

Me: How long? Couple of days. Which means a week. Which means it won't ship for a month.

HN has always had productivity articles, but I've noticed some particularly good procrastination ones in the past few months [0]. I think this is another excellent addition, one that really examines the problem and goes beyond "break it into manageable chunks" or "work on it for just ten minutes." For many, even those standard tactics are not enough, you really need to examine the most discrete and atomic feelings of discomfort that cause procrastination.

[0] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=24170531




I think it’s a response to the pandemic. Many people thought they’d be really productive during the lockdown, only to find that lack of free time was not necessarily their biggest barrier.

I cannot upvote this enough. As a single founder of a few different initiatives, this more than anything else has been the bane of my existence, exactly as it’s described with low-priority, low-effort but still required tasks that start off innocuously enough on my todo list but end up, thanks to not so much procrastination as resource starvation in a highly prioritized and always full queue, so delayed and as a direct result a thousand times the psychological burden than they ever deserve to be.

I wish I could just write my own tasks scheduler and flash my brain with the upgrade. I know, on paper, exactly what I should be doing and when I should do it; I know that I need a time slot for low priority tasks to empty the queue and prevent resource starvation; I know that intellectually rewarding tasks shouldn’t get a VIP pass that lets them short-circuit the line; I know that I need to give boring management tasks at least some weight on my daily to-do list as compared to the doing-it-myself tasks; but I just can’t.

I'm in the same situation. I benefit from telling another person about tasks that I've been putting off. Would you like to try a regular 5-min "standup" meeting with me?

That used to be me. I was lucky to be working with friends who noticed these behaviors and suggested that I should seek proffessional mental health advise.

I ended up being diagnosed with AvPD (Avoidant Personality Disorder, ICD-10-CM F60.6). I started cognitive behavioral therapy and some prescriptions to manage anxiety and the related dysthymia (mild depression) that came with AvPD.

The fact that I can go about my life without procastination and anxiety is a testament to the correct diagnosis and accurate dosing that my Psychiatrist prescribed. Before actually seeking pro advise, I tried self-help, willpower, spirituality, you name it. Things were getting worse and fast. I was very lucky to be around people who cared about me and acted on their concerns.

¿Best product of health science ever? It's a blue pill and it's active ingredient is Clonazepam.

Can you explain? I'm used to seeing people talk about ADD/ADHD with relation to struggling with productivity/procrastination/attention (naturally), but I am surprised to see you link it to a personality disorder.

I know a little about avoidant personality disorder thanks to some reading I did a while ago on the basis of self-diagnosing with schizoid PD/avoidant PD (depending on exactly how finely one wishes to split that particularly hair), so you don't have to explain that half to me.

> The fact that I can go about my life without procastination and anxiety is a testament to the correct diagnosis and accurate dosing that my Psychiatrist prescribed.

So whenever you now have to carry out a task you simply dispassionately do it? Taxes, cleaning the house, starting projects you do not understand yet...

There is no putting it off for days or even weeks?

Really trying to understand this as I assumed that doing this is at least to some extend pretty normal.

Wow, this hit close to home. It's refreshing to know that this happens to other people as well!

Same. On a meta-note, it's amazing how many times I rediscover that unpleasant parts of my psyche are not unique to me, and still I'm under the illusion that my hardships are mine alone.

Same. I thought it was just part and parcel with me being a procrastinator by nature. I'm sure that's part of why it resonates so much. But yeah, it's always nice to know you're not as alone in your head as you think you are.

Same. I get trapped in these often and for large ones I've felt like I've needed to make drastic life changes like quit jobs or move to escape them. It's good to know that I'm not the only one that feels these things.

The Ugh field must be a close relative of the SEP field: "somebody else's problem". As Douglas Adams noted, it's the closest thing to invisibility possible in this universe.

I've had this for the past couple months working on the GUI for a web app; it all just feels like "ugh". The back end is where all the magic is, the front end is boring. If I could afford to hire someone, I wouldn't think twice.

In the past, I've found streaming on Twitch helped a lot with "ugh" GUI dev. It reframed the activity; the main task was actually to stream, and I felt rewarded when people commented or followed me. (Also learned from people more experienced.)

I can't stream my current project, but I suspect somehow reframing the activity in a similar manner will help. I just need to think of a way to do that...

In the meantime, I'm enjoying the comments here!

'And pity poor PhD students whose entire programs seem designed to make their life one enormous Ugh Field.'

This is uncomfortably on point for me. I'm mildly dyslexic and suffer with mild anxiety issues. Currently I'm trying to write up my PhD thesis and the whole process has got to the point where it is fairly unbearable. The problem is I'm the person that will probably be let down the most if I don't complete. I'm a part time student, requesting my third extension, and have now accumulated 10 years worth of 'ugh'. It's embarrassing.

I've found that it's harder to get stuff done when sitting alone in a box for 6 months, and the (non)completion of tasks has no bearing on whether I'll continue sitting alone in a box.

yeah, this is burnout. I feel like I burn out much faster when working alone day after day.

I’m relieved this phenomenon is widespread enough to have a name, giving names to things is really a underestimated power.

One technique I use to cope with this mental state: do complain, but only after you started doing that terrible job.

This happens to me sometimes with a work project. Typically the only way I can break the logjam is to just pull an all nighter, refuse to go to bed until it’s done.

Same, though I wish I could be better at avoiding these

Telling myself I only have to do it for five minutes and then I can quit is usually enough to get me started. Never actually have to quit. Another approach is to take three steps back and think about how to change your life so these tasks are never your problem anymore.

Some of the advice in this article is really on point. I particularly liked this one:

> If you think about it calmly, you may well find that the task actually isn’t as important as it has come to feel. The person you imagine is disgusted by your failure may only be 2/10 annoyed, or perhaps not even have noticed.

And to add to this, if that person wants to de-prioritize it, let them do so. I've had an 'ugh field' trying to finish a data migration and my manager offered to put it back in the backlog because he could see I was struggling with it. I resisted for 3 straight sprints, but finally said OK yesterday. I felt an enormous sigh of relief.

I know these tasks all to well.

Another good strategy I've found is to break it into small actionable pieces and do one of them. Like, don't have a task "Clean the entire place", that's big and scary. Clean up the sink and create a reminder to do it again next week.

Don't build the entire dumb thing at once. Add in a necessary config value. Then think further and add another.

Slow, steady, methodical, habit enabling progress isn't flashy, but powerful.

This reminds me of the way Donald Knuth prioritizes his tasks. He wakes up in the morning and tackles his TODO list starting from the "Ugh"iest task.

This reminds me of the book "Eat That Frog" by Brian Tracy, which recommends doing the least pleasant but important task in the morning. His rationale is that it 1) makes you stop thinking about the dreaded task because it's finally done 2) gives you a boost of satisfaction.

Great read. This puts a name (sort of) to something I've been struggling with for a long time. Knowing that it's common actually does help a lot, and I'll start having that, and the rest of the advice, in mind more often.

I've adopted the following strategy for Ugh work. I would love to hear other people's suggestions, because while I have found that the below algorithm works, any improvement would be greatly helpful.

1 - Is the Ugh work so small, that if I just power through it, it can be done in ~15 minutes? If so, give yourself an hour break or so, then just slam your head into that wall. 15 minutes is hardly any time at all.

Otherwise, follow the general below pattern:

2 - Document out the task. Figure out exactly that needs to be done. Most procrastination research I've seen, and personal experience validates, that just documenting out the task moves it from the theoretical (and easier to procrastinate) to something more tangible (and therefore less likely to be avoided / less scary).

3 - Break the task out into small, concrete components. The smaller the components, the better. (procrastination research also strongly suggests this, as small concrete tasks are easier to visualize just doing and getting done, and feel less scary than big unknown problems).

4 - Out of all of those tasks you just broke out, can we throw any in the trash and ignore them? Once this became an "ugh" task, we stopped trying to solve this task perfectly. At this point, we just want completion, because this is holding up something more important (otherwise, why are we doing it at all?).

5 - Out of all those tasks you just broke out, are all of them ugh tasks? Or are some of them neutral / easy? Often, just breaking things out into small tasks gets rid of the ugh factor, because now you can handle it in pieces. Its the combination of trying to do all the pieces at once that gives it an "ugh" factor (for example, doing all of the chores on a Sunday can be an Ugh. But having a list of chores I need to do in the next few days, and just do one or two now? Not bad at all, provided I never have to look at the entire list and get overwhelmed again, and can just pluck one from the top and feel good about my progress). Either way, do the easy / neutral ones left.

6 - At this point, hopefully, the Ugh task is now just a fraction of the size it once was. If we're under 15 minutes, just brute force it, and have some ice cream / whiskey / outdoor time as a reward.

7 - If the remaining ugh task still exists, or is atomic, estimate the amount of time it is going to take you. 10X that estimate. That is now the amount of time you must dedicate to that task, in order to get through it sanely and happily.

It was going to take you ~1-2 hours to look up that financial data that you really hate standardizing in excel? Great, that's what YOUR ENTIRE SATURDAY is now dedicated to. Take breaks, play video games, do other things. Because in reality, you're going to work for 15 minutes, then take a break for an hour, then work for 30 minutes, then go to the store for 2 hours, then work for 20 minutes, then cook dinner, etc, etc, etc.

An Ugh task with an estimate of 1 hour is usually an annoying task with an estimate of 10 hours (9 of which are positive, happy activities).

This is great. I have found that breaking things into step-by-step checklists works well. For example, I had to grill some burgers the other day. It was overwhelming to think about, and I know that sounds ridiculous, but it felt like the entire task from “Go to store” -> “Serve burgers” was a huge, intractable spaghetti bowl of tiny steps that I couldn’t differentiate. I was really motivated to complete the task because it was for someone’s birthday, so I popped open a trello card and pictured each step:

1) Google list of ingredients

2) Go to store and buy ingredients

3) Google how to use grill

4) Clean grill

5) Preheat grill

6) Prep tomatoes, lettuce, etc

And so on... it’s a surprisingly huge amount of steps which kept collapsing into a blob of ugh in my head. The burgers turned out amazing though.


And the smaller the steps, the easier they are to individually complete. And the more dopamine rewards for crossing each one off the list. And the more self-rewards you get for making said steps, which means the more reinforcement you're getting for working on the task at all, despite not having had to do the part you didn't want to do to begin with.

And lastly, I've found the breaking out the steps helps a lot with being able to identify places where I can take a break. When its all one giant task in my head, it sounds like something that can take forever. But when its broken out like above, its obvious you can take a break after the store, or after researching the grill, etc, which is way easier than trying to tackle it all at once.

I love this but then the thought of breaking down a task becomes a challenge and a task in itself to be broken down. Turtles...

My technique is insane and almost childish but, since the breakdown won't take longer than 15 minutes, I get past it with a small self-reward (a piece of candy, or something) just for doing that much.

In time, maybe the knowledge it is reducing anxiety will become its own reward!

Lol. I think the key is three-fold.

Firstly, the act of breaking out a task can be difficult, if you haven't done the first step of actually documenting out the task.

And if you find the step of documenting out the task hard to do? There's actually a 0th step I didn't mention that psychologists suggest doing first, which is to document out WHY you need to do the task. I want to be clear here, the WHY isn't a "I have to do this or not get fired", its a reaffirmation of your VALUES that make doing the task important "I want to be a good engineer, and being a good engineer requires me to be able to analyze xyz".

Documenting out your values, will help motivate to at least document the problem.

Documenting the problem usually makes breaking out the tasks pretty easy.

Since I started doing this, I have actually come to LOVE breaking out a task into concrete steps. I put the reason why in another response here, but I think the reason why is itself two-fold. Firstly, its something I do for lots of tasks, both good and bad. As a result, the step of documenting out a problem doesn't actually feel associated with the specific ugh problem. Its a normal boilerplate step I have to do for lots of problems. As a result, when I'm breaking out the task into concrete steps, it doesn't actually feel like I'm working on the problem, and certainly not the "ugh" part of the problem. The second reason I love it, is because it feels like a way of making progress on the problem, without actually having to work on the problem. Does that make sense? Like I've somehow cheated the universe into letting me make progress, without actually having to do the part of the Ugh task that I don't like. Which is awesome.

And then once you've broken it out, the rules I've mentioned make getting through it much easier, though not perfect.

I've seen people on Twitter claim that the experience you are describing (and I also experience) is actually ADHD, but I haven't been to (or asked) a professional psychiatrist to confirm this.

Personal anecdote/experience: this was usually the problem I would have too. The overwhelming emotional response/dread/stress would short-circuit my ability to think logically and just divide and conquer my tasks. Ended up being diagnosed with ADHD...

I haven't gotten around to trying medication as I recently lost my job in the US and had to move back to Canada but I have noticed that once I was diagnosed and able to put a label on the many behaviours I would/still do exhibit, I'm better able to take a step back and not fall as deep into the pit of despair and continue to make progress.

edit: I should also add, that in my case, the issue wasn't really that I wasn't capable of breaking down the tasks, rather, actually executing on doing so and progressing on those subtasks. What I realized was that I would end up picturing the time investment of the sum of all those subtasks, and any other child tasks those subtasks would end up forking off and then dread having to answer to someone as to why those things were going to take longer than expected. I've noticed that after losing my job and just working on personal projects, the dread aspect almost entirely dissapeared (now it's just boring tasks that I resist doing). But any deep work relating to my personal projects - I'm okay with new things popping up unexpectedly which end up taking me on a 2-3 day detour of extra work.

I was looking for someone who laid it out like this.

Breaking it down is a great tip, but sometimes you can think of the most fundamental thing you could do to constitute "started"

Got a long paper or email to write? Open your editor and write the intro. If you write any more than that it's a bonus.

Got an annoying feature to write? Create the branch and some boilerplate files.

Have a strenuous workout to do? Just focus on doing the first exercise.

I find that once you get started it becomes much easier to work on the larger task.

This is 100% true. Really all of the steps I have above are ways of getting started, that come at the task from an oblique direction. Because you end up doing things like breaking out the task into steps for all sorts of tasks, both good and bad, that step doesn't feel like something that's specific to the "ugh" task when you do do it for an "ugh" task. As a result, its kind of a way of getting started, without actually having to really "start" the task.

Emacs org mode helps with most of these steps.

I've had some recent success at confronting these incidents by finding some secondary purpose or source of fun in the activity.

For example, there's a company-wide report I'm in charge of curating every week. I've been doing it for the last 37 weeks or so, and have started to become dreadful to finish. Took me an upwards of 2 hours every week to accomplish. It deals with people's submissions and cleaning them up, and checking for erroneous entries, so only a fraction of the whole report can be automated.

Until 3 weeks ago, I started considering timing myself doing the thing, and making note of what improvements I could do to speed up my next run. Within 3 weeks, I reduced the overall time for that task by around 75%, as it just takes me around 30 minutes now. This last run I did today I think I carved out more than 10 minutes of my previous run.

You can beat this with amphetamines and deadline fear. You can also beat it with CBT-style self-reorganization but if you find yourself stuck and you have gotten to the part where you identify the problem but are unable to solve it, use amphetamines and apply some close up deadline terror.

I mean. You're kinda saying the quiet part out loud here... let me rephrase for you.

If your life is dominated by 'Ugh fields' and tasks that just aren't getting done, and you don't have a bottle of amphetamines or modafinil, you might just be missing a diagnosis.

There's no reason to suffer. Talk to your doctor.

Really? I feel like I'd just skip the task completely... does that approach actually "get it done"? (seriously asking!)

Hey, everyone's different. Works for me.

YMMV on amphetamines; they did not work for me. I got hallucinations before I got any theraputic effect when titrating Adderall; I'm sure they work great for you, but for other readers out there, don't fret if they don't, there are other solutions.

I tried moda but all i got was extreme caffeine like jitter and worst headache of my life. Would not recommend

I've tried Modafinil several times, all of those times I also ended up with a terrible headache. At first I thought it was just me focussing on something and not drink for 4 hours, but even after forcing myself to drink a 1.5L bottle it kept on happening. I bought Ritalin and have used that multiple times without headache, I also prefer the 'state' of Ritalin over Modafinil.

That being said, I don't have AD(H)D or anything, I just use it if I _have_ to focus or finish something late at night. This happens maybe a few times a year. I do owe my Bachelors degree to those substances, the last night before the deadline I pulled an allnigher on Ritalin.

40 year old you is not going to like 30 year old you.

Moda gives me a headache. Half (or less) of an armodafinil works though. I can't take it for more than a few days in a row without it affecting my sleep.

Adderall makes me feel weird. Ritalin is awesome but I get horribly depressed and weepy when it wears off.

Maybe the downvoted are from the use of the word, “amphetamines”, but at that point I assume the amphetamines are prescription Adderall or such.


Any advice on what words an adult in the US might say to their primary care physician if are interested in trying pharmaceutical aids to ugh problems but don't really suspect an ADHD diagnosis?

I was just honest but if you read a symptom list and you can construct a convincing story around having some of those as a child and as an adult you will probably get diagnosed. Also, go to a provider who has an incentive to diagnose you. Google "ADHD online" and choose one of the ads.

Be enthusiastic and effusive. Be hyper talkative.

Here are the symptoms that I have:

- excessive talking, including over other people. This was a big issue for me.

- inability to pay attention. Also a big issue that I coped with.

- a weird one but I can't sit still. It takes sheer force of will to keep me in my seat in a professional meeting. I will want to get up and walk around and walk out (to do something dumb like get a snack) and back in.

Anyway, sorry I can't give you a cheat code. I don't know it. But perhaps replaying my experience will allow you to bypass the gate.

Taken from https://slatestarcodex.com/2017/12/28/adderall-risks-much-mo...

"There are whole websites for this: How To Convince Your Shrink You Have ADHD [0], How To Get Your Doctor To Prescribe You Adderall In Five Easy Steps [1], et cetera. But I can’t imagine most people need them. Just talk about all the times in your life that you had attention and concentration problems, and if your doctor asks you a more specific question (“Do you often lose things?”) you give the obvious right answer (“Wow, it’s like you’ve known me my whole life!”).

Aren’t psychiatrists creepy wizards who can see through your deceptions? There are people like that. They’re called forensicists, they have special training in dealing with patients who might be lying to them, and they tend to get brought in for things like evaluating a murderer pleading the insanity defense. They have a toolbox of fascinating and frequently hilarious techniques to ascertain the truth, and they’re really good at their jobs.

But me? At best, I can have a vague suspicion you’re not telling the truth. And how many patients genuinely in need of treatment do I want to risk accidentally rejecting just so I can be sure of thwarting you? A lot of 100% honest psychiatric patients’ stories are pretty unbelievable, really, and I don’t want to have to treat every patient like a convicted murderer. Unless you give me some specific reason to doubt you, I start with the assumption that you’re telling the truth.

Think about how wasteful all of this is. We throw people in jail for using Adderall without a prescription. We expel them from colleges. We fight an expensive and bloody War on Drugs to prevent non-prescription-holders from getting Adderall. We create a system in which poor people need to stretch their limited resources to make it to a psychiatrist so they can be prescribed Adderall, in which people without health insurance can never get it at all, in which DEA agents occasionally bust down the doors of medical practices giving out Adderall illegally. All to preserve a sham in which psychiatrists ask their patients “Do you have ADD symptoms?” and the patients say “Oh, yeah, definitely,” and then the psychiatrists give them Adderall. It’s like adding twenty layers of super-reinforced concrete to a bunker with a wide-open front door.

(Also, if by some chance a psychiatrist doesn’t give a patient Adderall, that patient practically always goes to another psychiatrist, and that next psychiatrist does. Trust me, no matter how unsuitable a candidate you are, no matter how bad a liar you are, somewhere there is a psychiatrist who will give you Adderall. And by “somewhere”, I mean it will take you three tries, tops.)"

[0] - http://exiledonline.com/adderall-tips-how-to-convince-your-s...

[1] - https://thoughtcatalog.com/sarah-miller/2015/03/how-to-get-y...

I am flinching while reading the article because it makes me think about the specific examples in my own mind. I'm not even sure I can finish reading the link; it is just too uncomfortable.

Guess I'll have to find a different displacement activity now.

> Just recognising and labelling the Ugh Field phenomenon can make it less bad, because it’s an accurate systemic explanation for what’s going on, rather than a misleading personal one like “I’m hopeless and never get things done”.

great this does seem helpful

> If Ugh Fields are a constant issue for you, it might be best to try tackling those underlying [mental] health and well-being issues first

It started out strong categorizing a sort of mental rut but then goes and blames it on underlying mental health issues? Not even anything specific just woolly depression/anxiety/etc. - not helpful in the least!

Glad the author mentioned taxes, which are definitely my 'ugh field'. However I already pay a professional to do most of the work, but it doesn't help.

If doing taxes is not in your ugh field, there is something wrong with you. I don't even especially object to paying taxes, I think it's necessary. But the process is awful.

I'd disagree that filing taxes is "awful".

For most of my adult life, it only took me one hour per year to do my taxes. Form 1040-EZ, filled out on paper.

If you have been doing a 1040EZ “most of your adult life”, you probably need a financial planner.

On a teacher's salary? Not likely.

I'm not a US resident so don't know if it's true or not, but the page for the 1040-EZ form says to not use it since 2018, so hopefully you're using something else now :)

> For Tax Year 2018 and later, you will no longer use Form 1040-EZ, but instead use the Form 1040 or Form 1040-SR


But how sure are you that you didn't leave any money on the table that you could have recouped?

Who cares? This is the sort of thinking that leads taxes to be stressful.

The way I deal with essential ugh work is to schedule it at a time when I’m most likely to be energetic and productive - which is morning time usually. But I do make sure I don’t stack too many ugh work in a day and that my day has at least one enjoyable work that I can look forward to after I’m done with ugh work.

'Grading homeworks and exams'. I'm sorry the only way I could get over it is by leaving academia.

Did you try getting drunk?

Good point. I didn't.

I would've done it if it had occurred to me, given my desperation with my research workload.

And it's pretty clear to me that instruction in a research university is a really bad sideshow that very few take seriously. (but then I could go on for hours about the broken academic system ...)

My wife’s expedient solution, she says “It’s work, just do it”.

People like that are somewhat ignorant of the day to day struggles of people surviving in the mundane reality that is the modern world, and how people are not interchangeable cogs in the machine of productivity.

That isn't a solution, its a dismissal.

To be fair to OP's wife, this is probably intended to be something that works for her, but not necessarily for you or me.

Sometimes all these techniques and tips to get started on things just don't work for me. Sometimes they do help...

When they don't work, the only thing left for me is to "just do it." Usually about 10-15 minutes after I start, I get on a roll. But it's not without a huge amount of anxiety for that first 10-15 minutes. It's fucking painful sometimes.

Sometimes that is your only option. And I will recognize that if you could always make that your first option, you spend a whole lot less time thinking about it. It bypasses me from having to get up and go do something to make myself feel better. The act itself of doing the task eventually makes me feel better anyways.

I would rather be the person who can just sit down and do it every time, and not have these fucking issues.

Bottom line, the ugh field is a series of thought and feelings of one’s own creation. I find it empowering to dispense with the self-made prison of paralysis, and get to work.

Two ideas

1. Tell someone else.

2. Just start it, something really small, you can 100% then stop after doing it with a reward, but you are allowed to continue if you want.

Re 2. My technique is to do the easiest part first, somehow moving from pending to in progress helps.

Good read. I never knew this existed, but now I can put a name to what i've been feeling.

As a backend Java developer working on projects built using Maven, I'm still trying to overcome this with the tool our regression team chose to standardize on for integration and regression testing: SOAP-UI.

My 'ugh field' right now is making a staging environment for a Wordpress blog that has been left untouched for quite a few years. Anyone raise me?

Mine is a glucose tracking app that I made for my girlfriend. I did all the reverse engineering of the CGM, electronics, design and coding and published it so she can use it.

Except it hit a bug a few weeks ago and the "ugh" of setting up the dev environment with frontend tooling, Gradle and android just to fix it has left me procrastinating forever.

> all the normal literature on overcoming procrastination

Enough for weeks, months, years of reading... and plenty of other people reading it to argue about it with!

'Ugh fields'

This will be my next go-to word when facing with, um, Ugh fields.

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