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The Only Way to Get Important Things Done (hbr.org)
346 points by yarapavan on May 25, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 110 comments

I'm a massive fan of life-task automation, for the benefits of not worrying about certain things (and therefore being generally happier in life).

Classic example for myself - when I used to commute to work, I would change lanes at exactly the same point every day. There was a month of trial and error to begin with, but this route and those lanes gave me the 'most likely fastest journey'. No more thinking about traffic, worrying that the lane next to me was moving faster, should I change etc etc.

I even have an automated rule for when I need to automate a rule - only when something annoys me three times. Can't find my keys when heading out the door? Very quickly automated where they live (ie, it happened 3 times very fast). Trip over a stair once? Not even going to register as an issue until it happens two more times.

I'm all about automating the stuff I find unimportant but necessary.

Any place I go regularly, I have a set range to park in. I never lose my car and I don't have to think about it, I leave and go to my car.

Keys and wallet have a set place in my house. If I'm in my house, they are there, if I'm not, they're in my pocket.

For a long time, I would just go to lunch at Subway just so I wouldn't have to think about it.

Hell, I even have a set way I start and stop my vehicle to ensure I don't leave my lights on, etc.

Everything goes swimmingly when I stick to the routines. It's when for some reason the routine breaks that I find myself missing things.

How much energy does your has-happened-but-not-yet-three-times memory use?

Not much. Basically:

1) Bad thing happens 2) Brain says 'Has this happened before?' 3) If no, ignore (file away) 4) If yes, has it happened once or multiple times 5) If once, ignore 6) If multiple times, work out a solution

So all I have to do is rely on my memory.

Can you give more examples of things you have automated and how they worked out? And what didn't?

Sure. In no particular order:

I colour code my diary and contextualise it a month in advance. Today was a Blue- Sales day, so every sales opportunity this month has been offered today as an option- none of my clients (Blue- Delivery day) had it as an option

My pockets are consistent- phone lhs side, money clip rhs, keys to the rear- To check I haven't forgotten/lost anything I just touch 3 pockets

At shopping centres I always park in the same section- replaced standing still remembering my park with automatic 'walking to section' while remembering

When I get a plate of food I generally plan which order to eat it in then exexute, rather than thinking with each mouthful. That may be bordering on ocd but at least I don't do it in alphabetical order!

Laundry is always washed and hung in the same order, linked to where clothes go when clean- ironing pile, top drawer etc. Ditto washing dishes.

I always round up time for calculating travel legs. I don't like being late, and don't mind being 30mins early

I clear my inbox by person not date- allows me to address many emails dealing with the same or related (Tracey- training; Darryl- IP development) discussions at once

For 6 years we have been once a month cookers- 6 meals x 4 portions (roughly chicken, beef, pork, lamb, fish, vegetarian) which are frozen and reheated based on the calendar I draw up

We have holidays drafted from now until November and try to book up our weekends 3-4 weeks ahead, to balance our social life and prevent waking up and wasting a day wondering what to do

And lest all of this seem boring, I applied this mindset most recently to completing the Monopoly Pub Crawl in order- 26 pubs over 13 hours. One definitely needs a system for that.

If I blogged more about any topic specifically, which ones would interest you?

[As for what doesn't work for me- anything linking tasks like 'I will do x then y then z'. One interruption to x means nothing gets achieved.]

I'd be interested in the once-a-month cooking. Especially your recipes.

Thanks for the details! Here's what happens to me.

Planning for a month. How detailed really? I would imagine that such a plan doesn't survive life. How do you cope with changes? I don't plan so much ahead now because other people influence my doings too much.

Always the keys, phone and wallet are in the same location. Take the same buses always so I remember the schedule. I store my stuff in the same location always. Shelves are organized, everything boxed and labeled. Plastic bags stacked by size and tied with rubber bands :) That's just being an organized person. Bookshelf has no particular order because it's acoustically better. Only the to-read -books are in one place in order of interest.

No need to decide in what order I eat stuff, I just put stuff in mouth :) Actually, rotating between the parts, trying to put meat and other stuff in each mouthful.

So far I haven't decided to wear the same clothes every day, or wear my stuff in any order. But this takes only a minute each day.

I'm also always in time. That means I usually wait for other people, I use that time to observe other people or read something on the phone. To work I almost never need to be on time but just come at my usual time +- delays in traffic.

Inbox, I answer stuff when I read it. Should mark some items as followup I guess.

Holidays are difficult to plan for me, never know when can take, should take, need to synchronize with other people, work etc. Besides it feels good to waste time on days off. That's when the brains come up with new ideas. Wasting a day typically means spending it on something that I then thought was most interesting, which is the right thing, yes? If I'm bursting to do something, I do it.

I guess for me the same that plan x -> y -> z doesn't work. Such processes are inflexible. It should be possible to do x, y and z in whatever order I feel like and all of them should be possible to finish in one go. Or not do at all. Now how to string a bigger project together ...?

Cooking part is interesting. What do you do with fresh foods or they are just no on the menu? We cook for 2-3 days at a time and it does take more time than to heat stuff up.

Many of your choices require commitment not only from you but from your family and friends. How does that go?

I would probably be interested in everything.

Not OP, but here's something that has worked out great: putting all our bills on auto-pay.

Online banking is easy. But then it's easy to forget how much money you waste on said auto-paid bills every year. Sometimes it's good to have to work for something to realize maybe it's not necessary after all. I cut my magazine subscriptions to half, twice, and still get a bit too many to read ;)

The trick is to call the various groups you have to pay (utilities, credit cards, etc) and tell them you want your bill from them to be due on or around some specific date, the 15th of the month, for example.

Then set a calendar reminder for the 10th of each month, to login and review this month's payments.

On the 10th, you login to your checking account. Review/adjust the pending autopayments; add anything else that has come in recently; and you're done for the month.


"when I used to commute to work, I would change lanes at exactly the same point every day."

Wouldn't it be easier to just take a train then? :-)

Trains aren't available everywhere.

I personally would have to drive a half hour to get to a train station, hardly a time saver. I live in Connecticut, one of the more densely populated states, which is even somewhat part of the NYC transit system. I can't imagine what it's like in other areas of the country. (My current job is the first time I actually would take the train if it was available to me).

Even better: work remotely or move closer to the office or change work location closer to home.

A rough example. Moving closer costs 100K more, working for 200 days a year, less commuting provides 1.5 hours more time per day, same client (place of work) for five years. Cost of hour of free time is (/ 100000 200 1.5 5) = 66.7 units of money per hour.

Worth it? Don't think so.

Working remotely is often impossible because of security policies and also not the same in terms of presence.

Difficult :)

Do you mean that moving 50 minutes closer to work would cost $20K per year more?

What location are we talking about?

I used numbers that are reality to me. Plug-in your own numbers for comparison.

For a 10 minute commute today, I would have pitch in another 100K for living. My experience at the moment is working 5 years for same client/location on average.

P.S. If I move out I can reclaim some of that 100K, some go to tax, fluctuating prices, I don't calculate inconvenience of moving and stressful location etc. details.

This advice seems to contradict the advice given about increasing your intelligence in a recent post: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2562632

Compare this:

  Efficiency is not your friend when it comes to cognitive growth. In order to keep your brain making new connections and keeping them active, you need to keep moving on to another challenging activity as soon as you reach the point of mastery in the one you are engaging in. You want to be in a constant state of slight discomfort, struggling to barely achieve whatever it is you are trying to do, as Einstein alluded to in his quote. This keeps your brain on its toes, so to speak.

  The proper role for your pre-frontal cortex is to decide what behavior you want to change, design the ritual you'll undertake, and then get out of the way. "It is a profoundly erroneous truism that we should cultivate the habit of thinking of what we are doing," the philosopher A.N. Whitehead explained back in 1911. "The precise opposite is the case. Civilization advances by extending the number of operations we can perform without thinking about them."
Is there a real contradiction? If yes, is there any point to intelligence if you get less important things done?

There is a time for growth and a time for getting things done. A time for learning and a time for executing. A time for training and a time for competing. A time for sharpening tools and a time for using them.

Different strategies for different goals.

Exactly. Using a GPS to go everywhere will make your sense of direction worse. But that may be worth the easing of the cognitive load for you.

Also, many of the things to automate-such as sorting email or paying bills-don't really improve your brain anyway. The getting smarter article points out that once you get good at something, doing more of it doesn't make you any smarter.

They are different things. There is lots of research in self regulation and it boils down to (unsurprisingly): the most efficient and elegant way to self-regulate is to avoid continuous self-regulation, i.e. create habits. There is also lots of research on how to create habits :)

A good summary of current state of research is "A handbook of self-regulation", edited by Roy Baumeister, but it's definitely not an easy read. It's amazing though to find out exactly how far we've come in understanding these things - and it's also pretty exciting how recent most of it is.

There are more practical books out there, drawing from the same research. "The Procrastination Equation" by Piers Steel is the best I've found so far.

It seems like both the ideas could be true. The apparent contradiction is clearly due to the fact that the two are optimizing different aspects. One intelligence, and second, getting things done.

The conflation of the two leads to the state where you get things done with rituals so it frees up your mind to take up challenges that keeps your brain on it's toes.

I can see three ways of getting these in line. The obvious one is that if you do what you have to do in less time and with less expenditure of willpower, there is more time and energy left to challenge yourself.

The second one is what I do: Schedule challenges as a ritual. What I do is solve a projecteuler.net project every morning. Helps me stay sharp all day.

The third one is a bit meta: You can have a constant thought process going that examines your rituals and injects as much challenge as you can handle in the form of optimizations. This way you can keep improving your rituals, keep things interesting, and gradually free up more time for productivity. This is what I aspire to.

I feel pretty confident that the single biggest thing people can do to be more productive, or to have more time, is to dump their TV.

Following this is the trifecta of: exercise, eating well, and sleeping enough.

After dumping my TV some years ago, there are still some problems with time. Working, commuting, exercising and eating seem to take about 15 hours in total. Now with 7-8 hours of sleep it leaves approximately 1 hour for hacking or time with other people. A bit too little, no?

Sometimes it might be possible to combine commuting and exercising, but at the moment it's not worth it, since commuting and meditation, as well as commuting and reading, are possible with public transport.

One thing I can recommend is to get a cross-trainer or exercise bike and watch some interesting stuff while exercising. Recently I've been reviewing open courseware, Clojure webcasts etc. Saves time.

I would say working less for money is the single biggest thing people can do to be more productive, or to have more time.

>I would say working less for money is the single biggest thing people can do to be more productive, or to have more time.

moving closer to work has similar effects on your free time without cutting in to your free money.

but yeah, I agree. It's hard to have time to work on your stuff if you work 40 hours a week, especially if you need some family or social time. working part time helps a lot, if you can pull it off. Again, though, be mindful of the commute and reduce the number of days a week you work rather than reducing the number of hours a day you work.

I've been considering a 4 x 10 hours week.

But really, commuting is impossible to avoid if you work in consulting, where your customer changes from time to time. You can't expect to move as often. My work used to be only 10 minute walk away ...

> moving closer to work has similar effects on your free time without cutting in to your free money.

Depends on house prices. I remember a study about those prices around London, and they found a nice relation between duration of commute vs house price. (I did some calculations, and assuming a reasonable hourly wage and interest rate (to convert the house price into a rent): each minute was bought at less than what you'd get for working that minute.)

Something's not adding up for me...even if you are working 10 hours a day, that means you are spending 5 hours commuting, exercising and eating? 1 hour commute each way, 2 hours exercise and 1 hour for eating?

A simplified example day:

  07:15-08 Wakeup, shower and breakfast
  08-09 Commute+reading
  09-19 At work, includes lunch and snack
  19-20 Exercise
  20-20:30 Grocery shopping
  20:30-21:30 Commute+reading
  21:30-22 Dinner
  22-23:30 Hacking
  23:30 To sleep (slightly late)
This routine gives a small amount of extra working hours to use for time off later. Cutting work to 8 hours gives 2 hours of which 1 usually goes to a longer exercise and 1 is retained as free time. So these days get 2-2.5 hours free.

How does that work out for you?

You commute too long. That's where those missing 2 hours are going. My example's extreme, but:

  8:30 Wakeup, shower, breakfast
  9:00-9:50 Browse the net, email
  9:50-10:00 Walk to work
  10:00-18:00 Work
  18:00-20:00 Buy groceries, cook, eat, do dishes
  20:00-21:30 Relax in some way. May include tv, movies,  exercise. Sometimes extra hacking.
  21:30-01:00 Hack (may include leftover work)

You seem to stay up quite late. Unsustainable for me. Also making and eating breakfast takes for me at least 30 minutes at the moment.

Three years ago I had exactly the same 10 minute walk to work and then I did have more time available. However have to consider that:

1) Consultant usually works at client's location and client may change often, though I'm a counter-example of that myself. Moving often is not worth it. I consider my current location pretty optimal. A more central location creates more stress and costs way too much. I would believe it's more effective to just decide to work less hours every week for reduced pay but I'm not yet strong enough to commit to it :)

2) I do not spend any time travelling to shop, to exercise location or to do fun stuff. My travel time maximum is 2 hours every day - the shops, bars, movies, etc. are along the same route and do not increase time spent travelling in a day at all.

3) Car would not improve the situation. In fact it would be slower due to traffic. Or I would have to leave at 06 from home, way too early. And the tradeoff of money to time is ridiculous with so few other uses for a car. And there's the maintenance.

Thanks for the example. Maybe somebody else can chime in too.

Wow, I'm so happy I stopped commuting and got a job in my home town. I went from being away from home 7-19 to being away from home 7.30-17.30

Now, I don't exercise but I spend 2x30 minutes bicycling to and from work.

1 hour bicycling every day is a very solid exercise.

1) 10 hours at work? Cut that to a healthier and more sustainable 9 including lunch hour - less if your lunch break is shorter.

2) grocery shopping every day? Order it online or do it once a week (or both) - another daily half hour gained.

3) daily exercise is laudable, but maybe you don't need a whole hour every day. Half hour after waking up should be more than enough - unless you're doing weight lifting for muscle gain, in which case you should only go 3 times a week.

That's a couple of hours a day recovered there.

1) I don't work 10 hours every day, 8 hours twice a week at least. Like this I'm saving a couple hours every week to have some time off later. Year ago I was at -50 hours but now I'm at over +50 already. A small reserve is good. I never work overtime for money.

4 x 10 might be nice to have a longer weekend. Have to think about it since now 5 days are mostly spent working, exercising, eating and sleeping :)

2) Well that was an example day. Instead of the shopping it might be cleaning, cooking or other housework that takes half an hour to an hour. I shop two or three times a week. I also don't cook every day but cook for two or three days at a time.

I don't own a car, bike or skis because the maintenance would take time :)

3) I keep a rest day once a week and on weekends I might do two kinds of exercise in a day. Still 6-7 times a week is fine counting the occasional extra walk back from shop. That totals it to 6-10 hours a week on physical activity.

I don't spend any time going to exercise since all the equipment is either at work (gym, pool), at home (cross-trainer, weights) or I go running.

Your commute is long, but at least you get to read. Our schedules are similar. My morning commute is 15 minutes. I walk home at night, which takes about 45 minutes..i count that as part of my exercise time, and I also pick up quick groceries.

I guess I should add long commutes to my list of productivity hacks.

Yeah I sometimes get off the bus earlier and walk home to combine the two. I'm considering running sometime too but have to get the gear with me. And sometimes I walk home from a shop for the same exercise.

In the winter I mostly slept/meditated in the bus but now I have enough energy to read. I found out that coding is practically impossible in the bus because of the sun.

Shop once a week, half hour commute, 8.5 hour day, cut exercise down to half hour or combine with watching TV/listening to audiobook. You gain 3 hours.

Over the last year, I've spent /far/ more time on HN than I have watching TV or movies (excluding time spent watching movies while exercising)

When I say stop watching TV, I don't mean stop doing sedentary things. I specifically mean stop watching TV. You can do almost anything else and I sincerely believe that you'll be better for it. Read a book, exercise, learn to cook, program, help your kids with homework, play video games, go out with friends...anything is better than watching TV.

:) Clearly you are not a hard-core gamer or you don't have any friends who spends 200~ hours on a MMORPG per month. Although I generally agree with that TV argument.

I'd argue that playing 200 hours of a mmorpg is more valuable, helps grow more, and is generally way better than watching TV 200 hour.

Have you played an MMORPG? I've done both (200 hours in a month of MMO, 200 hours in a month of TV), and I think the time spent on the MMORPG was far more of a waste.

It probably depends, but I'll add my 2 cents. Never done 200 hours of either in a month (really? 200 hours? that's insane), but after I went on my Dexter marathon, at least I'd seen Dexter. I still reference it all the time. The hours I spent on WoW were... well, I don't remember. That's probably your point.

Agreed. I often tell my parents to turn it off, to spend their free time actively. Watching TV is passive entertainment at its worst.

I wish they listened.

You should suggest and encourage them towards new activities, rather than trying to get them to stop one activity. It's psychologically much more effective.

I honestly do it with board games, card games, etc. It psychologically takes them a huge effort to even speak about playing.

In some ways, hacker news can be worse than TV, too. When I watch TV, it /feels/ like I'm wasting time. HN can feel like I'm doing something useful.

Sitting on reddit may be slightly better than TV, but not by much. I'm considering limiting all "light" reading soon.

Yup. I'd like to add "not living with people you like". I think having social connectivity is big outside your home, but when you actually live with people you like/are peer pressured to do things within your dwelling, it is really hard to get things done.

This is the beauty of finding people who you like...to get things done with. When work and play are one and the same, it's like getting two things done at once.

Well played. I guess I am thinking to my singular situation of living with lazy/pressuring roommates in college. But I imagine, also, that finding highly motivated people as in the Hacker News mold is pretty hard to do in general.

Does living with people you dislike really increase your productivity, or are you suggesting to live alone?

This article claims that self-control is related to glucose levels:


I don't know if this comment will get read, it'll be buried down at the bottom... let's pretend it's a pot of gold hidden at the end of the rainbow :)

In short: I agree with this article (originally proposed in THIS article/video http://www.fastcompany.com/video/why-change-is-so-hard-self-...)

I moved on from my job as a project manager a few years ago and spent a year dabbling here and dabbling there on different projects. Some open source and some not.

The majority of the time I was "working" I was mostly showering myself in self-imposed guilt: "Why aren't you a huge success by now? Why don't you have an awesome startup on HN yet? Why don't you go back to work for some company and stop wasting money? Why don't you grow all your hair back?"

I enjoyed the freedom of the year, but the guilt and self-doubt was getting to be exhausting. It shook my confidence a bit, but I think my optimism towards life in general helped shore-up that weakness a bit and kept me facing mostly forward instead of giving up and falling down on the ground for a good cry or turning sideways and taking up another position somewhere just to stop the self-loathing.

Somewhere around the middle and end of the first year I made some unintended-but-welcome changes in my thinking.

The first realization I had, due to an article I read somewhere, was: "Guilt is a USELESS emotion".

The article went on and on about it, backing up the claim. Long story short, it was right. It IS useless.

In a way, Guilt is the result of you not being willing to take a stand, make a decision and move on with your life. Guilt is a lot like sitting on a fence and complaining about how your bum hurts all day long, but refusing to get off the fence. And not life decisions... just ALL decisions.

I feel guilty because I haven't called my parents. I feel guilty because I haven't done yard work. I feel guilty because I need to change the oil in my car. I feel guilty because I haven't put any pants on today... etc. etc.

I began to realize that this unwillingness to get off the fence was the source of pain-via-guilt, not the actual decisions themselves.

For the next 6 months I learned to think things through until I hit a logical conclusion, then commit to a decision. Over-thinking was never a problem for me, but committing (I realized) was, so I worked on that.

Only after a few months of almost passive-attention to sticking to my commitments did I realize my life being noticeably easier. I had no idea why, but it just felt great...

That was when I first came across this concept presented by this article: will power is a limited resource.

As a software developer there are a litany of cliched things I berate myself about... gotta work more, gotta exercise more, gotta eat better.

But given my new outlook on life I decided "Enough!", I am going to make decisions and move on with my life. So far this year I have made decisions to work... and work and work and work. Yes lots of things have taken a back seat, but instead of being wishy-washy about it, I am leveraging the mass of my will power against my desire to work and not spending it on anything else.

That means I'm eating fast food and not exercising as much as I "should", but I'm done making half-decisions.

If I decide to eat better or exercise, I'm not going to spend all day thinking about it, I'll just go do it and get on with my life.

Since I learned those two things: 1. Commit to decisions / Ignore feeling of "guilt" 2. Will power is an exhaustible resource

Life has jus become fantastic.

I've gotten a hell of a lot more clarity on the things I want and I don't sit all day rolling my hands together because I want to work on X, but my business sense tells me "NO" so instead I have to pretend that I don't want to work on X and instead I'll go work on something else.

Forget that, it's my life, if I want to work on X, I'll work on X.

I like to get up in the morning now. I like what I do. I like what I work on and I like the people I meet doing it.

I have no idea what is in store for me, but sitting under a wet blanket, grinding your teeth from stress and sweating, trying to figure out a HN-worthy business and become the next-big-thing is bullshit.

Living your life; doing things you love and having success find you on your terms... it is intoxicating and so much more accessible than a lot of people realize.

DISCLAIMER: I wouldn't recommend trying this mental shift until you are ready for it. If you are a stress ball and a pure-rage-fountain, maybe wait until you've calmed down a bit before embarking on this journey.

If you are sick of feeling trapped by guilt and inaction and are ready for a change in scenery, give this a try.

Also, but "this" I mean simply accepting that will power is limited and learning to focus it on the things you truly want out of life instead of the things you tell yourself that you want.

TIP: Having a six-pack or a social-cloud-network-web-scale-synergy-Twitter-killer company may not ACTUALLY be what you want when you finally take the time to look inside yourself. Just be ready/willing to accept that. This can be really horrifying for people to face when they start looking inwards because they define themselves so heavily in (sometimes) false terms that the idea they had it wrong this whole time is... just too unsecure/scary/unsettling/open-ended.

I think I'm on a similar realization as you. I "used to" want to be featherweight MMA champion of the world. Once I was into fighting, I kind of assumed I wanted to win (I think everyone does), but I slowly realized that I received no joy from winning. I just loved fighting, but I didn't have a drive to actually defeat my opponent. And you're right. It's fucking scary. "Wanting to be MMA champion" was so deeply ingrained into my identity at that point that questioning that made me question who I am. Am I a quitter? Some loser who can't keep his motivation up? How can I get anywhere in life if I give up?

Now I realize that if I don't receive satisfaction from doing something, there's not much reason in doing it. I chose the term satisfaction very carefully here because, for example, people sometimes say eating cookies makes them happy, but they will rarely say eating cookies gives them satisfaction, especially if it's part of an unhealthy lifestyle.

There is still an uncomfortable thought that lingers in mind that I just "gave up" and am trying to rationalize it and make excuses, but I also know that I am still fighting, and if defeating my opponent ever gives me the same elation as just being in the ring, I will be shooting for that goal again. Except at that time, it would be for real.

Somewhat related, have you read "Stuck in the middle with Bruce?"


Some people have a need to lose.

Perfect distinction between "satisfaction" and "happiness".

I think both are important. Satisfaction is typically the result of accomplishment. Accomplishments give us confidence. Confidence (an amazing subject) gives us the strength to mold and shape our lives into things we want.

As an MMA'ist, you know better than probably anyone here the role that confidence has in a fight. If you are fighting someone new to the ring, you've probably had that sense where you can feel yourself dominating him before that first bell ever rings... and he probably feels it too.

I think Happiness plays an important role in exciting us out of bed in the morning; giving us a spring in our step and helping us chase things that eventually bring us satisfaction.

Happiness recharges our willpower (re: this article) and that helps us move forward towards things that bring us satisfaction and the circle feeds on itself.

My limited understanding of this, right now, is something like:

Happiness > Accomplishment > Satisfaction > Confidence (loop)

Without the little things in life that make you happy, you can still accomplish things, but you will eventually run out of gas or do it begrudgingly and the satisfaction won't come.

From what you describe, I wonder if that was what was going on. You continued to do things that you felt brought you satisfaction (fighting) and would time again get to the precipice of "Accomplishment" and stop, so the opponent would take the win and you would fall back a rung in the ladder and feel crappy and feed this cycle of self doubt.

Was the fighting making you happy or was that missing from the equation and you liked it for other reasons? (stress relief, toughness, etc)

This isn't at all as hard as MMA, but I do something identical to this with tennis. When I play regularly I'm pretty good; strong serve, good returns, fast balls, big topspin, etc.

The thing that frustrated me to the point of stopping playing tennis was that no matter HOW GOOD OR BAD the opponent I played was, I would always lose to them.

It was so obviously a mental handicap that it stunned me into a silent rage when I played.

I could play a 4.5 and hang in with them one day, getting to 3 sets and eventually losing. Then play a 3.0 the next day, go to 3 sets and lose to them.

I don't know if it was a lack of accomplishment on the court such that I could never push forward in the circle of confidence, but I realized it wasn't making me happy. So I stopped.

Much like you said, I always wonder if I just "gave up" -- but I really do subscribe to the "Guilt is bullshit" thought process, so I don't dwell on it. I just figure "Hey, if some day I decide to get back on the court, I'll do it. End of story."

If some day you decide Featherweight is all you want, you'll get back in that ring and do it and the whole will-he/won't-he back and forth in your head will be irrelevant because you will have made up your mind THIS is what you are doing and THIS is what is going to happen.

Sorry if that was preachy... the similarity between what you said an my own fumblings with sports was uncanny so I had a lot to say on the subject ;)

You should definitely read "Stuck in the middle with Bruce," if you haven't. Fits perfectly with what you're describing.


Psyonic, thank you for the link. Reading it in chunks, about 1/4 way through it.

Don't know how to adequately put this, but THANK YOU!! I have similar feelings (guilt, etc.) and reading this in the morning helped my mood tremendously. Guilt is useless.

Most welcome; you just made my day knowing you got a boost from it!

2 days made so far and it's not even noon :)

The relevant term for what you describe in psychology circles is "rumination" in case you're interested in that kind of thing.

I am, thank you for that. Looked it up on Wikipedia ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rumination_(psychology) ) and it sounds spot on.

Originally I found the cow-cud-chewing article, and that sounded less spot on, but then I found the "mental rumination" link :)

Cud-chewing is the etymology of the psych term, actually. Regurgitating the same thing over and over...

Glad you enjoyed the read. It's something I deal with personally as well.

I think it's technically more correct to say that focus is limited - not willpower. As long as one has a clear, single goal, you can be motivated 24h a day. But if there are several goals in your life, it will inevitably lead to a dispersal of motivation.

I think this is why the study of Personal Development, or just in general examining your life is so important. Think of how big an impact these realizations can have on your life. Now imagine having one of these moments every month, or even every week.

<quote> Also, but "this" I mean simply accepting that will power is limited and learning to focus it on the things you truly want out of life instead of the things you tell yourself that you want. </quote>

Spot on

This is Gold, Jerry, GOLD.

And the best advice on creating these rituals, or HABITS is Seifeld's "Don't break the chain", coupled with Pavlina's 30-day trials.



From the second article:

> I lost seven pounds in the first week, mostly from going to the bathroom as all the accumulated dairy mucus was cleansed from my bowels (now I know why cows need four stomachs to properly digest this stuff)

WTF? Does he think cows eat dairy? Or did I parse that wrong?

Pavlina's usually pretty out there. It suprises me that he still gets as much attention as he does. There's one born every minute, I guess.

I liked him for awhile, but once he crossed the line into claiming we are all actually figments of his imagination (and not just as a thought experiment) I had to stop reading. I couldn't help but wonder who he was writing for at that point.

I didn't even get THAT far. I stopped once he started using words like 'cleansed'. All that hollistic feel-good talk.

Do cows only make milk for our enjoyment?

While calves do consume milk cows don't need four stomaches for that. Ruminants need them to break down plants enough to be processed and digested.

Well yeah that's sort of obvious. Frankly, I'm surprised that so many people will readily equate their lactose-intolerance to dairy being somehow evil.

The notion of 'ritual' is a central theme in Twyla Tharp's book 'The Creative Habit', which I think most HN'ers would find a worthwhile read.

I read somewhere that it was a myth that willpower is a limited resource and that we imagine it is limited, but it's not. Does anyone else remember where this was mentioned?


Just skimmed it, but in this study 60 students were given tasks and those who believed that willpower is a limited resource made more mistakes after doing a "willpower-draining" activity.

But I wonder if people who were already willpower-drained before taking this test would be more likely to report that willpower can be drained than well-rested students.

It's definitely not a myth. Roy Baumeister mentioned in the article did most of the work in describing how willpower behaves, and a few years back somebody else pinned down the actual mechanism (something to do with glucose - drinking a glass of something sweet restores most of the will power back).

The first thing I thought after reading this was how unfortunate it is for people on diets that they have to drink a sugary beverage in order to regain the willpower to avoid sugary beverages.

Yeap, that's one of the lessons to draw from this. Another is that it's twice as hard to change two habits at the same time: i.e. maybe people who quit smoking and find themselves getting fatter to this because of a self-regulation issue.

For what's worth, I remember the "magic number" for creating a habit is 60 days - and there's also good research on the stages one goes through when creating a habit and what's most likely to sabotage him/her at each stage. We really really need more "science in plain English" books about modern psychology.

Sounds like a negative feedback loop, it should stabilize at some point. The thing is, it might not stabilize where the person on diet would wish it to. :).

That is sorta where I loose it - that should mean that people who drinks lots of sugar would never be willpower deprived, right?

But they are not those most likely to loose weight.

I am sure it must be more complicated than "not eating a cookie depletes your willpower". So if I stare at 100 cookies in the morning, all my willpower for the rest of the day will instantly evaporate?

I was half expecting the advice to be: "the only way to achieve stuff is to give in to the less important cravings. That is, you get extremely fat eating cookies, but in exchange you finish your weekend project".

Willpower for me is the exact opposite of what you were expecting. Having willpower on the simple things leads to having it on bigger things and so on.

I also think willpower is learned just and takes time just like building muscles. It takes practice and doesn't follow a linear trajectory. There is also a personal aspect that each person must find on their own to help them keep going when the ability to maintain willpower becomes tough.

What really helped for me is closing email and only check email at two times a day (a bit before lunch and around 16.00) -> tips from the four hour work week. Don't check email when you get into the office, because your further work day will be influenced by it.

Along these lines, I made a little program which yells at me whenever I have too many lines of code without a comment, or too many lines in a single file. I've found it quite helpful not having to actively think about that sort of maintenance stuff.

Regarding comments, I really liked a technique Martin Fowler talked about in Refactoring.

Whenever he feels the need to comment, he extracts the commented block into a new method and gives it a name that explains the purpose - instead of the comments.

The result is code cut into small self-explaining blocks that reads pretty much like a sentence.

I tried to follow it these last weeks and IMO it works great.

Instead of a comment - use a function name.

Yeah, I followed that advice at one point. But I find in practice a plain English comment can be much more helpful than a function name. For example, from the code I linked:

# Check too many lines. Count number of lines without a comment.

If I were to turn that into a function name I would either have one long ass function name or (more likely) I would cut out several words and lose a lot of readability and clarity.

countLinesSinceComment() too long for you?

I think it's a bit too long, yes. I prefer around 10-15 characters for function names. Also, you've lost a lot of readability with that camelCase. Also, the "Check too many lines." part wasn't superfluous -- I had a separate check for too many total lines before I count the number of lines without a comment -- and that part of the comment has been lost.

I am thinking along the same lines. If something is not "policed", then it won't happen in the long run as interest shifts. Includes programming practices, testing coverage and the usual stuff. And more effective to automate such things and spend code reviews on interesting issues, not "punctuation".

I wonder if anyone has examples for or against of running such checks against your codebase? I can imagine some horror stories of how those tools would slow down all useful work. But some success stories? I guess I have to try on myself first :)

Do you have the source online somewhere please?

Just posted it here: https://github.com/JesseAldridge/My-Lint/blob/master/my_lint...

It's tied to Windows at the moment, but it's only ~70 loc so porting should be easy.

"Civilization advances by extending the number of operations we can perform without thinking about them."

I don't think this implies our brains become more capable with more enhanced civilization. For example I can eat an apple without knowing how to plant and tend to apple trees because I live in a civilization where farmers and software developers can exchange services. I don't have a ritual that allows me to grow apples without thinking about it. The whole process of growing apples has been completely outsourced from my life.

So I doubt that creating lots of rituals will work out in the long run. Eventually they might overrun my schedule. And it takes energy to remember the rituals.

No, if its a ritual it takes energy to not do it. Its almost impossible to forget about it when you don't do it.

Example: Try to go to bed tonight without brushing your teeth.

Of course, if you can completely outsource a task, that is even better. But I guess you won't be able to outsource your workout, sanitariness, writing down of ideas, going to bed at the same time etc. any time soon.

I think the take-home point of the article is to avoid depleting your limited energies making new decisions about every little thing, which makes perfect sense for me.

Now, Whitehead's cite is another thing:

"It is a profoundly erroneous truism that we should cultivate the habit of thinking of what we are doing,[...] The precise opposite is the case. Civilization advances by extending the number of operations we can perform without thinking about them."

I find it much better for me to be mindful of the things I do. That does not mean I have to make new decisions all the time. It is a non-judgmental mindfulness, the practice of experiencing the present moment.

The willpower "battery" can be recharged or trained (it's also a willpower "muscle"). I reviewed some of the research last year: http://jonathan.graehl.org/mitigating-ego-depletion and http://jonathan.graehl.org/evidence-that-self-control-can-be...

Maybe should be phrased as 'The Only Way to get Important Things Done, for me'

Good advice, though.

Good article. Funny, earlier this evening I stumbled over an interview with Tony Schwartz (the author of the parent article) and David Allen, from 'Getting Things Done', in the print version of HBR.

I follow many of the advices, they make, already and they work great but many others I keep struggling to make a ritual.

1) Morning Workout: Takes time, especially on days where I have to commute a lot. Sure, I can make a good 5 minute workout but if I have to leave a lot earlier than my usual sleep cycle I don't even want to take that time. I might even decide to only shower the night before and hence can't afford a real work out before jumping in my clothes. Also, I found that I'm often significantly more tired over the whole day when I do a hard morning workout. I have plenty of experience of this from my time in the military. Sure, I should probably do a lighter workout. But I rather have a real workout later than wasting time on some wishi-washi with Homeopathic weights. And real, strenght workout requires full concentration and an awake mind.

2) Sleep Cycle: In winter, I usually succeed on this and I love the benefits. But now that the days are long its hard to enjoy a social life and still get up early. So I do get up early only when I have to and stay up late when its worth it. Not very healthy but a lot more fun.

3) Planing the day ahead: I would love to make it a ritual to decide the night before what is going to be the most important task tomorrow. Sometimes, I do, but tonight for instance I fail. I worked in "the zone" for hours, stopped at midnight. Now, instead of making that decision, write it down and then go to sleep, I'm procrastinating here for more than an hour. I guess, I'm afraid to take the step back to look at the whole task - which is huge for me - and get mentally destroyed by the weight of that challenge. Whereas, if just keep writing tomorrow where I stopped, I might not work on the most important thing, but at least I get something done.

Any thoughts or suggestions?

But how can you do your work out immediately when you wake up and have to go to work? Wake up earlier? But you still have to sleep around 8 hours per night.. so you'd have to go to bed earlier, which gives you less time in the evening to do some hacking and other things you like. How can you pull this off? Go to work later?

There are still 24 hours in a day, doesn't really matter all that much in which order you do stuff when they still take the same amount of time.

Not all time is created equal.

it opens with "every time i'm home i'm with my kids" and then give an example:

- "today my [morning priority] was this blog, then i gave me a reward to play tennis" and

- "always get 8hours of sleep"

- "exercise in the morning"

...if i can always get 8h of sleep, always "be with my kids", write blog posts all morning (after the work out) and still have some time to myself to play tennis... i wouldn't be reading about getting things done.

The main problem everyone i know have is to conciliate work, loved one(s), hobbies, 8hour sleep. all in a 24h day.

and the only way to solve it is give up on two each day.

Would that nobody had told me about the 8 hours thing when I was so young. I pathologically set alarms before free days to currentTime + 8 * 60 minutes and go to bed alarmTime - 8 * 60 minutes, and I feel wrong all day if this is interfered with.

In fact, I find that my body can handle significant variation to the 8 hour rule. Knowing this doesn't help my obsession.

Work with people you love, doing stuff that feels like a hobby, with your kids helping. And sleep with those you love, as appropriate.

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