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Procrastination is flight, deadline is fight, freeze is staring at the screen (pmigdal.medium.com)
463 points by stared 43 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 113 comments



> From a distance, procrastination looks like a time management problem. There is growing evidence that it is rather an emotional management problem — a flight response.

It's eye opening how a lot of life struggles turn out to be an emotional management problem at their core: procrastination, addiction, stress.

I wish I had that perspective earlier in my life. It completely changes the solution space from trying random productivity tools to focusing on one's emotions and possibly getting into therapy.


Agreed. And furthermore, I am continuously realizing how much my bodily well-being affects my mental state.

I am not suggesting that exercise is the cure for depression, but when it comes to a normal "feeling low", I find that the solution often relates to the body: move, stretch or relax. Same with sleep. If I can't fall asleep I often just need to make myself aware of where I have tension in the body (https://kristiandupont.medium.com/cant-sleep-ask-yourself-wh...)

On a higher level, diet obviously means a lot and so does air quality. I put an Awair in my office recently and have realized that I wasn't airing out nearly enough. I was basically sitting in a cloud of CO2 which I now realize was also making me feel tired.


Exercise might not be a “cure” for depression, but it’s definitely an excellent treatment for it, potentially on par with pharmaceuticals:

https://www.psychcongress.com/article/evidence-exercise-anti...


In the theory of depression as an attractor state in a dynamical system[1], exercise would be one of many small cures for depression. To cure depression, one would likely have to combine several small cures, none of which would work on their own. For example: diet, exercise, amount of sleep, timing of sleep, pharmaceuticals, behavioural activation, cognitive distortions, social life, life circumstances, as well as any physical health issues which could be contributing to depression.

I no longer have depression, and it was a combination of small factors which did it for me.

1: https://astralcodexten.substack.com/p/ontology-of-psychiatri...


Totally agree with the small factors take: For me, it would be diet, exercise, amount of sleep, sleep time, behavioral activation, translating unhelpful to helpful thoughts, social life, life circumstances, minimizing tempting distractions and having bluetooth music stations available at all times helps tremendously.


Did the removal of thots have anything to do with the curing your depression?


A sense of humour didn't hurt.


Escaping noise pollution, having an empty calendar and removing the phone are 3 things that help me.


I cringe when I think about how I used to seriously consider nootropic drugs while consistently staying up past midnight and hitting snooze and begrudgingly dragging myself from my bed after ~6 hours of sleep.


This seems laughable. An "Awair", to aovid sitting in a cloud of CO2? So what, for millennia of human achievement, it was only by miracle that so many people could stay alert enough to think up anything while sitting in their personal clouds of suffocating CO2 prior to the invention of these office/home air monitoring tools? Really? Sounds like nonsensical faux cutting edge woo to me.


I see.


You get used to it after a while. I've been living in an area with extreme levels of outside air pollution (think Mumbai or Beijing, but much worse) for many years, so my windows are almost always closed shut. I have a CO2 meter and it reports an average of about 2000 ppm. I feel fine, and don't feel any difference to the normal level of 440 ppm. I'm pretty certain it would show on objective cognitive tests, but personally I really don't feel any difference.


This sounds seriously unhealthy. Consider finding different place to live if at all possible. Air pollution is a killer.


If I was in that situation I would consider opening the windows twice a day for 15 minutes, then running a good (and properly sized) air purifier on full blast for an hour.


The sibling comment is right, it doesn't help very much. The CO₂ level goes above 800 ppm (which is already considered unhealthy) in ~20 minutes, rises to ~2200-2400 ppm (depends on wind speed and atmospheric pressure) in the course of a couple of hours, and then just stays there for days on end.

I put all my pollution data into Grafana and it makes making decision when to open (or close) a window that much easier. (Yeah, you have to make a thought-out decision to not feel terrible. It's a whole ceremony.)


Depending on the size of your house/apartment, you'll use up that oxygen in a couple of hours and will be back at 1000+ levels. Plus, there must be some ventilation in OP's setup already, as the CO2 levels are at 2000, and without ventilation they'd just rise until he passes out...


The biggest threat in your case is the PM2.5

In Beijing, the difference before and after the air purifier was enormous in my own experience.


what hardware/software/data are you, or anyone else, using to get these readings?


WHAT???


CO2: Excellent point. After 4 hrs in 30m2, we bathe in 1100ppm. After a night, 1800ppm. Normal levels are 500-600. After living in Australia, I’ve always attributed their taller average to being more outdoors and having well-working ventilation standards for buildings. Low CO2 might do wonders for mental development.


The corollary to that is to understand that when you soothe a negative feeling with a short-term coping mechanism (distraction, drugs...), you prime yourself to feel more of the same in the future. Exposure to the negative feeling and learning to deal with it gradually is far more beneficial as the body learns that it is not so effective.

This is particularly applicable to anxiety-based issues such as OCD but it can help for a variety of problems


This idea rings familiar to me as someone who got into the stoicism trend, but then realized issues with it. The problem isn’t that your house fell down and you lost your job and now you can’t afford therapy, the problem is that you haven’t stopped to think how much worse it could be and how grateful you should feel about how things are right now.

If we can reframe bad management and unfulfilling work into an employee’s emotional problem, then suddenly everything is easier, isn’t it? A good worker takes their medication before coming in, and goes to therapy to learn how to be better at following their manager’s instructions, and takes more medication in the evening to feel good after a long day’s work. Well, I guess there’s nothing new under the sun, these things have been happening to some degree for a while, and especially self-medicating with things like weed and alcohol when not working.

Will having a majority-un-medicated workforce soon put a country at an economic disadvantage? Will the alternative become a cultural relic that some countries fight to preserve through regulation, the way France preserves its traditional cheeses?


The anglo-american repackaging of stoicism is precisely this: just a variation on hustle porn and blaming the individual. The same goes for mindfulness. Both of these industries (yes, they are industries) have been eagerly embraced by the private sector since they make fixing the mood of workers both a quantifiable goal and one where their own responsibility is no longer taken into consideration.

In We by Zamyatin and Brave New World, the non-medicated elements of society eventually rebel against the new order. In our case, the scope of medication is already starting to show its limits so I don't think we will get to the scenario you describe. This sort of life is just too inherently unsatisfying to be masked by meds, not to mention that workers now can directly see just how poor they are compared to their masters and just how much surplus the masters capture.


> The anglo-american repackaging of stoicism is precisely this: just a variation on hustle porn and blaming the individual.

Agreed. I spotted this right at the time when I saw stoicism beginning to be 'productized' via books, journals, podcasts and courses.


Ryan Holiday, who is an author of several stoicism books and even sells "memento mori" coins that you can keep on your person to remember that you will die, happens to be American Apparel's former marketing director.

Incidentally, I learned more from his earlier, non-stoicism book, "Trust Me I'm Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator." A prescient book for the current wave of media manipulation.


There’s differences between talk therapy and simply taking psychiatric medication, though.


I prefer to group the interventions based on their methodological intent. Meds and talk sound like they would have radically different outcomes, but if the core intention is just to paper over the worker's reluctance to work, they will tend to have similar effects and consequences over time.


But if all those things happen, that is a good response.

If your house fell down and you lost your job and now you can't afford therapy that does suck, but what are you going to do? Those things happened, you can either just fall into a crumbling mess or appreciate what you still have and focus on the things you can control from that.

Yes, I get what you are saying about management, but if you don't shift the focus onto yourself and self responsibility then you are still doomed yourself, you cannot change how the management react etc, what you can do is either 1) Make it known and try and change that system 2) Get the hell out of there.

Things that can only happen if you acknowledge the situation and take personal responsibility. You have mistaken the stoic framework for something that makes you powerless and a system that allows others to more easily control you.

Yes it could be used in the way you are mentioning but it is not at all meant that way, there are 'preferred indifferences' and a true practitioner of stoic would seek to change that system or remove themselves from it if they could, if they absolutely can't then using these techniques isn't so bad, because it's all you can do, but it would be right and preferred to fix this.


This is a fair defense of stoicism. It addresses my critique nicely.


This seems like an overly dismissive response to individualistic health fads like wellness. Clearly mental health is a widespread issue in this society and merits a widespread push for availability and affordability, and exacerbates problems lower on Maslow’s hierarchy. And besides, if the U.S. was a country that already had the wherewithal for top-down solutions at the scale of guaranteeing widespread access to affordable therapy, it would already be a country so much more advanced and friendlier to communal solutions than the one at present; one could imagine such a country has also made progress on other material concerns such as labor conditions and anomie resulting from the capitalist grind.


> I wish I had that perspective earlier in my life. It completely changes the solution space from trying random productivity tools to focusing on one's emotions and possibly getting into therapy.

Hear, hear. For me, it was also figuring out how to cut out unneeded aggravations from my life.


> cut out unneeded aggravations

Some people? There is a thin line between cutting out people who step onto you, and becoming misanthropic/associal. Since lockdowns I went from 60 friends to ~4, because I can’t stand them and I’ve come to realize their politics directly harm me. But now I’m alone. Working on this, but it is a very thin line.


Well, when it comes to work I think it pays to be a lot more ruthless with cutting out aggravations. But when it comes to friendships, I think the situation is a lot more gray. For me personally, as I've gotten older, I've found that it's rare for me to have close friendships with people who are too politically minded. It's a matter of practicality -- I find myself asking, can this person really hold enough space to tend to our friendship on an ongoing basis, or will it become lopsided and a real downer?

On the other side of that -- I've found that I've also begun to gravitate much more to folks who are either expressly apolitical or who otherwise are willing to set aside their politics and focus more on the people around them. Now, it's true that politics isn't just some purely abstract thing -- it's very concrete, and as you say, sometimes folks have politics that directly harm you and then you can't really maintain friendships with them.

But beyond that, I've gravitated much more to having close friendships with people who simply care about me, and that's it. Another thing I would say is that 4 friends -- if they're truly good, close friends, who will see you through thick and thin -- is quite a lot. I can count maybe 4-8 close friends who I could rely on to that extent, and I consider myself extremely lucky as many folks rarely find even 1-2. If you do have 4 close friends, perhaps consider the silver lining -- sure, you've pared down your circle of interaction, but that also gives you more energy to invest into the friendships that really matter and which sustain you.

My heart goes out to you regardless. That doesn't make this process simple. And having seen a lot of friendships drop in perhaps the same manner you have, I can say (perhaps as you too understand) that it really hurts. It stings. Even if I understand why it happens, and it all logically adds up, it really breaks my hurt. It's okay to feel heartbroken that way. Don't be too hard on yourself. This past year has been extremely hard on everyone. Best of luck.


You pay the price for your politics.


I don't know if this person is saying they disagree with their friends on politics or if the vitriol in their friends' political speech is harmful to them. If the latter, I sympathize: most political conversations today are so filled with hate that "direct harm" to listeners is not unreasonable to claim.


Most of the time, when someone's said something like "their politics directly harm me", it's something like "the policies implied by the positions this guy's professing (or directly advocated for) would have bad effects for me". Could be wrong, obviously- it's a pretty vague phrase. But I'm sympathetoc- if they hold a certain position, and cultivate a certain identity, and that makes certain other positions disgusting to them to the point they cut out friends- good for them, I guess, and I get that being alone isn't pleasant. But that's the price you pay for being the kind of person who responds that way.

I guess presumably he would have gotten new, less offensive friends if the governments of the world hadn't made it illegal.

(How'd he end up friends with these people in the first place?)


I see you getting downvoted for a profoundly true statement. These are sad times.


I think there's a case to be made for cutting out those things, especially ones that aren't directly visible, such as ambient noise.

Many people think you get used to it, and maybe you don't consciously notice it anymore, but I think that the permanent background noise to which many people are exposed in cities contributes to their stress levels. Pretty much everywhere they go, there's constant noise:

* random chatter / noises in the open office

* AC hum / vibrations / etc at the office

* traffic noise, while walking around or taking public transport

* random traffic noise / honks / etc at home if the apartment is close to a street and badly soundproofed


Yep. I work with ear protection on (of the sort you'd use for mowing the lawn) most of the time for precisely this reason. I've found my anxiety levels are much lower after several hours of wearing them.


Even before lockdowns, I found that my sanity levels went up significantly once I started moving to using Etymotic in-ear monitors. I used a fairly cheap pair for commuting and work [1]. The nice thing about them is that even if you don't have any music playing, they're effectively earplugs. And then if you do have music playing, you don't have to turn it up very loud to hear it well, so it's kinda a win win all around.

[1] https://www.etymotic.com/consumer/earphones/mk5.html


You read my mind! I moved out of a big city after lockdowns, and I realized that many of these little ambient noises or mental frictions which I had grown accustomed to -- it turns out that once I cut that out, it reduced my stress levels. I think there are a lot of parallels to draw from there to the workplace or other walks of life.


Figuring exactly this out in my early 20s. The problem is not the productivity framework, the problem is emotional.


> It completely changes the solution space from trying random productivity tools to focusing on one's emotions and possibly getting into therapy

Same thoughts here. I suspect no tomato-based super-agile time management technique has ever turned an inefficient person into an efficient one, long term.


Pomodoro works in theory but ultimately requires a lot of discipline because it's easy to just ignore the timer. Worse, maintaining half an hour of deep focus just doesn't work for some people, especially the types the article describes. Anyway, pomodoro's only advantage if you want to try to maximize the amount of productivity in a day without mentally bogging you down.

What worked best for me is low-overhead simplicity. A notebook. Make it routine to realistically scope out, jot down, divide and conquer tasks. Just a few minutes every morning. No schedule. Take the task and work. Whenever your brain tells you to take a break, just take a break. But just keep on looking at what you aimed to accomplish for the day. That way, you're just mentally thinking about the tasks and not some stupid timer or how you planned it all out on a calendar.

Ultimately, it's about managing emotions, but having this down helps because it clears your mind a little.


That sort of pomodoro stuff only works on unpleasant tasks that don't require too much thought or creativity


I haven't found that to be true. I have used it successfully at various points to help me stay focused on art projects or other work that I was choosing to do that should have been "fun" but that I was still procrastinating over. The two GUI software applications I've made that I consider "finished" (out of a dozen-plus incomplete) have Pomodoro journal pages in one of my notebooks.


Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.


Dune is such a great book.

For real though. I’ve had anxiety attacks and tried to put myself outside the situation like an observer. Just let the emotion wash over you but don’t react to it. It’ll pass and you’ll feel better and come to terms with the issue that induced the fear.


Devour fear, or be devoured.

I've struggled my whole life with procrastination, and this article really resonated with me as to why. I've only recently started forcing myself to act first, as best as I can, and accept and deal with the consequences.


I am in a similar situation. Lately I repeat to myself: "do not what you can, do what you must" to fight off my fight/flight response. It works about 40% of those situations that I was in.


"Father, the sleeper has awakened!"


Face Everything And Rise!


This is all true but but I've been recently been diagnosed with adult adhd in my mid-30ies and on a low dose of slow release Methylphenidate and it's all the difference between getting things done and procrastinating like hell. If you exhausted all the articles and nothing worked and you have big problems for years (like this: https://gekk.info/articles/adhd.html) give it a try. In the last weeks I managed to really learn in a structured way for the first time. Of course it's no magic solution to all your problems but it's a stark difference for me. I just want to leave that here as I've read these articles every other week and nothing sticked. Neither did counseling or talk theraphy - it helped but didn't solve the procrastination / time issues


As a person with ADHD - there is one more layer: why some things cause stress in the first place—in my case, sending official letters causes a PTSD-like panic reaction. Usually, I procrastinate. If I try too hard to get over procrastination, I freeze or fight (which ends up with a meltdown, sometimes as hard as one culminating with a migraine aura).

Only a few months ago, I started looking at it. It turns out that sending a letter is a multi-step process. From printing something, signing it, writing the address (I hate my handwriting), going to the post office (often too loud, with long waiting times), sending it (with a proper type of email). All with delayed feedback (a killer for ADHD-like motivation). All in a way that a SINGLE mistake (e.g. sending 2 copies instead of 3, page 5 being unsigned, a missed deadline, etc).

Yes, therapy won't solve it. I am meeting weekly with a therapist for emotional stuff (but who is virtually clueless about sensory processing issues related to Autism/ADHD) and a "Psychologist on the Spectrum" (it's her FB page) purely for talking about such matters.

Ad substances, in my case, Modafinil works better than Methylphenidate. Modafinil makes me focused while reducing anxiety.

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=25996353


What you are describing sounds like rejection sensitive dysphoria: https://www.additudemag.com/rejection-sensitive-dysphoria-an...

I struggle with it too and have not found a solution to it. There is a class of tasks which is really hard for me to get started on due to having failed at similar tasks in spectacular ways in the past.


100%. I was considered bright but lazy / performing below potential throughout my schooling and first years of work. In my thirties I was diagnosed with a combination of anxiety and ADHD and the prescribed medication is immensely helpful. I view younger years of frustration/boredom/hyperactivity as somewhat wasted and I wish that the adults in my life has realised what was happening when I was a child.

The physician who ultimately prescribed the medication informs me:

1. Methylphenidate aka Ritalin is not addictive (and I had no problem stopping it for some years when it made sense)

2. Probably every adult could benefit from its use at specific crunch times. (But not permanently unless you're actually diagnosed with ADHD)

The FUD I've experienced when I mention Ritalin always surprises me.


How does one get started with addressing those problems? Do I talk to a general practitioner? Are there specialists I should seek out?


Yep talk to your GP and they should be able to refer you (or they might feel comfortable assessing/prescribing without doing a referral).


I'm curious, what does that specific anxiety+ADHD combination mean for treatment, in your experience?

I'd imagine it could first of all be difficult to diagnose because the symptoms might occlude each other (i.e., 'getting important stuff done' despite the ADHD, thanks to the panic of failing something, up to a point) and also a challenge to medicate both at the same time, since I'd expect anything 'raising vigilance' to also cause anxiety and vice versa.


Yes, totally interlinked! I didn't even realise that "anxiety" fit what I was experiencing until after lots of counseling.

The doctor and psychologist I worked with prescribed a small dose of medication that affects multiple neurotransmitters. In addition I've found some mindfulness exercises and aerobic exercise helpful.


Same here. Diagnosed last year at 32 years old after a lifetime of struggle.

20mg instant release Methylphenidate makes an incredible difference. I can actually prioritize things properly and take care of family, housework, my body, and long term goals and all that before bedtime!

It used to be night after night doing the housework dead last at 2am or not doing it at all and experiencing marital strain.

Pretty life changing.


I have very similar story, it was mind-blowing to me how methylphenidate pharmacotherapy helped me not only with procrastination but also gave me capacity to work on anxiety/depression and interpersonal issues.

In no way I want to advertise mph as a silver bullet for such problems, but at least for some people it works like a charm.


unsolicited tip: Find your minimum effective dose and do some unmedicated work days too.


interesting - why would it be useful? my doctor said it's better to keep the dosage mostly constant because there are studies that switching on and off actually could increase the addiction and it's better for the brain to have not to adapt to these changes every other day.


Accounting for all the factors that need account is above my pay grade, so I'm not sure I can comment. Actual medical guidance is often considered more reliable than random internet advice.

That said...let me start with my premises. (1) I don't think risks are very high/unknown, and this point (2) but let's face it... an adhd regimen is an "uppers" regimen. So... my bias is moderacy. At the least, it encourages you to be specific in your aims. Are you trying to be more productive 9-5, minimize pathological behaviours, or are taking uppers to handle that 9th or 12th hour of work.


Okay, sure I understand. At the moment it's really going from being a mess to managing life to that extend that I can at least be an mediocre student that passes exams and actually albeit late finishing some projects at work that require some upfront planning and reading. It's all pretty new for me and also working on getting exercise, relaxation and planning to work. The plan is to make a longer drug holiday 6 months in at the moment. But your are correct it's something to be careful with - but I've struggled with these issues all the way from middle school and I had so much trouble, lost opportunities, lost health, lost money due to messing simple things up so at the moment I'm just thankful that I have a tool in my toolbox that helps with these issues.


I didn't mean to be negative. A tool for a job is a good mindset.


Goal is to have a working brain every waking hour.


I do believe I have a form of ADHD. How does one get a confirmed diagnosis. I don't think mine is bad in such a way that interfere with my duties. But often at work, if I'm assigned a project or a task that isn't clear, I find myself spinning and ignoring other duties untill I have built enough momentum and clarity for the new task. Is this a symptom of ADHD?


A litmus test is "is harm coming to the individual?"

I'm diagnosed and experience exactly what you describe, but there is also a decade of severe underemployment, risky impulse behaviour, big financial hits, marital strain and a litany of health problems.

The harm can be pretty subtle despite being obvious in retrospect.


Not to say that one definitely doesn't have it if these life problems aren't present, but they are for me. You don't go seeking help if it's a matter of sometimes you're spinning your wheels, but generally you've never had really problematic life issues. I haven't paid taxes in 5 years, because I've never been financially comfortable for long enough to get it done, because I keep getting fired from jobs, in part because I can't consistently show up on time, and in part because about 6 months into a new job things catastrophically diminish in novelty, difficulty, or urgency, or a number of other things including being very susceptible to burnout.


I've recently learned that my procrastination is an emotion issue. It turns out that I don't like processing bad outcomes, so, ironically, my brain figures if it just doesn't do something then I'll never have to deal with the outcome.

That, of course, is a logical fallacy. I procrastinate doing taxes because I don't want to find out I owe a bunch of money, but not filing them will have even worse outcomes.

I literally have to convince myself that it's better for me to find out bad news sooner rather than later and that worse outcomes will happen if I don't do something.

I've started using a whiteboard and adding items that need to be done. I can replace the fear of bad news by a good feeling of checking something off the todo list on the whiteboard. I'm trying to train myself to get a good feeling from getting things done to overcome the fear the drives my procrastination.


You should change your tax deduction. There is no penalty for overpaying, and it's much nicer to receive a bunch of money every year than to possibly owe it. You won't miss it on your paycheck.


> There is no penalty for overpaying

Present value of money...


Opportunity costs hugely outweigh the present value of money in this case. Especially given current risk-free rates.


Why would I give the government an interest-free loan when they could give me one instead?


Thanks for the idea, I use a notebook to keep track (and hopefully cross out) todo items, but a whiteboard might be an even better idea. More visible, and more flexible...

In my case, I have to battle the fallacy that, no matter how good it feels to cross out an item from the todo list, there will always be another item that follows, whereas if I don't do anything, then there will never be another item in my life :|


I learned way too late that I am procrastinating things that I already know, based on my experience, would take me forever to complete due to my perfectionism. And these don't necessarily have to be complicated tasks, but tasks that require choosing one option over the other, with several variables involved. The more I know, the older I get, the more experienced I become, the harder it is to make a good choice. It's a curse. But once I'd learned the emotional reason behind it, it has become much more manageable.


I found that something I didn't know what harder to procrastinate but doing my fifth RSA key derivation this month is so boring to do by hand for an assignment.

Rigging a PDC in Unreal Engine, writing some python code for a simulator or writing a function for OpenFaaS and all of a sudden, I have no trouble getting to it right away.


Same for me. Extending an internal API with simple queries took me half a day to get my mind around to. Learning about a warehouse system with a bazillion schemas, toggles and cogs and endless conditionals can while a few days of mine and I came out feeling happy and content, and wanted to do more, nonstop.


I resonate with this sentiment. My current conclusion to fix prediction paralysis is that you have to let yourself accept the fact that your initial designs will be kinda crappy, instead focus on iteration. Don't aim at perfection, aim to maximize the value of each iteration.


Yes, that's one of the tools in the shed. The other one is to look at my free time as a function of money. If the choice I am facing can somehow be correlated with money, too, then I decide if the time I'd spend on perfectioning that choice can otherwise be mitigated with throwing some money at it. Surprisingly it often is.

Need a new MacBook, one with a best price/performance combo? Or should I build a PC myself instead and Hackintosh it? Will it take me 15 hours of research to find the answer and another 10 to build and set it up? Well, my 25 hours are worth a lot, so nowadays I just get one that is way better and more expensive than I'd normally fall for and be done with it. Knowing I saved so much time is enough to rationalize the choice and thus avoid buyer's remorse.


I do not believe deer freeze in front of an incoming car because of instinctive reaction because I actually had the experience of being in front of an incoming van and truck and initially froze.

The van incident happened because I was used to cross the road every day from the school to take a bus on the other side. One day I saw the bus coming so I started running without looking, until I looked and saw a van coming at 100Km/hour and froze.

The reason I froze is because those things are extremely fast and if you cross the road and don't expect those things it takes time to react and understand what is happening. This time could be less than the time it takes for the vehicle to hit you.

When I understood that I was going to be killed I jumped to the middle of the road like a ninja in both cases. In the van case the van hit my shoe but nothing serious happened.With the truck I reacted sooner.

I don't consider freeze response common when people stare in front of a piece of paper or in front of a wall. Usually what happens is that people fly away and fantasize with their minds.

This way they avoid the painful reality and can dream about having sex or being rich,famous,traveling or whatever that makes them feel good, just like the poor Indians do with Bollywood movies.

In fact creative people need to dream a significant part of their work time. From the outside they look they do nothing, like Stephen Hawking doing nothing physical, but their minds are working.


I had an experience with a truck almost hitting me aswell.

It’s strange because it happened in a place where i travel regularly and I was overconfident.

The truck appeared from behind a bush at an angle I didn’t expect.

It honked and I froze, otherwise I’d have stepped infront of it.

Anyways it taught me never to cross a red light, even when I’m 100% sure that it’s safe, because in these cases you need only 1 mistake, and it’s over.


> I do not believe deer freeze in front of an incoming car because of instinctive reaction

Isn't one of the biggest difference between humans and animals that animals always act on instinct and naturally so? Do animals do anything that can be considered not instinct?


>> Do animals do anything that can be considered not instinct?

All the time. Animals accumulate new behaviors through repetition, reward and corrective interactions. They also play. See dogs, cats and any other mammals humans have relationships with.


I’ve been procrastinating grad school to the extent that I spend more time these days feeling anxious and ashamed about grad school than actually doing any grad school. Very helpful to hear this message now — Thanks Piotr!


right there with you


here as well. And worst thing is: every month there is a paper, for which I could write one page on its faults... and I'm struggling to produce anything, because everything "doesn't work" (in the sense that it can't reproduce/best the crappy papers of the past 5 years).


And you can also freeze when you should fight. With only 1 or 2 all-nighters to pull off before finishing my degree, I just froze and couldn't write a single word. I would stare at the screen not being able to type even one more character for those reports. Ended up submitting the incomplete versions knowing that they aren't good enough for a pass.

That's how I droppped out of university with only two days to go.


> I would stare at the screen not being able to type even one more character for those reports

Can confirm. My first job was as a Junior DevOps Engineer, turned out that all of my tasks were related to creating reports and maintaining the clusterfuck of a system which was creating these reports.

Didn't want to quit, because "it could get better", "hang in there" etc.

I was then asked to plan a project to create a new reporting system for the whole corp. My brain hates Excel sheets, but that's what I had to fill out for this project. I knew that it was too late when I experienced the same thing you described: Freezing instead of fighting. Ended up in a minor burn-out and got fired.

Now I work as a Linux System Engineer in a company and team which actually values my skills and gives me interesting tasks.


I like the take here, but I think it's also worth mentioning that procrastination is also an adaptive mechanism and can be a positive thing.

As humans we have limited time and energy, and procrastination can be a signal that we are using our time and energy on the wrong project or activity.

It can also be productive time for our subconscious to come up with creative directions for our {software architecture, novel, movie, music production, etc} when we are not sure what direction to consciously go in.


The problem is that the procrastination is triggered from the subconscious realization that much of the work we have to do is nonsensical or the result of societal barriers being there because there is too much competition and too many other people around.

For instance, in all of the steps needed to get job X, you have to expend effort on classes and activities in school that often do not have an impact on your actual life circumstances or intellectual world in and of themselves, but are necessary if you are to compete against other students for limited spaces in specific universities. Once in university, you have to continue a similar if albeit less absurd dance that is necessary to get a recognized certification that in turn is only needed because the employer has to sift through many applications and doesn't have time to evaluate you as an individual.

In a service based economy, there also comes the realization that the result of your work is often in the most fundamental terms an attempt to funnel some surplus your way through a product or service that is often superfluous, redistributive, and/or reliant on its marketing. Or the job itself only exists because other humans are in a state of competition or artificial scarcity. The proportion of people who actually create non-virtual wealth or provide truly essential services is fairly low. In the end, it's pretty uncommon to have a job that only gives you autonomy and inherent joy in the task themselves but also the sense that you are making a tangible non-redistributive contribution. In the crab bucket, only a small portion of the work serves to better the human condition in a genuine, direct manner.

Of course, there are many exceptions to this, and plenty of people are no doubt very satisfied with their occupations. But there is something about modern life in general that short-circuits the adaptiveness of procrastination you describe by providing only tasks that should ideally be procrastinated forever on.


Fair - we all have obligations that would be better to do now rather than later, yet we procrastinate. I understand that.

However, in your examples, again - I think procrastination provides a useful signal. If you already have your sights set on "job X" while in university, and you find yourself procastinating all your assignments - maybe it's time to re-evaluate your desire to have job X (maybe it came from your parents or societal pressure rather than an internal desire) and be more flexible in your goals.

It's a bit idealistic, but I do feel that even in modern society, people can find fulfilling work even at the lower pay-grades - and if you're continually procrastinating all your tasks that are required for you to get that work, that is likely a useful sign that it is not the fulfilling work you are looking for.


I've come to realize the same thing: it's not all bad and at least makes sense in some regard.

If you think of your will power as a limited resource for example, with blocking out distractions an actively depleting activity (not sure what the latest results on that are, afaik it's a generally valid model that sometimes doesn't hold up), it makes sense to wait with starting your work until the point where distractions simply aren't a viable option anymore. Basically, you conserve energy by making it easier for yourself to stay on task, by raising the 'importance gradient' until 'action selection' becomes effortless.


I'll add that a skill in life is sensing from the get go what activity will bring more excitement than burden and say no or yes accordingly. You end up filling your days with joyful stuff or waiting to think what next good thing you'll do.


Reduce work in progress. Similar to Dune WIP is the mind killer. Reducing WIP means you get more full outcomes and feel better about yourself.


I like playing a paper airplane building exercise with my teams when I get a chance and it fits with what's been going on in the team. Shows the benefits of limiting WIP real nice.

This is the first video and you'll find the second in there too: https://youtu.be/KSsWm1LxEQQ


This looks fun. Going to try this out at work. Thanks.


I have been pondering the state of being in my head, which I noticed I often end up in “by default”. It takes effort to refocus of my mind out of what seems to be somewhere in the frontal lobe out to the rest of the head and eventually the whole body, but it is possible and seems to be worthwhile, calming and (anecdotally) correlating with positive physiological effects.

Unlike Piotr, I didn’t make a connection between this state and flight and/or freeze response—this is an interesting idea that might adjust my understanding of this phenomenon. This article contains a lot of food for thought.


My biggest issue is starting on a task. I am very good at To-Do lists, breaking down the tasks, time boxing etc etc..but when it comes to doing the actual task (and this can be anything) I get the feeling like my hands a tied. Its like my brain saying "no i am not going to let you work on that".


Same here.

I’m experimenting with the following method:

I know exactly what I do to avoid working gaming, youtube). I could literally waste a whole day in one sitting switching between csgo and random youtube videos.

I know doing that will get me nowhere.

I know doing the tasks may help me get somewhere.

So whenever I have to decide what to do next, I look at the task at hand, and investigate how I feel. If I feel weird, I’ll think through whats wrong. My current task makes me afraid I’ll break something. Then I think trough, that even if I break code, I have backups, so nothing can really go wrong.

I’ve been sitting for like 10 minutes getting to the end of it, then I’ve been able to ease into doing the task.

It all comes down into not letting myself instinctively jump into some instant gratification, but being brave enough to think myself to the bottom of the issue, then it will no longer be a beast that I want tk avoid, but just “well this is what I do next, and it’s fine”


This is my problem, to a nearly pathological degree. I don't want to go to bed at night, I don't want to get up in the morning, etc.

For the morning I have sleep as android as a backup, which requires me to go to the bathroom and scan a QR code to disable the alarm - effectively forcing me out of bed.

For actually doing what I am procrastinating on, I have a dumb-watch where I can set an alarm for 10 minutes. I find that I can usually get started that way, and when the 10 minutes are up I don't want to stop (see previous pathological state). However, on occasion I will and that is totally fine too - if you expect to follow up on the deals you have made with others, you should follow up on the deals you made with yourself.


If it's that dire, you could probably try to investigate the root problem instead of devising workarounds


I read this in high school (mid 80's) and it has helped me ever since. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Eat-That-Frog-Important-Things/dp/1...

The advice is essentially; do the hardest thing on your todo list first and the rest is a breeze.

It's no magic bullet, and it still takes willpower. But if you persevere and it becomes as habit, you'll find yourself procrastinating less.


I'm the opposite. I dive right into the doing part and fail the planning part.


If procrastination is flight, I'm a seasoned pilot.


On the related article of the ADHD tech stack. There’s a great app for windows called Lazar Focus [0]. It does time tracking at an OS level. It is made by a fellow HN user and blogger: CP Botha.

- It tracks time spent in applications, as well as which browser tabs etc.

- can block the opening of specific url, as well as .exe.

- can export all data to a CSV

[0] https://lazarfocused.com/


I wish this had been known and disseminated more widely ten years ago. I don't know if it would improve outcome back then, but I think I would have a better idea where to start.

I feel my life outcome and success depends on emotional regulation more than anything else.


> I feel my life outcome and success depends on emotional regulation more than anything else.

Indeed. It wouldn't surprise me that assuming a person is of at least average intelligence, emotional regulation is the greatest predictor of success. Not to be held back by one's own demons is a big step towards success.


I do very much agree with the idea that procrastination is an emotional problem but what is the solution?

I think of it like this: If i sit and watch youtube all day, that is a fine, comfortable day, nothing bad will happen at least not in the immediate and in the most part not that much in the longer term, unless I have something that absolutely needs to get done as it is critical, although in general i would have gotten that done if that is the case. The problem is that it is easy to waste life away doing this.

But if the task is say I am redecorating my house. The resistance comes up, because say I need to order something, do I order this one or that one? which is best, and if i order it, maybe I have delivery issues, maybe it comes on the wrong day, a day I am not home, maybe it comes and i don't like it, maybe it arrives and I try and set it up but I do it wrong and i damage it etc.

Doing something gives me the opportunity to achieve something but it also gives me the opportunity for way more to go wrong, it's very simple, the more things I do, the more things that are going to go wrong and the more 'painful' that is going to be... so unless i feel like I have to do it, why do it ? I could just watch netflix all day, this is the issue.

Which is why I like Tim Urbans Ted talk so much and it reminds me of this: https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&c...

Basically we are going to die and don't have that much time to waste. I think realising that might help somewhat, because then it gives me a kick of the right type of motivation, sitting watching youtube all day means nothing in my life will happen and i won't get to do all this stuff and then I will be gone. Something like that seems like it could be the only/best way to motivate yourself in the face of this, knowing you are actively going to have to choose to do things which then means things are going to hurt.

Basically to do anything, you have to accept you are going to be hurting yourself, so you have to make the hurt of not doing it worse than the potential hurt of doing it.


Very interesting paper. I hope to see more about psychology and self dev I the futur here. It’s the root of a successful journey.


This stuff is all a little like rock paper scissors in my life during the pandemic.




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