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Living on 24 hours a day (justindfuller.com)
388 points by iamjfu 13 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 179 comments

I've recently been working on breaking my bad habit of getting home from work each day, taking out my phone, and then looking up 4 hours later to realize all my free time for the night has been consumed by The Algorithm. It's been pretty rough going so far. I find it particularly soul-crushing because I do have things that I consciously want to do during that time, like write music and film short films, but those things take effort and commitment, so instead I spend night after night doomscrolling Twitter/Reddit/YouTube/HN.

I am hopeful, though, that I can break out of it. Last night, I even put together a little song. Sure, I only spent an hour on it, but that was an hour that I didn't spend on the Internet! I'm looking forward to the day I can say with certainty that I live on 24 hours a day.

A few weeks ago I realized I had spent half of my life with high speed Internet, and half without. I tried to think of all the memorable experiences I'd had with computers, and pretty much every one I could think of[1] were from the pre-high speed Internet era. Most were from before having any Internet.

I mentioned this to a similar aged friend, and he thought about it and said it applied to him too.

Which leads to the question: Why am I spending so much time on the Internet? I spend a lot more time on the computer. Where is it going and why am I no longer enjoying it?

What did I do pre-Internet?

- Played games. Lots and lots of them. When I was younger I often felt I had played too many games and bemoaned the time lost. Looking back now at so many good experiences I had with games, I don't regret it one bit. I should get back into playing games (I stopped a long time ago).

- Wrote code for fun. Wrote simple silly games. Wrote programs to produce the Mandelbrot fractal. Today I write code to help me solve problems, but not for fun.

- Toyed with programs like POV-Ray

- Generally explored interesting SW

What do I do today on the computer?

- Read articles

- Write code to solve problems (automate boring tasks, improve my web site, etc)

- Email

- Productivity related stuff (TODO management, finances, etc).

- Looking up stuff (Google Maps, Yelp, Stackoverflow)

- Shopping, online banking, paying bills, scheduling medical appointments, booking flights, etc.

I'd say perhaps 90% of that time is using the browser. Getting a consistent interface is pretty much an experience killer.

I've certainly learned a lot with all that reading. And my code I write really does solve problems. But none of it is fun or memorable.

Conclusion? I traded enjoyable experiences for utility. It was not a good trade.

[1] And I could think of many!

This sounds more like you've just moved from a kid without responsibility to an adult with responsibility.

Spending a lot of time reading articles or on HN is very much not being an "adult with responsibility", IMO. Nor is much of the coding I'm doing to solve problems.

Most adults I personally know who live fulfilling lives are not doing much of these. They don't spend 90% of their discretionary free time on the browser. They play games.

Living your life based on others' opinions of what constitutes maturity is a good prescription of not living a meaningful life.

You have a mental energy budget. We all know you can't effectively code 16 hours a day, coding takes up a lot of mental budget. Similarly "good" hobbies takes up a lot of mental budget. If you spend that at work your hobbies will be boring, if you spend that on your hobbies your work will suffer. Some people have more budget, some people make choices at work where they get tasks with lower mental budget ie the "9-5" people, while others spend it all on work and look for hobbies requiring little mental budget.

I was with you until the 'play games part'

Is not wasting time playing games the same as wasting time browsing stuff online? it's all mindless entertainment and distraction.

I don't think so. Games -especiall when you get introduced first to the concept- are tonns of unique experience, logic and puzzle and bonding with other people and experimenting and exploiting and race for a win.. just to scratch the surface. Reddit on the other hand is mindless scrolling and infinite low hanging dopamine fruit where you can't remember what did you read but can't play games anymore because it's gratification is not instant enough.

In the same way that watching a TV series or a movie is mindless distraction [0], or going for a hike or a road trip is just an "escape" from normality. Reducing experiences to their fundamental value [1] devoids them of any joy they might have.

[0] Not all games are solo mobile games; a good chunk of my gaming time is spent playing online multiplayer games with friends.

[1] cooking is a chore; it's a requirement for being a healthy adult. That doesn't mean I can't enjoy the act of doing it.

“[~~~~~] is a chore; it's a requirement for being a healthy adult. That doesn't mean I can't enjoy the act of doing it.”

This is probably the most important take away in the thread for living a more fulfilling life.

> Is not wasting time playing games the same as wasting time browsing stuff online? it's all mindless entertainment and distraction.

That was why younger me used to think this:

> When I was younger I often felt I had played too many games and bemoaned the time lost.

Present me realized that if, 20+ years later I still have such fond memories of playing those games, then no - they weren't a waste.

Now it does probably depend on personality and the types of games you play. I don't think I'd think so fondly if all I did was play Tetris for hours and hours.

I'm not suggesting this is true for everyone and everyone would do better playing games. But I do realize that whatever I replaced games with was not even close to fulfilling.

Same with novels, TV shows and movies. I'm fairly selective of the ones I watch/read, and so I have good memories of them as well. If I can't find any interesting ones, I don't watch. Whereas if you just browse Netflix and pick whatever is appealing to fill the time - yeah, probably not a good idea.

Exactly what I thought too. I was where op has described, I appeared to slit in there naturally and before I even know the job ate away all my motivation and productivity.

Today I code games for fun, read lengthy articles about irrelevant things I care about and so on. I focus boring work on small time frames in between.

Hey, I wanted to pitch in to say I've been through the same train of thought the past 3-6 months. After realising that I've had access to high speed internet for the past 20 years and analysing why I'm feeling progressively worse with my usage of it.

I came to the same conclusion: even though browsing through HN, Reddit and so on for the past 10-12 years has been immensely useful for some parts of my life (some hobbies, my profession, very interesting articles I got exposed to) I noticed that the past 3-4 years I have been very unhappy with my consumption.

It got worse after I stopped to analyse it, I noticed these past months that I'm actually addicted to the loop of instant reward that reading something passably interesting pushes me to. Forcing myself to not read HN or my favourite subreddits for a day or two causes very similar symptoms of withdrawal that I had when quitting smoking, actually it's a pretty good parallel to me: if I use it I feel like crap and guilty afterwards, if I don't use it I feel like crap and unfulfilled.

It's been a really hard realisation, hard and scary to be honest.

I don’t know if you’re still in the market for solutions, but in case you are: I’ve been in a similar spot, and found an RSS reader to be the answer.

You can filter Reddit/HN feeds, so that they sync twice per day, and only grab up to N posts per sync. Over time, you add an interesting feed here and there until your collection of feeds is providing you with more signal than HN/Reddit, and you can trim N down to like 3-5.

RSS is a human-respecting interface, because you don’t miss anything if you don’t read it for a month. Like a magazine subscription, the unread articles simply pile up on the coffee table, and you can either choose to blow through them one day or toss them all out at once.

I think that sense of control and ownership is liberating, in any case it feels like a healthier relationship to information. Good luck!

It was much worse for me when I used RSS feeds. Before, if I didn't go to a site for N days, I would miss some content. With an RSS reader, the backlog can grow fast. I recall I once spent a lot of time culling feeds, and was a bit shocked that even after culling them, it was still taking a large chunk of my life. Eventually, I realized the stress of figuring out how to manage it to suit my personality was not worth it, and I nuked the whole thing.

Years later, I did find a partial solution. I set up a bot to post the articles in RSS feeds as posts in Diaspora. One bot per feed. So I'd subscribe to these bots and they'd show up in my feed. I don't know why, but viewing them through the Diaspora interface removed the desire for me to "catch up". I just log in once in a while[1], scroll down a little, and that's it.

Still, I don't think managing it very well would solve the problems in my original content. Even after reducing it to feeds I'm really interested in on topics I really care about - I'm still consuming it to fill time, for the most part. The practical gains I get from it (e.g. learning something I can apply elsewhere, or that changes my world view) are rare, and not worth the large amount of time reading. If I get pleasure out of it, it's considerably more muted than just reading a novel. I have good memories of reading certain novels even decades later. I have no good memory of reading an article.[2]

Don't get me wrong - I love RSS. But its use needs to be controlled.

[1] It can really be a while. I haven't logged in for months.

[2] OK, maybe I can think of an article or two. As opposed to dozens of novels.

I agree that most articles are meh. In fact, most “things” are meh, statistically speaking (novels included).

Finding things that are good (for you) is a hard search problem. You can approach solving it in the same way you’ve solved finding good novels: Good authors write good novels. Good authors tend to hang out with other good authors, and give each other shout outs. Good reviewers who like your favorite author probably like other people that you would like. The analogy goes on.

On the topic of quality: Novels at least have to get through a publisher. But publishers need to make money and deal flow, so some crap gets through. News has to go through an editor but they have similar issues. Sometimes there really isn’t anything worth reading that has been published in the last $period_of_time, but the paper and ink demands some words.

For this reason, I think even higher quality than average “zeitgeist” news like HN or classic news sources are barely worth engaging with beyond a headline level.

You can tame them with aggressive enough filtering. So that you get most of the good (for you) stuff and avoid most of the bad (for you) stuff. But eventually you aggregate the subset of sources you care about, and cut out the aggregator. There’s no other way to get a higher signal:noise ratio, than to create your own “periodical”.

Finally, I think one’s relationship to the UX of the RSS reader has a big impact on how one feels about it. Some people are compulsive inbox zero types. But is the number really that important? Why is it there? For example, my podcast app doesn’t tell me how many episodes of This American Life Ive missed since 2021, it just shows me the last two, and I can scroll for more. Zero pressure or FOMO (for me). I think finding a reader interface that works for you is a critically underrated aspect of the RSS experience.

So yes, totally agreed that naked RSS is in itself insufficient, but I would defend RSS as an essential primitive of any long-term-sustainable solution, IMO.

Yes! Thanks for the tip, I sorely miss my old RSS feeds, was an avid RSS user even before Google Reader was available, the web just changed and RSS didn't seem to be a thing anymore for a while...

Any recommendations on good readers?

I’ve been using a self hosted miniflux instance, and I’m pretty happy with it. The fundamentals of how it’s implemented are quite sound.

I do find myself wishing there were more ways to organize / curate the feed views, and I think about it often enough that I’ll probably maintain a fork one day.

RSS readers are remarkably simple things, it might even be a fun project to hack one together for yourself. :)

A lot of those utilities have been dehumanised.

Instead of calling a doctor's office, we're fighting a badly built online scheduler. Obsessively scrutinising restaurant reviews on GMaps takes away from the subtle excitement of flaneuring. Reflexively reaching for Wikipedia as soon as something not immediately known pops up in a conversation kills it immediately.

It's an empty life.

Luckily, it's easy to simply not do many of these things once you're aware of them. Email is near compulsory to function, Yelp reviews are not.

> Instead of calling a doctor's office, we're fighting a badly built online scheduler.

I'm not sure where you live but a badly built online scheduler would be a huge improvement over calling my doctor's office. You can call to book an appointment but the only times they have are for 3 weeks away, which for many issues is useless. If you're in "urgent" need of a doctor you can call at 8am, join a queue of everyone else sand hope you get a same day appointment. I've had maybe 50/50 luck in getting same day appointments even in "high risk" situations (I'm asthmatic and get the occasional chest infection), and the experience of dealing with the practice staff seems to be universally poor. You're being triaged by an admin member of staff, who for some reason always seem to be the pettiest power tripping people, with a super tight window to actually get seen, and God help you if have the audacity to call at 8:30 or 9am to ask.

> Email is near compulsory to function, Yelp reviews are not.

Yelp/Google/apple reviews serve as a great filtering device when you're in a new place, just like TripAdvisor/lonely planet/Michelin guides did before them. It's been almost 50 years since the lonely planet guides started, the age of wandering into q new place completely blind has been long gone, but that doesn't mean there aren't still experiences to be had, and the current set of tools allows for more people to experience the best of what somewhere has to offer

> I'm not sure where you live but a badly built online scheduler would be a huge improvement over calling my doctor's office.

Fair point. I'm lucky to live in a place where I face no such issues. My experiences are not broadly applicable.

Broadly speaking though, digital schedulers offer no flexibility and offer the wrong choices. Can be a doctor. Or an optician. Hairdressers. A human can squeeze you in somewhere. Maybe reshuffle something. The person on the phone can book an appointment with the right person. A scheduler gives me hard time slots and sometimes makes me choose between a series of specialists, none of whom I know. Computer says no. A human says maybe.

> Yelp/Google/apple reviews serve as a great filtering device

I see them as shit/not shit filters at best. And that I can tell by checking the menu and peering inside. Clueless tourists telling me that X serves _authentic_ {local dish} tells you nothing. It's the blind leading the blind. And let's not even get in to gamed reviews.

> Computer says no. A human says maybe.

A human says no, but with some social engineering you can often convince it to change its mind. A computer also says no, but with some technical engineering you can often convince it to change its mind.

Saying "please" over the phone is easier than gaining access to their database.

In addition, a human might know that a regular client only uses half of the time slot and that your case is quick one. Patch it up and go. And many places have a buffer for important cases. A human might place you there. Or maybe, by pure coincidence, the person you seek an appointment with feels like working a little longer and will take you on outside of the normal schedule.

It's fascinating how flexible human interactions are, when you're spending a lot of time with rigid computers.

A human can also just say no because they don't like your name. Goes both ways.

Couldn’t have put it better myself.

There are rarely recognized negative factors associated with having ultra high bandwidth instant response impulse satisfaction on tap.

I used to read a book a day. I used to ponder curiosities in more depth until I could piece together conclusions from library visits and talking to people f2f or on the phone; long held interests and sustained human relationships would oftentimes result as a side effect. I used to spend a lot more time outdoors.

There are trade offs to instantaneous information access and I am going to try and mitigate them as a belated New Year resolution.

I’m sick of this being reduced to “instant impulse satisfaction”.

The OP mentions video games. 20 years ago (and today too by most people) that would have been derided as “instant impulse satisfaction”. But apparently it was much more meaningful than using a browser.

A lot of time is wasted on things that are in no way experienced as “satisfying”. It is instant but not satisfying.

I would venture a guess that it has more to do with procrastination than it has to do with “instant satisfaction”. It’s easier to procrastinate by reading news articles than by picking up the guitar (hey, the browser is right there).

Another problem which this does not explain is the time one spends writing lengthy responses and topics. That is not really “instant” in any way. It takes effort. And it might not be fun.

This just looks like some kind of religious thing in secular disguise. People who feel guilty that they are (allegedly) having “sinful fun”.

Seems like you've misunderstood the grandparent comment. It's not 'sinful fun' - it's not fun at all. That's the point. We've traded fun and memorable activities for doom scrolling.

I did not.

As the author of the comment in question: You did.

Write better next time.

Before internet, I would read a lot of books and magazines. Also, when I was a math undergraduate, I would work a lot.

Nowadays, I have the hardest time to focus. I'd love to regain my past ability to focus.

> Played games. Lots and lots of them

I spend as much time playing games now (as an adult) as another person might do watching TV or on Instagram/tabloid media, and probably 1/3 of that time is spent playing multiplayer games with friends I've had for years who live in different places that I can't just hop in the car and go visit.

My coding experience has changed though; I work in video games so I spend my day doing "creative" coding and have almost 0 interest in continuing that outside of work. Intetestingly when I was a teenager I had little to no interest in studying languages or literature; all i wanted to do was code and play games. Now that I am "forced" to code all day, I look forward to reading, watching movies and seeing shows; all the things I was forced to do as a kid for school.

> I traded enjoyable experiences for utility. It was not a good trade.

I was looking at QWERTY keyboard options for my iPad when I realized, "if I'm doing something on this that requires that level of typing, I've made a mistake".

Have been working through this myself.

I built https://retrohacker.github.io/wikiscroll partially as a habit breaker.

I noticed I use social media (mostly) for information discovery. I asked myself what information I’m trying to discover and worked backwards to a healthier relationship with that discovery mechanism from there. Ended up with Wikipedia and then tried to build a similar mechanism as social media scrolling on top.

It’s an alternative to doom scrolling social media for me, where the fun facts are actually fun, little to no social outrage, and there isn’t any FOMO - the same content will always be there tomorrow.

Brilliant! I'm placing a link right next to one I have for https://www.locserendipity.com/

This is great! I was just thinking about an RNG for books a few weeks back.

I also built http://audile.app for music - it’s the same idea, Math.random on top of Deezer’s music collection.

This is so cool! I'm definitely going to share this with my social groups. I am definitely guilty of using information seeking as a form of procrastination- I feel as though as long as I am learning I am not wasting my time but without the implementation of a to do list I slowly stop getting anything done besides reading in depth about different topics.

i enjoy your project , thank you

> I find it particularly soul-crushing because I do have things that I consciously want to do during that time, like write music and film short films, but those things take effort and commitment, so instead I spend night after night doomscrolling Twitter/Reddit/YouTube/HN.

The things that you want to do might be too difficult to begin. Some part of your brain doesn't know that you can write music or make films successfully enough to gain any reward. The mental hurdle is very big if you just stare at a blank sheet music.

Instead, start with something smaller and more structured. Take some lessons, for instance, and do assignments which you know will lead to some form of product.

I did a cool experiment a few years ago called "Song Bits". I used to write a lot of music but can't get anything done-done anymore, so I set this challenge: Write a snippet of music every day for a month.

The parameters were very strict:

    * target ~30 seconds in length
    * solo piano only
    * no post production
    * spend ~30 minutes of effort per day
I was really happy with the results, and it was fun!

This is the way -- regular consistent effort. It adds up quite fast.

I have a goal of reading 5 book pages every day. One might say that it does not matter whether you read 50 news articles or one book, but I feel greater satisfaction from reading a full book than from reading 50 articles.

And cut off the free dopamine sources. Make your phone's screen black and white. Use an extension to block Twitter, reddit, YouTube and HN. Learn to be bored again like when you were young.

> powersnail "start with something smaller"

> iratewizard "Learn to be bored"

Spot on! And the final ingredient: build habits!

Atomic Habits (I know, I know) has some great techniques. The two I have used successfully are:

- Glue a new habit to the end of an existing habit (e.g. meditate after brushing your teeth)

- Set a time, day (and if required, location) for the task

> Glue a new habit to the end of an existing habit

Thanks for the suggestion. This would be going to help me.

> Make your phone's screen black and white.

Just did this, thank you!

> Use an extension to block Twitter, reddit, YouTube and HN. Learn to be bored again like when you were young.

For those thinking about this, it's pretty easy to add custom url's to uBlocks lists, I've done it on mobile for most sites like this.

...Still struggling with HN though :/

Or block all of the non-educational youtube channels. Personally a good portion of my youtube usage is educational videos about electronics now. It feels like much less of a waste of time than twitter or instagram.

> Make your phone's screen black and white.

A factory-fresh smartphone isn't that distracting and very few of the worst offenders are really necessary for communication. Is the black and white strategy really better than simply uninstalling "algorithm apps"? Both OSs allow both extremely granular and broad editing of notifications. If you "need" Slack/email for 24hr work notifications, that's a cultural issue not a technical one.

In other words, I think we install a lot of unnecessary junk. Just use a phone like it's 2008 and there's no App Store yet.

Black and White really helps. "The algorithm" also plays with the color spectrum to influence our reptilian brain.

On the rare occasion I need to turn my phone to color say once a month (like when buying a pair of shoes and needing to see the color) the hue and intensity of just the regular internet and Instagram is outright overwhelming.

That's anecdotal but in my experience it does work.

who is playing with the color spectrum -- Apple? Google? What would their incentive be? Both Apple and Google have pretty comprehensive features that limit your time with the phone. I would be surprised if HN audience are particularly distracted by SMS/Phone etc

I assume you are mean optional third party apps that are trivial to uninstall.

Simple things like the color of icons on your phone launcher. Websites themselves that compete with each other. That CNN video you watch on your phone, etc.

But my point isn't scientifically backed.

Would disagree about the HN audience comment. Just the red and green SMS bubbles are SO strident on iOS on Macbook versus black and white on iPhone.

But just my personal opinion.

Would you have said this in 2008 (iPhone 1), early Mac OS X? Steve Jobs called Aqua icons “lickable” iirc and I can’t remember any of these discussions in the 00s. The problem is recent—bad, optional apps with predatory algorithms and notifications

Mac/iOS/Android/Windows etc haven’t changed that much tbh.

Turning Twitter black & white seems like trying to make fast food healthy to me.

It’s not an “OR” to me. Black and white is an AND to blocking Twitter.

nah, it's The Algorithm, the big algorithm in the sky, it knows everything we do and controls our destiny.

All Hail The Algorithm

I use the browser for all social media sites, so not installing Apps isn't a solution for people like me

A solution for what? There aren't any eye catching colors or notifications on browser social media unless you manually visit, bookmark sites in the first place :P

I guess it gets into an addiction thing- I'm definitely prone to this/is a little more serious. I have edited hosts files to block sites and used procrastination plugins, for instance.

You can also just delete your Twitter, and Google accounts, and change your Reddit password to something you don't know.

It makes these services more valuable when you are accessible on them. Don't donate time, content, attention, or even namespace to censorship platforms.

This is a really good tip. Once you start contributing to these sites the dopamine spikes from replies, likes and even debate goes up substantially and pulls you into its clutch.

Without active accounts, these things become consumption only which is easier to pull away from.

HN is the only site I feel ok giving my content too.

The big one is it makes it more attractive to your friends. There is no way to turn off Messenger if you have an fb account, so your friends will tend to message you there, and the more friends they have easily accessible in one place, the more likely they are to a) sign up, and b) stay accessible there, which perpetuates the cycle.

You have to delete the accounts so your friends can't reach you on the surveillance/censorship platforms! Otherwise they will use them and continue to use them.

This is so dumb. People are talking about dopamine in the same way they talk about calories. “Just get less dopamine.”

Maybe we should leave terms like that to neuroscientists.

Get out of the house. The house is part of the super algorithm that leads you to getting stuck in that "algorithm".

Try meetups, concerts, trivia, etc. You'll get further in your endeavors through absorbing info irl rather than trying to create from nothing.

> Get out of the house.

This is a tactic I use. Weather permitting, spending an hour out on the bicycle often pays large dividends.

The pandemic has been bad in many ways but during the first lockdown i got into the habit of a nightly hour long walk. It's been a really great thing for my mind space after work each day.

Yep, wonderful thing indeed. Unfortunately it means selfishly spreading whatever plague-of-the-moment around, so some places instituted a 8pm-5am curfew to prevent these inappropriate habits from forming. Vic, AU had curfew for 5? 6? months out of the last two years. Worked wonders for some people's mind space.

Sorry for the rant.

Yikes sorry to hear that. I thought the restrictions were bad in my neck of the woods but that is much more difficult

Yeah it's funny when the internet goes out or my power goes out, I'm like counting the seconds in real time, like what do I do now.

That's addiction, it wears on you as you get older.

This is the key. Get out of the house.

I almost feel like Gaming is better than Scrolling at this point. Of course, Reading a Book is probably better still, and has almost the same escapism potential, but also a lot less bad for your eyes and brain.

I have a tendency to listen to audiobooks about a variety of subjects while I game, scroll, drive, and do other chores in the interest of maximizing my enjoyment time and my educational goals. I do feel as though I get a lot of pleasure from this action but also worry that I'm slowly eradicating my already finicky attention span.

> Reading a Book is probably better stil

Hot take: why? Why is reading _better_ than gaming?

From an "entertainment" point of view I very much doubt it. I see it as snobbish.

From "productivity" point of view, well games have never been a productive thing so why comparing apples to oranges?

From an "educational" point of view stuff doesn't differ much that from a productivity point of view.

Then again, if you have non productive time to slot where you can do anything, why are books the "superior" choice?

Context: Yes, I do play games, but I also read 9-10 books a year.

I think they offer very similar things. Games offer you the ability to interact, making the story at hand more your own. Books give you less information, allowing you to create the environment for yourself, but have a set story.

There are also games to teach you things (factorio definitely taught me a lot about planning, not to mention logic gates), just as books can.

The only advantage books have for me is that they don’t irradiate my eyes with as much blue light as a screen would late at night.

Reading can also be a lot less mentally involved for me.

Often I am Gaming, thinking I am relaxing, but I am actually using my brain intensely and getting kind of riled up. This is sometimes true for a really exciting or intense novel, but usually much less so.

Reading is less bad for your eyes? When I game it's usually on a console it's 2 to 3 meters from me eyes. When I read the book is 20cm and I know it's bad for my eyes because I find it hard to focus after I look up from the book :P

I'm not a doctor or such, but the argument I heard for that is that books don't have backlighting, so the surface brightness follows the general brightness in the vicinity, therefore looking at it continously does not strain the eyes as much as looking at a back-lit surface like a screen. (This is also frequently brought up as a benefit of e-ink displays over LCD/LED displays for reading.)

Set a timer for a tolerable interval, say 10 minutes. Every 10 minutes, let your eyes rest 1 minute. That "sticking" is an issue with muscle elasticity and rest is about the only thing you can do for it (its in the eye, massage and cold compress is hard).

Not to mention the bad ergonomics of reading a book compared to a monitor.

There is a clear stereotype of book readers needing glasses. That’s less of a stereotype for people who play games.

> less bad for your brain

I guess this is obvious? I don’t see how either would be bad for that.

I like your use of "The Algorithm." I think every one of us has an issue with The Algorithm, its just a difference of UI depending on which addicting service is the problem.

Yes, exactly. I would say that without moderation even the deep delving of information can be a tool for procrastination that is more easily justifiable to yourself for why you never seem to make any progress on your goals.

some of us run the gamut

I recently moved all Algorithmic Distractions on to a purpose-bought iPad and blocked them from all other devices. This has been useful in helping me distinguish when I'm wasting time or not, and meant I need to be physically using the iPad to distract myself, rather than just having distractions there on my phone or computer

Super interesting thanks!!!

Get a tally counter and count every time you have an urge to scroll, watch another video, or refresh Reddit. Write a daily log of your counter. Every time you feel the urge, pause for 10 seconds and then consciously decide if you want to do that or not. It’s a lot of work at the beginning but I guarantee you’ll get your attention back.

Once I act like that (F5 F5) chances are that I don’t have much energy left for deliberate action. So the advice seems to be: do this deliberate action every time you are out of energy. That doesn’t make sense.

The goal is to train your “conscious system” so that it catches the “automatic system” in its addiction. You are in a way training to recover control every time autopilot goes somewhere you don’t want it to. Cf mindfulness.

You must do it always not just when you want to stop.

Thanks. That makes sense.

Mentally: It’s actually not that hard, you’re over thinking it. Just do anything else than the thing you don’t want to do. The thing you fall back on is a habit. It is one thing you do over and over, instead of the infinite other things you could otherwise be doing. Recognize in life these fallback habits and do something different. Take the same road to work? Take a different route one day. By breaking habits you open your world to infinite possibilities.

Physically: put your phone in your bedroom or wherever you keep it when you go to sleep. Don’t be in that room till you go to sleep. You break the habit of normally having the phone with you all the time. See what happens when it’s not.

Mentally: It is that hard. Executive dysfunction and ADHD are both fully understood physiological disorders that are only the domain of psych because the symptoms are psychological in their manifestation.

A would wager a fair amount of these people will be doomscrolling because they essentially have too little, or too much, dopamine, and while there are ways to get the body to prompt creation of it, often there are tangible problems in the number of neurotransmitters or the amount that is created that can cause this.

For example: Often I want to take a shower, but end up sitting on my bed for hours, essentially unable to move to complete my task. I wondered for a long time if this was me, if I just tried hard enough, maybe I could beat it. But the fact is, it isn't -- it's a tangible and measurable problem with the way my body functions that stops me from being able to move to complete the task.

The poster's description of this above sounds extremely, alarmingly similar to my experience, and those of my friends and coworkers with it. Personally, I wonder whether the widespread, common, and societally endorsed distribution of caffeine and nicotine -- both stimulants, have effects on the developing child. It would explain the sheer prevalence of it, and also the prevalance of the stimulants, as stimulants are drugs that are prescribed for managing ADHD* :)

* - most people who are diagnosed are found to already be weakly medicating themselves with stimulants!

I came here to agree with your post! I wanted to add that when you are having as much trouble functioning as someone with severe ADHD and a general lack of executive function no number of tried and true tricks that a neurotypical person uses are going to be enough to cause real change in your life. I was definitely a heavy caffeine user for years before I was diagnosed as ADHD and given access to Adderall which really helped me be more in control of my schedule.

I do strongly suspect I am ADHD, but avoid basically all stimulants (unless we count sugar as a stimulant, in which case I eat sugar sometimes. And lots of carbohydrates in general that aren't sugar)

I haven't sought a diagnosis or even been screened because I'm not interested in taking strong stimulants, even though I'm sure it would help a lot with some things, and besides a prescription I don't see any obvious benefits to having it "made official".

Have a few ADHD family members who have seen great success with their prescriptions though. All in all, I do feel like I am making a little improvement to my executive function over time through purely psychological means, but it can feel like pretty slow going sometimes.

I have bad ADHD. I basically can't code or do anything mentally tedious without pills. No matter how much sugar, caffeine etc I take, my brain doesn't want to. I have gone months without, exercised properly and tried low sugar diets etc, tried everything, nothing worked. I made some tiny gains, as do everyone, how you treat yourself still matters for handicapped people. But then I got those pills, and now I can happily code many hours per day, my handicap is gone, it changed my whole life, without it I would never have gotten a good software job etc.

Note, those pills aren't really "stimulants", they help you focus they don't make you stressed out or high like sugar or caffeine does, they just help you get into the "zone". Maybe they do get you high to some degree and that is why some use them as a drug, but they don't really have that effect in the dosages you take them for ADHD, the feeling I'd call it is "a kid on Christmas eve", that makes it hard to sleep since you want to do so many things, not like caffeine at all. The dosage which made a night and day difference for me felt like nothing to a normal person.

So at least give it a try. Worst case it doesn't help much, best case it changes your life.

So then how do you take showers or in general, how do you move on from being stuck and change activities? How do you motivate to do anything?

Given the advice in my first comment, and I guess counter to the other comment in this thread saying “neuraltypical” tactics don’t work, I was going to ask, have you ever said to yourself at the count of three you will get up and do the task you have in mind?

> So then how do you take showers or in general, how do you move on from being stuck and change activities? How do you motivate to do anything?

Because eventually the physiological system normalizes and you have enough dopamine to do things. It's functionally impossible to wrestle yourself out of being in an executive dysfunction spot, though.

> have you ever said to yourself at the count of three you will get up and do the task you have in mind?

Hahahaha, yes. Hundreds of thousands of times. I'm surprised you would have reason to believe that I hadn't tried this. It doesn't change that I do not have enough of a specific brain chemical in my neurological system to do something -- whether that's because I have a difference in my neurophysiology or the rest of my body's production of dopamine. And while having specific social structures, habits, and patterns in my life can help, they very very quickly fall apart because my brain will just forget about them, regardless of how much mental energy I expend on trying to maintain them (A dysfunction with object permanence is another problem that may present as a result of the physical condition of ADHD). Actually, it's funny -- it's been shown that the more effort is expended on focus, the less someone with ADHD is able to focus. Because the act of making the effort to focus in the first place expends dopamine!

> “neuraltypical” tactics don’t work

neuro- from the Greek for nerves or the nervous system

neurotypical -- The prefix joined with a word. Originally a colloquial term in autistic circles, but has been adopted by the scientific community. Describes the typical status quo of the brain in the wider sociological context. While there's no evidence for a specific anatomical "status quo" of the brain, there is a broader sociological context present whenever one considers "normality". Antonyms: neurodivergent, neurodiverse, neuroatypical


I have difficulty taking showers over scrolling everyday. I'm just too tired.

Children tend to be discouraged from drinking coffee. And non-adults tend to hate the taste so they don’t tend to be motivated to do it in the first place.

People still consider coffee and many other minor stimulants safe enough to be consumed during pregnancy, and that people might have largely stopped smoking during pregnancy, it doesn't alter the fact of mass exposure to and consumption of stimulants in the 20th century.

> People still consider coffee and many other minor stimulants safe enough to be consumed during pregnancy

I was specifically talking about children, addressing the theory that it can affect development.

> and that people might have largely stopped smoking during pregnancy

I was specifically talking about coffee.

> I was specifically talking about children, addressing the theory that it can affect development.

I was specifically talking about prenatal development, though. I am the person who wrote the original post you are responding to, and was/am clearing up that misunderstanding. Whether or not children are directly given coffee to consume does not at all apply to what I intended to say.

Got it. Thanks for clarifying.

This is precisely the thing I figured out when I finally eventually quit a long-term weed dependence: do anything else. It does not matter what it is (well, within reason). At first, I spent a lot of time staring at the walls, literally, simply resisting the urge.

> I do have things that I consciously want to do during that time, like write music and film short films, but those things take effort and commitment, so instead I spend night after night doomscrolling Twitter/Reddit/YouTube/HN.

Are the things you want to do actually rest and relax to you? Maybe you are trying to turn your life into 80 hours crunch and overwork. And it will have the exact same effects as working that much on a job.

People were not 100% pre-mobile phones. We read junk books, journals, watched tv, socialized, played soccer, spent a lot of time daydreaming.

I don't think either of those are ideal. Your brain does need some rest time, rather than getting home and getting right back on to high mental intensity activities, consider just going outside for a walk. You can let your brain rest while walking, it improves your mental and physical health, and is a much better use of time than reddit.

Reading a book might be a good switch: instead of scrolling you are turning the pages. Now it becomes tiring because it requires holding focus.

If that happens then play: pen and paper and no plan, doodle something. Or pace around. Be bored! Go for a walk.

Possibly off topic but could this be procrastination more than an addiction to the Algo?

I've found my procrastination stems from a fear of failure. Maybe you doom scroll instead of do these other things because your afraid you'll 'fail' at them and feel bad rather than because they are effort and commitment.

The moment you think this thought, you gotta instantly just put the phone down and do something else. It hurts for like 2 mins and then it doesn't.

I have mentioned this before, but I have trouble starting things. At one point it reached pathological levels and I had to do something.

What I found out researching on the internet was the idea of committing to do something for just 10 minutes, then I am free to stop or not. Often I find that I don't want to stop, sometimes I do. If I do stop, that is absolutely fine too.

For everything else, there is beeminder.

At the risk of oversimplifying this, why don't you just stick your phone in a drawer when you get home?

I do that (and when possible, put it in another room entirely) when I want to get some focused work done. Same goes for when it's bedtime, which has done good things for my sleep quality.

Just dump the infernal thing for a while and see where your brain takes you.

Maybe a little challenge could motivate you? Have you heard about "the 30 day Rudy challenge"[1]?

Probably a bad idea, but could be fun anyways...

[1] https://youtu.be/TaZ8CLTQ_1M

What worked for me to increase the productivity and fun in my free time is making the free time long enough to actually enjoy it.

I heavily a doubt a human can be mentally healthy with time consuming hobbies and a 40hour plus job.

One tip I can give you: Give yourself small, achievable (!) goals for each day. Nothing too fancy, nothing you need to put in hours of research before you can complete them, just something.

And then execute it. Each and every day, without failing. Sometimes you do more because you're "in the flow" on others you do the bare minimum.

I am doing this with my fitness routine for over 2 years now (started pre-COVID) and it does wonders to my brain and my overall well-being. Because I am committed. I have a streak for over two years (when I got vaccinated, I did more the days before and took a few days off - the minimum was kept for every single day, just not executed on every single day. Only exception: Vaccination) and I feel motivated not to break it.

This recurrent approach worked wonders for me.

Around two months ago I started to do a rather minimal bodyweight fitness routine (around 30 minutes 3 times per week):


I'm not sure how much of my motivation is the constant progress I'm making and how I will keep the motivation once progress slows down.

Another tip: Don't focus on results, focus on the process.

I know it may sound esoteric, so to speak, but that helps.

Do it because you know it makes you fitter, or keeps your body at a certain fitness level, don't do it to gain a perfect body.

Look at a lot of movie stars. They train like a Berserk for a role and afterwards slack off and become fat again.

Just enjoy the warm feeling of accomplishment.

I do that with all my spare time activities and detaching myself from the result oriented (paid) work mindset has worked wonders.

Also: Motivation doesn't necessarily come before the work. For me just starting gives the motivation (so it's an equivalence or even an inverse implication of the form: Motivation follows (the start of) work

This reminds me of a book I've read a couple of times now, The Power of Full Engagement. Their very similar concept is that the limiting factor in most of our lives isn't really time, but energy. As described in the OP, most of us have experience evenings that felt wasted because we're too tired from work to do anything valuable, but trying to cram value into every moment of life also feels exhausting. The basic take of the book is that every area of our life needs periods of exertion and periods of rest, much like the body does in order to build muscle. The same is true of the mind and the emotional self. So for each of these realms, you ideally want to be either fully engaged, or fully at rest, not somewhere in-between. Then it gives various techniques to achieve this. One I liked in particular is to take opportunities that might otherwise be frustrating - stuck in traffic, in line at the bank, whatever - and see them as instead a time for mental rest.

Anyway, might be a good read. FWIW I'm a big fan of GTD as well. Used properly I think a system like that can be a good complement to this philosophy. When it's time to work, you grab a task from your list and get right to it. And when it's not time to work, you can free your brain of any related distractions, confident that everything you need to remember will be in your GTD system when you need it again. (Likewise if you have a stray idea that you want to remember, instead of holding it in your brain, it can go in there.) Helps keep work (and by that I mean any jobs that need to be done, not just the 9-5) from dominating your thoughts all the time.

This. I'm surprised we still fall for the "use every waking hour productively" bs when it's clear once you try to implement it that really energy is the limiting factor, not time. Burnout is a real, you need to think seriously about rest.

Could it be however that our mindless scrolling on the internet is more exertion than rest? I certainly don’t feel rested after using it.

Conversely many things which are in principle exertion can actually have restorative effect.

Absolutely! The book I mentioned actually covers exactly this. Similarly, you can be exerting yourself in one way while restoring yourself in another. (A lot of people feel emotionally refreshed after a hard workout, for instance.)

I love this comment. I agree. After work, if I spend a few hours doing "mindless internet stuff", I feel much worse than if I do something that requires more physical effort, but is more rewarding.

If you liked this article, the book Lost in Thought[0] also references Bennet and goes into more depth on why spending some of your time learning for its own sake leads to a more fulfilling life.

I’d love more content like this on hn. Done right, tech jobs can afford a lot of leisure, and we don’t have generally good guidance from our culture on how to spend leisure time in a fulfilling way.


Thank you for this recommendation! I’d love to see more content like this too. Also I’d love to see more exploration of how those of us with young kids or other caring responsibilities can get a better balance and still keep pursuing learning for its’ own sake.

I have to say, making myself read before bed (I no longer need to make myself do it, I look forward to it) was a major game changer a couple years ago.

I was pretty distraught because I was effectively diagnosed with a mental disability and was suddenly confronted with the reality of what I’d been living with. It was crushing to my self esteem in a way. I always knew something was wrong, but now there was this professionally diagnosed wart on my identity and self esteem. I felt pretty hopeless.

I began reading about it. I began reading about self esteem, identity, introspection, and how to generally navigate this change in my life. I got into philosophy. I got into psychology. I began reading about childhood psychology specifically to understand better how my strengths and weaknesses might impact my kids. How could I manage my brain better in order to be a better dad for them? What mistakes had I already made than I could try to correct?

I’ve become so much better for it. I still read the dry stuff because I love it, but I weave in fiction here and there as well. I’ve always got a couple books I’m excited to read. I use a kindle at the lowest light setting with no lights on.

My rule is that it can’t be about work and it can’t be about a hobby, or I’m not giving myself a break and/or I won’t be able to stop reading. The goal is to read myself to sleep, not get too engaged (at least not too often).

This does three things. It expands my mind, keeps me from doom scrolling, and it greatly improves my ability to get to sleep. These reinforce each other and the benefits really compound.

I’m not a super-person now or anything. I’m just less dumb, usually better rested, and a little happier for it.

I can’t recommend a night time reading habit enough. Fit that into your 24 hours. Reading and exercise.

When I moved into my new home about 18 months ago I decided to forego putting a television in my bedroom. Instead I throw a [wireless] earbud in and listen to a podcast or audio book set to a 30-minute sleep timer. I know this is not perfect, but is at least a step in the right direction as I very rarely am awake when the timer goes off. However, I don't feel that I retain much of the information. Do you feel like you retain most of what you have read before going to bed? Also, do you prefer print or ebooks?

It’s wild to me that a TV in the bedroom is considered the default. It’s not something I’ve ever felt I’m missing.

I will just reinforce that removing a television from the bedroom is a solid first step toward better sleep hygiene.

Nice, that’s a great step in the right direction. I’ve tried audiobooks but I find they keep me up more, somehow. It’s almost like listening wakes up my brain more than reading. If they didn’t I think that would be a great alternative to reading at night.

Haha, those are good questions regarding retention and ebooks vs. paper books.

As far as retention, I think I do a lot better than I expected. I’m not sure how it works out so well. As I’m falling asleep (this figures into the next question) I tend to do weird things like skip several pages or even change the font size accidentally, which totally throws me off of my position in the book. However I tend to recall very well where I left off and find the location fairly easily. Even so, it’s pretty annoying, haha.

Because of that I really do prefer paper books in that I tend to put them down and have a distinct transition to sleep, meaning it’s hard to lose my spot or doubt my retention. I also notice and recall page numbers subconsciously so forgetting a book mark is no big deal anyway.

Unfortunately I need light to read a book, and that almost always causes me to stay awake longer. It’s a tough call. Paper books are better in nearly every way besides portability and the light factor. And of course the environment, too - I imagine I’ve saved a couple trees by now and the ebook seems bomb proof. Definitely capable of saving a few more in its lifetime.

So overall it seems like the ebook wins, especially at night. In the last several years I think I’ve read several dozen books on it and maybe close to a dozen paper books.

I personally find it easier to remember what I've read, compared to what podcast/audio book I played while in bed.

It's also, curiosly, easier for me to follow written instructions, compared to spoken (at work for example).

> In the worst case, those eight hours are frittered away. Not quite relaxing, not quite playing, not quite doing anything. We may pop Netflix on the TV and alternate between Twitter, Instagram, and the news, not quite focusing on anything. Maybe the reason feels valid. We’re too tired to really do anything but not sleepy, so it doesn’t make sense to go to bed. Besides, what else can you do on a weeknight without spending money?

I was a mentor to a college students group a while ago (pre-COVID). It was fascinating to talk to students who couldn't figure out where all of their time was going. When we'd sit down and work on time management (if necessary, and it often was), they would often struggle to even recall what they had done all week.

Almost without fail, they were all convinced that the majority of their time was going to classwork and homework. Yet when they'd do things like open up Screen Time on iOS or otherwise actually track their time during the week, they were always shocked at just how little of their time was actually spent doing some form of work. They were also often shocked at how much of their time went into their phone screens.

It was helpful for me to observe how easily free time can simply slip away when people aren't deliberate about it. In some ways it was obvious because some students could maintain jobs, intensive hobbies, sports, and other large time commitments while also handling the exact same workload. Yet even without such extra obligations, their jobless peers were perceiving as much, if not more, pressure on their time. I've since learned to be much more mindful of exactly what I'm doing with my free time. Even still, I definitely pop open HN or Twitter more than I'd like.

Also, I'd like to provide a counter-antidote to this section:

> I often find that after work I’ll be “too tired” to play with my kids, but I know my wife needs help. So I’ll find ways to be around the kids without fully interacting with them. I know that certain things elicit complaints, such as being on my computer; I avoid those, but I still find other ways to distract myself from reality. When I do this, I don’t really enjoy my time with my kids, I don’t really rest. I’m just wasting time.

Everyone is different, but I find that playing with kids actually energizes me rather than further draining anything. It's a wonderful way to reset and shift perspective. Even when I'm tired after work, I can almost always get a second wind by playing with the kids. The same can't be said for collapsing on the couch.

Playing with kids is fine if I've decided to dedicate time to it. It's when I sit around thinking of other things that I "should" be getting to that it's an emotional drag.

It's a delicate balance to find things that are rejuvenating to do when you get home from work, yet are interruptible enough that you can easily stop them when your partner needs help, or your kids want to engage. That balance changes slowly as your kids get older, too.

Unsolicited advice, but rather than thinking about what you "should" be doing, I've found it's good to train yourself to just start doing the first thing. Going into a self referential mental state is never helpful.

Sometimes sitting and just watching them (put phone on charger early) is enough. They don’t need constant interaction to know I am interested and sometimes you see things you wouldn’t if you were directing/teaching/co-playing

For many (most?) of the working people I know in New York, 8/8/8 is a fantasy (or at least was before COVID/remote work). You rise at 5 am so that you can walk your dog, make some coffee, take a shower, get ready for work, eat a banana and leave by 6 in order to catch a 6:30 train to the city (if you can find parking at the train station where you pay a high monthly parking fee). If the train is on time, and the connecting subway(s) are on time, you arrive at work by 8:30. If you are lucky enough to work only an 8 hour day (with the 1 hour for lunch that you are mandated to take and extends your day at work but is unpaid) you gather your things and leave by 5:30 pm to try to fight the crowds at Penn Station and catch the 6 o'clock train. If the subway(s) and the train are all on time you get home by 7:30 pm. You walk your dog and by now you are too tired to cook so you order food and by the time it gets there and you eat its 9 pm and if you go to sleep right now you can get 8 hours sleep.

And this is all if your day goes smoothly! If you can't find parking, the train is late, the subway is late, you have to stay longer at work or you miss the fastest train home (all things which happen multiple times per week), you are behind the 8-ball on your 8 hours! This also pushes all of the chores that have to be done (laundry, cleaning the house, getting the car serviced, mowing the lawn, taking the dog to the vet, shopping for food, ect) to the weekend which ensures that there won't be much spare time to schedule for elective activities.

This may seem like a pessimistic picture but it is reality for hundreds of thousands/millions of commuters in the NY/metro area. If you ever happen to be in New York take a ride on the LIRR or the Metro North on a weekday at 7 am to witness real misery!

Surely the issue here is living a silly distance from your office? You either move close to the office (spending more money on accommodation) or you get a job closer to home (probably sacrificing the higher salary). Both rational and possible choices.

I did this for 8 years, started working from home 6 years ago and would never ever go back.

Did it briefly, took a look at how miserable it made everyone around me, and decided very quickly I'd rather make less money and be able to live life. Have many friends who live this lifestyle and are more "well off" in the sense that they make more money and drive more expensive cars but it always seems like a tragedy to me to see them burning up years in the prime of their life that they will never get back.

A college friend wandered the dorm bleary-eyed. His aspirations were pre-med. In a moment of revelation, he noted that if he were so inclined, he could find enough material to spend every waking hour studying.

He also recognized that this was college, and he was planning to use at least some of those hours sleeping or socializing.

Therefore, he concluded, he wasn't going to "work as hard as he could" or any such phrase about maximizing one's output/accomplishment. All that remained was satisfying himself.

He went on to study music. He is a professor of musicology now. I never saw him comparably stressed thereafter.

Why am I reading all the comments in this thread???

Just as you can go too hard on getting sucked into social media and other vices, you can definitely over-optimise your time and turn into a robot as well.

Maybe it's important for your sanity to spend two hours a day reading Wikipedia articles about the Wehrmacht or playing Age of Empires 2. Then again, maybe it's not. But approaching your habits from an overly logical, optimisation-focused point of view will destroy your soul. You are a biologically-evolved animal; not an intellectual abstraction.

There's nothing wrong with taking a little (or a lot) of leisure time. It's the mindless screen usage and not-relaxing/not-being-productive limbo that are problematic

Is it, though?

I'm not a psychologist, but there must be some reason why people "veg out". Before Facebook and Instagram, it was TV. Before then, I'm honestly not sure.

Exactly, I feel like the problem is that these days we no longer actually play Age of Empires (which, again, would be fine), we share this time between playing Age of Empires, looking at Instagram and checking out work emails

I have been trying these activities like Trello boards, daily routines and other things on and off for a couple of years. One thing I have noticed is that when you have small children, things can change very quickly. Your Trello board might tell you to concentrate on work or your daily workout, but when your little one needs you, then you invariably leave everything and tend to your kids.

This is an unsolved problem for me as well. How do I add focus to my free time, while giving meaningful time to my kids, and adjusting on a dime when they demand my attention? This is currently my biggest excuse to waste time. Why try to focus on hobbies or learning when at any second my wife or kids might need me at any moment and I've already spent 8ish hours of my day giving them zero of my attention?

I didn't see that as an "unsolved problem" at the time. When my kid was little, spending a good chunk of my time tending to them was par for the course. I never saw that as an obligation or a "problem", but rather as part of a conscious choice regarding lifestyle I had made.

Of course, that doesn't mean one can't have hobbies or can't learn. But it did mean that I wouldn't be able to dedicate a comparable amount of time or focus to them, as I would have if I didn't have a child to tend to. Accepting that as a fact of life was really helpful.

It does help to put in active effort in equal measure. Like, alternating taking care of bedtime routines, cooking, eating, care, etc.

Regardless, I can understand the sentiment. Inevitably, you're going to reflect "Why am I doing this again?" and "Oh, I could have done x or y while I was playing with toys!". That's just par for the course as a parent. And it's totally valid. Inevitably, there's some frustration involved in raising children. It's just that you can choose to let that go, or dive into a negative diatribe about personal choices directed against yourself, which is just a ticket to misery.

In all of this, it does also help to remind yourself: It will get better! And the time you invest in your children when they are small really does pay off dividends as you all grow older.

It really is a phase in life. A teenager is very different from a small kid. You don't have to spend every second tending to them anymore. They start to live their own lives with their own habits, gaining their own independence. As a parent, you also regain freedom to take up hobbies again. Of course, a teenager comes with different challenges, and you still have to pay attention, but between 6 and 16, everyone's lives look quite different.

This plus WFH is an even bigger challenge since the lines have blurred between free time between meetings and free time before and after work. At my wits end trying to be a serious working professional and a contributing father & husband.

Establish clear boundaries. Before WFH, you didn't have to do this because your commute / physical presence at home / office did that for you. Now you have to do it yourself.

Keep a clear schedule when you're on the clock / off the clock. Work in a separate space (if you can / have one available). Lay out ground rules with your spouse / housemates when you can / can't be disturbed due to work. Clock in / out at the same times you did when you worked at the office. Use the time you'd spend commuting to take a walk before / after work: helps mark the transition between work / personal time. Personally, I close my laptop at the end of the day, get in the kitchen and start cooking dinner.

Sure, WFH sounds attractive and there's the implicit promise that you can flexibly combine work with family life. But let's just admit that there are hard limits here.

For instance, if you're still expected to be in meetings at 4PM, like in the old days, you just can't ensure your spouse you'll be able to pick up the kids from daycare / school every day.

For instance, WFH has moved the office space into the digital realm with tools like Zoom, Teams, Slack, etc. But none of that implies you're now magically available at 9PM to answer any messages.

It's up to you to set boundaries and enforce them. Yes, some people may not always like that. Frankly, they aren't you and they aren't living your life. Don't burn yourself up to keep everyone else warm.

Tips on how to enforce those boundaries with kids? I have been WFH since March 2020 (and occasional remote work prior), my wife a part of that too. We both have home offices. But in any instances where the school is closed, or they are doing remote learning, there is inevitably at least once a day where he (8 year old son) barges in to tell us some random story; kids have not a fucking care about if you're on a call/zoom or up to your elbows in code/config.

Just now, he came to show me the latest iteration of his lego boost project (highly recommended kit BTW) using the sensor to only shoot the missile at mini figures in red shirts... which this interruption took me out of my first pomodoro block, and brought me here.

It is a semi-chaotic existence, lines between work/home are hard to define and my biggest win is defining a daily schedule around our mutual 'must attend meetings' and running interference for the other during those times.

In my experience, the kid interruptions are usually more entertaining than when I used to get the random co-workers 'drop by' to chat and would have 20 minutes of nothing to get to one 30 second question...

Articles like these are always thinly-veiled judgement pieces in the guise of self help. The TL;DR is – spend your few hours a day of free time doing "good" things like writing poetry, painting and learning stuff rather than "bad" ones like watching Netflix, relaxing or socializing. My question – why? What is it that makes the former way of life so much better than the latter? Are people who study science in their free time that much happier/more fulfilled/more successful than those who just laze around?

If happiness and mental health is what you want to prioritize, then I'd argue that you should be doing the opposite of what the author suggests. Don't set goals for yourself. Don't be on a permanent quest to amass more knowledge and skills. Don't feel like you have to put every minute of every day to good use, otherwise you are losing out.

The crucial aspect here is deliberation. If you decide that you want to watch Netflix, or relax, or socialize, then that's quality leisure. The issue is that many of us are driven by The Algorithm to spend hours a day doing things we're not really sure we want to do. We don't take time to think about it because dopamine driven positive feedback loops have taken all conscious thought out of the activity.

I think the problem with your suggestion is it ignores fulfillment. Yes if you simply watch Netflix, relax, and socialize you will be happy. However, If that's the only thing you do besides a job you don't enjoy; You might often question what you're doing with your life. The correct answer is you need to find an appropriate mix of "good" things and "bad" things to do in your free time. What that exact mix is will be different for each individual.

Yeah one thing that these so called productivity hackers need to learn is the skill to Just be.

No need to learn anything, improve yourself or get better. Just be. It's okay to watch Netflix and play candy crush. But no, you ought to live 24 hours a day and improve yourself for God knows what endgoal.

There's no goal, but people need a meaning for life and it's hard to find meaning in candy crush. You can avoid those questions and be happy but most people know they're avoiding it. Man's search for meaning is one hell of a thing.

> people need a meaning for life

I disagree. People say this, but it's really not true in my experience. Most people are actually just... going with it, to be honest. And they're often happy. There doesn't need to be a deep philosophical "search for meaning".

Meaning is overrated - if You look around You will see that we have the ability to put meaning onto anything and pretend that somehow we discovered the truth. Recently I started to believe that the thing we are looking is not a meaning per se but compelling story arc/narrative for ourselfs that we see in stories told to us. This may seem on the surface like search for meaning, but I only can see mindless imitation.

I imagine this is self actualization on maslows hierarchy of needs?

But this isn't a productivity hack article. It's about Actually Being. If you put in 40 hours of Netflix and Candy Crush, will you be able to look back a week and remember the hours, or will it be a blur with a couple good moments from a show that stick out? There are lots of ways to Actually Be that aren't "productive".

That's just plain escapism or veiled hedonism. There's more to life than enjoying yourself 24/7.

I do agree with you that this article leaves a lot to be desired. It definitely ignores mental disorder as a whole or that there are people who prioritize relaxation over productivity and are perfectly happy to do so.

So I think the answer to your question "What is it that makes the former way of life so much better than the latter?" is that for many people they feel a genuine lack of fulfillment from just watching Netflix and chilling. I certainly do- and allowing myself to slide into slug mode is actively detrimental to my mental health and a good way to fall into a depression pit. I however do NOT expect every one else to feel the same way as me, some people do better when they do less.

Netflix has a bunch of great documentaries.

I completely revitalised my life by deciding to treat myself as the primary focus of my day and my job as the extra that fit in around it i.e. working 8-10am and 5-11pm and having each day to myself.

I was living in Australia but working remotely for a company UK. I got into a terrible habit of waking up at 7-8am and reading and replying to all the emails and slack chats that had happened over night for an hour or two. Then I'd work alone without interruption 9-5 then around 5pm the UK would wake up and I'd get emails and slack notifications on my phone which i'd dip in and out of until 11-12pm when I'd go to bed.

I'd essentially be switched on to work 16 hours a day.

So I swapped it and decided I would take 9-5 everyday for myself and only work the hours around it.

I'd wake up at 8am and do all my emails and chats from bed on my phone then jump up and be on my laptop while eating breakfast. Maybe do a couple of small easy tasks. I'd do that till about 10am.

Then 10-5 was me time. I'd go to the gym, go to the park, play computer games, read, work on hobbies etc. I'd travel and meet friends for lunch if I could. Reading and listening to music as I travelled to their work. I also had alot of friends who worked hospitality so they would also often be free.

Then I'd get to my rented co-working space at 5pm and work for 6 hours till 11pm. Eating dinner at my desk, usually something I'd made in bulk on Sunday that I could reheat.

I'd then walk 10 mins home and either jump straight into bed or do a couple of chores and be in bed by midnight.

If someone wanted to socialise in the evening I'd just tell my colleagues and work during the day that day.

Doing this was amazing. I felt like had so much free time, I'd even sometimes get bored.

I definitely wasn't productive during all these 9-5s, sometimes the time would just vanish and I'd have nothing to show for it. But that's fine.

I made the most of all the sunlight hours rather than being stuck in doors which was amazing.

I don't think my work suffered, I think they preffered it as I was available to talk and join meetings.

I also found it really helpful to spend 8-10am planning my tasks for the day, then letting it all stew in the back of my head for 7 hours before working on it. I'd generally have some eureka moments mid afternoon and excitedly crack on when 5pm came around.

Obviously this isn't possible for everyone and it did cause some issues particularly with dating, but it was alot better than the 9-5 grind.

I am kind of doing that, spending my most free time reading, studying, working on personal projects, etc. And 24 hours per day is still not nearly enough for all what I want to do and learn and achieve :(

I can relate to your sentiment more than TFA these days. I spend very little time on here and youtube (my chief prior addictions) these days, but I have tons of things I want to do and little time to fit them in - projects, books to read, a blog/educational site to start, paintings to finish, etc etc. It's quite frustrating because I used to be very dissociative/escapist like the author and now I'm not I wish I could have all that time back! Especially now that I also have a baby on the way; much of my time is taken up preparing, and when he's here I'll be spending lots of time looking after him.

> I used to be very dissociative/escapist like the author and now I'm not

I would love to hear more about how that change happened. I'd like to make a similar transition myself.

I realised that the dissociative response was due to a strong emotional response that I wasn't properly addressing. In my case there were a few causes:

- I severely lacked the organisational skills required to break down big work into smaller pieces so I got overwhelmed easy

- I had lacked confidence in things I was unfamiliar with like DIY or marketing

- sometimes I wasn't sure of the concrete next step and avoided the task instead of figuring it out

The way out for me was that through mindful meditation I learned to become aware of when I was checking out, and instead I would just think about what might be causing me strong emotions, usually the next thing I was supposed to be doing. Then I'd work through said emotion by solving the issue that was causing it.

Happy to elaborate via email if you want (in my profile).

This is where I'm at too at this point. My mind is so active it feels like I'm on fire with passion for what I want to accomplish while keeping myself healthy. I've definitely had to scold myself because I will catch myself trying to barter with my sleep so I can have more time to work on my projects, and I know that if you are sacrificing sleep you are sacrificing a lot of your bodies ability to heal and learn.

With WFH implemented in a lot of companies, maybe it's easier and more fruitful to get up early and use the morning hours to work on hobbies and learning.

Unless you are one of the lucky whose work involve a lot of brain juice spending, you probably feel tired because of something else. It could be office politics or endlessly pinging a colleague for permission to get real work rolled out. But neither of the situation involves a lot of brain juice and it's a total waste of energy. It is as if someone depreciate a battery not by connecting it to a circuit, but by slowly burning it on fire.

By switching hobbies and learning, which probably need more brain juice, to morning hours, we spend energy more meaningfully, while not impacting our jobs by much. It introduces additional bonus that we can actually sit down and watch TV or play with kids without burning with anxiety. It's the ideal model IMHO.

This is fine advice and I think we all have a bit more time available to us than we imagine.

But as a parent, I have at best time to workout before I drive myself to work and my munchkin to school, and then what time remains between their bedtime and my own - 90 min.

I suspect with tech work and family responsibilities a better approach is to figure out how to achieve more professionally with less time, so an hour or two at your desk can be allocated to more fulfilling pursuits.

>I often find that after work I’ll be “too tired” to play with my kids, but I know my wife needs help. So I’ll find ways to be around the kids without fully interacting with them. I know that certain things elicit complaints, such as being on my computer; I avoid those, but I still find other ways to distract myself from reality. When I do this, I don’t really enjoy my time with my kids, I don’t really rest. I’m just wasting time.

Respect to the author for the honesty. Comforting to know I'm not the only one who does this. It feels like such a tragic waste and the guilt is real but I'm just so tired WCYD...

Generalized tools breed bad habits. If you want to break your bad internet habits reclaim the content away from the browsers into other programs. If you want to break your bad smartphone habits reclaim content away from the phone and use specialized tools.

I read a book called 4000 Weeks that mentions the book in the OP. It cautions us not to get too caught up in the need to use one’s time productively. I recommend at least reading the blurb.

Great insights. It was somewhat distracting to see the word "deep" overused. A whopping 7 times, sprinkled like resins on a cookie.

OP here. This is my favorite comment in the entire thread. Thank you!

My wife has similar feelings about my semicolon usage.

My condolences to the colleague RIP. Sounds like he lived a valued and actualized life.

Honestly thought this was going to be satire about molly mae hague

In communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, shepherd or critic. -- Karl Marx

* assuming you have a pagan slave population which can be worked to death in order to provide for the intelligentsia utopia fantasy

> a pagan slave population which can be worked to death in order to provide for the intelligentsia utopia fantasy

Are you describing the people who made your iPhone?

Sleep less, try polyphasic sleeping

I don't keep todo lists.

Todo lists are for assistants and entry level engineers grinding away at bugs.

(not to be disrespectful to those people, just trying to get my point across).

Senior staff focuses on vision and long term goals of the company, which are mostly emotional and in your head anyways.

And things like „fix broken bike bell“ - if it‘s important enough, it will come up often enough to bug me and I will get it fixed.

Just make sure not to outsource reminders in other people, ie don‘t rely on people having to remind you several times before you actually do something.

Delegate the task away right away, or reject it, or become passionate enough about it to not need a todo list.

So how do you become passionate about doing your taxes. I see those deadlines come and go and feel nothing.

At least the todo list won't let me push it out of my mind for days/weeks/months. Maybe I'll have a good day and look at the list and plough through some items.

Do you not have any hobbies or other skills that you are working on that would benefit by being broken up into smaller tasks? I have about ten to do lists that cover a wide arrange of different subjects that help keep me on task and help me validate and track my progress.

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