Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Procrastination is Not Laziness (thoughtcatalog.com)
771 points by alanfalcon on Mar 15, 2013 | hide | past | favorite | 173 comments



I've read some blog posts about procrastination, but this one I think really hits the mark. Good read!

"You see, procrastinators tend to be people who have, for whatever reason, developed to perceive an unusually strong association between their performance and their value as a person. This makes failure or criticism disproportionately painful, which leads naturally to hesitancy when it comes to the prospect of doing anything that reflects their ability — which is pretty much everything."

First paragraph in the text that stuck me so deeply. And it's not like I fear criticism (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=5361495), but my urge for perfection is killing my performance and this in fact is indeed literally killing me.


I associate my performance in everything with my own value as a person, to an absurd extent. If I'm playing a multiplayer game such as Starcraft or Street Fighter and I make a mistake, I can't help but think "Wow, I'm really stupid". It's silly, but I can't help it. You can imagine how I feel in regards to things that actually matter.


Interesting theory but I'm not sure it's the whole picture.

Personally, while I definitely identify with the "fear of failure" personality trait, I find my procrastination is down to two things: depleted willpower and inertia.

To help with willpower, I try to keep my home environment as tidy and organized as possible (which doesn't come naturally). There's not too much I can do about my dayjob other than minimize my emotional investment (which also doesn't come naturally).

I find inertia is the most important and possible variable to change. A yoga teacher told me once: "it's not so hard. Just start... then continue". Once I actually push past the hurdle of starting a project, and make sure I put some time into it weekly (even if it's only 30 minutes), over time my mental resistance aka procrastination diminishes, and I start to enjoy myself.

Start... then continue.


Yes, some people may procrastinate due to fear of failure, but it seems clear that it's not universal. I know I'm not procrastinating on filing my taxes right now because I fear failure somehow. There's not much failure to be had, and I'm comfortable with the process and have a great accountant who helps me through it. I just don't feel like doing it right now, because the process itself is painful. I'd rather have silly conversations on the internet than dig through paperwork. It seems to simply be a matter of valuing immediate rewards more highly than distant ones. And this applies almost everywhere. The immediate reward of eating a donut can be far more prominent than the delayed reward of eating healthy. The immediate reward of spending money on dinner delivery outweighs the delayed reward of saving money. This seems to me a far more fundamental and interesting problem than fear of failure.


This is an interesting point, but I think it's important to take 'fear of failure' the right way, which is not [always] literally a fear of failing at task X; but instead as a trained predisposition to not attempt things. In the same way that a basketball player can habitually and automatically pull up for a jump shot every time he drives left; or a person can open the refrigerator every time he comes home and throws his keys on the counter, so one can habitually and automatically defer doing things because the consequences of poor performance have burned that delaying tactic into one's behavior.

Or so the theory goes -- as someone said up-thread, Piers Steel did an extremely thorough meta-analysis on the topic (gated article here, http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0191886900...; he eventually turned this paper into a book) that denies this perfectionistic explanation and instead breaks the issue down in terms of utility theory and temporal discounting.

Which is fine; but I'm not convinced that the two may not be describing the same phenomenon from different levels of abstraction, in the same way that you can describe bird flocking behavior at the level of Newtonian mechanics, but describe it a lot more succinctly and meaningfully using Craig Reynolds's Boid model.


Thank you for this.

"Start... then continue."

It's something that I needed to read and really let it sink in to get my ass into gear. Really appreciate it.


The hard thing is going to be to continue to start on monday after the weekend when I've forgotten all of this. :(


Ego depletion is largely a myth on a day-to-day basis, anyway. It's not a fixed reserve, it's a skill. Practice doing things that are difficult and you will get better at doing things that are difficult.


Not a zero-sum game. Thank you for this insight!


I agree.

I find for me I don't really identify with the "fear of failure", yet I do have a problem with procrastination.

I find tasks that I enjoy, or tasks where I am working towards a goal, easy to start and do. I find it hard to work on tasks where the task leads nowhere (the example of doing taxes is the perfect example)


I think you better expand this in blog post :) I really enjoyed OP post, but your comment is what genuinely I believe most people have as procrastination, it is normal and your way of handling it is very good.


I would add indecision to the list of sources. I can't pinpoint where I first heard this, but it rings true to me. If can break down a large todo into its constituent pieces, each of which either has a trivial answer or has a clear path to finding the answer, I can mow all of them down. Bam bam bam.

My downfall is when I forget that specificity works (when I get lazy). Exactly like me and TDD. You will eventually check all the boxes; enumerating them beforehand removes the crap.


From the blog post: "Almost every Sunday night I mourn another blown opportunity to catch up"

The author may also want to consider removing the notion of "caught up" from his vocabulary. Although it's not covered in the Now Habit, it's discussed in other respected books on procrastination and time management.

I used to beat myself up a lot with the idea that there was a (poorly defined) state of having gotten "caught up" on life tasks like those the author describes at which point all would be well.

The problem is that it doesn't really exist - there's always more to do than you can actually do - and denying that fact keeps you from living in the present. There are simply activities you choose to do and activities you choose not to do - that's it.

While it may sound absurdly simplistic, this one change in thinking had a huge impact on both my personal productivity and happiness.

FWIW, YMMV, etc.


I'd like to give this a try. Any tips for removing that feeling?


Writing this quickly because I'm about to run out the door, so please excuse the incomplete answer.

In brief, aside from simply recognizing it intellectually (which alone helped me a lot,) I'd start by literally following the advice I wrote above and remove the phrase from your vocabulary. i.e. Don't say things like "I really have to get caught up this weekend." It's a hopelessly imprecise statement that, if you're like me, primarily just engenders stress and shame. Instead use active language re: precise tasks. e.g. "I'm going to fix my bike and go to the store this afternoon."

Fiore does talk a lot about similar language issues in the Now Habit. For example, he stresses the importance of saying things like "I choose to work on this report now" versus "I have to work on this report now."

His argument is that the latter promotes a victimhood mentality leading to resentment and then procrastination.

He also points out that it's simply untrue. If you're going to be precise, there's very little you have to do - there are simply things you choose to do because either you enjoy them, or because you prefer the consequences of having done them versus not having done them.

Hope that helps!


That's a good way of putting it, thanks.

"I'm going to clear my inbox vs. I'm going to get caught up on my email"


I have a very different take than this author, and apparently many of the people in this thread.

I absolutely love to procrastinate and it's very important to me. Actually I am procrastinating by writing this comment right now. Allow me to explain:

When I program, or do math, it's very important to me to have a clear head; and I take procrastinating very seriously because I know if I don't do certain things then I will have a hard time concentrating when I sit down to work, and that will prevent me from going into "the zone", or achieving what some people call "flow".

There is such a huge difference between not only the amount of work I get down, but the quality of that work, when I am in the zone as opposed to when I am not; and procrastinating is sort of a ritual for me. I have to have a clean room, I have to have my desk nice and tidy, I have to have a glass of water, or a cup of coffee, in the same place on my desk that it always goes, I need to open my notebook to review my notes from the day before, and so on. Maybe I'm slightly OCD, but I do these things on purpose as part of a ritual to get into the zone.

If I have an urge to check HN, I log in and do it. Otherwise when I start working I have an awful nagging thought that won't go away saying "hey you know, there is probably something awesome on HN!" and the fact is I need that extra space in my brain to load up all the details of the code I am working on.

Then I load up my music playlist, put on my headphones, fire up my code editor, and the next thing I know it's 4 hours later and my stomach is growling because I have completely lost track of time. Guess what? Time to procrastinate again, otherwise productivity starts trailing off, and the quality of the work suffers.

Sometimes I keep coding anyway, but then I come back the next day and say to myself, "Jesus, what was I thinking when I wrote this crap! I wish I hadn't closed Eclipse before I went to bed, because now I can't ctrl-z out of this mess!" So it's actually a bad idea for me to keep programming when I start getting distracted by random things because then I have to waste a bunch of time the next time I sit down, just undoing a bunch of crap.

I love procrastinating, and I don't consider it a form of laziness at all, but just for a different reason.


That doesn't sound like procrastination to me as much as it sounds like a ritual. I say that because the steps, even though completely unrelated to what you want to accomplish, are still moving you closer to accomplishing your goals.

For those of us whose procrastination has had a negative impact, those steps invariably drive us further from what we want to accomplish.


IMO, that's not procrastination. That's just guilt-free play. The key is that you are still getting things done that you need/want to do. You're just aware of when you need a break and are comfortable letting yourself do so. That's not the procrastination that the OP is talking about...


You have a very valid point, and even though I call it procrastinating it's not the same. However, I am all too familiar with the procrastinating of the type described by the OP, as I have experienced it myself quite severely.

I suppose the reason I made my comment is one day I realized that it was actually a positive thing to "procrastinate" for a non-trivial amount of time before I even start working; as long as I actually do start before it gets out of control.

I suppose it was also helpful for me to get rid of the psychological baggage of feeling guilty about "procrastinating", and I wanted to give a word of caution about not over-compensating by going to an extreme of never taking a break, or taking too short of a break, because of feeling guilty or afraid of not being able to start working again if you do.


I do this and call it "constructive procrastination". I quite often wash the dishes because I'm putting off writing some code, for example.

In your specific case I think it's even healthier. I can't work well or think straight if my environment is cluttered, it feels like it's cluttering my head as well. Identifying things in your environment that affect your performance and taking control over them is KEY to productivity and happiness.


Thats awesome. I'm reading the Now Habit at the moment (mentioned by the OP) and that seems to be one of the main points. "Guilt-free play" is about doing the things you WANT to do when you want to do them, so you can focus on important stuff later. Guilt is a huge part...


I'm not sure you have experienced the kind of procrastination the op speaks about.

You have a to-do list of 5 items for today and then a week later(with up to 11 hours of busy-work everyday), you're on item number 3.

This kind of procrastination is a sickness and has causes a lot of emotional distress.

You're reading hacker news(or even working on a less important project) full of guilt and indescribable negative feelings that you need to be working on the "important things", then you move to the important thing you need to be doing but you cant get it done cause there is this hyper-active force on the inside of you that just wont allow you to focus.

Its a very sad-depressing place I hope never to return to.


I have bouts of getting out of this cycle, but always seem to return, how did you get out?


When i got into this cycle i was in a desperate place.

I got out of my first startup because "Chinese importers" had driven prices down so much that I couldn't turn a decent profit.

A few weeks later, i got in touch with my manufacturer about a new product for the iPhone 5 and as they were in the process of manufacturing my new product, i listed it on amazon for pre-orders.

I was selling about 10 pieces an hour and had a few thousand pounds in my account after about 5-days, enough to cover my manufacturing costs.

Then amazon reached out that my account had been blocked because it was somehow related to another account they have previously blocked and i cant continue to sell with them or open another account.

They froze my funds and cancelled my account, so i had to refund all those pre-orders and at the time amazon was 99.9 percent of my sales(big mistake)

After that disappointment, i was a bit depressed and decided to leave that business and come into web startups.

I started learning how to code and while i do enjoy coding, its not something i really want to do as much as something i felt (at least at that time) that i had to do. I think it was this mental block + the mild(not clinical)depression that caused me to continue to procrastinate this way.

I was like this for i think about 6 months.. it was bad.

Along with a complete lifestyle optimization (i went in hard on reorganizing my life to be efficient), the big change came when i started working on another promising project - i now had something to look forward to and a hope to hold on-to and i think that's what really made the difference and got me "productive" again.

I can send you details about my lifestyle optimization if you are interested.


I think that you make a very important point about discontinuity. It made me think about how I could reduce the inertia of refamiliarization when I resume editing some program after some interruption. I find that I can concentrate for about four hours before my ability to maintain a mental model of the salient aspects of whatever subsystem I am modifying break down and I start to make unconscious mistakes that I fail to notice due to the effort required to direct my little remaining drip of concentration on those aspects that were associated with the initial goal. I suppose one could estimate how much time it would take to make a given change and only attempt it if you knew that you had an ample block of time to complete it without pause, but I somehow feel that this is wishful thinking and that you don't necessarily know what you are getting yourself into when you resume editing some part of a complex system.

Those prone to procrastination will find that the advice to "do a little every day" isn't all that helpful if the task requires the previous day's (partially unfinished) changes to be comprehended before you can pick up where you left off, mental model now reconstructed. There is also a temptation to rewrite this unfinised, untested, undebugged code as unentangled, "fresh", code is easier to write than that which is burdened with interdependencies, observed protocols, ceremony and context-dependent assumptions. Without refamiliarization there is a danger of blundering blindly into damaging changes with subtle, far reaching repurcussions, due to your naive comprehension of the system dynamic.

Given that refamiliarization is exhausting, I wondered if there were remedies that could reduce the time and effort it required each day:

    * Allow the visualisation of the project with a number of domain specific Projectional Editors - derived from an Abstract Syntax Tree
    * Use SSA symbolic variables - imperative programs are hard to understand because they support the reassignment of named data cells
    * If you have to have state defer changes to a globally synchronised Superstep - also support the Command/Query Separation Principle
    * Use a live programming debugger to play with the system and refamiliarise yourself with its dynamical behaviour in a safe sandbox
    * It may help to use a language that scores well on the Halstead complexity measure to reduce overall development effort - Python
    * Use a WHY directed outline for code - that explains its goals through a folding text editor that supports literate programming
    * Avoid fragile base classes - there is very little point having encapsulation if you hack the heritage of an object's genealogy
    * Use Go style interfaces
If all that fails:

    * Revert to the previous working version and redo up to the point of interruption or pause - as it's easier to write entangled stuff
I welcome anyone's opinions on these suggestions, or suggestions of their own...


I also welcome anyone's anonymous cowardly downvotes

;-)


Let me second the OP and recommend Neil Fiore's book "The Now Habit".

There are lots of good strategies in that book, such as:

The Unschedule

  * a weekly calendar of committed recreational activities and breaks, meals, etc
  * productive periods of work are recorded after they are accomplished
  * encourages starting earlier on projects once you see 
    how much time is already committed
  * 30 minute chunks of productive work - too small to be intimidating
Leverage Reverse psychology:

  * do not work more than 20 hours a week on this project
  * do not work more than 5 hours a day on this project
  * you must play or exercise at least one hour per day
  * you must take at least one day a week off from any work
  * do only 30 minute chunks without reward / break
  * work for an imperfect, human, first effort
  * start small
Builds up an unconscious desire to work more and play less

Schedule only:

  * previously committed time - meals, sleep, meetings
  * free time, recreation, leisure reading
  * socializing
  * exercise
  * routine events - commuting, classes, appointments
  * Fill in periods of productive work only after completing 
    a 30-minute chunk
  * take credit only for 30 minutes of uninterrupted work
  * reward each chunk with a break or a change to a more enjoyable task
  * track the number of productive hours by day and week.
  * always have at least one full day of recreation or enjoyable tasks
  * before recreation, take time for one 30-minute chunk of project work
  * focus on starting
  * think small
  * keep starting, finishing will take care of itself
  * never stop when you are blocked or at the end of a section; 
    push through a block or start a new section before stopping
Benefits:

  * realistic timekeeping
  * avoid feeling overwhelmed
  * allows you to experience success
  * deadlines are self-imposed
  * new-found free time

I also recommend another book (by another psychologist): "The Procrastination Equation" by Piers Steel.

The second book is partly at odds with the first, so I leave it to you to see which better describes what you observe.

Summary of The Procrastination Equation:

Perfectionism does not lead to procrastination - this is well studied. It may be that they are thought to be linked because of the cases where there is this discrepancy in behavior. Procrastination is a result of impulsiveness. Self-control and delaying gratification are key to controlling procrastination.

Procrastinators suffer from

  * weak impulse control
  * lack of persistence
  * lack of work discipline
  * lack of time management skill
  * inability to work methodically
Motivation can be modeled by

  * (expectancy * value) / (impulsiveness * delay)
  * The numerator is Expected Utility Theory in economics
  * Expectancy is the perceived likelihood of reward or success
  * Value is the perceived value of the reward
  * Delay is the perceived delay in receiving the reward
  * Impulsiveness is the tendency to (irrationally) pursue immediate reward instead
Expectancy - optimism, expectation of success

  * too much pessimism causes procrastination - 
    low expectation of success keeps us from starting
  * too much optimism causes procrastination - 
    unrealistic ease of success causes delay of starting until the last moment
techniques for improving optimism:

  * success spirals - progressive series of successes build  
    confidence (e.g. earning scout badges). regularly
    stretching your limits is important to teach yourself 
    confidence in your ability to tackle something difficult
  * vicarious victory - relating to someone’s success story, 
    finding inspiration in books, movies, inspirational speakers, 
    joining a group of inspirational people
  * wish fulfillment - visualization of success and contrasting with 
    where you are now. Visualization that only focuses on the goal may 
    drain motivation to complete the necessary steps. 
    As you visualize attaining the goal and then contrasting the current
    situation, maintain your optimism so that you can translate this 
    visualization into a plan of action.
  * Plan for the worst, hope for the best - develop strategies to recover 
    from falling back into old habits. Anticipate temptations and find ways
    to counter them.


Thank you for this. It's easy to think you'll have something similar in your head, but actually seeing it makes it harder to ignore.

My procastination is usually due to a stupid case of OCD. I say it's stupid, because I can see how blatantly counter-productive it is... and yet, it's still there.

I keep my OCD down to "mild" levels by purposely flinging my socks as soon as I come home. This, in a way, breaks the cycle of "can't get down to do this because everything isn't perfectly clean". Ordinarily, something becomes a source of discontent that keeps me from getting things done and the best way (that works for me, YMMV) is a hot shower after a bit of excercise, LOTS of coffee followed by soothing music. "Soothing" in my context is usually Testament or Slayer, but you get the idea.

I also make it harder on myself to get distracted by turning off the ringer on my phone or taking out the battery to make Twitter et al. harder to get to (I don't remember my Twitter password, so I'd have to go into my "mega-list-of-all-passwords" text file which is PGP encrypted).


So I've found that exactly one thing helps me focus on work -- boredom. I am definitely not OCD, but I still find that I can't just work on something at any time for any length of time. I have to be in the right mood.

I'd also add that procrastination and perfectionism is something I've seen a lot of, and which has always struck me as particularly insidious. I managed to finish my PhD by 26, but the reason is because I was comfortable with turning it in imperfect (and expected to do so from 24 on, after initial grad student optimism was burned out of me). I've had friends who spent years on a thesis past when it was done by any sane definition of the word just because they wanted it to be perfect. And since "perfect" was unattainable they spent all their time playing video games instead.

Last, I have spent over a decade carefully cultivating a mentality of not attaching myself to the outcomes of my projects but instead focus on enjoying the process. If I don't enjoy the process, the product is sort of irrelevant (at least for long periods). If I do enjoy the process, the product will be the best I can do. I'm currently running two startups, working part time at a third, teach karate, and am at least nominally pursuing romantic and social relationships. I often find myself using the mantra "it will turn out how it turns out" to help myself sleep on anxiety ridden nights. I also more formally say "I release <foo>" when I find that I am dwelling on something in meditation and visualize myself no longer being emotionally attached to that thing. Particularly helpful for tentative romantic relationships. Worry there seems to be cause inevitable failure.

Dunno if that helps anyone, but it helped me a ton.


I've had friends (...) wanted it to be perfect. And since "perfect" was unattainable they spent all their time playing video games instead.

I feel naked in front of that statement. :(


I have this OCD tendency to clean up my place before I can sit down to work on my projects, by the time I am done with it all, I am hungry, so I cook then there are the dishes...after everything's done, I feel mentally drained even though all I did was physical activity. I am similarly OCD about working out. All of this coupled with errands and family and social obligations, the desire to please everybody (do something special for birthdays, anniversaries, help out, never saying no)...makes it very difficult to work. Usually, on weekends, it is Sunday evening before I have taken care of everything and am in a good position to work on my projects.


Thank you so much!

I wonder, is there any website, community or maybe even webservice with book annotations, clear and brief? I think it wouldn't be a big exaggeration to say I'd prefer a quality brief for at least 80% of books I read.



Thank you!

But €299 for 12 months was a little bit.. unsuspected.


I've read a few self-help books. The problem with many of them is that they try to fix things on the surface level. I have not read "The Now Habit", though. From the summary, it seems to have a lot of good strategies. However, although good strategies may help you break out of bad habbits, they may sometimes be sustaining underlying problems.

I've always had a strong connection between my ego and my achievements. When I got employed by a company with extremely talented people, I developed chronic stress. It's been a serious problem for me for a few years. Lots of procrastination, my health has suffered, and my general life quality has suffered.

What has made a tremendous difference for me, is to develop metacognition. If you are aware of what's going on in your head, you can aim your focus where you want it to be. Over time, old habits will fade.

Most of us think thoughts and feelings are reality. But they're not. They are just events inside us. They're not dangerous. Yet, we often believe they are life threatening. So we react. Strongly.

The first step is to understand that thoughts, the voice in your head, is just that: A voice in your head. It doesn't tell the truth: it tells scary stories, to keep you safe from sable tooth tigers (or the modern equivalents). Since you want to stay alive, it's best to be on the safe side, so this radio broadcasts 80% bad news all day long.

That radio used to take most of my focus. It was very loud. By learning to treat it as background noise(1), I can now better focus on other things. As a result, many problems in my life have just started to fade away, without me actively working on them. Including procrastination.

Also, learning to be aware of feelings (detectable by bodily sensations), and letting them stay without fueling them with thoughts (e.g. "I don't want to feel like this", "this is bad", or "why me!?"), or conciously (or unconsiously) trying to get rid of them, reduces stress levels a lot. Feelings left alone often disappear by themselves within a minute or so. In contrast, if you fuel them with thoughts, or try to get rid of them, they tend to get stronger and may stick around for a long time.

I would recommend looking into ACT. E.g. check out this video by Russ Harris: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mQTvFdbjlxw . Also, his book, "The Happiness Trap"[1], is well worth reading. This may be all you need.

Before discovering Russ Harris, I developed my awareness of thoughts, as well as my mental flexibility, by doing attention training[2]. For more on this, I would recommend "Metacognitive Therapy for Anxiety and Depression"[3] by Adrain Wells. (Beware, it is quite heavy, written for psychologists. Don't mind the "Anxiety and Depression" part of the title.)

Furthermore, mindfulness and meditation is good. Just be aware that these are very fashionable nowdays, and there are lots of misunderstandings out there. For example, many mistake them to be about relaxing. Also, getting into meditation and mindfulness may be extremely hard if you're not ready for it, so starting with ACT may be a good idea. To understand (vipassana) meditation, I like this description: http://lesswrong.com/lw/2rd/understanding_vipassana_meditati...

Another good book that covers a lot of the above material, but from a Buddhist perspective, is "Living Beautifully: with Uncertainty and Change"[4] by Pema Chodron. I find it helpful to get different perspectives on these things.

Beware: If you suffer from serious mental illness, or have had traumas, you should be very careful experimenting with this by yourself. I would recommend seeing a psychologist first, preferrably one who is up-to-date on Metacognitive theraphy, ACT and/or mindfulness. Be aware though, that many have an academic interest in these topics, but do not have personal experience, so the concepts are not well integrated in them, making it harder for them to teach it.

[1] http://www.amazon.co.uk/Happiness-Trap-Based-revolutionary-m...

[2] http://www.mct-institute.com/attention-training-technique.ht...

[3] http://www.amazon.co.uk/Metacognitive-Therapy-Anxiety-Depres...

[4] http://www.amazon.com/Living-Beautifully-Uncertainty-Pema-Ch...

(1) Trying to silence the inner radio, or to make a soundclash by adding another radio (e.g. "positive thinking"), does not work very well.


Also: It is important to acknowledge that procrastination is something that everybody do from time to time. It's part of life, and unless it's chronic, we shouldn't make it into a big problem.

Another thing: Our brains did not evolve to solve abstract problems for 8+ hours a day. They evolved to solve small, practical problems in everyday life. We learn from early childhood to work hard, to concentrate, to get good grades. Less focus is on the importance of listening to the signals that the body sends us, e.g. about taking breaks. It is perfectly fine to feel tired, to feel like not doing anything. It's important to rest.


So instead finding something you would like to do, we must commit to exercises, motivation(discipline), regulations, restrictions in hope that reward will outweigh something we really do not want commit to.


I find it hard to agree with this post. If you are willing to work 40 hrs a week you will receive 40hr/week pay from your employer. If you dont commit (via http://news.ycombinator.com posts) SOMEONE ELSE WILL. Do not fool yourself out of a startup salary, and learn Lisp! (if you have the time!) (There are shortcuts to learning Lisp, but all of these shortcuts are not worth the saved time you spent learning Lisp) (Even if its a dead language, you learned it) (Peace)


O_o

Is this a bot in development? Comment history is awfully strange, always linking to http://news.ycombinator.com, suggesting it is a placeholder for later links.

... Maybe I just need my morning coffee... or internetdude313 is high as a kite, with a crush on lisp.


Probably a Markov chain bot written by a Lisp enthusiast. No doubt the bot itself is currently learning Lisp and becoming self aware. Hopefully it will run out of parentheses before it takes over the world.


Has to be the first pro-Lisp troll in the history of the net :)


I think he's trying to caricature a certain sub-population.


I really want to know what's going on here. I can't see any sane explanation.


Perhaps botnet C&C?


skynet!


First time ever I see someone on HN with negative karma.


"Once you lose track of the specific items that are causing you stress, you tend to regard it all as one big ugly entity that you want to avoid"

This. I vividly remember when some problems got completely out of hand and my life turned downhill, this is exactly what it felt like. On shitty days, I tell myself, 'well, at least it wasn't as bad as that'


I had an epiphany today that the biggest solution to this problem and other feelings of "shittiness" is to just tackle it with nonjudgmental awareness, breaking the problem down and analyzing exactly what parts of it are making me feel that way. It's then easier to reframe and put the smaller parts into perspective than it is to deal with one blob of stress, which is an illusion anyway.


You are not your thoughts. You are not your actions. Your are not your memories, your past, or your future or your abilities.

However, you are part of a process. You don't own the process and even you do everything perfectly things might not turn out right, but you can understand what happened and how to influence things for the better in the future.

It is rather freeing.


On a smaller scale, I often observe a general feeling of uneasiness without knowing why, and can usually trace it back to something I was thinking about in the most recent 10-20 minutes.


I get this too. I found if I trace the thoughts back, and write down briefly why I'm worried or upset, the feeling dissipates. Usually it's something trivial.


I have found that the act of free writing whenever I'm stressed out or procrastinating results in an inevitable question that needs answered, and for whatever reason I was avoiding it at the time. Once it's on paper and I can look at it, I can answer the question and move on, and I notice I almost immediately feel better. Figuring out the right question is sometimes not the most obvious thing either, it takes some writing to get to it. Even if I don't act on the question immediately, knowing the question makes the stress go away and then I start thinking about how to resolve the problem.

I don't know, it's something about the act of writing for me. It's getting it out of your head, but going along the lines of what the OP says, there's zero judgment. It's also forcing yourself to not just endlessly think about ambiguities. Writing it down forces you to focus it more narrowly and address specifics. You break the problem down into smaller steps and from there it seems easier to tackle.


One perspective that I've taken to recently is this:

Maybe life just isn't exactly what I want it to be.

In other words, maybe if I go around expecting to have fun all the time (or enjoy myself, or be stimulated, or do what I want, or however I think about it), I will be perpetually disappointed and confused.

I don't know but I speculate about the role of the ideology of consumer capitalism in all this. (No, really!)

It's not that I think life ought to be dull or boring, but it shouldn't be controversial to say that most of us have lingering expectations about life that are out of tune with reality.

Maybe it just comes down to being willing to endure doing things that feel boring and/or stupid compared to the other myriad fun things that are always available to us affluent people.

Some relevant quotes from David Foster Wallace:

"This is the great thing about it, is that probably each generation has different things that force the generation to grow up. Maybe for our grandparents it was World War Two. You know? For us, it’s gonna be that at, at a certain point, that we’re either gonna have to put away childish things and discipline ourself about how much time do I spend being passively entertained? And how much time do I spend doing stuff that actually isn’t all that much fun minute by minute, but that builds certain muscles in me as a grown-up and a human being? And if we don’t do that, then (a) as individuals, we’re gonna die, and (b) the culture’s gonna grind to a halt."

From fictional characters in his The Pale King:

“True heroism is minutes, hours, weeks, year upon year of the quiet, precise, judicious exercise of probity and care—with no one there to see or cheer. This is the world.”

“The truth is that the heroism of your childhood entertainments was not true valor. It was theatre. The grand gesture, the moment of choice, the mortal danger, the external foe, the climactic battle whose outcome resolves all--all designed to appear heroic, to excite and gratify and audience. Gentlemen, welcome to the world of reality--there is no audience. No one to applaud, to admire. No one to see you. Do you understand? Here is the truth--actual heroism receives no ovation, entertains no one. No one queues up to see it. No one is interested.”


thank you for the literary backup. They help us reptiles more than we think!


Welcome to the theater where we pretend that we are playing grown ups and life.


"Don't wait until you feel like doing something"

That's the one sentence solution described by Oliver Burkeman that has remained in my Pinboard.

http://www.oliverburkeman.com/blog/posts/the-one-sentence-so...

This article describes procrastination as two demons you need to conquer: the first is doing the actual task, while the second is to get into a certain state of mind or mood that makes you want to do the task. By setting up two barriers to getting the task done, you're likely to procrastinate further.

The "just do it" mantra jettisons the "I need to feel like doing the task before I do the task" roadblock. What you'll find is that once you actually start working on your task, you're more likely to continue along merrily, wondering why you even resisted starting in the first place. This almost always works for me. Give it a shot.


"You see, procrastinators tend to be people who have, for whatever reason, developed to perceive an unusually strong association between their performance and their value as a person. This makes failure or criticism disproportionately painful, which leads naturally to hesitancy when it comes to the prospect of doing anything that reflects their ability — which is pretty much everything."

What's most cutting reading that paragraph is how true it is, and how much of my self-worth I feel diminished by admitting that.

I've got better recently, but that post really hit home.


My biggest source of procrastination is the fear of making a change that can't be undone. I find this particularly challenging on projects around the house like putting in a new door, and having the door ready to be hung on and knowing if I screw up the hings placement I need to get a new door. Blam! I procrastinate the crap out of taking the irreversible step of routering in the hinge mounts. I have to sit down and give myself permission to buy a new door if I screw up, and even then it's painful to move forward.

I never really thought of it as a judgmental problem (self worth related) so much as a sort of efficiency problem (hate to have wasted all that resource (time, money, whatever)). One of the weird things about quitting World of Warcraft was that I played hours on that game, so I could pretty much do anything and it would be less wasteful of my time than that. So for a while that was a great crutch, "We'll hey, I didn't get much done but if I had been playing WoW I wouldn't have gotten anything done."


The fear of screwing it up, coupled with the knowledge that I really am not good at things like carpentry, and rounded out with a lack of funds to hire others, have played havoc on my ability to finish my basement or my back yard.

Ironically, I have managed to keep my washer and dryer going for 16 years. But that's all thanks to the Internet. :)


It's rather telling that many of the comments disputing the author's thesis about the root cause of procrastination read like the Top 10 Things Procrastinators Tell Themselves. Almost all of the alternative causes mentioned have nothing to do with them, because that would mean admitting a flaw, but have to do with the situation, which of course is beyond their control and therefore not their fault.

Anyway, this article really hit home for me. I will definitely be picking up a copy of "The Now Habit".


I came here to make nearly that exact comment - but about the article rather than the comments. A friend who is a psychologist recommended these resources on the topic: http://www.cci.health.wa.gov.au/resources/infopax.cfm?Info_I...


Here's a link to the "Experiment No. 11" he mentioned:

http://www.raptitude.com/experiment-log-no-11-an-attack-on-p...


Interesting that that's from 2011, whereas this post is 2013. A rehash/rebooted blog, perhaps?


Actually, this post is from 2011 as well: http://www.raptitude.com/2011/05/procrastination-is-not-lazi...


Or procrastination.


I think the article "How to Beat Procrastination" on Less Wrong [1] is quite possibly the best thing written on the subject of procrastination on the web in terms of both writing and research quality. It's based on the temporal motivational theory of procrastination, which is so far the one that best explains the experimental data we've got.

Scroll down the page a bit to see "the procrastination equation". Even though I had been exposed to concepts from the temporal motivational theory before I found the equation quite striking the first time I saw it.

[1] http://lesswrong.com/lw/3w3/how_to_beat_procrastination/


Thanks for this. The equation, for posterity:

> Motivation = (Expectancy x Value) / (Impulsiveness x Delay)

> Increase the size of a task's reward (including both the pleasantness of doing the task and the value of its after-effects), and your motivation goes up. Increase the perceived odds of getting the reward, and your motivation also goes up.

> The denominator covers the effect of time on our motivation to do a task. The longer the delay before we reap a task's reward, the less motivated we are to do it. And the negative effect of this delay on our motivation is amplified by our level of impulsiveness. For highly impulsive people, delays do even greater damage to their motivation.

The rest of the article is worth reading. (It's short; 2/3 of the page is footnotes and comments.) Firstly for the examples that root the equation in reality. Secondly for suggestions on increasing the numerator and decreasing the denominator.


Has the OP ever considered that they may not actually like what they do for a living? They mention a few times in the post that one of the ways they procrastinate is to "try a new recipe" or "watch a documentary". For me, I procrastinate from cooking by programming, because programming is much mor enjoyable to me. Heck, I even enjoy programming more than most recreational activities. Perhaps the OP should pursue the culinary arts, or become a documenteur, or an expert on the psychology of procrastination given how long and in-depth this post is. Seriously, it's a 2600 word article that I have no doubt the author wrote instead of doing something else they were "supposed to be doing". But should they really be doing it, or feeling guilty for not?

I say this because I spent 7 years in college bouncing from degree to degree, finally settling on physics of all things, not because I had a burning passion for physics but because my father had always held it in such high regard and had such high expectations for me. Every day was a struggle against procrastination. It's funny because I wrote countless self-addressed pieces like the OP's lamenting my battle with procrastination and what to do about it; I even kept track of the different strategies I'd employ, which all inevitably failed.

Turns out it wasn't that I was broken in some way and it wasn't a problem I could fix. I just didn't want professional physicist, and although I did graduate (thanks grade inflation!) I haven't so much as touched a Lorentz transformation or Feynman graph since. I wanted to build things, not discover things, and programming rubbed me in all the right ways. I now have the complete opposite problem the OP has; I work too much, am very productive, and it frankly it affects my liesure life. I haven't finished a video game in years.

I'll close with one last bit of wisdom I learned from my father. No matter what my Dad does for the day, whether it was ten important things or 1 seemingly trivial thing, he always focuses on the stuff he got done rather than dwell on the stuff that got neglected. Now I always make sure to do at least one thing I can look back on about which I can say confidently made the day worth it. It's easy to lose perspective. You don't have to be superman every day.


I think you are projecting onto the OP. In fact, I feel you are completely disregarding what the OP is trying to explain, by suggesting that the problem lies with him "not actually liking what he does for a living". I'll agree that if you are stuck doing or studying something that is uninspiring to you, that it could cause a lack of motivation, and in turn make you procrastinate. But that is a completely different beast all together.

At least, that is what I believe, based on the assumption that the OP and I are very similar in this regard. Everything he wrote rings true to me, and nothing is off. Yet, I never had the slightest problem in sticking to, and finalizing my degree, nor disliking my work or profession. In fact, the parts where I have found myself procrastinating the most, is when setting out to do my own pet projects, the ones I would LOVE to do. And why is that? The exact same reasons stated in the article, the fear of imperfection, of trying, coming short and experiencing it as a personal failure.

So, I disagree on the notion of "whatever you do when procrastinating, THAT'S what you should do for a living"-notion.

As for the last bit of wisdom you provided. Right on! Keeping a "Done-list" as opposed to just a "Todo-list" can be really useful!


As far as I understood OP clearly states that he likes to work (...although he recently had a bad experience that might have been the straw that broke the camels back...)

BTW, -this isn't to uncommon. Many who suffer from procrastination love their work.


(Learn Lisp)


This is perfectly timed for me, having spent the last two days procrastinating (yesterday, by staring at someone else's code but not really reading it and today by running errands). It feels like the opportunity to be brilliant can so easily slip away until my deadlines have passed and I'm out of time.

The last 2.5 months for me have been nothing but struggling to figure out something that I barely understand. Something that seems to come pretty easily to a number of people I associate with, so it's difficult to retain perspective. To wit, that they've been doing this stuff a lot longer than I have, and that at least I can get some of it (and will someday probably get more of it).

So this rings pretty true for me, as I had just gotten a thing I'd been working on for what seemed like forever to (mostly) function, now it has to be expanded to handle this other thing that I know pretty much nothing about. It seems like either there are far better people who could be doing this than me, or maybe my belief that if I keep smashing my forehead against the spec, it will gain entry to my brain.

So far, starting out on my own with the idea that I could make a product has been lonely and isolating. This work is damned hard. If I fail, I won't be in a bad place, but it's still overwhelming me. My respect for certain people who have the temerity to do this (and I think you all know who I mean) has grown considerably. But don't tell him I said that, because I still need him to take the garbage out from time to time.


She clearly means Paul Graham, who can come over and take the garbage out ANY TIME HE'S READY THANK YOU.


Horrible arrow buttons that can't be undone. I want to first apologize for having my thumb slide past the down arrow.

Second, I completely understand the feeling of isolation and loneliness. And it makes it hard, if one's nature is to procrastinate, to push through. I've started talking more about my project with people in an effort to encourage myself to want to show more progress. And, yet, here I am. :/


I read a book in 2006 called Mindset, by Carol Dweck, a Stanford Psychologist. I could see how having a growth mindset instead of a fixed mindset might help in this case of life-long procrastination. Just a thought. I'm curious if others on HN have read the book and think it would be helpful. There is a website associated with the book that might also have some useful information: http://mindsetonline.com/


Agreed, this is another good book. I think it explains a lot about behaviors that have puzzled me over the years. I think it can be related to the set of beliefs behind motivation, which is a part of procrastination. It may not help someone with procrastination per se (that may be better addressed by books directly dealing with the psychology of procrastination) but it is part of the puzzle.

In particular it might help with motivation and perception of success/failure.

For those who haven't read it, Mindset sets out 2 main opposing beliefs:

  * your abilities are largely "fixed", mostly a function
    of innate "talent" that you can't change
  * vs. your ability is mostly due to learning,
    and you can always learn more
Dweck points out the problems associated with the former point of view, and how a shift in this thinking can transform your outlook on your entire life. I am surprised sometimes at how controversial this can be when you bring it up.


"As I mentioned, on Monday I will begin... [a] direct attack on my procrastination problem."

Does anyone else see the problem here?


The direct attack on procrastination... has been postponed until Monday. :)

I really liked the article, as I'm almost exactly like the way the op described himself. Hot proof: my tax returns were due 15 days ago and here I am, eagerly discussing the issue of procrastination. Much of the last two weeks was also spent watching the second leg of the Champions League football matches (ah, Barca, you recovered magnificently from a two goal deficit - well done!).

It's a really big problem.

There was another article recently on HN which I really liked [1]. I tried it. Yelling "You're an ANIMAL! You're an ANIMAL!" at myself as I perused my tax documentation. It hasn't worked yet and I've now scheduled another session. For Monday.

[1] http://www.linkedin.com/today/post/article/20130313143038-54...


My impression is that procrastination may have multiple causes. Some of them are fleeing difficulties like overcoming procrastination which is a vicious circle.

My perception is also that the first cause of procrastination is fear of X, where X is most probably specific to you. Another term of the equation is that avoiding something that we fear, increases the fear of it. And this probably closes the loop.

I found out by experience that a way to get out of this loop is to inhibit any (negative) thinking about the task at hand and just focus on doing the task. Then praise yourself when you achieve the task with "good work Harry", something you probably didn't hear enough when you were young.

For example, when I'm about to write an essay or review it, I might think that I'm not a writer, or that I'll be ridiculed if anybody see this text because they will see I'm very bad and presumptuous to think I could write, etc. This thinking take place in milliseconds and generate a sting strong enough that when I see the text file I fell like an electrical shock keeping me away of even touching it. I took me time to understand that it was fear from my own imagination that kept me away of it. Every time I just focused on the task itself, clicking on the document, just read it for my self and see what I like and don't like for my self, inhibiting any thoughts on what I might do with the document, there was no procrastination.

This type of procrastination can be diagnosed if one is frustrated by not being able to achieve what we really want to do.

One can feel the same for a startup project where we live a frustrating paralysis in front of the project. This paralysis comes from all the fears generated by our imagination anticipating all what could go wrong. But this is like the Maserati problems where you imagine you could crash your Maserati. Just do it, make the MVP software for your own pleasure, focus on the creation of it, polishing of its interface and UX just for yourself. Inhibit any thoughts on the future which are the source of fear and paralysis.

Regarding procrastination in house and cloths cleaning and food making, I think it might also be as simple as fear if one has not learned and has been put in confidence to do it when he was young. It is bad parenting if kids are not familiarized to do it when young, thought it may seam the opposite at first look where parents take care of all the needs of their kids.


I'm reaching out here because I really need some advice. This is a great thread, but I think it only semi-applies to me.

I am 24 years old, and I seriously struggle with motivation to do... just about anything. I have a midterm tomorrow in Dynamics (a mech engr course), and I have pretty much neglected the class entirely, and I am most certainly going to fail it, and I'll have to withdraw. This isn't surprising, because I've been in this situation many, many times before. But the issue goes much deeper.

For my entire life, I have struggled to do many basic things other people have no trouble with, like keeping my room clean or being on time. (I am chronically late). For high school I had bad grades, and for college I've had abysmal ones. I took Calc 2 three times, and Calc 3 four times. Business 1 three times, and I've repeated probably 3 or 4 engineering and other easy classes just a single time as well.

After my third year at university (a complete disaster), I investigated getting tested for ADD, and lo- and behold I "had" it, along with mild depression. Now I live on my own, and aside from not having enough friends as I'd like / once had, I don't really have any real reasons to be depressed. I started Adderrall a few years ago, and it showed me how backward I am. I'll get to this later.

A recent talk with my half-sister really opened my eyes by showing me she is very much like me when it comes to getting things done. For just about everything, I get no mental stimulation out of "doing it now," so I put it off. And off. And off. I have some kind of huge mental resistance, anxiety, or pain associated with doing it (for all you neuroscientists out there). I straight-up simply CAN NOT get myself to do it. In fact, I have never, EVER, just sat down and done something long before it absolutely _HAD_ to be done. Instead, it gets to a critical point where I realize, HOLY CRAP I am going to fail if I don't start now. Essentially, the things that actually motivate me are fear-driven (embarassment or failure). It's at this point I am now under huge pressure to get it done, and not surprisingly, I have totally inadequate time to do it, and my ability to focus and actually complete the task is completely compromised. Sometimes the stress gets so bad, I have to just quit what I'm doing and go to sleep, to alleviate the stress.

This trend goes on, and on, and on. I didn't finish school, and I'm trying to transfer right now, but my GPA is so low I can't get in anywhere. I've applied to universities over and over, where I've written essays about how I've grown and am a better, more mature person now, but the truth is I'm not. In full honesty, I know full-well the formula for success, but no matter how well I plan or organize my time, when it comes to physically doing it at the most primitive level, I fall flat on my face. Thus, that simple action-component of the master plan goes unfinished, and the house of cards begins to fall from there.

If it is of interest, my father has had very similar if not worse issues for his whole life, as well as my mother, but not quite as bad. My mother has serious lack of motivation issues and has had longstanding depression, and both my half-sisters seem to have the similar difficulties with focus and motivation.

This fits in to what I perceive as a greater trend: I generally lack stimulation, and I gravitate towards things that give me that kind of instant gratification.... primarily the Internet (and HN!), extreme sports, and playing guitar. I have actually become quite a jack of all trades, lacking follow-through to finish anything to my desire.

I've learned that really to get anything done right, it takes slow and consistent focused work, which unfortunately for me, is just very boring, and I never do it. I _can't_ do it. When I try, my mind wanders uncontrollably.

I've long been criticized as being lazy, and perhaps that's what I am, but I don't view it in that sense. I want _desperately_ to be able to work. I want to work long and hard on things, and have follow-through, but I am unconsciously prevented from doing so. I have tons of ideas and a wild creative side, but I have, as a marriage counselor put regarding my dad, "an aversion to doing."

The lack of stimulation seems to carry over into my relationships too. I have a hard time getting along with most people. Most people are just kind of boring; I don't get much out of their presence. Not in that I can't have a conversation for a short while and appear sociable (which I am), but truly making friends seems very, very difficult for me. I try to, but it just doesn't work. I rarely make actual friends that I feel comfortable with, until I randomly will make one, with no effort whatsoever (about 1 per year). Very interestingly, most of my friends are similar to me; they are of fairly socially-akward sort, and many are very ADD-ish.

I'm 24, and my life is in shambles, compared to what it could be. Very recently I almost got an amazing job at Apple (corporate), but after nine interviews, I was ultimately denied because I lacked the degree and had an "unprofessional" LinkedIN, Facebook, and email address. (okay the last part wasn't relevant). Anyway, that hurt, and I need to finish school. All my friends from high school are in _TOP_ law and grad schools, and I'm still semi-unsuccessfully drudging on with my undergrad and working at a startup that won't go anywhere, making $12/hour.

I don't know what plan of action to take. What can I do to fix this? Do I go see psychologist/psychiatrist? I've heard so much about the brain's plasticity, so is this something I can fix ? I had some level of success with Adderrall, and it showed me what it's like to _FEEL_ motivation to do things at the appropriate time and similarly the anxiety to _NOT_ doing it "now." It also made engaging with people much easier. It was pretty profound.

However, I really don't like the idea of being on a drug all the time, and I felt like I quickly grew tolerant to it, which is a trend I'm more afraid of than anything.

Nothing is working out for me, and I want to get things on track before I've wasted my life away. I have huge ambitions, but I cannot accomplish them, and being brutally honest, while it's still a long ways away, I wouldn't want to raise a kid with my habits as they are now. That's a big deal.

So, HN, any help or advice would be very appreciated.

Thanks.


For me, the essence of it was to stop trying to please other people, stop trying to fit into some sort of mold, stop thinking of myself as being on or off some mythical 'track'. The only track is your own life, and what makes you happy and lets you survive. Everything else is pointless, just a bunch of noise. When you give up that way of thinking, life becomes so much simpler and less stressful. There's nothing you're 'supposed' to be doing, so it doesn't matter if you 'get things done' or don't. When you do decide to get things done, make it something you believe in or at least believe is necessary and important for you to do. And when you don't, so what? Human beings aren't anything more than a bunch of monkeys scampering around on some infinitesimally tiny little speck in the universe. We tend to take ourselves very seriously, but things we accomplish don't matter an iota beyond giving ourselves a bit of meaning and purpose.

I, like you, have always had plenty of creativity and drive, but I have absolutely zero drive for any task that isn't motivated by my own beliefs, passions, and desires. It sounds like you might be similar. If you feel such a monumental blockage toward completing certain tasks, then just leave it, give it up, it's not for you. Instead, find something you do want to put your energy towards and don't look back.

Also, as far as psychiatric drugs go, I suggest looking into some neuro supplements first. 5-htp, L-tyrosine, choline, rhodiola, and a good multivitamin (plus eating well and getting exercise, of course) have worked really well for me. For many people, these can have much greater positive impact than prescription meds without the unpleasant side effects and dependency. It's better to work with the rhythms of your body's chemistry than to introduce abrupt changes, which is what prescription meds do.


I know I'm a little late on replying, but I just wanted to say thank you for your comment. This entire post was something I needed to hear.


I wish I could upvote you more than once for this.


Self motivation is an art. It's something everyone everywhere has had to learn, so don't feel down because you are struggling with it. As with all abilities, some people are naturals, some have to learn it. My personal opinion is that, as with most abilities, the "naturals" are just people who learned self motivation at a very young age. You have to learn it, as did I, and as did many more people than you can imagine.

Take it as a personal project to manipulate yourself. This is the trick. You want to have your reptilian brain under control, and the problem is that the reptilian has lots of power. There are a number of strategies, try and try again until you find one that fits. For me, the one that really worked is delayed gratification as a reward for small accomplishments. Trivial stuff, such as "I can break for coffee once I fix that small annoying bug that is just boring to fix". Frequent, delayed rewards.

Anyhow, talk about it. You'll find most people go through the same problem. Virtually everyone goes through phases of procrastination, and you'll find everyone has invented their own method of snapping out of it.


> Self motivation is an art.

I personally think that, if you're lacking in motivation to do something but you realize it's something that needs to be done, you're lacking in self-discipline. Instead of waiting or hoping for motivation, you need to be disciplined and /do it/. Start with sleeping discipline: go to bed at 11 sharp, get up at 7 sharp, and stick with it. Excercise disipline: force yourself to go for a run every night, whether you feel up to it or not. That kinda thing.

With procrastination, the general advice is to force yourself to sit down and do something that needs to be done for five minutes. Surely you can do five minutes, right? Then reward with an instant-gratification thing. The general advice is to do 30 minutes, but I'd go down to just one minute or something if it's really bad.

Ask for help / monitoring, too. My brother had serious procrastination / concentration issues when he had to finish one of his last assignments. I was asked to help him out; I just asked him where he was, what needed to be doing, and er. Well, I just sat and read something while he worked.

So, self-discipline, and a friend to help you keep focused on the task at hand. Ask him to shock you if you reach out for distraction or something.


I have a more generic view. Lack of motivation can be caused by a number of factors, so the solution is different in each case. You are both right and wrong. In many cases, the "just start and then keep at it" method works. In many others it doesn't.

One clear example of the one-size-fits-all failing is explicit in your discipline of go to bed at 11 sharp get up at 7 sharp. It is known to only work for morning people. I tried exactly that, and for me it leads to slow unproductive mornings. Move the bedtime schedule to 3AM or 4AM and suddenly I get four or five great work hours in the night (way better than the equivalent hours in the morning).

It depends on how you're wired, and my point is that learning how each person is wired is a personal project, through trial and error. Erring is OK.


I like this explanation the best, primarily the first few sentences. Motivating yourself is really as unique as you are, and as stated, if you're not naturally gifted at it, it takes significant trial and error to work at.

For me, my primary limiting factor is that I tend to burn out easily. Currently, I plan a couple or a few days a week that will be "productive days" where I run errands, tidy things up around my apartment, and generally tie up loose ends (bills, finance, make appointments, etc.). I used to work on trying to spread it out more evenly through the week, but I found the quality of my work really decreases the longer that I try and keep up the pace. I need a day, or two, or even longer sometimes to get back in the "productive mood".

I know these things, and being aware of them helps me plan accordingly, and set realistic goals. I've been doing this since college, and the quality of my work has really improved, because I tend to work best when I want to, and relax best when I need to. These cycles come about naturally, and I try to exploit them.

Everyone is different. And the important thing is to constantly try and improve, even in little ways, at even a seemingly glacial pace. Small goals for me snowball into larger ones. But it's all about really coming to know yourself.


Hi, I can relate to your situation, I feel like you are describing my life. My experience is this: all the psychological/organizing tips won't help. Problems is somewhere else. It's not about being lazy, not about being afraid of failure, needing latest organizing spreadsheet or anything like that. It's about brain chemistry and people around just don't get it as they try to understand your behavior assuming their state of mind. Books like "The Now Habit" address different problem entirely. I think I've read like hundred of "organizing", "anti procrastiation" etc. books. I see them as worthless when it comes to problems you describe. What they give you is very short lived kick and then a lot of frustration. What helped me is diet, supplements and drugs. I haven't tried adderall but I tried modafinil. It is life changer for me along with very low-carb diet which keeps my energy high during the day. I realize it's very anecdotical but I tried everything under the sun and after ~15 years (I am 30) of misery I finally feel better these days after implementing above mentioned changes. I feel like I lost the best years of my life trying to follow advice of people who just don't get it. Doctors who will do everything to avoid prescribing druga (it's not US). Authors who put well sounding boilerplate advice into the newest self-help book and people around who just assumed laziness. Now I have organized desk first time in 15 years, I keep my apartment clean first time since I live alone (~8 years or even longer counting living with roommates). I paid all the bills on time first time in a decade (it even happened before that they cut my electricity off because i just forgot/didn't want to do it despite having a lot of money available). I have my clothes arranged and shelves organized. I didn't do ANYTHING like described in NOW habit. I didn't implement ANY strategy to do this. I've just changed my diet and noticed I don't need to sleep during the day anymore and don't crash in the evening. I took the tablets and suddently I felt like just dealing with all the mess in my life so I did it.


Honestly I think this is the most spot-on answer. While I can try to adopt these new habits, they will only work in situations where I try them. What about with relationships? I got adderrall to deal with school, but I've since nicknamed it my "being social" drug, because the effects are so far reaching beyond just schoolwork or motivating myself. It turned my life around, and I've since been convinced my issue is chemical and beyond my control. It magically fixed everything, even things I wasn't expecting. I will investigate this further.


I can relate to all of this as well. Like the above person, I find myself lacking motivation to complete the most basic of tasks. I'm often motivated more by fear of embarrassment or failure, which causes things to pile up and lead to stress in my life. A while back I was on Lexapro for my social anxiety and that seemed to help. But I haven't had health insurance for the last few years and therefore haven't been to a doctor.

With that said, in your experience, what is the best type of doctor for visit for this kind of thing?


My experience with doctors is very negative. Maybe it's because we are (Poland) somewhat behind 1st world. Most doctors assumed everything is ok because I was doing well when it comes to money (I was lucky to find a profession I was very good at despite disorganized lifestyle and putting not so many hours into it) and treated me like someone who makes stuff up. I tried psychiatrists, psychologists, neurologists. I even suspected something might be wrong with hormones so did all the tests/check-ups. No doctor even suggested I might try diet change/drugs/supplements for my problems. From what I read it's different in US and other countries where it's easier to find a doctor who try to help you. It was hopeless undertaking here and I wasted too many years trying (most doctors here don't even believe something like adult ADHD/ADD exists let alont other "made up" problems which according to many "comes from bad upgringing and lack of discipline").


How much modafinil do you take? Where do you get it from?


100mg in the morning although some of my friends take 200mg. 100mg is enough for me to keep me awake/motivated/focused to about 4-5pm; rest of the day is ok as well and I usually sleep very well after that (interestingly I need less hours of sleep having taken modafinil in the morning). Depending on country you can get it from various sources in some (UK for example) you can just order it from India 100% legally. In US it's more of a problem but people still get it. Try reddit/r/nootropics for a start (and recommended places to get it). I also like /r/ADHD for community/support. Please consider what I wrote as personal very subjective testimonal and in no way an advice, let alone medical. If you decide to take any drugs please at least read about possible negative effects/precautions you should take.


From what you have written you shouldn't be studying. I would honestly consider a complete shift away from a 'mental' discipline.

You sound like the lady that passed her driving test on her 50th attempt. This is a person that should not be driving.

Have you considered being a lumberjack? I'm being serious here. You need to do something crazily different. Maybe work in a restaurant. Physically hard work with someone chewing on your ass to get it done quicker. A place with no long term objectives.

Call it mind training but what you are doing at the moment is trying to force a square peg into a round hole.


I have a very similar disposition to the person you are replying to. At 20, I ditched college because I was unable to deal with school work. Considering the state I was in then, this was one of the best decisions of my life.

I was pretty lucky to be able to get a good job thanks to my computer skills, one that was more immediate; very little long-term objectives (tech support), and managed to get enough impressive stuff to put on my resumé to more than catch up to those who did graduate college.

Unfortunately, as I move up in the field (towards sysadmin), more long term objectives tend to crop up more and more in my professional life, whether I want it or not, and I am not any better at dealing with them than I was before.

Unless the person you're responding to is content not to moving up professionally, I fear that he will have to tackle his lack of mental discipline one way or another...


> You need to do something crazily different.

I just want to chime in here.

I graduated with a CS and math double major and Chinese Minor in 06. I backed out of a programming job offer and instea ended up working for my uncle as an RF engineer for the next 2 years. That was working for about half the salary and no benefits. I disliked it enough to eventually quit and staige (intern) in a restaurant for 3 months.

Those 3 months have been the most empowering period of my life.

After exploring other fields that I thought could be passionate careers, I've come back to programming and found a renewed interest.

This advice worked for me.


I have felt exactly as you felt for a long time. The answer that's working for me is really short: look at the problem and look for something really small and say "I could [do x]," and then immediately do x. This gives you the freedom from thinking about the larger thing it is a part of, from thinking about the order of doing things / trying to optimize it. For example, let's say I want to clean up my place. If I look at everything it looks overwhelming, boring, and I think about how I let it get so bad. This is very unmotivating. But I look for a smaller problem: I see a coat on the floor. I say "I could hang that up." So I hang it up. More importantly it gets me moving. Momentum is everything! The mind latches on to unfinished problems. If I throw one can into recycling it's going to look at the next can next to it and will 99% of the time will be compelled to do the next one. Whatever project I've recently worked on will have a much greater chance of continuing.

You can do the same thing with work stuff. I could just open the spreadsheet. I could just open the email I need. I could just log in the box I need. Suddenly I've started working on it and I'm good for the rest of the day.

Look for something really microscopically small to do next. It doesn't have to be optimal, it doesn't have to be the most important, the most urgent, or even that useful. If the task is small enough it slips under the threshold of such evaluations. I think this also gets you into the habit of taking action immediately rather than waiting. But if it doesn't, you can always kick start yourself again by doing anything small. "I could ...."


For me it rarely works. I know, what you mean, sometimes it does, doing one thing makes my body follow with others semi-automatically, without thinking about each one. But most often I just do this one thing and then stop. I can then do another, and another, but each with the same effort as the first one.


Now that you mention it, that's pretty accurate. You do still have to think about each step still; just keep repeating the process of finding a really small thing that is totally doable immediately and do it. The difficulty remains the same throughout, but it would be at a doable level the whole time. On the other hand, I do get excited that I'm actually making progress on something, and I try to get to a point that has a reward.


This is the only thing that's ever worked for me; although even though it's worked, and is trivial to implement, even so it's often not been enough. How can one have a tool that successfully does the job, and yet so often ignore that tool? I don't know. Motivation is a strange beast.


I am not a psychologist, so give careful consideration to what I am about to say.

Have you ever noticed that you can achieve a goal when there is no pressure or expectation? If that is the case, I recommend finishing this semester the best that you can, and then take a one or two year break from school.

Apply your creativity to a project that incorporates some of your education so far. Don't set a deadline, don't tell anyone about it, and don't concern yourself with whether the project can be monetized. Come up with a project that starts out small but can be built onto and improved. A project that can be used later in a larger project is ideal. Don't spend a lot of time researching before you get started; simply start on it. Don't obsess over details; remind yourself that you are working on a prototype, and that afterwards you will be building another one. Take regular breaks from the project and go back over past course materials for ideas in ways to improve your next design. Most importantly, the whole process should be FUN.

The one or two years spent should allow you time to fortify your education and change your subconscious attitude towards engineering. Completing a large project will give you a reference point of what it takes to succeed in the long term.


I'm an even worse procrastinator and what is helping me the most is Beeminder: You define a goal and pay exponentially increasing sums of money if you fail.

For it to work you need to dislike losing money, be honest about your goal progress and rerail if you derail (although they now have an automatic rerailing feature). Getting some pleasure from the goal progress and statistics is important too.

I'd start with something like "study 1 pomodoro/day of $course" and slowly increase it. Maybe also add a time requirement ("by 2 pm").

The fact that I have to rely on something like Beeminder to get things done can be a little hard to accept. I'm essentially the same procrastinator, I'm just forced now to do things. I have yet to find a way to fundamentally change myself but if there is, then a structured life surely is a better starting point than being depressed because you've procrastinated your life to shambles. I also have some hope that the habits formed with Beeminder will have some deeper self-discipline changes in the long run.

Apart from the slightly mentioned Pomodoro Technique, Anki also helps me.


Thanks so much for saying this! This is exactly how feel ourselves. :)

Danny of http://beeminder.com


I'm also 24.

Spent much of my life struggling to do basic things as well.

24 years of hearing the familiar platitudes of "just do it", like telling a depressed person to "just smile".

Fortunately I stumbled upon slow-release d-amphetamine and it changed my life.


> Do I go see psychologist/psychiatrist?

Yes. Try several until you find one that clicks.


I'm quite like you, maybe not so severe, but I also can't start doing things before it's the moment I'll be really fucked if I don't. And I'm actually most motivated, when I fuck something up, it's like a guilt motivation - when I achieve something, it rather drives me into procrastination rather than doing more. My other strong motivation is though curiosity - I am focused until I find a solution to a problem, but lack energy to implement it.

With social interaction it's also the same - I do get bored really fast, about the time I start to find someone's behaviour predictable (but for me it's borderline people who I can get along with for longest time).

Where I'm different is that I rarely fail my exams - but I believe it's because I'm kind of talented. Most often it's enough for me to take about 75% of classes (not even listening all the time). And it's also kind of annoying - the fact my GPA is much lower than it should be, considering my natural abilities.

I've been trying meditation recently, and it seems to help - even after 20 minutes I'm able to clean my room without mental pain normally associated with it. Unfortunately, I often even meditation suffers from my procrastination - and the less I meditated in few days, the more chances I won't in the following day. But I guess I'll keep trying.


I recommend everyone read the book, "How to Conquer Your Frustrations" by Dr. William J. Knaus It covers procrastination extensively and I found the way the author explains the structure of behaviours very insightful. In the interim, do your best to manage your procrastination by ordering your activities that you can do one to avoid another. For example, read this book to avoid cleaning your home. Study to avoid going to the gym. Good luck!


I would suggesting seeing a psychologist. I hesitate to offer advice given the huge variability in brain chemistry I've encountered. People are just inherently wired differently a lot of the time.

That said, and take this with the grain of salt that I don't know you, stop judging your progress against your peers. Everyone has their own life, and the best thing you can possibly do is to find some activity that you honestly enjoy and do that. Who cares if your high school friends are in top law schools? Some of the most interesting people I've ever known didn't bother graduating because they just basically weren't into it.

Unfortunately, your resources are probably limited, but if you can I'd suggest taking some time off to travel to a new environment (if you're social enough to interact with people there). A change of environment seems to do wonders for a lot of people with similar motivational issues.


Dynamics isn't really that hard. All you really need to know is that force results in deformation and acceleration. If you hit the books now, you can probably get a passing grade, especially if you understand calculus.

I realize my response is kinda dense, but in reality I find it easier to start when I think I have a fighting chance.


I was like this many years ago and managed to fix it.

I am strongly considering developing an online course about this and to get some more hands on experience I am happy to help few people for free. If you would like my help please email me your Skype details. You can find my email in my profile.


You and I are very similar. I wouldn't say that I've got ADD, but I did fall into depression while in college, and have the same difficulty with managing any kind of long-term work or commitment. It also affects my personal finances; unless I set up automatic transfers to saving accounts, I am unable to keep anything for more than week or so.

So I ditched college at 20, was lucky enough to get a good job despite that and work from there, but as I slowly get closer to 30, I find that the world has less tolerance for my problem. I'm moving up in my professional life, and as I do I find that juggling with long term projects is starting to become more and more important to my work.

But anyway, you wanted help or advice.

One of the ways I am coping with it, is trying to make sure I can capture motivation when it happens. I guess my issue is not that I have NO motivation, but more that I am unable to summon it myself. But it happens to pop up at times, so I found that I can get things done if I remove obstacles that would stop me from using it.

For instance: I am trying to learn how to draw these days. It's a skill I always wanted to have and I decided to fix that. But most of the times, I don't feel like doing it. Just because I have free time doesn't mean I'm able to force myself to draw. So I always carry a sketchpad and pencils; whenever the motivation to draw crops up, I can catch it and make use of it.

Another example: I'm taking classes on Coursera. Sometimes I feel like listening to the lectures and doing the class work, sometimes I don't, and I can't really force myself to do it when I don't want to. However, since Coursera works well on my cell phone, I am capable of listening to the lectures anywhere at anytime.

Never underestimate the small stuff like doing the dishes. In my case, two things I would like to do is put some money aside and lose some weight. As ridiculous as it sounds, making sure I deal appropriately with the dishes is crucial to attaining these goals. Why? One of the biggest reasons I can't save money and that I am getting fatter is because I am always eating takeout or delivery. It is both expensive, and unhealthy. I would really like to cook more; I love cooking. But as I said before, you need to remove any obstacles beforehand if you want to be able to capture the motivation when it happens. Having to do the dishes before cooking is such an obstacle. Having to go to the grocery store is an obstacle to cooking. So something as small as a dishes problem, is stopping me from dealing with my cooking problem, which is stopping me from dealing with my money and health problems.

I try to have many hobbies going at once; the more things I have that I could be doing, the more likely that there'll be at least one of those things I'll be wanting to do in my free time.

I also try to keep the work divided in smaller chunks and set small, tiny goals for myself. For instance, like yours probably is, my room is a stupid mess. Worse than a messy teenager's. I would never be able to tackle clearing ALL of it; it's waaaaay beyond any motivation I can muster. But at some point I wanted to use my desk. So when the motivation came up for it, I cleaned up the clutter on desk. Same thing with the laundry; one load at a time. My room is still a stupid mess, but at least there's a few parts of it I'm keeping clean.

That's another tip: keep things clean, clear and done as you go. Never rely on future you, that dude will disappoint you. Most people are able to leave things get a little messy, then clean up for an hour or so and are done with it. You are not. You need make a habit of doing things immediately, on the spot. For instance; do the dishes immediately after eating: all of them, always, even if you have guests. If you let them pile up, no matter how small the pile, that will be one pile you will never really want to deal with until it becomes a problem.

Anyway, good luck. I'm rooting for you.


I've had a similar experience, although not nearly as challenging as yours. I believe you do need to seek help. But in the meantime, I'll share what's worked for me, so that you can give it a shot. You'll really just have to find what works for you.

I got some help during college, but unfortunately for me, medication would lead to very high blood pressure (probably combined with stress and other factors at the time and due to a predisposition that runs in the family) so I stopped taking them after a couple of months.

I have found that I don't need them as much though. Like danenania suggests, your problem is likely one of body chemistry that few understand (kind of like depression), and one especially of brain chemistry. I've tried l-tyrosine only and haven't really noticed much change, but try it (GNC has it). What's really helped me, specially lately -- and when I look back at High School -- is exercise. Exercise, exercise, exercise. I have found for me, that exercising intensely even for 10 minutes (though more is ideal) during the morning is an excellent way for me to feel very focused and energetic the rest of the day. The key is intensity.

So here's what I suggest, especially since you like extreme sports: * wake up early -- it's not easy with ADD, I know, but sleep early the first night before it. * hit the gym, or visit to your favorite jogging place * Run your guts out!

Jog at a good pace for ~4 minutes after stretching a bit and walking one minute. The 5th minute, sprint/run as fast as you can without stopping. Then walk for 1-1.5 mins, and do at least one other set of this, but ideally 3. (As always, build up to it an adapt to yourself--as long as you really push yourself for one minute). What also works for me is also listening to music that gives you a "braingasm" during your sprints -- I love Radiohead's "Weird fishes", for example, because it's a great song and is conveniently 5 minutes long. Best of all it has the lines "I hit the bottom and escape" during the last minute--during my sprints. This seems to release dopamines (I feel a great rush) AND pushing yourself beyond the point when you want to quit will also build will power. I try to do this at least 3x a week and unless I stay up (sleeping well is also key!), I always look forward to this because of how great I feel the rest of the day. Working out intensely has also been great for my body weight, and for reducing stress -- which means less stress eating and less impulsiveness (it's a feedback loop). Just walking isn't that great for stress (which you need to take care of first). You really, really have to push your body beyond its limits.

Once you take care of your stress, I'll echo others: find what you're passionate about. If your passionate about engineering, but hate some classes like I did, get help on those classes (do study groups, office hours, etc). And take what you learn in the courses you love and build something great with it.


You will move world if you want to.

Or when you are in fear from something, if you believe in fear.

Fear from not being successful :D. Fear from not reaching someone's else expectations. Fear from doing right/wrong things.

Motivation ultimately is carrot-stick mechanism. You should never be motivated to do something you like. Because it is natural.

And all I can tell you, you have not found what you would like, because you too have placed values in very very unbelievable(for you) place.


This is interesting to me from the perspective of being a parent and having high expectations for my children. I think that as a parent it's important to have high expectations, but that there's a tricky line to walk regarding what kind of high expectations to have. I grew up under the expectation of acing everything, and as a result I do feel a lot of what he talks about in the post. However, I'm trying to raise my children with a focus on persistence and confidence even in the face of the unknown. To that end, I'm always trying to find things for them to do that are a bit beyond their ability, but that they can solve with some work.

I've found that it's hard to break the habit of seeing "good" as synonymous with "right the first time" though, even when I know what the result of that attitude has been for me. I'm hoping that I can help my kids by focusing on the idea of learning from failure and improving by working hard, rather than trying to avoid failure. Any other parents out there working on this problem?


"You see, procrastinators tend to be people who have, for whatever reason, developed to perceive an unusually strong association between their performance and their value as a person. This makes failure or criticism disproportionately painful, which leads naturally to hesitancy when it comes to the prospect of doing anything that reflects their ability — which is pretty much everything."

I disagree.

My reasons for procrastination go like this:

1. I don't know yet how to tackle the problem. (and I munge on it in the back of my mind while procrastinating)

2. I am tired, but don't want to admit it. (and procrastination is faux rest)

3. I'm pushing off committing to doing X because finally jumping in is scary. (it closes options to doing something else and humans would rather do nothing and have many options than do something and have no options)

4. X just isn't that important to me right now. (it's much easier to clean the kitchen before cooking, than randomly in the middle of the day)


Those all sound like some form of fear to me. 1 sounds like fear of incompetence: You don't know how to solve the problem, but that's just because "you aren't really thinking about it", so you protect yourself from the idea that you might actually be clueless. #2 happens to me a lot, and it's being afraid that resting/sleeping will prevent you from getting work done (which may be true, but if a nap is going to make things late, it's already too late)


No, it's not a fear of incompetence. It's seriously just a problem of working out what exactly I want to do.

Good case in point from this week: "Write a book chapter on d3 layouts".

Now that's a very vague task and it takes some thinking to even get started on it. You have to even decide what the first step towards a solution is and once you do have it, you then have to do the creative part of figuring out how to write about it.

Creative tasks in particular do not resolve themselves with a focused step-by-step approach, you must solve them by procrastinating (ie. slowly thinking about them freely).


Completely agree on point 3; fear of success is a big issue when it comes to side projects and the like, or in another form, fear of what the future/task looks like once the project is underway. There's also an aspect of enjoying the planning stage more than the execution stage, which is common in "analysis paralysis" type procrastination situations.

I'm surprised nobody's mentioned ADD/ADHD yet; continually starting and not following through is a classic behaviour, though procrastination is a slightly different beastie, I can see a relationship here. In that case I would characterise it less as procrastination for your, or the OP's, reasons; and more procrastination because the brain cannot grab on and commit to the task, so it goes and does something (ten things) different instead.


Well, maybe you're not a procrastinator, but simply a lazy person? :) [just kidding]

1. I see it differently. I usually know/see some first approximation that could be easy to do (and fixed later when better solutions comes up), but I'm totally resisting to do what I perceive as inferior solution. My procrastination may be even about finding this better solution and the problem is that I am holding the progress at all just because I'm fiddling with getting something super right atm, which is rarely really needed (almost never). My performance is perceived by others as non-existent, because I'm paying attention to details that may not even really matter.

2. This one is the obvious one, but it's not the main procrastination problem. 10% at most. Well, until you're constantly working at night for instance (because of your procrastination) and you're becoming constantly tired through the day - then you're making being tired a sad routine. It's procrastination force feedback, but again, it's not the main reason for procrastination as I see it.

3. Starting doing real job is somewhat "scary", true, but it's often simply the effect of 1.

4. If you can postpone something, it's obviously not that important to you right now or you feel that there is enough time to do it a bit later (and you feel it will be a quick thing, which isn't always the case, many times also because of the perfection factor).

In the end, despite aiming for perfection, I often have to make cuts, go with worse (in my eyes) solution, because there is no time for "playing" and deadline is already behind me. This is the worst.


I disagree as well. My reasons for procrastination tend to fall around artificially creating a high stress situation. You see, I perform very well (very high productivity) under stress, to the extent that high performance may actually be a stress coping mechanism for stress.

I certainly do not procrastinate because I'm lazy, or have poor work ethic, or even risk averse. You can ask my family about that one. None of them would describe me as risk averse.

For me, it really comes down to stress as a motivator. Procrastination means doing things at the last moment, which creates an artificially stressful situation.

It may also be interesting to note that I do not suffer from any traditional high stress related health issues. My doctor recently commented that I am in exceptional health for my age (mid-thirties)


Usually the 'work better under stress' is a fallacy that procrastinators use. Timothy Pychyl puts it this way: 'It's not that you work better under pressure, it's that you only work under pressure.' But - I like your coping mechanism theory, that's worth exploring.


It is easy to feel overachieved when the deadline is tight. What we fear is to under-perform when given ample resources, when "it's on".


Perhaps your are confusing stress with a sense of urgency?


If the kitchen is dirty, I'd rather order in. When I absolutely have to clean dishes (so we can eat), is when I hate it the most. Plus, I hate knowing that the kitchen will be dirty again straight after cooking. I'd rather do them some where in the middle, start or end of the day when there's no pressure and I can just use the time cleaning to think over my thoughts.

(with you on the other points)


I have the same problem, but I have found a solution that works pretty well for me. Whenever I find myself procrastinating, I do a short workout routine - 10 burpees, or as many chinups as I can - about a one minute high intensity routine that gets my pulse up but stopping short of breaking a sweat. I find that the increased pulse and adrenaline rush makes me less fearful of failure and gives me a bit of "what the hell" attitude.

Noting though that I only do this when working from home, since this is not really socially acceptable behavior in an office, let alone a café... perhaps I should work from a gym! :)


Here is the original posting w/ comments from 2011: http://www.raptitude.com/2011/05/procrastination-is-not-lazi...


Also worth reading on the same topic and written by the philosopher/logician John Perry: http://www.structuredprocrastination.com/


This essay always resonated with me. Incidentally, John Perry won an Ig Nobel for this essay! [1]

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Perry_(philosopher)


I often find myself in a similar cycle of procrastination, where the fear of commitment to a potential solution for anything worthwhile stems from the fear of failing at perfection. The only way to "finish" a project that I'm involved in is to have a very critical deadline that forces my attention to the most impactful decisions.

When I try to set personal deadlines, I end up always underestimating the duration of a task because I can never concentrate my effort to complete a single task at a given time. Instead, I find other problems that need attention, then more and more, until I end up with a stress bomb attached to my chest with a piercing beep that gets louder and louder until I just close my eyes, where it's quiet and I can think. Here I can think about how to address the problem, where it's coming from, hell - maybe even solve it.

Sometimes this proves helpful and leads to aha moments. More often than not, however, it takes me down a path of setting it aside - of giving up. A problem that can be solved in minutes by actually trying potential solutions instead of just thinking about them ends up lasting weeks.

When I realize the direction I'm headed, and the potential consequences of my decision-making, I refer to a quote that serves as a motivating factor that blinds the fear of failure - temporarily.

"The best way to finish an unpleasant task is to get started."


Just my testimonial for the book The Now Habit.

I found it on the library shelf at work. Was skeptical but interested. Borrowed it. Loved it. Told people. Endured their jokes about how long I would take to finish reading it, if ever.

Started using some of its exercises and remedies. Ran out of renewals. Returned it to work. Wanted a hardcover but couldn't find one. Bought it from the Kindle store instead.

Just finished reading it. Am beginning to read it again so I can apply the bits that I haven't yet.

One more thing, given this book you should consider to avoid losing your focus by spending endless time with additional productivity literature, but for my part I use a couple of simple things with it: Mark Forster "Final Version" lists (http://markforster.squarespace.com) and Pomodoro Technique (http://www.pomodorotechnique.com). Final Version leads me to select the task for which I feel the most resistance and tension as the task that I will address (not necessarily complete!) next. The Pomodoro Technique helps me to do what The Now Habit calls "persistent starting": get started, and no matter how many times I get into a slump or come back from a break, just get started again.


What an incredible post, reading throughout I felt like not only could each paragraph be about me but it struck so accurately with me I felt like I could have written those words.

I am an extreme procrastinator but I will take away what I can from tfa and this thread to help that. It has forced me to accept that such procrastination isn't acceptable if I want to be a success.


As far as fighting procrastination (and more generally: akrasia) I'm a big fan of going straight for the nuclear option: commitment devices! Here are all the startups I know of that offer commitment devices: http://blog.beeminder.com/competitors

Disclosure: Mine is one such startup!


I love how the author puts off starting his experiment till Monday.


I firmly believe this: Often the source of procastination is just plain trying too hard. Or it's attempting to try too hard and the mere thought of it becomes a crushing burden better alleviate by doing nothing (or so your mind says). Unrealistic or overly demanding expectations, as inflicted on the author, only exasperate the issue.

Laziness is a bit complicated since it's always relative.

Relative to what? What you do normally and have been for a while (in which case, it's usually the laziness we all know) or the mountain that's manifested in front of you? The latter is important as discouragement is also a prime mover for procastination. The mountain may or may not be self-inflicted, but if it exists, your normal coping strategies don't always work.

I have a procastination problem as well, but for different reasons (usually OCD).


Procrastination seems exaggerated and over-analysed to me. I essentially believe our actions reflect our true desires and if a person spends 3 hours on HN when they "should" be working on their projects, then there's a disconnect between who they think they are and who they actually are.


In addition to whatever else is going on,maybe you have an "aversion to doing" what the world says you should do vs. what you'd like to do. You said you are a jack of all (many?) trades, so you're obviously accomplished in some areas. . .just not the areas you think you should be accomplished. Maybe engineering is not for you. . .or at least being an engineering student. Also, you seem to have a few close friends that you click with. That's great! The world at large may think you need lots of "friends" and acquaintances with whom you may or may not click. . .but many people (introverts!!) do just fine with only a handful of close friends. There's nothing wrong with that.


I used to have this problem so bad when I was studying.

I'd just put off everything until the last minute, but I used to get a rush from staying up all night reading a topic for an exam or doing some programming assignment. There was a sort of heroic feeling of "They assigned 3 weeks for this, but it only took me 10 hours".

Of course when I got results back and found that I hadn't done especially well it was easy to rationalize, "well if I'd done it properly after some sleep I'd have got full marks of course".

But yes, nothing feels crappier than doing your best at something and failing.


Pretty good article and analysis. It's like reading about my actual self.

So what they are motivated to do is to avoid finishing anything, because to complete and submit work is subject yourself (not just your work) to scrutiny.

I developed a WordPress plugin a few weeks ago. It was badly developed and I want hesitant to publish it. But somehow I convinced myself to submit it to the WordPress.org repository.

I got two positive reviews and some people thanking me for it. It just remembered me that it doesn't need to be perfect, it just needs to work.


Article gives very good analysis of root causes of procrastination (fear) but then falls apart by trying to suggest that "doingness" will resolve it. Temporarily it will, but then person usually gets back to old patterns driven by subconsciousness, UNLESS real cause: inner FEAR is not taken care of.

Most sources (books, gurus, seminars) are all for different flavors of doingness: Do this, do that. You haven't done this - so you'll need to do it more. Etc...

Almost no one addresses real solution - dissolving inner fears.


I found that many things we avoid doing is related to pain avoidance. There are certain things we have done before that have caused a great deal of pain, and we hesitate to repeat it again. Procrastination helps in delaying the pain process. However, we sometime project and exaggerate the imaginary pain to other unrelated stuffs, which lead to general procrastination on general activities.

I have been putting off filing tax for so long because it's a painful process. I know. I need to do it now.


I seriously just bookmarked this for reading later because I need to take a shower before I go to a party (it's 7:45 PM, I've been procrastinating the shower all day long).


I feel like I've finally been diagnosed, "neurotic procrastinators perceive every mistake they make as being a flaw in them."

Great article, and I'll be sure to read the New Habit.


I've never been able to stomach telling the truth to myself about my procrastination, let alone letting anyone else in on the anguish.

Is there anyone out there that would like to try an experiment of daily correspondence on the topic? Tell me what you achieved today, what you plan to achieve tomorrow, what your upcoming deadlines are etc. I'll do the same in return. Send me an email - <<myhnusername>>@163.com


Another great read on this topic: http://books.google.com/books/about/Your_Own_Worst_Enemy.htm...

I read it about a decade ago and it changed my life. I still struggle, I always will, but understanding the factors that contribute to procrastination and developing healthy coping/management methods has been infinitely helpful.


In case anyone goes looking for the follow up to this post - you can find it here: http://www.raptitude.com/2011/05/progress-is-the-only-protec...

Original post: http://www.raptitude.com/2011/05/procrastination-is-not-lazi...


While making To-do lists is useful, I find that tackling low-hanging fruit is the best way to slowly but surely start overcoming procrastination.


I'm not a procrastinator, I'm an anticipation junkie.


As a World Champion Grandmaster Super Kingpin Big Daddy Procrastinator, I have to say...yes, it is indeed laziness.


> I want to write down what I’m going to do the next day, and actually do it. [...] I will do anything but the 5 to 10 items I thought would be smart ones to do.

This fits me like a suit. I have actively begun not making lists because it is a guaranteed way to prevent the listed items from being completed.


If you have persistent, severe problems with procrastination, willpower, and organization, don't rule out the possibility of an attention disorder. Smart people can often scrape by -- but proper diagnosis and management could dramatically help and improve your life.


On the contrary, I had it and it did not help me in the least bit. This article is much more useful than many sessions. It all depends on whom you're speaking with, others might be very good at helping you, but it's not always better.

I do agree though that proper diagnosis is better in any case, but it's not the solution to it all.


What does the following sentence in there mean?

"but suffice it to say that I learned that the downsides of being imperfect are far greater than the upsides of being perfect"

It looks odd in its context, because the text was about the downsides of being perfect.

Thanks.


I think the author is saying that it is better (he is happier)to live with the downsides of being imperfect than to live under the pressure of trying to be perfect, never succeeding, and getting limited upsides.


Darn, reminds me of the drill in the movie "Pi" :/


all goes for me also. but For some bigger things I need extra prepare time. Specially communicating with strangers, its mentally exhausting. So phone call might take me 24h instead of 10 minutes, but then I am not out of energy, after that call. I am really good at talking with strangers and organizing and nobody knows, but it takes huge amounts of energy.

And often, procrastination helps. With bigger plans or things, mind subconsciousnessly tackles problems, while I am "resting". And after that procrastination period, I know the answer I didn't know before.


Procrastination is waiting for the right moment to have the best impact.


This looks like a great article. I've bookmarked it for later. :D


Definitely can relate to this post, but for me a lot of the stress turns into anxiety, which makes things even worse. How do people deal with controlling their anxiety?


This struck a little too close to home... =\


wow! A lot of things hit home. I am glad OP posted this. I wasn't aware of the psychological aspect and always thought my procrastination was just a form of laziness. I esp agree with the "hit"i get of letting myself off the hook, only to be in more stress. Thanks a lot again.


Anyone has any feedback about the second book of Neil Fiore? "The Now Habit at Work"

Thank you for the enlightened post.


Very good post, I highly recommend reading "The Now Habit" It's something I'm reading at the moment.


Wow. How did you know all about me?


Just to leave a line here so I remembered that I need to rethink again on this...


I am waiting for someone to prove, solving procrastination problem is NP-Complete


I'll have a read of this later


[deleted]



Thanks for this


tl;dr I'll get around to reading this later...


It's worse.


yes it is.


As engineers, we are wont to analyze. But drawing a line somewhere helps us stay fleet-footed. This topic crosses that line -- it's not worthwhile analyzing your own actions to such an extent.




Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact

Search: