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Ask HN: I'm a chronic procrastinator – how do I break it?
340 points by procastatron on Aug 2, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 292 comments
For as long as I can remember I have been a super procrastinator. However, I'm also pretty smart which helps me fake it so that no one else notices. I think part of my problem might be that I grew up with an entitlement complex as I was valedictorian, near perfect SATs etc. and I never did shit in high school.

Now that I'm in the real world it's starting to really gnaw at me. I make $130k as a 21 year old and I probably put in 3 hours of real work a day. I'm a good enough programmer that I can bullshit my way through most stuff and at this point I think people are starting to realize that I'm a bit slower than I could be. I still push out a lot of code, but I secretly spend 7-8 hours a day doing bullshit at work (reading online, games, etc). I know that I've been given a gift and that I'm a fucking idiot for wasting it, but I've just become a chronic procrastinator and it sucks.

I could be changing the world but instead I'm putting in the bare minimum and no matter what trick or method I try I can't seem to beat it. I've never had a strong willpower to begin with and now it seems to be getting worse (looking back I wish I played more sports).

Any advice on how you taught yourself to focus on tasks, build willpower, and get shit done would be helpful. Although, I wonder if I really fucked my brain/habits up so much that I'll never reach my full capacity. I've been like this for the past 6-7 years and it doesn't seem to be going away anytime soon. My dad is also very similar in that he's smart enough to bullshit through life but he only works at 10-20% of his full capacity and he never completes anything.


If you believe the stats on worker productivity that get tossed around here, 3 hours a day of solid work isn't terrible.

I have one piece of advice - one technique that I got from a cognitive behavioral therapist that helped me. It's pretty simple:

Pick a task you don't feel like doing. Set a timer. 10 or 15 minutes. Work on the task. Do not worry about the end result, or getting to a "good stopping point" or anything. When the timer stops, stop working on the task. Play another game or watch another YouTube video or something. When you feel like it, set the timer again and repeat.

The trick is that if you aren't worried about finishing the task you want to do, you can do the work without that feeling of discomfort and dread that makes you want to stop and distract yourself with something else.

The first time I did this technique, it was actually with dirty dishes and not work. I used to let them pile up because I just couldn't deal with it. I set a timer for 5 minutes and washed the dishes. It was a carefree experience. I walked away at the end, but then something funny happened - I soon wanted to go back for another 5 minutes. Pretty soon I finished the whole load of dishes and it wasn't unpleasant at all.

Definitely had a similar experience When I was still working from home. Working for 30-45 minutes and then play video games, work out, and even just clean the apartment.

A tea timer by your desk is a great way to approach this at work, personally I find 15 - 20 minutes of work 5 minutes of procrastinating is good balance.

Perhaps without realizing that, but essentially you've just described the Pomodoro Technique, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pomodoro_Technique :-)

It was also my technique for studying for exams through university: 45 minutes of focussed study, followed by a 15 minute break for tea, lunch or fun things. After six of those, I could stop knowing that I had a day well spent. (And as a bonus, I mastered 3-ball juggling after my Algebra-I exam ;-)

) ... sorry

Thanks, I was wondering why this page wouldn't compile.

No, no, doesn't matter. I was just making you aware that your technique also had a name.

They were just closing the open parenthesis, which cannot be closed with a smiley face. I actually appreciated your contribution, I've heard of that technique before, and remembered it when reading, but couldn't recall the name, so thanks :)

no, because pomodoro is when you have defined task that can completed in the allotted time.

Well, although that rule could be useful, it is not part of the technique.

For proof, read the official description on Pomodoro, e.g. on http://www.pomodorotechnique.com/download/pdf/ThePomodoroTec.... You'll see (page 6-7) that after a first 'Pomodoro' (unit of time) work on the same task can continue into a second or third pomodoro.

"The trick is that if you aren't worried about finishing the task you want to do"

Oh my god, that sounds like putting the finger RIGHT on the sore spot... I always have a fear of finishing something and it's a bit of a problem for me. Thanks for sharing this!

Hm, yeah I think I have that to.

I can't ever finish anything because then what??

I did try FocusBooster for a while and now I'm trying Pomodoros. I think my problem is that I try to go hardcore with it at first and work for a solid 10 hours. Then I burn out from it and don't work for the whole rest of the week.I like the idea of going back to video games or whatever on a more short term basis.

There was a famous marshmallow experiment out of Stanfard looking at self-control. It's been followed with many other related studies. One recently had two groups of students do a mental task (if my memory serves, one group had to add or memorize 2-digit numbers, the other group had to add or memorize 7-digit numbers). As the students left the cognitive activity area, they were offered a snack and could choose between fresh fruit or chocolate. The students with the easier cognitive task more often than not chose the fresh fruit, while the students with the harder cognitive task tended toward the chocolate. Again, if memory serves, it was a pretty strong correlation.

The points being, (a) at any given moment we have a limited amount of self-control, and (b) that limited amount of self-control extends beyond any single given task or situation.

We can increase our overall self-control (e.g., focusing for five minutes can be increased to focusing for five hours), but not significantly in a short period of time (e.g., it might take years to increase a persons ability to focus from a five minute period to a five hour period.

I haven't tried FocusBooster, but lately I've been trying Focus@Will, which plays music mixed in ways to keep you focused. Seems to be working pretty well for me.

Yes - do that and don't feel guilty about it. If procrastination were a disability, then what you do during the breaks would be reasonable accommodations :)

> If you believe the stats on worker productivity that get tossed around here, 3 hours a day of solid work isn't terrible.

I'm not sure saying that is the right way to motivate people :P

This is a great mind trick. I use e.ggtimer.com to help me manage my tasks/time.

> it's starting to really gnaw at me


One concrete suggestion:

Develop the following habit. Whenever you are confronted with an unpleasant task X, there is a moment where your mind starts searching for other, more pleasant things to do. This is the moment where you have to implant the habit of asking - not yourself, but an imaginary judge:

"If I defer task X, will it become easier later?".

For some tasks, this may be true (e.g. taking out the trash is easier when you're heading outside for work anyway). For most, it's not. Use this question as an arbiter and follow its verdict.

And when you completed an annoying task, rejoice in the feeling of relief and accomplishment (maybe not the task itself was hard, but overcoming the unpleasantry was), and remind yourself of this feeling the next time. Rinse and repeat.

One more abstract suggestion:

You have probably heard it a thousand times from your teachers, parents etc. - "You could accomplish so MUCH, if just you would STRIVE for it..." You believe it yourself, talking about your "full capacity".

But it's not true. Or at least it's the wrong perspective, allowing for wishful thinking.

The current state you are in - that is your full capacity. More you do not know, because more you have never tried. Or, more drastically: More you do not have, because more you have never proved.

Maybe that's even the reason you are not improving your chore-handling abilities after all (if you allow me this unfounded speculation): You are afraid of hitting your limit (a.k.a. failing) to soon, realizing that you're not that capable after all.

Luckily, there is no such thing as a fixed, inate capacity. Your capacity will definitely improve when you start taking yourself seriously and stop generously sparing yourself the chores. Prove it to yourself what you really can do.

It always risky to advise a person you never met, so take this with a grain of salt. Hopefully it's useful to you.

> > it's starting to really gnaw at me

> Good.

I'm not sure whether that is good at all. Of course, we're all different, but what worked for me was quite the opposite of this: I learned to accept myself the way I am.

Like you, I've grown up being the smartest of the class. Other people had to sweat and I could just sit it all through. A result was decent grades and a complete lack of discipline.

If I'd be me, but with more discipline, I'd probably be doing my work better and faster. Maybe I'd be more successful, by some measure of "success". But that's not me. That's somebody else. In fact, that somebody else doesn't exist. With my "lack of discipline" come other traits that most super-structured people don't have. Creativity comes to mind. I'm also very well informed because I look around on the net a lot for stuff that interests me, such as open source libraries. My colleagues are often amazed that I know these things - all they know is what they learned in that .NET 4.5 class half a year ago. I'm sure you recognize this, becausr you wrote something along similar lines in a comment further down this thread.

This is you. People are willing to pay you a big salary for something that you only effectively work on around 3 hours a day. That's nice. There's nothing wrong with that. Other people work harder than you, maybe you work smarter than some.

There's a chance that there's someone out there who's just a smart as you, just as creative, and also very disciplined. I doubt it, but that's possible. Accept that. You were the smartest guy in your class, but you're not the best-performing person in the world. That's fine. Nobody's perfect, and neither are you.

Once you accept this, once you embrace your lack of discipline, you can let it work for you. Yeah, yeah, some days maybe you didn't work on that thing you said you were going to work on during the morning stand up, but you might've very well done something much more valuable.

It's very difficult to grow if you're completely unhappy with where you are now. Try to be happy about what you got (difficult, I know), and then continue. It'll be easier.

Your work-life is only one area where self-discipline comes into play. If you are content with just earning enough money for living, that's fine. I agree with you on that.

But a lack of self-discipline might hurt you in areas which are much more serious.

If you keep avoiding hard talks with your spouse, eventually you will have a problem.

If you do projects or activities with friends and always shy away from the unpleasant or dirty work, you're not being a friend they can trust to really go the extra mile with them. You will lose good friends over this. I personally have grieved a good friend over this.

If you never put any planning and execution effort into your family activities, there won't be any.

If you always keep away from doing mundane things like dentist visits, grocery shopping, regular house cleaning, your kids will suffer for your laziness.

And, maybe the worst: If your kids happen to not be overly gifted easy-achievers, and you do not teach your kids that most goods things have to worked hard for, then you have denied them a lesson their future life will depend on.

I think for me I partly get a thrill and a dopamine reward out of not doing what I'm supposed to. For the same reason I used to spend hours a day in bed or online, failing college classes, but then quickly pounding out a few hours of good work for a lofty paycheck

There is another thing to consider: if he's putting so little time at work actually doing work, odds are his employers will not be so keen on continuing to pay him that much money. "Just being who he is" is not an excuse they will accept, nor, really, should they.

That's the ruthlessly-pragmatic reason to not "accept this side of who he is": nobody else is going to, especially not the people who pay him.

It depends. A gifted and creative programmer may be able to accomplish in 3 hours what takes an average programmer 10, or by coming up with a creative approach to a problem, may be able to accomplish in 3 hours what an average programmer simply cannot do at all.

So while a manager may dislike that they perceive someone to be slacking off, it doesn't necessarily mean the person isn't providing a lot of value to the company. Value produced and hours worked are fairly loosely correlated for knowledge workers.

If you were running a startup, would you rather have 12 focused hours per day from a mediocre programmer or 2 from Linus Torvalds?

But at the same time, it seems unless there's a physiological difference in people like me, we should be able to condition ourselves into working more.

What I'm doing with my extra time is not productive by any measure and although it makes me really good at producing random facts at dinner parties....I can't see much else gained by the time I waste.

> unless there's a physiological difference in people like me

I think there is: different people have differently tuned reward-centres in the brain.

The book "the procrastination equation" by Piers Steel tries to capture those differences in equation form. Although it's probably faux-math, the key idea seems good to me: procrastinators are more sensitive to the time-until-reward dimension of a given rational choice.

And of course, being physiologically different is not an excuse to procrastinate away. Once we understand the nature of the beast, we can game our brain (as the book describes), and (I hope) we can then maybe benefit from brain plasticity to get better at this stuff over time.

>we should be able to condition ourselves into workin more.

Very disciplined people might be able to. You can't discipline yourself into being more disciplined. Accept that first.

Except that it is, in fact, possible to instill discipline in a person. Armies the world over do it by the hundreds.

I don't think the OP said his kids are starving, in fact he mentioned he's only 21 so most likely doesn't have any. I think you are jumping to too many conclusions here.


I would also suggest that we probably should make a distinction between mental "sprinters" and mental "marathon runners". Mental sprinters need to rest between sprints. I'm also the sprinter type. Unfortunately our society and some bosses don't understand sprinters. It's not the standard worker model, as for intraverts which are generally wiser than extraverts.

Unless the procastination is causing serious problems, like not paying the bills in time, bad hygiene and getting sick from it, I would also suggest to accept beeing a mental sprinter and stop complexing in front of marathon runners.

Relevant: "The Now Habit" http://www.amazon.com/The-Now-Habit-Overcoming-Procrastinati...

This book talk about some of the topics you touched upon in great detail.

It's a great suggestion, but it presumes that task X is well defined. I think that a major source of "procrastination" (in quotes, because it's the good kind of p.) is that we do not know what to do next. I call it "the next smallest step". Do I need to read the documentation/book/google so that I can get a better idea on why this may be failing, or should I fire up the debugger? Why not just check HN instead?

>"If I defer task X, will it become easier later?"

Delaying pain definitely creates more. Luckily for me this only extends to what's in my fridge: http://blog.ideasthenlemonade.com/post/54016639958/delaying-...

Willpower is a muscle, which uses the same resource as brain tasks (programming, arguing)[1] - let's call it "cognitive energy".

1) don't waste cognitive energy on silly tasks (games, arguing in comment threads, etc.)

2) practice exercising willpower - it's a muscle, you can train it to be better. Start by forcing yourself to complete a routine every morning (the trick with habit forming is to not give up after you miss a day.) examples of habits to form below.

3) look into mindfullness meditation[2] - this can help you identify distracting thoughts as they arrive and practice ignoring them.

Meditating is a good habit to form as practice, and it will also help you get better at habits. You could also exercise on a schedule (and record when you do, including how heavy you lifted/how fast you were running). Eventually, with a stronger willpower-muscle, you'll be able to choose the fruit salad over the cake, even when you've just spent your 7.5 hours a day coding.

I've not found pomodoro to work for me as an easily-distracted person, it's better when you're prioritising work tasks (e.g. 25 code vs 5 email) and even then, 25 mins is too short for good programming "flow".

This is a hard problem, everyone has trouble with it. Good luck!

[1] http://seriouspony.com/blog/2013/7/24/your-app-makes-me-fat (HN discussion: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6124462 )

[2] http://www.amazon.co.uk/Mindfulness-practical-guide-finding-... (US edition: http://www.amazon.com/Mindfulness-practical-guide-finding-fr... )

I came here to add that research that Kathy Sierra referred to in her article on willpower and cognitive processing capacity... but you beat me to it :-)

Another interesting article on willpower is by the APA on http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/willpower.aspx, refering to actual experiments instead of common opinions. Interesting quotes from that:

> At its essence, willpower is the ability to resist short-term temptations in order to meet long-term goals.

> Self-discipline, the researchers found, was more important than IQ in predicting academic success.

> The benefits of willpower seem to extend well beyond the college years.

There's a nice (short) book on techniques to stop/handle procrastination: Eat That Frog, http://www.amazon.com/Eat-That-Frog-Great-Procrastinating/dp.... One of the ideas is that if you start with the hardest task, everything else will be easier after that.

Just want to second the mindfulness meditation suggestion. On it's face, it sounds like new age nonsense, but it's really a mental discipline where you practice keeping your attention in the present. Not thinking about anything is very difficult to do:


I also recommend adopting an exercise routine in the morning. I find myself much more productive and focuse during the day if I've gone for a 5k run first thing when I wake up.

Also, consider installing parental monitoring software on your computer. I use the Nanny for Google Chrome plugin to block access to news and other time-wasting sites during the day or limit myself to 10-20 minutes of such sites a day. It's easy to get around (I turned it off to post this comment), but it serves as a reminder to stay focused:


Good luck, and don't beat yourself up over this. Perpetual distraction is something I think we are all wrestling with.

Third for meditation practice. On a subtle level, the mind when distracted is attempting to be somewhere else, and training in coming back to exactly where it is now is a good way to work with your habitual behaviors (procrastination).

Meditation changed everything about my life -- similar to the OP I also slid by on smarts and not hard work, but started practicing meditation in college due to general anxiety and went from a B- to A+ student--I didn't even work longer, but just had more focus and mental stability on the task that I was performing at hand, which ultimately allowed me to get more done.

Plus, once you're in the habit of applying some type of discipline that's not about the end result (e.g. I always gave up on projects because I wanted them to be amazing right off the bat) it becomes much, much easier to be willing to put in non-grandiose, day by day drive necessary to accomplish /real/ things. Put another way, when you pay attention to the details, suddenly that overwhelming urge toward "greatness" or "brilliance" fades away, and you can actually get things finished.

Agreed, don't beat yourself up about this. It's a very human problem, and even recognition of your current circumstances is far and away above what many people ever accomplish.

Thank you, I should have mentioned that Mindfullness is an evidence based therapy for a bunch of things (depression, anxiety) and has also been shown to improve concentration (especially in heavy multitaskers - I believe the study was personal assistants.)

Has any of this shit actually worked for people and made a huge difference?

I look at people like Kevin Systrom or Mark Cuban and from what it looks like they never had these issues.

It worked for me, and it has an evidence base.

Regular exercise stimulates the production of new neurons in the brain, which is a normal process found to be slowed in depressed brains. (the research was presented at a conference, but not yet published as far as I know.)

Mindfullness training has clinical evidence as a treatment for depression, anxiety and other psychological illnesses, as well as having been shown to increase concentration span and effectiveness.

Not everyone has these issues; perhaps I said it wrong. All "normal humans" are subject to depression and anxiety cycles, and have brains that use the same "cognitive energy" for both thinking problems and willpower. Assuming you don't have an abnormality in your brain structure (would be highly unlikely), these techniques will (most likely) help with the problem you describe. Of course, it's only medical science, so it's sometimes wrong for one individual.

I'll give you a no BS version.

Don't delude yourself into thinking that you're "talented" or "gifted". You're a product of your history: if you spent a significant portion of your life playing DOTA, you're a DOTA-head. In your case, you seem to have spent it trying to get people to view you in favorable light. It's as simple as that.

You're missing the big picture: if you spend 3 hours writing code, and 8 hours playing games, which activity do you enjoy more? Why is that? If you pick up saw and find that you're absolutely terrible at sawing wood and cut yourself multiple times, would you enjoy that activity? OTOH, if you go out and play football (or something you've been practising for years), and manage to score many goals for your team leading to victory, would you enjoy the activity?

Your discontentment arises from a simple mismatch between what you want to do and what you are actually doing. You apparently wanted the $130k job with 3 hours of boring work, and to get by in life (or did some alien drop you into this world while you were unconscious?). What is this sudden crisis about not "changing the world"?

I have nothing to say of any significance, and the only "answers" I have are tautologies. Maybe you can try attending some inspirational talks, reading self-help books? No, I don't mean that with any condescension whatsoever; figure out where you want to invest your time and invest it there.

Absolutely agree with this. You're exhibiting the behaviour of someone in a deep conflict because you're not doing what you really want to do, but cultural and societal norms are forcing you to play out this role, and you're getting enough rewards from it (monetary and psychological) to keep you in this stasis of inaction.

There is no quick solution, as you can see from your father who has probably battled with the same thing all his life too and millions of people who do jobs they don't like.

You will not beat it because this situation is deeply and invisibly ingrained in today's society, and you have none of the skills required to make the deep psychological changes required.

If you want to give yourself a chance, you need to take drastic action. There are two real choices:

1) Stay inside the system: Therapy. Understand yourself, understand the real social and psychological landscape in which you're living and learn how to make real changes.

2) Get outside the system: Drop out, reinvent yourself from the ground up. Make a break, go meditate in India for a year, find out what it is you really want and give yourself the space to do it.

I think I've had this with everything though. Even things I really enjoy I find myself procrastinating about

There is no such thing as procrastination or avoidance.

To 'avoid' something you need to have something to avoid and a motivation to avoid it, avoidance does not exist in and of itself.

My message still applies to whatever these new 'things you really enjoy' are. If you are procrastinating over them, you are avoiding _something_ because of _a reason_, and you'll need to do very hard work to find out what's going on and the real context in which it's happening (option 1), or drop out, clean the slate, and let yourself reinvent you (option 2).

Your work seems to think that they're getting more than $130K of value for the $130K they pay you. Why does it matter if it takes you 3 hours to do that and not 8? Of course your employer would like you to believe you're defrauding them because they'd rather get $260K of value out of you instead of, say, $150K, but if you're not fired over it, the arrangement is working for them. Every employer in this country would like their employees to feel as guilty as you do, but you're not pulling a lever to make sprockets. The relationship between your time and your value to the company is not directly proportional to pressing keys in your editor. Our field is swamped with bad programmers that spend all day making codebases worse. Some days when I'm not productive, I have to remind myself that at least nothing got worse. The guy I replaced, most days when he did any work at all, things got worse as a result. So if I fail to accomplish anything, it's still better than an accomplishment from someone who shouldn't have been doing this job but inexplicably was (and got away with it for a year before being fired for reasons unrelated to performance!).

By the way, 8 + 3 = 11 hours of work a day. Is it possible you're simply burned out? I know you're 21 and probably don't feel like it can happen, but it can.

So it is easy to become top performer: http://dilbert.com/strips/comic/2002-07-30/

I usually am at the office for 80+ hours a week. It could be burn out, but even when I reduce down to 40 hours I basically cut everything I accomplish in half. Somehow my brain realizes what I'm doing and I procrastinate just as much.

I have realized some other effects from burnout, but I think this procrastination issue is something different entirely

I'm surprised by that, but obviously you know you better than I do. Burnout takes a long time to recover from.

If you get nothing else from my remarks, at least consider the possibility that the real problem isn't procrastination, it's that you're too hard on yourself.

I don't agree with that. I have programmers that come in and do a solid days work every single day. It might not be the best code, but I see them working on it all day long.

It sucks because even though I'm accomplishing as much work as they are, I can only do it for a few hours a day. I'm envious of their focus and ability to actually get shit done. If it wasn't for them, I probably would be fired. Although....even then, everyone else at this company loves me so much that I don't think they could fire me.

You're envious because you imagine that you could exceed them by a factor of three if you could focus like they do, but there's no real reason to believe that. Your peers with focus weren't like you, they didn't have a procrastination "problem" to conquer.

The real world is not logic-driven. You admit you wouldn't be fired because of your personality. Well, guess what: that's what keeps a lot of people employed. All you're getting for your high expectations of yourself is unnecessary pain.

Nobody complains about their coworkers being procrastinators. They complain about their coworkers not getting shit done. You're getting shit done, so they have nothing to complain about. Even better, they actually like you!

Your only real problem is that you aren't happy. There's no reason to assume being productive will make you happy, apart from freedom from the guilt. This should be liberating, because there are lots more solutions to the guilt problem than procrastination, and they're a lot less like snake oil.

Me too.

Paraphrasing pg, going in to work and wasting 90% of your time is like getting uncontrollably drunk at lunch. It's very bad habit/behavior/addiction. So first of all, take it seriously.

Here's some things that work/have worked for me, in no particular order. They all interact and work best in bunches. None have cured me. All have helped.

1. meditation - many meditation practices develop your ability to prevent your mind from wandering. Letting your mind wander is a big part of procrastination. It also helps with patience which is also important.

2. Recognize the impulse and address it - This is very complimentary to meditation. You sit down to do a task, then your mind looks for some sort of procrastination (reading, games). Recognize that feeling and feel it. Don't fight it, just experience it for a few seconds. Then place your hands flat on your desk. Your feet flat on the ground. Straighten your back. Breath deep 5 times. The impulse should pass. Tweak this as you like as long as you recognize the impulse, experience it & have a little ritual (sitting straight, breathing, etc.)

This sounds like hippy dippy bullshit said out loud, but it doesn't feel half as lame when you do it. It is very effective.

3. Collaboration - If two people are at a computer, procrastination does not go on for hours. More generally, try to seek out work less procrastination-inducing.

4. Do work in small batches - Take 5 minute breaks every hour. etc. This increases the feedback to you that you are procrastinating.

5. Talk about it.

6. Accountability mechanisms - Your ability to hide is an enabler. Try timed screenshots sent to a friend. Twice daily 2 minute confessional phone call to a friend. Mirror your screen someplace it can be seen by everyone. Coaching sessions. Lots of options. Quirky is ok.

7. Drugs - ADD medication (eg ritalin) can help.

8. Sleep - Less Sleep = More Procrastination. Maybe you need more sleep. Maybe you need 10 hours. everyone is different. Try getting 10 hours for one week and see if it helps.

+1 For being able to admit the 'hippy dippy bullshit'. Sometimes that stuff works best, even thought we hate to say so.

Strange how embarrassed I feel writing it down. Even weirder is that I feel like recommending ADD medication legitimizes me recommending meditation and breathing rituals. I actually find them complimentary.

Don't ADD medication looks like an easy way of not improving your willpower ?

You let an external mechanism do the work for you.

I think the author is in the right way :

>it's starting to really gnaw at me

tehwalrus's advices are really good, except for the 1st one.

> 1) don't waste cognitive energy on silly tasks (games, arguing in comment threads, etc.)

You should not focus on that, but on all the other points : Go do some sports (Because you didn't do it in the past doesn't mean you're doomed not to do some now) And when you do it, time yourself and push it a little bit more each time (lifting stronger weights, running a bit faster, etc.). You don't need some instructor to yell at you to do that, just by strongly thinking of the idea of improving yourself (mentally and physically) will yield to incredible results.

At the end, the " don't waste cognitive energy on silly tasks (games, arguing in comment threads, etc.)" will happen without you paying attention to it : You must not force yourself from not playing games, you just mustn't feel the need to.

At work it's a bit different, if you feel you're still doing nothing, it would really help you to remove distractions from you, as said in some blogs : block websites that makes you unproductive from your work computer. When you feel you need a break, just look at them on your tablet, if possible, by changing of physical location, that will make you realize when you're not working, and so you will say to yourself : "ok, time to get back to work".

If you stay at your computer desk all day it's harder to have this "time to get back to work" kicking.

> I know that I've been given a gift and that I'm a fucking idiot for wasting it, but I've just become a chronic procrastinator and it sucks.

As someone in a rather similar position (my life has been fucked up in so many ways from procrastination), one tip I can give you is to get rid of this mindset.

I feel horrible whenever I waste lots of time, looking back on how I spent my day, thinking "what the hell is wrong with me?" But the thing is, that attitude feeds much of the procrastination. I am an odd mix of being a total perfectionist, and really lazy, so it turns out that whenever I'm faced with a task that I don't really want to do, I'm quite adept at rationalizing ways to avoid doing the task. I think about possible roadblocks, or pretty much anything that would keep me from attaining my sought-ought perfection, and knowing that I'll have the same strong negative reaction later on that I always do, I just won't do it.

If you beat yourself up over procrastination, you're just subconsciously teaching yourself to not even think about whether you're procrastinating or not. Whenever you try and shift from unproductive tasks to work, it's much easier to just stay with the short-term dopamine kick of reading the internet or whatever, rather than dealing with harder decisions about what you need to do in the long term to be happy. Yes, this is backwards. Your subconscious is not very rational...

So, from my point of view, just do everything you can to recondition yourself to not hate working, and to not hate procrastination either. Just try to feel the bit of fulfillment you can get from writing code or whatever, basically just getting your shit done. Have patience with yourself, infinite patience, and know that it takes lots of work to get where you want to be, but it's worth it. You're the only one that can do this.

BTW, if you're like me, a perfectionist to the core, consider that this comes from a deep-seated insecurity, a part of your brain that tells you that you'll never be good enough. At least, that's the way it is for me, and it's been that way since my childhood, as far back as I can remember. On this front, I'd just try to evaluate your emotional well-being in the most balanced and unattached way possible. Get help if you feel like it. As others have mentioned, meditation can be amazingly helpful here, and exercise too. Unfortunately, they're both quite prone to being procrastinated on.

Good luck...

Although, I wonder if I really fucked my brain/habits up so much that I'll never reach my full capacity.

There's no such thing as your "full capacity". What you're doing right now, that is your full capacity. Either accept that you're at your limit or actually do something to prove you're not.

It also helps me to look at this image: http://i.imgur.com/39U4k.png. Each box is one month of your life. There really aren't that many of them.

Interesting image. I just made a quick tool for generating it here: http://lifeboxes.neocities.org/

I've been learning to code lately and worked up something like this not too long ago - http://mementomori.neocities.org/. Kind of buggy and unfinished, but it works. Mine uses weeks rather than months.

Well now I'm depressed AND procrastinating.

Don't submit to his dominance.

There is dominance and nothing else.

?? what.

What about the point would you like me to explain?

What do you mean by "dominance"?

Frame control; e.g., using and abusing language to empower oneself (or one's group or communities) and disempower outsiders in the pretext of giving advice.

I'm 30, and just put a layer on top of that marking the boxes that are behind me.

Like the OP, I consider myself a chronic under-performer.

And you're right. This kind of hits home. What did I fill those boxes with? What do I want to fill the remaining ones with?

Well, gosh, your life is meaningless drivel unless you fill those boxes with stuff! Produce! Nevermind what your wife and kids think of you, nevermind the laughter of your friends, the beauty you saw, the wonders you imagined. All those times you helped out a bum, cooked dinner, played with your niece: meaningless, if it got in the way of putting an achievement into a month-box! Produce! Produce! What are you going to have to etch on your tombstone if you don't have a dozen github URLs?

I think that's the point. It doesn't matter what you fill them with--fun, work, standing on your head--just that you feel accomplished by having done what you've done. If you don't, then maybe it's time for some change.

For the lazy and curious, there are 80 boxes. 24 by 40.

960 boxes, representing 80 years.

You probably mean 960 boxes representing 80 years...

Yes this is exactly what I was meaning :)

That's a really good (and horrific) image. Thanks.

My startup is all about solving this problem! http://beeminder.com

It's specifically for lifehacking data nerds (so probably most people here on HN) and the idea is to combine a quantified self tool with a commitment contract. Specifically, you pledge (actual money) that you'll keep all your datapoints on a "yellow brick road" to your goal and if you don't, we charge you.

We integrate with various gadgets and apps like RescueTime and Trello and GitHub (also fitness things like Fitbit but I guess this thread is more about productivity-related motivation) so, for example, you can force yourself to waste less time on Facebook or commit to GitHub more often, or enforce a steady rate of moving Trello cards to the Done pile.

[repeated from a very similar Ask HN thread the other day: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6121572 ]

Find some ADHD test users and then tell me how well you're solving this problem. Your system seems like something I'd have to develop new habits to use, which is an indication that you miss the point, like every other system I've seen targeting people with ADHD.

If you set up an automatic data source (as opposed to replying to the email bot with datapoints, which for many things is not so bad either -- you're already in the habit of checking your email) then I don't think you have to develop new habits to use Beeminder. For what it's worth, we've been praised on ADHD fora and know of users with ADHD who swear by Beeminder.

Note that we're not targeting people with ADHD specifically but akrasia in general.

I applaud what you're doing, by the way. I didn't mean to attack or offend & I apologize for my tone earlier.

Based on what I've read in the past few months of my research, it seems as though there's a subset of people with ADHD who don't have much success with standard approaches. I don't have more information about that group, but I do think I may belong to it. The theory I've developed about myself is that I have a set of negative habits that reinforce each other and essentially make up a sort of support system for themselves. An example would be habits that contribute to disorganization also contribute to those related to poor time management and vice-versa. I suspect that without a "proper" support system, these habits can be overcome, but with only marginal success and only over a long period of time. I'm building my own system to augment my support system; it's meant to operate as a sort of digital nanny that I'm not able to ignore. I'd love to talk to some of your ADHD users if you're willing/able to put me in touch with them. I'm not trying to convince them to use what I'm building (especially since it'll be a long while before it's available for others), but just looking to understand their situations further and discover how Beeminder has helped them. My email address is crawford.comeaux@gmail.com if you'd like to discuss further.

Oh, wow, yes, "digital nanny" sounds very intriguing. Pinging you now! (And thanks for kind words!)

Wow, that must be the least professional promotion video I've ever seen

Aw man! It's so true, but we really hate making videos and A/B tests say that that video's much better than a nice professional image (we were too embarrassed to actually use that video for a long time, till we actually tested it).

So the time not wasted on facebook goes wasted in you pseudo solution... rite?

Ooh, no, I think beeminding is pretty low overhead! Especially if you connect it with RescueTime or another automatic data source. Maybe still too much learning curve up front but once you have it set up and dialed in it's nearly frictionless.

I'm also anxious to learn what makes it give the impression of being a pseudo solution. We think of commitment devices as the nuclear option in the war on akrasia.

I don't like this thread. It implies that if you aren't a slavish worker, with impervious metal discipline, you are /worthless/.

It's really hard binary thinking, which I guess is what I expect from here. You guys are implying that I am worthless. Completely worthless. That the OP is worthless. And so, what now? Shall we all just jump off a cliff then?

I don't think so.

maybe there is more to life than being the hardest worker. Maybe it is okay to have an internal mental life that is rich and varied.


That's the trick. It's the mental chinese finger trap. You have to really truly accept who you are and what you limits are, what you can accomplish, and stop worrying so much about it. It is only once you have done this that you can let yourself get things done. It is only once you can accept that it is okay to not get things done, that you stop fearing the failure, and getting started doesn't feel like such a chore.

Failure is okay.

It is okay for other people to think you are worthless.

Just don't pay attention to it, stay in the now, put one foot in front of the other, trudge on and on and on, you'll find your pace, you'll find how to keep going, you'll get through the mental blocks. and you may never be as "good" as /those other people/. And that's okay.

You're projecting. The OP does not merely desire to work harder at his job, but at better using his gifts to help change the world and better himself in non-professional ways. I agree he's too young to be fretting about this like a mid-life crisis...but nothing wrong with desiring to move faster while young. It takes some foresight to realize that it's easier to change bad habits (and learn new good ones) at a young age rather than pushing it off for later.

This is my biggest fear. Having the same problems now at 40. I look at my dad and as much as I swore I'd never let myself have his same work ethic (push hard, than go at 1/4 pace for 90% of the time).

Reality is that I'm worse than I've ever seen him right now. I can go for a few days without doing a single git commit. I have a team under me that makes it look to my superiors as if shit is getting done. And when I need to I can pound out really really good code and save the day.

Yeah...I need a therapist or something

A therapist can be a great help. There's lots of other things that can help. You'll get a lot of advice in this thread. Just to throw this out there, in case nobody has mentioned it, I cannot emphasise enough the importance of sleep for mental health, anxiety, and procrastination. You can do a lot of stuff, and mostly it will be ineffective unless you have the solid 8 hours every day as your foundation.

Have more sex is easier said than done...

Also, I'm definitely going to get a therapist after this. Looked around and found some area ones. I'll make an appointment "later" :)

you make 130k, you have a whole team working under you, and you are 21 years old, and you have trouble getting laid.

That's it, this guy is a troll.

you make 130k, you have a whole team working under you, and you are 21 years old, and you have trouble getting laid.

That is the description of the entire SF tech industry.

except for the people who work under him and make less money. Those don't count as real people though.

I didn't read him mention people working under him.

I don't see why that's hard to believe.

I'm very good at selling myself and my skillset but I'm deathly afraid of girls.

Well sure, but you have lots of money so that doesn't matter.


ALSO, stop worrying so much about code and have more sex.

And, so? He wants to be better, but damn this whole being an imperfect human thing! Nothing wrong with wanting to be a robot, or an alien while you're young.

Are you sure you are a procrastinator? Chances are you are NOT.

I was also a long time procrastinator (at least I believed) till I came across this article http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/28/opinion/sunday/why-smokers... which is changing me (its only a week now)

As I said, you might not be a procrastinator, you may very well be a victim of seeking short time pleasure at the cost of long term benefits.

Your impulse to read online, game for whatever time wasting activity might be giving you the short term kick/relief and keep doing them will cause the task (which you think you OUGHT to do) to postpone later (or better, you are not finding time to do them).

Read the article and think it through and reflect.

If you realize the actual problem, it is easy to break.

I'm doing it now. Its getting better, I can vouch.

Thanks A friend.

What that article describes is exactly the philosophy behind Beeminder. Now I'm dying to know what made you conclude that you don't have that problem (known most generally as Akrasia, btw) and what lifehackery you're now using.

I recommend "The Now Habit" book. I particularly like the "unschedule" trick. Instead of scheduling works and ending up procrastinating, schedule for fun activities instead and fill the unscheduled time with work. I'm not sure about you, but I have flex working hours (I'm a freelancer) so I can get this trick work for me.


+1. Software engineering trained me to go for root causes rather than symptoms. As "get your shit together" books go, this one goes the deepest towards the roots of procrastination. Actually it is time for me to re-read it, I spend too much time on HN :-)

I had the same problem. The standard school program was easy enough to just coast through, as were my first few jobs. At one point I was working on Monday and goofing off the rest of the week.

What changed it? Probably some of it was age. Your outlook on life and what's important changes as you get older. I spent a fair bit of time talking to people 10, 20, 30, and 40 years older than me, and while I usually didn't agree with them, I did remember their words. After 10 years I was rather shocked at how my outlook had changed. Now it's coming up to 20 and I've definitely changed yet again. How do you achieve the wisdom of age without actually having to spend years aging? Beats me! But I sure learned to appreciate it regardless.

Another thing that happened is I started taking on harder and harder things. It didn't matter what, so long as it was difficult enough that it would take me years to master. Boxing, welding, classical guitar, open source projects, running a business. I just kept adding things on until I didn't have enough time to even breathe. Then I somehow managed to find the time to get all these things done. And then I piled on more, until I finally reached the point where I literally did not have enough hours in the day to get everything done. Then I dropped some stuff until I felt comfortable again.

Now I no longer have time for video games or TV (except for the odd time when I'm taking a sanity break, which is maybe once a week for a couple of hours). I have shit to do and a daily routine that gets it done. I had to organize my life because I had too much stuff to do! Now I deliberately carve out time to be with friends or do something crazy. Otherwise I'm busy at work, practicing one of my hobbies, or I'm at home on a Sunday, deliberately doing nothing all day because I've scheduled a "do nothing" day.

So my advice to tackle procrastination would be: Fill your life with so much stuff that you can't afford to procrastinate (It's even better to get into a few things you can't get out of easily). You'll figure out how to organize yourself. Then you back off a bit to get some balance back into your life.

I think your mindset might be a bit different than mine. Or at least my current one. I have a ton of really challenging, awesome stuff to do. I just have been conditioned to hate "work". I feel insanely good when I'm procrastinating but get hit with an awful few hours later.

Whenever I put a shit ton on my plate, I do 0 of it. I know I should be able to get it all done but the thought of "work" prevents me. I consume a shit ton of information when I'm not working and as a result I'm actually really good at given other people ideas. I gave my cousin an idea and drew up a business plan that now nets him a very lucrative income on the side. I helped grow a brand from 1k to 100k followers just by giving them social media advice and some hacks I learned from observing Ryan Holiday and Tim Ferriss.

I'm great at giving others a push start and I've been told I'm a good motivator. I just have low self confidence in some areas and suck at finishing anything

You might be procrastinating for the right reason: that you are currently working on things that are not that important.

If you were free to do anything in the world, what would that be?

What were some of the stuff people 10, 20, 30, and 40 years older said? It would be really interesting to see what the elder wisdom are.

A few stuck out in particular:

- Don't be in such a goddam rush.

- You'll look back at the risks you took when you were younger and wonder what the hell possessed you to take them. On the other hand, they make for great stories that you'll treasure forever.

- Losing everything isn't so bad. You move on.

- You'll always think you have the world figured out, but you won't.

- What you think is important today will probably seem trivial in 10 years.

- The older you get, the more you tend to treasure relationships over status. This becomes doubly true when you're a father, and quadrupally true when you're a grandfather.

- Your circle of friends will shrink. Keep close friends close.

- Your family, no matter how fucked up, is still your family.

- A life without adversity makes you weak.

- Don't start a fight, but don't shy away from one either.

- You're not forever young.

- Stay in shape. The older you get, the harder it is to maintain your body (and the harder it is to START getting into shape!). It sucks needing assistance just to move around.

- People don't want to hear your complaints, but when you're old enough, they'll have no choice but to listen to your crap.

Yes, I'm curious too

You're now afraid you're not as great as you've always thought (and they've always told you).

By procrastinating, you avoid an honest reckoning of your talents and testing of your limits. You can hold onto the idea of a certain kind of perfection, in yourself and your potential work product, a little longer... and then scramble to do something half-assed at the last minute.

If others then accept your results, you get the thrill of almost-failing but can still entertain the idea you're so great you don't need to put in sustained, honest effort. The essential-you still has the power to get away with things that others can't! (You were probably very good at deceiving your parents and other authority figures as a child.)

If your results are crappy, well, they're crappy only because of the procrastination. The "real you" still has boundless potential and "could be changing the world", it's 'just' the procrastination that's a problem. You're already punishing yourself about that with your internal narrative, and perhaps you even secretly hope others will finally give you negative attention, too -- both for the thrill of actual-failure and the hope of a confrontation that might force improvement.

You do have some awareness of the cycle you're in, and have tried a number of things... but not with consistent follow-through or sustained improvement.

As a single 21-year-old making $130K, you could afford elective psychotherapy. It'd help with rooting out the reasons you enjoy procrastination, and with the follow-through on changing habits. (Much of the advice here is good... but will you have a sustained relationship with the suggesters that helps evaluate progress over months/years? For a price, a therapist can provide that.)

You might also eventually want a more competitive and intimate work environment, someplace where you can't "bullshit your way through most stuff", because others would notice and/or real project failure would follow, rather than just continual muddling-through. (This doesn't necessarily mean over-the-shoulder monitoring or no entertaining diversions... but high-enough demands and close-enough collaboration that clock-killing shirking can't survive.)

Good luck, and be happy you're not this guy:


Don't worry about changing the world. If through your best efforts + chance, you happen to change the world, that is great. But if you go through life believing you are without value unless you do something grand, you've got a 99.99999% chance of disappointment.

You're 21. Want to play more sports? Play them. You haven't even reached your physical peak. What, did you want to be a quarterback in the Super Bowl and it's not worth playing sports unless you are? Welcome back to 99.99999% disappointment.

You think that your procrastination and intelligence are unrelated. You think you're horrible on the inside, but you "get away with it" because you're smart. This is nonsense. You are bored. Maybe you didn't do the shit that was assigned to you in high school, but the SATs are not a genetics test. You learned it somewhere.

Don't feel guilty about the money you make. Don't think that you're a hamster on a wheel and you're worth nothing unless you're going at 100% speed. If your job doesn't give you enough work to interest you, be proactive and find some inefficiencies that need fixing. Fix them. Don't wait for someone to tell you to do it. After you fix it, tell everyone. If there isn't anything to fix, get a new job. And... to go against the grain of HN, consider a large company, one that has endless problems and technical debt. If you aren't happy in your own skin, working on a startup to change the world is probably not the best thing.

Also, seriously consider going to a therapist to discuss your issues. I hear that you can afford it. You're basically asking the internet to be your therapist. And the internet is not qualified (on average).

What you're describing sounds like a highly intelligent person with ADHD-PI, aka ADD.

There are lots of techniques out there that can help, and medication can sometimes be effective. Do some research online and talk to your doctor. There are also people who specialize in helping / coaching people with ADD and similar memory / attention deficits.

I don't know if I'm highly intelligent. I'd like to think so but I also feel like I'm really good at cheating the system. I can learn the basics of stuff really fast and then bullshit through while I slowly pick up more advanced things.

I've tried adderall but it almost became a game to see if I could beat it. I would procrastinate even more than normal. Sometimes just stating at a wall for hours at a time

There are other drugs.

I was diagnosed with ADHD a few weeks ago. So far I've trialled ritalin and dexedrine.

Ritalin works very well if I have a clear task.

Dexedrine made me tired, confused and aggressive.

The point is: different drugs work differently for different people. Trial different ones. There are even drugs that have non-stimulant modes of action now.

Hmm, try just an NRI (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norepinephrine_reuptake_inhibit...) - it may help you focus and give you energy without getting stuck or obsess over things (i.e. without the dopaminergic effect).

ADHD is NOT add .. big difference and distinction to be aware of.

ADD is no longer used as a medical term. It has been subsumed into ADHD, and the distinctions of predominantly inattentive, predominantly hyperactive, and combined were created.

It is very common for people with high IQ to go through their entire academic lives undiagnosed, and only as adults, when sheer intelligence isn't enough to pull them through, they realize they need help.

The "Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy" book by David Burns is really good. Here is the link: http://amzn.com/B009UW5X4C

Chances are that you're depressed, OP. And even if you're not, the book is related anyway: there is a chapter specifically on practical methods to beat procrastination. I personally get mixed results: sometimes these methods work, sometimes they don't -- though mostly because I fail to apply them consistenly. I recommend this book because other(not related to procrastination) cognitive techniques described in this book works great for me.

10 days ago I invented my own personal method to beat procrastination(this book influenced me btw). I am aware of the following things about myself:

- Motivation comes after action: I don't particularly feel doing something(hence procrastination), but once I start, it gets more enjoyable after a short time

- I like score-keeping in games(as many other people - no wonder game designers employ scores!)

- I am motivated if there is a reward.

So here is my method. I give myself one score point if either I stop procrastinating(and proceed to do something meaningful) or if I feel an urge to start procrastinating during some activity. I use a simple app on my smartphone to keep total score(which is 113 as of now). I've set up the following reward for myself: each 10 points = 1 visit to a restaurant(I enjoy dining at restaurants but usually I am too lazy to go to one).

I've used this method only for everyday stuff like washing dishes, cleaning up my apartment(which was complete mess), doing laundry, etc. Sometimes I award myself 5 points washing particularly nasty dish, and sometimes I get only 2 points doing 30 minutes of cleanup. I was really surprised to see that my invention works, and now I hope to use it for my job(like OP I am not fully productive at it, there is room for improvement).

I feel like I could have written this a few months ago. I tried something similar but then fell right back in my normal routine.

Not saying it won't work for you. I've just become very doubtful of all the "self help" methods as it's rare that I find long term evidence that it has changed people's lives permanently. I read on average, 1-2 self help books every week, I think they've helped me with certain areas of my life but overall it hasn't fixed the root problem.

> I tried something similar but then fell right back in my normal routine.

Yeah, happens to me all the time. :(

> 1-2 self help books every week

Give "Feeling Good" a try then, I don't read as much books as you do, but I think "FG" is a cut above the other books I've read. With the exception of "When panic attacks(also by D. Burns). While it was only somewhat useful for procrastination, I found this book extremely useful for other problems. The main thing about this book is cognitive techniques, if you apply them(AND read the book) then you gain 10x more value than by just reading the book.

And if you do find the book useful, you may find CBT therapist(which was already suggested in this discussion). A friend of mine did so recently, and she is much better now(though she was clinically depressed).

What works for me: Watch other people work.

I tend to get motivated by those crappy History/Discovery shows (especially the horrible Gold Rush Alaska). Binge watching that show helped me to get through a project that got too big and too boring.

You didn't mention whether you find the work you're doing to be interesting or boring. When I'm working on something boring or unpleasant I also tend to procrastinate, but when I'm working on an interesting problem (sometimes even tracking down an obscure bug qualifies as interesting), I get absorbed in what I'm doing and don't get easily distracted.

If you find your work boring, have you considered looking for a job that's more in line with your interests?

1. DOWNSIZE. drastically reduce your commitments / todo list. Procrastination is your subconscious brain's way of saying that it is freaking out with what's on its plate.

2. INTENTION. with the stuff that's left over, take a time out and truly commit to it. Do meditation, quiet your brain, and make an honest decision about what you're committing to.

3. IMPLEMENTATION. now plan HOW you will get these committments done. Visualize yourself actually doing the steps to complete it.

Putting all these together, check out this podcast where Pat Flynn shares his technique of "small batches to completion":


Also: Adderall / Modafinal / Cyclobenzaprine / Exercise can help quiet the mind and bring focus :)

I think too much shit is probably part of my problem. I say yes to everything all the time and as a result I'm involved with literally every part of this startup. I've definitely made myself a Godin lynchpin but people are starting to lose faith in this silly wunderkinds ability to execute.

Meditation is a good idea. I tried getting into it, ended up reading up on some weird sex meditation shit and went down the rabbit hole on that one. I really think clearing my brain several times in the day would help me.

It's funny I've seen this list a hundred times but listed out here for some reason it seems to make more sense.

Addy - hate how it kills my creativity and I try to beat it and convince myself it doesn't work Modafinol - my favorite drug but I tend to stay up for a long time and just procrastinate more. Would definitely be super helpful if I can beat procrastination first CycloBenz - haven't tried, will order

I have found paracetam to be super helpful but it only works for a week or two before khans to cycle off it. I was on it about 2.5 weeks ago and did in 4 days what I normally have been doing in a month.

I should start to exercise more...

> I have found paracetam to be super helpful but it only works for a week or two before khans to cycle off it. I was on it about 2.5 weeks ago and did in 4 days what I normally have been doing in a month.

Try one of the many other racetams. Also noopept, closely related, helps a lot of people.

For me, ALCAR and Stabilized R-ALA (R Alpha Lipic Acid) help a ton with focus.

If you drink caffeine take l-theanine along with it, it dramatically boosts the effectiveness of caffeine and gives me a good 4+ hours of straight focus.

I used getsomeheadspace.com as a guided meditation guide. I recommend as it definitely helped my ability to focus. It's basically training for your mental muscles. This helps when your brain wants to dart off and do something fun by giving you a bit more of a chance to gently guide it back to what it's supposed to be focussing on.

everything in moderation :) good thread btw

Re "DOWNSIZE". I have the opposite problem. If I have too little on my plate I procrastinate. If I am obviously in over my head I have no problem lining up the tasks and working hard on them until completion.

I often struggled with this as well. When you go through life with practically no effort and somehow achieve many things that are hard for others, it's easy to feel guilty. Especially because most of our parent's generation lived their lives diligently working 8 hours a day, advancing their career, eventually settling down etc and that seems to be the expectation for us as well. I'd just not worry about it and live your life the way you think works best.

One thing that helped me was to stop thinking "How can I get myself to work 8 hours a day?" and start thinking "What fun, useful things can I do with the 8 hours a day I'm not working.?" The only reason I read the internet and played flash games all day was because I was supposed to be at my computer, working. Overall that's a pretty low-fun and low-reward activity, though. If you accept that you won't work more than 3 hours anyway, you can do much more engaging/fun/interesting things with the rest of the time.

You mention that you wish you'd done more sports. Great, start doing sports. With your income, you can easily get a gym trainer or trainer in any sport you'd like to learn. Set yourself the goal to complete a mini triathlon next year, join a recreational volleyball league or anything else you like. You can also learn how to cook really well, enroll in a language school (for human languages), volunteer to teach kids how to code, etc. Those are all things that you'll probably enjoy and that I'm much less likely to procrastinate. Learn how to play an instrument or sing (again, you can afford a teacher to get off the ground) or pick up a hobby closer to your work like electrical engineering. The possibilities are endless once you accept that you're not "supposed to" work all day; unless you want to, and that day will come.

You can even take it one step further and just up and leave. Spend a few years traveling every corner of the world and earn your keep with a day or two of contracting each month. I know nobody who's done that who'd consider it a waste of time in any sense of the word.

Hope this helps and best of luck. Don't be so hard on yourself.

Here is something I wrote on this previously -

Once upon a time I thought I was lazy. I'd sit in front of my computer at work with the intention of working but something inside me just wouldn't let me. It would make me feel so guilty and bad but no matter how hard I willed myself to work I just couldn't make it happen. This didn't happen all the time, sometimes I'd get caught up in my job and not have any problems. But it happened often enough that it was a constant weight on my shoulders.

It turned out to be more a lack of encouragement and work ethic from my childhood. It was a defense mechanism, it was a way of rebelling and trying to get attention. Unfortunately it didn't fit into my adult life at all!

Many of us have old defence mechanisms and some of the most destructive ones block our drive and inner motivation.

Maybe we got spoiled as a kid, never having to do any work for ourselves so never learning the satisfaction of a job well done. We associate work with something lower people do, maids, gardeners etc. But doing daily tasks can be one of the most rewarding parts of the day.

Since I can't seem to find any good links related to this I'll go into some more details on what worked for me.

Basically whenever I come across a block from something I learnt as a child I use visualisation to relive what I would have preferred to learn. We can all do this, go somewhere comfortable where you can relax and won't be disturbed as this might bring up some strong emotions.

Now imagine back to the time when your defence behaviour was forming, when you are little. Spend some time getting this idea clear in your mind. Feel little again. Now imagine another you as you are today with your current understanding of things meeting that younger you. Now what advise would you tell your younger self, imagine your younger self views you like a big brother or sister. Let the conversation flow naturally. Repeat until you can feel your unconscious attitudes begin to shift.

The reason this technique really helps us is because behaviours we learned as children arn't based on logic so simply understanding why you should be doing something better doesn't get to that unconscious belief. The unconscious needs to feel that emotional caring guidance to re-learn it's behaviours. Guidance from someone you trust implicitly. By doing this visualisation we are becoming our own parent in a way and that lets us re-learn these early lessons.

Thank you for this! Brought some perspective on why I have an intrinsic push to want to fail.

Break tasks down into tiny chunks that are sooo easy that you don't need to procrastinate to do them.

Then do them little bits at a time, and reward yourself for doing them.

See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pomodoro_Technique

Lots of people procrastinate. I do too. Don't feel so bad about it. :-)

Or, find a new hobby (like playing guitar) and then procrastinate on that. Spend time reading up on music, music theory, equipment... instead of reading reddit. Maybe you'll learn something new with your time wasting?

That's actually what I do most of the time. I got really god at Spanish because I was procrastinating and to fight it I switched the language on every "fun" site I was using to discourage me.

I just finished reading Daily Rituals. It's a book about the work habits of famous writers, composers, artists, architects, and the like. One thing that caught my attention was how a lot of people we think of as great/prolific only worked 3 hours a day or for 3 hours at a stretch with a long break in between sessions. That number was very prominent throughout -- I don't remember the exact figure, but it was quite a lot of people. Off the top -- Sartre, Ingmar Bergman, Strauss, Mozart, Trollope, Thomas Mann, Carl Jung.

Trollope stands out for he had this to say, "All those I think who have lived as literary men, -- working daily as literary labourers, -- will agree with me that three hours a day will produce as much as a man ought to write. But then, he should so have trained himself that he shall be able to work continuously during those three hours."

That number might just be a biological limit. You might be working at full capacity already and your brain "procrastinates" in order to recharge. It's very difficult to tell when the brain is tired since you can't feel it, but wanting to do other things -- specifically things that take less mental energy like reading blogs/forums and playing games -- seems like a good signal of fatigue.

One thing you can try though is to split up your day into different blocks and focus on recharging in the time between those gaps. Say, do 3 hours in the morning and 3 hours in the late afternoon and just completely relax and do whatever the hell you want in the meantime.

Log off all this crap on the internet now and get back to work. Stop reading this thread and start asking someone to review the crap code you're writing. And fill your vast amount of freetime at work actually doing something to improve your company. They pay your bills so you can click keys and press buttons. So stop pressing the wrong keys and start typing something productive not posts like these. Also, stop reading all this stuff and start making something.

Just stop beeing depressed. Just stop beeing sucidal. Just stop taking drugs. Just stop drinking alcohol.

Would be great if the world would work this way.

I know. My comment above is harsh and simplistic. But, I know it's exactly what I would have wanted to hear, were I OP.

Also, I struggle with all the same issues and I know people I manage do too. One actual thing that's helped is that we run semi-automated time tracking software. I don't have a preferred tracking software yet, but something like this looks good: http://www.taskcoach.org ... There's nothing like stepping on the scale and seeing you're overweight to know inspire you to lose weight. In the same sense, there's nothing like finishing a hard 10 hour day with time tracking software and realize you've only worked/billed 5 hours. It very quickly becomes a great positive reinforcement. Pretty soon for me after using time tracking, when I take 10 hours for work, I get in about 8 or 9, which is pretty good.

Further, in my own life, becoming a freelancer and independent contractor is the single choice I can point to that has drastically boosted my happiness and productivity, which I think are tightly coupled for workers. I do better working on my own schedule with no pressure to show up at certain times. And I work from home. Remember that even though there's a time to buckle down and do your best in your current situation, there's also a time to acknowledge that you're not happy and to change your life, by say, taking a different job you think you'll do better at. My $.02 obviously. But I hope that helps.

It's true though. It feels like it should be so easy and simple but it's really a deep rooted problem

If you need to build up willpower to do things, you should be doing different things. Find what you want to do. You still may have a problem with procrastination, but at least you'll be getting things done in a realm that matters to you at a deep level.

The thing about "I could be changing the world" is more complex. That is one hell of a monkey to put on your back. What are your hobbies? What do you really enjoy doing? Yeah, maybe for where you are in life (young adult?) you have that urge to change the world but channel it through a passion. Don't even think about anything that furthers a goal, just pure enjoyment.

As a kid, the architect Frank Gehry played with blocks and he went back to that play when he found his work. When physicist Richard Feynman was burned out, he stopped doing all physics until he saw a plate spinning in the air and started to compute spin just for fun with no sense of a goal. It reconnected him.

It seems like you are in a prime place to explore that base level of play given your security in work. Do it and maybe you'll end up with what you want to do. Then you can move away from the chores or put them into perspective.

Just channel the procrastination into something you like. I highly recommend reading the Structured Procrastination essay: http://www.structuredprocrastination.com/

I bought a copy, but haven't yet got around to reading it. True story.

I've personally found a variation of Marc Andreessen's index card concept very useful. (couldn't find it on his blog any longer, so here's an archive.org link)


I typically write down one simple goal each day for whatever project I'm working on. Something that is easy to knock out, but meaningful. Day after day of tearing up index cards of simple goals, and sooner than later you've accomplished a lot while not worrying so much about drowning in the grand scheme of things (I typically get overwhelmed / overloaded by having too many things that need to get done).

I use the following:

RescueTime + Beeminder: to track what I'm actually doing so I can't trick myself into thinking I'm more productive than I am. I have it set to 30 hours a week of productive work. People think I'm a god damned freak of nature and worth every penny they pay me if I average 30 productive hours.

I use the Pomodoro technique to stay focused. Once I get into the grove it's kind of silly, I'll find I've been programming for about two hours and haven't restarted the Pomodoro. But it IS a great way to cut short procrastination.

"I'll read HN after this 25 minute stretch..."

Depending on what I'm doing I have to have Twit.tv or music playing in the background or I get bored and my mind starts wandering.

Make sure you dev environment is fast. Cognitive drift is your enemy.

Out yourself. Show your boss this thread, ask for their help. Something is likely to change one way or another. You will either end up being monitored more closely, or fired. Either way you will have removed the giant cushion that being fast and having no direct supervision provides.

Long-term behavior-change is extremely difficult, but the strategy that I have been experimenting with recently and having success with is context-sensitive rules (commonly called "implementation intentions" by behavioral researchers). The form of these rules is "if-then," although I often phrase them in a way such that the "if-then" is implied.

For example, like you, I was procrastinating far too much at work. This was driven mainly by two problems: 1) I'm somewhat addicted to the Internet, and 2) there are many things with my job that I'm either bored with or just uncomfortable doing. The result was that I would procrastinate by going on the Internet.

I finally decided to make a rule: "No non-work-related Internet at work." Or in the "if-then" format: "If I am at work, then I will not use the Internet for non-work purposes."

This rule has worked for me. It forced me to confront the discomfort that I was having with the task at hand. I also try to focus on completing only one particularly challenging or distasteful task that I have been procrastinating on per day, and I try to do it first thing in the morning. The positive feeling that it generates is amazing.

I have adopted other rules as well, such as to lose fat. I have a rule to only eat during an 8-hour feeding window from 12PM to 8PM (intermittent fasting). While I am at work, I also only eat a huge mixed salad (with grilled chicken, hard-boiled eggs, and tuna salad) every single day. I don't allow myself to use the vending machine or to eat goodies that people bring in or eat pizza on Fridays (pizza day). When I'm not at work, I'm a little more flexible.

I try not to design rules that expect me to be perfect all day every day. My rules are designed in a way that help me to be perfect only during specific contexts.

I think the reason that setting rules for ourselves is so often successful is because it eliminates the need to make decisions. Every time you allow yourself to make a decision, you give yourself the opportunity to make a bad decision, which you will do at times of low willpower, which pretty much everyone goes through (willpower is an exhaustible resource).

So my recommendation is to try to design some context-sensitive rules (i.e. rules that you will follow at certain times or certain places) and adapt them as necessary so that they work for you. Remind of yourself that your rules will make your life better and that you are free to change them if you find that they don't serve you, or else your brain might rebel at the perception of the pain of discipline.

If your rules take a lot of willpower, they will eventually fail guaranteed.

Have a look at a book called "Getting results the agile way". It's a simple process which you could probably glean from reading the introduction. Essential you choose 3 things each day that are important for you to solve, 3 things each week, 3 things each month.. You can see where this is going...Or as a quick (great way) to boost to your productivity have a look at the 'pomodoro technique' There is also another great book called "Getting Things Done" but that takes much more effort and takes a somewhat anal approach to managing every conceivable thing if your life.

You need to work with people waaay better than you, the embarrassment of seeing them do so much more than you will either force you to keep up or you'll realize you're not as smart as you thought you were. win-win.

You don't need help. You will hear a lot of advice, but none of it addresses your problem.

The issue is, above all else, you haven't found something that lights a fire in your gut. Something that forces you into action through sheer hunger and excitement.

Ignore all the tips that help you ignore your inner feelings to achieve what you don;t really care for.

It too me until 30 to find that which lit a fire inside me, until then I worked and 'tried' to motivate and push through procrastination.

What can you do? Experience life. Try different things, when you find the what i'm talking about it will be as clear as day.

Dear procastatron (love that name!:),

There are some excellent suggestions below and I admit I haven't read them all, so sorry for repeats. Here's my experience from combating the same problem:

You can talk to your conscious mind all you want. Won't help. Your subconscious mind will reign supreme. Always. So you need to re-program the subconscious. Eliminate the emotional drivers behind your procrastination. See 2). below for one such method. Think of it as an unfair message bus. Without cheating, it takes a lot of work to pass messages from the conscious mind down to the subconscious mind but messages from the subconscious are effortlessly running your conscious life - and mostly, you don't even realize.

So what to do? 1). calm your minds (both of them) through meditation. Sit for 12 minutes a day in a comfy, non-disturbed place, and focus on your breathing. When a thought pops up, simply acknowledge it and return to focusing on breathing. Resist the urge to pursue those trains of thought. This will strengthen your ability to focus.

2). get familiar with EFT (Emotional Freedom Therapy). Its easy to do and as an offshoot from acupuncture/acupressure, it involves finger-tapping on specific acupuncture points on the face and torso. Many people dismiss EFT as silly pseudoscience but it does prove to be remarkably effective at eliminating undesired behavior by acting on the deep subconscious circuits. Its free so why not try it.

+100 for EFT. I don't care that there isn't a rational explanation for how it works; I tried it with a "let's prove this wont' work" attitude and had to accept it was effective for me.

Over the years I've tried psychotherapy, counselling (of the discussion variety) and EFT combined with counselling. The latter has been by far the most effective at bringing change. Those around me see the difference.

Hi Porker, Glad EFT works for you. There is some research being done into the mechanisms of EFT. One big clue is that collagen fibers in skin and bone are piezoelectric. So when you "tap" on a acupuncture point or puncture the skin around it with a needle, an electric charge is created. It is also well established that there is less electrical resistance between acupuncture points on the skin than other. Those acupuncture points form daisy chains that connect with every organ in the body. First time I saw an acupuncture meridian chart I thought "this is an electrical diagram!". If you want to go deeper down the rabbit hole I recommend, for starters, the book "The Body Electric" by Dr. Robert O' Becker. It's a classic on the subject.

> Any advice on how you taught yourself to focus on tasks, build willpower,

Generally, all your accomplishments are probably being rewarded by societal "strokes" : "Well done, what a great SAT score!", "Wow, you work at Facebook?!", etc;

You're not procrastinating; you're simply not that interested in what you've been sold : work hard, get good grades, make good money, and you'll be happy, they said.

"Building willpower" is the most common counterproductive approach to this problem : it's just more of the same, more of beating your natural self to death with artificial goals and corresponding achievements that don't please you. It works for a while; you put on The Bourne soundtrack or The Dark Knight rises soundtrack, get to the gym (or to your startup's office) and pump out the most awesome set ever. But many things you achieve with sheer willpower often have the opposite effect, and your soul develops further resistance to the activity imposed on it.

It's confusing because there are people who are very similar to you, your peers, your friends, who are actually happy doing the conventional thing : working hard, burning the midnight oil, working at Goldman Sachs or Google (or even in the same office at you), actually completing things...You wonder, "What gives?".

If you're with me this far, I'll continue with the solution to this quandary in the reply; if not, I'd rather get off the soapbox earlier and get back to my work.

I try not to recommend pop-psych books, but The Power of Habit taught me some useful tricks: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1400069289/ref=as_li_ss_tl?....

The upshot is that you can't stop this part of yourself. You can only redirect it. You have a rich set of impulse-reward cycles triggered by the thought of beginning something difficult. You can't help responding to the triggers, but you can change the routines and the rewards.

In other words, you can't win by fighting. Don't swim against the current. Use your existing bad habits as a frame for new better ones.

Somebody else mentioned that you might be bored. Perhaps you are unchallenged. You could be lacking perspective and proper role models. I would encourage you to take yourself out of the startup scene (which is largely vapid nonsense) and try something more viscerally challenging, intellectually engaging, or just out of the ordinary. Find a research job, work in the theater, go to sea, volunteer in the third world, backpack around the world, teach classes to your friends or kids, pick up a craft like glassblowing or carpentry, build a house, WWOOF, etc.

Did you go to college? If so, what was your degree?

(Shoot me an email if you want to chat – I'm a few years older, but was in a similar position not too long ago – skiptracer at gmail.)

A professor of mine used to tell me something helpful. It took some time to accept, but he would say: "nobody cares what you have to say until you're 35". At this age, and through your 20's, what you're doing is just warming up. You have quite some time until you're in your prime. So take your time. Enjoy your dwindling youth, learn, grow, and prepare.

The one thing that helped me in this is a great Chrome plugin, Stayfocusd [1]. Uninstall any other browser and block your access to those sites. Combining this with blocking even the "chrome://extensions" page, you have a perfect tool to avoid procrastination.

[1]: https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/stayfocusd/laankej...

I have to access HN on my phone because I've blocked this domain, reddit, and about 20 others in my /etc/hosts in attempt to stay focused. Instead I just find more obscure shit to get distracted with until I realize it's a distraction and ban it

I did this recently and it helped me somewhat: I created a little tool in which I enter what I'm currently doing, the time I started it and at what time I think I'll finish. Another script I wrote checks every minute if I'm doing something at that very moment. If not then it turns my desktop background a solid red. So its keeps bugging me (especially with the OSX translucent menu bar). I enter a new activity or expand the old one, my desktop background turns to a nice grey and I continue my work. Rinse repeat.

This for me was step one.

Another thing thats supposed to be good for you is exercise. So I recently started doing what this guy does: http://youtu.be/ok6VLDFerMw?t=4m54s I can do this in my living room so the hurdle of going to a gym or something isn't there. And there isn't a large group of pro's here to see I still suck at it. I've been doing almost every day for the last two weeks and I'm already getting stronger.

Hope this helps!

Programming is a challenge for me (and I presume for you). Try to see life as such a challenge. You can hack at it. You can improve on it. You probably try to be better in programming than the people around you. Try to be better in life than the people around you, thats a real challenge!

I recommend listening to http://5by5.tv/b2w. Merlin Mann has really good advice about being productive and about life in general. My description isn't doing it justice, but I promise it's worthwhile.

(Start with with the first few episodes to get a sense of what the show is about -- don't start with the current episodes because there's a lot of inside baseball that won't make sense or be interesting.)

I'm reading HN while I should be working. I'm 22 but I'm unemployed :( I quit Design School (one of the best in my country) because I really hate how universities work over here, even though it was free [1]. I learn really quick most tasks but the way people are teaching here is slow and really "opressive": you MUST attend to almost all classes otherwise you will automatically fail, you MUST learn stuff you won't even use EVER [2] and so on. Even though I think that, I'm still attached to learn with a mentor - not a TEACHER - because I think it's the only way I can learn real world shit. I really hope I can find something that pleases me now that my parents are kinda suffering a economic crisis.

1 - Federal or State Universes here in Brazil are free and most of them are called the best in the country, even though almost ALL lack something like good rooms and research equipment. 2 - There was a subject (I guess it's the right word) we had to study called Technical Drawing. It was like AutoCAD with hands: we had to use different sizes of pencils to draw houses, yes houses. I talked to people that was almost in the end of the course and they said "I've NEVER used this in my projects".

@procrastron Mind & Body are equally important. DO SPORT Regulary! 3-4 Times a Week at the same days every week. Your discipline will come over you and attack your laziness.

I say that out of personal experience, so if you use only your mind to do your work, it will shut-off pretty fast to go into standby, because you trained that mind-muscle to be efficient (3h/day@work). After doing your sports, your mind will have to adapt and that will decrease your concentration in the first week, but raise it dramatically in the coming weeks.

Hey it could be your workload too (idk you), in that case, ask for more ;) hahaha :)

Hook up with a stranger, a friend, or go alone and try to find pals you can do your sport regularly with as a motivation.

Just NOW you procrastinate AGAIN ;) Why don't you ask your family, Gf, or go to a Psychologist or Ergo-Theraphy or something, instead of asking the Internet. You know it's not very likely that we can help you, only you can help yourself.

I'm not perfect myself and focus on everything, but the thing I need to do. My habit is to solve things generally and that leads me from A-Z and back to A, then after having everything done, I start with the job I actually have to do.. sucks

Perhaps not the healthiest advice if you don't have any addictions already but: One of the things I do is to blackmail myself with my addictions/vices when I want to do something that I don't really want to do. Have the reward present on my desk and just DON'T touch it until whatever I want is done.

If you break it down to pair short bursts of intense rewards, preferably something with a chemical component, for the completion of small short-term objective, (I think my shortest is about three minutes; reward for finding bugs in horrible code,) that approach seems to work reasonably well. (At least, provided your initial urge to start the action is sufficient.) You only have to deny yourself the reward for a short while.

I find I can increase the initial urge to do the activity by writing stuff down to do at the start of the day. I find it has more of an impact if I write it down at the very start of the day rather than planning stuff out weeks in advance.

It can also work with time-limited goals. Like I'm going to spend X minutes doing Y before a reward.

This approach does not seem to work well if using media and activities to reward yourself rather than some physical pay-off.

Dont under-estimate the importance of your social environment. As much as possible try to get yourself in a place surrounded by peers who do get stuff done.

This is just my two cents, take it with a grain of salt as I am simply a humble observer peering into your life, with the little information you have given me.

I dont think you are lazy; I think you are afraid to fail.

Thus far in your life, you've had it easy. SAT's, Valedictorian, probably started programming when you were 12. You have seen your peers struggle to no end with this stuff, yet you've always been able to skate by, and still be better than most. At 21, to be making 130k a year is god damn impressive, not so much for the "money", but for what the money represents; knowledge and your skill level of your chosen craft.

The problem is, again from my perspective observing from the outside, you don't start something because you are afraid you are going to fail. You are afraid, that for once in your life where things have always just come naturally to you, that you will try something new and just fail miserably at it.

I don't think this is a matter of laziness; I think that you just think it is laziness, so you casually write it off as such without really examining the root of your problem.

I could be wrong, but I have seen this before. My sister sounds a lot like you; the oldest child (already the family favorite from that fact alone), perfect grades her whole life, captain of the cheerleading team (I shit you not), Valedictorian, great SAT's, accepted into some art school. She is very smart, makes 40k a year as a copywriter for some mucky-muck agency in LA. She talked to my mom about starting her own (my mom's suggestion) and her response was (surprise, surprise!) she doesn't want to be a failure because she knows most businesses fail.

Then, on the other hand, you have me. I am the only boy in my family (3 sisters), ADD, suffered from bad grades while being surround by 3 straight-A sisters, arrested at 17 for making a drug deal (long story), in some ways, the "black sheep" of my family.

I started an eBay business in high school, which made some money. Started a business in college selling hempseed oil skin care products, flipped inventory, invested the money into a side project/start up. Outsourced the development. Got interest from Nordstrom's, Whole Foods, Landry's, and Black Angus Corporate (I think a PE firm owns them) etc. Realized I loved this so much, told them I had to put it on hold, dropped out of school, and enrolled in General Assembly WDI in Santa Monica (was accepted into Dev Bootcamp, my mom got cancer, stayed closer to home, long story) and will resume operations once I can build the site from scratch myself. It's a B2B site .

What I am trying to say, is don't be like my sister. Your "perfectionist complex" seems to be the problem. I have failed, been called every name under the sun from my own family, and everything else in between, yet I keep going.

Failing is not that big of a deal; in our industry it is a badge of honor if done correctly. Don't be that guy, who in 20 years, regrets the things he has not done, instead of the things you have done.

My advice for this; fail. Fail hard. Go out and pop your "success cherry", and get the fuck out of your comfort zone. Stay humble, stay hungry, keep hacking and go change the fucking world man. Stop feeling sorry for yourself and just go do it. I mean really....what do you have to lose?

> I dont think you are lazy; I think you are afraid to fail. Your "perfectionist complex" seems to be the problem.

Just wanted to highlight these two sentences. I think this is his problem, too, because I think it is also my problem.

I believe that you have a key point here, STAY HUNGRY, stay hungry forever. You got 130k a/y know? Set a goal for yourself aim to have a million in a year (I do not know how, but try it). As someone else said before in the comments is not for the money.

I’m a super procrastinator too. I’m also not good at estimating how long a task will take me. On top of that, I feel apprehensive contacting or responding to clients once I know I won’t make the deadline, entering radio silence instead. Needless to say, that’s not good for business and causes both parties a fair deal of distress.

Some things I’m doing to conquer my shortcomings:

I outline the entire project and try to estimate how long it will take. I then schedule the work on hours I try to keep myself to (4-5 hours a day). Once working on the project, I log my working hours and what I do with them. Once the project is done, I review my outline and time sheets to see how close I was to my estimates, and where I went wrong (usually I was distracted or needed to learn new tech to get the work done). I use OmniPlan on iPad to do all of this[1].

I usually work on several projects at once. I’ve found out that I really can't focus on more than three at a time, so I’m learning to say ‘no’ to new projects or schedule them far in the future. In truth, I still have ten projects right now, but half of them are longer term.

Starting my day by reviewing the projects in OmniPlan and seeing what needs attention most helps me get started on them. I also have a desktop picture with the Yogi Bhajan quote “When the time is on you, start and the pressure will be off.”. When I read it and fully realize it, that motivates me to get started. And lastly, I use a GTD trick when working on a project that seems too big or boring: I pick the smallest, most fun part of a project, and tell myself that I’ll take a break after that. Once I’ve finished it, I’m usually motivated enough to keep working.

[1] http://www.omnigroup.com/products/omniplan-ipad/

Firstly, realization in itself is trans-formative. The fact that you did this is progress already. Very few people in fact I'd argue really no one in life reaches their true physical, mental, spiritual etc potential so we are all procrastinators to one extent or another you are just at that extreme.

You never stated what your goals are. What are they? Try to make them inevitable. This guy talks about that and also has interesting thoughts about video-game procrastination:


Remember you're not looking for motivation you're looking for discipline. This is also something I get confused a lot and halts my daily progress down as well. Coincidentally this guy talks about that as well...not trying to over-promote, but I found these two videos useful all his other stuff is meh:


Best of luck

There are lots of suggestions here about using timers or "just do it" or thinking about the pain/reward of doing a task you don't feel like doing. But for me none of these things worked.

If you are like me, the problem was I had no reason to improve myself. I had no motivation to improve my life beyond its basic needs. You have an easy life - you have money, time and good health (just an assumption) but clearly there is still something wrong. Something gnawed at you enough today to make you write this post. Something is telling you that your life could be so much better.

I recommend reading the book Getting Past OK by Richard Brodie (a fellow programmer). For me the helpful points in the book were:

- It is possible to drastically improve your life, to find meaning and happiness (I was pretty skeptical of this point in general before picking the book up)

- You need to accept who you are now (skrebbel commented on this already)

- The beliefs, opinions and feelings you have about things (e.g. doing "work" is a chore) are the product of your experience up to this point. This means they can be changed. If you identify a belief that is holding you back, you can change it to fit your goals.

- Procrastination is just one of your problems and is actually quite easy to fix once you figured out why you want to fix it. There is a section of the book devoted to breaking out of the procrastination habit.

- If you want to be successful you have to be committed. This might sound hard and constraining but once you figure out "ok this is want I really want", it's just the opposite.

I am still nowhere near where I should be. I don't think that book has all the answers. But I think it is a great start - you can even read it while procrastinating from work if you like :)

Good luck!

Sounds very familiar. You've trained your whole life for working slightly hard for short periods of time and getting enough done to keep up. The only way I've seen to fight that is to do things that can't be mastered quickly: chess, playing music, sports, etc.

There are also certain lines of work that would work better. You're probably never going to fit into a software developer role if you're expected to spend 1-3 week sprints delivering chunks of functioning code. You would probably excel at a top-tier customer support role where you dug into hard problems and diagnosed other people's code.

One thing that's helped me is to keep a very visual record of progress and become a widget-cranking machine. Break everything into discrete tasks that are either done or not done and put them on PostIts or index cards and plaster them all over the wall where you can see them. Mark up the completed ones and keep them around and visible.

Another thing that helps me a lot is to get away from electronics. When I have a document I need to review, I print it and go somewhere without my laptop or even my phone. I'll also pull out a Moleskine or even some printer paper and go somewhere electronic-free to try to dump all of the things I'm thinking about. Sometimes I'll even write out a bit of a journal entry just to clear the junk from my head.

You could listen to Merlin Mann's podcasts and read his writings, but he's got the same problem with no real solution. Some of his talks with David Allen (Getting Things Done) and his 'To Have Done' talk helped me a bit: http://www.43folders.com/2005/10/16/43f-podcast-the-to-have-...

You could find a way to move into working for yourself and build product, not service, business. Then nobody except you will notice or care if you work 3 days a month.

To me, this is all about motivation.

You know your mental capacity/ability easily exceeds and achieves what is asked of it, so in order to stop yourself over delivering you have created self imposed limits to prevent wasting your creative resources. Applying the 'minimum effective dose' to your work load is efficient but makes you a poor team player.

You then use time pressure & the guilt of not having done much work as motivation and a daily indicator of when it's time to really apply yourself & sprint to your deadline.

You're obviously deeply motivated by the sense of reward in experiencing the 'phew, just made it' scenario and this is far more attractive than pacing yourself and then asking for more work.

I don't actually think you're procrastinating - just waiting to be motivated & challenged and then filling in that extra time with (poor quality) mental stimulation.

By working in this sprint fashion you're actually ensuring you can cope with deadlines, stress & pressure - important skills you learned in your academic life.

Ways to resolve this involve using this motivation to your advantage (be careful not to burn yourself out)

Explain to your manager you feel you could be more productive & ask for a milestone approach to your work.

Surround yourself with ambitious people that you respect (even in online circles) they will provide a peer group that might trigger your competitiveness

Work on projects in your spare time in a sprint fashion e.g one night/week/month only or Startup Weekends

Decide on a work based project of your own creation to keep you productive even when you're not working on your core tasks.

You've ticked off the achievements that society sets out for us, now you have to continue the list & decide on your own new aims.

One thing that worked for me was to give up illusions about the quick fix. You won't kill procrastination tomorrow or anytime in the future, you can only develop habits that will be harder to break after some time. I like to see myself as an abstinent - it can come back anytime and therefore I stick to my routines and avoid any situations leading to procrastination. It's a life long process in my eyes and only consistence leads to change.

What helped me was to develop a morning routine - I started with making my bed. Every day. I know myself - if I leave out one day I will leave out second day too and eventually fail. After a while I added cold shower, 2 glasses of water, workout, 5 min meditation and a healthy breakfast - to cut it short I have been working out every morning for last 6 months, not missing a single day.

I created an excel sheet where I track if I miss the routine or not, the time I spend working and the time I spend studying something. I have it done for 9 weeks all on one paper - it works better that having a daily to do list because you can see your progress and how you've been doing so far, unlike with daily to-do where you can quickly forget you wasted last monday. ( I have it printed out - and I put it on a visible place. It works better, because once I turn on the notebook I get distracted about wanting to check my email and what to do next. I keep this stuff strictly offline )

After 9 weeks I sum it up and take a week off. Over the last year my net working hours have increased 500% and so has my income.

Another thing that helped was to change environment, clean up stuff, email, desktop the room, throw things out. I have put a K9 on my pc blocking porn, youtube, facebook, quora and every medium where I can read something about politics. I threw out the password and blocked even the email provider I have my backup email on. Sounds ridiculous right. Well I feel liberated, I just don't have to fight with the temptation anymore and it saves a lot of energy. And most importantly I actually do what I love doing every day. My life is much better since then. It also forced me to spend my time more meaningfully.

Also note that I tried many things before and most have failed. This is what eventually worked for me as an individual ( yes my procrastination was that bad, I had to get that radical ) I remember feeling so hopeless I actually thought I won't change ever in my life, that I am doomed to be lazy. Well anyway I still have to remind myself I am a step from falling back and I still work on the improvement.

For better or worse, I force myself into daily To Do lists. Procrastination hits when you're talented but underemployed. The To Do lists force me to work on bigger things too, and reminds me that there's an internal consequence (if not external) from being lazy. Over the long haul, dumber people will catch and pass you by if you keep up the habits. Or even if not, you won't achieve the greatness of which you are capable.

Two caveats: 1 - It's never to late to start learning, or get better habits. Mine dramatically improved several years out of school. 2 - You can't be 100% on 100% of the time. Many great thinkers can still only get 4 hours per day of deep thought. It's ok to catch up on administrative crap in the other hours.

No amount of willpower, or medical procedures (except maybe for lobotomy) will render tasks "you" find boring harder to postpone.

The key element, in my opinion, is to cognitively transform tasks into achievements. the latter are far more appealing to smart(er) people.

adding to that the premise : No matter how smart you are you wont be able to bullshit your way out of PAYING salaries at the end of the month.

My advice: Start your own company doing what do now, just as a service instead, and i bet the paradigm shift alone is enough to "motivate you". That said, this will not "cure" you from procrastination. It will just drive you to overcome it as your brain starts to link "tasks" to actual milestones which pave the way to achievements.

Surround yourself of people better than you and find challenges in your job.

What I read from your message is "I am a genius, I am gifted, I don't need to work because I am so smart, work is so easy".

Bullshit. If you are so gifted:

could you find the cure to a cancer saying, I don't know understanding DNA code?

Could you help developing nuclear fusion?

Could you really improve the social condition of the people around you?

Have you done anything meaningful with your life. My neighbor being stupid had help in her life more people than probably what you will.

Choose one big challenge, bigger than yourself and next time you want to read online(nothing bad if about it it is meaningful) or want to play games on your job work a little in your challenge.

Don't try to make more of your boring job, change it if necessary.

At the end of the day, you're comment here has more truth to it than anything else in this thread.

And it's one of the reasons I indulge in self-loathing more than I should

My kudos to you!

I haven't read through all the other comments and I have offered this advice before, so forgive me if it sounds repetitive.

The book that helped me the most was 'Mindset' by Carol Dweck. It is a quick read and gives multiple settings for describing fixed mindset vs growth mindset. It sounds like you are mainly in the fixed mindset and perhaps reading this book could jump start you into finding ways to incorporate the growth mindset.


It's hard, I've read most comments in this discussion thread and most of them aren't coming from procrastinators. But if I may say the only trick that worked for me... get started. That's the hardest part. But once you get started, even thought 99% of it suck, you'll find a part of the task that you want to continue and push yourself to it. And every time you feel like quitting the task, push yourself to do 1 more minute.. just one. And you'll find yourself addicted to a small part of that task that you find interesting.

Whatever it is, dishes, work, making calls, paying credit cards.. just get started for 30 secs. The rest will fall into place.

I work as a manager and I'd say that I would consider your problem not being "yours" but your manager's problem.

As your manager, I would have you work more closely with some dedicated but inspirational and funny person. Have you in on discussions and make research on topics shapes the decision making of what we are working on. I would simply make sure you had at least three different type of work (programming, researching, preparing for a presentation etc) and see what you gravitated towards and then keep a solid ratio between the different things.

So, I guess that I am suggesting that you should tell your manager about this problem and have her helping you with it.

I strongly recommend these books. They have been very helpful. If you were to read just one, read the first.

"Procrastination: Why You Do It, What to Do About It Now" http://www.amazon.com/Procrastination-Why-You-What-About/dp/...

"The Now Habit: A Strategic Program for Overcoming Procrastination and Enjoying Guilt-Free Play" http://www.amazon.com/The-Now-Habit-Overcoming-Procrastinati...

Adderall is an amazing drug for people like you. Also, try getting a job in a field, say programming for banks, or management consulting, where you can't procrastinate.

As for procrastinating life stuff: outsource everything. Get a maid, etc.

I'm in a similar position, but I find that the major factor that affects my procrastination is my emotional investment in the product I'm making. At work, I don't really care about the application I'm building - largely because the quality of the existing codebase makes me depressed. However, when I get home and work on my own side projects, I code like there's no tomorrow, and have no problem with focus. I haven't had the opportunity to test my theory yet, but I think one way of tackling procrastination is to make sure you're in a job that you really care about.

Also, and perhaps more importantly, make sure you have the opportunity to grow as a developer at whatever job you're in. If a job doesn't provide learning opportunities pretty regularly, I feel as if I'm wasting my time and don't care about the product, and as a result spend a lot more time on HN while I'm at work. I'm at work right now :P

The next time you feel like wanting to procrastinate, have a look for that :


Well, you're following in your dad's footsteps. Procrastination is a kind of passive aggression, and it sounds like you're mad at your dad for being a bad role model. It also sounds like you feel guilty about not using your talents fully. Psychotherapy can be very good for these kinds of things if you find someone you like and trust. It will help you to separate psychologically from your parents, which is never a bad thing. You don't have to wait for a severe crisis before you go and talk to someone, and at your income level you can easily afford it.

Can't help you with this, but wow I could have written this myself buddy. I started freelancing, and feeling how tough it is now. I find myself playing catch-up all the time, and binge working, and making excuses to clients, which sucks, and do not define as how I see myself as a person. I'm pretty ADD as well. As a side-note I found L-theanine+caffeine (or just tea) helps me in relaxing and focusing for longer periods. I didn't drink any today I just realized, and boy i'm all over the place with the regular 22 random tabs open.

Don't be so hard on yourself: You're probably a type C: http://www.paulgraham.com/procrastination.html

I am a lot like you, and I've tried so many things. Tips, tricks, to-do lists, whatever.

The one thing that sticks with me is to first truly understand the value of time. It sounds cheesy but time really is the most valuable resource in the world, and procrastinating is about the worst way to squander it.

Also, even after coming at that conclusion, it's still a struggle, every day. There is not a day when you can magically be not lazy. It will still be there forever, but you can choose to fight it. It's a daily struggle, but absolutely worth it, though.

I can relate to this. You sound like you just learn things incredibly fast so you can get by doing much less than other people. Why not just accept it? You're the type of person who is more like a sprinter than a marathoner intellectually. You don't see Usian Bolt trying to run marathons.

Of course, the bad part is that the working system forces everyone into the same bucket. You're probably only going to find happiness by getting outside of that system and building your own business where you can set your own work schedule.

If you didn't have to worry about money, how close is what work pays you to do to what you actually would be doing? I find it's a lot easier to get work done on something I'm excited about, and a lot easier to keep working on something once the initial excitement is gone if it's something I give a damn about.

You say you could be changing the world. Is there a way you actually would LIKE to be changing the world? What can you do to actually work towards this change, in your day job or in your off hours?

Edit your hosts file to point all your procrast sites to

I kind of have the same. You ask for help but from experience I can tell that most tips you have to do yourself wont break the habit.

For me, there is/was just one solution. Ina one-on-one I told my boss (who was already very happy with me btw) that this was only about 40-50% of me. I just asked for more responsibility, more work, and make sure I can no longer bullshit around. Added benefit, this received me sone awards, and very positive salary talks :).

Life is not like a continuous road. Life has chapters. Even if you procrastinate now, you can be in a completely different situation for the next chapter. The trick is to try to make the good chapters last and keep making changes until bad chapters turn good. Also, try "going with the life flow" while keeping a healthy respect for situations you know have the potential to go wrong.

What works best for me: Work closely with super-motivated people who inspire you. Procrastination goes down to zero. Interestingly, the effect lasts even after your project with these people is finished.

Also, read http://www.jamesaltucher.com/2012/04/5-great-things-about-pr...

I just realized, I have a similar problem. I've bookmarked the thread and reading every comment on it. Thanks for asking the questions :)

I always find myself procrastinating when I think the work I have to do will get me bored out of my mind, so I don't even try.There's loads of little things that could stop you from doing some actual work, but I think the main problem is that you are not really excited by what you are supposed to do. If you fix that I reckon you will be in an entirely new world.

This helped me hugely - procrastination is a symptom of an over-achiever who is afraid to fail, because they rarely have.

Start from halfway down on 'The Real Causes of Procrastination'.

Welcome to the club: http://www.raptitude.com/2011/05/procrastination-is-not-lazi...

Read this a while ago. It's a great article

Find something you're passionate about in which you'll put all your energy and talent! Start you own venture. And when it starts being difficult or boring, remember you can't fake it then, because it will drive you to either success or failure.

And find damn good mentors ASAP. I assume you don't have any valuable ones otherwise you wont be asking HN.

Truth. I find myself doing a lot more mentoring than menteeing. I haven't found very many older smarter people in my community. That said, I'm way behind a lot of you guys on HN in terms of knowledge. I wish more of you super smart programmer guys lived in my immediate community

This is a very short book written by a professor who researches procrastination. If you are interested in what the latest research has to say about procrastination and strategies to overcome it, it is well worth the read: http://amzn.com/1453528598

I remember awhile back here on hn, a guy did an experiment: hire somebody on craigslist to watch him while he works. That's all. It turned out to be pretty productive.

It's even more awesome if you can get someone who understands your work.


So find & _pair_ with a programmer you are compatible with.

Unfortunately, this usually results in a slower pace than I can stand. The guys on my team are all young too 19-26, and frankly I'm more knowledgeable than most of them. I really have had some good pair programming sessions but usually it's just me teaching best practices the whole time which can get pretty draining. I also think I don't like it because I can't go off and get that procrastinator dopamine rush

Well I can not speak from experience enough to help since my own procrastination problems are quite bad. But this (http://lesswrong.com/lw/1sm/akrasia_tactics_review/) might help.

Create a menu of tasks. Dedicate yourself to making progress on at least one of them at any given time. If you like doing any of them choose then one you feel least adverse to. It doesn't matter how many tasks are in your menu, or which one you choose, just "no empty time".

Lame. See response on add.

Working more hours != making use of your gift

This is your 100% capacity. You may be able to work for more hours, but a combination of your life situation (age, salary etc) causes you not to.

Once/if you are fired, that will teach ya.

If you don't like how this sounds then grab that feeling and challenge yourself.

Want to start a project with me? It's not a huge project, but something to accomplish.

Maybe. But I fear taking more on will only be more detrimental

Shoot me an email if you're up to it.

I'm sorry but if you're on $130k at the age of 21, I really don't think you should worry about procrastination. If I was on anything near $130K at my age, I'd walk around with a grin on my face 24/7.

Go to the beach and enjoy your life.

One thing that worked for me in the past.

Get a post-it note and write 3 things you want to achieve today.

Then work on those 3 things until they are done.

If you find yourself procrastinating, just look at the post-it note to remind you what you're meant to be doing and restore your focus.

Keep an "Interruptions Log". Have a piece of paper next to you, and every time you are are doing something that's not directly related to coding, write down the start time, end time, and activity you're doing.

It worked like magic for me!

When I find myself procrastinating I ask myself "how much could I achieve if I just do it now?" usually that works for a couple of of hours, I break for 5 minutes and then ask myself the same question before starting work again.

“Find something more important than you are and dedicate your life to it.” -Dan Dennett

I heard that efficient people don't let work build up and I tried it. If you get a task you can do immediately and not put into a queue, do it now! That advice has saved me tons of time, and stopped me drowning in work.

For me, it helped to work in different places.

When I'm on my home-desktop I won't get shit done, but when I'm at work, or at a different room with my laptop, everything works out fine.

don't worry! as long as your job is not negatively impacted, you are good to continue on your path of procrastination. yes, you could do more with less procrastination, but there will be more waste: Procrastination serves a useful purpose, by allowing you to get the most information before taking action.

you are young, so have fun, find a life partner. one day you will find a project or purpose that will give you pasision that turns you into the eager beaver you're dreaming to be now.

This might be related. I have horrible approach anxiety when it comes to girls. When I'm in a convo, I usually do pretty well and multiple people have told me I'm good with girls. Once again it feels like I'm cheating the system, I use a few PUA tricks once in a while but in reality I've never gone on a date which would surprise most people I know

My suggestion is to shift as soon as you can into freelancing and consulting, find interesting projects, work when you feel like working, and stop feeling guilty.

I ran a freelancing company for about 2 years. I did a really shitty job managing clients and would often just ignore their calls. In fact, I'd feel better right away when I ignored them completely. It would just bite my ass in the long run.

I ended up being fairly successful from it as even though I was horrible at communication, I worked on an hourly basis instead of milestones and was able to at least deliver something substantial to the client.

You could try to team up with someone who doesn't mind dealing with clients so that you can focus on what you like.

I don't know if you're anything like me, but for me it's all about finding motivation. I'm not good at sitting down when I don't feel like working and slogging through 10 hours to further someone else's goals and I don't wish to be good at that. When I've been in those situations I end up spending my time in a way similar to what you describe. But give me ownership of an interesting project and the freedom to work on it according to my own schedule, and I'll happily put in highly productive 50+ hour weeks with no trouble at all. These qualities make me a somewhat crappy employee but a great consultant (and I'd like to think good potential as a founder).

Tales of Mere Existence - Procrastination


My technique: if it takes less than two minutes, just do it, then and there.

This is most effective when you split big tasks into smaller tasks.

Two minutes here and there really add up.

The fact that this has been going on for years, and that you feel the procrastination is holding you back from your full potential does sound like it could be ADHD, as others have mentioned. Also, ADHD tends to run in families. So if your dad is the same way...

Most people associate ADHD with kids who struggle in school. But highly intelligent people can have it too. It still holds them back from reaching their potential, it's just that their potential is much greater.

Here are some things to ask yourself:

* Do you also procrastinate non-work things such as buying gifts, paying bills, calling people back?

* What is your home like: Do you have a lot of half-finished projects, "piles", or chores that never get finished?

* Are you always running late because you are busy doing other things, or underestimate what you need to do to get out the door and get to your destination?

* Do people tell you that you frequently interrupt others when they are talking?

* Would you describe yourself as a risk taker and more prone to high adrenaline activities? How the friends you keep?

* Are you only able to focus with the help of caffeine, guarana (eg, Vitamin Water Energy), or other energy drinks?

* Do you use nicotine to relax or be more focused? (If so, please stop and see a doctor.)

* Do you use alcohol, not to get drunk or for the drink itself, but as a way to unwind or slow down at the end of the day?

This is a good book: http://www.amazon.com/Driven-Distraction-Revised-Recognizing..., which reminds me of another question:

* Do you buy/start a lot of books, but rarely seem to finish them?

Read enough of the book to see if this resonates with you. If it does, the next step would be to talk to (a) your doctor if you have one, or (b) find a psychiatrist in your area who specializes in ADHD. The book can help you find resources.

Edit: Just to be clear, this list is NOT meant to be diagnostic. Although I happen to have an MD, I am NOT a practicing physician no one should assume they have ADHD based on any list like this. I would only say that if many of these things hold overwhelmingly true for the OP, then it might be worth learning more about ADHD and finding a professional to begin a conversation.

Yes, ADHD and meds sparks a lot of cynicism in some people. However, one reason I recommended that book is that the authors present a balanced approach to meds. One of the authors has ADHD, but doesn't find that meds make much of a difference for him (they reportedly are ineffective for 25% of adults with ADHD). But they have helped many of his patients and his own son.

I saw a school psych when I was in college and all it really did was piss me off.

The guy spent 30 minutes asking me these types of questions except even more generic and then afterwards said "Yep, you have ADD".

I hardly talked about myself and the way he phrased the questions made it super easy to say yes to all of them. He wrote me a prescription and I never got it filled because of how little I felt he actually had done. I've taken all kinds of ADD medicine from friends, etc but somehow getting a prescription from what seemed like a bullshit therapy session made me stop taking ADD drugs altogether.

If you read some of my other comments, when I take adderall, ritalin, daytrana etc I end up just being more focused in my procrastination. It's like my brain says, "I know what you're doing drug, and I'm going to fuck with you"

The meds are not magical at all: they just help you be less distracted.

If you have been procrastinating for years and have a regular routine and numerous personal habits built around procrastination, those don't go away when you take a pill. All the meds do is make you more present, which would understandably make you more conscious of those routines and habits. That might not be fun -- but it is the first step in changing the habits.

Have you talked to anyone besides the school psych? If it is ADHD (and sorry to hear they half-assed your assessment), then meds are only part of the solution. Regular exercise, a more structured routine, eliminating distractions, finding a partner who supports you, etc. are also important.

You can learn more on your own via books or trial-and-error, or by finding a clinician who can be like a coach to help you figure out what works best for you. The book I listed above talks about all the non-med things you could be doing: one of the authors has ADHD but doesn't find meds helpful for him, so he uses a number of lifestyle changes and natural alternatives instead. Also, the authors have a specialized clinic outside of Boston, and there are other centers like this around, with people far more competent than the school psych who can spend the time to help figure this out.

That you took a bunch of meds doesn't mean you took the ones right for your particular condition. That you spoke to one psych who seemed a disinterested quack doesn't mean all doctors are.

The human brain is very complicated, executive function is one of its highest and most complicated tasks. Fixing it with Pill Powerball doesn't seem likely to me.

That you felt you were fighting the drug may suggest you have other issues to work out. Which really isn't surprising. If you've got serious ADD / ADHD, the hookup between events and your feelings / reactions to those events has been seriously impaired. Which means that all the internal mechanisms for monitoring and managing your emotional state, and the mechanisms for monitoring your relationships with other people and their reactions to your behavior, were seriously fucked up. Which your emotional development to date has been working with a distant echo of good information about how you and other people react to stuff.

That doesn't mean you have these conditions. It does mean you are improperly excluding the possibility.

Think about why that may be. Why might your brain fight a drug that might be helpful? Are you embarrassed by the possibility you have such a condition? Worried you'll be dependent on a drug? Well, too bad. If that's what's going on, that's what's going on, and running from it won't get you anywhere but right where you are.

I take a pill every day so I can think. I hate needing that pill. Well, boo-hoo for me. Again, I don't know whether you have this condition or not. But you certainly have a deep problem, and fixing it is going to take a long hard look in the mirror, and probably admitting some shit that you really don't want to hear. If you're batting away plausible explanations with responses like this, you aren't going to figure this out.

It could fit a number of disorders. The reason we’re looking at it as a disorder is because he indicates it’s a problem for him. I’d say that most people could be pegged in a DSM box some way or another, what matters is whether you view it as a problem and if you can deal with it on your own or need ‘professional help’.

I recognize a lot of what OP wrote and I’ve been working on it myself. I wasn't diagnosed with ADD or ADHD, but I was diagnosed with Asperger's (later in life, it wasn't even in the DSM when I was growing up). That diagnosis alone hasn't done much for me, psychologists don't have any clear-cut solutions for it, you have to work on it yourself. I don't think it's much different for people with ADD/ADHD, unless you like taking all kinds of medication with uncertain (side)effects.

Merlin Mann is taking meds for his ADD nowadays, but from what I can tell, he was working at it like a champ before that. 43folders probably couldn't have been made by anyone else, and personally, I love Merlin’s fast-talking meandering ways. Roderick on the Line and You Look Nice Today are my favorite podcasts of all time.

First thing that occurred to me while reading OP's post.

Your symptom list is accurate. I'm ADHD and can account for all of these traits, save for alcohol abuse (I dislike alcohol in general and only typically drink Scotch, on occasion, and socially drink with co-workers).

I'm 26 years old. I started my career in computing doing tech support. For at least a decade, I've been aspiring toward this ideal of "becoming a programmer".

What worked for years was convincing myself that I still had plenty of time and my lack of progress could be attributed to [excused by] my upbringing. I grew up in South Africa and was forced into the role of "man of the household" from 14 onwards. Started working full-time at age 15 (at an internet cafe, where I discovered some new vices called "starcraft" and "counter-strike").

I did not go to high-school. All that I am and all that I know is a product only of self-guided interest and study. My little job at the internet cafe granted me the gift of access to the internet after hours. After hour study sessions led me into a career in support and IT beginning at age 16.

Fast-forward 10 years and I'm in, essentially, the same position I was in at 16. I'm still in support, making a pitiable salary. I'm still struggling to manage basic essentials (chores, paying bills on time, getting to work on time, study, motivation), addicted to computer games and in a relationship with someone that I cannot stand.

What ADHD does that's so evil is that it both incapacitates you (unless you have a gun to your head - hence why I was able to pick up IT skills on the job) and blurs your sense of "real-time". The moment you allow yourself to baulk, procrastinate and so on, you essentially box yourself in more and more.

Recently I started amphetamine treatment. So far, it has had a fundamental impact on all aspects of my life. I've picked up SICP and I've started my journey. It's no miracle drug and I am struggling at every turn, but it had made focus-management easier. If you find yourself nodding at the symptoms list get diagnosed as soon as possible.

Is it odd that this sounds like normal human behavior to me?

No. He just described disinterest and or boredom.

But the med industry will sell you a drug for that.

If you are bored to the point of looking at cat pictures 7h day instead of working for 130k/y at 21, just leave that shithole and go work with a decent team for 80k. It will have a much better outcome for your future.

It depends on the degree. I think the more compelling factors for the OP are that (a) this has been going on for years, (b) he has a very strong feeling that this is holding him back, and (c) his dad is the same way.

It's possible that he's so incredibly smart that he finds many things boring, and that's not ADHD. ADHD tends to lead to a lot of disorganization (across different settings: home, work, school), plus attempts at compensation (self-medication, self-stimulation, etc.)

But just to be clear: This is a random list, it's not meant to be diagnostic. If these resonate with the OP or someone similar then it might be worth learning more about ADHD and talking with a professional. Please don't assume you have ADHD just because these things hold true.

I'm not "incredibly" smart. Top 5% sure, but there are people on here who have accomplished way more than me by my age and are way way smarter than me when it comes to programming.

One of the smartest people I've met online is a kid who is 18 now and built an entire OS, compiler etc all in Javascript just because he could. He routinely builds new languages and compilers for himself just to get better.

I really envy that kind of passion. I know in 10 years he'll probably have invented the next Ruby on Rails etc. But at the same time, I don't necessarily want to be the best programmer. I think I'm more inclined to be the best "product person" which at the end of the day still means programming, just with more of a business aspect.

what kind of programming? what platform/OS/languages?

Nope. Pathologising the normal range of human behavior is a popular activity of neurotic western privileged people. Or whatever the mental illness that's trending at the moment.

Before I went to med school, I was similarly skeptical about the med/pharma industry. But like the global warming debate, once you understand the science, you begin to realize how facile the conspiracy theories are.

Here's the science behind ADHD: Functional MRI allows us to image actual brain activity. And there are clear differences between the brains of those diagnosed with ADHD and those diagnosed without (and yes, they do these studies blind, so researchers can't be biased).

And more recently they have found that stimulants such as methylphenidate (aka Ritalin) and others actually reverse these changes. Here is a recent study, plus a metareview (which compared several such studies):

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23247506 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23660970

Of course, we could still have an interesting philosophical discussion about what we label a medical condition and what are variations of normal that nevertheless have a biological basis. Clearly, ADHD is not on par with debilitating psychiatric conditions such as schizophrenia or a bipolar manic episode.

But ADHD can cause functional impairment in school, jobs, and personal relationships; it can lead to decreased happiness and satisfaction in life (and not only for the person affected, but also their families, partners, and colleagues); there are clear neurophysiological differences underlying it; and we have treatments that can make an important difference. So why not use them?

And as for the big drug companies? Most of the ADHD drugs are generic these days, so they don't profit.

I think the truth lies in between. The conspiracy theories are not completely off regarding that about half of the authors of the ADD/ADHD sections of the DSM-IV were paid by pharma companies [1].

That does not change the fact that ADHD is a dysfunction of the brain where the regulation of Dopamin and/or Serotonin does not meet the requirements of the environment.

I think it rather tells us something about the diagnosis which isn't handled very carefully in many cases, especially for children. A proper long term validation of symptoms and evaluation of treatment methods should be a starting point, not a standardized set of questions and a recipe at the end of the session. Behavioral therapy can sometimes be as effective as drug use but it is not even considered most of the time.

Without extended knowledge of the topic the public almost has to think that ADHD is a fraud. It's nothing one can see as a broken leg and the media only reports about Fraud and instant subscriptions to children that might not even have ADHD. Sometimes even MD's claim it's not a real disease because of these reasons. It's not their field and what they hear about it only makes them suspicious. There is so much misinformation about the topic it's just sad.

[1] http://www.naturalnews.com/019404_psychiatry_psychiatric_dru... ( sorry couldn't find a better english source )

Look, I am not disputing that ADHD is a very real thing.

What I am being sarcastic about, is this completely unrelated thing that people on the internet do, this game of "Guess the mental illness", which usually isn't very helpful.

Another favourite past-time of Western-privileged-folks: waxing poetic about subject matter they have no acquaintance with outside of internet articles and forum comments.

Regardless of contrasts with "more serious" psychological or physical illness, ADHD is debilitating without treatment and destroys the suffer's quality of life.

My aim was not to devalue the suffering of people who have ADHD. My aim was to make fun of armchair internet psychiatrists.

Apologies for being reactionary, then.

Thank you for posting this. There a lot of misconceptions about the disorder, and more people need to be re-educated so the stigma is removed.

willing to sit daily calm for 8 hours and code is a sign of autism? No? Works only one way, huh?

For as long as I can remember I have been a super procrastinator.

You have misdiagnosed yourself, which is why you've had so much difficulty finding a solution. You're trying to solve the wrong problem...

You are not a procrastinator. You are a fish out of water. You are not where you belong, working on what you should be working on. You consciously don't realize this, but deep down inside, you really do; that's why you're fighting yourself. That also pretty much explains all of your behavior.

However, I'm also pretty smart which helps me fake it so that no one else notices.

So what. Join the crowd

I think part of my problem might be that I grew up with an entitlement complex as I was valedictorian, near perfect SATs etc. and I never did shit in high school.

It's about time that you stop diagnosing and analyzing yourself and start seeking what you love and where you belong.

Now that I'm in the real world it's starting to really gnaw at me.

Funny how that works. Welcome.

I make $130k as a 21 year old

Forget about that. Some of the worst personal decisions ever made were over-influenced by money. Don't fall into that trap. The next thing you know, you'll be 55 years old, with what others would call a good life, and you'll be wondering where the time went and why you didn't live the life your really wanted. I know know tons of people just like that, who spent so much time chasing nickels, they never really lived their intended life. Don't end up like them.

and I probably put in 3 hours of real work a day.

Then you're probably in the wrong job.

I'm a good enough programmer that I can bullshit my way through most stuff

How sad. Find a better path.

at this point I think people are starting to realize that I'm a bit slower than I could be

The lack of congruence in your life will manifest itself in many ways. This is just one.

I still push out a lot of code, but I secretly spend 7-8 hours a day doing bullshit at work (reading online, games, etc).

Another signal that you're in the wrong place. It's not you, it's your situation.

I know that I've been given a gift and that I'm a fucking idiot for wasting it

Knowing there's a problem is good.

but I've just become a chronic procrastinator and it sucks.

Misidentifying the problem is not good.

I could be changing the world

You are changing the world. Just not in the way you imagined. Your post here is probably helping many others. And that's just one thing.

We all change the world in our own small way. Learn to accept that's OK.

I'm putting in the bare minimum and no matter what trick or method I try I can't seem to beat it.

Because you're addressing the wrong problem. See above.

I've never had a strong willpower to begin with and now it seems to be getting worse

Willpower's got nothing to do with it. (Example: How much willpower does it take to not beat your children?) Just to the right thing. That doesn't take willpower, just identifying the right thing and then doing it.

Any advice on how you taught yourself to focus on tasks, build willpower, and get shit done would be helpful.

Yea. Stop fighting "it" and find what you'd love to do. Then start doing it. You'll be amazed that you ever even posted this here.

I wonder if I really fucked my brain/habits up so much that I'll never reach my full capacity.

No. Unless you did lots of drugs or fell off you bike or something like that.

I've been like this for the past 6-7 years and it doesn't seem to be going away anytime soon.

Doesn't matter...

2 people are going from New York to San Francisco. One has gone directly from New York to Chicago. The other has made stops in Florida, Texas, Virgina, and Oklahoma on his way to Chicago. How do their plans differ now that they are both in Chicago and need to get to San Francisco? They don't. The past doesn't matter. Only the present and the future. This applies to you too. Forget about the past 6-7 years and find your path.

My dad is also very similar in that he's smart enough to bullshit through life but he only works at 10-20% of his full capacity and he never completes anything.

One at a time please.


I hope I have. If not, or you need clarification, contact me via the email in my profile.

I agree with most of what you said but what bothers me is that maybe we are the ones who are wrong. Why? Because the entire premise of your argument is boiled down to a stereotype the start-up culture tries to force down everyone's throat: that if you cannot fight through the boring "stuff" you don't love what you're doing and therefore you're not fit for that job because that "stuff" shouldn't be boring, to begin with.

People should be allowed to like things besides their work. Not everyone in life needs to have a "passion" or "love" and it's perfectly fine if you never find your passion and it's also absolutely normal to have days when your mind just wanders to beaches and clubs and a tropical island or whatever.

I know that OP's case is very different but every time I see THAT statement - that if you can't do your job endless hours with a smile on your face then you're unfit and in the wrong career - makes me wanna punch a pony.

Get over that myth already.

   "We procrastinate when we've forgotten who we are"
   Merlin Man in Inbox Zero Notes (Sep-30-2009) 

The complement of procrastination is wild passion. One who's capable of procrastinating with one sort of things is exactly the type of guy who's capable of getting some other things done if only he does things that call him on a deeper level.

It seems that among the great scores in school you haven't bumped into anything would have ignited that passion in you. That is OK because schools are pretty much designed to kill all passion, and you're so young anyway. There are a lot of people who can't get things done because they aren't smart enough: it's always better to be a procrastinator in comparison.

Procrastination is your way to reject activities that don't mean enough to you.

Nobody procrastinates splitting and carrying wood if the heating of his house depends on it. Your behaviour is effectively saying that reading Hacker News is more meaningful to you than your work. That is a good hint: find work that you would rather do whenever you find yourself procrastinating at your current work.

Another hint: you're suffering because you'd like to care about your work. THat's passion speaking already.

You would like to do lots and lots of good work: you just can't get to it where you're working now. There are a lot of people who would kill for such a talent and go happily abuse the smarts you have so that they could only work for three hours and then go play Patience for the rest of the day.

Also consider that three hours of real work per day is pretty average for the hours of a regular workday.

Other people fake it, too, and work on looking busy, even subconsciously. Yet you can find people at the kitchen all day long, drinking coffee. Or browsing Facebook at their computers. It's all a subtle game where everybody knows that nobody really does productive work all the time but everybody also knows that they're not to admit it, even to each others.

Note that this behaviour is not intentional: it's simply that people aren't generally wired to do creative things for hours in a row, day after day. What people can bear, for example, is 8-hour shifts on the assembly line five days a week numbing your mind, and then consider what even that does to them! Not to mention creative mental work that you can't force like you can force your muscles! I've talked about this with many people and the consensus seems to be that roughly four hours of real work per day means a good day and you're likely to just work the rest of the day wrestling with your guilt because you think you could do more.

Thus, consider the fact what you do during the three hours is that what is important. Not the things you could've achieved, according your imagination, in the other five hours.

Further, if you're working more than eight hours a day, it's no wonder you're super frustrated and trying to get out by procrastinating. You say you do "bullshit" for 7-8 hours and 3 hours of real work, that adds up to 10-11 hours a day. That's a lot of precious time spent for something you could've just done in three hours with much less stress!

Finally, go Watch Office Space. Again. While it's supposed to be mostly funny it just happens that the movie hits the chord on so many levels that it's nearly creeping in its truthfulness.

I can absolutely relate. We're in the same boat and this is my personal cry for help, but more on that further down.

I'm 30 and still where you are, except without money. I've only skimmed the comments, but I agree with those who say you may have ADD or ADHD-PI. For adults with ADHD (speaking as one who's done a bit of research on it over the past few months), medication is almost never enough. Adult ADHD is complicated further by coping mechanisms (ie. good & bad habits) that have been developed in response to the condition. Habits exist in our brains as reinforced neural pathways, so changing them is essentially like trying to rewire your brain. To my knowledge, there is no pill in existence that will do that.

Side note about why I think you may have ADHD (which is simply ADD + multiple hyperactivity traits) based on what I've skimmed in the comments: procrastination (duh), highly intelligent, overcommiter, ability to hyperfocus (which is why you can slam out code, but also why you went down the "rabbit hole" away from meditation), info addict.

Also, for what it's worth, I take Vyvanse 60mg in the morning & Adderall XR 20mg around 2PM. Vyvanse is awesome if it works for you.

Anyway, I don't know what the solution is, though there have been good suggestions throughout the comments. Also, I highly recommend the book "ADD-Friendly Ways to Organize Your Life." Even if you don't have ADD, it has a lot of useful suggestions for approaching several of your issues.

I do have an idea that I'm currently trying to test, though, which brings me to my cry for help...

I'm building a system for myself to help change multiple bad habits at once, but I work much better when collaborating with a group & have nobody to work with. I'm attempting to break the conventional wisdom that you should baby-step your way through multiple habits. The CW exists because habit change costs willpower (ie. results in "ego depletion") and trying to change multiple habits saps your daily reserve of willpower too quickly. The system I'm coding is intended to mitigate this by removing the option of going through with an existing habit. Without the ability to perform a habit, there's essentially no willpower spent.

The plan is to combine several different apps & APIs to: - detect when I'm getting distracted (via RescueTime, primarily) and restrict my computer usage (though I'm thinking it may make more sense to restrict by default & invert the restrictions as a means for enforcing break times) - detect when I'm on the computer/phone when I should be doing something else (via Google Calendar) and lock my out of both (via Prey & Find My iPhone) - detect when events occur that I want to attach habits to, such as decluttering one room when I arrive at home (via Find My iPhone) - ping my support group when I need it (just an idea...still needs fleshing out) - confirm task completion through different means (eg. check to see if a document exists if a writing task is needed, follow up on phone/email tasks, compare original image of clean kitchen with latest photo of clean kitchen when I'm supposed to wash dishes, or just confirm with others in the support system that the task has been completed)

Currently, I'm building the system out using Huginn (http://github.com/cantino/huginn), but would either like to optimize the system so that it can scale for other users or build something similar in node.js. In the meantime, I'm developing Huginn agents for the needed APIs (and the API wrappers where necessary). But this is slow going and I have no means of generating income. Getting a full-time job means I have to spend my day attempting to keep from getting distracted, so I wind up without the mental energy to do anything else after work while still not being productive enough at work to hold a job. Since my parents refuse to accept this as the situation (despite 15 years of this pattern), I no longer have their financial support to continue working on this. I essentially have a month to find menial funding to build this out as a service for others, at which point I'll either need to give up pursuing my dream of creating a startup to join the rat race or join the military in the hopes that such a structured environment will correct things.

Is this a project anyone would be willing to help me develop?

Just my take it on it as a 29 year old with no money and a bag of procrastination issues and some traits that look like ADD (I've once got diagnosed for general anxiety disorder, no ADD, but never did a test for it):

Technical solutions, like the one you explained never worked for me.

I'd second some other commenters here that accepting oneself is the first step. And learning to look objectivly on yourself and accept that you fuck things up from time to time. Don't say that's why I'm lazy or that is because of X. Just note that you are doing something you know it is bad. And try to accept that. It's easier to deal with it.

Things that helped me (that you could try before going down the military route):

Heavy exercise (running 10km a day, martial arts training 2-3x a week). This is probably related to fear - without that level of exercise I'm feeling unable to even start with other habit forming activities. As others noted it's tough to keep sticking to it.

Meditation/Relaxation: Medition is pretty hard for me. But doing relaxation techniques like progressive muscle relaxation or even yoga and then vipassana makes a difference for me. Never works without the heavy exercise for me through.

As far as I remember when I was able to implement these 2 habits for a longer period of time everything else worked quite well or at least I was able to work on the issues. E.g. facing long worn in fears, structering your day. Learning to plan. Actually long term planning.

If the level of stress or fear rises, everything breaks apart for me through. It's been a pattern for some years now.

Also: Get some real friends, not people that talk only about their great ideas for apps with you but that are honest to themselves and also struggle with life. I'm always feeling that a lot of my issues are superficial when I'm around other people that are working on their problems. It keeps you grounded and gives you motivation. Maybe.

Actually I don't have a solution. But if you want to feel better about yourself exercise and meditation worked for me.

I'm not feeling down on myself. I've done the exercise/meditation thing and, to some extent, still meditate. I've been through the jazz standards of overcoming these issues. I accept myself wholly, but also recognize that I'm not the only person in the world for who these solutions aren't the (complete) answer...as you said, when the level of stress/fear rises, things still fall apart for you.

Technical solutions haven't worked for me in the past, either, but they weren't developed for me. How did they fail for you?

If anyone's interested in discussing this project further, my email is crawford.comeaux@gmail.com.


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