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Procrastination should be solved by lighting fires, not filling buckets (visakanv.com)
156 points by visakanv on Sept 30, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 110 comments

I have found all of my procrastination to stem from lacking a certain degree of knowledge of how to perform the task that I'm procrastinating. When I don't know how to do something or I don't know how long it will take, then I don't know where it fits into my schedule, so I never fit it into my schedule. Most of the time, I grossly over estimate how long something will take, i.e. "all day" when it's probably only a 15 minute issue.

Of course, there is the opposite issue of grossly underestimating the problem. I've had "close old checking account" on my todo list for well over a two months now. I thought it would take 15 minutes to just call them, maybe scan a signature or something, and be done. They actually want me to come into the office, which is over 3 hours away (hence this issue of wanting to close the account). It is experiences like that that help to keep the gross-overestimation/procrastination game in business.

How do I fix it? I choose a day where I decide I will be fine if the only thing I get done is I find out how long it will take to get one thing done. Usually it's not that bad, though. I usually end up getting a whole slew of things done. But being OK with not getting anything officially done for a day helps me to kill the procrastination cycle.

This is exactly right, for me at least.

Sometimes its easy to know what is required, and probably guess at how long it will take (15mins or 1 day), usually because you've seen other people do it this quick. But if you don't know how to do it, and even worse, don't know where to start to learn it (which book to read, which course to take, who to ask) you can end up sitting about doing nothing but getting frustrated.

A great example is Linux. You know a task is easy (like creating an automated backup), but you can't just go and do it. You need to read up on it, you need to learn CRON and how it works, you've then got to read up on the subtle differences of your linux distro vs the one in the tutorial. You then need to read up on chmod or sudo to change the permissions, etc., etc.

Point is, it's an easy task once you know how, but when you don't know how, all you see is a huge mountain of learning you have to do to achieve it. And to make matters worse, sometimes the juice isn't worth the squeeze. Why spend all day reading up on Linux just to copy some files?

End result... I'll do it tomorrow

>You know a task is easy (like creating an automated backup), but you can't just go and do it.

Even worse is when the todo is to also make a decision. I need to automate backups to a new NAS. Do I install Linux? FreeBSD? FreeNAS? RedHat? Good old debian-stable? I should definitely explore all decision branches, in full detail, to make the best choice. open in new tab, open in new tab

But I have no idea how long that would take. I can't even set aside 15 min (or 45) to determine how long it will take. It's incomputable. It's either dive headfirst and hope to come out with a working solution, or put it off another week (and hope some howto pops up on ars).

This is why it's important to have days where I'm okay with not getting anything moved to "complete".

I don't try to find out how long it will take but how to do it. So the first time the item is on the list is 'How can I do this?', and it will transform from there. Each time it counts as a full-blown task. Usually there are some older items as well where no further overhead is needed and which are well-known. And I feel ok if I get 3-5 in total done. (Simple ones are 'Do the laundry', 'write this email where you know exactly what to write'.)

This. I also have trouble breaking large tasks into smaller tasks -- a project planning skill that some people seem to have naturally.

This is just a friendly reminder that if you would describe yourself as a procrastinator, it might be something more. If you've always been one, if you want to do things, but can never do it, it could be a sign.

ADHD is a real problem, and has real solutions (and those solutions aren't all addictive).

If you feel like you are always running behind, always trying to catch up. If anyone says you are a great developer, but that you're always playing catch up, get checked. It can help change your life for the positive.

I'm always cautious around claims of ADHD. My experiences have been that attention span works largely like muscle. If you practice focus and force yourself to get better at it, you notice improvements over time.

It has also been my observation that you can grow a tolerance to and dependence on ADHD medicine.

I support the author's goal of finding some other solution that motivates him to practice his focus.

thanks! :)

I think I do exhibit ADHD symptoms, but I don't think I have it, or if I do, I don't have it bad. I can get a little dramatic in my writing. I have been able to make some progress on some fronts, I'm just easily dissatisfied.

Thank you so much for your concern, though. What are the solutions you're talking about? Do you mean medication? I think I'll give myself a few months to try and work things out myself (I think it's really just very, very bad habits entrenched throughout my adolescent years that I have to unlearn).

I have ADHD and OCD, diagnosed earlier this year. I've had it for as long as I can remember. I first remember being tested in when I was about 10. I'm 33 now.

For solutions, I see a therapist to work through my OCD, and I take medication for my ADHD. It makes a difference. I notice it on days I happen to forget and don't have backup.

I never thought medication could make such a big difference, but it does. The idea of sitting down and just getting stuff done is amazing.

Anyways, the point of posting was to share. I was 33 when I got tested, and I wasn't get tested for ADHD! I'm not here to diagnose people, or to suggest you are doing things wrong. Rather, I just want to make it clear that you can get tested, and it might surprise you. It did for me. For far too long I saw all these posts on "how to get things done." I read GTD, followed all sorts of advice. Tried different strategies. Practiced pomodoro. Nothing worked.

I thought I was just lazy. Unmotivated. This resulted in a lot of repressed hatred for myself and my perceived failures. I still have a difficult time accepting success and compliments. I focus on the negative, and dismiss the positive as a fluke. Note, these are all relative to myself. In others, I see the best. When I congratulate someone, I really mean it. In myself? I was just lucky.


> I think I do exhibit ADHD symptoms, but I don't think I have it, or if I do, I don't have it bad.

I thought it was shameful that I was getting tested at all. I've lead a good life, I've been lucky, I've worked hard, and I've been successful. I thought I was being egotistical getting tested. Once I found out I had ADHD and OCD, and had to get over the idea that I was just a whining successful white guy. After all, who am I to complain about my situation when others have it so much worse off.

If you have it, you have it. Better to know about it and take the necessary steps to do something rather than dismiss it as a minor problem. Minor problems can add complexity, and they are still problems.

Do you find that your creativity is stifled, or that your personality is very subdued because of the meds? Do you take weekends off the meds to be yourself? Or maybe one or two workdays off for creative stuff, and three days on for "nose to the grindstone" type work?

I haven't been medicated for years, but I'm struggling and thinking about looking into it again. I remember feeling like on meds I was an alternate personality - a different version of myself that I never felt comfortable as.

I keep thinking some of the advantages of ADD will give me an edge if I can just buckle down and get some real work done, but this has been going on for a while with far too little progress.

> Do you find that your creativity is stifled, or that your personality is very subdued because of the meds?

Not at all. I am still me.

> Do you take weekends off the meds to be yourself?

No. I can be myself and still take the medication.

> I remember feeling like on meds I was an alternate personality - a different version of myself that I never felt comfortable as.

There are different types of medications. The only side effects I've experienced is less of an appetite and my mouth feels more dry than usual. I drink more water as a result. If the medication changes you, there are other kinds you can try. As I mentioned, I take medication that is not addictive (adderall is addictive, for example, and must be carefully monitored).

> if I can just buckle down and get some real work done

I remember that feeling before I knew what I had. I remember the drives into work, feeling excited about what I had waiting for me, and thinking over the problems. But when it came time to actually do it, I'd get easily distracted, and by the end of the day, have nothing to show for it.

Would you mind sharing the medication you're using? I've been prescribed various dosages/releases of both Ritalin and Adderall, and they both affected me in the same way.

By the way, thanks for your posts here - they've been helpful.

Sure. Strattera.


And yes, both Ritalin and Adderall both made me nervous because of what I'd heard.

If one exercises (treadmill) everyday intensely for 30 minutes. Do you think one can avoid medication?

I'm not qualified to answer that.

Can you tell me about your individual case. Does running help you if you don't use strattera?

Glad to hear you only have minimal side effects from the Strattera.

I tried it for a while several years ago, and, while it worked wonderfully (first period of my life where I actually had any reliable sense of time!), the side effects I had were unacceptable.

The mild dizziness, occasional headaches, and minor dry mouth were not a problem, but the main side effect was ... more troubling. Let's just say that, while the Strattera enhanced performance in some areas, it degraded performance in others.

Still, I heartily recommend those diagnosed with ADD or ADHD to give Strattera a try. Side effects went away within a week or so of discontinuing the drug, so no real risk.

How long did it take for you to notice the effect of Strattera on your sense of time? Did you notice it right away or should one wait a few weeks?

I have non existent concept of time, so this might help.

Luckily for me I have more than enough of that by the end of day nothing is going to stop me ;).

I take the 100mg dose.

I am going to go stoic on this and say that if you are successful despite ADHD, then that's you and you just need to accept it.

What troubles me the most is the future. What if this way of being comes up one day? What if people realize? To which, Seneca said: the past is certain, present is short an difficult to catch, the future is uncertain. So, focus on the present, if that's good, then don't worry about the future too much because that will kill your present.

I think Letters to Lucilius is a very good therapy book...

> I am going to go stoic on this and say that if you are successful despite ADHD, then that's you and you just need to accept it.

I do. It's just easier said than done.

True that. Part of the walk of life is learning dealing with ourselves.

It's been discussed before in my therapy sessions.

Which, if you'll forgive me, is odd to openly talk about therapy sessions. But honestly, the more I've thought about this, I've wished that others had been open about their conditions. It's nothing I should be ashamed of. There is a stigma about seeing a therapist, but their shouldn't be.

It's part of the reason I try to share my own stories about ADHD and OCD. I think it's something, especially in this industry, that people ignore or don't know about. ADHD is something for hyperactive kids, not adults! =)

Thank you for opening up - I just took an online ADD test after your comments, and while it does look like a broad diagnosis, if there are options beyond my own coping mechanisms I want to know!

As for therapy - don't worry, I go myself and as well as helping me look at how I got here, I am pretty sure it is a worthwhile career to take up after I retire - what started as a therapy session is looking like life coaching and business coaching. I think the stigma will die.

take care

@jasonlotito did great job saying what I'd already planned on saying. I'll just add that it can be easy to write off signs, or to say you can cope with it, especially when one is successful.

I was surrounded by clear ADHD cases growing up. They were more-or-less bouncing off the walls and constantly getting in trouble. I knew I wasn't like "those kids". But the inattentive types—those that can't focus or tend to hyper-focus on one thing to the detriment of others—fall through the cracks because they're not acting out. And, if they're otherwise high-performing, they'll be able to pull through their work with the occasional forgotten assignment or scheduling snafu. Teachers, bosses, even the affected themselves seem to think just need to concentrate harder and they'll do better next time.

But, telling someone with ADHD to concentrate harder is like telling someone nearsighted to squint if they can't see the chalkboard. And it's not a flaw in their character anymore than myopia is.

Anyway, I don't know your life or backstory, just that seems pretty familiar to me (tried pomodoro, thought of/started on a similar system before abandoning it in graveyard that is my ~/Projects folder). If any of this has struck a chord, I've found that simply changing my work circumstances have helped me immeasurably. Two years ago, I was working at home and left to figure out every choice and solve every problem in a pretty open-ended project. I'd spend hours reading papers, tutorials, and blogs with little to show. Now I'm in an office with an open floor plan and a team working toward a common goal with a time constraint. Medication would probably help me even more, but I exercise quite a bit and am wary of side-effects. Therapy would probably be even better, especially because, while my organization and execution at work has gotten better, my own tasks are about where they were before.

If you're interested, I found "Driven to Distraction" by Hallowell & Ratey to be a pretty good reference (although, if you get through the whole thing, you might not actually have ADHD).

Honest question:

How does one go about "getting checked"? What's the proper way to explain this to your doctor?

What you described is pretty much exactly how I feel the majority of the time, and I've been meaning to go to a doctor to talk about it.. but a part of me keeps putting that off since I really have no idea how to properly describe the whole thing. I've been putting off making an appointment for close to a year now.

Part of me feels like I'm going to sound like someone making up stuff (as many do) in order to get prescribed those ADHD/ADD drugs.

> How does one go about "getting checked"? What's the proper way to explain this to your doctor?

So, I just had my wife search around for someone who could perform tests for OCD, and at the same time, decided to get checked for ADHD at the same time. So, I'm assuming she just did some Google searches for a private clinic. You could ask your doctor for a recommendation. I'd just flat out ask. "I'd like to get tested for ADHD. How do I go about doing that?"

They'll know the next step.

> but a part of me keeps putting that off since I really have no idea how to properly describe the whole thing

Don't worry about that. The tests aren't just you describing your feelings. You aren't a doctor, so don't try and diagnose yourself. I had an irrational fear that I might over compensate in one direction or another that would result in a misdiagnoses. =)

So, when you say you are going to make stuff up, you ignore the fact that doctors know about this. They don't just hand out the medication. You don't just go one time, and that's it. And they don't just listen to what you say. At least in my case, I had to take tests.

The best thing I can say is just be honest and you'll be fine.

The moment I finished reading OP's blog post I felt like I wrote it. However, for my case, I have some doubts about the ADHD claim.

For starters, I managed to play a new videogame for unhealthy amounts of time the last 2 weeks with such dedication. We're talking about waking up to turn on the PC and look what I have to achieve in the game for today then get it done. I never felt like something would make me get up other than food and toilet. Second, I managed to quit smoking cold turkey, after a decade of heavy smoking. I can't feel like I'm a victim of my own craves or I lack the power to just sit down and get things done. And yet, I do identify myself in the OP's blog post.

Would you suggest that I should still take the ADHD test? If yes, which doctor can I ask about it?

As an ADHDer, that's what it's like for me; it's not a lack of focus, it's a lack of executive control over focus. I can go head down for sixteen hours on a really interesting problem, but if I'm not feeling it, it just doesn't happen.

Hyperfocus: How to Control and Harness Your ADHD http://www.additudemag.com/adhd-web/article/5007.html

I would say "wow, this is totally my case" if it weren't for the 5-10 minute breaks every hour to stretch. Then again, the game has a clock on the UI to check frequently (right above the map) so there's that.

A new game with a map and clock in the top right... Are you addicted to FFXIV like I am? lol

I struggle with attention issues myself, and have tried medication, but have noticed a difference in creativity when medicated (although much more productive). I'm an illustrator as well as a programmer and find those two interests not always working the same way. Maybe I just need to try something different (I was trying Ritalin).

Yes, ARR! I might try medication as last resolve but the whole "solution" sounds like something short-term (I don't feel comfortable taking medication for the rest of my life).

I have exactly this problem, and I actually have clinical ADHD, but I'm too akratic to get to a doctor to get anything done about it.

I just set up a bunch of IFTTT recipes to trigger when random stocks go up/down by 1% in a day, and then get it to push-notification me a question like "what are you doing right now?"

I should only get one every couple of days they way I configured it (I think,) so perhaps requires more stocks. I wrote a different question onto each one, so I could easily get different reminders on the same day.

If anyone else knows a better randomness generator for IFTTT (I couldn't seem to use "someone followed me on twitter" as a trigger...) then pipe up!

Interesting. For setting up a "random" trigger you could:

- You could use the RSS trigger and pick a feed which is relatively random. E.g. Reddit front page post matching "cats".

- You could use the NY Times trigger to search for a common news term e.g. "obama"

- You could use soundcloud to trigger on "new public track by someone you follow"

- If you wanted to go crazy, you could get a wemo motion and point it out your window

I have a Python script that runs on my home computer. It runs on a 1 minute chron job and randomly sends a text message (via Verizon's phonenumber@vzwtext.com address) to my phone to check what I'm working on. The difficulty is that this system (on Verizon's end) seems a bit unreliable. I've been thinking about putting together an iOS app to send random push notifications to check what I'm working on. Would there be interest from others in this?

I also have it set up so when I reply to the text message it logs it into a spreadsheet. My plan was to do some machine learning on my productivity. Haven't gotten around to that part yet though.

IFTTT can send texts, and also works with the Pushover[1] app (not free) which collates push notifications like this. You can also send it notifications yourself programmatically - check out their API to see if you can link it up to your python script.

You might want to check out iDoneThis[2], which send you an email at the end of the day asking what you did. (I used it for about a month and then gave up, and it's less random, but it does log your responses.)

[1] https://pushover.net/ (links to both iOS and Play stores.) [2] https://idonethis.com/

Write a local program to send an email at a random interval? I don't use IFTTT but surely it has some sort of email integration.

I thought about using whenever a spam email arrived in Gmail, set up a rule to forward to IFTTT...

whoa, that's pretty clever!

That way you only get notifications during hours the market is open

which for me is 2pm-10pm, perfect time to bug me about what I'm doing right now!

Yesterday, I happened to come across a particularly inspiring reddit post about about determination and drive. Objectively it's rather silly, but I left that window open anfd got to work.

No less than five times that day, I switched over to my time-wasting site 'work'space to procrastinate, saw the post, and decided to keep working instead.

I got a lot more done yesterday than I had planned on. I think that there's definitely something real here.

You got me curious. Could you please post the link?

It can really work! I've just overlayed my iphone lock screen wallpaper with the text "Get Going" - I think this will help me.

Hey visakanv,

If I can show you a viable solution today will you pay me $100 as you claim in your blog post? I have a viable solution for you, but I bet you won't pay.

1 - Sign up for Gmail. It's free.

2 - Open Google Calendar.

3 - Click Create

4 - Add your motivational prompt in the 'Untitle event' field. For example, the one I'm using is "Ryan, you will die someday. Are you doing exactly what you should be doing right now to reach your goals before you die?

5 - Click the Repeat text box and set it to repeat Daily

6 - Set one pop up reminder and one email reminder.

7 - Click save.

8- Rinse and repeat for every motivational firestarting prompt you need.

9 - send paypal of $100 to ry8881@gmail.com

Good luck, -ryan

The problem with this (and similar things like the "what did you do today?" emails) is that you eventually start filtering them out and ignoring them.

I'm a bad procrastinator, my bad habits have trained me to crave novelty in a bad way.


If there's one thing my brain is good at, it's recognizing patterns that bore it and ignoring them.

If my brain can quickly postpone any number of relatively important reminders I have going off on outlook at any given time, I'm going to bet it would shut down a daily reminder to reevaluate procrastination.

I'm also not sure a daily reminder that I'm going to die would help subdue the constant existential crisis I've been in since I was 18. I have no idea if that's a good or a bad thing (that's part of the crisis) but it sure does make things more complicated than they need to be :P

I thought about the same thing. Maybe the "solution" is to make something that behaves differently every day, so you are always caught by surprise and can't ignore it.

An AI-complete motivational prompter... I think, for writers, these are known as "agents" ;)

Some people are unlucky enough to have such AI-complete entities, usually they call them "boss".

Well, in the analogy, this is a motivational service you're paying for. Agents are also, partially, a motivational service you're paying for. Bosses, on the other hand, provide a motivational service because they're paying you, and are incentivized to try to get their money's worth. (Then again, you could structure things so that workers are at the top of the corporate hierarchy, and have hiring/firing power over people they get to manage them... but not even co-ops tend to do this, and I'm not sure why.)

>Then again, you could structure things so that workers are at the top of the corporate hierarchy, and have hiring/firing power over people they get to manage them... but not even co-ops tend to do this, and I'm not sure why.

I... have wanted to do this. I have not, in part because I can't afford someone with middle-management experience, and in part because I don't have the middle-management experience required to tell if someone is good at middle-management.

We've had many discussions about this within the company. My buddy suggested a 'babysitter' while my dad suggested a 'mom'

But yeah, that's the thing... middle-management can be effective as 'chair kickers' - Hey, Luke, get back to work. but... I think that middle management generally gets in the way when it comes to decision making... and there's no way I'm letting a non-technical hire (or fire) technical people.

Now, other people have said that what you are proposing is common in the business world; they are called secretaries. But... I think that's a different dynamic. As the other comment said, "more like an olympic coach" - I don't want someone to make me more comfortable... I want someone to push me. I mean, especially when I hire people who aren't good friends already? there's a problem. They don't want to say bad things to me about my behavior. They'll criticize other employees, but not me. I mean, I'm sure it's a problem that can be overcome.

Of course, I know other people who just don't need external guidance. There really isn't any need for middle management with those folks... they just do it. For those people? Management is largely unnecessary. Unfortunately, I seem to be in the majority here; I get a lot more done under a manager, usually; though personality-wise, like many technical people, I chafe but hard when someone I see as less technically capable than myself tells me what to do. It's a problem I need to solve... or I need to start working for other people again. You can only coast on the strengths of your hires for so long (especially if you can't pay enough to /keep/ those hires for that long.)

Actually, thinking about this, I think I might actually institute a 'person X is middle manager for day Y on department Z' policy with people I have now, where X isn't a particularly senior person.

Think coaches for olympic athletes - in essence, you're hiring someone to order you when and how intensely do harsh stuff, so that it's done optimally and not at your whim..

Maybe some sort of motivational person to talk to? Someone with whom you don't mind sharing your personal failings and who knows how to get you to do better.

Sometimes they call them 'spouse' :-)

If only we had some place we could find an entrepreneur who could do something with this idea...

The questions should be specific - how do you get more specific, and, also important, how do you get the timing right? What's necessary for the prompt to fire when you can do something about it?

It sounds to me like you may have ADHD. Dr. Russell Barkley mentions in one of his speeches[1] that frequent prompts are one effective way to keep someone with ADHD accountable and on track. You may want to watch this shorter version[2] and see if you recognize yourself (that's doesn't proof anything of course, but it's a start).

[1]: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NUQu-OPrzUc

[2]: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LyDliT0GZpE

Interesting! Totally going to check them out.

There's a quote I saw on Tumblr once- "Before diagnosing yourself as depressed, make sure that you aren't, in fact, surrounded by assholes." Similarly, I think a lot of my ADHD tendencies (I really don't want to call them that- feels like I'm shitting on people with actual ADHD) come from the fact that I've spent a lot of time in an education system I hate.

But I have no idea, of course. Maybe there's something to all this. I don't think it's so black-and-white. Will check it out. Thanks for sharing. :)

Interesting concept. Once I worked with a really talented/accomplished designer and he said something that's stuck, with me while we were working at something that felt like it could go on interminably: "What would I do if I had to finish this today?"

Yep, I think that's a great way to get over the fear of shipping imperfect stuff.

Procrastination and perfectionism are very tied together for me- it's largely a fear of failure. To be more precise, it's a structural, habitual, systemic underestimation of how it's better to fail a little bit every day than to "fail by default" (as JK Rowling beautifully put it) because you never try at all.

I see a lot of parallels between this and smoking, or any other unhealthy, damaging habit- an inability to grok, at a very visceral level, how small things add up to big ones.

The only way to learn is to stick to it, and anything that helps me/you stick to it is worth trying, I think.

This. I've recently had some successes with an app called "Way of Life" on the iPhone (or its Android equivalent, Hab.it). It's half way between the bucket filling an fire lighting methods, but it's so quick and easy to use, I've actually managed to use it for 6 weeks now. I realise that doesn't sound like a lot, but this is coming from someone who can write a diary for 3 days max and to-do lists last a week or so.

The idea is that you put in a behaviour and tell the app whether it is bad or good, and then every evening you spend 10 seconds telling the app whether you did it or not. Very soon you have a red or green patchwork of your life's choices to stare at on a daily basis.

The bad: I've been pretty honest so my results aren't great (about 60:40 green to red).

The good: I've had many occasions where I'm at the tipping point of doing or not doing something and thinking about getting that green square for the day has nudged me to do the right thing. Which I figure means it's worth it.

Since buying the app, I've lost a few kilos, been to the gym twice as often, reduced my computer games usage, almost stopped biting my nails, and cut out 90% of the fizzy drinks in my diet. Stopping eating chocolate seems to be a persistent problem though...

Recommending some resource on procrastination usually leads to more procrastination (reading said resource but doing nothing :P) but at the risk of causing that I can highly recommend the book "Switch!"

The authors use the metaphor of an elephant and a rider and at least for me I usually motivated the rider but the elephant wasn't trotting along. I suspect the OP is not looking for "constant reminders" etc. but rather for some peanuts to feed his inner elephant :)

I've read the book before (the Heath brothers are just awesome), and the I do find the metaphors very helpful.

The problem is, I'm a very different person when I'm motivated and when I'm not. I can be the most motivated person after a good conversation with a friend, or a great experience, but I have difficulty maintaining that on a day-to-day basis. I don't feel that this reduces the "quality" of my motivation at all.

This is very pathological for me, and it bleeds into my personal life. I'm bad at keeping appointments, etc. Does that mean I don't care about the people in my life? I don't think so. I think I'm just incompetent, and I need a lot of learning and practice when it comes to being competent, and raw willpower and vague structures haven't helped.

I think I need some sort of structure or prosthetic that I can't ask of any other person (unless I hired a personal assistant to bug me 24/7, which I wouldn't be able to afford). I'm sure there are other people out there who could use such prosthesis, too. In the long run the goal would be to wean myself off of it, but I think I definitely could use help of some sort.

I think such prompts would only work for a short while and thereafter they'd just serve the purpose of making me feel miserable.

I think prompts with "hey, don't forget your dreams!" won't work long, but I think prompts like "Why are you doing this? What is your goal?" etc that force you to respond (and it should track your responses, so you can read your older responses) will quickly force you to come clean with what your real goals are. well- that's my hypothesis.

Won't know until I get to try it out myself. It's kind of like having a commitment buddy, only you don't feel like you're imposing on someone as much

Several people have been asking me if I'm serious about the $100! Wasn't expecting this to catch on, but here's what I'm going to do- I'm going to try out every solution that people send or suggest, and I'll document it in my blog, and I'll paypal the $100 to whomever's solution works best for me. :-)

I see someone suggested Beeminder in the comments of your post (thank you, whoever that was!). Also by the creators of Beeminder (me and Bethany Soule) is TagTime, which is related to your idea of periodic prompts. We call TagTime "stochastic self-sampling" or "time-tracking for space cadets". It's not super friendly (a huge pain to get working on Windows, for example) but it's on github here: http://tagti.me

If you don't want to deal with TagTime (and I don't blame you) then just hooking up RescueTime to Beeminder is a great way to go. Here's what RescueTime says about Beeminder:


I'll take your challenge. Does a Chrome extension work for you?

I am going to add this feature to a new version of my Productivity Owl: https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/productivity-owl/e...

Even if a Chrome Extension isn't what you're looking for - thanks for this idea. The way my owl works is that you schedule freetime, and during non-freetime all pages have a timer, and when the timer reaches 0, the owl closes your tab. It also has a block list for time-wasting pages like reddit or HN.

Lately my problem is that I delete the owl's timer, or schedule freetime when I shouldn't to avoid doing work. I was going to implement a "Respect Score" which I'm still planning on doing - but I really like the idea of the owl recognizing my 'workarounds', and prompting me with questions about my goals, instead of just berating me. Maybe I'll let users add their own prompts.

So I think your idea is a perfect addition to my current system. I plan to have a new version in 2-3 weeks.

I have the same experience as you and the author. Chrome extensions with timers such as StayFocusd have not worked for me. I just disable it or use firefox or something.

What if the user had to enter a predetermined answer to the question prompt in order to continue? By making the user actually type something that they themselves chose the prompt becomes more powerful.

Answer number one

Would you waste time while your boss watches you?

Get someone who would sit by you while you work. I convinced a friend to sit by me for 45 minutes everyday while I write a story. The friend does not write a word, I do all the writing and it’s been a about 3 weeks now and the book is about 15k words already. Use this technique on one task at a time.

Answer Number two

Commitment contracts - get the book carrots and sticks. The most useful part is in the first section. It’s simple. Get a friend, your wife or anyone who you can trust with money. It worked for me in completing and editing a book I've been skipping for months.

I stay at Ghana and i’m a student with a monthly allowance about $100. I had about $100 in savings but used $50 from my savings in betting.

On Monday, I give 5 - $10 notes to a trustworthy friend. I chose the work I have to complete before the next morning. If I do it, she gives me back $10 from the $50. If not, she keeps the $10. It’s simple it’s worked for me.

Got the idea from the book carrots and sticks but from my explanation, you’ve gotten the fire you want. What better thing to light your ass on fire than the prospect of losing your own money?

The app I've been developing may help you with your procrastination, and light that fire that you need.

It merges two ideas. One is that you need to get things done on your to-do list. This is incredibly hard for us procrastinators. So, similar to a personal trainer you would have at the gym to help you exercise, I created a virtual personal trainer to help you work on your to-do list. He prompts you with what you need to do, and then you do it.

The second idea is that you need to feed your craving for interesting and inspiring web content. To help with this craving, the virtual personal trainer allows you to see productive and beneficial web content as a sort of break from your current work session. You get to gain knowledge while procrastinating. I call the idea "to procrastigain".

You can check out the demo at http://procrastigain.com/. Let me know if it is useful to you at all, or if you can think of anything that would make it better for you.

I don't think you need an app for this at all.

What I've started doing is just printing a calendar and writing down whatever I've accomplished that day - sort of a reverse to-do list.

Looking at whatever I did yesterday reminds me of how I felt after finishing those tasks, and looking at blank spots does make me feel guilty (but not quite as overwhelmed as looking at a long to-do list).

My thoughts on procrastination and activation by fire. "Prompts affect thought" yes, but the context was social.

I wouldn't give a rat's ass when faced with a disconnected prompt forcing me to acknownledge the fact that I was browsing funny cat videos for the last two hours. Maybe that little "see, you're doing it again!" bump works for someone, but not for me. If those activities were to be made public. Well, that would probably have a totally different effect on me. After all, who want's to be seen as lazy?

  * Fear of letting others know that I was actually doing: nothing.
  * The feeling when receiving recognition from things accomplished.
Peer pressure + x would be my recipe. I'd like to know x, though. Maybe build an app that somehow connects what you /really/ did, every day, to your social circles. Be it online or wherever. Let the other's light a fire under your tail :)

-pro. c.

I was thinking about why I'm here, reading this "was it not for the content", overly-long and boring thread:

I gain something from these posts, as these are experiences of real people. Why is any procrastinator here, reading, rather than doing something that should be done? Why do certain news titles or content seem more interesting than others. I skimmed some titles and noticed that some words grabbed my attention more than others. Thinking on these words let me remember exciting things that I had done before. They have a strong (emotional) fingerprint in my memory. But then again, why did I do those things in the first place? Maybe they were brought out in a setting that already made me feel good, and thus there was no friction sliding in to the work that, in turn, left me with the memory.

Could these prehaps be combined to something resembling self-triggered strong drive to accomplish a task?

I don't know. Maybe this is stupid and obvious, but I though to share, maybe it'll spark something.

One thing might be fun to make (a little beyond me at the moment) is an app where you upload some Rspec (or other testing solution) test that will run every X hours, and you CANNOT shut it off. If the test fails it sends to your mobile phone and email address the test results. The only way to get the messaging to stop is to get the test to pass.


Echoing what others here have said, I found professional ADD or ADHD diagnosis and treatment to be helpful.

As far as a repeating reminder/logging system, I glued together a Google calendar with multiple daily repeating events separated at 30 minute intervals and 5 minute SMS reminders. This gives me an automated Pomodoro clock as well as a place for prompts.

I've pushed this farther by setting the calendar event titles as bit.ly links to a Google Docs form backed by a Google Docs spreadsheet. The form has a single radio button form question letting me log what I'm doing at the end of my sprint.

I have not tried to use this to improve my behavior yet, but I do now have a decent log of activity to use as a baseline when I try something new and want to measure it's effectiveness.

I guess the key point is "I would pay 100$ a month for a helping app". I think you might not have enough constraints. A financiel constraint is a great motivation.

I have been a freelancer for 4 years. The first year, the excitment of this new activity was enough to motivate me. After this time I slowly became lazy (syn. for procrastinator). I was losing money and felt to a point where my bank account was almost at zero. This financial constraint sent me a huge kick in the butt. I stopped home-working, rented an office and (re)started to work for real. Two years after this episode everything is fine. I am still in a nice office and ready to hire my first employee.

In your case, I would say you need either bigger constraints or a challenge that drives real passion.

I'm not rich or anything, I'm married with a stay-at-home wife, I'm paying for a house, I'm building my savings, etc. But I do think $100/month is worth it because I don't think I'm using even 10-20% of my max potential, and the value I could create if I were more productive would be more than that. I do have an interesting challenge at work that I think I'm about to really break open...

god I realize how cheesy this sounds. There's really no way to talk about this, talk is very, very cheap in this regard. But thank you so much for your perspective and advice, I will incorporate it into my own persctive best as I can.

I am sorry if i missed the point. Maybe try a mixed approach.

- Baby steps : define a realistic goal for a day (even it needs only 30 min. to achieve) and just make it. The next day take a bit more important goal. One goal a day. Just one. But every * day.

- Leverage the shame : make sure your screen is visible by everybody in your office. That way you will feel a bit ashamed if you spend too much time on FB. That "shame" will drive you to work.

- Disconnect : if your job does not require Internet, simply disconnect your computer. Or edit your host file to redirect facebook.com to during daytime

I've been in the red for a while, and I still procrastinate a lot :( .

I do have a 9 hour work, and I'm trying to do stuff on the side, but I end up not using the time after work productively.

Do you have a Mac or iOS device you can use this on? I ask because I was considering making something like this a short while ago. I was going to call it 'Mindful Day' and even registered the domain mindfuldayapp.com for it.

At the time I was thinking of either an OS X menubar app or an iOS app, or perhaps both (with iCloud sync). My own preference is for the former, because I use a Mac all day.

Roughly, the idea was for an app that would prompt you for your day's todo-list at the start of your workday, then remind you every hour to stick to the plan, then ask you at the end of the workday how much you got done. It got postponed because eventually I second-guessed myself into doubting how useful it would be.

I recently built an Android app [1] that implements this idea in pretty much the most basic way possible. It just fires a notification at a specified time every day. The notification can link to a URL, which I point to a Google Form for responding to the notification (e.g. "How many pushups have you done today?"). I've been meaning to allow push frequencies other than once-daily, just haven't gotten around to it yet.

[1]: https://github.com/meshulam/PushQ

Brilliant. I feel it, man. In fact, as of two weeks ago I am building this right now (in a small slice of spare time of course).

Thanks for the inspiration for a new aspect of it.

Cheers! Would love to see how it comes together!

The reason a post like this will get so much action on a site like hacker news is that programming sucks as an activity, and alternative activities are more interesting.

Thinking about programming is fun, finishing a program is fun, solving a little programming puzzle can be fun, but programming in general sucks as an activity.

That's why programmers procrastinate, because programming sucks.


> Something that asked me every 30 minutes, what the fuck are you doing with your life?

Shut up and take my money. Wait, where's the product?

Give me your phone number and your credit card number

I liked this idea so much that I just updated a little tool I built a few months ago https://github.com/jez0990/inyourface

Hopefully it's useful to someone else reading but I have no idea whether it works on other operating systems! (I'm using Ubuntu)

Okay, I have a crazy idea. I don't believe the answer lies in a digital solution. Our bodies adapt and can filter out a lot of background noise, our email boxes and phones are just the same. We filter them out. So you need a loud reminder.

What you'll need: 1) 1x Egg Timer. Its need to be mechanical and loud. Crazy loud. An mechanical alarm clock is just as good but it needs to be loud. This has to be on your desk, within your line of sight.

2) 1x Day to Day diary if you travel, or a piece of A3 Card if you work in one location.

3) Golden or silver star stickers (yes folks we are going back to school).


1)Pick a task to complete (if its a big task, break it down into workable small chunks).

2)Set the Loud egg timer to fifteen minutes.

3)Go. You have 15 minutes to accomplish this task.

4) When the timer goes off. Stop. Have you accomplished the task? If yes, put a star sticker in your diary or on the piece of card but keep this out of eye sight. Write down the task you accomplished. If you didn't complete the task, no sticker but doesn't matter. Keep going.

5)Start a new task with a completely different subject matter. Set the timer for another 15 minutes and go.

6)Once you have completed this cycle four times. Stop. Set the timer for 15 minutes. You are free to surf any social sites, check your phone, email etc but when the timer goes off. Get back to it.

7) On the Sunday of every week, publish how many stars you got on your blog, in a public post. No need to detail the exact tasks but a summary of what you accomplished, would be good.

8) At the end of the month, write a summary on your blog. Repeat for every quarter. Then at the end of year, write an end of year review. Publish it on your blog.

Goal: To fill the page of your diary or the A3 Card with stars so that at the end of the day. You can see what you have accomplished. However the main thing is, its not the stars you've stuck on (which is just a simple gamification), its keeping your mind occupied.

The publishing your achievements on your blog is for a public record.

Notes: Don't use your phone, computer or digital timer. You'll just block it out. An mechanical timer is best because its loud and in your face.

If you are really serious about the money, donate it to a worthy cause.

I can't see that solution working for most people. Maybe some, but it feels too involved and inflexible to become habit. The point about digital solutions is to find a way to make being productive a habit, despite your existing habits. If you've got the discipline to set aside time every day, scheduling around obligations to work/friends/family, with an egg timer and actually get work done, you probably don't need a solution in the first place.

I do something like this with a script called "boss.py'.

It regex matches time patterns from a dict and yells out the value by calling the mac 'say' command. I have it configured to yell at me to focus every 5 minutes and to lock me into a pomodoro-like work cycle. I run it on days I can't seem to get going.

care to put it on github? I'd love to give it a try (though I don't have too many problems focusing myself. I'm in the middle of a workday, just doing some..shit, HN).

Sure! https://github.com/snoonan77/boss.py -- Mac specific though easily tweaked if you have a working TTS command line tool floating around.

nice, thank you!

You might try committing to 2-3 minutes of whatever task you are putting off. That can help get you into the groove. If you tell yourself "just 2 minutes" you will often find you are in flow and just keep going. But you need to give yourself the mental time frame of just a couple minutes.

I use an iphone app called Mind Jogger. It's a good solution in that is does constantly remind me of things I tend to forget about, things that are important in my life, but as others have stated, eventually you begin to ignore them.

Isn't this—kind of—what iDoneThis and Lift are trying to solve? My problem even with them is if I'm in an unproductive rut I won't bother checking in on them.

You know, you could just actually practice concentration exercises.

And to echo what others have said: procrastination is itself a symptom of deeper issues.

Problem is that he'll be numb to those prompts after a week (been there, etc.).

Try meditation. It works.

I like this idea. Were you thinking about a browser add on, or a native desktop program?

I'm not sure. I was actually imagining it on my phone- it locks my phone and I can't use it until I update whatever's up. Maybe browser add on too, for that same purpose. Maybe something pomodoro-ish but more "involved".

Or maybe a desktop thing, jeez, I have no idea. Sorry I'm not being helpful here. If I knew how to build stuff I suppose I'd try simplistic versions of each and see which felt most natural/optimal.

I think Astrid fit his bill, but it was bought and is offline now.

We made quickrota.com for periodic group based nagging.

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