Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Ask HN: Help, I'm stuck on HN
87 points by arianvanp on Dec 16, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 52 comments
I remember my first days of HN and reddit very well. I was around 16 and I was eager to learn. Suddenly, I find out about these websites with hundreds of links filtered by popularity, all telling something interesting that I hadn't learned about before.

Instantly, I was hooked. Days I spent scrolling through /r/programming, picking out the most interesting topics and spending whole weekends reading up on blogposts and applying the knowledge I had just learned.

I had always been an autodidact as school bored the shit out of me. So my primary source of learning was the internet. And discovering these websites was like heaven.

Now it's 2 years later and I'm stuck. I want to be productive but I keep catching myself being stuck in endless pages of HN and proggit. I've got the feeling that every post that will ever be made as already been made and that I'm reading the same things over and over again. keep my hopes up that I will once again read something really interesting but I always get dissapointed. But the worst part is, I can't stop it. I can feel the productivity get drained away yet I'm blind to it.

I'm Arian and I have an addiction. I'm stuck in the vicious HN->Proggit->HN cycle and I don't know how to get out... Please help me

You're almost there.

You've realised you have a problem, you know that most HN articles aren't helping. The next step is to practice acting the way you want to. (This is a really useful life skill in other areas too).

Consciouslly look down the list of HN stories and deliberately think about each one for five seconds. Ask yourself "Will this story add anything to my knowledge?"

If it will, then open it. If it won't then make a decision to not open it.

Note the ones that you opened which turned out to add nothing, so that you can make a better decision next time.

Practising this a few times will start to turn it into a habit, and then an instinct. If you need help to start with then write on a post-it note "Does it add anything new?" and stick it on your monitor, but once you've been doing it for a while it should come naturally.

Add a note to your calendar (or whatever you use for future tasks) for three days from now, a week from now, two weeks from now, and a month from now, reminding yourself to check that that this habit is working for you.

The _vital_ part here is embedding mindfulness - making a _conscious_ decision about what you do, rather than simply mindlessly clicking on things in search of a hit.

When I notice 'procrastination by self-education', I take a step back to see if I'm exhibiting any other symptoms of depression. We're part of the new curiosity-junkie generation, that is getting all that they ever craved for and more from the internet. It's very easy to entertain yourself or keep yourself busy, in order to defer facing the issues that are causing the anxiety that drives us to this behavior.

Go out. Meet a friend. Do some physical exercise. You need to add more to the mix, until you get a healthy balance going. From there, getting into a 'flow state' should be much easier and you should start seeing useful applications of the knowledge you're gathering.

I found it very helpful to move in with two friends (an industrial and graphic designer). We'd notice when suspicious patterns started to emerge, and bail each other out from time to time. So far It's going great, we just don't let anyone get stuck. We've worked together on a number of projects since, even very successful ones.

'procrastination by self-education' hits the snare so well. It's literally the perfect description of the problem I'm facing. The nastiest part of it is, you convince yourself that your procastinative behaviour is 'good' because you're doing something 'useful'. But in th end, you're honestly just wasting time.

I put

    #      www.reddit.com reddit.com i.reddit.com slashdot.org www.slashdot.org www.theguardian.com theguardian.com
    #      www.facebook.com facebook.com
    #      news.ycombinator.com
In /etc/hosts when I'm supposed to be working that way when I hit any of those it bounces me back to my current project and I think "oh yeah, supposed to be working".

Crude but effective.

I whipped up a little ruby app to be able to do this and toggle it on and off (osx only) https://github.com/alexmarchant/stuffed.

Cool. Might use that. On the other hand, making it easier to toggle might not be the best idea...

Personally, i find the simple reminder that it's work time does the trick. I'd be very interested to see if it's the same for you.

I wrote a BASH script[1] that would swap a file with similar restrictions. I'm not sure I ever got the kinks all sorted, but it was definitely a thing that I did.

[1] https://gist.github.com/mcb3k/1326729


I added a pull request to add in linux support, so this should work on both osx and linux platforms now.

I have two advises for you:

1. Create a fixed daily schedule and stick to it. Put in 2-3 hour focused work blocks with 30 minute breaks in. Never open HN, Reddit, News, etc. in the focused work block. Do that in the breaks. Don't start your day with breaks.

2. Switch off your computer when designing your algorithms. I get stuck all too often bogged down by the complexity of my applications and look for escapes. I can remove a lot of these complexities by doing a dry programming on paper before actual code. Write up what you want to accomplish and draft your functions and modules with meta code (try to use human sentences). No risk of distraction in this mode and when you are done, you can switch on the computer and implement your code.

Also, watch the following link about creativity by John Cleese (draft - implementation phases): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AU5x1Ea7NjQ

Edit: you might also want to start a journal to build self-motivation for keeping on track.

You have a fear of missing out on information, on the new. Switch to only weekly reading of news, therefore look at hacker news on the weekends by using this link http://hackernewsoverload.appspot.com/week. It allows you to go through each day of the week, now select everything you want to read, push it to 'pocket' and when monday comes, that will be your reading for the week. Also, subscribe o weekly newsletters, which already do the curation for you and then select the links you want. This lets your brain know that you will not miss out on anything and will allow to reduce the anxiety of missing out on something cool.

I think pages like Reddit and HN with some insightful blog posts kind of give an illusion of learning new novel things without adding that much real knowledge. I've pinned them under entertainment because that's what they really are for me. If you really want to learn new things, take a 30min to one hour break and sit down with a book and work on one chapter of something you're interested in.

I mostly come to HN these days to participate in the community discussion. That doesn't really work when you're replying to week-old comments. :)

Hi Arian,

First of all, congrats for being open about your addiction :)

We all have this problem on one level or another. I find myself doing this plenty at night, but used to do this a lot during the day.

It took me over a year to realise that it was not in fact HN that I was addicted to but rather the need to escape the life that I had at the time. Things were difficult between me and my team with my last business and it was really hard to stay motivated. So I'd spend hours a day on HN trying to escape my then reality.

It might be possible that you're experiencing something similar.

Just a suggestion.

Hope you figure it out.


I created a simple browser extension that said "Hey! Don't do this." if I went past the first page on Reddit. I could have circumvented it at any point, but that amount of effort is enough of a deterrent.

I recently disabled the extension, but I still never go past the first page of Reddit now!

You spent a non-trivial amount of time creating a means to prevent wasting non-trivial amounts of time. That is a whole new realm of displacement activity. I am impressed.

To take matters further you should package your extension, place it on the Play Store (or whatever it is), create artwork for the icon and package write-up, document the code, write the FAQ and manual, create some UI controls for it, build an Easter Egg (e.g. a flight simulator) into it, liaise with the NSA to write a back door to it, get some bloggers to write about it and finally post it here for the benefit of others.

Based on feedback you could then write version 2, with a freemium business model, put together an ecommerce store to sell the full version, configure your payment gateways, build a ticketing system for support requests and SEO optimise your efforts.

That's actually quite a smart idea. I was first thinking of just /etc/hosts'ing everything to localhost,though that might be a bit harsh.

The advantage with /etc/hosts is that you need to sudo to revert it, which is annoying. Also, you can't bypass it by using a different browser.

Meh, just sudo chmod ugoa+rw /etc/hosts and then put in one of those Firefox extensions to update/edit it for you... Problem solved.

I do this often, it helps to break the habitual cycle.

My profile:

    noprocrast: yes
    maxvisit: 60
    minaway: 1440
That is, one hour per day. This helped tremendously. I'm thinking of increasing it to one hour per week.

First of all, Arian, congratulations.

I am the first to admit that I still have a passing HN addiction at times. And that - when I had a lousy day at work or at life, I would feel good if some article I had sluiced the Internet tech stream for turned out to be gold and got up voted. Or even better - if a comment of mine was timed right (this is key, you know, early comments that are cogent gain lots of momentum). It all meant that somewhere out there - someone was giving me approval (that one point up vote was someone liking what I had to offer).

Now, of course, I realize that the virtual world is not as rich as the real world - retreat though I may from time to time.

My advice to you is to turn off the computer and meet up with some friends. If you don't want to meet up with some friends, go find something in the real world that is interesting to do - you very often find interesting people to meet if you find something of interest to do. Interest is the greatest filter in life - something that dating sites try to approximate - but really showing up at something, especially on a snowy day - is one of the best filters.

Good luck! It's ok to not go cold turkey. That's hard, I know.

The real world is more real than the virtual.

Knowledge, as another article said recently - is to - watch someone do it, do it, and then teach someone do it.

That is the formula I've been applying to my endeavors recently. And it seems to be working.

- Browser plugin : block 'useless' sites entirely (for me, that's reddit, boingboing and a few others). I can check these out on my tablet at home, but not on my work PC

- HN noprocrast. I have this set to 30 mins max, refreshing after 8 hours. Which allows me 1 visit per day, which I can make the most of - rather than my previous must-check-every-5-minutes.

As soon as I couldn't just flick to [random website] I found I was able to concentrate longer on the real tasks at hand.

It seems that you don't have an interesting project in your daily work and you "procrastinate" by trying to find something interesting and useful on HN or similar. While this is at least not wasted time (as opposed to wasting the same amounts of time on social networks and or image/gif sites).

My advice would be to start or join a larger project that you are interested in (something open source may be).

Note that I assume, you don't have a day job and thus you have larger portions of spare time. If you do have one and you find yourself being stuck on HN or similar, then it seems you are bored of your job. Talk to the responsible and find something new you can work on.

Either way, this will give you new perspective and you will find yourself occupied with something you like working on, ultimately leading to spending more time on things you consider productive.

The many tools that are proposed here are definitely useful, but in the end if you have a lot of free time, you'll always find a way to "procrastinate".

cheers and hopefully you figure it out soon :)

Build something!

Write a MySQL to mssqql translator.

Translate documentation of an OSS project to a foreign language.

Make a company's website mobile friendly and send them the CSS.

>Make a company's website mobile friendly and send them the CSS.

Have you actually ever done that?

In exchange for money. But I got my start in freelance business in high school by fixing someone's apache server for free!

(Everybody) Hello Arian.

The first step is admitting you have a problem. You will wallow for some time after you finally figure this out, but you have. Good for you. I used to call it "shiny new" syndrome -- the ability to spend all day chasing random pieces of information that seem shiny or new. Let's face it, if you're an autodidact you like learning, and places like HN will use that against you.

I'm turning my problem into an app. My goal is to strip all the branding and engagement material from the internet and just browse/consume plaintext content. So far I'm finding this 100x better than the old way. I make it a point to drop by HN every couple of days or so just to comment.

So my suggestion to you is to find some way to code yourself out of the spot you're in. You'll sharpen your coding skills, take a look at the material you're consuming from a fresh viewpoint, and think about how many others are in your shoes.

Good luck.

1. delete your email address 2. change your password to some random characters 3. logout

Now commenting will require you to signup with a new account, which is an extra hurdle.

(I was spending a ton of time commenting in the past, and this has worked for me).

There are millions of people online, and most of them are wrong. You could waste your whole life telling people they're wrong, or you could go and be productive.

Also after a while once you withdraw from commenting, you realize that only a couple of articles a day are actually worth reading these days.

Another point to make is that HN and Reddit are not "user voted". They put out that illusion, but they both have editors who push up stories they want, or bury stories that they don't want there. Additionally, they do not have any issue censoring comments if you disagree with the hivemind.

Get some offline hobbies as well.

Maybe I can recommend another addiction: http://scholar.google.com

Of course there is always a risk that you end up in your own bubble again, searching with the same terms all the time, but it is not because the material is limited...

One example, suppose you think you know everything about bitcoin from reading blog posts. Did it cross your mind to do a simple http://scholar.google.com/scholar?q=bitcoin? If you had you might have found articles about information propagation or carbon dating. There are so many gems out there, don't get disappointed because you use a few limited outlets, go explore yourself!

Aside from self-realization and discipline, the only way anyone gets out of an addiction is if the transformation is inside rather than enforced constraints. Being on HN isn't the problem, it's the side effect. The real problem lies on what you're currently working on: it is not worthy enough to warrant your time and passion that you'll forego any type of "new news" because you're so consumed on what you're doing.

Find value in what you're doing, or find something more desirable and valuable. You'll break out of your addiction naturally.

I installed the "Mindful Browsing" plugin for safari 3 months ago (it delays you accessing a 'blocked' site for 10 seconds). The only blocked site is reddit, as I would frequently find myself typing it in without thinking after opening a new tab. I haven't been to reddit in 3 months, and i don't miss it - HN usually curates what I'm interested in.

As for HN, I just check it twice a day, and refuse to go more than 2 pages in! If I find myself using it more frequently, then ill probably use the anti-procrastination functionality in my account settings.

Try using the noprocrast feature built in to Hacker News http://ycombinator.com/newsfaq.html (last paragraph)

You saved my day.

You need a project even more interesting than HN.

To help break the addiction use a proxy server that adds a 30 second delay on each HN page.

See: http://xkcd.com/862/ and http://blog.xkcd.com/2011/02/18/distraction-affliction-corre... (a proxy server is easier - google for it there are plenty of them).

I come at it from a different angle than everyone else here. In my opinion, your problem is that you are not goal setting properly. Every time you get stuck or complete a task I suspect you browse HN.

Instead of browsing HN when you get stuck, break your task into sub-tasks until it seems actionable.

Then I imagine you browse HN when you complete a task, to eliminate this, make sure your task list has many tasks in it, this will make you aware of your workload and decrease the desire to idle.

I've found that, at least for me, abstinence from HN should be in long blocks. If I take a short HN break every 30 minutes, it makes it that much harder to get back to boring work. So, I try to go to HN only during lunch break or at the end of the day. Otherwise, I find myself constantly checking whenever I have to wait for my work thing for a couple seconds.

You're just going to have to get used to the fact that discovering cool websites is not as rewarding as it used to be, and go find some activity which is more rewarding.

It helps, when you catch yourself in the addictive activity, to focus on its drawbacks. And when you're doing something more rewarding, it helps to focus on its benefits.

I have the same problem some days. I think we're addicted to the thrill of reading something unusually interesting or that happens to give us information pertinent to our current needs. But as you say, that seems to happen less now, so we're like gamblers thinking that if we just stick with it our luck will turn.

Use /etc/hosts.

There's an option in your user settings called "noprocrast". Use it to great effect.

Your brain knows you might gain something from HN, so let it off the hook with a link that finds the good stuff for you. Then you can check in once a week:



Set the timer to something like 15 minutes.

HN and reddit are wastes of time.

Go buy a good novel. Here's some random picks for you:

The road by Cormack McCarthy (a real page turner), The New York trilogy by Paul Auster, Corrections by Jonathan Franzen, The stranger by Albert Camus.

For situations like this I will give one piece of advice, read the man pages. I'm sure you will find a suitable entry regarding your problem.


You're welcome :)

I still denies my addiction to HN and Reddit. I do not plan to change it.

The only thing which begets action, is action.

AHHHH...I'm stuck on HN,wired and medium.

Get off the internet. Seriously.

Registration is open for Startup School 2019. Classes start July 22nd.

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