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Ask HN: The “I want to do everything but end up doing nothing” dilemma
806 points by goralph on Feb 14, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 213 comments
I've had a problem for more than a year now and I seem to be coming to grips with it as of late.

As a CS student / junior engineer there is an absolute abundance of subjects that I either a) need to cover or b) want to cover. Ranging from the theoretical, say discrete mathematics, to the practical, starting a business.

All of these different topics, when made accessible immediately and in most cases for free or at a little cost (libraries, MOOCs, youtube videos, books, etc), result in a sort of "information paralysis". There's too much to do, too easily, and I end up doing nothing.

This really got my attention yesterday morning when I was watching an Algorithms lecture, and my girlfriend pointed out that the lecturer looked familiar. That's because I had watched the same lecture 12 months ago and she caught a glimpse then also.

I could have done the course twice over, if I had stuck with it and not gotten distracted. But I didn't, and 12 months later I know nothing more than I did back then about this subject. This scares me.

This scares me especially because I'm at the start of a 4-5 month stretch where I absolutely need to cover 4 highly technical subjects, on my own and unguided, to continue my studies. (Details omitted for brevity)

I've faced this dilemma before and tried to tackle it on my own, and failed. So I'm posting here in the hops that some other students / professionals have encountered a similar problem and found a solution. It may not be perfect, but it might give me a step in the right direction.

Thanks in advance for any comments.


Start spending some time reading Cal Newport's blog. You still have the problem of deciding which things are important to you, but just immersing yourself in how he approaches focus and deep habits, about how he prioritizes his work, will send you in the right direction.

If you time block your available time as he does, you're forced to make choices--there is only so much time available, obviously--and the discipline starts to emerge by that simple process.

Start here, but spend an afternoon going through his articles when you have a free chunk of time. If it resonates with you, and you adopt some of these strategies your focus and productivity will both improve.


I use the iOS app Kan-Do to budget my time to different projects/activities and work on them pomodoro-style (i.e. in timed chunks). Lets me set goals of time spent for the week and track where I've spent my time and how much.

(You don't have to do everything in 30 min chunks as you go, you can also manually record other blocks of time spent.)

Using pomodoros as well. Vitamin-R on the mac, to start the pomodoro. Have used the pomodoro method in the past, but just this year took it seriously. Using it everyday and for all tasks. It has helped me focus on the high-value tasks and especially the tasks I want to procrastinate on.

how long have you been using it? what are the pros/cons?

I've used it on and off since it was in beta, almost a year. (I should have added a disclaimer that the developer is a friend.)

It's good if you want to set goals for N pomodoros on task area A, M pomos on project B, etc. and then work predominantly in pomo-mode and track your progress on your goals. If you don't use the timer mode, hand-entering time spent probably will get tedious quickly. It's designed to help particularly with time-boxing (i.e. when you're budgeting out a limited amount of time across projects), though I don't use it that way.

I think it's pleasant to use in day-to-day use, decent UI.

Cons: I find that I have a hard time doing my planning (time allocation) on a mobile device screen. I want to do it on a big screen where I can see everything, or on paper. I'm not good at regularly triaging the list and adjusting it, so the goals tend to grow stale and I start ignoring them a bit.

Agreed. The key for me is the blocking structure. On the calendar, the next hour, X. Nothing else unless you finish it. Oddly the trigger for me was World of Warcraft where you could hop online to spend "5 minutes checking auctions" and end up 3 hours later wondering what the hell?

just replying to this to bookmark for myself to read later. sry

Your upvoted stories are available under "Saved Stories" here:


(Users can only see their own Saved Stories page)

It'd be great if HN added a way to view comments I've upvoted.

We thought that was a good idea so we did it. You should now see "saved comments" in your profile. Thanks for the suggestion!

We also changed it so "saved stories" and "saved comments" don't include your own submissions, given that those already have their own pages.

Thanks, that's brilliant!

Thanks! Just noticed the change. This is awesome.

Hacker News is not a bookmarking service, here are some I know of:

  * https://delicious.com/ - Discover, share, and organize the hottest links online
  * http://pinboard.in/ - Pinboard: social bookmarking for introverts
  * http://www.xmarks.com/ - Xmarks | Bookmark Sync and Search
edit: links and descriptions

edit2: Anyone care to explain the downvotes?

I would have down-voted you for casting your way of thinking on me while being a smart-ass. It is not your call to say what is the "appropriate" way for _others_ for editing cat pictures or managing bookmarks.

Your second edit shows that you care enough to raise your level so here you go.

Yeah and I can delete my post later when I get to a place where I can do that, but thanks.

If you're on a mobile device, do what I do: "share" or "send" the url to your email app and then mail it to yourself. It goes directly to my inbox, and I don't mark it as "read" until I've "actioned" it.

I use this approach as well, but I also have a filter in my mailbox that sends those mails to a folder 'notes to self', to avoid excessive notifications and inbox clutter.

Good idea, thanks! Will definitely implement it as well on my side.

Been there, done that (over and over again).

You don't have time for everything. Therefore, you must choose what to do, but also you must choose what not to do. That is the hard part - choosing what to let go. Once you did that, the rest is (comparatively) easy.

Ideally, devote yourself to one subject and immerse yourself in it. Stay focused, refuse to do anything else. You'll have distractions, you'll doubt your choice, but don't start anything else until you finish what you've started.

If you have to do two things at the time, split your day in two. In the morning do one subject, then take a break (have a lunch, go to walk,...) Then, you study the second one. This break is important, don't jump from one subject to the next without it.

In summary, make your choice and stick to it until completion. Ignore everything else.

Yes, and in my recent experience, following the "pomodoro technique", aka "timeboxing", where you work in 25 minute sprints, with a timer set, and focus on ONE, WRITTEN DOWN task for these 25 minutes, whereafter you take a few minutes break, possibly reconsider if you continue with the same task for the next 25 minutes or choose something else, and then continue.

This can help in this paralyzed kind of state, since it is harder to keep distractions away (and keep 100% focused on one task) for 25 minutes, than for a whole day ... and in those few minutes in between, you are allowed to distract yourself for a very short time.

This worked for me like nothing else.

And to help yourself remember to do your pomodoros, you can use a tool like Beeminder[0], which can track and show you your progress towards your goal as well as act as a commitment device[1] to keep you working on goals over time.

[0] https://www.beeminder.com/ [1] http://blog.beeminder.com/akrasia/

But how will I remember to use Beeminder?

Having money on the line often helps, but otherwise they have zeno polling[1].

[1] http://blog.beeminder.com/zeno/

Regarding the switching between different subjects or projects, what helped me was to quickly write down TODO notes of actions I should immediately take when picking up the subject again. For example "Finish exercise X", "Watch lecture Y" or "Run unit tests of project Z".

I found my self dive in to the subject much faster when there was no need to think about where to start.

I've found this helps as well.

Often at the end of the day I'll do a mental stack dump of where I am in various projects, including the immediate next steps, in an email and send to myself to easily jump right in the next morning.

Plus one for this. Emailing a a couple of bullet points to yourself at the end of the day so you've got a launch point the following morning really helps avoid that dangerous first 10 minutes in the morning where you sit down at the computer with a coffee and get tempted to click on to HN/reddit/whatever while your brain goes over what to do for the day.

With the list you sent yourself the night before you can dive straight in and avoid getting distracted before you've even started!

Make it visual too. I like the Kanban board for this. The "In progress" field should have a maximum of 2 or 3 items. I am using this one for free!


you can queue up lots of tasks to be done in the future. when you go to start a new task, you can compare it against everything else in the list to ensure its truly the top priority.

Does that make sense? if not, watch this 5 minute youtube video:


In case you haven't heard of it, Trello is another alternative: https://trello.com/

KanbanFlow kind of looks like Trello from the '90s, but it looks like it might have a built-in pomodoro timer and some other neat features.

I'm a heavy Trello user but KanbanFlow looks interesting to me because of the swimlanes, statistics and Pomodoro integration, as you mentioned.

Does Trello have plugins/add-ons to add some of these features that have worked well for people?

Limiting options is a good strategy. I use a couple of others, which I always think are common sense:

1) Don't study alone. Having a group that is moving in the same direction helps create social pressure, and social pressure makes wonders.

2) Create a finish line and a deadline. They may be fictional, but they must be there. For technical subjects, an applied project is excellent. Say, if you are studying networking, try your hand at writing a protocol analyzer, or a SyncThing client. It must require the theoretical knowledge you are hoping to gain. If you can couple this with strategy (1), some amazing stuff comes out (I always remember fondly a Petri Net state machine compiler I built with four friends in three days flat).

Just playing devil's advocate here, your assumption is that Michael's goals are to master a topic and to gain depth. What if his primary goals are to discover new ideas that he never knew before?

I think we all suffer from this dilemma to varying degrees.

Side note: I just read an interesting article on addictive behavior. It suggests that absolute addiction is not really as hard to overcome as we previously thought. The problem with addiction is it's a way to bond with something. Bonding is the actual addiction. You can bond with people, drugs, things, behaviors. If you want to overcome a particular addictive pattern of behavior, you bond with something else and you will overcome it.

Back to your problem. I think we all develop addictive patterns of behavior. One of those patterns is absorbing new possibilities. Learning what's possible. But never acting on it. It's a side effect of having access to all this information. I suggest you bond with one particular idea. Do this by bonding with the people who are already bonded with the idea. Focus on one thing. I don't think it actually matters what it is as long as it's in line with your learning/career goals. Locate blogs and other people on campus with a strong bond to the idea you are trying to master. Embed yourself in with these people. Get to know them. Believe in what they preach. Absorb the information until you reach a level of mastery that appeals to you. Then leave and do it again with a new idea. You have to become a true follower and believer of the particular scripture you are chasing down. Once you do that, your mind will open up and allow you to absorb as much knowledge as you have time for.

"I just read an interesting article on addictive behavior."

My take on this is that the OP is simplistically addicted to learning because it's easy and requires little effort and prolongs not having to actually do something.

Back in the day of buying books at Barnes and Noble, I found myself doing something similar where I would continue to buy books to learn but never took any action or put off taking action on doing because it was much more comfortable to justify the time spent learning as "being good for something". Even if learning just meant leafing though the books. Similar to a graduate student getting degrees to avoid real life (in some not all cases I mean) and the real world.

I broke the habit by deciding that I didn't need another book and I should spend the time actually using the knowledge that I had acquired. Not that these were all computer books (they weren't) but an example would be to actually sit down with that book on PHP or Mysql and actually start to do something (was a LAMP book iirc). I did that one day and built a tool that I could use that was really valuable. I forced myself to read from the start. Now I question each thing I think about learning in terms of the actual value and whether I should concentrate on things that I have already acquired knowledge wise.

Your comment really resonated with me. It's like that person who attempts to beat procrastination in order to get things done by... reading books about procrastination.

I'll follow your advice.

This advice is very good for me, as well. I have five of those cheapie Walmart bookshelves full of computer programming books. This advice penetrates to my very core. Thank you.

I second your idea about "bonding with people who are already bonded with the idea".

For the longest time, one of the things on my bucket list was to learn/make a game (with no prior experience before). During the last three years, I've started/restarted on my own but to no avail.

Two months ago, I joined an incubator for new game-makers and just being around so many supportive mentors (and other newbies who were creating games) pushed me to actually focus in on an engine, focus in on one idea and actually make significant progress in making my first game. I'm now about 80% complete with my game.

Guess I just needed a little push, a little encouragement and some accountability to finish something I've started so many times before!

Link for the article?

"Whom the gods wish to destroy, they give unlimited resources."

In your case, educational resources. It's difficult to say because of the details you omitted, but whatever it is you're trying to do is probably the wrong thing. If you need to cover 4 highly technical subjects in 4 months, then you've made a wrong turn somewhere and you need to stop and re-evaluate things. No matter how important it seems, no matter how alluring the opportunity. It just isn't going to happen. If this is a life or death situation then get your affairs in order, because the odds of anyone being able to learn effectively in that context are extremely low.

If you want to learn one or maybe two of those things then pick a practical project. Learning Algorithms from a MOOC is a good start, but you might want to augment that by implementing some of them in an open source library using a language of your choice and putting it on github. You'll learn by doing, you'll hopefully get feedback and you'll have the pressure of doing it publicly. Practical experience is one of the best ways to learn, if not the best. Then repeat some variant of that process for the other things that you feel you need to know. Find a public and real world application and let it light a fire under you.

Best of luck, Michael.

That's how the company behind Duke Nukem 3D drove itself out. I can't recall the number, but I think they did like 5 rewrites of the sequel. Every time they got something running, there was a new shiny engine that would unleash there deepest fantasies so they started from scratch since they could afford it. 17 years later, no sequel, no company.

"Whom the gods wish to destroy, they give unlimited resources."

These terse words at once explain the sophomore jinx in music, why famous scientists never outdo their work before they are famous, and some of the deepest paradoxes of my own life. Thanks for this. Classic.

Your Twyla Tharp quote is beautiful. Thanks for that.


Let me put on my Project Management hat for a moment. I think you first need to enumerate, at the highest level what you want to achieve, should be one sentence or less. Maybe its "Become a world class python oriented Data Scientist". Under that you can break that down into four-ish domains you need to learn, in this case, Statistics, Python, Data Science, Data Visualization. From there break it down into subjects under those domains, each one being maybe 20-200 hours of work. Continue to break it down until you get to something you can accomplish in one sitting. One sitting is different for all people, for me it's about 50 minutes. Then when you sit down you don't have the cognitive overhead of trying to figure out what to do, it's already been done for you. From there, just knock out tasks one after another. Every few months re-examine to make sure you are on course. As far as tools, I use Trello to do this personnally, but there are others out there.

This is the best practical answer in the thread—IF OP has a goal in mind. I suspect that is the real problem he needs to solve.

I am a fan of this practical approach as well. Start with outcomes and values, and break them down until you reach actionable steps. I like to approach this with a Getting Things Done workflow myself.

I'll be honest; I'm probably not much different from you, so I've got only a fresh perspective.

On one hand, it's like you've got a garage/workshop full of tools: a drill press, a miter saw, a radial arm saw, a planer, a router table, a chisel set, a hand drill, a torque wrench, a rotary hammer, a giant auger, etc. If you try to master Every Single Tool, you're crazy. Nobody builds houses that way. You just pick the tools you need. In this case, I don't think you know what you need. Are you posting a fence, or building a cigar box? If you knew what you needed to build, you'd know what tools to use.

Similarly, back in college, I had a friend who more or less insisted on reading the entire math chapter before tackling the chapter's exercises. I found this kind of baffling: why waste your time reading pages and pages.. rather than waste a perfectly good hour, you can start working on the problem, then figure out exactly what you're missing, filling in along the way. And that's all you're ever going to be doing, filling in skill sets little by little. Choose your battles; John Carmack ain't no React.js expert.

It's well put John Carmack ain't no React.js expert.

Depending on what you want to do after your graduate, or later in your career, I'd suggest trying to solve an actual problem. Knowledge is nice, but unless you plan to teach it, it's not going to help you in the real world.

I, too, flopped around from technology to technology during college and after, and I'll tell you now, it only hurt me. Knowing a little about everything, or even a lot about a few things, made me cool at parties (that's a joke). But ten years later, when I looked back, I desperately wished I'd focused on an actual end goal instead of just consuming content that I thought all "smart" people needed to have read.

At any one time I'd have a dozen projects all being worked on, none of them ever being finished. As I got older I made a rule never to start a new project until the old project is finished.

As I've switched, I've noticed the motivations have changed. The last 20% of any project is un-fun work. All the excitement is gone and all that is left is tedium. This is when your eyes start wandering to other projects.

It's addiction. You are addicted to the fun part, and when it's no longer fun you start looking for you fix somewhere else. The trick is to change your addiction. Force yourself to finish a project. Get addicted to the sense of accomplishment instead of being addicted to learning something new and exciting. If you only care about the learning and not the doing, you'll end up reading wikipedia all day, every day.

This was an absolutely brilliant observation. I have never thought of it as an addiction to the fun part. But this is exactly the problem I have! I'm so grateful you pointed it out.

You could probably write an entire book on this observation.

Exactly what I wanted to say, the last 20% of the project is always hardest without which whole project is unusable except you.

I found this very relatable. Thank you.

LifeHacker had a pretty great article that helped me a lot that was about Jerry Seinfeld's secret to his success as a comedian, and it's entirely apropos:



He told me to get a big wall calendar that has a whole year on one page and hang it on a prominent wall. The next step was to get a big red magic marker.

He said for each day that I do my task of writing, I get to put a big red X over that day. "After a few days you'll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You'll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job next is to not break the chain."

"Don't break the chain," he said again for emphasis.

For myself, I pick a new project per month, write it on the calendar, and stick with it.

For example, one month was to learn about and write my own GreaseMonkey scripts for simple tasks at work. Now I have a little floating window in the bottom of my work webapps that automate small tasks for me, like stopping/starting pollers, inputting data, etc.

That is actually a practical implementation of the age long() wisdom that you need discipline, not motivation to succeed in various long term endeavour. My personal trick, for stuff I really don't like is to allocate a 30 min chunk a day to them. Does not seem much, sometimes it is just enough time for a few google search, but slowly to start accumulating time and after a few weeks, those 30 min are sealed in your routine and not going anywhere.

Google "Discipline vs Motivation" for plenty of other self-help guides.

() Seemed to be common wisdom when I was a kid although discipline was not really pitted against motivation (like the reading my parent did of the story rabbit vs turtle was the turtle won by discipline), then it went away when I was a teen when motivation was the only path to success ("you can become anything if you really want it"), and it only seems to be back in fashion recently.

Interestingly, Seinfeld denied having invented this technique: http://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/1ujvrg/jerry_seinfeld_...

Makes me think of that submit tracker on github.

lift.do (now coach.me) used to implement that in a dead simple manner. To monetize, they pivoted from a "chain tracker" w/ reminders and (optional) social props to a social and coaching solution, so I don't know if this feature is still there.

There's a more generic term for what you're experiencing, which is "lack of motivation." On some level you don't care much about what you're doing; if you did, I guarantee you wouldn't be paralyzed. When you're motivated, things tend to fall into place.

That's not an indictment of you. Contrary to popular belief, motivation doesn't much come from within. For almost everybody, long-term motivation is about other people: your friends, your community, and the world at large. You'll be motivated to do something when these groups of people push you to.

And the mechanism for that push is almost always the same: status. In the long term, human beings find it very easy to do things that increase their status, and very difficult to do anything else (except for things that are inherently more pleasurable than difficult — but that generally doesn't include studying CS theory).

This is really hard on college students, because even though good grades will increase your status after college, they rarely do much for your status in college. If you're good, professors might care, but the collective student body won't.

The solution is to find people who really care about your performance in your field of study — maybe a professor's lab, maybe a group of high achievers, maybe (ideally) a club with an external goal (e.g. autonomous vehicle club) — and make those people central to your life by spending a lot of time with them. If you do, it'll become natural for you to work hard at your field. Although still, you'll only be driven to do things that directly increase your status in your group.

And of course, this solution can be hard to implement; spending lots of time with a new group of people takes its own motivation. It gets a lot easier after college, though. After college you get a job, and wherever you work, everybody will care about how you perform.

I think you're on to something in recognizing the impact of other people. It's very difficult to just learn something in a sustained way in a vacuum, even if you deem it important. Eventually, you'll either get bored or find something more interesting. Social bonds and the need to be accountable to others provide the sort of glue to keep you going when you hit a wall. Having a job is a sort of concrete example of that.

Totally disagree - sure some people my be motivated by status but to say that's the most of the reason? no, no, no.

I'd say more of the motivation comes from taking control of your environment and crafting something from your own ideas, thoughts, and methods then seeing a finished product in the end. Now that is motivating. Once you have a few finished goals under your belt it just seems to flow naturally. Come up with a goal, finish goal, repeat until dead.

One of my biggest goals at the moment is to ultimately help a lot of people. I couldn't care any less about what my status is. I want that feeling that I made a positive contribution with my life.

Well, it doesn't really sound like you want to "do everything". It sounds like you just want to learn a bunch of CS-related topics, which is much more manageable. Be thankful you're not trying to split your attention between CS, math, philosophy, art, literature, biology, and more.

Try making yourself more project-oriented. Decide that you will do a project, commit to finishing it, and learn what is necessary to complete the project. Get into the mindset that watching lectures and reading technical books is something you do for fun and entertainment, much like watching TV. Projects and research are the only things that should give you a sense of accomplishment.

I returned to grad school to study music technology at NYU a few years back, and one of the things I really appreciated about my program was how project-oriented it was. Almost every class required me to invent an idea and then execute it within a couple months. It was great practice for following a process of ideation -> research -> focusing -> delivery, all under hard time constraints, and in parallel. It forced me to realize that I had to be able to optimize and be willing settle for imperfection. But the result was a whole bunch of projects of various levels of achievement, a great mix of broad and deep learning, and a lot of confidence built.

I think for the OP, this 4-5 month time constraint could be a really good thing.

I think it depends on what is distracting you. Is it because you have a functional social life, good friends or like to spend time with your girlfriend? Or have other positive ways to spend your time competing for you attention? If so I wouldn't sweat it too much. You're like 99% of the rest of us who don't have super human powers of concentration and discipline, and this counts double in your early 20s. Speaking personally, the times when I feel like I "levelled up" in terms of personal, professional or technical skills are when there have been powerful outside forces motivating me ... for example, starting a new job where you want to do well, in over you head on a project using an unfamiliar language or don't want to let a friend or respected colleague down. You sound like a conscientious student who's interested in your subject; I'd say simply enjoy life, enjoy your friends, enjoy your mental life and don't beat yourself up about it - like you say there's a lot of information out there in our field, it'll come in time and you'll find your niche. If on the other hand you feel like negative patterns of behaviour are making you sad and stopping you motivate yourself academically then it could be time to take a look at things - but that doesn't sound like the case to me though :-)

I agree with this advice. I just got out of b-school and my background is in computer information systems, but I am attempting to learn a lot more of the nitty-gritty aspects of computer science I was not exposed to in my university education. This includes topics like algorithms, data structures, operating systems and compilers. I do not know where to start and I've been using Hacker News to follow the tech scene as much as possible. Unfortunately I still feel that I am missing out because I chose business over engineering (which I continue to regret).

I'm just 1.5 years away from being 30 so I realize that I have quite a long time left in my software development career to catch-up to all you CS people. I don't think I've been undirected (the opposite of conscientiousness) but I've been misdirected and distracted. I've studied other things including web design and music production. I've also enjoyed life a lot (and slacked off by watching too much Adult Swim and Comedy Central, as well!).

It's hard being productive and studious all the time. While some people work 80 hour weeks continuously, most people don't out of need for sleep, exercise and relaxation. There is certainly an ebb-and-flow to this so I am embracing the idea that it will take me many more years of continuous growth and effort to get where I want to be. I also know that I need to eliminate as many distractions as possible, including turning off the TV and avoiding going out to concerts, clubs and bars. I have picked up some meditation techniques as well (including spending 10 minutes a day, at least once a day, focusing on deep breathing in order to unwind my frontal cortex). Sacrifice sucks but it is necessary to become the person you want to be!

If it's any consolation, this type of question, along with the "I start projects and get distracted by more interesting ones before I can finish them", seems like a very common problem around here. I don't have a definitive answer but what works for me is I work on an interesting project in parallel to learning about a topic. For example, if I am learning about compilers, I will think of a programming language and write a compiler for it. I usually try to pick an original project that is at least minimally useful because otherwise I lose interest quickly. If I can't come up with anything, I might just write some blog post(s) about the subject.

Coming from the security industry, I've talked trash in Facebook for their abuse of the word hack. Now that I'm working on a webpage of my own I really appreciate the mentality. Often I find myself stalled trying to come up with the optimum solution before I start programming, or hung up not knowing which feature to work on.

My failure to start is well addressed when I decide to just implement it in the obvious way, just get an implementation out and worry about optimization later. If I have too many things to decide between I make a list and prioritize from there. Having each thing written down allows me to forget about the item until it's at the front of the queue.

So, write your stuff down. Choose a topic you want to learn that will be most valuable to you now. Forget about everything else.

I have the same exact problem. Im a self employed technology Consultant who deals with everything from desktop support, Office IT consulting, security systems, Home theater systems, web site design, and much more, with a lot of experience in the field. I have the same problem though, every month and sometimes every week, im on a new adventure. One week I want to actually get an MCSE, no but wait Linux is going to take over the world, let me study linux more, no wait everything is going to be scripted, lets study python, oh but wait all those jobs are moving to india, you have to be in UX where there is more creativity, man Im bored with this, I want to study cryptography which is way more interesting, Cryptography is fun, but do you really see yourself in the crypto field, finance is fun too and you can make a shit ton of money on your own, etc etc -And It's a cycle, Ill be back to square one in a years time or so. As far as how I deal with it, well, I already have a career, it being my own business, so I'm not really needing to pass any exam or anything, I kind of do all that stuff for fun and I do enjoy it. But it is frustrating not being able to stick to one thing really. I think the key is to push through the boring, frustrating parts. When you hit the lows in fun and interesting, you have to keep pushing through. I know it's harder than it sounds. A couple of suggestions would be try getting a partner that you can study with. I know it doesnt work for everyone but its a thought. Also, maybe learning through an actual project might get you to stick through it.

Good luck

I recommend 2 books: "The War of Art" and "Do The Work", both from Steven Pressfield.

In short, this is Resistance. Do The Work.

I second the "War of Art" recommendation. It is one of the most important books I've read in a long time as a far as impact on my life; really kicked my ass and got me into gear.

It's an awesome book. Based on the 1-star review you chose I wouldn't read it, but it's not an accurate representation of what's in the book.

Another (more straightforward and simple) method of wanting to do everything is to just have a "not to do list" http://blog.close.io/not-to-do-list

YES. I absolutely, unequivocally, strongly recommend this book!

What he said. Highly recommended books.

Also, I wrote a post about this: http://www.splinter.com.au/turning-30-all-ideas-no-execution...

Good luck :)

Brilliant. The War of Art is like a vaccine for this

I've found meditation to be very helpful. Meditating is an exercise in concentration, where one trains their mind to be completely involved with "now". It helps quiet the mind, turning turbulence into tranquility. That kind of focus can elliviate the desire to jump from one shiny thing to the next.

"Zen mind, beginner's mind" is a small, wonderful book on the basics of zazen -- the art of sitting quietly, without thoughts.

Getting started is easy: take easy, natural breaths, counting them until you get to ten. As thoughts enter your mind, acknowledge them and return focus to your breathing.

Agreed 100%. I found that following a guided mediation was much more effective for me when I was starting to meditate. It's a skill that you need to learn just like any other skill, and guided meditations act as a coach while you learn to get into that state of mind.

I think Headspace is a particularly effective tool for that https://www.headspace.com/ (not affiliated in any way; just a user)

There's a couple of things I do that I've found beneficial to deal with this problem.

1. I've found it very beneficial to "Lock down" goals and objectives for the entire year.

Spend 2 days thinking of what you want, with a 4 day review period and match them with a list of habits. Then put them somewhere you'll see every day.

For instance, I put them on the right hand side of my main Trello Board. Every day, I see there's seven of them and that perhaps playing with this shiny object won't "move me" towards their realization.

2. The purgatory list

To deal with the shiny object problem, I've come up with a system for reviewing my urges of curiosity. A "purgatory" Trello board for instance, which I review at the end of the week. "Should I do it?" "Will it move me forward?" The answer is typically obvious. During the week I'm focused on the things at hand, and when I'm done with my week I choose what to do next. Separating the thinking from the doing is always beneficial.

3. Systems.

Read "The War of Art"[1], or "Daily Rituals"[2], or listen to any kind of podcast by productive people. They all say the same thing, losers have inspiration, productive people have systems. Taylor Pearson has the "Weekly Entrepreneur Review".[3] I've implemented it. Tweaked it. It's great.

4. Information diet.

It's good to limit your consumption of information to X amount per day or to specific periods of the day. If you're like me, you love to learn and you want to do it all the time. At some point though, you'll know much more than you can show. Remember "Show don't tell", how much do you know that you would not be able to show other people? Probably a lot! Nobody cares that you "learned X or Y". They want you to show that you know those things. Projects, experience, etc.

In that case, stick to your goal and do.

[1]: http://www.amazon.ca/The-War-Art-Through-Creative/dp/1936891... [2]: http://masoncurrey.com [3]: http://taylorpearson.me/weeklyreview/

Hi Michael,

your kind of distraction is totally normal working and studying in a field where so much exciting stuff is going on every day. So first of all: Don't worry!

From my experience what you can do is prioritize the stuff you have to do in chunks. Use something like the Promodoro-technique (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pomodoro_Technique) to focus on the things you are doing. Don't do anything else but exactly what you want to learn in that moment. Try to track your progress by making little tutorials, summaries, videos for yourself and others.

From my experience more than anything else it takes discipline with yourself and also the understanding that you don't have to know everything in the world right here and right know. You can be rest assured that nobody does.

So just relax and take things one after another and enjoy the progress by connecting dots with each other.

Mostly what others said but put in a different way.

One of the most important thing I learnt in my 5 years of development experience is to think learning as a marathon and not a sprint. In my personal projects, I would keep experimenting with different languages, frameworks , libraries, patterns etc. and they would all end as an unfinised github project waiting to be deleted. Whereas in projects done at workplace or as freelancer, the technology stack is fixed and you limit yourself experimenting with too many libraries. At the end of the project there is learning and a finised product to be proud of. Not impliying here that personal projects should not be done, but too much experimenting increases the chances that the project wont go to production. Therefore along with speed, have a direction to reach the goal.

Tip: Unsubscribe from forms on technologies you do not use to avoid distraction.

OP: "I have too much stuff to learn/lectures to watch/books to read and I can't focus on one thing"

HN: "I suggest you read these books, blogs and articles: ..."

Something (personal experience?) tells me that this will only make the too-much stuff to focus on worse.. :-)



You have to timebox everything, making sure you spend enough time, "undistracted" on the important stuff, seriously limiting social media and tech news (hn, tweeter, reddit etc... time it, it's a real time sink), and ignore most of the new stuff until you have achieved your goals.

> I'm at the start of a 4-5 month stretch where I absolutely need to cover 4 highly technical subjects, on my own and unguided, to continue my studies.

Get yourself a mentor/supervisor who will (a) help you come up with a plan that prioritises those four subjects, (b) have regular interaction with you to track your progress, and (c) chew you out if you don't stick to the plan.

This seems to be a common issue for young, intelligent, technically-minded people. In my opinion, the solution is self-discipline and prioritisation (and, implicitly, having the judgement to know what should be prioritised).

Exercise regularly (perhaps daily),

keep building on consistent good habits you have made - a regular exercise routine will help on several levels,

don't expect to become perfect overnight (or ever),

prioritise what is most important and time-limited (probably for you: direct access to good teachers),

learn what you need in a practical context rather than abstract context: (e.g. learn to start a business by starting a business),

sleep well and sleep plenty,

check your nutrition - especially, is your alcohol and caffeine intake helping or hindering you?

allow yourself some failures. Give up on what isn't working for you and concentrate on what is.

I struggled with similar problems. So I have three fixed buckets of time now. First bucket is the job. Second bucket is for one side project. Third bucket is for anything under the sun: Linux kernel, Reactjs, Rust, Android, ML... I call the third bucket as the "fish bucket".

It's similar to the "Paradox of choice" where Barry Schwartz argues that eliminating consumer choices can greatly reduce anxiety for shoppers. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Paradox_of_Choice

One of the things to do is to minimize the number of choices you have. Then try and reduce your distractions e.g. tidy up your work area, go minimalist.

One of the best ways to avoid procrastination is to use the Pomodoro technique http://pomodorotechnique.com/ This is one of the recommendations from Coursera's Learning how to Learn course: https://class.coursera.org/learning-003

Finally you can try and develop a habit to Do One Thing: https://emson.co.uk/2015/01/do-one-thing/ (sorry self plugged post).

You really need to read this article:

"Screw motivation, what you need is discipline" https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=8976451

I'm a victim of "Information Paralysis" as well. One thing that has helped me was to join a meetup or group or even discussion forums related to a particular field that i want to spend time on for the next few months and frequently catchup with them so that you're always motivated and there's a win-win kind of situation for the group as well.

It occurs to me that you may be looking at this sideways.

We homeschooled our younger two kids. Specifically, we "unschooled" them. This meant that instead of a curriculum, they found things they enjoyed, created projects from them, then executed. As part of executing, they naturally learned stuff. Worked great.

On the other hand I went to a traditional school. That meant I thought of topics in little silos. Want to learn math? Well gee, that could be a full lifetime of study. Everything I look at appears to be infinitely deep.

Find projects that you can commit to that involve learning your topics to the depth you would like. Then, instead of the topics, execute on the projects. Doesn't matter if anybody likes your projects or even if you use them -- by getting your head out of the vertical silo and starting to think horizontally, you'll probably learn in a much more natural fashion.

My two cents.

What's helped me is picking one option, then sticking with it until you reach some natural milestone that allows you to move to something else if you wish.

Professionally, it means I only do one priority at a time. When I'm unproductive, I'm almost always thinking about all the useful things I could be doing, rather than doing one of those useful things.

This doesn't mean you can only have one priority. I often have different priorities in different domains. For instance, I have some barbell goals in the gym that are independent than work goals. I just don't set multiple goals in the same area.

I often leave small things undone while focussing. This may or may not be a good thing. If I leave it too long, the clutter becomes distracting and I start thinking of other ideas.

Personally I find it less about the techniques and more about framing the problem correctly. For example everything you mention are just subjects (means to an end) but you haven't told us what the end you are most passionate about is. I find college isn't well set up for this and I fell in to the same trap as you, lots of activities but very little focus.

It took me years but eventually I started focusing on what the outcomes I wanted to make happen and then started focusing bringing in the learning I needed to support this. This also helps when you have to make decisions about what not to learn as if its not supporting your outcomes then it becomes more clear you can drop it or save it for later.

I struggled a lot with what OP describes and focusing on outcomes is something that has helped me a lot. Another slightly less intimidating way to describe this might be focusing on projects instead of skills. So the outcome doesn't have to be some grand, world-shaking innovation, it might just be the completion of some "thing" that you enjoyed making.

Two things:

1) Discipline (e.g. dedicate 1 hour daily towards a single project until you finish it)

2) Leverage. Think about which thing / project will provide you with the most leverage in the long run. (e.g. doing ML course will allow you to achieve so much more with new gained skills than (likely) learning discrete mathematics.)

I personally chose to start a business which allows me to have significantly higher learning rate than otherwise would be possible, which compounds over time to significantly more leverage in long term. Do mind, now I am sacrificing my living standards compared to same-age peers (working in big companies), but life is a marathon, not a sprint :)

A thought would be, could this be a more general issue in your life, and not just a programming / project problem?

There are many reasons why someone finds it hard to get things done that are not to do with laziness, etc. A tendency towards perfectionism, for instance, can actually be detrimental. You mention feeling scared. Fear is often associated with general anxiety, which is common and often very treatable but has the effect of making work hard.

I don't wish to make any assumptions about you, and what I am saying may not apply in your case at all, but perhaps one thing you could consider here would be some general counselling.

You need to balance what you need to get done with your natural curiosity. Separate them out and make sure both happen.

1. Work out what material you need to cover on your required studies.

2. Break it down into shorter, manageable bits. A chapter per week, perhaps.

3. Make completion of these bits concrete, so you know you are progressing (and not just reading). Completing the exercises, perhaps.

4. Break down the bits even further, so you can plan them across days.

5. Every day at the same time, start working on these bits.

6. When you finish your bits for a day, stop working. Your reward is the rest of the day to learn about whatever you feel like, guilt-free.

Make a list of everything you want to do. List everything. Then, sort it by priority. Cross off everything but #1.

I second the habit of making lists. This is my approach:

1. Make lists.

2. Make checklists.

PS: These two are different, and you need both. The first to bring clarity, and the second to make plans actionable by breaking down a goal into tasks.

What works for me: admit that you are going to want to do other things. They are going to show up even as side comments in the material you are learning. Keep a list of things you will work on later. Don't sort it, but make a deal with your future self to review the list after you reach "the end" of your current study. "The end" should also be clearly defined, hopefull by some small capstone project. Amorphous goals are never attained, and every topic is endless. Set an achievable goal.

It seems that most commenters jumped in with a solution but I would ask, what are your goals?

Lets say that your goals are to discover a wide range of topics and gain breadth. Then you seem to be on the right track. But if your goals are to master and deep learn specific topics (e.g. algorithms), then you may need to change your current habits, a much harder problem (and yet more meaningful to solve).

In either case, goal setting will help. If you are naturally curious and want breadth, then be honest and set a goal to measure yourself: "By end of this month, I want to explain 10-12 new ideas in less than 2-3 sentences." Your goals must be measurable. For more on goal setting, checkout Brian Tracy's 12 Steps.

Advice often ends at goal setting but it's only the beginning. Your daily routine is critical to advance your goals. Try out apps for task management or even paper/pencil like Cal Newport suggests [1]. I had to learn to develop a regular ping to keep myself honest: "Is what I'm doing at this moment advancing me towards my goals?" And to be honest, replying to this thread is not so I'm going to sign out here. Good luck buddy.

[1] http://calnewport.com/blog/2013/12/21/deep-habits-the-import...

I've noticed this pattern in people where their ideas are similar to general intimate relationships:

● Committing to one means you have to let go of committing to others. So you fear commitment to one.

● As soon as you find "the one" you become afraid that you'll find another "better one" that will make you happier. So you fear commitment to one.

● If you're attractive/talented you've got a line of [women/ideas] out the door and around the building wanting to be with you. So you fear commitment to one.

● If something goes wrong with a relationship/idea you can abandon it and run off with another instead of fixing and mending the original. So you let go of commitment to one.

● I've noticed that men/women who are [attractive, desired, popular] live a "player" lifestyle and don't settle down because they don't have to. There are too many options. Then a decade later when they lose muscle, gain weight, lose hair, their options in mates are more limited and they finally settle down.

TLDR: Maybe you're too young, too free, and have too many options, and not ready to settle down to one idea and should instead spend your time exploring and finding out what you're not good at. That way you can limit your options. Sounds strange but it worked for me. Now I have a profitable business and next year I may be able to live off of it entirely.

Learning never stops really and the amount of information available only increases so coming up with a technique that works for you is crucial.

I make lists of everything i want to do/read and find out more about and then split it up in to small goals like "Read article X", "Complete task X in project Y". Key is to make the goals small enough so they seem achievable relatively quickly, this way you don't feel overwhelmed and can move towards completion steadily and slowly.

I use Pocket for ALL the articles and blog posts I want to read and simply save it there, once I am bored or on a bus or on some journey that I have free time to read I read them one by one and learn slowly about the topic that interests me. I also have a list of things I want to achieve in the near future like this month and I pick random things off it to do.

I also try to come up with little projects that interest me and that I can adapt to utilise the things I am interested in learning. For example if I would like to try a certain static site generator, try out some new css trick or simple try a new language I come up with a little project that I find interesting and try to accomplish it while using these new tools. This way I am invested in the project and learning something new. But yet again key is SMALL achievable projects.

So you've already done the most important thing: prioritize the things you need/want to do. You say you have 4-5 months in which you have to cover 4 subjects. That's your list. Four things. Nothing else.

If the topics are roughly of the same difficulty, divide it up in to 5 weeks each, and that's it. When the time's up, move on. If you need to, you can move back and forth between the 4 topics for a little variety, but remember context switching does come with a cost.

It would probably be helpful to list all the other things you want to do, but can't, as a way of reinforcing to yourself that for the next 5 months, you're not doing those things. You can pick up on that list afterward... but when you do, make sure you keep up the same discipline: pick a few topics, decide to do them and devote focused time to them, and decide to leave the others on the list and not do them until you've finished with your current working set.

It's really hard to let go of a lot of things that we want to do and learn. I experience this pretty often, too, and I'll admit I'm not always good at following the above advice. But you have to be realistic about the quantity of time you have. Deciding what to do also means deciding what not to do, which is just as important.

I'd think you have an issue with your own time management (I do too).

One suggestion that kinda worked for me: try to set a specific time (i.e. 1 hour every day at 9AM) to do X (i.e. watch the MOOC lectures and do the exercises), put an alarm clock, setup your computer to forbid browsing facebook/hn/reddit/youtube in the time period etc.

This way you might be able to make it a habit, which helps you avoiding the procrastinate/procrastinate/forget/ah-crap-too-late trap.

Life is long. You can choose wrong and restart, but you need to go deep on something to get the level of knowledge and experience that will then help you more quickly dive deep on the next thing.

As far as that algorithms lecture, it's a case study in learning with a purpose. As an adult, learning something which can then be applied or wrestled with immediately is how you pull value from that lecture. What did you do to reinforce your consumption of the lecture within 72 hours of the lecture? What did you do over the next 12 months?

My general advice would be: 1. Identify something you would want to work on even if it wasn't from an engineering standpoint (something that offers the side effect of desire/motivation/focus)

2. Discover your strengths and weaknesses in getting things done by wrestling with understanding the problem and practicing solutions

3. Learn with a purpose in order to build your skills and experience in analysis, design, and implementation of a solution

4. Reflect on what worked or didn't work in steps 1-2-3 for you since everybody is different.

You may learn differently. You may discover new things about yourself that change how you approach analysis, implementation, etc. You'll have to practice things others mention like timeboxing, task lists, etc.

Hi Michael - my only add comes from my personal experience and may not be relevant as I didn't do CS or Engineering. I did however suffer curiosity overload and needed to find a way to focus, quick.

Know yourself - take a look at your past habits. Where did you feel you won? Focus your efforts there and build on that. Try to get a win every day.

Accountability - I learned I am only accountable when it impacts others. So I set all crucial goals to girlfriend, family, friends, co-founders, team, and customers. That way when it doesn't get done, it impacts me directly!

Diversify - I get most stuck when I think about my business for weeks on end. Help a fellow CEO noodle a problem, and I get focused. So MANAGED distraction could be the key to focus.

From what you wrote, time-blocking seems great by rewarding yourself curiosity blocks and productivity blocks.

For me, my strategy and planning is most productive before work, just after lunch and after 2100. So the day is all about my team and helping them out. In between, I allow myself to read industry pubs. Hacker News is my "diversification" time to immerse in other's challenges.

Hope this helps and keep up the curiosity, but take a breather, language lesson or play guitar to take your mind away so you can properly focus.



I have been through this dilemma before. Everyone says find your passion, follow your heart and stuff, but what do you do when you don't know where your passion, assuming such a thing exists, lies. Easy solution, learn as much as possible about all the fields and see if it interests you. Now this leads back to the same dilemma.how to solve this? If you are young, going to a college is the solution. What if that is not an option? Again a simple solution, take it one day at a time.fixate on a subject and take it easy, dealing with it one day at a time.don't make any future plans, if you have an obsessive nature of planning ahead, try to limit it to next day's plan, nothing more than that. Move away from a goal oriented methodology to a systems approach; meaning set a few hours each day learning that tech and don't overdo it.keep up this approach for a month and you will notice that you have covered a lot in that subject.If you don't find this subject interesting anymore, then change that subject the next day itself Keep doing this and you will definitely find certain subject to be of your interest. Forgive my formatting, typed it from mobile phone

I would say that a lot of this problem has to do with your being a student.

When I was a student, I found it completely impossible to learn anything in any depth, or remember it for a long period of time, simply because being a student means perpetually working on tasks that are kind of meaningless because they're being handed to you. They're not things you're doing for some purpose or cause, they're assignments. You're learning for the sake of learning, which is very appealing but doesn't work too well.

Since I started working, I'm learning a tonne more and I remember all of it because I'm doing real things. That's not intended as an insult, it just means that the tasks I'm working on are connected to the real world. They're less abstract.

So I'd say, pick things you need to learn and do something real with them. Take it as far outside the scope of being a student as possible. Start that business. Apply the stuff you're learning to real life.

And take the pressure off. You're not going to remember all this stuff, there's so much of it and it's so complicated. A CS course would destroy me, so you're obviously pretty smart. Just keep being pretty smart.

I have tried many different techniques and found a simple way that works well for me -- I wake up at 4 a.m. and get 3.5 hours of focused work done. In speaking to friends, especially those doing creative work, I have observed this to be a common thread. There is something about the quiet and stillness of the early morning that helps with focus and productivity in a different way than late night (source: I am a former night owl).

Hi Michael, I think you need to pick a specific goal that will make you happy and make your life better and work towards that.

We can learn, just to learn, but maybe you would be happier if what you learned had a direct impact on your life.

I studied for a while (got my PhD), but I wasn't happy with what I was doing until I was running my own company and learning what I needed to learn to make money and make my company better and make my life better.

I recently got out of this rut (somewhat. do you ever escape completely?) by starting a side project with some (light) responsibility. It's a reasonably complex mobile app, for a company I like, with guaranteed users and a time-table for delivery.

It has been wonderful. I'm a lot more focused in my research, because I'm hitting problems I haven't hit yet at work. I'm learning stuff that comes in handy elsewhere, and learning it quite a bit better than "read it somewhere" because I've had to use it non-trivially.


Not that I'm suggesting you start contracting. That's unrelated. But having some kind of social responsibility can help a lot - talk about it, blog about the progress, and try to do something on it every day or so. Finishing things can be almost as addictive as wanting to start things, and it's way more useful.

edit: I'm seeing lots of "don't break the chain" mentions. In isolation, that hasn't worked for me :| Having some kind of external expectation that you don't break it / continue to make progress anyway is what pushed me over the edge.

Everyone is sharing tactical solutions, which is great, but I've found that the root of the problem lies in not knowing your values, and I wish I was introduced to this concept at your age.

I learned about this in an excellent book called "10 Natural Laws of Successful Time and Life Management" by Hyrum Smith, the creator of the Franklin Day Planner.

It recommends that you write your own Personal Constitution; much like the United States has a Constitution written by the Founding Fathers that guides the creation of future laws, you should create a Personal Constitution that guides your future behavior.

It's essentially a prioritized list of what you hold most dear. Then whenever you need to make a decision, you act based on that list. Of course, you may choose to amend it at any time, so it's not a static document.

The process of creating your Personal Constitution is a difficult one so be prepared to set aside a few hours to really think things over. But the exercise is utterly priceless, as you'll have extraordinary clarity of mind and a rock solid decision making framework that allows you to focus on the things you most cherish.

Give it a shot!

Stephen Covey wrote a book along these same lines, First Things First [1], which advises to first define your roles in life, such as developer, parents, home owner, and so on, then identify the priorities in each of those areas, and schedule those things into your week first. He gives the "importance/urgency" matrix which is helpful for identifying which things you should be focusing on. After you have scheduled the important things into your week, you can schedule the unimportant items.

Having said that, you still have to make choices and stick to them. For this, you need to look at the science of habit change, which a good book is The Power of Habit [2]

[1] http://www.amazon.com/First-Things-Understand-Often-Arent/dp...

[2] http://www.amazon.com/The-Power-Habit-What-Business/dp/08129...

I wrote about this recently: http://blog.higg.im/2015/01/02/2014-the-year-of-feeling-burn...

We are awash in information. Douglas Rushkoff documents this recent phenomenon very well. His book Present Shock articulates the problem / dilemma really well. Worth a read - if you haven't already added it to your Amazon wishlist and is not another book in your digital bucket list.

My personal solution was to let go. Tech and computers are now the apex predator. Just swim in the ocean, don't resist it. In terms of your path - who am I to judge? I dropped out of a C.S course because tech was moving too fast and the course material was out of sync with how fast tech was moving. Enjoy tech on your own terms.

Note: 'Letting go' also has the paradoxical effect of getting more done with tech. When you get out of your own way, tech works for you, rather than against you. I learned this from the raw data. It's up to you to experience this for yourself.

I have a related question:

I've been a successful consultant, though that's tailed off the last 5 years.

A lot of what's in the other thread [1] rings very true. I'm massively torn in all directions, learn for the sake of learning and never have any ideas with whatI want to do with what I learn.

HOWEVER... the big difference, and one I have struggled with for years, but more so recently is... "why bother?" to do anything. Money no longer motivates. I don't believe in technological progress, I want the world to be different and can't accept it as it is. I want people to be nice to each other, in a utopian way that thinks I can make them happy and doesn't allow for their emotions.. I can't say the thought of anything in the world excites me.

I'm overwhelmed by the volume of information, but even more so by the volume of opinions. Take even a simple long-running one, what to believe religiously. I can hear one side, then the other, then another... and each in turn (usually) makes sense. There's not enough info to say one is right, but which is right?? Because each believes their point is right, and yet if I held a different position all would criticise me. I can't resolve that dichotomy.

Am I burned out like this chap talks about? https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=8976685

Or is it something deeper like Borderline Personality Disorder?

I turned 30 this year, and spending my days wishing I knew what to do with meaning wasn't what I expected to do.

1. https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=9049208

It sounds like you're suffering from some ennui. I wouldn't get too caught up in worrying whether it's a disorder or something. It will probably pass. I suggest making a pivot. Put that idealism to use and join up with a cause. You might find it gives you a sense of purpose you're missing.

For example, I was bored with engineering and decided to do Teach For America 7 years ago. It turned out to be a very difficult experience, but I feel like I had a meaningful impact. It was also life changing for me in many positive ways.

TFA's definitely not for everyone, but perhaps you have an analogous passion you could pursue. You don't have to wait to make your next move until you want to know what you want to do with the rest of your life. Just make a definitive choice, put your all into it for a year or two, and then reevaluate from there.

I'm overwhelmed by the volume of information, but even more so by the volume of opinions. Take even a simple long-running one, what to believe religiously. I can hear one side, then the other, then another... and each in turn (usually) makes sense. There's not enough info to say one is right, but which is right?? Because each believes their point is right, and yet if I held a different position all would criticise me. I can't resolve that dichotomy.

I feel you hear. A couple years back, it occurred to me that we might be in a post-fact society. There's so much data out there that any position can be supported by such-and-such's study or so-and-so's historiography. For me, the answer is to seek principles instead of data. I think there's also a tendency for people to pontificate about things without ever seeing the reality on the ground.

All the best to you in your decisions. Shoot me an e-mail if you like.

Thank you, your post-fact thoughts are really (cough) thought provoking, in a good way.

And making a pivot: absolutely. I'd like to get in touch with what I believe in or am passionate about first rather than just jump, but may have to! Having a wife and starting a family in the next couple of years complicates things more than some other commenters, but we are discussing it already. Just got to do something.

Thanks for your reply - I've saved your email address for the future :)

Also consider reading Alasdair MacIntyre's "After Virtue" if you're interested in philosophy (it takes effort, but rewards the reader). It characterizes modern society as emotivist. When you say:

I'm overwhelmed by the volume of information, but even more so by the volume of opinions. Take even a simple long-running one, what to believe religiously. I can hear one side, then the other, then another... and each in turn (usually) makes sense. There's not enough info to say one is right, but which is right?? Because each believes their point is right, and yet if I held a different position all would criticise me. I can't resolve that dichotomy.

You are describing emotivism.

As an antidote to emotivism, MacIntyre suggests we rekindle an Aristotelian account of the virtues and cultivate them through practices. For example, cultivate those attributes (virtues) which aid in rigorous pursuit of mastery in a discipline (practice). Herein lies meaning and the good life for man.

Why ask here? Think about what you're asking, maybe there's a better place find your answer.

Because in the 5 years I've been looking, I've failed to find it?

If you know a better place - do share.

Try psychedelic mushrooms.

I had the same "problem" that you have in the past.

I created a company wile studying engineering, while traveling the world and learning languages.

I solved it... well I did not solve it at all.

For creating a company alone you need marketing, sales, hiring people,self management, handling money and planning skills.

It felt I was not doing nothing at all. It was hell.

But somewhat it worked really well in the end. I started delegating some work, but I had done this work myself so I knew who was great at what I wanted to delegate naturally.

I was wrong too thinking that I had not learn anything. Now I know I know a lot because I compare with people that does not know what I know every single day of my life. When you really learn something it becomes obvious to you.

My recommendation is:

1-take notes and computer index anything you learn, with the most important things from a book, talk, whatever, something similar to what Derek does:


Watching again a lecture is nothing bad if you need it. But next time you watch it you can do it in 5 or 10 minutes, focusing on what you need.

I extract the audio of every talk I watch and speech recognize it automatically, so I can search for it. I write down the important words of the talk and basic structure.

I use open source(vlc, handbrake, command line tools) programs for most of it(everything but speech recognition).

2- learn memory tricks,mind maps, and speed reading so you learn faster.

3- Learn to self manage and be happy while working. I like Eben Pagan productivity program "wakeupproductive".

>I use open source(vlc, handbrake, command line tools) programs for most of it(everything but speech recognition).

What do you use for speech recognition?

You have great advice here. This is how I do it. Create todo.txt and put everything you need to do in there. Make sure it's reasonably comprehensive and then start crossing things off. A productivity book will tell you the same thing in 200+ pages. If you save the finished items, you may be amazed by what you have accomplished. I had an app for this but I found editing todo.txt is faster. Apps like Trello don't have plaintext export. So let's say you finish to-do work for a client, with a text file you can just cut-paste the completed work into Square, Paypal, spreadsheet, whatever the client prefers. I've tried dozens of applications, but none of them will do the work for you ;-) Todo.txt seems antiquated but I found it's easier to make many edits quickly. I indent everything, similar to writing software. This helps me to see the big picture. I have todo.txt on a remote server so all my devices have access to it (no need to "sync") also automated backups that I control.

There is a great plugin for sublime for that. It is called simple tasks if I recall correctly (Always forget the name of this plug in because of it generic name) It allows to still be using plain txt file but adds nice shortcuts and allows to make checkboxes.

also, encrypt it and push it to Github.

You have a beautiful problem and you are aware of it and seeking fresh input on how to deal with it. That's a lot. Many people just go with robotic intertia but you created an opportunity window to break intertia here.

In the incoming years life might add some constraints you are not experiencing now and they might decide for you, so you should use your currently wider spectrum of choice to decide what you really like to invent for your future life. What opportunities want to optimize and increase chances of making them happen? I always kept a lot of attention on optimizing personal freedom. If you align things you really want with values then you'll probably increase aligning your passion with what you do (and if you do the opposite you screw it).

Final words on this nice conversation: meditate absorving all, then ignore everybody (including this) and please please please read The War of Art from Steven Pressfield. Is the most enlighting, short, provoking and encouraging words I've read to deal with The Resistance.

Hi, Michael)

"information paralysis" Is that a problem? So, may be it is not? May be it's an opportunity) Let's solve it)

Imagine very-very big mindMap (like that, but much bigger http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-QCtHZYRX_0w/UcbhaceT4MI/AAAAAAAAAW...). Imagine, each word in there is a single knowledge. All this knowledges are ether unbounded from each other or bounded in small groups and all placed chaotically. This is how it looks right now in most of the human minds and most of the Internet. So, would it be great, if we will create website which could bring order to all this knowledges through crowd-sourcing? And each knowledge will have bunch of links to courses, books, videos etc. It will be core structure to any useful information. This is the idea. I'm thinking about this sometimes. Just an Idea. Yet.

I could share more information, if someone will be interested in this)

I've been looking for something like this. If I understand correctly, you're suggesting something similar to the mapping of scientific paradigm(s): http://seedmagazine.com/content/article/scientific_method_re...

From a learner's perspective, the map would be more like a route-planner, highlighting the particular paths to take to get from one point of knowledge to another - but it would presumably need to be able to account for what a learner already knows (what if, for example, a route requires the learner to acquire advanced algebra, but they don't yet have basic algebra?).

Needs some work, but you're basically proposing an Edx/Udemy/(etc)/Wikipedia/PersonalBrain mashup? Sounds interesting...

Yeah, I thought about some "wiki" structure, initially. It could collect information, but what the quality will it be? This model doesn't help. And hierarchy of editors like in wiki will not help neither. Knowledges and bonds between them are very subjective. For example, three knowledges: HTML, PHP, JS. Are they bonded? Of course, they are! But how? Which one is the parental knowldge? Which one is child?

I think about another structure

I feel like you're describing a way to visualize wiki articles as a mind-map, where the mind-map's links are weighted by the links in the wiki's page.

Wikipedia categorizes articles in such a way where you actually can tell which one is parental and which one is child.

php and js would be bonded beneath a "scripting language" category, which would be beneath a more general "programming languages" category, which would be beneath an even more general "computer languages" category, comprising "markup languages", comprising html

all the way back to philosophy ;)


I tried to categorize knowledges, it doesn't work, at least in my case. One knowledge could be in the multiple categories. So, then this is rather "tags" than "categories".

About visualization. It's impossible :) It will blow your mind if you will see the entire mindmap or at least few percents)) It will looks like this: http://blyon.com/blyon-cdn/opte/maps/static/1069646562.LGL.2...

Better way is to allow users to ask "How can I reach this knowledge?" And the answer will be displayed as quite small mindmap, which is leading user from his current situation, current knowledges to the knowledge he requested.

I agreed about philosophy as a last destination) May be it's only way) So, do you want to be the creator of the new philosophy?)

I'm interested , send an email @ abdelhadikhiati[at]gmail dot com

Do share more info - my email's in my profile.

I am also interested, my twitter is @sergeyzavg

Here's one solution for "information paralysis": instead of watching and reading everything that seems interesting, just put that on a list and go back to work. After a week (or more, better more) go to your list and start watching things. You will naturally identify some of those things as not-so-interesting-as-they-seemed-at-first-glance.

I have a similar problem, I'm a business owner and see all kinds of new opportunities pop up all the time. In my early twenties I bounced around from new shiny idea to the next, generally seeing the process or project 80% through before jumping to the next one, I had some interesting results, but none of them were the home run.

I view that time now as a learning experiment in what just doesn't work, you need to focus to succeed. And not just 'focus' in the mental sense, but focus in the 'reduce the amount of projects' kind of focus.

That focus is goal setting; needs specific dates and measurable actions attached, not just dreams or desire.

Another resource that represented the next phase for me in my business and personal life is the book Essentialism, it's become somewhat of a productivity bible for me, the PRINCIPLES behind focus are extremely important...

Learning to say "No" to projects is tough because starting them is always more fun then finishing our current ones.

I have been through the same problem myself. Too many interesting things to learn and too little time. What got me through it was to ask myself "Why?" 3 times for everything I was excited about and wanted to do. And I realized that only a few of those things I REALLY deeply wanted to do. I basically discovered my "life values". What I truly deeply cared about. And the moment I reached this core, everything became clear as to what I should focus on. Here is a practical way to do it: Write on a piece of paper: "I want to do X!". Then next line write "Why?". Write your answer. Followed by a new question: "Why?". Answer that one. Keep going until you can't answer the "Why?" anymore. And then do the same with everything else you want to do. Don't show it to anybody else. This is for yourself. So you can be brutally honest. Try it and see what happens. You might be surprised.

Hey Michael (and whoever might see this). I suffer from a similar thing. Too many possibilities and cool options, what ifs. I'm an ENFP personality type (the inspirer) and also have some ADD (have coped well with it as an adult). I also sometimes smoke weed (which gets me even more excited about the world).

Ok, two things that have worked for me.

Short term focus:

Pomodoro technique. You work in 25 minute spurts and don't let yourself do anything but work in those 25 minutes. Aim for 5 or 8 or some number you want to get done that day. That way, you won't feel bad if you can't necessarily finish something that day, you put your pomodoros in.

Long term focus:

Google Warrent Buffet's 25 things method. James Clear did a good article on it. You write down 25 things you want to do. Then you decide which are top 5. Then you DON'T touch anything from 6-25. You have to leave those alone. They will overextend you and dilute your focus.

So that's it. Pomodoro and the 5 things. That keeps me in line.

Deadlines (self-imposed, even) make a huge difference for me. Being the lazy, unmotivated, dissolute individual that I am, I can confidently say that some of the most productive, sustained learning efforts I undertook these past few years were Coursera classes with weekly problem set (e.g. coding) deadlines.

Take this with the caveat that advice is what worked for the advisor, not necessarily the advisee. But if you really have this problem of focus, I ask you to consider doing this: go to Coursera, choose an upcoming course that fits your "highly technical subjects" the closest and looks the most appealing in terms of subject matter, and make the commitment to see that course through. If/when you complete it, in the future when you need to focus again you'll at least have that experience to encourage you, reminding you that in fact you can see something complex through to completion.

Well, the question you imposed reminds me of myself going through this problem. Advantages of doing multi-tasking: you learn new skills and gain high confidence. Disadvantage of learning multitasking: you have to master only one at a time and it requires lot of patience.

Einstein once quoted: To do multiple things,the only solution is to do one by one.

Practically: 1. Start meditation, do it five minutes morning and evening and steadily improve for doing 20 minutes at least.(reduces stress, improves focus and gain high confidence)

2. Pick one subject and make it a ritual of studying only for that period of time.

3. Be in a process than thinking about results, trust me it will automatically fall into the places.

4. Constraints are not your enemy ( you have only 20 mins to read, make that 20 mins work of art.)

5. Don't let your thoughts make you believe what you are doing is not right. Have faith on yourself, it is all thoughts game. Master over your thoughts.


Create a study group or get yourself an accountability buddy or coach who you check in with on a weekly basis. Could even be a friend who's not involved but whom you commit to emailing every week with an update and a goal for next week (maybe give him $100 that he'll only return if you follow through emailing every week). You can also do this via a public study log - blog, forum, etc that you update weekly or daily. Nothing is as useful as a little external social pressure and support. This seems particularly relevant in your case since you say you've tried doing this on your own before. Then, I'd combine that with actually having your schedule for those 4 months worked out, know what has to be done by when. Best of luck.

Also - read the "War of Art" by Steven Pressfield. Excellent book about resistance to hitting our goals. Indecision is simply resistance against what you know you should be doing - flipping is easier than persevering. Get a routine, make a habit of it (eg: commit to study at least 20 mins at the start of each day and continue if you get in a flow), etc.

Im in a similar position to you and also have this problem. Although it's relatively annoying, I find that I have ended up learning and gaining a reasonable understanding of some things (theory of programming languages, parsing and haskell, etc) by stopping for a few months (university takes up a lot of time) and coming back to them. Although when I require some body of knowledge as a requirement to complete a task, I find it far easier to focus and learn a single thing without getting distracted. So for me creating a distinction between what I need to know immediately in my daily life and what I'm learning for fun has been quite helpful in allowing me to focus. I call this the pre-emptive lazily evaluated learning strategy :P

There is one alternative that rarely gets mentioned: you don't NEED to cover anything. I don't know of your specific circumstances, but you might consider dropping the school completely, and instead exploring anything that you're interested in, if it is viable in your case. Life is too short to spend it on what others think you need; yes, it might take longer to get to a certain level of knowledge, but on the other hand you won't waste time trying to satisfy others, so the two will pretty much cancel out in most cases.

I followed the same route, with great results -- but I never had courage to do it until I was in my forties, spending much too much time on trying to fit into other people's ideas what I can and should do.

I go through that problem a lot as well, sometimes I am enrolled into 5 or 6 MOOCS at the same time, just because I find them all interesting. The way I do to get over this and finish some of it is by watching a couple or more lectures from all courses and decide which one I want to be pursing til the end. As many people have noted here, you have to choose the things that you want to accomplish and is most important for you at this point of your life and stick with it. That does not mean you cannot go and have a look at something from other topic that you are interested in, just that you need to concentrate and focus on some things only in order to really get a grasp of it.

If you need quick motivation I recommend watching "Jiro Dreams of Sushi". You pretty much want to copy his mindset. The hard part is of course the "finding something you love to do" part but I'd argue all the subjects that are abundant will merge naturally. You "just" need to identify the driver. You need to find your Sushi stall so to speak. Once you find that (somehow related to CS) all the topics you mentioned will arrange themselves and you'll want to learn all of them to get better at what you love.

So basically pick a project and start it. Then ask yourself "will this make the output more excellent" for everything you learn.

The answer lies deep down in your soul. No trick, no formula, no epiphany is going to save you. It's about you keeping promises you make to yourself. You know this. Wrestle with why you are unable to do it. That's your only salvation.

1. Make a dependency chart for all your things, showing which ones depend on which other ones.

2. Mark each node with some notion of what you're getting out of it in the first place. This could range from "for the lulz" to "world domination".

3. Pick the earliest, easiest, most useful/fun thing and do it, as soon as you have the time. Do not do anything else, except possibly the next easiest, most useful/fun thing if you really feel the need to split your time. Keep on coming back to these same one or two things whenever you get the time until they are done.

4. Repeat (3) until entire dependency chart is exhausted.

The whole problem is that the dependency chart will never be exhausted. There is just too much stuff you could learn in depth if you really wanted to.

Well of course it will never be exhausted! But you will actually be making progress, and you can always weight things up or down in accordance with how near-term or long-term important they actually are to you. The principle is that you will get things done.

Stop whatever you're doing now and read this book: "The Practicing Mind: Developing Focus and Discipline in Your Life - Master Any Skill or Challenge by Learning to Love the Process" by Thomas M. Sterner.

I have wasted almost two years of my life doing so , and i'm finally out of this , there's a thing that might helps , open an editor or get apiece of paper write down what those 4 things , split them to smaller piece of tasks ,(remember to only write the important , you absolutely don't have time to waste on subjects not included in these 4) , i use https://habitrpg.com , it's an excellent tool to gamify your everyday tasks , you should try it and take accomplishing those things as a game . Good luck

Off-topic but I'm curious: what phone/tablet/input mechanism are you using that doesn't work well with punctuation after a word?

Native french speakers often leave a space before their punctuation.

(Not commas though! usually sentence-ending punctuation like ?,!,.)

You have to like your tools and stick to them, that means your text editor for notes and immediate todo lists and access in the cloud, also that list of inspirational themes, quotes and links you'd like to research, eventually; but also includes that programming language, framework and patterns you have to adopt and stick to, just to give yourself enough time to master it, and only then it will make sense to take next steps to a higher level or to test that other new/cool technology. Love your tools and knowledge and stick to them until you really need something else.

Try to get rid of distracting habits (remove fb app, log out, block news sites, reddit etc...). It might be hard in the beginning and you'll catch yourself opening reddit or going to fb without thinking.

Once your brain is less addicted to distraction in general it might be able to focus on other topics for longer periods. When you can focus, you'll delve further into the topics you mentioned and have higher chances to stick with it.

Basically, you aren't getting in the zone on any of the topics you mentioned because of distractions.

Getting in the zone is what locks you down on a topic, and you aren't.

I have the exact same problem. Frustrated with how little progress I made in 2014, in January I sat down and thought about things I'd be happy to accomplish in a year. Which skills will make my 2015 a success? The two things I chose were non tech related: writing and meditation. These two tasks are my absolute priority this year since meditation will help with stress and anxiety, and writing will help with learning other new skills in the future.

With this in mind, it's easy to push away any new hobbies/subjects that would normally interfere.

Write everything you want to learn on 3x5 index cards. Put each card on the floor. Organize by priority, until you have 1 card left. Throw away everything else. That's what you're working on.

Check out "Getting Results the Agile Way: A Personal Results System for Work and Life" it was really helpful for me.

The most important thing for me in life has been focus. Pick 3 big goals for the year, 3 big goals for the month. At the start of the week pick 3 goals for the week. And each day pick 3 goals for the day.

You have to pick goals that you can accomplish in the time frame, and a limit of 3 makes it easy to keep the goals in your head.

The important thing is to always be moving towards something you think is important, and say no to the other things.

You have time for everything. Do it all.

Also, you can't afford not to do it all. For example, you mention starting a business. But it can be the case that that business fails unless you have a second business. If Elon Musk hadn't run both SpaceX and Tesla they would have been gone under (see his 60 minutes interview.)

You really can do it all. Htsthbjig's comment in this thread seems really good to me. this is only a problem until you capture some of hte value that Htsthbjig already has. get more of your projects out there.

This is not a problem with your ability to learn. The reason you forgot the subject you studied 12 months ago is because it was 12 MONTHS ago. I would suggest focusing on time management. 4 months is more than enough time to learn these new technical subjects if you make a solid game plan. Put in the hours. Work more than just 9-5. Schedule 1.5 hour blocks of learning. Find a friend to check your current understanding of the topic. This has worked well for me in the past.

I sometimes use the equivalent of a weighted decision matrix to prioritise between projects / things to learn about. I've written about this here: http://noisytyping.com/quantify-your-personal-values/

Even if you follow this or another strategy to cut down your options, you'll need to build the discipline to stop second-guessing yourself while you work on your chosen plan.

I'm not sure if it'll work for you, but the only way I managed to really study and master big subjects was slow and steady.

Study every day. It doesn't matter how long, how intense, how much material you cover. Just study every day. Sit down and look at the subject you need to study every day. If you get bored after ten minutes, do something else. But don't skip a day and say you'll make up for it by studying twice as long tomorrow. Just show up every day.

Hacker News is a stream of so many diverse topics and perhaps contra-productive if you want to cure your distracted mind.

I'm also thinking exactly like you and want to focus on Android programming and Java development but keep distracting myself with Linux Kernel books, pen testing with Python etc. I wish there were more advanced topics in narrow topics so that the cravings for deep understanding and knowledge and dream of awesomeness would be satisfied.

I suffer from the same problem.

MOOCs sometimes help me because they establish a weekly rhythm of homeworks/structure.

It's OK to let things go if they are not interesting enough (I don't finish all MOOCs/books/whatever).

I've read that learning everything at once is actually more efficient than focusing on one thing at a time, even if it is harder and more confusing in the beginning.

Regular times for learning probably help. Getting away, for example to a library or cafe might help.

You need a system external to yourself to guide your choices day to day. I recommend reading Getting Things Done by David Allen, and The Now Habit by Neil Fiore. These books might help you develop such a system.

(Specifically, Getthing Things Done is a good system for thinking strategically about what you need done, and The Now Habit keeps you working on the plan rather than getting distracted.)

OP here. Just returned to this thread after a nice day away from the computer. I'm sincerely flattered and grateful for every response in this thread. There is a great deal of advice and wisdom to absorb in here, so naturally any response I will provide now will not be adequate. The only thing I can give right now is my thanks. My Sunday will be spent going through these posts.

Thank you all again.


Start tracking your time with a simple app like https://github.com/projecthamster/hamster When you start the timer you should only focus on that one task. If you get distracted stop the timer. After a week or month you will have lots of info and it will be easier to decided what to do.


One need to read this. Helped me a lot during my 6th semester and I scored an almost perfect gpa that semester.

The author is one of the Top Writer on Quora and writes on productivity.

"I'm proud of the things we've done -- but I'm more proud of everything we said no to." -- Steve Jobs

Sounds like ADHD, diinished Executive Function. Get tested. Properly. (not being flippant, that is one of my problems too).

I'm a slow reader. As a result I am extremely selective with what I read. This has probably turned out to be one of my greatest assets to date.

Also don't feel bad for forgetting an entire module. It means you watched it passively, rather than actively tried to solve problems using the knowledge you had acquired.

Treat each thing you want to learn as a project, get some free project management software like asana or trello and carve it up into goals...schedule your time, map it out in the software...stick to the schedule....treat it like a job, create to do lists and calendars etc. then just follow thru!

A lot of people are talking about discipline and how to make yourself do the important things- but do you know what those things are?

My problem is always identifying my goals. Once I know where I am trying to go, I usually prioritize pretty easily.

Do you have goals? Do you know what is most important to you?

I have been diagnosed with ADHD, what you describe is precisely what I struggle with. I have difficulty prioritizing tasks, completing projects. I get distracted by exciting new endeavors, dive head long into them, only to become bored within a matter of days or weeks.

School is a schizophrenic endeavor by design, all the more so when you are passionate about learning. Once you graduate and commit to a project, the project's needs will dictate where you must spend your attention. Relax. This will resolve itself soon.

Few days ago, there was this post on HN. Go through it > Screw motivation, what you need is discipline Link: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=8976451

I'll give you my list of things I do when I'm in such a state:

* change the furniture of place in my apartment.

* go in libraries to work

* start working right away when you wake up

* set a 30 minutes timer and start working right away, if you get distracted reset the timer.

* coffee

* make lists of what I have to do

No one can be an expert at everything. Pick exactly one topic to get good at. Learn to ignore other topics, or just dabble in them for fun. It's very rewarding to learn one thing well.

When asked what he did better than everyone else, Warren Buffet said, "Allocate resources." Your problem is that you are not good at allocating your most precious resource: time.

you may find this video of use http://www.hanselman.com/blog/ItsNotWhatYouReadItsWhatYouIgn...

"It's not what you read, it's what you ignore"

I think everyone suffers from this to a certain extent. There is an overwhelming amount of info out there waiting to be consumed. We just need to get smarter about how to consume it

Time is finite. You cannot do everything you want to do. You must throw away 99% of your "Want to do's." It's the only way you'll make real progress.

Team up with other people.

I've recently organized a learning group doing the projects of some MOOC courses. My procrastination of finishing the homeworks magically disappeared.

This. It's the bond that opens up the mind. Feeling connected to other believers in the idea will instantly glue you to it. We are, after all pack animals. Trying to imbue importance to concepts without the associated human bond is really difficult. Some people do it effortlessly but I suspect that's because they are loaners from birth so they are used to creating their own self importance.

Recommended book: "I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What It Was" by Barbara Sher.

Not that it will solve your problem but it will give you some perspective on it.

I would say just start doing anything.

Deploying > Doing > Reading.

You don't have to do something super impressive to begin with. Just start with committing a line of code.

"How to get what you want" by Raymond Hull, 1969. Check out the Amazon reviews. It is a classic and starts with your question.


This is the story of my life, man. You can take a look at a piece Peter Drucker (the "Father of Management") wrote, for the Harvard Business Review, titled "Managing Oneself". Here's an excerpt:

""" We all have a vast number of areas in which we have no talent or skill and little chance of becoming even mediocre. In those areas a person - and especially a knowledge worker- should not take on work, jobs, and assignments. One should waste as little effort as possible on improving areas of low competence. It takes far more energy and work to improve from incompetence to mediocrity than it takes to improve from first-rate performance to excellence. And yet most people - especially most teachers and most organizations - concentrate on making incompetent performers into mediocre ones. Energy, resources, and time should go instead to making a competent person into a star performer. """

You can also take a look at David Allen's "Getting Things Done".

I found that the problems you are talking about, for me, have stemmed from poor time management. I didn't know where time went, and I would do/study something, neglecting another thing and then recalling that it's been ages I haven't looked at the darn thing and completely forgot it. So...

So it's not visiting something for a while that screws things up. I needed to make sure that I visit everything at least once a week and make it constant. Not ignore it for a year and then try to get back to it.

Naturally, you can't do everything daily..

I studied Electronics Engineering and I graduated few months ago. I organize my time (think "Country/State budget", finite) into 4 axes(think "Departments"). I assume it's a 16 hour waking time. Each "Department" gets a specific "budget/time"

Axes/Departments: Engineering (9 hours), Business (3hours), Lifestyle (2hours), Culture(2h).

These are the core of who I am/want to be.

- Engineering:

* Reservoir Engineering/Characterisation (General + specific: NMR, sonic, induction logging, etc).

* Electronics Engineering.

* Physics (Landau & Lifschitz, Feynman Lectures, Atomic/Nuclear).

* Mathematics (Old college courses : Piskounov, Demidovich. New ones: Kolmogorov).

* Brush up my rational mechanics (well, basically stuff we did in college in the engineering course).

* Signal Processing (Oppenheim, etc).

* Programming: (Python, currently building an application). C (for microcontrollers and much more). Erlang (because I want to). In addition to the stuff I'm using. * - Lifestyle: Fitness, time with family and friends: Because I found out I was neglecting my loved ones in my quest.

- Culture/Self improvement:

* Short term goal: Fluent in the 6 official U.N languages (3 down, 1 on in progress). Then German.

* Learning how to draw and paint, learn to read music and play guitar.

* Literature (raised with French literature classics, touched a bit of Russian, keeping that going).

* Raised in the military, so I'm interested in weaponery and intelligence.

- Business:

* Economics 101. * Management. * Business.

I divide each day in 16 slots, I have a spreadsheet with colored blocks(each "axis/department" has a color) and make sure I touch everyone of those aspects multiple times a week.

So I may skip today's session of something, but I make it up the next day.

Many of these may not "bring" something or advance my "career", but the scope of all of this is a lifetime. For me, it'd be a shame to die being completely clueless in Physics or saying something "I forgot how we went from Green and Stokes to Ostrogradsky".. I want to be able to say on my death bed that I died an Engineer.

I'm 27 now, completely ignorant, without talent, but a stubborn motherfucker. It also help I'm addicted to reading and find it satisfying on its own.

"The art of leadership is saying no, not saying yes. It is very easy to say yes." -- Tony Blair

You are saying yes to waaayyyy too much.

This is the first time I run into a quote I like so much from a speaker I dislike so much... I don't think I'll be able to quote him.

Then here's another quote for you: "Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater." -- Thomas Murner

I've had a similar problem in learning large swathes of complex material. I found myself often tired and easily distracted. Modafinil helped with the tiredness and kept me more intensely focused than I normally would be. Flashcards in question/answer format helped with making sure I remembered the core facts of what I was trying to learn. Not sure if this will help but it worked for me somewhat.

perhaps this is the difference between Elon Musk and regular people? Everyone has an ego but few actually "do the work"


Same problem my friend. The only difference is that you have a girlfriend, same since almost 12 months. xD

This said trying to be completely free of condescension:

What you are feeling is inexperience. It gets better.

Do only one thing. When done with that, move onto some else.

The first thing on your list is the one to do.

That's just the brain getting a dopamine hit.

Just like checking a Facebook timeline.

It gets addicting.

Try to slowly step away from it.

Sounds like you want something different

gain solitude & figure out your current desire

You are not alone mate..

What works for me: start them all and see which one sticks.

At least you've got a girlfriend.

This also happens to me constantly

Problem: Information Overload. Solution (immediate): Cut input. Solution (long term): Stop wasting time with BS.

Do NOT start to read books / weblogs to solve "productivity problems". Biggest bullshit you could do right now. This will only increase your overload. Not all of these books are bad, but read them later, it will not help you right now. Instead do this:



No exception. Be absolutely strict about it. It is only one week - it might change your life, so no exception, not one single minute. Send emails now about being offline for one week to most important people. CLOSE ALL BROWSER TABS before shutting down the computer and then put your computer into a wardrobe or in a place you can not see it. Hide it.

-> Calm down your neurons.

Sleep a lot. DO NOT WATCH TV. Do not read any books. Eat very good, this means healthy, not much. Eat lots of vitamines, fruits, salad, etc., no toxic waste like meat from industrial production (too many hormons and medics), no sugar, no alcohol, no drugs. Spend much time with things that let you feel physically good, e.g. taking a bath, massage, sports, etc. Go outside, walk, move your body, WASTE TIME sitting on some sunny place doing nothing. Do some meditation or just sit down and try not to control your brain, just let your ideas flow like clouds in the sky.

-> you will feel better after two days, but DO NOT TOUCH THE COMPUTER AND DO NOT WATCH TV. Do not read books. Go on with relaxing and feeling good. If you start feeling an urge to "do something", go out and move your body or ask your girlfriend what she would like to do.

-> After the week passed, you will realize that you are still alive and that you did not miss anything. You do not need a computer to have a good life. Interesting experience, try it yourself.

-> Now write down what you want to achieve the next week and what exact task you want to accomplish, just a few words are ok, but this will be your plan for the week and you must follow it strictly. Before startig the computer again, write down what exact task you want to solve with it.

-> Stop using the internet like a news paper or a tv show. Stop visiting this site. Stop using any social networks, twitter, reddit, imgur, whatever. Only do things you need for accomplishing your task.

-> Start using the internet as a place where you can look up things, when you hit a wall and need some specific information.

-> Still stop watching TV. It will help a lot. From time to time download some interesting movie or documentary, but absolutely avoid being radiated with an non-controllable unidirectional information stream.

You are now in a special condition and there is much more to explore about this state of mind, but you have to control your input very strictly. Be aware of the dangers and you will succeed. Good Luck!

I can relate to this. A friend once described me as a vector with infinite magnitude and randomly changing direction. At various points in life I have occupied myself with studying everything from Biology and functional programming to Indian Philosophy and Sanskrit. But I never stick to any one project for long. A few months into my study program, I shift to the next shiny thing that catches my attention.

There is a saving grace though: the set of things that I'm interested in remains constant, so that I am not endlessly moving into newer and newer areas, but cycling between a fixed set of subjects. Right now I have come back to functional programming and doing courses from Coursera. I am at the moment quite determined to see this through, but knowing myself as well as I do, I fully expect to jump to something else in a couple of month's time.

My current strategy to tackle this syndrome is as follows:

* Accept that you are interested in multiple subjects and that you may never be a world-class expert in any of them. However, you can be a competent generalist who has sufficient familiarity with a bunch of fields and this can be valuable. It's also a probably more interesting way to lead your life than specializing in one field.

* Keep a journal of your learning activities so that you can learn more about yourself over time. I have been writing every day since 2010 and its fascinating when I look back at what I was doing this time of the year a few years back.

* When you start a study project, focus on short sprints instead of the long marathon. Try to accumulate concrete achievements and most importantly, aim for a closure to your sprint. For example, if you start a book, declare victory once you have studied 80% of the chapters. If you start on a Mathematical topic, upload your notes and problems you solve somewhere where you can look them up later, and declare your sprint complete once you have dome some 100-120 non-routine problems.

* Realize that your effort is not completely wasted. I first flirted with Haskell in November 2012 but later dropped it and moved on to something else. The next time I took up Haskell again was about a year later in November 2013. I had forgotten most of what I had learned, BUT the second time it was much, much easier to cover the same ground again and I went further in my learning that time. Ditto for Sanskrit. I first tried to learn Sanskrit in August 2013, but later dropped out of my study program. The next time I took it up was in June 2014, and I stuck with it long enough to complete the first part of a correspondence course - a concrete achievement!

I am still struggling with the random-vector syndrome, but I am much better at coping with it. I "know" that the solution is to focus on just one thing, but that strikes me as a supremely uninteresting way to lead my life.

wanting to do everything is not a virtue. want less do more.

If the "fun part" of learning or working on a project is analogous to the climbing of a mountain, you have to acknowledge that there are parts of learning and working that have natural plateaus - you wander in them for a long time and you don't seem to be climbing at all. There are only two ways to consistently get through those spots: by habit, or by obligation.

By obligation is the more familiar method for a student: You were told to do your homework and study, now you have to deliver. And then you fear not fulfilling it so you get into a panic at the last minute and scramble to produce the image, if not the reality, of someone who knows what they're doing and learned what they were supposed to learn. Somehow you retain some of that knowledge and so you do become more competent, but you associate the process of getting there with the stressful experience of delivering to a deadline.

Doing it by habit means that there is a part of your time in the day where you do some subset of "important but boring" things, entirely for yourself. Not because somebody told you to. This is the sane way to learn things and also the only one that you can sustain throughout your life.

That is, tomorrow, instead of sitting in your comfort zone at home and watching yet another lecture or skimming yet another blog post, you go out to a coffee shop and you sit there for at least one hour to study "the doing of work." You don't dare get up until you've seen at least a tiny fraction of productivity. Maybe you learned one fact, or you figured out one part of a math problem, or you set up your development environment, or you wrote one important business email. If you accomplish it at the start of the hour, you keep going, you find one more thing to do, and then one more after that, and so on.

This feels horrible in the homework mindset, because the goal there is to minimize effort and maximize output, to procrastinate and then rush to get the grade. Here the goal is akin to going to the gym, to practice putting in effort, to get used to the idea of everyday struggle so that you don't fear it. Here, it does not matter how little your output was, if your effort was good. And if you are frustrated with what you are trying to work on, allow yourself multiple options. You shouldn't do only bicep curls every day, and you shouldn't do the same with intellectual work.

The homework mindset will creep in and say that this free time should be carved up, rebalanced, and associated with deadlines again, in line with whatever goals and values the parents, teachers, or institutions presently uphold, you should be progressing as fast as the course does, but that is not true. You don't know what is efficient, you don't know what is valuable, and you don't know exactly where you're going in the future. You won't progress exactly as fast as any course, you will breeze through some things and be stuck on others. You will have to try to know. Defer to your own motivations in practicing the doing of work, because sitting there dumbfounded by material you cannot bring yourself to engage with is a good way to crush your spirit and make you feel incapable. This is true even if it should lead to failure within your coursework, as that failure, in tandem with knowing that you were actually practicing and learning things each day, will indicate that you were lying to yourself about what you want and why. That is more important than simply maintaining the image of competence.

Try make sure you are actually as healthy as possible. Maybe you are eating or drinking something that makes you unable to focus, or not enough of something else - experiment, try things. Maybe you need to get out so that when you come back, you're excited about what you're doing. There are many things to try. A well-rounded life needs to try as many of them as possible as early as possible.

I feel ya mate. :(

If pain to do what you need, start holding yourself publicly accountable.

Logging problem solving research and development for yourself through a shared Gist (http://gist.github.com) might be useful to show your work, and own changes by audit trailing yourself.

While diary blogging is normal, I find real difficulty reading deeper meaning writing from a lack of change history detail that could go deeper to task of showing your work and how you got there.

> As a CS student / junior engineer

A would suggest you learn the difference between CS and Engineering.

I'm not sure whether you intended your comment to be both pedantic and faecitious, but it unfortunately comes across as unconstructive.

> A would suggest you learn the difference between CS and Engineering.

You suck, sir!

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