Table of contents
Tricks for fighting the anxiety that causes procrastination
- Start listening to music; it may help drown out any unpleasant thoughts that are making you feel bad, or distract you from unpleasant thoughts / feelings.
- On the other hand, I've found myself ending up wasting time by listening to the music and daydreaming while doing so.
- Start working on one tiny little thing towards your goal; it can be a stupid little thing. Once you start making forward progress you may feel better.
- Force yourself to finish some small part of the task every day.
- BP.IO - Pixel Dailies
- "Pixel Dailies is a pixel art group I started on twitter in mid 2014. Based on the successful art group Sketch Dailies, Pixel Dailies (PD) is a place for people to practise their pixel art by doing pixel art every day. Under such huge time constraints, you can’t afford to endlessly iterate on a piece, rather you just have to get it done and move on to the next day. Personally I’ve found my pixel art skills to improve significantly..."
- Pay someone else to do the task for you.
- I have often noticed that I will feel anxious about projects that are important to me, like dating, but I won't feel anxious about projects that are important to someone else and cause them anxiety, like john's resume / need to apply for jobs. For a while I was thinking it would be nice to set up an arrangement with people where we would take care of each other's anxiety-producing tasks, but now I realize that I can treat my day job like I'm doing that for the co-founders at Infer, and I can pay other people with the money I earn to do the things that cause me anxiety, like putting up posters for my gf poster idea.
- If you have a tense feeling in your chest, breathe deeply for ten seconds, then breathe out slowly, to get rid of the tense feeling.
- Do what you want to be in the mood to do.
- You can also get stuff done that you don’t feel like doing, just by starting to do it. Your brain only resists up until the point you actually start the job, at which point it starts to focus on doing it. You do what you want to be in the mood to do, and soon you’re in the mood to do it.
- This sounds like when Notch said, "The trick to being creative is to not think, just do."
- I procrastinated about sending out an email to my company on behalf of David's gas startup.
- Cody: "So, I started out in the Navy as a nuclear field electrician’s mate. The navy’s nuclear program is widely known as the most challenging academic program in the worlds militaries. We spent 10-18 hours/day studying lots and lots of theory. Just before finals in the second year of training, i was disqualified for medical reasons (an existing stomach condition) and went to the fleet as a normal electrician. When I got to the ship and went on my first trouble call to a space that had a light out, all i could think about was how the AC sine wave created a magnetic field in the ballast while also heating up the starter contacts, which when closed caused an inductive kick to vaporize the mercury in the bulb and how that the energy from the mercury was invisible until it goes through the phosphorous powder lining the bulb. I was thinking about all that when really, I just needed to check the light bulb, starter or ballast. The navy has a term for that exact phenomenon. They call it ‘Nuking it’. I see the same thing in you a lot. You’ve obviously spent many many hours studying everything you can get your hands on related to programming and many other things. Sometimes though, it can really get in the way. Its great to know and understand high level intricate concepts and know how things ‘should’ be done, but there’s a practical side to all things too. I think there were several times, where it was clear you wanted to do things the way you were taught/learned on your own, while Naveed wanted and/or expected something else."
- "Keep a diary–a diary in which you ought to record your triumphs in the application of these principles. Be specific. Give names, dates, results. Keeping such a record will inspire you to greater efforts; and how fascinating these entries will be when you chance upon them some evening, years from now!" - 'How to Stop Worrying and Start Living' by Dale Carnegie
The idea here is to take detailed introspective notes whenever I procrastinate or don't procrastinate, and hopefully over time I'll be able to figure out all of the factors that cause me to procrastinate or help me avoid procrastinating.
- 2016.09.24 - For the past few days I've been logging what I've done every half-hour (I'm using Google Calendar) and it definitely seems to be helping me to stay focused. Like Andy Grove said, "What gets measured gets managed." And I remember Yang being a meticulous logger of the use of his time.
- The one problem I'm running into is that in the evenings I'll end up relaxing, watching some videos, and the next thing I know it's 1am and I need to go to sleep. So I'll need to figure out how to deal with that situation. In the past I think StayFocusd worked pretty well.
- 2016.10.10 - I'm noticing that what's happening is that I'm trying to solve a problem (an error while coding), I don't know what to do next, as a result I start to get tense and anxious, and I reflexively open a new tab and go to some fun website (usually nytimes.com) to relieve the feeling of anxiety.
- 2016.10.21 - It was 10pm and I was feeling very tense in my chest about starting to work on a huge assignment for work, so I breathed deeply for ten seconds, held it for ten seconds, then breathed out for ten seconds. I felt a little better but still a little tense, so I breathed deeply for ten seconds and then almost immediately started breathing out for another 10 seconds (so I wasn't holding my breath for ten seconds before starting to breathe out), and I again felt a little better than before. That made me feel good enough that I could say to myself, "Just get started; start walking the path, start taking steps in the direction you need to go in." And after 30 minutes of work I felt that almost all of the tension had gone away.
- It's now 12:54pm; I woke up ~10am (it's a Saturday). I've been finding it much, much easier to work as soon as I wake up, when I'm feeling very well-rested, before I've even gotten dressed or commuted to where I normally work. What I'm noticing is that I have more patience; when I encounter problems while programming, it doesn't feel painful. But when I'm tired and I encounter the same problem, it does feel painful, and that pain is what causes me to switch to reading the NYT or watching YouTube. So maybe one way to beat procrastination is to take a nap and start working again when you've gotten some rest.
- This reminds me of when I was studying for the LSAT and I would study for a few hours early in the day and then goof off in the evening. And Itzak Perlman's article on how he practiced the violin, where he said he would do four hours of intense practice a day and then stop.
- It's now 7:05pm and I just got done spending two hours in the gym, taking a shower, and biking to the GSB cafeteria, and I'm now doing work with no one around me. There's some quiet muzak playing but it actually isn't bothering me; I'm finding myself very able to stay in-the-zone and not get frustrated. I just generally don't feel any discomfort at all, I feel like I'm able to totally focus on my work and have a general good feeling (like a very subtle runner's high). I also bought healthy food and ate some Fage yogurt, so I think not eating crap food / bread / high glycemic-load food after going to the gym is helping me to feel good.
- 2017.01.04 - It was ~5pm and I was having a lot of trouble getting myself to work (I was wasting time on YouTube, etc.) so I took a one-hour nap, felt way better, relaxed for a bit, then put on some Magic Tapes, and I was still feeling anxious about the stuff I needed to get done, so I just forced myself to do some stupid small task that would make forward progress, and as soon as I got started I felt my little remaining anxiety melt away. So this is a good way to be productive.
- Also, recently at the gym I've been following a particular heuristic: Don't stop working out. If you're taking a break, that means you're using too much weight. Just lower the weight until you can keep going. That's exactly what they taught us at CrossFit, but I'd stopped doing it. And tonight it's occurred to me that I can use the same heuristic when programming / getting work done: If I have a task in front of me and I find myself daydreaming / procrastinating, then the task is probably too big, and I need to figure out a way to break it up into smaller pieces, so I can tackle just the first piece.
- 2017.01.31 - Today I got everything done for my visa, which was something I'd been worrying about and procrastinating about for months. I just used Workflowy to write down all of the things I needed to take care of, and then calmly took care of them one at a time, like the hourglass analogy in "How to Stop Worrying and Start Living", starting with the one that was easiest for me to motivate myself to do (bicycle to Walgreens to get passport photos), and then proceeding to the next task which I felt I could tackle (these were ones that involved an investment of some time but not much money). By the time I got done all of the tasks which I felt I could motivate myself to do today, I had enough psychological momentum that I just went and did the rest of them as well (paying the $200 visa application fee, buying a plane ticket, getting a hotel reservation).
- 2017.02.02 - One trick I'm carrying over from blitz chess to my dayjob is this: if I'm feeling very anxious about a particular task, or I need to make some decision and I don't feel ready to make it, what I'll do now is look to see if there's some other task which I can do instead which I am confident needs to get done and don't feel any anxiety about doing. That way my brain gets some extra time to mull over the more anxiety-inducing task, and oftentimes I have some idea come to me or I'm able to more-easily see how to proceed.
- I did this on the LSAT by skipping questions when I was stuck and coming back to them later, with fresh eyes.
- In blitz what I'll often do to keep a time advantage if I don't see any obvious move is to advance my pawns on the queen-side one-square-a-time with their first move instead of the usual two squares, or I'll do some kind of stalling move with a major piece that doesn't really change my position.
- Today I was seriously stressing out about a programming task, so I decided to first do some of the Vue tutorial, since I knew I wanted to do an hour of that every day, and then later when I was still feeling stressed out I went and ate my chicken, since I knew for sure I wanted to do that and I knew it would take about 30 minutes. My goal was to avoid wasting time just sitting at my computer without knowing what to do next.
- 2017.02.11 - I've been procrastinating like crazy during the day, and it's now 12:15am and I can't help but feel like it's way easier for me to focus now that the GSB library is totally empty and I'm feeling kind of exhausted. It feels like a lot of my nervous energy is gone. IDK what to make of it, but I remember Chung's comment about Bob doing most of his work in the middle of the night, and Joel Spolsky's writings about programmers needing space and a lack of distractions.
- Yesterday I did some things that I think may help me overcome procrastination:
- I already had my 'hosts' file blocking all of the websites listed in StayFocusd, but Chrome wasn't using the hosts file (I'm guessing it's some kind of optimization on their end to ensure that websites continue to work), so I:
- Set my StayFocusd to 1 minute per day instead of 10 minutes. I couldn't set it to 0 minutes (I'm guessing because then the 'Settings' page would have to always be disabled).
- I've noticed that even looking at those websites for a minute or two becomes a kind of 'gateway drug' to spending hours on them. It's best to just never visit them at all, and then I gradually lose the urge to visit them.
- I used the 'Nuclear option' in StayFocusd to totally block those websites.
- I set my 'New Tab' page in Chrome to http://www.sas.calpoly.edu/asc/ssl/procrastination.html by downloading an extension called 'Replace New Tab Page'.
- Also, this morning I used two habits that I need to internalize:
- Schedule yourself! Don't try to keep track of things in your head.
- Current example: I need to move stuff in my storage space into a smaller storage space, and I called to figure out how it would work. I then thought, "Hmm..maybe I should do it now...", but I had already made a mental commitment today to focus 100% on coding. So instead I just scheduled it for tomorrow at the same time.
- Use a marker or pen to put a small dot somewhere on each of your hands, as a way to remind yourself of something that you've committed to focus on today.
- Current example: I've noticed over the past few days I'll make a commitment in the morning to not waste time reading nonsense all day, but I inevitably end up doing it anyway. I just get sucked into it and lose track of time. I don't want to write out a whole sentence on my hand and so instead I'm just putting small dots on the outside of my thumbs as a frequent reminder.
- It may be best to change the location and appearance of the dot every so often (every day? every week?) so that you don't become desensitized to it. You want to have it draw your attention.
- I'm noticing that, immediately after having woken up, and feeling very well-rested, it's very easy for me to not go to time-wasting websites (FB, NYT).
- I'm also noticing that as I try to work, I know what I'm trying to achieve, but I don't know what to do next to achieve it, and that is making me feel stressed out, which is in turn leading to a compulsive desire to start looking at easy-to-consume junk on the internet (news, etc).
- 2017.08.26 - I'd been procrasting for maybe a week or two and a few things seem to have helped me get out of it:
- I used my hosts file to block YouTube, Twitter (but not TweetDeck), Facebook, all news websites. I'd been spending a ton of time each day on those, and I was telling myself for a while, "It's OK, you can spend a little time each day looking at these and still be productive", but I can't, really.
- I've been working from the restaurant section of a hotel, and I had been facing towards the windows, so there was a lot of movement in my field of view, but I've switched to facing towards the wall, so that there's very little movement in my field of view.
- I'd been eating badly; sugary food each day. When I would ask myself, "How do you feel?" I would feel fine, but I think it may have been giving me subtle sugar-lows which were causing me just enough anxiety to make me want to watch YouTube / etc. In the past day or two I've stopped eating sugary food and I don't feel the same kind of anxiety when thinking about work that I'd felt previously.
- Today I ate a good yogurt that I'd avoided buying in the past because it's a bit out-of-my way to go get it, but I think I may keep buying it.
- All I'm doing is working or taking care of chores, with my only "fun" thing being to look at TweetDeck, but I have Twitter and YouTube blocked so that helps keep me from getting sucked into the rabbit hole. So in the evening I'm not watching YouTube or playing videogames or anything fun like that. Last night I just kept working.
- I started trading emails with Martin Connor (a "potential customer") to ask him questions related to the rhyme-product I'm working on, and I think that helped a little with keeping me motivated to keep working.
- I spent time looking for and cataloguing forums and websites that would cater to potential customers, I created accounts on all of the active forums, and I asked a question in one of the forums, and I think interacting with potential customers like that may have helped me stay motivated.
- I'm listening to music on Spotify that I'd gotten from recording the music preferences of Notch / etc. It's "Dense & Pika" right now.
- I've also been thinking a lot about Tom Francis' advice to "Do what you want to be in the mood to do" and I've been finding it very helpful.
- I'm getting more and more productive.
- Having a bunch of simple tasks that you're excited about getting done really helps.
- Also it gets easier to avoid YouTube / news / FB the more days you do it. The first day you try to do it is the worst. It gets easier every day after that.
- I'm noticing that's what's been happening for the past few days is that I kind of "fall into" procrastination: I wake up and do something that seems harmless: I check my email on my phone, then look at a few different websites (NYT, WashPo, RPS, Twitter), but that ends up burning 30-40 minutes. And then I go eat, but while eating I'm watching an Aubrey de Grey video (which again, my brain is telling me "This isn't procrastinating, this is important."), and then when I get back to my computer, I say "I'm going to try to do some more 'work' on my SENS open-source project", and then after a while of "working" on that, my brain goes "Ok, you can 'take a break' for a while and play some games", and then the rest of the day is gone.
- I think the key to beating this is to fight from the very start: Don't check your phone when you wake up; maybe bury it somewhere hard to find. I read somewhere (maybe Twitter) that someone really benefited from not checking email until after halfway through the day. And don't watch Aubrey de Grey videos while eating, because that leads you to burn time once you're finished eating; instead think about your actual work. Also, do work as soon as you wake up to make sure you're "in the mood" / "in the groove" ASAP. Don't think "I'll get started after I eat", because that leads you to make lots of "I'll get started after X" decisions.