I read How to Beat Procrastination when it was written, and have applied some of it to my own life. That post is somewhat theoretical, and significant parts smell a bit like BS. But that’s okay, because I sort of believe the theory – namely that you can look at the four factors Luke mentions (positive: value, expectancy; negative: impulsiveness, delay) and figure out which ones apply to the situation you’re in, and then fix it, and you have a shot at reducing the procrastination behavior.

Without further ado:

  1. Setting a Timer - set your timer for 30 minutes. If you work straight through with minimal interruption, give yourself a reward. (Candy, coffee, Reddit, break, etc.) This increases the short-term value of the work you’re doing. If you notice you wasted time during the 30 minute session, turn off the timer, take a break (get water but not food) and try setting the timer again.

  2. Keep a Planning Doc - I noticed I was procrastinating because I didn’t know how to achieve the thing I wanted to achieve, or because it became too complicated for me to keep in my head. Expectancy was low – since it was complicated or confusing, I had a low probability of doing the task correctly. For some reason, my brain always jumps to “must step away from computer / take a break” when this happens. However, when I’m on the clock (because I set a timer in #1), I would usually notice before getting distracted, and so I would recognize it as an instance of “needs to plan”. Planning in my head doesn’t work, so I keep a planning document (in a text editor) open at all times, and I write my plan in it. <p> Planning gives you clock time credit, so feel good if you switch away from your actual work to write something in the planning doc. It is usually worth it, because then when you switch back to your actual work, you always have this context right there. It’s been very helpful to have enough screen real estate for the planning doc to always be up, so I don’t have to alt-tab to refer to it.

  3. Music - I noticed music was preventing me from achieving complicated goals because it was very distracting. So I turned it off, and had some very successful and productive timed sessions. However, when I was demotivated and didn’t want to start the clock, music was helpful in motivating me. So there’s an interesting middle ground there. My current strategy is to listen to upbeat music without trying to do anything else when I feel tired or demotivated, and once I get motivated enough, turn it off and set the timer.

  4. Website Blocker - block all the soul-sucking websites. I occasionally disable this when I’m letting myself goof off, but disabling it is enough steps that I realize I’m doing it, which is not always the case if there’s no blocker.

  5. Stimulants - Caffeine raises my mood and improves my motivation levels. Modafinil appears to improve my motivation levels slightly, but it doesn’t raise my mood at all (in fact, it sometimes seems to give me various minor aches and pains), so I take it much less often.

  6. Sleep - When I’m tired, I’m thoroughly demotivated to do much of anything that seems like work. Modafinil and caffeine can help with this, but they both appear to be short-term solutions, in that they allow me to move my sleep requirements around, but not to save overall time. However, melatonin is another story: it knocks me out quickly and thoroughly, so I get more restful sleep and I naturally wake up earlier than I otherwise would have. Napping is something that can help here too; I am still working on napping in the middle of the day or at weird times. (I still feel awkward doing so, even when it would obviously be beneficial.)

I’ll add to this as I learn more things.