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How Do You Get Work Done? 1153

canuck asks: "I am currently a university student and have a major problem: being able to simply sit down and get work done. I can set aside a day to work, whether it is homework or contract work, and I will be lucky to have an hour done before dinner time. The only time I can actually get solid work done seems to be after midnight under a lot of pressure (ie. a deadline the next day). This has led to too many 5 a.m. nights and turning down too many invitations to go out only to stay in and accomplish nothing. I have stopped playing games, stopped watching TV, tried reading the Seven Habits book, and am currently seeing what classical music does for me. I don't think I have ADHD, and I am not sure what else to try. If it is computer work, the web is always a click away, and I can always escape to my imagination. I know many of you will have had the same problem. Can anyone please give advice on how to overcome this problem, be it a little trick, medication, or anything else?"
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How Do You Get Work Done?

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  • by Delphix ( 571159 ) * on Sunday July 27, 2003 @12:22PM (#6544694)
    Exercise would be my first recommendation. It will keep your sleep habits in line pretty well. Physical activity seems to be what's missing from most of our lives today. If I don't make it to the gym, my schedule will slip quickly to 1AM, 2AM, 4AM...which isn't good since I left college years ago ;-) The other thing I would recommend is finding a buddy to go do exercise with you. It helps if you're both accountable to each other for showing up. And just having someone to do it with you doesn't hurt. This carries over to work as well. I'd imagine you sit there thinking about a million things, but you can't concentrate on what you need to do because it seems like you can put it off. The later, you wind up with many things to do and little time. You get a bunch of work done at this point, but there's so much you have trouble keeping up with it. I had the very same problem in college. Another thing that might help you is getting a job a couple hours a week. As long as I've had something constant to do, it's kept me going. Just don't get something that follows you home...go there, do your work and then head to class or do some homework. Honestly, part of it is just sheer will as well. You have to resist the urge to just read a page and put stuff down. Set a bedtime for yourself and a wake up time for yourself and follow them. That's about the best advice I can give you. If you do have some mental disorder such as ADHD only a psychologist can diagnose it. Although many times it's over diagnosed.
    • Recommend exercise on /.? R u nutz?

      I would recommend some of this []. But remember, use it sparingly, dont drink it direclty from the bottle! :)

      • Recommend exercise on /.? R u nutz?

        ya u r right, we dun like even typing in all the lettrs.
      • I wonder how much of that stuff you'd have to drink straight in order to kill yourself...

        Like 1, 2 teaspoons?
      • by enthused i swear ( 641133 ) on Sunday July 27, 2003 @01:10PM (#6545090)
        I would NOT recommend caffeine of any kind. In fact, stop drinking it all together. I used to have the same problem you did, and nothing seemed to be able to change it. There have been many threads on ./ about the effects of caffeine, and for more information I suggest looking there. Basically, when you need sleep and take caffeine, the caffeine blocks your body from feeling tired, while still having all of the effects of drowsiness. You're brain is asleep, but your body is awake and you lose cognitive functions.

        I used to be very addicted to caffeine, but quit because if i missed drinking coffee or a coke, I started to get horrible headaches, and it just scared me too much. As an added bonus, my productivity shot up quite a bit. It really is all about regulating sleep for maximum concentration. I highly recommend a normal sleep schedule and stay away from caffeine. (IANAD)
        • by fafaforza ( 248976 ) on Sunday July 27, 2003 @01:48PM (#6545347)
          I don't think the problem here is lack of energy, but rather procrastination. People procrastinate for various reasons. Whether you absolutely hate what you have to do, or whether you are sure that whatever you come up with will not be acceptable in quality, at which point you blow it off til 1AM the night before, and blame subpar results on not giving it much effort in the first place.

          A better approach would be trying to analyze why exactly the author of this Ask Slashdot is pushing work off til the last possible moment.

          This [] book might help him get a firmer grip on understanding the exact reason. It has a chapter on procrastination and seems to address exactly what he described.

          Good luck.
          • by Lemmy Caution ( 8378 ) on Sunday July 27, 2003 @02:38PM (#6545623) Homepage
            There's a split here between those who look for moral explanations, and those who look for explanations in substrata.

            I'd try changing diet and habits like caffiene first. Attentive mechanisms in the brain are neurochemical, like everything else in the brain. I know it's a horrifying idea for some, but the fact is that we are physical, material beings, and our minds and personalities are products of that physicality. If those basic changes don't help, then it's appropriate to look at self-help or personality-based issues. But all the self-help in the world won't do a bit of good if you're going against hardware.
            • by commodoresloat ( 172735 ) on Sunday July 27, 2003 @04:14PM (#6546211)
              Mind and body are really one and the same; the split between them is artificial. So changing diet, exercise, etc., will not just improve the physical aspects of attentiveness but also the mental/emotional. I think as you exercise more, quit caffeine, or eat better, you might find that your motivation increases and you may find yourself facing the emotional challenges in your personality in a healthier way.
              • by Lemmy Caution ( 8378 ) on Sunday July 27, 2003 @04:50PM (#6546447) Homepage
                I agree with this 95% - but I think a hardware/software metaphor isn't too stretched here. There are some "levels of analysis" that are more effective at the software/mind/thought/personality level, and some that are more effective at the endocrinology/neurology/physical health level.

                But one place, among many, that the metaphor breaks down in that there's a less graceful degradation in computer technology. A broken computer just doesn't work; there's only a limited range in which hardware problems will appear as system behaviour problems. A body which is having "problems" will still apparently continue to operate the same for quite some time, especially for very subtle things like concentration, attention, mental energy, etc. Because the brain and body degrade more gracefully, it's harder to distinguish between high-level and low-level causes for issues.
        • IANAD either, but I find that caffine helps me in moderation. Moderation being what most /.'ers probably call insanely low levels ;-)

          I drink 1-2 cups of green tea a day. This gives me a small level of caffine on a daily basis. If I miss a day or two, no problem, but if I miss a month or two, I start to see how my schedule slips.... I also try to get 8 hrs of sleep a night, etc.

          Bear in mind, I do have ADD (official diagnosis), so your milage may vary.

          I think too many people use Caffine as a way of staying awake when they should be sleeping. This is a big problem. Excersize also helps, but the caffine helps me too.

          My general advice is:

          1: Try to live a healthy lifestyle-- eat well, sleep well, excersize.

          2: Small ammounts of caffine within this framework are not a problem but don't use it to abuse your body.

          3: Experiment with avoiding things like tobacco, alcohol, caffine etc. and see how your body responds.
    • pyDance or Stepmania (Score:3, Informative)

      by tempmpi ( 233132 )
      I would recommend pyDance [] or Stepmania [] for exercise in a fun, hasslefree and open source flavor.
      You just need a dance mat and a PSX2PC adapter to start. You can do it at home, you can start on a slow and easy level and get better while seeing the success in your scores and a half hour can easily get your shirt soaked with sweat.
      • by Justin Ames ( 582967 ) on Sunday July 27, 2003 @06:59PM (#6547134)
        Actually, last year I went to and bought to of their ignition 2.0 pads and a copy of DDR (Dance Dance Revolution), after playing DDR once in the arcade. It has made me much more fit and I have noticed a sharp increase in my energy levels and metabolism. It is not monotanous like exercise, and it is a quick 30 min, full-body cardiovascular workout (you must use your entire body to keep yourself balanced). I'd seriously recommend this to anyone, don't worry about looking foolish, once you get good at it you will be quite impressive. If you don't even want to initially invest the money in the pads, go to and try to find an arcade near you that has it, and spend one or two dollars to test it out. So far this year, I have gotten about 7 friends addicted to this game. My Computer Science buddies and I at Clemson play it during coding sessions to clear our mind, not to mention it's a good way to reward yourself for hard-work. -Justin Ames
    • Gumption traps (Score:5, Interesting)

      by RobotWisdom ( 25776 ) on Sunday July 27, 2003 @12:52PM (#6544954) Homepage
      Some of the best advice I've seen in print is in Pirsig's "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance". But the details are hazy, so I'll give you my persoanl take:

      - if you're struggling within yourself, you're lost. Learn to recognise this mental state (of internal struggle) and drop it immediately.

      - instead, look with detachment at the 'lazy' half of the struggle. The more clearly you see it, the less power it will have.

      - once the laziness is clearly seen, visualise yourself beginning the task, in detail. You can do this lying in bed or anywhere, but the important thing is to get over the initial hump, and sort out a clear picture of the first steps you need to take.

      It's this startup-barrier that's the real problem, but reducing it to a manageable size is just a question of thinking it out clearly (not sweating, exercising, or promising rewards or threats).

      • Re:Gumption traps (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Max Webster ( 210213 ) on Sunday July 27, 2003 @02:44PM (#6545657)
        Excellent advice. I find that it's easy to leave important things on the to-do list if they're big and nebulous ("Do project X", "Solve problem Y"). But identifying the first small task can break the logjam. How many household chores are held up because the first step is "buy drain cleaner" or "find 3/4-inch screws"?

        In the case of a student, maybe it's "look for book X in the library" or "re-read chapter Y", or "write some header comments in each file", or "write a function to parse these strings". After that, the other steps become clearer.

        • by HanzoSan ( 251665 ) * on Sunday July 27, 2003 @03:18PM (#6545847) Homepage Journal

          I dont think its about time management, its about how you spend your time. You dont have to be organized, when I solve a problem I solve the complicated part first and then work on the easy part.

          In school I read chapter after chapter just going right through the books staying a couple chapters ahead of the class, I then re-read or scan the chapter the test is based on and I pass the test.

          Repeat that again, going chapter by chapter and then go backwards and rescan chapters when its test time but just read as much as you can at a time. Dont be precise, dont be like (I'm going to read exactly 2 chapters), instead be like (I'm going to read at LEAST 2 chapters)

          Then just read until your eyes get tired, if you read 4 chapters, good, take a break; make a few posts on slashdot, play quake or some game, then open up the book again. Repeat this process for the entire day just switching from task to task, going back and forth when a task becomes so boring you cannot stand to do it anymore.

          I can read for a good couple hours, maybe 3 tops, then I cant stand to turn another page and I come online. Sometimes talking to friends helps to get your mind off of it, so call a friend.

          Other than that, just try to always be doing some kinda work, even when I post on slashdot I have about 5-6 webpages open where I'm doing research, I never just do a single task, when slashdot gets boring I go back to the research picking up exactly where I left off.
      • by saden1 ( 581102 ) on Sunday July 27, 2003 @02:45PM (#6545667)
        I'm sorry to say but, my inner greed trumps my inner lazy. Often times greed bitch slaps lazy because lazy doesn't seem to understand we have bills to pay.
      • Set smaller goals (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Gudlyf ( 544445 ) <gudlyf.realistek@com> on Sunday July 27, 2003 @02:56PM (#6545723) Homepage Journal
        "... reducing it to a manageable size..."

        My wife has worked with ADHD kids and tells me this is the best thing she's seen to focus and motivate them to produce (other than intrisic motivation, which is of course the best motivator, but this technique does lead to intrisic motivation).

        Think about what you should be able to accomplish in 15 minutes. Set an egg-timer for 15 minutes, and do that task you visualized. You can eventually work up to larger increments. You'll probably find yourself beating the timer in some cases.

        I know it sounds simplistic, but knowing that pressure seems to be a large motivator for you, the motivation of knowing that bell is going to go off sounds like it might do the trick. This stuff works on adults as well as children. In my wife's experience, it's never failed her (with her students).

        • Re:Set smaller goals (Score:5, Interesting)

          by customizedmischief ( 692916 ) on Sunday July 27, 2003 @04:38PM (#6546362)
          I have severe ADD and a job that requires me to work independantly and get stuff done. I have been using an egg-timer that I have modified (busted) so that it is too quiet for my coworkers to hear outside of my cube. This keeps the lynch mobs at bay.

          I keep a list right next to the timer and when something comes up that needs doing but isn't what is at the top of my list (a distraction), I write it down on the list. Since the egg timer interrupts me every few minutes, I don't find myself pissing away as much time when I do get distrsacted.

          Another reason my mind wanders is boredom. I always make sure I switch tasks when the timer rings if I can switch and come back later without losing my place in what I was doing. That way, I am always doing something new and I don't just give up and go read slashdot.

          This also helps with procrastination. I find it easier to start on even the most odious tasks if I know that in 10 minutes, I can put it down for a bit and catch up on my email.
        • by some damn guy ( 564195 ) on Sunday July 27, 2003 @08:57PM (#6547674)
          Since I've ADD, I think I've gotten to be an expert on motivation without really trying. I'd obsess over it. But so often I'd feel bad because it was so easy to forget all my plans and just do whatever.

          The right motivation definitely made all the difference for me. It was about my values when it worked . I just had to decide the value of the kinds of things i found myself doing. When I started realizing all the missed oportunities I was creating by bouncing from thing to thing it straightened me out a bit. It was too easy to spend all afternoon playing quake (I didnt have the attention span for command and conquer :) )or whatever instead of doing homework... but when I realized what those activities were costing me in terms of missed opportunity it stuck with me more, not just with school but also with 'fun' stuff. It was much more rewarding for me to have a hobby than a tv or computer game habit.

          That being said, medication helps. You might be hesitant to use amphetamines but I feel far more focused than if i had a cup of coffee. In fact, the coffee sometimes hurts more than it helps. There's two parts to it, which im sure healthy people feel to a lesser degree too- part one is getting excited enough to do anything other than space out(caffine helps) but part two is actually getting something done efficiently- i.e. reading a book and not having my eye bounce from paragraph to paragraph or skip around like crazy (caffine doesn't help much at all.) When i read for fun I'd almost never be able to read a book from begining to end. I'd hop around until the whole thing got read. Needless to say, I didnt read much fiction.

          To the guy asking the question, theres only one guaranteed way to focus on college that I know of, and I've tried a lot of different things. Quit right now and get a job (probably a lousy one, but not for a lack of trying). Pay all of your own bills. Work 40 a week and try to be independant. Don't take any help from your parents. Just try it. Work retail or landscaping or something entry level. Try to picture your future. It will suck. If you were having problems deciding what you wanted to go into, you'll have less. You'll get the old-man-now-what-the-hell-did-i-do-with-my-life-sy ndrome at 19. It's priceless. You'll want out of such a crappy life and you'll learn whats important- you'll think a lot less of playing quake instead of studying.

          It will light a fire under you. Look around in class and look whos always there, sitting in the front, arriving early and taking immaculate notes. You'll see a lot of thirty somethings and first-generation students, at least if you go to the right kind of school. You might have lived a comfortable middle-class existence up till now and you want to keep living it. Nothing wrong with that, but you can't forever, and some people never get a chance at all. The only risk is you'll never go back to school if you quit. Just make sure you have a plan for going whatever, savings. When you pay for it yourself you'll do better too.

          Basically, life doesn't suck enough, or you haven't found a passion. It makes all the difference in the world. No mind tricks, just a nice reality check. You don't get a second chance at life so you better start deciding how to live it.

          It's the only real thing that ever worked for me (my life sucking).
      • Re:Gumption traps (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Lucidus ( 681639 ) on Sunday July 27, 2003 @03:32PM (#6545913)
        The ideas from "Zen..." are superb advice; the problem is that it's very hard to state them clearly and succinctly.

        For me, guilt was always a reliable indicator--if I was feeling bad about something (whether it was something I was supposed to be doing, or something I had already done), then I knew I couldn't function effectively. As long as you are beating yourself up, there is no way you can do your best work.

        I think this may be happening to you, because you state that you have stopped playing games and watching TV, which suggests that you are punishing yourself in an attempt to improve your behavior. This simply won't work, as you have observed.

        Instead, when you find yourself struggling with these feelings, just stop it. Recognize that it is counter-productive to think bad things about yourself. Once you can dissociate your thinking from your emotional baggage, you really can see things much more clearly.

        At that point, you can calmly decide to start whatever task is before you. Once you are over the initial hump, the momentum of what you are doing should carry you forward.

        And do give yourself a break once in awhile. If you are not enjoying life, then what's the point of getting on with it? Good luck.
    • by takochan ( 470955 ) <takochan42 AT yahoo DOT com> on Sunday July 27, 2003 @12:59PM (#6545006)
      The web is a massive time waster. I didn't
      need it (didnt have it!) when I was in college.

      Cancel it, or pick up a 2400 baud modem. You can use that to check your mail, but it will keep you off the web because it will be just to slow..

      Now you can get your work done instead of reading Slashdot, and all sorts of other silly webpages..

    • by atempleton ( 216089 ) on Sunday July 27, 2003 @01:08PM (#6545073)
      I have had similar experiences and I focus on two solutions:

      1) Regular exercise (even 20 minutes of brisk walking each day can help) and keep the coffee consumption fairly low (it tends to make you scatter brained)
      2) Break projects down into smaller chunks. For example, if you have 100 pages to read, break it down into 10 10-page chunks and do them one at a time with breaks in between. Or if it's a complicated project, break it into steps and follow a similar pattern.

      The only other thing is to JUST GET STARTED. Sometimes the first chunk/step is the hardest step. Just do it, as they say....
      • by MCZapf ( 218870 ) * on Sunday July 27, 2003 @01:39PM (#6545298)
        I have to agree with your "JUST GET STARTED" advice. That's the first thing I thought when I read this article. For me, I was often overwhelmed by the large scope of some projects, and I didn't know where to start. Or worse, I just didn't have the motivation to start.

        But, if I just started doing some work, even if it was the most half-assed prototyping, my mind soon got into gear and I got going. It also helps me to start working when I think I don't have time for it, such as an hour before I had to go to class. The artificial deadline made me want to finish up whatever little task I had started before I went to class.

        I've tried setting aside whole days for projects, and it never works. I always goof off because I feel I have so much time on my hands.

        • by Skeezix ( 14602 ) <> on Sunday July 27, 2003 @04:14PM (#6546213) Homepage
          I identify completely. For me the biggest hurdle to overcome is getting started because when I have some task that seems enormous, I get overwhelmed. I look at all the things I have to do rather than focusing on taking the first step. When I actually do get to it, I realize it's often not so bad, and after getting that first step done, I have a sense of accomplishment which pushes me to take the second step, the third, and so on...

          I struggle with this in almost every area of my life: my professional career, work at home, spare-time hacking, even romance. The only way I can really get stuff done is to take it in chunks. The thought of cleaning the entire house may be daunting, but certainly the thought of loading the dishwasher isn't so bad. And after I'm done with that, mopping the kitchen floor isn't that big of a task, and so on....

    • by Alan Cox ( 27532 ) on Sunday July 27, 2003 @01:26PM (#6545212) Homepage
      You can put all your "distracting" applications into a group that your "work" login doesn't allow access to. You can remove the network cable except in specific pre-planned periods.

      Nowdays I have to get a lot done, and there are a few things I've found very helpful (and believe me I used to do my homework in the lesson it was being handed in for 8))

      - If I think of something else that needs doing I write it down, I don't start doing it disrupting the current task
      - If I think of stuff late in the evening I write it down so I dont spent the night trying not to forget it
      - Split big tasks quickly into a list of little subtasks, cross them off as you finish them
      - Don't sit on irc , its the ultimate productivity killer and distraction bar none (some people seem to swear by putting all their non "work" stuff on a seperate desktop so its not in their vision except when they take a break)
      - Remember you can read your email just once or twice a day. Ditto web news sites/slashdot
      - Don't look at a pile of things and think I really ought to be doing something. Do *something* even if its pick the easiest looking task to knock off the list.
      - When you build up a pile of tasks that can't be done in the required time (wait for final year university 8)) prioritize them and cross of stuff you have to discard, don't sit around doing nothing because you can't do them all.
      - Get into a routine (I'm dire at this but when it works it helps). Get up read email, go do work the same pattern every day.

      Ultimately though its about willpower., someone suggested exercise, one good exercise way to learn about relaxation and willpower is martial arts. Not all of them are about beating the crap out of people (although if you like that sort of competitive thing there are plenty to choose from), others like Aikido are much more about self control and at the extreme soft end they verge into deeply internal things like T'ai Chi .

      • by ChrisCampbell47 ( 181542 ) on Sunday July 27, 2003 @06:55PM (#6547115)
        Quoting the esteemed Mr. Cox:

        If I think of something else that needs doing I write it down, I don't start doing it disrupting the current task

        Get a tiny voice recorder. Not the 60+ minute digital dictation things, just a little one that captures 30-90 seconds of voice. I bought my first one of this VoiceIt model [] for $40 7 years ago and it changed my life. I never EVER forget anything now (which has it's own problems :) because I can just dictate it into the voice thingy and transcribe it into the PDA/whatever later. If you rely on scribbling it down, you'll often fail right from the start because A) you'll forget before you get a slip of paper and pen, or B) writing isn't an option -- like when you're in traffic, mowing the lawn, etc.

        It's critical that it be small enough (credit card sized) that you just carry it in your pocket everywhere, not just when you think you might have some bright ideas ...

        Cell phones these days often come with a voice memo function, but that solution is often lacking due to A) size of cell phone and B) they won't store more than 5 discrete memos. I frequently have 10 piled up in my VoiceIt before I have a chance to sit down and transcribe into my PDA.

        Remember you can read your email just once or twice a day. Ditto web news sites/slashdot

        One way to effect this is to turn OFF automatic retreival of your email from your mail server. When you're ready to spend 15 minutes on reading and replying to emails, hit the "fetch" button. Auto-retrieval just breaks your concentration every five minutes.

        And, finally, cable TV is evil. Cancel it.

      • by ralphclark ( 11346 ) on Sunday July 27, 2003 @08:46PM (#6547609) Journal
        Alan! What the blazes are you doing surfing slashdot? Get back to work!
    • by oscarcar ( 208055 ) on Sunday July 27, 2003 @01:43PM (#6545322) Homepage
      Heavily agree with above posts.

      In addition, to get your circadian cycle in sync (which gives you more energy) you can do these things:

      1. It's more important to wake up at the same time. You can't always force yourself to sleep, but your body will entrain if you force yourself to get up at the same time each morning. That means NO sleeping in on weekends.

      2. Expose yourself to light first thing in the morning. Preferably, I would suggest going outside but you can also get specific lights that simulate sunlight.

      3. When you excerise, the best time to do that is several hours before going to bed.

      Programmers tend to have delayed-phase sleep syndrome (which means we like to stay up late).
      People who are delayed-phase, tend to migrate toward those jobs they can do at late hours and don't have to wake up at a specific time to do them.

    • by Chalupa ( 586145 ) on Sunday July 27, 2003 @02:40PM (#6545632)
      When I was a guitar major in college and had a rigorous night job, I had heard of this practice regimen put together by a well-known jazz guitarist named Howard Roberts (Hal Leonard Publications). He called it the "Superchops" program. You practiced an hour a day, six days a week for twenty weeks. It basically went something like this:

      1.) Clear your work area of all things not pertaining to the lesson.

      2.) Make a ten-minute recording of what you were going to play over.

      3.) Stop. Make quick mental notes of what you are about to do.

      4.) Play over the recording.

      5.) Break. Two minutes. Put the guitar down, stand up and stretch, etc.

      6.) Repeat #4 and #5 two more times. That's about it. The POINT is that an hour every day of something is much more beneficial than cramming a bunch of hours into one day, and provided you are not SUPER tired from what you were doing that day, your current physical condition shouldn't be a problem-exercise is good, of course :)

      Try setting up a daily work regimen of whatever you are doing that has REALISTIC goals for daily achievement. It worked for me.


      Ritalin is a class two drug with side effects similar to cocaine. [] Frankly, no kid anywhere should be ingesting it, and neither should you.

      My question is (and this is REALLY going to piss off some people), does ADD/ADHD REALLY EXIST? Is it an officially recognized disorder by the CDC or some other government body, or well-respected independent body? Or is this a massive bullshit campaign?

      It is going to take a lot of convincing to prove to me that we are not just making excuses about why our kids can't concentrate in school, yet they can come home and concentrate on kicking my ass on Half-Life. Find me the links that show me that ADD/ADHD actually and truthfully exists. Better still, post decent links that outline BOTH sides of the debate.

      Once something's been approved by the government, it's no longer immoral. - Reverend Lovejoy

      • by commodoresloat ( 172735 ) on Sunday July 27, 2003 @04:25PM (#6546280)
        Ritalin is a class two drug with side effects similar to cocaine. Frankly, no kid anywhere should be ingesting it, and neither should you.

        Definitely. Cocaine is much cheaper and easier to come by, and you don't need a Doctor's prescription.

      • by Viv ( 54519 ) on Sunday July 27, 2003 @04:37PM (#6546356)

        My question is (and this is REALLY going to piss off some people), does ADD/ADHD REALLY EXIST? Is it an officially recognized disorder by the CDC or some other government body, or well-respected independent body? Or is this a massive bullshit campaign?

        It's simple -- check the DSM IV. The DSM-IV is the fouth edition of the criteria professional psychologists use to diagnose mental disorders. It is essentially the bible of psychology. And according to the DSM-IV, ADHD does exist. The DSM-IV definition is apparently:

        Attention-deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder

        * Persisting for at least 6 months to a degree that is maladaptive and immature, the patient has either inattention or hyperactivity-impulsivity (or both) as shown by:
        Inattention. At least 6 of the following often apply:
        -Fails to pay close attention to details or makes careless errors in schoolwork, work or other activities
        -Has trouble keeping attention on tasks or play
        -Doesn't appear to listen when being told something
        -Neither follows through on instructions nor completes chores, schoolwork, or jobs (not due to oppositional behavior or failure to understand)
        -Has trouble organizing activities and tasks
        -Dislikes or avoids tasks that involve sustained mental effort (homework, schoolwork)
        Loses materials needed for activities (assignments, books, pencils, tools, toys)
        Easily distracted by extraneous stimuli
        Hyperactivity-Impulsivity. At least 6 of the following often apply:
        -Squirms in seat or fidgets
        -Inappropriately leaves seat
        -Inappropriately runs or climbs (in adolescents or adults, the may be only a subjective feeling of restlessness)
        -Has trouble quietly playing or engaging in leisure activity
        -Appears driven or "on the go"
        -Talks excessively
        -Answers questions before they have been completely asked
        -Has trouble or awaiting turn
        -Interrupts or intrudes on others

        * Begins before age 7.

        * Symptoms must be present in at least 2 types of situations, such as school, work, home.

        * The disorder impairs school, social or occupational functioning.

        * The symptoms do not occur solely during a Pervasive Developmental Disorder or any psychotic disorder including Schizophrenia.

        * The symptoms are not explained better by a Mood, Anxiety, Dissociative or Personality Disorder.

        Code Number is based on the symptoms during the past 6 months:

        314.00 Attention-deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, Predominantly Inattentive Type. The patient has recently met the criteria for inattention but not for hyperactivity-impulsivity.

        314.01 Attention-deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive Type. The patient has recently met the criteria for hyperactivity-impulsivity but not for inattention.

        314.01 Attention-deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, Combined Type. The patient has recently met the criteria for both inattention and hyperactivity-impulsivity. (Most ADHD children have symptoms of the Combined Type.)

        Specify "In Partial Remission" for patients (especially adults or adolescents) whose current symptoms do not fulfill the criteria.

      • by Sixty4Bit ( 6131 ) on Sunday July 27, 2003 @04:49PM (#6546437) Homepage
        I felt the same way as you regarding ADD. It doesn't really exist. As a matter of fact, I had the exact same argument: How can you not be able to accomplish something at school or work, yet play games into the middle of the night with unbreakable concentration?

        Games are short term goals. The longest games last an hour or two at most. And even then, there are even shorter term goals within a single game. One could argue that FPS games have the shortest term goals of any game out there. Every second that you haven't been killed, you have reached a goal. If you happen to kill a person AND not get killed, you get two goals in one second! But I digress.

        Work, on the other hand, often requires longer term goals. You have to spend many hours dedicated to one task to achieve a goal. One trick is to break that long term goal into several short term goals. Another trick is to take goals off of your task list. This is the one that I needed to do. I was getting so upset with myself for not working, when I thought I should be that it caused many internal problems. You have to know when to play and when to work. You must make it OK to enjoy life a little. I would always feel guilty about playing until I decided that it was OK to play online for a couple of hours.

        The problem is not just one little thing that can be fixed with a pill. It takes training and self discipline... and a pill. For over 20 years I tried to convince myself that I did not have ADD, that I was just lazy. I joined the U.S. Navy to prove it to myself. Guess what? I have ADD. I need a pill to help my brain concentrate on one thing at a time. I sought help from a counselor, who then sent me to see a psychiatrist for one reason, and one reason only; to get a prescription for my ADD. You see, I am a smart guy, I have drive and determination, I am good at video games, but no matter how much I wanted it, or how much I tried, I could not stay focused on a single task for any length of time. I walked into the psychiatrist's office and we started chatting. Within 10 minutes she tells me that she knows what my problem is and has only one question to ask. She asked me, "So, how much coffee do you drink a day?" "Well, I don't drink coffee, I drink Dr. Pepper. And I drink about 3 liters a day."

        Come to find out, caffeine has the same effect on the brain as Ritalin. There are actually about 7 different types of ADD, each with a different symptoms and treatments. The severe cases require Ritalin. Mild cases require exercise and counseling. I fall somewhere in the middle and take a different kind of medication. I am down to 1 liter of Dr. Pepper and two pills a day :) I will be on the two pills for the rest of my life. Which really stinks, but I am up for promotion, so I guess it doesn't stink to bad.

        My advice, don't waste your life fighting a losing battle. Go see a counselor and find out how to fight your particular problem. I didn't want to admit to myself that I had ADD and it cost me some of the best years of my life.
      • I am a psych major, but I have to agree that ADHD is for the most part a scapegoat, I was diagnosed with it as a kid, but could sit on a computer, or infront of a book for 8 hours, oblivious to the rest of the world. So I'm guessing that I had the old cliche "not challenged enough" disorder instead. Yes, I'd say ADHD is something to label hard to handle kids, a nice diagnosis that allows them to be drugged into passivity for the benefit of over taxed teachers.

        But, in my experience in clinics, and with some "problem children" ADHD is also a very real illness. Some children DO have it, and you can tell easily which ones have the label for convenience, and which one actually suffer. So you can't completely dismiss the disorder just because it has been misdiagnosed a signifigant number of times. Also in kids with severe ADHD you can see abnormality in MRIs and brain scans, so their is an undeniable physiological component, and a measurable chemical component to the real disorder.

        I'd say that under 50% of the current crop of ADHD kids actually have a disorder, and the rest of them are just normal (or brighter than normal) kids who are bored or overly inquisitive.

        With that out of the way, I'd say that under 50% of the current kids with REAL ADHD actually need drugs to control it, teaching self-discipline using coginitive conditioning works very well, and benefits them throughout their life, even when they "out-grow" ADHD. Sometimes drugs might be needed to stabalize them to the point where therapy is possible, but should not be continued past active therapy. Ridalin is not a panacea.

        This really isn't the psychologist fault (some of it is), but the school systems. My parents were threatened with my expulsion if I wasn't doped up. The amount of pressure put forth by the schools is ultimately to blaim for this epidemic of ADHD cases. That and it enter the pop-psych movement, and the national psyche, making it a convenient scape-goat for the lack of self-discipline.

        I can't find a link to an online DSM (the American Psychiatric Associations Diagnostic Criteria Manual) but it is a recognized psychiatric disorder. I have a physical copy, but no online copy, sorry. Do a search in google for "DSM online ADHD" and you can see that it IS officially recognized.
  • by eaglebtc ( 303754 ) * on Sunday July 27, 2003 @12:23PM (#6544698)
    You may not have ADHD (Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder), but you may have ADD, which is basically an inability to concentrate or stick to one thing for long periods of time. I have it myself, and I know how frustrating that is. I in fact have pulled many all-nighters and that's when I produce my best work; unfortunately my body does not like that too well.

    At the very least you should visit a professional therapist and have them give you a psychiatric evaluation. He/she can diagnose your problem--maybe you're just a really bad procrastinator--and perhaps prescribe some medication, if necessary.

    Read this for more information about A.D.D. : ADD Foundation []

    And go buy this book, if you're interested: Driven to Distraction []

    • by mesach ( 191869 ) on Sunday July 27, 2003 @12:32PM (#6544779)
      Agreed. I have ADD, I'm not hyperactive(i do fidgit). But the current buzzword is ADHD, and many people completely forget about ADD as an option if they aren't hyper.

      Goto a doctor and try to get on stratera or some equivalent.

      AND STAY OFF OF THE WEB... its the worlds greatest time saver/waster
      • by chrisbro ( 207935 ) on Sunday July 27, 2003 @12:40PM (#6544862)
        Hell yes, stay off the web. This has to be my number one time waster. I sometimes just find myself mindlessely hitting refresh every 5 seconds or so on /. or some other news site before I realize that I'm zoned out. There's just too much information on the web out there, you can easily get lost in it. Found myself reading a factoid list of Earth info (wow, I didn't know the longest mountain chain was under the Atlantic!) for an hour the other day while I should have been doing other things. Only use the web if you really need to (or anything else that allows deviation, for that matter).
        • by rblancarte ( 213492 ) on Sunday July 27, 2003 @12:49PM (#6544933) Homepage
          All this takes is discipline. There is no real secret to this. We are not talking just deciding to do things better, we are talking about actually making a shift in how you focus on your goals. I hate to say it, but it will mostly come with maturity. All you need to do is decide, "It is time to get serious about this all. I will do my work now and not put it off for later, I will not procrastinate, I will not surf the net or play doom or anything, I will get my computer work done." It just takes some dedication and dicipline.

          Sorry, I know you are looking for that magic pill that is the solution for this, but there isn't one. This just takes a shift in the fundamental way that you see your priorities.

          • by idlethought ( 558209 ) on Sunday July 27, 2003 @01:22PM (#6545187)
            All this takes is discipline. There is no real secret to this.

            This is of course circular reasoning.. You need the discipline to develop the discipline etc..

            It's true of course, like most circular reasoning, without being helpful.. Already there have been some very sensible and practical suggestions for getting that initial focus. If once you start you can keep going then it's finding that initial focus that counts. Excercise is one good suggestion- excess energy can express it self in lack of concentration. The other very good suggestion was the visualising the initial steps in the task. Very often with a big bit of work of any sort knowing where to start is the tricky part.

            I often find when writing a document for work I can't make a start on it until I have the initial structure and more importantly most of the first paragraph planned. The first paragraph is usually utter crap and needs to be dumped, but it creates the crack in the wall to start on.
            Another idea might be to just start- if you're about to write a report for college but can't get started try writing anything to get yourself into the right frame of mind- a stream of invective about the tutor, a complaint about how the RIAA's tendency to sue everyone for listening to music makes you too angry to concentrate. A stream-of-conciousness about nothing at all.

            If it's a coding project I find writing the comments at the head of the file, even if they contain nothing but in-jokes and bad puns to be removed later, get me into the right frame of mind to get started.

            Or just reconfigure your machine so it can't see the network anymore to remove that (and email) as a temptation.
          • by capedgirardeau ( 531367 ) on Sunday July 27, 2003 @02:17PM (#6545509)
            I guess schizophrenia is just a matter of self discipline as well? or altzheimers?

            I agree sometimes ADD is self discipline related, but not in all cases.

            Your attitude of blaming them for being weak or whatever is typical.

            Several drugs, in double blind studies, have dramatically increased how well and the duration people can perform concentration type tasks.

            How do you explain that?

            Everything in our brians is checmicals: emotions, perceptions, feelings etc. To think that concentration, ann obviously physical activity chemically speaking, cannot be affected by the rate at which chemicals are produced by our bodies is just willfully ignorant.

            Good for you if you dont have it, I am glad you don't, but for once stop making simplistic judements about other people when you obviously have no idea what you are talking about.

            I dont have it either, and like I said, sometimes it is probably just a matter of self (or parental) discipline but I am at least open to the idea that some folks probably have a chemical variance that affects it.

            I believe the same thing about weigh gain, some folks just process suger differently and some people over eat for emotional reasons, but it doesnt mean _all_ overweight people are that way for any single reason.

            My advice to this gentleman is to see about trying non medicial solutions and practices that might help first. Meditation, mental self programming are both good to try and learn about, even if you end up also needing medication.

            There are groups and books about good things that ADD folks can do to help, I am sure many of those techniques probably would help many non ADD folks as well.

          • by tedrlord ( 95173 ) on Sunday July 27, 2003 @06:35PM (#6547021)
            There's a big difference between ADD (or ADHD or whatever) and a general lack of discipline. I've been having problems for my whole life with it, and have just recently been diagnosed. For a long time I figured I just wasn't trying hard enough, or approaching things from the right direction, but after thinking a lot and talking to people, I realized that my problems were rather unusual compared to others.

            When talking about a lack of discipline, the problem is getting work done when you're not interested in it. You have to write a program or do a term paper, then you think of going onto the web or playing a game, and you wander off and do that instead. A lot of my friends described having problems with this in college when I would talk about my difficulties.

            What I've been experiencing is a little different than this, though. I just couldn't focus on things in general. I'd avoid watching movies because of the effort it would take to keep track of a story for an hour and a half. I'd try to read an article and trail off halfway into it, realizing a few minutes later that I've been sitting there with a magazine, going through the motions of reading, but not absorbing any of it. Lord knows reading an actual book was incredibly difficult. It wasn't that I found other things to do. It was more like I'd sit there trying to focus and blanking out until I either forgot what I was doing completely or got so frustrated I gave myself a migraine. And when I could do focus on something, if someone were to distract me at all, I'd get so startled I'm jump into the air, and get very angry. Sometimes I'd be able to sit down and write a really good term paper, but get an F for it because I wasn't able to read the one page of text that gave the instructions on how it was to be written.

            There were other, less specific problems, too. I couldn't clean my room, practically ever, not because I was lazy, but because when I'd try I couldn't pay attention to any specific item apart from the general mess well enough to figure out how to clean it. I'd literally sit there for five or ten minutes looking around trying to figure out what it was that made my room so messy. I couldn't separate the clothes from the soda bottles or the computer equipment in my mind.

            Also, as a kid I was really socially awkward. I just couldn't deal with people at all. I had a couple of friends that I would hang out with pretty comfortably, but when I got into a group I would get completely overwhelmed. Looking back on it, I realized that I couldn't process all the sound of different people talking at once. After a certain point, I'd hear them but not really understand anything they were saying. That would definitely make it hard to make friends at parties.

            When I got on Wellbutrin (initially for depression) and, more recently, Adderall (I hate the stuff, but it helps), I started noticing large changes. With the Wellbutrin I still had trouble focusing on specific things, but I noticed my confusion went way down. I could deal easily with people, and could pay attention to what was going on around me. That helps a lot when driving. When I started taking the Adderall, I suddenly found it very easy to pay attention to one thing separate from others. I could remember to get my mail or take out the trash. I could separate my clothes and actually do my laundry. I could organize the tasks involved in getting my dishes washed, rather than not eating because I couldn't find a clean plate. I found myself starting to draw more (which I've always loved but never really practiced) because I could actually visualize in my head what I wanted to draw, rather than scribble around until I either had something or I didn't. I actually even sat down and started reading a few of the many books that I've gathered through the years, meaning to read. It's not particularly easy to sit down and write out an organised essay, design a program, or reorganize all the crap in my room, but I can actually sit and think of how I would go about doing it, and even remember
      • by Rhone ( 220519 ) on Sunday July 27, 2003 @02:20PM (#6545531) Homepage
        I think the reason you hear "ADHD" more than "ADD" now is because, in the most recent version of the DSM-IV (the official criteria for diagnosing mental disorders), ADD is no longer an official diagnosis. Instead, there are three subcategories of ADHD:

        1. Mostly hyperactive and not really inattentive.
        2. Mostly inattentive and not really hyperactive.
        3. Both inattentive and hyperactive.

        Yes, it's silly. #2, of course, is what most people still think of as "ADD".
    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 27, 2003 @12:42PM (#6544881)
      I saw my school psychiatrist about the same sort of behavior, thinking I had ADD, and the guy told me I was probably just depressed.

      This was a shock to me, because I had never thought that I could be "depressed", but the more I thought about what he said the more it made sense.

      Imagine that we have a certain threshold of happiness, emotional comfort, whatever, that we try to maintain. Any time that we engage in some behavior that isn't rewarding, we (as simple dumb animals) quickly go back to more rewarding behavior. This is the problem. When you're borderline depressed, you're just barely
      staying happy, and you do whatever you can in a very short-term-thinking kind of way to maintain that happiness.

      After I started with the meds, I found it easier to get into doing things that were frustrating or boring long enough to finish them. Finishing those things became a reward.

      So, Canuck may need meds that will allow him to feel comfortable experimenting with new behavioral patterns long enough to find ones that will work better for him.
  • my spew (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mandalayx ( 674042 ) * on Sunday July 27, 2003 @12:24PM (#6544705) Journal

    I'm a university student as well and as you can see (I'm sitting on slashdot) I have some of the same issues. However there have been some shining examples of good behavior on my part, and here are what I think are some of the apparent factors/causes:

    a. social proof, i.e. studying with a bunch of people
    b. meaning, a meaningful purpose
    c. distractions, lack thereof, i.e. lack of other things to think about

    Examples with causes:
    -studying in the basement of the library (a, c)
    -studying for imminent test or other grade-altering material (b, and possibly a)
    -studying for something that will be applicable to some upcoming event i.e. work (b, and possibly a)
    -studying for something that is less dreadful than what I should *really* be studying (b, c)
    -studying at a coffeehouse, with ambient-type music like classical or trance (a, c)

    Other notes:

    Speaking of coffee, I highly recommend coffee for the few hours that I seem to get out of it, really studying.

    Something else I've found useful to keep my mind focused is to bring a notepad which I designate as a "worry pad." When I think of something, like, gee, I should do laundry or pay bills, I just write it on the pad so that I can focus on studying.

    I find it helpful to like what I am studying. If I currently don't like it, I try to find a way to like it. If I can't find a way to like it, I begin to consider studying something else....

    Or maybe this problem of not being able to study is not a problem as a gift. Perhaps studying as much as some others at your school is not your idea of fun and you can try pursuing something that seems more fun to you (without studying).
    • Re:my spew (Score:5, Insightful)

      by harvardian ( 140312 ) on Sunday July 27, 2003 @12:46PM (#6544902)
      I'd like to emphasize the importance of meaningfulness to help combat procrastination.

      When I started college, I was a psychology major. Whenever I sat down to do work, I could never bring myself to do it before midnight, just like you. In fact, I'd often procrastinate by doing work on the school newspaper's website.

      After a year and a half of procrastination hell every night I suddenly realized that if I procrastinate by writing code (alright, it was ASP, and VBScript doesn't really count), maybe I should make CS what I do ALL the time. I became a CS major and have been happier ever since.

      As a side note, even though I'm much happier I still don't start work early (usually around 10 PM). Do yourself a favor and don't put unreasonable expectations on yourself -- don't sit down at 3 PM and say "okay, let's get cracking!" if you know you won't. Relax until after dinner, and then start up work. It'll save you a lot of frustration and you'll probably get started on your work sooner.

      And PLEASE don't take ritalin or something else like that. 60% of the students I know procrastinate their asses off. It's not because all of us have ADD, it's because sometimes studying sucks. To underscore this point, whenever I've worked a real job (two internships doing CS stuff) I've never procrastinated simply because I find significantly more motivation to do the work. So it's not like my rampant procrastination was a mental defect.
      • Re:my spew (Score:4, Insightful)

        by GrimSean ( 545405 ) on Sunday July 27, 2003 @01:12PM (#6545111) Homepage
        I couldn't agree with this more. I started University in September of 1999, and it took me until the beginning of last year to realize that the degree I was in (Molecular Biology & Genetics) simply wasn't for me. Like the questioner, I would simply procrastinate until I simply had to do the work or face failure, leading to all-nighters that left me physically and mentally destroyed for the next week.

        A friend of mine, after having listened to me complain about my marks (I was a straight A high school student, as I was never pushed there, and I couldn't understand how my marks were so bad in University) suggested to me that perhaps I wasn't in the right program. I took a week where I looked at what I was doing with the majority of my time - it was reading, just not for class - so I changed my major to English, and I begin doing that full time in September. For the past year, since I decided that I was going to change to English, my marks have risen 15 percentage points and I feel much happier. I also tend to start my work earlier (except for right now, I have a project due on Wednesday worth 25% in my last science course ever, and I haven't started yet) and my work ethic has risen from doing about one hour of studying to four hours straight.

        English isn't for everyone; you need good reading and comprehension skills, plus the ability to bullshit (read: compose) essays. I would suggest to the questioner that for one week he should write down what he is doing instead of working - be it talking to people, surfing the web, or whatever - and try to find a degree or program that will allow him to do that for a living. It may turn out that University or College isn't the place for him. I would also suggest he consider Trade Schools, as most people in the business are retiring in the next 10 years, so there is about to be a high demand for Plumbers, Electricians and Millwrights. Hopefully, he'll be able to find something that suits him.

    • Re:my spew (Score:5, Insightful)

      by JanneM ( 7445 ) on Sunday July 27, 2003 @01:07PM (#6545069) Homepage
      A workable strategy is acceptance.

      Accept that you are a procrastinator, and that you will not get anything done until the last minute. Then plan accordingly.

      Say you have a paper due in a month. Great. Talk to the professor and set up a meeting a week from now where you will show your outline, thesis and detailed plan on how to defend it.

      In another week, set up a new meeting with the same or different authority figure to go over your list of references and help clear whether you are quoting the right stuff or not, and whether those people in the references really can be interpreted the way you do it.

      And the next week, have another prearranged meeting to go over your language and style.

      Suddenly you have hard deadlines for every aspect of that paper, which means you will actually be quite comfortably done when the real deadline appears. True, you will still be stressed and feeling behind, but on the positive side you do see that the work is actually progressing nicely. And with this predisposition, you will never _not_ feel stressed in any case, so just make it work for you.

      the trick is to make these deadlines _real_ - arranging for a friend to take a look at the paper won't do it; such a "meeting" is too easy to blow off, and a friend will be forgiving if you haven't done the work. It needs to be with people that will cause real, negative, consequences if you mess it up.

  • by allism ( 457899 ) <> on Sunday July 27, 2003 @12:25PM (#6544715) Journal
    If you REALLY like what you do, you will be more interested in doing it than surfing, you won't procrastinate, etc. If you're not excited about what you're doing (and I mean so excited that you can't WAIT to jump on your latest project) you might wanna consider choosing another field.
    • by nomadic ( 141991 ) <nomadicworld@gmai l . c om> on Sunday July 27, 2003 @12:30PM (#6544766) Homepage
      Unfortunately for many people there is no commercial, paying field which they'd enjoy.

      If he's really worried about procrastination on the job, however, something a little more structured like systems administration might be a better choice. When you have people screaming at you because they just lost all connectivity, the urge to procrastinate for the most part vanishes.
    • by spazoid12 ( 525450 ) on Sunday July 27, 2003 @12:52PM (#6544958)
      I don't agree with that assumption. I really like what I do. A lot. But, I often have a similar problem with procrastination. In my case it's often because I enjoy thinking about the problem and solving it in my mind. Implementation is a long boring part that I sometimes even dread. Documentation is even worse.

      I noticed this kind of problem started with me in about 1995. I was a Mac dev at the time and was suddenly finding myself exhausted by Apple's continuous cycle of producing massive huge API's for devs to learn...all just to abandon them shortly thereafter. PowerTalk was one such example. If you want to build a world-class product it's going to need to have all 1 million checklist items finished as features in it. Which means you have to follow all the trends and respond accordingly. Trouble is, each one trend is a huge job.

      It used to be that a single person could produce a great work in the computer field as a hobbiest. Commercial software wasn't a whole lot more impressive than shareware. Now days it's tough to go alone. You can do it if your application targets a niche. But, imagine writing a shareware word processor alone today? Who would bother? Why? OSS gives us a way to deal with this by removing the "alone" factor, replacing it with ad-hoc teams, or virtual teams, or even real teams. But, OSS is starting to really piss me off. Maybe people that still support OSS haven't been out of a job for enough months.

      So, today, there is just so much to know and learn and follow. It's too easy to start feeling that it's all just a bunch of crap trivia and lose interest entirely. I have long-time (18+ years) dev friends that now sell cars and hope to never touch a computer again. At my last job I'd look out the window at a construction crew and wish I could be shovelling dirt, too. Of course, they looked up at the building and wished they could be out of the rain.

      How do you keep up your C++ skills, and your Perl skills, and your Java skills...while learning UML, trying out Struts, contributing to Mozilla, developing on opinion on Rebol, D, or Erlang... offering "tech support" to all your family and friends, ... the list goes on.... How do you do this and not begin to be exhausted by it?

      Another poster suggested exercise. He might be right. I used to run a *lot* and play inline skate hockey. But, all that ended about 1995. So, for me at's either lack of exercise, or the fact that CS is more complicated chock full of trivia than ever before, or the combination of both.
    • by aussersterne ( 212916 ) on Sunday July 27, 2003 @01:49PM (#6545354) Homepage
      I think the crux of the issue here (and what you are getting at) is that work and study are much easier to accomplish if you are passionate about them; if you have a personal point of view, something unique to contribute, an unfailing interest in the subject matter, or some other conscious driving force behind it.

      Unfortunately, in the modern world, this is very difficult.

      • Very few types of work leave room for individuality or craftsmanship any longer. Nearly any type of work you do is likely to relegate you in some way, metaphorical or otherwise, to a position of "cog in a wheel in the giant machine."

      • Nearly all of modern industry also requires a dedicated, detailed skill set that tends to take years to master, often descends into minutiae at the expense of the "bigger picture" and that tends to compartmentalize one within the field (i.e. you have studied to be this kind of cog in the wheel, and after you put in your decades to master it, you will be stuck as that cog forever, because it will take far too long to train to become another kind of cog).

      • Because of the nature of the modern marketplace, there is very little room for individuality, passion, or points of view. Whether in academics or business, if your work and even your general demeanor are not well-suited to maximize profit, you will quickly find yourself out of work. Thus, in the interest of staying active (i.e. employed, in school, funded by grants, etc.) in a field, people generally try to sublimate themselves to the greatest extent possible, becoming the most colorless, generic cog they can be.

      • As a kind of corollary, work or study in any field these days also generally involves a large percentage of time coping with business-oriented and political issues, rather than the issues at hand. A successful photographer is first and foremost a successful businessman. A successful systems analyst is first and foremost a successful businessman. A successful lawyer is first and foremost a successful businessman. A successful doctor is first and foremost a successful businessman. Ad infinitum.

      None of this breeds any kind of productivity ethic. Even if you are very interested in a field, and approach its study with enthusiasm, you are likely to run out of steam before you reach the end of your study, gradually disillusioned by the degree to which you must endlessly specialize, sublimate your own identity, avoid creativity, sacrifice future freedoms and learn the ins and outs of petty business, all in order to simply build a career doing something you thought you liked.

      I personally feel that most men (and women) given a chance would prefer to be craftsmen (and women) of some kind, in whatever their chosen field, bringing a quality and uniquely personal product to the people of their own community. Instead, because of the nature of the modern marketplace, many essentially become clerks and civil servants in one field or another order to be able to draw a wage.

      As a result, and lacking enthusiasm, we end up sitting around browsing the Web and dreaming of something better... but those who develop the fortitude to switch inevitably find that their new field is, on balance, not all that different from their last one... still all business, anonymity and colorless, impersonal nonsense.
  • by Beowulf_Boy ( 239340 ) on Sunday July 27, 2003 @12:25PM (#6544716)
    I use rewards for my self, as stupid as it sounds.

    Like today, I have to write some thankyou cards, and fill out some rebate forms. So, I promised my self that after I do that, I'm gonna go to walmart and spend 20$ on something fun and/or stupid!
  • by ender-iii ( 161623 ) <> on Sunday July 27, 2003 @12:25PM (#6544718) Homepage
    It turns out I was depressed. I used to just aimlessly drag boxes across my desktop, lost in my imagination. Maybe not getting work done is just a symptom of a bigger problem. Just a though.
    • by oneiros27 ( 46144 ) on Sunday July 27, 2003 @02:34PM (#6545603) Homepage
      I've had those days after you've been working non-stop 12-16hr days, and you get to the point where you're less productive than before.

      My dad gave me a book recently on the connections between adrenaline and stress. Basically, it talks about handling stress so you don't let it get out of hand, as stress triggers adrenaline, which affects your sleep patterns and causes you to make snap decisions without thinking things out or being creative.

      I've had depressive fits where I haven't left my place for weeks at a time, but now that I reflect on it, they were all triggered by times of high stress. So now, before I get to far in, I try to relax. Unfortunately, saturday morning cartoons have really sucked in the past few years, so I don't have that 3-4 hrs of relaxation per week.

      If you're not getting stuff done, set a timer, wait, relax for an hour or so, then press back in on it. Personally, I find that I do some of my best work near 6am.... no matter if I got up early to do it [working right after I get up, or until I've been up all night and start to get tired]. Tired is actually a sign of being relaxed, as if you're pumping with adrenaline, you won't fall asleep.
  • by Jack William Bell ( 84469 ) on Sunday July 27, 2003 @12:26PM (#6544734) Homepage Journal
    Well, first I check /. and see if there is anything interesting. Then I surf around and check the various blogs and newsites I read. After that I check /. again and maybe post a comment to an interesting article.

    If, while I am surfing around, I find something cool I post a link to it to me /. journal (which everyone should read, cuz it is full of wierd bullshit). Then I surf some more. That is how I get my w........

    Never mind.
  • What worked for me. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 27, 2003 @12:27PM (#6544741)
    I'm ACing this just so it isn't linked to my name. Apologies.

    Exercise, like the first poster suggested, didn't do squat for me. Of course, each person is different, but you sound a lot like the way I used to be. A *lot* alike.

    What worked for me? Wellbutrin and/or Effexor. I wasn't depressed, and I really wasn't an ADD type. Although I kind of thought I might have been ADD.

    All of the sudden, I went from someone who was capable of doing things to someone who actually WAS doing things. I was balancing my freakin' checkbook, which I hadn't done in ages because it was too much trouble. I was getting stuff done, getting things knocked out of the way. It was incredible.

    I personally think it was overstimulation. Computer games, television, the Internet, college, everything was so exciting. To sit down and do something that I was capable of but just had little interest in was really next to impossible for some reason. I just couldn't lock my brain in on it.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 27, 2003 @01:12PM (#6545110)
      From someone who's ingested far too many chemicals...

      The research connecting a 'dopamine rush' and info-addiction probably hit it on the head. Look at the research on l-dopa in the treatment of memory disorders; *once you've been operating under a high level,* your brain attunes to it (potentiation, depotentiation, whatever), and the ability to form and recall memories can suffer.

      Now, I've accellerated this process in myself through the abuse of certain substances I won't name (no, this isn't their *only* effect, and no, I wasn't eating pure l-dopa), but it seems like the same thing occurs among run-of-the-mill "info addicts," our current 24/7 breed of gamers, and the Barney generation now filling their scrips for Ritalin and similar.

      In the natural case, the "rush" seems triggered by "novelty" or "newness," rather than the *importance* of the material you're viewing. Expose yourself to a *constant* feed of novelty - Slashdot, blinkenlights, games, DVDs, etc - and you might have a hard time getting your brain to focus on Calculus or the Sendmail docs, even if you're academically interested. (Test case: Compare learning a few lines of Smalltalk or LISP, to a few lines of the next language du-jour to appear on Slashdot. While 'Hello world!' is 'Hello world!,' the language you hadn't known existed probably holds your attention better - even if you're equally familiar with either.)

      There's probably some sort of evolutionary basis for this - back whenever, the monkey more likely to try what other monkeys weren't had a better chance of making a 'breakthrough' that'd lead to breeding. Then, there were limited opportunities for stimulation that *weren't* survival-related; today's "troop dynamics" are different, and it's easy to stuff your brain full of *NEW!* without any purpose in mind.

      So anyhow, how do you reclaim focus? First, deprivation helps. If you have deadlines to meet, hold yourself back from Slashdot a day *before* you go to work; restrict your downtime activity (the stuff you do for 'relaxation' or 'meditation,' to get yourself in gear to tackle a problem) to things that *are* familiar to you - games you've already played - "twitch" games are good for this; Galaga or Panzer Dragoon can still be fun even if you know all the swarm patterns - reruns of the Simpsons, which you've probably already watched, etc. If you get bored out of your skull, get some real-life social stimulation (healthy, may provide insight on what you've got to do tomorrow), or watch something "low-fi" that would've kept your attention in the pre-interweb era - like a nature documentary; at least then you're getting the doses of info-fix on the director's terms, not each time you click. (Consider it a withdrawal treatment.)

      The next day, you might find it easier to focus, because you've "built-down" some of your dopamine dependence. Or you'll just go stir-crazy, and fire up Slashdot for another "hit." (But remember, you can read yesterday's articles *after* your project is done.) If you've been swimming in it for far too long, you might 'need' something like Wellbutrin to just raise your baseline just to the point where your brain can still function... but that seems like a temporary stopgap, perhaps making everything seem *equally* novel until you get acclimated to *that* raised chemical balance.

      A better solution is to find a new perspective on the problem. If you have to write papers, stop picking topics to optimize your free time and get easy As. Find something that riffs on your interests, allows for actual insight - and if you get to conference with your prof, let him know you're having a hell of a time getting things done, but would rather write an 'okay' paper on a subject that stretches your interests (letting you 'wrap' more of the subject matter around your own ideas of of what's novel, increasing your focus on the course in general) than a 'good' paper that just repeats your lecture notes, bores you to death, and leaves you pounding it out at 6AM the day before cl
  • Exercise (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fredrikj ( 629833 ) on Sunday July 27, 2003 @12:28PM (#6544751) Homepage
    I am very familiar with your problem, and the thing I'd recommend is getting a decent amount of physical exercise. I always find it easier to concentrate on schoolwork (or any other work) after 30-45 minutes of running and a shower.

    The biggest problem is motivation. Often when I don't feel like working, I definitely don't feel like exercising either :)
  • by JohnGrahamCumming ( 684871 ) * <> on Sunday July 27, 2003 @12:30PM (#6544767) Homepage Journal
    I'd start with not setting aside an entire day for work, that's just overwhelming
    for anyone. When you start by telling yourself "I'm going to work all day" you
    are probably going to fail because just the sheer length of the day and magnitude
    of what you have to get done can become overwhelming.

    The key to fixing your problem is probably to make the tasks in front of you not
    seem so overwhelming through a number of techniques. I sympathize with your plight
    because as a student myself I had a hard time initially, but it's worth knowing
    that over time your ability to work hard for longer will improve... like so many
    other things it's a question of practice.

    Music may or may not help you, that seems to be a very personal thing. I can't
    stand to have music while I work (because I want to listen to it and not work)
    but have a colleague who has music on (low volume) all the time. Personally I
    have found that the quiet droning voices on NPR help keep my mind on the job and
    if something I really do care about comes on it's a little welcome break from
    what I am doing.

    You might also find that some other non-work activities actually bring more focus
    when you are working. If you go to a gym, run or do some other physical exercise
    I've found that it has a great effect on concentrating the mind. If you are
    drinking a lot of caffeine laden drinks while working you might find that cutting
    back enables you to concentrate more because you are not overstimulated by caffeine.

    But specifically...

    1. Prioritize the work

    Sit down and make a list of all the tasks that you have to get done. I use a
    real paper notebook for that sort of thing because it's satisfying to cross them
    off as you go.

    Once you've made the list order them (1, 2, 3, ...) in terms of how much of the
    job you'll get done, or how hard they are to do. If you knock off a few hard
    tasks at the start when you are more focused you'll start to feel better and the
    smaller tasks coming later will seem less overwhelming. (I think in the Seven
    Habits book this is "Put first things first"---but really it's commonsense, if
    you get out of the way the stuff you are dreading doing you'll feel better and
    get more done).

    For example, right now I am working on the test suite for my open source project
    and it's *boring*, *long* and *hard*. But I've got a list and slowly by slowly
    I'm seeing progress.

    One reason that lists can be problematic is if you write down all the tasks and
    realize that you haven't got enough time... hence the next topic...

    2. Set yourself some goals

    It's important to take your list and set some goals. "I'm going to finish
    task X by lunch". Then try to stick to them. If you find yourself unable to
    stick to the goals and timings then go back and replan. You'll have a better
    idea of how long the task is going to take and that will motivate you more...
    Thinks "If I finish Y tonight, then tomorrow I'll just need to do A, B and C"

    3. Reward yourself

    I've found that stopping my main tasks and doing a little other task that I
    find interesting is a good way to keep the motivation up. For example, I'll
    have a goal "finish X" and when I've done it I'll stop and do something unrelated
    which I enjoy.

    For example on my open source project I have this long boring test suite to write,
    each time I complete a task I work on a fun task associated with the performance
    of the project. You can do something similar which means you actually praise
    yourself through a reward for going something done.

    4. Eat well

    Nothing like being hungry to screw things up. Eat good food, stop for meals and
    eat them.

    Good luck,
  • Two-pronged approach (Score:5, Informative)

    by delfstrom ( 205488 ) on Sunday July 27, 2003 @12:31PM (#6544773)
    You can try two things at the same time: Diet and self-hypnosis.

    With diet, eliminate sugar & caffeine. Add lots of vegetables. Supplement with fish oils which are like a brain boost. Once I changed my diet around I started thinking clearer and my concentration improved.

    With self-hypnosis (either by yourself or with a trained professional) you can train yourself to increase concentration and, more importantly, block out distractions, including distractions from your own mind.

    In the end, the most likely cause of your procrastination is because you don't want to be doing what you must do. If you can find a way to better enjoy the work you've been assigned, then you'll find that you can sit down and work on it with ease.

    If all else fails (and it shouldn't, as you're the one in control) unplug your network connection, and get someone to check up on you every hour to make sure you're not just sitting there sharpening your pencils or something.
  • by sQuEeDeN ( 565589 ) on Sunday July 27, 2003 @12:32PM (#6544778)
    Honestly, you'd be amazed what two little things can do:
    1. ifconfig eth0 down

      you'd be amazed at what getting rid of a global distraction can do :)

    2. Ritalin. It's amazing. People give ritalin shit for being overprescribed, but it's remarkable. Just do what everyone in the ivies do (and Exeter): snort it. You'll be more focused than ever before.

    Okay, snorting ritalin isn't for everyone, but it helps. I also reccomend exercise as a way to focus your mind. It's effects are hard to explain, but ever since I started biking i've found a tuned body helps the mind. (Sounds like new age shit but, hey, it works.)

    Also try downtempo music, much like what you can find on SomaFM []
  • by AdamBa ( 64128 ) on Sunday July 27, 2003 @12:34PM (#6544805) Homepage
    You may be overwhelmed by the size of the task ahead of you. One way to help is to set a series of intermediate goals. So you say, "within the next hour I will have the data structures defined" or "by 9 pm I will have coded up the main input routine."

    Then you can promise yourself that once that is done, you will give yourself X amount of time to goof off, surf the web, ask questions on slashdot, etc. Then it's back to the next goal. Or you can say that if you finish the goal early, then you will allow yourself to play for the unused time...if you fool around too much in the middle, you won't get the free time allowance.

    This gives you a sense of accomplishment as you realize you have done *something* and you don't spend mental time stressing over your lack of results so far. Don't worry too much about trying to balance each goal to be the same amount of time, etc. just make it something that shows good forward progress.

    Now of course setting goals takes time, so it will cost you some time to do this...but the overall result should be more productivity given the work habits you describe. The shorter the time period for the each goal (i.e. is it half a day's work or 15 minutes' work) then the lower your "work to planning" ratio is, but for some things you may really need to do some microplanning to get going.

    You also should try to identify what part of the work you find the hardest to get done. For example when I am writing code I find actually typing in the code the first time to be the hardest part...I can design the algorithm/etc OK, and then once I have the first version typed in I can get it compiling no problem, then debugging is a cool mental challenge. But the part where I just type in all the variable declarations and for loops and whatnot is the hardest to avoid procrastinating during.

    So if you can figure that out, then you can focus on getting over that hump (set goals of the shortest duration during that time).

    - adam
  • by spineboy ( 22918 ) on Sunday July 27, 2003 @12:35PM (#6544814) Journal
    I'm a doctor and i REALLY needed to study ALOT- both during med school and in residency. After working a 100-120 hours in a week, it's hard to get motivated. What I found out, and so did many other people, was that the best way was to read BEFORE you went home for the day. Make it part of work at least for an hour or two a day. Once you go home, there are too many distractions and you won't get stuff done (I've been there).

    The other thing to do is make lists of small segments, if you procrastinate. This will force you to work more steadily. Yes I'm a procrastinator too, and this works.

    The last thing to do is get out of the house and go somewhere where there are NO distractions. Not Borders or Barnes and Nobles, but the local law school library, where nothing interests you and everybody else is working hard.
    My 2 cents worth.

  • Get started (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Vireo ( 190514 ) on Sunday July 27, 2003 @12:35PM (#6544816)
    As many out there, I have the same problem (major case of procrastination). However, I sometimes get the job done. Generally, the problem does not lie when working: the problem is getting started. Once I'm studying or working on a project (be it code, report, etc.), I generally enter "the zone" and I am able to work for 3-4 hours straight at an amazing pace. So what you want to do is get over the preparation phase and get started the earlier possible. Find something interesting fast in what you have to do.

    Another tip: when studying, do not just read a book. Take notes.
  • by Poletown ( 692868 ) on Sunday July 27, 2003 @12:36PM (#6544830) Homepage
    I used to suffer from this problem REAL BAD. Like you, I could not get anything done, even if I locked myself in my office for the whole day. The Internet, MP3's, TV, whatever was available served as a distraction. I purchased countless books on procrastination, all of the "PUMP YOURSELF UP" motivator books, asked other people for advice, etc. Nothing worked. Then one day, I don't even remember how, I came up with a system that worked. Each time I had a project to work on, I would sit down the night before and develop a plan. 1) I break down each of the major tasks needed to be completed. 2) Under each task, I break down all of the subsections that needed to be completed 3) Under each subsection, I fill in the details that needed to be done (sometimes in paragraph form). 4) After everything is listed, I go back through and assign time guidlines. When I follow this, it works out great. I think the whole problem is that sometimes a big project like writing a term paper is just overwhelming. Rather than trying to figure out where to begin and what to do, it's easier just to click onto your browser of choice and say "I'll do it later". When everything is listed and broken down into little sections, the project isn't as overwhelming. Just a bunch of 'little projects' that need to be done. I'm not if this will work for you, but it makes things MUCH easier for me. Good Luck
  • by Knife_Edge ( 582068 ) on Sunday July 27, 2003 @12:36PM (#6544831)
    The instant you think of something that you need to do, immediately begin doing it. If you are at college, you should have a constant barrage of things. Do not bother trying to organize your time beyond the classes you must attend and meals you must eat. If you follow my advice correctly, you should be busy constantly.

    The problem you are having is that you have many things to do. Sitting around worrying which to work on first is just a waste of time. Which did you think of first? Work on that one until you make significant progress, then switch to whatever you thought of next. Constant calculations about how to make yourself more efficient by prioritizing tasks drain your energy and increase your stress, while using my 'work whenever you think about work' method will get things done.

    If you get distracted between the time you think of something you need to do and the time it takes to start doing it, you have the attention span of a hamster. I would warn you that you can make up all sorts of excuses for this, like attention deficit disorder, all the while insisting that you are intelligent (which may be true). But being intelligent is only the potential to do things - nobody will care that you are intelligent if you are too unfocused to use your mind. Lack of accomplishment equals lack of capability in most people's minds.

    Concentrate. Stay busy. Start now.
  • Don't work from home (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Zerbey ( 15536 ) * on Sunday July 27, 2003 @12:37PM (#6544836) Homepage Journal
    That is probably your biggest problem. When in school, I never got work done at home, too many distractions! The best thing to do if you want to get some serious studying done, go to the library or form a study group (yeah, nerdy as hell but think of the nice big salary you're working towards in a few years).

    Think of school as a job, a shitty paying job but a job nonetheless, and make set hours every day that you'll dedicate to work. Sneak in lunchtimes and breaks as well or you'll burn out in a couple of hours. It'll get you into a routine that'll ultimately end up in that nice piece of paper that's your ticket to big bucks (hopefully!).

    It doesn't get any better in the real world either, I have a hard time getting motivated even though I know I'm getting paid for it!
  • by jaaron ( 551839 ) on Sunday July 27, 2003 @12:38PM (#6544845) Homepage
    Read less slashdot. :)

    Okay, I'm sure that will get posted a hundred times, but here are some other ideas:
    • Start Small: If it's a serious issue, trying to change your entire lifestyle at once can be difficult. Not impossible, but a better approach might be to start with something small and work your way up. Perhaps starting with exercise (as someone mentioned) or managing your sleep schedule, or just some random chore. Do that regularly and you'll start to have more and more control.
    • Eliminate Distractions: If it's homework, then leave the apartment and go to the library. Find somewhere where you simply don't have any other distractions -- no computers, radios, TV's, people to bug you, etc. Changing your environment will help.
    • Accountability: Explain to a close friend your problem. Have them check up on you and encourage you. Knowing you'll have to face up to someone who cares (and not your professor or boss) can give you some motivation.
    • Rewards: Have the integrity not to give yourself rewards until after you've accomplished something. But a reward system can help. Promise to go watch a movie or buy something special or go on a vacation once you've accomplished a particular goal. Again, having someone make sure you don't cheat helps.
    • Journal: By far what's helped me is keeping a regular journal. This may not help everyone, but it helps me be honest with myself. I can better gauge change that occurs over months and years by keeping a written record. I can work out goals, anxieties and plans. It works for me.

    At least those are some of my ideas. Also, finding some way or time to calm down and reflect on life helps to. This can be when you exercise, or do your journal, or go to church (if you're into that sort of thing). Point it, every now and then you'll need to stop and remember why it is you want to be productive.

    While you will probably get a lot of trolls responding to this, a good work ethic is important and not easily gained. It's something a lot of us could use improvement on.
  • by Trolling4Dollars ( 627073 ) on Sunday July 27, 2003 @12:39PM (#6544852) Journal
    After I got a subscription to an ISP back in 1997, I noticed that my productivity went down with regards to music composition and production. It was quite a shock to me since I'd always been able to come up with new things almost every day. Then, at one point, I was reading the online diary of one of my favorite musicians (Ryuichi Sakamoto) and he noted that ever since he started using the web, he'd become less productive. He suggested that it was a combination of the distraction it provides, the wealth of information that exists as it relates to your own personal interests and the "six degrees" nature of most web content that leads you from one of your interests to another. His personal approach was to schedule time that he was allowed to use the web. After reading this, I applied this approach to my own life by completely removing the ability of my audio production system to do anything on the Internet. It can only share files and mount other shares on my LAN, but that's it. This could be done in a number of ways. So, if you have more than one machine, I'd suggest that you dedicate one to being your development machine and leave off any ability to access the web. It's worked for me, although I will say, that if you catch yourself spending less time at the "development" machine, you might want to check your web usage vs. your productivity.
  • by Spudley ( 171066 ) on Sunday July 27, 2003 @12:41PM (#6544867) Homepage Journal
    Yes, seriously. My answer is "don't read this". You're asking how to stop wasting time on the internet, but you ask the question on the one site that probably wastes more geek time than anything else.
    This answer is probably five or six pages down the list of replies, so if you're reading this answer, you've already wasted way too much time here.
  • by AntiOrganic ( 650691 ) on Sunday July 27, 2003 @12:46PM (#6544903) Homepage
    This might sound ludicrous to those who live off of caffeine, but I've found caffeine absolutely has a completely detrimental effect on my ability to get work done. I become panicky, nervous and confused, and I can't keep a clear train of thought.

    This certainly does not apply to everyone, but may to you.
  • That's all.

    Unplug your network cable, move to a place with no IP connectivity, put on some music, and get concentrating.

  • by Oswald ( 235719 ) on Sunday July 27, 2003 @12:49PM (#6544937)
    Seriously, have you considered blowing off college and bumming it for a while? Wait tables or whatever for food money, and waste as much time as you like on the internet or lost inside your own head. It seems like there's only a few possible outcomes--either you'll get bored with it and develop some real motivation to go to school (then you won't need motivational tricks), or you'll love it forever (in which case you avoided wasting your life doing stuff you hated), or maybe you'll even find something you really love to do and become a fabulous success at it (may require school, may not--either way, the motivation is there).

    Of course, there are pitfalls here, too. For instance, you may love bumming around for twenty years, get sick of it finally, only to find yourself too dysfunctional to go to school even though you really want to. That would suck. Also, you'll find that the bum's life isn't usually awash in women (or whatever turns you on). Most people (though not all) are looking for less starry-eyed partners.

    If you're going to school to please other people (parents?), you might want to sit down and really think about what YOU want out of your life. You only get one, you know. You're not doing anybody any favors spending all that money on something you're only giving a half-assed effort.

  • by JanneM ( 7445 ) on Sunday July 27, 2003 @12:50PM (#6544946) Homepage
    I have exactly the same problem you describe. I can sit at the desk, stuff right in front of me, and still end up doing no work for hours. I may surf the net, read mail, pick up a suddenly interesting (but unrelated) book, make coffee, doodle, making suddenly important phonecalls, decide my chair needs reupholstering or whatever.

    Only when I am cornered like a frightened rat, with the third extended deadline breathing down my neck, voices screaming at me to get going (no, not in the head; they belong to people hat need my results) and my stress level is high enough to induce cardiac arrest am I able to focus and actually do it.

    A partially successful strategy is to put yourself in a situation where you have another, even more important, task to do; this will transform your duties into avoidance activities and will suddenly get done quickly and easily - just witness how clean and well-organized your apartment is after an important deadline. Of course, that does mean the new, hugely important task will be lingering instead.

    On the downside, I have never found any way to really solve this. I just put up with failing myself over and over again, putting off stuff I should have done long ago. On the upside, even with such faulty strategies, I have managed to get a Ph.D. - and high blood pressure, jeadaches stomach pains and stress-related mood swings, but hey, you can't have it all.

  • ADHD (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Lando ( 9348 ) <> on Sunday July 27, 2003 @12:56PM (#6544989) Homepage Journal
    Actually, you may want to get yourself tested for ADHD, the symptems you are describing are pretty much the diagnoses for ADD/ADHD.

    I can relate to sitting down to work, and at the end of a 12-16 hour day only having 1/2 of work done. It's gotten to the point that I am now spending most of my time working on getting a diagnoses and the problem fixed.

    The way ADHD works is a bit insidious. Without an understanding of how it works it's easy to label yourself as not working hard enought, etc. My first realization that I might have a problem was when I took Wellbutrin for the first time, it became easier to make decisions, ie betweeen making a decision to do something and actually getting started took about 2 hours with the Wellbutrin it was instant, ie decide to go to the store, grab keys and jump in the car.

    Anyway, I suggest getting yourself tested for ADHD by an expert. Testing should take approx 6-8 hours for complete testing.
  • my own experience (Score:4, Interesting)

    by kongjie ( 639414 ) <> on Sunday July 27, 2003 @12:59PM (#6545012)
    You will have to experiment with the suggestions posted as well as your own ideas.

    I want to share my own, pathetic example with you, though. Most of my life has been plagued by severe procrastination, since around middle school, I think. High school was horrible--I can remember spending two days creating a chemistry lab notebook that I was supposed to have spent a whole semester on, just to give one instance.

    In college, I eventually got worse and worse until I stopped attending classes (because I was so far behind) and failed an entire semester.

    I worked in a restaurant full time for a year, and got re-admitted to school. I talked to a counselor and kind of worked things out, so I thought. Still, I had to continue working to support myself while going to classes part-time, so it took about 8 years to graduate.

    I worked for a couple of years, which was no problem, then went back to school for my master's. Still okay.

    Then I entered a Ph.D. program at Yale and it started again. Really bad. I never finished my dissertation because of the time wasted. There were other factors involved beyond my control, and to be honest I don't think I would have stayed in my field if I had completed the dissertation, but still the responsibility lies with me.

    So now I'm unemployed (by choice, followed my girl to another state, leaving a good job where I was becoming miserable because I procrastinated at the parts of the job I didn't enjoy) and I'm trying to use the down time to do some writing, something I've always wanted to do but didn't have the courage.

    I've got great starts on two projects that are wonderful ideas...essentially I'm halfway through them, and I'm stuck. Like a wall.

    What's the lesson? I've bought every decent anti-procrastination book on the market, read them and tried to implement the suggestions. But I even procrastinate about that! I've done therapy, both group and individual. It was useful in many ways, but here I am, still stuck.

    I think it may be chemical/biological. It is very, very difficult for me to concentrate on one thing for more than, say, fifteen minutes. Even reading has become harder, and I love to read more than anything else. Once I get a job I'm considering Prozac or something to see if it can take the edge off my tendency to be distracted.

    I'm not lazy. I'm a hard worker and wherever I work I'm quickly valued for my contributions and innovations. In school I was regularly in the top 10% of the brightest students, except when it came time to follow through and produce. And still, I know that I've wasted years of my life. They're gone and nothing can bring them back.

    So, I urge you to find out what the problem is and fix it, or try to fix it. Because the clock is ticking.

  • by Snafoo ( 38566 ) on Sunday July 27, 2003 @01:00PM (#6545023) Homepage
    I've been diagnosed with ADD and I have two suggestions for dealing with procrastination and focusing problems. Note that I don't to either of these much anymore, as I'm medicated, but they worked well enough at the time.

    Suggestion #1:

    I have a little theory to the effect that, for a certain percentage of the population, GUIs have made focusing a lot more difficult: Sure, your taskbar, icons, buttons and menus make it easier to switch rapidly between many different tasks and contexts, but they also _make_it_easier_to_switch_between_many_different_t asks_and_contexts_. One minute you're studying faithfully --- at your mental office, so to speak --- and the next, you're in your mental rec room, playing FreeCiv; or in your mental coffee shop, chatting on /. And, Oh God, the futzing that one can do with a GUI! Desktop icon arrangement. Wallpaper. Themepacks, for heaven's sake. It's a temple of distraction in here.

    So here's what I recommend: Ditch it. Ditch the GUI. Install Linux, if you haven't already, and configure /etc/inittab to boot to initlevel 4. Learn to love vi or nano or emacs: They work great for comp sci projects, and if you have an essay or a paper to write, do it in vi first, import it to word_processor_of_your_choice (for formatting) only when you're about to print it.

    If you can't ditch the GUI for whatever reason (i.e. you need a proprietary Windoze app, or you can't bear to install Linux) then I recommend setting up a new account (linux) or user profile ('doze) that will only allow you to run only those applications which you need to get the job done. If that doesn't work, you should seriously consider getting yourself a (second-hand?) laptop upon which you will place only work-related programs --- preferably, one without WiFi or some other way of exposing it to the Lethean floodwaters of the 'net.

    Suggestion #2. This next one is a little weird, but it works well for me. Note that it might work less well if you don't have any roomates, as it depends greatly on your desire to avoid embarrassment. It also requires that you have an extra room in your house.

    Make yourself a home office in a well-heated room, and keep only work-related things in it. When you go to study, take in all the food, caffeine, and books that you'll need for a stint of about five hours. Set an alarm clock to go off in five hours. Now, close the door, and take off your pants. Yes, you heard me, take off your pants. If necessary, take off your shirt as well. Put them in a plastic bag, and tie the bag shut. Put the bag away (the further away the better.). This way, you can't leave the room suddenly without raising eyebrows: If, say, you have a sudden impulse to jump up and watch TV, or phone a friend, it'll take you a good five minutes to dress, which should be plenty to reconsider and sit back down.

    After a couple of months of this, you get in the habit of staying in the room until the alarm sounds, you don't have to take off your pants anymore.
  • by reallocate ( 142797 ) on Sunday July 27, 2003 @01:04PM (#6545051)
    So, what are you doing when you aren't working? Are you sure that you aren't just futzing around in order to avoid getting down to business?

    When I was in college, a friend and I used to pull all-nighters to study for exams. A third friend, Dave, usually joined us, but insisted on staying in his own room. Invariably, Dave would wander over around 5:00 a.m. and we'd give him some money to go uptown to a bakery that opened at dawn to buy breakfast. After our coffee and croissants, all three of us would walk to campus and take our exams. My friend and I usually did well, and Dave usually did poorly. He'd whine, "But I stayed up all night, too!"

    Well, turns out that Dave spent all night wastng his time. He'd spend so much time "getting ready to study" that he never studied. In other words, a classic case of lack of discipline and avoidance.

  • by Voivod ( 27332 ) <> on Sunday July 27, 2003 @01:05PM (#6545056)

    I've always had the same problem. You have to really think hard about what it is that prevents you from working, and attack those things relentlessly. This may take years. What breaks your concentration? When you notice you've gotten a lot done, think hard about what led up to you reaching that state!

    It's totally different for everyone, but here are some things that work for me :-)

    • Really strict use of source control like Perforce or CVS so I can review what I did last time or just rollback my changes if I get off track.
    • A Makefile that lets me build my entire environment from scratch without having to remember exactly how I'd configured mySQL, Apache, etc. When I move to a new machine or upgrade something I just type one command and go to work.
    • My physical work environment has to be totally clean. I'm not at all an organized person normally but a cluttered work environment always distracts me. It took me years to figure this out.
    • Booming loud music in headphones. What's that ringing sound I'm always hearing?
    • My work environment needs to be cold and have fresh air. The colder the better. I'm always fighting co-workers for control of the AC.
    • It needs to be early in the morning or late at night.
    • If it's late at night, a single shot of tequilla does wonders, but no more. :-)
    • Drink water non stop. As much as I can stand.
    • I tell myself I'm only going to get a little bit done, like get something to compile, write a function. Usually I'll just keep going once that's done.

    Other people find techniques like making schedules, having a really strong routine, making lists, etc very helpfull but not I. Also, caffeine is an evil drug that makes you THINK you're really productive, when in fact you're not getting shit done... at least in my case. Avoid it unless it's measurably helping.

  • by doonesbury ( 69634 ) on Sunday July 27, 2003 @01:14PM (#6545131) Homepage
    If you're worried about not getting work done, I'm betting that you're also thinking to yourself about not only this work, but asking yourself what if you don't finish this piece, and thinking about what else needs to get done as well.

    I know, because I do it myself.

    Concentration is a skill. It's not something that comes instantly to everyone, it's something that needs to be practiced. And it's not hard to practice it, either, but it does take some disipline.

    First, learn to clear your thoughts of extraneous stuff. I do this by mostly telling myself that, first, if I worry about all the rest of the crap I have to do, I'm not only not going to get *this* done, I'm not going to get *any* of it done, and I'm no better off than when I started -- so, Part-of-me-that-worries, shut up and let me get some work done, so you can worry about something else. It's kind of a zen, clear-your-mind of all thoughts moment.

    Second, try the following exercises::

    Practice Sitting Quietly: Sit down for an half-an-hour a day, at your desk. No distractions, no extra stuff to work on, and just one project to finish. Take a quick, zen-cleansing breath, and don't think about everything else you have to do. (Don't panic, if what you have to get done takes more than that time, I'm just saying you have to *sit* for that time.)

    Complete Something Every Day: do something that you can complete in one day, and do one of every day. If it's a book, slice it up into chapters or 10 pages or whatever. If it's one calculus set, use that. Do that every day, at the same time, once a day. It give some sense of accomplishment, gets you practiced at doing something on a regular basis.

    (Note, I got these from Daniel Pinkwater's book Fishwhistle, but they seem to help.)

    Finally, also do these:

    Exercise: I know it's been said, but exercise exhausts the muscles, gets the blood flowing, can heighten concentration, and is generally good for you. It may seem like a waste of time, but it gives back in concentration what it takes in time; so if it's 4 hours of worrying over something, or 1 hour of exercise and 3 hours of working, which is more productive?

    Sleep: Do it. Regularly. It helps with concentration, sleepy people can't concentrate.

    Give it a shot. See if it works for you. If not, try the following things which have worked for friends of mine:

    Earmuffs: Seriously. My brother cannot concentrate unless there's no noise about. You can find these for about $5-$10 at any hardware store; some even fold up for carrying. They block out sound like earplugs (not a bad idea either) and allow you to not hear any sounds around you.

    Tai Chi and other Martial Arts: These heavily emphasize concentration, so it may be that they do you more good by both getting you exercise and by helping you practice concentration.

    Good luck!
  • Carrot & Stick (Score:4, Interesting)

    by debrain ( 29228 ) on Sunday July 27, 2003 @01:24PM (#6545198) Journal
    In the best and worst of times, I encourage myself by stipulating rewards for valuable work. Ie. if I finish such-and-such by a certain time, I'll play Diablo II for an hour. The trick, of course, with Diablo II is to stop playing ;)

    I have found this trick to be a valuable exercise in motivation. Perhaps someone else may, too.

  • Damn good question.. (Score:5, Informative)

    by radish ( 98371 ) on Sunday July 27, 2003 @01:57PM (#6545399) Homepage
    I think this is a very common problem - I know I suffer from it at work quite frequently. I can't promise to give you a perfect response, but here are some random thoughts related to the topic...

    1) If you just can't get around to doing something, it maybe simply because it's an insanely boring task. We all have to do them for sure, but it can be difficult. First idea (and this isn't a joke) - can you get someone else to do it? If you're at work - delegate, swap tasks, do a deal, whatever. What's boring to you might be just what someone else would like to spend an afternoon doing. If you really have to do it yourself, I simply make a deal with myself - no ps2/tv/web/pron/insert fave poison here until it's done. I have some self control so that usually does it :)

    2) Sleep. I tend not to sleep enough mainly due to having too many more fun things to do. I find my concentration wanders a lot more when I'm tired. A few good nights sleep can help my concentration at work (even with things I hate doing) a hell of a lot.

    3) Give your mind a break. Rather than do something else on the sly and feel guilty - allocate some time and go and do something else on purpose. If you've got a long piece of work break it up in advance and allocate fun time during the day. I find my focus is better when I sit back down at something after maybe 30 mins off.

    4) Music. Classical might work for you - certainly not for me. Where I work speakers are banned but headphones are fine. I've loaded my PC up with a big selection of tunes for different moods - the key for me is choosing the right tune. For full-on 110% rush coding nothing beats full-on (extremely loud) dance music. I'm a DJ so I've done a bunch of mixes which fit the bill. I find that when my head starts nodding and my feet start tapping, my fingers can't help but keep up :)

    I dunno - maybe some of that will help someone :)
  • by jellomizer ( 103300 ) on Sunday July 27, 2003 @02:06PM (#6545466)
    When I was in college I found I did my best work if I woke up at 4 am and did my work until around 9 am. There are very little distractions at that time usually all your friends are a sleep or finishing their last minute work. There is nothing good on TV. And the environment is usually is very quit. At first getting up at that time is tough but after a while it gets easier.
  • by drivers ( 45076 ) on Sunday July 27, 2003 @02:07PM (#6545471)
    Break down a large task into small steps. Next to each task, in the first column, predict how difficult that task will be on a scale from 0-100%. Leave a column blank, which will be the percentage of the actual difficulty after you do that step. Next column is predicting how satisfying it will be, 0-100%, and then one more blank column used to record the actual satisfaction after the step. (It's a cognitive therapy technique.) IANAD. I'd be curious if anyone actually tries this, how it works out for them.
  • by gronkulator ( 119289 ) on Sunday July 27, 2003 @04:04PM (#6546144)
    i know the feeling. it's sort of frustrating to be able to do something, have the knowlege of your capacity, yet still when the time comes, there's always that next website to check up on or that last level to conquer. I can only offer a few general tactics:
    1. set aside time for work. this can be on the order of hours per day, or days per week, depending on your comfort level. do not be overly ambbitious with setting aside too much time, you may procrastinate to fill the time available.
    2. separate work areas from relaxation/play areas. this is critical for creating a setting conducive to working. if at all possible, make it somewhere you do not sleep/eat/watch tv(porn)/game/etc.
    3. if possible, use separate computers for work/play. an old 120mhz beater is enough to run office 95 and netscape 3.0 or something equivalent.
    4. disconnect everything (tv, cell, internet, etc) while working whenever possible.
    5. If you find yourself avoiding work because it is giving you anxiety/you feel overwhelmed/can't concentrate because you are constantly worrying about stuff, and it doesn't let up, seek the help of a physician or psychiatrist. that could be depression or an anxiety disorder.
    6. following from above, if the depression or anxiety is significantly impacting your ability to function, you may want to consider meds or psychotherapy. it may seem like an extreme solution, but that's just not true. it's a highly effective solution that may allow you to shelve your concentration/focus problems and actually get work done without creating other problems in the form of extended deadlines/late nite cram sessions/etc. it also allows you do do a little introspection in to the underlying issues that create these situations. it may even enable an ah-ha moment.
    7. following from above - i know this might be flame bait, but stay away from paxil. withdrawal [] is a bitch.

  • Fixed intervals (Score:5, Insightful)

    by djmitche ( 536135 ) on Sunday July 27, 2003 @06:46PM (#6547079) Homepage
    My girlfriend learned this at a thesis-writing seminar, and it's worked wonders for me. I work on each task for a specific, short length of time (30 minutes for most, but you may be more comfortable with another length). This applies for everything from open-source programming to household cleaning.

    This system has several advantages. First, I'm never faced with an insurmountable task. When I began, my house was very cluttered, and it was hard to get excited about cleaning it. But it's not so hard to think "I'll just clean the living room for 30 minutes and I'll be done and on to something else". Second, for thinking tasks (like coding), the fixed time means I don't stop "between thoughts" on a project. When the time is up for a task, I stop right where I am, even in mid-sentence or mid-expression. The anticipation this creates keeps each task fresh in my mind, so I can pick up at full speed the next time I begin that task.

  • by hayden ( 9724 ) on Sunday July 27, 2003 @08:37PM (#6547573)
    "It's not that I'm lazy. It's that I just don't care." -- Peter Gibbons
  • ADD and Stupidity (Score:4, Interesting)

    by zo219 ( 667409 ) * on Monday July 28, 2003 @02:24AM (#6548872) Homepage

    I'm always astonished in discussions of ADD how little people know, and how much they have to say about it.

    If you have a genetic or environmental cause for low reuptake of dopamine, your Exectutive Function - the name of area of the brain that, yes, instigates, organizes and executes - will be crippled. To a larger or lesser extent, but crippled nonetheless. Evidence that this is an inheritied condition was discovered at Brookhaven, only a few years ago, a glitch on one of the dopamine aelles.

    It is perfectly possible to be unable to execute a single shred of all the good advice on this thread. I am hopeful of the day when psycholgy is no longer confused with functional brain conditions.

    One of the most common misunderstandings about ADD comes from people who say, Hell, I'm not ADD, I can focus for hours and hours! Attention Deficit does not mean you cannot pay attention, it means that your ability to direct your own attention is not entirely volitional; your brain cannot organize itself. One is thus vulnerable to any strong pull in the environment, pleasant or un-. ADDers can hyperfocus like nobody's business - on something that interests them. And of life of endless interests minus the ability to shape and direct them is most definitely a circle of hell.

    With just enough dopamine to keep distrability in check, the ability to hyperfocus can make for an Einstein, a Tolstoy; that enviable state of being in the Flow. But the Flow is yet another hell, when you can't do anything else. When your life is a combination of endless periods of Flow - and endless periods when you cannot *do* a single thing at all.

    Small doses of amphetamines have the seemingly paradoxical effect of organizing the thoughts, of focusing the lens of the mind. No one can judge what it means to someone with ADD to be being able to focus at will, yet just about everybody does.

    It means being able to set goals, to begin work, to end work. To accomplish what others take for granted. Which has, in other words, nothing to do with moral fibre at all.

    As to those who brag about getting by on caffeine instead of those nasty drugs - sheer ignorance. Bragging about the ability to make emotional judgements when simple science stares you in the face. Coffee, for example, is a poor way to self-medicate, having detrimental affects on blood sugar and mood, to name only two. Whereas 10mg of Adderall XR provides mixed amphetatines salts. Clean dopamine.

    These are not the opinions of one woman, and that is part of the point. It is simply a case of looking at things as they are.

    When you peel away everything else, intelligent choices become clear.

  • by Skim123 ( 3322 ) <> on Monday July 28, 2003 @03:20AM (#6549030) Homepage
    Fortunately I do not suffer from the same complex that you shared, so my words may be quite hallow and without use to you. I find that I am able to get my shit done; I have done well for myself, and others have noted that I am quite productive, hard-working, and studious.

    The "secret" is, IMHO, to be a gratification-delayer. Psychologists some time ago did studies on young children, asking them if they'd rather have a marshmellow now, or two after some time interval. Those who could delay gratification and wait for the two marshmellows, proved to be more productive and successful adults. In fact, these researchers found, IIRC, that this ability to delay gratification had the greatest affect on a person's adult success, more so than race, religion, socio-economic background, and so on.

    From your comments, it appears as if you are not one who can delay gratification. I would encourage you to change this post haste. How does one do this? That, clearly, is the 64 thousand dollar question. While I don't know what will work for you, here are some suggestions you might want to give a try:

    1. Practice delaying gratification on other things. For example, imagine it's 3:00 pm and you are hungry and want a snack. Make yourself wait until dinner. Say you know that you want to watch the Simpsons tonight. Don't allow yourself to do so. Move the TV to a neighbors if you have to, but make sure you deprive yourself of this pleasure. This may sound a bit masochistic, but I think it would be a step in the right direction.
    2. Setup a system of rewards for delaying your gratification. By skipping that snack, treat yourself to a nicer dinner. In foregoing the Simpsons, allow yourself an hour of playing Doom, or whatever ultraviolent computer games kids these days play. One suggestion: don't always reward yourself for your discipline. Sometimes, give no reward; other times, reward yourself. Random reinforcement does wonders better than constant reinforcement. Ask any parent or psychologist.

    Do not underestimate the importance of learning how to delay gratification. It can mean the difference between a successful, happy life and one where you are constantly burdened with deadlines, financially strapped, and constantly stressed.

    In any event, best of luck, and I hope you find a solution to your problem.

"No, no, I don't mind being called the smartest man in the world. I just wish it wasn't this one." -- Adrian Veidt/Ozymandias, WATCHMEN