Personal Productivity Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for people wanting to improve their personal productivity. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

I have a strange problem. Maybe some of you might also have it. I know what is right and what is wrong, how my time can be used effectively, what I should be doing at this time. But sadly, I end up doing the opposite i.e waste my time in useless stuff.

For example, I have planned to finish reading a book and I know I should be reading it when I have spare time. But I end up chatting/being on FB. And then when the day ends I feel so much guilty. I feel bogged down, depressed and angry with myself. Then, I end up making a plan for what I should be doing tomorrow.

How should I come out of this vicious cycle?

share|improve this question
Is the question about applying what you know or actually learning new tools to get out of this pattern? – JB King Sep 17 '12 at 17:03
I am open to anything. – R11G Sep 17 '12 at 17:05
This will only help with internet stuff, but make it impractical to get to sites you waste your time on during the times you don't want to be wasting your time on them. – Dave Newton Sep 18 '12 at 1:41
up vote 5 down vote accepted

It depends. Sometimes the problem is in what you are avoiding to do. Sometimes the problem is in what you are doing instead. In your specific situation, the problem may be avoiding the book, or it may be inability to turn off FB.

I guess most people will assume that you have problem reading the book, which is where various motivators, plans, TO DOs, Pomodoros, etc. can help. So I will give you the other half of the advice... that maybe your problem, to put it bluntly, is internet addiction.

Analogy -- if someone has an alcohol addiction, and they refuse to admit it, they will probably only describe some consequences, e.g. "I have problems talking with my family" or "I have problems focusing on my work" etc. And they can get a lot of good advice about family communication or work management, but none of the advice will work, because none of it addresses the main problem: that the person gets drunk in the morning every day. But if they are asking for an advice in a pub, there will likely be a taboo against discussing alcohol addiction; too sensitive topic, too many people will get defensive. -- For similar reasons, speaking about internet addiction on a web discussion forum is kind of a taboo. Too many people have it, too many people deny it.

To check whether you are addicted on not, try to avoid internet for one week. If you need it for your work, then use it strictly for work purposes, and not a hyperlink more! If at this moment you say "impossible", then you really really need it.

If my diagnosis is correct and you try it, the first hour or two of free time offline will feel like a mental torture. But then you will find yourself able to do other things. And you will be surprised how long the days became again, and how much you can do in one day without internet. To avoid self-deception, you could use a calendar where you will note whether you used internet for idle browsing the given day or not, and how many offline things have you done during the day. The relation between those data will tell you a lot.

share|improve this answer
Oh yes, Viliam. You're right. I admit that I do have internet addiction. But I never thought it would be responsible for my problem. Even the idea of not having access to internet disturbs me. – R11G Sep 26 '12 at 5:23
I was (partially still am) in a similar situation. The encouraging thought is that once you turn off the internet, the days become looooong again, like the ones you remember from your pre-internet childhood. This could be a good thing or a bad thing. A bad thing if you don't know what to do, and you are just infinitely bored and wonder whether it's worth doing. A good thing if you have a TO DO list (a list of useful things to do when you become bored) and in a moment of boredom start following it. Start with making such list, right now. (My list: meditate, read, meet friends, fix my homepage.) – Viliam Búr Sep 26 '12 at 7:10

I try to use the Pomodoro technique whenever I notice that I am slacking off. Basically, I work in 25 minute chunks. Within those 25 minutes, I make sure that all I'm doing is productive work. After the 25 minutes, I have 5 minutes to do whatever I want.

More information about Pomodoro technique here:

share|improve this answer

The pomodoro techinque is good, but you also might try just making a physical (paper) list of the top 1-3 things you're supposed to be working on and putting it in front of you without time constraints (a task list that floats above everything else on your computer desktop would work too, but I find paper/post-it's work better). There is something very concrete about taking 30 seconds to write down what you need to work before starting, as well as having it constantly I front of you as a reminder as to what you're supposed to be working on this instant.

Deeper you should look some at why you're procrastinating. Are you avoiding something out of fear of failure/inadequacy? Are you passive agressively punishing yourself/someone else by under performing? (obviously I have no idea what's going on with you personally, just throwing out random possible psychological causes of procrastination to get you thinking).

share|improve this answer

The Urgent/Important Matrix may be a useful tool to help identify where are you spending time. The idea here is to break up what you do by considering if something is "Urgent" and/or "Important" forming a 2 x 2 matrix that can be interesting to consider what work you do on a regular basis.

A second point would be to consider what payoffs do you get from various activities. Are you fueled more by being with other people or do you work well independently? Do you have deadlines for various tasks?

share|improve this answer

It's not such a strange problem! It has even had a name for literally thousands of years: Akrasia.

My startup, Beeminder, is trying to get to the heart of the psychology behind akrasia. It's kind of like StickK for data nerds. The idea is to combine commitment contracts with quantified-self-style tracking and data visualization.

Sorry for the self-promotion! You're just exactly our target customer. :)

share|improve this answer

What you're doing is called procrastination, and you're certainly not alone. That's why there's a wealth of online tips on how to stop it. They may not all be scientifically proven, but give some of them a try and see if they work for you. Some examples:

share|improve this answer

From another perspective is the task you are avoiding something you want to do, something that furthers your own goals or something you think you should do to meet the goals that other people think you should have? Avoidance is often a sign that the goal itself is the problem.

share|improve this answer

In addition to the other suggestions I would say set goals in chunks for the day. buy a pocket size notebook , keep it with you all the time. scribble in it plans from when you wake up till lunch , then at lunch till about 6 , then at about 6 till midnight. making plans in chunks allow you to straight away work on it allowing little time for distraction.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.