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I love the Stack Exchange network, but I often find myself procrastinating by looking at the most recently updated questions on the sites I visit most. Those questions are rarely (if ever) relevant for the task at hand, and are potentially harmful to my productivity. Stack Exchange has a reputation system with encourages people to give a good answer rapidly — if I wait answering until the evening, I have lost a chance to get a big reputation gain. A higher reputation gives personal pride and privileges on the network.

Now how can I prevent myself from browsing to irrelevant Stack Exchange network sites during working hours over and over again? Although a couple of sites may be relevant, asking and answering on Travel and Outdoor are certainly not helping me toward my PhD in any way.

Related but different: How to use the second brain of the Stack Exchange network in a productive way?

P.S. I think this question belongs on the main site, not on meta.

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Related question (not exactly duplicate): – THelper Oct 31 '12 at 18:39
You should try this for a week ->… – Demian Kasier Oct 31 '12 at 21:58
This extension can be fairly useful if you run it for a week -… – enderland Nov 1 '12 at 17:28
up vote 20 down vote accepted

First of all, you have to realize that stackexchange reputation, reddit karma or any other form of internet fame is overrated. People usually know this as well as they know what amount of time they can afford to spend aimlessly browsing the web.

It all comes back to the basics of procrastination: You know what you should do, but usually right in the moment when you decide to start wasting your time and stop working, you discount the future reward and go for the instant gratification.

These two thoughts/ideas helped me most:

  1. Working does not need to be fun. Writing a thesis usually sucks, that's why we call it work. So the idea "I don't feel like writing right now" is not relevant.

  2. Make a plan before the actual "moment of decision". A plan could be "to work in pomodoros from 9am to 4pm, with a lunch break from X to Y".

So stop meta-procrastinating now. Make a simple plan (done in 5 mins) and start working. Good Luck.

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+1 : online rep is not significant in the grand scheme of things. If you don't get the rep from a question right now...who cares :-) – Rory Alsop Oct 31 '12 at 15:42

Well, becoming addicted to SE as a knowledgable newcomer is very easy (the inbox and mechanisms for gaining reputation are set up to work this way like a online game as World of Warcraft).

But, you should view your reputation more as confirmation of your contributions to this place rather than kind of real world asset. Your PhD is much more worth than any high rep, especially with a anonym account. SE offers short therm rewards, your PhD long term, write this above your screen ;)

Looking up not your inbox here when it blinks up red is tricky, thats why I read SE sites mainly by RSS feed every 1-2 days. I don't get a lot of rep, mostly because I rarely answer a question as first (first medium detailed/correct answer naturally gets the most votes - thats also the reason why you shouldn't care too much about a high rep), but many of my Q&A are very specific and detailed and so still get many but not most upvotes, and this pets my ego enough instead of trying to compete here with top rep users.

Happy stackexchanging!

PS: Oh and imho top tip to avoid procrastination here is not becoming a mod or earning too much privileges :P

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A higher reputation gives personal pride and privileges on the network

why don't you set up your own reputation score? Put a nice-looking board on the wall and give yourself 10 points for each important task completed on time (and take off points for procrastination)

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or (even better) ask someone else to give you these 10 points for each important task completed on time (and take off points for procrastination) - this will keep you motivated. – Steve V Nov 2 '12 at 21:51
I do this in conjunction with the pomodoro system by keeping a google spreadsheet of the pomodoro hours I make each day. My target is 6 per day, and I keep a running total of how much I deviate. Everytime I finish a pomodoro, I get the satisfaction of updating the sheet and seeing the total increase. – Peter Aug 12 '15 at 9:13

It has nothing to do with SE really. If you could stop yourself from procrastinating here, you'd just procrastinate on something else… movies, chat rooms, forums, games.

The core of the problem, as with many researchers, is that you don't know exactly what to do. It's easy to just follow a trail off into nowhere. You should try to break your tasks down into manageable chunks. Force yourself to do a little bit of something every day, even if it doesn't accomplish something that day.

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Another way to think of this might be - how can StackExchange be incorporated into your productivity systems? For example, I am trying to get back into the habit of writing (after many years as a blogger, and then academic writing papers, I burnt out on writing for a while). I now am trying to build a tiny habit around writing a small amount each day. Stack is kind of a great place for that as it requires quick, concise writing (a true skill).

How might you reframe your time on StackExchange so that it fits into your productivity systems? Perhaps if you treated it as an exercise (e.g. I will research and answer on question about R each day) you can use this time productively.

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A partial fix might be to go in the habit of bookmarking interesting questions for later review. This way you might be able to trick your brain into procrastinating the (cognitive) pleasure because of which you are procrastinating.

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