How I Procrastinate Less
I have been in a fight with my abysmal lack of self-control since I started university with limitless computer access. Each time I uncover some new self-control technique, the advances in technology force me to wrestle harder.
My favourite procrastination time sinks have been, in chronological order:
- playing too many computer games (I have Counterstrike to thank for my paltry initial lecture attendance)
- desktop Linux (the waste of time that felt most like actual work)
- social networking (aka. arguing about pointless shit on the internet)
- reading about politics and news
- Reddit, Hacker News, etc.
Most of these have been conquered by tools providing child-like parental limits rather than abstinence None of these could have been improved through willpower alone as I don’t seem to have any.
Playing too many games
This was the easiest to solve. In increasing order of effectiveness I:
- forced myself to go to bed by making my computer automatically turn itself off at bedtime, rudely killing any game
- did all my gaming on a different machine/device to my “work computer” (macOS for work, Windows for play)
- got several jobs which would fire me if I just played games instead
- married someone who doesn’t like games
- spawned offspring who are not (yet) interested in the sort of games I play
I still play a fair few games, though. It’s a great source of relaxation for me that I can do in short bursts, at home, for a relative pittance.
I wrote a post about this at the time but, TL;DR, I spent way too much time fucking around with my setup. Repeatedly refucking and defucking my Linux system was not a good use of my time. I still grew some neckbeard skills along the way, though, that proved very useful later when doing Linux server work and maintaining Homebrew.
I am effectively “abstinent” on desktop Linux, though. My innate urge to tinker makes it a terrible idea to do otherwise.
I wrote previously about nuking my old content from Facebook and Twitter. I still use some social networks to a small extent but no longer allow social networks are allowed as apps or logged-in websites on my phone. Ultimately, I don’t find Mastodon (my primary social network nowadays) to be too much of a mind virus on my work computer. I learn useful things and have positive interactions with people that I’d miss if I went full abstinence.
Politics and news
I’m highly privileged enough to be mostly unaffected by most political changes and most news stories. I was also “lucky” enough to lose touch with good, real-life friends in early social networking days over stupid political arguments. As a result, I’ll still occasionally talk and think about politics and news but I try to only argue about it in meatspace, ideally: over a pint. I use an iOS app, ScreenZen, which uses Apple’s ScreenTime API (more on that later) to make it as unpleasant as possible to read it on my phone without fully blocking it.
Reddit and Hacker News
These are a tricky pair because they are useful to me sometimes but I get massively diminishing returns the more time I spent spiralling into their bullshit.
Hacker News has a nice server-side “procrastination mode” (
noprocrast in your user settings): this lets you limit how long I can spend pissing around before you are blocked from doing so.
Reddit is like eating crisps for me: mostly bad for me but sometimes I need to trust my more-intense-than-usual need for it and indulge myself. As a result, I have heavily limited it by:
- using ScreenZen, as for politics/news above, on my phone to add friction
- give myself one minute a day on Apple’s ScreenTime (which I do not have the PIN for, I have to ask my wife if I need more time so: I don’t)
- keep it unblocked on my physically separate gaming machine so I can read about games stuff and indulge myself if I’m going to be wasting time gaming anyway
This all might sound like a lot and you may think I have great self-control as a result. Wrong. I have to put all these policies and restrictions in place because I have zero self-control.
I am glad for these changes overall, though. The result has been a better mood, being more productive at work and being more present with family.
You’ll still see me glued to my phone sometimes, though, but I’m probably just reading a new science fiction novel; a hobby nearly driven to extinction by the omnipresence of technology.
Good luck and happy procrastination-battling!