How to Stop Procrastinating – One Month Report

Apr 14, 2008

Procrastination ClockAbout a month ago, I started my self-experiment to stop procrastinating. I tried these two strategies:

  1. Make a to-do list every night to lay out what will get done the next day
  2. Enable the Greasemonkey script – Invisibility Cloak – which will block all the sites that I waste too much time on except during lunch and on the weekend

By mid-month, my browsing time was down only a dismal 3.5%. Here’s my one month report.

More Procrastination (?)

Before I started this experiment I was using the browser 10.11 hours per day, and by mid-month, I was down to 9.76 hours per day. At the end of the month, I saw an increase in browsing time – 10.31 hours per day. What went wrong? That’s a 2% increase from day 1, and from mid-month, it’s a 5.6% increase. What happened? I think I know. The numbers don’t tell the entire story.

Turned Off Invisibility Cloak

SwitchA lot of my work is related to what I do for fun online, so I still had to use some of the sites I blocked with Invisibility Cloak. During the first two weeks of my self-experiment, I would turn the Cloak off whenever I needed to, but some time during the last two weeks I turned it off and it stayed off. However, I think I did this because I was actually working more, so I was turning the Cloak on and off enough that it started to get annoying. Now that I think about it, I probably could have just changed the sites that I blocked, but turning it off was easier.

Need to Know More About Data

So here’s the thing. Even though my browsing time increased, I don’t know if I actually was wasting more time surfing, because it could easily be the opposite. I might have been doing more research than usual or testing designs in the browser. I did after all, feel like I was completing most or all of the items I put on my daily to-do lists (which I noted in my mid-month report that they tasks usually got done if I was specific).

Next Step in Ending Procrastination

RescueTimeIn my next round of self-experimentation and self-surveillance, I’ve switched to RescueTime, which logs not just your browser behavior but everything you do on your computer. It provides time breakdowns of your activities that you can tag (or categorize) and assign a productivity score from -2 (least productive) to +2. For example, I’ve tagged time I spend on Facebook as a ‘time waster’ and assigned it a score of -2. I’m looking forward to seeing what changes (if any) this new insight brings.

I’ll also continue with the detailed to-do lists, as I think they’ve helped, but I can’t say anything for sure yet.

How are all of you doing?


  • anony mouse April 14, 2008 at 8:50 am

    i procrastinated by reading this blog post!

  • anony mouse April 14, 2008 at 4:50 am

    i procrastinated by reading this blog post!

  • Hi Nathan, I immediately signed up for rescuetime after reading your post (of course, I was – like anony mouse – procrastinating by going to google reader to read blogs).

    great recommendation. we’ll see how things go!!

  • Hi Nathan, I immediately signed up for rescuetime after reading your post (of course, I was – like anony mouse – procrastinating by going to google reader to read blogs).

    great recommendation. we’ll see how things go!!

  • glad to be of service – in procrastinating and not. of course, no one would ever think reading flowingdata as procrastination, right? it’s educational reading.

  • What are the stats on the to-do lists?

    World class procrastinators use the making of lists as a procrastination method itself.

    The making of the list uses up some time that could be otherwise spent doing something.

    The list gets forgotten/lost, or stuff just gets added, never crossed off.

    Easy stuff is put onto the list in order to pad the completion percentage.

    Too much long-term stuff gets put onto the list, so it looks too intimidating to start.

    Three items get half-done instead of one item fully done (multasking is a procrastination strategy all its own). There’s the illusion that half-done things are progress, but often they are not.


    As you can see, I’m not a big fan of the list approach.


Think Like a Statistician – Without the Math

I call myself a statistician, because, well, I’m a statistics graduate student. However, the most important things I’ve learned are less formal, but have proven extremely useful when working/playing with data.

A Day in the Life of Americans

I wanted to see how daily patterns emerge at the individual level and how a person’s entire day plays out. So I simulated 1,000 of them.

Real Chart Rules to Follow

There are rules—usually for specific chart types meant to be read in a specific way—that you shouldn’t break. When they are, everyone loses. This is that small handful.

Who is Older and Younger than You

Here’s a chart to show you how long you have until you start to feel your age.