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May 21, 2011


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Arek Flinik

Walter Mischel claims that this mythical "willpower" is indeed nothing more than ability for "strategic allocation of attention", ie. fighting instincts that lead us to distraction with simple mental tricks [1]. What is most important, even when it seems like this ability has genetic origin, it certainly is something that can be learned.

There is also some fascinating research ([2]) which suggests that ability to focus and self-control relies on glucose level in blood.

[1]. http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/05/18/090518fa_fact_lehrer?currentPage=all
[2]. http://www.fed.cuhk.edu.hk/~lchang/material/Evolutionary/Brain/Self-control%20relies%20on%20glucose%20as%20a%20limited%20energy%20source%20willpower%20Is%20more%20than%20a%20metaphor.pdf


For me staying focused and actually doing work euqals compilation of two factors:

- more complicated: anxiety
- more simple: procrastination

If I'm "affraid" of the task (it's somehow new, very important etc.) I tend to do everything but what I should in order to complete it.

Sometimes the case is much more simple: there's no anxiety, it's just another boring task while there are others "pretty much damn important" (i.e. checking if there are any bargains for dishwashers).

Funny thing: If I need to do something that's really repeatable, boring, yet perfectly measurable in terms of a progress (i.e. once in a while I have to send out manually 20-40 certificates - and no, I can't easily automate it) I complete it almost as soon as it enters my ToDo list and there's no procrastination or hesitation.

Or maybe a good no-brainer is something I need every now and then as a kind of break? :-)

Jakub Petrykowski

@Arek Flinik
Thanks for the references, will come back to you once I've read them.

Can you give example of 2 boring tasks that you tend to procrastinate with and 2 boring tasks that you complete ASAP without procrastination? (the last kind you describe)

I am trying to see what you mean by "perfectly measurable in terms of progress".


Boring tasks:

1. Verifying daily man-hours spent on my project reported by my team.

Boring and sometimes requires lots of annoying data mining (so no "anxiety" but I cannot exactly tell the "ETA" as I could encounter surprises that require more of my time).

The other problem is that it's a task that happens to me pretty much every working day.

2. Wasching dishes (perfectly measurable but I just hate it)

"The other kind"

1. As you know recently I've been giving a series of lectures/tutorials for students in Cracow. After the end of the whole endeavor we had to issue "certificates of attendance". The copy-paste boring task that lasted 20 minutes was a perfect example of "the other kind": I exactly knew where I was (i.e. 23 of 35 done) I could see the results and it was a total no-brainer (unlike example 1st from the "boring" category).

Need to get back to work, so no more examples :-)


Nice post and great to see you blog again, Jakub!

I think another trait that can sustain methodical work would be one's passion/interest in it. Without it, much trickier.

I work by deadline... but I dont think this is good because without it, there will be no 'fear' instilled in me to finish it asap without slacking off or coming up with excuses.

That being said, I am quite efficient in all tasks that comes attached with deadlines :)

Where are you now, still in Wroclaw?

Jakub Petrykowski


Yeah, I'm in Wroclaw.

I think most people subject themselves to deadlines, unless the punishment for late delivery is severe in comparison to gains from deferring work.

If someone is only motivated by deadlines it's probably extremely hard to get great results at work.


Probably you already know them, but nevertheless maybe there could be helpful in your commitment series of blog posts by Steve Pavlina on "Self-discipline".

Jakub Petrykowski


I treat anything by Steve Pavlina as possibly very dangerous manipulation, since style is riddled with fantasy and even worst kind of self help, akin to "The Secret" franchise (e.g. Pavlina's "1 million" wish and people "wishing" to bring into their life 1 million dollars, along with a list of people declaring to have collected certain amounts of money, obviously "thanks to" the wishing).

That said, I have looked at his "Self-Discipline" blog category, it contains 73 posts. Anything in particular you recommend looking at?


That's interesting opinion. Yes, I agree that some of his posts are "from another planet" and can be manipulative. Especially the latter, where he went into this spiritual "The Secret way of thinking".

Nevertheless I find some (many) of his posts helpful and well written. The ones that I metioned before is this six-part series:
(on the bottom there are links to next parts).
I read it long time ago and was quite impressed by it and found it helpful (other thing is whether I was able to follow his advice :) but this is different story).

If you read it, I'm really curious of your opinion...

Jakub Petrykowski


The one you linked looks more reasonable and promising. I'll read it and share my thoughts here or in a new post.

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