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Martin Cartledge
Martin Cartledge

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How To Stop Procrastinating and Do Hard Things

It only takes 25 minutes.

This is not just another pomodoro blog post, but rather a simple way that I have been trying to break down development tasks and make better use of my time.

There are times when I start development on a ticket, only to find that there can be several potential ways to achieve the desired result. Add in email, Slack, and your brain's neurological desire to escape hard (and admittedly sometimes boring) things, and you might find yourself rearranging your bookmarks, vigorously re-checking email and Slack for new messages, anything to delay the task of taking the first step. Or maybe the step before the first step. The plan.

Now, of course, this does not have to be a formal, extensive, in-depth plan. Most of the time, you have the context and the desired outcome documented in plain English.

But what happens from the time you are assigned a task to actually starting that task? Mental friction.

Fortunately, this does not happen too often for me, but when it does, it can feel crippling.

So what do I do to combat this? I open a new Markdown file on my Desktop, and just start typing out a list of the steps I need to take to accomplish this task.

I do not try to be polished or to try and make it perfectly presentable. This document is for me and my eyes only.

This might sound a bit robust, rigid, or simply a waste of time, and for some tasks, it might be!

I have found that this exercise really helps me clear out my mental fog and clarify the precise steps I need to take to finish this work.

If you feel the pull of procrastination or the desire to flee a difficult or mentally taxing task, you are not alone. Your brain is literally doing its job to protect you from pain.

You can counteract this feeling of dopamine chasing, however, by simply acting.

I do not want to sound too simplistic here, but neurology tells us that the same receptors that fire when we are anxious about starting something for any reason can be silenced when we just start doing something to get started on that very thing.

The first step is most often the hardest, but it does get easier.

So, 25 minutes, what is that about?

For me, I have found that 25 minutes is a good amount of time to get a reasonable amount of cognitively demanding work done. Of course, if I reach 25 minutes and I am still in the zone, I keep going!

25 minutes can help you start because it is not too much of a time commitment, but it is also not a trivial amount of time either.


  • Open a blank file
  • Start a timer for 25 minutes
  • Write!

Don't believe this will work? Ironically, this started as a 25-minute session! Here are the notes I took for a task I have been dreading to work on; even after 5 minutes, I feel much better about this work.


After I wrote these, I thought it would be a good idea to write up my thoughts on this and share it with you! I hope this helps.

I am always curious about how folks plan, manage, and execute their work, so if you are any sort of productivity nerd at all, I would love to hear from you!

Top comments (12)

ricky11 profile image
Rishi U

If i feel compelled to pull away from the hard work, just stare at a blank wall with empty thoughts for 30 seconds. (Which is well, boring). What happens is that your brain gets tricked and says, well this isn't as fun as the hard work, so lets get back to the hard work! works!

mykezero profile image
Mykezero • Edited

I actually use the same approach, however I procrastinate doing the 25 minutes of break down >.< . But if you consider the pain now, for writing down the approach for 25 minutes, with the pain later of getting lost, then it's well worth the time spent.


My whole process would be:

  1. Gather as much information about the task as possible
  2. Remap those notes to something that makes sense to me.
  3. Take those notes and break them down into actionable steps:
  4. Start working on the core behavior (iterate fast here)

Remapped technical notes

New Feature: AddToCart

When user clicks the AddToCart button, the right side shopping cart pane should open and show the results

New feature requires Service A and Frontend A to change

Enter fullscreen mode Exit fullscreen mode

Actionable Steps

Feature: AddToCart


[ ] Create new API action to handle AddToCart
  [ ] Create controller action
  [ ] Find customer's existing shopping cart
  [ ] Perform the AddToCart action (SQL)
  [ ] Return a 200 OK


[ ] Click the AddToCart button
[ ] Ensure the frontend calls the new AddToCart action
[ ] Ensure loaders / spinners appear
[ ] Add error handling
[ ] On success, populate the right side AddToCart pane with the cart details
[ ] On error, allow them to retry

Enter fullscreen mode Exit fullscreen mode

The whole process of writing it down leads to a better understanding of the requirements, which may prompt even further questions about the feature. Then, we can build the core features first, present those to stakeholders and they can give even more feedback.

jess profile image
Jess Lee

It's funny how there are so many note-taking, productivity tools out there and that so many of us result to a simple markdown editor. I am the same.

anmolbaranwal profile image
Anmol Baranwal

Yep! I tried using Notion, but it seems like extra work.
Now I use Sublime for everything -> it takes less than 2 seconds to open and close.

It might not be the most efficient option, but it does work most of the time.

danbailey profile image
Dan Bailey

I find this completely counter to my experience when I take the quality of my output into consideration. The first 15-25 minutes are just setting the stage and getting myself into a flow state. Once I'm into the flow, I can crank out stuff for hours before exhaustion kicks in. But I cannot sit down and instantly enter that flow state for 25 minutes.

naut profile image
Truong Anh Tuan • Edited

Very interesting topic. Honestly, I do see myself in this topic. I have been doing extractly the same as you, except for 25 mins-session ( I did not put any constraints).
Very interesting, you helped me feel more confidence about what I am doing.

luxcium profile image
Benjamin Vincent

Sometimes I hate how ChatGPT is so strict in his way to understand stuff but at least he agrees with what I thought was important enough to just copy paste to him and see what would be the answer (which was quite long in fact)

I do not want to sound too simplistic here, but neurology tells us that the same receptors that fire when we are anxious about starting something for any reason can be silenced when we just start doing something to get started on that very thing.

Your observation touches on a fascinating aspect of human psychology and neurology known as the "action principle" or "just start" approach in overcoming procrastination and anxiety. While the specific language about receptors "firing" and "being silenced" may not align perfectly with neuroscientific terminology, the underlying concept you're describing is indeed supported by psychological research. [...]

luxcium profile image
Benjamin Vincent

The ChatGPT remaining part of answer:

When you anticipate starting a task that causes anxiety or discomfort, your brain's amygdala (a region involved in emotional processing, including fear and anxiety) can activate, triggering a stress response. This can lead to avoidance behaviors—essentially, procrastination. However, taking even a small step towards beginning the task can shift your mental state in several ways:

  1. Reduction of Uncertainty: Part of what makes tasks anxiety-inducing is the uncertainty or the imagined worst-case scenarios associated with them. Starting the task provides concrete information, which can often reduce the imagined risks or difficulties, thereby reducing anxiety.
  2. Momentum Building: The act of starting creates momentum. Once you begin, the task often seems less daunting, making it easier to continue. This is partly because taking action can shift your focus from worrying about the task to engaging with it.
  3. Neurological Shifts: Engaging in a task can shift brain activity from regions involved in anxiety to those involved in executive function and action (such as the prefrontal cortex). While the idea of receptors being "silenced" is an oversimplification, it's true that different neural pathways become more active while others become less so, depending on our focus and actions.
  4. Reward System Activation: Starting a task and making progress can activate the brain's reward system, releasing dopamine—a neurotransmitter associated with feelings of pleasure and satisfaction. This can create a positive feedback loop, where the action becomes reinforcing.
  5. Cognitive Reappraisal: Taking action allows for cognitive reappraisal, where you might re-evaluate the task's significance or your ability to handle it. This can reduce the emotional impact of the task and decrease anxiety.

In summary, the act of starting can indeed alter your emotional and neurological state, making it a powerful strategy for overcoming the inertia that anxiety and procrastination create. This aligns with strategies used in cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and other therapeutic approaches, where action and exposure are key components in managing anxiety and changing behavior patterns.

madsklitgaard profile image
Mads Klitgaard

Having recently been diagnosed with ADD has really opened my eyes to trying different techniques as the whole wondering brain thing seems to be the default setting for me at all times. So, I'm definitely going to give this one a try thanks!

ademagic profile image

This works for me too. Exactly the same concept, my focus windows are usually 40 mins and my breaks 20 mins but maybe if i broke it down more I'd be more effective.

It's funny how this topic always makes people focus on tools when really that's what matters least. I use a pen and paper and my timer on my watch.

zanewaytt profile image

To overcome procrastination and tackle challenging tasks, break them down into byocfullform smaller, manageable steps, set specific deadlines, and eliminate distractions. Cultivate a growth mindset, focusing on progress rather than perfection, and reward yourself for completing each step. Consistent practice and self-discipline are key to building resilience and achieving your goals.

naviny0 profile image
Navin Yadav

let's give it a try 25 min