There’s a lot of productivity advice on LW, or more specifically advice on how to beat procrastination and akrasia (see this one, this one, this one, this one, this one, this one, this one, this one, this one, … — all of those are pretty good and you should check them out, btw).

But, well… do you know the feeling where you say to yourself "today is the day where I start taking up this cool new habit that will slowly but surely destroy my akrasia forever!" and then it’s 11pm, you still haven’t done the anti-akrasia thing you said you’d do at 7am, and you decide you’ll do it tomorrow but you know you won’t really and it’s super frustrating? 

At this point, there are two questions I could be asking. And I’ll ask them both in turn.

First: how is it supposed to work!? In other words: do the people who did manage to get better at getting stuff done know how to avoid akrasia killing your motivation to beat akrasia?

Second: … 

… well, a lot of people do manage to find enough motivation in themselves at least to get started, at least most of the time, right? So, maybe my answer is that I’m uniquely bad at it, right?

That’s not as self-deprecating and misguided as it sounds: I have ASD, and it is quite well established that this comes with an impaired executive function compared to the general population.

Hence my second question: does anyone have interesting things to say on the links between autism-related executive function deficits and akrasia? It seems like there’s more to it than just "ASD makes me bad at doing stuff, period", and that it’s instead a weird mix of trouble with some form or other of social anxiety (stuff like postponing writing an email for a week because I’m not sure how it will be received by the other person), some bizarre trouble with motivation (maybe non-ASD people get more social motivation, and so are more motivated than me?), and actual troubles with task switching, task initiation, or other stuff at brain level. I don’t think I understand very well how these different factors interact and each contribute to "akrasia and crappy executive function", and I’m curious to understand it better.

And, of course, that comes with a third question: there’s no reason to expect "crappy executive function" to be something different entirely in an autistic person vs. in a non-autistic person (concepts like ASD or ADHD, after all, are only convenient ways to refer to a collection of traits, each of which can be present in any ordinary person), but maybe there are pieces of advice on how to improve it that work particularly well for people on the spectrum?

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Yeah; if I don't have enough willpower to start doing my homework, and your magical solution is "pomodoro", what exactly makes you believe that I have enough willpower to start doing pomodoro? If I am capable of doing pomodoro, then I am also capable of doing my homework directly.

(Now that I think about it more, epistemically... Suppose that every Monday I have enough willpower to do anything: homework, pomodoro, you name it. But every Tuesday I simply can't get out of my bed, or can't stop browsing internet. If you tell me to use pomodoro and keep detailed logs, I will find out that on the days I used pomodoro I got some work done, but on the days I didn't use pomodoro I didn't get anything done. Sounds like clear evidence that pomodoro is the crucial ingredient, doesn't it?)


I think the rational action would be to taboo "akrasia" and look into details, how specifically you avoid doing the things you should do. It could be different things for different people or different situations. And then, different things would or wouldn't work.

For example, if your problem is that it feels like "if I start working, it will mean that I will spend the entire day working and having no fun", then precommitting to only work for 1 hour and then stop regardless of the outcome could make the feeling go away.

But if your problem is e.g. uncertainty whether you are doing the right thing, clever time schedule is not going to fix that. Talking about it with an aligned person might, though.

Or maybe you are not sure on what criteria your work will be evaluated, in which case it might help to get an early feedback.

Or you feel horrified of failure, in which case it might sense to think about a Plan B first, and then return to the original task knowing that the badness of the outcome is limited.

Or you may remove the thing that distracts you. And set up automatic reminders.



OK, so I’m commenting my own question, now… Weird.

Anyway. In my case at least, it seems like a lot of the most intractable akrasia comes down to something like anxiety. Just to give the worst example of all: a while back, I started a project, that required me to spend about six hours a day browsing Google Scholar, with zero accountability to anyone. So… it did not start out too well. Then, the second day, I decided I would be able to get sh*t done for f**k’s sake, damn*t. Or words to that effect. Strict schedule, pomodoros, all the works. I started at 8am. Kept it up relatively well until 11am. By 11:30, I was literally shaking, felt at the end of my wits, and my self-esteem had melted away. I did manage to work another three hours between then and 11pm, but that was all… I won‘t claim I fully understand this fundamentally bizarre experience, but the day after, I realised that the only commonplace explanation for "guy is curled up in his bed, teeth chattering and hands shaking; he missed no deadline, made no obvious mistake, or anything; everything else as far as the eye can see around him is perfectly fine" was something like anxiety. So, the day after, I decided to just assume that I would be able to work the required amount of time, as I had no reason to believe I actually couldn’t do it. And, like, it kind of worked? I still don‘t have a clear picture of what not worrying too much while still worrying enough is like, or how to do it reliably, and it’s still not enough to be very productive, but… definitely 100% recommend not being cripplingly anxious.


Anecdotally, stress and inhibitions are major chains on executive function for me. Massage therapy to reduce physical tension felt literally liberating; like I could do a bunch of things I could not do previously; additionally, finding an herbal supplement that eased stress/despair and mildly cut down on intense inhibitions while aiding some of my particular cognitive weak points (ADHD-related focus and memory issues most likely; those are the ones I've had any luck with from prescribed medicine also) allowed my "ego" to take charge of myself in a way it n... (read more)

Interesting comment, thanks! For anxiety, theanine and a good therapist have helped some, but I need to investigate more what would work for stress and inhibitions 
A nice cup of tea and a sit down? :) See also.
I mean, yeah, works somewhat, but I’m really starting to think I have an actual anxiety disorder, given how a cuppa is pretty much never enough

Jonathan Moregård


I'm into self-love and noncoercive motivational systems as my core method of relating to akrasia. It's related to IFS, figuring out different drives, and how they conflict with each other.

When it comes to ASD, my mind is pulled toward the autistic tendency to deep dive into topics, finding special interests. If you have some of those, maybe figure out a way to combine them with what you want to achieve?

Like if you want to learn business management, and love online gaming, then maybe pick up EVE Online