What are your obstacles to productivity?

 am writing around obstacles

Here we are at Day 1 of our 3-day #AmWritingAroundObstacles series.

Today, we’re each going to list all the obstacles that stop us being as productive as we want to be. The rocks on our roads.

On Day 2 we’ll figure out how to overcome the obstacles we’ve identified, and on Day 3 we’ll draw up our individual plans of action to stop those obstacles from damaging our productivity.

I’ll go first.

Here’s my list:

This is the biggie for me. Rather than bogging down this conversation with details of my health condition, I’ve explained all about it here.

Like many chronically ill people, I measure my strength and energy for each day in spoons.

Like many chronically ill people, I measure my strength and energy for each day in spoons. Click To Tweet

Sounds odd, I know, but it’s a simple and very useful system. Its creator explains it here.

An ME dreamSo today I have one spoon, which means that writing this post is like trying to deal with one of those syrupy can’t-run-away-from-the-monster dreams. I’ll do it, because I’ve decided this is how I will use this spoon, but writing this post is the only task I’ll manage in the entire day. Absolutely nothing else will happen, writing-related or otherwise. I’ll be in bed, either unconscious or wishing I could be.

On the standard 1 to 12 spoon scale, the best I can usually hope for is a 5. A long series of 5-spoon days is brilliant.

For example, when I enjoyed one of them all through January and February of 2012, I wrote my SF novella Damage Control, rewrote my voice recognition software-savaged UF novel Golden Triangle, and outlined my futuristic steampunk novel A Flight of Thieves.

Again, apart from my morning shower and eating regular meals, writing was the only task I managed each day in that 8-week period. But it was so good to bang out tens of thousands of good words.

2015 Update

That was a productive year! I completed Golden Triangle, A Flight of Thieves, and Damage Control, and all three were picked up by different publishers and released during 2012/3/4.

In spring 2014 I used a similar 5-spoon period to finish writing Gifted, and then another one in late summer to edit that big novel ready for its release by Hartwood Publishing.

2015 has been more complicated after my winter of horrible health and two surgeries, but when a 5-spoon period came along in the spring I grabbed it and completed my literary fiction novel The Honesty of Tigers, which is now out on submission.


I love my family. They’re loud and active and fun and wonderful. They often interfere with my plans to write, but they don’t do it deliberately or maliciously and as they’re my Number One priority in this life I seldom complain. But they do have an effect on my productivity, so I need to factor them in.

2015 Update

I’ve had to factor them in even more in this past year, since one of our daughters divorced and moved back home with her lovely children. Three generations of us live together in this house now, including two toddlers, and I work on my Mac in the corner of our open plan living room because my old study is now a bedroom.


Other people
Certain personality types send me scurrying to the back of my cave, pretty much like anyone else I suppose, but mostly I deal with people as they come.


Social media
This one’s complicated. It’s magical in many ways, but too much of a good thing… etc.

And it’s all about people, so it’s intimately bound with my “other people” category.

It’s also bound with my “health” category, because on days or weeks when I’m too sick to write I often spend hours at a time on Twitter and various forums, which then becomes a comfortable pattern that can lure me to stay rather than leave when my health picks up. I know you know what I’m talking about. 😀

Mostly, I enjoy social media and wouldn’t want to be without it, and when I enjoy it too much so that it’s a distraction that forms an obstacle, it’s my own fault. This is something I need to remain aware of, because it’s slippery.

2015 Update

And there’s a lot more slippy danger potential now, with my new social media addictions. I’m on Twitter more than ever and have added Tumblr, Instagram and Pinterest to the mix.

Happily, the plan of action I devised here in 2012 allows me to enjoy all these places without draining my energy to zero. More on that later in the series. 🙂


It piles up, doesn’t it? Mostly it’s okay and we’re in control, but occasionally it builds like a snowdrift overnight and suddenly we can’t get the damn front door open to go out and chop wood and everything gets horribly urgent with no heat or light or way out until all we want to do is crawl under a blanket and sob.

It’s internal as well as external. In fact, external pressures rarely give me a problem. I plan them, and manage them, and if someone else shows they’re determined to keep making unreasonable demands of me, I simply get alpha on their arse. That isn’t something I glory in or even look for, by the way. But if a situation requires it, I have it.

TimeNo, it’s internal pressures that can cripple my productivity. Personal deadlines and building over-optimistic lists of things I want to achieve. I’m a bugger for that sort of thing.

And I always seem to build those lists when I’m in a 5-spoon period, so although I’m experienced enough to factor in the possibility of poorer health, I always forget just how physically crushing a bad relapse can be until I’m right there inside one of them.

2015 Update

As with the social media, I’ve increased my potential pressures this year by stepping up my blogging and starting my weekly newsletter. It’s all writing, as much as my novels are, albeit with different routines and shorter deadlines.



Okay, that’s my list. Over to you. What are the rocks on your road?

What are your obstacles to productivity? Click To Tweet

We can do this like group therapy if you like. Talk to each other. Many of us will have insights that might help each other, and we can all give good hug.


Further reading

Introduction post is here.

Day 2 is here.

Day 3 is here.


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62 Responses to What are your obstacles to productivity?

  1. Naomi Clark says:

    I'll join you with health. Although my problems are mild compared to many people, the nerve damage in my right arm means some days it's all I can do to lift a cup to my mouth, let alone write a few thousand words!

    And following hot on the heels of that, there's my day job, which is a necessary evil. Sigh.

  2. Suelder says:

    I have a day job and it's very stressful a lot of the time. Like all spring, when my colleague left in April. And we're not going to be able to replace her.

    Things are a little better, but for months, I was too exhausted to write. Getting some words now.

  3. My day job is very full on and I just can't write after a day in the office so I write in my lunchbreak and before work when I can. I would love to cut back my working hours but as I am the bread winner for the family it won't be happening anytime soon. My husband is also an obstacle. He isn't trying to be but every weekend he finds something else for me to do. If it's not renovating the house it's sorting out the garden. Every time I finish a book I wonder how the hell I ever got that far. I would love to spend time on social media and marketing but just getting time to write is my priority right now.

    • Families can be difficult, can't they? Even those who value our writing (and I know not everyone's family does that) can sometimes just not understand what it requires.

  4. I can't imagine having health issues severe enough to keep me from being productive, however, I've recently experienced a couple of “long” periods of carpal tunnel. I'm praying they don't continue for the rest of my life, or at least don't get worse. My heart and prayers go to you, David, and others who deal with health issues.

    As for what holds me back… I could use the excuse that I homeschool my children, but that's a cop out. Yes, it's several hours a day, but I spend more time procrastinating. That's my biggest problem. Me. And if I was to really dig deep enough, I'd say the procrastination stems from fears. Fears this book won't be good enough, will be rejected, will show my inner demons/secrets, etc. Yep, I am that rock in the middle of the road. 🙂

    • I hope your carpel tunnel goes away and doesn't come back, Jennifer. Have you ever tried voice recognition? I used Dragon for a year. Couldn't get on with it but I know a lot of writers do.

      Ah, I know the procrastination well. I don't have the fear – if I let my wife near this blog post I'm sure she'd say I'm far too confident for that – but I do experience lulls in the middle of long projects where I'm my own rock in the road. 🙂

  5. Amanda Jayde says:

    I'll chime in too – Day Job is number one on my list, when I get home all I want to do is relax and veg out with TV, there's also the internet and all that I think I'm missing on Facebook or Twitter or whatever … LOL.

    I'm getting better at it, I just need to tune out, turn on some music and write.

    • Hi, Amanda. A day job can leech energy away like nothing else sometimes. And if that doesn't finish the job social media is always willing to. I'm getting better at resisting SM too, but I've found I keep having to get better at it. It doesn't work just the once. 😀

  6. Anonymous says:

    In my case, it's just that I have so many things to do, I usually end up doing none. So instead of studying, or writing, or putting some order to my room, I just procrastinate, read and play videogames 🙁

  7. Usually, my biggest obstacle is this sense of being completely overwhelmed. Stress? Yes. Family? “yes”. How about all of the above? Sometimes, I'm not “lazy”, I'm completely shut down. Lately, it's been worse.
    It took me six months to write 50K which appalled me (compared to my usual) BUT I realize at least I finished the damn book. I didn't let my ADD or my stress stop me.
    My obstacles are my own internal struggles. The outward stuff is difficult, but it's the “I suck” or “I don't sell” or the “I'm too tired” voices that stop me.

    • You've had such a rough time this year, Jen, and you're so generous with your time. You give everything of yourself. If there was one thing I wish I could convince you of here and now, it's that you don't suck.

      Two things. We love you.

  8. I prefer “challenges” to obstacles. It makes it harder, but does it really completely stop you? 🙂 Unless of course, it does.

    As for myself, there's nothing more frustrating than spending the first 45 minutes of my writing sesion putting the little kids BACK to bed over and over again. I may have to dissolve that writing session to lose the frustration it's causing me.

    The pressure of trying to do too much can drain writing time – i've definitely bounced between projects while trying to figure out which is priority.

    Good luck pushing through your obstacles – it's life unfortunately. You've beat them before, you'll continue to beat them.

    • Thanks, Dawn, and you're right. I prefer challenges too, except when they actually are obstacles.

      I remember those years well and know how frustrating that time of day can be. Dissolving that session sounds like a good plan.

  9. aww thanks David. I think the biggest thing for ANY writer to remember is that our own minds can do amazing things….and not so amazing things…LOL!
    I read something in a daily meditation book that nailed it. “Whenever I hear that voice say that I'm not good enough, it is an illusion.”

  10. * Day job — time consuming when I have work, stressful when I don't. (Will I be able to pay bills? How soon will work come in?) When I'm stressed and fretting, my thoughts go round in circles, and I have a real hard time sitting down to write. And when I've been working consecutive freelance jobs for a good period of time, I feel burned out and don't want to do anything that requires the brain to function at all.

    * Family — my biggest priority. I've decided to not try to write on weekends, or once everyone is home on weekdays. It cuts my time available (especially if I do have freelance work), but it also leaves me less stressed over divided loyalties, and hence less likely to snap at my kids or be resentful when they want to do something. (And in the summer, when my son's home from school and my husband often works half days, I feel guilty for writing anyway.)

    * Depression — it's moderate. Haven't seen a doctor for it, but took the Mayo Clinic self-diagnostic test online. I'm not self-destructive, which is good, but I have days where all I want to do is curl into a ball. Instead, I sit and stare at the computer, poke at online sites, play games, and wish things were otherwise. Money stress does not help.

    * Frittering away my time — if I don't make an effort to put the writing first in the day, I'm likely to play around online, putter, chase links, do anything except write for the rest of the day. Social media may be included here, though I'm more likely to write than to Tweet, and I try to write fiction before blog posts.

    I think that's most everything.

    • Love and hugs for you, Erin. You write so beautifully.

      I'm very glad your moderate depression doesn't make you self-destructive. I wish you didn't suffer it at all, in any way.

      There have been times when I've found the discipline to write my fiction first thing in the morning before I tackle anything else. I usually perform well when I'm doing that and always promise I'll keep it up, but strangely I keep falling away from the promise. It's as if I'm addicted to opening my emails and various main places online before I can settle down to work, which is complicated by the physical getting my body to work properly thing. This is something I really need to work on. Thanks for reminding me.

    • Erin says:

      Okay, I’ve been thinking about this a bit, trying to think what’s changed (and what hasn’t).

      * Day job — still and always a factor. Money stress is lower than it was because I did get one fairly steady gig. It doesn’t pay big bucks, but it’s always there, which means there’s always something coming in. That takes off a lot of the looming gloom. On the other hand, I still take on jobs a lot when perhaps I don’t need so much at once (see: current work schedule), and when I take on the big projects, it does cut into the writing time and energy.

      * Family — pretty much the same in that I still try to keep evenings, early mornings, and weekends for the family. In some ways, they take more time now as the kids have gotten bigger and so require extra time investment in activities, both within and outside of school hours. On the other hand, the kids are old enough now that I can work and write more during the summers, so that’s a plus.

      * Depression — hasn’t been as big an issue this year, although last year, I barely got any writing done (which is why the cozy mystery that was supposed to be released last year will be available next month). Decrease in money stress has really, really helped. It would also help if I always got a good night’s sleep, but I’m not so good at that.

      * Frittering away the time — yes, still an issue, although I’ve found I don’t have to write first thing to be sure it gets done.

      * Energy — there are those who say exercise makes them feel more energized. Unfortunately, I find that when I make time to exercise, even if it’s just walking around the neighborhood, it can totally sink my energy and focus for productivity for hours afterward. (Which means, if I have paying work to do, the writing’s going to be lowest priority.) This is hard because I know I need to do what I can to improve my health now because the longer I put it off, the harder it will be, but it makes for a really rough choice. I walked a good portion of this spring, but my word counts were pretty low.

      * Reading — both because it takes time and because then I wonder what makes me feel like anyone’s going to want to read what I write instead. (Okay, I suppose that last is Impostor Syndrome, which I should list separately.)

      I think last year and this year, I’ve written less than I did in 2012, but I’m hoping to turn that around. Just as soon as I get through all of this work I over-committed to (and hopefully before the holidays mean increased family time!).

      • David Bridger says:

        Erin, I know Imposter Syndrome is about feelings, not about quality of work, but I have to say it couldn’t be more inappropriate in your case. I adore your writing. Looking forward to your cozy mystery next month.

        I’m very glad to hear that depression isn’t as big an issue this year. My hope for you now is, may your energy levels and your exercise ability and your word counts increase by leaps and bounds!

  11. Blargh.

    Let's just get that out of the way right now.


    Ok, I feel better.

    My obstacles are

    A) family – I have a 7 month old – he needs me, and I'm glad to provide for his needs, but it would just be so awesome to have someone else who could care for him for a couple hours a day so I can think. My husband has him for a bit during the day but I also have household things to take care of during that time. I've actually been thinking about hiring a mother's helper to deal with this issue, since writing is my income. We need my income to keep a roof over our heads.

    B) Health – I need to focus on my health, so I absolutely must devote some of my extremely limited not-family, not-household time to diet and exercise. Too often this falls to the wayside.

    C) Sometimes just laziness. LOL I'm OK with that – I feel like I'm working (or trying to work) whenever I'm not sleeping so a little laziness is deserved.

    Really, my biggest issue is free time, which isn't something I thought would be a problem as a stay at home mom/work from home mom. Little did I know.

    • I know, it's so exhausting looking after a baby. We have our two grandsons around here regularly in preparation for our daughters going back to work when their maternity leave ends in a few weeks, and I get zero writing done when they're here. And I'm not even the one who's looking after them! But I can't resist their smiles and gurgles. And when they're not smiling and gurgling I can't ignore their cries.

      I don't know if this would work, but could you plan with your husband and agree that your not-family time is for half writing and half fitness with no calls on you for anything else?

  12. Lynn Lorenz says:

    I'm so fortunate. Although I have health issues (my knees) it doesn't keep me from writing.
    My family is supportive – gives me all the time I need to write.
    I work a EDJ, but it allows me to not worry about money, or obsess over the lack of it.

    I find, if I can't write, I can at least think about my story. Work thru dialogue, plot and actions, in my head, all ready to get it down on paper when I get the chance. Ifind it really flows after I've thought about it for a day or two or three. Like 3K in an hour fast, cuz it's all worked out in my head.

    Most everything in my life is balanced – but my kids are teens and have their own lives that I'm only called on to drive them to every now and then. My dh does the laundry. I finally broke down and hired a maid to clean the pit I call my house every two weeks. A better use of my book money there has never been!!

    My Obstacle? Procrastination. I can play Spider/bubbles/pool/etc endlessly before/between writing. Go to lunch? You bet! Hang out on FB for a while. Sure!

    What helps? Deadlines. Yeah, the dreaded D word. For me, having that date sitting out there, knowing I have to buckle down and write, does it for me. I hate to miss one. Hate it!

    • I always work best when I've lived with a story in my head for a few days too. My good writing speed is 2k per day though. If ever I burned a 3k hour I think I'd burst into flames. 😀

      I have all my deadlines on yellow Stickie notes down one side of my screen. It's a Mac with a big screen so they're never in the way, but they're always there in descending order with the first one at the top. Works for me.

    • Lynn Lorenz says:

      I've done about 10K in a day – alone in a hotel room with only room service.
      It spoiled me. Now I only want to go to hotels to write!!

    • That would break me! 😀

  13. Alex F Fayle says:

    1) Small house – when your place is 250 sq ft and you share it with someone, carving out a writing place is damned near impossible.

    2) Work – the dayjob usually requires a set schedule which makes writing easy but if it changes, I'm thrown off and have a nice excuse not to write.

    3) My husband – my biggest support is my husband and yet he is also my biggest obstacle. Because of our work schedules we don't get to see much of each other, so when we have time, it means spending it with him and letting the writing slip. If, however, I have an important deadline he steps out of the way and I go to it. It's the self-imposed deadlines that he gets cranky about. 😉

    • I feel for you in your small house, Alex. Before the kids moved out and I took over the teenagers' annex for my writing den, I used to work in a corner of the living room right next to the telly. That was grim.

      Spouses, eh? I could put my wife into your third paragraph in place of your husband and it would still read true. 😉

  14. Bonnie Dee says:

    This: Laziness
    Sometimes I just can't be arsed.

    I'm an empty nester with a quiet house and plenty of free time. I have no excuse for my current spate of non productivity except a general feeling of malaise. I simply “don't care” to write right now.

  15. angel says:

    Obstacles. Ouch.

    1. My health. As one who measures each day in spoons, I hear you. Today is a 5 spoon day. I have counseling, so the next few days are auto 1 spoon days. I'll do the very least necessary to stay alive, but not much else.

    2. My Mental Health. With severe depression, severe agoraphobia, panic/anxiety disorders, you'd think being home would make it easy to write. Not so much. The PTSD can be a real writing killer.

    3. My subject matter. As one who writes most about mental health issues, child sexual abuse, domestic violence…my own subject topics get in the way of my writing. The memoir…I've been writing it for almost 3 years now, and it's still only in the 5th chapter. The PTSD, the memories, they get out of control too quickly.I've learned it's okay to plod along. I do other things, such as work on the cover if I find I just cannot write.

    4. This is my huge, secret obstacle. I much prefer my artwork to my writing. I know…terrible, but it's true. I do like writing. I feel the need to write, the urge, being compelled to write what I do, yet it's my artwork that brings me the joy of accomplishment.

    5. My OCD. Yeah, it can be a writing killer. I feel the need to get my PC organized, my house, my bookmarks. It's probably as much procrastination as OCD, but I have to do it. Seriously.

    Boy, David, you don't mess around with your questions. I can't believe I wrote all this for the whole world to see.

  16. My Current Challenges:

    Day Job: They keep letting people go and the pressure for me to take on all the new work is intense. Especially since I'm the bread winner right now and can't afford to lose my good paying job. It pays well, but it's still not right for them to abuse me and my time.

    Husband: As other have said, he doesn't mean to, but he always has something “we” need to work on around the house together. And yes, he sometimes inadvertently makes me feel guilty for not spending the time with him.

    Research/Social Media: As a newer author I allow myself to get wrapped up in “learning” about the writing process instead of doing you know, the actual writing.

    FEAR: Fear is behind my procrastination and just not writing. Fear of it not being good enough and never getting better.

    Those are my biggies. Great idea for this David – this is going to be very helpful. 🙂

    • It always get better, Sabrina. So long as we keep working at it, we get better.

      I hope that between your day job and your husband's inadvertent pressuring, you manage to find comfortable spaces of time when you can write.

  17. Elle Rush says:

    My biggest obstacle is me. I have to get out of my own way and prove that I'd rather write than do anything else. If I truly wanted to quit my day job I'd turn off the television in the evenings and write. I need to work on my will (write) power and won't (waste time on TV) power.

  18. Lea Griffith says:

    My biggest obstacle is time management. There is so very much to do in a day and I have not enough hours or energy to do it. My writing suffers unfortunately and that's my lot at the moment.

    Between the hubs, the kids, the EDJ and my writing (and a new weight loss program) I'm struggling to balance and manage my time appropriately. There must be some way to even out the stressful life and put everything in its place.

    Oh, and another big thing: the fear of failure. What if all the time I've put into these stories of mine ends up being for naught? Maybe I shouldn't measure my joy of writing by the yardstick of success–but that is my goal and I'm impatient.

    Thanks, David, for this. Sometimes just getting it out helps to purge some of the nasty feelings.

    • Right, allow me to go straight for the big thing at the end there that I have direct knowledge of.

      No way are you a failure. Not now, not in the future. Uh uh. You're a fine writer and an excellent storyteller, young Skywalker. Feel the Force. 🙂

  19. Anonymous says:

    Work. I just graduated and began a “real” job. That takes up 70% of my time. Then there's sleep. Then there's reading. Then there's “getting out there and meeting new people” so that I actually know people in this new city. Then there's the laziness. And THEN there's the overwhelming feeling of having so much to write that it freaks me out and I go hide in a corner.

  20. DaniMarie says:

    Stress/depression and health are my biggest obstacles. Trying to find work myself & hubby. Wishing I'd make enough writing so I didn't need another job.
    Caring for my elderly Mother, worry about grown children and the grandbabies. I am a born worrier.
    Health wise, deal with chronic pain daily but usually deal ok. Monsoon season is a *&$%# though.
    Self doubt is alway prominate. Can I really write? Is it worth the effort considering how hard it is to market the books. Should I submit to a publisher/agent or continue self publishing? The bane of new writers.
    Then there is the fact that with the spicy romances I have gotten a little flack about the heat from extended family.
    Last but not least… pure procastination – which my hubby says I excell at.

  21. aprillorange says:

    Health problems, social media, and financial stress. I already know that I can't do social media while writing except in small, timed breaks. The others, I don't think I can do much about. *Tired grin* It's that damn lack of spoons, and the worse the financial stress gets, the fewer spoons there are to go around.

    • Small timed social media breaks are the future for me, I think. What I *must* stop is writing with my email account open in the corner, bonging at me every time a new one arrives.

  22. For me its a combination of things.
    1) Day job – I work 8 hours a day then come home and work anywhere from two to four hours on my other day job ( I freelance edit)
    2) Family – Seems to be a never ending circle of family who always want or need something right now. I know they don't all mean to interrupt but if you know I”m working on a major project…why would you call? Ask me to get you a drink? Tell me you've rented a movie etc
    3) Myself. Yes, I am one of my biggest hangups to productivity. Sometimes I just don't feel the story I'm writing or I don't want to sit and work on the computer. There are moments when I just want to veg. Part of this is a health based issue but procrastination is something I've perfected.

  23. Zette says:

    People know I don't have a lot of obstacles to writing. Writing is my primary work and my favorite form of entertainment. I tend to get frustrated with my few work-related items, but over all, I have been extremely lucky in this respect. I long ago realized that both muse and inner editor are a part of me and I control them, not the other way around. I realized that, for the most part, the only thing that keeps me from writing is me. I don't give myself very many excuses.

  24. Laziness–oh heck yes. That's huge. *Minor* health issues, but when they stack up, it can get pretty rotten. Family. One of my barely-adult kids is going through some life-changing stuff right now and it has everybody stressed. And I'll add one more, which is that feeling of inadequacy that comes when no matter how hard you work, the royalty checks are still small. It's hard not to think, “Why bother?” and chuck it all some days.

  25. Chiming in late, but my biggest obstacle is patterns :). Basically, I've been in a series of high stress situations, looking for a full time job while freelancing at the same time, moving one kid into a house up at his college, and getting the other all set for college. It's disrupted all my patterns and so anything not work or kid related has fallen by the wayside. What I need to do is find balance and get to the point where writing energizes rather than draining away my down time.

  26. Mindy Crump says:

    I'm late to the party but better late than never I suppose. I have three obstacles in my way; work, family and procrastination. I'm a cashier so by the time I get home I'm ready to sleep for the rest of the day. My family seems to expect me to drop everything and do what they ask for even if I do tell them I'm busy writing. They sometimes become angry if I tell them I'm busy. My procrastination leads in with a health issue I have. I'm tired all of the time because of the meds I take which also makes me want to procrastinate more as well.

  27. Glenda says:

    Health – fibromyalgia – I completely identify with the spoons. Today is about half a spoon and it has to be used at my day job.

    My day job – under a LOT of transition and therefore stress. Completely exhausts an already exhausted me.

    My partner – She supports me in my writing but she also wants my attention in the evenings and on the weekends. Carving out time to write is difficult.

    TV and the Internet – Two things I can turn off (well not the TV if my partner is watching it) but don't very often.

    Blue-ribbon procrastinator – I'll start a support group for procrastinators – Later!

  28. Barb Taub says:

    I’m humbled just reading this. So David, I hope you’ll understand that my takeaway is that I have an entire drawer full of spoons. Reading your posts makes me want to get each one out and polish it, but mostly to be very very grateful. Thanks!

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