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John_Maxwell_IV comments on Applying Behavioral Psychology on Myself - Less Wrong

53 Post author: John_Maxwell_IV 20 June 2010 06:25AM

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Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 20 June 2010 06:35:49AM *  3 points [-]

In case anyone else wants to try the cron thing, here's what worked on Ubuntu. (Naturally you could also use a repeating timer. Here are a couple vibrating ones.)

First you want to choose a terminal editor if you haven't already. nano is supposed to be good for beginners. Unfortunately, I wasted the time necessary to learn Vim. (Click-and-type editors beat Vim handily in the editing-speed trials I've performed on myself using part of Vim's own tutorial document.) From the command line:

sudo update-alternatives --config editor

Then edit your crontab:

crontab -e

And insert the following line:

* * * * * env DISPLAY=:0 firefox /absolute/path/to/file.html

This should open file.html in Firefox every minute. Be sure to include a newline at the end of the file; that's supposed to be important. Logging in and out has sometimes jiggled things in to action for me.

Of course, every minute is only good for testing purposes. This should do every fifteen minutes from 9 to 5 Monday through Friday:

*/15 9-17 * * 1-5 env DISPLAY=:0 firefox /absolute/path/to/file.html

More docs here.

I recommend you choose a different font color and background for each distinct message you want to periodically send yourself. This helps the messages function as separate stimuli, and you can stop reading them after a while.

Comment author: nhamann 21 June 2010 06:44:21PM 6 points [-]

I managed to do the equivalent of this on Windows XP. First, go to

Control Panel > Scheduled Tasks > Add Scheduled Task

A wizard comes up. Click Next, and in the next window select your browser and click Next. Enter a name for the task, select Every Day, and click Next. On the next page make sure the task is set to be performed daily starting from today and the current time, and hit Next. Enter your admin password on the next window and hit Next. On the last window, check the box by "Open advanced properties for this task when I click Finish" and click Finish.

On the window that comes up, there's a "Run" field that has something like


in it (depending on what your browser is and where it's installed). You need to append "file:///C:/path/to/file.html" to the end of it so that it looks like this:

E:\PROGRA~1\MOZILL~1\firefox.exe file:///C:/path/to/file.html

Finally, go to the Schedule tab, click the "Advanced" button, and on the window that comes up check "Repeat" and have it repeat every 15 minutes (or however frequently you want it to repeat). Also set the Duration to 24 hours.

I use this page for the task, because it amuses me. It uses javascript to randomize the font and background colors, although it's randomized presets instead of being totally random to ensure that the text is always readable.

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 27 June 2010 07:08:15AM 0 points [-]

If you don't mind sharing, how has this been going for you?

(I'm really interested to hear how well my life hacks work for other people.)

Comment author: nhamann 27 June 2010 10:00:49PM 0 points [-]

Not much of an effect so far. The major flaw is that I disable the task whenever I want to do a non-procrastination task, which for me consists of studying math. The math textbooks I have are pdfs, and it's irritating to have the procrastination page pop up when I'm not procrastinating. However, when my mind does wander while trying to study, I'll open up a browser window and suddenly I'm procrastinating with no pop-ups to stop me.

A clear workaround would be to buy dead tree textbooks so that this doesn't happen, but I don't have the financial resources for that. Perhaps the solution is to resolve to re-enable the task whenever I open a window, but that's a bit tedious. I may look into making a Firefox addon for this, so that it happens automatically whenever the browser is open. That's likely the optimal solution (if it's possible to do).

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 28 June 2010 04:46:28AM 0 points [-]

You could unplug your computer's ethernet cable when you're studying.

One thing to watch out for if you try this is getting in the habit of plugging it in real quick whenever you want to do something on the internet. You could mandate a one-minute delay before re-plugging or something like that.