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Co-Working Collaboration to Combat Akrasia

55 Post author: ShannonFriedman 09 March 2013 06:17PM

Before I was very involved in the Less Wrong community, I heard that Eliezer was looking for people to sit with him while he worked, to increase writing productivity. I knew that he was doing important work in the world, and figured that this was the sort of contribution to improving humanity that I would like to make, which was within the set of things that would be easy and enjoyable for me.

So I got a hold of him and offered to come and sit with him, and did that once/week for about a year. As anticipated, it worked marvelously. I found it easy to sit and not talk, just getting my own work done.  Eventually I became a beta reader for his "Bayes for Everyone Else" which is really great and helped me in my ability to estimate probabilities a ton. (Eliezer is still perfecting this work and has not yet released it, but you can find the older version here.)

In addition to learning the basics of Bayes from doing this, I also learned how powerful it is to have someone just to sit quietly with you to co-work on a regular schedule.

I’ve experimented with similar things since then, such as making skype dates with a friend to watch informational videos together. This worked for awhile until my friend got busy. I have two other recurring chat dates with friends to do dual n-back together, and those have worked quite well and are still going.

A client of mine, Mqrius, is working on his Master’s thesis and has found that the only way he has been able to overcome his akrasia so far is by co-working with a friend. Unfortunately, his friend does not have as much time to co-work as he’d like, so we decided to spend Mqrius’s counseling session today writing this Less Wrong post to see if we can help him and other people in the community who want to co-work over skype connect, since this will probably be much higher value to him as well as others with similar difficulties than the next best thing we could do with the time.

I encourage anyone who is interested in co-working, watching informational videos together, or any other social productivity experiments that can be done over skype or chat, to coordinate in the comments. For this to work best, I recommend being as specific as possible about the ideal co-working partner for you, in addition to noting if you are open to general co-working.

If you are specific, you are much more likely to succeed in finding a good co-working partner for you. While its possible you might screen someone out, its more likely that you will get the attention of your ideal co-working partner who otherwise would have glossed over your comment.

Here is my specific pitch for Mqrius:

If you are working on a thesis, especially if it’s related to nanotechnology like his thesis, and think that you are likely to be similarly motivated by co-working, please comment or contact him about setting up an initial skype trial run. His ideal scenario is to find 2-3 people to co-work with him for about 20 hours co-working/week time for him in total. He would like to find people who are dependable about showing up for appointments they have made and will create a recurring schedule with him at least until he gets his thesis done. He’d like to try an initial 4 hour co-working block as an experiment with interested parties.   Please comment below if you are interested.


[Mqrius and I have predictions going about whether or not he will actually get a co-working partner who is working on a nanotech paper out of this, if others want to post predictions in the comments, this is encouraged.  Its a good practice for reducing hindsight bias.]

[edit]

An virtual co-working space has been created and is currently live, discussion and link to the room here.

Comments (96)

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 07 March 2013 01:32:48PM *  25 points [-]

Sometimes we need a person to cooperate with. Sometimes we need a person to discuss the idea with. And sometimes we only need a person who simply is there, who gives our actions the social feeling. (Insert evo-psych explanation why social feels more important to our simian brains.)

My goals at this point of time don't suffer from lack of external help, but mostly from lack of willpower. The useless stuff is pleasant. The useful stuff is great in far mode, but not enough "tempting" in near mode.

A social reinforcement could change this balance, but it would have to feel social. (I suspect the greatest temptation of web browsing is that it feels social.) Beeminder, special threads on LW, even e-mails about daily plans and accomplishments don't feel social the right way. I do feel connected while reading and writing the e-mails or comments, or while entering data to Beeminder... but not while actually doing the useful stuff.

So, because I don't live in one of the rationality beehives, I would like to try the "both on Skype / Google hangout working on separate things" coworking. Maybe with a very short chat about the work, only to add a few fuzzies and increase the social feeling.

However, if many people want to try this, perhaps we could avoid the need (and not-so-trivial inconvenience) of pair coordination by making a global virtual workspace where anyone could join and leave anytime they need, without planning in advance. I am not sure about the exact numbers, but with enough people spending enough time there we could reach a critical mass where 90+% of time someone is already there when a new person joins. Then we would have a permanent virtual workspace.

Let's try some numbers. How long do we want to work (outside of our jobs)? My estimate for myself would be 1 hour a day, on average. (I am not sure how realistic this is.) So to have there 2 people all the time, 24 hours a day, 48 people is a minimum with perfectly coordinated times. If everyone spends there 1 random hour, how many people do we need so that each hour with probability 90% (or at least 80%) at least 2 people are there? Someone better in math please help me! For the moment I will assume that the number is between 100 and 200. That is probably too much. Or isn't it? How many people did so far participate in the CFAR minicamps? Would at least half of them join this experiment for the first two weeks? Or is there someone willing to participate significantly more than 1 hour a day (e.g. someone who works from home)?

We could simply try. Agree on the technological details (so we don't accidentally start multiple conferences on the same time), and precommit -- say, during the rest of March -- to be there even if no one else is, when we are in a situation where we would enjoy the company of other rationalists. If enough people do this, sometimes you will meet another person there even without coordination. As a bonus, you can coordinate with other rationalists to meet at the global workspace; so you are guaranteed to have company, and at the same time you provide a positive externality for those who did not coordinate. And at the end of March we will have enough data to see whether this idea works or not.

The global workspace would need some global guidelines; I propose these: Do talk, but don't talk too much; give each other the contact and encouragement, but don't distract each other from work. Only participate when doing something useful, and when you finish, log out; but it does not matter what exactly you do, you don't even have to do in on the computer as long as you are somewhere near (and leave a message what are you doing). It is OK to turn off the sound if the others distract you, or if you are doing something that would distract them.

TL;DR -- Let's make one global virtual workspace for all LessWrong rationalists. Even if you coordinate with someone else, go to the global workspace. If you don't coordinate, but you wish you had some company, also go there, because you may be lucky; and if many people follow this strategy, their luck will increase. At some moment the coordination may become completely unnecessary.

Comment author: Mqrius 09 March 2013 08:29:25AM *  11 points [-]

Alright, so there seems to be enthusiasm for this. The next step is figuring out the practical details.

How do we create a group study room? The first things that come to mind are a Skype group chat, Google hangouts, and the newly developed browser-to-browser video chat. The latter seems undersupported to me, although I haven't researched it specifically. Skype group chats require at least 1 person to have a premium account, and I'm not sure if you can make a permanent "room".

That leaves Google hangouts. Some searching shows that it used to be possible to make a permanent hangout link, but this function was removed. On that same page, Dori, Google Community Manager, offers a workaround. If you create an event years in the future, the hangout link won't change.

To create a lasting link, go to https://plus.google.com/events and look down at Schedule your next hangout. The Hangout link in the created event (under the date/time) is persistent.

This seems like a reasonable solution. Are there any other video group chat options, beside the 3 I mentioned?
Edit: tsakinis has a fourth option, and immediately put it to use: Tinychat.

Should we have a schedule or planning facility, to bridge the time until we get 85 members?
Edit: Shannon suggests that this thread can be used for discussing strategies and experiments.

Comment author: ModusPonies 08 March 2013 06:57:07PM 6 points [-]

A precommitment: if someone sets this up, I'll use it for at least one hour a day, six days a week, for a minimum of one week. (If it works as well as I hope, then of course I'll keep using it.)

Comment author: ShannonFriedman 10 March 2013 05:48:56AM 1 point [-]

I think this thread might be a good place to get the conversation going among people who are pre-committing to show up about strategies for first experiments.

Comment author: diegocaleiro 10 March 2013 09:05:45PM 2 points [-]

Shannon, you may want to make an Edit in the original post about this, so even people who don`t read comments become aware of the chat's existence.

Comment author: ShannonFriedman 10 March 2013 09:46:57PM 1 point [-]

Okay, will do.

Comment author: Mqrius 07 March 2013 03:36:38PM *  4 points [-]

It's an interesting idea, for sure.

For me, though, I really need the coordination part. A global study room where you can come and go wouldn't work as well for me: it lacks the precommitment I get from agreeing with an individual to work alongside eachother at a specific time and date. I can make the agreement in far mode, and then near mode sticks to it, only if I made the agreement with someone else than myself.

Another thing that popped into my mind when reading this is that you're trying to create a large joint effort, where everyone involved tends to procrastinate. That might be difficult.

I could imagine a different form of group arising if two individuals start out together, and then add a third at the same time and date, and if that works, keep adding people slowly. This would only work on skype if one person has a paid account, but I guess google hangouts could work.

Edit: An ongoing non-work-intended rationalist hangout would be quite interesting. It might have the same time-sapping risk as #lesswrong on IRC though.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 07 March 2013 05:49:00PM 2 points [-]

Yes, there are different failure modes. One of them is "never starting". Another is "starting... and then abandoning the original goal and doing something else (e.g. browsing a web)". My idea could work for the second one, but not for the first one.

Comment author: Vaniver 07 March 2013 05:59:21PM 2 points [-]

If everyone spends there 1 random hour, how many people do we need so that each hour with probability 90% (or at least 80%) at least 2 people are there?

First, let's assume that everyone logs on and off at the hour, then there are 24 windows a day. Let's also assume that everyone chooses to work each hour with probability 1/24, rather than working one hour a day for certain. We then have a binomial distribution with parameters num and 1/24, and can increment the number of people until we get less than 20% of the probability in 0 and 1, and it turns out we cross that barrier at 71 people.

This is an underestimate because we assumed that the start/end times are synchronized.

We can also enforce the "always work exactly one hour a day" rule by seeing this as a combinatorial problem, where we have num people and 23 clock bells which are permuted randomly, and we want to know the percentage of clock bells that have at most one person in between them.

Comment author: AustinParish 09 March 2013 07:49:26AM *  5 points [-]

To estimate how much of an underestimate that was, I wrote a very short program to simulate this scenario. From my model, we cross over to 80% at about 85 people. Incorporating a random spread in how long people are logged in, from 0.5 to 1.5 hours, doesn't change anything.

I am not sure how many people you could get to sign up, but the fewer you get, the more hours they'd have to commit. From my model, if you can only get 60 people, they'll need to work on average 1.5 hours; for 45 people, you'd need them to commit to 2 hours.

The numbers don't look too good. Even 60 people, with an average commitment of 1.5 hours, seems like a challenge. Maybe the LW community could meet it?

Comment author: Elithrion 09 March 2013 09:06:51PM *  5 points [-]

In practice, it's not going to need 85 people (and it's not going to work for everyone unscheduled), though, because the assumptions are implausible. According to the last survey, ~60% of users are in the US or Canada (and probably another 5% in South America?), and then >22% are in Europe. I would also guess that most people will probably also want to work in the evenings (say an 8h span between 6pm and 2am). This will probably concentrate the desired times a lot, so the popular times can be 80% populated with only something like 45 people (this is me guessing). Conversely, the unpopular times are going to be really dead.

On that note, it would probably make sense to create some sort of schedule. E.g. "We encourage you to come between 4pm and 8am PST." Or to coordinate smaller specific time slots (e.g. "come at 2pm PST for one hour") with a higher chance of having them filled.

Comment author: AustinParish 10 March 2013 07:08:44AM 2 points [-]

If you constrain it to an 8 hour spread, it does indeed help things - you'd only need around 34 people agreeing to commit to 1 hour, so even more optimistic than your guess. And if we do get people to coordinate smaller specific time slots, perhaps convincing 25% to take a 1.5 hour slot and the rest to commit a minimum of 1 hour, this moves things closer to only needing a group of 30. Not too bad.

Comment author: ShannonFriedman 12 March 2013 12:12:31AM *  0 points [-]

I've been very pleasantly surprised to see that the room has had people in it 24/7 since I first checked on it afternoon yesterday (current time for me is 5pm)! Usually about 5-6, I think the lowest I've seen is 3, although someone reported that in the quiet hours it got down to 2.

We'll see if we're able to keep it up, promising so far!

Comment author: Error 12 March 2013 02:29:10AM 1 point [-]

I like this idea, thought about checking it out, realized I don't really know how to expect and that it might not be optimal for my personality type...then slapped myself for obvious dithering.

I'll commit to dropping in tomorrow when I get home from work (~5:30EST) for at least an hour, to see if this suits me. After that, we'll see.

Comment author: Error 12 March 2013 11:44:10PM 2 points [-]

Results report: I did get some done. More than I can usually do on demand, though it's hard to say whether the benefit came from the technique or just from the novelty. Either way, I'll continue doing it until it stops working, at least four times a week, in the ~6:00-7:00EST time slot.

Comment author: ShannonFriedman 09 March 2013 06:40:28AM *  2 points [-]

Cool idea. It would be neat to do a version of this coordinated with the Less Wrong blog, and have people use the same log in info and other integration. For example, you could get karma +/- for how you are on the workspace as well as the blog, and/or maybe you'd need to be at a minimum karma level to be in the workspace.

Comment author: ShannonFriedman 09 March 2013 04:31:47PM 2 points [-]

Also, if this gets created and takes off, we can see if FrankAdamek is up for listing it weekly along with the in person meet-up notifications.

Comment author: ShannonFriedman 09 March 2013 04:53:13PM 3 points [-]

Ooh, I was just thinking of something else fun to do. We could potentially do something like what BIL does, where people can post potential topics and times for doing hang-outs, and then if enough people sign up, that hang out gets promoted on the list of weekly events.

For example, we could have "Discussion of the Current Top Rated Post for 2 Hours at x Time" listed for people to vote on, or "Doing Dual N-Back for 20 minutes followed by discussion" as another option.

Comment author: Dorikka 09 March 2013 05:36:23PM 2 points [-]

doodle.com may work well for scheduling.

Comment author: Zian 10 March 2013 04:55:57AM 3 points [-]

For scheduling purposes, i've found WhenIsGood to be quite invaluable when coordinating between multiple time zones and people.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 10 March 2013 01:11:40PM *  1 point [-]

Integrating with LessWrong would be great, but it would also cost money and time, and the idea is only experimental and (sorry to say this) not guaranteed to succeed. So we should make a prototype using the existing free tools. And when it succeeds... well, sky is the limit.

Comment author: ShannonFriedman 10 March 2013 07:22:53PM 1 point [-]

Makes sense and agreed. It would be nice if we could use log in info and and karma ratings as an easy way to keep out trolls without needing to do much manual moderating. That said, just trying it and seeing if trolls become a problem first seems very much worth doing. I'm encouraging people to use the chat room that Tsakinis created to get the ball rolling with initial experimenting.

Comment author: GabrielDuquette 12 March 2013 01:41:29AM *  1 point [-]

Sometimes we need a person to discuss the idea with.

Anyone interested in a Useful Scrutiny/Spitballing chat room? I develop ideas best in conversation, either spoken or typed, and am good at helping others similarly (but not so great at helping myself, by myself).

Comment author: notsonewuser 15 March 2013 11:49:58PM 12 points [-]

Here's what I've observed of / my experience with the chatroom so far:

  • It is always running on a pomodoro schedule. I have been around for 25/5 and 50/10.
  • Microphones are set to push-to-talk, and I've yet to hear anyone actually push and talk.
  • When I enter, I usually say hi (using text chat) and someone else returns a friendly greeting, and informs me how much time is currently left on the pomodoro.
  • It is not good form to chat while everyone is on a pomodoro. You will be chided.
  • People usually wait until the end of a pomodoro to leave.
  • Those people with a side-view camera usually have it turned on during work time, and then put the face-view camera on during break time. I find this optimal, but I only have one camera, so people get to see my lovely face for as long as I'm there.
  • I and at least one other person felt awkward when first starting to work with webcam feeds on our computer screens. However, at least for me, it was easy to habituate to, and didn't make me work less efficiently while I was still getting accustomed to it. Sometimes when I'm working on my computer during the pomodoro, I have the chat window covered.
  • On breaks, people have been very friendly, and it makes me feel a lot happier both while on breaks and while working.
  • It feels like a shorter and quieter version of this when everyone gets back down to working again. It's a good feeling.

Mind you, I have used this for one hour yesterday and one afternoon today. This could all be a placebo. I will report back again in 2 weeks, and maybe in a few months, if I'm still using it then. All I know is that, today, my happiness level is much higher than normal, and my productivity level has been slightly higher than normal.

Comment author: ShannonFriedman 29 April 2013 05:04:29PM 1 point [-]

Something I've observed is that camera usage varies quite a bit - a lot of people prefer not to use one.

I personally like to turn mine on, because realizing that people can see me causes me to feel more awareness about whether or not I am actually staying focused on my work.

Comment author: tsakinis 09 March 2013 08:01:09PM *  12 points [-]

I have made a small start towards this - I urge you guys to find a better alternative, but until then I invite you to:

This open chatroom

EDIT: Login as guest to avoid spam in your twitter/facebook (credit Zian). I also recommend using some sort of adblock-program (sometimes the advertisements are with sound).

Regarding the popularity, there seems to be activity at least two thirds of the time, ranging to up to 10 people during "peak" hours.

Comment author: Zian 13 March 2013 09:26:38PM 4 points [-]

Just wanted to report a massive ARGH moment:

By default, if the user logs in with Twitter, then you spam your Twitter followers and add the company to your list of people followed.

Comment author: Yossarian 14 March 2013 12:35:51AM 1 point [-]

Yeah, I explicitly unchecked the boxes that said they would do that and it still showed up in my Twitter feed (which automatically forwarded to my Facebook feed).

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 10 March 2013 01:56:48PM *  4 points [-]

I think this experiment seriously needs a FAQ on how to behave. At least I need it.

So I join the chat and there are people working. That's nice! But am I supposed to say "hello", or just join silently? I feel guilty for disturbing people from their work. Where is the line? Of course anyone can turn off the sound, and probably they already did, and there is also a complete silence (I guess everyone has their microphone in "push to talk" mode, me included), and it feels weird. I don't know what to expect, and what am I expected to do. Some introduction would be nice (even in the form: you are expected to be quiet and just do your work).

From a technical point of view, my Firefox froze twice after entering the chat and starting a broadcast. Then I restarted my computer, and then it worked nice. (At first I thought I set up the sound incorrectly, but that was probably everyone turning off their microphone, because then I talked a bit.)

Comment author: tsakinis 10 March 2013 03:19:41PM *  3 points [-]

I agree, a FAQ or introduction will be necessary if this is going to be used by many. Perhaps I will make one after I have a little experience myself in this.

I guess a good start in using it would be just to say hi, rather chat in text form so that people doing their work don't have to be disturbed and can respond at the time of their choosing (besides the risk that they might have sound turned off).

Then after someone responds (I don't think it would take too long if people are online) would probably follow a short introduction and chat about what you and the other person are working with, what you would like to do, perhaps mutually agree that you will update each other regarding process. After that follows naturally work in silence (unless you work together).

Technically - I've had a couple issues too, but once it's started it has worked fine.

Comment author: ialdabaoth 11 March 2013 02:21:17AM 1 point [-]

I wanted to say, thanks for nudging me to stop complaining about not working and actually set up a workflow; you provided exactly the necessary activation energy.

Comment author: tsakinis 11 March 2013 02:58:23PM 0 points [-]

Nice to hear, I've had great results myself too, let's hope this continues to work for us :).

Comment author: ShannonFriedman 10 March 2013 05:47:28AM *  1 point [-]

I think this thread might be a good place to get the conversation going among people who are pre-committing to show up about strategies for first experiments.

Comment author: Mqrius 06 March 2013 07:06:59PM *  17 points [-]

Here’s a slightly different idea I’ve been toying with: Trading time

The gist of it is this: You make a plan to get together with a friend, and agree to work for 3 hours on whatever project he wants.You also plan a later date and time at which he comes to you and you work together on anything you want. This could be a hobby project, a difficult study topic you can’t quite grasp, or something simple like painting a wall.

The idea is that nearly everything is easier if you do it with someone else, especially for people that tend to procrastinate. Some things are even more efficient per person, such as pair programming. But even if it’s not, doing something non-efficiently is still better than not doing it at all, and usually more fun with someone else. The way I think of it, this is an opportunity to get those things done you’ve been wanting to do all this time, but never get around to.

Ironically, I’ve been meaning to try this out, but haven’t gotten around to it yet :x

Obviously this doesn’t work for everything: it’s hard to do for writing a thesis for example, but plenty of things can be made to work with some creativity, especially if your partner is there in real life. It’s a different concept than what’s expressed in the blog post, which is more like working at the same time instead of working together on the same thing. I’m currently mainly interested in the former, although I wanted to share this idea here since the topics are similar.

Feel free to contact me to get to know eachother! My email is Nuntius.Marii@Gmail.com, and my skype id is m.qrius.

Comment author: GabrielDuquette 06 March 2013 08:06:24PM 3 points [-]

I'd even be ok with money changing hands. Or, more informally, buying food.

Comment author: Mqrius 07 March 2013 11:08:16AM 3 points [-]

I think money might complicate things: You might want to get paid more for stuff you don't find that interesting. With trading just time, it feels different. You'd just give the other person X hours of your time, and you get X hours back. It doesn't matter to you what you do in the X hours you gave away. Perhaps getting money for it also makes it seem like work, instead of a fun, social thing. Then again, maybe it's a distinction that's only in my head, so if you can make it work, sure, go for it!

Buying food indeed seems less formal.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 07 March 2013 05:46:52PM 9 points [-]

Also, paying money to your friends is probably bad, psychologically. There is a "social mode" with family and friends, and a "business mode" when dealing with money. They use different rules. For example the business mode is based on principle that everything can be replaced and traded; but the family and friends are supposed to be special. Trying to calculate whether the X hours I gave to my friend really have the same value as the X hours my friend gave to me seems like a certain way to ruin our friendship.

(I am not sure how much this is culture-depended.)

Comment author: Zian 10 March 2013 04:58:48AM 4 points [-]

Dan Ariely's research found that paying money will destroy social relationships, giving stuff does a little damage, and just doing stuff for 'free' is best. So, if you're trying to keep the social bits, just go straight to 'free.'

Comment author: Mqrius 10 March 2013 09:25:34AM 2 points [-]

I believe this is the research you mention? Effort for payment: a tale of two markets

Comment author: Zian 11 May 2013 10:00:29PM 0 points [-]

Yes, it is.

Comment author: Error 07 March 2013 04:26:44PM *  2 points [-]

Both the idea expressed in the original post and the one expressed here fascinate me. I know I work better when I have someone else involved, counting on me, or waiting on me. I do wonder if it would work via Skype as well as in person, though. (I know few people locally with similar interests and skills to my own) If it does work online, I wonder if a beeminder-esque matching service for the purpose might be doable.

Tangentially, the thought kind of reminds me of hackerspaces/makerspaces.

Comment author: Error 07 March 2013 04:30:17PM 0 points [-]

[Edit: One thing I do not do well with, though, is someone "looking over my shoulder." Working with someone works. Having someone waiting on my work works. (at least if it's out of genuine interest to see the results) Having someone watching me work just annoys the hell out of me.]

Comment author: Tenoke 12 March 2013 09:55:04PM *  5 points [-]

After testing out google+ hangouts and doing a 2 hour screen share there with CannibalSmith I want to recommend using the hangouts instead of tinychat.

Sharing your screen can be more beneficial than turning your camera on for many reasons - other people can easily see when you are procrastinating (if you are doing work on your computer) and they can scold you immediately. On the other hand when you have your camera on, nobody knows if you are working or just facebooking. relevant post

Sharing your screen however has some obvious disadvantages and it can be more privacy-invading then having your camera on but hey, if you are revealing something personal on your screen then you are probably not working. There are also some cases where screen sharing can be ineffective (for example when your task at hand is to read a book or to do anything not on your computer) but places such as hangouts allow you to easily switch between your camera and screen and provide a ton of other features that can be somewhat useful. In addition to that you can write apps for hangouts which can also be utilized at some point.

As for my ~2 hour screen share with CannibalSmith - it went great, I didn't take a single break in that time nor checked facebook, gmail, skype etc. and I am one of those people that check everything 10+ times an hour.

P.S. I am writing this during a group pomodoro on tinychat because I was too lazy to do it otherwise.

Edit: Of course if there are other applications which we can use that have the option of sharing your screen then that'll probably work well, too.

Comment author: Mqrius 12 March 2013 11:10:11PM *  2 points [-]

Screensharing is indeed very effective in a 1-on-1 session, but I think the webcam view is quite valuable for different reasons: It provides the sense of actual people whom you're working with on the other side. Part of the reason why the study room works is because of the community feeling you get. When the community starts a pomodoro, you join.

Of course, google hangouts support switching between screensharing and webcam on the fly, so this isn't an argument against hangouts: I just wanted to mention the value of the webcams.

--

I'm trying to imagine screen sharing in a study room now, with for example 6 people. I think it's possible that a shared screen can be distracting to some -- much more so than having a webcam. This, too, was mentioned in the relevant post:

I had to set a timer (for between 5 and 11 minutes depending on circumstances) to remind me to check Vladimir's screen (resetting the timer manually after every check). If I did not, I either spent too much time looking at his screen or let him go too long without monitoring.

Comment author: Tenoke 12 March 2013 11:48:09PM 0 points [-]

I had to set a timer (for between 5 and 11 minutes depending on circumstances) to remind me to check Vladimir's screen (resetting the timer manually after every check). If I did not, I either spent too much time looking at his screen or let him go too long without monitoring.

I actually imagine this to be less of a problem when you have more people as you don't need to think about checking the others' screens at all a la the bystander effect. And even if people check other people's screens really rarely, just knowing that there are multiple lesswrongers who can actually catch you procrastinating should be good enough in most cases. Also a quick glance at the hangout can quickly tell you if someone is procrastinating in a really obvious way such as being on facebook, youtube etc. In addition I actually speculate that if the chat is big enough there is a reasonable chance that some people will spend a large fraction of their time in the hangout just monitoring other people. This action will not be productive at all for the observer but at least it will be beneficial for the room as a whole. (I am in no way saying that we need such observers, just that they might show up on their own).

I am not sure if it will actually work in the way that I imagine it to work and you might be right that it will be too distracting but a group chat involving screen sharing is definitely worth a try at this point.

Comment author: ShannonFriedman 13 March 2013 06:20:52AM 1 point [-]

I'm working with a few other people on setting up a more robust system. I'd like to give it a little time to get that set up before we start switching where we direct the majority of people. I would like the momentum that we've started to keep going and not have it get fragmented.

That said, it would be awesome if you grab people who are game to run experiments with you and run them and report back about feature recommendations based on that.

Comment author: gwern 09 March 2013 07:43:35PM 5 points [-]
Comment author: Kevin 07 March 2013 05:27:09AM 5 points [-]

You can hire remote assistants (typically in the Phillipines) to do this for you via a Skype window for about $1/hour. I thought someone from here was doing that?

Comment author: Patrick 07 March 2013 01:00:36AM 5 points [-]

I'm open to coworking generally.

My ideal coworker is someone who is funny and interested in maths, physics and computer science. My plan would be to read books like Mathematics Form and Function or The Feynman Lectures on Physics and try to summarize / explain the content. For co working where I shut up, I am working on re-implementing MC-AIXI for my honours thesis.

Please contact me if interested, my email is patrick.robotham2@gmail.com my skype nick is grey_fox26

Comment author: diegocaleiro 06 March 2013 06:13:45PM *  5 points [-]

Something that worked well for me was reading together with someone. Each reads a separate thing about topics both enjoy. Then each summarizes what he read after each chapter (or each pomodoro). It is active learning while nearly doubling learned content.

From 20 April onwards, I'll be back and would like to have a Skype work companion. Plus points for Philosophically inclined Transhumanists, Evolutionary Psychologists and people who want to understand Morality. Star points if the person wants to exchange feedback for whatever she is working on and what I'll be, that is, evolutionary, cultural, and signalling constraints for moral perspectives.

Comment author: Lachouette 11 May 2013 01:47:52PM *  4 points [-]

Two months have passed and I’m glad to say the LW Study Hall on tinychat is still active and alive. Since judging from the comments it kind of looks like we’ve moved on from tinychat, a review like this might be useful for anyone who hasn’t been there yet.

My first sessions on the chat were driven more by curiosity than anything else since I didn’t believe it would be really effective for me – I’ve felt that I procrastinate too much, but it never occurred to me that working together with other people might make me more effective. I was proven wrong.

Since those first sessions I’ve been online almost every day and got to see different people come and go, and some people stay. It didn’t take long for me to feel like a part of the “chat community”, and to feel motivated to work to see the regulars more often, some of which I might even consider friends now. The atmosphere is friendly, people make an active effort to integrate newcomers in the “community” and I have yet to see an argument that isn’t constructive. Though the breaks are a bit flexible, people usually don’t overstretch it and it’s generally good practice not to chat during a working phase. More introverted people can participate without taking part in the chat much and without broadcasting video.

So, what makes this chat so effective in combating procrastination? Pomodoros are the “flow” of the chat. Since you’re working with other people, you are much more likely to stick to the pomodoro cycle than if you set those constraints for yourself. That doesn’t just mean you keep the breaks relatively short, but you also don’t work too long. I find that if I work alone, I tend to keep at it for longer than I can keep concentrated. When I do take a break I don’t really have anything else to do, so I might start to procrastinate, leading to a work cycle where the “breaks” can be as long as the working phases. This has been my main issue with structuring my working day, and I was more surprised than I probably should have been to see that problem solved by working in a group. Judging from my own experiences and those of others I believe everyone struggling with akrasia should at least try if it works for him/her. For those who struggle with akrasia more, it might be useful to combine several techniques such as precommitting to fixed working dates, showing your screen on camera or finding someone on the chat who will remind you (e.g. via skype) to show up again if you’ve been absent for longer (or any number of other methods like beeminder).

There are a few issues with the chat, especially that tinychat isn’t always stable. The limited options have also been subject of complaints, but it’s so far the best thing we’ve found. I’m optimistic that a better option will be found or created in the long term – the more people frequent the chat, the more likely it gets. Covering all time slots hasn’t worked out perfectly, but we usually have good “coverage” during the UTC afternoon/evening, so that is probably a good time to try. In case the chat is empty, don’t be discouraged, just try again later. I will try to put as many of my working hours in the precommitment schedule (link on top of the chat window) and hope others will do so more often too, so it’s possible to sync up working time.

Over these two months the lesswrong chat has become a substantial part of my life that I really want to keep, ideally for much longer. While it is no longer an experiment for me, I want to invite you to try it, if you haven’t already. I’d be glad to welcome you on the chat anytime. :)

Comment author: Tenoke 11 March 2013 10:50:44PM 4 points [-]

I spent a few hours in the chat room and had my most productive day in a while. Pomodoros seem to be weirdly effective in this setting.

Comment author: roland 06 March 2013 10:25:52PM 4 points [-]

Another suggestion... finding someone to do brainstorming, talking about ideas, especially when you are stuck on some problem.

Comment author: GabrielDuquette 12 March 2013 01:39:42AM 0 points [-]

I am very good at helping others with this, but terrible at helping myself similarly.

Comment author: CronoDAS 07 March 2013 12:06:27AM 8 points [-]

Pair programming comic

Comment author: CronoDAS 07 March 2013 12:07:35AM 7 points [-]

This is also my experience. Almost everything is easier when you're working with someone. (Unless that someone is my mom. I cannot work with her watching me.)

Comment author: Daermonn 11 March 2013 01:59:54AM 3 points [-]

This is something I've been thinking about a lot lately, myself. I totally struggle with akrasia and executive functioning, and I find I have more willpower if I do things socially. I've been using friends to go to the gym for the past few weeks. I've actually been rethinking my relationship with leadership because of it: I used to hate being the leader (preferring to just be left alone), but now I'm thinking that I need to lead in order to do the things I want to do.

Comment author: Zian 10 March 2013 05:02:00AM 3 points [-]

I'd be happy to pre-commit to spending 1-2 hours/day for 4 days out of the week for any week between the coming one and 3 weeks from now. However, I'm not sure how to get notifications for followup posts on LessWrong; in a perfect world, a brick would drop on to my desk when the tech side of things/scheduling thingy has been set up and I'd come and look at the followup post(s).

Comment author: ShannonFriedman 10 March 2013 05:39:02AM *  3 points [-]

Idea: Tsakinis already created a chat room, you could look up stats for what the most popular Less Wrong viewing times are and announce as soon as you can that you will be there at those times, starting Sunday for the coming week. Then adjust the experiment by week for the following two weeks to see if you're able to get any traction.

Its the do it now heuristic - the sooner things start happening and experiments start getting done, the more likely it is that something will come of this.

It might also help if you notify the other people who have pre-committed and see if they would like to come at the same time as you or if you'd rather all spread out and try to cover the clock. My intuition is to prioritize getting enough people on at one time to have it feel like community over covering the clock, but an argument can be made either way.

Comment author: ShannonFriedman 10 March 2013 08:57:58PM *  0 points [-]

There are currently six of us in the chat room.

Comment author: diegocaleiro 10 March 2013 09:01:20PM 2 points [-]

This is a general suggestion, and Ive been online for very little time. But it seems to me that having the camera pointing to a side angle is way less anxiety causing than if the persons face is facing the camera. I currently see 2 images, one doesn`t make me confortable, and it is clear that it is because it looks like the person is looking at me.

So unless anyone else objects, please point cameras to ears for the socially sensitive ones like me :)

Comment author: ShannonFriedman 10 March 2013 09:36:12PM 5 points [-]

I'm using my built in camera on my mac, so can't turn it. Do you have the option to turn my video off and on? I figure its probably better to have on for the sense of socialness, but I certainly don't need to have it on.

Also, not really sure what to do about chatting on there or not. I got the sense that some people might get annoyed when there is a lot of chat, but others want to connect. I'm not sure what is optimal. I think one nice thing would be if we could have a set of guidelines/expectations.

It would be nice to have linked rooms, like a study room and a more chatty room that people can pop back and forth on.

Another potential useful feature would be if everyone was on the same pomodoro timer, so that the room is consistently quiet 25 mins then chat 5.

Comment author: tsakinis 10 March 2013 10:16:47PM 6 points [-]

Personally I have the sound and notifications off and don't mind the chatting at all, but that also means I ignore the chat while working. I think chatting for introduction and about goals, expectations is crucial and should be limited only if it becomes about non-productive-related stuff.

Perhaps a second room with more or less chat (or other guidelines) will be good if more people join in, but now I think focus should be more on coming up with correct guidelines.

Comment author: Mqrius 10 March 2013 11:35:48PM 4 points [-]

I valued the bit of chatting we did a lot. It creates a community feeling , and helps with actually getting me to work :)

But indeed, some people are distracted by the chatting. Having a "lobby" would work. Then the study room could be quiet most of the time, except when the joint hour-synced Pomodoro finishes. If you want to hang out but aren't working, you remove yourself from the study room.
These would be simple but effective guidelines, I think.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 11 March 2013 12:51:12PM *  0 points [-]

If people can turn off sounds and notifications, we probably don't have to worry about bothering others by chatting outside of a break. So we could just have a recommendation that you are allowed to chat anytime, but chatting at times HH:25 -- HH:29 and HH:55 -- HH:59 is a Shelling point.

We can encourage this norm by saying "break" and "break over" at the specified time.

Comment author: Mqrius 11 March 2013 03:38:19PM 0 points [-]

If people can turn off sounds and notifications, we probably don't have to worry about bothering others by chatting outside of a break.

I would think so too, but at least 1 person has requested chats that chats be at a minimum, even if he turned off the sound and notifications.

Besides that, a lobby has the advantage that you can hang out without working. Here's the failure mode I'm anticipating and trying to avoid: Let's say this becomes big, and there's plenty of people in the study room. Some will just hang out, and not specifically be working at that time. This creates an environment in which it feels "okay" to just hang out and not work when you're there.

Comment author: latanius 11 March 2013 04:03:56PM 3 points [-]

The problem with no notifications is that because you're still in a room where interesting stuff is going on, of course you'll check the chat history and/or join the people already chatting. (Unless you use up willpower not to, but the whole point is using less of that.)

Having a 25 min work + 5 min chat cycle seems to be a good thing though; start working because everyone else went silent is so much easier as going back to the "library" while everyone else is still talking in the lobby. If you're working, don't go there, that's it.

Comment author: ShannonFriedman 11 March 2013 02:08:11AM 0 points [-]

What do you think of "International Study Hall" as a name for this?

Having spent the day on there, I think that is a decent descriptor for setting expectations and I like the ring :)

Comment author: Yossarian 11 March 2013 05:41:39PM 9 points [-]

Not "Common Room"? Ravenclaw or otherwise?

Too obvious? :)

Comment author: ShannonFriedman 11 March 2013 05:56:08PM 2 points [-]

Ooh, I do like that too :)

Comment author: ShannonFriedman 11 March 2013 03:12:35AM 1 point [-]

Actually, how about "24 Hour International Study Hall?" Its way less prestigious sounding, but a better descriptor and more likely to catch people's attention.

Comment author: tsakinis 11 March 2013 02:00:15PM 0 points [-]

I like simplicity and would prefer something shorter (it does sound representitive though), but wouldn't really care about the name as long as the system is working and has (my preference) people from less wrong working there.

Comment author: Jolly 10 March 2013 10:44:27PM 3 points [-]

Dreeves and other beeminder people used to do pomodoro sessions virtually together starting on the hour, I found value in that. (this is where I got the scheduled pomodoro sessions idea from) that I had suggested to you!

Comment author: ShannonFriedman 10 March 2013 10:51:35PM *  0 points [-]

I had forgotten about your suggestion, yes, it is a great idea for coordinated co-working. When I came into the room, other people were already doing pomodoros, so I just opened up my program and started doing them personally as well.

I don't tend to do them on my own, but in the chat setting I felt like they were working well for me, at least with this first attempt.

Comment author: Yossarian 11 March 2013 05:40:14PM 1 point [-]

I was in for a bit last night and enjoyed it. On the one hand, I think it did help me keep working where I otherwise would've quit or wasted more time on Internet distractions. That said, the chat, while interesting, was distracting from the primary purpose of the chat room.

There should definitely be two separate rooms - one for general chat and one for paired working. But the shared Pomodoro timing is also a good idea and should be tried, in my opinion.

Also, we should find a different chat client than Tinychat. It's log in process and text limitations are very annoying.

Comment author: ShannonFriedman 11 March 2013 11:10:37PM 0 points [-]

A few of us have been experimenting with other clients and have not found anything better. Logging into Google Hangout is more of a pain than tinychat, among other downsides. We're thinking that having a bot to announce pomodoros on tinychat might be the best solution we have so far, given the current options.

If you know anyone who might be up for coding one or if you have better ideas, I'd love to hear!

Comment author: Mickydtron 12 March 2013 04:31:23PM *  1 point [-]

I actually started thinking about how to create something that would work for this as soon as I started reading the comments about the Pomodoro feature. I'm not sure if I'd be the best person to actually make something like this, but I'll share the design requirements that I've come up with so far.

The framework that I'm basing this off of is something like TeamSpeak or Mumble, where there are a hierarchical tree of rooms with people in them. There should probably be an accessible tree view that shows all rooms along with all current occupants.

Inside of each room, each person should be able to choose whether to broadcast video or not. There will probably be a ~10 person cap on how many can broadcast inside of a single room, but there should be a much higher cap on how many can watch. There should also be text and possibly voice only chat features.

Each room should have an optionally enabled feature set, currently only including the ability to set up synced pomodoros. This feature should probably change the look of the room while it is in the 25 minutes, and then change it to "break room" look while in the 5 minutes. There could be a toggle to optionally mute everyone during the working time.

Rooms should preferably be dynamically allocate-able. At the very least, it should not be nightmarish to add new rooms.

The login/user management should not be nightmarish. Possibly password protected access, and disseminate the password as widely as possible here on LW?

The whole thing should be web based, with no client side software.

Does anyone else have any design requirements that they would like to add?

edit: further googling has uncovered OpenMeetings, which might be just the things needed to build this out.

Comment author: ShannonFriedman 13 March 2013 06:23:55AM 0 points [-]

Yes, you are thinking along the same lines a bunch of others of us are. Message me your email and I'll add you to the discussion.

Comment author: ShannonFriedman 13 March 2013 06:28:10AM 0 points [-]

Right now I'm trying to get a sense of what is needed technically for the features that the people most dedicated to this are most interested in, and then I'm going to write up a post to Discussion about it.

Comment author: army1987 11 March 2013 01:08:43PM 1 point [-]

Use “straight” apostrophes rather than backticks (or if you must, escape the latter with backslashes), as pairs of backticks are taken to delimit computer code to be displayed in monospaced type.

Comment author: diegocaleiro 11 March 2013 02:11:23PM 0 points [-]

testing'testing' testing

Comment author: army1987 11 March 2013 06:07:21PM 1 point [-]

BTW, if you don't like straight apostrophes, the ‘proper’ Unicode right single quotation mark (U+2019) should also work fine.

Comment author: dreeves 07 March 2013 06:12:22PM 3 points [-]

Shannon, this sounds really valuable! Thanks to you and Mqrius for kicking this off.

I just wanted to mention that if there's demand for more social features in Beeminder, we're definitely listening. (Outsiders often tell us we should have more social features but LessWrong (and similar communities like Quantified Self) are our bread and butter so if we hear it here we'll pay more attention.)

Comment author: Jolly 10 March 2013 10:41:17PM 0 points [-]

I enjoyed the pomodoro sessions we were doing in the Beeminder chat :)

Comment author: tsakinis 07 March 2013 12:57:04AM 3 points [-]

I have tried many things over the years in my hope to shed my procrastination, but this is something different from what I have done and am very willing to try it.

Shortly about me: 26 years old, live in Sweden (Norway within near future). I recently aquired a medical degree, but because of long struggle with akrasia I feel behind from where I should be "knowledge-wise". Relevant studying (radiology) together with future planning (specific job searching) are what I want to spend more time on, but since deadlines have disappeared after University, much more of my time is now wasted on "mindless" stuff.

I would like to offer my "help" to anyone who would like to try this. I will keep the appointments and be a friendly companion. However I'm not sure if I can be of any value to you in terms of learning you relevant things or be able to keep up with a Eliezer-level discussion.

My only requirements for you are: 1. Lesswrong-reader - congrats, you passed! 2. Keep the appointment(s) we set

Contact me if interested to give it a go.

Comment author: Vaniver 06 March 2013 09:11:27PM *  6 points [-]

I'm interested in both trading time and in co-working.

As yet another form of co-working, I'm also available for advice. If your project is stuck somewhere, talk to me about it and I'll get excited. At the very least, that might reflect back to you, and probably I'll come up with something useful for you to think about. Historically, the first piece of good advice takes less than 20 minutes to generate over 80% of the time, and so if you're leery of devoting a three hour block to working with someone, this is still worth considering.

For coworking of the "both be on Skype working on separate things" variety, I find having a weekly schedule that I can plan around (and thus remember easily) about 10-20% more useful than one-shot appointments.

I have lots of different projects I'm working on, and am not sure which I'd want to do most.* I'd probably ask the person I'm coworking with. I have a handful of small coding projects that I would be much more willing to start next to a competent programmer. (I promise to ask Google any questions before asking you :P )

* One of the benefits for coworking / related arrangements for me is that I seem to calibrate my excitement for a project based on the excitement of others more than other people, and so I imagine I'll get much more done on a particular project if someone looks at what I'm doing, says "wow, I'd love to see you finish that," and then stays there for a few hours. I'm not sure how much of this is just outsourcing the cognitive effort of "what should I be working on?"

Comment author: Tenoke 15 March 2013 02:42:55PM *  2 points [-]

People are still coming to tinychat, so:

We have moved to mqrius's openmeetings server at least for now. You need to make an account but there is no verification so you can just fill in everything randomly. And please when you register put something in either the 'first name' or 'last name' fields otherwise we will have a bunch of people in the chat with no visible names.

Edit; We are back on tinychat

Comment author: JamesM423 10 March 2013 08:01:31AM -2 points [-]

I like this post, but I think that it should be in Discussion. If you agree with the latter sufficiently to be bothered, add a subcomment to that effect.

Comment author: Mqrius 10 March 2013 09:44:36AM *  4 points [-]

I disagree. Instrumental rationality is at least as important as epistemic rationality, akrasia is both one of the largest blocks and one of the most common blocks in daily life, and the survey has shown that co-working is the best tool we have to combat akrasia. Assuming we can make this the nexus of co-working efforts, its place in Main is justified.

Comment author: JamesM423 10 March 2013 05:06:33PM 1 point [-]

It was my understanding that Main is intended for polished final products, and that drafts, polls, and, well, discussions, belong to Discussion. And for me a "nexus of co-working efforts" is a discussion. Its main value is in the discussion process rather than in the article. To put it in another way, most posts in Main (with the notable exception of meetup announcements) will not lose much of their value with time, while this post will be of very little value once people stop regularly coming here to coordinate social productivity experiments.

Comment author: Mqrius 10 March 2013 05:56:06PM *  0 points [-]

It was my understanding that Main is intended for polished final products, and that drafts, polls, and, well, discussions, belong to Discussion.

That's a reasonable distinction. But imagine this: A post which is a central place for organizing working together. Such a post is a very valuable final product in instrumental rationality, but it will inherently have continuous activity and discussion.

This post is not fully polished yet, but it's the best one we have of the sort, and having it as a main post right now increases the chances of this becoming the polished gem we'd like it to be.

I agree with you that if this post "dies out" then it could be replaced by a better version.

Comment author: Lachouette 19 November 2013 10:47:06AM 1 point [-]

Please note that the Study Hall is password-protected as of today. The password is "lw". The relevant discussion post (explaining why we chose a password) is available here: link

Comment author: juanguti 18 May 2013 03:06:48AM 1 point [-]

Hi, if anybody is interested in studying something about graph theory or combinatorics, send me a message.

Comment author: malcolmmcc 11 April 2013 11:27:05PM 1 point [-]

I just found this piece of software which might be a good tool to use for coworking. http://www.sqwiggle.com/

Comment author: Robin 13 March 2013 09:25:05PM -2 points [-]

Coworking probably won't work well for introverts.

Comment author: Jabberslythe 08 March 2013 09:25:22PM 0 points [-]

I think I am less productive when someone else is around. It seems like I am less effective at my current job when coworkers are around and certainly when I am being evaluated at work. This may be because I am socially anxious and socially maladjusted, though.