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Boring Advice Repository

56 Post author: Qiaochu_Yuan 07 March 2013 04:33AM

This is an extension of a comment I made that I can't find and also a request for examples. It seems plausible that, when giving advice, many people optimize for deepness or punchiness of the advice rather than for actual practical value. There may be good reasons to do this - e.g. advice that sounds deep or punchy might be more likely to be listened to - but as a corollary, there could be valuable advice that people generally don't give because it doesn't sound deep or punchy. Let's call this boring advice

An example that's been discussed on LW several times is "make checklists." Checklists are great. We should totally make checklists. But "make checklists" is not a deep or punchy thing to say. Other examples include "google things" and "exercise." 

I would like people to use this thread to post other examples of boring advice. If you can, provide evidence and/or a plausible argument that your boring advice actually is useful, but I would prefer that you err on the side of boring but not necessarily useful in the name of more thoroughly searching a plausibly under-searched part of advicespace. 

Upvotes on advice posted in this thread should be based on your estimate of the usefulness of the advice; in particular, please do not vote up advice just because it sounds deep or punchy. 

Comments (560)

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Comment author: ModusPonies 07 March 2013 07:02:45AM 74 points [-]

When in need of a conversation topic, ask a question about the other person's life. Anything about their life. (If I can't think of something else, I ask about weekend plans.) Listen for what part of their answer they're most interested in. Ask followup questions about that thing. Repeat as necessary.

People like to talk about themselves. This cuts awkward silences down to nothing and makes people like you. I've also learned all sorts of fascinating things about my acquaintances.

Comment author: Elithrion 07 March 2013 07:17:24PM 19 points [-]

Although it should be noted that while this is usually a good idea, it doesn't work on everyone and you should notice if your conversation partner doesn't seem very enthusiastic about talking about themselves. (Yes, I do mean myself - not a big fan of vacuously discussing what I'm up to, most of the time.)

Comment author: therufs 08 March 2013 06:31:54PM 3 points [-]

In this situation, what would you suggest for your would-be interlocutors? Would it be acceptable for them to make clear that the conversational ball is now in your court and be fine with nonconversation meanwhile?

Comment author: Elithrion 08 March 2013 08:01:46PM 3 points [-]

Realistically? They'd start asking me how my things are going, and then I'd give some vague general comments and instead ask them how their things are going and then we'd talk about their things. Not sure what to do in the symmetrical case. Maybe try to find non-personal topics to discuss (e.g. books and other fiction, politics, anything else) with the major challenge being finding out which topics both people are interested in (and don't disagree too much on).

Comment author: [deleted] 09 March 2013 02:20:38PM 3 points [-]

the major challenge being finding out which topics both people are interested in (and don't disagree too much on).

The stereotypical example of that is the weather.

Comment author: Desrtopa 09 March 2013 03:36:16PM 4 points [-]

Is anyone actually interested in the weather? I thought it was the stereotypical thing that people turn to when they can't think of anything interesting to talk about.

Comment author: scotherns 11 March 2013 12:21:47PM 10 points [-]

It is the sterotypical thing to talk about, but the point is not the actual weather. It is signal that they would rather be talking to you than be silent. It's an invitation to start a conversation, since people don't routinely come up to you and say 'I would like to being a conversation with you - please suggest a topic'. They say 'Raining again!' instead.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 10 March 2013 03:39:56AM 6 points [-]

I'm somewhat interested in the weather-- it affects my quality of life.

One problem with being asked about one's life-- when some people do it, I feel like I'm being interrogated. I've got a friend who makes it feel like being interviewed by someone who's got a friendly interest, but I'm don't even have a theory about what creates the different effects.

I've got some ability to do small talk. What I'd like to be able to do is bet better at making a transition to more interesting topics.

Comment author: jsalvatier 08 March 2013 12:05:20AM 9 points [-]

Do you have more examples of specific questions you like to ask? I've been trying to figure out a good way to get people to talk about the people in their lives (friends, family etc.), just cause I usually like to hear people talk about that.

Simple things I've asked are:

  • Do you have family around here?
  • Do you have siblings?
  • Do you have roommates?

    But I'd like to figure out how to get people to tell me stories and descriptions of the people in their life.

Comment author: ModusPonies 08 March 2013 01:48:47AM *  10 points [-]

EDIT: I just now realized that your comment above is a great example of the sort of follow-up questions I'm talking about. Well played.

Examples from the past week:

  • Started with the "how was your week" thing. The guy had been on an MIT board discussing their strategy for building MOOCs, and I got to hear a lot about business models in education and how that's changing with technology.
  • Him: "I'll be leaving early tomorrow." Me: "Where are you going to be?" Well, he's helping his son move, and also trying to deal with the previous landlord because apparently his grandkids damaged the walls, and there's all sorts of drama around that...
  • I overheard someone talking about hockey. I know absolutely nothing about the sport, so I asked some extremely basic question, I can't recall what. I learned a little about the structure of the game, and then a lot about how stricter enforcement of the rules in recent decades has changed the dominant playstyles.
  • Right now, in my IRC window, I am hearing about changes to World of Warcraft in the ~5 years since I've played after asking about a cryptic comment someone made about downloading a patch.

As you can see, this is at best an imperfect tool for getting a specific type of story. The core of the technique is that I don't have anything in mind when I start, and I'm not steering towards any particular topic.

I haven't tried to get stories like the ones you're looking for, but I've found that being direct is usually a good approach. Maybe just go with "so who are the important people in your life?"

Comment author: lsparrish 07 March 2013 03:28:20PM 62 points [-]

Try to live close to where you work. Failing that, try to work close to where you live. Commuting takes a lot of time and you don't get paid for it.

Comment author: Dr_Manhattan 07 March 2013 04:52:06PM 40 points [-]

Alternative: commute effectively. Taking a train to NYC from Long Island I get almost 2 hours to read/watch lectures or entertainment. Some days these are 2 best hours of the day.

Comment author: Pablo_Stafforini 08 March 2013 09:24:47PM *  10 points [-]

A few months ago I got a new job that required me to commute for two hours each day. I tried doing many different productive things while sitting on the bus (the means of transportation I used), including reading, listening to audiobooks, watching videos, and even meditating. Eventually, however, I reached the conclusion that doing Anki reviews (using the AnkiDroid app) was, by a wide margin, superior to all these other activities. If you own a smartphone, you might want to give it a try. (And if you don't own a smartphone, you might want to consider obtaining one.)

Comment author: [deleted] 08 March 2013 01:05:37PM 8 points [-]

Not all people can read on trains comfortably. (Likewise, some but not all people can sleep on trains comfortably.) Therefore, Beware of Other-Optimizing is particularly relevant.

Comment author: William_Quixote 11 March 2013 11:27:21PM 8 points [-]

I don't know, but I suspect this might be trainable. As a young child I used to get very nauseous reading in the back seat of cars. But since I would get bored with nothing to do, I would read until I was to nauseous to continue, and then try again once I felt better. At some point I stopped getting carsick from reading. I don't Know that I trained this though, it's possible I just grew out of getting carsick, all sorts of stuff changes as you get older.

Comment author: bbleeker 09 March 2013 05:36:38PM 14 points [-]

IMO the optimal distance is 15-30 minutes by bicycle. That'll give you some exercise you don't have to do anything extra for, that doesn't take a lot of time. I've been working from home for close to 2 years now, and my fitness has taken a big hit. I've just started to ride my bicycle for about half an hour daily, but the problem is, I don't really need to do it, so it's easy to skip it if I'm busy or just don't feel like it.

Comment author: Error 11 March 2013 07:22:24PM 5 points [-]

I've considered this several times because I'm in range for it; but always reject it on the grounds that I don't want to sit around feeling like dried sweat and stink for eight hours. How did you deal with that when you were biking?

Comment author: wedrifid 11 March 2013 07:25:20PM 7 points [-]

I've considered this several times because I'm in range for it; but always reject it on the grounds that I don't want to sit around feeling like dried sweat and stink for eight hours. How did you deal with that when you were biking?

Showers. (One of the advantages of large workplaces.)

Comment author: bbleeker 11 March 2013 07:34:39PM *  6 points [-]

I put on deodorant in the morning, and I don't race, I just go ~16-17 km/h (on average, that is; faster on straight stretches, like ~20 km/h). On a normal city bike, not a racing bicycle. I might get a little sweaty sometimes, but never so much that I got smelly. (Edit: typo)

Comment author: Qiaochu_Yuan 07 March 2013 05:20:14PM 12 points [-]

And commuting is apparently just fairly horrible in general.

Comment author: ciphergoth 09 March 2013 08:51:56AM 19 points [-]

Practically all of the discussion I can find about this is very US-centric, and so conflates "commuting" with "commuting by car". A long public transport commute that was ideal in other ways (train journey, no changes, door-to-door, frequent trains with seats, signal) could be much preferable to a shorter drive; I use my commute to read, look at my TODO list, catch up with blogs etc.

Comment author: OrphanWilde 07 March 2013 07:30:35PM 11 points [-]

Alternative: Prioritize the ability to telecommute over raw salary, if you're in an industry where you're able. Consider the time spent traveling when considering jobs.

If you can telecommute, also consider that you can live in a different state. Your paycheck can go further still when you aren't paying income taxes.

Comment author: twanvl 07 March 2013 11:44:32PM 14 points [-]

Telecommuting might not be the best thing for everyone. At home I have less social interaction and more distractions.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 10 March 2013 03:43:52AM 6 points [-]

I've heard that telecommuting makes promotion less likely. If so, then you need to consider more than your current salary.

Comment author: OrphanWilde 11 March 2013 03:56:45AM 11 points [-]


What, you want to put me in a position where I'm responsible for what a bunch of -programmers- do? Did I do something wrong?

Comment author: shminux 07 March 2013 11:07:47PM *  53 points [-]

Start your post or comment with a summary when posting anything over 3-5 paragraphs.

Comment author: ESRogs 31 March 2013 01:27:52AM 19 points [-]

Also: use paragraphs.

Comment author: RomeoStevens 08 March 2013 09:15:42PM *  49 points [-]

A major mental change that allowed me to own less things was someone mentioning "treat craigslist as free storage." The idea being that if you ever really need X you can get it fairly easily. But this extends to retail goods as well. I now keep in mind that everything that costs<(.1)(paycheck) is already mine and I only go pick it up if I really, actually, need it.

Comment author: RomeoStevens 07 March 2013 08:02:14AM *  49 points [-]

Spend more money/time on optimizing boring things you use a lot:
Tailored clothes
Hygiene products that work well for you
Kitchen accessories (part of the reason you don't cook healthy meals for yourself might be because your kitchen work flow sucks)
Ergonomic setup at computer

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 07 March 2013 10:59:11AM 26 points [-]


Find what is best for you, and buy a lot of them. Then you can ignore this topic for a long time.

If you buy more identical pairs of socks, if some of them get destroyed, you can make pairs of the remaining ones. On the other hand, if you buy similar pairs, you will waste a lot of time sorting them.


...and a pillow (or two). Try different sizes and shapes.

Kitchen accessories

For example a cutting board should be large and easy to wash. An increased size can make cutting much easier.

Comment author: sixes_and_sevens 07 March 2013 12:59:19PM 9 points [-]

If you buy more identical pairs of socks, if some of them get destroyed, you can make pairs of the remaining ones. On the other hand, if you buy similar pairs, you will waste a lot of time sorting them.

I recently had a sock cull, in which I got rid of every sock that couldn't immediately be visually matched with one of its fellows. I must've reduced the total number of socks I have by about two thirds, but the overall availability of matched socks is now much higher.

Comment author: Will_Newsome 07 March 2013 07:12:41PM 7 points [-]

(For casual clothing, short (like, no-show) black socks are mostly more fashionable than white socks.)

Comment author: Error 07 March 2013 03:14:02PM *  7 points [-]


Find what is best for you, and buy a lot of them. Then you can ignore this topic for a long time.

I have tried this with pants, because I have trouble finding comfortable ones. Unfortunately by the time I have a pair of pants that I'm sure are comfortable and I'm ready to buy five more of them, nobody stocks the same model anymore.

Comment author: Qiaochu_Yuan 07 March 2013 05:22:51PM 8 points [-]

Previous LW discussion about ergonomics.

Comment author: latanius 08 March 2013 12:57:30AM 43 points [-]

If you are trying to do X, surround yourself with people who are also doing X. Takes much less willpower to keep doing it.

Comment author: beoShaffer 08 March 2013 01:12:33AM 32 points [-]

On a related note make sure that they are people who are actively doing X, or at least making credible progress towards it not just professing a desire to X. This is an easy mistake to make.

Comment author: sanddbox 27 May 2013 06:55:05AM 6 points [-]

Doesn't this, to a large extent, describe LW?

Comment author: therufs 08 March 2013 05:18:58PM 41 points [-]

If you are looking for employment, tell everyone you know. I have gotten 100% of my jobs from friends saying "hey, did you hear about this one".

Comment author: taryneast 05 September 2014 05:28:50AM *  4 points [-]

This includes posting "I'm looking for a job" publically on your facebook page, on linkedin and any other social-networking you may have. Use the magic of the internets to reach out to as many friends-of-friends that you can.

note: don't do this (or only post to friends) if your current employer does not know you are looking elsewhere...

Comment author: FiftyTwo 08 March 2013 05:51:16AM 41 points [-]

If you feel sad when you shouldn't feel sad consult a medical professional or therapist, they can help.

[Wish I'd realised that a few years ago.]

Comment author: jooyous 08 March 2013 05:56:55AM 17 points [-]

How do I know when I shouldn't feel sad? Also, it's scary. :(

Comment author: RomeoStevens 08 March 2013 07:19:59AM 23 points [-]

The parent post shouldn't have made you sad.

Comment author: therufs 08 March 2013 05:16:38PM 13 points [-]

How do I know when I shouldn't feel sad?

My personal metric has been that it's reasonable to feel sad when there's a specific event (as opposed to a circumstance) to be sad about (death of someone close to me, breakup of a relationship, loss of a job.)

But whether or not you "should" feel sad, professionals can help.

Also, it's scary.

The voice that is telling you that awful things are loitering just outside the edge of your awareness, I call The Jerkbrain.

I can self-report that directly and emphatically addressing it as such (usually "shut up, Jerkbrain!") has had helpful effects including:

  • increased aptitude for dealing with problems in the physical world
  • much less energy wasted dealing with problems that exist only in distant possibility (and maybe not even there.)

I am not my jerkbrain, and you are not yours, either.

Comment author: jooyous 08 March 2013 07:08:10PM 4 points [-]

I guess it would be helpful to have a "normal" range of time in which it's reasonable to feel sad or weird after a death, break-up, etc. Sometimes, it feels like they all pile up.

Comment author: handoflixue 08 March 2013 11:42:29PM 7 points [-]

If it's been more than a year, and it's disruptive to your daily life (trouble enjoying pleasant things, pervasive thoughts, crying spells, difficulty functioning at work, difficulty connecting with new partners, etc.), it's probably worth seeking help.

Heck, if it's been more than 3 months, you'll probably benefit from help.

If you have friends you trust, asking them is probably best, since they'll know how important that particular person was to you.

If you feel like it's "all piling up", that's a sign that you're dealing with more than you know how to cope with. That's exactly when getting someone else to help can be most useful.

Now I just need to convince myself to take my own advice here :(

Comment author: [deleted] 09 March 2013 01:48:39AM 12 points [-]

If you find this list describes you well some fair portion of the time (say, more than 20%, though even that sounds like a lot given what I know about people who don't have chronic depression), that's probably a start.

As to it being scary -- yeah, it is. One really important thing to do ahead of time if you decide to seek help is figure out how to make a safe exit if you're uncomfortable, or don't want to continue with a specific provider. Some people find that easy; others find it challenging. Not sure which you are, or how much trouble you have asserting your own boundaries, but it's a very useful skill.

One practical matter of safety here: if you want to walk away from someone and you're worried they might escalate, know that in most cases they can only act without your consent if they believe you pose some specific danger to yourself or others. Think about what you're going through that might be interpreted that way, and be careful before sharing anything like that if you think you might want to stop seeing that provider.

Comment author: juliawise 10 March 2013 02:39:59AM 15 points [-]

figure out how to make a safe exit if you're uncomfortable, or don't want to continue with a specific provider.

Yes. The first therapist I saw was so bad that I called him to cancel after the first visit (though I still didn't have the guts to say it in person). Keep in mind that this is always an option. "I don't think this is a good fit" is a totally acceptable thing to say to a therapist or doctor.

Comment author: bbleeker 09 March 2013 06:06:26PM 3 points [-]

Wow, a lot of things on that list describe me. I'm not even feeling that unhappy... I thought it was just low self-confidence plus some nasty ugh-fields.

Comment author: juliawise 10 March 2013 04:29:20AM 4 points [-]

Regardless, is low self-confidence getting in your way and making your life worse? If so, seeing a therapist might be one way to work on that.

Comment author: TimS 10 March 2013 03:26:07AM 10 points [-]

I think a functional definition is best. Do your negative thoughts (sadness, depression, anxiety, or suchlike) interfere with your ability to live your life (hold a job, attend social events, etc)? Then talking to a therapist may be helpful.

You wouldn't be ashamed to visit a doctor for advice on how to deal with a nagging cough - emotions that impose a similar level of difficulty can be improved with expert attention.

Comment author: buybuydandavis 12 March 2013 01:06:24PM 3 points [-]

Talk to some friends first. Much of what we fret over are problems shared by others, or problems that we have blown out of proportion for ourselves.

Much of depression is trying to live up to a false image of yourself that your friends don't have.

Comment author: FiftyTwo 12 March 2013 09:12:25PM 6 points [-]

Plus, y'know, neurotransmitter deficiencies.

Comment author: [deleted] 08 March 2013 05:05:51PM 3 points [-]

For instance if you are having thoughts of self-harm.

Comment author: Alicorn 07 March 2013 05:40:15AM 41 points [-]

If, realistically, you aren't going to do a thing, proceed immediately to figuring out the best way to not do it.

Comment author: twanvl 07 March 2013 11:42:59PM 13 points [-]

the best way to not do it.

This sounds too punchliney. What do you actually mean? What part of not doing it needs figuring out? How to avoid it? What to do instead? Something else entirely?

Comment author: Alicorn 08 March 2013 04:11:42AM 17 points [-]

How to avoid it at minimal cost, retrieve the resources spent on preparing to do it, get some of the (refactored) results you wanted out of it, and update on the information that you're not going to do it to avoid being in situations where you're supposed to do equivalent things later.

Comment author: Stabilizer 07 March 2013 06:18:18AM *  8 points [-]

Very insightful. Not boring at all.

Comment author: Qiaochu_Yuan 07 March 2013 06:23:54AM 31 points [-]

Too insightful! Not boring enough!

Comment author: jsalvatier 08 March 2013 12:09:36AM 5 points [-]

Intriguing! Do you have any concrete examples? I'm having a hard time visualizing any.

Comment author: Alicorn 08 March 2013 04:10:16AM 28 points [-]

From today:

"Yeah, I'm not gonna get around to making those cookies today. I will put the butter back in the freezer, instead of leaving it out on the off chance I change my mind."

Basically, don't be poised to do things when poising takes resources and you won't do the things.

Comment author: Dorikka 08 March 2013 05:02:27AM 10 points [-]

Basically, don't be poised to do things when poising takes resources and you won't do the things.

I much prefer this version to its grandparent.

Comment author: ModusPonies 07 March 2013 03:21:23PM 38 points [-]

If a complete stranger or an acquaintance can do something useful for you, ask. (Politely. At a convenient time. With an appropriate amount of honest flattery.) If they say no, don't press them.

Failure case: make someone else feel important. Success case: get a favor, maybe make a connection.

Comment author: beoShaffer 07 March 2013 07:40:52PM *  24 points [-]

Always remember to thank them after they agree to help you and again after they've actually helped you, see for reference Ben Franklin effect , the 299th rule of acquisition, and the power of reinforcement.

Comment author: ModusPonies 07 March 2013 08:03:00PM 21 points [-]

A thousand times yes! And since this is a thread for boring, useful advice, I'll include the general version: Thank people who do things for you, whether or not you asked them to do it. It conditions them to help you. Thanking people reliably and sincerely is a powerful tool, and while there's a bit of skill to doing it well, it's more than worth practicing.

Comment author: Rukifellth 12 March 2013 08:05:22PM *  3 points [-]

make someone else feel important

appropriate amount of honest flattery

I'm worried about tactics like this being overused. Pleasantries really do become mechanical through repetition, and I'm not sure if short term benefits are worth it. More likely than not, a person may be conditioned to think that flattery is only given before a request.

Comment author: ModusPonies 15 March 2013 08:39:40PM 4 points [-]

That is definitely a danger. It's important to also express honest appreciation when you have nothing specific to gain. (I've been making an effort to do more of that, lately.) If you do, you and your peers will be justifiably happier, and you also get to use tactics like the above without poisoning the well.

You should be a good person to everyone you meet — it is the moral thing to do, and as a sidenote will really help your networking

Comment author: MixedNuts 22 March 2013 10:38:15PM 6 points [-]

Failure case: They feel compelled to help, resent you for it, and destroy your reputation by speaking ill of you.

Comment author: Arran_Stirton 27 March 2013 08:57:16AM 6 points [-]

Preemptive Solution: Leave a line of retreat, make sure that there is little/no cost for them if they choose to refuse; thus reducing the likelihood that they will help you out of compulsion.

Comment author: MixedNuts 27 March 2013 04:36:54PM 3 points [-]

How do you do that?

Comment author: Arran_Stirton 30 March 2013 07:40:30AM 8 points [-]

As far as I know there's no single sure-fire way of making sure that asking them won't put them in a position where refusal will gain them negative utility (for example, their utility function could penalize refusing requests as a matter of course) . However general strategies could include:

  • Not asking in-front of others, particularly members of their social group. (Thus refusal won't impact upon their reputation.)

  • Conditioning the request on it being convenient for them (i.e. using phrasing such as "If you've got some free time would you mind...")

  • Don't give the impression that their help is make or break for your goals (i.e. don't say "As you're the only person I know who can do [such&such], could you do [so&so] for me?")

  • If possible do something nice for them in return, it need not be full reciprocation but it's much harder to resent someone who gave you tea and biscuits, even if you were doing a favor for them at the time.

Of course there's no substitute for good judgement.

Comment author: RomeoStevens 07 March 2013 07:23:27AM *  35 points [-]

Learn to cook at least a handful of simple, cheap, fast meals. This will have more effect on your resolutions to "eat healthy" than temporary spurts of mega-motivation.

(also recognizing that spurts of motivation are temporary in general, do not rely on them for lasting change)

Comment author: Error 07 March 2013 03:10:05PM 9 points [-]

Related: Shop with a list. Do not buy anything not on the list. If possible, do not put anything on the list that doesn't require cooking to eat.

(not having anything snackable on hand is a great way to ensure that you only eat when you actually need to. Most people won't go out of their way to cook just to satisfy the "hrm, I'm bored, let's eat something" impulse.)

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 07 March 2013 05:17:54PM 12 points [-]

If possible, do not put anything on the list that doesn't require cooking to eat.

Exception: vegetables.

not having anything snackable on hand is a great way to ensure that you only eat when you actually need to.

Preparing a snackable version of vegetables (e.g. clean a few carrots, cut them to small pieces, and put them into the bowl) and putting it next to your computer could be an easy way to make yourself eat more vegetables.

Comment author: Kindly 07 March 2013 11:11:54PM *  5 points [-]

If possible, do not put anything on the list that doesn't require cooking to eat.

In my exprience, following this advice leads to me skipping approximately every fourth meal.

Edit: to my detriment.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 07 March 2013 10:42:14AM *  9 points [-]

Also make a list of those recipes (including ingredients) and store it somewhere in the kitchen.

When you catch yourself repeating the same three recipes over again, just look at the list for a new-old inspiration. Do it before you go shopping, so you can immediately buy the necessary ingredients. (If you go shopping on your way home from job, maybe you should put the list online so you can read it before leaving your job.)

Comment author: Decius 08 March 2013 12:16:04AM 4 points [-]

Converge what you enjoy eating with what you can cook.

Comment author: Qiaochu_Yuan 08 March 2013 06:12:29AM *  34 points [-]

Obtain a smartphone. It will make your life better. (If you don't have one because you feel like they're overhyped, remember that reversed stupidity is not intelligence.) Here is a list of things I use my smartphone to do, in no particular order:

  • Record things I want my future selves to do in RTM on the go
  • Record sleep data using Sleep Cycle
  • Take notes on conversations using either voice memos or Evernote
  • Record various kinds of things in Workflowy, e.g. exercise data
  • Respond more quickly to emails (people I know have debated the value of doing this, but I get really annoyed when other people take a long time to respond to my emails and don't want to do that)
  • Receive calendar alerts, alarms, and Boomerangs from my past selves that remind me to do things
  • Look things up, e.g. on Wikipedia, on the go (e.g. when I am waiting in line for something)
  • Read academic papers on the go
  • Search my email for important information on the go, e.g. the location of some event or an ID number of some kind
  • Look up directions on the go, e.g. to the location of some event
  • Look up places on Yelp on the go
  • Look up prices and reviews of an item I'm considering buying IRL on Amazon

There is a possibility of wasting large amounts of time playing games which I curtailed early on by refusing to download games except during breaks from school.

Comment author: taelor 13 March 2013 07:56:02AM 8 points [-]

Look things up, e.g. on Wikipedia, on the go (e.g. when I am waiting in line for something)

Upvoted for this. I think possibly the single biggest impact of the existence of smartphones is that in a world where its possible to carry device cappable of accessing Wikipedia in your pocket means that no one ever has an excuse for being ignorant of basic facts about any subject that they had a reasonable amount of time to prepare for.

Another thing: I've found that listening to podcasts while doing mindless, repetative tasks (mowing the lawn, washing the dishes, cleaning) makes the process much, much more enjoyable.

Comment author: therufs 08 March 2013 04:37:08PM 8 points [-]

My main objection to smartphone use is that by putting anything you want to pay attention to at your fingertips, it can introduce a certain distance from what is actually going on. I would not advocate, say, spending your 4 hours at the DMV observing your surroundings (that would be a waste of time). But I am concerned that time spent with portable Internet corresponds to ever thicker-walled and less-apparent echo chambers. Is this an issue you have thoughts on?

By way of example, I'm trying to think about the difference between reading a novel on the subway and reading the internets on the subway; the main distinction is that when I'm reading the novel, I'm aware that I'm not actually paying attention to my surroundings.

Comment author: handoflixue 08 March 2013 11:34:24PM 3 points [-]

If I'm interacting with people, I treat it as rude to pull out my phone without asking.

If I'm already not-interacting-with-people, I don't see why it would be any worse than a book. So many other people have smart phones that "socialize while waiting" is dying off regardless of what I do, and a book generally kept people from trying to strike up a conversation anyway.

As to the "not aware I'm not aware"... I've always felt equally towards books and smart phones. Possibly a bit more aware with my smart phone, actually, since dropping it or having it stolen is a much bigger deal.

Comment author: [deleted] 08 March 2013 01:17:59PM 7 points [-]

(And having a camera good enough that text in pictures stays legible is sometimes very handy IME.)

Comment author: RichardKennaway 09 March 2013 11:26:05AM 33 points [-]

Never post a web link that requires readers to click on it to find out if they want to click on it.

Comment author: sketerpot 28 March 2013 05:09:00AM 5 points [-]

On that note: middle-click (or Ctrl-click) on links while you're reading to open them in a background tab. Later, glance at the tab to find out if you want to have clicked on it. If the answer is "No, I don't really want to have clicked on that link," just close the tab.

(The downside is that this may lead to tab explosions on web sites like TV Tropes.)

Comment author: Stabilizer 07 March 2013 10:27:56PM 30 points [-]

Don't smoke.

Comment author: AlexSchell 07 March 2013 11:57:36PM 6 points [-]

Also seriously look into regularly using other sources of nicotine unless it's included in your workplace's drug screens.

Comment author: Stabilizer 07 March 2013 06:20:59AM 30 points [-]

Don't beat yourself up.

Comment author: buybuydandavis 07 March 2013 09:26:45AM *  29 points [-]

The 80/20 rule is especially true for cleaning. Better to get it 80% clean twice as often than 99% clean half as often.

Comment author: Vaniver 07 March 2013 11:30:32PM *  28 points [-]

Stop doing stupid shit seems relevant.

To summarize: if you're good at something and it doesn't seem like it's taken serious effort to get to where you are, there's probably some low-hanging fruit that you haven't picked, because you haven't looked for it. Put a serious effect into improving and fixing your small, frequent mistakes.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 08 March 2013 09:52:58AM 18 points [-]

It's a meta-boring advice: Instead of looking for new cool things you could learn, do the boring work of fixing the mistakes you make.

Comment author: lsparrish 08 March 2013 08:30:59PM 25 points [-]

Watch your internal monologue for two patterns: Hero stories where you are in the process of solving problems, and victim stories where you are incapable of solving problems. Attempt to reinterpret victimization stories into as-yet-unresolved heroic stories.

Comment author: wmorgan 11 March 2013 10:03:32PM 24 points [-]

Always negotiate on salary, i.e. ask for more than their initial offer. Patrick McKenzie explains why.

Comment author: ShardPhoenix 08 March 2013 06:37:58AM 21 points [-]

Tips on giving a speech or presentation:

  • Practice your presentation several times out loud (if possible).
  • The first thing you should talk about after introducing yourself and your topic is why the audience should even care about your topic (and don't assume it's obvious).
  • If using a hand-held microphone, hold the microphone near your mouth, not in front of your chest.
  • If you're using a computer for slides or a demo, set it up ahead of time if possible.
Comment author: Viliam_Bur 08 March 2013 10:16:41AM *  13 points [-]

If you're using a computer for slides or a demo, set it up ahead of time if possible.

This. In my experience at least 50% of computer presentations started at least 15 minutes late because of some technical problems. But people always believe that the computers are the same everywhere, therefore nothing could go wrong. (Then they turn on the projector and see only a blue screen. Or the light bulb is burned out. Or a remote control is missing; or a cable. Or the presentation is in PDF and the computer can only run Powerpoint, or the other way round. Or it's a different version of Powerpoint. Or the computer does not recognize the memory stick in the USB port. Or, most importantly, something else.)

Comment author: buybuydandavis 12 March 2013 01:13:11PM 5 points [-]

The first thing you should talk about after introducing yourself and your topic is why the audience should even care about your topic (and don't assume it's obvious).

This applies to posts as well. If you've got a long one, start by giving the reader a clear idea of where you're going and what his payoff will be. Motivate the reader.

Comment author: lsparrish 07 March 2013 06:30:38AM *  21 points [-]

Take melatonin a half hour before your desired bedtime. Set an alarm on your phone so that you remember to take it at the exact same time every 24 hours. This gets you to bed at roughly the same time every night and establishes a steady 24 hour cycle, but requires almost no willpower expenditure since you are already awake and it's just a matter of taking a quick pill. Worked for me.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 07 March 2013 10:49:01AM 12 points [-]

My upvote goes mostly to the "set an alarm on your phone" part. So boring; so useful!

Comment author: aelephant 07 March 2013 01:33:59PM 15 points [-]

I can confirm this. I set alarms for the most ridiculous things -- eg, "Umbrella" 5 minutes before I leave the office so I don't forget it.

Comment author: beoShaffer 07 March 2013 07:59:19PM 20 points [-]

In addition to optimizing boring things you use frequently you should optimize boring things you do frequently. You usually need to set a side a time to do this, rather than hope you remember to do it when doing a boring thing. On a related note beware reoccurring commitments. Remember, for less than a dollar a day you can waste 300 dollars a year.

Comment author: curiousepic 07 March 2013 03:48:20PM *  20 points [-]

Some previously posted boring advice about maintaining an exercise routine:

I was successful in keeping a strict (but light) exercise routine for a year. Here are the main things I think helped me form the habit:

  • Not worrying about quantifying, or optimizing. I would immediately get into the rabbit hole of analysis, when I knew that any exercise was much better than procrastinating until I found the perfect method. Once the habit is formed, then you can optimize it.
  • Reduce physical inconveniences to actually exercising. The thought of going to a gym immediately turns me off, so I knew it had to be at home. That meant obtaining equipment. To keep it simple, this consisted of a yoga mat and a resistance band.
  • Doing it right after waking up. I think this was vital to habit formation, as my mind wasn't very active, and it was easy to fall into routine. Only very rarely did I find myself considering not exercising.
  • Doing it every other day - not too often to get burnt out, and not too infrequently to form the habit. In order to keep a consistent sleep schedule and not have to wake up very early, I alternated morning routines - exercise days and shower days. My workouts weren't intense enough to necessitate a shower immediately after. Also, I worked it in with my intermittent fasting routine on non-exercise days.
  • Tracking it. Noting days that I exercised did give me a couple of achievement hedons. The effect diminished, but not before the habit was formed.
Comment author: RomeoStevens 08 March 2013 12:46:30AM 17 points [-]

Once the habit is formed, then you can optimize it.

I think this is really important and not mentioned enough.

Comment author: bbleeker 09 March 2013 07:40:16PM *  4 points [-]

Yes; but beware even then. I had a simple weightlifting routine once upon a time. Then I decided to improve it: I'd start using different weights for different (and more varied) exercises, and recording them. Pretty soon, I'd given it up altogether. Now I'm thinking of starting the simple routine again (but it isn't optimal! waaah!), and even sell the bench that takes 15 seconds to adjust between different exercises, and just use the suboptimal stepping bench that takes 1-2 seconds to adjust.

And that reminds me. When I bought that stepping bench, I started using it right away, just stepping on and off, every day for 15 minutes or so. Then I bought a book about stepping. I was doing it all wrong; you had to use music, and it had to have a specific number of beats per minute, and you couldn't just step on and off, you had to use complicated (for me, most people would probably find them quite simple) patterns. No more stepping...

Comment author: [deleted] 08 March 2013 05:01:11PM 5 points [-]
  • Find a physical activity that you enjoy.
Comment author: OrphanWilde 08 March 2013 08:08:42PM 13 points [-]

On this note, something I've discovered:

Jogging sucks when you're overweight. Jogging is awesome when you're already fit.

Try things again as you progress. You may find them considerably more pleasant.

Comment author: tgb 08 March 2013 04:46:52PM 19 points [-]

Get some decent winter clothes if you live in a climate where this is necessary. I can't tell you how many people I know at my college that have been going here for four years, complain about the weather, and don't own anything more than a sweatshirt to keep them warm. If it's windy, a raincoat can go over a fleece-style under layer and makes a huge difference. If it rains or snows, get some boots and maybe some wool socks. A hat and some gloves work wonders, too. Glove liners work nicely as light-weight gloves that can keep your hands warm when either driving or walking places but will get wet quickly if you put your hands in snow. There's no reason to be uncomfortably cold.

Comment author: RomeoStevens 08 March 2013 09:08:24PM 17 points [-]

Long johns seem to be something that a lot of people who didn't grow up in the snow never think of. Standing around in freezing weather being cozy is awesome.

Comment author: [deleted] 09 March 2013 02:04:34PM *  5 points [-]

Conversely, sometimes people wear dark-coloured, tight-fitting, full-length clothes and then complain about the heat. I understand why in certain situation someone might not want to wear tank tops or shorts, especially if they (think they) are not very conventionally-attractive, but lighter colours, looser-fitting clothes would still help.

Combining the two, I've meet at least one person who would dress more or less the same way in January and July and complain both about the cold and about the heat.

EDIT: I meant “I understand” in a descriptive way (‘I think I know what's going on in their minds’), not in a normative way (‘ugly people had better please cover their bodies’). Body policing is evil and I'd rather not do that.

Comment author: Dr_Manhattan 08 March 2013 12:18:20PM *  19 points [-]

Be helpful. I have built a significant network of useful people, and in many cases the relationship started from from me offering to do small favors - as small as helping put away chairs after a lecture - and striking up a conversation.

Addendum: while on occasion I use this technique consciously, there is some concern about seeming transparent (still don't let this stop you, especially with unique opportunities at stake). Best reward yourself for being a helpful guy/gal, make it part of your self image. As your status grows it will be quite natural to offer help to important people (I once got the nerve to offer help to a very rich mayor of a major US city, as I had something to offer. Nothing came of it, but still).

Comment author: sixes_and_sevens 08 March 2013 12:13:04PM 17 points [-]

If you spend a lot of time frustratedly explaining to people why you don't do some common social activity, consider giving in and just doing it.

There have been a few discussions on Less Wrong about how to explain to people why you don't drink. I eventually got so frustrated at having to verbally offset the mistrust I received through not drinking, I just went ahead and started drinking. It obviously depends on your social situation, but for me this amounts to maybe four glasses of wine a month, which is a ridiculously good trade-off.

Comment author: Emily 10 March 2013 02:41:32PM 12 points [-]

Can you find nicer friends? No one has ever been weird about the fact that I don't really drink. (If anyone tried to be weird about it, I think I would claim there was alcoholism in my family - there's not, as far as I know. And not be friends with them.)

Comment author: OrphanWilde 08 March 2013 03:49:36PM 9 points [-]

After putting polyurethane on the floor of a house, I had an -excellent- reason which few people questioned: After polyurethaning the floor, alchohol started tasting like polyurethane smelled. (To this day it still hasn't faded completely. I stopped drinking entirely for a long time there, and still can't do straight whiskey shots, which was my old standard. Went from tasting pretty good to... awful.) Takes about thirty seconds to explain, and most people accept it just based on the weirdness of the reason.

Comment author: FiftyTwo 08 March 2013 05:56:52AM 17 points [-]

Google it.

Comment author: RomeoStevens 07 March 2013 07:26:24AM *  17 points [-]

Requisite meta: Pay attention to boring things that people who have accomplished goals you want to accomplish do more.

Comment author: RomeoStevens 07 March 2013 07:36:02AM *  16 points [-]

As per Yvain: Use amazon prime

As per me: Also use slickdeals, sign up for alerts for things you need but don't need right now. You can then safely forget about it until an email alerts you there is an excellent deal on one. I use this for things I need to buy intermittently such as supplements.

Don't forget to check retailmenot for coupon codes when buying online.

Comment author: someonewrongonthenet 16 March 2013 10:39:07PM *  5 points [-]

I don't understand...the benefits he mentions are a result of Internet shopping in general.

How does Amazon prime, a $79/year deal for free two day shipping significantly improve upon this?

Also, if you are in school, Amazon Student lets you get the 2 day shipping free.

Comment author: BrienneYudkowsky 13 May 2013 02:38:14AM *  15 points [-]

Learn how to remember people's names.

Of course you're horrible with names. That's because you haven't learned how to learn them. You evolved to know something like 100 names at a time, so your software needs an upgrade if you want to do more than that. Use the mnemonic technique called "linking" or "chaining". This video is cheesy, but it's exactly how I do it.

Calculate the VOI on giving this a try. If you go to conferences very often, or have lots of students, or live in a large city or something, it's probably really useful to you to be able to remember names. Especially given that you can google any name you manage to remember. And consider the psychological effects! A person's name is her favorite word, and knowing it is the password to her attention.

By the way, I'd be very interested to hear from any face blind people who have experimented with this.

ETA: This is also a fantastic party trick I use all the time.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 09 March 2013 11:07:00AM 15 points [-]

Never take gossip at face value.

When you eventually hear the other person's side, don't take that at face value either.

Comment author: lsparrish 08 March 2013 08:25:30PM 15 points [-]

Identify emotionally draining people in your circles and spend less time with them. Alternative: Identify and fix major sources of emotionally draining interactions in people you like to spend time with.

Comment author: OrphanWilde 08 March 2013 06:53:30PM 15 points [-]

A few random tips:

Reminded by the conversation about phone alarm clocks - if you have trouble getting up in the morning, schedule two alarms, one thirty minutes prior to when you want to get up, and the second when you actually want to get up. Set an energy drink or large cup of coffee next to your phone/alarm. When the first alarm goes off, drink the coffee/energy drink, and go back to sleep.

Invest in an automatic soap dispenser for dish soap. http://www.amazon.com/simplehuman-Sensor-Sanitizer-Brushed-13-Ounce/dp/B003JTCAHK/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1362766673&sr=8-1&keywords=simplehuman+soap+dispenser is what I use; it's refillable, adjustable, and accepts just about anything. (I previously used one of those dispensers with proprietary refills; they were expensive, dispensed too much soap, and when I drilled a hole in the top to refill it, it refused to dispense soap, although that may have been some kind of error on my part.) Makes a small but noticeable difference in the pleasantness of doing dishes.

Invest in good tools, and keep them in good repair; if it's a one-off task, get it used, but get it good. Exceptions - tools which are more work to maintain than they save you (I'm looking at you, paintbrushes); tools which are expected to be destroyed by the work done with them (as the roto-rooter guy put it, in his line of business, all gloves are disposable); and tools you intend to misuse (flathead screwdrivers in my house are disposable tools that get destroyed frequently). If a job seems ridiculously hard - if it takes you two hours to drill a hole in a 2x4 - you're not using the right tools. Get the right tools, or borrow them. (On that note, it should be obvious, but treat borrowed tools with respect and return them promptly.)

Sometimes the right way to do things is the wrong way. I eventually gave up on the concrete saw while cutting out a new basement window and just started smashing things with a sledgehammer. It was easier to repair the excess damage with some new concrete than to do the job right to begin with.

If you have no idea what you're doing, hire somebody who is willing to work with you for a few hours. I'm 10x better at carpentry since I hired a carpenter. (And one of the important things I learned was one I never would have learned on my own - namely, that sometimes the correct solution is to just hammer things in until they fit.)

On a continuation of the previous two, everything really is a nail at some point. Be prepared to use the tools you have. It's not a bias to put the resources at your disposal to their fullest use; it's only a bias to fail to consider acquiring new resources when the situation demands it.

Don't spent $100 to save yourself $10. This should be obvious, but the number of times I've done something like spend an hour trying to save a $.10 plumbing part rather than just destroying it and replacing it...

When getting rid of things, don't consider how you feel about getting rid of it, consider how you feel about not having it anymore. If you don't expect to regret it, don't think so hard about it.

When cleaning house, prioritize getting rid of those things without practical utility first. Even duplicate tools serve a purpose.

If you're one of those people who buys things they intend to resell, first resell what you have. Otherwise you're not being a shrewd businessperson, you're just shopping.

Keep basic maintenance items on hand. Expand your definition of basic. If your kitchen drain falls apart after your hardware store closes, are you going to be able to cook dinner?

Buy a couple sealed 5 gallon jugs of water and store them. Even the least-disaster-prone city can still have broken water mains.

On a preparedness note, if you live anywhere prone to blizzards, keep a stock of medical supplies. Keep more gauze than you think you'd ever need; wound dressings need to be changed frequently. Keep a bottle of iodine on hand as well; a useful all-purpose disinfectant with a decent shelf life (5-10 years).

Invest in a good set of locking pliers/vise grip pliers. These are some of the most useful tools you can keep in your home, and a lot of people don't even know they exist.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 08 March 2013 08:35:45PM 12 points [-]

if you have trouble getting up in the morning, schedule two alarms [...]

Also, experiment with going to sleep earlier.

Comment author: jooyous 08 March 2013 06:41:08AM *  15 points [-]

Map things:

  • Sanity check when you're using a maps-enabled device to get around. It might not be showing you the correct thing. Also, it might be showing you the correct thing, but you might be reading it wrong. (Well maybe not you, but definitely me.)
  • If you've moved to a new area, avoid using map services to get around and work on your own internal brain-map. You don't want to live somewhere for a year and be helpless without your phone.
Comment author: sixes_and_sevens 08 March 2013 11:24:40AM *  5 points [-]

Related: buy a small and reliable compass. Not a compass app for your phone, but an actual compass. GPS, your own spatial awareness, and reasonable assumptions about geography can all let you down, but north is always north.

Edit: I will now ruin the punchiness of this comment with an explanatory edit. I do a lot of walking around a large city. Google Maps is fairly reliable but leaves much to be desired. Establishing GPS location, battery consumption and occasional out-and-out wrongness are common bugbears, so I started trying to navigate without it.

The biggest problem I found was orienting myself. Surfacing from a subway stop only to have no idea which direction was which, I'd sometimes fall back to GPS just to check what direction I was facing (which Google Maps is really bad at anyway. Anyone who's ever done that "let's walk ten metres in this direction to see what way I'm pointing" thing will know what I mean. I played around with some compass apps, which are just as much of a pain as Google Maps. Eventually I just gave in and bought a compass.

Comment author: wedrifid 08 March 2013 11:43:03AM *  7 points [-]

Related: buy a small and reliable compass. Not a compass app for your phone, but an actual compass. GPS, your own spatial awareness, and reasonable assumptions about geography can all let you down, but north is always north.

Almost equivalent: Buy a lightweight and reliable spear. Not a speargun or an effective modern weapon, but an actual pointy stick. Guns, the rule of law, supermarkets and the reasonable assumptions that your geographic location contains no dangerous predators can all let you down. But a pointy stick is always a pointy stick.

Comment author: MixedNuts 22 March 2013 10:46:21PM 3 points [-]

If you've moved to a new area, avoid using map services to get around and work on your own internal brain-map. You don't want to live somewhere for a year and be helpless without your phone.

If you're terrible at brain maps, learn a bunch of routes. If you're terrible at that too, carry paper maps.

Comment author: Daniel_Burfoot 08 March 2013 04:01:42AM *  15 points [-]

Whenever you make an investment, try to begin capturing value from it as soon as possible after spending the money/time for it. Converse: if for some reason you cannot begin exploiting an investment until a certain date, delay purchasing it until that date.

(I learned this from playing the board game Agricola, where a common error mode is to use the "Expand House" action early on, but then delay the "Family Growth" action. The former action is an expensive prerequisite of the latter, which is the one that actually benefits your position. The smart move is to do Family Growth ASAP after Expand House.)

Comment author: kpreid 09 March 2013 02:43:22AM 4 points [-]

if for some reason you cannot begin exploiting an investment until a certain date, delay purchasing it until that date.

Note that this applies to entertainment and hobby purchases. Put the stuff on a wish list and let it sit, until you know you (will) have the spare time to enjoy it.

Comment author: RomeoStevens 01 May 2013 09:40:09AM 14 points [-]

Whenever you need something for which just buying the popular version on amazon won't work, seek out the enthusiast forum for whatever it is you're trying to buy. They usually have a sticky that will flat out tell you what is considered a great cost/performance item by experts.

Disclaimer: you should not do this if you are the sort of person to fall down the rabbit hole of new enthusiasms.

Comment author: ciphergoth 07 March 2013 06:07:45AM 14 points [-]

Wash your hands before every meal.

Comment author: Crux 07 March 2013 06:45:41AM *  13 points [-]

If you're trying to learn a foreign language, get a channel in that language and leave it on in the background, occasionally sitting down to watch for a few mins, for example while eating breakfast. Do this for a year. Improvement doesn't always have to take effort.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 09 March 2013 10:51:02AM 12 points [-]

If what you are doing is not working, do something else.

Comment author: beoShaffer 07 March 2013 07:53:09PM *  12 points [-]

Building off of an earlier comment. Setting alarm(s) for anything you need to at/by a specific time increases the chance you will actually do them, while decreasing the amount of time you spend worrying about doing them. Corollary, this can make your watch/alarm clock/smartphone a single point of failure for a huge chunk of you life, so take good care of it and/or have a back up.

ETA: "worrying about"

Comment author: RomeoStevens 08 March 2013 12:54:14AM 7 points [-]

This reminds me that I need a better alarm app so I don't have an ugh field about setting alarms.

Comment author: Yossarian 07 March 2013 05:35:36PM 12 points [-]

In addition to making lists for "work," make one for things you want to watch, read, and/or play. You'll feel more productive and motivated even when taking a break from work.

Comment author: Crux 07 March 2013 06:40:01AM *  12 points [-]

I used to forget to brush my teeth a lot, or even when I'd remember I'd shrug it off out of some sort of extreme level of laziness. Here's how I fixed it: I put my toothbrush in my shower. I brush my teeth in the shower. Saves time, makes it easier to remember, and it's less boring since I'm multitasking.

Comment author: RomeoStevens 07 March 2013 08:04:23AM 5 points [-]

Shaving in the shower is useful for me as well.

Comment author: jsalvatier 08 March 2013 12:12:40AM 4 points [-]

Plus you get to spend more time in the shower!

Comment author: Pablo_Stafforini 01 May 2013 12:22:53AM *  11 points [-]

I just posted this on my Facebook wall and realized it might belong in this thread:

If you think you spend too much time on Facebook but don't know what to do about it, try this: set the password to a long string of characters (say, 50 letters or numbers) which you need to manually copy every time, and log off when you finish your session. The daunting prospect of having to manually enter this information will discourage you from logging in unless you really desire it. I went from checking Facebook a dozen times per day to just one or two times. (Tip courtesy of Piers Steel, The Procrastination Equation.)

Comment author: FiftyTwo 10 March 2013 03:46:22AM 11 points [-]

Meta: Perhaps we should all pre-commit to rewarding people who say boring but true things, in general upvotes and/or social cache goes to people who say interesting things regardless of truth.

Comment author: Mestroyer 12 March 2013 12:52:18AM 6 points [-]

Boring true things tend to be already known, and not as useful as true interesting things.

If it's boring enough, it is a waste of time to say. I think what people in this thread are looking for are true things that are not as interesting as normal, but not really really boring.


Comment author: Eneasz 07 March 2013 07:09:42PM 11 points [-]

Get a credit card with no annual fee (preferably one with 1% cash back). Pay absolutely everything with card (only rent/mortgage, loan payments, and utilities should be paid in a different way, and that's only because they don't accept credit card). Pay it off in full once every month (the same date every month, and only once a month) before the due date so you never give the credit card company anything more than the actual cost of what you bought.

This makes it incredibly easy to track your finances. Rent/mortgage and loan payments are fixed. If you make a steady monthly wage you know exactly how much money you are getting every month and exactly how much you have left for all non-loan expenditures. That number should be at least $100 more than you pay to the credit card to pay off your past month of living every month.

When you bank more than usual in a month you feel awesome. When you have to pay more than you made in a month you realize immediately and can take quick steps to curtail it.

This also gives you real-world data as to what living costs, helping you to avoid the planning fallacy.

Comment author: beoShaffer 07 March 2013 07:31:46PM 5 points [-]

Using a debit card gives you most of the same benefits, but has slightly different costs. If your doing this it makes sense to research which one is best for you.

Comment author: William_Quixote 08 March 2013 03:33:15AM 7 points [-]

In general, a credit card will be the better option.

1 cards are safer and more fraud resistant. A credit card company has to cancel a false charge if you tell them to, it's much harder to get a bank to give you money back to too up an account. 1.5 related to one, you want to not give your bank account number out more often than needed

2 more credit cards have benefits than debit cards do.

Comment author: PECOS-9 07 March 2013 06:36:33AM *  11 points [-]
Comment author: OrphanWilde 07 March 2013 07:39:15PM 13 points [-]

For those who hate flossing, consider investing in a waterpik or similar product. My breath went from persistently horrible to perpetually pleasant when I started using one.

Comment author: Yossarian 21 March 2013 12:30:57AM 10 points [-]

Give people permission to bug you.

If you commit to doing or following up on something for somebody, tell them to bug you if you don't get back to them about it. You'll feel less stressed about remembering or being obligated to do it because you've shifted at least some of the responsibility to them and given yourself external pressure, which is ultimately more efficient than relying on your own willpower anyway.

Conversely, give yourself permission to bug people, though without judgment. You know how you feel when you have email in your inbox that you know you really ought to get to, but don't? Somebody is feeling that way about your email right now. How helpful would it be if they electronically tapped you on the shoulder as a reminder? More helpful than getting more and more resentful because they've forgotten/don't care/don't consider you valuable enough to bother replying.

Comment author: Mestroyer 23 March 2013 09:49:12AM 9 points [-]

If you're picking out a CPU or graphics card for a custom-built personal computer, ignore basically every number the manufacturer provides to quantify its performance, and go look at some benchmarks. Not because the numbers the manufacturers provide are inaccurate, but because there are so many factors that go into how good hardware is besides the those numbers, that you will never get as accurate an estimate from them as with direct measurement of the performance.

Also, make sure they are compatible with your motherboard.

Comment author: Stabilizer 11 March 2013 07:04:41PM *  9 points [-]

Don't get worked up about jumping through administrative hoops such as filling forms, filing tax returns, sending applications. Especially don't go on a moral plane and say things like, 'I shouldn't have to do these things' or 'This is degrading'. It is much more easier to just do the work which cannot be reasonably argued with. Further, if you don't, you can stand to lose a lot. And not for interesting reasons. Think of it as one-boxing on Newcomb (though without the million dollars).

Comment author: simplicio 11 March 2013 10:13:49PM 10 points [-]

Don't get worked up about jumping through administrative hoops such as filling forms, filing tax returns, sending applications.

Also, if you make a half-decent salary, ask yourself whether you ought to be doing it at all as opposed to delegating it to e.g., a tax professional.

Probably one of the most important rationality skills I have learned is to really internalize the principle "my time is worth something" and spend money on delegating tasks I find annoying or time-consuming.

Comment author: OrphanWilde 12 March 2013 01:30:54AM 3 points [-]

I tried delegating my taxes to a tax professional last year. It took -more- time, not less.

This year it could potentially save my time, because I already know my deductions are going to be pretty significant. (1/5th of my pretax income last year went towards a new roof. And I bought a new computer for work. And a bunch of other homeowner investments that AFAIK are deductible.) As opposed to last year when the "professional" ignored me when I told her my deductions wouldn't exceed the standard deduction, and insisted on going through mounds and mounds of paperwork and receipts, trying to get me $1 over the standard deduction. (I think we ended up about $50 short, and that was after some very... creative deductions.)

Be cautious with professionals who think they know more than you about your business, I guess.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 08 March 2013 04:06:32PM *  9 points [-]

Avoid weird people.

(Negation of #1 geek social fallacy.)

Of course this advice works only with some definitions of "weird", and I don't want to make it too long, but I feel it is very useful. The point is not to avoid anyone who is off-center in any Gauss curve, but to avoid specifically people who impose a huge cost on you and on people who associate with you, usually because of their serious lack of some social skill. Certainly, nobody is perfect, but don't commit the fallacy of grey.

Comment author: fubarobfusco 11 March 2013 12:22:39AM *  12 points [-]

"Weird" is too general here.

The advice on "Five Geek Social Fallacies" has to do with dealing with people who are not weird but rather unpleasant. The examples used are of people who are obnoxious, offensive, smell bad due to poor hygiene, or hassle newcomers. These have to do with behaviors (or lack of care) that are not distinguished by their eccentricity but by causing harm and aversion to others.

So, for the boring advice:

Distinguish harmless eccentricity from harmful eccentricity. You may travel in weird social circles, wherein you recognize that being weird doesn't make someone bad ... but just because someone is weird does not mean that they are nice, either.

(Weird social circles may also choose to exclude some behavior that is harmful but not weird. For instance, there is nothing weird about making jokes that hinge on gender stereotypes (e.g. "women are bad drivers" or "men are buffoons"); these are quite common and ordinary, found in mainstream sitcoms, stand-up comedy, and so on. But a weird social circle that cares about being welcoming to gender-nonconformists may want to say that gender stereotyping is not acceptable.)

Comment author: buybuydandavis 12 March 2013 01:22:36PM 6 points [-]

Everyone head for the exits.

This site is full of weirdos by prevailing societal conventions.

I'd say instead to advertise what kind of person you are, so that you attract and repel the right kind of people.

Comment author: Matt_Simpson 07 March 2013 04:16:34PM 9 points [-]

Upvote comments that you think are useful on LW in general, not just comments you found personally useful. (A note to myself as I read this thread).

Comment author: latanius 07 March 2013 08:37:05PM 5 points [-]

As for this thread: wouldn't upvoting commens that you think are useful for someone else but not for you be actually an indirect case of other-optmizing?

Comment author: Prismattic 22 May 2013 10:52:09PM *  8 points [-]

I was moved to post this by the fact that numerous LW participants apparently find the preparation and consumption of food to be such a huge imposition that they're willing to try rather radical interventions just to avoid cooking and eating. Assuming that such steps don't appeal, may I suggest some more mundane ones.

Write a weekly meal planner. This eliminates the extra cognitive load of having to think about "what am I going to make for lunch/dinner" on a rolling ad hoc basis. It also makes it more likely that your grocery shopping purchases will actually match your consumption needs.

To the extent possible, parcel the ingredients out by meal in your refrigerator as you stock it. This saves preparation time later.

I can't guarantee it will work for everyone, but I think a typical individual can save themselves both time and stress concentrating meal selection and the early stages of food preparation all at one time per week, rather than repeating the process on a daily basis.

Comment author: Elithrion 07 March 2013 07:56:57PM 8 points [-]

Although this may not be for everyone, I'd recommend listening to audiobooks. The main advantage is that you can easily listen to them while walking or taking public transport, while cooking, while exercising, etc., which I personally find makes these activities a lot less boring.

I've also found that my personal rate of reading is faster with audiobooks (using RockBox with an mp3 player to speed up playback to 3-3.5x) than with normal reading, at something like ~450 words/min or ~1.3 pages/min. Most of the speed increase comes from me being really slow at reading normally due to getting distracted, focusing too much on thinking through one part, or just forgetting to read quickly, but still.

Comment author: TimS 07 March 2013 02:33:23PM *  8 points [-]

When starting a business, know your costs. The amount you need to earn (today / this week / this month) to break even is a number you should have essentially memorized. Beware ignoring so-called minor costs or failing to allocate costs to revenue sources.

AKA know your "nut".

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 07 March 2013 07:44:58AM 8 points [-]

If there's a goal you're working on that looks like it's going to take a lot of time and effort to achieve, spend a good chunk of time thinking about much faster ways to accomplish the goal before taking the slow route. Quick fixes and shortcuts aren't always bad.

Try to think critically about everything, not just the things you and the people you know of habitually think critically about.

Don't ignore obvious, commonsense explanations in an effort to be interesting. Keep in mind that the world is a complicated place and there's lots you don't know. Apparently hedgehogs (people who make confident, frequently wrong predictions based on simple models) are more likely to get media attention (and, based on my observations, internet attention as well). So, as a corollary, if you're thinking something outrageous, that idea likely found its way to you because it's outrageous, not because it's accurate.

Comment author: Larks 09 March 2013 04:08:09PM 7 points [-]

Don't get arrested.

Comment author: jklsemicolon 07 March 2013 09:56:48PM 7 points [-]

If you're good at something, do that thing.

(Obvious caveats apply.)

Comment author: Qiaochu_Yuan 07 March 2013 11:19:38PM 5 points [-]

So it's not obvious to me that this is a good idea. On the one hand, comparative advantage. On the other hand, fixed vs. growth mindset: you can change what you're good at, and this might be valuable. Aaron Swartz wrote a nice blog post about how restricting it is to be good at one thing because it feels like you shouldn't do other things that I can't currently find.

Comment author: jklsemicolon 07 March 2013 11:24:53PM 6 points [-]

Yes; "do that thing" should not be confused with "do only that thing".

Comment author: FiftyTwo 08 March 2013 07:30:52PM *  4 points [-]

If you're good at something never do it for free.

The Joker

Comment author: [deleted] 07 March 2013 06:41:50AM 7 points [-]

Start saving extra money while you are young.

Comment author: RomeoStevens 07 March 2013 07:16:44AM *  13 points [-]

I disagree with this one if you mean in the sense that "compound interest will make you rich!" meme. If you mean in terms of having emergency funds and or saving for shorter term freedom (being able to quit your 9-5 temporarily if an opportunity you want to pursue comes up) I agree.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 07 March 2013 10:46:43AM *  16 points [-]

Maybe the saved money itself during youth is not as important as starting a good habit. Then when you start making decent money, you already have a habit of saving them, and you are already familiar with how it works (you don't have an "ugh" field about money and saving).

Comment author: RomeoStevens 07 March 2013 10:56:05AM 7 points [-]

strongly agree. I get a lot of mileage out of the rule of thumb "keep your lifestyle expenses a pay raise or two behind you."

Comment author: [deleted] 07 March 2013 01:02:24PM 5 points [-]

I have seen people argue for the reverse, on the grounds that the money you'll save while in your n-th job (for small n at least) will likely be negligible compared to the money you'll make when in your (n + 1)-th (or is it (n + 1)-st?) job.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 07 March 2013 05:30:20PM 4 points [-]

This worked for me before I was 30; later my income stopped raising quickly. I admit this could be because I made a few stupid choices. But I think that for most people their incomes stop raising rapidly at some age.

Is there a rule of thumb which would work well for both situations? For example "always save x% of what you made N years ago"? ... Oops, that is exactly the opposite of what this article suggests. A smart seeming advice, which no one would ever use in their real life.

Comment author: BrienneYudkowsky 13 May 2013 12:09:24AM 6 points [-]

Don't wait until things are horrible before making them awesome.

Comment author: Stabilizer 05 April 2013 11:35:13PM *  6 points [-]

Before heading to the gym for a workout, plan out your workout in detail (what exercises, in what order, how many sets, how many reps) and preferably carry a piece of paper with the workout written on it. This leads you to getting more done in less time. But more importantly, this prevents decision fatigue from draining your willpower; and you need willpower in large quantities to finish your workout.

Comment author: Elithrion 07 March 2013 05:34:03AM *  6 points [-]

In certain classes of cases*, the best way to find out answers to your questions is to ask them (rather than doing your own investigation).

Not sure if that's borderline punchy.

*For example, when trying to locate something while driving/walking around, when inquiring about poorly documented local activities, when your solution of some problem/research question may have one of many possible flaws (and thus you would need to look up each possible flaw to investigate it, while an expert may be able to spot the flaw immediately), when your quick google search fails to yield clear results, etcetera. Also see this comment.

[The starred things were edited in to improve specificity in response to comments.]

Comment author: wedrifid 07 March 2013 11:46:30AM *  6 points [-]

Usually the best way to find out answers to questions is to do a single google search. If present the search result that includes the domain "wikipeida.org" usually gives decent answers quickly.

The parent would be greatly improved by replacing the 'usually' with a more representative frequency ("sometimes") or including a qualifier.

Comment author: [deleted] 22 March 2014 10:27:15PM 5 points [-]

I used to have a lot of trouble getting up in the morning, and would frequently arrive to work or lecture at the last possible minute. The one change I made that had the largest impact, beyond strength of coffee or wake-up time, was to switch from showering after breakfast, near the end of my morning routine, to showering first thing when I get out of bed.

I now get out of bed, throw on my flip-flops, grab my stuff to shower, throw a pita in the toaster oven for 10 minutes to make a start on breakfast, fix coffee using the electric kettle, and shower. After showering, I put my contact lenses in. Then I fix up my breakfast sandwich (tomato, cucumber, slice of cheese in pita), toast it some more, and dress myself. Then I eat the food and drink the coffee while enjoying some morning web-browsing. Lastly, I brush my teeth, floss, rinse, pack my stuff, and get the hell out the door to work.

Showering is a blocking activity; when it came last, any slightest procrastination or oversleep got penalized in the last part of the morning routine: walking to work. Sometimes I wouldn't even get breakfast in; the whole thing became a self-destructive death-spiral of failing at basic responsibility and self-organization. By moving the blocking activities to be first in the routine, I now penalize the frivolous web-browsing when I need to penalize, and feel more refreshed earlier.

As a result, despite having no explicit requirement or incentive to be at work at any particular time (graduate student), and not even having a morning class this semester (afternoon lecture and tutorial only), I now regularly arrive to work around 9AM. This has made "racking up the hours" a lot easier, and raised my total productivity by a small but substantial amount that compounds each day.

TL;DR: Shower first in your morning routine.

Comment author: Donovanable 04 March 2014 07:07:33PM 5 points [-]

After you get a haircut you like, ask your stylist to describe what ey did/what the style is, ideally in the vocabulary of the trade. For instance, my current style includes a face frame, long layers, and some other style words.

Write it down, stick the note in your wallet, forget about it until the next haircut. You get the benefit of repeating instructions as they would be described from one hairstylist to another and are less likely to fall victim to terrible cuts or the poor memory of your regular stylist.

As someone who is less productive with a bad haircut (I have to pin unruly lengths out of my eyes, etc), this has saved me time and confusion.

Comment author: MaximumLiberty 29 October 2014 09:59:17PM 3 points [-]

After you get a haircut you like, get a friend to take a picture of you from all four sides (and top, I suppose) with your phone. In future haircuts, show it to the stylist.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 09 March 2013 10:55:26AM 5 points [-]

Don't get involved with crazy people.

Comment author: fubarobfusco 12 March 2013 01:26:30AM 15 points [-]

Don't get in a committed relationship with someone who is cheating on their current partner(s) to be with you.

(I learned this one from Tom Sawyer.)

Comment author: [deleted] 07 March 2013 06:00:14PM 5 points [-]

Buy the most forgiving toilet paper you can afford.


Comment author: ThrustVectoring 07 March 2013 06:42:55PM 5 points [-]

Getting a bidet is better as far as pampering your sensitive regions goes. Especially if you easily get hemorrhoids.

Comment author: [deleted] 07 March 2013 06:48:43AM 5 points [-]

If you are feeling just a little sick, do not go to work. Apply for sick leave and stay home. Not only will you recover more quickly by getting more rest, you also protect your colleagues from getting infected.

Comment author: Desrtopa 07 March 2013 03:08:43PM 11 points [-]

I think the usefulness of this advice depends on the person receiving it. For some people, this translates to

"If you can muster up even a little excuse not to go to work, don't go."

Comment author: lsparrish 07 March 2013 06:01:08AM *  5 points [-]

You can get soluble fiber (for example, dextrin, which is long indigestible chains of glucose) from the store. So if you aren't eating enough fiber due to how inconvenient vegetables are, you can start with this. It will make you thirstier, less hungry, and more regular. It also seems to improve blood sugar levels. The popular brand for dextrin is Benefiber, however I have only tried WinCo's version, Qualifiber. I paid $5 for 38 servings of 3.5 grams, which are 1/3 a daily supply at full strength.

Note: Fiber intake should be increased gradually, and with plenty of water.

Comment author: RomeoStevens 07 March 2013 07:18:02AM 11 points [-]

AFAIK, the evidence that fiber is good for you independent of increased fruit and vegetable intake is poor.

Comment author: taryneast 06 January 2015 10:41:33PM *  4 points [-]

Budget some money each month towards substantially improving your life.

Look for the best, lowest hanging fruit (ie objects, classes and experiences that will have the most impact per dollar spent)

Ask others to recommend things - so you don't just think of the things you already know about.

Note: I've set up a page to collect these ideas here: http://lesswrong.com/lw/li4/low_hanging_fruit_for_buying_a_better_life/

Comment author: Rukifellth 04 October 2013 05:17:12PM *  4 points [-]

Read literature with an old writing style, especially if you dislike said writing style. The more opaque and complicated, the better.

I find that I'm a very fidgety reader, unconsciously skipping words, or even whole sentences, skimming over words I don't actually know the meaning of, and failing to connect the context of words that I do know the meaning of with the rest of the narrative or lecture. This I do with both literature and more importantly, when reading science. I've decided to read At The Mountains of Madness and penalize myself for every time I lose track of the narrative, and reward myself for every time I recognize when one sentence adds or contributes to something implied by another sentence earlier on in the paragraph, and so on. Furthermore, I will do this for only literature, and not with learning new scientific concepts, or even old ones that I have already learned. The problem is with reading comprehension, not with understanding concepts, and exercising two skills at once prematurely may cause problems. I hope this will instill genuine patience, so that being careful and observant becomes a natural thing, rather than the uncomfortable thing I wrestle with.

Comment author: TsviBT 07 March 2013 09:47:51PM 4 points [-]

(Fat free) yogurt is cheap, tasty, healthy, lasts a long time in the fridge, and requires no preparation and only one utensil.

In addition to budgeting time, budget mental energy. Cooking may take a bit of time, but it doesn't take much mental energy once you've done it a few times. If you have a bunch of chores to do, don't batch them up completely; batch them into chunks and use those chunks as mental breaks. Just because cleaning isn't fun, doesn't mean it is as mentally draining as learning mathematics. (Too punchy?)

Comment author: OrphanWilde 07 March 2013 07:56:47PM 4 points [-]

Bring your coat - but don't wear it. Being cold burns calories and improves circulation.

On that note, does anybody have any boring advice for cold-weather exercise? I can jog in 110 degree, 100% humidity weather, no problem. I grew up in the swampy parts of Texas. Heat and humidity are no problem for me. But jogging in cold weather - < 60 Fahrenheit - is killer; my throat feels like I'm swallowing jagged chunks of ice.

Comment author: RomeoStevens 07 March 2013 07:43:13AM 4 points [-]

Supplementing potassium has a large effect on mental performance for some people, it's cheap and easy enough to be quite worth trying. Personally I add a few grams of KCl (nusalt) to a drink.

Comment author: Alex_Altair 07 March 2013 01:06:52PM 6 points [-]

What is the actual evidence for this? I've only heard gwern say that Kevin said it was good. Google thinks it's for everything but mental performance.

Comment author: Crux 07 March 2013 06:33:11AM *  4 points [-]

If you have trouble getting into an exercise routine, try this. Join a gym, and go every single day and do the same exact thing every time. For a lot of people, doing something every day is a lot easier than coming up with a schedule that changes depending on the day, especially if one of the changes is 'do nothing on Sunday' (recipe for doing nothing on Monday too, and then forgetting about the whole thing).

What I do is this. I wake up to my alarm, and then I immediately go eat a light breakfast, and then head to the gym. Once at the gym I stretch for like 5 mins, run on the treadmill for 5-10 mins, do a couple sets of military press or something, and then go to the sauna. Hits all the major pieces. Flexibility, cardio, lymph movement, resistance training, sweating, etc. Once I finish at the sauna, I take a shower, put on fresh clothes, and then start my day. I essentially use the gym as my 'morning routine'. I'm not ready for anything until I put on fresh clothes after my (quick) workout.

Comment author: RomeoStevens 07 March 2013 07:21:51AM 7 points [-]

As per user Wedrifid you can try sucking on a nicotine lozenge while you do the exercise.

Comment author: Matt_Simpson 07 March 2013 04:18:47PM 4 points [-]

This honestly made me smile in a "man do I love LW" sort of way.

Comment author: sumguysr 27 February 2015 02:21:42AM 3 points [-]

If you routinely lose things behind the same piece of furniture either move it closer to the wall or block that space, or move it further from the wall to make retrieval easier.

Comment author: RolfAndreassen 09 January 2015 02:42:04AM 3 points [-]

Invest at least 10% of your after-tax income, each month, in a Vanguard index fund. Do not buy individual stocks, nor any actively managed index fund, nor any fund with an expense ratio over 0.5%. If you absolutely must pick stocks, and I admit that I am not blind to the attraction, use a fee-free broker such as Loyal3, and don't count this towards your 10% - use play money for active investing.

If you are looking at your latest paycheck and finding it hard to see where you're going to cut to be able to put 10% into investments, precommit now to starting this program after your next income increase; also, start with 1% instead. If you cannot free up even 1% of your income, you have a major problem, which you need to fix. (Incidentally, if you can do 20%, do that.)

If your employer has a 401K match, for the love of all that's holy, contribute enough to max out the match! That's free money, that is!

If you have several old 401Ks, roll them over into an IRA with Vanguard. It'll be easier to keep track of your money, you'll likely pay lower fees, and IRA money is more accessible than 401K money.

Maintain a savings account with at least three months' expenses in it; six is better; twelve is probably too much - at that point you're losing more in growth than you're gaining from being able to ride out a job loss. But people do differ in how they feel about risk; by all means make it twelve if you'd be happier that way.

If you have recurring credit-card debt (not paid off at the end of each period), pay that down before starting on investing. And for dog's sake do so right now, that stuff is poison. Consider Lending Club or other peer-to-peer lending services, it is fairly likely that you can get a better rate than your credit card gives you.

Comment author: Error 20 January 2014 04:21:46PM 3 points [-]

(By request)

Shower-drying optimization:

Leave the bathroom door open and the shower curtain partway pulled so humidity doesn't collect in the room. Have an oversized bath sheet in reach (you can get good ones at Costco). When you're done showering, towel-dry hair, then the rest of you, then comb your hair so it doesn't stick. Without humidity in the room, you don't keep sweating so you don't feel clammy. You can get dressed immediately if you're pressed for time. If you're like me and hate putting dry clothes on damp skin, find something you can do for ~15 minutes while you air-dry the rest of the way (making/eating breakfast is good for this, since you probably have to do it anyway).

Comment author: Benja 31 August 2013 12:11:40PM 3 points [-]

As a pedestrian or cyclist, you're not all that easy to see from a car at night, worse if you don't wear white. High-visibility vests (that thing that construction workers wear, yellow or orange with reflective stripes) fix the problem and cost around $7-$8 from Amazon including shipping, or £3 in the UK.

Comment author: MixedNuts 26 March 2013 10:14:15PM *  3 points [-]

If you want to stop taking prescription meds and they're cheap enough, keep buying them and stockpile.

(Source: Burninate)

Comment author: CharlesR 09 March 2013 12:42:04AM 3 points [-]

If you type a lot, buy a mechanical keyboard.

Comment author: PECOS-9 12 March 2013 02:01:41AM 3 points [-]

Also, buy one without a number pad so that you can put your mouse in a reasonable location. Normal keyboards are too wide.

Comment author: therufs 08 March 2013 05:27:42PM 3 points [-]

If you are having trouble finishing tasks on a task list, make a task schedule.