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Akrasia Tactics Review 2: The Akrasia Strikes Back

22 Post author: polutropon 16 July 2013 02:17AM

About three and a half years ago, orthonormal ran an akrasia tactics review: an open-ended survey asking Less Wrong posters to give numerical scores to productivity techniques that they'd tried, with the goal of getting a more objective picture of how well different techniques work (for the sort of people who post here). Since it's been years since the original and Less Wrong has grown significantly while retaining akrasia as a major topic, I thought it'd be useful to have a new one!

A modified version of the instructions from the previous post:

  1. Note what technique you've tried. Techniques can be anything from productivity systems (Getting Things Done) to social incentives (precommitting in front of friends) to websites or computer programs (Beeminder, Leechblock) to chemical aids (Modafinil). If it's something that you can easily link to information about, please provide a link and I'll add it when I list the technique; if you don't have a link, describe it in your comment and I'll link that.
  2. Give your experience with it a score from -10 to +10 (0 if it didn't change the status quo, 10 if it ended your akrasia problems forever with no side effects, negative scores if it actually made your life worse, -10 if it nearly killed you). For simplicity's sake, I'll only include reviews that give numerical scores.
  3. Describe your experience with it, including any significant side effects. Please also say approximately how long you've been using it, or if you don't use it anymore how long you used it before giving up.

Every so often, I'll combine all the data back into the main post, listing every technique that's been reviewed at least twice with the number of reviews, average score, standard deviation and common effects, as well as links to the relevant reviews <edit: mostly canceling the last two parts part because I think it'd be too much work for me for too little benefit for the reader>. I'll do my best to combine similar techniques appropriately, but it'd be appreciated if you could try to organize it a bit by replying to people doing similar things and/or saying if you feel your technique is (dis)similar to another.

I'm not going to provide an initial list due to the massive number of possible techniques and fear of prejudicing answers, but you can look back on the list in the last post if you want. If you have any suggestions for how to organize this (that wouldn't require huge amounts of extra effort on my part), I'm open to hearing them.

Thanks for your data!

——

Updated through 7/23/13. Organizing these turned out to be a lot harder than I expected and involved a lot of subjective categorization, so consult the primary sources.

——

6 reviews:

Beeminder: +5.3 (SD 1.8). Details of how it's used vary a lot.

Getting Things Done (GTD): +2.8 (SD 4.0). A very broad and modular system, with opinions differing on different parts.

4 reviews:

Remember The Milk:+5.5 (SD 3.0). Frequently mentioned in conjunction with GTD.

Pomodoros: +4.5 (SD 2.5).

3 reviews:

Scheduling: +4.7 (SD 3.7)

Leechblock: +3.0 (SD 0.8)

Social precommitment: +0.7 (SD 2.6)

Unaided self-reinforcement: +0.7 (SD 0.9)

2 reviews:

Trello: +5.0 (SD 3.0)

HabitRPG: +4.5 (SD 0.5)

LW Study Hall: +4 (SD 3.0)

Comments (44)

Comment author: tkadlubo 16 July 2013 11:12:24AM 11 points [-]

Beeminding +4. I've found that the default 1 year goal length is too long for me. These days I'm usually doing 1 month long goals. I've found that the easiest formula to follow is to beemind doing at least a little bit of the thing you want to do every day, without quantifying how much you've actually done.

LessWrong Study Hall +7. I'm a regular there. In terms of the procrastination equation the pomodoro rhythm decreases delay, peer pressure decreases impulsiveness, and social chat during pomodoros increases value. Tinychat IMO is not a good piece of software. It suffers from frequent disconnects and has no form of keep-alive for quiet periods. We still don't have enough people there to guarantee 24/7 coverage.

GTD system +5. The main benefits of GTD to me is the focus on decomposing projects into actionable chunks, offloading stuff into "a trusted system" to free up cognitive resources, and the notion of thinking at different "horizons of focus". I've found the down-to-earth pragmatism of the GTD method helpful when attacking some Ugh fields. BTW, I use Remember The Milk as my GTD database. Previously I've used OmniFocus on a Mac.

Resolving to Do Better in The Future: -3. Huh. That's not how it works.

Micro-rewards: +2. I've tried to use almonds as dog treats at work: 1 almond for each Git commit and such. After a few weeks of feeling slightly incentivised by it I absentmindedly ate the whole bowl. I might return to it in the future.

LeechBlock +2. Wasting time on-line is a problem for me. LeechBlock helps in general, but has some drawbacks. I have several sets of URL patterns: a work-related whitelist that's never blocked, a list of known timesinks that's always blocked and a general '*' glob to for a total Lockdown. The problem with the last one is that one needs to remember to enable it, and every now and then in the middle of such a Lockdown I want to check StackOverflow or something.

Comment author: Lachouette 21 February 2014 04:04:42PM 2 points [-]

Concerning the Study Hall, it's still active and we get way better coverage now. It might not work for everyone but it's definitely worth a try.

Comment author: William_Quixote 21 February 2014 08:00:13PM 0 points [-]

Could you repost the link to study hall? I recall initially people had been trying different venues and services and I wasn't sure where it ended up.

Comment author: jkadlubo 22 February 2014 10:13:00AM 2 points [-]
Comment author: malcolmocean 19 July 2015 08:04:22PM 1 point [-]

It's now hosted on Complice at https://complice.co/room/lesswrong

Comment author: NoisyEmpire 23 July 2013 09:08:58PM *  9 points [-]

An odd technique, which I'll rate at +5: whilst already locked into some mundane but necessary task (e.g. grocery shopping, dishes, wading through work e-mails), consciously forcing my brain to complete the "Man, I wish I could be doing [blank] instead" template with some other mundane task that I would normally procrastinate - then immediately switching to that other task when the first task is done.

For example: "These dishes are taking so long - I really wish I could be... [hijack the train of thought by picking something else on my to-do list]... doing research for that article." I'll then make my brain, while still doing dishes, concretely imagine working on the article - what I'll search for online, in what order I'll attack the sections, even how I'll format it, etc. - in the ordinary way I would normally fantasize about playing a game, watching a TV show, or some other fun task naturally preferable to doing dishes.

By the time the dishes are done, I literally can't wait to jump into the article. After all, these dishes have been keeping me from it for so long!

I have had a shocking amount of personal success with this.

Comment author: gressettd 20 July 2013 08:01:28PM 6 points [-]

HabitRPG: +5. Though I had to learn extra tricks to get this much out of it, like gamifying all my task and habit names, and manually setting task difficulties and reward amounts.

Activity Deadlines: +4. Set up 3-8 minute timer, depending on the task, then do as much as possible in that time limit. Point is to make it short enough you keep moving. Afterward, record success on HabitRPG, reset, repeat.

Transcranial Direct Stimulation to stimulate the frontal lobes (see http://www.trans-cranial.com/index.php/ for the device I use): +8. Twenty minutes on this in the morning, followed by pushing as hard into the most important tasks for the day for the next two or three hours. This beats most everything else ever tried for me.

Standing workstation, with fatigue mat: +3. Seems like +5 until it starts to hurt, then it becomes a distraction. Maybe better after sustained practice.

Modafinil -1: In the short term, it's as effective as five hour energy or the like, nothing really special. Eventually, started interfering with sleep and becoming a net negative.

Blend Pramiracetam, Centrophenoxine, Sulbutiamine +6: Have only used them in combination, so can only comment on them in combination. High clarity, memory, etc. Can help with akrasia caused by mental fogging.

Take an Apprentice +7: Have taken in 3 apprentices (for software engineering). Getting them to the level of complete mastery I have promised them drives me very hard to push myself and be a perfect example.

Comment author: reachthemillions 30 July 2013 06:51:34AM 0 points [-]

Great info! I'm curious about the Transcranial Direct Stimulation. How do you position the electrodes for consistent and optimal performance?

Comment author: 9eB1 16 July 2013 04:55:14PM 5 points [-]

Beeminder +7: Beeminder is my main tool. I've been using it successfully on a variety of tasks for a year. My beeminder goals are a mixture of quantifiable goals (e.g. work X amount of hours per day) and binary goals (e.g. open Anki and look at at least one card) depending on the importance of the goal and judgment. For things which are "nice to have" I generally will start with a binary goal, while things that I consider very important will have a quantifiable goal. I've also used Beeminder to curtail things like excessive soda consumption by setting a daily limit. I believe it works for me because I am averse to lying in business transactions, I have enough money that losing a goal doesn't cause me any real harm even if it's large, and yet I'm probably more stingy than logic would dictate is necessary. The downside of Beeminder is like others have said some tasks tend to bunch up until right before bed. Also, it's very hard to convince others to use it even though it's really awesome, because it's so unusual.

TagTime: -4. I tried using "TagTime" from Beeminder people in accordance with a goal to work a number of hours and it was awful. I give it a -4 (with a -10 is that it almost killed you, which seems like a relatively extreme benchmark) since the randomness of it caused me intense stress and annoyance. The randomness didn't add an element of "oh this is a fun game" it added an element of "I'm your capricious boss and you are going to have to work an extra three hours today with no credit." I now use org-mode to track my time the old fashioned way, by clocking in and out of tasks, and it is much better.

Pomodoro: +4. I have used pomodoro in the past but I no longer use it because its value has been subsumed by Beeminder and my social contract techniques. It was moderately effective for me, I think because of the timeboxing effect. It's easy to work on something when you know you are only going to have to work on it for 25 minutes.

Social precommitment: +3. I mean precommitment in the sense of telling people that by a certain date you will have achieved a certain goal. This has been somewhat effective for me, but I actually use an enhanced version which is more like +6. I send an e-mail every day to three of my friends with a complete log of my work tasks and a link to my Beeminder page. I've already told them what my goal is in terms of hours worked. This is highly effective for me, and I think this owes to the fact that I have historically been very successful at things, and so completing tasks that are within my control is part of my identity. For people whose friends already think of them as consummate failures I don't think this would work that well. I think in terms of raw effectiveness, the daily task e-mail is more like +6, but it has high overhead, relative inflexibility, and inability to scale. I'm also worried that it might wear off, although I have been using this mechanism for a few months and have worked more hours per day than in the prior year. The daily commitment e-mail makes "far" social commitments into "near" social commitments, similar to Beeminder does with general tasks.

Stacking commitment mechanisms: +3? So far as I know this doesn't have a formal name, but I was introduced to the concept by Nick Winter's "The Motivation Hacker" and I consider it the key novel (to me) insight in that book. I give it a +3 on it's own because it doesn't do any real work. Its power depends on what you are stacking. The general idea is to use multiple commitment mechanisms on each of your goals. I use both Beeminder and the social precommitment e-mails on my hours worked each day and I think the combined effect is more like +9, but only for that narrow task. The Less Wrong study hall uses pomodoros and social pressure I think to achieve similar effect.

GTD: +0. Was ineffective for me. Meta-akrasia or something made it difficult to keep up with the system and it just generally fell into disuse. I think if I were using Beeminder on my GTD tasks it perhaps could be effective, but I didn't know about beeminder last time I tried to use GTD.

Internet blocking (a la LeechBlock): +3. Blocking Internet time sucks is handy. I actually don't use this all the time, but I use it pretty regularly. I use a script which blocks the Internet for a configurable period only after a configurable delay. If I realize I've been browsing too much and need to start working, I'll give myself 20 more minutes of Internet followed by a three hour block. Once I've gotten into the groove of working I find I don't need it for the rest of the day though. Stacks nicely with other mechanisms.

Daily schedule: +0. For a while I was trying to follow a daily schedule where I had set aside exact blocks of time for each of my tasks. It eventually fell into disuse though, due to lack of flexibility. Also, I couldn't think of a way to Beemind deviations from my schedule that wasn't ridiculous.

Self conditioning (a la CFAR): +0. Doesn't seem to work for me. I always realize after like three days that I've been completely forgetting to reward myself. This could be an implementation issue though, like, if I Beeminded self-reward or something, maybe.

Meditation: +1. I've been meditating 20 minutes a day for a year or so. I read an article on mindfulness being used to be more productive by using mindful awareness when you aren't working, and I realized that I can also do this. This has been occasionally effective for me although I didn't discover it until after I had dialed in Beeminder/precommitments. It loses points due to it's relative lack of flexibility and the extreme time investment involved as compared with this particular payout. If you are already a meditator I give this +3 for the effect.

I'm sure there are more things that I've tried that I'll probably think of later.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 20 July 2013 06:54:31PM 4 points [-]

I comment that I found this to be a really effective answer format; this class of question should be asked more often.

Comment author: somervta 22 July 2013 11:17:44PM 0 points [-]

class?

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 22 July 2013 11:49:17PM 0 points [-]

Fixed.

Comment author: [deleted] 02 May 2015 08:27:58PM *  2 points [-]
  1. Complice +8. Complice is an app, which, together with StayFocusd's nuclear option, and Windows' Parental control basically solved productivity for me. It eliminates both the problem Kaj Sotala described here, i.e. feeling bad about trying to do something productive because there're so many other things to do, which results in a situation where browsing reddit is preferable to work and the problem of infinite to-do lists, where it's impossible to feel satisfied in principle. (you really should try Complice out, at least by checking out integrated into it LW study hall, without signing up or anything)

  2. StayFocusd +7. Nuclear option is invaluable. It automatically blocks all but productive websites every day (including chrome extensions page and StayFocusd's settings page ^^), so instead of googling something interesting during the day and experiencing a terrible tab explosion, I now write stuff I wanna check out to google keep/notepad and return to it in the evening.

  3. Windows Parental control +4. Every now and then I feel a terrible urge to install Hearthstone. Well, I gave my dad the password to admin's account so now I physically can't. Instead I feel a bit distressed for a few moments and return to doing productive stuff.

  4. Beeminder -1. As I discovered, negative feedback works terribly for me (so it's not only about Beeminder). It just makes me resentful and angers me instead of being motivating.

I have literally never been productive for more than a week in my life; more than 2 months with this combo already. I had 3 videogames relapses during that time, from which I recovered very quickly, and they all happened basically because I thought "I'm so productive, I bet I can start slacking on Complice a bit, return myself Windows' admin privileges, and I totally don't need nuclear option anymore!". Welp.

Comment author: sentientplatypus 22 July 2013 09:17:06PM 2 points [-]

For two weeks I've been writing out a schedule for what I want to accomplish the next day before I go to bed, noting the time at which I intend to do something.

I'd give the technique a +9 so far as it has actually worked incredibly well for me in helping with my motivation problems, in fact in a couple days I felt more motivated to work than I can ever remember being before. I'm trying to change up my schedule and leave time for spontaneity to avoid having the plan become monotonous and it doesn't feel that way so far. And the results I'm getting are great: I find I get about 95% of what I plan done when I have a specific time written down for when I'm supposed to do it as opposed to what I'd roughly estimate at 60% completion when I just have some general idea in my head of what to work on over the course of the day.

My theory for why this is working is that when I have a specific time to do something I feel as though I have to do it now or I've failed some test of willpower. If I just have general work to be done, it's far too easy for me to defer to later, so that a lot of what was planned for doesn't get done. I also feel like if I expect to brace my mind for dense technical learning I have a much easier time finishing the material instead of giving up and procrastinating on it halfway through.

I feel like this solution will work mainly for people who have more flexible schedules (as I do at the moment) but could still serve a purpose for anyone with a more rigid schedule who wants to be more productive in their free time.

Comment author: Swimmer963 22 July 2013 10:00:48PM *  0 points [-]

but could still serve a purpose for anyone with a more rigid schedule who wants to be more productive in their free time.

I had quite a bad experience with this, but I think I'm permanently overcommitted, and often just don't have time to do everything that I want/feel an obligation to do–and often I can't tell the difference between "want to do X" and "feel obligated to do X". Also, I have the lucky trait that I can usually get work done on demand, even if I'm exhausted, but I tend to abuse this and think it means I can get work done nonstop all the time. Which I can't.

I don't this this is a knockdown argument that this technique doesn't work for me. It might well work in a different form. I'm still trying various things for personal free-time productivity.

Comment author: sentientplatypus 22 July 2013 10:46:42PM 0 points [-]

I understand what you mean, and I'd suggest trying to keep different lists of time frames on which to accomplish your goals for free-time productivity so you know when you've done enough for a day. I'm usually able to guess reasonably accurately as to what I can accomplish in a given time frame though, as long as I stay motivated on a daily basis, which may be harder for others than it is for me.

On a daily level I try to think of about how productive I am on what I consider good days and try to equate that with what I'm working on any given day and plan to have a good day. Since I've been doing my daily schedule thing I haven't had a day of poor motivation yet, which is tremendous as my motivation is usually temperamental as hell.

Not sure if that'll help you at all, but I figured I'd throw it out there.

Comment author: BenLowell 18 July 2013 09:37:27AM *  2 points [-]

Beeminder: +3. Defining goals in a way that works well is difficult.

GTD + 0 It doesn't seem to be very useful when you don't have any appointments and things you want to do are more along the lines of "do all the problems in this textbook"

Getting on a somewhat decent sleep schedule + 2. Making my computer automatically turn off at 11 pm combined with putting shades made out of pillow cases on my bedroom lights has helped me go to sleep between 12 and 2 usually, which is much better. This gives me about 4 hours of extra time that otherwise would have been spent on the internet in a wasteful way. Flux (a program that dims/reddens the screen at night) is nowhere near powerful enough.

Journaling about what my goals are +8. It's difficult to be motivated when I don't know why I'm doing anything.

Changing how I visualize something so that I'm not thinking about an outcome that produces anxiety +5. I have found thinking about procrastination as anxiety to be much more helpful than thinking about the Equation. While it could be though of anxiety resulting from expectations, I usually frame it in the sense of "what am I afraid of?" Then I can imagine something bad happening. Addressing the actual likelihood of a Bad Scary Thing doesn't appear to work. Instead what helps is if I change the framework and purposefully just start thinking about some other aspect that is more desirable.

An example is that I don't want to "call some people" and tell them they need to redo a repair job because it sucks. Once I thought about "I want X fixed!" then calling them and the social barrier seemed less of an issue.

pomodoros +1. I find that I often have difficulty coming back to work after a 5 minute break, and I end up doing 25-15. I had more luck with periods of 50-10. When I don't feel very excited about the idea of doing something, then they are more useful.

Social commitments -3. These make me feel yucky and I just want to avoid the activity all together.

I feel that there are lots of synergies between these things. A few years ago, I had well defined goals, but no organizational skills and poor habits. I became very unhappy with my inability to accomplish my goals. Once I started getting practice with beeminder, and a number of other things (one being Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, but I'm not sure how to fit that into akrasia tactics) then I was able to examine my goals again and things fit together much nicer.

Comment author: Swimmer963 16 July 2013 10:24:53PM *  2 points [-]

Classical GTD systems -2: High overhead, I don't do a lot of work in front of a desk/computer, when I do it's for fun, and I've frequently done more than 40 hours a week of the kind of work that GTD systems (as usually described) don't help with at all. In nursing, you show up on time, tasks appear, and you do them. Organization is extremely important, and a far from solved problem for me, but by necessity you plan things and do them in the short term, and procrastination isn't a factor. (Also, plans almost never actually end up being executed because shit goes down, so flexibility is more important.) I would come home exhausted from work and start doing projects for fun off a written to-do list, and it made them un-fun.

I think classical GTD systems are likely a good thing in general, and I was applying them to the wrong problem.

Written to-do lists of long term goals +5: Don't have the high overhead, avoid most of the fun-sucking aspects, and keep me accountable/remind me when there's something I actually want to do but haven't booked time for in a while. Probably the most effective change I've made in the past year.

My giant iPhone Note document of random information capture +3: I don't think this is actually a good system, but it's easy, and fairly low-overhead–I just have to read through the list once in a while and delete stuff I've dealt with/has become irrelevant. I recently split my giant Note into about 10 appropriately titled Notes for capturing thoughts when I'm out and about.

RTM +4: It's a clever program, but slightly less flexible than I'd like, and I probably don't use it properly. I have a few large multi-step tasks, like "Apply for California Board of Nursing registration", which will take forever, and thus sit forever in my inbox, as well as quick self-reminders like "renew library books" or "email person X". I literally just figured out how to make separate lists. The list "Home/Computer" is the most helpful, because I frequently have minor tasks, like emailing someone or finding a particular object in my house, that I remember when I'm not at a computer/not at home, and then forget by the time I get home. RTM works excellently for these. It's probably inappropriate for large multi-step goals, but I'm still looking for another iPhone-portable software option. RTM doesn't particularly make me feel like doing things unless they're really easy things like "go to the bank", in which case the little dopamine hit of marking the task as 'done' compensates for the annoyance of getting home 10 minutes later.

Social commitment +2: It works when I do it. It's time-consuming, and you have to have a community of people around you who'll actually hold you accountable and care, and I don't end up getting around to making social commitments a lot of the time.

Rescuetime (site) +1: Keeps track of how much time you spend on different programs or sites, and then gives productivity ratings. It doesn't make a huge difference, and I don't look at it often, but it provides a bit of an incentive to "win" and get good productivity scores.

Physical activity +4: Doesn't fit into any of the categories, but I use it like some people use modafinil. It's not just for productivity–I will literally get depressed if I don't get enough cardio, and it feels like a physiological/neurotransmitter balance thing. But it's also productivity. I can always justify taking an hour or two off working on something to go work out, because I will get much more done in the same period of time, even accounting for the hours I take off.

Comment author: k3nt 19 July 2013 05:45:54PM 0 points [-]

Just a caution: using the Notes program on iphone (the default program that the iphone and ipad come with, with the little yellow and brown icon) can be dangerous. Mine seems to randomly delete notes for no known reason. I stopped using this program entirely after it happened to me once. (In my case, it may have been due to taking too many large-ish videos that were sent to my 'photostream' and overloaded it, but I'm not certain of that.)

Obviously if that's not the program you're using then disregard.

Comment author: Swimmer963 19 July 2013 06:46:54PM 0 points [-]

Yes, that's the program I use. It's never deleted anything for me. I've been using it for about a year.

Comment author: Qiaochu_Yuan 16 July 2013 05:23:54AM *  2 points [-]

My main anti-akrasia tool nowadays is Beeminder. I have two Beeminder goals at the moment, one for RTM items and one for Pomodoros. Most of my RTM items are repeating items along the lines of "deal with Gmail inbox" and "exercise," and lumping them together into one goal helps me keep up routines while giving me a choice about which routines I want to keep up on a given day. The Pomodoro goal helps me chunk up the time I spend working on various projects, which combats ugh fields that otherwise tend to form.

Other Pomodoro users on the CFAR alumni mailing list have reported having some trouble with goals that they're frequently close to derailing on, since derailing happens at midnight and preventing a derail can get in the way of other things you might want to do before midnight, e.g. spending time with a partner. One fix is to change your time zone in Beeminder so derailing happens at some other time: right now I have it set so that derails happen at 11pm instead.

Overall, +8. I can't claim not to have akrasia problems, but I have a system and it generally works.

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 16 July 2013 04:39:13AM *  2 points [-]

A goal that I've gotten better and better at achieving over the years: distraction-free work and guilt-free play. It's not so much that I want myself to spend a lot of time working and relatively little time playing; it's easy to try to make yourself work and just spin your wheels and use a lot of mental energy not getting anything done. So I try to monitor my state mentally, and if I'm feeling tired/depressed, I often focus on rejuvenating myself prior to getting things done (funny videos and chatting with friends can be good ways to rejuvenate oneself). I also think in terms of mental contexts, and try to associate certain contexts with different degrees of activation (e.g. I sit in a particular part of my room when I want to focus, and I get up with my laptop and go sit on the stairwell outside before doing something relatively low-focus like checking my email; unrelated tip: try to do high-focus things like study at the beginning of the day (ideally right after turning on your computer in the morning) and leave low-focus things 'till the end of the day; as a general rule, if you've got lots of focus/mental energy don't let it go to waste). Another thing I've had success with in the past: if I don't like my current mental context, I'll set my computer up for whatever work I'd like to be doing, then I'll get up, take a short walk, and get to work as soon as I sit back down at my computer.

The guilt-free part is: when you're taking a break, try to maximize its rejuvenation value and don't feel guilty about the fact that you aren't working.

+6

Comment author: cadac 17 July 2013 12:22:36PM 1 point [-]

Beeminder: +4 I’ve used it for several months, and it helps. Part of that is that in order to use Beeminder, you need to be able to measure what you do. In the beginning, I had too many goals which led to emergencies almost every evening, which was annoying. I don’t know if it’s a bad thing that Beeminder provides external pressure – it might make previously pleasant tasks unpleasant in the long run, because they start to feel like something you have to do instead of something you want to do. However, so far, I haven’t gotten the impression that this is much of a problem in practice.

Self-conditioning: 0 I tried eating chocolate and doing happy gestures when I started and ended a pomodoro for about three weeks and didn’t notice a strong effect in my willingness to do pomodori. It’s possible that I didn’t do it right.

Avoiding ego depletion with food: -3 Last semester, I allowed myself to eat more snacks and drink more juice while studying. Again, I didn’t notice a strong effect, and it might well have an overall negative effect due to consuming too much sugar and viewing yourself as not in control of your motivation, which is of course self-fulfilling. Since then, I’ve read arguments against the ego depletion theory (lesswrong.com/r/discussion/lw/hzd/stupidquestionsthread/9d5o) and found that successfully resisting a temptation actually gives me a motivation boost.

Remember The Milk (GTD): +6 I capture everything in the Inbox and then either assign locations, which correspond to GTD contexts, to non-urgent tasks or due dates to tasks with a deadline. A recurring task to review the system (e.g. do I have any contexts that I don’t use?) has proven helpful.

Leechblock: +3 A 10-second delay seems to have helped me with quitting reddit. Only allowing myself some fixed amount of time per day on some site before blocking it was counterproductive, because I would always try to utilize all the time I had.

LW Study Hall without video: +1 I have disabled video because of my bad connection, and despite that, I think it helped a bit. In my opinion, it would be more helpful if there were a fixed rhythm and more explicit norms for reporting what you did.

Better working conditions: +5 Turning my computer off when I can or at least disconnecting from the Internet helps a lot. Having a clean desk doesn’t hurt either, and taking regular breaks is a good idea. This is conventional advice that I’ve often heard before, but I had to discover them myself before I started using them. I’ve avoided listening to music before studying and during breaks lately. For most tasks, listening to music while I’m working decreases my concentration. Moreover, music seems to put me in some kind of gratification-seeking state with decreased attention span, which lasts for some time (more than half an hour, I think) after I’ve stopped listening to music. What I’m wearing and whether I’ve showered also influences my focus. More formal clothing, such as a button-down shirt, feeling refreshed and all seem to contribute, even when I’m just sitting at my desk.

At the moment, my main problem is to get going in the morning. I’m planning to use social commitment for this one.

Comment author: Dorikka 20 July 2013 06:39:59PM 1 point [-]

Have some warm fuzzies for the "Avoiding ego depletion with food" section. I appreciated the anecdote and link.

Comment author: elharo 16 July 2013 10:52:41AM *  1 point [-]

GTD The Clean Desk: +3

There are many parts of David Allen's Getting Things Done. Some I find more useful than others.

I occasionally get my desk down to zero, spray it with some chemical solution, and wipe it off with a paper towel. However I've never been able to maintain this. Inadequate space is one part of this. This really doesn't work unless you have a really good filing system set up.

Comment author: elharo 16 July 2013 10:49:13AM 1 point [-]

GTD File cabinets: +3

There are many parts of David Allen's Getting Things Done. Some I find more useful than others.

When I initially picked up GTD, I found file cabinets to be very useful; though I did have to adjust it by keeping certain reoccurring yearly paper that I need for taxes in an expanding folder, one per calendar year, instead. (E.g. bank statements, receipts, etc.) I limited the file cabinet to non-recurring paper like contracts, personal letters, warranties, instructions, etc.

This has become less useful over the last five years. The specific problem is not in the system itself so much as that I stopped working for myself and started working for a company that provides insufficient workspace and inadequate office furniture to its employees. Thus I no longer have the room or budget to maintain a personal filing cabinet at work. If that changed this might become a more useful technique again.

Comment author: TomM 16 July 2013 05:25:23AM 1 point [-]

Beeminder : +6 : Using it for nearly 2 years with good success in most areas I select to 'Beemind'. Yet to have to pay out on any goals (though I have derailed on no-pledge goals on 2 occasions).

RememberTheMilk : +2 : using it for several years. Best use is to keep track of tasks I have and have not done, but not great on committing me to action. Best suited to keeping track of minor tasks, especially recurring ones.

Trello : +2 : Used for perhaps a year. Similar experience to RememberTheMilk, but better suited to more complex tasks and projects.

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 16 July 2013 04:19:05AM *  1 point [-]

Deliberately put things with deadlines off until relatively soon before the deadline so you can harness the motivation provided by the deadline. If you don't have any deadlines coming up, work on deadline-free to-do items.

I've been doing this for the past few years ever since I thought of it. I do think it's good to be aware of deadlines that are coming up if you're doing this--it wasn't good for my mental health to feel like my life was out of control and deadlines were bearing down on me from all directions. Another thing is that if you put something off and do it right before the deadline, you probably won't do as good of a job. So this tactic works relatively better for things you don't care about doing well or learning from the experience of doing. Overall, the main benefit is having more time to work on deadline-free stuff, and it's hard to measure how much additional time I've gotten that way.

+3

Comment author: Gunnar_Zarncke 01 January 2014 10:35:22PM 0 points [-]

This only works if

  • you know reliably how long the task takes

  • no deadlines for which the associated tasks overlap if you start the next one

Comment author: luminosity 28 July 2013 12:43:05PM 1 point [-]

Beeminder: +4. The reminders are invaluable, the cash inventive maybe less so. The flexibility of being able to build up credit on some days for when a busy day, or a day of little motivation occurs is fantastic. My biggest problem is figuring out the best way to formulate goals.

Evernote to-do lists: +6. Haven't finished reading GTD, so I'm unsure how much overlap there is here. Essentially I have several sets of notes in evernote. Shopping, To-do, Long term projects / goals. As I think of things to do they get recorded in to do. I also review on my desktop the shopping and to-do lists each night before bed. I've trained myself into the habit of checking the to-do list each morning, lunch time and evening, and the shopping list at lunch time, and before leaving to go home from work.

The difference from how I tried to track things to do just a few months ago is night and day. I'm currently in the process of integrating a weekly (Sunday evening) review of my goals to see what new things should be slotted in to the next week's tasks.

I'm still trying to figure out how to handle things I need to do on future days (eg, follow up with the real estate agent on thursday). I'm currently recording these in the day's to-do with a note for the day to do it on, but not being able to tick off everything on the list reduces some of the visceral satisfaction of clearing the whole list out.

Comment author: [deleted] 20 July 2013 11:51:35PM 0 points [-]

This is more of a request than a review. My current akrasia problems have to deal with filtering and prioritization. I have a lot of simultaneous "projects" going on. This is to say that I want to do all of them, but usually get trapped in doing busy-work like planning and budgeting and research, instead of building and execution. I switch often which makes switching costs very high.

All of my projects feel very urgent to me. But none of them get done. Thoughts?

Comment author: gressettd 21 July 2013 12:49:59AM 1 point [-]

Maybe you have a subconscious fear of failure, that compels you to switch to a different project before you can be put to the test? Does it help to anticipate that you will fail in execution, multiple times, but persist until you finish?

Have you tried experimenting with the other extreme? Rank your projects. Pick the top project. Forget the others exist until that one is complete. It's extreme, but if you try it once, experience completion, and change the way you think and feel about it, maybe you can then find a better middle ground?

Comment author: Turgurth 19 July 2013 01:27:02AM 0 points [-]

Thanks for doing this, though I suggest moving it to the Discussion section in the hope of getting more responses there.

Comment author: badtheatre 17 July 2013 06:58:43PM 0 points [-]

Amphetamine (adderall, vyvanse): +1

I've been using this for motivation and to combat akrasia for about 1 yr. Were it not for tolerance/dependance, i would give this drug at least a +6, the effects from a single dose can be quite profound. Basically, I was unable to achieve consistent boosts in motivation without increasing the dose, which would continually increase side effects until I had to abstain for a while, rinse/repeat. My guess is that this drug is much more useful for people who are naturally motivated; the other cognitive benefits (increased focus, mental clarity) do not seem subject to the tolerance issue. As for dependence, I just mean learning behavior X with amphetamine may mean dependence on amphetamine for behavior X

Comment author: therufs 19 July 2013 02:43:36PM *  0 points [-]

Easy, cached success spirals/gamification/HabitRPG: +4 (3 months). I think a significant amount of the benefit I derive is from having a small string of dailies that get done first (ish) thing in the morning, hence the success spiral. Having mental checkpoints for when each daily is "late" helps me keep track of when it's time to move on to the next thing. Colorful clicky boxes and lighthearted 8-bit-esque graphics also help. The site is down with some regularity, but since I only need to refer to it a few times per day, I have actually found this to be barely any impediment to its overall utilty.

Recursive taskification, which I do with Workflowy +3 (2 months). When I'm not accomplishing much because I have multiple tasks with too many components to keep track of and I feel overwhelmed, Workflowy's endlessly nestable and rearrangeable items encourage me to just record any relevant task without getting hung up on the "but what if I put something in the wrong category" mental block. (I think this tactic and Workflowy would be worth more points if I had more complicated tasks on a regular basis.)

Making a Schedule +5 (6? months). Sometimes thoughtfully organized to break up active and sedentary tasks, but even when not thoughtfully organized at all, offers a small amount of pressure to be doing something in particular while at the same time making answering "so what am I supposed to be doing?" easy.

Comment author: Vladimir_Golovin 18 July 2013 05:20:23AM *  0 points [-]

Things that worked for me for at least two years:

  • Smartphone GTD app: +10. The track record is 3 years or so. Absolutely indispensable. My primary app used to be Astrid, and when Yahoo killed it, I switched to Wunderlist (mostly because their Astrid import worked on the first try, and they imported all my recurring tasks correctly). I'm also playing with Remember the Milk, and really I like their user interface so far.

  • Automating life with recurring tasks in a smartphone GTD app: +9. Again, 3 years or so. I have a lot of recurring tasks in my app, with various recurrence periods, ranging from daily (e.g. pills) to once-in-several-days (usually checking up on important processes) to weekly (usually shopping and household chores) to monthly (administrative duties, banks, taxes and payroll) to yearly (dentist check-ups, important birthdays etc). The problem with this is that not all GTD apps do recurring tasks properly, or at all, and that there's no smartphone GTD app on the market that fully satisfies all my requirements regarding recurring tasks. Because of that, I'm seriously thinking about rolling my own app / service.

  • Trello: +8. I've been using it since the beginning (about two years ago), and it has become essential for my workflow. I use two kinds of board organization, a project-based one (e.g. "Ideas", "Next up", "In development", "Testing", "Done"), and a freeform structure for personal and idea-capture boards. I wish their Android app was more convenient though.

Several promising things that not yet passed the 2 years test:

  • No mainstream news / social media: +10. I've been doing this since the last December, and it worked great so far, so I'm not going back.

  • GTD contexts: +6. I'm just discovering this, so the official track record is less than a month. Essentially, I separate tasks in my GTD app into groups, where a group corresponds to what GTD calls context, for example "Before going to work", "At work", "Shopping", "Before sleep". The implementation of lists / tags / contexts in my previous GTD app, Astrid, was atrocious, so I, without realizing it, was organizing my tasks into makeshift contexts using priorities, e.g. Red = before work, Yellow = at work, Blue = anytime, Gray = before sleep. When I switched to Wunderlist, I liked their approach to lists a lot more, and when I named the lists, I realized that they correspond to contexts.

Comment author: Turgurth 19 July 2013 01:20:06AM 0 points [-]

I'm curious (nonjudgementally): do you get your news now from non-mainstream sources, or do you stay away from news altogether? I ask because I am considering trying this anti-akrasia tactic myself, but am unsure regarding the details.

Comment author: Vladimir_Golovin 19 July 2013 06:46:57AM *  6 points [-]

I don't read mainstream news sources, and I don't participate in social networks, but I do read technical, professional and scientific news.

Here's how I get the news: If a mainstream story is important, I'll hear about it from co-workers or family. Also, high-magnitude stories (e.g. Snowden / NSA, or yesterday's 5 year sentence for AlexeI Navalny) usually appear on non-mainstream news sources.

The point of quitting news is not stopping being aware of what happens around you. The point is to avoid their negative effects (scrambling the mind, incorrectly perceiving the environment as more dangerous than it is / overestimating the probability of dangerous events happening to me, cortisol release, etc).

Here are some good articles on the topic (you may recognize some of the authors):

Also, I don't think quitting news is an anti-akrasia tactic. It's more similar to hygiene, or not eating fast food.

Comment author: Turgurth 19 July 2013 07:37:02AM 0 points [-]

Your heuristic for getting the news checks out in my experience, so that seems worth trying.

I wouldn't be surprised if we've both seen plenty of Snowden/NSA on Hacker News.

Thanks for the links.

And while I agree with you that quitting the news would likely be intellectually hygienic and emotionally healthy, it would probably also work as an anti-akrasia tactic in the specific case of cutting out something I often turn to to avoid actual work. Similar to the "out of sight, out of mind" principle, but more "out of habit, out of mind".

Comment author: Vladimir_Golovin 19 July 2013 07:47:58AM *  2 points [-]

cutting out something I often turn to to avoid actual work

Mainstream news are a dopamine loop magnified by an intermittent reinforcement schedule. You keep clicking for more and checking the sources every 10 minutes. Plus you can't break out of the loop intellectually because the news content switches you from the 'intellectual mode' into the 'tribal mode' or even the 'imminent danger' mode. In the absence of mainstream news, technical news alone were never that addictive to me.

Comment author: elharo 16 July 2013 10:45:06AM 0 points [-]

GTD Tickler File: +1

There are many parts of David Allen's Getting Things Done. Some I find more useful than others. The famous tickler files I never found to be especially useful, and have mostly stopped using them. It occurs to me I should review what's in my tickler file from the last time I worked with it.

Comment author: elharo 16 July 2013 10:40:09AM 0 points [-]

GTD Lists: +8

There are many parts of Getting Things Done. Some I find more useful than others. The one I have found most useful is making TODO lists and reviewing them periodically. This also supports Allen's goal to get things out of your head and onto paper or into a computer document.

I don't follow a lot of his principles on exactly how to organize or when to review the lists, but simply making them and reviewing them has been a real life changer for me over the last 10 years or so.

Comment author: elharo 16 July 2013 10:36:53AM *  0 points [-]

GTD Calendar: +5

There are many parts of Getting Things Done. Some I find more useful than others. One I have adopted is Allen's calendar management. Specifically:

  1. Put everything with a specific time (i.e. has to be done at 3:30 on Tuesday) in the calendar.
  2. Put nothing that doesn't have to be done at a specific time in the calendar.
  3. Review your calendar for the day first thing in the morning.

This is a huge organizational help, and avoids missing a lot of timed events I would otherwise miss.

Comment author: elharo 16 July 2013 10:33:54AM 0 points [-]

Pomodoro: +5

I have written here previously about the Pomodoro technique. Rather than reposting, just follow the link. Looking back from a few months later, I continue to use Pomodoros and find them useful on aversive tasks such as cleaning my office or starting a big project on which I don't know where to begin. I don't have big akrasia problems these days, so I don't use it every day; but when a task is aversive, Pomodoros are a big help.