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There have been a couple discussion posts on this, but let's make it general and collect our tips in one place. It's also a good way to encourage each other at getting better at this - looking for info more often and more efficiently.
So, if you want to find something out, where do you look, and how? Who do you ask?
My idea is software which automatically implements productivity strategies, measures the effectiveness of those strategies, and analyses which strategies work best for you. Hopefully, using the software would result in a sustained increase in your productivity over time.
By "productivity strategies" I mean things like: the recommendations in the the anti-procrastination algorithm, the pomodoro technique, exercising regularly, pre-commitment, experimenting with sleep patterns, gamifying your tasks and so forth.
In practical terms, what I'm envisioning is an extensible software framework. The core program would be a simple task list manager: add tasks to be done in the future, check off items as done when completed and send notifications to the user.
This core framework would then be extended by plugins, which represented different productivity strategies. For example, the pomodoro plugin might make your first task at 9am each morning to review your task list and choose the most important three tasks (MITs), your second task to set and begin a timer for 30 minutes and your third task to complete that top MIT you chose. After 30 minutes, it would add a new task of taking a five minute relaxation break and send you a notification to let you know. Five minutes later, it would notify you again to finish your relaxation break task, with a fresh task to re-start the timer and then back to your MITs for a further 30 minutes.
The software could independently activate and deactivate the plugins in order to collect sufficient data to suggest which strategies were most effective for you. Over time, more plugins would be written as people made further suggestions. Existing plugins could be potentially improved and automatically reviewed using A/B testing.
When deciding whether a strategy is "effective", I mean that a large number of tasks are completed, that the remaining number of tasks on the list is small and that the age of those tasks is not too great. However, the criteria could be extended to ask for an indication of mood from the user, to allow for low stress optimisation, for example. Perhaps stochastic self sampling would work well here.
If users were willing to opt into providing anonymous data, the software could automate a community review of the strategies: which strategies seem to be most commonly effective? Affinity analysis could even be used to recommend plugins that were helpful to other people who responded to similar strategies as you.
What are your comments, and specifically criticisms, of this idea? Would you try using software like this if it existed? Would you like to assist in writing software like this?
Over the last 6 months I've started doing a lot of things differently. Some of these changes seem to have increased my work output a good bit and made me happier. I normally hesitate to share habits, but I'm pretty happy with these in particular, and even if they will work for only a few people I think they are worth sharing. Most of the habits I've adopted are fairly common, but I hope I can help people anyway by identifying the habits that have most helped me.
I'm curious to hear about alternatives that have worked for you.
Workflowy lets you edit a single collapsible outline. I use it very extensively. It is much more convenient than the network of google docs it replaced, and I use it much more often. It is much like other outliners, but (1) has a slicker interface, (2) works offline, (3) lets you recurse on and share sublists.
Workflowy is free to try but costs $5 a month. This may seem expensive for what it does, but if you use (or could use!) outliners a lot this is not enough to matter. After some searching Workflowy seems like the best option. I'm sure I like Workflowy more than most people, but I really like it, so I think it's worth trying.
Here is a skeleton of my workflowy list, which hosts many of the other systems in this post.
I have a checklist of tasks to do each night before sleeping. In the past I would often forget one of these things; putting them in a checklist helps me do them more reliably and makes me more relaxed.
Checklists for other occasions, particularly waking up and traveling, are also helpful, but are much less important to me.
I now maintain two todo lists: one with a list of tasks for each upcoming day, and one with a list of tasks for future events ("I'm in the UK," "it is Thursday," "I'm going grocery shopping"). Whenever I think of something I should do, I either put it under a future day and do it when that day arrives, or I put it with an associated event. Each night I check both lists and decide what to do tomorrow.
Beeminder is a service that holds you to commitments and tracks your progress. It has helped me a lot over the last months. I've experimented with a few different commitments, but two have been most useful: following a daily routine, and doing a minimum amount of work each day (on average). Beeminder has pretty low overhead.
I spend about 10% of my productive time reflecting on how things have been going and what I should do differently. I benefit from producing concrete possible changes each time I sit down to think. I realized how important this is for me recently; since I've started doing it more reliably, I have gotten a lot more out of reflection.
I do my work in uninterrupted blocks of 20 minutes, punctuated by 2-3 minute breaks. This is my bastardized, minimalist version of the pomodoro technique, which I arrived at by trial and error. I use Alinof timer, which was recommended to me by a friend.
I now record commitments on my calendar reliably and check it each night. I failed to do this for 6 months after finishing my undergraduate degree, which I think was a serious mistake. I became much more reliable at checking my calendar after adopting a daily checklist.
Whenever I start a new activity, I write down the current time and a description of what I just stopped doing. At the end of the day I spend a few minutes reading this log and estimating how much time I spent on each activity. This makes me more attentive to time during the day, helps me remember what I did throughout the day, and frees up attention. Sometimes I use the logs to try and notice trends. For example, I've been exercising on random days and measuring how this affects my time. I don't yet know if this helps at all.
Catch is a note-taking app. It is very minimal, and lets you record a voice note by pressing a single button. It has substantially increased my affordance for taking notes during the day, which I use to remember todo items and help with time logging.
I have started the Tel Aviv Self-Improvement Meetup Group. It is not about rationality or LessWrong per se, but it is heavily influenced by rationality dojos and LW posts in the applied rationality, personal optimization and anti-akrasia cluster. As the description says, it is
A group of people helping each other apply rationality to our everyday lives, in order to improve our skills, make the best decisions, become productive and achieve our goals.
If you're interested and in the area, you're welcome to join. If you have any comments or suggestions, based perhaps on experience with similar groups, please share.
We investigated the ability of people to retrieve information about objects as they moved through rooms in a virtual space. People were probed with object names that were either associated with the person (i.e., carried) or dissociated from the person (i.e., just set down). Also, people either did or did not shift spatial regions (i.e., go to a new room). Information about objects was less accessible when the objects were dissociated from the person. Furthermore, information about an object was also less available when there was a spatial shift. However, the spatial shift had a larger effect on memory for the currently associated object. These data are interpreted as being more supportive of a situation model explanation, following on work using narratives and film. Simpler memory-based accounts that do not take into account the context in which a person is embedded cannot adequately account for the results.
There's probably some deep implications to this I'm not qualified to plumb. But next time I'm concentrating on something, and need to get up from the computer and walk around a bit, I'm going to try avoiding doorways.
The old thread (found here: http://lesswrong.com/lw/6dc/the_true_rejection_challenge/ ) was becoming very unwieldy and hard to check, so many people suggested we made a second one. I just realized that the only reason it didn't exist yet was bystander effect-like, so I desiced to just do this one.
From the original thread:
Name something that you do not do but should/wish you did/are told you ought, or that you do less than is normally recommended. (For instance, "exercise" or "eat vegetables".)
Make an exhaustive list of your sufficient conditions for avoiding this thing. (If you suspect that your list may be non-exhaustive, mention that in your comment.)
Precommit that: If someone comes up with a way to do the thing which doesn't have any of your listed problems, you will at least try it. It counts if you come up with this response yourself upon making your list.
(Based on: Is That Your True Rejection?)
Edit to add: Kindly stick to the spirit of the exercise; if you have no advice in line with the exercise, this is not the place to offer it. Do not drift into confrontational or abusive demands that people adjust their restrictions to suit your cached suggestion, and do not offer unsolicited other-optimizing.
I have an atypical sleep schedule. I tend to drift in the hours that I keep (that is, going to sleep later and later each day until a 'reset' is required). I also am willing to sacrifice sleep if something sufficiently interesting or urgent (problem sets, a Neal Stephenson book, a new Less Wrong article about an interesting topic) comes up. While procrastination earlier in the day can also play a part in my staying up late, I've noticed that, left to my own devices, I seem to prefer a day-night inversion. I'm naturally much more active at night than during the day, and will skip a meal or two in order to maintain this schedule. (Note: I realize that day-night sleep inversion can be a sign of a medical illness. For reasons I won't go into here, I don't believe that any of them are applicable.)
The schedule that I have now is not optimal for a number of reasons:
- Not being able to socialize with very many other people due to not syncing up with their schedules.
- 'Drifting' leads to unpredictability in my ability to function at a given time during an upcoming day- which is important for tests and classes.
- Sleeping during the day is more difficult than at night (extra noises, distractions, etc.)
What I'd like to do is figure out how to optimize my sleep schedule. I'd prefer not to just 'invert' it to be a typical sleep schedule, but to either alter the sleep schedule or discover changes that I can make in other parts of my life that will mitigate the downsides. Some things are obvious: microwavable food for when nothing else is available at night is one change that I can make right away and would minimize the damage from skipping meals. The social issues and 'drifting' are more complicated and don't present an obvious solution after a few minutes of reflection. The reason I resist changing back to a regular sleep schedule is that I know that I'm groggy and miserable in the morning and less productive until about noon of that day if forced to operate under a regular sleep schedule.
Do you have an atypical sleep schedule now, or have you in earlier parts of your life? I would hazard a guess that among the Less Wrong/Rationality/Skeptic/Bayesian community, experimentation in sleep schedule would be higher than in the general population. Have you tried a polyphasic sleep schedule? (I once unsuccessfully did a few years ago in hopes of solving some of the above problems.) If you have experienced these or similar problems, what 'hacks' have you found that mitigate the downsides?
(Note: This is my first discussion post. I apologize in advance if the formatting or content seems a bit askew as a result. Constructive criticism is of course welcome.)
So my personal life just got very interesting. In a net-positive way, certainly, but still, I am, as Calculon put it, "filled with a large number of powerful emotions!" -- some of which are anxious and/or panicky.
This is making it annoyingly difficult to focus at work. I am an absolutely textbook "Attention Deficit Oh-look-a-squirrel!" case at the best of times, and this seems to have made it much, much worse. I can handle small tasks, but anything where I'm going to have to spend an hour solving multiple problems before producing results, I can hardly make myself start.
Has anyone dealt with the problem of maintaining productive focus while emotionally overwhelmed/exhausted, and if so, do you have any pointers?