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Announcing: The great bridge

8 Elo 17 March 2017 01:11AM

Original post: http://bearlamp.com.au/announcing-the-great-bridge-between-communities/


In the deep dark lurks of the internet, several proactive lesswrong and diaspora leaders have been meeting each day.  If we could have cloaks and silly hats; we would.

We have been discussing the great diversification, and noticed some major hubs starting to pop up.  The ones that have been working together include:

  • Lesswrong slack
  • SlateStarCodex Discord
  • Reddit/Rational Discord
  • Lesswrong Discord
  • Exegesis (unofficial rationalist tumblr)

The ones that we hope to bring together in the future include (on the willingness of those servers):

  • Lesswrong IRC (led by Gwern)
  • Slate Star Codex IRC
  • AGI slack
  • Transhumanism Discord
  • Artificial Intelligence Discord

How will this work?

About a year ago, the lesswrong slack tried to bridge across to the lesswrong IRC.  That was bad.  From that experience we learnt a lot that can go wrong, and have worked out how to avoid those mistakes.  So here is the general setup.

Each server currently has it's own set of channels, each with their own style of talking and addressing problems, and sharing details and engaging with each other.  We definitely don't want to do anything that will harm those existing cultures.  In light of this, taking the main channel from one server and mashing it into the main channel of another server is going to reincarnate into HELL ON EARTH.  and generally leave both sides with the sentiment that "<the other side> is wrecking up <our> beautiful paradise".  Some servers may have a low volume buzz at all times, other servers may become active for bursts, it's not good to try to marry those things.

Logistics:

Room: Lesswrong-Slack-Open

Bridged to:

  • exegesis#lwslack_bridge
  • Discord-Lesswrong#lw_slack_main
  • R/rational#lw_slack_open
  • SSC#bridge_slack

I am in <exegesis, D/LW, R/R, SSC> what does this mean?

If you want to peek into the lesswrong slack and see what happens in their #open channel.  You can join or unmute your respective channel and listen in, or contribute (two way relay) to their chat.  Obviously if everyone does this at once we end up spamming the other chat and probably after a week we cut the bridge off because it didn't work.  So while it's favourable to increase the community; be mindful of what goes on across the divide and try not to anger our friends.

I am in Lesswrong-Slack, what does this mean?

We have new friends!  Posts in #open will be relayed to all 4 children rooms where others can contribute if they choose.  Mostly they have their own servers to chat on, and if they are not on an info-diet already, then maybe they should be.  We don't anticipate invasion or noise.

Why do they get to see our server and we don't get to see them?

So glad you asked - we do.  There is an identical set up for their server into our bridge channels.  in fact the whole diagram looks something like this:

Server Main channel Slack-Lesswrong Discord-Exegesis Discord-Lesswrong Discord-r/rational Discord-SSC
Slack-Lesswrong Open   lwslack_bridge lw_slack_main lw_slack_open bridge_slack
Discord-Exegesis Main #bridge_rat_tumblr   exegesis_main exegesis_rattumb_main bridge_exegesis
Discord-Lesswrong Main #Bridge_discord_lw lwdiscord_bridge   lw_discord_main bridge_lw_disc
Discord-r/rational General #bridge_r-rational_dis rrdiscord_bridge reddirati_main   bridge_r_rational
Discord-SSC General #bridge_ssc_discord sscdiscord_bridge ssc_main ssc_discord_gen  

Pretty right? No it's not.  But that's in the backend.

For extra clarification, the rows are the channels that are linked.  Which is to say that Discord-SSC, is linked to a child channel in each of the other servers.  The last thing we want to do is impact this existing channels in a negative way.

But what if we don't want to share our open and we just want to see the other side's open?  (/our talk is private, what about confidential and security?)

Oh you mean like the prisoners dilemma?  Where you can defect (not share) and still be rewarded (get to see other servers).  Yea it's a problem.  Tends to be when one group defects, that others also defect.  There is a chance that the bridge doesn't work.  That this all slides, and we do spam each other, and we end up giving up on the whole project.  If it weren't worth taking the risk we wouldn't have tried.

We have not rushed into this bridge thing, we have been talking about it calmly and slowly and patiently for what seems like forever.  We are all excited to be taking a leap, and keen to see it take off.

Yes, security is a valid concern, walled gardens being bridged into is a valid concern, we are trying our best.  We are just as hesitant as you, and being very careful about the process.  We want to get it right.

So if I am in <server1> and I want to talk to <server3> I can just post in the <bridge-to-server2> room and have the message relayed around to server 3 right?

Whilst that is correct, please don't do that.  You wouldn't like people relaying through your main to talk to other people.  Also it's pretty silly, you can just post in your <servers1> main and let other people see it if they want to.

This seems complicated, why not just have one room where everyone can go and hang out?

  1. How do you think we ended up with so many separate rooms
  2. Why don't we all just leave <your-favourite server> and go to <that other server>?  It's not going to happen

Why don't all you kids get off my lawn and stay in your own damn servers?

Thank's grandpa.  No one is coming to invade, we all have our own servers and stuff to do, we don't NEED to be on your lawn, but sometimes it's nice to know we have friends.

<server2> shitposted our server, what do we do now?

This is why we have mods, why we have mute and why we have ban.  It might happen but here's a deal; don't shit on other people and they won't shit on you.  Also if asked nicely to leave people alone, please leave people alone.  Remember anyone can tap out of any discussion at any time.

I need a picture to understand all this.

Great!  Friends on exegesis made one for us.


Who are our new friends:

Lesswrong Slack

Lesswrong slack has been active since 2015, and has a core community. The slack has 50 channels for various conversations on specific topics, the #open channel is for general topics and has all kinds of interesting discoveries shared here.

Discord-Exegesis (private, entry via tumblr)

Exegesis is a discord set up by a tumblr rationalist for all his friends (not just rats). It took off so well and became such a hive in such a short time that it's now a regular hub.

Discord-Lesswrong

Following Exegesis's growth, a discord was set up for lesswrong, it's not as active yet, but has the advantage of a low barrier to entry and it's filled with lesswrongers.

Discord-SSC

Scott posted a link on an open thread to the SSC discord and now it holds activity from users that hail from the SSC comment section. it probably has more conversation about politics than other servers but also has every topic relevant to his subscribers.

Discord-r/rational

reddit rational discord grew from the rationality and rational fiction subreddit, it's quite busy and covers all topics.


As at the publishing of this post; the bridge is not live, but will go live when we flip the switch.


Meta: this took 1 hour to write (actualy time writing) and half way through I had to stop and have a voice conference about it to the channels we were bridging.

Cross posted to lesswrong: http://lesswrong.com/lw/oqz

 

In support of Yak Shaving

13 Elo 16 March 2017 05:31AM

Original post:  http://bearlamp.com.au/in-support-of-yak-shaving/


Yak shaving is heralded as pretty much "the devil" of trying to get things done.  The anti-yak shaving movement will identify this problem as being one of focus.  The moral of the story they give is "don't yak shave".

Originally posted in MIT's media lab with the description:

Any seemingly pointless activity which is actually necessary to solve a problem which solves a problem which, several levels of recursion later, solves the real problem you're working on.

But I prefer the story by Seth Godin:

"I want to wax the car today."

"Oops, the hose is still broken from the winter. I'll need to buy a new one at Home Depot."

"But Home Depot is on the other side of the Tappan Zee bridge and getting there without my EZPass is miserable because of the tolls."

"But, wait! I could borrow my neighbor's EZPass..."

"Bob won't lend me his EZPass until I return the mooshi pillow my son borrowed, though."

"And we haven't returned it because some of the stuffing fell out and we need to get some yak hair to restuff it."

And the next thing you know, you're at the zoo, shaving a yak, all so you can wax your car.

I disagree with the conclusion to not yak shave, and here's why.


The problem here is that you didn't wax the car because you spent all day shaving yaks (see also "there's a hole in my bucket").  In a startup that translates to not doing the tasks that get customers - the tasks which get money and actually make an impact, say "playing with the UI".  It's easy to see why such anti-yak shaving sentiment would exist (see also: bikeshedding, rearranging deck chairs on the titanic, hamming questions).  You can spend a whole day doing a whole lot of nothings; getting to bed and wonder what you actually accomplished that day (hint: a whole lot of running in circles).

Or at least that's what it looks like on the surface.  But let's look a little deeper into what the problems and barriers are in the classic scenario.

  1. Want to wax car
  2. Broken hose
  3. Hardware store is far away
  4. No EZpass for tolls
  5. Neighbour won't lend the pass until pillow is returned
  6. Broken mooshi pillow
  7. Have to go get yak hair.

So it's not just one problem, but a series of problems that come up in a sequence.  Hopefully by the end of the list you can turn around and walk all the way straight back up the list.  But in the real world there might even be other problems like, you get to the hardware store and realise you don't know the hose-fitting size of your house so you need to call someone at home to check...

On closer inspection; this sort of behaviour is not like bikeshedding at all.  Nor is it doing insignificant things under the guise of "real work".  Instead this is about tackling what stands in the way of your problem.  In problem solving in the real world, Don't yak shave" is not what I have found to be the solution.  In experiencing this the first time it feels like a sequence of discoveries.  For example, first you discover the hose.  Then you discover the EZpass problem, then you discover the pillow problem, at which point you are pretty sick of trying to wax your car and want a break or to work on something else.


I propose that classic yak shaving presents a very important sign that things are broken.  In order to get to the classic scenario we had to

  1. have borrowed a pillow from our neighbour,
  2. have it break and not get fixed,
  3. not own our own EZpass,
  4. live far from a hardware store,
  5. have a broken hose, and
  6. want to wax a car.  

Each open problem in this scenario presents an open problem or an open loop.  Yak shaving presents a warning sign that you are in a Swiss-cheese model scenario of problems.  This might sound familiar because it's the kind of situation which leads to the Fukushima reactor meltdown.  It's the kind of scenario when you try to work out why the handyman fell off your roof and died, and you notice that:

  1. he wasn't wearing a helmet.
  2. He wasn't tied on safely
  3. His ladder wasn't tied down
  4. It was a windy day
  5. His harness was old and worn out
  6. He was on his phone while on the roof...

And you realise that any five of those things could have gone wrong and not caused much of a problem.  But you put all six of those mistakes together and line the wind up in just the right way, everything comes tumbling down.


Yak shaving is a sign that you are living with problems waiting to crash down.  And living in a situation where you don't have time to do the sort of maintenance that would fix things and keep smoulders from bursting into flames.

I can almost guaranteed that when your house of cards all come falling down, it happens on a day that you don't have the spare time to waste on ridiculous seeming problems.


What should you do if you are in this situation?

Yak shave.  The best thing you can do if half your projects are unfinished and spread around the room is to tidy up.  Get things together; organise things, initiate the GTD system (or any system), wrap up old bugs, close the open loops (advice from GTD) and as many times as you can; YAK SHAVE for all you are worth!

If something is broken, and you are living with it, that's not acceptable.  You need a system in your life to regularly get around to fixing it.  Notepadsreviews, list keeping, set time aside for doing it and plan to fix things.

So I say, Yak Shave, as much, as long, and as many times as it takes till there are no more yaks to shave.


Something not mentioned often enough is a late addition to my list of common human goals.

Improve the tools available – sharpen the axe, write a new app that can do the thing you want, invent systems that work for you.  prepare for when the rest of the work comes along.

People often ask how you can plan for lucky breaks in your life.  How do you cultivate opportunity?  I can tell you right here and now, this is how.

Keep a toolkit at the ready, a work-space (post coming soon) at the ready, spare time for things to go wrong and things to go right.  And don't forget to play.  Why do we sharpen the axe?  Clear Epistemics, or clear Instrumental Rationality.  Be prepared for the situation that will come up.

Yak Shave like your life depends on it.  Because your life might one day depend on it.  Your creativity certainly does.


Meta: this took 2.5 hrs to write.

Noble excuses

3 Elo 13 March 2017 11:29PM

Original post: Noble excuses


I was talking to a lady in her 60s who was losing weight, and exercising.  She said to me; "All my life, my husband was an iron man.  I felt terribly embarrassed, like everyone in the room was looking at me and thinking - how could he be with her".  She confided that she wanted to lose weight for completely superficial reasons, really dumb reasons of caring what people thought about what she looked like.  She asked me if this made her a bad person, that she was doing things for the wrong reasons.  We just covered Valid and invalid excuses, the territory of excuses overlaps quite heavily with the territory of goals.  We make excuses and decisions to do some things and not other things because of our goals.  Earlier in the conversation, my friend also shared the usual "get fit, be healthy" attitude that is the more noble reason to be getting fit.

I wouldn't be the first to name this concept.  There is a class of excuse that is known as the noble excuse.  A noble excuse is the excuse for the action that you are making that sounds the most noble of the possible excuse space.  Which is to say; there are often reasons for doing something that extend beyond one or two reasons, and beyond the reason you want to tell people right away.

When I tell my friends I didn't go for a run this morning because I "Don't want to be late for work". That's so noble.  It had nothing to do with me being out late the night before, it's raining, the grass is wet, I have hayfever, I didn't get enough sleep, missed my alarm and woke up late.  No it's all for caring about being late for work.

Also coming in the form of Noble justifications, a noble excuse is tricky because it acts as an applause light.  It tells the guilty brain, "okay you can stop looking now we found out why", it's safe to say that they don't really help us, so much as save face among others or even to ourselves.


Speaking of a noble excuse

"Is that the real reason or is that just a noble excuse"

"Let's not settle on the first noble excuse, what other reasons could there be for these events"

"I wish I could give a noble excuse for being late, but the truth is that I have a bad habit of leaving home late and missing the bus.  Next week I will be trying out setting my watch to a few minutes faster to try to counteract my bad habit."

"That's a pretty embarrassing mistake, is there a noble excuse that we can pass on to the client?"


Dealing with a noble excuse

Not all noble excuses are bad.  If you notice someone making a noble excuse, it usually doesn't hurt to double check if there isn't another reason behind those actions.  There's not a lot to understanding noble excuses.  It's about being aware of your excuses and connecting them back to their underlying goals.

Think carefully about the excuses you are making.


Meta: this took an hour to write.

Open thread, March 13 - March 19, 2017

2 Elo 13 March 2017 03:46AM

Notes for future OT posters:

1. Please add the 'open_thread' tag.

2. Check if there is an active Open Thread before posting a new one. (Immediately before; refresh the list-of-threads page before posting.)

3. Open Threads should start on Monday, and end on Sunday.

4. Unflag the two options "Notify me of new top level comments on this article" and "

Excuses and validity

1 Elo 13 March 2017 03:44AM

Original post: http://bearlamp.com.au/on-excuses-and-validity/


We learn't yesterday about what is a problemI want to talk about one specific aspect of the barrier.  The part of the barrier that is inside your head.  The one that makes excuses.

The barrier inside my own head.  The barrier that says, “ice-cream, but I would have to get up out of my chair for that” and decides against it.

Another way to think about one of the classes of in-head barrier is to call them excuses.  The reasons your mind makes up as to why you can't do the thing.  If we create a class of "excuses", we can talk more about it.

Let's take the simple goal of going for a run in the morning, and look at some of the excuses that might arise from trying to avoid it:

  • I don't feel like it
  • I wanted to sleep in
  • it's raining out
  • It's too early
  • It's too late
  • It's too cold
  • It's too hot
  • It's too dark
  • I feel sick
  • I have no one to go with
  • I have a broken leg
  • I have asthma and can't run
  • It's my rest day
  • I am running late to work
  • I don't have the time

The thing about excuses is that they are all equally valid.  "not feeling like it" is just as valid as, "I have a broken leg" as "I don't have the time".  But also the thing about excuses is that they are all equally invalid as well.  "It's too dark" is just as much an invalid excuse as "it's raining out", as "I have a broken leg".

What really is an excuse that is valid?  Well on a day that you got to bed at 4am and you need more sleep than waking up at 7am to go for a run; then yes.  "I wanted to sleep in" is a valid excuse.  On a day where you sleep from 7pm and wake up at 7am refreshed with a 12 hour sleep under your belt.  Well then.  Less of an excuse then.  Which is to say; The validity of an excuse depends on the situation in which it is made.

As I said above, any excuse is a valid excuse.  And any excuse is an invalid one.  To a person who gets sick easily; "it's raining" is a real excuse, to someone who can probably run in the rain; that's not much of an excuse.

All excuses are real excuses.  There are no rules for which excuses are valid excuses and which excuses are not valid excuses.  The solution lies in sorting out the goal and the counter-goals.  I have referenced Kegan's immunity to change beforemore than once.  I have talked about barriers before too.  I previously said:

What we are doing with our time is everything else that we are choosing not to do with our time.

This is what excuses do.  They (sneakily) say, "I am not going to pursue that goal X, because I am instead going to pursue that goal Y".

The simple "I don't want to go for a run because it's raining", is really the more complicated and long winded, "I considered my preference of making sure I don't get sick by avoiding cold and windy conditions and I compared it to my preference of exercising in the morning by going for a run and I decided that I would rather not go for a run, and instead avoid the cold and windy conditions".  Which is fine.

Ideally any excuse that you make can be written out in it's long winded form.  In this form the self melts away, the guilt melts away, the shoulds disappear.  all that is left is several goals or several preferences battling it out for what is ultimately the action you take.

What about when we take the long winded of, "I don't want to go for a run because it's raining", and we get something like this, "I weighed up my preference for not getting dripped on while I go for a run alongside my preference to exercise by running in the morning and I realised I don't want to go running in the rain anyway".  Well, maybe then it's time to consider if this is a valid excuse for you.  Or maybe it will be completely obvious whether it is or is not a valid excuse when you lay it out like that.


Putting it to use

0. Be willing to try this.  Precommit to giving it a shot for the next 10 times you notice you make an excuse to not do something.

  1. Noticing.  I can't really explain how to notice when you make excuses.  But in order to do something about it; you need some kind of trigger, some kind of voice in your head that goes, "hey, wait...  Am I sure that's not an excuse?".  Look for times when you say no.  Look for times when people challenge your automatic actions.
  2. Make it a long winded excuse.  Take the surface reasons and trace them back to the goals at the root of the statement.
  3. Lay them out against each other.  You can do this in your head, you can do this on a piece of paper, or a spreadsheet.  In a conversation with a friend.  It doesn't really matter how you do that.
  4. Choose.  Pick which goals you want to fulfil.  Or investigate how to do all the things you want to do.  Maybe there's an indoor exercise routine that isn't running outside that still is exercise but doesn't get you rained on.  Ideally meeting all the goals is the intention.
  5. Share.  Write back if it worked, if you discovered excuses you make that you can now stop making.  

The funny thing about excuses is that they don't feel like you are making excuses from the inside.  They feel like you are making decisions.  If you hold certain goals strongly enough, then it's clear when you fail to carry them out.

The great part about this process is you get to say, "yes!  I don't want to go for a run because I care about not getting sick", you get to feel good about your preferences.  Even as they take your other preferences and smush them into the ground.  You can feel good about choosing that path because it is your choice.

If that's not what you want - then it's time to change your preferences!  Wilfully and because you want it.  with your active brain, not with your passive-whatever "more junk foods" brain.

Next up: Noble excuses


Meta: this took two hours to write.  About half way I got tired and distracted and the rest took a lot longer to write.

Meetup : March - pub meetup

0 Elo 12 March 2017 02:37AM

Discussion article for the meetup : March - pub meetup

WHEN: 23 March 2017 06:30:00PM (+1100)

WHERE: level 2, 565 george st, sydney

Come along to our regular monthly pub meetup to talk all things math, science, magic, engineering, thinking, growth, reasoning and beliefs.

If you are an aspiring rationalist, a nerd, geek, scientist or just a quiet thinker - we can't wait to meet you to share ideas, discuss, dance off, learn and grow together.

See you there! Also, while you are at it - bring a friend along too!

https://www.facebook.com/events/224035624738084/

https://www.meetup.com/lesswrong-Sydney0/events/238352488/

Discussion article for the meetup : March - pub meetup

What is a problem?

1 Elo 12 March 2017 02:04AM

Original post: http://bearlamp.com.au/what-is-a-problem/


I originally posed this idea in my list of short stubs.  Under that heading I briefly outlined:

What is a problem - On the path of problem solving, understanding what a problem is will help you to understand how to attack it.  Nothing more complicated than this picture to explain it.  The barrier is a problem.  This doesn't seem important on it's own but as a foundation for thinking about problems it's good to have  sitting around somewhere.

whatisaproblem


I want to expand on that a bit more. I have labelled some states in this picture:

  • Present state
  • Goal state
  • Barrier to the goal
  • Path to the goal

Present state

All things being unchanged; prior to actions in pursuit of a goal, this is where you are.  Sitting at home in my chair at my computer I have not yet decided I want to go get ice-cream.  If I do nothing, I might eventually end up getting ice-cream by happenstance.  I may casually interact with friends who encourage me to get ice-cream with them this evening.  Nothing entirely stops me from getting ice-cream but also nothing propels me to do it either.  Without goals, without paths, you can live a lot of life, casually random-walking your way through the galaxy, encountering what you encounter, and responding at will to those stimuli.  We might describe a specimen who only cares about the present state, as having low agency.

Goal state

Let's pretend that we duplicated the universe, with the slight modification that I am now eating ice-cream.  That might be my goal.  Or as close as possible as I can get to that goal-state.  There are lots of things that are not ice-cream-goal state and lots of things that come close.  I could eat my toes, I could eat some cheese I have in my fridge which is a bit cold.  I could eat an apple, I could eat some ice cubes, I could drink a glass of milk, I could make my own ice-cream, I could give ice-cream to other people.  All of these things are not quite the goal, but are quite close.  Notice that this goal doesn't currently include my path to ice-cream.  Just that I have a goal now.

Path

We can visualise a path in many ways.  This should be unsurprising.  The fact is that if I want ice-cream, I need to get up out of my chair and look in my freezer for the ice-cream.  If I want to be eating it I probably also need a spoon and some way to open the lid of the container.  But actually when I get to the freezer I remember I don't keep ice-cream in my house because I am on a diet and that slows me down from eating ice-cream.  (Thanks past-me)  With that in mind my corrected path is actually to find my money, exit my house, and go to the store where I can buy more ice-cream.  (or make my own ice-cream) or any number of other pathways to ice-cream.

System 2 is very good at paths.  So good that in fact that it forgets about what can go wrong, and the barriers.  It's the part of my brain that will tell me that the nearest ice-cream is in the store and I can walk right up to the freezer section and shove the ice-cream into my face (Disregarding the need for spoons, the need for money to pay for the ice-cream, and the need to be wearing a shirt when I leave my house).

If this seems obvious; it is only obvious because it already all makes sense to you.  For someone without an understanding of states or paths or goals this might be a solid learning step.

Barrier

A barrier is what gets in the way of the path.  There are always barriers and most of them are overcome without a second though.  As you think deeper and harder about barriers they get more complicated, and start encompassing more details.  The barriers to me getting my ice-cream include knowing how to walk (which I know) and knowing how to use my eyeballs.  The simple barriers get overlooked because we already have them down.

The more complicated barriers start to pop up as you think more about the goal, or set up more complicated goals, or goals that are further away (geographically, mentally, metaphorically, some measure of hardness of goal).  

I have to go to the store to get ice-cream.  I need social convention down pat, so I remember to put a shirt on.  And I need money to pay for ice-cream. Hey, I probably need a functional democracy, not to mention electricity, production lines, hygiene and a whole lot more built on top just so I can do that.  Assuming all those great things are there, what if I don't have money.  Well I would have to work, which means I need a functional economy, some way to trade my abilities for currency (another thing I need) which I can later exchange for ice-cream.  

There's another type of barrier that doesn't quite fit with the rest, and that's the barrier inside my own head.  The barrier that says, "ice-cream, but I would have to get up out of my chair for that" and decides against it.  Ice-cream as a goal, is not so desperate that I would die if I didn't get it, but maybe there are goals that are more serious.  Having enough money, friends, family, what are your goals?  Have you seen the list of common human goals?  Each goal has barriers to completing it.  And each barrier is able to be stared at intently and questioned.

Is this barrier going to stop you?  Or are you making excuses?


Next post: On excuses and validity


Meta: This took an hour to write and will be a foundation for a few posts that follow.

If this doesn't seem all that big a deal, well. It's not.  Unless your problem solving, solution seeking barrier facing system is not functioning at optimum.  In that case: knowing how it works, knowing what is or is not functioning, being able to debug this process.  That's breaking down the meta barriers.

Inbox zero - A guide - v2 (Instrumental behaviour)

2 Elo 11 March 2017 09:34AM

This post is modified from the original.

Original post: Instrumental behaviour: Inbox zero - A guide

This version was first posted at: http://bearlamp.com.au/instrumental-behaviour-inbox-zero-a-guide-v2/


This will be brief.

Inbox zero is a valuable thing to maintain.  Roughly promoted around the web as having an empty inbox.

An email inbox collects a few things:

  • junk
  • automatic mail sent to you
  • personal mail sent to you
  • work sent to you
  • (maybe - work you send to yourself because that's the best way to store information for now)

An inbox is a way to keep track of "how much I have to do yet".  But that's not really what it is.  Somewhere along the lines from "I will send via courier a hand scribed letter to yonder", became newsletters, essays, spam, and many more things mixed together.  Because of this; iit'st's pretty hard to tell how much work is really in an inbox.  Is it 5 minutes to read this one, or do I have to write an essay back?  It's pretty important to be in understanding of what volume of work awaits you.  The trick to doing this is doing the incredibly valuable task of getting to inbox zero.  

The basic philosophy is that a full inbox and unread emails are not a good place to be keeping at bay the unknowns of "how much work I have to do".  Instead; other lists, folders, or organisation systems are better at that.  And if you don't already do it; have ONE list (or like, this advice is complicated, there are different types of lists, but if you have more than one of the same type of lists, you are bound to confuddle up your process and end up doing the other ones that you didn't need to do instead of the ones that you did need to do).

This guide is for anyone with bajillions of emails in their inbox, some read; some not.  If you have an email system in place; don't change it.  if not - get one.  (maybe not this one - but do it).


0. decide that this is a good idea (this can be done after) but mostly I want to say - don't half-arse this, you might end up in a no-mans-land between the old and the new.

1. A program.  

I recommend Thunderbird because it's free.  I used to work in a webmail system but the speed of webmail is a joke in comparison to local mail.  also offline-powers are handy from time to time.  (Disadvantage - not always having backups for everything, alternative: IMAP - duplicates online and offline.)

2. Archive system

This being 2017 we are going to make a few main folders.  

  • Old as all hell (or other friendly name)
  • 2015
  • 2016
  • 2017

Anything older than 2014 will probably never get looked at again; (just ask any email veteran) That's okay - that's what archives are for.

3. Old

Put anything old into the old folder

4. 2015

That was two years ago!  it will also go the same way as old-as-all-hell, but for now it can sit in 2015.

5. 2016

two options here - either:

a. leave them in your inbox and through the year sort them into the 2015 folder; remembering that things that old should go to sleep easy.

b. put them in 2016 where you can look at them when you need them.

6. 2017

There are a few simple behaviours that make the ongoing use of the system handy.

a. if you read a thing, and you have no more to do with it; file it away into 2017

b. if you read a thing and still have more to do; leave it in the inbox (If you can resolve it in under 5 minutes; try to do it now)

c. if you don't plan to read a thing AND it's not important AND you don't want to delete it; I strongly advise unsubscribing from the source; finding a way to stop them from coming in, or setting up a rule to auto-sort into a folder. (or set up a second email address for signing up to newsletters)

d.  Every automatically generated email has an unsubscribe button at the bottom.  If you have a one-time unsubscribe policy you will never have to see the same junk twice.

e. do some work; answer emails; send other emails etc.  and file things as you go.

f. mammoth - these emails are huge-ass things.  they are the result of a days worth of work to do, and send back the results.  Don't leave them in the inbox.  Something that big belongs on a serious to-do list.  You can generate other folders.  Including a folder for those juggling balls that are up in the air, waiting for the replies to come back, as well as mammoths, and a folder for emails from mum that you can't delete but you also can't quite file.

7. other email folders

sure sometimes things need a bit of preserving; sometimes things need sorting - go ahead and do that.  Don't let me stop you.

Using this fairly ordinary system I can get my total email time down to about half an hour a week.

Don't like it? find a better system.  But don't leave them all there.

Final note: I have an email address for things I subscribe to that is separate to the email address I give out or use; this way I can check my subscriptions quickly without mixing them up with work/life/important things.


This post came out of a discussion in the IRC.  It took 30mins to write.  This was written with no research and there are likely better systems in existence.  It partially incorporates a "Getting Things Done" attitude but I might post more about that soon.

Feel free to share your system in the comments, or suggest improvements.

Open Thread, March. 6 - March 12, 2017

4 Elo 06 March 2017 05:29AM

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Open Thread, Feb. 27 - March 5, 2017

3 Elo 27 February 2017 04:32AM

If it's worth saying, but not worth its own post, then it goes here.


Notes for future OT posters:

1. Please add the 'open_thread' tag.

2. Check if there is an active Open Thread before posting a new one. (Immediately before; refresh the list-of-threads page before posting.)

3. Open Threads should start on Monday, and end on Sunday.

4. Unflag the two options "Notify me of new top level comments on this article" and "

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