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Comment author: Alsadius 13 November 2014 05:39:54PM 4 points [-]

I've heard of them, but I was not familiar with the details of what they asked you to pledge. I'm feeling slightly redundant now...

Comment author: peter_hurford 13 November 2014 07:25:51PM 8 points [-]

You might be interested in "Why 10%".

Comment author: Lumifer 11 November 2014 06:08:30PM 1 point [-]

Suppose you first give $1 to MIRI because you believe MIRI is the charity with the highest marginal utility in donations right now. The only reason you would then give the next $1 in your charity budget to anyone other than MIRI would be that MIRI is no longer the highest marginal utility charity.

You're assuming you're certain about your estimates of the charities' marginal utility. If you're uncertain about them, things change.

Compare this to investing in financial markets. Why don't you invest all your money in a single asset with the highest return? Because you're uncertain about returns and diversification is a useful thing to manage your risk.

Comment author: peter_hurford 11 November 2014 06:51:23PM 4 points [-]

diversification is a useful thing to manage your risk

But presumably you're risk-neutral to altruism, but not risk-neutral for your own personal finances.

Comment author: 27chaos 07 November 2014 11:55:15PM *  2 points [-]

I like the intro to that. The four subdivisions were a smart idea, they helped make it easier to process quickly.

The "Organize" section felt a bit disorganized to me. It went into a lot of detail about emails, to do lists, and various zones. That was a lot of content to put in a mere subdivision, you might have been better off breaking it into its own post. If that option didn't seem like a good idea, you could at least have shortened the advice. Just guessing, it feels like half your word count went into this section, when it should have been closer to 1/6th based on your headers.

The "Do" section had a problem similar to this post's, though less egregious. You could probably have described the Pomodoro technique in one paragraph instead of several, or even just provided a link to Wikipedia or something like that.

The "Additional Tips" section was haphazard, though you probably already know that.

But don't let me discourage you. I liked and agreed with all of the content. A lot of my criticism here is nitpicky, I am trying to provide a lot of criticism in order to be as helpful as possible, but don't think that means I'm only seeing bad things. I liked the post a bunch despite these minor issues. Anything I failed to explicitly mention is probably something that I liked.

Also, I probably care more about word efficiency than the average reader because I did debate back in high school, and that places a premium on efficient communication because speeches are only a few minutes long.

Comment author: peter_hurford 08 November 2014 04:16:25PM 1 point [-]

Thanks, I appreciate the feedback. :)

Comment author: Klaus 08 November 2014 01:39:35PM 2 points [-]

Sounds like a good idea.

It may take some time. I'll let you know once I am finished.

Comment author: peter_hurford 08 November 2014 04:07:45PM 0 points [-]

Awesome. Let me know if there's anything I can do to support you -- if you want to talk methodology or anything, or if I'd just be a useful commitment device.

Comment author: Klaus 07 November 2014 08:30:06PM 2 points [-]

I am also a big fan of self-experiments.

However, I actively avoid or give little consideration to other people's self-experiments, because I think that we intuitively give stories way more credit than they deserve (shameless plug for my blog). For the same reason I don't write about my own self-experiments. They may persuade some people, but even the smallest controlled study achieves much better evidence.

I think we better focus on empirical data or at least a good theory (like exploiting cognitive biases) instead.

However, nearly all productivity advice is anecdotal. My guess is that most of the tips work as a placebo or don't do anything at all.

Luke Muehlhauser wrote a great post on self-help in general. Maybe we can extend the section on productivity and look on which part of the advice is actually supported by evidence. Maybe we can also rank it by confidence.

Best regards.

Comment author: peter_hurford 07 November 2014 10:04:01PM 1 point [-]

Sounds like a fun project to do some digging to produce a literature review. Is that something you'd be interested in doing? I'd definitely love to see the final product!

Comment author: 27chaos 07 November 2014 12:56:27AM *  1 point [-]

This essay felt exploratory to me, as though it was trying to take a concept and introduce it to the reader in a very thorough way that would be fully understood. It went into a lot of detail and sometimes described the same idea in two or three different ways. I think this approach is better suited for providing an academic argument than for providing actionable advice.

The Ugh Fields post is attempting to introduce a new concept, whereas this post is attempting to provide a list of useful steps that the novice can follow. So an academic approach fits the Ugh Fields post better. That said, I feel like even that post would be improved if it were condensed.

I have a slight dislike for lengthy posts. But it's the efficiency or inefficiency of a post that concerns me most. A medium post with dozens of insights is better than a short post with none.

The best productivity post that comes to my mind is Humans Are Not Automatically Strategic. I also like some of PJEby's stuff. It's not clear to me why I like those so much more than anything else, but that's how it is.

Comment author: peter_hurford 07 November 2014 05:39:43PM 1 point [-]

This essay felt exploratory to me, as though it was trying to take a concept and introduce it to the reader in a very thorough way that would be fully understood. It went into a lot of detail and sometimes described the same idea in two or three different ways. I think this approach is better suited for providing an academic argument than for providing actionable advice.

Thanks, that's valuable feedback.

How do you think this post compares to my other one? Does that one frustrate you as well?

Comment author: 27chaos 06 November 2014 04:05:51PM *  2 points [-]

Perhaps you've read productivity posts in the past and have never implemented the ideas in them, which causes cognitive dissonance. Or you visit LW when you're tired and you don't have the energy to work on self-improvement. Or reading a post on how to be productive makes you feel bad about your current level of productivity, which is demoralizing.

A bit of all of this is in play, but the lengthiness of the essay is also a factor. If I'm reading an essay that is supposed to help me become productive, I want the essay to make bold definitive statements and get directly to its point. If the essay delays its message, reading it turns into procrastination. I prefer plans that motivate me to begin execution right away.

Here's how this essay might have been written instead:

I've written the popular How to be Productive post. But I haven't always been this capable. I struggled with productivity for years before finding a method that allowed me to achieve my goals. While How to be Productive is written for someone already highly capable, this post will serve as a step by step guide for those who are currently struggling, just as I once was.

Step 1: Get some goals!

Before you do anything else, you need to clarify your goals. Most people think that productivity is about "how", but I've found that it starts with "why". Don't move on to the other steps until this one is complete.

Choose two goals, no more and no less. Write them down. Then focus on these goals, imagining in detail what it would be like to achieve them.

Step Two: Track Your Time!

You won't be able to achieve your goals if you don't dedicate any time to them. In order to do this, you need to know where your time is currently going. Using paper and a pencil, Google Calendar, Toggl, or some other time tracker, map out roughly what you think you do on a given week. If your week is atypical, wait until a more typical week. Don't worry about making the record perfectly precise, just do the best you can.

Record your time spent on various activities for at least a week before moving on to Step 3.

Step Three: Timebox

Look at your time log, and notice where you're wasting time most often. Make plans to change your behavior so you can work more often on your goals. Don't cut out too much free time, as breaks are important to your psychological wellbeing and you'll work much less effectively without having some of them.

Step Four: Commit

Willpower is not necessarily sufficient for success. To change your behavior, you need to change your incentives. Make yourself accountable for failures to stick to your planned schedule. Go to the gym with a friend and don't let them let you cancel. Sign up for Beeminder. Sign up for HabitRPG. Bet a friend. Start making checkmarks for every day on track and don't let yourself break the streak. Do more than one of these things. Do whatever it takes to get yourself on track!

Your commitment mechanism needs to be inescapable. Don't choose a friend who's gullible enough to believe you if you lie. Don't make a bet if its amount is small change. Unless you're not planning to fail in this attempt at productivity, making your commitment device more reliable can only help you, so err on the side of increased and extra reliable penalties.

It may take you a while to find a commitment mechanism that works for you. Experiment with it if necessary. Once you've found a system that lets you work on your goals consistently for three weeks, you are sufficiently ready to add a new goal into your schedule. Don't try this before three weeks are up, lest you overwhelm your capabilities early. Congratulations! You're now a highly productive human being!

I think this post is easier to read. It has lost some aspects of the original's charm, but the original was focused too much on trying to be charming and not enough on trying to be motivating or succinct. I think the brevity could be retained even while recovering the charm if I were a more practiced writer or were willing to spend more time on this comment.

Now that it is all written out in front of me, I can see another reason for my irritation is that I'm already familiar with all of these ideas. My own impression of them is that only Step 4 is likely to help the typical person, and only Step 4 is likely to be unfamiliar to the typical reader. I would have preferred to see a post concentrating entirely on commitment mechanisms and the strengths and weaknesses of various approaches, rather than a post that says "commitment mechanisms are very important; figure it out on your own by experimenting".

Comment author: peter_hurford 07 November 2014 05:37:27PM 1 point [-]

The true shortest productivity post would be: "stop reading this and just do something".

Comment author: Klaus 06 November 2014 08:08:33PM 10 points [-]

Hi, What you have written is the standard approach to productivity. It could be right out of Steven Coveys "7 Habits of Highly Successful People" or any book on productivity. I am sure it's a great start and works for many people.

But I am wondering: How much of it is based on evidence and how much is just correlated with being productive? What of it does actually make you more productive and what only makes you feel more productive?

I think commitment is important since it exploits the psychological effect of loss aversion. Give a large amount of money to one of your friends and tell him to only give it back when you reached your goal. Losses motivate much more than gains. That sounds like good advice.

I don't know the evidence for the other suggestions, but here is a different approach:

  1. Come up with some good goals.
  2. Every Morning choose your 2-3 most important tasks and do them right away. Don't do anything else unless you made good progress on your goals. Then you can check your emails.
  3. Forget about time tracking, schedules, etc.

Here is an even simpler approach:

  1. Forget about goals. Make it a habit to do important stuff instead.

Does your approach work better than these two? Nobody knows.

We really need some good studies about all the contradicting productivity tips that are out there.

Comment author: peter_hurford 07 November 2014 05:36:05PM 0 points [-]

Every Morning choose your 2-3 most important tasks and do them right away. Don't do anything else unless you made good progress on your goals. Then you can check your emails.

This is difficult for me to do because I go to work in the morning, and my most important tasks aren't always work related. I could try to wake up earlier, but this hasn't usually worked in the past.

Which leads me into...

Does your approach work better than these two? Nobody knows.

My best guess is that different methods work best for different people.

Though...

We really need some good studies about all the contradicting productivity tips that are out there.

That would be interesting, to get a good high-level view of different productivity workflows, see who they work for, and see if there are any common factors for the groups that gather around certain workflows.

-

Also relevant: Katja Grace on "personal experimentations"

Comment author: oge 07 November 2014 02:46:22AM 0 points [-]

I noticed that the first link in the essay, "I'm pretty productive", is broken. What were you referencing there?

Comment author: peter_hurford 07 November 2014 05:18:09PM 0 points [-]

Link fixed, sorry.

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 06 November 2014 10:12:52AM 5 points [-]

Thanks for writing this post, Peter! Out of curiosity, how did your actual productivity "takeoff" compare to the idealized one you present here? I have a hunch that there's a lot of randomness in whether people who work to improve their productivity end up "taking off" or not, and that the factors critical for "taking off" are not always the ones you think that are critical. (For example, this psychology research makes me a bit pessimistic that your Step 1 will work consistently for a broad range of people.)

Another interesting thing about productivity: even after training yourself to be productive, you're liable to fall prey to new tank syndrome and lose your good habits if you change your context (after graduating from college, moving to a new city, etc.) I've experienced this a couple of times.

Comment author: peter_hurford 06 November 2014 02:40:26PM 2 points [-]

how did your actual productivity "takeoff" compare to the idealized one you present here?

It was pretty similar to this here, except I took on way too many goals at once and spent way too long thinking that Beeminder was scary and not something that would benefit me.

-

I have a hunch that there's a lot of randomness in whether people who work to improve their productivity end up "taking off" or not

I'd be interested in hearing more about that.

-

even after training yourself to be productive, you're liable to fall prey to new tank syndrome and lose your good habits if you change your context (after graduating from college, moving to a new city, etc.)

I did transition from school to job without too much loss. I've found it usually takes me about three to four weeks to recover my habits in a context switch (e.g., school to internship, internship to school, school to job).

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