Comment reposted from (link) for exposure


Two months have passed and I’m glad to say the LW Study Hall on tinychat is still active and alive. Since judging from the comments it kind of looks like we’ve moved on from tinychat, a review like this might be useful for anyone who hasn’t been there yet.

My first sessions on the chat were driven more by curiosity than anything else since I didn’t believe it would be really effective for me – I’ve felt that I procrastinate too much, but it never occurred to me that working together with other people might make me more effective. I was proven wrong.

Since those first sessions I’ve been online almost every day and got to see different people come and go, and some people stay. It didn’t take long for me to feel like a part of the “chat community”, and to feel motivated to work to see the regulars more often, some of which I might even consider friends now. The atmosphere is friendly, people make an active effort to integrate newcomers in the “community” and I have yet to see an argument that isn’t constructive. Though the breaks are a bit flexible, people usually don’t overstretch it and it’s generally good practice not to chat during a working phase. More introverted people can participate without taking part in the chat much and without broadcasting video.

So, what makes this chat so effective in combating procrastination? Pomodoros are the “flow” of the chat. Since you’re working with other people, you are much more likely to stick to the pomodoro cycle than if you set those constraints for yourself. That doesn’t just mean you keep the breaks relatively short, but you also don’t work too long. I find that if I work alone, I tend to keep at it for longer than I can keep concentrated. When I do take a break I don’t really have anything else to do, so I might start to procrastinate, leading to a work cycle where the “breaks” can be as long as the working phases. This has been my main issue with structuring my working day, and I was more surprised than I probably should have been to see that problem solved by working in a group. Judging from my own experiences and those of others I believe everyone struggling with akrasia should at least try if it works for him/her. For those who struggle with akrasia more, it might be useful to combine several techniques such as precommitting to fixed working dates, showing your screen on camera or finding someone on the chat who will remind you (e.g. via skype) to show up again if you’ve been absent for longer (or any number of other methods like beeminder).

There are a few issues with the chat, especially that tinychat isn’t always stable. The limited options have also been subject of complaints, but it’s so far the best thing we’ve found. I’m optimistic that a better option will be found or created in the long term – the more people frequent the chat, the more likely it gets. Covering all time slots hasn’t worked out perfectly, but we usually have good “coverage” during the UTC afternoon/evening, so that is probably a good time to try. In case the chat is empty, don’t be discouraged, just try again later. I will try to put as many of my working hours in the precommitment schedule (link on top of the chat window) and hope others will do so more often too, so it’s possible to sync up working time.

Over these two months the lesswrong chat has become a substantial part of my life that I really want to keep, ideally for much longer. While it is no longer an experiment for me, I want to invite you to try it, if you haven’t already. I’d be glad to welcome you on the chat anytime. :)


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20 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 7:57 PM

I reposted this comment on discussion because I think more people need to consider visiting the chat, but as someone who almost never posts anything, I wasn't sure if that's proper "posting protocol". I'd be glad about feedback concerning that.

Reminding and updating people about a useful tool (that also happens to build community) seems like a great use of Discussion.

I was not aware that this existed; thank you for sharing.

I'm a regular there. Here are my observations.

This is fun. I haven't had this much social fun on-line for a decade. I'm a corporate stooge, and usually sitting at a keyboard and typing for a living is not that social and not that fun for me. As much as I enjoy spending time there, the mere social fun is not the purpose. I've noticed that whenever I join the chat without a clear goal, I tend to drift through pomodoros without achieving that much. I first need to do some GTD-style analysis of what project I want to work on, and what are actionable steps to take during a pomodoro. I like to ask the participants about their projects and I like and find it useful to briefly explain mine.

Apparently a little social salience can go a long way with me. BTW, that is a possibly useful observation for team mangers, and it agrees with what random pop-psychology of human motivation I've heard about.

I'm worried about the long-term prospects of this idea. I think most of the participants are students. During the first summer vacation season we'll likely see a big drop in participation.

Personally I've actually already covered the university spring break with this chat. I'm not sure how it's for other students, but I don't actually get fixed holidays, I get "lecture-free time", with a lot of internships, exams and such. Then those lecture-free times aren't synchronized in different countries, so I wouldn't worry too much about it. I'm actually looking forward to using my pomodoros for things that are more about personal development than university in the summer break.

What's the minimum amount of people it needs to be effective for you? Not sure how I'd do with just one other person.

I agree with BerryPick on the optimal amount of people. Usually it gets more fun with more people, but for disciplined working you don't need more than two people that are actually around. You should maybe try and see for yourself what works best. The schedule for the following week should be full enough to pick a time where at least one person is around.

For me, it's been effective with just one other person (often tkadlubo himself :p) in the room, but I find it's most effective when there are three to five others working.

Are you differentiating between people who provide a video feed and people who don't? (I just checked it out a while ago, and there were 2 text participants and 0 video participants... I didn't really see how it could be an effective motivator, and closed the tab for the sake of stimulus discrimination.)

Generally for me people who have video on are useful and people who dont have video aren't. However there are other factors as well. For example, someone who has their video on but is not doing anything useful will not do much for my productivity.

I'm worried about the long-term prospects of this idea. I think most of the participants are students. During the first summer vacation season we'll likely see a big drop in participation.

I think you're probably right about that. I'm a pretty regular user, but I don't intend to log on at all starting in August. Still, it is enormously useful and effective for me at the moment.

You've submitted the link to the chat room weirdly, Anne.

Thanks, it should be fixed now.

This is a pretty accurate post in regards to my experience with the room as well.

Also just for reference - we get maybe around 10 people on peak times of which 7-8 have webcams on. During active non-peak times you might expect a median of 4 people with webcams on in addition to 1-2 without.

When are the peak/active times?

Peaks are usually observed around later afternoon-early evening for UTC/GMT/EUROPE, active times are Day time for UTC/GMT/EUROPE (from mid morning till late in the evening) with various fluctuations. The schedule that some people use might provide some extra information but given that only a few people use it, it would not tell you much.

Please note that the Study Hall is password-protected as of today. The password is "lw". The relevant discussion post (explaining why we chose a password) is available here: link

[-][anonymous]10y 3

Thank you for posting this!

I'd like to give an update on my experiences, too (my comments after my first few times in the chatroom are here).

I've found that, lately, it seems norms are slightly less enforced than when I first started using the chatroom. However, there are a couple of users who do a very good job, when they are around, and that may be why the other users are slacking (I include myself in this criticism). Also, I agree that we are beginning to consider each other friends, so we feel more comfortable relaxing around one another, and thus, perhaps, we do not have as much of an intrinsic push to tell everyone else to go back to work. However, I emphasize that this only seems to be a slight change to me.

I now can say definitively that I am more productive when working in the chatroom than alone, even when I am using the pomodoro technique alone. I find that I am even more effective when co-working with a single partner in person (preferably someone whom I am friends with, but don't socialize with much, outside of work times). However, I don't have the motivation to find a partner and plan meetings right now, so the chatroom is a great second alternative. And I enjoy the time I spend there, which is important to me.

A big problem for a lot of us is making it to the chatroom in the first place. I hypothesize (at the very least, for myself) that this is because it takes more energy to work in the chatroom than to work alone (even if the chatroom is more fun). Being in a social situation is a stressor...and that's the idea, as it should lead us to to do more work...but the stress in and of itself and/or the more work that gets done leads to a greater expenditure of energy, and thus it takes a lot of motivation to go to such a place in the first place. The precommitment sheet is a good tool, but I don't use it, and I think I would be best helped by making a routine to come at a certain time on certain days of the week, every week. Others might find the precommitment sheet quite effective enough.

I do like the chatroom a lot; I do think it increases my productivity, and I plan to continue using it. I'm actually connected right now, though no one else is there.

It also would be pretty cool if Eliezer were to join us from time to time. haha.

I have a problem. I really like the study hall and I like working in our citys library. The problem is that the network of the library doesn't allow tinychat. My first thought was "hm, why not google this problem?" and that gave me an idea! Why not use google instead of tinychat? I have to confess that I've never used google hangouts so far. But it seemed to me like a good idea to suggest google hangouts as an alternative to tinychat. Hangouts seems to work even on this weird city network and google is usually a good choice, no matter what (haters gonna hate).

This is just a suggestion, but I'd really like to hear what you guys (especially the frequent study hall users of course) think about it.

Yeah, tinychat isn't really optimal.

The idea to move it to google hangouts has been around for a while. The problem with it was that creating a permanent hangout is difficult, as far as I know.

You're welcome to look into solutions for that problem though! :) Maybe you can also find a solution for the library not allowing it for now. Maybe a proxy?