[Read bolded words to skim]

Below are a bunch of tips, systems, and devices for improving productivity. I don't mean to claim I know a lot about productivity—I think there is likely a lot of useful advice I am missing. If you are new to thinking about productivity, a lot of this stuff might be useful, though it is probably better to instead aim for the mindset that can generate these tips and habits for yourself. For this, I recommend attending a Center for Applied Rationality workshop, reading the CFAR handbook, checking out Neel Nanda's blog, and/or reading Rationality: A to Z (podcast form here).

My recommendations are in very rough order of how much I recommend them, based on how excited I am/would expect someone else to be to know about the tip (my top recommendation being Things 3 + Apple Watch). Though I didn't try that hard to order things in this way.

Table of Contents

  • TODO List: Things 3 + Apple Watch
  • Computer Restrictions: Cold Turkey
  • Sleep: Tips
  • Exercise: Tips
  • Phone Restrictions: ScreenTime or Freedom
  • Reading list: Instapaper
  • Device: Computer Monitor
  • Internet speed: Ethernet cable and good internet service
  • Device: Mouse
  • Miscellaneous tips
  • Tracking device usage: RescueTime or Toggl or Forest
  • Useful programs/apps/sites
  • Useful browser extensions
  • Device: MacBook (borrow first)
  • Password Manager: Dashlane (free for Stanford) or NordPass (free?)
  • Other products


TODO List: Things 3 + Apple Watch

  • Things 3 (ETA: Mac required, making me recommend a Mac more than I would otherwise)
    • Can add todos, blog post ideas, projects ideas, any other useful notes from my apple watch with my voice very easily through my watch (takes two watch screen taps)
    • On the computer, can add stuff to your todo list with a keyboard shortcut from any app
      • E.g. when reading an email, I can press ctrl + space, and this pops up in the middle of my screen. There is even a hyperlink to the email in the description of the todo
    • Move TODOs to specific dates in the future such that they appear in your inbox on that date
      • I use this at least once per week, surprisingly useful
      • Useful for things like things you want to apply to but the application doesn't open for months, people you want to reach out to when traveling to a new place, bumping an important email after a week if there is no reply, etc
    • Have lists for things other than todos
      • Mistakes or bugs
      • Blog post ideas
      • Project ideas
      • People to talk to
      • Things to learn
      • "Someday" todos
  • Apple Watch (ETA: iPhone required, making me recommend an iPhone more than I would otherwise)
    • Be reminded of all calendar events with wrist buzz
    • Add to-dos, blog post ideas, project ideas, etc. easily with voice
    • See to-do list from watch
    • See the time
    • Easy access timer
      • Laundry timer
      • Time blocking tasks
    • Music/podcasts/books on the go, during exercise

Computer restrictions: Cold Turkey

  • You can create "Blocks" which are sets of websites and programs to block
  • For each block, you can create a schedule
  • For each block, you can create a system for turning off the block
    • Default — just turn it off
    • Password
    • Type in N random characters
      • Surprisingly effective, allows you to create barriers of variable lengths to accessing certain websites and programs
  • My computer blocks (ask me and I can email you an importable file)
    • Communications Block (5 random chars, usually unlocked)
      • Facebook Messenger app and site
      • Mail app
      • Slack app and site
      • iMessage app
    • Distractions (20 random chars, usually unlocked)
    • EA Forum and LessWrong (10 random chars, unlock ~once per week)
      • EA forum
      • Lesswrong
    • Facebook (unlocked 7-10 am, 10 random chars)
      • Facebook
    • Youtube and Games (250 random chars)
      • Youtube
      • Addicting Games
      • Sudoku
      • Chess
      • Skyrim
      • Minecraft
      • Other computer games
    • Non-FB Social Media (unlocked 7-10 am, 50 random chars)
      • Twitter
      • Instagram
      • LinkedIn
      • Reddit
      • Tiktok
      • Tumblr
      • GroupMe
    • Miscellaneous
      • Anything else that distracts you

Sleep: buy anything that can improve your sleep

  • Silicone earplugs
  • Eye mask
  • Fluffy Pillows
  • A duvet or nice comforter
  • Mattress topper

Exercise: Find a fulfilling form of exercise that you will do consistently

  • Try lots of different forms of exercise
    • Game with friends (basketball, soccer, frisbee)
    • Dancing to music alone
    • Beat saber
    • Rock climbing
    • Ultimate frisbee
  • Try only listening to your favorite podcast when you exercise
  • Try buying things to make exercise more likable
    • VR headset for Beat Saber or other exercise games (borrow first)
    • Running shoes that you think look really good (maybe somewhat works, not sure)
    • Very fast swimming suit
    • Basketball shoes and nice basketball
    • GameCube for Dance Dance Revolution
    • Hula hoops, weighted juggling set, cyr wheel, balance board, unicycle

Phone restrictions: Screentime (iOS) or Freedom

  • My system
    • I don’t know the ScreenTime passcode, and it is written in a notebook that I never look at
    • When I need to edit the ScreenTime settings, I have someone else type in the passcode and show them the notebook
    • App store blocked
    • Deleted all apps except utilities, reading list, and podcasts
      • Calendar
      • Todo list (Things 3)
      • Safari (heavily restricted)
      • Google Maps
      • Uber
      • Instapaper (reading list)
      • Podcast App
      • Uber Eats
      • Financial apps
      • Audible
      • Music
      • Other utility apps
    • Blocked all websites except necessities
      • Wikipedia
      • Google searches
      • Health-advice websites
      • Car repair websites
      • Restaurant review websites
      • Airline related websites
      • Financial websites
    • Advice: when traveling or doing anything other than very routine work-life, unblock everything

Reading list: Instapaper

  • Instapaper app, program, and extension
    • Easily add any URL to your reading list
    • Read from phone, iPad, computer
  • Read at meals
  • Instapaper is one of the only "fun" things on my phone

Device: Computer Monitor

  • Makes a number of tasks faster and easier
  • Less cluttered screen
  • According to a study (sponsored by a monitor company), people using a 24-inch screen were 52% more productive than those using an 18-inch screen (link).

Internet speed: Ethernet cable and good internet service

  • Ethernet cable for computer plugged into your router
  • Get better internet service — I've never actually bought service, so would be happy for someone to give a recommendation

Device: Mouse

  • Significantly faster than a trackpad (for me)
  • Even if it isn't at first, it should eventually be faster I think?

Miscellaneous tips

  • Using bookmarks and bookmark folders in google chrome
  • Move your phone to a hard to reach place to make it less distracting
  • For tasks you are avoiding, instead of doing the task, just think about doing it in detail
    • Eg "First I would find webpage A, contact information B, write the introduction sentence of an email, ..."
  • Accountability bets
    • Make commitments with your friends of the form "If I succeed/fail at X, then I have to/get to Y"
    • Try leveraging an irrational fear
      • Leveraging a rational fear means that the losing condition is actually bad, but an irrational fears coming true is likely not "actually bad"
      • Eg I found that making the losing condition be "eat a bowl of cereal" was much more motivating than "pay $300 dollars" because I am irrationally afraid of cereal
  • Your environment shapes your actions a lot
    • Have a different place for different activities:
      • Sleeping
      • Working
      • Eating
      • Reading
      • Socializing
    • Wearing different clothes when you work is an example of another thing that might help you be more in the productive mindset
      • Your brain infers what behavior it should employ based on the environment
      • "I'm wearing nice clothes must be time to work"
  • Vitamins
    • Iron, B12, Omega 3, creatine (might improve cognition, apparently. Feel free to source in comments)
    • Have a sugary multivitamin so you actually take all of your vitamins
    • Practice taking all of them at once
      • Faster and no time cost to adding a new pill
      • Though micromorts from the possibility of choking?
  • Shortcuts
  • Break reminders and mantras: Timeout
    • I display "rationality" mantras like
    • Display things like "have you stood up in the past 30 minutes?" "have you had water recently?"

Tracking device usage: RescueTime or Toggl or Forest

  • It can be really useful to see how your time is actually spent
  • For example, a year ago I realized I was spending 3-5 hours on messaging apps
    • Since then I have made a conscious effort to minimize time on those apps as much as possible
  • Or maybe you spend 45 minutes on social media per day
    • Imagine replacing that with conversations or a fun kind of exercise instead

Useful programs/apps/sites

  • Google Calendar
  • x.ai (instead of Calendly)
    • The free version of x.ai allows having multiple meeting types simultaneously
    • If you are willing to pay, Calendly or SavvyCal might be better, haven't looked into it much
    • Free version of SavvyCal also might be better than x.ai or Calendly, haven’t looked into it
  • iOS Automator App
    • For example, can make a keyboard shortcut to close/open all messaging apps
    • Or keyboard shortcut for opening a new google doc in your browser
  • RemNote (free version of Roam Research)

Useful browser extensions

Device: MacBook (borrow first)

  • I'm still unsure if it is worth it
  • Things seem faster and smoother
  • I would not have switched to a Mac if someone hadn't given me one for free
  • I am now more in favor of using a Mac than I used to be, though still not sure

Password Manager: Dashlane or NordPass (free?)

  • Security: allows for all passwords to be long and different
  • Time and energy saved: some saved, probably not that much though

Other products

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3 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 10:01 AM

Iron, B12, Omega 3, creatine (might improve cognition, apparently. Feel free to source in comments)

In the Four Hour Body, Tim Ferriss asserts that more Iron is correlated with higher mortality and suggest that you should rather do blood donations to reduce the amount of iron then to take supplements for it. 

Have a sugary multivitamin so you actually take all of your vitamins

This ignores the question of whether taking a multivatamin provides benefits and most studies of multivitamins don't find benefits.

I think it's highly questionable to override your bodies sense of what vitamins it wants with sugar in the case of multivitamins because your body might have a good reason to get you to avoid a product that's unhealthy for you.

Tons of handy stuff here, thanks!

I love the sound of Cold Turkey. I use Freedom for my computer, and I use it less than I otherwise would because of this anxious feeling, almost certainly exaggerated but still with a basis in reality, that whenever I start a full block it is a Really Big Deal and I might accidentally screw myself over - for example, if I suddenly remember I have to do something else. (Say, I'm looking for houses and it turns out I actually need to go look something up). But Cold Turkey, I'd just block stuff a lot more freely without the anxiety - I'll know if I really need something I can unlock it.  All while having the calm that comes from Twitter not being immediately accessible.

I also find the Freedom interface really terrible and that trivial inconvenience can keep me from starting blocks.

How often would you say you spend time-you-don't-endorse after unlocking something with the N random characters? Is it pretty effective at keeping you in line?

[+][comment deleted]3y10