This is the public group instrumental rationality diary for November 1-15. 

It's a place to record and chat about it if you have done, or are actively doing, things like:

  • Established a useful new habit
  • Obtained new evidence that made you change your mind about some belief
  • Decided to behave in a different way in some set of situations
  • Optimized some part of a common routine or cached behavior
  • Consciously changed your emotions or affect with respect to something
  • Consciously pursued new valuable information about something that could make a big difference in your life
  • Learned something new about your beliefs, behavior, or life that surprised you
  • Tried doing any of the above and failed

Or anything else interesting which you want to share, so that other people can think about it, and perhaps be inspired to take action themselves.  Try to include enough details so that everyone can use each other's experiences to learn about what tends to work out, and what doesn't tend to work out.

The poll earlier this month seems to be sufficiently in favor of maintaining the current schedule that extra votes are unlikely to change things much, but if you'd really like to register your opinion, you are welcome to do so here.

Thanks to cata for starting the Group Rationality Diary posts, and to commenters for participating.

Immediate past diary:  October 16-31

Rationality diaries archive

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I recently had an opportunity to go backpacking for the first time. It seemed like something I'd dislike, so my first reaction was to pass. When I'm pretty confident I'll dislike something I've never tried, I'm right maybe 80% of the time. On reflection, a ~20% chance of finding a new and exciting hobby sounded pretty good, so I decided to go—the expected value of information was very high.

It turns out I actually don't like backpacking.


I've noticed that the people most available to try an activity with will often be bad choices for a beginner to accompany, because they're selected for being too intense. This seems particularly common with outdoors activities.

I don't know if this is relevant to your experience.

Not in this case. We had a couple experienced people and many novices.

Finished 2 classes from Udacity. Not important for the learned content (it was two "introduction to programming" classes), but as a test of my ability to persevere. I think the online education's big danger is people starting and not finishing; and also, starting and not finishing many things is my personal weakness. So by 100% completing of two classes (watching all lessons mostly at 1.5× speed, making notes, doing all exercises) I proved to myself I can do it. Now I am in a middle of a more difficult class.

Actually, the difficult part was to realize that with online education, one still has to take notes, just like in an offline classroom. It is too easy to understand something now, and forget it completely a few days later. With notes, continuing the classes was relatively easy... it feels like another variant of online procrastination, which is something I am already good at. :D It's not the best use of my time, but certainly better than average.

EDIT: It's 3 classes now! :)

the difficult part was to realize that with online education, one still has to take notes, just like in an offline classroom

Aha. That may be part of what's been missing in my previous attempts. Well, that and accountability, but I think I've solved that one

I've been keeping it up for about 2/3rds of a month by now, so it seems to have worked quite well: I have made my first major step towards being productive. I did it with several tricks.

One: At the end of every day, make a to-do list for tomorrow, and set it as my computer background. Now, every time I get on the computer, I am reminded of which task I am supposed to do.

Two: Logging where all my time goes. I can look at the weeks and identify productive and non-productive times, have ready outside view information available on how long something will take, etc.

Three: (Well, I'm still in the process of forming this habit. Not solidified yet.) I set things up so that every time I get on the internet, an online timer pops up. It forces me to precommit to how long I want to be on. If it rings and I am not doing important work, I get off immediately. Plus, it forces only checking important sites.

Four: Having an imaginary friend to brainstorm future plans with, bounce new ideas off of, stare judgmentally at me if I am doing some outrageously useless thing, give advice, provide helpful daily reminders, and talk about feelings with. Very effective in getting me to switch from "This sucks" mode into "What can be done about this?" mode.

Something I've noticed about productivity: It only provides a marginal speedup in getting work done. The total amount of things to do remains the same. The main advantage is that it turns all the little "procrastination breaks" through the day into an hour or two of free time all in one big chunk. It consolidates non-used time so something cool can be done with it. And I now rarely have to stress about deadlines. I have only had to use caffeine once in the past month.

When I was hired for my job, it was on a one-year contract, with the expectation of giving me a permanent contract when that expired. That one year recently ran out, making it a good time to ask for a raise. My salary felt good to me, but I did some research and asked friends and apparently it's pretty low. So I figured, okay, when the contract-renewal conversation happens, I'll ask for a 50% increase, hoping to get a 1/3 increase.

It got to a week before my contract expired, and I was still waiting for the contract-renewal talk to happen, and feeling vaguely confused as to why it hadn't; and one of my bosses told me that my new contract was getting held up somewhere in the system because the salary on it was more than a 10% raise, so he and my other boss were having to fight HR to get it for me.

At this point I realised that I probably should have made this talk happen sooner, but now it felt too late (I was probably wrong about that); and I felt very much like an NPC, waiting around for the heros to finish a quest on my behalf that I hadn't even sent them on.

The new contract came a few days later, with a 1/6 raise, which is what I'd considered most likely.

I've started college recently and it has brought about a number of interesting changes in my life.

  • For one, ever since my first week of college I abruptly quit my habit of spending too much time online, with absolutely no effort or intent to do so, after having struggled with it, well, ever since I had first had a computer on my hands. (By the way -- long time no see, LW.) I simply lost interest in this activity, and started craving for other pastimes instead. Results: my ability to get things done increased, but at the cost of a much poorer information diet; also, a little voice in the back of my head keeps telling me that my English appears to have taken a hit too.

  • I began exercising regularly, or at least as often as my new schedule allows. Again, I no longer even need to try to motivate myself to begin or to keep exercising. I just do it whenever I can find some time for it; also, I've noticed that the key to lasting longer on the treadmill is being sufficiently distracted so as to not stare obsessively at the time/distance/calorie display screen. Together with no longer having time to eat proper meals, I've been losing weight like crazy recently.

  • I made a conscious effort to be more extroverted among my new peer group. (In my natural state, I'm a complete hermit. I could go for weeks or months without any social interaction and not miss it as long as I'm not also intellectually isolated.) This is how I've found out that my social skills are not as bad as I originally assumed, as long as I stop trying to display poor social skills to signal my nerd identity. I've still got a long way to go, though, until I can say I can navigate the social landscape adequately.

  • My relationship with work and studying has changed in a weird way: before, I really truly identified with these goals, but in spite of this, I routinely failed at pursuing them. Recently though, I couldn't bring myself to even care about studying for the most part, and focused mostly on social pursuits; yet, when I get tired of having a life (which happens pretty often -- I'm an extreme introvert, remember?), the first thing I seek out is some nice yummy brain candy to captivate me and take my mind off recent events. It gives me a sense of stability, makes me feel like my old self again. For someone like me, social interaction is so demanding that the monotony of doing some math problems feels almost relaxing by comparison. (Honestly, it would have never occurred to me that the key to working more is to make a habit out of doing something that feels less productive and yet more stressful than work.)

  • I'm working on completely eliminating passive-aggressiveness from my behavioral repertoire, and had some successes so far.

  • Things have been pretty bad in the rationality department. I've noticed that I have a nasty tendency to throw my priors out of the window sometimes without surprise following a dramatic change in estimated probabilities, and also that my level of optimism/pessimism varies less with what actually happens and more with how late it is and how tired I am. I've also noticed that, having noticed these things, I failed to account for them as I should have.

  • Feeling completely underwhelmed with college so far. I could go this far and stay on top of all my classes without even giving a damn the whole time. And I haven't even gone into something easy (hence, I was expecting greater challenges). The next time I'm in a state of mind in which I feel like learning, I'll definitely not be relying on my college classes.

After realizing I was forgetting obvious next actions to work on, I implemented an autofocus style TODO list four weeks ago. Still keeping it up. The core idea is to keep a fixed size live segment of the TODO list, and only work off that. I keep the list in a squared paper notebook, with the live segment being a column of around 30 items. When the live list starts getting full, it gets closed and the remaining items get either abandoned or transferred to the next live list.

The live list keeps the system focused and prevents the list from expanding uncontrollably into a despair-inducing blob. Keeping the whole thing on paper instead of a file makes the paging structure the natural way to arrange the list instead of something that needs to be explicitly maintained.

I keep separate pages for someday/maybe items, which are the sort of hopeless blob TODO list that just keeps growing, so that I can get ideas I come up with out of my head with no expectations of getting around to doing them in the immediate future. These can serve as ideas for stuff that can get broken down to more actionable pieces and promoted to the live list.