This is an extension of a comment I made that I can't find and also a request for examples. It seems plausible that, when giving advice, many people optimize for deepness or punchiness of the advice rather than for actual practical value. There may be good reasons to do this - e.g. advice that sounds deep or punchy might be more likely to be listened to - but as a corollary, there could be valuable advice that people generally don't give because it doesn't sound deep or punchy. Let's call this boring advice

An example that's been discussed on LW several times is "make checklists." Checklists are great. We should totally make checklists. But "make checklists" is not a deep or punchy thing to say. Other examples include "google things" and "exercise." 

I would like people to use this thread to post other examples of boring advice. If you can, provide evidence and/or a plausible argument that your boring advice actually is useful, but I would prefer that you err on the side of boring but not necessarily useful in the name of more thoroughly searching a plausibly under-searched part of advicespace. 

Upvotes on advice posted in this thread should be based on your estimate of the usefulness of the advice; in particular, please do not vote up advice just because it sounds deep or punchy. 

New to LessWrong?

New Comment
573 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 12:59 PM
Some comments are truncated due to high volume. (⌘F to expand all)Change truncation settings

When in need of a conversation topic, ask a question about the other person's life. Anything about their life. (If I can't think of something else, I ask about weekend plans.) Listen for what part of their answer they're most interested in. Ask followup questions about that thing. Repeat as necessary.

People like to talk about themselves. This cuts awkward silences down to nothing and makes people like you. I've also learned all sorts of fascinating things about my acquaintances.

Although it should be noted that while this is usually a good idea, it doesn't work on everyone and you should notice if your conversation partner doesn't seem very enthusiastic about talking about themselves. (Yes, I do mean myself - not a big fan of vacuously discussing what I'm up to, most of the time.)

In this situation, what would you suggest for your would-be interlocutors? Would it be acceptable for them to make clear that the conversational ball is now in your court and be fine with nonconversation meanwhile?
Realistically? They'd start asking me how my things are going, and then I'd give some vague general comments and instead ask them how their things are going and then we'd talk about their things. Not sure what to do in the symmetrical case. Maybe try to find non-personal topics to discuss (e.g. books and other fiction, politics, anything else) with the major challenge being finding out which topics both people are interested in (and don't disagree too much on).
The stereotypical example of that is the weather.
Is anyone actually interested in the weather? I thought it was the stereotypical thing that people turn to when they can't think of anything interesting to talk about.

It is the sterotypical thing to talk about, but the point is not the actual weather. It is signal that they would rather be talking to you than be silent. It's an invitation to start a conversation, since people don't routinely come up to you and say 'I would like to being a conversation with you - please suggest a topic'. They say 'Raining again!' instead.

Also, talking about a shared experience is powerful, no matter what that experience is. Compare other generic conversation topics: if you both saw the same movie lately, or both watched [$SPORTS_EVENT], then that's a shared experience. You can't necessarily rely on the other person having seen the latest cultural whatsit, but you can be pretty sure they've experienced the weather.
I'm somewhat interested in the weather-- it affects my quality of life. One problem with being asked about one's life-- when some people do it, I feel like I'm being interrogated. I've got a friend who makes it feel like being interviewed by someone who's got a friendly interest, but I'm don't even have a theory about what creates the different effects. I've got some ability to do small talk. What I'd like to be able to do is bet better at making a transition to more interesting topics.
Hmmmm. Challenge accepted.
Agreed! Regardless of the reason, pressing someone who wants to disengage is a Bad Thing. (Although I'll note that, if done right, this technique doesn't have to be vacuous. The key is to let the other person guide the conversation towards the things they actually do care about. This takes practice, but it's worth it. Interested people are interesting.)

Do you have more examples of specific questions you like to ask? I've been trying to figure out a good way to get people to talk about the people in their lives (friends, family etc.), just cause I usually like to hear people talk about that.

Simple things I've asked are:

  • Do you have family around here?
  • Do you have siblings?
  • Do you have roommates?

    But I'd like to figure out how to get people to tell me stories and descriptions of the people in their life.

EDIT: I just now realized that your comment above is a great example of the sort of follow-up questions I'm talking about. Well played.

Examples from the past week:

  • Started with the "how was your week" thing. The guy had been on an MIT board discussing their strategy for building MOOCs, and I got to hear a lot about business models in education and how that's changing with technology.
  • Him: "I'll be leaving early tomorrow." Me: "Where are you going to be?" Well, he's helping his son move, and also trying to deal with the previous landlord because apparently his grandkids damaged the walls, and there's all sorts of drama around that...
  • I overheard someone talking about hockey. I know absolutely nothing about the sport, so I asked some extremely basic question, I can't recall what. I learned a little about the structure of the game, and then a lot about how stricter enforcement of the rules in recent decades has changed the dominant playstyles.
  • Right now, in my IRC window, I am hearing about changes to World of Warcraft in the ~5 years since I've played after asking about a cryptic comment someone made about downloading a patch.

As you can see, this is a... (read more)

I really like that. It gives you a good sense of how they relate to people and also how probably what they value, assuming they give any indication at all of why those people are important.
Thanks! :)

Try to live close to where you work. Failing that, try to work close to where you live. Commuting takes a lot of time and you don't get paid for it.

Alternative: commute effectively. Taking a train to NYC from Long Island I get almost 2 hours to read/watch lectures or entertainment. Some days these are 2 best hours of the day.

A few months ago I got a new job that required me to commute for two hours each day. I tried doing many different productive things while sitting on the bus (the means of transportation I used), including reading, listening to audiobooks, watching videos, and even meditating. Eventually, however, I reached the conclusion that doing Anki reviews (using the AnkiDroid app) was, by a wide margin, superior to all these other activities. If you own a smartphone, you might want to give it a try. (And if you don't own a smartphone, you might want to consider obtaining one.)

Good advice, I think a lot here depends on the quality of the commute. Big heavy trains are the most comfortable and lent to most potential productive activities. Anki-on-smartphone you can do while standing up in a subway.
What do you use Anki to review? I see that lots of people use it so it seems valuable, but I don't know what I would use it for.
See here.
I use it for all sorts of things. I even listen to music on Anki. :-) In addition to arundelo's link, you may want to check out this list of Anki decks by LW users.
Here are a few things I use it for.

Not all people can read on trains comfortably. (Likewise, some but not all people can sleep on trains comfortably.) Therefore, Beware of Other-Optimizing is particularly relevant.

I don't know, but I suspect this might be trainable. As a young child I used to get very nauseous reading in the back seat of cars. But since I would get bored with nothing to do, I would read until I was to nauseous to continue, and then try again once I felt better. At some point I stopped getting carsick from reading. I don't Know that I trained this though, it's possible I just grew out of getting carsick, all sorts of stuff changes as you get older.

I suspect it's fairly common to become less carsick with age (it happened to me as well, and it's not like I trained -- I hadn't read in a car for years before trying to do that again and noticed that it bothered me much less). Anyway, in my case the problem is not sickness (I don't get sick at all when on rails), but just that I can't concentrate very well when on a train. So I can read short stories or poetry no problem, but I usually don't even try to read textbooks or papers.
I still get carsick when reading on buses or cars. I no longer get sick when reading on trains. I used to be truly awful to take in a car (every single car-ride I got sick). Even now, when i do get sick... I don't recover. I have to stop the car, wait half an hour (at least) before moving on (or eating, or anything apart from sitting on the ground feeling miserable). I don't know if it's trainable... it has gotten better in the past 30-odd years... but not gone away totally.When i learned to drive - I learned how to avoid as much of the g-force-inducing movements as possible. I always choose train-transport over other transport. but I am just one data-point.

Alternative: Prioritize the ability to telecommute over raw salary, if you're in an industry where you're able. Consider the time spent traveling when considering jobs.

If you can telecommute, also consider that you can live in a different state. Your paycheck can go further still when you aren't paying income taxes.

Telecommuting might not be the best thing for everyone. At home I have less social interaction and more distractions.

I've heard that telecommuting makes promotion less likely. If so, then you need to consider more than your current salary.


What, you want to put me in a position where I'm responsible for what a bunch of -programmers- do? Did I do something wrong?

And commuting is apparently just fairly horrible in general.

Practically all of the discussion I can find about this is very US-centric, and so conflates "commuting" with "commuting by car". A long public transport commute that was ideal in other ways (train journey, no changes, door-to-door, frequent trains with seats, signal) could be much preferable to a shorter drive; I use my commute to read, look at my TODO list, catch up with blogs etc.

Euro here, I used to enjoy commuting by car more than by subway now: * personal space * safety from potentially aggressive travellers, the annoying drunks who try to yell at people on the subway * it is an exciting activity to drive as long as you can find tricky routes with little traffic, these will be usually narrow roads where you don't even need to exceed the 50 km/h speed limit to make it feel risky and exciting and if you do, no police there. * feeling middle class, not mixing with the "proles" * more freedom in choosing how to dress, less having to take the weather into account * resisting the temptation to drink alcohol right after work, at least starting later in the evening * music without annoying earplugs * hands-free phone calls, my dad used to be excellent at it, he was an entrepreneur and phoned through his whole 45 min long commute, by the time everybody arrived to the office every employee and subcontractor was briefed, problems reported back, things were in motion. This way the commute is worktime. * having useful stuff with me all the time in the trunk And now I am nostalgic for my car. We live car-free now because it is very expensive, €80 mandatory insurance a month etc. but sure as hell I would want to have it back.
I would not recommend combining this with this In fact, I think there's good evidence that hands-free phone calls are considerably more distracting than drivers tend to think.

IMO the optimal distance is 15-30 minutes by bicycle. That'll give you some exercise you don't have to do anything extra for, that doesn't take a lot of time. I've been working from home for close to 2 years now, and my fitness has taken a big hit. I've just started to ride my bicycle for about half an hour daily, but the problem is, I don't really need to do it, so it's easy to skip it if I'm busy or just don't feel like it.

I've considered this several times because I'm in range for it; but always reject it on the grounds that I don't want to sit around feeling like dried sweat and stink for eight hours. How did you deal with that when you were biking?

I put on deodorant in the morning, and I don't race, I just go ~16-17 km/h (on average, that is; faster on straight stretches, like ~20 km/h). On a normal city bike, not a racing bicycle. I might get a little sweaty sometimes, but never so much that I got smelly. (Edit: typo)

For what it's worth, I do exactly the same thing with the same result.
Ditto. Hills can add some sweatiness even if you go very slowly, if your range of gears isn't wide enough.

I've considered this several times because I'm in range for it; but always reject it on the grounds that I don't want to sit around feeling like dried sweat and stink for eight hours. How did you deal with that when you were biking?

Showers. (One of the advantages of large workplaces.)

and sometimes if not at your workplace, then nearby (or in a gym/mall/etc nearby that is willing)
I actually do race (when I actually bike to work) and I've almost never had a problem as long as I just wipe off the sweat when I get to work. I do tho bring a separate set of clothes (shirt and pants), as even in the fall and spring I completely soak my shirt (probably because I wear a messenger bag).
Just happened to see this old comment. Sure enough, the cycling got skipped more and more often, until I just forgot about it completely. I really need to find something fun to do to get myself moving again.
Also, consider remote work.
Our neighborhood is a residential one that's fairly close to the main city center. Our streets are almost always lined with rows and rows of cars of people, many of whom come from distant parts of town, park their car here (to avoid ridiculously expensive parking fees in the city), and then take a 30-40 minute bus to their workplace. Now I used to think that my 30 minute commute was bad. The buses come just twice an hour and are never on time, there's always traffic, and half the time you wind up standing. But these folks just astound me. I just can't imagine doing that each day - driving to a residential neighborhood, finding a parking space, then enduring the horrible public transit system, then doing the exact same thing in reverse to get back home. I hope they're getting paid tremendously well.

A major mental change that allowed me to own less things was someone mentioning "treat craigslist as free storage." The idea being that if you ever really need X you can get it fairly easily. But this extends to retail goods as well. I now keep in mind that everything that costs<(.1)(paycheck) is already mine and I only go pick it up if I really, actually, need it.

This is a nice comment. It's a useful frame of reference and I especially like it because it jives well with the intuitions I've developed since I started studying Economics. And probably my identity as a Neat Person and someone who enjoys experiences over things.

Start your post or comment with a summary when posting anything over 3-5 paragraphs.

Also: use paragraphs.

If, realistically, you aren't going to do a thing, proceed immediately to figuring out the best way to not do it.

the best way to not do it.

This sounds too punchliney. What do you actually mean? What part of not doing it needs figuring out? How to avoid it? What to do instead? Something else entirely?

How to avoid it at minimal cost, retrieve the resources spent on preparing to do it, get some of the (refactored) results you wanted out of it, and update on the information that you're not going to do it to avoid being in situations where you're supposed to do equivalent things later.

Can you give an example?
Already did.
The best way not to do something is to do the best thing you could be doing instead in the best way.

Very insightful. Not boring at all.

Too insightful! Not boring enough!

Intriguing! Do you have any concrete examples? I'm having a hard time visualizing any.

From today:

"Yeah, I'm not gonna get around to making those cookies today. I will put the butter back in the freezer, instead of leaving it out on the off chance I change my mind."

Basically, don't be poised to do things when poising takes resources and you won't do the things.

Basically, don't be poised to do things when poising takes resources and you won't do the things.

I much prefer this version to its grandparent.

If you are looking for employment, tell everyone you know. I have gotten 100% of my jobs from friends saying "hey, did you hear about this one".

This includes posting "I'm looking for a job" publically on your facebook page, on linkedin and any other social-networking you may have. Use the magic of the internets to reach out to as many friends-of-friends that you can. note: don't do this (or only post to friends) if your current employer does not know you are looking elsewhere...
Related: When looking for a job that is different from whatever you're doing now, go on informational interviews. Come up with a list of specific things you are curious about, related to the field - intensity of work, skills used, related jobs, terminology that's unclear to you, advancement opportunities - and ask those questions during the interview. The point is not to get a job from the person you're talking to, but to search many nodes of your social network. If you decide you do want to work in their field, you should ask, "Whom do you know, who's hiring?" And always, always ask, "whom else do you know that I should talk to?"
It took me a long time to believe people actually liked to talk about their jobs/companies and were quite happy to refer me to other contacts, but it seems to be true.
Yes, this. Even with a good resume you might cold e-mail hundreds of companies and never get a bite. Knowing somebody almost always gets you to interview stage.
Extremely belated reply, but for what it may be worth, I didn't actually have contacts at some of the jobs, just friends keeping tabs on some outlets I didn't (for example, neighborhood listserves I wasn't subscribed to, printed postings at businesses I didn't frequent.)
Interesting, I got only one that way, and that was a former coworker, not a friend. How are friends are supposed to do if I am good at working at an entirely different industry than they do which they don't understand? And how could they know of open jobs in mine? Well, I figure this only applies for specialists.
I think it more likely that it reflects different cultural backgrounds between you and therufs, both the local microculture around yourselves and the larger cultures of where you live. My picture of the archetypal LessWronger is a twenty-something in a place like Silicon Valley, working in computing, living with, working with, and mixing with the same sort of people both online and in meatspace, with no more than the fuzziest of lines separating "work" from "leisure" and "coworkers" from "friends": it's all LessWrong memespace. People from the former and current Russian-controlled states (and you seem to be describing that from personal experience) have a rather different milieu.
My mental image of LW is New York. Not sure why. Perhaps because a lot of people have Jewish names. Yes, the aspect of AI topics sound more Valley. But LW is a bit too altruistic for what I thought of the Valley, I would imagine the Valley as kinda egotistical Libertarians, even Objectivists, and I would associate effective altruism, charitable giving, these kinds of ethics stuff with NY. I always thought NY is "nicer", more in the bleeding-heart kind of stuff, more typically liberal, more social conscious, while the Valley is more "I deserve privilege because I am smart" kind of stuff. And LW gives me these good-guy vibes definitely, not the me-first vibes. I find it interesting how work and leisure is not separated. Importing leisure into work sounds like discussing work related things at parties, apparently it suggests being really enthusiastic for that work, it is not something done just for the money. Importing leisure to work, hm, it sounds like having a really trusting employer :) BTW my life experience is mainly Europe, but all over it - post-Soviet, UK, "can't hear you over our No. 1 quality of living" type of stuff in Vienna in Austria, etc. etc. very varied. This kind of thing - doctors befriending engineers, having no idea what each other do - happened a lot of times.
There's no good reason to pick work for which one isn't at least partly enthusiastic for skilled and smart people in Western society. Even when nobody who was at our last LW meetup in Berlin works at the same company 5/7 people did talk about work in a way that influences their work in a meaningful way. Building friendships with your coworkers is good for the employer. Just because some of your friends do have other professions, doesn't mean all of them have.
I think there. Perhaps with multiple-generation middle-class Westerners who look forward to inherit wealth this is not the case. But first-generation ones, or multiple-generation ones who come from a poor or broken family it is the case. People may talk about the welfare state but in reality it only keeps you out of the direst poverty, but it does not even cover living in an average sized rented apartment. That is around €800 a month in Austria for example with utilities, and that is roughly how much the welfare is and then you have not eaten anything or bought a shoe. So if you don't look forward to any help from parents nor inheritance, you have a pressing need to find any work to pay bills and secure a basic comfortable exsitence. That is on the expense side. And on the income side, it is basically so that if you go look at job ads on e.g. Monster, they tend to cluster in a certain kind of industries and jobs: I see lots of logistics and accounting but very few about historians or drawing comics books. Even in those industries, only a subset offers a straight line in the sense of get a degree, find a relevant job kind, often e.g. they are looking for salespeople where no degree assures you a job, it is mostly life experience you gather anyhow. Thus, for most of the decent, not burger flipping jobs, you don't have this straight line. The logistics or accountant expert can just get a degree and apply for job ads, but the salesperson cannot and the historian cannot and the comics drawer cannot. They need to rely on their social skills, networking, which only works for extroverts or people who generally like people and so on. The whole thing is not sure, not secure, not "promised", and maybe it works out in the long run, but does not necessarily make you meet the next bill. So basically people who can rely on parental support can pursue these fun careers because they can afford to spend years on building their network and diggin themselves into their niche industry
I made a point of speaking about smart and skillful people. Of course there are unskilled people for whom it's difficult to find meaningful work. Of course the salesperson needs social skills, that's what being a sales person is about. If you don't enjoy social interaction then pick another job. Neither Dilbert nor Randal needed anybody to give him a job. Those are the comics that I actually read and both of those people make money from their work. Of course they both have skills that they didn't develop through a degree, but I don't think that's a problem. Warehouse guys don't have cool jobs, but having a motivated workforce is useful in most circumstances and relationships facilitate it.
Somehow we are misunderstanding each other. Let's take Dilbert. It is a skill developed outside college, but without anything like a clear job and career promise. Relying on only this IMHO takes a lot of courage. Having a Plan B, like draw comics but also learn to be an accountant, is probably what they did unless they are very brave. In this case, the question is do people have passions or interests that are monetizable, for comics drawing probably does not come as a career choice, but more of a hobby as first.
I don't buy the premise that a "clear job and career" promise is needed for anything.
Needed for feeling safe. Needed for not needing courage. Needed for not feeling existential angst, insecurity or anything like tht. Needed against the nagging feeling "will anyone ever really pay for this bullshit I am doing here?" One thing I did not mention that if your parents instilled a no pain no gain mentality into you, then you feel like if you are enjoying yourself and doing something you like, you are not gaining anything, you are using up capital, wasting time and you feel you cannot possibly get paid for it in the long run.
Basically "lack of skill". Basically "lack of skill".
No, I don't see it is the case. It could be an underestimation of skill, or the underestimation of the environment's suitability for that skill. And the instilled mentality has absolutely nothing to do with skill, it just makes one kind of puritanical.
Hmm. As an American, my view of the two is flipped, but both are in the reference class of "elitist cities that lean heavily liberal and have a strong cultural class."

Spend more money/time on optimizing boring things you use a lot:
Tailored clothes
Hygiene products that work well for you
Kitchen accessories (part of the reason you don't cook healthy meals for yourself might be because your kitchen work flow sucks)
Ergonomic setup at computer


Find what is best for you, and buy a lot of them. Then you can ignore this topic for a long time.

If you buy more identical pairs of socks, if some of them get destroyed, you can make pairs of the remaining ones. On the other hand, if you buy similar pairs, you will waste a lot of time sorting them.


...and a pillow (or two). Try different sizes and shapes.

Kitchen accessories

For example a cutting board should be large and easy to wash. An increased size can make cutting much easier.

If you buy more identical pairs of socks, if some of them get destroyed, you can make pairs of the remaining ones. On the other hand, if you buy similar pairs, you will waste a lot of time sorting them.

I recently had a sock cull, in which I got rid of every sock that couldn't immediately be visually matched with one of its fellows. I must've reduced the total number of socks I have by about two thirds, but the overall availability of matched socks is now much higher.

I have tried this with pants, because I have trouble finding comfortable ones. Unfortunately by the time I have a pair of pants that I'm sure are comfortable and I'm ready to buy five more of them, nobody stocks the same model anymore.
A mail order catalog that doesn't change much might help with this, if you can find one that has the sort of clothes you like. Both LL Bean and Land's End usually carry the exact same thing or close to it for several years. I don't have much experience with others besides those two, though.
In this case, they might be found inexpensively on Ebay. I know exactly what shoes I like to wear to work, and I buy a couple pairs on Ebay whenever one of the colors (brown, blue, black) wears out. It's up to you, if you're willing to wear used shoes (you can also buy them new) but the pair I'm wearing look brand new and cost 1/20th the department store price. I also buy identical pairs of socks in bulk. When they did stop selling the brand I liked, I got rid of all the old type knowing how much trouble it is to match different brands of the same colored socks.
I am lucky to have many pairs of identical socks which have their sizes written on the bottom side. Nobody sees the bottom sides of my socks, but it is so easy to look there when sorting them. So they don't get mixed with the older socks of the same color. If in the future I don't have the same luck, maybe I could just make some marks on the bottom sides. For example one small colored dot, using a washing-resistant color. The most work would be finding that color. But marking the already sorted socks, that would be a question of a few seconds.
That's an excellent alternative to throwing out perfectly good socks. This is something I can immediately apply to the socks of my children, since the issue there is that they're necessarily white-but-different-sizes (and it's difficult for me to tell just by looking at them whether they're 'little' or 'medium-little'.)
Pay attention to what qualities work well for you. Next time you buy pants... consider yourself entering a "trial period" of, say, one month. Wear them a lot during that month. At the end of the month: if they fit all the good qualities. and have no bad qualities... go buy another pair - you have now entered the second phase... which lasts, say, 3 months (time can be varied as you get more skilled at this). At the end of the three months... if you've decided these pants are really awesome and comfy... you should still be within the same season in which the pants first came out - and can go buy another five pairs (or whatever makes you happy). The idea being: after a month, if you put in a concerted effort to pay attention - you can probably tell whether a pair of pants will be perfect for you.... but if you're unsure - then buying just one extra means you have at least got two pairs of really good ones, but haven't spent too much extra if you suddenly find out that they fall apart on the dot at 2.5 months old. By the time you hit the longer period - you'll have worn them for a season and should have a very good idea of whether they fit really well (=1 to buying more), and whether they are wearing out unusually fast (-1 instead).
(For casual clothing, short (like, no-show) black socks are mostly more fashionable than white socks.)
For men, navy or possibly grey are good defaults for non no-show socks.
Depending on where you're using it. When my roommates leave the kitchen to cluttered to use, a small cutting board that fits on the desk in my bedroom is really nice to have. (Use case is usually eating cheese or carrots while doing homework - it doubles as a plate. I wouldn't want to chop meat that way.)

If you are trying to do X, surround yourself with people who are also doing X. Takes much less willpower to keep doing it.

On a related note make sure that they are people who are actively doing X, or at least making credible progress towards it not just professing a desire to X. This is an easy mistake to make.

Doesn't this, to a large extent, describe LW?
Which part?

If you feel sad when you shouldn't feel sad consult a medical professional or therapist, they can help.

[Wish I'd realised that a few years ago.]

How do I know when I shouldn't feel sad? Also, it's scary. :(

The parent post shouldn't have made you sad.


If you find this list describes you well some fair portion of the time (say, more than 20%, though even that sounds like a lot given what I know about people who don't have chronic depression), that's probably a start.

As to it being scary -- yeah, it is. One really important thing to do ahead of time if you decide to seek help is figure out how to make a safe exit if you're uncomfortable, or don't want to continue with a specific provider. Some people find that easy; others find it challenging. Not sure which you are, or how much trouble you have asserting your own boundaries, but it's a very useful skill.

One practical matter of safety here: if you want to walk away from someone and you're worried they might escalate, know that in most cases they can only act without your consent if they believe you pose some specific danger to yourself or others. Think about what you're going through that might be interpreted that way, and be careful before sharing anything like that if you think you might want to stop seeing that provider.

figure out how to make a safe exit if you're uncomfortable, or don't want to continue with a specific provider.

Yes. The first therapist I saw was so bad that I called him to cancel after the first visit (though I still didn't have the guts to say it in person). Keep in mind that this is always an option. "I don't think this is a good fit" is a totally acceptable thing to say to a therapist or doctor.

Wow, a lot of things on that list describe me. I'm not even feeling that unhappy... I thought it was just low self-confidence plus some nasty ugh-fields.
Regardless, is low self-confidence getting in your way and making your life worse? If so, seeing a therapist might be one way to work on that.

How do I know when I shouldn't feel sad?

My personal metric has been that it's reasonable to feel sad when there's a specific event (as opposed to a circumstance) to be sad about (death of someone close to me, breakup of a relationship, loss of a job.)

But whether or not you "should" feel sad, professionals can help.

Also, it's scary.

The voice that is telling you that awful things are loitering just outside the edge of your awareness, I call The Jerkbrain.

I can self-report that directly and emphatically addressing it as such (usually "shut up, Jerkbrain!") has had helpful effects including:

  • increased aptitude for dealing with problems in the physical world
  • much less energy wasted dealing with problems that exist only in distant possibility (and maybe not even there.)

I am not my jerkbrain, and you are not yours, either.

I guess it would be helpful to have a "normal" range of time in which it's reasonable to feel sad or weird after a death, break-up, etc. Sometimes, it feels like they all pile up.

If it's been more than a year, and it's disruptive to your daily life (trouble enjoying pleasant things, pervasive thoughts, crying spells, difficulty functioning at work, difficulty connecting with new partners, etc.), it's probably worth seeking help.

Heck, if it's been more than 3 months, you'll probably benefit from help.

If you have friends you trust, asking them is probably best, since they'll know how important that particular person was to you.

If you feel like it's "all piling up", that's a sign that you're dealing with more than you know how to cope with. That's exactly when getting someone else to help can be most useful.

Now I just need to convince myself to take my own advice here :(

Yes, I called it the Saboteur. I think this might be a very helpful piece of advice for non-depressed people. Locating self-defeating thoughts and behaviours "outside" yourself and telling them to take a running jump is a great technique.

I think a functional definition is best. Do your negative thoughts (sadness, depression, anxiety, or suchlike) interfere with your ability to live your life (hold a job, attend social events, etc)? Then talking to a therapist may be helpful.

You wouldn't be ashamed to visit a doctor for advice on how to deal with a nagging cough - emotions that impose a similar level of difficulty can be improved with expert attention.

I seriously don't understand this. E.g. in post-Soviet Eastern Europe lot, really a lot of people go through life functionally in the sense of being able to hold down a job, stay in a marriage, raise kids, while being wholly joyless / anhedonic and just doing it from a sense of duty. And coping via drinking etc. Are you talking from the viewpoint of a culture where people refuse to do things they don't enjoy and thus their anhedonia becomes visibly dysfunctional? For example, social events aren't "mandatory" in the sense job/family are (in the sense of your parents probably did not drill it into you that you must do these to be allowed to not feel worthless about yourself), they are mostly for fun, so it is difficult to say what it does with functionality if we do not link functionality with joy. Again the people I am talking aboud do not attend to social events, if getting shitface drunk with the neighbor does not count as one. At any rate I do not yet see a culture-neutral link between anhedonia and dysfunctionality, it seems they are only strongly linked if people define functionality itself as an enjoyable, autonomous life, but when people think they were born to fulfill certain mandatory roles and tasks, they can go through it efficiently while still feeling totally empty inside.
For instance if you are having thoughts of self-harm.
Talk to some friends first. Much of what we fret over are problems shared by others, or problems that we have blown out of proportion for ourselves. Much of depression is trying to live up to a false image of yourself that your friends don't have.
Plus, y'know, neurotransmitter deficiencies.
Unless you're talking about feeling sad for like two weeks in a row, that's excessive -- do this first. (Unless you're not counting “I have slept/eaten/whatever less than usual lately” as “you shouldn't feel sad”.)

Learn to cook at least a handful of simple, cheap, fast meals. This will have more effect on your resolutions to "eat healthy" than temporary spurts of mega-motivation.

(also recognizing that spurts of motivation are temporary in general, do not rely on them for lasting change)

Also make a list of those recipes (including ingredients) and store it somewhere in the kitchen.

When you catch yourself repeating the same three recipes over again, just look at the list for a new-old inspiration. Do it before you go shopping, so you can immediately buy the necessary ingredients. (If you go shopping on your way home from job, maybe you should put the list online so you can read it before leaving your job.)

Related: Shop with a list. Do not buy anything not on the list. If possible, do not put anything on the list that doesn't require cooking to eat.

(not having anything snackable on hand is a great way to ensure that you only eat when you actually need to. Most people won't go out of their way to cook just to satisfy the "hrm, I'm bored, let's eat something" impulse.)

If possible, do not put anything on the list that doesn't require cooking to eat.

Exception: vegetables.

not having anything snackable on hand is a great way to ensure that you only eat when you actually need to.

Preparing a snackable version of vegetables (e.g. clean a few carrots, cut them to small pieces, and put them into the bowl) and putting it next to your computer could be an easy way to make yourself eat more vegetables.

In my exprience, following this advice leads to me skipping approximately every fourth meal. Edit: to my detriment.
Does it generally make sense to cook one meal at a time rather than making a larger batch?
the time savings from batch cooking do add up surprisingly quickly, especially when you include cleanup.
Not if the idea is to deliberately introduce trivial inconveniences.
Converge what you enjoy eating with what you can cook.
Objection: simple, cheap, fast meals don't exactly need to be cooked. Wholemea rye bread has an insulin score of 56, better than fish, a satiety score of 154 and decent amount of fiber. Put anything on it and call it a sandwich. The taste sucks, but it is a good-conscience meal in 20 secs. Cooking has multiple definitions, I personally don't consider a scrambled egg with onions cooking, or a grilled cheese sandwich or a salad, and I used to live on these kinds of stuff for years. If the bread part was wholemeal rye and you added vegs, it is decently healthy. Yeah I know for some people this would be called cooking, but I think cooking begins at the level of the five mother sauces, this is not cooking, just hot food preparation.
For reasons I realise I don't know[1], the primary meaning of "cook" for me is to make nontrivial changes to food by means of heat. (Consider the word "uncooked" as applied e.g. to meat and eggs.) So, for me, scrambling eggs counts as "cooking" even though it's not exactly a difficult task. Other forms of food preparation shade gradually from not-cooking to cooking as the effort expended and the extent to which the food gets transformed increase. So putting together a sandwich or a simple salad isn't (usually) "cooking"; grilling cheese on toast just barely is because heat is involved; making (say) ice cream is just barely "cooking" even if you do it without making a custard, because you're doing something quite nontrivial to the ingredients (I guess applying cold is a bit like applying heat); etc. [1] It looks as if the OED largely agrees (most of the senses it lists explicitly or implicitly give preference to the application of heat) and also doesn't really know why (it says "cook", v., is derived from "cook", n., and says nothing more about the etymology of the former; the latter has always meant anyone whose job is preparing food, without any particular preference to doing so by applying heat).
Interesting! I realized now that I consider ice cream making cooking, because it is a higher skilled thing. My wife makes several no-heat cakes and I consider it cooking. My mental image of cooking is stirring something with a wooden spoon, a something made from multiple ingredients. Probably because my ethnic culture is sauce-oriented. I should also add that in my native language to cook and to boil are the same words and I never fully grasped the difference in English. So I would cook a soup but roast a chicken.
In English, to cook is to prepare food, especially by applying heat, but there's no assumption of a particular means of applying heat. Boiling and roasting are both varieties of cooking (in both senses). So are zapping in a microwave, searing on a griddle-pan, grilling under an electric overhead grill, etc. I think you could say the following: "When you make meringues, they don't really cook in the oven, it's more that they slowly dry out". So maybe "cook" means not merely "to prepare food by applying heat" but something more like "to prepare food by applying sufficient heat to denature proteins", the underlying idea presumably being something like "to heat food up enough to make it safe to eat". Of course I'm using "'cook' means not merely X but Y" as shorthand for something like "a lot of skilled native English speakers, when they use or hear the word "cook", are thinking about Y as well as X". So what I really mean is that when I use or hear the word "cook" the following ideas are all somewhat active in my brain: * preparing food * heating things up * making food safe by killing bacteria and parasites * performing a skilled activity * making something particularly tasty but for me there's no very strong activation of, e.g., * boiling as opposed to other modes of heating * stirring as opposed to other skilled cooking-related activities I dare say that if I attempted to draw a stereotypical instance of "cooking" it would be quite likely to involve stirring a pot or pan, but it would be quite likely to involve someone wearing a chef's hat and apron too and those obviously aren't part of the meaning of "cooking".
I looked a bit into the etymology. It is not helpful. Cook as a noun or to cook means the same thing all the way down to Latin coquus and to PIE *pekʷ-, with only the later having one more meaning: to ripen. Heat application is there all the way, but not really specifying how. I would suggest that probably people boiled or simmered more than they roasted in historical times, because, well, convection, that makes even hardest meat sooner or later soft without burning it, and does not waste nutrients into the grease falling into the fire. For example, if you have an old rooster, a soup or a stew is really the only option. However, roasting seems to be a higher-prestige way - medieval nobility is commonly depicted feasting on whole roasted animals, not sure how accurate that is. Perhaps the prestige comes from the difficulty. Roasting a whole ox, which was a way inviting a whole town to party, is very, very difficult. Back to practice: I recommend telling people "learn to prepare a few easy meals" this sounds less scary than "learn to cook".
More likely from the fact that you roast meat and poultry which are expensive foods compared to grains and vegetables.
If cooking means heating food up until it is safe to eat, I couldn't cook carrots or apples. I would suggest that a word can mean different things in different contexts, and especially, a more general meaning and a more specific meaning. Saying that meringues aren't cooking is a use of the more specific meaning.

If a complete stranger or an acquaintance can do something useful for you, ask. (Politely. At a convenient time. With an appropriate amount of honest flattery.) If they say no, don't press them.

Failure case: make someone else feel important. Success case: get a favor, maybe make a connection.

Always remember to thank them after they agree to help you and again after they've actually helped you, see for reference Ben Franklin effect , the 299th rule of acquisition, and the power of reinforcement.

A thousand times yes! And since this is a thread for boring, useful advice, I'll include the general version: Thank people who do things for you, whether or not you asked them to do it. It conditions them to help you. Thanking people reliably and sincerely is a powerful tool, and while there's a bit of skill to doing it well, it's more than worth practicing.

Does anyone know why the rest of my comment isn't showing? There should be links to an article on conditioning, an article on the Ben Franklin effect, and the rules of acquisition.
See if it's one of these problems. If not, I'll look at your Markdown source code if you email it to me. (My username AT or
That worked, I had en.wikipedia instead of http://en.wikipedia.
I don't know, but you have a chance of finding out if you click on the edit icon (the pencil in a square) for the comment. There's probably something wrong with the way you formatted the links. See if the Show Help box has anything useful.
I've done both and it looks correct.
I'm worried about tactics like this being overused. Pleasantries really do become mechanical through repetition, and I'm not sure if short term benefits are worth it. More likely than not, a person may be conditioned to think that flattery is only given before a request.
That is definitely a danger. It's important to also express honest appreciation when you have nothing specific to gain. (I've been making an effort to do more of that, lately.) If you do, you and your peers will be justifiably happier, and you also get to use tactics like the above without poisoning the well. You should be a good person to everyone you meet — it is the moral thing to do, and as a sidenote will really help your networking
Failure case: They feel compelled to help, resent you for it, and destroy your reputation by speaking ill of you.
Preemptive Solution: Leave a line of retreat, make sure that there is little/no cost for them if they choose to refuse; thus reducing the likelihood that they will help you out of compulsion.
How do you do that?

As far as I know there's no single sure-fire way of making sure that asking them won't put them in a position where refusal will gain them negative utility (for example, their utility function could penalize refusing requests as a matter of course) . However general strategies could include:

  • Not asking in-front of others, particularly members of their social group. (Thus refusal won't impact upon their reputation.)

  • Conditioning the request on it being convenient for them (i.e. using phrasing such as "If you've got some free time would you mind...")

  • Don't give the impression that their help is make or break for your goals (i.e. don't say "As you're the only person I know who can do [such&such], could you do [so&so] for me?")

  • If possible do something nice for them in return, it need not be full reciprocation but it's much harder to resent someone who gave you tea and biscuits, even if you were doing a favor for them at the time.

Of course there's no substitute for good judgement.

Connected to this: A preemptive favor is more likely to result in later requests (even if larger than the initial favor) being fulfilled, but the end result may or may not be a more positive opinion of you. The abstract of this paper seems to indicate increased liking of a stranger that does this, but paywalls and general laziness prevent me from getting a more comprehensive idea of what can happen.

Never post a web link that requires readers to click on it to find out if they want to click on it.

On that note: middle-click (or Ctrl-click) on links while you're reading to open them in a background tab. Later, glance at the tab to find out if you want to have clicked on it. If the answer is "No, I don't really want to have clicked on that link," just close the tab. (The downside is that this may lead to tab explosions on web sites like TV Tropes.)

Obtain a smartphone. It will make your life better. (If you don't have one because you feel like they're overhyped, remember that reversed stupidity is not intelligence.) Here is a list of things I use my smartphone to do, in no particular order:

  • Record things I want my future selves to do in RTM on the go
  • Record sleep data using Sleep Cycle
  • Take notes on conversations using either voice memos or Evernote
  • Record various kinds of things in Workflowy, e.g. exercise data
  • Respond more quickly to emails (people I know have debated the value of doing this, but I get really annoyed when other people take a long time to respond to my emails and don't want to do that)
  • Receive calendar alerts, alarms, and Boomerangs from my past selves that remind me to do things
  • Look things up, e.g. on Wikipedia, on the go (e.g. when I am waiting in line for something)
  • Read academic papers on the go
  • Search my email for important information on the go, e.g. the location of some event or an ID number of some kind
  • Look up directions on the go, e.g. to the location of some event
  • Look up places on Yelp on the go
  • Look up prices and reviews of an item I'm considering buying IRL on Amazon

There is a possibility ... (read more)

Many years later, I think the effects of owning a smartphone have probably turned net-negative for me, and I've historically been more happy in periods that I did not have one.

My guess this has to do with the internet becoming more pervasive and the marginal value of the internet being more accessible being negative.

It may be worthwhile figuring out how to minimize the disadvantages of smartphones.

Look things up, e.g. on Wikipedia, on the go (e.g. when I am waiting in line for something)

Upvoted for this. I think possibly the single biggest impact of the existence of smartphones is that in a world where its possible to carry device cappable of accessing Wikipedia in your pocket means that no one ever has an excuse for being ignorant of basic facts about any subject that they had a reasonable amount of time to prepare for.

Another thing: I've found that listening to podcasts while doing mindless, repetative tasks (mowing the lawn, washing the dishes, cleaning) makes the process much, much more enjoyable.

My main objection to smartphone use is that by putting anything you want to pay attention to at your fingertips, it can introduce a certain distance from what is actually going on. I would not advocate, say, spending your 4 hours at the DMV observing your surroundings (that would be a waste of time). But I am concerned that time spent with portable Internet corresponds to ever thicker-walled and less-apparent echo chambers. Is this an issue you have thoughts on?

By way of example, I'm trying to think about the difference between reading a novel on the subway and reading the internets on the subway; the main distinction is that when I'm reading the novel, I'm aware that I'm not actually paying attention to my surroundings.

If I'm interacting with people, I treat it as rude to pull out my phone without asking. If I'm already not-interacting-with-people, I don't see why it would be any worse than a book. So many other people have smart phones that "socialize while waiting" is dying off regardless of what I do, and a book generally kept people from trying to strike up a conversation anyway. As to the "not aware I'm not aware"... I've always felt equally towards books and smart phones. Possibly a bit more aware with my smart phone, actually, since dropping it or having it stolen is a much bigger deal.
This is probably true, but I think this is a small negative and is outweighed by the large positives. If you decide you want to pay more attention to your surroundings with a smartphone, you can add an RTM item or use calendar alerts to remind yourself to do that periodically.
Indeed, one of the ways in which owning a smartphone has improved my life is by reminding me to do things which I need to do regularly in order to change a trait or habit. For instance, I used to have bad posture, which I corrected after setting A HIT interval timer to vibrate every 10 minutes, and interpreting these vibrations as reminders to improve the way I was standing or sitting.
I infer that when you read the internets, you aren't aware that you aren't paying attention to surroundings. I have trouble understanding why that is.
(And having a camera good enough that text in pictures stays legible is sometimes very handy IME.)
The only feature I regularly use on my phone is the alarms. They're absurdly useful. Advanced alarm functionality alone is worth the price of admission.
What exactly is 'advanced alarm functionality' and how do you recommend using it?
I'd hesitate to pin it down to any particular feature set, but the following two features have been very useful to me: Date-based alarm scheduling - I don't want a feature-heavy calendar application running on my phone, so this has been useful. Custom text for alarms - Useful for gym reminders; I can plan exercises for each day in advance, rather than deciding what to do in advance. (Again, I stay away from feature-heavy applications. I like lightweight.) Day-based alarms, and multiple alarms, while trivial features on most smartphone alarm apps, are in fact quite useful, and weren't present in my pre-smartphone phones. I have two alarms set for waking up, for example; the first tells me to down an energy drink (Xenadrine drink mix, supposedly for dieting but my favorite energy drink, or Redline energy drinks, are both awesome for this) or extra-large cup of coffee. Thirty minutes later, when the second alarm wakes me up, I wake up easily and without grogginess. (Alternatively, you can use an alarm application that wakes you up in the ideal part of your sleep cycle. That's a bit... feature-rich for me, however.)
How do you have a cup of coffee ready to go before you wake up? I'd think it would be cold and unpleasant...
...cold and unpleasant? You mean perfect? Yes, I like my coffee cold. I like my soda and beer warm, too. I'm just that kind of guy.
I suspect that the vast majority of coffee drinkers disagree with you, and thus your advice is probably inapplicable to most people there. I could be wrong, but you're the first person I've ever met who considers 8-hour-old coffee to be a good thing.
8 hour old coffee is insufficiently aged; it has yet to achieve peak bitterness.
You missed the point...
You missed that I already acknowledged other people don't share my tastes, which was the point about liking warm beer and soda. You can substitute in your own preferences, even if it's a coffee pot set next to your alarm clock/phone scheduled to turn on shortly before your alarm goes off; it's unnecessary to copy the specific implementation to get utility out of the general concept. At that point I was merely being amusing; missing the point was rather the point.

Don't smoke.

Also seriously look into regularly using other sources of nicotine unless it's included in your workplace's drug screens.

The 80/20 rule is especially true for cleaning. Better to get it 80% clean twice as often than 99% clean half as often.

Not to mention the fact that getting it 80% clean will take much less that 80/99 of the time it'll take to get it 99% clean.

My understanding of the 80/20 rule was "80% of the work takes 20% of the time", so this seems already covered?

Yes, what was I thinking?
Eh, I do this too since optimizing for saying more obvious things. But on net it's been a big improvement and worth the occasional brain fart.

Stop doing stupid shit seems relevant.

To summarize: if you're good at something and it doesn't seem like it's taken serious effort to get to where you are, there's probably some low-hanging fruit that you haven't picked, because you haven't looked for it. Put a serious effect into improving and fixing your small, frequent mistakes.

It's a meta-boring advice: Instead of looking for new cool things you could learn, do the boring work of fixing the mistakes you make.

Link doesn't work.
Updated to the web archive link; hat tip to KnaveOfAllTrades.
For ramblier inspiration, see also Stuck In The Middle With Bruce.

Don't beat yourself up.

Always negotiate on salary, i.e. ask for more than their initial offer. Patrick McKenzie explains why.

Take melatonin a half hour before your desired bedtime. Set an alarm on your phone so that you remember to take it at the exact same time every 24 hours. This gets you to bed at roughly the same time every night and establishes a steady 24 hour cycle, but requires almost no willpower expenditure since you are already awake and it's just a matter of taking a quick pill. Worked for me.

My upvote goes mostly to the "set an alarm on your phone" part. So boring; so useful!

I can confirm this. I set alarms for the most ridiculous things -- eg, "Umbrella" 5 minutes before I leave the office so I don't forget it.

Set double layers of alarms. I've turned off the first one and slept another two hours, way too many times!

Get in the habit of not turning off alarms unless you're doing the thing you're supposed to do. This sounds impossible for some people I know. I used to be one of those people that would set 10 snoozes. But simply doing what the alarm says immediately IS a trainable skill. Every time you set the snooze you're reinforcing setting the snooze.

Yes! For example, if you have trouble getting up when you hear an alarm, you can repeatedly practice lying in bed and setting your alarm for one minute from now, then immediately getting up when you hear it.
While you're at it, you might as well practice getting up, getting dressed, making the bed, starting the kettle (or whatever you would do for breakfast), etc. (Disclaimer: I haven't done this; I've only read about doing it.)
You might want to make the habit a bit shorter than that so that it is easier to practice and repeat a lot.

Watch your internal monologue for two patterns: Hero stories where you are in the process of solving problems, and victim stories where you are incapable of solving problems. Attempt to reinterpret victimization stories into as-yet-unresolved heroic stories.

Tips on giving a speech or presentation:

  • Practice your presentation several times out loud (if possible).
  • The first thing you should talk about after introducing yourself and your topic is why the audience should even care about your topic (and don't assume it's obvious).
  • If using a hand-held microphone, hold the microphone near your mouth, not in front of your chest.
  • If you're using a computer for slides or a demo, set it up ahead of time if possible.

If you're using a computer for slides or a demo, set it up ahead of time if possible.

This. In my experience at least 50% of computer presentations started at least 15 minutes late because of some technical problems. But people always believe that the computers are the same everywhere, therefore nothing could go wrong. (Then they turn on the projector and see only a blue screen. Or the light bulb is burned out. Or a remote control is missing; or a cable. Or the presentation is in PDF and the computer can only run Powerpoint, or the other way round. Or it's a different version of Powerpoint. Or the computer does not recognize the memory stick in the USB port. Or, most importantly, something else.)

Seriously??? I always save my presentations as PDF in order to be sure that they'll run on whichever computer I'll use -- is that not a reasonable assumption?
Depends on how reasonable and computer-literate is the person who prepares the computer. I guess this improves over time; most of my data are like 10 years old. (I met people who didn't know that Internet is not the same thing as Explorer, or that companies other than Microsoft make software too.) Probably the risk is lower if a person prepares the computer for presentations of many different people; and higher if it is usually for the same three or four people from the same organization. Lower if the organization is computer-related (university teaching computer science, IT company) and higher otherwise.
This applies to posts as well. If you've got a long one, start by giving the reader a clear idea of where you're going and what his payoff will be. Motivate the reader.
If you are nervous about a presentation or performance, practice while standing on top of your bed. In a pinch, a picnic table or playground equipment will also do.

If you are going to try to stand on a picnic table, check to see how and whether the top is attached to the base.

Get some decent winter clothes if you live in a climate where this is necessary. I can't tell you how many people I know at my college that have been going here for four years, complain about the weather, and don't own anything more than a sweatshirt to keep them warm. If it's windy, a raincoat can go over a fleece-style under layer and makes a huge difference. If it rains or snows, get some boots and maybe some wool socks. A hat and some gloves work wonders, too. Glove liners work nicely as light-weight gloves that can keep your hands warm when either driving or walking places but will get wet quickly if you put your hands in snow. There's no reason to be uncomfortably cold.

Long johns seem to be something that a lot of people who didn't grow up in the snow never think of. Standing around in freezing weather being cozy is awesome.

Conversely, sometimes people wear dark-coloured, tight-fitting, full-length clothes and then complain about the heat. I understand why in certain situation someone might not want to wear tank tops or shorts, especially if they (think they) are not very conventionally-attractive, but lighter colours, looser-fitting clothes would still help. Combining the two, I've meet at least one person who would dress more or less the same way in January and July and complain both about the cold and about the heat. ---------------------------------------- EDIT: I meant “I understand” in a descriptive way (‘I think I know what's going on in their minds’), not in a normative way (‘ugly people had better please cover their bodies’). Body policing is evil and I'd rather not do that.
Look for the clothes somebody who has to work in the absolute worst of that weather buys. Oilcloth dusters and hats are versatile all-weather gear, and available in tractor supply type stores. Australian cuts are the best I've encountered; since they're designed for airflow, they're appropriate for hot weather, and can be mixed with more typical winter underlayers to provide all-year protection.

Be helpful. I have built a significant network of useful people, and in many cases the relationship started from from me offering to do small favors - as small as helping put away chairs after a lecture - and striking up a conversation.

Addendum: while on occasion I use this technique consciously, there is some concern about seeming transparent (still don't let this stop you, especially with unique opportunities at stake). Best reward yourself for being a helpful guy/gal, make it part of your self image. As your status grows it will be quite natural to offer help to important people (I once got the nerve to offer help to a very rich mayor of a major US city, as I had something to offer. Nothing came of it, but still).

Google it.

And always read multiple results, even if that means having to Google with a different search string.

Some previously posted boring advice about maintaining an exercise routine:

I was successful in keeping a strict (but light) exercise routine for a year. Here are the main things I think helped me form the habit:

  • Not worrying about quantifying, or optimizing. I would immediately get into the rabbit hole of analysis, when I knew that any exercise was much better than procrastinating until I found the perfect method. Once the habit is formed, then you can optimize it.
  • Reduce physical inconveniences to actually exercising. The thought of going to a gym immediately turns me off, so I knew it had to be at home. That meant obtaining equipment. To keep it simple, this consisted of a yoga mat and a resistance band.
  • Doing it right after waking up. I think this was vital to habit formation, as my mind wasn't very active, and it was easy to fall into routine. Only very rarely did I find myself considering not exercising.
  • Doing it every other day - not too often to get burnt out, and not too infrequently to form the habit. In order to keep a consistent sleep schedule and not have to wake up very early, I alternated morning routines - exercise days and shower days. My workouts weren't intense enough to necessitate a shower immediately after. Also, I worked it in with my intermittent fasting routine on non-exercise days.
  • Tracking it. Noting days that I exercised did give me a couple of achievement hedons. The effect diminished, but not before the habit was formed.

Once the habit is formed, then you can optimize it.

I think this is really important and not mentioned enough.

Yes; but beware even then. I had a simple weightlifting routine once upon a time. Then I decided to improve it: I'd start using different weights for different (and more varied) exercises, and recording them. Pretty soon, I'd given it up altogether. Now I'm thinking of starting the simple routine again (but it isn't optimal! waaah!), and even sell the bench that takes 15 seconds to adjust between different exercises, and just use the suboptimal stepping bench that takes 1-2 seconds to adjust. And that reminds me. When I bought that stepping bench, I started using it right away, just stepping on and off, every day for 15 minutes or so. Then I bought a book about stepping. I was doing it all wrong; you had to use music, and it had to have a specific number of beats per minute, and you couldn't just step on and off, you had to use complicated (for me, most people would probably find them quite simple) patterns. No more stepping...
Yes, this is why I tried to install a habit of trying new things before optimizing exactly which things to try and how to try them.
  • Find a physical activity that you enjoy.

On this note, something I've discovered:

Jogging sucks when you're overweight. Jogging is awesome when you're already fit.

Try things again as you progress. You may find them considerably more pleasant.

On the plus side, you can build massive arms and shoulders from simple push-ups when you are overweight. Don't need no gym, at least, if you like that sort of be-scared-of-me look. There is no way an obese, say, over 120 kg person could master the 100 push-ups challenge and not have brutal arms and shoulders. However, it will not be 7 weeks, more like a year. This is really the primary silver lining obese people tend to forget. Just throwing that kind of body around, like playing tennis or going boxing, builds massive muscles. I tell obese people hardgainers probably already envy your calves. One of the hardest muscles to grow and poof you got it for free.
Yes, in fact, weekly contra dancing is starting to replace my previous exercise routine!
Find what works; if something doesn't work, find something else that does. If it stops working, immediately start looking for something else in turn. I don't exercise at home because it's too easy to rationalize that I'll do it in five minutes, and never actually do it. Whereas if I go to the gym every day on my lunch hour, there's little room for procrastination.

In addition to optimizing boring things you use frequently you should optimize boring things you do frequently. You usually need to set a side a time to do this, rather than hope you remember to do it when doing a boring thing. On a related note beware reoccurring commitments. Remember, for less than a dollar a day you can waste 300 dollars a year.

If you have ovaries/uterus, a non-zero interest in having kids with your own gametes, and you're at least 25 or so: Get a fertility consultation.

They do an ultrasound and a blood test to estimate your ovarian reserve. Until you either try to conceive or get other measurements, you don't know if you have normal fertility for your age, or if your fertility is already declining without knowing it.

This is important information to know, in order to make later informed decisions (such as when and whether to freeze your eggs, when to start looking for a child-raising partner, when you need to decide by before it's too late, etc.)

(I wrote more about this here: )

(note that the link doesn't work for me, and I assume most people, which makes it seem a bit odd to include if you intended to keep it friends-only)
Nah, it's purely a formatting error - the trailing parenthesis was included in the link erroneously. Added whitespace to fix now.
Also note. Consider donating eggs or sperm.

Never take gossip at face value.

When you eventually hear the other person's side, don't take that at face value either.

Requisite meta: Pay attention to boring things that people who have accomplished goals you want to accomplish do more.

Learn how to remember people's names.

Of course you're horrible with names. That's because you haven't learned how to learn them. You evolved to know something like 100 names at a time, so your software needs an upgrade if you want to do more than that. Use the mnemonic technique called "linking" or "chaining". This video is cheesy, but it's exactly how I do it.

Calculate the VOI on giving this a try. If you go to conferences very often, or have lots of students, or live in a large city or something, it's probably really useful to you to be able to remember names. Especially given that you can google any name you manage to remember. And consider the psychological effects! A person's name is her favorite word, and knowing it is the password to her attention.

By the way, I'd be very interested to hear from any face blind people who have experimented with this.

ETA: This is also a fantastic party trick I use all the time.

Link for the video doesn't work
1Vlad Sitalo2mo
Curious if people found good alternative videos/intro materials for this that worked well?
Seconded on that video, it's cheesy but very straightforward and informative.

Whenever you need something for which just buying the popular version on amazon won't work, seek out the enthusiast forum for whatever it is you're trying to buy. They usually have a sticky that will flat out tell you what is considered a great cost/performance item by experts.

Disclaimer: you should not do this if you are the sort of person to fall down the rabbit hole of new enthusiasms.

Alternatively if there isn't a sticky the top scoring posts in the subreddit on the subject will probably give you good information.

A few random tips:

Reminded by the conversation about phone alarm clocks - if you have trouble getting up in the morning, schedule two alarms, one thirty minutes prior to when you want to get up, and the second when you actually want to get up. Set an energy drink or large cup of coffee next to your phone/alarm. When the first alarm goes off, drink the coffee/energy drink, and go back to sleep.

Invest in an automatic soap dispenser for dish soap. is what I use; it's refillable, adjustable, and accepts just about anything. (I previously used one of those dispensers with proprietary refills; they were expensive, dispensed too much soap, and when I drilled a hole in the top to refill it, it refused to dispense soap, although that may have been some kind of error on my part.) Makes a small but noticeable difference in the pleasantness of doing dishes.

Invest in good tools, and keep them in good repair; if it's a one-off task, get it used, but get it good. Exceptions - tools which are more work to maintain than they... (read more)

if you have trouble getting up in the morning, schedule two alarms [...]

Also, experiment with going to sleep earlier.

How is an automatic soap dispenser better for dish soap than a pump soap dispenser? I agree that it's better to have soap in a container that you don't have to pick up and open every time you use it.
I'm not sure that it is, having never used a pump dispenser, but one-handed operation -could- be an advantage, depending on the dispenser in question
I really love my daylight alarm clock. It costs about $150-200 but I feel it was worth it. YMMV.

Map things:

  • Sanity check when you're using a maps-enabled device to get around. It might not be showing you the correct thing. Also, it might be showing you the correct thing, but you might be reading it wrong. (Well maybe not you, but definitely me.)
  • If you've moved to a new area, avoid using map services to get around and work on your own internal brain-map. You don't want to live somewhere for a year and be helpless without your phone.
Related: buy a small and reliable compass. Not a compass app for your phone, but an actual compass. GPS, your own spatial awareness, and reasonable assumptions about geography can all let you down, but north is always north. Edit: I will now ruin the punchiness of this comment with an explanatory edit. I do a lot of walking around a large city. Google Maps is fairly reliable but leaves much to be desired. Establishing GPS location, battery consumption and occasional out-and-out wrongness are common bugbears, so I started trying to navigate without it. The biggest problem I found was orienting myself. Surfacing from a subway stop only to have no idea which direction was which, I'd sometimes fall back to GPS just to check what direction I was facing (which Google Maps is really bad at anyway. Anyone who's ever done that "let's walk ten metres in this direction to see what way I'm pointing" thing will know what I mean. I played around with some compass apps, which are just as much of a pain as Google Maps. Eventually I just gave in and bought a compass.
Almost equivalent: Buy a lightweight and reliable spear. Not a speargun or an effective modern weapon, but an actual pointy stick. Guns, the rule of law, supermarkets and the reasonable assumptions that your geographic location contains no dangerous predators can all let you down. But a pointy stick is always a pointy stick.
This is an unfair comparison, especially in light of the explanation given in the edit. OP's point was that GPS can frequently be unreliable. In terms of navigating without it, basic orientation is typically enough to get you started, and "smart" substitutes for a compass are strictly inferior to an actual compass.
The edit does indeed change things. If I was replying to the edited version rather than replying to the original version I would reply differently. But judging a reply because it does not apply to what is now a completely different comment is an error that I strongly discourage. Almost all of the value of the advice comes from the two additional paragraphs. Even then I suggest it somewhat exaggerates the relative value of carrying a magnet. This distracts from the probably overall more valuable advice of doing an additional 15 minutes research when purchasing a GPS device in order to maximise reliability.
The edit came hot on the heels of the original comment. Based on comment timestamps it seemed likely that you'd read it.

The edit came hot on the heels of the original comment. Based on comment timestamps it seemed likely that you'd read it.

Welcome to the joys of race conditions. Even when you click the edit button the instant after you comment, for all the time spent writing the additional paragraphs anyone who loads the recent comments page sees the original. Then, for all the time they spent replying to your comment---and sometimes even replying to other recent comments on the same page load---they are not notified of any changes to your comment. So if either the edit takes a long time or the reply takes time, synchronization errors will frequently occur.

I sometimes realize that a comment of mine needs elaboration, or perhaps needs to be tempered somewhat with substantial argument rather than mere dismissal. In those cases where I expect the difference between the edit and the original to matter I often use a work around. I copy the text of the original then delete it. I then write the new 'edited' version and submit it as a fresh comment. (Corollary: If I fail to take such precautions I blame only myself!)

I know my city layout, so I always know where North is. It might require walking (gasp!) as much as a block, but even that is ridiculously rare. Trust me, this is superior to a compass. The big problem with a compass is that it is Yet Another Thing I Must Remember To Carry. If I use it regularly, forgetting it will probably suck since I don't have a backup. If I use it infrequently, why bother with the hassle of one more thing cluttering my purse? And what makes you think I'll remember to pack it on the days I do end up needing it?
If you don't frequently experience navigational problems, clearly a compass is not a sensible investment. I have to say, I've made questionable suggestions on LW in the past, but the tone of the responses to this one has been baffling.
People pattern-matched it to a curmudgeonly and irrational dislike for modern technology, because they have never tried actually using the magnetic sensor in a smartphone as a compass, so they aren't aware of just how unreliable those sensors are.
Apologies if my tone was overly critical or hostile. It was a cool suggestion, and I'm glad I heard it. I just don't think it's a practical suggestion for most people, given the other alternatives out there these days :)
Surprised no ones mentioned this, but what's wrong with a phone compass app? They don't use GPS, they are actually measuring the local magnetic field, and they don't delay whilst 'getting a lock' or anything. And it's not like they use much battery power. Agree that a compass is superior to GPS for orientation, but I'm not seeing why it can't be an app.
1) I don't trust the reliability of any of the compass apps I've tried. There's enough variance on them to make me doubt what they're telling me. 2) I generally want to be looking at Google Maps on my phone when I'm trying to orient myself.
Most areas of most cities have fairly intuitive street layouts, if you learn them. If I'm in Northeast Portland, and I am on a numbered street, then I am either heading east (number gets bigger) or west (number gets smaller). If it is a named street, then I am either heading north (number gets bigger), or south (number gets smaller). Most named streets do have numbers, but you can also go off the building numbers. I don't know why it took me 25 years to really accept this, since I grew up being told about this, but most cities genuinely DO use a coordinate system, and learning it makes that sort of thing trivial :)
... in the US. In Europe, they're intuitive only if you were born there or know a lot of history. (Of course South Parade is further north than North Parade!)
Fair, and thank you for calling me on it. I get the impression that a majority of LessWrong readers are in major US cities, so I'm leaving it up as useful to them :)
Yep, same here! One time I had a bus route displaying on my phone but I was facing the wrong way, so I got on the bus going the other way and didn't realize until the route ended in a sketchy area at 9 pm. I don't think I necessarily need a compass because I usually can orient myself if I stop and think, I'm just bad at it and don't like doing it for some reason, so I try to avoid it and don't ever get better.
I tend to find myself explicitly thinking "right...which way is north?", then beginning an elaborate round of detective work to figure out the answer. Being able to check my orientation as easily as checking the time is glorious.
Ironically enough, over the weekend I was searching for a more systematic way of using the sun to tell direction (besides moves east to west, and is in the south at midday (northern hemisphere)) and found this - Wikipedia: how to find north using an analog watch
If you're terrible at brain maps, learn a bunch of routes. If you're terrible at that too, carry paper maps.
Actually, I found that using sat navigators for a while improved my sense of direction rather than worsening it, so that, even when I'm not using a navigator, I'm way better now than I used to be before I owned a phone with a navigator.
Really, as you're walking/driving? That's really interesting! I noticed whenever I start hearing directions, my brain shuts off and starts taking directions. Even if I know where I'm going! Which is pretty frustrating when I have a passenger who starts describing what I know to be the wrong way to go.
I use navigation services quite often (as much for traffic mitigation and ETA as for directions), but I never use voice guidance, even on long, unfamiliar trips. I think that offers the best of both worlds: you're never going to get seriously lost, but you still need to check your surroundings against the map frequently, which builds a mental map. This may not be reliable if you're bad at multitasking or aren't very visual, though.

As per Yvain: Use amazon prime

As per me: Also use slickdeals, sign up for alerts for things you need but don't need right now. You can then safely forget about it until an email alerts you there is an excellent deal on one. I use this for things I need to buy intermittently such as supplements.

Don't forget to check retailmenot for coupon codes when buying online.

I don't understand...the benefits he mentions are a result of Internet shopping in general. How does Amazon prime, a $79/year deal for free two day shipping significantly improve upon this? Also, if you are in school, Amazon Student lets you get the 2 day shipping free.
Cognitive load. Shopping for the best price online can be just as stressful and just as much a waste of time as shopping in real life. By contrast training yourself just to buy the first item that looks good enough will (TDT) save you lots and lots of money/time/stress in the long run. 2 Day shipping as opposed to variable shipping (and tracking your packages) means you can buy a lot more items without having to plan too far ahead. I can often go a day without something but can't go the possible 5-10 business days that many other places offer. Amazon student is a good tip. anyone with access to a .edu email address can get it free for a time and half off after that.

In addition to making lists for "work," make one for things you want to watch, read, and/or play. You'll feel more productive and motivated even when taking a break from work.

However, make sure that the things you put on your list are things you actually want to do. Otherwise it may take away from the effect.
Workflowy is good for this.
On a similar note using the Getting Things Done organizational system and/or the website remember the milk provides a good way to organize you lists.
Just wondering, are you the RatWiki Yossarian?

I used to forget to brush my teeth a lot, or even when I'd remember I'd shrug it off out of some sort of extreme level of laziness. Here's how I fixed it: I put my toothbrush in my shower. I brush my teeth in the shower. Saves time, makes it easier to remember, and it's less boring since I'm multitasking.

Shaving in the shower is useful for me as well.

Plus you get to spend more time in the shower!
I THOUGHT I WAS THE ONLY ONE! Started doing this about a year ago. Have not looked back.
I finally started brushing regularly when I finally tried an electric toothbrush and began brushing immediately after I showered at night.
For what reason? Which concrete benefit do I get from following that advice?

In a study of children in schools, setting up a 'handwashing event' 4x per day cut sick days in half. Another controlled study on hand sanitizer showed a 20% decrease in sick days.

Here's a replication on sanitizer showing 20% reduction in illness rate for college students.

Here's one in Pakistan where incidence of Pneumonia and Diarrhea in children were cut in half.

Here's one in China where intensive handwashing programs for child schools cut sickness by ~40%.

The short of it is 20% to 50% fewer contagious sicknesses, depending on your current habits (assuming what holds true for children or college students holds true for you).

This seems like a pretty big assumption for many adults. Children and college students are likely in much closer quarters with many other people than a lot of office workers. (I'm a college student, though, and will try to take this advice!)
Except when they come in direct contact with the food, isn't washing hands after going to the bathroom and before cooking enough?
Notice how often you touch your lips and the area under your nose. For most people, it's pretty often.
Then here's some more boring advice: * Learn to use eating utensils and napkin properly. * Avoid touching your face.
This is true. However, touching your face makes you look uncertain. So it is probably a good idea (as a simple social hack) to stop touching your face.
It's probably better to just wash them anyway so you don't have to plan out whether you'll be touching bread and fruits or not.

Identify emotionally draining people in your circles and spend less time with them. Alternative: Identify and fix major sources of emotionally draining interactions in people you like to spend time with.

Get a credit card with no annual fee (preferably one with 1% cash back). Pay absolutely everything with card (only rent/mortgage, loan payments, and utilities should be paid in a different way, and that's only because they don't accept credit card). Pay it off in full once every month (the same date every month, and only once a month) before the due date so you never give the credit card company anything more than the actual cost of what you bought.

This makes it incredibly easy to track your finances. Rent/mortgage and loan payments are fixed. If you make a steady monthly wage you know exactly how much money you are getting every month and exactly how much you have left for all non-loan expenditures. That number should be at least $100 more than you pay to the credit card to pay off your past month of living every month.

When you bank more than usual in a month you feel awesome. When you have to pay more than you made in a month you realize immediately and can take quick steps to curtail it.

This also gives you real-world data as to what living costs, helping you to avoid the planning fallacy.

Using a debit card gives you most of the same benefits, but has slightly different costs. If your doing this it makes sense to research which one is best for you.

In general, a credit card will be the better option.

1 cards are safer and more fraud resistant. A credit card company has to cancel a false charge if you tell them to, it's much harder to get a bank to give you money back to too up an account. 1.5 related to one, you want to not give your bank account number out more often than needed

2 more credit cards have benefits than debit cards do.

Also consider Draws awesome graphs. (It only works for US bank accounts only though...)
Points against this: Money spent via card has much less immediate mental impact than spending cash. When you pay more thanyou make in a month, you realize it only at the end of the month. When you spend cash, you feel the impact on your finances directly. The pattern I use, which I stumbled upon mainly by accident: For necessities, use a card (I use debit, but this is interchangeable with credit from this perspective). For luxuries, use cash. This insulates you from impulse purchases and has a short feedback loop discouraging you from spending too much. Drawbacks: This doesn't work for online purchases and may hurt somewhat in that regard.
Interestingly, I've been using card and online banking for so long that I seem to have internalized "money is the number stored in the bank's computer/my mental register". Recently I came into a steady flow of cash (long story), and I didn't want to go to the bank every damn week to deposit it, so I started paying for groceries and restaurants with that cash. It felt like giving away play money and getting real goods and services in exchange. "You mean I can give you some colored paper slips, and you'll just give me $100 worth of groceries? It doesn't reduce the money I have in the bank? And I'm not going to jail for this?" It was weird.
In the US, can give you nice graphs of when and how you spend money, too.
My partner and I manage our finances this way. It works excellently.

Whenever you make an investment, try to begin capturing value from it as soon as possible after spending the money/time for it. Converse: if for some reason you cannot begin exploiting an investment until a certain date, delay purchasing it until that date.

(I learned this from playing the board game Agricola, where a common error mode is to use the "Expand House" action early on, but then delay the "Family Growth" action. The former action is an expensive prerequisite of the latter, which is the one that actually benefits your position. The smart move is to do Family Growth ASAP after Expand House.)

Note that this applies to entertainment and hobby purchases. Put the stuff on a wish list and let it sit, until you know you (will) have the spare time to enjoy it.
Catch: Some entertainment items aren't available at a later date. For example, certain video games. (I'm looking at you, Atlus.) Still good advice, just take into account future availability -- especially if you care about having it new and not used.
Oh, good point. One natural (not artificially limited) case of this is: other players, and public servers, for online multiplayer games.
That's actually a much better example than mine. Journey, for example, is fantastic, but a large part of what makes it so will be lost when the playerbase shrinks and/or the servers shut down.

If you're trying to learn a foreign language, get a channel in that language and leave it on in the background, occasionally sitting down to watch for a few mins, for example while eating breakfast. Do this for a year. Improvement doesn't always have to take effort.

If you spend a lot of time frustratedly explaining to people why you don't do some common social activity, consider giving in and just doing it.

There have been a few discussions on Less Wrong about how to explain to people why you don't drink. I eventually got so frustrated at having to verbally offset the mistrust I received through not drinking, I just went ahead and started drinking. It obviously depends on your social situation, but for me this amounts to maybe four glasses of wine a month, which is a ridiculously good trade-off.

Can you find nicer friends? No one has ever been weird about the fact that I don't really drink. (If anyone tried to be weird about it, I think I would claim there was alcoholism in my family - there's not, as far as I know. And not be friends with them.)

Without outright asking or commenting, people can still subconsciously judge, especially in certain situations or social groups. For example, I am the president of my chapter of my fraternity. Some people interested don't drink. While for the most part people look past the not drinking, there are some activities or events where drinking is common. We have had some non-drinkers still enjoy themselves, but some have been scared away as a result of said activities. I think an equal precursor to the idea of being judged for not drinking is how you handle being around others who are. If you can still enjoy yourself without the alcohol, in a lot of cases being judged for it is in your imagination. If you sit there awkwardly in the corner sober while everyone else is having a good time, the judgement is very real. It's just not entirely for the reason you think.
Yeah, not surprising. That doesn't sound like it adds fun for anyone. (I have been in that situation a few times, but never by choice.)
I wasn't the most social person when I started hanging out with the fraternity I ended up joining, so I did some of that at first, even when I did drink. It took some time to get out of my shell a little. I have since improved with that, indicated by the fact that I was voted to be president, with the main job of being the "face" of the house. I do my best to help people who are in that role become more involved, whether they choose to drink or not, because I was in a similar role my first year. Some people, and it does generally seem to be the non-drinkers, resist that, and they mostly end up not coming back. Drinking is far from all we do, but it's one of the ways we relax and get to know people, so people not being social to at least some extent do end up treated differently. My recommendation if you don't drink and go to social situations where people do is to simply have a good time. Be social, smile, feel free to be a little animated, and you'll be alright. There are plenty of nights where people drink where I choose not to (often because I'm broke), and while some nights I will have alcohol handed to me because I don't have a cup in my hand, for the most part people don't know if I'm drinking or not. (Unless I do a 12 foot beer bong of wine. Then they can tell.) If you don't make things awkward, most people won't either, and the ones who do will be handled by others.
Sure, that's my usual approach. Times when it hasn't gone like that have been times when I have very much not wanted to be wherever I was and for one reason or another been unable to escape. I think such a situation is more noticeable to others (and to the one experiencing it, perhaps...) when the person in question is sober than drunk!

After putting polyurethane on the floor of a house, I had an -excellent- reason which few people questioned: After polyurethaning the floor, alchohol started tasting like polyurethane smelled. (To this day it still hasn't faded completely. I stopped drinking entirely for a long time there, and still can't do straight whiskey shots, which was my old standard. Went from tasting pretty good to... awful.) Takes about thirty seconds to explain, and most people accept it just based on the weirdness of the reason.

Mistrust? Why would people mistrust you if you don't drink?

It's a refusal to participate in ritualized social bonding, and that signals you aren't willing to relax around other people and don't consider them to be part of your social in-group. If you're not drinking, that may also mean you get to keep your guard up while everyone else is saying and doing silly or even forbidden things.

I can't drink because of my medications, and I always get teased about it. "Come on, just one shot is fine..."

Or it signals that you are comfortable asserting your own values in contradiction to a group. That's a very positive signal to me, but probably generally negative.
Or maybe they think that your non-drinking is not a value of yours, but a value of another group that you are choosing over theirs.
Interesting. I knew people think that way in Japan (I was thinking about asking sixes_and_sevens if they were Japanese), but there, people don't mind if you actually do silly/forbidden things when you're drunk (or so I've heard).
I can't speak for everybody, but I think this is the reason why I tend to dislike non-drinkers.
Huh, you got a downvote for that? That wasn't me! I probably should drink less myself, and I tend to think of non-drinkers as "sensible people who didn't like the taste of alcohol when they were teenagers and didn't give in to social pressure" (like my mother, my sister and my husband).

Building off of an earlier comment. Setting alarm(s) for anything you need to at/by a specific time increases the chance you will actually do them, while decreasing the amount of time you spend worrying about doing them. Corollary, this can make your watch/alarm clock/smartphone a single point of failure for a huge chunk of you life, so take good care of it and/or have a back up.

ETA: "worrying about"

This reminds me that I need a better alarm app so I don't have an ugh field about setting alarms.
Agreed, random anecdote: I once slept for literally 16 hours after my phone died overnight.

Agreed, random anecdote: I once slept for literally 16 hours after my phone died overnight.

That suggests rather strongly that the sleep pattern you typically force on yourself isn't healthy!

I just posted this on my Facebook wall and realized it might belong in this thread:

If you think you spend too much time on Facebook but don't know what to do about it, try this: set the password to a long string of characters (say, 50 letters or numbers) which you need to manually copy every time, and log off when you finish your session. The daunting prospect of having to manually enter this information will discourage you from logging in unless you really desire it. I went from checking Facebook a dozen times per day to just one or two times. (Tip courtesy of Piers Steel, The Procrastination Equation.)

LeechBlock has an option to prevent you from accessing the settings until you retype a random 32-, 64-, or 128-character code. I think it's a brilliant idea.

Meta: Perhaps we should all pre-commit to rewarding people who say boring but true things, in general upvotes and/or social cache goes to people who say interesting things regardless of truth.

Boring true things tend to be already known, and not as useful as true interesting things. If it's boring enough, it is a waste of time to say. I think what people in this thread are looking for are true things that are not as interesting as normal, but not really really boring. 1+1=2.

If what you are doing is not working, do something else.

Upvote comments that you think are useful on LW in general, not just comments you found personally useful. (A note to myself as I read this thread).

As for this thread: wouldn't upvoting commens that you think are useful for someone else but not for you be actually an indirect case of other-optmizing?
I think so.
With the expectation that others would reciprocate by encouraging behavior that benefits you.
I think that depends on the current number of upvotes the comment has. I'll upvote comments with no upvotes that I personally found useful by way of thanks.
Sure, I'm just saying that personal usefulness shouldn't be the only reason you upvote.

Give people permission to bug you.

If you commit to doing or following up on something for somebody, tell them to bug you if you don't get back to them about it. You'll feel less stressed about remembering or being obligated to do it because you've shifted at least some of the responsibility to them and given yourself external pressure, which is ultimately more efficient than relying on your own willpower anyway.

Conversely, give yourself permission to bug people, though without judgment. You know how you feel when you have email in your inbox that you know you really ought to get to, but don't? Somebody is feeling that way about your email right now. How helpful would it be if they electronically tapped you on the shoulder as a reminder? More helpful than getting more and more resentful because they've forgotten/don't care/don't consider you valuable enough to bother replying.

I was moved to post this by the fact that numerous LW participants apparently find the preparation and consumption of food to be such a huge imposition that they're willing to try rather radical interventions just to avoid cooking and eating. Assuming that such steps don't appeal, may I suggest some more mundane ones.

Write a weekly meal planner. This eliminates the extra cognitive load of having to think about "what am I going to make for lunch/dinner" on a rolling ad hoc basis. It also makes it more likely that your grocery shopping purchases will actually match your consumption needs.

To the extent possible, parcel the ingredients out by meal in your refrigerator as you stock it. This saves preparation time later.

I can't guarantee it will work for everyone, but I think a typical individual can save themselves both time and stress concentrating meal selection and the early stages of food preparation all at one time per week, rather than repeating the process on a daily basis.

I absolutely endorse this. I don't bother with it anymore because I enjoy spontaneous cooking (and find it soothingly meditative much of the time), but during the first few months after my stroke when cooking (like everything else) was hard work, I found that organizing my food prep for the week (and cooking in large quantities, and sticking to minimal-prep techniques like roasting and crock-potting) saved me much-valued hours.

Avoid weird people.

(Negation of #1 geek social fallacy.)

Of course this advice works only with some definitions of "weird", and I don't want to make it too long, but I feel it is very useful. The point is not to avoid anyone who is off-center in any Gauss curve, but to avoid specifically people who impose a huge cost on you and on people who associate with you, usually because of their serious lack of some social skill. Certainly, nobody is perfect, but don't commit the fallacy of grey.

"Weird" is too general here.

The advice on "Five Geek Social Fallacies" has to do with dealing with people who are not weird but rather unpleasant. The examples used are of people who are obnoxious, offensive, smell bad due to poor hygiene, or hassle newcomers. These have to do with behaviors (or lack of care) that are not distinguished by their eccentricity but by causing harm and aversion to others.

So, for the boring advice:

Distinguish harmless eccentricity from harmful eccentricity. You may travel in weird social circles, wherein you recognize that being weird doesn't make someone bad ... but just because someone is weird does not mean that they are nice, either.

(Weird social circles may also choose to exclude some behavior that is harmful but not weird. For instance, there is nothing weird about making jokes that hinge on gender stereotypes (e.g. "women are bad drivers" or "men are buffoons"); these are quite common and ordinary, found in mainstream sitcoms, stand-up comedy, and so on. But a weird social circle that cares about being welcoming to gender-nonconformists may want to say that gender stereotyping is not acceptable.)

Everyone head for the exits. This site is full of weirdos by prevailing societal conventions. I'd say instead to advertise what kind of person you are, so that you attract and repel the right kind of people.
I think I would only endorse this if it sorted under "Don't avoid otherwise-valuable people just because they are weird."
OK, second attempt: Always remember that a company of weird people costs you your social capital. Make an estimate of costs and benefits. Multiply the costs by 10 to compensate for bias. Check again whether the benefits are real or imaginary, or could be obtained cheaper otherwise. Note: The number 10 probably feels to big. For most weird people, the correct multiplier would be 2 or 3. But a few of them are black swans.
I agree with "Don't neglect the costs of weirdness."
Not if the people in my social circle are themselves weird.

For those who hate flossing, consider investing in a waterpik or similar product. My breath went from persistently horrible to perpetually pleasant when I started using one.

Using antimicrobial mouthrinse is more efficacious. "... in combination with toothbrushing, daily use of the tested mouthrinses may result in a higher interproximal plaque reduction than daily flossing."
"Floss, brush and use an antimicrobial mouthwash".
this is contentious AFAIK, and flossing has more benefits than plaque reduction. It's better than nothing though.
I use interdental brushes to clean between my teeth. I find those much more pleasant, and I think they clean better too.

If you're picking out a CPU or graphics card for a custom-built personal computer, ignore basically every number the manufacturer provides to quantify its performance, and go look at some benchmarks. Not because the numbers the manufacturers provide are inaccurate, but because there are so many factors that go into how good hardware is besides the those numbers, that you will never get as accurate an estimate from them as with direct measurement of the performance.

Also, make sure they are compatible with your motherboard.

When starting a business, know your costs. The amount you need to earn (today / this week / this month) to break even is a number you should have essentially memorized. Beware ignoring so-called minor costs or failing to allocate costs to revenue sources.

AKA know your "nut".

If there's a goal you're working on that looks like it's going to take a lot of time and effort to achieve, spend a good chunk of time thinking about much faster ways to accomplish the goal before taking the slow route. Quick fixes and shortcuts aren't always bad.

Try to think critically about everything, not just the things you and the people you know of habitually think critically about.

Don't ignore obvious, commonsense explanations in an effort to be interesting. Keep in mind that the world is a complicated place and there's lots you don't know. Apparently hedgehogs (people who make confident, frequently wrong predictions based on simple models) are more likely to get media attention (and, based on my observations, internet attention as well). So, as a corollary, if you're thinking something outrageous, that idea likely found its way to you because it's outrageous, not because it's accurate.

Don't wait until things are horrible before making them awesome.

Too late!

Don't get worked up about jumping through administrative hoops such as filling forms, filing tax returns, sending applications. Especially don't go on a moral plane and say things like, 'I shouldn't have to do these things' or 'This is degrading'. It is much more easier to just do the work which cannot be reasonably argued with. Further, if you don't, you can stand to lose a lot. And not for interesting reasons. Think of it as one-boxing on Newcomb (though without the million dollars).

Don't get worked up about jumping through administrative hoops such as filling forms, filing tax returns, sending applications.

Also, if you make a half-decent salary, ask yourself whether you ought to be doing it at all as opposed to delegating it to e.g., a tax professional.

Probably one of the most important rationality skills I have learned is to really internalize the principle "my time is worth something" and spend money on delegating tasks I find annoying or time-consuming.

I tried delegating my taxes to a tax professional last year. It took -more- time, not less. This year it could potentially save my time, because I already know my deductions are going to be pretty significant. (1/5th of my pretax income last year went towards a new roof. And I bought a new computer for work. And a bunch of other homeowner investments that AFAIK are deductible.) As opposed to last year when the "professional" ignored me when I told her my deductions wouldn't exceed the standard deduction, and insisted on going through mounds and mounds of paperwork and receipts, trying to get me $1 over the standard deduction. (I think we ended up about $50 short, and that was after some very... creative deductions.) Be cautious with professionals who think they know more than you about your business, I guess.
Also, laundry, dishes, and cleaning. If you have potentially lucrative side projects going it can be stupid NOT to free up your time.
Sounds a lot like "paperwork is a mild annoyance to me, therefore people who claim to find it painful are just being drama queens".
No. Paperwork has definitely been more than a mild annoyance to me and has cost me a lot in missed opportunities and money.
Then shouldn't you be including advice on how not to get worked up about it?
That sounds a lot like losing.

Although this may not be for everyone, I'd recommend listening to audiobooks. The main advantage is that you can easily listen to them while walking or taking public transport, while cooking, while exercising, etc., which I personally find makes these activities a lot less boring.

I've also found that my personal rate of reading is faster with audiobooks (using RockBox with an mp3 player to speed up playback to 3-3.5x) than with normal reading, at something like ~450 words/min or ~1.3 pages/min. Most of the speed increase comes from me being really slow at reading normally due to getting distracted, focusing too much on thinking through one part, or just forgetting to read quickly, but still.

Podcasts as well, there's lots of good content and with an adjustable speed player (e.g. beyondpod) you can absorb it fast.
I've found myself totally unable to focus on audiobooks/podcasts for any length of time except while walking. Any advice for me and others like me?
I agree with tut that increasing speed might help. Sometimes if I listen at default speed, I find my attention drifting off mid-sentence just because it's going so slowly. (Conversely, at higher speed, when my attention does drift off briefly, I sometimes miss a full sentence or two and have to rewind slightly.) If that doesn't work, I don't really have many other ideas. Maybe you could try other repetitive mechanical actions to see if they coexist well with audiobooks. For example, maybe cooking, drawing, or exercising might work (if you do any of those). In general, I find it easy to not miss anything in an audiobook so long as I'm simultaneously doing something that does not also involve words.
1 Listen while walking (ie if it's the only time it works, and if you walk often, then just use the opportunity when you have it) 2 Try listening at a higher speed when doing simpler things
I don't walk often; if I did it wouldn't be an issue. Also, I'm skeptical increased speed would help. If I'm not doing anything else while listening, my attention drifts away, which I don't think would be assisted by increasing the speed. The lack of related physical action is the main issue; I find it enormously difficult to not fidget away any focus I had.
Why do you want to use audiobooks? The usual reason is so that you can learn or enjoy a good story while you are doing other stuff. If that's the case for you, then do that stuff and your lack of physical motion is solved. If you have another reason, have you considered taking up walking just to enjoy your audiobooks and for exercise? How about knitting? Woodcarving? Keeping ones body occupied is not an unexplored problem. As for speeding up, I was a lot more sceptic that it would help me concentrate on videos before I tried it.
I've found the opposite. I will occasionally listen to audiobooks while driving or working out, but even with accelerated audio I read 2-3 times faster than audio can do. Also, reading allows control of the pace. Certain sections are denser than others, and with a book you can slow down through those parts without losing pace on the filler.
I have listened to audiobooks for about a 6 months. Recently I started to spend less time on audiobooks and more time on thinking. Not much evidence is gathered, by so far thinking while walking seems more useful for me.
You listen to them at 3-3.5x while doing other things? How do you increase the speed, do you only increase the tempo? Do you change the pitch at all?
Yes, I find that that's about the current limit for me catching every word. I think it used to be a bit slower a year or two ago (~2.5x), but I'm not sure if maybe I just pushed less then. Mostly I have no trouble doing other non-group things while listening, except I can't do anything involving words (including daydream level thought chains) or anything overly mentally challenging (e.g. non-trivial math). (If I concentrate really really hard I can listen to something and read something at the same time while understanding both, especially at lower playback speeds, but I find myself unable to maintain this level of concentration for more than a few sentences.) Not sure I understand what you mean by "tempo" (as opposed to speed). On the computer, I use VLC, which increases playback speed without shifting pitch. Walking around, I use a Sansa Fuze (not +, and v2) with Rockbox firmware installed. Rockbox lets me go up to 250% playback speed without pitch shifting, and then requires +1% pitch for every additional 2.5% speed thereafter. I actually find VLC less clear than my mp3 player at high speeds, although not sure if that's because pitch increases helps comprehension or because my sound card is worse than the player or something (I guess I should test it some time).
I second your advice and am curious what sources of material you consume this way.
Mostly p2p sources, to be honest, supplemented with LibriVox for public domain titles. I'd like to be able to buy more, since there are a lot that just aren't available by other means (especially less popular or newer books on more serious topics), but my current budget doesn't really allow for it.
You can take audible's free month then immediately cancel if that fits your morals.
(And if it doesn't... fix your morals!)

If you're good at something, do that thing.

(Obvious caveats apply.)

So it's not obvious to me that this is a good idea. On the one hand, comparative advantage. On the other hand, fixed vs. growth mindset: you can change what you're good at, and this might be valuable. Aaron Swartz wrote a nice blog post about how restricting it is to be good at one thing because it feels like you shouldn't do other things that I can't currently find.
Yes; "do that thing" should not be confused with "do only that thing".
The Joker

I used to have a lot of trouble getting up in the morning, and would frequently arrive to work or lecture at the last possible minute. The one change I made that had the largest impact, beyond strength of coffee or wake-up time, was to switch from showering after breakfast, near the end of my morning routine, to showering first thing when I get out of bed.

I now get out of bed, throw on my flip-flops, grab my stuff to shower, throw a pita in the toaster oven for 10 minutes to make a start on breakfast, fix coffee using the electric kettle, and shower. Aft... (read more)

After you get a haircut you like, ask your stylist to describe what ey did/what the style is, ideally in the vocabulary of the trade. For instance, my current style includes a face frame, long layers, and some other style words.

Write it down, stick the note in your wallet, forget about it until the next haircut. You get the benefit of repeating instructions as they would be described from one hairstylist to another and are less likely to fall victim to terrible cuts or the poor memory of your regular stylist.

As someone who is less productive with a bad haircut (I have to pin unruly lengths out of my eyes, etc), this has saved me time and confusion.

After you get a haircut you like, get a friend to take a picture of you from all four sides (and top, I suppose) with your phone. In future haircuts, show it to the stylist.

Start saving extra money while you are young.

I disagree with this one if you mean in the sense that "compound interest will make you rich!" meme. If you mean in terms of having emergency funds and or saving for shorter term freedom (being able to quit your 9-5 temporarily if an opportunity you want to pursue comes up) I agree.

Maybe the saved money itself during youth is not as important as starting a good habit. Then when you start making decent money, you already have a habit of saving them, and you are already familiar with how it works (you don't have an "ugh" field about money and saving).

strongly agree. I get a lot of mileage out of the rule of thumb "keep your lifestyle expenses a pay raise or two behind you."

I agree -- though there have been times when I was more frugal than in retrospect I wish I had been.
What's the problem with the "compound interest will make you rich" meme? Is it inflation?

Compound interest gains most of its power when large amounts have been saved. So if you don't make much money, compound interest simply won't make you rich, you won't be able to save enough (though you can still have a decent retirement). If you make a lot, it doesn't matter as much anyway. If you're middle class and willing to save half your income, then it might make you rich, but that is a painful 30-40 years. Explore the graphs and savings calculator here for examples of what you would need to do to have a million by 60.

Mostly that life is too short and interest too low for that to really happen before you die.
I think that meme originated in a time when interest rates were a lot higher than today.
I have seen people argue for the reverse, on the grounds that the money you'll save while in your n-th job (for small n at least) will likely be negligible compared to the money you'll make when in your (n + 1)-th (or is it (n + 1)-st?) job.
This worked for me before I was 30; later my income stopped raising quickly. I admit this could be because I made a few stupid choices. But I think that for most people their incomes stop raising rapidly at some age. Is there a rule of thumb which would work well for both situations? For example "always save x% of what you made N years ago"? ... Oops, that is exactly the opposite of what this article suggests. A smart seeming advice, which no one would ever use in their real life.
I had taken “young” in Trevor_Blake's comment to mean “in your twenties”.
Then I agree. I just didn't see that word used in your response, so I misunderstood it to be without time limits. (By the way, most people seem to use the word "young" meaning "age <= my_age" or later "age < my_age". Just ask a teenager whether twenties is young or old. Then ask a 50 years old person whether thirties were young or old. So an advice based on "while you are young" has very high potential to be misunderstood.)
(That was what the “for small n at least” part was for.)

In certain classes of cases*, the best way to find out answers to your questions is to ask them (rather than doing your own investigation).

Not sure if that's borderline punchy.

*For example, when trying to locate something while driving/walking around, when inquiring about poorly documented local activities, when your solution of some problem/research question may have one of many possible flaws (and thus you would need to look up each possible flaw to investigate it, while an expert may be able to spot the flaw immediately), when your quick google search f... (read more)

Usually the best way to find out answers to questions is to do a single google search. If present the search result that includes the domain "" usually gives decent answers quickly. The parent would be greatly improved by replacing the 'usually' with a more representative frequency ("sometimes") or including a qualifier.
You're right - and I think this is a common failure mode of the population at large, but my most common failure mode is not finding something in a quick google search then failing to just ask someone else who probably knows while either wasting too much time searching or giving up. At the risk of the typical mind fallacy, perhaps this is the most common failure mode of the average LW member as well. If the grandparent could somehow be changed to target people like me better, I think that would improve it the most.
Okay, well, edited it to be a lot more specific at the cost of punchiness, which I suppose was pretty much the point.
Before devoting any time to personal investigation or asking others, google the question. This works even more often than you'd expect.
Not sure if I understand the difference. Doing your own research is another kind of asking (e.g. asking the internet). Do you mean asking a domain expert?

Sometimes people are willing to spend hours privately researching something — in an intellectually unrewarding and tiring state of incomprehension — when by simply asking an appropriate friend, coworker, or forum they could get a clear and explanatory answer that would much better serve their needs. Scholarship is a virtue, but wasting time and energy is not.

In technical workplaces, this is especially a problem when people think they shouldn't ask for help, out of fear of admitting ignorance. Some folks will spend hours struggling with bad, inadequate, incorrect documentation and beating themselves up over it, for the sake of avoiding admitting to their coworker that they're not quite sure what the third argument to that function is supposed to be.

Any suggestions for best forums for questions that don't have obvious places to ask? I've been happy with, but I haven't used it lately.
If your answer fits any of the categories of Stackexchange that's usually a good place for a question.
Reddit has a number of these, e.g. /r/askscience for general science explanations, /r/answers for "everything you ever wanted to know about anything but were afraid to ask." There are other specific Q&A subreddits for history, social science, and estimation of unusual quantities.
This is probably the biggest waste of time in tech. Who knows what isn't identified and properly leveraged. People are punished for saving time by seeking direction of those who know better (they don't know their jobs), and those who know better aren't rewarded for the work they save others.

On the other hand, you also have the problem of people who will ask questions that could be answered in a 1-minute Google search or by reading the documentation, thus breaking the flow of the senior programmer and wasting 30 minutes of their time.

It does go both ways.

My personal policy is to spend 5-10 minutes searching if I'd be interrupting someone's concentration.

Before heading to the gym for a workout, plan out your workout in detail (what exercises, in what order, how many sets, how many reps) and preferably carry a piece of paper with the workout written on it. This leads you to getting more done in less time. But more importantly, this prevents decision fatigue from draining your willpower; and you need willpower in large quantities to finish your workout.

Apps like fitocracy allow you to copy/paste workouts to make this easier

Bring your coat - but don't wear it. Being cold burns calories and improves circulation.

On that note, does anybody have any boring advice for cold-weather exercise? I can jog in 110 degree, 100% humidity weather, no problem. I grew up in the swampy parts of Texas. Heat and humidity are no problem for me. But jogging in cold weather - < 60 Fahrenheit - is killer; my throat feels like I'm swallowing jagged chunks of ice.

Re: jogging in cold weather -- throw in some nasal breathing (~10-15% of breaths) and take periodic short breaks during which you just walk (every 1 mile or so).
Breathe primarily in and out of your nose; anecdotally that helps keep your lungs from drying out due to the low dewpoint. Also, drink enough water to pass clear urine four times a day to recover moisture loss (also due to low dewpoint)
Put a scarf or neck warmer over your mouth. Your throat will thank you. If that's too warm, you can use one of those little medical masks or chew a piece of gum.

If you are feeling just a little sick, do not go to work. Apply for sick leave and stay home. Not only will you recover more quickly by getting more rest, you also protect your colleagues from getting infected.

I think the usefulness of this advice depends on the person receiving it. For some people, this translates to

"If you can muster up even a little excuse not to go to work, don't go."

If they are adult about whether they would rather attend work reliably and receive the benefits which do accrue or not, it remains good advice even if they discount future paychecks more than skiving today. Granted, that group has some confusing personal issues and probably inconsistent values.


Getting a bidet is better as far as pampering your sensitive regions goes. Especially if you easily get hemorrhoids.
Wipe back to front, rather than front to back. Yes, it's more awkward. It's also more effective and requires less toilet paper, and fewer strokes.

Downvoted: This is potentially harmful advice if you have a vagina.

The majority of cases of cystitis or urethritis are from E. coli, the normal flora that lives in your gastrointestinal tract. This helps you digest your food, but if you wipe from back to front you risk smearing it to your urethral meatus (pee hole). Then the bacteria get into a sterile environment [your pee hole] and cause a UTI. This was traditionally taught in medical school to be "Honeymoon cystitis" as many women would get UTIs after their vigorous honeymoon weekend and come back with this normal infection. Maybe we see less of this these days with premarital sex and living together.


And the rest of the article says that there is no conclusive evidence either way.
That feels a bit mis-representatative: There's no conclusive evidence, but there is weak evidence in favor. The first doctor says it doesn't matter, the second says it does, and the three linked studies say (mildly harmful, no effect, no effect), with small sample sizes. The first doctor also explicitly states that he'd still wipe front-to-back if he were female! I'd call that weak evidence towards harm, i.e. this is potentially harmful advice.

I'm told this is unhygienic, because there are bacteria that you don't want to move from back to front. This may only apply to females, though.

I'm boggling. There are people who wipe front to back? That never even occurred to me. (And so) imagining that way now seems more awkward, not less.
Like maia said, females get told this is unhygienic. Not the first time I've seen advice-specific-to-one-gender generalized to another, especially since OrphanWilde is generalizing the other way in recommending back-to-front :)
I'm honestly not sure what percentage of the population does what. It's one of those pieces of information that gets completely uncommunicated in our culture. tempted to start a poll... but no.
Maybe we could ask Andrex to run one!
I don't think I wipe in any consistent direction or pattern. But now I will be very self conscious next time I do so,