This is part 21 of 30 in the Hammertime Sequence. Click here for the intro.

I took a long break from Hammertime to check the fundamental question: am I actually better at achieving my values now?

The answer is a solid yes. Problems that used to live in the category of “not within my capabilities” disintegrated into so many puffs of malevolent smoke. Paper-writing got itself done. Fifteen hundred words of half-decent fiction got written every day. For the first time in my life, I live in such a thoughtfully decorated room I’ll actually miss it when I move away. I felt like a rationality Warlock:

A high-level Aversion appears…Hah! With the power of FOCUSING, I’ll scry your true name, Demon!

“Status Regulation, Begone!”

This section feels impossible to write…

I know! I’ll do it in FIVE MINUTES!

I have no idea what my problem is…

Fear not! I’ll blast it with the magic of FRIENDSHIP!

So you’re stuck on a quest to save the world…


If you’re reading Hammertime simply for my scintillating wit, that’s completely fine! Just remember that these techniques might also help you achieve your values if you give them a chance.

Hammertime: The Third Cycle

Twice and thrice over, as they say, good is it to repeat and review what is good.
~ Plato.

The third cycle is ten days of review. On each day, we will attempt to tease out the unifying meta-principles behind each technique, taking them (and all the others) to the limit of their power. Here’s a tentative schedule:

  1. Bug Hunt 3
  2. Yoda Timers 3: Speed
  3. TAPs 3: Reductionism
  4. Design 3: Intentionality
  5. CoZE 3: Empiricism
  6. Growth Triplets
  7. Internal Double Crux: Duality
  8. Focusing 2: Fusion
  9. Murphyjitsu 2: Humility
  10. TDT 2: Post-Consequentialism

Day 21: Bug Hunt 3

Today we’re back to Bug Hunt with three more sets of prompts to help find the biggest bottlenecks in your life. After you read each, set a Yoda Timer to brainstorm bugs.

1. Getting Got

The world is Out to Get You. Social media. Capitalism. Your job. Your family. Your friends. Your hobbies. Everyone wants your time, money, and attention. How do you keep yourself from Getting Got all the time?

Do you know how to say no? If you don’t Get Gone regularly, you’re easy pickings. Things are often worse than they appear. Things deteriorate over time. Things want more and more of your soul. There’s no such thing as a one-hour game of Civ. Get Gone. You don’t owe anybody everything.

Do you know how to set boundaries? Some things can only be Worth It if you can draw a line in the sand. Set a budget. Or a timer. Get Compact and hold the line as if your life depends on it.

2. Hamming Problems

Background reading: Anxious Underconfidence and Status Regulation

What are the important problems of your field?
What important problems are you working on?
If what you are doing is not important, and if you don’t think it is going to lead to something important, why are you … working on it?

~ Richard Hamming.

To take an incremental approach: are there slightly more important problems you could be working on? Why aren’t you working on them?

Anxious Underconfidence is an artifact of an ancestral environment where every failure is fatal. Do you have Anxious Underconfidence? How often have you failed on a significant undertaking in the last year? Don’t maximize your percentage of wins. Maximize total number of wins. That’s what counts.

Do you use status as a proxy for competence? Do you believe that only people with tenure, wealth, age, or social capital have the right to work on important problems? Is your assessment of your own abilities a function of how others perceive you?

3. Fail Gracefully, Succeed with Abandon

Background reading: Failing with Abandon.

There’s a Chinese idiom, 破罐子破摔, which means: “might as well smash a cracked pot.” Failing with abandon is angrily smashing a pot with the slightest crack. “I didn’t like it anyway!”

Does that appeal to you?

Failing with Abandon ignores the fact that utility functions are usually continuous. Failing a little is OK. Keep at it. Something is better than nothing.

Failing with Abandon takes away valuable learning experiences. If the last homework can’t save your grade, do you still put in the same effort? If you’re twenty points down in a game of Go, do you still try your best? Or do you just go through the motions? Life is a very long iterated game, and Failing with Abandon is forfeiting the future.

On the flip side, do you always satisfice? Do you turn in the bare minimum to make a GPA? When you hit the target, do you run home to party? If you’re up twenty points in a game of Go, do you play improper but safe moves to secure the win? Satisficing is giving up an opportunity to reach your full potential.

Failing with Abandon and satisficing are both symptoms of near-sighted hyperbolic discounting.

Instead, fail gracefully. Succeed with abandon.

Daily Challenge

Are you better at achieving your values since Hammertime Day 1? If so, what helped?

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13 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since:
  1. A few years ago I was frustrated by the sense that hours kept disappearing from my life and I had no idea where they were going. So I started tracking how I was spending each hour, every day for maybe 2 years, in a google sheet. This unfortunately didn't solve the problem, but at least I knew.
  2. Here's a cute trick in the vein of structured procrastination, that we might call "structured Hamming procrastination": find out the two most important problems in your life, then work on the second most important one to procrastinate working on the first most important one. Still a big improvement over what most people do.
  3. Have complicated thoughts about this. The short and unsatisfying summary is something about breaking through Schelling fences.

Huh, I did exactly the same with tracking my time in my Google sheet. Also two years. It also didn't fix the problem, but did seem to help a good bit and made me aware of how I spend my time.

I also did this, and it gave me a more acute sense of the hours passing. I even made a spreadsheet after the end of each week to see what my time allocation looked like in broad strokes.

I stopped because it got laborious and I’d already gained a heightened awareness of my time usage.

There are apps like Toggl that can be used for basically this with much greater automation/less manual labor.

I think that satisficing is sometimes the right way to approach tasks. I would classify a whole slew of tasks as not super important but still needing to be done. It isn't always worth it to pour energy into everything you do. As someone who errs on the side of perfectionism too often, I find the concept of succeeding with no wasted motion to be a sanity saver.

Absolutely, I think doing things more quickly and cleanly than demanded is also (and perhaps the correct) a form of succeeding with abandon. I was referring to the many situations where you're stuck in an activity anyway after the "outcome" is already clear (e.g. a won game). Making the most of these situations is helpful.

Are you better at achieving your values since Hammertime Day 1? If so, what helped?

I think so - the following themes have mainly stuck out in the past few weeks:

  • Noticing - paying a bit more attention to my reactions and inspecting them with more curiosity
  • Clarity - writing out my semi stream of consciousness here has shown me patterns in my thoughts that I couldn't see in my head
  • CoZE - I've been making an attempt to try new things and to notice when I have arbitrary unwritten rules
  • Doing rather than simulating - actually doing the exercises is much different than just thinking about them. Actually writing is much different than thinking about writing something. This has transferred a outside of Hammertime (I'm a broken record on this one)
  • Reductionism + recursion - Gives a great general framework for solving known unknowns
  • Trusting past me - I've noticed that I'm more willing to respect the choices and plans of the me of a few days/weeks ago. I'm tired currently, and I know it's arbitrary, but the me of 20 days ago said he would comment every day, so I'm going to respect his wishes and do it.

Overall, I think writing out my thoughts, CoZE, and trusting my past self have given me the biggest benefits so far, which surprises me.

I do think I've gotten better at achieving my values over the course of Hammertime. the biggest way that's manifested has been in how I'm spending my time. I'm spending more time reading books and talking to friends rather than aimlessly browsing the internet or playing videogames. Interestingly enough, I've actually been spending less time working, which I wasn't consciously trying to do but I think is positive, as I generally work somewhat too hard. 

Reflecting back on the bug list for the second time, I only came up with a modest number of additional bugs. The list currently stands at 132 bugs, of which I've solved 38. My favorite bug solve was to finally get around to hanging some art in the empty space near my desk. 

Since day 1 some change and progress

  • Most of all self confidence and self trust were improved by having a commitment to spend 1hr daily at the Hammertime work. Keeping regular progress reduces tension I felt at every thought of undertaking something from self-development
  • Reignited something that I've lost - light morning exercise:

I have evening TAP of putting yoga mat out before going to bed (+design). And morning TAP of jumping out of bed to have a sip of water and short stretching.

With the idea that I'd add more things to this morning activity

  • With timers and bug lists I've done several things that were easy one-offs, but I weren't being done. Like small home improvements.
  • Right now apart from Hammertime I'm working on setting up GTD system, hopeful that I'll make it stick for a while this time. That seems like a very important thing to add
Are you better at achieving your values since Hammertime Day 1? If so, what helped?

I've been able to (probably lastingly) resolve ~20 bugs so far¹ and make notable improvements in a few areas of my life. Also my productivity increased by roughly 40% since starting hammertime, which however could have various causes (plus, last year too I was most productive during the summer months).

Regarding whether it helped me achieve my values, "no clear values" remains as one of my unresolved bugs, so I can't really tell.

I'd say the things that helped the most are yoda timers and murphyjitsu. TAPs tend to not work very well for me, but when they do, they're also very useful.

¹) That really isn't too much, and I realize it would make sense to allocate a few hours every week to just do some introspection and working on my bugs. So far I've mostly just followed hammertime and didn't do much on top, but I guess the greatest value lies in utilizing all this stuff consistently.

No dramatic improvement from Hammertime for me, but I do think it's been helpful for increasing my sense of agency - that I can solve problems (and it's often much easier than expected), that I can make and keep commitments (at least sometimes), that I have tools for working on issues in my life. (But also Hammertime isn't the only thing I'm doing right now with somewhat similar goals, so tracking causality is maybe especially hard.)


1) Yes, everyone's after your time and energy. But what is it for? You got to decide -- you can't really hoard it, you must give it somewhere. As long as you're making the decision, it's okay to give it to people or activities clamoring for it.

2) I don't like the idea at all. Big problems in your field are usually big for a reason. By all means, don't just accept that: study them, think about them. Either you'll understand why they're hard, or you'll come up with something interesting. But most often, you'll understand why they're hard. It's probably a better use of your time to go after paths of least resistance with low(er) hanging fruits.

Going after these problems usually makes for shitty motivation. Go after something fun, go after something you like. Then you might see it through the end. If we're using physicists as examples, Feynman is famous for investigating wobbly plates movements after Los Alamos, a direction that eventually netted him the Nobel. He did it because it felt fun.

3) Satisficing is very often useful. Especially if you're a perfectionist. You clarified in the comment above that you were thinking about situations where you are stuck with the outcome already decided. Then it's indeed fine to make the most of your time there, but that's not clear from the article.

1) Getting Got is usually a failure of making a smart big-picture decision. When the average person or activity clamors for my time, I know I'd be better off literally staring at a wall introspecting, and yet it's still difficult to refuse. I think you overestimate how easy it is to make clear-headed decisions with all the noise - Getting Gone and Getting Compact are tools for this.

2) Don't put words in my mouth. I didn't say you should work on the hardest problems. I said you should think about why you're not working on them.

3) Agree.