This is an idea that appealed to me, so I decided to give it a shot. Read on if you’re interested.
What’s the idea?
Provide a place where people can ‚meet‘ and talk about their work, without feeling like aliens and having to explain themselves all the time.
Where I live, there are no Meetups (LessWrong, MIRI or otherwise) nearby. The greatest probability of meeting like-minded people is the internet; even there, you have to know where to look. This isn’t a problem usually. Much of the work that I do can be done alone. It is not required to have someone nearby, with whom I can talk about my work. Yet not having someone to talk to, who understands what my goals are or why I care about these sorts of things, often made me feel very alone and frustrated.
I tried telling my friends on a semi-regular basis what I was working on and how I was faring, but while this generated some interest, I often ended up having to explain thrice as much as the content of my actual talk, just to get a fraction of the meaning across. It was both time-consuming and exhaustive: that counteracted its purpose as a simple motivational tactic. Not to mention, I’m still not quite sure that it is right to use other people like this, when it is clear that you’re the only one who gets something out of it.
LessWrong would provide a safe alternative, if one could set up such a ‚meeting place‘ in the form of a sub-page or something.
What prompted this idea?
I discovered that reporting what I work on during the day, even in the form of keeping automated records (there are useful apps for this), is a great motivation booster. It’s a version of a feedback-loop that I can control:
1. I work on goal X for 2 hours or more.
2. After which I write a short note of what I worked on.
3. This repeats throughout the day, with various topics and length of work.
4. At the end of the day, I see a full record of what I worked on and for how long.
5. This is physical, undeniable evidence of actually being the person that I want to be. I get a mental boost of happiness, confirming that yes, today I actually did work on what I wanted to work on. This strengthens my resolve to do just as well or better the next day. In the evening, I can quite happily spend the time until I fall asleep thinking about what I did throughout the day, how it affected my goals in a real, measurable way (for example, studying a certain topic), how I might improve on this, what other strategies or goals I could introduce, ...
6. This gives me the mental fortitude to adress other things that I don’t like to think about as much, drag them out in the open and decide on a strategy of how to deal with them.
All in all, it really is a good strategy (for me personally) to get things done. I can even leave time for strategic thinking, learning new things, investigating my believes, or whatever other meta-work I want to do; this becomes just another one of the ‚goals‘ that I work on.
I thought a version of this might appeal to some people here. There a loads of posts about procrastination, akrasia, motivation, techniques for productivity, etc. This is my idea of a useful thing to do.
The idea for LessWrong:
I tried to pound out a version of what I think it could be like, to get the idea rolling. The actual implementation of it, if there is any, might look very different.
Set up a sub-page or ... as the place to meet (perhaps accessible only to users who log-in?). Think of a village square or something, where throughout the day people cross and stop to chat for a few minutes. This is neither an obligation, nor do you have to put up a front. Just whenever you need a reminder of what your goals are or that you aren’t alone, the evidence is there.
People can post as much as they like. All posts are appended to the previous post, so that it creates a huge thread, like classic-style forum posts.
As a short motivational booster, you can scroll through and see other people’s posts (or your own previous participation). Use it only once or twice per day, so that it doesn’t become an addiction.
Posts can be either updates or comments. Comments would reference the post they are replying to, perhaps through quotation or a link, and could be anything that feels relevant to the topic. Updates don’t necessarily have to be acknowledged; it can be enough to know that the ‚report‘ is out there and visible to others.
What an update could look like:
goals [amount per day]: feed the ducks [4 hours], secreet goal #5 [2 hours], study for subject x [5 minutes]
report: I worked 4,5 hours on ‚feed the ducks‘, studied three minutes for x, then took a break. During the afternoon I worked on secret goal #5, which is coming along nicely.
Are you sure your study habits are actually helping you learn? And please don’t take over the world. ;)
Tomorrow I’ll do five minutes. What are you implying?
If you’ve read this far:
Point out if you think this is a useful thing to have or not. Make additional comments, suggestions, poke at flaws, etc.
If you already know of such a place, perhaps you can provide a link. I suggested LessWrong because over the years I’ve come to regard this as a neutral, safe place with a certain purpose, and wouldn’t mind participating in this sort of casual exchange in a dedicated sub-page/thing.