Akrasia hack survey

by John_Maxwell1 min read30th Nov 201239 comments


Personal Blog

Survey here.  Analysis here.

39 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 9:03 PM
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I had never heard of the Pomodoro-technique under that name, so I had to klick the link, where there was a 2:20-minute-video instead of one single sentence. Since nobody likes to watch videos when unneccesary, maybe just link the Wikipedia?

Oh, crap. I answered "have never heard of this technique" for this reason (did not watch the video). Should be, "want to try but haven't."

I just wanted to say this is a really good title which, in addition to the primary purpose of getting higher quality data, probably also got more people to respond as well. Good on you. Only thing I'd change is "medium-length" to a minute range.

I have initially parsed the title as decide before (clicking (to fight (self-sampling effects))) rather than the intended (to fight self-sampling effects) (decide before clicking).

Two minutes nine seconds on my stop watch.

Thanks. Changed.

Thanks. For reference, I considered 'medium-length' to be 15 minutes or somewhat more.

Clicked, took the survey. Your title might cause some self-sampling effects too, you know :-)

What is the preferred response for "This is the first I have heard of this hack, and I don't think it is worth trying?"

Probably "I don't think it is worth trying".

I was exchanging email with another Less Wrong user, about the usefulness of researching new life hacks, and started wondering if people frequently try out the life hacks they read about on Less Wrong and elsewhere, or whether we need to work on the meta-skill of actually trying out life hacks/applying them consistently.

If you want to make an anonymous write-in answer, or you want to comment anonymously on the poll, please visit http://piratepad.net/kmHYWAgrzH

lukeprog's algorithm for beating procrastination


The Pomodoro Technique


Exercise for increased energy (counts as successful if increased energy outweighs time cost of exercise for you)


LeechBlock or similar


Of course, not all self-improvement advice necessarily fits the procedural "life hack" paradigm (in fact, most may not), and advice of other sorts may be easier to apply (e.g. reading Alicorn's luminosity anecdotes may increase your self-awareness without further action on your part). Hopefully the survey will prove informative nonetheless.

Thanks for participating!

There should be an option for "I don't need to hack this part of my life." I'm already good at not procrastinating, but answering "I don't think this hack is worth trying" seems to imply that I judge the hack to be crappy, rather than I don't feel I need it.

This poll needed the "I don't think I need this" option. Exercise (rock climbing currently) is so much fun I don't remember what not doing it is like.

Hm, I'm not too surprised that so many have only intended to try lukeprog's algorithm--the only time I ever tried it, I thought to myself "wow, this is convenient, I'm procrastinating and I remembered to try lukeprog's algorithm". If you use Anki regularly, you can try making "situation/response" type cards to deal with this problem--e.g. the front of the card says "You're procrastinating" and the back says "Try lukeprog's algorithm".

I've been exercising regularly for too long to have a good idea of what not doing so would do to my energy levels. When I stop for a while, it's usually because I'm on vacation or too busy to have the time, and either way I feel the resulting diffs would be worthless; being in new or unusual situations (as I generally am on vacation) consistently boosts my energy, and being busy enough that I don't have six to ten hours a week or so to spare predictably drains it.

Within my usual range of variation, I've noticed effects on mood, but not on energy or willpower.

What do you mean by exercise (as a method to beat procrastination)?

[-][anonymous]9y 0

I find physical exercise kind-of useful for certain things, but I'm not sure it enhances my willpower that much.

I find that I don't have good habits for using, just like I don't have good habits for very many other things. I'm only likely to use a hack if I was reading about it earlier and then remembered to try it within a few days. I would probably try it with mild success, maybe using it every once in a while.

For me, forming habits (beeminder) is the most important hack I use.

I clicked, and then found I was up against way too much akrasia to want to address the questions.

Wow, interesting! I'd definitely like to hear you elaborate if you're comfortable.

I'm not sure how much I can elaborate-- it seemed like a very undifferentiated ugh field. I not only didn't want to do more, I didn't want to think about how to get myself to do more.

It took some sense of duty to make my first comment rather than just letting the whole thing go.

Do you think "ugh" should be listed as a response to survey questions? (Or equivalently a check box that says "I've left some answers blank due to ugh field rather than due to not reading the question" - not possible with the current LW software, just brainstorming)

That's not a bad idea-- possibly a short version would be "I don't want to think about the subject".

I found it interesting that you mentioned Alicorn's Luminosity series, as that is the single most helpful, life-changing work I've read on Less Wrong. Certainly not the "lifehack" in the sense of procedures one can implement, but her work has helped me identify problem areas in myself with much more accuracy than before.

By contrast, I find lukeprog's Procrasination Equation intimidating at first glance, and I have to work up my willpower to make a commitment to it. Pomodoro and Exercise have both worked well for me in the past, but I've backslid from using them. Leechblock doesn't appeal to me as an idea at all, because the barrier is too easy to delete. I'd rather develop my willpower instead.

I found it interesting that you mentioned Alicorn's Luminosity series, as that is the single most helpful, life-changing work I've read on Less Wrong.


I have been largely satisfied with my work output lately, but improvement never hurts. Does anybody have experience using the Pomodoro Technique in an office setting? I think it looks useful, but actually implementing it and sitting at the workplace with a rather obvious timer (and the way wikipedia describes the technique, obvious stimuli like the ticking and ringing of the timer are part of the method) warrant explanation and may be considered slightly weird.

Clicked, filled the survey, but results failed to go through after several attempts using Opera Mini.

So, for many of these the answer is basically "I tried this hack with good results, but then my situation changed" rather than "the hack stopped working." Leechblock was effective when I was restricting my internet usage from 9 to 5, but then I reconsidered that restriction, and now I don't use Leechblock.

Each of these hacks is generally a policy shift of some sort, which may not impact the tight constraint for some activities.

I selected the second option (should try, but never did) for Lukeprog's procrastination hack, but feel like clarifying a bit. I've actually used most of the components of that hack with good results. But I haven't used the diagnostic schema explicitly.

My answer for Exercise would be "I am trying this hack right now and so the results haven't come in yet" (so I answered "write-in").

I answered "I feel I should try" for lukeprog's algorithm, but it's really more of a "I'll put it on my list of hacks to try at some point, but with low priority as there's a whole bunch of others I should try first".

I like the title too, especially as it gives no information about what the survey is going to be about. (Still might be distorted as people's productivity experiences might correlate with how much time they spend filling in surveys on LW... but not sure there's much that we can do about that)

I computed the ratio of good vs. bad results by adding up the number of responses to 'I tried this hack with good results, and I don't use it consistently, though I'd like to' and 'I tried this hack with good results, and now use it consistently' and dividing by the number of responses to 'I tried this hack with disappointing results'. Here are the results:

  • Luke's algorithm: 0.67 [0.67 good results per bad result] (n=20)
  • Pomodoro technique: 2.75 (n=45)
  • Exercise: 4.86 (n=123)
  • LeechBlock or similar: 0.87 (n=56)

(Please note that I haven't factored in the number of responses to 'I tried this hack with good results, but it stopped working', since it wasn't clear what weight should be given to them relative to the other two positive responses.)

I'm sorry but I didn't get how the single world 'exercise' refers to a 'new' life-hack or anything like that(especially didn't see it as a life hack that I've learned from LessWrong or a similar site).

I assumed that it referred to the well reported effect that adding moderate exercise to an otherwise sedentary lifestyle dramatically reduced reported lethargy. Theoretically, lethargy could interfere with one's ability to do productive work.

As you said yourself it is a well reported effect, hardly a new lifehack or anything like that.

Hm. My answers were:

Anti-procrastination: "This fit with things I'd tried to do before in a small way, but went a lot farther, and I've repeatedly come back to it and feel I've made intermittent improvements by applying one or another part of it, but not really in a systematic way, so can't be sure that that's due to the technique rather than just ascribing any good results I happen to get to this because it sounded good."

Pomodoro: "I've tried something similar before with intermittently good results and would like to do so more than I do. I don't know whether the trappings of pomodoro significantly improve on that."

Exercise: "I feel good on the occasions when I exercise, but it doesn't seem to produce a measurable performance increase -- it may halt a performance decrease."

I decided to fit those into the boxes as best I could rather than write in, but I wasn't sure.

[-][anonymous]9y -1

How am I supposed to decide without knowing what the survey is about? What happens if I precommit to taking it and it turns out that it's not a survey I would usually intend to fill out?

This doesn't make any sense.

It avoids this situation:

Persons A,B,C: Oooh, a survey about procrastination hacks, I love trying procrastination hacks. I'll take this survey.

Persons D,E,F: Bleh, a survey about procrastination hacks. I never even try those, I'll skip this one.

Survey creator: Well, it appears that 100% of LWers are interested in trying out procrastination hacks, based on this survey.

[-][anonymous]9y -4

It doesn't actually avoid that situation.

Why not? It seems like it should at least be better than "Take this minute-long survey about procrastination hacks."