I recently had occasion to review some of the akrasia tricks I've found on Less Wrong, and it occurred to me that there's probably quite a lot of others who've tried them as well. Perhaps it's a good idea to organize the experiences of a couple dozen procrastinating rationalists?
Therefore, I'll aggregate any such data you provide in the comments, according to the following scheme:
- Note which trick you've tried. If it's something that's not yet on the list below, please provide a link and I'll add it; if there's not a link for it anywhere, you can describe it in your comment and I'll link that.
- Give your experience with it a score from -10 to +10 (0 if it didn't change the status quo, 10 if it ended your akrasia problems forever with no side effects, negative scores if it actually made your life worse, -10 if it nearly killed you); if you don't do so, I'll suggest a score for you based on what else you say.
- Describe your experience with it, including any significant side effects.
Every so often, I'll combine all the data back into the main post, listing average scores, sample size and common effects for each technique. Ready?
Here's the list of specific akrasia tactics I've found around LW (and also in outside links from here); again, if I'm missing one, let me know and I'll add it. Special thanks to Vladimir Golovin for the Share Your Anti-Akrasia Tricks post.
Without further ado, here are the results so far as I've recorded them, with average score, number of reviews, standard deviation and recurring comments.
3 or More Reviews:
Collaboration with Others: Average +7.7 (3 reviews) (SD 0.6)
No Multitasking: Average +6.0 (3 reviews) (SD 2.0); note variants
P.J. Eby's Motivation Trilogy: Average +5.8 (6 reviews) (SD 3.3)
Monoidealism: Average +8.0 (3 reviews) (SD 2.0)
"Just Do It": Average +4 (2 reviews) (SD 4.2)
Irresistible Instant Motivation: +3 (1 review)
Getting Things Done: Average +4.9 (7 reviews) (SD 2.6)
Regular Exercise: Average +4.4 (5 reviews) (SD 2.3)
Cripple your Internet: Average +4.2 (11 reviews) (SD 3.0)
LeechBlock: Average +5.4 (5 reviews) (SD 2.9); basically everyone who's tried has found it helpful.
PageAddict: +3 (1 review)
Melatonin: Average +4.0 (5 reviews) (SD 5.4); works well for some, others feel groggy the next day; might help to vary the dosage
Execute by Default: Average +3.7 (7 reviews) (SD 2.4); all sorts of variants; universally helpful, not typically a life-changer.
Pomodoro Technique: Average +3.3 (3 reviews) (SD 4.2); mathemajician suggests a 45-minute variant
Being Watched: Average +3.2 (6 reviews) (SD 4.1); variations like co-working seem more effective; see "collaboration" below
Utility Function Experiment: Average +2.8 (4 reviews) (SD 2.8)
Meditation: Average +2.8 (5 reviews) (SD 2.8)
Modafinil and Equivalents: Average -0.8 (5 reviews) (SD 8.5); fantastic for some, terrible for others. Seriously, look at that standard deviation!
Structured Procrastination: Average -1.0 (3 reviews) (SD 4.4); polarized opinion
Resolutions (Applied Picoeconomics): Average -3.2 (5 reviews) (SD 3.3); easy to fail & get even more demotivated
1 or 2 Reviews:
Dual n-back: Average +6.5 (2 reviews) (SD 2.1)
Think It, Do It: Average +6 (2 reviews) (SD 1.4)
Self-Affirmation: Average +4 (2 reviews) (SD 2.8)
Create Trivial Inconveniences to Procrastination
Close the Dang Browser: Average +3.5 (2 reviews) (SD 3.5)
Get More Sleep: Average +3 (2 reviews) (SD 1.4)
Every Other Day Off: Average +0.5 (2 reviews) (SD 0.7)
Strict Scheduling: Average -9 (2 reviews) (SD 1.4)
Elimination (80/20 Rule): +8 (1 review)
Methylphenidate: +8 (1 review)
Begin Now: +8 (1 review)
Learning to Say No: +8 (1 review)
Caffeine Nap: +8 (1 review)
Write While Doing: +8 (1 review)
Leave Some Tasty Bits: +7 (1 review)
Preserve the Mental State: +6 (1 review)
Acedia and Me: +5 (1 review)
Third Person Perspective: +5 (1 review)
Watching Others: +5 (1 review)
Multiple Selves Theory: +5 (1 review)
Getting Back to the Music: +5 (1 review)
Remove Trivial Inconveniences: +4 (1 review)
Accountability: +2 (1 review)
Scheduling Aggressively...: +2 (1 review)
Autofocus: 0 (1 review)
Take Every Other 20 to 40 Minutes Off: -4 (1 review)
Not Yet Reviewed:
Thanks for your data!
EDIT: People seem to enjoy throwing really low scores out there for things that just didn't work, had some negative side effects and annoyed them. I added "-10 if it nearly killed you" to give a sense of perspective on this bounded scale... although, looking at the comments, it looks like the -10 and -8 were pretty much justified after all. Anyway, here's your anchor for the negative side!
After having suffered procrastination and possible ADD symptoms for a long while (I left revising for my Finals exams to the evening before each paper, two months after most others), I have recently begun to find some strategies that work for me. In fact, they work so well that I decided to quit my job for a year to capitalise on my new-found capacity for hard study and upgrade myself.
Think it, do it: as soon as I become aware of something that needs to be done and can be done (without major disruption), then I do it right away. This frees up working memory, saves on paper and, to an extent, cuts down on guilt (as that process by which things to do come to my conscious awareness is not taken to be under my control) +7
Monomania/monoidealism. If I want to learn something quickly, then I aim to do nothing but what needs to be done. Then it becomes very easy to spot off-task behaviour in myself. +8
Create addiction: monomiacal focus on something can lead me to become dependent on it, usefully so. +4 (this seems to work better with some activities than with others)
Create shame (of my lack of mastery). Can be stressful, but is useful for eliminating smugness and setting very high
Writing each step you do on paper, while doing it: +8. This helps me when I can't concentrate, when I'm distracted.
I simply write what I'm doing (the current step, or the next step), on paper. If for a step (which I have already written on paper), I find that I must first do a sub-step, then I write the sub-step. The result is a log of what I've done and what I'm doing.
The great advantage of this is that if I get distracted, I can return to just where I left off, by just reading the last line or the last few lines I written on paper.
Here's a review of some of my tactics I posted here: http://lesswrong.com/lw/fu/share_your_antiakrasia_tricks/cj0
Begin Now: +8. An excellent tactic when used in a combo with two other sub-tactics: "Begin now by creating trivial impetuses and removing trivial inconveniences between yourself and the task". I didn't give it +10 because while it works great for tasks that can be broken down into simple steps, it doesn't work for big monolithic mental tasks.
80/20 Elimination: +8. This tactic is pure gold, especially when formulated as "concentrate on high-order bits".
No Multitasking: +8. One, maximum two tasks per day. Another definite winner, best used together with 80/20 Elimination. I reduced the number of tasks per day to just one.
Self-Affirmation: +6. It worked for me 10 years ago, it still works now. My self-affirmation mantras focus on specific actionable things, here's an actual example: "I want to design a color picker for HDR colors". I usually repeat them when walking.
Allowing Myself to Procrastinate Up to a Certain Time: +3. I mostly use it to initiate some simple action or break a procrastination streak. Example: I look at the clock,
Useful tools and routines that I have found to increase reduce akrasia, increase productivity:
Promotes willpower, focus and persistence;
Well it's on a prescription, so my experiences might not be transferable to you. I get a lot of mileage out of Ritalin. Methylphenidate makes me focused, but I need to be careful in order to to focus on the right things, or it would only make me a more tenacious procrastinator. No significant side-effects, except a slight reduction of appetite. Some might see this as a bonus.
Prevents delayed sleep onset, keeps circadian rhythm in check.
I tend not to get very tired in the evenings. As a consequence I often sleep less than I should. 2mg of melatonin an hour or two before going to bed makes it effortless to wind down and hit the hay at a sensible time. No negative side-effects experienced.
Increases productivity by killing Wikipedia, Less Wrong and other fun time-sinks.
No cost beyond the few minutes it takes to set up appropriate filters. Keeping more than one browser on the computer makes it possible to research something should the need arise. Saves a couple of minutes or hours every time it kic... (read more)
Here goes for myself, on the tactics that I've tried most seriously:
I've had the best success with the points system I invented after the fashion of taw's Utility Function Experiment. (It differs from the original in that I'm rewarding myself for good results, and trying to meet certain fixed goals as well as trying to maximize on an absolute scale.) It's dramatically improved my productivity over the past six months, and hasn't stopped working yet, though it's required some tweaking. The main side effect is a tendency to subconsciously try and game the system, which makes the tweaks necessary. I should note that a few of my friends were intrigued enough to start their own versions, and have had generally positive results as well.
It's helped to use LeechBlock to deactivate my preferred timewasting sites when I should be working or sleeping (12:30 AM to 5 PM, Mon-Fri), though I find I need to install it on my secondary browser as well. I've changed my time zone a few times to dodge it, but usually doing so is en... (read more)
There is a technique which I did not find in the above lists, but found most useful for myself (I'd give it a strong +7).
I will call it Leave some tasty bits for next morning meaning that at the end of the working day I leave some task very well prepared which I am excited about to start to work the next day, something which is:
The idea is that it is in general hard to get into the "work mode", but once one ge... (read more)
An observation for anyone using Melatonin: the effective dose is reported to vary between individuals by literally a factor of 100. If it produces grogginess the next day then halve your dose and repeat as necessary. Some find that the dose that works for them is as low as 0.1 mg. In my case I tend to experience next-day grogginess at approximately 6mg, and it also reduces the duration of sleep. 0.5 mg to 3 mg seems to work with no noticeable side effects except that I am less likely to have procrastinated away sleep until 3am.
Here's my method: (+8 for me)
I have a 45 minute sand glass timer and a simple abacus on my desk. Each row on the abacus corresponds to one type of activity that I could be doing, e.g. writing, studying, coding, emails and surfing,... First, I decide what type of activity I'd like to do and then start the 45 minute sand glass. I then do that kind of activity until it ends. At which point I count it on my abacus and have at least a 5 minute break. There are no rules about what I have to do, I do what ever I want. But I always do it in focused 45 minut... (read more)
I suggest adding PJ Eby's Irresistible Instant Motivation trick to the list. I'll give it a +3. There are a lot of situations where it does help me, and a lot of others where it doesn't. It seems to be especially good for relatively small and predictable but normally unmotivating tasks, such as the example in the video of cleaning your desk.
Personally, I've had most success with applying PJ Eby's 'Multiple Self' philosophy. I still haven't been using it long enough to rule out the placebo effect with confidence, but so far I'm rating it between +4 and +6: I've gotten considerably better at motivating myself to do the things I should be doing.
Unfortunately, the technique I'm actually employing is broader than the one I describe in that comment, as I've been picking up lots of different tidbits from Eby's different writings and applying them. Stumbling on Success is another article of his that ... (read more)
Getting Back to the Music seems to be causing a stable lifting of paralysis, even if I'm not taking on anything very challenging yet.
The essay is a vey careful examination of how efforts to do better can actually make things worse. Learning Methods (the system being demonstrated) consists of finding out exactly what you're thinking while you're doing something you'd like to do better, and then examining your thoughts to see whether they make sense. I'm giving the essay a +5. It's something like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, but with much more precision.
Als... (read more)
Execute by Default: +3 in limited circumstances. I used this (without realizing it) when bungee jumping, and when learning to do drops in aerial silks. I should try it other cases.
Resolutions: -3. Ineffective, and made me feel like a failure.
Utility Function Experiment: +1 -- briefly effective but not long-term (context: using ChoreWars for exercise motivation).
Structured Procrastination: + 2 -- when I remember to do it, and when I have a good long todo list. Especially helps get cleaning done.
Every Other Day Off: +1 -- my variant is to have a lot ... (read more)
+5 This little habit is amazing. Most things to do just really aren't that much big of a deal. I have a trigger 'do it now' that pops up when something catches my (often somewhat flippant) attention and it works. It doesn't even seem like an aggressive taskmaster is heckling me, it's more like a sneaky reminder of an available 'cheat mode' and I tend to take pleasure in the thing getting done without burning up my willpower.
-8 The opposite of what works for me. A recipe for shame and aversive reac... (read more)
I used it regularly for a year with clearly positives results. Alertness and motivation were the big improvements, without the (too?) intense focus that comes with more typical CNS stimulants (amphetamines). It also operates on a completely different mechanism to caffeine. Rather than masking tiredness (caffeine) or making you stay awake out of raw baddassery (amphetamine) it actually makes you require less sleep. See, for example, military testing and other studies focussing on REM rebound.
Warning. Use with care. You are turning off some of yo... (read more)
Some things I've tried:
Private Resolutions: -4 Going off by myself, talking through the seriousness of the situation, and promising myself to do better / work harder. Usually has brief positive impact, but eventually I backslide. The next time around, the resolution has to be even more emphatic, because I know the previous level of seriousness wasn't enough. This is a ratchet of self-blame that I really can't take anymore.
LeechBlock: short term +2, long term +0 I tried this for about six months. It helped for most of that time. Toward the end, I
One more I didn't include but have seen others mention:
Whenever I'm working on a project with other people, especially when we're in the same place, accountability and shared excitement totally short-circuit procrastination. I've only ever procrastinated on solo projects.
Being Watched is a -5 for me. I have an office to myself (and at home, a home to myself), and that's how I prefer it. Company is an unpleasant distraction. However, something that does work for me is:
Working with at least one other person on a project does wonders for getting me to get things done. When it's just me on my own working on something with no short-term interaction with anyone else, I find it a lot more difficult to maintain momentum.
one of the top comments in the execute by default topic involved something the commenter called "monoidealism" which involved filling up your thoughts entirely with what you need to do. then its easy to do it because you're already doing the annoying part (having to think about it, the physical is rarely an issue).
i stand by my response to that comment: it has changed my life. +10. I can now trivially overcome procrastination that before was seriously crippling my productivity (going weeks without getting anything accomplished, including bas... (read more)
My most extreme Anti-Akrasia tactic. Somewhat on the crude but extremely effective the couple of times I have used it:
timecave.com is a service that sends emails with time delay, scheduling them at some time in the future. My use for it is to generate a random password for a forum that is a time sink and have it emailed to me at a specified time in the future. In this case lesswrong.com until 1 Jan. I've duplicated the email in emailalibi.com in case timecave goes down.
I have real learning to do and have more or less mastered 'one boxing' in counterfactual... (read more)
Here's some data on myself:
I almost used this post as a way of procrastinating on some writing that I need to do today, because it seemed so short, but it has links. And those links have links. And before you know it, you've queued up five more tabs and you won't escape for hours.
Also known as the problem with Wikipedia, or the reason why TV Tropes links should come with warnings on them.. If this article is about akrasia-defeating patterns, then here's an anti-pattern: seductive reading-holes that are deeper than they look.
Straight akrasia hacks:
Getting Things Done: +8. Note that GTD includes variants of some of the other techniques here.
Collaboration with Others: +7. Pair programming in particular, but pairing on any non-trivial tasks. It's really tempting to think that you're wasting time when pairing, but the available evidence supports my considered opinion that more time is saved than lost.
No Multitasking (variant): +6. Vladimir Golovin's "One, maximum two tasks per day" would break me (too many small tasks required by my job). I mean breaking tasks up u
I have little experience with most of these, and I should gain more. Generally I work to improve my motivation, and indirectly have that carry me through. This obviously depends to a great extent on how well you can motivate yourself. I'm not sure this is exactly an anti-akrasia technique, but I would give it somewhat positive ratings.
If curious, my techniques for motivation are very diverse, and examples include reminding myself what is at stake, and recalling motivational ideals and imagery, largely derived from games, movies, and other media. One class... (read more)
Here's one that doesn't exactly fit on your scale-- it broke a massive fit of paralysis, but has made only a minor long-term contribution so far--Acedia and Me by Kathleen Norris.
When I heard about the premise, I knew it was something I needed-- the idea was that the collapse of motivation is a current disposition of mind rather than a deep psychological flaw. This was enough to break some of the self-hatred (I'm fucking up, so I'm defective, so it's too much work to bother with anything important) which I think drives akrasia in my case.
The book is a Cat... (read more)
Modafinil: -10. I had a very negative experience with this drug. It did not help me focus or concentrate at all, it just made me unable to sleep and I felt very sick after a day or two. Unlike normal stimulants like caffeine or theobromine, it didn't make me feel more awake or alert at all. I took it in the morning for three days, when I had a paper to write, got almost no sleep, and was barely able to function (though I never felt like falling asleep). I actually had to take caffeine to counteract the effects of Modafinil.
Melatonin: -5. This also did not ... (read more)
Utility Function Experiement: +1 For the first couple of days I got a lot more done, but I also had a lot of deadlines to meet. I'm in school and have a stressed-out roommate that I have to take care of a lot of the time, which means I have strict deadlines and inescapable distractions; I need to do things more effectively rather than get more things done.
Learning to Say No: +8 aka figuring out what you really want and going after that instead of sticking to your default choices for fear of rocking the boat. Every other trick is just that, a trick.
The book which really changed my outlook, not just on procrastination but on work organization and ultimately my entire life was Mark Forster's Get Everything Done (and Still Have Time to Play). The money quote from that book is the following: "The danger is that better techniques will lead to a bigger and better overwhelm."
Getting Things Done (partial i... (read more)
Does anyone here have experience with piracetam?
Here's my list:
Modafinil: -10 all the mental energy loss of sleep deprivation without feeling sleepy, worst thing I ever tried
Resolutions: +1 I promise myself to do X regularly; then due to external circumstances I cannot for a few days and resolution dies even when external circumstances cease
Utility Function Experiment: +2
Messing with Internet via /etc/hosts hacks etc.: +2 unfortunately my work requires me being on Internet all the time, might work better for people who don't have this
Regular physical exercise: +4 - time and energy lost on it seem to be ... (read more)
Being Watched +4-7 - This can depend on who the other person is and the situation. I don't like paired programming since I'm an introverted thinker, and I find it really distracting. When there is someone else in the room doing work, it motivates me to do more work. I find the reverse can be true as well. If I'm around a bunch of people who are slacking off, I become less motivated.
Cripple your Internet +5 - This is a pretty effective technique, but I have a hard time being consistent with this at all.
One thing I've noticed is that my akrasia, as well... (read more)
Leechblock +8. Execute by Default +2
Autofocus and the Pomodoro Technique are both 0s; I gave up on them but I plan to try them again some time in the future.
The thing that's helped me the most is to realize that my productivity is related to my morale and that I should do things that are good for my morale and avoid things that are bad for my morale. Also, working out lots of little bugs like criticizing myself internally if I was working on the right problem in a suboptimal way but not criticizing myself at all if I was working on the wrong problem. I f... (read more)
Great post! when was it last updated?
both missing reviews and missing a write up on Lesswrong
Techniques I've tried and will put up a review for soon hopefully:
I aim to improve my game right now, and stop watching porn cold turkey right now to that end. So the follow akrasia techniques specifically relate to that. He... (read more)
I have recently started transferring money to my friends with instructions to only return the money if I accomplish a task by a certain time. I have the deadline be far enough away that I should theoretically be able to accomplish the task without difficulty, but close enough to create a sense of real urgency. In this I am actually USING loss-aversion to my advantage, because damned if I'm going to let him have MY money. I've only used this a couple of times, but so far it has been very successful. Problems: If I schedule the deadline too far out, I don't ... (read more)
See many other comments about the goodness of Leechblock and the idea of "reading holes" that are deeper than they look I looked into the three tools listed for crippling one's internet. I found that page addict appears to be unreliable and ended up not installing it.
Freedom is for Macs and therefore not usable by me.
I skimmed through many Leechblock reviews checking to see if a competitor was ever mentioned that might be better. I saw no mention of competition but there were a lot of rave reviews and few complaints so I'm installing and testin... (read more)
I'll be curious to hear if anyone has had positive experiences with Modafinil, especially people for whom the more traditional stimulants like Ritalin and Adderall were ineffective. That's the category I find myself in (I have a moderate–severe case of ADD which has resisted attempts to treat it so far).
I've found that drinking plenty of water makes me less lazy. Has anyone found the same? (I'd rate that at +3.)
For some reason noone seems to have mentioned 'the now habit' by Neil Fiore on this blog so far. Or Barbara Sher:'refuse to choose'. Both make a nice addition to the GTD concept, and deal with issues on a different layer.
Did somebody mention f.lux?
This program changes the color of the screen to be more orange/yellow towards the later hours. I'll give it +2 for now, since I've just started using it.
I should really start taking fish oil supplements again. I would especially encourage anyone with children to make sure they get sufficient fish oil while their brains are growing.
As I mentioned before, the thing that works for me is
(doesn't seem to be listed in the post)
Reading this article today, together with the comments and links, has a rating of -10, on account of all the time I lost reading it!