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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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)

Freedom (Mac)

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:

Fire and Motion

Stare at the Wall



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!

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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

... (read more)
In case anyone wants to give dual-n-back a try: http://cognitivefun.net/test/5 I would try and play until you can at least do the 2-back. You can feel your mind and memory working in a different way that it usually does. Are there any other cognitive games with positive evidence in their favor? http://www.pnas.org/content/105/19/6829.full
Throwing in some new evidence: a poster presented last year at the 50th Annual Meeting of the Psychonomic Society reports on a similar study in students, showing that single n-back and double n-back performance improves with training, and that this improvement in thinking transfers to the BOMAT and Raven's Advanced Progressive Matrices.
I'm skeptical. How do you know it improves anxiety, flightiness, and concentration?
Hi, well this is just from personal experience so ymmv, but I've been playing the game off and on for the past two years and am convinced of positive effects. I do know that, beforehand, I had never been able to study for protracted periods of time and enjoy the experience - for me, studying had always been a fight against intellectual and physical restlessness (=restless legs, itching, shifting about on my seat). DnB seems not only to permit me to sit down and focus for long periods, it actually makes me want to study - I feel compelled to learn and get annoyed if prevented from doing so. And when I do study, I can now put in serious hours (typically three or four chunks of 2 1/2hr blocks). I'm sure that this sounds somewhat implausible, but there have been many occasions on which I have been overwhelmed yet again by the determined demons of dilettantism and distraction only to remember what I had let slip from my routine. I would not be so sure of positive effects if, after having trained for a few days, I had suffered an exacerbation of symptoms, but this has not occurred. The simplest explanation that I can think of is that it is the only activity that forces me to use the entirety of my attention, encouraging me to eliminate distracting thoughts (as in meditation?) whilst also providing a tightly-defined focal point (the stimuli in space and time) and overarching purpose (to find order (as organizing my impressions helps me remember)). Perhaps this is where my feelings of increased purposefulness come from: the game trains me generally to enjoy drawing connections, and I begin to want to organize the world around me.
I guess another question I'd like to ask is whether you enjoy dual-n-back. I've tried it a couple of times and consistently disliked it precisely as I would dislike a cold shower. Now that I think of it, there are many mental activities that I dislike precisely that way. (Or, at least, there used to be many; now there are fewer.) One of them is the Gunnery puzzle in Puzzle Pirates. To try to extract a general trend here, I tend to dislike things that require me to react quickly. I used to loathe such things, along with a host of other things: asymmetry, discontinuity, permanence. If I had been omnipotent when I was a kid, perhaps I would have replaced the world with a sphere. Gosh, I was a really messed-up kid back then.
The things that I enjoy in a game are repetition, speed and simple strategy. I guess that dnb has the first two. When I started playing it I think I found it 'intriguing,' as it felt so odd to play. What I enjoy about it now is the way in which it highlights my distracting thoughts and pushes me to disregard them - this can be relaxing after a tough day at work.
It sounds like the games you like are precisely the games I don't like.
What do you use to do your dual-n-back training?
I have been using the cognitivefun site and, more recently http://www.brainboffin.com/, which permits me to do more than 9-back. There is a multimodal version at http://cognitivefun.net/test/24 that I also occasionally use. I would use the downloadable Brain Workshop but am running an inflexible OS on decrepit hardware and do not have the wit to get it to work.
You are able to do more than 9-back? I just have to say: Wow! I'm downloading Brain Workshop as I speak. I'll have a play and see how it compares to the Luminosity games I've tinkered with.
Seconded. (I find dual 1-back challenging and dual 2-back nearly impossible. I have not practiced much, though.)
Weird. I find 2-back pretty easy, but 3-back difficult (I normally get 50-80% accuracy) and 4-back quite tough (20-50% accuracy). I wonder what a typical dual n-back level is. Edit - OK, pulled up some actual data for anyone else who's curious. The 35 University of Bern students trained in the 2008 study by Jaeggi et al. had a mean dual n-back level very close to 3. After 8-19 days of training that increased to 4-5. The 25 National Taiwan Normal University students who trained on dual n-back for this 2009 Studer et al. poster went from a mean n-back level of 2.0 (with a standard deviation ~1.1) to ~4.6 (standard deviation ~2.3) with 20 days training.
I'm surprised by the discrepancy in scores. I can also do more than 9-back and personally know people who are considerable smarter than I am (e.g., Nick Bostrom and Robin Hanson). I suspect that the n-back game does not very strongly correlate with IQ, or else that scores in this game can be dramatically boosted by the use of certain subtle mnemonic and visualization strategies, which even intelligent people may fail to adopt.
Thanks! Lots of intriguing techniques here. I hope you don't mind if, in order not to have too long a list in the post, I try to consolidate and cluster your ideas. Would the following be a fair condensation of your top tactics: * Think it, Do it * Monoidealism * Third Person Techniques (imagine being observed, self-experimentation) * Preserve the Mental State
Yeah, that looks fine.
Can I use this for my/the DNB FAQ?
Yeah, is this published yet? Whatever you are working on, or something similar, could be a top-level post here.
I don't think my FAQ is appropriate for the top-level, as DNB is to me still in the twilight zone of effectiveness - unlike, say, melatonin. Part of the problem is that the academic research (specifically Jaeggi 2008 and Jaeggi 2010) is flawed (see the Moody section of the FAQ), and the time consumption is massive: I'm willing to stump for melatonin because the time consumption is 1 or 2 seconds a day and the effects are clear; I'm not willing to stump for something with unclear (if possibly much more valuable) effects and consuming on the order of 20 minutes a day.
Where is this FAQ? Is it something here that I have missed?
It's a FAQ I've been compiling/writing for the Dual N-Back mailing list; you can find the latest link here: http://gwern.net/DNB%20FAQ (That's just the static HTML version, though, which I sometimes update; the real latest Markdown is in my Darcs repo: https://patch-tag.com/r/gwern/Gwern/home .)
You may do, but you might end up including me twice, as I have posted similar thoughts elsewhere, under a different name (cev).
Oh; I do have you already then, under But no reason I couldn't quote you twice as the quotes differ?
Yeah, sure - I couldn't remember what I may have said earlier.

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.

I tried this technique at work for two days, and so far the results are encouraging. Funny thing: the main problem I have with this technique is the need for handwriting -- I feel that it is important to have the state log in a hand-written form, as opposed to, say, a .txt file, but I hate handwriting! Anyway, I'll continue using it.

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:

  • easy to start with (finished with bulk of the tedious details)
  • gives instant gratification
  • a good start to get into less pleasant tasks

The idea is that it is in general hard to get into the "work mode", but once one gets the right momentum it is much easier to continue. So often I found that it is better not to finish some easy but exciting stuff at the end of the day, but leave it for next morning in the hope of setting up my whole day.

The wrong tactic is to do the tasty bits first and leave the tedious details to start the next day with. That way, it is sure that I will spend the whole morning doing something unproductive instead.

Ah yes, a similar tactic was mentioned in the "share your tricks" thread: if writing, end each session in the middle of a sentence.

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,

... (read more)
I counted "Begin Now" as "Think it, Do it" and "Scheduling Aggressively..." as "Strict Scheduling"; hope you don't mind...
I originally thought that these tactics are similar, but now I'm not sure. "Think it, Do it" is described as 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, which gives me the impression that it just locks onto any doable task that happens to be around -- as opposed to a task which was chosen consciously according to one's better judgment. Again, not quite. "Strict Scheduling", as described here, means allocating a certain chunk of time to a certain activity exclusively, while my "Scheduling Aggressively" is closer to Tim Ferris' 4-hour Workweek and means "If something can be done in an hour, allocate 45 minutes".
OK, separating them out again.

Useful tools and routines that I have found to increase reduce akrasia, increase productivity:

  • Methylphenidate +8

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.

  • Melatonin +7

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.

  • Leechblock +5

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:

  • Utility Function Experiment; +7; sustained success (short of goal, but much better than status quo) over 6 months.

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.

  • LeechBlock; +5; moderate success over 2 months.

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)

Melatonin: Average +2.2 (3 reviews) (SD 6.6); works well for some, others feel groggy the next day

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.

Youtube video is down :(
Here's another link
1Adam Selker
What is this trick?  The video seems to be gone.
Here's the video: https://www.dailymotion.com/embed/video/k66UkAfhY7pXe42zfqQ ... I cleaned my 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)

Execute by Default

+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.

Resolutions (Applied Picoeconomics)

-8 The opposite of what works for me. A recipe for shame and aversive reac... (read more)

Should that be a 10 instead of a 1? It looks like a typo, given your comments on it.
It's markdown turning any number followed by a decimal into an itemized list.
Yes, it seems it was an '8.'
OK, give me a link and I'll put it up on the board!
The Hidden Meaning of Just Do It. In particular, this part:
OK, another vote for that technique. I'm guessing from context that you'd rate it higher than the 2 you gave self-affirmation; I'm putting a 5 as a placeholder until you give me a number for it.
Btw, "Just Do It" and "Monoidealism" are essentially the same thing, described differently. "Irresistible Instant Motivation" and (Vladimir Golovin's version of) "Self Affirmation" are specific alternative ways to achieve a monoideal or "just doing it" state. (Specifically, Vladimir's self-affirmation of "I want to do X" is a weaker form of something I call the Jedi Mind Trick, which is repeatedly saying "I am now doing X", and refusing to let any contrary/conflicting thought take hold.) So, properly, "monoidealism" is simply the state in which you have exactly one thing on your mind, with no conflicts. It's a condition that results in one naturally taking action in relation to the thought, rather than a technique in and of itself. So, If somebody is saying they use monoidealism or "The Hidden Meaning Of 'Just Do It'", they are simply saying they go after that state directly (and perhaps reflectively) rather than using some other technique like affirming, counting down, envisioning+comparison ("Instant Motivation"), etc.. Many other techniques listed here also reflect attempts to reach a monoideal state by manipulating the outside world, rather than the inside one. The author of "Getting Things Done" talks about creating a "mind like water", where the purpose of tracking things is to allow everything to be out of one's head.... i.e., no conflicting thoughts. Removing outside barriers is another, since the lack of a barrier means one less thing that you will think about. ;-) So, in short, "monoidealism" is not a technique. It is the desired end-state we wish to replace akrasia with. Specific anti-akrasia techniques may further be classified by whether they seek monoidealism indirectly (by manipulating the outside world) or directly (by manipulating one's thoughts). Presumably, there are also techniques which do not go after monoidealism either directly or indirectly, but I'm hard pressed to think of one. Even things like Pomodoro and LeechBlock attempt to remove
I'll group them together, but I don't want to lose the individual data: people may find one formulation of the concept more useful than another.
As another LW put it with respect to rational relationships: "There ain't no one. There's a .67 or a .64 that you round up to one" edit: I get a bit...uhh...psychotic, when I'm tired. I wrote the following draft comment at something like 4am. I don't really know what I meant, but perhaps it does mean something someone else can gain from
I'll say 7. (I would give self affirmations a higher rating, say 4, if the context was 'general self influence tips'. But this is akrasia specific which I don't find them all that useful.)
Have asked PJ for the most appropriate link.
This sounds distinct enough from Execute By Default and similar enough to Think it, Do it— mind if I count your +5 for that technique as well?
You could be right. Count it as whatever fits best!

Modafinil +7

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)

  • Getting Things Done: +4. Makes a big difference, but the problem is that it requires the complete system. It works well when everything is included, but eventually I end up skipping a weekly review and the usefulness drops fast. Another thing is that I have to include everything I'm going to do in it. Including "for-fun" activities. If I don't, it's going to turn into a list of things I don't want to do and I'll resist looking at the whole list. Up-to-date it's worth more than +4, but since it doesn't usually stay that way...
  • Meditation: +3. Cal
... (read more)
The thought/feeling that it's hard is just another thought. Let go of it too, and it'll become easier, at least in that moment. ;-)
I don't think the problem is that I think it is hard. It's more like that I end up thinking something else, like in daydreaming or unintentionally in meditation. Which is why meditation helps with it. The second alternative is that I'm too conflicted about the thing I'm trying. But that would call for conflict-resolution technique rather than motivation technique. :)

Some things I've tried:

  1. 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.

  2. 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

... (read more)

One more I didn't include but have seen others mention:

  1. collaboration: +8

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.

I hacked up my apt-get to ignore requests for browsers and apt-related packages/sources, and I deleted both aptitude and synaptic, and I blocked ways to search for browsers and apt-related packages in my browser. I use ProCon protected by password (a random number which I've pasted without seeing it). It lets me block urls and keywords. It helps. I use "failing to fall asleep" as a motivator to do useful work. It's "okay, feel free to, consistently, either sleep or work".
I've abandoned "crippling the internet" idea after finding a browser that I couldn't cripple and getting used to switching to it. A typical experience I guess, though the "arms-race" was interesting in its own right... Better to find "strength from within".
Me too.

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:

Collaboration +8

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)

Not familiar with these. What do you expect those to do?
blue blockers are sunglasses that block the blue spectrum, since it has the largest impact. full spectrum natural light regulates the circadian rhythm. since I am up at night (security job), I need to simulate natural light at night and block natural light during the day. got my full spectrum CFL's today for my floor lamp and I must say even if they aren't effective they are quite pleasant.
If blue light has the most impact, why not use artificial blue light, rather than full spectrum artificial light?
because natural light is quite pleasant while giant blue leds would be....the anti-poon.
Oh, so the idea is that when you have to be awake during the day, you put them on and hopefully the blue-less light resets your circadian rhythm that much less?
Have you tried exposing yourself to high intensity blue light in the morning? A sleep psych recommended them to me and the background research seemed sound enough. And whether or not they work for me the ones I go (thousands of blue LED) look awesome!

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)

I'm giving this one a rating of 8. Effective, but not quite bullet proof. At least it provides a significant roadblock before one form of procrastination.
If you're thinking about what I'm thinking about, I just change the e-mail in my profile to a fake one before doing that, so that I can't even reset the password by e-mail.
Actually, make that 5. You'd think I would know never to try to lock me out of something with technical limitations. That almost never works. In fact, it probably just tempts me with a challenge.
I am different that way. When I am in the mental state necessary for solving a technical challenge, I am probably able resist a temptation. When I can start the tempting activity out of habit, without thinking, is when the vast majority of my procrastination happens. (And of course, the pleasurable tempting activity conditions me to start the tempting activity. Ever notice how effortlessly you walk to the fridge and open the fridge door? If you're like me, and you probably are, that's the effect of conditioning.) Of course, my ability to get into the the mental state in which I can solve technical challenges or resist a temptation is very much a depletable resource, like you describe in great grandparent.
It sounds like you are somewhat different there. For me the mental state where I am most adept at solving technical challenges (hypomania) is more or less self reinforcing. In that state I get a lot of everything done. Both work and procrastination. The resisting of temptation relies on an entirely different mechanism.

Here's some data on myself:

  • Getting Things Done +6: Ended a lot of my problems, mostly because I'm no longer forgetting about things. Now I at least know what I'm not doing when I don't do it, although I still don't do everything I intend to.
  • Regular Exercise +2: Helped some, but the amount of time involved in exercising seemed to negate the advantage if I wanted to do some other fun activity rather than work later. Generally find I'm happier and do more if I just don't make time for exercise, since it inevitably pushes out work rather than family and
... (read more)

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.

On the other hand, I was unambiguously avoiding work by being here when I stumbled across the post that helped me develop my points system.
Related to Hofstadter's Law: "It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter's Law.".

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

... (read more)

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)

It almost sounds like you're reviewing two different techniques here: the original Execute by Default and something like PJ Eby's Just Do It tactic. Or is this a third thing?
That's possible, I'm not familiar with Just Do It.

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)

I'll add it. How do you rate your experience with it? (Breaking a massive fit of paralysis definitely counts as something people would find useful, so it does count here.)
I'll give it a plus 5, since it really was important for me. However, it looks as though most of the people who've posted in this thread either don't have self-hatred problems as severe as mine-- they seem to already model akrasia as a bad current habit rather than as a fundamental defect, though I leave the possibility open that there's some fundamental defect premises leading to the tendency to let time drift by rather than doing things which would be more useful or more fun. I haven't read all the amazon reviews of Acedia and Me, but those I have read reviewed it as a combination of history and memoir. None of them seemed to get any personal good out of it. It isn't a how-to book.
Having been very Catholic for a good chunk of my life, I tended to categorize my akrasia in the "fundamental defect" category up until about last year. Seeing it as something lots of smart people struggle with was helpful, as was seeing the 'engineering' model of correcting it as opposed to the 'strength of character' model. Anyhow, don't worry about skewing the average by giving your honest experience. Nobody's results are perfectly typical.
I wasn't so much concerned about skewing the results as that the scale didn't fit my experience. The book might be more likely to be useful for people with Catholic backgrounds.

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?

Great link Gwern. It has just about inspired me to dust off some of my stashes of 'racetams and CDP choline and play again.
Glad you found it useful. I've followed up with some more stats about performance while being off/out of piracetam & choline.
Now that is even more useful. I have heard plenty of subjective experience reports but none of the personal anecdotes have come with solid data. I would rather like to see similar reports from 100 other people! Although come to think of it I would probably benefit even more from just having results for me, personally. I've actually downloaded the same piece of software myself today and started practicing. I'll give myself time for the learning curve to slow down then see how it changes when I start gulping piracetam, aniracitam and CDP-choline in my typical dose.
Having a site like PatientsLikeMe for anti-akrasia techniques would be awesome. Or productivity techniques in general. If somebody made an open-source, easily modifiable and pluginnable platform for a general "report your experiences with thing X" site that could be customized into reporting about anything, be it akrasia techniques or medical treatments or something else... they'd probably contribute more utilons to the world with that action than most people ever will.
You should check out the Quantified Self, both for finding existing tools and for finding people to use future tools.
Thankyou! I'll make use of that.
4Eliezer Yudkowsky
I've done a certain amount of thinking on this particular topic, so if anyone is really genuinely truly going to do a startup around it, please call me first.
I actually started creating such a site a while back (because I wanted one for personal use and generalised from there). It got put on the back burner in preference for money earning. That more utilons to the world than most people ever will sounds tempting. :)
FWIW, DNB does have a learning curve of a few levels. I wouldn't really trust any stats until D3B.
I get consistent 100% scores on D2B so I think I'll use D3B as a 'learning' level. I'm still trying to figure out the right 'thinking' strategy to use for D3+B. With D2B I just empty my mind, look at the cross and 'just press the right answer'. But that doesn't work reliably for me on D3B. I seem to go better actively rehearsing the sequences in my mind and explicitly forming a picture of what historical item fits 'next'. My performance is wildly variable (30% to 80%) and depends massively on whether my brain gets in the right zone. I'm already noticing my brain modifying itself in response to the training. My competitive instincts take control and whenever they spot any unhelpful thinking they throw it out. Distractions, anxieties, frustration at making mistakes, none of these help it win and the brain can identify that right there in the short term. So all the habits of mental hygiene that I have worked to develop for myself get magnified.
One thing I've tried sometimes is to only remember half the sequence. Like I try to remember the audio sequence explicitly, and "just press the right answer" for the visual stimulus.
Some very informal experience: I've found its effects to be more noticeable when alcohol is involved - it seems to reduce the subjective "fuzzy-headedness" of being drunk, and I have a weak suspicion that it reduces hangover symptoms by a fair amount if taken the night of drinking (I don't get smashed often enough to test this properly). The most obvious effect is on my dreams if I take it at night - they become much more vivid. Several others I know who've tried it report the same thing, but I've read that some people don't experience this effect at all. If you don't get much dietary choline, you might consider supplementing with lecithin to avoid getting a headache.
Myself and my roommate took piracetam + choline for a few months. I didn't notice much, except when mixed with alcohol. My roommate noticed an improvement in the ability to do mental math. I might have been able to quantify a difference if I was doing brain tests at the time I was taking piracetam.
Yes, I find it useful. I recommend the imminst.org forums for the most reliable information on piracetam, nootropics and dietary supplements in general.
Which forums are these?
Pardon me, markdown didn't like me leaving off 'http://'. Fixed.
  • Melatonin: 7
  • Modafinil: 4
  • Leechblock: 3 (I wanted to give it a 4, but I bypass it too often for me to kid myself. Still useful technique though.)
  • Execute By Default: 0.
  • Structured Procrastination: 1. Hurts nearly as often as it helps.
  • Stare at the Wall: 3. I'm reading this one as 'meditation'.
OK, then I'm counting that as +3 for Meditation.
Ah, I didn't notice meditation was on the list. I'd edit it, but you're counting it right. (I question, though, whether there is any real difference between meditation and 'stare at the wall'.)
Depends on what kind of meditation you are doing. Hindu/mantra repitition meditation (which is also the style of meditation of Transcendental Meditation (restricted trademark!)) tricks your brain into a weird dissociative state. If you do it for more than 45 minutes or so a day, you start getting headaches and other signs that you are doing something deeply bad to your brain. I can dig up a long article by a former teacher of TM if anyone wants it. Vipassana meditation, which involves watching yourself breathe through your nose, is good. This is a type of Buddhist meditation and I know nothing of other Buddhist meditation except that some American Zen practitioners do meditation while breathing through both the nose and mouth. Practicing Vipassana actually teaches you something about how your body works, and the professed religious goal behind it (other than resurrection and enlightenment and all of that) is to gain ultimate awareness of reality, which sounds very good in the scheme of big claims made by religions. Vipassana is interesting because it requires you to intently focus on the area of your self where the conscious meets the unconscious: your breathing. Is there anything else in your body that you can successfully control or not control, entirely based on your will? To do Vipassana, sit on something comfortable with your legs crossed. Try and sit as straight as you can and don't move at all. Throughout the meditation you should be trying not to move at all -- one of the goals is to gain control over something as ephemeral as a pain signal telling you that you need to shift positions. Careful though, if you have back problems or something and get horrific pain while sitting cross legged, try using a chair. Half lotus is recommended for sitting unless you're comfortable in a full lotus. Close your eyes, and watch yourself breath. Do not actively breathe, but stop and do nothing and let your breath happen on its own. Just watch. You can pay particular at
One thing I find helps is a cross between GTD & vipassana: keeping a notepad nearby. I like Mindfulness in Plain English, personally.

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?


Missing techniques:

both missing reviews and missing a write up on Lesswrong

Techniques I've tried and will put up a review for soon hopefully:

pickup akrasia

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)

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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)

Have you heard about beeminder.com (Less Wrong post here)?
Yes, and I've used it, but it is designed for trends in behavior, not the production of a deadline in a few hours. I also find the announced commitment to a friend feels more urgent than incoming reminder emails.

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)

PageAddict. Much simpler & easier to use. It may technically not work for recent versions of Firefox, but if you disable the version checks, it works fine for me under 3.6.

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).

If Ritalin and Adderall don't work for you I think it unlikely that Modafinil would work, but I suppose it wouldn't hurt to try.
Do you have any sources backing this? If Adderall does not work for you then it's less likely that Ritalin would, and vice versa. This does not necessarily hold true going from stimulants to eugeroics.
I have no sources, but if modafinil was actually effective for moderate-severe ADHD the drug company probably would have tried to get it approved to treat ADHD. They must have run at least some studies to determine that FDA approval for ADHD treatment was not going to happen. Anecdotally, I believe that most psychiatrists only try modafanil for relatively mild ADHD in adults and usually only if the drug is requested by the patient. My intuition on this is because amphetamine is just a much, much stronger drug than modafanil. They are different types of drugs, sure. The most likely way for my comment to not be true is if ata stopped taking amphetamine not because it was ineffective, but because of the side effect profile. Modafanil does have a milder side effect profile. Failing that, modafanil would only probably really work for severe ADHD if it fixes a specific brain defect -- possible, but it seems unlikely. Edit: This claims that the FDA rejection for modafanil was because of a single very adverse reaction of the frequently lethal Steven Johnsons Syndrome, where the diagnosis was later recanted. Not sure if that is the whole truth, but it means my premise is somewhat less likely based on the evidence. My intuition still holds. http://www.modafinil.com/
How does the lesswrong crowd feel about these recent stories? Having grown up in Europe I've always found the North American faith in treating psychological conditions with drugs a bit odd, I feel vindicated reading stories like this but I wonder if it is just cultural bias?
Have I got the right link there? The post I found was just a reference to the difficulty of properly accounting for the placebo effect when drugs have obvious side effect profiles. On that tangent active placebos can be fascinating. For example, studies investigating the effect of psyclobin which use ritalin as an active placebo (to match the euphoria experience).
Robin Hanson expands on the story a bit. My general impression is that the US has adopted a number of drugs which are worse on most dimensions than those that are deemed illegal partly due to a crappy system for approving chemicals. I think the placebo effect is pretty interesting. I also think the powerful effect of many illegal psychoactive substances is pretty interesting. I find it unfortunate that the FDA has such a powerful role in deciding what constitutes legitimate investigation of either.
I'm not going to argue and say that the FDA system is good; but I'm happy that with a system as deeply flawed as the FDA that more deadly drugs don't hit the market. Sure, lots of people die because there are working unapproved illegal treatments, but out of all of the unfortunate US government institutions, the FDA is not the worst.
I think that faith comes because psychological conditions often can be treated successfully treated with drugs. Some severe mental health conditions mostly require drugs for successful treatment. However, there is certainly overmedication and that's because it is easier and cheaper to medicate than to provide therapy. A study was done showing that ADHD medication is effective in children for the short term, but therapy (CBT, I think, which when done on children with ADHD is much more like a personal anti-akrasia trainer than sitting on the couch telling Freud about the problems with your mother) ) is effective in the long term. The problem is that many children show an immediate improvement in behavior after taking the drugs, so the therapy doesn't continue but the drugs do continue. This is more likely when it is a primary care physician prescribing the drugs rather than a psychiatrist.
I have had experience with it (as I mentioned. I match the symptom cluster that gives an ADD diagnosis. I find modafinil somewhat useful but mostly because it gives the same all round boost to functioning that you get from more sleep. I found it more useful than Ritalin but I am not necessarily saying that as an advocation. Unfortunately ADD can involve too much focus as well as too little. In my case Ritalin just made me more excessively focussed. It worked as a performance enhancer but definitely not as a treatment. So I'll join Douglas in supporting Kevin's recommendation. Try it and see if it is useful. It is for many. But don't have huge expectations if you have already tried amphetamine and methamphetamine. You no doubt already know what the most effective treatment is. 45 minutes a day of strenuous cardiovascular exercise, eating well, keeping connected with a positive social network and doing something that you love to do.
google, FWIW I have no experience, but I think Kevin is right.

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

  • Every other 20-40 minutes off

(doesn't seem to be listed in the post)

OK, will add. Do you have a link to where you mentioned this before? A quick search didn't turn it up. ETA: Also, can you rate it on the scale?
I havent tried any method actively yet, but the "Being Watched" works great for me, +5, i would rate it higher, but the problem is that i cant control when i m being watched...
Do you think it would work if you put up a webcam of yourself at your desk?

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!