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!

Moderation Guidelinesexpand_more

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 goals. I guess that this is a variation on being watched, except that I always imagine myself being observed by sneering experts. (it is always a pleasant surprise subsequently to meet the concrete instantiation of these experts and find that they are reasonably reasonable people) +6

  • Be my own guinea pig ('being Seth Roberts'?): I refer to my brain in the third person and aloofly set and assess the effects of programs of protracted periods of study. I can quite easily drive myself to the edge of burnout doing this (and consequently can now identify those feelings that anticipate it (in my case, feeling tearful, oddly-located headaches, mild disorientation). +5, as is reasonably high risk.

  • Perform like tasks. If I need to do slow, careful, focused work, then I avoid any work and play that is of unlike character. For instance, fast, careful, focused speed Scrabble is different enough to be deleterious. As for fast, haphazard, focused internet browsing, weeell... +6

  • Know what it is to 'work well'. I find it easier to get work done if I focus on maintaining the experience of working hard ie. immersion in the matter at hand, high cognitive load, high novelty and rehearsal rates, rather than consider the completion of tasks (as the latter can lead to drops in intensity, which undermines monomania/addiction). +6

  • Dual-n-back training. I can rely on this to drastically reduce anxiety, flightiness, improve concentration. It also seems to whet my appetite for intellectual work and increase purposefulness across the board. +8

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.

Dual-n-back training. I can rely on this to drastically reduce anxiety, flightiness, improve concentration. It also seems to whet my appetite for intellectual work and increase purposefulness across the board. +8

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.

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.

Dual-n-back training. I can rely on this to drastically reduce anxiety, flightiness, improve concentration. It also seems to whet my appetite for intellectual work and increase purposefulness across the board. +8

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.

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

“I think I’ve put my finger on a particular benefit of dnb training: it seems to help my brain’s ‘internal clock’ - I am better able to order my thoughts in time."

But no reason I couldn't quote you twice as the quotes differ?

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

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.

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 enough of an inconvenience that I stop wasting my time.

  • Applied Picoeconomics; -2; total work ethic collapse for the month I tried it.

Resolutions of this seem to be a feast-or-famine kind of thing. After making a hard-and-fast resolution to do 3 hours of math each weekday for a month, I crashed and burned early and ended up demoralized for the rest of a wasted month. It wasn't much worse than the previous month, but it was worse.

  • Melatonin; +3; some success but hard to distinguish from placebo effect.

Intrigued by gwern's article, I gave it a try. It did help me push my sleep schedule back a half hour a day in preparation for a conference that required me to be up at 6; I was tired during the days, but felt less tired than I expected to. For steady-state use, I haven't been able to see as much of a difference as gwern testified to.

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.

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 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, it shows 10:47, and I say to myself: "At 11:00 I'll close the browser and begin working on the email to John". This technique looks similar to Eliezer’s Execute by Default.

  • Scheduling Aggressively to Counter Parkinson's Law: +2. Having an externally-imposed short deadline can work wonders, but imposing such deadlines on myself requires willpower, and it doesn't work well for big mental tasks and important decisions.

  • Just do it = Don't do Anything Else: +1. Haven't used this tactic much since my original post, because it requires too much willpower.

  • Deliberate Self-Priming: +1. Requires quite a lot of willpower, and hard to practice when working in a group. I now think that removing trivial inconveniences and creating trivial impetuses for the task (see above) is a better way to prime myself for the task.

I counted "Begin Now" as "Think it, Do it" and "Scheduling Aggressively..." as "Strict Scheduling"; hope you don't mind...

I counted "Begin Now" as "Think it, Do it"

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.

and "Scheduling Aggressively..." as "Strict Scheduling"

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".

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 kicks in. The benefit isn't huge, but the cost is next to nothing.

  • High intensity aerobic exercise +5

Four times four minutes of intense exercise per workout, three sessions per week.

Reduces stress, increases well-being, makes me less inclined to procrastinate. Positive effects on cognitive endurance. Said to decrease the level of cortisol in the bloodstream, reducing stress. Also said to up-regulate production of growth hormone, insulin-like growth factor, brain-derived neurotrophic growth factor, endorphins, and other beneficial hormones and neurotrophic proteins. Increased physical endurance come as a bonus, if you care about that sort of thing.

+7 for beneficial effects, -2 for the time and effort required.

  • Meditation; +5

Mindfulness meditation, 30 minutes daily.

Promotes reflection and allows the things that really matter to float to the top of my mind, reduces cognitive stress.

+7 for effect, -2 for the cost in time and mental effort.

To me, the above strategies work better in sum than by themselves. Beneficial effects add up over time, and the pay-off makes each well worth the cost.

Nothing really new here, but my experiences seem to fall in line with those of others.

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 minute units.

If you try this, do it exactly as I describe, at least to start with, as there are reasons for each of the elements. Let me explain some of them. Firstly the use of a physical timer and abacus. Having them sitting on your desk in view makes them a lot more effective than using something like a digital timer and spreadsheet on your computer. When you look up you see the sand running out. When you take a break you see a colourful physical bar graph of your time allocation -- it's there looking at you.

45 minutes is important because it's long enough to get a reasonable amount done if you work in a focused way, but it's short enough not to be discouraging, unlike an hour. Even with something I don't particularly want to do, sitting down and doing just 45 minutes of it is a bearable concept, knowing that at the end I'll have a break and then do something else if I want to. Also if you look at human mental performance, it doesn't make much sense trying to do more than 45 minutes hard work at a time. Better to have a break for 5 to 15 minutes and then start again. As I think 15 minute breaks are essential, at the end of the week the total number of units counted on my abacus are my total number of at-work-activity hours for the week.

Having no rule about what you have to do is also important. If you put rules in place you will start avoiding using the system. The only thing is that when you start a unit of 45 minutes you have to go through with it. But you're free not to start one if you don't want to. You might then think that you'd always just do the kind of work that you like doing, rather than units of the stuff you avoid but should be doing. Interestingly, no, indeed often I find that the reverse starts to happen, even though I'm not really aiming for that. The reason is the principle that what you measure and keep in mind you naturally tend to control. Thus you don't actually need any rules, in fact they are harmful as they make you dislike and avoid the system.

Another force at work is that momentum often builds enthusiasm. Thus you think that you'll just do 45 minutes on some project due in a week that you'd rather not be doing at all, and after that unit of time you actually feel like doing another one just to finish some part of it off.

So yeah, the only real rule is that when the sand glass is running you have to stay hard at work on the task, which isn't too bad as it's only so many minutes more before you're taking a break and once again free.

UPDATE: So it seems that what I'm doing is a variant on the "Pomodoro technique" (and probably quite a few others). The differences being that I prefer 45 minutes, I think that's a better chunk of time to get things moving, and I like a physical aspects of a sand glass timer and an abacus. I perhaps should add that when I was doing intense memorisation study before an exam I'd use a 20 minutes on 10-20 minutes off cycle as that matches human memory performance better. But for general tasks 45 minutes seems good to me.

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 I credit as very important in helping me, as are some of the writings of his that you can get by signing up on his e-mail list. I can't provide a comprehensive list here, as there's too much of it and I don't have the time to review what thoughts came from where. Eby's gotten some bad flak here, but his techniques and philosophies really do seem startlingly powerful.

I've also noticed that adopting the "multiple self" mindset has made it easier for me to apply anti-akrasia techniques from entirely other sources, such as making a to-do list with the least time-consuming things as the first ones and then just working your way through it.

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 reaction to a task that I may otherwise be enthusiastic about.

Structured Procrastination

-6 Much like the previous option this just isn't for me. I've got limited reserves of structure implementation and I'm spending them on making my procrastination less fun.


2 Yeah, whatever. It's an ok toy to play with. I would rate it higher for other goals than anti-akrasia. I actually find a similar tip from PJEby useful. I would butcher the insight somewhat by trying to describe it but it's on this site as well as PJ's webpage. Basically it's like self-affirmations only it works.

Every Other Day Off

0 I will not rate this <0 because I kind of enjoy this and also advocate it as a healthy life choice. Nevertheless I do end up doing less net work, if working is my goal.

Stare at the Wall

Don't have enough experience to give a rating. I will say that the generalised idea of doing something that takes less willpower instead of the thing that takes more willpower is a useful way to get around a mental block. But I must say I prefer "Take a small amount of modafinil, some piracetam, aniracetam and a choline source then stare at a wall".

Strict Scheduling

Are you going to limit me to -10 here? I've tried it time and again. But I hate it. And I don't do things that I hate so it doesn't work. Besides, when I work I enjoy work and just procrastinate on taking breaks. Then the work is done and I go do other fun stuff.

Being Watched

-2 No, but having company gets an 8, bringing the total up to a 6.

Create Trivial Inconveniences to Procrastination

6 Trivial cost, big pay off. Unfortunately they are a medium term solution for me.

Close the Dang Browser

Similar to above.

Cripple your Internet:

8 I've had some really productive days due to hardware faults. software helps a lot too. Does overlap with 'trivial inconveniences' though.


8 Great stuff. Going sleep seems, well, boring and I don't tend to get tired until about the 20 hour mark. But going and taking a melatonin at 6 is no big deal. Sleep follows.

Getting Things Done

0 yawn Like a fantasy story without the cute elves who can launch fireballs.

I actually find a similar tip from PJEby useful. I would butcher the insight somewhat by trying to describe it but it's on this site as well as PJ's webpage. Basically it's like self-affirmations only it works.

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:

The trick is in the meaning of the word "just". When somebody says "just do it", they are trying to communicate that you should not do anything else. It might better be phrased as, "Only do it, without thinking about anything, not even about what you're doing. In fact, don't even do it, just watch yourself doing it, but don't actually try to do anything."

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 sources of conflicting thoughts, after all. (But I would be most interested in hearing of a counterexample, and I'll admit that systemic prohpylaxis such as exercise, nutrition, drugs, etc. are a bit of a stretch to include in this category. Most forms of meditation, though, would clearly be training one's skill at maintaining monoideal states in the face of competing inputs.)

Anyway, the usefulness of a particular technique to a particular individual will largely depend on whether it addresses their particular stumbling blocks in achieving a monoideal state.

For example, a person whose primary obstacle is self-doubt will not be helped much by removing external obstacles! A person who has only one thing to do won't be helped by Structured Procrastination or Getting Things Done, and so on.

Meanwhile, although I'm the "creator" or popularizer of more than one method on this list, I personally don't use any "motivational" tricks on an ongoing basis... for the simple reason that motivational tricks can't overcome "Bruce" in the long run.

That is, if "yourself" really wants to not do something, it will simply transfer your akrasia to the use of the anti-akrasia technique itself! I've experienced this many, many times before... which is why you don't see me inventing any new techniques.

(They're pretty easy to invent, btw, once you know that the goal of any such technique is to induce a monoideal state. I bet lesswrongers could come up with a crapload of 'em... and in fact they already have!)

Anyway, AFAICT, the only long term approach to chronic (as opposed to episodic) akrasia is to:

  1. Self-modify so as to limit the number of conflicting thoughts that can occur in the first place: if you don't have any "buttons" for your tasks to push, then you can't lose your monoideal state that way.

  2. Monitor and manage "yourself", rather than self-identifying as the one who is doing or not doing things.

The latter is necessary because without developed skill at self-observation, you will never "get" what is setting you off in the first place, nor will you be able to modify it. The first few years of my blogging consist of mostly very superficial self-observations, at a time when I was still looking for logical reasons why I did things.

Now I know to be suspicious when my brain hands me a logical answer, because (alas) logic and action are simply not related in the way our brains are built. Logic is primarily a weapon we use to persuade other people, and to prevent ourselves from being persuaded. It seems likely there was a lot less evolutionary pressure on being able to figure out or understand reality or "truth", than there was on offensive and defensive persuasion capability!

This means that logic and verbal sophistication are the natural enemies of both motivation and self-modification, since our logic is intended to refute any ideas that might cause us to self-modify (in response to verbal persuasion/suggestion/priming)... and it's also intended to keep our inner motivations from being discovered by others!

For this reason, verbal overshadowing is the #1 obstacle to self-understanding and self-modification, for pretty much all applications, not just anti-akratic ones. Your logical, verbal mind is designed to deceive others and prevent them from deceiving you. But unfortunately, it simply counters verbal persuasion, regardless of who it's coming from. You can't convince yourself of anything by arguing and ranting, in the same way that you can't convince anyone else by arguing and ranting.

Actively persuading another person requires that they become fully engaged in the discussion, and it's no different in relation to yourself. Unless you become fully engaged with yourself in the same way, you're just shouting into the wind.

[edit: formatting]

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.

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.)

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.

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?

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.

Also, I think my life coach, Robin Simons contributed by helping me get at my habit of blocking my emotions, especially the positive ones. (No, I don't know why I do that.) She gets a +5, too. (I'm just going to give a +5 to things that help significantly without being complete solutions. Trying to fine tune my ratings seems a great deal like cat-vacuuming..)

I'm a little surprised that no one else has mentioned any form of therapy. No one's tried it, or it hasn't helped?

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.

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 your natural 'safety mechanisms'. Giving yourself extra stamina and reducing the (some of the most significant) need for sleep allows you to life a less sustainable lifestyle. Most people push themselves to the approximate limits that they can handle whatever that may be. With extra stamina in a pill you can run yourself down without noticing some of the more obvious side effects. Not always a good thing.

I now have a CPAP machine so I no longer (kinda) wake up every 2 minutes for the entire night. This means I no longer get quite the benefit I once did from modafinil, which is great. I still use it but less regularly. Motivation and alertness are not typically limiting factors for me so I'll take the extra sleep, have the extra physical recovery and increase my gym workload.

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 counterfactuals (although come to think of it even decision theory hasn't been cropping up much of late). I'll take the chance to remove a procrastination temptation. This way I can save my limited reserves of willpower for areas that don't have such a neat technical solution.

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.

Effective, but not quite bullet proof.

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.

  • 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. Calmer, less stressful emotional state.Makes it easier to hold a wider perspective. Doesn't help with akrasia directly, but is a significant indirect support and is good for for my general outlook on life.
  • Regular exercise: +8. Essential. I don't see this as much as a positive thing as I'll get depressed soon if I don't get this.
  • Monoidealism: +6. Works every time I actually execute it correctly, but thinking about nothing else is hard. This trick interacts well with meditation because it increases my ability to execute it.

Edit: Fix some typos.

Monoidealism: +6. Works every time I actually execute it correctly, but thinking about nothing else is hard.

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 just ended up using another browser.

  3. Getting Things Done: +4 This one has been a big and lasting help, especially in areas of my life outside of schoolwork. Where I don't have complicated psychology of fear and habit driving procrastination, I'm limited mainly by keeping track of things. The GTD system has worked very well for me on that. Biggest benefit comes from forcing me to decide what I actually intend to do.

  4. Mild accountability: +2 My thesis work is very individual, but I can give high-level reports on how things are going to friends and family, folks I'm not willing to lie to. The desire to give positive reports keeps things moving, but hasn't been a big drive.

  5. Expose myself to hard-working friends: +5 When I see my friends working hard for any reason (against their will or out of internal motivation), it puts my procrastination in perspective and makes it seem silly to me. This helps me just get over it and get work done.

  6. Getting enough sleep: +2 I learned years ago that sleep is necessary for willpower. It's not sufficient for productivity, but if I'm tired, it's very easy to give in to distraction.

Thanks for the work on this. I look forward to reviewing both the list of techniques and people's aggregated experiences.

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.

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 just ended up using another browser.

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.

Getting enough sleep: +2 I learned years ago that sleep is necessary for willpower. It's not sufficient for productivity, but if I'm tired, it's very easy to give in to distraction.

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".

I use "failing to fall asleep" as a motivator to do useful work. It's "okay, feel free to, consistently, either sleep or work".

Me too.

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 of vacation relative to most Americans. This does seem make me more productive at work. I would probably be even more productive if I took more time off.

Being Watched: +4 -- for me, that's not general watching, but pair programming. You can't check time-wasting sites if you're at one machine with someone else who is expecting you to actually work. On the other hand, I am extremely introverted, so it uses a lot of energy for me even with a very low-impedance person like my present partner.

Close the Dang Browser: +1 (works occasionally) -- but perhaps will work better now that I have removed the icons too. I think I should also try bookmarking sets of tabs so that I can more easily close without losing state.

Cripple your Internet (editing /etc/hosts, for me): +2 but I need to keep adding sites, including, embarrassingly, the coral cache version that I have used to get around my crippling.

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.

Related to Hofstadter's Law: "It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter's Law.".

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.

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 until they're small enough that I have a good chance of getting them done before the next unpostponable interruption arrives and working on only one task until it's done.

  • The Caffein Nap: +8. This is awesome when you're struggling to stay awake to get through a less engaging task.

General effectiveness hacks that make it easier to resist akrasia:

  • Meditation: +5. (With l