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 implementation): +6 It takes a little effort and thinking to really grasp the principles behind GTD, which is about more than "having a to-do list". What really worked for me was the "Do, Defer, Delegate or Delete" mantra, and sorting my work stream into a small number of contexts. The most important context distinction is "how much focus/energy do I have right now".

Cripple Your Internet: -1 I tried this once to break my addiction to blitz games on KGS. It had zero effect, and may even have had the perverse effect of making me crave the games more. Ultimately, what proved effective was simply to let the addiction run its course.

Pomodoro Technique: +2 This has gotten me out of one or two spots of trouble with "better overwhelm", I recommend it but it's more a crisis technique. The funny story is that the technique is popularized by Francesco Cirillo who I met at an Extreme Programming conference in 2002, and was originally formulated as a team discipline rather than a personal productivity technique.

Removing trivial inconveniences: +4 This is an everyday keeper. I used to have huge difficulties dealing with postal mail, for some reason. I still don't look forward to it, at all. But it became a lot easier when I thought about why it would always take me (literally) weeks to send off a single letter, and resolved to take steps against it when it had become a matter of financial survival (when my income started to depend on sending out invoices).

I typically took a long time because buying the envelopes was a task in one context, buying stamps a task in another, and actually labeling the damn envelope a task in yet another. This all added up to multiple occasions for akrasia. So I bought a large stock of envelopes and stamps, and an inkpad with my name and address on it, and kept all this within hand's reach on my desk. This drastically reduced the number of context switches needed to send postal mail, consequently the time and energy. Now I'm finding it easy. (For a while I considered buying a small label printer, but it turned out I never really needed that extra reduction of inconvenience.)

Akrasia Tactics Review

by orthonormal 2 min read21st Feb 2010150 comments

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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

Kibotzer

 

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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