Habitual Productivity

I was able to maintain high productivity for extended periods of time and achieve some difficult goals. In this and the following posts I will discuss some personality quirks and techniques that helped me do this. This post is fairly self-expository. I claim no originality, this is simply an account of how I operate.

Secret number one: Productivity is a habit of mine. As I mentioned in the previous post, I've been following a similar schedule for years: two days doing social things, five days doing something constructive. Before I turned my efforts towards FAI research, this mainly consistent of programming, writing, and self-education.

This habit was not sufficient to get the high productivity I attained in the last few months, but it was definitely necessary.

I understand that this is not helpful advice: "I'm habitually productive" just passes the buck. "Ah", you ask, "but how did you turn productivity into a habit?" For that, I have an ace up my sleeve:

I deplore fun.

Ok, not really. However, I do have a strong aversion to activities that I find unproductive. This aversion is partly innate and partly developed. It first became explicit at the age of nine or ten, when I read The Phantom Tollbooth:

"KILLING TIME!" roared the dog—so furiously that his alarm went off. "It's bad enough wasting time without killing it." And he shuddered at the thought.

- Norton Juster, The Phantom Tollbooth

This quote stuck with me. Time is scarce, and I certainly didn't want to kill any.

I developed an explicit distaste for boredom, and went out of my way to avoid it. I kept books near me at all times. I invented stories and thought up new plots when drifting off to sleep. I invented mental puzzles to keep me entertained during class, including a stint in my teens where I worked out the base 12 multiplication tables. Later, I put spare mental cycles towards considering my code, probing edge cases or considering alternative designs (a practice that is no doubt familiar to all programmers).

This distaste broadened as I aged. I grew to realize that I didn't just want to be doing things, I wanted to be doing useful things. My disdain started spreading towards other activities, ones that didn't forward my long-term goals. The memories are hazy, and I'm not sure whether this caused or was caused by my naïve resolution to save the world (or a whole tangle of other factors), but I know the two were linked.

Before long, I began to view escapism as a guilty pleasure: fun and addictive, but unsatisfying. Things like hiking and going to parties became almost a chore: I superficially enjoyed them, sure, but I yearned to be elsewhere, doing something permanent. Even reading fiction took on a pang of guilt. I valued things that moved me forward, that honed my skills or moved me closer to my terminal goals. I wanted to be building things, improving things.

This is my first secret weapon: I lost the ability to be satisfied by unproductive activity.

This was not particularly pleasant.

As I got older, I struggled to balance social activities that were supposed to be fun with all of the things that I wanted to learn and build. All forms of entertainment were weighed against their opportunity cost. This wasn't an elegant phase of my life: I was still a teenager, and I yearned for social validation, strong friendships, and adventures just as much as my peers. Trouble was, I was caught in a catch 22: when I squirreled away in my room being "productive" I felt like I was missing out, and when I went outside to have "adventures" I only wanted to be elsewhere. I vacillated wildly for a few years before coming to terms with myself.

These days, I aim to spend about two evenings a week (one on weekdays, one on weekends) doing something that's traditionally fun. I spend the rest of my time doing things that sate my neverending desire to march towards my goals.

It's interesting to note that, in the end, there wasn't really a compromise. The productivity side just flat-out won: I eventually realized that human interaction is necessary for mental health and that a solid social network is invaluable. I don't mean to imply that I engage in social interaction because I've calculated that it's necessary: I really do enjoy social interaction, and I really want to be able to enjoy it without guilt. Rather, it's more like I've found an excuse that allows me to both enjoy myself and sate the thirst. That said, it's still difficult for me to disengage sometimes.


This is also not the most helpful advice, I realize: I'm good at being productive in part because I'm bad at being satisfied unless my current task forwards my active goals. This isn't exactly something you can practice.

Unless you're into mind hacking, I suppose. (Note: At this point in the post, set your "humor" dials to "dry".)

When I was quite young, one of the guests at our house refused to eat processed food. I remember that I offered her some fritos and she refused. I was fairly astonished, and young enough to be socially inept. I asked, incredulous, how someone could not like fritos. To my surprise, she didn't brush me off or feed me banal lines about how different people have different tastes. She gave me the answer of someone who had recently stopped liking fritos through an act of will. Her answer went something like this: "Just start noticing how greasy they are, and how the grease gets all over your fingers and coats the inside of the bag. Notice that you don't want to eat things soaked in that much grease. Become repulsed by it, and then you won't like them either."

Now, I was a stubborn and contrary child, so her ploy failed. But to this day, I still notice the grease. This woman's technique stuck with me. She picked out a very specific property of a thing she wanted to stop enjoying and convinced herself that it repulsed her.

If I were trying to start hating fun (and I remind you that I'm not trying, because I already do, and that you shouldn't try, because it's no fun) then this is the route I would recommend: Recognize those little discomforts that underlie your escapism, latch on to them, and blow them completely out of proportion. (Disclaimer: I am not a mindwizard; I've no doubt there are better ways to change your affections if you're in to mindhacking.)

Note that such mindhacking is a Dark Art which you should not pursue. Side effects may include:

  • Experiencing guilt when you should be having a grand old time.
  • Attempting to complete hikes as fast as possible so you can get back to what you were working on.
  • A propensity to get more tense when you're supposed to be relaxing.
  • A tendency to bring books to live concerts so that you can multitask.

Furthermore, I imagine that this can backfire reaaaly hard: if you manage to develop a strong revulsion for unproductive activities but still can't force yourself to stop browsing reddit (or whatever your vice) then you run a big risk of hitting a willpower-draining death spiral.

So I'm really not recommending that you try this mindhack. But if you already have spikes of guilt after bouts of escapism, or if you house an arrogant disdain for wasting your time on TV shows, here are a few mantras you can latch on to to help yourself develop a solid hatred of fun (I warn you that these are calibrated for a 14 year old mind and may be somewhat stale):

  • When skiing, partying, or generally having a good time, try remembering that this is exactly the type of thing people should have an opportunity to do after we stop everyone from dying.
  • When doing something transient like watching TV or playing video games, reflect upon how it's not building any skills that are going to make the world a better place, nor really having a lasting impact on the world.
  • Notice that if the world is to be saved then it really does need to be you who saves it, because everybody else is busy skiing, partying, reading fantasy, or dying in third world countries.

It also helps if you're extraordinarily arrogant and you house a deep-seated belief in civilizational inadequacy.

(You may now disengage your humor shielding.)


I strongly recommend finding a different and preferably healthier route to habitual productivity. The point of this exposition is that for me, a quirk of my psychology led me to a schedule where I spend my days doing things that lead towards my goals.

My distaste for other activities is not the thing that is driving me, per se: it has merely pushed me towards a certain lifestyle, it has helped me develop a certain habit. That habit is the foundation for my recent achievements.

If you can structure your life such that productive things are the things that you do by default, the things that you do in your free time when you have nothing else on your plate, then you will be in good shape. When "do something that forwards your goals" is the fallback plan then it becomes much easier to scale your efforts up.

The way that I built such structure into my own life was pretty personalized and likely unhealthy, but I'm quite content with the end result. So that's my advice for the day: if you can, try to make your default actions useful. Find a way to make productivity habitual.

When forming habits, repetition is very important. If you're trying to be highly productive, consider starting by being a little productive with high regularity. Humans are very habitual creatures, and establishing a habit of completing easier tasks may pay off in the long run.

Even if you start with the easier tasks, though, you're going to need a good chunk of motivation to successfully form a habit of doing things that require effort. In these waters swims Akrasia, a most ancient enemy. I meant to delve more into the sources of my motivation and some tricks I use to avoid akrasia, but I've run out of time. Further posts will follow.

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Furthermore, I imagine that this can backfire reaaaly hard: if you manage to develop a strong revulsion for unproductive activities but still can't force yourself to stop browsing reddit (or whatever your vice) then you run a big risk of hitting a willpower-draining death spiral.

That's basically what happened to me: I taught myself to feel guilty whenever I was relaxing and not working, but just the fact that I was feeling guilty about not-working didn't make me any more motivated to actually work. So I would repeatedly get into situations where absolutely nothing felt like worth doing, so I accomplished basically nothing and felt miserable for the whole day. Cue an extended burnout that took me several years to properly recover from.

Oddly, it feels like one key part of my recovery has been to train myself to feel as unguilty as possible about any recreational activity. That way, if I really need a break I can take one, but if I'm on a break I can also honestly ask myself whether my break has gone on long enough and whether I'd want to resume doing something more productive now. Though I'm sure if that's quite right either - it's more like I'm more able to trust that my motivation to do something relaxing will naturally fade after a while, to be replaced with a motivation to be productive again, without me necessarily even needing to watch myself. And of course, since I don't need to actively watch myself, the relaxation may happen faster since I can focus on it more fully. (Of course, sometimes it does take longer, and the key is to be completely fine with that possibility, too.)

The main mechanism here seems to be that guilt not only blocks the relaxation, it also creates negative associations around the productive things - the productivity becomes that nasty uncomfortable reason why you don't get to do fun things, and you flinch away from even thinking about the productive tasks, since thinking about them makes you feel more guilty about not already doing them. Which in turn blocks you from developing a natural motivation to do them.

So if someone did go by this mindhacking route, they should be very careful to avoid developing guilt. The guest who had developed a dislike for fritos didn't dislike them because eating them made her feel guilty: she disliked them because she had started noticing features in them that she felt were repulsive. Also, I suspect that "actively pay attention to the features in productive tasks that are desirable" is just as important an component as noticing the displeasing things in non-productive tasks. If we assume the opportunity cost model of willpower, then your motivation to do something is proportional to the difference in estimated value between that thing and the second most highly ranked thing, implying that increasing the perceived value of the productive things can be even more efficient than decreasing the value of other things. (Guilt in this model would act as a negative modifier to the values.)

Also closely related posts: Pain and gain motivation, It's okay to be (at least a little) irrational.

I'm pretty sure this is a large part of what ruined my first two years at college. Of course, when I noticed the death spiral and tried to reverse it, it looked even more like I didn't care to everyone who had interest in my success, which compounded the difficulty (I could not talk my way across inferential gaps at all).

Thanks for the detailed reply! I should note that my current outlook seems very similar to your own: I no longer attach guilt to "unproductive" activities. I still find them fundamentally unsatisfying, and get restless if I can't do something constructive for extended periods, but I give myself license to engage in leisure as necessary and trust myself not to abuse that license. My next post covers this transition, but your second paragraph captures much of what I was planing to say.

In particular, I'd like to reinforce one of your points: Tying negative emotions to the things I didn't want to do was not enough to motivate me to do the things I did want to do. None of the above has been a driving force, it is mainly context that will help the next part make sense.

Yeah, I just want to chime in as another person who got burned (out) by this early on, and who keeps seeing it happen to other people. I've since practiced better motivation hygiene and it's served me well.

Cool, any specific tips on good motivation hygiene you'd recommend?

I agree with the gist of what others have said here. There are lots of ways to contaminate productive tasks with aversiveness that isn't intrinsic to the task. Unpleasant work environment is pretty obvious. I spent one undergrad summer commuting by bike, and I'd always get to work sweaty and tired in a bad way. Because that's what I thought of when I thought about going to work, I spent a lot of days unproductively working from home. For the next job that had a bike commute, I took active measures to avoid the same problems, and now I look forward to biking to work.

I agree especially strongly with what Kaj_Sotala says about using guilt (or other negative emotions). Boredom and frustration can also be problems. When I notice them, it's usually not because my task is itself boring or frustrating; I've just become disengaged or I feel stuck. So I remind myself of this, think of all the reasons my work is actually cool and worthwhile or of the progress I've made, and then take a break, switch tasks, or carry on.

Or sometimes I notice that I strongly don't feel like working and am unlikely to get much done. In these cases I've found it's better to simply set things down for a while and to do some mental work to make sure I don't feel guilty about quitting, rather than try to force myself through it. (Of course, it's even better to make myself feel like working again. But that's quite a trick itself.)

Conversely, I spend leisure time doing things I enjoy and endorse. The taste I've cultivated means that a lot of cheap and addictive entertainment doesn't especially appeal to me, and it gives me a sense that my enjoyment of things is a little more meaningful than it was before. I've spent some serious thought concerning blocked-out leisure time and endorsed activities, so that I can trust my past self's strategic planning and not worry about wastefulness.

I guess I haven't been too specific. These ideas depend on more fundamental skills like mindfulness, or noticing and dealing with negative thoughts. Those are big topics themselves and the specific implementations tend to be idiosyncratic. Still, I hope this is helpful.

"The main mechanism here seems to be that guilt not only blocks the relaxation, it also creates negative associations around the productive things - the productivity becomes that nasty uncomfortable reason why you don't get to do fun things, and you flinch away from even thinking about the productive tasks, since thinking about them makes you feel more guilty about not already doing them. Which in turn blocks you from developing a natural motivation to do them."

I'll add that this an example of a pretty common description of the ruminations that people experience when suffering from depression. As someone who has just come out of a fairly severe depression*, I can say that purposefully cultivating this type of thinking can be dangerous in a way beyond just developing guilt, which would be bad enough in of itself.

When you're trying to bail out of depression, you learn a lot about different schools of therapy to deal with it. One is cognitive therapy, which involves learning how to quickly identify "automatic thoughts," or instantaneous, destructive, and often irrational thoughts that further drive the ruminative cycle preventing you from thinking clearly. A common automatic thought described by people suffering from different types of depression includes "guilt for feeling guilt," or guilty for feeling guilty about not doing something that you feel like you should be doing. In other words, nearly exactly what was described in this "mindhack." Once this cycle of thinking develops, I cannot begin to describe how difficult it is to break, except to say that it took me nearly half a decade (obviously a bit of an oversimplification - this is just one of many symptoms to try to break).

Point being, I would strongly recommend against trying this mindhack. It may have worked for the OP, but it can also be a catalyst towards something more severe than "a willpower-draining death spiral."

  • For context, just to know I'm not throwing the word "depression" around lightly, my illness lasted approximately 5 years, had to see 4 therapists, several psychiatrists and try a couple of antidepressents. Tried several different schools of therapy from cognitive therapy to psychodynamic. Finally a combination the right antidepressent, cognitive therapy, meditating and a lot of exercise helped me break out of it. Not to mention significantly changing my life course.

While I wouldn't recommend either route, I suspect that learning to feel bored when not-working (by noticing the ways in which e.g. card games have less cognitive structure to learn from than does [work task X that you could return to]) is a lot better than learning to feel guilty when not-working.

FWIW I think of activities that cost time like activities that cost money: I decide how much money/time I want to spend on leisure, and then insist I spend that much, hopefully choosing the best way possible. But I don't know if that would help other people.

I've been living like that for a long time, but just recently started noticing it.

Oddly, it feels like one key part of my recovery has been to train myself to feel as unguilty as possible about any >recreational activity.

Do you have any specific advice for how to do this?

The one trick that comes to mind is that if I notice myself feeling guilty about not doing X, then I instantly tell myself that I'm not allowed to do X for the rest of the day, and am indeed obligated to do something else. I think that the mechanism behind that is that it allows me to think about X without feeling guilty about not doing it, which makes it more likely that I'll have natural motivation for doing it the next day.

Of course this trick doesn't work on things that you really do need to have done by the end of the day. But if it is not absolutely urgent, and the outside view suggests that you wouldn't get the thing done today anyway, then you might as well take the rest of the day off with a clean conscience. It also helps to remind yourself that by managing to successfully take a guilt-free day/evening off, you're making an investment to your future productivity, so you have full reason to enjoy it without feeling guilty. (I guess this could lead you to feeling guilty about feeling guilty. Fortunately that has never happened to me.)

Having a generally good mental health also helps, so all the basic advice about that also applies: eat well, get enough sleep and exercise, maintain your social life, etc.

The two things I've found to work here are not to use negative emotions to keep me from doing things that I want to avoid, but rather to intellectually deconstruct those things until they cease to have power over me. For example, I once tried a low fat, low carb diet. Not fun, and naturally I had intense cravings for things that were sweet and fatty. So when I went to the grocery store, I didn't avoid the bakery. I went straight there and analyzed the artistic value of the cakes--examining how the frosting had been applied, the colors that had been used and such. It cut the instinctive urge to eat them and reinforced that my diet was a mental process--whether or not it was an optimal diet was another question entirely!

The other thing is that the only way I can be optimally productive is when my productive activity is also my passion. I can find passion in many things, though some are more closely aligned with my abilities than others, some are more closely aligned with maximizing my long-term income than others, and some are more closely aligned with the greater good of humanity than others. Finding a passion that has a significant degree of alignment in all three areas has taken a while, but the results are worth it. The bottom line is, if I am doing something "productive" that I am not passionate about, it isn't productivity that is truly meaningful to me on a basic level, so I don't get as much emotional reward for my effort and it becomes just a form of work. I can only continue the process by distracting myself with side interests, and if I try too hard to focus on the activity eventually I will burn out. But now that my productivity has become aligned with my passion the two feelings of accomplishment and joy reinforce each other powerfully and productivity becomes rather addictive.

There is a definite argument for maintaining a degree of social engagement, but I am trying to reach out through trade organizations and find local meet-ups with others in my industry so that I get a win-win here too.

Some thoughts:

  • I think this post is a good illustration that productivity, like nootropics, can be highly individual, but the payoff for experimenting on yourself is very high. Everyone should take the time and effort to become an expert on what makes them tick and how to motivate themselves.

  • I think a lot of what makes productivity hard is that the things you want yourself to do are significantly less rewarding than other things you have in your environment. There are a few reasons for this: first, your environment has superstimuli like computer games. I stopped playing computer games a few years ago and I can attest that "work"-ish things I want myself to do are substantially more appealing & interesting. Second, you make the things you want to do aversive by telling yourself to do them and then not doing them. So the solution is to learn to only tell yourself to do things when you're actually going to do them. (Possibly useful: have a chair that you sit in for work only and only tell yourself to work when you're sitting in that chair, and only sit in the chair when you've got reasonably high energy, focus, and morale.)

  • I've suffered from this phenomenon you describe: Trouble was, I was caught in a catch 22: when I squirreled away in my room being "productive" I felt like I was missing out, and when I went outside to have "adventures" I only wanted to be elsewhere. It's great to hear that I'm not the only one who suffers thus, and it's useful to know your solution. Though for me, it's more like when I spend too much time alone I get lonely, but oftentimes hanging out with people feels like a waste of time. Doing social stuff 1 weekend-day and 1 weeknight a week sounds like a good solution... I've kinda been wondering if social interaction is something that should be done on a regular basis kind of like taking vitamins. (Separately, I'm curious if social interaction time is more rejuvenating if spread out or chunked. Is it better to spend 20 minutes with friends every day of the week or spend 140 minutes with friends 1 day of the week? I suspect the former is better.)

I've kinda been wondering if social interaction is something that should be done on a regular basis kind of like taking vitamins.

At one point, I noticed that I seemed to have a "social timer" of approximately 2-3 days: going any longer than that without pleasant social interaction caused me to become lethargic and unproductive. That still seems to roughly hold, though the exact duration seems to vary somewhat over time.

Second, you make the things you want to do aversive by telling yourself to do them and then not doing them.

I think this is really important. It also fits into the procrastination equation by decreasing expectancy.

I've kinda been wondering if social interaction is something that should be done on a regular basis kind of like taking vitamins.

It seems to work that way for me, but free time social interaction feels even more like a waste of time now that my work is highly social, and I already get an overdose every day.

I developed an explicit distaste for boredom ... spare mental cycles ...

What did you do when the task at hand itself was boring, but took up too much RAM for you to occupy your mind with other stuff while doing it?

One of my keys for productivity/unproductivity is that when I get interested in something, I become completely locked in on it. I have noticed that trying to stop a timewaster is rather futile while it is in progress, so I've developed a strong aversion towards taking on new distractions, obligations, or anything that will waste my time, because not starting in the first place is my point of greatest control over what I will be doing. This is one of the few areas where procrastination actually can help. If somebody tells me about some interesting thing I should be playing/watching/doing, I will either not care at all and quickly forget about it, find an excuse to avoid it, intentionally ignore it, summon my inner critic to repeatedly point out how much of a waste of time it is, or think "I'll follow up on this later, after some Minecraft." and never do so. Extreme laziness in the face of time-wasting obligations (which video games and shows count as) is a useful thing to cultivate for me, and my definition of time-wasting is quite a bit broader than that of my friends, though narrower than So8res definition.

The corollary for me is that if I can force myself to do something interesting and difficult for about a week or two, it can turn into a fairly strong passion.

Hello,

I would just like to ask one thing. Its seems its very easy for OP to be productive, because he's very intelligent. For example I have an average intelligence, but I would like to get better at math. I started with brain teasers on khan academy, but I couldn't even complete those on my own, altough the solution was satisfying. I'm wondering if anyone has any advice on how to begin becoming smarter. I mean math is so fun(so are brain teasers), but it'd be great if for once I could solve some problems on my own.

This is a "knowledge builds up on previous knowledge" problem. It's not that math is fundamentally hard or something a person with normal intelligence can't achieve.

It's just a matter of systematically filling the gaps in your knowledge. Some people have wider gaps, others have narrower ones. Past experience counts a lot here.

The ideal posture is starting from the ground. Really, go back to the beginning of high school of you need to (that's no shame), but make sure you have the fundamentals right (and you expose yourself to a variety of applications/examples/environments).

Message me if you need some sort of step-by-step to kick into action. I've been researching this a lot and founded a company in Brazil that gives trainings on how to learn better.

Message me if you need some sort of step-by-step to kick into action

Well, yes, that would actually help quite a lot. What did you have in mind?

Its seems its very easy for OP to be productive, because he's very intelligent.

I think intelligence and productiveness are inversely correlated.

It is "two year later." How have your productivity habits changed?

I invented mental puzzles to keep me entertained during class, including a stint in my teens where I worked out the base 12 multiplication tables.

Anyone else willing to share some specifics or can you expand some more on this? I'm still not past compulsory lectures, and I'd like to know how people keep their mind sharp secretly inside their skulls when everything moves so slowly you'd want to put time on fast forward. I usually review Anki cards, but that's not always possible.

What kinds of puzzles would be generally useful not just to programmers and other math oriented people? Mental arithmetic to a point is certainly useful for almost anyone.

Since you said in another comment your area of interest is medicine, you could study statistics (and work on statistics problem sets during boring lectures -- problem sets are just a type of puzzle that also build more useful skills besides keeping your brain busy).

That's an excellent suggestion! My statistics skills definitely need some polishing.

Ask lots and lots of questions. Ask for more detail whenever you're told something interesting or confusing. The other advantages of this strategy are that the lecturers know who you are (good for references) and that all the extra explanations are of the bits you didn't understand.

This is probably a good suggestion for subjects like physics, math or programming. Works best if the audience is small and doesn't care about you sidetracking the lecture, and the topic is computationally challenging and not mainly about memorization. These are the main reasons why this strategy works poorly in my area of interest, medicine.

If I come up with any questions with non-obvious answers, they're usually so inferentially far they're off topic and it's better not to ask. Of course, I could start writing them down more diligently and looking for answers afterwards myself.

Or possibly write them down for asking the lecturer afterwards, if you want to get the "good impression" bonuses.

Taking copious notes in lectures works for me on several levels. I don't just write down what the lecturer is saying but also try to connect it with other knowledge and make notes about that as well. Rote memorization does not work as well as association, so this helps me link the new knowledge into my broader knowledge base. It also makes listening a much more mentally active process so I can pay attention better, and engages my kinesthetic learning side and reinforces my visual side, which also helps since listening is not my strongest learning mode. I do try to keep my questions relevant and only ask if either I don't understand or I feel the lecturer didn't explain something very well. Frequently I ask questions about things such as examples to help link the new knowledge into my existing knowledge base if I'm not able to do that on my own. If the topic is memorization intensive, I have sometimes taken notes directly on 3"x5" flash cards which I can use later on to study, though carrying around flash cards is harder than carrying a notebook so I haven't always done this. I put the topic on one side and the details on the other so I can test my memory of the details. For stuff that is very complex like anatomy I create diagrams, though this is primarily useful to me because I have a good background in drawing so it might not work as well for others. In a class where we were tested on the anatomy of the forearm without bringing in notes, for example, I memorized how to draw the schematic diagram of how the muscles and bones connected and then turned the test over and drew the diagram I had memorized on the back at the beginning and then used that drawing to complete the test. If I'd just tried to remember each connection separately while answering the questions it would have been harder for me.

I developed an explicit distaste for boredom, and went out of my way to avoid it. I kept books near me at all times. I invented stories and thought up new plots when drifting off to sleep. I invented mental puzzles to keep me entertained during class [...].

I have this pattern too. My recount how and when it developed would be much different though. Also my terminal values are different. But I can relate very well to this.

One recommendation I'd like to relate because it is a mild form of mind-hacking that did help me: As a youth I watched quite a bit TV. I knew that it was often mindless but then it is made to be as entertaining as it gets by the industry. I couldn't just will it away. But when I fell in love I had better things to do and at that time it was easy to develop a distaste for TV. I did watch TV with my fiance then but never alone anymore. When we relocated I made sure that we didn't get TV cable but watch only DVDs. This habit solidified. I now deplore TV.

So what is the lesson? When you find yourself in a situation where you are intrinsically motivated highly toward something (usually strong emotions like love or anger but may be curiosity) then use the impulse that brings away from your unwanted habits. Notice how easy it is to avoid the habit. Use the opportunity to change the habit irreversibly e.g. by cancelling subscription, selling equaipment,...

Sidenote: This meetup also seems to deal with using time more profitably: http://lesswrong.com/r/discussion/lw/jft/meetup_west_lahow_to_live_on_22_hours_a_day/

This quote stuck with me. Time is scarce, and I certainly didn't want to kill any.

At West Point, one way they'd punish deviant cadets is to have them march around for 3 hours and not accomplish anything. It isn't that the march is physically or mentally tiring/uncomfortable, it's just that they're so busy and have so much to do that 3 hours of unproductive marching is felt as punishment.

See 32:30 of this podcast.

Fantastic write-up. I am very impressed by your recent productivity, and I'd like to replicate it for myself.

I strongly recommend finding a different and preferably healthier route to habitual productivity.

I don't share your distaste for unproductive activities, so I'm going to pursue two alternative routes to habitual productivity. Both entail adding incentives for productive work rather than mindhacking a distaste for "traditional" fun:

  1. Gamification: Closely related to mindhacking. This strategy could range from something as simple as a daily success chain (see Chains.cc, which I am currently using with some success) to a fully customized system where productive tasks are assigned points redeemable for prizes.

  2. Working with friends: Social reinforcement is a really strong motivator for me (I'm not sure how well this generalizes). In this scenario, you can work together on the same problem or work on unrelated productive tasks side-by-side. You celebrate each others' successes and provide pep talk when required. The bonus effect here is that you may fulfill some of your social needs. The downside is that you may find yourself distracted by conversation / general fun / antics / etc.

I'm astonished. Absolutely on my ass. You used your guilt when having "useless activities" to actually do something productive! Why on Earth didn't I think of that? I feel quite like you explained, never satisfied or relaxed by activities not improving my skills and my intellectual abilities. But, following my entourage's advices, I always tried to force myself to enjoy "having fun". Whereas I should have done the opposite!

Thank you. Really.