Doctor Peter Pronovost has managed to single-handedly reduce the infection rates in ICU facilities nationwide from numbers like fourteen percent or twenty percent to zero. His solution is idiotically simple: a checklist. In a process as complex as ICU treatment, doctors perform chained simple steps very many times, and it can be easy to forget a step. These things add up. Read the article before continuing.
In their phenomenal book, The Power of Full Engagement, Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz discuss a pattern they have discovered among all top performers, ranging from sports to music and business. Beyond a certain level, all top performers had established positive rituals for relaxation and deliberate practice. These positive rituals were daily ingrained habits and allowed them to surpass the merely excellent performers.
It is difficult to make use of most Less Wrong posts in terms of changing one's behavior. Even if you integrate a lesson fully, you will still miss steps on occasion. I propose we suggest checklists for various recurring activities that will offload these responsibilities from conscious thought to its much more reliable brother, ingrained habit. Fortunately, we should not need many checklists.
An example of a checklist is a morning routine:
- Short exercise (40 pushups, 50 situps)
- Daily cosmetics (brush teeth, shave, skin moisturizer, hair forming cream, male scented lotion, deodorant)
- Make breakfast, which can be depending on what day it is mod 3: Black mango tea as well as
- Omelette with cheese and tomatoes
- Cereal with a side of oatmeal
- A piece of fruit and yoghurt
- Brief non-work and non-study related reading, for example, a novel
Another example of a checklist is during a conversation with a non-rationalist on the 5-second level: If you feel strong affect (anger or annoyance) at someone's point in a debate,
- Say "Let me think about this for a second."
- Are you two on the same inferential level? If not, backtrack by trying to bridge it first.
- Have either of you committed a cognitive bias? (This may not be so helpful, given this is a potential fifty-item checklist!) If so, inform them about them about it in a friendly manner. ("Ah, I see! You have to be careful here because..." or "Oh, oops, I had forgotten here about...")
Think of this as a re-run of the 5-second level post, with an outreach towards more than just specific rationality skills. The checklists that are not required to be performed extemporaneously (i.e., not in conversation) should be like a physical checklist, that one can write down and should go through every time.
I'm not sure if the checklist themselves were the valuable thing in the article, so much as the change to organizational processes that gave nurses the right to overrule doctors any time the doctor deviated from best practices, despite the nurses having fewer years of education and a lower salary. What if the real trick was allowing low status people to other-optimize high status people for deviating from formalized but relatively trivial adequacy standards? I don't mean to be too Hansonian here, but it seemed just kind of glaring to me.
Maybe the lesson to learn really is the checklists... but it kind seems like those might have been a safe way to implement the social hack rather than the essential thing to latch onto. If the checklists are a red herring for a status manipulation then maybe a more effective performance improvement path for someone who can think clearly and accept emotionally complicated truths might be "make it safe for low status people to other optimize you on obvious stuff".
I pulled quotes from the document and the status issues and role adjustments seemed significant. Think of this like the methods section of a scientific paper... what else might be going on here?
I recommend a dry erase board with items you check off daily with the final item being to erase all the checkmarks for the day. This makes things like stretching, 10 min meditation, flossing, snacking on nutrient rich foods easier to ingrain as habits.
I found a dry erase board to work much better than anything printed or digital.
Also: Don't forget to take into account the range of possible gain/loss in utility from a decision when deciding how much time to spend analyzing your decision. Many decisions that seem hard are only difficult because the outcomes are so close in utility (e.g. peanut butter A instead of peanut butter B).
I'd also like to say that in general I find checklists, catchphrases, and rules of thumb et al to be MUCH more useful in behavior modification than anything more rigorous. A leaky abstraction that you actually use (and moves you even somewhat closer to optimality) is better than the perfect heuristic you don't use.
After short googleing, I found this checklist. Apparently it's based an an article by Kahneman (and others).
The first Item on my morning routine checklist would be: "Get checklist". I just know that I couldn't work with checklists. I couldn't make myself to print them out and waste all the paper. Or even if I did, I'd run out of them and forget to get new ones. Or I'd loose the checklists, or there would be another of a million possible complications. There should be something like "checklist paper" where you write down the items of the checklist once and only a small strip of paper is used to make the check-marks and teared off. I suppose that's what rich people have smartphones for...
Here's the HBR article by Kahneman et al.
I highly recommend The Checklist Manifesto and I have thought about implementing it in my daily life similar to your outline for daily activities that, as it is shown, sometimes just because some activities are so obvious they sometimes tend to be neglected and forgotten. I also like to have a particular checklist for the day as it is very easy for me to drift into doing irrelevant tasks and looking at an empty/partial checklist you get a disturbing feeling similar to the way of beating procrastination just by starting something and having that feeling of incompleteness.
I'm planning to use a checklist when I go back to the gym as I tend to always leave a bit earlier and skip some of the exercises I want to get done.
Thank you, I have been looking for that!
Thank you, practical advice is immensely useful as supplement to all the theory.
Here's a good summary of The Power of Full Engagement. Here's the book itself.
After having learned and ingrained the principles of seduction, there is a simple checklist I (now subconsciously) mentally go through while I'm talking to a girl I'm interested in: