[ Question ]

No, really, can "dead" time be salvaged?

by NicholasKross1 min read26th Oct 20219 comments

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World OptimizationPractical
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About a month ago, /u/batislu on /r/SlateStarCodex posted the question "How do you spend your "dead" time productively?". I read this thread, and found myself relieved (because of the admonitions to chill out), but also frustrated (because of the lack of real answers to the question).

With the urgency entailed by extinction risks etc., "just chilling" during dead time can (for many of us) feel undoable. Or, at least, undoable some of the time.

Assume, for many of us, our day job / school does little to directly help, at the highest levels, with the kinds of important problems discussed here. (This is a good time to remind everyone that these opinions are both hypothetical, and solely my own (not my employer's).)

Then the questions become:

  • What, if anything, can be done in the tired "between-time" after work?
  • Can it help with any of the following?:
    • Directly helping work on AI safety / global risks.
    • Upskilling quickly enough to contribute substantially to the previous thing.
    • Improving one's health/intelligence/financial independence enough to be in a better position (in the near term, like less than a year) to help with the first thing.

Some answers of the format and specificity being looked for here:

  • "Join this org's Discord and critique their ideas, if you find argument/feedback a relaxing/low-stress activity."
  • "Do 1 small unit of this easily-spit-uppable low-chance-of-getting-stuck MOOC per day."
  • "Find a type of exercise, like X Y or Z, that you find fun, and do that once per day."
  • "Here's a list of activities many people I know find productive and relaxing, see if any apply to you: ..."

Note that the goal is not to replace all of one's dead time with something productive (unless it's possible to do without crashing and burning lol).

The goal is to keep moving forward at things that would realistically help solve important problems. (Then our guilt/anxiety will be assuaged enough to actually enjoy/recharge the rest of our dead time.)

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There's a particular kind of lack of self alignment that leads to even feeling like some time is "dead", so I want to push back against that but also give you some answers.

The deal is that the seemingly dead time is time you need in order to function. Not all of us have the same bodies capable of the same things: there'll basically always be someone more productive than you and someone lazier than you to compare yourself against. But what we can say is that there's a variety of kinds of rest bodies need to do things not only like repair of organs but also for healthy upkeep. Your brain, for example, needs time to do things like memory consolidation, and that can't happen if you're spending the time cramming new information in.

That said, we can find lots of activities that don't ask a lot of our bodies and especially of our brains. Simple chores, watching videos, listening to "boring" stories, playing video games, the list goes on.

Not every moment of everyday needs to be productive because not every moment of the day can be productive: one only need be responsible up to one's physical limits, and beyond that the priority is recovery rather than production. "Dead" time is better framed as time actively recovering to do more stuff later.

Odd to hear rest time as time for rest. (This isn't sarcasm, I just kinda... ignored that part for a long time).

Thank you

Maybe watching light philosophy videos? this could be useful for AI safety and also increase your ability to think and communicate clearly.

6 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 1:17 PM

With the urgency entailed by extinction risks etc., “just chilling” during dead time can (for many of us) feel undoable.

I've been reading attitudes like this a lot in the existential risk prevention subculture for pretty much as long as I've been aware of it and it's basically made me write the whole thing off as something that's for people who are wired very differently than I am, or just generally a bad scene.

I think my reaction is some mix of a starting intuition of this always-on 24/7 thing being unsustainable for pretty much everyone, but a thing that's being postured about a lot, and that the people who fully buy into it and go ahead to burn out and get chronic depression for their trouble are selected for having neither personal understanding nor live cultural folkways informing them what long-term sustainable ways of life look like. It then sounds like a bad idea to get involved with something where your social environment will consist of people like this.

Actually, this is heavily criticized by almost anyone sensible in the field: see for example this post by Nate Soares, director of MIRI.

This also tends to be the opinion/take of people who never did work like research, which require to create something. I never met or heard of a single productive researcher that didn't actually spend a lot of their time not explicitly doing research but chilling to get some idea/stew on some concept, and every professor I met complains that they don't have enough time to do research, which also includes taking walks in the park with your research faintly on your mind.

Actually, this is heavily criticized by almost anyone sensible in the field: see for example this post by Nate Soares, director of MIRI.

 

The link is broken. Did you mean to link to this post? 

My bad, I corrected the link. No, that was another post, but the one you linked is also good.

First I'll echo what many others said. You need to rest so be careful to not make things worse (by not resting properly and as a result performing worse at work / school / whatever you do in your "productive time").

That said. If you feel like you're wasting time then it's ok to improve that. Some time ago I felt like I was wasting a big chunk of my time. What worked for me was trying out a bunch of things.

Doing chores. Cooking, cleaning my apartment, replacing my clothes with new ones, maintaining my car. Learning how to get better at chores, in a low effort way. I watched a bunch of youtube videos about how to clean better, how to do laundry better, a ton of recipes. I tried some of those (maybe 1% which looked like it's the least effort / most fun). I like having comfortable clothes, clean apartment, working car. I like some food I can cook better than anything I can buy. So sometimes when I feel tired I enjoy doing chores (since I'm doing them for myself, nobody is forcing me to do them, I can stop doing them whenever I feel like it they are slightly pleasant (very different from when I was doing them on somebody else schedule)).

Reading blogs, watching educational videos. I count things like "videos about game exploits" [1] cooking videos [2], urban planning related videos[3] as educational videos. I count reading blog posts about history or analysing logistics of Lord of the Rings as good things to read[4].

Light exercise. I like walking and going on walks helps me a lot with staying healthy.

Things you'll enjoy while you're resting are probably different than those I enjoy so I'd just try a bunch of things which sound like you might like them and see what sticks.

 

[1] They're fun examples of things working as implemented and very much not working as intended.

[2] I never cook most of them but they're often fun to watch and sometimes I find something I want to try.

[3]  Also fun to watch and I think they help me understand better why I like some places and make it easier to pick a nice place to live.

[4] Because they're taking ideas seriously and it's helps me with learning to notice when things don't make sense.

I try to practice 20 minute meditation sessions; I prefer guided meditations; helps me, helps,the world ( I’m a little less reactive). Also I whittle little figures out of small blocks of wood. Gives me something to do with my hands and occupies my mind; helps me…I give them away, or put them in public places outdoors. Add some whimsy to the doom.