Introduction

I committed internally and externally to following self-created rules for specific parts of my life to change habits and improve my production to consumption ratio. Here's what I did, why I did it, and what I learned after 5 weeks!

Reasoning

My use of time was bad, I had a very unbalanced production vs consumption ratio and spent the majority of my time passively consuming content or otherwise not doing much outside of work hours. Changing habits is hard, so I wanted help and made an external commitment to help with accountability and improve my likelihood of following the rules I created. The goal was and is to increase my deliberate use of time and productivity, with addon benefits of improving my mood, health, and general well-being.

External Help

I filled out lsusr's commitment form and submitted once per week progress reports, this was good accountability and helped me quite a bit with habit changing experiment.

Timespan

3 Months was too long, a few days much too short, so I settled on about 5 weeks, this experiment ran from: 27 December 2021 through 30 January 2022

The Rules, My Goals for Each Rule, and What Actually Happened + My Thoughts

Exceptions

Banned or limited activities are fine if done in-person with friends / family unless excessive; e.g. watching 2 episodes of TV or a movie in-person with others or going to a theater are all fine, but no binge watching. LAN parties and social gaming are fine for the most part, but gaming online even while on comms with friends for more than 3 hours is excessive.

YouTube

  • Write a minimum 300 word review for each video watched.

Goals

  • Reduce passive consumption of YouTube content
  • Improve my categorization of videos and channels, that way I know more readily what videos and types of videos from each channel I watch are more often not-worthwhile product placements, not very fun entertainment, ads, or some combination thereof
  • Contribute to building my knowledgebase via content from a unique platform that may not be found elsewhere

What Actually Happened

  • I watched way fewer YouTube videos, and switch to 2x speed for many of the ones that I did watch.
  • My video consumption became more deliberate and my categorization of videos improved: I would typically quit a video within the first 30 seconds if it didn't seem worthwhile, was just an ad, wasn't very entertaining, or some combination thereof. This was great! I figured out which videos and video types by which channels I can ignore the most and which were actually worthwhile.
  • This was a really easy commitment to follow and uphold, except when I caught covid and was in quarantine, then I quickly dropped it.

My Thoughts

  • I'm continuing this rule unchanged into the next commitment, I found it very helpful and am building it into a habit.
  • Letting myself do pretty much what I want while sick is probably a good idea, for the sake of an easier recovery and getting through the time while sick.

Music

  • Keep music turned off while sitting at my desk using my computer...unless working on something specific / engaging in deep focus work (in these cases, increasing the probability of flow state by having music playing is helpful!) Continue listening to as much music as I want while not sitting at my desk using my computer.

Goals

  • Increase my deliberate use of music to aid my productivity while performing deep work
  • Reduce probability of inducing consumptive flow state by not passively consuming music at my desk
  • Don't interfere with my enjoyment of listening to music otherwise

What Actually Happened

  • I forgot about this commitment for like 2 out of 5 of the weeks. Partially because of recovering from covid and quarantine, but partially because I need a physical piece of paper with each commitment category written down near me to remember them. I now have such a paper taped near my desk.
  • I successfully reduced my music-aided / induced consumptive flow loops to virtually none.
  • My experience of doing focused or deep work improved.

My Thoughts

  • I'm continuing this rule unchanged into the next commitment, I found it very helpful and am building it into a habit.
  • Noise cancelling headphones >>>>>>>> open back non-ANC headphones for music listening while deeply working. I don't want to hear the traffic outside, dogs barking, other shit going on when I'm trying to do something, it's distracting. Much props to my AirPods Max, worth every penny thus far thanks to the amazing ANC, surprisingly great sound quality, excellent battery life, and long-wear comfort they possess.

TV & Movies

  • Banned

Goals

  • Reduce passive content consumption
  • Gain 2+ hours of my time back each day
  • Improve my mood and happiness

What Actually Happened

  • I did great until I got sick, and then I gave up this commitment.
  • When I had recovered fully and was back at home once more (I travelled and caught covid while travelling, so I quarantined where I had travelled to), I allowed myself to watch 1 show per day. This quickly turned into me binge watching series all day within a week or two.
  • My mood worsened the more TV I watched and brightened the less TV I watched.

My Thoughts

  • I love stories and get enthralled by them quickly. I've binged many, many TV shows and generally watched a lot of TV over the years. I would love to be able to watch 1 show a day and have the discipline to do that. For the time being, I don't. So, an outright ban on solo watching is unfortunately necessary.
  • Wow what a huge impact on my mood TV watching has! I'm significantly happier, more content, restful, and better in many ways when I don't watch any TV.
  • I'm continuing this commitment unchanged and this time will not let myself watch even one show a day (no flexibility this time around).
  • Next time I get sick, what can I do to help pass the time that isn't TV watching? I read like 10+ books during the 14 days I had covid and was quarantined, that certainly helped, but I do get tired of reading after awhile and like to do something else. Being quarantined in one room by oneself for that long is awful feeling.

Video Games

  • Banned

Goals

  • Reduce content consumption
  • Gain 30 minutes to 4 hours of my time back each day
  • Invest my energy and focus into things that are higher yield and more enjoyable activities

What Actually Happened

  • cf TV & Movies while I quarantined and then after I got back from travelling
  • My mood didn't seem impacted by game playing. Though, it is surprisingly tiring and can take a lot of focus.
  • Playing games with friends helped me keep my sanity and added good enjoyment to my time while quarantining, that was really nice actually.

My Thoughts

  • I usually don't enjoy solo game playing too much, with notable exceptions here and now when I fixate on a game and binge it.
  • I actively enjoy playing the same game with friends while we're all on comms together.
  • Completely banning video games feels somewhat counterproductive / not worthwhile for me, so for the next commitment I've adjusted the rules to allow for as much social playing with friends while on comms gameplay and <= 4 hours of solo play per week. We'll see how that goes. I suspect my game playing rules are going to take several more iterations to fine-tune, due to my fairly complicated relationship and history with gaming.

Facebook

  • ask individuals I correspond with via private messages on this platform if we could switch our correspondence to a different platform.

Goals

  • Reduce the time I spend on Facebook Messenger
  • Continue detaching myself and friends from Facebook as a company

What Actually Happened

  • I forgot about this commitment most of the time, even with the paper reminder on my desk.
  • I failed to do this every single week.

My Thoughts

  • I like this commitment and my goals with it. To make it much more likely that I'll do it, I've adjusted this rule going forward to be: ask at least 1 person per week to move our correspondence off of Facebook Messenger to another platform.

Reddit

  • Banned for entertainment use

Goals

  • Eliminate one non-worthwhile timewasting thing from my life
  • Reduce my compulsion to seek out memes and scroll through memes

What Actually Happened

  • Success! This was very helpful

My Thoughts

  • This was really easy to do, and I'm continuing with this rule, my life is more pleasant and enjoyable with it in place.

News

  • Banned except for the tech news I consume via the few YouTube videos I occasionally watch. And zvi's COVID posts. Reading about global politics in other languages via foreign publications (Le Monde, El Mundo, Der Spiegel, etc.) is okay.

Goals

  • News is bad for you, don't watch the news. I already didn't watch the news, but I did read the news from time to time.
  • Decrease how much time I spent in actively memetically hostile environments such as news websites, news channels, etc.

What Actually Happened

  • This was super easy for me, I followed this commitment successfully each week, and found it made my life more pleasant and enjoyable. Notably, if something was important enough to impact my daily life or genuinely something I needed to know, people would just tell me out of the blue or I'd find out because whatever it was would be saturating so many mind's in the world I'd invariably come across the factoid / thing while browsing completely unrelated internet sites.

My Thoughts

  • I love this rule and am keeping it.

HackerNews

  • Write minimum 300 word review for each post + comments I read.

Goals

  • Stop passively consuming HackerNews for a lot of time each day.
  • Actually save and contribute to the building of my knowledgebase the useful bits of wisdom and info that pop up so frequently on HN.

What Actually Happened

  • I just straight up didn't read anything on HN for all 5 weeks.

My Thoughts

  • I'm reluctant to jump into an article + comments if I know I have to write a review for it, when I don't know how useful the thing is / would be.
  • I missed reading the site quite a bit, actually. I can't figure out exactly what value it provides in my life to be worthwhile, but consuming it to some extent feels worthwhile.
  • Perhaps reading HN for me is a bit like the quote...I can't find it now, but it says something to the effect of "researchers with closed doors are more productive now, but over the long term they lose the pulse of research and become increasingly irrelevant, whereas researchers with open doors are less productive but keep the pulse of research and stay relevant." Wish I could find the exact quote, can't remember who says it though but I think they were commenting on either the culture at Bell Labs or the Institute for Advanced Study. Anyway, I felt disconnected from something I cared about after 5 weeks of not reading anything on HN, so now I'm allowing myself to read it with no requirements as long as I do it within a 15 minute window after nightfall.

Discord

  • Limits; I may only check the Guild of the ROSE server, productivity related servers, or organizing related servers I'm on, on a daily basis. If I get pinged and need to reply to someone or am on a hangout call it's fine to go to other servers. Private messaging no limits. Other servers, especially entertainment focused servers, limited to weekend use.

Goals

  • I spent A LOT of time on Discord each day and wanted to reclaim most of that time.
  • I found myself refreshing certain servers many times a day in pursuit of memes or further conversation, so, I wanted to stop doing that.
  • Use my time on Discord more deliberately and productively so that it didn't get in the way of my deep work and other important things each day.

What Actually Happened

  • Rules worked well for me except for doing quarantine time, during which time I ignored them.
  • I regained a fair bit of time each day, my mood improved substantially, and my days are more pleasant.
  • I now sort of naturally wait until the end of my workday to check even the most productivity focused servers or reply to private messages unless I'm specifically working in / via a server or am out of the house and waiting in a line or something.

My Thoughts

  • I'm pleased with the outcomes of trying these rules for Discord, and found that I now have a much better relationship with that platform and its impact on my time, mood, social life, work life, etc.
  • Consuming memes, especially a large backlog of them, impacts me so strongly that it may just fuck up my productivity for the rest of the day. I quickly seek more and more fast and hard hitting dopamine hits and feel like a vehicle with spinning wheels suspended in the air when I run out of memes to consume. My life is considerably better without consuming memes, like, dramatically and incredibly so to a point that's genuinely surprising and intense.
  • I'm tweaking my Discord rules in the next commitment such that even on the weekends I limit my meme consumption and don't scroll through the backlog of memes on several servers, instead, use the "jump to present" feature. Also, no memes on the weekends unless it's nightfall, and not on Sunday evening.

Closing Thoughts

This was such a helpful experiment! I gained valuable data and learned new things about myself and what impacts my health, happiness, productivity, etc. I've already written a new commitment and sent it in, with the adjustments I mentioned herein plus a few new things.

I like having such an experiment ongoing, and will likely continue doing so for quite some time. One rule I added is that I must post a retrospective after each commitment, because writing this was a great way to write a monthly review of my life (something I find helpful), review what worked well and what didn't work so well for me, and generally help me fine-tune my rules over time. Plus, anyone who wants to follow similar experiments may find value in mining my experience, which is nice.

Happy Experimenting!
Cheers,
Willa

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9 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 8:28 AM
New Comment

As someone who hasn't fallen into (let's call it the meme pit of Discord), but sometimes does so for reddit:

Any tips for not doing that (or other unproductive things) as I begin to use it more?

Perhaps write out some rules or guidelines for Discord use and follow them for a period of time and see what works, what doesn't work, what you noticed, etc.? That's what I'm doing and having a set of written out rules or guidelines lets me refer to them and tweak them over time as I notice things about how they work or don't, or what nudges me in a good direction, etc. You asked for direct tips though, here's what I've found that helps me thus far:

  • categorize what you do in each server. what is the purpose of being on each server you're a member of? knowing the purpose helps
  • catalog what kinds of activities you do in each server, and what kind of content you interact with the most for each server. knowing how you spend your time in each server lets you check how well aligned your time spending is with your goals and/or the overall purpose of that server
  • schedule a time to review your Discord activities and how well they align with what you want.
  • block / hide or mute channels on servers that are mostly full of memes. Most servers seem to have a dedicated meme channel so this is usually straightforward. I don't do this personally, because I do enjoy occasionally memescrolling on the weekends, but it should help.
  • notice what times of day you're actively interacting with others on Discord. are you doing productive goal-aligned stuff during work hours and that's not interfering with whatever you're working on? that's probably fine, unless that's just procrastinating a task you need to get done via doing another productive thing. are you passively scrolling through content while in a line or waiting for something? and more.

I think if you have a good idea of when you're engaging with what kinds of content and partaking in which activities, that'll help increase your deliberate use of Discord (or other services / platforms too). Writing stuff down helps, cause you can more highly trust written memory than pure memory, I forget stuff all the time personally and rely heavily on writing and other memory prostheses.

I've done something similar to this

I found my overconsumption of reddit and YouTube distasteful as I was spending a majority of my day on these sites mindless scrolling or refreshing.

I ended up cutting them out entirely for about two weeks and felt much better, working through a backlog of books instead. but have since relapsed

I like the idea of writing summaries I think I will commit myself to that.

My book reading habit has definitely felt the benefits of this experiment :) I'm reading more books and am quite happy about that.

Writing summaries for YouTube videos helped me watch less videos in total, but also improved my filtering (intuitions or memory to help predict what videos are more or less worthwhile to watch) so I now watch less total videos of higher quality than I used to.

If you commit to writing summaries, let me know how that goes! I'm curious to see if the summary writing is as helpful for you as it has been for me (everyone's different so seeing if that intervention works for > n = 1 would be nice).

I can't find it now, but it says something to the effect of "researchers with closed doors are more productive now, but over the long term they lose the pulse of research and become increasingly irrelevant, whereas researchers with open doors are less productive but keep the pulse of research and stay relevant."

This is from Richard Hamming's You and Your Research. The relevant part:

Another trait, it took me a while to notice. I noticed the following facts about people who work with the door open or the door closed. I notice that if you have the door to your office closed, you get more work done today and tomorrow, and you are more productive than most. But 10 years later somehow you don't know quite know what problems are worth working on; all the hard work you do is sort of tangential in importance. He who works with the door open gets all kinds of interruptions, but he also occasionally gets clues as to what the world is and what might be important. Now I cannot prove the cause and effect sequence because you might say, "The closed door is symbolic of a closed mind.'' I don't know. But I can say there is a pretty good correlation between those who work with the doors open and those who ultimately do important things, although people who work with doors closed often work harder. Somehow they seem to work on slightly the wrong thing—not much, but enough that they miss fame.

For HN specifically I recommend https://hnrss.github.io. I subscribe to a few high-value commenters, and occasionally look at the 'Best of HN' feed for relevant things, this gets most of the benefit of being exposed to the ambient environment, with little addictive risk.

Excellent, thank you! I've seen that selection quoted elsewhere before but am not sure I've read the full text of its source, it's good.

I like that RSS reader, once I get an RSS feed setup (any recommendations on FOSS ways to do this?) I'll subscribe using that and tweak the filters over time.

Something that might help with Hacker News is the "noprocrast" settings - you can configure it to only allow you to be on the site for a certain length of time and then not let you back on for a different length of time. If you configure a 15 minute "maxvisit" with a long "minaway" (600 minutes?), that might accomplish your goal. One problem with the feature is that it doesn't kick you off a page you're already on if you're scrolling through a long comment thread (and obviously won't help if you just open a bunch of tabs), but at least it forces you to stop on some behaviors.

>so I settled on about 5 weeks, this experiment ran from: 27 December 2021 through 02 January 2022

I am assuming you meant 2nd Feb. 

Oops, meant 30 January, editing now to fix.