Akrasia Tactics Review

post by orthonormal · 2010-02-21T04:25:49.130Z · score: 67 (62 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 150 comments


  3 or More Reviews:
  1 or 2 Reviews:
  Not Yet Reviewed:

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



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!


Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by erm · 2010-02-21T18:24:28.528Z · score: 23 (22 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

After having suffered procrastination and possible ADD symptoms for a long while (I left revising for my Finals exams to the evening before each paper, two months after most others), I have recently begun to find some strategies that work for me. In fact, they work so well that I decided to quit my job for a year to capitalise on my new-found capacity for hard study and upgrade myself.

  • Think it, do it: as soon as I become aware of something that needs to be done and can be done (without major disruption), then I do it right away. This frees up working memory, saves on paper and, to an extent, cuts down on guilt (as that process by which things to do come to my conscious awareness is not taken to be under my control) +7

  • Monomania/monoidealism. If I want to learn something quickly, then I aim to do nothing but what needs to be done. Then it becomes very easy to spot off-task behaviour in myself. +8

  • Create addiction: monomiacal focus on something can lead me to become dependent on it, usefully so. +4 (this seems to work better with some activities than with others)

  • Create shame (of my lack of mastery). Can be stressful, but is useful for eliminating smugness and setting very high goals. I guess that this is a variation on being watched, except that I always imagine myself being observed by sneering experts. (it is always a pleasant surprise subsequently to meet the concrete instantiation of these experts and find that they are reasonably reasonable people) +6

  • Be my own guinea pig ('being Seth Roberts'?): I refer to my brain in the third person and aloofly set and assess the effects of programs of protracted periods of study. I can quite easily drive myself to the edge of burnout doing this (and consequently can now identify those feelings that anticipate it (in my case, feeling tearful, oddly-located headaches, mild disorientation). +5, as is reasonably high risk.

  • Perform like tasks. If I need to do slow, careful, focused work, then I avoid any work and play that is of unlike character. For instance, fast, careful, focused speed Scrabble is different enough to be deleterious. As for fast, haphazard, focused internet browsing, weeell... +6

  • Know what it is to 'work well'. I find it easier to get work done if I focus on maintaining the experience of working hard ie. immersion in the matter at hand, high cognitive load, high novelty and rehearsal rates, rather than consider the completion of tasks (as the latter can lead to drops in intensity, which undermines monomania/addiction). +6

  • Dual-n-back training. I can rely on this to drastically reduce anxiety, flightiness, improve concentration. It also seems to whet my appetite for intellectual work and increase purposefulness across the board. +8

comment by Kevin · 2010-02-24T13:10:09.672Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

In case anyone wants to give dual-n-back a try: http://cognitivefun.net/test/5

I would try and play until you can at least do the 2-back. You can feel your mind and memory working in a different way that it usually does.

Are there any other cognitive games with positive evidence in their favor? http://www.pnas.org/content/105/19/6829.full

comment by cupholder · 2010-06-07T11:12:09.929Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Throwing in some new evidence: a poster presented last year at the 50th Annual Meeting of the Psychonomic Society reports on a similar study in students, showing that single n-back and double n-back performance improves with training, and that this improvement in thinking transfers to the BOMAT and Raven's Advanced Progressive Matrices.

comment by [deleted] · 2010-02-23T19:26:50.045Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Dual-n-back training. I can rely on this to drastically reduce anxiety, flightiness, improve concentration. It also seems to whet my appetite for intellectual work and increase purposefulness across the board. +8

I'm skeptical. How do you know it improves anxiety, flightiness, and concentration?

comment by erm · 2010-02-24T12:08:37.960Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Hi, well this is just from personal experience so ymmv, but I've been playing the game off and on for the past two years and am convinced of positive effects.

I do know that, beforehand, I had never been able to study for protracted periods of time and enjoy the experience - for me, studying had always been a fight against intellectual and physical restlessness (=restless legs, itching, shifting about on my seat). DnB seems not only to permit me to sit down and focus for long periods, it actually makes me want to study - I feel compelled to learn and get annoyed if prevented from doing so. And when I do study, I can now put in serious hours (typically three or four chunks of 2 1/2hr blocks).

I'm sure that this sounds somewhat implausible, but there have been many occasions on which I have been overwhelmed yet again by the determined demons of dilettantism and distraction only to remember what I had let slip from my routine.

I would not be so sure of positive effects if, after having trained for a few days, I had suffered an exacerbation of symptoms, but this has not occurred.

The simplest explanation that I can think of is that it is the only activity that forces me to use the entirety of my attention, encouraging me to eliminate distracting thoughts (as in meditation?) whilst also providing a tightly-defined focal point (the stimuli in space and time) and overarching purpose (to find order (as organizing my impressions helps me remember)). Perhaps this is where my feelings of increased purposefulness come from: the game trains me generally to enjoy drawing connections, and I begin to want to organize the world around me.

comment by [deleted] · 2010-02-24T21:19:46.446Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I guess another question I'd like to ask is whether you enjoy dual-n-back. I've tried it a couple of times and consistently disliked it precisely as I would dislike a cold shower.

Now that I think of it, there are many mental activities that I dislike precisely that way. (Or, at least, there used to be many; now there are fewer.) One of them is the Gunnery puzzle in Puzzle Pirates. To try to extract a general trend here, I tend to dislike things that require me to react quickly. I used to loathe such things, along with a host of other things: asymmetry, discontinuity, permanence. If I had been omnipotent when I was a kid, perhaps I would have replaced the world with a sphere.

Gosh, I was a really messed-up kid back then.

comment by erm · 2010-02-25T08:01:36.854Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The things that I enjoy in a game are repetition, speed and simple strategy. I guess that dnb has the first two. When I started playing it I think I found it 'intriguing,' as it felt so odd to play. What I enjoy about it now is the way in which it highlights my distracting thoughts and pushes me to disregard them - this can be relaxing after a tough day at work.

comment by [deleted] · 2010-02-25T17:37:36.664Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It sounds like the games you like are precisely the games I don't like.

comment by wedrifid · 2010-02-24T13:03:31.845Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

What do you use to do your dual-n-back training?

comment by erm · 2010-02-24T14:08:33.929Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I have been using the cognitivefun site and, more recently http://www.brainboffin.com/, which permits me to do more than 9-back. There is a multimodal version at http://cognitivefun.net/test/24 that I also occasionally use.

I would use the downloadable Brain Workshop but am running an inflexible OS on decrepit hardware and do not have the wit to get it to work.

comment by wedrifid · 2010-02-24T20:20:30.682Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

You are able to do more than 9-back? I just have to say: Wow!

I'm downloading Brain Workshop as I speak. I'll have a play and see how it compares to the Luminosity games I've tinkered with.

comment by arundelo · 2010-02-24T20:55:52.643Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Seconded. (I find dual 1-back challenging and dual 2-back nearly impossible. I have not practiced much, though.)

comment by cupholder · 2010-06-07T12:30:39.312Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Weird. I find 2-back pretty easy, but 3-back difficult (I normally get 50-80% accuracy) and 4-back quite tough (20-50% accuracy). I wonder what a typical dual n-back level is.

Edit - OK, pulled up some actual data for anyone else who's curious. The 35 University of Bern students trained in the 2008 study by Jaeggi et al. had a mean dual n-back level very close to 3. After 8-19 days of training that increased to 4-5. The 25 National Taiwan Normal University students who trained on dual n-back for this 2009 Studer et al. poster went from a mean n-back level of 2.0 (with a standard deviation ~1.1) to ~4.6 (standard deviation ~2.3) with 20 days training.

comment by Pablo_Stafforini · 2010-03-16T00:23:26.092Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm surprised by the discrepancy in scores. I can also do more than 9-back and personally know people who are considerable smarter than I am (e.g., Nick Bostrom and Robin Hanson). I suspect that the n-back game does not very strongly correlate with IQ, or else that scores in this game can be dramatically boosted by the use of certain subtle mnemonic and visualization strategies, which even intelligent people may fail to adopt.

comment by gwern · 2010-02-23T17:53:11.065Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Dual-n-back training. I can rely on this to drastically reduce anxiety, flightiness, improve concentration. It also seems to whet my appetite for intellectual work and increase purposefulness across the board. +8

Can I use this for my/the DNB FAQ?

comment by Kevin · 2010-02-24T13:08:50.647Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yeah, is this published yet? Whatever you are working on, or something similar, could be a top-level post here.

comment by gwern · 2010-02-24T15:10:21.590Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't think my FAQ is appropriate for the top-level, as DNB is to me still in the twilight zone of effectiveness - unlike, say, melatonin.

Part of the problem is that the academic research (specifically Jaeggi 2008 and Jaeggi 2010) is flawed (see the Moody section of the FAQ), and the time consumption is massive: I'm willing to stump for melatonin because the time consumption is 1 or 2 seconds a day and the effects are clear; I'm not willing to stump for something with unclear (if possibly much more valuable) effects and consuming on the order of 20 minutes a day.

comment by wedrifid · 2010-02-24T13:06:26.735Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Where is this FAQ? Is it something here that I have missed?

comment by gwern · 2010-02-24T15:07:36.881Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's a FAQ I've been compiling/writing for the Dual N-Back mailing list; you can find the latest link here: http://gwern.net/DNB%20FAQ

(That's just the static HTML version, though, which I sometimes update; the real latest Markdown is in my Darcs repo: https://patch-tag.com/r/gwern/Gwern/home .)

comment by erm · 2010-02-24T12:11:09.552Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

You may do, but you might end up including me twice, as I have posted similar thoughts elsewhere, under a different name (cev).

comment by gwern · 2010-02-24T15:05:25.206Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Oh; I do have you already then, under

“I think I’ve put my finger on a particular benefit of dnb training: it seems to help my brain’s ‘internal clock’ - I am better able to order my thoughts in time."

But no reason I couldn't quote you twice as the quotes differ?

comment by erm · 2010-02-24T15:12:57.123Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yeah, sure - I couldn't remember what I may have said earlier.

comment by orthonormal · 2010-02-21T22:32:57.245Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks! Lots of intriguing techniques here. I hope you don't mind if, in order not to have too long a list in the post, I try to consolidate and cluster your ideas. Would the following be a fair condensation of your top tactics:

  • Think it, Do it
  • Monoidealism
  • Third Person Techniques (imagine being observed, self-experimentation)
  • Preserve the Mental State
comment by erm · 2010-02-22T08:37:02.200Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yeah, that looks fine.

comment by danarm · 2010-03-01T08:54:49.782Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Writing each step you do on paper, while doing it: +8. This helps me when I can't concentrate, when I'm distracted.

I simply write what I'm doing (the current step, or the next step), on paper. If for a step (which I have already written on paper), I find that I must first do a sub-step, then I write the sub-step. The result is a log of what I've done and what I'm doing.

The great advantage of this is that if I get distracted, I can return to just where I left off, by just reading the last line or the last few lines I written on paper.

comment by Vladimir_Golovin · 2010-03-03T10:04:08.658Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I tried this technique at work for two days, and so far the results are encouraging.

Funny thing: the main problem I have with this technique is the need for handwriting -- I feel that it is important to have the state log in a hand-written form, as opposed to, say, a .txt file, but I hate handwriting!

Anyway, I'll continue using it.

comment by orthonormal · 2010-02-21T04:26:47.178Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Here goes for myself, on the tactics that I've tried most seriously:

  • Utility Function Experiment; +7; sustained success (short of goal, but much better than status quo) over 6 months.

I've had the best success with the points system I invented after the fashion of taw's Utility Function Experiment. (It differs from the original in that I'm rewarding myself for good results, and trying to meet certain fixed goals as well as trying to maximize on an absolute scale.) It's dramatically improved my productivity over the past six months, and hasn't stopped working yet, though it's required some tweaking. The main side effect is a tendency to subconsciously try and game the system, which makes the tweaks necessary. I should note that a few of my friends were intrigued enough to start their own versions, and have had generally positive results as well.

  • LeechBlock; +5; moderate success over 2 months.

It's helped to use LeechBlock to deactivate my preferred timewasting sites when I should be working or sleeping (12:30 AM to 5 PM, Mon-Fri), though I find I need to install it on my secondary browser as well. I've changed my time zone a few times to dodge it, but usually doing so is enough of an inconvenience that I stop wasting my time.

  • Applied Picoeconomics; -2; total work ethic collapse for the month I tried it.

Resolutions of this seem to be a feast-or-famine kind of thing. After making a hard-and-fast resolution to do 3 hours of math each weekday for a month, I crashed and burned early and ended up demoralized for the rest of a wasted month. It wasn't much worse than the previous month, but it was worse.

  • Melatonin; +3; some success but hard to distinguish from placebo effect.

Intrigued by gwern's article, I gave it a try. It did help me push my sleep schedule back a half hour a day in preparation for a conference that required me to be up at 6; I was tired during the days, but felt less tired than I expected to. For steady-state use, I haven't been able to see as much of a difference as gwern testified to.

comment by Christian_Szegedy · 2010-02-26T22:59:52.478Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

There is a technique which I did not find in the above lists, but found most useful for myself (I'd give it a strong +7).

I will call it Leave some tasty bits for next morning meaning that at the end of the working day I leave some task very well prepared which I am excited about to start to work the next day, something which is:

  • easy to start with (finished with bulk of the tedious details)
  • gives instant gratification
  • a good start to get into less pleasant tasks

The idea is that it is in general hard to get into the "work mode", but once one gets the right momentum it is much easier to continue. So often I found that it is better not to finish some easy but exciting stuff at the end of the day, but leave it for next morning in the hope of setting up my whole day.

The wrong tactic is to do the tasty bits first and leave the tedious details to start the next day with. That way, it is sure that I will spend the whole morning doing something unproductive instead.

comment by orthonormal · 2010-02-27T02:44:13.934Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ah yes, a similar tactic was mentioned in the "share your tricks" thread: if writing, end each session in the middle of a sentence.

comment by wedrifid · 2010-02-24T04:14:23.968Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Melatonin: Average +2.2 (3 reviews) (SD 6.6); works well for some, others feel groggy the next day

An observation for anyone using Melatonin: the effective dose is reported to vary between individuals by literally a factor of 100. If it produces grogginess the next day then halve your dose and repeat as necessary. Some find that the dose that works for them is as low as 0.1 mg. In my case I tend to experience next-day grogginess at approximately 6mg, and it also reduces the duration of sleep. 0.5 mg to 3 mg seems to work with no noticeable side effects except that I am less likely to have procrastinated away sleep until 3am.

comment by Vladimir_Golovin · 2010-02-23T18:48:44.137Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Here's a review of some of my tactics I posted here: http://lesswrong.com/lw/fu/share_your_antiakrasia_tricks/cj0

  • Begin Now: +8. An excellent tactic when used in a combo with two other sub-tactics: "Begin now by creating trivial impetuses and removing trivial inconveniences between yourself and the task". I didn't give it +10 because while it works great for tasks that can be broken down into simple steps, it doesn't work for big monolithic mental tasks.

  • 80/20 Elimination: +8. This tactic is pure gold, especially when formulated as "concentrate on high-order bits".

  • No Multitasking: +8. One, maximum two tasks per day. Another definite winner, best used together with 80/20 Elimination. I reduced the number of tasks per day to just one.

  • Self-Affirmation: +6. It worked for me 10 years ago, it still works now. My self-affirmation mantras focus on specific actionable things, here's an actual example: "I want to design a color picker for HDR colors". I usually repeat them when walking.

  • Allowing Myself to Procrastinate Up to a Certain Time: +3. I mostly use it to initiate some simple action or break a procrastination streak. Example: I look at the clock, it shows 10:47, and I say to myself: "At 11:00 I'll close the browser and begin working on the email to John". This technique looks similar to Eliezer’s Execute by Default.

  • Scheduling Aggressively to Counter Parkinson's Law: +2. Having an externally-imposed short deadline can work wonders, but imposing such deadlines on myself requires willpower, and it doesn't work well for big mental tasks and important decisions.

  • Just do it = Don't do Anything Else: +1. Haven't used this tactic much since my original post, because it requires too much willpower.

  • Deliberate Self-Priming: +1. Requires quite a lot of willpower, and hard to practice when working in a group. I now think that removing trivial inconveniences and creating trivial impetuses for the task (see above) is a better way to prime myself for the task.

comment by orthonormal · 2010-02-24T04:54:23.357Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I counted "Begin Now" as "Think it, Do it" and "Scheduling Aggressively..." as "Strict Scheduling"; hope you don't mind...

comment by Vladimir_Golovin · 2010-02-24T09:31:04.629Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I counted "Begin Now" as "Think it, Do it"

I originally thought that these tactics are similar, but now I'm not sure. "Think it, Do it" is described as as soon as I become aware of something that needs to be done and can be done (without major disruption), then I do it right away, which gives me the impression that it just locks onto any doable task that happens to be around -- as opposed to a task which was chosen consciously according to one's better judgment.

and "Scheduling Aggressively..." as "Strict Scheduling"

Again, not quite. "Strict Scheduling", as described here, means allocating a certain chunk of time to a certain activity exclusively, while my "Scheduling Aggressively" is closer to Tim Ferris' 4-hour Workweek and means "If something can be done in an hour, allocate 45 minutes".

comment by orthonormal · 2010-02-26T01:21:14.360Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

OK, separating them out again.

comment by betterthanwell · 2010-02-22T21:30:11.144Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Useful tools and routines that I have found to increase reduce akrasia, increase productivity:

  • Methylphenidate +8

Promotes willpower, focus and persistence;

Well it's on a prescription, so my experiences might not be transferable to you. I get a lot of mileage out of Ritalin. Methylphenidate makes me focused, but I need to be careful in order to to focus on the right things, or it would only make me a more tenacious procrastinator. No significant side-effects, except a slight reduction of appetite. Some might see this as a bonus.

  • Melatonin +7

Prevents delayed sleep onset, keeps circadian rhythm in check.

I tend not to get very tired in the evenings. As a consequence I often sleep less than I should. 2mg of melatonin an hour or two before going to bed makes it effortless to wind down and hit the hay at a sensible time. No negative side-effects experienced.

  • Leechblock +5

Increases productivity by killing Wikipedia, Less Wrong and other fun time-sinks.

No cost beyond the few minutes it takes to set up appropriate filters. Keeping more than one browser on the computer makes it possible to research something should the need arise. Saves a couple of minutes or hours every time it kicks in. The benefit isn't huge, but the cost is next to nothing.

  • High intensity aerobic exercise +5

Four times four minutes of intense exercise per workout, three sessions per week.

Reduces stress, increases well-being, makes me less inclined to procrastinate. Positive effects on cognitive endurance. Said to decrease the level of cortisol in the bloodstream, reducing stress. Also said to up-regulate production of growth hormone, insulin-like growth factor, brain-derived neurotrophic growth factor, endorphins, and other beneficial hormones and neurotrophic proteins. Increased physical endurance come as a bonus, if you care about that sort of thing.

+7 for beneficial effects, -2 for the time and effort required.

  • Meditation; +5

Mindfulness meditation, 30 minutes daily.

Promotes reflection and allows the things that really matter to float to the top of my mind, reduces cognitive stress.

+7 for effect, -2 for the cost in time and mental effort.

To me, the above strategies work better in sum than by themselves. Beneficial effects add up over time, and the pay-off makes each well worth the cost.

Nothing really new here, but my experiences seem to fall in line with those of others.

comment by mathemajician · 2010-02-22T11:08:01.148Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Here's my method: (+8 for me)

I have a 45 minute sand glass timer and a simple abacus on my desk. Each row on the abacus corresponds to one type of activity that I could be doing, e.g. writing, studying, coding, emails and surfing,... First, I decide what type of activity I'd like to do and then start the 45 minute sand glass. I then do that kind of activity until it ends. At which point I count it on my abacus and have at least a 5 minute break. There are no rules about what I have to do, I do what ever I want. But I always do it in focused 45 minute units.

If you try this, do it exactly as I describe, at least to start with, as there are reasons for each of the elements. Let me explain some of them. Firstly the use of a physical timer and abacus. Having them sitting on your desk in view makes them a lot more effective than using something like a digital timer and spreadsheet on your computer. When you look up you see the sand running out. When you take a break you see a colourful physical bar graph of your time allocation -- it's there looking at you.

45 minutes is important because it's long enough to get a reasonable amount done if you work in a focused way, but it's short enough not to be discouraging, unlike an hour. Even with something I don't particularly want to do, sitting down and doing just 45 minutes of it is a bearable concept, knowing that at the end I'll have a break and then do something else if I want to. Also if you look at human mental performance, it doesn't make much sense trying to do more than 45 minutes hard work at a time. Better to have a break for 5 to 15 minutes and then start again. As I think 15 minute breaks are essential, at the end of the week the total number of units counted on my abacus are my total number of at-work-activity hours for the week.

Having no rule about what you have to do is also important. If you put rules in place you will start avoiding using the system. The only thing is that when you start a unit of 45 minutes you have to go through with it. But you're free not to start one if you don't want to. You might then think that you'd always just do the kind of work that you like doing, rather than units of the stuff you avoid but should be doing. Interestingly, no, indeed often I find that the reverse starts to happen, even though I'm not really aiming for that. The reason is the principle that what you measure and keep in mind you naturally tend to control. Thus you don't actually need any rules, in fact they are harmful as they make you dislike and avoid the system.

Another force at work is that momentum often builds enthusiasm. Thus you think that you'll just do 45 minutes on some project due in a week that you'd rather not be doing at all, and after that unit of time you actually feel like doing another one just to finish some part of it off.

So yeah, the only real rule is that when the sand glass is running you have to stay hard at work on the task, which isn't too bad as it's only so many minutes more before you're taking a break and once again free.

UPDATE: So it seems that what I'm doing is a variant on the "Pomodoro technique" (and probably quite a few others). The differences being that I prefer 45 minutes, I think that's a better chunk of time to get things moving, and I like a physical aspects of a sand glass timer and an abacus. I perhaps should add that when I was doing intense memorisation study before an exam I'd use a 20 minutes on 10-20 minutes off cycle as that matches human memory performance better. But for general tasks 45 minutes seems good to me.

comment by ata · 2010-02-23T09:54:37.777Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I suggest adding PJ Eby's Irresistible Instant Motivation trick to the list. I'll give it a +3. There are a lot of situations where it does help me, and a lot of others where it doesn't. It seems to be especially good for relatively small and predictable but normally unmotivating tasks, such as the example in the video of cleaning your desk.

comment by jpulgarin · 2011-12-02T06:32:17.159Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Youtube video is down :(

comment by MichaelHoward · 2012-04-22T12:11:36.915Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Here's another link

comment by Kaj_Sotala · 2010-02-22T09:06:44.474Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Personally, I've had most success with applying PJ Eby's 'Multiple Self' philosophy. I still haven't been using it long enough to rule out the placebo effect with confidence, but so far I'm rating it between +4 and +6: I've gotten considerably better at motivating myself to do the things I should be doing.

Unfortunately, the technique I'm actually employing is broader than the one I describe in that comment, as I've been picking up lots of different tidbits from Eby's different writings and applying them. Stumbling on Success is another article of his that I credit as very important in helping me, as are some of the writings of his that you can get by signing up on his e-mail list. I can't provide a comprehensive list here, as there's too much of it and I don't have the time to review what thoughts came from where. Eby's gotten some bad flak here, but his techniques and philosophies really do seem startlingly powerful.

I've also noticed that adopting the "multiple self" mindset has made it easier for me to apply anti-akrasia techniques from entirely other sources, such as making a to-do list with the least time-consuming things as the first ones and then just working your way through it.

comment by wedrifid · 2010-02-21T12:07:24.388Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Execute by Default

+5 This little habit is amazing. Most things to do just really aren't that much big of a deal. I have a trigger 'do it now' that pops up when something catches my (often somewhat flippant) attention and it works. It doesn't even seem like an aggressive taskmaster is heckling me, it's more like a sneaky reminder of an available 'cheat mode' and I tend to take pleasure in the thing getting done without burning up my willpower.

Resolutions (Applied Picoeconomics)

-8 The opposite of what works for me. A recipe for shame and aversive reaction to a task that I may otherwise be enthusiastic about.

Structured Procrastination

-6 Much like the previous option this just isn't for me. I've got limited reserves of structure implementation and I'm spending them on making my procrastination less fun.


2 Yeah, whatever. It's an ok toy to play with. I would rate it higher for other goals than anti-akrasia. I actually find a similar tip from PJEby useful. I would butcher the insight somewhat by trying to describe it but it's on this site as well as PJ's webpage. Basically it's like self-affirmations only it works.

Every Other Day Off

0 I will not rate this <0 because I kind of enjoy this and also advocate it as a healthy life choice. Nevertheless I do end up doing less net work, if working is my goal.

Stare at the Wall

Don't have enough experience to give a rating. I will say that the generalised idea of doing something that takes less willpower instead of the thing that takes more willpower is a useful way to get around a mental block. But I must say I prefer "Take a small amount of modafinil, some piracetam, aniracetam and a choline source then stare at a wall".

Strict Scheduling

Are you going to limit me to -10 here? I've tried it time and again. But I hate it. And I don't do things that I hate so it doesn't work. Besides, when I work I enjoy work and just procrastinate on taking breaks. Then the work is done and I go do other fun stuff.

Being Watched

-2 No, but having company gets an 8, bringing the total up to a 6.

Create Trivial Inconveniences to Procrastination

6 Trivial cost, big pay off. Unfortunately they are a medium term solution for me.

Close the Dang Browser

Similar to above.

Cripple your Internet:

8 I've had some really productive days due to hardware faults. software helps a lot too. Does overlap with 'trivial inconveniences' though.


8 Great stuff. Going sleep seems, well, boring and I don't tend to get tired until about the 20 hour mark. But going and taking a melatonin at 6 is no big deal. Sleep follows.

Getting Things Done

0 yawn Like a fantasy story without the cute elves who can launch fireballs.

comment by orthonormal · 2010-02-22T00:05:16.043Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I actually find a similar tip from PJEby useful. I would butcher the insight somewhat by trying to describe it but it's on this site as well as PJ's webpage. Basically it's like self-affirmations only it works.

OK, give me a link and I'll put it up on the board!

comment by wedrifid · 2010-02-25T03:29:12.550Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The Hidden Meaning of Just Do It. In particular, this part:

The trick is in the meaning of the word "just". When somebody says "just do it", they are trying to communicate that you should not do anything else. It might better be phrased as, "Only do it, without thinking about anything, not even about what you're doing. In fact, don't even do it, just watch yourself doing it, but don't actually try to do anything."

comment by orthonormal · 2010-02-26T01:20:26.133Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

OK, another vote for that technique. I'm guessing from context that you'd rate it higher than the 2 you gave self-affirmation; I'm putting a 5 as a placeholder until you give me a number for it.

comment by pjeby · 2010-02-26T03:57:28.541Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Btw, "Just Do It" and "Monoidealism" are essentially the same thing, described differently. "Irresistible Instant Motivation" and (Vladimir Golovin's version of) "Self Affirmation" are specific alternative ways to achieve a monoideal or "just doing it" state. (Specifically, Vladimir's self-affirmation of "I want to do X" is a weaker form of something I call the Jedi Mind Trick, which is repeatedly saying "I am now doing X", and refusing to let any contrary/conflicting thought take hold.)

So, properly, "monoidealism" is simply the state in which you have exactly one thing on your mind, with no conflicts. It's a condition that results in one naturally taking action in relation to the thought, rather than a technique in and of itself.

So, If somebody is saying they use monoidealism or "The Hidden Meaning Of 'Just Do It'", they are simply saying they go after that state directly (and perhaps reflectively) rather than using some other technique like affirming, counting down, envisioning+comparison ("Instant Motivation"), etc..

Many other techniques listed here also reflect attempts to reach a monoideal state by manipulating the outside world, rather than the inside one. The author of "Getting Things Done" talks about creating a "mind like water", where the purpose of tracking things is to allow everything to be out of one's head.... i.e., no conflicting thoughts. Removing outside barriers is another, since the lack of a barrier means one less thing that you will think about. ;-)

So, in short, "monoidealism" is not a technique. It is the desired end-state we wish to replace akrasia with. Specific anti-akrasia techniques may further be classified by whether they seek monoidealism indirectly (by manipulating the outside world) or directly (by manipulating one's thoughts).

Presumably, there are also techniques which do not go after monoidealism either directly or indirectly, but I'm hard pressed to think of one. Even things like Pomodoro and LeechBlock attempt to remove sources of conflicting thoughts, after all. (But I would be most interested in hearing of a counterexample, and I'll admit that systemic prohpylaxis such as exercise, nutrition, drugs, etc. are a bit of a stretch to include in this category. Most forms of meditation, though, would clearly be training one's skill at maintaining monoideal states in the face of competing inputs.)

Anyway, the usefulness of a particular technique to a particular individual will largely depend on whether it addresses their particular stumbling blocks in achieving a monoideal state.

For example, a person whose primary obstacle is self-doubt will not be helped much by removing external obstacles! A person who has only one thing to do won't be helped by Structured Procrastination or Getting Things Done, and so on.

Meanwhile, although I'm the "creator" or popularizer of more than one method on this list, I personally don't use any "motivational" tricks on an ongoing basis... for the simple reason that motivational tricks can't overcome "Bruce" in the long run.

That is, if "yourself" really wants to not do something, it will simply transfer your akrasia to the use of the anti-akrasia technique itself! I've experienced this many, many times before... which is why you don't see me inventing any new techniques.

(They're pretty easy to invent, btw, once you know that the goal of any such technique is to induce a monoideal state. I bet lesswrongers could come up with a crapload of 'em... and in fact they already have!)

Anyway, AFAICT, the only long term approach to chronic (as opposed to episodic) akrasia is to:

  1. Self-modify so as to limit the number of conflicting thoughts that can occur in the first place: if you don't have any "buttons" for your tasks to push, then you can't lose your monoideal state that way.

  2. Monitor and manage "yourself", rather than self-identifying as the one who is doing or not doing things.

The latter is necessary because without developed skill at self-observation, you will never "get" what is setting you off in the first place, nor will you be able to modify it. The first few years of my blogging consist of mostly very superficial self-observations, at a time when I was still looking for logical reasons why I did things.

Now I know to be suspicious when my brain hands me a logical answer, because (alas) logic and action are simply not related in the way our brains are built. Logic is primarily a weapon we use to persuade other people, and to prevent ourselves from being persuaded. It seems likely there was a lot less evolutionary pressure on being able to figure out or understand reality or "truth", than there was on offensive and defensive persuasion capability!

This means that logic and verbal sophistication are the natural enemies of both motivation and self-modification, since our logic is intended to refute any ideas that might cause us to self-modify (in response to verbal persuasion/suggestion/priming)... and it's also intended to keep our inner motivations from being discovered by others!

For this reason, verbal overshadowing is the #1 obstacle to self-understanding and self-modification, for pretty much all applications, not just anti-akratic ones. Your logical, verbal mind is designed to deceive others and prevent them from deceiving you. But unfortunately, it simply counters verbal persuasion, regardless of who it's coming from. You can't convince yourself of anything by arguing and ranting, in the same way that you can't convince anyone else by arguing and ranting.

Actively persuading another person requires that they become fully engaged in the discussion, and it's no different in relation to yourself. Unless you become fully engaged with yourself in the same way, you're just shouting into the wind.

[edit: formatting]

comment by [deleted] · 2015-07-13T05:56:56.136Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

As another LW put it with respect to rational relationships: "There ain't no one. There's a .67 or a .64 that you round up to one"

edit: I get a bit...uhh...psychotic, when I'm tired. I wrote the following draft comment at something like 4am. I don't really know what I meant, but perhaps it does mean something someone else can gain from

Mono idealism inspires wishful thinking, it eases analysis paralysis and helps establish utility function despite complexity if value. Imagine if we could factor in dynamic inconsistency into a mental construct we than appreciated to the point of monoidealisation? Alas, ones abstract thinking would have to be quite strong.

comment by orthonormal · 2010-03-01T03:22:46.333Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'll group them together, but I don't want to lose the individual data: people may find one formulation of the concept more useful than another.

comment by wedrifid · 2010-02-26T07:07:05.245Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'll say 7.

(I would give self affirmations a higher rating, say 4, if the context was 'general self influence tips'. But this is akrasia specific which I don't find them all that useful.)

comment by wedrifid · 2010-02-22T01:34:28.594Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Have asked PJ for the most appropriate link.

comment by orthonormal · 2010-02-21T20:00:22.869Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)


  1. Great stuff.

Should that be a 10 instead of a 1? It looks like a typo, given your comments on it.

comment by Douglas_Knight · 2010-02-21T20:57:03.963Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's markdown turning any number followed by a decimal into an itemized list.

comment by wedrifid · 2010-02-22T00:53:59.338Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes, it seems it was an '8.'

comment by orthonormal · 2010-02-22T09:04:01.505Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I have a trigger 'do it now' that pops up when something catches my (often somewhat flippant) attention and it works. It doesn't even seem like an aggressive taskmaster is heckling me, it's more like a sneaky reminder of an available 'cheat mode' and I tend to take pleasure in the thing getting done without burning up my willpower.

This sounds distinct enough from Execute By Default and similar enough to Think it, Do it— mind if I count your +5 for that technique as well?

comment by wedrifid · 2010-02-22T22:36:43.847Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

You could be right. Count it as whatever fits best!

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2010-02-23T17:03:49.676Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Getting Back to the Music seems to be causing a stable lifting of paralysis, even if I'm not taking on anything very challenging yet.

The essay is a vey careful examination of how efforts to do better can actually make things worse. Learning Methods (the system being demonstrated) consists of finding out exactly what you're thinking while you're doing something you'd like to do better, and then examining your thoughts to see whether they make sense. I'm giving the essay a +5. It's something like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, but with much more precision.

Also, I think my life coach, Robin Simons contributed by helping me get at my habit of blocking my emotions, especially the positive ones. (No, I don't know why I do that.) She gets a +5, too. (I'm just going to give a +5 to things that help significantly without being complete solutions. Trying to fine tune my ratings seems a great deal like cat-vacuuming..)

I'm a little surprised that no one else has mentioned any form of therapy. No one's tried it, or it hasn't helped?

comment by RichardKennaway · 2010-02-22T15:42:59.625Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Being Watched is a -5 for me. I have an office to myself (and at home, a home to myself), and that's how I prefer it. Company is an unpleasant distraction. However, something that does work for me is:

Collaboration +8

Working with at least one other person on a project does wonders for getting me to get things done. When it's just me on my own working on something with no short-term interaction with anyone else, I find it a lot more difficult to maintain momentum.

comment by wedrifid · 2010-02-21T11:28:40.411Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Modafinil +7

I used it regularly for a year with clearly positives results. Alertness and motivation were the big improvements, without the (too?) intense focus that comes with more typical CNS stimulants (amphetamines). It also operates on a completely different mechanism to caffeine. Rather than masking tiredness (caffeine) or making you stay awake out of raw baddassery (amphetamine) it actually makes you require less sleep. See, for example, military testing and other studies focussing on REM rebound.

Warning. Use with care. You are turning off some of your natural 'safety mechanisms'. Giving yourself extra stamina and reducing the (some of the most significant) need for sleep allows you to life a less sustainable lifestyle. Most people push themselves to the approximate limits that they can handle whatever that may be. With extra stamina in a pill you can run yourself down without noticing some of the more obvious side effects. Not always a good thing.

I now have a CPAP machine so I no longer (kinda) wake up every 2 minutes for the entire night. This means I no longer get quite the benefit I once did from modafinil, which is great. I still use it but less regularly. Motivation and alertness are not typically limiting factors for me so I'll take the extra sleep, have the extra physical recovery and increase my gym workload.

comment by wedrifid · 2010-07-12T07:39:55.770Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

My most extreme Anti-Akrasia tactic. Somewhat on the crude but extremely effective the couple of times I have used it:

timecave.com is a service that sends emails with time delay, scheduling them at some time in the future. My use for it is to generate a random password for a forum that is a time sink and have it emailed to me at a specified time in the future. In this case lesswrong.com until 1 Jan. I've duplicated the email in emailalibi.com in case timecave goes down.

I have real learning to do and have more or less mastered 'one boxing' in counterfactuals (although come to think of it even decision theory hasn't been cropping up much of late). I'll take the chance to remove a procrastination temptation. This way I can save my limited reserves of willpower for areas that don't have such a neat technical solution.

comment by Cameron_Taylor · 2010-07-27T07:16:37.658Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm giving this one a rating of 8. Effective, but not quite bullet proof. At least it provides a significant roadblock before one form of procrastination.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-05-08T10:12:16.725Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Effective, but not quite bullet proof.

If you're thinking about what I'm thinking about, I just change the e-mail in my profile to a fake one before doing that, so that I can't even reset the password by e-mail.

comment by wedrifid · 2010-07-31T03:12:12.615Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Actually, make that 5.

You'd think I would know never to try to lock me out of something with technical limitations. That almost never works. In fact, it probably just tempts me with a challenge.

comment by rhollerith_dot_com · 2010-07-31T03:39:28.590Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I am different that way.

When I am in the mental state necessary for solving a technical challenge, I am probably able resist a temptation. When I can start the tempting activity out of habit, without thinking, is when the vast majority of my procrastination happens. (And of course, the pleasurable tempting activity conditions me to start the tempting activity. Ever notice how effortlessly you walk to the fridge and open the fridge door? If you're like me, and you probably are, that's the effect of conditioning.)

Of course, my ability to get into the the mental state in which I can solve technical challenges or resist a temptation is very much a depletable resource, like you describe in great grandparent.

comment by wedrifid · 2010-07-31T04:01:41.917Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It sounds like you are somewhat different there. For me the mental state where I am most adept at solving technical challenges (hypomania) is more or less self reinforcing. In that state I get a lot of everything done. Both work and procrastination. The resisting of temptation relies on an entirely different mechanism.

comment by kluge · 2010-02-28T20:05:35.629Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)
  • Getting Things Done: +4. Makes a big difference, but the problem is that it requires the complete system. It works well when everything is included, but eventually I end up skipping a weekly review and the usefulness drops fast. Another thing is that I have to include everything I'm going to do in it. Including "for-fun" activities. If I don't, it's going to turn into a list of things I don't want to do and I'll resist looking at the whole list. Up-to-date it's worth more than +4, but since it doesn't usually stay that way...
  • Meditation: +3. Calmer, less stressful emotional state.Makes it easier to hold a wider perspective. Doesn't help with akrasia directly, but is a significant indirect support and is good for for my general outlook on life.
  • Regular exercise: +8. Essential. I don't see this as much as a positive thing as I'll get depressed soon if I don't get this.
  • Monoidealism: +6. Works every time I actually execute it correctly, but thinking about nothing else is hard. This trick interacts well with meditation because it increases my ability to execute it.

Edit: Fix some typos.

comment by pjeby · 2010-02-28T20:34:08.695Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Monoidealism: +6. Works every time I actually execute it correctly, but thinking about nothing else is hard.

The thought/feeling that it's hard is just another thought. Let go of it too, and it'll become easier, at least in that moment. ;-)

comment by kluge · 2010-03-01T04:42:45.868Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't think the problem is that I think it is hard. It's more like that I end up thinking something else, like in daydreaming or unintentionally in meditation. Which is why meditation helps with it.

The second alternative is that I'm too conflicted about the thing I'm trying. But that would call for conflict-resolution technique rather than motivation technique. :)

comment by GreenRoot · 2010-02-22T21:45:39.369Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Some things I've tried:

  1. Private Resolutions: -4 Going off by myself, talking through the seriousness of the situation, and promising myself to do better / work harder. Usually has brief positive impact, but eventually I backslide. The next time around, the resolution has to be even more emphatic, because I know the previous level of seriousness wasn't enough. This is a ratchet of self-blame that I really can't take anymore.

  2. LeechBlock: short term +2, long term +0 I tried this for about six months. It helped for most of that time. Toward the end, I just ended up using another browser.

  3. Getting Things Done: +4 This one has been a big and lasting help, especially in areas of my life outside of schoolwork. Where I don't have complicated psychology of fear and habit driving procrastination, I'm limited mainly by keeping track of things. The GTD system has worked very well for me on that. Biggest benefit comes from forcing me to decide what I actually intend to do.

  4. Mild accountability: +2 My thesis work is very individual, but I can give high-level reports on how things are going to friends and family, folks I'm not willing to lie to. The desire to give positive reports keeps things moving, but hasn't been a big drive.

  5. Expose myself to hard-working friends: +5 When I see my friends working hard for any reason (against their will or out of internal motivation), it puts my procrastination in perspective and makes it seem silly to me. This helps me just get over it and get work done.

  6. Getting enough sleep: +2 I learned years ago that sleep is necessary for willpower. It's not sufficient for productivity, but if I'm tired, it's very easy to give in to distraction.

Thanks for the work on this. I look forward to reviewing both the list of techniques and people's aggregated experiences.

comment by GreenRoot · 2010-02-22T22:45:59.022Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

One more I didn't include but have seen others mention:

  1. collaboration: +8

Whenever I'm working on a project with other people, especially when we're in the same place, accountability and shared excitement totally short-circuit procrastination. I've only ever procrastinated on solo projects.

comment by lukstafi · 2010-02-25T02:47:54.059Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

LeechBlock: short term +2, long term +0 I tried this for about six months. It helped for most of that time. Toward the end, I just ended up using another browser.

I hacked up my apt-get to ignore requests for browsers and apt-related packages/sources, and I deleted both aptitude and synaptic, and I blocked ways to search for browsers and apt-related packages in my browser. I use ProCon protected by password (a random number which I've pasted without seeing it). It lets me block urls and keywords. It helps.

Getting enough sleep: +2 I learned years ago that sleep is necessary for willpower. It's not sufficient for productivity, but if I'm tired, it's very easy to give in to distraction.

I use "failing to fall asleep" as a motivator to do useful work. It's "okay, feel free to, consistently, either sleep or work".

comment by lukstafi · 2010-09-16T19:28:10.554Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I've abandoned "crippling the internet" idea after finding a browser that I couldn't cripple and getting used to switching to it. A typical experience I guess, though the "arms-race" was interesting in its own right... Better to find "strength from within".

comment by [deleted] · 2012-11-23T23:30:11.474Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I use "failing to fall asleep" as a motivator to do useful work. It's "okay, feel free to, consistently, either sleep or work".

Me too.

comment by novalis · 2010-02-22T01:10:59.213Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Execute by Default: +3 in limited circumstances. I used this (without realizing it) when bungee jumping, and when learning to do drops in aerial silks. I should try it other cases.

Resolutions: -3. Ineffective, and made me feel like a failure.

Utility Function Experiment: +1 -- briefly effective but not long-term (context: using ChoreWars for exercise motivation).

Structured Procrastination: + 2 -- when I remember to do it, and when I have a good long todo list. Especially helps get cleaning done.

Every Other Day Off: +1 -- my variant is to have a lot of vacation relative to most Americans. This does seem make me more productive at work. I would probably be even more productive if I took more time off.

Being Watched: +4 -- for me, that's not general watching, but pair programming. You can't check time-wasting sites if you're at one machine with someone else who is expecting you to actually work. On the other hand, I am extremely introverted, so it uses a lot of energy for me even with a very low-impedance person like my present partner.

Close the Dang Browser: +1 (works occasionally) -- but perhaps will work better now that I have removed the icons too. I think I should also try bookmarking sets of tabs so that I can more easily close without losing state.

Cripple your Internet (editing /etc/hosts, for me): +2 but I need to keep adding sites, including, embarrassingly, the coral cache version that I have used to get around my crippling.

comment by sketerpot · 2010-02-21T19:38:44.718Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I almost used this post as a way of procrastinating on some writing that I need to do today, because it seemed so short, but it has links. And those links have links. And before you know it, you've queued up five more tabs and you won't escape for hours.

Also known as the problem with Wikipedia, or the reason why TV Tropes links should come with warnings on them.. If this article is about akrasia-defeating patterns, then here's an anti-pattern: seductive reading-holes that are deeper than they look.

comment by Document · 2010-02-22T04:02:54.945Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Related to Hofstadter's Law: "It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter's Law.".

comment by orthonormal · 2010-02-21T20:17:14.874Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

On the other hand, I was unambiguously avoiding work by being here when I stumbled across the post that helped me develop my points system.

comment by nazgulnarsil · 2010-02-21T12:46:16.497Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

one of the top comments in the execute by default topic involved something the commenter called "monoidealism" which involved filling up your thoughts entirely with what you need to do. then its easy to do it because you're already doing the annoying part (having to think about it, the physical is rarely an issue).

i stand by my response to that comment: it has changed my life. +10. I can now trivially overcome procrastination that before was seriously crippling my productivity (going weeks without getting anything accomplished, including basic tasks like laundry and cooking food).

modafinil is a +5 i guess. I use it for focused study sessions in math and science and it works well for that. I haven't tried using it regularly.

ordered some melatonin recently, blue blockers, and full spectrum lights recently. will be testing.

comment by gwern · 2010-02-23T17:28:01.175Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

blue blockers, and full spectrum lights

Not familiar with these. What do you expect those to do?

comment by nazgulnarsil · 2010-02-24T19:11:48.410Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

blue blockers are sunglasses that block the blue spectrum, since it has the largest impact.

full spectrum natural light regulates the circadian rhythm. since I am up at night (security job), I need to simulate natural light at night and block natural light during the day.

got my full spectrum CFL's today for my floor lamp and I must say even if they aren't effective they are quite pleasant.

comment by Douglas_Knight · 2010-02-28T22:04:20.234Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If blue light has the most impact, why not use artificial blue light, rather than full spectrum artificial light?

comment by nazgulnarsil · 2010-02-28T22:07:14.144Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

because natural light is quite pleasant while giant blue leds would be....the anti-poon.

comment by gwern · 2010-02-24T19:45:03.655Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

blue blockers are sunglasses that block the blue spectrum, since it has the largest impact.

Oh, so the idea is that when you have to be awake during the day, you put them on and hopefully the blue-less light resets your circadian rhythm that much less?

comment by wedrifid · 2010-02-21T14:15:16.972Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

ordered some melatonin recently, blue blockers, and full spectrum lights recently. will be testing.

Have you tried exposing yourself to high intensity blue light in the morning? A sleep psych recommended them to me and the background research seemed sound enough. And whether or not they work for me the ones I go (thousands of blue LED) look awesome!

comment by matt · 2010-02-28T02:38:35.475Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Straight akrasia hacks:

  • Getting Things Done: +8. Note that GTD includes variants of some of the other techniques here.

  • Collaboration with Others: +7. Pair programming in particular, but pairing on any non-trivial tasks. It's really tempting to think that you're wasting time when pairing, but the available evidence supports my considered opinion that more time is saved than lost.

  • No Multitasking (variant): +6. Vladimir Golovin's "One, maximum two tasks per day" would break me (too many small tasks required by my job). I mean breaking tasks up until they're small enough that I have a good chance of getting them done before the next unpostponable interruption arrives and working on only one task until it's done.

  • The Caffein Nap: +8. This is awesome when you're struggling to stay awake to get through a less engaging task.

General effectiveness hacks that make it easier to resist akrasia:

  • Meditation: +5. (With low confidence) Mindfullness meditation helps train my ability to concentrate.

  • Dual-n-back training: +5. As Meditation (also with low confidence), dual-n-back improves focus after training. (I'm in awe of erm and > dual-9-back).

  • Get More Sleep: +4. This is a terrible waste. I'd love to experiment with polyphasic sleep but am unwilling to pay the social cost.

  • Regular Exercise: +3.

comment by Morendil · 2010-02-26T17:04:49.684Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

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.)

comment by G Gordon Worley III (gworley) · 2010-02-26T16:07:55.417Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Here's some data on myself:

  • Getting Things Done +6: Ended a lot of my problems, mostly because I'm no longer forgetting about things. Now I at least know what I'm not doing when I don't do it, although I still don't do everything I intend to.
  • Regular Exercise +2: Helped some, but the amount of time involved in exercising seemed to negate the advantage if I wanted to do some other fun activity rather than work later. Generally find I'm happier and do more if I just don't make time for exercise, since it inevitably pushes out work rather than family and fun.
  • Meditation -2: Didn't do anything for me. In nearly a year of practicing meditation for about 1 hour every day, I only ever once reached that special meditative state where you cease to experience your brain and just let it do its thing. In all, I just lost a years worth of hours sitting outside in the grass trying to sit still.
  • Being Watched +4: Although if this goes on for too long I find I get stressed because I feel like I can't take a break and my quality of work starts to suffer because my mind hasn't had a chance to rest, I find it helpful, especially when a deadline is a long way out and I'm tempted to procrastinate until I really have to get down to work.
  • Take every other 20 to 40 minutes off -4: I have a certain temptation to do this anyway, but it seems like forcing myself to take a break too often damages my productivity, taking me away from work when I'm enjoying it. I guess I don't need help to know when to take a break, and forcing myself to take breaks is just less effective.
  • Strict Scheduling -8: Staying on a strict schedule is, for me, one of the worst possibilities. I get stressed, feel like I have to do things I don't want to do, and in the end spend even more time playing around rather than working because I feel like I need to do something to get back the time I was forced to give up to the schedule.
  • No multitasking + 4: Only really useful if you're currently over multitasking. Some multitasking can be good, such as working on a secondary project while waiting for something to happen with the primary project (code to compile, report to run, numbers to crunch, etc.). Other times it can be bad, like trying to answer e-mail, write code, and have a meeting at the same time, because you simply don't have enough attention to do all that.
comment by FrankAdamek · 2010-02-21T19:16:39.718Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I have little experience with most of these, and I should gain more. Generally I work to improve my motivation, and indirectly have that carry me through. This obviously depends to a great extent on how well you can motivate yourself. I'm not sure this is exactly an anti-akrasia technique, but I would give it somewhat positive ratings.

If curious, my techniques for motivation are very diverse, and examples include reminding myself what is at stake, and recalling motivational ideals and imagery, largely derived from games, movies, and other media. One classic image of mine that was recently useful is that of a character that, if their legs are broken, they will crawl to their objective. John McClane of the Die Hard films somewhat embodies this idea. Useful for adversity and setbacks.

Sometimes I have great motivation for a task but when it comes to the actual execution, hesitation and procrastination persists. Regardless of my motivation, Execution by Default is often what works for me in getting over this, in the situations in which I do. I would give it +7, with a slight variation. The counting does not work well for me as I keep leaving myself a choice at the end of the countdown, whether I will actually follow through. What seems to work is expecting myself to do the task, and watch it from a sort of third-person perspective. Commonly this comes up for intimidating social tasks, and the thoughts are something like "Huh, I'm going to do that. Weird. Oh, here I go". In this way the decision is somewhat distanced, and I'm hardly even making it: I'm just watching myself make it. Somehow this often works, and if I really expect to see myself do something, at some point my body just starts moving. Gauging the effectiveness is difficult, as sometimes I try to set this system in motion but don't really put belief/will into it, and can tell I am doing so. From memory this system actually works, which means if I implement it I'm going to actually do it, and the hesitation is moved forward. An advantage might lie in just doing that, through hyperbolic discounting.

comment by orthonormal · 2010-02-22T00:20:34.832Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The counting does not work well for me as I keep leaving myself a choice at the end of the countdown, whether I will actually follow through. What seems to work is expecting myself to do the task, and watch it from a sort of third-person perspective.

It almost sounds like you're reviewing two different techniques here: the original Execute by Default and something like PJ Eby's Just Do It tactic. Or is this a third thing?

comment by FrankAdamek · 2010-02-22T15:34:32.304Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

That's possible, I'm not familiar with Just Do It.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2010-02-21T14:31:36.872Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Here's one that doesn't exactly fit on your scale-- it broke a massive fit of paralysis, but has made only a minor long-term contribution so far--Acedia and Me by Kathleen Norris.

When I heard about the premise, I knew it was something I needed-- the idea was that the collapse of motivation is a current disposition of mind rather than a deep psychological flaw. This was enough to break some of the self-hatred (I'm fucking up, so I'm defective, so it's too much work to bother with anything important) which I think drives akrasia in my case.

The book is a Catholic take on the problem of acedia--what's sometimes called sloth, and reading it has done more to offer me clues than a solution. It's got a historical overview of what people have written on it through the centuries-- it's kind of nice to know that looking for grudges as a distraction from getting work done predates the internet.

I think there's something about time and impatience which leads to paralysis, but I don't quite have it pinned down. It's partly about believing that the work should be done already which makes the process of getting it done seem like an intolerable burden.

comment by orthonormal · 2010-02-21T20:05:12.409Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'll add it. How do you rate your experience with it? (Breaking a massive fit of paralysis definitely counts as something people would find useful, so it does count here.)

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2010-02-21T21:37:05.048Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'll give it a plus 5, since it really was important for me.

However, it looks as though most of the people who've posted in this thread either don't have self-hatred problems as severe as mine-- they seem to already model akrasia as a bad current habit rather than as a fundamental defect, though I leave the possibility open that there's some fundamental defect premises leading to the tendency to let time drift by rather than doing things which would be more useful or more fun.

I haven't read all the amazon reviews of Acedia and Me, but those I have read reviewed it as a combination of history and memoir. None of them seemed to get any personal good out of it.

It isn't a how-to book.

comment by orthonormal · 2010-02-21T22:24:55.973Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Having been very Catholic for a good chunk of my life, I tended to categorize my akrasia in the "fundamental defect" category up until about last year. Seeing it as something lots of smart people struggle with was helpful, as was seeing the 'engineering' model of correcting it as opposed to the 'strength of character' model.

Anyhow, don't worry about skewing the average by giving your honest experience. Nobody's results are perfectly typical.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2010-02-21T22:41:10.873Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I wasn't so much concerned about skewing the results as that the scale didn't fit my experience.

The book might be more likely to be useful for people with Catholic backgrounds.

comment by Blueberry · 2010-02-21T09:09:52.958Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Modafinil: -10. I had a very negative experience with this drug. It did not help me focus or concentrate at all, it just made me unable to sleep and I felt very sick after a day or two. Unlike normal stimulants like caffeine or theobromine, it didn't make me feel more awake or alert at all. I took it in the morning for three days, when I had a paper to write, got almost no sleep, and was barely able to function (though I never felt like falling asleep). I actually had to take caffeine to counteract the effects of Modafinil.

Melatonin: -5. This also did not help me sleep or feel well rested, though apparently it does for many people. It just made me feel tired and groggy when I woke up.

LeechBlock: +8. This add-on is amazing. I installed it at work and it's made me much more productive. I blocked four or five different sites that I usually go to at work, and just knowing that they were blocked helped me focus. I do substitute random Google searches or news articles sometimes, but overall I spend a lot less time reading webpages at work.

comment by Yoav Ravid · 2019-02-18T16:44:31.721Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Great post! when was it last updated?

comment by [deleted] · 2015-07-11T04:16:33.606Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Missing techniques:

both missing reviews and missing a write up on Lesswrong

Techniques I've tried and will put up a review for soon hopefully:

pickup akrasia

I aim to improve my game right now, and stop watching porn cold turkey right now to that end. So the follow akrasia techniques specifically relate to that. Here's what I'm doing to overcome my addiction to porn:


normative social influence

It's taboo to talk about porn with people I know IRL in many cases, so I'm on my own here except for what I can get online

classical conditioning

  • reconditioning myself with PG porn

  • daygame. Remember, be an alpha.

Nice Guys™ regard women as being moral guardians: that women should choose the nicest men for sex in order to reward them for doing the right thing.

peak shift alternative

  • going to clubs and other (unfortunately loud venues, wearing the highest protection discreet earplugs I can find) venues to meet women (cause it's normative to go to those places to meet other single people)

  • use the lesswrong study hall to do one thing at a time, after one another - and keep focussed on that thing.

improve my mental functioning

  • reconciling deas on Lesswrong with ideas from mainsteam philosophy so that I can discuss them sans jargon with my social groups more easily. Probably with the help of idea and argument mapping and organising tools which I'd like to use for data and management jobs anyhow

  • I audited my diet and I have no current source of vitamin b12. Maybe I'll become significantly smarter in the near future as I plan to have a minimum of 4 eggs a day to meet my NHMRC minimum dietary intake of b12

edit: I hate eggs, but apparently eating 2 yoghurts a day will take care of the b12 issue anyway.

decrease access

  • Use a squat toilet when in the CBD on weekdays and you're not timepoor

  • Use cheesy pickup lines to get you used to escalation.

  • Show off muscles (esp. abs), with an animal, and do something interesting while having fun with friends in OkCupid display pics (and presumably in facebook display pictures and when signalling IRL.

  • Perhaps I can make some cash on the side advertising a erotic masseur business...maybe if I'm desperate enough bringing a callgirl to a swinger joint to meet potential partners...

comment by atorm · 2012-02-26T03:35:03.615Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I have recently started transferring money to my friends with instructions to only return the money if I accomplish a task by a certain time. I have the deadline be far enough away that I should theoretically be able to accomplish the task without difficulty, but close enough to create a sense of real urgency. In this I am actually USING loss-aversion to my advantage, because damned if I'm going to let him have MY money. I've only used this a couple of times, but so far it has been very successful. Problems: If I schedule the deadline too far out, I don't feel its urgency until it is close, so accurately estimating how long I need to do something needs to be developed. Also, I am still figuring out how to break down big projects into goals that I can give short-term deadlines. Overall I would give this a +5, but I'm still experimenting with it.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-02-26T11:16:55.829Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Have you heard about beeminder.com (Less Wrong post here)?

comment by atorm · 2012-02-27T16:39:07.558Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes, and I've used it, but it is designed for trends in behavior, not the production of a deadline in a few hours. I also find the announced commitment to a friend feels more urgent than incoming reminder emails.

comment by magfrump · 2010-02-28T18:39:00.825Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Utility Function Experiement: +1 For the first couple of days I got a lot more done, but I also had a lot of deadlines to meet. I'm in school and have a stressed-out roommate that I have to take care of a lot of the time, which means I have strict deadlines and inescapable distractions; I need to do things more effectively rather than get more things done.

comment by Bindbreaker · 2010-02-24T02:13:54.943Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Does anyone here have experience with piracetam?

comment by gwern · 2010-02-26T14:24:02.450Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)


comment by wedrifid · 2010-02-26T15:04:18.505Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Great link Gwern. It has just about inspired me to dust off some of my stashes of 'racetams and CDP choline and play again.

comment by gwern · 2010-02-26T16:18:00.275Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Glad you found it useful. I've followed up with some more stats about performance while being off/out of piracetam & choline.

comment by wedrifid · 2010-02-26T16:34:21.915Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Now that is even more useful. I have heard plenty of subjective experience reports but none of the personal anecdotes have come with solid data. I would rather like to see similar reports from 100 other people!

Although come to think of it I would probably benefit even more from just having results for me, personally. I've actually downloaded the same piece of software myself today and started practicing. I'll give myself time for the learning curve to slow down then see how it changes when I start gulping piracetam, aniracitam and CDP-choline in my typical dose.

comment by Kaj_Sotala · 2010-02-26T20:45:09.310Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Having a site like PatientsLikeMe for anti-akrasia techniques would be awesome. Or productivity techniques in general.

If somebody made an open-source, easily modifiable and pluginnable platform for a general "report your experiences with thing X" site that could be customized into reporting about anything, be it akrasia techniques or medical treatments or something else... they'd probably contribute more utilons to the world with that action than most people ever will.

comment by Douglas_Knight · 2010-02-27T23:04:02.770Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

You should check out the Quantified Self, both for finding existing tools and for finding people to use future tools.

comment by wedrifid · 2010-02-28T00:20:12.956Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thankyou! I'll make use of that.

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2010-02-27T07:32:29.280Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I've done a certain amount of thinking on this particular topic, so if anyone is really genuinely truly going to do a startup around it, please call me first.

comment by wedrifid · 2010-02-27T07:20:33.471Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I actually started creating such a site a while back (because I wanted one for personal use and generalised from there). It got put on the back burner in preference for money earning. That more utilons to the world than most people ever will sounds tempting. :)

comment by gwern · 2010-02-26T20:39:24.450Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

FWIW, DNB does have a learning curve of a few levels. I wouldn't really trust any stats until D3B.

comment by wedrifid · 2010-02-27T07:23:22.320Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I get consistent 100% scores on D2B so I think I'll use D3B as a 'learning' level. I'm still trying to figure out the right 'thinking' strategy to use for D3+B. With D2B I just empty my mind, look at the cross and 'just press the right answer'. But that doesn't work reliably for me on D3B. I seem to go better actively rehearsing the sequences in my mind and explicitly forming a picture of what historical item fits 'next'. My performance is wildly variable (30% to 80%) and depends massively on whether my brain gets in the right zone.

I'm already noticing my brain modifying itself in response to the training. My competitive instincts take control and whenever they spot any unhelpful thinking they throw it out. Distractions, anxieties, frustration at making mistakes, none of these help it win and the brain can identify that right there in the short term. So all the habits of mental hygiene that I have worked to develop for myself get magnified.

comment by Kevin · 2010-02-27T07:31:04.283Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

One thing I've tried sometimes is to only remember half the sequence. Like I try to remember the audio sequence explicitly, and "just press the right answer" for the visual stimulus.

comment by loqi · 2010-02-24T03:51:04.780Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Some very informal experience:

I've found its effects to be more noticeable when alcohol is involved - it seems to reduce the subjective "fuzzy-headedness" of being drunk, and I have a weak suspicion that it reduces hangover symptoms by a fair amount if taken the night of drinking (I don't get smashed often enough to test this properly).

The most obvious effect is on my dreams if I take it at night - they become much more vivid. Several others I know who've tried it report the same thing, but I've read that some people don't experience this effect at all.

If you don't get much dietary choline, you might consider supplementing with lecithin to avoid getting a headache.

comment by Kevin · 2010-02-25T13:51:22.457Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Myself and my roommate took piracetam + choline for a few months. I didn't notice much, except when mixed with alcohol. My roommate noticed an improvement in the ability to do mental math. I might have been able to quantify a difference if I was doing brain tests at the time I was taking piracetam.

comment by wedrifid · 2010-02-24T04:04:34.119Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes, I find it useful. I recommend the imminst.org forums for the most reliable information on piracetam, nootropics and dietary supplements in general.

comment by Bindbreaker · 2010-02-24T06:24:01.659Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Which forums are these?

comment by wedrifid · 2010-02-24T06:31:29.425Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Pardon me, markdown didn't like me leaving off 'http://'. Fixed.

comment by gwern · 2010-02-23T19:30:26.149Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)
  • Melatonin: 7
  • Modafinil: 4
  • Leechblock: 3 (I wanted to give it a 4, but I bypass it too often for me to kid myself. Still useful technique though.)
  • Execute By Default: 0.
  • Structured Procrastination: 1. Hurts nearly as often as it helps.
  • Stare at the Wall: 3. I'm reading this one as 'meditation'.
comment by orthonormal · 2010-02-24T04:03:22.239Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Stare at the Wall: 3. I'm reading this one as 'meditation'.

OK, then I'm counting that as +3 for Meditation.

comment by gwern · 2010-02-24T15:12:05.228Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ah, I didn't notice meditation was on the list. I'd edit it, but you're counting it right. (I question, though, whether there is any real difference between meditation and 'stare at the wall'.)

comment by Kevin · 2010-02-25T14:06:56.060Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Depends on what kind of meditation you are doing. Hindu/mantra repitition meditation (which is also the style of meditation of Transcendental Meditation (restricted trademark!)) tricks your brain into a weird dissociative state. If you do it for more than 45 minutes or so a day, you start getting headaches and other signs that you are doing something deeply bad to your brain. I can dig up a long article by a former teacher of TM if anyone wants it.

Vipassana meditation, which involves watching yourself breathe through your nose, is good. This is a type of Buddhist meditation and I know nothing of other Buddhist meditation except that some American Zen practitioners do meditation while breathing through both the nose and mouth.

Practicing Vipassana actually teaches you something about how your body works, and the professed religious goal behind it (other than resurrection and enlightenment and all of that) is to gain ultimate awareness of reality, which sounds very good in the scheme of big claims made by religions.

Vipassana is interesting because it requires you to intently focus on the area of your self where the conscious meets the unconscious: your breathing. Is there anything else in your body that you can successfully control or not control, entirely based on your will?

To do Vipassana, sit on something comfortable with your legs crossed. Try and sit as straight as you can and don't move at all. Throughout the meditation you should be trying not to move at all -- one of the goals is to gain control over something as ephemeral as a pain signal telling you that you need to shift positions. Careful though, if you have back problems or something and get horrific pain while sitting cross legged, try using a chair.

Half lotus is recommended for sitting unless you're comfortable in a full lotus. Close your eyes, and watch yourself breath. Do not actively breathe, but stop and do nothing and let your breath happen on its own. Just watch. You can pay particular attention to the feeling of the breath leaving and entering your nose, or the moment when your breath pauses before inhaling or exhaling. If any thought comes to mind, acknowledge it and return to observing your breath when possible.

Once you gain control over your body where conscious meets unconscious, you can pay attention to more than just your breathing. You just sit breathing while trying to be aware of every sensation your body is feeling. There's a lot more going on than you are typically aware of, such as a very slight sensation of energy coursing across your body.

It is not easy to do. Getting good at Vipassana meditation is like staring akrasia in the face and trying to conquer it. I usually end up dwelling on some recursive bad thought and get too anxious to keep going for much longer than 10 minutes. I think this is a pretty common thing for attempted practitioners of Vipassana meditation... it's tough to acknowledge that nothing really matters and that you can just sit and watch your breath for a while.

I've been in a pretty good mental state since graduating from college though; I should see if I can do better at meditation now. I haven't tried for months.

See http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=587032 for a longer discussion.

http://www.urbandharma.org/udharma4/mpe.html is a free book with a reasonably non-mystic/technical introduction to Vipassana meditation. The closest thing to religious indoctrination is mentions that all other forms of meditation are bad, which is close enough to the truth that I don't hold it against them.

I think that mastering Vipassana meditation would reduce akrasia, if it was done explicitly for the purposes of giving yourself fewer excuses for not shutting up and getting to work. It's also just pretty cool to gain the awareness over your body (and detachment from sensations) that can be rather easily learned.

Don't do one of the retreats though, it's probably a waste of time. You don't need to meditate that much.

comment by gwern · 2010-02-25T16:46:07.635Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It is not easy to do. Getting good at Vipassana meditation is like staring akrasia in the face and trying to conquer it. I usually end up dwelling on some recursive bad thought and get too anxious to keep going for much longer than 10 minutes. I think this is a pretty common thing for attempted practitioners of Vipassana meditation... it's tough to acknowledge that nothing really matters and that you can just sit and watch your breath for a while.

One thing I find helps is a cross between GTD & vipassana: keeping a notepad nearby.

I like Mindfulness in Plain English, personally.

comment by taw · 2010-02-22T16:01:14.944Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Here's my list:

Modafinil: -10 all the mental energy loss of sleep deprivation without feeling sleepy, worst thing I ever tried

Resolutions: +1 I promise myself to do X regularly; then due to external circumstances I cannot for a few days and resolution dies even when external circumstances cease

Utility Function Experiment: +2

Messing with Internet via /etc/hosts hacks etc.: +2 unfortunately my work requires me being on Internet all the time, might work better for people who don't have this

Regular physical exercise: +4 - time and energy lost on it seem to be more than balanced by increased productivity for the next few days after

GTD 2 minute rule / execute by default: +6

GTD getting things off my mind / making lists of everything / reviewing them regularity etc.: +6

In both cases not by high efficiency of doing that, but by how my productivity collapses when I don't do that. My baseline productivity seems very low without GTD.

comment by Matt_Stevenson · 2010-02-22T10:16:43.511Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Being Watched +4-7 - This can depend on who the other person is and the situation. I don't like paired programming since I'm an introverted thinker, and I find it really distracting. When there is someone else in the room doing work, it motivates me to do more work. I find the reverse can be true as well. If I'm around a bunch of people who are slacking off, I become less motivated.

Cripple your Internet +5 - This is a pretty effective technique, but I have a hard time being consistent with this at all.

One thing I've noticed is that my akrasia, as well as productivity, seem to have an inertia. Its not necessarily that I always have an urge to procrastinate, but if I am not being productive, it is always easier to open a browser and start procrastinating than to start working.

I try to arrange my tasks in a way that I can keep a productive inertia. Make sure all tasks are well defined with clear starting points and goals. Try to break a task up into smaller tasks that can be completed in less than a day. Arrange tasks so they build off of the work I just completed, I try not to switch between unrelated work more than a few times in a single day. When starting a project, I start with a few easy tasks that I know can be completed quickly. This helps frame my mind for work.

Similarly, before I stop working for the night, I try to set leave myself an easy problem to solve than would lead into something larger. When I know exactly how to accomplish something, there is less resistance to starting the task. A lot of times it is easier to continue working than to start working.

By far, what I've found to be most motivating is to be working with people who themselves are very motivated about the work. I am a very competitive person. This can be a good thing with the right group.

comment by JenniferRM · 2010-02-22T05:30:07.653Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

See many other comments about the goodness of Leechblock and the idea of "reading holes" that are deeper than they look I looked into the three tools listed for crippling one's internet. I found that page addict appears to be unreliable and ended up not installing it.

Freedom is for Macs and therefore not usable by me.

I skimmed through many Leechblock reviews checking to see if a competitor was ever mentioned that might be better. I saw no mention of competition but there were a lot of rave reviews and few complaints so I'm installing and testing it.

No input to integrate back into the OP here, but I write up this comment in case others wanted to piggyback on my due diligence :-)

comment by gwern · 2010-02-23T19:16:43.378Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I saw no mention of competition

PageAddict. Much simpler & easier to use. It may technically not work for recent versions of Firefox, but if you disable the version checks, it works fine for me under 3.6.

comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2010-02-21T20:18:47.164Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Leechblock +8. Execute by Default +2

Autofocus and the Pomodoro Technique are both 0s; I gave up on them but I plan to try them again some time in the future.

The thing that's helped me the most is to realize that my productivity is related to my morale and that I should do things that are good for my morale and avoid things that are bad for my morale. Also, working out lots of little bugs like criticizing myself internally if I was working on the right problem in a suboptimal way but not criticizing myself at all if I was working on the wrong problem. I figure if I want cooperation from my inner chimpanzee I should try to provide him with positive reinforcement when I'm doing better than average (but maybe not negative reinforcement when I'm doing worse than average; I don't think negative reinforcement works well for getting myself to do things that require thinking.)

comment by ata · 2010-02-21T05:06:26.403Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'll be curious to hear if anyone has had positive experiences with Modafinil, especially people for whom the more traditional stimulants like Ritalin and Adderall were ineffective. That's the category I find myself in (I have a moderate–severe case of ADD which has resisted attempts to treat it so far).

comment by Kevin · 2010-02-21T06:22:04.318Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If Ritalin and Adderall don't work for you I think it unlikely that Modafinil would work, but I suppose it wouldn't hurt to try.

comment by betterthanwell · 2010-02-22T19:50:34.286Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If Ritalin and Adderall don't work for you I think it unlikely that Modafinil would work

Do you have any sources backing this?

If Adderall does not work for you then it's less likely that Ritalin would, and vice versa.

This does not necessarily hold true going from stimulants to eugeroics.

comment by Kevin · 2010-02-25T08:51:38.945Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I have no sources, but if modafinil was actually effective for moderate-severe ADHD the drug company probably would have tried to get it approved to treat ADHD. They must have run at least some studies to determine that FDA approval for ADHD treatment was not going to happen.

Anecdotally, I believe that most psychiatrists only try modafanil for relatively mild ADHD in adults and usually only if the drug is requested by the patient.

My intuition on this is because amphetamine is just a much, much stronger drug than modafanil.

They are different types of drugs, sure. The most likely way for my comment to not be true is if ata stopped taking amphetamine not because it was ineffective, but because of the side effect profile. Modafanil does have a milder side effect profile. Failing that, modafanil would only probably really work for severe ADHD if it fixes a specific brain defect -- possible, but it seems unlikely.

Edit: This claims that the FDA rejection for modafanil was because of a single very adverse reaction of the frequently lethal Steven Johnsons Syndrome, where the diagnosis was later recanted. Not sure if that is the whole truth, but it means my premise is somewhat less likely based on the evidence. My intuition still holds. http://www.modafinil.com/

comment by mattnewport · 2010-02-25T09:11:52.338Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

How does the lesswrong crowd feel about these recent stories? Having grown up in Europe I've always found the North American faith in treating psychological conditions with drugs a bit odd, I feel vindicated reading stories like this but I wonder if it is just cultural bias?

comment by wedrifid · 2010-02-25T09:34:31.968Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Have I got the right link there? The post I found was just a reference to the difficulty of properly accounting for the placebo effect when drugs have obvious side effect profiles.

On that tangent active placebos can be fascinating. For example, studies investigating the effect of psyclobin which use ritalin as an active placebo (to match the euphoria experience).

comment by mattnewport · 2010-02-25T09:42:18.866Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Robin Hanson expands on the story a bit. My general impression is that the US has adopted a number of drugs which are worse on most dimensions than those that are deemed illegal partly due to a crappy system for approving chemicals.

I think the placebo effect is pretty interesting. I also think the powerful effect of many illegal psychoactive substances is pretty interesting. I find it unfortunate that the FDA has such a powerful role in deciding what constitutes legitimate investigation of either.

comment by Kevin · 2010-02-25T13:44:44.058Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not going to argue and say that the FDA system is good; but I'm happy that with a system as deeply flawed as the FDA that more deadly drugs don't hit the market. Sure, lots of people die because there are working unapproved illegal treatments, but out of all of the unfortunate US government institutions, the FDA is not the worst.

comment by Kevin · 2010-02-25T13:42:18.146Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think that faith comes because psychological conditions often can be treated successfully treated with drugs. Some severe mental health conditions mostly require drugs for successful treatment.

However, there is certainly overmedication and that's because it is easier and cheaper to medicate than to provide therapy. A study was done showing that ADHD medication is effective in children for the short term, but therapy (CBT, I think, which when done on children with ADHD is much more like a personal anti-akrasia trainer than sitting on the couch telling Freud about the problems with your mother) ) is effective in the long term. The problem is that many children show an immediate improvement in behavior after taking the drugs, so the therapy doesn't continue but the drugs do continue. This is more likely when it is a primary care physician prescribing the drugs rather than a psychiatrist.

comment by wedrifid · 2010-02-21T11:41:51.544Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I have had experience with it (as I mentioned. I match the symptom cluster that gives an ADD diagnosis. I find modafinil somewhat useful but mostly because it gives the same all round boost to functioning that you get from more sleep. I found it more useful than Ritalin but I am not necessarily saying that as an advocation. Unfortunately ADD can involve too much focus as well as too little. In my case Ritalin just made me more excessively focussed. It worked as a performance enhancer but definitely not as a treatment.

So I'll join Douglas in supporting Kevin's recommendation. Try it and see if it is useful. It is for many. But don't have huge expectations if you have already tried amphetamine and methamphetamine.

You no doubt already know what the most effective treatment is. 45 minutes a day of strenuous cardiovascular exercise, eating well, keeping connected with a positive social network and doing something that you love to do.

comment by Douglas_Knight · 2010-02-21T08:02:37.451Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

google, FWIW

I have no experience, but I think Kevin is right.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-06-11T20:50:57.744Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I've found that drinking plenty of water makes me less lazy. Has anyone found the same? (I'd rate that at +3.)

comment by MartinB · 2010-07-10T22:39:31.021Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

For some reason noone seems to have mentioned 'the now habit' by Neil Fiore on this blog so far. Or Barbara Sher:'refuse to choose'. Both make a nice addition to the GTD concept, and deal with issues on a different layer.

comment by Roko · 2010-03-11T23:11:47.670Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Did somebody mention f.lux?

This program changes the color of the screen to be more orange/yellow towards the later hours. I'll give it +2 for now, since I've just started using it.

comment by Kevin · 2010-02-25T13:49:52.216Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I should really start taking fish oil supplements again. I would especially encourage anyone with children to make sure they get sufficient fish oil while their brains are growing.


comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2010-02-21T12:32:35.734Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

As I mentioned before, the thing that works for me is

  • Every other 20-40 minutes off

(doesn't seem to be listed in the post)

comment by orthonormal · 2010-02-21T20:02:49.485Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

OK, will add. Do you have a link to where you mentioned this before? A quick search didn't turn it up.

ETA: Also, can you rate it on the scale?

comment by Ger · 2010-02-22T13:29:11.591Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I havent tried any method actively yet, but the "Being Watched" works great for me, +5, i would rate it higher, but the problem is that i cant control when i m being watched...

comment by gwern · 2010-02-23T17:25:52.268Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Do you think it would work if you put up a webcam of yourself at your desk?

comment by Unknowns · 2010-02-22T19:28:56.888Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Reading this article today, together with the comments and links, has a rating of -10, on account of all the time I lost reading it!