Productivity tips for those low on motivation

post by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2012-03-06T02:41:20.861Z · score: 7 (12 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 12 comments

Lately, I've been in a months-long motivation slump. This has given me the opportunity to gain a few insights about how to get more done with less motivation:

  1. If I have an idea for something I could do (like I had the idea to write this post), strongly consider doing it right away. Otherwise I'll put it on my to do list, where it will never get done. Doing something seems a lot easier and more fun if it's a recent, brilliant idea I'm still proud of.
  2. If I feel generally energetic and motivated, think of the most important, intimidating task I could possibly do and work on that. 
    • Frequently, I'll work on some kind of longer-term intervention to increase productivity, like learning about and implementing some new productivity system. Of course I'll eventually abandon the system, but it will provide benefits until then.
    • The opportunity cost of doing just anything in these "moments of inspiration" is quite high. I still remember wasting one of the most inspired moments of my early teenage life trying to figure out if it was a bad idea to learn Morse code because my brain could only remember a finite number of facts. My natural instinct when I feel a burst of motivation is to clear my (virtual and physical) workspace before working, but I'm beginning to think that even this uses up valuable "inspired time".
  3. Use Autofocus. You could see the system as a systematized version of structured procrastination. It's the least stressful way to work on stuff I've come across so far.
    • I'm not using the system right now, but it seems to work reasonably well when I get it going; maybe next time I feel generally energetic and motivated I'll try to get started with it again.
    • The major downside is the system's complete obliviousness to deadlines, but the author describes some variants on his blog which might solve this problem.
    • Some day, if I revert to my past, highly motivated self, I hope to use Autofocus as a "lower gear" in combination with some other system, like the Pomodoro technique, which requires more focus and motivation. On my Pomodoro off-hours, I could either use Autofocus or relax completely depending on my energy level.

In general, I've noticed that my self-improvement efforts seemed to go better if I see my own behavior as inherently chaotic and try to work around that.

I've come to realize that aiming for a grand unified system for how I do everything doesn't seem to work very well, and even if such a system actually is a good goal, it would be better to design and implement it piece by piece so I could gradually test my ideas against reality. Embracing scrappiness doesn't fit very well with my perfectionist personality, but fortunately I have another part of my personality that thinks it's silly to avoid doing what works well in practice.

Please share your productivity tips for those low on motivation in the comments.

12 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by zntneo · 2012-03-12T18:55:15.910Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Have you tried using implementation intentions they seem like they have good research backing. See this , and this

comment by CronoDAS · 2012-03-06T08:29:38.423Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm going to invoke one of my favorite quotes, and then go meta:

There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently what should not be done at all.

-- Peter Drucker

Just what is it that you are trying to be more productive at doing, and what do you hope to gain from it?

comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2012-03-06T21:00:08.804Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

To summarize, my to-do list is long and heterogenous, and most of the items on the list are there because I think doing them will improve the chance of a positive singularity (some through just a few levels of indirection, like volunteering for SI; some through many levels of indirection, like watching sped up video lectures in order to add to my conceptual toolkit).

comment by gwern · 2012-03-06T02:18:32.248Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

What happened to kratom?

comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2012-03-06T02:55:51.444Z · score: 7 (9 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

For bystanders, I previously recommended kratom, which is probably one of the most interesting drugs that is legal in the United States, to gwern as a way to enter a highly motivated state. For me it seems to act as an ugh field off switch. You can buy kratom from an online store run by a Less Wrong user.

To answer your question, it's not something you want to be using more than a couple times a week, and recently I've been experiencing some digestive problems (unrelated to kratom) which have made me reluctant to consume anything that isn't food.

comment by gwern · 2012-03-08T21:47:22.272Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Sure, but unless your digestive problems started at the same multiple months period of demotivation, you haven't answered the implied question, 'why hasn't kratom dealt with your problem at least every few days?'

comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2012-03-08T22:16:51.895Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It used to.

comment by Kevin · 2012-03-06T09:08:15.276Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

For digestive problems of all kind, I recommend supplemental enzymes shortly before meals. In some people, they work better than more harmful or complicated or expensive medical interventions. http://www.amazon.com/Super-Enzymes-Now-Foods-Tablets/dp/B002FK1NJA/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1331024844&sr=8-3

comment by zntneo · 2012-03-12T19:01:33.528Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I am curious is there any RCTs on the effectiveness of these enzymes?

comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2012-03-06T20:29:59.783Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for the advice, but given that taking some enzyme thing is what I suspect gave me the problem in the first place, I think I'll pass for now.

comment by RolfAndreassen · 2012-03-06T05:25:29.654Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If I feel generally energetic and motivated, think of the most important, intimidating task I could possibly do and work on that. (...)

Frequently, I'll work on some kind of longer-term intervention to increase productivity, like learning about and implementing some new productivity system. Of course I'll eventually abandon the system, but it will provide benefits until then.

This strikes me as... unhelpful. Your chief use for motivation, apparently, is to increase your future motivation. I suggest that this is not the way to get things done.

comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2012-03-06T05:28:40.659Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I find that on average, it seems a new system produces benefits that exceed the costs necessary to institute it. Kind of like how in glycolysis, ATP molecules are required early on in the pathway, but the process eventually ends up getting you more ATP than you started with. (One of the few things I remember from ninth-grade biology...)

That's good input though; I haven't really been scrutinizing to check to see whether interventions are paying for themselves.

Although it certainly seems that over time, one could learn how to make interventions more persistent, or what kind of interventions tend to be most cost-effective.