Comment by laakeus on Habitual Productivity · 2014-01-15T20:35:58.739Z · LW · GW

Its seems its very easy for OP to be productive, because he's very intelligent.

I think intelligence and productiveness are inversely correlated.

Comment by laakeus on My Algorithm for Beating Procrastination · 2013-02-04T21:08:08.991Z · LW · GW

Well, I didn't exactly state any particular experiments in the above post, but I did get some results.

First, the system of measuring my time worked just fine. RescueTime and similar software products do this as well and I encourage anyone considering doing experiments on yourself to get one or arrange a system like I did and then just start measuring. You'll get a nice baseline to compare to. It's surprisingly difficult to notice a significant difference and if you don't have a quantitative approach and historical data, it might be impossible to say if some experiment made any difference. You might think that improving your productivity with some method will feel somehow different, but it won't. The only way you can say for sure is to have some kind of measuring system.

The measurement system and subsequent noticing that I wasn't nearly as productive as I'd like to be didn't make much of a difference. I could clearly see how I spend my time and what kind of events hindered my productivity, but this alone didn't improve my overall efficiency.

The experiment I did on myself was to start using the Pomodoro method. On average, I got roughly 20-25% more real work done per workday. (Say the baseline was 4 hours which improved to approx. 5 hours a day.) It sounds somewhat pathetic, but I could sustain this over long term. (Since then I've switched jobs and I have different kind of desktop setup and I don't have a similar measurement anymore.) I didn't become a productivity monster over-night and I do have difficulty motivating myself some days. Pomodoro doesn't help when I just don't have the motivation. But now I know that I can improve my efficiency when I am on the groove. I think the difference is that the normal way of chunking the workday drains some mental resource faster and sometimes that will result in the disability to re-focus after a longer pause.

So, all in all, I recommend setting up a system of measuring what you really do during your computer time. But that won't, in and of itself, make a difference. But it will provide a platform that enables for you to experiment on yourself.

Comment by laakeus on The 5-Second Level · 2012-12-20T20:32:51.995Z · LW · GW

I updated by beliefs based on the criticisms of the studies and I now feel confident in my expectations about parental influence.

I'm curious as to what your updated beliefs are on parental influence. Can you summarize in couple of paragraphs?

(I think the original description matches how I view the issue, but I feel the topic doesn't have enough importance for me to spend a lot of time trying to update my beliefs.)

Comment by laakeus on Free research help, editing and article downloads for LessWrong · 2012-09-25T19:48:48.766Z · LW · GW

I'm interested to hear what are your thoughts on Bjork's lab's findings. As I understand, they do recognize spacing effect, but try to make theories beoynd that.

Comment by laakeus on "Epiphany addiction" · 2012-08-18T13:31:21.164Z · LW · GW

A related note is that the neurophysiological effect of the epiphany wears out really quickly. I haven't studied which neurotransmitters exactly produce the original good feeling, but I remember reading (apologies for not having a source here) that the effect is pretty strong for the first time, but fails to produce pretty much any neurological effect after just few repeats. By repeats, I mean thinking about the concept or idea and perhaps writing about it.

In another words, say you get a strong epiphany and subsequent strong feeling that some technique, for an example Pomodoro technique, will make you more efficient. After mulling over this idea or concept for a while, the epiphany and the related feeling fades out. You might still think that the technique would help you, but you lose the feeling. Without the feeling, it is unlikely you will do anything in practice. After losing the feeling, you might even start to doubt that the technique could help you at all. When in fact all that has changed is the neurological feedback because you have repeatedly been processing the idea.

I think this is particularly relevant related to instrumental rationality, because I have not found this to have much effect on how I understand things in general. In the case of some behavioral change, I think it requires a certain amount of such "neurotransmitter-based motivation" in order to have any chance of being implemented. I have pretty successfully implemented a couple of behavioral changes which at the time produced a strong epiphanic feeling, but which nowadays don't evoke pretty much any feeling. I implemented them pretty instantaneously (because they were easy to implement) and had them running before the feeling wore out.

One minor exception to this is that you get a new dose of epiphany if you happen to make a new, novel connection related to the technique you're mulling over. This way you can keep the feeling alive longer, but there are only so many of such new connections and they too wear out eventually.

This is why I think that not only do you have to do something about the epiphany in practice, but you have to do it pretty quickly.

Comment by laakeus on Attention control is critical for changing/increasing/altering motivation · 2012-05-07T20:43:31.041Z · LW · GW

I would argue based on my own experience, that it is very difficult to maintain this type of attention when practicing any type of complex skill. I think the typical pattern of rapid learning at the beginner stage and then stopping improving completely is the result of mind resisting continuous, persistent attention. The beginner's state of mind is not a pleasant one to be in and we want to start feeling comfortable quickly. Easiest way to do this is to stop paying so close attention. I don't think this is an explicit decision. It's just our tendency to not want to be in beginner's state of mind.

I think the best performers in almost any field continue to feel like beginners even though their skills keep improving. Of course, a skilled performer knows that he's better than vast majority of others. But this doesn't make him feel comfortable. Skilled performer concentrates on the aspects that he's bad at and he compares himself to better performers and not to his past performance but what he feel he could be.

It's easy to agree with the original article but without actually implementing what it suggests. As a personal anecdote, I often play video games with my kids and I recently noticed that at some point I just stopped paying attention of what is going around. Sure, usually I don't take the game too seriously, but it's more fun when I do and the game itself is pretty challenging. When I realized that I didn't give it my full attention, I decided to concentrate on seeing the game more clearly. Suddenly I noticed a lot more and the driving improved significantly. The difference what I saw was pretty dramatic at start. It felt like I was half-blind before deciding to pay more attention.

The decline in our ability and willingness to pay close attention is, in my own experience, inevitable. There's no magic insight or system to keep us from falling back to auto-piloting. You just have to rediscover the attention over and over again.

Comment by laakeus on My Algorithm for Beating Procrastination · 2012-02-12T20:36:26.628Z · LW · GW

I think any article proposing a solution to procrastion would do well to relate to pjeby's Improving The Akrasia Hypothesis. I'm not saying that the hypothesis there is necessarily the right one, but what seems to be lacking in these types of systems is exactly what pjeby's article is describing. Namely, how the system is going to help to resolve particular conflicts. I don't think this algorithm proposes any novel approaches to conflict resolutions. (Note that I'm not saying that the article itself isn't useful.)

Of course, you could claim that the hypothesis is not useful. But if so, it might be worth mentioning explicitly.

Comment by laakeus on My Algorithm for Beating Procrastination · 2012-02-10T20:31:46.772Z · LW · GW

I do accept that the equation is a pretty accurate description of akrasia and has been proven empirically, but personally I've found that the type of strategy OP proposes is not effective for me.

First, the crucial steps of the algorithm require the exact same mental resources that are missing when I have the worst bouts of procrastination. When it's clear that I'm procrastinating because I haven't divided the task into smaller subtasks, the idea of doing this division is as difficult as it is to try to start the task itself.

Second, the attacking part of the algorithm seems to provoke far/abstract thinking mode, which makes me more prone to procrastination. Any algorithm or strategy that does not contain ridiculously concrete steps has failed me, sooner or later. Anything that lures me to thinking of, say, long term achievements of using the strategy has made it much more likely to just not use the strategy.

In general, I think it's useful to establish some baseline measurement for one's productivity. At the time of worst procrastination, it seems obvious that a successful strategy will cure whatever it is one is suffering from at the moment. But if you adopt a long-term strategy, the effect is probably going to be much smaller than you initially thought and is going to be difficult to distinguish.

I personally measure the time I've spent in workspaces I've nominated to different types of tasks ("zoning out" (random web-surfing), meta-work (email, instant messaging with colleagues etc), real work). I had to use the system for quite a while to begin experimenting with different strategies. Now I can see if a strategy makes a difference and whether I can maintain it for long term.

Comment by laakeus on TED Talks for Less Wrong · 2011-05-10T09:49:23.890Z · LW · GW

For what it's worth, the book has been published and should answer anyone's questions on the subject. I have it, but I've only just began to read it. The book might be somewhat disappointing to some people in the sense that not everything falls in place once you hear the theory. The theory is rather blunt, but sounds convincing so far.

They have a summary of the theory in the introduction:

"Our brains are engaged full time in real-time (risky) heuristic search, generating presumptions about what will be experienced next in every domain. This time-pressured, unsupervised generation process has necessary lenient standards and introduces content --not all of which can be properly checked for truth-- into our mental spaces. If left unexamined, the inevitable errors in these vestibules of consciousness would ultimately continue on to contaminate our world knowledge store. So there has to be a policy of double-checking these candidate beliefs and surmisings, and the discovery and resolution of these at breakneck speed is maintained by a powerful reward system --the feeling of humor; mirth-- that must support this activity in competition with all the other things you could be thinking about."

In fact, they argue that such facility might be necessary for truly intelligent computational agent:

"... We propose to tackle this prejudice head on, arguing that a truly intelligent computational agent could not be engineered without humor and some other emotions."

Comment by laakeus on Verifying Rationality via · 2011-03-26T21:51:08.904Z · LW · GW

You may want to warn people that "a large amount of hands" means in the order of hundred thousand hands and more.

And to be more exact, variance only goes down relative to the expected winnings. The standard deviation of a sample increases as a square root to the number of hands. Whereas the expected winnings increases linearly. In Limit Hold'em, a 1,5BB/100 hands expected winrate just barely covers two standard deviations from the mean over 100,000 hands. Experienced player can perhaps play 4-6 tables simultaneously, which means that he can accumulate approximately 500 hands per hour. So 100,000 hands would take around 200 hours of play.

The real challenge of poker is dealing with the inherent variance of the game. The immense variance is the reason why poker is so profitable, but even the most experienced players are unable to cope with the most extreme swings of negative luck. The brain constantly tries to pattern-match the immediate results and however much you reason that it's just bad luck (when it really is bad luck!) it will make you sick psychologically.

Note that we assumed we know the expected winrate of a given player. However, conditions change, profitability of the games fluctuate, etc, so it's practically impossible to quantify any given player's current profitability. This makes it vastly more difficult to know whether bad past results are because of variance or because of sub-optimal play.

Comment by laakeus on Kicking Akrasia: Now or Never · 2011-01-03T08:13:59.279Z · LW · GW

One thing I always forget to mention: when you start sleeping more, you will probably notice that you feel drowsier during daytime for a while. If you consistently sleep more, the drowsiness will wear off. But this is why many people complain about "sleeping too much" or not becoming alert after sleeping exceptionally long. It's your brain's way of saying you should sleep more.

I haven't seen any good explanations for this effect, but I think it's simply to get yourself more "hungry" of sleep when you do have time for it.

Comment by laakeus on Kicking Akrasia: Now or Never · 2011-01-02T20:30:31.212Z · LW · GW
  1. I fall asleep during the day. I've tried getting more hours of sleep at night and it doesn't solve the problem. When I'm bored or confused, my body says "Naptime!" It can be quite embarrassing.

There are two primary things that determine your alertness (or drowsiness) during day-time: sleep debt and circadian phase. The more sleep debt you have, the more tired you feel during the day. If you have significant amounts of sleep debt it might take weeks to decrease the sleep debt to normal levels.

Then you have circadian alerting, which makes everyone with normal sleep schedule more tired in the afternoon. The desire for afternoon naps is based on our biology. That said, the (afternoon) drowsiness is much exaggerated by the amount of sleep debt you have. With unusually large sleep debt, you might find it almost impossible to stay awake at some point in the afternoon.

Circadian alerting starts to kick in again in the evening. In fact, most people are at their peak alertness only couple of hours before their bedtime.

See this graph for explanation of circadian phases: (the full article:

Sleep debt seems to be strictly cumulative (ie. all the sleep debt you accumulate have to be paid back), but it takes considerable amount of time to pay it back, because you can't pay the debt back in one go. Something like 9-10 hours a night seems like the most efficient amount. Depending on the accumulated amount of debt, the daily sleep need should start to stabilize after some days or weeks. Eventually you should sleep exactly the amount of sleep debt that you acquire during in between waking and sleeping.

Unfortunately, decreasing the sleep debt to exactly zero is not optimal for anyone who has to adjust to other people's schedules. This is because our circadian cycle isn't exactly 24 hours. Most often it's something like 24,5 to 25 hours. This means that if you were to maintain zero sleep debt (other than the debt you accumulate during the next day before you sleep again), your sleep time will start to shift 0,5 to 1 hour per day. If this sort of shift doesn't cause practical problems, I'd suggest to try it out. You go to sleep whenever you feel tired, and wake when you don't feel tired anymore. (See this article for more information:

Summa summarum: if you feel genuinely tired during the day, it means you have too much sleep debt and the only way to increase alertness is to sleep more. (Unless you have a specific sleep disorder, which needs to be fixed first.)

Comment by laakeus on Kicking Akrasia: Now or Never · 2011-01-02T17:29:32.335Z · LW · GW

Use Self Control to block all my entertainment internet sites during "working hours" (I'll leave early mornings and/or late nights free.)

I find that the best indication of being productive is that I don't need any external blocking mechanisms.

On the other hand, when I'm in slumber, no amount of self-restriction makes any difference. It only makes my overall feeling worse.

Comment by laakeus on Working hurts less than procrastinating, we fear the twinge of starting · 2011-01-02T16:27:25.862Z · LW · GW

There are different types of conflicts some of which can be treated with this type of thinking. If procrastinating doesn't feel worse than working, then your mental conflict is of different type. (I personally can relate to what EY is talking about.)

The bigger problem is that, depending on the type of conflict that causes the procrastination, the brain is very resistant against these types of insights. The insight works for a short while and sooner than you realize (or to be more exact, don't realize), your brain finds a way to side-step this trick.

Comment by laakeus on Should I believe what the SIAI claims? · 2010-12-31T07:05:03.042Z · LW · GW

I'm particularly perplexed by the claim that war would be solved by higher intelligence. Many wars are due to ideological priorities. I don't see how you can expect necessarily (or even with high probability) that ideologues will be less inclined to go to war if they are smarter.

Violence has been declining on (pretty much) every timescale: Steven Pinker: Myth of Violence. I think one could argue that this is because of greater collective intelligence of human race.

Comment by laakeus on Improving The Akrasia Hypothesis · 2010-12-29T06:51:32.958Z · LW · GW

I like this way of putting it.

It maybe more useful in practice too, but like Rodolfo Llinás hypothesizes: all we can do, as humans, is to activate motor neurons. So thinking is fundamentally just internalized movement.

Comment by laakeus on TED Talks for Less Wrong · 2010-12-14T16:14:12.944Z · LW · GW

A book about the subject is coming out early next year, called Inside Jokes.

There's also a video from Dennett's talk, but that too ends too short. Nevertheless, Dennett manages to get into the subject matter. You can get the gist of it looking these videos and the book excerpt, but still not quite enough.

Comment by laakeus on High Status and Stupidity: Why? · 2010-01-14T17:54:29.836Z · LW · GW

If it is obvious to OP too, then the post is basically hypocritical. He's trying to higher his status by saying that he doesn't want high status.

Comment by laakeus on High Status and Stupidity: Why? · 2010-01-14T17:48:07.503Z · LW · GW

Perhaps I should clarify one thing before anyone comments:

I said that you made a status move that lowers your status, which might seem contradictory to my other claims. But it is not. Our motivation in our normal status games is not to have as high status as possible. It is one motivation, but it is much more important that your status isn't lowered. In other words, EY is not high-status enough in this community to be able to say that he is very high-status. The status difference between him and other people is not big enough to make such claim safely. It could be challenged very easily.

The point being that status games are everywhere. They just aren't aimed to higher and higher status.

It is true that status games are exaggerated, when it is the only game in town. But it is ignorant to think that they only happen in certain positions or communities. Status games are everywhere.

(The only exception perhaps are people who are far to the autistic spectrum.)

Comment by laakeus on High Status and Stupidity: Why? · 2010-01-14T17:36:53.372Z · LW · GW

You're confusing the superficial expressions of high-status and the nature of normal human interaction, which is nothing but status games. Your texts, this and others, very clearly signal high-status in this context. It is clearly not your sole motivation, not perhaps even a major one, but status moves are apparent throughout your texts.

"Having achieved some small degree of status in certain very limited circles, here's what I do to try to avoid the status-makes-you-stupid effect"

Seriously, you saying that you have achieved "some small degree of status" is a huge understatement. If you used that expression, because stronger statement would make you vulnerable, I guess it makes sense, but do realize that it's just another move in status-games. It's basically a defensive move to counter possible attacks against your status. Ie. it lowers your status so that no one can make threats to your status. Had you said that "I am practically a Jesus in some circles", which would have been close to the truth, this could have been challenged very easily. When it's put the way you said it, it's more of an compliment to yourself.

If you really think that you have achieved "some small degree of status", I think you have a huge blind spot in the area of human social interaction.

"I try to feel a small flash of self-satisfaction whenever I publicly admit that I am wrong, over what a good rationalist I am being and what a good impression I am making."

This is a status move to make your status higher.

Comment by laakeus on Case study: Melatonin · 2010-01-09T09:08:14.398Z · LW · GW

I'm interested in knowing how you came up with the conclusion that it reduces your sleep need (or bed time) by one hour?

I can understand that taking melatonin would reduce bed time if it made you fall asleep faster, but personally I've had no trouble falling asleep quickly so there would basically be no difference. (In fact, I've experienced an opposite effect with the couple of times I've taken melatonin.)

It takes a lot more than just casual observations to conclude that there are other effects. Basically you'd need to measure your sleep debt some way and compare its development when taking the drug and when not. Unfortunately there is no direct way to measure sleep debt so it will require quite extensive tests to make any decisive conclusions about this hypothesis.

If you already have this data, please share it. If not, I'd be happy if you took a step back and really tried to measure and confirm this claim.

One final note is that current research has demonstrated that sleep has an important part in memory consolidation. If supplemental melatonin really does cut sleep need, it will necessary have effects on memory consolidation too. (For example, motor memory consolidation happens in REM and NREM-2 phases that most probably would be cut if daily sleep need was reduced.)