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Productivity - nudge

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Background: wherein I cancel all my goals

For the last couple of years (as of 2019-08-02) I have relied on beeminder to make sure I get things done. My goals are currently:

name amt desc
kitchen-week $5.00 Kitchen: do the weekly cleaning tasks
metaculus $5.00 Make more metaculus predictions
shaving $5.00 Shave
journal $10.00 Write a post in the beeminder journal thread
sleep $5.00 In bed before 10:20pm
pocket-del $0.00 Delete pocket articles I no longer care about
read $30.00 Reading (CN locations count double)
stretching $10.00 Stretching
write-article $5.00 Writing articles
pocket $5.00 Read 2 pocket articles per day
kitchen-daily $5.00 Kitchen: be in to 'daily clean state'
todo-home $10.00 Clear my home to-do list

The most important one is todo-home, which ensures my todo list is cleared each day. I can then control how much work I get through by scheduling todo items. If something has been scheduled, it gets done before I run out of buffer on that goal (or I get charged!)

This has worked very well, but I recently had a bit of a panic and killed all of my goals in one go. The reasons were something like:

  • Are these really so important?
  • It is stressful to try and shove all of this into my evenings
  • Should I be more flexible, would I get more important things done if I had a less structured day?
  • What are 'more important things', what am I trying to get done here?

On the other hand, the lack of the todo-home goal especially makes me feel unanchored and lacking in direction.

I have come away with two thoughts from this panic


Just after cancelling the goals, I responded to a post in the beeminder forum about reducing time wasted on phones:

As well as removing youtube, reddit, etc. type apps from my phone, I’ve got firefox as my browser with ‘My Filters’ set to also block ycombinator, reddit, youtube, etc. to prevent myself from getting sucked in that way.

I occasionally need youtube, in which case I install the app, use it, then uninstall it again. This seems to be enough friction to prevent me from using it to waste time. If it wasn’t enough, I might try parental controls in the app store as well.

I also try to leave my phone upstrairs out of sight when I am at home, so I don’t just pick it up out of habit.

I noticed that my approach didn't actually use beeminder at all. It was all around shaping the environment to add or remove friction. This doesn't feel painful. If I had a goal of '30 mins bad phone use a day', it would require bookkeeping and add stress.

This prompted me to wonder if I could use similar systems throughout my life to nudge me toward doing things aligned with my values.

Obvious examples are:

  • alarm goes off to remind me to go to be earlier (done, works!)
  • remove reading apps other than kindle from my phone

Harder ones might be:

  • Making sure the kitchen is cleaned after dinner
  • Writing articles
  • Shaving

These might be better suited to straight up habits, things tied into the day, but without external reinforcement.

After all, I seem to manage to go for a run every day, without any goals or reminders.


The other decision was to re-evaluate goals based on values. Are they the best way to achieve the values? Do they support any of my values at all? What are those values?

Is reading pocket articles really useful? Is it the most important thing I could be doing with my time right now? How valuable is flexibility, compared to making a little bit of progress every day?

Language learning taught me the value of just chipping away at something daily, but applying this to everything in life sucks enjoyment. It gives the impression of progress without all that much real progress.

To actually get stuff done, you need to focus on that thing, when inspiration strikes, or when there is a good block of time.

There is a balance to be struck here.

What are my values?

(Are these too generic, could sort of link anything to one of them?)

Intentional living

A life that is like Shiny balls of mud. This is a meta value, in that it is simply 'acting in accordance with your values'. Everything around productivity, akrasia, procrastination, etc. falls under this value.

Supporting nudges are things like:

  • removing social media from your phone
  • putting your phone out of sight when at home
  • taking kindle with you
  • incorporating exercise into your commute


Things like financial independence, ability to easily move to different countries, flexible schedule. This is in tension with meaning and responsibility (Responsability gives meaning)

Supporting nudges and projects would be things like:

  • Anything that generates income
  • Nudges to reduce spending
  • Projects around languages, visas, etc.

Self Improvement

Running, learning, writing. Mental and physical health. Sleep.

Supporting nudges and projects would be things like:

  • Keeping a running log
  • Stretching
  • Writing the zetl
  • Reading books and writing reviews
  • Going to bed early enough

Family and environment

Clean house, teaching, health of the family, etc.

Does this work?

With this framework, how do my goals stack up?

kitchen-week environment
metaculus self-improvement, but very tentative
shaving intentional? possibly
journal intentional
sleep self-improvement
pocket-del self-improvement, but is this important?
read self-improvement, but do I need this?
stretching self-improvement
write-article self-improvement
pocket self-improvement, meh
kitchen-daily environment
todo-home intentional

Yeah, I'm not sure how useful this is, although if we also consider "is this the best way to reach the goal" then it might be clearer.

The kitchen cleaning goals are important for income (food safety checks) but also make me feel better by keeping the environment clean, which improves my mood. They are important.

Metaculus is something I do because I like the idea of being a better predictor, but it is not really delivering on that front, I just drop an intuitive guess in, and sign off the goal. Not useful.

Shaving is probably not important enough to bother about at all, could use a nudge to make myself more likely to do this frequently.

The journal has been useful, but maybe not as useful as the zetl itself, so it might be worth killing it and spending more time on this.

Sleep is important, but the goal has been largely ignored. The alarm at 9:50 was more effective! Nudge this instead of forcing.

Pocket read/del, it seems like 9/10 of the articles in there are not useful or valuable. This is probably a waste of time. Instead I should send the really really good ones to the kindle to be read there. Short ones can just be read right away.

Stretching is very important, but I am doing this anyway, it is a habit, don't need a goal.

Write-article: very important, but might I just do it anyway? Feel that this is one of those where productivity is much higher if I do it now and then with high intensity, than dripping into it 10 minutes at a time.

Todo-home: This one sort of runs my life, but I am not sure I need a goal for it still. Might it be enough of a habit already? Possibly not.. worth trying out though


Still unsure the values are really useful, maybe need to frame it differently

Should we try and be more holistic, just try and decide (for any habits, anything I do frequently) if it is aligned with my desires (which are complicated and change frequently, and hard even for me to formalise)

If we go right down to bedrock, what we are really trying to decide is "does this make me happy?". If I am trying to work out if I should have a beeminder goal to stretch every day, then I am deciding:

  • well do I want to stretch?
  • yes, it seems to help keep me able to run daily
  • and running daily makes me happy?
  • yes, the goals to chase, improvement that can be made, ability to get outside and exercise, all these make me very happy
  • great, and is there an equivalent with more pros and fewer cons?
  • probably not, running is also great for health
  • OK. Running is fine, back to stretching, assuming we are confident that it is worth doing, do we want a goal?
  • it might make me more likely to do it daily, but is a small source of stress. If I do it 9/10 days without the goal, probably not worth having a goal.

Phew.. having values or something like that is just a nice heuristic. If so, why not go straight to 'focus areas', like 'running', 'tidying' etc. that I have been doing. These are simply things that I have decided are the most effective ways to increase eudamonia, longish term (lets not even get into future selves and all that right now)

Alongside all of that, there are things that I probably need to do, where 'need' could be reduced to 'this will make me happier because I won't be in prison for not sending off my tax return' or something like that.

I think one issue with the beeminder goals, is that they are quite permanent, and it is easy to built a system that is humming along nicely in the wrong direction if you are not careful.

Could try and frame it as a set of rules-of-thumb, or heuristics. "These things are sensible goals, they are second order goals that supports X values, but I don't need to think about that right now, only during planning"


some thoughts from the run:

  • only have one goal: todo. Try and minimise the number of repeating tasks. Might need some things to ensure intentionality, such as reviews, planning of tasks, inbox clearup, etc.
  • everything should have a time (be intentional!): change the inbox goal to also include planning all tasks for the next day – work out when things should happen and stick to that. This will ensure we do not plan too much, or too little (as long as we allow for a bit of buffer)
  • beyond that, allow for intuitive planning, do what we feel is best
  • whenever you do something, ask yourself it is the most valuable thing you could be doing. The focuses and projects are valuable, they are the things we have already sat down and decided are the most important things to do right now to reach our values/goals, so they are probably a good bet. Beyond that, be ruthless in cutting out tasks that are not the most valuable thing to be doing with that time, to achieve our goals and values.

Another thought from a run:

thinking about untralearning, having some sort of question to research deeply, something to master. Would need to be something we are passionate about to ensure motivation, something narrow so that we can master it fully, etc. The think I really want would be creating value + passive income + geo freedom. so some sort of online buisness seems the obvious thing, that would be the driver behind the learning?

On the other hand, is it not writing? That is something that comes up again and again. Might it be interesting to try ultralearning writing (using dragon so we don't have to type, and can just talk!)

Also, improving CN seems a good idea. Might be important in future.

Another thought (from a run?):

Having 'work hours' where I use work cycles for focused project / learning (todo: update me)

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Last modified 2019-08-16 Fri 16:27. Contact