Working with multiple problems at once

I have a friend who works in a charity which deals with people who are on the streets.  She was telling me about the struggles they face and the difficulties they are working with.  It seems like every person out there has not just a mental health problem (sometimes without diagnosis), but also a finance problem, a relationship problem and often also a substance problem.

How does this happen?  Do all people facing ill health suddenly also have relationship problems?  Do all people with credit card debt also start having issues of mental stability?

Yes.  But also no.

Keeping in mind the problem of joint over and under diagnosis, taking examples of people in this situation is looking at rock bottom.  Enough of the time their troubles only started with one or the other problem.  And we are talking a bit of credit card debt, or a few bad days every now and again, having some arguments with their partner.  But that’s where it begins.

One problem represents a bit of trouble.  Imagine.  A small unresolved credit debt causes half an hour of angst a day.  That’s maybe okay.  There are what? 24 of them a day.  plenty time to handle the problems.

Then work piles on.  So you got a 9-5.  that’s (168-3.5-40=124.5hrs) out of 168 hours left to hold your shit together.

Everything is going fine.  You go drinking with friends on Friday nights, lose a bit of sleep but hold your life together.  maybe you get hungover and lose 14 hours from Saturday.  juggling 110.5hrs of time.  Alcohol is a merely legal substance right?

Getting enough sleep?  8 hours a night.  that’s (8*7=56hrs) 54.5hrs left.

Managing your home life.  Exercising half an hour a day, showering ritual half an hour a day…  Cooking breakfast and dinner half an hour each.  (39.5hrs)

When do you go shopping?  Buy food…  Buy clothes, the rest of #life… A few hours a week?

Seasons change?  Need more sleep…

Injure yourself? add in a break up…

Negative time is not actually possible.  That’s when you try to cut sleep.  or anything that can get cut just to stay above water.


It’s not a pretty picture.  But maybe just maybe that’s how it happens.  Problems stack up, life doesn’t cut you a break or give you a chance to catch up.  Question is – how do you get out of it?  Or how do you help someone get out of it?

Realise you are dealing with a lot of different problems.  This is unsurprising.

Do you have a root cause or not?

You can try spend a bit of time chasing a root cause.  Maybe solving the mental health is the key to solving all the problems that involve talking to other people which includes the finance, the substances and can get you on your way.  Maybe learning a skill and becoming employable is enough to solve the finance problems which will enable the rest of the problems to resolve.  But beyond the early hacks its time to reduce the wishful thinking to something more realistic.

If you don’t have a root cause.  Several problems are independent enough that you need a different tack.

Dealing with several problems is a lot like dealing with several fires.  Your life is metaphorically burning down right now.  On the one hand – you might be able to put out one fire, but by the time you are done with that it’s not like the whole house hasn’t burnt down, making all your efforts on the wrong fire pointless*.

On the other hand if you spend the whole time not extinguishing any fires and only keeping them manageable, chances are you will never get on top of things.

So what can you do?


*Some problems may only feel like they are burning things down, if you have any ability to discern that they are not actually burning down, or maybe at least not getting worse, this can maybe help you prioritise the dangerous problems.

Some ways to think about this might include checking in on the consequences of you doing nothing about the problem for a while.  For example the problem of feeling lonely.  By not doing something about the problem you probably won’t get more lonely than already “too lonely for my liking”.  Feeling suicidal because you feel lonely might make this a problem worth dealing with right away.

So which is it?  Make a list of the problems, consider which ones are higher priorities and then…

Some things will get worse

Pick one thing to work on.  The ideal thing is neither to solve each problem until it’s perfect (remember perfect is the enemy of the good), nor to deal an insignificant blow to it that it’s just managing the flames.

If you do this, I guarantee the other problems on the list will get worse.  It is an unfortunate conclusion that things will go from bad to worse before getting better.  Let’s say you work on your finance.  Mental health might flare up in the meantime.  You can probably spend a little extra effort fixing finance before stopping to calm the mental health problem.  It’s going to also need your attention soon.

No one but you can really say what you should be working on most.  If they all seem equally like the biggest problem, they probably are.  Don’t spend forever picking which one to work on.  Being equally important means that they are equally valuable to solve.  It doesn’t matter which one you solve or which one you work on first.  Working on one is far better than working on none.

Pick one problem.  Take a good stab at it.  Try to define what, “a few steps forward” would look like.  Accept the fact that other problems will get worse or go bad.  And you are not working on them.  So be it.

Pick one problem.  Get somewhere.  Pick the next problem.  Get somewhere.

There is probably not an easy way to solve all your problems.  That’s why this post is called working with, and not “gotta fix em all”.  This can’t be done over night.  but maybe you can do it the hard way…


Social progress

No one is going to understand if you say, “I know I am broke but I want to work on dieting first”.  No one is going to stop you either.  s’your life, it’s already got problems..  Using social support is one of the best things you can do for yourself.  Tell people what you are working on, ask for a little help and try to learn from what happens.

Track details

If you take this medication does it actually help?  Are you getting enough sleep?  On a scale of 1-10 how did you find today?  Ask yourself these questions and more.  Then write down the answers.  Asking the question helps, answering helps more, looking back at the data helps even more.

Un-summarise

At some point you will lament that, “everything is terrible”.  That may be true, and that’s okay for now.  Lament for all the lamenting that you need, stare into the void, hitting rock bottom and feeling like it.  Admitting you have fallen and need to get up.  That is a step on the journey to recovery.  But the worst part about thinking and concluding that everything is terrible is that the idea that everything is terrible doesn’t mean anything.  “everything is terrible” is an applause light, and applause lights only exist in the map.  You want to solve it?  Summaries have their place, but no one solves a problem by thinking about the summaries.

Break things down

At some point you will be asking something as mundane as, “why can’t I go to work”.  Well… Going to work is a larger problem that entails parts of:

  • getting out of bed problems
  • getting presentable problems
  • getting out of the house problems
  • talking to other humans problems
  • convincing yourself that you are not an imposter problems
  • working out how to transport yourself problems
  • managing time problems so you are not late
  • doing your job problems (which are their own category of problems, but there are probably domain experts for that one)
  • eating lunch while at work problems
  • going home problems
  • managing money problems
  • managing medication and substances problems.

Just to name a few.  If someone said to me, “I have an odd problem.  It appears that I am unable to go to work” and were unable to break that down any further (save for the inability to explain themselves) I would be surprised and maybe very very confused.


Is it time to switch to another problem?

I can’t answer that for you, but I can suggest thinking about Value of information, knowing what you know after working on the problem for the period of time that you have already spent on it – is it time to switch?  Or is this still the most urgent or deadly problem?

It is worth asking – how would you know it was time to try the next problem?  Some indication of having this one, under control.


Make a list

Write out your problems.  Ideally consider formatting them as SMART goals. Break them down.  Do the obvious next steps, then re-evaluate.

Next up: making lists


Meta: it’s easier to write things out when your brain is functioning.  This probably took 3 hours or more over 2 days to pull together.  I feel like it’s missing extra insights, advice and development but they will have to come in another post because sitting on this post is bothering me.

Cross posted to lesswrong: http://lesswrong.com/lw/oyl

Posted in life maintenance, models of thinking, self-improvement | Leave a comment

What does that look like in practice?

Part 1: Exploration-Exploitation
Part 2: Bargaining Trade-offs to your brain.
Part 2a: Empirical time management
Part 3: The time that you have
Part 3a: A purpose finding exercise
Part 4: What does that look like in practice?
Part 4a: Lost purposes – Doing what’s easy or what’s important
Part 4b.1 In support of yak shaving
Part 4b.2 Yak shaving 2
Part 4c Filter on the way in, Filter on the way out…
Part 4d.1 Scientific method
Part 4d.2 Quantified self
Part 5: Call to action


It’s all good and well to know that you should be doing good work, deep work, hard work, and work that you really value.  That time is really really running out, and that sometimes you have to wrangle your brain to get it to consider the world-problem space in the right terms.  That is that you have to be making actions that are the right trade-offs between actions you want to do and the other actions you want to do.  But how do you do that?  How do you keep at it?

I suggest by first doing them – making a start at it, then constantly check that you are still doing the highly valuable actions.  How do you do that?

I suggest critical questions.  In your running consciousness you want to install critical questions.


Is this task the most important task right now?

If you have ever heard of an eisenhower matrix, this is a very powerful organisation tool that got a mention in both Getting Things done and The seven habits of highly effective people.  An eisenhower matrix is a punnet square that straddles the question of importance and urgency.

Important Not important
Urgent Do now Schedule
Not urgent Delegate Don’t do

Knowing this table, and the suggested responses to each type of task is interesting but it doesn’t teach us to feel it in System 1.

Is this conversation valuable?

If you are in a conversation, you should check if it’s giving anyone anything good.  You don’t need to check in any other way other than thinking about it briefly.  But this can save you from many kinds of failure modes. (Future post – what happens if your check in returns, “no good is coming from this conversation”)

Do I know how to do that?

When I used to look at my to-do lists, there would from time to time be tasks that were not actions, “python” doesn’t really explain the task of how to learn to code in python.  This question is about fighting the applause lights.  The tasks that you can rest easy knowing it’s done when actually you still don’t know how to do it even if it is written on your to do list.

If I started again, would I do it like this again?

So you’re yak shaving.  This question can help you. So you reached a point where the Value of information has changed.  You are already so far into the exploration process that you know it’s time to turn the horse around and ride in the other direction.  Do you delay?  Do you keep riding to the end of the day then turn back? or do you hella high tail out of there and bolt in the right direction?  (counter: it’s okay to reach milestones along the way – like the next river – then turn around.  But I tend to suggest while keeping that in mind – what am I waiting for?)

What’s the obvious next step to write down on my list?

Not my advice, but strong advice.

What am I feeling and needing right now?

Taking a page out of NVC (watch the video in double speed).  Getting in touch with yourself and showing yourself the much needed compassion for your actions will make a big difference to how you feel along the way.  I know a great number of people who WILL themselves from action to action.  Taking mammoth amounts of energy to control every step.  But what if there was another way?  What if instead of forcing yourself to take the next step you waited until you wanted to take it?

The universe does not care how you feel on the inside as you take the next step.  There is no great reward for being a martyr to your cause, suffering and forcing yourself to move forward through the hardship.  The universe does not care about your goals.

It is possible to die alone and unfulfilled.

Morbid as it is, I come from a school of thought where I have to remind myself this or else I forget. (If this idea is uncomfortable for you then you should read about applicable advice, and consider reversing the advice to something like, “I can win, there is hope for me yet“).  For my part – I forget that I can bury myself in Facebook, in gossip, in revealed preferences that do not line up to my goals.  I forget that I could die alone having accomplished nothing, that the universe does not care.

The universe does not care in Both ways.  The universe does not care that you suffer in each step when you force yourself to do the task to force reveal your preferences to be your goals.  The universe also does not care if you don’t do that.  If you pause to compose yourself before walking into battle.  If you are actually prepared.

How can I connect with this person?

In the social context of why I want to be in the presence of others.  I have in the past found myself trapped in a superficial world of, “how are you?  I’m good thanks”, this doesn’t really line up to what I care about.  So why don’t I just skip that and get into what I want to share?

What does this person want with what they have said to me?

People are not always excellent at saying what they mean.  That’s why we make use of concepts like steelman.  That’s why we need to consider the filters and often echo back what someone is saying in order to confirm what we have heard.

Does this contribute to my goals?

I find this a hard question to grasp.  The concept of goals in my mind is such an applause light that I can’t ask that question and expect my brain to give me a mindful answer.  (I am still working on this)

If you are not doing the high value tasks for yourself – who will?


Take these questions or your own introspection questions.  Questions that get to the root of asking yourself what is going on?  What am I doing and why?  Ask them regularly.  Make it your internal operating system to ask the critical questions.  Calibrate/train your System 1 to seek out the feeling:

  • Passion that comes from doing what you care about.
  • Curiosity that comes when you notice yourself doing something not strategic, not goal aligned.
  • Excitement that comes from discovery that you need to turn the horse around.
  • Pride that comes from doing what you care about
  • Calm that comes from knowing you are on the right path
  • Sadness for what you leave behind on the journey to better things

Tune into the other feelings, take them as the cue to start riding in the other direction:

  • Dread that you are about to waste another hour of your life
  • Alarm that things are all wrong
  • Despair about being stuck where you are
  • Fluster when things surprise you
  • Distracted because you are not doing the most important thing right now

But don’t take my word for it.  Look at the feelings yourself.


The scientific method

By ArchonMagnus - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=42164616

By ArchonMagnus – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=42164616

How can I be scientific about this process?

What actually works?  What makes true progress on the goals?


Do the high value things first, and now, and forever. Constantly check if you are doing the high value things.  Ask critical questions, then answer them when they come up!  Check in between your system 1 and system 2.  Use those s1 feelings to trigger your s2 into asking a critical question.  Make predictions, use the scientific method.


Meta: this post has been a long time coming.  I had to reread my past posts in order to get my mind to continue the train of thought that I was aiming for.  This post is missing some of the “call to action” that I was hoping to impart in it.  There will need to be another post in order to complete the series.  This post probably took me 5 hours spread over several weeks.


Part 1: Exploration-Exploitation
Part 2: Bargaining Trade-offs to your brain.
Part 2a: Empirical time management
Part 3: The time that you have
Part 3a: A purpose finding exercise
Part 4: What does that look like in practice?
Part 4a: Lost purposes – Doing what’s easy or what’s important
Part 4b.1 In support of yak shaving
Part 4b.2 Yak shaving 2
Part 4c Filter on the way in, Filter on the way out…
Part 4d.1 Scientific method
Part 4d.2 Quantified self
Part 5: Call to action

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Experiments, iterations and the scientific method

Today, an ordinary day.  I woke up at 6am.  It was still dark out.  I did a quick self-check.

“Did I wake up with energy?”  No not really…  note to self.  But it is quite early.

Rewind one day.


Yesterday I woke up to a phone call, and did a quick self test…

“Did I wake up with energy?”  Yes!  Like two cups of coffee and the light of a thousand suns.

“Did I have energy 5 minutes after waking up?”  no.

“Did I have vivid dreams?” Yes

“are my fingers and toes cold?” Yes, damn.

(waking up next to me can be jarring and uncomfortable for a sleepy person)

Steps in the right direction.

I got up and did what has become my usual stack.  Weighing out 5g creatine, 3g citrulline malate, 10-25 g of soylent v1.5, 60g protein.  And to this I removed the Vitamin C and added magnesium.


Even my notes have notes.  Confounding factors yesterday include:

  • High intensity exercise (run in the morning)
  • garlic (for dinner)
  • An Iron tablet taken to solve the cold hands/feet problem (status: null)
  • lots of carbs that I had as part of dinner with a friend.

experimenting in the real world is hard and experimenting on sleep is particularly slow.  at the rate of 1 trial a day, that’s many trials before you can confirm or deny a result.


Experiments

I recently rediscovered the Scientific method, by which I mean, I realised I wasn’t applying it and I needed to figure out how to apply it to my life (haha… Not that I “Rediscovered the scientific method” and am awaiting my Nobel prize).

By ArchonMagnus – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=42164616

A few main features here.  The ones that make it possible to apply these steps in real life.

  1. There are two loops, the “run experiements” loop, and the, “make theories in preparation for experiments” loop.
  2. The process goes on forever.
  3. You need to have some knowledge of the world around you before you can generate hypotheses worth testing.
  4. Hypotheses need to be run until you can confirm your models.  And being able to disprove them would help.
  5. you might need to rely on wrong-but-useful models on the way to finding the better models.

There are 7 parts to that circle.  They are hard to remember.  I looked for ways of combining those 7 to make it smaller and easier to remember.  You can cluster and bunch but you don’t do anything justice.  There are just 7 parts to the method.


The first thing I took was vitamin C.  I reasoned that a bottle of vitamins was cheap and C is pretty harmless.  Then I bought a jar of fish oil capsules that is fatter than my leg.  Then some protein powder and thanks to Julian’s guide Citrulline malate.  Also Creatine, Calcium, magnesium (the supermarket kind) and eventually the fancy heavy kind from a specialist store.

okay maybe not me.

I just started taking things.  Because why not.  some initial success includes:

  • Oh crap if you don’t eat any protein (dieting for weight loss) and exercise too much – everything just hurts for days and days and days.  I feel great when my muscles aren’t hurting all the time.
  • Fighting high cholesterol for more than the last 10 years – cholesterol now well within normal.
  • Fish oil?  What is this stuff for anyways, whatever.
  • Protein tastes better with some Vitamin C in it.  Saves the trouble of adding flavours.
  • I seem to be sleeping great lately.
  • I seem to be more assertive (likely high Testosterone, blood tests confirm)

My total sleep time went down, and I felt great.


December 24 2016

On this day I was with friends at a beach.  When a particularly charismatic friend suggested “let’s go into that drain pipe half way up a cliff wall”.  surrounded by about 9 people who all jokingly nodded and suggested it was a good idea.  having just earlier that week been ranting about walking the walk not just talking the talk. I silently got up, climbed the cliff wall and wandered in.  It’s funny because climbing into the pipe was easy.  walking to the other end, easy.  coming back and getting down.  easy.

Following my charismatic friend in for the second time, after climbing up the cliff wall I grabbed a branch that was no longer as strong as the first time I grabbed it.  I slipped and fell 3 metres, landing on my right heel.  There was a Thud!  A Crunch! and the 8 or so people sitting around still proceeded to ask me if I was okay.  Which is an interesting question.  I was okay in that I did not die, my foot was sore, but I was okay.

I couldn’t run for weeks.  By my estimates this injury set me back at least 7 weeks.  6 weeks needed for a broken bone to recover, I have not been to a doctor to get that x-ray (doctor stories for another post – I actually went to a doctor twice and asked for x-rays twice and failed to convince doctors to x-ray my foot.  I figured if I had x-ray confirmation that it was broken I wouldn’t be able to do anything different so there wasn’t much point pushing again and again).

At this point, because I stopped exercising, I stopped taking all the supplements.  I also got hit with a wave of, “are all these pills and supplements even doing anything?” (12 pills, 3 powders).


That’s where my good moods, high energy, reduced sleep time, energy on waking up (30sec, 5min), assertiveness, mental state (lack of critical judgement), all vanished.

I couldn’t really justify taking protein because I wasn’t exercising enough.  But something had caused my shifts in all the good things.  And I was stuck for knowing what.  I could go back to taking everything for the heck of it, but I don’t know if they did anything, or if general fitness and exercise made a bigger difference than all the supplements together.


I tried the shotgun method.  take a handful of this or a handful of that whenever I feel like it.  But what was causing the right shifts?  What could I trust?  Had anyone written this up before?  If they did it wouldn’t be very relevant because the effects inside my own body would be slightly different.  I had some early luck with creatine, it seemed to reduce my sleep time and bring my energy at wake up back.  But only when taken in the afternoon.  Or was it only if I took it with protein, and not without protein.  Or maybe it had something to do with the rest of my meals.

This guessing game was not effective.  I was going to have to test this the hard way.


Iterations

Iterations…  Establishing a baseline is hard.  What am I like when I don’t take anything?  What was I like before I took anything?  I never even asked, I never even tested.  And what did I want to test.  If you look back at the scientific method, I guess what I did was MAD SCIENCE.  A misshapen process of guess work and hoping things would work.  At least I took data before everything came crashing down.  I had general theories that one or a few of the things that I was doing had caused the positive change.  But this is the time for controlled experiments.

So I came up with what I wanted back the most:

  • Less hours spent asleep
  • Did I wake up with energy (30 seconds)?
  • Did I wake up with energy (5 minutes)?

And what seemed like a confounder:

  • Did I have weirdly vivid dreams?

Other things that seemed to affect my mood:

  • Did I shower today?
  • Did I exercise today?

And my conditions:

  • Eating protein
  • Sex
  • creatine
  • Exercise
  • High intensity exercise
  • Creatine
  • Citrulline malate
  • calorie deficit
  • calorie surplus
  • Magnesium
  • Vitamin C
  • Calcium
  • Garlic
  • Spices
  • Melatonin
  • Fish oil

One day at a time.  This isn’t the first time I have been hit with this problem.  It’s very hard to feel the very iterative core of the slow progress problem until you are doing tests one day at a time, trying to not add confounding variables.

This process, particularly on the personal internal-states self-monitoring level – they are hard.  They are slow.  They are elusive.  Do you remember how you felt last Tuesday?  Do you remember how you felt three Tuesdays ago?  Me neither.  Which when optimising for a good state of mind and happy state of being means that you can’t keep track of it internally.  You need a journal, you need to run tests.

You need to pay attention to state, you need to internally get used to where you are.  Hold in your mind an idea that “this is how I am”.  Then you need to control the confounding variables until you are confident that “this is my baseline”.  Then you need to change things…

Add exercise.

Then you need to look out for changes to heart rate, and resting heart rate, and sweat, and showers and how energetic you feel, how tired you get at 10pm, how you feel when you wake up.  How thirsty you are generally,

Take away exercise.

How do you feel?  Does it change things?  Heart rate?  Is that actually something you can feel from the inside?  Are you sleeping better or worse or the same?

Add exercise at intensity.

How do you feel?  Is anything sore?  Can you repeat that?

Add protein.  But what dose?  30g, 60g, 120g.

Did the sore feeling go away?  Any other changes like energy level?  (at 120g my pee went green – don’t worry that’s just a side effect of messing with intakes).

Find the stable state, repeat until you are sure this is the stable state.  3 days, 4 days, 5 days.  Did I see a partner today?  Did I have sex?  Did I have time to go exercise?  Does this factor into things?

Add creatine.

Is there an energy level change?  Can I focus more on the same task?  Am I more thirsty? (Creatine causes more water retention)   Any changes in sleep?  Has anything new come up?  Did I eat different to usual?  Could that be a factor/  3 days, 4 days, 5 days…

Add Citrulline Malate.  What dose?  3g, 5g?

Days, days…

Did I have more energy?  Did I notice anything different?  Am I sleeping more or less?  Am I awake more?  Do the seasons have anything to do with it?  What if I exercise?  Does that help?

Get used to the stable state…  days, days, days.  Dinner at an indian restaraunt, weird dreams in the morning – it’s probably the spices.  Days to get stable again.

Had pizza for dinner.  Was it the extra salt or the extra garlic?  Or one of the other herbs that made a difference?

Add Soylent.  But how much?  5g, 10g, 20g, 40g?

There’s a bust of energy!  But why would Soylent do that?  What’s in it?  I don’t have time to work that out, Too busy doing everything else.  Staying up late, getting up earlier, soylent keeps me from the 3pm dip.  Or was it the Citrulline?

Days, days, tests, tests.

Okay it was probably the soylent, but the citrulline helps with being awake right up until after 10pm.

My fingers and toes are cold..  I don’t remember having this for more than six months.  Maybe it’s winter, maybe I need to supplement something else.

Add Magnesium.

BAM!

It’s still dark out. Why did I wake up at 6am?  I am awake naturally and not tired.

Did I wake up with energy? No but I did have energy

Did I have weird dreams? No.

I get out of bed.

Did I wake up with energy, (5mins after wake up)? YES

I can’t even describe what it feels like.  To be filled with energy.  Like being up on two cups of coffee and extra adrenaline.  What I wouldn’t give to get that nagging voice in the back of my head back saying, “hey you should go exercise” like I had 6 months ago.


This is what it feels like to run experiments and iterate each day.  It’s been months.  It’s been painful.  What happens when you find a condition that leaves you feeling like crap – but you need to repeat the experiment for validity?

You do science is what happens.


Meta: this took the better part of 2 hours over several sessions.

Cross posted to lesswrong: http://lesswrong.com/lw/oy2

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Quantified self – Tracking with a form

This is my daily survey for myself: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSeeN80ltyWTP7S0B-Xwrg-ArwHRG6RyvUvJGl0ZpLR3C__Y3g/viewform

There are many reasons for tracking.  A few really good ones come from the book how to measure anything.  Without annotating an entire book, here are a few good reasons to track (also why I keep a notepad):

  • A weak measure (or a broad measure) is better than nothing
  • Measuring will cause you to give it more attention than otherwise
  • With data you can run tests and prove things.
  • Neat graphs
  • Track milestones to success

I don’t care if your reason is, “all the cool kids do it”.  Here is my guide.


  1. Think of any of the following:
  • Small habits you want to take up (reading, diet, not chewing your nails
  • Milestones for which you can track small daily progress (weight goals)
  • Commitments you want to keep up (call my mother every day)
  • Routine events you want to keep track of, (skipping lunch, getting enough sleep)
  • cool stuff you want to keep track of (coffee, emails sent, bathroom breaks a day)
  • Ratings for each day (1-10 how productive was I? How much did I want to leave my desk)
  • Future experimental conditions

2. Make a list of questions for yourself.  Yes/No, 1-10 or multiple choice are much better than long answer even though they are helpful to have too.

3. Consider what each answer set will mean.

This means if you want to ask the question “was I productive today” and you find the number 7 every day, what can you do with that information.  Compared to “did I stick to my diet today? 1/0”

4. Start with a small number of questions to get into the habit.

I started with 5 questions.  after a week of answering every day I added more questions.  Now – as can be seen by the survey above I have 20+ questions for daily answering.

5. keep it up

If you find yourself not answering the survey then maybe you should change something.  Reduce questions, make it easier, decide if you care about the survey enough to keep doing it…

6. evaluate

make pretty graphs. Write to me!  Try it out!  send me your graphs!


Meta: this is the better part of 40mins.  Data evaluations and stories will come in a different post.

Posted in life maintenance, self-improvement | Leave a comment

yak shaving 2

Part 1: Exploration-Exploitation
Part 2: Bargaining Trade-offs to your brain.
Part 2a: Empirical time management
Part 3: The time that you have
Part 3a: A purpose finding exercise
Part 4: What does that look like in practice?
Part 4a: Lost purposes – Doing what’s easy or what’s important
Part 4b.1 In support of yak shaving
Part 4b.2 Yak shaving 2
Part 4c Filter on the way in, Filter on the way out…
Part 4d.1 Scientific method
Part 4d.2 Quantified self
Part 5: Call to action


part 1 of yak shaving.  It wan necessary to write part two because part 1 was not clear enough about what the problem is.  I don’t disagree with the comments, and I apologise for not presenting it better in the first round.


You decide today is a day for getting things done, it is after all your day off.  You do what any person concerned with work does.  You sit down at your desk.  When you do you notice two empty tea cups and a one-sip-left in a can of soft drink.  Not liking a messy environment you figure you will quickly tidy up.  You take the teacups and put them on the kitchen bench.  You take the can to the recycling bin when you realise it’s full and needs to be taken out to the garbage bin.

You take the rubbish to the garage and realise tonight is bin night anyway so you put the recycling bin.  While you are at it you put all the bins to the curb.  You get back to the kitchen and find the teacup is actually sitting on a pile of unopened mail.  You open what looks like the bills in the pile and mentally note to deal with them when you get back to your desk.  so you leave them on the kitchen table to take back with you.

You get to the teacups and realise you are out of dishwashing detergent.  You will have to go buy some.  You go to get the car keys and notice the washing basket is full.  You decide to quickly put the washing on before you go.  That will save time.  You get in the car and discover it’s nearly out of petrol.  And the supermarket is it the other direction from the petrol station.

While you are out you grab a coffee and lunch before getting back.  Then you hit traffic and get home quite late.  You bring in the mail but notice the mailbox post is rotting.  you have some spare wood in the garage but your work bench has the remnants of when you tried to fix the shelf for your bathroom.  You could just fix the mailbox post with cable ties but how long would that last?

With a stubborn determination to get SOMETHING done today you take the mailbox into your work bench, and start working on top of the other project because you basically have no choice any more.  When you go to measure and mark the wood it seems like every pencil needs sharpening, as does the saw.  The drill has a flat battery, the last drill bit of the right size is broken, you have only three screws that are galvanised and one that is not.  you drill the guide hole too small, bend a screw in the process of getting it into the wood, slip and wound the bathroom shelf project, and eventually re-assemble a mailbox.  

You get the mailbox on the fence but it’s getting dark and you need dinner.  You can’t help but wonder where the day went.  It feels like you worked hard all day but you barely have anything to show for it.

Tomorrow you are back at work but maybe you need to take another day off, a tantalising prospect…  You have a deal with your boss that you can take the day off only if you could explain why you need another day off.  Of course that might require writing a note, which might require a working pen from the stationary cupboard, or sending an email, which you swore to not do before reading all the unread ones that are waiting for you…  And it would be nice to pay those bills.


In part 1 I said:

The problem here is that you spent all day shaving yaks (see also “there’s a hole in my bucket“).  In a startup that translates to not doing the tasks that get customers – the tasks which get money and actually make an impact, say “playing with the UI”.  It’s easy to see why such anti-yak shaving sentiment would exist (see also: bikeshedding, rearranging deck chairs on the titanic, hamming questions).  You can spend a whole day doing a whole lot of nothings; getting to bed and wonder what you actually accomplished that day (hint: a whole lot of running in circles).

It’s not just one problem, but a series of problems that come to your attention in a sequence.

this sort of behaviour is not like bikeshedding at all.  Nor is it doing insignificant things under the guise of “real work”.  Instead this is about tackling what stands in the way of your problem.  In problem solving in the real world, Don’t yak shave” is not what I have found to be the solution.

I propose that yak shaving presents a very important sign that things are broken.

The scenario above is my version of hell incarnate.  Real life is probably not that bad but things like that come up all the time.  They act as open loops, tax your mind (kind of like the debatable ego depletion concept) and don’t really represent you being in an orderly world.

If something is broken, and you are living with it, that’s not acceptable.  You need a system in your life to regularly get around to fixing it.  Notepads, reviews, list keeping, set time aside for doing it and plan to fix things.

So I say, Yak Shave, as much, as long, and as many times as it takes till there are no more yaks to shave.


Accruing or resolving problems?

A question worth asking is whether you are in your life at present causing a build up of problems, a decrease of problems, or roughly keeping them about the same level.

If you are a person who keeps quantified tracking of yourself – this might be easier to answer. than if you do less tracking.  maybe you have to do lists, maybe some notepads, any way to know if you are getting better or worse at this.

The answer is probably something like, “up and down”.  You do both, over time.  Things build up and then things resolve.  If you see things as having always built up, or gradually gotten worse…  Maybe it’s time to stop.  Think.  Ask yourself…

What’s going on?


Meta: this took 2hrs to write over two sessions.

Part 1: In support of yak shaving.  I would recommend a quick read over it.  I don’t honestly want to quote the entire thing here but it’s so so so so so relevant.

Cross posted to lesswrong: http://lesswrong.com/lw/oxo

Up next: Working with multiple problems at once


Part 1: Exploration-Exploitation
Part 2: Bargaining Trade-offs to your brain.
Part 2a: Empirical time management
Part 3: The time that you have
Part 3a: A purpose finding exercise
Part 4: What does that look like in practice?
Part 4a: Lost purposes – Doing what’s easy or what’s important
Part 4b.1 In support of yak shaving
Part 4b.2 Yak shaving 2
Part 4c Filter on the way in, Filter on the way out…
Part 4d.1 Scientific method
Part 4d.2 Quantified self
Part 5: Call to action

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An inquiry into memory of humans

In trying to understand how my memory for people works, I am trying to investigate in what order my people semantic network is arranged.

For each exercise that follows you will need to think of a different person to avoid priming yourself with the people you have already thought of.


Think of a person you know.  What comes to mind to represent them?  Is it their name?  Is it their face?  Is it some other sensory or other detail?

Think of a face of a person you know.  What else comes to mind?  Can you think of a person’s face without other details like names coming up.  How about without their hair.  Try this for 3 or more people you know.

Think of a person who has a characteristic voice.  Can you represent the idea of this person without linking to other details of this person?  without their face?  Without their name?  What about a radio presenter who’s face you have never seen?  Can you represent their voice without their face? Without their name?

Think of a person who you can recognise by a characteristic touch.  Think of someone’s handshake that you remember.  Can you represent the concept of the person via handshake alone?  Can you hold off from recalling their name?

Think of a person you can recall that has worn black clothing.  Someone who has worn white clothing.  Are they an idea alone?  Or is it hard to describe without their name?

Think of someone who you can remember singing.  Can you remember their singing selves without the face?  Without the name?

Think of a person’s name.  Do you know who this person is without their face?  Do you know what they sound like without knowing what they look like?  How do you navigate from one detail to another?

Think of a person who is particularly spiritual.  Can you represent who they are without bringing their name to mind?

I could go on but I leave the rest as an exercise to the reader to make up and experiment with a few more examples.  In smells, and in any other sensory experiences, in methods of dividing people.  Tall, short, grumpy…


So What?

Memory is this weird thing.  If you want to know how to take the most advantage of it, you need to know how it works.  This exercise hopefully makes you ask and wonder about how it works.

What do you remember easily.  What details come straight to mind, what details are hard.  Each person would be different in subtle ways, and with knowledge of that difference you can better ask the questions:

Am I going to naturally remember this?

How am I going to format this information in such a way that I can remember it?

In the book Peak, Anders suggests that to tap into the power of deliberate practice you need to add new knowledge to the foundation of old knowledge.

I can’t honestly tell you how to use your memory but I hope this exercise is a step in the right direction.


Meta: I spend a few days this week introspecting and wondering.  I apologise for not being able to deliver an insight.  Only questions.

This took 50mins to write and is the first piece I typed in Colemak not Qwerty after relearning how to type (story coming soon).

Cross posted to lesswrong: http://lesswrong.com/r/discussion/lw/owu/

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Deriving techniques on the fly

Last year Lachlan Cannon came back from a CFAR reunion and commented that instead of just having the CFAR skills we need the derivative skills.  The skills that say, “I need a technique for this problem” and let you derive a technique, system, strategy, plan, idea for solving the problem on the spot.

By analogy to an old classic,

Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day.  Teach a man to fish and he never go hungry again.

This concept always felt off to me until I met Anna.  An american who used to live in Alaska where they have enough fish in a river that any time you go fishing you catch a fish, and a big enough one to eat.  In contrast, I had been fishing several times when I was little (in Australia) and never caught things, or only caught fish that were too small to feed one person, let alone many people.

Silly fishing misunderstandings aside I think the old classic speaks to something interesting but misses a point.  to that effect I want to add something.

Teach a man to derive the skill of fishing when he needs it. and he will never stop growing.

We need to go more meta than that?  I am afraid it’s turtles all the way down.


Noticing

To help you derive you need to start by noticing when there is a need.  There are two parts to noticing:

  1. triggers
  2. introspection
  3. What next

But before I fail to do it justice, agentyduck has written about this. Art of noticing, What it’s like to notice things, How to train noticing.

The Art Of Noticing goes like this:

  1. Answer the question, “What’s my first possible clue that I’m about to encounter the problem?” If your problem is “I don’t respond productively to being confused,” then the first sign a crucial moment is coming might be “a fleeting twinge of surprise”. Whatever that feels like in real time from the inside of your mind, that’s your trigger.
  2. Whenever you notice your trigger, make a precise physical gesture. Snap your fingers, tap your foot, touch your pinky finger with your thumb – whatever feels comfortable. Do it every time you notice that fleeting twinge of surprise.

How To Train Noticing

  1. I guess. I remember or imagine a few specific instances of encountering weak contrary evidence (such as when I thought my friend wasn’t attracted to me, but when I made eye contact with him across the room at a party he smiled widely). On the basis of those simulations, I make a prediction about what it will feel like, in terms of immediate subjective experience, to encounter weak contrary evidence in the future. The prediction is a tentative trigger. For me, this would be “I feel a sort of matching up with one of my beliefs, there’s a bit of dissonance, a tiny bit of fear, and maybe a small impulse to direct my attention away from these sensations and away from thoughts about the observation causing all of this”.

  2. I test my guess. I keep a search going on in the background for anything in the neighborhood of the experience I predicted. Odds are good I’ll miss several instances of weak contrary evidence, but as soon as I realize I’ve encountered one, I go into reflective attention so I’m aware of as many details of my immediate subjective experience as possible. I pay attention to what’s going on in my mind right now, and also what’s still looping in my very short-term memory of a few moments before I noticed. Then I compare those results to my prediction, noting anything I got wrong, and I feed that information into a new prediction for next time. (I might have gotten something wrong that caused the trigger to go off at the wrong time, which probably means I need to narrow my prediction.) The new prediction is the new trigger.

  3. I repeat the test until my trigger seems to be accurate and precise. Now I’ve got a good trigger to match a good action.


Derivations (as above) are a “what next” action.

My derivations come from asking myself that question or other similar questions, then attempting to answer them:

  • What should I do next?
  • How do I solve this problem?
  • Why don’t other people have this problem?
  • Can I make this problem go away?
  • How do I design a system to make this not matter any more?

(you may notice this is stimulating introspection – this is what it is)


Meta:

The post that led me to post on derivations is this post on How to present a problem hopefully to be published tomorrow.

This post took ~1 hour to write.

Cross posted to lesswrong: http://lesswrong.com/lw/ou0

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Some notes from “Turn the ship around” By L. David Marquet

The premise of the book is that to be a good leader is to get people to follow you.  which means you can be a leader by doing ridiculous things and have people just follow to see what will happen, or by doing great things and have people want to copy.  He gives the example of a football coach of his that gave a ridiculous speech on the first day about being serious with the training, “turn up late, take your shit home.  Skip training, take your shit home…”, and how he wanted to follow this guy just to see what would happen next.  Great story but that’s not what the rest of the book is about.

The book sets out examples and questions to ask yourself to implement a model called the Leader-Leader model (they can be found at the end of each chapter).  The model is about empowering all members of a company to be making intelligent decisions and effectively be a leader.  The whole book is about a navy submarine (which is not a bad place to learn about leadership).  The author implemented new leadership models and turned the sub from awful and an embarrassment to the navy to an award winning vessel.

He recommends a few books along the way:

  • 7 habits of highly effective people.  (also the 8th habit)
  • Simon Sinek’s Start with Why
  • Jim Collins and Jerry Porras’s book Built to Last
  • Edward Tufte’s The Visual Display of Quantitative Information
  • Out of the Crisis, W. Edwards Deming

The concepts include:

  • Eliminate oversight, instead get people to want to do a good job for the sake of getting it right, rather than satisfying oversight systems.  And actively report errors, rather than having to “find” them.
  • Ask everyone what they are secretly hoping you change, and secretly hoping you don’t change.
  • Be curious when asking about what people are doing and why
  • Change the language so that people report what they are about to do, “I intend to…” and the top tier replies, (with questions if relevant), “Very well”.  This way both the thinking process gets shared around and the people making decisions get to feel empowered, rather than decisions coming from above.
  • 3 name rule, “<greeting> <name> welcome to <name of ship>, my name is <name>” to boost support and respect for each other and the ship and caring about the culture around the place.
  • delegate everything, the top structure is to only oversee, not to make judgement calls.  Plenty of “why this?” but none of, “now do this”.
  • Fire drill example.  They had a fire drill and the nearest people to the hose didn’t grab it, because “it wasn’t their job”.  Fix that.  when there is a fire the objective is to put it out, not to make sure that the procedures are followed.  Make everyone clear on the objective.  This also applies to dodgy orders.
  • Empower everyone to report mistakes, embarrassing or not.  Reward that.  (it’s all about the incentives.)  They had problems with transient noises on the sub where if someone drops a wrench the whole boat echos and could give away their position.  Old procedure was that the sonar room would relay over the ship and ask people what it was.  New procedure was people report to the sonar room if they make a transient.  Resulted in more reports, even ones that didn’t get noticed by sonar.  Helped people own the problem.
  • Deliberate actions:  They had a mistake where someone did something unsafe and things were “accidentally okay”, but could have been dangerous.  They did a debrief and the person who made the mistake said, “I didn’t think”.  After letting him leave they had a long management meeting about how they want people to be making deliberate moves on a nuclear submarine, especially when dangerous things can happen.  So they set about making a culture of, “pause, then act”, and “verbalise as you go”
  • Legacy for inspiration – look at the history and celebrate and remember great things that happened, and get people to share the culture of doing actions that are going to be remembered by future company members.
  • Development and smart goals – make sure to engage each other to be working on improving personal goals as well as bringing the group forward.  Get people to write up what they want to see on their end-of-year reviews, or 3-year reviews.  Then generate goals that smartly act as stepping stones towards that review.
  • Immediate recognition (right now, not in 5 minutes, 5 days or 5 weeks)  as soon as it happens.  Be careful to make people compete against the rest of the world and not internally with each other.  Collaborate against the outside world.
  • “how would we know if we were successful?” work backwards from the goal, set targets based on the – how would we know.

There are more concepts, the book tells it better than I do (obviously) but it really is helpful about what it has to offer.

The books own summary:

Control

  • Find the genetic code for control and rewrite it.
  • Act your way to new thinking.
  • Short, early conversations make efficient work.
  • Use “I intend to . . .” to turn passive followers into active leaders.
  • Resist the urge to provide solutions.
  • Eliminate top-down monitoring systems.
  • Think out loud (both superiors and subordinates).
  • Embrace the inspectors.

Competence

  • Take deliberate action.
  • We learn (everywhere, all the time).
  • Don’t brief, certify.
  • Continually and consistently repeat the message.
  • Specify goals, not methods.

Clarity

  • Achieve excellence, don’t just avoid errors.
  • Build trust and take care of your people.
  • Use your legacy for inspiration.
  • Use guiding principles for decision criteria.
  • Use immediate recognition to reinforce desired behaviors.
  • Begin with the end in mind.
  • Encourage a questioning attitude over blind obedience.

The guy’s website:
http://www.davidmarquet.com/tools/

includes some worksheets or cards.


Meta: this was written as an email to a friend.  Figured I should publish it online.  I would recommend this book if you are in a leadership position where you are living in a system that is broken and change is needed.

You won’t need this book if you are surrounded by people who are already engaged in a good culture and there is a way to go over the top with “making good culture” and not actually get the real work done.

This took 45mins to write.  I read this book via Text to Speech from the ebook using FBreader.  I would recommend this method of reading to everyone.  Pick a book and try it for that book, I was stubborn and didn’t want to try it for more than two years.  Then I experimented with it once, and now I power through books.

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Lesswrong potential changes

This post duplicates the original.

Original post: http://lesswrong.com/r/discussion/lw/nf2/lesswrong_potential_changes/


I have compiled many suggestions about the future of lesswrong into a document here:

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1hH9mBkpg2g1rJc3E3YV5Qk-b-QeT2hHZSzgbH9dvQNE/edit?usp=sharing

It’s long and best formatted there.

In case you hate leaving this website here’s the summary:

Summary

There are 3 main areas that are going to change.

 

  • Technical/Direct Site Changes
      1. new home page
      2. new forum style with subdivisions
        1. new sub for “friends of lesswrong” (rationality in the diaspora)
      3. New tagging system
      4. New karma system
      5. Better RSS

 

  • Social and cultural changes
    1. Positive culture; a good place to be.
    2. Welcoming process
    3. Pillars of good behaviours (the ones we want to encourage)
    4. Demonstrate by example
    5. 3 levels of social strategies (new, advanced and longtimers)
  • Content (emphasis on producing more rationality material)
    1. For up-and-coming people to write more
      1. for the community to improve their contributions to create a stronger collection of rationality.
    2. For known existing writers
      1. To encourage them to keep contributing
      2. To encourage them to work together with each other to contribute

 

Less Wrong Potential Changes

Summary

Why change LW?

How will we know we have done well (the feel of things)

How will we know we have done well (KPI – technical)

Technical/Direct Site Changes

Homepage

Subs

Tagging

Karma system

Moderation

Users

RSS magic

Not breaking things

Funding support

Logistical changes

Other

Done (or Don’t do it):

Social/cultural

General initiatives

Welcoming initiatives

Initiatives for moderates

Initiatives for long-time users

Rationality Content

Target: a good 3 times a week for a year.

Approach formerly prominent writers

Explicitly invite

Place to talk with other rationalists

Pillars of purpose
(with certain sub-reddits for different ideas)

Encourage a declaration of intent to post

Specific posts

Other notes

Why change LW?

Lesswrong has gone through great times of growth and seen a lot of people share a lot of positive and brilliant ideas.  It was hailed as a launchpad for MIRI, in that purpose it was a success.  At this point it’s not needed as a launchpad any longer.  While in the process of becoming a launchpad it became a nice garden to hang out in on the internet.  A place of reasonably intelligent people to discuss reasonable ideas and challenge each other to update their beliefs in light of new evidence.  In retiring from its “launchpad” purpose, various people have felt the garden has wilted and decayed and weeds have grown over.  In light of this; and having enough personal motivation to decide I really like the garden, and I can bring it back!  I just need a little help, a little magic, and some little changes.  If possible I hope for the garden that we all want it to be.  A great place for amazing ideas and life-changing discussions to happen.

How will we know we have done well (the feel of things)

Success is going to have to be estimated by changes to the feel of the site.  Unfortunately that is hard to do.  As we know outrage generates more volume than positive growth.  Which is going to work against us when we try and quantify by measurable metrics.  Assuming the technical changes are made; there is still going to be progress needed on the task of socially improving things.  There are many “seasoned active users” – as well as “seasoned lurkers” who have strong opinions on the state of lesswrong and the discussion.  Some would say that we risk dying of niceness, others would say that the weeds that need pulling are the rudeness.  

Honestly we risk over-policing and under-policing at the same time.  There will be some not-niceness that goes unchecked and discourages the growth of future posters (potentially our future bloggers), and at the same time some other niceness that motivates trolling behaviour as well as failing to weed out potential bad content which would leave us as fluffy as the next forum.  there is no easy solution to tempering both sides of this challenge.  I welcome all suggestions (it looks like a karma system is our best bet).

In the meantime I believe being on the general niceness, steelman side should be the motivated direction of movement.  I hope to enlist some members as essentially coaches in healthy forum growth behaviour.  Good steelmanning, positive encouragement, critical feedback as well as encouragement, a welcoming committee and an environment of content improvement and growth.

While at the same time I want everyone to keep up the heavy dance off; I also want to see the best versions of ourselves coming out onto the publishing pages (and sometimes that can be the second draft versions).

So how will we know?  By trying to reduce the ugh fields to people participating in LW, by seeing more content that enough people care about, by making lesswrong awesome.

The full document is just over 11 pages long.  Please go read it, this is a chance to comment on potential changes before they happen.

Meta: This post took a very long time to pull together.  I read over 1000 comments and considered the ideas contained there.  I don’t have an accurate account of how long this took to write; but I would estimate over 65 hours of work has gone into putting it together.  It’s been literally weeks in the making, I really can’t stress how long I have been trying to put this together.

If you want to help, please speak up so we can help you help us.  If you want to complain; keep it to yourself.

Thanks to the slack for keeping up with my progress and Vanvier, Mack, Leif, matt and others for reviewing this document.

As usual – My table of contents

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Purposeful anti-rush

This post is duplicated from the original.

Original post: http://lesswrong.com/r/discussion/lw/ndw/purposeful_antirush/


Why do we rush?

Things happen; Life gets in the way, and suddenly we find ourselves trying to get to somewhere with less time than it’s possible to actually get there in.  So in the intention to get there sooner; to somehow compensate ourselves for not being on time; we rush.  We run; we get clumsy, we drop things; we forget things; we make mistakes; we scribble instead of writing, we scramble and we slip up.

I am today telling you to stop that.  Don’t do that.  It’s literally the opposite of what you want to do.  This is a bug I have.

Rushing has a tendency to do the opposite of what I want it to do.  I rush with the key in the lock; I rush on slippery surfaces and I fall over, I rush with coins and I drop them.  NO!  BAD!  Stop that.  This is one of my bugs.

What you (or I) really want when we are rushing is to get there sooner, to get things done faster.

Instrumental experiment: Next time you are rushing I want you to experiment and pay attention; try to figure out what you end up doing that takes longer than it otherwise would if you weren’t rushing.

The time after that when you are rushing; instead try slowing down, and this time observe to see if you get there faster.

Run as many experiments as you like.

Experimenter’s note: Maybe you are really good at rushing and really bad at slowing down.  Maybe you don’t need to try this.  Maybe slowing down and being nervous about being late together are entirely unhelpful for you.  Report back.

When you are rushing, purposefully slow down. (or at least try it)


Meta: Time to write 20mins

My Table of contents contains other things I have written.

Feedback welcome.

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