Effective Self-Help is currently finalising a report into the most effective ways people can purchase productivity. The aim of the report is to synthesise recommendations for particularly (cost-)effective ways anyone can spend money to increase their productivity. 

We would greatly appreciate any suggestions you may have for increasing productivity, particularly anything more unique/ less well-known that you've tried. Is there something you pay for that you find highly beneficial to working effectively?

We hope that this report can be added to over time with further community suggestions and function as a master list for anyone looking to experiment with productivity solutions (such as individuals with professional development budgets from their employer).

Our research so far draws on more than 25 previous articles posted here on the Forum, on LessWrong, and elsewhere. We intend to follow this report with research into the best free productivity interventions in the near future. For more info about Effective Self-Help as a project, see our website or this post introducing our work.

Thanks for your help!

EDIT: A quick clarification that the report we're writing aims to synthesise the recommendations from all past Forum, LW, etc. posts on a similar theme into a database that can then be continually updated.

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The suggestions in the comments on this post might be a helpful starting point, though they generally don't dig into the evidential basis for each suggestion.

  • A coworking space ($300/mo), or someplace which isn't your own house/bedroom, to have a better separation of work and life
  • A second monitor! Doubling my screen real estate increased my productivity by a (wild guess) 10%, easily an incredible investment. If you have a laptop, I'd recommend this portable second monitor ($250): https://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/B087792CQT
  • Books! Ramit Sethi has an excellent heuristic goes like "If you're thinking about buying a book, just buy it". Don't worry about finishing (or even starting!) every book you buy, just increase your own access to them to increase your expected number of book content consumed.
  • A quality microphone (eg this $100 Blue Yeti mic: https://www.amazon.com/Recording-Streaming-Patterns-Headphone-Adjustable/dp/B00N1YPXW2) if you spend more than a couple hours a week on video calls. I think 5% of why I got promoted at my last job was due to quality communication attributable to me having a streaming-tier microphone. See also: https://www.benkuhn.net/vc/

UK/European folks - if you're looking for a second monitor, I recommend you buy one of these. They usually have a  discount code, which makes them some of the best value on the market. 

The only thing to keep in mind is that they eat up your battery pretty fast, which may not be ideal if you plan to use them for long stretches away from a plug socket.

I think psychotherapy is probably making me better at my job, although the impact would vary by person and by therapist.

Of course a good office environment, perhaps including renting office space or a larger apartment where you can have a separate room for quiet work, can be very effective (though also quite expensive!)

I also asked about this once here.

Yeah we need to make this a wiki entry or airtable or something so it doesn’t keep popping up without being synthesised.

3Ben Williamson3mo
This is the idea of what I'm writing up! I think I could have made this clearer in the short description above but I'm trying to synthesise all the recommendations that currently exist into a database (see rough Google sheet here: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1InTlwLwAKprqFeD65oF0XXz64lZTHuhBxzHDt8fqzNM/edit?usp=sharing) [https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1InTlwLwAKprqFeD65oF0XXz64lZTHuhBxzHDt8fqzNM/edit?usp=sharing)] It seemed worth giving people a new opportunity to share any new/ further recommendations but the idea is to include everything suggested in all past posts on the same topic on the EA Forum, LessWrong, etc.

I paid for a lifetime subscription to Freedom (freedom.to/), an app that blocks certain websites from your phone and computer during pre-set windows. It cost like $60 (one-time cost) and has made an extraordinary difference in my productivity.

Things my office has bought me that are well worth the money/that I will buy for myself in the future if I need to: a mouse/mousepad, a second monitor, and a good (comfortable, height-adjustable) office chair.

Somehow Freedom does not work for me, but I feel the same way about Cold Turkey (https://getcoldturkey.com/). This software is a life saver for me. 

2Hauke Hillebrandt3mo
Agreed, Cold Turkey might be the most effective software to be more productive.

Two large monitors. I'm not familiar with the research, but I vaguely recall reading something about a relationship between the "real estate" and productivity. I know that I feel so much better with enough monitor space to have 2+ programs open simultaneously, and it makes it much easer to refer to 2+ documents without opening/closing different programs.

+100 Randy Pausch also make this rec in his OG productivity video

If your work involves learning (or reading papers), hire a grad student in the field to tutor you (or just read the paper with you to speed up your understanding). One-on-one tutoring is dramatically more effective than most methods of learning, and you can hire tutors on sites like Wyzant for reasonable prices. Sometimes you'll even find a PhD or other expert.

Meditation is the thing that keeps me sane and without my sanity I'm not productive. The value of my meditation app (headspace) is immense for me. 

And as mentioned before: big/second monitor

In line with Khorton's answer, life coaching

Especially from someone within Effective Altruism, who understands one's longterm goals, having an individual to sit down with each week and talk through any and all issues is well worth the pay. When coupled with journaling, the issues that would otherwise impact one's EA work can be majorly minimized. 

Even issues that may seem small or insignificant on the surface, if they are recurring, can be extremely taxing on one's sustainable EA motivation. The life coaching widely accessed within EA needs to extend far beyond just direct aspects of the career. 

If you're interested in life coaching on better achieving your goals, romance sustained motivation, etc... feel free to DM me. I'd be happy to chat about options beyond just therapy!

Katie Glass is an EA Coach. I have not worked with her personally but I spoke with her about it during a 1:1 and she's lovely. 

1KatieGlass1mo
Thanks for the shout-out! :)

Employing a personal assistant - I understand that there was a presentation on this at the most recent EA Global conference. Also, there has been a general movement towards both acting as, and employing, personal remote assistants to support professionals with life administration and other more procedural tasks. It would be interesting to see the cost-effectiveness of this intervention. 

My hypothesis is that this would be highly effective for those professions who, a) spend a disproportionate amount of time on administrative tasks, b) the opportunity cost of their time is high, c) they are highly-focused and require deep-work time. 

Partner suggests:

  • Kitchen timer and Pomodoro technique.
  • Miro mindmapping and whiteboard app for collaborating.
  • Large format paper and colored markers for analog todo lists and long term calendars

Software (mostly free/cheap)

  • typeitforme text expansion
  • tes clipboard manager
  • Airtable
  • rectangle for organizing your screens
  • vifm (if you use the terminal, great for managing files)

Physical/hardware:

  • point lighting that illuminates the particular thing you are reading
  • ereader like Boox
  • treadmill desk/standing desk with treadmill underneath ... wobble board can also be good

“Big monitors” seems like a big win.

But it somewhat conflicts with being able to change locations, work outside or in your car, etc. I find these are also good ways to stay productive and avoid getting in a rut.

Not sure how to resolve it other than to say “have big monitors in at least one place”.

Docking station with big monitors. You can still take your laptop anywhere you want with close to 0 effort.

2david_reinstein5d
True and good idea but if I’m dividing my time between 5 places I’d need monitors in all of them.
1mikbp5d
Or not move that much! :-) More seriously, would VR googles work for that? I have never even touch one, so I really don't know how comfortable or practical to use they are, but in theory one could simulate a huge screen occupying up all the user's surroundings.

Focusmate costs just 5 dollars per month, which is low enough to at least try it out for a while!

Beeminder could be worth trying out as well, but I haven't personally used it. Here you pay money if you don't reach your goals.

Increasing you Google Drive/Photos storage is worth the money in my opinion. It's quite cheap and you don't have to worry or think about managing your online storage that much.

I found Pavlok to be helpful for breaking a bad habit (lip-picking). I imagine it might be useful for kicking nail-biting, hair-pulling, skin-picking, and potentially smoking as well. Pretty much any bad habit that you can do repeatedly on command while zapping yourself with the watch :). 

For people who travel frequently, a lot of the travel experience can be optimized.

  • I haven't tried this but I know others who prefer sitting in the first class coach on trains. It can cost as little as £10 extra for Paddington-Oxford, and it helps them get enough elbow/laptop space to be productive.
  • Paying for wifi on flights is such an awesome deal. I can be productive for many hours for just $15-40 depending on the airline and flight duration.
  • Optimizing the airport experience is pretty straightforward. In the US, TSA Precheck and Global Entry cost ~$25/year and save you at least 10 minutes (and often an hour or more at peak times) per trip at security and immigration, respectively.
  • I also try to book flights on the same airline alliance where practical, which helps me accrue status and use business/first class lines and lounges everywhere. I estimate I save at least an hour per trip through a busy airport as a result, since I can arrive at the airport later, go from check-in to lounge/gate in 5 mins instead of 45, not wait for my boarding group, etc..
  • Depending on how much you value your time, it might be worth it to switch cabins on flights. Moving from economy to premium economy / business at check-in often costs £100/£600, respectively, for a 10+ hour flight. I know people who value their time at >£150 per hour, and the productivity gains from sleeping well on their flight would make this tradeoff worth it. You can also use credit card points for this.
  • I've tried traveling using running shoes vs other footwear. I estimate I walk at least 20% faster with running shoes on than with boots or walking shoes, based on the number of people I pass up and based on how much I beat Google Maps walking time estimates by.

Pay for all the productivity apps that you're thinking of using. Task managers like Amazing Marvin or note taking apps like Evernote are all slightly better in the paid version, and at least for me it's always been worth it. 

Around the house, spend money on shelving. Having plenty of storage space makes it easier to stay organized. 

2 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 4:49 PM

Thanks for everyone's suggestions!

[+][comment deleted]3mo 1