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As a researcher in a nonprofit, I often have trouble focusing and executing on the most important tasks. I think a bunch of things help about being in a org helps: ops support, having a manager and others to source contracts for research problems that are relevant for improving specific EA decisions, weekly checkins with a manager, collaboratively set milestones, daily slack updates, having a slack where I share ideas, reviews of my early drafts and other docs by coworkers, having coworkers to challenge and debate theories of change, and I'm sure a number of other things I'm missing. 

Presumably both I individually and my org institutionally are still falling far short of what we can do, but it seems like being in an institution is helpful for me. And of course not everybody benefits from being in an institution, and I'm sure many people are much more productive without one. 

So I'm broadly interested in how independent researchers (or semi-independent researchers like grad students with very absentee advisors) manage to maintain (or get higher) on things like motivation, general productivity, and setting really good/impactful research goals.

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Prioritize ruthlessly. Very few ideas can even be examined, let alone pursued.

Productivity + meta: Learn to be an effective Red Team, and use this ability on your own ideas and plans. 

Motivation: Find a way to remind yourself about what you care about (and if needed, why you care about it). This could manifest in any way that works for your. A post-it could be useful. A calendar notification. A standing meeting with colleagues where you do a moment of reflection (a technique that I've seen used to great effect at the Human Diagnosis Project). A list of recitations embedded among TODO list items (my personal technique). 

Can you share that list?

Most of these are pithy statements that serve as reminders of much more complicated and nuanced ideas. This is a mix of recitation types, only some of which are explicitly related to motivation. I've summarized, rephrased, and expanded most of these for clarity, and cut entire sections that are too esoteric. Also, something I'd love to try, but haven't, is putting some of these into a spaced repetition practice (I use Anki), since I've heard surprisingly positive things about how well that works. 1. Be ruthlessly efficient today 2. <Specific reminder about a habit that I'm seeking to break> 3. Brainstorm, then execute 4. If you don't have a plan for it, it isn't going to happen. 5. A long list of things that you want to do is no excuse for not doing any of them. 6. Make an extraordinary effort. 7. <Reminders about particular physical/emotional needs that are not adequately covered by existing habits> 8. Remember the spheres of control: Total control. Some control. No control. For more info, see here: https://www.precisionnutrition.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/Sphere-of-control-FF.pdf 9. Every problem is an opportunity 10. What you do today is important because you are exchanging a day of your life for it. (might be from Heartsill Wilson) 11. Think about what isn't being said, but needs to be. 12. Get results 13. Life is finite; pursue your cares. 14. The opposite of play is not work. The opposite of play is depression. (paraphrased from Simon Sutton-Smith) 15. Move gently 16. Weighted version of "shortest processing time" scheduling algorithm is close to optimal on all metrics. (from "Algorithms to live by") 17. Exponential backoff for relationships: finite investment, infinite patience. (from "Algorithms to live by") 18. Doing things right vs doing the right thing. 19. 10-10-10. (Reference to the technique of thinking about how a decision would be viewed 10 minutes, 10 months, and 10 years in the future. Modify at your discretion.) 2

Allocate some time to "meta", like studying habit formation and self-management. For starters I might recommend Atomic Habits and some of Cal Newport's work.

I'm not an independent researcher, so this advice is probably less trustworthy than others', but I am currently on somewhat of an independent research stint to work on ELK, and have been annoyed at motivation being hard to conjure sometimes. 

I've been thinking about what causes motivation (e.g. thinking about various anecdata in my life) and I've also just begun tracking my time practically to the minute in the hope of this causing me to reflect on the sequence of stimuli, actions, and feelings I have throughout the day/week such that I can deduce any tractable levers on my own motivation. Though it seems too early to tell whether the time tracking will be fruitful in the end -- we will see.

An example of how "reflecting on the sequence of stimuli, actions, and feeling" could be helpful: today, I hypothesized that I was much more productive on two recent plane rides than I am usually due to being away from people and being action/motion restricted. And so I tried getting on a train; though I noticed I didn't want to work on ELK due to being anxious and hypothesized that perhaps my brain still wanted to pay attention to things I had been doing before getting on the train, and that, maybe, an additional reason I am productive on planes is due to security lines giving me time to reset my brain; I then tried resting for 20 minutes, to see if my anxiety would go away; unfortunately it didn't, though I then went on to think of more testable hypotheses and decided to lower my caffeine dosage [I had had about 120mg that morning, and caffeine seems to cause anxiety]).


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