Written by LW user KatjaGrace.

This is part of LessWrong for EA, a LessWrong repost & low-commitment discussion group (inspired by this comment). Each week I will revive a highly upvoted, EA-relevant post from the LessWrong Archives, more or less at random

Excerpt from the post (the first paragraph is actually a few combined sentences from further down the post that really got at the essence of a big problem for me):

...I think a basic problem with working on a big pile of things in a big expanse of time is that if you work or not during any particular minute, it feels like it makes nearly no difference to the expectation of success... I only need to work a smidgen faster on average to get any particular amount of work done, so what does it matter if I work now or later?... Having a single specific thing to do within minutes is much more compelling: the task and the time are lined up so that my action right now matters. Slacking this minute is the difference between success and failure...

When I have an overwhelming number of things to do, and insufficient native urge to do them, I often arrange them into a kind of game for myself. The nature and appeal of this game has been relatively stable for about a year, after many years of evolution, so this seems like a reasonable time to share it. I also play it when I just want to structure my day and am in the mood for it. I currently play something like two or three times a week.

The game

The basic idea is to lay out the tasks in time a bit like obstacles in a platformer or steps in Dance Dance Revolution, then race through the obstacle course grabbing them under consistently high-but-doable time pressure.

Here’s how to play:

  1. Draw a grid with as many rows as there are remaining hours in your hoped for productive day, and ~3 columns. Each box stands for a particular ~20 minute period (I sometimes play with 15m or 30m periods.)
  2. Lay out the gameboard: break the stuff you want to do into appropriate units, henceforth ‘items’. An item should fit comfortably in the length of a box, and it should be easy enough to verify completion. (This can be achieved through house rules such as ‘do x a tiny bit = do it until I have a sense that an appropriate tiny bit has been done’ as long as you are happy applying them). Space items out a decent amount so that the whole course is clearly feasible. Include everything you want to do in the day, including nice or relaxing things, or break activities. Drinks, snacks, tiny bouts of exercise, looking at news sites for 5 minutes, etc. Design the track thoughtfully, with hard bouts followed by relief before the next hard bout.
  3. To play, start in the first box, then move through the boxes according to the time of day. The goal in playing is to collect as many items as you can, as you are forced along the track by the passage of time. You can collect an item by doing the task in or before you get to the box it is in. If it isn’t done by the end of the box, it gets left behind. However if you clear any box entirely, you get to move one item anywhere on the gameboard. So you can rescue something from the past, or rearrange the future to make it more feasible, or if everything is perfect, you can add an entirely new item somewhere. (Full Post on LW)

Please feel free to,

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