For the new year, I’m thinking about what habits I want to try, develop and drop. I’ve hugely benefited from the suggestions and support of others in picking up and sticking with good habits in the past. So I wanted to share some habits I’ve found useful in case others do too. Here are some I’ve particularly appreciated this year. I’d love to hear others people recommend!


1. Photographing things that are hard to let go of

We’ve accumulated a lot of stuff due to having a baby, and so I’ve been trying to declutter our house of other things. I used to be a bit of a hoarder, so I find it hard to let go of things - whether books I’ve read or cards I particularly appreciated receiving. For things like the latter, I’ve started taking photos of them, so that I can still look at them whenever I want, but they don’t take up physical space (H/t Tara Mac Aulay). I’ve also found it motivating to listen to the Slow Home Podcast while doing this tidying. (H/t Nicole Ross)

 

2. Coworking in pomodoros

I prefer working with other people, which has made the pandemic challenging. I’ve found it decidedly easier to stay on track with difficult tasks by working with a video call open with other people. We tend to check in every half hour, which is motivation to do what you set out to and is cheerfully social. I have a few weekly coworking slots with a partner booked for each week, and that’s often when I get some particularly aversive task done. I’m also on a Whatsapp group with some friends, where we can post if we fancy coworking. Another option is using FocusMate, which is great for its flexibility - you just sign up for a slot whenever you want and will get matched with someone to co-work with for an hour. There’s an EA group on there, and you can see which other EAs have booked when and sign up to join them.


3. Going for a walk during daylight every day

This seems so basic it probably shouldn’t count, but I’ve been grateful that Rob has hassled me enough about getting light and exercise every day that it feels non-negotiable rather than a luxury. I think that made maternity leave and lock down decidedly easier.

 

4. Caffeine tablets for waking up

I hate mornings. But I find it much easier to wake and get up if I set my alarm for 40min before I need to get up, take a caffeine tablet and then go back to sleep. (H/t Roman Duda) (I still have an alarm for when I actually need to get up!) I also wear a sleep mask which I take off at that point. When it won’t disturb others, I use a light alarm clock. The combination of these things makes me way more cheerful to get out of bed.

 

5. Anki 

I’m really glad I have Anki for remembering things - whether people’s names, what acronyms stand for, or difficult concepts. I found this article useful for getting the most out of it. I have yet to find a time to go through my cards that makes me fully consistent with it though.

 

6. Recurring social calls

During the pandemic I’ve particularly appreciated having recurring video calls set up with friends - weekly, fortnightly or monthly. Somehow when I need to schedule calls it’s easy not to get around to it for ages, and have insufficient social time plus miss out on knowing what people are up to. Some are purely social, some are part work.

 

7. Buying spares

I used to be in the habit of avoiding buying a second of things, in order to save money. But that periodically resulted in things like me leaving my computer charger at home when going to work. Now I keep one charger at work and one at home. For something like a charger, it’s worth having a spare anyway in case you break it. If something is cheap and I’ll likely use two up, it’s even more of a no-brainer: so I have vitamins on my desk and at home, so I can take them whenever I remember to. 

 

8. 'Trying things once' mindset

I tend to put off doing new things if I intend to keep doing them, because it feels intimidating. For example, I put off walking to work rather than taking the bus for ages because I aimed to do that ongoingly from whenever I started. Whereas when I decided to do it once to try it out, it felt much more appealing, and so I actually got into the habit of walking in on a regular basis. 


9. Choosing which feelings to inhabit

I really like the distinction between ‘having’ a feeling and ‘inhabiting’ it. The difference is something like: being fully wrapped up in a feeling versus the ‘light-touch noticing that you feel a certain way’ which meditation encourages. Keeping this difference in mind can be useful for avoiding being too affected by a strong emotion - you might realise that now is a bad time to inhabit a feeling and therefore try to avoid doing so. (Of course, this is often hard to pull off!) Or it can allow you to get a better understanding of some feeling you’re having. By setting time aside to fully inhabit a feeling you can understand it better and do some focusing to determine what would make you feel better.

 

10. Listening rather than reading

I find it far easier to get around to listening to things rather than physically reading, and I like how I can listen while going for a walk or doing household tasks. Loads of books are on Audible now, and quite a bit of written content gets turned into podcasts (eg I’m currently enjoying Nate Soares Replacing Guilt series). Articles which aren’t recorded can be saved to Pocket, which will read them to you. Pocket doesn’t do googledocs and various other formats, but for those you can export them to .txt and then use an app like Voice Dream Reader. (H/t Rob Wiblin for both these suggestions).

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Seconding the Replacing Guilt series (and podcast); it’s fantastic.

I haven't listened yet, but have now downloaded it due to its mention in this post, so thanks to Michelle for that!

I've also commented to mention that podcast on A list of EA-related podcasts.

Great tips, thank you.  Related to #1, I have used Evernote in a similar way - I also use it to store some pics and many  articles, especially those I have in paper form which I can scan directly into Evernote and then recycle the physical copy. It is great because it has tagging and text search so I feel like I can find stuff again if I need to and it hasn't just gone into the void. It also has a great web clipper chrome extension so if I have a million tabs open with things to read I can simply save them for later on Evernote and tag them "to read."  If I have time I might write a separate post about using Evernote in this way; if anyone reading this thinks that would be helpful chime in!

I liked this list, thank you for posting it!

Inspired, I've downloaded Pocket, and ordered smart lightbulbs to wake up with and a strong light-therapy lamp to use in the morning. 

In EA Israel we have a weekly online co-working session and sometimes do so spontaneously. We started with using a Complice room (which I've now opened to everyone). Because some people didn't really like working in pomodoros and prefer video chat, we now have a Jitsi link we use (it is simpler than Zoom/Hangouts because the link is always on and there is no need to register).

Regarding social calls, I've recently started to manage my relationships with more intention. I basically have a list of people I want to keep in contact with or check up on, each one with an associated task scheduled sometime in the future. 

For zoom, when scheduling a meeting and marking it as “recurring”, the link should stay valid indefinitely.

Thanks - our Whatsapp group had been looking for a link which is always on! We'll check out Jitsi

Thanks for this list.

I've also essentially been doing "Photographing things that are hard to let go of" and finding it useful, as part of a process of moving out of the place I've lived for 14 years.

I've also been planning to start more consciously using strategies to improve my retention of what I learn, e.g. through flash cards. (This was partly prompted by the book Ultralearning, which I'm halfway through at the moment and am finding useful, though I have various quibbles and points of skepticism as well.) I just read and appreciated the article you linked to, and now plan to try using that Anki app for my flash cards (rather than a mix of Roam and a different Anki app).

Some habits I've recently taken up and plan to maintain in 2021:

  1. Do weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annual reviews in a spreadsheet I adapted from one someone else made, which was based partly on 8760 Hours
  2. Each day, make a note in a spreadsheet of whether I seemed to have any potential RSI-related symptoms that day.
    • It currently seems to me that I have no particular need to worry about RSI, but I've been sufficiently spooked by other people's stories with RSI that I want to increase the chances I'd notice warning signs pretty early.
  3. Don't read things on my phone while in bed
    • This includes things like not even looking at the preview from email notifications until I'm physically out of bed
    • The intention with this is to create more of a psychological divide between my sleep environment and thinking cognitively stimulating thoughts (whether about work or just interesting ideas). That's in turn intended to reduce how often my brain is still "switched on" when I want to get to sleep at night, or when I want get back to sleep when I wake up too early.
      • This is based on advice I've read, though I haven't really looked into the evidence base for it
    • (I also started a bunch of other habits related to standard sleep hygiene advice in 2018, including but not limited to regular exercise, and would definitely recommend such things.)

Thanks for these! Added Ultralearning to my Audible wishlist. 

 

Re RSI, a colleague of mine shared the following note when some coworkers were struggling with it. They said they were happy for me to share it here, and I thought you might find it interesting and useful: 

"I have the view that a significant component of a lot of RSI is psychosomatic - and I’m quite confident that this was true in my case. That is, the way we relate to and think about it has a significant effect on how much the disease shows. 

To give a sense of what I mean here, think about all the people (including me) who had a bunch of coughing/breathlessness symptoms when they were worried about COVID, or consider how much paying attention to sensations in different ways can change their character. The extreme versions of this effect look like people having seizures (this is common enough that I’ve seen it in hospitals more than once) or being hypnotised. 

Some reasons I have this view:

  • When I had a really bad episode of it in 2017, it ended abruptly by my doctor (a hand surgeon) ruling out things they thought might be causing it, and then telling me to take lots of painkillers and just work through it. It disappeared after 2 weeks. That hand surgeon thought that there was a tricky balance between overuse and underuse syndromes, and thought I might have made it worse by not working with it. They did think that at the beginning something happened to my hands, but that I should have started treating them normally earlier than I did. 
  • It seems much more common in EAs than in other knowledge workers (except maybe programmers). I don’t recall ever seeing patients who have it, and none of my med school friends did. 

One tricky thing is that it pushes hard against the ‘pay lots of attention to whether you have symptoms, and if you do take them really seriously and don’t do any work’. I don’t really know what to do about that. I do think that it's probably harmful in some cases to take that attitude, but I'm not sure about the average case.

What to do about this? The main thing I’ve got in mind is for people to keep this as a perspective if they’re experiencing symptoms. You could try noticing what fraction of your symptoms are explained by this type of effect - I'm not sure how effective it would be. It would also point towards treating it more like standard psychosomatic illnesses are treated. 

A worry with sharing this thought is that it's really hard to know what to do with it. But I checked with a few people who all leaned towards thinking it was a good idea to share - so I’m doing so."

 

Also, I noticed I was excited when I saw you had left a bunch of comments on my articles, because your comments are always interesting and useful. Thank you for that!

Thanks for sharing that colleague's thoughts on RSI. That does seem like a useful perspective to keep in mind. 

Anecdotally, it did seem to me that I started perceiving very mild/sporadic potential RSI symptoms when I was around a bunch of people who had or were worried about RSI, despite not having perceived symptoms beforehand, and despite no real change around that time in the relevant activities I was doing. And this seemed suspicious to me. (Which is of course not to argue that RSI is always and only psychosomatic.)

I'm currently aiming for something like the following habit:

  • quickly note recalled perceived symptoms at the end of each day, while bearing in mind that they may be psychosomatic
  • don't think any more about RSI unless I start noticing more perceived symptoms
  • if I do start noticing more perceived symptoms, think more about this, but don't necessarily worry, and still bear in mind that this could be psychosomatic

But I'm unsure precisely what the best balance to strike is. And your comment made me think I should perhaps be more thoughtful/cautious about publicly saying things that could be interpreted as "I advise that people pay more attention to whether they think they're experiencing symptoms of RSI", in case that exacerbates psychosomatic issues for some people.

(Also, nice to hear that you find my comments interesting and useful - thanks for letting me know!)

Re Roam and Anki - Roam Toolkit allows for using spaced repetition in Roam and RemNote is a cool new tool to use the best of both worlds (I had some usability problems with it when I tried it, but they may be solved now). 

Would you recommend those over Anki?

If you already use Roam and don't intend to use the phone for Anki (which might be a mistake because it's fun to use the app), then RoamToolkit is great. RemNote looks more promising if you want to structure your learning and memorization with it, but I haven't actually used it

Found this very helpful, thank you!

Thanks for this list. Your EA group link for Focusmate just goes to the generic dashboard. Do you have an updated link you can share?

Sorry about that. Here's the link: https://www.focusmate.com/signup/EffectiveAltruism

(I'll fix it in the article)