On The Todo List

(Epistemic status: Endorsed, a thing I actually do. Reframing of a common, basic productivity tool)

I hate todo lists.

I don’t mean that I hate todo lists because I have to do things on them – I love doing things on a todo list. What I mean is I hate the platonic ideal of todo lists. They’re backwards. You’re trying to move towards a goal by frontloading day by day without considering the bigger picture. The minute I realized this, I reinvented how I tried to arrange my days. It turns out, when you align to outcome, life becomes a lot easier to figure out.

The best todo list is the one that writes itself. How do you have a todo list that writes itself? You have a clear strategic vision and trickle down from there. If you get too caught up in the tactical view, you’re going to miss the bigger picture – worse still, you’re going to fool yourself into feeling like you’ve been Productive the entire time. You’ll find yourself a few months down the line confused as to why nothing seemed to happen that you expected, despite having cutting edge productivity technology. Therefore, the first question you ask when writing a todo list is not “what do I want to accomplish tomorrow?” The first question you ask is “What kind of person do I want to be by [timescale]?” What [timescale] means for you is something you have to ask yourself as well. The question I personally have to ask myself is “What kind of person do I want to be by August 31?” The answer to this question is your Mission – this is the overarching intention of your productivity toolset.

Next question you ask is “To be that person, what do I need to accomplish?” This is your strategic view. You want to give broad descriptions of measurable outcomes. In my situation, it’s what skills have I acquired to what level. I’d likely measure this in terms of “what am I capable of in a given skill” – for parkour, maybe I want to be able to handle advanced classes. For hypnosis, maybe I want to have a certain amount of experience under my belt. For programming, working knowledge of Python and JS syntax might be the benchmark. That’s the strategic view, being too specific is bad – you want the shape of the thing.

Next question is “What would I need to achieve in the next month to move towards this goal?” This is where your tactical view should be. At this point, you know the general idea of what you want, so you can start being more specific. In my case, I’m looking to accomplish a certain programming project within a month – maybe I also want to take 4 parkour classes and regularly practice at the local parkour gym – maybe I also want to make sure I take on at least four hypnosis sessions to practice fundamentals. This is where you start getting to nitty gritty.

Next question is “What would I need to achieve in the next week to move towards my monthly goals?” You’ll notice, the list starts writing itself here – you’ve reached operational view. Obviously, I need to have 25% of the project done – I need to have taken a parkour class – I need to get in at least 1 hypnosis session. You have numbers and specific measures, it’s just math from here.

Last question is, “What would I need to achieve tomorrow to move towards my weekly goals?” The breakdown is automatic here, you prioritize what you’ve done the least of, respecting time constraints around some activities. The resolution at this level is so sharp that you could probably write my todo list for me from the information I’ve given – that’s what I mean when I say the todo list writes itself.

Overall, this isn’t new technology – businesses run on a mission, with views at the strategic, tactical, and operational level. People who play strategy games at a high level also understand this. When you start from your day, you aren’t moving in a consistent direction – when you start from an outcome, the path writes itself. I do a few other things with my todo lists for accountability, but this is the basic framework. The traditional todo list is obedience to your past self – a proper todo list is obedience to your future self.

Discussion questions: Have you ever stopped using todo lists because you didn’t seem to be getting anywhere? Have you ever been trapped by using productivity tools that weren’t serving a specific outcome? How does this reframing affect your approach to outcome orientation?

 

On Notification Capture

(Epistemic Status: Endorsed and actionable. Notifications are memetically toxic.)

What is the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning, after you shut off your alarm?

Think about it for a moment, just the first few minutes of your day.

If you’re anything like me, you wake up, shut off the alarm, and spend 15 minutes catching up on all those shiny notifications that happened overnight. Oh, but then it happens again when you’re on the train. Then you’re just idling during lunch, checking your phone. Then it’s dinner, you might even be with someone, but gosh, there are so many shiny notifications. Then you’re going to bed, but you stay up a half hour later because you just HAVE to have this conversation on the internet. You’ve probably lost a total of 2 hours over the course of the day to your phone – if you’re lucky.

The process I described above starts with something I call notification capture. When a notification grabs your attention and you need to resolve it, you often end up spending longer than you intended to on the app trying to get your attention. This reaches superstimulus level if it’s a conversation or other social tool. It’s insidious and toxic to productivity – and I’ve figured out some basic ways to stop it.

The first and most obvious approach is to turn off notifications for all your apps.  Every time I look at my phone during a conversation (to record something or google something, usually), I feel much less compelled to get stuck talking to people who aren’t directly in front of me. The drawback to this is that I’m less reachable than I used to be since it takes more action for me to check notifications on my phone. For some people, this might be an unacceptable drawback.

The second approach is owning an actual physical alarm clock and not relying on my phone for waking up.  When I applied this, I noticed that I was getting out of bed, turning off my alarm, and not having my attention drawn to things that can probably wait. I’ve gone as much as 2 hours without so much as looking at my phone in the morning since implementing this intervention.

Another approach I’m less skilled at is basically consciously acknowledging a notification happened and refusing to engage it. This breaks the habit I’ve gotten into that notifications must be immediately dealt with. That habit is partially why notification capture became such a problem for me in the first place.

Overall, notification capture is an intended effect of persuasive technology is most modern social apps. As persuasive technology becomes increasingly sophisticated, it’s going to require increasing resistance to “convenient” options to stop your mind from being hijacked into nonproductive channels. This is one way to fight against the behavioral changes that are being forced on us by technology – while the most productive counter would be to refuse to use applications that are so finely tuned to get inside your head, the popularity of applications designed like this makes them fairly useful (particularly social applications). Attention is the new battleground for productivity – being aware of it is the first step to increasing yours.

Discussion Questions: Do you experience notification capture? How many hours do you think it costs you? Do you think your life would be better with less social superstimuli? What other productivity techniques do you feel are a good counter to attention hijacking applications?

On Change

(Epistemic Status: Mostly a personal life update and retrospective on the blog – lexical-doll is one year old as of April 11, exciting – I think weekly posts started in May though)

It’s common after writing a blog for awhile to do a retrospective at milestone marks, such as the anniversary. The threads tying my personal life and observations to this blog are fairly inextricable – so I feel it’s a good time to look at both and how they feed into each other. I’ve gone through a lot of phases with regards to my social memetics. I discovered that when you spend hundreds of hours on a skill, you get better at it. I discovered that dichotomies are an exciting way to damage people’s epistemics. I discovered that sometimes you go in weird tangents  and like to pretend those never happened. The personality framework I “awakened” to a little over a year ago is still there, but it’s much more adaptable than when I started out – codifying my thoughts the way I have in this blog, I think, has helped that process. I’m going to take the opportunity to list my 5 most “phase defining” posts, in terms of how I changed over the past year:

  1. On Untested Social Realizations – I think this post definitely was part of the series that began my understanding of social reality. It’s less the actual insight given the post, and more the framework that social can be systematized and strategized, without completely burning one’s reputation. I consider this the Light phase of my development – everything was really pleasant to just realize and iterate on.
  2. On The Filter System, Archetypal Lenses, and Narrative – This post is probably where I started going a little crazier than was healthy. The posts leading up to this were definitely fuzzier and more spiritual, but I think here is where I went into what I call the Narrative phase, or the “perception is everything, nothing is real” idea. Very fun, but it’s honestly astonishing I didn’t kick myself into full mania.
  3. On Good Girl, or How Society Does Most of The Work – This post is probably the demarcation for the Dark phase. My aesthetics around social became extremely overtly manipulative, even if playful. Everything was intentional, had a reason, etc. I think I had a lot of fun in this phase, but this is where I started actually burning social capital by my social maneuvers. My social skills decreased to a degree that was noticeable because I went far too into the conversational meta. Not proud of this phase, honestly.
  4. On Narrative Decoherence – This post was about the end of the dark phase. I had sufficiently alienated people I liked that I was getting called out. My narrative was falling apart, I felt really pressured and unable to live up to my past self. I think this was just kind of the Lost phase. I didn’t know what I was doing, how to improve, what aesthetics I should correct to. It felt unpleasant, but I think it saved me to some extent.
  5. On Why I Like Fairy Tales – This is about where I found my aesthetic again, in a way that was less harmful to people. Still a very egotistical, self driven narrative, but in a positive agentic way that people could participate in. It wasn’t about storifying my life or living large so much as…taking the rougher path in hopes of an uncertain future. It’s more resonant and sympathetic. This would be the Fatalist phase, and I’m still there. But…it’s nice and despite the fatalism, I carry myself with a lot of enthusiasm for my future.

 

My life has drastically changed again, almost year to the day after I started this blog. I quit my job to study programming and other things that catch my fancy. I have a lot more free time to develop my social theory and meet new people and do interesting things. Change is constant, whether they be big changes or little changes – even over a year I can pick out 5 distinct flavors of self. I’m fortunate to have a record of this – I expect with applied thought you also could find some number of phases. I hope that life keeps changing – I value dynamism and reaction pretty highly.

Overall, change is net positive, I think. I’ve made mistakes with my volatile nature, but I’ve also made great choices by not getting locked down into one mode. I look forward to the future of my writing, both from a technical perspective and what thoughts I’ll generate. I anticipate writing more about productivity over the next few months, since it’s going to be important to me taking advantage of my newfound free time. This is also a bit of a request – if you have any suggestions for projects I should take on, places to see, or productivity tools I might benefit on, please comment! Here’s to what will hopefully be a productive and interesting next year for lexical-doll.

Discussion Questions: What got you into this blog in the first place? What do you think my best posts are stylistically? What are the best posts in terms of subject matter? What is your favorite lexical-doll post? How has your life changed over the past year? Did you have discrete phases?

On Alternative Conversational Paths

(Epistemic Status: Kind of untested – I had this insight a few hours ago. Intuitively feels correct in the sense that “if you increase your emotional labor you get better outcomes”)

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where someone is talking to you and you don’t really actually care about what they’re saying? You might be smiling, nodding, saying “uh-huh,” but you clearly aren’t engaged. The conversation goes awhile, but something horrifying happens. Your conversation partner notices you aren’t engaged and says the fatal words, “Oh, am I boring you?”

All of a sudden, you’re on the defensive, “Oh no, of course not, this is fascinating, I’m just tired/sick/etc.” Any excuse to not be found guilty of Not Caring! The excuse is thin, no one actually accepts it, but they probably make a valiant effort to continue the conversation a little bit before it just dies painfully and awkwardly. The conversation is negative sum, everyone’s a little unhappy, and you have to wonder: Is there another way?

Obviously the answer to that question is yes – from both sides. If you are the one being bored, and the person asks you directly whether that’s the case, you have a few alternate moves. You could just admit it rather than cowering from social disapproval and suggest an alternate topic. I feel like this is underutilized, I’ve been in the position of asking and often get the sort of “No, of course not!” response and then get further evidence that I am in fact boring my conversation partner. Still, admitting it is a bit awkward and script breaking – what are you going to say if someone says “yeah, I’m bored. Can we talk about something else?” You might be able to, but it’s still a bit of a strain on conversational flow.

I think the smoother option is giving your conversation partner a bit of a smile, and asking a question directly related to what they were just talking about – from this jumping off point, you want to guide the conversation to a tangent that is easier for you to engage with. It’s basically agreeing to take a short term cost to get a mutual conversational benefit. The other person might realize you’re doing this – that’s fine, if they genuinely want a good conversation, they’ll probably go with it – if they really insist on the topic they were discussing and were asking the question about whether you’re bored mostly to force you to provide cover for them continuing…well, then you have to decide whether the importance they clearly place on the topic outweighs the coercion they just attempted on you.

On the other side of this – when you’re the one who’s talking passionately about a topic, and suddenly realize that the other person doesn’t seem…all that interested. It’s natural to want to ask if they’re bored – it even feels polite and respectful, you’re being sensitive to their needs. However, as mentioned above, it’s a bit coercive – the socially acceptable response to that script is to deny being bored and let things die awkwardly. It’s not hard to do better than this.

If you notice your conversation partner is bored, you should steer the conversation towards something else. You can ask your partner something that’s sort of related to the thing you were talking about, but allows them to take control of the conversation – let’s say you’re talking about a video game and your partner hasn’t played it before and has no interest in it; the smoothest move is “you know, this reminds me, you were playing [another game], have you made any progress?” Something like that gives your conversation partner a chance to talk about something that interests them without having to go through the song and dance of denying their boredom. You can also gently steer the conversation to something you know has created conversational flow in the past – this mostly allows you to keep control of the conversation while accepting the responsibility for keeping it interesting. I’m not sure if this is as good as actually shifting conversational control to the other person, but as always it’s context sensitive.

Overall, I think this is a common conversational failure mode. People like hearing themselves talk but occasionally notice they aren’t really increasing conversational flow – it’s natural to respond by facing that head on. Unfortunately, facing that head on happens so frequently that there’s an existing script that gets both people out of the conversation fairly awkwardly. This is fairly adaptive, it’s a natural reaction to a conversational mismatch – but sometimes you don’t want the conversation to actually end, you actually intend to course correct. This existing script gets in the way, so having alternative paths is useful, even if they’re a little more indirect. The broader point I want to make here is basically a guess culture vs. ask culture thing – most people I interact with are running some level of guess culture, including myself. I think ask culture is better, when everyone involved can be trusted to be following ask culture – I don’t think most people can be, so this is one illustration of how using guess culture moves can lead to better outcomes when there is uncertainty as to the culture of your conversation partner. I hope to give this a try a few times and see how well it’s received – I encourage you all to try the same.

Discussion questions: Do charismatic people you know seem to course correct in this fashion? Do you think the course correction happens before you even notice you’re bored? Have you ever taken the alternative conversational path outlined above? Do you have the experience of the script outlined above where directly asking if someone is bored leads to suboptimal results? Do you have other alternate paths for handling this sort of situation?

 

 

On Save States

(Epistemic Status: Speculative but testable, fun experiments to try at home, mind hacking, cw hypnosis)
There is an experiment I wish to try in the future (and has been tried by a couple of my friends with positive results).  The point will be to facilitate access to past mental/emotional states at will through invoking flashbulb memory and tying to hypnotic recall.

The concept is rather simple. The first step is to acquire several scented sprays (perfumes, ideally) and carry them around with you. Make sure they are clearly labelled or at the least that you are able to tell them apart. When you have an experience/emotional state you would like to “save”, immediately spray the perfume under your nose while being as mindful as possible about the experience. Focus on the scent, as well as what you are hearing, feeling, tasting, and seeing in that moment. Overall, the goal is to invoke a flashbulb memory experience, or at least a very strong memory.

The next step is to record the memory. Write it down, talk about it, add redundancy to reliving the experience and give it more narrative body. What lead up to it, what happened, and how it felt.

After this, create a hypnotic script to recall this memory. I favor using your writings to tell a story and from there have someone hypnotically induct you and use your notes as a story to tie the hypnosis to a trigger word. Use the perfume during the hypnosis to reinforce the connection of the emotion to the smell (this may actually associate it with being hypnotized, so this is a possible failure mode). Once you have that trigger word, make sure it’s explicitly self triggerable and also written on the perfume.

To recall the Save State, spray the perfume and invoke the trigger word and note how much of the emotional/experiential state comes back and reapplies itself to the new situation. If this actually works, it should be possible to generalize the association a bit and cause a self reinforcing loop where you use the save state, save state the save state, and reinforce the trigger repeatedly in broader contexts. If the state does not recall the first time, I would advise being more specific and trying to match the previous scenario as closely as possible and making each save state drift a bit more to broaden applicable circumstances.

Discussion: What would you do with save states? What other approaches would you take to solidify the memory or facilitate recall? If you try something like this, please share your experience; I am happy to do the hypnosis for you if that is your barrier to entry and I am available.