#38 Follow the to-do list value per hour

#40 One cold call a day keeps the doctor away was, overall, interesting. I ended up calling many people in bulk to compensate for the many days I didn’t actually call people but should have. 

Due to legal questions I had, many of those people ended up being lawyers, who are well trained to have conversations in which information is exchanged (they are also well trained to conceal information, but had no reason to do so with me). 

I feel more comfortable calling people, and consider the experiment to be a partial success. I didn’t call many continents nor famous random people because that didn’t seem like it was needed, or because their phones were hard to find, but if I had a good reason to want to call someone like that now, I probably would be many times more likely to actually follow through with it.

39# Write three academic paragraphs a day is also going well. In fact, on average I have written more than three paragraphs per day so far. So I anticipate a higher than 80% chance of actually following through with this, and creating a habit of writing relevant things in relevant places, instead of scattering them all over the web.

I  notice a pattern where I am now posing challenges to myself that make me happy with even a 30% success rate. I am not sure if this means I have lowered my standards or raised the bar on challenge importance, but I am looking back into the challenges and actually feeling good about them. 

This month however I’ll be taking one of the hardest challenges I have ever posed to myself.

I have a to do list, it is organized not by when I put an item on it, nor whether an item is urgent or not, nor according to the expected due date of an item, nor according to an Eisenhower matrix.

Instead it is organized by value per hour.  It took me quite a long time to accept that guesstimates of how much value an hour of something would produce to me (subjective value according to my utility function) was the way to go with to do lists. A numeric guesstimate that can be changed weekly is one way to do that.

I have too many items in my to do list. Having to rank them in priority level on the fly would facilitate procrastination too easily, by allowing me to invent arguments why that particular moment was the best to do that particular thing, that isn’t precisely the most important thing, but is up there.

The other property that a very large to do list has is that it cannot be contemplated by an Eisenhower matrix. There are too many items in the important urgent category, and too many items in the important non-urgent category. Without a procedure to distinguish between them, it becomes easy to fool oneself. So I found my solution by having a to do list mediated by an estimate of value per hour of doing some activity.

This approach had an extra advantage that I had not foreseen, but for memories like mine works like a charm. It allows me to not have to position or rank every new item that comes into the list. I just assign some value, say 35 subjective dollars per hour, to a task, say, finishing a particular book. And I’m done. There is no further need to wade through my entire list to find which are all the things that sit above that task, which sit below. There is no brain-scrambling. The number itself positions the task, and I don’t have to look at it until all the tasks worth 40 or more have been done.

The final other advantage is that I can remove items that are not so valuable from taking my attention. By putting them out there in list space. The end result is my attention is freed of the item even though I’ll never do it! This is strange but has proven extremely valuable. It made me feel, at a System 1 level there are tasks I’ll just never do, and that is about that, and that is fine. Sometimes these tasks don’t even pop up anymore, my procedural memory is starting to learn what doesn’t matter and ignoring it.

So with no further ado:

#38 Follow the to-do list value per hour! 

This month I’ll try to actually, in fact, all the time I’m working, be working on the top item of my value per hour to do list. The distinction I’m tracing here is that between knowing the to do list is there, and doing one of the two or three most valuable items, to actually spend every minute of every hour working on the highest value thing, then on the first thing after that. Switching immediately if something higher value appears, and not doing any other secondary, less relevant, less useful thing. Some caveats are that I will still leave the house in the morning and still write three paragraphs of academic stuff a day, so this challenge doesn’t override the previous or next one. But other than that, I presume it will be the hardest challenge so far.

The challenge is to ignore the instant gratification monkey while on work-mode.  Only while on work-mode, because challenge implies can.

Humans are satisficers, not maximizers after all. I have only tried for two months to be a maximizer, through which lots of things got done. This month I’ll be actually maximizing my utility function as much as I can. Let’s see what it feels like, and see how it goes. In theory, it can only cause me to win more. Seems worth a shot. So let’s try this!

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