Saturday, February 25, 2012

Defaults, automation, and deferred consumption

I've been talking a lot with my fiancee lately about tricks one can use on themselves to make the week more productive. For example, I usually throw away many of the vegetables I buy; typically I just don't get around to eating them. Something of a solution: now when I buy vegetables, I immediately chop them up according to how I use them (in this case, I make a few salads in tupperware), such that the food is ready to go when I need it during the week. Another example: my oatmeal was in a heavy, industrial size Quaker box on the top shelf (which itself contained large bags), such that there's a slight amount of effort required to make oatmeal each morning. This had meant that I'm eating other less healthy things for breakfast. Simple solution: buy some plastic containers with a lid to hold oatmeal and put em within easy reach. Every second counts when bussing it to work at 7am.

You also have to make these sorts of behaviors automatic. When I get up on Saturday, start the wash immediately. When I buy groceries, make lunches and slice vegetables for the week. When I get to work, don't check email or blogs, start a small project immediately. Making these decisions daily, even if they're small, requires some amount of effort. The more we automate the more productive and happier we are.

Ramit Sethi, from I Will Teach You to be Rich, has a great NY Times article on how to overcome these small behavioral hurdles that are keeping us from being rich, fit, and organized.

Somewhat relatedly, here's a small piece from that tells us about the benefits of automating our sleep schedules:
The New York Times has an interesting article on the subject but the takeaway is here:
In what was the longest sleep-restriction study of its kind, Dinges and his lead author, Hans Van Dongen, assigned dozens of subjects to three different groups for their 2003 study: some slept four hours, others six hours and others, for the lucky control group, eight hours — for two weeks in the lab...
...Not surprisingly, those who had eight hours of sleep hardly had any attention lapses and no cognitive declines over the 14 days of the study. What was interesting was that those in the four- and six-hour groups had P.V.T. results that declined steadily with almost each passing day. 
All told, by the end of two weeks, the six-hour sleepers were as impaired as those who, in another Dinges study, had been sleep-deprived for 24 hours straight — the cognitive equivalent of being legally drunk.
The bolding is his. Notice how establishing these habits and practices now enable a sustained payoff (deferred consumption anyone?) in the future (whether it's being healthy or having a lunch packed). What can I do today to make my life easier in the next week, month, or year? That's what I'm trying to figure out.