Hi, I'm Nick. This is my blog. I'm a life-long unschooler living in New York. You can find more about me here.

I help run the Recurse Center (YC'S10).

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Life Optimization, Or, Brief Thoughts On What Has And Has Not Worked In Improving My Day-to-Day Life

January 10, 2009

Five minutes of cleaning is actually a lot. Long ago, I asked myself, "why does my room get messy?" I hypothesized a number of potential explanations -- the natural increase in entropy of a given system, when things are "put away" they are necessarily not available for use and this creates an unstable equilibrium, etc, etc -- and started an in-depth analysis of this problem. This was actually intended to be a full-blown blog post. As usual, I got distracted by something else and left the post in a half-finished state, where it remains nearly two years later.

A few months ago I decided to make a conscious effort to spend five minutes every day cleaning my room. I've found that this actually works remarkably well, to the point that my room is almost always in a clean or nearly clean state. This is partly because my room is small, but it's also because five minutes of "straightening up" -- e.g., making your bed, recycling old papers, putting books back on shelves, putting dirty laundry in a hamper -- is actually quite a lot. I still haven't finished my theoretical framework of orderliness, but my room sure is a lot cleaner.

Visible checklists are the only ones that matter. If you want to get yourself to do something, make it hard to ignore and even harder to forget. This is one of the many things I use my whiteboard for: My notes/goals/lists live as large letters on my wall, visible from my bed. A note on my computer or phone will quickly be forgotten or lost; a note on my wall will greet me when I wake. (Note that this doesn't mean every habit you put on a readily visible checklist will automatically be picked up. This worked great for making sure to floss every day without fail, but my results were less impressive for making sure to exercise -- perhaps my new taekwondo class will change things?!)

One (or two) habits at a time. When I come up with six or seven new habits to acquire, I'm likely to fail at most or even all of them. If you're serious about making changes, concentrate on one or two things; if after a week or two those are going well, add a third or fourth.

Don't be afraid to experiment. For those of us who spend way too much time in our heads, it's easy to forget just how powerful real-world experimentation is, or even that things can, like, be empirically verified. If you find yourself daydreaming about what the "ideal" method for doing xyz is, try to come up with something that you can try that might be part of that ideal system or which is simply good enough. If it succeeds, great. If it fails, you've an idea for your next hypothesis to test -- or at least more data to daydream about.