Stephen Malina

This is my blog. There are many others like it but this one is mine.

Upcoming Maniac Week

Contents

Abstract

Guy on internet decides to follow lead of other people on internet and pre-commits to working much more than usual . Plans to document whole thing under illusion people care about some guy on the internet working a more-than-average number of hours relative to his baseline.

Summary

From Friday, October 9th (9:00 AM) through Thursday, October 15th (2:00 PM), I’ll attempt to work 11+ hours a day on schoolwork and my primary research project. During this period, I’ll track my work hours and activities. Afterwards, I’ll write a postmortem that will include:

  • A sped-up timelapse video consisting of on-the-minute screenshots of my screen during work periods.
  • My RescueTime weekly summary stats.
  • A summary of how my subjective well-being compared to the weeks prior to the experiment.

I’ll also honestly document any failures or issues I encounter during the experiment. The rest of this post describes in detail my goals, motivation, rules, tracking, and strategies for succeeding in the experiment.

Introduction

Partially inspired by Nick Winter, Bethany Soule, Danny Reeves, Brent Yorgey, and Alex Strick and also due to my feeling stressed about going away for a weekend during which I won’t be able to do any work, I’m going to try my own version of a maniac week (technically 6 days but same idea). This week will start on Friday, October 9th at 9:00 AM and last until Thursday, October 15th at 2:00 PM. Afterwards, I’ll post a postmortem which will analyze and document how the experiment went. It will include an accelerated time lapse constructed from on-the-minute screenshots of my main screen during work periods from the week.

For the uninitiated, a maniac week is a week in which you spend more than an average number of hours working, prune distractions, track your time spent working, and afterwards post a public timelapse video of your screen to keep yourself honest. While this may sound somewhat miserable, 2 out of 3 of the people I mentioned above (those who wrote postmortems) reported enjoying the experience. Notably, Nick Winter had tracked his subjective well-being for 3 years prior to doing the experiment and reported that his average subjective well-being during his maniac week was the highest it had ever been (but noted that he hadn’t tracked during some very happy weeks like that of his wedding).

Goals

I have three goals for my maniac week in addition to wanting to enable myself to have a stress-free weekend away.

  1. Per people’s previous experiences, I’m curious to see what happens to my personal subjective sense of well-being and ability to focus when I try this.

  2. Having recently read David Goggins’s Can’t Hurt Me (h/t Alexey Guzey), part of me likes the idea of taking on a “challenge”. That said, to be clear, I recognize that working at a comfy chair for more hours than usual pales in comparison to what many people deal with in their daily lives, often not by choice.
    Stephen’s girlfriend checking in – I’ve spent months working more than this but I’m not pretentious enough to write a blog post likening myself to a decorated Navy Seal for working a bit harder than usual for 6 days…

  3. I have some research-related tasks that will benefit from longer time blocks and intense focus.

Rules

Meta rule: I’m allowed to change these rules up until 12 hours before the start of my maniac week (Thursday, October 8th, 9:00 PM).

Time

My maniac week will start on Friday, October 9th at 9:00 AM and last until Thursday, October 15th at 2:00 PM.

Each day, I’ll reserve 3 hours of awake non-working time and max 8 hours for sleeping. This will leave 11 hours a day for work. Assuming I work from ~8:00 AM until my end time of 2:00 PM on Thursday, this implies I’ll work up to 84 hours during my 6.5-day maniac week.

Allowed Activities

During work periods, I’m allowed to work on a combination of:

  • Coding, thinking, and writing for my current primary research project.
  • Problem sets, project research, & reading for my two other courses.
  • Going to course lectures, lab meeting, and office hours.
  • Occasionally jotting down miscellaneous non-work related ideas in Roam.
  • Reading Molecular Biology of the Cell.
  • Other miscellaneous important video calls.

Energy Management & Distraction Avoidance

In an effort to maximize my recovery during downtime and not get sucked into time-consuming non-work activities, I’m going to aggressively block all social media and other websites on my typical procrastination circuit using LeechBlock. I also already use RescueTime and will include a screenshot of my weekly summary in my postmortem. I’ve been having issues getting RescueTime to properly track Linux desktop activity, so if I can’t figure this out, I’m not going to use/share screenshots from it.

I’ll limit various communication media via the following restrictions:

  • Checking email max 3x a day with a total of 30 minutes spent in an email client. I’ll use LeechBlock to set the 30 minute limit, since I already have email entirely blocked on my phone.
  • Max 30 minutes a day on calls, text messages, Facebook messenger, and Slack (enforced by StayFocused on my phone). I also plan to keep my phone not physically reachable during focused work sessions, which I mostly do already.

Tracking

Work hours & activities: I already track my work time, activities, and categories using clockify and will continue to do so during my maniac week. I also already use RescueTime and plan to screenshot my weekly summary from my maniac week and post it as part of my postmortem. Finally, I set up a beeminder goal to track Pomodoros in general, and then used Beeminder’s awesome manual road adjuster to set a goal of 18 per day during my maniac week. This will be a fun realtime scoreboard for me and anyone else who wants to follow along.

Edit (2020-10-07): Due to me being concerned about not being able to properly ensure I protect my own and others’ privacy, I’m not going to post a timelapse.

Subjective well-being: I’ve downloaded iMoodJournal and will start tracking my subjective well-being 5 times a day today (September 25th) and continue to all the way through the end of the experiment. By starting tracking now, I’ll establish a baseline which I can compare to to see if any substantial differences stand out.

Sleep: I’ll track my sleep in a spreadsheet during the experiment.

Anticipated Difficulties

Distraction

Getting around blocks I set up for myself is my secret superpower. So, even with all the LeechBlock-ing and StayFocused-ing, I’m concerned that I’ll find ways to subvert whatever blocks I put up. However, I suspect knowing that I’m going to publicly share my time lapse and my RescueTime graphs will hopefully deter me from subverting my blocks.

That said, all these blocks and commitment strategies feel very “stick” and so I also want to prepare some “carrot” strategies. One “carrot” strategy I’ll adopt is allowing myself to, at any time, pause and sit (or pace) while thinking. I generally find that doing this helps me get unstuck and thereby be more efficient anyway. Another “carrot” strategy I plan to follow is planning out lots of granular tasks to work on with varying levels of difficulty prior to starting the week to make it as easy as possible for me to switch from especially cognitively challenging tasks to lower resistance tasks if my focus flags.

Finally, I’m going to loosely follow a Pomodoro-style schedule of 25 minutes on, 5 minutes off, except I’ll allow myself to skip 5 minute breaks if I’m really in the zone. I’ve had mixed experience with Pomodoros in the past but I suspect this will help me keep going when I want to quit due to the “just one more” effect.

Physical

Wrist Issues

In the past, I’ve occasionally experienced mild wrist pains as a result of typing on sub-optimal keyboards. While I plan to do almost all of my work during my maniac week at a desk using my Kinesis Advantage and vertical mouse, I want to have a plan for if wrist pain does crop up. Historically, taking breaks has ameliorated my mild wrist pain so they’ll remain my first line of defense. Anticipating the worst, I’ll ensure I always have backup reading tasks available that require minimal wrist usage relative to typing-heavy tasks like coding in case breaks fail.

Back Pain

I already spend a lot of time working at a computer, so I don’t see why this week would cause back issues given that I’m lucky enough to not have any already. I already switch between sitting and standing throughout the day and I’ll continue to during my maniac week. I also try to run nearly once a day or do some sort of bodyweight exercise (RIP the gym, #covid) and will stick with this schedule as much as possible during my week.

If I do experience back pain, I’ll follow a similar strategy to what I outlined for potential wrist issues and switch to reading in a different, more comfortable position.

Tech Setup

I expect to do most work at my desk using my Dell monitor, Kinesis Advantage keyboard (totally worth it), vertical mouse (totally worth it), and System 76 Pop OS Linux laptop (not recommended).

I’ll drink coffee once a day in the morning.

Thoughts encouraged!

As always, if you have any thoughts email me or ping me on Twitter.

Acknowledgements

Thanks to Alexey Guzey and my girlfriend for reading drafts of this post.

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