Automating your way out of bad behavior

As I write this, I’m sitting on the platform at the Back Bay Amtrak station in Boston, waiting for the train to New York. At 9am (6 minutes ago), I got a text message prompting me to write a blog post today. It said “Get your blog on!  It’s a good thing”.  The text message, of course, was sent to my by myself.  I’ve got a little robot in the cloud whose job it is to help me be a better person.  In this case, it’s helping me be more consistent and less stressed about writing here, on this blog.

The service I’m using is called IFTTT (If this, then that), and it’s a very simple way of wiring together events from across various web services (“channels” in their parlance).  In this case, I have the SMS channel triggered to send me a text every day at 9am.  I also have a 10pm text which prompts me to write to my journal (that one says: “Take a 5 min break and post to brain [the name of my journal blog].  You’ll thank me later.”  Last night when I got that text, I said to myself: “Self, you’re right — I will thank you later”.  And I wrote the post.  And here I am this morning.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the difference between being organized vs. being disciplined, and I’ve been putting a lot of energy into increasing my discipline factor.  Who knows if this will end up sticking, but I hope it will.  At this point, it surely sounds like another exercise in yak-shaving, and knowing myself I’ll let that stand as a possibility.

But I really do like the idea that it’s possible to get more effective by doing less yourself and recruiting more help from others (in this case, from robots).  And in this particular case, there’s something particularly nice about being able to make up the wording yourself, knowing exactly what will push your own buttons and get you motivated.

I really like IFTTT and will surely find more ways to use it.  There are other services out there too, like Happiness Engines and I’m sure many more.  At this point, I prefer the flexibility and straightforwardness over IFTTT to the slickness of Happiness Engines, but I’m looking forward to seeing where both go, and to experimenting w/ other ways to recruit robots to the cause.

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