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How I Hired Someone On Craigslist And Quadrupled My Productivity (hackthesystem.com)
232 points by sethbannon on Oct 16, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 122 comments

Henry Moore used to live over his studio. Whenever the noise of his chisel stopped, his wife would call down and ask why he had stopped working.

Economically speaking, I'm fairly certain finding a wife is more expensive than a $8/hr freelancer though.

I don't know if you're a rich guy planning to marry down in the social hierarchy, living in a culture where where women don't work or just a misogynist but this is generally false in the west. Dual incomes with a single household is very economical compared to life as a single.

See eg. http://www.investopedia.com/terms/d/dinks.asp "A household in which there are two incomes and no children (either both partners are working or one has two incomes). DINKS are often the target of marketing efforts for luxury items such as expensive cars and vacations."

Except this if the wife can hear you working then it's probably not a dual income home.

Edit: Prior probabilities yada yada.

If your wife expects you to support her financially. Fortunately, such arrangements are no longer mandatory.

... or if she expects to date you and be impressed before marrying you...

Depends on what else you're getting out of the arrangement.

A wife is still more expensive

Really? Mine is profitable...

Really? What sort of margins are you getting for her per hour?

It's hard to make precise, depending on a whole host of factors. It's clearly positive, however, as our burn rate on just her salary is far lower than it would cost me alone to maintain my lifestyle.

Not to mention 50% equity :)

A spouse might already be a sunk cost.

That’s right, you are not going to get any one cheaper to change your adult diapers. HA!

And this, folks, is one of the reasons yc discourages single founders!

Interesting, is this legal? At first I thought it wouldn't be, but then I realized that an investor relationship might not be one of the relationships protected by workplace sexual harassment laws.

Er... "single founders" as in "only one founder", as opposed to "two founders or more".

Ohhhhh. I thought he meant. Well, you see what I thought he meant. Because of the sculptor and the wife and that stuff.

I believe it was meant to be a pun :)

Anti-discrimination laws do not apply to investors. In fact, in California, they don't even apply to independent contractors.

Interesting. I'm curious about the legality of a company putting all or most prospective employees through a 'trial run' as an independent contractor before hiring them. Ignoring feasibility of attracting talent in such a system, are there laws in place to prevent such practices being used to circumvent anti discrimination laws?

The point of a 1099 trial run is to make a hiring decision. That hiring decision is very much encumbered by CA anti-discrimination law.

@fourk I imagine that if a "trial run" candidate who outperformed his/her peers was denied employment, he or she would have grounds to sue for discrimination.

I think what is meant is apply the discrimination on the selection for the trial run.

Don't know if its legal but it would certainly be an asshole move.

Thank you!

As a productivity system, this is idiotic.

As a blog post that serves as link-bait, it is GENIUS.

...which is to say, I think it excelled at the REAL goal. ;-)

It still irks me that people can tout off success as though it's guaranteed for small experiments such as this without even considering elements such as the Hawthorne effect - 'changed behaviour during the course of a study may be related to the special social situation and social treatment they received'

Thank you!

Or just good ol' fashioned accountability.

I don't think he's saying we should all hire some slappers. Rather, if we incorporate the right kind of social component to our workflow, we can improve productivity a lot. The slapping is an attention-getter for sure, but I think it's a creative way to make a point.

It's the same idea behind coworking events.

Yea, for 2 hours :/

He should write a post after 6 months of doing this.

True, but when I work in a busy vibrant office, surrounded by interesting peers excited by their work, my productivity goes through the roof - I feel like a cheat spending time on Facebook or <gasp> HackerNews.

When working from home or in a dull share office...

Can you elaborate on why it's idiotic? As much as computer programmers like to think they're precious snow flakes to whom productivity tips don't apply to, this sort of system works for fitness, sales and from PGs post, sculptors.

Because as a one-time experiment, the subject is likely to do well as the phenomena itself is new. As the experiment progresses into multiple days or weeks, the subject is likely to say, "What the fuck? Stop slapping me. You're fired, I want to browse reddit." In my opinion, anyways.

I think anyone willing to pay someone ~$300 a week will not simply snap at the person and fire them because they want to browse reddit. They understand the value.

I use this productivity system, I just call it pair programming.

So very true. I've been apprenticing a junior developer and it's been a huge productivity boost for me.

A productivity system that works can not be idiotic.

It needs to work for more than one person for more than one month before its even worth a conversation.

There are a lot of assumptions in this statement worth examining:

1. A productivity system must work for a long time.

2. A conversation about productivity systems must exclude those that are in the "doesn't work" and "interesting new idea" stages.

3. Productivity systems and workflows are not personality (or personality type) dependent - what works for one person doesn't qualify as something worth investigating by those who identify with the "successful user".

I think #2 and #3 stand alone, but #1 is a bit more interesting:

There exist people for whom any productivity system will not work in the long run. There are several factors that can be involved in this:

* they are actually more productive when ramping up a system and early in using it - the thinking about the system to productivity inspires actual productivity. Once they internalize the rules and the ramp up, it stops working because they don't focus any more

* The sort of person who internally chafes at rules/structure may experience productivity at first with a new system, because (s)he as decided to comply with that system, but subconsciously starts to figure out ways to meet the rules of the productivity system without actually being productive. Some people just do this, whether they intend to or or not, it's just a thing.

* Novelty itself inspires them to do more

* Productivity inspires productivity - the act of setting up a productivity system is productive, therefor inspiring other productivity elsewhere. (similar to the first example but a bit different)

And so on.

Why not give such people another system or lifehack or workflow hack or whatever you label it, to chew on?

(ok I claimed I'd leave #3 alone, but experiments like this allow people see more things that work for someone a bit, and help give them ideas to tailor the system to themselves)

Now that's idiotic. There needs to be a conversation before it can be used by more than one persion, and it likely needs to be used by many people as the result of conversation (and blog posts) before there is enough anecdotal evidence to warrant a scientific study.

Not to mention the fact that if it works for someone, it is by definition effective for that person, and worth noting for that person.

What's with the influx of HN'ers demanding scientific proof before any matter is discussed? Same debate happened over whether meditation was helpful.

The most important thing I got out of this article isn't the productivity 'hack' but the fact that there's a program called RescueTime that lets you find out exactly how much time you spent on your computer doing what.. o_O I didn't know about that!

I have long suspected that I have an HN addiction. Time to quantify it!

For others: https://www.rescuetime.com/

EDIT: Haha, while setting it up I found that the rescuetime folks think that adult funsies are quite important :P

Ignore adult content. Data for sites we recognize as adult-themed will be rejected at our servers and no time will be logged.

Surely that indicates not that they think "adult funsies" are important (though maybe they do) but just that they expect some people to be worried about the prospects of having their adult-funsies activity logged on someone else's server, and want to reassure them that it won't be. Seems reasonable to me.

I use a similar program that is called ManicTime:


I can't recall what I didn't like about RescueTime, but the free version of ManicTime gives me a very good breakdown for my purposes.

FWIW, I spend on average close to 2 hours a day (of 10 hours in my office) browsing the web, and only 2/3 hours of real productivity (I hate my job).

What's with the rest of the 10 hours? Daily scrums?

Rescue time never worked for me. It always said I spent almost no time online. Something about my ad blocking config or something was confusing it...

It never worked for me. It told me exactly which sites I was wasting time on. That didn't stop me.

Have you tried LeechBlock?

I just added a list of websites to the hosts file, but the thing is - I know how to unlock that stuff in a few seconds (and LeechBlock can be turned off even faster).

I wish I could lock websites between certain hours at the ISP level, and unlocking shouldn't be easy, and should take a few hours.

Do it at the router level and then reset the password to gibberish.

I still would like to visit the websites, when I don't need to work.

"Social working" -- I always thought this was the most important takeaways from XP and agile methodologies, that the highest quality work gets done when we tell each other what we're going to do ahead of time (agile/scrum), and then collaborate in the most literal sense by sharing one screen (pair programming) to see that the work gets done in the best possible way. Granted there are surely lots of other takeaways, but those are two things I did take, and I only do one of them.

This is an interesting and funny experiment, but I believe it's success lies in the fact that the author lucked out and found someone who could actually help with his work for $8 an hour.

I didn't watch the videos, but from the text it sounds like the lady was more like a good coworker, certainly better than your average minimum wage slapper.

I'm work alongside someone for $8 an hour, depending how distractable they are. I have some tasks that don't require that much focus and it's nice to do socially.

I expect I'd get a spinoff effect of being more productive myself. Wouldn't want to be on Facebook when I'm trying to keep someone else off it.

I've been looking for something vaguely like this -- i.e., accountability -- for my own work. I'd rather work on my own projects, solo, but the one thing that is missing from a more formal work environment (or even a startup that's just "2 people with laptops in a cafe", which I did for a while) is accountability.

I've suggested to my friends with startups that they should host "hack nights" where random people can bring their laptop and work in a shared space for a while. I think it'd also be a good recruiting tool for the company. They've already got a cool office, so why not invite people there to see for themselves, plus become known as that place where people go to hack on interesting things?

I think this is one thing that academia really got right (having worked there for a few years once): put a bunch of smart people together in close proximity, each working on their own thing, but loosely sharing with each other. Big companies, small companies, startups, coworking spaces, and cafés all get one piece of this but miss a crucial piece.

Maybe I need to start a meta-startup.

I'm just curious what you think coworking spaces get wrong? Having looked at a few (but I must note, never worked in one!) it sounds like they come the closest to what you describe.

I started writing a response but it started getting rather long, so it really deserves to be its own blog post. In the meantime, I'll pick just one thing that seems most relevant:

There's a kind of implicit tactical (minute-to-minute) accountability in coworking, because you're all there to work, but not any larger strategic accountability. I don't think anybody would hold your feet to the fire if you didn't produce anything for a week, or month.

Slap startup people hanging out all day in Mission cafés? Hell, I'd do that job for free!

They say you should do what you love, so you are never "working" at your job.

Start a slapping startup!

I'm actually working on a startup that solves this exact problem but with a twist: we outsource the slapping to India and use a shock-inducing necklace that can be remotely activated through Wifi. This will enable us to bring down costs and bring this service to the masses. So far, our virtual slappers have done an amazing job and the self reported productivity of our beta customers has gone through the roof.

Shocking over Wi-Fi? Just wait until 4chan hears about it...

This is essentially pair-programming, and seems to be the reason he got more done -- a great idea to improve productivity.

That would definitely be extreme programming. And when your tests fail, someone from QA can slap you, too.

Ignoring the moronic link bait about slapping, essentially what he did was apply pair programming to writing. It would make far more economic sense to do this as well, since the level of entry to get a person to pair with to write is far lower than for a programmer, so kudos.

This is such an obtuse way to meet girls that it might actually work!

It's actually not that hard to meet girls, even for nerds. But you need some practice.

This is very true. But this stunt seems to be better for meeting people than getting work done.

Yeah, it sounds like fun.

It's not quite the same but the woman who comes around every couple of weeks and does my accounts, we both acknowledge is about 80% 'slap based' productivity and 20% her specialized knowledge at this point.

When she comes around I usually 'drive' the computer the whole time, and it's great to have her advice on things like withholding tax rates, but mostly it just makes certain that particular things get done on time where if they didn't happen they would have a tendency to snowball into accounting catastrophe.

The $0/hour is to redirect your most popular slack sites in (e.g. Facebook) using /etc/hosts. You can redirect them to localhost, or to something you personally find annoying. :P

If you use Firefox and want something more flexible, try Leechblock.


This wouldn't work for me. I would set this up then procrastinate trying to figure out how to get around it.

Just make it so, that's it's trivial to get around. (Like the /etc/hosts thing.) Then you instead of spending time thinking of how to get around, you will have to admit what you are doing.

It's easier to convince yourself to disable that than to face the pressure of others.

This is incredibly true for me. I blocked time sink websites (like HN ironically) in /etc/hosts for about a day, and then I constantly went back and reverted my changes. Then, I wrote a daemon that constantly checks the host file and puts the blocks back if I changed it. I tried making the installation and operation as obscure as possible and try to forget the metaphoric key. However, I eventually ended up spending a bunch of time to rediscover what I did, so I ended up disabling this script as well...

It worked for me. My reddit habits turned into mouse scrolling looking at pictures, it was "fun" and required no effort on my part.

The first week I keept trying to access it and finding my 'default' vhost. Now I don't even miss it when I'm on my PC. I have Alien Blue on my iPad but there I can't just scroll and scroll, I read content I care about on the reddits I like and not /r/all!

... and may be you don't call her a slapper in your blog posts or she may slap you for real. I would. She should...

that may be an english english expression? i wonder if the (american?) author is aware? [i guess so, it would be a rather lucky joke if not...]

Must be english. What does it mean?

a woman of loose morals, more or less. it's moderately old-fashioned, and probably originally local to east london, so it's got comic overtones.


She's a kinetic interface engineer.

She's a...


I think this is explained by Dan Ariely in his paper - "Procrastination, Deadlines, and Performance: Self-Control by Precommitment"


Procrastination is all too familiar to most people. People delay writing up their research (so we hear!), repeatedly declare they will start their diets tomorrow, or postpone until next week doing odd jobs around the house. Yet people also sometimes attempt to control their procrastination by setting deadlines for themselves. In this article, we pose three questions: (a) Are people willing to self-impose meaningful (i.e., costly) deadlines to overcome procrastination? (b) Are self-imposed deadlines effective in improving task performance? (c) When self-imposing deadlines, do people set them optimally, for maximum performance enhancement? A set of studies examined these issues experimentally, showing that the answer is “yes” to the first two questions, and “nO'’ to the third. People have self-control problems, they recognize them, and they try to control them by self-imposing costly deadlines. These deadlines help people control procrastination, but they are not as effective as some externally imposed deadlines in improving task performance.

>Want a bicycle, but you’d rather not buy stolen bikes from the corner of Market and 7th? To Craigslist we go.

Ironic, since Craigslist is infested with stolen bike listings :(.

It's been my experience that it is a lot easier to ask for a paper trail on craigslist from prospective sellers than it is on the street from some boiler-room type operation.

I like this concept, I laughed.

However, don't put a popup in my face while I'm reading your stuff to join whatever site it is. And don't bloat the side of the page with "share" stuff. If I like the content, I will share and/or signup, or at least bug me once I reach the end but not while I'm in the middle of reading and on a mobile device this is even worse. /rant

The problem with these kind of articles is that they focus only on the "one-time off" and then never talk about how sustainable the productivity increase really is. If this is to be a social experiment, it needs to be done on a longer term like a month or something. Anything less that is just anecdotal.

Do it with a shock therapy device: http://www.djspyhunter.com/teapot/2005/11/buzztrainer-usb-sh... So we could see if it's the social aspect or the punishment that improves the productivity.

The social element works. I've experienced big productivity gains by having someone I connected with on Hacker News call me every night at 10:00pm and ask me 4 Yes/No questions that I wrote. The pressure to not say no provides extra fuel to stay on track and get more done.

This is no mystery to most of the third world, you just set up your own personal sweatshop.

I would suggest reviewing the title of this position. In certain parts of the Anglosphere, 'slapper' has an entirely different meaning, and telling people you have hired one will spark a flurry of raised eyebrows

one of my friends did something very similar [without the slapping] and had the same results. he is a high stakes poker player and paid somebody just to sit next to him and make sure he didnt surf the web, chat on aim, etc while playing poker. it let the "attendant" watch a skilled player at work, and it kept the player focused and earning more money.

is it best to will yourself to not get distracted? of course, but we all know thats easier said than done and for people with high hourly rates, it is often going to be worth it to just pay somebody to help ensure compliance.

I think it's a neat and creative idea, but I wonder about its long-term effectiveness as they get to know one another better. It's easy to be embarrassed when making mistakes in front of someone you don't know at all, because there still exists that social awkwardness between the two. But get to know someone well enough and it's much easier to shrug off. Maybe he should just hire someone new every few weeks to keep things fresh?

The most productive time I've had in home projects was when I pair programmed with my friend.

I actually think when you know the person watching you and value her/his opinion it works better.

This reminds of of pair programming, or pair everything like they do at Menlo Innovations [1]. I took a tour there recently and it was pretty eye opening. People are now even paying to learn the "Menlo Way"

[1] http://www.menloinnovations.com/our-method/founding-practice...

I am the author of this piece. I used the same techniques that I talk about in this post until today---but without the slaps. The power is in the pair, having an accountability partner is important. One good tactic is to have two friends plan out joint Pomodoro sessions --- sit down, set a timer for 25 minutes, and ask each other how you did.

Guilt (or at least empathy) can work in a similar way. My girlfriend is in grad school right now and always has a ton of work to do at night. I feel bad spending my nights goofing off or watching TV while she's hard at work, so I've been really good at getting real work done on my projects while she's doing homework.

I like the idea in theory, but, if I hired someone to help me stay on task from craigslist they (probably) wouldn't undertand various programming tasks I was working on... so most likely they would not be able to stay on task at keeping me to stay on task ;)

  Do or do not, there is no try. - Master Yoda
And, this link seems very appropriate to link now:

4# @ http://iqtell.com/2012/01/what-master-yoda-can-teach-us-abou...

I think this guy has a thing for slapping... http://hackthesystem.com/blog/how-to-get-slapped-by-50-colom...

Thanks for recommendation for RescueTime - just installed, lets see what happens.

That graph/chart is REALLY throwing me off. I can't even process the post. Where do you get that chart?? I can input numbers into a graphical chart generator, too. How do you measure that shit and I know it's not BS?

Who wants to slap my face whenever I browse Hacker News?


And this, kids, is why pair programming WORKS.

Okay... maybe I should hire someone to do the same when I go on HN and post comments like this one ;o).

This slapapp has few advantage: a. wont need update b.No advertises

But one disadvantage a. might quit one day

"Hiring a slapper off Craigslist" has quite a different meaning in British English...

Got a good chortle out of it.

i finally blocked reddit in my /etc/hosts/ file and i am wasting way less time.

SDD (Slap Driven Development)

his Math skills didn't improve tho, 98% is hardly 4 times more than 38%

This is why entrepreneurship is a collective process.

Wow, I'll try one of these tactics in the future~~

wouldn't a service where people can watch what you do on screen be as useful?

this is awesome interesting...

thats bdsm

I just look at the pile of overdue bills for a moment and the harsh slap of reality gets me right back to work.

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