I started writing morning pages a few months ago. That means writing three pages, on paper, before doing anything else .
I’ve only been doing this on weekends and holidays, because on weekdays I feel a need to do some stock market work close to when the market opens.
It typically takes me one hour to write three pages. At first, it felt like I needed 75 minutes but wanted to finish faster. After a few weeks, it felt like I could finish in about 50 minutes when I was in a hurry, but often preferred to take more than an hour.
That suggests I’m doing much less stream-of-consciousness writing than is typical for morning pages. It’s unclear whether that matters.
It feels like devoting an hour per day to morning pages ought to be costly. Yet I never observed it crowding out anything I valued (except maybe once or twice when I woke up before getting an optimal amount of sleep in order to get to a hike on time – that was due to scheduling problems, not due to morning pages reducing the available of time per day).
Why do morning pages work? They seem mysterious, like meditation.
One hint is that people are generally more creative early in the morning than in the middle of the day.
Another hint is thinking about problems in multiple contexts provides better perspectives.
Another hint is that writing things down alters our thoughts about them.
Results, so far
My work involves a fair amount of tasks for which I expect a small chance of an important benefit (and usually ambiguous evidence of success).
I seem to have become better at deciding which of the lower priority tasks to do, and more importantly, when to decide that I’ve spent too much time on a task (I often used to obsessively continue a task to completion even after seeing signs that it was taking an unreasonable amount of time and energy).
Perhaps more importantly, I’m more satisfied with my decisions about how hard to work.
I also feel more satisfied about my choices of what to blog about.
CFAR teaches a systematization class, telling us that clutter (e.g. papers on our desks) harms our attention, and that we need to make large changes to the clutter to observe the effects (a 10% reduction in distractions is hard to notice, but a 90% reduction in distractions should produce twice the benefit of an 80% reduction).
I’m skeptical that standard notions of clutter affect my attention much, so I didn’t follow the standard version of that advice. My attention seems much more affected by tasks / events that I expect to do over the next few days (or have done recently). I seem to “see” these in much the way many people see papers on their desk (or email in their inbox) as something to do.
Last year I made a little progress at reducing “temporal clutter”, e.g. by writing down my plans for what to cook (writing them down made them seem more real, so that I felt less need to re-evaluate them).
But it wasn’t until this summer that I changed enough to observe clear benefits. The main thing I did was to reclassify many tasks (mostly work-related) as optional goals, so that they drop off my task radar. That reduced my “obligations” by maybe 25%, leaving me with several hours per day that I classified as “free time”, and making me confident that I’d do nearly all the work that I consider important. That caused a large reduction in my base levels of anxiety. Reduced anxiety probably saved me a fair amount of mental energy.
The short-term effect was to accomplish maybe 20% less (as measured by effort; but since those were less important tasks, the value of what I accomplished probably dropped more like 5-10%). But I soon had more time and energy to do unplanned tasks, so now I’m working maybe 5-10% less than I otherwise would, while still using 25% less mental energy. If that energy savings enables me to think more clearly about prioritizing my tasks, I expect the net result will be that I accomplish more value. 
Writing blog posts
I’m starting to settle into a habit of writing pieces of blog posts for about half an hour to an hour on a typical morning, after finishing the urgent parts of my work or the morning pages.
Writing early in the day seems easy compared to my prior habit of writing mainly in the afternoon, and of doing it in sessions several hours each (motivated by a feeling that I needed to finish the current post soon).
I suspect this change has reduced, by about a half, the mental energy that I use in writing a typical blog post (it’s hard to fully distinguish from the other benefits of morning pages, but I’m pretty sure I changed my blog post habits weeks before the other changes that I’m aware of making in response to morning pages).
Read more fiction
I often use computer games (e.g. Dominion, or Settlers of Catan) to take breaks from stressful tasks.
They reliably divert my attention from work, and from some other sources of stress.
But they don’t relax me anywhere near as much as a good novel does. In fact, I’m often unclear on whether the games relax me at all.
I suspect my reasons for using games rather than fiction is that games alter my attention much faster, require less commitment, and require a bit less thought to initiate.
I’ve read at least twice as much fiction this past month as I normally would, and played a bit fewer games. I suspect, based on my mood, that the relaxing effects of the fiction are lasting longer than I previously expected.
I used to start reading Facebook in the morning, after finishing any urgent work, and I would continue reading without any good criterion for stopping (other than reaching “the end”, which reliably indicated that I’d been reading uninteresting trivia).
I’ve switched to reading Facebook while eating my first full meal of the day (brunch), and telling myself to stop reading when I’m done eating. That provides a better (but still not optimal) limit on how much time I waste on reading low-value Facebook posts.
I don’t have a good guess as to how much I would have changed without doing morning pages. I could believe anywhere from 20 to 80%.
I’ve been doing randomized trials: every two weeks I use a random number from 0 through 3 to decide how many pages per day to write for the next two weekends.
The evidence suggests that I feel better if I’ve done morning pages within the past week or two, but is hardly conclusive.
P.S. – Thanks to Anna for persuading me to try morning pages.
 – That is, before doing anything that might might be stressful or otherwise alter my mood much. I do microwave a cup of tea before starting, and sometimes I have a snack before finishing. But I don’t look at my computers. The only thing I look at on my phone is the time.
 – I’ll speculate that there’s a widespread pattern of people pushing themselves (and their employees) to accomplish more by setting ambitious goals for when to complete tasks. I’ll bet people overestimate the benefits of that pattern, because it’s easier to observe the negative short-term effects of relaxing those goals than to observe the longer-term benefits.