Hello! We’re back with another edition of On Tech: A.I., a pop-up newsletter that teaches you about artificial intelligence, how it works and how to use it.
Last week, I walked you through how to turn A.I. into a personal shopper to speed up product research. Now let’s ask A.I. to try something more ambitious: Helping us set goals and organize our lives to achieve them.
Chatbots like ChatGPT and Bard, it turns out, are actually pretty good at these tasks. I’ll walk you through prompting a chatbot to create an action plan and help you form new habits, including adding your goals into your calendar and to-do list.
First, pick a goal! It helps if there’s a self-help book with pertinent advice. For example, let’s say you want to run a marathon and you just read the book “Slow AF Run Club: The Ultimate Guide for Anyone Who Wants to Run.”
Now choose a chatbot. I’ll use Open AI’s ChatGPT for this example with web browsing turned on in the settings, since the book is fairly new. Then try this prompt, which I adapted from PromptHero, a database of ChatGPT prompts that have helped people:
I want you to act as a life coach. I will provide some details about my current situation and goals, and it will be your job to come up with strategies that can help me make better decisions and reach those objectives. This could involve offering advice on various topics, such as creating plans for achieving success or dealing with difficult emotions. My first request is: My goal this fall is to run a marathon. Come up with a three-month plan using the principles of the book “Slow AF Run Club.”
ChatGPT can explain the premise of the book — that anyone, no matter their body size and fitness condition, can train at their own pace to become a runner — and spin together a workout plan using principles from the book.
On Month 1, for example, the chatbot might advise you to start with four 30-minute walks a week just to get accustomed to physical activity. Then on Month 2, it will say to maintain that frequency but to begin incorporating jogging. On Month 3, it will say to focus on jogging and increase the total time of your sessions to 45 minutes.
The next step is to take these suggestions and turn them into habits. You could manually plug the workouts into your calendar, but what’s the fun in that? On ChatGPT, using a plug-in automation tool called Zapier, you can connect the chatbot with your Google Calendar and ask it to automatically integrate these workout recommendations into your calendar for you.
(Currently only subscribers who pay $20 a month for ChatGPT Plus can use plug-ins. We explained how to do that in last week’s newsletter.)
Once you have Zapier hooked up to ChatGPT, go to the Zapier’s Open AI actions menu and click “add a new action.” For the action, type “Google Calender: Quick add event.” Go through the steps to connect your Google calendar account and click “Enable action.”
Once this is done, go back to ChatGPT. With the Zapier plug-in selected, re-enter the prompt asking the bot to be your life coach. Now, after the bot is done laying out the workout plan, type “add each workout to my calendar.”
From there, the bot will look at the workout plan and automatically follow the guidelines of the workout plan to add each session to your calendar. When the time comes to increase the durations of your runs, the calendar events will change to reflect that.
Pretty neat, but if you’re more of to-do list type of person, that’s a much easier set-up. Just tell your life coach that you’re going to share your to-do list regularly and that you want it to add these workouts to your to-do list according to the proposed schedule.
For example, I told my life coach that this week I needed to get the car tires rotated at Costco, contact the health insurance company about a claim, write copy for this week’s newsletter, buy broccoli and schedule phone calls with companies. It automatically spread out these tasks over the course of a week and tacked on the 30-minute strolls.
Try using these steps with any of your life goals — such as saving money to buy a house, or setting yourself up to get a promotion at work. A bit of automation can turn vague advice into a more actionable plan.
After I asked for a running plan, I told my life coach I was overweight and out of shape after the pandemic. The chatbot reminded me that, based on the principles of the book, the goal is to run a marathon, not to lose weight, and to find joy in the process of running while removing shame. It encouraged me to join a community of runners, whether in real life or online in communities like Reddit or Strava. That felt like sound advice.
Next week, we’ll cover how students can take advantage of A.I. to study (not cheat).
Brian X. Chen is the lead consumer technology writer for The Times. He reviews products and writes Tech Fix, a column about the social implications of the tech we use. Before joining The Times in 2011, he reported on Apple and the wireless industry for Wired. @bxchen
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