My Strategic Plan

My New Years Resolutions have been greatly boosting my day-to-day behaviors so that I become the kind of person that has good diet, good fitness, and good productivity. However, I’ve decided that I want to not just focus on my day-to-day, but my behaviors from “30,000 feet” or “year-to-year”, so to speak. I want to set goals and be more strategic.

This is the essay where I do some goal setting for the next year. Right now, I think I’ll commit to revising this plan every six months (November and May), but I reserve the right to change that.

Making The World a Better Place

Given that you’re on a site called “Everyday Utilitarian”, you could imagine that there will be a lot of discussion about how to maximize utility and make the world a better place. Continuing allegiance to utilitarian ideals, I want to focus the majority of my efforts on making the world a better place. But I’m having trouble getting a bit more specific than that. When asked, I always say “right now, my long term goals are to figure out what my long term goals are.”

However, upon further reflection, I can currently categorize what I plan on doing to make the world a better place into three groups – thinking, blogging, and volunteering.

Thinking Through Complex Issues

I’ve already thought a lot, but I’ve basically learned that things are more complex than I thought, and I need to do even more thinking. Here are some questions I intend to focus on:

  • What normative framework should I choose? How does one even choose a normative framework? I’ve been working on normativity since 2010 and have undergone four drafts of various theory back on my old blog. I think my most recent theory seems very promising, but it needs some clarification, re-updating, and re-presenting.

  • How, if at all, can utilitarianism be presented as a robust moral theory? Many of the other candidates for morality (deontology, virtue ethics, divine command theory, etc.) don’t even pretend to be robust. But utilitarianism needs to be presented as either (1) a moral theory that can fully account for all scenarios without inconsistency or (2) presented with an “impossibility theorem” that demonstrates that consistency is impossible.

  • What would someone acting out utilitarianism in their everyday life look like? Focusing on this would involve focusing a lot on presenting utilitarianism in a way that matches “common sense”.

  • What causes should a utilitarian focus on? Right now, people seem to have settled on focusing either on the developing world, nonhuman animal suffering in factory farms, nonhuman animal suffering in the wild, or existential risk reduction. Why focus on any one of those causes over the others? Are there other causes that are being overlooked? Are all of these causes worthwhile? This will take personal investigation.

  • What should I do when I graduate? I will be graduating Denison University in 2014 and I’ll need a “Career Plan for After GraduationTM”. 80000 Hours has taught me the importance of my working hours and I aim to use them to do something good, though I haven’t really decided what yet. (See “My Careers Plan” for my initial thoughts.)

  • How, if at all, should I change my lifestyle? I’ve been working on my New Years Resolutions plan, but there are definitely other tweaks I need to do to be healthier and more productive.

Blogging

Not by coincidence, the questions I need to think a lot about are the focus of this blog, hence why I blog. Blogging helps clear my mind, let me revisit old ideas, and let me organize information on these questions. But perhaps more importantly, blogging stands to be a social good for people who are also looking on answering these questions, because they could benefit from my work. In turn, they can build upon my work and comment back, thus allowing me to benefit from what they’re doing.

Volunteering for Like-Minded Communities

The third part of my trio is to spend time working for the benefit of like-minded communities. This is because these communities come together and think about the big issues I discussed earlier, thereby allowing me to use my effort to make future efforts go by easier. If done right, this could have a compounding effect that could realize immense benefits.

Making Denison University a Better Place

I must admit though that I don’t plan to be 100% focused on making the world a better place. First, I plan on having some free time to just hang out with my family, friends, or watch TV all by myself. However, I also plan on spending some of my last year at Denison working on improving my local community.

Why? Mostly for it’s own sake – I like my local community and also want it to succeed. Also, I started some projects before becoming focused on the world as a whole, and I want to see them come to fruition. However, I also think my activities will have indirect benefits on my more global-oriented activities, since (1) they’ll boost my résumé and (2) it will give me “sandbox”-like practice. I’ve found it’s easier to practice finding optimal strategies when you confine your work to about 2000 people.

At Denison, I’m going to focus on the following six extracurricular activities:

  • Venture Philanthropy Club: VPC is a grant-making college organization that gives a $10K grant out each year and then volunteers to implement that grant. It’s basically a microcosm of effective altruism because, while we limit our scope to Licking County, Ohio, we focus on being as effective as we can within those limitations. I do some direct good for the local community, get experience with organizations, and encourage effectiveness.

  • Denison Community Association: The DCA is the umbrella organization for all volunteering on campus. I will be coordinating all the work of various volunteering groups (including VPC) to help them be more unified and to share strengths from some organizations to others. This will give me more experience with management and coordination as well as boost Denison’s capacity to volunteer.

  • Beta Theta Pi: I will be the Recruitment Chair of our chapter in my fraternity. This will give me experience in another management role. I don’t see it as doing much utilitarian-oriented direct good, but it will be fun.

  • Moot Court: Moot court is simulated Supreme Court argument. This also doesn’t have any utilitarian-oriented direct good, but it greatly strengthens my communication skills, which is good in general, and my knowledge of the law, which would be good if I wanted to go to law school.

  • Gaming Guild: I used to be President of our local Gaming Guild. I intend to keep up with this as it’s a great way to have fun with friends and I want to make sure my legacy as President doesn’t fall apart.

  • Research: I will be doing more research in Political Science and Psychology. I don’t know if the research itself will be valuable in it’s own right (I suspect not), but it will improve my strength as a researcher and could benefit me greatly if I choose to go to graduate school.

Changes I’m Making

Based on this, I’m going to make a few concrete changes to how I plan on spending my time for the next several months.

  • Emphasize more thinking, blogging, and volunteering. I want to be more focused on pursuing utilitarian-oriented good, so I’m going to be spending more time on my blog thinking through the aforementioned big problems. I also will spend more time providing content and/or administration to Felicifia, LessWrong, r/smartgiving, the Effective Altruism Facebook Group, Giving What We Can, 80K Hours, and Effective Animal Activism.

  • Emphasize finding and talking to more cool people. Whether it be Skype conversations, email, Facebook chats, or comments sections, I want to spend more time in dialogue around important issues with cool people that can help me think through things. I haven’t been quite as intentional about this as I have wanted to be in the past.

  • Emphasize more “targeted reading”. Previously, my time spent reading was aimless but still fruitful. I want to decrease the amount of time spent being aimless though, while keeping the fruitful part. I will then shift more time to reading specific books and sites I think will help me answer these questions and come back and actually blog about them, both parts I’ve had trouble with.

  • Continue New Years Resolutions program. It’s been very successful and I need to continue it to keep up with all the great habits it’s been creating. I’ve been able to get myself to exercise, eat right, lose weight, be more productive, and more. This is amazing and I want to keep it up.

  • Continue to not lose sight of important relationships. I think I’ve been good at not getting totally sucked into a pro-utilitarian black hole, and I’d like to keep that up too by continuing to make time for friends and family.

  • De-emphasize Gaming Guild. One can easily end up spending a lot of time at Gaming Guild activities. At my high point, I spent about 18 hours a week doing Gaming Guild stuff, which is crazy! It seems more reasonable to bring that number down to the 7-9 range, if even that much. I just need to spread out that time to other activities.

  • De-emphasize looking for a campus job. I used to obsess over finding a campus job so I could earn some income to spend, save, and donate. But it might be better in the long-run if I just spend that time doing other things instead. What I’m doing is, by my personal estimate, worth more than $8.30 an hour and I have enough money to get by through senior year.

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This essay was cross-posted to Felicifia, a utilitarian forum. and later followed up in “Six Month Review II: June-November 2013”._