Personal Review for December 2013 - February 2014

Follow up to “Six Month Review II: June-November 2013”.

Previously, I’ve publicly published monthly reviews where I’ve reviewed progress on habits and published six-month reviews where I’ve gone in-depth on personal life strategy. While I still aim to review myself on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis, I am no longer going to publish these. Instead, I’ve recently found that the monthly review is too quick to have meaningful things to say, while the six-month review is too slow. Therefore, I’ve consolidated into a three-month review. Here’s my personal review for the months of December, January, and February. I’ve been delayed in getting this out due to the site redesign.

What Is My Path to Impact?

I find it useful to start this review by stating my plans, and then seeing how well I did against these plans. Broadly, I still self-identify as an effective altruist, which means I want to do my best to make the world a better place. But easier said than done! How do I aim to do that?

My Plan, Broadly

In “Where I’m Giving and Why”, I write that there is “a huge priority to learn more about opportunities for doing good” and therefore “I’ve decided to spend my money and time trying to figure out how to learn more in reliable ways” (see also me on unproven causes, my follow-up to that post, and Paul Christiano on cause prioritization).

Long-Term (The Three Year Plan)

I wrote in “My Case Study: I (Mostly) Finished Choosing Between Careers” that I’m currently aiming to be in “full-time employment for 40-60 hours a week, but then spending significant portion of my ‘free time’ volunteering and doing EA side projects”. I will be starting work doing web development and statistics for a Chicago-based start-up on the 30th of June. By splitting my time this way, I hope to learn a lot more about my earning potential, my ability to do EA projects, and how the value of these two things might compare.

Generally, over the next three years I’d like to take an opportunity to try work in several different spheres – marketing/outreach, community building, cause prioritization research, strategic research, coaching, project management, and earning to give – and see where I am best suited to the EA movement. Over the next three years (12 review cycles), I hope to have a strong preliminary determination about where I am most useful. After that, I will either (1) continue to do the mixed model of earning to give and EA work, (2) focus solely on earning to give, or (3) retire early and focus solely on EA work.

Short-Term (The Three Month Plan)

The next three months are March, April, and May. After May is done, there will only be one month until I start my job.

The main focus of my short-term plan will then be to focus on pre-professional prep. This means learning a lot more statistics and programming. I’d like to learn more back-end (Ruby on Rails, mainly), front-end (JavaScript, mainly), and Big Data stuff (R, Hadoop, MapReduce). This should then put me in a strong position for my upcoming job.

I’d also like to support my longer-term plan. I’d like to bring much greater organization to my projects in each sphere, for greater transparency and tracking. Then, I’d like to try a little in each. I’d like to arrange it so rather than trying everything at once, I do more things one-at-a-time to maintain higher focus (though I also think I thrive on having high variety in my tasks).

Why This Plan, and Not Others?

My plan seems best in a fairly obvious way. Building programming strength seems like a great way to build career capital and increase my potential earnings a lot, and furthermore opens up other opportunities for volunteering or maybe even creating a technology start-up. Learning seems best from an EA point-of-view, since it will increase my impact over many years to come if I find better things to do, which I expect I will, and I might be able to influence others as well. Such learning, considered as “cause prioritization”, is also listed by 80,000 Hours as the best cause.

How Did I Spend My Time?

Winter Break

From 20 December to 19 January, I was at home, between semesters in college. I had no concrete schedule and could largely do whatever I wanted. I chose to break up my time as follows. I intentionally focused a lot on socializing (seeing friends). My other focus was on programming – getting through the Ruby on Rails Tutorial – and on settting up .impact.

Note that other includes things like showering, hygeine, prioritizing my work, travelling, packing/unpacking, visiting the dentist, getting a haircut, etc.

Activity Hours Per Week Per Day % of Day % of Awake Day
Sleep 55.7 8.0 33% -
Friends 40.8 5.8 24% 36%
Other 24.1 3.4 14% 21%
Break 14.8 2.1 9% 13%
Programming 11.8 1.7 7% 11%
.im 11.6 1.7 7% 10%
Write 5.6 0.8 3% 5%
Exercise 4.4 0.6 3% 4%
ACE 2.2 0.3 1% 2%
Senior Research 1.9 0.3 1% 2%

20-31 Jan

On the 20th of January, I returned for my final semester at college. I added up Beta Theta Pi (my fraternity), Homework / Class, Denison Community Association (DCA), and Denison Venture Philanthropy (DVP) as timeblocks because they’re my school activities. Time was broken up as follows. I was heavily focused on Beta because I was in charge of coordinating recruitment for the Spring.

In addition for working for ACE (0.58hrs/wk), projects included writing a play (2.03hrs/wk), volunteering for 80K (0.28hrs/wk), and doing EA-related research into career choice (0.58hrs/wk) and CFAR (1.02hrs/wk).

Activity Hours Per Week Per Day % of Day % of Awake Day
Sleep 53.8 7.7 32% -
Other 18.5 2.7 11% 11%
Friends 18.4 2.6 11% 12%
HW/Class 13.7 2.0 8% 9%
Break 11.8 1.7 7% 8%
Programming 6.9 1.0 4% 6%
ACE / Projects 4.5 0.7 3% 3%
Beta 22.9 3.3 14% 14%
Senior Research 1.6 0.2 1% 1%
.im 5.3 0.8 3% 3%
DCA 5.0 0.7 3% 3%
Write 2.6 0.4 2% 2%
Exercise 2.2 0.3 1% 1%
DVP 0.3 0.04 0% 0%

February

Now that I no longer had to work as much for Beta, I focused more on Programming and Senior Research. I also began working on putting together a TEDx talk about strategic philanthropy. Classes also ramped up a bit.

Activity Hours Per Week Per Day % of Day % of Awake Day
Sleep 53.4 7.6 32% -
Other 21.3 3.0 13% 13%
HW/Class 18.3 2.6 11% 12%
Friends 15.0 2.1 9% 10%
.im 13.1 1.9 8% 9%
Break 12.3 1.8 7% 8%
Programming 10.1 1.4 6% 9%
TEDx 6.7 1.0 4% 4%
Beta 6.4 0.9 4% 4%
Senior Research 4.9 0.7 3% 3%
Exercise 3.3 0.5 2% 2%
DCA 2.8 0.4 2% 2%
DVP 2.2 0.3 1% 1%
Write 1.8 0.3 1% 1%

Is my time properly aligned with my goals?

My time is my most valuable resource, so I want to make sure that it’s working for me as best as is possible. Broadly speaking, I do think the way I spend my time is properly aligned with my goals, with the exception of winter break. On winter break, I probably spent a bit too much time sleeping and with friends – though this was probably acceptable given the circumstances.

It seems like it was probably a mistake to do senior research – while I do get some returns (social status, research experience, contact with professionals, potential publication), the returns do not seem worth the time investment, compared to other opportunities that I have. However, at this point with a final draft already written and only one more month to go, it seems like it would be a mistake to drop it, even after taking into account the sunk cost fallacy.

I seem to be doing the right things and my output also seems high. I might be open to criticism from not having the right balance between my projects, but I don’t see any clear room for improvement. I might also be open to critism from trying to do too much at once, but I don’t see any activities I can easily drop before graduation in May. At this point in the middle of my final semester, I should just stay the course.

What Did I Accomplish?

Thinking Through Complex Issues

“What should I do when I graduate?” I end up largely settling this question for myself in “My Case Study: I (Mostly) Finished Choosing Between Careers”, where I settle on web development and announce that I will be starting a web development job this summer. I also interviewed Jon Behar a second time and give career advice to Jacy.

No progress on other questions. Despite asking “What normative framework should I choose?”, “What would someone acting out utilitarianism in their everyday life look like?”, “How, if at all, can utilitarianism be presented as a robust moral theory?”, “What causes should a utilitarian focus on?”, “How, if at all, should I change my lifestyle?” and making goals to work further on these questions by the next review, I have not published progress on any of these questions, though I did think about the issues personally and have outlined many of my thoughts in an online debate with Alonzo Fyfe. Publishing concrete progress on these questions will be a goal to accomplish by the next review.

Blogging, Generally

I didn’t write much during this three month period. I decided that writing wasn’t as high impact at the moment as the other opportunities I was faced with (e.g., putting together the TEDx presentation, putting togehter .impact, and working on career development by learning programming). I now intend to try to keep up writing again because I think that there are some high-value things for me to think through that would also be of interest to other people. But I need to keep in mind that it’s still generally a better idea for me to focus on building up more important skills, like programming.

I’ve aimed to begin a daily writing habit, and I hope to sustain that in small doses every day to keep my writing going.

Animal Charity Evaluators

On my previous list of goals, I had “volunteer for like-minded communities”. Over the past three months, this was Animal Charity Evaluators (ACE), where I assisted in putting together their “Organization Evaluation Template”. ACE is now beginning to make a round of research and recommendations based on this template. I think this was a high-value project to influence the direction of ACE and I’m excited to see how it turns out. Right now, it doesn’t seem like I will be doing additional volunteering for them, though I’m still open to the opportunity.

.impact

In addition to volunteering with ACE, over the past three months, I spent a significant amoutn of my time helping start .impact, “a distributed volunteer force of effective altruists working on really useful projects”. This involved work on four projects – .meta, or work on organizing .impact as a whole; a study of the impact of Facebook ads on vegetarians; creating r/smartgiving, a Reddit for EA; and the Job Board, which has mostly just been an outlet to learn programming.

Overall, I think there has been a decent amount of value from these projects and .impact as a whole, with a lot of potential and learning value yet to be realized. A more detailed review of .impact is forthcoming shortly. I intend to continue work in .impact.

TEDx

Another opportunity I had was to participate in TEDxDenisonU, which was a TEDx talk featuring 12 different speeches from Denison students, Denison faculty, and the wider Denison community. This seemed like a great opportunity to share a message of strategic philanthropy, and I took it, talking about GiveWell and SCI. I also took the opportunity to practice honing my pitch. I hope to share more on this when the YouTube version of the talk is publicly available.

Learning Programming

I’ve learned a significant amount of programming over the past three months, having put in a combined 110 hours into learning. I’ve completed the Coursera “Data Analysis” class which brought me up to intermediate level knowledge of the statistical language R (~45 hours to complete) and I completed Michael Hartl’s Ruby on Rails tutorial (~40 hours). Both of these tutorials are highly recommended. I also worked on the Job Board to further learn Ruby on Rails; enrolled in a Computer Science course at Denison focused on Python, C++, and data structures / algorithms; and am working through Kaggle and “Advanced R” to learn more R techniques.

In the future, I hope to soon start working through “Agile Web Development with Rails” and “Javascript is Sexy” to learn more Ruby/Rails and JavaScript respectively. I hope to write up more on my experiences learning programming, as well as collaborate with some other programmers to create a guide to help other people learn programming.

Finding and Talking to Cool People

I still continue to be very excited about my level of connecting with the people in my life. I’ve worked a bit more on acheiving some work-life balance with regard to this. I’ve now Skyped with many people for .impact and personally, as well as correspondend with people via other mediums. I’ve also worked harder to connect with other friends in my life, including my Beta brothers and my family.

Making Denison University a Better Place

My previous review made a point of trying to scale down my involvement in on-campus activities. Ultimately, over the past three months I have succeeded in scaling down my involvement, but not as much or as quickly as I might like. I intend to continue to try to scale down and transition my involvement in all Denison acitvities as I prepare to graduate.

Eating and Exercise

My exercise has not been conformed to the “three days lifting, two days running” as often as I’d like. I need to renew my focus here, especially with regard to running, which has been hard to motivate myself to do given the very cold winter. However, while my running has backslid over the past three months (I’m no longer as good of a runner as I once was), I have increased my lifts – Squat +25lbs (190 to 215lbs), Benchpress +25lbs (85 to 110lbs), Deadlift +50lbs (215 to 265lbs), and Overhead Press +15lbs (70 to 85lbs). (I did not increase on my Rows, but that’s because my range of motion in my initial row form was wrong, leading me to have larger weights than merited.)

On the eating front, things have also become less consistent. I have been able to mostly keep up a healthy diet, though I have had a lot of struggles with eating junk food that I need to work on.

Conclusion

Overall, I’m telling myself to keep up the good work.