Personal Review for March - May 2014

Follow up to “Personal Review for December 2013 - February 2014”.

I’m doing this review a little bit earlier because (a) I just graduated college and feel like I want to review what I’ve done within that context and (b) I can get back onto a Jan-Mar, Apr-Jun, Jul-Sep, Oct-Dec review cycle by doing a May-Jun review next. I’ve also had a shift in goals that fits well within this cycle as I start work at the beginning of July. This review covers 1 Mar to 17 May.

How Did I Spend My Time?

These two months, I was focused on pre-professional prep (learning a lot more statistics and programming), bringing greater organization to my projects, and trying different things.

Activity Hours Per Week Per Day % of Day % of Awake Day
Sleep 54.3 7.8 32% -
Friends 35.0 5.0 21% 31%
Other[1] 24.6 3.5 15% 22%
Programming 17.2 2.5 10% 15%
Break 12.5 1.8 7% 11%
Class[2] 5.8 0.8 3% 5%
Beta 4.3 0.6 3% 4%
Exercise 3.6 0.5 2% 3%
.impact 3.0 0.5 2% 3%
Write 2.5 0.3 1% 2%
Senior Research 1.9 0.3 1% 2%
DVP 1.5 0.2 1% 1%
DCA 1.6 0.2 1% 1%
ACE 1.0 0.1 1% 1%
80K 0.4 0.05 0% 0%

1: Other includes things like showering, hygeine, prioritizing tasks, reading/answering email, travelling, packing/unpacking, visiting the dentist, getting a haircut, etc.

2: Class does not include my Computer Science class, which was instead included in Programming.

What Did I Accomplish?: Pre-professional Prep

I spent 17.2 hours a week (189.3 hours total) learning programming, which is almost a part time job. This was broken down with 89.8 hours (47.4%) spent on my CS class (Python, C++); 48 hours (25%) redesigning all my websites (lots of CSS, some JavaScript); 28.8 hours (15.2%) spent developing Jorge’s Trading Post (PHP); 10.5 hours (5.5%) learning R; 6.5 hours (3.4%) learning Ruby/Rails; and 6 hours (3%) on other miscellaneous stuff.

I’m happy with this level of time commitment, but I would like to up it both in overall quantity and in distribution. As my job will be working with Ruby/Rails and R, I need to spend the vast majority of my time focusing on those two languages. I’d ideally like to work 40 hours a week on learning programming to make sure I’m prepared, which would give me another 240 hours of prep, which I think would be adequate, especially if focused on Ruby/Rails and R.

What Did I Accomplish?: EA Projects

In addition to focusing on pre-professional prep, I was also focused on expanding my knowledge of EA Projects by trying a bunch out and seeing how things went, with the goal of finding opportunities to focus in on. My overall goal was to try to make some progress in six areas: marketing/outreach, community building, cause prioritization research, coaching, and project management. Here’s how I’ve done so far:

Marketing / Outreach

I gave a TEDx Talk on 1 Mar. It was viewed in person by about 200 people and then viewed online by 260 more people. It’s too difficult to figure out how many people were influenced by it. I wrote a retrospective that I think is informative for helping develop the pitch for EA. Overall, I spent 34.3 hours preparing, giving, and reviewing the TEDx event. I don’t think the talk had much impact, though I’ll continue to monitor. It was worth the experiment.

I had a conversation with Michael Bitton where we discussed EA marketing, including the promising idea of focusing on atheists / skeptics, currently being explored by the new organization Charity Science (though I believe they thought of targeting that group independently).

Community Building

I interviewed Boris Yakubchik. The benefit here is to use human stories to inspire people into effective altruism. A few people said they found the interview useful, though it’s hard to know how much impact this translates into. This took 3.5 hours of my time and two hours of Boris’s time.

Cause Prioritization Research

I did some more research on the cost-effectiveness of vegetarian advocacy (currently unpublished). More by the next review.


I wrote a guide on how to learn programming. Six people told me personally that they would use it. I still have not checked in with any of them, but intend to do so before the next review. This took me five hours of my time and one hour of other people’s time. More on the impact of this by the next review.

I coached one person in productivity techniques, but still haven’t followed up enough to know if I’ve had any impact.

I also coached two people on how to add effective altruism into one’s life. For one person, I think I had an impact, but I’m very confident that this person counterfactually would have turned out the same if I had not coached her. For the second person, I have still not followed up as there hasn’t been enough time. More on this in the next review. Both of these coaching sessions were one hour each.

Furthermore, I coached two people in career choice. For one, I don’t think I’ll have any impact. For the other, it’s too soon to see if I’ll have any impact. These took 1.5 hours of my time, each.

Lastly, I reached out to Jacy to review the impact of my prior coaching with him. It appears my advice did not have any direct impact, but “the social support/encouragement of having another like-minded individual in a similar place in life accomplishing visible [and] productive” was “most important”. Likewise, Jacy felt inspired by how I “took a non-standard career path (AFAIK, you’re doing EtG+Movement-Building, which is pretty unique) and that probably galvanized [his] decision to do a similar thing with graduate school (career capital+Movement-Building)”. The advice plus the review was two hours of my time, so I think it was worth it. Overall, careers coaching seems to be a promising use of my time, even if I have not generated any career changes. More by the next review.

Project Management

I re-started .impact after a month hiatus. While three of our members (Ozzie Gooen, Patrick Brinich-Langois, and Ciaran Phillips) have dramatically scaled down their time commitment for .impact in order to pursue finding a programming job, we’ve added two new committed members – Tom Ash and Jacy Anthis – who have started work on different projects, most notably a survey of effective altruists (take it if you haven’t already) and several community building tools, such as a map of EAs and a cause-neutral donation registry. I don’t think my project management or project work here is essential, but it seems somewhat critical, so it appears to be 34 hours well invested during this review cycle.

Eating and Exercise

Previously, I said I would have to renew my focus to eating right and exercising consistently for the next review cycle. I have done this to some success by committing to Beeminder, which tracks your goals and charge you money for derailing. This allowed me to regain my ability to run a 5k in about half an hour (10min mile). I also boosted my Squat, but none of my other lifts – Squat +10lbs (215 to 225lbs), Benchpress +0lbs (110lbs), Deadlift +0lbs (265lbs), Overhead Press +0lbs (85lbs), and Rows +0lbs (110lbs). I owe this letdown to the smaller review cycle and the fact that not exercising for a large period of time lead me to have to spend my time catching up rather than increasing my lifts.

Thanks to Beeminder, I also have been able to more frequently keep to a healthy diet and eat significantly less junk food.

Goals for the Next Review

My three-year goal is to watch the development of the effective altruist community and my own personal talents to (a) assess how much room there is for marginal high-impact EA projects work, (b) assess whether I would be well suited for that work personally, and (c) assess whether doing that work full-time would be preferable to working full-time and donating some of my salary.

I’m only 1.5 months in, but it appears that coaching, project management, and cause prioritization research have some promise (listed in decending order of promise-having). I’m also reasonably confident they could amount to full-time work. However, I’m still very uncertain whether my working full-time on this area would be better than my ability to donate potentially $30K-$40K a year and rising to other people already working in the area, like the Centre for Effective Altruism.

For my next review cycle (now until the beginning of July, right after I settle into my new job), I’ll be taking a bit of a different approach and focusing as much as I can on learning programming to prepare for my job. Originally, I was also planning on focusing on EA Projects, but I expect that marginal time learning programming will be more immediately valuable for increasing my near-term and long-term job prospects. Furthermore, as I home after college, I expect to be allocating a significant amount of time to seeing my friends, family, and girlfriend prior to entering the “real world”. As you can see, I already spent 35 hours a week with friends over the past two months, celebrating the end of college.