Six-Month Review II: June-November 2013

Follow up to “My Strategic Plan” and “What Have I Been Doing? II”.

I do weekly reviews to make sure that I’m prioritizing my daily tasks well. I do monthly reviews to track my adherence to important habits. However, now I’d like to do something still a bit new – a six-month review that basically checks to make sure everything is going to plan from an even higher, more abstract level of review.

How Did The Last Six Months Go?

Back in May, I wrote “My Strategic Plan” to outline my first six-month review where I enumerated some projects I wanted to focus on. Here’s how I’ve been doing on them.

Thinking Through Complex Issues

“What should I do when I graduate?” I’ve been spending a lot of time on this one, writing three essays on career choice: “My Careers Plan”, “I Now Have Approximately Five Career Categories”, and “Comparing Across My Five Career Categories”. I also summarized some links on career choice in “Sunday Links #17: Altruistic Careers Advice Edition”. Lastly, I interviewed three people on careers: Jon Behar, Holden Karnofsky, and Satvik Beri.

“What normative framework should I choose?” I wrote a lengthy essay on meta-ethics. Soon, I plan on writing a similar “FAQ”-style essay for why I picked utilitarianism sometime soon.

“What would someone acting out utilitarianism in their everyday life look like?” I’ve added to this in “What Does Utilitarianism Look Like in Practice?”. Again, I think the “Utilitarianism FAQ” is a good next step here.

“How, if at all, can utilitarianism be presented as a robust moral theory?” I haven’t done any work on this, but I hope to in the upcoming “Utilitarianism FAQ”.

“What causes should a utilitarian focus on?” I haven’t done any work on this either, but when I hope to write on this very shortly when I decide where I want to donate my money in December. I probably should also re-evaluate how I’m spending my time with regard to which effective altruist projects I focus on soon too.

“How, if at all, should I change my lifestyle?” Beyond my monthly reviews, I haven’t done any additional work on this.

Blogging, Generally

I do like blogging for a variety of reasons, but I do need to do some more work to decide how much time I should sink into it, if any. For example, is a marginal hour spent blogging more important than a marginal hour spent volunteering for an EA org or a marginal hour spent learning more programming?

Another suspicion I have is audience. I suspect that writing essays here is important, but it’s potentially more important to write essays that would go on LessWrong or a blog of an effective altruist organization, for better visibility.

I could spent an unlimited amount of time on any of these three tasks (blogging, volunteering, programming), so deciding how to allocate my time between these tasks is an important thing to focus on. Right now, I don’t have any answers on this, but I intend to do a more thorough review sometime soon.

Volunteering for Like-Minded Communities

I’ve recently been volunteering for Effective Fundraising (EF), Giving What We Can (GWWC), and Effective Animal Activism (EAA). I’m happy with my current engagement with EF (very low-time commitment editing and reviewing), but feel like I ought to put more time into EAA (to accomplish the same amount of work on a faster time-table) and/or put more time into GWWC (to actually accomplish work). I also could consider volunteering for more organizations, like The Life You Can Save (TLYCS).

There is a bit of a tension here because on one hand it makes sense to focus narrowly on the organization I think I can produce the most impact with and do better work there but on the other hand organizations take awhile to review your work and get back to you, so there’s time to work for multiple organizations if you can alternate correctly. I need to do more work here too in order to decide whether to scale-down or scale-up and which organizations to focus on.

Making Denison University a Better Place

I also resolved to work on making Denison a better place (1) for the non-utilitarian sake of it, (2) to gain experience that I can use to apply utilitarian ends, and (3) for résumé boosting.

Denison Venture Philanthropy: DVP (previously called “Venture Philanthropy Club”) is a grant-making college organization that gives a $10K grant out each year and then volunteers to implement that grant. I didn’t actually do all that much important work here. We did end up successfully navigating our fall semester and picking our sixth grantee. Now as I enter into the Spring Semester I want to work on stepping away from the organization and ensuring it transitions smoothly to the next generation of leadership.

Beta Theta Pi: I’ll still be serving as the Recruitment Chair of my fraternity chapter until February 2014. This has been a fun position with appropriate challenge, but ultimately I think I erred in taking it on and it hasn’t helped further my goals nearly as much as I had hoped. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to drop it, so I will serve out the remainder of the term to the best of my ability. I plan on no longer holding a position in Beta after my term is over, so I can focus on more important things.

Moot Court: Moot Court is now over, but I ended up putting a lot of time into it and it ultimately came to a more or less unsatisfactory conclusion. I’m unsure if I erred in doing it this year since I believe it would have been important had I chosen to try for a career in law, which had been my leading option a the time I tried to do it. However, once I decided that law wasn’t right for me, Moot Court ended up becoming much less useful.

Gaming Guild: I had mentioned wanting to scale this down in my previous plan and I think I have done so, more or less, though it still remains a large time commitment of mine that is enjoyable, but probably should be scaled down further for reasons I will discuss later in this essay.

Denison Community Association: The DCA the umbrella organization for all volunteering on campus. Unlike all the other Denison activities I commented on, this is the position I look forward to scaling upwards and putting more time into. Now that I’m focused primarially on increasing the breadth and depth of service engagements on campus, I think there’s a lot of potential in learning about volunteerism on such a microcosm of campus that can potentially be applied in the real-world. I’d like to do more with this, but I’m not quite sure what yet.

Senior Research: I’m doing senior research on the experience of election loss as a motivator to reduced political participation, with a particular focus on looking at how optimism moderates this effect. I think it’s unlikely that the research itself will be impactful, but I still think it’s pretty good training in study methods and design so I’m excited to work on this more as well. I should put more time into this.


Finding and Talking to Cool People: I had mentioned that I wanted to spend more time identifying and networking with cool people, mostly within the effective altruist and rationalist movements. I think I’ve definitely succeeded at this, developing a lot of relationships through my internship with Giving What We Can. I’m pretty happy with how this is going.

“Targeted Reading”: Despite commenting six months ago about how my reading habits were aimless and “shift more time to reading specific books and sites”, I haven’t actually done anything to make this happen. I still think it’s valuable to do so, so I need to renew my focus on this.

De-emphasizing campus job: I still took a position as a stats tutor, but I decided not to look for a 10hr/week job like I had originally thought of looking for.

How Am I Spending My Time, More Particularly?

I’ve tracked my time a bit day-by-day, but I’ve never broke things down by each activity before. So I looked at my time logs for a representative slice of time – 25 October through 25 November – and looked at what I’ve been spending my time on.

Here’s the information in table form…

…and graph form…

To clarify some potentially confusing categories: “Friends+” means time spent with friends plus family and my girlfriend (this includes things like Gaming Guild), “class” is time spent actually in the classroom, “ACE” is working for Effective Animal Activism (soon to be renamed Animal Charity Evaluators or ACE), “Programming” includes learning programming languages and work on the EA Projects Group, “Careers” is time spent looking for and applying to jobs, and “Uncat.” is uncategorized; my “other” catch-all for when it (1) counted as being on-task doing something important, but (2) didn’t fit in another category and (3) wasn’t notable enough to deserve it’s own category.

A few things stand out to me looking back on this – I spent more time with friends and learning how to program than I expected. I also didn’t notice how large the time commitments to Moot Court and Beta were, though I do think this month was atypical for both (being the month of Moot Court competition and fraternity initiation), so that should sort out itself next month (especially now that Moot Court is over forever).

Goals for the Next Six Months

I need to more deeply evaluate how I should spend my time, potentially looking to apply my careers reasoning to choosing between how to allocate time between various projects and activities. I claim to be a full-time student but the time logs show I’m only putting 23.44 hours a week toward being a student, so I have plenty more time to do whatever I want and I ought to use it effectively. In general, I’m looking to scale down involvement with DVP, Beta, and Gaming Guild and potentially scale up involvement with DCA, blogging, programming, volunteering, and senior research as discussed above.

I need to hang out with friends and family in more intentional ways. In general, I want to spend less overall time with friends while still not sacrificing anything by making each amount of time last more. I think I can accomplish this by choosing hang outs wisely to be the ones where I will have more substantial interaction and deciding to go to more hang outs for less amount of time each.

I need a better handle on my sleep as I think polyphasic sleep has the potential to be promising. However, I’ve been chasing it without much success recently, resulting in erratic and probably unhealthy sleep. I need to stabilize into something, even if it doesn’t offer much in sleep reduction.

I need to be stricter about my diet and bulk better. Despite intending to gain weight in order to increase strength, I’ve been continuing to lose weight even more (a problem I know a lot of people would like to have, I’m sure). I need to adhere to my diet more strictly in order to make sure I take in all the calories I need while staying healthy.

I need to get more focused on job searching, not just in the amount of opportunities I look into, but the depth I afford each opportunity. So far I’ve only applied to two things and I should work on that a lot more if I want any hope of applying Satvik’s negotation tactics.

I need to work more on targeted reading, and shift more time to reading specific books and sites and actually blog about them, both parts I’ve still had trouble with.