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The 2017 Effective Altruism Survey - Please Take!

6 peter_hurford 24 April 2017 09:08PM

This year, the EA Survey volunteer team is proud to announce the launch of the 2017 Effective Altruism Survey.

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PLEASE TAKE THIS SURVEY NOW! :)

If you're short on time and you've taken the survey in prior years, you can take an abridged donations-only version of the survey here.

If you want to share the survey with others, please use this fancy share link with referral tracking: http://bit.ly/2q8iy2m

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What is this?

This is the third survey we've done, coming hot off the heels of the 2015 EA Survey (see results and analysis) and the 2014 EA Survey. (We apologize that we didn't get a 2016 Survey together... it's hard to be an all volunteer team!)

We hope this survey will produce very useful data on the growth and changing attitudes of the EA Community. In addition to capturing a snapshot of what EA looks like now, we also intend to do longitudinal analysis to see how our snapshot has been changing.

We're also using this as a way to build up the online EA community, such as featuring people on a global map of EAs and with a list of EA Profiles. This way more people can learn about the EA community. We will ask you in the survey if you would like to join us, but you do not have to opt-in and you will be opted-out by default.

 

Who should take this survey?

Anyone who is reading this should take this survey, even if you don't identify as an "effective altruist".

 

How does the survey work?

All questions are optional (apart from one important question to verify that your answers should be counted). Most are multiple choice and the survey takes around 10-30 minutes. We have included spaces for extra comments if there is some extra detail you would like to add (these are strictly optional).

At the end of the survey there is an 'Extra Credit' section with some more informal questions and opportunities for comment - definitely feel free to skip these questions.

Results will be shared anonymously unless you give your explicit permission otherwise.

 

Who is behind this?

The EA Survey is a all-volunteer community project run through .impact, which is soon changing it's name to "Rethink Charity". The results will not belong to any one person or organization.

Using a Spreadsheet to Make Good Decisions: Five Examples

12 peter_hurford 28 November 2016 05:10PM

I've been told that LessWrong is coming back now, so I'm cross-posting this rationality post of interest from the Effective Altruism forum.

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We all make decisions every day. Some of these decisions are pretty inconsequential, such as what to have for an afternoon snack. Some of these decisions are quite consequential, such as where to live or what to dedicate the next year of your life to. Finding a way to make these decisions better is important.

The folks at Charity Science Health and I have been using the same method to make many of our major decisions for the past for years -- everything from where to live to even deciding to create Charity Science Health. The method isn’t particularly novel, but we definitely think the method is quite underused.

Here it is, as a ten step process:

  1. Come up with a well-defined goal.

  2. Brainstorm many plausible solutions to achieve that goal.

  3. Create criteria through which you will evaluate those solutions.

  4. Create custom weights for the criteria.

  5. Quickly use intuition to prioritize the solutions on the criteria so far (e.g., high, medium, and low)

  6. Come up with research questions that would help you determine how well each solution fits the criteria

  7. Use the research questions to do shallow research into the top ideas (you can review more ideas depending on how long the research takes per idea, how important the decision is, and/or how confident you are in your intuitions)

  8. Use research to rerate and rerank the solutions

  9. Pick the top ideas worth testing and do deeper research or MVP testing, as is applicable

  10. Repeat steps 8 and 9 until sufficiently confident in a decision.

 

Which charity should I start?

The definitive example for this process was the Charity Entrepreneurship project, where our team decided which charity would be the best possible charity to create.

Come up with a well-defined goal: I want to start an effective global poverty charity, where effective is taken to mean a low cost per life saved comparable to current GiveWell top charities.

Brainstorm many plausible solutions to achieve that goal: For this, we decided to start by looking at the intervention level. Since there are thousands of potential interventions, we placed a lot of emphasis on plausibly highly effectve, and chose to look at GiveWell’s priority programs plus a few that we thought were worthy additions.

Create criteria through which you will evaluate those solutions / create custom weights for the criteria: For this decision, we spent a full month of our six month project thinking through the criteria. We weighted criteria based on both importance and the expected varaince that would occur between our options. We decided to strongly value cost-effectiveness, flexibility , and scalability. We moderately valued strength of evidence, metric focus, and indirect effects. We weakly valued logistical possibility and other factors.
 

Come up with research questions that would help you determine how well each solution fits the criteria: We came up with the following list of questions and research process.

Use the research questions to do shallow research into the top ideas, use research to rerate and rerank the solutions: Since this choice was important and we were pretty uninformed about the different interventions, we did shallow research into all of the choices. We then produced the following spreadsheet:

Afterwards, it was pretty easy to drop 22 out of the 30 possible choices and go with a top eight (the eight that ranked 7 or higher on our scale).

 

Pick the top ideas worth testing and do deeper research or MVP testing, as is applicable / Repeat steps 8 and 9 until sufficiently confident in a decision: We then researched the top eight more deeply, with a keen idea to turn them into concrete charity ideas rather than amorphous interventions. When re-ranking, we came up with a top five, and wrote up more detailed reports --SMS immunization reminders,tobacco taxation,iron and folic acid fortification,conditional cash transfers, and a poverty research organization. A key aspect to this narrowing was also talking to relevant experts, which we wish we did earlier on in the process as it could quickly eliminate unpromising options.

Pick the top ideas worth testing and do deeper research or MVP testing, as is applicable: As we researched further, it became more clear that SMS immunization reminders performed best on the criteria being highly cost-effective, with a high strength of evidence and easy testability. However, the other four finalists are also excellent opportunities and we strongly invite other teams to invest in creating charities in those four areas.

 

Which condo should I buy?

Come up with a well-defined goal: I want to buy a condo that is (a) a good place to live and (b) a reasonable investment.
 

Brainstorm many plausible solutions to achieve that goal: For this, I searched around on Zillow and found several candidate properties.

Create criteria through which you will evaluate those solutions: For this decision, I looked at the purchasing cost of the condo, the HOA fee, whether or not the condo had parking, the property tax, how much I could expect to rent the condo out, whether or not the condo had a balcony, whether or not the condo had a dishwasher, how bright the space was, how open the space was, how large the kitchen was, and Zillow’s projection of future home value.
 

Create custom weights for the criteria: For this decision, I wanted to turn things roughly into a personal dollar value, where I could calculate the benefits minus the costs. The costs were the purchasing cost of the condo turned into a monthly mortgage payment, plus the annual HOA fee, plus the property tax. The benefits were the expected annual rent plus half of Zillow’s expectation for how much the property would increase in value over the next year, to be a touch conservative. I also added some more arbitrary bonuses: +$500 bonus if there was a dishwasher, a +$500 bonus if there was a balcony, and up to +$1000 depending on how much I liked the size of the kitchen. I also added +$3600 if there was a parking space, since the space could be rented out to others as I did not have a car. Solutions would be graded on benefits minus costs model.

Quickly use intuition to prioritize the solutions on the criteria so far: Ranking the properties was pretty easy since it was very straightforward, I could skip to plugging in numbers directly from the property data and the photos.

 

Property

Mortgage

Annual fees

Annual increase

Annual rent

Bonuses

Total

A

$7452

$5244

$2864

$17400

+$2000

+$9568

B

$8760

$4680

$1216

$19200

+$1000

+$7976

C

$9420

$4488

$1981

$19200

+$1200

+$8473

D

$8100

$8400

$2500

$19200

+$4100

+$9300

E

$6900

$4600

$1510

$15000

+$3600

+$8610

  

Come up with research questions that would help you determine how well each solution fits the criteria: For this, the research was just to go visit the property and confirm the assessments.

Use the research questions to do shallow research into the top ideas, use research to rerate and rerank the solutions: Pretty easy, not much changed as I went to actually investigate.

Pick the top ideas worth testing and do deeper research or MVP testing, as is applicable: For this, I just ended up purchasing the highest ranking condo, which was a mostly straightforward process. Property A wins! 
 
This is a good example of how easy it is to re-adapt the process and how you can weight criteria in nonlinear ways.
 

How should we fundraise? 

Come up with a well-defined goal: I want to find the fundraising method with the best return on investment. 

Brainstorm many plausible solutions to achieve that goal: For this, our Charity Science Outreach team conducted a literature review of fundraising methods and asked experts, creating a list of the 25 different fundraising ideas. 

Create criteria through which you will evaluate those solutions / Create custom weights for the criteria: The criteria we used here was pretty similar to the criteria we later used for picking a charity -- we valued ease of testing, the estimated return on investment, the strength of the evidence, and the scalability potential roughly equally. 

Come up with research questions that would help you determine how well each solution fits the criteria: We created this rubric with questions

  • What research says on it (e.g. expected fundraising ratios, success rates, necessary pre-requisites)

  • What are some relevant comparisons to similar fundraising approaches? How well do they work?

  • What types/sizes of organizations is this type of fundraising best for?

  • How common is this type of fundraising, in nonprofits generally and in similar nonprofits (global health)?

  • How one would run a minimum cost experiment in this area?

  • What is the expected time, cost, and outcome for the experiment?

  • What is the expected value?

  • What is the expected time cost to get best time per $ ratio (e.g., would we have to have 100 staff or huge budget to make this effective)?

  • What further research should be done if we were going to run this approach?

Use the research questions to do shallow research into the top ideas, use research to rerate and rerank the solutions: After reviewing, we were able to narrow the 25 down to eight finalists: legacy fundraising, online ads, door-to-door, niche marketing, events, networking, peer-to-peer fundraising, and grant writing.
 
Pick the top ideas worth testing and do deeper research or MVP testing, as is applicable: We did MVPs of all eight of the top ideas and eventually decided that three of the ideas were worth pursuing full-time: online ads, peer-to-peer fundraising, and legacy fundraising.
 
 

Who should we hire? 

Come up with a well-defined goal: I want to hire the employee who will contribute the most to our organization. 

Brainstorm many plausible solutions to achieve that goal: For this, we had the applicants who applied to our job ad.

Create criteria through which you will evaluate those solutions / Create custom weights for the criteria: We thought broadly about what good qualities a hire would have, and decided to heavily weight values fit and prior experience with the job, and then roughly equally value autonomy, communication skills, creative problem solving, the ability to break down tasks, and the ability to learn new skills.
 
Quickly use intuition to prioritize the solutions on the criteria so far: We started by ranking hires based on their resumes and written applications. (Note that to protect the anonymity of our applicants, the following information is fictional.)
 

Person

Autonomy

Communication

Creativity

Break down

Learn new skills

Values fit

Prior experience

A

High

Medium

Low

Low

High

Medium

Low

B

Medium

Medium

Medium

Medium

Medium

Medium

Low

C

High

Medium

Medium

Low

High

Low

Medium

D

Medium

Medium

Medium

High

Medium

Low

High

E

Low

Medium

High

Medium

Medium

Low

Medium

 

Come up with research questions that would help you determine how well each solution fits the criteria: The initial written application was already tailored toward this, but we designed a Skype interview to further rank our applicants. 

Use the research questions to do shallow research into the top ideas, use research to rerate and rerank the solutions: After our Skype interviews, we re-ranked all the applicants. 

 

Person

Autonomy

Communication

Creativity

Break down

Learn new skills

Values fit

Prior experience

A

High

High

Low

Low

High

High

Low

B

Medium

Medium

Medium

Medium

Low

Low

Low

C

High

Medium

Low

High

High

Medium

Medium

D

Medium

Low

Medium

High

Medium

Low

High

E

Low

Medium

High

Medium

Medium

Low

Medium

  

Pick the top ideas worth testing and do deeper research or MVP testing, as is applicable: While “MVP testing” may not be polite to extend to people, we do a form of MVP testing by only offering our applicants one month trials before converting to a permanent hire.

 

Which television show should we watch? 

Come up with a well-defined goal: Our friend group wants to watch a new TV show together that we’d enjoy the most. 

Brainstorm many plausible solutions to achieve that goal: We all each submitted one TV show, which created our solution pool. 

Create criteria through which you will evaluate those solutions / Create custom weights for the criteria: For this decision, the criteria was the enjoyment value of each participant, weighted equally. 

Come up with research questions that would help you determine how well each solution fits the criteria: For this, we watched the first episode of each television show and then all ranked each one. 

Pick the top ideas worth testing and do deeper research or MVP testing, as is applicable: We then watched the winning television show, which was Black Mirror. Fun! 

 

Which statistics course should I take? 

Come up with a well-defined goal: I want to learn as much statistics as fast as possible, without having the time to invest in taking every course. 

Brainstorm many plausible solutions to achieve that goal: For this, we searched around on the internet and found ten online classes and three books.

Create criteria through which you will evaluate those solutions / Create custom weights for the criteria: For this decision, we heavily weighted breadth and time cost, weighted depth and monetary cost, and weakly weighted how interesting the course was and whether the course provided a tangible credential that could go on a resume.
 
Quickly use intuition to prioritize the solutions on the criteria so far: By looking at the syllabi, table of contents, and reading around online, we came up with some initial rankings:
 
 

Name

Cost

Estimated hours

Depth score

Breadth score

How interesting

Credential level

Master Statistics with R

$465

150

10

9

3

5

Probability and Statistics, Statistical Learning, Statistical Reasoning

$0

150

8

10

4

2

Critically Evaluate Social Science Research and Analyze Results Using R

$320

144

6

6

5

4

http://online.stanford.edu/Statistics_Medicine_CME_Summer_15

$0

90

5

2

7

0

Berkley stats 20 and 21

$0

60

6

5

6

0

Statistical Reasoning for Public Health

$0

40

5

2

4

2

Khan stats

$0

20

1

4

6

0

Introduction to R for Data Science

$0

8

3

1

5

1

Against All Odds

$0

5

1

2

10

0

Hans Rosling doc on stats

$0

1

1

1

11

0

Berkeley Math

$0

60

6

5

6

0

OpenIntro Statistics

$0

25

5

5

2

0

Discovering Statistics Using R by Andy Field

$25

50

7

3

3

0

Naked-Statistics by Charles Wheelan

$17

20

2

4

8

0

 

Come up with research questions that would help you determine how well each solution fits the criteria: For this, the best we could do would be to do a little bit from each of our top class choices, while avoiding purchasing the expensive ones unless free ones did not meet our criteria. 

Pick the top ideas worth testing and do deeper research or MVP testing, as is applicable: Only the first three felt deep enough. Only one of them was free, but we were luckily able to find a way to audit the two expensive classes. After a review of all three, we ended up going with “Master Statistics with R”.

Take the EA survey, help the EA movement grow and potentially win $250 to your favorite charity

5 peter_hurford 01 December 2015 05:07PM

This year's EA Survey is now ready to be shared! This is a survey of all EAs to learn about the movement and how it can improve. The data collected in the survey is used to help EA groups improve and grow EA. Data is also used to populate the map of EAs, create new EA meetup groups, and create EA Profiles and the EA Donation Registry.

If you are an EA or otherwise familiar with the community, we hope you will take it using this link. All results will be anonymised and made publicly available to members of the EA community. As an added bonus, one random survey taker will be selected to win a $250 donation to their favorite charity.

Take the EA Survey

Please share the survey with others who might be interested using this link rather than the one above: http://bit.ly/1OqsVWo

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(Cross-posted on Discussion from Main by popular request.)

Take the EA survey, help the EA movement grow and potentially win $250 to your favorite charity

18 peter_hurford 01 December 2015 01:56AM

This year's EA Survey is now ready to be shared! This is a survey of all EAs to learn about the movement and how it can improve. The data collected in the survey is used to help EA groups improve and grow EA. Data is also used to populate the map of EAs, create new EA meetup groups, and create EA Profiles and the EA Donation Registry.

If you are an EA or otherwise familiar with the community, we hope you will take it using this link. All results will be anonymised and made publicly available to members of the EA community. As an added bonus, one random survey taker will be selected to win a $250 donation to their favorite charity.

Take the EA Survey

Please share the survey with others who might be interested using this link rather than the one above: http://bit.ly/1OqsVWo

We’ll write you a will for free if you leave a gift to GiveWell’s top charities

4 peter_hurford 16 October 2015 03:33AM

Would you like to leave money in your will to GiveWell’s top rated charities at the time of your passing? If so, Charity Science will you help you write it for free.

To make it as easy as possible for you, we at Charity Science have made a simple form that takes as little as 5 minutes to complete. After that you come out with a ready made will. And don’t worry if you’re not sure what to put in it; it’s easy to change and you can always come back to it later. So give it a shot here. The default option should be to set it up just in case something terrible does happen, that way you always have something ready.

A few more reasons to take the time to write a will include:

  • Reducing the inheritance tax incurred - leaving money to charity being an excellent way to do so.

  • Making provisions for your children if you have any, for example by choosing who will take care of them and setting aside funds for this.

  • Making any other necessary provisions, such as for your pets, or your business, or other responsibilities that you have.

  • Specifying what sort of funeral you would like, which will spare your family from having to make the decision.

  • Naming your executors for your will (family members are a standard choice).


But most of all it’s because you have the incredible opportunity to do an epic amount of good.


You can set it up here. After that consider talking to your friends, parents and grandparents to see if they would be interested in doing the same. It’s really important you mention it because the average amount left to charities in a will is in the thousands of dollars so a few words may go a very long way.


If this doesn’t appeal to you then there are other things that you could do. You can always run a fundraiser for Christmas, your Birthday or any event you like.

Donate to Keep Charity Science Running

13 peter_hurford 27 January 2015 02:45AM

Charity Science is looking for $35,000 to fund our 2015 operations. We fundraise for GiveWell-recommended charities, and over 2014 we moved over $150,000 to them that wouldn’t have been given otherwise: that’s $9 for every $1 we spent. We can’t do this work without your support, so please consider making a donation to us - however small, it will be appreciated. Donate now and you’ll also be matched by Matt Wage.

The donations pages below list other reasons to donate to us, which include:

  • Our costs are extremely low: the $35,000 CAD pays for three to four full-time staff.
  • We experiment with many different forms of fundraising and record detailed information on how these experiments go, so funding us lets the whole EA community learn about their prospects.
  • We carefully track how much money each experiment raises, subtract money which would have been given anyway, and shut down experiments that don’t work.
  • Our fundraising still has many opportunities to continue to scale as we try new ideas we haven’t tested yet.

There’s much more information, including our full budget and what we’d do if we raised over $35,000, in the linked document, and we’d be happy to answer any questions. Thank you in advance for your consideration.

Donate in American dollars 

Donate in British pounds 

Donate in Canadian dollars

Pomodoro for Programmers

8 peter_hurford 24 December 2014 06:26PM

Unless you’ve been living under a productivity rock, you probably have heard of the Pomodoro Technique, where you use a timer to do 25 minutes of focused work, and then take a five minute break.

I used to use this technique a lot, up until I started doing computer programming.

You see, with computer programming, I get into this mysterious flow that consumes me, and I keep blazing passed the 25 minute interval, and the buzz of the Pomodoro merely distracts me and derails my work.

However, it’s still important to re-focus, even as a programmer. So I’ve tentatively settled on the following: 45 minutes of intense work followed by 15 minutes of intense break, using this custom timer made in a snap. (Inspired by the idea of "tocks", attributed to the co-founders of Beeminder, though I can’t seem to find a canonical post explaining it.  Update: a canonical post was just written, seemingly by coincidence.)

You probably know what happens in the period of intense work — uninterrupted work in a distraction-free environment where I code like a mad man. If anything bubbles up in my mind that’s not a task, I write it down to address later.

But the intense break is important.

 

Here’s my routine:

1.) A bit of rest. Look away from the computer. Let loose. Focus.

2.) Ask myself — am I comfortable? Do I need to do anything to rearrange my working environment? Am I sufficiently free from distractions? Do I need to do anything to address past distractions? Do I need to refill my water bottle? Do I need to get more food?

3.) What did I do over the past 45 minutes? Did I do it right? Does it need revision?

4.) What did I miss over the past 45 minutes? Do I have any important emails that need to be processed right away? Did anyone send me messages over HipChat? Any FB notifications? I disconnect from these services while during my work sprint, but the urgency of work communication requires me to reconnect every once in awhile. I try to put off responding to messages until the end of the day if they don’t require an urgent response, though.

5.) What should I do during the next 45 minute interval? Am I on track to accomplish my goals? Will my next 45 minute interval be distraction-free? Do I need to do anything to address future distractions?

6.) Are there any quick tasks I can accomplish? Any emails I need to send? Any notes I need to take? Did anything bubble up that I should address now?

 

The breaks are just as important as the work, and it emphasizes self-care, which is important and often neglected. I find that each 15 minute break propels my next 45 minute block to be better than if I had spent the entire 60 minutes working nonstop.

How to Read

11 peter_hurford 22 December 2014 05:40AM

Part of my attempt to provide a bunch of unsolicited, anecdotal evidence that probably doesn't work for everyone.

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Of course you already know how to read.  But do you know how to read well?

Many people who read a book want to read for entertainment.  That's perfectly ok -- it seems like a great way to take a break and enjoy yourself.  But many times people pick up a book with the intention to learn something important.  If you're one of those people, it's important not to fool yourself, end up not learning anything, and just waste your time.  That's how you end up reading for entertainment without realizing it.

This was a big problem for me, and I realized I was wasting a lot of time when I otherwise could have been productively reading books.

While I'm still not the best reader, here's how I think I solved that problem:

I'm choosy about which books I read.  There are millions of books in the world.  I can't read them all.  So I have to be choosy.  I think about what I stand to gain from the book.  Is it worth my time to read it?  Is the book actionable?  I personally aim to read books that come to me in reviews, that from a skim of their table of contents look like they'll provide real value to me.

I think about what else I could be doing instead of reading.  Reading is great, but in many cases experience can be a better teacher.  Moreover, picking up some experience can help me understand and apply the lessons in books better.  I try to adopt a "doing-reading" loop, where I read something, act upon it, then read another something, etc., continuing to iteratively improve in whatever skill I'm after.  This also helps validate the advice of books.

I'm not afraid to ditch an underperforming book.  If I don't like it, it's wasting my time, and it's time to move on.

I consider sources other than books. Books are often the best source of information on any topic, and are often higher quality because they're intensely reviewed.  But many blog posts and online resources can be great too.  I Ignore them at my own peril.

I read a summary, read the book, then re-read the summary.  My favorite loop for retaining the main ideas of the book I read is to first find a high quality summary of the book and familiarize myself with the basic points.  Then I read the actual book.  Then, when I'm finished, I look back on the summary and remind myself of the key points and think of the examples that came up in the book.  Note that I can't just read the summary because summaries often only work to remind myself of the book and not to replace the book's content.  (Also note that this summary-read-summary loop might not work well with some books, like textbooks.)

I skim and read actively. If I'm hunting for information, there's no need to read every word on every page.  I feel free to skip through parts I already know, or when the author is belaboring the point too much.  Conversely, I re-read important sections.

I use Audible, Pocket, and Kindle.  Even with the best of intentions, I never actually make the time to read.  Instead, I've found much more success with fitting reading into the gaps of my day.  I use Audible to listen to audiobooks when I'm exercising, cleaning, or commuting.  I use Pocket on my phone to read blog posts when I'm standing in line or in the bathroom.  I use Kindle on my computer when I'm between tasks, or waiting for a program to run.  Substitute other apps as you see fit, but fill your time.

I take notes during, or at least after. Ideally, I should be taking notes on what I read as I read them.  But this usually doesn't end up happening.  Either way, I aim to take some time after reading the book to summarize the book and internalize my lessons learned and figure out what it is about my life (and/or my research program) will be different after reading the book.  If I can't come up with an answer, I probably wasted my time reading the book.

I slow down to digest the books.  Many good books teach a lot at once, and I need to slow down to reflect upon each piece.  Many times, this means I have to take some time away from the book to reflect.

You have a set amount of "weirdness points". Spend them wisely.

57 peter_hurford 27 November 2014 09:09PM

I've heard of the concept of "weirdness points" many times before, but after a bit of searching I can't find a definitive post describing the concept, so I've decided to make one.  As a disclaimer, I don't think the evidence backing this post is all that strong and I am skeptical, but I do think it's strong enough to be worth considering, and I'm probably going to make some minor life changes based on it.

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Chances are that if you're reading this post, you're probably a bit weird in some way.

No offense, of course.  In fact, I actually mean it as a compliment.  Weirdness is incredibly important.  If people weren't willing to deviate from society and hold weird beliefs, we wouldn't have had the important social movements that ended slavery and pushed back against racism, that created democracy, that expanded social roles for women, and that made the world a better place in numerous other ways.

Many things we take for granted now as why our current society as great were once... weird.

 

Joseph Overton theorized that policy develops through six stagesunthinkable, then radical, then acceptable, then sensible, then popular, then actual policy.  We could see this happen with many policies -- currently same-sex marriage is making its way from popular to actual policy, but not to long ago it was merely acceptable, and not too long before that it was pretty radical.

Some good ideas are currently in the radical range.  Effective altruism itself is such a collection of beliefs typical people would consider pretty radical.  Many people think donating 3% of their income is a lot, let alone the 10% demand that Giving What We Can places, or the 50%+ that some people in the community do.

And that's not all.  Others would suggest that everyone become vegetarian, advocating for open borders and/or universal basic income, theabolishment of gendered language, having more resources into mitigating existential riskfocusing on research into Friendly AIcryonicsand curing death, etc.

While many of these ideas might make the world a better place if made into policy, all of these ideas are pretty weird.

 

Weirdness, of course, is a drawback.  People take weird opinions less seriously.

The absurdity heuristic is a real bias that people -- even you -- have.  If an idea sounds weird to you, you're less likely to try and believe it,even if there's overwhelming evidence.  And social proof matters -- if less people believe something, people will be less likely to believe it.  Lastly, don't forget the halo effect -- if one part of you seems weird, the rest of you will seem weird too!

(Update: apparently this concept is, itself, already known to social psychology as idiosyncrasy credits.  Thanks, Mr. Commenter!)

...But we can use this knowledge to our advantage.  The halo effect can work in reverse -- if we're normal in many ways, our weird beliefs will seem more normal too.  If we have a notion of weirdness as a kind of currency that we have a limited supply of, we can spend it wisely, without looking like a crank.

 

All of this leads to the following actionable principles:

Recognize you only have a few "weirdness points" to spend.  Trying to convince all your friends to donate 50% of their income to MIRI, become a vegan, get a cryonics plan, and demand open borders will be met with a lot of resistance.   But -- I hypothesize -- that if you pick one of these ideas and push it, you'll have a lot more success.

Spend your weirdness points effectively.  Perhaps it's really important that people advocate for open borders.  But, perhaps, getting people to donate to developing world health would overall do more good.  In that case, I'd focus on moving donations to the developing world and leave open borders alone, even though it is really important.  You should triage your weirdness effectively the same way you would triage your donations.

Clean up and look good.  Lookism is a problem in society, and I wish people could look "weird" and still be socially acceptable.  But if you're a guy wearing a dress in public, or some punk rocker vegan advocate, recognize that you're spending your weirdness points fighting lookism, which means less weirdness points to spend promoting veganism or something else.

Advocate for more "normal" policies that are almost as good.   Of course, allocating your "weirdness points" on a few issues doesn't mean you have to stop advocating for other important issues -- just consider being less weird about it.  Perhaps universal basic income truly would be a very effective policy to help the poor in the United States.  But reforming the earned income tax credit and relaxing zoning laws would also both do a lot to help the poor in the US, and such suggestions aren't weird.

Use the foot-in-door technique and the door-in-face technique.  The foot-in-door technique involves starting with a small ask and gradually building up the ask, such as suggesting people donate a little bit effectively, and then gradually get them to take the Giving What We Can Pledge.  The door-in-face technique involves making a big ask (e.g., join Giving What We Can) and then substituting it for a smaller ask, like the Life You Can Save pledge or Try Out Giving.

Reconsider effective altruism's clustering of beliefs.  Right now, effective altruism is associated strongly with donating a lot of money and donating effectively, less strongly with impact in career choice, veganism, and existential risk.  Of course, I'm not saying that we should drop some of these memes completely.  But maybe EA should disconnect a bit more and compartmentalize -- for example, leaving AI risk to MIRI, for example, and not talk about it much, say, on 80,000 Hours.  And maybe instead of asking people to both give more AND give more effectively, we could focus more exclusively on asking people to donate what they already do more effectively.

Evaluate the above with more research.  While I think the evidence base behind this is decent, it's not great and I haven't spent that much time developing it.  I think we should look into this more with a review of the relevant literature and some careful, targeted, market research on the individual beliefs within effective altruism (how weird are they?) and how they should be connected or left disconnected.  Maybe this has already been done some?

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Also discussed on the EA Forum and EA Facebook group.

Productivity 101 For Beginners

20 peter_hurford 05 November 2014 11:04PM

I'd like to believe that I'm pretty productive, and people seem interested in how I do it.  Previously, I had written "How I Am Productive"and it became one of my most popular essays of all time.

The real secret is that, in the past, I wasn't nearly as productive.  I struggled with procrastination, had issues completing assignments on time, and always felt like I never had enough time to do things.  But, starting in January 2013 and continuing for the past year and a half, I have slowly implemented several systems and habits in my life that, taken together, have made me productive.

I've learned productivity, and I want to try to teach it to others.

When I wrote "How I Am Productive", I kind of brain dumped everything that I knew in one place.  To do better, I should help people go one step at a time.  I also focused a lot on particulars of my situation -- to do better, I should be more general.  The aim of this -- Productivity 101 for Beginners -- is to try to make a general, step-by-step guide to increasing people's productivity.

...It's basically what I would do if I somehow had to start over.

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Disclaimer: This is still advice based on what works for me.  I've attempted to validate it by trying it on a couple of other people and integrating feedback.  I've also tried to improve it based on what I've learned in the year between writing this and writing "How I Am Productive".  But your mileage still may vary, and I'm not a professional coach.

 

 

Step One: Get some goals!

...So here's my step-by-step guide to being productive.  ...Start on step one.  Focus on step one.  Do not move on from step one until you're done with step one.

Most people think productivity starts with "how", but I always find that it starts with "why".

Why do you want to be productive?

...If you could do more, what would you do?  Would you try to exercise?  Would you practice programming regularly?  Would you start writing?

Action point for this step: Carefully pick two goals -- two things that you want to accomplish that you're currently not doing.  Focus on them and how awesome it would be if you could get those things done!

Avoid this common mistake: Do not pick more than two goals.  Only focus on two to start small and simple.  You can add more goals later.

You can progress to the next step when you've picked two goals that you're excited about.  These are the reasons why you want to be productive.

 

 

Step Two: Track Your Time!

So you have your two goals now.  (If you don't have your two goals, go back to Step One.)  We now know why you want to be productive.

Now we have to make some time for your goals.  But in order to do that, we have to figure out where your time is currently going.

Action point for this step: Using paper and a pencil, Google Calendar, Toggl, or some other time tracker, map out roughly what you do on a given week.  If your week is atypical, wait until a more typical week.  If all your weeks are atypical, just track one and we'll work with it.

Avoid this common mistake: Don't stress out about timing.  You can do rough estimates (I started out with fifteen minute intervals, but half hour intervals are fine) and if you miss something, it's ok.  It might take a day of practice.  Remember to have your timer with you (carry your notebook, get Toggl's mobile app, etc.) so it's easier to track things.

You can progress to the next step when you have at least three days of usable timelogs, preferably a week of timelogs.

 

 

Step Three: Timebox

Now you have to figure out when you want to accomplish your goals.  Timeboxing refers to making a box of time in your calendar when you'll accomplish something.

Action point for this step: Look in your timelog to see if you have any time that you're not spending the way you want, and make that the time you do your goals.  When I started out, I found that I would read the internet aimlessly for two hours a day.  I cut that down to one hour and then used that free hour to exercise.

You might find that good times include right when you wake up, right before you go to sleep, after class, before work, after work, etc.  Lots of different times work for different people -- just find a time that works for you!

Avoid this common mistake: Don't cut out too much suboptimal time.  Breaks are important for rest!  Maybe you can set a timer (implicitly based on agreeing only to watch one TV episode, or an actual timer that rings), take a break for that amount, and then do what productive thing you want.  Remember how excited you are about doing it, and how bad you'll feel if you watch that second TV show!

You can progress to the next step when you have a concrete time in which you will accomplish both your goals.

 


Step Four: Commit!

We've long recognized that we can't get our goals done ourselves -- weakness of will is just too strong.  You need the power of a commitment device if you actually want to accomplish your goals in the long-run -- there is no other way.

Action point for this step: Bind both your goals to some sort of commitment device that works for you.  Go to the gym with a friend and don't let them let you cancel.  Sign up for Beeminder.  Sign up for HabitRPG.  Bet a friend.  Start making checkmarks for every day on track and don't let yourself break the streak.  Do more than one of these things.  Do whatever it takes to get yourself on track!

Avoid this common mistake: Don't use a commitment device that doesn't work for you.  If you'd lie to Beeminder, don't use it.  If you'd lie to a friend you bet, find some way to increase their oversight so that you can't lie.  You have to make your commitment device inescapable.

You can progress to the next step when you have a commitment device that has successfully made you stick to your two habits for five days in a row.  If your commitment device isn't working, get a new one.  If your time isn't working, choose a new time.  If you find yourself still failing, maybe your goal isn't important to you?  Focus on why you want to do this goal, or consider switching goals.

 

 

Step Five: Keep Going!

Don't stop now!  Keep your habit up!

Action point for this step: Continue to stick to your two goals.

Avoid this common mistake: Do not add more goals.  You must focus on your current two goals in order to make them stick.  It's worth it in the long run.

You can progress to the next step when you have stuck to your goal successfully for three weeks.

 

 

Step Six: Build!

Congrats on getting this far.  Now you're ready to add more goals as you see fit and dig into more advanced productivity advice.

Remember to keep things going slow.  Productivity is a marathon, not a sprint, and the same rules apply.  Minor setbacks don't matter if the long-run is an improvement.

You have reached the end of Productivity 101, but I'd be glad to help you further.  I'd love feedback on how it went for you.

...I'd also love feedback if one of the steps didn't work for you, so I can improve this guide for you or others.

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