And edit like the world will be reading.
A Job is Two Problems [WIP]
Disclaimer: This mostly pertains to knowledge work and other jobs where you have any sort of sway. Sometimes, in more blue-collar or customer-facing positions, it’s harder to solve these problems.
- How do I get as much done as possible at work, given energy and time constraints?
- What can I do during work that maximizes my time and energy outside of work?
Some subproblems of (1):
- How do I prevent work from stressing me out? -> What about work stresses me out? -> How do I minimize or change that?
- Are there any inefficiencies in the office that I can help solve? -> What are the inefficiencies in the office?
Some subproblems of (2):
- How do I make sure I get enough exercise and eat healthy food during work?
- How do I make sure that I meditate during work?
- How do I make sure that work isn’t a significant drain on my happiness, or better yet, how do I reposition myself in relation to my job where work feels fun and exciting?
Find ways to solve or mitigate these two problems, and your life will improve.
Keep a Problems Journal [WIP]
We encounter problems everywhere, and most of the ones that affect us most frequently are mitigatable or solveable by us. The tricks to solving a problem are:
- Notice the problem.
- Remember the problem.
- Think about the problem.
That’s all! It’s hard to improve your own life in meaningful ways, but it’s far easier to generate solutions to abstract problems. Instead of thinking to yourself “Why do I stay awake so late every night? I’m a fool!”,
think “What is preventing me to go to bed early and how can I reshape my life to overcome or remove that obstacle?”.
When you become problem-oriented, you become solution-oriented.
This is extremely helpful at work too. Work problems can look like “I’m spending too much time at work,” “work is stressing me out,” or “this process at work is extremely inefficient and ineffective”.
In much the same way that journaling about ideas will make you have more ideas and make you think about and remember and brood more upon your ideas, journaling about open problems in your life will help you do the same for those. When a problem is in the back of your mind, inspiration for fixing it can come in many different forms from many different sources. The trick is to keep it in the back of your mind, and a journal lets you do that.
Publish your drafts [WIP]
Publish early and often.
All writings on the internet are living documents. They can and should be updated. Conventions differ whether you’re a journalist or an essayist or something else, but there’s no reason to make corrections and additions to already-published work, especially if your audience is small.
If you’re someone who doesn’t have a lot of published writing under their belt and little to no following, consider your rough drafts like seeds. When you publish them (put them in the dirt), you’ve accomplished the most mentally challenging part. From here, you can either refine them or delete them, based off what makes the most sense. Treat them like topiaries that you tend to. Let them grow, prune them as necessary.
Also by publishing your rough drafts, you force yourself to tend to them to protect your reputation, versus letting them languish in a dusty pile, virtual or physical. It’s easy to forget about or distance yourself from material you haven’t published. It’s much harder to do so when you know that material can be viewed at any time.
Deadblogging and Liveblogging
I propose an alternative to liveblogging – deadblogging.
Where liveblogging is blogging about something as it’s happening, and posting continuously, and having the primary value of your posts be their immediacy, deadblogging is blogging about something that you’ve had a lot of time to think about, and posting discretely and rarely, and the primary value of your posts is their longevity.
I think there’s a lot of value in writing early and often, but I think that every writer should have a prominent place where they host their best, most long-lasting and impactful pieces. Blogging can be journalism, and it can be a journal, but I think when it’s at its best, it’s short or long essays that can withstand the test of time and make a difference in the lives of many people.
Of course, you don’t get to that position by not writing — you get there by writing often, and thinking about writing, and thinking about the situations you’re in as situations common to many people. And all of that comes with writing constantly. And to write constantly, you need to blog continuously.
Focus on the MVP
- instead of showering for 30min every day, the MVP is getting in the shower every day.
- instead of building your own static site generator that runs a blog that you’ll write on, just start a minimal-effort wordpress or tumblr something similar.
- instead of trying to hit 10,000 steps every day, just make it a rule that you have to walk around the block once an hour
- instead of trying to convince yourself to read for an hour, the MVP is opening a book while you’re sitting down
I think there are several things that can make you think more clearly and analytically.
- Identifying and acting on weaknesses.
- Getting enough sleep (8.5-9 hours for me, generally 7-9 for others)
- Going on very short (2-5min) walks every hour with one big walk per day (walking 20min each way to get lunch with a friend or audiobook, for example).
- Getting older up to a point (your brain really does change, and it gets smarter and more settled. this might also largely be a consequence of becoming more settled in life. unsure)
- Publishing early and often. If the attempt is not strictly to monetize immediately, and you don’t have funders, there’s no harm in posting [poems, stories, apps, songs, pictures] early and often, even when they aren’t perfectly refined. Respect the 80/20 rule. Get your release to 80% of max quality in 20% of the max time.
- Removing social media from your phone and always carrying a book you genuinely are interested in with you (carrying a kindle or using the kindle app on your phone also work, so do audiobooks).
- Only start marketing yourself once you have a product (even if that product is your single-person consulting business). Wasting time on social media or “brand updates” is a fruitless endeavor.
Writing with Low Confidence
[epistemic status: 60%]
It’s easy to frame low-confidence writing (i.e. when the author claims they don’t fully believe what they’re saying, common in the rationalist blogscape) as needless pontificating, but here’s my formal claim otherwise:
- Low-confidence ideas generally have higher impacts when they turn out to be true, at least when considering the low-confidence ideas that make it out of people’s mouths.
- Entire companies have formed around pursuing low-confidence, high-reward ideas. (Alphabet’s Moonshot Factory)
- Low confidence is equivalent to high-risk where the risk is being wrong instead of anything substantial or material, and by qualifying it with a low-confidence tag, you’re nullifying any of the ramifications of being wrong.
- If you don’t accept premises 1-3, consider that there’s nothing inherently wrong with needless pontificating. It keeps you sharp, it keeps you entertained, and it’s satisfying. Thinking makes people feel good, especially thinking around others.
Why You Should Work at a Private Prison
[Epistemic status: low confidence]
I honestly doubt that morally good or bad people exist, but I’m going to use these terms as shorthand for “people who care about reducing human suffering” and “people who don’t care about reducing human suffering”.
Imagine a world where all of a sudden, most doctors purposefully induce complications during surgery, or give you prognoses that hurt you instead of help you. Doctoring would become a stigmatized profession that decent people would no longer do.
“What? You want to become a doctor? Why? All they do is hurt and scam people!”
This, of course, clearly isn’t the case. The profession innately has the capacity to immensely improve the world. It’s just the case that, in our hypothetical, most doctors are harmful. In our hypothetical, a good doctor would have an outsized positive effective. Not only would they not be purposefully and actively harming people, but they would be genuinely helpful and pleasant, fixing maladies and making the world a better place. You know, like doctors do in real life.
Lately, this is how I’ve been thinking about other stigmatized jobs. An extremely brief list of examples might include: prison guard, debt collector, , cop.
If good people decide not to take morally bad jobs, that means bad people will take the morally bad jobs, and arguably produce more morally bad results.
There are three ways to prevent this: One, somehow convince all morally bad people not to take the morally bad jobs that morally good people already won’t take, so the jobs disappear. Two, reshape reality so the morally bad jobs don’t have a chance to exist. This is the project of many radicals, such as prison abolitionists. The third way is to have good people take the morally bad jobs so, instead of leaning into the capacity for harm that the job allows, they lean into the capacity for good, which largely occurs on the margin.
I think this is equivalent to the prisoner’s dilemma in some ways: defecting is taking the objectionable job, and cooperating is agreeing to not take it. In this comparison, you also have advance knowledge that there’s a sub-group of the population will always defect and take the job.
The important takeaway here is that there’s a cultural understanding that morally good jobs are things like being a doctor. But the reality is that it’s extremely rare to be a doctor on the margin — by becoming a doctor, all you’re likely doing is taking that spot from someone else.
On the other hand, being anything but a bad person at a job that traditionally attracts bad people is extremely on the margin. You’re drastically improving the state of the world by acting neutrally, and even more drastically improving it by being a positive moral force.
It’s pretty intuitive that there already are good people who enter these fields. I imagine some of them are capable of doing good work (for example, there are a lot of judges who strictly prescribe rehabilitative sentences). But I also imagine that bad or corrupt systems have an immune system built into them that prevents them from being reformed, and which prevents individual actors from acting in ways that are against the norm. A prison guard who is really nice to the inmates will probably be bullied by his peers. In fact, I imagine bullying and informal threats from managers are the primary ways that this kind of reform is prevented.
Writing Another Road to Rome
First of all, a blog-wide disclaimer: I don’t mean to imply that anything I write on this blog hasn’t been written about before. In fact, most posts will be yet another post about a well-covered topic. I’m doing this for two main reasons:
- I want to get better at verbalizing my thoughts.
- I want to improve my writing skills.
- I want to provide another perspective, among the existing pile of perspectives on a particular topic, in hopes that mine clicks with someone where the other perspectives did not.
The name of this blog was inspired by Screwtape’s post on LessWrong, which stuck with me through the years after I read it.
…if I want to learn multivariate calculus or basic game theory there will be at least a dozen different ways of learning it, from a video with pictures to a terse few pages of a textbook to some goofy edutainment videogame. This is a good thing, and I wish rationality was more like this. Think of your favourite technique: how many different formats can it be found in? Alternately, think of your favourite format for learning something: how many techniques and concepts can be found in it?
For every concept we want more people to understand, we should want it explained in more ways. If we want everyone to be a little more rational, then we need to put concepts into mediums that everyone can understand.
While Screwtape specifically name-drops rationality as the subject, I see no reason why this approach isn’t helpful and good across all fields.