Hide table of contents

This is a linkpost for the same question on LW.

About a month ago, /u/batislu on /r/SlateStarCodex posted the question "How do you spend your "dead" time productively?". I read this thread, and found myself relieved (because of the admonitions to chill out), but also frustrated (because of the lack of real answers to the question).

With the urgency entailed by extinction risks etc., "just chilling" during dead time can (for many of us) feel undoable. Or, at least, undoable some of the time.

Assume, for many of us, our day job / school does little to directly help, at the highest levels, with the kinds of important problems discussed here. (This is a good time to remind everyone that these opinions are both hypothetical, and solely my own (not my employer's).)

Then the questions become:

  • What, if anything, can be done in the tired "between-time" after work?
  • Can it help with any of the following?:
    • Directly helping work on AI safety / global risks.
    • Upskilling quickly enough to contribute substantially to the previous thing.
    • Improving one's health/intelligence/financial independence enough to be in a better position (in the near term, like less than a year) to help with the first thing.

Some answers of the format and specificity being looked for here:

  • "Join this org's Discord and critique their ideas, if you find argument/feedback a relaxing/low-stress activity."
  • "Do 1 small unit of this easily-spit-uppable low-chance-of-getting-stuck MOOC per day."
  • "Find a type of exercise, like X Y or Z, that you find fun, and do that once per day."
  • "Here's a list of activities many people I know find productive and relaxing, see if any apply to you: ..."

Note that the goal is not to replace all of one's dead time with something productive (unless it's possible to do without crashing and burning lol).

The goal is to keep moving forward at things that would realistically help solve important problems. (Then our guilt/anxiety will be assuaged enough to actually enjoy/recharge the rest of our dead time.)




New Answer
New Comment

3 Answers sorted by

Note: My answer isn't about the highest-impact thing you could do. I also don't face (EA-related) guilt/anxiety about downtime because I repeatedly remind myself that I need not to burnout.

I reserve an hour each night as 'transition time' between work and downtime, with half of that hour being dedicated either to therapy (which is important in sustaining myself so I can solve important problems) or reading tabs (so I can prioritize them and not waste 'work time').

The latter might be more relevant here. I use Notion to clip tabs, such as Forum posts, that seem interesting and categorize + prioritize new tabs at the end of the night. Then I start going down my reading list until I reach the end of my allotted transition time. This both saves precious non-dead time and seems like a productive, EA-related use of dead time (in that I often learn more about EA during this time).

Something I haven't tried but might be interesting is to volunteer to complete tasks you find interesting/relaxing/fun for EA orgs (e.g. graphic design or copyediting). You can find opportunities on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/groups/1392613437498240/), Impact CoLabs (https://www.impactcolabs.com/) and EA Work Club (https://www.eawork.club/)

Spreadsheet for categorizing opportunities: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1tJtJ6lpIjE7Dv5hUo_HCXb8mNGYvDgiQSQYvNfJGJyU/edit#gid=1264761950

I think I gained a lot from reading blogs and writing comments on the internet, but of course it is very costly in terms of time. I think I'm happy with the benefits, but I have a poor understanding of the counterfactual (like if I spent the time reading books or doing small programming projects or something else instead). Also to be clear I mostly started writing internet comments because it was the natural thing to do, and not because I had any pretensions that it'd be useful. I would be very surprised if commenting on the internet is anywhere close to optimal, as my initial reasons for doing so are far from virtuous. 

In addition, my understanding/guess is that internet engagement is substantially more emotionally/cognitively costly to other people than for me. Still, you may find it an attractive option until you have better ones.

If you find commenting on the Forum or LW during times when you're very tired/low-energy unappealing or scary, consider commenting in other communities with reasonably high epistemic quality (eg analytic blogs about your day job, Q&A sites like StackExchange, strategy articles if you play a competitive game).

I've also heard good things about podcasts like 80k, though I have not gained as much from them myself relative to (inter)active participation. I've enjoyed the relatively few documentaries I've finished watching though I have not found them to be too useful.

Forecasting on platforms like Metaculus and GJO is another option. 

I have a long (1-1.5 hour) commute via public transit to and from my work and as much of a time sink it is, it serves as (1) a great environment for doing offline non-professional work and (2) a concrete divider between my "professional" part of the day and my "personal" part of the day.

 Typically, I do a mix of (sometimes EA-related) things, such as listening to downloaded podcasts on my AntennaPod, reading articles tagged as "priority:high" on my Wallabag read-it-later app, listening to books on Libby, or watching non-intensive, career-related MOOC lectures via Lynda (now LinkedIn Learning), UDemy, etc. Admittedly though, I've struggled with time management as of late and have often have to use that time to sleep instead (burnout is real!).

Curated and popular this week
Relevant opportunities