Peter's Personal Review for Oct-Dec 2014

by Peter_Hurford 3rd Jan 201520 comments


Happy 2015 everyone!

Last year, I did three month personal reviews (Dec '13 - Feb '14, March-May '14, May-June '14, and July-Sep '14) to track my progress against my EA goals. This is definitely something that I want to keep doing, and I think the three month cycle works well (after having tried reviews on one-month and six-month cycles). In doing this review, I hope to be not all that different from the three month review of any other EA org, except I'm an EA org of precisely one person.

Hopefully, posting such a review here is useful as a case-study of a particular effective altruist approach, and you might find something useful in it, or have some useful commentary to offer me.


How Did I Spend My Time?

These three months, I used Toggl for to-the-minute timetracking, though there are some inaccuracies.


Per Week[1]

% Week









Day Job








EA Direct
























































[1]: On average – obviously not all of these activities took place every week.
[2]: Includes getting ready in the morning and all commuting to and from places (not just work).
[3]: Includes making, but not eating food.
[4]: Does not include writing for the EA Blog, which is considered “EA Direct Work”.


Day Job

I work as a data scientist at a fast-growing start-up in Chicago.


Day Job: What Went Right

At the end of my last review, I had just finished my internship as a software engineer and received a permanent position. I was offered to either be a software engineer or a data scientist, and I chose to become a data scientist, because I thought the career was more intrinsically interesting and data science seems to me to be more likely to have some staying power if it turns out we’re in another tech bubble (which seems quite plausible to me).

I was excited by this transition because while I felt like I had worked a lot with statistics in college, I didn’t know a lot about how it worked in the real world, where the statistical models would be under a lot of demand. I learned a lot about “data engineering”, which is the work of moving data around and building data pipelines that can work under heavy load. I spent much more of my job doing that, and actually haven’t learned much data science yet.

While I feel like I learned a lot about R in my last review (July-Sep ‘14), I definitely didn’t know as much about it as I did now. I feel pretty confident now in both R and Ruby, and can now look back on some of the code I wrote July-Sep ‘14 and laugh at how much of a beginner I once was. I think I got my first tastes of “advanced” R scripting in Oct-Dec ‘14, which culminated in writing the plugin Batchman for batching processes in R. I’m excited to learn more!

I also got my first taste of “big data”, where the amount of data I was working with was too big for R to handle all at once. This is new for me, and also pretty new for our start-up. There are definitely more mainstream tools to be used here (e.g., Hadoop), but I took the approach of trying to build some tools for R to work with big data instead.

Lastly, I took the chance to work on some different skills and picked up more responsibilities by becoming a part-part-time project manager for our team. Most of the teams here have their own full-time project managers, but data science was too domain heavy to make it easy to recruit one. I volunteered to fill that gap. So I’ve been applying organizational skills to make sure our team is on-track.

Overall, I really like my co-workers, I feel like I’m learning a lot, I feel like my work is high challenge while still being possible, and I really like our work’s flexible schedule to allow me to work on EA projects when I want to.

I’ve also been excited by the salary afforded to me by this job, which has allowed me to make some donations, noted in my donation log.


Day Job: What Went Wrong

I do feel bad about the 25.5hrs a week figure.

I can defend it, of course. First, I’m using an actual timer to determine how much time I actually work, and I’m not counting going out for lunch or even going to the bathroom. If you took a typical 40hr/wk person and subtracted out their Reddit time and bathroom time and lunch hours, I’m sure they would be much lower than 40 hours.

Second, there was an awful lot of holidays in November and December, and I took two weeks off.

Third, I feel like data science, and anything with software really, is truly a “work smarter, not harder” kind of industry where the benefits of your results frequently are not a result of how many hours you spent working on them.

And fourth, maybe the utilitarian in me should be glad that I’m getting the same salary, but am able to put more hours into EA projects?

But all that being said, I think it would be beneficial to me personally if I spent more work on my job, because I think I would learn more in response. Maybe I can start working on learning more parts of the data science industry, such as modeling or devops. ...Or I could get better at big data, such as actually learning how to use Hadoop. I imagine these skills would enhance my future career prospects pretty well.


Day Job: Goals to Accomplish by Next Review

  • Get back up to spending 30hrs/wk on my day job.

  • Learn some data modeling.

  • Stretch goal -- Learn Hadoop.


EA Direct Work

I continue to maintain a large medley of EA projects. I think this is smart, because the only way I can reliably know whether they’ll work is to actually do them -- I’m not really able to tell in advance.

To make this a bit more clear, here’s a breakdown:


Per Week

% EA

EA Survey




Charity Science




Birthday for Charity




Pro-veg Research
















EA Direct: What Went Right

Charity Science -- I’m pleased to be an early member of Charity Science. I’ve been ramping up my involvement with them lately, so the small hours per week isn’t really indicative of more recent trends. I’ll wait for the official Charity Science three month review to explain our success in more detail, but we’ve definitely moved over $100K in 2014 to GiveWell’s top charities.

My personal Birthday for Charity fundraiser -- I raised over $5K for AMF! I explain how that happened elsewhere. Giles took those lessons, applied them diligently, and raised over $2K himself. Not bad!

Pro-veg research -- Once again, I was given the opportunity to play with far more money than I earned this year, when Jason and I teamed up with Mercy for Animals to run our study into vegetarian advocacy. The biggest success here is learning delegation, by delegating a lot to Jason and to MFA -- things they would do better than I would! I also managed to delegate some other veg research, such as a look into Humane Spot and a study on disguising the intent of vegetarian questionnaires (forthcoming).

I worked with Tom to add a feature to this EA forum, the "More Comments" link underneith comments in the sidebar.  If you saw how complex the EA Forum codebase is, you'd be impressed too.


EA Direct: What Went Wrong

Survey Data Analysis -- This has been a lesson in the planning fallacy. During my last review, I was convinced that the EA Survey was right around the corner. I was wrong -- I spent nearly 60hrs on it to finish, way more than I expected it would take, but the diligence was important. But then before I could get the final touches done, I hit Thanksgiving, my birthday fundraiser, Christmas, and then New Years, and had no time to get it out the door. It’s still sitting there. I’m disappointed to not have this done by this review, but I’ll definitely have it done by the next one.

Chicago Skeptics Meetup -- The Chicago Skeptics have two meetups a month. I went to one in September and promised I’d be back to the next one. I never returned… to that meetup, or any of the ones over the next four months. I regret that -- I think the networking potential is high, the returns from further testing Charity Science’s modeling of targeting skeptics is high, and it was just plain good for me socially.


EA Direct: Goals to Accomplish by Next Review

  • Publish the EA Survey.

  • Attend at least one more Chicago Skeptics meetup.

  • Continue to work with Charity Science to test more fundraising ideas, ramping up involvement.

  • Continue to advise MFA on the veg study, but decrease involvement.

  • Decrease involvement in other EA activities and time spent on EA direct work overall.



I’m still trying to work on some projects to try to bring in money, whether they take the form of “passive income” projects or potential start-up ideas. I have a long-term goal of eventually replacing my day job income and either (a) making an income cushion so I can do EA projects full-time or (b) creating a rather successful (>$5M in valuation) company.

Where am I at this goal? September saw the launch of, which has about $6 in recurring monthly revenue (from ads), and which I’d value at about $100. Still have a few more zeroes to tack onto that number before I feel successful. But at least it’s paid for itself, and I’m no longer in the red!

My business partner and I did a lot of work behind the scenes to bring some other ideas to the MVP stage, and I think we have four potential projects ready to see if they’ll get us any money.


Entrepreneurship: What Went Right

The biggest thing I’m excited about so far is our idea generation -- it’s greatly surpassed our ability to actually execute, and it means that if our first couple of ideas inevitably fail, we’ll have a lot to try next!


Entrepreneurship: What Went Wrong

I’m still disappointed we didn’t actually launch something.

Entrepreneurship: Goals to Accomplish by Next Review

  • Launch something.

  • Stretch goal -- launch all four of the projects we think are ready to launch soon.

  • Stretch goal -- double monthly revenue (sounds impressive until you remember that’s bringing us from $6/mo to $12/mo).


Other Things

Chinese -- I’m trying to learn Chinese now. It’s pretty new -- a goal I started in December. I’m mainly doing this because it’s fun, though I think there are benefits to learning it. It seems like a generally good skill to have.

Programming -- I spent some time outside of work honing my programming skills. I wroteGit it on, a neat plugin for quickly navigating GitHub from the command line. I wrote Git-aliases, which is a compilation of aliases for interacting with GitHub more quickly. I also wrote some more R plugins, such as SummarizeR, which generates summary reports of data, and Surveytools, a modern, lightweight workflow for analyzing survey data. I’d love to work on these more and get them up on CRAN and Hacker News (goals for the next review).

Exercise -- I’m disappointed that I’m not taking exercise seriously enough, given the large effect it has on happiness, productivity, and well-being (all three things I like). I didn’t exercise much Jul-Sep ‘14, and I wanted to turn that around for Oct-Dec ‘14. I succeeded in exercising more (0.4hrs/wk -> 1.4hrs/wk), even buying a pull-up bar, but I’m still not where I’d like to be. My exercising is still inconsistent, and my weight at 31 Dec 2014 was heavier than it was at 1 Jan 2014. I think as much as I don’t like the idea, I need to pony up the money and go to an actual gym and lift actual weights, and double my time spent exercising per week.  (Update 3 Jan - going to try to stick to this exercise plan.)

Social -- I like to socialize with people. This number is high because I had about 20 days (>20% of the review period) where I was on vacation, because our civilization decided to smush the year’s three most important holidays together into a block of 36 days. I expect this number to go down for the next review period.

Sleep and Break -- These numbers are about as good as they’re going to get, and attempting to decrease them further will only be counterproductive. Everyone needs time to recharge. Eight hours of sleep and two hours of break each day still leaves thirteen hours a day to do important stuff, and I certainly have not optimized that yet.

Prep -- I’m glad that living closer to work has finally brought this number down to something I feel is manageable.

Planning -- I spent significantly more time planning Oct-Dec ‘14 than I did in Jul-Sep ‘14. I don’t know why that is.

Email -- I’m spending more time on my email now. I think this is because I do get more email, but I think it’s more that I’m spending more concentrated periods of time doing emails and multitask less while handling email, so I’m more likely to tag time as “Email”.

Cleaning -- I’m spending a lot more time cleaning my room now in Oct-Dec ‘14 than Jul-Sep ‘14. It doesn’t feel that way, though. I wonder why that is? I imagine that maybe my Jul-Sep ‘14 number wasn’t very accurate?

Moving -- I’m delighted that after spending a ton of time moving in June and September, I finally have a review period where I spent no time moving!



I find it very hard to make resolutions for the entire year -- I just don’t know enough about what my life will be like to plan that far. I much rather like making goals for the next three months instead -- it’s long enough to be a serious commitment, but short enough to allow you to pivot.

I believe that while Oct-Dec ‘14 didn’t bring me as many accomplishments as I hope to have, it did set up a lot in the background that will make Jan-Mar ‘15 unusually productive. I’m excited to work more on Charity Science and I’m excited to get some entrepreneurship projects off the ground and hopefully start earning some money from places other than my job.

However, while I’m reflecting, I must note that I talk a lot a lot about wanting to do more things, but I don’t talk enough about what I’m going to cut out to make that happen. I’ve long run out of the delusion that I can just make more time for everything, but I don’t always act on it.

Ideally, I think my week should have five more hours spent on my day job, five more hours spent on Charity Science, five more hours spent on Entrepreneurship projects, and 30 more minutes spent on learning Chinese. To make way for this, I’m going to reap the savings of finishing the EA Survey (-4.4hrs/wk) and am going to try to dial back socializing by 11.1hrs/wk.

Update -- I don't think I have fine-grained control over my schedule, but I'd like to aim for:

-10.6hrs/wk Social (to 18.6hrs/wk)
-4.4 EA Survey (to 0)
-1.4 Birthday for Charity (to 0)
+3.3 Charity Science (to 5)
+2.6 Exercise (to 4)
+0.5 Chinese (to 2)
+2.2 Learn Programming/Stats/Math (to 4) (see approach here)
+2.5 Day Job (to 28)
+5.3 Entreprenuership (to 8)

...We’ll see how that goes.


What you can do to help!

Let me know if (a) this post is useful to you or (b) you'd rather I not post here on the EA forum, or somewhere in between ...or I guess you can hold both (a) and (b) consistently, so it's not an either-or.

Also let me know if there's anything I can do to make this review more useful, or if you want to know something I didn't provide!

Let me know if you think I should stop doing something I'm currently doing.

Let me know if there's something I'm not currently doing that I should be doing.