6890 karmaJoined Sep 2014


I work as head of the one on one team for 80,000 Hours. Previously I worked at the Global Priorities Institute, ran Giving What We Can and was a Fund Manager at the Effective Altruism Infrastructure Fund.

Comments here are my own views only, not my present or past employers', unless otherwise specified.


(I work at 80,000 Hours but on the 1on1 side rather than website.) Thanks for writing out your thoughts so clearly and thoroughly Nick. Thanks also for thinking about the issue from both sides - I think you’ve done a job job of capturing reasons against the changes you suggest. The main one I’d add is that having a lot more research and conversations about lots of different areas would need a very substantial increase in capacity.

I’m always sad to hear about taking away the impression that 80,000 Hours doesn’t care about helping present sentient creatures. I think the hardest thing about effective altruism to me is having to prioritise some problems over others when there are so many different sources of suffering in the world. Sometimes the thing that feels most painful to me is the readily avoidable suffering that I’m not doing anything about personally, like malaria. Sometimes it’s the suffering humans cause each other that it feels like we should be able to avoid causing each other, like cutting apart families on the US border. Sometimes it’s suffering that particularly resonates with me, like the lack of adequate health care for pregnancy complications and losses. I so much wish we were in a world where we could solve all of these, rather than needing to triage.

I’m glad that Probably Good exists to try out a different approach from us, and add capacity more generally to the space of people trying to figure out how to use their career to help the world most. You’re right that Probably Good currently has far lower reach than 80,000 Hours. But it’s far earlier in its journey than 80,000 Hours is, and is ramping up pretty swiftly.

A few things, selected somewhat randomly and somewhat for being possibly useful to others. They're mostly marginal, but I think overall I have been able to make a noticeable change to my hard-workingness over time.

  • Co-working with others. In particular, working in 'pomodoros' where each person sets an intention for the next half hour and then reports back. Some combination of social accountability and comraderie. 
  • Thinking through consciously how many hours I endorse working. I went through a period after having a kid where I felt both guilty for not working hard enough and for not being a good enough mother. That led me to set up my life with insufficient childcare (because it felt like more would make me a bad mother) but was then often wanting to somehow make up for that. Thinking directly about what I thought it looked like to be a good parent (and talking to people I trusted about it) led to me setting up a system I better endorsed and was more sustainable, with more childcare and more hours deliberately set aside for work. 
  • Planning ahead and having policies for ways of making time productive
    • For example, I have a personal policy of buying internet on long haul flights. In the moment it feels expensive and dubiously worth it given that it's not that reliable. But I think it's a significant motivator for me to continue working for at least half of a 10 hour flight, which I'm reliably happy I did. (Though I'm answering this as part of my work time on a flight, so it's not clear it causes me to prioritise optimally ;-) ). 
    • Other things that helped on this trip: thinking a couple of weeks in advance about who I ought to meet with while in the Bay and setting that up while people still had space in their calendar; having a battery pack with me for my phone so I could use it continuously including to hotspot; getting a data plan for while I was in the US so while I was at places where I didn't have wifi I could still work
  • Using melotonin and a podcast I find soporific so that I'm more liable to fall asleep easily and don't need to stop working as long before bedtime 
  • Asking for help on things that are causing me to work less / less productively: 
    • Debugging an aversive thing with a friend / colleague
    • Tech help eg to figure out how to listen on my phone to something I need to read/watch while travelling to use that time better.

Thanks very much for all your work on EV over the years. Your contribution to my work and to me personally have been significant enough that anything in the way of ‘thanks’ feels kind of trite and inadequate, and hopefully obvious to you. But I still want to mark the change by expressing some of the gratitude I feel for the work you’ve done at EV over the years. 

Amongst other things, in your role stewarding EV you co-founded all three of the orgs I’ve spent my working life at (GWWC, 80k, GPI). In my (wholly unbiased! :-p) opinion, setting those up has been tremendously valuable. You’ve also provided me with much needed coaching, support and advice over the years. 

I’ve really enjoyed feeling that EV was in safe hands, knowing you were on the board. I’m crossing my fingers we get to work together again soon. I very much hope that you feel proud of everything EV has achieved over the last (more than) decade, to match the deep awe I feel when I think about what you guys built.

Thank you for all your hard work as a trustee. I’m personally sad to know you won’t be on the board of the organisation I work for anymore. But I’m also excited that you get to put your full attention into your next venture. 

Being a trustee seems extremely difficult to do well at the best of times, given the amount of responsibility entailed without day to day involvement. Being a trustee for CEA/EV has seemed particularly unenviable to me, even before this year.

I felt kind of sceptical when we first set up CEA (now EV) about how long we’d manage to make it work. After all, 9 in 10 start ups fail and it seems like quite the handicap to be set up and run by philosophy students. Over the last decade it’s hugely outdone my expectations. Its grown far faster than expected and ended up encompassing so many different activities and projects. That’s made being responsible for all of it seem difficult and alarming to me. I’ve been grateful for all the years you took that on. 

I remember when we were putting together the board thinking that there were few people I’d trust enough to feel excited to have them in control of an organisation I cared so much about. And I remember how confident I was that you were one of them. The advice I got at the time about startups was that the founders very often end up not getting on, because it’s such a high pressure environment. But I’ve continued to trust your judgement more than almost anyone else I know. I still feel confident that whatever is thrown at you, you’ll handle it resolutely and keep your eye on what would help others most. Thanks for many years of such competent hard work. 

Speaking for myself, my org would definitely be happy to reimburse travel. But I very much dislike travelling for a number of reasons including travel time and jet lag increasing the cost significantly. I don't want to be away from my family longer than necessary, in part because I already optimise fairly strongly for working long hours. So I'm most likely to go to EAGs nearby. Like Greg, going to another EA hub has advantages that sometimes offset the cost of needing to travel for me.

Nice! You might also be interested in this effective giving platform based in Denmark. I wonder if, until you get charitable status, it's possible you could partner with them to make donations tax deductible?

I'm sorry you've had such a tough experience. Thanks for turning it into something that can help others. 

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