Review & Planning
One of the best tips I learned last year was from the Ultraworking team: you should divide each of your goals (when possible) into (1) a baseline goal you know you can reach and (2) a tougher stretch goal you can't guarantee.
This makes it easier to set ambitious goals without threatening your success/failure ratio—stretch goals are made to be failed. Meanwhile, the baselines help you build up momentum to make the stretch goals a little easier. This year, I'll be dividing my goals in two, and I'm setting two metagoals:
- Complete 100% of my baseline goals.
- Complete 50% of my stretch goals.
To avoid committing myself to goals that end up being irrelevant or crappy, I'll let myself change the goals as needed. To avoid "cheating" where I change failed goals instead of acknowledging them as failed, I'll set a cap to the number of goals I can change that decreases as the year goes by.
- In the first quarter, I can modify up to half of the goals.
- In the second quarter, up to one quarter.
- In the third quarter, up to one eighth.
- And in the last quarter, up to one sixteenth.
🛑 1. Stop Scrolling: No Reddit, YouTube, HackerNews, or porn.
I'll make an exception (for all but the last) when I stumble across these sites in search engine results or messages from other people. The main problem (from a use-of-time point of view) is scrolling, and external links don't have to mean scrolling (thanks to tools like DF Tube).
Sometimes these sites contain content that are worth consuming. To get at those nuggets, I've asked trusted contacts to forward me their highlights—my brother for YT, my dad for Reddit and HN.
To make sure this goal pans out, I need to establish an alternative for when I feel like absorbing content passively. I've given myself two options: read (especially blogs) or scroll through my notes.
As for porn, I'm not zealously antifap—I think masturbation can have a real value (in practicing for multiple orgasms), so I'll apply my imagination as needed. In all likelihood, I won't even care to since I'm living together with my partner.
🚪 2. Log off: Less time on my computer and phone.
- 2.1 less than 2 h/d on my phone
- 2.2 less than 10 h/d on my computer Stretch
- 2.1 less than 1 h/d on my phone
- 2.2 less than 8 h/d on my computer
For some reason, I can't pull up my yearly average screen time for 2021, but judging from the last few weeks, it was probably like 10-12 hours per day. I'd like to spend less time plugged in—the only problem is that spending time behind my computer is my job description.
⏲ 3. More Self-Monitoring: Track Work & Media Consumption
I'd like to track how I spend my time in more detail.
- 3.1 Track how much time I spend working on average per day.
- 3.2 Track media consumption by type of media (books, articles, music, podcasts, movies, episodes, board games, video games). Review this on a monthly basis like julian.digital.
- 3.1 Track how much time I spend on personal projects per day. Also, track how much I spend on "processing" (organizing/cleaning/reviewing/etc.) versus "output" (writing/coding) for both work and personal projects.
- 3.2 Track the amount of time spent on "input" (media consumption) individually per item.
Some of this tracking takes place automatically:
- Apple Health for exercise.
- Apple Screen Time for what I do on the computer.
Some things I need to do manually:
- Screen time doesn't track what I do within my browser.
- Screen time can't differentiate between work and personal projects.
For this, I'll be trying out Clockify. In the spirit of atomic habits, I'm starting small, tracking just work. On a monthly basis, I'll consider integrating more of the stretch goals.
📚4. Reading / Input
- 4.1 Read 50 books.
- 4.2 Read 1 book in French, Dutch, Portuguese, Italian, Spanish, and German.
- 4.3 Read 2 books for each author under "Fiction" below.
- 4.4 Read 10 books under "Nonfiction" below.
- 4.5 Read 5 "volumes" for the blogs mentioned below (one volume as published on Amazon, otherwise 100,000 words). Stretch:
- 4.1 Read 75 books.
- 4.2 Read 2 books in French, Dutch, Portuguese, Italian, Spanish, and German.
- 4.3 Read 3 books for each author under "Fiction"
- 4.4 Read 15 books under "Nonfiction" below.
- 4.5 Read 10 volumes for the blogs mentioned below
A few lessons from last year.
- Don't set overly ambitious reading goals. This encouraged me to "cheat" by reading easier-to-digest fiction, avoiding longer books, and taking less detailed notes (or none at all). No need to rush.
- Leave some room to choose. Deciding everything ahead of time is a little asphyxiating and just not as fun. Reading should be fun. So instead of setting a stubborn goal (like last year's "read all of Twain and Orwell"), I'd like a more relaxed attitude ("read at least five books on the following list").
- Fiction: John Irving, Octavia Butler, Thomas Pynchon, Stieg Larsson, Jane Austen, Vladimir Nabokov, William Shakespeare, Nicholas Nassim Taleb.
- Nonfiction: The Exponential Age, The Cold-Start Problem, Tiago Forte's Praxis series, Mom test, Social Physics, Godel Escher Bach, Cybernetics 1 & 2 (Norbert Wiener), Deep Work, Ultralearning, Grit, the Bell Curve, The Almanac of Naval Ravikant, Noise, Fooled by Randomness.
- Blogs: Eliezer Yudkowsky's "The Sequences", the original Slate Star Codex / the new Astral Codex Ten, Robin Hanson's Overcoming Bias (& his books the Elephant and the Brain, the Age of Em), apenwarr.ca, julian.digital...
🗃 5. Personal Knowledge Management
- 5.1 Finish & publish a plugin for ordering notes.
- 5.2 Refactor notes (remove indices from note titles & group notes in appropriate folders).
- 5.3 2,500 notes (with at least a sentence of text).
- 5.4 Build a new personal website so I can publish articles directly from my PKM. Stretch
- 5.1 Come up with several metrics to measure note "quality" (degree, path length, etc.) & set targets for each of these metrics.
- 5.2 Refactors notes to meet these targets & give them a logical order with the note-order plugin.
- 5.3 5,000 notes (with at least a sentence of text).
✍️ 6. Writing
- 6.1 Write 6 articles.
- 6.2 Quarterly & monthly progress reports. Stretch:
- 6.1 Write 12 articles.
- 6.2 Write a monthly newsletter.
Last year, my overly ambitious writing target made me cheat: I separated several articles into multiple installments that should have been single long-form posts, and I probably wrote less concisely than I would have liked. I'm trying to avoid this trap this year.
That said, I anticipate that goal 5.4 (build a new personal website) will make it substantially easier to publish quickly.
As for newsletters—one thing I learned last year is that I hate writing newsletters. I hate the idea of forcing myself down people's throats, and the whole thing makes me supremely unhappy. I still think it is important to market yourself, so to make it a little easier for myself, I'm going to turn the newsletter into a monthly affair, and combine it with a progress report I'm already writing.
🗣 7. Language-Learning
Baseline (221 cards/week):
- 7.1 B1 in German (2,000 words = 4,000 cards)
- 7.2 B2 in Portuguese (4,000 words = 6,000 cards)
- 7.3 A1 in Mandarin (500 words = 1,500 cards)
- 7.4 Figure out how where I can best do CEFR1 placement tests.
Stretch (442 cards/week):
- 7.1 B2 in German (4,000 words = 8,000 cards)
- 7.2 C1 in Portuguese (8,000 words = 12,000 cards)
- 7.3 A2 in Mandarin (1,000 words = 3,000 cards)
- 7.4 Actually do CEFR tests for the above.
🇧🇷 Portuguese. Portuguese suddenly became a priority last December when my company's first client ended up being in Brazil. That makes for a great reason to master Portuguese this year.
🇩🇪 German. As for German, my main inspiration is literature. I'd like to go through Humboldt's Cosmos, and I've made a bet with a former housemate that I would read Goethe's Faust by the age of 25. The clock is ticking. This is a rather fortunate motivation because it means I can skip much of the awful grammar and stick to passive understanding.
🇨🇳 Mandarin. I'd like to learn Mandarin because China is taking over. History teaches that you should learn the language of the power-holders.
How to quantify language-learning? I have a hard time with this. A good rule of thumb for your level in any given language is the number of words you know, but this doesn't measure your mastery of equally important components like grammar and pronunciation. It's also hard to even count the number of words because, if you're using Anki, a single word might mean anywhere between one and five different flashcards.
So I've come up with the arbitrary (and personal) conversions (which incorporate familiarity and grammatical difficulty) of 2 flashcards per word for German, 1.5 cards per word for Portuguese, and 3 cards per word for Mandarin. From my experience with Dutch, Spanish, Italian, and French, I can often tell what a new word means in German or Portuguese, so I may only need a single card to learn a new word (picture/definition -> word). But because German is gramatically awful, its conversion rate is higher.
Although Mandarin grammar is easier, the fact that words are etymologically unfamiliar combined with the novel writing script incline me to a conversion factor of 3:1.
There are lots of good reasons to avoid [marking your languages with country flags](https://wplang.org/never-use-flags-language-selection/), but, in this case, the correspondence is clear enough.
🏃 8. Keep on Moving
- 8.1 Close my Apple Watch rings at least 310 times (85%). That's 12h standing (i.e., standing at least one minute per hour), 60 minutes of exercise, and 1,000 calories per day.
- 8.2 Average 7,500 steps.
- 8.3 Reach a 30s handstand.
- 8.4 Reach level 15 on Stamena.
- 8.1 Close my Apple Watch rings at least 345 times (95%).
- 8.2 Average 10,000 steps.
- 8.3 60s handstand.
- 8.4 Reach level 25 on Stamena. Achieve a non-ejaculatory orgasm.
🍽 9. Starve Yourself Occasionally
- 9.1 12 x 1-day fasts
- 9.1 4 x 3-day fasts
- 9.2 1 x 5-day fast
I've already been doing 16/8 intermittent fasting (most of the time) for five years. It's habit enough that I don't need to set explicit daily targets. Still, I'd like to explore longer fasts (I have yet to exceed four days).
🌏 10. Eat Less Meat. Drink Little Alcohol
- 10.1 Eat poultry no more than 2x per week (104x).
- 10.2 Eat beef/mutton/pork no more than 1x per month (12x).
- 10.3 No more than two drinks per week (104x).
- 10.1 Eat poultry no more than 1x per week (52x).
- 10.2 Eat beef/mutton/pork no more once every two month (6x).
- 10.3 No more than one drink per week (52x)
A few comments:
- On the subject of animal cruelty: no meat unless I know that the animals have had a decent existence.
- On the subject of climate impact: well, that's the main reason I'm eating less meat (and why I'm not as principally anti-poultry).
- On the subject of health: this is why I'm not abandoning meat altogether—it makes me feel good (beyond taste).
The best of all three worlds is game, and I would love to eat more of the deer that (unchecked by natural predators) are destroying New York's wilds.
👓 11. End Myopia (or Start to)
- 11.1 Reduce my nearsightedness by 0.25 diopters.
- 11.2 Measure on a monthly basis Stretch:
- 11.1 Reduce my nearsightedness by 0.5 diopters.
This year I stumbled across the EndMyopia community. If you can suppress your initial suspicion of medical quackery, you'll find there's something interesting happening here: many thousands of people have successfully treated their myopia and presbyopia. Unlike other kinds of quackery, it's hard to attribute their success to the placebo effect.
This year, I want to put it to the test. I'll be experimenting with differentials and the 20/20/20 rule (plus variations). My starting measurements are as follows (I'll be addressing astigmatism later):
👥 12. Relationships
- 12.1 Attend at least 6 events in the rationalism community.
- 12.2 Reach out individually to at least 25 people in these communities.
- 12.1 Attend at least 12 events in the rationalism community.
- 12.2 Reach out individually to at least 50 people in these communities.
- 12.3 Find a mentor.
One of the few things I worry about is that my network might hold me back. I went to university in the Netherlands, and few of those connections came with me to the US. It becomes apparent how much of a problem this can be when I need to start hiring software engineers.
It doesn't help that I'm awful at maintaining digital contact. I need to do a better job of checking in with old friends more regularly.
My main problem is that I generally prefer the company of ideas to strangers. I fear wasting time over missing out. When I see that 80% of the tech events near me (on Meetup) are blockchain-related, I feel validated that these events are mostly frequented by hype addicts who know next to nothing about what they're actually talking about. So I need a more precise approach. Specifically, I'd like to get to know the rationalist community better.
An ambitious goal—I don't really know where to start—is finding a mentor. I agree with Robert Greene's take in Mastery that mentors are the most effective path to mastery, and I'd like to use the same strategy.
Communities to explore:
- The Rationalist Movement: (e.g., Effective Altruism, LessWrong, & Astral Codex Ten): These sites/organizations make up the headquarters for the rationalism community. These are people thinking about long-term risk. There are software developers, but the bias is towards theoretical AI researchers. There are also organizations like the Center for Applied Rationality, but their $4,000 workshops are currently outside my budget.
- The "Second Brain" Movement: (e.g., Obsidian): These are people who like thinking about thinking—my kind of people. Even better, many are software developers.
- Entrepreneurs: Really, in terms of a mentor, I'm looking for someone who has successfully launched a company. That's the kind of expertise I most directly need at this moment. I trust that following the start-up grind, fundraising, etc. will lead my path across enough examples.
💰 13. Money
- Achieve financial independence — raise enough fundraising, revenue, or outside income to provide for my existence.
- Achieve physical independence — get enough money to live in my own place with my girlfriend. I don't even care too much where though in all likelihood either SF or NY.
No stretch goals, just two overarching baselines.
CEFR refers to the A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, C2 distinctions above. ↩