Category Archives: Updates

2014/15 Annual Review

I’ve been doing annual reviews for the past few years, but for the first time I’m planning on posting this one online.  I have been partially inspired by Chris Guillebeau and Keith Ferrazzi, and was encouraged to post this online by reading Peter Hurford’s review, and also because publically committing makes me more likely to achieve my aims.

Why do I do this in July?  Because I’ve recently transferred out of academia, where’ July has historically represented the end of my academic year.  I’ve attempted to keep this short, as from experience when I have attempted more ambitious annual reviews I have not always completed them.

Looking back

Over the past year, I have completed my PhD (DPhil) and moved into full-time employment at the Centre for Effective Altruism, a charity that I co-founded.  In answering the questions below, I am only talking about things that I had control over.

What went well this year?

  1. Finishing my PhD (DPhil)
  2. Moving into a new role as Director of Special Projects at the CEA
  3. Making significant progress in buying a house with my partner
  4. Setting up the Global Priorities Project as a joint project between CEA and FHI.
  5. Working with William MacAskill to set up the Effective Altruism Outreach project.
  6. Having my first major successes in fundraising, and building up the Effective Altruism Outreach project to have nine months of financial reserves.  (This was something that I was worried that I would be bad at after feeling as though I wasted people’s philanthropic donations towards my Tibet expedition in 2004.)
  7. Being involved in CEA’s first engagement with policy through my contribution to our well-received unprecedented technological risk report (soon to be published).

What could have gone better this year?

  1. Feeling as though I don’t have enough long-term strategy at a couple points in the year, and as though I wanted a better idea of how my activities better fit into my long-term vision (though I could be biased as this is something that I am working on at the moment).
      • How can I improve this?  I plan to do some explicit thinking about the long-term strategy for the EA movement with William MacAskill and Pablo Stafforini in Autumn of this year.
  2. Contrasted with the point above, I think I over-planned the near-term too heavily in a couple of cases over the past year.  This resulted in my wasting others’ and my own time.
      • How can I improve this? I plan to do less planning early on in a project, and just start executing once I know the general direction that I’m heading in.  This has associated risks, which I will monitor, but in general I think it is a step in the right direction for me.
  3. Not executing fast enough, especially on Effective Altruism Outreach.  I have never felt as though I am achieving as much as I would like to, but this felt particularly salient of late.
      • How can I improve this?  I plan to act more in the vein of “move fast and break things” that was Facebook’s early motto, particularly when the downside risks are low.
  4. Not being as supportive of my partner as I would like to be.
      • How can I improve this?  I have planned steps I can take to be more supportive.
  5. Not being able to hire someone I felt would have potentially been a valuable addition to the team.
      • How can I improve this? Being more encouraging and hands-on in future recruitment rounds, and actively seeking out talent.
  6. Not being social enough with friends that my partner and I don’t have in common.
      • How can I improve this?  Plan out dinner dates further in advance with a wider group of friends.  Arrange trips down to London, and organise them a couple of months in advance.
  7. Not spending enough time on career, personal, and skills development.
      • How can I improve this?  I have blocked out four hours per week to spend on this from last month forwards, and this has given me time to do more of this.  This review is an example of how I am using this time.
  8. Spending too long making my thesis unnecessarily good.  I was emotionally scarred from having been given major corrections, and so I wanted to make it really good in order to avoid that from happening again.
      • How can I improve this?  I think I ‘over-updated’ on how much work was required to get a PhD (DPhil), and should have done less work.

Looking forwards

An idea from Chris Guillebeau is to name your year around a broad theme or idea in order to focus you.  I am naming 2014/15 the year of “settling down”.  This needs a little context: one of my big aims in the coming year is to buy my first property with my partner, and to move into it and start doing it up.  Another of my aims is to stop experimenting as much with a wide range of different projects, and to pick a few things that I intend to do well and get good at.  Another way of thinking of this, is that I will stop taking a large number of little bets, and focus on making a few larger bets a ensuring they go well.  These large bets are likely to be in areas such as my relationship with my partner, the flat we intend to buy, effective altruism outreach, the Global Priorities Project, and the Centre for Effective Altruism in general.  So, breaking things down by category, here is what I hope to achieve in the academic year 2014/2015.


  1. Buy a flat and move into it
  2. Redo all my finances, investments, and budgets after buying the flat
  3. Continue to donate 10% of my income to the charities I believe to be most cost-effective

Relationship and family

  1. Do at least two partner appreciation days
  2. Support my partner more and stay in better contact when I am away
  3. Successfully have my parents spend more than five minutes in each other’s company when I graduate

Career capital

  1. Continue spending five hours per week on personal, career, and skill development
  2. Write at least four posts on EA strategy
  3. Find three mentors and meet with them each at least twice over the coming year
  4. Come up with a long-term plan for my role in the EA movement

Primary project 1: Effective Altruism Outreach

  1. Launch an updated website
  2. Be responsible for at least five major news articles being published on EA
  3. Come up with and start implementing a plan that I feel has a >20% chance of making Will’s book a best-seller (in at least one country)

Primary project 2: Global Priorities Project

  1. Fundraise enough to reach 12 months of reserves at current staffing levels
  2. Hire a second person to work on this project
  3. Develop a strategy for growing the Global Priorities Project into a larger institute, and be making tangible progress towards this aim


  1. Have at least 50 meals with people I didn’t meet with last year
  2. Host at least three events with eight people or more in our new flat
  3. Organise at least two trips to London in which the majority of time is spent on social events

Health and wellbeing

  1. Stay below 77kg in weight
  2. Attend at least 15 ultimate frisbee sessions
  3. Stretch my hamstrings twice a week


  1. Go on holiday to South East Europe
  2. Have at least two days of solid river play
  3. Have a totally epic moving out party
  4. Spend at least five days alone with my partner exploring America


I’ll be tracking these aims and reporting back next year.  For a useful spreadsheet to help you do this yourself, Chris Guillebeau provides one here.