My Plan

A quick look into my plans for the future and how I plan to spend my time

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Last Updated: May 4th, 2018

According to the World Health Organization, as a middle-class male living in Central Virginia, I will live for 77 years. That means I only have about 54 years left. That’s still a lot of time left but I want to make it count, so every now and then, I go through a few thought exercises to determine how I can be the most productive with this remaining time.

When I began doing these exercises, I had to make some assumptions and definitions. Below I will walk through my thought process.

First, I had to define an end goal. I went with maximizing my social impact on the world. Whatever that means.

To give it some more clarity, I wanted this term “social impact” to be something that was a little more quantitative. Something that actually meant something, so I defined social impact as: the number of people whose lives I improve, and how much I improve them by.

With this definition, I can make social impact in one of two ways. Helping a lot of people in a small way, or helping less people in a more impactful way.

With those assumptions and definitions laid out, I then started to look for problems that I could work on solving. However, this was not just me writing down problems that came to mind.

In order to maximize my social impact, I only want to dedicate my time toward working on “pressing problems”. This is a very important distinction. I considered pressing problems to be those that are holding society back, ones that need to be solved before significant quality of life improvement can be made, or ones that threaten the existence of the human race or the planet we inhabit. I did not consider problems that are inconveniences or those that only affect the wealthiest individuals in society.

Here are a few examples of the distinction:

Pressing Problems: world hunger, global warming, artificial intelligence risks, global health, nuclear security, heroin epidemic

Not pressing problems: long checkout lines at retail stores, unable to try on clothes before ordering online, laser printer technology is still stuck in the 90s, etc

To choose pressing problems that I should tackle, I took four metrics into consideration: urgency, ignorance, solvability, and personal fit.

Here’s a more in-depth description of the factors I used.

1. Urgency: What is the magnitude of the problem? How much does it affect people’s lives? What are the long-term effects of solving it today?

2. Ignorance: Is this issue at the top of people’s mind? How many people and resources are currently dedicated to it? How well allocated are those current resources? Are there reasons why markets or governments aren’t already making progress?

3. Solvability: How easy is it to make progress to solve this problem? How easy is it to track progress? Do solutions already exist? Are they working? How capital intensive is the solution?

4. Personal fit: Could I find ample amounts of motivation to work on this problem? Do I know enough about the industry/problem? Do I have the needed skill set?

It is imperative that the Ignorance variable is not overlooked. I would even argue that this is the single most important factor to consider if your goal is to maximize your social impact. Why? It is all about diminishing margins of return. And it is even backed up by research.

Take at look at this graph from WHO, 2004.

It shows that in countries with few doctors, an additional doctors will greatly improve the health of that nation. However, at a certain point ( about 200 doctors per 10,000 people), there is a minimal improvement in overall national health for each new doctor.

My guess is that the same principle holds true for pressing problems. If you choose to work on a problem that is already mainstream, with lots of awareness, resources, and human capital being dedicated to solving it, you will have a much smaller impact than if you would if you had chosen a more neglected problem (considering that all other variables are kept constant).

So for example, while improving the health of the developing world may have a huge scale, it is one of the least ignored problems. Your additional help will have an impact but for the same amount of work you could have more of an impact spending time building solutions for the United States opioid epidemic, a problem with a much higher score of being ignored but still has a relatively big scale.

Taking these four variables, I made a Google Sheet. I listed out all of the pressing problems that I could think about. Both big and small. For each problem, I gave a somewhat subjective rating on a scale of 1-10 for each variable. At the end, the problems with the highest scores were the problems that if solved (or improved) would yield the most social impact based.

From there, I sorted the pressing problems by score and choose to focus on the top six.

Why six? Sam Altman and a number of other influential folks advise that it takes anywhere from 7-10 years to build a successful solution to a problem. With my 54 years of life left, I will have 9 years to make a significant contribution to each of the six problems.

Here are the six problems that I determined will allow me to have the greatest social impact if solved or improved.

1. Early childhood education/literacy gap

2. Access to technology

3. Financial illiteracy

4. Preventative health care

5. Lack of beneficial welfare benefits

6. Lack of awareness for current problems, causes, and potential solutions

Now, it is important to realize that the world is moving at an ever increasing rate. In ten years, there is a good chance that many of the world’s problems will be very different. So, the reason why I go through these exercises is not really to create a 56-year life purpose or plan. It is to give me something concrete now that I can work towards. Every now and then I will be able to take another look, reevaluate my scoring of the variables and iterate on what projects I should and shouldn’t dedicate time to working on.

For the sake of the present and having a plan and path that I can set for myself to follow now, I took some time to think about what I want to get done in the next five years. While things could very well change in this time period, because it is relatively short, we can assume with some confidence the 5-year future will not be substantially different from today.