80 days ago, I started a productivity sprint for being useful in the field of AI alignment. My main goal was to have a better self-model in order to push myself without burning out. I'll separate this into knowledge, emotions, health, and noticing.


I've felt my mind expand more in these past 80 days than any semester in college due to reading these dense, no-fluff textbooks. How To Prove It, Jayne's Probability Theory, & Tao's "Analysis I" have grown me a LOT (I read 4 chapters of Jayne's as recommended in Miri's research guide, and I'm currently on ch. 5 on Tao's).

I've notice a tendency in myself to get impatient and desire to skip the exercises, and that screwed me over when trying to get through Linear Algebra Done Right where I only made it to ch. 4. So, as an exercise for the reader, don't skip the exercises for the reader, or you'll be weak sauce.


Everything was going great until 40 days ago: I lost a friend, had to fire a friend, moved, deconverted from Christianity, experienced extreme romantic relationship uncertainty, and just felt lonely. I've read and re-read Valentine's grieving well, and Squirrelinhell's explanation of Gendlin's focusing and more general emotional tuning. They've helped a lot. I'm definitely still dealing with feeling lonely, but I feel like I'm mostly through the rest which is reassuring.

I've noticed the tendency to distract myself away from the pain with fiction, but the proper response is to look into the pain, acknowledging that it exists, that it's part of reality, that it's still true even if I distract myself from it.


I used to eat out a lot and get paydays (a candy bar) from the vending machine. I noticed I'd get a payday when work would get tough. It was a form of pica for me like reading fiction is now. ~50 days ago, I started eating meal squares for lunch, and eating an uber large, very fatty salad for dinner. I've felt very satiated, and I've saved money and time despite eating better quality food and preparing dinner. Plus! I can make a mean salad that leaves others green with envy. (Did you read 1 pun, or 2?)

I've also noticed that I drink more and more coffee over a couple weeks until I'm an anxious mess, quit coffee, wait a week, rinse, repeat. Now I drink ~6 cups of decaf green tea instead which fixed that problem!

I've also, also noticed that I have less energy if I haven't danced in a few days. I usually dance right after work, but sometimes work lasts till 6 and that gets skipped. Shifting my evening schedule might help, but also just leaving work at 5 pm would fix it too.


Meditating really bootstrapped my ability to notice my immediate reactions such as flinching away from pain. I've mostly done Squirrelinhell's sense your body with extreme clarity, and while doing that I'd notice my back hurting & wanting to stop meditating. I would just switch my focus to the pain in my back and just watch it. The pain would waver for like 5 seconds and then stop. Same with focusing on "wanting to stop meditating". This skill helped a lot with the emotional section, and I'm glad I meditated.

Future work

Studying & meditating will continue to be a focus for me, and I'm going to spend this weekend working out feeling lonely. I'm going to go through Andrew Ng's machine learning course for a week to see if it's a low spoons activity for me (I very much enjoy programming, so I predict it will be).

[1] The 80 days is over, and yes, I know, I didn't save the world (darn!). It was mainly a play on "Around the world in 80 days", lol.

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14 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 8:52 PM

Congrats on seeing this through, and I'm impressed with your attention to both intellectual progress as well as emotional well being.

The 40 day mark sounds extremely rough, that's a lot to have dealt with at once. But again, sounds like you're at least processing and approaching it in a fairly sane, healthy way.

I appreciate you explicitly stating that it was a lot to deal with. I was actually a bit embarrassed because I didn't get as much done as I expected, so, again, thanks Raemon.

I used to eat out a lot and get paydays from the vending machine. I noticed I’d get a payday when work would get tough.

Note for anyone confused by this bit, as I initially was:

A PayDay seems to be a candy bar.

Edited, thanks!

Congratulations on finishing this 80 days journey.

It is always nice to read some feedback from people after they finished a long project like that.

I have been reading some of Nate Soares' post recently, and I'm still fighting with myself to start trying to do something similar. I hope I can start something like that soon. Your post gave me an extra motivation to do it.

Can you detail a little more how much time you spent on each activity you set on the other post? If you didn't followed the set amount, when did you decide to change them?

About the study/reading sessions, how much efficiency do you estimate you could achieve? By efficiency I mean the time you were effectively doing that, not considering some breaks or internal struggles, compared with the allotted time .

Thanks renato!

Regarding your first set of questions:

Reading: originally 3 hr. This changed to 0-3 hours depending on when I woke up in the mornings, which meant going to bed around 9-10, which meant making a habit of trying to fall asleep when I get in bed. I did try to read in the evenings as well, but my eyes would glaze over after working for the day.

Tensor flow: originally 2 hr. I dropped this after the first week due to work taking up 2.2x as much time as I initially predicted. I also felt like I wasn't actually learning anything while going through Google's tutorials, and TurnTrout convinced me to just learn the pre-reqs and theory of ML first.

AI-Safety reading: originally 1 hr. This became 1-3 hours depending on how interested I was in. I dropped this though after I moved 40 days ago due to habit changes and then simply forgetting! I really enjoyed it and it was a low-spoons activity for me.

Meditate: originally 1 hr. This became 0-1 hours depending on the day. I experimented with doing it at different times, but during my lunch break is probably the best for me at the moment.

Weekends are a different animal. If I had a free one & wasn't experiencing emotional problems, I would tear into a book, meditate a lot, read AI papers, and just get a lot of reading on LW and SlateStarCodex done which was great! I really wish I didn't have to work so that could be every day.

So to answer your question, I changed what I was doing after giving it a solid try and adjusting from there if I needed to. After doing that for a couple of months, I have a much better idea of how to do these types of things now.

Regarding "How much efficiency during reading sessions?"

I interpret that to mean "how many pages per day"/"How many chapters per week"/"How many books per month". If that's correct, then I would say I could (right now) learn a subject/book a month. Like I could read Linear Algebra Done Right in less than a month and Tao's Analysis I & II in less than two months, while doing all of the exercises.

If I didn't have to work, I would predict that I could half that time and finish one in less than 2 weeks.

If that wasn't what you asked, please let me know!

I interpret that to mean "how many pages per day"/"How many chapters per week"/"How many books per month". If that's correct, then I would say I could (right now) learn a subject/book a month. Like I could read Linear Algebra Done Right in less than a month and Tao's Analysis I & II in less than two months, while doing all of the exercises.

It wasn't exactly that, but it still a very good information.

I will try to describe it with my own experience.

When I read Nate's post, he said that he studied 5~7 hours per day. At that time, I was logging exactly how long I was studying each day to measure how much time it took me to do some tasks related to studying to estimate how long the whole process it would take. In my case, I started the clock, and started reading. If I took a break, the clock was stopped.

However, the most productive days I had, when I was in my best humor and everything worked perfectly, I could reach around 6~7 hours. This left me wondering if he was really human to keep such high number for a long period.

When I checked somewhere else (probably some comments) he said that his study efficiency was around 30 % (not sure about the number, but something like that). The rest of the time he spent convincing himself to do it, to continue, or trying to process what he had read.

Because of that, it was an extraordinary amount, but it was not an order of magnitude higher than my effort.

I tried to do some more relaxed measure to compare with his number, but I usually took some long breaks to do something else, and I could not consider that into a study time.

When I read your post, it made me curious to know if those 3 hours would be combined into 3*30 -> 90 hours to read a book and learn a subject, or 3*eff*30 -> ~30 hours ?

edit: I mistake the numbers, the second one should also have been 30.

Thanks for the clarification!

I understand your first equation 3*30= 90 hr (3 hrs/day* 30 days = 90 hrs to complete a book). The second one is a bit confusing. 3*eff*90 = ~30 hours. (3 hrs/day * 1/9 efficiency * 90 ? = ~30 hours) Was the second 90 supposed to be 30 to make efficiency 30%?

I definitely think efficiency plays a huge role, and I'd say (Hours/day *days * efficiency = total actual hours for a 100% efficient person) would be my answer.

(hopefully) Related: an overall good frame to tackle this is focusing on increasing quantity and quality of time spent.

Increasing quantity:

  • Taking time from other activities and put it in this.
  • Gradually building up to longer and longer times. (6-7 hours on a good day is fantastic, and I applaud you! So what about on average? 4-5 hours?)
  • Noticing why you stop. Does your mind want to quit? Are you physically tired or have tired eyes?

Increasing quality:

  • Making sure you have a good textbook.
  • Simply reading faster w/o losing comprehension (Imagining hypothetical "Gun to the head, read as fast as you can w/o losing comprehension for 5 minutes, you will be quizzed" might be a good exercise to play around with)
  • Not wasting time between activities (like going from one exercise to the next) but also!:
  • Knowing how to make use of your subconscious by letting your mind wander (I don't have a gears-level model of this one yet, but I have intuitions that it's important)

May I ask why you would like to compare study paces?

I understand your first equation 3*30= 90 hr (3 hrs/day* 30 days = 90 hrs to complete a book). The second one is a bit confusing. 3*eff*90 = ~30 hours. (3 hrs/day * 1/9 efficiency * 90 ? = ~30 hours) Was the second 90 supposed to be 30 to make efficiency 30%?

Yes, I put the wrong number.

I would say my average was 4 hours during almost two months. I could notice it slowly increasing, but every time I need to change to a new subject/different kind of activity (from reading a non-math book to one that requires more exercises) my time plummeted. After a few days I could increase it again.

I think it was not tiredness per se, because I did not have any problem with stopping studying and starting reading fiction or blogs. I guess it was more that I took too much information and needed to left it organize itself into my mind.

I wanted to compare the study paces because 3 hours of effective study is much more demanding than a 3 hours study slot time.

I can easily reserve 3~6 hours a day for mainly studying, if that includes taking some breaks to reply emails, or fix some small unrelated bugs. I can probably divide it into different subjects and try them for some time and eventually drop what does not work.

However, 3~6 hours of effective or pure study per day is something that would make me much more tired. In that case I would try to focus on just one thing now, while trying to work on some meta-techniques/skills to focus on long-term.

It is more a planning question to adjust how much I should focus on a subject or on a broad range of topics/bugs. But it actually is not that important.

I understand now! haha

My study time was a non-interrupted 1-3 hr block. This made it easier to get in the zone and have relevant details in my working memory.

Going for longer than that (4-6 hr), I'd predict I would need to take a walk outside and just think of nothing to let my subconscious do it's thing. I haven't done that more than once or twice this summer, so I'm not sure what would be normal for me.

TurnTrout has a lot more experience doing that than me, and he'd be a great resource for any of these type questions.

We actually have a discord server with several people studying miri-related materials if that's something that interests you.

Thank you for the information.

I've finally finished some kind of mandatory material I had to cover for some exams.

Even as I probably failed them, I still learned some stuff in the process, and now I'm almost free to pursue something more interesting.

Thank you for the invitation.

Although, the artificial intelligence and related topics interest me a little, I'm still lacking several of the basic requisites.

I will try to focus on them first, and then decide what to do next.

The most potent motivational blend I have found is a mix of emotionally updating to x-risk being real, and of delightful curiosity about discovering how the mathematical world ticks. Echoing Nate: once you get started, the learning part is really not that hard (in my opinion).

Congrats on your meditation! I remember commenting on your Prologue, about 80 days ago. Time flies!

Good luck with your ML journey. I did the 2011 Ng ML course, that uses Matlab, and Ng's DL specialization. If you want to get a good grasp of recent ML I would recommend you to directly go to the DL specialization. Most of the original course is in the newer course, and the DL specialization uses more recent libraries (tf, keras, numpy).

I'll look into that course before I start, thanks for the recommendation!