If somebody asks you the same question more than ten times, that’s probably a sign it’s time to write a blog post about it. So after being asked by far more than ten people about what books and resources I recommend, both for EAs more broadly and for people interested in charity entrepreneurship more specifically, here it is! After spending roughly the last 15 years optimizing nearly constantly, these are the systems and products I recommend. 

If you know better versions of what I recommend, please share it in the comments! While I recommend the apps I use, I’m sure there’s ones out there that do the same thing but in a better way and I just haven’t had the time or energy to pay the switching costs yet. 

Apps and Extensions

  • Game-changers. Everybody should be using these.
    • Video Speed Controller. This allows you to hot key change the speed of videos anywhere on Chrome. It also doesn’t limit you to 2x, which so many apps do for some reason. You'll never (involuntarily) watch things on 1x again.
    • Clipboard history with CopyQ (Mac) or here for Windows. Absolute game changer. It remembers everything you've copy-pasted and you can click it from a list or use shortcut keys to paste them again in the future. Saves you so much time and hassle. It's hard to describe how much this changes how you use your computer.
    • Switch between your two most recent tabs. Use the shortcut Alt + Q to switch between your two most recently used tabs. It's like alt-tab but for tabs instead of windows. I can't imagine navigating a computer without this. It feels crippling. I know that there are better ones that allow you cycle through multiple tabs, not just your most recent. If you know of one, recommend it in the comments! I just haven't had the spare time to optimize this more.
    • Google docs quick create. Shortcut key or single click to automatically create a new google document or spreadsheet. Saves a ton of time. 
  • ​Very good. Will be extremely useful for a lot of, but not all, people
    • Quickcompose. You know how easy it is to get distracted by your inbox when you need to send an email? Quick compose makes it so that you can open up a window that’s just a compose window so you can’t get distracted by new emails. 
    • I don't care about cookies. Makes it so that Chrome automatically accepts cookies, so you never have to click "I accept cookies" ever again.  
    • StayFocusd. Limits your time on social media. 
    • News Feed Eradicator. Eradicates news feeds from Twitter and Facebook and probably other social media as well. Saves you innumerable hours a year.
    • SmileAlways. Makes it so that it automatically always opens Amazon Smile so that all your purchases contribute to charity. AMF is an option there. Nice passive impact opportunity. 
    • Beeminder. You only pay if you don't achieve the goals you set for yourself. Stickk is similar and allows you to make the money to go to an anti-charity of your choice and easily add an accountability buddy. I like the UI of Beeminder better since it’s better for tracking my progress, but tastes will vary. 
    • Focusmate. Have an immediate, remote, videochat accountability buddy to help you work on things for 30 or 60 minute increments. Really good for getting done those things you don’t usually want to do or if you’re having trouble focusing (e.g. paperwork, homework, etc).
    • Keysmith. Allows you to make a “program” by having the computer watch what you do and try to mimic your actions (e.g. open a window, type X, press these keys, etc). Allows you to code with no coding. It’s not perfect, but it works for a lot of things. I use it to automate really repetitive tasks. (Mac only. Probably a Windows version somewhere.)
    • Habitica. Gamified habit formation with a social accountability mechanism I find very compelling. 
    • Emojis everywhere. The windows key + period (.) opens the search bar for emojis on any app on your computer. It's ctrl + command + space for Mac. This can make you an emoji boss. 😛
    • Turn everything into audio. This is a super valuable and useful. 
      • Nonlinear Library of course! This has been a game-changer for me. I always wanted to read more of the Forum but never found the time and motivation. Since it’s so easy, I now read the best articles every day. I just listen to it in the morning while getting ready or while commuting to work. But there’s no customizability or ability to add your own idiosyncratic reading list, which means it’s incomplete. For the rest, I use:
    • Pocket and Save to Pocket chrome extension to quickly send an article to your Pocket for later
    • Workflowy. I've also heard good things about Roam but seems similar enough to Workflowy to not be worth the switching costs for me. I'd play around with both to figure out which you prefer before committing. Game changer for thinking better. I use it for steelman solitaire, a technique I developed that is great for thinking things through really deeply.
    • Messenger. Some people message people by actually opening Facebook. This is a recipe for distraction and wasting your time on social media. Always use the messenger app (desktop or phone) to talk to people on Facebook. 
    • All IMs on desktop. Some people only do WhatsApp, texting, or other forms of IM on their phone. This is crazy. No matter how fast you type on a phone, you’re slow compared to a computer. Almost all of these apps have the ability to do them from your computer. Here’s instructions for WhatsApp and Android texting.
    • Boomerang for Gmail. Sends back your email if you haven't heard a response in X period of time. Perfect for being able to follow up with people at the right time, especially weeks to months later. Makes you feel like you’re the most organized person on the planet. 
    • A password manager. It saves you so much time filling in forms, which it’ll auto-fill for you. Far better than existing autofills on Chrome. I use Dashlane which is also a VPN. 
    • New Tab Motivational Quotes. Chrome extension that makes every new tab show a motivational quote. If motivational quotes work for you, this can often help you stay energized throughout the day. 
    • CopyAllUrls. Copies the URLs of all the tabs you have open. Comes in handy a lot.

Websites

  • ​Libgen. It’s sci-hub but for books. And for scientific articles and comics too! Here’s a guide on how to use it. It’s pretty easy to use and has pretty much all books. If it’s not available in your country, use a VPN. 
  • Pinterest for motivation. Pinterest allows you to train your own ML algorithms for particular purposes by making “boards”. I have an inspiration board where I just add anything I find inspiring. Now it’s trained so well on my tastes that it gives me eerily good recommendations. I’ve saved many a work day because of this. 

Books and Blogs

  • How To Measure Anything. Classic in the EA movement for a reason. Lots of practical techniques. 
  • Copyblogger. It’s the writing class written by people who actually write for a living in the real world (unlike your English teachers). Absolutely essential for comms if you’re running an organization or want to write for a cause. And, since they’re good at writing, it’s a really easy read of course. Here’s some very unpolished notes I wrote while reading it. Their book on headlines is probably the highest value thing to read of theirs. You have to give them your email address to get the free e-book, but it’s totally worth it. They also have a ton of free content there that I highly recommend. 
  • Lean Startup. Enough said about this already. 
  • Atomic Habits. The best habit development book out there. See also my blog post here about my framework for onboarding habits
  • ​The Mom Test. Survey design that they don't teach you in school. How to get actionable answers when you're a practitioner trying to actually learn for real work, not just a theoretician in an ivory tower. Short book with really good insights. 
  • The 4-Hour Work Week. Tim Ferris is probably the most instrumentally rational person I know of. The idea of passive income is incredibly high leverage, and can be cross-applied to altruism (“passive impact”). I think a lot more EAs should be pursuing passive incomes or early retirement (this is a great blog on that topic).
  • Actually doing the exercises in books. This isn’t a book recommendation per se, but I figured it belonged here. You really really really need to become the sort of person who actually does the exercises in the books. This is huge for you actually improving. 

Physical products

  • Improve your posture with a laptop stand. The easiest intervention ever. Costs $30 and you will have way less back pain, better posture, and look better, and with no ongoing effort required. Here’s a twitter thread I wrote about posture and how it’s one of the best “bang for your buck” interventions to improve your attractiveness. 
  • Mouse with a million programmable buttons. If you love shortcut keys (which you totally should), you will love mice with programmable buttons. You can make it have over 30 shortcut keys at the slight move of your thumb. 
  • Kindle cover to make it look nice. Half of the reason why people read paper books is because of their feel. It just feels nicer. Fix this by getting a cover for your Kindle that makes it feel beautiful to you. E-readers are better for reading in almost every single dimension. Don’t let aesthetics stop you from reading. 
  • Travel-friendly workout gear. These elastic bands allow you to travel with your “weights” but they weigh practically nothing since they’re just light plastic. 
  • A little canister attached to your key chain so that you can never be without your favorite spicy pepper powder. 
  • Longlasting lipstick. Don’t bother having to re-apply all the time. This is the best I’ve found so far. 
  • IUDs. IUDs last for ten years, so you don’t have to pay attention to birth control again for literally a decade. Also, if you get the hormonal one, you have a decent odds of literally stopping your periods. Imagine not having to deal with all of that for a decade! I forget the numbers, but it’s somewhere in the range of 10% of women stop having periods while also having the most guaranteed birth control of all alternatives. The cost and pain savings are incomprehensible.  
  • Better, less gross insect repellant. This stuff works just as well as DEET and it doesn’t smell bad. It’s more likely putting on pleasant sunscreen instead of squirting yourself with death-chemicals, which is my usual experience with DEET-based products. 
  • Erasable pens. Pens are clearly better than pencils in that you can write on more surfaces and have better colour selection. The only problem is you can’t erase them. Unless they’re erasable pens that is, then they strictly dominate. These are the best I’ve found that can erase well and write on the most surfaces. 

Games

  • Game of Trust. Ten minute introduction to game theory in a really memorable way that will help you deeply learn some of the basics. 
  • We Become What We Behold. Profound five minute game. Illustrates how the effects of paying attention to what’s interesting causes polarization and strife. 
  • Democracy. A really complicated game where you try to run a country. It gives you a lot of empathy for the tough job of politicians and each policy you make shows a writeup explaining the arguments for and against. It definitely has a liberal slant, but they do a decent job of steelmanning both sides, which made me feel I learned a lot more than the usual political content out there. 
  • 1979 Revolution. The best way to really feel what it's like to be part of a revolution. It’s a documentary-game of the Iranian revolution in 1979 and being the one making the decisions adds a really interesting element to it. 
  • Florence. The most beautiful and deeply happy piece of art I've experienced in the last decade. Perhaps the most realistic fictional portrayal of relationships I've ever seen. And it's a phone game! It uses the medium for storytelling in really creative, metaphorical, and beautiful ways. I can't recommend it enough. It's about a 30 minute game time and totally worth the $3.

124

31 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 10:57 AM
New Comment

Thanks for the post! I love a lot of these, and haven't come across some :)

Google docs quick create. Shortcut key or single click to automatically create a new google document or spreadsheet. Saves a ton of time. 

The URL doc.new or sheet.new also does this, and is pretty low friction (though not quite single click!) Works on any computer though

Quickcompose. You know how easy it is to get distracted by your inbox when you need to send an email? Quick compose makes it so that you can open up a window that’s just a compose window so you can’t get distracted by new emails. 

I really like the extension Inbox When Ready - it hides your inbox by default, unless you click on the 'show inbox' button. This is enough to reduce 'compulsively open email and check things', as well as giving this functionality

The URL doc.new or sheet.new also does this, and is pretty low friction (though not quite single click!) Works on any computer though

I have doc.new bookmarked on my bookmark toolbar so it is one click.

Awesome recommendations, I really appreciated them (especially the one on game theory, that was a lot of fun to play through). I would like to also suggest Replacing Guilt series by Nate Soares for those who haven't seen it on his blog or on the EA forum, a fantastic series that I would highly recommend people to check out.

Replacing Guilt is also available as a paper book through Amazon.

There are times when I wanted to share this series with a friend, but knew immediately that reading and clicking through a series of posts is not something they could do, so having this on a different medium is a game changer for me.

Great recommendations! Some additions I've found helpful. 

App and Extensions:

  • Matter - a powerful, elegant read-it-later app that pulls in your newsletters, lets you listen to your articles in a natural voice, and much more. Highly recommend. 
  • uBlock Origin - free, open-source ad content blocker. 
  • hypothes.is - annotate, highlight, and tag web pages and PDF documents.
  • Bypass Paywalls - bypass paywalls for a good number of news sites.
  • Introvert - avoid distractions on your phone. For a select period of time, the app blocks your entire screen while generating a unique artwork. I also find the audio calming and use it as a meditation timer but you have the option to mute it. It's the most helpful app on my phone. 

Software: 

  • Kap - make quick gifs to showcase something. Only on Mac, recommendations for a Windows alternative would be really appreciated. 
  • Self-Control - block your own access to distracting websites, your mail servers, or anything else on the Internet. You will be unable to access those sites - even if you restart your computer or delete the application
  • Microsoft Edge - Switched after the recommendation by Dustin.  In addition to the features mentioned in his comment, the Immersive Reader feature works really well for listening to articles. 

A serious, non-rhetorical question: Is there a moral difference between "Bypass Paywalls" and a manual with advice for how to steal newspapers from a kiosk?

I don't necessarily endorse it but the moral argument would go like so: "I'm definitely not going to pay to read that article so me bypassing the paywall is not hurting the newspaper. The marginal cost is zero. Stealing from a kiosk, on the other hand, deprives the newspaper of a sale (and is just obvious plain old stealing)." In other words, "I'm not stealing a newspaper from the kiosk, I'm just breaking in, photocopying it real quick, and putting it right back. No harm no foul!"

A counterargument might be that you're contributing to demand for paywall-bypassing which does deprive the newspaper of sales, just less directly.

An example that comes close to my use case is this. I'm in a bookshop and have bought a copy of NY Times and the WSJ. I then see an interesting article on page 13 of the Chicago Tribune. I pick up a copy and read the article and put it back. Did I steal from Chicago Tribune? Maybe. Is there a way I can compensate them for this? I'm not sure of a good way to do this. Bypass Paywalls fills a similar gap in my use case when I run into articles I don't have subscriptions for. I endorse supporting blogs/newsletters/news sites if one gets significant value from them. 

I am not really convinced of this case. Of course you can compensate for that. You can buy the Chicago Tribune. Now you may say that is exaggerated, for just one article. But when you buy the NYT and the WSJ, you also pay for a lot of articles you don't care about. I think in this case we can hope that there are other people who buy the Chicago Tribune and also sometimes read an article in the NYT without paying for that. Or maybe you sometimes buy the NYT and every once in a while you buy the CT. In a certain social equilibrium, a variety of newspapers can exist, and I think that is more relevant than the exact payment or profit at the margin.

Now technology has changed, and there are paywalls. As in the case of the newspapers, the ethics of using an app that circumvents paywalls may depend on the way you use it, and on the social equilibrium. But it's hard to say how exactly, and which behavior should generalize.

When you steal a newspaper from a kiosk, you are taking paper and ink that do not belong to you. The newspaper is harmed because it now has less paper and ink. When you bypass a paywall, the newspaper still has all the same computers and servers that it had before, it hasn't lost any physical object.

Great recommendations, thank you for making this post. I would add to the books section: Deep Work & So Good They Can't Ignore You (Cal Newport). It definitely led me to take a new perspective on what I spend time on.

Some great recommendations, have added a bunch of these thanks! Here are some of my top recommendations

Extensions

  • Ublock Origin - No more ads, you can also get it for firefox on android which has been a game-changer for me since ads on phones are a nightmare (I switched from Chrome to Firefox for this reason alone)
  • Grammarly - Never make grammar, spelling, phrasing, or tone errors again!
  • The Marvellous suspender - It automatically suspends tabs you've not used for a while, you can whitelist domains you don't want suspender and it doesn't suspend forms (Saves on RAM, chrome may have built this in by now, not sure)
  • Metamask/Phantom - If you don't own some crypto you probably should (Just in case)
  • A volume booster - I use this one, but it's prob not the best, super useful when some media is too quiet on my laptop for whatever reason
  • Honey - It'll automatically look for deals and save you money
  • Lastpass/Password manager - Time, Effort and security save

Apps

  • Waking Up - If you're not into meditation, (you should be) this is a great starting place for guided meditations. BTW you can get it free if you write them an email 
  • Smart Audiobook Player - Best audiobook player I've found
  • CronoMeter - Detailed macro/micro food tracking, I recommend tracking for 1-2 weeks every so often and seeing if you're deficient anywhere, you can also scan the barcode of foods 
  • Goodreads - Very pro being addicted to positive life-enhancing apps (Why are we not all addicted to Meditation and reading apps as opposed to social media??)

Products

  • Huel - Nutritionally complete vegan shakes 
  • Caffeine Gum - Tbh the biggest game-changer was chewing one of these right when I wake up in the morning when I struggled to get out of bed
  • Pillbox - Never forget your supplement/pills again
  • Melatonin - seems like the most chill sleeping pill, I've found it good for getting you in the sleepy mood 
  • Chillys bottle - Best bottle I've used, holds temperature very well (metal)
  • Wireless headphones (No specific rec) - if you're using wired headphones, this is a strict QOL upgrade! 

Websites 

Books

These are probably more subjective than anything else

  • Zero to One - An interesting paradigm shift in how to view a startup
  • Sovereign individual - This book was written in 1999 and has been surprisingly accurate in its predictions, great macro overview
  • Meditations - A drop of pure stoicism is much needed in these somewhat chaotic times
  • Death of Ivan Illych - This book touched me, basically, you should live a moral life and focus on what matters
  • Shoe Dog - Just an excellent startup story really
  • Free Will - Free Will was instrumental in increasing my empathy
  • Algorithms to live by - Has excellent practical decision making life advice that matters, the biggest takeaway for me was the Explore/Exploit model
  • Alchemy - It's an excellent book that is one of those "Think differently" models, 
  • Taleb's Incerto - Same as above really, great for training some unintuitive models about stats etc, though it's certainly written in quite a jarring/aggressive way
  • I'll second Lean Startup, Atomic Habits and 4 Hour work week!

Got a bit carried away, but fun way to spend a morning, hope that's useful to some of you!

Awesome!!! Incredibly useful, thank you for taking the time, I'll take many of these.

I'm finding lots of useful stuff in this. Trying it out now, thank you!

Thank you for the recommendations!

 

For something like Keysmith (automating series of tasks) for windows, I use AutoHotkey. It's free and super easy and powerful and has a very good Tutorial Page

Re. Mouse with a million programmable buttons

Any shortcut suggestions?

I use it for the usual shortcut keys I use all the time, so mostly: alt-tab, alt-q (from the chrome extension), ctrl+t, and ctrl+l (L as in llama)

thanks!

when i do ctrl+t and ctrl+l it's because am about to write something, so i think id still use the keyboard for those. although, maybe with short cuts i actually dont need the keyboard after ctrl+t, so i might still use it.

i might find alt-tab and alt-shift-tab useful; also going backward and forward on a browser

maybe id also use it to close a tab, and open a link on a new tab

  • Erasable pens. Pens are clearly better than pencils in that you can write on more surfaces and have better colour selection. The only problem is you can’t erase them. Unless they’re erasable pens that is, then they strictly dominate. These are the best I’ve found that can erase well and write on the most surfaces.

 

I also loved these Frixion erasable pens when I discovered them. 

But another even better step up in my writing-by-hand experience was the reMarkable tablet. Genuinely feels like writing on paper — but with infinite pages, everything synced to the cloud, pages organised in folders, ability to reorder pages/paragraphs and a passcode on the lock screen so you can write your most embarrassing secrets or terrible first drafts without fear of someone accidentally reading it. 

The link to your framework for onboarding habits / SEEP is broken. Here is an archived version of that article: https://web.archive.org/web/20211125065547/http://www.katwoods.co/home/june-14th-2019

Good catch! Yeah, I'm switching to .org instead of .co and the re-direct link is currently not working for some obscure reason I'm working on. In the meantime, I've updated the link and this is the new one here http://www.katwoods.org/home/june-14th-2019

Re. Boomerang for Gmail

This is now a native functionality in Gmail, called "Snooze"

It has the boomerang feature but (as far as I can tell) doesn't have the "reply only if this person hasn't replied yet" feature, which I find super useful. Especially as a manager, this is a lifesaver and should be a feature in way more things. 

Am not sure I understand what you mean, but I'm curious what you mean

With Boomerang you can make it so that it will only return the message to your inbox if the person hasn't replied to it yet. So if you send an email saying "Hey, can you do X?" and they don't respond within a week, it'll come back to your inbox. If they do respond though, it won't remind you later. 

unless I'm missing something, that's how Gmail's snooze feature works

if someone replies to a snoozed email, it automatically unsnoozes it and brings it back to your inbox

Interesting. Didn't know it had that feature. 

That's the opposite of what Boomerang is offering, though. It's if there no reply that it'll bump it back to your inbox. So if you ask for something and they don't get back to you, you get notified so you can bump them again. 

For example, I might say to somebody "Can you send me that spreadsheet we were talking about?" and say to boomerang to send this back to my inbox if they don't get back to me by Monday. Then I can bump them and say "Hey, just checking in on this spreadsheet."

Well, no, I think it's the same as Boomerang. If someone replies to an email thread that's been Boomerang-ed, I presume it also brings it back to the inbox, no? Snooze, just like Boomerang, also brings back an email thread in the inbox at a set datetime if it has received no replies by that time.

Obsidian.md - it's a note-taking application. It supports the ability to link notes, creating a graph, a little like a wiki, but more flexible. Files are stored as a version of Markdown, so it's not locking you into a proprietary format. And it runs locally, so you're free from the cloud, but there are apps for Android, iOS, Windows, Linux, OSX, so there are paid and free ways to share notes across devices. Other solutions like wikis felt too heavy-weight and too network dependent. Vimwiki was nice, but it didn't support adding pictures/graphs/files, etc. Obsidian.md seems to do it all. On top of that, it supports a vi-mode, so if you're a vim person, you'll probably enjoy working with it.

Say Goodnight to Insomnia - it's a short book that goes over how sleep works and some common causes of trouble sleeping. I was already doing a few things, like avoiding screens late in the evening, but what really worked for me was understanding that my mind was preventing me from sleeping because it was afraid of not sleeping. A silly cycle. Learning that made me relax and, in just a few days, I was able to start falling asleep in under 30 minutes without valerian root.

Great list! I had a huge ergonomic gain myself in the past few weeks:

This list is pretty amazing (and I'm not just saying that because Beeminder is on it!) and you've persuaded me on multiple things already. Some comments and questions:

  1. CopyQ: I use Pastebot and I see there are So Many of these and would love a recommendation from someone who feels strongly that there's a particular one I should definitely be using.
  2. Google Docs quick-create: You inspired me to make a link in my bookmarks bar (built in to Chrome) to https://doc.new which I think is simpler and just as good. (Yes, it's kind of ridiculous that "doc.new" is their URL for that instead of something sane like "docs.google.com/new".)
  3. Beeminder vs StickK: Obviously I'm absurdly biased but I can't imagine anyone here preferring StickK and it would actually help us a ton to understand why someone might prefer StickK. Their referee feature is better, but everything else is so much worse! Especially anti-charities -- those are an abomination from an EA perspective, right??
  4. Pocket: We have an argument at https://blog.beeminder.com/pocket for why this is a big deal. (I guess I should also mention our Habitica integration; and Focusmate is probably coming soon!