An Effort Allocator for Content Creators

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If you're trying to build a long-term intellectual life on the internet, one of the biggest problems you'll face is figuring out how to allocate your effort. There is no template for doing this successfully — yet — and it's a doozy of an optimization problem. If you don't spend a lot of time producing original, high-value work, then obviously you'll never accomplish anything meaningful. But if you don't spend a decent chunk of effort building and improving your distribution systems, then your probability of having impact or making money is way lower. Other vexing questions include whether you should use result-based goals (e.g., "3 blog posts per week" or time-based goals (e.g., "3 hours of writing per day"); and what exactly should be your "north star metric." Audience size? Money? Subjective insight intensity?

Since "going pro" on the internet 8 months ago, I've been forced to tackle these problems head-on. I'm not sure how much my solutions will generalize, so I'm not even going to defend or promote them, but I figured I will at least start to share them.

Here's how I've solved the puzzle of effort allocation, for myself.

First of all, I decided that what I'm really optimizing for is having a good life or what the Greeks called eudaimonia. This means I need to make a decent bit of money, but I don't need tons — so I’m certainly not maximizing that. It means I need to spend most of my time working hard on what I am personally most called to do; in my case, that means focused, original, creative intellectual work. And it means I cannot do either of these things so intensely that it causes me to be unhealthy or neglect my most important relationships. If this whole adventure makes me more stressed and joyless than academia, then it would be a failure.

The way I've operationalized this perspective is to assign percentages to the various priorities of my intellectual work system (not to exceed 100%). Then I formalize how many hours per week I want to work in total, and the batching frequency I consider best for each task.

I then feed these personal decisions into a spreadsheet that converts them to blocks of time I must schedule on my calendar. The idea is to input numbers that reflect my ideal, properly ordered work life (percentages out of 100%) and output specific, concrete requirements. If you use this system, and you have the discipline to execute what is blocked out on your calendar, then you can be confident you're not doing too much or too little of the various tasks in your system. Whether you've assigned your priorities optimally is a whole separate question, which no spreadsheet can solve, but at least you can see what your priorities really look like in practice. And you can more easily tweak them iteratively, as necessary.

Feel free to copy mine and use it yourself. You decide on the values in yellow: How many days per week can you work on your intellectual system? How many hours in those days? And how much do you want to focus on original creative work vs. distribution, video vs. audio, etc. Then just block out your calendar according to the values in green.

The best immediate effect of using this tool is realizing how insanely unrealistic is your current mental picture of everything you vaguely hope to do over the next week, month, etc. It forces you to face the fact that you can't do everything you want to do, but at least you know that what you can do will amount to the best possible approximation of what you'd like to do.