The Skip Test
If I stopped a random person on the street and asked them “is your life worth living”, they’d probably say “yes”.
In fact, most people in the developed world say their life is either fairly happy or very happy. But there’s another way of measuring life satisfaction that gives… interesting results.
I call it The Skip Test.
Philosopher Will MacAskill describes the idea (without giving it a fancy name) in his new book What We Owe the Future. Basically, three psychologists ran an experiment on 8,500 people to measure happiness / contentment.
And they used a novel method.
At random times of day they’d ask the people to write down the activity they were doing and how long it would last. They’d then get them to answer this question:
“If you could, and it had no negative consequences, would you jump forward in time to the end of what you’re currently doing?”
The outcome would be the same as if they’d done the thing. They’d only skip the experience itself. Like Will says, “if they were making a cup of tea, they would imagine that they could blink and their next experience would be drinking the cup of tea that they had just made.”
On average, people chose to skip a massive 40% of their waking hours. That implies that almost 6.5 hours out of each day wasn’t really worth experiencing for them. This raises a lot of deep questions, which Will explores in his book.
But the results got me thinking. How much of my day would I skip, if the things would still get done? Off the top of my head, maybe 30%.
Mostly, tasks like:
❌ Filming courses
❌ Writing my book (sometimes)
❌ Gym sessions
Gym really stands out. If I could wake up at 7.30am, blink my eyes, and skip forward to breakfast at 9am (muscles slightly aching from the gym sesh), I’d absolutely do it. Other experiences feel intrinsically worth it though, like drinking my morning coffee, walking to work, having team meetings.
To run the Skip Test on a large scale, get out your calendar. Go through all your activities in a normal week, and calculate what percentage of them you’d skip – commuting, emails, visiting the in-laws.
For me, alarm bells start ringing if the skip percentage is above 20%.Some fixes:
🎵 Make it Fun: Work out with friends, play music while doing housework.
⛔ Avoid It: Hire an accountant, quit your job, find a new relationship.
🧘♂️ Shift Your Mindset: Maybe the deepest answer. Ask yourself whether any experience is worth skipping (assuming it’s not painful or unpleasant). Maybe we should learn to appreciate the small stuff more, like going to the gym? 🤷
Let me know what you think.
Have a great week!
⏳ 80,000 Hours – Make an impact with your career
Your career contains a lot of time. In fact, on average it’ll be 80,000 hours long, which means that if you could improve your career by even 1%, it’d be worth spending 4 months of full-time work to get that improvement.
But spending time planning your career can feel really aversive, especially if like me, you care about making a positive difference in the world. Well, I recently did an interview with Will MacAskill, one of the cofounders of 80,000 Hours, that touched on this exact topic.
80,000 Hours is a nonprofit that aims to help you find a fulfilling career that does good, too. The team at 80,000 Hours have spent the last 10 years doing research alongside academics at Oxford University on how you can have the most positive impact with your career.
All their stuff is 100% free for everyone, and their advice is always backed by careful research; like this recent one about how knowing what you’re optimising for can make a big difference to how well you do, or this article on ways to make a positive difference in any career.
They also have their own podcast with super in-depth expert interviews (e.g. with Ezra Klein, Andrew Yang, or one on having a successful career with depression & anxiety), a job board, and a newsletter.
And if you like, they’ll send you their free in-depth career guide – the guide aims to help you make a positive difference with your career & it’s definitely worth a read, take a look here.
Thanks to 80,000 Hours for sponsoring this issue of Sunday Snippets 🙏
♥️ My Favourite Things
🎙️ Podcast – Deep Questions #175 with Cal Newport. Cal gives some great advice on having non-crappy Zoom meetings at work. For example: don’t brainstorm in large groups. It feels creative, but is much slower than letting one person present their idea + having a Q&A afterwards.
📚 Book – Words of Radiance (Book #2 of Stormlight Archive) by Brandon Sanderson. I’m rereading the whole series, and this book is incredible – potentially even better than Stormlight Archive #1. Brandon Sanderson’s books are a great place to start with fantasy fiction.
🖊️ Stationery – Sharpie Pens. I use these on A3 pads for scripts, courses and book ideas. They force me to think in broad brush strokes. Sometimes I’ll add more thoughts with a smaller pen, but the broad overview always comes first.
🎧 Audiobook – The Surrender Experiment by Michael Singer. Seriously good, recommended by my friend Dan Murray-Serter. It’s about the author’s spiritual awakening, and decision to “let go of his personal preferences and simply let life call the shots”. Made me think more about how I set priorities.
🎬 My New Videos
🌋 The Most Impactful Book I’ve Ever Read – My summary of Will MacAskill’s amazing new book What We Owe the Future. Will argues that we should care about people in the future, and take their interests seriously. Especially when considering AI safety, nuclear war, biohazards and other potential extinction risks.
⏱️ How I Manage My Time – The Energy Investment Portfolio – I talk about how managing you time and energy is a bit like investing: it helps to create what I like to call an Energy Investment Portfolio.
✍️ Quote of the Week
You don’t need everyone on the planet to see you as highly valuable; you only need enough people who can drive your price up.
From Oversubscribed by Daniel Priestley. Resurfaced using Readwise.