Niel Bowerman on goal-setting, hacking motivation, and 80,000 Hours’ bout system

I fre­quently hear con­cerns about burnout in EAs who are un­sus­tain­ably push­ing them­selves in pur­suit of the greater good. And I get it. We’re rac­ing a marathon, not a sprint, and rest is vi­tal. Yet, for peo­ple striv­ing for causes they care so pas­sion­ately about, it can also be hard to slow down.

What if there was a way to bal­ance both?

In to­day’s in­ter­view, I’m joined by Niel Bow­er­man, an AI policy spe­cial­ist at 80,000 Hours. Among other top­ics, Niel shares how he im­ple­ments 80,000 Hours’ bout sys­tem, which al­ter­nates sprints on a fo­cused goal with more re­laxed plan­ning pe­ri­ods.

Start­ing in the in­ter­bout pe­riod, you plan your goals and take things slower. The reg­u­lar pe­riod for re­flec­tion en­sures this vi­tal step doesn’t get ig­nored, hence sav­ing you time and effort later. This is also the pe­riod where you might go on va­ca­tion or catch up on ad­min tasks, so they don’t get per­pet­u­ally pushed aside.

Next, 80,000 Hours has nailed how to set a con­crete goal with ac­countabil­ity. You set clear met­rics for the goal dur­ing the bout, with both a re­al­is­tic and stretch goal. For ex­am­ple, Niel’s 25 call goal and 35 call stretch goal dis­cussed be­low. Dur­ing the pro­cess of set­ting the goals, you get feed­back on your goals from a few peo­ple to help ro­bustly pri­ori­tize.

Fi­nally, you sprint to ex­e­cute goals for a time-bound pe­riod of five to eight weeks, be­fore you re­peat the whole pro­cess again. Dur­ing the sprint, you’re in heads-down ex­e­cu­tion mode to make as much progress on your top goal as pos­si­ble.

Avoid­ing de­ci­sion paral­y­sis, you don’t re­think or strate­gize on your goals un­less you get new in­for­ma­tion that would have changed your ini­tial plan. Last but not least, the 80,000 team has a cul­ture that en­courages sup­port­ive ac­countabil­ity, in­clud­ing a norm where team­mates can post their daily goals and suc­cesses or failures on Slack.

You can read the full tran­script be­low for other ways Niel uses so­cial ac­countabil­ity to boost his mo­ti­va­tion, plus:

  • His goal-set­ting sys­tem from ca­reer de­ci­sions to day-to-day pri­ori­ti­za­tion

  • The sin­gle biggest fac­tor in­fluenc­ing his productivity

  • The ques­tions he asks to stay effi­cient

  • How he in­creased his fo­cused work hours

  • His best weird tips for pro­duc­tivity


High­lights

“When there’s a task that I feel I’ve been pro­cras­ti­nat­ing on – es­pe­cially send this email to this im­por­tant per­son – I just put 10 bucks down on some­one’s desk, and I’m like, ‘if I don’t send this email in 20 min­utes the money is yours’ or an hour-and-a-half or how­ever long it is. And so as soon as I no­ticed this feel­ing of, ‘Oh this is tak­ing longer than it should’ I’ll of­ten do that money down thing. It feels re­ally good. Be­cause then I get it done.”

“I think that sleep is the sin­gle biggest de­ter­mi­nant of my pro­duc­tivity, and I pri­ori­tize it a lot.”

“Key fo­cus hours be­came a big deal for me when we were track­ing my pro­duc­tivity at 80,000 hours. It seemed like there were, ba­si­cally, three in­ter­ven­tion points. It was Niel could work more hours, Niel could work on his key pri­ori­ties for more of the hours he works, or Niel could get his key pri­ori­ties done faster. And of those three points of lev­er­age, it felt like the sec­ond one was prob­a­bly the one I wanted, that I could most push up most eas­ily. So a fo­cus of mine has been push­ing up the frac­tion of my hours that I spend on key fo­cus hours. I think I’ve already pushed that up by maybe six or seven hours a week on av­er­age, just by fo­cus­ing on it a bit more.”

“I nor­mally start with an out­come. So I’m like, ‘What is the out­come I ac­tu­ally care about here?’ Be­cause of­ten there are faster ways of get­ting to an out­come than the product de­sign. And so I’ll be like, ‘What might be an out­come?’ Like, ‘Th­ese peo­ple have meet­ings sched­uled with me at EA Globals or some­thing’. Then I’ll just think through the things that need to hap­pen for that out­come to hap­pen, and just break it down into those pieces. I’ll of­ten do a thing like, ‘If I only had an hour to com­plete this pro­ject, what would I do?’, and then think about what it would look like in that case. Then I think about like, ‘Is it even worth do­ing more than that?’ If there’s any doubt in my mind, then I’ll just sprint the hour ver­sion and then re­assess from that point. So that’s what hap­pened for EA Global prep, for ex­am­ple. We ended up just hiring a VA to do a lot of the tag­ging and screen­ing of peo­ple and things, and then used tem­plates to email ev­ery­one.”


Full Interview

Note: This tran­script was ed­ited for clar­ity and length.

Lynette Bye: Okay, so one of the big ar­eas that I’m ask­ing about is pri­ori­ti­za­tion. You have quite a de­tailed sys­tem. I’m won­der­ing if you could ex­plain some of how you go about pri­ori­tiz­ing what things to fo­cus on?

Niel Bow­er­man: Sure. Hi fu­ture Lynette. Okay, Niel’s pri­ori­ti­za­tion sys­tem. So, I can start at the high­est level. The high­est-level pri­va­ti­za­tion sys­tem is Niel thinks about his goals in the world, and then he writes them down in a sort of life plan type thing. Niel’s goals are to max­i­mize util­ity, and that hashes out as re­duce X-risk, and that hashes out as re­duce AI risk. Within that, things get a bit more com­pli­cated. But in my cur­rent role, that hashes out as max­i­mize IASPCs, im­pact ad­justed sig­nifi­cant plan changes. And then that gives rise to an­nual goals. I used to have decadal and three-yearly, but they changed so much that now I just go for an­nual goals. And then that cuts down into bout tar­gets. So 80,000 Hours splits its year up into five or six bouts and we have bout tar­gets. And then...

Lynette Bye: You want to ex­plain what a bout is?

Niel Bow­er­man: So we have sprints, which are bouts and then we have in­ter­bout pe­ri­ods, where you’re al­lowed to doss about a bit more and go on holi­day and catch up on smalls. Whereas in your bouts, you’re sup­posed to sprint on a key pri­or­ity. We are cur­rently in a bout, hence why I have like 22 meet­ings in two days. But if EAG was in an in­ter­bout pe­riod than I’d prob­a­bly go a lit­tle bit eas­ier.

Lynette Bye: And there are like six weeks in a bout?

Niel Bow­er­man: It re­ally varies. Some of them are eight weeks, some of them are five weeks. Some of them are get­ting longer, I think. We’re cur­rently com­ing up to the end of these five weeks. In the bout, I have a very clear met­ric goal. For ex­am­ple, in this bout my goal is to have 25 calls, where I pitch a new job op­por­tu­nity to peo­ple over the course of five weeks. And my stretch goal is to have a num­ber larger than that, which is seven times five, which is 35.

Niel Bow­er­man: So then that comes down to weekly goals, where I’m figur­ing out what I’m go­ing to achieve that week. We have two sys­tems for that. One is that I make a weekly com­mit­ment that I give to the 80,000 Hours team, and I got to hit it with 90% con­fi­dence. And then the other thing is goals that I set for the week, and then sort of see if I hit those. Then they get brought down into daily goals and each day, I try to hit my daily goals. And I use Asana pri­ori­tize amongst those. And that is the Niel pro­duc­tivity sys­tem.

Lynette Bye: So flesh­ing a cou­ple of these de­tails, how many daily and weekly goals do you set?

Niel Bow­er­man: Gen­er­ally like two to six daily goals. And then the weekly goals are, more like two or three or some­thing.

Lynette Bye: Cool. And about how many hours do you work in a day on these top pri­ori­ties?

Niel Bow­er­man: There is data for this be­cause I track ev­ery­thing in Toggl. And my key pri­ori­ties, my goal is to spend 17 hours a week, my stretch goal is to hit 20 hours a week. And I think in prac­tice it varies a lot, but I rarely go be­low 20. I need to up­date these goals. But it’s of­ten around 22, maybe av­er­age some­thing like that.

Lynette Bye: And what is the limit­ing fac­tor here? Do you get tired, does your marginal pro­duc­tivity de­crease? Do you need to an­swer emails?

Niel Bow­er­man: Yeah, so the limit­ing fac­tor is I only want to work about 55 hours a week or some­thing like that at the most. And so maybe I’ll ex­per­i­ment in push­ing that up to 60. But some­where be­tween 45 and 60 hours a week. That is hours in the office, and that trans­fers into Toggl hours at a rate of some­thing like 75% to 85% just be­cause of pee breaks and chat­ting to peo­ple and eat­ing and stuff like that. And so that trans­lates into around 40 Toggl hours, like 35 to 40 Toggl hours a week. And then, then the frac­tion of those that are spent on key pri­ori­ties. The rest of it is meet­ings with peo­ple and emails, which are the two biggest sucks of time. Also in­ter­nal comms, which is check­ing Slack or record­ing my goals and stuff like that.

Lynette Bye: And I’m cu­ri­ous why this is your goal for the week? What stops it from be­ing more?

Niel Bow­er­man: Right. Yeah. So the rea­son I set those goals was be­cause it seemed like his­tor­i­cal av­er­ages of what I was do­ing. And then what stops it from be­ing more. One way of an­swer­ing that ques­tion would be “Niel not say­ing no to more things.” Another way of an­swer­ing it is, “Niel be­ing very helpful with things that are not his day job.”

Niel Bow­er­man: I think in some weeks, it is a lot more. City visit weeks are the weeks when I tend to hit the high­est num­ber of hours. So a week like this one, where I have 22 back-to-back meet­ings this week­end. And then I had a bunch of stuff crammed in for af­ter, I could eas­ily hit 40 plus, some­times 50 hours of key fo­cus time, where I’m just in pro­duc­tive meet­ings, with peo­ple on use­ful top­ics. But in my nor­mal week, I al­low more non-key pri­or­ity meet­ings into my sched­ule.

Lynette Bye: Cool. And jump­ing back a lit­tle bit at the top of your back chain, from your goals down to what you do. There was X-risk, AI safety, etc. When I first in­tro­duced back chain­ing to peo­ple who aren’t already do­ing this, they some­times start some­where up here and get so over­whelmed that they can’t make any progress. How do you go through ac­tu­ally de­cid­ing what these top ones are? Till you get back to down to some­thing like im­pact ad­justed plan changes, the thing that you’re op­ti­miz­ing for?

Niel Bow­er­man: Yeah, so the first thing to says is max­i­miz­ing util­ity is only my goal dur­ing my work­ing hours. And the rest of my time my goal is to have fun. Have a nice fam­ily and life and friends and all of those things. And so that only ap­plies for those hours. Then how do you come to the de­ci­sion to max­i­mize util­ity with your ca­reer is like. So the next step down I think is pick­ing a cause. And so EAs tend to end up pick­ing like “I’m do­ing to do X-risk re­duc­tion”, or “I’m go­ing to do an­i­mals or poverty or meta”. Maybe you care about global health, maybe you care about cli­mate change or en­vi­ron­ment.

Niel Bow­er­man: My met­ric used to be max­i­mize the avoided emis­sions mea­sured in tons of car­bon diox­ide equiv­a­lent, back when I worked on cli­mate change. And that was the met­ric I was try­ing to max­i­mize with my work. But once you’ve picked a cause area, then some of these have sub causes. So within X-risk pro­duc­tion, maybe you want to pick AI. Within AI, maybe you want to pick AI policy or tech­ni­cally AI safety. Same similar things within global de­vel­op­ment. Maybe you want to work on global health. Within global health, maybe you want to work on malaria. Within malaria, maybe you work on bed net dis­tri­bu­tion. So you’re ba­si­cally nar­row­ing down from cause area to in­ter­ven­tion.

Lynette Bye: And this is through some com­bi­na­tion of your best guess at what’s im­por­tant and the best guess at what fits your skills?

Niel Bow­er­man: Yeah. And yeah, ex­actly. 80,000 Hours has lots of info on how to do this. And yeah, then once you have a sense of what piece of that you want to con­tribute to, then you want to start about think­ing a bit about, “What do I have to offer?” And so for me, well, I could con­tribute in policy. That’s the thing that I’ve thought long and hard about maybe do­ing, I ended up de­cid­ing to con­tribute in com­mu­nity build­ing. I just find that more fun, I pre­fer talk­ing to peo­ple as my day job. And so I ended up at 80,000 Hours do­ing this sort of work.

Lynette Bye: Okay. And once you’ve gone there, it sounds like you track a lot of things. And I’m try­ing to op­ti­mize for those. How do you choose which things to track? And how to set up these feed­back loops?

Niel Bow­er­man: Yeah. So ba­si­cally, I only track if it’s use­ful.

Lynette Bye: But how do you de­cide that?

Niel Bow­er­man: Yeah. So, key fo­cus hours be­came a big deal for me when we were track­ing my pro­duc­tivity at 80,000 hours. It seemed like there were, ba­si­cally, three in­ter­ven­tion points. It was Niel could work more hours, Niel could work on his key pri­ori­ties for more of the hours he works, or Niel could get his key pri­ori­ties done faster. And of those three points of lev­er­age, it felt like the sec­ond one was prob­a­bly the one I wanted, that I could most push up most eas­ily. And so a fo­cus of mine has been push­ing up the frac­tion of my hours that I spend on key fo­cus hours. I think I’ve already pushed that up by maybe six or seven hours a week on av­er­age, just by fo­cus­ing on it a bit more.

Lynette Bye: And how do you stay mo­ti­vated as you’re go­ing about things? Do you find that just set­ting these goals is enough to keep mak­ing progress to­ward them or you ever need to do other things?

Niel Bow­er­man: Yeah, so then how do I stay mo­ti­vated? I think part of it is about hav­ing daily goals that I need to re­port back to the team on. So ev­ery day I write up in Slack, “Th­ese are my goals for the day.” And at the end of the day, I re­port back to the team on how I did with my goals. And so a lot of us do this.

Lynette Bye: And do you check with each other? Would you no­tice if some­one didn’t fol­low up with them?

Niel Bow­er­man: Uh no, but peo­ple would write like, “I didn’t meet my goals to­day”. And for­tu­nately within 80k cul­ture, it’s very warm and re­spected that no one always makes their goals, and we sup­port peo­ple to be open about that fact. So how I stay mo­ti­vated, that’s one thing. Another thing is just hav­ing clear goals. Another thing is do­ing a thing I re­ally en­joy.

Niel Bow­er­man: I think I still have some work to im­prove on, minute by minute. Like, I still find that I prob­a­bly spend an hour a week dur­ing work time on news sites or some­thing. And that’s kind of an an­noy­ing thing that I’d love to cut out of my sched­ule. It might not be as high as that now; it might be half an hour week on news sites or some­thing like that. I’ve just blocked all these sites on my phone, and that’s been re­ally helpful. Yeah. So I think it’s a com­bi­na­tion of hav­ing re­ally good day-to-day mo­ti­va­tions, be­ing ex­cited about the thing I’m try­ing to achieve. Hav­ing a packed sched­ule helps as well. And then yeah, hav­ing it be costly to get dis­tracted.

Lynette Bye: What weird things do you find to make a re­ally big im­pact on pro­duc­tivity?

Niel Bow­er­man: Sleep, it’s not weird, but it’s huge. So huge.

Lynette Bye: How much sleep do you nor­mally need?

Niel Bow­er­man: I think I av­er­age about eight hours and 15 min­utes, eight hours and a half. But like when I’m at EA Global, I carve out time to get about nine and a half. Just be­cause this is fuck­ing drain­ing. But then dur­ing a nor­mal week, it’s some­times more like eight. I think that sleep is the sin­gle biggest de­ter­mi­nant of my pro­duc­tivity. And I pri­ori­tize it a lot. Yeah. What other weird things? I find Toggl weirdly mo­ti­vat­ing, just try­ing to hit tar­gets on Toggl. I know that it’s an in­put goal, not an out­put goal, but it still keeps you mo­ti­vated to keep work­ing.

Niel Bow­er­man: Oh, I do have a few things that make me go into turbo mode in terms of pro­duc­tivity. One is, ba­si­cally, an im­por­tant per­son ask­ing me for a thing on a short dead­line. That gen­er­ally works quite well. One thing I’m work­ing with at the mo­ment is not ever do­ing life ad­min dur­ing work hours. Maybe that’s too strong, avoid­ing wher­ever pos­si­ble do­ing life ad­min dur­ing work hours. And yeah, post­pon­ing to the week­end, when­ever pos­si­ble, even if it means spend­ing 10 pounds on de­lay fees or what­ever it needs to be. And that forces me to do it early enough, like the pre­vi­ous week­end or do­ing it be­fore I get to work or once I get home. And that’s been pretty good. And then also, just not do­ing life ad­min un­til it’s on fire has been sur­pris­ingly good. But I’m not sure I’d en­dorse it for ev­ery­one.

Lynette Bye: Do you want to ex­plain what that means?

Niel Bow­er­man: Yeah. It’s just, there are so many things in my life that I could spend some time on. Like, okay, here’s a great ex­am­ple. I’ve no­ticed this thing, where maybe a quar­ter of life ad­min up and just dis­ap­pears if you just leave it long enough. So minor things are like, there are these re­pairs in our flat that we’ve re­ported to our land­lord, and he hadn’t done any­thing about, and ev­ery day it would cross my mind “Maybe I should email him about it”, and I would just never re­ally do it. And then just one day, the land­lord came and fixed them. And all of that time I could have been has­sling the land­lord would have been wasted of time.

Niel Bow­er­man: Or, for ex­am­ple, I car­ried around su­per­glue in my suit­case for two months to fix my shoes. And then my shoes were stolen in Mex­ico last week, and so fix­ing them was not use­ful. Also, of­ten life ad­min gets done by some­one else who’s more keen to have it done or has a bit more con­text for some­thing. That’s an­other rea­son for de­lay. Yeah, it’s a thing I’ve been try­ing on for size, and it’s been work­ing sur­pris­ingly well. The con­text is that I moved to England and had vast quan­tities of life ad­min. And found this to be a sur­pris­ingly fine way of pri­ori­tiz­ing life ad­min.

Lynette Bye: Okay. How do you pri­ori­tize dur­ing the day? So you have some goals? But what how do you de­cide, what is ur­gent and im­por­tant given limited time?

Niel Bow­er­man: Yeah. So I’m ac­tu­ally not sure that I do this that well. I can talk you through my cur­rent sys­tem. So my cur­rent sys­tem is I have a frog. And I eat the frog first thing in the morn­ing. And the frog is gen­er­ally my high­est pri­or­ity task that takes less than three hours. Then once I eat the frog, I do what in Asana is called morn­ing start, and morn­ing start in­volves clear­ing the new tasks in Asana and clear­ing Slack, then writ­ing out my daily goals and brush­ing my teeth and do­ing my hair and tak­ing cre­a­tine and things like that, that you need to get done ev­ery morn­ing. And the last thing on my morn­ing starts is clear your in­box, email in­box. So then I dive into my email in­box, clear that out.

Niel Bow­er­man: And then by this time, it’s gen­er­ally lunchtime, at least. And then I’ll have a list of other things I needed to do that day that I do in the af­ter­noon. Gen­er­ally, lunchtime comes be­fore I finished clear­ing my in­box, maybe af­ter the frog. The frog some­times gets a lit­tle out of hand. And so es­sen­tially what I’m think­ing about is what is the most im­por­tant thing to get done. And then the morn­ing start keeps ev­ery­thing tidy and keeps my life on track. And then I go through them and I tend to use the af­ter­noon for the more ur­gent things. That’s gen­er­ally how it works.

Lynette Bye: The an­i­mal welfare peo­ple might be hor­rified at how many peo­ple are eat­ing frogs in the morn­ing. So how do you choose what your top pri­or­ity thing is? What’s the pro­cess for “Here’s the im­por­tant thing?”

Niel Bow­er­man: Well, in my bout goals, I think about what is go­ing to make the most differ­ence on my top met­ric. In the bout goals, I define a bunch of stuff, and then that ba­si­cally just trans­lates down into day-to-day. Ba­si­cally, my top thing each day is just what’s go­ing to make the biggest differ­ence on my bout goal.

Lynette Bye: So it’s like, “Here’s the ul­ti­mate goal, what is the bot­tle­neck or biggest thing you need to do to push that to­wards com­ple­tion?”

Niel Bow­er­man: Yeah, in the­ory. In prac­tice, it’s like, “Oh, I said, I was go­ing to give a talk at Oxford next week. I haven’t writ­ten the talk yet. That’s my frog.” Or like, “Ah, EA Global’s next week. I haven’t finished re­view­ing the spread­sheet of all the peo­ple and invit­ing them to meet­ings, I’ll do that to­day.” And so it tends to be more driven by cal­en­dar than the de­scrip­tion I gave. But when there’s not a driven-by-cal­en­dar thing, then I also have this sort of run­ning list of the next three big pro­jects I want to do. And when I say big pro­jects, I mean, things are go­ing to take at least a day, that are within my bout tar­gets. So then I work down this list.

Lynette Bye: Got it. And how do you scope out these pro­jects? To get them done effi­ciently, while still cap­tur­ing all the value that you can by do­ing them well?

Niel Bow­er­man: Yeah, so I nor­mally start with an out­come. So I’m like, “What is the out­come I ac­tu­ally care about here?” Be­cause of­ten there are faster ways of get­ting to an out­come than the product de­sign. And so I’ll be like, “What might be an out­come?” Like, “Th­ese peo­ple have meet­ings sched­uled with me at EA Globals or some­thing”. Then I’ll just think through the things that need to hap­pen for that out­come to hap­pen, and just break it down into those pieces.

Niel Bow­er­man: I’ll of­ten do a thing like, “If I only had an hour to com­plete this pro­ject, what would I do?”, and then think about what it would look like in that case. Then I think about, “Is it even worth do­ing more than that?” If there’s any doubt in my mind, then I’ll just sprint the hour ver­sion and then re­assess from that point. So that’s what hap­pened for EA Global prep, for ex­am­ple. We ended up just hiring a VA to do a lot of the tag­ging and screen­ing of peo­ple and things, and then used tem­plates to email ev­ery­one. So no­body got a per­son­al­ized email.

Lynette Bye: But how long would it have taken you to per­son­al­ized emails com­pared to what you did?

Niel Bow­er­man: Oh, way longer. Yeah, it wasn’t worth it.

Lynette Bye: Okay, it sounds like you are mo­ti­vated by so­cial ex­pec­ta­tions, just other peo­ple know­ing what you’re go­ing to do quite a lot.

Niel Bow­er­man: Yeah, to­tally.

Lynette Bye: Do you ever do more ex­treme things like fi­nan­cial poli­cies, that kind of thing?

Niel Bow­er­man: Oh, yeah, I run the whole gamut. So the thing that re­ally works for me un­nec­es­sar­ily well is just hav­ing my screen in the eye­line of my boss, that works su­per well. We re­ar­ranged our office, speci­fi­cally at my re­quest so that my screen could be in his eye line. And that’s been use­ful at mak­ing me not dick around. Most peo­ple will find that in­sanely stress­ful. But for­tu­nately, I re­ally like my boss and trust him a lot so that works.

Niel Bow­er­man: Yeah, fi­nan­cial penalties. When there’s a task that I feel like I’ve been pro­cras­ti­nat­ing on – es­pe­cially send this email to this im­por­tant per­son – I just put 10 bucks down on some­one’s desk, and I’m like, “If I don’t send this email in 20 min­utes the money is yours” or an hour-and-a-half or how­ever long it is. And so as soon as I no­ticed this feel­ing of, “Oh, this is tak­ing longer than it should,” I’ll of­ten do that money down thing.

Lynette Bye: How does that feel?

Niel Bow­er­man: Oh, re­ally good. Be­cause then I get it done. And then I feel good. And get my money back. I’ve ac­tu­ally never lost money with that method.

Lynette Bye: Im­pres­sive.

Niel Bow­er­man: Yeah, I think you just pick the time frame that is long enough, but you’re definitely go­ing to com­plete it in that timeframe. And then of­ten on a thing you’ve been pro­cras­ti­nat­ing on for a while, you know ex­actly what you need to do. Be­cause your brains already mul­led it over far more times than it needs to. And so you can just ex­e­cute on it. For big­ger pro­jects, I’ll use Bee­minder and things like that. Writ­ing my the­sis or writ­ing my ar­ti­cles, I’ll track word counts and things like that in Bee­minder and that helps.

Lynette Bye: Oh cool, yeah. For your bouts, do you have a list of pro­jects on the back burner that might come up some­day for a bout?

Niel Bow­er­man: Yeah, yeah, to­tally.

Lynette Bye: How do you mull those over and re­fine them un­til it’s like, “Okay, I’m ready to com­mit to this one for how­ever many weeks”?

Niel Bow­er­man: Yeah, I’ve got a doc that has pos­si­ble pro­ject ideas. And then they start as head­ings, then, as they be­come a thing I want to think about more, they be­come para­graphs. And then if I want to think it about more than they be­came one-pagers, and two-pagers, and then not always. This is just like, es­pe­cially…

Lynette Bye: The ones that make it up the list.

Niel Bow­er­man: Yeah, sorry, and not even all the ones that make it. Some­times they just get fast-tracked. And I’m like, “This seems like a good idea, I’m do­ing it.” But for any­thing, that seems like a bit more con­tentious, then I write it out. And so for ex­am­ple, I still have not made a Slack group for peo­ple in­ter­ested in policy. Be­cause this is a lit­tle con­tentious as to whether it’s a good idea to do. But there’s now a one- or two-pager that a cou­ple peo­ple have com­mented on. And that’s the sort of thing that helps me pri­ori­tize is peo­ple com­ment on these things.

Niel Bow­er­man: For each bout, I pro­pose what I want to do. And then my man­ager and a cou­ple of other stake­hold­ers take a look at the list of things I de­cided not to do and the list of things I de­cided to do. And they say if in their view any of them should be swapped around. And then we lock in a bout plan. And the bout plan is ideally locked in be­fore the bout starts. But some­times it doesn’t get locked into the first week of the bout. Then you go and ex­e­cute on that plan. You get held ac­countable to the com­mit­ments you made in the plan.

Lynette Bye: Yeah. Do you ever as you start ex­e­cut­ing the plan, learn more about it, find that your view of what it should be framed as changes?

Niel Bow­er­man: Oh, yeah, to­tally. Then I’ll say to my man­ager, “Hey, I think I should not do this for this rea­son.” And my man­ager is like, “Cool.” And then when we do the bout re­view, we say like, “We planned to do this, we re­assessed, we de­cided to change it over to this thing.” Every­one’s will­ing to change, ac­tu­ally, I should clar­ify that a bit more. It is frowned upon to dra­mat­i­cally change your bout plan mid bout be­cause you’re not sup­posed to be do­ing strat­egy work mid bout. But if you get new in­for­ma­tion that im­plies that this thing is a bad idea, then you’re en­couraged to change your bout plan.

Lynette Bye: Do you do any work pre-bout to vet the plan or test it out?

Niel Bow­er­man: A lit­tle bit, mostly just writ­ing up the plan again, get­ting com­ments on it. Some­times you do lit­tle tests but mostly not.

Lynette Bye: Okay, then you can re­assess af­ter a month or two?

Niel Bow­er­man: Yeah, ex­actly. The bouts aren’t that long.