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Books Productivity Reviews

10 things I learnt from Four Thousand Weeks

I’ve been into self-help books recently, and I’ve just finished reading Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman. I really enjoyed it, so I’ve compiled a list of learnings that was super helpful for me and wanted to share about it.

1. You won’t have time to do everything that you want to do

On average you only have 4000 weeks on earth, you cannot possibly do everything that you want to do. Many of us imagine time as a conveyor belt that is constantly passing us by, each hour or week is like a container carried on the belt, which we feel compelled to fill up as it passes if we were to feel that we’re making good use of our time. When there are too many things to fit in the container, we feel unpleasantly busy, when there are too few, we feel bored. If we keep pace with the passing containers, we congratulate ourselves for “staying on top of things” and feel like we’ve justified our existence; if we let too many pass by unfilled, we feel we’ve wasted them.

The more we attempt mastery over time, to attain the feeling of total control over your time, the more we face the inevitable constraints of being human. Embrace your limitations as a human, that you will most definitely not have the time for everything that you want to do — “and so, at the very least, you can stop beating yourself up for failing”.

2. Eigenzeit – Proper Time

time inherent to a process itself

Meaningful productivity: not hurrying things but for letting things take the time that they should. We often feel busy because we try to do more in less time. But many things/processes has a set amount of time defined by the nature of it, rushing it only frustrates you.

Farmers don’t feel idle when they are not working because they know that they cannot hurry the earth

However long it takes for harvest is however long it is going to take. Just like you can’t rush a pregnancy, there are many things in life where we need to learn to let things run its course and stop rushing.

(cue the math question about how long giving birth will take with 1 versus 9 women)

3. Freedom through commitments; Joy of missing out

When you commit, you foreclose the possibility of the future; who could say if that possibility is any better? But it is this act of commitment that makes the choice meaningful. Choosing the right things to commit to frees you up to do things that truly matters to you.

Joy of missing out, the opposite of FOMO. If you don’t choose what to miss out on, then your choices can’t mean anything.

4. We don’t feel like doing things that are truly important to us

It sounds paradoxical, but because important things matter to us, therefore:

  • We are forced to face our limits
  • We experience discomfort because we value the task at hand
  • We use distractions to seek relief from confronting our limitations

Antidote is to submit to this unpleasantness, this is what it feels like for finite humans to commit to valuable tasks. (e.g. I find it somewhat unpleasant writing this reflection even though this is valuable to me)

5. Rest for the sake of resting ⭐

Increasingly, “we are the kind of people who don’t actually want to rest”, who find it seriously unpleasant to pause in our efforts to get things done, and get anxious when we don’t feel like we’re sufficiently productive.

The purpose of rest is not to recover so that you can work harder tomorrow. Rest for the sake of resting, enjoy the moment.

(consider) the possibility that today, at least, there might be nothing more you need to do in order to justify your existence.

It is not wasteful to rest. Not every moment spent awake should be put towards personal growth.

This resonated deeply with me.

6. Work expands so as to fill time available for its completion

There is no reason to believe you’ll ever feel “on top of things”. The more you try to get done, the more there will be to do.

when housewife get access to washing machines and vacuum cleaners, they didn’t save time cleaning because society’s standards of cleanliness simply rose to offset the benefits

It’s not that you never get through your email, it’s the process of “getting through your email” actually generates more email. This relates to “maximisers vs satisficers”. It’s near impossible to get maximise 100% on anything, so you’ll always feel like you fall short, but if you learn to accept things at satisfactory level, you’ll find life to be a lot more pleasant.

7. Learn to say “no”, the hard kind of no

We all know about saying “no”. It’s easy to say no to the things you don’t want to do, but it’s much harder to say “no” to the things that you actually want to do. Just like how spending the time writing right now means that I am forgoing spending time with my family, or any other things that I would like to do.

the core challenge of managing our limited time isn’t about how to get everything done—that’s never going to happen—but how to decide most wisely what not to do, and how to feel at peace about not doing it

8. Limit your work in progress

If you have too many different things to work on, you end up finishing none of it, feel bad about it, and the cycle goes on.

Since you only have finite time, prioritise your tasks. Consciously choose to forgo the things that you want to do, to make space for the truly important ones.

Personally, I’ve chosen to limit my active projects to only 3 items. It’s the whole reason why I was able to write this entry at all.

9. Do the next and most necessary thing

This relates to the “fog of the future” idea that you can only choose the best possible option given what you know at the moment. So don’t be too hard on yourself when you realised that you’ve made the wrong choice in retrospect, it was the best you could do given what you knew.

Honestly the “next and most necessary thing” is all that any of us can aspire to do in any moment. “And we must do it despite not having any objective way to be sure what the right course of action even is.”

10. Embrace your limitations

Embracing your limits means giving up hope that with the right techniques, and a bit more effort, you’d be able to meet other people’s limitless demands, realise your every ambition, excel in every role, or give every good cause or humanitarian crisis the attention it seems like it deserves. It means giving up hope of ever feeling totally in control, or certain that acutely painful experiences aren’t coming your way. And it means giving up, as far as possible, the master hope that lurks beneath all this, the hope that somehow this isn’t really it—that this is just a dress rehearsal, and that one day you’ll feel truly confident that you have what it takes.

The author summarised the book a lot better than I could ever hope to.


I’ve had a great time reading this book because so many of the ideologies and examples are highly relatable for me. I highly recommend reading this book because it has actually influenced how I think and affected how I approach productivity, and learning to embrace my limits as a human.

Categories
Deployment DevOps Docker Learning Productivity

Miniflux: self-hosted RSS reader

In an attempt to stay more updated with the things that are happening online, I’ve recently started following the top stories on Hackernews via the Telegram channel. But I’ve very quickly realized that it is just not part of my routine to check news via telegram.

What about RSS readers? I remember using Google Reader donkey’s years ago before it was abruptly shut down and I never did get back to RSS readers from then on; probably something to do with the trauma of losing all my news feed suddenly without a good alternative.

In my search for something that just “works”, Dickson hooked me up again with another recommendation that does exactly what I ask for: works.

TLDR; it’s a very simple and opinionated RSS reader that has a self-hosted option.

Setup

It was so simple that I got the docker up and running on my Synology NAS within minutes. Here’s the docker-compose.yml file that I used to get up and running. Docs on configurable parameters

Categories
Books Productivity Thoughts

The War of Art reflection

In the recent months, I realised that I’ve been feeling more stress than I’ve typically felt. Perhaps it’s the increase responsibilities at work, perhaps it’s the plateau in my weight loss regiment, perhaps it’s me not taking good enough care of my body.

Perhaps it could be a thousand other things, but the question was, “What am I doing about it?”. It dawned on me that I know the solution to each one of the stress-givers, but I have not worked on them consciously and meticulously. Following the theme for 2021, it became clear to me that my goal is to make progress on my health.

Reading books has been on my todo list for the longest time but I’ve rarely found the time/effort to execute my will. Cue the sign from universe. I happened to watch a productivity video that promoted this book titled: The War of Art. The video summarised the book in a way that clicked in my head, so I decided to procure it on my nearly-defunct kindle; I could only turn the Kindle on after charging it for 30mins.

Of all the topics that was covered in the book, there are two concepts that stood out and caused a seismic shift in my perspective on procrastination.

Disclaimer: this is my personal reflection of the book based off my memory so this is my own understanding of what the book is about.

Resistance

The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands resistance.

i.e. our current life style/choices vs the life that we want to achieve but didn’t.

What is resistance? It’s the evil force that stops you from living the life unlived. We experience it all the time, we are just not consciously aware of it.

If you’ve ever bought a gym package and barely used it, when you want to save the environment, when you want to be a dancer, when you want to help the weak; but you didn’t. That’s resistance.

Categories
Deployment Productivity Thoughts

Setting up WebDav

In my pursuit of Building a second brain, I hit a blocker fairly early on: Obsidian doesn’t support mobile applications currently. This makes the experience rather disjointed as I’m not able to build on it when I’m not sitting down at a computer, or that I can’t refer to my notes when I need to. In order to remedy this, I searched high and low for an application that has [[url handing]] as a feature and finally stumbled upon 1Writer as a “good enough” solution when I was finding more uses for my first ipad.

In order to sync my notes across multiple devices, I either need to pay $10/month for Dropbox, pay for some other service, or find a self-hosted option.

(Pretty pissed when Dropbox decided to limit the number of devices that can sync with Dropbox else I wouldn’t have to spend so much time on this)

Choices 💭

Of course, being Asian, I went with the free option of self-hosting. The protocol of choice was Webdav because it’s the one that 1Writer supported, and I’ve had some experience with it in the past.

Categories
Productivity Reviews Thoughts

My first iPad

In 2019 September, I bought my first ever iPad: the iPad Pro 11″ 2018. I remember how excited I felt when I finally got it. The reason why this took 8 years since the launch of the first iPad for me to get one was for two simple reasons.

  1. I was poorer back then
  2. iPad was still using iOS and the software was limited

The moment that they announced iPadOS, it really piqued my interest that I can potentially have a small portable tablet that can act as a laptop replacement. The “meh” part about this is that the cost of the iPad is pretty much the same as a laptop; but at least I get to experience an entire different class of computing device.

You might be looking at the date of this post and think, what took you 1.5 years to write about this tablet that has already been outdated by the latest 2020 iPad lineup? I was taking my time to evaluate the things that I do on it, and how those activities change over time. It’s absolutely not because I procrastinated and forgot to write about it.

Leisure 📺

If I had to choose the one thing that the iPad does well, it would be leisure and content consumption. My desktop setup consist of a 32″ 4K Curved Monitor with Logitech Z623 (THX) Speakers, yet I absolutely love watching Netflix on my iPad. Consuming media on the iPad provides a really satisfying experience, and it’s an experience that I can bring with me on my commute.

At the beginning I felt like I was standing out like a sore thumb for being “that guy” who watches shows on a tablet on the train/bus. But after a couple of months, I completely internalized that people really care a lot less about you than you think (the spotlight effect) and just focus on finding a comfortable position for my journey and not watching any questionable content (p.s. please don’t watch Redo Healer in public).

Categories
Productivity Thoughts

Theme for 2021

Health and Progress

What is a theme? Think of a new year’s resolution, only broader and more vague. This is an idea that I was introduced to when I watched this Youtube video last year; and it really resonated with me, hence I’m going for a theme instead of a resolution.

TLDR; of the idea is, a resolution is too stiff, and it usually only sets you up for failure; cause I end up beating myself up over and over for not achieving a certain goal. But a theme is more of a guiding principle than a concrete task. When given a choice, choose the option that follows your theme.

Health

Well, health is something that slowly deteriorate over time if you don’t take good care of it. I am starting to feel the effects of sitting in front of a computer for a 9-6 job. This is effect is compounded with the Covid pandemic and not going outside as often. I was also made painfully aware when I couldn’t fit into my old army uniform pants anymore and had to purchase new ones last year.

I want to do something about it, but setting something like, “I’m going to the gym everyday!”, or “I’m going to lose X kg by Y date!”, puts a ton of pressure on myself and honestly these kinds of resolution has never stood the test of time.

So I bought a road bike for myself because I liked cycling, just that I’ve stopped when my old bike died and didn’t really bother repairing it. For the past month or so I’ve been cycling at least 15km about every other day. Even though I’ve barely lost any weight, I can certainly feel my stamina increasing and walking up stairs has been getting just tad easier.

For diet, when given a choice, I’ll try to go for a healthier option. The point is not to shame myself when I don’t, but to just have a little angel sitting on my shoulder telling me that, “hey, have you considered this other option?”. So far, I think it’s working out. I’ve cut down on a lot of sugary drinks, but… steaks are still a weakness for me.

Progress

This theme is extremely vague, partially because I usually have quite a few things going on at once. The idea is to make progress on all the things that I’ve set out to do; even if I don’t finish them, I want to nudge all of them a little in the right direction and eventually I will finish it. One way of doing this is the second brain methodology that I’ve tried and am still using currently.

For learning, I’ve went for a course called Facilitating Powerful Conversations 1 and I’ve found it extremely helpful in improving my understanding of my own emotions and language in general. Went for online and physical workshops to improve my technical skills. Had some long running tasks for work that I’ve slowly but surely been able to clear them off one by one everyday. The improvement on my health has also been a form of progress. Ideas on making videos about keyboards have been progressing slowly but surely.

p.s. it was ironic that I paused this post halfway to do something else but totally forgot to finish it up until 2 weeks later.

Coming back to this draft made me realize that I have not been making as much progress and I wish on all the secondary stuffs (i.e. side quests). It’s a bit of wake up call but I’m glad I was made aware of this early on in the year. Time to get these gears cranking.

Categories
Development Learning Optimization Productivity Thoughts

Productive 2 weeks in reservist

One of the duties as a Male in Singapore is to serve the national service, and we are called back between 1-3 weeks every year for our “reservist” until we reach MR or “operational ready”.

The past 2 weeks was my turn, and I decided to bring in a cheap $200 android tablet and a keyboard to see how far I could push it. In other words, I want to see what else I could do with it other than just consuming media.

Local VS Code in a browser
ARM64 CPU running Linux packages on an Android tablet

It started with curiosity of finding out how close to Linux I can get Android to be. Termux is an awesome terminal emulator that provides an almost desktop-like experience. I will have a separate write up on how I customized it.

Categories
Learning Productivity Thoughts

Workflow for keeping sane

Ever since I’ve taken on the role as a full-time devops in my new team, the amount of tasks that I have to juggle in a workday has exploded exponentially. I’ve written/complained about it nearly 2 months ago on organizing chaotic information.

It is now time to share what I’ve tried, what worked and what didn’t.

Categories
Productivity Thoughts Weekly

Weekly: Organizing to chaotic information

The title sounds grander than this really is. It was one of those work days where I felt like I didn’t get much done. I checked my calendar and there wasn’t many meetings, only the one in the morning. It felt like a really busy day but I couldn’t think of a concrete task that I have accomplished that day.

As I lay in my bed, tossing and turning, being unable to sleep, I figured out why I couldn’t get my tasks done for the day, and came up with a simple workflow that would solve this.

Why I wasn’t able to work on my tasks

A day in the life of a software/devops engineer is pretty chaotic. You have various information requiring different context streaming in from multiple sources throughout the day. For example, I was working on updating some configuration mapping on Kubernetes for our new SES SMTP Relay credentials. Then I get a message clarifying about a story that I completed yesterday, about a backend API written in GO. Then I had to join a meeting about decoupling our entire platform from an external service that many of our logic is intertwined with.

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