Recently my wife asked me: “how is it that we both read the same thing, or attend the same event, and yet the insights you glean is deeper than me?
I realised that I have change my approach to any form of incoming information these days. I consciously try to interact with an open mind. The point of reading is not the agree with everything the author says, but to be open to new perspectives, ideas and approaches that I may not have considered or dismissed previously. I also try not to be too quick to dismiss an idea just because it sounds ridiculous on the first pass.
As with many things in life, an idea exists on a spectrum. It is very rarely that someone is just outright wrong about something, it is way more likely that the idea is just a suboptimal solution for a given problem. Since everyone’s situation and context is different there is almost always a completely acceptable reason for the “wrong” conclusion that someone ends up with.
When I try to distill down the thoughts and actions that I take when given new information, I think it boils down to these few things.
Am I too proud to admit that there’s a chance I could be wrong?
Can I see it making any sense given multiple situations?
Do I agree with the author’s approach?
Am I willing to step out of my comfort zone to try the approach?
For example, I recently read a book named “How to talk to anyone”, that there’s a method of eye contact known as epoxy eyes where you have your eyes completely glued onto a person to show interest. My understanding of eye contact is that I should not maintain it for long periods of time because it can be off-puting, but the author suggests that there are positive effects when done correctly.
I am open to the idea that I could be wrong about what I know of eye contact, and I can imagine it making sense when trying to court a partner. I do not know if I agree with the author’s approach, but I am willing to step out of my comfort zone to give it a shot. And then through experiencing it I am able to better judge if this bit of information has any usefulness in my life.
That’s all, just needed a place to dump my midnight thoughts.
I enjoying being terrible at things… at the start. I don’t enjoy staying terrible at it. So recently my friend invited me to play tennis and I was extremely hesitant at first; because I’m a complete newb and I’m worried that I’ll injure my wrist with all that table tennis muscle memory.
I was pleasantly wrong. Gave it a shot last week and I’ve just came back from my second session today. It has been so long that I’ve been this shit at something. It’s honestly a refreshing experience because as I get older, I realise that I’m less open to new experiences and often stay within my comfort zone, only doing things within my area of expertise. Looks like I’ve been missing out on life.
However, I feel it is important to experience new things with people of similar experience level. If I were to be absolutely thrashed in my first session, it would most likely crush any motivation for a second session. (it would also be really boring for that advanced player). It is really exciting to improve with a group of like-minded and similarly-skilled people.
I draw similarities with a TikTok I saw recently about how we should seek mentors that’s within our skill/situation range. i.e. If I’m starting a new business, I wouldn’t look for a mentor who is coaching people with millions. Instead, I should look for someone who can get me from $0 to the first $10k, and another person who can help me get from $10k to $100k, and someone who can get me from $100k to $1 million.
It’s the realisation that we need different groups of people at different stages of our lives in order to progress from where we are, otherwise we’ll just stagnate. It’s not that one group of people is better than the other, but it’s necessary for each group to exist in our lives in order to grow (and of course, those people will do their own growing as well).
Would I be playing tennis with this group of people a year or two from now? It’s unlikely. But they are the folks who help get me from zero to one, and I hope to reflect upon this period of time as a fond memory in the future.
For a long time, I’ve been trying to figure out how to be more focused and productive. I’ve had mixed success, with periods of enhanced productivity, and periods where I barely accomplish anything at the end of the day.
What I’ve tried:
living in the calendar
everything goes into the calendar
block out time for myself to do stuffs
living in the todo list
everything goes into the list, both short and long term
mixing both calendar and todo list
doing an “inbox” system where any adhoc tasks go into this inbox and pushed them into the various places that it belongs so that I can work on them later
e.g. email gets flagged, messages set to remind
digital pomodoro timer on the computer/phone
journal style where I jolt down the list of important things that I want to get done in a week
a simple physical paper todo list
max 3 items
1 item that is a star item that I must do that day
They are all useful techniques which has seen some success but the reason they have failed me is because of one simple reason.
All of them require me to keep a top level list of items that help me to visualise the amount of work I have, and to groom it consistently. The moment I miss out 1 or 2 items, or say “it’s too much effort to add this item in cause it’s just going to take 10 mins”, this system kind of falls apart because I lose the discipline to keep it “up to date”.
After many attempts, I finally stumble upon something that worked for me.
Physical pomodoro timer
How does it work? Just turn the knob and it will start counting down. I started with trying the 4 cycle pomorodo that goes.
25 mins work, 5 min break
25 mins work, 5 min break
25 mins work, 5 min break
25 mins work, 15 min break
So every 2 hours 10 mins (130mins), I get 100 mins of actual quality work in. This is the default setting that most pomodoro technique uses and if you’re trying it out, I would suggest you to give this configuration a try. Notice how I call this a configuration, it’s not meant to be static, but rather to be dynamic and fit your working habits. So if your work is the type that requires a good 45 mins of concentration each time, make it work for you, not the other way around.
The point of any productivity technique is to get you into the groove of the work, or what some would call the “flow state”, so if you’re in the zone and the timer goes off, don’t stop, don’t break the momentum, you can proceed to the next block of time without taking a break, don’t let the process break your flow.
All I’ve done so far is explained what the pomodoro technique is, and I’ve tried it before, so what changed? What’s the difference between a physical timer versus a digital timer I see on my screen?
1. Visibility / Obviousness
A digital timer can get hidden behind windows, it seems like such an innocuous behaviour but “out of sight, out of mind” has a very strong effect on me. Being able to see the highlighted part of the timer go down is a really strong visual indicator on the amount of time that is left. More so than numbers counting down on a screen.
2. Ease of use
Twisting a physical knob is all I have to do. A digital timer requires me to click into settings, or go through a few clicks to choose a specific time. It’s not as straight forward to set an arbitrary 17 mins.
3. I can use it when I’m not on my computer
I’m digital native, but there are still things I enjoy doing that is not on the computer. Being able to use the pomodoro technique for practicing arts and crafts is super useful, and it reduces the chance of me getting distracted by something else on the internet.
If you’re wondering which product I’m using, it’s this secura 60 minute visual timer. I’m not getting paid for this, so feel free to choose any physical pomodoro timer that works for you (p.s. there’s a ton out there).
I’ve been using the physical timer for about a month or so and I notice that it has boosted my productivity noticeably. Of course I don’t use it purely on its own, I still rely on todos, Second Brain, and the Zettelkasten method; I just don’t have to use those methods as religiously, and still have faith that I will still be able to get my stuffs done.. This timer is just a really simple way to trick myself to start working, and get something done. Give it a try if you’re struggling as much as me.
Healthier diet: I’ve probably failed to stick to this theme more times than I can count, but it has also helped guide me to a healthier choice more times than I can count. Perhaps it’s an indication of my ability to count. Anyway, this theme wasn’t foolproof but at the very least I think there’s a significant improvement compared to when I was without a guide. Having a health type of theme for 2 years has imprinted enough muscle memory that I probably don’t need it for the third year, which is the whole point of doing this!
Improving relationships: this is even harder to measure than health, I’m a poor judge of the outcome of my relationships, but I am fairly comfortable in saying that I have made efforts in keeping in touch with my close friends, to be a better colleague, and soon to be a good husband. I have depleted my social energy and trained my mental muscle to really consider hanging out instead of cooping up at home.
Much has happened in 2022, it was a hell of a roller coaster ride, and it’s a long ass ride because I feel I’ve not gotten off it yet.
In hindsight, I would say that almost everything that stressed me out last year has been resolved, and I’m incredibly grateful for that. New year finally rolled around, I’ve levelled up to the new meta and I’m not liking the first patch notes, there are subsequent patches to my status that I’m looking forward to so not all is bad.
What stability means to me as a guide is that, when given a choice, I will take the less risky option, the choice that gives me a more peace of mind, anything that can calm the turbulent waves
This also means that I’ll be taking the more boring choice, and that will lead to slower progress in general, but right now I prefer to move at a slower pace where my footing is sure, instead of a topsy curvy path where I’ve no idea what the future will throw at me.
I also do wish to publish more regularly, I even bought a dedicated keyboard (QK60) just to do this. I have ideas of doing videos, but perhaps I’ll start with written content and progress to videos? The more I plan, the more I realise how much time and effort content creators pour into their craft. It’s all too easy to sit back and consume content of others.
Well, at least I manage to finish writing this before the end of January, here’s to a better year for all of us.
In the past couple of weeks, I feel that I’ve been in an extraordinary amount of stress and emotional turmoil. There has been… 7 stress generators and I’ve honestly felt overwhelmed every single day.
Thankfully at this point of writing, it has been reduced to 4.
I’m going to write about how I’ve dealt with all these things happening all at once; for me to reference in the future, and for the random reader that might find this useful. It’s a combination of thoughts, ideas, phrases that has helped me.
Feelings are real but not reality; acknowledge that whatever that I’m feeling is real, then let it go. Just because it feels like the world is burning doesn’t mean that it really is.
The english language identifies emotion as part of yourself; “I am sad”, implies that you are sadness. I like the Irish phrase of “ta bron orm”, which translates to “sadness is on me”. It’s just an emotion that is on you for the time being.
This too shall pass; Winter always turns to spring; The darker the night, the nearer the dawn
Focus on being present, if you focus on the present, there are very little things that is a problem right now. If you are sheltered and well fed, there are no problems that exist in the now. Most of our modern problems exists in the future.
Anxiety and fear are emotions that are future-oriented, sadness is past oriented. Recognise that these emotions exists to help me make better decisions in the present.
Do the next and most necessary thing, it is all, and the only thing that I can do.
Suffering only exist because I care about it, and caring about anything gives it meaning. Trying to avoid suffering is to care less, which makes it less meaningful, which is just running away. Thus, I accept the suffering because it’s the only way for me to find meaning in life.
Regardless of how it looks in retrospective, I believe that I always make the best decision given what I know at the moment. Therefore, if what I know changes, have the courage to make a different decision.
Write 3 things that I’m grateful for everyday because honestly, it could’ve been worse
Choose to be kind, if it’s all the same then might as well
Thoughts from this year’s reservice, unlike one of the past years where I was focused on being a mobile warrior; this time I was more focused on reading and catching up on all the books that I’ve loaded into my kindle but I haven’t made time for.
Naturally, my army mates saw the kindle got curious about what books I’ve been reading, so I started sharing some of the things I’ve learnt over the past couple of months, and also shamelessly plugging some of the reflection that I’ve written previously.
This was when I got the feedback of: “I’ve always thought that self-help books are useless because the things they say are pretty much common sense, what’s the point of reading it?”. I absolutely agreed with that sentiment because that was exactly how I felt when I started reading these type of books. However, the more I read, the less skeptical I became about this whole idea of self-help.
What I’ve learnt from these self-help books is mainly about building distinctions. What are distinctions? It is the ability to distinguish one thing from another. e.g. how do you distinguish an apple from an orange? Or harder distinctions like fuscia vs hot pink colors. It’s about how we see the world very differently from one another, even if we are looking at exactly the same thing. For example, what I am able to distinguish from looking at a fish is very different from what a sushi chef. It’s because the chef has built distinctions that I just couldn’t see; i.e. the intricate breakdown of the fish parts, whether it’s tasty or not.
Similarly, as long as all the “common sense” remain as concepts or thoughts in my head without actualizing into tangible forms like words, it remains a fleeting idea that I would have a really hard time distinguishing in real life. This is a huge part of why I enjoy writing. Writing has always helped to organize the thoughts in my head, because what makes sense in my headspace is ephemeral. If I’m not able to communicate that to anyone else, it remains as this abstract cloud of energy in my head. Consequently, being able to form words that can translate sensibly in someone else’s head is a whole other challenge on it’s own.
I have found that many of these self-help books have concepts that are extremely similar to one another, twins in some cases, cousins in others, but they are definitely in the same family. In my private reflections, I often find myself referencing similar key points from various books. This drives home the point that when the same concepts are communicated with a different choice of words, it gives the concept a slightly different meaning. I believe that there really is a subtle difference in how the authors understood these concepts from one another. Thus when I attempt to explain it to others, I will probably form a different string of words due my own (and slightly different) understanding of the concept.
Another enlightening moment came when I was explaining the books to my friend. It is the old adage “teaching someone else is the best way to learn“. Yes, the adage makes intuitive sense. Yes, I’ve experienced this phenomenon before. But this is the first time I’ve felt as if I’ve understood it. The examples I’ve written above is a direct result of my attempts to explain the books to my friend. It seems only through the act of actually teaching others over and over that you tangible-lized these concepts into something that only you yourself can access. It’s really one of those “you’ll get it once you do it” type of situations.
And now I have reached the part where I have no idea how to end this post off because I am writing this in a spur of inspiration. So, I’ll summarize with the few points I was trying to make
Give self-help books a open-minded shot even though it might seem like common sense, it’s not that I doubt you are a perfectly well-adjusted human being, but.. where’s the harm in trying to be better?
Communication is hard, you’re essentially trying to use a tangible medium to relay your intangible thoughts
Forming distinctions is how we can differentiate things, so form as many as you can
Last year I switched from having new year resolutions to new year theme instead. The theme for last year was Health and Progress, and before we jump into this year’s theme, I would like to reflect upon how the past year has been with respect to the theme.
Health (2021 review)
Overall, I think I’ve made good strides for my health. Starting with more regular exercise, primarily cycling, I’ve recently hit 2,000km 2 months ago: What have I learnt from cycling 2,000 kilometres, and as of this writing, I’ve just touched 2,500km.
To combat what I could only describe as chronic fatigue, I brought awareness about my sleeping cycles and amount of rest that I’m actually getting. I built the habit of wearing my apple watch to sleep to get some basic tracking, then I bought this app called AutoSleep to get better stats on my sleep quality, and how much sleep debt I actually have. It has made a significant difference in how I felt in the day; but I still have trouble keeping to the correct bedtime, so this is still something that I’m working on.
In terms of weight/diet, this hasn’t been going on as well as the other aspects. I did lose some weight, but it fell far short of the goal that I initially had. Of course, if I were to plot a straight line from the start of the year to the end of the year, it was a positive trend in both weight and choice of diet. So in hindsight, I’m really glad to have this theme in mind because it definitely saved me from making more bad choices.
Progress (2021 review)
Getting that sweet job promotion is definitely progress 🎉 . And I’ve learnt so much in the past year, mostly from struggling to keep up with all the new tech stacks that my new team was using.
My second brain has also seen some good growth in the past year, but I haven’t been grooming it as much as I wanted, so there are quite a lot of unlinked notes/thoughts scattered throughout.
Unfortunately, I have not dedicated enough time to the side projects that I wish to work on. Mostly caught up in the grand current of life and mostly reacting to events instead of specifically carving out time to work on these projects. As much as I want to continue working on it this year, my experience in the past year have opened my eyes to things that are more important to me right now.
Which brings me to…
Improving relationships (2022)
Over the past 2 years, I’ve sought and received feedback on how am I as a colleague; some repeated feedback stood out to me. While people have found me generally pleasant to work with, it seems like they have problems forming a more personal connection with me. This makes completely sense as I’ve learnt to “bring my work self” whenever I’m in a work setting. Personally I do not see any issues with it, but neglecting this aspect of human relationships feels like will cause some friction eventually.
One of my senior colleagues likes to call this “good will points”. Generally you want to gather good will points day to day because humans will fuck up eventually, and it would be very tough for you to call in any favors when you really need it. Note that there’s an important distinction between helpful and ass-kisser so I would be careful not to fall into the latter category.
I’ve also noticed that I’ve not been a particularly great friend to many of my old friends. Well, I’d like to think that I’ve not been a bad friend per se, but the recent years have enlightened me on the lack of effort I’ve put in to keep things “great”. I’m hoping that this theme will guide me to do things that helps me to strengthen relationships with all the poeple in my life that I care about. It goes without saying that this applies to my partner too (in case you’re reading this).
Healthier diet (2022)
Yes, I’ve built a pretty good cycling habit, but I’m having difficulty choosing the healthier diet option far more frequently than I’d like to admit. This is a very straight forward theme. Whenever I’m faced with a dietary choice, lean towards the healthier option without depriving myself.
Looking back, I am content with how 2021 has treated me. I’m looking forward to 2022, hoping that the travel restrictions ease up a little and we can finally get a decent getaway trip.
Just realised that I’ve only written 10 posts on my blog in 2021. I guess ever since I’ve started the habit of journaling this space has became more “formal”, which increases the friction of writing here. Well… let’s just see how this goes 👀
30th Oct 2021, I finally hit my personal milestone of cycling 2,000 kilometers in this year alone. It’s inconceivable that I would be cycling this much after getting my first road bike late last year.
It started out as a way for me to exercise, to lose some weight and to regained some of that lost fitness; but it very quickly evolved into a lifestyle. This evolution is intentional, because I’ve noticed over the years that simply relying on motivation or discipline doesn’t work for me.
Motivation: only works from time to time, and once time gets scarce it will be quickly discarded.
Disicipline: there’s only so much emotional energy and willpower in me to push through and do things I’m not a fan of.
The consistency of taking the bike out for a ride regularly happened once I’ve embraced the idea that I’m a cyclist, and I find myself looking forward to the next ride. It has done wonders for my mental health. So here’s the list of things that I’ve learnt in the past 2,000 km in no particular order.
getting fresh air is amazing especially with the covid situation
flowers smell great when they bloom
listening to music for hours on end gets boring after awhile
podcasts are a great way to learn on the go
pump your tires: it makes a huge difference
maintenance is important: clean your bike, lube the parts that needs lubing
there’s always someone faster than you: stop competing
there’s always someone not paying attention: so YOU have to pay attention
road bikes really fast compared to normal bikes
don’t start a long journey hungry
it’s important to stretch before and after exercise
iike any long journey, companionship makes a huge difference
singapore is a lot smaller than I’ve realized
sometimes it’s faster to cycle than to take a bus
singapore’s roads are not very friendly for cyclists
tour de france cyclists are out of this world
road bikes are rabbit holes that will drain your wallet dry if you fall into them
exercise is good for your physical and mental health
climbing bridges shouldn’t feel like death
The day after hitting my milestone, I sent my bike in for servicing. No idea if it was required but I just want to get it checked out, to make sure that I can carry on the next 2,000 km safely. It’s also a good couple of days break from cycling while I focus on other tasks!
Note: I’m riding a Van Rysel RCR 900 AF bike for anyone curious.
Note: it took 7 days for Decathlon to service my bike so I’ll go to a third party bike shop for future servicing (7 days is too long)
It sounds extremely easy to do; but when was the last time that you deliberately took a minute to breathe? When you are feeling overwhelmed with work, relationships or external events beyond your control, has it crossed your mind to take a minute to breathe and re-assess your current mental state?
Well up until the past month, these thoughts has never crossed my mind.
I’ve been trying to write more but I’ve been stuck in the cycle of procrastination and self-doubt; looking at the 5 articles that was stuck in my drafts for the longest time. The effects of imposter syndrome hitting me when I least expect it, when I’m deep in the middle of my sprints convincing others why my solution is the “right” one, when I’m a thousand words deep in a tech article. When it feels like I’m on the verge of drowning. When I open my blog and realized it has been 4 months since I’ve posted anything.
It’s okay. That’s okay. Nothing’s on fire. 🔥
One minute of respite from the chaos of the world has been doing wonders for my mental health. It has been far more effective than the 5-15 mins break I used to take, scrolling through social media, or watching a Youtube video. I literally have a post-it stuck on my monitor that says “breathe for 1 min“, cause that’s how much I trust my brain.
So give it a try, oh and also exercise regularly. Who would’ve thought that breathing and exercising helps you feel better huh.
Last Friday was my last day at MyCareersFuture team. I have learned way more things than I can keep count of, but here are some lessons that the team have taught me over the course of my stay.
I was able to come up with this list is because I have failed these items in one way or another and had these flaws unearthed from the depths of my shame; but hey, at least there are 10 things that I’m slowly getting better at. /shrug
Give space for others to speak
A silent room doesn’t necessary require you to fill it up
People need some time to process speech and ideas
Especially for important topics, people don’t want to come across as mindless so it’s normal for the pace to slow down
Prompt for response instead of glossing over and moving on
Know your audience, change your approach accordingly
e.g. for some vendors, instruct instead of prompting