Getting comfortable with poverty and misfortune

For most people, poverty can seem like such an unlikely thing, it feels far beyond the realm of what is plausible in their life. But sadly, no one can predict the future and most people will never imagine that everything they have and own could be so easily lost or taken away from them. Until it actually happened.

Sometimes, you’ll hear people say, “If you told me my life would be like this a year ago, I wouldn’t believe you.” I mean, if someone told you in 2019 what your life would be like in 2020, would you have believed them? Probably not. We all know what happened in 2020 now, so wouldn’t this be a great opportunity to start expanding your definition of what’s plausible and prepare for them?

The stoics have a way of dealing with such things, it’s called voluntary discomfort. The idea is to get yourself comfortable with discomfort. What is it about poverty or misfortune that you fear so much? Well, why not voluntarily experience them and get over your fear, or at least get used to them?

Set aside a number of days where you can practice discomfort. Emulate a life of poverty, try showering with no hot water for example, perhaps spend a day eating only stale bread or try fasting for a day, or try sleeping on the cold hard floor without any blanket or on the streets, and perhaps spend a few days wearing the same old dirty clothes.

Do those things scare you? Well, didn’t you know for most of human history, it’s quite common not to have hot water or a guaranteed food source? This stuff isn’t going to kill you, the homeless have been surviving through this for years and they’re still kicking. You only have to try it for a few days, how hard can it be?

There’s this saying. In times of peace, prepare for war. Because, by the time a war breaks out, the last thing you want is to start preparing your weapons and gathering supplies amidst the confusion.

Nozbe free vs Todoist free

A quick background, I used Nozbe for a while and found it to be pretty cool. Sadly, the free trial expired and now I’m limited to only 5 projects. Sure, I could pay the $8/month and get back the unlimited projects, and that’s probably what Nozbe intended. Or I could try another free app and see how they compare, and the one I chose was Todoist.

Perhaps the first difference you’ll notice about Todoist is that you can have up to 80 projects in the free version, how cool is that? It’s really a breath of fresh air compared to the 5 project limitation in Nozbe. The premium and business version of Todoist are a lot cheaper too, at $3/month and $5/month respectively, compared to the $8/month Nozbe Solo account.

Another cool thing about Todoist is that unlike Nozbe, you can actually separate your projects into sections and even create sub-projects inside your projects! Though I’m pretty sure they’ll count towards the 80 project limit. And you can also create sub-tasks in your tasks. In Nozbe, you’re limited to just the projects and their set of tasks, no sub-projects, or sub-tasks available.

And it turns out, this is not a difference in feature but a difference in workflow or philosophy. In Nozbe, the suggested way to manage projects is to apply labels and do things horizontally instead of hierarchically. Though it’s certainly an interesting concept, it might take some getting used to and with a 5 project limitation, it’s not really practical on the free version. More reason to upgrade or migrate it seems.

By now, you might be wondering what’s so good about the free version of Nozbe and why anyone would choose it over the free version of Todoist. Well, everything else it seems. Let’s get one thing straight here, the only difference between the free version of Nozbe and the paid version is the project restriction, everything else is the same between the two.

This means that in the free version of Nozbe, you get to add comments and attachments, put labels and use filters, add tasks via email, view your activity logs for free, set up and use templates, and use the reminder function. None of these are available in the free version of Todoist.

Aside from those, there are also a few other minor differences I want to point out. In Todoist, the reoccurring due dates function is significantly better than Nozbe as you can set custom due dates like “every 11 days” whereas, in Nozbe, you’re limited to what’s available in the dropdown menu.

Another difference is that in Nozbe, you can star tasks and they will appear in the priority tab, along with tasks that are due today. In Todoist, you can mark tasks with priority and they will only appear when filtered, and yes, the free version allows you to label tasks with priority 1/2/3/4 and filter by those four labels, no custom labels or filters allowed.

And that summarizes the difference between Nozbe free and Todoist free. Simply put, Nozbe free is fully-featured but with a 5 project restriction, Todoist free is feature restricted but allows for a lot more projects. Which one would you choose?

I have to say, I quite like Nozbe. The app somehow feels a lot friendlier than Todoist, and I like their green logo a lot more than the red Todoist logo. While I am considering just upgrading to the paid Nozbe Solo, I also really like that sub-task and sub-project feature in Todoist.

So right now, I’m going to stick with Todoist free for a while and see how it goes. I don’t mind missing out on all the extra features, I just want that extra capability to organize and group my projects.

Abandoned productivity tools as unintended time capsules?

The cool thing with abandoning your productivity tools is that they sometimes act like unintended time capsules.

Throughout the years, I’ve tried several note-taking apps, to-do lists, and other productivity tools, most of them abandoned shortly after I set my goals and stuff. And today, as I was digging up and logging in back to some of those abandoned tools, I was hit with so much nostalgia.

There were random to-do lists filled with tasks I vaguely remember, notes about things that happened and some random observations, a couple of checklists, things to buy, my attempts at learning Spanish, and so on. Some were from all the way back in 2012, there was also an entry on how I spent Christmas one year, and my notes on a certain biking/racing game app I used to play.

I also re-discovered some of my old goals, specifically how I failed to achieve them. All those tasks I’ve set myself up for and how quickly I abandoned the tool and forgot about my plan of action. You know that feeling, right? Spending hours crafting brilliant plans on how to achieve what you want to achieve but never really executing on it.

It’s very easy to just delete them all and be done with it, but I don’t feel comfortable doing that. I had to at least go through them one by one and salvage some of them before I’m okay with deleting them.

Do you have any old productivity tools that you spent hours setting it up but ultimately gave up on? It might be worthwhile to reinstall and login to them once more just to see what you were like back then, as if you were sending yourself an unintended time capsule.

The trick to getting a good night’s sleep

You don’t know true physical exhaustion until you tried manual labor.

The thing with office jobs is that you don’t move your body much. Most of the time, it’s just ten fingers dancing around a keyboard or one hand moving around paper or a mouse pad. It’s not really physically demanding and you don’t feel true exhaustion.

Manual labor, on the other hand, spending a solid 8 hour moving stuff around, now that’s exhausting. You will need to have a proper lunch to fill yourself up and probably a nap too. When you get home at the end of the day, you will rarely have the energy to do anything else, and you will sleep rather well as a result.

It’s probably the secret to getting a good night’s sleep. When you come home from your office job, you might say you’re exhausted. But chances are, that’s mental exhaustion, not physical exhaustion, and sometimes, you’re not really exhausted. If you think you are, you really need to try doing manual labor.

The thing with physical exhaustion is that your body will naturally want to sleep and rest, so it’s very easy to just collapse in bed and not worry about trying to sleep. There’s no getting around that, you can’t just make your body energetic again. Perhaps the only way is to go move some more, maybe go for a run and hope you catch that second wind.

With mental exhaustion, it’s a bit tricky because our minds are naturally wired to stimulants. You might think you’re mentally exhausted but go watch some comedy or listen to some upbeat energetic songs and you’ll find yourself mentally energetic and ready to do more stuff. Also, it’s very easy to fall into mindlessly watching videos or browsing your social media feeds, which results in the all too familiar insomnia.

The trick to getting a good night’s sleep is simple, just get yourself physically exhausted during the day and you’ll naturally fall asleep at night. Move around, do some exercise in the morning, and get your blood pumping. It will make you feel awake throughout the day while making sure you will sleep when night falls, kinda like coffee but without the caffeine, and it’s free and comes with all the benefits of exercise too.

What search engine(s) do you use?

Did you know that Google handles over 90% of all search queries in the world? Second being Bing at less than 3% market share, followed by Yahoo! at less than 2%, Baidu at about 1%, and all other search engines having only a fraction of a percentage point market share. (As of April 2020)

My search engine of choice is DuckDuckGo, which is a more privacy-focused search engine, and I love their !Bang shortcuts that let me search directly on other sites.

For example, if I search “marble run !yt” without quotes in DuckDuckGo, it would be the same as searching “marble run” on YouTube instead. Similarly, if searched “x2+y2=5 !wa” without quotes, it would redirect me to WolframAlpha and show me the solution to the equation.

Another interesting search engine is Ecosia where they basically take all the profits made through ads and use them to plant trees. They’ve currently planted more than 95 million trees, and counting! Just remember to disable your ad blocker before searching as leaving it on would totally defeat the purpose.

On an interesting side note, did you know that Yahoo! Search is powered by Bing? They’re basically using the same search algorithm so technically, we can add them together for a grand total of less than 5% market share. 

And a little comic before we wrap up. This is the main reason why my brother uses Bing as his search engine of choice. Aww, doesn’t the comic just break your heart and make you want to use Bing?

Types of blog posts

Here’s a list of the various types of blog posts I’m making:

  1. A blog post that solves a problem or answers a question.
  2. A post summarizing something I’ve read or watched.
  3. A list of stuff, kinda like what you’re reading right now.
  4. Something I learned or noticed recently, an insight of some sort.
  5. Random stuff I’m pondering.
  6. Random stuff I’m doing or trying.
  7. Tips and tricks for doing stuff.
  8. Reviews and recommendations on stuff I found useful or interesting.
  9. A short story of some sort.
  10. If I’m being lazy or lack the time, I might just share an article or video about something instead.

Looking back at some of the stuff I’ve written over the years, I’m starting to see a pattern of some sort. I can’t quite categorize the various blog posts I’m writing but I now have a general sense of the type of blog posts I want to write.

Doing the work you want to instead of have to

“I should go to bed, trying to run linear regression on trillions of data points past midnight is not a good idea.”

When was the last time you voluntarily stayed up late just to get something done? Not out of obligation but because you personally wanted to do it?

Was there ever anything you loved doing so much that you’d be willing to stay up late just to do more of it? Not in the sense of binge-watching Netflix but in the sense of doing or creating something. Maybe a song, or a poem, or generating a best-fit line to a trillion data points to see if there’s any correlation, or woodworking. Or maybe your day job?

Yeah, I can hear some people laughing right now, and I don’t think they’re the type to enjoy their work. But nevertheless, there must be something you enjoy creating, something you can spend hours on without noticing.

For me, I love a good challenge. Ideally, something I can put my hands on. Sometimes, I dismantle stuff and try to put it back together. Sometimes, I tinker with my fountain pens and tried grinding their nibs. A long time ago, I would spend hours trying to solve the problems in Project Euler, which was back when I was still programming.

But looking back at my past few months, I don’t think I’ve done much of anything like that. The only thing that comes to mind is probably writing, but for some reason, it looks like I’m slowly losing interest recently. Maybe this is some kind of sign?

Looking back at my posting history, it seems like I would inevitably go on a hiatus every few months and the longest continuous stretch of daily posting is only about half a year, which is my current streak. Maybe it is time for another break or something? Well, we’ll see.

An exercise in time tracking

I recently started time tracking using this simple little tool called Toggl, which is basically a timer to track your time. Simply type in what you’re working on, hit the start button to start the timer, and hit the stop button when you’re done with your task. That’s it.

You can do this to track your hours and get a realistic view of how you actually spend your time versus how you think you spend your time. The first thing I learned was that I side-track a lot. This isn’t news to me but I didn’t know it was this bad.

What normally happens is, I would type in the task I’m working on, say writing this blog post, and get to work. Occasionally, I would switch tabs and go look up some stuff. Sometimes, I would get side-tracked and start reading random stuff. The timer is still ticking and by the time I get back to writing, I remember the timer and cringe when I saw how much time I’ve wasted compared to how much of the task I got done.

So now, I’m trying to get myself into the habit of setting intentions. Whenever I use my computer, I will first open up Toggl and declare what I’m going to do and start the timer. If I ever feel the urge to switch tasks and go down some random rabbit hole, I’ll be sure to stop my timer and change the task. And as a result, I’m starting to get a picture of how I actually spend my time on my computer and my tendencies to switch to distracting tasks.

Today is only day two of time tracking and I’ve already messed up countless times, both with forgetting to start/stop the timer, having random distractions when I was supposed to be focusing on something, and not having a method to filter out or account for time spent on my phone. So I’m going to continue this time tracking exercise for a while and see what other insights or changes in my behavior I can get from this.

How comedy works

Comedy is nothing but a set up with a punchline and as Michael Jr puts it in his TED talk:

This is how comedy works; really all comedy. Any time you laugh, this formula is taking place in one way or another, but specifically, with regards to stand-up, this is how it works as well.

First, there’s a setup, and then, there’s a punchline. Let me explain.

The setup is when a comedian will use his talents and resources to seize any opportunity to ensure that you, the audience, are moving in the same direction.

The punchline occurs when he changes that direction in a way you’re not expecting. When you catch on to this change, you’ve received the punchline.

The results are revelation, fulfillment, and joy expressed through laughter.

If you haven’t watched his TED talk, you need to do yourself a favor and go watch it now. It is pretty amazing!

Here’s a snippet of one of his jokes, note the setup and the punchline.

Ever hear your coach say something like, “The stuff I’m teaching here, it’s not just about this game. You could apply it to life.” Here’s the thing, people: that’s not true. I thought it was true.

Straight out of high school, one of my first jobs was I used to park cars. One of the cars was really nice, so I took it for a little spin. The company found out, and my boss lost the account. He was yelling at me and screaming. I didn’t know what to say or do.

I thought back to my high school football coach, I looked at my boss, and I was like, “You know what, man? You win some, you lose some, man. You can’t let this one loss get you down. The important thing is I went out there, and I had fun”. Then I got fired, man. I got fired right away.

The trick to finishing marathons

Step by step, even the longest of marathons are done one step at a time.

If you’re thinking of running a full 42K marathon in one go, you probably won’t go very far and your mind will probably quit long before you even get on the starting line. But if you’re focusing on just taking one step after another and just running 1K at a time, it suddenly feels very doable.

Just run 1K at a time, it might take you 10 minutes but you can run for 10 minutes, right? And the next 10 minutes, the next 1K, another 10 minutes, another 1K, and so on. Sure, you might give up at 3K if it’s physically too much, but you ran 3K.

Try again in a few weeks and you might reach 5K, in a few months, you’ll be hitting double-digits and before you know it, a full 42K doesn’t seem so impossible after all.

And it’s not just running, everything is like a marathon. Want to learn a language? Do it word by word. Learning to code? Syntax by syntax. Learning to cook? Recipe by recipe. Beginner bird watcher? Start learning bird by bird.

It’s not a big secret and you probably know it already, the trick to finishing any marathon is to do it one step at a time, and that is especially true for the biggest marathon of them all, your time on earth.