Table of Contents
- The Good
- Not So Great / Plain Bad
- The Things I Learned
- Want-Tos / Will Dos for Next Year
This has been the productive year of my life. I read over 50 books, grew an email newsletter from 0 to 500 subscribers in 6 months, had work hung in a New York gallery, built multiple utilities/toys, and did a lot of dancing. I also didn’t budget well, started and then subsequently didn’t touch at least 6 Coursera courses, overscoped multiple side project ideas, dealt with major anxieties, and let my physical health go more than I ever have.
Those are just the highlights. This whole thing is pretty long, so if you want to read my key learnings and takeaways, skip to the last section. Otherwise, there are plenty of pictures to look at (past the 50 books).
Let’s do the good news first.
At the beginning of the year I decided that I would read 50 books. That’s just under 4 books a month, which is a book per week. Most of the people I’ve told about this have reacted along the lines of “How on earth can you read that much/that fast?” I wasn’t sure if I could do it at first, either. However, once I got on a roll, I realized reading a lot of books seems more time consuming than it actually is.
I don’t read particularly fast, and the average book takes the average reader about eight hours. I’m able to fit in 10–12 hours of reading per week on average. I read for half an hour to an hour at lunch every day, twenty or thirty minutes on the bus when I felt like it, half an hour at home every day, and a couple of hours on the weekends. This was a pretty easy way to pass time when I didn’t have anything else to do, or instead of watching Netflix or playing a video game.
Some books were easier to read than others and took only a day or two. Others were denser or technical and took up to two or three weeks to finish.
Here’s the list of what I read:
- The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of America’s Wealthy: Save money, live frugally, and you too can retire in wealth (relative to your earning income). A good read for an impatient millennial.
- Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything: Learn how to use mnemonics, memory palaces, and other crazy memory tricks to remember potentially useless information. However, memory palaces are a killer win for lists of specific information you need to remember.
- Databases Demystified: A little outdated but had good remedial information for the stuff I never knew about databases.
- Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products: Trigger, action, variable reward, investment, form addictions.
- Your Brain at Work: I highly recommended this book. It goes in great depth into the details of how your brain works, why you're susceptible to making poor decisions, choking, or blowing up at the people you care about, along with practical tips and illustrative stories.
- CHATTER: Small Talk, Charisma, and How to Talk to Anyone: Decent, short reading on small talk.
- Waiter Rant: Thanks for the Tip — Confessions of a Cynical Waiter: Amusing, light read with useful information about tipping, but nothing really super eye-opening.
- Seductive Interaction Design: Creating Playful, Fun, and Effective User Experiences: Solid read on how to make fun UX. Not much else to it.
- The Lords of Strategy: The Secret Intellectual History of the New Corporate World: Fascinating if occasionally dry look into the world of corporate consultants. It made me wish I were smarter.
- My Voice Will Go with You: The Teaching Tales of Milton H. Erickson: Hyponotherapy text. Something magical about the passages. I want to read more Erickson.
- The Founder’s Dilemmas: Anticipating and Avoiding the Pitfalls That Can Sink a Startup: An eye-opening, data-backed look at hundreds of startups, including their wealth-purpose orientation, founder styles, and approach to investment that showed how these variables played into their successes or failures. Basically: commit to making lots of money or commit to keeping most of the equity. Hire professionals or work with your friends. Split equity according to merit or split it evenly. Don’t mix and match these.
- What Every BODY is Saying: Ex-FBI interrogator goes over body language, but the big takeaway is the idea of “pacifying” gestures — anything designed to move your energetic to neutral whether you’re excited or anxious. These include things like leg-shaking, self-stroking, touching the face, scratching, anything. You can’t necessarily know what someone is lying about from these, but you can push a topic and see if they get more or less uncomfortable.
- Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future: Peter Thiel waxes poetic about how you need to make something truly new to change the world (no shit). Good for inspiration.
- Mind Games: Richard Thieme at his weirdest and best. A collection of fabulously cyberpunk, UFO conspiracy, transhumanist future sci-fi literature that made me put the book down to think many many times.
- The Design of Everyday Things: Revised and Expanded Edition: A classic about the details of how design works, why it matters, why you need to care. It’ll change how you view the world — and the things in it — around you.
- Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die: A list of “sticky” qualities of certain ideas. SUCCES: Simple, Unexpected, Concrete (tactile), Credible, Emotional, Stories.
- Founders at Work: Stories of Startups’ Early Days: A bunch of different founders talk about what it was like in the early days. I think you either enjoy this sort of read or you don’t.
- Predictably Irrational, Revised and Expanded Edition: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions: A decent read into cognitive bias. Great introduction if you’re unfamiliar; OK read if you’re familiar.
- Sources of Power: How People Make Decisions: This was a great book, albeit a little dry at times. It detailed how tank captains, fire fighters, nurses, and other trained professionals make decisions in high-intensity, short-time situations. The basic takeaway is that experts have tons of experience and develop an intuitive gut reaction that they can’t necessarily explain.
- Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion: A classic in persuasion/sales literature. How we use certain emotional techniques to persuade others to do stuff for us. Reciprocation, commitment and consistency, social proof, liking, authority, and scarcity.
- Continuous Delivery: Reliable Software Releases through Build, Test, and Deployment Automation: A little dated. Has tons of “we should do this” but little hand-holding (probably because no solutions existed back then). The book tries to be a reference but is painfully repetitive because it thinks that being a reference means repeating the same sentences in every chapter.
- Power: Why Some People Have It and Others Don’t: About what you’d expect. Certain personalities willing to attract attention rule. Being able to cultivate material and social resources. Acting and speaking with power. Building a reputation. Being willing to be an asshole here and there (or everywhere, for some people).
- Edgy Conversations: How Ordinary People Can Achieve Outrageous Success: Mostly an inspirational read. Pretty good to get you moving — emphasizes an extreme attitude towards success (be extreme! do it or don’t!), discipline, giving, and (y)humanity.
- Release It!: Design and Deploy Production-Ready Software: This is one of the best books I’ve read on code and system architecture. It’s mostly about deployment but it also inadvertantly taught me a ton about building fault-tolerant code and systems.
- Domain-Driven Design: Tackling Complexity in the Heart of Software: A great read about how to separate your concerns into different layers of your application.
- XMPP: The Definitive Guide: XMPP chat protocol for a specific project.
- Designing Data-Intensive Applications: This one’s still a WIP (the book is being released in stages), but so far it’s been a fantastic, modern overview of current approaches towards Big Web Data Scale projects.
- Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In: Basically, be cordial, be rational, gather as much information as you possibly can, understand the opponent’s needs and desires, expect them to cheat, don’t sink to their level.
- The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers: Manager/CEO’s fables about how to run a company. It’s a good read with solid information about how to make difficult decisions when they absolutely have to get made.
- Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us: After being paid sufficient monetary compensation, autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Has some interesting references to studies about when/where “carrot and stick” incentives do and don’t work.
- The New New Thing: A Silicon Valley Story: The story of Lewis Clark, billionaire-company builder extraordinaire with an obsession with building a self-navigating boat. A fascinating and compelling character biography.
- Startup Growth Engines: Case Studies of How Today’s Most Successful Startups Unlock Extraordinary Growth: Solid read. Case studies of companies scaling.
- Newsletter Marketing: I read this mostly for Glitchet. Mostly about selling from a pre-existing company, not really applicable to my webzine.
- The Eureka Factor: How we come up with brilliant ideas and solve difficult problems. Focus intensely on the problem then take a break, a bath, a walk, a shower. Has more detailed science on how to best optimize this.
- Rejection Proof: How I Beat Fear and Became Invincible Through 100 Days of Rejection: Cute read, good for the social anxiety ridden. It was cool to watch videos of the guy doing the actual stuff he writes about after the fact.
- Compelling People: The Hidden Qualities That Make Us Influential: It has an interesting continuum where strength and warmth are opposed in one another, and the most compelling people balance both. It also talks pretty up-front about bias and judgment about your age, sex, gender, race, and identity, which is cool.
- Nerve: Poise Under Pressure, Serenity Under Stress, and the Brave New Science of Fear and Cool: A really good read into the science of why some people freak out and why others do brave things. It has some useful tips and tricks on how best to stop the nerves — and what doesn’t work. Lean into the fear, pay attention to your feelings, label them, try to reframe, and laugh if you can.
- Countdown to Zero Day: Stuxnet and the Launch of the World’s First Digital Weapon: If you like cybersecurity, you have to read this. A look at how the U.S. engineered the world’s first literal cyberweapon, and with plenty of historical background behind why it’s such a big deal. It helped me understand the context of the nuclear conflict in the Middle East a lot better, as well.
- Just Listen: Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone: Advanced listening. Lots of linguistic and behavioral techniques to make other people feel heard, and ways to make sure that you actually care about hearing them.
- Traction: How Any Startup Can Achieve Explosive Customer Growth: A great read into the different types of acquisition channels, along with detailed information on how to utilize them. The thesis is that you should find the three or four traction channels that work best for you, and then really focus on those. I’ll be referencing this for many of my side projects.
- Who’s Got Your Back: The Breakthrough Program to Build Deep, Trusting Relationships That Create Success — and Won’t Let You Fail: Make mentors, how to do it. Never Eat Alone-esque.
- Hatching Twitter: A True Story of Money, Power, Friendship, and Betrayal: Such drama! Such Twitter! Really interesting read about CEOs backstabbing and deposing each other.
- Bigger Leaner Stronger: The Simple Science of Building the Ultimate Male Body: Nutrition, myth-busting, some workout techniques.
- The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes — and Why: Great stories about people in crappy situations. It rails hard against our current systems and their failures to truly address safety issues, and adds lots of examples of how you should stay prepared.
- Snow Crash: Classic cyberpunk fiction that popularized the idea of the Metaverse. Still a huge source of inspiration for modern-day attempts at virtual reality.
- You Are Your Own Gym: The Bible of Bodyweight Exercises: Nutrition, less impressive myth-busting, workout techniques I actually want to do.
- Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity: This is a great read on a classic, tool-agnostic productivity workflow that promises to keep you productive and stress-free. I’ve been adopting this as much as I can since I read it, and I’ll be discussing it in this book.
- Poise: How to Attain It: This is a weird, old book on men (and specifically men, because it was written in 1916) of “poise” vs. men of “timidity” and how to attain this poise. Boy, the author really hates timid people. It was a useful read, though, in highlighting some emotional behaviors in myself that I need to work on.
- The Social Climber's Bible: A Book of Manners, Practical Tips, and Spiritual Advice for the Upwardly Mobile: A hilarious satire that made me kind of sick reading it (but I think they meant for that to happen). It’s basically a how-to guide for the worst of the worst people who want to get ahead in life by riding on the coattails of others.
In addition to reading all of these books, I’ve learned pretty well how to find the right materials on subjects that I want to know more about. I’ll talk about that in the “Things I’ve Learned” section.
Glitchet, and Glitch Art
This year I got really, really into glitch art. I made a Facebook post talking at length about why I love it, but really, just look at these:
This interest led me to really engage with the glitch artist community and meet a lot of really cool people, and get exposed to tons of amazing artwork. I combined this interest with my fascination with futuristic technology and cyberpunk culture and started making Glitchet, a weekly email / webzine devoted to cutting edge news, culture, tech, and glitch art.
I made a web presence for it and learned how to use the web framework Django (and Mezzanine, a framework for Django) in the process.
I built a couple utility tools for making glitch art as well:
- moshy: a command line tool for common datamoshing (link mildly nsfw) tasks
- byebyte: a command line tool that destroys your files
- beamp: a command line tool that wraps any file in a .bmp header, allowing you to view it as an image file (and paint it!)
Overall I’ve been very happy with Glitchet’s growth. 23 issues later, it has roughly 500 email subscribers. The Facebook page has over 1k likes and the Tumblr has around 250. I’ve had a lot of positive responses and encouragement to the project, and I plan to keep doing it since I’ve gotten the workflow down to a point where it only takes me about 4 hours a week to do.
Art Toys, Exhibitions, and a Viral Spotify Playlist
Last year I built @pixelsorter, a Twitter bot that takes in images and outputs images that have had their pixels sorted according to certain values like hue, saturation, luminosity, etc. It received some solid acclaim across major tech news outlets (and women’s interest publication, Bustle — thank you for such a great interview, Lucia!), but my favorite outcome from this year was that the rad folks over at the Discovery Festival in Amsterdam reached out to myself and Bob Poekert, creator of @aquiltbot, to put together an installation for the show. We set up a server on a laptop that was connected to a printer that people could take selfies on, and the picture would be repeatedly transformed and changed between the two bots over and over again, printing out from a large-scale poster printer.
Another personal first is having artwork featured in a real-world, physical building. A big thanks to Paola Torres Núñez del Prado organized a fantastic glitch art exhibition called Glitcha at theCon Artist Collective gallery in New York. This was a huge surprise to me because I made the piece early in the year and then forgot about it. I’d been working on Glitchet in an almost exclusively curatorial (and digital) fashion, so learning to get a piece printed, framed, and shipped was a definite first. (It’s not difficult, but it can be expensive.) Thanks a ton to Paola for the opportunity! Here’s the piece I put into the event, The Coming Storm:
My friend Megan, an incredibly talented 2d and 3d illustrator and animator (if you’re curious, here’s her work and inspiration blog), and I started a collaborative Spotify playlist we called Chillwork full of downtempo, mostly lyric-less tracks for listening to working. It eventually got so good that I decided to post it to reddit’s /r/Music subreddit, where it went viral. Now it has about 20,000 followers, and lots of people have apparently really enjoyed it since we posted it! I think it was even playing for hours in a coffee shop I was in, although the baristas didn’t like the music. Oh well.
Software Engineering / RetailMeNot
Of course, I can’t skip over my job, the thing that allows me to make money and spend that money doing fun things. This was my first year working at RetailMeNot, coupon company extraordinaire, which absolutely has one of the highest concentrations of smart engineers in Austin.
Working here has challenged me to make careful decisions about the work I’m doing in a very large legacy codebase. Balancing clarity, maintainability, and adaptability is something that’s more important than ever. I’ve also had to learn to back up, defend, and articulate my arguments for why I want to do what I want to, and to figure out when I’m wrong. The code review process here is pretty rigorous. One of the larger tickets I’m working on has 5 code reviewers. It’s a good thing, though — it’s made me a smarter, more conscientious developer overall. I’ve also learned how to work in a larger company, as this is the largest one I’ve worked at so far (about 450 people in the Austin office).
In addition to the daily challenges at work, I’ve invested a lot of time learning more about scalable and distributed systems, software architecture, code design, and of course, the latest and greatest front-end technologies (well, just React and Webpack at the moment). My computer science background is fairly nonexistent so I’m working to fill in the gaps in my knowledge, as I’d love to start working on backend and machine learning work eventually.
Miscellaneous Good Things
The above are the highlights of my year, but here are other good things:
- I got to go on my first recruiting trip to Seattle and I hung out with my best friend Wendy for the second time ever, ~4 years since the last time. (Internet friends for life!)
- I took a few private Jiu Jitsu and Krav Maga classes with my roommate, Jorge. I’m not as interested in Jiu Jitsu as I am in Krav Maga at the moment, and I want to continue building the skillset.
- I mentored at MakerSquare at the beginning of the year.
- I started growing my hair out. Or rather, I didn’t stop it from growing? It’s getting long. I’m thinking of getting a bold dye job.
- I’ve gotten much more interested in fashion. I got two books on men’s fashion and I’ve begun to learn how to color coordinate a little bit better (when I care to — I still mostly wear black at work).
- I made some really good friends and deepened friendships with others. If you’re reading this, you know who you are. :)
This could go under miscellaneous, but I put this here because it’s a great segue into the next section, and I also really love dancing. Not too many people know this but I used to pop (video; note: I was NEVER this good) in college and I picked up a general freestyle dancing habit once I got settled in Austin.
Dancing has been a great outlet for expending excess energy, venting frustrations, and just having a good time. Of course, with clubs, bars, and dancing, comes drinking. Which takes us to the next section.
Not So Great / Plain Bad
This is the less fun part. It's great to pat yourself on the back and celebrate your wins but you also have to look at the stuff that went wrong--or you messed up.
I let myself go.
My weight fluctuated and instead of just working out I restricted my diet to what I now realize was an unhealthy amount. I seesawed between having less weight but feeling like crap due to not eating enough and being slimmer and feeling like crap because I wasn't getting any exercise. This was all also in my own opinion - I'm pretty sure no one else noticed or cared.
Besides plain laziness, general fitness-oriented workouts were new and alien to me (my fitness background has traditionally been in martial arts). I rationalized a fear of looking silly or appearing weak as not having enough time for fitness, needing to focus on work and side projects. I know now that the benefits of maintaining a healthy, physical lifestyle far outweigh the time it costs.
I drank too much.
I love to party. I love nightclubs, I love dancing, and I love the weird and interesting people you meet. Unfortunately, drinking comes hand-in-hand with this - and I love drinking, too. I've begun cutting back, both for my liver and both for my personal experience.
I'm lucky that I keep my presence of mind when I'm drinking--I don't make stupid decisions and I'm still able to think through things rationally. Regardless, you still get the shitty, unappealing, unattractive side effects: slurring, slowed thought, red-in-the-face, sweaty, easily caught in dumb conversations, stumbling, and a general lack of everything that a sober person has. I don't need to drink to have a good time, and if I feel the need to, that means that something else is up in my life or my mind that I need to solve--and not with alcohol. I'll save the hard partying for occasions that warrant it.
Failed to develop key habits effectively
I've been having a lot of trouble getting habits to stick, particularly journaling, checking my daily and weekly budgets, and weighing myself. I think this is because I haven't figured out a way to make sure that these reminders are front-and-center--and sometimes I just lapsed in willpower, period.
Failed to maintain a budget
I spent way more money than I should have. Particularly bad sources were restaurants and alcohol. Both of these are insanely expensive (especially when paired together), and Austin has so much good food and drink. Another big culprit here is the ease of use with delivery services like Eat24 and GrubHub, which I relied on heavily because I don't know how to cook enough things. I need to cook more and get more comfortable doing it.
I abandoned multiple side projects because I was distracted by a shiny new one or I underestimated its difficulty. Here's a list!
- A collaborative wiki for building personal webpages around personal interests
- An overly ambitious social media app that would require learning a new, obscure programming language - I also got way caught up in the infrastructure aspect, far too early.
- A virtual-reality/browser "game" style app
- Jorge and Way, a vlog my roommate and I started. I stopped it in favor of these other projects (which I also gave up) and because editing it took a lot of time / mental focus.
- Like, 6 Coursera courses. I was all gung-ho about them, until day 2. Psychology, Learning to Learn, Machine Learning, Calculus, a couple others I can't recall.
- The Glitchet forum. I was all about the forum, but it turns out that starting a forum takes a lot of work. (I'm still all about it, actually, but just not willing to put in the work that it would take right now.)
- A link-sharing site (basically delicious.com, but my take on it)
- A chrome extension designed to make you feel guilty for looking at social media
- A book marketed towards would-be front-end developers
- A spaced repetition memorization app with Evernote integration
Actually, I still want to work on those last two.
Looking back I'm a little irritated at my inability to settle on and stick to a project through to completion. My rationalizations right now are - you know, it's good! You're learning the extent of technology! You're exploring ideas! But I think I've gotten far too easily distracted by the new shinies.
I need to get permanently distracted by one of these until completion. To my credit, I actually did! To my negative credit, it sort of sucked.
pixelsort.me: a middling social success, major technical failure
Following my success with @pixelsorter, and having worked on some of the tech for the Discovery Festival show, I thought I would make a derivative project that didn't require people to have Twitter accounts to use it. Enter pixelsort.me, a web app using the exact same technology as @pixelsorter, but in a web app with some neat asyncronous processing queues behind it.
I hosted it on Heroku, and then posted it to reddit, where it was promptly hugged to death by hundreds of simultaneous users. I scaled up the Heroku app's database and processing power to a point where it cost about $600 a month to run (but would only cost me about $20 for the day) before I decided that for some reason scaling a personal app that makes no money up to cost $600 a month was more ridiculous, than say, $200 a month, or $30 a month.
Unfortunately, because pixelsorting is a computationally expensive, long-running process, I simply couldn't handle the large number of concurrent processing tasks in my application. This was fine for @pixelsorter because it had to be rate-limited by the Twitter API, but you could also see the stream it output and the implied queue of tons of people tweeting at it. I think there's an inherent acceptableness in a bot taking a little while to get back to you. But a website? No way.
pixelsort.me stalled, died out around 300 simultaneous users, and I eventually apologized and deleted the thread in shame. A big difference in experience from when I was looking at 800+ simultaneous users on the pixelsorter instructions page (which, after all, is just a web page - no big deal).
Now, pixelsort.me works great, provided that no more than like, 4 people are using it at the same time. I had hoped to turn it into an extra opportunity to push people who think stuff like pixelsorting is cool towards Glitchet, and start up another email list devoted to stuff I make. I did manage to do that much. Now I have a separate email list with 17 people who think what I make is cool, and I get another subscriber every other week or so.
I don't think they'll care about this blog post, though!
Self Pressure and Purpose
During the first 9 months of the year I read way too much entrepreneurial literature and was unwilling to accept the reality of my personal financial situation. When you're in tech, it's easy - so easy - to get caught up in the glamor of the idea of running a business, starting a company, building something and having it go big. My generation is in the unfortunate position of being inundated with two major 30-under-30 themes in media:
- There are tons of young people out there around our age (sometimes younger), doing it, changing the world, and making millions in the process.
- We're millennials! We can do anything if we try hard enough, set our minds to it, and be positive!
These two thoughts together are dangerous things, because of two other reasons:
- Those people are outliers, almost always with more privilege, connections, money, or straight up luck than us.
- No, we can't.
Unfortunately, the real world constraints of time, money, and other priorities comes into play here. I drove myself really hard in my learnings because I got caught up in the idea of building something really cool, something really big, but in the process beat myself up for every minute I wasn't spending towards my goal. While I was sane enough to realize that I had to take breaks sometimes, it wore heavily on me as I'm already prone to being self-critical and wanting to do more.
I needed a reality check: I'm not going to be one of the lucky ones who gets to make it big early--no 30 under 30 for me (or at least, probably not before 29), if ever. Time, money, and personal priorities just aren't on my side with this one.
Related to all of this is a strong lack of awareness of "purpose". I've been having a lot of trouble figuring out what goals I should have for the long term, and I think this is mostly due to being out of touch with myself while pushing hard to learning technical and business-oriented skills. I'm hoping to do a lot more reflection next year.
I took entirely too few risks socially and romantically. Okay, I took like, one and a half romantic risks this year which didn't pan out and that's fine. But overall, considering how many I could have taken (whether romantic or social), how many people I could have met, how many stories I could have heard, I severely failed this one.
I'm actually pretty OK with this one because social interaction and bravery has been a long-standing challenge for me, one I'm steadily chipping away at (especially since coming off a couple rocky relationships in the past). Blame homeschool for my natural reclusiveness.
The Things I Learned
OK, now to balance out the bad. I learned a lot, too.
I need to relax. I'm pent up, wound tight. I need to bend, not break. I need to learn more platitudes to appease myself with. If I don't learn to take more time to relax in an actually relaxing way--drinking, watching TV while I "multitask", and browsing the internet don't count--I'll actually have a nervous breakdown. Luckily I'm doing better at this already once I decided to scope down my projects. On that note...
Seriously assess your personal situation before undertaking projects
I have a limited amount of time, energy, and material resources to devote to a project. Make sure it's completable, reasonable, and I'm actually willing to commit the time to do it. Don't announce plans to work on something unless you're really going to do it. It's OK to kick ideas around, but don't take them too seriously and don't forget about what's already on your plate.
How to find good non-fiction books
In the process of choosing what 50 books to read I got pretty good at finding quality books in the given field I wanted to learn about, and it's not too difficult. Here's how you do it, assuming you have no clue whatsoever about the subject you're reading about:
- Search Amazon for the topic of your choosing. Choose the top 5 to 10 books that seem relevant.
- For each book, skim the most helpful reviews and see what they say.
- Consider the perspective of the reviewer: a reviewer with a lot of knowledge in a given domain is likely to discount or disdain a book that could be a good introductory text for you because it didn't have what they were looking for.
- Read negative reviews, but don't let them scare you away from the book unless you think their criticisms are valid and you would have the same criticisms. We perceive people expressing negative opinions as more intelligent and competent, so beware of this inherent human bias.
- Look for reviews that specifically mention other authors or books. Reviews with a lot of comments occasionally have recommendations in the comments as well.
- Skim the table of contents with the "Look Inside" feature and pick up keywords as well as a sense of what proficiency level you would need to read and understand the book.
- Look at the related books, "bought-with" suggestions, and search for more books using the authors, other books, or keywords you may have found.
- With more academically oriented texts, you may have access to the bibliography of the books. You can use this while researching or after you finish reading a book.
- If you're really getting nothing, take to Google and search for those topics along with the words "book suggestion" to try and hit some forums related to those topics. Worst case scenario, try asking on a social media site like reddit, goodreads, or quora.
- Repeat steps 1 through 6 until you find some good stuff!
Getting Things Done methodology
A coworker lent me the fantastic book Getting Things Done by David Allen. It's a really great tool-agnostic productivity methodology that emphasizes keeping all of your projects, to-do's, and ideas out of your head and down in a collection system. Here's a quick lifehacker read on how it works, but I'll summarize it briefly:
- Collection: You collect everything in your space, mind, and to-dos and throw them into an "inbox" (for me, a Trello board). Any time you come up with something you need or want to do, you probably won't have time to process what that actually entails - put it in the inbox.
- Processing: Process everything in your inbox into concrete tasks that detail the direct "next actions" for that given project. Delegate tasks you can't complete and do anything that will take less than 2 minutes. (You keep our project resources to actually help you accomplish tasks somewhere else - I use Evernote for this.)
- Organize: Spend some quality time with your inbox, next actions, and calendar. Sort things according to priority and context (can you do this at home? on the computer? etc.).
- Review: Reflect on your to-do lists and assess the status of everything. See anything that needs to be processed, collected, or re-organized? Do that.
- Do: Do the stuff. If you've broken down your to-dos into concrete "next actions" and have properly prioritized them, it's just a matter of doing them since there's now more clarity around what you have to do.
I've been in the process of implementing my own GTD workflow with Trello and I've already found immediate benefit. The most significant benefit has definitely been just being able to see everything that I want to do at a glance, and being able to drill into the things I have top-of-mind as "projects" (anything that takes more than one step to do). I've found my general anxiety levels have gone way down since implementing it because I no longer have that "Am I missing something?" feeling all the time.
If you're interested in learning more, I wrote a detailed book report shared in this Evernote note.
Always have a backup plan
Don't put all your eggs in one basket. You ever notice how a brave charge is always in context to a suicide mission? Yeah, don't ruin your life in the process of following an idea that isn't at least 85% sure to work out. Keep a savings account (and don't burn through it - in fact, keep adding to it), and keep a couple projects waiting so that you won't feel lost if what you're working on gets too hard or has to stall for some reason.
Know when to hold them, when to fold them, and know when to walk away. If you're smart, you'll never have to run.
Just do it
Sometimes you need to stop thinking about things and just do it. If it's something you're dreading (but know how to do), just stop thinking about it and start. Take the first step. Make the call, put on the gym shorts, write the first sentence. If you've never done it before, just put aside all your worries and anxieties and give it a shot. You won't be able to do it perfectly the first time--get through the experience and learn from what happens.
It's a mental "snap" sort of feeling, like waking up from a nightmare. You recognize where your head's at and just mentally switch as suddenly as you can, and do it.
Have things front-and-center
When building habits, especially multiple habits at once, you have to keep reminders to build those habits front and center otherwise your old habits will make you forget about the new habits you're trying to build!
Some examples of this:
- Put your reminder for habits right on your monitor so it’s annoying. When you need to use the monitor, put it on your keyboard or laptop pad so it’s still annoying. Put it back on your monitor when you’re done (you’ll notice it because it’ll be on your keyboard when you look down).
- Taking something from work home that you need the next day? Put it in front of your door as soon as you’re done with it so you won’t lose it.
- Not entirely habit related, but I now put all of my things that I’m going to wear the next morning together on my desk so that I’m not trying to figure out where things are when I’m groggy in the morning.
I used to use my calendar app to remind myself of habits, but I eventually went blind to the “habit events” on my calendar. I’ve found that I can solve this issue by committing to checking ONE thing every single day—and then putting all the other things I’m working on in that one thing.
Understanding business models
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about business models, money, lifestyle, and time and I came to have a much clearer understanding of how the different aspects of a business wildly affect the amount of time, effort, money, and skill you need to run that business. The amount of return you can get out of an app depends on how scalable it is to the number of people you have to work on it, and other factors like compute-intensiveness matter significantly to how much money it costs you to run an app or website.
For me this matters a lot because I want to spend my free time creating extra revenue streams, but I have to pick my battle carefully: I can’t afford to hire any engineers so I absolutely can’t choose a project that requires a lot of engineering talent or sophisticated work unless I intend to do all of it myself, and I can’t tend to it all the time since I have a full-time job. This has made me realize that I need to choose a project with the following aspects:
- It’s relatively easy to (learn to) build
- It provides value to people to the point that they would pay for it (or they’ll click the ads)
- It takes relatively little processing power
- It can scale horizontally and inexpensively
- It is mostly passive, has long-term value, or otherwise doesn’t require any further work once it’s done, besides adding more value incrementally (whether that be additional content, features, etc.)
I think this is a revelation that seems obvious when it’s laid out like this, but it took me a while to talk myself down from ambitious (and very cool sounding) projects.
The value of silence
I’ve spent an enormous amount of time this year watching The Office (like literally probably the whole series at least 20 times), in part because Venkatesh Rao’s Gervais Principle inspired a fascination with it, and I believe also in part because of social surrogacy, which is a hypothesis that posits that people can form social and emotional relationships with their favorite TV characters as a substitute for actual socialization and human interaction. Despite being only a hypothesis, I think there’s some truth to it in my personal experience: The Office sort of became pleasant background noise with all of my personal favorites characters and moments that I could tune in and out of.
However, I eventually realized that this pleasant “hum” actually wasn’t helping. I was basically multitasking, which doesn’t work. I was often using sound, music, shows, etc. to soak up my own stressors and push whatever things I was worrying about to the back of my mind, but not out of it. The dull hum (and occasional complete distraction) was about as useful as checking Facebook every thirty seconds, getting stuck in a dopamine loop and putting up a constant shield of noise against the things that actually matter.
Spending more time in silence and quiet has been really valuable. Now I’ve started taking a habit of just sitting on the couch and not thinking for a couple minutes, which is a nice reset, and allows all the unconscious things to bubble up. They’re worth staying with, exploring, and thinking about calmly. Writing, working, and thinking in silence has made me sure that I’m giving myself the time and space to consider the right things without being influenced by the noise around me.
Be more self-compassionate
This one’s tough for me. I tend to be highly self-critical, to a point that it ceases being useful and instead just becomes an emotional hinderance. I’m working on being a better friend to myself and allowing myself to make mistakes, which by extension means taking more risks and not being as afraid to look dumb while learning new things.
Want-Tos / Will Dos for Next Year
And finally, we’re here towards the end! Here's what I'm planning to have on my plate for 2016.
Beauty, Fashion, and Fitness
I’ve always been pretty down on my own looks due to relatively manageable self image issues. I think a lot of this has to do with growing up in a predominantly white, American environment. It wasn’t until I started thinking more about race, culture, and diversity that I realized how much growing up with a mainstream representation of white men has affected my personal standards of attractiveness. I'm half (and look mostly) Asian, so I have a relatively flat face. My flat nose, weak jaw, and full cheeks have always unsettled me. Something subliminally wrong about them. Not angular, not a strong profile, not white, can’t grow a full beard. Not ideal. How could anyone ever be attracted to someone that looks like that?
I now know that that’s objectively not true, and I’m working on clearing my head. Next year (and starting now) I’m really nailing it into mind. It affects my self-conception and how I act around potential romantic partners. Part of embracing this idea of my own face and body means understanding that I simply won’t be able to embody the stereotypical white male look: rugged, tough, handsome, chiseled jawline, etc. That’s fine. I’m interested in exploring alternate expressions of beauty through fashion and style. I'm hoping to start trying on some bolder looks, more colors, and new hairstyles. I'll also be picking up my fitness routine with a bodyweight training regimen and getting back on top of my health.
The Rest of the Stuff
I had more to say about the above than the rest of these. Here's a NOT exhaustive list of the other things I want to focus on or play with in 2016:
- Work on some small projects that are well-scoped, achievable, and make money. Not going to commit to any of them in public yet. ;)
- Play my instruments some more. Just 5 or 10 minutes a day or something!
- Get more involved in meetups, meet more people, get plugged in
- Learn to use Mint better. I think I'm seriously underutilizing it.
- Cut back on food and drink spending
- Take more risks socially and romantically
- Continue reading books.
- Try a "zombie week" - a week where I'm as unplugged as possible, ignoring social media, and focusing entirely on work.
- Read more high-quality blogs. There's a lot of great ones out there that I'm really missing out on.
- Continue to push Glitchet. Maybe I can hit 2,000 subscribers by the end of 2016?
- Pick up mathematics and some fundamental computer science again
- Learn how to sew
- Learn more about RFIDs and Arduino
- Write more blog posts!
And that's it! (For now.) If you actually read this whole post, first off--holy shit--and second, thank you! If you didn't, I don't blame you, and I hope you got something out of what you did read. I'm going to start posting on this blog semi-infrequently (every 2 weeks or so) in much shorter and more digestible posts, so keep an eye out on social media.
I can't wait to see what will happen next year.