Category Archives: Productivity

Photo by Rostyslav Savchyn on Unsplash

4 Ways to Minimize Regret

Regret sucks. Let’s talk about some ways to make it suck less.

What You’ll Learn

  1. The Regret Minimization Framework
  2. Any Unasked Question is a No
  3. Make Mistakes of Ambition, not Sloth
  4. The Only Question

The Regret Minimization Framework

The Regret Minimization Framework is a fantastic tool. It is similar to an algorithm in Computer Science called Hill Climbing. Hill climbing is focused on finding local maxima (a fancy term for finding the highest point close to you.

Math is Fun Maxima Graph
thanks to math is fun

Given multiple choices, we want to take the option that results in the least amount of regret after it’s over.

Example

You have 3 options that will take you one hour to complete. Doing one prohibits you from doing the others, adding an opportunity cost to all the choices.

Option A: Exercise (Regret score: 15)
Option B: Hanging out with your friends (Regret score: 20)
Option C: Watching Netflix (Regret score: 45)

In this case, it is best to spend the hour exercising. It incurs a cost of missing conversation with friends, and not getting ahead in our show, but minimizes the guilt felt at the end of the hour.

Hill climbing and regret minimization is not a perfect science. By focusing on local maxima, we miss chances to find optimal routes. But the ones we do find are good enough.

Any Unasked Question is a No

Anxiety is the sibling of regret. Regret criticizes choices made, and anxiety criticizes thoughts about choices. Anxiety is useful in doses. It prevents stupid decision making, for individuals and societies.

The sucky part is that if anxiety wins, regret will also win later.

Let’s say you want to ask your boss for a promotion. You’re anxious because you don’t want a light shined on the work you’ve done. So you don’t ask. 3 months later, your coworker is promoted to the role, and you regret not asking.

You’ve felt and acted on both the negative feelings of anxiety and regret. Ouch.

Any unasked question is a no, so go ahead and ask!

Make Mistakes of Ambition, not Sloth

“All courses of action are risky, so prudence is not in avoiding danger (it’s impossible), but calculating risk and acting decisively. Make mistakes of ambition and not mistakes of sloth. Develop the strength to do bold things, not the strength to suffer.”
– The Prince, Machiavelli

The quote sums it up. There is no such thing as “no risk”. Make bold plays.

The Only Question

The final and easiest way to minimize regret is to ask yourself:

When I’m looking back at the end of my life, did I do everything I wanted?

Think in the long term. The short term has too many variables that pollute thinking. Long term thinking is values based, and since you can’t see how your plans play out, you’ll only have your values to guide you.

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tabula rasa

Two Sentence Paragraphs are the Future

Attention spans are slim, folks. This is no surprise.

In order to keep readers/listeners/users/watchers engaged, introduce new concepts.

A lot of blogs on the internet, they’re much too long.

They spend word upon word elaborating, elucidating, compounding, expanding upon.

Let’s make things simple. Simpler than they were in school.

Say what you need to say, nothing more. And use spacing, damn it! No one likes walls of text!

Silence is a virtue.

4 sentences per paragraph is much too many.
Stick to two.

what this piece looks like as one paragraph, I challenge you to try and stay focused the whole way through!

Attention spans are slim, folks. This is no surprise. In order to keep readers/listeners/users/watchers engaged, introduce new concepts. A lot of blogs on the internet, they’re much too long. They spend word upon word elaborating, elucidating, compounding, expanding upon. Let’s make things simple. Simpler than they were in school. Say what you need to say, nothing more. And use spacing, damn it! No one likes walls of text! Silence is a virtue. 4 sentences per paragraph is much too many. Stick to two.

Photo by Rostyslav Savchyn on Unsplash

Preventing Burnout

Burnout is a serious issue that needs to be proactively dealt with. In this video, I discuss some ways I’ve found to prevent burnout from happening. As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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Hacking The Rate of Self Improvement

What You’ll Learn

  1. Why change is slow
  2. Why planning too much is bad
  3. Using the Pareto principle to grow faster

Rome wasn’t built in a day.

“Where is that saying from?” I thought to myself. After a quick Google search, I found out that the saying originates from a French phrase from 1190, written in the collection Li Proverbe au Vilain. I love this maxim. To me, it represents the slow motion of a stream that erodes the face of a mountain, the slow formation of the Earth at the infantile stage of the Solar System over 4 billion years ago. It represents a patient parent, waiting for the day that their young child’s violin lessons (even though they sound pretty bad now) will create the next concerto.

I then took a step back and marveled about how easy it was for me to find that information. In fact, a lot of things are pretty easy in this day and age. I’m rarely ever bored, because I can always distract myself at a moment’s notice with my phone. The irritation from boredom is easily remedied by opening Reddit or Instagram. What does that make me? Impatient.

In some ways, being impatient is a really good thing. Hopefully this will come as a surprise to no one, but death is inevitable. Time is limited for us humans, so being impatient spurs action. Being impatient keeps us hungry, hungry to solve life’s problems before we buy the farm.

I became interested in the idea of finding a happy medium between the guarantee of change over large periods of time, and the day to day minuscule changes. How do I make measurable changes in myself in a fair amount of time? What if I don’t want to wait a whole generation to become happier? What if I don’t want to spend five years in school pursuing a graduate degree to have a piece of paper tell me I’m an expert?

Planning (in correct doses)

In machine learning, there is a problem set known as overfitting. Overfitting happens when an algorithm that describes and predicts data is much too complex.

As an example, imagine we are trying to decide what to eat for dinner. We had pasta yesterday, so we don’t want pasta. Oh, and my partner just started Keto, so we can’t have pizza. I’m not in the mood for tacos. But General Tso’s has too much salt. Down the rabbit hole we go. We could spend weeks mulling over what to get for dinner out of the near limitless options. And in the process, die of starvation. By trying to acknowledge every potential data point, we end up making a worse decision.

Often, overfitting can be attributed to zealousness. We have data, we see what didn’t work before, and we analyze, analyze, analyze. We all know people who are compulsive overthinkers. People who spend their waking hours trying to predict every single outcome. This type of thinking is necessary to a point. Forging through a forest without a map is a dumb idea. Mapping out every rock is an equally dumb idea.

For myself, I try to not overthink things, but I’ve found a good trick is to set a timer to think and worry. I give myself 20 minutes to think of worst case outcomes, to pick apart data, to dissect any morsel of meaning. After that timer goes off, I step away.

By doing this, I’ve been able to short circuit the urge to overthink things.

Effectiveness

I’ve mentioned the Pareto Principle before, but I’d like to take a few sentences to give some real life examples of how you can add the Pareto Principle to your life.

The Three Steps To Effectiveness…ness

First, start with a well defined goal. Your goal doesn’t have to be SMART but it should point you in the correct direction.

Second, choose one thing you can do today that will bring you closest to this goal.

Third, repeat this process and tweak as needed. Iterate on what you did yesterday, try something new, because the same inputs net the same result.

Examples

Here’s an example. Say I want to learn how to be an archeologist. That goal is pretty vague, so let’s first define it better.

1) Define the goal

Instead of “I want to be an archeologist.” let’s say, “I want to go on a geological dig with paleontologists.”

2) Find the most effective thing you can do today to achieve this goal.

Day 1-7: Research what archeologists do, what they study in school
8-14: Search for volunteer opportunities on https://www.archaeological.org/fieldwork
15-22: Buy/rent a metal detector on Amazon, and go dig in a public park or forest
23-31: Post your findings on a blog, or YouTube

3) Repeat to taste

Example 2: I want to be able to bench press 1.5x my body weight

1) Define the goal

Goal is well defined already. Awesome!

2) Find the most effective thing you can do today to achieve this goal.

Day 1-7: Research what bodybuilders do, the correct form for bench pressing
8-14: Work on grip strength (apparently this is pretty important for confidence while lifting heavy)
15-22: Find a spotter, work out and eat the right foods
23-31: Get the amount of sleep you need to perform your best in the gym

Our goal will morph over time, which is why it’s important to not have the goal be too rigid. Remember, we aren’t trying to think of everything, just the important things.

How Fast Can I Change?

This really depends on how you define change, how many variables are outside of your control, and how well you are able to stick to a schedule. But I’d argue the going rate is around two months of continuous, well placed work. This conclusion is anecdotal, but is also based off of James Clear’s blog on automatic habits. We don’t need something to become automatic, but the less you need to actively think about the process, the better. This goes for everything from dating to astrophysics to piano to basketball. Work on the effective fundamentals and you’ll notice changes! I promise.

On average, it takes more than 2 months before a new behavior becomes automatic — 66 days to be exact.

Conclusion

The only constant is change.

In conclusion, set a defined goal, work on the most effective thing you can do today, and iterate/restructure your goal weekly. You may not become Donald Glover overnight, but you might like what you find instead. It’s important to find a balance between patience and impatience, to learn when to look and when to leap. Change is inevitable. However, we can steer the ship. It’s really great to walk into a room with people you know and have them say to you: “You seem different.”

You can check out my three favorite apps to stay productive here.

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3 apps that make you more productive

We live in a pretty cool time. We’re surrounded constantly by gadgets, are in constant communication with each other and new technologies that improve life come out every day. One thing that’s worse though, is the anxiety that comes with always being connected to each other.

I grew up with the internet, so I can’t relate too many firsthand experiences, but I’m told before the Internet was around, when the work day ended, you were expected to go home and not think about work!

A Brief History Lesson with Dr. Adams

In Algorithms to Live By, Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths talk about the creation of the Internet and how the communication layer of the world changed. Basically, the internet works similar to FedEx. Your computer will ship out a package and another computer will eventually receive it. Your computer then waits for a receipt, an acknowledgment that the other computer got it. Then your computer will send the next package. If no receipt is returned, your computer can keep sending the same package over and over too (think of this like a ‘return to sender’ in the mail).

Before this, phones (like those old ones with the cords!) followed a different model. In order to send data, both lines need to be active. If you’ve ever been hung up on, you know exactly what I mean. You can talk and talk, but the other person won’t ever receive it.

What does this mean, in the context of productivity? Well, think about your email inbox. A lot of us myself included, are obsessed with “Inbox Zero”. But since work can come in at any point in the day, we’re never really done (asymptotic to zero). We’re expected to stop drinking our margaritas on the beach. We’re expected to look at our phones compulsively every five minutes to make sure we didn’t miss a “package delivery”.

This isn’t all bad though. The very cause of our troubles can be used to facilitate processes so that we finish things we need to do, or things we said we’d do.

Our goal is to decrease the load on our physical brains, by taking advantage of tools (our digital brain). So let’s jump into it!

Todoist

Todoist is a really powerful to-do list. The main selling points for Todoist for me are:

1) The ability to use natural language processing to add scheduling to todos
2) The ability to track past and completed todos with filters
3) A pretty intuitive project structure

That said, trialing this app to see if you like it isn’t really a thing. Their free tier is garbage, but you can occasionally find a code on Reddit to give yourself a free month (or use a referral, email me if you want one!)

Todoist is my “first line of defense”. When something comes up that I’m not ready to deal with, or if I’m busy doing something else, I’ll add it to Todoist. There have been times when I’ve been scrolling through my unfinished todos and I’ll realize that I forgot to do something small from months ago. Context matters. Sometimes you need to be in front of your home desktop to do something!

Back before todo lists were a thing, I honestly don’t know how people just didn’t forget to do things. I know I forget constantly. But maybe that’s just because I get distracted, I digress.

Habitica

Habitica is a gamified way to keep track of habits. Habits are extremely important for productivity for multiple reasons. For one, habits when practiced every day, leads to major growth over time, but only when done consistently. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither is your meditation habit.

To quote Atomic Habits:

Your outcomes are a lagging measure of your habits. Your net worth is a lagging measure of your financial habits. Your weight is a lagging measure of your eating habits. Your knowledge is a lagging measure of your learning habits. Your clutter is a lagging measure of your cleaning habits. You get what you repeat.

I treat my habits as static if possible because it allows me to plan my day around the ~30minutes it takes for me to finish them. By externalizing my habits into a game, the feeling of accomplishment has a tangible existence. Habitica also allows you to feel like an RPG hero while you do them, which is really fun. This app kind of reminds me of level progression back in my World of Warcraft days, but is much healthier.

Notion

Usually people say that they save the best for last, but I actually did.

Notion is amazing. It’s kind of like Evernote, Trello, and Google Docs had a baby. But this baby was born strong as f***. Notion has a very intuitive UI, and I use it as my goto “long term” planner. Because everything exists in one space, I can easily context switch from one project to another. I can’t say enough positive things about Notion, it really feels like one of those apps that change the way you interact with your computer/phone.

Their offline support is pretty buggy, though.

Conclusion

These three apps didn’t change everything in life for me, but in tandem they make me a much more productive human. One who gets s*** done!

If you’re interested in productivity, check out my post on blocking distracting websites with Python or sign up for my mailing list below.