Category Archives: Life

Thoughts about life

Maximizing My Free Time

Lately, I’ve been feeling pretty stressed about my free time. I’ve taken on so many commitments, both at work and in my personal life, that I don’t seem to have much time for myself. My weekday schedule follows the same pattern of: wake up, do “morning chores” (feed cats, take out their litter, empty the dishwasher, put in a load of laundry, make breakfast, water plants on patio/garden), work from 9-5, exercise, feed the cats, make dinner, watch TV for an hour, go to bed. My weekends are no better. On Saturday, I go grocery shopping at the farmer’s market, tend to our garden for several hours, clean the bathroom or wash our bed sheets depending on which week it is, do any other chores which came up during the week, cook dinner, watch TV, sleep. On Sunday, I: clean the espresso machine, sweep, mop, vacuum, squeeze in an hour of video games, and finish up with an outing that usually lasts the entire day.

By the end of Sunday, I’m exhausted from the long week and disappointed that I didn’t have a solid multi-hour block to sit back, unwind, and do something that I really want to do: like take a really long flight in Flight Simulator, play Minecraft or Valheim, tweak my homelab, or read a book. I usually wake up on Monday anxious about all the chores I need to get done with the goal of getting them done before Sunday so that I will have free time at the week’s end.

I don’t even have kids! I know it will get worse when I do.

Of course when I stumbled upon the “What is your time really worth to you?” quiz from clearerthinking.org on hackernews, I took it immediately. Turns out, my free time is worth a lot to me: on the order of hundreds of dollars an hour. I’m desperate to get just a few more minutes of free time out of my days.

I’m taking the results of my “test” to the extreme – for the past month, every time I have the thought “am I wasting my time?”, I try to find a way to spend money in order to give myself more free time. Here are some examples that I’ve found so far – some of which spend money and some don’t.

  • I registered for Global Entry (and by extension TSA Pre-Check) to save myself time at the airport. This cost $100 and so far, I’ve saved a few hours on our vacation to Banff National Park.
  • I hired cleaners to come bi-weekly to help clean areas which I spend a lot of time on: the stove, bathroom, cabinet doors, and vacuuming cat hair off the couch. This cost $75 per visit and have saved me a few hours so far.
  • In general, I’m trying to look things up on the Internet less. I find that I spend way too long searching for something “perfect” when in reality a single recommendation will do. For example, we recently went on a vacation to Banff National Park and actually used the Visitors Center that we seemed skip on all of our other vacations. We had spent a few hours trying to figure out plans for Canoeing – the visitors center gave us an answer in less than 5 minutes. Easy.
  • If I buy food and water when I’m hungry, even if it means paying a bit more or sacrificing quality, I noticed that I’m happier than if I waited for something better (while starving). Again, this helped us out in our recent Banff vacation.

I’ll continue looking for ways to give myself back some time. There are a few things that I’d like to try that I haven’t been able to yet: hiring a laundry service to pick up my laundry, hiring a personal assistant to help me manage my email inbox, hiring someone to help come up with my weekly meal plans.

I fully realize that several of these are only possible because I’m fortunate enough to have money to spend. The concept of spending money to get back time is still new to me, however, since I grew up in a relatively frugal household.

The Moment Between Flips

In today’s fast paced world, pancakes are a great way to slow down. Each pancake needs to cook for a minute on each side. During that minute, you have to stay close – you can’t go off and do something else. It’s a great time to think. The mind wanders about this and that as the bubbles rise to the surface of the pancake. It’s a peaceful moment with nothing to do except wait for the next flip.

I cherish these pancake moments. I love to image that I’m living in the country and I’ve just completed the morning chores – nothing to do but think. I think about how nice the weather is and how interesting it is to be alive.

Today, I thought about how much we consume. Why do I feel the urge to browse Amazon for new things? Why isn’t what I have sufficient? I am addicted to that small burst of happiness when the next Amazon package arrives. But like pancakes, there’s no need to rush – slow down and enjoy the current moment.

Collectibles: Use Them or Lose Them

When I was a child, I was spoiled rotten. My parents had a dual income that they apparently chose to spend on toys and collectibles for my brother and I. We had a huge room above our garage dedicated to only our toys. In retrospect, it was ridiculous – but of course we loved it.

As I grew, things changed. My parents got divorced and we had to move. All our toys and collectibles went into boxes and moved with us as both my mom and dad changed houses every year. Those boxes stayed with my parents until I graduated college. Then, I chose to take everything my parents were storing when I moved to Silicon Valley.

Turns out, having those boxes sit around is a huge burden. They are always at the back of my mind and any time I try to make a big decision, they get in the way. “Should I get a rug to bring the place together? No, I should go through the boxes first.”; “Should I get a bike to commute to work? No, I should go through the boxes”. The boxes give me some form of decision paralysis, so I am finally deciding to go through them.

The majority of the boxes are filled with old toys and stuffed animals. After reading Marie Kondo’s The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, I decided it would be best to donate these things to Goodwill. Now, I’m left with collectibles and gifts from relatives – a lot of them are still in their original packaging. These are harder to deal with: they’re probably worth some money, they have a nice handwritten note on the packaging, and they’re from someone who loves me.

But I’m not interested in these collectibles. I’m not going to display them, I don’t want them, and they’re taking up space – both physically and mentally. I almost feel cursed. Why did my parents choose to keep these collectibles wrapped up for twenty years? Why am I dealing with them now? Did they feel too guilty to get rid of them, but too scared to display them?[1]

I’ve decided to do something with them. For the collectibles that I actually enjoy (there are only one or two), I’m going to unwrap them and display them. They’re not giving me any happiness sitting in a box – they’re much better on display where I can see them everyday. Most importantly, I’m going to throw away the box.

For the collectibles that I don’t enjoy, I’m going to take a quick stab at selling them on eBay and Craigslist. If they don’t sell in a couple weeks, I’ll donate them. I’ll forget about them a few weeks after and I will be burden-free.

I’m going to start applying this philosophy to other collectible-like things: stickers, books, greeting cards. If they’re sitting in a box, use them or lose them.

References
1 My parents have always had a big garage: I wonder if putting the boxes in the garage had some sort of “out of sight, out of mind” effect and they were completely free of this burden.

Complacency RE: TSA

This past weekend I was on a trip to San Francisco. I was only staying for the weekend and hadn’t packed much. Everything I needed fit into a carry-on. This also meant that everything I needed would have to be loaded onto the TSA conveyor-belt to ensure that I wouldn’t be bringing anything dangerous into the passenger cabin of the plane. To my surprise, my bag was flagged and my tube of toothpaste was deemed “too large” and had to be taken away from me.

Upon returning home a few days later, I relayed the story to a colleague, who said something along the lines of “The only one to blame is yourself.” After unsuccessfully trying to argue my point that the TSA should not be able to take away toothpaste that is obviously toothpaste [1], I realized that my colleague had simply grown complacent with the TSA.

I believe strongly that the TSA is a good example of the people giving up freedoms for “protection,” something that should not happen. [2] This blog post, therefore, serves as a reminder to the reader that the people should not be willing to sacrifice freedoms for safety. The people should only be willing to accept safety precautions that do not encroach upon their freedoms. The TSA and NSA, unfortunately, do not fall into this category and should not be accepted. [3]

References
1 I had asked the TSA agent if I could squeeze toothpaste out such that, when folded, the tube would meet the maximum size restrictions. They said this was not allowed.
2 A fantastic explanation of this can be seen in Glen Greenwald’s TED Talk about privacy https://www.ted.com/talks/glenn_greenwald_why_privacy_matters?language=en
3 Unfortunately, I am not aware of a good way to fight the TSA. As a side thought, however, I wonder how many innocent tubes of toothpaste must be taken away until a tube of toothpaste is considered to be a safe item

The Importance of a Quality Office Chair

I write this as I sit in an office chair in a Bellevue hotel room. I try and try again to muster the mental strength to focus on the latest addition to the project I’m working on. However, for every bit of mental energy expended on the process of opening a new vim window, I spend about five seconds opening up a new tab and browsing to {unproductive site} [1]. This is an entirely unbalanced distribution of time, and after about an hour, I still haven’t added anything useful to the project.

Why is this? Out of all possible causes and correlations, I blame it on the chair I’m sitting in. The chair has a long base (The part that makes direct contact with the buttocks), meaning that in order for the back to be pressed against the back of the chair, the sitter must slouch or extend his legs in an uncomfortable fashion. Thus, I am slouching.

This slouching seems to make me inattentive and easily distracted. I am almost too comfortable to be focusing. If I wanted to focus, I would be sitting up relatively straight.

My theory about the chair reminds me of several different scenarios, which I will describe in a very Freudian fashion.

  1. The chair in my home office forces me to sit up straight. However, it lacks solid lower back support. Thus, I am able to focus for a good hour or so, but as soon as I feel back pain, I begin to unfocus and slouch. This slouching causes me to continue to remain inattentive to the task at hand.
  2. The seats of an airplane also force me to sit up straight. As much as people complain about the discomfort of airplane seats, I find them to be very comfortable. Albeit, I think people complain about the lack of respect for a “personal bubble” more than anything. While I’m in an airplane, I am able to focus very well. However, this may be due to my lack of accessible Internet connection.
  3. The chairs in my University library seem to encourage focus. However, there are chairs in which I do not focus – those that are the ones in which cannot reach the table comfortably.
  4. The chairs at my previous employment were very nice Steelcase chairs. While sitting in them, I was able to stay focused for several hours at a time without distraction. This could probably also be attributed to the work environment and the other focused workers who surrounded me.

Although causation is not clearly implied, it is clear that the chair I am sitting in has some sort of correlation with my level of focus. It is obvious that a good chair is necessary for back health, but a good chair may also be just as important for focusing on the task at hand.

References
1 Usually Reddit, Hacker News, or Wikipedia