Dealing with backlogs

These days there are so many things that vie for our attention and we usually aren’t mindful about which thing actually get our attention. And so we find ourselves reacting to things or just doing things without asking if we should or need to.

It’s because of this that most of us feel miserable at the end of the day. Rarely do we feel happy about our life. Thus, there is this growing movement of minimalism to counteract the increase in busyness, being called to devote our energy and attention on various things and the increase in mindless consumption.

So if you are part of this movement, you can call yourself a minimalist. And the thing about being a minimalist is that you develop a habit of constantly questioning yourself about what you are doing, what you bring into your life and what’s the purpose. Put it simply, it’s all about saying no so that you can say yes to the things that is more important. Things that are more valuable.

And I call myself a minimalist. Saying no to a lot of things is the default stance because I want to devote my limited attention to the things I find joy or meaning. Decluttering and being mindful of what I consume is a big part of my life.

However, I slipped up in recent months. I fell into that trap of mindless consumption. The end result is not pretty.

First of all, there’s a backlog of eight physical books, 50% of which are science fiction novels, that I’ve yet start reading or read halfway. That’s not mentioning there are also four more science fiction e-books in my kindle app also in various reading stages. Then there’s also five video games to play across my three gaming consoles that are in various stages of completion. Third, I got a bunch of personal software and writing projects that I’ve not done or in various stages of completion. Lastly, the backlog for my day job has also grown almost unmanageable.

For some people, they would probably feel pressured to do all of the above I mentioned. Furthermore, other areas of their life will also catch up and demand for their attention. Cortisol level will rise.

Now, this is where things get interesting…

I don’t feel that kind of pressure to complete all of the above. Not like how I would have felt in the past.

You may be wondering why.

I got it figured out.

First of all, I know why I’m in this situation. It’s nobody else fault but mine. Once you accept that, you actually will feel empowered to take back control. Second, you accept that you don’t have anything to prove to anyone. Third, you recognise and accept the fact everyone got the same amount of time. It’s virtually impossible to deal with all the above at the same time without sacrificing your health or life.

Now, your combination of backlogs and situation would be completely different. But the important here is that you figure out what’s the things that you can actually say no to so that you can say yes to clearing your backlogs.

For me, I have been spending my night time looking at jobs and trying to determine what’s suitable for me. It has been that way for the past month. Inadvertently, I got demoralised by the lack of experience I have in various technological stacks that companies are looking for. Also, I had issue reconciling my aspirations and desire for growth versus having time for those things I mentioned because they are important to me. Those things affected my mood to do my projects, read or play video games.

And don’t get me wrong, those things that I mentioned are pretty trivial stuff in grand scheme of things and are not more important than eating, being healthy, spending time with family, have a roof over my head and have quality sleep. But they are what make me happy.

With that, I took actions actually to start clearing my backlogs as of last week. Whatever slot of time I could find, be it commuting, using the toilet, waiting for things to happen, I use it to read or to play my games. This way, I can clear my mind for my personal projects, especially since I know I can get distracted very easily or would rather do something else but “work”. By that, I mean anything that need me to think a lot. Programming and writing both require lots of thinking.

But it’s also important to remember to say no to all the above. If you’ve notice, all my hobbies, my day job, and my personal projects require me to be sedentary. And that is bad for health. So going out for a quick jog, do some pushups, weight lifting is always more valuable in grand scheme or things.

Applying minimalism to technology

Technology is a huge part of our lives now whether you like it or not. And it has also start to cause issues in terms of our health and well-being. This is why there is this rise in people talking about digital minimalism.

And I’m here to add my voice to that pool.

It is without doubt that I love technology ever since I came in contact with computers in the early 1990s. There were times when I want to buy every gadgets that I like. And I like to have the latest and greatest. Thus, I would willingly go into debt just so that I can buy that. Best part is, it didn’t matter if I would be maximising my purchase.

But as time progresses and you getting older, it has this funny way of make you relook at things. Getting the latest of every gadget was and is no longer something that I put so much emphasis on. And I came to understand and appreciate the pain associated with earning the money necessary to fund that behaviour. My contact with minimalism late 2017 further change how I look at and own technological products.

Buying the latest and greatest is something that I still do. But, what I don’t do is buying the latest and greatest from every single technology company that I get to know and read about. And what I don’t do is to buy a device just so that it fulfil that one function I care about, which ultimately lead me down the road where I have different devices on hand to serve different purposes. Last but not least, I don’t buy cheap technological products.

And as with all minimalists, the thing that you ultimately own has to improve your life or bring joy. To ensure that, I have to be very clear about my values and make the purchase only when they align with what I care about.

The product’s build quality and design are the first two things I focus on. The product has to feel solid and attention has been paid to every detail. The product has to look great and fit into my existing collections of devices. Then, depending on the context, the product also has to offer better security and privacy than the competition. The product has to be the best in the category the company has intended it for: performance, experience, functions, etc. And last but not least, the product has to be able to help me consolidate, or in other words, reduce the amount of technological products I need to have for various use cases or functionality. Finally, I look at price.

By applying that methodology, it allows me to be intentional about my purchase of the latest and greatest products. And that also meant I end up only buying one specific company’s products because they fulfil all my requirements. So even if the competition offer something even better, let’s say, more features at a lower cost, I ignore that.

Through this manner of applying minimalism, the products I do own are longer lasting and I save resources in the long run despite high cost of the purchase.

To put into perspective, let’s say you pay $4000 for a computer compared to paying $2000 for a computer. With the $4000 computer, due to its higher quality material and better manufacturing process, it last you 3 years. On the other hand, the $2000 computer last you 3 years but require you to send it for maintenance or repair every few months after the first year. When you look at things in this manner, you will realise the process of sending something for repair cost time and money. Then if the computer is your primary machine, you lose productivity too. Not to mention, the emotional impact of having to deal with these kind of inconvenience.

You might think, what if I buy two cheaper computers? Then I will have a backup. Sure, but why waste the physical space and clutter your area? What are the odds of the first computer breaking down that require you to switch? And how often do you switch? Do you want to bring both computers out with you? And what about the time you are going to waste to ensure both computers are running the same software and have the same data?

So let’s say you agree with me and you got a better quality product that contribute to you living happier, help protect the environment and achieve a more focus life. What’s next?

The answer is continue to apply minimalism to the products you already own.

With the rate of technological progress, you will find yourself dealing with lots of junk. Old hardware that doesn’t work anymore, boxes and cables.

For old hardware, you can and should dispose them responsibly if they don’t work. If the hardware works, then sell it off on the re-sale market to get some cash back or give it someone who need it.

As for boxes, well, if they belong to old products that you no longer use, then it’s high time you recycle them. If they belong to products you’ve recently bought, then it’s best to keep them until the end of warranty period so that you have an easy way of shipping the hardware back to the company if there is a need for repair. But don’t let me stop you from discarding it all together.

Then there is the cables. Throughout my life of owning technological product, I always find myself having more cables than there are devices. Not only that, just imagine the sight of dozens of cables running across the floor, on your desks and along the wall. Isn’t that a form of clutter? Not to mention, they are unsightly and pose safety issues. What if you trip over the cables?

There are two approaches to this. And I’m assuming you don’t keep cables that you no longer use.

You can attempt to do cable management. That means you have to spend time and effort to route the cables such that they are out of the way, looks great and still works as you want them to. If you enjoy doing such a thing, then sure, go ahead. But to me, it’s just organised clutter. Not very minimalistic.

The other approach would be to go wireless. Using wireless technology will contribute to your decluttering process because of the reduced need to run cables everywhere. Not only that, it also free up space that could be used for other purpose. Or it could simply be left as it is. An empty space. The latter is definitely a better sight than cables running everywhere.

However, there are several problems with wireless technology.

The first issue is that under certain circumstances, wireless connections may not work as well as wired connection because of the possibility of signal interference. For example, Bluetooth and traditional WiFi both uses 2.4 GHz radio waves. And WiFi waves are much stronger in strength and that could cancel out your Bluetooth signals, causing disconnection. Sadly, there is nothing you can do about that because it’s physics.

The other issue would be security and privacy. Because it relies on radio waves, another person could hijack and listen in on the transmissions between devices. To help mitigate that, you would have to get products made by companies that requires authentication during wireless connection and subsequently encrypt that connection. So far, the only company I know that does this as best as they could for their products would be Apple.

If you are okay with these two issues or that they don’t affect you that much, then there’s nothing stopping you from making that leap.

But that doesn’t mean you get to buy cheap wireless products. They are technological products. Apply the same quality-seeking methodology when it comes to the purchases. This way, you reduce your nightmares, contribute to your quality of life and overall happiness.

Purchase with intention to save the planet

Black Friday. Cyber-Monday. Great Singapore Sales. 11.11 Singles sales. The list of sales-related events goes on. And it doesn’t matter where they originate from. These events are created by companies to encourage excessive consumption of services and goods. Companies put up lots of advertisement suggesting whatever products they sells are on limited-time offer, giving you this feeling that you won’t get such deal anymore. So you go and make that purchase, filling your shopping cart (digital or physical) with stuff as you spy more cheap products.

There is nothing wrong with getting the things you need that are on promotion or discount. Money, although renewable, is not infinite in a person’s life and not everyone earn the same amount. It’s often necessary to get something on the cheap so that you have the money to get something else that’s more important. Like maybe getting food for your family.

The main problem here is when you are not being intentional with what you bring into your life. You don’t question the purpose of a specific product or why you need it. You buy more things just because the marketing messages you see make you feel like you need those things. There’s no more intentionality when you let your feelings push you to buy just because they are on sale or you think you want it, rather than needing it.

You see, for every consumer goods we bring into our life, there’s always a cost associated with making them. Most of the time, the cost is in terms of what it does to the environment. Materials and resources needed to make those products could be acquired by companies who engaged in non-sustainable resource exploitation. In their drive to maximise profit, companies aren’t likely to be taking into account the full life cycle of the products. The cheapness of goods due to large-scale manufacturing capabilities with cheap labor from developing countries played a part in the creation of highly-disposable products and the rise of junk products: keychains, fridge magnets, tiny trinkets that you hang on your bags, etc.

And how do they get you to buy those junk products? They market them, make you feel like you need them to feel good. It’s just the nature of our modern free-market economy. When there’s demand, there’s supply. In this case, companies created the demand and they are good at that. They target your emotion centres.

People are emotional creatures. Intentionality takes a lot more effort. Therefore, it’s easy for someone to be influenced by those marketing messages. Buying will be the next logical action.

So the moment you let your emotion dictate what to buy, you will be hooked. It’s like taking drugs or smoke. Before you realise it, you will be demanding more. And companies will gladly supply. Now both parties are complicit in damaging the environment through reckless consumption and discarding of junk products. Bear in mind, most of these junk products aren’t fully recyclable and will go to the landfills, contributing to environment degradation.

Let’s not forget, there’s only one Earth.

So I implore you. If there’s something you need and someone you know can give you that something for free or on the cheap, get it from them instead of buying from companies. Chances are someone you know will have something they don’t want or need and vice versa. If you really have to buy something, question yourself the why before putting the item into your shopping cart.

Why I use Apple products as a minimalist

As a minimalist, it’s all about living your life according to a certain set of values.

One of my values is quality. The things I output or consume has to have a certain quality. In most cases, I buy higher quality stuff, spending more money in the process, to replace the lower quality stuff that I have to get rid of.

Most of the metrics I use to define quality are subjective while some are qualitative. It is usually the subjective ones that make me happy, bring me joy or reduce stress whereas the qualitative ones primarily reduce stress.

This is why I am more than willing to spend the kind of money I do getting Apple products, becoming a fan in the process. Their products have really good build quality, provided convenience due to the tight integration across the products, and simplicity.

Majority of Apple products are well built and well designed. The attention to details given to each product by the Apple’s design and engineering teams is rarely found in other products from other company. The solid feel, simple and clean aesthetic of the exterior, and being highly functional combined bring me joy. With their products, I don’t feel like I’m carrying with me a cheap piece of item that I get from a discount store.

The highly functional aspect of their products bring about convenience for me.

You see, inconvenience is a major stressor for me. All I want to do is to solve more pressing problems with the tools I got and not wanting to deal with the hassles before I even get started on solving those problems. Going through multiple steps to enable an option in a piece of software, the need to install and update device drivers that has no guarantee that they will work 100% of the time, the software not doing what you expect it to do, or it takes a while for you to even understand how to use a piece of software or application are such inconveniences. They stress me out.

And I’m sure everyone knows what stress does to one’s creative process, how stress prevent one from doing their very best.

Unlike Microsoft products, Apple products mostly just works out of the box. I don’t really have to deal with all the hassles I described earlier. Their products are also intuitive and simple to use. With that, the tools get out of my way and I can focus on solving the more important problems. When tools get out of my way, my time is saved, allowing me to do more things within the same 24 hours everyone else has. Time saved is the qualitative metric that I use to judge the quality of something. How much inconvenienced I am is the subjective metric I use to judge the quality.

Other than quality, the other value that is equally important is security. I feel safe when my data is well-protected and private enough. If my data is not well-protected and private enough, it means criminals and the government can use my data against me if they do get their hands on it.

That strips away my security, which increases my stress and unhappiness, which is not what being a minimalist is about. At least in my view.

Now, before bashing me about the naivety of my subsequent statements, I will state up front that I recognize Apple may change their privacy and security model that completely expose the user and make them less safe and private, and get to keep a plaintext copy of whatever your store or send but that’s another topic for another day. When that day do come, then I will re-evaluate again.

At least for now, I do feel safe with storing personal data on Apple devices and their cloud storage and trust that my data is not readable by anyone. Their devices like Apple Watch and iPhones come with built-in encryption that protects your data, including your fingerprints and credit card information. The MacBooks and iMacs with latest Mac OS support encryption through APFS and/or FileVault. Their software services like iCloud uses end-to-end encryption with keys that only you own for the data you choose to store there, preventing unauthorized access or views.

So this is why buying stuff and using stuff from a company such as Apple as a minimalist isn’t wrong. It is not wrong either to be fan. If it helps you to live in accordance to your values, then you shouldn’t feel guilty about the whole thing. You just have to be very intentional about it.