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.

Importance of a tidy and spacious workspace

Workspaces. It’s something that most of us don’t spend a lot of effort thinking about. After all, how many truly enjoy the very idea of work? If given the chance, we would rather kick back, relax and lie down on some beach chairs and watch the sunset. And even for those who do love work, they too don’t think much about their workspaces. They are there to work and be productive. Thinking about their workspaces is an unnecessary waste of their energy and doesn’t contribute to anything at all.

And that’s where I believe they are wrong.

Our workspaces are no different from the rooms or building we spend our time in.

Let’s take a well-designed office building located somewhere in downtown for example. Imagine for a moment how do you feel when you see it for the first time in your life? Then you stepped in and chances are the first thing you see will be the lobby. Now imagine it to feature a soothing lighting, has a clean overall look (probably minimalistic), and has some kind of music playing from the overhead speakers. How would you feel?

So if you agree that you feel great about seeing a nicely designed building with good looking yet soothing interiors, then I suspect you have the intelligence to understand why it’s important to think about your workspaces. Especially since most of us would spend hours after hours working on it.

The human brain is irrational. At its core, the limbic system and reptilian complex drives most of its actions. Ever notice why you feel disgusted after seeing certain things or simply don’t like something but can’t provide a reasonable explanation? That’s because before the neomammalian complex realised what’s going on, the rest of the brain has already made up its mind about that one thing you have seen, heard or experienced. The decision made then was the result of subjecting the input data collected by your senses through a series of filters that created your personalities, your tastes, likes and dislikes, etc.

Just as how nicely designed objects make you feel, a tidy and spacious workspace can ultimately contribute to this subconscious decision about whether you enjoy working there or not.

For me, I love a good stable wooden desk. Although glass table look cool and modern, it gives me this feeling that it’s not as stable. If it’s normal glass, it could just crack and shatter when there’s a major impact, causing potential injury. And could explode in my face any time if it’s tempered glass.

Other than a good stable desk, the desk has to be at least 1.20 meters wide for me to put my computer on it. Any smaller than 1.20 meters, it actually feel claustrophobic. Just imagine a desktop computer with monitor, keyboard and mouse sitting on such a small desk and you have to spend hours working at it. Doesn’t it feel like you are being squeezed? And you can’t seem to put anything else important on the desk? In my case, I could never focus because of this subconscious pressure. That’s one reason why I switched to using a laptop as a desktop replacement at home. It’s smaller and can give me more desk space.

Last but not least, the state of the desk matters. If the desk is messy, it can actually give you this feeling or impression of being lost and unsure what you want to do next. It can also lead to issue finding where you have placed a certain document you need for certain task. And mess can actually cause undue amount of stress even if you don’t realise it. Mess is actually no different from chaos. Chaos is detrimental to the mind since it’s unfamiliar and lack a certain kind of stability or security.

If there’s anything to understand about the mind is that it craves familiarity and stability. That’s why it, ultimately us as human, is so resistant to change.

That’s why decluttering is a big thing in minimalism and that minimalism has help people live a more meaningful and content life. The decluttering process is all about clearing out the mess and being very intentional about the role of each object you do keep on your desk and how they fit in your life, be it professional or personal.

Once your workspace is tidy, believe it or not, the mind actually will finds itself going into a neutral, possibly calm, state. Before you know it, you are off into the zone, doing highly productive work instead of procrastinating and feeling stress even when the work is so simple.

So if you find yourself feeling stress, can’t seem to do anything productive when you are at your workspace for no reason or just hate being there, maybe it’s time to evaluate how does it make you feel. If it’s not a good feeling, then maybe you need to ask yourself what you could do to improve it. If you need to clear out the desk and leave only your work computer on it, do it.

P.S. It’s probably why these past few days, I’m still evaluating, designing and thinking about my desk setup at home. I needed it to be even better, more conducive for me to do my writings.

Writing about the things you love

As writers, especially if you write non-fiction, it can be difficult to think of a topic to write about.

Let’s take Minimalism as an example.

It’s something that I came across last year as part of my self re-discovery process. It was something that resonate with me, especially the part on paring down your things, bringing into focus the intentionality behind everything you do and making sure they align with what you want out of life. It contributed in bringing me out of depression, made my life more simple and bring the things that I enjoy back into the picture.

And yet, I found it a struggle to write more about it because it’s not something that I’m truly passionate about. The other truth is, I’m better skilled now at keeping in focus what brings me joy. So the process of minimising has become so automatic that I don’t think of it as a struggle. I just couldn’t think of a noteworthy story to share and hopefully help someone else.

But you don’t see me stop there. I still write. What I have learnt is there is always something lurking around in your mind. It can be a simple observation, a sudden realisation, or something you heard. That’s how I manage to squeeze out this article late at night.

And what if you ask, “Bran, there’s really nothing?”

Well, then my response would be, write about something that you love.

And what could that thing be?

In my case, I love Apple and their products (but not a fanatic). I love to play video games (not a fanatic either). I also love technology despite my current misgivings about the software development industry. I care about the environment. Then there’s science, medicine, engineering, human psychology, design, etc. that I like too.

That means I could draw on those topics to write something. And the ideas can come at very weird times. For example, an idea came just when I woke up from a nap. It wasn’t well-formed but the title came up. This was how I got down to write this article titled “The platform doesn’t matter until it does…

And was it a good piece? I think so, at least based on the metrics I’ve got. And I kind of stop caring that much about how good it is when it goes up.

So you have to find the thing you love and give your opinion about it. And don’t care about how well it does. The reason why I read stuff from a particular writer is not because I enjoy everything he or she writes about but rather because I like the writer’s voice. Could be honest, could be humorous or generally very nice/sweet/gentle. Or maybe I just love the writing style.

Moreover, your writing has to be truthful and doesn’t lead someone astray. Do the necessary research before writing.

Lastly, don’t fret so much about what to write. Relax, have a cup of tea, coffee or your favourite beverage, and do something else.

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.