3 Cs A Day Keep The Doctor Away

Most days I struggle. This year is the first year I’ve started working from home and the result has been harsh on my sanity. I experience mood swings sometimes just from a good call with a new customer or not being able to sit in front of the computer for the entire morning. Sometimes a string of bad days turns into a week, fortunately not more than that.

Procrastination is my biggest enemy. And I get exhausted on days where I have to fight so hard just to get out of bed. As a startup CEO, the kind of work that needs to be done is so different day-to-day that procrastination arises because the switching cost is so high. If on Monday I need to do some video editing, and on Tuesday I need to write some requirements, typically I will spend Tuesday morning procrastinating just to get into the right mindset.

Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

After a while though, I’ve found a little keystone habit that I can rely on. I will still procrastinate, but somehow I have more willpower the next day to delay less and to sleep better at night.

It’s my 3 “C”s: Create, Contact and Clean. I should create something, a post, a speech, a video, anything, no matter how small. Then I need to contact someone, preferably someone new or I’ve hardly spoken to. (I have my mum as a backup.) And to prepare for tomorrow, I should clean. Cleaning and organising things, be it IRL or digitally keeps me sane.

This post is a “Create” for today. I’ve contacted 4 new people and I’ve cleaned the shit out of my desk.

What has kept you sane?

What I should do instead of writing

I have a dark secret. I incessantly watch Youtube every day now for years. 3-4 hours per day is normal. When I’m working from home, there are days that I’ve spent watching videos continuously, sleeping and waking up with videos still running. It sometimes feels like waking up from a hangover. Dizzy and delusional, I realise then that I’m a youtube addict.

Image via Flickr

Controlling my addiction is difficult and I’ve given up on trying different things. The worst possible combination that usually gets me into the vicious cycle is sitting on my sofa and start watching on TV. Then I thought, maybe instead of working from home, I’ve started working at a co-working space for startups. The people there are nice and friendly, they have good coffee and plenty of empty toilets so I don’t need to queue long (Thanks overactive bladder). Sold.

Yet deep down I don’t really think my youtube addiction is that bad. I’m a voracious reader, averaging around two books a week. My Youtube shows have similarities to the books I’m reading. Why does one pushes me to an addiction and the others don’t?

Kevin Kelly, in his book The Inevitable, included screening as one of the trends. He said,

“We’re no longer people of the book, we’ve become people of the screen.”

He pointed out that screens are everywhere and we’re getting sucked into them. Just look at how a toddler attention gets magically fixated with an iPad, and compare it to other items (with the exception of TV). If this is a trend, then my fight will be futile.

My reading patterns typically are a lot narrower than my watching patterns. I read mostly non-fiction books, with a high percentage of the books being productivity, business and writing-related books. I didn’t learn swimming through reading books, but I probably would if I need to do it again. Facing any unknown areas of knowledge, I would feel much more confident if I can sink in several books before I have to talk to anyone about it.

My watching patterns are much more random. I watch late night American TV show Seth Meyers, video essayist Nerdwriter, and You Suck at Cooking, the last one being something that I can only describe as the peak of human creativity. Youtube usually presents the next video to watch even before the current video ends, and that feature alone allows me to subscribe to various distinct channels.

Comparing both consumption patterns strike me as depth versus breadth. Book reading gets me to the core of the issue fast, but it’s just on one issue. The current book I’m reading is Man’s Search for Meaning, and the author tells me what the meaning is by the middle of the book (Where is the climax?! Damn non-fiction). Youtube watching doesn’t get me anywhere in finding what’s the meaning of life, but it opens my mind to broad opinions of people, wide-ranging topics, and insight on how other people are dealing with their own existential frustration (no matter how shallow it is, like lighting a firework on a friend’s arse). After watching videos, I decided, that I needed both in my life.

I also like what books and videos represent. Books are written, and videos are spoken. Maybe someday I’ll have a youtube channel on top of this blog. I’ve never done video editing before, but it doesn’t seem to be as hard as swimming (I started swimming only at the age of 17). Maybe I’ll gain a distinct benefit to writing in the same way that videos giving me a different advantage to books.

What do you think?

My other mother

Several weeks ago my aunt Dora asked me to rub her back before she fell asleep. I would massage her for ten minutes or so, said my good night, then tucked her in nicely under a blanket. This became a habit, and it turned out to be one of our favourite recent pastime.

Koala_and_joey
Back rubbing is nice

The process started with putting a big slab of Vicks VapoRub and layering it on her back. Then I would massage her for some time until she felt comfortable to sleep. On one of the sessions she asked me unexpectedly, “What will you remember of me?”

I took a big gulp and stayed quiet. It was a question I’d mulled over for weeks. How do I summarise years of adoration and admiration of her in a single answer? She was a role model to me. And anyway, what would be enough to please a dying woman in her last few months of life?

I told Dora, “You brought me into your life and helped started mine in Australia. I wouldn’t be able to do that without you.” She looked at me intently, dissatisfied. I knew I should look for a better answer.

She was always the first to everything. The eldest daughter, the first child to get a degree, the first one in the family to make a living overseas. She was infinitely resourceful, she would always find a way to make it work. Just over five years ago, when I got married, she said she was going to make my wedding cake and handle the decorations. I will always remember her hunching over watching Youtube videos on how to make flower arrangements and three-tiered wedding cakes.

When she came to Sydney, she was penniless and without relatives. She became an accountant, held down three jobs to make ends meet. In the 70s, when it was unheard of for women to hold mortgages, she bullied her way in to hold down two. And she made it work juggling all those jobs, and a toddler to boot. She was constantly learning and was constantly evolving.

If she was given another decade to live she would have become a writer. She had spent the last few years unravelling the stories of when the Chinese first landed in Australia, four generations ago. A story that had filled her curiosity for the last decade ever since we visited her husband’s great great great grandfather in Young, who arrived from Malaysia by boat as an interpreter.

Most people overestimate what they can do in a year but underestimate what they can do in a decade.1 She would always find a way to make things work. Would that put a dying woman’s mind at ease? Maybe I should find a better answer. Maybe it was about always getting what she wanted?

Dora knew what kind of mould she was meant to fit into. But she broke the rules and smashed them to pieces. Again and again and again. It happened when she went to med school, most girls at the time only had high school as their highest education. It happened last December when the kitchen was accidentally burnt down. Dora was told by her insurance agency that she wouldn’t have a kitchen for Christmas but within two weeks after the accident, we acquired a fully functional kitchen. It was amazing to watch her relentless focus to call and email people to get what she wanted.

Her willpower was the most evident when she was faced with medical issues. She had her knee reconstruction surgery several years back to be able to travel more after she retired. Most people took three months to walk normally, whereas she started hobbling out of her room by the first week. Being allergic to morphine and all other opioids didn’t stop her, she managed the pain with just panadol!

I believe her willpower was just an extension of her productive routine. The saying went, if you wanted something to be done, you had to give it to the busiest person. This person was obviously Dora. It was a habit, and her habit was to achieve the goal she had set out for herself.

She would always get what she wanted. Would that be enough for the woman I so respected? Maybe I should look for a better answer. Maybe it was about her way of doing things?

It was her way or the highway. When I told her that I couldn’t swim, she said I would learn it in Willougby Leisure Centre the week after. She didn’t ask why I haven’t been able to, or about a drowning incident I had when I was 10. Those were simply excuses. She thought it was important for me to learn how to swim because I needed to clean the swimming pool at home. It wouldn’t be funny if her niece died of drowning in her own backyard, she thought. Amazingly enough, six weeks later, I was able to swim at the age of 17.

She was fixated on doing things her way. She had strong opinions and she didn’t always rub people the right way. But she had always had an opinion, she taught me to always decide consciously what was best for myself first before external events dictated my situation. George Bernard Shaw said, and I’m *definitely * paraphrasing here, “The reasonable woman adapts herself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to herself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable woman.”

And she made a lot of progress. Even two months ago, when Min’an and I just arrived in Sydney, she told us to get a third mortgage, after we already had two. “Killara or Gordon, good areas to buy.” My first thought was “Is she just being unreasonable?”, but the market would probably prove her right.

At the end, I still didn’t have a better answer that evening. I continued with the back rubbing though. I did her favourite massage on her spine. I ran my fingers down the left side of her spine, and up the right side immediately afterwards. She let go a sigh of relief. Then she said, “Ah, you do it best”. I realised that the long flights from Sweden was worth it just for that moment. It was a moment I would cherish forever.

P.S. This script formed a part of my tribute for Dora’s funeral on 19th Jan 2017, just shy of two months before her 70th birthday today. Rest in peace Theodora Widianti Winata, I miss you.


  1. A famous quote from Bill Gates.

Marty’s round-up for June

June was the last month of the quarter and here in Stockholm, it was a hot one. We had a lot of parties, with a lot of people in it.

Swedish summer weather is so lovely – not dry, not too hot, just lagom.. Summer is what makes Swedes stay despite so many months of hail, ice and snow in winter.

Despite the wonderful weather, sadly SI Toastmasters, a public speaking club that I usually go to, ran its last meeting before the summer break. The club will start again mid-August, and it will be run by a different group of people. I am very excited about this because I volunteered for the VPPR role. I think there are many things the club can do to get more people benefit from Toastmasters.

The new board of SITM for this year.
The new board of SITM for this year.

If you have never heard about Toastmasters, here is a taste of how a Toastmasters speech is like.

Throughout the year, the club introduced me to plenty of like-minded people and we hang out with them outside the club. One of them invited M&M (me and hubsy), to play VR on HTC Vive. It was released only recently, and although it was expensive, with a price tag of over 1000 USD in Sweden, the variety of games was already impressive. The gaming industry really know how to be productive. The quality on some of the games are far from beta, they are very very immersive.

Hubsy's shooting some virtual zombies.
Hubsy’s shooting some virtual zombies.

It took a short time to get used to the goggles, and though at first it felt weird having a large video cable hanging onto my head, I got used to it surprisingly fast and maybe more importantly, I didn’t trip over it.

I am excited for the release of Sony PlayStation VR in October this year. With price half of HTC Vive and Oculus Rift, and with a large game developer community, it looks to me that Sony has won the first round of VR already.

Talking about winning, let me jump to another thing very different to VR. I like winning games (who doesn’t?) especially in badminton, but it’s hard to do with my current stamina. It’s common that I would win the first set, only to lose the second, sweating and panting, my heart beats over 180. As if I have a stamina of a four-year-old. A marathon-runner friend of mine convinced me that I should try out interval run to increase my stamina.

So, I did a “speed run” event, organised by Nike. And it was sooo tiring. I hated running, and after doing it, I realised why I hated running in the first place. I couldn’t breathe, and at one point of the 1.5 hour session, I thought I was asthmatic. My nose started to make sounds like a broken party horn. Oh no.

Majestic sky over the stadium.
Majestic sky over the stadium.

Nonetheless, the event was held nearby at the Stockholm Stadium. Little did I know that Stockholm held the 1912 Olympics, and just like every other buildings in Sweden, the stadium looked new despite its age. From the outside, it looked a bit like a medieval castle. Inside, the track went for about 400 m each lap, and the ground was soft and spongy. I loved the feeling running on it.

If only I don’t need to breathe when running.

P.S. If you enjoyed this article, please subscribe to this blog. It takes only a few seconds and it will motivate me to write more, big time.

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Tim Ferriss and Derek Sivers

I picked up a book called the 4-hour workweek when I was in the university, and although at the time I didn’t completely buy it, the book introduced me to Tim Ferriss, the author of the book and a fast-learner extraordinaire.

Every two years since then, I checked out where Tim is at. Just like a startup releasing better version of its app, Tim released more books, learned more languages (up to seven now), and best of all, started a podcast channel. His channel is called “The Tim Ferriss Podcast“, and I have been listening to it on a daily basis for a while.

Yesterday I found one wonderful episode in the podcast between Tim and Derek Sivers, a musician turned programmer, and a really nice wise guy (I meant that really in the nicest way possible!).

The episode is two hours long. Yes, it is long, I know. But if you are even remotely interested in some of the topics listed on the title of this podcast: “Developing Confidence, Finding Happiness, and Saying ‘No’ to Millions”, then you should find the time to listen to it.

The link to the podcast: http://fourhourworkweek.com/2015/12/14/derek-sivers-on-developing-confidence-finding-happiness-and-saying-no-to-millions/

Review: editing made easy

book cover

She owned a mixing bowl designed to please a cook with a round bottom.

Read the above sentence one more time, and try to make sense of its meaning. How can a cook has a round bottom, does it mean big bottom? Aha, it is the round bottom of a mixing bowl, not a cook’s. That is unclear. The phrases are ordered incorrectly, mixed up in its meaning and context, but it can easily be fixed by re-ordering and adding a comma: She owned a mixing bowl with a round bottom, designed to please a cook. There you go. For many, writing is already difficult, but editing is even harder. Fortunately with this book, Bruce Kaplan provides an easy-to-understand rules in common situations to edit and to improve your writing.

The table of content is below for you to peruse:

Why learn editing? the benefits for you
Lean and clean: what editors do
The golden rules: for professional writing and editing
Ruthless people: what makes a good editor?
Be active: avoiding the passive voice
Split personalities: beware the split infinitive
Time for action: turning nouns into verbs
Small and pesky: two words that slow the pace
Nuisance value: more overused words
Is that so? how to avoid that
Every which way: the difference between which and that
Short is beautiful: avoid long sentences
Briefly speaking: a guide to shorter, simpler words
Pronouns: how to avoid confusion
Feeling single, seeing plural: more tricky pronouns
Collective nouns: which verb form do I use?
Clichés: avoid them like the plague
The future that is to come: the tautology trap
Stating the obvious: first cousin to the tautology
There, there: a few little words we can do without
Putting on the style: be consistent
Punctuation: basic rules
Contractions: when, and when not, to use them
To quote or not to quote: direct and indirect speech
Tricky, tricky: serial or cereal?
The plurals trap: don't get caught
Under a spell: a handy guide to difficult words
Oops: the misplaced phrase
If only: be careful to say what you mean
Now, see here: look out for this common error
Kid stuff: avoid slang
Former, latter, last: how to keep order
Get to the point: how to write a news story
Heads, you win: how to write a headline
Editing checklist: a last round-up
Hot tips: things to remember
And finally: set your standards high
Resources: things to keep handy

My favourite section is ‘every which way’. It is a section that explains the difference between which and that. Which introduces a non-defining clause, where the information within it can be completely omitted from the sentence. For example: The car, which a teenager was driving, crashed into a post. In this sentence, the main information is that the car crashed, and the driver, incidentally happened to be a teenager.

On the other hand, that introduces a defining clause, where the information within the clause is essential to the meaning of the sentence. For example: The car that the teenager was driving crashed into a post. In this case, the main information includes the fact that a teenager drove the car. If you are not sure whether to use which or that, Kaplan advises to always use that.

Another favourite section of mine is the ‘two words that slow the pace’. According to Kaplan, the words of the are not needed. Rather than writing the manager of the bank, I should write the bank manager. Another example, rather than the owner of the horse, I should write the horse’s owner. Brilliant! It is more succinct, easier to read and more pleasing to the eye.

I finished reading the book within an hour, it is a short book, and it can easily be skimmed, and you will find loads of hidden treasure as you do. Later, I plan to at least gloss over this book every time I need to edit my own writing, it makes it so much easier to do, almost like priming my brain to by having a checklist for editing. Editing made easy, indeed.

Thank you Bruce Kaplan.

Would you snow please?

When the sound of the gusting wind woke me up at 1 am this morning, I sat up in bed. I couldn’t sleep anymore; the noise was intolerable, like the constant sound of waves hitting a beach. On and on, with no end in sight. My memory traveled back to when we visited a small boutique hotel on the waterfront of Curaçao, where I heard the same rhythm, except now I was in my own flat, 14 stories above sea level.

I looked outside the window, hoping for something interesting. Farsta train station shone brightly. A train left the platform, illuminating its surroundings briefly with the warm, soft, fluorescent light of its windows. As it faded in the distance, dullness returned: an empty car park, empty roads, and dark apartment blocks. Everyone was asleep except me.

I wished it would snow, like last week. The snow didn’t stay, but I was hooked for hours by the window watching the beautiful snow flakes as they fell, as they melted away to nothingness when they touched the road. In May when we moved in, the sales brochure had painted a tantalising picture of how the scenery would look like in winter. The trees were all white, filling up spaces where the roads were absent. On the horizon, there were two gleaming frozen lakes, inviting me to visit. A lovely backdrop that we had fallen in love with.

I have never missed a Christmas in Sweden. Every Christmas for the last three years, I have chosen to be in Stockholm, but every year I have never received a white Christmas. I hate January and February for their abundance of snow, because snow should only appear in December. As a former southern hemisphere inhabitant from Australia, that was what we were missing with our Christmas, we were told. We had the delicious ham, the hearty roast and the bountiful presents, but the Europeans told us, “it’s never the same, because it’s not a white Christmas”. Bloody hell, I am in one of the coldest countries on earth but where is my white Christmas?

The morning came and I walked out of my apartment. The path I usually walked on had turned into a slippery slope, buried deep in snow. I called out for Min’an to take a look, and soon after he came with a red snow sleigh. Very unlike him, I thought. He never fancied the white stuff. Nevertheless we rode the sleigh on the slope, woo hoo! It was only for a short time but it felt satisfyingly triumphant when we reached the bottom. I had not done that in my life ever, I thought.

And I was right – I still had not done that yet in my life. Because it was just a dream. I woke up and sat up in bed again, this time at 3.36 am, just about two hours later. The wind was still howling like wolves. I slumped back to bed, struggling to sleep with all my might.

Would you snow please, Stockholm?

The revival of an old hobby

My phone broke again this morning. It wouldn’t turn on. And this was not the first time it had happened. Minch had to replace the battery just one month ago, and I waited for two weeks for the battery to come, all while using a replacement mobile.

I thought getting home from work would be the most boring ride today. What would I do? My laptop was useless without the internet, which I relied upon my phone to access. As I arrived on the platform, I missed my train, just. The next train to go home was in three minutes.

So, I found a place to sit down and started drawing to kill time. I drew a lot last year, but this year not so much, not sure why. Maybe the negativity I suffered at work has started to affect me long-term. I was drawn to the garbage bin on the platform. It was an easy pick, cylindrical shape at the top, cylindrical shape at the bottom, connected by a rectangular block. Before I knew it, the train had arrived. I hurried into the train and I continued my drawing, this time with different target objects. Everyone is very interesting when you look at them closely.

Garbage bin

Then I heard it, “Enskede Gård”.
I looked out of the window, the announcement lady wasn’t lying, it was the Enskede Gård station.
“Shit”. I hopped out of the train immediately.
I had taken the wrong train. Thanks to the garbage bin I drew. I cursed myself. I had to take a train two stations back to take the correct train. Bah, the returning train would only be there for another eight minutes. Eight minutes! I thought I would be home by now.

I glanced over the railways to the scenery of residential houses around the station. There were lots of apartment blocks, with plenty of greenery surrounding them. I gathered my attention to a park nearby, looking for shapes I could easily draw. My next target object was a playhouse for children next to the sandpit. Drawing the shapes took me just several minutes, and that times goes by very fast, I love it, I was in the zone. I forgot about anything else, and it’s such a distant feeling. I feelit sometimes when I write, but never as intense as when I draw. After I finished, I re-drew the playhouse, this time in just two minutes. This was today’s deliberate practice.

Playhouse

The train carried me back to the connecting station, only for me to miss another train in the right direction to get home. But this time rather than sighing, I knew the drill. I took my pencil out and I drew another target object. The lady was sitting in the waiting area and her jeans had a huge hole that exposed her knee. I was worried that she would think I was creepy, looking at her legs rather intently.

Before I knew it, the right train arrived, and I got home. I had spent a good 40 minutes getting lost on the metro, though it felt really quick.

Minch fixed my phone and by the next day I was back in action without a hitch. Using the internet during the train journey was not going to be a problem anymore, but I will certainly be drawing more often instead.

Last drawing