Life Optimization Part I


5 Ways I Have Made My Life More Efficient

As an engineer, I’m always looking for ways to make things run more efficiently, including the various components of my life. It’s kind of a curse because my mind never really rests unless I’ve reached a deep state of meditation while rolling on the mats, doing yoga, or running. Fortunately, with this curse comes many benefits. I believe true satisfaction can only be reached after hard work or some sort of suffering. Your body responds to stress by rewarding you for pushing your body and mind. However, I think there are ways to optimize this process or train yourself to become better equipped to push your limits. With that, I want to start my Life Optimization series with 5 changes I have made to make my days run more peacefully and efficiently.

Spend little to no time scrolling on social media, continuously checking my emails, or watching meaningless videos

One of the first things I would do after waking up is grab my phone, go on Instagram, and scroll through other people’s highlight reels. I would also sometimes fall asleep to videos or podcasts. One morning while trying to meditate, I realized how distracted my mind was, and the distractions mainly came from content I was absorbing right after waking up.

Since meditation has become an important part of my life, I decided to eliminate this habit once and for all. Thus, I gave the following a try:

  • Delete all social media apps from my phone
  • Enable airplane mode before going to sleep
  • Place my phone on the opposite end of my room

By implementing these techniques, I have significantly more clarity of mind. My mornings feel more peaceful and introspective and my days end without the world’s problems bombarding my mind.

Minimize the time between waking up and getting to my car

Even after fully integrating the above tool, I noticed that it would take me at least 10 minutes to get out of bed after waking up. I’m not sure why this is and where it comes from. Either way, it felt lazy and a waste of my time. There is something exhilarating about opening your eyes, jumping out of bed and starting your day doing the things you love. The longer you stay in bed, the more you doubt yourself and question the importance of your place in the world. “Why even get up?”, “What’s the point?”. Then you grab your phone, stimulate your mind with clickbait posts and articles until you realize that you cannot namaste in bed for the rest of eternity.

I think getting out of bed as soon as you wake up is an indication that you’re ready to tackle the day and solve any problems that the world has presented you with. And if there is something in your life that is suboptimal, you are ready to do whatever it takes to change it. On the other hand, staying in bed is an indication of laziness, maybe even pessimism. I did not want to fall into this trap, so I made some fundamental changes to my schedule.

I forced myself to become a morning person, a super early morning person. I live in Los Angeles and the morning drive to work in painful…if you leave your home after 5:30am. I decided to start my workdays at 6:00am, which forced me to get ready and leave as soon as possible after waking up from that precious 4:45am sleep.

Let go of projects that do not add value to me or my career

One of my weaknesses is that I am a project junkie. I want to take on every good opportunity that comes way and build prototypes of all ideas that I or my colleagues have. Despite this being considered a good trait by many people, it can lead to my demise. If you try to make everyone happy, you will make no one happy, including yourself. I began to focus my creative energy by asking the following questions of each project:

  • Is this project somehow associated with the things that I value?
  • Is this project somehow associated with the things that I am good at?
  • Is it trying to solve a problem I am deeply passionate about solving?
  • Am I going to obtain worthwhile skills that are transferrable to other projects?

An important realization here is that by asking myself these questions, I went far beyond just narrowing down the things that I am working on. I was confronted with the immense tasks of figuring out what it is that I love and value, what I am actually capable of doing, what problems I am passionate about solving, and what I can gain from taking on new things. If anyone has these figured out completely, I commend them. For me it has been a continuous optimization.

Always accelerate progress in my work

Whatever it is that I’m doing, I need to always grow and accelerate. This is an important distinction and a statement of physics. By maintaining growth, you are always learning, honing your skills, and becoming better at the things you are doing. Acceleration is the process of changing the way in which you grow. It is about thinking more efficiently, becoming better equipped to take on challenges, and continuously optimizing the way in which you learn. Josh Waitzkin calls it The Art of Learning.

One can write volumes on this idea because it is difficult to grasp and seems open-ended. That’s actually the point. It’s not about the destination and setting goals. It’s about the processes by which you reach your goals and how efficient those processes are. It is the act tapping into the fundamentals of your mind and trying to alter how it works.

By employing this mindset, I began to think less about long term goals and the future—which I have little to no control over—and began to find a flow with the challenges and tasks that are at hand.

Put aside at least 45 minutes daily to work on personal development.

Finally, I began to dedicate some time every day to my development as a human being. During this time, I put aside everything related to my profession, and try to understand the mechanics of the human mind. These are called “meta-activities”, and they have become an increasingly important part of my day. Some of these meta-activities include: writing down the many things I am grateful for, reading books on social and emotional intelligence, or meditating. That is actually where this blog came from, and I am only a new-born baby in this endeavor.

Final thoughts

One of the fundamental ideas here is to eliminate waste, a foundational concept of Lean Software Engineering. Our minds are constantly bombarded with other people’s lives, advertisements, and short-term pleasures. Because of these distractions, we hardly think about what actually makes our brains tick, what motivates and inspires us, and what we can do to make the inner workings of our minds operate more smoothly and efficiently. Simply acknowledging the things that are wasting mental energy brings about ideas on how to minimize that waste. I believe this idea is universal, but the techniques are unique and must be discovered individually.

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