Another year has flown by. This year has easily been the worst best year of my life. Some of the best things in my life happened this year, but even with all that I had an awful year. Paying attention to Trump’s America has been terrifying. The vast majority of my empathetic and mental energy was directed towards fighting Trump in order to help the people he is screwing over. As a nation, we’re entering the midpoint of one of the worst presidents ever, and that makes this year awful.
But since by definition, my universe revolves around me, I’m labeling it as the worst best year of my life (rather than best worst year) since 2017 resulted in many great improvements to my life.
In terms of the 52 things I set out to do this year, I did much better than 2016. The “finished” category was the highest this year, which means I actually finished quite a few items. Second was the “started” category. I apparently at least tried a good number of items as well. And thankfully, the “failed” category was lowest of all!
Here’s the data for comparison between years (the formatting is screwed up, I know):
║ ║ 2015 ║ 2016 ║ 2017 ║
║ Finished ║ 25 ║ 14 ║ 19 ║
║ Started ║ 9 ║ 13 ║ 17 ║
║ Failed ║ 18 ║ 25 ║ 16 ║
It seems I was more realistic about what I would actually want to do as compared to 2016. I finished and started a great deal more of the list. While I’ll always have things that never came close to happening (stretch goals FTW!), that number is decreasing over time.
Looking back on 2017, I was most successful in the “Media” and “Experiences” categories. I’m not surprised about Media, but I wasn’t expecting Experiences to be so high!
Finance went amazingly as well, even though nothing there was completely “finished”. We saved more than ever before and made great progress towards an early retirement, despite only completing one of the five goals.
Work comes next, and I did well in that category this year. Most of my goals changed dramatically as I discovered more about what I enjoy doing for a career, so I accomplished more than what the completed list would otherwise indicate.
Writing and Health and were the real losers this year. I didn’t write nearly as much as I had hoped (although I still wrote fairly regularly) and I didn’t exercise as much as I should have. Those two categories will be my main focus for 2018. Here’s hoping that I come back with good news a year from now!
With that analysis finished, let’s see what’s in store for me this year:
- Run 104 miles
- Bike 104 miles
- Go bouldering or rock climbing once a month
- Be able to do 10 pull-ups
- Be able to do 50 push-ups
- Be able to do a 200lbs bench press
- Meditate daily
- Journal daily
- Reach target weight of 165lbs
- Read 4 fantasy books
- Read 4 science fiction books
- Read 2 biographies
- Read 4 non-fiction books
- Read 1 horror novel
- Read 1 book of poetry
- Read 1 classic
- Read 1 philosophy book
- Read 4 books from other categories I don’t usually read
- Watch 10 movies from the IMDB Top 250
- Watch 10 other movies or documentaries
- Watch 5 television shows
- Play 5 new video games
- Go to a Seahawks game
- Go to a Sounders game
- Go to a Mariners game
- Visit Vancouver, Canada
- Use my Alaska Airline miles to go somewhere far away
- Eat at 10 new restaurants
- Cook 12 new vegan recipes
- Go to the Dota 2 International
- Go explore Fremont
- Go snowboarding
- Go to the Museum of Pop Culture
- Go to a musical event
- Find a local organization and regularly volunteer there
- Join a sports team or group
- Take an improv class
- Go out on the lake
- Write 500 words every day
- Write one Medium article every week
- Write one book
- Keep IRA and HSA maxed out
- Get three months of regular expenses in the emergency fund
- Max out 2017 IRA
- Increase my 401(k) contribution by at least three percent
- Stick to the budget four straight months
- Save at least half of the emergency fund value in an opportunity fund
- Get promoted
- Get an AWS certification
- Launch an open source project
- Write a work-related blog post once a month
- Attend a work-related meetup once a quarter
Excess defines modern society in the United States. We’ve become so rich that we will soon spend $30 billion a year on storage. That’s $30 billion spent on hoarding. On tucking away our late grandma’s doilies. On letting mildew grow on our homework from 6th grade. On keeping our stacks of photo albums that we never look at. We spend an insane amount of money to keep everything around (just in case* we need it.
Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we carry around piles of junk every time we move, only to tuck them away in our bedroom closet or a storage unit across town?
Because it’s comforting. Holding on to everything is all we’ve ever known. Growing up in a nation that glorifies excess, we are scared to let things go.
But it’s okay to let go. Removing the clutter from our lives is liberating. Simplifying what we own can reduce stress, improve happiness, and even keep money in your pocket. There is actually an entire movement dedicated to ditching your stuff: Minimalism.
Minimalism is a mindfulness practice that focuses on simplifying one’s life and possessions with the purpose of increasing one’s happiness. The premise is simple. In reality, it’s a bit more difficult to do. My own journey started a few years ago when I was in college and continues to this day.
I first stumbled across minimalism in 2013 when I found the writings of Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus — known as The Minimalists. Those two opened my eyes to a whole new world of happiness and meaning. After reading the first few articles on their site, I was hooked. I knew this was something I needed to try, so I started becoming a minimalist by participating in their 30 day minimalism challenge:
My tweet announcing the challenge: Two likes and a retweet! I’m basically a social media master.
The challenge is simple. On the first day of the month, get rid of one item. On the second, ditch two things. The third? You guessed it. Send three items out the door. Continue until the last day of the month and you’ll have removed almost 500 things from your home!
While 500 may seem like a hefty chunk of your possessions, keep in mind that the average American household has 300,000 things. Surely we all can afford to get rid of 0.0016% of the stuff in our homes, right?
For me, the challenge started easily enough. I donated a few pieces of clothing, appliances, and other odds and ends I never used. It hurt, but I knew other people would find more use for the items than I would. Then during the last week of the game, it got tough.
I avoided donating my digital piano during the first few weeks. I told myself I’d eventually start playing again. But as the items in my home dwindled, that piano sat there. Mocking me. I hadn’t touched it in months. I realized that no matter how much I wished I would play, I knew I wouldn’t.
It had to go.
I had the same experience with books and video games and old calculus cheat sheets. One by one, I got rid of them all.
When I finished the month, I was still left with a house full of stuff. The minimalism game is just the start of a journey, not the end.
Practicing deliberate ownership for a single month changed how I saw the world. Cutting out the crap allowed the truly valuable things to be a focus in my life. Since then, minimalism has become the single most overarching philosophy running through my life. It guides my choices in food, clothes, friends, family, hobbies, and work.
My journey to minimalism has been a slow process. But by plodding along intentionally and experimenting with what works best, I’ve learned a great deal about myself. That knowledge and experience has allowed me to maximize what matters and discard the distractions.
To help you find and remove clutter in your life, this article presents a few simple rules I follow that could help you do the same. By sticking to them I’ve become the happiest and healthiest I’ve ever been, but your mileage may vary. Feel free to run your own experiments to see what works best for you.
How to Be a Minimalist
Each of these four rules have been instrumental in keeping my life simple, focused, and happy. However, these rules are the way I run my personal version of minimalism. The rules may not be ideal for your life, so adjust them to find whatever works for you.
1. Scrutinize All New Purchases and Media
Without question, the easiest way to reduce clutter is to never gather it in the first place.
Borrow or rent equipment when trying a new hobby. I used to collect expensive hobbies. Every few months I’d find a new activity to try, throwing myself completely into it. This led to gobs of money being spent on things like rock climbing, airsoft, lacrosse, cycling, homebrewing, PC gaming, painting, and wood burning supplies. Some of those hobbies have stuck with me through the years.
Now I do everything I can to delay purchasing hobby materials. I borrow or rent the equipment so I can try it out before making a major purchase. I try the activity a few times. If it isn’t something I love, I have no skin in the game. It becomes a fun experience to remember and not a drag on my finances or added clutter in the house.
Every time you are about to buy something, ask yourself if you actually need it. Hold it in your hand or let it sit in your online shopping cart for at least 30 seconds, thinking of every reason why you don’t need it. Those few seconds are often enough time to talk yourself out of the purchase.
For those digital purchases, don’t stay signed in to your favorite shopping sites. Having to login every time you visit can serve as a reminder to ask yourself if buying the new thing is worthwhile.
Keep a shopping list and only buy things that are on it. Most of my junk seems to come from impulse purchases, so I only buy what’s on my shopping list. Every few weeks my wife and I review our joint shopping list and remove the things we don’t actually want or need.
Once we’ve gone through the list, whatever remains is ranked. We limit ourselves to a few things each month, only purchasing the highest priority items.
Curate your digital life. The same precautions taken with physical media apply to digital media as well. In the digital age, books, movies, games, TV shows, and music take up almost no space. Media collections become trivially easy to build, making it inevitable that you’ll eventually save so much content that it becomes overwhelming to manage.
So before I add any new media to my life I ask myself the same questions I do with physical items. I look for every reason not to add it to my life. I also periodically review the media I’m consuming and when a podcast or TV show loses its value, I say “buh bye”.
2. Play the Minimalism Game at Least Twice a Year
It’s not enough to play the game once and be done with it. Minimalism is a way of life, not a single event that turns you into a minimalist forever.
No matter what you do, stuff will inevitably begin piling up. Free swag from work events will be tucked away in the closet. Drunken Amazon purchases show up on your doorstep, and you’ll wonder why you ever thought you needed five pounds of gummy bears. Things you once used regularly will fall into disrepair.
Even when I do my best to live a simple, meaningful life I collect more things than I should. Between new hobbies, replacing old items, and lifestyle inflation, I make purchases that in hindsight do nothing more than clutter my life.
By playing the Minimalism Game twice a year, you remind yourself of why being a minimalist is so great. While I try to scrutinize everything I buy (see rule number 1), I know that I’ll fail at some point. You will too, but that’s okay. Regularly playing the Minimalism Game will help you sort through the new things that came into your life. Each time you play, you’re given the opportunity to reevaluate your priorities and start a fresh outlook on life.
3. Quality > Quantity
When I decide to actually purchase something, I weigh the cost versus the quality. Sometimes it’s more financially sound to purchase an expensive, long-lasting item once rather than to periodically replace the cheaper alternatives.
Purchasing multi-functional items is also a great way to cut the clutter. This is especially relevant in the kitchen. For example, my wife and I use a cast iron skillet for almost every single meal we cook. It’s a single tool that can serve a variety of functions, allowing our kitchen to have fewer supplies.
A smaller number of high quality items is superior to a plethora of cheap items with regards to the space they take up, their utility, and their true cost.
4. Try Big Experiments
Human psychology shows that people ultimately return to a baseline level of happiness regardless of their situation. My wife and I have tried to take advantage of that fact by trying new ways of minimalist living.
Our first big experiment was downsizing from a two-bedroom apartment to a one-bedroom in 2014. We did it again ten months ago when we moved to Seattle and cut off another 150 square feet. Now we’re in a 509 square foot apartment, but it feels pretty much the same as our old place. We’ve realized that we don’t need all the space we used to have to be happy.
Slowly downsizing helped us to adapt to each change. Just a few months after our initial discomfort with a smaller apartment, life began to feel just as happy as before. If anything, we are happier due to the extra cash in our pockets from renting a smaller place.
The next big experiment we tried was to get rid of the television. While my wife and I tend to watch a decent amount of Netflix, that was pretty much the only time the TV got used. Sitting on the couch glued to a screen is not a productive habit, so by ditching the TV we slashed our TV watching in half. It also freed up some room in our tiny apartment to make it feel even more spacious!
Take a close look at your life and identify something you could experiment with. You don’t have to ditch your TV or live in a closet to be a minimalist. There are other ways you can experiment. Maybe it’s getting rid of a storage unit by tossing out old furniture or selling one of your cars because you could walk to work instead.
Whatever you want to experiment with, you don’t have to ditch it immediately. Instead, cover it with a blanket or put it away for a few weeks and see how you feel. If life continues normally, it’s likely something you could do without!
The hardest part of becoming a minimalist is going against the grain. American culture is dripping with consumerism. Millions of people are in heaps of debt in an effort to keep up with the Joneses, but the things they purchase aren’t making them any happier.
Be brave. Go against the grain. Minimize your life.
I promise, it’s absolutely worth it.
Give it a shot and you’ll see what I mean. A palpable weight will lift off your shoulders as you clear the clutter. By clearing the junk that has been burying you for years, you’ll discover the real you. Minimizing your life can bring happiness, financial stability, and a greater sense of purpose as it helps you identify what truly matters.
So give minimalizm a shot. You have nothing to lose. After all, you are just tossing junk.
The GOP’s inaction shows deep indifference towards stopping mass shootings.
Another mass shooting happened yesterday. This time, it was the deadliest one in recent history, with at least 58 dead and over 500 wounded. A single armed man permanently snuffed out dozens of lives and profoundly affected thousands more.
Don’t you wish we could get back to the good ol’ days of 2016 when the previous mass shooting record was only a paltry 49 dead and 58 injured?
I wrote about that one too. It seems that mass shootings are the one thing where I can’t keep my mouth shut. And even after a year, we’re no closer to ending these tragedies.
You know these shootings are out of control when the Wikipedia page 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting has the following across the top:
“Orlando shooting” redirects here. For the 2017 shooting, see 2017 Orlando shooting.
I didn’t even know there was a 2017 shooting in Orlando. They’re so commonplace that most of them don’t make national news!
There have been 1516 mass shootings in 1735 days. That’s 9 out of 10 days, for 4.5 years. How do we continue to watch these horrific events take place without doing something, anything, to stop them.
I looked through the Twitter feeds of a few well-known GOP Senators, and what I found was a deafening silence. No calls to action to fix this. However, I did find plenty of “thoughts and prayers”:
I also looked at the Democrats:
What an astounding difference! To those who will accuse me of cherry picking, I found plenty of thoughts and prayers among Democrats as well. But the only time I saw rallying cries for Congress to act was from Democratic Senators. (I only took a small sample, so if you find some Republican representatives calling for gun control, please let me know. I would love to be wrong on this.)
It’s time that we do something. I’m glad at least one party has a conscience.
But even now, with thousands of people begging for change, nothing will happen. When the GOP’s platform can legitimately be reduced to “thoughts and prayers”, you know you’re fucked.
Thoughts and prayers are nice, but they’re obviously not enough. In fact, they’re worse than doing nothing.
Prayers have an efficacy level of literally zero. Thoughts are roughly the same. The mantra “thoughts and prayers” is nothing more than a way to make us feel better about ourselves, as if we’ve done something to help.
I’m all for expressing sympathy for those affected by these atrocities. We should be thinking about what’s happening. But if we do nothing more than think and pray, these mass shootings will continue day in and day out.
We can’t keep allowing this to happen. We have to take action. Action means voting out those senators who are in the NRA’s pocket, replacing them with someone who actually gives a damn. It means calling your representatives and letting them know that inaction will cost them votes. It means running for government ourselves, since nobody else will do it.
Doing nothing has gotten us nowhere. The Republicans seem to think that the answer is more guns, not less. But we’ve tried that. America has almost half of the world’s civilian-owned guns. We only have four percent of the population. That’s insane.
More guns will not work.
Do you know what works? Regulation. Just look at this massive wall of charts proving the efficacy of regulating gun access. Here’s a sample of the facts:
- “America has six times as many firearm homicides as Canada, and nearly 16 times as many as Germany”
- “States with more guns have more gun deaths”
- “It’s not just the US: Developed countries with more guns also have more gun deaths”
- “States with tighter gun control laws have fewer gun-related deaths”
Hm. It’s almost as if more guns means more opportunities for them to be used for their intended purpose: killing.
And yes, correlation doesn’t always mean causation. But arming every man, woman, and child clearly isn’t working. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results. Our inaction is shameful and insane — future generations will look back on this time as one of the great moral failings of our country. The United States is already viewed that way abroad.
So what kind of regulation is there? Well, since banning all guns is an ignorant pipe dream (at least in today’s political climate), we have to take smaller steps.
It’s not difficult to come up with ideas. Plenty of them have been around for decades, but we haven’t cared enough about the senseless slaughter of thousands to actually write them into law.
Here are just a few that would easily cut down gun violence:
- Background checks
- Mental health checks
- Tracking gun sales
- Requiring gun safety courses and licensing
We have many regulations around owning a vehicle. Those regulations keep our roads safe, and people would protest if we removed them. But a vehicle’s primary function is not to wound or kill. A gun’s purpose is just that. So how the hell do we justify not regulating guns?
It’s pure insanity.
But you help can make a difference by taking action. To make it easy, here are two links to help you find your representatives:
Call them today. Email them tomorrow. Tweet at them the next day. Attend their town hall next month. Let them know that you won’t stand for this kind of inaction — especially if they’re a Republican.
Don’t stop until something is finally done to curb this senseless violence.
What would happen if these two teams clashed?
The Overwatch cast would dominate. For one, there are 25 characters in Overwatch compared to TF2’s 9. Sheer numbers alone would give Overwatch a clear advantage. They would swarm the TF2 cast using a well-defined plan (they’re a crime fighting super team, after all) and it would all be over shortly.
That’s no fun though. Let’s say we were limited to teams of nine. That would mean every single TF2 character gets to join the fray. But which Overwatch characters should we pick?
Let’s try to match up each TF2 character with the hero they inspired in Overwatch. Here’s what we get:
- Scout vs Tracer
- Soldier vs Phara
- Pyro vs Mei
- Demoman vs Junkrat
- Heavy vs Bastion
- Engineer vs Torbjörn
- Medic vs Mercy
- Sniper vs Widowmaker
- Spy vs Sombra
On the Overwatch side, we end up with five defenders, three offensive characters, one support, and zero tanks. Not the ideal composition, as the lack of tanks means Overwatch is susceptible to being wiped out quickly with any sort of focused attack from the TF2 cast.
So how would this play out? The winner of each matchup is bolded below:
- Scout vs Tracer: Tracer can teleport. She literally manipulates the fabric of space-time. What can the Scout do outside of drink Mountain Dew to make his bullets hit harder?
- Soldier vs Phara: Phara is far too mobile for Soldier to stand a chance. Sure, Soldier has mastered the art of flying through mastery of the rocket jump, but that doesn’t even come close to the maneuverability of a jetpack. And did you forget that Phara can fire more bombs than a small fleet of jets in a matter of seconds? Heh, this one isn’t even close.
- Pyro vs Mei: Gotta give this one to the insanely delusional Pyro. Fire melts ice, so Mei couldn’t continually recover in her Cryo-Freeze. Pryo’s insanity would probably make Mei look like a cute little penguin in need of a lollipop! As long as the Pyro deals with Mei quickly, he’ll never have to face her Blizzard and would thus win the day.
- Demoman vs Junkrat: The Demoman is a competent demolitions expert. Junkrat is an outcast who tends blows himself up just as much as his enemies. Pure strategy alone would win Demoman the day. Sticky bombs hanging above the door? Junk will never see it coming.
- Heavy vs Bastion: This was a tough one. Both have massive miniguns that shred through opponents, plus they both boast self-healing abilities. But as impressive as an ÜberCharged Heavy is, Bastion’s tank form is one of the heaviest damage dealers in Overwatch.
- Engineer vs Torbjorn: Poor Toblerone. Everyone playing Overwatch hates him, and now he gets destroyed by the Engineer. While a Level 3 Torbjorn turret is impressive, the Engineer is a Torbjorn and Symmetra mushed together. The Engineer builds a solid turret, can create teleporters, and even dispenses health and ammo from his Dispenser.
- Medic vs Mercy: Everything the Medic can do, Mercy does better. Mercy’s healing stream does double duty as a damage booster. The Medic shoots people with syringes (hey, there’s where Ana came from!) while Mercy rains down bolts of what appears to be plasma. While the Medic does have a pretty cool ability with ÜberCharge, MERCY CAN GODDAMN RESURRECT PEOPLE. And that’s not even her ult! Add in Mercy’s ability to fly to teammates and this glorious angel would absolutely dominate the Medic.
- Sniper vs Widowmaker: Widow’s grappling hook wins the day here. She’s much more mobile and would be able to out-snipe the sniper because of it.
- Spy vs Sombra: Sombra’s introduction to Overwatch introduced the concept of invisibility. But Overwatch has never seen something so incredibly effective as the Spy’s Disguise Kit, which allows him to look like another player on the enemy team. The Overwatch team would never see it coming, and before long Spy will have taken someone out.
That was closer than I thought. A five to four matchup gives Overwatch an edge over the TF2 cast, but just barely.
Unfortunately, that was only a direct matchup between the most similar characters. Given the massive roster on Overwatch, it would be trivial to construct a perfect team of nine to counter the TF2 guys completely.
The best set of Overwatch characters would absolutely destroy a TF2 team. If you noticed from the matchup above, TF2 doesn’t really have the concept of a tank — outside of the Heavy. A well-rounded Overwatch team would simply be too tanky to lose. The ability to negate damage completely with shields would lead to TF2 losing handily.
This post was originally written as an answer on Quora. Give me a follow both here and on Quora for more answers like this!
Work makes the world go round. Humans putting in time and effort to create amazing things is one of the reasons we have so much abundance in this world.
But the same work we do to create all the cool things many of us on this planet enjoy also contributes to our rapidly decaying environment.
In order to save our planet, we need both systemic and individual change.
This list is compiled from my personal journey to reduce my individual impact, but it can also be used to create corporate policies that encourage a lower environmental impact.
It is still very much a work in progress, as I would like to back up each tip with a source in order to have a better argument as to why we should all be striving for these changes, but, for now, it's a place where I'm developing my thoughts on what I can do personally.
I'm an IT consultant on a travel project, so I'm sure some of the tips make no sense in your job, and I'm likely probably missing a lot of great ideas that don't explicitly apply to my own job. If that's the case, shoot me an email and let me know!
Now, on to the list:
- Live close enough to walk to work to avoid using motorized transport
- Live somewhere that allows you to take the bus and light rail to avoid using single occupancy vehicles
- Drive an electric car (or high MPG car) to reduce gas usage and carbon output
- Carpool when traveling with other employees to reduce the number of vehicles needed to travel to and from airports
- Avoid flying as much as possible to reduce carbon emissions
- Eliminate or reduce your meat consumption to decrease land use and carbon emissions
- Prefer restaurants who source their food locally to reduce food transportation impact
- Go to restaurants and eat on their silverware instead of ordering take-out to reduce container waste
- If you have to order out, choose places with compostable or recyclable containers to reduce contributing to the landfill
- Bring your own utensils to reduce using single-use utensils
- Apply condiments at the restaurant or at home to reduce the usage of single-use condiments
- Carry a water bottle with you to reduce the number of disposable cups
- Use a coffee mug to reduce the number of disposable cups
- If you don't have your water bottle or cup, choose compostable or recyclable cups
- Eat fewer processed foods to reduce the energy put into making food
- Eat fewer packaged foods to reduce contributing to landfill and recycling
- Write efficient code to reduce energy and physical material usage
- Shut down testing environments outside of business hours to save energy
- Take good care of your devices so they last longer to reduce the number of devices manufactured
- Use Linux or other streamlined operating systems when your laptops start getting slow and it will feel like new machine to get more life out of it
- Opt-in to green initiatives at the hotel. Some hotel chains (like Marriott) will even give you bonus points!
- Hang up towels for use the next day to reduce water and energy usage
- If there is not green initiative, put up the Do Not Disturb sign when you leave so your room doesn't get cleaned daily
- Look out for greener hotels who don't use single-use plastics for toiletry supplies
- Choose hotels close to your destination so you can walk
Have you ever come across a line of code that made you pause and think WTF is going on here? You get in a huff because some careless programmer did something completely wrong and wrote poorly formatted, incomprehensible code.
Then you do a git-blame and discover that you wrote the line yourself.
Whether it’s poor logic, the use of tabs over spaces, or even a brilliantly crafted solution that is difficult to comprehend, reading code can feel like translating a cryptic language. When nobody on your team shares what they’ve coded with each other, the codebase — no matter how well architected — will quickly fall into disarray. The solution?
Code reviews are a fantastic way of transferring knowledge between teammates and ensuring that quality code is being committed. Regular code reviews are one of the many processes that effective development teams need, and they play a key role in ensuring the long-term maintainability of a project.
This article will cover what code reviews are, why your team needs to be doing them, and how to get the practice started if it’s not currently part of your team’s routine.
What is a code review?
A code review is the analysis of another developer’s source code. These reviews help find mistakes and improve overall code quality. Code reviewers are responsible for making sure that only clean, well-structured code is allowed into the codebase. Reviewers look for the proper use of design patterns and coding styles, offering suggestions and giving constructive feedback when they encounter code that does not meet the expected quality level.
By both reviewing other people’s code and having your own code reviewed, you’ll get exposure to a variety of perspectives and learn a lot about what constitutes good code. As you grow in your career, you’ll figure out what type of code reviews work best for you and your team. But if you want some inspiration, check out the list below!
Things to Look for When Reviewing Code:
- Anything not meeting the Definition of Done
- Commented out code that could be removed
- Descriptive variable names
- Straightforward logic
- Proper use of design patterns
- The addition of unit tests covering the new feature or bug fix
- That existing coding styles have been followed (things like spacing, indentation, putting code in the right file, etc.)
- Descriptive comments are used where needed
- That the code actually addresses the problem that needs to be solved
- Front-end code is accessible and matches UI/UX designs
To put it simply, your goal as a reviewer is to enforce good coding standards so that your entire team can continue to quickly read, understand, and extend your code.
When you find some code during a review that needs to be changed, you let the person submitting the code review know about it. The original programmer then applies the fix and BOOM! Your code quality levels up!
Now before you get drunk with power, not every piece of feedback given during a code review has to be addressed. Sometimes team members have different opinions on what constitutes “good code”. While the majority of disagreements can be solved by referencing your team’s standards, it’s impossible to cover every scenario with documentation. As you participate in more code reviews, you’ll gain a better understanding of your teammate’s coding styles. As that understanding grows, negotiating code changes will become easier.
Once changes are agreed upon, the code reviewee will implement the changes and submit them again for review. This cycle continues until everyone agrees that the code is good enough to pull into the codebase. After the code is merged, the code review is complete and the developers can move on to their next task.
So now we know what a code review is, where does this review actually take place?
Code reviews can be conducted in a variety of ways. It doesn’t matter if your teammate rolls over to your desk for an informal walk-through, or if everyone submits formal pull requests using tools like GitHub or Bitbucket. Hell, you could even use a message in a bottle or share the code on Snapchat.
It doesn’t matter how you conduct the code review. What matters is that you do the code review.
While I prefer a mix of in-person and online code reviews, your team will have its own unique needs. Some of you may be completely remote, making in-person reviews infeasible. Others might prefer talking over the code as an entire team. Ultimately it is up to your team to decided what works best.
To help you make that decision, here are a few ways in which the different styles can shine, along with some limitations:
Real-time reviews give the reviewer a chance to deliver feedback in-person and give the reviewee a chance to practice their presentation skills as they walk another developer through their code. Feedback can seem less harsh because you get to hear and see the other person. The cold, starkly typed words of a comment on a pull request can sound completely different when said in person. However, pushing back on a code reviewer’s request that you believe to be unreasonable or incorrect can be difficult for some people to do in the moment.
Online reviews are useful because they can be completed asynchronously. This is great for distributed teams or for teams with busy schedules. The reviewer can look at the pull request whenever they have time. By leaving comments on specific lines of code, it’s easy for the reviewee to track what needs to be changed. These types of reviews also allow multiple people to more easily participate, since anyone can make comments at any time. Reviewees can react to comments in real time and ask for clarification or defend their coding decisions.
Now that you’ve learned what code reviews are, maybe you’re wondering why I consider them to be such a vital part of effective teams. That’s exactly what we’ll cover in this next section.
Why do I need someone else to look at my code?
Code reviews are a must. Even if you’re the only developer on your project, you should be finding someone else to look through your code. Unless you’re writing code for a side project or Proof of Concept exercise, collaboration is vital to a healthy codebase.
Remember, nobody knows everything about software development. No matter how good you are, you will never know it all. There is always something new to learn, which is exactly why you want to look through lots of people’s code and share your own. Interacting with other’s code will expand your knowledge and help you grow as a developer. We all have our own strengths, and code reviews are a way to share those strengths with others.
Even the most experienced developers have a small breadth of skills compared to what type of work is out there. It’s literally impossible to be good at everything, and anybody who thinks they don’t need to keep learning will soon find themselves out of a job.
Code reviews give both the reviewer and reviewee a chance to teach each other. Veteran developers can always find something new to learn from their junior teammates, and vice versa. Because software development is an ever-changing field, you will have a unique perspective on how to build great software only a few years into your career. Reviews are an opportunity to share and evolve that perspective.
Hopefully by this point I’ve convinced you of the usefulness of code reviews. They truly are critical to the success of a project.
But what should you do if you’re on a team that doesn’t have a regular code review habit? This next section will give you a few ways to help convince them.
How do I get my team to start doing code reviews?
Teams who don’t have code reviews will release awful products. That alone should be reason enough to get started. If your team is not currently doing code reviews, you have a phenomenal opportunity to provide a ridiculous amount of value to your team.
Code reviews result in a better product and ultimately save hours of work by insuring new additions to the system are beneficial. You can’t afford to not do code reviews. Without regular reviews, your product will become increasingly complex, unmaintainable, and inflexible. Scaling it for a larger user base will be difficult and expensive. Developers will become unhappy and their productivity will drop.
You don’t want that, do you? Then start doing code reviews.
The easiest way to get your team to do code reviews is to leverage technology. Using tools like the pull request feature on Bitbucket or GitHub allows you to easily set system-controlled rules that force explicit approval for any new code changes. This means you will not be able to merge your code unless another developer looks at the code and puts their stamp of approval on it. Your team can always get around this by clicking the “Approve” button without really reviewing it, but if that’s happening you should be looking for a new job.
However, change is difficult. You can’t just go update the settings in GitHub and expect your team to start doing code reviews. That’s an easy way to frustrate everybody.
First, help your team understand the value of code reviews so they understand why they should begin reviewing each other’s work. Show them this article or the countless others on the Internet arguing my same point. Focus on how your everyday life as a developer will get better with code reviews being part of your team’s regular routine.
Once everyone is on board, turn on the tools and let the system do its thing.
There will be rough patches. Occasionally you’ll long for the days you could quickly commit that missing semi-colon right to
master, but try to resist the urge. People will complain. They may even turn off the pull request approval feature. Keep reminding yourselves why you’re doing this and don’t fight the process.
Eventually the habit will stick, and your team’s skills will improve. The code base will become more stable and deployments will get easier. Point out how much better things are getting and celebrate as you watch yourselves ship great code more quickly.
And that’s it! We’ve covered the what, why, and how of code reviews, so you’re now ready to go out into the world, confidently reviewing all code that cross your path. Even if your team already does code reviews, see if you can find an area of the process that could be improved and give it a test run on your team.
Remember, code reviews are vitally important. As you and your team read each other’s code, you’ll all increase your knowledge and skills. By regularly reviewing your code, the quality of your codebase will improve. You’ll be able to add new features more easily and even reduce the number of bugs in your system!
There’s really no excuse to skipping this vital process. All things being equal, a team that does code reviews will be much happier in the long run than one that doesn’t.
If you have any great tips on code reviews that weren’t included in this article, send me a message!
This is the third of nine articles delving into the processes that every effective development team should use. Stay tuned for more!
During my first year as a developer I screwed up a lot.
Unintended changes made their way into my files seemingly at random. My commits broke existing unit tests. Sometimes I missed entire requirements because I didn’t read the story thoroughly.
In short, I wasn’t deliberate with my work because I did not have a definable, repeatable process. My lack of process cost my team time and money when they helped me fix things that I should have done correctly in the first place.
What my well-intentioned but directionless self needed was a consistent template to follow. One that clearly laid out everything I needed to successfully finish a story. On my next project, I discovered what my first team had been missing: a “Definition of Done”.
The Definition of Done is a concept created for the Scrum methodology, but it is useful to all development teams regardless of your project management framework. It provides a written set of events that must occur before a unit of work can be finished. Adopting a Definition of Done standardizes your team’s approach to completing work and ensures that all stories go through the same process, regardless of the people involved.
This standardization reduces mistakes and leads to a better product. Common issues like not having code reviews or unit tests go away because your work by definition cannot be completed without them.
However, enforcing the Definition of Done does need buy-in from everyone on the team. Just like team working agreements, you must create yours as a team and agree to follow it for every story. Without enforcement, a Definition of Done is as useful as not having one.
A note for developers: while the Definition of Done is often focused on development, it includes processes for everyone on your team. This is more than just a developer checklist. It’s an agreement among your team to create a process that delivers high quality solutions for whatever problem you’re tackling.
What goes in a Definition of Done?
Every team’s Definition of Done will be different, but most will include many of the following items:
- All styling is implemented in the proper location
- Views are clean and concise, with no complex logic
- Code styling conventions are followed
- Static code analysis produces no errors
- Proper patterns are followed in the implementation (MVC, MVVM, MVP, VIPER, etc.)
- Code is delivered to source control with the appropriate comments and tags
- Development is complete, meaning all tasks are developed and tested
- Browser and form factor testing have been completed
- Unit tests are written and passing
- Localization has been implemented
- Code is commented appropriately
- Logging is in place
- Any required documentation has been recorded
- Code has been reviewed by another developer
- All QA test scenarios pass
- Any bugs found that will be fixed later have been documented
- Automated testing has been created and passes
- Feature has been demoed to and accepted by the Product Owner
This list is not exhaustive, but the concepts have served me well across many different teams and technology stacks.
If your team doesn’t have a Definition of Done, make one! The standardization it provides will help you deliver high quality work while saving time and money. Use my list to get started and tweak it with your team to fit your style of work. Your future self will thank you.
This is the second of nine articles delving into the processes that every effective development team needs. Stay tuned for more!
At the end of last year I changed projects at work, which allowed me to start commuting to my company’s downtown office instead of a client site. Since I live about a mile away from the office I started walking to work each morning.
At first it was a little tough. The distance itself is doable. But the 25 minute walk isn’t any shorter than my previous commute, so during those early days I longed to hop in my car, crank up the A/C or heater, and be there in 10 minutes.
The walk itself is generally nice. Seattle is absolutely gorgeous in the summer (unless some crazy forest fire is causing some of the worst air quality in Seattle’s history) and the mild winters means a 30 minute walk isn’t too difficult to navigate.
Untuck my shirt in the summer, throw on a rain jacket in the winter, put on a mask during the forest fires. It’s easy. I don’t ever have to deal with inches of snow or 100 degree heat.
The hardest part is the rain. I’ve had days where my shoes will be completely soaked either to an errant puddle or lack of planning.
But after almost a year of walking to work, I never want it any other way!
Walking to work is something that everybody should get to experience at least once in your life. When you walk, you are reliant on nothing but your body to get you from place to place. You move relatively slowly, taking in your environment as you stroll by. Unique social interactions take place as people navigate busy sidewalks and intersections.
Negotiating crossroads with strangers in cars is a particularly unique experience. When you live in the city, most cars understand that pedestrians have soft, killable bodies and that walkers should be given deference. Wielding that power by making four tons of steel come to a stop with nothing but a glance is addicting.
There is an inner peace that comes through the methodical steps of one’s stride.
Sometimes your steps sync to the music. You power home, the beat carrying you like the wind.
Other times, you forget you’re even moving your legs! They just keep going and your mind is free to wander while your feet take you home.
When you stop to pay attention, the regular thrum of your footstep on the concrete is a constant companion. You feel connected to the city, one of its many inhabitants moving from one place to another. You are one small piece of an autonomous organism that keeps the city’s heart alive.
Most of us don’t listen to that beat, but it’s always there. My favorite walks are the ones where I tune in and feel the city moving beneath me.
As great as that all is, there’s one benefit that rises above all the rest:
Regular exercise does wonders for your health.
And yes, long walks are exercise. Not the most intense of exercise, but it’s far better than sitting behind a desk or in a car all day.
Since I started walking to work, I have lost 25 pounds! Simply walking three miles a day gave me moderate amounts of exercise, without me doing anything other than commute! When you walk to work, you traveling the way humans have since our ancestors figured out how to stand on two legs.
That’s why walks are enjoyable and good for our health. We are biologically hardwired to do it! Our ancestors often hunted by walking after prey until it literally collapsed of exhaustion, unable to run away any longer.
I know that not everybody is in a position to walk to work. But if you have the opportunity, you should take advantage of it. I’m not sure I can ever commute any other way again (although I bet I’d love cycling to work).
If you’re looking for a way to connect with your city or surroundings or want to live a healthier lifestyle, you can’t go wrong with a walking commute.
The One Thing: Walk to work
You read the title. Now pull out your to-do list and delete five things from it.
It doesn’t matter what they are. It doesn’t matter how many are “overdue”. It doesn’t matter if you don’t even have an actual to-do list.
All that matters is that you relieve yourself of the need to do five things.
Did you actually go delete five tasks? No?
I can wait.
Now that you’ve deleted five items from your to-do list, listen to your body. How does it feel knowing those things are gone? Maybe some relief, with a dash of anxiety? Annoyance at this random guy who is telling you do to something? Stress from seeing the thirty other things on your list that you had forgotten about?
Having deleted five things in the process writing this article, I felt a mix of anxiety and relief. It always feels good to get rid of tasks, but I’m anxious that I deleted something important. While I purposefully chose things that I knew would never get finished, I still felt a twinge of anxiety when deleting them.
Luckily I know I’m safe.
If the task I deleted was important, it will come back to me. I’ll remember it later or add it to my to-do list without ever realizing it used to be there.
Important things in life have a way of popping back up.
So don’t let that scare you when pruning your to-do list.
If you didn’t delete the tasks at the beginning of this article, go give it a try. I promise you won’t regret it!
The One Thing: Delete 5 todos
Lane Sawyer is an IT consultant at Pariveda Solutions in Seattle, WA. He enjoys writing articles like this one when he’s not working on some new project, tackling a challenging video game, or running around outside in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. You can find out more about him on his website.
It happens every morning. You have the best intentions of waking up with your alarm, but forty minutes later you’re still slipping in and out of consciousness.
The snooze button is mankind’s worst invention.
But there is a simple way to always wake up when you planned: Get out of bed!
You can’t fall asleep if you’re on your feet. So instead of reaching for your phone or for a book each morning, roll out of bed and shamble out of your bedroom. Do anything but stay in bed. Make breakfast, brew coffee, do pushups, sit down at your desk and write, or even just stand there!
The easiest way to make sure you get up every morning is to put all your alarms in another room. Make them loud, constant, and annoying. The only way to shut them off is to get out of bed, and once you’re up it’s much easier to stay up.
Waking up on your terms each morning is empowering. You prove that you are more powerful than your snooze button and each of your days starts out with a victory.
So next time you’re tempted by that snooze button, remember what we say to the god of snoozing:
The One Thing: Stop using the snooze button
This post was originally published on May 14th, 2017 and has been updated with slight stylistic changes.
Can you believe it’s been almost a year since I last talked about poop?
Last June, I encouraged everyone to poop better by using an improved squatting posture, and I had always meant to follow it up with another article to make your time in the restroom even more satisfactory.
That’s right: it’s time to talk bidets.
The first time I saw a bidet I was terrified. I was a young Mormon missionary living in Ecuador, and the thought of shooting cold water anywhere near my butt was far too homoerotic to even consider.
Boy, was I naive.
Turns out, the bidet is easily the single greatest piece of equipment I’ve ever introduced into my home.
Why You Should Clean Your Butt
It’s weird that I have to explain the merits of cleaning one’s butt, but here we are.
The need for bidets is clear. Who of us, after accidentally getting poop on their hands, would wipe it off with nothing more than a paper towel?
So why do we do the same to our butts?
Sure, we don’t shake butts when greeting one another (although now that I think about it, maybe twerking is just a new way of saying “hello”), but it’s still gross to think that millions of people are walking around every day with their anus unwashed.
The bidet solves this problem in a clean, environmentally friendly way. Bidets reduce the usage of toilet paper because you use clean water to get rid of all the nasties, then use a little bit of toilet paper to dry yourself.
It’s a win-win situation!
I Want to Clean My Butt — What Next?
Unfortunately for all of us, bidets never took off in the US. It was probably due to some combination of our puritanical culture and hatred of all things French.
But you can change that, at least in your own home!
The traditional bidet is separate from a toilet, and I’m betting most of us don’t have the money or the room to completely revamp our bathrooms. Thankfully, some ingenious people created bidets that can be attached to your existing toilet. Some even use warm water!
I don’t know if we’ll ever see bidets as a regular feature in the majority of restrooms in America (just like we’re still stuck with insanely tall toilets that totally screw up our bowels), but unless more of us make the switch and discover the amazingness that is the humble bidet, progress will never happen!
Social change starts in your own bathroom, so it’s up to all of us to join together and clean our butts!
Don’t be an asshole; go get yourself a bidet, today!
This post was originally published on May 21st, 2017 and has been updated with slight stylistic changes.
During 2016, in an effort to help boost my confidence and self-image, I changed one of the few passwords I actually know (use a password manager, people!) into an uplifting phrase:
You@re@mazing! — or rather, something completely different but with the same general sentiment.
Every day I had to type “you are amazing” over and over again. It made me happy each time, and it reminded me that I am worth something.
I’ve kept this up, even as I’ve changed passwords regularly. Each time I type them, I remind myself that life is pretty awesome, and that I’m lucky to be where I am.
So if you want an easy way to boost your self esteem, change your password today!
The One Thing: Use an uplifting password
This post was originally published on November 25th, 2016 and has been updated with slight stylistic changes.
One of the most important (and simple) actions you can take to advance your career is scheduling weekly 30 minute meetings with your manager.
I’ve been having one-on-ones with my managers over the last two years and it’s made a remarkable difference in my ability to grow and take on new responsibilities at work. I’ve learned more about managing my career during these short meetings than from all the books and podcasts I’ve listened to on the subject. And when busy projects cause one-on-ones to get skipped, things at work start to feel different, as that crucial chain of communication has been broken.
One-on-ones are essentially a miniature form of mentorship with the people you work with on a daily basis. It’s a chance for mentors who have “been there and done that” to share what they’ve learned on their career journey, and to provide helpful feedback and support to their mentee.
In this article, you’ll see why you need one-on-ones and how to conduct them.
Scheduling regular one-on-ones with your manager shows that you have initiative and want to improve and grow your career. It indicates that you care about what you do. These meetings give you a scheduled time to talk about how things are going at work and where you ultimately want your career to take you. It’s a time to talk about areas in which you could improve and to celebrate the excellent work you’ve been doing.
Also, regularly interacting with your boss will give you a leg up when it comes time for promotions or assignments to interesting projects, because they’ll already know what you’re interested in and can do what it takes to get you the interesting work you want.
And if you need even more reasons, check out this excellent article on the subject by HBR.
How To Run a One-on-One
One-on-ones can take any form you and your manager choose, but I’ve found 30 minute meetings, broken into three 10 minute chunks delivers immense value in exchange for very little time.
Present — First 10 Minutes
Spend the first block of time talking about the last week of work. Share what has gone well, what has been frustrating, and what you’ve learned from any mistakes you had made. Praise your teammates when they do great things, or tell your manager how grateful you are for their help.
Talk about whatever is making your day to day work enjoyable and let your manager know when things aren’t so great (bonus points if you offer a suggestion on how to fix the problem).
Future — Next 10 Minutes
Next, move on to the future. Talk about your career goals. Ensure your manager knows where you see yourself in 1, 3, and 5 years. Make short, medium, and long term goals to get you to where you want to be. Regularly review those goals and talk about the progress you’re making.
This is a chance for you to really shape your career, especially if your peers aren’t having one-on-ones with their managers. The regular feedback from your boss will let you grow in ways you couldn’t have done otherwise. And when it comes time for a promotion, you’ll be the first on the list because your boss will know exactly what you want out of your career.
Personal — Last 10 Minutes
Spend the last few minutes talking about whatever you and your manager want. Bring up that trip to Spain you’re going on next month. Talk about the Great Turkey Fiasco of 2016 that you managed to survive. Share pictures of kids and pets with one another. This is the perfect time to get to know your manager better and to make connections you might have missed otherwise. I’ve had one-on-ones lead to excellent four wheeling trips, board game nights, and a pile of wonderful book recommendations.
There’s really no reason not to have regularly scheduled one-on-ones. It only takes 30 minutes a week and provides benefits that will help you through your entire career. The regular communication provides a fantastic forum for you to improve your day-to-day work, set goals that will shape your career, and develop better relationships with those you work with on a daily basis.
If you’re looking to make your work life drastically better, give one-on-ones a shot. I promise you won’t regret it.
The One Thing: Schedule weekly one-on-ones
This post was originally published on June 5th, 2016 and has been updated with slight stylistic changes.
It’s time to talk about poop. We’ve been held hostage by Big Toilet for far too long, and now is the time to rise up, put the seat down, and expel the oppressors from our homes!
Our toilets are not designed for pooping. Rather, they’re terrible porcelain thrones that keep us stuck there for a lifetime playing games on our phone.
But there’s a better way:
Don’t believe me? Check out this cute video featuring the Squatty Potty.
You don’t have to go out and buy a Squatty Potty (although I highly recommend it). You can make do with a box, small step ladder, or any other item that’s half a foot tall or more. What matters is that you overcome the absolutely horrific design of the modern toilet by any means necessary.
By pooping in a natural position, you’ll save time, energy, and money by getting in and out of the bathroom quicker than ever with less grunting and pushing, and leaving less of a mess to wipe up when you’re finished.
You’ve literally been throwing your life and money down the drain. So stop it. And poop the way you’ve always been meant to!
The One Thing: Get a Squatty Potty or some other equivalent so you can poop the way you were meant to.
This post was originally published on July 21st, 2016 and has been updated with slight stylistic changes.
We live in a world of a million passwords. There’s no getting around it if you have any sort of online presence. And yet, many do nothing to keep track of all those passwords floating around in their brain (or on sticky notes next to their monitor). Even worse, some people use the exact same password for everything.
That’s a scary situation. If your Facebook password is the same as your email password and the same as your bank password, a breach in any one of those services opens you up to untold havoc on your life.
And if you use Facebook to log into all the other sites you use, all someone needs is your Facebook password.
That’s where password managers come into play. A password manager is a handy application that keeps track of all of your passwords. It will even generate extremely secure passwords for you, all at the click of a button.
I personally use Bitwarden, an open source password manager. I recently switched to it from LastPass in my ongoing effort to use more Open Source Software (OSS). Bitwarden is a great password manager, and currently holds over 400 unique credentials for all the various accounts I’ve collected over the years.
Bitwarden makes logging into sites dead easy. You can set it up to automatically fill in your username and password, or even log in completely upon landing on any website’s authentication page. It works on every single device I own. While it’s not completely flawless in detecting the login fields on every single site, it generally does a damn fine job.
With Bitwarden (and other password managers) all your passwords are protected by a single master password. That master password is the last one you’ll ever need to remember. I personally use a forty character passphrase for mine, since passphrases help create passwords that are easy to remember and are extremely secure.
Here’s a quick xkcd explaining why passphrases are awesome:
Just don’t use “correcthorsebatterystaple” as your password. Due to the comic, that passphrase is now included in any hacker's arsenal now.
So if you don’t have a password manager, go get one! I highly recommend Bitwarden, but any of the major names that come up on a quick search should do the trick.
While it can be somewhat of a hassle to set up a password manager, it’s absolutely worth the effort. Your data will be much safer, and you can sleep easy at night knowing a breach in any single website you use will always be contained to only that site.
The One Thing: Use a password manager
This post was originally published on January 23rd, 2018 and has been updated with slight stylistic changes.
Have you ever done something radical?
And no, I don’t mean hanging ten with Michelangelo, stuffing pizza in your face while you fight off Shredder’s minions (although that would be a wonderfully radical experience).
I mean something out of the ordinary.
I’m not saying you need to go discover a new brand new human experience, like seeing a color no other person has ever seen. It only has to be something unique to you. Your uncommon, radical act could be as simple as eating oatmeal for breakfast when you’ve had nothing but cold cereal for the last decade.
We’re all products of our environment. Everything from the food we eat to the clothes we wear to the sports we enjoy is influenced by the people around us. Culture permeates our lives, and few of us stop to think anything of it.
Those of us who do push back against cultural norms often find great joy in doing so. I know I have. Since 2014, I’ve challenged many aspects of how I was raised, with radical shifts in my religious, political, and dietary beliefs being the most prominent.
I’m not here to say that my new beliefs and actions are superior to the old ones, nor am I asking everyone that reads this article to join me by abandoning their religion, voting for Bernie Sanders, and becoming vegan.
The path that has brought me the most happiness in my life surely won’t work for everyone.
But I’ve also experimented with other things, like regular meditation, reading new genres of books, diving into new specialties at work, and making a conscious effort to prefer walking over driving.
Radical acts are radical because they’re life changing, not because they’re huge changes.
Really all I’m asking is:
Do you ever do something new just for the hell of it?
If you don’t regularly step out of your comfort zone, you may be missing out on some of life’s most impactful experiences.
Not every change will become part of your life. You may find out that you really hate biking to work, or that dubstep literally grinds your eardrums into dust. There are many things I’ve tried that never stick around for long (like becoming a morning person — I wrote this particular article at 12:30 AM).
But after every new experience I always come away from it appreciating the knowledge I gained about myself and the world.
The mere act of opening yourself up to radical experiences will enable you to find new joys in life that would otherwise stay hidden away in the fog of inexperience.
I never imagined my life would turn out the way it has, but I love pretty much everything about it. Each day I find myself awestruck at the world around me and wonder how I managed to build such a great life. I’m convinced that had I not begun experimenting with radical changes, I wouldn’t have ended up where I am today.
To this day, I continue to experiment with radical changes. During one six year period in 2018, I tried the following:
- Learned more about user-centered design in order to reinvent myself at work
- Discovered new tastes in music by getting a Spotify subscription and exploring their vast collection of songs
- Gained a new appreciation for cauliflower
- Reduced my stress levels by abstaining from the daily news cycle
- Picked up a guitar for the first time in years
- Finally started reading biographies
Every one of those changes started as something radically new to my life.
And yes, learning how to make food using cauliflower isn’t all that intense. But small changes are still radical in a world where routines largely stay the same.
If you’ve never done something radical (or if you have but it’s been a few years) think of something you’ve always wanted to do. Make plans right now to do it. Sign up for that Brazilian jiu-jitsu class. Attend your local town hall meetings. Become intimately familiar with the best arguments of a political issue that you disagree with. Book that trip you’ve always been wanting to take.
It’s okay if you start small. I did. I know how scary it can be to try new things.
But if you don’t take that chance and if you never do something radical, you may be missing out on some of the greatest moments of your life.
This post was originally published on September 10th, 2017 and has been updated with slight stylistic changes.
At some point in the last fifty years the great American pastime pivoted from baseball to television. Ever since Philo Farnsworth invented the television (and gave my home state of Idaho at least one claim to fame outside of potatoes), the TV industry has exploded. Up to 97 percent of U.S. households have a television, and they are all put to use! On average, U.S. adults watch 5 hours of TV every day. That’s 35 hours a week! 🤯
Think of what we could be doing with that time. Developing a hobby, starting a side business, spending time with our families and friends; the possibilities are endless.
Instead, we choose to sit in front of a glowing box, binging on Netflix, sports, and pop culture.
I’m not saying we should ditch television completely. Watching your favorite show is a great way to relax. Giving your brain an occasional break vegging out in front of the TV can be awesome (it's one of my favorite forms of recovery when I've had a particularly bad day), but surely five hours a day is too much.
But the fact that it’s almost socially unfathomable to not own a television should tell you something about how addicted we are to our screens.
Every year, TVs get thinner and sleeker, tantalizing us with extras like 3D, Netflix, and even Facebook. Televisions have become the focal point of our homes. We literally build entire rooms for the express purpose of watching TV.
I ditched my TV back in 2017, and I've never looked back. I still watch an unhealthy amount of Netflix and movies (especially when I'm depressed), but it's all done from my computer screen. That experience isn't ideal, so I watch a lot less Netflix than if I had my 55 inch TV again.
But I'm not going to lie. It was difficult to get rid of the TV.
The first major purchase my (now ex-) wife and I made after graduating from college in 2014 was that 55 inch "flat" screen I mentioned earlier (oh god it was so fat compared to what we now can manufacture in 2019).
I clearly remember the day it arrived. I set up the entertainment center perfectly, with no cords showing. Then we sat down and watched Doctor Who.
I even have the photo to prove it! (Please forgive the potato quality. I hadn't learned how to take good photos yet. It's not even centered! How does that happen!? Plus the focus is all wrong. Ah, the foibles of youth...)
It was fantastic.
But we had unwittingly invited a time-sucking demon into our home. It took us four years to realize it, but eventually we did.
Once we realized how much our TV controlled our lives, we gave it to my brother and his wife.
Like The Ring, we got someone else to watch the TV so it wouldn’t be our problem anymore. (Sorry, bro! You really should get rid of that thing! 😅)
On top of all the time I've gotten back with less TV viewing, the aesthetic gains are fantastic.
Living in a 500 square foot apartment really limits what I bring into my home and how it can be arraigned. Now that I no longer have a podium built for the express purpose of worshiping a TV, my home actually reflects my values and hobbies.
I'd show a picture, but it's a mess right now!
Again, I'm not saying watching TV is an awful hobby. Just that we do a whole lot of it, to the point where a good chunk of our lives are spent staring at a screen, especially when you throw phones and computers into the mix.
So, are you ready to radically change your life?
Then try ditching your TV.
You don’t have to remove it from your home immediately.
Throw a sheet over it and pretend it’s not there. See how it feels. Pick up a new hobby, like writing about how amazing it is to not have a TV anymore. Grab a drink with a friend you haven’t seen in awhile. Find an online course to enhance your skills. There are so many things out there you could spend your precious time on this Earth doing that will bring longer lasting joy than a TV show.
I know it’s hard.
I know it’s weird.
Before I got rid of mine, I thought people who didn’t have a television were crazy hippies who didn’t have a life (oh shit am I a crazy hippie now?).
But I was wrong. Getting rid of your TV is the a simple way to start living a new life.
The One Thing: Get rid of Your TV
This post was originally published on May 25th, 2016 and has been updated with slight stylistic changes.
Go and delete all the games from your phone.
Now, before you close your browser and whip out Candy Crush to spite me, please hear me out.
I used to find myself constantly reaching for my phone to play games when I was standing in line, waiting for the microwave to beep, or any other myriad of situations that left me with a few free moments.
But diving into the digital world meant I was completely engrossed in my phone instead of experiencing my surroundings and being present with friends and family.
Once I realized how much time was slipping away to these pointless games, I deleted them all.
It was tough.
The itch to play didn’t go away for a few weeks, but it did eventually subside. Those games were sucking away my life and providing little value in return.
I’m not saying that all video games are a waste of time (I still play my fair share), but in my experience, the mobile games are not worth your time or attention.
Having games on your phones turns the device into a pacifier, one meant to distract you. Many apps are purposefully designed to keep you in their digital world for as long as possible.
Personally, I prefer to use my phone as a tool to improve my life.
So, once the games are gone, what should you do now?
Look around. Enjoy the present moment.
The One Thing: Delete all the games from your phone.
This post was originally published on May 1st, 2016 and has been updated with slight stylistic changes.
The average person checks their phone 46 times a day, or about every 30 minutes.
Often these checks are habitual responses to notifications, pulling up pointless games to pass the time, or (at least for me) looking up random pieces of trivia to satisfy an intellectual itch.
Forty six glances results in a lot of time spent staring at your phone each day.
Imagine if what you saw each of those times encouraged you to be a better person?
Here's my current homescreen:
All of these apps are ones that I use on a regular basis, and most are ones that enhance my life.
While I don't love having Outlook or Slack on my homescreen, they are work-critical so it's nice to have within reach.
The rest of the apps let me stay organized, learn something new every day, or keep me in touch with friends and family.
The one glaring exception is Twitter. While I'm trying to kick my social media habit by keeping all of those time-sucking apps off of my homescreen and my entire phone if I can manage it (Twitter is just a website shortcut), Twitter earned its place because the impeachment hearings have been so damn interesting lately!
Is this setup perfect? No, absolutely not. But it's what fits my life at the moment.
In comparison, I published a very simlar article to this one back in 2016, and this is what my screen looked like then:
There are some major differences, the most obvious being that I've de-Googled my life substantially over the last 3 years.
Only three apps are even still there:
I imagine in another three years my homescreen will once again change dramatically!
So, during your 34th glance at your homescreen today, take stock in what's there. Do those applications enhance your life? Or do they suck away the precious little time you have on this wonderful blue dot we call Earth?
The One Thing: Reorganize your home screen, filling it with apps that add value to your life.