Humanist, vegan, minimalist, programmer, collector of labels.
36,871 words @LaneSawyer

I’m doing another 52 things during the 52 weeks of 2018

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:


  1. Run 104 miles
  2. Bike 104 miles
  3. Go bouldering or rock climbing once a month
  4. Be able to do 10 pull-ups
  5. Be able to do 50 push-ups
  6. Be able to do a 200lbs bench press
  7. Meditate daily
  8. Journal daily
  9. Reach target weight of 165lbs


  1. Read 4 fantasy books
  2. Read 4 science fiction books
  3. Read 2 biographies
  4. Read 4 non-fiction books
  5. Read 1 horror novel
  6. Read 1 book of poetry
  7. Read 1 classic
  8. Read 1 philosophy book
  9. Read 4 books from other categories I don’t usually read
  10. Watch 10 movies from the IMDB Top 250
  11. Watch 10 other movies or documentaries
  12. Watch 5 television shows
  13. Play 5 new video games


  1. Go to a Seahawks game
  2. Go to a Sounders game
  3. Go to a Mariners game
  4. Visit Vancouver, Canada
  5. Use my Alaska Airline miles to go somewhere far away
  6. Eat at 10 new restaurants
  7. Cook 12 new vegan recipes
  8. Go to the Dota 2 International
  9. Go explore Fremont
  10. Go snowboarding
  11. Go to the Museum of Pop Culture
  12. Go to a musical event
  13. Find a local organization and regularly volunteer there
  14. Join a sports team or group
  15. Take an improv class
  16. Go out on the lake


  1. Write 500 words every day
  2. Write one Medium article every week
  3. Write one book


  1. Keep IRA and HSA maxed out
  2. Get three months of regular expenses in the emergency fund
  3. Max out 2017 IRA
  4. Increase my 401(k) contribution by at least three percent
  5. Stick to the budget four straight months
  6. Save at least half of the emergency fund value in an opportunity fund


  1. Get promoted
  2. Get an AWS certification
  3. Launch an open source project
  4. Write a work-related blog post once a month
  5. Attend a work-related meetup once a quarter

Minimalism - The Power of Less

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.

Most haven’t.

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!

Be Brave

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.

Thoughts and prayers are not enough

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.

Team Fortress 2 vs Overwatch

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!

One Simple Thing: Get Rid of Your TV

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...)

Entertainment center with a TV showing Doctor Who

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

Creating a Definition of Done

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!

One Simple Thing: Stop Using the Snooze Button

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:

“Not today!”

The One Thing: Stop using the snooze button

Team Working Agreements: The Why, What, and How

Every team needs a written working agreement. Without one, there’s bound be chaos, bloodshed, and death.

Or at least it might feel that way.

Team working agreements are the first step to good team building. Without a concrete list of rules for team interactions, invisible habits will start to creep into the team’s workflow. Habits that aren’t always good.

If you’re part of a team that doesn’t have a working agreement, read on. You’ll learn why it’s important, what it involves, and how to create one.

Why is it important?

Team working agreements minimize friction between teammates. The agreement gives all members of the team a template for what is expected during their day-to-day work. A good working agreement can help even the most contentious of teams come together to produce great results. They can also be used to introduce new team members to the group culture more quickly, since he or she will have a list to reference.

The key benefit of working agreements is their enforceability. Since everyone has agreed to follow the rules, enforcing those rules becomes less awkward when infractions occur.

For example, my team has a rule that everyone should be attentive during meetings and stay off their phone. Because of our working agreement, it is much easier to ask a teammate to put their phone away. Everybody knows that phones are a no-go, so when one does appear in a meeting nobody feels shy to point it out. The person on the phone will then realize that they are breaking their agreement and change their behavior accordingly.

By defining and agreeing on the expected behaviors for all team members, we are able to reduce behavioral problems. Good practices encouraged by the agreement ultimately turn into habits that propel the team forward, while the bad habits are weeded out.

What does the working agreement cover?

People are unique, so every team will likely come up with a different working agreement. While what works for one team certainly won’t work for every team, many agreements will contain rules similar to the following:

  • Core working hours when members are expected to be online or in the office
  • How to communicate vacation or sick days
  • When and where regular team meetings take place
  • Who should attend which meetings
  • Expected behavior during those meetings
  • Expected behavior during the rest of the day
  • Which software products are used to track work and to communicate
  • How and when to use those software products
  • Who plays which role on the team
  • What days the team eats lunch together
  • Etc…

The team working agreement is a contract between all members. It should be relevant to everyone and to the work that you’re performing. Treat it as a living document by revisiting it periodically and making updates as needed. Feel free to experiment! If one particular addition doesn’t work out, you can always go back.

How do I make one?

The most important part of creating a working agreement is that it must be done by the entire team. If you’re a decision maker or influencer on your team, this is easy to do. Otherwise, you’ll need to convince your teammates of the benefits to making one.

Make sure that the rules in the working agreement aren’t dictated by upper management — only your team truly knows what it needs, so outside influence should be kept away.

A working agreement can be created in a single meeting, even as short as 30 minutes. Ask the team to come ready with ideas, and then discuss each idea and whether it should be added to the agreement. By the end, you’ll be ready to go!

Any future updates need to be agreed on by the whole team as well. Depending on the extent of the changes, you can have another meeting or simply get consensus over email or chat.

Remember, your team working agreement is just the first of many processes that development teams need to implement to be effective. It defines the rules of the game and creates a common behavioral language. Finding common ground creates the bedrock on which future processes can be built.

Now take your newfound knowledge about team working agreements back to your team and start changing the way you work!

This is the first of nine articles delving into the processes that every effective development team needs. Stay tuned for more!

9 Processes Every Effective Development Team Should Use

To be effective, development teams should—at a minimum—have the following processes in place:

  1. Team Ground Rules or Working Agreement
  2. Definition of Done
  3. Code Reviews
  4. One on Ones
  5. Static Code Analysis
  6. Style Guide
  7. Unit Tests
  8. Branching Strategy
  9. Continuous Integration/Continuous Deployment

What's your team missing?

Over the next few weeks I’ll be fleshing out the why and how for each item in the list, so check back for updates!

One Simple Thing: Back Into Your Parking Space

Parking lots are surprisingly dangerous. One in five accidents happen there, mostly due to people relaxing their attention due to the low speeds. Blind corners and cars backing out just add to the chaos.

The easiest way to stay safe (outside of simply paying closer attention and staying off your phone) is to back into your parking spot!

I know, I know. You’re always running late and don’t have time, plus you’re absolutely awful at lining it up right and don’t want to embarrass yourself in front of all those strangers.

But those are just excuses.

Backing in doesn’t take much more time, and I promise that after a week or two of doing it you’ll be much more comfortable driving in reverse.

Try it once. Then watch what happens when you go to leave your space. All of a sudden, you can see everything! You no longer have to look over your shoulder, hoping that nobody speeds around the corner while you’re backing out.

You simply look both ways and drive away.

I’ve been doing it for a few years now and I’m never going back. It really makes that much of a difference!

One Simple Thing: Take the Stairs

Finding time to exercise can be tough. Every day seems to fill itself with work, work, and more work. By the time you get home, the comfort of the couch is overbearing and your best-laid plans to exercise vanish.

But even on crazy days like that, you can find easy ways to get your heart pumping.

One of my favorites ways to sneak exercise into my daily routine is to follow one simple rule:

Always take the stairs.

If you follow that rule, you’re bound to get some exercise at some point during your day.

Is your office on the second floor? Take the stairs.

Is your apartment on the fifth floor? Take the stairs.

Did you just park underground? Take the stairs.

Yes, there are some limitations to this. I don’t imagine anyone working on floor 79 of a high rise downtown wants to spend 30 minutes each morning climbing up to the office. That’s too much to ask. But maybe get off the elevator a few floors early, or take the stairs down at the end of the day just to get moving. There are definitely ways to work it in even when faced with insurmountable climbs.

While taking the stairs isn’t going to turn you into an Olympic athlete, it does ensure that you don’t live a completely sedentary lifestyle. Eventually taking the stairs will become second nature and you won’t even think twice. Every day the climb will become easier until one day you’ll find yourself skipping up two steps at a time!

So the next time you see some stairs, take them. The elevator won’t miss you.

The One Thing: Take the stairs

Only Space Can Save Us From Ourselves

The rise of Trump and “America First” has shown us that tribalism still reigns supreme. All of recorded history is nothing more than our tribal interactions and the frictions that belonging to a different group can cause. Wars are fought for land, religion, business, and politics: all of which are an attempt to expand a tribe’s power.

One of these days, tribalism will destroy us all.

How close were we to a nuclear wasteland during the Cold War? How soon until the fail-safe systems fail and a stray missile is launched, or a despot gets too big for his or her britches and tries to wipe out another country?

We have no idea when the world will end, but until we stop thinking about ourselves as tribes and instead as humans, there will always be a risk.

That’s why we need to invest in space travel. We have to expand beyond our pale blue dot and venture out into the universe. We need to become Earthlings — entirely focused on the following goals:

  1. Ensuring all humans live a happy, productive life
  2. Exploring the galaxy and expanding the human race to ensure we survive
  3. Looking for life elsewhere in the cosmos

That last goal is key. I’m convinced that if we found aliens tomorrow, we would unify as a species more quickly than any other event. We’d do it even faster if the aliens were a threat to our existence.

The second we realize we aren’t the only ones floating around on a spinning rock in a vast, silent universe, we will begin to think of ourselves as citizens of a larger galaxy rather than a collection of nations on Earth.

Unfortunately, uniting because we found aliens would still end up harnessing the power of tribalism. Aliens become “the other”, and humanity would work towards grabbing more pieces of the galaxy than they currently do. Eventually — when we’ve saturated our little corner of the universe — we’ll be right back in the same spot we are today; bickering over territory and power, only at a scale a million times larger.

That’s a “future us” problem though, and none of us will be around to see it. But I’m optimistic that humanity will be enlightened thousands of years from now. We’ll do spectacularly in dealing with that issue if it even arises.

In the meantime, let’s start searching the stars.

Let’s put aside our differences and work to get multi-national space programs off the ground.

Let’s start uniting as citizens of Earth!

One Simple Thing: Use an Uplifting Password

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

One Simple Thing: Get a Bidet (The Sorry State of America's Toilets)

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!

It’s Okay to Be Lazy - Give Yourself a Break When You Need It

It’s okay to be lazy.

Well… not all the time. Obviously. At some point you’ll just get bored.

But when you need a break, take a goddamn break.

By the way, this article is more for me than it is for you, dear reader. Dealing with anxiety and perfectionism can be a pain in the ass sometimes, and this weekend I was really feeling it.

Today I felt like I haven’t been doing enough with my life, despite the fact that I’m currently doing a lot:

  • Polishing up on Spanish
  • Learning Portuguese
  • Contributing to an open source project
  • Starting a side project to learn Go
  • Watching two IT training video courses
  • Reading three books
  • Training for a Ragnar
  • Listening to almost 30 different podcasts covering dozens of topics each week
  • Working hard every day at work

I’m not saying all that to brag about my busy life, but rather to point out to myself that I’m sure as hell not lazy. Just looking at that list is exhausting. But yet, this weekend I felt like I was the laziest man on Earth — that I wasn’t doing enough with my life.

So I took the day off from my todo list. I sat on the couch, stuffed my face with food, and watched Mystery Science Theater 3000.

And it initially felt awful.

My anxiety roared ferociously! “How can you take a break when you’re already doing nothing with your life?” it prodded. But I tuned the voice out, and sat back to enjoy the show, snuggling with my wife and puppy on the couch.

And what d’ya know? It worked!

After a few hours of doing nothing more productive than getting farther along in a Netflix series, I’m feeling a lot better. In fact, I’m back to “being productive” by writing this article on the merits of self care and lazy days.

So if you’re ever feeling overwhelmed with life, or have a nagging case of perfectionism, don’t feel ashamed to occasionally kick back, relax, and listen to the wise words of Bruno Mars.

You’ve certainly earned it.