A Room for Growing?

Having lived in Silicon Valley for at least 6 months changed my mind in a positive way. In Indonesia, no matter how curious you are and how interesting you are, there is a limit to that. There are things that you can dream of, like building a startup, be a valedictorian, and travel the world. And there are things that you can’t afford to dream of, like building self-driving car, traveling to mars, and other crazy stuffs. But in Silicon Valley, people keep pushing harder and further, constantly removing the limit. This realization come after I read an article on The Wall Street Journal (which I subscribed for more than a year for a decent price, but I rarely read) about someone who attempted to learn an impossible task every month, such as memorizing the order 52 decks of card in under 2 minutes, solving a rubik’s cube in under 20 seconds, and the most impossible one, defeating the World Chess Champion, Magnus Carlsen. Wow.

Given only a month time, he attempted to defeat Magnus. This is outright crazy since Magnus has been playing Chess for most of his life and is currently the number one in the world. Being expert in the game requires tens of thousands of experience and learning. However crazy, the most interesting part is that Max dares to do it. The habit of challenging yourself is so prevalent in Silicon Valley, that it is encouraged everywhere. Max tries to challenge the perception that it takes a long time to master something, he developed techniques to learn anything more efficiently. The keyword is: efficient. Being efficient is achieving something with as little resources as possible. He only do high-leverage things (the term I borrow from The Effective Engineer book), things that contributes greatly to the end goal. So provided that you are being efficient in your effort, you can certainly achieve a seemingly impossible task in a short time.

The article mentioned Max’s friend Cliff Weitzman, a Brown University student I met at Stanford’s ASES Summit last year. He was featured on Forbes’ 30 under 30 list while he was working on a text-to-speech app for dyslexics. He’s inspiring that you can  be a productive person, no matter what conditions do you have. If you have dyslexics, then build something to help you, as he actually did. In recent months, I started making excuses for not achieving much, while I could turn out better if I started building solutions instead.

Excuses, blames, and negative things has filled my life that I start to clear them up. I try to wake up earlier (which often fails spectacularly) and exercise. I start reading books again (a product management book titled Inspired, by Marty Cagan) after almost a year of not trying. I started reconnecting with my old friends. I try to manage my time well by not spending too much with social media. I decorate my room to look better and feel comfortable. I also listen to motivational speeches online (hey I know it looks embarrassing but it works!). Why let a bad mood crawl into your head and make your day miserable, if you can listen to a 5 minute speech and comes out freshly energized? I now believe that I can be productive, other people can achieve way more, why can’t I?

Mental Fatigue?

I was struggling with my mental state recently. I was unable to focus for a long time. I have to try hard enough & in different places just to get myself in “the flow”. I think this is a real problem, especially when I am a software engineer, where I need high cognitive load to function well. I have to think creatively to solve a problem, remember dozens of variable names & functions and the relationship between them, and make sure everything works fine. I can’t code in a small chunk at a time, the cost of switching between one task an another is too high. Usually I need more than an hour of uninterrupted blocks of time to be productive. I realize it was different when I did other things, such as writing a proposal or creating slides, or writing an email. I can do most of those things well in smaller blocks of time, even without interruption.

I don’t know if this is true or not, but I often think that my inability to concentrate in doing a task is a mental disorder. Or is it just my excuse because I’m lazy. No I don’t think I’m that lazy, but it has something to do with my mental state: moods, brain freshness (or whatever you call it), and as well as the outside environment, the work that I will be doing, and the deadlines of the work. Even for non-work related things, I also struggle to do them properly. I haven’t finished any book this year (last year I read more than 30 books). I haven’t studied for an English standardized test, even though I have planned for this a year ago, and I am supposed to take it in the next few months. And I also have countless things that I was supposed to be doing, but not.

This condition worsens as time goes by, especially if I didn’t have any progress in a day. My spirit lifted occasionally when I make a significant progress in a day. So it’s kinda an up and down, with more downs. Probably this also relates to my happiness that day, if I am happy that day, the rate that I am well motivated is high. I don’t know if people still visits this site anymore (even though I listed it everywhere, from my social media accounts, business cards, to my resume). I haven’t written anything lately, so I think it is okay to write this (mess). I hope I could get a good handle of it, and I am sure that after writing this, my spirit lifted a bit to do some more work. But hell no, tonight I’m going to watch Game of Thrones Season 7 Premier, I’ve been waiting for more than a year, so yeah.

Ups and Downs

My life is circular, there are countless of ups and downs that happens to me. I’m not used to have a habit or something that guarantees my success. I’ve tried many things and most of them failed. I have worked in many projects and I only got a small number of them that I honestly call successes.

But somehow the publicity that I got is when something good happens to me. For example, when I won an award, got an internship, or the media wrote something about me. Almost everybody has an image in their mind, that my life is just like what they’ve heard about me, or at least from their indirect observation of my life.

But the sad thing is, that they are only partially accurate. While I’m grateful that I could achieve the things that I always wanted, I do not deny that those are only the minor part. There are many more failures that I associate myself with, and only a handful of people know about it. And for better or worse, I still got the privilege that most people still view me positively.

I had failures in the past, and most are because of me. Right now, I also have things in my life that aren’t going well. And I believe that there would be more failures to come. Perhaps I need to start to embrace it as an inevitable part of life and move on, instead of filling my head with anxiety and fear

My Takes on Being Productive

In the last few months, I’ve been struggling to work more productively. No matter what work I do, I always feel that I’m not focused enough to do and finish it. When I’m doing software engineering works (e.g. writing codes, writing test, testing) I often feel a severe boredom in doing the tedious tasks. I don’t know. When I started doing programming, I was attracted to it and I could spend hours writing codes and tinkering whatever problems I found along the way. But lately, the thought of doing programming alone could destroy my mood. It’s like my passion into doing programming has been taken out of me.

Yes, that’s the extreme case. But I’m also struggling to do other tasks, especially my task as a student (e.g.: doing assignments, writing papers, writing reports, studying). I always wait until the last hours to do my task, then rushed to finish it, and in the end I regret that I didn’t start doing it earlier so that I have a better result. The only upside of this is, that I’m proud of being able to do so much work in a little time, although imperfect.

I also tried several solutions to cope with this disease of unproductivity, such as:

  1. Setting up Pomodoro timer. A Pomodoro timer lets you divide your time into chunks of 25 minutes, with 5 minutes of break in between. It helps me to focus and adding pressure on doing the task. This technique works better when you are not alone, so that someone can punish you when you are not following the timer.
  2. Trying different places to work. I tried working at several coffee shops lately. Although I have a super fast internet connection at home, I could hardly focus to work, the mood of home is to rest and have friendly conversations with my housemate. A different working environment could temporarily boost my mood, and most of the time, helps me to focus on finishing my work.
  3. Eliminate distractions. I used to have an app to block specific distractions on my laptop. In the middle of doing my work, there’s always an urge to open a new tab, and open Facebook/Twitter/LinkedIn/etc, and A LOT OF TIMES it happened unconsciously. By using this technique, theoretically I should be able to focus on my work without getting distracted. But the truth is, this method rarely works for me. In the end, I always open another website to distract myself, or even uninstalling the freaking app for good…

Sometimes I wonder how the hell I could go this far in my life, in my study, and in my career when I could hardly focus an hour to do the work I am supposed to do. But I’m learning, and always wanting to improve. Let me know if you have any technique to make you productive.

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

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Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

“My life has never been ideal. I came from a desperately low income family. My illiterate father never went to school and he stopped working due to his illness since when I was 10. I never asked my parents for money ever since, and thanks God, now I am able to set aside some of my income for them.

No matter how wealthy we are, we are bound to converge to the same reality. The same reality that lives just outside our doorsteps. They are the informal workers working just enough to pay the rent. They are the little kids working on the streets despite the fact that they should be in school, having an education that we ourselves took for granted.

We can escape, and pretending to be blind of any unpleasantness of our surroundings. But it would be a disappointment for humanity, for us to be so ignorant of the reality we face every day.

This is a story of inequality: that the world we live in is fundamentally unfair. The children of a farm worker in a remote villages of this country, will never be as successful as the children of more privileged couples living in the big cities, who have the right environment and capital needed to send their kids to a decent school. And one way leads to another, they’ll go to a decent university, have a good career, and therefore living a promised life.

It is a hard thing to live by, to be seen with prejudice, to not having a safety net and comfortable home of a parent who supports and ensures that we have a bright future. It’s hard to beat the odds when we are of an underprivileged, minority, or other disadvantaged group, we have to play by someone else’s rules, where every cards are stacked against us.

Maybe it’s to late to save the generation before us, but now is the time for the future: the children. I don’t yet know what role I will play, but I will be there.

And I will not rest, until all children born in this country are given the opportunity, to see what’s possible out there and pursue anything they ever wanted to be.”

The question is taken from the last lines of a poem by Pulitzer Prize-Winning author, Mary Oliver.