Knowledge management tips. Software recommendations. Miscellaneous thoughts.

Accepting a Pandemic

We've read it everyday: Times are tough.

We read it from home.

We've felt it.

It can be hard to work everyday at the full capacity you're used to. You could feel that a global pandemic is impossible, that it shouldn't be able to happen in this day and age.

That it's all unfair.

If you have felt any of these feelings, then this article is for you. The articles I've read about handling the personal challenges of quarantine have mainly talked about "what" you can do. Some people may read about pomodoro timers for the first time and it'll give them a big boost in productivity, but I've always found the deeper "why" to be much more useful. That's why here I'm going to help you with shifting your mindset.

Throughout every troubling thought in this article, I'll be tackling them with one practice: Acceptance.

This comes largely from reading a lot of Stoic philosophy lately. In it, a key piece is to live in accord with nature. Essentially, taking whatever life throws at you, accepting it, and seeing what you can do given the circumstances. Why is this useful? Well, once you accept that something is the case instead of fighting against it, your strong feelings begin to ease. One of my favorite metaphors for this comes from Zeno who says "imagine a dog with its leash tied to a moving cart. The dog has two choices: run with the cart, or resist the motion of the cart. There is only one end result for the dog, it will move along with the cart. However, the dog will choose whether along the way it simply runs alongside the cart or is dragged across the ground."

Acceptance rarely comes easily. It's not common for us to flick a switch and suddenly choose to accept something without information that helps us see things differently. So next let's untangle some common feelings people are experiencing.

First, let's tackle the thought "this can't possibly be happening." It does seem crazy to think that a virus could cause the entire world to be shut down. We like to think we're invincible and something like this would never affect us personally.

For me, it was useful to hear the comparison of the 1918 Spanish Flu. It infected 500m people, with a total of 50m deaths. Those numbers are staggering. But the most important number here is 1918. That's only a little over 100 years ago. Putting it that way, I found myself thinking "of course something like this could happen to us! That's not that long ago!" Sometimes, we look at history so detached that we fail to recognize that history happened to real people just like you and me. Meaning we too could live through the next monumental, historic moment. Hopefully this helped you move the needle towards accepting that this can be a real possibility. You don't have to get all the way to 100% right now.

Next, let's tackle the quarantine thoughts. These have a wide range from "quarantine is an overreaction" to simply "I'm tired of quarantine." Here, we start to believe that modern medicine should be advanced enough to stop this quickly. That a virus couldn't possibly be this problematic.

We need to first agree on what gets us out of this. From what I've read, it's really 1 of 2 things: a vaccine or herd immunity (when enough people in a group have a disease such that it can no longer effectively propagate through that group). A vaccine takes 12-18 months to develop and validate through trials. Herd immunity comes at the cost of lots of lives as coronavirus would require roughly 70% of the world to be infected with it. That's 5.3 billion infections. This would mean hundreds of millions of deaths if everyone was infected at current quarantine pace.

What do I mean by that? Well, the biggest concern with coronavirus is not the virus itself. It's the overwhelming of the hospital system. By quarantining, hospitals are able to keep up with the new cases. If we had all 5.3b cases within a few months, most coronavirus cases would not get any treatment. Let alone all the non-coronavirus hospital visits that would have nowhere to go.

Looking at this, I'd much rather quarantine until a vaccine comes out. I'd at least like to try for a vaccine, or slow the spread such that herd immunity comes with a much lower cost of life.

Accepting the way we get out of this, helps me see purpose in staying at home. I see it as less of an "infringement on my rights" and more of a noble act. I see that it will go on for a longer time than many of us wish, but there's a reason for that, and that's that this doesn't go away just by quarantining. It's just that quarantining gets us to safety a lot better off.

Lastly, let's tackle our low energy levels. No matter what level of acceptance you have for this situation, at times it can still weigh on you. Heck, even without a global pandemic in the background, sometimes we're just straight up tired. This can often lead to feelings of guilt. "I should be getting more work done."

This negative self-talk is something that I've experienced all my life. Not realizing how much more the thought itself was bringing me down than the initial cause.

This is when it's time to remind yourself that it's okay to not have energy. Sometimes, a couple of hours of work is all that you can put in. That's okay. Many people around you are experiencing the same challenges. In fact, appropriate rest is actually required to be at your most productive level so in a way you're taking the best course of action possible.

I personally have noticed a shocking difference in accepting low energy states. I'll feel like I have nothing left in the tank, catch myself turning negative and tell myself "oh, it's okay to be low energy and just watch TV." And with that weight off my shoulders I'll suddenly go clean the dishes or read a book. Something that I never would have done while weighed down with the thought "wow, stop watching TV you're wasting time." Somehow accepting being tired made me accomplish more. But, that doesn't always happen. Sometimes, I accept that I'm tired and I continue to watch TV. The key difference here is that I watch TV guilt-free. So regardless of the outcome, I'm a lot better off accepting where I'm at.

Hopefully something in here resonates with you and helps you find peace during this time. If not, well I accept that only writing the post is within my control, not what the readers get out of it.

Going Mental, Medically

Hi there.

Today is my first day of medical leave. It might not be a medical leave you normally expect, and that's why I decided to write about it.
I'm on medical leave for depression and anxiety.

I'm sharing this with you for the small chance it helps destigmatize mental health issues. And because I believe in radical transparency.

If you're not familiar with the term, Ray Dalio has popularized it by explaining how his hedge fund uses it to operate: "When I say I believe in radical truth and radical transparency, all I mean is we take things that ordinarily people would hide, and we put them on the table, particularly mistakes, problems, and weaknesses. We put those on the table, and we look at them together. We don't hide them." Or in my case, I usually mention how I took a computer security class in college and now just assume all my information is already public knowledge. So if you want to know something just ask.

I noticed that my depression was reaching severe levels when I took a quiz at the doctor and noticed my answers had trended upwards significantly. With my anxiety being so comorbid it was like being unfit to raise a child and then discovering you had twins on the way. What did this look like?

  • Attempting to work, and getting immediately roadblocked by overthinking. Imagine: Being asked to make a paper airplane and then having your brain insist you need to read a book on aeronautics first.
  • Unrealistically judging every failure, no matter how small. Imagine: Becoming your own disappointed parent, one that's with you every second of every day.
  • Spending time with someone you care about and having to logically acknowledge your feelings for them. Because emotionally you simply don't feel anything (and it has nothing to do with them). Imagine: Watching two people through a window and deducing that they enjoy spending time together.

The phrase "medical leave" may bring to mind physical issues that make it difficult to show up at work, making bed rest more suitable so that that person can come back with full energy in the future. The issues above can start to show you why this mental issue would require the same thing. I noticed that over time things were slipping worse and worse. It's hard to schedule an appointment on time when you barely have energy to show up at work. I finally decided that it was time to prioritize my health as it had become apparent it'd be better for not only me but my coworkers and career as well.

I'm currently seeking Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation treatment (TMS) with my psychiatrist as well as working with a skills-based therapist. If you consider thoughts as just electrochemical reactions, you can simplify it as a system of two ingredients: electricity and chemicals. While medication targets the chemical aspect, TMS targets the electrical aspect. TMS helps strengthen the electrical pathways in your brain that are currently underutilized, resulting in depression, anxiety or certain other issues. The therapy I'm doing paairs well with this, as it's learning behaviors that will correct the negative thought loops I experience. Combined, it's (theoretically) like tuning up your car and learning to drive it.

Learning that TMS requires 4-8 weeks of receiving treatment 5 days a week was the final piece that caused me to take medical leave. It just didn't make sense to add more commitments on top of a jenga tower that was already mostly hollow. And yet, I was still worried that taking time off would feel unnecessary when I got into it. "Is it just going to feel like vacation?" I asked myself.

Waking up today I realized that it was quite the opposite. I have much to do. I may not be working, but I'm working on myself.

Please feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions, I enjoy helping and will get back when I'm able to.
If you want to send well wishes or offer your help, this sentence is me accepting that from you and that's all I need. If you still insist you need to inform me of your well wishes, click this link and it'll send me a push notification that says "I like you." https://maker.ifttt.com/trigger/I_like_you/with/key/d090H1EKNKnyrVl6F6dZxr



You're not that important

Have some respect for yourself

If your phone vibrates or dings or yells at you, what do you do? Do you check it immediately?

Now how often is what you received more important than what you were already doing? Is it important enough that you're willing to lose about 25 minutes on the task at hand? Research from Gloria Mark at the University of California Irvine shows that that is the average amount of time it takes to get back to tasks after being distracted.

Every notification comes in as an urgent priority, however, they are rarely important. So, that means you're not that important. These things don't require your immediate attention. Really what this means is you're a lot more important.

Here are the practices I have in place, to fight back for focus.


Problem: We let our phones interrupt

Do you not want to be present? It's impossible to be when you allow everything to grab your attention.

Solution: Do not disturb me

It's rare that anything needs your attention immediately. For years, I have had do not disturb on on my phone and I've never felt like I missed anything important. I have instead stopped missing a lot of important focus time.

You may ask "but what if someone does need to reach me?" Well the repeated calls feature is perfect, if someone has a real emergency they'll certainly call more than once, so that let's them cut through in the moments they truly need you.

I can't think of any moments where I've wished that I had do not disturb turned off. I can, however, think of many instances where I've checked my phone and realized I worked for hours straight without being distracted, only to see a pile of notifications that would have prevented that.

I actually took this to the extreme the past two weeks by turning the "Silence" section to "Always." It takes focus to the extreme, because even when I'm using my phone I'm not getting distracted by my phone. I can write an entire text and not even realize I have Facebook Messenger message that came in until I've finished that one. I would say don't start with this setting, ease into it by just getting used to Do Not Disturb by itself.


Problem: We allow notifications

How many notifications do you get per day?

20? 100? 1000?

Every single one is a potential source of distraction. However, oftentimes, we simply dismiss the same app that beckons us everyday.

Solution: Don't give em a chance

First, when an application asks you to turn on notifications, actually stop and consider if they're worth it. If an application starts to cloud your feed, they distract you from other notifications you actually do want to check at some point. But more importantly, they distract you from life.

Second, when you are constantly dismissing the same notification, just go into settings and turn off notifications for that app. Maybe even just delete the app. For me, Instagram is the application that I don't need any type of notification for. I check in when I feel like browsing content, occasionally I'll have messages or likes, but I never feel like I need to know about these things before I want to open the app.


Problem: We prevent productive notification habits

Here's my home screen:

These are all of the badge notifications that I have on my phone.

Now what's your phone look like? 6024 unread emails?

How many badges cause you stress to see? How many actually provide you value?

Solution: Rethink badges

Look at the picture above

First, a notification on my Messages app means two things:

  1. I have an unread message (okay duh)
  2. I have not had the time to respond yet

I don't read messages until I know I can respond. I'm really forgetful, but this prevents me from reading and then not responding.

Second, look at Streaks. This is a habit tracking habit. I want stress from this. I want to drive that to 0. But if I had badges all over the screen, I'd miss that gentle push. I'd be gently pushed 100x in all sorts of directions instead. And look, one toddler pushing you is pretty manageable, but 100 is something that should be saved for nightmares.

Third, I don't need notifications from things that can be responded to whenever. My email app only has badge notifications on. When I check my phone's lockscreen, I want to see what I have that needs attention soonish. Lots of things can be checked into when there's a badge notification. That means, when I've already opened my phone up for something else, I'll just take the time to clear through it.


We accept too many things as just the way that they are. It's easy for people to believe that they need to be always present. However, if you just try these changes, you'll realize that's not really the case. I still have plenty of people talk to me, in fact, at times I will respond quickly and continuously. But it's when I have dedicated free time to being present with others digitally, not when they pop in to decide that for me.

Use notifications productively, or else they will use you.

Are you distracted by your thoughts?

If you have thoughts in your head instead of collected somewhere you trust yourself to check then they will bother you while trying to get work done.
You'll want to use the first step of the getting things done (GTD) framework. It's worth learning the whole system eventually but I recommend people just start with the first step. It has a huge immediate payoff in terms of stress and productivity. It's also a lot easier to implement one step than five at a time.

Capture is that first step.

Take a piece of paper and just list out every single thing you can think of in a bullet list. Don't worry about clarifying anything or being too specific.

Your mind will now have some breathing room. Pick an important item and start going at it.
While not a long-term solution, this is much better than not having any system. If for some reason or another I get behind on my productivity system, be it stress, vacation or whatever, I will always use this as soon as I recognize the problem. The capture step is my support structure.

Here's a "trigger list" that will help you fully empty your head: https://gettingthingsdone.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Mind_Sweep_Trigger_List.pdf

Software for Tracking Information

Why track information?

I love tracking things because I hate forgetting something. And I'm really good at forgetting things.

There's two different types of tracking. I've labeled what I use them for in their descriptions, however, try them and see what you like to use them for.

  1. Capture - Tracking things for me to revisit later
  2. Remember - Tracking things to remember what I've already done

Anyways, here's a list of my favorite tools for tracking information.

Note: If available, links take you directly to my public profile so you can get an example of the tool in action. And you can follow me :)

The Software

Trakt.tv - TV / movie tracking
Usage type: 1,2

I've used trakt.tv to track my TV and movie watching for years.
What I love is that they just make a website and a really solid API.
So I've switched mobile apps over the years but they always have trakt as the backend so I've always been able to have faith in my tv/movie catalogue.
I'm not a fan of rewatching things so it's really valuable to me.
This is the tracking app that fostered such a love of tracking information for me. I've gone back to my trakt history so much to recommend content to people, it's made the (small) effort completely worth it to me.

Goodreads - Book tracking
Usage type: 1,2

Track list of books you want to read, are currently reading (including what page you're on) and have read. The feed shows you what friends are adding to their lists / reviewing which is a great way to get reading ideas. I also love using the yearly reading challenge to easily set a reading goal.

YouTube watch later playlist - Watch it later
Usage type: 1

There are two ways reasons I'll add videos to my watch later queue:

  1. I regularly check my subscription feed and add the ones that seem interesting. I don't want to watch every video by some people but I like to keep them around.
  2. Someone recommends me a video that I can't watch at that moment.

I'll usually sit down with my chromecast, load up a queue of a few videos, and then delete videos off the list after I've viewed them.

Instapaper - Read it later
Usage type: 1

Using to track internet articles to read. Automatically downloads the articles to your phone in reader mode so I've found myself reading instead of browsing random social media feeds when I have downtime. Basically giving me free learning time. After an article is finished, I'll archive it.

Pinboard - Bookmark tracking
Usage type: 2

Pinboard is where I store websites & articles that I expect to share with people or come back to. It let's you add tags to each article so you can easily filter through sites to find the information again. If I really like an article from Instapaper, I will put it in pinboard.


Here are the general rules I have for selecting tracking software:

  • Catalogue - Data is already supplied
    • Example: With Trakt, I just add a TV show to my watchlist and now anytime I watch a new episode I can easily tap that episode as complete and it tells me the next to watch. I don't have to manually type out information since they already know everything about each show.
  • Reliability - Syncing just works
    • No point in tracking information, if it's not going to always be correct
  • Multi-platform - I can update or use the information from anywhere that makes sense
  • Good UX - Updating information should be fast and feel good to use, otherwise you probably will give up
  • Good UI (nice to have, but UX is more important here)

Here are the rules I give myself for tracking:

  • Time doesn't matter
    • Example: With trakt, certain implementations will ask what time you watched the content. I found it to be far too cumbersome to try to correct this information. Either I watched it long ago and have no idea what a good time estimate is, or I watched it recently and it's unnecessary effort to distinguish the exact hour or day I watched it on.
    • Yes, sometimes I'll end up marking a whole series as watched because I watched it before I started tracking media. But I care more about consistent usage and an accurate history database than I do an accurate timeline.
  • One source of truth
    • You should never have to remember which service has which movie on it. There should only be one service that stores all of your movies. Otherwise, the system falls apart.


If you have any suggestions for software to try out, ways to improve my articles or content you'd like to see from me, write in my Listed guestbook.

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