Category Archives: Tricks and Hacks

The 1-2-3 Rule

School started on Monday for me. That means prioritization, reading assignments, and grades.

However, I do find grades and deadlines somewhat motivating. This is why I typically get more done per week during a semester than over a break when I tell myself that I will get work done, but don’t get it done.

Here is a quick hack that I am trying out to apply the motivation that the education environment gives me to my todo list. I call it the 1-2-3 rule.

Each day before you go to bed, select 1 big task, 2 medium tasks, and 3 small tasks. Set the due date to tomorrow night. Award yourself 30% for completing your big task, 20% for each medium task, and 10% for each small task. An A is 100%, A- is 90%, B is 80%, C is 70%, D is 60% and anything below is failing.

At the end of the week, you can check to see what your GPA is, and track how your GPA changes over time. For those of you strive for good grades, applying this hack to non-school related items may carry enough connotation to push you to do things you otherwise would push off.

How to Be More Productive with Spotify and the Pomodoro Technique

Once again everybody, it’s Friday, and my sister Jenny has made some great art for another post!

The spring semester is coming to a close, and I’ve been working on finishing several big projects. In order to get these projects done, I’ve needed to carve out blocks of time where 1) I was not distracted, and 2) I remained focused. Doing this is not always easy to do, but after a bit of trial and error, I think I’ve found a method that works well for me, and I hope for you as well.

The method that I use combines the Pomodoro Technique and listening to Spotify. Just a quick review on how these two things work:

The Pomodoro Technique

Pomodoro Technique Image

The Pomodoro Technique is method Francesco Cirillo developed in the 1980’s to break massive tasks down into digestible segments. Just for context, pomodoro is the Italian word for tomato, named after the tomato kitchen timer traditionally used for the technique. This methodology helps one to remain focused, and makes daunting projects look more manageable. For example, one 4 hour project could be divided into 8 half-hour projects. There are five easy steps to implement the technique:

  1. Select a task that you want to make progress on
  2. Set a timer to 25 minutes. This time can be different depending on your needs or preferences, but 25 is the traditional amount of time.
  3. Work on the task until the timer goes off.
  4. Take a 5 minute break
  5. After doing steps 1-4 four times, take a longer break.

Here’s what it might look like if you started at 1:00 after a lunch break, and wanted to work up until supper at 5:30, you could break it into 8 pomodori and have the time look like this:

  • 1:00 – 1:25 Pomodoro #1
  • 1:25 – 1:30 Five minute break
  • 1:30 – 1:55 Pomodoro #2
  • 1:55 – 2:00 Five minute break
  • 2:00 – 2:25 Pomodoro #3
  • 2:25 – 2:30 Five minute break
  • 2:30 – 2:55 Pomodoro #4
  • 2:55 – 3:10 Fifteen minute long break (handle any major interruptions that may have occurred in the last two hours)
  • 3:10 – 3:35 Pomodoro #5
  • 3:35 – 3:40 Five minute break
  • 3:40 – 4:05 Pomodoro #6
  • 4:05 – 4:10 Five minute break
  • 4:10 – 4:35 Pomodoro #7
  • 4:35 – 4:40 Five minute break
  • 4:40 – 5:05 Pomodoro #8
  • 5:05 – 5:30 Handle any major interruptions that may have occurred in the last two hours. Write notes in Evernote or Omnifocus about what was finished and what still needs doing if project is still not complete.

When I first adopted this system, it seemed counter intuitive to take so many breaks. Over a 130-minute period for four pomodori, only 100 minutes, or 75% of the time is actually spent getting work done. But this actually allows you to get more work done. Here’s why.

First, sitting for long periods of time is unhealthy. Sitting for hours at a time can cause cardio-vascular problems, increased risk of depression, decreased metabolism, loss of focus and motivation, poor posture, the list goes on, and exactly zero things on the list help you get your goals done. By getting up between pomodori, you can avoid all of these effects by standing up, stretching, and even going on a short walk near your workspace, and if you can, in the fresh air.

Second, life is full of distractions. If you have ever decided to spend a block of time working on one task, only to be interrupted by a more urgent task and then not getting the first task done, you know what I mean. In a pomodoro, you do not allow yourself to stop what you’re working on until the timer rings. If you do get up and do something else, you decide to void your pomodoro and it doesn’t count. Instead, you should write down any interruptions that come up and take care of those during your 5 minute or 15 minute breaks. I will frequently send text messages, short emails, and phone calls during my breaks. These distractions are going to happen whether you are pomodoroing or not, and if you’re dedicating 75% of your time to focusing on an important task, the other 25% is there to help you manage everything that would happen otherwise, so the 25% is not actually time wasted.

Third, stopping periodically forces you to check-in on how you’re doing. If you get bogged down in one part of the project and start spending way to much time doing something that isn’t an important part, after spending one or two pomodori on that part, you have a natural opportunity to stop and reassess to see if what you’re doing is effective or whether you should change your strategy.

So that’s a quick explanation of the Pomodoro Techqniue which is only half of the equation.


Spotify Logo

Spotify is a commercial music streaming service that I have come to prefer over the last four months. You can select pre-made playlists, which has an advantage over Pandora and other commercial music streaming services that give you songs that a computer algorithm believes to be related, but aren’t always as related as one would like. You can listen to songs in shuffle-mode all by the same artist, all on the same album, or all in the same genre. You choose, and have a lot more control over what comes in your ear buds than many other services.

Up until March 31st, I was enjoying 3-month premium of Spotify with no ads for $.99, or about 1 cent per day. But after this was over, it would cost $5/month for a student license, and I decided to decline continuing premium for now. Now I was faced with jarring ads that might break my concentration and break my workflow. So rather than cave and give back in to the no ad service, I found a way to resolve the problem using the Pomodoro Technique.

Pomodoro + Spotify

Like I said in the beginning, the last two weeks have given me more projects that I usually have, that need me to be focused for hours at a time. I found that fewer people try to get my attention when I have huge headphones over my ears. While the music might not help me focus as much, it is great for drowning out distractions (especially if you have noise-cancelling headphones) as well as having fewer people try to get your attention. Don’t worry, if you’re using the Pomodoro Technique, you can still take the headphones off during pomodori and talk with folks.

So I’ve been listening to Spotify a lot, and I took time one evening to record the frequency of advertisements. I found out that the time between ads is either approximately 15 minutes or 30 minutes, and I say approximately because it rounds off to the nearest song.

This means that Spotify itself can act as a no-hassle pomodoro timer for you. For the every-30-minute advertisement, this signals that you are done with this pomodoro, and should get up and stretch or walk. In the case where you get 2 every-15-minute advertisements, I just remove my headset when I hear the first ad start, and keep working for 30 seconds before putting it back on, so I don’t get distracted. When the second ad starts, I know that I’m finished with that pomodoro again.

When I was using the Pomodoro Technique with Spotify Premium, I would have another timer running, often on my phone. But this was another app that I had to manage, and sometimes I wouldn’t hear the notification sounds over the music I was listening to. And sometimes I would forget to stop the timer from continuing onto successive pomodori, or I would believe that I started the timer when really I didn’t. Spotify does its best to make sure that you hear the ads, and it doesn’t forget to start or stop ads.

This system is great because I get the productivity of the Pomodoro Technique with essentially all the benefits of premium Spotify. I am pretty happy with it, and I am sure it will be a staple in my project-finishing techniques for a long time, or until I get enough income to justify Spotify premium again, in which case I will need another timer to notify me when I am done with a project.

3 Criteria I Apply (In Order) When I Buy Clothing

It is often said of college students that when it comes to spending your time in college, you have options: sleep, socialize, or study — pick two. When it comes to computer software, you also have choices: good, fast, cheap — pick two. I would say when it comes to buying clothing, you have options: good looking, comfortable, and cheap — pick two.

I used to feel that clothing was one of those things that really didn’t matter too much. I thought that brand name clothes, or expensive suits were just a thing rich people did to show off to other rich people how much richer they were than other rich people. I wasn’t about that life. So when it came to clothing, I didn’t see the point in buying fancy clothes (or anything else) at the mall. Shopping at the mall was a complete waste of time. Consequently I bought most of my clothes from thrift stores and Walmart.

For whatever reason, I never really saw a problem with what I wore in high school. Many of my peers suffered from severe senioritits as sophomores, and came to school consistently in sweats and a hoodie. So I thought I was doing pretty well with my jeans, tennis shoes, and t-shirt.

Aside: There was one semester my junior year where I realized I had so many t-shirts from clubs in high school that I wanted to see if I could go the whole semester only wearing t-shirts I got from my high school. I did.

Anyway, after high school came college, and I noticed that there were essentially two groups of people at college: those who took college seriously, and those who did not. There wasn’t a perfect correlation, but I noticed that based on the way I dressed, I resembled the group of students who did not take college seriously. It wasn’t blatant, but I didn’t dress the way my friends who were eagerly pursuing their professional and academic dreams were dressing.

It all came to a head when I became an RA my sophomore year of college and got to know an amazing individual by the name of Ashok. Throughout the year of working with him, I learned just how important the choices we make about dress alter our lives. It’s more than just a fashion statement–it’s a courtesy, a sign of respect towards those that we work with. You find yourself treating others with more respect, others treat you with more respect, and probably most importantly, you treat yourself with more respect.

I’m not saying suits and ties every day, but I am saying that if I never graduated from my t-shirt and tennis shoes stage, I probably wouldn’t be writing this blog right now. I would never take myself seriously enough to feel that what I had to say really mattered.

Anyway, enough biography, and the checklist.

I used to feel that the most important thing when it came to clothes is that I wasn’t spending a lot of money. Then, if I found something that looked like a bargain, I would check to see if it looked nice. And then I would buy it.

This is an awful way of doing it.

Here’s why: I quickly accumulated tons of cheap clothing, that kind of looked good on me, but not really. But half of it really wasn’t that comfortable so I never wore it. I found myself mostly wearing clothes that I received here and there on holidays from friends and relatives that was actually comfortable. I quickly realized that if something is not comfortable, humans do not like to wear it.

Therefore, spending $100 on ten cheap, uncomfortable shirts that you never wear is infinitely worse than spending $100 on one expensive, super comfy shirt that you will want to wear all the time.

Additionally, comfortability is more important than good-looking or even good-fitting. Why? Because if a sweater looks good but is uncomfortable, you just won’t enjoy wearing it and it will be a waste of your time and closet space.

Armed with this mindset, I have in the last year or so flipped the checklist upside down:

  1. Is it comfortable
  2. Is it good-looking
  3. Is it affordable

Now my closet is gradually becoming a collection of comfortable apparel that I am excited to wear, and most of it even looks good on me.

You can probably see how this spills over to other parts of my life as well.

A bank with no maintenance fee, decent bonuses, but awful customer service will definitely put you in a fowl mood when it comes time to plan a vacation, get a loan, do taxes, etc… It would be better on your happiness (and on the happiness of those around you) to find a bank with a maintenance fee but also features awesome customer service.

If you have a cheap phone that looks nice, but has an awful user interface, you’ll be cursing overtime you get it, and will likely want to replace it every time you use your phone (I’ve known people who actually abuse phones they hate, usually causing them to have to replace them). If you instead select a phone with a user interface you love, you’ll take excellent care of the phone, and will be likely not even to realize you’ve had the phone for 2 years (or however long you’ve had it) when it’s time to replace it. (Phones have been on my mind for the last two weeks,  you can read more in my article on the 12 days of Cell-Free-mas)

As a final perk, this method, when it comes to stuff, helps promote minimalism, which I am more and more interested in as time goes by. It’s a lot easier to live with fewer, but nicer things, than it is to live with lots of junky cheap things, but I’ll write more on that later.

In closing, I hope that this article helps you avoid decision paralysis next time you go shopping, and helps you cull out your wardrobe if you’re currently in the business of culling your wardrobe.

I’d love to hear your thoughts below.