Tag Archives: productivity

Video Interview with fitness and weight loss expert John Fawkes

 Audio-only version

Who is John Fawkes?

John has a fitness website helping people get into shape and live better lives. Currently, he is transitioning gradually from targeting beginners to working with an intermediate and advanced clientele. His goal is to help people aspire to greater heights­. Fitness is not just about fitness. It’s about self-improvement. John searches and advises people on efficient self-improvement. That’s why I wanted to interview him.

We met on Reddit. John started his business two and a half years ago as a career advice and job hunting advice website, then rebuilt it as a fitness website. He started using Reddit for market research. This led to questions on fitness, and eventually, a coaching service.

John almost got his Masters in Business Administration. But, he’s very interested in psychology. He took a class in the psychology of personality that he loved. His teacher said that for a period of about 20-30 years there was a near consensus amongst psychologists that people really don’t even have personalities. Because everyone is really just like the people around them. But the reason that shifted is because they realized it’s not that you’re trying to be like the people around you, it’s that you self-select an environment to fit in rather than trying to fit into a specific group or environment.

His blog talks about your social environment and how it can be more supportive in your goals. You will be the average of the people that you hang out with. Either, you live with people you admire, or you live alone.

Facebook Tips for avoiding distraction

Following friends and unfollowing friends, while still keeping them as Facebook friends. Distancing from people, you can unfollow, and put them on your “acquaintances list.” Put the most inspiring people on your “Close friends list,” rather than acquaintances list. Get rid of the uninspiring people in your life. This will shift your Facebook feed to align with your goals.

What led you to get into fitness?

He had been underweight for most of his life. Thanks to the Keto diet, he transformed. He was denied acceptance to a martial arts class at his college years ago, then starting attending the gym, working out, then re-applied to the class and got in.

Compensatory Behavior

Some studies have shown that people using fit-bits have lost less weight than people without them. That people taking diet pills, green tea—caffeine—even Ephedra, people had lost less weight, compared to the people that took none of those. Because when people think they’ve done something good, they think they deserve to do something bad… Don’t think of fitness as a balance sheet. Think of it as a construction project. You add things, not subtract things.

In his fat-loss course, there’s an exit strategy, where you follow the course in reverse. It’s about transitioning to maintenance mode. When your weight stabilizes, that’s when you stop reversing and you’ve found your balance point.

Grocery Shopping

He likes Trader Joes and occasionally Whole Foods, mainly because it’s cheaper than GNC for his vitamins/nutrients. Coconut oil is his diet staple. He’ll make meat and cheese sandwiches (no bread). Cinnamon in tea is good for blood sugar control. He eats a lot of nuts, especially Brazil nuts, that have a lot of Selenium, since he’s on the Keto diet, which depletes Selenium levels.

Keto Diet Experience

He tried the Keto diet several times previously, trying to ease into it each time. He had to dive into it, to make it stick. He fasted before he went pure Keto. He got the Keto-Flu. Recommending Potassium and sodium to avoid the bad Keto-Flu symptoms. He does recommend fasting before a Keto-Diet to make it stick, though.Diets that are low-carb but not ketogenic, don’t dip into ketosis for just a bit because there’s no positive effects. Either go in fully or get out.

Keto-wise, his energy levels are way higher and much more level. Before the keto diet his energy levels were up and down, the blood sugar swings. He slept terribly before the keto diet.

General multi-vitamins are dosed way too high (10 times higher). Take minimum dose. He thinks that’s okay.

John’s Ideal Day

Waking up around 8-9am. Getting some tea. Getting online, browsing Reddit. Then being “insanely productive” for five hours. Gym in the afternoon. A little more productivity, relax a bit, shower, video games, read, hang with friends. It’s a work/life balance.

Hardest Test?

In Grad school… he went to spring break in Florida, came back with the flu, got an allergic reaction to the antibiotics he received from the doctor… Then, on his own volition, he took anti-histamines with super drowsy side-effects… his memory was messed up, couldn’t think straight, he barely could stay awake. Meanwhile, he had a huge presentation for a non-profit… the test was trying to get through that…

What’s the coolest place you’ve been that hasn’t been on TripAdvisor?

Namibia, just outside the capital city. Amazing hot springs. Inexpensive and enjoyable. Lots of nature and minimal people.

If you had to repeat a phrase to yourself once a month for the rest of your life, what would it be?

“This, too, shall pass.” Don’t get too caught up in temporary problems.

What would you be happy to find out that was in your life five years from now?

Rock band. Actually, starting a rock band now. Would be very happy if five years from now, the band is still going on and slightly successful. Just for fun, though, not for money.

What would you tell someone… say they were in college now.

The number one rule is put a lot of thought into what success means to you. You want to ask, what is going to give me happiness versus just mammalian, hedonistic happiness?
See more from John at Johnfawkes.com

Optimize your closet, music library, and schedule

When should you stop looking for a better deal on a house? How much new music should you listen to vs. your classics? What’s the most efficient way to organize your closet? Which chores should you do first on Saturday?

These practical questions lack an intuitive answer. We experiment over time and act accordingly. There doesn’t seem to be a correct answer to any of them. Computer scientists have proved this wrong. In writing algorithms dictating computers’ actions, computer scientists have determined the most efficient ways to explore new concepts, sort large quantities of data, and organize a to-do list.

In their recent book, Algorithm’s to Live By, Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths explore these solutions and present them in a manner accessible to non-geeks. Find below a distillation of a few key points from their book. It’s worth exploring if you’re interested in this organizing your life.

Optimal Stopping

There is a best time to look for something and a best time to stop looking. Consider looking for a house in a fast-paced housing market. The most efficient strategy is to determine the total number of houses it is reasonable to consider in your search. Say 100.
The optimal stopping point is 37% of the # of houses you are willing to consider. Computer science has proven the optimal strategy is to pick anything better than the first 37% of houses you consider. This will prevent you from falling into the trap of stopping too early or late. Look at the first 37 houses with no commitments, then on the 38th house take anything that is better than the first 37.

This is a simplified rule. The book details how adding new parameters, like the ability to backtrack to previous considerations, will modify the optimal strategy. If you have quantifiable parameter (such as average home price per sq. ft in your market), you should utilize this data to bolster your dataset and set an average price/sq.ft threshold for choosing instead of strictly following the 37% rule.

All things beings equal and choices disappearing after you pass over them, picking something from a wide variety of unknowns, set the number of considerations you can reasonably make, look at 37% of them without choosing, then pick anything better than those first 37%. I’ll give one more example to illustrate. If you’re at your work holiday party and they have 100 unwrapped holiday gifts being pulled from a bag and you get the first choice whether to take what’s pulled or let it go forever to your coworkers…your optimal choice is to pass over the first 37 items in that bag and pick the first gift better than those first 37.

Attempting to explore why this is the case would be futile in a blog post. Suffice to say, computers often have to pick a way to solve a computational problem with limited resources. This is the best way for a computer to do this.

Explore vs Exploit

Life is always a balance of the novel and the familiar. We want to find new and exciting things while savoring those we love. Computer science also has insights here. There is no perfect answer as to the balance of your Pandora station (new “recommended tracks vs your library) but there is an optimal strategy: minimize regret.

To develop your perfect library with minimal regrets, use the Gittins Index (see red line in image). Starting on Pandora, or any new area of life, everything is new. After about 50 songs, you should listen to about 50% new songs. After 100 you should listen to 25% new to old songs. As you approach 1000 songs, listen to 3% new to minimize your regret level.

Listening to only new music will expose you to many songs you don’t enjoy. While listening solely to your library will prevent you from discovering songs you’ll love even more. The optimal balance to reduce regret is listed in the chart above. As your library builds, you’ll experience more variety and novelty within your library and thus be less bored by the familiar. The optimal music library size may be around 500, where marginal gains in new music level off. At that point, you can be 90% confident your music is better than the next random song in your “recommended” track list. Listen to a new song every 10 songs to minimize new-song regret and you’ll be on your way to building the optimal music library. This doesn’t account for boredom with your current library. It assumes every song in your library is of a constant enjoyment value to you. You could, however, factor in a certain enjoyment decay factor to account for this.

Sorting your DVD’s A-Z isn’t necessary. But there is a best way to do it. Don’t take all your DVD’s off the shelf and put one back, then place one more before or after, then one more in it’s alphabetized place. This is inefficient because every new sort task needs to be compared against the whole library.

The optimal solution is called merge sort. You break the DVDs into several large groups, then merge those groups together.

But, when in doubt, err on the side of messiness in ordering/sorting problems. Take the DVD home library for example. Unless you have a massive collection, it will almost always be less effort to search through your collection than to intentionally sort it. There is a better third option to random organization and alphabetical: Caching.

Caching is choosing a small portion of your library to be quickly accessible. Computers use caches to make memoryfaster. For this a good example is your clothes closet. The tendency may be to sort articles of clothing by type. This is not the best way. In order to have the highest likelihood of accessing the right piece of clothing, you should place everything back in the order of most recent use in a prominent place. Because in almost all aspects of life, what is used most recently is most likely to be used again. This also applies to papers on your desk. You shouldn’t try to organize them into a “logical” order. Placing the most recently used papers on top is the best, assuming these are papers that belong on your desk and aren’t for archiving.

Another note: Keep things where you use them.

For scheduling tasks, make your goals explicit. Prefer tasks with soonest due date, weighted by importance, with roadblocks of any size as a priority. If a new task comes that is due sooner than your current task switch to it if the switch in context seems merited. When checking your email, do not sort it by importance level before opening. Going at random will prevent the waste of time in the “metatasking” of email inbox organization. It’s almost always better to batch a bunch of tasks together to get cognitive momentum and remove distractions from your working schedule in at least 90-minute chunks and avoiding “metatasks” such as spending lots of time choosing what to do first. Have a system for prioritizing and stick to it. However, some jobs and situations won’t allow this and you’ll need to be cognizant of that.

Optimal Auctions
The optimal auction is called the Vickrey auction. Everyone bids once what they believe an item is worth. Then the winner pays the #2 bid. This prevents unneeded competition and potential misevaluation due to false trends in bids. An example of a pitfall in standard bidding wars: Consider five companies bidding on a bridge construction project. Consider: Company one bids $6 million instead of $8 million because of a surveyor’s error. Company 2 would have bid $6.25 million but is undercut by Company one so now bids $6 million as well even though they knew the project was worth $8 million. Now companies 3, 4, and 5 see the bids and are convinced the value of the project is somewhere between $6 and $6.25 million. The Vickrey auction would have avoided this by preventing comparative sequential bidding that leads to a battle over information.

Computational Kindness
It’s a common theme amongst my friends when asked “where do you want to eat for dinner” to say, “I don’t care, anywhere you pick is fine.” While feigning kindness this is a burden being placed on your friends. Without any information and parameters, choosing becomes more cognitively complex. In reality, it’s almost never true that anything is fine.

Computer Science and Mathematics can help us build a practical structure to life. Machines need to adapt to environmental changes and human demands like us. Observing how mathematicians use theory to design machines can be invaluable in implementing better systems in our own lives.


Two Websites for Finding Super Cheap Flights

Two essential 2016 resources for finding cheap flights

In the past 6 months, I’ve changed my strategy for finding cheap flights. I’ve booked some pretty incredible deals and skipped out on a few more. I’m now confident to share it publicly as a reliable and effective system for finding cheap flights to anywhere.

The strategic principles of airline savings from 2015 still hold:

Be flexible in your dates and destinations. Fly on Saturdays. Travel light.

Tools I’m using in 2016

Flight Deal

The Flight Deal is a Facebook page that curates the cheapest flight deals offered around the country each day. They use geographic targeting on Facebook to only show flights relevant to your local airports. I booked an upcoming flight from NYC to Tokyo for $398 using this method. Beware that the flights only last for a limited time (3-5 hours) You’ll have to be able to pull the trigger quickly. They will show you how to book your flights through the respective carriers. For Tokyo, this was a quick checkout on Air China’s website.

Other deals I’ve seen are $525 roundtrip for Philadelphia to Hawaii and $149 roundtrip to Belgrade, Serbia. The idea of a $149 flight to central Europe is unbelievable. To sign up for The Flight Deal visit their Facebook page and “Like” them. 


Skyscanner is a Scotland-based website dedicated to generating a searchable list of flight deals around the world. Unlike The Flight Deal, Skyscanner offers search functionality and far more flights. It allows searching by country, cheapest month, and flexible locations. This makes it much more useful for people with time constraints on travel.

With Skyscanner, I booked a $90 roundtrip flight from Miami to Ecuador. Search for all flights departing the entire US. From there you can view all international flight from the USA, in the cheapest month available, sorted by price. Skyscanner allows you to make your destinationEverywhere” which allows you to compare flight prices from 50+ countries departing from the US. At the time of posting the best deal I can find is NYC to Paris for $331 roundtrip in January with a possible stopover in Iceland.

Skyscanner’s database is not perfect. Some flights you find may be sold out.
These two websites are now my two most popular. For the spur of the moment trips, The Flight Deal offers some insanely low prices. If you’re interested in being a bit more selective with your destinations and dates, I recommend Skyscanner. If you need very specific times I still believe Google Flights and Airfare Watchdog are the way to go.