Tag Archives: productivity

Distractions That Bring Loneliness

A Lonely Week

Over the past few days I’ve been moping about. The days are getting shorter. I experienced unrequited interest from a girl. I had a nasty stomach bug (sous vide honey ginger tea and saltine crackers are a godsend.) It was a below average quality week as my weeks go.

No Reason for Sadness

I have no legitimate reason to be upset for very long. I live in a comfortable home. I  have an excellent job I enjoy with coworkers I enjoy even more. I have more good family and friends than anyone can reasonably hope for. I get to see and talk to them often. Yet I still sometimes, especially during times of relative (psychology is about relative pain and pleasure) low points, feel lonely and undriven, even though I know this is absurd and that my absolute position is one that is incredibly privileged. Perhaps you do sometimes, too. During these times, I try to be particularly aware of the mechanisms by which my malaise is manifesting itself so that I can mitigate the symptoms. This past week has been one of those times.

An Insight

I had a relevant insight last night when I went to check my phone for the thirtieth time of the evening. Something I’ve been doing with it is exacerbating my malaise. It’s pervasive, it’s dangerously close to me, at all times, and it’s addictive. It stalks me on several different fronts and I can’t reasonably get away from it: digital communications. I go check on them far too often. And then I get a little disappointed every time there is nothing to see, especially when there’s nothing from my friends.

GMail, Facebook, Reddit, Slack, SMS, Instagram, and even Yelp. I love these things. They keep me updated. They keep me in contact with friends, family, and strangers with similar interests. They help me build lists and hire virtual assistants. But they also become an outlet to churn the feedback loop of loneliness.

feel a bit down or lonely. But my surroundings all point towards comfort and reasonable happiness. So I keep looking around for distractions from the feeling. This easily leads to over-checking my phone for contact from my friends and being just a little sad that no one took the time to notice me or think of me. I’m not talking about anything drastic. I don’t get upset or angry. But just a marginal amount in less of a good mood. Over time, checking the phone over and over again this can add up if I’m already in a below average state.

A Mission

I have things I want to do on my ownWatch good movies, read insightful books, spend time building hit-lists for my next project or blog. I’m good about keeping physically active. But more passive activities become very easily distracted by the GMail, Facebook, Reddit, Slack, SMS, Instagram, and even Yelp funnel. They are fast, easy, and addictive distractions.

A picture at a venue somewhere in Las Vegas.

The Distraction

Notifications and websites are always there, a lingering potential that someone, at any time might have texted, emailed, messaged, upvoted, approved, liked, or recommended. When I’m alone, I want that contact. Small pleasures come from being acknowledged by a friend. I want to see what people thought of my blog article. Or how they are reacting to an event my roommates posted on Facebook. I want to see if my favorite flight deal blog has posted any new deals or if credit card companies have announced new signup bonuses to exploit. But when there’s nothing left to check, there is a feeling of lack, especially when I’m hoping just marginally to hear from my friends.

The value of this social  and information connection is great. But it has a proper place. I need to be able to see who I am on my own, and love doing the things I value on my own. I don’t want to go to an app or a website to get a quick social fix. I don’t want to be distracted by an app or a website with the hope that someone valued something I posted or said. I want to see those things. But, I want to see them on my own time, not in a constant flow. That certainly is not what’s currently going on in my life at the moment. How would I like to improve in this area?

Focusing on a Mission

I want to have a distraction-resistant mission for my free time. I know the books I want to read, the exercise I want to do, the flexible social time, the movies, shows, the silent reflection time, naps, cleaning, whatever it may be. I want to value my time and mission enough to not turn to GMail, Facebook, Reddit, Slack, CatholicMatch, SMS, Instagram, and even Yelp for an outlet, except on my own terms. I want to be able to focus better on the tasks at hand. When I run out of things to do, I want to have a calm and reflective plan to build out a new plan. Perhaps I lack a detailed, practical, and actionable enough personal mission. By mission here I mean to speak of the tasks, people, enterprises, values, and goals for which I want my time to serve.

Having a phone by my side or a computer in my room at all times isn’t bad per se. But it becomes a problem when those devices become small ATM’s of validation and distraction flickering their seductive subtle lights 24/7.

One thing I’ve tried is placing my phone 20 secs walking away in my living room when I get home. This has helped a bit. However, things get more complex with my laptop. It holds all my work, my entertainment, research, emails, etc. I’m not sure I can reasonably set it outside of my free-time work space without sacrificing the value of internet connectivity.

I want to write separately about becoming oneself through understanding one’s personality and temperament and preferences and personal mission enough to become distraction-resistant. This concept is topically distinct enough to deserve a separate post, however.

The High Desert in Vya, Nevada

The Danger of Digital

Digital devices can become an outlet that exacerbate problems in our lives. We use them to confirm false assumptions about the world. In my case, I was having (obviously false) thoughts my loneliness/sadness was justified slightly by the fact that my phone was blowing up with notifications on a Friday night. Of course this is absurd. But without the human physical connection, GMail, Facebook, Reddit, Slack, CatholicMatch, SMS, Instagram, and even Yelp become a way to simulate and churn the feedback-loop of loneliness self-talk.

Concluding Considerations

Think about your phone and computer. How often do you go check them? Do you ever feel left out if you don’t get a notification or information? Is this a reasonable reaction? How much time have you lost on these distractions when they were unnecessary? How close do you hold your phone and computer to your important work, literally and figuratively? Are you a distractible person? What steps have you taken to become distraction-proof?

Why I Got Rid of Half of My Stuff

Why Get Rid of Stuff You Might Need?

Possessions are inherently dangerous opportunities to become implicitly materialistic.

The things we own can easily own us. 

Yet they also are necessary and good. Finding a balance between the extremes of materialism and non-ownership is the story here. Over the past couple months, and since reading Tidying Up and Early Retirement Extreme (this is a book about financial independence, not a promotion of bumming around) I’ve been moved to take a deeper look at what I’m holding onto. I didn’t have a ton of stuff before, but now I have a countably finite number of possessions. The experience has been joyful, enlightening, and universally positive.


I decided to get rid of anything I don’t consider almost essential or essential.

I’ve gone through my room, my storage boxes, and got rid of everything that doesn’t spark either a feeling of necessity and/or joy. In my definition, “necessity” is anything I need to keep up with generally acceptable hygiene and appearance  and the comforts I expect (bed, multiple sets of clothing, a desk, lights, notepads, a dresser.  It’s not a statement about an item’s necessity to my survival. It’s helped me to recognize objects that I could improve (tailor clothes, clean things, improve health routines, move things around for the logical organization.)

Most of my possessions now fit into two small sets of drawers. Everything possible goes out of sight into the closet as per Marie Kondo’s recommendations in Tidying Up.

As my possessions went through this ruthless purge, I found items falling into three categories: needs, joys, and items that do both.

Examples of remaining possessions by category


  • Soap
  • Screwdriver
  • Inactive credit cards
  • Important documents (Passport, Warranties)
  • Towels
  • Waste basket
A collage of all my remaining household belongings.


  • Tour de France shirt
  • Religious articles
  • Baltimore Ravens jersey
  • Appalachian Trail thru-hike newspaper article
  • Cable management box I buil this week from a $0.94 WalMart box
  • Beer, wine, whiskey.
  • Gym Chalk
  • Speakers, TV
  • Bench
  • Daylight box for reducing non-clinical SAD and normalizing circadian rhythm in the winter.

Need and Joy

  • Bed setting, desk, and reading setup from Amazon,
  • Macbook Pro
  • Various food items (spice blends, sauces, knives)

Discard (Trash, Donate, or Sell)

  • Shirts and pants that almost fit
  • All but one book: The Flavor Bible. This is the only book I owned which I considered physically necessary due to it’s non-availability in any form online.
  • Backup toiletries
  • Redundant cooking implements
  • Redundant cleaning and general household supplies
  • Infrequent OTC medicines
  • Bikes I didn’t ride
  • Clothes that were in season but I hadn’t worn in the past month.
  • Various tools I never used.
  • Knickknacks/memorablia I held onto from things I’d done.

Slowly the categories of joy and necessity are merging, which is commensurate with my personality of optimization, but not a necessary element of this program. Because I draw joy from utilization, there aren’t many objects that I keep just for pleasure.

It immensely helped that I didn’t ask my roommates or friends if they wanted anything. Kondo insists on this and it’s been a personal stumbling block in the past. Discarded items need to exit your life to be gone. I would still have some connection to items that switch belonging amongst my roommates and family. Also, figuring out how, when, and who to give your items to in your personal circle greatly complicates the discarding process and exponentially increases the potential to hold onto things to wait for the right person and time to give them away. I recognize this has some negative impacts, but the change in my environment I think is worth this tradeoff.

In all, this purge amounted to being around half of my stuff. I already didn’t have that much, so now I’d consider my possessions to be very lean.


I’ve been sharing the book, Tidying Up, with everyone I can. It’s led to significant life improvements.

I have a more rigorous understanding of my artifactual anthropology. I understand what I use and how I use it.  I can see it all. I know why it’s there. Thus, I feel more in control of my environment. Being able to see the things I want and/or need helps keep me grounded in and feel like I live in a purpose-driven environment. This makes my space a place that naturally lends itself to purpose-driven action. Control of one’s environment is essential for psychological well being.

I’m more conscious of the impact of new purchases to my physical and ontic environ. Every new purchase needs a place in this new system. It gets held to the same standard which I’ve held the discarding process. Perhaps this will save me from impulse purchases and help me keep my physical environment practically and visually efficient.

I have a  new take on ownership and a renewed connection to my  possessions. We have finite level of concern for focus. Less things mean the important things get more attention.  The things left remind me of what I value and what I want to do. They are tools for my happiness, my service to others, and my consistent sustenance. Having this simple rule from my possessions helps remind me that objects don’t own me.

My life doesn’t feel any more empty like I thought it might at first. My room is bare, but it doesn’t feel empty. It feels like a lot of space I can use.

After a month, I haven’t missed anything. Most items I’ve trashed I don’t remember at all.

This project has cascaded into a rethinking of what I enjoy and how I want to spend my time. It’s forced me to clash with old assumptions I had about the possessions that I could use to bring me joy. I have found my space to be much more consistently clean. That lends itself to productivity. This productivity has led me to focus further on the other spaces which I inhabit, which I will continue to explore in the months to come.

Have you considered what your physical space means to you? Does it lend itself to focus and joy? Do you feel in control of your space? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Wearing the beloved Tour de France shirt with my brother at the University of Toronto (#22 university in the world).  Late May 2014. Go Blue Beavers!

Tidying up: Decluttering your space and its unexpected benefits

Decluttering your home

I finished reading The Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. In the book, she explores her method for decluttering the homes of thousands of messy clients around the world. She champions counterintuitive organizational methods.


Why bother decluttering?

Kondo argues that our possessions are the physical artifacts of our decisions. Thus, a messy room indicates that our minds are disorganized. The state of our belongings is a reminder of what we value and plan to maintain. Ordering the home helps us order our lives. It helps us focus on the objects and thoughts that matter most to us. It helps us reduce decision fatigue and streamline our priorities.

Declutter once and for all

Because clutter begets clutter in mindset and in physical order, Kondo recommends tidying everything in one big session. She has observed in her organizational consulting career that gradual decluttering leads to frustration. For details on why, grab the book. The theme of batch processing of organization comes up in several places. You don’t have to do it all in one day, but this should be done over the course of a week or two. Envision what you want your home to look like.

How to attack the clutter

Lay out all your belongings in categories. Each respective category should be laid out in it’s own respective open space in your house. You won’t be moving your objects from one meta-hoarding space to another.

Discard what you don’t need first. Her method for choosing what to discard sounds hokey. But, it seems to work for me. Hold each object in your hands and note how it makes you feel. Do you love this object? Does it bring you joy? Do you feel guilt about it? Do you fear losing it would effect your future? Do you fear you’ll be disrespecting a family member or your own memories by discarding it? If you want to create your home as a joyful and guilt-free place, the objects in it should be thoughtfully chosen to evoke these feelings. How does it feel to walk into your living room and think: “I wish I could get a new TV, but my cousin was so nice to fix this one for me, I couldn’t get a new one.” Do you really think you’re cousin would be happy to know you’re not getting the TV you want because they fixed it? If an item doesn’t bring you joy or a sense of wholeness, get rid of it. Don’t dump it on another family member, don’t store it for future use. Get rid of it.

The Decluttering Order

Kondo specifies an order to discarding things, ordered from easiest to hardest to discard.

  1. Clothes

  2. Books

    1. Discard everything but the books you love keeping and the ones you are reading. Don’t keep around books you’ll “read someday”. The time to read a book is within a couple months of attaining it.
  3. Papers

    1. Discard all except items you are
      1. Using now
      2. Need for a short time
      3. Need forever
    2. Keep them all in the same place.
    3. Discard manuals, keep warranties (until they expire.)
  4. Miscellaneous

    1. Discard product boxes, you rarely need them.
    2. Throw away excess cords and spare items.
    3. Discard health craze items (ab roller, weight loss machine, etc).
  5. Mementos/Photos/Nostalgic Items

    1. This is difficult, but important, because it helps us come to terms with our past and keep it where it belongs (behind us.) Our space should reflect and amplify who we are, not who we were.


Kondo doesn’t like storage. In a contemporary society with Amazon and local stores, it is unneeded. Regardless, some things are prudent to keep around. They are best kept in closets out of the way (mentally and physically). Similar items should be kept together (clothes with cloths, electronics with electronics, etc…) They should be ordered vertically so each item can be easily picked from the storage area without having to dig through a stack or pile.


Offseason items can go on top of shelves.

Hang sponges so they dry out. Keep bathroom items out of the tub area so they stay dry and don’t collect scum.

Keep items off the kitchen counter. This is a space for food preparation.

Remove words on items showing words. They bring “noise” to an area. Get the book for a deeper discussion as to why this is.

Bags can go inside each other to maximize space.

Specific advice on clothing storage and folding

The book has some important tips on storing and folding various types of clothing. Keep your clothes vertically folded and standing next to each other. Not stacked. You’ll have to watch videos for a better explanation.  Everything gets folded and placed into drawers in your closet unless that is impractical as is the case with coats, jackets, skirts, suits, dresses, and some pants. Socks never get balled up (and stretched out.)

When are you done?

When you feel like your space clicks and doesn’t have any excess objects. This is purely qualitative. Kondo finds applying metrics only upsets people and leaves us feeling out of touch with the process of having the space the way we want it.

When to stop the decluttering

Every item will have its place in a room. It will be simple and natural to return it to that place when you are done with it. The items left after the declutter will feel important and worth treating well. It will naturally be easier for things to have a place, when there are fewer items vying for places.

Her clients show more respect for their belongings and feel a deeper sense of gratitude for them. They come to an understanding of what they value. They learn to let go of physical possessions that are holding them back.

The Magic of Tidying Up

The book was on my list for a while because it’s at the top of Amazon organization lists and I have a fascination with optimizing space. Programmatic organization first interested me last year when an NPR show pointed me to a book on personal organization by a computer scientist. The Magic of Tidying Up was one of my favorite reads of all time. I definitely recommend you get the book for a more rigorous  examination of the ideas explored here.

Over the past few months, I’ve been striving to live in a more simple environment. I’ve been purging belongings I don’t need. As Kondo mentions in her book, our fear of needing things is overblown. I can’t even remember the things I’ve discarded. And I notice that my mind is freed up to think about the tasks and thoughts I want to focus on, rather than on the clutter of objects in my space. Having a messy space means constantly being physically reminded by the objects around you “where does this go?” “what should I do with that?” “I should address this thing on this paper”. Clutter begets clutter in the mind and the world. I think it’s good to have things and think about the things in your physical space. But, these things should be thoughtfully ordered such that your mind is focusing on the things that bring you joy and fulfillment; the things that order your life to the production of the tasks that move you to your goals, whatever they may be. Are their objects in your space, on your desk or in your drawers, or on your floor, bring mild discontentment into your life? If you’re OK with that, ask why.