Respect the tools you use, buy the best you can afford

Tools of the trade.

Tools of the trade.

Photo via Unsplash

A gentleman buys the best tools he can afford. He doesn’t scrimp on tools that allows him to ply his trade. He will not purchase something that is of a lesser quality and sacrifice usability because he respects the tools he uses.

A prime example is a computer. In today’s age, if you are a knowledge worker, chances are you work from a computer. Do you use a subpar computer that is slow and clunky? Do you find yourself needing a more powerful computer? A computer allows the knowledge worker to ply his trade, which in turn generates income. Therefore shouldn’t a knowledge worker use the best computer they can afford since it’s an income generating machine?

I have been thinking about big ticket expenses. How do I calculate their value? There are material items, tools, and experience. I’m not going into investment. Here’s how I see it:

  • Material items: Makes me look nice and presentable
  • Tools: Makes my life easier, tools of my trade
  • Experience: Makes my life interesting and worth living

Experience is considered the most expensive, because once you live it, there’s no reliving the same experience anymore. Yes you could document it with photos and videos, but some moments are best in real life. For example, take a one week modest travel, it may cost between USD$500-1500. As compared to a computer that may cost USD$1500. If well taken care of, it could last 5yrs, and it will cost you $1500/5/12/4=$6.25/week. Or a luxury item that you only use 5 times a year, the cost of using the item increases the lesser you use it. (Side note: It boggles my mind to see people wasting real life experience away by being on their phones all the time.)

My logic has a lot of flaws, mainly because certain big ticket expenses have got good reasons, economic reasons is not the only biggest factor. For example, purchasing a luxury watch if you’re a salesman signifies you’re doing well, that brings tremendous ROI.

Coming back to tools, I also try to get a tool that only do one thing well, rather than mediocre on many things. Multi-tools are usually subpar quality products jumbled up and sold at a premium price. It appears to have ‘a lot’ of functions you can use to justify the ‘value’ it brings.



Like a sushi chef, the knife is his tool of the trade, it forms the whole of his work. As should we, respecting the tools of our trade.

How I manage my information diet in today’s information overloaded age

What you are getting into: 1342 words, 8mins read

For everyone living on the internet, we know how much information is out there. There’s always one new article to read, 5 interesting tweets, 10 inspirational videos, 20 juicy forum discussions, 30 new social media updates, and so on. Google any question and you’d get millions of results. It will only keep growing. New media outlets and platforms will be created. The constant variable is information.

If we are not careful and don’t learn how to manage inbound information, we will get overwhelmed. And I’m pretty sure at some point of time you got sick of the internet and told yourself ‘Fuck it, that’s all the internetz I’m gonna use for the day.’ only to find yourself scrolling through Facebook 30mins later. I know I do.

Occurrence of such ultimatums is increasing and I don’t like it. I’m always searching for better ways to improve my consumption flow. In this article, I share how I manage my consumption flow and habits, if you have any good tips, do tweet me at @musingsofzen!

Here’s what I’m gonna share.

  1. Why I read
  2. What, when, and format
  3. Percentages of what and when
  4. How I manage all the information

Why I read?

“To improve myself. Expand my knowledge. And to create.”

It’s simple. First, I want to improve myself. How do I do that? By expanding my knowledge. What’s the expected outcome of expanding my knowledge? To create something.

What, when, and formats of the things I read

#1: Books

First, I ask myself what are my immediate goals, then pair books with goals I’m working on for the month. For example, now I’m practicing Stoicism, I read Meditations by Marcus Aurelius and write about it.

When: During my morning routine, commute (any type), idle waiting time, before bed.

Format: Only physical books. I’ve tried Kindle Paperwhite and blasted through 13 books for a whole full year, but I can only remember a few key concepts from 1 or 2 books. I realised that marking up, dog earring pages, and having a tangible book boosts my absorption rate.

#2: Articles

Second, I supplement it with articles. Mainly from Googling.

When: During solo meals, micro idle waiting time (not long enough to whip out a book), ‘you can try to google it’ moments — instant gratification on the topic that’s on my mind.

Format: On desktop and mobile. I use Instapaper to save articles for later. Now the number of unread articles in my Instapaper queue is 74 (DAMNIT there’s 74 articles waiting for me to read them).

#3: News

Third, news. Because we all need to keep up with current news else we are just people living inside our own dream world. News is a double edge sword though, most times it brings huge amount of negativity, but a small fraction makes you revive faith in humanity. Mostly I just scroll through subjects and limit myself to 5 new news article per day.

When: I catch up on news during my return commute. I try not to read any news in the morning since the nature of news is negative, which throws me into a negative spiral for the day. So no news before noon.

Format: Via websites. Mainly CNA and Google News.

#4: Social Media

Forth, social media. Social media is not everything. Yes most of the news circulate and spread like wildfire within social media, but always remember, social media is a platform. Like all platforms out there, it only represents a fraction of the whole picture, be it large or small. I use it to keep up with what my friends have been up to because apparently these days ‘meatspace’ time is getting lesser and lesser.. Also, I spend way too much time on social media than I am willing to admit.

When: Snippets of ‘free’ time when I should be using those free time to relax my mind and do nothing. Similar to news, only after noon.

Format: Apps, tons of them.

#5: Podcasts

Fifth, podcasts. They are audio recordings published by very smart people. It’s like blog posts, but in audio. The best part is that it’s all free.

Podcasts I'm listening to.

Podcasts I’m listening to.

When: On my return commute. Since the train I take is always packed and almost impossible to hold a book in hand, listening to podcasts and learning something new seems to work out for me.

Format: I user Overcast. The smart speed won me over — it has saved me over 32hrs.

#6: Youtube

Six, Youtube. Video is getting really huge this year, so did my consumption of video. Sometimes the best format to learn is through video, you can almost always find something you want to learn in Youtube. I am ashamed to say that I spend way too much time in Youtube (skiving) despite ranking it so far down the list.

When: Usually during weekends, when I just want to laze around and idle my life away. Other than that, most of the times I use it to learn something new, it could be a new concept, or something tangible that I can use instantly, like Google Analytics.

Format: I prefer the desktop version, solely because I can turn up the speed. I cannot stand watching tutorial videos at the normal speed. I also turn on subtitles.

#7: Pinterest

Seven, Pinterest. I’m a huge fan. It’s so visual, so appealing to my creative brain (which I’m working very hard to improve). When things get tough, I turn to Pinterest for inspiration. It can be from motivation to design, or even spiritual.

When: Moments in need of inspiration.

Format: Desktop and mobile.

#Bonus: Miscellaneous reads

Lastly, miscellaneous reads like forums, Reddit, Quora, or any other random things I find on the internet when I’m skiving.


What I think how I spend my time.

What I think how I spend my time.

I track a lot of things in my life, but tracking my consumption is a code I’ve yet to crack. But because the consumption varies from week to week, and it’s seasonal, it may prove to be a daunting effort to track down to the minute.

In the ideal world I wish I would spend my consumption time as such:

Only in the ideal world..

Only in the ideal world..

How I manage all the information

I markup in physical books, write longhand to take notes or draw diagrams to help facilitate my thinking. I also buy premium notebooks for that. Writing on paper without any distractions is what desire. But there’s a big draw back.

I can’t easily retrieve my notes.

Sometimes a good thought can be buried if I have written it down months ago.

For this, and the most important piece of the puzzle, I use Evernote. I can clip articles straight into Evernote, save pictures, emails, documents, bills, and of course, texts. All these are organised into folders, most of them are tagged. For example, I have a notebook named ‘Travel’, I can tag each individual note like ‘travel gear’, ‘southeast asia’, ‘bookings’, etc. It’s also synced across desktop and my phone. Which I can download notebooks for offline access. It currently holds more than 5000 notes, which I have collected over many years. Then, the most important part, the search. What’s the use of saving it if I can’t find it? The search is amazing. It can search within documents (if you are a paying user), it has OCR (which can search within photos, useful for handwritten mind maps), and it highlights your search term when you are scrolling through the results.

Because almost everything important is saved in Evernote and searchable, it makes it a really important tool in my workflow in managing all the information I consume. I don’t have to go through many apps or folders just to dig find that small snippet of information. It’s like Google, but for personal use.

To close off, your consumption will greatly differ from mine, but taking time out to audit the sources, thinking about where you are spending your time on, what the information you consume serves, and how to manage all these information without wasting time searching for it is extremely important. Especially in today’s information age.

If you find yourself troubled with ego problems, read this, then read it 10 months later

What you are getting into: 861 words, 5mins read

I wrote this to and for myself. Hope you like it.

Dear Zen,

Photo via Unsplash Ludomil Sawicki

Who do you spend the most time with?

You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with. – Jim Rohn

You know that quote.

For most people, it’s coworkers and family. Maybe it’s friends. Maybe it’s the members from your social group or community group.

Take stock of the 5 people. Be honest with yourself, Zen.

Are they energy vampires? Or are they energy enablers? Energy vampires are people who leave you drained even if you may have a good time with them. Energy enablers are people who no matter what they say or do, just having their mere presence is sufficient to make you feel good. They of course, are fun to hangout with and you should already have close relationships with them.

Say goodbye to energy vampires no matter how hard is it. Say hello to energy enablers, again and again.

How do you react if someone else’s idea is better than yours

Do you:

  1. React negatively
  2. Feel that your identity is threatened and get defensive
  3. Let it slide and silently blacklist the person
  4. Ask questions about the alternate idea
  5. Listen intently and identify logical arguments
  6. Question your own assumptions

Can you accept being wrong?

Do you fall into the trap of associating the ideas you have with your identity?

Will you ever change your mind?

What firmed up your beliefs in the first place?

Now to the most important question: Do you often disagree with your top five people? If yes, why? If no, why?

When you have ego, you disregard alternate opinions (or facts) and seek out confirmation bias

Egoistical people seek out validation that their behaviour, ideas, work, are the greatest. Who’s gonna praise them? Minions and sheep. Do you know anyone who is egoistical and yet actively seeks out feedback, and doesn’t get defensive when not validated?

Accepting alternate versions of opinions is hard. Accepting alternate versions of facts is even harder. It’s particularly poignant that many people are unable to discern between opinions and facts. Don’t be one of them.

To make it even worse, they mistaken alternatives as a challenge to their identity, their ideas, their work. Rather than putting their ego aside to revaluate their work, work that is painstakingly crafted, they choose to turn constructive (hopefully solicited) comments to shit and defend them till death.

This is where good ideas go to die. This is where the new ways of thinking never get to see the light. This is how egomanics miss opportunities because they can’t control their own ego and emotions.

Don’t be that guy, never.

Not everything is about display of power, people who are behind the scenes have power too

Now you might be thinking: “If I accede to opinions every now and then, how am I going to show em who’s boss? Who will listen to me if I’m always the one listening?

In the exceptional book 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene, particularly Law 21: Play a sucker to catch a sucker – seem dumber than your mark, talks about the art of asserting your power gracefully. In Chinese folklore, often eunuchs have the unseen power. They know the secrets of the King, the ins and outs, the behaviour of the King. Thus holding a tremendous amount of power on the state affairs.

Eunuchs are looked down because they are castrated. In the olden days being castrated is equivalent to committing social suicide. However, eunuchs are able to level their playing field by playing the sucker, ultimately convincing the King to make decisions favourable to themselves.

Even if it’s about power, letting go of your ego (temporarily) is part of the long game

What do you want in 10 years time? Will standing by your ego serve the goal? Or will it be derailed by your ego-driven reaction? Don’t mistake entitlement for righteousness. Most times, keeping your mouth shut and letting others win is the best policy, especially when you are not the one with power. One may feel morally right on a particular belief, but feeling entitled to defend the beliefs, only to cause detrimental consequences is another thing.

Bringing it all together

Do you have healthy discussions with the top 5 people you spend the most time with? Do you consider their alternate viewpoints, or their viewpoints are often the same as yours? When they have alternate viewpoints, do you react in a negative or positive manner?

The best case scenario is surrounding yourself with 5 people who will listen to you, yet giving you their firm alternate opinions, they also won’t hesitate to challenge your assumptions, and you won’t get butthurt in the process.

If each time you are going to feel personally attacked for every innocuous comment, you are going to have a bad time.

Go long, just let it go.

Now go back and look at the picture at the top, once you let it go, the fragmented mirror will return back to normal.