Decluttering

Inspired by a blog post from one of my colleagues here at Microsoft (Den I’m looking at you), I’ve decided to share some of my thoughts and experience around decluttering. It’s truly amazing the influx of data and the amount of choices you have to make throughout the day, so for me reducing as much as possible the choices I have to make is paramount - and as knowledge workers you might not even realize how many choices and decisions you have to make throughout the day, so giving your cognitive system a break from all of the noise might be needed.

On my choices around computers

This is for sure an area that can impact me the most. There are many choices (too many), but this is what’s working well for me:

Before we go there, here’s my thought on why I’m using X vs Y vs Z. It boils down to this: use the tool that makes sense to you at this moment in time. Don’t get married and label as a tool. Tools are here to support you not to define who you are.

Using a tilling window manager such as i3-wm seems to give me the best 1) productivity, 2) clutter free environment. Tilling window managers are somewhat of a controversial topic and many people swear in favor/against them. At this point I’ve developed some muscle memory that translate into being highly effective under i3-wm (For the curious ones: with roffi instead of dmenu). Also, all of my configuration now resides in a dotfiles directory on Github. With this, I can easily re-image my Laptop or a VM with the things that I need.

One note on i3-wm or other tilling window managers like xmonad or dwm is that they will (might) dictate your OS. For instance i3-wm is available on most Linux distros as well as BSDs (more on my choice of the OS later).

Next, I will primarily use vs code for most things (python, Markdown, Terraform, etc) but will do small edits in vim - also true when I’m ssh’ing somewhere as vim is either already installed or easy to install. While here, my choice for documentation is markdown.

Social media sits between a bless and a curse. I will go to Twitter and check what’s up or will check LinkedIn and share some updates there as well but that’s about it. Nothing else. Social media can be the one thing that will drag you down the most. Use it with a lot of caution.

To remove those pesky ads from my life I have deployed pihole on my local network. It’s a bliss ! I’m also using Unifi at home to simplify my setup. They just work.

Physically I have two monitors, a Logitech MX Master 2 mouse and a mechanical keyboard (wired). This setup still not optimal as I’d like to move everything into a wireless setup.

To organize my office/lab, I’m using a few things (separate tables for the actual lab vs work area) plus my latest addition is an (Ikea Pegboard)[https://www.ikea.com/ca/en/p/skadis-pegboard-white-10321618/] where I have most of the things there can easily be misplaced and that would require more time for me to look for them (charging cables, USB drives, batteries, SD Cards).

As mentioned before, the choice of using a tilling window manager will restrict what OS I can use. Yes, I could go with tmux (and I do remotely) but that’s nowhere close of a full window manager. Because of my choice of using i3-wm and vs code I’m honestly only looking at Linux at my OS of choice. Being a long time BSD user this wasn’t my initial idea but at one point I just realized that this was the option that made sense. For that, I’m now using Ubuntu without any major technical issues. Now Ubuntu is also an interesting choice because of it’s use under Azure Kubernetes Services. It keeps my knowledge base in the same vicinity.

As Den mentioned on his blog post, I’m too trying to keep a very simple wardrobe. In my case I’m just going for black t-shirts and jeans from Costco.

On using a bullet journal - and how to keep things away from your mind.

To keep my life organized, I’ve incorporated a Bullet Journal - yes, a physical notebook (paper, pen, old school). If you haven’t heard about Bullet Journals they are an awesome idea where you keep your thoughts and day-to-day activities organized (physically) on a notebook. There’s more to that actually. In fact, the author makes some good points on his book where the fully describes this method.

The simple approach of actually writing my day and thoughts on a piece of paper seems to have a tremendous effect on how I declutter my mind. In fact, that not only seems to help me focus more but it also helps me organize in a way that is more natural to me.

Another technique that works for me are mind maps. In fact, I will use them to map out new technologies that I’m using, new information about my Partners and Customers or to visualize new ideas and complex concepts.

On organizing a family calendar with a Dakboard

One of the challenges we had as a young family was how do we effectively keep our calendars in sync ? I saw a blog post from Scott Hanselman some time ago around his approach using a Dakboard. During this last summer while I was off on a pat leave, I ended up implementing what Scott described on his post and never looked back. The Dakboard is now an essential part of our life so my wife and I share a family calendar and once things get added/removed/etc in there they will show up on our Dakboard. In fact, we constantly get asked the question on: wow, that’s cool, where did you buy that ? :)

dakboard

On knowing my family whereabouts with Life360

This one is again somewhat controversial. With Life360 you can see another persons location, phone battery and even how fast they were driving (with their consent). There is a piece of me that is concerned about the theoretical privacy implications of letting another company have this information (Not trying to imply anything against Life360. I believe they are doing they right thing when it comes to privacy). Why would you use this service then ? For me it this comes as 1) knowing where our family members are and 2) having a piece of mind when I’m on the road. For 1) I have family in Brazil and unfortunately things aren’t going that well down there. So yes, safety is a major concern. For 2) it gives me and my wife a piece of mind to know where each one is at any give time. Also, Life360 can be integrated into your Dakboard.

That’s it for now. I will revisit this as more things come to life. This isn’t a recipe but it is how it’s working for me and hopefully some of this here can be used by you as well.