Productivity vs. Effectiveness

Much of our current world is organized and operated around the productive - efficient culture: notes, checklists, calendars, schedules, todos, appointment books... We go through our daily activities planning, making goals, scheduling, crossing off to-do items or check lists. So many books and talks have been about time management: how to be more efficient and productive, how to accomplish more in less time, etc.

What if the challenge is not to manage things, methods and time but to manage ourselves, our relationships and to produce results ?

I made this productivity mistake when starting my career by focusing all of my time and energy on doing more, saving time & achieving goals while neglecting other aspects of my life. I was productive but I wasn't effective. All sort of productivity whimsical ideas like the pomodoro technique, daily journal, chunking, prioritization, reminders, oblique cards, performance reviews, achieving FLOW (‎the state of mental clarity, a concept by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi) ... while certainly helped me to increase my ability to learn and work more, did not help me to figure out that I am working on the right things.

This makes me think of productivity vs effectiveness is like management vs leadership. My college advisor used to emphasize the importance of doing the right thing (leadership) over doing the things right (management) by repeating this quotes from Peter Drucker - The Effective Executive (a classic leadership book):

The effective executive focuses superior effort on those few major areas that will produce outstanding results.

Being productive is doing more things in less time in a quality manner. It is undoubtedly productive and efficient to break up with someone over text, or fire someone over email but it's not effective and human to do so. Being effective is asking yourself the question: what are your purposes, visions in life, what is your value system and which of 20% of the time will produce 80% of the results ? (Pareto Principle). Being effective is understanding the yin and yang of your life's goals, emphasizing human relationships over strict principles and achieving balance.

I like this Time Management Matrix by Stephen Covey, that effective people focus their life activities on maximizing Quadrant II. We will achieve balance and happiness by working on the important but not urgent which have long term benefits like prevention activities, improving ourselves and building relationships

Results and happiness come from working inside out: understanding yourself, your values, your desires before setting and achieving goals. Perhaps a better question to ask right now, according to Stephen Covey, is:

What is the one thing could you do in your personal or professional life that, if you did it on a regular basis, would make a tremendous positive difference in your life ?

Equanimity and Now as a way of life

In addition to the popular belief that meditation helps develop mental calmness or compassion, to me, the most important thing I ever got out of meditation is more of a mindset and a way of life than just other side effects.

Most of human sufferings are coming from desire and attachments. If we want something and don’t get it, we suffer. If we lose something that are so dearly to us, we suffer. Suffering, in of of itself, is not a result but a mindset. I love this quote by Rene Descartes: “Cogito, ergo sum” , or “I think, therefore I am”. Every problem or tragedy in our life is only existent within our head. Our thoughts become our destiny.

“Sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny.” (Stephen R. Covey)

In meditation, we practice to only observe our body and mind. There are moments in practice that are really pleasant, there are moments that are painful. There were times when I could feel every single sensations around my body and as a result achieved total tranquility and compassion, yet there were moments full of pain. If you meet the right mentor, you will learn that the goal of meditation is not to reach that level of total awareness or calmness and get attach to it. The goal is to just observe our sensations and remain equanimous. If it is painful, we acknowledge it; if it is pleasant, we acknowledge it, without develop any mental clinginess or affections towards our feelings. Because everything in the universe, are just states of changes: rising and falling, moments passing moments...

The same goes about life: it is just a series of events and moments: rising and passing away. It comes then it goes. The hardest thing for me to accept about life in my early twenty is: people come, people go, money comes, money goes, things change. Change is the only constant. As simple as we can talk about it now, it's hard for me to finally come to a profound realization of this fundamental truth.

That realization helps me to develop a mindset about life: accepting that nothing is permanent and life is just a series of moments, sometimes blissful, sometimes not, which made me to totally focus on the NOW. Knowing that success is a side effects of hard-work and the fact that it comes today might not comes again tomorrow makes me simply enjoy the work itself. Understanding that someone who's with me right now might never again be with me in the future makes me appreciate that person a lot more and every single moment with them becomes beautiful and irreplaceable. Aware that people or things will eventually leave helps me to somehow remove the clinginess and attachments towards them and instead just simply enjoy every moments and squeeze the most out of life.

Eventually, remain equanimous and focus on the NOW. Because the future is NOW ! Why do we spend so much time analyzing about what could be better in the future yet neglecting what is so beautiful right in front of us ?

Human nature tends to sacrifice or give up what is pleasant now for “the better future”, and focuses on what better could be ahead of us. We save money, work hard, sacrifice time and relationships with a hope that all of that will pay off in the future. We all live for the future and somehow forget to pay attention to the NOW. But the thing is: all of the habits that you are developing right now is shaping your future. Why would you expect that you will have more time with your family and hobbies in the future if all you do in the first thirty something years of your life is working and sacrificing? The hard truth is, your habits now hard wire in your personality and is already your future.

The question is:

Can you do something for the better NOW instead of just the better future? What can you do today that will have an effect in your everyday happiness. What habit can you adopt right now that will tremendously improve our work/ life/ relationships?

Developing that mindset of NOW and focusing on the present gives a gratitude attitude. Having a solution-oriented and now-focused mindset makes life so much easier for me and as a result all of my relationships improved. So instead of thinking about win-lose or what do I have to give up today for a better future, I simply ask the question: “What do I really want right now ?”, “What can I do to make it happen ?”, "How do I prioritize ?". "How do I set the right expectations ?", "Is there a win-win solution ?"

Nice vs. kind

My mother used to give me this best lesson about relationships: “don’t date a nice guy, date a kind guy”. Kindness is the trait I am striving to have and look for in people that I am friend with.

By definition:

Nice: pleasant or pleasing or agreeable in nature or appearance; socially or conventionally correct; refined or virtuous
Kind: having or showing a tender and considerate and helpful nature; used especially of persons and their behavior; characterized by mercy, and compassion

A nice person is someone who conforms his behavior to what he believes society sees as “nice”. He does “nice” things to appeal others or avoid conflicts rather than coming from his own true feelings. A kind person does what he believes is right based on his feelings & morals regardless of what others think of him. A nice person focuses on himself. A kind person focuses on others. In other words, kindness is rooted in love; niceness is rooted in fear.

Kindness comes from non-needy energy. Niceness comes from the opposite. Nice guy looks for things to say to get women to like him. Niceness worries about how she judges him. Kindness allows all judgments. For he measures his actions based on his intentions rather than her reaction. A nice guy comes to her when he needs her. A kind guy comes to her when she needs him.

It’s like when a man tells a woman she is “pretty” vs “beautiful”. I am actually rather sad when someone tells me Im pretty, I understand he praises more about my look than my soul; that he can only see my surface but not what's underneath. I never think of 'being pretty' as a compliment. A man who can look beyond the face to see deeper inside a woman’s soul to appreciate her inner beauty would say she is beautiful, no matter how she looks.

...“It’s nice to be nice to be nice” (Frank Burns). Nice people are easy to be around, often because we can be sure that he is not going to challenge, judge or make us feel uncomfortable. Kindness often looks a lot like niceness but there is a core of integrity to kindness that niceness often lacks. Kindness involves having a difficult conversation with someone or saying no. Kindness requires bravery because kindness sometimes requires us to behave in a way which is not immediately pleasant. Kindness comes from someone who is compassionate & confident.

Taking a Sagmeister

The idea of taking a Sagmeister came to me a few weeks ago after reading Drive (by Daniel Pink). This actually came from a designer named Stefan Sagmeister. (His TED talk can be found here). He described a typical life time as: the first 25 or so years devoted to learning, the next 40 or so to working, and the final 25 to retirement. So why not cut off 5 years from retirement and intersperse them into your working years? Every 7 years, Sagmeister closes his design shop, tells his clients he won’t be back for a year, then goes off on a 365-day sabbatical…

It happened that 7 years ago, after graduating from high school and getting acceptance to college, I immediately dropped out and spent the whole year for self studying & self exploration. That one year off changed my life direction & got me a scholarship to study in the US. Now after another 7 years, I decided to start the next chapter of my life by taking another sabbatical: to learn something totally new, to live and immerse myself in a different country, different culture, to gain more interesting insights / perspectives and to enrich life's experiences.

One hard lesson I learnt the past year is that I have the tendency to get interested in and overwhelm myself with a lot of things that I ended up not accomplishing many of what I started. (This reminded me of Tina Seelig's quote in her talk at Stanford What I wish I knew when I was 20 - “You can learn everything but just not at the same time”). Therefore, I started to develop a “finishing” and “one thing at a time” mindset. For these sabbatical months, I set out 3 main projects and determine to get them done

Challenge 1: Finish 40 + books by October

I originally set this challenge as increasing my reading speed with better comprehension, from 200 to 800 - 1200 words per minute in 6 weeks. After the past week of practicing, my reading speed increased to from 200 to 500 words per minute. So I guess it would be reasonable to finish about 60 + books by the end of the year.

Challenge 2: Finish design + prototyping for my app

This is part of my bigger project to have an app in the app store by the end of the year. That will force me to only focus on learning Swift & IOS8.

Challenge 3: Travel alone & live in another country for 1-2 months

At first I made the plan to travel with a few friends. I did that for Mexico & Brazil but I soon realized I didn’t had the chance to totally go out of my comfort zone & immerse in the culture. This time I want to push myself harder by traveling to a few cities on my own.

Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore (Andre Gide).


Lake Tahoe, Thanksgiving 2014 - 5:00 am

This vacation felt unusual. I could not sleep so I went out to the balcony at the hotel to meditate. Mediation early in the morning inspired me to chat about sensations.

As I meditated, I could feel the morning breeze touches my skin, causing vibrating sensation around my cheek and my forehead. The faintest whiff from the lake and the sugar pines displaced here and now. With my eyes close, I could “hear” the beautiful views of the early morning by the lake and the color of sunrise. I could “feel” the sounds of the birds chirping, and “see” the affections within my inner feelings. Meditation awakened all of my senses. Everything that came to my senses gave me the feeling of sweetness, of beauty, of harmony. Everything that touches my senses, touches my soul. As

Paradise is attained by touch, for in touch is all love and intelligence

Meditation makes me more aware of present moment, of how certain object or event cause different sensations throughout my body. A motivation speech gives me a dose of adrenalin & thrilling sensation, urges me to act. A gentle touch by loved ones gives a pleasurable sensation, fuels me with dopamine; while a hurtful word causes itching and painful sensation... We often get caught up with our daily life activities. We are too busy thinking and making plan for the future. Yet we forget to feel, to sense what is currently happening around us. Many times, we walk or drive the same way to school/ work. Yet how many times do we actually stop and notice the changes? Many times we see, but how many times do we actually feel?

The infinite wonders of the universe are revealed to us in exact measure as we are capable of receiving them. The keenness of our vision depends not on how much we can see, but on how much we feel.

I was watching “Good Will Hunting” a while back and there is a line in the movie about “super philosophy” that inscribed in my head, about "going through life without really knowing anyone or experiencing anything". What I am always afraid of the most is having eyes without seeing, ears without hearing, tongue without tasting and senses without feeling. I am afraid of going through life without noticing changes, without realizing how important someone is, or without appreciating what life has confer upon me... I want to challenge myself to go beyond my sensibility and seek wisdom through truly understanding and experiencing.

The only lightless dark is the night of ignorance and insensibility. We differ, blind and seeing, one from another, not in our senses, but in the use we make of them, in the imagination and courage with which we seek wisdom beyond our senses.

(All quotes by Helen Keller - the world I live in)

The funeral question

Imagine that you are driving to the funeral of a loved one.

Imagine as you walk inside the chapel, you notice the flowers, the soft organ music. You see the faces of friends and family you pass along the way. You feel the shared sorrow of losing, the joy of having known, that radiates from the hearts of the people there.

As you walk down to the front of the room and look inside the casket, you suddenly come face to face with yourself. This is YOUR funeral. All these people have come to honor you, to express feelings of love and appreciation for your life.

As you take a seat and wait for the service to begin, you look at the program in your hand. There are to be four speakers. The first is from your family and relatives , the second is from your friends , the third is from your work or profession, the fourth is from your community or organization .

Now think deeply: What would you like each of these speakers to say about you and your life? What kind of husband, wife, father or mother would you like their words to reflect? What kind of son or daughter or cousin? What kind of friend? What kind of working associate?

What character would you like them to have seen in you? What contributions, what achievements would you want them to remember? Look carefully at the people around you. What difference would you like to have made in their lives?

Once you answered those questions, you will find your definition of SUCCESS .

So often, people go through lives achieving victories that are empty, successes that have come at the expense of things they suddenly realize were far more important to them. People struggle to achieve a higher income, more recognition from their profession, only to find that their drive to achieve their goal blinded them to the things that really mattered most and now are gone.

Many people want to climb the ladder of success only to find out that the ladder was leaning against the wrong wall. Perhaps we need to first ask question of which wall to climb before putting the ladder.

What is it in life that matters most to you? Are you setting and achieving goals before you have even clarified your values? How are you going to live your life according to those values?

2015 Soft List

This year is gonna be very exciting. It marks the end of my early adult life and also starts a new journey to more maturity & responsibilities. One, I'll have a lot of gap time for traveling & self discovery/ development. Two, I am starting grad school next year. Im enthusiastic about meeting new people, finding passions, adopting new ways of thinking and continuously improving (physically - intellectually - emotionally).


Brazil, Mexico, China (Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Hongkong), Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Cambodia, Vietnam


  • Have an app in the app store by the end of the year.
  • Adding more functionalities to this blog (like commenting, tagging & rich text formatting... )
  • Get better at UI, Illustrator
  • Read at least 8 books on HCI, Gamifications
  • IOS - Swift
  • Intermediate - Advanced Python
  • Data Structure - Algorithms
  • Think more about financing my future + grad school. Find another source of income
  • Stocks (read at least 5 books on stocks & investment)
  • Read at least 50 non-technical books on psychology, entrepreneurship, sales, marketing

Health - Fitness

  • Focus on ballroom dance
  • Exercise everyday to keep me in shape
  • Eat more greens
  • Meditate twice a week


  • Be more organized & clean
  • Write more often
  • Evernote (summarize) every book I read
  • Down time = practice guitar
  • Write next day journal before bed


  • Spend more time with loved ones.
  • Say yes more often (to social gatherings)
  • Appreciate more often
  • Talk to 3 new people every week
  • Four agreements: (1) Speak impeccable words. (2) Don't take anything personally. (3) Don't make assumptions. (4) Always do my best
  • Be kind and treat everyone with respect