There Are No Solutions, Only Tools

If you’re a productivity junkie like myself it’s easy to get overwhelmed in the world of tips, tricks, and hacks to make it easier to get things done. From Tim Ferris to books from small time bloggers, each telling you that if you were to do this one simple thing your life would get so much better and you can reach your goals better.

The next thing you know your morning routine consists of reading for ten minutes before leaving bed, a three mile run, a twenty minute meditation, a five minute ice shower, three minutes of gratitude journaling, cooking your own meal, and then leaving for work. Every day at work you use five planners with different methods to keep your day and notes organize, you take long lunch breaks to exercise again, and only eat keto. At night before bed you meditate again, journal about your favorite parts of the day, fill in spreadsheets about your daily performance. By the time you realize it it’s midnight and you have to be up at 5am to begin your day again. Living a life with taking the advice from every productivity guru out there is overwhelming and unsustainable.

Now what I am not saying is that you should just abandon everything, or that all productivity gurus are wrong. What I’m saying is that you shouldn’t let these tips and tricks cloud your judgement and take away your time. You only have so many hours in the day, you should use them the best way you can. I once spiralled down into a hole of productivity systems that ate too much into my mornings and evenings that everything felt more like a chore that I had to get off my checklist, or else! The example above is pretty damn close to what I went through, until one day it hit me. I was doing this all wrong. These habits and routines weren’t the solutions to my problems, they were only tools to be used as a means to solve my problems and attain my goals. So I went back to the drawing board and reflected on what I wanted.

The mindset of there are no solutions, only tools freed up so much mental space. Things were now in my control. Sure I still experiment around with different task manager and habits, but I don’t incorporate them in my life full time unless it helps me fulfill a goal. After all, there are no solutions, only tools.


Day 12

Word Count: 415

Cost per Post: $12.99

Progress is Progress

Progress is progress, that’s all what matters. Incremental or substantial, up or down then back up again, it doesn’t matter how much progress you make as long as you keep on pushing forwards. Every day we all try to make our situations a little better, but we can’t win every day.

Sometimes you just have days that push back on you so hard that it is impossible to fight back. Maybe it’s a big bill you have to pay, maybe it’s a heartbreaking end of a long term relationship, we each have our own hurdles in life. But it’s not that setbacks that matter, it’s how you deal with them and how you work yourself out of the hole you’re in. You have to make progress, because in the end progress is the only thing that matters.

Progress is progress doesn’t just apply to loses, it applies to victories as well. If you’re life is going well don’t settle for stagnation, find ways to grow yourself and goals to aspire towards. Read every morning, hit the gym during your lunch breaks, write every day for a month. Sometimes you’ll have days with small wins, others with substantial and sometimes life changing wins.

Progress is progress, that is all that matters. If you’re feeling defeated or stagnant you can always grow from there. Keep yourself growing every day. Make every day a building block to a better future and more fulfilling life, and build yourself into the human you can become. Progress is progress.


Day 11

Word Count: 253

Cost per Post: $14.17

All the Time Tracking in the World

“Time is a valuable thing
Watch it fly by as the pendulum swings
Watch it count down to the end of the day
The clock ticks life away”

— “In The End” Linkin Park

Time, we all have it but sometimes it feels like we never have enough. Sometimes time just flies by, and other times it feels as if it dilates turning seconds into minutes and minutes into hours. With our brain’s fluctuating perception of time it is impossible to really tell how much we spend it on different tasks or activities, and how much we really have. Enter time tracking.

Time tracking is exactly what it says it is, it’s a means to track your time and how you spend it. It sounds tedious, but in reality it’s a very passive way measure your life. With accurate data you can figure out exactly how you want to spend your time and what really eats up your daily life.

I’ve been an advocate for time tracking since I gave it a hardcore whirle roughly a year ago using the app Toggl. Toggl is made for freelance workers out there who charge by the hour to their clients, but can be easily altered to measure your day to day life. Originally I began using Toggl as a means to build my “score” at the end of the day, the score being how much time I put towards creative or productive tasks. I realized with the data that if I want to feel satisfied with my day at the very least I should put forth a minimum of four hours of productive or creative time.

Now as time as gone on I’ve decided to add more to my time tracking. Now I not only track productive time, but also break time. It occurred to me a few months ago that my breaks might be longer than I thought, so I gave it a week of time tracking and oh man were they worse than I thought. Sure I still had productive days, but with half hour long Twitch breaks.

Time tracking is like looking into a temporal mirror. It forces us to look at how we spend our time, sometimes the results aren’t pretty. But without a mirror we will never know exactly what we look like. Time is a valuable thing, and time tracking is a great way to see it.


Day 10

Word Count: 367

Cost per Post: $15.59

Weekly Planning Tools

Weekly planning is a past-time for me. I love sitting down at the beginning of my week and just evaluating what my future entails and how I can make the week fulfill my goals the best ways possible. My usual routine involves looking at three necessary apps: Google Calendar for specific time and dates, Notion for general task and goal planning, and Todoist for specific tasks and subtasks.

Google Calendar is the greatest free webapp every invented next to gmail. Google Calendar is terrific at scheduling and displaying events, along with their locations and people you’ve personally invited. I personally break my calendar down into four main sub calendars:

  • “Events” for things like concerts or birthday parties.

  • “Meetings” for personal meetings that fulfill my goals in some way or another, like a podcasters meetup or an interview for a project.

  • “Appointments” for things that I have to do but are more routine or maintenance like car repairs or the dentist.

  • “Flights & Travel” for everything regarding trip plans

I also have a few small calendars for bill due dates, and miscellaneous reoccurring events like my weekly goal of only listening to new bands I’ve never heard of every Friday, dubbed “New Music Friday 🎧.”

Next up we have Notion, Notion is my new favorite note taking app since Evernote. Notion is by far the most flexible note taking platform I’ve ever used. I plan on writing a full post in the future on its many benefits compared to other note apps like OneNote, Google Keep, and Evernote. As for today, I’ll stick with how I use it in my weekly planning. Notion is used for listing out all the goals and tasks I want to complete that week, depending on what’s happening on my Google Calendar determines which of those I choose to work on. I make a short list every Sunday of everything I want to see done, from financial planning to more aspirational goals like writing every day. I check in on my goal list every morning and see if I can fit any of them within my day, and check off completed ones.

Finally there’s Todoist. Oh Todoist, do I love you. Todoist is the most effective task manager I have gotten my hands on. It natural language input system, and Google Calendar integration makes it a very flexible and human centric task manger. In my weekly planning routine Todoist is used to layout all the specific parts of my week, from iterative tasks I need to do to tasks and subtasks within projects at home and work. Todoist has been amazing at keeping my life organized. I love the app so much I even wrote an entire blog post on it here, check it out if you want to learn more about its functionality.

Without these three tools it would be impossible to fulfill all the tasks I need to do in the week, and complete my goals. Between Google Calendar, Notion, and Todoist my life is so much easier to manage. What apps or methods do you use to plan out your week?


Day 9

Word Count: 518

Cost per Post: $17.32

Make Art Not Marks

As I expressed in my previous essay titled A Wall, A Canvas, I am a huge fan of street art of all sorts, and I am an even bigger fan and supporter of the street art scene in Austin, Texas. But I am also a civil servant employed by the city held responsible for providing a safe, healthy, and happy environment for the city’s residents. As listed in my projects page, one ongoing project of mine is Make Art not Marks, a city wide effort to use murals as a means to battle graffiti on the a two front approach: by occupying the wall with another piece permitted to be there, and by beautifying the city through showcasing local artists. My role as a member of the Make Art Not Marks team is to research and develop programs that can fulfill those two goals.

Murals have been a tried and true proven method of curbing graffiti in highly trafficked parts of the city, especially when they are installed by locally respected artists. Interviews with city officials, nonprofits, artists collectives, and artists have supported this claim. Cities like Philadelphia have pioneered the city wide mural art program through the part city department / part nonprofit Philadelphia Mural Arts program. Philadelphia Mural Arts has been so influential that cities across the country have consulted with them to develop their own mural programs.

I have found through numerous interviews that in order to have an effective mural arts program with the goal of stopping graffiti you must employee local artists who have credibility within the scene. Philadelphia Mural Arts employees around 30% of its staff and art contracts with former graffiti artists. Building a healthy relationship with the local graffiti art scene is important for keeping the community happy. This is especially true in neighborhoods that are undergoing gentrification. Employing local artists who have been a part of the community for  a long while to work in areas being gentrified shows that despite the economic changes of the neighborhood that the culture and memories of the past are still there.

Finally, murals just make the streets look better. They give the walls, streets, and neighborhoods a distinct personality. With no two murals ever the same passersby will always be able to know where they are and the stories of the neighborhood. It is my goal in Make Art Not Marks to contribute to this neighborhood beautification and identity programs.

When I tell people that I’m working on this project I always say that I am not anti-graffiti but pro-art. Ever since I moved to Austin I fell in love with the street art scene. The HOPE Outdoor Gallery, an enormous series of walls built on the side of a hill that anybody can spray on, is a personal favorite spot of mine in Austin. I make an effort to visit the gallery as much as possible to discover new artists and check in on the works of my favorite Austin artists. I firmly believe that having a City of Austin backed program that works directly with the Austin street art scene is necessary for a city that is full of so many talented artists. It is my mission to bring this program to life, and I have the research to back this mission up.


Day 8

Word Count: 550

Cost per Post: $19.49

A Wall, A Canvas

The urban landscape is littered with walls. Walls of brick, concrete, wood, and glass. Each of these walls serving their own purpose. To protect the residents within from the element, to retain soil or water from escaping, to provide an aesthetic finish to the building, or to provide a view out into the city. Within the contents of each wall lies a story worthy of its own book, but one thing not all walls do themselves is tell a story. A wall is an open page for a story that reaches from end to end written in every crack or dent, each story as rich and unique as the wall down the street tells.

I am a fan of the visual arts, as expressed in other posts I am an avid fan of mural art in particular. Mural art or street art has unique flavor to it. Murals give life to lifeless walls, they share stories of the community in which it calls home, street art says the passersby “This is the story I must share, and you’re going to look at it no matter what!”

The walls of Austin, Texas share their own stories. Stories of love, stories of loss, stories of the past, and stories of hope. From simple messages like “I love you so much” or “Hi, how are you?” to an illustration of Pac Man being chased by his eternal ghost nemeses with the caption “Never give up!” To trippy murals of the Eye Doctor, or the quirky parrots of Dribs. Austin is home to some of Texas most talented street artists, each with their own unique style and their own stories to tell.

From commissioned art, to illegal tags, the Austin street art scene is bustling with creative minds looking for a canvas to create on. And with a wall, there’s a canvas of unlimited possibilities.

 Source:  Real Estate in Austin
Source: Real Estate in Austin
 Source:  Timothy McVain
Source: Timothy McVain
 Source: Paul Lowry
Source: Paul Lowry
 Source: Myself
Source: Myself
 Source: Myself
Source: Myself
 Source: Myself
Source: Myself
 Source: Myself
Source: Myself
 Source: Myself
Source: Myself
 Source: Myself
Source: Myself

Day 7

Word Count: 311

Cost per Post: $22.27

The Art of Album Art

Let’s talk about squares. We are all familiar with those simple one-by-one polygons, compared other polygons they are the most searched for shape on google. Why are squares so special? Well there are many reasons why, you can use them for tables, windows, business cards, and websites. What I want to talk about today is my favorite usage of the square shape: album covers.

A simple square framing an album can tell you so much about its contents, from its genre to who the artist is. Unlike books, which tend to be in this state of publisher flux of what’s on the covers, albums seem to be in this eternal state of stagnation. This gives the artist and producers only one chance to capture the essence of the album in on their first go.

Today I want to talk not about albums that already exist, but albums that should exist because of some clever designer that decided to try their hand in album art. This post is an exploration in the stories told through a simple one-by-one square

Each one tells a different story, and I bet you guessed the genre off of the album too. Yeah some are jokes like the “Jeb.” parody of Kendrick Lamar’s “Damn.,” or the beaten horse of Loss edits, but that doesn’t take away from the atmosphere each cover provokes. “Hank” has the essence of a solo country album. “Momma Said Knock You Out” by the concussions holds the spirit of hip-hop in it. “Starman” comes off as an electronic heavy album, probably with a lot of synths.

Don’t judge a book by its cover, but a picture says a thousand words. Each of these squares, with a little clever editing can tell a whole story inviting you into its world.

More amazing fake album artwork can be found on /r/FakeAlbumCovers.


Day 6

Word Count: 308

Cost per Post: 25.98

The Laws of Nature and The Laws of The Land

My job is in utility engineering, primarily in transmission lines. Working on projects that are several miles long and expand all across a city has brings upon its own challenges. Our lines have to be designed not only with real tangible constraints such as the voltages and required clearances that go with them in mind or the tension applied to the conductor, but also constraints that have no true physical form, like property lines.

This back and forth between physical constraints and property lines makes an interesting dance of design. Your line could be perfectly suited to be built as cheap as possible for the given weather, but if a property owner says you can’t build on their land your whole design could fall apart. Now you have to account for the laws of physics and the laws of the land.

A recent instance of this happened a few weeks ago at work. A property owner wanted us to steer clear of their land, but there literally was no other way to go about it. So a compromise was made: I would set the poles just out of their property boundary, and to make sure that our conductor had a zero percent chance of ever falling onto their property I would design the poles to have arms as long as possible. Normally this is fine, but this property was wrapped along a bend in a road.

Depending on how the conductor is wired the supporting structures will either undergo a pushing or pulling force into it, which causes the moment within your pole to increase, which then means you have to build a bigger pole with a bigger foundation, which mean that your foundation might end up encroaching on somebody’s land anyways. It pushed me between a rock and a hard place. Fortunately with a lot of fine tuning I was able to get the foundations just out the property lines.

Every field of engineering has its own set of unique constraints, utility engineering’s is a dance between the fundamental laws of nature and the legal laws of the land.


Day 5

Word Count: 350

Cost per Post: $31.18

Todoist: A Task Manager for Those Who Have to Get to Zero

I love checklists, there’s something so rewarding about marking things off and seeing the number of tasks go down to zero. This love of checklists stemmed out of my discovery of the bullet journal method when I was on a quest to organize my life back in 2014. Bullet journalling was a lifesaver, and I used it for over three years straight. However it wasn’t without its faults: the notebooks I used were small but still bulky, organization could be tricky, and I had a really bad habit of never looking at the previous week’s pages which caused me to miss overdue tasks. But that all changed when I discovered Todoist.

Todoist is a task manager for people who love getting to inbox zero. There is nothing more rewarding than seeing ten tasks to do in the morning, and by the end of the day having that number brought down to zero.

 I love seeing this... I love seeing this…  ... being brought to this. … being brought to this.

On top of its inbox zero way of task management, todoist has a terrific natural language system that allows you to write down tasks like you would in your daily planners. Unlike other apps where you usually have to fill in multiple boxes for task title, task category, and due dates, Todoist lets you write it all out in plain old English, with using hashes to quickly assign a task to a project. It’s literally as simple as sending a Tweet.

 Adding a task is as simple as sending a tweet. Adding a task is as simple as sending a tweet.

Todoist does lack in having a proper calendar tool, and they are aware of this. Instead the team at Todoist opted in for a clever way to integrate Google Calendar. By allowing Todoist permission to use your Google Calendar you can set tasks way in advanced and review them at will just be selecting the Todoist calendar. Even better this calendar has two-way integration, which means if you make a change to a task in Todoist the calendar will update, and if you change the due date for a task in Google Calendar Todoist will catch that and change it accordingly.

 The back and forth communication between Google Calendar and Todoist might be the most clever use of Google Calendar I have seen. The back and forth communication between Google Calendar and Todoist might be the most clever use of Google Calendar I have seen.

Finally my favorite feature – that I am ashamed to admit I just recently discovered after months of use – is the filtering system. Todoist’s default view displays all your tasks for the day, which can be overwhelming, especially when it’s a mix of work, side projects, and personal tasks. But the filtering system changes everything! Todoist allows you to set custom filters, that will only display the tasks you want to see at the moment. With really simple setup and a quick tap of a button you can easily swap between what tasks you do and don’t want to see.

 Todoist filters

Todoist a wonderfully intuitive and smooth task manager that simplifies and streamlines a lot of issues found I have faced with other apps. As much as I loved my bullet journal, Todoist has become my primary app for getting things over the past few months. If you are the kind of person who has to bring your inbox down to zero, Todoist the right app for you.

What’s your favorite task manager and what do you love about it?


Day 4

Word Count: 541

Cost per Post: $38.97

Five Useful Subreddits for Productivity

Reddit is a wonderful place,  a place where anybody can build a community around whatever topic they’re interested in. From Star Wars, to women’s issues, to even Tim & Eric like content and funny short videos, reddit is a wonderful resource for finding people with similar interest of yours and building a community around it.

Reddit can be a powerful tool, sometimes too powerful for its own good and can easily become a time sink of distractions and procrastination. However its unique community building also allows communities of productivity junkies like myself to contribute and take tips from. Below is a list of my favorite self improvement and productivity based subreddits and what they focus on.

/r/Productivity – Exactly what it says on the tin. This subreddit is great for reading up on useful tips of keeping tasks in order and getting things done, along with asking the community for advice about troubles you’re facing in your systems.

/r/GetDisciplined – Get Disciplined is all about how you can build healthy and strong habits to live the life you want to live. It is the sister subreddit to /r/GetMotivated, where Get Motivated focuses on inspiration and igniting the spark of action, Get Disciplined focuses on the habits required to sustain that motivation and turning it into habits you don’t need to think twice about.

/r/Entrepreneur – You don’t have to be building a business to browse here. Entrepreneurship requires so many things to launch a project, from self discipline to personal and team management, finances and more. The entrepreneur subreddit is a perfect place to learn from those bringing their projects to life and to learn from their lessons and experiences in getting things done.

/r/GiveMe40Days – A bulletin board for you to post your next big goal. Give me 40 days is a great subreddit for making your goals public and holding yourself accountable.

/r/PersonalFinance – Although not a productivity subreddit perse, knowing how to manage and grow your money can make or break how you spend your time. Having a strong focus on money management is key to keeping your life in order, and knowing how to focus your time. A strong knowledge of your expenses relieve stress, allowing your mind to focus on things that matter to you.

I have a long list of subreddits I find useful for learning new ways to improve myself, those are just a few that I think can help anyone looking to improve their life and get things done.

What are your favorite subreddits for fulling your goals?


Day 3

Word Count: 427

Cost per Post: $51.96