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Busy is a choice

This post has been previously published on Maria’s blog

When I lived in Korea, it shocked me how everyone perceived ‘busy‘ as a badge of honor. It meant you’re a productive member of your group and people can rely on your sacrifice. It meant you’re working hard and should be praised for it. I remember how I told my colleague once that everyone was so busy, and she said “Don’t worry, Maria. You are busy too!”.

I found it funny back then, but she was right.

I’m addicted to busy in a lot of ways. I often feel that I can’t take a break, or I’ll never be able to catch up with all the things on my neverending todo list. I feel like everything will fall apart if I step away, and everyone will find out what sort of fraud I am. I feel like if I don’t take care of some things, no one will, and disaster will ensue.

I told my team lead recently how the workload in a project I lead overwhelms me. These days it’s enough for one person to get sick, and we’re barely catching up. He listened to it all very gently, then said I should consider stepping away from the lead role, cause I’m on collision course with planet burnout.

It was a hard pill to swallow, but he was right too.

The way I dealt with this challenge was very unhealthy. It was like running around with an empty wheelbarrow, too busy to actually load it. I felt I was doing everyone a favour by working overtime and feeling personally responsible for every single problem. In fact, I became less capable of deep troubleshooting, supporting my fellow team members, or making strategic decisions that would solve the crisis at its core. Because of my desire to do more, I was actually doing less, but felt more tired in result.

What he said to me was a much needed wakeup call. I realised the things that I did weren’t working, and that I can’t repeat the same steps again and expect a different outcome. So I did the scariest thing I could do.

I took a break.

I’ve let the raging fires burn on their own, and spent an entire day catching up with all the important-but-not-that-urgent stuff. The kind of things that never openly ask for your time, but can leverage your efforts elsewhere if you let them.

I felt like I was letting my teammates down by leaving them alone in trenches. This couldn’t have been further from the truth. I finally had a chance to analyse why exactly we’re lagging behind, understand what we need to get back on track, and lay out a plan how to get there. I could chat with a mentor and ask her for advice. I could kick off the training of another colleague, which I’ve been putting off for a week. You thought the empty wheelbarrow was a hyperbole?

I thought I was too busy to do all of that. I was wrong.

Whenever I’m feeling too busy to take a break, it is precisely when I most need one.

Whenever I’m too busy to exercise, or meditate, or go for a walk, it’s the surest sign that I should just do it.

Whenever I feel that everything will fall apart if I step away, I should let it fall apart. If the only thing that holds the entire structure together is my enormous effort, it’s probably not a structure worth preserving.

Whenever I feel like I’m banging my head against the wall, I should take a step back, look around, and see if there’s a door nearby, even if my first instinct is to keep smashing harder.

The feeling of busyness can be quite overwhelming. But ultimately, busy is a choice.

For the love of Kindle – the ultimate nomad library

When I pictured my dream house, it always had a lot of books. Maybe even a dedicated „library” room, with walls invisible under shelves of volumes, all neatly stacked.

Of course, one of the bookstands would hide a secret passageway. There has to be a secret passageway in a dream house, duh!

Now I do have a house and I am sorry to report that there is no library room and its fine. I did not give up on my childhood dream nor gave up reading. In fact, I do read significantly more.

But I did quit physical books.

There are no bookshelves, stacks of first editions nor walls covered by volumes.

Almost all my reading happens on a Kindle, precisely because it does not have to happen in a library. And replacing the whole room for this device has several benefits.

⚖ Weight

I bought my first Kindle when I started traveling a lot. The books I read tend to be on the thick side, and they were taking too much damn space inside the carry-on. Kindle Paperwhite weighs 205 grams. Hardcover version of „Song of Ice and Fire” volume 1 is 970. That means that the first part weights as much as five kindle readers.

🤷 You don’t have to decide

Or take books „Just in case.” What if you finish that first part? Seven volumes of George R.R. Martin’s finest work weigh as much as 14 kindles.

🌍 Any book in the world at your fingertips

Let’s imagine you are traveling through Africa and you just heard about a fantastic book that would complement your understanding of the culture. Chances, that you can stumble upon that title in a country that uses a different language are very slim.

But Kindle can instantly turn into ( almost ) any book in Amazon’s offering. You can buy a book on a whim and start reading it 2. MINUTES. LATER.

In fact, in our house books are the biggest „impulse spend.” We had to delete a Credit Card from the Amazon account since we used to buy any book recommended to us.

Some of the books on my reading list I have not bought yet

Books are not like cars (in many aspects). It mostly does not matter what you drive. It will still get you there. On the other hand, the difference between the best book on the topic and the 5th best is sometimes immense.

The friction of paper books means that sometimes you read what is available – and not what is the best reading choice.

Of course, chance encounters of hidden literary gems that serendipity put in our laps should be cherished. But being stuck with a terrible book and the responsibility of finishing it is a waste of time life What you read matters. Much more than How Much.

Amazon has the best selection and arguably the best electronic reading device. That is why I don’t bother with any other brands. They may be technically better or cheaper, but removing the hassle from procuring a book works out to my advantage.

The highlights, OH MY GOD – the highlights

I believe that concrete takeaways are more important than reading more books. Recollection or even reflection upon the concepts, thoughts or mental models can further my understanding of the world. My reading list contains a lot of non-fiction, sometimes called „self – help.” This is a dubious term because they usually are about the workings of the world. Topics like psychology, randomness, organizational design, business or innovation are sometimes dense, but biographies or history books are an excellent example of non-fiction that can teach you a lot about reality.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

This is a topic for a whole another blog post, but in essence – taking lessons from books is the single most valuable activity I can imagine.

Inspired by the amazing Derek Sivers, I started a practice of summarising every book that I read. While I’m reading, I do highlight a lot, sometimes even make notes on the kindle touch keyboard (clumsy but doable). After finishing the book, I will fashion some posts about the book.

Having it in public forces me to be more verbose and explicit in my notes. All the posts are written only for the audience of 1 – future me. The external accountability motivates me to put a little more effort into my writing. And future me is grateful for that.

Before Kindle, I was very reluctant to highlight stuff in the book itself. I grew up in a family that was not rich by any means and we cherished books. Highlighting anything feels to me like destroying something valuable. Even if I hesitate only a bit before marking a passage – that has an impact on the lessons I can remember.

But on the Kindle, I can highlight very generously. What’s more, I can also find these highlights with minimal effort. These two aspects of Kindle highlights fundamentally changed how I read.

If you want to know more practical tips on how to make best use of your time and get 110% out of life, do sign up 👇.

I have read and agree to the terms & conditions

Here is what I do after finishing a non-fiction book:

  1. Copy my-clippings.txt file from my Kindle to my laptop
  2. Run a simple script to generate bullet points with highlights from a particular book
  3. Use that as a stub to write a book summary post
  4. Publish that, enjoy a wild success on the Internets, be famous, profit from my fame, start attracting the wrong crowd and have paparazzi publish my shameful deeds.
  5. In the meantime, review my posts periodically to refresh the takeaways.

Currently, I am experimenting with Twitter threads (like 1, 2, 3 ) WHILE I am reading a book. Join me!

My fiancee uses the service called Readwise that will send her emails with the highlights.

While automation is particularly appealing to me, I like the responsibility of having to summarise the takeaways myself. It makes me more focused during the reading.

Kindle Paperwhite backlight.

The paperwhite model features an ambient backlight. There are diodes on the sides that make the entire screen reflect a bit of light. It works differently from your smartphone – the light is reflected and does not interfere with your sleep.

But it means that you don’t need a reading light, which is a GAMECHANGER.

It opens an entire world of bedroom entertainment with your partner.

Particularly a sleeping partner you don’t want to wake up.

But the…

Photo by 🇸🇮 Janko Ferlič – @specialdaddy on Unsplash

Yes, smell, feel… All that is nice. It’s nice to have something to put on your shelf as well. I know. The passageway…

In the world that turns everything into digital ephemera, having a hard copy of a book is lovely, grounding and tactile.

But in the end, it’s about reading. And if I did not have my Kindle, I would do significantly less of that.

And I will never give up on that secret passageway. Just watch me.

Matala, Crete

My life is a real struggle. To keep my hard-earned gold status on Star Alliance, I have to fly to Greece every year. This, obviously is a chore, because I have to eat a lot of food and sit in the sun.

Subscribe to learn more about how I earn miles in a greek airline program, even though I live in Poland.

I have read and agree to the terms & conditions

The first time my wife and I had to complete this particular „mileage run,” her brother was working as a tour resident in Rethymno on the island of Crete. That made it an easy trip to justify! We could have visited Joseph AND earn our status on the way!

Crete is the biggest island in Greece. They have plenty of olive trees, very tall mountains, reasonably friendly sheep, and spectacular beaches. The sandiest and calm ones are located on the north coast – that is where the majority of hotels and towns is, including Rethymno.

The south coast is more rugged and rocky. Like the life of a Polish teenager, it is sharp and devoid of any comfort, soft sand, and all-inclusive resorts.

It has character though, in particular, some of the most exciting geography found on Crete. Joseph has recommended we visit Matala – a charming city by the bay.

And boy, Matala did NOT disappoint!

Since the rocks were easy to excavate, many artificial caves were created. The word is that during Roman times, these caverns were a designated burial place. This story does not really hold together, since the caves clearly have rooms and they are quite roomy for graves.

You could for example sit and work there if you reaaaally wanted to.

Archeological research in progress. Were Romans able to do office work in these caves? Lets find out!

Hipster history

Since these caves are so comfy, why not live there?

That is what happened in the 60s. Hippies discovered the (then) secluded Matala, with it’s inviting caves, fantastic beach and the shining sun. Several celebrities spent time in Matala, including Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan, and Joni Mitchell.

All was fun and games until the Greek dictatorship in the 70s. Hippies were chased away, and law & order got established. Fortunately not for long.

The hipster vibe is definitely felt throughout the town today. It is the most „Jamaican” place in the whole of Greece. Not in the fake, pushy, buy-Bob-Marley-T-shirts sense (although you can definitely do a lot of that!),

It’s just that the spirit of sixties seem to have lasted a bit longer here… Maybe Greece is a good fit for the free-love-enjoy-the-sun approach to life. Maybe it’s the sun, maybe ther is something in the water. Visit Matala to find out for yourself. You won’t regret it.

Map

If you are looking for amazing gorges, bays, and coves, check out this post.

No one really means to be mean

This post has been previously published on Maria’s blog

When was the last time you spoke to customer support? Bet you didn’t reach out to them to speak about how awesome they are?

Most people, myself included, only contact support if there’s absolutely no other way to get something done. I’d much rather fill ten online forms than call my bank, phone carrier, or accountant. If, and only if, I run out of other options, I may consider jumping on a call–and by that time I’m already tired, confused, and grumpy.

Knowing this, I can’t help but empathise with customers who reach out to us. Given how upset and frustrated I must be to even consider speaking to someone, I’m impressed how most of them are very polite and friendly. It’s a pleasure to assist them with whatever problem they have, and seeing their gratefulness is my biggest reward.

Still, for every few dozen polite customers, there’s always the one way past their boiling point.

Photo by Icons8 team on Unsplash

Sometimes it’s due to a bug, other times it’s due to a misunderstanding. In most cases they’ve had a pretty bad day.

I know how it’s like to be too upset to hear any rational arguments. This doesn’t make it any easier to be on the receiving end of sarcasm, accusations, shouting, or foul language. After all these years, these things still do push my buttons sometimes, especially if I’m having a difficult day myself.

Once I feel the adrenaline rushing through my veins, it’s tempting to defend myself and the company I work for.

“If you followed our guidelines on how to test new updates, you wouldn’t have this problem now”. “You completely misunderstood the document that we’ve sent”.

It might be perfectly true. This doesn’t make it helpful, as it will only set the stage for the rest of the conversation in terms of whose blame it is.

Another strategy is to ignore the emotional content entirely and focus only on the technical part of the problem. This might sometimes work, if I’m able to solve it all on the spot. In most cases however, I can’t do a thing if the customer doesn’t cooperate. And the one thing that guarantees they’ll ignore my instructions completely is saying

“Hi there! My name is Maria and I’m happy to help you with this :-)”.

Good for you that you’re happy. You know what I am? I AM BEYOND UPSET with this unbelievable mess that you guys created. Now go and clean it up.

The only way out is all the way in

Photo by Tadeusz Lakota on Unsplash

When someone’s shouting and swearing, it’s tempting to reject their entire message as violent and untrue. But deep below the anger there’s often a call for help. I get to choose whether to address the words themselves, or the pain that lies beneath.

When someone says “your product is a fucking piece of shit”, they don’t actually mean it. What they often mean is there’s a deadline tomorrow, their client is impatiently lurking over the shoulder, and no matter what they do, the credit card form just wouldn’t show up, the whole store is non-functional, and everything is heading towards a disaster.

Hearing the first sentence, I would be justified to take offence, say I will not tolerate verbal abuse, or tell them they’re more than welcome to choose someone else’s product that is not shit. I’ve been tempted to do this, multiple times. But if my job taught me something, it’s that no one really means to be mean. They are doing whatever they can, from whatever tough place they found themselves in, hoping this will help alleviate their pain. I’m quite familiar with how it’s like to be in such state.

It’s not easy to acknowledge the pain that someone’s going through. My high empathy often turns me into an emotional sponge, for better or worse. Opening up to other people’s emotions means I might get flooded and overwhelmed, especially if I have no tools to help them. I have seriously no idea how nurses, doctors, social care workers, or therapists can deal with life and death problems they face in their work. Seriously, big kudos to y’all.

It’s not easy to acknowledge the pain, but it’s the only way out. Unless you think I’m on your team, there’s little chance you’ll follow my requests, without which, we’re both stuck. We can spend all the time in the world talking about policies, recommended processes, things that should have been done, or words that shouldn’t have been said. Or I can see through the clumsy words you used to describe your problem and say

“I hear you. I can only imagine how stressful it must be to hear the clock ticking before the great launch tomorrow and still be unable to accept any payments. I would be terrified myself! Let’s see how we can fix this together.”

Wouldn’t it be great to do the same when talking to family and friends?

Photo by Zach Reiner on Unsplash

It’s ironic, but in my personal life, I am often that person who screams and panics a lot. I spend all day managing emotions of strangers and have little space left for other emotional challenges. When these inevitably come, I tend to get overwhelmed.

My partner often wonders if customer support is the best career choice for someone as empathetic as me. From time to time, I wonder about this as well.

But no matter what I do for a living, I can’t run away from people and from the pain that they carry. I tried shutting down to it, and believe me, it’s not a great option either. Ignoring the feelings of others only leads to hurt, resentment, and misunderstanding that can live on for years.

Perhaps I should view my work as a practice ground. If I practice this emotional alchemy when it’s not live or death, doing this will come easier when it matters most. It’s easier to see through the anger of someone I don’t know at all, than through my partner upset about the things I hadn’t done, or a political discussion over family dinner. But with time and patience, I’ll eventually get there.

For deep under every angry statement about immigrants, white men in red hats, or mess on the kitchen counter, there lies fear and hurt that has nothing to do with the issue at hand. And if you address it directly, people will put their guard down, knowing you’re on their side.

To rest – move

“It was stressful, so I went to the gym.”

WHAT?! 🤯

I have seen this scene a couple of times in TV Shows or maybe movies:

Some jacked dude picks up the phone. There is a woman on the other side. She wants to meet. He says something along the lines of:

“It was a stressful day at work, so I went to a gym. I am going to take a quick shower and join you in town.”

It sounded ridiculous to me. If he was stressed – why didn’t he have a nap?! The gym is the last place I think of when I am tired!

Enter Tony Robbins

I always wanted to go to a Tony Robbins seminar. Trought his career he has coached presidents, movie stars, business tycoons and thousands (or probably millions) of regular folks. This man is a machine.

His “entry-level” seminar is called “Unleash the Power Within” and focuses on helping you raise your standards and commit to a better quality of life. If you get a chance – it may be the best investment of your life.

Apart from many takeaways, 2 things stood up for me in regards to fitness and energy:

  1. We spent a bulk of time on dialing in the health. In the western culture we view our bodies as mere vehicles for the brain (Read here how I blame Plato and Aristotle), but the physical well-being is the engine powering our mental capabilities and the source of energy. We learned that the plant-based diet is right for you, that most of us don’t hydrate enough and even that somehow, the modern folk have lost the way to breathe correctly.
  2. These four days were 16-18 hours long. There was no slowing down, almost no food or breaks, and yet, I was pumped and full of energy throughout!

The key was alternating lectures with proprietary SYA technique. The SYA technique stands for Shake Your Ass.

It was also way more joyful!

And did we shake our asses like there is no tomorrow! The movement generated energy that helped us keep focus, improved learning, and enhanced the attention.

We also had Pitbull to help us.

The stress and exhaustion we sometimes experience in the modern world are radically different than what our bodies were accustomed to. We face no real danger from our overbearing bosses, nor do we have to fight for our lives daily, even though it feels that way. Physical activity gets your blood flowing, nourishing your cells, and restocking all the supplies. It grounds you in what is real and immediate.

Jim Loehr and Tony Schwarz in the “Power of Full Engagement” agree with Tony Robbins. Cycling periods of physical activity with rest is the key to maintaining energy. Switching gears – mentally and physically – is the key to rest, not inactivity.

“The best way to manage your energy is to balance spending with replenishing.”

Sitting all day uses your mental energy, but let’s be honest – you are not moving much. Your exhaustion is mental, even though it feels the same way as physical. 

And, counter-intuitively, after a long, stressful day of work, the physical activity lets me gather my thoughts and rest.

According to Tony Robbins, there are

Eight gifts of pure energy

  1. Vital breathing and lymphasizing
    1. Breathe through your diaphragm, inhaling deeply
    2. Jump around, helping your lymph system to work
  2. Living water and live foods
    1. Drink water, for goodness sake
    2. Eat real food, ideally full of water – stuff that is green! (Except green cheese)
  3. Essential Oils
    1. No, not the magical aromatic ones. The ones like Olive Oil or Avocado. Monosaturated fats.
  4. Alkalinity
    1. Again, eat green stuff. It’s alkaline.
  5. Aerobic energy
    1. SHAKE. YOUR. ASS
  6. Maximum nourishment
    1. Just eat real food, mkay?
  7. Structural alignment and maximum strength
    1. Stretch.
    2. DO strength training.
  8. Directed Mind and heart
    1. Be a nice person. Don’t dwell on how people have wronged you. Think nice thoughts

Even though it all sounds a little woo-woo, it’s precisely what the doctors always said we should do. The more we keep dismissing all that as “basic”, the more critical it is to remind ourselves that we have bodies that need nourishment, water, and movement. We cannot keep punishing ourselves with Twinkies, Pizza, and beer and expect to be strong and healthy.

homer simpson eating GIF
Homer, following a Keto diet like a boss

We are somehow infected with the idea that good things have to be hard, inconvenient, and/or disgusting. It is all, of course, a matter of mindset, but physical activity can very well support mental performance. You have to get over your lazy self and shake your ass.

You’ll see you’ll feel better afterward and will have more energy to send these emails you’ve been putting off.

Learning to cook Indian food in Mumbai

Oh God, I love Naan! And my wife does too. I think this is an addiction, but I am afraid to seek medical help because I could not quit.

Fortunately, Indian food is quite popular in Poland, so we have a dependable supply of these delicacies. But it was always a mystery to me:

🤔 How is it possible that they are so delicious?

😋 Fortune favours the hungry

Fortunately, fate decided to help launch me on a fact-finding mission.

When we were roaming around Thailand, our company organized an event in India. Since we were reasonably close, we volunteered to help with the situation and visit Udaipur and Mumbai and enjoy the culture food.

And learn the secrets of the Naan.

👨🏽‍🏫 Naan-making class

On a trip to Paris, a few years ago, I have attended a croissant-making class. I highly recommend the experience, and I was on the lookout for similar fun since.

Somebody should tell Artur that these are not the Naan.

So, Naan being superior to Croissants, you would expect an even greater abundance of delicious learning opportunity in India, right?

Wrong! Cooking classes are very hard to come by in India!

blow your mind wow GIF by Product Hunt

How is that possible? Indian food is so Instagram-mable, delicious, hard to make, and popular that there should be no issue finding a cooking school. But there are none!

Fortunately, my Indian friends were kind enough to explain it to me in great detail.

What you went for a cooking class? Hahahahahahaha! You are so weird! Hahahahaha!

Kruti, my friend.

After the mockery was over, I learned that Indian people learn to cook from their mothers and grandmothers. There is 0 need for a cooking school because they will learn to make delicious Kadai, Kormas, and Naans at home.

As a side note, it is also quite accessible to hire a cook that will come to your house and cook you food for 2-3 days. In Europe and the US we are used to takeout, but in India, they approach this situation from precisely the opposite viewpoint.

You cook and learn to cook at home. Not at a cooking school.

Fortunately, I have used this thing called capitalism to find a cooking school in Mumbai (Click here for Chhabria Cooking Classes). After double-checking with the teacher that we indeed will be making Naan, we embarked to see the school.

Only to find out it was indeed someone’s home! A very enterprising Indian lady was running cooking classes for foreigners at her apartment. It was perfect because the kitchen had a very similar layout to ours, so we learned how to prepare delicious Indian dishes, Yes, including Naan.

Naan Recipe

You’re not lazy. You may just need accountability.

This post has been previously published on Maria’s blog

There’s plenty of advice that seems to work on everyone else but me. Todo lists are a great example. Whenever I’m feeling overwhelmed with having too much on my plate, someone inevitably suggests:

“Just create a todo list and start crossing things off.”

– A clueless person (sometimes known as my husband)

It works pretty well for a day or two, but then I see the backlog of all the things I hoped to do grow larger and larger, and at some point abandon the whole list in panic. There was once a todo list that I abandoned because I couldn’t stand the fact I still hadn’t bought that backpack I’d added there a few weeks before. This was over a year ago, and I’m nowhere closer to owning that backpack than I was back then.

I used to think this is because I’m extremely lazy and undisciplined. My fiancé somehow doesn’t have any problems with following up on the things he planned to do, why should I? I thought I need to shame myself more into working on things I haven’t done yet, or only let myself do cool stuff (like spending half a day out in the park) once I cross all the items off my todo list. In result I’d stay home, feeling guilty and grumpy, scrolling my Twitter feed, and wondering why I can’t make myself do all the things I am supposed to do. It certainly must be my weak character.

Four Tendencies

I’d probably still be thinking this way, if I hadn’t read The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin. It’s a very simple yet powerful framework for how different people respond to what’s expected of them. Artur explained more about how every type behaves on his blog, so you can check the details here. For me the most important discovery was that I’d much rather do something for a stranger, or even an imaginary stranger that only exists in my head, than I’d do it for myself, or even my partner, who’s too close to me to be recorded in my books as a separate person. In other words, I’m a classic Obliger who will go to such great lengths not to disappoint anyone that I’d give up on my dreams just so that they don’t conflict with someone else’s demands on my time.

When I first heard about this framework, my first reaction was to resist it. I understood it that I’m mostly driven by external expectations, but perhaps if I worked hard enough on changing my attitude, I’d be able to switch to a different type? A Questioner would be nice I think… I somehow felt that acknowledging that I’m not going to get anything done without external accountability would be admitting to my weakness. I thought that I should not require external support to accomplish my goals. I thought that’s a sign of weak character and immaturity.

I still perceived it this way on some level, until a friend on Twitter made a joke about a foam brick she occasionally sits on for the sake of a “sport”. This reminded me I too have a similar foam brick I’ve only maybe used once or twice, and I almost started feeling guilty about it. But then I realized, I’m super consistent in doing aerial yoga a few times each week. I don’t need to put it on my todo list, or to force myself to do this. I’m excited and looking forward to it. I’m no too lazy to practice, I just prefer to do it in a nice friendly studio with some nice friendly people rather than alone at home. Why should I ever feel guilty about such thing?

The same thing happened to me with my writing. I’ve been promising myself I would write more for at least two years, until I found two accountability buddies. Since then I’ve created something for this blog for 175 days in a row, no matter how much I had on my plate. I’m still writing mostly for myself, but knowing my buddies are there cheering for me is what actually keeps me going.

Knowing this, I should finally drop the idea that strong character can only be developed in solitude, and start actively seeking buddies in other areas of my life where I’m currently lacking motivation. I know the why behind the items on my todo list, but more often than not find it hard to follow through without external support. If you find yourself in the same position, stop beating yourself up and try looking for a buddy or a support group. Perhaps you’ll end up as excited about the things you want to do as I am now about blogging and aerial yoga.

Take a walk to get unstuck

Let’s start from the beginning.
Ever since Plato (423 BC), humanity was plagued by this notion of mind-body duality. Dark Ages have really entrenched the idea that the body is only a vehicle to move around our pristine and godly minds. The flesh pursuits are of lesser concern and don’t deserve much attention.

“Plato and Aristotle, conniving about derailing humanity’s understanding of mind-body connection”. By Raphael.

And this particular idea has seeped into western philosophy. We don’t pay specific attention to the link between the way we treat our bodies and mental performance

  • We try to “save time” by sacrificing sleep, resulting in severely diminished productivity and mental skills,
  • We sit all day on our asses, getting more and more stressed about some artificial situation, avoiding the solution that our bodies were built for,
  • We forget to hydrate or eat properly, because – of course – we “don’t have time.”

🛑 😩 How taking a walk can help you get unstuck

Shinrin-Yoku

Japanese, forest bathing: The immersive experience of spending time in nature.

Spending time in nature has a profoundly therapeutic effect on thinking clarity, overall health, and is a surefire way to lower the stress levels. Shinrin-Yoku (forest bathing) is a recognized treatment in Japan, and British doctors are looking into prescriptions for mindful walks in the woods themselves.

Our bodies evolved in green space, surrounded by trees, shrubs, streams, and rocks. We are familiar with the wild in the core of our souls. This is where our ancestors lived their whole lives, honing their genome to fit the environment.
Is life in a concrete jungle so drab? Can a few hours in a forest significantly improve my mood? I set out to answer these questions.

For a few years now, I document my thoughts in a journal. I have an Evernote-based system, where I mostly rate the previous day and recap what happened.
I will expand on this in another post, but one of the valuable insights I was able to discover is the answer to the question


“What do my happy days have in common”?

Every quarter or so, I review my notes and try to tease out what consistently made me happy during this time.
Over and over again, spending time in nature (and preferably good swimming) is at the top of the list.
Maybe it is because I was a scout for 11 years, and I am trying to reproduce the conditions of my youth. But perhaps it is because I am a human being, and this is the environment where humanity was thriving in for millennia.

My Wife, recognizing the importance of trees and taking a walk.

I try to plan my life accordingly, but as you probably know – it intervenes sometimes. Deadlines pile up, work has to be done, and I forget what restorative effect a walk has on my thinking.
I forget that it clears my head and allows me to get a fresh perspective.
I tell myself: “Tomorrow, I don’t have time today.”

🔬 What does the science say?

The science says that I’m dumb.

“To improve your thinking skills, move.”

Chris Medina, “Brain Rules”

Moving can help our brains via several mechanisms:

  1. Moving means more cardiovascular action, which means more oxygen. Our brains REALLY like oxygen. Brains like oxygen how I like the georgian meat pies. Often and in any quantity.
  2. Moving means neurons firing in the brain. Think of it as a bit of a rhythm. By making the body move, the brain gets into a groove of action, and any cognitive tasks get accomplished easier.

“Your lifetime risk for general dementia is cut in half if you participate in physical activity. Aerobic exercise seems to be the key. With Alzheimer’s, the effect is even greater: Such exercise reduces your odds of getting the disease by more than 60 percent.”

John Medina, Brain Rules

Before you embark on spending an exciting 60 minutes on a treadmill, consider the messy outside world. Moving helps but to get the best results, combine it with spending time outdoors.

“People living near more green space reported less mental distress, even after adjusting for income, education, and employment”

This is your brain on nature, National Geographic

What could you do to combine the amazing effects of moving with restorative effects of spending time in the green? Guess what! Take a walk in the forest!

Would it help to convince you, if you knew Steve Jobs was pretty insistent on walking meetings?

Check out Outside Magazine amazing feature “The Nature Cure

🤦‍♂️ Artur, but this is basic! DUH!

I clicked on your link expecting some insightful comment, and I don’t want to be lectured about such basic things!

I hear ya. But this advice needs repeating.

Intellectually knowing something is not enough. As Derek Sivers says, “If knowledge was the problem, we would all be billionaires with perfect abs.” We can know something is true and still act totally irrationally.
By all means, I am guilty of this as well. I sometimes discard this advice as “not serious enough” and “this is fine for those wellness people, but I have serious work to do.”
Intellectualizing is not the answer. If you care about doing something, you need to build a habit around it.

🌳 The Outside Challenge ™️

Do a test! Check if going outside is really for you.

  1. Get your ass outside first thing in the morning, for a week.
  2. Just walk around, notice things. DO NOT STARE AT YOUR PHONE.
  3. After 30 minutes, go back home.
  4. Be awesome!
  5. Crush your day.

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🌄 Remote work helps again.

I know not everybody has a nice green space near home.
But… If you worked remotely, what precludes you from living near a forest?
You could even have a view on the trees, getting the benefits of surrounding yourself in nature while you work.

Have you noticed that I post lots of pictures of my laptop opened somewhere in the wilderness?

Because for me, there is no better place to work than surrounded by tress, with wind on my face.

You don’t have to be in exotic place, or wait till the weekend to enjoy time in nature.

You can pick your laptop, hop on a bike (or into a car) and after an hour, you will most likely be in the forest. Yes, I’m pretty certain that they will have LTE coverage.

Now go outside and take a walk!


Is remote work hurting the environment?

No, it does not. This is a clickbait title.

Remote work helps me see the world, contribute more to our products and lets me enjoy life to the fullest. From the stereotypical Thai Beach office to escaping open space, it’s a clear benefit for my employer and me.

Hard work

But what gets me most excited about remote work is the environmental impact. If people don’t have to move to big cities, they can stay in their home towns, close to friends and family. Outside of metropolis, it is possible to consume locally grown food, eradicating the need for transport and packaging of perishables.
With a smaller density, the housing can be cheaper, and living conditions improve considerably. People working remotely from areas like Kentucky, Idaho or Ukraine can spend their fat tech salaries locally, raising the living standards for the entire community, providing new jobs and example for future generations.
According to WWF, the commuters in the USA alone are generating 1786 metric tonnes of CO2. That is 26% of all US emissions that remote work can help curb.

But of course – there is an element of hypocrisy in that grand vision of remote work saving the environment.

Producing CO2 in Cape Town

I fly a few times a year to meet my coworkers in person, and air travel is a contributor to greenhouse emissions.

Haunted by this fact, I decided to count how much harm did I do. I added up my flights for each year:

  • 2016: 4.4 tonnes
  • 2017: 8.11 tonnes
  • 2018: 5.51 tonnes

That makes a total of 18.02metric tonnes of CO2 emitted due to me flying over the past three years. I do not feel happy about this, but I found a way to ease the impact of lugging my ass all over the world.

CarbonFootprint.com lets you contribute to carbon offsetting projects around the globe. Their air travel calculator will help you figure out how much harm did you do while getting these Instagram photos:


I decided to fund tree planting in Kenya since it will both plant trees and provide work for the local community. I happily shelled out 280 EUR to buy the land, plant trees and help them grow. The trees should consume 20 tonnes of CO2 caused by my air travel, helping me sleep better.

Carbon emissions due to flying is a downside of working for a globally distributed company, but I still can do something about it.
I also believe that long-term remote work can be the answer to the climate crisis we are experiencing right now.

The Garden Route – Cape Town Road Trip

For the past 3 years, my fiancée kept on telling me how amazing South Africa is. We’ve had an amazing road trip in western Canada together, spent a month jumping into Yucatan cenotes, and worked from the beaches of Thailand like proper remote employees, so I felt a little bit insulted. While we were enjoying these amazing places, she extolled the virtues of a city that has both the ocean and mountains, and teased me with waterfalls, wineyards and the perfect steak.

Fortunately, the opportunity has come to say “I call”.

Maria’s team had to gather in April for some on-site R&R in Cape Town. This is a traditional practice for remote employees. Since you see your coworkers only on Slack or Zoom calls – its good to remind yourself that these are real human beings that like to eat and have fun. And that was the plan for that trip – I would sit tight and work from fabulous Cape Town coffee shops and Maria would eat, drink and have fun with her coworkers.

Afterwards, we would go for a 6-day road trip.

Garden Route

We picked an 800 km long route on the coast, west of Cape Town. Known as the “Garden Route”, it is home to multiple national parks and charming coastal cities. This is where Atlantic and Indian oceans meet and nature decides to show us the good stuff.

1 🐘 Addo Elephant Park

Addo Elephant Park has “Elephant” in the name. Nuff said. These gracious creatures are impressive not only in size – you should read more on Maria’s blog.

This is the furthest point of our trip, so we decided to hit it first and to do most of the driving up front. Cape Town is 830 km from Addo, so we spent 2 days on the road, arriving at about 1 PM.

Our second night would be in the park itself. We scored a lovely “Cottage” on the park premises, which would allow us to take advantage of early morning animal spotting. The cottages are available on SAN parks website.

Addo Main Camp is located close to a waterhole, which you can observe from an underground hide. And… oh boy! That came in handy when a Lion (I had no intention of seeing a lion, but he showed up regardless) killed a Kudu antelope right next to the hide. We could all see him resting for a while before he dragged the prey away from our prying eyes.

I managed to record a video before he vanished:

The park itself is a DIY safari. You take your car and drive around, spotting different animals and enjoying life. Safari was #128 on my personal bucketlist and I can proudly cross it off having seen:

  • Wild Pig AKA Pumba
  • Kudu
  • Elephant
  • Zebra
  • Ostrich
  • Buffalo
  • Antelope
  • Different birds
  • Hiena
  • Jackal
  • Dung beetle. Lots of them! The biggest challenge in the park was not to crush them when they were crossing the road. I guess this is how elephants feel about us humans.
  • And the aforementioned Lion

2 ⛰ Storms River Mouth / Tsitsikamma

My sneaky fiancée lured me to this country promising waterfalls. I am kind of a Waterfall afficionado junkie, so visiting Storms River was a must.

Unfortunately, on the day both the weather turned bad and I started having ankle problems, so we gave up on waterfall hike (3-4 hrs) :(. We will have to do it another time.

3 🌊 Nature’s Valley

Even though you can sleep in the park itself (Storms River has cottages), we spent 2 nights in the nearby town called Nature’s Valley. The Otter Trail connects it to Storms River and apparently we are the only 2 people in the world that have not heard about The Otter Trail. Everything in Nature’s Valley is named after an Otter, and I mean EVERYTHING. We stayed at a placed called Kamma Otter and I counted at least 5 other B&Bs named after an Otter (and this city has only 50 houses). If you see how many times I used the word “Otter” in the last paragraph, you’ll start to get a feel of Nature’s Valley.

Believe it or not, an Otter-based naming scheme is not the only charming thing about the lovely town. It is located between the lagoon and the ocean, has 1 restaurant, 1 shop and a very tight-knit community of bird lovers.

I think they throw you out if you don’t love birds.

4 🥪 Knysna

The view was amazing and the eggs benedict even better.

Do you see the white building just on the edge of the left “head”? This is Easthead Cafe. We had breakfast there. You should too.

5 🚀 Map of Africa paragliding spot

Soaring in the air like a sack of potatoaes tied to a parachute!

On the way back to Cape Town, we decided to check out the spot called “Map of Africa”. It’s a piece of land shaped like an African continent, surrounded by river.

My fiancée had dreamt of paragliding for few years now (this trip is all about the stuff she wants to do, isn’t it?). Every time we noticed people in the air, she would point them out and make sure I knew she is up for it 🙂

And there they were, running from the cliff and soaring in the air!

So how does this work?

  1. You drive to the “Map of Africa” viewpoint, expecting to see something vaguely resembling African continent,
  2. A random guy walks up to you, offering to strap you onto a contraption that puts you a hundred meters in the air. No reservation was necessary,
  3. Naturally, you say yes to the random dude,
  4. You pay 800 ZAR per person,
  5. This is a tandem flight so you are actually tied to an instructor who hopefully knows what he is doing,
  6. You run awkwardly a few steps,
  7. You start soaring like a sack of potatoes,
  8. You fly for about 15-20 minutes having the best time ever,
  9. If the instructor catches a wind current, you land where you started, with smooth grass and sheep to soften your fall. If not, he will drop you in the ocean land on the beach and they’ll pick you up in a car.

6 🌉 Kaaimans Bridge

While paragliding, you can get a glimpse of this decommissioned railway bridge. If you are not paragliding, you can stop at “The Dolphins Viewpoint” to have a look:

7 🐐 The Oude Post

This is a gas station and a sandwich shop. Which has Mini Goats, a turtle and the most delicious sandwiches imaginable. They serve traditional Roosterkoeken – a sandwich/pastry that is baked on the barbecue during traditional Braai.

Braai is to South Africa what Barbecue is to Texas. A human right.

8 🐳 Hermanus

Our trip had an end right on the airport, where we would return the car. But since we had extra few hours, we stopped in Hermanus.

Hermanus is a coastal city that is famous for one thing: Whales.

It is one of the best cities in the world for Whale Watching. The cliff offers great views on the ocean and these big sea mammals come close by so you can watch them from the shore.

The season is from July till November, so a whale watching trip in April was a bit of a gamble, but it paid of tremendously! A whale was doing whale things in the bay and standing on Gearings Point, we could see the back and tail popping up from the water here and there.

I tried to take drone photos, but birds attacked my drone, so I had to count on the return-to-home feature.

🗺 Map

Here are all these spots – and more on the map:

I have to admit that now I understand why my fiancée wanted to share immense beauty of South Africa with me. I will definitely come back here. I the meantime – you can check out Job’s post with much better photos. Or subscribe to my newsletter!

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