2017 recap

Like everyone else, I consider this time of year a time of reflection and nostalgia, scrolling through photos from the past year in an attempt to find some broad theme to encapsulate the year. For me, 2017 ended up being a year of improvements and growth (but hopefully that’s every year): I started a new job, started living on my own (sans roommates) for the first time, took some programming courses, traveled, and most importantly, made some significant lifestyle changes.

By that, I mean, I lost weight and began caring more about my health and fitness. I’m still by no means a health nut (my favorite thing is to indulge in a greasy cheeseburger and wash it down with a sugary iced coffee), but in 2017, I adapted a mindfulness toward my eating I’d never had before. I don’t remember a time in my life where I wasn’t self-conscious about my appearance, especially my weight, and this is the year I finally decided to do something about it. Through the simple (sometimes not-so simple) steps of watching what I eat (still eating what I like, but eating less of it, usually) and exercising more often, I now am at a place where I feel content with my body. I’ve also learned not to freak out if the scale shows me to be a little heavier than my previous weight – the body is a fluctuating thing.

This year, I also began bullet journaling, which for me ushered in a new wave of productivity. I’ve always been a fan of record-keeping and list-making, and my bullet journal helped me tackle my projects more concretely this year.

However…all of these changes meant that unfortunately I didn’t read as much as I have in previous years. I personally hate when people use “not having time” as an excuse for not doing something, so I’ll simply say that I was lazy. I prioritized mindlessly browsing Reddit and Instagram over delving into a new book. At the beginning of 2017, I challenged myself to read 36 books (one more than 2016), more than half by authors whose work I hadn’t read before. Well, I came in quite short at 24, which are listed below:

  1. Alias Grace, Margaret Atwood
  2. The Blind Assassin, Margaret Atwood
  3. Smart Women, Judy Blume
  4. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz
  5. The Man in the High Castle, Philip K. Dick
  6. The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoevsky
  7. White Oleander, Janet Fitch
  8. Moonwalking with Einstein, Joshua Foer
  9. David and Goliath, Malcolm Gladwell
  10. The Crucible, Gong Jiyoung
  11. Waiting, Ha Jin
  12. When Breath Becomes Air, Paul Kalanithi
  13. The Vegetarian, Han Kang
  14. The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver
  15. The Sacrifice, Joyce Carol Oates
  16. The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper, Phaedra Patrick
  17. Nemesis, Philip Roth
  18. Empire Falls, Richard Russo
  19. Franny and Zooey, J.D. Salinger
  20. Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg
  21. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Lisa See
  22. Good Indian Girls, Ranbir Singh Sidhu
  23. Nocturnal Animals, Austin Wright
  24. The Lake, Banana Yoshimoto

Out of the 24, I read 17 by new authors, so at least I accomplished that goal. I also read two novels by Korean authors, which I’m personally proud of – one in the original Korean, and one in the English translation. In 2018, I want to read at least one work from a Korean author, in the original Korean, while also being open to reading English translations or works by Korean-American authors.

I would have to say that while I wasn’t completely blown away by any of the books I read this year, White Oleander was my overall favorite. Although I read it earlier in the year, I still recall the impression the book’s style and characterization made on me when I first finished it.  I also enjoyed the Atwood novels I finished this year, which I was inspired to read after watching Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale.

To be frank, I’m disappointed to not have even come close to my goal of reading 36 books this year, but hoping to rectify my laziness in 2018. I’m setting my 2018 goal to reading 30 books – more than this year, but still hopefully achievable. Hopefully I can stick to it in 2018!

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What I read in 2016, and what I hope to read in 2017

Another year, another year-end post! Or year-start post, I guess, with my late timing…but in the midst of various celebrations (including wading into the ice-cold Pacific on New Year’s Day), I couldn’t find time to sit down and hammer out this post until tonight. All in all, 2016 was an eventful year. I worked, moved out of my parents’ house (although they thankfully still keep my fridge well-stocked), traveled, and, of course, found time to read.

In my wrap-up post for 2015, I mentioned that I’d like to read more works by female authors. Well, I’m happy to see that I did just that! 15 out of my 35 books were written by women. Still not quite halfway, but an improvement over last year. I also read five more books than last year, so all in all I’m quite pleased with the reading I accomplished this year. Below are listed all the books I read:

  1. AmericanahChimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  2. Modern RomanceAziz Ansari
  3. The Heart Goes Last, Margaret Atwood
  4. Wild SeedOctavia Butler
  5. Ready Player OneErnest Cline
  6. All Families Are PsychoticDouglas Coupland
  7. Hey NostradamusDouglas Coupland
  8. The Red TentAnita Diamant
  9. Geek LoveKatherine Dunn
  10. Tender Is the NightF. Scott Fitzgerald
  11. CoralineNeil Gaiman
  12. Carol, Patricia Highsmith
  13. The Remains of the DayKazuo Ishiguro
  14. Black Flower, Young-Ha Kim
  15. Christine, Stephen King
  16. The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Milan Kundera
  17. China Rich GirlfriendKevin Kwan
  18. Crazy Rich AsiansKevin Kwan
  19. The NamesakeJhumpa Lahiri
  20. The Journalist and the MurdererJanet Malcolm
  21. Dance Dance DanceHaruki Murakami
  22. Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the WorldHaruki Murakami
  23. Kafka on the ShoreHaruki Murakami
  24. South of the Border, West of the Sun, Haruki Murakami
  25. A Tale for the Time BeingRuth Ozeki
  26. DamnedChuck Palahniuk
  27. Mouse Guard: Fall 1152David Petersen
  28. PushSapphire
  29. Child 44Tom Rob Smith
  30. On BeautyZadie Smith
  31. The Grapes of WrathJohn Steinbeck
  32. My Name Is Lucy Barton, Elizabeth Strout
  33. The GoldfinchDonna Tartt
  34. The Accidental TouristAnne Tyler
  35. Tipping the VelvetSarah Waters

Out of the books above, it’s hard to designate a single favorite. I would have to make it a tie between The Remains of the Day, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, and Kafka on the Shore. Stereotypical choices, I know, but these books lived up to their lofty reputations. On a related note, I’m sad that I now only have two more Murakami novels to read – although there’s supposedly a new one coming this year, so I’ll definitely have something to look forward to.

This year, I found myself visiting the library once again, although I still relied on my Kindle, especially when traveling. I found discovering new books and authors much easier at the library than on Amazon or whatnot: I simply could reach forward and grab a book when I found its title or spine intriguing. When browsing online, I find I’m too preoccupied with whether I’ve heard of the author, what the reviews of the book are like, and so on. More discerning and less organic. While my list from this year is peppered with new authors, there are still many authors whose works I’d already read before. My goal next year is to read more works by authors I haven’t yet experienced – to have at least 50% of my reading be by new authors, and of course, to read more books than I did the previous year. January is always an ambitious time for goal-setting, though, so let’s see if I stick with it.

Happy New Year, and hope your 2017 is filled with lots of reading!

Productivity tips on Medium

By night (often late night), I’m a blogger. By day, I write content for a small software company. I take care of social media, blog posts, how-to articles, UI text, etc. If it’s written content in any form, I’m in charge of it.

When I sleepily trudge into the office at 8 AM every morning, my routine is to make myself a cup of Earl Grey; reply emails, user reviews, and support requests; and browse TechCrunch and Medium for relevant news. I have an account on Medium, which I only use for favoriting posts in case I need to find them later. I do my blogging strictly on WordPress.

The reason for that is simple, I guess. I’ve always blogged on WordPress (well, not counting my preteen Xanga days, I suppose), and it would be a hassle to switch over. Medium offers a crisp, clean reading experience, but there’s less opportunity for authors to customize layout and presentation, which has both its pros and cons.

I don’t explore a lot on Medium, but I tend to browse the top five posts for each day. The topics for these posts don’t vary much: the tech industry (usually with a focus on user-friendly design, Silicon Valley, and startups), entrepreneurialism, and productivity.

I’m always looking for ways to increase my productivity, so I tend to click on the latter. And they’re always a huge waste of time. It’s funny how something I look to as a resource to increase my productivity just ends up wasting valuable time.

The problem is this. Whenever someone writes a post about productivity on Medium, it goes the same way. It’s always the same advice:

  1. Sleep early and wake up early. Get at least 8 hours of sleep.
  2. Prioritize: do your most dreaded tasks first to make sure you get them done.
  3. Avoid checking social media and emails until the afternoon.
  4. Set daily, weekly, and yearly goals to work towards.
  5. Journal so you can reflect on yourself.

…And so on.

The problem I have with these posts isn’t that they’re not inspirational. They were inspirational to me the first few times I read them. But the more I read, the more skeptical I became, and I realized that this advice simply didn’t work for me.

I once read a post on Medium where the author said that they slept at 9:30 every night and woke up at 5 every morning, spent the first hour of their day doing all sorts of productive things (exercising, journaling, eating a healthy breakfast, meditating, etc.), before starting their work day by tackling their biggest project first, and not checking any emails until 2 PM. The post was riddled with sentences like “You think you can’t do this, right? The first few days are hard, but you’ll get used to it!”

The problem is, nothing works for everyone. Obviously you should take all advice with a grain of salt and adapt it to your own lifestyle, but I find that the advice around productivity on Medium is just so singular. It’s always wake up early, get lots of sleep, journal, meditate, eat healthy.

These things obviously work for many people. But not everyone is most productive early in the morning. I’ve certainly done lots of my best work late at night, in a quiet space in front of my laptop. And not checking my email until 2 PM would certainly get me in trouble with my boss. Not everyone is their own boss, working from home, free to structure their day as they’d like.

Trying to understand your own productivity in terms of someone else’s can be the biggest waste of time.