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Ask HN: How do you tune your life?
99 points by DeusExMachina on Oct 25, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 40 comments
Time is a valuable asset and we have a limited amount to spend on our project, considering that we have also to live a good life to avoid stress and burnout. How do you tune your life and manage your time to be able to waste as less as possible?

I will begin with what I do. I have a full time job and I work on a personal project on my spare time. Of course with all this work the risk of burnout is big, as I already experienced in the past: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1545774

I can tell you how I manage right now. I'm 20 minutes biking from work, and usually 15 minutes from anywhere else. Biking saves me a lot of commuting time, because I don't have to rely on public transportation. Here in Amsterdam I can bike where I want and it's much faster than taking a tram. Moreover it's healthy, so I can keep fit during the week too.

I start working at 9, but I wake up at 6, so each morning I get a couple of hours to work on my project. This implies of course that I have to go to sleep early in the evening, so I usually go to bed at 10 to have the sufficient amount of sleep, which is crucial to stay productive.

I'm now in the proceeds to buy a house. The main reasons to buy a house still apply, but I have some more: living in my own house will mean I will not have to deal with a landlord, which is making me lose a lot of time right now. Moreover when I will be living alone, I will pay someone to clean the house instead of doing it myself. I value my time more than the money cleaners ask and I'm willing to spend money to get back time. Washing machine for clothes, dishwasher for dishes and I don't iron clothes at all (if you learn how to hang them it's almost useless).

To avoid the burnout, I made up some rules: no work in the evenings, so when I go home from work and I'm tired I don't have the pressure of doing something on myself and I can spend those 2 spare hours after dinner relaxing (reading a book or some hobby). On friday I dance tango, on weekends I usually work on my project but still I go to parties or out with friends. Sometimes I go on a trip somewhere. I go running for one hour every weekend, to keep fit, release stress and clear my mind. This all helps to avoid burnout and stress.

How do you tune your life?

I had a bad burnout this summer. I literally couldn't stand looking at any code. Although 4 weeks trip with no access to computers - only new cities, mountains and heavy metal gigs - fixed me.

I've two big problems. First is I work from home. So sometimes I work 12-16 hours a day. By "work" I mean I sit in front of my laptop, but it doesn't mean I'm productive. Second problem is that being INTJ, I don't have much friends, so I usually end up staying at home for days (and coding most of the time) until I run out of groceries.

After I got back from my "sanity trip", I started doing several things to avoid burnout.

- Cycling. Used to do 30+ kilos almnost every day. Now it's getting cold here, so I do few short rides a week.

- Walking. If I'm not cycling, I try to get out of the house every day. Just to wander in downtown or get rolls from a bakery 15 minutes away.

- Eating out. I occasionally go for lunch with friends working nearby.

- Limiting my hours at keyboard. I moved most of my reading to Kindle, either in bed or outside. Previously, even after work-hours I was slipping from reading back to work easily. Kindle helps to avoid this.

- Meeting with friends at least once a week. Even if you think you don't have friends, try calling people you know and ask them out. There's a big chance that they have nothing to do as well :)

- Heavy metal. This helps me stay sane A LOT. Listening to records is good. Live shows are even better. After a nice (well, nice in metal way) gig I've energy for whole week. If you don't like heavy metal, listen to rock, classic, jazz or whatever you like. Listen not while working, but truly listen to music. And go to live shows. That's where music becomes Music.

So far, so good. I'm putting in less hours, but delivering more.

Most big cities have "coworking spaces": a shared office with a lot of separate professionals who prefer to work outside of home and around other people. For example, http://officenomads.com/ in Seattle.

I think you briefly touched on a really important facet of not burning out... Knowing Thyself. Whether one uses the MBTI or something else, it's important to accept one's preferences. (And yes... even though you're an introvert I think it'd be good for you to have other people around you. As an INTP, I'm the same way.)

I listen to music while biking (not heavy metal, though), and you are right, it helps a lot. It completely changes my mood. Even if I'm biking in a freezing cloudy day, I start thinking it's a nice ride.

Are you riding offroad? I do not listen to music while biking, it seems to be too dangerous. At least in traffic.

On the other hand, riding while listening to Slayer may get waaay too aggressive :)

I live in Amsterdam, here bikes rule the city and there are bike lanes or closed roads everywhere. The traffic is not high either, because with all the canals driving a car here is a hell.

This reminds me a lot what I used to do before and it inevitably led to burnout and disaster. So I will be straightforward with you, STOP trying to fix yourself like you were one of the problems you like to hack on. You already have a very good life, but it is not a matter of what you do, it is about how you do it. Just let go off your need for control.

I discovered that what I needed was good nurturing. Good people. Good food. Good books. Good sleep. Good exercise. Good solitude. Good work (something you do for the love of it, not for some illusionary reward).

If you do it, you will see that all the discipline and things that you need will just come into your life. This is how children do (field-tested) and there is NO reason why we should do it differently. You are NOT a problem to be solved!

>STOP trying to fix yourself like you were one of the problems you like to hack on

Great advice, very difficult in practice. Just finding an activity or practice where you can quiet your mind is absolutely essential. When I let my inner dialogue take over and worry, worry, worry about all of the THINGS I need to DO, I reach burnout quite quickly. For me practicing meditation in some form or another (whether through actual sitting, taking walks, etc) is absolutely essential to my personal well being. It is when that inner dialogue is running out of control that "fixing myself" ends up going on the to-do list, which is really quite absurd!

Great comment. Hackers do want to hack all their problems & challenges.

As we tend to be people immersed in our own worlds, good people (and family) are wonderful contrasts to seek warmth and escape.

For many of us, it may not be natural, but we should force ourselves to socialize until it does become more natural.

Just a note: it is not normal to lose a lot of time talking to your landlord. I rent, and I haven't spoken to my landlord in a year. Also, you can get a cleaner for a rented apartment, too?

Still, maybe if you have bought a house, at least you don't have to worry about it anymore. On the other hand, sometimes I have the impression that people who own actually worry MORE. That's also what Greenspun said, or so I seem to remember (can't find the blog entry right now).

Unfortunately here in Amsterdam landlords are quite abusive, and mine is not an exception. When there are problems in the house it takes always a lot to fix them. And other unpleasant things I won't bother you with. Of course this is not the reason I buy a house for, but it's a nice plus.

I could hire cleaners in this house too, of course, but I live with flatmates that should agree on it too, and they don't.

iirc, he said they become boring people who bitch about property taxes.

For me the best way to tune my life has been to hack it completely.

My wife and I saved money while learning to create projects on our own + start working remotely too (gradually).

We then moved to the country-side so that we can take better advantage of what we had earned. We can currently sustain between 5 and 8 years of doing whatever we like (after buying a house, which we consider), so we own the most part of our time.

This basically translates into a lot more time for hacking/projects/marketing, but also time with kid, cooking, yoga, music etc.

Your rules are great. Obviously different things work for different people, but this is what I do:

1/ I'm nomadic. This means I don't have household things to worry about which frees a LOT of time. No washing-up for me :)

2/ I work 8am to 9pm Monday-Saturday with a 2 hour break for lunch and a 1hr trip to the gym

3/ I take regular walks and use our app (which I won't advertise here) to stay active.

4/ During the evenings (9-11:30) I write music, play L4D2 with friends, go to the pub, watch cartoons and draw.

5/ SUNDAY - KEY POINT #1: I go walkabout. I go for a 10-20mile walk along the beaches and cliffs of South England. I eat in pubs, drink a couple of real ales now-and-then... maybe have a nice coffee somewhere... maybe read a book. I never work that day. If I work just once, I can guarantee I will burn out within a fortnight.

6/ SUNDAY - KEY POINT #2: During my walkabout I spend at least 2 hours thinking about life - in particular what's important to me, what truly drives me and how I can add value during my short time on earth. I think about my family, my friends and how I can do the best for them without burning myself out.

7/ Every-so-often a take a few extra hours (even days) out to spend quality time with family and friends. Because 6 always shows that 5 and 4 are not enough ;)

Point 6 is utterly important IMO - everyone should spend an hour or two meditating on what is truly important to them.

Oh, and lots and lots of tea, coffee and decent music during the week ;)

I agree on point #6. Although I use cycling for meditation. Particularly road cycling in silent country roads.

Sit on a bike, clip-in feet (love that sound!) and then go on random roads for few hours, just focusing on how to take that next hill. When I get back to town, I'm soooo refreshed.

>dishwasher for dishes

The trick to doing less dishes is not using a dishwasher but to have less dishes. If you're not a family of 4 you don't need to dirty 4 plates. Put only 1 of each thing in your main cabinet and the extras in a separate cabinet. Wash them by hand after using.

Also for productivity, use timers like WorkRave http://www.workrave.org . Taking breaks is a key to getting stuff done. The harder the problem and the more you have avoided it and let it build up, the more frequent the breaks you will need to tackle it.

Also if you use todo list, the most important thing to right next to each task is an estimate of the time it will take to complete. As soon as I did this I realized I how notoriously bad I was at estimating the time it takes to complete certain tasks and improved.

I use just 1/2 dishes, but I still cook something, so I also have to wash pans. I do not produce a lot of dirty stuff everytime I eat, being alone, but it surprises me how long it still takes to wash these things by hand.

Moreover a dishwasher helps to save water and energy. This is the first reference I found on Google: http://1greengeneration.elementsintime.com/?p=314

Protip: do not use dishes. Eat from cutting board or pot.

Those are still dishes imo (at least the still need to be cleaned at some point). Also if I take time to cook anything with pots it's more than I would eat in one sitting . And I enjoy the process of eating more and pay more attention to what I eat if I put everything I'm about to eat on a plate in front me. The easiest way to tell if you are eating healthy is to see if the plate is "colorful" as opposed to all looking the same.

[ a balanced meal to me is a plate divided in 4 different color quadrants not eaten at the computer, so a plate is a useful tool in this respect ]

> The easiest way to tell if you are eating healthy is to see if the plate is "colorful" as opposed to all looking the same.

This is an example of "common knowledge" that may actually be incorrect. While it's important to eat a variety of foods throughout the day, I've heard that eating a variety of foods in a single meal makes digestion more difficult.

(Sorry for the lack of references. My Google-fu is failing me right now.)

I used the same dish trick when I was single, it's dead on.

Not to get into a Lifehacker-esque technique-of-the-week, but what method/materials do you use for your to do list?

I have taken time out of my profession to start a company, and I am still involved with a charitable organisation and my personal learning.

Day to day I use to do lists to ensure that I have a daily focus, but once a month I write down whats important to me and preen anything that isnt.

I also have a strong, supportive partner. I only met her 9 months ago and I was already well into the startup. She has been a god send.

Being uber conscious about health, I spend some bit of my time cooking everyday. I would love to outsource this or find a healthy eat-out option. Since I only work on my start-up, there isn't much of a juggling.

Wake up at 6 Have tea Read a bit Make and eat breakfast Be at work by 9 (it's a 5min walk to my work place) work till 12.30 Have lunch n a short break Start work again by 2.30 Work till 7 Gym for an hr Shower n dine Read/ TV/ Movie Get to bed by 11

No gym on wednesday evenings. I seem to crave for a break mid week than weekend. I go to a pub/ movie or meet friends Wednesday evenings. I work Saturdays. Stay out late in the evenings. Wake up a lil late on Sunday. I take an hour or two out on a Sunday for my hobbies.

working out religiously, listening to the music of your choice and eating healthy will help you avoid a burn-out.

Your schedule looks similar to mine.

- I wake up at 5 and go to bed at 9.

- I also work from home so I don't waste time on commute.

- I run for 1 hour every 2 or 3 days and do some exercises in other days.

- I cook a lot at home. Eat lots of salads and fruits.

- All errands are reduced to minimum. Very few things now can't be done using internet. Strange thing about your landlord. I haven't seen mine in months.

- I usually work during weekends. Then I make longer 2-3 week breaks once every 2 months to compensate. My day job is flexible enough to allow it.

- I don't own lots of stuff so things are easy to take care of around home.

It would depend on what I am tuning my life for at a particular period fo time.

Earlier, I used to tune my life with the purpose of filling two of my biggest bottlnecks to reaching my dreams, experience(/knowledge) and money.

I used to work long hours at my regular job to learn as fast and as much as I could. Then I used to go to another city on the weekends to do weekend work and make more money as future capital.

My way of living also used to be dead cheap (it still is, but with a different focus though). For a year earlier, I used to live in a 10' by 8' bedroom with just an airbed and the rest of the room filled with the all the rest of my belongings.

I also stopped cooking and became dependent on cheap, lean frozen foods from walmart and ethnic stores. In my view, when doing two jobs, the cooking and cleaning is an utter waste of life and time that can be better spent acquiring knowledge, including how to make money.

Later, I started a company while working fulltime. Then I started tuning my life to let me do that. Cut down social life and other thigns to a bare minimum, still lived cheap provided it didn't cut my ability to what I had to do, cut down the earlier weekend job.

Now I spend time learning stuff that would enable me to run my company better, execute ideas better, reaching out to my friends who might be insterested in joining what I am doing.

i still dont' cook and clean, waste of time especially when you know how to eat cheap. The airbed burst a few years ago, now I sleep in a sleeping bag on the floor - good way to remind I haven't reached my dreams yet and not oversleep too!

I don't, and since I stopped trying, my life has been a lot smoother. Instead, I play to my strengths and weaknesses. If I'm feeling hyper and in the zone, I'll work as much as possible. If I feel crap and need a week or two of barely doing anything, I'll do that. Incredibly self indulgent, but it works far better than the years of trying to have a system or "rules." This is only possible because I run my own business, though.

btw, chances are, that buying a house will actually be more of a time sink and hassle, compared to an apartment.

I know, I will sort it out if it happens. I will have more control than now, at least.

Couldn't help adding this on:

Don't go on in the fear of another burnout. It will severely curtail your pushing yourself to your limits. Its only by pushing your limits and breaking them that you expand your limits. And it's by expanding your limits that you expand your capabilities.

Use the knowledge that you gained from your previous burnout to backoff when you are approaching another burnout. And if you did go through another burnout, use your experience from your last burnout to learn how to recover from this burnout. And then, keep pushing yourself on further.

Let the fact that you recovered from one burnout be a source of confidence. Thats one way to see it. The other way would be to keep going on in fear of another burnout and fail to try expanding your limits and capabilities.

Food. Eat healthy. That alone has changed my life. If you eat healthy it's a whole lot less probable that you'll experience burnout because you tend to to feel better about yourself and have more energy to spare.

I don't think I am really in 'tune' (by your definition) as I would like to be, but to be in harmony with your surroundings and environment, I think you need to observe them first and then decide on advantages and disadvantages and how you can change them.

For me, the realization was couple of things. After years of work in a small company that declared the biggest growth in Turkey, I joined up a startup only to see how it can fail in this country. After that, I have been freelancing for the last year, with the long term hopes of getting myself in the SF area. So I think hopes do help. I told the three employer offers I got last month that I would like to work remote from home office, two of which accepted. I took one of the jobs, subletted my house in the busiest part of Istanbul and moved south to the Mediterranean coast. I practiced Aikido three days a week while I was in Istanbul. Now they are asking me to teach it here, since I seem to be the highest level in the region. I like swimming, and I can do it here for free instead of paying lots of cash to a gym with a pool in Istanbul.

So in order to 'retune', I chose the way to change things drastically. Everything is not settled yet, and moving things around has not made me productive at all, and I should really be coding instead of responding to this but how did this happen:

- I realized I had to change somethings completely. Turkey is becoming a one city (Istanbul) country and I started to hate that fact. I started to hate the fact that everyone feels like they can only make money in that one city in the country. Like the rest of the country is just a hinterland serving that city. I like the city, but I think it is now at the edge of madness.

- I am now 36, and all those ideas are going to die if I don't do something about it.

- I don't enjoy working for other people's ideas anymore when I don't believe in them.

- Noticing that even my U.S. Computer Science education wasn't up to par, and I had to retrain myself, which is an ongoing effort.

- I get paid 3 times less than a U.S. programmer. Though it also means I can find programmers cheap here in case I need to hire them, I have trouble finding capable programmers that also get things done.

- There are no programmers my age that I know of. Well OK, I know one, and I am currently working for him.

- The need to start my own company and projects some time.

- If the programmer minds are meeting in the SF area, I should be there as well.

- I felt like I had to get rid of some of the strange loops in my life. My girlfriend (with whom I ended up leaving each other) warned that the loops are in the mind and I'll take them along to anywhere I go. This also has truth in it.

- The realization that I don't hack anymore. Even my hobby projects have turned into dull events.

So I decided I will make my own bay area first, however fake, and work from there. Thus I moved.

- I made a "field test" first to see if it would actually work. Basically. on my off month, I came here and worked on my hobby projects. I found that I was less stressful and more productive. What I didn't figure out was that this project was something different, and hobby projects always are fun. Boring projects can be harder to do on the country side.

- I have no proper networking to be really freelancing. Basically it is just that previous people that I worked with that like to give me work. This might not work since I won't be meeting anyone in the industry from here. But that is ok. I think I can build up my network from the net. Or move somewhere else. Or die trying.

So basically now I got my own view of a bay, looking west from my rented house. Hopefully I will get some work done today. So I changed it all. And I am all out of tune, because starts are a delicate points in time.

Another thing, before I did this, I was telling everyone that I was going to do it. Move south, work freelance from home. I told it to so many people, so often, and it became a reality. Basically writing it here also is a step in that direction.

Sorry for writing this here but I couldn't find your email in your profile. I am a Turkish CS student currently studying in US, and i would love to chat with someone with your experience. Please send me an email if you are interested.

In the Internet age, it's not where you are, it's what you do, imho.

With the Bay Area thing, I get the impression that you're trying to run AWAY from where your life is now, rather than trying to run TO where the action is.

Great post, thank you.

It's insane in Istanbul. London is generally perceived by Londoners to be the centre of the universe, but in Istanbul people act like Istanbul is the whole of the universe. I can understand it given that all the money is running through it, but that's not going to last forever and at some point places like Izmir, Bursa and Trabzon need to get their turn.

I think you did the absolute right thing getting out. I'm not sure I could live in Istanbul, but certainly anywhere on the coast or islands is always beautiful.

My weekdays:

8-9: drink coffee, walk dog

9-12: code

12-1:30: hit the gym or afternoon hike with said dog.

1:30-5: code

5-7: Read HN/news/talk with friends

7-9: Smoke pot, code or watch some HBO & unwind

9-12: Bowl of cereal, fall asleep around midnight

Wash, rinse, repeat

wake up, weed, tea, something in my stomach.. hn.. code code code. hn, code code, something in stomach, weed, tea, code, tea, weed, code, tea, hang out with friends

i moved out to the country to spend more time coding because it was too easy to be distracted living downtown.

i basically didn't work or do anything productive for 5 years so i don't mind working a lot for a while

That's a lot of, um... tea.

Is that necessarily a bad thing?

Erdos used to drink almost a gallon of tea a day (or so I've heard). And boy oh boy, could his brain work.

I guess you misunderstood Locke1689, he referred to a lot of, um... code!

I work really hard on my side projects in the winter, and enjoy the summers. There are only so many summers in one's life and it's good imho to enjoy them.

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