8 Methods For Burning Through Your Infinite Reading List

This is part 2 on reading lists.  Check here for part 1.

Ever since I’ve grown an appreciation and love for non-fiction books, I always found myself telling people “Oh man my reading list is so long, I keep adding books faster than I can read them.”.  It’s a real problem people!  #thestruggleisreal.

I’ve searched far and wide for reading strategies in order to consume the input quicker and more, and I’ve come up with some strategies that I’d like to share.  Note that most of the books I consume revolve around the topics of personal development, business, and psychology, so they relate best to this style of book, rather than say Fiction or History.

  1. Watch the TED Talk — many times the author has done a TED talk, or some sort of Keynote and covers the basic concepts of the book.
  2. Read their blog posts — I have found that in recent years, it’s becoming very popular for almost all authors, as part of their promotions, to write blog posts or articles on popular outlets or to guest post on popular blogs.  Because it’s promotional, it usually covers a few points, if not all the main points of the book
  3. Search for a Podcast the author is a guest on  – same as reading their articles/blogs, this has been a popular recent method of promoting their book and they normally cover it
  4. Google the summary – there are plenty of people like me, who like to write book reviews of what we’re reading.  They normally give good feedback, practical ways they’ve benefited, and favourite quotes.
  5. Blinkist –  In my quest to conquer more books, I figured if I was able to just get even some small ideas from a book summary, it would be better than never knowing those small ideas ever (or simply studying them at a later point).  I opted for the Premium version so that I could capture my highlights straight into Evernote, which is where I keep all my book notes anyways. ~$49-$79 annual subscription
  6. Speed read – this technique I used particularly in school going through dry textbooks.  I used the methods from 10 Days to Reading Faster as well as quick speed reading hacks from Tim Ferriss.  I value learning this skill early on as I’ve been able to implement some of the principles into my everyday life and is now second nature.  One skill from the book that I use to this day is to preview the book before starting and getting a feel of where the important bits are and non-important.  Then as I read through, I am able to quickly scan/skip the parts that don’t add value, and read in detail the parts that do.
  7. Audiobook – These are great for when you are commuting, particularly driving.  Driving is a pretty subconscious activity for most of the commute, so you are able to engage in the book quite well.  This is how I read Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh and I listened to part of Good to Great by Jim Collins as well.
  8. Audio-Hardcopy Hybrid – I haven’t tried this yet but I think I am going to give it a shot soon, I came across the method here.  Basically, listen to the audiobook at 2x speed (the basic app has this function already), and read along at the same time.  Comprehension and engagement increases as you are reading and listening at the same time, as well as it forces you to stay on pace.  2x seems a little fast for me so I may try 1.5x or some variant like that.

The first 5 methods I’ve listed are all ways of previewing the book.  They will either help you decide whether the full book is even worth reading, or help you understand the main points without having to read them.  This is how I have learned concepts from Quiet – The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain after reading a blog post and a 10 point summary that was inside her book.  Lewis Howes – The School of Greatness is also another one, where I listened to a number of his podcasts and interviews and it seems he goes through a number of the same themes once consuming his other material.  The great thing about this was that I could essential receive his material without having to actually read, by lets say, listening to podcasts or reading the blog posts in places where I wouldn’t normally be reading, during a break at work, waiting for my wife in the change room, waiting at the dentist office, etc.

Hopefully through solving my own pain point, you can benefit.  Happy reading, listening, and/or tossing the book off your reading list!

Got anything you want to share or add?  Anything you want to talk about?  Would love if you reached out to me!  marcusscwong@gmail.com.  I won’t use your e-mail for any purposes, promise!

Mindset by Carol Dweck Reading Notes

I’m very excited to share these reading notes.  This may be one of the most important books I’ve ever read.  It has completely impacted the way I view the world and how I approach many aspects of my life.  If I had to share one book with the world to recommend to read, I have to say this would affect the most amount of people, as there isn’t an area of your life that this would not affect.  Happy reading!  If you like it, make sure to grab yourself a copy!

Chapter 2 – The Mindsets

  • Children with the fixed mindset want to make sure they succeed.  Smart people should always succeed.  But for children with the growth mindset, success is about stretching themselves.  It’s about becoming smarter.

“I think intelligence is something you have to work for … it isn’t just given to you … Most kids, if they’re not sure of an answer, will not raise their hand to answer the question.  But what I usually do is raise my hand, because if I’m wrong, them my mistake will be corrected.  Or I will raise my hand and say, ‘How would this be solved?’ or ‘I don’t get this. Can you help me?’ Just by doing that I’m increasing my intelligence.” — Child

  • For those with growth mindset, for them it’s not about immediate perfection.  It’s about learning something over time: confronting a challenge and making a progress.
  • “Becoming is better than being.”  The fixed mindset does not allow people the luxury of becoming.  They have to already be.
  • People with the growth mindset know that it takes time for potential to flower.
  • This is part of the fixed mindset: effort is for those who don’t have the ability. People with the fixed mindset tells us, “if you have to work at something, you must not be good at it.”
  • People with the growth mindset, believe something very different: even geniuses have to work hard for their achievements.
  • “what’s so heroic, they would say, about having a gift?”
  • The idea of trying and still failing — of leaving yourself without excuses — is the worst fear within the fixed mindset
  • In the growth mindset, it’s almost inconceivable to want something badly, to think you have a chance to achieve it, and then do nothing about it.
  • You can look back and say, “I could have been …,” polishing your unused endowments like trophies.  Or you can look back and say, “I gave my all for the things I valued.” Think about what you want to look back and say.  Then choose your mindset.

Chapter 2 Action Steps: 

  • Ppl are all born with a love of learning, but the fixed mindset can undo it.  Think of a time when you were doing something and you hit a bump, how did you feel?  Next time this happens, don’t fold yourself.  It’s the fixed mindset.  Put yourself in a growth mindset.  Picture your brain forming new connections as you meet the challenge and learn.
  • When you are challenged, how do you feel?  Do you fold and give up, or try harder?  Next time you are challenged, don’t give up, try and imagine all the new connections from learning that you will get effort.  Learn to love the process.

Chapter 3 – The Truth about Ability and Accomplishments

  • In a high school in LA, a teacher went into one of the lowest performing math classes, and taught them university level calculus.  He didn’t ask, “Are these students able to do it?”, he asked, “How can I teach these students to be able to do it?”.  The class ended up ranking amongst the top in the country, falling behind two other classes that were from Math and Science schools.  Only a hundred Mexican Americans got college credits for the work they did in High School, most of that class of Mexican Americans were able to attain that.
  • Many people with the fixed mindset believe that someone’s early performance tells you all you need to know about their talent and their future.
  • Parents often (80% actually) feel as though praising children for their abilities is very important for building confidence and self esteem.  However in a study, they found that praising for student’s abilities on an IQ test found that they were more likely to reject taking another more challenging test.  When they praised the students for their effort, 90% of them chose to accept the more challenging test afterwards.  For the ability kids, they were given more challenging questions and showed that they had less enjoyment in them, since their abilities were now being challenged.  The effort kids however enjoyed the challenging questions the most.  After the difficult questions, easier questions were given again, however even though the questions were easy, the ability children performed lower than they did in the first place.  Their morale was shot so hard by the challenging questions they were thrown off.  Whereas the effort children performed even better afterwards.
    • A very interesting part of the study was afterwards, the students were given a chance to write to other random kids (strangers) and tell them about the test they had taken, and they were given a spot to write their score down.  40% of the ability kids lied on their score.
      • Simply by telling these ordinary children that they were smart, they made them into liars

Chapter 3 – Action Steps

  • Think about your hero.   Do you think of this person as someone with extraordinary abilities who achieved with little effort?  Now go find out the truth. Find out the tremendous effort that went into their accomplishment – and admire them more
  • Think of times other people outdid you and you just assumed they were smarter or more talented.  Now consider the idea that they just used better strategies, taught themselves more, practiced harder, and worked their way through obstacles.  You can do that, too, if you want.
  • Are there situations where you get stpuid- where you disengage your intelligence?  Next time you’re in one of those situations, get yourself into a growth mindset — think about learning and improvement, not judgment — and hook it back up

Chapter 4 – Mindset of a Champion

  • Michael Jordan — the coach (UNC) was taken aback by his willingness to work harder than anyone else.  Once, after the team lost the last game of the season, Jordan went and practiced his shot for hours.  Former Bulls assistant coach John Bach called him “a genius who constantly wants to upgrade his genius.”
  • Bruce Jenner, 1976 Olympic gold medalist in the decathlon, says, “If I wasn’t dyslexic, I probably wouldn’t have won the Games.  If I had been a better reader, then that would have come easily, sports would have come easily … and I never would have realized that the way you get ahead in life is hard work.”
  • In a study … those with fixed mindset were the people who believed that:
    “You have a certain level of ability in sports and you cannot really do much to change that level.”
    “To be good at sports you need to be naturally gifted.”

    • In Contrast, the people with the growth mindset agreed that:
      • How good you are at sports will always improve if you work harder at it.
      • To be successful in sports, you need to learn techniques and skills and practice them regularly

“After every game or practice, if you walk off the field knowing that you gave everything you had, you will always be a winner” – Mia Hamm

  • Those with the growth mindset found setbacks motivating.  They’re informative.  They’re a wake-up call.
    • Only once did MJ try to coast, it was the year after he returned to the bulls after baseball.  The bulls were eliminated in the play-offs.  “You can’t leave and think you can come back and dominate this game.  I will be physically and mentally prepared from now on.”  The Bulls won the NBA title the next three years.
  • People with the growth mindset in sports took charge of the processes that bring success — and than maintain it.
    • How come Jordan’s skill didn’t seem to decline with age?  He did lose some stamina and agility with age, but to compensate, he worked even harder on conditioning and on his moves, like the turn around jump shot and his celebrated fallaway jumper.  He came into the league as a slam-dunker and he left as the most complete player ever to grace the game
  • Somebodies are not determined by whether they won or lost.  Somebodies are people who go for it with all they have.

Chapter 4 – Action Steps

  • Sometimes being exceptionally endowed is a curse.  These athletes may stay in a fixed mindset and not cope well with adversity.  Is there a sport that came easily to you until you hit a wall?  Try on the growth mindset and go for it again.
  • “Character” is an important concept in sports world, and it comes out of a growth mindset.  Think about times you’ve needed to reach deep down inside in difficult sports matches.  Think about the growth-mindset champions from this chapter and how they do it.  What could you do next time to make sure you’re in a growth mindset in the pinch?
  • Athletes with a growth mindset find success in learning and improving, not just winning.  The more you can do this, the more rewarding sports will be for you — and for those who play them with you!

Chapter 5 – Business – Mindset and Leadership

  • They’re not constantly trying to prove they’re better than others.  For example, they don’t highlight the pecking order with themselves at the top, they don’t claim credit for other people’s contributions, and they don’t undermine others to feel powerful.
    • Instead they are constantly trying to improve.  They surround themselves with the most able people they can find, they look squarely at their own mistakes and deficiencies, and they ask frankly what skills they and the company will need in the future.  And because of this, they can move forward with confidence that’s grounded in the facts, not build on fantasies about their talent.
  • Abusive actions represent the bosses’ desire to enhance their own feelings of power, competence, and value at the subordinate’s expense.
  • If the wrong kinds of praise lead kids down the path of entitlement, dependence, and fragility, maybe the right kinds of praise can lead them down the path of hard work and greater hardiness.
    • Instead of just giving employees an award for the smartest idea or praise for a brilliant performance, they would get praise for taking initiative, for seeing a difficult task through, for struggling and learning something new, for being undaunted by a setback or for being open to and acting on criticism.
  • Fixed mindset managers simply look for existing talent – they judge employees as competent or incompetent at the start and that’s that.  They do little development coaching and employees
    • Managers with a growth mindset think it’s nice to have talent, but that’s just the starting point.  These managers are more committed to their employees’ development and to their own.  They give a great deal more developmental coaching, they notice improvement in employees’ performance, and they welcome critique from their employees.
  • The growth mindset can be taught to managers
    • The workshop takes managers and teaches about the possibilities that open up once you have a growth mindset, and how success and mindset can change and are not static abilities of a few.
      • The workshop then takes managers and ask a) they consider why it’s important to understand that people can develop their abilities, b) they think of areas in which they once had low ability but now perform well, c) they write to a struggling protege about how his or her abilities can be developed, and d) they recall times they have seen people learn to do things they never though these people could do.

Chapter 6: Relationships

  • When we see great marriage relationship, we don’t say these people are brilliant relationship makers.  We say they’re fine people.  Or they have chemistry.  However as a society, this shows that we don’t understand relationship skills
  • So far, having a fixed mindset has meant believing your personal traits are fixed, but in a relationship two more variables are added, the partner, and the relationship itself.  You can believe that your qualities are fixed, your partners qualities are fixed, and/or the relationship’s qualities are fixed.
    • The growth mindset says all these things can be developed.  All are capable of growth and change.
  • In the fixed mindset, the ideal is instant, perfect, and perpetual compatibility.  Like it was meant to be.  This is similar to those with a fixed mindset that believe abilities and talent should just come naturally.
    • Fixed mindset believe “We are like one.  My partner should know what I think, feel, and need and I should know what my partner thinks feels and needs.”   This is obviously impossible  without communication and working on communicating.
    • Those with fixed mindsets feel threatened and hostile after even a minor discrepancy, since their insecurities about themselves are amplified
  • A no-effort relationship is a doomed relationship, not a great one. It takes work to communicate accurately and it takes work to expose and resolve conflicting hopes and beliefs.  It doesn’t mean there is no “they lived happily ever after,” but it’s more like “they worked happily ever after”.
  • The situation doesn’t get better in a fixed mindset relationship because when someone screws up, it is about who they are, not about their actions, and they believe that their partner is not capable of change.
  • Helping partners, within the relationship, to reach their own goals and fulfill their own potential.  This is the growth mindset in action.
  • The idea of “the lower you are, the better I feel” is the mentality that intrudes friendships
    • These friendships can sneak in.  They can be wonderful people, charming, fun, brilliant, but after being with them you often feel diminished.  It is often these people that try to build themselves up by establishing superiority and your inferiority.  You could be a vehicle, or a casualty of confirming their worth
  • The often touted “you know who your friends are in the bad times” may be a bit misleading, as that in itself is a self fulfilling prophecy of the possibility of those people feeling better about themselves when around you.  No, what may actually be a much better question is, “who can you turn to when good things happen?  When you find a wonderful partner, a great job offer, when your child does well, who is truly happy to hear it and celebrate YOU for it?”

Chapter 7 – Parents Teachers Coaches

  • Every word and action can be communication — to a child, student, or athlete, about how to think about themselves.  A fixed mindset message says “you have permanent traits and I’m judging them”, while growth mindset messages say “you are a developing person and I’m interesting in your development”
  • Praising children’s intelligence harms their motivation and it harms their performance
  • parents often think that they can give the gift of confidence to their children by praising their brains and abilities.  This is ever clear when watching the modern western style of parenting.  When in fact, when you praise their brains, you harm them as they hit challenges and snags in development, because when they find it difficult, judgment is brought on themselves that they are not in fact that smart.
    • The best thing a parent can do is teach a child to love challenges, to learn, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy effort.  Children will therefore not require man’s praise to love themselves, but they can build and repair their own confidence at any time
  • The type of praise we should stay away from is the one’s that praise intelligence or talent, rather than the work that they put in
  • an example of good praise after a failed test would be “it must be terrible feeling to feel everyone is evaluating you and you can’t show what you know.  We want you to know we are interested just in your learning and know that you were learning new things and we’re proud that you kept learning”
    • “Elizabet, I know how you feel.  It’s disappointing to have your hopes up and perform your best but not win. But you know you haven’t really earned it yet.  There are many other girls who have been practicing for a lot longer and have worked a lot harder.  If this is something you really want, you have to work for it.  If you want to just do gymnastics for fun, that is completely fine too!  But if you want to excel in it, you will have to put in the work.”
    • Here you can see he taught her how to learn from failure, how to succeed going forward, and did not give her a phoney boost of confidence.  He empathized with her, which is extremely important as well
  • Parents often think that discipline (punishment) is a form of teaching.  However what it teaches children is that when they disobey, they’ll be judged.  They need to be taught how to think through issues and come to ethical, mature decisions on their own.  Discipline and punishment is the lazy way of parenting.  Talking and discussing through issues is the work you have to put in to be a good teacher
  • Great teachers believe in the growth and development of intellect and talent and are fascinated with the process

“If you don’t give anything, don’t expect anything.  Success is not coming to you, you must come to it.”

  • When teachers are judging students, students rebel by sabotaging the teacher by not trying.  When students understand that school is for them, and for their learning and growing, they won’t want to sabotage school because they know it’s for themselves

“You have to apply yourself each day to becoming a little better.  By applying yourself to the task of becoming a little better each and every day over a period of time, you will become a lot better” — John Wooden

  • He didn’t ask for mistake free games, or demand only wins.   He asked for full preparation and full effort.  Winning and losing is the wrong focus and wrong questions of the outcome.  The correct question is “did I put in my best effort?”.  If so, “You may be outscored but you will never lose”.

Action Steps:

  • Listen to what you say to your kids, and what messages they are sending.  Are they growth mindset messages? or fixed?  Are you judging them as permanent traits, or as developing and learning?
  • Do you praise them for their abilities, or for the effort and practice?
  • When you set goals for your child, they should not be fixed goals, but “expanding and learning and working” type goals

Chapter 8 – Changing Mindsets

  • People with growth mindsets are constantly monitoring what’s happening and have an internal dialogue of “how can I learn from this?  How can I improve?  How can I help someone with this?”, rather than a internal dialogue of judgement of yourself or others
  • in Growth Mindset workshops, students are taught that:
    • Most people don’t really know much about intelligence.  Most people think of intelligence as a fixed trait, either you’re dumb, average, or smart.  However new research shows that your brain is actually a muscle, and the more you work it, the more strong it becomes.  So when you learn and practice, you are making your brain stronger and making it grow.
    • When you learn new things, tiny connections begin to multiply and grow.  Things you found very hard before seem to become easy, because your brain is stronger and smarter.
  • Having a growth mindset plan will help tremendously.  Is there something you want to learn?  How will you do it, where, when?  Growth mindset people, when feeling frustrated or hit a snag in learning, even if depressed, will double down on their efforts to get past it.  This is where a growth mindset plan is useful.
  • There’s an important section that was too difficult to record in notes on how to change your child’s mindsets.  Basically it’s a set of examples on how to emphasize learning, learning from mistakes, in every area whether in activities, school, or even soft skills.

Notes on my reading notes: These notes are a selection of quotes or personal notes that I take on the book/article.  They are not meant to give a comprehensive overview of everything covered in the book.  Only what I find interesting and pertains to be helpful for my own benefit is recorded.

How To Choose Your Reading List This Year (and every other one)

Gearing up for the next year, I was contemplating about what are the books (non-fiction) I want to read. Judging by my last read, it took me about 2 months to get through. Which seemed like a realistic pace when taking into account life and other priorities.  That means at a satisfying rate, I can read approximately 6 books in 2016.

When I read The Tail End article, I realized that though in my mind I have an infinite time to go through the reading list that I have, I only have around 350 books to read in my lifetime. It makes me realize I want to stop wasting time reading books that add no value to my life. What a waste of perfectly good reading and learning time!

Then from a perspective of what would be the most important books that I can read in my late 20s that will have a long term and large impact on my life, there is a greater epiphany of the importance of prioritization on my reading list.

When choosing your books, try and ask yourself these yes/no questions:

  1. Will it greatly improve my life?
  2. Will the book impact a large part of my life?
  3. Does it focus on a glaring weakness that I practice everyday?
  4. Does my learning and sharing with those around me impact many other’s lives?

We all have the habit of adding books to our reading list, almost taking a matter of pride in the size of the pile. However, maybe it is a weak indicator.  Maybe it just shows little control of oneself or a lack of focus on priorities.  When you boil down your reading list to “I have a limited amount of books I’ll ever read, is this worth it?”, books can begin to be easily tossed aside.

I can realistically only choose 6, maybe 8 if I’m lucky this coming year. Here is what I am preparing to read in 2016 in no particular order:

A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy – William Irvine
The Obstacle is the Way – Ryan Holiday
Man’s Search for Meaning – Viktor Frankl
7 Principles of Making Marriage Work – Dr. John Gottman
Show Your Work – Austin Kleon
Remote: Office Not Required – Jason Fried and DHH
Rework – Jason Fried and DHH (re-reading and taking notes)
The Diamond Age – Neil Stephenson

I know there is 8 here, but 3 of them are actually really short books that can be consumed casually without really needing to set aside time, so I know when I’m lying in bed or at a boring party, I’ll probably flip through a few pages of them per week.  Also the last one is my first venture in fiction in a really long time, so it’s a bit of a substitute for less TV this year.

Look out for my book notes soon!  In my next post, I’ll cover how to “read” the books that you have some interest in, but don’t make it into this more important reading list.

Leave a comment on what you think?  Am I on point?

Discipline Equals Freedom

Discipline equals freedom — Jocko Willink from episode of the Tim Ferriss Podcast.

Discipline in how you treat your body (exercise and food) leads to more freedom.

  • from physical exhaustion
  • pain as a result of sedentary lifestyle (back/neck pain)
  • walk long periods of time
  • try interesting new activities
  • prolong your “able” life to try new experiences
  • from doctors
  • from health problems

Discipline in your relationships (friendships or romantic) leads to more freedom.

  • increased closeness
  • increased trust
  • increased support
  • increased belonging
  • increased understanding
  • increased romance
  • increased love
  • decreased disputes

Discipline in your career leads to more freedom.

  • to pick jobs you enjoy
  • to have greater salary potential
  • to take riskier career moves
  • to have greater freedom to take sabbaticals
  • to negotiate perks and benefits
  • to make autonomous decisions for the business

Discipline in your personal finances leads to more freedom.

  • No debt = no stress
  • More options when you want to take a break or retire
  • Make financial mistakes
  • Buy things that you wouldn’t otherwise
  • Experience (ie. travel) where money is required

Discipline in businesses leads to more freedom.

  • disciplined approaches lead to creativity
  • more empowerment across the organization
  • alignment amongst all members
  • “A culture of discipline is not a principle of business, it is a principle of greatness” — Jim Collins, author of Good to Great

Discipline in training your dog …

  • greater sense of connection
  • more trust
  • freedom to roam around
  • freedom to go to public places
  • freedom of a leash entirely
  • freedom to play more
  • freedom to interact with others more

As you can see, freedom can impact any and every area of your life.  This is because discipline is practice, which leads to experience, which leads to skills and expertise.  The greater skills you have in any area, the more options it opens up to do more meaningful and greater things.  For anyone who is successful at anything, discipline is always a prerequisite.  Whether an athlete, business person, spouse, writer, or artist, they all put in the time and have disciplined habits and approaches that allow them to pursue more.

From Rags to Riches with “Big Data”

Whom is the One that sits at the Throne that qualifies when just “data” becomes “Big Data”?  Seems like, around every corner is a new “Big Data expert”, even when no one agrees what Big Data actually is.

As fun as it is to sit down with a glass of bourbon and contemplate with fellow data geeks on the equivocal topic, I myself just sit down and start powering through whatever amount of data is being thrown at me.  I’ve worked with data sets that vary in size, from 1GB, up to what is currently 11+ GB of data within my current project.  Regardless of size or complexity or nature of the data, I spin up my new faithful, Keboola Connection, and let it take my limited skill set and process it all to create something meaningful.

It really is a rags to riches story.  I by no means have any qualifications as a data scientist as I’m sure Statistics and Comp Sci majors and PhD’s would unanimously agree.  By which I would argue that I do the same thing, just much less glamourously.  The rags part of the story: here is me, business major, and would have flunked my Access course had it not been for my partner who did the entire class project for me.  I’ve hacked together some SQL knowledge through means of Google search, and begin to play with my client data.  The riches part of the story, is the insights and added value that I’ve created using the raw data.  The “transformation” if you will, is Keboola Connection.  Now, I won’t give you a BS spiel that it is some tool that you shove in data and it spits data dollars.  But when building transformations to get meaningful insights, it makes it a heck of a lot easier when it comes with the tools and raw power to do the job.

Above is a screenshot of the current project I’m working on, totalling about 30M rows of raw data (the rest is meaningful output).  Below is a screenshot of a run of the full chain of transformations I’m running, in 15 minutes.  Let me express again, I have no Comp Sci background.  The queries here are largely inefficient, and I probably have added about 50% additional steps from what I’ve actually needed to.  But the value for efficiency begins to dwindle when we are talking about a difference of just minutes while processing 30M rows.  Who cares?  It only needs to be updated once per day!

So when someone says “I crunch Big Data”, where does Big begin?  After a certain processing time threshold?  Or when there is a large data set?  Well KBC handles both exceptionally well.  The saying, “Work smarter not harder” occurs when you pick the right tools for the right job.

I’ll probably keep running this project in Redshift as it seems to suffice.  But maybe once the project grows 20x in size, I’ll consider upgrading to Snowflake, and go grab a glass of bourbon to contemplate Big Data with fellow Keboola geeks, while the Data Scientists are stuck waiting for their data to finish processing.

10 Things I’ve Learned About Personal Finances in 10 Years

1) Winning the game isn’t about willpower.  It’s hard as hell saving more out of brute force.  Cutting down on going out with your friends, not ordering dessert or appetizers, making sure you don’t go over on your data plan, all this is taxing as hell, decisions that you have to make multiple times a day while society is jabbing at you to buy more while you are trying to spend less, you’re set up to fail.  No amount of willpower can win the forces of social pressures and subliminal advertising.  You wage a battle on it, you’re screwed.

Instead, set up systems so that the money is automatically saved.  Set up a tangerine account (in fact, if you really want to, let me know, so I can send you a code and we can both make $50).  Set it up so that you’re automatically putting money away.  You will then start adjusting your lifestyle to fit in the budget that you do keep automatically.  You might screw yourself in the first month, but you’ll learn to adjust.

2) Don’t spend more than you make.  If you do, that by definition makes you in debt.  Or you’re dipping into savings (which unless it’s an investment, whether soft or hard, don’t do it).  If you make $2000/mo, and spend $2100/mo, that means you’re in $1200 in debt.   That seems like a pretty stupid place to be in, and with that mentality, you’re likely always going to be in debt unless you change.

3) Pay yourself first.  Related setting up a system, make sure money goes to savings/investments before you spend it.  Force yourself to live within your means.  You’ll find ways of cutting out expenses.  It’s a lot easier to cut down when you have to, versus when you want to.

4) Focus on big wins.  Don’t try and cut down on food here or there, coffee here or there, the cheaper toothpaste.  Those are decisions you make everyday, multiple times a day.  You’ll get decision fatigue.  Instead, call your internet provider and ask them for a deal or you’ll cancel.  Look up other internet companies and say you are switching cause X company is cheaper.  Every internet company always has a 6 month promotional deal, take it.  Now you saved $20/mo for 12 months, $240/yr, in 20 minutes, and move on with your life, now call your cell phone provider and do the same thing.

5) Spending begets spending. A few months ago, I finally got some extra money and bought a Crossfit membership that I’ve wanted to do for about 5 years now.  It costs $180/mo.  Except then I needed a new pair of shorts, cause my newest pair are 6 years old.  Then I needed a new workout top, cause my newest one was older than my shorts.  Then a couple weeks later, I saw another top on sale, so I bought that one.  I want to so badly buy a pair of hand grippers at $40 each.  My Nike Free’s weren’t good enough for squats, cause they have an elevated heel, so I bought a pair of Reebok trainers that have a flat heel.  I have a list of other things that I want to buy now too.

The more you buy, the even more you buy (does that even make sense?).  You need the matching counterpart.  You need the accessory.  You need something to match it.  Spending almost always begets spending.  Anytime you buy something nice, just remember, you’re not only going to be buying that one thing, you’re buying everything around it to upkeep it as well.

6) Spend money on what matters, and cut out the rest.  Having things is nice.  I like nice things, I really do.  You probably can’t afford to have everything nice in life.  It’s unrealistic for us at this point in our lives to have everything nice.  So spend money on what makes you most happy.  And cut out the rest of your expenses.  If spending time with your friends is what you love doing most, then go out and eat and drink all you want.  If clothes don’t matter, then don’t spend on it, or on a nice car, or nice furniture, or a nice phone, a new bag, whatever.  Learn to focus your money on what brings you the most happiness, and cut out the rest!

7) Own less.

  • “It is preoccupation with possessions, more than anything else, that prevents us from living freely and nobly. – Bertrand Russell
  • These individuals have riches just as we say that we have a fever, when really the fever has us. — Seneca
  • The things you own, end up owning you.  — Tyler Durden

8) Houses.  A few notes on purchasing a home.

  • “Property” are not good investments.  Property CAN be a good investment.
  • Do your research.  This purchase is 10-30x the price of the other biggest purchase in your life (car).  10-20 hours of research is NOT ENOUGH for such a large decision.  Realize how big of a purchase this is.
  • Know the fees.  Strata, property taxes, maintenance, new furniture, these are all regular costs of your home.  Don’t forget about the fees!  If you don’t create a spreadsheet before you figure out what you can afford, I’m just gonna say it, that’s stupid.
  • Homes require leverage. That basically means in the beginning, IF your property increases in value, your investment increases a lot!  IF your property decreases in value, your investment decreases, A LOT!
  • Know the opportunity cost (what you give up).  You could’ve taken the money and invested it elsewhere, where it’s diversified (less risky), and in a TFSA/RRSP/RothIRA/401k, you aren’t being taxed.
  • Everyone thought property was a great deal in 2007 … ask them what they thought in 2008.

9) Don’t pay for (high) fees.   Fees is Wall Street’s scheme to tell you to put money in their pocket for nothing.  “You should invest in our mutual fund, because it out performs the market”.  That doesn’t take into account the 2.5% fees they charge.  Which, if the fund goes up 7% (average year for the stock market), they just took 36% of your profits.  Except they didn’t even have to put up any money for risk.  And they don’t even need to do well to collect it, they just do.

Trading fees – get a Questrade account, trades are $10.  At most financial institutions, they are $30.  If you made a $1000 trade, you just lost 3% automatically.  Make it 1%.

Management fees – buy a ETF (exchange traded fund), Vanguard charges 0.2% fees (a tenth of mutual funds).  Questrade has $0 transaction fees for ETF’s.

10) Follow a smart investing strategy.  I would say, if you don’t have an information advantage, don’t buy stocks.  If you don’t know how to value a company, don’t buy a stock.  Don’t buy a stock by looking at historical prices (don’t buy a Sega Genesis for $10 because it was once $150).  Don’t buy a stock if you look at the daily prices.  Don’t buy a stock if you plan on selling it in the next few years.

Just don’t buy stocks in companies (with few exceptions).  Cause you and I probably aren’t smart enough to win the game.

If you do decide to trade, you inherently are saying that “I’m better than the average investor, and can get better gains myself”.  Because that’s who you are playing against, all the other investors.  Considering 90% (I guesstimate) of the people actually buying stocks are people who do it for a living, you are essentially saying you are better than those people, even though you don’t work on Wall Street.

So now that I’ve convinced you, now find a strategy that works.  I’ll share with you what Warren Buffet prescribes:

My advice to the trustee could not be more simple: Put 10% of the cash in short-term government bonds and 90% in a very low-cost S&P 500 index fund. (I suggest Vanguard’s.) I believe the trust’s long-term results from this policy will be superior to those attained by most investors – whether pension funds, institutions or individuals – who employ high-fee managers.

If all that’s too complicated for you, and you still want to invest quickly, “hire” someone here.  You basically have a person that invests ETFs for you.  Just give them the money and pay low fees.  Much better than any financial institution will offer you, and will outperform them too.

Get In the Game – Article Review

You may know Tony Robbins as a motivational speaker, self help coach, late night informercial guy, or from Personal Power.  I personally remember always teasing my dad about how boring his 13 set cassette tape program on Personal Power.  However, not knowing what a powerful guy he is.  I haven’t really listened to any of his material much but recently I’ve listened to several interviews he’s done to promote his new book, Money, Master the Game, I’ve gotta say I’m a convert and a huge fan.  The energy this guy brings whenever he talks really does just get you buzzing and gets you pumped up to take the world.  In addition, hearing what he has to say about personal finance and money, I’m a big supporter of what he’s doing in getting the message out there about how to get out of the pitfalls of the system and keep more dollars in your pocket.

I read through a short blog that he probably didn’t even write on his website, but that follow some of the things he’s trying to teach people in his new book, and I thought it had some good points and wanted to get a bit deeper into it.

1 and 2. Know the Timeline and Gain the Advantage Through the Power of Compounding

You’ve gotta learn the power of compounding.   Just look at the below example:

Image from: http://www.businessinsider.com/amazing-power-of-compound-interest-2014-7

You see that the Susan invests 1/3 of the amount of Bill, but because she starts 10 years earlier, ends up ahead.  You also see the power of the longer length of time to invest that Chris has, he gets exponential output.

3. Make Your First Move

What it means for us young people is that you need to start NOW.  Don’t think “hey I can start saving when I make more”, because by then you’ll have already regretted it.  The other thing is that saving is actually a skill that you need to develop.  A practice of paying the cost now to benefit later. A practice of self control. A practice of making good decisions consistently. A practice of saving for a purpose.

The earlier you start, the exponentially better off you are later.

4. Automate It

This has got to be one of the best life hacks I learned from Ramit Sethi’s I Will Teach You to be Rich, which I highly recommend as my #1 pick for personal finance.  Don’t force yourself to make bad decisions.  It’s like wanting to eat healthier, but keeping the chocolate, candy, and chips on the counter or in the cupboard.  If you give yourself the choice, you’re inevitably going to make poor decisions.  It’s not a matter of self control, just have systems so you will never have to make a bad decision.

My work matches a portion of my RRSP contributions and puts it in a retirement account.  Once in awhile I transfer those funds to a personal account where I have already decided exactly what I will buy (which is Berkshire Hathaway shares).  I don’t need to set aside money from my pay cheque and have to physically do it, it’s already done and never even lands in my bank account.  What ends up in my bank account I consider mine, and spend as I so please, because I already know my retirement savings is already covered.

If you don’t have this option, set up a Tangerine account.  Link it to your chequing account.  Set up an automated transfer.  Once in awhile, buy shares of stock picker TSE:VFV as prescribed by Warren Buffet.

Start a sub-account called “Europe”.   Set up a automatic transfer there once a month.  Boom, just helped you book your dream trip.

5. Make the Impossible Shot

Actually I don’t know what this has to do with anything.  But basically, if you don’t think you can do it, start with 5%.  Just do it even if you don’t think you can afford it.  You would surprise yourself what cuts you can make to get that 5%.  Then once you do that for awhile and realize you don’t even notice it getting taken off the top, increase it more.  And more, and more …

I’m generally not a big fan of lists, so this is in no way comprehensive. Just reviewing 5 points that Tony shared.

I’d love to hear what you think or if you have any feedback or criticism.  Also if you need clarification, or don’t feel you understand it, let me know.

You have the power right now to change the course of your golden years, and the course of your financial future with your family.  Do you dare try now?

Links:

Tim Ferris Podcast with Tony Robbins was phenomenal and was what turned me on to him in the first place.  I would definitely recommend it.

The Start-Up of You – Book Review

As an introduction, Reid Hoffman is often heralded as Silicon Valley’s Grandmaster.  He was an original executive at PayPal (Paypal Mafia), co-founder of LinkedIn, and a partner at Greylock Partners group.  I have not heard too much about him until reading this book and I must say I now will probably forever revere his thoughts on any subject.  His ability to put together the material in this book has completely re-wrote what a career path in my mind looks like has given me great respect for his mind and ideas.

Ben Casnocha is an interesting co-author to this book.  I remember Ben Casnocha from years ago, he was writing really popular blogs for young people / college students about really going out and gaining experience with cool internships, doing really cool and interesting projects, learning new things, and travelling abroad.  I remember his writing had great impact on me for a period of time as a student.  Since then I hadn’t heard about him in years, but have come to find out now that he worked under Hoffman for a couple of years, to help him strategize all the projects that he works on.  

Intro

There is a new reality for those of us who want a meaningful and thriving career.  Gone are the days of lifetime employment with the behemoths (ie. General Electric, Ford).  The new reality is that feeling stability in a job is not about job security, because those that felt the safest are the ones that were impacted the most (ie. Wall Street 2008, and everyone else in 2008).  Job security is no longer about the company you work for, but it is in your human capital, your ability to be entrepreneurial, create opportunities, take risks, and accomplish great tasks.  

“The gap is growing between those who know the new career rules and have the new skills of a global economy, and those who clutch to old ways of thinking and rely on commoditized skills.”

“What’s required now is an entrepreneurial mind-set.” 

Just like your product, your career should be in constant beta.  You need to be iterating, gathering feedback, “adding features”, and always have a pulse on the market so you know where it’s going.  In the product world, if you aren’t moving forward, you are moving backward, and you become irrelevant.

Competitive Advantage

You need to develop a competitive edge.  What separates you from the market?  When an organization is hiring, why should they hire you over the 30, or 100 other applicants?  What’s going to make you stand out?  Realizing this was a big shock for me and began to make me feel like I was not very special at all.  But remember that often what is a competitive is having a combination of skills.  Maybe you’re not the best programmer, but maybe your family background is running a landscaping business, so maybe you can work for some sort of landscape management software company.  Maybe you can start one.  Every one of us are unique in our backgrounds, experiences, interests, and skills.  It is our responsibility to communicate that to the world and make others understand the value that we have to offer.  It is even more important to realize what our value is ourselves, before we can even communicate that with others.

Plan to Adapt

ABZ Planning is a concept introduced by Hoffman and Casnocha.  Point A is where you’re at now, point B is where you are sort of interested and you’re keeping your eye on, and plan Z is your fallback plan.  Where you’re at now, you should have a clear idea about what to do and where the market is at.  Point B is just a rough idea, you don’t need to make specific plans for it because it’ll always change.  Plan Z is your fallback (bar tending, starbucks, etc).  Plan Z should be a viable option so that you are able to take care of your basic needs if all else goes wrong.

It Takes a Network

I^We is the concept that your individual skills matter, but your ability to connect with others is just as important.  When you have great skills and a strong network, your individual skills are exponentially magnified to the market.  

In order to develop a network,  you need to be completely natural at developing strong relationships, where the focal point is not “what can I get from you” but “how can I help you and understand your perspective.”  

An interesting note about your network, is that in a survey, 16% of respondents had referrals from close friends that they had regular contact.  55% from weak ties that they irregularly talked with and 27% were from acquaintances that they barely talked to. 

On reaching your extended network they suggest to really do your research before reaching out to your extended network.  Your extended network can be powerful resource for you to tap into if you really know how to draw from it.  Do your research and make some sort of common connection.  

Pursue Breakout Opportunities

“Entrepreneurs don’t start businesses just anywhere; they channel the mind-set and skills we’ve been discussing into finding the great business opportunities. Likewise, in order to accomplish something significant in your career, you need to focus on finding and capitalizing on those great career opportunities: the opportunities that will extend your competitive advantage and accelerate your Plan A or Plan B.”

Breakout opportunities are keys to everyone’s careers, it might even be conceivable that the people with the most success either have the biggest breakout opportunities and/or the most breakout opportunities.  Breakout opportunities are normally big projects or big clients that end up giving you a huge boost in experience and self confidence.  

In order to catch these opportunities the authors suggest to court good randomness and serendipity.  When you court serendipity and good randomness, you are simply opening yourself up to more opportunities that might come by as potential breakout opportunities for you!  You can do this by simply joining clubs, networks, meet ups, connecting with your alumni, or even simple things like going to dinner parties where you don’t know anyone.  The point is, is that when you open yourself to opportunities, they will land.  Many of our past opportunities that we have experienced already came from favours from people or random chance.  If you’re able to make yourself available and accessible and keep your eyes open and open yourself up to opportunities, you will be bound to catch breaks.

Take Intelligent Risks

There is a common misconception that entrepreneurs are massive risk takers.  Which in a sense is true, many entrepreneurs are like cowboys in a rodeo and swinging for the fences.  However the best entrepreneurs do not necessarily have a huge tolerance for risk, but they are able to manage it well.  They can assess the upside and decide whether it is worth the downside risk.  For example, Richard Branson when he started Virgin Atlantic, was able to negotiate an unbelievable return policy with Boeing which ended up rendering his downside risk minimally.  This gave him the confidence to be able to really go after such a big venture. 

As humans, we are generally quite poor at managing and assessing risk.  That is because biologically we are wired to worry about our survival and our self preservation a lot more than looking for opportunities to grow.  However, armed with this knowledge, we can do better to assess risk.  Really look at it and decide what is the worst thing that could happen.  If the worst that you could happen is you lose your job, or lose some money, if you have a plan Z in place, you should be able to handle intelligent risks.

Opportunities that others might find risky but aren’t as risky, can be found in situations such as jobs with lower pay but tremendous learning opportunity, taking up contract jobs since they are less stable, or in any position that is highly publicized as high risk.  Usually those jobs are not as high risk as the public makes it to be.

Another great recommendation by Hoffman and Casnocha on risk is to introduce small volatility throughout your career to put yourself in uncomfortable positions.  This is actually the smartest for those who are the most risk averse, because you begin to build up your defences to volatility.  It is almost a certainty that we will go through another recession or difficult time in our lifetime.  When you are not used to volatility or risk or failure at all, when catastrophic events occur, you will be caught completely off guard and will be affected most by these events.  However, those who experience regular volatility are equipped best to maneuver and react any time doors close or unfortunate circumstances occur.

“For the start-up of you, the only long-term answer to risk is resilience.
Remember: If you don’t find risk, risk will find you.”

Who You Know is What You Know

Speaking further about your network, I^We is re-emphasized.  This chapter is about being able to call on help or advice when it’s needed.  Not necessarily looking for opportunities as much, but to gain information.  There is invaluable information with people when you are able to tap into their experiences and knowledge.  People are the first to know what’s on the ground and what’s happening with an industry.  Other people will have knowledge and experience and can cater information specifically to your context.  Smart people are able to give you valuable advice from outside perspectives.  By being able to tap into your network during specific situations, you are able to draw a wealth of information from different sources and then synthesize the information in order to form actionable steps.  This is especially helpful when it occurs when you have a large decision.

Additional Notes:

In the concluding chapter I thought there was a interesting note speaking to the society that you live in.  The health of a society can play a large factor when you compare a fearful and society in poverty, the opportunities and the environment does not make it conducive to healthy networks that are willing to give and share.  Whereas in areas with healthy societies, there are great groups, industries, meet ups in order to join in and share knowledge and connections and introductions with one another.