Productivity Tip – Text Shortcuts

My favourite recent productivity tip is using text replacement which is built into to MacOS natively (System Preferences -> Keyboard -> Text). These rules also sync with iOS so you can use it on the go with your iPhone. It’s native in the operating systems so you can use these shortcuts in whatever program you’re using (iMessage, WhatsApp, Email, Google Docs etc).

I’ve set up about 20 text shortcuts and use them many times a week. I set up the shortcuts to begin with “>” which makes them hard to trigger accidentally and also lets me to use words/phrases that are easy to remember. Some examples:

  • Phone number: >ph
  • Address: >add
  • Intro thank you and to bcc: >intro1
  • Intro nice to meet you: >intro2
  • Schedule a call with me: >schedule with Calendly link

I had Alfred (paid product) for this previously, but it’s a step function worse because it’s not deeply integrated with both MacOS and iOS. The only benefit from Alfred is that it supports Rich Text (formatting) and the ability to add text with links – I now just put links in brackets. I has previously also used canned responses in Gmail but this method is superior.

It does take a little bit of time to set up and get familiar to using the shortcuts but once you get going it’ll save you a ton of time.

My Home Office Set Up

My current home office set up is a little bit makeshift as we are living with our in-laws (temporarily). I figure that a lot of people would be in a similar situation and thought it would be worth documenting and sharing as I’ve already helped a few friends and family members with their home office.

I’ll share the details of my set up and then summarize some practical tips that apply to most people.

Home office Front View
Home Office Side View

My Set Up

My set up is optimized for using a Macbook Pro 13 inch as the computer, and so this will only really apply to mac users.

  • Monitor: In my opinon, this is the most important part of your setup. I have an expensive LG 5k monitor with a built in HD camera ($1,300). If I had a less generous monitor budget from work, I’d get a 4K monitor, like the Dell one ($500) I recommend below, with an additional HD camera clipped to the top.
  • Keyboard: I use a mechanical keyboard as I like the action, and it makes me feel like more of an old school gamer. I use the Keychron K2 Wireless Keyboard ($80) with a red switch which is a bit quieter than the blue switch (although the louder ones are more satisfying).
  • Mouse: I use the Logitech MX Master 3 wireless mouse ($100). It’s super comfortable, has lots of customizations and is way superior in ever way to the Apple mice in my opinion.
  • Headphones: A great pair of headphones is essential. I use Bose QC 35 II noise cancelling bluetooth headphones ($280) just because I’ve had them for 5 years. They are really comfortable and have great sound, but the microphone sucks so use them with the wired mic if you are not going to get an external mic. If I was to replace them, I’d go with the Sony WH-1000XM3 ($240) which seem to be a one of the better picks in the market right now.
  • Samson G-Track Pro mic: I’d recommend either my Samson G-Track Pro ($130) or the Blue Yeti (Nano, Yeti or X are probably all fine) which are USB condenser mics and easy to set up and use with great audio. Watch out for room echo – if this is an issue, switch to a USB headset mic, like a recommend below.
  • Desk mat: I really like having a desktop mat. They are inexpensive and increase the friction for your keyboard and mouse keeping them in place while giving you a nicer surface to rest your hands. I use this Yikda Leather Pad ($14).
  • Stand for monitor: It’s important to have your monitor a t the right height and I like a stand that lets me put my laptop under the monitor to save some desk space. I just picked one from Amazon and ended up with this AboveTEK Stand ($45).
  • Wireless charger: I use this Anker one ($12) which is useful to charge my phone and AirPods without a lot of additional cable clutter. I like just being able to drop my devices on the pad to charge.
  • Desk plant: Plants can apparently reduce stress and improve mood. I got these succulents from Lula’s Garden as a gift and like having them on my desk as they are low maintenance as well.
  • Candle: I love having candles on my desk. I find them soothing and like the smell. I like the Aquiesse candles ($32) as they are both high quality and last a really long time. Highly recommend.

Note: my desk and chair were already in the house, and repurposed for my home office.

Universal Advice

Here are a few of my most practical tips when setting up your home office:

  • Monitor: Get a decent monitor (4k), you can get pretty excellent ones for the Macbook Pros like this 27 inch Dell 4k (~$500) with a USB-C cable that can be used to both charge your computer and be the display/data connection. I bought this for my father in law and think it’s great. This is the thing you stare at all day, so don’t skimp here. Make sure the monitor is positioned high enough so your eyes are in the center of the screen when you sit upright.
  • Video camera: Good quality video helps you seem clearer because you are! The cameras on Macbooks suck, and are 720p, not even HD, so if you do get an external monitor then definitely get a camera that clips to the top of your monitor. I use my fancy camera or the built in camera on my monitor. The one I see most recommended is the Logitech C920, but I’ve not used it myself.
  • Light source: Face a light source with either a lamp on your desk to light your face or a window. If you are by a window, make sure that the sunlight does not hit your face directly as it’s annoying and distracting.
  • Audio: Good audio is so important for distributed work. I did a full write up comparing a bunch of options here. A wired USB headsets with a mic that is a consistent distance from your mouth is the best option for most people. This is one we recommend at Automattic. Here is another audio comparison from Matt, the CEO of Automattic.
  • Chair: I’m still researching the best value chairs (my current one was lying around the house), so don’t have a practical suggestion but you sit in this all day, so get something comfortable and adjustable that allows you to have good posture.

The rest of the stuff is really dealers choice in my opinion, and icing on the cake. For a long time I did not have an external keyboard and mouse and just used my Macbook keyboard (or mouse), which worked really well and was space efficient (see below).

Using the Macbook as a second screen and keyboard

I also use a mirrorless camera (see below) but it’s a bit less frictionless so I don’t use it all the time. I set up the camera above my laptop screen, with the camera above the screen because this keeps my eyes closer to the lens without it looking like I’m very close to the floor. It also helps me focus on the conversation better.

With the mirrorless camera setup

Hope this helps you level up your WFH set up, and let me know if you have any tips for me. Oh. and make sure you have good internet, or none of this really matters 🙂

20 Books in 2020

This is a list of the last 20 books I read in chronological order, and a * next to the book means I particularly recommend it. For each book, I write 1-2 takeaway points while I’m reading, not necessarily at the end. I enjoyed almost all these books, and learned a lot from them. I ‘read’ almost everything via Audiobooks on 1.4x speed.

This is a follow up from my last post in 2019 (19 Books in 2019), I’m committed to reading at least as many books per year as the last two digits of the year, increasing the total number of books I read by one per year. My timing is a bit off, as I usually publish these in the summer, but I’m sure I’m going to slip at some point so the buffer is welcome.

The most impactful book I read was ‘Why We Sleep’ by Matthew Walker. I changed my sleep habits, bought an Oura Ring and now understand how caffeine, alcohol, and screen time, and my room conditions affect my sleep cycles. I also now try and sleep 8 hrs a night versus claiming that I don’t need it.


  1. Factfullness (Hans Rosling): Smart people all over the world are wrong about basic facts. In the developed world and as a society we systematically think that the developing world is less developed than the reality. The perception of the % of folks vaccinated, % of children completing primary school, infant mortality are all wildly off. When looking at metrics about developing countries, try not to think about these metrics in isolation – compare them to prior metrics and look at them as %s of the total pool, as many are designed to illicit an emotional response.
  2. *Trillion Dollar Coach (Eric Schmidt): All the best athletes in the world have coaches so why don’t all the best executives? The book opened my eyes to having an external perspective of someone who ‘is on you team’ and forces you to ask the hard questions of yourself. I’m now personally experimenting with coaching, through Automattic.
  3. What You Do Is Who You Are (Ben Horowitz): It does not matter what you write down about your company’s culture. If you, as a leader, don’t lead by example and deeply embody this culture no one will ever adopt it. Culture is constantly evolving and needs constant, deliberate attention as your company scales (more people, more locations etc).
  4. **Why We Sleep (Mathew Walker): This book made me take sleep much more seriously. Alcohol, fatty food, and blue light really mess up REM sleep. REM sleep is super important across every age bucket of our lives and we don’t know all the details. It makes adults creative and helps us store and process information as well as recover. Only drink caffeine in the morning as It has a 6hr half life and blocks the tiredness receptors. Don’t have heavy meals or alcohol close to bedtime, limit screen time and sleep in a cold, dark room.
  5. *Prosperity Paradox (Clay Christensen): Western folks have good intentions but a poor understanding of what it takes to make an impact in developing markets. Corruption is sometimes the only thing people can ‘hire’ for a job to be done, and a cost of doing business. Clay was a Professor at HBS while I was there, and he died this year after a long battle with cancer (RIP).
  6. *This Is Going to Hurt (Adam Kay): It’s really tough to be a junior doctor in the UK. There are long hours, poor pay and lack of recognition associated with the work. Doctors are forced to self sacrifice on personal relationships – friends, partners etc that most people don’t really understand. Even though there is a serious message, this book is very funny.
  7. Shape up (Ryan Singer): This books is about building software at Basecamp. They break development into shaping, betting, and building. They focus on product teams operating in small groups with a few senior people scoping and deciding what problem spaces and projects to work on. Their system pairs well with Basecamp the product, and I imagine this book is also a sales channel for them.
  8. The Expectant Father (Armin Brott): Practical advice for having a baby (I’ll be a dad soon). There are some good summaries for how your (female) partner might feel at each stage and how to be supportive throughout the pregnancy process. I realized that I was a stereotype.
  9. *Fooled By Randomness (Nassim Taleb): People who are ‘successful’ may have been lucky (where they fell on the probability distribution). Don’t listen to everything these successful folks proclaim as there is a lot of confirmation bias and ‘insights’ might not be causation driven, just random. Don’t only rely on empirical evidence, it’s not a substitute for sound theory but it’s a good complement.
  10. *Black Swan (Nassim Taleb): We don’t think of probability distribution enough or as frequently as we should. Confirmation bias of only looking at the survivors / successful people. When considering the future, design systems that are robust (anti fragile) to extreme scenarios (black swans). I read this right when Covid-19 started so it was particularly topical.,
  11. *Elon Musk (Ashely Vance): Elon has a strong drive, attention to detail and work ethic which translates to both vision and very high standards. His personal life has probably suffered because of this intense focus. He has always been intensely curious.
  12. The High Growth Handbook (Elad Gil): This is more of an actual ‘handbook’ which you can refer to as you are building your startup or working as an operator. Contains information on hiring, firing, boards, fundraising, and lots of good interviews with successful operators. 
  13. *Let My People Go Surfing (Yvon Chouinard): He’s an authentic founder and designed his company authentically which translated to a very strong company culture and very loyal customers (I’m one of them). He did not copy operating models, he innovated in new methods of working grounded by his principles such as generous parental leave for employees.
  14. *American Kingpin (Nick Bilton): The story of Silk Road (Online black market) by an idealistic founder who seems like many Silicon Valley technology entrepreneurs on paper and practice. He justified the more unethical actions, which crept up incrementally on the way through a creating a separate persona (DPR – Dread Pirate Roberts).
  15. **Ride Of A Lifetime (Bob Iger): Care for product and for people goes hand in hand. Approach people with respect and empathy – no matter their position. At some point you have to trust your gut on big decisions (Pixar, Lucas Film, Marvel, Twitter). Only focus on things which can be big enough to warrant your time (trombone oil analogy). I grew up loving old Disney movies, all the Pixar stuff, and X-Men and Star Wars so this was a fun behind the scenes read for me.
  16. **What It Takes (Steve Schwartzman): Determination, and persistence are critical to success. When you work at great places and go to great schools you’ll meet great people and so try to get into those places. Listening intensely as this gives you strong recall – he never takes notes, but remembers a lot. It’s just has hard to start a stand business as it is to start a big one so don’t start a small business.
  17. Trailblazer (Mark Benihoff): Try to do well by doing good – don’t compromise on these principles. Unconscious bias is prevalent in tech, and values that are first stated and then executed work (lead with actions not words). I did not love the book, and found Richard Branson’s book much more inspiring and relatable.
  18. *Finding My Virginity (Richard Branson): Show people respect and be humble when you are in a position of power. Make writing a part of your day. Work when you feel effective, take the time off you need. Family and health are incredibly important. I enjoyed reading his stories – he is very charming and weirdly relatable. I enjoyed hearing the M-Kopa reference, as I’m also an investor in the company.
  19. Man’s Search for Meaning (Victor Frankl): The state of mind of a person is highly linked to the state of body (leading indicator). Humans are always looking for a reason to be happy. His recount of life in the Nazi death camps brings these principles to light in a powerful way.
  20. Surely You’re Joking Mr Feynman! (Ricard Feynman): Be intensely curious and learn how things work from first principles – don’t just memorise the answer. It can help you learn more new things and draw parallels across areas that most others are unable to do. A lifelong of learning new skills (e.g. he learned Portuguese, Painting, Drumming) can bring joy, meaning and open up new relationships in your life.

Better Audio for Distributed Work

tl;dr: A wired USB headsets with a mic that is a consistent distance from your mouth is the best option for most people. This is one we recommend at Automattic.


Many of us have transitioned to working from home, and spend a lot more time talking to people over video and voice – we usually have no idea what we sound like to the people on the other end.

This post will give you some practical advice for sounding much clearer, including the specific products that I recommend. I will list recorded clips of each audio device without any additional processing so you can hear what each one sounds like in its original format.

If you prefer watching a video, check out the YouTube video instead.

Summary

There is a lot of research to show that better video and audio quality can reduce cognitive load and increase our attention span. Ultimately, it gets us closer to being in person and I think it’s well worth the investment to buy a good headset and microphone.

General Advice:

  • Make sure that your microphone is a consistent distance away from your mouth. This makes you sound more clear and consistent.  I think that headsets with an adjustable boom mic are the best (like the Jabra Evolve 65). If you don’t move around a lot you can sound really good on a USB mic like the Samson G-Track Pro.
  • A wired connection is more reliable than a Bluetooth connection, and generally sounds better. I sometimes have Bluetooth connection delays when starting Zoom calls but I like the flexibility of being able to walk around the room on audio calls, so the tradeoff is worth it for me.
  • If you are in a noisy place, or don’t have a headset where the mic is a consistent distance from your mouth (these typically block noise really well) then try software solutions like Krisp AI.

Top 3 Microphones

  1. Jabra Evolve 65: I don’t have strong opinions on this particular headset/mic itself, but a headset mic which is a fixed distance from your mouth is the best option for most people. The sound from the Jabra Evolve 65 mic is clear and consistent, and it blocks out most of the external noise. This is not wired, but sounds decent, and allows me to move around my room.
  2. Samson G Track Pro: This wired USB microphone has the best sound but it’s a little more fussy. You need a quiet room with decent acoustics in your space (soft things, no echo) and you need to tolerate that it’s absolutely massive, heavy and has an industrial look to it.
  3. Apple Airpod Pros: They actually sounded decent and were a big upgrade from the first version of the Airpods (which sounded awful). They are compact, so if you are traveling, or on the go, they are not a bad option especially as they also have built in noise cancellation.

Detailed Comparison

For each of the devices (photos above for scale), I recorded a short clip saying exactly the same thing and did not do any post processing. Here are some photos of each one (my wife added the teddy bear to the shot), the audio clip and a short summary of how I think it sounds.

I’ve ordered these from the best to the worst sounding, in my opinion.

Samson G Track Pro – $130

This microphone sounds leaps and bounds above the rest, but it’s big and needs to be a consistent distance away from your face so you can’t really move around while you are speaking, or it’s really distracting to the other person. The audio quality is fantastic, and makes you sound really clear. I recorded my YouTube video with this microphone.

Jabra Evolve 65 – $160

These sound clear, consistent and generally really good (especially the noise cancelling). The sound is a bit less ‘natural’ to me but all in all I was very impressed. These are my main pair of headphones for Zoom calls, and I’ve used them for around a year. The bluetooth pairing can be really annoying at the start of calls but a recent firmware update has made this much better.

I paid $160 for these last summer (June 2019), but they look to have gone up in price, possibly due a surge in demand as folks transition to working from home.

AirPod Pros – $230

These were surprisingly good despite not being that close to my mouth, but no where close to as good as the Jabras. The noise cancellation is adequate, and not a bad option on the go. They are a massive upgrade in sound quality from the first generation AirPods.

MacBook Pro 13 inch – $1700 (base model)

This does not sound great. It’s echo-ey and boomy and picks up a lot of background noise (although I was in a quiet place). I’d only use this if absolutely necessary.

Bose QC 35 II  – $350

Bluetooth Mic

This sounds pretty bad, and I would not recommend it. The audio is ‘grainy’ and it’s distractingly bad to hear. Please don’t use them.

Wired Mic

The wired microphone is a big upgrade to the bluetooth mic, and would rank above the Airpod Pros.

Apple AirPods First Generation – $130

These also sounded pretty bad, and I had no idea! I have been using them for calls for two years and am pretty sad about it now. I’m happy I’ve replaced them with the AirPod Pros (only last week, due to battery issues).

Beats Studio 3 – $220

In my opinion, this is the worst sounding headset. The audio is echoey, grainy, and overall absolutely terrible. Throw them to the curb or only ever use them for listening (which I don’t love either as they hurt my, large, ears).


When listening to the results, I was quite surprised at how much the audio quality can vary. The more expensive Bose and Beats headsets have really good sounding headphones, but really really bad microphones despite their high costs. I much prefer the Bose QC 35 to the Beats Studio3 for listening, for what it’s worth.

I think it’s worth investing in better audio, and with a wired USB headset with a boom mic it can be relatively affordable. You’ll get your message across more clearly and your friends and colleagues will enjoy your interactions more, without even realizing it.

Mechanical Watches

I really like mechanical wrist watches. They have been every day tools since the 1800s and are a mix of precise craftsmanship, complex engineering and aesthetic beauty (form and function). They can often be high quality products that last a lifetime, and serve as a both a memory of the past and as a reminder that time is my only irrevocable resource and I should use it well.

This is a nerdy, niche post. I’ll cover why I think mechanical watches are interesting to me, summarize how they work, and list out a few complications and why most are useless 🙂


Why are they interesting?

As humans, we’ve been telling the time since before recorded history. The sundial was invented before we had records, and common in both Egypt and China by 3500 BC. The first watch was made in Germany in the 1505 as a pocket watch. Wrist watches have been around since 1868, and the first wrist watch was made by legendary watchmaking company, Patek Philippe for a Hungarian Countess. Wrist watches were almost exclusively worn by women and men would carry pocket watches until World War 1 when wrist watches took off for men given their usefulness as a tool for soldiers. They grew in popularity for men over women from this point onwards. High quality, accurate watches now exist in almost every price point from a few dollars to $18m for Paul Newman’s Rolex Daytona.

The Holy Trinity of Swiss watchmaking are Audemars Piguet, Vacheron Constantin, and Patek Philippe because of their very long history (100+ years old) and consistent quality of luxury watchmaking. Rolex is arguably the most successful brand in the watch industry but started as a tool watch, made of steel vs. precious metals and always focused on reliability and durability versus complicated movements or ornate finishings.

I first became interested in watches as a young child. Both my parents owned and wore good watches (Omegas) and my favorite gifts from their travels were plastic Swatch’s with dial protectors. One of my prized possessions when I was 10 was my Casio G-Shock, and I wore my first proper watch (a blue Omega Seamaster in 2003) every day for over 10 years.

Watches are first and foremost tools. They can be used ever single day, have a (mostly) timeless design, and high quality timepieces can last a lifetime. Quality mechanical watches are fairly accurate (+/- 2 seconds a day), and require deep knowledge and skill to build and maintain. I also like that they can last across generations and carry the stories with them – one of my favorite watches is my dad’s because it reminds me of him every time I wear it.

I know that mechanical watches are an outdated technology and both quartz and atomic clocks are a step function more accurate. Quartz watches (battery powered) are accurate to +/- a few seconds a month and atomic clocks (your smartphone clock) are almost perfectly accurate. However, neither have the romanticism or require the craftsmanship of a mechanical watch, nor will either help us when the robots take over the world.


How do they work?

Mechanical watches are complex little machines that have to be precisely engineered, assembled and maintained to work properly. Here are the major components and how they fit together:

  1. Crown: The crown typically has three states, a locked state, a winding state and a time setting state for the most simple watches. In the winding state the crown connects to a set of gears to wine up the main spring.
  2. Mainspring: The mainspring, is the energy store, which can by wound up manually or by a self winding or automatic movement.
  3. Automatic movements: An automatic movement has a weighted rotor which usually exists in addition to a manual winding. Most modern rotors can wind the mainspring in either direction.
  4. Balance Wheel: The balance wheel and hairspring handles the transfer of energy from the mainspring in a consistent manner. This swings back and fourth and gives a watch that ‘ticking’ sound. It’s one of the most sensitive parts of a watch and typically is both shock absorbent and and anti magnetic.
  5. Escapement: The escapement meters out the energy from the mainspring to the wheel train into equal regular parts to move them a precise amount.
  6. Wheel trains: The wheel trains are set of gears layered on top of each other, which move at typically 6 beats per second which is why second hand looks ‘sweeping’ on many mechanical watches. There is typically one for minutes, one for hours and each of these gears has a watch face hand on it.
  7. Jewels: Jewels are used for lubrication and they reduce friction by acting as bearings (not because they are precious). Jewels are very smooth and hard and make mechanical watches last long time.
A good overview of how a watch works

What are complications?

Complications are additional functions added to mechanical watches to improve their usefulness. Here is a list of the most common comlpications and why I find them useful or useless.

  • Date: The date of the month, which is pretty useful but is getting less so as we work more digitally.
  • Day: The day of the week, not really useful until everyone started working from home.
  • GMT: The ability to add in a second time zone, typically with another hand. In the photo above the time almost 6pm in the second time zone. This the most useful complication in my opinion especially for people who travel across time zones.
  • Moon phase: This displays a the different kinds of moons – new, quarter, half and full moon. It’s a pretty romantic complication, and one I like (although have never owned a watch with a moon phase).
  • Power reserve: This is an indicator to tell the user how much ‘charge’ remains in the main spring, and seems like a pretty useful indicator for a manual wind or automatic watch, although I’ve never had a watch with a power reserve indicator.
  • Chronograph: A chronograph is basically a stop watch with seconds, minutes and hours typically. It’s really not that useful as you don’t often need a timer and when you do a phone is a much better device. I have a chronograph and almost never use it.
  • Perpetual calendar: A perpetual calendar watch stores the day, month, and year and accounts for leap years as well. It’s a rare complication typically in expensive watches. I don’t think it’s particularly useful unless you are wearing the perpetual calendar watch regularly enough that it stays wound.
  • Tourbilon: Tourbilons were designed to improve the accuracy of wall mounted clocks by eliminating the errors caused by gravity. They do not significantly improve the accuracy of modern wrist watches, and are very expensive and difficult to produce. I don’t really see the point of ever buying a watch with this complication.
  • Minute repeater: Minute repeaters were found in pocket watches in the 1800s. This is a chime (pattern of sound) when specific conditions are met, usually on demand. It is very difficult to make, and uses hammers and gongs with the case. Much like tourbilons, I don’t see the point of ever buying a watch with this complication.

My favorite complication is the GMT, and I have the second time set to Kenya which reminds me of home and I often glance at the second time and think about what my parents might be up to. I like the idea and the romance of a Moon Phase, but until I actually own a watch which has one, it’s hard for me to tell if it lives up to the idea in my head.

Trekking and Ski Gear

When I buy equipment, I research it intensely and I am sharing my picks below in case they are useful for you. I’ve put these gear picks to the test by skiing (12 resorts) and trekking (places like Kilimanjaro, Annapurna Circuit) in harsh conditions over the last 5 years, with some pictures below.

If you buy proper, high quality gear, it is re-useable for both trekking and skiing and will last a really long time. I don’t have any perspective on style (as you can see from my pictures), and this post is primarily about function and some of the products that I like.

Summary

Here are the main takeaways in case you don’t care for the details:

  1. Dress in layers – you’ll typically need a base, mid and outer layer for cold weather.
  2. Your first layer should be merino wool, if possible, as it’s functional in hot and cold weather and you can wear it for a long time without it getting smelly.
  3. Your outer layers should be high quality Gore-Tex shells, particularly for your jacket. Make sure your jacket has a hood.
  4. Get a neck buff. It’s the most versatile thing that I have, and a lifesaver.

Layers

When you buy your gear, it’s best to buy in layers vs integrated (insulated) items. It’s definitely more expensive, but quality gear lasts a long time, is more versatile in seasons, and really makes a difference to your comfort level in harsh (freezing, windy) conditions on the mountains.

  1. Base Layer: Get good quality merino wool base layers for your tops (1 short, 1-2 long sleeve) and bottoms (1-2 underwear, 1-2 tights), and socks (2-3 pairs). This will last a long trekking trip of up to a week, and a week long ski trip, minus the underwear. For value, I like Smartwool, but my preferred merino wool baselayers are from Mons Royale, which are good quality and slightly more thoughtfully designed.
  2. Mid Layer: You really just need one mid layer jacket. I LOVE my Patagonia Nano Air with a hood. I’ve bought one of these for everyone in my family. I also recently read the founder of Patagonia’s book “Let my people go surfing” and it’s hard not to be inspired by his authenticity.
  3. Outer Layer: Get a good Gore-Tex shell jacket (not insulated), and this is more important than trousers. I got mine from Arc’teryx but their stuff is pretty pricey. I got my trousers from Arc’teryx too, as they have some nice synergies (jacket clips to pants) but you can easily get more affordable trousers if you’re budget constrained.

Merino Wool

Merino wool is the best! It’s so much better than synthetics for long trekking trips and ski trips. It keeps you cool when it’s hot and warm when it’s cold, still performs well when it’s wet and you can wear it for 2-3 days without it getting super smelly. It’s more expensive, and a little harder to take care of as you need to wash it in cold water and hang it up to dry. The performance and comfort improvements are well worth the trade off. Here is a good summary of the pros and cons if you want more info.

Outer Layer

I’m not a Gore-Tex expert (good article here) but have owned a few jackets now, and think they are all pretty fantastic. The jacket I have from Arc’teryx is made from the Gore-Tex Pro material which has 3-layers of material to make it even more waterproof and durable. I really like the Patagonia shells too, and they come in at a slightly lower price point than Arc’teryx. Make sure your jacket has a hood (so useful for keeping warm and dry) and make sure that the hood is big enough to fit over your ski helmet.

Neck Buffs

A good neck buff is so useful – it protects your face from wind on the chairlift or if there is ice smacking your face and keeps your neck warm. It’s a must have on trekking and ski trips. Here is the neck buff I have, which is merino wool from Mons Royale (around $30) and it’s great.


A lot of this gear is expensive, and if you buy it all it can add up. You can almost always get everything on sale; I bought almost everything at least 30% off retail. If you look after the equipment, it can last a really long time. My shells are seven years old and still in great working condition. On a cost per wear basis a good quality product always ends up being worth it versus. a lower quality product. Also when you are at the top of a mountain, freezing your tushie off a little less, you’ll thank me.

My Top 5 Products of 2019

Last year, I wrote up some of my favourite new products of 2018 and I thoughts I’d do the same this year. For each product, I’ll summarize what it is and why I like it.

Nutzo Butter ($20)

Nutzo butter is a mix of different nuts, when all put together has a pretty delicious flavor. It’s made up of all natural ingredients as well, with no preservatives.

It’s good as a snack by the spoonful, in smoothies and with bread. Of all the nut butter varieties I’ve tried, this is definitely the best. Like all nut butter it’s super caloric though, so go easy 🙂

Outdoor Voices ($55-85)

Note: Referral Link (20% off)

Outdoor Voices make workout and Athleisure clothes. It’s a Direct to Consumer (DTC) brand founded by 30 year old Tyler Haney (How I built this podcast episode here). Outdoor Voice is a play on not using your indoor voice and being free / playful.

I’ve tried the cloud knit t-shirt, hoodie and track pants. They are stretchy, very soft and wick moisture well (but not as well as performance tees). They are very comfortable and have become my go to lounge wear and travel clothes. The tee is quite good for hiking, lounging and working out which makes it a pretty versatile piece.

Freshly ($10/meal)

Note: This link is my referral link (Give $40, Get $40)

When I’m busy during the week it’s easy to come home and order food instead of having a healthy meal. I always over-order or order something that is not healthy enough. I started ordering 6 meals a week from Freshly which take about 3 minutes to prepare in the microwave and eat them mostly for dinner but sometimes for lunch when I’m home.

They are the equivalent of outsourcing ‘meal prep’ with a bit more variety and range between 400-600 calories per meal. My favourite is the Cauliflower Bolognese but many of the chicken breast with veggie options are also really good.

1Password ($60/year for family)

1Password is a password manager that keeps all your passwords in a vault. This lets you have unique passwords for all the services you use and also share passwords with your family or colleagues.

I did not realize how many random products and services that I sign up for and try. 1Password let’s me try these without thinking about what password I should use and they have desktop, chrome and mobile apps so that you can access your passwords on the go – sometimes they are a little buggy, but overall this is a way better experience than remembering a few passwords and using them everywhere which is what most people do.

I also use Authy for all the accounts with 2-factor authentication – basically anything with lots of personal data or finance related which I like as well.

Buffalo Jackson Walker Satchel ($250)

I’ve been looking for a slim, casual leather satchel for a long time. Most of the ones I tried were too formal, too big or felt too cheap / or were too expensive. I wanted this satchel to replace my gym bag or backpack which I felt were both too big to carry when I literally just wanted to carry my laptop around.

I’ve had the “Walker” satchel for about 4 months now and really like it. It’s well made, feels good quality and has a low profile. I’m able to carry my laptop, charger and another item like my lunch or an umbrella without a problem.

Podcasts – My Faves

Note: Updated in March 2020

In addition to audio books, I love listening to podcasts. They relate mostly technology, entrepreneurship and mental models.

I use Overcast and listen to most podcasts on around 1.25-1.5x speed without any noticeable sound distortion. Overcast also has a nice feature which dynamically adjusts the speed if ads or ‘intro sequences’ are played so you save some time when listening.

Here are some of my favorites in rough order:

  • How I Built This: Guy Raz from NPR interviews entrepreneurs who have built successful companies and they share their stories. I’ve listened to every episode and find it quite inspiring.
  • Invest Like the Best: Patrick O’Shaughnessy gets lots of smart investors and finance futurists on his show and I’ve improved as an investor through listening.
  • Hidden Brain: Shankar Vedantam from NPR presents well researched episodes about the human behaviour and society.
  • Freakonomics: Steven Dubner gets some really excellent guests to talk through a variety of topical issues. I don’t listen to them all, but select the ones that I find interesting.
  • Recode Decode: Kara Swisher from VOX interviews folks in the tech community. She’s witty, dry, opinionated and gets really interesting guests on her show.
  • The Knowledge Project: Shane Parrish has a wide range of thought leaders across a range of areas. I don’t listen to them all, and pick the guests I find interesting.
  • Starting Greatness: Mike Maples (partner of Floodgate) gets some excellent technology investors and entrepreneurs and shares lots of good stories and wisdom.
  • Distributed: Matt Mullenweg, CEO of Automattic interviews folks who know a lot about building remote/distributed companies and scaling them.
  • Tim Ferris Show: Tim can be polarizing, and his interviews are long. I pick and choose shows with people or topics where I have interest. I found his podcasts with Peter Attia to be particularly good about health and longevity.
  • Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders: A Stanford series on the story of mainly technology entrepreneurs. It was the first podcast I listened to regularly and has been running for a long time (10+ years).
  • How To Get Rich: This special mention is a 3.5hr podcast from Naval Ravikant with some good principles. I don’t love the title, but the content is excellent.
  • A16Z Podcast: This is really tech centric, and I only listen to the episodes with people or topics that I’m interested in learning more about.
  • Serial: Sarah Koenig presents, and I really enjoyed Season 1 in particular. A lot of folks in the US who become regular podcast listeners start with Serial.
  • Software Engineering Daily: This one is new, but I’ve enjoyed listening to more technical folks talk about designing systems.
  • Exponent: Ben and James talk about tech and society and are both really smart, thoughtful guys. James and I are friends from business school, which is an added bonus 🙂
  • The China Africa Project: Lots of interesting topics about the intersection of economics, politics and technology between China and Africa – likely a bit niche for most.
  • Hodinkee Radio: Another niche podcast about the weird world of horology.

19 Books in 2019

I started listening to books via Audible and it’s really helped me ‘read’ more, and am consuming books at about 3-4x the rate that I did in 2018. I prefer audio for most stories, and especially for autobiographies spoken by the author themselves.

I also decided to write 1 line for each book that I read to remind myself of one thing that I learned, which helps me remember some of my learnings from the book.

I’ve starred (*) my faves in the list (in the order I ‘read’ them)

  1. *Never Split the Difference (Chris Voss): Negotiation is about empathy, and understanding the person. At the end of the negotiation, that person should want to negotiate with you again. Identify, Label, and ask questions starting with ‘How can I’. Get people to say ’that’s right’ and agree before moving the negotiation forward.
  2. Thinking Fast and Slow (Daniel Kannemann): System 1: gut and System 2: logic. Often times each system can betray the other system. Presenting the same thing in different ways can profoundly change the way it’s perceived. Different people behave totally differently in the same situation given their personal circumstance.
  3. Mindset (Carol Dwek): Growth mindset people derive value and joy from learning, effort and progression, Fixed mindset people derive value and self worth/unworth from comparative outcome.
  4. The Outsiders (William N. Thorndike): Profiles of 8 successful CEOs – all super analytical, excellent capital allocators (including aggressively buying back stock), and focused on generating cashflow and value for investors. Great CEOS hire young, less proven leaders and incentivized them with value creation.
  5. **7 Habits of highly effective people (Steven Covey): I really enjoyed this book.Do things that have meaning to you, value relationships, have a family mission statement and make sure everyone understands expectations and roles and responsibilities. Talk openly about problems and issues.
  6. **Principles (Ray Dalio): When you talk to people actually be open to your idea being wrong and really listen to their point of view, especially if they have high believability. Have a set of founding principles which you run your life (e.g. meaningful relationships and meaningful work), and company and make sure that the people around you know and are bought into those principles. Idea meritocracy is his general framework – make your passion and your work one and the same.
  7. *Homo Deus (Yuval Harari): Suicide rates are high (2/100 people who die, kill themselves), What’s more important – intelligence or consciousness? What happens when algorithms know us better than we know ourselves from our actions (but what about our deep conscious being)? What happens when all the tasks what we do now can all be done better by non-conscious beings (Robots)? 
  8. *Red notice (Bill Browder): make sure you always do what is right and if you see an opportunity that you have unique insight on, make sure to execute on it.
  9. *Born a crime (Trevor Noah): being able to communicate and be accepted in lots of wide groups is incredibly useful in life, and allows you to build bonds with people.
  10. The hate u give (Angie Thomas): it’s hard being a young black person in the US and they will be subject to a level of discrimination that I’ll never experience.
  11. The 10x Rule (Grant Cardone): I did not really enjoy the book. He biases to action and high effort/action to be productive – termed at ‘Massive Action’ and feels like it’s targeted towards people with high levels of inertia. This is counter to a lot of smart folks in the value investing world – e.g. Warren Buffet. 
  12. *Shoe dog (Phil Knight): trade prevents war, and helps create empathy for each other. Phil reads to learn before every important tasks. America is no longer the entrepreneurial shangri la. Find your calling because you’ll be able to keep motivated with bumps along the road.
  13. Sapiens (Yuval Harari): I forgot to write anything for this book so this is a bit weak – there are so many themes about culture, religion, socieatal norms that I learned about that I was ignorant to .
  14. *Thousand Splendid Suns (Khalid Hosseni): Life was very hard for women in the 90s during the Afghan war. Men who beat their wives are cowards, and  this book makes you hate them even more.
  15. First 90 days (Michael Watkins): Leaders try and do too much upfront. Focus on learning and getting to know the team l, culture, process and product. Make sure you have a quick win or two. Make sure you write down your plan and are in sync with your manager.
  16. Extreme ownership (Jocko Willink):  I thought the book was a bit gimmicky. There are no bad teams only bad leaders, leader is ultimately responsible. Make sure teams understand the why and are empowered to ask when they don’t understand. Simplicity is important.
  17. Enders shadow (Orson Scott-Card): Building relationships and trust is as important as being a great strategist.
  18. *Just Mercy (Bryan Stevenson): The criminal justice system is broken in the US with so many black people incarcerated, even as children for their lives. More insight into the lives of poor, black people in America.
  19. 21 Lessons (Yuval Harari): This is the 3rd book I’ve read from Yuval Harari who I really like – his clarity of thought is exceptional. This book covers topical issues like AI/Future of Work/Universal Basic Income (UBI), Religion/Country design, Mental health /Aging and Wellbeing.

Personal productivity tools (free)

I love using tools to make myself more productive and let fewer things fall through the cracks. There are so many great (free) tools available and here are a few of the ones that have helped me the most:

Calendly: Scheduling is one of the biggest time sinks for me. Calendly allows me to share my availability (in time slots that I define) and allow people to schedule time with me without the back and forth usually required. It usually saves me 3-5 emails per scheduled call and I like it better than using virtual assistants like Clara or Byron ($200 per month each). I use the free version which I imagine would fit most people’s needs.

Streak: If you manage any kind of pipeline (sales, investments, recruiting) and use gmail, then I highly recommend Streak. I’ve used it to track potential investments, investors and for recruiting. Streak allows you to have a CRM in your inbox and also scales well to multiple users. It allows me to stay organized, have a record of interactions, and make sure that I don’t let to-dos drop. I use the free version as well, but it costs $50 per month if you’re using it with multiple people or need API access.

Gmail canned responses: I realized that I was very frequently writing the same set of emails over and over again: 1) Scheduling time 2) Making a connection 3) Product information 4) Passing on an investment. I use the Gmail canned response feature to add in the re-used content in addition to the personalized note that I send.