Evernote: The Iron Man Suit for Your Brain

Recently I was invited to talk about productivity at an Evernote meetup. This is the write up on the Evernote Blog.

 “Work out a process for yourself. Write down your requirements then look for a tool. It is about the design and the process. Agree to a certain method of communication with your team. If you can’t agree on that, no collaboration tool will help.”

This was the most important thing I had to say about productivity during the event. It took me years of fiddling around with tools to finally realise.

Early on at Minitheory I’d always be playing around with the latest project management tools, hoping that one of them will solve all our problems. We jumped from Basecamp to Asana to a custom Google Spreadsheet I made, back to Basecamp before finally settling on Trello.

I’d play around with these in glee and shift the whole team from one tool to the other. It was fun for me but met with a collective groan from my colleagues. That’s when someone sent me an article to draw out the process on a napkin first before choosing the tools that suit the job. I’ve followed that advice ever since.

Thoughts on turning 30

I recently turned 30. A few of my other compatriots and I were all feeling some anxiety to “make it” before we turned 30. As though there was some biological deadline we needed to meet in order to be considered successful. Some of the pressure also comes from getting hitched and providing for a family.

The media doesn’t help. Teenage whizkids who make it big from an early age are always newsworthy. People around me aspire to be the next Mark Zukerburg, Bill Gates or Steve Jobs. From a personal point of view, even my ex-bosses Jessica Mah and Andy Su founded their company when they were 19 years old.

In many ways this is a classic case of media over-representation. We’re too hard on ourselves. Not everyone one is a genius-level entrepreneur. Perhaps there’s wisdom in recognising our limitations.

I wouldn’t consider myself smarter than the next person, although I do get immensely passionate about certain things I care about. In that regard, my aspiration is to be more like Jiro Ono. The kind of person who does one thing well throughout his whole life.

This recent interview sums up his outlook on work and life.

“I have said before that you must like your job. If you start saying: ‘I don’t like this’ or ‘This isn’t the job for me,’ you won’t become an expert in anything. If you’ve taken on a job or career, you need to like it and continue moving forward. Young people today say they are great, but when it comes to work, they don’t compare to previous generations.”

More and more I see value in just grinding it out. Just heads down, working at something for years and years until you get good at it. That’s why I admire Jiro Ono and what he stands for: grit, working hard and constant improvement.

“If you don’t learn to love your work and remind your brain to make new steps everyday, there can be no progress… There is a lot of failure before that [feeling of being a master]… You go through failures and successes, and more failures for years until it feels like you have achieved what you had in mind the whole time.”

If you haven’t watched Jiro Dreams of Sushi, do yourself a favour and catch it now.

Life as a young geek in Liverpool

My wife and I were in the UK two weeks ago. We were in London for the touristy stuff, Manchester to visit Old Trafford, but most importantly we were in Liverpool to visit the city where we grew up.

Our dads were both postgrad students at the University of Liverpool when we were kids and our families remained close after we left the UK. Life is strange. They never would have guessed Mel and I would fall in love and get married 20 years later!


In any case, we were back in Liverpool to take a trip down memory lane.


This is the primary school Mel and I went to. It’s much smaller now.


Primary school in the UK is from 9am to 3pm, so my dad would pick me up after school and bring me to his lab, which was just a five minute walk away. I’d spend a few hours fiddling with a computer while he worked. I have such fond memories of those times.


He started me off with Paintbrush on Windows 3.1. I’d draw random shapes and then use the eraser tool to clear things off. Then someone showed me how to resize the eraser tool to get a bigger eraser. But that doesn’t compare to the day I discovered File New.

At one point I was brought to an original Macintosh. I can’t remember what programme I was playing with, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t Mac Paint, because you could use draw using symbols.


There was also a period of time when I discovered the beauty of DOS games. Sopwith Camel was a game that I really couldn’t figure out, but I had fun crashing the plane anyway.


Next up was Prince of Persia, another sadistically hard game for a five-year-old. I don’t know why I kept at it. Perhaps it was the first time I saw such smooth animation on a screen. (Later in life I would figure out the cheat codes, but it was still hard.)


I had no love for Minesweeper, but Solitaire was where I spent the majority of my time. I thought it was impossible to complete until someone showed me it could be done.


Never thought I’d be ecstatic at something as inane as bouncing cards.


Beyond computers, my dad’s lab hosted a lot of other great memories. Such as the time when he was proudly showing me a silicon wafer he’d been polishing for a week, which he then promptly dropped on the floor. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him curse and swear as much as that day.

I was pretty fascinated when he showed me how to work a soldering iron, and I was playing with soldering on some transistors onto circuit boards. I mean, nothing worked because it was all random, but it was fun to pretend. To this day I have no idea why I didn’t end up as an engineer!


Philamonic Court, where my family lived 22 years ago. It’s being demolished right now. We were a few months too late. Heartbroken. Mel had a worse time. They place she was staying at was torn down 20 years ago. Now they have student residences all over the place.


This is the Metropolitan Church, one of the landmarks in the city. The architecture is beautiful. It was built in the fifties.


I must say, Liverpool has become such a pleasant city. It seems like a great place to live.

I have to say I was pretty disappointed that a lot of things I remembered as a kid has changed and now the only links to my childhood are pretty much severed. People do attach a lot of memories to places, and this is the price to pay for progress I guess.

Now the only archive I have of my childhood days are the memories I have in my head. Memories are unreliable. They are patchy, they can’t be backed up and they become more romanticised with age. Looks like I have to double down on my journaling efforts, especially for our future kids’ sake.

How successful people work less—and get more done – Quartz

How I’ve always approached productivity:

The study found that productivity per hour declines sharply when the workweek exceeds 50 hours, and productivity drops off so much after 55 hours that there’s no point in working any more. That’s right, people who work as much as 70 hours (or more) per week actually get the same amount done as people who work 55 hours.