Category Archives: Personal

Books I should read on my vacation?

Matt Cutts’ recent blog post gave me the idea to also crowd source recommendations for my own needs.

In 10 days, I’m headed off for my honeymoon to Fiji where I”ll be relaxing on white sand beaches.  I need suggestions on what books I should be reading.  That’s where you come in 🙂

Here are 4 books I’ve read in the last few years that I’ve really enjoyed for various reasons:

Here are books that a few people have already suggested:

Let’s hear your suggestions!

Inbox Zero and Getting Things Done

I’ve wanted to implement the Getting Things Done (GTD) process, especially since I deal with so much email on a daily basis.  After years of haphazardly adopting a subset of the GTD practices, I finally decided that 2009 was going to be the year that I got my inbox, and productivity, under control.

Being a “knowledge worker”, the work I do on a daily basis depends on so many other people both inside my team and outside my team, so a lot of work is done in email and in meetings.  Because of this, the volume of email that I get can be absolutely crazy at times, as everyone else at Microsoft (and other large tech companies) can attest to.

After about a week of re-reading David Allen’s awesome book and listening to Merlin’s Man’simage great podcast (and interview with David Allen), I was ready to dive into transforming how I deal with email and tasks.

One of the first things I did was to bug Mike and Omar, who are the closest thing to productivity gurus that I know personally. Both of them were great in fielding my random questions, giving tips and even pointing out apps and Outlook customizations that might help me in my quest for email nirvana.  Mike even survived my barrage of questions during a recent lunch we had to catch up with what has been going on since we last met up. Little did he know, I was going to turn out social lunch into “GTD 101” 🙂

As of last Tuesday, I’m happy to say that all my hard work paid off.  I finally got to Inbox Zero!  Prior to this, I had over 5000 items in my inbox. 

Getting to this milestone involved a lot more than just hitting the <delete> key (although not being afraid to delete emails is a key step in all of this).  It also involved creating a sustainable workflow in Outlook 2007, which is our lifeblood at Microsoft.  Getting that workflow implemented required a lot of customization in the UI as well as VBA macros.  Another big thanks to Mike for sharing his tips for customizing Outlook – it really got me off to a running start.  My workflow is a very close to his, with some subtle but important differences that make it work better for me.

Here’s a screenshot I took of my inbox about 30 seconds after I cleared the last email out on Tuesday at 10:45pm:


Some important things I learned out of this process:

  1. No amount of software tools is going to help you – you need to commit mentally to the process and have a sustainable workflow that makes sense to you.
  2. While the entire GTD workflow is important, don’t be afraid to customize certain portions of it for your liking. For example, I don’t use many of the @ categories like @Work and @Calls.  Just find something that works for you.
  3. Don’t be afraid of the <DELETE> key. Delete, delete, delete!
  4. The upfront costs you need to invest in seem like a lot, but it’s really not.  The payoff you get in productivity improvement is worth it.  I’m already experiencing less mental weight and improved productivity after 3 days of jumping in.

I’ll be blogging continually on the topic of GTD and productivity, since it’s now a topic that I’m even more passionate about.  Using Outlook 2007, and being inside a corporate environment, I found it hard to adopt some of the existing ideas I read on various blogs.  So hopefully my future writing on my workflow within the constraints of my environment will help someone else and also act as a form of an archive so that if I ever need to explain my specific process to someone else, I can just have them read the stuff I write about on this blog.


I received an innocuous looking email today in my inbox with the subject line:

I-485 / AOS Approval Received

I’m used to getting emails about immigration matters all the time seeing as I’ve been living in the US on various work visas over the past 8 years. Usually it’s about immigration policy changes, delays in my processing, or a notification that my current work visa is about to expire.

All the work visas I have been on expire periodically, with the most recent ones expiring every single year.

However, throughout all of this, I’ve been patiently very patiently waiting for my Green Card application to get approved (also known as “Permanent Residency”).

When I got today’s email, I slowly opened it as read these words:

We are pleased to inform you that your application for adjustment of status has been approved. We have received a Welcome Notice and the Permanent Resident card. We will forward these to your office via courier.
We encourage you to review the webpage entitled, “Now That You Are a Permanent Resident” on USCIS’s website (link below) for more information about your new status…..


I never thought this day would come, and have been increasingly pessimistic as seemingly everyone around me was getting approved years before me.  I’m ecstatic to have finally put an end to this entire ordeal!



Personal Goals for 2009

I started formal goal setting last year, so to continue that trend, here are the 7 personal goals I’m looking to accomplish in 2009 in no particular order:image

  1. Drink 64 ounces of water at least 5 days a week: I definitely don’t drink enough water on a regular basis, and given there are so many health benefits, this will help me get back on the healthy rehydration train.
  2. Hit the weights at least twice a week: Over the past 6 months, I’ve been the gym at most once a week and can definitely feel myself more tired and stressed out.   I used to go to the gym 3+ days a week to lift weights, but since work and my personal life have gotten much busier in the last year, it’s been harder and harder to find the time.  To make matters worse, the shuttle bus I used to take to work, really took a chunk out of my day and reduced my flexibility with when I could go to the gym even if I wanted to.  With a renewed commitment for fitness and my return to driving my car at least 3 times a week, I’m confident I’ll be able to get back into the swing of things again.
  3. Stick to my financial budget 9 out of 12 months: I’ve never been great at creating a personal budget, mostly because of the time investment required to stick to one.  However, I came across the 60% solution earlier this year, which not only aligns with my personal view of budgeting, but also requires far less time than other traditional budgeting solution.  I’m still looking for a great financial tracking solution, and have wafted between Microsoft Money and for the past few months.  I love that Money has the 60% solution budget system built in, but despise the fact that it is rich client app with no cloud service for access to my info from different PCs.  I love Mint, but hate the fact that they don’t allow customized root-level categories which is required for the 60% budgeting solution.
  4. Start and finish the Strobist and OneLight DVDs: I’ve had these sitting on my shelf for over 2 months and haven’t even cracked either of them yet.  I have no excuse other than just prioritizing other activities over it, so I’ll be going over and finishing the material over the next few months.
  5. File my 2008 taxes by the end of February: I am the worst procrastinator when it comes to filing my taxes and it was particularly bad last year with my mailing my 2007 return on the last possible day.  I vow to be less rushed this year and file them before the end of February.
  6. Complete the 365 days project: My first go-round with 52 weeks was an utter disaster with me dropping out after only 3 weeks.  I blamed the lack of regularity in my failure, so I took on the 365 days project recently after purchasing my new Nikon D700.  For those that aren’t familiar with this project, it is a photo project where you take a photo of yourself every day for a full year (hence the name “365 days”).  I have a remarkable set of friends that are super supportive of my participation in this project, many of which are doing it themselves.  I’ve had some great photos come out of this project already, and just finished Day 46 on my final day in St. Thomas.  Here’s to finishing up 319 more days!
  7. Spend more time with friends: I know this goal is ambiguous and definitely not easily measured, but I’m going to set it anyways.  This past year has been terrible for my time spent with friends, and it is particularly bad when I look at the possibility of my best friend moving away from Seattle.  I’ll be focusing on doing a better job prioritizing time with friends over other work and other solitary activities (except if they are related to #1-6 above :))

So there you have it, my goals for 2009.  Any ‘09 goals you want to share?

Seattle Snowmageddon ‘08

I am officially trapped in Seattle.

After hitting a record low temperature, Seattle got dumped on with a crazy amount of snow for the past 3 days.  Normally, I would welcome a huge snowfall like this, but the weather has been nothing but a curse for my holiday travel plans.

I scheduled an 7:40am Amtrak train ride back home on Sunday, but that was canceled due to snow.  I didn’t find out until 5am that the train was canceled, and the next day’s trains were already booked solid.  I then managed to snag a reservation for the last seat for Tuesday morning’s train.

As Monday progressed, the travel situation got worse.  Monday’s trains and buses were all canceled, as well as many flights out of Seatac due to problems with their de-icing trucks.  I got a call from my sister’s boyfriend who had his flight canceled out of Seattle and he ended up crashing with me last night.

We both have reservations for tomorrow’s train, and the day after just in case Tuesday’s train is also canceled.  I am keeping my fingers crossed that I can make it home in time for Christmas day.

The only highlight out of all this mess was last night’s sledding down Queen Anne Hill.  Here are some images and videos I took with my new Samsung NV24HD point-and-shoot digital camera, which takes 720p videos.


Don't be a wuss!Street fires in Queen Anne

You can watch the video embedded below, or click-through each one to go to YouTube to watch them in HD (no idea why YouTube doesn’t allow embedding of HD video yet).

Contemplating whether sledding down is a good idea:

It’s a great idea

Watch a guy ride a scooter down the hill beside a sledder:

Jason fails at sledding down the hill: