What I’ve Learnt From My 30-in-30 Writing Challenge

What I’ve Learnt From My 30-in-30 Writing Challenge

This is my 30th and last post for my 30-in-30 writing challenge!

The main aim of the challenge was to allow me to feel more confident and comfortable with writing and to become better at writing by writing every day for 30 days.

Even though I took a 3-day break in the middle of the challenge, the objective of the challenge has been met (and made some unexpected gains). Hence, I’m announcing that this challenge is a success! ☺

Since this is the last post of the challenge, I thought it would be apt that I end the challenge by sharing the lessons I’ve learnt throughout the challenge.

Here are the 8 valuable lessons I took away from the challenge:

1. I can write well

I think this is the most important thing I learnt. Before I started this challenge, I was not confident with my writing skills. Also, I was not comfortable with sharing what I wrote because I felt that my posts were not good enough.

Through this challenge, I have proven to myself that I can write well. I’ve also become very comfortable with sharing my blog posts. Definitely, I have a lot more to improve in terms of my writing and I’m excited to do it!

2. Writing is hard

The truth is writing is hard. Writing a good quality post requires a lot of time and effort.

I’ve spent on average 5–6 hours each day to write the posts. The post, Happiness In Being Yourself, took me more than 8 hours to write. By midday, I deleted my first draft, which I took the whole morning to write because I was not satisfied with it. I then wrote the post from scratch.

Another important thing I learnt about writing is this: There will be bad days, but it’s better to write poorly than to not write at all. Like Alexis Landau said in her post, 7 Habits of Highly Effective Writers, it’s about showing up and not waiting for the writing mindset.

Think of your post as a product. You can always go back and improve on it. You do not need to publish the post until you are satisfied with it.

3. Writing is fun and rewarding

While writing is tough, it is also fun and rewarding!

A highlight of this challenge was when I wrote the post, My Sister, The Self-Taught Cake Artist, for my sister. She had her mini studio warming back in Singapore and I couldn’t attend it as I’m in the United Kingdom. So I wrote the post as my gift for her important milestone. She teared upon reading it :’)

Another highlight was when my Air Force story was picked up by one of the administrators of The Republic of Singapore Air Force Facebook page. She featured me on their Facebook page, along with my thank you message to my mom, aunt and girlfriend. It made my mom and relatives really proud and I’m really glad and grateful about it!

With Medium, readers can recommend your post if they like it. My post, 9 Things That I Do To Be More Productive, seemed to resonate well with Medium readers and it has received 19 recommendations so far (66% of all the recommendations I received for 29 posts). It is nice to know that there are people who like what I write and they have benefited from my posts.

Medium Recommendations

4. Writing helps me think and remember better

I think Jeff Bezos, Founder and CEO of Amazon, puts it really well:

Jeff Bezos Quote

(Image taken from iDoneThis blog post, Bad Managers Talk, Good Managers Write)

During this challenge, I realised that putting down my thoughts into full sentences helps me think a lot better. I learnt that writing incomplete bullet-point type sentences does not have the same effect. Writing full sentences forces me to think through a point thoroughly, while writing bullet points allows me to be lazy about thinking.

Expressing a thought fully allows me to remember it more clearly. Furthermore, by writing my thoughts down, I can refer to them in the future.

5. Enjoy the process

I wrote a blog post about this. I used to be too focused on the end result of writing and had forgotten to enjoy the process of writing.

After writing the blog post, Enjoy The Process, I tried to be self-conscious about enjoying the process of writing. I’m surprised that just by remembering to do it, I enjoyed the writing process of several blog posts despite it being really hard on some days. I enjoyed writing about my Air Force story so much so that I almost forgot to have my dinner that night.

Like I said in the post, this attitude could be applied to other aspects of our lives too. I have not been remembering this for everything that I have been doing. However, when I do, I enjoyed the process of doing the activity and not just the end result.

When focusing on the outcome, don’t forget to enjoy the process too!

6. It’s important to understand the constraints and work with them, not against them.

The main constraint I had during this challenge was having limited time. As I wanted to publish a post every day for 30 days, I had a day to complete each post. It is alright when I stayed home for the entire day. However, when I’m travelling, I only had 2 to 3 hours to write.

I learnt that I am unable to write a long and in-depth post within 3 hours. I tried and failed terribly.

Hence, I decided to write shorter posts on days when I have little time. For example, 2 days ago when I was travelling to London and back, I decided to write a short post, titled Wise Words of Confucius on Self-Improvement.

I think that another way of working with constraints is to use it to challenge ourselves and in the process, develop and grow. For instance, for this challenge, I forced myself to write a post a day. I have never written so much within such a time frame before and I have benefited tremendously from it. Perhaps time constraint might eventually train me to write faster.

Just like the previous point, I think that this applies to other aspects of our lives too. When we faced with constraints, we should work with them and not against them.

7. Referring to research and statistics is not a must

Previously, I read that referring to research and statistics in a blog post would improve the quality of the blog post. Hence, I had been constantly trying to include them in all my blog posts.

However, I realised that while referring to research and statistics can make a post better, it is not a necessary condition for a post to be good. It is a way to make the post better but not the only way. There are many great posts without research and statistics.

I think this is because well-expressed personal experiences and thoughts can be as compelling as or even more compelling than science-backed contents.

8. Write it and they will come… NAH

This is the writer’s version of “Build it and they will come”.

Like Derek Halpern said in his post, The 80/20 Rule for Building a Blog Audience,

Here’s the truth:

It’s smarter to find another 10,000 people to consume what you’ve already created as opposed to creating more.

Or, in other words, create content 20% of the time. Spend the other 80% of the time promoting what you created.

While writing good content is important, it is also crucial to promote the content too. Many people would not know about my blog posts if I do not promote them.

So far, I’ve only shared my articles on Twitter and Facebook. Hence, with the exception of a few posts, most of the posts rarely received more than 50 views.

This area is something I’m really interested in learning more about. Hope to share more on this with you in the future!

In summary, these are the 8 lessons I’ve learnt from this writing challenge:

  1. I can write well
  2. Writing is hard
  3. Writing is fun and rewarding
  4. Writing helps me think and remember better
  5. Enjoy the process
  6. It’s important to understand the constraints and work with them, not against them
  7. Referring to research and statistics is not a must
  8. Write it and they will come… NAH

Should You Try This?

If you are interested in writing more, I would recommend you to try this challenge! It makes writing a lot less scary than it seems. Also, I enjoyed the challenge and learnt a lot about myself in the process.

I was quite tough on myself in terms of the type and length of posts I wrote so I took a lot of time each day to write. I am fortunate to be having my school vacation when I did this challenge so I had plenty of time every day to write.

I understand that not everyone can commit so much time every day to writing. You can change the rules of the challenge according to your preference and constraints (see point 6 above). For example, Hiten Shah, an entrepreneur and investor, did this challenge and wrote in a style that is different from mine.

What’s Next?

Writing will be taking a backseat for a while now as I need to focus on my school assignments and exams.

I would still like to continue writing. An area I’m looking at is guest blogging. My plan is to write a post a week and submit it as a guest post. I plan to break up my writing process (research, draft outlines, write content, search for images and refine the post) and spend perhaps 1–2 hours each day to do a part.

In terms of content, I would like to write more on topics than myself. Most of my 30 posts were about myself. I would like to write about topics such as productivity (since I’m quite a productivity freak) and happiness (because it’s important and nice to be happy ☺)

As for my writing style, I have been thinking about using memes and gifs in my posts. I think memes and gifs would add humour to my blog posts and when used effectively, would improve the quality of the posts. Furthermore, I think it would show my humorous personality too. I might try to use them in future posts, when appropriate!

Graduation

I’ve graduated from the challenge!!☺


If you are interested to read any of the 30 posts, you can find all of them here!


(This is my 30th blog post of my 30in30 challenge — 30 blog posts in 30 days. Through this challenge, I hope to feel comfortable and more confident with writing and become better at writing.)

3 Unexpected Benefits Of Writing

3 Unexpected Benefits Of Writing

When I started my writing challenge, my aim was to become more confident with writing. In the process, many unexpected things happened.

In this blog post, I will share the 3 unexpected benefits that I’ve experienced from writing. I hope that it would inspire you to write too.

1. Helping Others

I had been hesitant to share my blog posts on my Facebook because I was afraid that I might receive negative comments. Last week, I decided to share and see what would happen.

At first, nothing happened.

Then I started to receive messages and comments from friends which said that my blog posts have helped them or taught them something.

Justin, my close friend, messaged me to say that my blog post, 9 Things I Do To Be More Productive, made him decide to exercise and exercising gave him a new perspective to his problems:

Justin's messages

My junior college teacher (:O) said that she learnt something from the same article. I have never expected to be teaching my teacher. I’m really glad that she benefited from my blog post.

Mrs Chua's comment

My post, Fighting Against Facebook Notifications, gave my school mate some ideas on how to reduce the time she spends on Facebook. Hope they have worked for her!

Meg's comments

I think that we all have our unique experiences and by sharing them, we might help others who are in same position as we are or were.

Thinking back, this is the reason why I started blogging again. I want to “share my experiences and help those in the same situation as me”. I didn’t expect that the few blog posts I wrote would actually help anyone, but I’m glad they have.

So I would recommend more people to write because others would benefit from your writings. What you write would matter. So far, I’ve learnt that my blog posts on lessons I’ve learnt benefited others the most.

2. Good Things Would Happen

Another thing that I did not expect was to be featured by The Republic Of Singapore Air Force on their Facebook page.

RSAF Feature

One of the administrators discovered my blog post, I Am An Air Force Officer, and wanted to feature me on their Facebook page.

What is great about this is not that I was featured, but that I made my mom and my relatives proud.

When I wrote about my sister, a self-taught cake artist and shared it on Facebook, one of my friends read it and he recently ordered his wedding cake from my sister!

My sister, the cake artist

It is not definite that something good would happen when you write, but if you write, chances of it happening would be higher.

3. Strengthen Friendships

The last benefit that I didn’t expect is how my blog posts helped to strengthen my friendships by creating topics for conversations.

Lucas, whom I knew through Twitter, was so amazed by my Air Force story that we talked about it for quite a while when we met last night.

Dale, one of my Air Force mates whom I’ve not spoken to for a long time, approached me recently. He realised that we are quite like-minded after reading my blog posts. He shared with me many books that he thinks are useful for entrepreneurs and I’m so grateful for it.

Create > Consume

It’s easier to consume information and use products than to create them. However, by choosing the harder option and creating, we can bring value to the people around us.

I’m not going to lie. Writing is hard. If you noticed, these 3 benefits came from 3 of my blog posts, out of the 28 posts I’ve written so far. Each blog post took me 3 to 8 hours to write.

However, when you find out that you have helped someone with your blog posts or when someone reached out to you to say “Thank you”, you will realise that all that effort is worthwhile ☺

What unexpected things have happened to you when you wrote? I would love to hear them.


(This is my 29th blog post of my 30in30 challenge — 30 blog posts in 30 days. Through this challenge, I hope to feel comfortable and more confident with writing and become better at writing.)

Wise Words From Confucius on Self-Improvement

Wise Words From Confucius on Self-Improvement

I’ve been reading books quite often recently. The book I’m reading now is Confucius Analects: With Selections from Traditional Commentaries (Translated and Annotated).

Growing up in a family which believes in Confucius and his teachings, I found that many of his principles resonate with me. However, I must say that there are many areas that I have to work on.

Take this quote for example:

“When you see someone who is worthy, concentrate upon becoming their equal; when you see someone who is unworthy, use this as an opportunity to look within yourself.” — The Master

I think most of us do what the first half of the quote says. Whenever we see someone who is better than us in ways we admire, we try to emulate them.

However, upon reading the second half of the quote, I realised that it is something that I don’t do often. In fact, sometimes, I do the opposite — I would judge the person. This half of the quote taught me something very valuable.

When I see someone do something that I dislike or consider as inappropriate or make a mistake, my first thought should not be to judge him/her but ask myself, “Do I do that at times too?”.

When someone is talking loudly while I’m working, instead of judging him/her immediately, I should pause and think, “Do I do that at times too?”

When someone is being very rude, instead of judging him/her immediately, I should pause and think, “Do I do that at times too?”

When someone is behaving inappropriately, instead of judging him/her immediately, I should pause and think, “Do I do that at times too?”

If the answer is “Yes”, I believe that I’m in no position to judge the other person and should work to improve myself. If the answer is “No”, I think I should take it as a reminder to not behave that way or commit the same mistake in the future.

Having tried this for a while, I realised that sometimes I do behave the same way or make the same mistake as the other person. Such instances are chances for me to improve.

If you are interested in self-improvement, give this a shot!


If you are interested to read about Confucius and his teachings, I would recommend the book I’m reading. Confucius’s teachings are rarely self-explanatory and I think this book does a good job compiling different interpretations of Confucius teachings from various scholars.

Nevertheless, I think some meaning would have be lost due to translation. I’m quite interested to read the Analects in Traditional Chinese, 論語, even though it might pose a challenge since I learn Simplified Chinese and not Traditional Chinese. I might search for an audiobook! ☺


(This is my 28th blog post of my 30in30 challenge — 30 blog posts in 30 days. Through this challenge, I hope to feel comfortable and more confident with writing and become better at writing.)

9 Things I Do To Be More Productive

9 Things I Do To Be More Productive

I always want to be as productive as possible. Hence, after moving to the United Kingdom to study and have more control over my life, I tried out several ways to increase my productivity.

In this year, I’ve developed a number of habits which made me more productive. In this post, I would share the 9 things I do to be more productive. I hope they would be useful for you or they would inspire you to try news ways to be more productive.

Many of the things I do is to allow me to make fewer decisions. This is because making decisions uses up brain power and can cause decision fatigue.

Having to make fewer decisions, I can focus on the more important ones and make better decisions. This is also why Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs and Obama wear the same attire every day.

Alright, so let’s dive right in!

1. Sleep Early, Sleep Enough And Wake Up Early

I try to sleep at 10pm every night. I don’t succeed all the time, but most of the time, I would be in bed before 11pm.

My recurring alarm is set as 5:45am. I choose to wake up at the same time every morning so that I don’t need to decide every night what time to wake up the next day.

Alarm

There are exceptions when I do not sleep by 11pm. It is usually when I’m travelling or when I have friends over at my place. I would then adjust my alarm accordingly so that I would get 7–8 hours of sleep. This is because I know that when I sleep less than 6 hours, I would not function well that day.

I think that different people have different sleep cycles that make them most productive. I am a morning person so I prefer doing my work in the morning. I have a housemate who usually sleeps at 3–4am, wakes up at 2pm and naps in the afternoon. He does most of his work at night because he is more productive then.

2. Have Morning And Night Routines

Having a morning routine allows me to make almost no decisions in the first few hours of the day so that I can save my brainpower for more important things later in the day.

My morning routine goes like this: Wake up at 5:45am (no snooze), heat up my overnight-soaked oats in the microwave, turn on kettle, brush my teeth, make my tea, have my breakfast and go for my morning workout.

Yes, I have the same breakfast every morning — microwaved porridge with raisins and almonds.

I have a night routine because I’m usually too tired to think about anything an hour before I sleep. So I would shower/brush my teeth, reply my girlfriend’s email, meditate with the guidance from Calm mobile app and sleep.

3. Plan The Day’s Schedule The Evening Before

I cannot remember where I learnt this from, but it has been pretty effective.

Many people advocate spending some time each morning to plan for the day. This strategy is to do the planning the evening before.

Again, this is about making fewer decisions. Not having to decide in the morning what I need to do for the day saves me some brainpower for the main tasks of the day.

Calendar

Since I’ve already planned out my day the evening before, I can simply execute my plan.

4. Exercise

I’ve read that exercising improves productivity but I’m not certain about the effects on my body because I have been exercising regularly for a long time. I don’t know what’s the difference in my productivity when I exercise and when I don’t.

A few weeks back when I injured my knee, I forced myself to stop exercises so that I would not aggravate my injury further. During this period, I could feel a dip in my productivity, especially in the morning.

Usually, I would work out in the morning and feel refreshed when I start the day. When I stopped exercising in the morning, I don’t feel awake. I would tend to be in a daze for a few hours in the morning.

Recently, I’ve started swimming and doing my core exercises in the morning. I could feel that I’m more energised and productive.

5. Do Two Main Tasks A Day

For the past 2 weeks, I have been trying this out: I would only do 2 main tasks each day. If I know what needs to be done for the week, like this week, I would plan out the 2 daily tasks for the entire week on the Sunday before the week starts and make adjustments along the way if necessary.

For today, the 2 tasks were working on my school assignment and writing this blog post. I allocate about 3 hours for each tasks so they add up to be 6 hours of “work” each day.

I realised that it helps me to focus on the important tasks and eliminate the smaller and less important tasks. As long as I complete the 2 tasks for the day, I would consider it as the day as productive. I would then do some of the other tasks such as reading articles online and replying to emails.

6. Cook Several Meals At Once

As a student, I cannot afford to eat out or order takeaways often so I cook about 95% of my meals. (There’s an additional bonus for cooking my meals. I eat more healthily and I believe that increases my productivity too.)

Like I’ve said previously when I shared about my “remote working” day, I cook several meals at once. I would prefer to have my lunch cooked the evening before since I’m more productive in the afternoon than in the evening. Cooking 2 meals at once means one less decision to make.

Meals

Because I don’t live near a supermarket, I order groceries delivery from Morrisons. (The delivery charge is usually £1 and I split it with a house mate, so it’s only 50p per person for each delivery.)

I spend way more time when I shop in a supermarket than when I order online because I would walk through all the aisles. By shopping for my groceries online, the time taken reduces to 5 to 10 minutes.

Tip: Selecting from “Favourites” section speeds up the ordering process.

7. Take Naps

Since last year, I have developed a habit to take short power naps when I’m tired. I’ve played around with the duration and a 25-minute nap seems to work best for me. I found that taking naps recharges me and allows me to think better.

When I feel sleepy, I would take a nap as soon as possible. Depending on how tired I am, I might nap twice a day — once in the morning and once in the afternoon.

When I’m working at home, I can nap any time I want. However, when I’m travelling or when I’m in school, it would be harder as it is difficult to find places where I can nap.

8. Read Whenever I Can When I’m Outside

This year, I’ve started buying only ebooks because they are delivered instantly and I can read them on my iPad or on my iPhone.

Kindle on iPadMy bus to school does not come very often. Usually, it comes every 15–30 minutes and the trip to school takes about 15 minutes. Considering the journey there and back, that is about an hour of commuting, or an hour for reading.

While waiting at the bus stop, I would take out my iPhone or iPad to read. With this practice, I’ve managed to finish quite a number of books (Reinventing Organizations, Zero To One, Buzzing Communities) in the last few weeks.

I used to check my Facebook news feed or Twitter feed while waiting for the bus. After starting this habit, I realised that reading a book is a much more productive use of my time than scrolling through social media aimlessly.

9. Use “Do Not Disturb” Mode

Ever since I discovered the “Do Not Disturb” mode on my iPhone, I put my phone in that mode almost all the time. My phone would not ring or light up when there’s new notifications, unless it is a call. (You can adjust the settings according to what you want. It is in Settings > Do Not Disturb.)

Do Not Disturb Mode

It prevents incoming notifications like chat messages from distracting me when I’m doing my main tasks for the day. (I turn off social media notifications on my phone. I wrote about it yesterday.)

Most of the time, the chat messages are not urgent so I do not need to respond to them immediately. If the issue is urgent, I would usually receive a call. That would light up my phone screen and I would answer it.

With this practice, my friends gradually know how to contact me. If the matter is not urgent, they would drop me a text. If they need me urgently, they would call me.

To Productivity!

In summary, here are the 9 things I do to be more productive:

  1. Sleep Early, Sleep Enough And Wake Up Early
  2. Have Morning And Night Routines
  3. Plan The Day’s Schedule The Evening Before
  4. Exercise
  5. Do Two Main Tasks A Day
  6. Cook Several Meals At Once
  7. Take Naps
  8. Read Whenever I Can When I’m Outside
  9. Use “Do Not Disturb” Mode

I’m keen to try out more strategies/tips/hacks to increase my productivity. What do you do to increase your productivity? Let me know at @alfred_lua! ☺


(This is my 27th blog post of my 30in30 challenge — 30 blog posts in 30 days. Through this challenge, I hope to feel comfortable and more confident with writing and become better at writing.)

Fighting Against Facebook Notifications

Fighting Against Facebook Notifications

I’m generally quite alright with missing Facebook notifications. I’ve turned off Facebook notifications on my phone since last year and I did not feel that I had missed out much.

However, I still check Facebook quite regularly because I want to see how my friends are doing. Sometimes, I would then spend a considerable amount of time scrolling through Facebook until I realise “Oh no, I’m spending too much time here!”

I’m usually not bothered by how many likes or comments my Facebook posts generate because they rarely get more than 5–10 likes and comments combined. So I seldom go back to Facebook to check how people liked and commented on my posts.

However, when a post becomes really popular with more than 100 likes, several comments and multiple shares (like this and this), I would check back very regularly. And since I’m on Facebook, I would also “clear” my notifications and see how my friends are doing. I would end up wasting quite some time there.

As I want to use my time more productively, I tried several strategies to cut down my time spent on Facebook.

In this post, I would share the strategies I tried and whether they have been effective for me. If you want to reduce the time spent on Facebook too, you might like these 5 strategies:

Facebook App

1. Put Facebook app on the last page on my phone and in a folder labelled “Time Wasters” (Not very effective)

Facebook on my iPhoneI learnt this from Spike Morelli’s blog post, Productivity smartphone hack: the untapped power of the present moment.

By putting the app on the last page and in a folder, I am creating a passive barrier by making it harder to check Facebook. I have to swipe left twice from my home page, tap on the folder and tap on the app before I get to use it.

By making it harder or more troublesome to use the app, I should be using the app less.

When Google wanted to reduce the number of M&Ms consumed in the office, they “kept the chocolates hidden in opaque containers but prominently displayed dried figs, pistachios and other healthful snacks in glass jars”. They made it hard for the employees to reach the chocolates.

The results: In the New York office alone, employees consumed 3.1 million fewer calories from M&Ms over seven weeks.

Labelling the folder as “Time Wasters” is another attempt to make me use Facebook less. As Spike explained in his blog post,

There’s a lot of research on the psychology of language that studies how we are affected by words and I’m leveraging some of that here by creating a negative association between certain apps that are opposite to my goal: being productive.

My verdict: This strategy has not been effective for me. Perhaps it is because the passive barrier is not huge enough and I do not look at the name of the folders when I want to open an app.

However, it worked for Spike so it is worth a try!

2. Log out of Facebook app (Effective)

To increase the size of the passive barrier, I decided to make it hard to access my Facebook news feed. I would log out of my Facebook app after using it.

It becomes really troublesome when I want to check my news feed on my phone. After all swipes and tabs I have to make, I would see this:

Facebook Login on iPhone

I would still have to type in my username and password. Furthermore, my password is pretty long and complicated, so it becomes a real hassle!

My verdict: This strategy is effective!

(I have not logged out of the app for a long time and I forgot about this strategy. Fortunately, I’m reminded of it when I typed this post. I just logged out of the app! ☺)

Facebook Website

1. Log out of Facebook website (Effective)

This is similar to logging out of the Facebook app.

Whenever I visit www.facebook.com, I’ll see this:

Facebook Login on Browser

My verdict: This strategy has been effective in stopping me from checking Facebook regularly. The thought of having to type my username and password makes me not want to check Facebook that often.

2. News Feed Eradicator (Super effective)

If I somehow overcome the barrier and log in to Facebook on a browser, I’ll see this:

News Feed Eradicator for Facebook

BAM!! Haha!

If I did not remember wrongly, I learnt this trick from Noah Kagan.

It is called News Feed Eradicator for Facebook. Thanks to this, I’ve not scrolled through my news feed on the browser for a long time! The only thing that would interest me when I log in would be new notifications. This prevents me from spending too much time on Facebook on my laptop.

I tried turning off the notifications because it is very tempting to click on the red number at the top right-hand corner. Unfortunately, Facebook does not allow turning off of notifications.

Facebook Notification Counter

My verdict: This is super effective in preventing me from scrolling through my news feed, which can be very time wasting!

Facebook Messenger

1. Use Goofy for Mac (Effective)

Many of my friends contact me through Facebook Messenger so I would need to log in to my Facebook account on my laptop once in a while. Whenever I log in, I would also check out the notifications because I can’t ignore the red notification counter. I would end up spending some time there.

This is alright if I’m using my phone because Facebook has a separate Messenger mobile app and I would not see any notifications there, apart from new messages.

Fortunately, I discovered this product on Product Hunt!

Goofy!

Goofy

It is a standalone Facebook messages page, like the Messenger mobile app, but on desktop.

There’s no red notification counter so I would not be distracted to check the notifications and would save my precious productive time ☺

Sorry, this application is only available on Mac at the moment. For Windows, there is Facebook Messenger Chrome extension. I’ve not used it before so I cannot judge if it is good.

My verdict: This application is effective in indirectly reducing my time on Facebook! I can use the application to communicate with my friends without being distracted by the notifications.


In summary, here are the 5 strategies and my assessment:

  1. Put Facebook app on the last page on my phone and in a folder labelled “Time Wasters” (Not very effective)
  2. Log out of Facebook app (Effective)
  3. Log out of Facebook website (Effective)
  4. News Feed Eradicator (Super effective)
  5. Use Goofy for Mac (Effective)

If you plan to try any of these strategies, let me know how it goes! If you have any strategies that you use to reduce your time spent on Facebook, please share with me at @alfred_lua! ☺

(This is my 26th blog post of my 30in30 challenge — 30 blog posts in 30 days. Through this challenge, I hope to feel comfortable and more confident with writing and become better at writing.)

Why I Prefer Fun Teams

Why I Prefer Fun Teams

During the economic recession in 2008, as the then Governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger had to negotiate the budget with another legislative leader. Before the negotiation, he sent something to the legislative leader. Something that you would probably never think of.

Arnold Schwarzenegger sent him a sculpture of a set of bull balls, with a note, “I hope you have that!”.

In his interview with Tim Ferriss, Tim Ferriss Interviews Arnold Schwarzenegger on Psychological Warfare (And Much More), he explained himself:

“When things get really intense and when people start freaking out, I try to make a joke or something to lighten things up. And just say, look, 10 years from now we are going to look at this day and laugh about it.”

Sending a sculpture of bull balls (as a governor and to a legislative leader) might be a little extreme as a joke. Nevertheless, from my experiences, I’ve learnt that fun teams are better teams.

Halo and Team Fortress 2

“People rarely succeed unless they have fun in what they are doing.” — Dale Carnegie

BBI

This is the team that taught me that fun teams are better teams. We came together in the Entrepreneurship Program during our high school and worked together for 3 years on several projects.

As a team, we really knew how to have fun. The first thing on our agenda at meetings was always Halo or Team Fortress 2. We would meet up at Glenn’s place and play a few rounds of Halo or Team Fortress 2 or both before starting proper discussions.

We could never sit down and complete our discussion or work in one session. Very often, we would end up playing Guitar Hero, watching a movie, going for a swim or laughing at Glenn’s “great” singing halfway through our meetings.

How did we do?

In the first year, our business idea didn’t make it to the Semi-Final round of our school’s annual Projects Day Competition but our case study presentation was outstanding (more on this below).

In the second year, we make it to the Grand Finals of the Projects Day Competition and was also selected to represent the school for the Stanford Global Innovation Challenge!

In the third year, we made it to the Grand Finals of another business plan competition called, Best Business Idea.

Makes Work More Enjoyable

Wefie

We might not have won any of the competitions, but I don’t think the issue was that we had too much fun while working. In fact, I feel that our performance was pretty impressive and it was because we knew how to have fun.

Parts of the projects that were supposed to be tough didn’t feel that bad. Sometimes, boring work became fun and enjoyable. We never really had any intense debate because someone would often crack a joke when the atmosphere became too tense. This fun work dynamic also made the competitions much less stressful for us.

Meetings were not only enjoyable, but they also became wonderful memories that we would continue to laugh at up till now. These shared fun experiences brought us close together as a team.

More Productive And Creative

The other benefit that I experienced during that period was the increase in productivity and creativity. It might sound counter-intuitive, but taking time off to play while working actually made us more productive and creative.

For example, in the first year, we had to present a case study of an entrepreneur to the class. Every other team presented with a set of powerpoint slides.

But we didn’t. I don’t think we used any powerpoint slides at all.

We role-played the story of the entrepreneur we selected. I cannot remember the exact story now. I think that the entrepreneur came up with new machinery to improve the efficiency of certain factories.

2 of us acted as machines by wearing cupboard boxes over ourselves and protested against a factory manager (another team member). Donning a cape, the entrepreneur (the fourth team member) “flew in” and saved the day. At the end of the skit, we played a short video that we created about the entrepreneur.

I can still remember that the music we used was “Eye of The Tiger”. We had so much fun singing along while preparing the presentation.

The teachers were so impressed that they made us present it again in the next class. Other teams had already left when we first presented because we were the last team to present and teams left after they have presented.

Better Performance

A lot has been said about happy teams performing better and from this experience, I feel that it’s true.

Because meetings are so enjoyable, we often look forward to the next meeting (or play session, depending on how you look at it, but we still get work done).

Although we did not win the Projects Day Competition in the second year, we were the only team from the Entrepreneurship Program to make it to the Grand Finals. I believe that it was because our team was the most fun and happiest team in the program.

Balance

While I love fun teams, I feel that there has to be a good balance between work and play. Someone in the team has to ensure that we do not have too much fun and end up not producing any results.

For this team, it was usually the team leader, Wen Shan, or I who would feel that we had enough fun and it’s time to get things done.

It also helped that every team member is responsible enough to understand that work has to be done.

We know how to have fun and we also know how to get things done.


(This is my 25th blog post of my 30in30 challenge — 30 blog posts in 30 days. Through this challenge, I hope to feel comfortable and more confident with writing and become better at writing.)

A Thank You Note To My Mommy, My Aunt and My Girlfriend

To my mommy, my aunt and my girlfriend,

During my National Service, I served in the Republic of Singapore Air Force 163 Squadron as a Ground Base Air Defence officer. As a squadron, we were involved in the 24/7 air defence operations to protect Singapore’s airspace. Our operations require us to work overnight and I was also involved in several exercises and squadron activities where I would choose to stay in the camp. That period was tough and I am very thankful for the support and understanding from you wonderful ladies in my life.

Mommy, thanks for being my source of motivation throughout my Air Force journey as I strived to do you proud! Being able to spending time with you and our family when I’m home was a huge motivation for me ☺

Aunt, often after my overnight duties, I would fall into deep sleep until dinner time. Thank you for always preparing the delicious home cooked dinner I wake up to and helping me wash my uniform when I’m too tired to! ☺

Ying Yan, due to the nature of my duties and that I often stayed in camp, I rarely had the time to spend with you. When I had the time, you would often encourage me to spend it with my family first. Your regular words of encouragement through messages and phone calls helped me a lot in getting through the tough times. Thank you! ☺

Alfred


Last Saturday, I wrote the post, I Am An Air Force Officer. It was picked up by one of the administrators of The Republic of Singapore Air Force Facebook page. She mentioned that she intend to feature my post on their Facebook page and would like me to add a thank you note to the women in my life who have helped me through my Air Force journey.

Thinking back, I realised that I’ve not properly thank my mommy and aunt for their support and efforts during my National Service days. So I decided to take this chance to thank them.

If someone has helped you through a tough period in your life and you might have forgotten to properly thank them, it is never too late to drop them a note and thank them now ☺

(This is my 24th blog post of my 30in30 challenge — 30 blog posts in 30 days. Through this challenge, I hope to feel comfortable and more confident with writing and become better at writing.)

Call Home

Call Home

My mom shared this photo on Facebook yesterday:

Facebook post

(Photo by Astro Ulagam.)

Upon seeing the post last night, I left a comment, saying that I would call her today. (Due to the 7-hour time difference, she was asleep when I saw the post.)

I have to admit that I am really bad at this. Ever since coming to the United Kingdom, I have only been calling home about once a month.

We have this joke in our family that I would only call home when I needed money. Well, it’s not entirely true, but it’s not entirely false too haha.

Finding A Balance

I used to think that calling home so frequently is a waste of time. I felt that I could use the time to do more productive things. I think that I can count the number of times I called home in my first year away from home with one hand.

When I went home that summer, I spent almost every day with my parents at their shop. I felt that I should spent more than with them since I only go back to Singapore once a year. I really enjoyed it, but I also didn’t managed to do many things I planned for that summer.

So this year, I set myself a goal to balance work and family — more “family time” when I’m in the United Kingdom and more me time when I’m in Singapore to do the things I want to.

“Family Time”

Being overseas, away from my family, family time takes a different meaning.

When I’m back in Singapore, every Sunday is family day. We would have breakfast together and visit our grandparents.

Now, video call is our family time.

Family Video Chat

(Chatting across 3 continents when my sister was in the United States.)

Chinese New Year Group Photo

(Calling home during Chinese New Year. My cousin shipped my zodiac shirt to me so that I can join in the fun!)

Apart from FaceTime calls, we also have a family WhatsApp group chat, called “37 联络站 (Network)”. My dad named it as that because our house number is 37.

37 Network

While we chat quite often in the group chat, I think that there isn’t as much serendipity as from “face-to-face” conversations. We mostly communicate in Mandarin so there is a slight friction as typing in Mandarin takes much more time than typing in English.

As it is much faster and easier to speak than to type, we chat about much more things through FaceTime. Although some are random conversations, I really enjoyed our chats.

Call Home

Yes, I could spent those hours calling home on more productive things instead. However, I learnt that family time is something that cannot be compared this way.

If you are living away from your parents, find some time from your busy schedule to call home. You will always be “very busy” so don’t say that you would call home when you are less busy.

I think that the frequency of the calls is more important than how long each call is. Like my girlfriend puts it,

make it a regular sunday thing or sth (: it doesn’t take long sometimes, but make it regular

(Upon reflection, I just added a recurring entry in my calendar to call home every Sunday morning ☺)

Call your family. It would make them happy ☺

(This is my 23rd blog post of my 30in30 challenge — 30 blog posts in 30 days. Through this challenge, I hope to feel comfortable and more confident with writing and become better at writing.)

I Am An Air Force Officer

I Am An Air Force Officer

Something that surprises many people around me as I’m studying in the United Kingdom now is that I’ve served in the armed forces for about 2 years.

Yes, that is true. I am a Republic of Singapore Air Force officer.

Officer

In this post, I will share my experiences from my National Service (NS).

National Service In Singapore

A few years after Singapore became independent, our government felt that there was a need to build a military force to defend ourselves. Hence, an act was passed for conscription.

All male Singaporean citizens and second-generation permanent residents are required to serve in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) for about 2 years.

Basic Military Training

The first phase of my National Service was a 9-week Basic Military Training (BMT) in an offshore island, called Pulau Tekong.

There, we learnt basic soldiering skills such as tactical movements, rifle handling, grenade throwing, marching and uniform preparation. It was helpful that I was in the National Cadet Corps in my high school before I entered the armed forces. During that time, I learnt many of required basic military knowledge.

The most memorable experience during these 9 weeks was the 4-day field camp. It’s not like a summer or school camp. It was tough. 4 years have passed since the field camp and I can still vividly remember what happened.

Field Camp

(Photo taken from Cyber Pioneer.)

It rained every day and night during the camp, so our uniforms were never dry. To make it worse, we were almost covered entirely with mud throughout the 4 days.

We had to dig our individual shell scrape, set up basha tent in buddy system, learn and practice outfield skills, take turns to stay awake at night to guard our “territory” and so on.

One day, when we were having lunch, we were “attacked” by enemies. The instructors called this “The Hell Strike”. Smoke grenades were thrown, blank rounds were fired. I can never forget those 4 days.

BMT IPPT

(Photo taken from Cyber Pioneer.)

Physical fitness was also emphasised during this period. There were a lot of running, push ups, pull ups and jumping. Pull ups were always our starter before each meal — 3 times a day. In fact, it remained as my starter for almost every meal throughout my National Service.

Fortunately, I had been training as a sprint canoeist and triathlete before enlistment. So I could cope with all of the physical training and enjoyed some incentives such as additional cash reward for obtaining the Gold standard for the Individual Physical Proficiency Test (IPPT).

The final challenge for this phase was a 24km route march to the Singapore Floating Platform where we had our Passing Out Parade (POP).

POP

(Photos taken from Cyber Pioneer and my friend, Haris.)

Officer Cadet School

The next phase of my military training was a 9-month course at the Officer Cadet School (OCS). In recognition of my performance during my Basic Military Training, I had the honour to undergo the Officer Cadet Course.

Officer's Creed

(Photo taken from Officer Cadet School, Singapore. Check out the photos to find out more of what we do in the school.)

During this period, I was transferred to the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) to be trained as an Air Warfare Officer, specifically a Ground Based Air Defence (GBAD) Officer. We were given leadership training and held leadership appointments to hone our skills.

The main part of these 9 months was spent on specialising in an air defence weapon. The entire cohort of GBAD officer cadets were allocated to different weapon systems. For me, it was the I-HAWK System (Improved Homing All the Way Killer). Doesn’t it sound badass?

Launcher

(Photo taken from Cyber Pioneer.)

As officers, we have to know every aspect of the system which includes a Fire Control Post (FCP), a High Power Illumination Radar (HPI) and 2 missile launchers. As it is a very technical weapon, there were a lot of lessons on the system. (Fun fact: Each missile is 600kg!)

Apart from theory lessons, we had many hands-on training with the equipment to learn how to operate them. Most of the hands-on training were in the Fire Control Post where we control the radar and the launchers. Using simulator, we were trained on how to track hostile aircrafts and how to take them down with our missiles.

We also learnt how to deploy the entire system to maximise our air defence coverage.

Physical training never stopped. Pull ups remained as starter each breakfast, lunch and dinner. In a day, each of us would do almost a hundred pull ups.

We stayed in the squadron during the weekdays and could only return home on weekends. On some weekends, we were confined for additional training. It was tough but it also fostered a strong sense of camaraderie among the 18 of us in this weapon course.

7th AWO

RCGCNear the end of the course, we had the RSAF Combined Graduation Ceremony where we were awarded our officer ceremonial sword — the one that I’m holding in the first photo at the start of this post ☺

I was also honoured to receive the Sword of Merit, which is awarded to the top 10 percent of officer cadet in the entire cohort, along with the Best Trainee and Best Knowledge awards in my I-HAWK course.

After 9 months, the day which all of us had been looking forward to arrived — The Commissioning Parade. It marks the end of our officer cadet course and the beginning of our journey as newly commissioned officers of the Singapore Armed Forces.

Commissioning Parade

(Photo taken from Cyber Pioneer.)

Guardians Of The Skies

People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.

The remaining 11 months of my National Service could be best summed up by the quote above. My squadron does 24/7 operations to watch the skies, especially at night. We protect the Singapore skies so that Singaporeans can sleep soundly at night.

Soldiers in the squadron are involved in the operations on a rotational basis to ensure that everyone gets sufficient rest to stay vigilant during our shifts. It was strenuous on the body because personnels on duty have to stay awake and alert at night.

Furthermore, personnels off duty are assigned with standby duties, where they could be activated anytime of the day to help out with the operations.

Tarmac

(Photo taken from Cyber Pioneer.)

As part of the Island Air Defence System, we all play a critical role in guard the Singapore air space. Our system is the second line of air defence for Singapore, after the fighters. Air defence became especially important post 9/11.

As our Defence Minister Dr Ng Eng Hen said in his reflection, ADOC — Protecting Our Skies:

9/11 in New York City was a dramatic, life-changing event. Pictures of the jets crashing into the twin towers and these colossal skyscrapers collapsing into a plume of debris flashed on screens over the world. The images were seared into our memories, etched deeper with individual stories of lives lost and families torn apart. Our view of the world changed overnight, especially so for those responsible to keep our skies safe. Civilian planes that we would normally associate with the “romance of travel” became potential weapons of mass destruction.

The daily operations weren’t easy. There are no days off; not even during public holidays (bank holidays). Many of our body clocks were messed up because of staying up at night. We had to sacrifice time with our family and friends, even during festive days.

Loading MX

(Photo taken from Cyber Pioneer.)

However, we all know that it is necessary and it is a great honour to do it.

(A huge thank you to the soldiers currently doing the operations to defend us!)

2 Years Of Memories

No amount of words would do justice to the experience I had during my National Service. This post only scratched the surface of my experience in the armed forces, but I hope that it has given you a glimpse into my 2 years as a soldier.

2 years of blood, sweat and tears.

I would never forget these 2 years of my life.

Thank you to all my course mates who went through the tough times with me. Thank you to my family, girlfriend and friends for their understanding and encouragement which supported me throughout the 2 years.

Commissioning Parade

(My pretty girlfriend and I)

If you are interested in my squadron and our weapon system, here are 2 videos that briefly explain what we do:

(This is my 22nd blog post of my 30in30 challenge — 30 blog posts in 30 days. Through this challenge, I hope to feel comfortable and more confident with writing and become better at writing.)

Catch that Misplacedspace and mispelling

Catch that Misplacedspace and mispelling

Recently, my girlfriend asked me to help her look through her CV. Instead of checking whether she included the appropriate information or not, I was picking out typos and poor formatting — missing spaces, additional spaces, unaligned indentations, and so on.

I am very particular about typos and poor formatting of documents (read: have mild OCD to correct them) because I think it affects the first impression we give others when they look at our writing/application/CV.

I was chatting with some Customer Support Pros from the Support Driven Community on this topic. They mentioned about horrible typos in job applications they received, such as misspelling the company’s name and even the hiring manager’s name! Inappropriate capitalisation Of words is Annoying too, especially for Titles and company Name.

According to a survey of more than 300 senior managers in the United States by Accountemps, 90% of the senior managers surveyed would not consider a job candidate for a position with their company if they spot 1 to 3 typos!

Accountemp Infographic

This image is extracted from Accountemp’s infographic, which can be found here.

Although the pattern from the survey shows that the senior managers surveyed might be becoming more lenient in terms of the number of typos in a resume, it still shows that typos can cause you your job.

While some hiring managers might ignore such mistakes, I feel that it goes to show how meticulous a person is. All else being equal, I would prefer someone who would correct these details to someone who thinks that they are minor issues and ignore them.

As much as I dislike typos, I have to admit that I make typos too and sometimes fail to spot them.

Suggestions For Catching Typos

While it is easy to spot typos when we read other people’s work, it is much harder to catch our own typos.

Here are some suggestions on how to catch your mistakes, if you do not have an editor or proofreader:

1. Trick Your Mind

In the Wired article, What’s Up With That, Why It’s So Hard To Catch Your Own Typos, psychologist Tom Stafford, who studies typos, suggested that we trick our brains that it’s the first time we are reading our writing:

Stafford suggests that if you want to catch your own errors, you should try to make your work as unfamiliar as possible. Change the font or background color, or print it out and edit by hand. “Once you’ve learned something in a particular way, it’s hard to see the details without changing the visual form,” he said.

For me, I usually type my blog post on Medium. However, before I publish it, I would copy it to the WordPress editor for my personal blog. All the formatting would be messed up so I’ll go through the entire post in a different environment.

WordPress Editor

I’ve managed to catch quite a number of typos through this process.

2. Take A Long Break

This is something I’m working on. Some days when I find writing hard (well, almost everyday), I would want to hit the “Publish” button as soon as I finished the post and proofread it once.

However, with the content still fresh in my mind, I seldom pick up any errors when I read through my post. The Wired article gave an explanation for this:

When we’re proof reading our own work, we know the meaning we want to convey. Because we expect that meaning to be there, it’s easier for us to miss when parts (or all) of it are absent. The reason we don’t see our own typos is because what we see on the screen is competing with the version that exists in our heads.

So it might be worth taking a long break to do something else, preferably away from the computer, before coming back to the text 2–3 hours later or the next day. Hopefully, you would have forgotten a bit of the content and spot more typos.

I wrote the draft for this post in the morning and came back to read it at 4pm.

3. Use Text Editors That Would Highlight Mistakes

“Use spelling checkers but don’t trust them. In particular, be aware of homophone confusion: complement and compliment, accept and except, effect and affect, oversees and overseas.” — Philip B. Corbett of The Times

Most text editors, such as the ones on Medium and WordPress, would pick up spelling errors and underline them with a red line. Medium does not allow more than one space, which I think is a great design.

Medium and WordPress Text Editor

Microsoft Word has a few more functions. It would also autocorrect misspelt words, autocapitalise the first letter of the first word of a sentence and underline grammatical and punctuation mistakes with a green line.

Microsoft Word

However, autocorrection could go wrong at times and Microsoft Word sometimes highlights what it thinks are grammatical and punctuation mistakes when they are actually widely accepted as appropriate.

There’s a cool autocorrection trick with Microsoft Word where you could program Microsoft Word to autocorrect words that you usually spell wrongly. However, I feel that this would make you reliant on the autocorrection and not learn to spell those words correctly.

4. Read Your Work Backwards

Among many other great tips in his article, The Reader’s Lament, Philip B. Corbett of The Times suggested:

Read it backward and focus on the spelling of words.

I’ve seen this advice when I was learning to code too. However, I’ve not really tried it because it feels very unnatural to me. I guess that’s the point of it.

Because it is unnatural to read backwards and the sentences wouldn’t make much sense, we would tend to slow down the pace.

It would feel like this:

Reading Backwards

As we read more slowly, we might be more likely to pick up typos.

While we might pick up typos by doing this, we might not spot sentences that are structured wrongly. So I would advise against using this strategy alone for proofreading.

5. Ask A Friend To Check

Find a friend who is very particular about this (like me) to read through your article. If it is the first time they are reading your article, they are likely to spot more typos than you.

The Wired article, mentioned earlier, also explained this:

We can become blind to details because our brain is operating on instinct. By the time you proof read your own work, your brain already knows the destination.

This explains why your readers are more likely to pick up on your errors. Even if you are using words and concepts that they are also familiar with, their brains are on this journey for the first time, so they are paying more attention to the details along the way and not anticipating the final destination.

This video gives an example of how we might become blind to details when we have certain expectations in our mind:

Cool? Because I’ve seen the dancing gorilla experiment before, I was focusing on the gorilla and missed the change in colour of the curtain.

Don’t forget to thank your friends after they help you or help them proofread when they write! ☺

Just A Bit Of Effort

Typos are not easy to spot (so forgive me if there are any typos in this post :P); but when we do spot them, it does not take much effort to correct them.

If the document you wrote is very important such as your job application, you might want to make sure that there are no typos because it can affect your chances of getting the job.

(I know it sounds duh!, but I have friends who cannot be bothered to change typos in their work or resume.)

Do the recipient of your work and yourself a favour. Make those changes.

Thank you ☺

What do you do to catch your typos? Do you have cool tricks to share?

(This is my 21st blog post of my 30in30 challenge — 30 blog posts in 30 days. Through this challenge, I hope to feel comfortable and more confident with writing and become better at writing.)