I hope you’ve noticed that navigating to this page was quick (let’s hope that the Internet Gods are kind to me, and nothing stood in the way of you accessing this page). In fact, most pages on my blog - hopefully including this one - should render in under a second. I didn’t put any work into optimizing this site, and it’s not a boast, nor is it a technological marvel - this is just a good old fashioned static website.

If this is new to you - static website is just what it sounds like - static HTML and CSS files, sometimes with some light JavaScript sprinkled throughout. There’s no server side processing – the only bottlenecks are the host server speed, recipient’s connection speed, and the browser rendering speed. Page is stored as is, and is sent over as soon as it’s requested. This is how the Internet used to be in late 90s and early 2000s (with eclectic web design to boot, of course).

I think static websites are cool and aren’t used nearly enough, especially for websites that are, well, static. Think to the last website you’ve visited to read something - maybe a news site, or maybe a blog. Now did it take at least a couple of seconds for them to load? Likely. Did their server have to waste unnecessary cycles putting together a page for you? Most definitely. Now, contrast this with your experience with a static website like this one. Here’s the result from pagespeed.web.dev for this page:

Every render complete in under a second, and I didn’t have to put in any work into optimizing my website.

This site is built on a (now unsupported) Octopress, which is itself built on top of Jekyll. You write pages in Markdown, generate web pages using a pre-made template, and deploy the resulting pages to a hosting provider. In fact, GitHub Pages allow you to host your static website for free, and you can have a third party platform like Disqus provide comment support.

Static websites work great for portfolios, blogs, and websites that don’t rely on extensive common manipulation. They’re more secure (no backend to hack), simple to build and maintain, very fast even without optimization, and are natively SEO friendly (search engines are great at understanding static pages). Static websites are cheap to run - I only pay for a domain name for this site (under $20 a year).

If you have a blog or a portfolio and you’re using an overly complicated content management system to write - consider slimming down. Jekyll (or many of its alternatives) offers a number of pre-made off-ramps for major CMS users, is easy to set up, and is straightforward to work with. Can’t recommend enough - static websites rule!

It’s not a hot take that I really like Soulsbourne video games: games like Dark Souls, Sekiro, Elden Ring. There are many reasons behind my appreciation for the titles: fascinating lore delivery mechanisms, selfless multiplayer cooperation, or thought provoking art direction.

But one faucet of these games ties together the experience: combat. Tight, responsive, and unforgivingly difficult. And mainstream critical success of these games is what allows us to see publishers take more risks with difficult games.

And nothing makes this more apparent than a game stripped down to its core: Sifu. Okay, bear with me - Sifu has nothing to do with the Dark Souls franchise, and the small French Sloclap studio is as far away as you can get from the now behemoth of the industry From Software.

But Sifu is just that: a responsive, fluid, and unforgiving combat experience masquerading as a game. Sifu is a revenge story set in modern-day China, that sees you play through through five levels, each of which culminates with a boss fight.

There’s a twist: every time the character dies, they get older - increasing their damage and reducing their health. Once you go past 80 - it’s game over. This forces the player to master each level, as the player is incentivised to finish each level at the youngest possible age.

The game’s final boss - a man who killed the protagonists’ teacher is hands down one of the hardest boss fights I have experienced in the video games. He’s immune to every cheap trick you might have in your sleeve, attacks relentlessly, and leaves nearly no room for error.

And it’s this boss fight that really made me aware of the state of flow difficult combat forces the player into.

A diagram depicting a state of flow. X axis is titled "Mastery", Y axis is titled "Difficulty". A state of flow is labeled as when the difficulty and mastery match.

State of flow, or the feeling of “being in the zone” is a state of intense concentration, a perfect balance of difficulty and skill. State of flow is immensely satisfying, and time flies by in an instant while you’re in the zone. And difficult games force the player into the state of flow to progress.

State of flow has many benefits: increasing concentration, creativity, problem solving abilities, and even boosting self esteem. Among many benefits, state of flow helps to reduce stress and anxiety: it’s an inherently relaxing and enjoyable experience, and is one of the main reason I like playing difficult games, even if I’m exhausted after a long day. I can rely on an induced state of flow to help myself relax.

Back to Sifu’s final boss.

The only way I was able to defeat the final boss in Sifu is by sitting back, relaxing, and letting the built up muscle memory take over. It’s a beautiful experience akin to playing an instrument - something that requires the right amount of concentration: too much focus would make you get in your own way, too little would allow you to get distracted. It’s a state of flow, which I immensely enjoy, and which games like this help me enter.

But it isn’t until a second playthrough, which the game encourages you to take to experience the full story, that you’re able to appreciate all the progress you made, and reenter the state of flow for the duration of the full playthrough. Because you’ve already completed the game, there’s confidence in mastery of the game’s systems, but the difficulty and unforgiving nature of encounters still keep the game a challenge.

I think this applies to many games that are built with high difficulty - be it platformers like Celeste, or even tactics games like XCom. In fact, I’d be really curious to see how more cerebral video games get the player into the state of flow - I might dig into that someday.

I find it easy to get caught up in whatever is on my mind. That’s why I find mindfulness practices particularly helpful, and T.E.A. - Thoughts, Energy, Attention - is something I’ve been using on and off for a few years to clear my head and focus on work and decisions that matter to me.

It’s short and simple, and only takes few minutes:

  • Thoughts: What’s on my mind now?
    • Is my train of thought helpful? What can be done to change it?
  • Energy: How am I feeling?
    • How is my energy level? Can I maintain or improve it?
  • Attention: What matters to me?
    • What should I focus on? What should I accomplish?

I’ve seen a common variation of the same acronym stand for Time, Energy, Attention - but I found that didn’t work well for me. Maybe that’s because I’m terrible at estimating or understanding time, or maybe that’s because the most important decisions sometimes end up not taking any time at all. Either way, I try not to concern myself with time. Hence: Thoughts, Energy, Attention.

You can read more about T.E.A. in this PDF from Google.

In the past few years my work heavily shifted towards being mostly done in a web browser. Much of what I use today is email and documents, and I’m able to SSH into a dedicated Linux machine for rare instances of coding or running some scripts. Because of that my primary machine these days is a trusty Chromebook - really just a web browser with an OS stapled on top of it.

I’ve used Vimwiki extensively for nearly 10 years now: it’s a fantastic way to organize my thoughts and everything I learn about the world, and it works with the tool I know and love - Vim. My Vimwiki followed me across machines, and I use Google Drive to keep it in sync regardless of the environment I use the Vimwiki in.

It took me way longer than I would like to admit to get Vimwiki working on my Chromebook: here lies the journey of getting the Vimwiki to work on a ChromeOS. There are three major hurdles I had to jump over:

  • Getting Vim to run on ChromeOS.
  • Getting Vimwiki, Google Drive, and ChromeOS to play together nicely.
  • Getting the web view to work.

Good news is that ChromeOS allows you to run a Linux environment. Bad news, is that things can’t get a tiny bit finnicky.

First, set up Linux to run on ChromeOS via “Settings > Advanced > Developers > Linux Development Environment > Turn on”. After a few prompts and a freshly brewed cup of coffee, you’ll have a Debian Linux environment running on your Chromebook.

Newly installed Linux is accessible from the terminal:

Pop open the terminal and update Vim and get the latest version of Python:

sudo apt install python3 vim

Download and install Vimwiki however you’d like: there are extensive instructions on GitHub. If you’re anything like me, you might have a self-installing vim-plug, and all you need is just plop your existing .vimrc into your Chromebook Linux instance.

Now, for getting Google Drive, Vim, and ChromeOS to play together. ChromeOS and Linux are integrated well enough, and you can access your home directory through ChromeOS native file manager:

To share files in another direction, there’s a handy “Share with Linux” option for files:

Screenshot of "Share with Linux" option in ChromeOS file manager.

This option shares files with Linux via /mnt/chromeos. In Google Drive, I have a vimwiki/ folder which contains wiki/ and wiki_html/. I’m able to share that folder, and update Vimwiki configuration accordingly:

let g:vimwiki_list = [{
  \ 'path': '/mnt/chromeos/GoogleDrive/MyDrive/vimwiki/wiki/',
  \ 'template_path': '/mnt/chromeos/GoogleDrive/MyDrive/vimwiki/wiki/templates',
  \ 'template_default': 'default',
  \ 'template_ext': '.html'}]

Now there’s a corner case I ran into when I had Vimwiki set up on a different account than the one I use to log into the Chromebook. Only the primary account’s Google Drive shows up in ChromeOS file manager. To work around that, I had to share my vimwiki/ folder with the primary account, and then share that with Linux. The resulting directory was available through a /mnt/chormeos/GoogleDrive/ShortcutsSharedWithMe/...:

At this point Vimwiki works just fine: working with the wiki and generating HTML is functional. All that’s left is getting the generated Vimwiki to show up in the web browser. Ever since Chrome disabled local file access, I (expectedly) haven’t been able to get :Vimwiki2HTMLBrowse to function, since simple file:/// URLs aren’t accessible for security reasons.

That’s where Python comes in, with it’s native web server module. I made a small alias in my .bashrc:

alias vimwiki="cd /mnt/chromeos/GoogleDrive/MyDrive/vimwiki/ && python3 -m http.server"

Next thing you know, I’m finally able to access the generated web version of my Vimwiki via localhost:8000/wiki_html:

The Eisenhower matrix, sometimes known as the priority matrix, is an invaluable planning tool, and something I have been consistently using for the better part of the last decade.

As someone who has a short attention span and easily gets overwhelmed, I find Eisenhower matrix to be an invaluable tool in allowing me to focus on what’s important, rather than what’s right in front of me.

Oh, I still struggle to make sure that things that are important to me are what matters to others, but that’s a whole different battle - at the very least I’m able to keep my own head straight, and that’s a win in my book.

Without any further ado, I present to you the decision making framework developed and popularized by Dwight D. Eisenhower, the 34th president of the United States (and clearly a notorious efficiency nut).

Picture of an Eisenhower matrix: vertical axis titled "Importance", horizontal axis titled "Urgency", and four quadrants titled "Do now", "Schedule", "Delegate", and "Eliminate".

It’s pretty simple, really. Take everything from your long single-file To-Do list, and place it on the matrix based on its urgency and importance. Work through the matrix in the following order:

  • Urgent and important: get these done, now.
  • Important, but not urgent: decide when you want to do these, actively make time for yourself to work on those.
  • Urgent, but not important: delegate (read on below if you have no one to delegate to).
  • Not urgent and not important: take time to eliminate these tasks.

Do now: a common pitfall

It’s easy to throw everything into the “urgent and important” pile. In reality, that’s not often the case. If you find yourself throwing everything in the first quadrant - I implore you to think of your tasks in relative terms. Out of everything on your mind, I’m sure some things are more important than others.

I find that over time most of my work shifts into a single quadrant (usually the “important, but not urgent”), and I find it helpful to redistribute those, or populate the matrix from scratch.

Schedule: mindful use of time

One of the goals of the Eisenhower Matrix is to increase visibility into how you spend your time. While it’s easy to spend most of the time in the “urgent and important” quadrant, the best work happens in the “important, but not urgent” section of the matrix. That’s where the best use of your time is, and that’s where most of the energy and attention should be spent.

Otherwise you’re just running around like a chicken with its head cut off, although I can sympathise with the difficulty of getting out of the urgency trap. It’s not trivial, and probably downright impossible in some cases.

This is where the biggest pitfall of the Eisenhower matrix lays in my experience. You want to maximize amount of time spent in the “schedule” quadrant, but you don’t want to end up with a massive list that becomes a yet another To Do list, because one dimensional To-Do lists suck.

Delegate: to whom?

Not everyone has someone to delegate work to. Or not everything can be delegated. In these cases, I treat the “delegate” bucket the same as “eliminate”. Hopefully that won’t come back to bite me in the future.

Eliminate: it’s hard

I really like following up on things, to a fault. I don’t like leaving loose ends, unanswered emails, or unspoken expectations. I find it helpful to schedule time to explicitly eliminate certain work, and communicate explicit expectations to everyone around me about that. Because of that, that’s where the most of my procrastination happens. Telling people “no” isn’t always easy, and I still don’t have the best process for combing through the “Eliminate” quadrant.

I know many people are a lot more comfortable letting unimportant things quietly fall through the cracks, and there’s nothing wrong with that.