Traveling Full-time as a Digital Nomad with Tony Greising-Murschel

In the latest episode of Remotely Effective I dive into hearing Tony’s (Let’s Travel Family) story about what it was like to leave your house behind and hit the open road… in an RV… with 4 kids. All while working full time.

Get it here.

Distraction Free Writing in Vim

Note: this post was originally published in 2014. I have decided to repost it for purposes of other sites that have linked to it.

Update 2014-12-31: Since writing this I have moved to using Vim-pencil instead of a lot of the custom config I had. I’ve updated this post to reflect that.

I recently switched to Vim as my primary text editor of choice. I may write a more lengthy post sometime about why I made this decision, and how the change is going. But for now here is quick write-up of my configuration for using Vim as a writing tool.

For starters, I use a few plugins:

  • Goyo – Removes distractions and center text.
  • Vim-pencil – Make the navigation and line wrapping better for writing.
  • Vim-marked – Open files in Marked for Markdown preview and review.

Goyo is really the linchpin in this case to get everything aligned properly in the buffer and dare I say? Makes it look pretty.

pretty vim
Vim—just a little more stylish

That row of stuff along the bottom is my Tmux status line. I could hide it if I wanted. I’m choosing not too.

In addition to the plugins, I have some custom configuration in my .vimrc:

" Markdown specific stuff.
" Change default app for Vim-marked. I have Marked2, but it is just called "Marked". Maybe because it is the non-AS version?
let g:marked_app = "Marked"
autocmd BufNewFile,BufReadPost *.md set filetype=markdown
autocmd Filetype markdown call SetMarkdownOptions()
function SetMarkdownOptions()
  " Enable spellcheck.
  set spell spelllang=en_us
  " Wrap text (without linebreak charecters)
  " I don't want to highlight the current line.
  highlight CursorLine ctermbg=NONE
  " Lastly, invoke Goyo plugin.
" Vim-pencil stuff.
augroup pencil
  autocmd FileType markdown,mkd,md call pencil#init()
  autocmd FileType text         call pencil#init()
augroup END

Overall I think this setup is opinionated as Vim stuff goes. It makes Vim behave more like a word processor and less like a traditional text editor.

Well, why would you want to do that!?

Simple. I believe that I can be more productive if I focus on having a single text editor that can perform all the tasks needed. This is one of the many great points outlined in The Pragmatic Programmer:

Use a Single Editor Well > > The editor should be an extension of your hand; make sure your editor is configurable, extensible, and programmable.

With Vim I can fulfill this principal in any environment. Even without a UI.

The Five Minute Journal

Pen sitting on top fo a notebook

Start Your Morning Focusing on the Good

The state of North Carolina is currently under a statewide Stay at Home Order. This means any commitments outside my home have grinded to a halt. But because I have a family at home, this doesn’t necessarily mean I get more free time. I find it is resulting in a desire to leverage the opportunity to rest and reflect more with less day to day activity going on.

On a recent episode of my podcast Remotely Effective, Mark Shropshire mentioned his habit of daily writing along the lines of The Five Minute Journal. I had heard of this in the past but it was a good reminder of something to look into. With having several young children my day to day morning schedule doesn’t always go as planned. Despite this I can usually carve out at a minimum 5 minutes of quiet before starting my work day to go through this journaling process.

I am not personally using one of the branded Five Minute Journal products, though they look very nice. (Don’t underestimate the value of a quality notebook like this.) I am currently using a Rhodia web notebook and one of my fountain pens. Tools I wish I found use for more often.

After a few days I have adjusted the writing prompts a bit, and I am also trying to write some portion of a bible verse in addition to those prompts. For anyone that prefers digital over analog tools there is an app for it alos. If I ever find that Day One is no longer suiting my digital journaling needs, I’m definitely going to check that out.

For a more in-depth review of the physical Five Minute Journal, I recommend you check out Natalie Bacon’s review. For now I am comfortable with my ad-hoc method and I will consider migrating after I use up this Rhodia web notebook.

Right now—this is just what I need.

Product Management and Company Growth in Distributed Teams with Augustin Delaporte

In this episode of Remotely Effective I am joined by my colleague and co-worker, Augustin Delaporte. In this episode we dive into what it was like growing with as a hybrid team between a central office and distributed team members. Through this discussion we touch on lots aspects of remote work life including working in cross continental teams, changing toolsets as a companies grow and change, product management in distributed environments, and what it was like to being a remote employee based out of China.

Keep Calm and Watch the Sunset

Sunset behind the trees

Do to the outbreak of COVID-19 there is lots of fear and panic going around. People are scared, confused, and question the outcome of the future. It is important during times like these to stay calm. I’m not asking us to ignore trials or tragedy around but rather to keep a level head in the face of it. Love on your family and look out for our neighbors*. If we all did this—we would be better off.

So to us all who may struggle at times to keep the anxiousness at bay: pause and take time to look for beauty in the small things.

Watch a Sunset.

¹: Obviously not if you’re under quarantine 😬

Reaching a Plateau in Minimizing Screen Time

I am still tracking and restricting my screen time as I’ve written in the past about. But after a few months of doing this I’ve reached a plateau in optimization. At this time I’m only able to get down to around 45 minutes of screen time a day on my iPhone. Most of this is taken up by messaging apps and searching around my podcast player feeds for what episode to play next.

My weekly average still ends up being around 55 minutes/day most weeks. Inevitably there ends up being a day that has more use a skews the results. I am going to try and get my weekly average a little lower by deferring tasks to do later when I am at my desk, which many times is more efficient. But if that doesn’t prove to be suitable optimization I am still comfortable with the outcome at this time.

A Crash Course in Working From Home

Working off the Dad bod

Let’s just say the belt is starting to get little tighter these days. We’ve all been there, right? You are then faced with a decision of what to do next.

Do I:

  1. Drop my belt down a notch?
  2. Ignore it like nothing has changed and hope it stretches out?
  3. Try and trim up?

I’ve chosen #3.

Here is my basic action plan

  • Use LoseIt to track my daily calorie intake and log measurements
  • Up my water intake
  • Continue doing bodyweight exercises—increasing the set-lengths and diversifying the workout
  • In general, just watch what I eat more and avoid large amounts of carbs and refined sugars
  • Have weight and measurement goals I log regularly

I plan on staying active with my family as I get older and I hope that this re-adjustment will help remain on that path.

Why I Enjoy the AeroPress

Coffee dripping from an AeroPress

This one is from the archive. Originally authored in April of 2016 and four years later it still applies.

It tastes excellent

Naturally, the most important aspect of a coffee brew is how it tastes. The AeroPress is not only adequate in this area—it excels. When I first tried coffee from anAeroPress, I was not much of a coffee drinker. In fact I didn’t like coffee much at all. It seemed that most coffee I tasted was bitter and just didn’t have a pleasant flavor. After tasting AeroPress coffee for the first time, my opinion regarding coffee changed drastically. In fact I think it is difficult to make a truly bad cup of coffee with this device.

It’s efficient

In both the coffee produced, and the amount of waste accumulated, I think the AeroPress has little inefficiencies. It is generally used to brew a single serving of coffee. There are some recipes geared towards making multiple cups but that isn’t part of my daily use. Brewing with a method that is geared towards a single serving means I don’t have to brew more coffee than I need at that time. Reducing the risk of coffee going to waste that I don’t drink. But unlike other single serve methods like {INSERT NAME OF AUTOMATIC BREWER HERE}, I don’t generate an access amount of plastic that just gets thrown away. With the AeroPress I only have a small, thin, paper filter along with the coffee grounds that are thrown away (at most). And did I mention it is fast? After the water is heated I can brew a cup of coffee in under 2 minutes from the time I grind the beans to completing the AeroPress’ super easy cleanup.

It’s Affordable

The AeroPress is cheap in the world of quality coffee brewing methods where espresso machine can cost in the hundreds to thousands of dollars. I believe I paid around $26 for mine. Right now it is priced at ~$30 on Amazon. Compared to even ‘mid-range’ espresso machines that is a steal for the result you get. But the low price of the AeroPress doesn’t come at a sacrifice of quality. I’ve used the same one for 3 years and don’t anticipate replacing it anytime soon.

Practical Ways to Keep Moving at Work

Continuing in the vein of healthy work habits:

Thus far my career has been in a desk job with the majority of that time working from home. During this period I’ve reached different spectrums of balance between dedication to the work and a healthy lifestyle. This includes good eating habits, exercise, getting enough sunlight, and preventing eye strain. One of the best ways I’ve found to help sustain this is to strive for habits that encourage taking short breaks throughout the day, so I don’t stay glued to my desk all the time.

Like with any goal I find the the best way to start building better habits is to establish the why before the how. Remaining healthy for me is prioritized by a few driving factors including

  • Desiring to be able to stay active with my kids as they get older
  • Keeping good mental healthy which physical health helps facilitate
  • Sustaining longevity in my career and other life commitments

I have done a variety of things over the years to help achieve this. For a period I had a 10,000 steps a day goal which I would track. I would walk on every call I had, take short breaks to walk, go for a walk at lunch, and walk with my family after dinner. Many days I would exceed my 10k goal—and sometimes go well over 25k steps. Another thing I did was try and get out and work other places more often which were within cycling distance. Places like a local park or coffee shop. That would get me out of the office for a bit and also served as great cardio. Both of these helped me reach some good physical goals but personally were not sustainable in my daily routine.

Now I make much smaller goals which “fall in” with my daily schedule with a bit more ease. A few habits I am trying to keep right now are

  • Standing during all meetings which I inevitably end up pacing during out of habit
    • I still go for walks on calls occasionally, but I’ve found that isn’t as productive for me as it use to be.
  • Drinking lots of water throughout the day
    • Other than staying hydrated which is good, this helps me on two fronts: 1) I have to take bio breaks more often—a great excuse to step away from the desk briefly, 2) every time my water bottle is empty I am reminded to go refill it—again a brief desk break.
  • Have small 1-2min breaks throughout the workday for a set of bodyweight exercises
    • Again a great excuse to step back from the desk briefly and also keep the Dad-bod at bay.

In terms of tracking these I am currently not keeping metrics on them outside the bodyweight exercises. For the exercise I am keeping it simple and just using Tally app to track manually. Also on the tech side of things, I like to use Breaktime to remind myself to take breaks on a schedule. One area I think I could improve on here is more regularly adjusting my desk between its sitting and standing position. There are days where I don’t have as many calls and I think some schedule here could help ensure I’m rotating between sitting and standing. This is easy to forget when I’m “head down” in my work.