Working remotely

Many people have experienced working from home for the first time in the past few years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and many want to continue doing it. I don’t blame them. I am lucky to have had the opportunity to work from home (or remotely) full-time since 2014. Before that, I worked from home a few days a week as a software engineer for HomeAway (acquired by Expedia.com) in Austin, TX.

Working from home has enabled me to save time by not having a commute and having fewer meetings to do more things that I enjoy, for example, writing posts like this and many more that I never published—going for long walks, taking road trips with the family, and even traveling abroad for more extended periods. However, not everything has been perfect. I do miss the in-person interactions with colleagues and even strangers. Going out to lunch with co-workers, having to wear more than shorts and flip-flops every morning, and having a clear separation between home and work.

Having a clear separation between home and work was probably the hardest thing to do initially, but it is under control now. It is too easy to end up working endless hours with the excuse of how important work is, and continue doing it all of the time when you are home. The truth is, your personal life will always be more important than any job, but understanding this and separating your work from your personal life requires a lot of discipline when working from home.

Some people are not qualified to work from home, and I am not talking about the people who are needed to be in a place physically to do their job; instead, I am referring to the people who are easily distracted and can’t focus on their work and end up slacking off instead. Working from home and doing it successfully requires discipline and effort.

Working from home is feasible and probably the best way for some people to work nowadays. If you can do your job from a computer, then I don’t see why a company wouldn’t let you work remotely if that is what you desire. At the same time, some people enjoy going to an office, working with others, having in-person meetings, etc. The ideal situation is to have a balance, but it is essential also to be part of a team where there is general agreement about the work location and hours.

I am unsure if I will continue to work from home forever, but I know that it has been a positive change in my life for many years. It has made me more productive as I can focus on my work better, and it has also helped me financially as I don’t require a second car, and I save some money in gas and food by not going out to lunch as often as I did when I worked at an office.

In addition, I am trying the four-day workweek, and so far, it’s been positive for me, my team, and my company. I feel more energetic when I am working, I feel happier, and my work-life balance actually exists. When I am not working, I use the time to pursue my hobbies, which also benefit my job. I like keeping up with technology and changes in programming languages, architecture, etc. And more importantly, I feel that I am no longer in this rat race.

Even when I still have a work routine, it is well-balanced, and I have enough time to decide what I want to do with it.

My ultimate goal is to wake up every day and do what I want, where I want, in the terms I want. That is happiness for me.

person holding many books

One book every week

It’s not about reading fast. It is about reading more often.

How many hours do we spend looking down at our phones or watching a show weekly? Ironically, the same technology that keeps us distracted can give us this valuable information. Unless you actively track how much time you spend on your phone, you’ll likely not realize how much it is. It is always more than you think, trust me.

To most people, reading one book every week sounds unattainable. And it can be unless you decide to cut off time from other activities, for example, looking down at your phone or streaming the latest show. I am reading one book a week not because I want to break a record but to get the habit and replace bad habits with it. If I can spend more than one hour looking at my phone every day, then I can spend that same hour every day reading a book.

The average reader snails through prose at a rate of about 250-300 words per minute, roughly equating to about one page per minute.

The Guardian

That means that if I read one hour every day, five days a week, I can easily read a book of about 300 pages, every week!

When wondering how many pages a book should be, it is notable that the average book length is between 200-400 pages. 

https://gatekeeperpress.com/how-many-pages-should-a-book-be-to-publish/te

It’s been almost five weeks since I started this, and I am about to finish reading the fifth book. Reading has always been something I enjoy, but I am not going to lie. Unfortunately, my book queue has been increasing in the past several years due to not having enough time to read. Imagine that!

I’ve come to understand that time is not something we lack. Most of us have it, and we can claim a lot of it back if we prioritize what we do with it. This reading project is a way for me to claim time away from other activities and spend more of it reading.

Reading one book a week is working for me now, and I want to apply the formula to other aspects of my life. Time I have, all I have to do is find a way to spend it wisely.

European Summer: Portugal

I can’t believe it’s been a month since we returned from our one-month European trip. It was an experience. This is the second time we have spent that much time in Europe, the first time was in 2009 when I had just lost my job, and we decided to take off to Europe with the kids. More on that in a future post.

My youngest son, my wife, and I left for Portugal on July 14. We decided to fly to Portugal because my wife wanted to visit Our Lady of Fátima located in Fátima, Portugal. It was also the perfect place to spend a few days before starting our pilgrimage on the Camino Portugués, one of the many alternate pilgrimages of the Camino De Santiago. We knew that to the Compostela, you must walk the last 100 kilometers to Santiago de Compostela, Spain, on foot or horseback, or the last 200 km by bicycle. For this reason, we choose to start our walk in Tui, a Spanish right on the border to Portugal. It’s 115 kilometers from Santiago.

Walking around Porto
Porto, Portugal – Photo taken with a Nikon FE2 and Kodak Gold film.

After arriving at Porto via a short flight from Paris, we quickly walked outside after recovering our luggage. The air in Porto outside the airport felt dense, and it looked much warmer than it was. The sky was hazy, and its color was like a faded pink or orange. It wasn’t beautiful. It reminded me of the sky in the States on the West Coast when wildfires are present. Or similar to the sky in Beijing, China, which, if I had to guess, it’s the result of smoke from cars and industry as opposed to wildfires. I remembered very clearly how my eyes were red and itchy while walking in Beijing.

I was worried. Is the sky like that due to wildfires? contamination? I don’t know, but after taking a taxi into the city, just 11 km from Porto Airport, the beautiful historic center, architecture, and monuments distracted me from looking at the sky. Porto was very picturesque.

A view of one of Porto's plazas
The Praça da Liberdade (Liberty Square) in Porto, Portugal – Photo taken with a Nikon FE2 and Kodak Gold film.

The apartment we rented was right in the center of Porto. Everything was within walking distance, big and small restaurants, museums, galleries, shops, churches, monuments, and one of the places I wanted to visit, Livraria Lello. Porto is magical. It looked like one of those old quaint movies, with charming old buildings and impressive architecture, and very inviting to explore it by walking around it. Very vibrant. As I said, Porto is picturesque. I am glad we decided to make a stop there.

We stayed in Porto for 3 nights and four days, but I’m sure we’ll be back. While there, we took a bus to Fátima, just a few hours away, to visit its magnificent cathedral. That day we almost missed the bus to Fatima. It was scheduled for early in the morning, and while the bus stop was just a few blocks from the apartment, having walked for a few hours the day before to absorb as much as we could from the sunset and the amazing views during the gold hour, and then the fact that we almost hadn’t sleep in the past two days since we left Seattle, made it very hard to wake up that morning. We got on the bus, slept most of the two hours on the way to Fatima, and enjoyed walking around this city and visiting its impressive cathedral. It was a good day. We had breakfast in Fatima and then dinner in Porto.

Sampaio, a fishing village
Streets of Sampaio, an old fishing village in Vila Nova de Gaia, Portugal. – Photo taken with a Nikon FE2 and Kodak Gold film.

Porto is a special place. Can’t wait to go back and explore it a little more. We didn’t have any problem communicating with the locals. Most of them understood and spoke Spanish, just like we understood most Portuguese – and when we couldn’t communicate with those languages, English was always a good backup plan. I am so grateful to be bilingual.

The city of Porto is extremely walkable, just like most European cities. Full of street merchants, shops, restaurants, bars, gelato places, historical buildings, monuments, and beautiful sights. The food was excellent too. While walking around Vila Nova de Gaia, just across the Douro river from Porto, we met a street merchant who took our picture of us using a large wooden film camera and recommended that we visit the neighborhood of Sampaio and have dinner there.

Grilling fish on Sampaio, a fishing village in Vila Nova de Gaia, Portugal
Fish on the grill outside a house in Sampaio – Photo taken with a Nikon FE2 and Kodak Gold film.

Sampaio is an old fishing village where every evening, locals get the grills out on the street and cook fresh seafood outside, and it’s the perfect place to enjoy Porto wine and delicious seafood. The sunsets are also something to enjoy in this area.

On our last day, we took a bus ride to Valenca, a town at the border between Portugal and Spain, and across the river, you’ll find the town of Tui on the Spanish side. Our walk to Santiago was going to start in Tui, so it was the perfect place to stay for one night to begin our 117km walk to Santiago de Compostela the following day. We were very excited about it but sad to leave Portugal. Our four days in Porto weren’t enough for us.

Bus from Porto to Valenca – Photo taken with iPhone 12 Pro

The morning we arrived in Valenca, we got out of the bus and quickly stopped at the bathrooms. The bus station looked like it was still being built or perhaps being renovated. It was close, but the bathrooms were open, and a few cabs were waiting by the parking lot. We made a hand wave to signal the cab drivers that we needed a ride. The youngest driver saw us and walked over to us. I asked if he spoke Spanish or English, but the fact that he seemed confused by what I was saying made me assume he didn’t speak either. I mentioned the name of the hotel we were staying at, I knew it was just outside Valenca, but I was hoping a local cab driver would know where it was. With the hotel’s name memorized, he walked over to the other cab drivers, and one of them gave him instructions, or at least that is what I thought happened. our young driver started walking toward us. My estimation is that he was 18 or 19 years old.

Bus stop, Porto, Portugal – Photo taken with iPhone 12 Pro

After getting our luggage into the trunk, we got into the car, and our driver started driving. The hotel I had chosen was a small place. It was right by the highway and looked like a bed and breakfast. We only spent one night there. The idea was to be close enough to start our walk the next morning. We spent the evening at this hotel’s parking lot, talking, playing, and enjoying the boredom.

While at the hotel, it felt as if we were the only ones at the hotel. When we asked if there was food, the attendant pointed us to the dining area. We walked over there, and he walked behind us. Once we sat at a table, he asked if we just wanted drinks or food. We said we wanted both. Then he took the posture of a restaurant server and said that the food options were a ham sandwich or a grilled cheese. I remember looking at each other with a smile, my wife promptly asked for the grilled cheese, and then my son and I did the same. Orange juice, beer, or soda were the drink options. We got one beer, one orange juice, and water for all three. It’s so nice and simple when you have fewer options!

It was a boring day, but our stay at the hotel outside Valenca was also very different, it felt special to me, and I will remember that day and that place forever. We started our pilgrimage the next morning.

Hasta la vista Porto!

Adopting a three-day weekend

For over six months, I have worked four days a week, Monday through Friday, and enjoy a 3-day weekend. I am very fortunate that my current employer, and my team, enable me to do this. A flex schedule is something available to many, but few take advantage of this.

I also work from home and have been doing that full-time since 2014. It took a lot of effort to get used to working from home, especially when you have children and your spouse also works from home. But after some struggle and adjustment, it works. The current flex schedule makes working from home even better. It opens up many opportunities to travel with the family, practice more hobbies, or maybe spend more time on existing hobbies.

Working four days a week instead of five took a while to adjust as well. I still have to fight the need to check my work email, Slack, etc. I still feel guilty for doing this, and while my output and quality haven’t been affected negatively, it is still hard to fully enjoy having Fridays off. But why? I think it has been engraved into my mind that to be productive and fair with your employer and co-workers, you need to work at least five days a week.

Working only four days a week instead of five has opened many opportunities for my family and me. For example, we’ve been able to travel to visit our older kids who live in New York City more often than before. We can take long weekend trips to places like Vancouver, Portland, and even California (we live in Seattle). Having Fridays off has given me the additional time to pursue other interests, such as writing and photography.

Working four days a week instead of five also gives me more time to relax and do nothing. It makes me start the week with more energy, a fresher mind, and enthusiasm every week. In other words, the burnout might still be there, but it is much less than before.

The future of work might be people working at any time and any day as they seem necessary. But while we get there, I think adopting a three-day weekend is feasible for most companies and jobs. Maybe we are on the brink of changing the workweek standard from five days to four weeks. In my experience, it will be better for everyone. It will give families more time to spend with each other, more time for people to pursue hobbies and other activities not related to their jobs, an opportunity to travel more, etc.

A little bit of history… In 1908, a New England cotton mill instituted the first five-day workweek in the United States so that Jewish workers would not have to work on the Sabbath from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. In 1926, Henry Ford began shutting down his automotive factories all Saturday and Sunday due to pressures stemming from the October Revolution, which witnessed the ruling class persecuted for not giving the laborers dignifying conditions. In 1929, the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America was the first union to demand and receive a five-day workweek. The rest of the United States slowly followed. Still, it was not until 1940, when a provision of the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act mandating a maximum 40-hour workweek went into effect, that the two-day weekend was adopted nationwide.

Maybe it will be in this decade when more people and more companies adopt the three-day weekend as the new standard. It will be a step towards having a more flexible work schedule overall. It is what the future of work will require. Then, finally, people have more flexibility and more time to do more than just one job to earn an income. But only time will tell. I am excited about this.

Have a nice Saturday!

Less is more

We have all heard that phrase, right? At least most of us understand the idea behind it, I think. To me, less is more refers to consumerism and how by acquiring fewer material things, we can improve our lives by focusing on the things that’ll have a lasting impact on our lives. Things like talking to people we care about, spending time together (without electronic distractions), acquiring new experiences, reading, exercising, learning, thinking, etc.

The idea of less is more can also be taken to a different level, for example, the obvious difference in the size of material possessions between North America and the rest of the world. My family and I just returned from a one-month trip to Europe. We spread our days between Portugal, Spain, and Italy. Three different countries that, while having some similarities, are very different culturally. Yet, these countries share similarities, the things that make them to us Westerns, European countries.

Let’s start with the elevators. If you live in America and haven’t visited Europe yet, getting on a regular elevator in any European country will be an experience – there are always exceptions. Elevators in Europe are tiny and, in many cases, very old. But, again, there are exceptions. You can visit a modern hotel or any building and see a very nice and spacious elevator. However, elevators in older buildings aren’t just old, they are tiny. It looks to me that having such small elevators makes you think twice before using them, and for us, the stairs are almost always a better choice – less is more.

What about cars? Cars are tiny in European countries too! Even the delivery trucks and those used to transport goods around the country are much smaller when compared to their American counterparts. The bulk of cars is a combination of very compact vehicles and wagons. There is also a vast number of motorcycles, mainly scooters like Vespas. Since most cars transiting the roads are small, the roads and streets are much smaller as well. If you drive a large SUV or pickup truck, you’d have difficulty navigating the streets of Florence, Italy. And don’t even think about parking on the street with such a large car! Less is more.

UPS “truck” in San Sebastián, Spain

Let’s talk about coffee and coffee cups now, one of my favorite topics. In Europe, less is more is a literal truth when it comes to coffee. Espressos are tiny and highly concentrated coffee drinks. We all know what expressos are, but let’s be honest, most Americans don’t think of espresso when thinking about drinking coffee. Most of our caffeinated drinks come in huge cups, and the amount of liquid is substantial compared to the same coffee drink in Europe. Have you seen the size of the cup when you order a latte in the United States? It’s huge. Ask for a cappuccino or latte in Europe, and you’ll get a much smaller cup of coffee – even americanos are served in what you would call a tiny cup in America – less is more in this example as well.

“Large” Cappuccino

Should we talk about breakfast? I think that most of us know that the so-called American breakfast is the biggest of all! Or at least one of the most fulfilling ones. Breakfast in Spain? A cafe con leche and a piece of bread or a slice of tortilla española (a portion of an egg omelet). Italy? Espresso, maybe juice, and a pastry. The United States? Eggs, potatoes, bacon or sausage, pancakes, etc. You get the point.

So is less more? When it comes to what we consume, the answer is yes. Less enjoyment is not more enjoyment, or less happiness is not more happiness. So my focus is to do and buy less unless it is something that brings me joy and good long-lasting memories. The one-month trip to Europe might seem like too much. Still, I know that spending so much time outside our country and our daily tasks create long-lasting memories and exposure to other cultures, ways of thinking, and ways of doing things for both my family and me. It enriches our lives.

Have an excellent Friday!