Keeping energy levels high and habits to increase productivity

Ok, so this is totally overdue, but hey, better later than never! I wanted to share with you a snapshot of my internal state two months after the trip. Yeah..right now it has been more like three months since I have been back, but I had too much fun over the holidays (stories will follow). 🙂

Remember, this is just a snapshot. I thought it would be interesting to track the transformation that is still happening, learning and growing in real time. I will go into more details in topics mentioned below in some later posts (or better yet, let me know in comments about what you want to learn more!)

Similarly to the previous posts (a week, two weeks, a month snapshot after being back), I’m still riding at the high energy levels that I had during the trip. Though I do have to pay attention to it and make sure it stays that way. So I still keep sleeping 8 hours a night most nights. With that kind of schedule it is much easier to recover after not sleeping enough for a night and my productivity at work barely suffers.

I’m way more protective of my “me time” and will actually schedule it in my calendar. I’m social, but I also need my alone time. This probably is the second biggest contributor to keeping my energy levels high (first being getting enough sleep).

My basic routine is finally rock solid. I’m finally in the habit of flossing my teeth regularly. The final piece of the puzzle was to come up with a cue (advice from the book The Power of Habit) of when to do it. For me it is the following. As I walk through the door at home at night, I drop off the bag and walk straight to the bathroom (even with the jacket on) and brush and floss my teeth. It finally works even at times when I came back home really tired after dancing. Victory! 🙂 You would think its such a tiny thing, but it took me over 20 years of learning to make flossing into a consistent habit.

Another habit that I finally do consistently is writing down 3 most important things to get done before I start my day.

I still can’t believe how writing is easier compared to a year ago. Not just writing posts for this blog is easier, but also writing emails is easier. Most importantly, writing work emails is much easier. It takes less time as I’m not rewriting them so much and I procrastinate less in starting to write them. The effect is that I get more sh** done because I get unblocked earlier and have things lined up ready to tackled. Also, I’m not afraid of asking stupid questions. So I learn more and faster. Heck, I’m not debating forever anymore whether to ask normal questions!

All of this make my productivity consistent instead of being all over the place. As a result work is going fantastic. I get so much more done!

Another feeling that I have maintained is that I feel like nothing is impossible. For example, I decided to learn German and committed to it. From experience of learning quite a few languages, I feel one of the most important things is consistency of studying every day. And that is what I do. I study German every single day, even if it is just 3 minutes. I haven’t missed a single day! This way it doesn’t feel that hard, I just do it regularly. Step by step, the same way I climbed Mount Fuji, step by step.

The change is not just internal. Often people say that I look energetic and happy, both of which are true.

To be continued.

A month after being back

As promised, here are some notes on my experiences of the first month of being back.

I’m still refreshed and excited. I still have lots of energy – more than before the trip. I notice my energy levels. I’m supper happy. I appreciate where I’am – living in San Francisco, having a fantastic job and a dance scene.

I have a bag of stories that I can tell and relate with people. Also those experiences are prompts for more discussions and learnings because of those discussions. I can relate to people better when I first meet them – somebody from Japan, somebody who also went to Bali. I can share my stories and experiences related to their story and so it is easier to connect and keep the conversation moving. Perhaps I seem more interesting now? I remember some years ago I noticed how somebody would so easily make conversations with new people because he had been to so many places. I wanted to be like that. Now I’m slightly more like that. Next step would be to become a better story teller.

I still haven’t unpacked my closet. Before leaving I packed up my room and put everything in the closet. Now, I don’t even need all that stuff.  Daily I use mostly the same stuff that I backpacked with plus more towels, bath-robe, slippers, few extra sweaters, 2 extra jackets. It feels free to not have my room packed with stuff, the need for stuff has decreased a lot.

Time to time I run into acquaintances and they comment about my blog. That still surprises me, that there are a number of people who are reading this blog. 🙂 Sometimes I receive a message how my story has inspired somebody to take action. Its very humbling and it makes my day (and even the whole week) and it keeps me writing!

I like the improvements I have made in my daily routine. I work on the way to work and I’m reading on my way home. That means I have carved out a consistent amount of time to read, which means I get to keep the reading habit I had during my trip.

I’m trying really hard to carve out “me time”. I realized during travels how important it is for me. I enjoy being social and being with people but time to time I need to be alone as well.

Most importantly it is much easier to write. Especially the small things – emails, reviews, commenting on Facebook posts. Now I don’t have to think about it that much and re-read and re-write what I have written a million times before pressing the send button (or sometimes even deleting and not hitting send/post).

Two weeks of being back: productivity still increases!

Continuing on last week’s theme of productivity.. After not having Facebook on my smartphone, I would pick it up and either open a browser and some website automatically, or stare at it for a split second trying to figure out how to distract myself. That’s no good.

So I changed my Android home screen to replace the hot key for Chrome with an ebook reader app. I moved the browser icon to a secondary screen a swipe away. It is such a tiny change, but it still is an extra barrier to get to the browser. So now, two things happen. It is not on my main screen so I don’t think to open it that often. Second, during that split second while I’m swiping screens to get to the browser, I may realize that I’m about to procrastinate and then I can make the decision to not do it.

I’m still paying attention to my sleep. If I don’t get to sleep enough one night, I get to bed early the next night and allow myself 9 hours of sleep. Also, I mostly wake up by myself about 30 minutes before alarm clock, which is great. Some of it may be because I have gotten used to getting up at the same time. Another side effect that I have noticed is that I’m more hungry (or so it seems) and I snack more when I’m tired and haven’t slept fully. I wouldn’t have thought that benefits of getting enough sleep are so varied! This brings me to realization that before the trip I probably worked at 80% energy level most of the time and thought that it is was my normal capacity (though I knew it was not nearly as much as I used to have one summer in college where I had two full time jobs and did well on both of them, plus slept 8 hours every single day). Now though I can reach and sustain 100% of my energy capacity, which is super exciting! Indeed, nothing feels impossible!


Another thing I noticed, I’m indeed more of my own person and I act according to my “true self”. I went to a happy hour with a meetup group. We were sitting outside in the courtyard and it was a bit cold so I ordered a hot tea. That is such a small tiny thing, but it is huge at the same time. I have the power to be just myself and do exactly what I want, even if it is ordering a hot tea instead of alcohol just because it is happy hour and everybody else is doing so. Also I had no issues with staying in Friday night and reading.

Instead of integrating back to normal life I can create an extraordinary life. Part of it is being exactly who I want to be instead of succumbing to social pressures.

The impact of around the world trip on my life: I notice things more!

I have read some travel memoirs and blogs of travelers and a lot of times I’m left wondering, what happened afterwards? Did their life change when they got back? How did it change? So I thought it might be interesting for you if I continue sharing how I apply things I learned during the trip to create a new life. What do you think?

Before setting out for my around the world trip I was hoping I would learn something along the way and grow in many ways. That definitely happened during the trip, but here is a positive side-effect that happened within one week of getting back to my previous life.

I notice things more. I notice more acutely things that affect my productivity. I notice when my brain is not at it’s peak capacity. I have known for years that how much I sleep affects my productivity. However now I notice a much more nuanced contrast between when I have not slept quite enough and when I’m fully refreshed. Now I notice my daily energy levels against a backdrop of three months of having peak energy.

During my trip, I either had slept a lot and was relaxed whenever I wanted to read or write. When I hadn’t slept enough I didn’t even try to do anything productive. So I only worked when I was at my peak energy. Now if I try to work at less than my peak energy, I notice it. And with noticing it I can fix it. Pretty much the main contributor to my energy is how much sleep I get. I knew this before. After super intense high school I promised myself to finish college without a single all-nighter due to studying. I succeeded at that. Work has been way less intense than my high school and it is easy to forget how much sleep can influence productivity. Now it is great to have another, much more nuanced reminder at that. So now I try especially hard to regularly sleep 8 hours a night.

I also notice more the moments when I’m distracted. One day I was on my commute home and I started reading a book that I was really excited about. My phone buzzed with a notification from the Facebook app. I opened the app, read the feed, checked one link, then another and went down the rabbit hole. I was shocked at myself! I really wanted to read this book, but here I was reading Facebook. So right then and there I uninstalled Facebook app from my phone. I have been less distracted and more productive since.

Yes, unfortunately I haven’t been as responsive to my Facebook messages (and old messages get drowned by new messages), but right now capitalizing on my trip experiences and learnings is more important to me.

This post was about effects one week after the trip. I plan to write about effects two weeks, one month and two months after.

To be continued.

Week #13 – Coming Home

This post is about thoughts and feelings in my final days of the trip. I jotted down my thoughts then, but got around to write up the post and publish it only now.

The final flight of my trip was from New York City to San Francisco early morning of October 16th. The next day October 17th – I went back to work.

So how did it feel coming home after being away for three months?

It felt fantastic! I was super excited about being back and having a new, fresh start at work (I switched teams at work). Of course, I was a bit sad that the trip was over, but I was more excited about starting a new chapter of my life.

I have learned a lot during this trip. I learned about myself, about the world, about other people from books, experiences and stories. The trip opened new frontiers of what I could be. For example, now being much more comfortable with writing and not hating it, there are more possibilities of what I could be. The same is true for having improved my social skills and being way more comfortable with starting conversations with random people.

I set out to practice noticing how I feel at any moment, and it has made a difference! I don’t just notice how I feel (and then can take action according to it), I notice better how other people feel as well.

I did things that seemed impossible to me. I don’t have to be the person I though I am. I can challenge my assumptions and change. I’m more confident. Plus, it is confidence that comes from deep inside, from my “true self”.

My mind is completely refreshed, I’m inspired and I am excited to apply my new self to old and new challenges.

Thank you all for following my blog and your encouraging comments! Those definitely kept me writing.

However, even though my epic three month trip is over, my internal journey is not. I do plan to write about how my life has changed one week, two weeks, a month, two months after the trip.

To be continued..


Week #12 – On Rejection

Week 12 of my trip finished on October 9th.

Let’s get back to the beginning of my trip, the first week (end of July 2013) which I spent at home in Latvia. One day I was walking home and the following thought came across my mind. I felt comfortable. I was on a around the world trip, but I felt comfortable. Everything was familiar, I wasn’t pushing myself out of my comfort zone at all. It was nothing like my nine hour layover at Frankfurt airport. One of the goals of my trip was to search where the magic happens, that is to get out of my comfort zone. However, when I was back at home in Latvia, in a familiar environment, it was easy to slip back to familiar habits. Maybe pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone is harder at home because going against the grain is psychologically harder than blazing a new trail.

I remembered a talk by Jia Jiang on his project of 100 days of rejection that I saw couple of weeks before my trip. His goal was to get rejected 100 times to overcome his fear of rejection. Not everybody said no, so he had some great adventures. I was inspired from the talk to challenge myself the same way.

I had to do it now. I can’t make an excuse that I’m at home.

As I was walking and noticing my surroundings, which were mostly the same with few new developments I noticed this brightly lit up company logo. I pretty much grew up in a country side, but in the last 10 years there has been way more development and more buildings and office spaces have been springing up left and right. This is a new office of one of the most famous and hip software technology companies in Latvia. Their main product is a social network that has higher penetration rate in Latvia than Facebook.

Idea. What if I ask for a tour of the office? It was around 8pm at night. I saw one guy inside the office. So.. I should ring the doorbell and ask him if he can show me around the office. My heart was pounding. I was starting to break a sweat. I said to myself: do it right now at this moment, before you change your mind.

So I did. My heart was racing. 

I rang the bell but nobody answered, but luckily right that moment the guy got up and was heading out to smoke a cigarette. I caught him outside and started a conversation and asked if he could show me around the office.

He agreed.

It turns out what I thought was the buzzer was a finger print reader instead. They had whole bunch other cool tech stuff in the office, themed meeting rooms, game room, bean bags. He is a designer and has worked there for 8 years and in fact he is the one who design the office interior as well.

So overcoming the comfortableness (even physical one!) of asking something was totally worth it! I got a really cool office tour.


Of course not always I received yes.

Another time I was in Cambridge visiting Trinity college. Library had just closed, but I thought in the spirit of my rejection challenge I should ask the gate guards anyways. What if they say no? Meh, what is the worst that could happen? They will say no.

They did in fact say no. The library was closed and no one can see it off hours. Oh well, now I know. Wasn’t the end of the world.


About the middle of my trip I organized a small meetup. That was challenging for me. What if nobody shows up?

Indeed, nobody showed up.

But it was OK. I was at one of my favorite cafes and I pretty much always carry a book or kindle with me, so I read a book instead. I could have been devastated that nobody showed up. I could have tried to come with excuses that it was a very last minute, nobody is in town, time zone confusion, etc to not take it personally and feel rejected. But it was OK.

I think that was a turning point in my internal journey. This is where I felt complete peace with who I am. I felt grounded and no external influence could shake me up.


Now, by the week 12 it felt much easier and natural to ask random things. This is how I got this picture:

I was on a flight from Tokyo to Seoul for Korea West Coast Swing Open. I had been upgraded to a business class. As we were preparing to take off the captain was walking around the business class cabin and chatting and making jokes with people. That’s cool! Is this is how business class always works?

When we landed I had some time to kill while deplaning as my friends were at the back of the plane. So I thought I could ask the pilot whether I could take picture with him in the cabin. It wasn’t even a question of whether I should do it or not. I just did it. And he totally agreed! He said to me take a seat and took the first picture and then we took another one together. Fantastic! I didn’t know this was possible.

My biggest takeaway from this experience was that my heart wasn’t racing anymore.


Week #11 – Learning that I’m not a quitter

This is also a late post, week #11 of my trip ended on October 2nd.

What I love about travelling is that I can get more variety of experiences more easily than while being at home. Which in turn lets me test assumptions about myself or confirm or discredit certain beliefs about myself.

What I have learned about myself is that I’m not a quitter.

While in Bali I rented out a bicycle and I wanted to put it to good use. Which by the way, made me a total weirdo. In Bali everybody rides a scooter and some people drive cars. In the past, it used to be that the stares in such situation where I’m the weirdo and doing something completely different than the norm would cause me to be uncomfortable, but this time it was just funny.

I saw there were several ads for bicycle tours in Bali. I stopped at one of the many roadside stands. They sold bicycle tours from different companies. I asked about the routes, and the guy said that all the routes are pretty much the same (well, he actually pointed in the map, his English was quite limited).

Since I have biked quite long distances before I thought going with a tour group would be way too slow for me. So I looked online, found a route, downloaded the route coordinates in a KLM file, uploaded it to Google Earth on my phone and I was ready to go.

I got up at 6:30am, was out of the house a bit past 7am. I thought I would bike for an hour out and then turn back whenever I felt tired.

One hour in and I was convinced that no sane person would sign up for this not even talking about tourists!

The road was just going up and up and up and up! It wasn’t steep, but still going only up. Well, the good thing is.. on the way back it is only going to be downhill.

Also only now I was getting out of the city/urban area so I thought I should bike for another hour to see any views. And so I did.

Then it started to get really beautiful.



I saw some cafes with beautiful views, but at this point it was too early for them to be open. It was 9am. So I kept going.


At some point I looked at the map and I’m like two thirds there. I need to go all the way to the top! I can’t stop here! As long as nothing hurts, I can keep going.

Then I felt a sharp pain in my right knee. I took a short break. It felt better, but couple minutes later it hurt again. Ok, I have to stop. I have been going for hours nonstop. Luckily 50 meters ahead was a Luwak cafe. Intriguing. I stopped by, my bicycle got valley parked and I got whisked inside what looked like a zoo and a botanical garden.

Luwak is an animal. And there is a special type of coffee which is made from coffee beans that Luwak animals have half-digested and then pooped out. Sounds gross, but its a delicacy.

I was offered coffee and tea tasting and I also decided to try out the Luwak coffee.

I’m not a big coffee fan or connoisseur. So yes, I could taste a difference, but I wouldn’t say it was way better than any other coffee I had tasted.

While drinking coffee I chatted with the server, a local guy, whose English was pretty good. In Bali religious offerings to Gods are very important. Among other things I learned from him that money spent on offerings could easily be half of the salary. And you can’t spend less than that.

I got back on the bike, glanced ahead and the top was so close! I could see the houses on the ridge. The guy at the coffee place said it takes 20 minutes by scooter. Of course it would be way longer than that on a bicycle. I can do this. After the good rest, I didn’t feel any pain in my knee. As long as I get to the top, the way back will be easy.

It was a steady inching forwards. I could imagine this is also exactly how one finishes big projects, just chipping away inch by inch, word by word, action by action. I said to myself while trying to imprint in memory how I felt:

“Remember this feeling. It will be useful when embarking on a big project later in life. It is just moving forward inch by inch. That’s all there is.”

When I finally reached the top it was exhilarating! I made it! I persevered and made it to the top! I’m not a quitter!

At the top there is a view of the volcano (Mount Batur) and the crater lake.

I got lunch at a place with a view of the lake.

The way down was easy. Super easy. For hours and hours just downhill! It was a more beautiful route than the one up. It was filled with rice paddies, bamboo forests, small streets, mellow dogs.




The total route was 48 miles with 4494 feet elevation gain (77 km and 1370 meters). Here is the route on Strava: part #1

part #2

Now I’m ready to tackle anything and I believe nothing is impossible.

Week #10 – “Are you exhausted?”

OK, so I’m totally late on the week 10 post, but hey! better later than never. Week 10 of my trip finished on September 25th.

I recently caught up with a friend and the first thing he asked about my trip was:

“Are you exhausted?” 

It was quick and resounding:


I had just been to Ubud in Bali, the calmest place on Earth. Even the dogs are mellow! I got there without any plan nor any guidebooks. I booked 4 nights at an airbnb place at a villa with a wifi and pool. I liked there so much that I ended up staying there for 10 days. Most of the time I spent reading, writing, eating really good food and hanging out with other people from the house who live there for the time being. I had no schedule, no agenda.

I felt like being a local.

Only towards the end of my stay in Ubud I started planning anything. I finally went to the staple tourist landmark – the Monkey forest. Now I’m scared of monkeys.. They jump on your legs and crawl up if you have bananas. And the biggest and bravest monkeys do it, which makes it even scarier.

I went for a long bike ride. I went by myself instead of going with a tour group, which is what I would do back at home (more about that in another post).

This way perhaps I didn’t see all the famous places that one should see, but I got a feel of how it would be to live there. It just means I will have to return there some day and see all other famous spots.

In fact for much of the trip I felt like being a local. While I was in UK for two weeks, I stayed with my best friend from college during weekdays and took weekend trips (as I often do when I’m at home in San Francisco). We went to a tango class which is not a typical thing for tourists to do. We went for drinks after work on a Friday night with her coworkers.

When I was at Le Grande Motte in south of France for 10 days for the west coast swing dance camp I stayed in the same apartment for the whole time and walked to the same event venue every day. There was a routine. There was familiarity.

In total I spent about three weeks at home in Latvia, where I was a true local. I stayed at my parents place, met my friends, visited my favorite places (but also explored new ones as well!).

In Singapore I stayed with a friend from high school, commuted via subway, saw some touristy stuff but it was also interspersed with lots of walking and wandering around and scouring for the best coffee shops (which I did in other places as well).

So what has helped me to not get exhausted from long term travel is to spend time in each place as a local by doing things I would normally do, like going dancing, biking, hiking, hanging out in coffee shops, meeting locals and not having an agenda to squeeze in as many tourist attractions as possible.

Musings inspired by a book – Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman by James Gleick

I got inspired to read Richard Feynman’s biography while visiting Cambridge and the old Trinity college where they had statues of all these smart people. Richard Feynman didn’t study there but I picked his biography because it has been on my list of books to read for some time, plus he is more recent than Einstein, therefore maybe learnings would be more applicable to nowadays.

Musings and quotes

I found it fascinating that Richard Feyman was interested in all sorts of things and he had various hobbies. He was interested in how his mind and brain works:

“It was his ego, his “rational mind,” that concerned him. He was investigating his mind as an intriguingly complex machine, one whose tendencies and capabilities mattered to him more than almost anything else.” (page 69)

“They discovered that Feynman could read to himself silently and still keep track of time but that if he spoke he would lose his place.” (page 104)

He did all sorts of random things. That’s encouraging, in a sense that not everything that you do has to be explained, has to have justification or purpose. For example, he played bongos and did lock picking. After he accepted an offer of a new job at Caltech he immediately took sabbatical year at the most exotic beach place he could find.

In college I studied some of the quantum physics described in the book. It was very interesting to read the back story and see which theories have survived to teach in schools now. The reading was very accessible. Some of the explanations were ingenious and I wish I had learned them while studying quantum physics. This book probably should be read when studying quantum physics as part of the curriculum (thought if it would have been an required reading in college I probably wouldn’t have appreciated another reading for homework).

It was very interesting to get a glimpse into how Feynman thinks:

“Challenges and fresh insights came easily from Feynman. He did not wait, as Bethe did, to double-check every intuitive leap. His first idea did not always work. His cannier colleagues developed a rule of thumb: If Feynman says it three times, it’s right.” (page 165)

Interesting, Feynman also contributed to Computer Science.

“The group’s productivity had risen many times since he took over. He had invented a system for sending three problems through the machine simultaneously. In the annals of computing this was an ancestor to what would later be called parallel processing or pipelining.” (p. 201)

One my co-worker some time ago told me about the concept of work-spouses. It is somebody you work together for many many years. Now I notice it everywhere. Richard Feynman also had a work spouse:

“They [Richard and Gell-Mann] were together, working or feuding, leaving heir imprint on every area they cared to touch, for the rest of Feynman’s life.” (page 311)

The title of the book is the “Genius”. So there was quite a bit of discussion of what genius is, the history of it, different viewpoints. I think author did very good research on this topic.

“[Richard Feynman] seemed—but was this true?—to have possessed a rare and distinct quality, genius as an essence, not a mere statistical extremum on a supposed bell-curve of intelligence.” (page 312)

“This was the conundrum of genius. Was genius truly special? Or was it a matter of degree?” (page 312)

Good food for thought. Makes me want to learn more about the topic of geniuses:

“Why, as the pool of available humans has risen from one hundred million to one billion to five billion, has the production of geniuses—Shakespeares, Newtons, Mozarts, Einsteins—seemingly choked off to nothing, genius itself coming to seem like the property of the past?” (page 312)

Where it had gone? There is too much specialization nowadays and any one single person can’t do it all and can’t have a towering genius effect over everybody else.

“Perhaps genius was an artifact of a culture’s psychology, a symptom of a particular form of hero worship.” (page 322)

““Genius is the fire that lights itself,” someone had said. Originality; imagination; the self-driving ability to set one’s mind free from the worn channels of tradition. Those who tried to take Feynman’s measure always came back to originality. “He was the most original mind of his generation,” declared Dyson.” (page 323)

I loved this quote about Feynman. I think it summarizes this book about him quite well:

“Physicists kept finding new ways to describe the contrast between them. Murray makes sure you know what an extraordinary person he is, they would say, while Dick [(nickname for Richard Feynman)] is not a person at all but a more advanced life form pretending to be human to spare your feelings.” (page 388)

This one is inconsequential quote in the book, but it is about dancing.. It is not by Feynman, but some other Oxonian guy:

“Square dances [..] what exactly is square about it – the people, the room, or the music?” (p. 185)


The book was long but I couldn’t put it down. Very inspiring. Very easy to read.

There were whole sections of books devoted to his wife and his relationships with women. I suppose no biography can escape from that.

The back of the book had extensive notes. You can really see that the author has done extensive research. It felt like every single word was annotated.

What also caught my attention is that the story line is not straight. It goes back and forth. The story would start with childhood, then go about later years in life, then return to childhood again. It might sound confusing, but it wasn’t. There was the main story line and then an excerpt from the past that explained what lead to it.


Overall the book was very inspiring. It convinced me that it is fine to have all sorts of random hobbies. Not everything in life has to be for a singular goal. At some point, looking back at your life, all those random things will come together and make sense.

Wandering around Paris at night #2

Here was the first post of what I saw while wandering around Paris for one night.

Here is the second part of it.

While the rollerbladers were impressive, I looked around to see what else is there. For quite a contrast there were some older ladies doing line dancing. Great to see that everybody can find space at the Republic Square in Paris.

Wandering around further, at the other end of the square, I saw way more impressive dancing there:

And this is my favorite. The music is faster and dancing is even more fluid.