28 Pieces of Advice for 28 (rwblog S6E18)
I recently turned 28. I started a silly tradition of forcing my friends to give n pieces of advice for their nth birthday, so, in that spirit, here’s 28 pieces of advice for my 28th birthday. They are presented in no particular order. Many may seem very specific, but most have a meta point that may or may not be spelled out 😉
Apologies if this is a duplicate — Buttondown ate the formatting on the original version 😞
“Suruga-chō” from One Hundred Famous Views of Edo, Hiroshige1
- If running hurts, you’re running too fast. Running should cause a pleasant soreness in your legs. If you feel pain in your chest or lungs, you should slow down; you want to stay in heart rate zone 1 or 2, which this video explains well. You can try the “talk test” — if you’re running in a lower heart rate zone, you should be able to hold a conversation without running out of breath — or you can get a fitness tracker or smartwatch to track it. This might feel very slow if you haven’t run in a while, but you’ll improve fast!
- Keep cilantro in a bowl of water in the fridge. A bunch of fresh cilantro will only last a few days if it’s just left in the fridge; in a bowl of tap water, it can last for a month or longer.
- You can write a 50,000 word novel by writing 500 words per day for three months. 50,000 words is generally considered novel-length, but that only takes 100 days or about 3 months at 500 words per day, and you probably have a half hour to spare each day to write 500 words. Many large tasks look much easier when broken down into small parts.
- It’s okay to rest sometimes. If you’re trying to follow a 500-words-a-day writing plan like in advice 3, you might miss a day sometimes because you get busy or you’re just too tired, and that’s okay! It’s better to work sustainably by taking a day off sometimes; you might even want to plan rest time, like a Sabbath, into your creative work schedule.2
- Many annoyances persist because nobody has bothered to get in contact with the right person. For instance, in San Francisco, you can request bike rack installation from the SFMTA, which is useful if your favorite local coffee shop doesn’t have a bike rack out front. Of course, this requires some skill in determining who you need to contact…
- If you don’t enjoy a book, stop reading! Forcing yourself to finish a book you don’t like will simply kill your motivation to read at all. I have related tips in “How to Read a Lot”.
- Time your tea steeps. Tea steeping time is critically important to taste, so it’s worth timing precisely. If you don’t steep long enough, there won’t be any flavor; if you steep too long, even by a minute or two, it will get bitter. Most green and black teas benefit from 3-5 minutes of steeping; that’s especially important for a black tea you’re hoping to cut with milk.
- If you’re having headaches, you might be dehydrated. I used to get a lot of headaches of various kinds. Last year, I started drinking a lot more water, and most of my headaches went away. The most well-hydrated people I know never get headaches.
- Buy a saltcellar and pepper mill. The saltcellar, filled with kosher salt, will enable you to hand-sprinkle an appropriate amount of salt on your food, which is half of good cooking. The pepper mill, filled with unground black peppercorns, will make a subtle, but noticeable, difference in taste.
- Always lock your bike securely. Use a strong U-lock with an additional rope or lock around the wheels. Double-check that it’s actually attached to the rack or pole you’ve attached it to.
- Renter’s insurance covers theft outside the home. If you live in an apartment in a major metropolitan area, your landlord likely made you buy renter’s insurance to cover the property. Most renter’s insurance policies also cover theft, even away from home. That’s useful if, for instance, you didn’t follow advice number 10 and your bike got stolen while you were out and about 🙂
- Setting yearly goals is a useful way to explore what you are and aren’t interested in. I like to check in on my goals once a month and adjust my habits if any goals are off track — or simply decide to change my focus for the year, if I’ve learned I really don’t like something I set a goal around.
- Set a 3-5 year plan, but don’t bother planning farther than that. The plan can be vague or detailed, but having a sense of direction and purpose is helpful. However, you should always expect the actual course of your life to turn out very differently, which is why it’s rarely worth planning more than 5 years out — your circumstances will change too much!
- If you want to remember something in the short term, write it down as soon as possible. Plan an event with friends? Put it in the calendar immediately. Need to run an errand later this week? Add it to a reminders app like Things. Read an interesting article? Summarize it in Obsidian. If you don’t write it down, you will forget it.
- Search less, browse more. If you’re using a new tool or software, skim the documentation provided — the entire documentation. You’ll often find a handful of useful functionalities you wouldn’t have known about otherwise.
- Avoid caffeine after 2pm. You might think caffeine isn’t impacting you, which may be correct if you are truly addicted.3 However, for most people, caffeine is probably impacting your sleep quality more than you think. My rule of thumb is to keep caffeine intake below 80mg (about 2-3 cups of black tea or a shot of espresso) and consume no caffeine after about 2pm. When I don’t follow this rule, I sleep noticeably worse the next night.
- Keep a spreadsheet with your active subscriptions. Spreadsheets are great at chopping up and summarizing data in various ways. I keep a spreadsheet with all of my subscriptions (Amazon Prime, Costco, Netflix, …), with computed columns for monthly and yearly cost per subscription and in total. I can then audit subscriptions “at a glance” without forgetting anything or relying on third-party services.
- Keep a budget. It doesn’t matter what methodology or tool you use — I personally use hledger and track every transaction by hand — but it’s important to have a budget that, at the very least, gives you a broad idea of how many assets you have right now, how much you spend per month, and how much you save per month. This isn’t necessarily a grim exercise in belt-tightening; when I started budgeting in late 2022, I realized I was saving way more money than I thought 😅
- Zero-drop running shoes might not be for you. I tried a pair of the highly-recommended Altra Via Olympus, which apparently mimic barefoot running, only to have so much arch pain I stopped running completely. I swapped them for a normal pair of running shoes and had a much better time. This applies outside running as well; any given piece of advice or recommendations may or may not work for you, but you never know until you try.
- Always copy-paste as quotations. You’re much less likely to accidentally plagiarize if you’re careful to copy-paste text into a pair of quotation marks or a blockquote. For bonus points, include a link to the source.
- Follow good link hygiene. Underline your links in your CSS and make the thing a link when writing. Add links all over the place — that’s what the World Wide Web is for, right? 😉
- Make use of your local library. Obviously, they provide books for free, but most libraries have many other community services as well. For instance, San Francisco Public Library offers printing, language classes, free museum tickets, and more.
- Learn keyboard shortcuts. Many people seem allergic to keyboard shortcuts, but they make you more efficient, and speed matters when working. On macOS, many common keyboard shortcuts work across apps, like ⌘-W to close a tab, ⌘-Shift-T to reopen the last closed tab, ⌘-, to open app settings, and so on; it’s worth taking some time to get familiar with the most common shortcuts.
- Think about amortized costs. Spending a moderate or even large amount on something you use every day (like, say, the saltcellar and pepper grinder from advice 9) is preferable to spending a small amount for something you never use. In particular, don’t balk at paying for quality software that you use regularly; for instance, I happily pay $30 a year for Ulysses, because I use it almost every day! That said, you can go too far with this way of thinking — sometimes it’s nice to spend $7 on a cup of excellent coffee that you drink once.
- Stay curious about your tools. Hopefully you have followed advice 15 (“search less, browse more”) and advice 23 (“learn keyboard shortcuts”). Don’t stop there — keep learning about your tools, even after you’ve used them for a long time!
- Lists are awesome. They’re so awesome that Atul Gawande wrote a whole manifesto. I keep all kinds of lists, and many of these pieces of advice rely on lists, like advice 14 (todo lists!) and advice 17 (a spreadsheet of subscriptions is basically a list).
- Spaced repetition is magical. We as a species know how to memorize arbitrary detail long-term, and that is via spaced repetition. Set up a spaced repetition app like Mochi, take notes on anything and everything, and review them regularly. I find Michael Nielsen’s idea of a “memory system virtuoso” inspiring; see also Gwern Branwen’s notes and Fernando Boretti’s notes if you’re getting started.
- Floss every day. No way around this one — just do it.
On my birthday, I also required everyone to bring me one piece of advice. So, what about you — do you have advice for me? Just hit reply to this email!
I recently saw an original copy at the Asian Art Museum and it is, if anything, even more striking in person. ↩
I’ve even seen an article recommending the practice of streak redemption in UX design to support this idea. ↩
I have known my younger brother to drink a quad on ice at 10pm and sleep an hour later 🤷♀️ ↩