The ultimate safety net

The ultimate safety netPhoto from Flickr (CC).

Everybody wants to have a safety net, right? That’s why we try to save some money for the rainy days. But are things like money, property, stocks or the likes real safety nets? I mean, what’s the ultimate safety net after all?

This subject is important to me because I value freedom. Fortunately, I’m pretty much free to do whatever I want currently. That’s because I have a steady income and enough resources to support my life needs and I don’t have a job that forces me to be confined to an office during arbitrary hours of my day.

As much as I like it this way, truth is that it could all change suddenly. The business might get into trouble, as much as the market can change and turn things in the wrong direction. What could be done, then? 

If I have a financial cushion, I can maintain my freedom, at least for a while, even during troubled times. The thicker the cushion, the longer I can sustain my freedom. But let’s face it, there’s only so much time you can buy if you’re not making money for some reason.

And that’s not even the worst case scenario. The whole financial cushion might vanish unexpectedly for a variety of reasons. This happened so many times in history, with so many people, that we shouldn’t even have to remember that. Take the 2008 financial crisis for instance, just to mention one event that destroyed so many personal savings.

I believe it’s important to have some financial reserve for the rainy days. But I don’t thing we should rely exclusively on that. In fact, I believe this shouldn’t be our safety net at all. It’s just a very important short term protection mechanism. But there are times when it’s just not enough.

In times of war, for instance, money can erode fast and can’t necessarily buy you a way out of the madness. So, again, what should we rely on?

Thinking about that, I came to the conclusion that skills and relationships, together, act as the best safety net available.  The more you develop these, the safer you are in the long term, no matter what happens around you.

Say, for instance, that you’ve created a company and managed to make it very successful. What does it happen if you loose everything? You might be devastated for a while, but eventually you’ll realize that you can do it all over again. And it’ll probably be easier than before.

That’s because you’ve developed skills and relationships. They will help you to get out of the problem and build a solution. And you’ll know people that can help you along the way. Even in times of war, if you have skills and you know some people around, your chances of escaping increase significantly.

Now compare that with a couch potato that has a lot of money in the bank, few skills and few relationships. In difficult times, if he loses everything, how does he get out of the trouble? Without skills and without friends, things are tough.

I’m lucky, cause I’m Brazilian. In Brazil we don’t have war but we’ve been in crisis since forever. Oh, actually, we’ve had some better moments lately, but how long will they last? 

I’ve seen this country go through so many financial crisis that I’ve lost track of them. They’re just routine. This is good in a way: people paying attention can learn from that. They learn not to trust the government, banks, companies or whatever. They learn to trust on themselves and their relationships. 

Let me share an example of the madness I’ve seen in Brazil. In 1990 a new president came and decided it was time to kill inflation once and for all. How? Freeze all of the accounts for one and a half year. People are allowed to withdraw up to 1,500 monetary units once and that’s it. Want the rest? Wait one and a half year.

Want to kill the inflation? Easy, kill the economy itself and inflation won’t be a problem anymore. It worked. Inflation was over along with so many companies, jobs and lives. Many people killed themselves after realizing they couldn’t find a way out of that mess.

This story is rather drastic. It happened just over twenty years ago and it shows how incompetent Brazilian governments can be. But, they’re not alone. Ten years later, Argentina followed Brazil’s steps and did the same with disastrous consequences. The country still didn’t recover from that. And, of course, I don’t have to mention the general stupidity of developed nations so well exemplified by the 2008 financial crisis (and others before), which was so catastrophic that makes Brazilian and Argentinian governments look smart actually.

Stories like that happen suddenly. Sometimes there are warnings. Other times it can’t be foreseen at all, like in the case of natural disasters. So, what can we do? I think we should always be prepared.

Firstly because we’ll probably be better off during bad times. But also because it’s much more interesting to live a life where we’re always learning and improving our skills. And, of course, making friends and nurturing relationships is a lot of fun and quite rewarding. 

And you, what do you thing? Is there a better safety net?

 

 

Startup problems

Startup problemsPhoto: Gisela Giardino (CC)

 

What makes it hard to create a successful startup? In my opinion, skills or lack thereof.

Since I’m a software developer, I created a software company and eventually a product. But, being a software guy makes me ready to run a software company? Well, not really.

I believe the success or failure of a company has little to do with what founders can do well. What really matters is what they can’t yet do well. It’s all that lies out of the comfort zone.

As a software developer, I can perform several technical tasks well enough to have a product running for years with little need for any kind of technical maintenance. That’s great. But it’s far from enough.

There are many important areas that I’m not so skilled at. They represent a sort of discomfort zone to me. Because of that, I naturally tend to dedicate my time on tasks that are more technical in nature just because they’re in my comfort zone.

For instance, marketing is one of the most critical parts of the business. But, it’s far from my comfort zone. This gives me an infinite number of excuses to turn to other more “prioritary” technical tasks. That’s totally wrong and only recently I understood it completely.

Now, if I find myself doing something comfortable, I know for sure that I’m probably dedicating my time to the wrong activity. There’s so much that I need to learn and train in other areas of the business, that there’s little time, if any, to spend in the comfort zone.

It takes a lot of willpower to push ourselves out of the comfort zone with daily actions. Exactly because those actions will have to be so uncomfortable until every important area of the business become well understood and well addressed.

This year, for instance, I’ve decided that I should spend most of my time communicating and doing marketing. That’s something that I overlooked for too long. Time to take care of it.

Comunicating is hard. But if I can’t get my message accross, people won’t know about my product, no matter how wonderful I believe it is. 

What about you? What’s your discomfort zone?

 

Why services are so bad in Brazil and why we need the start ups

Why services are so bad in Brazil and why we need the start ups

CC by Thoth, God of Knowledge.

 

I’ve always been passionate about entrepreneurship. That’s why I became very enthusiastic about the growing interest for start ups in Brazil. But something began to bother me about it. I couldn’t fully understand the mixed feelings until recently.

Some background

Traveling around the world has helped me to understand Brazil as much as the world itself. I’ve learned a lot about my home country staying away from it. An interesting paradox, which might be explained by the new perspective that I gained being abroad.

One important lesson about the world: there’s no perfect country anywhere. There are very serious problems wherever you go. But, it’s also true that in some countries people live better than in others.

I don’t think Brazil is in a very bad position. It’s not great. But it’s much better than we probably think. Anyway, there’s a lot of room for improvement specially when it comes to products and services.

Brazilian products and services

It makes me really sad to write that, but I think products and services in Brazil are among the worst in the world, although they’re also, strangely enough, among the most expensive. And let me be very specific about this. I’m not only comparing Brazil to the rich countries. I’m talking about the more than forty countries I’ve visited which range from poor to very rich countries.

We, Brazilians, complain all of the time about the cable company, the telephone company, the electricity company, the government, the bank, the shops, the hospitals, the roads, the schools, you name it. Are they all that bad? Yes, they generally are. And if you spend some time away from Brazil, them you realize that they really are very bad indeed. But also extremely expensive. Which means that we’re being ripped off most of the time in Brazil. That’s my feeling, at least, when I’m in Brazil.

Are these things perfect in other parts of the world? No, they’re not. But, on average, I’d say they tend to be better and less expensive. We really pay a lot in Brazil for very shitty products and quite horrific services, in general. But why?

Some possible causes

I don’t know the exact reasons, but I have some gut feelings about it. As Brazilians we might not realize completely how populated our country is. There are almost 200 million people in Brazil. Only four other countries are more populated: China, India, the USA and Indonesia. We have in Brazil half of the population of South America. It’s a lot of people. 

Fortunately, we have a very low unemployment rate now. The average last year was 5.5%. Actually, in December 2012, it was 4.6%. It’s quite low, specially for a country as big and as populated as Brazil. Just for the sake of comparison: Canada 7.4%, USA 7.7%, UK 7.7%, Finland 7.9%, Sweden 8.1%, France 10.7%, Ireland 14.7%, Portugal 15.8%, Greece 26% and Spain 26%.

If a country has a large population and almost everybody is working, that means there’s a lot of demand for products and services and people can actually pay for it. Which is all good news. 

But it also means that people will probably buy stuff whether they’re good or not. I mean, if there’s such a high demand in the market, then you don’t need to work that hard to make good products and render good services. The very basic will probably be good enough. And that’s precisely what happens in Brazil. 

It doesn’t really matter that much if you do it well or not. You’ll probably sell anyway. Just because there’s so much need and so many people that can buy. And it gets worse. 

Let’s look at education. Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter which figures you look at. When it comes to education, Brazil is a tragedy. It’s that simple. 

Do people go to school? Yes. But the quality of education is generally lacking. So, most Brazilians can read and write in theory. But only barely. There’s a relatively small group (compared to the size of the population) that is extremely well educated. But the majority of the people has a very basic education level. Now that’s a huge problem. 

If most people is poorly educated and almost everybody is working, that means most of the working people is poorly educated. So, it’s almost natural that we all get bad products and bad services in return. Because to have good products and great services, we’ve got to improve the general education level. And we all know how  imperative it is to improve education in Brazil. But, there’s something else.

As I mentioned before, there’s a relatively small group of very well educated people in Brazil. A group that is running companies as directors, managers, company owners, technicians and the likes.

Since they tend to be on the top of the corporate hierarchy, they are the ones making the rules. So they’re actually the most important people when it comes to producing good products and rendering great services. Because they set the direction of the companies. 

If they decide companies should invest more in producing high quality products, or invest more in the education of their workforce, then, this will be done. Because they are the guys who have the power to change companies for the better. These guys are really important. If we want better products and better services, we need to make these guys embrace this goal and understand that more money will follow naturally as a result.

Problem is, this is not going to happen. The guys I’m talking about are actually very well educated corporate jerks. They have the education and the skills, but they don’t have high moral standards. The guys running the big companies, the managers, the directors, are just too busy making money easily offering shitty stuff and ridiculously bad service. There’s a sea of people to buy anyway, whether it’s high quality or not. So, why care about it? Sorry, but I have no hope for these companies. They’re already too messed up. It’s a pity.

The Start ups

Every year there’s a new wave of well educated people coming to the Brazilian market after university. It’s not a lot of people, compared to the size of the population, but it’s a very important group. Because it’s the group that has the greatest potential to change things for the better, in my opinion. Because they can start fresh. They don’t have to carry the burden of the past.

Unfortunately, many of these guys decide to take exams to work for the government. So we lose lots of talents in the process. Some of them are helping the government to become a little bit better. But, in my opinion, the waste is huge.

Others will go to work at one of those big companies and they’ll become part of the corporate world of companies that couldn’t care less for their customers. Another waste.

A few will go to work at some few really nice companies that are trying to make a difference. And a tiny group of people will decide to become entrepreneurs. They will, eventually, create some kind of start up. That’s great. 

This last group is extremely important. Because it can bring significant change to the market over time. It’s such a tiny group with such a huge chance to impact our society for the better, that it’s really important that they choose their path carefully.

The way I see it, and I might be very wrong, the Brazilian start up movement, if we can call it this way, very often tries to follow the steps of what happens in the US. 

So there’s all this focus on trying to create a new concept, testing it, getting out of the building, finding a market fit, getting funding and all of that. In other words, there’s a great focus on trying to come up with new ideas, new concepts. Innovation is king, right?

Well, maybe not. It’s really cool when something like Airbnb or Dropbox is created. But let’s face it. It’s also very rare. And it’s quite hard to innovate and turn the innovation into a great business. So, I say maybe we’ve been putting too much attention into innovation, when in places like Brazil, that’s hardly the most critical issue.

In Brazil companies, with some very respectable exceptions, generally don’t do the basics well. They’re doing it really wrong, whether they’re producing products or rendering services. So, what we need desperately, to begin with, is a bunch of companies that at the very least cover the basics correctly.

I’m talking about the most ordinary types of companies, like restaurants, drugstores, supermarkets, bakeries, shoe shops, fitness centers, you name it. Every sector of our economy can benefit of more of these “ordinary” companies that just cover the basics appropriately. 

For instance, in Niteroi, where I used to live, there are several restaurants. But if you ask me: how many good restaurants do you know there? I say two. Only two. How many good coffee shops? One! In many sectors, I might answer none. Because I really don’t know one good example. We have several that are below ok. But very few that are good. And I don’t even bother to expect one excellent. 

I think it’s really cool to have start ups coming up with new ideas. But seriously, there are many kinds of businesses that are very well known and terribly run in Brazil. If someone decides to create a company to run one of these “ordinary” businesses, but do it really well, I can guarantee you two things: it will make a good money and it will help Brazil to become a better place. We desperately need more of these ordinary businesses well managed.

Good thing about it is that since those ordinary businesses have been around for such a long time, there’s no need to invent a lot. And even better, one can always fly to some part of the world where we can find some very good examples.

Want to create a coffee shop? Fly to Buenos Aires and hop from one coffee shop to the other. You’ll have lots of great ideas. Want to see how to render the best service in the world, spend some time in Japan. You get the idea.

Innovation is cool. But we, Brazilians, desperately need some new ordinary businesses that really care for the customer. We can do it. And if we do it, money will come. Trust me.

 

How important is freedom for software developers?

How important is freedom for software developers?Photo by John Drake (CC).

 

This conversation took place several times in the last few days:

- So, how long are you staying in Istanbul.

- Two month.

- Wow, two months! Why? What are you doing in here? Work or something?

- Actually, it’s kind of complicated. We don’t have a house anywhere in the world. We keep traveling from one place to the other. This time we chose to spend two months in Istanbul and we’re mostly working remotely for our businesses in Brazil.

- How cool is that? But what do you do?

- I’m a software developer. I just need my notebook and an internet connection, so it doesn’t matter where I am in the world.

- Wow, what a privilege! I’m so jealous of you. Your profession is really great cause you can work from anywhere. That’s amazing. And where do you go next?

- I still don’t know. We haven’t decided yet.

I have mixed feelings every time this conversation strikes. It’s good to be reminded of the privilege I have as a software developer to work from anywhere in the world. It’s not good to be reminded that many others have the same privilege but waste it somehow. 

There are many software developers out there. Just a few understand this privilege and actually take action on it. Why? Pay attention to the two stories below.

Renato: the conventional guy

Let me describe a scenario that happens often in Brazil, cause it’s the one I’m most familiarized with, but I suspect it isn’t that different from other parts of the world. 

Renato is a guy who just got accepted at a good public university. He doesn’t have to pay for his education and he’ll be spending the next four years on a computer science course.

At the end of the first year internship offers begin to arrive. Soon he’s working part time on some company and earning a very reasonable salary, for a student. It doesn’t take long for him to come up with a brilliant idea: buying a car. He saves enough for the down payment and purchases what might not be a Ferrari, but is a respectable machine.

University is over and Renato is hired at one of the many companies desperately in need of a software developer. He’s still in the beginning of his career, but now he has a very decent salary for someone at the bottom of the corporate ladder. An inevitable idea strikes him: I should probably buy my own place. After all, what else is more important than owning a house?

He saves enough for the down payment and buys a house, which doesn’t really goes well with the old car. So he switches to a brand new one using the previous as down payment. Now he has two debts that will eat most of his salary for many years to come. But that’s fine, because his salary will increase soon enough. He’ll work his way out of programming, cause programming is kind of an entry level activity, so he thinks. He wants to become some sort of technical leader, business analyst or eventually a manager. 

Life is better now, not only because of his shiny car and place, but also because he met the girl of his life. They date for a while and eventually decide to get married. Of course there has to be a wedding. Which means some serious expenses on the horizon.

Now Renato is married. He takes care of the payments of the car, the house and some wedding services that are being paid in installments. The moment he and his wife comes back from the honey moon is celebrated among the family with pestering questions on a very sure and specific topic: when will the baby come? A couple needs a baby for sure. At least one for starters.

They’ve been married for a couple of years now and his baby is about to born. No problem, cause at this point Renato is not a programmer anymore. He’s making more money working on a managerial position. He fires emails, elaborates spreadsheets and files reports like no other. Great use of his time at the public university indeed.

Renato still has a few more years to become thirty. And at this point he’s anything but free. He’s bright, well educated, makes a lot of money but can’t afford to change his life in any direction because he has too many responsibilities and lots of strings attached.

Silvio: the crazy guy

Now let’s take a look at one of Renato’s classmates. His name is Silvio and he lives with his family when he starts the computer science course. Same as Renato, actually.

In the first week at the university, Silvio, Renato and a few other colleagues are having lunch when they hear about Couch Surfing for the first time. Renato doesn’t give it too much attention. Silvio, on the other hand, decides to investigate it further. He learns, among other things, that many people host foreign travelers in order to improve their English conversation. Actually he needs to improve his own English skills, so he checks with his parents if it would be ok to share the apartment’s couch with some foreigners. Fortunately, he gets green light.

Silvio receives his first guest from Toronto, Canada, few days later and realizes how poor his English skills are. But things go well. After a few days, he’s more confident speaking in English with his guest. He feels like he’s learned much more than in the six years he spent on a private English course.

Life goes on and he hosts several other people, always struggling to balance the time he spends with the guests and the time he needs to study for the university. Good thing is that this arrangement proved to be so challenging that he had to learn fast to focus and prioritize. And since his English skills improved so fast in a few months, he manages to find an internship position even earlier than Renato. Six months earlier to be more specific.

By the end of the first year at the university, Silvio has hosted dozens of people and most of them invited him to visit them in their hometown.  Silvio makes a good money from the internship, but he saves most of it. Since he lives with his parents, he figures out that there’s no hurry to spend the money, and it’s always a good idea to have some cash saved for a rainy day.

Jorge is an Argentinian guest that became very close to Silvio. He insists that Silvio come to visit him during his vacations from the university. The flight ticket is not that expensive. So Silvio figures out that he can buy it without hurting his savings too badly. And since he’ll stay at Jorge’s place, for free, he decides to go. 

He falls in love with Argentina and begin to learn Spanish with Jorge and his friends. One of them is also a software developer and he’s involved in this cool open source software project. Silvio can’t really program that well yet, but he is invited for the project and gets really enthusiastic about it.

Back home, Silvio keeps studying, hosting travelers and working. But he has a better internship position now, thanks to the skills he’s been developing while he works in the open source project, and his ability to both speak English fluently and some Spanish. He makes even more money than before, but he keeps saving, most of the time. He doesn’t have a car, but he doesn’t have a debt either.

When the university comes to an end Silvio has already traveled to over thirty different countries. Most of the time visiting people he hosted before. He has lots of friends all over the globe. Not only because of Couch Surfing, but also thanks to the work he’s been doing on some open source projects.

In fact, precisely because of this work, he’s now receiving offers from many companies and some of them pay really well. He chooses one and go for it. It’s kind of far from his home, it will take him a lot of time commuting, but the work seems to be pretty cool.

Few months latter he’s really sick of the commuting. And at this point he feels like it’s about time to move out of his parents house. So he finds this small apartment close to his work. He has a very good salary and already has substantial savings for a nineteen year old kid. Which is kind of funny if you think that he already traveled to so many countries. But always on the cheap, thanks to his friends.

He rents the small flat and makes sure to have a couch to keep hosting travelers. Since it’s just five minutes away from his work, there’s no need to have a car. Sometimes he likes to travel by car to places not too far away, so he rents a car only for the necessary period, since this is much cheaper than actually owning a car.

Two years later he get’s this incredible job offer. But unfortunately in a place too far away, on the other side of the city. After some thought he realizes he can just move to another apartment, closer to the new workplace. Since he doesn’t own his current apartment, he doesn’t have any debt nor any kind of attachments to it, he’s free to move out in no time.

Few years goes by and he keeps traveling a lot and enjoying the help and hospitality of local people, always using a bit of his savings and saving even more staying with one of the many friends spread over the globe. And because he’s a software developer, a programmer that only gets better over time, he’s really respected in his company. So his boss is very accommodating when he wants to travel for a longer period of time and asks to do his work remotely.

One day he’s traveling in South Korea when he meets Daniela, the girl of his life. She’s a Brazilian fashion designer spending her vacations in South Korea and Japan, both paradises for fashion designers. Inspirations everywhere.

It turns out that Daniela is not only Brazilian. She actually comes from the exact city where Silvio lives, but they’ve never met there. How crazy is life? They met for the first time thousands of miles away from their hometown. They eventually begin to date as soon as they come back to Brazil.

A while later they decide to get married. But since both love to travel, they prefer to save money for that and actually avoid high expenses from a wedding. So they organized a nice wedding, but nothing too big nor too fancy. Most importantly, they don’t want to have any kind of debt after the wedding.

By the way, they still don’t want to own a house and go into any kind of debt. So they rent another apartment, halfway to his and her job. It’s not fancy nor big, but it’s cozy and they like it.

Sometimes they travel together for longer periods and she also manages to convince her boss to work remotely in these occasions, which after a while became more and more frequent. Until a moment when both convinced their respective bosses that it would be just more productive to work from home.

They begin to work from home and spend much more time together. But now they ran out of excuses. When friends from other countries invite them for a visit, they can’t say anymore that they won’t be going because of work. Everyone knows they can work from anywhere. Poor guys, next thing you know they’re traveling the world full time, cause it really doesn’t matter where they are. They can still work and live a perfectly wonderful life hoping from country to country. They even decide to not have any house, anywhere in the world. And they move around sometimes using Couch Surfing, other times using Airbnb to find affordable accommodation

Seven years after the wedding they decide to have a kid. They think it’s a good idea to come back to Brazil for a while and so they do it. 

Life is different now. They rent a big enough apartment and don’t travel all the time anymore. Specially in the first months of the new born. But it doesn’t take long for the baby to join the party and begin to travel with them. After all, there are friends all over the world longing to meet little Lucas.

When it comes to buying a house, Silvio and Daniela didn’t make up their minds yet. They don’t even know where they’d like to spend the rest of their lives. But that’s ok, by the time they decide it their savings will be more than enough to buy a house at sight with a good discount. 

In the meantime, they’re free to do be wherever they want, whenever they want, and still get their job done. How cool is that?

Freedom to choose what to do with your own time

Money is quite obvious. Everybody works for it. But time is what really matters, cause you can always make more money, but you can never get back the time that past. So I’d claim that one of the most important things in life is freedom to use time however you’d like.

There are many ways to achieve this freedom, specially if you are a software developer. You only need to pay attention at the decisions along the way. Also because life is too short to not pay attention.

So, what’s going to be your story? Conventional? Crazy? Start paying attention.

 

Couch Surfing

You know that moment when you realize how stupid you’ve been? That’s the feeling I’ve had for the last two days. Let me explain.

We’ve been traveling around the world for more than two years now and I’ve always complained that I wanted an easy way to meet people wherever we go. Because meeting locals or other fellow travelers is always the best part of the journey. But how can someone arrive in a new city and connect with people?

It’s actually pretty easy and the solution has always been on the tip of my fingers. I just haven’t tried it before, until yesterday. And I guess many of you probably know that I’m talking about Couch Surfing.

Couch Surfing is a web site created more than a decade ago. Say you’ve got a couch on your living room and you’d like to host a traveler. You go to http://www.couchsurfing.org, create a profile, tell the world that you have this awesome couch and soon enough people begin to ask you for a chance to stay at your place for a few days. 

You offer your couch, spare bed, room, or whatever as a courtesy. You can’t charge for it on Couch Surfing. On the other hand, if you travel using Couch Surfing, you eventually stay in other person’s place paying nothing for it. But you are generally more than welcome to show your appreciation with a gift, or teaching something from your country, like cooking a regional meal, for instance.

That’s super cool, right? But there’s more. Couch Surfers organize lots of activities all year round. And everybody is welcome. Even people that never used Couch Surfing to travel, or to host, can participate. For instance, there are weekly meet ups in many cities. And that’s how we finally joined Couch Surfing.

In Istanbul, there are lots of weekly meet ups. There was one last night hosted in a bar basicly to socialize. There was another one tonight for English conversation. We’ve been to both and it was an amazing experience. How could we miss it for such a long time? 

Truth is that I knew about Couch Surfing for a while. But everytime I tried to use it, I got frustrated and kind of intimidated by the user interface. It’s pretty confusing. I could never really overcome this barrier until this week. I told myself: you’ve got to try harder cause there’s something great out there and you’re missing it. And that turns out to be absolutely true.

There were 30+ people last night and 40+ people tonight. Most of then are Turkish. So, those were just perfect places to meet local people as well as people from different origins that are living in Istanbul. But why were there so many people?

I learnt yesterday that traveling abroad is not easy for the Turkish. Aparently, they have to apply for a visa for most of the countries they’d like to visit (fortunately they don’t need a visa for Brazil). Anyway, many people just can’t afford the trip. And learning English at school doesn’t really work. English teaching is generally very poor in Turkey. Same thing in Brazil. 

But here some people really want to learn English. And since most of them probably can’t afford to pay for a private English course, they like to attend meet ups to practice English with the foreigners that are visiting Istanbul. Which is absolutely wonderful for everybody.

So they have those meetings every week and they are always packed with people. Pay attention to this important detail. Tonight is Saturday night! They meet to practice English on a Saturday night! That’s really nice.

Patricia and I talked to many people tonight. Most of them were Turkish indeed. But we also met people from Algeria, Canada, Armenia, Romania, Germany, Brazil, Bolivia, Syria and Luxemburg. And we learnt a bit about each of these places. As a matter of fact, I even learnt to play backgammon! And I won. Talk about beginers luck. :-)

I deeply regret all the time I wasted not trying to use Couch Surfing. But I’m delighted that we’ve finally began to use it. And Istanbul seems to be just the perfect place, since people really use it a lot and it works incredbly well.

You can check out my profile on Couch Surfing at  http://www.couchsurfing.org/people/vinicius.m.teles.

 

Couch Surfing

 

Digital nomad: effects on productivity

Patricia and I became digital nomads a couple of years ago. We’ve been to dozens of cities and countries along the way. But it’s not only leisure. As a matter of fact, we’re working most of the time, regardless of our current location.

Working as we travel is quite challenging. But only recently I realized that it’s essentially as challenging as before. Not worse. Nor better. Basically the same problem. Kind of counterintuitive, right?

When I had a home and a fancy home office, I struggled to get work done. I worked a lot and I was always busy. But producing meaningful results and getting close to achieving my goals was an entirely different story. It’s easier to be busy than to make progress.

I’ve always had many to do lists, each one with zillions of entries. So many things in fact, that it’s hard to choose from. What’s the most meaningful tasks to accomplish today? This week? This month?

I’d eventually choose one, but my days would go filled with all sorts of distractions. By the way, distractions are so plentiful and so addictive these days, that it’s hard to believe we can ever ship anything at all. I’ve got to admit that email, Facebook, Twitter, Pintrest, the news website, just to mention a few, are a drag. I try to fight them as much as possible, but they keep coming back and sucking the life out of me. And it could be worse. I don’t watch TV at all. What if I did?

When I was at my home office, other mundane distractions took a lot of my time too. Some things really needed to be done and would take time that I’d rather put in my work. But many others could be completely avoided.

While traveling I noticed that the pattern has changed but the results were the same. Instead of dealing with trivial distractions, I have to act on some serious topics every day. Like, where are we going to spend the night? How do we move from the airport to our temporary apartment when we get to this new city tomorrow? By the way, where is the best place to stay in this city? Which country are we going to visit next month? 

When it comes to traveling, Patricia and I have very clear responsibilities. She takes the pictures, I organize the trip. So I really have to research and decide on a wide variety of topics almost every day. It’s a lot of work and it takes time.

So, as before, I can’t be as productive on my work as I wish. It used to be caused by trivial distractions. Now it’s caused by some seriously basic needs. But as far work productivity is concerned, the end result is still the same: I get much less done than I’d like to admit.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately and I have a theory. I believe there’s a way to solve this problem and have more work done using a somewhat counterintuitive idea. What if I’d choose to dedicate my workday to execute one and only one task and actually finish it in one day, no matter what happens during the day? 

Malaysia

Pati and I spent the last week in Malaysia. I have to confess that this wasn’t exactly the plan. The idea was to spend a couple of days in Kuala Lumpur and them move on to Singapore. But unfortunately we had to cancel our trip to Singapore and spent the whole week in Kuala Lumpur.

Malaysia is one of those places that doesn’t receive enough love from travelers. People often spend a short time there if they go there at all. We didn’t plan to spend a lot of time there either but we were kind of forced to stay longer. We didn’t do any tourism at all and we spent most of our time in the hotel, working on our notebooks. So I can’t say anything about Kuala Lumpur from a touristic perspective. But I “lived” a normal life there for a week and I had a chance to meet several Malaysians in the process.
After that, I have to say that people were generally very friendly and I enjoyed my stay in KL. The city has the traffic problems of the big cities, but it felt much less so than other places we visited before in Asia. Maybe that’s because there’s just less people in KL than other big cities we visited previously in Asia.
Again, I don’t know how interesting KL is for tourism. But I found it to be quite convenient for someone who needs to work remotely. It’s not hard to find good and affordable accommodation and many services that I used were efficient.
All in all it was a different week in our trip, but I wouldn’t hesitate to come back in the future if I were just looking for a convenient location to spend some time working remotely.

PS: now we’re in Honk Kong and we’ll be visiting many other interesting places soon, besides Hong Kong itself which is a very impressive city.

Cities I visited

A friend told me about this app on Facebook to keep track of the cities I visited. To me, it’s not only fun to do it, but also useful. Specially because now I realize how much I still need to travel to cover a bit more of the planet. Nice trips to you!

  1. Tóquio, Japão

Autonomy is so underrated

Choose your goals wisely because you may actually get what you want! You better aim at something meaningful.

Most people seem to want at least one thing in common: more money. The thinking is that if you have more money, than you can have more stuff and do more stuff. And this somehow translates into being happier.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Money is a very important tool and as such, having it can be quite helpful. So it makes sense to try to have at least enough money to do what you want. Having more won’t hurt, though. On the other hand, there’s only so much you can do if you can’t control your own time.
As it turns out, time and autonomy to use your time as you wish is far more meaningful and life changing than only having money. Having more and more money but no time and autonomy to use it is not particularly meaningful and it’s a waste in itself.

Pati and I travel around the world permanently not because we have a lot of money. Actually, we probably earn less than most people we know with equivalent qualifications. We do travel because we have autonomy over our time and we use whatever money we have carefully.

It took us a while and some serious focus to achieve this level of autonomy. But most of all, it required an understanding of what we should focus on: autonomy and freedom. Unfortunately, they’re so underrated.

UPDATE: to my friends in the technology field I must add that software developers are probably some of the most priviledged people when it comes to achieving a great deal of autonomy, as long as they aim at it, of course. Fortunately, one can write software wherever and whenever they want to. A humble taxi driver reminded me of that a few days ago, here in Kuala Lumpur. ;-)

Back to writing

It’s been a while since the last post. That’s because I made a mistake. I wrote the first articles with a lot of care and illustrated them with some amazing pictures from Pati. I can do this once in a while, but I just can’t do this every day. It would be just too much work.

So I’m just writing today to take the pressure off. From now on I’ll make a daily effort to write a little bit about our journey. Just enough to update you. I think it’s going to be better to have several small posts over time than a few elaborated ones that are seldom published.

Since my last writing, when we were in Australia, we visited several places. We went to New Zealand, Japan, India and Thailand. At this moment we’re in Malaysia. Both Japan and Thailand are places that we plan to come back often from now on. We loved them!