SEBASTIAN MARSHALL Strategy Philosophy Self-Discipline Science Victory en-us Mon, 03 Aug 2020 03:57:53 -0700 Sett RSS Generator My Experiences with Daily Time Tracking I've been tracking my time daily since October 2011, having seen a few articles that Sebastian had written about the idea. Here is a recent one that Sebastian wrote.

Time tracking has been immensely helpful in general, and like Sebastian's time tracking, mine has gone through many changes since I started while looking for whatever is going to be the most useful stuff to track for my life at that moment. Another nice benefit is that it serves as a memento for nostalgia purposes - I quite like looking back and seeing what I was doing 2 years ago.

You don't need any fancy tools to do this effectively - I've exclusively used a plain text file on my laptop, which I can edit with (for example) Notepad++.

(1) The basic format is always a diary where I list everything important that I did that day, and for my first month that's /all/ I included. Starting off simple is important to ensure that you can get into the habit of actually filling it out. Here is a sample from October 2011:

Mon 17 Oct

  • 4 hours experimenting with MATLAB tools & code
  • taught 1 hour maths lesson
  • bought tickets for Cambridge/London trip
  • 4 miles cycling
  • learned 1 page of Pavana Capricho
  • wrote a short inventory of useful exercises for each muscle group

(2) The first thing I tried bolting onto this was a list of things I intended to do that day, and then recording the % completed. Subjective, but effective enough. At the time, had no structure in my life, so planning time in advance was super useful. Indecision is a time-killer. Intentions are in the lines above the date:

  • Up-to-date on AI notes and ML notes & quizzes
  • notes on XML querying

Thu 17

  • up-to-date on AI notes
  • up-to-date on ML notes
  • some videos on XML

== 60%

(3) Next month, I tracked the number of hours for which I was doing fun or useful things, because I felt a lot of my time was getting wasted. However, this was useless as I didn't really care what numbers I would write down at the end of the day, so my behaviour didn't change and I abandoned this within a week.

(4) In January 2012 I tried tracking a couple of lifestyle factors each day:

  • mark M3 paper
  • send off application
  • do something interesting

Thu 12

  • marked 2 papers
  • planned basics for 2 Cambridge trips


  • % Planned tasks completed: 33%
  • Rose soon after waking up: NO
  • 5-a-day: fruit/vegetables: 3
  • 30 mins exercise recently: NO
  • Slept soon after activity: NO

My diet, exercise and sleep schedules were poor, so I wanted to work on these. Little did I know then that tracking these would revolutionize my health.

I kept on tracking these for several months, in various forms, and over time I saw changes that seemed like direct results of the tracking:

  1. Went from eating about 2 portions of fruit/veg each day to consistently having 5 without needing to think about it (and still do now).
  2. Went from exercising about once per week to doing so much sport that I now actually have to hold myself back so that I get enough recovery time.
  3. Went from sleeping at ridiculous times and waking up at lunchtime, to having a stable sleep schedule with 8 hours most nights.
  4. Eventually I also tracked "no unhealthy food" with strict guidelines, in order to stop eating stupid amounts of sugary hell.

A key aspect of this was that I would write down a target (e.g. conform to diet rules on 80%+ of days this month) and take that target seriously. Over time, I'd make the targets harder so that I was continually improving until I got to a stage where further improvement wouldn't be important.

(5) When I was still lazy about exercise, I tried a couple of hacks to motivate me into doing more:

  1. Noting the number of days since I last did any significant exercise to shame myself into doing better
  2. Invented an elaborate points system for various exercises, and aiming to achieve 200 points or whatever per day. So I would cycle 4 miles to work and back, and then maybe do some bodyweight exercises... and then keep going just to get the 200 points. If you plot a graph of the number of points each day, it was never in the range 100-199 as I'd always want to do a little more to hit 200. Here's an example of this section from November - values in parentheses are (today; total; average):
  • Decent 20 mins exercise: 4 YES 15% (200; 3194; 118)
  • Sugar intake at minimum: 17 NO 63%
  • Slept before time: 0030: 7 YES 26%

(6) In November 2012, to discover what my then-worst habit burdens were, I made a note at the end of each day of the worst choice I'd made that day. Looking back, they were mainly about poor food choices and time-wasting. This showed me that I should experiment with tracking something to help me avoid time-wasting.

(7) To combat time-wasting, the first step was to determine what I should be doing with any spare time. I consider the following to be good uses of time:

  • language learning/practice
  • piano composition
  • research on something interesting
  • any other project I might have at the time
  • random errands/admin
  • active rest/recovery (if tired - mindless internet surfing etc. doesn't count)

I had (have) a full-time job, but I felt that most days I should be able to spend 60 minutes doing something expansive. Some days I might be too busy or too tired, but generally it should be reasonable about 80% of the time - so I tracked this.

This has been somewhat successful at getting me to use my time better, but I now think that a more important problem to solve is of ensuring that you always have projects/activities *that you want to do* available ready for diving into.

(8) Other experiments were to list each day something that I'd done that day "with full participation", or "outside comfort zone". The problem with this is that it seldom motivates any change in behaviour during the day, so I stopped this soon afterwards. Perhaps it would be better to have something at the beginning of the day to prime your mindset to think a certain way - I know Sebastian has some ideas on this if you read his articles. [viz. "borderlands" etc.]

(9) My current preferred time tracking system is hat I used in February - note names have been changed:

Sat 15


  • café with Nora
  • 4 miles cycling
  • haircut
  • food shopping
  • random other shopping


  • grip strength and core exercises
  • Spanish practice
  • ambidexterity


  • All food healthy enough: YES 12 80%
  • Slept before time: 0030: NO 11 73%
  • Expansive 30 mins count: (1) 12 80%

>> super productive morning, then mostly waste after 2pm

The main things done each day are split between those help with specific things I'm actively working towards - in italics - and everything else. Here we have some exercises for gymnastics, some practice for learning Spanish, and a few minutes' work on being ambidextrous at handwriting).

For tracking time spent doing expansive activities, I'm now tracking multiples of 30 minutes, which are small enough that I can nearly always get started, and large enough that each one does constitute a significant chunk of usefulness.

At the end I include any comments about the day that might be useful when looking at this later.

Hopefully some of the insights here will be useful to readers in a similar way to Sebastian's comments on this topic. Has anyone else here experimented in a similar vein?

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Sun, 29 Jun 2014 06:30:56 -0700
Walking on a Lonely War Field Long After The War is Over Around 2013, I came across the works of Sebastian Marshall while one of my friend was reading Ikigai. I have been following Sebastian ever since. It's been a long journey. I have not made any significant progress in life, but his philosophy, strategy has helped me creat]]>

Around 2013, I came across the works of Sebastian Marshall while one of my friend was reading Ikigai.

I have been following Sebastian ever since.

It's been a long journey. I have not made any significant progress in life, but his philosophy, strategy has helped me create a strong base for myself. I'm still learning and trying to progress one day at a time.

He does not update his blogs like before anymore. So it's been a long time since I've been here on And today when I stumbled upon it, I felt a huge dose of Nostalgia. Like walking on a war field long after the war is over. Nobody seems to be active, but all the important lessons are here. I feel alone, but that loneliness is inspiring. I'm happy to be able to write this here at this time. I have no better word to describe this feeling.

Thank you Sebastian and everybody else in this community for making it a place worth visiting. And making this world a better place, at least in a small way. ♥️

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Thu, 15 Jun 2017 23:39:45 -0700
Great 5 second snippet for some motivation Starting at 2:24 ]]> Kobe interview- shares secrets to his greatest

Starting at 2:24

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Thu, 16 Apr 2015 22:50:56 -0700
Having Hangups on Leverage One of the best ways to get more money is to execute on the low hanging fruit that’s already there. Duh, right? But as I look back at the past couple years learning about business and stuff, I noticed that there was a lot of easy opportunities that I didn’t take advantage of. Why? The opportunity was there, its was easy, but something held me back.

Sebastian wrote in this post that "By far, the #1 thing for a knack for getting money is not having hangups about getting money.”

I think this statement is revealed when we look at leverage. Its like this: when we don’t go to a top school like Harvard we think to ourselves “Of course those guys are succeeding, they have Harvard connections. I don’t have a Harvard connection” but at the same time, if we actually went to school at Harvard we might think “I don’t want to utilize my Harvard connections to get a high paying job, that’s cheating, it would be too easy”. Or, as another example, our parents introduce us to one of their wealthy friends, we don’t want to follow up because “I don’t want things given to me by my parents”.

But you should leverage those things. As I was thinking this, it reminded me of a blog post Jason Shen wrote a while back. He wrote:

These strengths are your competitive advantage. Should you ignore them in the name of “fairness” and only pursue activities where you are more evenly matched against other people? It’d be foolhardy to ignore these advantages.

It is your right to take advantage of the easy stuff. In fairness, you probably made the effort to get these opportunities through past decisions and upstream effects.

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Mon, 15 Feb 2016 13:51:19 -0800
Anyone know of any good freelance consulting blog posts? Anybody recommend any good books, articles, or links on consulting? I've read million dollar consultant by Alan Weiss and it was really good, but looking for something more low level, practical, or for beginners.

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Sun, 22 Feb 2015 22:03:03 -0800
I'm thinking about hosting an under 25 freelancer meetup in San Francisco, anyone interested? I'm thinking about hosting a under 25 freelancer meetup in San Francisco, would anyone be interested or know anyone that might be interested?

I want it to be structured so that everyone who attends will be discussing in depth about their freelancing and actually engage in conversations to help eachother and talk about their freelancing experiences.

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Sun, 14 Dec 2014 09:54:52 -0800
20+ Ways to Increase "Mental Energy" It would be pretty awesome if we all had plenty of mental energy to stay motivated and disciplined all day long, to be highly productive and highly creative whenever we needed, and to always feel vibrant and optimistic about the future.

However, the more you try to control elements of your life – whether it is to improve your health, wealth, social life or whatever – the more apparent it is how finite and scarce this “mental energy” can be.

In particular, it seems that whenever we use willpower – in any form and for any reason – we are using up resources from this pool of mental energy, much faster than the pool is replenished.

Psychologists have carried out plenty of experiments that strongly appear to confirm this model of willpower – Jason Shen and Sebastian recently put together a great post about it here: which is very much worth reading if you haven't already!

Psychologists have also shown[1] that decisions on matters that affect us can deplete the same mental resource as willpower. In some sense, these decisions and willpower are the same:

  • it requires willpower to consciously focus our attention on different complex options and their shortcomings in order to make a decision.
  • when we use willpower, we are making a decision whether to override whatever action we
    would otherwise have taken.

Below are some of my concrete suggestions for keeping one’s mental energy high, and I’m interested to hear more ideas from other readers – so please tell us: what tricks do you know for maximising your mental energy?

  1. Build habits and routines: this reduces the number of superfluous decisions that you need to make on a daily basis, especially involving recurring temptations.
  2. Avoid temptation in the first place: for example, when I buy food, I intentionally buy only healthy items. Then later at home, I never have to use any willpower to convince myself not to eat unhealthy food, as all the choices are healthy.
  3. Make unimportant decisions quickly: a decision that is thought about for a long time is likely to be slightly more accurate than the same decision made quickly, although vastly more expensive for the mind. So trivial decisions, such as which colour shirt to wear [like Obama: 2], or which dish to order from a menu, are best made quickly even if this risks overlooking a slightly better alternative.
  4. Get out of bed soon after waking up: this helps  for two reasons. Firstly, it teaches your body to transition properly from “asleep” to “awake”, and I’ve found this gives you better quality of sleep and better wakefulness during the day. Secondly, if you have a tendency to laze around for a long time after waking up, then every morning you’re losing the fight against the temptation to stay in bed several times before getting up, throwing mental energy down the drain before your feet have even touched the floor!
  5. Focus on one complicated task at a time: I used to improvise on the piano during breaks from work, until eventually, I realised how expensive it was to switch back to “proper” work afterwards! Every time I switched from playing the piano to whatever work I was supposed to be doing, my mind would still be naturally trying to think about piano, and so it required mental effort to refocus on the new task.
  6. Keep your blood sugar moderately high: Psychologists have done many experiments on the effect of sugar on willpower depletion, and the results are conclusive: people have more willpower when they have been given sugar. The reasoning is simple: the only fuel that the brain can use is glucose, so if your blood sugar is low, then your mind can’t do its job properly. When I feel my mental energy waning, I often take a glucose tablet to revert my blood sugar to “enough” (followed by a drink of water to avoid tooth decay!)
  7. Avoid sugar crashes: conversely, if your blood sugar is too high, then it will soon be enthusiastically removed to be stored for times of famine, leaving your mind with too little again.
  8. Avoid food that’s difficult to digest: after eating heavy, carbohydrate-rich foods, your body makes its digestive system a priority, so the brain doesn’t get as much glucose as it deserves.
  9. Keep active as you work: even light physical activity such as walking around will keep your blood flowing well, supplying your mind with a steady stream of fuel.
  10. Spend time only on activities that deserve your mental energy
  11. Sleep at the same time every night: The best way to replenish mental energy reserves is by sleeping well, and sleeping at the same time is an effective way to sleep better.
  12. Work with the right amount of background noise/music: For some activities, I prefer to work in silence. For example if I’m doing a maths exam paper, any music and any sounds distract me and I would have to expend effort focusing away from them. Other times, if the work is less demanding then my mind will wander, and I have to expend effort focusing back to the work. Then, music or background noise can be useful as it’s the first thing my mind will wander to, so it won’t wander far! For me, metal and foreign pop music are the easiest genres to work along to, but Classical distracts me too much so I avoid it. For you, it may work completely differently, so it’s worth experimenting with.
  13. Write down information to free your short-term memory: This is just one reason why to-do lists are so powerful – they save our minds from spending their energy on making sure we remember to do everything.
  14. Take “real” breaks: especially those which require no conscious decisions – long showers and team sports work well for me.
  15. For difficult decisions, write down a short list of options and work from that: this allows the mind to focus quickly on choosing the best option rather than holding various options its memory.
  16. Make travelling less effortful: I used to wonder why travelling would make me so tired – after all, most of the time is spent just sitting around on a train or at an airport! However, the whole time our minds are on alert, checking whether we have all our belongings, whether we’re on the correct platform, whether we’re running late etc. A little planning well before the journey can help here.
  17. Be a little more extroverted: one difference between extroverts and introverts is that introverts typically monitor details of their social interaction much more than extroverts do[3]. As a result, extroverts can survive and enjoy social activity for much longer before their mental energy starts running dry. Mentally switching off some of the superfluous self-monitoring saves you energy for later.
  18. Be less perfectionist: similarly, perfectionists can encounter decision fatigue from aggressive monitoring of
    their work. (Of course, there are both benefits and drawbacks to being perfectionist!)
  19. Work and live in a comfortable environment: otherwise you’ll often have to distract yourself from these discomforts to concentrate on anything else.
  20. Choose to spend more time on activities that absorb your attention: in other words, seek flow[4] activities.

So how about you? Suggestions about meditation or sport or travelling would be particularly useful, as I haven’t covered them much here!





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Wed, 13 Mar 2013 17:37:29 -0700
Conquering sleep with Modafinil - guide from a medic and neuroscientist. Modafinil has been one of my favourite drugs since I first used it over 5 years ago. It was during my neuroscience final year and after a lot of research into how to over-ride my need for sleep I found it.

It's a great drug and on the whole, fairly safe for most people. But people who buy it without consulting a doctor first should be careful about any other medication use.

I also highly recommend taking it in very early in the morning. I leave a tablet next to my bed with some water, set an alarm for 4am, wake up and swallow it before falling back to sleep. It takes over 2 hours to reach peak plasma concentration and you will find it wakes you up after about 2-3 hours. This way, the second you start your day you are fully-dosed, and by the time your day is ending and you actually want to sleep, the dose should be wearing off (with a half-life of 10-15 hours).

To learn about how mod works, how to stay safe and check drug interactions and other useful info, please read this article I wrote:

Stay safe and good luck achieving! Peter

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Wed, 30 Oct 2013 15:51:01 -0700
There Are No Solutions Sebastian has a post today, Nothing Magical: "There's a certain tendency to look for magical solutions...The thing is, the[re] usually isn't a magical thing."

I'll go a bit farther. It has served me well for many to years to state and believe: There are no Solutions. Except in chemistry. There is only continuing struggle, effort, achievement, mistakes. There are no "solutions" for health, time management, willpower, productivity. Every type of action in the world requires some sort of ongoing, time-indefinite application.

The worst misuse of the word is by the political class, who propose "solutions" to poverty, ignorance, laziness and obesity. There are no solutions government can offer, only individuals taking action to improve. Conditions might be improved, but this is not a solution, and never can be.

Just leave it at four simple words. There are no Solutions. Believing it can help to free your mind for more effective actions.

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Fri, 11 Jul 2014 15:25:56 -0700
The Million Dollar Question still changes my life: What is your "anything"?

One of the best posts by any blogger to this day. Sebastian wrote a post knowing that to be extraordinary you'll have to give up some of the more "regular" parts of being an ordinary citizen. He saw citizens doing "regular" things that he teared a bit for knowing he may not be able to do them because he wants to be extraordinary.You can have anything and be anything in the world but you can never have or be everything.You'll have to ask yourself what is the "anything" that you want to do because while you can change your direction, if you get something that may mean you can't get something else. You have to decide what is your primary focus and your priority.

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Sat, 24 May 2014 18:09:37 -0700