Blog Posts

The Important Connection between Minimalism and Productivity

Someone checking something off on a checklist.

While I don’t take issue with minimalism, and in fact incorporate much of its tenets into my lifestyle, quite understandably it’s faced lots of scrutiny. It’s classist, overly prescriptive, and necessitates a ‘visually oppressive’ display of white walls. While I understand entirely this line of reasoning, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s possible to pragmatically apply minimalist tendencies into your life without all the proclaimed constraints (see my writing on minimalism here, here, or here).

One area that is significantly under-explored is how beneficial minimalism can be applied to how we work. A 2015 study published by Microsoft Canada, which I have previously cited, concludes the following:

Canadians’ ability to filter out distractions is

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On Knowledge Work and the Billable Hour

A photo of white library bookshelves.

Lately, I’ve been thinking lots about how knowledge workers are compensated. In my area of work, which is the legal industry, the dominant preference is the billable hour.

There are two aspects of the legal profession: the practice of law and the business of law. If you enjoy both, your inclination will probably rest on practicing private law, and if you just want to deal with the former, your inclination will lean towards practicing public law.

Personally, I knew very early on in my legal career that I didn’t care for the business of law. When money becomes a motivating factor in delivering service to clients, it always has the potential to impact the practice of law. Why? Because your primary motive, despite how much you like your clients or believe in their case, is your own personal profits.

What’s worse is that many private firms set “billable hour targets,” which require associates bill a certain number of hours per year in order to receive performance bonuses and advancement. The stress for many private bar lawyers come not from the practice of law itself (although that is obviously cognitively difficult), but from meeting these targets and winning the respect of

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Glamorous Work Does Not Equate to Satisfying Work

Tech workers sitting at a communal desk

In 2018, everyone wants to work in the tech industry.

Regardless of the actual demands of your job, if you’re offered catered lunches, can skateboard to your desk, and participate in a game of foosball in the middle of the day, you’ve made it. Also, let’s not forget the generous pay and stock options. But are these benefits enough for a satisfying life?

According to a 2015 survey, it’s not. Only 19% of tech workers said they were happy in their jobs, and 17% said they felt valued in their work. Further, 36% of tech workers felt they had a defined career path in comparison to 50% of workers in areas such as marketing and finance. Another 28% of tech workers said they understand their companies’ vision, in comparison to 43% of non-tech workers, and 47% of tech workers claimed they had good relations with their colleagues compared to 56% of non-tech workers.

In this regard, tech firms are akin to Big Law firms. I would hear, from friends who had stints on Bay Street (the Canadian version of Wall Street), that drink carts would come around on Friday afternoons, taxi chits would be offered to those who stayed

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Tools of the Trade

There are no shortage of productivity tools out there, and the amount of choice can make our head spin.

After ten minutes of quick research, I was able to summarize the top tools (mostly software) for information workers:

If we aren’t careful, obsessing over how to optimize our productivity will make us completely unproductive. Tools are only as effective as the worker. And if the worker isn’t working, well, neither will the tools.

For me, it makes the most sense to use the most reliable

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Living With Debt

Credit card with a lock beside it.

Back in January 2016, I started my journey towards eliminating $50,000+ of debt. It comprised of government student loans, a private line of credit (or “professional student loan” as the financial institution called it), and a sprinkle of credit card debt. Although there are plenty of people out there who graduated school with much more debt than I did, I felt that these loans were insurmountable. It was the first time I was in debt, I had no guaranteed job, and I knew nothing about personal finance.

If I could go back in time and read one blog post about how to live with debt, it would be this one. If you are currently struggling with debt, read on. The obstacle can be overcome.

Forgive yourself. When there’s no one else to blame, it’s hard not to turn inward. But realize that beating yourself up about past mistakes (or in some cases — unavoidable situations) is neither healthy nor productive. Acknowledge your situation, accept this as an important lesson, and ascertain what lessons you can glean from this obstacle.

When I was in debt, I wasted so much of my energy kicking myself when I was already down. But I now realize

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Different

An open laptop with a set of glasses on it.

When you’re young, tattooed, openly queer, and a woman of colour, it’s difficult to not construe any micro-aggression (or macro-aggression) as relating to one of the above characteristics that make me unique. It’s hard to let things go, not take things personally, and treat ignorant people with more respect than they afford to you. But, alas, I thought, that’s the price of being different.

On the other hand, being different has its benefits. In a male-dominated industry, male lawyers are taken aback at my directness, assertiveness, and, frankly, intelligence. And in a profession that relies on rules and expectations, I relish leveraging my uniqueness as a tool to cause uncertainty.

Aside from how I look, I also conduct myself differently: not may lawyers have blogs or blogs that are as informal as mine. Lawyers worry about their reputation and level of professionalism. I understand that. But some lawyers who have pristine (i.e. boring) social media profiles are some of the most unprofessional lawyers that I’ve encountered in real life. This is unfortunate and, frankly, a missed opportunity because writing on the side has real benefits to practicing law. You learn:

  • How to write;
  • How to craft stories;
  • How to
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The Honest Story of How I Paid Down $50,000 of Debt in 2 Years and 7 Months

My debt free tweet.

Obviously this day would come, but I never actually imagined I’d get here.

As I type this, a day after I made my final payment, I’m still in awe. I no longer owe money to a bank, credit card company, or even the government (until tax season, of course). With the exceptions of my landlord, cell phone provider, and blog and podcasts hosts, no one will be knocking on my door if I don’t give them a piece of the pie. I have reclaimed 45% of my paycheque.

I remember when I started to take my debt seriously. I was 25 years old, and I had taken advantage of the privileges handed to me since I was born: I grew up in the suburbs, attended a decent school, never went hungry, received a degree from a good university (currently ranked #2 in Canada and #33 worldwide according to QS World University Rankings),  and managed to attend (and graduate) law school.

As a result of those advantages though, I failed to realize the value of a dollar.  Of course, I worked minimum-wage jobs and studied socio-economic inequality, but until I started to grapple with my own money problems, I didn’t really know.

In

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Minimalist Health

In order for us to feel good, treat others well, and contribute meaningful work, we have to handle ourselves with care.

As I get older, this is something that I’m thinking about more and more, despite that I’ve never been into dieting, team sports, or intense exercise. Quite simply, my health had never been a priority. Until, I got into debt.

With the debt came crippling anxiety, and with the crippling anxiety came tooth grinding, sleepless nights, and obsessive compulsive tendencies. While I’ve never been someone characterized as “chill,” I’ve always managed to work things out in my head. I couldn’t this time.

Eventually, I started counselling and taking medication to battle the symptoms. Now, two years later, I’ve never been so healthy. I’m eating better, sleeping better, and exercising on a consistent basis.

For me, the key is to make things as simple as possible. I want it to be intuitive, not forced. While I’m not a health professional (and you should definitely speak to one like I did), I’ll share what continues to work for me.

Food. I recently started intermittent fasting and, so far, the results have been wonderful. I spoke with my family doctor

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Saying Goodbye to an Income Stream

A neon sign that says, "work harder."

Up until this year, I’ve only ever had one job at a time. The idea that I could make money outside my main employment baffled me. But, since I started this blog, I’ve been able to expand my revenue stream to include 1) money I make from writing under my own name, and 2) freelancing.  These two additional income streams have helped me pay down debt, reinvest in myself, and pay for infrequent expenses such as movers when I moved into a new apartment two months ago.

So why did I say goodbye to my recurring freelance client who has been nothing but wonderful and has offered me as much as work as I’d like?

Time. It was taking up my most valuable resource. Although I was only writing one blog post per week for them, it resulted in precious time away from working on my own writing, recording my podcast, and spending time with my loved ones. Saying yes to one thing means saying no to another. Simply put, it was too time-consuming.

Money. While the money was decent and, even better, consistent, it was nowhere near the amount of money that I make writing under my own name.

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The Progressive’s Toolbox

A black & white picture of a rally.

“It is not always the same thing to be a good man and a good citizen.”― Aristotle

Most of my work experience has been in the nonprofit sector.

When I started working at a charity right after undergrad, I didn’t realize how profoundly that would alter the trajectory of my career. Fast-forward 7 years later, I now spend my days at a legal aid clinic empowering unorganized, low-income workers who have been wrongfully fired for raising their employment rights at work.

Some of the employers I’ve sued include multinational car manufacturers, academic institutions, medical facilities, restaurants, and retail stores. There is no specific industry, size of company, or geographical region (we represent workers throughout Ontario) that nefariously suppresses the rights of workers. From my experience, it happens everywhere.

As someone who has committed herself to working towards positive social change, it’s understandable that I often feel the power — rooted in money and inadequate laws — of large corporations, right-wing politicians, and neoliberals are an insurmountable force that cannot be stopped. After all, progressives raise issues that plague those primarily living on the margins of society. We want to help others, but the question is how?

Not only are many progressive organizations

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