eric kim selfie

Life Hacks: Winter, 2017

eric kim selfie

Dear friend,

I want to share some personal life hacks that have helped me in life (as of Winter, 2017).

Consider this a list of what has worked for me — and will probably not work for you. However, I hope this list of things can help stir some new ideas for you.

Diet & Nutrition

Sapa, 2017 (photo by Cindy)

I feel that it is my life’s duty to be the best blogger I can possibly be. This means that I prioritize my mental and physical fitness — in order to be more productive, to have more energy, and to feel less tired.

I’ve experimented with my diet and nutrition since I was 16 years old. I’ve found that the food I intake (and the timing) affects my mood, energy levels, and productivity massively.

As of now, I am currently following a semi-strict “ketogenic” diet (meaning, I eat virtually no processed carbohydrates — and mostly eat meat and non-starchy vegetables).

One of the biggest things I learned about myself was the importance of skipping breakfast. Whenever I eat breakfast, I feel tired and sluggish.

Now what I do instead is whenever I wake up, I start off the day with a lot of water and black coffee (no sugar, no cream).

I then usually start off the day reading, thinking, or writing. I generally do this for at least 3 hours or so, until it is lunch time (around noon).

For lunch, I usually eat protein + veggies (no bread, sugar, simple carbohydrates, or starchy veggies like potatoes).

I have also been recently experimenting with fasting all the way until dinner (instead of eating lunch, I will just drink another coffee— and eat dinner at around 6pm). Honestly, this is a bit tougher to do — but the coffee kills the hunger pangs. And by skipping lunch, I actually have more energy to do more reading, writing, and contemplating. And when dinner-time rolls around (6-7pm) I will eat a lot of food (lots of meat, fish, veggies).

I’ve experimented with eating only 1 meal a day (dinner) for about two weeks, and it probably has been the most creatively productive I’ve ever been.

Recently, I’ve been eating lunch with Cindy and my family (currently traveling with them) because I don’t want to miss out on good food. But whenever possible, I will try to stick to this 1-meal a day philosophy.

Physical fitness

I’ve found that the stronger and more fit I am physically, the stronger I am mentally.

I’m currently living in Hanoi, yet I don’t have a gym membership. I’ve been staying fit by doing the following:

  • Pushups (regular, elevated, dive-bomber, 1-handed, clapping, diamond)
  • Pull-ups (whenever we stop by the ‘street gym’ in Hanoi — they have pull-up bars in the parks)
  • Dips (also available at the street gym, or I will do dips between two chairs or tables whenever I come across them)
  • 1-legged squats
  • Yoga (go to the Yoga studio once a week with Cindy, which helps me greatly with my back — I get a lot of back pain when sitting in a cafe all day long and blogging)

I’ve experimented with so many different workout routines over the years, and honestly the best has been to just listen to my body.

For example, days when I feel restless — I will exercise my body hard. Other days when I feel sore or unmotivated, I will just not exercise.

With repetitions, I don’t count anymore. I just try to do 25% more than I think I can. I try to push myself to always do more.

I used to also eat immediately after working out (that’s what the experts always tell you) — but I find it okay to skip eating even for several hours afterwards, until I chow down at dinner-time.

However if I had things my way, I would continue to do “powerlifting” style (bench press, squats, dead-lifts) at a local gym. When I had a gym membership, I would visit the gym 3 times a week, and would just go for the “maximum lift” (1 rep maximum). To me, it was meditation — and seeing how far I could push my physical limits. When I break my physical limits, I realize I have no mental limits.


Seoul, 2017 #cindyproject
Seoul, 2017 #cindyproject

To come up with blogging ideas, I read a lot. I have currently read (and recommend):

I’ve also been doing something different: reading all these books as e-books on my laptop. I have found that by reading on my laptop, I can read faster. Whenever I get a good idea, I will jot it down in Evernote.

When on the road, I will download the Kindle app to my smartphone, and read this way. Similarly, whenever I write down notes or have ideas, I write them down in Evernote.

I have found my recipe for blogging is this: read a lot, stimulate my mind, write down notes, come up with ideas, and select a few ideas and write about them.

For me, about every 20 ideas I write down, I write about 1 topic.

In terms of knowing what to write and what not to write— I just follow my gut. Whenever I feel passionate about a topic, I don’t force myself to write it. I write it for fun, and also for my self-education.

Furthermore, I do all of my writing in IA writer (in focus mode) on my laptop, and always with a lot of coffee (espresso or Vietnamese coffee). I don’t remember the last time I wrote without coffee.


Hanoi, 2016 eric kim street photography hanoi
Hanoi, 2016 (shot at a coffee shop)

Speaking of coffee, it is probably the best gift that God has given mankind.

I generally start the day with coffee, have one at lunch, and one around 3pm. The problem is at around 3pm, whenever I have a coffee, it disturbs my sleep. But if I want to be productive all-day long, I need that 3pm coffee. Therefore I usually don’t go to bed until around midnight to 1am, and don’t wake up until around 8-9am.

If I can give myself advice on how to be more productive— it really is to drink black coffee on an empty stomach, and start off the day doing creative work (not checking email, websites, blogs, social media, etc).


Ha Long Bay, 2017 #cindyproject
Ha Long Bay, 2017 #cindyproject

Now that I am currently stationed here in Hanoi, I don’t spend much time walking around and taking photos all the time. Rather, I usually take some snapshots on the way to the cafe, or when I’m walking around with Cindy.

I’ve also done a lot of portraits of Cindy (#cindyproject) when we’re at home, at a restaurant, or at a cafe.

Living here in Hanoi is a street photography paradise. But I’m not sure — I prefer shooting personal photos of Cindy. But I still have taken a handful of street photos in Hanoi I’m very happy with.

Eric kim hanoi street photography
Hanoi, 2017

I also find myself shooting more nature/landscape photos in monochrome — perhaps I’m re-connecting with my past passion for nature (I used to be a Boy Scout).

I’m also realizing more and more how photography shouldn’t be limited to one genre. Photography is everything. Photography is about finding self-meaning in the world, and finding a deeper connection with friends and family, and strangers. I photograph self-portraits of myself in the mirror, photograph my reflection or shadow, photograph my loved ones, photograph strangers, photograph trees or landscapes, or photograph stuff I find on the streets. I like both black and white and color — I usually choose either or when it comes to my mood or where I am.

eric kim street photography hanoi ricoh gr ii-0003866
Ha Long Bay, 2017 #cindyproject

You see me writing a lot more about the philosophy behind photography — questions like:

  • Why shoot photography?
  • What does photography mean to you?
  • Should you always be taking photos?
  • Why is the camera you shoot with important?
  • Is it important to follow a certain genre in photography?

Lots of these questions are directed at myself. I write in order to better understand myself. And I write because I hope some of these ideas may help you.

There are a lot of resources on the web on how to take photos, what camera to shoot with, and technical settings. But nobody writes the why behind photography — what drives people to shoot photos, and the personal meaning behind photography. I hope to fill this gap.

Not getting distracted

Ha Long Bay, 2017

I am easily prone to distraction. I’ve found the best way to not get distracted is to try to keep to this habit: uninstalling one app from my phone each day. Inevitably I re-install apps that I will uninstall, but it is a good practice for me to remind myself to separate the essential from the superfluous.

And honestly, I’m starting to think about how to spend less and less time on my phone. The biggest inspiration I got was that Kanye West has spent a long time during his career without a cell phone, and after recently getting one, he got rid of it— to focus on his creative projects.

I find the smartphone great for group-chatting with family, for taking snapshots, for looking up notes on Evernote, and using Google Maps and Uber. But almost everything else is superfluous and a distraction.

I’m actually trying to figure out how to do more things on my laptop than my phone. Because when I am on my laptop — I do productive things like read, write, and think. When I’m on my phone, I tend to look at the App store to check out new games and apps to install, and distract me, and waste my time.

In-fact, the practice of uninstalling apps from my phone led me to uninstalling Kindle from my phone — which lead me to realize I can use Kindle on my laptop. I’ve also used iBooks on the MacBook to read .epub ebooks — which I find the best ebook reading app on the laptop.

Purposeful procrastination

Seoul, 2017 #cindyproject
Seoul, 2017 #cindyproject

I’ve also integrated more ‘purposeful procrastination” into my life — doing things at the last-minute, when I feel like it. Not forcing myself to do “work” when I don’t want to do “work.”

I’ve actually found procrastination to be one of the best ways to focus. Because I work on what I am passionate and genuinely interested in — and don’t work on things that don’t drive me.

For me, blogging, reading, writing, meditating, teaching, exercising, and thinking doesn’t feel like work. I do these things because I am passionate about it. I do these things because I have a natural curiosity and drive to do them. And therefore I put in a lot more effort.

In terms of what I procrastinate on — they never end up being that important. Generally the worst thing I procrastinate on is my taxes (I always wait until the last minute), but somehow they always end up getting done on time.

In Taoist philosophy, they call this purposeful procrastination “wu-wei” (non-forceful action). It doesn’t mean doing nothing — it means not forcing yourself to do work for work’s sake. Pairing this concept of “wu-wei” with subtracting 1 thing a day — I’ve found some more zen, peace, and focus in my life.

Know yourself

eric kim grandma
My grandma / Seoul, 2017

I’m currently very influenced by Montaigne — and one of the biggest lessons I got from his was this: he wrote in order to better know himself. He wrote about his flaws, his weaknesses, as well as his strengths. He wrote to distill his thinking, and only studied and read things that would personally benefit him.

I feel that we should all do the same. Let all of our photography, creative work, reading, and life philosophy benefit us. Life’s purpose is to find out what our passion is— and then spending the rest of our life sharing that passion with others. I feel that life is about being useful to others, to do good deeds and to benefit our fellow humankind and society.

I still don’t know who I am, but each day I am trying to better understand myself. I know that even when I die, I won’t fully know myself, but I will endeavor to be a better person, each day.

I hope some of these ideas have been useful to you — they have certainly been useful to me. I will keep you updated with any other findings that I have, which I hope will benefit you.


Written @ Fika Cafe, 6:10pm, Sat, Jan 21, 2017 with a nice espresso in Hanoi. Currently on the road with Cindy, my mom, and Cindy’s mom. Going to travel with my family to Hue and Hoi An for the New Year’s — and happily awaiting my 29th birthday on Jan 31st.

Sapa, 2017 #cindyproject