Category Archives: Blog

Here is where we post various pieces of written content about topics related to the Busy to Death pillars: work-life balance, mindfulness, the effect of technology on the human animal, and general entrepreneurship.

This section is updated pretty regularly, but not on a daily or sometimes even weekly schedule.

Our List of the Best Meditation Apps

Modern Mindfulness focuses on the relationship between technology, mindfulness, creativity and productivity. We realize that the modern human interacts with technology many times per day. Our mission is to help cultivate a healthy relationship between humans and the screens they surround themselves with.

We believe that technology can be both an enabler and a detractor to mindfulness and productivity. Below is a curated list of mindfulness and meditation apps to help encourage the former.

Please note that this is not some randomly generated list. We have personally tried each of these and find them to be good enough for inclusion. If you have any comments or experiences
to share, please let us know in the comments below!

Last updated: 8/12/15

Name Description Availability
Stop, Breathe and Think

A friendly, simple tool to guide people of all ages and backgrounds through meditations for mindfulness and compassion.


Headspace is your very own personal trainer, here to help you train your mind. You can even fit us in your pocket with our FREE app.

Smiling Mind

Smiling Mind is meditation made easy. A simple tool that helps put a smile on your mind anytime, anywhere and everyday.

Insight Timer

With beautiful Tibetan singing bowls and a dynamic worldwide meditation community, Insight Timer is the fun, connected way to support your meditation practice.


Zenify is aimed to take meditation and mindfulness to masses everywhere around the world. It’s available in 10 languages and trains mindfulness through very simple meditation assignments delivered to the phone.


World’s first advanced meditation timer and tracker. Challenges, trophies and guided meditations to inspire you to meditate everyday!

Pixel Thoughts

A 60-second meditation tool to help clear your mind.

On the Universality of Wisdom

This post is about the sharing of wisdom. Wisdom is one of those curious things in life whose effect and impact is unpredictable. The same piece of advice given twice may have different effects on someone, depending on their current motivations.

In Herman Hesse’s seminal work, Siddhartha, the titular character tells his dear friend Govinda that:

Wisdom is not communicable. The wisdom which a wise man tries to communicate always sounds foolish. SIDDHARTHA / HERMAN HESSE

So why, then, am I writing this right now?

I’ll begin with an illustration: John is 19 years old and fresh out of school. His good friend tells him the old adage:

A penny saved is a penny earned.

John considers the saying for a moment and comes to the conclusion that it’s simple, common sense. If he saves his money now, he’ll have that money available in the future. It’s so obvious that it’s almost nonsensical.

The years go by and John is now in his late 40s with a nice little family. He hears the saying again. This time he agrees with zeal, thinking about his upcoming retirement. The less money he spends now, the less money he has to make to support his retirement.

As you can see, the personal context changes the meaning of the wisdom. Young, 19 year old John has an entire life of earning ahead of him. He’s not apt to be as sensitive to savings and time constraints as his older self. His motivations are quite different than family man John. Family man John values the time he spends with his family above all else. In his view, spending money decreases the amount of time he has available for them.

The idea of many latent interpretations is something also found in books. How many times have you heard someone say they picked up an old favorite and read it as if it were new?

Marcus Aurelius suggested that one should not simply read a book, but rather study it intently. Only moving onto the next after you’ve thoroughly mastered the material. I think he would have been in agreement with the idea of multiple pass-throughs, each time wringing out a few new droplets of wisdom for your particular time and place and mind state. That’s the wonderful thing about great art; a new lesson every time you observe. Paintings are often said to be a ‘picture captured through the lens of the artist’. Almost, as if for a moment, you were able to view the world through the artists eyes, ears or mouth.

So that’s what this thing is. Or what I hope it to be. Lessons picked up over a lifetime of living that may make sense, some of the time, to some of the people.

How to Stop Feeling Busy

Have you ever felt too busy or that you’re not actually in control of your day? For many of us working within tech, the current cultural shift toward high productivity and workload fetishism has created some serious work-life balance issues. One way I’ve described it to others is that I sometimes feel like my day takes place on the pool table. Everything starts out great in the morning. And then somewhere around breakfast things fall apart. The rest of the day I’m bumped between tasks based on the requests of others.

Here are just a few of the things I mean:

  • Work colleagues asking for updates or quick favors
  • Family / Friend responsibilities
  • Kids (hard to tell a 4 year old that you can’t help them in the bathroom because you’re relaxing)
  • Doctors appointments, bank trips, grocery shopping…

Most of us live a zero-sum day. If we take time away from task A, task B, C and D have less time and end up feeling rushed or urgent. There’s just no way to insert extra time and get everything in.

So how do we fix this?

One way is to change our mindset. Instead of viewing the time we spend on these ‘external’ activities as time taken from us, we begin to view it as our time. After all, it’s just a matter of perception. Sometimes you want for nothing other than the company of your friends, but can’t for some reason. Now you’re given an opportunity to be with them, but not on the terms that you want. The company is still there… but the context is different.

It may also be a priority thing. You really enjoy hanging out with Marie, but today you’ve got a project to finish that you hold at a higher priority.

Eastern philosophy would encourage you to be mindful and present and detach yourself from the ‘fruits of your labor’.

That sounds a little obtuse, so to explain, here is a passage from Thich Naht Hanh’s amazing work, ‘The Miracle of Mindfulness’:

While washing the dishes one should only be washing the dishes, which means that while washing the dishes one should be completely aware of the fact that one is washing the dishes.

At first glance, that might seem a little silly: why put so much stress on a simple thing? But that’s precisely the point. The fact that I am standing there and washing these bowls is a wondrous reality. I’m being completely myself, following my breath, conscious of my presence and conscious of my thoughts and actions. There’s no way I can be tossed around mindlessly like a bottle slapped here and there on the waves.

. . . There are two ways to wash the dishes. The first is to wash the dishes in order to have clean dishes and the second is to wash the dishes in order to wash the dishes. . . .

If while washing the dishes, we think only of the cup of tea that awaits us, thus hurrying to get the dishes out of the way as if they were a nuisance, then we are not “washing the dishes to wash the dishes.” What’s more, we are not alive during the time we are washing the dishes.

In fact we are completely incapable of realizing the miracle of life while standing at the sink. If we can’t wash the dishes, the chances are we won’t be able to drink our tea either. While drinking the cup of tea, we will only be thinking of other things, barely aware of the cup in our hands. Thus we are sucked away into the future – and we are incapable of actually living one minute of life.

For the more ‘hands-on’ amongst us, another way we can address the stressed out, perpetual busy feeling is to plan and prioritize our day. It looks like this:

  • Joe wakes up a reasonable amount of time before work. This enables him to start his day on his own terms, without feeling rushed or without personal time.
  • He makes breakfast and sits down with a pad and paper.
  • He sketches out his top 3 things to do for the day. 1 thing for work, 1 thing for someone else and 1 thing for himself. He’s defined these 3 areas according to his goals.
  • He takes breaks throughout the day to check in with himself and gauge his progress on his 3 things. When something new pops up, he evaluates it against his current list. Is it higher priority? If so, he replaces an item. If not, he says no. (It’s ok to say no!)

While these ideas are simple (and my presentation of them was fairly quick), they can be extremely effective for many of us. Sometimes the smallest changes can make the biggest differences in how we feel.

How the Apple Watch Makes Me More Mindful

It’s no secret that computer technology has redefined what it means to be a human in the 21st century. From medical devices to automatic flower watering systems, nothing has been left untouched. Still, few things have changed the way that communication has. Technology has made communication instantaneous and ever present, and for many, somewhat overwhelming. 50 years ago, if you wanted to chat with a friend you’d have to phone them (if they lived locally — very few had long distance phone service), or sit down and compose a letter.

Fast forward to present day and it’s easy to be overwhelmed with the amount of options for contacting folks. If you’re like me, at any given time, you’re probably using:

  • Email
  • Social Networks (facebook, twitter)
  • Text Messaging
  • Phone
  • Various apps (whatsapp, snapchat, instagram, tinder)

And the list is growing. It seems like hardly a week goes by before we get some big ‘world changing’ new social network or social app to use. Then you’ve got market fragmentation with some friends using some apps and not others. Before you know it, you’re upgrading phone storage to accommodate the app addiction.

As a bleeding edge technologist, developer and all around Apple enthusiast, I had to be one of the people waiting in virtual line at 2am CST to pre-order the Apple Watch. And so I was.

I received my watch back in May (it’s August now) and sat with it for a few days trying to figure out how it fit into my life. I do enjoy wearing a watch, but I wasn’t really sure how to take advantage of the added utility of a smart watch. Fast forward a couple of months and I’ve kind of settled into a groove. The watch and I are no longer strangers. And I think I’m better off for it.

Be happy in the moment, that’s enough. Each moment is all we need, not more.
Mother Teresa

For utility, the watch basically does what you’d expect. Notifications on your wrist. Where it becomes interesting is in the behavior / usage patterns it facilitates. I have found that the limited app interaction ability has limited me to a quick glance at a message or quick read of an email. Before, I’d whip out my phone to check a notification and end up 15 minutes later staring off into space wondering what I was doing in the first place. Now I feel a gentle tap on my wrist, flick to turn the screen on and glance at the content. Most of the time I’ll just let it go and respond later when I have some time. This has done wonders for my social life. I’m not the guy with the phone at the dinner table (or during a movie) anymore.

The other thing that I love is the standing reminders. I have the watch set to alert me every hour, on the hour. This helps me stand up, take a break and bring myself back to the present. This has helped me to live more intentionally and be more mindful of my interactions. It’s also useful to set a quick alarm for a meditation session. It’s as easy as lifting you wrist and saying, “Hey Siri – set an alarm for 10 minutes”. And then you’re off. 10 minutes later the watch gently taps you on the wrist and you come back. No more blaring bell alarm sounds to frighten you out of a sitting session.

The app selection still leaves a lot to be desired. There’s no Headspace app yet, for example. I’m hopeful that things will catch up and we’ll end up with a slough of productivity and mindfulness utilities to choose from. I may even make a few myself.

As a piece of technology though, it’s a pretty solid addition to the mindful tech collection. It helps me stay mindful and check in with myself several times per day and has enabled me to be more productive with my communications.

I’d be interested in hearing your own experiences below in the comments.

What it Means to Live Intentionally (and How to Do It)

Over the past few years I’ve worked hard on living intentionally. I’m not sure what the actual phrase to describe it is, but if I had to take a poke at a definition it would be:

To maintain control over daily activities through use of priority and mindfulness.

As a web developer and entrepreneur, my day is filled with constant interruptions. I’m getting better about how I deal with them, but they’re still there. Working in tech generally means long hours, on-demand availability and blurry work-life boundaries.

Mind is a flexible mirror, adjust it, to see a better world.
Amit Ray

Through my mindfulness practice (and a few tools)  I’ve discovered when and how I’m most productive. Hint: it’s not 9-5 M-F.

Being an ‘information worker’, and one with a reasonably high level of self diagnosed ADHD, I’d become very prone to reddit / hackernews / (whatever) rabbitholes.

I installed Rescuetime and started logging basic information about how I work. It turns out that my most productive times are between 7am-10am and 9pm-12am. I’m far less efficient and concentrated outside of these hours. During ‘normal working hours’ I also tend to feel like I’m missing out on the things I want to do and my social relationships suffer as a result.

So how did I change things? I began working during those hours and filling the rest of the day in with the other stuff that I had on my priority lists. Reading books, playing video games, catching up with friends, etc.

It was really difficult to shake the feeling that I’m AWOL and being lazy. What are my colleagues going to think? The truth is that nobody needs to be available on-demand all day. Schedule periodic checkins for email and communication channels and become comfortable with saying ‘no’. In my opinion, one of the most effective things you can do for your career is to take care of yourself first.

The result:

  • My work output quality rose to an alltime high (as determined by me)
  • My stress / burnout load all but vanished
  • I immediately began to feel in control of my days

The idea of taking me time isn’t new or novel. The idea that me time has to be scheduled for the weekend or vacations needs to be updated though. For the average information worker, every day can be a you day without sacrificing productivity or success.

A major component leading to the feeling of control is the art of prioritization. I create a small list of must-dos every morning:

  • 1 ‘must do’ for work
  • 1 ‘must do’ for health
  • 1 ‘must do’ for myself
  • 1 thing for someone else (giving back is huge!)

I always end up doing more than that, but this helps me get the ball rolling and achieve goals across many parts of my life. Few things encourage sustained productivity like the snowball effect of finishing tasks.

At the end of the day, review your tasks and how you spent your time. Keep working and refining your priorities until the list is virtually indistinguishable from your ‘dream day’ list!

Why You Should Take a Tech Sabbatical Every Week

As a developer born after 1985, I had a really late start. My family bought our first computer when I was a teenager. A few years later, I received my first cell phone, a shiny grey clamshell with a grainy first-generation camera. The technology  of the early 2000s was slower, less feature packed and generally less personal. There were no social media apps or Angry Birds games to occupy my thumbs during downtime. SMS messages were still being billed per message (15-25c or so) so we didn’t send texts often. On any typical day, I spent more time offline than I did online. I think that’s pretty typical for my generation.

During my early twenties things changed.  I was working on building a business and starting my professional life. I tend to be intense with my interests. I find something that grabs me and I dig in with everything I’ve got, obsessing over it until something else comes along. My intense focus coupled with a mountain of potential work lead to me spending nearly every waking moment in front of the computer. It wasn’t intentional, but gradually it happened. As my business grew, so too did the pressure of extended productivity. If I wasn’t working on my business, networking, or refining my skillset, I was wasting time, losing money, and losing my chance at success.

I have always heard that you need to give yourself a long time to unplug when you do a sabbatical. I unplugged so fast I was a little concerned that I was losing brain capacity.John Ortberg

The tech industry as a whole is fairly brutal on work-life balance. Startup culture has created a community of workload fetishists: 80 hour work weeks and rigorous self education on ‘bleeding edge’ programming topics are the norm. If you’re not grinding out code during bathroom breaks and running a polyphasic sleep cycle, you’re not trying hard enough.

Luckily, I discovered meditation and mindfulness in my mid twenties. After a few months of self exploration I began to realize the impact of my focus on productivity and technology.

While waiting in line at the grocery store I’d pull out my phone for a quick glance at my notifications. I’d do the same while walking the 20 steps from the car to my front door. If a friend left to use the restroom while at dinner I’d have my phone in my hand by the time they were even out of their seat. I was cramming in screen time at every opportunity. I had forgotten how to be alone with myself.

And it’s not just me. In 2015, the average American is expected to consume 15.5 hours of media per day (source). And it’s going to keep going up.

I recalled seeing something about a ‘tech sabbatical’ online. After searching, I started to keep a log of the scientific evidence supporting small, frequent breaks from work & technology. Everything from creativity to sleep quality seemed to be enhanced by rebooting the brain with some time off. I figured I’d give it a shot for a few weeks and I set out to make some changes. I came up with 2 quick rules that would encourage mindfulness and provide more ‘me’ time.

  • I would stop working every day at 5:00 pm sharp. I would tend to a few things and then begin my meditation session at 5:05 pm.
  • I would take one day per week (Sunday) off entirely. No computer, no iPad, no iPhone. (I do watch HBO shows on Sunday night with my S/O).

As with any addiction, quitting wasn’t very pleasant. Remember when I said I had forgotten how to live? I wasn’t kidding. I went from spending 16+ hours a day with my mind occupied and everything scheduled out to a blank slate. I didn’t know what to do with myself and all the new free time.

As anyone who begins a meditation practice will tell you, being alone with your thoughts can be overwhelming.  And boring. It takes some time and experience to be able to be alone with your thoughts (or lack of) without focusing on something else. Maybe technology is to blame — with every new quantum leap in computing technology I feel like we lose a little of the ability to be alone and unstimulated. Instant gratification can be a hell of a drug.

Aside from the relaxation and creative benefits, I found my new abundance of downtime to be highly enjoyable, but not right away. Enjoying downtime is more of an art than a science. If you’re not working on being mindful and present, and you’re a social media butterfly you may find yourself to be experiencing the fear of missing out. The important thing to remember is that you’re not losing anything. Everything you’re waiting for and missing out on will still be there, waiting for you when you come back the next day.

Tips for Success

  • Turn off inputs. It’s hard to concentrate when you’re receiving notifications every 15 minutes from Facebook and Gmail. Set your phone to ‘do not disturb’ or turn off push notifications for these services.
  • Schedule social time. Going for a walk, meeting up for coffee or taking a small road trip are all good ways to spend some time.
  • Keep at it. So you only were able to do it for 8 hours – don’t sweat it. Any change at all will have positive effects on other areas of your life.

The logical next step to this is allowing yourself less screen time during the other 6 days of the week as well. I call this living intentionally, and wrote about it here.

Why you should say no more often

Any developer / information worker worth his weight in salt probably receives more offers than he knows what to do with. I’m talking about the tiny little side gigs that creep up through the network. Things like:

  • Help a friend of a friend fix a small blog issue. It’s a ‘1 minute fix’ for someone with your skillset.
  • A good friend has a world changing app idea but doesn’t know how to code. It’s definitely going to make you rich.

Curiously, most people have no problem saying no to the many job offers sent by recruitment services that flood their LinkedIn inboxes. And most of these are paid offers! So why do we have such a hard time saying no to the unpaid, low-potential offers? I would guess that it’s due to social proximity. The closer you are to the person, the harder you’ll find it to say no.

Y Combinator, one of the most prestigious startup incubators in the world, only has a 3% acceptance rate. Of that, only a tiny percentage go on to become successful companies. Go ahead and take a look at the list and see how many companies you recognize. You can filter by exited (sold), active and dead. Of course, some are probably doing fine in niches that lack the visibility of a Dropbox level brand. Admittedly, there is some selection bias here, as Y Combinator has their own arbitrary set of selection criteria, but the point is that some of the worlds most successful investors pass on 97%+ of opportunities.

Creativity is a habit, and the best creativity is the result of good work habits.
Twyla Tharp

If Y Combinator had a 100% acceptance rate, what would happen to their success rate? Even if they could provide an equal level of mentorship to each of the thousands of companies that apply each session (they can’t, and the entire roster would suffer as a result — this is opportunity cost in action), it’s still  fairly obvious that the success rate would drop. Said another way: Success rate is as dependent on the opportunities you turn down as it is on the ones that you accept. 

Aside from the opportunity cost and potentiality of various commitments, you also have to consider the mental cost. Your creativity well only goes so deep. The core belief of the GTD movement is that all the small tasks and responsibilities you have knocking around in your head are detracting from your focus and relaxation. If you’re feeling rushed and burned out, sometimes the best medicine is to re-prioritize and schedule some downtime (taking a tech sabbatical could be a good idea).

5 Tips for Saying No

  1. As a rule of thumb, you should say no to more opportunities than you accept (i.e. the successful investor).
  2. Carefully consider the potential of each opportunity. Potential can be evaluated based on your current goals (money, time, knowledge, relationship, etc).
  3. Weigh the expected value against the opportunity cost. What happens when you’re completely full on commitments and Kevin Rose reaches out for a quick app prototype? That’s opportunity cost.
  4. Know what you can handle. Most people consider themselves able to maintain a 40 hour work week by default. In reality, you’re only productive a tiny % of that time. And your creativity well is probably only able to seriously support a couple of things anyway.
  5.  Just do it. Thank them for the opportunity and let them know that you’re too busy as it is. Better to turn down the opportunity than to accept it and not be able to deliver on your responsibilities due to other commitments.