Seth Holloway

More joie de vivre than savoir-vivre.

Daily Checklist for Success

Personal rituals are fascinating to me. I’ve encountered them repeatedly in books, blogs, podcasts, and conversations. They’re generally boiled down to 1-60 minute morning rituals, but I chafe at the idea of an immutable hour-long routine because I have at least four different types of days (calm weekday, rushed weekday, calm weekend, and rushed weekend). It’s easier for me to think of the idealized morning routine as a daily checklist that I can achieve in whatever order during any waking period.

This year I’ve focused a lot on my own health and happiness, paying special attention to what drains me of my energy. Through reading and experimenting I’ve come up with my own checklist. These are the things that I shoot for every day (in no particular order):

  • smile for one minute – Smiling feels good, and there’s always something worth smiling about. But I rarely smile. I’m generally happy, but I tend to suppress the physical representation of my emotions so I don’t smile nearly as much as I’d like to. I’m working on making my outside match my inside more often.
  • journal 3+ things I’m grateful for – I try to smile while thinking of things I’m grateful for. It would be easy enough to say, “my wife”, “my health”, and “my job”, but I try to get more specific. Practicing gratitude has been very helpful for me.
  • journal anything I’m proud of myself for – I struggle with self-confidence and self-compassion, so this running log of goodness helps me feel better.
  • breathe from the diagram, trying to take only 4-6 breaths in one minute – It’s amazing how calm I feel after slowing my breathing—it’s like telling your body, “relax” and having your body listen.
  • sleep 7.5+ hours – Sleep is generally the first thing to go when I get busy; however, I’m finding that sleep really sets the stage for the day, so I’m trying to sleep more.
  • stand 2+ hours – On my laziest day I could stand for less than five minutes, which is bad for my mood and my metabolism. I installed a flip-up table so I can work standing up. I’m trying to stand once an hour (drinking a lot of water helps motivate me). I’ve also been doing a lot of housework recently, so I’m standing more.
  • walk at least 3,000 steps – You know that laziest day where I hardly stand? I definitely don’t walk much those days. For reference 3,000 steps is roughly 1.5 miles and 30 minutes moving around. Since I made 3,000 steps a goal I’ve been able to do it almost every day.
  • exercise until sweating – Typical exercise guidelines recommend around five hours of exercise per week, but most Americans are barely getting two hours, so I try to be realistic. I think “until sweating” is a better goal than any specific time. Get the blood moving and enjoy.
  • have sex – I never see this in people’s daily routines, but I think it’s very important so I had to include it. That said, this is probably my most skipped routine.
  • get some physical contact with loved ones (including pets) – Positive physical contact releases oxytocin, which makes us feel connected and warm. Blood pressure drops and we feel a sense of well-being. Pretty powerful stuff. I’ve read various studies saying it takes from one second to two minutes, so I shoot for one good purposeful spouse-hug and a minute of cuddling with the pets.
  • take a probiotic – Get your shit straight. For real.
  • eat some fiber – See above.
  • fill in vitamins and minerals you have missed or will miss from your food and drink – I generally eat well for 3/5 feedings (traditional meals plus snacks), but I still miss a lot of nutrients. Vitamin D, which is usually provided by exposure to the sun, is chronically low among programmers. If I can’t go for a little walk in the sun then I take my vitamin D.
  • drink 64+ oz of water – Studies refute the biological need for 8 cups of water, but I’ve found that it’s fairly easy and it makes me feel better.
  • brush your teeth twice – Your mother will be proud.
  • make your bed – For me, this helps set the stage for a productive day. I don’t do anything fancy—just straighten the sheets and comforter and pull them up over my pillows.
  • stretch – My flexibility sucks. I think some of my body aches come from poor flexibility, so I’m working to improve my general mobility.
  • communicate with someone important to me (preferably someone that I don’t work or live with) – Relationships mean a lot to me, yet I’m historically bad at keeping in touch. While far from perfect now, by focusing on it every day I’ve been able to keep up with more loved ones.
  • meditate – I try to meditate every day, but “meditation” is a really open-ended idea. I’ve found success in short mindfulness breaks. Focusing on breathing from my diaphragm, clearing my mind with intense exercise, and recognizing the blessings around me all achieve a similar effect for me.

If you’re on the fence about any item, run the experiment and see how you feel after trying it.

So, what’s your daily checklist? What works for you? What percentage of your tasks do you normally complete?

DEFCON 2015 in Review

DEFCON 23 was my favorite DEFCON experience so far. There were a lot of great talks and fun after-hours events. Below is a list of talks that I attended, for posterity’s sake.





Books Read March 2015

A couple long books this month.

Anathem by Neal Stephenson. Hmm. I love Neal Stephenson—Diamond Age is one of my favorite books ever—but this book didn’t do it for me. I didn’t get it. It was intelligent and well researched—it just wasn’t for me.

The Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson. Book Two of the Mistborn trilogy. It started slowly, but ended well. Let me expand on that a bit: the first book—to me—was about a rebellion in a novel low-magic world. The second book has to pick up the pieces of that rebellion, so it’s more about government and interpersonal conflicts.

SXSW 2015 in Review

I enjoyed myself a lot at SXSW 2015. I made it to a lot of sessions that were interesting and thought-provoking.






Books Read February 2015

One really long book dominated my reading this this month—I only finished two books, but they were both very good.

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. This book is a classic for a reason. I prefer modern books, but I decided to give Count of Monte Cristo a try, and I’m glad I did. The story was really good.

Warbound by Larry Correia. I’m really enjoying Larry Correia. He has the adventure fantasy story down. His novels are fun and well-paced with memorable characters, and they feel like the right amount of story per book. Warbound concludes the Grimnoir Chronicles, providing a fitting finish.

Books Read January 2015

Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson. A solid fantasty novel with an interesting magic system. In Mistborn, a select few people are gifted with the ability to burn a metal internally granting them abilities like improved strength or improved hearing. The elevated ability lasts as long as the metal remains with the metal burning in proportion to the power you demand of it. An even smaller group can burn all metals. I liked it a lot.

The Art of Conflict Management by Michael Dues. I now think that conflict management is the most important skill a person can have. I wish this stuff was taught in school! It was very helpful for me to learn the basics, which provided me with a framework for understanding conflict (“discomforting differences”).

Finding Your Element by Sir Ken Robinson. Ken Robinson had a great tech talk, so I thought I’d like the book. It was good, but not really what I need. I’d recommend the book to young people who are floundering as they embark on adulthood or middle-aged people struggling to understand where they fit into the scheme of things.

No More Mr. Nice Guy by Robert Glover. I don’t know how to feel about this book. I think it has a lot of really good information for nice guys who are unfulfilled; however, it raises some questions regarding masculinity and being kind but firm. Some of the positive points: men should spend time with other men, people should stand up for themselves and they should get what they want, and couples should evenly divide work.

Books Read in 2015

Here’s a recap of the books I read in 2015. They’re roughly categorized as fiction followed by non-fiction.


Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson.

The Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson.

The Hero of Ages by Brandon Sanderson.

Mitosis by Brandon Sanderson.

The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson.

Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson.

Off to Be the Wizard by Scott Meyer.

Spell or High Water by Scott Meyer.

An Unwelcome Quest by Scott Meyer.

Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb.

The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie.

Hexed by Kevin Hearne.

Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay.

14 by Peter Clines.

Hunters Unlucky by Abigail Hilton.

11-22-63 by Stephen King.

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas.

The Chimes by Charles Dickens.

The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen.

Warbound by Larry Correia.

Anathem by Neal Stephenson.

Things to shout out loud at parties. by Markus Almond.

Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson.

Elantris by Brandon Sanderson.


The Art of Conflict Management by Michael Dues.

Finding Your Element by Sir Ken Robinson.

No More Mr. Nice Guy by Robert Glover.

How to Fail At Almost Everything and Still Win Big by Scott Adams.

21 Great Ways to Manage Your Time and Double Your Productivity by Brian Tracy.

Choose Yourself by James Altucher.

The Choose Yourself Guide to Wealth by James Altucher.

Practicing the Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle.

The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday.

I Will Teach You to Be Rich by Ramit Sethi.

The $100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau.

Trust Me, I’m Lying by Ryan Holiday.

Becoming a Technical Leader by Gerald Weinberg.

The Phoenix Project by Gene Kim, Kevin Behr, and George Spafford.

Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach.

The Charisma Myth by Olivia Fox Cabane.

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson.

Contagious by Jonah Berger.

Waking Up by Sam Harris.

Growth Hacker Marketing by Ryan Holiday.

The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer.

The Willpower Instinct by Kelly McGonigal.

From Transgender to Transhuman by Martine Goldblatt.

To blog or to Goodreads

I haven’t decided how I prefer to track what I’ve read. You can see my attempt at using Goodreads here.

Books Read December 2014

It was a busy month for reading. Lots of good stuff!

Dracula Chronicles: Son of the Dragon by Victor Foia. An interesting retelling of the life of Dracula. This book, the first of three, tracks Dracula in his teenage years as he makes his first kill. The book was really good, but I was looking for more fantasy.

Spellbound by Larry Correia. Correia has the fantasy adventure story down. Very entertaining. I look forward to finishing the series (Grimnoir Chronicles) soon.

Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank. A slice of life in the alternate reality where the cold war ended with nuclear war. I could see this book as the precursor to The Road by McCarthy. I liked it.

At the Mountains of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft. Beware the elder things buried in Antarctica.

How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big by Scott Adams. Scott Adams is the creator of the workplace comic, Dilbert. In this book Adams lays out his lessons on life. Some of the high points: eat well, exercise, get into a routine, optimize your personal energy, learn as many different skills as you can (because success is likely to come from some combination of your skills), and passion is just a fancy way for successful people to say they got lucky. I really liked the book; I thought it was funny and informative, and I loved the humility with which the story was told. Where many books and life stories rewrite history and show how one success begot another, Adams instead talks about how his failures lead to success. The anecdotes were modest and on-point, which I found refreshing and brave.

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. A Jewish psychiatrist’s Holocaust story helps explain his world view and motivate his psychotherapy approach, Logotherapy. I appreciated that the book was honest without dwelling too much on the atrocities: rather than recounting every terrible thing that happened, Frankl picks a few key events that provide a broad understanding. Remarkably, Frankl does something constructive with his grief. In the book he mentions that Logotherapy might ask a patient why that patient does not commit suicide because the answer reveals your meaning, which you can then work with to heal. One of the most disturbing parts of the book for me was Frankl’s account of returning home to a nation that ignored the concentration camps or downplayed their significance; he writes that for many survivors life after the camp was harder than life in the camp.

Futures and Frosting by Tara Sivec. Futures and Frosting tells the story of how a single-mother is reunited with the father of her child; after a lot of confusion, the couple gets married and has another kid, then lives happily ever after. Without the humor, it would read like an angsty young adult love story.

Apprenticeship Patterns by Dave Hoover and Ade Oshineye. This was probably the most accessible technical book I’ve read. The application of pattern language to a career is really clever and worked well. As with software patterns, it’s nice to see the path.

Books Read November 2014

Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek. I loved this book because it resonated with my hopes for the future of business. Sinek also brought in some of my favorite psychological ideas in a way that I found inspiring—I’ve read a lot of the same research and come across the same ideas, but I had not synthesized the data into a coherent worldview. I’d boil it down to the following: short-term profit maximization is proving unsustainable even harmful for society; instead, you should treat employees as people to enjoy sustained growth.

American Gods by Neil Gaiman. Based on numerous positive reviews I was really excited to read this book; unfortunately, I didn’t care much for it. In the preface Gaiman says that the book is long and meandering, and he hit the nail on the head. I thought the main plot was pretty interesting, but the tangents did not add anything for me. At times it felt like I was reading a book for English class because I just didn’t understand the message.

The Emperor’s Blades by Brian Stavely. I liked the book, but I’m not sure I’m ready for another series just yet.

Poor Economics by Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo. An accessible summary of research about poor people worldwide. I loved the realistic approach to helping people. Some of my favorite tidbits were that people donated significantly more money when the message focused on a single, identifiable person and that when given money, poor people tend to buy more interesting food rather than more of the same (in the studies people still ate around 1200 calories but they would incorporated more meat and indulgences like tea rather than eating another 500 calories of rice).

Language A to Z by John McWhorter. Great course by the Great Courses.

Customs of the World by David Livermore. Good course by the Great Courses.

Books Read October 2014

The Road by Cormac McCarthy. A short but powerful book—I see why it was made into a movie. Turns out the apocalypse is no fun.

God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater by Kurt Vonnegut. I’m ashamed to admit that this is my first Vonnegut book. I’ve broken the seal, and I enjoyed it. The book has a socialist bent, so I’d love to hear what a strong capitalist thought of this book.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. I finished this before seeing the movie. My overall reaction is, “wow.” I didn’t like it, then liked it, then loved it, then didn’t like it. It was original and well written, for what that’s worth.

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni. I’ve now read a few Lencioni books, and I really enjoy them. I find his novel approach to business lessons is very accessible. This book says you need to first establish trust so that people will speak freely. Without trust, people cannot engage in productive arguments, so people do not buy in—they just quit arguing. Once you have trust, an open exchange of ideas, and commitment to a shared vision, you can start holding people accountable. Finally, you can focus on results. The five dysfunctions are presented as a pyramid, which highlights the need to achieve the previous level before moving up—I thought that was kind of like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs applied to business.