Staying Sane & Productive at Home

Less Oscar, More Elmo

This post was originally titled How I stopped playing “Oscar the Grouch.”

How to keep grounded, happy, and calm at home during this coronavirus-forced isolation — and still get the most important work done.

It all started on a brisk Taipei day in early 2018. While sharing a bike ride with a friend, she asked me a piercing question.

“Well, aren’t you grumpy today?”

That’s when I realized — I wasn’t the person I wanted to be, despite no major recent changes. I wasn’t the optimistic, friendly, focused, and hungry-for-knowledge person whom I aspired to be. I had devolved into a gloomier, cynical, and stationary chump.

Are you gradually finding yourself grouchier than your younger self?

Are you not as cheerful as you want to be? Maybe it’s how you react to passing comments from coworkers, family, and friends. Maybe it’s a cynical or even jealous outlook when you hear new things: peers’ accomplishments, changes at work, ideas that aren’t yours.

Do you feel like your days are hectic? You’re constantly busy, yet you’re not progressing toward the truly big achievements that you desire most days?

The GOT Method is how I rescued myself from such despair.

The G.O.T. Method, Explained

This process, which borrows from various advice and systems I’ve observed through the years, is meant to be used every day, preferably soon after you get up.

I usually do around 10–15 minutes of meditation beforehand, then immediately jump into The GOT Method.

It’s meant to be simple to remember, require nothing more than a pen and paper, and take around 5 minutes.

G: Gratefulness

Write 3 things that you’re grateful for at this very moment. The first 3 things that come to mind. They can be infinitesimally small or grand thoughts — what’s important is that you are truly feeling grateful for each of them. I generally imagine the writing prompt is saying,

Today, I’m grateful for …

Some examples that I’ve used:

  • Getting 9 hours of good sleep last night without interruptions
  • Not having any stomach trouble for the past month (a truly important thing as someone who travels most of the year)
  • Feeling inspiration to be more productive toward my career growth
  • Being loved unconditionally by a specific family member, friend, or partner
  • A specific friend for his/her positive influence on my habits

→ My days are much calmer, less stressful, and I’m WAY LESS WHINY since I started using The GOT Method. I attribute that mostly to this gratefulness exercise.

O: Observations

Write any ideas or observations that you have on your mind, without a limit nor a minimum. Some days, I write 0, but most days I end up with 1 or 2. This part helps me get out my inspiring ideas, catch myself if I’m getting off-track with any lifestyle goals, and gives me a chance to be reflective on my current life and feelings. I generally imagine that the writing prompt is saying,

Recently, I observed or had an idea about …

Some examples that I’ve used:

  • Ideas for new growth hacks that I hadn’t recorded yet, especially if they occurred to me during sleep
  • Noticing that I missed my meditation practice a few days and prescribing a change in incentives or habits to increase success
  • Observing health changes and deciding on a new plan of attack, such as starting focusing on only eating when I’m hungry
  • Noting a positive change in mood or energy

→ This part of The GOT Method helps put my mind at ease that I’m not just drifting through a life unexamined, that I’m capturing random ideas and inspirations, and that I can keep myself on track with my positive habits working toward goals.

T: Top Tasks

Write the 3 items you need to get done today to feel fulfilled, productive toward your most important goals, or super time-sensitive items.

These should align with your longer-term goals (i.e. if you organize your weekly goals like I started to do recently, try to have 2 or 3 of these tasks related to those weekly targets). Sometimes, I allow a bonus item or a sub-task, but mostly I found it’s good to stick to just 3 top tasks for the day.

After I write my 3 top tasks, I record them in my phone (without turning on the phone’s notifications yet, so that I don’t get distracted). I use Google Keep to track these in an ongoing list, but feel free to use whatever you’re accustomed to and will have handy throughout the day.

Today, I’ll feel productive and happy if I complete …

Some examples that I’ve used:

  • Investigate and take notes for growth hacking ASO changes in iOS last month (reward: catch-up on messages with friends)
  • Warm-up, lift weights, and stretch (reward: smoothie or TV series)
  • Write blog post outline on The GOT Method (reward: catch-up on news for up to 1h)
  • Talk to accountant and complete next step in tax paperwork (reward: massage)

I’ve found that I am much more successful completing these tasks if I tie each one to a reward — and then hold myself to completing the task before indulging. For example, I absolutely adore bubble milk tea, so I will make that the reward I can unlock for tackling an especially important or difficult task on my list. Same idea with allowing myself to watch a TV series or movie — once I complete a task like exercising or an errand, of course. It feels wonderful to complete a task and have a reward earned and ready to be redeemed, so once I complete the task, I add another line to my task app, like “Earned that sweet, sweet nectar from the gods, bubble tea.”

→ Writing my top 3 tasks for the day — focusing on those that will move the needle for me on a major goal or obligation — is absolutely key to my productivity.

It’s all too easy for a ToDo list to grow long and unwieldy; focusing on the 3 most important tasks to my mental state keeps me on a good path. I don’t always get them done each day, but I found most days to be successful and fulfilling when I stick to system.


I’ve been using The GOT Method for almost 2 years, sometimes giving myself a break on the weekends. Without question, it’s improved how I feel about progress toward my goals and made me a helluva lot less grouchy.

Just like meditation, it’s OK to skip some days — the important thing is to get back on track and start again.

Let me know if you try the system and what you think of it!