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Habit and routine get the job done

Kira Nguyen, otherwise known as The Hanoi Chamomile, only started blogging two years ago and has been making YouTube videos for just over a year but has amassed a large fanbase who enjoy his inspirational content.

Mostly known for being able to speak four languages and for his minimalist lifestyle, he also reads a lot of self-help books, trains in self-discipline via adopting small habits, and has a lot of productivity tips to pass on. He shared some of his journey with Van Anh.

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Kira Nguyen - blogger and YouTuber, aka The Hanoi Chamomile. Photo Kira Nguyen

You have spoken a lot about being a gamer a few years ago. How did you change from that to writing blogs on productivity?

I really got into gaming during my university years. I tried all sorts of things related to it and all aspects of gaming, from levelling up to gambling. Towards the end of 2017, I was reflecting on my year and realised I had only eight more months in Japan before graduation. I thought it would be quite a waste to continue living like this, so I picked up a book, which is now on my bookshelf, and I’ve been reading ever since.

You mentioned that you meditate every day. How has that influenced you and your productivity?

Meditation has really had a strong impact on my attention span. For instance, when you’re working on a task, your mind naturally wanders. Through the practice of meditation, I can gain a view of myself, like a third person, and notice that I’m distracted. I write down whatever is on my mind that isn’t related to my current task, so I can return to it later and fully focus on my work again. My work flow is restored, and later I reflect on whatever it was I noted down.

How did you start meditating?

When I stopped being addicted to games, I began to read more books on improving my quality of life and lessening down-time. I started waking up early but didn’t know what to do with that much time in the morning, so I created a morning routine, in which I meditate for three minutes every day. It doesn’t matter how long I meditate for, as long as I feel mindful after just one minute. I meditate for longer on the weekend since I have more time.

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SCENE SET: Kira’s workspace - the background of many of his ‘Study with me’ videos. Photo Kira Nguyen

How did you train in self-discipline?

I was reading another book that talked a lot about willpower. It said that willpower allows you to do anything, but if you have a lot of down-time and have to decide what to do, you will lose your willpower and energy. Consequently, your attention span will decline too. So, if you plan ahead, specifying what to do at a certain time, you can retain your willpower by simply following that timeline.

I made a video on my blog explaining how I schedule my time on Google calendar. There are no specific books on such topics -- I just read and link overlapping ideas together from my personal experience. I explore self-discipline on my own.

Do you rely on self-motivation to boost productivity?

Motivation gives you a good starting point to complete things, but since it is affected by your mood and emotions, you can’t trust or rely on motivation long term, as it fluctuates way too much. I began to adopt small habits instead. Regardless of how tired I may feel, I still follow my habits and daily routine.

Does it take long to put the things you read into your daily habits?

It depends. Some you can apply right away, like meditation, but it might take forever to notice the benefits and results. Decluttering, meanwhile, takes little time to get started and only a little time to notice the effect. What really matters is that you start applying the habits and continue with them, believing that you will gain from them. It won’t happen if you hope to see results immediately.

Do you have any favourite daily habits?

The most feel-good daily habit is making my bed. My blanket is always tucked in, smooth and wrinkle-free. A book I read said, “If you want to change the world, start making your bed.” There are two reasons for this. Bed-making is a habit from the military. It gives you the very first sense of achievement for the day. And making your bed is only a small task, so if you can’t do that then you can’t achieve greater tasks. I enjoy it so much that I even make my bed after a nap.

Do you have any tips on time management?

I set my own personal deadline before an actual deadline. I also manage my time in 25-minute blocks, under the Pomodoro method. Each 25 minutes is also a mini deadline. If I set out to complete a task in an afternoon, each 25 minutes has an end goal I need to complete. For instance, for my case study assignment, each 25 minutes can be a mini task, like summarising the article for the first 25 minutes, completing the introduction in another, and reaching a conclusion in the last time block, so I can complete the task efficiently. I never have to meet deadlines given to me, but the truth is I’m constantly making and meeting my own personal deadlines.

What are your future goals?

There are a lot of paths I can pursue, like moving on to my PhD or finding a job. Personally, I want to become a polyglot and share more about lifestyle and minimalism with people. I plan on learning Spanish next, since I enjoy watching football. I don’t want to become a full-time YouTuber, but I will definitely keep writing and sharing. VNS

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