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Why it is Important to Have Space for Thinking and Deep Work

A few years ago, an Indian who came from India decided to sell me some Ionised water.

I thought it is a good idea to try out how my body would react if I use Ionized water, without the upfront cost of buying a full-fledged machine.

You can call this ionized-water-as-a-service (IWAAS) before SAAS was popularized.

In one of our conversations we had when he delivered the water to my place, he talked about the school system in Singapore.

His expectation for his son is to be an average student.

That was his exact words. But I think what he meant maybe that he wishes that his son achieve average grades.

He explained that if he were to push his son to be one of the top students in the school or a top student in Singapore, his world will be pre-occupied with academics.

Being a very academic driven student would require a lot of work. He would rather him not have that work.

Without such a high commitment to school work, his son would have more room to play and learn things.

And that would be the ideal environment for his son to developed in a way he is happy about.

There is a caveat to this: Parents would need to equipped and ignite their child’s inquisitive nature and give them guidance how to learn things. His son can go to the internet and figure out certain complex topics that were out of school curriculum.

I find his point of view to be rather alternative.

For a long time, Singapore parents would want their children to be academically focused. Most of the time it is for our own good. Because that is the way to succeed in life.

But more and more, we are observing that there are successful people who manage to do well in something they are good at, and are able to build up net wealth using it.

This is not something taught in school.

However, it should also be noted that there are still a lot of people who took the standard academic path, may not always like what they do, but are pretty good at it, and able to build up their net wealth that way.

My Old Academic Days

I look at my life and sometimes I wonder what I am a product of.

For the first part of my life, I have been academically driven. I was like that not because I am good at it but because I was struggling with it. Sometimes, we hear of friends who can play all day but when the exam comes around they would always do well.

I am not like that.

So I spend a lot of time studying. The issue with that is… other than my academic discipline, I wasn’t so developed as a good worker for the knowledge economy.

I dunno how to build a social network. I don’t even know that in the IT industry, there are many different category of jobs.

I just study and study and study to get good grades.

You may only develop if you are not so busy

It was only when I got disillusioned with studying in my final year of university that I went deeper into exploring “other” things.

I kind of believe that if I didn’t lose interest in studies, it is likely Investment Moats would not be born and I would probably not be where I am now.

In contrast to school, my career has been one where I seldom have to do overtime. And because of that, you can discover investing, research stocks, build up competency in those areas. Write blog entries. Code programs that I am interested in.

There are enough people that told me not being extremely driven in the career hurt my compensation. Perhaps, in a different trajectory, the wealth would be accumulated faster.

But having wealth today might not mean you get to keep it.

You may only learn to manage wealth better if you are less busy

There are enough people who shared with me that they regretted not learning about these money-stuff. About investing.

At their age, learning is difficult because time is hard to come by, and cognitively, it is difficult for them to pick up new things.

They have money now.

But they would struggle with how to manage their money. What should they put their money into? What should they avoid? They do not dare to put in large sums of their money because they lack conviction in the investments they were introduced to.

A lot of their wealth building performance hinges on the people they trust. If their advisers are people with integrity and are competent money managers at the same time, wealth would built up.

However, most often managers/friends who have both integrity and competency are hard to come by. So most often, their overall wealth does not compound as fast.

Where you spend your time is pretty important. There might not be one correct answer.

  1. I don’t think you can conclude that I should focus on driving my career harder
  2. It might not be right to let the career take the back seat and focus on learning investing and how to manage well

The correct answer is to have a balance.

Find a job that you can do well in, and an environment that you can exact some influence in your career and time. There is seldom work-life balance in this time and age. However, by doing well, it creates more space for yourself. If you climbed higher at the right organization, you might be able to exact more control over your responsibility, delegating some to others and create more space.

Life Tip: Always try to Find Enough Space to Reflect and Do Deeper Work

If there is one advise I can give you it is to have enough space for yourself.

I define space as enough “me time” to do deep work and deeper thinking.

Whether you wish to learn about investing, or baking, you need enough space. This is not just time per-say. You need enough space away from your children, spouse, work, bosses to think or do things.

Space is what allows your thoughts to run wild. Space is also needed for you to develop your thoughts.

It applies to wealth building as well.

For example, you are an individual stock investor.

You managed to read a few books, listen to a few people and started down investing in 5 individual companies. One day, one of the companies you own have a company announcements. They announced a certain expansion plan.

You wonder in your head how big is this impact.

But you are in the midst of an IT project that is about to go live. You do not have much time so you all you could do is to think through and ensure that this is not a negative development for the company and go about with your work and life.

If you have space, and you make use of that space, you could have developed that original thought about what is level of impact of that announcement.

If work is not so busy, this thought would linger in your head whether this could actually make the company’s future cash flow potentially much bigger. If the future cash flow is bigger, the intrinsic value of the company is higher.

Your conviction in the company may increase and you may put in a larger sum of your wealth into the company.

This kind of space is something that I have lost since joining Providend.

That previous headspace is needed to think about work stuff. And there is enough stuff to think about.

The fxxking thing about thinking is that not everyone can do a good job shutting down your brain and not think about something.

If you use up that space for thinking about work, you have less for personal endeavors.

This is a tradeoff.

It means maybe I do better at my work. It also means that personally, I function less well as an individual investor.

I am quite sure that if I don’t have this current job, I would have navigated this year’s financial markets better.

You trade your time making more money today. However, you might not have “invest” well in building up the competencies to manage and grow your wealth over the long term.

I had dinner with three good friends of mine from my old job. On the way back, one of them was sharing with me his challenges at work.

He does not want to move up because that is not what he values at this stage of life (lets just say that he is also poisoned by these financial independence stuff that I write about frequently).

However, due to the nature of the business, he might be tasked to take on more responsibility. More responsibility, less time for other things. The pay might not compensate for the added responsibilities.

One alternative is to leave the company so that he avoids that path. I explained to him, you go to a new job, new environment, work is not often exactly the same, you need to commit a large part of your head space to getting that job into a stable state (if it ever gets there) before you have more room.

Sometimes, there are benefits of work that follow mundane routines.

I have been doing that for a large part of my 15 years IT career. I have seen my friends in the tuition line, civil service, freelance finance consultant benefitting from that extra space in the mind.

If you feel bored, you can go down various rabbit holes to scratch that boredom.

You might developed some valuable competencies!

I know some of you may be displaced due to this very challenging period, but perhaps try to see if there are new competencies you could build up.

For those of you who are investors, perhaps you could use this period to deepen your craft.

If you manage to emerge out of this ordeal and get back on the income-generating curve, at least you managed to build up the wealth management competencies, allowing you to have greater confidence when deploying and managing your money.

Cherish those space to think or do stuff.

Folks with family will tell you that is hard to come by and so they have to be more intentional about creating that.

I would also need to learn to create more of that space to use for myself than for work.

I invested in a diversified portfolio of exchange-traded funds (ETF) and stocks listed in the US, Hong Kong and London.

My preferred broker to trade and custodize my investments is Interactive Brokers. Interactive Brokers allow you to trade in the US, UK, Europe, Singapore, Hong Kong and many other markets. Options as well. There are no minimum monthly charges, very low forex fees for currency exchange, very low commissions for various markets.

To find out more visit Interactive Brokers today.

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I break down my resources according to these topics:

  1. Building Your Wealth Foundation – If you know and apply these simple financial concepts, your long term wealth should be pretty well managed. Find out what they are
  2. Active Investing – For active stock investors. My deeper thoughts from my stock investing experience
  3. Learning about REITs – My Free “Course” on REIT Investing for Beginners and Seasoned Investors
  4. Dividend Stock Tracker – Track all the common 4-10% yielding dividend stocks in SG
  5. Free Stock Portfolio Tracking Google Sheets that many love
  6. Retirement Planning, Financial Independence and Spending down money – My deep dive into how much you need to achieve these, and the different ways you can be financially free
  7. Providend – Where I used to work doing research. Fee-Only Advisory. No Commissions. Financial Independence Advisers and Retirement Specialists. No charge for the first meeting to understand how it works
  8. Havend – Where I currently work. We wish to deliver commission-based insurance advice in a better way.

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He Yiyong

Sunday 6th of September 2020

I think this is exactly where the East Asian "confucious" influenced education system is falling.

It just try to stuff kids with useless knowledge instead of giving them space to think to gain wisdom.


Sunday 6th of September 2020

I am grateful you had the space to develop Investment Moats as you are one of the most prolific bloggers in the personal finance space in Singapore. I especially enjoyed your quantitative analysis posts complete with numbers and spreadsheets. Totally agree on your point on the need for space to grow other non-job competencies such as wealth growing/preservation. Keep up the good work so far and I look forward to more of your writings in future!


Sunday 6th of September 2020

Hi Retirewithfi, thank you for coming over and saying hi! I think writing this blog is also a way to pay it forward to pass on the knowledge of what I learn from the people that came before me. Thanks for helping with the Singapore FI subreddit I like the answers you have provided a lot.

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