My Uncle Died in His Sleep, and It Changed Me Forever

On January 21st, 2016, my uncle Martin did something that changed me forever. At 7 AM, he woke up, walked to the bathroom, went to the toilet and then back to sleep.

He never woke up again. At 52 years old, he died peacefully in his sleep. No pain, no heart problems detected. He had lost 60 lbs the year before and was in better shape than ever.

Seneca said that “life is long, if you know how to use it.” But sometimes life truly is short. Not everyone gets the time they may deserve.

Since I didn’t know how to deal with his death, I did what I always do to process things: I wrote.

One of the saddest things in life is that often, it takes a tragedy to pierce our clouded vision. In his case, I could only now see stark and clear two powerful lessons from how he lived his life:

1. Stop doing shit you don’t like.

Just two days before, he sat in our kitchen and had his cappuccino, like always.

Carnival season was coming up and his in-laws (my Mom’s parents and sister) are huge carnival nerds. My grandpa founded the local club so all year round, they plan and prepare for carnival week.

It just wasn’t Martin’s thing. He hated the dressing up, the music, the corny jokes. So he wouldn’t have any of it and that was okay.

2. Spend time with family and friends, because you never know how much you’re gonna get.

What quitting things you don’t like or just feel obligated to allows you to do is to focus on what really matters.

So while the rest of the family was carnivaling all over the place, Martin was content to stay at home, relax, build a play house for my cousin or a new fireplace to have BBQs at, since he was a carpenter.

Screw tending to C-class relationships or that one, half-related aunt of yours who only complains and tells you to “get a real job” every time you see her anyways.

When you think about the people you call family and friends, who really feels like family? Who really feels like a friend?

Only if you cut out 90% of the people that don’t matter can you show the 10% that do the love they deserve.

Family is not an important thing. It’s everything. 

— Michael J. Fox

Mom, Dad, Sis & Me at her graduation. ❤️

Two songs were played at my uncle’s funeral, one he would’ve picked and one my cousin selected.

The first song was Frank Sinatra’s “My Way.” You couldn’t find a better song to highlight the first lesson if you tried.

I’ve lived a life that’s full
I’ve traveled each and every highway
But more, much more than this
I did it my way

The second song played as we all walked to the grave and said our last goodbye. See You Again” from The Fast & The Furious. As if I needed another reason to cry next to Paul Walker driving off into the sunset.

From the official music video

Just like Paul, my uncle didn’t get the 70, 80, 90 years most of us nowadays take for granted. But just like the Fast & Furious movies, Martin’s life was all about family. Real family.

How can we not talk about family when family’s all that we got?
Everything I went through you were standing there by my side
And now you gon’ be with me for the last ride

Every time I listen to one of those two songs now, it stings a bit inside. But after the sting, a rush of gratitude floods my heart. It’s a constant reminder.

“Life is short Nik. Use it well. Don’t do shit you don’t like. Be with family. You never know how much you’re gonna get.”

That’s what I learned from my uncle and it’s changed me forever.

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The Perfect Schedule: A Simple Exercise In Life Design

Once every blue moon I come up with a good quote. Most of the time it’s less a result of me being smart than me finding a way to spin someone else’s words just enough so that it sounds like something new. The last time it happened, a quote from The Obstacle is the Way became:

Design a life that lets you come closer to your perfect day, every day.

Since today is a day that’s somewhat antithetical to this idea, it’s a good opportunity to expand on it with a very short exercise in life design: Let’s craft the perfect schedule of your perfect day.

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How To Be A Successful Student: The 80/20 Of Student Productivity

It’s the second week of classes of the Spring term here at Technical University of Munich. The weather’s picking up, materials are slow to emerge and exams are a long way away.

However, judging by the first week alone, I can tell there will be a lot of faces filled with regret at the end of this semester. Exams will be postponed, grades will be worse than expected and credits will be missing.

I realize not everyone wants to make an all-encompassing commitment to work like me. But even if you just want to be a normal, full-time student, get decent grades and secure a solid job, there are certain things you can do. So this week, I decided to go super practical and ask myself:

If I could recommend only three good habits to students, what would they be?

Here are the three rules I’ve come up with.

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You Still Have Time To Make 2017 The Best Year Of Your Life

13 Ways to Get Your Grip On Life Back

With each passing year, I find more and more truth in this:

“The days are long, but the years are short.” — Gretchen Rubin

It’s that time of the year again. Tax day’s got you throwing your hands up in frustration, your New Year’s resolutions have long vaporized into thin air and you feel like your hold on 2017 is getting weaker and weaker.

I’m here to tell you: You still have time. Read More

The 3 Best Study Hacks for College

While getting my Bachelor’s degree, I’ve tried every mode of study you can imagine. Go to all the classes, go to some classes, go to no classes. Self-study, group study, teaching, being taught, you name it, I’ve tried it.

All I ever got was Bs.

(Our grade scale goes from 1–4, 1.0 being the best)

So when I decided to go back to school, I thought why stress myself. I’ve been hacking college since the day I got here.

1. Hacking classes.

In Germany, most classes aren’t mandatory. Since all we have is one final exam for most subjects, you can stay home all year, study for yourself and then ace the class.

Here in Munich, most classes are even recorded to watch at your own leisure, yet most of my fellow students still go for one reason: they’re lazy and they feel bad if they don’t.

Last semester, many of them went to all the lectures, did not pay attention, watched the replays, did not pay attention again, and then tried to study the slides.

What I did was to go to every class once, see if the professor does nothing more than read off the slides (most of them did), and then summarized the slides myself instead.

For every single slide, I wrote down what it meant in one sentence. This way, I’d end up with 6–12 dense pages of notes for each class. All I had to do then, was study them.

Study Hacks Summarizing
Yeah, yeah, my handwriting sucks, we’ve been over this.

The goal of summarizing is to reduce the amount of information your brain has to hold.

You’ll do a lot better by knowing 80% of the material in detail, rather than having an idea of 100% of it, but not really knowing what you’re talking about.

When I was all done with my summary, I would try to create a tree structure of the material on one or two pages, so I could have the entire class on one piece of paper.

Study Hacks Memorization
(doesn’t have to be fancy, as long as it works for you)

Bonus tip:

Minimize the number of classes you take by going for those with the highest credits on average.

In my program, 6 credits per class is solid. 3 aren’t worth your time, 5 fall one credit short when adding up to modules (you need 12, 18, 24, etc.), and 8 are usually a ridiculous amount of extra work.

2. Hacking exams.

Everyone I know struggles with studying for several exams in parallel. So whenever you have three in a week, shit hits the fan. You spend way too much time studying for the first and are only left with the time between exam 1 and 2 to study for the latter, and so on.

So the first thing I did was to pick classes based on exam dates, which were spread far apart.

Only two of my exams fell in one week, and those classes were mandatory. The earlier in the semester an exam, the better. Classes started in October, my first exam was in December. This not only meant it was far away from all the others, but also that there was less material to study.

My first exam.

The second thing I did was to improve my exam schedule as I went along. That December exam I only found out about in November, so I adjusted.

Same thing with a required law class. It was scheduled right between the two mandatory exams, but then the professor opened another slot for it three weeks earlier.

Was it a hassle to study the material in one week rather than three? Sure, but this way, I probably spent more time focused on law than I would have, if I’d had to study in parallel.

(that is one big ass law book)

The best thing you can achieve when structuring your exams is peace of mind as you move towards them.

Every minute you spend in a hasty state of worry is a minute of studying lost, so optimize your schedule as best as you can.

3. Hacking assignments.

In one statistics class, we were eligible to get an additional 20% of the exams points as a bonus for completing a report. Had I known this would turn into a 50-page paper about energy drink consumption, I probably wouldn’t have done it, but oh well.

(You can download the paper here, if you’re interested)

We started from scratch and went all the way from designing our own questionnaire, to surveying a sample of people to analyzing the data with SPSS.

However, nowhere does it say you have to do assignments like this the hardest way possible.

  • Instead of designing our survey in Word, we used Google Forms, to make collecting data easier.
  • Instead of annoying 10 of our fellow students to complete the thing, I sent it to my email list and we collected 100 answers in 24 hours. You could also use a service like Pollfish and just pay for people to fill out your survey.
  • Instead of formatting the 2,000 data points in Excel to let us import them to SPSS, I hired someone to do it for $20 on

You might think outsourcing work as a student is ridiculous, but consider this:

Would you pay $10 or $20 for 3–4 hours of focused study time?

Not including the stress from fretting about the tasks and delays you encounter. Sometimes, your time really is worth more than the return of a menial task. Even, if you’re a student.

Of course, there is one big disclaimer to all the above: none of these hacks work if you don’t.

Ultimately, I put in just as much, if not more time into studying than I did during my Bachelor’s. But thanks to these hacks, it was a lot more fun to do so, because I could focus on the parts that mattered.

And I did it all while writing articles like this one, every single day. If I can find the time, why not you?

Nobody Likes You, But Nobody Is Just 30% Of The People Cover

Nobody Likes You, But Nobody Is Just 30% Of The People

“Nobody likes you around here” is one of the nastiest weapons of negative workplace communication.

It hits right in the heart, gets you worked up and ready to lash out yourself, but worst of all, you start to wonder if they’re right.

So how do you respond to that phrase when it’s thrown right in your face?

Here’s the response I’ve come up with:

“Yeah, but nobody is just 30% of the people.”

This’ll startle them and they’ll scratch their head. In the meantime, you can go on to explain what I’m about to tell you.

There is a great story in James Altucher’s book Choose Yourself, which I will never forget.

He alludes to it on his blog as the 30/30/30 rule. James kept using images from the same woman doing yoga poses for his blog posts without giving her credit. Eventually, she messaged him and they started talking.

She told him that she found over the years, whatever she did, 30% of people loved her for it, 30% hated her for it and 30% just didn’t give a damn.

In my experience, that’s pretty accurate. So why not spend your time on those that love you?

“No matter who you are, no matter what you do, no matter who your audience is: 30 percent will love it, 30 percent will hate it, and 30 percent won’t care. Stick with the people who love you and don’t spend a single second on the rest. Life will be better that way.”

— James Altucher

And if they don’t buy this wonderful story, or point to the logical flaw of the remaining 10% missing, because we’ve used 30%, not 33%, nothing takes the wind out of their sails faster than a good old…

“Now what?”

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Return On Time: Why No Income Is Passive

You know how sometimes, within a few seconds, an idea you had taken as true for decades is shattered to pieces? For example, when I was little, my dad told me the glass windows in churches were thicker at the bottom, because glass was actually a liquid. Just last week I told this to a friend. Well, two minutes ago, this false belief burst.

Some of these urban myths are more pervasive than others. Occasionally, even more people will fall for the lie than stumble into the truth. I think passive income might be one of those extreme cases.

Today, we’ll debunk this concept, and replace it with a better one.

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How To Reach Your Goals With 27 Self Awareness Activities

I’m doing it again. I can feel it. Like a toothpick, my thumbnail rests in the gap between two teeth. It’s the position it takes right before I bite it. When I catch myself, like right now, I can prevent it. But it’s always a battle.

Often, I’m okay with losing it, as long as it means I’m winning the war with the article I’m writing. After all, what ends up on your screen isn’t a picture of my fingernails, but a (hopefully) helpful blog post.

It wasn’t always a conscious decision though. For over ten years, I bit my fingernails, unaware of the habit. When I started learning about self-improvement in 2012, it was the first habit I made a conscious effort to break. This both required and helped me with one of the most important human capacities: self-awareness.

Today, I’d like to help you cultivate yours, with 27 self-awareness activities, which you can practice on three distinct levels to improve your thinking, mental health and decisions – and thus, your results in the game of life.

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Counterintuitive Confirmation: How To Eliminate Your Doubts

This Wednesday, I realized all my current blog post ideas would take more than a day to complete. Between The 4 Minute Folio launch, AniQuote suddenly materializing from the massive mist of ideas in my head and a new side gig I’ve taken up two weeks ago, it’s a week as busy as ever.

Hence, I decided to give myself the following constraints for this post:

  • Less than 1,000 words.
  • No more than 4 Pomodoros total.

Artificially limiting yourself is liberating. Busy weeks come with a lot of learnings, so these rules forced me to go narrow and think really hard:

What’s the biggest lesson from the past 7 days?

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