Omar Shehata


This is an evolving list of rules I use to guide my life.

I maintain this page mostly for myself. It makes it easier to make the right decisions under tough circumstances, or remember to stick to productive habits.

I also think it's a really interesting way to get to know someone – to read about their values, how they make the choices they do, and what drives them. I encourage you to publish your own (and if you do, and are comfortable sharing, let me know!)

Inspired by Jon's principles page, and Evy's ever-changing manifesto.

Last updated Saturday morning, September 19.

Never Try Doing All the Dishes

Scenario: there is a mountain of dishes. It sucks. Everything feels messy. You want to clean it all but you know it's going to take a lot of effort and you can't muster up all that energy right now.

And another day passes.

Consider: do just a few dishes and leave the rest for another time. Just give up on trying to clean everything tonight.

What ends up happening: doing the first few dishes gives you a newfound energy once you start to see progress, and most of the time you'll end up cleaning everything.

Applies to almost any kind of work. Just start.

You Don't Have to Say Everything You're Thinking

Sometimes I feel like I'm just bursting with ideas and need to tell people, or in a relationship I need the other person to understand exactly all the nuances of emotion I'm going through for them to understand me. This often means I either talk too much or write verbose emails, and the important messages get lost.

Instead, try writing down everything you were going to send, but then only pick the most important thing and send that. No one's going to follow everything you're thinking anyway, because communication is never perfect, so just pick what you think matters and focus on articulating that.

Do One Thing at a Time

One problem that has plagued me my entire life getting too excited about a lot of things, overcommitting and underdelivering. I've done my best work when I chewed off one thing at a time, was completely focused and committed on it until it was done, then moved on to the next time.

You should apply this not just to your work, but your side projects, the books you read, media you consume, etc.

Good People Can Do Bad Things

Another way to think of this is that you are not your ideas. Just because you came up with something that turns out to be dumb doesn't mean you're dumb (similarly, just because you've said smart things in the past, doesn't mean everything you say is trusted to be "smart").

This is important to remember, on one hand so you don't feel shackled by a negative past, and on the other hand, so you don't coast on transient success. It's a freeing thought to keep in mind.

Do Not Hoard

I've always been terrified of using consumables in games. I always relied completely on melee attacks regardless of how powerful the items/arrows/spells were. In fact the more useful it is the less likely I was to do anything with it. The idea was if I consistently relied on these finite resources, I'll one day find myself without any and be stuck.

The problem was that this fear of running out meant I ended up never using them at all, which made my experience significantly harder and less fun. If you see opportunities to make your life easier/better, you should sieze them now. Keep moving forward. Trust you'll find more in the future.

Trust Yourself – You're Not Stupid

I used to trust others a lot. If an expert said something, I trusted it, even if it didn't make complete sense, because, hey, I don't know everything about the world, and they probably know something I don't.

I think this stemmed from a lack of faith in my own abilities. I didn't trust that the conclusions I'd come up with were as valid as others. I accepted that I could see something for myself, and be sure of it, but still be wrong, still be missing something.

If you know something, and you've researched it and have proof of it, then you're probably right. The worst that can happen is someone corrects you if you are indeed missing something. Otherwise, no matter how smarter or how much of an expert they seem, they could very well be wrong.

You Don't Have a Lot of Time

It's easy to put off work that doesn't have a deadline. What's one more day if it's a side project you've been contemplating for years? Time always moves faster than you think, and before you know it the semester/summer/your-life will be over.

The work you do is rarely the end, but it opens up many more doors and opportunities to pursue. The sooner you finish it the more exciting things will be.

Do the Right Thing

Life isn't black and white, but sometimes it is. When you know what the right thing is, do it, even if you don't feel like it. No excuses. You'll feel much better later.

You know it's the right thing to resist the urge to watch just one more episode on a week night. You know it's the right thing to answer that email now instead of procrastinating.

Always Reach Out

I've missed out on so many opportunities because I was afraid of reaching out. Maybe the person was too famous and popular, or I just didn't think they'd be interested in talking to me.

At the same time I've also gotten so many amazing opportunities just because I sent that email or sought out a connection that I was sure wouldn't get a response.

Be Honest

I have a hard time saying no, and I can't help but trying to make everybody happy.

Remember that it will eventually blow up, and no one will be happy. Be honest with others but also with yourself, about what your limits and needs are.

If you're worried about saying the right thing because of the consequences, remember that not saying it doesn't change what it is.

Think About the End

This has been a really helpful technique when trying to make emotionally charged decisions. The trick is to just think through how I'm going to feel after I do what I'm considering doing, and then ask, "is this where I want to be?"

Doing this makes the choice no longer about whether to indulge or not, but about whether I want to put myself into a potentially undesirable state. It highlights my autonomy in my bringing about my misfortune, and thus, my ability to avoid it.

The Other Person is Not the Enemy

Conflicts arise in professional and personal relationships. I've often antagonized the other person as being the cause of this conflict. But often, they want to resolve it just as much as I do.

The other person rarely wants to cause you harm. Seeing yourself as on the same side against the conflict instead of on opposite sides is a very healthy and productive position to have.

Sleep with Airplane Mode On

Resist the urge to check your phone when you wake up.

The routine of scrolling through my email and social media feed in the earliest moments of consciousness almost always leaves me feeling lazy and unfulfilled. Every morning is a fresh start and how you get started really matters.

Figure out a reason to get out of bed before going to sleep. Plan out one exciting thing to look forward to to keep that momentum.

Take Action to Improve your Mood

You are not a machine. Trying to power through a bad mood or wallowing in your despair are not good choices.

Go for a bike ride or a swim. Read an inspiring book, talk to someone or play a game. Write down inspiring experiences and refer back to them when you're lacking motivation.

Do What's Hard

This is very important for three reasons:

  1. It makes you feel good. It builds confidence in your skills and ability to tackle a challenge, which is great for overall wellbeing.
  2. Less people do this. Just taking this road automatically puts you in a less crowded space and makes you stand out.
  3. You'll be surprised at what you can accomplish, and you'll rapidly improve.

Invest Time in Doing Things Right

It's very easy for to me over-commit with the hope that I can just work harder and faster to finish all the things. But there's a limit to how fast you can get things done and still produce good work. It's often far better to give everything the time it needs. This becomes an easy choice when you acknowledge that getting a lot of rushed stuff can often be worse than not doing those things at all (ex if it just has to be redone later, if it ends up disappointing, hurting reputation etc.)

So give yourself time to do things right and produce excellent work. This all starts with not half-assing sleep. Remember that you're not getting more done by not doing sleep right.

Do Not Indulge

My tendency to indulge has been a source of misery in my life, either in the form of binge-watching or stress eating. This is often very difficult to escape because it brings a transient and much-needed relief, but leaves me feeling worse than before, so I indulge once more, and so on.

Remember that choosing to indulge often means choosing to feel worse. Self care for me does not mean giving my body whatever it asks for. It means resisting destructive behavior and doing the things that bring lasting fulfillment, like exercise and intermittent fasting.