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The AE Holiday Gift Guide (2017 Edition)


gift boxes

The holiday season is upon us! Do you already know what to give your loved ones or friends?

My kid gave me her wish list more than a month ago, which makes it easier for me and her dad. I nearly choked on my Kimchi when I saw “iPad Pro with Apple Pencil” on her list.

Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately—depending on whatever is on the list), those we want (or need) to buy gifts for don’t always let us know what they want. Take my sister as an example. She’d say “You don’t have to get me anything” and if you don’t, she’d go “You didn’t get me anything?” Or she would say “Anything is fine” and when you prod on her, she’d go “I want to travel the world”. So you see, not everyone is as straightforward as my kid and sometimes, thinking about what to give out makes us procrastinate on our holiday shopping. And then the last minute buying and panicking ensue.

If you’re like me, then you are also particular when it comes to giving out gifts. I don’t settle for “this will do” because I always go for “they will definitely use this” or “they will definitely love/like this”.

I know it’s not easy picking out gifts, especially for those hard to please people in our lives (but we love them!). How can you make your holiday shopping this year less mentally draining?

Brooks, Mike, and Thanh are here to help! They just recorded the AE Holiday Gift Guide podcast and this blog post contains the items that they have discussed. What’s great about this AE Holiday Gift Guide is that it’s not just for productivity nerds. You might just find the perfect gift for yourself… I mean for your loved ones.

Thanh: Gunnar Optiks

Gunnar Optiks

As per Thanh, these are geeky glasses video gamers often wear. It prevents blue light from entering your eyes and makes it easier for you to sleep at night. In case you didn’t know, Thanh plays video games–nope, not kidding. He plays video games to relax and basically do nothing. But when he plays late at night, the blue light would directly beam at his eyes and would often result in him having trouble sleeping. But with Gunnar Optiks, that’s no longer a problem. He even wears this when he reads his Kindle. It’s stylish and affordable too!

This was recommended by our longtime reader Scott at an AE mastermind and Thanh immediately got one. While Thanh uses it mainly at night, Scott, on the other hand, uses it every time he’s in front of a screen. It helps reduce eye strain which means it minimizes headaches and dry eyes.

Gunnar Optiks offers several designs and colors to choose from (not just the style above).

Brooks: eero Routers

Eero Router

Both Brooks and Mike swear by these routers and they both use it in their respective homes and home-office. Its main feature is to create a mesh network inside your house or office. You can also think of it as internet boosters or range extenders.

With traditional routers that comes from our internet providers, there are usually dead spots or areas in our house where the wifi simply could not reach or the signal is just too weak. It usually happens if your router is inside your living room and as soon as you enter your bedroom, the wifi signal goes on and off.

The Eero Routers is designed to replace your router, it’s not an add-on. What makes it even cooler is you can set parental control or lock devices during a time frame. If you have a 5-year-old and a 15-year-old, you can create separate profiles for them with different “rules”. The eero Beacon that comes with the wifi system plugs into your standard outlet and expands your wifi signal. The Beacon is also equipped with a night light that intelligently adjusts the brightness depending on the time or you can always set it manually.

Mike: Sonos One

Sonos One

In a nutshell, the Sonos One is a smart speaker and is an upgrade from Sonos Play. It is a smart combination of Play One and Smart Assistant of Alexa (which is built into it). What’s great about the Sonos One is that it sounds awesome. Mike got this to replace the Amazon Echo he had in his kitchen and on a side note, it also integrates with Echo.

With the power of your voice, you can play music from different streaming services like Amazon Music, Spotify, Pandora, iHeartRadio, SiriusXM, and TuneIn. You can also use all Alexa skills using the Sonos One.

Do you want stereo sound? That can happen too! Just pair two Sonos Ones in the same room and voila! And to our Canadian readers, it’s now available in Canada too (Brooks is very happy).

Thanh: MobilityWOD Supernova


Don’t be fooled by its small size–this little ball can help you ease those very tensed muscles. Because it’s a ball, you can target specific areas in your body. If you are familiar with the foam roller, then this is the next step.

Thanh has been using this for a couple of years now and despite thinking that he doesn’t live a very stressful life, his body says otherwise. Apparently, men who are stressed would often feel it on their neck or shoulders. Being a woman, I think this is the same for me as well. I don’t have this (yet!) but I do use a tennis ball which is a very poor substitute because it’s too small and not that hard.

A word of caution. Because it’s small, you might be tempted to travel with it. Even with TSA Precheck, it will still trigger a search because it looks like a bomb with a lot of needles inside (even though it’s not).

Brooks: Away Travel Carry-On

Away Carry on

During one of our quarterly planning sessions, Brooks saw Mike’s bag and he really liked it. That is the story why Brooks ordered one as soon as he got home. It’s a great carry-on suitcase made of durable hard shell and it has two compartments. You can use one compartment for clothes and the other compartment for other items like your shoes, toiletries, etc. It even has a 10,000 mAh battery with 2 USB ports. When you are at the airport, you don’t have to worry about finding an outlet to charge your device.

It has 4 independent wheels and Dojo members are telling us that if you are still using 2 wheels, you should switch and be efficient! I also didn’t understand all the fuzz about using 4 wheeled bags UNTIL my sister let me borrow hers.

This bag is on the expensive side but as per Brooks and Mike, the price is justified. Plus, they have awesome customer support.

You can order a slightly bigger carry-on and they also have the regular sized luggage.

Mike: Panobook by Studio Neat


The image above doesn’t do much justice to the Panobook. It’s a cool desk accessory created by Studio Neat, a company Mike supports. Brooks and Thanh also have met the founders – great guys that make great products.

What makes the Panobook unique is its size. It’s designed to go underneath your keyboard. It also includes a slipcase/paper sleeve with a tag so that you can store it on your shelf. Aside from subtle dot grids on each page, it also has three rectangles on the page which is sized for a smartphone. This is really useful if you are into design or storyboarding.

Thanh: 30 Lessons for Living (Book)


Ask Thanh what his favorite book is and he will have a hard time answering simply because he’s a voracious reader and loves a lot of books. But if you ask him what is his most gifted book, then this is it–30 Lessons for Living. This was also his greatest book pick for 2014.

The author, Karl Pillemer, asked people who were at the end of their lifetime what was their advice for living. After interviewing thousands of people, he summarized the top 30 life lessons in one book.

Gifting a book to somebody is not easy because we need to know what their preferences are. But with this book, you can give it to anybody who likes to read because the subject is universal.

Brooks: The Elements of Eloquence by Mark Forsyth (Book)

Elements of Eloquence

This is the perfect gift for someone who love the English language and loves words. It dives into why words are memorable and how to apply it to your own writing. Did you know that when you describe something, the order on how you describe it is important? Well, I didn’t know! It’s also possible that what you’re thinking might not be the word or phrase you are conveying. I’m now very interested in this.

Mike: Philips Hue White Bulb Starter Kit

Philips Hue Starter Kit

So far we had smartphones, smart speakers, and now…we have smart lights!

This will automate your lighting experience whether you are home or away from home. It has sunrise and sunset triggers and has geo-targeting as well which means it can turn on/off your lights based on whether you’re leaving or coming home. It also integrates with Siri and Amazon Echo.

Thanh: Carcassone board game


This is a tile-based game that Brooks, Mike, and Thanh play when they are together. And when they are not together, they play the iOS version.

Thanh was NOT a fan of board games but he got hooked on this one. Each game is unique where you can create your own cities and it is very easy to learn. It’s fun and addicting! I gave in and finally bought the iOS version. I bought it while I was listening to the podcast. Oops.

However, the experience of playing the physical board game is something that cannot be replicated by the iOS version. This game is perfect for the holiday season. Instead of being on our gadgets, why not play as a group?

Brooks: Uniqlo Blocktech Warm-Lined Pants

Blocktech Warm Lined Pants

If you live in a cold (brrrr) place, then these lined pants are for you. Brooks lives in Canada and these pants are bringing him happiness especially these winter months. It’s also water-resistant (rain + cold) so perfect for a gloomy weather. There’s a style for women too.

If you’re not familiar with Uniqlo, it’s a Japanese clothing brand with stores all over the world. Here in the Philippines, it’s pretty popular too because it’s trendy—although we don’t have this particular item because it’s very warm here. Even during cold months, it’s still hot in the daytime.

Mike: AirPods


Although it got released a year ago, it didn’t make our 2016 gift guide because it wasn’t available yet. I remember when it was released that Brooks, Mike, and Thanh all wore their AirPods during our monthly video call. At first, we all laughed and joked about them wearing similar earrings but as per Mike, it transformed his working life.

As you all know, we have regular team meetings and it is very constricting when you’re basically tethered via your cord. With the AirPods, you don’t have to worry about being jerked back by the cord when you need to get something or even just facing the other direction.

For longer meetings, Mike would use just one pod and when the battery is low, he would just switch it with the other one—no need to worry about being disconnected.

Another “hack” from Brooks is he uses just one pod while driving. He is still able to hear his surroundings while listening in to the AirPod. Safety first!

I have to be honest, I have been mulling about purchasing this because I felt weirded out with how it looks like and I’m also scared that I might lose one or both! But listening to the podcast definitely sealed it in for me and it went directly to my wish list and sent to my husband. Woohoo!

Thanh: Fitbit Charge 2

Fitbit 2

Mike gave Thanh some crap about this item because it was also part of our list from last year–also from Thanh. The reason why it’s still here is that it’s widely popular and it is the most gifted gift in our giveaways and contests. Sure, there’s the Apple watch and some of you might fancy that. But if you just need simple metrics, then the Fitbit Charge 2 a great choice.

You can track your activities like steps, distance, heart rate, sleep, etc. It also has the call, text, and calendar alerts. What’s also great about the Fitbit is that the battery lasts for up to 5 days.

Compared to other sports bands, this is pretty affordable and now has interchangeable bands.

Brooks: Thule Interstate Cargo Bag

Thule Bag

This cargo bag is something you can put on top of your car when you need more storage space. Brooks opted for this instead of the rooftop cargo box because he doesn’t use it often and it does not occupy a lot of storage space for the times when it’s not being used.

It is also weather resistant and comes with its own straps that you can attach to your roof rack crossbars or raised rails. It has a 3-sided zipper with a storm flap.

The company also offers Limited Lifetime warranty to this product.

Mike: Cafflano travel pour-over coffee maker


As many of you might already know, Mike is Asian Efficiency’s resident (self-proclaimed) coffee snob and his last pick for this holiday gift guide is a portable coffee maker. He has been using this for a couple of years now. It’s very compact but it already has the drip kettle, ceramic hand mill, cone filter, and tumbler. It only weighs a pound as well.

Everything fits perfectly together and it’s eco-friendly since you don’t have to replace the filters or dispose of cups. You can also adjust the grinder and the lid for either drip kettle or tumbler. It really shows that Cafflano put a lot of resources into its design.

It’s a great travel accessory, however, Mike cautions against flying with it despite it being a travel coffee maker. He has a funny TSA story involving the Cafflano travel coffee maker but you would have to head over to the podcast and listen to the entire story. It was a lesson learned for Mike. Apparently, it looks like a bomb when it goes through the x-ray. But it is great for camping or for travels where you don’t need to ride a plane.

That wraps up our 2017 holiday gift guide. Did we miss anything? Let us know in the comments.

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