The irony in this world is that “To get somewhere, you already have to be there.”

From an individual perspective:

  • If you want to make money, you need to already have money.
  • To get a job, you need to be one-year experienced and not a fresher.
  • If you’re experienced and want to apply for a job that you really want to work on, you should already have the background of working in that area, and you should already know how to do all that the job entails.
  • If you want to write a book, publisher expects you to have already written a book before.
  • To be listened to, you need to be an expert, not an amateur, but how do you eventually become an expert if you’re never listened to?

From a startup perspective:

  • If you want to get funding, your startup should be in a position to not need funding.
  • If you want to stock your product in ezone, you should not be a 1-product company, but a 5-product company.

And on and on.

To get somewhere, you already have to be there.

P.S. I’m not condemning, condoning or approving of the situation. Just making an observation.

I think of this weblog as a small place for me to write. The reason I write is because I have this innate implicit belief that I learn only by teaching. In hindsight, that’s why I wrote those books and that’s why I keep writing in this space.

The “head fake” is that if I don’t have something interesting to write once in a while, it means I’m not doing anything creative or worthwhile in my life. And as a wise man once said “If you don’t like the news, go out and make some of your own.”

There are four reasons why I believe that my weblog has actually been useful or at least interesting to other people.

First was finding out that it was ranked No. 6 in India according to Indiblogger ranking (as of July 23, 2009). I never imagined this writing space to be part of any listing mostly because I don’t write about a niche topic or write about news or tech tips, which are the recipes for a popular website. My interest was in only writing some of my own thoughts, not talking about what others are doing.

Second was finding out that it was ranked No. 5 in India according to Invesp Ultimate BlogRank listing (as of August 17, 2009). And this was ahead of veteran/famous people like Rajesh Jain, FoneArena and others. I was quite surprised.

invesp listing snapshot on August 17, 2009

When I expressed this on twitter, two of my good friends replied saying I shouldn’t be surprised…

@t3rmin4t0r reply

@vinayakh reply

(I hope they don’t mind me quoting them, I wanted to record this just to prove I’m not making this up ;-))

That kind of made me believe that this blog is actually bigger than I tend to think about it. But don’t worry, I’m not going to let it get to my head. Nothing’s going to change. I will continue to write about my observations and this just happens to be one of them :)

I thought I’d jot down some of the writing principles that I’ve absorbed over the years, for those who have asked me this question before:

  • “Blog about your passions. Don’t blog about what you think your audience wants. Post because you have something you are dying to write about.” — Mark Cuban
  • “One doesn’t make art for other people, even though I am very concerned with the viewer.” — Anish Kapoor
  • “I love encouraging people to live a little more consciously. I like challenging people to consider different perspectives. I know that many people think such pursuits are lame, naive, or pointless. I don’t care. This path inspires me. The more I think about it, the better I feel. It wouldn’t matter if the whole world disagreed with me.” — Steve Pavlina
  • The point is not to show up on a list, the point is to start a conversation that spreads, to share ideas and to chronicle your thinking. That’s the work of an author. — Seth Godin
  • Thoughtful comments and feedback are what keeps me still writing, such as those comments by Sridhar Ratna and others, although I usually don’t have something clever to say to continue the conversation, I just listen to others’ perspectives and learn. Intellectual stimulation is/should be one of the basic necessities in life.
  • Every post has to be consistent and of the highest quality (learned this the hard way) — Darren Rowse
  • Have a regular posting habit as much as possible — Darren Rowse
  • 69 Questions to Ask to Review Your Blog — Darren Rowse
  • Don’t write about anything that you wouldn’t discuss with a room full of people.

Thanks for reading.

I was reading the The Favorite iPhone Apps of Five Geek Rock Stars and did not find it useful, because it was mostly about games or things that apply to people only in USA. So I was wondering if I had my own list.

Stanza

My most favorite application is the Stanza app for reading ebooks.

It’s because of Stanza that I actually started to read more! Mostly because I can read a book anywhere and any time I want to. I also discovered some great books such as Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse because I could explore and download in a few clicks.

Maps built-in application

Google started giving driving directions in India a few months back and it rocks!

RunKeeper

The ability to see your pace at exactly every moment during a run is very handy. And I don’t have to carry any extra device because I’m already carrying my iPhone which also happens to be my iPod which I listen to while running. And the best part of the RunKeeper Pro app is that it announces by voice the distance and speed every 5 minutes which gives me the boost I need if I slowed down.

RememberTheMilk and Evernote

The RememberTheMilk app is one of the slickest iPhone apps I’ve used, but I started making daily todo lists which is a bad idea, so I wanted to think in terms of notes instead of lists, so I started using the Evernote app which was exactly what I was looking for.

The best part about Evernote is that I always have a notepad to jot things down whenever I have a thought. And after I started using Evernote, I realized this happens more often than you think! And it has gotten more useful with the 3.0 version of the app. For example, imagine searching for notes by the location where you created the note! Or make voice notes. Or saving photos of an article in a magazine and searching for the text in that article inside Evernote. Or sending a link to Evernote via email. And so on.

There is also the official WordPress app for writing blog posts or tinkering with drafts.

MobileStudio and Dropbox

Whenever I need some files that I might need to use on-the-go, I transfer it via FTP to the MobileStudio app and then access it on my iPhone.

For example, in one incident, I was able to quickly open the tickets I had saved as a PDF on my phone since I didn’t have the actual printout.

Oh, and having Dropbox access online via the browser means I have all my files accessible any time.

TimeJot

See my earlier time tracking article.

tv.burrp.com

If you thought there was never interesting on TV, just visit tv.burrp.com and find out what’s on TV right now. It’s very very useful.

burrp.com

Find restaurants on-the-go. Once, a friend and myself were in Koramangala looking for a place to eat, and we discovered Fiorano Ristorante via burrp, and had nice authentic Italian food.

Reach people

I never have to worry about how to reach a person any more, I have all the methods – phone call, SMS, email, Skype, IM, Twitter. You name it, we got it.

TED Talks at night

It’s hard to turn off the music or movie and force myself to sleep. So I end up taking my iPhone to bed and watching a TED talk or two before sleeping.

Ambiance

There’s actually an app for listening to rain sounds or the crackling of a campfire or sounds of that sort. It comes in really handy when you just want to shut out all the noises outside and you’re not in a mood to listen to music. It gives you the background noise that you always wanted.

WordBook

Having a very handy dictionary on your fingertips is handy when you want to check if the word that you’re using means what you think it means.

Torch

Yeah, the Torch app comes in handy these days because of the frequent power cuts in Bengaluru.

Wishlist: ngpay

The one app that is missing on the iPhone is an ngpay app. I once called up their customer support and asked if they had plans for an iPhone app and they told me that “Sorry sir, the iPhone doesn’t support third-party applications.” I was speechless.

There’s an app for that

There are a lot of apps out there to use.

I’m just glad that I finally got a kinda-PDA device that I always wanted. Now I never get bored waiting for someone because I can actually spend that time finding out the latest news and I can check Wikipedia for the members of a rock band during a discussion with friends :)

Attention Span

I started using Twitter as an experiment, and it was the first and only social network I really participated in. It was great because I actually made new friends that I went on trips with, got the opportunity to follow the thoughts of interesting people, and whenever I was in a quandary, I just had to holler a question and would get plenty of answers and advice in return.

But I was uneasy because I was feeling jaded. I thought it was because of the typical “overdoing it” reason, but there was more to it. It was affecting my ability to think critically/deeply about a subject.

Why am I thinking so much about a social network? As David Allen once said, “Pay attention to what has your attention.” And clearly, Twitter had more of my attention than it should have.

Since my attention span was reducing from books to blogs and then blogs to tweets, I was being converted from “from a thinker to a clicker”.

So I’ve gone back and started reading books and paying more attention to offline friends. And I’m not alone on this, many people have expressed similar opinions.

Getting your Fix

I think of this situation as getting your fix. Think smoking vs. coffee. Both are stimulants. Both are legal. But since smoking actually affects others, people have to go outside to indulge in it. Hence, it is less convenient. Probably that’s why there are more people addicted to coffee. Because it is more convenient. There is a sufficient barrier to smoking. Even though this analogy may not be true, consider reading blog posts vs. reading books. There is a sufficient barrier of attention to the latter, that is why more people prefer reading blog posts. It is more convenient. The same for reading blogs vs. tweets. The latter is more convenient. Then, going down this path, your ability to think becomes restricted to 140 characters. Twitter gives you that instant high that you published or read something, which means you lose persistence which is required for longer reading, hence tend to think a lot less and quick wins prevent you from going after bigger wins.

The problem with the shorter fix is that you will indulge in it more often and it will have lesser stimulation in the long run. Consider the difference between, say, having a 5-day 9-hour work week with 2-day weekends vs. having 6-hour work everyday with no weekend and no holidays. Which one would you prefer? This is how I argue that a book once in a while will give you more stimulation than a hundred tweets. For example, consider the signal-to-noise ratio – only tools like filtrr.com can filter out #ipl talk, etc. whereas a book would give a broad understanding about a particular subject. In the long run, it is more enriching to go deeper into subjects, not to be “restricted” to a buffet of subjects.

As a sort-of substitute for Twitter, I’ve shifted to a del.icio.us network. After all, most of Twitter is sharing links and delicious doesn’t have the downside of frivolous tweets. Also, delicious shows how many people have bookmarked a link giving another indicator whether something is worth reading or not, and even better, they are tagged appropriately so I immediately know the topic to expect for an article, instead of “This is cool <insert link>.”

The Attention Psychology

Let’s think about attention in terms of psychology, which I am trying to understand a little about from The Mouse Trap blog:

Maximizing utility

U = E x V (where U is utility of act; E is expectancy as to whether one would be able to carry the act and if so whether the act would result in desired outcome; and V is the Value (both subjective and objective) that one has assigned to the outcome.

Maximizing Predictability

While selecting an action we maximize reward and minimize punishment, basically we choose the maximal utility function; while choosing which stimuli to attend to we maximize our foreknowledge of the world and minimize surprises, basically we choose the maximal predictability function; we can even write an equivalent mathematical formula: Predictability P = E x R where P is the increase in predictability due to attending to stimulus 1 ; E is probability that stimulus 1 correctly leads to prediction of stimulus 2; and R is the Relevance of stimulus 2(information) to us. Thus the stimulus one would attend, is the one that leads to maximum gain in predictability. Also, similar to the general energy level of organism that would bias as to whether, and how much, the organism acts or not; there is a general arousal level of the organism that biases whether and how much it would attend to stimuli.

As per my understanding, the first part means that because we expect much utility about something, it’s perceived utility is higher, making it’s value higher. And because Twitter gives that dash of randomness that we desire, it’s utility is much higher than it really is.

The second part means that we want to know more about the world in order to have lesser surprises, and hence we tend to read more and more, especially if it is information that we perceive as relevant to us.

Bottom line: I question whether more and more information and more and more immediacy is really necessary/required for us?

Think of all the great things that have been achieved whether it is a motor engine or a music stereo, would it have been created if the to-be-creator was constantly distracted and with low attention span? Where is the time to get inspired if we’re always mentally tired?

Why Can’t We Concentrate?

I will finish up with excerpts from this excellent article on Salon called “Why Can’t We Concentrate?”:

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The Idea

A couple of months ago, I was going through a “productivity drought.” I used to repeatedly bounce between tasks. I couldn’t concentrate enough. Work was suffering.

I thought to myself “Just how bad is the situation? Can I quantify it?” Then I started using a very old and boring concept: the stop watch.

Only that I used an iPhone application called TimeJot which is specifically a time journalling application meant for this purpose.

The idea was pretty simple:

  1. Have 5-7 different categories of projects and actions that I normally engage in. Everything else is not considered productive time.
  2. “Projects and actions” are defined as anything that needs to be done, whether at office or home.
  3. Every time I start on one of these activities, start the timer.
  4. Every time I get distracted or switch to something that is not part of the task at hand, I stop the timer.
  5. The most important thing is to keep the timer sacred. It is okay to be not productive, but it is not okay to lie to yourself. If the timer is on, you are working with full focus on the task at hand. If the timer is off, you’re on a break, do whatever you want.

The Results

I have been following these 4 simple steps and I have learned a lot about myself and it has had a profound effect on my productivity:

  1. Realization of how many context switches I do per day! Because I have to stop the timer every time I get distracted, it became really clear on how many times I started switching browser windows! Now, I have (almost) stopped reading tech news websites during work hours and certainly stopped twittering.
  2. I started analyzing and experimenting on how to increase the number of productive hours. One of the best things that worked for me was the switch off WiFi during the first two hours of work everyday. Once I disconnect myself from the global consciousness, I tend to focus on the task at hand. Once in the flow, it is not easy to lose that focus. So switching on WiFi access (which is of course required for regular work) later is okay.
  3. Now that I had the data, I realized how much I’m glued to the computer. So I started restricting myself on weekends to spend less time in front of the computer and more time doing other activities. This resulted in two things: (1) Spending lesser number of hours at the computer but more focused hours and (2) Finally getting around to the big pile of books that are waiting to be read.
  4. Realizing that I’m not investing time in learning new things at all.
  5. Realizing that I waste too much time pondering and not enough time doing. But again, what is needed is moderation not elimination. It is these ponderings that round up my thinking and learning, after all.
  6. Realizing that I am more productive if I wake up early but I just love being a night-owl. A hard problem to solve.
  7. Learning that I work best when there are big chunks of work as opposed to many small things.
  8. Learning that when I focus, I really really focus. But getting to that point is difficult. An important aspect to know about oneself, because once I started accepting that there is a warmup period of several days before I really become productive with a new task, I was fighting myself a little lesser and going with the flow.
  9. I count exercise time also as productive time, so on the days that I cycle to work, I get a bonus one hour of productivity that day and I feel good! And this has the side-effect of encouraging me to go for running and cycling which has drastically gone down these days.
  10. The data provided a stark picture on how much time I spend on non-important things and I started ruthlessly cutting down on all the distractions. And I could prove to myself that I was successful in this initiative only from the data.

That’s a lot of things that can be learned about yourself with a simple stop watch :-)

It’s Not That Crazy

If you think it is crazy to be doing this, then did you know that Matt Mullenweg, the founder of WordPress does time tracking as well?:

> “One of my favorite programs that we didn’t make is Rescue Time. It runs in the corner of my computer and tracks how much time I spend on different things. I realized that even though I was doing e-mail only a couple of minutes at a time, it was adding up to a couple of hours a day. So I’m trying to reduce that. I have a WordPress plug-in that filters all my messages based on the sender’s e-mail address — so high-priority e-mails go into one folder and the rest go into others. Tim Ferriss, who wrote The 4-Hour Work Week, advocates checking e-mail twice a week, but that is too severe for me. Instead, I’m trying to implement Leo Babauta’s approach from The Power of Less. He suggests small steps, like checking e-mail five times a day instead of 10. It’s like dieting: People who binge diet gain it all back. That happens to me with e-mail.”

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Reading a book is fun. If you have to do a review on the book for the newspaper by Friday, it becomes work.

Writing code is fun. If you have a deadline next week, it becomes work.

Spending time with that special someone is fun. After tying the knot and having no other choice makes it work (or so I’m told).

Calculating sports match statistics is fun. Spending the same amount of time to balance your checkbooks is work.

Is commitment the difference between fun and work?

P.S. Yeah, I had a Godin moment.

Update : After reading all the interesting thoughts by you folks in the comments section, maybe spontaneity is one of the major differentiatiors?

I have been reading personal finance-related blogs for a while now. But due to obvious reasons, it had become very important to have proper habits so that I have a healthy personal finance, and hence I started doing more research on it.

But what is personal finance? I like how Ranjan Varma puts it:

Whenever I tell acquaintances that I have a website on personal finance, the first and last question I get is, “Now, you can tell me where to INVEST”

By the time I finish saying that personal finance is not just investing and there are things like setting financial goals, budgeting,….., I get a feeling that I have lost them. They move on to another topic like the Rakhi Sawant’s latest reality show or something similarly interesting!

Personal Finance can be represented with a simple equation:

Income(t) – Expenses(t) = Savings(t) + Investments(t)

where time t signifies moving money, or purchasing power, backward and forward in time.

So personal finance is not just about Investing but also about maximizing your income, optimizing your expenses and your savings.

When I was looking for information with an Indian context, I was disappointed with websites like PersonalFN which are great sources of information if you already know what you’re doing, but they don’t help you to get started which is the problem in the first place!

I did find their Crorepati calculator interesting. It said that if I invest 50,000 rupees every year with a 15% interest, I’ll be a crorepati in 25 years. I realized then why compounding interest is important!:

Check this scenario out: You start investing at age 25, investing $2,000 each year until age 35. Then you STOP–never touching that money again. Your dumb friend doesn’t start until age 35, but he invests $2,000 a year for 30 years (compared to your 10). Who has more by age 65?

You! Actually, you’ll have over $70,000 more than your friend.

But 25 years seemed a long way off. Then I thought that I was asking the wrong question. The question is how to spend those 25 years well instead!

I found that most personal finance bloggers had reached the conclusion that their Goal is Financial Freedom / Financial Independence. I wanted in too.

But the aim can be different for different people. For example, your question may be When can I retire and live off my investments?

I wish colleges had taught stuff like this because it is an important life skill, especially concepts like Pay Yourself First.

The gist of what I learned are in these links:

Overall Picture

Habits

So, how do I start?

Read the Financial Literacy month articles at the Get Rich Slowly blog, especially:

If you think all this is not important, then I’ll mention that Google has a section called Google TipJar where people share money saving tips. If Google is into it, it must be important, right?

I’m personally looking forward to Ranjan Varma’s upcoming workshop where he mentions these topics:

  • What is Personal Finance?
  • Overview of Financial Products.
  • Financial Goals.
  • Magic of Compounding.
  • Rupee Cost Averaging.
  • Playing with Numbers.
  • Conscious Spending Plan.
  • Insurance Cover
  • Mutual Funds/ETF
  • Stocks
  • Real Estate Planning
  • Credit Cards
  • Documentation/Legal Aspects(Wills)/
  • Planning for your Children
  • Retirement Planning
  • Scheduling a Money Day
  • Tax Planning

There are just so many aspects! And it just surprises me that money being such a life-enabler, I neglected it for so long.

What is your ideal personal finance life? How are you achieving it?

I just finished reading “Idli, Orchid and Will Power”, the autobiography of Vithal Venkatesh Kamat.

Just a few days back, a friend was telling me that the famous Utility building Kamat restaurant in Bangalore no longer has quality food and hence no longer a popular place. I read this book and it gave the background to this situation – it is no longer being run by the Kamats for whom hospitality is everything, it is now being run by the Kamat that usurped the properties. At least, that’s what the book says.

But that’s not what the book is about. The book is about the entrepreneur’s journey. What I liked about the book was that it was written in plain and simple English, and Vithal writes about his life and the hard work he put in, the mistakes made and the lessons learned from it. It sounds familiar like any other entrepreneur’s autobiography, but what made it special for me was that this was an Indian and almost everyone has heard about the famous Kamat restaurants! It was good to read the story of the restaurants and the people who make the place what it is.

Vithal Venkatesh Kamat
Idli, Orchid and Will Power!

During the story, some good traits of entrepreneurs were demonstrated:

  • Having knowledge, great ideas and executing them. For example, when Vithal was a kid, his uncle’s son was getting married and in that event, the soft drinks were not cooled and there was just 15-20 min before the guests started arriving. Young Vithal then used his knowledge of how kulfis are made, took fistfuls of salt and threw it on the ice which made it drastically go down in temperature and hence all the soft drinks were chilled in 15 min. The same goes for many of his tactics such as putting free buses to and fro the airport to his hotel, the Kamat Plaza, to make waiting less stressful for travellers and that became an instant hit. He said that brought in more customers than any amount of advertising could have done. Eventually, the airways people would suggest travellers to rest at Kamat so as to make them less annoyed about delayed flights, etc. A win-win-win situation indeed.
  • Doing a lot of networking. Vithal proves time and again how his networking and at the same time being known for their hospitality and credibility helped him in many a situation.
  • The importance of preparation. This is everything in the hotel business, he says. For example, that’s how you get your food so quickly when you order (instead of the hours that it would take if you cooked at home yourself).
  • Having a great dream, a great passion. Vithal has lost a lot while trying to make his dream ‘The Orchid’ come true, especially after all the property was usurped by his younger brother, and he had taken many high-interest loans so that he could build his dream hotel while his father was alive (who was dying of cancer). And yet, all the goodwill that he had generated and his will power slowly helped him eke out of the pit and the dream came true. This part of the story was heart-wrenching and inspiring at the same time. These are the kinds of stories that we see in movies but this is a real true story.

The only downside to the book is that you have to read the parts about the perfect character/attitude with a pinch of salt, because it sounds preachy at times and frankly, sounds too good to be true.

If you ever wanted to know what entrepreneurship is about, don’t read MBA sites, just read this book, if you can find it*. And then decide whether you are prepared for it. At the same time, you’ll finish the book feeling inspired.

* It is such a tragedy that this book is not available in any online Indian book store that I know of.

Ever since I read about how Arif Vakil uses a “My World Mindmap” to organize his life, I started using mind maps. It is such an utterly simple concept but yet I still find it fascinating.

If you don’t know what a mind map is, think of it as writing a single topic idea on a piece of paper, then drawing out a tree with new ideas as branches. You can draw as many branches and sub-branches as you like. That’s it.

There are two purposes for which I use mind maps:

1. Brainstorming

Nothing gets my brain thinking and crazily jotting down thoughts like a mind map can. This happens because it is not a linear format and encourages branching out in different directions. At the same time, you can group related ideas together which means you don’t have to detail each idea, the phrases should have quite obvious meanings from the branching hierarchy.

2. Attention Economy

“Pay attention to what has your attention” is another gem that I learned from Arif.

I have forced myself to spend an hour every week and update a mind map that lists my actions in the past week. If my intentions on how I would like to spend my ideal week does not match my actual actions, then, the problem becomes quite obvious. Otherwise, it will be yet another case of “What? A week is already over. Time just flies…” and then months and years fly by (and it has) and you’ll wonder what you’ve been doing all along.

To break this chain, I started being conscious of what I’m doing. At first, I was shocked at the drastic gap between inspiration and execution. But by constant review of this attention mindmap, I’m getting better at todo lists.

XMind

The best mind mapping software that I’ve come across is XMind. It also happens to be open source and cross-platform.

It has a very nice simple and fluid interface, intuitive keyboard shortcuts, nice handy marker icons and most importantly, feels like a coherent software.

Install XMind and try this:

  • Click on the “Central Topic” rectangle. Press F2. Type “Life” and press enter key.
  • Press the Tab key. Press F2. Type “Career” and press enter key.
  • Press the Enter key. Press F2. Type “Finances” and press enter key.
  • Press Shift+Enter keys. Press F2. Type “Family” and press enter key.

That’s it, you’ve now created a mind map and got a feel of the keyboard shortcuts.

But there is more.

  • Click on the ‘Finances’ rectangle.
  • Right click → Markers → Smiley → Boring
  • Click on the ‘Career’ rectangle.
  • Press F3. Add tags like ‘monthly review, skill’.
  • Press F4. Add your notes.
  • Press the Tab key and add subtopics like ‘The Big Goal’.

Sample of My World mind map

Continue filling out this mind map and you would have created your “World mind map”.

P.S. I’ve been thinking about writing more about productivity and lifehacks, so if this post was useful for you and would like to read about more such topics, please let me know.