Lifehacks

Ego Depletion and Why Having a Job You Like Matters

A couple of months ago, a friend recommended to me the book Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel Laureate. It’s an intriguing read so far and serves as useful small talk topic. But, I wanted more from it than just watercooler conversation. So, I’ve used some of the insights from the book and applied them to the cause of improvement of our daily lives.

Thus far, I have read only a quarter of the book. So, I think this could be a series of posts. We'll see about that when we cross that bridge. 

 

Ego-DepletioN

‘An effort of will or self-control is tiring; if you have had to force yourself to do something, you are less willing or less able to exert self-control when the next challenge comes around. This phenomenon is known as Ego Depletion.’

This means that if you are involved in cognitively challenging tasks, especially the ones which you don't want to do, you would be more susceptible to give in to your urges later. An example from the book: Suppose I ask you to remember a sequence of 7 digits for a couple of minutes. And you are told that this is the number one priority for you. If at the end of two minutes, you were asked to choose between a virtuous fruit salad or a sinful chocolate cake, chances are you would choose the cake. 

In a demonstration of the concept, a group of people were asked to stifle their emotional reactions after watching an emotionally charged movie. This group then performed poorly in a physically draining task immediately after. The emotional effort of the first half of the experiment, reduced their ability to sustain physical pain and they gave in to their urge to quit more quickly.

 

Why having a job you like matters

An important implication of the concept of ego-depletion is that the kind of job you do, and how you feel about it dictates the rest of your day as well. An effort of will or self-control is tiring. So, if you are forced to work at a place you don't like, chances are that after coming back home, you might eat more junk food, watch more senseless TV and indulge lesser in creative interests.

For example, a friend of mine who hates her job enjoys painting. But, she found that after coming back home, she had little drive to do the one thing she loves - paint. She would scroll her Facebook feed endlessly, or watch movies and not feel good about it. Ego-depletion is in part a loss of motivation. The ego-depleting job reduced her desire to engage in creative pursuits (the hard task) and made her give in to the urges (the easy task).

Instinctively, you know that your job is screwing your life (if you hate the job), but now you know exactly why. If I look back at my behavior when I was working at a regular job, the regular drinking and going out was succumbing to my urges as much as it was a deliberate fun activity.

So, if you don’t do anything productive after work and feel guilty about it, cut yourself some slack. It’s biology. Your ego is depleted and you need a change of work or a glass of fresh juice. No, really. Read on.

 

Mental energy is more than a metaphor

The nervous system consumes more glucose than most other parts of the body. So, the more strenuous your task is, the more glucose is consumed. Blood glucose level drops and the next task becomes more difficult to execute. 

In a demonstration of this concept, a group of volunteers was shown a short film featuring a woman. They were asked to interpret her body language. While they were at their task, a series of words crossed across the screen to distract them. And they were instructed to ignore the words, and refocus their attention on the woman if they found their attention drawn away. This self-control caused ego-depletion. After the end of the task, half of them were given glucose and the other half were not. Then, a second task followed where they needed to overcome their intuitive response to get the correct answer. The ones whose glucose level had increased performed much better than the others. The restoration of available level of sugar in the brain prevented the deterioration of performance.

A more disturbing demonstration of this phenomenon was in a study done on eight parole judges in Israel. Their job was to review applications for parole the whole day. It was found that the number of applications they approved was higher immediately after their food breaks. And, it dropped close to zero as the time since their last meal increased. The inference made from this data was that tired and hungry judges tend to fall back on the easier default position of denying requests for parole.

 

Glucose For The Win

It seems almost too trivial to even point out - drink a refreshing sugary drink after a challenging task. This isn’t news right? We all know it intuitively. But, knowing the science and how it affects the rest of our day helps. So, I have started keeping a reserve of lemonade with ample sugar in the fridge. When I feel tired, a glass of it restores my glucose level. Also, since I am convinced of the positive effect of glucose, a placebo kicks in and refreshes me even more.

Let me know if it works for you.

Enjoyed the post? Please consider sharing. And if you are not on the mailing list yet, leave your email address on the right. Mails go out at most once a fortnight.

 

Read Next: After-Office Productivity Hacks

 

A Romantic's Guide to Finding Focus

A few days ago, I sat drinking coffee at a restaurant which overlooks a Golf Course. Most of our day is spent looking at near objects and screens. So, when you get a chance to focus in the distance of the greens, the mind reminisces.

Looking at the people playing, I pondered about my own sports experiences and habits. I remembered my wins and losses. The memories brought back the emotions of those moments and a useful lesson along with it. 

What differentiated my wins from my losses? Why did I win some and lose others? The simple answer is that I played good on one day and bad the other. But, let's dig deeper and ask, why did that happen? After all, there was no change in my skill during a small period of time. I was on my 'A' game on winning days and 'C' or 'D' on the losing ones. Why?

The answer I found was: Lack of Focus. It is a much deeper problem than it appears on the surface. It is a mindfulness problem. 

Every day, at least once, I catch myself in the act of auto-piloting my life. I execute each activity because it needs to be done and I have to move on to the next one. This is fine to an extent - you can't be expected to be mindful of every time you brush your teeth, or wash your hands. But, every once in a while, when life is dull, and you are carrying through the chores of your life, it helps to take a step back. 

Observe the present moment. As Thich Nhat Hanh said, 'Do the dishes to do the dishes'. Be deliberate with your actions. Be aware of the present and stay in it. I have written about it earlier in a post describing an epiphany I had while driving. The benefit of having this as a daily habit is that it then slides over to the activities that matter.

How do we find this focus?

Imagine the future, reading your biography and this moment described in all its wonder by a talented writer. 

"... was standing there in kitchen after a day of work. He stood there peeling an orange skin listening to music. This was a ritual to him. The act of peeling was like taking off a layer of burden after returning home...."

This visualization makes any ordinary moment special. You will perhaps be able to find more focus in the act at hand, knowing that it is a story in your biography. Or you could imagine yourself as part of a movie. The present moment then becomes a part of a scene which people are paying to watch. You will thus have more incentive to be focused in the present.

I love this technique. It makes me feel good about my life. It attaches romance to every moment of my existence. Living the life becomes a performance, in a good way. You become the stars of this show. It then becomes important to put up a nice act. Smile, indulge in the moment and let the audience feel they are watching a performer who is taken over by her character. You take a form larger than your life itself. 

And in specific situations?

1. Reading

Problem: You are looking at the words but not really reading them. Often you turn pages but completely forget what happened earlier. Or you are stuck on a single page for an hour. 

Solution: When I notice that this is happening to me, I immediately stop myself and take a deep breath. Then, I imagine the scene when the words were first penned down by the author. I see the creation of the scene in the author's head, as he leans back in his chair, playing with his pen, brows furrowed and suddenly his eyes widen. He leans forward and writes down the exact words you are reading. I imagine the sense of elation, movement and progress he must have felt. And because I imagine it, sometimes I also experience that same feeling. 

For example, you can imagine me writing these words. Where am I? What time of the day could it be? Perhaps it is early Saturday morning and I am sitting in my boxer shorts. You imagine that at this stage I must have paused for a few seconds to decide what to write next....and so on.

It is tough to keep up with this technique since it is intense. But, it can serve as a way to bring back your focus to the book/article at hand and improve your reading experience multi-fold.
The same method can be applied to finding focus and appreciating the art in front of us while watching a movie, listening to music etc.

2. Exercising / Playing a sport

This is a new habit of mine (as I described in this post). I try to visualize the muscles grinding against each other. I feel the muscles being used at those moment and picture them strengthening and gaining volume (I have no idea if anything that I just said is what happens when you exercise, but I visualize it nevertheless). I feel the sweat dripping off of my back. I try to be there. It is not always possible but sometimes, yes. 

3. Creating

I thought about this long and hard, drifted off for a little while and then came back typing furiously (side note: you can imagine me doing that and enjoy reading this even more). Finding focus in creation comes from creation itself. It is one of those things that snowballs into a phenomenon where you are constantly in the zone by the sheer effect of having written/painted/clicked... something.

And if you need inspiration to get started, just take note of the present moment and how you arrived here. It will tell you enough to get going. Go back and see the first sentence of this point. This is exactly what I did when I was stuck beyond #2. 

4. Having a conversation

I have a thing I do sometimes in the middle of conversations. I look around and observe the set. Then I look into the distance and wonder. I wonder how we would look to a person from far away. Or to a novelist with us being one of the characters he is describing. I have mentioned one such moment in a post on Spiti Valley ( "I wish I could have seen ourselves from a hill 500 metres away with a binocular. That would have been cool." ). Once this is done, you would find a renewed vigor and a sense of amazement in your attitude towards the friend in front of you. Ironically, this momentary zoning out will give you more focus and enthusiasm towards the conversation you are having.

Another thing I have noticed is that people who are focused command respect and awe. Or maybe they do to me. If I find someone practicing their craft as if there is nothing else, I am immediately attracted towards them. An apt example of this comes from a movie about golf - The Greatest Game Ever Played. I won't spoil it for you but if you haven't watched the movie yet, go and do it. You'll identify the scene which I am referring to. 

Try and give this technique a shot. Perhaps, like having a perfect day a week, you could have a romantic's focus day. And unlike the former, this is much less overwhelming to practice daily.

Let me know if it works for you. All the best!

Living One Perfect Day a Week

Last night, I lay awake in bed with a sickening feeling in my stomach that everything I am doing right now is going to fail. It made my head hurt and I couldn't sleep. I doubted my decisions and imagined all the worst case scenarios. 

Then morning came.

Like a bad habit, my first instinct was to look at my phone to check messages, social media, etc. For me, that's not the best way to start the day. I pondered upon the good habits I have developed (ref: Start With Art) and want to develop (Meditation). And during this reflection, I had an insight: 

What would my perfect day look like? And once that is figured out, can I live that day, today?

I don't need to do this everyday. But, just for today, I would live a perfect day of my life. The definition of perfect day for me is: Attaining maximum contentment within the practical constraints of the present situation.

So, I listed out all the things that would pass my test to become an ingredient in my perfect day. Here's my list of things I want to do:

  • Wake up and not look at the phone (Failed)
  • Exercise for 10 minutes (Success)
  • Eat a fruit (Success - Watermelon)
  • Read for 45 minutes (Success - Einstein: His Life and Universe)
  • Write something original and publish it (If you are reading this, then Success)
  • Meditate for 15 minutes
  • Work
  • Go out in the evening, get some air, run errands
  • Work
  • Learn something new - a language/skill/work related
  • Find a nice new music album
  • Chill with the friends and partner
  • Have a beer or two while listening to that nice new album
  • Indulge in dreamy conversation

Points to note: 

  1. Failing to do a certain activity is OK. This is an aspirational list, not a mandatory one. (As you can see, I failed my first activity outright, but that's alright. The critical thing is to get back in the game.)
  2. The perfect day doesn't mean doing the most things you can. Go back to the definition. If, at the moment of your life, the perfect day means sleeping in all day, then by all means. The key is to be deliberate about that decision.
  3. A tip - Add an amount to your activity (15 minutes, 3 reps, etc.). You must have heard of TAG - Time and Amount goals and how they affect the chances of your accomplishing that goal. Well, this is pretty much what that is. 
  4. The constraint of our daily life is our friend. Do whatever is possible within its scope. 
  5. 'Once a week' is an out of the blue recommendation since it makes for a good title. Find your own frequency.

The reason I am doing this is to feel more in control of my life, even if for just one day. I don't yet know the full effect of this but I imagine that if we feel like shit and want a way to get things in order again, this might serve the purpose. I am about halfway done with my day. Let's see how the rest of it goes. So far, all good.

I hope you find it useful and I would love to hear your experiences with this technique. All the best! 

Cover Image via Unsplash

How to Have More Fun at Fun

When was the last time you felt truly alive? That moment when your chest filled up with breaths of your soul woken afresh after a deep slumber. Your eyes lit up and cheeks swelled with overwhelming emotion. You felt an inexplicable sensation that you knew was something special. Extreme happiness comes close to what it was but that’s just one dimension of it. Excitement. Thrill. Energy. You felt like God.

I have a term for such moments - DIMs or Deep Immersion Moments.

I theorize that you find yourself in such moments when you are deeply immersed in any activity. In that instant, your mind, body and soul dance together to the same tune, focused on doing the task at hand. There is nothing else but that moment. 

Sometimes we find DIMs in our hobbies. Painting. Running. Playing a sport. Riding a bike. Meditating. Exercising. Listening to music. Reading a book. Listening to music while reading a book. Internet Surfing. Checking Facebook. Smoking weed. Or perhaps something else.

How did you decide which one to partake in? Was it a spur of the moment decision? Perhaps someone great in that field inspired you. Or you thought it would be ‘fun’ because you saw someone else having fun at it. Was it a conscious decision? Or you just went with the flow? 

This brings us to the next question. 



Why should I care what I do for fun?

Look, you have limited time on this earth. And it has a nasty habit of flying by when you are not paying attention. You have just 3500 odd weekends, half of which you’ve already spent. And as the wise saying of our generation goes - YOLO!

I am assuming that you are not a masochist and want to spend most of your life being happy and content. And if you could feel absolute exhilaration in some of these moments, it wouldn’t be so bad, right?

You want more of those sexy DIMs. 

Thus, it logically concludes that to live a better life, we need to position ourselves in situations where the density of DIMs is the highest. This means that you want to choose the fun activity which gives you the most DIMs.


How do I find these super-sexy rainbow-farting sons-of-a-unicorn DIMs?

 

Let's start with this curve.

 DIM-Frequency Curve

DIM-Frequency Curve

  • On the X-axis is the frequency of your fun activities. (More frequent as you go to the right)
  • On the Y-axis is the number of DIMs (Increasing as you go up)
  • The section marked Happy Place is the maxima of your DIMs. Or, in other words – this is the area that will light up your fire.
  • How often you should do something to find the Happy Place is the Optimal Fun Frequency or OFF.

What you want is to consistently find the Happy Place.

Happy Place = max DIM = Fully lit fire


Understanding the curve

Why do DIMs decrease if activity is done very frequently?

Fun is a way for us to relax, unwind and recharge to be able to perform at our peak at our work. Thus, fun is a secondary activity which supports our primary function of doing meaningful work (from which most of us derive contentment and purpose). Without the primary function, there is no fun. When fun takes centre-stage in your life, it stops being fun. Excess of pleasure becomes work itself.

     Example:  For me, watching too many movies means I feel guilty after a binge. So instead of enjoying the movies, I just go through the motions of just watching something. Overall a less happy place.

 

Example: For me, watching too many movies means I feel guilty after a binge. So instead of enjoying the movies, I just go through the motions of just watching something. Overall a less happy place.

Like drinking out every day. It gets repetitive after a time and one day you find yourself puking on the curb outside the pub, passed out and wondering how it ever came to this.

We all need a break from taking a break sometimes.

Excess pleasure comes with guilt (of not doing work), exhaustion and less complete involvement in an activity – which means lesser DIMs.

 

 

Why does it taper off if done very rarely?

To relish something, it requires for you to be good at it. Your intellect (as is its habit) desires constant improvement in your execution of it.

By doing things very sparingly, you devoid yourself a chance to progress because of a lack of momentum. Our minds and bodies have a recall of our past experiences whether good or bad. This recall comes with a due date. Once you are past this date, you can no longer recollect this knowledge and will have to start from scratch. Call it rustiness if you like.

Thus, to constantly find the Happy Place, we need to find the OFF. Here's an example of my snooker habits to illustrate this better.

     Example: For my snooker game,  less than once per month and I am bound to forget the mistakes I made, the positions I found myself in. I would not necessarily forget the game, but the nuances of the gameplay discovered only in more frequent competitive playing.  1/week < 1/ OFFSnooker <  1/month

 

Example: For my snooker game, less than once per month and I am bound to forget the mistakes I made, the positions I found myself in. I would not necessarily forget the game, but the nuances of the gameplay discovered only in more frequent competitive playing. 1/week < 1/ OFFSnooker <  1/month


Choosing your fun activity

Let’s recall what we know so far.

  1. We want more DIMs 
  2. DIM maxima is the Happy Place where we want to stay most of the time.
  3. The frequency at which Happy Place appears is OFF

Given the above, how do you choose what you do for fun? To answer this question, you have to answer another one - How much free time do you have? 

This is needed for a very simple reason. OFF of some activities is low, for some it is high. If you have little free time, choosing an activity with high OFF is a bad idea. Let's take some examples.

The OFF of learning a guitar is high. You have to invest a lot of time and energy to reach a level where you can enjoy the instrument. Free time of say 2 hours a week would not suffice. You need a lot more hours to find DIMs in guitar playing.

On the other hand, with the same amount of time, choosing to watch a movie would be a good idea. It has a low OFF and could be achieved in whatever little time you have.

But, more often than not, you would have more than 2 hours a week of free time. So you could choose multiple activities with different OFFs. For example, you can learn guitar (high OFF) and watch a movie. Or, you could learn coding (high OFF) and play Pictionary with friends (low OFF).

This time is not just for execution, but, for study and research too. This is because intellectual growth cannot just be by purely practical methods. So, if you enjoy whiskey, you would be well served by reading about how it is made, what is the difference between the many blends and so on. Or for movie buffs, learning about the cast, the movie trivia, comparing the movie with the director's other works and so on. If its rolling a joint, perhaps watch a YouTube video of learning new ways to roll. This study enriches your experience of the activity the next time you do it.

 

THREE OTHER FACTORS

1. Randomness

If this calculated approach to fun seems a little stuck-up, add in a healthy dose of Randomness. It is generally good for a fun activity since it adds an element of uncertainty and spontaneity, both of which are good for our Happy Place. 

Having said this, ensure that randomness is a deliberate addition. For example, a randomly made trip with friends would be fun only if you are enthusiastic about it. And not when you have been dragged along to participate in it because of pushy friends or social obligations. So tread this line with caution. And always keep tweaking your ratio of randomness/planned based on the free time that you have.

Randomness is a factor but only if it is a deliberate choice in your idea of fun.

 

2. Passion

This post has ignored passion so far. The thing about it is that if you are extremely passionate about something, even if it is tough, you can find a lot of DIMs in the suffering and the struggle. Thus passion overpowers everything - to an extent. For example, at an age of 50, passion alone won't help you make an exceptional football player. However it might give you those DIMs.

 

3. FOMO (Fear of Missing Out)

Often, saying no to things feels like you are missing out on fun. The FOMO kicks in. Although, we know that some of those things are social obligations that we have full control to say No to. 

Avoid these social obligations like you avoid your clingy ex. The reason is simple - because of your reluctance in participating in such activities, you would never be able to find the DIMs. At the back of your mind, there will always be the thought that you could have spent this doing something else. You will not be in the moment. It will result in sub-optimal experiences. You will have to make this choice often because frankly, there just isn't enough time to do everything you want to do and still be able to find the happy place. That's just the nature of time - limited and passing.

For example, I have a friend who is exceptionally good at a certain sport. But, he doesn't play with us (his friends), because he knows it would be a less than awesome experience for him (we are donkeys at the game, present little challenge for him). Or personally, I have a huge list of things I want to do, but I know that if I pursue them all, I'll end up being mediocre in most of them.


Conclusion

You can ignore this made-up science and still have fun. But, that will not be optimized to allow you to stay in your Happy Place for long periods of time. For that, you need to go deeper into any activity to unfold layers of intensity. As you go deeper, your Happy Place may even be happier and you might discover pleasures which were unknown earlier and attain a nirvana like state.

Participate in everything, learn new stuff, do new things everyday by all means. After all novelty is the elixir of the mind. But, don’t make every one of those your regular fun activities without investing time to grow in them. The crux is to learn deeply about your hobbies. All this to avoid sub-optimal experiences and live a more meaningful life.


Hope this post helps you. If it does, I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. Or email me at mj {at} mayankja.in.

To get updates about such articles, leave your email address below. Mails go out at most once a fortnight.

The One Skill to stick to your Resolutions

As I write this, I have multiple tabs opened up begging for my attention. My thoughts are jumping from one to another all directing me away from writing this post down.

"Maybe I should just read this article - it seems important."
"But, first I think I should put on some music, I'll be able to focus better then."
"I am thirsty, let me get some water."
"Let me just check Facebook feed for a bit."
"When's the Manchester United's match starting? I wonder if Di Maria is fit to play."

Distractions

This is my mind telling me not to do the important stuff and instead get caught up in distractions.There are multiple things at play here - I fear I might miss out on something 'cool' or 'interesting' if I don't read that article on the hot topic of the day. Most probably, it is the simple fact that writing is much more difficult than passive consumption of information. So, how do I deal with it? One skill:

Ignore your mind.

Allow me to elaborate. 

With this new year, did you decide to join a gym or exercise more? May be you decided to eat healthier. Or perhaps, you want to read more. Or…............. Fill it in with whatever you decided to do this year. Although, I didn’t make any this year, I’ve made and broken enough resolutions to know how hard they are to keep.

As the year goes by, we start developing a lackadaisical attitude towards our resolutions, the frequency and intensity of our efforts fades away, and at the end of the year, we are left wondering how it ever came to this. What happened to all the plans we made? I feel, a lot of it has to do with our mind rationalising and giving us reasons to not do the things that matter. 

You wake up in the morning, lying on your bed thinking of going for a run. But, isn’t it too cold outside? And you know, you have to reach office. You don’t feel that great anyways, there's always tomorrow. 

This book you are reading is too boring, let's watch a youtube video instead. 

You want to go out in the city on a photography trip, but it is too much of a pain. Getting off the bed, dressing up, traveling - let's just rest today instead. 

So on and so forth.

Notice what is happening. This is you ‘thinking’ these things. Or more precisely, your ‘mind’ thinking these things for you. It is trying to rationalise why you should not do that hard thing and stick to the easier thing instead. This is what it always does. We are designed to reach towards the thing with the lowest barrier of entry. 

Ignore it. Shut off this rationalisation. Tell your mind and yourself to hold off that thought for a later time and how grateful you would feel after completing this task. In fact stop thinking altogether. Just go do that thing instead. 

Personally, I have found that this is by far the best skill that has worked for me. Every other skill (there were a lot I wanted to talk about), is good but haven’t found them to be useful personally.

To an extent, I have successfully implemented this in my writing habits. This post was written using the same skill. And am now trying to do the same with my running. I just get up, tie my shoes and go. No thinking involved. I push all the thoughts of hunger, tiredness, future engagements (including writing) to the back. 

 

Preparation to practice this skill

  1. Ensure that you have actively thought out the benefits of doing that particular task. 
  2. Envision yourself at that stage - a leaner body, a new job, more books read - imagine how you’d feel about it.
  3. Make sure you know that this resolution of yours is good for you, so that at the time of doing it, you don’t argue with yourself against the benefits of doing it. I had made the decision of creating a running habit in full control and awareness. Having known its benefits, it became easier for me to follow through with it.

 

How to practice this skill

There are just two steps to practice this skill:

  1. Notice when you skip an important task to do something less important. Take a note of how your mind convinced you.
  2. Ignore that voice in your head. Shut it off completely.  

Like every other skill, this requires practice as well. Sometimes, you will not be able to shut out your mind completely and it will overpower you and make you do things which don't really give you contentment. But, it is OK. It's alright to fail once in a while. Just remember to keep practicing till that resolution of yours becomes a habit and you can leave the crutches of this skill behind. 

If this post helped you stay on track with your resolutions, I'd love to hear it. Add in your comments below.

How to cure boredom

And feel fulfilled while at it

Now that I find myself with a lot of free time at my disposal, there is a possibility that I might not know what do with it. This would cause boredom and thus unsatisfaction. Thus, I have devised a two-step plan for myself to help avoid this situation. 

Step 1: Make a list of things that you would like to do. These could be things that you have always failed to find time for even though your heart longed for it. These are the things that you think would make you feel happy. They could be long term goals or short term activities. Make sure to write them down and even put it on a post-it where you can see them everyday. Put it on your bathroom mirror if need be. I’ve made this list in Evernote which I check regularly. This is what my list looks like:

1. Read a book
2. Write
3. Illustrate
4. Play guitar
5. Learn spanish/french on Duolingo
6. Take Illustration lessons on Skillshare
7. Coursera lessons on writing/art/philosophy etc.
8. Do pushups/exercise
9. Go outside, take a walk
10. Listen to music
11. Sleep
12. Work on ideas from the Evernote list

Step 2: Do those things.

This is it. There is no formula or an easy hack to cure boredom and feel more fulfilled. You just have to get down and do what you are supposed to do. It is easier said than done so here are a couple of things that help me.

1. Stop thinking about they Whys and the Why nots. For example, if you are planning to go for a run, stop thinking about how tired you are or how it is such a big pain to climb down the stairs. Just switch of your mind, lace up and go.

2. Imagine how you’d feel after you’ve accomplished the feat. I used this technique for writing this post. By imagining how nice and productive I’d feel after finishing this post, I was able to get down to it.

Another source of great inspiration for me which drives me forward in small and big things of life is Marcus Aurelius’ writings. They have helped me come to terms with some of the boring, mundane and sometimes harsh realities of life. He is one of the major Stoic philosophers. Stoicism is a philosophy which has affected me greatly and I strongly endorse it. Here are a few lines from his book to get you interested:

"In the morning when thou findest thyself unwilling to rise, consider with thyself presently, it is to go about a man’s work that I am stirred up. Am I then yet unwilling to go about that, for which I myself was born and brought forth into this world? Or was I made for this, to lay me down, and make much of myself in a warm bed? ‘O but this is pleasing.’ And was it then for this that thou wert born, that thou mightest enjoy pleasure? Was it not in very truth for this, that thou mightest always be busy and in action? Seest thou not how all things in the world besides, how every tree md plant, how sparrows and ants, spiders and bees: how all in their kind are intent as it were orderly to perform whatsoever (towards the preservation of this orderly universe) naturally doth become and belong unto thin? And wilt not thou do that, which belongs unto a man to do? Wilt not thou run to do that, which thy nature doth require? ‘But thou must have some rest.’ Yes, thou must. Nature hath of that also, as well as of eating and drinking, allowed thee a certain stint. But thou guest beyond thy stint, and beyond that which would suffice, and in matter of action, there thou comest short of that which thou mayest. It must needs be therefore, that thou dost not love thyself, for if thou didst, thou wouldst also love thy nature, and that which thy nature doth propose unto herself as her end. "

Hope these pointers work for you as well.

Did you like what you read so far? You can subscribe to my mailing list to get updates on new posts. I am not sure how frequently I’ll send you an email but it will never be more often than once a week. 
Appreciate your time. Thanks!

2 Weeks Sprint

Notes on how to get started on something new

In internet domain, a lot of companies use 2 weeks sprints as a way of developing their product. These sprints are a list of things which need to get done in 2 weeks - thus becoming a TAG (time and amount goal). People put their head down and work on this with few distractions - atleast that’s the utopian ideologoy behind it. Although, I did not realise it and it took a friend to point this out, but I have been doing the same thing recently in my non-work life as well to good effect.

It started with reading. Some time back, I read more in a month than I did in the preceding year. And this was not passive online consumption jumping from one article to another but a more involved, active reading of a good book chosen after either a careful consideration or at an implusive whim. I carried a book wherever I went and read everywhere I could - while waiting to catch the metro, in the metro, on the rickshaw, in some spare moments at a friend’s place, in a cafe. This desire wasn’t forced upon by anyone but came from within and it felt great. This period of complete flow and being in the zone ended with me having read a bunch of great books, gaining new perspectives and learning a lot.

Side Note: If you want to read more, here’s a great article by Ryan Holiday. Also, sign up for his monthly book recommendation list, I’ve discovered a lot of gems there.

Then came a series of (still unpublished) articles which I have fondly compiled in the form of an ebook. I wrote on the lessons I learnt while running my first startup so that I can use those for my next venture. I used to work on it whenever I could. Scribbling down notes in a notebook while riding to work in the passenger seat of my friend’s car, at work whenever I could sneak out some time on Evernote, or at home, as soon as I returned back from office without caring to change my clothes or getting ready for dinner. This helped me finish off the first draft of my book in a relatively short amount of time. 

Side Note: If you want to get started on writing - you can try out some of the softwares I use - Notebook/Evernote for note taking. Q10 for writing. Scrivener for giving structure.

Then came the designing bit. Since I can’t sketch or draw to save my life, I resorted to learning designing softwares to help me bring my thoughts to creation. I put in two weeks of focused designing ignoring almost everything else, learning online courses, soaking up as much as I could. I practised and produced two works which I am proud of.

Side Note: Here are some of the classes I took and found the most useful - 1, 2 and 3

It also happened with Cooking. 2 weeks, mom’s recipes and I transformed from someone who fretted about what to eat for dinner to being able to feed a party of 2 pretty well. 

You catch the drift with where I am going with this.

These short of intervals of time with extreme focus helped me reach a level of which I could be proud of. And important thing is that none of it was very deliberate, it was just something that I felt I should be doing and went ahead with it. I had gotten into a flow. 

The point I am trying to make is if you want to level up in a particular field, a short sprint can help you achieve that quickly. As I write this, I realise that there is a counterpoint to this where people say slow and steady wins the race which is actually quite true. But, I am talking about new tasks which require an initial thrust, the first few scary and unpredictable steps. These sprints will help you cross that first hurdle.

Did you like what you read so far? You can subscribe to my mailing list to get updates on new posts. I am not sure how frequently I’ll send you an email but it will never be more often than once a week. 
Appreciate your time. Thanks!

6 Productivity Hacks that work for me

1. Eat That Frog

Do the most difficult or the task you hate the most first. I guess this is against popular advice but this truly works. Your mind is the most fresh when you are starting out, and getting that one tough thing out of the way leaves you with much more motivation to carry forward with the other simpler ones. The frog analogy comes from the assumption, that people hate eating frogs.

2. Wear a cap

This is something that I have just discovered. There is no better work setting than putting on a low set cap, with your headphones over them. The idea is to restrict your field of view and focus on the task at hand. If only there was something which could tune out the multiple opened tabs #wishful thinking.

3. Ambient noise is good

Believe it or not, moderate ambient noise is proven to boost creativity. An environment like a coffee house is proven to increase your productivity. And this app called Coffitivity does just that.

4. When you are tired, push yourself to do one more thing

It’s the end of the day and you just want to wrap it up. Or it’s the middle of the week and you don’t feel particularly inspired to work and want to just leave. A simple hack is to push yourself to do just one more thing. More often than not, you will find yourself back in the zone. One more thing works magic for a few people, so why not you.

5. Just start doing, it is OK for the first draft to be crappy

The writers among you would probably agree with me on this one. The first drafts are always crappy - they don’t have to be grammatically correct. My first drafts usually are just random keywords joined together. The first drafts are more like an empty playground for your ideas, let them play around and mingle with each other.

6. Keep your goals to yourself

Derek Sivers has delivered a very solid TED talk on this. The idea is that when you tell someone what you want to do, say lose weight, more often than not they would congratulate you for taking it up. That is the validation and ego boost why you wanted to lose weight in the first place. So, your plans and resolutions are best kept to yourselves.