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How I’m Getting More Done, by Doing Less.

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We all know it’s true, that we can get more of an impact if we focus our energies on fewer tasks. An example I’ve quoted often on the power of focus is the analogy of trying to light a fire using a magnifying glass on a hot day. We’ve all tried it out as kids. However, picture yourself, taking a whole pile of newspapers outside in the sun on the World’s Hottest day, you may have the most powerful magnifying glass in the world, but you’ll still not be able to start a fire for hours or days, until you FOCUS that magnifying glass. Once you do focus the rays of the sun on to a single spot on that pile of newspapers. You don’t just have a fire, you have an INFERNO. Focus…focus…FOCUS!

We all have such limited time, limited energy and limited resources in the world. And yes the opportunities are galore that are screaming for a highly precious commodity of ours, our Attention, so don’t sell it cheap.

A book that I’ve completed recently that has helped me hone my focus is The Power of Less by Leo Babuta.

Leo is one heck of a case study. A few years ago, he was a government employee, heavily in debt, overweight and a heavy-smoker. Over the past several years, Leo has:

- Quit Smoking

- Got himself into peak physical condition

- Run Several marathons to prove it

- Got our of Debt

- Quit his job to follow his passion of full-time blogging.

- Maintain two excellent blogs

- Got one of his blogs to be ranked the number one Personality-Development/Self-Help blog

- Completed three books.

How he achieved all the above? It’s by focussing on one activity at a time. Leo, spends the rest of the book listing out a few principles and practical steps that one can follow to reduce the clutter in one’s life and focus on the essentials. The steps that have worked most for me are:

Identify your MITs (Most Important Tasks) early in the day and complete them first.
We get so caught up on answering our emails first thing in the morning, that one easily loses track on other tasks that provide higher returns for the time spent. Hence beginning of the day (or the end of the previous day) once one write down your MITs, make sure you complete those first thing in the morning. The tasks that you listed would not take you more than a an hour or two at the max. Most of the time, the tasks highlighted get done in less than 30 minutes. But it’s our procrastinating and demonising of the tasks in our minds that make it seem that it would take forever to complete. As Brian Tracy says, Eat that Frog. ie Get your most unpleasant task done first thing in the morning. And since you have to eat that frog anyway, it doesn’t pay much to If you have to eat a live frog at all, it doesn’t pay to sit and look at it for very long.

Focus on never more than Three Projects at a time.
What’s a project? The project here is not used in the conventional sense of for eg. Installing and delivering a software to a client, or in our case Delivering a Residential Layout of 300 homes. Nope, the word Project here is used in the GTD sense, that is, any action that has more than one step to complete. So simple things like Hiring an Employee, Completing a Report or Getting one’s child enrolled to school, are all Projects. Because they all have multiples steps to complete. Why Leo has said Three and not One, it’s because generally inevitably you might be waiting for someone for some information on any one of the Project. When that happens you have two other projects to focus upon.

Have a Daily Morning Routine
This is a great tip that I’ve been putting in practice for several years now. Have a Routine in the morning that gets you looking forward to the day. A routine that you consciously follow. Not one that you subconsciously stumble through day after day till your life is over. For eg. Leo’s routine is to be up at 5:00 Am, brews for himself a cup of delicious coffee, then spends atleast an hour writing his next blog post. My routine for the last several years has been:

5:30 – 6:00 Pray namaaz

6:00 – 7:00 Catch an hour’s sleep

7:00 – 8:20 Breakfast, Leave for Quran class or for Gym for a workout and shower.

8:20 – 9:20 Spend an hour writing either a blog post or my Journal. Reach office by 9:30

From 9:30 to 10:30 -

Once at office I look at my calendar and ask, “How much time do I have today that’s totally at my Discretion? or How much time do I have where there are no pre-scheduled meetings?”

Then:

Empty my Tickler items for the day into my inbox

Empty notes from my pocket notepad to my inbox

Empty biz cards to inbox

Look out for urgent Day Specific Tasks in Calendar to be attended to.

Then:

Clear outlook tasks @Ainbox

Clear email inbox/physical inbox 15 mins to 30 mins

Attend appointments as planned


My morning routine has worked well for me. Before it’s 10:30, I’ve completed my exercise for the day, my writing and have cleared all the new inputs (via email or paper) into my life. Depending on your goals, set an Early Morning Routine that has you start the day running. Also consider setting up a Daily Evening Routine too, to ensure that you have maximum energy next morning.

Do Less than you Can do. Even if you can do more.
This has been a brilliant tip that Leo has provided. Highly effective when it comes to establishing a new habit. Say you need to establish a habit of flossing your teeth. So Leo says, “Do less than you can do, even if you can do more.” That means for the whole first week, all you should do is to take out a piece of floss cut it and leave it on the bathroom sink. That’s it. Don’t floss you teeth, even if you can floss your teeth. The key here is to set regularity. Since all that you’ll be doing is to taking out a piece of floss and not actually flossing your teeth, the resistance to do this activity will be minimal. Similarly if you want make a habit of exercising regularly say jogging for 30 minutes, just do 15 minutes. Even if you can jog more, don’t. Keep doing this, till it really becomes part of you. I’ve been implementing this rule and been doing less even if I can do more and it really works. There is very little resistance to do the activity the next day and hence a habit is quite easily formed.

Take care friends, do read the book. There are tons of other principles and tips to help you achieve your long term goals. The above are the few that have stuck with me.

Warm wishes. Keep smiling :-)

A short Review of the 9 Personality Development Books I’ve read in 2009

200912251014.jpg Reading…it’s one of the the greatest, most pleasurable, highly blissful indulgences that this ephemeral existence has to offer. Other than Coffee (and Chocolate ofcourse). Sometime back I gave myself a schedule to spend an hour reading everyday. About the same time I began tracking which books I was reading at the All Consuming website and now I parallely do it at Good Reads website as well. I managed to write a couple of reviews of a few books at the Arif & Ali blog. I’ve hardly done justice to some of the fantastic material that I ‘ve covered. I’ve scanned through my list and hello, I’ve almost crossed 50 books since I’ve started tracking them. I’ve not read them all completely. But certainly enough to have a fair idea of what the book contains and whether would it be worth my while to complete it or not. (On that note, one of the best standards I have set for myself is giving myself permission to skip sections of a book or even leaving it incomplete). As I sit here approaching the cusp of 2009, I’ll be posting a series of posts giving a short review of the books I’ve covered in the last year or so. The first in the series of posts covers the Personality Development books I’ve read.

Personality Deveopment:

Crucial Conversations, Crucial Confrontations, Influencer
How do you appraise a fellow employee on his poor work performance effectively? Or how do you tell your boss that he’s not being reasonable in his deadlines that he’s giving? In a personal setting how do you tell a colleague the he’s got Body Odour and Personal Hygiene issues? Crucial Conversations teaches how to step up to such conversations that run high on emotions, have high stakes and conflicting opinions. Crucial Confrontations, teaches you to address failed commitments and Influencer promises you the ability to influence anybody to do anything 99% of the time.

Crucial Conversations and Crucial Confrontations were excellent reads. Influencer fell short of my expectations but nonetheless I am glad I covered it. If you feel you could brush up on your conversational skills, go ahead and give these books a try.

Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway
With over 2 million copies sold, this book has it’s place reserved in the classics shelf. Who isn’t afraid? If you say you’re not, then buddy you’re not trying hard enough to stretch out of your comfort zones. I loved certain sections of the book and specially the first chapter which provided the insight that you are always afraid for one and ONLY one reason…ie You’ll not be able to handle it. ie You feel you’ll not be able to handle the situation/scenario that your are scared of . Or in other words you’ll not be in control. Think about it. It’s so true. Be it fear of public speaking or fear to confront an individual on something sensitive, if you’re scared it’s because you’ll feel that you may no longer will be in control of the situation. The best part is, simple Awareness of this is half the battle won. So now that you know why you’re scared, what can you do about it? Absolutely nothing. That’s the whole point, you’ve got to “Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway”. However that said, there are many tips and tricks to help you deal with your fears on your way to growth.

When I say No I feel Guilty
The best assertiveness training book I’ve come across. Written sometime in the 70’s this book still rings true today. The only high-irritant that I have with this book is that it takes the theory that you are the ultimate judge of what’s right and what’s wrong way too far. So far that it towards the end it concludes that even nudist camps are okay, as long as you’re okay about it. Having that said, it does having amazing 1, 2, 3 step by step techniques to help you stand up to situations that you would otherwise slink away from. Check out the Bill of Assertive Rights that the book begins with:

A BILL OF ASSERTIVE RIGHTS


I.   You have the right to judge your own behavior, thoughts, and emotions, and to take the responsibility for their initiation and consequences upon yourself.

II.   You have the right to offer no reasons or excuses for justifying your behavior.

III.   You have the right to judge if you are responsible for finding solutions to other people’s problems.

IV : You have the right to change your mind.

V :  You have the right to make mistakes — and be responsible for them.

VI : You have the right to say, “I don’t know,”

VII : You have the right to be independent of the goodwill of others before coping with them.

VIII: You have the right to be  illogical in making decisions.

IX:   You have the right to say, “I don’t understand”

X:   You have the right to say, “I don’t care.”

YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO SAY NO, WITHOUT FEELING GUILTY.


The Power of Full Engagement
When are you fully engaged towards a task? It’s when your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual energy reservoirs are at it’s maximum. The Power of Full Engagement, guides you in recognising which energy reservoir is specifically below it’s optimal potential and what routines can you incorporate to ensure that you are running on full tank as much as possible, as far as possible.

50 Prosperity Classics
All of Tom Butler Bowden books are a Must Read. 50 Prosperity Classics is a summary of 50 books that show how to:
1. Attract Wealth,
2. Create Wealth,
3. Manage Wealth,
4. Finally…how to share it.

And in Tom’s inimitable style, very often the summary of the book covered explains the content better than the Author himself. I read this book cover to cover and enjoyed reading the summary of almost each and every book that he listed. The few books from which a couple of lessons that still linger in my memory are:

- James Allen, The Path to Propertiy
– Bill Gates, Hard Drive: Bill Gates and the Making of the Microsoft Empire
– Corad Hilton, Be My Guest
– Muhammad Yunus Banker to the Poor

See the entire list of the books he covers here.

The War of Art
I have a separate blog post on the War of Art here. Nothing’s changed of my opinion. It really does give Procrastination a solid kick in it’s butt.   I so LOVE this book. And as I’ve said earlier, the audio book is even better. If I could I would gift each of my blog readers a copy of this audio book. But because I’m such a stingy scrooge I won’t be doing that. So do go ahead and purchase the audio book. If not all of it, go ahead and purchase just part 1, it’s currently retailing at a discount of $7.49

Mastery
Mastery has been lying in my shelf for over a year but didn’t get round to completing it till just last week. It’s just what I needed to get my blog writing and exercise schedule back on track. Although it has a cheesy subtitle “The Keys to Success and Long Term Fulfillment”, George Leonard does a brilliant job explaining how we’re now living in such a “excitement” based society. That every moment has to be simply Rapturous, or it’s not good-enough. All the advertising that we’re pounded with (pictures of the cake just being baked, a couple just moving into their apartment, driving out that brand new car) are setting for us that same unrealistic standard. The key out of the trap is “loving the plateau”. ie Being aware of where you stand in your pursuit (writing and fitness in my case) and realising that success comes after long periods of perfecting the same routine over and over again. I received quite a few take backs from this book. If you do read it, look out for the different personality traits that George points out (the Beginner, the Dabbler, the Hacker and the Master) and see where you fit in.

Hopefully if I get round to it, in future posts, I’ll be listing out the books with summaries that I’ve completed in the following genre’s:
– Spirituality
– Economy
– Autobiography
– Social Change
– and Fiction

Till then, take care and keep smiling. :-)

A few Quotes from Tuesday’s with Morrie

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I read this bestseller quite some time back, after Ali informed me that it’s audiobook has been quite a hit on iTunes. Although not a spiritual classic and not a book that I would strongly recommend, a part of me is glad that I have completed it. Below are a sprinkling of quotes from the book that I placed in my Intention Journal. I felt like sharing them with you.

“When you learn how to die, you learn how to live”

“Well the truth is if you really listen to that bird on your shoulder, if you accept that you can die at any time-then you might not be as ambitious as you are.”

“The things you spend so much time on-all this work you do-might not seem as important. You might have to make room for some more spititual things.”

Spiritual things?

“You hate that word, don’t you? ‘Spiritual.’ You think it’s touchy-feely stuff.”

“Mitch,” he said, laughing along, “even I don’t know what ‘spiritual development’ really means. But I do know we’re deficient in some way. We are too involved in materialistic things, and they don’t satisfy us. The loving relationships we have, the universe around us, we take these things for granted.”

Page after Page – Review of a Book on Writing

200907131524.jpg Have you every come across a book that was so good that you actually felt like kissing it? And then actually did so? If you are a writer, Page after Page can get you dangerously close to having an affair with it. The subtitle of the book goes, “Discover the confidence & passion you need to start writing and keep writing (no matter what)”. Heather has certainly delivered on her promise. Each time I complete a chapter, I am raring to get back to my desk and write out yet another blog post, an entry in my journal, or anything for that matter.    I received a warm, nourishing, nutritious feeling each time I’ve completed a sitting of reading Page After Page. Come to think of it, ‘Chicken Soup for the Writer’s Soul,’ would have been a more apt title.

Sprinkled with subtle humour, that doesn’t get you laughing out loud, yet leaves you wanting to read just a little for more. The book is divided into 3 parts and 30 chapters. The First Part is to Create a New Writing Self, the Second on How to Maintain Your Commitment to Writing and Final on Finding Your Place in the World of Writing. At the end of every chapter she’s set some amazingly imaginative writing exercises, makes you wish that you were back in school and this be the prescribed textbook. My favourite is exercise #19, where Heather asks you to imagine yourself being the child of your two favourite authors. Who would your Writing Parents be? (My Mum would definitely be Enid Blyton, don’t know who my dad would be). Taking that forward she further asks you to create your Writing Family Tree.

“Choose a writing Aunt, add a few writerly nephews, some neighbours, a whole little town of people who actually do write who are related to you. Goofy as it is, making a collage with these people’s faces (photocopy writer photos at the library) and sticking up inspiring quotes by them really helps…”

I sure it does, Heather. Thanks for the brilliant book!


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The Zurich Axioms – A Book Review

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The Zurich Axioms has an interesting preamble. Switzerland. A country that’s landlocked by mountains. It has no agricultural, mineral or any other natural resource of any kind. Yet is one of the richest countries in the world, with a GDP per capita of $42,783! (India’s is at $2,000). How? A large part of the answer lies in the Investment Banking services that the Swiss have specialised in.

Max Gunther summarises the various risk and investment principles used by his father and generations of bankers to create their millions. A quick recap of the few Axioms that I currently remember in my own words:

- Invest a meaningful portion. Do not diversify your investment

- Don’t wait for the peak of any Market (Stock, Real-Estate, etc.). As long as you are higher than your buy price, sell.

- When the ship is sinking, don’t pray, Jump! When the stock market is falling, don’t pray and hope that it’ll climb up again. Sell and get out. When to sell? When the market price falls to 15% of the highest price you’ve held it at.

- Don’t listen to Economists, Stock Market gurus or any other experts. Economy runs on people emotions. No one can predict that.

- Be wary of what the majority is doing. They are not always right. When the world is buying and they are screaming “gimme”, stand in a corner and reply back, “gladly”.

- Don’t stick to an investment plan and don’t be a long term investor. Be always quick and nimble on your feet. If long-term investing is beneficial go long-term. If long term prospects are looking bad, jump ship.

I’d like to add a cautionary note here that, Many of them axioms go against conventional wisdom (for eg. general investment advise is to diversify your risk, however, the Zurich Axioms state that to get high returns one must concentrate his risk). Nonetheless even though some axioms may sound bold, the risk is neutralised by other axioms that state that one should sell fast and always cut short your losses. No matter what it says, the book should NOT be used a sole guide when it comes to investing. But it’s got some really good principles and when used in conjunction with the advise of stalwarts like those of Warren Buffet, Benjamin Graham and Peter Lynch, (advise such as, when buying a company, buy it as if you would hold it for life), I believe one can come out a safe and prosperous investor in any market.

A mere 130 pages, this book is a helpful read and a guide in times of stress and confusion to anyone who’s into any sort of investment or business.

You can get the book from Amazon here.

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