Its’ the Thought that counts


“An hour of effective, precise, hard, disciplined and integrated thinking can be worth a month of hard work. Thinking is the very essence of, and the most difficult thing to do in, business and life. Empire builders spend hour-after-hour on mental work… while others party. If you’re not consciously aware of putting forth the effort to exert self-guided integrated thinking… if you don’t act beyond your feelings and you take the path of least resistance, then you’re giving in to laziness and no longer control your life.”   Ė David Kekich

What a brilliant Quote. The crazy lives that we lead these days leaves us so little time to think. Do you have thinking time marked out in your calendar? But even if you have taken your time out, what do you think about? Should you let your mind go racing behind whatever mental rabbit trail that it comes across or should you have a structured format through which you should apply your mind to? Here are some tips in random order to help you Think More and Think Effectively:

1. Take a Walk. Every once in a while, stroll alone. Be it the Mall, a Park. or just the High Street. Have no agenda, no friends, no nothing. Just you, yourself and 40 minutes of just allowing your mind to wander where ever it wants to.

2. The Write way to Think. Visit a cafe alone. It’s one of the most relaxing and therapeutic exercise you can do during a stressful day. Don’t take a book with you. And for Heaven’s sake don’t lug that laptop. However do take a notebook (once again not the laptop kind, but the old fashioned one with paper in them) with you. And liberally list out, whatever thought occurs to you. It might be something that you need to do today. It might be some strong hostility that you are feeling towards someone, whatever it is just keep that pen scratching that paper. While you are scribbling stuff out, build the thoughts already put on paper. So for example if you have put down the anger you feel towards somebody, think, why is it that you feel this anger? Put that answer down. Next you may consider, what is it that you can do about the situation, well then put down your options. The Rule here is not to write all this out neatly in calligraphic style but more about the quality of the answer as well as the speed in getting those thoughts down real fast. Keep at it, and an hour later of this thinking and you will emerge a much more focused, confident, stronger You.

3. Think about the Purpose of your Life.

This is my all-time favourite question. I just can’t get enough of it. Me and Ali are always thinking on this question.
Think on Why you are here? What’s the meaning of it all?
Think what is it that will give you the greatest fulfilment, meaning, satisfaction and happiness right now?   
Then Think what is it that you need to do to today to move closer towards experiencing that fulfilment and meaning?
Think, How would you be leading your life if you had just six more months to live?

5. Think long term Goals.
Where do you see yourself 2 to 3 years from now?
Where do you see yourself in your Professional Life? In your Career. Any new skills that you feel you should add to your arsenal that would be essential a couple of years from now? Any new experience that you should go through?
What about goals for your family life? For your Children? Skills that they should be acquiring now, that they’ll thank you for a decade later? (On that note, read this post on Six Wonderful Skills that I am glad I picked up after School.)
What about any new hobbies that you’ve been thinking of acquiring but haven’t got round to? Some sport that you always wanted to play or some classes that you wanted to attend?

6. Think through your short term projects
If you are already in sync with your long term goals but it’s the out come of your Short Term Projects that are bothering you, take time to think through them. A Project is any activity that takes more than one step to complete. Projects could include getting your child to School, changing something that’s bothering you in your car, or getting a car, or getting that report out at work, all of these activities have more than one step to it. Take time to make a list of all the projects that you are currently handling and what do you next need to do about them.

7. Think of the different roles you are playing in your Life.
Think through the different roles that you play in your life. Your role as a Father or Mother, your role at work as an Executive or an Administrtor, your role as a Husband and Wife. How are you doing in these roles? What changes would you like to bring?

8. Think about habits, thoughts processes that you want to acquire and change.
This is another thing that I’m thinking about constantly. Think about how you are thinking. Are you mostly negative? Beating yourself up all the time? Regretting on how the Past should have been and Worrying how the future will turn out? You know you have complete control on your thoughts. You choose what to think all the time. A little bit of reflection and you can choose to think differently.

Similar take time to reflect on your Habits. What habits you’re proud of and like to keep. Feel good about those and pat yourself on your back. Now what are those that can be done away with or can be changed? Make a note of it, and pick any one habit to start working on.

9. Think of the wonderful creation that our world is.
A Quote from Hadith-e-Muffadal:

The sky is like a canopy; the earth is spread like a carpet, while the stars set in stratum upon stratum, appear as lamps alight in their places. The gems are treasured as if the house has lots of collections. Besides these, everything is readily available to meet individual needs. Man, in this world, is like the masterful owner of the house, having in his possession everything therein.

And there exist the different plant species available for meeting; individual needs – some as fodder for the animals, others as drugs for human beings; some merely for ornaments, some to supply fragrance to man for his recreation; some as drugs for animals, some as nutriment for man; some for birds only and others for the quadrupeds alone and so on. Different species of animals have been allotted functions for particular exigencies and interest.

10. And most importantly, Think of the Poverty, Oppression that’s there in the World today. What can you do about it? What ARE you doing about it?

We are the luckiest people that ever lived; we have abundantly and manifestly the capacity to address human problems if we care.
It is a matter of vision and courage and compassion.- RAMSEY CLARK, former United States Attorney General.

Watch your thoughts,
they become your actions,

watch your actions,
  they become your habits

watch your habits,
they become your character,

watch your character,
it becomes your destiny.
~ Anonymous

2 Key principles in making a To-Do list, to boost your productivity

Creative Commons License photo credit: be OH be

No matter what productivity methodology you use to be productive (GTD, ZTD etc),† all of them involve making to-do lists.† How well you make your to-do list is directly proportional to your productivity levels.† Here are 2 key principles you need to know:

1. In in the task, identify the next action clearly.

I had a tendency to add Projects to my To-Do lists, as a result I would face a lot of resistance in taking that project forward.† I had to learn to keep my Projects on a separate list, and only have Next Actions on my To-Do list. Thereís a certain magic and a feeling of lightness that comes when you identify clearly in each task what the Next Action is to take.† So ensure that you do not have any projects listed on your to-do list, but you have the next visible next action listed.† If your project is ďPrepare the report on impact of carbon emission on the environmentĒ, your next action would be something like ďSearch Google for the latest news on Carbon emission”.

2. Always start the task with a ‘Verb’. Read, Email, Call etc

By starting the task with a verb it forces you to clearly define what you need to do to perform the next action.† The more clearly youíre able to visualize the next action, the easier it will become to perform it.


Once of the main reasons why we procrastinate on our projects is because of the high resistance we face when confronted with huge projects to work on.† But the reality is that we never work on the project, we always work on ďNext ActionsĒ.† Any project that we work on, itís always about making a phone call, drafting an email, meeting a person, installing software.† Once the next action is clearly defined, it fizzles away the resistance allowing you to move forward on the project.

12 Email newsletters where Arif & Ali get their Inspiration.

Other than blogs and podcasts that I read/listen, there are quite a few enewsletters that I am subscribed to. Most are free, some are not. Below are the ones that I get most value out of and have survived my ruthless email filters and unsubscribing-trigger-friendly finger.

McKinsey Quarterly Top Ten Newsletter
The McKinsey quarterly emails me the best/most popular articles of McKinsey consulting for the past quarter. Itís something that Iíve subscribed to just so that Iím some what in touch with the best practices in the Corporate Circle. I have not got tremendous value from it yet. But since the newsletters are just once a quarter, itís not that much clutter that I need to unsubscribe to it.

Verneís Insights
Iíve found more handy information from Verne Harnishís weekly newsletters. Theyíre shorter, punchy and let me know of what are the cool useful things that Corporates around the world are up to and if thereís anything that I can implement at Vakil Housing immediately.

Metaphor Minute
Some people are born with the Metaphor gene. The can put their point across to you in mere moments by explaining you what they mean with the most appropriate Metaphor or Similie. Itís a skill I have long envied. Anne Miller has written this brilliant book called Metaphorically Selling where she explains a methodology on how to come up with a Metaphor on the fly. I have read it and highly recommend it. In her monthly newsletters, Anne gives really good examples of metaphors that you can use and prods you to keep your eye open for them. This newsletter is probably one of my favourites and can be subscribed to here.

Go Comics
Itís the Comics and the TV pages that enticed me as a schoolboy to begin reading newspapers. Unfortuantely the comics I enjoy do not always appear in the newspapers I read today. I have recently renewed my subscribtion to Ucomics, by paying $11.95 for the year. Now Everyday I get emailed to me the latest Calvin & Hobbes’s imaginative world, or Jasonís latest tiffs with Paige in FoxTrot or Diane make obvious the nonsense of the political world in Non-Sequitur.

Personal Development
GTD Connect
GTD Connect is premium membership service where one can get access to a whole range of Audio, Video, Text material to help enhance your personal GTD process. Click here to learn more about GTD. Being such a busy bee that I am, I donít get much time to hand around the GTD Forums to see what conversations are taking place or whatís the latest Audio/Video material on GTD thatís out there. However, being a member of GTD Connect, I get an email of whatís the latest out there in the GTD World. If you are serious about implementing GTD, I highly recommend becoming a member of Connect, even if itís just for a month or two. Give it a try, sample the Audio material that they have in store, specially the Tele-seminars by David Allen. Itís been worth my investment.

Productivity Principles Newsletter
For those who are not ready to be members of GTD Connect, but still want to gain traction on your practice of GTD, you may subscribe to the newsletter of David Allen himself called Productivity Principles, where he writes tips and reminders for all to stay strong in the GTD Wagon.

Emails by Vital Smarts
Crucial Conversations and Crucial Confrontations are two brilliant books by the Vital Smarts team. Infact I’d say they almost the next best thing after GTD (and you all know how much I love GTD). One of my personal challenges in life is to be able to hold a Crucial Conversation and/or Confrontation with skill so that both parties come out as winners. Whatís a Crucial Conversation? Well, common examples are possibly when there’s something you need to tell your collegue but he’s highly sensative about it, or you have a difference of opinion on an important business issue, or possibly even dealing with a customer complaint. etc.

In all the above conversations the common elements are that:
– Both parties have conflicting opinions/interest
– Emotions run high
– Stakes are high.

Observe yourself itís when these three elements are in place that you get a crucial conversation. When faced with a Crucial Conversation, there is a roadmap on how to get from tongue-tied, raging emotions scenario to a cool, slick, dialogue smart situation. The Roadmap is long, and thatís the topic for another blog post, however, to get started you may subscribe to the newsletter by Vital Smarts Team. In each edition they address they demonstrate how one can talk one’s way through seemingly impossible highly sensitive topics. Examples of Crucial Conversations addressed in their newsletters are:
– Conversation with an employee over mediocre Performance
– Conversation of a Parent with her daughter on being overweight
– Conversation with a sibling on a difference of opinion on a certain matter in their family business
You can access the above and further past newsletters in their archive here.

Continuing Education:
Learn Out Loud free resource of the day email
Itís been a really long time that I was meaning to blog on the excellent material that Learn Out Loud has. Do browse this website. There is amazing education I have got from many of their Audio programs. In addition to those, you may also subscribe to their daily newsletter where they are continuously scanning the web to find inspirational/motivational/educational audio/video content.

BBC Breaking news alert and Documentaries:
BBC, is the best International news site there is. Period. They hit you with just facts, no exaggeration, as less biased as they can be, and provide you with sufficient analysis and history so that you can make your own opinion. To stay upto date on the latest breaking headlines round the world, Iíve found the BBC Breaking news alert really handy.

Furthermore BBCís documentaries are also the most insightful in the world. To stay abreast of the documentaries coming up on BBC World in the coming fortnight Iíve subscrived to their BBC World New enewsletter here

Quotes by Dr. Mardy
Iíve recently subscribed to this quotation service, by Dr. Mardy. Iím generally quite conscioius of the number of emails I receive and if a newsletter Iím subscribed to doesnít really add value to the subjects/topics Iím interested in, Iím quick to unsubscribe to it. The weekly quotes that I receive from Dr. Mardy have held my attention for the last couple of weeks. I admit I donít read every single email I receive from Dr. Mardy. The days I have my inbox flooded, I am quick to delete the email without giving it a second glance. But the days that I have the time, Iím glad I have I subscribed to Dr. Mardyís service. Here is an excerpt from his weekly email for the week ending 2 May 2009:

“I want to be thoroughly used up when I die,
for the harder I work the more I live.
I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no ‘brief candle’ to me.
It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment;
and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible
before handing it on to future generations.”
George Bernard Shaw, in a 1907 lecture

“I would rather be ashes than dust!
I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze
than it should be stifled by dry-rot.
I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow,
than a sleepy and permanent planet.
The proper function of man is to live, not to exist.
I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them.
I shall use my time.”
Jack London, a remark made to friends in 1916

Baby Centre
As soon as my Sunshine gave me the “good news“, I began scouring all over the net for books, websites on pregnancy, babies etc, till I came across Baby Center. Baby Center provides this terrific service with their weekly updates, that let you know just the information that we needed throughout the pregnancy. Which was emailed to us just in time. It really saved me immense amount of time in researching the same online or in books. Furthermore the service continues till date guiding fledgling parents on the little nuances in bringing up children. I highly recommend parents and parents to be to subscribe to this service. The best part is that this service is also personalised for India, so get tips specific to the Indian context.

Top 5 ads from
Advertising. An old crush of mine. I used to be a subscribed member of Adcritic and keenly track the latest TV spots being released all over the world. Now I quench myself with the Top 5 Adforum weekly email that email me the most popular 5 TV ads over the week.

*Phew* that’s one hell of a long list.
I had no idea I was subscribed to so many enewsletters till I began compiling them. Any of the above enewsletters that you are glad you got to know about? Is there something else that you are subscribed to which you think I and other fellow blog readers would enjoy and look forward to. Do leave a note in the comments if so. Happy reading.

Why is David Allen like Albert Einstein

David Allen is Einstein-1.jpg

Note: This post has many references to jargons that would be familiar mainly to implementers of David Allen’s system of productivity called Getting Things Done or GTD. To Learn more about GTD, you may read this post, 5 Steps to Begin Learning GTD – A Guaranteed way to Save Hours from your Workday.

What made Einstein an Einstein or a Newton a Newton. It was their amazing capability to look at what everybody is looking at, but see at something different. The world sees an Apple falling from a tree, but Newton notices thereís something greater at work here, itís Gravity. The world sees sunrise, sunset and umpteen other relationships with time and light throughout the day. But Einstein looks and realises that hey itís not time thatís a contstant, but itís the speed of light. Similarly the whole world is involved is busy getting stuff done anyway, but David Allen sees through the clutter and comes up with best-practices called GTD.

Below Iíve made a list of some amazing observations that give GTD itís chutzpah. The brilliant thing about all these observations is that everyone one of us were coming across this at least several times every single day of our lives and any one of us could have figured it out. Be it psychologists with PHd degrees, masters in other fields but nobody noticed the below peculiarities. However David Allen did and gosh how life changing they have been.

The Next Action:
What an remarkable observation. That to move forward on any item, all you need is a Next Action. Thatís it. One can only do a Next Action. We have no choice, we can only make Calls (@Calls), Complete Errands (@Errands), Speak to people (@Agenda), Do stuff on our computer (@Computer) etc. and all through our lives weíve always been doing Next Actions only, but never figured out to think in terms of Next Actions.
Furthermore David takes his observation further. The fact that Next Actions can most be categorised in approximately 5 categories or so is an amazing piece of insight. And top it all off to notice also that there are so many Next Actions that donít take longer 2 minutes, is pure genius.
(Note: David has often given the credit of the Next Action thinking to Dean Acheson.)

There is stress as soon as we commit to do something:
You canít see it itís so very subtle, but itís there. As soon as an email, voicemail or a piece of paper (even if itís a cute little greeting card) enters my life, so does stress. And I never noticed it. Ever. Itís when I began practising GTD and began either completing or renegotating my commitments that I realised oh the burden I was under . I always had it. Hey, címon we all always had it. But never noticed it. But thank God David did and man life has been rosier since.

Writing down stuff, gives instant relief:
So how do you get rid of stress in life by the various commitments. Is it by doing them? Not necessariy. Why take all that trouble. Just write it down. Thatís it. Imagine that. Just by writing down you begin to feel so much better. Once again through out lives we have at some point or the other have written stuff down and immediately felt that instant relief, but never questioned why that happened. David did, and realised that stress comes because of our agreements with ourselves (another brilliant observation) and the simple act of writing it down weíre actually renegotiating our agreement with our self and thatís the key to eliminating stress from our lives.

Priorities are at six different levels, three fold nature of work and the limiting criteria:
Finally since we the day we have been hungry or felt the need to poop we have been prioirtising, whether itís sleep we want now or milk. Ofcourse our needs got more complex, but our prioritising system never changed. We kept on putting one task over another

There are probably more gems in GTD that Iíve missed. Have you noticed something in GTD that is so simple and obvious that anyone could have figured out, but hasnít and David Allen has. Do mention it in comments below.

How I use an Intention Journal to inspire, motivate and even spiritualise myself again and again.

Have you ever come across a quote, an inspiring saying or a Hadith, that you liked so very much you just had to take a printout and stick it up somewhere that you could see it everyday. Infact you may have a couple of these either around your office desk, or home, maybe in your car. If you havenít done it yourself, you certainly know friends who have this quirky little habit.

I have done this a couple of times in the past too. And sure the first couple of times I read the quote, it does charge me up to either work harder, or be focused or more caring, loving etc. However, after a week or so, if I happen to read the quote, it makes no difference to me. Give it a fortnight, that quote becomes invisible. I donít even look at the side where Iíve got that quote up. Infact even if I did, I would probably see right through it. Thereís a psychological reason that if anything is seen or told at too often, one becomes completely immune to it. The technical term for this is: nagging. So what do you do to get the same impact again and again? So how can you see and read this advice regularly enough that it encourages you but not so often that it stops having an effect on you.

David Allen has this slick web-application called an Intention Journal, to help you do just that. Sadly itís not free and you have to be a member of GTD-Connect to use it. However if you are a Microsoft Outlook user, you can setup your own personal Intention Journal.

7 Easy steps to setup your own personal Intention Journal:

1. Go to the Tasks Module of your Outlook, by clicking on Go->Tasks (or shortcut Crtl+F4)

2. Create a New Task, by clicking Crtl+N
3. Type into the Subject, the topic of the Quote
4. Copy & Paste or Type into the notes Section of the New Task Window, the entire quote

5. Click on Recurrence on the New Task Window. Or press Alt, H, E.
6. Choose how often would you like to see this quote, then click Okay. I generally would like to see my quotes to an obscure number like every 43 or 54 days or so. That makes it really random, thereby giving me the maximum impact each time I see the quote, as I would never be expecting it.

7. Save and Close, and youíre done! Now every so often you will have your selected quote show up as a daily task on your Outlook screen. I look at my daily tasks almost first thing every day, however if you would want it to pop-up, then just put an alarm/reminder too.

Here are a few quotes that I currently have randomly spread across in my Outlook Intention Journal:

On Ascetism:?Asceticism does not mean that you should own nothing. It means nothing should own you. – Imam Ali

On Valuing oneís youth:?”Oh. Soldier. Value your youth and worship God. The pleasure of worship is in your youth. When you get old, your heart will want to worship, but you will not have the health and strength to do so.” – Imam Khomenie

The Illusion:?You Are Nor Veiled From Allah By The Existence Of Something That exists with Him since there is nothing which exists with Him. You are veiled from Him by the illusion that something exists with Him. – Shaykh Abdal Qadir Gilani.

Charity:?Stop giving charity only after you either run out of money or run out of breath.

Desire & Expectation:?Truly, The Thing I Fear Most For My Community Is Illusionary desire and excessive expectation, for desire bars one from the truth and expectation makes one love the world.

Definition of Regret:?”What is regret but that we were not more fully present in a situation, or to be more ‘there’ in a relationship that we have now lost?” – from Tom Butler Bowden’s summary of, Eckhart Tolleís, Power of Now in 50 spiritual classics.

On Work:?’Through work you express your love for those whoever will benefit from it, and satisfy your own need to create. Those who enjoy their work know that it is a secret to fulfillment, that we can be saved through what we do.” Khalil Jibran

If you liked this post, you may further benefit from the post: How I use my Tickler file to remind me of all the important and unimportant things in my life.

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