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. There’s 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 “Prepare the report on impact of carbon emission on the environment”, your next action would be something like “Search 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 you’re 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 “Next Actions”.  Any project that we work on, it’s 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. It’s something that I’ve subscribed to just so that I’m 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, it’s not that much clutter that I need to unsubscribe to it.

Verne’s Insights
I’ve found more handy information from Verne Harnish’s weekly newsletters. They’re shorter, punchy and let me know of what are the cool useful things that Corporates around the world are up to and if there’s 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. It’s 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
It’s 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 Jason’s 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 don’t get much time to hand around the GTD Forums to see what conversations are taking place or what’s the latest Audio/Video material on GTD that’s out there. However, being a member of GTD Connect, I get an email of what’s 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 it’s 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. It’s 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. What’s 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 it’s 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 that’s 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
It’s 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, I’ve found the BBC Breaking news alert really handy.

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

Quotes by Dr. Mardy
I’ve recently subscribed to this quotation service, by Dr. Mardy. I’m generally quite conscioius of the number of emails I receive and if a newsletter I’m subscribed to doesn’t really add value to the subjects/topics I’m interested in, I’m 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 don’t 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, I’m glad I have I subscribed to Dr. Mardy’s 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.

5 Questions that will help you regain your Focus at Work.

Spending too much time at Office, but not getting a lot done? Here are Five questions that works towards fixing that. Ask yourself:

1. Am I being Productive or Busy?

2. Am I inventing things to do to avoid the important?

3. What 20% inputs causes the 80% of my productivity, satisfaction and happiness?

4. What 20% inputs causes the 80% grief?

5. What tasks would I do if I had 2 hours/day to work?
(This last question is a killer. Truly think about it. What if one find day the Doctor told you that buddy, I’m sorry but if you’ve got to live, you can only visit work two hours a day. No more. Beyond that, your body and mind would not be able to take the load.
Just imagining that scenario starts gearing the mind as to how we can maintain our current work load within that time frame ie just two hours a da. And you know what, it seems doable too.)

Source: The Four Hour Work Week by Tim Ferris

War of Art (Book review): My most effective weapon against Procrastination.

There are just a handful of books that I can say have dramatically changed my life for the better. War of Art by Steven Pressfield sits way high on that list. It is an outstanding book, crafted to help you may hear your life’s purpose like never before and then soar away to living it.

All of us have whining nagging voice in our heads. You know that voice, it’s the one that says,
“Oh it’s so early, you’ve had a late night, get some rest you can always exercise later.”
“You? Start a business and take all that risk…c’mon you’ve got a family, don’t be foolish.”
“Want to be more spiritual? It’s such a noble goal but oh, the sacrifice, why don’t you wait till tomorrow…”

That’s not the voice in your head, but the voice of a real being, a living, breathing lifeform who’s sole purpose is to get you from achieving your life purpose. It is the voice of Resistance.

What is Resistance?

Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance. Are you a writer who doesn’t write, a painter who doesn’t paint, an entrepreneur who doesn’t start a venture? Then you know what Resistance is.

Any act that rejects immediate gratification in favor of long-term growth, health, or integrity. Or, expressed another way, any act that derives from our higher nature instead of our lower. Any of these will elicit Resistance.

Resistance will tell you anything to keep you from doing your work. It will perjure, fabricate, fasify; seduce, bully cajole. It will assume any form, if that ‘s what it takes to deceive you. It will reason with you like a lawyer or jam a nine-millimeter in your face like a stuckup man. Resistance has no conscience. It will pledge anything to get a deal, then double-cross you as soon as your back is truned. If tyou take Rsistance at its word, you deserve everything you get. Resistance is always lying and always full of shit.

If you believe in God (and I do) you must declare Resistance evil, of it prevents us from achieving the life God intended when He endowed each of us with our own unique genius.

Steven Pressfield has recognised Resistance for what it is and described it so starkly, it’s as if he’s stripped the devil himself of all his hides and exposed the blood-thirsty rasping wolf that lay beneath.

So, once you’ve recognised Resistance, how do you get the better of it?
How do you stay strong and don’t get allured by it’s seductive sounds. The solution is really quite simple. Infact we’re acting out every single day at our jobs. It’s simply by becoming a pro, i.e. a professional at what we wish to do. And That’s what the second part of the book is dedicated to. What does it mean to turn pro?
Pro means treating our ambition, just the way we treat our jobs. How do we treat our jobs?

– We show up every day. We might do it only because we have to, to keep from getting fired. But we do it. We show up every day.
– We show up no matter what. In sickness and in health, come hell or high water, we stagger in to the factory. We might do it only so as not to let down our co-workers, or for other, less noble reasons. But we do it. We show up no matter what.
– We stay on the job all day. Our minds may wander, but our bodies remain at the wheel. We pick up the phone when it rings, we assist the customer when he seeks our help. We don’t go home till the whistle blows.
– We receive praise or blame in the real world…

This book is a must for everyone’s and anyone’s library. It’s quite short and not too wordy. I’ve picked it up several times and gives me a kick where I need it and when I need it most. And incase the book is difficult to get, the audio book is available for purchase here. It’s read out by Steven Pressfield himself, and in my view packs more of a punch than the book itself.

6 Steps to speed read a 300 page book in 2 hours, and remember what you’ve read

I love reading books, and if you’re like me you know the problem is there are too many books and too little time!

If you can relate to this, then this post is for you.

I overcame this problem by going through several Speed Reading books to develop my reading & comprehension skills.

I’m now able to read a book several times faster, and I’m not exaggerating when I say that I can read a 300 page book in 2 hours. Though most Speed Reading Books focused on Reading Drills, what I found was that by adopting a few basic techniques, one can dramatically & instantly improve their Speed Reading Skills. In this post I’ll be sharing with you these secrets. (A Note: these techniques work best with Non-Fiction books)

Step 1: Know the purpose of reading the book

This is the first and perhaps the most important step to enhance your speed in reading. It is to know the purpose you’re reading the book. Is it pleasure reading, self-improvement or looking for details on a particular subject ? Without knowing why you won’t be able to jump into the pool of information to get what you want.

Ask yourself:

First: In an overall scheme of things how worthwhile is the material that I am reading

Second: What do I want or need to remember, as specifically as possible, from this material that I am about to read?

Step 2 & 3: Get an Overview of the Book & Author (15 minutes)

  • Go through the Front Cover, back cover & inside page cover
  • Table of Contents (make a note of chapters that seem interesting)
  • Amazon Reviews
  • Preface
  • Introduction

While going through the Amazon reviews, preface & introduction gather some more information about the author and form an opinion of the Author and why has he written the book.

Doing the above should not take more than 15 minutes. By the end of this step, you should be able to explain to someone in a few sentences what the book is about. If you can do this you’ve completed this step successfully.

Step 4: Flip through the entire book (10 minutes)

You’ll be surprised by the wealth of information you’ll come across by just doing this. Flip through every page of the book, spending 0.5 sec to 3 secs a page. You’re not expected to read through the text, but during this exercise, make notice of the following:

  • Diagrams
  • Sub Headings
  • Summary points
  • Any exercise

By noticing the above you’ll find your mind automatically absorbing bits of information & connecting the dots between them.

Step 5: Getting into the details (1 hour 20 minutes)

Most readers read books by diving right into the details without doing any background work. But by the time you’ve reached this step, you know:

  • Why you’re reading the book?
  • What the book is about?
  • Who the author is?
  • How can this book can help you?

Congratulations, you’re well in control of the book and to navigate through it with ease.

From step 2 you would have highlighted the chapters that interest you the most. Be brave start going through these chapters. Don’t feel guilty by jumping to the end of the chapter, usually the end of the chapter will summarize the whole chapter.

You’ll notice more often that not, there are a only few chapters that you need to go through, to know what you need to remember in Step 1. It’s using the 80/20 rule. 80% of the information you require is found in 20% of the book. 20% of the book is approx 50 pages which not take an average reader more than an hour and a half to read. Make sure you underline the Major themes and ideas of each chapter you read.

Step 6: Mind Map (15 minutes)

Mind-Mapping is a proven method to effecting summarize lots of information in short use of time and space. You can learn about Mind Mapping from this YouTube Video.

With the information you’ve underlined in Step 5, create a Mindmap to connect the central ideas of the book and each chapter it contains. The center of the MindMap can be the name of the book, and each Chapter you’ve read is a branch from the center. From each Chapter connect the lines

How it Works?

Speed reading is not about reading words fast, but it’s more about improving one’s ability to extract the message of the text that is being read. All the techniques above enhance your ability to understand the message of the text, without the need to read through every letter.

Benefits of Speed Reading:

  • Absorb new ideas faster
  • You’ll be able to make time to read a wider range of material
  • Greater career success as your ability to acquire and retain knowledge increases dramatically
  • Increased confidence to sifting through thick books to get what you want

Try it out! and share your experiences below.

Page 1 of 41234