Plan-the-day template

A manager I worked with recommended the following plan-the-day structure (screenshot below) as a way of keeping track of everything you’d like done in a day.  In addition to that, he rightly pointed out that I didn’t keep an archive of tasks done to refer to in case it was ever necessary (like I might have done if I were using a notebook).


I have been using this over the past 2 months and I have found the in-built archiving feature useful since I automatically create a new page for a new day by copying the previous day’s page and making edits. While his structure was a sketch in his notebook, I’ve been using Microsoft OneNote – I’m a huge OneNote fan and here again, it is perfectly suited to this need.

Overall, I’ve been happy with this system and it’s definitely help me keep things organized and focused. In case you’re open to trying out a new system, I hope it helps you too!

Doing what you don’t want to do

Sometimes, showing up is awfully hard. Monday mornings have that effect on us. Maybe that’s why Woody Allen attributed 80% of success to showing up.

When you’re stuck wondering whether to do what you want or what you committed to, remind yourself that “want” is very short term. Notice how a good wake up song and some water on your face make you ready for a day when you might have considered staying in bed just 5 minutes back?

Doing what you don’t want to do is a big part of showing up. And developing the habit of showing up is as big a long term win as you can find.

On the All Powerful Bond Markets

This week’s learning is part 3 of a 12 part series on The Ascent of Money by Niall Ferguson. (Parts 1, 2)

Thanks to frequent warring among Italian states, rich citizens in Florence lent money to the government and received interest in return. These investors were then allowed to sell their bonds to other invest, thus creating a “market” for these government bonds.

We are all affected by the bond markets in 3 ways –

1) Most of the money we put away for our retirement are reinvested in the bond markets
2) A fall of value of government bonds results in higher interest rates resulting in painful consequences for borrowers. Let me explain that –

Let’s assume you own Japanese government bonds worth $100,000 dollars that normally gives interest of 1.5% (=$1,500). Now, the Japanese economy is doing well and the markets value these bonds at $102,000. Thus, the interest rate goes down to 1.47% (1,500/102,000) to compensate. Similarly, if the Japanese economy is doing badly or if investors fear a Japanese default, the value of these bonds will go down so the investors get a price that compensates the risk they take.

If the goes down to $80,000, the new interest rate is 1,500/80,000 = 1.88%. All of a sudden, the whole Japanese economy suffers a massive rise in interest rates. Thus, the bond markets control every price of stock, mortgage, or loan you pay! And the power in the bond markets is that it can punish poor financial regulation by reducing value of bonds, raising interest rates, and thus, making a deficit even harder to meet.


Sketch by EB

Thus, a downward move by the bond market leaves the government with 3 options –

1) Default on a part of its debt realizing the bond market’s worst fears
2) Reduce expenditures to appease it
3) Increase income by raising taxes

While bonds were created to control government spending, it has ended up dictating it in a crisis.

And, like the Bond created by Ian Fleming, it has the license to kill.

Savor it

There are many movies, books, and blog posts that talk about the importance of savoring time with our loved ones. I’m not sure how many of those have any real impact. And I’m not sure how many of us savor it nearly as much as we should.

I’ve had long stints away from my loved ones for many years now. First, thanks to education and then work. The ‘loved one’ group has expanded from family to include many close friends (framily). These stints will soon get tougher now that I’m married. But, they do add so much perspective as I realize that the real time I get to spend with those I love is very limited and I’ve got to make the best of them. The trips back may be short in length but they can be very meaningful.

That’s my goal for this 2 week trip with a short trip back with family included. Life isn’t short but moments where we are truly alive can be woefully short if we aren’t conscious about how we spend our time. So I’m very excited about making it meaningful, and looking forward to savoring every moment.

If/when you meet your loved ones this weekend, I hope you’ll lead the way with lots of big tight hugs. Life is all about creating moments and we get very few with those we love. Make it meaningful. Savor it.

iTunes Radio

Now that all the noise about the iOS7 and iPhone 5S/C launches have died down, I’d like to share my vote for the best part of the launch. While I’ve enjoyed iOS7 so far, my vote for best feature is iTunes Radio hands down.

I honestly can’t get enough of it. I believe music listeners are of 2 kinds – ones who love to own their music and ones who don’t care. The latter have the likes Spotify taking care of their needs while the former have options of buying CDs/MP3s from Amazon or from iTunes.


I had decided to invest in all media on iTunes but I was stuck with a problem over the past few months – discovery. I had a very random method of discovery – the largest sources of which were a couple of friends who used to send me good songs to listen to. I used to occasionally check out Grooveshark’s “most popular” list to figure out what’s new and popular. But, no more Grooveshark after 100% legal of course.

To cut a long story short, after many attempts at finding new good songs, iTunes Radio has been a blessing over this past week. After fiddling around with various stations, I searched for Coldplay and found a Coldplay station that plays songs similar to Coldplay. As you listen, you have 2 very powerful options –

1. Play songs like this one. Their algorithms must be very good because by the 3rd day of doing this often, 1 in every 3 songs were songs I already owned! They’re “getting” what I like listening to most of the time. I’d like my Avicii station to do better but I guess it’s still work in progress.

2. Add to iTunes wish list. After a bulk buy of music, I’ve been spending most of my monthly budget on TV shows/movies since. Now, all of a sudden, I have 20+ songs on my wish list and this isn’t going to stop any time soon. What a fantastic business idea!

In short, I love iTunes Radio and I hope you give it a shot.

You are only as good as your last game..

A footballer is only as good as his last game. If his last game was bad, he might not even get a chance to play the next. You don’t earn your salary because of the value you’ve added in your life to date. You earn it because of the value you added last month and the expectation on the amount of value you will add only goes up.

Not learning or growing on the job might have been an option when all workers were standing on an assembly line. It is not an option now.

Learn and get a shot at playing the next game or watch someone with more hunger take your place.

So, what are you learning on the job that’s making you better?

Some days just suck

Dramatic headline, I know. Allow me to explain.

I was in the midst of a really crap day a few days back. There were a couple of things that just seemed to be going against what I’d hoped for and this was compounded by a few minor annoyances that always loom like mountains on a bad day. I wasn’t feeling all that great either – I’d initially thought this was more mental than physical but I realized later it was a case of food poisoning and took me the best part of the day to recover.

I remember taking stock at mid-day and asking myself what my learning was for the day. I spent a few minutes thinking of something profound I’d learnt.

It turns out there was no profound lesson. I just learnt that some days..well..suck. It’s just part of life.

The moment I realized that, my focus shifted to getting done with work for the day and catching some sleep. If possible, also indulging myself in something that would take my mind off things (this didn’t happen). The day didn’t get better but the next day sure improved. On some days, that’s a big enough win. 

And, on a related note, when I’m not feeling all that good, I drink a lot of hot water. It seems to have a therapeutic effect. Do give it a shot.

Somebody sets the tone

Somebody does set the tone. A meeting can range from productive to friendly to creative to dead boring. A team’s culture can be one of warmth, care, or pure attrition. Friends could share a culture built around nicotine, baseball, or valuable conversations. Families can do tight hugs or awkward hugs.

Somebody, consciously or unconsciously sets the tone. It’s tempting to look to the boss or the inadvertent ‘alpha’ character to set the “right” tone. But, it isn’t always the boss or leader who sets the tone. They could probably consciously set a few aspects of the culture in place but they can’t do everything. And if they don’t it, somebody does.

And that somebody could very well be you.

Andrew Hallam – The Millionaire Teacher on teaching investing, investing, and living..

I read Andrew Hallam’s book following my interview with financial theorist and author Bill Bernstein. Bill recommended Andrew’s book “The Millionaire Teacher” and I can’t thank him enough for it. I liked it so much that I’ve gifted about 10 copies to friends and family over the past couple of months.

Interviewing Andrew was a real blast – he is SO full of energy! There are plenty of great personal finance and life ideas in there and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

About Andrew

Andrew Hallam the author of the best-selling personal finance book, Millionaire Teacher—The Nine Rules of Wealth You Should Have Learned in School. Andrew teaches Personal Finance at Singapore American School and I also writes a few regular columns for the Canadian Business magazine, weekly for The Globe and Mail , and at least twice a month for Assetbuilder , a U.S. based financial service company. Periodically, he also write for MoneySense magazine, where two of his articles were nominated as national publishing award finalists.

If you didn’t grow up in a wealthy household, Andrew and you probably have plenty in common. His dad was a mechanic, and his mom worked part-time at a retail store, earning slightly more than the minimum wage. As one of four children, his parents expected him to pay for my own college education. He developed an early respect for money because he never had any while growing up. And when he was 19, I met a mechanic who happened to be a millionaire. He learned that it wasn’t always necessary to have a high paying job in order to build wealth. He wanted to become a school teacher and figured that if a mechanic could grow wealthy on a middle class salary, then he could too.

So before his 20th birthday, he started to invest and along the way, he learned some vital financial lessons. And as he started to succeed financially, he grew more baffled at the absence of sound financial lessons in schools. His blog provides links to his published writing and more free-to-access content.

My favorite snippets –

“Even something as simple as choosing to go to Starbucks three times a week versus once every second week can make a difference of hundreds of thousands of dollars over the course of a lifetime.  What about other little decisions that get made?  For example, taking the five star holiday versus the three star holiday, flying business class versus flying economy class, or taking taxis everyday versus taking the MRT are huge differences.  For me the trick is getting the kids to come to these conclusions on their own.”

“Invest regular sums into the market  and ideally, for someone your age, you should actually be really happy if the market drops after you start purchasing.”

“One of my biggest mistakes in teaching people about money was learning that not everybody can manage their own money. Then I recognized that a lot of really smart friends of mine with IQ’s way above mine just aren’t emotionally wired to invest. If you can’t do that, then you can hire somebody to invest dispassionately for you with low cost indexes or ETF’s.  That’s the secret.  Don’t pay them more than 1% per year to do that job.”

“To me, it’s really inspiring knowing that every day I live is one day closer to my ultimate demise. If people don’t recognize that, I don’t think they truly live. You have to recognize that every single day is special.”

Full transcript, as always, on

On Silver to Central Banks and Credit

This week’s learning is part 2 of a 12 part series on The Ascent of Money by Niall Ferguson. (Part 1)

When money was first conceptualized, it was tied to silver and gold. But, there is very limited silver and gold and that meant demand always exceeded supply. Big leaps were made when the first banks were formed to make money lending legitimate (versus leaving people at the mercy of money lenders – Think Shylock).

It was in London, Amsterdam, and Stockholm that financial innovation began taking place with the formation of a central bank and the beginnings of banks lending depositor’s money. To illustrate the power of this, let’s imagine the central bank gives bank A $100.
– Bank A keeps $9 and lends $91 to Bank B
– Bank B then keeps $9 and lends $82 to Bank C

If you pause here, you realize that while the real money from the central bank is $100, the money in circulation is $373. This works well until the central bank wants all of its money back, of course. That means bank A needs to reliably recall money to bank B and so on.

In this case, the central bank is Bank A’s only depositor. When all/most of the depositors of a bank want their money back, it is called a “run.” Thus, the dangers of having one depositor is obvious – hence, banks need to “diversify.” And, to make sure banks don’t “default,” they need to make sure their “leverage,” or ability to call back money when depositors want it, is strong. If they do not watch their leverage (like in this example), it would result in a “bankruptcy” – literally the rupture of a bank.


Sketch by EB

This financial innovation has been critical in the progress of society. Debit and credit are the foundation of economic growth and the development of the world. The world would not have been better without money, contrary to popular belief. Credit is what enables us to ‘move up’ in financial terms and is the first building block.

Next week, we will explore the bond markets – the next building block..