4 guidelines for the holiday season

If you are spending the holidays with family and friends, here are 4 guidelines that might help.

1. Make sure you are happy. You make lousy company when you are unhappy. Get as much quiet time/rest/sleep as you need. Block out such time if necessary. Take good care of yourself and make sure you are great company most of the time.

2. Integrate others into simple activities. When there are groups of people visiting you or vice versa, the chances are that you’ve got a few things you want done. See if you can integrate people into your activities. Got an errand you need to run? Take someone along and spend quality time with them.

3. Go for short, but meaningful. We don’t remember trips or long stretches of time. We remember moments and emotions. And, the best way to do these is to go for “short, but meaningful.” Resist the temptation to pack your time with loved ones with one too many activities. Do little but do it well.

4. End it well. A big part of creating great emotions and moments is the ending. People remember peaks and ends. So, always make sure trips build up to a wonderful celebration and always always be there to say goodbye. Walk people down, take them to the airport, and do what it takes for that final memory to be perfect.

Happy holidays everyone!

Holiday season gift idea: Fitbit Flex/Force

A couple of our close friends gifted us Fitbits for our wedding. My wife and I were eager to try it. We’ve loved it.  This has obviously rubbed off on people as we now have about 10 others who have purchased Fitbits with a few more on the way. In fact, out of 2 colleagues I’ve worked intensively with over the past two months, one has bought it for himself while the other has gifted these to his family. 

I realize my use of the Fitbit has evolved over the 4 months in which I have used it. While the competition and community bit was a bigger factor when I got started, it has evolved into a device I use to check on myself. It’s shocking how little we walk in a work day and this has inspired me to get up to take short breaks to drink water, to take the more scenic route to the men’s room, and to take the stairs instead of the life where possible.

A few of us have also roped our moms into the Fitbit culture and it’s nice to have them join the conversation about fitness and steps walked too. My mom has often chosen a long walk in the past 3 months over a drive simply to increase  her step count. It remains to be seen if she will sustain the enthusiasm. In my case, on the other hand, while I rarely compare my step total to others (except perhaps to rib my wife on the rare occasions when I’m ahead of her), it has become a wonderful reminder system.

I hear the Fitbit Force is excellent – it’s essentially a Flex that can tell the time. I would love to get my hands on one as that was my biggest gripe about the Flex. If you’re wearing a band, I feel you might as well have one that tells the time. So, well done on releasing the Force, Fitbit team!

This is a fun product that drives positive discussions. As you’re mulling over gifts for your loved ones for the holiday season, I hope you’ll consider this.

Music and mood

Multiple studies have shown music’s positive effect on mood. I experience this every day. I’ve been playing a guitar riff in the first 10 seconds of an unlikely song that I find addictive. I need to cut this part out and make it my ringtone. Just listening to the riff on repeat has put me in a great mood as I start the day. I use music multiple times during the day – when I want to get started on a work out, when I want to focus, when I want to write, and so on.

It occurred to me this morning that many of us are privileged enough to walk around with devices that carry more than a 1,000 songs in our pocket. Perhaps we ought to just create a “good mood” list for our together favorite songs/songs that remind us of great times and play it every time we feel we need a lift during the day.

There really are no excuses letting bad moods prevail..

You get what you tolerate

If you tolerate disrespect, you will get more of it.

If you tolerate tardiness, don’t expect punctuality.

Teams with high bars only have those high bars because key members of the team have very little patience for behavior that doesn’t reflect the best in people. If you don’t want bad behavior, be explicit about not tolerating it.

PS: Of course, you stand on solid ground only if you aren’t guilty of the behavior yourself.

Give it a day

When something upsets you, give it a day. Let the problem stew in your head while you are awake and let it waddle about the unconscious while you are sleeping. What you get 24 hours later is the sort of clarity you could never have gotten otherwise.

When emotions are raw, we feel that burning desire to do something. Don’t. Take time off. The bigger the problem, take longer time away from action.

In the process, also remember to visit the reason for these emotions. Raw emotions are caused either by a perceived attack on insecurities or a feeling of being unfairly treated. For the former, you might need much longer to deal with it as there are no quick fixes and the fix lies within yourself.

In both cases, giving it a day can only help.

Assume you’ll be back to reuse what you are building

First time analysis or code or construction of any sorts rewards scrappiness. It’s nice to blitz through to find the answer. Who cares if the analysis or code looks clean? Just get the darn thing done.

Over the years, I’ve endured many painful experiences when I have had to come back and re-use what I was building. Hacking through the piece of analysis to get an answer has almost always resulted in me having to rebuild it from scratch.

Do it right the first time if you can. If you can’t, do it with a good process so you can come back and pick up from where you left of – you’ll thank yourself later.

Thank the environment

If you are doing well in your life/career, thank the environment. Thank your company/project, your boss, your teammates, your family, and even the place you live in. Superstars can just as easily be massive failures in environments that don’t suit them. The flip side could also be true. Folks struggling to perform can achieve huge shifts by a simple change in the environment as long as the reason for failure isn’t an attitude problem.

Sports is an arena where we see this so often. Some truly extraordinary players go through mediocre seasons at clubs that don’t suit them and go back to being extraordinary at environments that work for them.

The learning here is that you aren’t as important a factor in both your successes and failures as you probably think you are. There are many factors at work. That doesn’t mean you have no impact. You do.. but it’s smaller than you think.

So, don’t drink the kool aid and don’t take the anti depressants either. It’s all a game and the real gift is being given the opportunity to play. The better you are at playing the game with a consistently great attitude, the chances are higher that you will have the opportunity to pick environments where you have a higher chance of success.


The topic on my mind today is privilege. Ever since my Himalaya trek, I’ve been working on removing complaining. I dislike whining and more importantly, I dislike myself when I whine. In many ways, 2013 has been a year of gaining perspective. Thanks to some interesting failures/life experiences in the first part of the year, I’ve realized how absurdly lucky I am to have the problems I have. At any point, there are more than three billion people on this planet who would love to have my problems. This sort of privilege brings with it a responsibility to be humble and a duty to make as much of a positive difference as possible.

I’ve been thinking about privilege today thanks to a phenomenal blog post by a blogger I do not know. I would strongly recommend you read it. It is one of the better pieces of writing I’ve read in a long time. Below is my favorite part.

Paul Bernal – a few words on privilege

When I read about Boris’s speech, and when I think about all the patronising, elitist, offensive stuff that this government and pretty much every government I can remember have said, it makes me angry. Things like accusing poor people of not knowing how to budget, how to cook, how to feed their kids, how to make good decisions, or of being lazy, stupid etc. Suggestions from ministers that they could easily live on the amounts people get in benefits. Suggestions that people don’t try hard enough to get jobs. Suggestions that they don’t work hard enough. They all make me angry – and they make it clear to me that most of those speaking don’t know how privileged they are – and what the consequences of that privilege are.

For me, there are a few things that I try to remember. The first is the most obvious – that I’m deeply privileged and deeply lucky. The second is that I still don’t know quite how privileged and lucky I am – because so much of the privilege is hidden and built into the system, so much that those who are privileged can’t see it. Until I asked, I never realised that all the women were being paid less than all the men. Until I went to Burma and met those Burmese people I didn’t realise how it was possible not to feel sorry for yourself for the smallest thing. Until I listened to the African people at the conference, I didn’t realise quite how many assumptions I was making about how to solve the world’s problems.

That, in the end, is the most important thing. Whoever you are, however intelligent and enlightened you are, you don’t know what life is like for other people. You don’t know how things are for them, how hard it is for them. I don’t know what it is like to be really poor, for example. I’ve been poor – but I’ve been poor and still known I have family that would support me in the end, that I have the kind of education and experience that can help me out, that I’m healthy and so forth. Men don’t know what it’s like to be women. Straight men don’t know what it’s like to be gay in the society we have today. Able-bodied people don’t know what it’s like to have a disability. White people don’t know what it is like to be black. Wealthy people don’t know what it’s like to be poor.

There’s an old saying: ‘with great power comes great responsibility’. There’s a degree to which it’s true, and it certainly seems that the current lot of powerful people are thoroughly irresponsible. I’d like to add another – though it’s deeply wishful thinking. With great privilege should come great humility. Those of us who are privileged – like me, and like Boris – should be able to find that humility. To know that we really don’t know what it’s like to live without our privilege. We can try to imagine – but we’ll never really succeed. And we should know that we’ll never really succeed – and be far, far more willing to listen properly to those who do know it. Most of all, though, we should know when not to talk as though we had all the answers. We should know when to shut up.

”And we should know that we’ll never really succeed – and be far, far more willing to listen properly to those who do know it. Most of all, though, we should know when not to talk as though we had all the answers. We should know when to shut up.”


The value of outlier experiences

Every once in a while, life throws in a crazy outlier experience. These experiences often feel horrible. This could be an exceptionally bad project or a period in life when everything seems to be dark and depressing.

The good news is that they don’t last too long and the better news is that they are of high value in terms of what they add to our life experience.

Outlier experiences stretch our pre conceived limits. Let’s take a simple example – there are a lot of people who complain about bad commutes. I was among them. Then I spent most of 2012 commuting for 3 hours every day. It wasn’t planned and was just a product of circumstance but was painful nevertheless. As far as commutes go, it was an outlier experience that has given me a lot of perspective. I learnt how to make good use of time over long commutes and am generally thankful for shorter commutes (which is most of the time).

For long term happiness, or the state of happiness instead of the feeling of happiness, we need to hone the ability to put things in perspective. Bad outlier experiences help us do that better than anything else.

So, if you just had a tough week as a part of a tough period, I ask you to take heart. It will pass, and what’s more, it’ll give you some very useful perspective and wisdom if you’re willing to learn from it.

Front-load work

It’s a simple lesson in theory – once you know your deadline and expected result, work hard to front-load work so you finish comfortably.

It just took me the good part of 24 years to really learn it.

3 lessons from 6 months of effective front-loading of work –

1. Scoping work, i.e. making sure the deadlines are realistic, is a valuable skill. If your deadlines are unrealistic, no amount of front-loading will save you. It might ease a bit of pain though. The most important principle of scoping is to under promise and over deliver – it’s a hard one to get right. I’m hoping I’ll have a few tips on that in a year or two.

2. Front-loading work doesn’t remove stress. It just makes sure the stress is positive. Stress quickly moves from positive stress/pressure to negative stress as the deadline nears.

3. Be ruthless about removing bottlenecks early. It is okay to be impatient 4 weeks before the deadline. The joy of being able to check and double check your work in peace as your deadline nears makes all the impatience worth it.