The one thing we cannot get away from

There’s one thing we cannot get away from – intensity of focus. The more intense our focus, the more we get done.

We can tweak to-do lists, internalize a hundred productivity hacks, and buy the latest-and-greatest time saving cool gadget. But, there’s no hacking intensity of focus.

We either need to find out the schedule and diet that best suits our ability to focus or learn to do so regardless of environment. Sleeping well, eating well, and focusing hard are important pre-requisites to intensity of focus.

As we plan our week, let’s plan for days when we spend our focus energy well. That is the single most important contributor to the results we will have at the end of the week.

Eddie Vedder’s typewriters – The 200 words project

Here’s this week’s 200 word idea thanks to,, Seth’s blog.

Computers are obviously the most popular way to write, but star Pearl Jam singer and songwriter Eddie Vedder still prefers to use a typewriter.

As Vedder notes – “I like them because you can write on them late at night, depending on what you’re fortifying yourself with, and the next morning you can still figure what you wrote. There are times where I would keep three typewriters on a table, and I’d have three complete thoughts going. With computers, you make folders, files – I don’t know about those things… And a typewriter keeps your hands strong for guitar playing.”

As Seth Godin notes, Isaac Asimov wrote more than 400 books, on a manual typewriter, with no access to modern productivity tools. Would they would have helped him write 400 more?

Too often, we get so caught up in maximizing the benefits of technology that we lose sight of what already works for us. There’s nothing stopping Vedder from learning about computers, but he recognizes that it’s not important; his core task of writing a song is done well enough on a typewriter. So he sticks with it.
Source and thanks to:

Eddie Vedder ToolsSource and thanks to:

‘I wonder how much productivity comes from new techniques, and how much comes from merely getting sick of non-productivity and deciding to do something that matters, right now.’ | Seth Godin

Whatsapp’s annoying notification screen

Ever since the latest Whatsapp update, I find myself having to close this screen nearly every time I open up the app. Notifications for most apps on my phone are turned off as I like checking them when I want to. This is just a massive annoyance.

A couple of thoughts on this –

1. Some Whatsapp Product Manager probably decided this might be the best way to make sure users always turn on notifications. Perhaps it is one of their key performance indicators. If this is the case, it strikes me as a shockingly short term move that will only ends up annoying users. I’ve been a big Whatsapp cheerleader on this blog before. This screen is killing that goodwill.

2. There’s one part of me that would just like to say – “Give us some credit, Whatsapp. How about thinking we users might actually know how to operate a phone?”

3. Then, there’s the other side that wonders if the Product Managers/Engineers at Whatsapp have lost touch with the user. Maybe they love the app so much that they can’t imagine a scenario where users may want no notifications on their phone?

4. Now, if users actually do need help with understanding how to switch on notifications, there is still middle ground. For example, they could design the app such that I have an option to stop the screen from showing up (like the “Don’t show this again” checkbox).

A nice learning for all of us who design product experiences for users. If you’re designing a “reminder” feature that will annoying your user into doing what you’d like them to do, stop. There’s always another way.


The importance of being present

The longer your task list, the more tempting it is to do two things at once. What happens after that is predictable – dilution of focus, result of two tasks completed with 60% quality, and frustration.

The way it actually works is that the longer your task list, the more important it is to be fully present in what you are doing now. Attempting to do two things simultaneously is not the solution. Focusing on what you are doing now is.

So, take the time to really think about what you want to get done. Once you commit to it, there’s no escaping being present. The more you have to get done and the more packed your schedule is, the more important it becomes to be present.

“The essence of Zen is doing one thing at a time.”

Hot water

It is getting cold where we are and, the other day, my wife commented how having hot water when we need it is such a boon. I realized that it isn’t just hot water that is a privilege. All of “hot,” “water,” and “hot water” are. There are billions of people who don’t have regular access to these.

Privilege is a funny beast. You could be speaking its language without even being aware of it, e.g., complaining about flights being late, about internet being slow, or about bad weather on vacation.

Guilt is not the answer of course. Acceptance followed by action is.

If you’re worried about whether you are capable to make a big difference, stop. Frequent tiny differences made consistently over a lifetime will work very well.

FOMO – MBA Learnings

Wikipedia describes FOMO or Fear of missing out as a form of social anxiety, whereby one is compulsively concerned that one might miss an opportunity for social interaction, a novel experience, profitable investment or other satisfying event.

I’m sure you’ve experienced FOMO at various times in your life. It turns out graduate school is a fantastic lab to study FOMO. Given the intensity of competition between various priorities, FOMO could be a huge problem if you let it. Author and Professor of psychology, Dan Ariely, claims that FOMO is fear of regret that we have made the wrong decision on how to spend our time as “you can imagine how things could be different.”

FOMO is the sort of problem that can plague us through our life. As business leaders, entrepreneurs, and investors, it will always be tempting to follow the latest fad. As parents, it will be tempting to push our kids towards the latest and greatest achievement. As people, we’ll be sorely tempted to try various external quick fixes in our own pursuit of happiness.

So, how do we avoid FOMO? Based on my limited experience, here’s 3 thoughts that might help –

1. Understand your core priorities. First, no matter what we do, understand why we’re doing what we’re doing and what our priorities are.

2. Do you own homework and go in with a hypothesis. The biggest cause for FOMO is when we don’t do our own homework. This lack of work can lead us to believe everyone else around us knows exactly what they’re doing. The solution to this is to always go into what we’re doing with a hypothesis. Top venture capital firms are increasingly adopting the idea of a thesis-driven approach to investing. And, the best hypotheses/theses are aligned firmly with core priorities.

3. Be willing to have discussions around your hypothesis and change your mind. No hypothesis/thesis is final, of course. It is completely okay to decide to change your mind after discussions. People around us often have incredible insights about us that will help us on our journey. But, at the risk of repeating myself, it matters that we always have a clear thesis that we’re testing. We’re the drivers here.

The underlying principle here is to shift focus from what everyone else around us is doing to what we’re doing. No one really knows what makes sense for us. That’s not to say we know much better but we probably have the best shot at it. So, let’s use the privileged position to figure out what would actually work.

In that sense, avoiding FOMO becomes really easy when we realize that it isn’t about “them.” This is all about us. It’s our life and it is up to us to make it meaningful, to make it count.

The stress based list

The conventional approach to organizing to-do lists is to do so by chronology.

I’d suggest trying a different way. Ask the question – “which item’s completion will remove the most stress?” – and reorganize the list.

My experience so far is that it seems to work much better. We seem to have a natural internal prioritization system that understands what needs to get done. When we ignore it, however, it sends us signals by increasing our internal stress levels. That’s the feeling when we know something needs to get done and also know we aren’t doing it. The build-up of this stress leads often to frustration and paralysis.

I guess it points to an important productivity principle – we are most productive when we are at peace. And, to be at peace, we have to learn to ask ourselves the right questions and listen…

No feedback, only encouragement

A friend of mine started a blog recently and sent over the link for feedback. This isn’t the first time this has happened. I think there must have been a hundred or more friends who’ve started blogs and sent links over the past few years. The number of friends who’ve kept their blogs going approach zero however.

So, every time I get a note like this, i just like to say – “Awesome. I’ve subscribed!” The principle I follow is straightforward – no feedback, only encouragement.

Sure, they could improve their blog’s layout and formatting. And sure, they could improve the way they’ve written their first or second post. I just know that that isn’t what matters. What matters is that they feel enough encouragement to continue writing. Many start writing for various reasons – to educate, to inform, to improve their own online presence, and maybe even to drive change of some sort. That’s the period of romance. It soon hits you that you’ve been blogging for a year and you only have one dedicated reader (hi mom!).

The only insight I have to offer here is that, when you write, write for just two people – yourself and one reader who you can picture (hi again mom!). If you can do all those things you set out to do, that’s great. But, as long as your writing benefits these two folk, you’re doing just fine. We all set out to change things when we start writing. We often forget that the person we change most is ourselves.

As an outcome, that’s one that the British would term “not too shabby.” (=> the rest of us would say – that’s awesome!)

Have a great week, everyone.

The first book he finished – The 200 words project

Here’s this week’s 200 word idea thanks to, James Clear on

Steven Pressfield’s most famous work, The Legend of Bagger Vance, was a best-selling novel that became a motion picture starring Matt Damon, Will Smith, and Charlize Theron. But, if you ask Pressfield, he will say that his most important book was one that you never heard of: the first book he finished.

“I never did find a buyer for the book. Or the next one, either. It was ten years before I got the first check for something I had written and ten more before The Legend of Bagger Vance was actually published. But that moment when I first hit the keys to spell out THE END was so epochal. I remember rolling the last page out and adding it to the stack that was the finished manuscript. Nobody knew I was done. Nobody cared. But I knew. I felt like a dragon I’d been fighting all my life had just dropped dead at my feet and gasped out its last sulfuric breath.”

Here’s to finishing what we start..

The first book he finishedSource and thanks to:

‘Finish something. Anything. Stop researching, planning, and preparing to do the work and just do the work. You don’t need to set the world on fire with your first try. You just need to prove to yourself that you have what it takes to produce something.’ | James Clear

5 things to do this weekend

1. Call your mother

2. Spend some time thinking about your long term goals

3. Play (not exercise – play)

4. Get lots of sleep

5. Kick back for a bit with a book or a movie

And, if you feel tempted to say that you don’t have time to do this, then you definitely need it more than you think.

We will get back to changing the world tomorrow. Wishing you a wonderful weekend!