Turn the phone off

A simple idea to greatly improve the quality of this weekend – turn the phone off for 24 hours.

Every time I do this, I appreciate the power (both positive and negative) of convenience. As I write every day, I get to the bigger screen to write my post for the day and check email, But, it is amazing how the absence of that little bit of convenience can change our behavior.

Inconvenience has its benefits.

Newton’s 3rd law applied to ideas

For every insightful idea, there is an equally insightful opposing idea.

“Many hands make light work” and “Too many cooks spoil the broth” are a great example of this. They’re both insightful in their own right and are a great example of the fact that the opposite of a good idea is often a good idea.

Their merit just depends on our context.

PS: Internalizing this idea would change the nature of online debate. :-)


On occasion, I find myself becoming aware of a feeling that I can only describe as “disjointed.” Things lack the usual amount of coherence and I find myself feeling unsettled more often than not.

Over time, I’ve realized that the first step to dealing with such feelings isn’t getting into solution mode and mapping out everything I need to do to feel better.

Instead, it is to start by acknowledging both the feeling for what it is and the fact that it might take time to resolve the knots I’m dealing with.

That acknowledgment tends to precede calm and stillness that, in turn, provide the space to explore the solutions I’m seeking.

Implicit value of our time

When we spend 20 minutes of our time trying to save $5 by availing a painfully hard to avail deal, we implicitly value our time at $15 per hour.

We also neglect the opportunity cost of that time – time we could have spent relaxing, exercising, conversing with family, and so on. As the saying goes, penny wise, pound foolish.

For those of us who grew up in circumstances where money was relatively tight or for whom the desire to optimize everything to the best possible outcome takes over when dealing with money, it becomes particularly important to set an explicit value of our time.

It makes it easier to stop ourselves from spending one more hour to save a few bucks off the price of that table.

And, most importantly, it forces us to focus our energy on the areas that will actually move the needle on our happiness and productivity.


In the 1960s, the team of researchers at Vicks Corp. were tasked with finding medication for cold and the flu. They came back with a solution that worked well except for one major drawback – it caused drowsiness.

Just as they were about to go back to the drawing board, someone (presumably a smart marketer) suggested that they change nothing about the product and, instead, advertise it as a medicine to be taken at night.

Now, it would deal with your sickness while giving you a good night of sleep.

Thus, Nyquil was born. And, the rest as they say, is history.

Shifting the narrative can be very powerful.

(H/T: Alchemy by Rory Sutherland)

Time to do it twice

A friend recently shared a quote – “How come we don’t have the time to do it right but always have the time to do it twice?”

It has my vote to be framed and put on the wall of any room where folks get together to plan their product roadmaps.

In these rooms, we often find ourselves in positions where we need to make trade-offs that benefit the short term over the long term.

But, these decisions almost always result in rework in the medium term. And, when it arrives, rework doesn’t allow for any other option.

So, for the next time we find ourselves in such a discussion, here’s to remembering that they’re better off being the exception rather than the rule.

Giving good driving directions

I was attempting to give someone directions over the phone recently. We had three attempts at it but weren’t making progress.

By now, we realized that we didn’t have a shared understanding of their starting point.

As I was on the verge of giving up, my wife decided it was time for a different strategy – she asked them to head to a place they were familiar with so we could start all over again.

And, voila! The reset worked and the directions worked great.

The first step to giving good driving directions is understanding where the recipients of our directions are. Only once we understand that can we help them with where they want/need to go.

That principle, it turns out, applies just as well to our attempts to drive/inspire change.

George Carlin on Save the planet

Every time I stumble across the term – “Save the planet” – I am reminded of George Carlin’s timeless note on the topic.

“We’re so self-important. Everybody’s going to save something now. “Save the trees, save the bees, save the whales, save those snails.” And the greatest arrogance of all: save the planet. Save the planet, we don’t even know how to take care of ourselves yet. I’m tired of this shit. I’m tired of f-ing Earth Day. I’m tired of these self-righteous environmentalists, these white, bourgeois liberals who think the only thing wrong with this country is that there aren’t enough bicycle paths. People trying to make the world safe for Volvos. Besides, environmentalists don’t give a shit about the planet. Not in the abstract they don’t. You know what they’re interested in? A clean place to live. Their own habitat. They’re worried that some day in the future they might be personally inconvenienced. Narrow, unenlightened self-interest doesn’t impress me.

The planet has been through a lot worse than us. Been through earthquakes, volcanoes, plate tectonics, continental drift, solar flares, sun spots, magnetic storms, the magnetic reversal of the poles … hundreds of thousands of years of bombardment by comets and asteroids and meteors, worldwide floods, tidal waves, worldwide fires, erosion, cosmic rays, recurring ice ages … And we think some plastic bags and some aluminum cans are going to make a difference? The planet isn’t going anywhere. WE are!

The borrowed notebook

I was reminded of an incident today from almost two decades ago. We had just moved to Saudi Arabia and I had just started middle school. As it was the middle of the school year, I’d borrowed a notebook from a classmate to copy all the notes I’d missed onto mine in the evenings.

Everything worked fine the first evening. But, on the second, I found that his notebook was no longer in my bag (I’d taken it to school in case he needed it). After some frantic searching, I was sure it wasn’t in my bag or around the house. So, I confessed to my parents.

Another round of searching.

We were all worried now. I vividly remember that sleeping with my parents last night – reserved normally only for special occasions or, as I discovered that night, when we were all worried about something – and we stayed up for a while discussing this.

On reflection, I realized that we were all insecure as we were in a new country and were religious minorities in said country that was known for orthodox beliefs. Eventually, we realized there was nothing more that could be done and called it a night vowing to deal with whatever happened.

I don’t remember much of what followed the next morning. The only memory that followed was walking into class and walking over to this classmate trying to muster a few words about his notebook.

He, instead, gave me a nice smile and said – “Hey, I needed that notebook yesterday. You were not in class during lunch – so, I just took it out of your bag.”

“My life has been full of terrible misfortunes most of which never happened.” | Michel de Montaigne

Did I do well?

One of the fascinating vestiges of growing up in education systems that focus on tests is our propensity to ask – “Did I do well?”

It is amazing how much progress we make when we replace that question with – “Did I give it my best shot?”