Reversing counter factuals

The easiest way to stimulate regret about situations that haven’t worked out as per plan (as yet) is to ask counter factual questions like – “What if I’d done x instead of y?”

As such questions are a guaranteed way to drive us crazy, a simple principle that I’ve found helpful is – for every such counter factual question about a situation that didn’t work out, examine a situation that did.

So, if we want to ask ourselves – “What if I’d been better at keeping my mouth shut at that meeting?” or “What if I’d bought Bitcoin in 2014?” :-) – we also ought to analyze their positive equivalents. When was a time we spoke up and made a really positive contribution? When was a time we made a good investment decision?

Applying this principle does three things at once. First, we get to learn from situations which worked in addition to situations that didn’t work. Second, we begin to appreciate the many times things have worked out well.

And, finally, we come to accept the fact that we did the best we could with what we knew. Now that we’ve learnt from it and know better, we can do better.

The 10 question annual review – 2018 edition

The 10 question annual review is a end-of-year ALearningaDay tradition. Here’s how it works in 3 steps –

1. We carve an hour out over the next few days to “look back and look forward.” If we have past versions of the annual review, a recommended approach is to start the hour with a quick skim of past versions.

2. We work with 10 questions – with a suggested split of 4-6 between looking back and looking forward. 10 questions helps ensure we get to the depth required for insight while ensuring it doesn’t feel daunting. In case it helps, I have shared the 10 questions I use below and have a Google doc version if you’d like to download, edit, or print.

3. We archive our notes for next year – if we write out answers to the 10 questions, then we keep the sheets in a place we will be able to access next year. If we type it, we just need to make sure it is stored on Dropbox/G Drive or some place it will never get lost.

This annual review hour is one of my favorite parts of the year. I have annual reviews with responses to a version of these 10 questions from 2010 and looking back is an exercise that inspires humility, gratitude, and many a broad grin.

And, of course, doing this can be even more fun if you decide to share some of your notes with folks you care about/those who featured in your review.

I hope you’re able to try it this year and I look forward to hearing how it goes.

Part I – Look back

1. The Theme or peak moment – One word/line descriptions:
a) 2018 was the year of
b) 2019 will be the year of

Runners Up Theme or peak moment
a) 2018 was also the year of
b) 2019 will also be the year of

2. What were my 3 greatest successes/memories from 2018?

3. What were my 3 biggest lessons learnt from 2018?

4. How did 2018 fit in to the big picture/contribute to the big dreams in my life? (i.e. did any dots connect?)

Part II – Look forward

5. What are 3 themes I am thinking about for 2019? Are there any “process goals” I want to commit to?

6. What skills do I want to develop in 2019 (personal and professional)? What actions am I going to take to develop them?

7. Who/what were my biggest sources of inspiration/learning/energy this year? Are they high on my priority list to engage with (if they are people) or to do (if they were actions) for 2019?

8. Who were my personal/professional board of directors/advisors/sponsors this year? How do I plan to engage with them in 2019?

9. What have I got planned in 2019 to prioritize rest and renewal (e.g. holiday plans, weekend activities, hobbies)?

10. What are my 3 most important core beliefs or principles? And, are my goals for 2019 aligned with these core beliefs?

Stepping out of the frame

Author Salman Rushdie once quipped – “The only people who see the whole picture are the ones who step out of the frame.”

Our ability to step out of ourselves and observe ourselves from the wall or ceiling is core to our ability to be human. That ability to see ourselves from another point of view gives us instant perspective and the ability to separate stimulus from response.

The question, then, is how often do we step out of the frame in the course of a day or week? How often do we trigger reflection and perspective? For most of us, sleep, meditation, a walk in the outdoors, writing in a journal, taking deep breaths, running, among others, are ways to do so.

Doing most or all of these well over the course of a day aren’t an optional add on at the end of a work day. They result in step changes in productivity as perspective inspires a focus on what actually matters.

And, perhaps more important for our life and relationships, they enable us to be more in touch with our humanity.

10 questions – Annual review

I’ve shared the 10 questions I used to do my annual review for the year below. A couple of quick notes before we dive in.

First, I used to share these in a PDF for folks who like to print it. But, I’m not sure how many of you print things anymore. So, I decided to simplify the process and just share the list. (Updated: Link to PDF on request :))

Second, I set out, every year, with plans to make wholesale changes to these 10 questions. And, while that happened once, the changes have largely been evolutionary, not revolutionary. So, it is nice to settle on these questions given my self-imposed 10 question constraint.

Finally, I’ve been keeping my annual reviews from past years on my OneNote. It is a real treat to be able to take a quick look at these notes from the past 6 years. It is a wonderful reminder that there is so much to be grateful for. So, if you decide to use these questions (or make your own), I hope you’ll consider keeping a record.

10 Questions – Annual Review

Part I – Look back

1. One word/line descriptions:
The Theme or peak moment
a) 2016 was the year of
b) 2017 will be the year of

Runners Up Theme or peak moment
a) 2016 was also the year of
b) 2017 will also be the year of

2. What were my 3 greatest successes/memories from 2016?

3. What were my 3 biggest learnings from 2016?

4. How did 2016 fit in to the big picture/contribute to the big dreams in my life? (i.e. did any dots connect?)

Part II – Look forward

5. What are the themes I am thinking about for 2017? Are there any “process goals” I want to commit to?

6. What skills I want to develop in 2017 (professional and personal)? What action am I going to take to develop them?

7. Who/what were my biggest sources of inspiration this year? Are they high on my priority list to engage with (if they are people) or to do (if they were actions) for 2017?

8. If I am the CEO of “Me Inc”, who were my board of directors/advisors/sponsors this year? How do I plan to engage with them in 2017?

9. What are other thoughts for 2017? (miscellaneous – dreams, thoughts, planned breaks I am looking forward to, etc.)

10. What are my 3 most important core beliefs or principles? And, are my goals aligned with these core beliefs?

Happy reflecting!

Building a Personal Mission Statement

I’ve been mentioning “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” a lot more than usual of late. I decided to re-read my favorite book after a fun conversation about books a few weeks back. And, I’m glad I did that. One of the exercises in Habit 2 is to draft a Personal Mission Statement. Interestingly, this is identical to the idea that Clay Christensen talks about in the “Finding your purpose” part of his great book. However, I didn’t make the connection. Instead, I spent a lot of time attempting to decode his notes. Now, I wish I’d thought of going back to Covey’s work as he lays it out quite beautifully.

I thought I’d share my Personal Mission Statement with you. It is now in its 5th iteration, I think. I’ll also share what I’ve learnt from the process in case you’d like to consider building one for yourself. The act of doing this has added an incredible amount of clarity in my life over the years. So, should you choose to do it, I trust you’ll find the exercise valuable as well. And, if you’re looking for more convincing, think about this – what would you think of an organization with no mission or vision statement? And, why should you be any different?

That said, over to the learning.

Learning 1 – Approach building a mission statement like a hypothesis test. Let me start with a quote from holocaust survivor and logotherapist extraordinaire, Viktor Frankl.

Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is but rather must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible.

Frankl wisely tells us that it is up to us to find meaning in our lives. A way to do that is to ask ourselves – what must our life be for it to be meaningful? Or, in other words, how will you measure your life?

There isn’t a single, easy answer. But, it isn’t an unsolvable riddle either. Once you decide to do it, approach it like a hypothesis test. For instance, the first version of my one line mission was – “To inspire and be inspired.” But, it didn’t feel right after a while. So, my next version had something about relationships and impact. Then, someone who knew me well said it should be about “active relationships” since I loved building things with people I cared about and engaging them. And, thus, the next iteration happened and so on.

Start with a hypothesis. And, keep revisiting till it feels right.

Learning 2 – If you are stuck, take a trip into your future and paint the picture of your ideal life. Thinking about what you’d like your life to be 20 years from now is often a nice place to start. Or, you can go straight to your funeral and imagine what people say about you. These are all ways to get ideas flowing.

Learning 3 – There isn’t a template. Your mission statement can be 1 line, 1 page or 10 pages. Whatever it is, make it your own.

Learning 4 – Simplicity helps a ton though. Over time, I’ve found myself consistently shortening my mission statement. This is partly because I’ve come to appreciate and strive for brevity over time (the irony about this post being very long is not lost on me :)). And, partly, it is because I’ve found my mission statement to be most useful when I can easily remember it.

For example, my one line mission gets shortened into three values in my mind – people, learning and impact. And, my principles are integrity, love/growth and consciousness/engagement (a new addition). This makes it so much easier when I am stuck on a decision.

Learning 5 – It helps, at first, to make these actionable and check in on these from time to time. I started with daily checks, then a long list of weekly checks combined with a log of how I spent my week. This, then, become a shorter list of checks that took 5-7 minutes every weekend. As of last month, it is a much shorter list (shared below) that takes a couple of minutes. I expect to have no such checks in a few years. But, for now, I find it helpful to check in with myself every weekend to build my instincts as they generally suck at first.

Okay, now to my current version.

My personal mission statement is the same as my “why” or my “purpose”
Build active relationships with framily (close friends and family), learn, and strive to have a positive impact on my world and, in time, “the world.”

These also form my 3 core valuesPeople, Learning, Impact.
(These align with my intrinsic motives – learning and impact are high and my values remind me to make sure I remember that people are all we have.)

3 principles that govern my life and that I need to commit and re-commit to:
1. Integrity: Integrity is making and keep commitments. I commit to walking what I talk and talking what I walk.
2. Love/Growth: Love is the will to extend oneself for one’s own or another’s spiritual/mental growth. So, I commit to doing small things with extraordinary love and to continuous growth.
3. Consciousness/Engagement: To focus on consciousness is to commit to the process of life, to experimentation and to the idea that “this might not work.. And that’s okay.” The important questions I need to ask are not about perfection or performance. Instead, they are – “Am I engaged? Am I being conscious about my decisions?”

I live and measure these in my 4 roles (in order of priority):
1. Leader of self
2. A caring member of my framily
3. A learning focused teammate
4. A responsible community contributor, i.e., the world

And, here’s a screen shot of my check in list.

Hope this helps. Happy reflecting!


An audit is an inspection of an organization’s processes typically conducted by a third party. I love the idea of an annual audit and I think I’ve become more conscious about the process over time. And, this year, I am thinking about the various parts of my life as I aim to commit to a few practices for the coming year.

For starters, I tend to take a concentric circle view when I think of my priorities.

This builds on a simple principle – you can’t take care of others until you take care of yourself. However, the prioritization that follows is personal. I think of my people, my work and my community (service) as the priorities that follow – in that order. So, here are some questions I’m asking myself. This isn’t an exhaustive list of the question I should be asking as I’m focused on areas I most want to improve.

How can I eat healthier?
How can I be fitter?
What is my information diet looking like? How can it be less, but better?

My people
How can I be more conscious in my relationships?

My career
How can I organize my workday better to make sure I’m tapping maximum productivity?
Post kid, how do I embrace more flexibility in terms of when I work without letting it affect my engagement at home?
How can I take the time to synthesize what is going in tech?
How can we manage our finances better?

My community/service
How do I define service?

I’ll aim to write about the results of these questions over the next few days.

The 10 question annual reflection form

6 years ago, I created a 10 question annual review form as a way to do a “look back and look forward” reflection exercise at the end of the year. Of course, ten questions isn’t perfect and longer forms might do a better job. But, I wanted the reflection to be short and fun rather than something that felt daunting.

Over these years, I’ve found myself spending lesser time on this review. That’s because the questions from the exercise, particularly the ones around the skills I intend to develop, have increasingly driven my thought process during the year. So, the reflection has become an ongoing process rather than a once a year thing. And, I think that’s exactly how it should work.

Review, reflectionI have shared the form every year on this blog and, keeping with tradition, I have the PDF and word versions of the review form for you. Please feel free to use as is or edit to develop your own. Aside from suggesting you take 15 minutes to do this, I would definitely suggest keeping these forms with you. Revisiting them in future years is not just fascinating.. it is fun. :-)

Happy reflection!

PS: If you’re having difficulty with the word version, please just send me an email on rohan at