Monday, October 25, 2010

Lessons learnt while saving my Pet (projects) : Hint - "Fake it"

Note: This is a follow up to my previous blog

Some months back I desperately wanted start working on my pet projects and decided to make some changes on how I manage my time. I learned the following lessons -

Fake it ( It helps ! )
"Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion."
Remember your bachelor days, when you hadn't cleaned your room in a week and you suddenly got word  that your friends/family were on way ? Now remember how you cleaned the room in 5 minutes flat 8-)

On a normal day, it would've definitely taken you more (lot more) than 5 mins. to do the exact same work. Deadlines are wonderful things 8-) Btw, this is called the Parkinson's law, you can read more here and LOT more here. I create fake deadlines for myself. And I admit I'm addicted to them.. 8-|

Here is my experiment - The drafts of all my blogs are on fake deadlines of 12 mins. I have to write 90% of my blog in the 12* mins. It gives me a rush, the brain starts spewing out words and at the end of 12 mins. I have something that could easily have taken me 30 mins. of liesurely writing. Forget the spelling, forget the markup, just write plain words. As I have described in my previous blog, I set time for some unusual things and let the mind & body figure out a way to achieve it.

*12 mins - That's what I set for my first draft blog and it worked, hence sticking to it.

Don't start on anything without setting its deadline [ tweet this ]

Baby steps are useful especially when you grow up

Divide your goal into as smaller a task as possible. Set your smallest task 1 week apart. Since I have a regular 8-6 job, the biggest free chunks of time I get, are over the weekend. Hence setting deadlines over Sunday night works best for me. My new blog, my website enhancements, gathering information on topics, etc. all have a deadline of Sunday night. Since friends/family are important, I try to spend Friday night or first half of Saturday with them & then dive into the pet project. Since I know I have limited time to party or enjoy the company of family, I make most of it. The main point being, pick a day 7 days apart, that works best for you.

I use a simple task/deadline sheet and store it as a google document -

Having written deadlines is simple & effective & a lot better than having a deadline somewhere in the maze of neurons.

Mind is like a dog, throw it a deadline and it will run behind it, else its going to sit there and lick you crazy [ tweet this ]

This is an excellent book on training your brain - What to say when you talk to yourself

There is a reason you call it "Pet Project"
You will usually have 2 or 3 projects in mind. (I suggest no more than 3).
Alternate between them. If you feel bored/burnt out with a project, stop it and jump to another one. Give into your feelings at times. You don't want your pet project to become your office project, which needs to be completed no matter what.

This has worked wonders for me for one simple reason - When I jump into the next project, I jump with a lot of energy and I get a lot of work done. Each jump is like a sprint instead of a marathon !!

Are you planted in the correct soil ?
See yourself as a plant. You need good food for your mind, conducive air with ideas to inspire you, healthy plants around you that want to grow tall with you with ambition to prosper not just survive.

If I surround myself with garbage, I'm going to produce more garbage [Don't ask me how I know that]

Good thing is that you can change your soil.

Here is what I did - I got interested in startups and wanted to know more about them. Wanted to know what the biggest minds in the industry were thinking/doing, how they started/failed. And its not difficult to surround yourself with them -
  1. For 45 minutes listen to a CEO speak about his experiences and his advice. These podcasts fit in my mantra of following advice of people who have actually done it. I'm forever indebted to Stanford University for this.
  2. What the best minds in the industry are viewing and watching - Google Tech Talks. And contrary to the belief at times they will have a speaker who talks about something totally non-tech. I remember one of the episode was about making Kimchi and the science behind it 8-) 
Go to the iTunes podcast directory or Youtube and you'll find podcasts on every which topic. Subscribe to them, you can listen to them anywhere & everywhere.

If you don't have friends who share the same goals & ambitions you can do this -
  1. Get them involved in what your thoughts are, and many will be interested in getting along. A lot of people want to come out of their regular lives and implement their ideas, and just need that small nudge of inspiration.
  2. Make new friends - always good.
  3. If you don't find such people, be alone and work on your pet projects, slowly you will start attracting the correct people.

In summary -
  1. Deadlines are your friends - Before you start any task, give it a deadline.
  2. Alternate between projects. If bored/burned-out, switch to another pet project. Remember there is a reason you call it "Pet Project"
  3. Listen to podcasts to virtually surround yourself with good ideas & people. Of-course real people are the first choice 8-)

If you have similar ideas/hacks you employ, let me know. I'm always ready for a new baby step !

Links to books referred in the blog
What to say when you talk to yourself

Other good books

Follow me on twitter @nikhilkodilkar

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Best "Server Busy" message I've seen !

Trying to word my thoughts about this simple experience -

Attention to detail - They could've put a "twitter is busy" message and would've been fine, but they want to take care of every part of the user interaction. Guarding the image they have in the users mind.

Little bit of cuteness goes a long way - The unpleasantness of my experience was greatly reduced.

Impression - Seems like the group of people who created this would be a great "bunch" to work with 8-)

If you guys have come across a great "Service unavailable" picture, please let me know, would be fun to see them !
Keeps the creative juice flowing.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Why I eat alone(usually) and probably you should too

Update Here is the followup to this blog

Note : No, I'm not the geeky dude who rarely talks to people and is socially awkward 8-)

Sometime back, I had no time to work on my pet projects, blogs and readings. Or so I thought..

The myth : "I don't have enough time"
As for anything in life, there are exceptions, and I'm sure there are people who truly don't have time. e.g. Anyone who just had a baby, or is doing a Ph.D & working part time Or someone doing a startup(bootstrap), coding, raising funds and pitching over lunch meetings.

For the rest of us this does not hold true.
The myth should be transformed into this statement - "I don't have enough interest to do xyz, hence I never find time for it"

If you truly have interest and think you don't have time, read along.

Not long ago I lived this myth, till I actually read Timothy Ferris. He does startups, writes books, finds time to blog & do all kinds of interesting things. His book is life changing, and its on my reading list for the second time.

I thought you had to be a superman to find time to all these things. Turns out you can do them all  without wearing your underwear over your trousers.

Here are some changes I made to my lifestyle -

30 mins. everyday down the drain
Most people get 30 to 45 mins. for lunch. Typically you'll have a group of 4-5 people huddled around a table eating. The topics of discussion are mostly -
  • Some world event - How the middle east peace process is worthless
  • Some take over in the industry - Google just bought blindtype, did you hear about it ?
  • Something they did over the weekend or will do - "And this guy sitting across our table, farted while ordering" 8-))))

Do you notice something in the topics above ?
  • You have little or no impact on them or from them
  • You don't want to discuss many of them, but one of your colleague does
  • They don't add anything of value to you
  • And there are a lot faster ways to keep yourself informed e.g your rss reader, etc.

I understand that once in a while one does need this. But, doing this everyday for years at a stretch didn't seem correct, I thought there was a chance to improve here. You can utilize these 30 mins. in learning something new or reading about a new topic.

Here is what I tried - I wanted to start learning a new computer language. I was bored with Java and had heard good things about Python. I subscribed to this podcast and started listening to the 5/10 min. episodes while I munched on my sandwich. Also, the list of books I wanted to read was close to two dozen, hence I started listening to their audiobook versions! There is list of good books at the bottom of this post, which I've either read or am currently reading/listening.

You would be surprised at the amount of reading you can finish if you do it for 30 mins. everyday. Once you start doing this, you will eagerly await your lunch break, since it provides food for both your body & mind.

Living consciously (Mindfully) - My experiment
Now now ! You going all philosophical on me mate !!

Not yet 8-) I'm not Thich Nhat Hanh.

I'm referring to the part where we get lost thinking about one thing, while doing something totally different. Or try to do multiple things at a time. No matter how much you believe, Humans cannot multitask.
We have a limited quota of attention, and as soon as we divide it our performance takes a severe beating.

Here is an experiment I did -
I bought a simple kitchen timer, the simplest kind and tried to time my getting-ready routine in the morning. Surprised I was. My maximum time went shaving, taking a shower, and getting ready after that. It took me exactly the same time to get ready after shower as it took to shower ! I timed and consciously concentrated on showering, cutting my time to a precise 7 mins from 12.

I would've dismissed the above experiment as time paranoia, about a year back. But that's not the point, its an experiment in concentrating on the task at hand and not letting your mind wander. 7 mins. of focusing might sound small, but it isn't. I learnt that within a month I was focusing better, concentrating longer and fighting distractions more effectively in general.

I once read that you don't make something out of your life working 8-5, its what you do after 5, that determines it. [ tweet this sentence ]

Your work life is not coffee break time
If you have an 8-5 job, do your job in that time. Don't take more than 15 mins. per day to do the following during office hours-
  • Coffee breaks
  • Chat breaks
  • Smoking breaks

In my 10 years of experience, I've seen my fair share of people who take these breaks a lot more than 15 mins. Plus they take them about 3 to 4 times in a day. Of course, no 2 days are equal, and you'll need more breaks on some days. But seems setting a limit is something one can do. If you take a break, because you are "Bored" at your job, it probably means L
  • that you need to take some extra initiative, or
  • take on more responsibility, or
  • develop new tools or ways to be more productive
  • And if none of the above work, maybe you need a more challenging job - your skills are way over what your job is asking you to do.

The benefits - You will finish your work on time, get home and can start working on your pet projects.

The above points have changed my 8-6 & after 6 life. I am finally working on my pet project, writing blogs and completing tasks faster.

I will soon follow up with another blog with more of this.
Here is the followup to this blog.

Lessons :
  1. Don't waste your lunch time
  2. Live consciously - Don't multitask - only one task at hand.
  3. At work - minimize distractions

If you have similar hacks, please do let me know, I'm always in a mood to learn.

As promised here are some good books to read -
22 immutable laws of marketing - I'm currently reading this, and its a mere 132 pages of condensed awesomeness
4 Hour work week
Six pillars of self esteem
The invisible Gorilla
Atlas Shrugged
The fountain head
Economics in one lesson
Mindless Eating: Why we eat more than we think

Update Here is the followup to this blog

BTW, I customized this blogger theme.
If you like it, I'll share the template.