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Friday, October 24, 2014

From around the world #1 - Overcoming the pain




This is the first in the series of posts on things I think about when I think about the places I have been to and the places I wish to go.

People run marathons, bike across mountains, go on long treks, and do a lot of things that need not necessarily be done to get by life. The acts in and of themselves are rarely pleasurable. On the contrary, they are more often than not, painful exercises to go through.

The real pleasure lies in overcoming the pain. The feeling of accomplishment every time you get one of these things done. The new experiences that would otherwise have stayed in the imaginary realm. The realization of the limits to which your mind and body can be stretched, and the realization of the reasons for which you are willing to stretch them. The feeling of enrichment, physically and intellectually.

It is easy to settle into a routine. To define the set of things you will and will not do and stick to it. To feel good about what you can do.

But you're quickly bored by what you can do. At that point, you can either delve into the world of fiction to have new experiences through the eyes of the writer, director or your favourite sports team. Most times, this suffices. But this is momentary. Because you are soon back to seeing the world through your own eyes.

Stretching your limits to experience the pain and then overcoming it lasts a good deal longer.

Of course, many a time, the momentary relief and inspiration is all you seek before getting back to your routine. But when that isn't doing the job for you, you know its time to seek out some pain.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Staying under the radar



If you are even thinking about staying under the radar, there is every chance you fully comprehend what it means to be in the spotlight.

Although it is the moment in the spotlight that all of us want in whatever it is that we do, it is only delightful to have it happen at the right time. Having the spotlight turned on us at the wrong moment can be awkward at best and fatal at worst.

Go ahead and ship your product. But do it with the awareness of the intensity of the spotlight that will be turned on you the moment you do, by your customers, your competitors. Because once you're in the spotlight, and you fail to impress, it is much harder to get there a second time.

If you follow football, you'll know the importance of timing your run to beat the offside trap and still getting on the end of the pass to go on and score the goal. Make the run too early and you are ruled offside and your attack comes to a halt. Make the run too late and the opposing defenders will get to the ball before you do and your attack comes to a halt.

[Hat-tip to my old boss for drilling in the importance of staying under the radar until the moment is right].

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Planning for the short term



We all have long term goals. We plan for them as well. The choices we make, be it in choosing what University to study at, what job to work for, or whom to come back home to everyday, are all part of these plans in hitting the long term goals.

But they are not good judges of incremental progress.

The human mind is buoyed by crossing milestones, by ticking off things as done. When we reach a milestone or get a task done in moving towards a milestone, it is a satisfying experience. It is a reward for a job well done. A validation of the planning exercise that makes us more confident for the next set of tasks. No wonder the 10,000 hours are necessary.

At the same time, it is a reminder for staying on track. A reminder to alert us when aren't meeting the milestones or getting tasks done in the time expected. A trigger to re-align priorities if necessary. An indication to step back and re-affirm that we are headed in the right direction.

Planning for the short term (sometimes even for a single day, although a week is my recommendation) will force you to really think about what it takes to achieve something. If you're unable to break your long term goals to that level, you fill find yourself not achieving those more often than not.

So if you drill down, you will see that planning for the long term is actually planning for the short term over and over. Otherwise, the long term goal will merely be a dream.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The real product life cycle

When what you are building has no alternative in the market, you need to make it really worthwhile for people to start using your product. Let's face it. It takes a tantalizing offer to jerk people off their inertial frames and to give your product a try.

When you get the initial set of adventurers to try your product, which is untested in the market and doesn't really have any reputation to go by, your only task is to delight them. To give them such a wonderful experience that they talk about your product (positively) to ten others.

When they talk to ten others about your product, more people will turn up looking for (you think they will come looking for your product? Forget it!) the experience described by those initial users. At this point, your only task is to live up to the expectation. This is where packaging comes in. The ones that come later are impatient. They are not seeking your product. They are not willing to go through any pain to get to your product. They are willing to drop the idea and go try one of the hundred others that they have been told about, at the first sign of disappointment. So put your product in fancy wrapping, offer attractive discounts, or get celebrities talking about your product. Create that sense of expectation to match what your early users have done for you. And repeat it.

Creating the expectation isn't the end of it. A competitor may be able to create even more expectation, even more hype and draw customers to their product. But only for a short time. Once the real experience with the product happens, the customers either respect you for living up to that expectation and turn loyal, or hate you for creating an expectation that you knew you couldn't live up to. Here, your task is to set good enough expectation to draw customers and a product experience to make their effort worth it.

The moment you fail to do what you are supposed to at any of the steps, your product will have its death knell sounded.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Productivity Hack

There are at least ten different things that I can list right now that I want to really work on and reach an assumed end goal in each of those. I put these down a couple of months ago and tried including a few steps to be achieved each week (a week is how long I plan for). But more often than not, I didn't hit the deadlines.

This week, I decided to change things a bit, in an attempt to improve my productivity.

I decided it is thoroughly unwise and counter-productive to treat all ten of them with near equal priorities. That was getting me nowhere.

From experience, I can get about 25 to 40 hours of deep work done in a week, the average being closer to 25 than to 40. I first came across the term 'deep work' in Cal Newport's blog and have since come to define it as anything that keeps me immersed with absolutely no interruptions (not on phone, browser, et al) for a period of time (ranging between 15 and 120 minutes), at the end of which I accomplish a target that I set out to. The target can be anything from publishing a blog post to writing a new product feature specification to running 5 kilometres.

This week, I decided to plan my deep work hours effectively as this is most instrumental in me reaching the said ten targets. Suddenly, my week now fell to about 30 hours from a previous 120 hours. This forces me to take up only one or two items from the ten in any given week. Hence, I might have to think about planning longer term if this yields better results.

From the ten, each week, I pick two items that involve me working on my laptop (my day job usually forces my hand in what one of those items will be) and another that keeps me away from the screen. I have realised I can push up the deep work hours if I split tasks this way.

The rest of the week is planned around immediate deliverables and unavoidable activities.

I will try this for the next two months and then try to optimize the time of day and day of week for picking the deep work slots from then on.

Fingers crossed to see this through.