Clarity

April 2, 2007

I think the number one thing you need when first starting out (in anything) is clarity. I’m raising this issue because I seem to be seeing more and more people who aren’t really clear about what they want.

I mean, they think they know what they want. They want a bite-sized snickers bar. But is that really what they want? No: they want something sugary, but not so big or high in sugar content. Once they realize this, they might be happy with fruit that’s sweet tasting, whether fresh, dried or canned. Or they might actually be craving chocolate, in which case they could opt for dark chocolate, which is higher in anti-oxidants and flavinoids, and more healthy than other chocolates. They might even just be hungry, in which case any healthy, filling snack would be good enough.

Too often we get wrapped up in the details. Is this happening to you lately? Are you frustrated because something seems out of reach? Do you find yourself becoming satisfied even when you receive a substitute of what you initially wanted?

Sometimes, we achieve the greatest clarity when we manage to step back and look at the big picture.

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Advantages of waking up early

March 29, 2007

dawn.jpgWaking up early has innumerable benefits. Before I launch into a list of those benefits, you might want to consider the fact that almost all successful people are out of bed by 630am. So, what exactly are the benefits of waking up early?

  1. The first advantage is the extra time gained in the day. If you wake up two hours early, rather than sleeping for 8 or even 10 hours (quite a normal feat for me sometimes) you’ll gain two precious hours that you can put to use. Two extra hours might mean time to work out, meditate, cook something by yourself (which means you’ll be eating food which is more healthy and cheap — and sometimes even more tasty!), write a short story, or pursue a hobby. Wake up at 6, and even if you have a one-hour commute to work, you can fit in time for a quick workout, meditation, cooking and email– all before you’ve even reached work.
  2. Waking up early usually mean that your day gets a great start. First, you’ll be proud of yourself for waking up so early, and achieving one of your goals. You might be able to reward yourself by catching a glimpse of the sunrise, or appreciating the breaking morning sky. And usually, if your day has a great start, the rest of day follows in a similarly happy pattern. Or at least you’re in a good mood and better able to deal well with setbacks or frustrations.
  3. You get time to work on an important goal that you might not usually have time for. Many great writers used to write in the morning, before they went off to their day jobs. Nell Fredeunberger, a writer I’m very impressed by, mentions that while she was working full-time at the New Yorker Magazine, she would write out a short story in the mornings before she arrived at work. Her short stories have been published, and won prestigious awards; her second book, a novel, has also been recently published. By waking up early, you make time for yourself, and for things which are important to you, but might otherwise be crammed out of your life. Even if you choose to work at your usual job, you can get more work by the end of the day. Your personal productivity goes up, if you wake earlier.
  4. Mornings are a great time for work, since they tend to be quiet and uninterrupted. During the day, you might not be able to devote all of yourself to a pet project: you might need to keep an ear open for your phone even while you meditate, your kids might walk in clamoring for attention when you’re trying to type out witty dialogue for your screenplay. Waking up early is a great way to find a chunk of peaceful, productive time. Once again, even if you choose to do some “regular” work in this time, you’ll be much more productive than  you would normally be during the day, when coworkers and bosses would demand your time every few minutes, as well as your spouse on the phone and friends on IM. In the morning, you won’t be exhausted from work or burdened with worries, so it’s easier to get work done faster, too.
  5. Waking early allows you to actually have breakfast. Many people are used to skipping breakfast, and may think that breakfast isn’t such a big deal. But once you start waking early and having the time to have a nutritious and healthy breakfast, you’ll notice what an energy boost it is, and how much more alert you seem throughout the day.
  6. Finally, waking early means that early appointments are easier to meet and will be more productive. Whether it’s a class, or a client, if you wake early you won’t need to be groggy and half-alert. Class attendance has been proven to have a strong positive correlation with grades, and if you can meet a client before your competitors, or even before he gets to his other work, you will have a strong competitive advantage. 

Many people mistakenly believe that they’re night owls and that waking early has no real benefit for them. This is a rather widely-held misconception. Anyone can wake up early, once they’ve gotten used to it. It’s true that the first few days of suddenly waking up early are likely to be difficult, but once the routine is set, it’s not that difficult. And being a night owl is not really that productive, it just mistakenly seems that way– a fact that becomes evident once you’re used to the habit of starting your day early.

If you’re already an early riser, congratulations! Waking up early is a difficult habit to establish, and as difficult to re-establish once you lapse. In the next post I’ll mention my tips for how to actually get out of bed, at an hour that might initially seem quite ungodly. Of course, those’ll only help you if you’re convinced by the advantages.

If you disagree, or if you have any additional ideas that you’d like to mention, I would love to hear from you.

Picture credits: “Hogback dawn” by mike_ormsby


Tips for managing your anger

March 28, 2007

yoga-for-sale.jpgI used to have a terrible temper, something that I suppose is part and parcel of being an only child. Since I could get away with just about anything, I got away very easily with my temper tantrums. And the funny thing was, I was an incredibly shy kid, and hardly ever got angry with anyone outside of my family.

To some extent, things got a lot worse when I started dating someone who was always angry at me. That made me believe that it was justifiable to be rude and hurtful to other people, instead of immediately cutting the jerk out of my life.

But now, when I look at someone whom I’m angry with, I understand completely how much I hurt them by expressing my anger. And how often, my anger is misplaced or unjustified.

Anger management is not really something I struggle with anymore, but it’s something that I seemed to have thought a lot about. Here are a few of my thoughts.

  1. Meditate or do yoga. The first step to controlling anger is not feel angry. If you’re relaxed within, and feel more broadminded and open about the universe, you are less likely to be angry. Angry people are not always the ones yelling and screaming. Often, they are quiet, frustrated, or constantly grumpy and irritable. If you’re one of those people, it’s likely that your anger might be from a built-up source, and not from a single event. Try to work out any long-standing frustrations that you might have, and you’ll have a happier and less angry time.
  2. Forgive. I find it difficult to get angry with most people. That’s because I tend to forgive people very easily. Sometimes the forgiveness comes easily to me, because of my philosophy that we usually don’t have the right to judge others. At other times, it’s because I can put myself in the other person’s shoes too easily. I have a whole lot of faults, so it’s only natural that other people will, too. I can’t (and you shouldn’t) forgive someone too easily for something major, but for small things, try to remember that other people are only human. They might’ve forgotten, not understood, or been in a hurry. Most people don’t mean to harm you. There must’ve been some other force that made them act that way.
  3. Understand that expressing anger is bad. During a trial, Norman Mailer claimed that he was justified in beating his wife because if he had kept his anger pent up, he would have gotten cancer. Hmm. No really, expressing your anger in a hurtful manner does not help. “Letting go” really does hurt other people. A lot.
  4. Expressing anger usually just makes you angrier. This one comes from experience: mine and other people’s. Think about it. The last time that you yelled at someone, did you really feel better afterwards? Or did you just feel guilty and angry with your own self, or just angrier in general?

Those were some general, long-term tips. But for immediate action in controlling your rage, here are some pointers:

  1. Count to 10. I don’t really know if this will work for you, but try it.
  2. Don’t talk. Don’t immediately respond. If you do, you’ll tend to say something that you’ll regret later.
  3. Excuse yourself. Try to leave a conversation if it really makes you angry. If needed, go to the restroom and wash your face, or reapply your makeup. Fake a call on your cell phone.
  4. Don’t brood about it. Distance yourself from whatever event made you angry. If you think about it, you’ll slip into a horrible downwards cycle of anger. Distract yourself by thinking about something funny or something that you’re looking forward to. Think about something that you’re grateful for. And then try to get back to your work or daily chores. If you must think about it, do so a lot later, when your initial rush of blood to the head has died down.
  5. Postpone it. If you want to talk to someone about something that made you angry, postpone it. Let yourself calm down a bit, so that you can express yourself clearly without blaming the other person unnecessarily.
  6. Exercise. Have a strenuous workout, which will have you exhausted and thinking only of water and cold showers. Exercise releases endorphins, which makes you feel happy, not angry. It also does a very good job of distracting you, and minimizing the importance of whatever was making you angry.

And finally, when talking about something that made you angry:

  1. Don’t use absolutes. “You never do…”, “you always…” are out. Focus on this one time that it happened (and if you can, remind youself of the other times that he/she did it right).
  2. Don’t call the other person names.
  3. Start off positively. Try complimenting the person on what you like about them, and what they did right, and how pleased you are with them. Then mention what’s wrong.

If you’re struggling with controlling your temper, I hope the tips help. Personally, I found yoga/meditation, combined with not brooding, to be the most helpful strategies of keeping anger at bay.

Finally, I’d like to add that a lot of people think that supressing anger is unhealthy, or that trying to not feel anger is not right. For people with serious problems, these things might be an issue.

But most people can just feel better by being calm and at peace with themselves and the world, and not allowing their anger to hurt the people they love.

Picture: “Yoga for sale” by mandydale.


Joining a new job, Part 1: 4 ways to work hard

December 10, 2006

What do you need to do, to succeed at a new job? There are many routes to job success, but the core activity must be something quite unglamorous: working hard.

By working hard, I mean working hard at everything, and staying longer at your job in order to complete all that.

There are four basic aspects of working hard.

1. Conduct detailed background research of your area of work

When you first join, spend as much time as possible going through as many work-related documents as possible. Go through things even if they don’t seem directly related to your particular designation: visit competitors’ websites, read articles and news related to your niche, and go through reports that are lying round on your network. Make sure you understand your industry thoroughly. Try to read as many important company documents that you have access to.

A lot of this background work might seem superfluous at first. But it has quite a few benefits. First, you’ll feel at home in your new industry, or you’ll gain a different perspective of it. You’ll understand your new company better. When your boss or colleague talks about something, you won’t feel like much of an outsider; you’ll be able to instantly place acronyms and events. When you start working on something, you’ll have a feel of what information lies where. You won’t wind up duplicating work, or reinventing the wheel. And you’ll get a feel of how data is presented within your company, and how external events have historically influenced your company/industry.

2. Get to know your new co-workers

Always network like crazy. Don’t deride it as being fake, phony, pretentious, or any other such synonym. A network is like an investment in the future.

In any job, you’ll need a whole village of people to help you get ahead. Your co-worker is busy, lazy and selfish, and he/she is more likely to help you if you’re someone who they like better than the other ten people asking for their help. If you’re concerned about being phony, remember that people are always desperate to be liked, and considered interesting. Having said that, avoid someone if you can’t stand them: spend your time more wisely with people who don’t make you feel sick.

Start with your co-workers, the people you’ll see regularly, and who often sit near you. Try to spend some time with them during lunch, or coffee breaks. In some offices, it’s acceptable practice to visit another cubicle to “chat”; just make sure you don’t overstay your welcome.

Try to thank the people who helped you to get your job, from the HR guy, to the lady who took your interview. It’s a nice gesture, if you can pull it off.

Try to meet people from other departments. Take advantage of inter-department or corporate activities.

3. Work hard at your own work

Initially, you’ll be given boring, menial work. Unfortunately, the only way to prove that you can handle more difficult tasks, is to do the menial work very well.

You might try to work on the process, as well as the work, e.g. create a better format, or system for doing the work.

Create something that you can show off to your boss, and ask for more work in terms of quantity, as well as more challenging work.

4. Help others

Ask a few people if they’d like any help with anything, no matter how menial (but don’t offer to get them lunch). Not only will people start seeing you as someone who tries to help, and remember your help when you ask for something, but you can always mention to your boss that you helped so-and-so with such-and-such.

If you consistently work hard, you’ll be given more work, and more important work. And that’s when you’ll seek different types of advice: how to not burn yourself out by working too hard, how to get a raise, and how to get a promotion 🙂

Good luck!


18 non-monetary things you can do to be happy

December 8, 2006

“Happiness is a thing to be practiced, like a violin” — John Lubbock

These days, studies are published on ways to become happier. However, it’s important to remember that happiness is a journey, not a destination. And while I might list 18 non-monetary ways to be happy, I’m sure there are a lot, lot more.

  1. Be with loved ones.
    Research shows that happy people spend very little time alone. Instead, they surround themselves with friends and family, and find joy in sharing their lives with others.
  2. Marry someone you love and respect
    Advice from Socrates: “By all means marry: if you get a good wife, you’ll become happy; if you get a bad one, you’ll become a philosopher”.
  3. Smile a lot
    Acting the part often leads to feeling the part. Besides, it’ll make you look a lot better, and might even make someone else happy.
  4. Laugh a lot
    Not only is it good for your heart, but also for you and the people near you.
  5. Be honest — except for a few white lies
    Honesty is the best policy, and saves a lot of heartache down the road. Of course, the road to honesty is to become a person of exceptional integrity, which while difficult, is possible. But remember to tell your next-door neighbor that she looks like she lost some weight…
  6. Spend less than you earn, and plan for your retirement
    No matter how little you’re earning, and how badly you want to buy those expensive shoes (apply whatever seems to pull you the most) don’t splurge on them if your bank manager isn’t too pleased with you.
  7. Give as much as you can
    Children in orphanages often write to Santa: “I don’t really want anything, but my sister needs a coat because it’s so cold”. Give to those with less than you, both in terms of time and money. Few other actions are as rewarding.
  8. Lead a sensual life
    Surround yourself with pleasant smells: nice perfume, beautiful flowers, baking cookies. Keep a nice painting or photo on your wall. Buy flowers. Eat spicy food.
  9. Get rid of clutter
    Clean your wardrobe, your desk, your kitchen. Don’t let things that don’t help pile up.
  10. Donate things that you don’t use
    Whether they’re books that you don’t read, clothes that you don’t wear, or gifts that you’ll never use: give them to someone who’ll appreciate them.
  11. Be healthy
    Eat healthy, avoid junk food and excess alcohol, exercise regularly, and make sure you go for your yearly check-ups.
  12. Remember that you’re healthy
    An interesting study shows that happiness is not directly correlated to being healthy. Many healthy people take their health for granted. Whereas some sickly people appreciate the few healthy days that they enjoy. Hypochondriacs are the most miserable.
  13. Be grateful
    Gratitude is essential to happiness. Psychiatrists have found that talking and writing about what they’re grateful for amplifies adults’ happiness. Learning to savor the small pleasures has the same effect.
  14. Spend some time reflecting on life
    Meditate, keep a journal, or do both. They will give you perspective and structure to your life.
  15. Set your own standards
    Forget the Jones. Establish goals for yourself, based on what you think is reasonable. You’ll be happier when you achieve those, than what the Jones’ have.
  16. Find activities that you love
    Try to spend most of your time doing work or activities which make time flow faster. The happiest people are usually busy with things that they love to do, whether it’s cooking, starting a new business, or being with a child.
  17. Construct routines, but remember that surprises often lead to greater happiness
    Life is too full of uncertainties to be controlled. Yet those experiences which we don’t plan for, often lead to greater growth and fulfillment.
  18. Stretch yourself mentally.
    Learning leads to a satisfaction much greater than any impulse purchase.

And finally, for ways to buy yourself some happiness, check out this post


Useless Office Tip

December 6, 2006

I think i’m in a bit of a blogging block.

 So here’s a useless office tip instead, honed from my extensive reading of Dilbert comics 😉

Tip: When walking from one place to another in your office, always carry a piece of paper, aka A Document, with you.

Employees walking around aimlessly are lazy and unproductive. Employees with A Document, or even An Important Document, in their hands are busy and efficient.

So next time you get up for water or coffee, don’t leave your Document behind.


How to ask for a higher starting salary

September 22, 2006

Over the course of your working life, you’ll receive a few raises.salary-negotiation.JPG

However, your annual raises will be pitiful, at just slightly over the inflation rate. Your major salary increases will only occur when you receive that rare promotion.

That’s why it’s so important to ask for a higher salary when you first begin working.

Few candidates actually ask for a higher salary, and I suppose shyness, and fear of appearing greedy, are the major reasons for this. However, you should definitely try to negotiate as high a salary as you can, when you first join your job. This is your most significant chance to try to earn more, and here are some tips for asking for higher starting pay:

  • Do your homework: Before asking for any sort of salary, know what you’re worth, in terms of your education, experience and work potential. What are people similar to you (in terms of career and accomplishments) earning? And what are your hiring company’s pay scales like? Research the company to find out how much it’s possible for them to pay. One of my friends wanted to work for a salary which was only offered to senior executives (entry level was the executive post), so he boldly claimed to be interested only in the senior exec position.
  • Delay a detailed salary discussion: Until your employers know more about you, they won’t be able to judge just how much you’re worth. Focus on getting hired first, and then on how much you’ll get. If you mention your desired salary in too much detail too early, that’s when you’ll come off as being either desperate or greedy. If you’re asked early on about how much you’d like, say something along the lines of “according to the salary scale”, “according to the industry rate” or “as much as you decide i’m worth”. Mention that salary is not the only thing that’s important: you’re also interested in how much you can contribute, how challenging the work will be, how fast you’ll be able to rise within the ranks, etc.
  • Take your time to accept a salary offer: Never accept something at a moment’s notice. No matter how tempting it is to say “yes”, always thank the recruiter, restate how much you’d love to work in that company, and ask for time to consider the offer. Later on, think about the offer calmly. Consider your other offers, what the industry typically pays, how much and how often the increments will be, how fast you’re likely to get promoted, and what other benefits this job will provide.
  • Ask for more: As long as you’re polite and respectful, no one will think that you’re greedy if you ask for a higher salary. In many cases, hiring officers have the discretion to offer upto 20% more, to get the right candidate. And often, the first salary offered is intentionally low, in order to keep the flexibility of possible increases.
  • Go step by step: When asking for more, first ask for a higher base pay. Since other forms of payment are usually linked to the base salary, this is the one you really want to increase. If this isn’t possible, ask for increases in other benefits, such as transport allowances, etc. You can try to ask for a signing bonus, and stock options or other incentives. Finally, you can ask for tuition reimbursement, more holidays and sick leaves, etc.
  • Always be honest: Never state something like “I won’t work for less than 30K”, unless you really, really mean it.
  • Know when to stop: Most hiring officers are flexible to some degree, and will offer you some concessions. However, in some companies, their first offer is really the only one that they’re allowed to make. And sometimes, you’ll see that concessions aren’t coming any more. That’s when you’ll know, it’s time to stop.

Good luck, and happy negotiating!