Sunday, 25 November 2018

Goals Update

Since we are so close to December, I was reflecting about my Goals this year. I think I have done quite okay but observed 2 of my goals in conflict with each other while working on them. I had a goal  of eating healthy and also one about cooking 10 gourmet savoury and 10 gourmet desserts. It took me a while to actually get started on this latter. I finally kicked off the latter goal in quarter 3 of the year. However, while I worked my way up to the recipe list, I realised that almost all of them are quite unhealthy and I had to prioritise which of those 2 goals are more important to me. I chose the former- leading a healthy life and eating healthy. This means that I will no longer work on my goal gourmet cooking for this year.

I love cooking up a good meal for my family and friends and I want to really cook gourmet food. I need sometime to come up with healthy gourmet recipes either myself or find them online. I will need some time to work on this. I feel pretty terrible about not working on the goal as it was something I was excited about and to be honest, one of the reasons I procrastinated on this particular  goal was the health factor. I really cannot punish my loved ones in order to meet a personal goal.

Having said this, I have been cooking regularly and have tried my hand at various cuisines- some of which have been big hits and some, huge misses. I am determined to work on this goal next year, maybe I will modify the numbers a bit. However, making the food I prepare healthy would be my priority.

Also, I had previously mentioned, I have sharpened my culinary skills this year by working under immense amount of time-pressure and I cherish that experience.

This is it from me- a small post with an update on a goal I will not be working on this year anymore. P.S: The picture put up in the header of this blog is my pumpkin soup and I came up with the recipe for it on my own and shared it with an aunt, who prepared and loved the soup.

Complications by Atul Gawande

I started reading this book earlier this year, during my vacation. I know I have been going about this vacation for a long time now but the blog posts about it would be published soon, I assure you.
This book belonged to my aunt  and unfortunately, I could not finish it during my vacation. Once I was back home, I went to Blossom's and got a copy. You can check out this post to see the other books that were a part of the haul.

This book is written by an Indian origin neurosurgeon based in the US and talks about how medical science is an imperfect science. The book is divided into 3 sections- Fallibility, Mystery and Uncertainty. The book consists of real-life events and incidents which have been conveyed through the lens of medical science but are very relatable in any area of work and personal life as well.

The section about fallibility discusses about how doctors could go wrong or how they get things right or wrong. One of the things that stuck with me from this section was an incident described by the writer from his personal experience where he couldn't get a procedure right and almost killed a patient. He practised a lot and somehow get it wrong ever single time, and out of the blue, one fine day, he does the procedure perfectly. It reminded me of the time when I had just started learning yoga- I could never bend down and touch my palms to the floor without bending my knees. I would try this at my yoga class every single day but could not do it. One fine day, I just do it without any difficulty, as though I have been doing it all my life. Similarly, there are various incidents to which I could draw parallels to. Some parts of this section, especially the one about 9000 surgeons, was quite hilarious to me.

The section about mystery describes several conditions like pain and nausea which is uncomfortable and inconvenient and in some cases, almost impossible to diagnose the cause of it. Sometime innumerable tests and imaging and all possible known sources to medical science are explored in the diagnosis and identifying the cause of certain conditions and everything seems perfect, yet the patient continues to suffer. Sometimes, all possible treatment options are explored but they fail. This section was a really interesting read.

The last section of the book is about Uncertainty. It specifically deals with the decisions that doctors have to take- should I do procedure x on a patient or not? should I tell a patient of all treatment options even if it means suffering and high risk to his/her life. Often we also face such a dilemma in our lives, especially where the pros and cons of a decision balance out each other and it is impossible to take a decision and would prefer someone else do it for us.

The book is written in a way that a layman can understand many things. Though there are several items which are medical, the author has tried his best to simplify or explain such medical terminology.  I really did not find it too difficult to read. It is quite an easy read and almost unputdownable. Note, the picture of the book in this post is the one from my aunt's edition. Mine is different- it is the one shown in the Blossoms' haul.

I would rate this book 5/5

Friday, 16 November 2018

Time Management and Productivity Tips that Work for Me

A friend of mine asked me how I manage my time and what method I use to organise my work. To be honest, I am probably one of the most disorganised people you will ever meet. I rely a lot on my memory and brain's storage and filing system. Over a period of time, with a constant pressure on my brain, I began feeling overwhelmed. I never thought that I needed lessons on time-management etc. However, during all those times that I felt overwhelmed, I reflected back on the time-management techniques taught at various trainings and to be honest- many of them never really worked for me, at least not in the way they put it. After a lot of trial and error, I devised my own simple method for managing time and staying organised at work. I must admit, that I am no expert and even now, many a time, I just find it easier to go with the flow. I resort to these techniques when I think I am overwhelmed or moving towards being thus.

None of my techniques are new, just an amalgamation of several techniques which helps me stay calm and get things done. As a warning, this post is going to be quite long, so hopefully it will be useful for those reading it right to the end.

I will start with the tips that do not work for me and what I do instead:

- Your daily to-do list must roll-up to your annual goals/objectives: This tip never works for me. It creates a lot of ambiguity and confusion for me. However, when I reflect on it in retrospect, I am able to explain/relate how my daily activities contributed to the bigger picture. I am not able to do it prospectively though and have to make up some really fantastic stories to drive home the point.

- Batch similar tasks together: I guess the theory behind this tip is that you pick up pace on some tasks. It does not work for me though, if each task takes more than 5 mins to do. I feel this tremendous kind of fatigue if I batch similar tasks together that I do not feel like doing anything beyond and end up procrastinating. So, it has the opposite effect of the desired outcome of a time management tip.

- Complete the most important/difficult task first: Well, if I am jolly and upbeat, I can do this. However, I am not the most upbeat person at the very beginning of the day so the very fact that I have to do something difficult first, just overwhelms me that I end up procrastinating. I like to be eased into the difficult tasks by doing something light or simple first. It feels good to have 1 item ticked off on the to-do list before launching myself to swallow the frog.

- Schedule time for reading emails: In my kind of profession and work, this is not something easy to implement. There could be some items that need my urgent attention and maybe the sender is not in a position to call or message me. So, I have distorted this tip to suit me. I look at the sender, the subject line and the importance marked on the email. Based on checking the 3, if I feel, the email warrants my immediate attention, I read it. Else, I leave it unread to read as soon as I finish the task at hand.

- Put a time limit on tasks: I do not do this in my professional life as I do not want things to be left half done. Suppose, I am writing an article and have set a limit of 30 mins and I am unable to finish it in that time frame, it is kind of demotivating and in addition, the tasks also remain half done. I must admit though that this helped me during my student life when I could put a time limit on studying a certain subject.

I will now move on to what actually works for me, but, before that, I would like to share my 4 tools which helps me on a day to day basis:

- Dated Diary: I make my to-do lists in a diary
- Email: Helps me prioritise
- Calendar: to block time for different tasks and make time for appointments
- Evernote/OneNote: To make notes and lists

What actually works for me:

- Reviewing calendar monthly, weekly and daily

At the beginning of every month, I like to take a look at my calendar to identify important deadlines or meetings for the month and if I need to prepare for the meeting, I check for the days when I am less busy and block time to prepare for the meeting or allocate the required amount of time to complete the task for the deadline.

Not a calendar that I use for my day-to-day work but this one does provide an overview of holidays. This one is from a device that I do not use often

At the end of every week, I like to see what is in store for the following week and the week after. I do this as by calendar changes everyday with some new meetings or tasks for me to do. I definitely cannot solely rely on what I planned at the very beginning of the month. After my weekly review, I go again block time as necessary for preparation.

I usually hate going to meetings unprepared if a contribution is expected of me. I feel stupid or feel I do not care enough about the time invested by others by going unprepared. If there is no information on the invite regarding the expectations from the participants for a meeting, I usually write back to the person who is inviting as ask for the expectations. There are some meetings where a preparation is not required but I need to listen to thoughts and ideas of others and these are okay.

I review my calendar daily to check what is needed on the given day and the day after- this helps me plan my other activities like lunch time, breaks, quick catch-up with colleagues etc.

The basic message is, if I have to be on top of everything I do, I have to review my calendar as frequently as possible.

- Making a daily to-do list

I jot down all that I need to do on a given day. I write this list keeping in mind that I might not complete all of it on that particular day- if I do- fantastic! I found how I write my to-do list very different from most others. I do not simply list down all the tasks I need to do on a particular day as shown below.

I write them down by project. Let us assume that I am a wedding planner who is managing 3 weddings. My to-do list appears somewhat like the image below. I feel this really helps me work find focus on the right projects and tasks.

- Working on my to-do list

I rank the tasks based on priority and work based on priorities. As I mentioned above, I do not like to do the toughest or the most unpleasant task first. I like to ease into these. So, usually, the number one priority on my list is usually something easy. However, it does not mean I do the least important or urgent task first. I just choose the easiest of the urgent/important tasks first. Following this, I launch myself into the toughest/unpleasant task from the urgent/important tasks.

Sometimes things do not work as planned especially if you are dependant on someone else and some tasks may get pushed to another day or may require follow-up on another day. So, I go immediately to the dated page in my diary to the date when I need to do the task and I make a note of it there so that I do not forget. All tasks that I complete are ticked off. In the picture I have used different colours to indicate a task that is pushed or tasks which are completed but in real life I do not colour code this.

- Managing e-mail

I use Outlook like most people for my email. I usually mark out important emails which need action or follow-up with the expected date of action or follow-up so that I am reminded of the same on the particular date. I review these marked emails everyday to see if something can be marked complete before the due date. I guess everyone does the same so nothing new here.

I go through my email as soon as they arrive. I have mentioned above on how I choose to review my emails based on sender, subject line and importance. I read all others in between tasks. If some tasks are taking too long to finish, I take an email break to go through my email.

- Blocking out distractions

I am as such not a big social media fanatic (anymore) so it came easy to me to keep of it. Apart from this, I try as much as possible to avoid getting dragged into conversations that do not help me professionally unless I am on a break. It also happens sometimes, that I am the initiator of futile conversations but as soon as I realise this, I put an end to it.

- Understanding priorities

One of my mentors gave me the ABCD on how to decide which task is a priority. The priority should always be ABCD, where

A= Apna Kaam or My work
B= Boss ka Kaam or Tasks the Boss wants you to do
C= Colleagues ka Kaam or Tasks for a colleague or helping out a colleague
D= Duniya ka Kaam or World's work- implies everything else

Though occasionally it is difficult to use this, 99% of the time I use it and it has proven to be very effective.

- Taking breaks at regular intervals

This is more of a productivity tip than a time management tip. Taking regular breaks from work helps me recharge my batteries and work with greater energy which in turn helps me do more in a given time-frame.

- Making Lists

I use Evernote to make several lists. Be it a shopping list or what I need to pack for trips,  I have a list for everything. As soon as I realise I need to buy something, I record it immediately on my shopping list. This helps me save time and put more thought into what I need to buy just before shopping.
For travelling, I have a standard list which I use for any and every trip with a list of items that need packing. It helps me pack more efficiently and not forget important things. Similarly I have a list of upcoming blogs that I intend to write, list of points I have to cover in some of my blogs, list of recipes to try out etc. I am planning to switch from Evernote to some other tool, will update you when I do so.

You might get the impression that I am a super-organised person by reading all my ways of working and believe me I am not. These are the only things that help me manage my time and stay productive. As I mentioned, I am no expert on time management and productivity. These are a few things which work for me but may or may not work for you. I believe, every individual has his/her working style and job requirements so it is not necessary that what works for one would work for all others. The very intention of this blog post is to help others and also if possible, learn from others.

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

Hotel by Arthur Hailey

I bought this book from Sapna Book Stores years back but for some reason could not read it despite trying. This book was a part of my Dad's collection of books but at the time I was too young to read such a book when I first saw it and when I was old enough to read, we had to get rid of it due to termite infestation in the cupboard where the book was shelved.

This is my third-ish Arthur Hailey book. The first one being Runway Zero-Eight, written in collaboration with John Castle and the second one was Strong Medicine. I loved both those books. What I have observed about Hailey, is that he chooses a particular industry and does a thorough and in-depth study of it and then comes up with a brilliant book with a fictitious story spun around it.
In Strong Medicine, he wrote about the pharmaceuticals industry and in this one, he wrote about the Hotel/Hospitality industry.

This book is about an independent hotel in New Orleans called St. Gregory's owned by an old fashioned man, neck-deep in debt, called Warren Trent. The main character is the hotel manager, Peter McDermott. Several parallel story lines, each of which touches up on one aspect or other in the industry run through the book. There are several characters in the book as hotel staff or guests but it never creates any kind of confusion as the characters are developed beautifully with each one having a unique trait about them. If I write about each of the story lines or characters, this blog would be insufferably long. So, I strongly recommend that you read the book. However, I will touch upon very very briefly on some of the themes of those story lines.

- Hotel theft
- Conventions organised in hotel
- Which areas actually contribute toward the hotels finance
- What it is like when Royal families come to stay at a hotel
- How the wealthy exert their influence and position in society
- Corrupt hotel staff
- What hotels do in event of medical emergencies/crisis
- How hotels get taken over
- Equipment malfunction in hotel
- Racial segregation which was more common in the time when book was written
- A hit and run case investigation

What I liked about the book is the fact that the author hardly left any area of hotel operations unexplored. While focussing on the aspects of hotels which all of us are more or less aware of or is generally quite visible, he did not forget the smaller aspects such as how the wake-up call service at the hotels work, what happens to the garbage collected at the hotel, what are the consequences of a losing hotel keycards or throwing them mindlessly in the bin, what the struggles in the kitchen are, what privileges do certain hotel employees benefit from, how room service and housekeeping works etc. He has managed to beautifully link them all up into several engaging stories which somehow come together brilliantly in the book.

My favourite character in the book is the central one- Peter McDermott. He is a very likeable and ideal character- straightforward, honest, brilliant at what he does, very committed and dedicated, hard working, puts humanity above all else and last but not the least, superbly intelligent and knowledgeable, not to mention well-respected by all employees and several guests too.

As you already know by now, I love books in which food is described really well. One of the most visible features of any hotel is the restaurants and food and Arthur Hailey surely has not be thrifty in his descriptions of food. He has really been nifty with his words especially while describing food. You almost feel like the food has been laid out before you.

The language is moderate and the book is quick paced and not too difficult to read, not too simple either, and one of the most insightful books about hotel operations I have ever read. You must have figured out by now how much I loved the book. The only thing that I did not like about it is the fact that it ended and that there is no sequel, even though the writer ended the book on such a note that there could be easily one. Sorry this is probably not the kind of review you would be expecting to read but this is the best I could do without making the blogpost longer.

I rate this book- 5/5.

Thursday, 4 October 2018

Q3 Update on Goals

How fast the year has flown by!!! It was just yesterday that we were greeting each other for the New Year and now, all of a sudden, we are in the las quarter of the year. I think this year, more than any other before, I have been able to focus on my personal goals more than ever before. I think tracking them through the year in my blog has helped me to keep that focus. Let us see how Q3 went for me.

Health: Keep up my daily exercise routine and ensure that I work-out atleast 5 days a week. Eat healthy meals every day- monthly once cheat day would be allowed. I would also go to bed at a pre-defined time and wake up everyday at the same time.
Q3 Update: This quarter, I have been able to put all the laziness in the bag and have been exercising every single day. I would like focus on my eating habits along with the exercise in this last quarter. I have been able to sleep, fairly around the same time and wake up at the same time. It is just that, I think I should be working on sleeping for longer hours in this last quarter as I do not get in the whole 8 hours.

Sharpening My Culinary Skills: I have decided to not just cook regular homely meals but push myself to prepare more gourmet dishes. I have made some in 2017 as well but would like to take things to another level. I have decided to cook 10 gourmet savoury dishes and 10 gourmet sweet dishes in the year. I will be scheduling this in my monthly planner. It will take an effort to get the recipes and ingredients together. It is a little ambitious but I will do my best.
Q3 Update: This quarter, I finally kicked off the grand gourmet journey. I know I still have a bit of journey here but I am glad I started it as now I am bursting with ideas. I hope, by the end of the year, I will be able to achieve it.

Blogging: I have decided to blog once a week in 2018. I do not want to blog sporadically but keep to a schedule. I have been inspired by Mr. Vinod Ekbote who has been blogging for the last 10 years and has been posting every Friday on his blog without fail- click here to check out the blog. I just think I need to set time aside for it and do it every week. I have a diary that is full of things that I would like to put up on my blog but due to several reasons have not been able to do so. However, I am determined to do it in 2018.
Q3 Update: After a break that I took from blogging mid-year, I am now back to blogging consistently. I have not been able to clear my backlog but now I have a bagful of ideas for content so I hope to get in all the 52 blogs by end of this year.

Watercolour Art: I am enjoying learning watercolour art from various online resources. I would make at least 10 proper watercolour paintings in 2018. It just must be scheduled in my monthly planner.
Q3 Update: I had mentioned in my mid-year that I have not focussed a lot. I have some ideas but that would be executed only in the last month of the year. So, still on hold. 

Launching my Youtube Channel: This has been on my mind for some time. I have still some way to go. I am not sure if it will be possible in 2018. I have to shoot some high quality videos and do some high quality editing. This is a good-to-do goal for 2018 and not must-do as I do not want to rush into it and put up some shoddy videos out in public.
Q3 Update: During my mid-year review, I had written- "I am not working towards it too much. I do not feel prepared yet for this. I have created some private video content but there is still a long way to go. I might not actively pursue this goal this year. If it happens, well and good but I will not beat myself up if it does not work out." I am not going to pursue this, this year and also maybe next. So, in my end of the year update, this goal would be removed.

Writing: in my journal everyday and at least one page a day. The goal I had in 2017 was to finish writing on all pages of the journal, which in the hindsight, did not make much sense. The goal for 2018 will not only ensure that I keep to my habit of writing, but also as a bonus, would help me finish writing on all the pages. I hope I will not get demotivated like 2017 and give up.
Q3 Update: I have written consistently in the first half of the year but in the 3rd quarter, I just lost way. I must have written a couple of times and that is about it. Anyway, in Q3, I plan to write regularly again.

Reading: I have lowered the number of books to read in 2018 to 10. As you can see, there is a lot on my plate and I do not want to make the activity that I love so much to be one that induces stress. I would also like to read some good literature, and not just fun-light reading books. I think reading before bed works for me great and I think a good 15-30 minutes before bed would be great.
Q3 Update: I am reading everyday and regularly so I am quite confident about achieving this goal by Q3. I have already read over 60% of the books.

Travelling: It is my goal to travel to 5 different places in 2018. I better get started on my vacation planning soon.
Q3 Update: I have achieved this goal for this year but I would like to visit more places, if possible before end of this year. Can't wait.....

Sunday, 23 September 2018

A Year in Bengaluru/Bangalore

I cannot believe it has already been a year since I moved back to Bangalore. How time just flew!! It feels like just yesterday that we moved back to this city. I thought it would be a good idea to reflect on how the one year in Bangalore has been.

I must say the city has changed a lot and not always for the best. It has become extremely populous compared to when I left it in 2012. This has also contributed to an unmanageable traffic situation in most parts of the city. In a way I am not surprised by this as the city still presents itself as an attractive hub for jobs and start-up that people from a big part of the country migrate here every year. My brother told me that every year, the city's population grows by 38%!! Now that is really huge! I am surprised that the city, being completely unprepared for this unplanned growth, is still surviving.
This being said, now that the Government and city administration has noted this, the efforts made to improve the infrastructure of the city to cope with this kind of growth is not catching up or able to keep pace with the growth. I hope they are doing something in the background to prevent the city from crumbling under the gigantic growth.

When I left the city, it was clean and green. While there is still quite a bit of green cover in the city, it is rapidly depleting to make way for growth. It is nice to see the citizens coming together to save the greenery. So, the administration is working towards translocating the trees. I just wish all the green is just within the city so that people living in the city can benefit from it. Due to the growth, there are a lot of vehicles on the street contributing to some heavy pollution. I think the increase in greenery would serve to benefit the city massively.

I do not know how many remember that in 2014-2015, Bangalore was the cleanest capital in the country and raked 7th in the list of cleanest cities in the country. Don't believe me, read this. However, in 2018, it is probably right in the bottom of the list. The garbage disposal system is currently not meeting the city's needs. Though a lot of initiatives have been introduced like waste segregation, ban on plastics etc, their implementation is not effective. Also, I have come to understand the city's administration has some budget and resource issues due to which the garbage pick-up is not regular and there is open dumping in several places in the city. I think this is something the city administration really needs to work on and really fast.

The other area of focus would be provision of clean and safe water to the citizens. The amount of water supplied to the city is not enough, increasing the dependency on water tankers. I do not want to talk much about how important water is and why there is a shortage. I think we all know by now, why.

What I love about the city is the vibrant vibe it still possesses. There are so many interesting and unique events all across the city all through the city. People love going to these and so do I. There are so many affordable food joints in almost every nook and corner of most localities and they offer a large variety too.

The other thing that I like is, each locality is quite self contained. Vegetable shops, groceries, schools, hospitals, parks etc are present in all localities and are easily accessible, usually by a short walk. Fortunately, this aspect of the city has not undergone any change and has in fact, improved for the better.

A big change in the transport sector is the introduction of fast and reliable Metro in the city. Though a bigger network is required for this rapidly becoming massive city, it is work in progress and hope all the other lines are ready soon. In most of my metro journeys so far, there have been tremendous crowds in the train. Sometimes it surprises me that there is still enough oxygen inside the trains to keep everyone from fainting.

The well-loved mild weather of Bangalore is still in tact. Though it has become slightly warmer than before, it is still quite cool and amazing. It has been raining on most days in this last year, keeping the temperature under control.

The city seems to believe in early to bed and early to rise. While most shops are open until 10pm, many close by 8pm. In the mornings, if you are in the neighbourhood park around 5am, you will find it bustling with walkers and joggers and you can see the same in the gyms. When I was in Hyderabad, the newspaper and milk delivery seldom happened before 7:45-8:00 am, but here, it is available by 6:00-6:30am in the morning. Only after moving to Hyderabad, did I realise that Bangalore is a city of early risers. The pace of life may not be comparable to that of cities like Mumbai, but is definitely fast paced compared to Hyderabad, which comes across as a very laid back city.

These are my initial thoughts about the year that went by. If I think of anything else later on, I will update the same in the comments section. As you may have noticed, it is a mixed bag of experiences so far. Whatever the experience maybe, I love living in the city, despite its flaws and only a Bangalorean would understand what I mean!

Friday, 14 September 2018

Book Haul from Blossom Book House

My husband and I were bored one Sunday evening and had not been out shopping for books for sometime. We decided to head out to Blossoms'. They earlier had just 1 store on Church Street but now have 2 big shops on either ends of Church Street. We went there on 2 subsequent weekends, which means, there were 2 hauls this month. I bought more books in my 1st haul and just a couple in my 2nd haul. My husband bought a couple of books during our 1st visit this month. During the 2nd visit, I actually took some of the books I was not too keen on keeping with me- about 20 of them. They kept 12 of them and returned 8 to me as they already had enough unsold copies of those. In return, I could buy books of my choice for that amount. I still have about Rs.180 of the unspent amount, for which they gave me a voucher, for use in future purchases.

Coming to the 1st haul, I bought 5 books.

1. The House on the Strand by Daphne DuMaurier

During my recent vacation, my aunt recommended this book to me. She is a big fan of DuMaurier's writing and we found that we shared a liking for similar kinds of books. This book is about time travel. I will write more, after I read the book.

2. Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang

My aunt and I were discussing Pear Buck's The Good Earth (one of my favourites). We were actually discussing about books about China and these two books were discussed. I bought Wild Swans as it was highly recommended by her.

3. The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande

During my visit to my Aunt's, she had several books my Atul Gawande. I actually partially read Atul Gawande's "Complications" and liked whatever little I read. So, decided to get this book.

4. Dancing in Cambodia and Other Essays by Amitav Ghosh

I have never read a book by Amitav Ghosh but have heard good reviews of his books, which are usually pretty bulky. I thought a smallish book like this would be a good start.

5. Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll

I was watching a quiz show, in which one of the questions was- which of these characters in not a character of Lewis Carroll's books. I realised I had forgotten about all the characters in Alice in Wonderland. I only remembered the gist of the story but could not really recall anyone other than Alice of course. I thought this book would help me in refreshing my memory.

Books from the 2nd Haul

1. Complications by Atul Gawande

As mentioned above, I have partially read this book- about 80 pages or so and wanted to finish reading this book.  I would love to finish reading it, so, got this book.

2. All Things Wise and Wonderful by James Herriot

I have read a couple of books by James Herriot in my school days and his account of different experiences with animals, being a vet, were quite engaging- sometimes sad and sometimes amusing. I have not read this one though and saw a James Herriot after a long time, so thought of getting it.