Managing Time

July 1, 2013

Time is the one resource that remains a constant and whose value increases as you get older. They should teach a class on how to best manage time, in every high school and college. But I guess teenagers and college students don’t quite value time as much as they will do later.

I’ve been a hardcore list maker since I was 25 or so . My list making coincided with my first real job, which was at Microsoft. Since then, lists have been my preferred tool for managing my time effectively.

But managing time is also about managing one’s goals and priorities. Managing time is about what you’d like to do and what you must do in a given period of time. So unless you can figure out what’s important to you and what needs to get done, you’re going to have a hard time effectively managing your time.

So how to think about what you’d like to do – in other words, your goals, ambitions and dreams?

As I explain in my previous post, I use the 5F tool to help me think through my dreams and ambitions over multi-year periods. I use PowerPoint to do this. You can just as easily use Excel or Word or a piece of paper. I suggest something electronic since that will make it easier to track and update.

With my 5F chart, which includes a clear view of what I want to accomplish over the next year, I create rolling quarterly, monthly and weekly goals. For this set of goals, I use a notebook – one notebook per quarter. Quarterly goals are especially important for work. And its good to share your goals with your partner(s) at home and at work and get their input.

The next step is to translate your goals etc. into to do lists. Goals serve as a way to prioritize your to dos. Goals don’t change very often but to dos change as you do, learn and adjust.

I use apps to track longer term and repetitive to dos. Reminders to pay bills, get health check ups and buy stuff at regular intervals are best left to software. I’m currently using GoTasks for this.

I use my quarterly notebook to manage my daily and weekly to do lists. I prefer the analog approach because it gives me a convenient way to view up to 90 days of my to dos and goals.

If I don’t get something done today, I move it to the next time slot that makes the most sense. I try not to have more than 1 or 2 things incomplete at the end of a day, out of an average of 10-12 items at the beginning of the day.

You do need to be realistic about how much you can get done during a day. Its important that you know your capacity otherwise you’ll be under constant pressure, or worse, consistently under scheduled.

Some days, I plan to get a few things done and all hell breaks loose. A new to do pops onto my list. If its a high priority item and it’s essential to accomplish an important goal, then I have no qualms about focusing on it and getting it done . The other to dos can be moved to other days.

I set aside several hours a day where I am not scheduled for anything. That time comes in handy when unexpected to dos pop up. But more often than not, I tend to use that time to think or do something spontaneous – such as write this blog post. In high pressure, highly scheduled environments I have sometimes  insisted on no more than 4 hours of meetings a day.

Email can be a time sink. Email, if not managed properly, is a drag on the entire day. I find that my day is more productive if I get through my email first thing in the morning. I strongly believe in the time amplification power of InboxZero.

I have some principles with which I approach time management:

  1. Managing my time is important to me, my company and my family. Really important. So I take it very seriously.
  2. If something needs to get done, it must be on my list of to dos.
  3. If something makes it on to my to do list, then I will do everything in my power to get it done. Especially if I have committed to another person that I will get it done.
  4. If I can’t get something done the day it was on my list, I will get it done as soon as possible.
  5. I will set aside a few hours every day to think or be available as a buffer. Remember, if its on my list, I will do it.
  6. Every once in a while, throw caution to the wind, and enjoy a day or two without a list.

On occasion I’m going to have to work a little bit longer in order to get everything done but that should be few and far between.

Sound complex? Probably. But as you use these tools regularly you’ll get into a rhythm. It’s a case of invest a little effort to get a big return of time.


June 16, 2013

5 Fs

I enjoy mentoring. It’s interesting, it’s satisfying and, in the end, you always learn more than you give.

Mentoring comes in three stripes, aimed at (1) improving skills (2) accelerating career and (3) coaching through life. The last one’s the hardest but holds the greatest rewards for the mentor and the mentee.

In the early nineties, I developed a framework to help me think through what I wanted to do with my life. That early framework evolved into something I now call the Five Fs framework. I’ve used this on myself for close to 20 years now and I have gone through the exercise every year. I started sharing this model with others about a decade ago.

The 5 F framework is simple. It’s a tool that provides a structured way to think about one’s life and future. It can be modified, extended and adjusted to suit the person who uses it. It can be useful to do by oneself or with some or all of the family. You get what you put into it.

One example of how it’s been used is provided by a friend and co-worker at Microsoft – Jeff Sandquist.

Just this past week, we had a discussion at indix, my startup, about mentoring. And I had a discussion about the 5 Fs with one mentee. I figured it was time to put together a nice and easy way to describe and share the framework. So here it is – The Five Fs.

Picture of the Day: Chennai

February 11, 2010


Substitute Reality

February 11, 2010

I got this picture in Bangkok at the Golden Buddha Temple. Its an image of a model of the temple and its environs. After the opulence and intricacies of the royal palaces, the ’emerald Buddha’ temple and other sights in Bangkok, this came as welcome relief.

There are a number of artists practicing what I call ‘substitute realism’ where they make and then photograph models. I like Thomas Demand, Lori Nix and Bill Armstrong.

Picture of the Day

January 30, 2010

At the temple of the reclining Buddha, Bangkok

In and around Chennai: Fort St. George

January 13, 2010

I took a friend over to see Fort St. George. This was only my second visit there and the first time inside the museum’s portrait gallery. There is a Raja Ravi Varma oil immediately to the left as you enter. But its the room itself that impresses.

Just inside the museum, Cornwallis and Willingdon tower over mere mortals.

Lots of other interesting prints and models and artifacts. I may have even learned something new. I really should make an effort to go see many more of the museums and historic sites in and around Chennai.

Abstract is Evil

January 3, 2010

I’ve been wondering about abstraction.

In general, I love abstract ideas and art. But I also prefer non-fiction to fiction. I prefer travel to movies and video games.

Its interesting to look at the ‘definition’ of abstraction on Wikipedia. And in a dictionary.

I find the simplicity of abstraction powerful and impactful. And therein lies abstraction’s potential for evil, I suppose. By abstracting war, news and video games make it feel like any other sporting event, only with the score being kept with the number of dead. By abstracting complex policies and issues into sound bites, the mainstream media does everyone a disservice by (over)simplifying the debate.

I enjoy the experience of abstraction. Both as creator and observer. When I started photographing seriously, I was very much into abstraction (here’s a sample). Recently though its been a lot more anchored in reality. Why the shift? A lot of this has to do with the surfeit of abstraction in every day life … in the news especially.

I suppose one can think of the last decade as the ‘abstract decade’.

Some of it has to do with the move to India and all of the recent travel

I hope that the next one is a lot more reality-based and that we take the time to think about the complex issues that are with us and around us.

Here’s wishing everyone a really real and wonderful new decade!

P.S. I am halfway through Gurcharan Das’ book ‘The Difficulty of Being Good‘ and it has an interesting take on abstraction and realism.


November 19, 2009

I love color.

Don’t get me wrong – I love my black and white – but color draws out the best emotions in me.

A couple of weeks ago I got a great big dose of color in Mysore.

First at the Tibetan settlement at Bylakuppe just outside Mysore, Karnataka, and then at the Lalitha Mahal Palace.

The color inside the Golden Temple in Bylakuppe was very peaceful.

The color at the palace was full of action (the TED India party was there).

And here’s one from the TED India sessions. They had several beautiful saris as the backdrop to the stage. This is the negative of one of the shots I took of the backdrop. I like it better than the original.

Here’s more of my photos from the recent trip to Mysore and TED India.

Now, I am just a dilettante when it comes to color but there are a lot of serious artists who explore color in interesting ways. I really like what Rob and Nick Carter do with their ‘light paintings’. And Tim Bavington translates music to color.  Of course, the grandmaster of color is James Turrell.

Picture Of The Day

September 27, 2009

September 27, 2009

Well, it’s about time …

August 30, 2009


… I started a blog. Why? It seems like the right time given that I’m going to be starting a new life soon. The move is almost done. I hope to start blogging in earnest in October. Here’s hoping that I have something interesting to say.