Wednesday, 31 May 2017

The Amazing Tomato - POMODORO

A few days back , one of  the followers of my blog sent me a  message .

Ma’m , I read your blog posts regularly and I find them very useful.   I am a budding author and I am in the process of writing a book.  I followed the tips you had given in the  post and I am following it regularly. But somehow,  things are not getting done !  I cannot concentrate .  As soon as I try to write something, that very moment  I want to check my emails or remember  an important call that I have to make.   Once I get over with these,  I get disturbed or distracted with something or the other.  The net  result is that at the end of the day, I realize that I have not even written 25% of what I had planned to write .   Can you suggest how  I can get over this problem ?  Please... please  help  Ma'm ....

The reader was referring to one  of my earlier posts where I had  talked about  “The most powerful Productivity tool “.  (Click on the link to  read it).  That blog  post talked about the simple but very effective “To-Do List” , where you define the tasks or goals what you plan to do in a week and then break it down and list out tasks for the day. 

But the problem elucidated  was not about identifying and planning the tasks. The problem she is facing is one of the most common problems most of us face nowadays.  

The problem of  distraction . Very small attention spans. 

Multitasking. Information overload.

All of us face this problem nowadays. 

With the internet in my palm, Whatsapp messages, social media, video calls ,  sometimes I feel my  time  is no longer mine.  

The craving for looking at my smartphone at least once in 10 minutes is too strong (except when you are flying or in a no network zone – ha ha !).  We have become too much connected.  This is intruding in our lives and eating away precious , productive moments .

If this problem was posed to me four years ago, I would have recommended “meditation”. 


But today,  I will recommend a simple method named “POMODORO” .  I came to know about this technique from my daughter, who is trying to crack a very tough exam. 

The Pomodoro Technique can help you power through distractions, hyper-focus, and get things done in short bursts, while taking frequent breaks to come up for air and relax. Best of all, it's easy. If you have a busy job where you're expected to produce, it's a great way to get through your tasks. 

The Pomodoro Technique was developed by Francesco Cirillo in the 1980s. His best-selling book of the same name was updated and revised in 2013. 
"Pomodoro" is Italian for tomato. The technique works by getting you to structure your work in 25-minute sessions, each separated by a short break. Cirillo took the name from the tomato-shaped kitchen timer that he used to manage his time as a university student. 
The method is remarkably simple. Each 25-minute session is one "pomodoro." When you complete one, take a five-minute break before embarking on the next.   Every time you finish a pomodoro, you mark your progress with an “X”, and note the number of times you had the impulse to procrastinate or switch gears to work on another task for each 25-minute chunk of time.

At first, it might seem counter-intuitive to take so many breaks throughout the day. But research shows that this can actually enhance your focus when you return to the task you're working on. 

To make it simple, the following are the steps for combining the To-do list and the Pomodoro technique:
  • Make your weekly list for the tasks to be completed
  • Break it down to daily to-do list.
  • Prioritize the tasks
  • Choose a task to be accomplished
  • Set the Pomodoro to 25 minutes (the Pomodoro is the timer)
  • Work on the task until the Pomodoro rings, then put a check on your sheet of paper
  • Take a short break (5 minutes is OK)
  • Every 4 Pomodoros take a longer break.

Remember that during each sprint, there has to be absolutely no distraction. For example you will set your cell phone to the silent mode, if needed put a Do Not disturb sign near you, you will not look at emails, no multitasking.  You will fully concentrate on the task that you have set for the Pomodoro. 

After your timer buzzes, you will take a break of 5-6 minutes and then again set the timer for the next sprint.  When you have completed four "pomodori," take a longer break to rest and recharge. 

It is not necessary that you do 3-4 sprints in continuation. You can start with 1 or 2.  

In fact, I am writing this post as a Pomodori Sprint ! 😊  And I am happy with the result.  I will try more Tomatoes ... errr Pomodoris every day. 


And my dear budding author, I hope this helps you !

Why don't you too give it a try and let let me know if it is working for you or not? 

 Best of Luck ! 

Stay productive , Stay happy, Achieve your Goals!


Tuesday, 23 May 2017

The Stranger

Dear readers,  in my last blog post I had asked you to stay tuned ... So here you go.... 

The post "Who Won" , talks about restoration of trust in humanity. In this blog post, I will describe an incident which I personally experienced. Whenever I become too cynical and  distrustful about any person or a situation or life in general, I try to recall this real life story . It gives me hope.

The first experience goes way back , about 18 - 19 years ago  when I had to visit Cyprus for a very difficult assignment.  My return itinerary had a flight change at Dubai. I was travelling alone. The inward flight from Nicosia, Cyprus was late by 4 hours due to bad weather. The next flight was on the next day, early morning.  

This disruption was not too unwelcome from me. I am a travel bug and I saw this as an opportunity to see the Dubai city. And this was like a Godsend opportunity for me to buy some dresses and toys for my 5 year old daughter. Due to work pressure and a bit due to lack of planning, I could not buy gifts for her from Cyprus.

By the time I got a one day transit visa made at the airport, checked in at the hotel booked by the Airlines, it was already 6 pm in the evening.I did not know  anything about Dubai , where to go, how to go ! Understand that there were no Google maps or Ubers or such prolific internet facility at that time

I inquired at the lobby helpdesk but could not understand anything due to the heavy Arabic accent.  All the signage were mostly Arabic. I could hardly see any females on the streets. I did not want to go alone in a taxi as I did not know the place or the markets or anyone there. 

I sat down on a Sofa, feeling disappointed. Suddenly, a bearded young man came and greeted me "Salaam Alekum !" 

"Hullo" I said. 

"You want to go to a market to buy toys ? There is a huge market quite nearby where you will get fantastic electronic games . I heard you inquire about it at the reception "

"Err.. yes.. but ... " I faltered.

"I am also going that way, if you want we can go together and come back together"

Maybe because I was too distressed by visualizing my daughter's disappointed face, I jumped at the proposition.   

If I look back now, I shiver. 

An unknown place which has very strict laws, I am alone, I do not know the language. I do not have a cell phone, I have very little money on me and a stranger proposes to me about accompanying him to the market which I do not not know is real or fictitious and I accompany him happily

I did not even know his name and till date I do not know it ! 

As we sat in the taxi , he said he was from Pakistan ! That made me very uneasy. But the damage was already done.As I sat stiffly without uttering a word, my friend (??!!) asked the taxi to stop infront of a well lit mall. The market was really a paradise for electronic toys. I went about browsing the toys, asking the price , checking what best I can fit into my budget and he too did the same. Finally I bought the toys and also a very cute frilly pink frock (My daughter still remembers the dress ) . 

With my hand full of bags, I was contemplating whether to return to the hotel alone or not, suddenly I saw the person running towards me . 

"Oh ! Sorry ! I was buying some chocolates and you had disappeared . I got worried.  It is quite late , let us have dinner and return to the hotel"

Some sense had come back to me . 

"No.. I don't want any dinner . I will manage alone. You carry on ... "

 He contemplated for a while. I stood still. I had bought a small pocket knife by then.

"Ok ... lets go then ..." and he hailed a taxi. 

I sat stiffly beside him, holding the small knife tightly in my palm.  I was tense. I prayed. 

It seemed like eternity but finally we reached the hotel. I was sweating in trepidation by then. 

He helped me with my packets till I reached the elevator . As the door closed, he smiled and said "Bye ! Good Luck !

That was the last time I saw the gentleman. 

I do not know his name. I do not know his address , contact number or email. 


I could not say "Thank you " to him, ever. 

The world does have good people. 

Let us not put narrow walls around us based on religion, nationality, race , colour, sex or appearance. Yes, we have to be careful since there are wolves around us  too.  But let us not lose trust. 

Let us not lose hope ....

Cheers !
  

Friday, 12 May 2017

Who Won ?

When I was in class 6th, there was a short story prescribed in our Hindi literature book.  It was written by a famous author named Sudarshan. The name of the story was "Haar Ki Jeet " (हार की जीत) I don't know how to translate this in 3 words in English, but the essence of the story title is "The winning of the loser". 

The storyline goes like this ... Once upon a time there was a hermit named Baba  Bharti. He had a very beautiful white horse named Sultan. Baba Bharti loved Sultan very dearly and he used to say that he will never be able to live without Sultan.  His day started with a  ride on his favourite Sultan and it ended by feeding and caring for the horse.  In that village lived a dacoit named Kharag Singh. He had heard about Baba Bharti and his Sultan from many people and one day he went to the temple to meet the hermit.  

"I have heard a lot about Sultan. Can I see him once ? " Kharag Singh pleaded. 

Baba Bharti was very pleased and he proudly took Kharag Singh to the stable to show him his prized possession. Kharag Singh was amazed. He had never ever seen such a beautiful horse. He thought that this horse should be with him rather than with Baba Bharti. After all Baba was a hermit. Why would he need such a horse ?

While leaving, Kharag Singh looked at Baba Bharti and said " Baba ! I will not let this horse stay with you !" , and went away. 

Baba Bharti was scared. He lost his sleep.  He would wake up with a start at midnight, go to the stable a check on Sultan. 

But months passed by and Kharag Singh did not return. Baba Bharti became relaxed and thought that Kharag Singh had just jested with him. 

One evening, Baba Bharti was riding on Sultan. Suddenly, he saw an invalid man , walking with a limp coming towards him.  He was stooping and his white , unkempt beard made him look very old. 

"Baba ... I have to go to the next village which is 3 miles away . I legs are paining and I cannot walk. Please let me sit on your horse and take me till the end of this village ... I will remain ever grateful to you ... God will bless you , my son !" 

Baba Bharti was very kind. He stepped down, helped the  crippled person on the horse and he held the reins and started walking slowly. 

Suddenly, Baba Bharti felt a jolt.  The cripple was sitting straight on Sultan and laughing. The reins of the horse was in his hands.  He was dacoit Kharag Singh ! He pulled at the reins and started riding away . 

"Wait ... !" baba Bharti shouted. Kharag Singh stopped. 

"Tell me Baba ! I will do whatever you tell me to do. But I will not v return Sultan to you " 

Baba Bharti looked at Kharag Singh and said softly . 

"I will not talk about the horse. But I have one request ... " 

"Tell me , O hermit ! I will obey "

"Kharag Singh, I request you not to tell about this incident - how you took away Sultan from me, to anybody ... "

Kharag Singh was very intrigued and surprised.  He had never imagined that Baba Bharti will have such a request.  He tried to comprehend , but could not think of any logical reason... so he asked

"Baba, why such a strange request ? What purpose will it serve for you ? "

Baba Bharti looked straight at his eyes 

"My son... If you tell about this incident, no one will ever help a person in need ... they will never trust the weaker person ... "  

After saying this, Baba Bharti slowly went away . He did not look back at Sultan even once. 

Baba Bharti went away , but his words kept on echoing in Kharag Singh's ears. He was filled with remorse.  At the dead of the night, Kharag Singh sneaked into the temple with Sultan .  The stable doors were wide open ... Baba Bharti did not care to close them ... 

Kharag Singh slowly tied Sultan.  He had tears in his eyes. Tears of repentance and guilt.  A few drops fell on the ground. Kharag Singh closed the stable doors slowly and went away. 

The next day Baba Bharti got up a dawn and habitually walked towards the stable . Suddenly he realized that Sultan is not in the stable anymore. He stopped short and with a heavy heart started walking away.  Sultan recognized his master's footsteps and started whinnying. 

Baba Bharti could not believe his ears. he ran towards the stable and saw Sultan... Baba was overjoyed !

He embraced Sultan and started crying.  "My Sultan is back ... Now no one will distrust the poor and the handicapped ... "

Baba Bharti's tears fell on the ground ... at the same place where Kharag Singh's tears had fallen...  

Reader, you must be wondering why I have recounted this story ... well there is a reason ... Read my next post ..

Stay Tuned ....

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

4 Great tips for dealing with Office Politics

The lush green lawns of a resort in Goa soothes my eyes. The swaying palm trees,  riot of colours - red, pink, white, orange on the bougainvillea trees, birds twittering , the clear blue water of the sea splashing on the white sands of Varca beach ... is this heaven on earth ?

What if everyday I could be as relaxed and happy as I am today ? I sigh ...

Is it possible to feel such serenity and calmness at work ? I wonder ...

Oh ! Politics at work ! it saps your energy and sometimes fills you up with negative energy .  

Whether you like it or not, at work, you just have to deal with politics.  

Plato has said, "One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors."

So, dear readers, instead of  groaning and moaning, find some tips which you can keep handy. 

  • Sell yourself : I am not talking about taking credit for others work or bragging without actually doing any tangible work.  Give 100% to your job, work diligently and sincerely , with full ownership and responsibility.  But while you do so, also talk about it.  At the right time and place and to the right person, tell about your achievements and effort. Sell your hard work and skills. Talk about your contributions before some political bully steals the show.  Do not make the mistake of believing that people will notice your contribution even if you do not talk about it. Seek out ways to make yourself, your boss and team look good !


  • Do not react :  Your political adversaries , specially your peers or one rung senior to you will try to provoke you at the drop of a hat.  The political people know very well what gels with the people at the top and what does not.  They will try to put you down during controversial meetings or any such interaction. They hardly miss any chance.  Do NOT react. Try to maintain a stoic face during such encounters.  Don't give your opponent the pleasure of gauging your emotions. Once you have collected yourself, thought logically , then act.  Give them back on a subtle manner. Make your point but in a cool and calm way.  This sometimes angers the opponent and they start rambling.  Let them ramble. When they finish, say "Can I talk now ? " If they interrupt, cut them off  saying "Let me finish first ... " . This usually shuts them off.  By that time, you are cool and composed.  This is one skill which I am still learning from my husband. It is very very difficult for people like me who have a  transparent face !


  • Build informal Relationships : Get to know the informal power centres of your organization  Do you know who is respected and who are the real influencers ? Who gets along with whom ? Ensure you have relationships that cross the formal hierarchy in all directions (peers, bosses, executives). Start to build relationships with those who have the informal power. Build your relationships on trust and respect – avoid empty flattery. Be a part of multiple networks – this way you can keep your finger on the pulse of the organization.


  • Defuse the negativity : In one of my earlier post , I had written about "Love thy critics" (Click on the Yellow link) .  Instead of the natural tendency of distancing from the political adversaries, do the oppositeKnow what tickles them and what puts them off. Try to understand their psychology - what are their goals ? Be courteous to them, but always be very careful what you say to them. Learn how to avoid or counter the impact of their negative politicking. Be aware that these people are typically insecure and incompetent. That's why they rely on aggressive politicking to get ahead.


Office politics is a part of work. 

You might hate it but you will have to tackle it to have a say in what matters to you and the organization. 

So, instead of shying away from it, let us take it by the horn and try to make it work for us rather than against us. 

If we can at least start doing it, our everyday lives can become at least a bit like this lovely view out of my window . 

Cheers !


Tuesday, 18 April 2017

We Indians | #MoreIndianThanYouThink

This incident happened way back in 1998, when I visited Cyprus for  a month on an official tour, for the completion of a huge software project which our organization was doing for the Land Department , Government of Cyprus. I had put up in a hotel in Nicosia, the capital of Cyprus.  Another colleague of mine, Rajat Lala had been posted there for a year. He had rented a small apartment and stayed with his wife and 2 year old daughter. 

Every weekend my wanderlust did not let me rest in peace. I had to explore new places around Nicosia.  It was one such weekend when me, Rajat, his wife and daughter set out to visit The Aphrodite's Rock. It was about 1.5 hours drive from Nicosia. 

It was a bright and sunny Sunday morning. The blue sky of Cyprus was captivating. We reached the destination eating  sandwiches, chicken rolls, chips and sang old hindi numbers on our way. 

The beach and the rock was breathtaking !

Legend has it that Aphrodite, goddess of love and beauty, rose from the waves in this strikingly beautiful spot. There are several versions of the story of the goddess's birth, but the most famous is that Aphrodite rose from the sea on a scallop shell. Blown by the wind, Aphrodite's first stop was on the island of Cythera, but this was such a tiny island that Aphrodite kept moving and eventually got to Cyprus, where she began living in Paphos. 

We sat on the soft white sand , admiring the clear blue water of the sea. The huge , gigantic and beautiful rocks were enchanting. Far away, the clear blue sky and the blue water of the sea mingled with each other giving us a feeling of perfect unison. We were spellbound . 

It was almost sunset. The blue sky started getting streaked with the orange rays of the sun. It was a heavenly sight . 

Suddenly , a lady came towards us.  A sweet little girl, about 3 years old, clutched her hands. 

"Excuse me . Can I request you something ? My husband had gone for a swim about 30 minutes back and has not yet returned. I .. I .. am going towards the end of the rock to check him out. Will you please take care of my daughter for 15 minutes ?

 Her eyes glistened with unshed tears. 

Rajat looked at me . I nodded. 

"Sure ! Don't worry ! She is safe with us ... "

"I know ... You are from India , right ? " 

"Yes !"

The lady managed to smile and went into the water . She started swimming and waved at us. We waved back. 

We gave kaju barfi to the kid to stop her weeping. She liked the sweet and wanted more ! Within minutes, she became friends with Rajat's daughter and started playing. 

Minutes passed. 15.. 20.. 25 .. ! 

The sun was setting.  

We started getting worried. 

Suddenly I saw a small red dot near the rock . 

"Look Rajat ! I think it is the kid's mother .. is she indicating for help ?

The beach was almost isolated. 

"But she was wearing a blue swim suit !"  

"Let's go !" I stood up . 

"But ... we don't have a change ! You will be wet ..."

"She is our guest Rajat , and she has asked for help. See this sweet girl . We have to help.  Atithi Devo Bhava .. our Indian culture .."

Rajat and I dived into the water and swam towards the rock. We could feel the strong current. But we braved ourselves and targeted the red dot near the rock. 

We were totally exhausted when we reached the spot. And it was her ! The lady had somehow perched herself on the rock . She was holding her almost unconcious husband. We had to take him to the shore. 

"Rajat ... how ??? " I squeaked. 

"Wait, I have an expandable  plastic sheet with me in my pocket.  If we can create a sail with that, we will be able to take advantage of the wind blowing towards the land ... but ... how will we create the sail ...we need a rod ... a rope ...  "

We Indians always have a Jugaad mentality . 

"Rajat ! I have a elastic hair band ! I will open it and create a rope !"

The lady looked as. She was completely dazed and exhausted. We were speaking in Hindi and she could not understand anything  But I guess she understood the word "rod". 

"Here ... Here ... " She indicated at something on the rock.  We looked up. Yes... about 2 feet up, there was a small twig, swaying in the wind. 

"Rajat ... quick ... it is getting darker .."

Thank God Rajat had undergone mountaineering training during his college days. That is the reason he had that plastic sheet and now he could climb up and break the twig and we lo ! We had the rod. 

In the increasing current , and all of us precariously perched on the edge of the rock, we created a sail . Then Rajat  held the Lady's husband in one hand and the sail on the other. I and the lady tied the sail with in one hand and swam towards the shore . 

It was very very difficult and exhausting. 

I started chanting Hanuman Chalisa and Rajat too joined me. 

Finally, we reached. 

Rajat's wife was crying frantically. A few local people had gathered and we managed to take him to a nearly hospital. 

I left my email address with the lady. 

After two days , I received the following email ...

Dear Godsend friends, 

I don't know how to thank you. That day you saved my husband and saved our family. My little Anne , my husband Robert and I are forever indebted to all of you. 

You know, when I left my daughter with you, I knew that you will take care of her till I return. You know why I was so sure ? Because you are Indians. You know the value of families. I have read  about India. I know about Mahatma Gandhi and how he helped the people of South Africa. A great man . 

 But I personally experienced the Indian culture that day

You care about your guests. Your great sense of Jugaad helped in saving our family, our lives. I am really amazed at how you created the sail !! How can I learn Jugaad ? 

This is my address. If you visit us , we will be very very happy. 

And yes, now I am determined to visit India for our next vacation.  I want to see the great country who has nurtured people like you !

Thanking you again.

Till we meet ! Namaste !

Gratefully , Susan


*** 


Rajat called me yesterday.

"Look at the new advertisement by Luftansa . I have whatsapped you the link .. you will love it .. I was reminded of  that incident in Cyprus ..."

I smiled , took a big bite of Chicken Tandoori and enjoyed the commercial ...







#moreindianthanyouthink