The Analog Life While Holidaying

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I just got back from a relaxing holiday last week. I have a rule to cut off from the Internet while on a break. If its urgent my team will call me.

I am the early riser between my wife and daughter so over a cup of coffee in the balcony I quickly sift through my mail. If there is anything urgent I respond. Else, let it go. I will do a mail clean-up once I am back.

I then glance at Techmeme for the days tech news.

That’s it. The rest of the day is spent living.

I wish I could replicate this process on a normal workday — limit social media, blog reading and obsessive email checking. The time saved could be spent on doing real deep work.

WhatsApp is eating productivity

Lately, I have been observing that WhatsApp and other messaging tools are sucking out productivity from the workplace. People work with their phones next to their keyboards and are constantly distracted. This is counter-intuitive to focused “deep work” — multi-tasking is very counter-productive and every time you switch tasks you lose mental energy (switching costs).

Solution: keep your phones face down and check it once every couple of hours or so. Works wonders. Yesterday, in an hour I missed 9 WhatsApp messages, 3 iMessages and 4 phone calls. None of them were urgent.

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By the way, check out this book called Deep Work by Cal Newport. After reading a sample chapter this is next on my reading list.

Global Worker? Get Onetime

Onetime is a truly well designed and unique world time app.

Finally, a world clock that integrates all time zones into one easy-to-read dial. We are all living and working globally more and more, so we needed a way to simply see the time in cities around the world at a glance.

That’s how Onetime was born.

Built on the metaphor of the earth’s rotation, Onetime displays all the cities that matter to you as they move through the day and night in a natural, clockwise direction referencing the international date line.

Whether you are scheduling an international call or checking to see what time it is back home, Onetime is the clock for you. No more mistakes adding and subtracting hours, no more confusing GMT numbers, no more remembering daylight savings calendars.

Onetime takes care of it all, automatically.

And with Timetravel™, you can fly through time so that you quickly find the right moment to schedule that important teleconference with your international colleagues or catch your loved ones before their bedtimes. The „Share“ feature lets you choose a date with TimeTravel and send an invite via message or email. Give up your wall of newsroom clocks and switch to Onetime today.

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12 tips for a stress-free vacation from a SaaS entrepreneur

“A man should never neglect his family for business.” — Walt Disney

Vacation is a good time to disconnect from work and take a break to relax, rejuvenate and refresh. It is extremely important (for your sanity) and I can’t believe that some entrepreneurs actually preach working all day and slogging it out without a break. That would be being a slave to your business. The whole point of building a business is to have it run without you. If it can’t, then you are as good as self employed.

I have had a very busy time with Brightpod in the last couple of months and taking a break last month was a great call. Although, you don’t want to think about business while in the pool or at the beach but there are thoughts that creep into your mind about your business. It is normal to think about how the web app is functioning. Being an avid traveller, I used to get a bit anxious about my business. However, over time I have trained my mind to let go of work and instead enjoy a stress free vacation.

Plan before you head out

Spend the last week with each of your team members (assuming its a small team) and plan out deliverables for when you return. I normally plan a 3–4 important tasks for everyone with priorities. Also discuss worst case scenarios so key employees know what to do in case they need to handle a crisis.

Daily automatic standup

We are experimenting with an automated daily standup for our small team. Every evening we all get an email asking us to reply back with stuff done that day. The next day each one of us receives a digest of everyone’s work for the previous day. This helps all of us to be in the loop — especially important when you have team members who work remotely.

Everyone handles support

Answering customer emails is not just for a single “support” person. Everyone, especially developers, are looped into incoming emails from customers through Intercom.

Managed hosting

I have always hosted with Rackspace. Just love their level of support if something goes wrong. I want my team to focus on building “gracious” software and not worry about network and server issues.

Daily backups

We backup all data daily so in the event of a failure everything can be restored. This helps me sleep better at night and of course, enjoy my vacation.

Are the bills paid?

A week before, I do a quick check to make sure all our bills are paid (e.g. hosting) and a quick check to make sure my credit cards are not expiring while I am away (and that they have sufficient balance for automatic business expenses).

Ditch the laptop

The laptop is always going to be a symbol of work. However, a tablet can not only help you get work done (crank out some emails) but can also be a source of entertainment while you are away.

Schedule email checks

On vacations, I check mail twice. Once, after breakfast (so I don’t think about work during the lavish buffet spread) and once in the evening. Honestly, if shit were to go wrong you would get messages and frantic calls — or your team will track you down.

No devices on the beach or pool

This is a strict rule I follow not to mention the paranoia of having sand and/or water get into my devices :) I don’t want to be that workaholic guy on a vacation constantly looking down at a screen. That is just sad.

No Notifications

I turn off all notifications on my phone and tablet. The only 3 things that matter are phone calls, messages and emails. I don’t give a damn about Twitter, Facebook, Quora, Feedly, Pocket etc.

News Free

No newspaper, Twitter, or even TV news. Trust me, you won’t miss a thing because the same news gets recycled over and over again. You come back from a vacation and it is the same crap. Once back, I always come to realise how much of the day we waste on non-important things just to stay busy.

Say f$$$ it

Being on a vacation is MY TIME that I have earned it. No one can take it away from me. Sometimes you just have to say f$$$ it to everything that is nagging you and just enjoy the present moment.

“The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, worry about the future, or anticipate troubles, but to live in the present moment wisely and earnestly.” — Buddha

Enjoy your next break and thanks for reading! Would love to hear your comments on how you manage a stress free holiday.

Productivity hacks of a startup dad

“Live for today because yesterday is gone and tomorrow is unknown.” — Anonymous

I have a two year old daughter and a startup. Over the last couple of years I have come to value a balanced life. Most startup stories would talk about gruelling hours and all-nighters. This isn’t the case with me as I believe entrepreneurship is not just about working hard but working smart. If you can manage your time efficiently then you can get out of the office at 5, catch a game of tennis and have enough time left to spend at home.

Last year, we were busy building Brightpod and these are some of my productivity hacks that I used (and still use) on a daily basis to get my share of a balanced work day.

Plan the night before

Once she is asleep I take 10 minutes and plan my next day — what do I want to accomplish, calls I need to make and things I need to look at.

Early Mornings

Planning the night before helps me get a head start the next morning. I try to get the most important work done early in the morning when everyone is asleep. I quickly check my mail (feel compelled to since I am in the web business) and then get on to some writing. This helps my flow of thoughts throughout the day.

Don’t build a routine

After reading The Power of Habit book I thought I would build a routine. However, this didn’t work out. Routines are boring. Instead, I focus on getting myself organised so I feel in control.

News Diet

I limit myself to very little general or world news. In fact, if it is very important I’ll probably hear about it on Twitter. Think about it — we don’t consume much news when we are on a vacation. What happens when we are back? Nothing changes. It’s the same type of news circulating. One of the articles I read a while back mentioned that if news made your smart then journalists would be the smartest people on this earth :)

Procrastinate Reading

I used to read daily. Now, it is mostly over the weekends when I am a bit more relaxed and my reading list does not feel like a task list. However, I realised that not everything is as interesting as it sounds. Tip: a lot of the articles seem useful when you save them (to a read it later service like Pocket or Instapaper) but don’t seem that important when you actually get to reading them.

Switch Off Email Notifications

Push email is overrated. I have push email off and experience true bliss. I want to be in control when I check mail and not the other way around.

VIP Notifications

Apple Mail has a nifty VIP feature which I love. I now can control who I want to hear from. I can even exercise the Do Not Disturb mode post 11pm when I need to concentrate on some tasks. The VIP feature is the ideal middle-ground to having some push notifications rather than non at all.

Pick up the Phone

I pick up the phone if I can get something done faster than email. It cuts down the back and forth.

Limit Social Networks

Facebook and Twitter are good to dip into real quickly between tasks. Unless you are a social media marketer I don’t see why you would want to spend a cumulative time of more than 10–15 minutes a work day on Twitter and Facebook.

Delegate like a champ

I used to jump in a try to do everything. I guess it comes from being a web designer and developer. Today, I delegate stuff to my team and work on building the business and understanding our customers.

Use Analytics Tools

I personally love software that can give me a report and an analysis of what’s happening with our business. Isn’t that what software should do? We have started using KISSMetrics and Intercom at Brightpod and they save me a ton of time. Without them we would have to manually create cohort charts, calculate churn, revenue and manage the conversion funnel.

Minimum Viable Daily Tasks

Recently, I have been practicing a new time management technique and I am calling it the “Minimum Viable Daily Tasks”. Here is how it works: Choose the minimum amount of work that needs to be done everyday so that you have a big smile on your face when you are heading home in the evening. If you accomplish anything more then it is a bonus.

My motto (which gets emailed to me everyday via ifttt is: Life is short. Work smart. Have fun. I am reminded of this everyday. I am still learning to manage my time better and would love to hear your thoughts if you’ll are a startup dad/mom.

Thanks for reading.

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My daughter and me in Goa

Minimum Viable Daily Tasks for Founders and CEOs

As a startup founder or CEO we have a lot of different things that we need to look at each day. There are times when I come home and wonder where the day went. Did I try to cramp too much in the day? Was I trying to be too ambitious with my tasks? Recently, I have been practicing something and I am calling it the “Minimum Viable Daily Tasks”.

Here is how it works: Choose the minimum amount of work that needs to be done everyday so that you have a big smile on your face when you are heading home in the evening. If you accomplish anything more then it is a bonus. Go treat yourself to a beer :)

I use a personal task manager called Wunderlist (syncs beautifully on all iOS devices) to plan my day (I plan the night before). I then select only one, two or maximum three most important tasks that I want to work on tomorrow. That is it.

For example, today I have the following on my list:

  • Start to write a guest post.
  • Review & make changes to design on the payments page for Brightpod.

Try it. I can’t guarantee if it will work for you but what I can guarantee is that you will feel much more relaxed, focused and in control everyday. Oh, not to mention the smile while you are ordering that beer.

Let me know how it goes!

@Feedly is my app of the month for February

I have always had a love-hate relationship with my RSS feeds. My feeds always felt like a to-do list. I had to read them everyday and mark them as read. Imagine the feeling when you return from a vacation only to find 450 articles waiting for you. Yikes!

I tried hard to keep up with my feeds using Reeder until I heard about Feedly last month (after their integration with Buffer).

Ever since Feedly has come into my life I have been reading, skimming, sharing and experiencing awesome news every day.

I was skeptical to signup. What could be so different? A reader is a reader is a reader. After a few beers, I took the plunge to try out yet another app.

The Feedly experience made me feel I was reading a magazine. I can customise the view to my preference — list, magazine style etc. A long slide (across the screen) or a flip would automatically “mark as read” all the articles on the page. Basically, I was experience more awesome content within the same amount of time. Currently, this is important to me as I am building Brightpod and don’t have a lot of time to read through every freaking article that people share. A quick skim does the trick.

Feedly is like Flipboard but much, much better.

The interface is slick and lively. Personally, I like apps with colours — this is the same reason I prefer Pocket to Instapaper).

Feedly is integrated with Buffer, a service that I am addicted to.

Lastly, Feedly makes it easy for me to go through my feeds just for Today. Less noise. Just stuff that matters today.

Building a simple routine

I just started reading The Power of Habit book on my Kindle this past weekend. I will blog more about the book within a week when I get deeper into it. However, as I was sitting home yesterday I was motiviated to create a simple plan that will help me NOT WASTE TIME on social networks and reading endlessly when I have more important things to do.

Building a routine for the things I tend to do everyday so that I don’t have to think about doing it. It should eventually become a habit.

Tech News
Skim through Techmeme.com and TheNextWeb.com first thing every morning.

Twitter
I have a well curated Twitter stream that gives me everything from breaking news, fun stuff, facts to Cloud Computing, startups and entrepreneurship. This is best to dip into before work (only last 3 hours of tweets ~ 200 tweets), post lunch (chill out time) and at night. Twitter has become an important part of my life.

Facebook
Mainly to see what friends are upto. I catch myself opening the Facebook app on my phone a dozen of times a day. Now, Facebook is moved down to the evening post-work.

RSS Feeds
I follow a few dozen blogs and am going to go through this once a week on the weekend. If the article is so popular then it will either show up on Techmeme.com or on my Twitter feed.

Read It Later (Pocket) Articles
Articles that I come across everyday get saved into my Pocket account. I often debate whether I should open up Pocket when I have some free time. Then again, I can also dip into Twitter or go through the RSS feeds. Articles saved on Pocket take a while to read (most of them seem useless when I get to them so I just mark them as archived) I am going to spend some time over the weekend to go through these articles.

Hopefully, this will make me even more productive during the week :) What is your routine?

Procrastinate reading to save time

At the end of the week, I noticed that I had a lot of reading on my plate. During the week, I would favorite tweets, save articles to Instapaper, have a back log of blogs (less than 10) in my RSS reader, have articles sent by friends/biz contacts via email etc… Stuff piles up and you start to feel annoyed by all the stuff there is still to read. However, I realized that not everything is as interesting as it sounds. Plus, a lot of the articles seem useful when you save them (to read later) but don’t seem that important when you actually get to reading them.

The idea is to procrastinate :)

So, I have started a 2–4 day rule. Articles that I look at 2–4 days later seem less and less important to read than 0 day. I can skip them easily — without feeling guilty.

Try it and it see if this method helps you stay away from information overload and save time.

Is your business a feature?

I am amazed by some of the funding news making the rounds. Are Angels/VCs funding apps or businesses? Maybe the team has a glorified future plan that impressed the VC’s. Lucky and good for them. Though, merely having a feature is not going to cut it. Are we in a bubble?

I am secretly hoping that the entrepreneur is not stoping at the feature. A feature will take you to the first 100 customers. To get more, you need a business — vision, mission, philosophy, creating your tribe (as Seth Godin puts it), and ofcourse, a powerful product. Your product needs to be an integral part of your customer’s business. Just because he is using your feature today does not mean he is going to use it tomorrow. Someone else will come with that exact same feature and include it within their core app. Then what? In the Cloud, it is somewhat easy for small businesses to switch providers. They don’t have a big capex with your company.

Take for example a website feedback/poll widget. Personally, I think it is a feature that can be coded in a couple of days. Sure, it is a start to something big. That “something big” needs to show up when a customer signs up. You need to include them into your entire vision.

We were a feature in our early days. Had we been just a mere task management app we would have been killed by now. Ironically, I am amazed to see just task management apps getting funded. Wow!