Monthly Archives: December 2014

Goodbye 2014.

This shall be my last post for 2014. I hope you, as I, shall take some time to reflect on the year that has passed (all too quickly it seems). Think about the events that transpired. Relive the joyous highlights and learn from the despondent lowlights.

I have had a very eventful year. My blog does not reflect that – as this habit has been newly formed in the later part of the year – but it has been a doozie as years go. I will share these events – as a narrative – in future blog posts. Just as a teaser – it involves me getting fired from my job. As the adventure that transpired next will attest – that was a happy ending!

I spend this time of the year in deep and critical introspection. What did I do – what could I have done differently? Who were the people who made a difference in my life? What events – good or bad – occurred, and why – and what have they taught me? Where have I come from – and where am I headed? I find that this is a useful exercise in gratitude and self-improvement.

I generally make resolutions, and I will no doubt make some this year. But my resolutions this year will be a little different in light of the year gone by. If you are looking to make resolutions, try to make them specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time bound (SMART). Here’s some more reading around the science of goal setting.

Everything happens for the best. This may not always be obvious, or apparent, but I have found it to be generally true. If you have had a tough year, I hope you will think about it in this light. If you find yourself in especially dark and trying times, all I can tell you is to be strong – for the tough times do pass – and leave you with an appreciation of a deep inner strength that you never knew you possessed – and the recognition of those that truly love you – for they are the ones that will have stood by you.

I can’t wait to see what 2015 has in store for me. I wish you, dear reader, the very best that life has to offer. Talk soon…

Why Pakistan’s response to the Peshawar tragedy is questionable

I have commented before on this tragedy. As the world mourned the loss of 132 children in a school shooting by the Pakistani Taliban group, there was unanimous demand for swift justice. Pakistani officials announced that they were lifting the moratorium on capital punishment for terrorists indicating that hundreds of terrorists would be executed. However, we then heard of the news that the chief accused in the Mumbai terror attacks, Zaki ur Rehman Lakhvi (a member of the terror group Lashkar-e-Taiba), was released on bail. This seems to be in direct contrast to their proclaimed fight against terrorism.

A friend of mine forwarded me this point of view in which C. Christine Fair provides insight into the contributing factors for the tragedy, why Pakistan’s sound bytes are in direct contrast to their actions and why this may be a tough issue to resolve. What are your thoughts on this?

A heartbreaking tragedy in Pakistan

The smallest coffins are the heaviest.

Today I checked my daily email from FT and came across the shooting that occurred in a Pakistani school where 141 people – including 132 children – were killed by Taliban terrorists.

I feel devastated by this. To imagine that these kids left home today after praying for success in their exams, and being wished well for it by their families and then through unseen turn of events being killed senselessly by terrorists for no apparent reason is heartbreaking to say the least. It is hard to imagine that there is any reasonable cause for such an action. If these actions were committed in the name of religion, then I would struggle to believe that any religion permits or looks favorably on the murder of innocents. Political motives make no sense when it comes to the mass murder of children who weren’t even yet of voting age. This was incomprehensible in every way.

I cannot imagine the loss and the pain being experienced by the families that lost near and dear ones. I can’t put myself in their shoes – to do so would mean imagining this happening to me. And I don’t know what I would do if something like this happened to my children or loved ones.

Pakistan – and the world at large – need to now go about mourning this event and picking themselves up from this tragedy – no matter how hard that may seem. And then they need to pursue these terrorists to the ends of the earth and purge them. This will, I am certain, provide no solace to those that have suffered loss – but will hopefully prevent more of such insane acts in the future.

You may fall on the pacifist side of this argument, and quote that an eye for an eye will make the whole world blind. I would urge you to really put yourself in the place of the parents that lost children – imagine for a moment if this were your only child. Would you still say that it is OK to not pursue the organization that perpetrated this crime and eliminate them? Not because it would fill the hole where your heart used to be – but to prevent a hole in another parent’s heart. What argument would you have if such a heinous crime were to recur – but only because swift and lethal action were deferred in lieu of humane treatment of the animals that inflicted this horror? What if the next time, it were one of your own?

No one deserves the pain these families are going through. And those children did not deserve to die. The people behind the act, however, surely do.

Today I am heartbroken. My – and indeed the world’s – thoughts and prayers are with the families of those departed.

My DayOne journal journey

All problems reside in your mind. No sooner do you write them down on paper than most of them dissolve. – Sirshree

Much has been written about the benefits of writing a journal and why one should write a journal. A lot of people maintain a diary, and we can of course draw inspiration from the musings of famous writers about keeping a diary.

I never really kept a journal or wrote in a diary. I always feel that one should write when the feeling comes upon them – and carrying around a physical diary and a pen seemed onerous. I realized that if I were to do so, it would have to be electronic – and always available – so I could access it and jot my thoughts. To me – this necessitated this being a very electronic activity. One that I could accomplish predominantly using my mobile phone (an iPhone) and occasionally using my laptop. So I looked up journaling apps and the one that really caught my fancy was DayOne.

A couple of months ago, the DayOne app went free as part of the iTunes free app of the week program and I jumped on that opportunity to download the app.

Since then I have been using the app. Sporadically at best, but nonetheless something that I did from time to time. I have only recently started getting more regular about it. One of the things that has helped me get regular at it has been the Lift app – which helps form habits. I use Lift to help me develop habits – from exercising to meditation to – now – journaling.

I started by simply using the tool to quickly jot down the activities or events for the day. Occasionally I took a picture that I could embed in my journal. But nothing deep – nothing that documented my thoughts or feelings about anything.

Recently however, I am using the tool a bit differently. I am using it to document my thoughts – shallow or deep – and my feelings about things. Since I keep my journal private, I am allowing myself the liberty of documenting strengths, weaknesses, gratitude, frustrations and fears. To embrace vulnerability. As I write my thoughts – and especially my fears and frustrations – I try to be reflective of what I should be doing, or could be doing to address them. How I could be a better person. If nothing else, it brings these thoughts to the fore and documents them for future reference. And hopefully, by documenting my fears and frustrations, I will have taken the first step towards actually overcoming them. By writing about my hopes and appreciation, I will have put in motion an amplifying effect that allows me to achieve more, feel more, become better.

Since the DayOne app lets me, I do assign tags to each entry – and where possible I attach pictures. I find that it helps keep the journal interesting. And I think it would be a blast to revisit the journal a few years from now and see those things that I was thinking of or doing in a visual timeline. The app also logs my location – and this is useful since I can write about my travels, and have the tool take care of the physical location tags. The app is also great because it also tags what music I am listening to when I am writing in my journal (something I only found out recently), the current weather and temperature as well as any activity I may be undertaking at the time (hiking, walking, etc). The beauty of it is that it logs a lot of this information for me – so I don’t have to. And I think it will create a log that is the richer for it.

I am now using Life Journal – a beautiful and intuitive journaling / electronic diary application for Windows that can also act as a desktop PC front end for Day One.

I hope to make this into a lifelong habit – and will write more as my habit matures, and the things that I journal about change over time. I would love to hear if you journal, what you write about – and how has it helped you.

My thoughts on the Serial Podcast and how it should conclude shouldn’t shock you

The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards Justice. – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

I am a HUGE fan of the Serial Podcast – an investigative journalism tour de force by Sarah Koenig wherein she explores a true story to (what I am hoping is) its logical conclusion. In the first season of Serial, Sarah takes on the case of Adnan Syed who was sentenced to life in prison on charges of murdering his ex-girlfriend, Hae Min Lee.

I’d be somewhat surprised if you have not heard of this podcast. It is a top ranking podcast on iTunes – and has developed somewhat of a fanatical fan base and following. In fact I saw a podcast on iTunes that is a podcast about the Serial podcast (wherein a bunch of fans sit around and air their thoughts about Serial) – I tuned out. If you have not heard it yet, I would highly encourage you to do so. If you DO listen to Serial, and are a fan, I would urge you to donate to keep Serial going.

I heard today (what was mentioned in the chapter that came out yesterday) the penultimate chapter of this season. And therein the promise that this will be over in the next chapter. I can’t wait to find out what happens.

Here’s what I think: there is enough reasonable doubt there – based on everything we have heard so far – to conclude that Adnan should not have been incarcerated. Regardless of where you fall on the spectrum of opinions – and I know you have one – it is clear to me from the way the information has been presented in the podcast that there were many holes in the prosecution’s case.

I think that the conclusion will likely have some action whereby Adnan gets released from prison. At least I hope he does. He does not come across as someone who would have committed the murder – from the profile of him presented by the many folks who come in and out of the podcast’s narrative. There are also events that occur in the case where it seems logistically impossible for him to have done it. And he has firmly stuck to his position of not being guilty of the crime.

He seems to be very level-headed in his interactions with Sarah during the serial – and focused to a fault to present the facts and his view-point of the events. He seems to have had a lot of time to think about it – and indeed reflect on what it means to be characterized as a murderer by friends and people in his community. He has had to live with the thoughts about what this has done to his family. I think 15 years of prison time – for a crime he probably did not commit is enough – don’t you? Imagine for a second that he is indeed innocent and put yourself in his place – how would you deal with that? With the knowledge that you were unjustly imprisoned for a crime you did not commit. Yeah.

In a way – the millions of people who have been listening to the podcast have a juror’s view of the case. A lot of information has been covered, a lot of character profiles have been put forth and holes in the prosecution’s case have been laid bare. As a juror would you say – again, beyond a reasonable doubt – that Adnan murdered Hae Min Lee? I honestly couldn’t. Not beyond a reasonable doubt. I believe that we have just been through a very public re-hearing of the case (albeit in a most engaging manner that is nothing like the tedium of being an actual juror in a court case) and if the overwhelming majority of the population (jury?) feels the way I feel, we have to come back with a verdict of Not Guilty (with apologies for time served?) and give Adnan the opportunity to re-assimilate back into public life.

Like I said – my thoughts on this case probably didn’t surprise you. And if I was right about that, you likewise feel the way I do. In any case, I can’t wait to see how justice prevails in the conclusion next week.

Mera Mann: Another lovely song

Here’s a song I came across on Spotify – from the oddly named movie 7 Welcome to London. What I love about this song is the strong vocals, the beautiful melody and the simplicity of the accompanying music – which really let the vocals and the song shine through. I hope you enjoy…

Moray Naina: Haunting vocals in a beautiful song

Here’s another beautiful song from Coke Studio – Pakistan. This one has been performed by Zara Madani. What grabs me is her vocals in this song. Just beautiful…

Getting Things Done with Todoist – My GTD Setup

This is a follow up blog post to my previous post: Evernote and Todoist: REALLY Getting Things Done. It was prompted by an interest to setup a GTD workflow using Todoist.

I am a fairly new user of Todoist (web site) – a task management tool that is available across many platforms (one of the reasons I started using it). While I have implemented a Getting Things Done (GTD) framework using the Secret Weapon methodology for Evernote, I have not hitherto tried to do the same with Todoist. So – here’s how I would go about doing this. In general, my approach is to try and keep it simple enough where the framework itself is not a burden – but something that I can evolve as I go.

One of the things that I do, and recommend, is to also maintain a journal to complement / augment your productivity workflow. I use it as a mechanism to reflect on the day and to think about what I need to achieve. This leads to clarity of mind, and a capture of actions that would otherwise slip through the cracks. I use Day One Classic (on my iOS devices) and Life Journal (on my Windows PC) to help me with this.

Important Caveat: One important note about this post – it presumes the use of Todoist Premium. Some of the features called out in this post are available ONLY in the Premium version of Todoist – specifically the following:

  • Adding Notes to tasks
  • Adding e-mail & mobile reminders
  • Labels
  • Custom Filters
  • Task Search

In my opinion, only Labels is a critical aspect of the GTD framework I am outlining below. Right now I am trialing the Premium version (which you will be able to as well – if you complete the 6 things on the list after you sign up for Todoist). In a later post, I am going to try and figure out a way to get this to work without the Labels functionality and see if it still holds up.

imageProjects: I do a few things to keep things simple and organized. I start by defining a few projects. In GTD terms, they are not still projects (which need to be finite and time bound), but we can then get into the ability of Todoist to create nested projects – which will let us create actual sub-categories under these and also projects.

The categories I have are: Work, Personal, Recurring Activities, For Later and Lists of Stuff. I figure that I can track most of my stuff under these categories. Under Recurring Activities, as an example, I put my Daily Review and Weekly Review activities and make them recur – so they show up in my Today list at the right time.


Just as an example, I have created the following sub-categories under the Personal category. They don’t have to be sub categories, but I like to keep my thoughts & activities organized. I suggest creating broad enough sub-categories that can then contain specific projects. Try not to go nuts with sub categories. One level should generally suffice. After all – our intent here is to Get Things Done.

So – I then take the next step and create a project. As an example, I am looking into setting up my own domain name for the blog, and having it WordPress enabled. So – that project can be set up under the Personal > Blogging category as follows:


You start by setting up a top level task (Set up own domain) and then add sub-tasks under it. Again – don’t go nuts with sub task nesting – do what makes sense, and helps you get to the next activity that needs to be completed. Just in case, you are unaware of how to do sub tasks, there is a little 3 horizontal line icon that shows up when you hover over an entry – which you can then grab and move the task (or project) – either sequentially or hierarchically. Play around with the tool – its easy enough to figure out (I think).

So – now you have a project set up – and you have tasks that need to be done. Now we need to assign contexts.

imageContext: An important aspect of GTD, is to establish context for your tasks and activities. And the two most important contexts are When and Where. For this, you need to use Labels. You can set up as few – or as many – contexts as you please. But what I have found is that I generally use the superset I have listed here.

For When, I have set up 7 contexts: Now, Next, Soon, Later, Someday, Waiting, Weekend. I have assigned numbers to them so I can pick them off a list by just hitting a number. Now is things that need to be worked on immediately. Next is what will be done next and so on. Waiting is one that I found that I can use when I have done my piece and am waiting on someone else before I can proceed.

For Where, I have just 5 contexts: Home, Work, Internet, Phone, Town. Home and Work are locations that I need to get activities done at. Town is a catch all for when I am around town and need to get activities done (Groceries for example). Internet is a catchall for aspects related to web browsing, email, etc. And Phone is for making calls.

Just a quick update – if you want to add a Who context to the task, you can either go the route of Labels or if you are like me and have a lot of people you work with, just add a #Name to the task so you know who it is that you are working with on the task. This is especially useful with the 6-Waiting context.

Setting Timelines: Tasks should generally have a timeframe for completion – for this to be effective. Todoist does this well.image

On trying to set a date, you are provided with options to pick a date from a calendar drop down, or assign some common dates such as Today, Tomorrow, Next week and In 1 month (those are the icons at the top). Where I think it is REALLY powerful is in its ability to use human language processing of date information. So you can type “Today at 10am” and it establishes the date and time for the task for you. As an example, my Weekly Review task is set up as “Every Friday at 5pm”. If you set a time for a task, you can also set up a reminder in the task (that is the clock icon right under the task). You can also set up priorities for your tasks – although if you are setting up contexts, this should not really be necessary – but could prove useful to some people when setting up filters.

Putting it all together: So – now that you have a task and you have understood contexts and timing, just put it all together:image

You can add a context to your task by just typing @ (or clicking on the @ icon) which provides you with a dropdown of your contexts:image

Just as an example, in the shot above, I have added the context @work and will add the context @1-now to the task above. I can similarly go thru and add a reminder for the task as well as a priority if I so choose. You can also add notes to tasks.

Filters: Filters can be useful to look at specific short lists of things that can bring together multiple contexts as searches.image For example, I have set up a filter here that I can check when I am at Home for all the tasks that are either due today or that are overdue. The query for that would be “(today, overdue) & @home”. It could be a useful tool, I think. I do use such searches in Evernote (a topic for another post) and find them to be useful.

Todoist comes with some canned filters, but I believe that the ability to create custom filters is a Premium feature.

Getting Things Done: There are many (seriously – do a google search) resources around how this works, so I am not going to do a deep dive into this too much. Some key things I think you need to do are:

  1. Touch everything once: It is important that you touch everything that needs an action only once – so that you can be productive. So – it is important that you have a reliable and always accessible system in which you can file things. Todoist and Evernote are excellent tools to achieve this.
  2. Learn about Do, Delegate, Defer, Delete: So everything that you need to deal with will fall into one of these categories. Do if it will take you less than 2 minutes to accomplish. Delegate if someone else can do it (remember to attach a waiting context to it if you need to follow up). Defer if you intend to come back to it later (attach a time context to it). And my favorite, Delete if you do not need to take any action (if you are someone that does not like to delete, you may archive instead – but get it out of your inbox).
  3. Capture Everything: Everything that needs an action from you needs to be captured in your system (in this case, Todoist). Just add it to your Todoist inbox – don’t worry about anything else (contexts, timing, etc.) at this time.
  4. Conduct periodic sweeps: I generally do sweeps every 2-3 hours during the day. The intent of the sweep is to go through the inbox and attach contexts, timings, etc. to tasks. Also a good time to categorize activities and identify projects and break those down. This is also where you may want to look at the Next context and reprioritize some of those to immediate or Now.
  5. Focus on the immediate/Now: Your goal is to clear your Now list – so block off a piece of time (with no distractions – AT ALL) and start working through the tasks on your Now list. Experience the endorphin rush as you check off those tasks. Rinse and repeat.
  6. Conduct Daily Reviews: I set up my daily reviews for the first 10-15 minutes of my day. This lets me gather my thoughts and put together the activities I need to get accomplished that day. It is also a good opportunity to do a review of the task list to make sure there are no pending activities – and also to capture anything else that comes into your mind that needs action. Remember that this is a planning and capture activity – leave the detailing for your periodic sweeps.
  7. Conduct Weekly Reviews: My weekly reviews are the last thing I do in my work week – and I take 30 minutes for it. It helps me review the progress I made this week and helps me plan out aspects I need to get done next week. It is a good time to be appreciative and self congratulatory of the progress you have made – or contemplative of the lack of progress, and the contributing reasons thereof. Basically, you are focusing on strategy, learning and improvement as a core part of this exercise.

Alright – so that’s all I got for this one. I know that this may not be as comprehensive a treatment as some would like – but hopefully I have given you enough to get you started on your journey toward using Todoist for Getting Things Done. I hope you put it to use and conquer greater heights in your passions and pursuits.

I would love to hear about how you get things done, and how you have been using Todoist (or Evernote).

The power of vulnerability by Brené Brown (TED Talk)

So – I got a recommendation from AsianGigoloHK on my Reading List page to listen to the talks of Brené Brown. I did that today and it is an excellent resource. It really resonated with me – as an individual, and as a parent. I am recommending it here  and hope you take the 20 minutes to listen to it. Really think about what she is saying – and see if you can apply it in your life.

Let me know your thoughts about this…

Hong Kong: Life in Central

Just a picture from an interesting angle (I thought)…

Central, Hong Kong

Central, Hong Kong