That uncle …

Everyone has that uncle who had his fair share of achievements in life and is now living a retired life. But his future plans at the age of 70 still make sense to ears. You sit with him for few minutes and he will quickly chalk out a perfect looking grand business plan. Like ..

.. We shall construct a big plaza on mall road (100 stories high to be exact) which will be built by acquiring land from a friend on the promise of quick payment once project starts rolling. Then we shall design and sell shops and offices in that plaza with advance cash from customers. Since the location is a prime location, all shops and offices will be sold out quickly. Then we shall build that plaza with the collected money and we shall also payoff the land owner. The top floor will not be sold and we shall keep it for our offices. And of course, with the newly earned money, we shall buy a helicopter which will use the helipad built on the roof of top floor.

Planning the future is broad level thinking and makes us feel good. It is important because unless we have a plan and we have a target to achieve we cannot go any where. But it is also addictive because sometimes the difference in do-able planning and day-dreaming is not much.

On the other hand detail level thinking is about getting things done; to move your grand project one step further into success. Detail level thinking, and work, involves small steps to be planned and taken. Every project worth doing requires lots of small steps. Many times, these small steps take lots of time; especially when new learning is involved; like learning some jquery to create that special effect in the website requested by you new client. Unfortunately planning and doing these small steps is not as sexy as day dreaming the big picture.

The reason is that small steps don’t really give us a sense of achievement and force us to leave our comfort zone and do something. So we keep postponing as long as we can and here enters in our life what is commonly known as ‘procrastination’. By procrastinating we waste much more time than was needed to complete those small steps which would have push our project in the right direction and would have give us real sense of achievement; and pleasure.

When we have procrastinated long enough, we start questioning the worthiness of our project-in-hand. It is already delayed so is it worth while to spend more time on it and complete? Will it be any good at all? Isn’t it time to plan a brand new project which is do-able? Let us day dream.

In June, 2005 one of my friends announced that 2007 will be the year of freedom for him. He was doing an office job and was sick and tired of his job due to his bad boss and long working hours. I asked why not today, instead of 2007. His reply was that he wanted to make a good foolproof plan and he was confident enough to plan and achieve by 2007. Fast forward 11 years, it is now 2016 and that gentleman is still doing the same job with the same company and under the same boss.

There was a time when we took pleasure in doing small things without big planning and that was when we were kids and we were addicted to learning by ‘doing’ which was called ‘playing’ at that time. For most people that time has long gone. It now takes strict personal discipline to do new learning and to take small steps for success.

My own ‘cure’ is that once I have made the big plan and wrote it somewhere, I try to switch off my brain from thinking for few hours and start doing things, the small steps, as a robot. In 1995, I completed my first big project in six months and the secret was that I forced myself to work two hours, just two hours, every day; without worrying about achievement or consequences. Although it looks simple but working two hours daily a very hard discipline to adhere to but the final reward was worth the effort.

Writing a todo list for broad level and detail level plans, even if we do not follow it strictly, plays an important role in helping us start doing detail level work. With our broad level planning frozen in writing, we literally delegate the thinking work to our todo list and stop worrying about forgetting any thing important and suddenly we have energy to do the detail level work.

A tribute to all dads

Today is father’s day and, while I don’t like these ‘days’ much, I still feel the need to write something about fathers; my father, your father and all fathers out there.
My late father was a great dad, as great as your dad is or as anyone else dad is. I cannot imagine there are any bad, or even not-so-good, dads.
There may be some dads who are extremely successful in their lives and have been able to buy everything for their kids; bikes, cars, big houses, foreign travel. They are great dads. Their sons and daughters love them and are proud of them.
Then there are dads who have not been able to become as successful as they wanted to or as much as their kids wished. They have worked hard but probably not able to buy every thing for their kids; good house, good clothes and not even good education. And some down the road have not been able to buy even good food for their kids. These dads are not lesser heroes than any other dads; they are, in fact, bigger heroes than other successful dads. They have not only worked hard but also, unnecessarily, kept the pain of regret in their heart to not come up to their own or their kids expectation; If you have such a dad, you need to take care of him while you can.
Then there are dads who ultimately commit suicide because they cannot bear the thought of going empty hands back to their house from their work and face their kids. For them humiliation of a failed father is way too much. Without realizing that being bankrupt is not their fault but the failure of people and society around them. These are the dads who would have been super dads, better than all dads, if they lived and were successful.
My father was a learned person with two master degrees to his credit, author of over 100 books in Urdu and English and countless articles published in The Pakistan Times, The Nation, The Muslim, The Frontier Times and other newspapers. He started writing on Islamic Jurisprudence from the age of 26 and his last article was published at at age of 72, 6 days after his death. His home library contained thousands of books in Urdu, English and Arabic. He has given me big enough target of hard work to match and I have long way to go to match it. When I think about his achievements I feel good.
But that’s not the point of being a great father. My father could be completely illiterate, done something other than literary work, like work as a laborer in factory or somewhere else, and still a great father. Great fatherhood does not come from a particular kind of education, job or wealth. My grand father was like that and he was still a great father.
Some of the great things that happened to me because of my father are:
  1. He actively helped me pursued my hobby of playing with electronics and then computers, buying me an expensive computer, without worrying what I will do with that. I remember that he had announced a Rs: 100 prize for me in my 8th class if I could create a working radio from components.
  2. I was asked, expected and motivated to actually work (as a salesman on a shop) after my 10th class exams and then 12th class exams. The biggest learning of my life and getting rid of any shyness and ego of working outside my home and by doing a petty job.
  3. I was never forced in the choice of my study subjects or future direction. I was free to become whatever I wanted to. I could change my decision every day and he was not worried.
  4. My grades never mattered to him. He was ok as long as I got passing marks.
  5. I, along with my brothers and sister, were regularly taken to library to study and borrow books. This was the start of the development of self-learning which then never ceased.
  6. He actively worked to help me setup my business after my education helping me with setup of my office.
What could I ask for more?
In addition to wishing your dad a happy fathers’ day, you can also do one more thing to make him happy. And that is to become partially or fully self-reliant as much as soon as possible.
Let us get rid of our local tradition of completing our masters degree on the expense of our fathers money. Start working, start doing something, and earning money. Let your father live his life without worrying about you; the grown up adult.
One final note; Don’t worry if your dad is old fashioned. All great dads are simple and old fashioned. Celebrate that.
Happy father’s days to my father, my kids father and all fathers out there.

Power of focus

Ok, I am as ambitious (is this word a nice substitute for being greedy?) as anyone can be or as every one wants to be. Which means I want to do lots of things; lots of projects; lots of clients; lots of programming; lots of marketing activity, lots of every thing. Unfortunately whenever I try to do lots of things I fail. My productivity grinds to halt which in turn depresses me which then again affects my productivity which then … You get the idea what happens. This is especially true with tech work like computer programming which I have to do as part of my job; I am least productive when I am not focused.

I have heard about people who are multi-tasking and can do many diverse things in one day and still remain producitve. Where are those people? If you know any one let me know.

And the opposite is just as much true. If I do one thing, and just that one thing, then I am super productive. But that then means I have to ignore friends’ calls, any marketing work here and there, need to completely delegate support calls, avoid errands, avoid any ‘recreational’ activity or just about any activity which can take some part of my mind.

This is power of focus.

Focus does not requires effort, it requires will; a strong one. Effort then follows ‘effortlessly’.

power of focus

Why I broke red traffic signal yesterday

Yesterday I was late from my office and I was in real hurry. I had to cross many traffic red lights without stopping so that I could reach my office on time. Don’t get me wrong. I am usually a law abiding citizen and I do wait at a crossing with red light to turn green before I move. But that day I had some real urgency and I had to break the law.

Now that made me feel guilty as I crossed that red signal. Feeling guilty is not a comfortable feeling. After all who wants to think himself a bad guy? At least I am not the person who will consider myself a ‘criminal’.

So *after* breaking the law I started looking for ‘genuine’ reasons why I broke the law.

… I was doing it once and first time so it was not that bad.

… I was not trying to harm any one, so it was ok.

… I could get fired for being late, make it difficult to provide bread and butter to my family which is a much bigger responsibility.

… Our government is not doing anything for jobless people and I could be jobless. I had to take the law in my hand by breaking this traffic signal because government is not doing enough. Makes sense. Right?

… I help a charity organization with regular contribution which works to help people who are suffering from poverty and that cause would be hurt if I would not cross that signal. May be God has sent me in this world to take care of these vulnerable people with my contribution.

Slowly I started feeling better from that guilt. In fact I started feeling stupid for that feeling of guilt and I praised myself to take that step to break the traffic signal. The last justification I mentioned above, being part of a bigger cause for the sake of humanity, made me feel warn.

Suddenly, on my last turn, a big truck, driven recklessly, broke traffic signal and rammed into my car. My car was crushed and I was dead; instantly; right on the spot.

(Dedicated to those people who think killing others for a reason, they have justification for, is ok. Written on the day of deadly bomb blast in Gulshan Iqbal park, Lahore which killed 69 people. Photo by Dawn newspaper.)


Simplifying the struggle of finding a good job

Few days ago I was there in a superstore very early. In the vegetables section staff was unloading fresh vegetables and arranging on shelves and displays. One of the staff members, wearing same uniform like others, was working quickly and enthusiastically, helping his colleagues along with his own work, making eye contact with customers, saying hello to them, smiling as well as advising others. The other staff was like the usual lot; people who seem to be forced to do the ‘labor of work’.

I asked someone who was he and he told me that he was, as I guessed, head of the department but worked just like them early morning.

And then I thought of this:

After a great qualification and may be some work experience, you are looking for a great employer to hire your at equally great salary. That makes sense as long as you are lucky and able to find a good company with a great boss who hires you.

What if you cannot find a good job with a great boss? Are you out of luck? Should you stay unemployed?

No. You just need to reverse your thought process and become a great employee at any job you get. There is a good chance you will get noticed and rewarded what you deserve; even if after a while.

Ok, you may complain that hard work is not rewarded and other people just take advantage of ‘sincere and hardworking’ people like you without reciprocating. But then this is also the argument offered by a good employer.

So choice is yours; you can keep looking for the best employer or you can reverse your thought process.

Solitude on a job

Sometimes I get support calls from my customers which just surprise me. The question asked is such a trivial one which one could have answered himself or herself after a few moments of thinking of alternatives or possibilities. So when I ask them to ‘check again’ your problem in software they reply “It is ok now. What have you done?”. And they don’t believe me that I have not done anything and the fault was in their observation.

This lack of attention has certaininly not to do anything with education. Their office activities are probably occupying their minds so much that they find little time to concentrate even for few minutes on a particular thing. They are thinking too fast. Situation has been made more miserable with the flood of information from new Internet and mobile channels like text messages and social media.

One solution could be to give 10-30 minutes to your employees to be alone so that they don’t do anything but think what they are doing and how they could do it better; may be without any access to Internet and mobile. This will benefit probably both of them; employer and employee.