1 not-so-secret tip that will save you 1000s in credit card interest.

I used to be the king of credit. Credit card used to be my best friend. A slightly expensive friend to hang out with though. I used to feed it 1000s of rupees in interest every year and it used to be happy.

I can’t say it didn’t help. It helped me fund two honeymoons and to an extent, a wedding. It helped me survive in a business where cash flow was very unpredictable.

The banks were happy with me and they offered me EMIs after EMIs and I took them all.

Till one day I discovered something.

Part of the discovery came when I started using YNAB, a software which tracks and helps you manage your finances. They had a simple idea. Anticipate your regular expenses and save for them.

It was quite simple. For eg: I knew that every year, I had to pay the insurance for my car. It was unavoidable and would come at the same time every year. It came to about 12000 every year.

Earlier, I would have simply swiped my card and paid it off in three or six EMIs. But now, with this new idea, I went on a different path.

546207_67836734

I started a recurring deposit. I started an RD of Rs. 1000 per month as soon as I paid off my first insurance. In 12 months, by the time the next insurance premium came knocking, I had more money than necessary. I had almost Rs. 12580 including the RD interest I had accrued over the year. Add to this the interest of at least Rs. 1000 I would have paid on my credit card EMI, I have easily saved a good Rs. 1500.

All it took was a little bit of planning ahead.

I have become an RD zen now. Here are some of the RDs I have opened in the last two years.

  1. A pregnancy RD: I just became a dad. (Just 2 days before this post), and this RD has helped me build a nice little saving for the post-delivery expenses.
  2. Car maintenance: Rs. 1000/- per month for 12 months – Rs 12580 on maturity
  3. Vacation fund: Rs. 5000/- per month for 12 months – Rs. 62902 on maturity (I can travel almost anywhere reasonable with that amount, and all it takes is Rs.5000/- per month)
  4. Gifting fund for anniversaries and birthdays.

You can be an RD zen too. Here’s how.

Start with a list. Make a list of all expenses you know that will come at fixed times – insurance premiums, annual gym membership, annual vacations etc. Look at how much you need each month to achieve the goal. Start an RD for that amount. Place a standing instruction. That will make it easier for you to keep depositing.

And yes, they are super easy to start. Just log in to your banks site and create an RD in less than five minutes.

This might look like too simplistic an idea, but I guarantee. Try it once and you will see how simpler your financial life becomes.

So, what are you waiting for?

Go ahead, start an RD now. Or two, or even three.

Happy RDying.

Advertisements

Top 10 reasons why you procrastinate, and what you can do about them – Part 2.

Estimated reading time: 6 min

In part 1 of the article , you read about the top 5 reasons why you procrastinate and what you can do about them. Here are the next 5.

6. You do not want to really do it: What if you really don’t want to do it? What if you are procrastinating because of that?What do you do then?

Two things. One. If it is delegateable, delegate it. You might find someone out there who is more interested in doing it. You could even delegate it to virtual assistants.

Two. Visualize the task as a gate. If you manage to open the gate, you will get to do things that you really love to do. For eg: I run a Spanish training institute. I love training. When I started the company, all I wanted to do was to train, and I hated the normal business chores like printing pamphlets, updating the website, and making cold calls. I did these chores nevertheless because I realized that I would only get enough clients if I kept doing these and that thought made it easier for me to do them.

Also, when the business grew, I had money and I hired assistants to do these tasks.

7. You can’t decide: Indecisiveness costs a lot of time, money and mental energy. A lot of times you are stuck in a rut because you can’t decide on which path to take. Should you choose the white background or the black for the PowerPoint slide, or should you present the data for this quarter or for the whole year? There will be compelling arguments for both the sides, but you can’t do both and ultimately you fall into what is called analysis paralysis.

choice 2

 There is a simple trick to free yourself from analysis paralysis. Set a deadline for the decision. “In the next ten minutes, I will decide on the color”, or the next 30 minutes, or 1 hour, or even a day. But stick to it. If needed, use a timer. This will save you precious time.

8. You are distracted: There is no limit to the number of distractions you have around. You love your distractions. Instead of doing that task you know you should be doing, you read endless articles (exactly what you are doing now 🙂 ), watch YouTube videos, play candy crush etc. This is because your brain prefers instant gratification. It wants that pleasure now. Not after one day when you finish the task you are supposed to.

There are two ways you can tackle this. One, set tiny goals. Those you can finish in 30 minutes or one hour. When you achieve them, you get a dopamine rush and fulfil the brain’s need for instant gratification.

Two, use the distractions as rewards. Finish 50 minutes of focussed work, and you get to watch 10 minutes of YouTube videos, or 10 minutes of candy crush. This also helps you relax.

9. You are planning too much: I used to be one of those guys who would start anything only once I planned it to the last detail. This is counterproductive. No plan is complete till you start implementing it. Plan the essentials of the project. Start implementing them, and the details will follow.

10. You are obsessed with perfection: One of the reasons why I delayed publishing this blog is that I kept thinking it should be perfect. I kept thinking I have to be an excellent writer before I start the blog. My articles had to be perfect.

The blog did not materialize until I realized one day that I won’t become that excellent writer I want to be if I don’t start somewhere. So, I started the blog, and decided that probably by the 100th article, I will be close to the excellence I am aspiring for. So, start off with what you have. Perfection is the continuous improvement of good.

There you have. The top 10.

So, the next time you realize that you are procrastinating, do not forget to ask why. Tackle the why. It will be far more effective.

So, what are you procrastinating on right now? At this moment. And why? Let me know in the comments. Also, if you have a friend who would find this useful, please share it. Hit one of the share buttons below.

NB: You can read a bit more about some of the things discussed here in article 1 (The art of the start). You might want to read it too.

Top 10 reasons why you procrastinate, and what you can do about them – Part 1.  

Estimated reading time: 6 min

Do you procrastinate?

Obviously. I can hear you say. What kind of a question is that? Everyone procrastinates. Procrastinating is human. And don’t you proudly announce it to anyone who cares to ask. “I do everything at the last minute”, “I am a specialist at doing things at the last second.” “The last minute brings the best out of me.”time

But despite all apparent pride when you call yourself procrastinators, you have hated that feeling of rush, or having inadequate time to finish that important project, or that feeling that you could have done it better if you had more time.

You have always thought about it. Resolved never to procrastinate. Made grand plans. “I am never going to be late ever again. “, or “I am going to finish that project by Sunday morning, and then relax the whole day before I submit it on Monday” but you still go back to the familiar feeling of struggling to finish it on Monday morning.

Then how do you stop procrastinating?

The first step to stop procrastinating is to understand that procrastinating is only the symptom. It’s not the disease. It’s the outward sign that something is wrong inside. Fear, insecurity, indecisiveness etc. So, the right way to stop procrastinating is not to deal just with procrastination, but to look under it, find the real reason, and tackle it.

So, here are the top 10 reasons why you procrastinate, and what you can do about them.

1. You wait for motivation: This is by a distance, the biggest reason why you normally procrastinate. You keep waiting for motivation to hit you, and put you in the right frame of mind. In reality, however, it does not happen till there is way little time left to do the task, and panic takes over instead of motivation.

So, what you do?

The next time you realize that you are waiting for inspiration, look at the task. Look at the smallest component of the task. Start with that. For eg: If you are making a presentation. Start with making a bullet list of ideas that you want to include. Even if it is an incomplete list, it will get the motivation flowing, and it will set the mood.

2. You are not sure where to start: I have already spoken about the art of the start in article 1. Not knowing where to start is a big productivity killer. So, what do you do? Super simple. Start anywhere. Remember that almost any project has different components. You can finish them in any order and organize them later.

3. You wait for the perfect moment: I will start at 10:00 a.m., or I will start on Monday, or even better, I will start on the 1st of January. This does more damage than you think. The perfect moments come and go, and you still don’t get things done. The next time you catch yourself doing this, remember that there is no better moment than this moment.

4. You are afraid of failure: When I wanted to write this blog, I was shit scared. I kept thinking. “ What if I am so bad at writing?” “What if I fail miserably?” Can you imagine how long I procrastinated because of this? 4 years. I know that I am not alone. All of you out there have at least a couple of projects you have procrastinated on indefinitely because you are afraid of failure.

So, what do you do?

Do a worst case scenario check. This worked brilliantly for me when I started my first company. I wasn’t in a great financial state. I had a big debt already, and many advised me that it was not the right time to start a company. But I thought about the worst case scenario, and realized that if I fail, all I will have to do was to look for a job. I had a degree and I believed that I was good at what I do, and I was sure of finding a job if I fail at entrepreneurship. That was a situation I could handle.

So, what is your worst case scenario? Can you handle it? Then, you don’t have to worry about failure.

5. You are overwhelmed by the complexity of the task: It happens quite often that you look at a task and are overwhelmed by how complex it is. You delay it forever so that you do not have to do it.

To overcome this, you just have to realize that every task, even the construction of the large hadron collider, can be broken down into simpler manageable tasks. Also, remember that the more time you lose being overwhelmed, the more complex it becomes.

This is part 1 of the article.Here’s part 2 with the next 5 reasons.

4 war strategies to build better habits

Estimated reading time: 6 min.

“I will wake up at 6 a.m. exercise, eat breakfast, do X amount of work. Spend enough time with my family, read and go to sleep early.”

At one point or the other in life, all of us have made these affirmations. We get so tired of the haphazardness of our lives that we decide one day to become disciplined. The next day, we wake up on time, do some exercise, and stick to the ideal disciplined life. Most of the times we do this just for a day. Sometimes we manage to stick with it for a couple of days. Sometimes, a little more. But ultimately, we fall back.

Why?

It’s simple. Our brains resist change. They are designed to. To understand this, let me introduce you to our protector. The limbic system.

The limbic system is the part of our brain that controls emotions, memories and habits. It is partly responsible for our survival. It was the limbic system that helped the early man notice the difference in the noise of the birds around him and alerted him of the possible presence of a predator.

Unfortunately, the limbic system uses the same reason to resist change. To protect us from unfamiliar surroundings and actions. Wake up at 6 instead of the regular 8, and like an uncle or a grandpa, it raises its eyebrows (the reverse is also true. If you are used to waking up at 6 and then wake up at 8, it will still have problems). If with one small change, it raises an eyebrow, you can very well imagine what kind of havoc it wrecks when we plan a complete transformation.

The other side of the limbic system is the pre-frontal cortex, the rational part of the brain. It tell us that it is good to exercise, convinces us, but unfortunately can’t do much to make sure that we do it (That is the job of the limbic system). A major change is always a war between the limbic system, and the pre-frontal cortex, and most of the times, the limbic system wins.

So, does it mean that we cannot make or break habits? Of course not. We can break or make habits easily with a little guile.

Habit creation is essentially moving a set of actions from our pre-frontal cortex to the limbic system, and with a little help, a habit can sneak in to the limbic system without alarming it.

Like I said, the pre-frontal cortex is at war with the limbic system to infiltrate habits into it. So, we need a few war strategies to help it win. Imagine that the limbic system is a big fort, and that pre-frontal cortex (which is our side) is trying to infiltrate it. What are the strategies we can use?

chess

  1. Send in one at a time:Remember that you are trying to infiltrate. Not wage a big war. Send in one habit at a time. This won’t set off the alarms. If you want to get up early, read at night, exercise, and all that, just focus on one. Once you successfully infiltrate one, it can help the others too. For example, if you start exercising regularly, it will be easier for you to fall asleep on time, and consequently get up early.
  2. Start with the easy ones: Do not send in the elephant first. Send in the foot soldier. It’s easier for him to sneak in, and it gives us a small win. A small win motivates the army (Physiologically, a small win makes dopamine flow into the pleasure centres of the brain, and this motivates you further), lifts its spirits, and motivates it for more infiltration. Start with a habit of reading ten pages a day, or doing 10 push ups when you wake up. These are easy, and will give you a sense of achievement.
  3. Camouflage: Like in any war, camouflaging is a very important tactic in beating the limbic system. Build your new habit on top of an existing one. Send in a soldier behind an elephant. They won’t notice. For eg: If you already have a habit of watching TV at night, read during the ad breaks. Then slowly as it gets accepted as a habit, replace more of TV with reading.
  4. Persist:I love battering rams. They are great at attacking forts. They keep attacking and persist at it. These rams have to continuously attack the fort to break it. If it pauses, or takes a break, the enemy would reinforce the walls. It’s the same with the limbic system. You need to keep going at it. If you want to build a lifelong habit of reading,Read every day for at least 30 days (Most researchers talk about 21 days to set a habit.  That’s actually the minimum. Some habits take longer).  Once you infiltrate it completely, the limbic system will protect the habit with all its might. It will remain there forever, unless you take the effort to break it once again.

So, do not wait now. Start the war. Use these strategies, and start the infiltration. Infiltrate till you have enough of your habit soldiers in the limbic fort, and you will keep winning.

Let me know about your infiltration. Let me know in the comments. I love reading about war.

The superpower of TEA, and how it helps us get more done.

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes.

All the tea drinkers out there would agree with me if I say that TEA helps us get things done. It makes us more productive. But I am not actually talking about the TEA in the cup. I am talking about a different TEA . A TEA that will help us plan our days better and make us more productive.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Before we start. Let’s look at how we plan our days or our to-do lists. We have x number of tasks to do, and y number of hours to do them in. May be 8 tasks in 10 hours. We write them down on a paper, or an app, or just mentally record it.

But, is it enough to just look at those x number of hours when we plan? Is that the only factor? Not really. We actually focus too much on time that we forget two other important factors that help us get things done. Energy and attention.

Productivity is a game of managing three things, Time, Energy, and Attention (TEA, So, this is the TEA that I am talking about). These are three things that we almost treat as unlimited, but in real, are acutely limited. These three are interdependent, and to be efficient, any productivity plan has to include all three of them.  Let’s take a look.

Time: “Damn it! It’s already 9.” Sounds familiar? Why is it that after years and years of time tables and calendars, and alarms, we still have trouble managing time?

May be because, in spite of knowing that time is a finite resource, we treat it as infinite. We believe that we can let a little of it get away today and then catch more of it tomorrow.

We constantly talk about not having enough of it, and how it flies off before you can do anything. In reality, when time presents itself, we ignore it, and when it’s gone, we complain about it.

So, what do we do to manage time better? That question is worth a thousand books. But for starters, you can treat time as something that you cannot generate at will, and it will change the way you manage it.

Energy:  How many of our best laid plans have gone to waste not because we didn’t have the time, but because we didn’t have the energy? Many. The presentation that we were supposed to prepare, the email that we had to send, the movie that we had to go to and so on.

Energy is as important a component of productivity as time is. If we understand how our energy affects our productivity and plan accordingly, we will instantly be more productive. The common mistake, when we don’t understand our energy levels, is that we schedule the low impact activities (like checking email, or facebook newsfeed) when our energy levels are high and high impact activities (like the project plan we have to write), when our energy level is the lowest. As evident, this isn’t the right strategy. Try doing it the other way. Schedule your high impact activities in the high energy zone, and the low impact activities in the low energy zone. You will instantly feel the difference.

Attention:  We do not pay much attention to attention. We believe in the infinite capacity of our brains and believe that it can focus on any number of tasks. We pride ourselves as great multitaskers, and believe that multitasking is the chosen path to true productivity. But it’s not true.

Like time and energy, attention is also a limited resource. We can only focus on so many things a day. We spread our attention too thin that we spend it on things that do not matter to us (eg: the news item about the octopus who ate a shark) and then struggle to find it when we really need it (eg: to make that presentation).

And we are so surrounded with attention guzzlers (buzzing smartphones, unimportant emails, pesky advertisements,  etc) that out of the three parts of the TEA, attention is the most difficult to manage.

So, how do we manage attention? Again, that requires a lengthy discussion. But you can start with making a list of your common distractions, and you know what to do next.

So, that’s the TEA (Time, Energy, and Attention). Now that we understand the TEA, how do we deal with them? How do we manage them better? That’s for another post. For now, I want you to do something. The next time you sit down to write down your to-do list, think of the TEA. Like how a good tea (the cup one this time) refreshes you, this TEA will also help you get things done better.

The art of the start – 5 little mind hacks to get your dream projects started

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

All of us are master planners. We have our grand plans and visions. The new company, the dream job, a healthier body, a fulfilling relationship, and so on and on.

So, what happens?

Some, we accomplish, but unfortunately, most die an undisturbed peaceful death. They pass into oblivion and all we are left with are sweet memories of the time we spent thinking about them.

So, is there a way to save them? Is there a way to see them grow up and survive?

It seems there is. You just have to do something really simple.

START.

Start

Just start. Starting something automatically increases the chances of completion by a 100%. It builds momentum.

However, it’s not the easiest of the things to do. On the contrary, starting is one of the most difficult parts of any project. Because, the-want-to-start mind is so full of self-doubts, and fears. The act of starting something new pushes your mind into the zone of extreme discomfort, and your mind will do anything in its power to escape that.

In that case, how do you make the process of starting easier. How do we become pro starters?

The secret lies in tricking your mind. Tricking it into believing that it’s no big deal. Here’s how

  1. Start with something so small that you cannot not do it. For eg; if you want to start a company, start with finding a name and a website. It’s pretty easy to do and these things can be changed later. But having these two will push you into the next level. You want to build an exercise routine, start with just 5 push ups a day. Or a two minute walk. You want to start a relationship, start with a hello.
  2. Couple it with something that you love doing: A while ago, when I was in the university, I once decided to wake up every day by 7. The problem was it was way too early from the ten or eleven my body was used to. My solution was simple enough. I would put a movie on download the night before (This was pre-superfast internet days. A movie used to take 6-8 hours to download), and get up and watch it. Some people might argue that it isn’t the most productive thing to do. But I did this for days together, and could replace the movie with other activities once my body got used to the seven o clock schedule.
  3. Start first, and think later: One of the popular dating advises that goes around the internet is that if you see a girl/boy and want to go talk to him/her, do it in the first three seconds. Don’t wait to think about what you will say or how you will approach. Just go approach him/her. This applies almost to everything. The fear of starting almost always comes from the anticipation of starting. Cut out the anticipation, and you cut out the fear.
  4. Choose good over perfect: Perfect is the enemy of good. The best of the ideas have died waiting for that perfect moment. So, don’t wait for that perfect plan to come along, nor for the perfect moment, nor for the perfect tools. You will discover them en route. Just start with what you have, and the tools that you can use now. But start. All perfect things happened because you took a step to start them.
  5. Put your fear of judgement to good use: All of us are afraid of judgement, even the most asocial of us, (Me, for example) who claim that we don’t care about the big world out there, are afraid of judgement. Put it to good use.Make yourself accountable. Tell someone whose opinion you care about. You will not want them to think of you as a quitter. For a good push, tell your partner, your friend, or your parent that you are starting something new, and tell them the exact date by which you will start. If you want a slightly stronger push, tell a bunch of friends. If you want to be strong armed into starting, post it on your Facebook wall :). Here’s a sample post.

I will start ________ by tomorrow.

Go ahead, fill it up. Post it. Stick your neck out, and you will do anything to save it.

So, what are you waiting for? Take that first step. Start that project that you have been thinking about forever. Even a gigantic snowball starts with a fist full of snow. Remember, you might be doing yourself and the world a great disservice by keeping that great idea under wraps. Open the wraps, and let it out.

“There are two mistakes one can make along the road to truth…not going all the way, and not starting.”

– Buddha