The Daily Routine

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“We must all suffer from one of two pains: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret. The difference is discipline weighs ounces while regret weighs tons.”

Jim Rohn

In Jules Verne’s ‘Around the world in eighty days‘, the central character of the book Phileas Fogg would wake up, shave using warm water set at a specific temperature, leave for the Reform club where he would read newspapers, have lunch and play cards with other gentlemen – all at the exact same hour every day.

In fact so fastidious was he in his habits that he wagered that it was possible to go around the world in exactly eighty days. While I’m no Phileas Fogg, I too am a creature of habit and like to follow a set routine which both frees me from fretting about the small stuff and provides me with a sense of security.

Human beings have limited supply of will power at their disposal. So if everyday you have to keep thinking about what time to get up, what to eat for breakfast, what exercises to do, it will simply suck out the energy required to do the other important things in life.

Daily routines have a hugely beneficial effect of providing an order within the chaos of life. If you have an organized morning routine of getting up, attending to important tasks earlier in the day, working out and having a healthy breakfast, it really sets up the rest of the day.

Today there are umpteen self help books touting the benefits of rising at 4am to meditate, exercise, do creative work and everything else under the sun. As with all fads, what is not explained is that not every rule works for everyone. We all are unique individuals with our own personalities, habits and personal situations. So one should follow a routine that is self adjusted and not based on what some billionaire CEO or celebrity is doing.

I like to typically wake up around 7 am and go for my morning walks, I try to walk briskly just short of running and do 4-5 kms. I love listening to audio books on my walks and find it really relaxing. After that I rest for an hour and catch up on newspapers followed by a 30 minute yoga session. I have been experimenting with a 10 minute meditation in the mornings but that’s yet to become a daily habit.

I find that keeping things simple is one of the easier ways to make it permanent. If I try to do too many things or try random things on different days it never works. For me its consistency that is the most important. So I stick to doing the same sequence of things for months on end till it falls into a lasting habit.

Scott Adams the creator of Dilbert says that he believes in Systems vs Goals and even goes on to say that goals are for loosers. He defines ‘system’ as something that you do on a repeatable day to day basis, something which is discrete and measurable. So daily routines very much fall into the systems category.

Eventually, while we can all talk about the 5 year goal far out into the future, it’s what we do today is what really matters. It’s like those small incremental investments that compounds over a period of time.

I had a fanciful goal of writing a blog every day and needless to say it failed spectacularly. I have readjusted my goal now to write 2 blogs a week and do it for the next couple of months. If I can achieve that then I can think about the next goal.

These are some of my learnings in recent months in sticking with a daily routine:

  • Do not crowd your mornings with too many activities, pick up 2-3 things at a time and stick with it.
  • As they say its not about daily progress but progress every day. As long as a general discipline is followed, there should be some leeway built in, you don’t have to go maniacal.
  • Its easy to start something but incredibly difficult to be consistent. Be realistic, set small achievable goals and when you start exceeding them regularly then raise the bar slightly.
  • Do not fall for fads (the 5 am club, keto diets, bullet coffee and their ilk). Build your own rules and stick to them. Its extremely liberating to live by your own set of rules when you can.
  • Be ready to experiment and adjust. One doesn’t have to keep doing something which is clearly not working in the name of routine.
  • Keep things simple so that you are not reaching out for a planner where every next minute is planned.
  • Lastly, build off days into your schedule where you don’t have to follow a routine, take that sat or sun off and do what you like. Afterall we are humans not machines.

As they say we become what we repeatedly do. Keep going!

High Strung

That’s the funny thing about tennis points, and games: They may be awe-inspiring at the moment, but then – except for the videotape, which really tells only a bit of the story – the moment is gone. They’re like poetry on water.

John McEnroe
Borg Vs McEnroe

I’ve always had a great fascination for tennis though I’ve held a racquet in my hands only a few times. My love affair with this beautiful game started in the early eighties. Those were the days of Borg, McEnroe, Connors and Lendl.

I remember reading about these legends of the game from sports magazines as TV wasn’t a household commodity in India of the early eighties. The first few games I saw on TV were the Wimbledon of 1985-86 which were won consecutively by a freckled teenaged Boris Becker. In the later years Boris Becker and Stefan Edberg would play several epic matches on center court.

I was always rooting for the quite and reserved Edberg whose personality was a contrast to the more volatile Becker. I’ve always been a big fan of John McEnroe specially enjoying all his verbal volleys at the linesmen and chair umpires. Who can forget his “You just cannot be serious” outburst!!

You cannot be Serious!

Recently I chanced upon a book “High Strung” written by Stephen Tignor a sports journalist. It’s about the epic rivalry between McEnroe and Borg. Borg first burst upon the scene in the mid seventies and ruled tennis specially wimbledon wining five consecutive tournaments between 76-80.

McEnroe came of age in the early eighties and his rise coincided with the shockingly premature exit of Borg from the game at 26. Both were complete opposites in demeanor and personality. Borg was the silent assasin who rarely showed any emotion on the court. He was famous for winning games by putting just one more ball across the net than his opponent.

John McEnroe was an artist with the racquet but given to wild bouts of anger on the court. Infact the media of the day went to town about his bad boy image wherever he played. However watching the wonderful videos of those iconic games on youtube, I can say that mostly his anger was justified as more often than not he was at the receiving end of some absolutely lame calls.

The 1980 Winbledon final between the two is often quoted as the greatest game of tennis ever played. What adds even more depth to the rivalry is that McEnroe while lampooning just about everyone else had the greatest respect for Borg. Infact when Borg shockingly quit at 26, his game was also effected.

Borg often called “Iceborg” for his unflinching temprament ironically got burnt out playing under the pressures of being the top dog and when he lost at the US open finals to McEnroe in 1981, he just could’nt take the defeat. He stormed out of the court skipping the prize ceremony and never returned to professional tennis again.

Tennis like cricket and football was ruled by the British aristocrats and clubs in the earlier years. Infact for a long time it was even considered a sin to get paid for playing. Borg was the first superstar of the new professional age of tennis along with other greats like Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe.

It’s amazing to think how brilliant these legends were with the wooden racquets of the age. Infact their serve and volley game was more artisry and a treat for the spectators. Things changed drastically with the introduction of lighter, bigger and far superior racquets in the later years and coincided with better coaching, fitness and mega money coming into the sport.

2020 has been a disaster for all sporting events including tennis. June was synonymous with Wimbledon and hopefully next year we will see the mdern day gladiators back in action. But this lull made me revisit my earliest memories and watching old youtube videos made me nostalgic for the eighties. Maybe I’m just getting old!

A New Workplace

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Work from home has gone mainstream as the dread of a menacing virus has shunted businesses in. The internet is replete nowadays with the pros and cons of workig remotely, of parents, kids and pets huddled around laptops and ipads as workplaces and homes merge blurring boundaries. Dining tables, couches and the ubiquotous Zoom video conferencing have speedily replaced the work stations and conference rooms at work.

While wfh is not a new concept by any means, it’s the first time it has gone mainstream albeit as an emergency response. For far too long we have been subjected to typical corporate brainwashing -about how open offices promote collaboration, of how a chance encounter at the water cooler leads to that million dollar idea and other convenient lies.

In industries like information technology where the raw material is knowledge and tech skills, it’s ironical that over collaboration and distraction filled open offices are touted as the norm. One could argue that home is hardly a distraction free workplace, yet with a little discipline and time management it can be a much more productive alternative.

Organizations are discovering that generally productivity has increased across the board as people are freed up from mindless commuting and the pressure to manage physically seperated homes and work spaces. It’s a win win in my mind for both employees and companies.

Of course the skeptics scoff and complain endlessly about the same rant of missing collaboration, going over to a colleague’s desk, face to face meetings or the managers losing control of their fiefdoms. Truth is that none of these are unsurmountable and it’s in human nature to adapt. We’ve been doing it for thousands of years now to survive.

Another interesting concept that takes an even broader view is “work from anywhere” which gives people the freedom to work from home, offices, coworking facilities, cafes, in short anywhere they want to work from. The idea is attractive but will take a while to hit critical mass. I hope it does.

There are already several companies that are thinking ahead and revisting their humongous real estate costs. Infact many have already announced plans to either go completely remote or enable a significant portion of their employees to wfh thereby reducing costs.

If we look back over the last few months everything that was once thought improbable has quickly become a reality. Interviews , hiring and onboarding have gone fully remote as have conferences, classroom trainings, leadership sessions and everything else that once required mandatory physical presence.

While its true that not every job can be performed remotely, there are a large number of others that easily can and all of us working remotely over last three months are a testimony to the fact. The question whether someone likes to wfh or office is a more personal one and not neccesarily an indicator of effectiveness of the model.

Sharing a few things that have been working for me:

  • Have a separate work area and work from the same place as far as possible
  • Manintain consistent work hours
  • Take breaks as you would at work and dont forget to hydrate, building planned breaks into your schedule is a great idea
  • Invest in a good quality chair and desk. Even outside of wfh arrangements, every home should have a distraction free area to sit and think. Believe me its a valuable investment.
  • Invest in good quality routers, mesh routers, laptops, phone stands, mouse and pads with hand rests, keyboards and monitors. Many organizations even reimburse their employees for initial setups.
  • Saving on commute time frees up the mornings which can be used for fitness – Meditate, jog, run, walk, do yoga but do use the time to get out of the house and get some fresh air. I like to combine my walks with listening to audio books and its a great way to start the day.
  • Now that you are home, mealtimes and household chores also need to be worked into the calendar. A little planning goes a long way in establishing a feeling of control.
  • Use the leisure for hobbies – writing, music, learning a new language or whatever strikes your fancy. It will keep you interested in life outside of work.
  • Last but not the least, self introspect. Maybe this time of adversity can open new doors for the future.

Life in the forties

“All three are hip-deep in midlife, when the eyes go and the waistline spreads and the city on the hill that shone so brightly in youth turns out to be more like a semi-incorporated town in the middle of a garbage strike. An age when a person can feel not so much himself as an inexplicably inferior version of himself.”

I sometimes get startled that I’m firmly in my mid forties now, a fact that is both humbling and mind numbing at the same time. I’m no longer young and I am not exactly a senior yet which puts me in the middle of nowhere zone.

My student years in the nineties seem so far away already and the green horn years of the new millennium have also started to recede into my personal history. There was a time when the nineties were considered the new age – people from my generation can relate to phrases like “star of the nineties” or the “beckoning of the 21st century”. Well, all that already has a layer of the sands of time over it.

Forties are infamous for the proverbial “midlife crisis” – a sobering decline into reality from the heady optimism of youth. On the positive side, I find that I can understand and weigh things a lot better – probably my thinking tempered by real life experiences. And yet, I’m fully aware that the older you grow, the more things you have to leave behind, its a circle of life.

I’ve been chained to a cubicle for over 20 years now. Well, its no longer even a cubicle.That has been replaced by what is commonly referred to as open plan seating. The MBAs have created a fancy term for this called “high performance workspaces” – something which fosters teamwork and collaboration. This deserves a post in itself so I would limit my rants on it for the time being.

Like many people of my generation in India, I was part of the herd – having to chose between Engineering and Medical. Anything outside of these was considered risky and frivolous. I always loved the sciences but also enjoyed the languages and particularly history.

Anyhow I underwent the raging fires of competitive examinations in India and got a bachelors in Electrical Engineering. This was followed by the typical foray into the burgeoning IT industry where the jobs were. Today there’s a lot of emphasis on loving what you do or choosing a career where you have “passion’.

I always looked at my job as something that gave me enough resources to enjoy the good things in life and I’m grateful for that. Though I don’t really spend my free time thinking about work or all the related political circus one has to perform to survive. I spend most of my time outside work reading and writing.

At this stage of my life, the responsibilities are also at their peak. Like everyone else we are resigned to the mortgage, children’s education and other myriad responsibilities. No one told us of all these things when we were young and thought adults were the ones bossing around kids and having the most fun!

Years ago I watched a movie “About Schmidt” where Jack Nicholson plays the protagonist. He’s old and about to retire having spent most of his working life in an insurance company in Omaha, Nebraska. Its a favorite of mine with several heartbreaking scenes blended with dark humor.

Incidentally, I too spent a couple of years in Omaha but that is besides the point. There was one quote in the movie which went – “I know we’re all pretty small in the big scheme of things, and I suppose the most you can hope for is to make some kind of difference, but what kind of difference have I made? What in the world is better because of me?”

It seems scary that I was supposed to feel like this nearing my retirement but I’m already having these thoughts in my forties!. The desire to break the mould and do something I love like writing is strong and hence this blog as a minuscule attempt towards breaking the general monotony of daily life.

I know these feelings are universal and unrelated to where you live or what you do though responses and solutions out of this rut of midlife can be different and creative. Obviously there are no quick fixes as anything worthwhile needs hard work and time to grow. It’s foolhardy and suicidal to just start afresh without any planning or direction.

I would love to hear thoughts from anyone reading this on how to make life more meaningful and worth living while trying to balance everything else life has thrown at you by this age.