Aug 7, 2020

Motivation to wake up early

A few days back, when I had shared my time budgeting post on Instagram, someone had DMed me asking if I could share some tips to wake up early.

From my experience, the only tip that will help you to wake up early is to have the right motivation. I wake up by 6-6:15AM on a daily basis even during the present lockdown situation when there is no hurry to pack lunch boxes or get my daughter D ready for school. 

There are multiple reasons that motivate me to wake up early:
  1. I'm a slow starter. I need some time to awaken my senses. I'm not the person who can just wake up and start checking off the items from my to-do list. I need 10-15 minutes to sip my morning chai in peace.
  2. I don't like to talk for atleast an hour in the morning. It might seem weird but this is how I am 🙂 I need that quiet time to just be myself. On days when I wake up late or when D wakes up along with me, I find it incredibly challenging to answer her questions. I get irritated at times when I have to talk but I don't want to.
  3. I get atleast a couple of hours of quiet time for myself in the mornings. Before the lockdown, I used to get more quiet time (4-5 hours) at home when K is in office and D is in school. I miss those quiet afternoons, when suddenly I get a random dose of inspiration to do some deep work, write an article, cook a new recipe, read a few pages or just lie down on the couch and relax after lunch. Such quiet afternoons are not possible these days. Without these quiet times, the days feel so rushed and the channels to express myself feel unattended.
  4. Another option to get this quiet time is to grab a couple of hours in the night after D goes to sleep. But this would end up disturbing my sleep cycle. I want to align as much as possible to the circadian rhythm.
  5. What I have also noticed is that if I miss my morning time for Yoga practice, I'm not allocating any time during the rest of the day. A simple 30-min Yoga practice makes a load of difference to how my day progresses.
Motivation comes through observation of our own self - What we want, how we want to start our day, our priorities, our reactions when those priorities are not met and how we express ourselves as an individual (apart from the varied roles we perform throughout the day).

Tips like "keep an alarm 15 minutes before your usual time", "don't snooze", "keep your alarm at a distance where you have to walk and switch it off" are tactical. Until and unless there is enough motivation to wake up early, these tips wouldn't really work. Speaking from a personal experience 🙂

Aug 6, 2020

Adios to Twitter and Facebook

This morning, I deactivated both my Twitter and Facebook accounts. I haven't been active on either of these platforms for the last couple of years. It didn't make sense to leave the accounts idle when I'm not using them. Ever since I started taking steps towards conscious content consumption, this task had been on my mind but I was hesitating, thinking I might login if needed. Yes, the same talk we have with ourselves when we don't want to get rid of old stuff at home - "This might come in handy one day. I might use it sometime". Sounds familiar? 

FB keeps sending notifications by email that so-and-so has uploaded a pic, posted an update etc. The best part is this message - "So much has happened since you logged onto Facebook". When you login to check, the notifications count will be 4. And all of them will be exactly similar - so-and-so uploaded a pic 🙂

Grateful to both the platforms all these years. FB helped me connect with many of my school and college friends. I vividly remember this brief period in 2010 when I was hooked onto Farmville, gathering virtual gifts from friends and family as and when they share on FB. It was super fun. But over the years, the "connection" element got lost because of various factors - FB's algorithm deciding what to show in our feed, giving preference to sponsored content and even the way we use the platform has shifted more towards external validation.

Twitter helped me connect at a professional level with many thought leaders on startups, product management, marketing, entrepreneurship, growth hacking etc. Even though I stopped using Twitter, I still connect with many of these thought leaders through their books, blogs, podcasts and newsletters. 

My intention is to engage with long form content in a planned manner. Scheduled time slots to read newsletters is one such practice I mentioned in my previous post. Will share more as I implement other ideas into practice.

Aug 5, 2020

Precrastination

I came across this term "Precrastination" in Chris Bailey's newsletter. We all know about procrastination and its impact on our productivity. But precrastination is something new. 

From this article,
Originally coined by David Rosenbaum, a psychology professor at the University of California, Riverside, “precrastination” is a little-known productivity trap in which we rush too quickly into tasks.
The main intent of the article was to showcase how we rush into tasks, sometime on autopilot mode or the need to get rid of them to clear our mental space.

As I was reading this article, a thought struck me about areas where we precrastinate easily without much awareness.

For instance, you are working on something. An email pops up. It is a newsletter. You quickly scroll through it and find an interesting article. You click through the link and read it. There is a new article linked to it. You click through that as well and continue reading it. Turns out 15 minutes have gone by in a flash. The information might be useful and relevant. But it is unplanned. You have precrastinated to reading it immediately than planning it for a future time.

This kind of behavior happens quite a lot while we browse through our social media feeds as well. We drop in for a minute but we end up spending 20 minutes because of new information we come across - an article, a video, news update etc.

We "content hunt" all the time and it comes in the way of doing actual work.

I have been a victim of this behavior too and over the years, I have consciously taken a step back to not succumb to the new and shiny all the time. 

I love reading newsletters from many authors/thought leaders (Will do a separate post on my favorites). Instead of reading them as and when they arrive, I have scheduled specific time slots to read them. My morning tea time is one such time slot where I read 1-2 newsletters. Although Chris Bailey's newsletter came to my inbox yesterday, I went through it this morning at peace. The term "precrastination" struck me and I started jotting down this post during my morning writing time. 

This habit of scheduling specific times for reading new content is helping me quite a bit. Do give it a try if you read a lot of information from varied sources.

Aug 4, 2020

Connections

After a very long time, I wrote an email to a friend yesterday. Not 1-2 liners but 4 paragraphs 🙂 I felt so happy after sending it in the morning. When I received her detailed reply later in the evening, I felt doubly happy to read it. As you might have realized, I love long form content - both reading and writing. I rarely use new age slang like "hru", "hbd" etc.

In the early 90s, my cousin and I used to write a lot of letters to each other through inland letters - yes, the light blue colored ones. We used to stay 30 kms apart and there will be at least 2-3 letters exchanged every month. We had so much to write about - our school, our subjects, our friends circle, movies etc. My aunt (her mom) would tease us that we write in every little empty space in that inland letter 🙂 That reminds me - I should search my cupboard to check for these letters. I might still have a few!

Fast forward to 2020, we both have lost touch and I wrote her a short email in March to check if she and her family are doing okay amidst this situation. She replied with a short message. 

In this connected world, anyone can be accessed with a click of a button, yet we have drifted apart so much. Similar story repeats with many school friends and college friends as well. I should have kept in touch during my 20s but I didn't make enough time on it. Everyone is added as "friends" on Facebook but except for the HBD on birthdays, we don't get to interact much. 

Past cannot be changed, but from now on, let me take the first step to write either handwritten letters or long emails to my friends. Whatsapp, Instagram or Facebook are not the platforms to build deeper connections.

Have you sent handwritten letters when you were a kid? Share your experience in the comments below.

Aug 3, 2020

Curiosity

This phrase just popped out of my head while practicing Yoga this morning
Curiosity often leads to more experience. Knowledge is only a by-product.
What is the relevance of this phrase? 

Let me first try to share my thoughts on curiosity. Curiosity is a mere interest in someone/something, without any external trigger/recognition/rewards. 

I'm curious about music, cats, food, process of learning, brain, human body in general to name a few topics.

I would seek out experiences to explore these topics but I may or may not gather knowledge/technical know-how about the same. For example, I enjoy listening to music but I may not know the raagas. Whenever I see a cat on the road, I might stop and admire it but I may not be keen to know which breed it is.

We often tend to assume that people who exhibit curiosity in a particular topic has a lot of knowledge on the subject. This is a wrong assumption. People may seek out more experiences on the topic, as a result of which they might come across new information. Such information need not be collected/stored in memory. In this day and age, even if we don't know the right information, it is easy to access through a simple Google search.

What we need is sheer curiosity on a wide range of topics that may or may not be related to our career/earning potential/skill set. 

Through observation, we can understand the areas where we are curious about. 
What moments in life do we take a pause? 
What are the articles that we stop to read while scrolling through our social media feeds? 
What are the book recommendations that we add to our wish list? 
Whose thoughts do we resonate with - both offline and online?

Identify and make a list of those topics. It might be surprising to see that you are curious about so many topics. Keep the curiosity alive by seeking out more experiences. The universe will also do its part by providing you with the right experiences.

Aug 2, 2020

Are you a working woman?

Are you a working woman? - this is a question that I often get asked by school friends, college friends and on social media. It is curious that this question is asked mostly by women to other women. I recently got asked this question when I posted about how I budget my time, where all the work I do is clearly listed down. Inspite of this, the question still pops up. If your intention is to ask whether I work for an employer, please change your questions to "Are you working for an employer? Are you earning a monthly paycheck?"

In my opinion, all women are working. They work for the well-being of their family members. Child care, elderly care, home management - all these are such important and valuable contribution we do for the society. Yes, these are unpaid labour but they are still WORK. So please, women, let's give enough credit to ourselves for doing this work, even though there is no appraisal, paycheck, yearly hikes or promotions. Let's not judge another woman, based on whether she works for an employer or works for her home.

Let's also not put a value on ourselves based on the monthly salary we bring home. We are adding tremendous value to our family in so many non-monetary ways. Let's take pride in that and pat ourselves on the back.

MONEY - Is that all we value? It might be easy to quantify and compare. But relationships, personal satisfaction, good health, contentment and peace are extremely valuable, although they aren't easy to quantify.

I gain tremendous satisfaction and meaning from the food-related blogging work I have been doing for the past 5-6 years. I don't earn a penny from my blog but the comments and messages from readers are so valuable to me.

"My health has improved so much thanks to reading your blog. I have stopped eating all packaged foods"
"My pregnancy was smooth because I chose to eat home cooked foods as you suggested" 
Is it even possible to associate a monetary value to such comments?

Many women do similar work through which they find meaning for themselves and contribute to the society. Let's not ridicule their efforts by asking "Are you a working woman?"

P.S. I worked full time for 9 years before I had my daughter in 2011. Since 2013, I have been working from home / taking up part-time consulting projects / telecommute (partial work from office) etc. Right now, I don't work for any employer.

Aug 1, 2020

Friend's visit

What started off as a slight discomfort in the morning turned into a full blown migraine by the evening. Yes, "migraine", my college buddy used to visit me quite often earlier but thanks to many lifestyle changes, the visits have become sporadic. He still pays his visit once every 2-3 months. Nowadays, whenever he visits me, my first question is to figure out the reason why he has scheduled his visit now. My mind literally walks through a checklist
  • Is it PMS? Both pre-menstrual and post-menstrual days 
  • Have I been drinking too much of tea or coffee?
  • Have I been spending too much time on devices?
  • Have I been having disturbed sleep?
  • Have I been having too many thoughts?
  • Have I been eating too little of fibre?
  • Do I feel acidic?
  • Am I constipated?
As I walked through this list of questions, I figured out how he got the invitation - Have I been drinking less water?

A big, resounding YES.....The weather in Bangalore has been fluctuating quite a bit - bright and sunny on some days while gloomy and rainy on other days. As such, I don't like to gulp water in litres. I take a few sips as and when I feel like drinking water. I haven't been doing much of these sips too these days. And my mouth felt dehydrated for sure.

I nailed down the reason, drank a few glasses of water and slept through the evening. The next morning, I woke up early, did my Yoga practice, made breakfast but I still wasn't feeling energetic. I have always observed that the day after migraine attack, I experience a thoughtless state of the mind. My energy levels were low and my mind felt blank. The calm after the storm, maybe!

I wanted to check why this is happening and so I googled 🙂 Turns out there is a term called "migraine hangover" that many people experience once the pain reduces. 

So anyway, the friend waved good-bye and went off. The lesson I learned from this experience - be extremely conscious of my water intake. Drink warm water, if needed.

If your best buddy also goes by the name "migraine", do check out my earlier post - 8 ways to control migraine attacks.

Jul 29, 2020

Are you connected with yourself?

I'm currently reading Luke Coutinho's ebook - "The Magic Immunity Pill - Lifestyle". It has been such a great read so far. I totally resonate with his holistic approach towards health. Highly recommend this book, it is a free download available on his website.

I stumbled upon this sentence in this book which struck a chord
 "We have become disconnected with ourselves in a connected world"
It made me pause, reflect and jot down my thoughts. I have been on this journey to reconnect with my own self for the past few years. Through self-learning about food and regular Yoga practice, I have now been able to connect with my body easily. I had written about the importance of listening to one's body earlier.

I have also been incorporating certain practices to connect with my mind and my soul. Removing distractions and unnecessary information overload has been the first step. Spending quality time with myself in solitude and through chores have also eased me into enabling this connection with my mind. Journaling is another useful tool to reflect and understand various situations that we encounter in our daily lives.

I still have a long way to go to declare that I'm truly connected with myself all the time but the journey is progressing towards this direction.

Here is a compilation of various practices and signals that help us connect with ourselves. 

Connection with our body:
  1. Feeling of thirst
  2. Feeling of hunger and satiety
  3. How our body reacts to certain foods
  4. Feeling the need to stretch ourselves
  5. Understanding the difference between lethargy and genuine rest
  6. Feeling sleepy around a particular time in the night
Connection with our mind:
  1. Being aware in the present moment
  2. Focus on our breath
  3. Being aware of our senses - sounds, smell, sight, taste, touch
  4. Being conscious of our feelings and emotions
  5. How we react/respond to various situations
Connection with our soul:
  1. Spending time in solitude
  2. Knowing what makes us truly happy
These connections are ONLY possible when there are fewer distractions, fewer goals, fewer materialistic desires, less ego and higher awareness.


Jul 28, 2020

5 ways to budget your time

All of us on this planet have the same 24 hours in a day. How we manage these 24 hours make a world of difference - in terms of our health, wealth, relationships and our mental peace. 

When we plan our personal finance budget, based on our monthly income, we tend to allocate a fixed portion of it towards savings/investments and the remaining towards monthly expenses. Within the monthly expenses, a portion of it is allocated for fixed or mandatory expenses and the remaining goes towards discretionary expenses. 

Let's say, the split is 50% towards investments and 50% towards expenses. The expenses are again split into 30% towards fixed expenses and 20% towards discretionary or variable expenses.

This strategy helps us to become more mindful of our expenses. It also makes us prioritize our savings and investments for the future.

Money lost can be earned but time lost can never be regained. 

A similar budgeting strategy can be employed for our daily time as well.

In a 24 hour period, let's say, we allocate 8 hours for sleep. That leaves us with 16 hours for ALL of us. 
How many of these 16 hours are we investing in ourselves, how many are spent towards self-care, how many are spent towards frivolous tasks - questions we need to ask ourselves.

Here are 5 ways by which we can start practicing time budgeting:
  1. As a first step, start tracking your time for a week in 30-min blocks. Observe how you are spending your time. No judgments, no guilt, no self-criticism. Just observe and become aware. Calculate the time spent in various categories - exercise, cooking, work, watching TV, phone use etc.
  2. A casual check-in here and there of our social media accounts may seem like nothing, but they add up to 1-2 hours in a day. During the time tracking week, notice the hours spent on various apps each day.
  3. Start preparing a time budget. For each category of activities, allocate time (in minutes). For eg, here's how I have planned my time budget:
CategoryActivitiesTime allocated (mins per day)
Self careMorning Yoga45

Bath and dress up20

Evening prayers15

Evening Walk30

Eating meals without distractions45

Sipping tea20

Afternoon power nap15
InvestmentOnline courses30

Books30

Writing/blogging60

Newsletters/articles/podcasts30
FamilyPlaying with D60

Helping D with HW30
Social MediaInstagram30

Youtube30
CookingBreakfast30

Lunch45

Tea30

Dinner30

Evening snacks30

Meal prep20
CleaningWashing dishes40

Sweeping/mopping45

Cleaning kitchen counter top15
Other choresDrying and folding clothes20

Watering plants15

4.I read this phrase somewhere - "Time that is planned to be wasted is not wasted time". Allocate enough time in a day where there is no agenda or no plans. We are humans, not robots. After making my exhaustive time budget, I still have 2.5 hours that I could spend in whatever interests me that day.

5.Based on the time budget prepared in step #3, block your time in a calendar for activities that are pertaining to self-care, investment and mandatory chores like cooking, cleaning etc. This is a crucial step. In the personal finance world, the important advice we might have heard is that we should prioritize savings and investments in the beginning of the month and the remaining should be allocated for our monthly expenses. The same principle is valid for time management as well.


Revisit the time budget and your calendar every week to understand what is working and what is not. Revise the budget or the time blocks as needed. The idea is not to become rigid with our schedules but to become more mindful of how we are utilizing our time.

Jul 27, 2020

The power of Imagination

My daughter D is an imaginative person. She can whip up stories and characters on a whim. I'm totally in awe of her imagination as I'm more of a logical, realistic person. During these lock down days, she has come up with so many events and activities on her own that we can do together as a family. Usually, if she comes up with an idea, my husband K and I would just go along with her flow and not interrupt her plans.

One afternoon, she took us out on a ride to a different planet. She had thought through every single detail - right from packing our bags, checking in at the airport, security bag scan, going to a different city where we board our rocket ship that will take us to a new planet. We then did sight seeing of the planet - waterfalls, mountains, animals that are only present in this new planet (Our pet cat played a guest role here). The experience felt so real.

One other day, she had organized a birthday party for one of her dolls, with other dolls being the guests. There was a special birthday dinner as well, which she made us cook.

We had a dance competition one evening. She had rehearsed the steps for a few days before the competition. She dressed up in different costumes and danced for her favorite sound tracks. There was also an audience event when K and I were asked to dance :-)

A few days back, she had planned for a movie outing to a cinema theater. We bought our tickets, waited for the screen to open and then watched the movie. Oh yes, there was an intermission break as well, when we bought snacks.

Yesterday, she had organized a science exhibition where her dolls participated. There were stalls, prizes, announcements etc. 

She managed all these within the confines of our apartment. Event planning, executing with limited resources, paying attention to little details, taking cues from real life but adding her own imagination, giving the right instructions to us - she exhibited all these skills on her own. Both K and I were happy to play the supporting roles. 

The current situation is more challenging for young kids. They are unable to meet their friends, play outdoors, go for their favorite outings etc. But we humans can adapt to any situation life throws at us. Children especially are very good at adapting as they are more open without any biases. 

Personally for me, it has been such a good learning experience, observing D and her world of imagination. Children are our greatest teachers.

Jul 25, 2020

Thoughts on productivity


On days I don't feel "productive", I get quite annoyed. One such day happened this week but instead of getting annoyed, I accepted it and even wrote a short post about the same. 

Later in the day, I asked myself - What is productivity? When do I find myself "productive"?

The dictionary definition of the word might be different but the answer I have come up with is


I feel productive when my thoughts, words and actions are in alignment.

Let me explain with the help of a flow diagram. Being a computer engineer, a flowchart will find its way in my thought process 😉


Our thoughts lead to words; words that we tell ourselves as well as words that we tell our family/friends/social media. These words lead us toward action. When we act upon these words, we feel productive and experience a sense of accomplishment.

When the thought/word doesn't convert to the intended action, that's when the misalignment happens and we end up feeling unproductive.

Most of the productivity books focus too much on how we can optimize the Action - making todo lists, grouping or organizing the todo lists, time blocking, prioritizing top 3 tasks to complete etc.

Instead of adding more and more things to be actioned, let's pause for a moment and think about the precursor/trigger to action - thoughts and words.

A few questions to ponder before adding a new task to our to-do list:
  1. What is the source of this task? Where does it stem from?
  2. Why do I want to add this task?
  3. How would I feel when I check this item off?
  4. What are the consequences if I don't work on this task now?
A conscious decision of not taking up a task gives contentment and peace. It inculcates the practice of Saying No to the many different tasks and triggers that come our way. We can merely observe, maybe jot it down somewhere and not make it a current priority.

For example, we might think of meal planning as a task to solve a problem we face. We can either make it a priority OR decide whether it is feasible to focus on it this week. I have walked through the process using the same flow diagram.   



There were times when I used to feel happy about having long to-do lists but not anymore. Given the current situation, I'm feeling content if I can accomplish fewer planned tasks in a day. Moreover, as I'm shifting towards mindful content consumption, I do notice that the number of thoughts that would get added as to-do tasks has gone down. 

The more our thoughts, words and actions are aligned, the more productive and content we feel. But for the alignment to happen, we need to become more aware of the thoughts and words that precede action. The next time you feel inclined to add a task to your to-do list, take a pause, understand the trigger (s) and decide whether it is worth adding to your list.

Jul 23, 2020

Dealing with dull days

 
I had stepped out to the terrace last evening to witness the Neowise comet. Though I couldn't spot the comet thanks to cloudy evening in Bengaluru, I spent an hour on the terrace, admiring the crescent moon, spotting Jupiter and stars. It felt so good. What made me happier is the sight of moving vehicles on the main road. I never thought I would feel this way about traffic. 

It's been almost 5 months since the lockdown started in March. After the initial chaos and confusion, days seem to be whizzing past by. Some of the days are happy, peaceful and filled with gratitude, while others leave me with a mixed bag of emotions. I worry about Appa who is managing by himself in a different city during these times. I wish I could have brought him here to my home in March. But then I tell myself, "I should just trust life and not worry about things which are not in my control".

My project with a startup got stalled, thanks to COVID. As a result, my contract got canceled in May. I didn't try exploring other opportunities, given the other responsibilities in the home front. For the past 2 months, I have been trying to make myself useful through my blog posts and workshops. There have been mornings when I wake up, buzzing with ideas and inspiration. But there have also been mornings when I just don't feel like waking up. No ideas, no inspiration, just feeling dull and monotonous. One such morning was today. I went for a walk on the terrace for 30 minutes to cheer my mood. Though it helped a bit, I didn't feel like I was my usual self. 

While cooking lunch, I played the soundtrack of Dil Bechara in the background. Such a beautiful album with a tinge of melancholy from AR Rahman. Just like any other ARR album, this one grows on you after 2-3 listens. Loving it!!

After eating lunch, I just lied down and accepted the fact that it is okay if I don't have a productive day. Maybe, my body and mind want to just do nothing. 

The list below is just for my own reference, so I can come back to it on days when I feel dull and uninspired.
  • Listen to music
  • Go for a walk, Get some sunshine
  • Have a bath before 10AM
  • Enjoy an extra cup of chai or coffee without any guilt
  • Take a short afternoon nap
  • Practice deep breathing for 5 minutes
  • Watch your favorite stand-up comedy or Goundamani Senthil comedy clips
  • Accept that there will be days when you aren't inspired to do anything

Jul 22, 2020

Why do we fall off the bandwagon while breaking phone addiction?

After I shared my post on how we can win back our attention and focus, I received a couple of messages - "What you say is true. I have tried to come out of my phone addiction. I would become conscious, delete apps etc but the effect would last only for a few days. I end up in the same addictive phase again. Why does this happen?"

I started to become more conscious of my phone usage after reading this fabulous book "Deep Work" by Cal Newport back in 2017. With the initial motivation, I was able to cut down my phone usage for a few weeks. I had uninstalled FB and Twitter apps but over the course of the year, my Instagram and Youtube usage shot up. I just shifted from one app to another but the behavior remained the same.

A similar experience happened in 2019 after I read "Digital Minimalism" by the same author. Though I became more conscious of my overall digital usage, I do tend to go back to old ways of mindlessly checking and scrolling through my phone.

As I thought about this situation, I could correlate to how we go back to eating processed/junk foods even though we know they aren't good for our health.

Until and unless we enjoy cooking, meal planning, mindful shopping, understanding the importance of real, natural and local foods, it is hard to stay off processed/junk foods. The reason why I'm able to stay off junk foods comfortably is because of the fact that I enjoy all the activities involved in planning and preparing a healthy meal. 

Similarly, until and unless we enjoy and find meaning in offline activities like cooking, gardening, reading, painting etc, we tend to go back to mindless content consumption from our devices.

In the last few months, I started doing more chores at home and I also underwent a change in perspective about me-time. I have started to enjoy the chores. My thoughts shifted from "I have to wash dishes" to "I want to wash dishes". In fact, many of the blog post ideas strike me while washing dishes 🙂

The key here is to identify offline activities that we find enjoyable. Automatically, our inclination to reach for our phones whenever we experience a tinge of boredom would come down. It is also equally important to finding meaning in activities that we might dismiss as boring or mundane. 

When we consider our daily responsibilities (household chores, office work, meetings, workout etc) as meaningless, then we tend to grab our phones the moment we finish our daily duties to "distract" or "take a break", thinking we need some "me-time". 

Being aware and questioning ourselves - "Why am I taking my phone now?" helps a great deal to identify our triggers. That's a perfect starting point to understand our behaviors.

Jul 21, 2020

Win back your attention and focus

 
I bought my first smartphone in Apr 2013. It must have been a similar entry time for most of you in India, +/- a couple of years. In a time span of less than a decade, we have become addicted to this device. Some of us even take it to the restroom. No, I don't do that. Except for restroom, smartphone travels with me everywhere around my home 🙂

It's worth thinking about how we have become so addicted to our phones in such a short period of time. It isn't entirely correct on our part to blame the device. Our smartphone has made our lives easier in multiple ways - be it cab booking, grocery shopping, navigation, instant payments, capturing photos and keeping in touch with our loved ones. When we use it as a functional device, we seem to be in control of it. But when we start using it as an emotional crutch / boredom banisher / a way to escape from reality / coping mechanism to distract from uncomfortable feelings, that's when we yield the control and we feel we are completely addicted to our smartphone.

Because of mobility, form factor and multiple use cases it caters to, it might seem like smartphones are addictive. But in reality, the apps we install on them are what makes them addictive. 

As a first step, review the apps you have installed on your phone. Using a tracker (like Digital wellbeing on Android), identify the apps where you spend most of your time.
Uninstall the app(s), if possible. 
Set a usage time limit, say 1 hour for Youtube. 

More than the "Screen time", I believe we need to keep track of the number of "screen unlocks" per day. How many times do we pick up our phones in a day? On average, I pick it up around 45 times a day. For a 16 hour wake time, this comes to around 3 times an hour. What's the need for me to pick up my phone every 20 minutes?

The solution isn't only about cutting back on apps or setting time limits. We need to win back our attention and focus. Remember our school days or the nights before an exam - we would sit and study for hours at a stretch, completely focused without any distractions. I remember there were days when I used to study for 3-4 hours at a stretch. How many times in the past 4-5 years did I ever focus on something for that long? Maybe, a handful of times to be honest. 

We haven't lost our ability to focus. It is just that we have stopped training it. It is like muscle memory. It isn't gone away, we can bring it back. 

I have been trying this focus challenge for myself and I can see it is helping me quite a bit.

Whenever you are doing a task, focus completely without checking your phone. The task could be reading a book, cooking, going for a walk, washing dishes, writing an article, working on a report, watching a movie(duh, I know! We check our phone while watching a movie too!). 

Jot down the times for each day. Pen and paper work best.
Date | Activity | Focus time
19th July | Cooking | 45 minutes
19th July | Reading | 30 minutes
19th July | Writing | 25 minutes
 
If you would like to use an app to track such activities, I'd highly recommend Forest app. I had mentioned it in an earlier blog post as well.

The objective of this challenge is to increase "Total Focus time" as days pass by. If in Week 1, you are clocking 2 hours of focus time per day, then aim to increase it to 2.5 hours in Week 2. Gamify this experience for yourself. 

As for me, I want to bring down the number of screen unlocks to around 20 per day. My current "Focus time" is around 4 hours per day. I plan to increase it to 6 hours.

If you try this challenge, do let me know how it went for you. Would love to hear your experience.

Jul 18, 2020

Night Cut off time for device usage

Last July, I had written a post on how I track my daily habits. One of the habits I started to practice is "No screen usage after 8:30PM". It's been more than a year now and for most days, I managed to stick to this habit. Yes, there were days when I mindlessly scrolled through Instagram or watched random Youtube videos but such nights were fewer. What I have observed during those nights is that I could literally feel my eyes flickering for a few minutes before I could sleep. Have you felt that sensation?

I don't watch much of TV/Netflix/Prime. The main reason being I hardly find content that I like to watch. Most of the content that comes up is too dark, violent, explicit which makes me squirm and feel uncomfortable. On those rare nights when I watch a movie until midnight, my sleep cycle gets quite disturbed and the next day morning routine goes for a toss.

My only screen dependency is my phone and thanks to the cut-off habit, I have stopped my usage post 8:30PM. This gives me a quiet winding time of 90 minutes where I play with my daughter, read a book, write in my journal or simply stare at the ceiling.

Having an early dinner has so many positive effects - it gives enough time for our body to digest food and helps us get better sleep. It is hard to sleep with a tummy full of food.

Similarly, it is hard to sleep with a mind full of thoughts. 

My suggestion - Figure out a time when you would stop using all your devices, at least an hour before sleep. Set a daily habit to track the same. Good sleep, a peaceful mind, fresh mornings guaranteed!

Now that I have unsubscribed from many Youtube channels and have become more mindful of my Instagram usage, I plan to bring down the cutoff time to 7:00PM. Will share my progress soon.

P.S. I do use Kindle during my reading time at nights but not as much as I used to.

Jul 16, 2020

What is a Wholesome, balanced meal?

 
"Wholesome, balanced meal" - I keep mentioning this phrase often in my blog posts as well as in my workshops. I suggest this as a solution to fix sweet cravings, to curb junk foods, to prevent mindless snacking etc. As I pondered deeply on this question - "What is a wholesome, balanced meal?", the initial answers that came to my mind are
  1. The meal plate should have a good combination of carbs, proteins, fats and fiber
  2. For a vegetarian like me, the meal plate should contain a good proportion of dals, 1-2 vegetables and indigenous rice/millets
  3. The plate should include more vegetables and greens
I wasn't quite satisfied with these answers. I felt there is something more to a "wholesome, balanced meal". The questioning continued and I reflected on the times when I felt like I have eaten a wholesome, balanced meal. Based on my personal observations, this is the answer I have come up with

"A wholesome, balanced meal is the one that gives YOU SATIETY"

First, the focus is on YOU, the individual. The meal that makes me satiated may not make you feel satiated and vice versa. That's the reason why generic diet plans don't work. Each of our preferences, taste buds and satiety levels are quite different. It is best to understand the key principles in nutrition and then take the responsibility to come up with a meal plan for ourselves.

Let's come to the key topic - SATIETY
Satiety is the feeling of satisfaction we get after eating a good meal. 
Being satiated means that we don't think about food for the next 3-4 hours. 
Being satiated means we don't feel sluggish and drowsy after a meal.

When you eat a pack of chips, do you feel satiated? No
When you eat a bowl of cornflakes for breakfast, do you feel satiated? No

That's because of the fact that most packaged/junk foods are "calorie-rich, nutrient-poor". After eating such foods, our body craves nutrients and we end up feeling hungry within 30-45 minutes. 

Being mindful of how we feel after eating a meal will help us understand the kind of meals that give us satiety. Food tracking in a journal is quite helpful to identify the patterns. Apart from tracking the "What", "How much" and "When", it is also important to track "How did the meal make me feel?"
Satiated, 
Over-eaten, 
Deprived,
Sleepy,
Bloated, 
Sweet craving post the meal

Examples of meals that make me feel satiated
  • Handpounded rice, sambhar, 1-2 vegetable kari
  • Bisibhelebhaath, raitha and pappad
  • Matta rice, aviyal, rasam and pappad
  • Idli with a chutney or sambhar
  • Phulkas, dal and sabji/salad
Examples of meals that don't make me feel satiated
  • Lemon rice, potato kari
  • Pasta
  • Idli with molagapodi
  • Salad as a meal
  • Soup + Salad
Satiety depends on multiple factors - not just the right combination of carbs+proteins+fats. It depends on our individual food preferences, foods we ate while growing up, foods that our digestive system feels happy about. 

The ONLY way to figure such meals is by OBSERVATION and AWARENESS within oneself.  Calorie tracking apps or dietitians cannot help us here. Machine learning algorithms can't predict whether a meal will make us feel satiated or not. It is only up to us to figure that out.

Jul 9, 2020

Free Printables to help in meal planning

By now, you all know my love for the Indian Food Composition Tables 🙂 I have been going through the document in detail and have been compiling the list of foods rich in specific nutrients. If you haven't taken a look, you can access the complete list - Plant-based sources of macro and micro-nutrients. There is a separate post for each individual vitamin/mineral. It's still work-in-progress and not a complete analysis yet. 

My intention is not to promote Nutritionism but rather to help people recognize and appreciate the wide diversity of local and seasonal foods that are available in India and that can meet our nutritional requirements without the need for artificial supplements/health drinks.

Going through each and every post might be time-consuming. So in order to make our lives easier, I plan to make a master compilation that you can print it out and pin it up on your fridge. Whenever you write down your weekly/monthly grocery list, my wish is that you refer to these printables and plan your meals. 

Instead of asking "I want a diet chart for weight loss/PCOD/thyroid etc", let's take the effort to understand the key principles and plan our meals ourselves. It is more fun and empowering this way than to blindly follow a diet chart prepared/followed by a random stranger on social media.

The first printable I'm sharing is on the foods rich in key minerals - calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, zinc and selenium. There will be more printables I will be sharing in a similar format for vitamins and macro-nutrients as well.

Compilation of plant-based sources of minerals

Right Click on the image and click "Save Image as".

Let me know if you find this printable helpful in your meal planning.

Jul 6, 2020

How I brought down my Youtube subscriptions from 148 to 28?


"Mindful content consumption" or "Dejunk your mind" - pick a name for this exercise. I'm planning to share my journey on how I'm moving away from content overload to conscious content consumption. My first post in this series was on Instagram usage. Check it out if you haven't.

In this post, I plan to talk about Youtube content consumption.

Though Youtube has been around for a while, the content creation in India started to explode sometime around 2017. More content creators started to use this platform and create content frequently on a wide range of topics. 

I have been subscribing to many cooking channels, people who post interesting vlogs, cleaning and organizing videos, product management related content, productivity, time management, and much more. When I tried to curb my Instagram consumption last year by bringing it down to 30 min per day, all I was doing was switching over to Youtube for mindless scrolling and content consumption that captured my attention at that very point in time. There have been days when my Youtube watch time was nearly 3 hours 😞 I would end up watching so many recipes but would have tried only a few. When I questioned myself on my behavior, it wasn't fear of missing out (FOMO). Rather, it was the thirst towards learning and gathering new information on topics I'm most interested in. Also, whenever I would complete a task, I would end up relaxing for 10-15 minutes with my phone, consuming more content from Youtube. I felt like I deserved it and that it was my me-time.

Off late, my perspective towards me-time has shifted and I want to become more conscious about the information I feed my mind. Here's the step-by-step process of how I cleaned up my Youtube channel subscriptions.

1) I need to first become aware of the number of channels I'm subscribed to. Awareness is the key to making any change in our lives. As on 1st July 7:30PM, I was shocked to note that I had subscribed to 148 channels. I didn't expect this high number.

2) I had set myself a target that I would bring it down to 50 channels. I also announced it as an Instagram story to keep myself accountable.

3)The very same night, I sat down for 30 minutes and started unsubscribing to many channels using the following criteria:
  • Channels from which I haven't viewed content in the past one month
  • Channels that no longer upload any videos
  • Channels on topics that I no longer invest any effort in - there were a few channels that I had subscribed related to B2B sales, selling, sales enablement etc when I used to work with Mindtickle back in 2014-15.
Coming to the second criteria, as I was scrolling through the list, I came across this channel "geetradhu". I used to be a big fan of mama and mami a few years back. Such fun and candid conversations. But for the past year, they haven't uploaded any videos and as a subscriber, I had no idea that no new content was being posted. Our attention is being hijacked by the new and shiny.  On Instagram, if I remember someone not posting for a while, I might DM him/her to check if everything is okay. Let me admit, this happens extremely rarely. Whenever I take a break, I do hear from 5-6 people who would care to check if I'm doing okay. This is mainly due to our own efforts. The platforms don't enable such options.

Does any platform provide a way to connect with people who are no longer uploading/posting content? "Hey, you have been following geetradhu but they haven't uploaded in a while. Do you wanna message and check with them?" 

If I were a product manager of a social media platform, I would prioritize this feature. 

I digressed a bit here, but this needed to be highlighted.

After the first pass, I brought the subscriptions down to 72. Yes, around 50% unsubscribed.

4)I took a break for a couple of days and came back to this exercise. The main reason we subscribe to a channel is to ensure we don't miss out on their latest uploads. For videos that can be searched, we can simply use the Search option. For example, recipe videos can be easily searched given the name of the recipe. If we like a particular video, we can Save it. There is no need to be subscribed to a channel for these use cases.


Subscription is a way of inviting new content to our attention.

For the second round of cleanup, I asked myself a simple question, "Do I look forward to this content creator's new videos?" Using this question, I have now brought down my subscriptions to 28. Yes 28. Much less than the target of 50 🙂 So this gives me leeway to subscribe to a few more content creators if I find their content worthy of my attention.


Our attention is such a precious resource. Let's use it wisely. 

I see so many random vloggers who vlog every single detail of their lives. There is quite a bit of drama created in many of the vlogs. TV Serial makers can go on retirement now 😉 The thumbnail image and the title caption is being used extensively to grab our attention. Why invest our time and attention in such unwanted dramas?

Even if I choose to ignore all the drama creators and follow people who post useful content, how much of the content have I actually started practicing in my own life? What's the point of overloading our brains with more information if we are not putting it to use?

If you are spending too much time on Youtube, I hope these pointers will help you become more conscious of your content consumption.
Last but not the least, after you do this cleanup, whenever you are browsing Youtube, make sure you check the Subscription tab ONLY. If we go to "Recommended" section, we are again sucked into the world of content overload.  

Jul 3, 2020

The conversation

Last night, I couldn't sleep and was tossing and turning quite a bit. Then a conversation started happening in me that brought a lot of clarity.

Let's call the two characters - Logical Anu (LA) and Dreamer Anu (DA)

DA: I'm not able to sleep. And I know the reason. I've been hosting these workshops in the past few weeks but there are hardly any signups. Today, I announced the workshop for Saturday and there's only one confirmed registration so far. 
LA: Didn't you say it's for parents with children below 5 years age? How is it possible for them to sit through a 2-hour workshop?
DA: That's true....I was hoping that the mother and father can take turns and listen to the workshop, take notes and then have a fruitful interaction on how they can implement some of the ideas being shared.
LA: Hmm, that's possible but chances of it happening are farfetched. Child Nutrition is still the sole responsibility of the mother in our society. What other reasons do you think?
DA: Maybe, people have other commitments at the same time
LA: Yes, many online workshops are happening on Saturdays, people might have signed up for them.
DA: Also, there's a possibility that people might think Rs.500 for a 2-hour workshop is steep
LA: You have put in so much effort in researching, exploring and compiling the content for the workshop. If you offer it for free, people won't value it. I don't believe Rs.500 is steep in today's standards
DA: People might also think "She has been sharing her content for free through her blog and Instagram. Why pay for a workshop?"
LA: Yes, that's a valid point. But the blog content is based on individual ideas. You have tied them together in a proper structure for the workshop, along with personal experiences and anecdotes. That's what makes it valuable.
DA: True, I'm confident in the content I have prepared.
LA: What about marketing? What are the channels have you explored?
DA: I just posted on Instagram stories and updated my blog.
LA: Duh, Have you forgotten all you learned about marketing in your MBA programme? You will have to identify your target audience, figure out the online spaces where they frequent (groups, social media) and promote your workshop aggressively. 
DA: Hold on, I'm not looking for a large crowd. If I can empower at least 10 parents with the information I share, I'm more than happy. 
LA: How about influencers on Instagram? Did you reach out to any of them?
DA: No, I find the whole process so artificial. If anyone believes what I'm offering can make a difference in someone's lives, they would be motivated to share it themselves. Sucking up to influencers is definitely not my cup of tea. I have seen how an individual who used to say nasty things about an influencer then goes onto commenting nice things on every single post of that influencer, just because she wants to promote her business. I don't want to label her as a hypocrite because that's how the system is designed to be. 
LA: You are one adamant girl with respect to your principles. Maybe, you should put up videos of D more often. And for God's sake, why D? Why not reveal her real name? 
DA: hahaha....D is my daughter but that doesn't give me the right to invade her privacy. She might be too young to understand privacy but I don't want to use her. I see so many parents sharing videos of their kids, just before announcing their workshop on parenting. Why are these so-called influencers painting such a rosy picture of their lives? Why aren't they also showing reality? 
LA: Again, it is your personal value system coming to play here. It is your choice not to show a video of your daughter in a public forum, as much as it is their choice to show videos of their kids.
DA: Moreover, how is it going to help a young mother when she sees my daughter eating a bowl of veggies? If her child doesn't eat vegetables, it will only make her feel uncomfortable. I'd rather share the process I experienced and learned that has helped me in making my daughter eat her vegetables.
LA: That's a good perspective. Maybe, you should make your posts sound extremely aspirational. People will then feel more curious. Why not share raw vegan ideas or similar such higher goals? Why post a picture of kesari and bajji?
DA: I want people to know the reality, lady.....this is what I eat. People should be able to relate to me easily. This will motivate them to implement the ideas I share. We can aim to climb to step 10 of the ladder, only if we climb steps 1 to 9. Just standing at step 1 and looking at people in step 10 wouldn't help. 
LA: Phew....I ran out of my logical questions now. What do you plan to do?
DA: I enjoy conducting these workshops. I'm in a total state of "flow" during those 2 hours where I get to talk about the topic I'm most passionate about. I wish I had this information handed to me in a platter when D was a baby. I want young mothers to feel empowered. So even if it is just one registration, I'm going ahead with it. I don't treat this as a business but my CALLING. I'm answering this calling in multiple ways, one of them being these workshops. While I do my duty, the universe will take care of bringing the people. 

Jul 1, 2020

Mindful Content Consumption on Instagram

 
Most of us have become more conscious about what we put in our mouths. We have now reached a stage where we need to become more conscious about what we put in our minds as well.

Similar to junk for the body, there is junk for our minds too. Yes, I'm talking about the various forms of content we consume. It is even worse, you know how? Even if you can gobble up a party pack of Lays chips in one go, our stomach would eventually push the Stop button and say, "Enough, I can't take it anymore". But with content, we can keep consuming so much in a single day. Our appetite for new content can never be satisfied unless we end up with eye irritation or headache late in the evening.

I love reading and I consume content in all forms - books, videos, articles, blogs, news etc. I used to be active on all social media platforms. I used to "Pocket" so many links, just so that I can read them at a later point of time. I used to open so many tabs in my browser. Many times I would hit a half-century of open tabs. My laptop would slow down but I wouldn't.

Last year, after reading Cal Newport's Digital Minimalism, I consciously started taking note of my content sources and consumption patterns. I had implemented a few changes then, which are still going strong. I completely stopped using Facebook and Twitter. I was sharing my content on nutrition and packaged foods but I hardly got much engagement. I could no longer resonate with the content I was consuming. After a point, I just lost interest in these platforms.

I also realized that I was spending more time on Instagram. So I came up with a 30-min time slot per day when I would install the app, post/comment/reply to DMs and then uninstall the app. This was working fine to some extent but the number of DMs and comments started to increase and it was hard to keep up with them in the 30-min slot. Moreover, I couldn't really engage with the posts of people whom I follow.

That's when a major realization happened. I "follow" someone because I find something of value from their posts. 

"Value" could be ideas (recipes, cooking tips) or inspirations (parenting, life hacks, productivity, personal experiences). 

The habit of randomly consuming content or bookmarking relevant posts seemed counter-productive until and unless I make the recipes or try out the insights I learned. 

Around that time, I was following around 150 people. I decided to set a "following" target to 100 and the decision to follow/unfollow happened with the help of these three questions:

Do I enjoy the content shared by this person?
Is the content from this person something I can practice in my life right away?
Do I feel overwhelmed or anxious when I see their content?

I was able to bring down the following count to 100 and was sustaining this number for quite some time. I used to have FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) in my 20s but no longer in my 30s.

Then COVID happened and my content consumption went haywire in March. I went back to my twitter and Linkedin feeds, which only added to more anxiety. After a few days of panic and confusion, better sense prevailed. For most of April, I stopped using all social media platforms. From May, I starting using Instagram again, and even with the limited following count, there was just too much information for me to absorb. Pruning happened yet again and I have brought down my following count to 60, using the same three questions.

If you feel overwhelmed or disturbed after using social media, take a break for a few days. When you come back, make sure you go through the list of people whom you follow. If someone's content(including mine) makes you feel anxious or disturbed, mute them or unfollow them. Decide the technique based on what works for you. I personally don't like to mute as it gives a false perception. Moreover, I want to engage with the content of people who I follow. 

"Wait a minute. You have only spoken about consumption. What about connections and friendships we form on social media?", I hear your question.

There are 3 Cs that we try to accomplish by spending time on social media - Creation, Consumption and Connection.  The main objective of this article is to be mindful of the 2nd C - Consumption.

Regarding the 3rd C, I asked myself - How are Connections formed on social media? 
It again goes back to discovery through value. I find something valuable and interesting in a post. I start following the person. As I explore their previous posts, I start noticing synergies in our thought process/ideologies/beliefs. I connect with the person more through his/her posts, we DM each other and we form a bond of friendship. This whole process takes time and doesn't happen overnight. For someone like me, I prefer to have this circle of friendship quite small. It is just not feasible for me to build a large network of "friends" on social media. Friendship needs time commitment from both parties involved. 

In this post, I have shared how I'm mindfully consuming content on Instagram. In the subsequent posts, I'll talk about newsletters, emails, Youtube channels, WhatsApp groups etc.

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