Prioritize health, time for yourself – lessons from a 94 year old

Observations on living well, dying without regrets from a 94 year old.
Last week, my 75 year old father met his cousin J after 20+ years and asked him for lessons on living life well. He shared his insights and regrets with him. 
the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few…
– Spock 
or one.
Captain Kirk
We have been taught to prioritize our needs below the needs of our family or colleagues. Usually, individuals cannot find the right balance and outweigh their own needs over the others. 
Recharge yourself
You must’ve have skipped a walk through the neighborhood, time at the gym over taking that call with the client. When was the last time, you said no to a customer call because you had an appointment with yourself at the gym? Likely never!
His advice – find the right balance, prioritize your health, give time to yourself. Recharge yourself so that you can help others better. 

A marriage needs effort even if you are 70 – lessons from a 94 year old

Observations on living well, dying without regrets from a 94 year old.
Last week, my 75 year old father met his cousin J after 20+ years and asked him for lessons on living life well. He shared his insights and regrets with him. 
My wife died 25 years ago and I wish that in her final years, I had focused on making my relations better… 
– J
J was 69 years old when she passed away and he had a life time with his wife, Yet, for J, it is still 25 years from her death. His relationship with his wife wasn’t bad. But, he wishes that he had put in more effort in making his wife’s final years joyful. Their egos got in their way.
For most humans, life is long. It is unfair that they have to carry the burden of regrets through a massive chunk of time.
This insight is poignant.
One has to continue working on ones relationship with their significant other. Drop your ego and focus on making their lives joyful so that you have happy memories to look back to and not regrets. The lesson applies to other individuals in the family too.
You don’t want to pass on with the the thought “If only I had treated them better”.


Improve productivity by creating Checklists for repeatable tasks


I had a smug look on my face, I had added a contractor to our confluence site and it had taken me about 5 minutes to do so. Checked and done!

Two days back, I had taken about 30 minutes to accomplish the same task. This, despite the fact that I had done this earlier and it had taken me the same amount of time. Thus, I had no improvements over the first time. The frustrating bit was that I was looking at the same set of documentations, googling, looking up links within confluence. Terrible!

What changed between 2 days back and today?

One word – checklist.

I had come across the productivity tip that if you think a task is repeatable – create a checklist out of it. I do this occasionally but I have a “magical threshold” where if the task is small – I don’t create a checklist. Obviously, creating a checklist for creating a user was too small for me the first time around. To be clear, adding a user – required me to connect two systems (google, confluence), add people in the right group and in the right order. So it was a bit more involved.

The second time around, I added a checklist as soon as I finished the work.


Finding mentors – 6 tips to a younger me

Life as an entrepreneur is exciting because it throws new challenges your way. In the last week, a new challenge popped up on my radar that requires stretching way outside my comfort zone. Handling this challenge requires velvet gloves.

Though, the interwebs have an article for every situation, they fell short in a complicated situations such as the one I was facing. We needed advice to walk through this challenge –  a veritable grizzled Gandalf to guide our journey through middle earth.

The question in front of us was – where do we find this wizard? And on such a short notice.

Image result for lord of the rings gandalf

Flashback to Harpreet – 20 years ago

Early in my career, I had very few mentors. I was keen about signing some up but with little success. Actually, replace “keen” with “obsessed” – my asian heritage which deeply values experience and “elders” had a big part to play in this obsession.

I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong.

Over the years, I have stumbled and lucked into finding excellent mentors. The set of tips in this blog are what I wish I knew 20 years ago.

1 Formal mentorship programs are a crutch: ignore them

Sun Microsystems (my first company in the US) had a formal mentorship program and paired people up with mentors. I was enamored with the program. I was ecstatic when I signed up my role model but the mentorship never achieved lift-off.

The program was a big dud for me.

In hindsight, the reason that program failed was that a number mentors were “nudged” by their boss’ to mentor people as part of their growth plan. Thus, the relationship was forced to begin with.

Too often, the mentors in bigger companies are looking at these programs to forward their careers. Good mentors are not in it for themselves – they genuinely love helping people.

So get out of the crutch of corporate mentorship programs. If you do have such a program, interview the mentor thoroughly to understand their motivations and sign up with them only if your interests align.

2 A good corpus of work is a necessity: start producing work

If you haven’t put in the work, don’t bother. You need good quality and a reasonable quantity of work to get someone interested in mentoring you. If you don’t have a corpus of work and you are focused on networking –  stop networking and start producing.

3 Be interested in the mentors work: read up on their work

A good overlap of work is not a necessity but helps. It’s like dating someone who has similar interests to you – realizing that the date has put in enough work to understand your likes and dislikes. Understanding the mentors work and common interest creates the foundations for the relationship. Please don’t fake this! (Don’t stalk – this is where the dating analogy falls down here)

4 Imitation is flattery: steal liberally from mentors

You don’t need a formal relationship to learn from someone else.

Pay attention to the mentor: What are they doing well?  What do they read? What are they writing? What exemplary behaviors do they exhibit?

Build a checklist of items that they do well. Build a list of things that they are reading, writing and people they are following.

Once you have these lists, steal the items that make the most sense. Don’t steal or copy their work – make them their own, provide your color. Austin Kleon has written a book called “Steal like an artist” on this core idea – highly recommend reading it.

This realization that I don’t need a formal relationship with my mentor was an aha moment in my career.

I was in the organization of a charismatic leader who was loved by everyone. People stuck around with him through thick and thin. I admired him.

What made him tick?

I observed him in public setting, in meetings, in town-halls and in 1:1 conversations.

I realized that the core principles supporting his leadership were genuine concern for every member in the organization (not just his team), optimism and an unshakeable belief in himself and his team.

I started by copying his optimism, gradually building the muscle for the other items. These principles have really helped me over the years.

His principles became the core principles for my leadership style.

5 Your next mentor is around the corner: pay attention to everyone around you

If you don’t need a formal relation then you can learn from anyone and everyone has something to teach you.

X imbibes new knowledge at lightning speed – how does he do that? Y’s team is always happy – seems like deep 1:1s are a key to her success – steal it.

Pay attention, there is a lot to learn from your colleagues, your family and friends.

6 Pay it forward: You are a Gandalf to someone

For every mentor that you need help from, there is an individual that you can help out.

Be always open – return the phone call and listen. If you cannot help this person, find someone who can help them. 

So that’s it those are the tips that have really helped me.

Back to present day: did I find my Gandalf?

In the span of 48 hours, I had called 4 stalwarts in my industry. Each jumped on a call, we ended up with a framework for a solution to the problem and we are executing on the approach.

I didn’t find one Gandalf but have multiple wizards from multiple realms that I can lean on.

Truly blessed.

More calendars to simplify life

An unintended consequence of scheduling tasks on my calendar was that my calendar turned blue (the color of my calendar) – almost every hour of my day was blocked because I had scheduled a result in which included break time.

There was an additional cognitive load of determining what drops off when a new task comes in. It was hard to separate actual work meetings, personal work items, recurring tasks like “end of day wrap up”.

Not to mention that this should have been unfortunate for my colleague who now sees my entire calendar is blue.

I experimented with running a personal calendar on google calendar and separate from my work calendar. This was inefficient because I had to shift between two logins.

The solution was to simple create additional calendars on my work calendar, give them different colors. It was extremely easy to visually separate them – I can toggle them on and off to see which blocks are tradeable. My work colleague only sees my regular calendar and isn’t exposed to personal or recurring tasks that I don’t want to share.

I created 4 calendars

    • Harpreet – Meetings (blue) – track meetings with folks – shared with others
    • Harpreet- Recurring Work (magenta) – to track daily/weekly recurring work without messing up my meetings calendar
    • Harpreet – Work blocks (red) – block time for working. The picture below is from next week and I haven’t slotted the times yet.
    • Harpreet – personal (green) – block time for personal project


Tasks in calendar to get them done

I have always struggled with my calendar. It’s a monster that I have wrestled and lost.

The challenge was always too many meetings – not enough time. At my last job, I had an admin who managed my calendar but I still drowned in meetings.

I always thought that I will steal some minutes in the day to go do these tasks. You know that meeting from your CEO, your team member – you got to take it! If I didn’t get it done, I will throw a weekend to catch up and catch up I did.

To hell with work life balance!

The real issue is that things just don’t get done with a full calendar and you miss out on  the “Aha” of satisfaction at the end of the day. No job well done for you – back to work peasant!

To that point, I recently had an epiphany that my task list was not married to my calendar. Thus, I needed to go fix that egregious habit and actually schedule the results I want into my calendar. I believe it is a best practice!

I now pick the top 3 results for the day/week and explicitly block the hours to go do it. Its working wonders – less stress, more done and I get weekends back.

The peasant is now getting weekends back. Yay!

Startup life – bite size working

Working in an early stage startup is invigorating because of the diversity of challenges that one tackles through the day. The number of challenges and never ending task list that come along can be potentially overwhelming and unlike a bigger company there aren’t enough hands on the deck to throw the work to.

I now force myself to take smaller bites than what I was accustomed to. Putting less on my plate than I normally did enables me to have those smaller bites.

I think of work as a buffet wherein I can go back for seconds at any point in time or skip through to the desserts. However, if I fill my plate up to begin with, it is likely that I am going to miss the dessert.

I adopted this method in the last month or so. Work became so much more fun – once I got past the mental block of “I am not doing nearly enough”. The main reason of greater enjoyment is that I got results faster and each of the results comes along with a dopamine hit of accomplishment (huffington post on dopamine).


Manage focus with Pomodoro Technique

I have long believed and now I know that is backed by research that multi-tasking doesn’t quite work. When you switch context to check that beep from your phone, it takes your brain about 15–20 minutes to come back into the flow state. A surprising research in the last month showed that a phone kept upside down on your desk has a detrimental impact on your productivity.

That said, it is extremely hard to manage your focus when you are sitting in an open office space, with the web right in front of you, emails shouting for attention and time and again I find that I am lost.

I use the Pomodoro technique to manage my focus when I find that I am off the beaten track. I was surprised to hear that a colleague hadn’t heard about the technique. So here goes…

The name Pomodoro, is based on kitchen timers in Italy. The timers looked like tomatos and you twist them to start a 25 minute block.

The technique itself is very easy. Whenever, you want to focus, you start the timer and focus on 1 task for 25 minutes. Once you reach the 25 minutes time frame, take a 5 minute break and start again. Run through four pomodoro’s and take a 10 minute break.

To be candid, I have never been able to run through 4 pomodoro’s back-to-back but getting to 2–3 improves productivity significantly.

Another iteration on the technique is that your daily plan should include a certain number of pomodoro’s that work for you. For example an 8–10 pomodoro day would be an extremely productive day. In this case, you drop your checklists, find slots to make progress and get through items in those focus blocks.

From a tooling perspective, timer on your phone works easily. There are a number of Chrome extensions that keep track of your pomodoro on the web.

The four surprising things about a Santorini sunset

So you made it to Santorini.

You flew half-way around the world, changed flights in Athens and were surprised that there was such a huge plane could land in a decidedly small island with a minuscule of an airport.

Hired a car and drove into Oia — the village to be in, for a beautiful sunset in Santorini.

You find that the famed Santorini sunset is visible best from the top of the ruins. Aren’t you glad that you booked your hotel right opposite the ruin so when the sunset comes around, you can quickly walk up to the ruins. Then you decide to explore the village because the sunset is 4 hours away.

You start walking back about 90 minutes before the sunset and notice that tourists (including yourself) are making bee-line like ants towards the ruins and suddenly you are stopped a good 5-10 minutes away from the ruins because the ruins are full.

Surprise 1: Byzantine Ruins can get full!

Ruins are full – what do you mean? That’s crazy talk and we are 90 minutes away from the sunset.

You pull out the “I stay in the hill across the ruins” and get walking towards the ruins area. That’s where the craziness hits you. This is why tourists are here – Sunset in Santorini!! Every square inch of land is taken over by tourists.

You enjoy the sunset from your hotel.

Surprise 2: Fights break out to enjoy the sunset

The next evening, you find a spot way below the ruin that isn’t visible to people who don’t stay in your hotel — good choice with the hotel again! Only to bump into a National Geographic photographer who isn’t too happy that you are there. You strike a friendship and then you hear him say that, last evening, he was at the ruins three hours before the sunset and still was booted out by some boorish Chinese tourists just before the sunset.

Surprise 3: Brides everywhere near the hotels in Oia

So you stand at the hill overlooking the hotel. The sun is decidedly not going to show up from behind the clouds and so you start looking for interesting subjects.

Are those asians…women in bridal trousseau?

Yes they are! Holding up a veil with a camera man and a few other helpers helping click the perfect picture. The groom meanwhile is resignedly enjoying his beer.


Surprise 4: Chinese brides are at every good sunset point

Santorini Santorini
The next evening it gets better. As you head towards the “Three bells of Oia” for a sunset picture. You see not one or two but three entourages of Chinese (I asked) getting their pictures clicked. Brides walking around with their trousseau. Every moment scripted by the photographer.


They completely missed the sunset because they were busy clicking pictures for posterity and were missing from the present moment. Santorini

Perhaps the only unsurprising part was that the moment, the sun set, everyone of them turned around got in the car and got the hell out of the place.

A sad commentary on the nouveau riche tourist traveling around the world to sample the best but displaying a behavior that demonstrates neither respect (fight for a picture) nor the desire to truly enjoy the place that they are visiting — it’s all about a Facebook post.


For the record, here is what they missed post sunset. Santorini

The sunset itself — gorgeous if it shows up!

(this post is re-printed from