Keep track of accomplishments

“The palest ink is better than the best memory.” — Chinese proverb

This pithy maxim is very true, especially in corporate environments. It always makes sense to keep a running track of your work, especially milestones and achievements. Situations when this is the most useful:

1. When preparing weekly project status reports.

2. Getting ready for the annual performance reviews, so that you do not have to spend hours trying to recall everything that you did in the last year or going through every email communication from the past year. The list can also help in filling up gaps in the manager’s list of your work during such reviews.

3. When updating your resume from time-to-time so that you do not miss a mention of your smallest yet critical and impactful contributions.

4. When you want to perform a status check on your career from time to time (daily, weekly, monthly, semi-annually, annually). This list can provide insightful evidence and answer questions such as “where do I spend the most of my time”, “are my achievements in the right direction”, “is this where I want my career to go” and so on.

If you are managing other people, this list extends into keeping track of their work as well. Anyone who works for you will be pleasantly surprised if during performance review, you point out a small but important contribution that he or she did not think about. I have found that this habit makes the whole review process much faster, easier and more accurate.

It is a good habit to cultivate, both for the manager and the managed.

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Negativity bias

Our brain reacts more strongly to bad news versus a comparable good one. The pain of a $1000 loss is more than the pleasure of making a $1000 profit. A bad review on your speech delivers far greater impact compared to many good reviews.

I found that this behavior has a name, “negativity bias”. This research concludes that the same bad-news bias is at work in every sphere of our lives at all times. For example, it says that as long as there was five times as much positive feeling and interaction between husband and wife as there was negative, the marriage was likely to be stable over time.

Similarly, in other spheres of our life, it is the frequency of small positive acts that matters most, in a ratio of about five to one. Occasional big positive experiences such as a birthday bash are nice but they don’t make the necessary impact on our brain to override the tilt to negativity. It takes frequent small positive experiences to tip the scales toward happiness.

Assumptions and relationships

“Assumptions are the termites of relationships.” — Henry Winkler

The following assumptions can become a disaster in any kind of relationship:

1. The other person always knows his/her role in the relationship: Usually the cause of problems at workplace between colleagues and in marital relationships.

2. Assume a certain kind of character based on only a couple of circumstantial incidents. While it is true that the first couple of meetings is when judgements are usually made about each other, it is not wise to make those the only basis for assuming a certain kind of behavior or character of the person. A true character of a person usually gets revealed under difficult circumstances such as with responsibility or under stress.

3. The relationship will automatically be in full bloom right from the start. These kind of assumptions are usually the cause in the relationship between in-laws and the new bride or groom, at least in traditional Indian families. Everyone involved should understand that the relationship takes time to develop.

The alternative is to constantly and consciously communicate with each other and build upon past experiences instead of assuming how the other person will react in a given situation. One should never make assumptions about how someone else is feeling or thinking in any relationship.

Give up TV

I had been thinking about giving up television since a long time. Many people have spoken about the ill-effects at places such as here, here and comments here. But I really decided to go for it when I realized that when I am gone from this world, people who know me will remember me for my actions and for my knowledge, and not for how many reality shows I watched. Moreover, with time, my life will continue to grow complex. So it is better that I develop good time-saving habits early on.

Similar to what Steve mentions, I asked myself: if I do not watch TV, what else would I do during that time, for my health, relationships, family, work, education, etc? I also wondered why do I watch TV in the first place? Is it simply a habit? Why does watching my favorite shows (some reruns) extend into switching channels or continue watching even after the shows are over?

I realized I watched TV in the first place because I had not scheduled that time for anything else. So I reserved time for activities (social, physical, educational) to take care of that. It was definitely much more productive use of my time than watching reality shows or the reruns of Seinfeld.

Sure, TV does have good programs on Discovery channel, PBS etc. But then, once the “switching of channels” kicked in, it was difficult for me to stop. It was too much reliance on self-discipline to watch only a given show and then switch off. As for watching sports, I thought it was better for me to visit a friend for a selected few games rather than watching every game that the channels dished out.

Before giving up TV, I also feared about withdrawal symptoms. So instead of throwing away the “idiot box”, I reduced slowly, taking it down one notch at a time. But eventually, I gave it up almost completely (DVD rentals are still fine, though). And surprisingly, I do not miss it much.

I realized the following changes by watching less (or almost no) television:

— Reducing TV made me want to enjoy other forms of entertainment. I planned more outings. I started going more frequently for running or evening walks.

— I started becoming more social. I called up friends more often, attended more of social events and professional club gatherings. My wife and I started spending more time together.

— Having dinner without TV turned on in the background (or in front of us) made me focus on what I was eating, how much I was eating and on having valuable discussions with my wife.

— When I watched TV while visiting friends, I realized that those broadcast shows are not as funny as they seemed to me earlier. They are just “okay” entertainment.

— After about 10-days of this experiment, whenever I turned on TV at my home, I sensed a certain level of guilt in me. I felt I was wasting my time. Also my wife did not like the “noise” it created.

— I found myself thinking more about the world around me: my career, family life, social circle. I became more involved with my own reality show.

Overall, I am happy to give up TV completely. I believe that in the long run, this newly acquired habit (or rather getting rid of a habit) will provide higher productivity, better relationships and greater energy levels.

What’s in a name?

At a presentation I recently attended, one of the presenters was explaining the work of his colleague. He frequently referred to the other person by everything but his name. Examples: “So what this guy has done is yada yada yada.”, “He has taken this and this and combined into that”. By the end of the presentation, the audience did not even know the name of this person he was referring to; and the poor guy was standing right besides him all the time.

Lesson: Always remember that everyone has a name. When talking about others, refer to them by name rather than saying “he” or “she” or “this guy”, at least when the person is present during the conversation. It offers dignity to the person and makes him/her feel important and above all, a human being.

Character

Recently came across a quote from Goethe: “Men show their characters in nothing more clearly than in what they think laughable.”

This is very true in various contexts. I have seen some people talk mostly about other people and laugh at petty things such as “did you see how Emma was talking at the party?” or “did you know that John goes to graduate school at age 40..how funny!” Or people who wish for and laugh at the misery of others. All of us have seen such people, at least in movies if not in real life. What do we think about their character? Do we like them for what they are? Do we want to be like them?

Will keep this excellent quote in mind as one of the basic dimensions to have a first guess at someone’s true character.