Friday, May 25, 2007

GTD: Initial fever to walk through

GTD (Getting Things Done) is a very useful tool and principle for getting your work done right, and in time. Based on Robert Allen's formulation of the technique, a lot of people have embraced and modified the technique to their convenience. (GTD on Amazon)
GTD is the process of putting down every thought, plan or event in a neat organizing system, allowing you to focus on the creative process rather than worry about memorizing deadlines and to-do lists. GTD's power goes beyond usual time management systems and lies in the categorizing of plans/projects which is quite intuitive and surprisingly simple.

Dr. Allen notes in the book that the initial phase of adopting the technique is challenging and like the pains of breaking out of laziness, it can be tough to form GTD as a habit.
I have been able to implement some components of the system, and although I thought first up that this was really something for executives-on-the-go, its been quite helpful in matching up my plans with everyday activities. My biggest hurdle now is the sheer number of things that I have lazed upon all this while, and which are now turning up in my GTD system. Those few long-term plans and ideas which I once thought off while sitting at the beach, now stare back at me in my list. Believe me, its a bit overwhelming having those missed to-do items on paper, with new creative thoughts presently hatched by this system..... much like a fever that happens when you start antibiotics...
In my mind, this is the greater problem people face during the first phase of using GTD and most definitely the problem does not lie in the system, it lies in the person quite a guilt feeling, but better have known than been ignorant!

There are several ways to implement GTD, but the obvious place to start is David Allen's book - Getting things done. It doesn't just feature the principles behind the system but has several chapters that actually walk you through building a system for yourself. At the least, it provides some useful tips to organize your projects.
Here are a few GTD links to start you out:
1. 43 folders - Merlin Mann's blog
2. Wiki on GTD
3. Hipster PDA - this is what I use :-)
4. Make your own Hipster PDA

Thursday, May 24, 2007

MIT Opencourseware for exam prep

MIT (and several other universities) have put most of their courses online. The Sloan School's opencourseware is very helpful while preparing for exams and solving homework. Pre-exam days are too short and there is hardly any patience to study from the textbook (not to mention a typical 9 hour workday) and anything as concise is just invaluable.

These courses provide slideshows of class notes with excellent explanations of the fundamentals. Although not so indepth as to score an A+, but good enough to recollect everything covered in past weeks of class time.

Check out their courses here.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Thoughts on class ettiquette

We all spend atleast 20 years in our education (every generation faces an extra course of education..wonder how long our children will study). It is surprising how after so much class time some of us have some silly behaviors in class. Although each program has been more "mature" for me, I still get to see some funny/annoying things students do. The following is my list of suggestions for students, to make class a good experience for yourself and for everyone.

1. Don't show off!
Everyone is as smart as you are (we all scored almost the same on the GMAT) and although it is your right to voice your imaginative interpretation of Labor-Capital curves, all you would do is waste class-time.
Most importantly don't try to make it obvious that you read the book. Reading the relevant chapters before class is usually an excused prerequisite and most students only take a glimpse of what's coming. Now that definitely doesn't mean you are smart, so if you now what is being taught, just sit quite.

2. Expect clear answers
There is always more than one way to explain a concept. So if you don't understand the answer to your question, let the professor know. Other students are also looking for the answers to your question, so make sure the professor drills it right into your head.

3. Keep class time in mind when asking off-topic questions
It's common for you to be concerned about an issue off-topic relevant to the class. For example in a Financial statements class: "Does this work similar to the debit and credit cards that we use for our bills?" is a reasonable one. Most of the time such questions do not help anyone but you, so make sure you don't pull this "off-session" too long. 10 minute breaks are designed for exactly this purpose.

4. Raise hands rather than interrupt
Everyone has their own preference on this, but with some teaching experience myself, I strongly favor the raise-hand-ask-question method. It allows the teacher to finish what he/she is saying without being startled into a question (We all need a breather).

5. Don't type in class!

A lot of students bring in laptops to class nowadays...some type notes sincerely, others browse myspace and facebook. Although what you do in class is completely your problem, the most irritating/distracting issue with laptops is the typing sound. Laptops are best used for saving on piles of paper prints and to google for extra information online. So how about some cheap ruled double-punched sheets from Walmart.
Now, if you decide to check craigslist and ebay in class, try sitting in the last row!

6. Don't get food that smells (and looks) good
There have been days when I have survived on ramen, and someone would bring a nicely grilled egg salad sandwich (mouthwatering!) to eat during lecture. I (and I am sure others) immediately lose 15 minutes of presence. Try coffee next time...that is quite redundant

Enjoy class!

Monday, May 21, 2007

Thoughts on good team management

I have always been intrigued by leaders and the qualities that define them. The ability to channelize people in a proposed direction without causing a single ounce of ego reaction is beyond other talents.

Human resource in my view is invaluable and its never surprising how much you can achieve with an intelligent and motivated team. Most managers don't become good leaders simply because they view employees as liabilities (dispensable slaves if you will). Over my seemingly short experience working with people, I have learned a few elements of leadership that help build a team where everyone lives like family. Some of these elements I have tried myself and seen them work great, the rest are things that I will put to work soon.

1. Test your leadership skills through nonprofit organizations:
In non-profits, every person working with you works for personal satisfaction and self-development. There is no contract under which you pay them for their services. This means that if you offend anyone, they would simply not come back to help you again (this doesn't happen too often with companies working for profit). Put simply, you will understand where i draw the line bet wen being a boss and being a colleague. So if you need to learn the art of managing people, while being able to inspire them and be respected, a non-profit organization is the best place to get trained.

2. Pay your employees a bit above the median salary:
I understand this is controversial and it is profitable to run a business with little cost of labor. However it is extremely harmful for the company climate in the long run. You might as well estimate cost of running your business with the median salaries BEFORE recruiting personnel. Another benefit on this is that they wont ask you for a raise next year (atleast not a huge raise without which they would choose to leave). They would also work for you longer, since elsewhere they might get paid less for the same kind of position.

3. Provide opportunities for your team members to learn:
For every project underway, keep one less-experienced smart person on the team. The smart guy wants to learn and will work hard to contribute to the team. Not to mention he/she might provide some out-of-the-box ideas (we always wonder how children can have ideas that we cannot think of)

4. Convey exactly what responsibilities a person should take up to grow professionally:
It is obvious that your team works for a good pay and good work conditions and they deserve to know exactly where their talent is more valued.

5. Recruit interns for starter jobs. Interns are always motivated and raw talent (therefore open-minded). Most jobs that require creative thought at the fundamental level can be best assigned to interning students. Apart from the fact that they will work hard and learn new skills, you get the benefit of perfectly matching them to the company's team. If the intern decides to leave though, you will atleast get unbiased feedback of your work environment and a positive impression/recommendation of the company in the market.

There are some more things of interest here, but I will defer those to an updated post.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Opportunity cost and the Idiot box

Classes have begun! My first two courses: Managerial Economics and Financial Accounting....good stuff....excellent insights into how microeconomics and financial information shape the performance of a manager....and this is just the 1st week (damn excited about how this is gonna go!)

Anyways, one very important concept that I came across in the economics class was Opportunity Cost.

Consider that you have multiple choices of action, and you decide to pick a certain (probably the best) action for yourself or your company. The opportunity cost is the sum of the costs involved in taking your chosen action (an explicit cost since you know how much your resources will be used) and the cost of dropping all the other choices (an implicit cost that evaluates how much you would have gained from you other choices). Opportunity cost is an important component of understanding the actual economics cost involved in any decision and is a great tool to plan things ahead.

While I was pondering over good examples of its relevance, the one that stood out was 'time spent on the Idiot box'. Most of us watch some kind of TV show that doesn't benefit us in anyway. Soap operas, CSI, Bones are just a few examples of the sheer number of useless shows (think about it...can you really use any information from a CSI case?..they don't even mention any scientific details of their experiments that you could reproduce).

Now if you had several things to do, say reading that blog on personal finance, researching Walmart for your class project or simply playing soccer with your kid, your opportunity cost in letting those go to watch how Kyle (XY) was born, is huge! Each time I watch a TV show now, I actually think about its usefulness to me. Now, watching House or Southpark is definitely good for me.....they are shows that raise my seratonin levels (feel good factor) so they are not a bad deal.
Anyways, the point is not about which shows you should not watch. The point is that at anytime, evaluate the purpose and implications of every task and roughly analyze what opportunity costs lie in doing that task.

Using this concept at a smaller level like everyday stuff might just create an automatic response to major decisions where an analysis of the opportunity costs will benefit you greatly in the long term. This concept is fundamental and I wish I had known this before (I always thought every decision was about accounting profits and costs).

Check out David Allen's 'Getting things done' if you want to learn the approach to choosing the right actions for the movement (he doesn't discuss opportunity cost, but his idea is quite the same)

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Goals for the MBA

I understand this is quite redundant but there always need to be purpose and goals behind anything important you do. So here are the skills that I plan to pick up through my MBA.

1. Tracing the Butterfly effect
To understand how teams, companies, industries and therefore the global economy work...right from micro to mega scale. Quite like understanding the butterfly effect, but believe me it is quite worth it.
If you listen to economists, they always have a theory about how some big events happened due to small things...maybe factually untrue...but most explanations are logical. However, the most important part is how such knowledge can be used to make money. Well, most Street Analysts do the same that hectic lifestyle of trying to interpret every small information and apply it to future profits, you must hand it to them for being so insightful and intelligent. So, that's my first goal. This I should gain from courses in economics, finance, strategy and extensive reading on successful people.

2. Building the Brand
To learn how to market tangible/intangible products to customers and how to maintain an excellent relationship with them. This also extends to strong relations with all stakeholders. Well I don't need to explain that, but you love Starbucks coffee and you will continue to pay for it irrespective of a minimum $3 expense....and that's called marketing!

3. Perfecting strategy
This is my MOST important goal. I would like to gain such in-depth knowledge as to apply it to valuating projects and choosing strategy most optimal to circumstances and goals. OK, put simply, the point here is to know so much as to choose the most delicious recipe from the menu.

So, three big goals for the one big degree. I see it getting modified (and I would like it more specific as I find those niche areas to do well in) but it would be really nice to look back at these in future and see if I got what I expected...and if I went beyond that!

Sunday, March 11, 2007

The Beginning

The first post!

This blog starts with my admission to the Masters in International Business program at Seattle University. Here, I will reflect upon and share my progressive learnings on strategy, management and leadership.

Oh ya! the stuff I put here is not textbook material. There are plenty of excellent books on management and leadership (which I will mention quite often) and the world doesn't need 1 more "unneessary" blog/book.

This blog will reflect on my growth from a foolish student to a master strategist (yes that's where I see myself eventually). I will write on anything in the Business realm that in small or large scale helps to use information and resources to their maximum value and apply it to the betterment of all.....simple goal....complex undertaking....perfectly thrilling! Enjoy my blog!


Please help me improve this blog. I really want to make this a valuable resource and any recommendations would be of great help. Feel free to use the comment field on any of the posts. Thanks!

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