Plans for 2018 and Savings for Vacations

My Goals for 2018 and my Vacations Plan!

This year is coming to an end. With 2018 right around the corner and 2017 ending on a positive note, I have developed some major personal and professional plans. Some things I’d like to carry over from 2017 and some I’d like to cultivate in the new year. Some of my plans include taking at least 2 vacations during the year as well. If you know me personally, you’d know that I have been one of those people who NEVER takes a vacation, but I have realized the utility of them when I took three this year. The catch is to completely break away from technology.

Coming back to plans, here are the ones I am actively planning for these days.

Professional Plans: 

  1. Building my personal brand name as a consultant digital transformational and business reengineering consultant. For this, I need to work on my public pages, online image, as well as on my blog. Its quite girly right now, and it needs a professional overhaul. I also need to work on my content as well as my social media presence.
  2. Building on two professional blogs as my Plan B, other than myself as a consultant. These are two secondary business plans that need their separate business presence, online presence, content and marketing. They are my active plan B, as a fall back in terms of money generation.
  3. Working on a couple of certifications/extra study. I have signed up for some courses at CourseEra and want to sign up for a Master’s Degree as well. This is quite tentative as, given my schedule, I can study from home, but having a strict study pattern with external classes is looking quite difficult right now.

Personal Plans: 

  1. Take two major vacations in the new year. I intend to visit my best friends in Singapore and UK, as well as visit Turkey. Now I know I cant squeeze all of that within a single vacation so I want to break it down into two big ones. Also, perhaps a third where a few friends are asking me to come to Dubai.
  2. For that, I am working on building a fund which can help me travel. There are a couple of long-term money goals as well, but for 2018, I have a goal of amassing at least 300k-400k for the purpose of travelling to these countries. I am not much of a shopaholic, but I would like to experience these cities – AKA money needed. Right now, I am working on three projects which is 12-14 hours during most days of the week, but I still need a sound investment plan.
  3. Lose weight. This has been my standard goal since forever! Can’t say more than that on this. If you are a woman, you’ll understand!
  4. Minimalism. This is something I have struggled with and I think a lot of us desis do. I want to be able to specify the minimum requirement for me based on which  I want to live and let go of the rest. This includes physical, mental as well as emotional clutter.

So far this is it. What are your goals for 2018?

Top 5 Things You Should Do As A Project Manager To Make Your Project Successful

Top 5 project management lessons I have learnt over time

No enterprise application implementation is complete without a team. The traditional models of implementation always assign ownership and responsibilities of projects on the Project Manager. With the Agile project methodology, the role of the project manager has whittled into a more angled, sharper role that allows for transparency, visibility and result orientation.

Even if you are working on smaller scale projects and not implementations of larger projects like ERP, these five things if you do as a project manager, can make you wildly successful. These are my top lessons I have learnt as an independent project manager for large-scale implementation projects, but they work just as well for smaller projects like for graphic design and web development:

Have A Baseline Plan Ready

This is the biggest failure I see across all projects across the board, no matter how big or small. When project timelines are not available, nobody has an idea how to proceed forward. A lot of activities fall through the cracks, all work is done as a reaction to a preceding activity or task.

Establish baselines by brainstorming a list of all the activities that are needed for the project.Click To Tweet Determine their start and end dates, and allocate resources, teams or individuals, against these tasks. Then mark these dates as the baselines. Any action against the tasks would have to be marked separately to ensure they can be measured against the baseline.

Track Activity Against Time

In the heat of the moment when the project is progressing, time tracking is usually forgotten. This creates issues when things are not going so well against the overall deadline for the project. It is key to track all activities against the dates and times they have taken. Once you do, you will see the utility of it. You can reach multiple conclusions when activities are being tracked. Whether your work is getting done on time. Whether your team is being productive, and how far are you from reaching your goal, against your set baseline. It serves as a good motivation tool later on as well on tasks done within time. It can also serve as evidence against claims by people on either side of the project.

Keep A Running Task Checklist

This is something I have learnt over several years of keeping a running checklist of tasks. I use a modified version of Kanban for my team when I work on projects. I am simultaneously running four projects right now and planning on adding another one. Along with that, I am running a consultancy company on the side with my co-founder. I cant do this if I do not keep track of tasks and to whom they are assigned. As a project manager, I have to ensure all my tasks are being done. To do that, I keep a checklist of tasks on a page in my diary that I carry to each and every meeting. This page gets crossed out regularly and new tasks keep getting added. If they are assigned to someone, their initials go next to the name, and if they are priority items, they get a star.

Every day, starred items need to be crossed out, and more tasks added. Every meeting or discussion has action items which go in the same notebook. This running tasklist can save lives and projects if you know how to continue to monitor it regularly.

Define Subject Matter Experts Early

Subject matter experts, power users, or members of the team who are the core sponsors of the project with the knowledge of how the end product should function, need to be involved at the onset. I have noticed that during project executions if you do not involve the SME or power user, their lack of ownership, responsibility or simply lack of knowledge that only they could give, can result in delays and rework. While we are at it, project sponsors should be involved early too. Project sponsors are key because they can be an excellent driving force throughout the project, and this can be a great contributor towards success.

Document and Document More

This is perhaps the most oft-forgotten area in any project. Documentation is not just to target and find faults in the end results or milestones.

Documentation is an excellent tool for project management to track all the work that is required, discussions made, points established and more.Click To Tweet User manuals, scripts, test results, meeting notes, requirement documentation, and project plans, all can contribute to steering the project towards a successful closure. A lot of people hate documentation, but when you’re stuck in a tough phase, you’ll realize the importance of documentation yourself.

There are tons of lessons I have learnt as a project manager over time. But these are my top lessons that have literally made some of my projects successful. What are your specific lessons that you have learnt over time? Care to share?

Why Odoo is the obvious choice for mid-sized companies

Odoo Fits Mid-Sized Organizations

ERP Solutions have become a catchall to any organization’s process or data related problems. Even then, a lot of organizations fail to see beyond the three or four ERP options like Microsoft Dynamics, Oracle or SAP. Data or process related needs exist obviously for a mid-sized organization too. Having said that, mid-sized companies feel that ERPs are a high-cost capital investment that is not financially feasible. Solutions like Odoo etc., are usually never considered.

While SAAS or software as a service is a model that is now prevalent on a larger scale for several applications, ERP is always considered as a capital investment with an in-house team and infrastructure.

Afterall, the concept of ERP was made popular when the likes of SAP and Oracle came into being. We always think of large infrastructure requirements, rooms filled with a large team of consultants, and tons of paperwork and user manuals to go through. Difficult applications that require hours and days of training, and specialized resources who know how to run these applications.

With technological improvements, the notion of such applications has changed. Even enterprise applications like ERPs and CRMs have now converted into SAAS models.

OpenERP or Odoo has taken it a little beyond, by converting the application to a SAAS and PAAS model. Odoo is a Belgian company that started with the idea of open-source ERP solution for organizations. Their core application is available for download immediately, called the community version. The enterprise version is available as a SAAS model and several partners are available to modify and implement Odoo in organizations.

Why would Odoo suit your mid-sized organization?

Odoo is based on SAAS model. That immediately makes it lower cost than the customary on-premise ERP options like SAP and Oracle. On the other hand, all of the on-premises ERP options are also now available on the cloud making them a good viable contender for mid-sized organizations.

But what makes Odoo stand out more is the open-source nature of the application. If an organization wants to deploy Odoo on their own, and have a python developer, there are no bounds to the customization or configuration within the application.

Beyond that, the application is available in a modular approach similar to how you would use your cell phone. Only enable the apps that you really need. Once your users are savvy on these apps, you can move ahead with enabling more apps. Further to that, there is a marketplace of apps that you can use to augment your ERP Implementation as well.

This makes the application cost-savvy, financially viable, and easy to implement in a piece-meal fashion. For a lot of standard or customary problems that users face, the marketplace is full of add-on apps that make using Odoo easy to use as well.

The costing structure for Odoo is based on the number and types of apps you intend to use. This also makes the costing easier to absorb in operational expenses rather than justifying large capital expenses where project implementation failures can be profound.

If you are an SME looking for more details on Odoo and its implementation, feel free to get in touch with me on talktome@noorjehanarif.com

 

 

ERP and Digital Transformation Trend Predictions for 2018

ERP-and-Digital-Transformation-Trend-Predictions-in-2018 (1)

The past few years in technology have undergone significant disruption and digital transformation. Organizations have seen a transition from heavy infrastructural investments and large-scale, resource-intensive implementation exercises to lower cost, operational investments. This not only make technology adoption financially viable but also quicker in terms of implementation and roll out. Digital transformation hence is now even more inclusive of all types and sizes of organizations.

Here are some trends for ERP and Digital transformation that I feel will prevail in 2018:

I talked about cloud intervention and cloud to be the top contender in applications and their implementation. This year has seen such a transition from on-premise enterprise applications to SAAS models for these applications. This fantastic trend will continue to grow as we move into the next year.

2018 will see more platforms and software solutions that will transition into cloud, providing services as well as accessibility to several businesses. Costs become prohibitive when infrastructural requirements are tremendous, and cost heavy. Other advantages with PAAS and SAAS include the turnaround time. Hence, the possibility of success and return on investment have a higher probability.

Taking into account the current trends in the Internet of Things, and combining that with enterprise applications, organizations will start focusing on bringing the two together to change the way organizations function. Imagine having to manage the temperature, light, or other factors of a warehouse from a remote location. This may sound like a major upgrade and a pretty improbable one, but we have seen a tremendous technological change in the past two decades.

More so, I foresee that legacy ERP systems will be wiped out of organizations to make way for SAAS based models for new age ERP solutions. Legacy ERP systems will eliminate future improvements and the roadmap for these systems will cease to exist. As s a result, we will see a shift by organizations to move to less clunky, leaner enterprise solutions that assist them in their digital transformation better and blend well with their overall technological environment.

Organizations will also move towards more organized and cleaner ways of changing themselves on a larger scale. Large-scale business transformation and change management initiatives have more or less failed for organizations. As a result, a lot of companies, especially in the changing culture of online versus physical business transactions, will move towards incremental changes instead. You can already start to see common examples in tech-led startups that are changing the landscape of how we have always thought how businesses should function.

If you are interested in reading through some of my previous trend analyses, I have written on the top 5 enterprise application trends:

Top 5 Enterprise Application Trends in IT for 2017

And business engineering trends that were more prevalent in 2017:

Business Reengineering Trends for 2017

 

What Is Digital Transformation and What It Means for Small and Medium Enterprises

Digital Transformation

Are you running your own small business, working on your online business or are part of a mid-sized enterprise? Have you heard of the term digital transformation and wondered what that is all about?

Digital transformation or disruption is the way an organization is impacted. This happens when a business moves from traditional ways of doing business to new technologies and more efficient, modern-tech based ways of conducting business.

If I were to give you a case, let’s the example of Careem from the local market, and Uber from the international waters.

Keeping aside their management related ideologies, and in some cases, challenges, both these companies are performing similar business akin to a white cab in the local market, or a registered taxi service. While, the traditional business in a similar case uses radio connections in cars, and one person managing a radio central to track cars, ensure that the right driver is at the right location, and drivers call customers to obtain directions, both Careem and Uber work in a digitally disruptive manner.

With Careem and Uber, a lot of that coordination activity happens in a decentralized manner through two apps, one for the drivers, and one for the users/customers. While customer service offices are maintained to ensure issues are resolved by human intervention, and customers and drivers call each other for directions – primary work is the responsibility of the apps. These apps help align the driver to the location the customer is on, particularly through a map related service/API.

Customer service is available through social channels as much as it is available through a call centre. And customer profiles and their social profiles are linked together to ensure a singular point of reference to resolve customer issues.

This is a classic example of how digital transformation changes the way a company does business. Careem and Uber are pretty classic cases, but a more traditional business can benefit from such digital transformation. Imagine from the customer’s point of view. If you were to call a bank for all your issues, and then you could use either of your social channels to seek help – from Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn. And then, you could get updates in your email, but also promotions through inboxes, through Chat Bots. A lot of engagement points and opportunities open up that way.

Let’s take a less intensive example. A lot of my work is remote. I have three different teams in two different time zones and some of my team works remotely from home as well. But that does not mean that we work non-stop 24/7. I work with my team through online communication channels such as Slack. Our marketing and responses are primarily through social media channels, and we manage our projects through cloud-based online applications such as Trello and Asana.

We also use an online CRM so that all data is always available and perpetually on our fingertips. We also use online accounting tools to give us all sorts of financial pictures directly through such cloud-based tools. There are a few tools that we use that give us great visibility at all times. This saves us time, cost and effort as we don’t need the intervention of a lot of people to maintain these elements anymore unlike a traditional organization. Of course, efficiency in business processes as well as project management, add to this digital transformation.

This is how my organization is built.

Hence, digital transformation for a small to mid-sized organization can benefit in various ways:

  1. Save costs: The cost of doing business can be reduced if the right mix of technologies, with the right mix of employees and business processes, is achieved.
  2. Save resources: Efficiency and transparency can be built through digitizing your business. If the right set of business processes is in place, technology intervention can help in saving resources.
  3. Customer engagement: Customer engagement can be built through various touchpoints – case as I elaborated above.

Other improvements for your business can be improved time to market, continuous improvement as well as the increased engagement of employees as well. If you saw our Slack channels, you’d know exactly how and why!

I work with small and mid-sized organizations on a daily basis to help them with their digital transformation. I also work with all sizes of organizations for enterprise application implementations, project management, business transformations as well as business process improvement.

Is there any area that you are struggling with that I could help you with?

5 Vendor Selection Lessons I Learnt From My Latest ERP Implementation Project

5 Vendor Selection Lessons I Learnt From My Latest ERP Implementation Project

About less than a year ago, I wrote about choosing an ERP vendor and mentioned a few tips on how to choose the right ERP implementation vendor. Soon after, I was involved in the project management for a trading and engineering concern. This involved application selection, vendor selection as well as project management across the entire project implementation (it is ongoing as we speak).

As an independent consultant, I have learnt some key lessons in vendor selection and I wanted to share these lessons with you. Vendor selection for a large-scale, enterprise application implementation is not complicated but it is critical to the digital transformation goals that an organization sets out for itself.

Here are my lessons in vendor selection. If your organization is undergoing a digital transformation, these lessons are for you:

Right Vendor Also Means Right Vendor Team Members:

I was sitting with the client team while talking to the vendor team. The key areas that we identified with the vendor were: team members who will be key implementation team from the vendor’s side, skill set of each team member whether they would be able to understand our business processes, and the project manager from the vendor’s side. These helped us to determine exactly who would be delivering the project from the vendor’s team, whether they have the capability to deliver this project, and what is the backup capacity should this team fail. This brings me to my next point.

Build Failsafe With The Vendor Team:

While we were evaluating the vendor itself, we also evaluated all of their relevant team profiles. We did that to ensure in case one person fails to achieve his or her goals, we would be able to find a replacement from the vendor’s team pool. We also evaluated outside options. Which means in case the vendor team is completely unable to implement the ERP, we would have a wider range of resources and vendors to choose from.

Obviously, this is not to undermine the current vendor, whose team has all the capability to achieve the digital transformation goals we set out earlier this year. Another brilliant suggestion that the vendor’s sales team gave us, was to hire a technical resource internally, for any customizations and report development that we may need. Essentially, we used this resource for tons of customizations and report building.

Involve Experienced Digital Transformation Resources:

I was involved as an external consultant for two primary reasons – to work as a tag team with an internal project manager, while I served as an external manager, and to provide specific consultation on the ERP product selected. None of the internal teams was equipped except ONE employee because they had never worked on an ERP application before. This meant that someone who had seen an ERP application before in action would be better equipped to give ideas on business process mapping to the vendor team. Similarly, later down the road, we engaged a networking specialist who had worked in establishing enterprise-wide networks specifically for ERP solutions.

This is the true spirit of ERP implementations. It helped us to determine the right mix of hardware to purchase, set up the network according to specifications that ERP solutions need, not just our specific ERP application, and to train an internal resource for effective network management. When you work for a large scale enterprise, it is just easy to hire these resources, but usually, organizations find themselves confused as to what to do with these experienced and expensive resources.

Mostly, these resources become redundant and become project managers for such projects. The key problem here is that these resources are mainly technical and not functional. Some may even find themselves unnerved because business processes require a process mindset which these resources are not equipped to handle. Not because they lack the brains for it, but they lack the training for it during the course of their studies and career. What I mean to say is, just finding the right ERP implementation vendor is not going to be enough.

Evaluate The Solution Offered:

Not everyone is going to understand your requirements. Usually, the sales and presales periods are what I call the dating period. Everyone is overselling, and each wants the other party to like them. This means that both parties gloss over the small, but important details. I see that in all the implementations that take place. I have seen this in the past when I have been associated in presales, and I see it today as well when I am working as a consultant for digital transformation.

What I recommended here, and what I would recommend in the future is, to develop some key list of requirements. And during presale presentations, ask specific questions related to the requirements. This ensures all requirements are being met. This includes questions related to budget, timelines, licensing, and other such areas which can lead to budget and timeline overruns later on if not found at the onset. We had to let go of some vendors for some of these reasons as well. This incidentally was our key in shortlisting applications as well.

Previous Experience is a Major Plus:

Having experience in similar industries provides a distinct advantage to vendors. While selecting, we emphasized on this repeatedly because we wanted to make sure we chose a vendor and their team members who were familiar with a non-mainstream industry. This just meant that the team would be able to move ahead with analysis and solution blueprints easier and faster. This obviously also means that the solution blueprint would be solid and meaningful. This matters fully when you are implementing an ERP solution that is all pervasive and impacts the entire organization’s functions and processes.

Over the course of the next month, as my project moves towards going live, I will share further key insights. Some of these I have already identified, include insights on effective change management, enterprise application selection as well as some key management related lessons.

If you are looking for a project manager, a digital transformations consultant, or simply looking for ideas on choosing the right consultant, drop me a note on talktome@noorjehanarif.com

If you have similar war stories or are working on an enterprise application, do share your insights too with me.

Agile Conference Pakistan And What I Learnt By Attending It This Year

Agile Conference Pakistan 2017

About ten days ago, I attended the Agile Conference in Islamabad, accompanied and invited by Faiza Yousuf. It is a one of a kind conference that happens every year and is imbued by Agile project management practices. The conference was arranged by Pakistan Agile Development Society. This was the conference’s fourth year running, and by the turnout, quite a successful conference at that. It looked like 200 or more people attended the conference, though Faiza says that 300+ attendees were present. This year’s theme was Scrum in Pakistan but the first conference basically introduced the context of Agile within Pakistan.

If you are new to Agile project management, you can always learn by going through some certifications or books (affiliate URL). Within Pakistan, Pakistan Agile Development Society and Naveed Ramzan are doing a tremendous job to promote Agile project management practices, part of which was this very successful conference.

While you will find a comprehensive event report for this conference by Faiza and Majd on their respective blog posts, I wanted to highlight primarily the areas of my learning, after listening to some tech gurus and superb practitioners in the local arena.

From Naveed Khawaja, who is a UK based trainer and coach in Agile practices, I learnt:

Agile practices are a great productivity tool, not just for technology, and not just for professional improvement. You can use agile practices for your personal life as well. Lately, I have been using Trello for sorting out my personal as well as my professional goals. But he showed a tremendous use of Kanban that his family uses, and it shows great promise in increasing productivity.

From Khurram Ali and Syed Ahsan Ahmed, executives from BroadPeak Technologies and highly experienced in their game, I learnt:

Each project requires a clear set of instructions and requirements. More often than not, we as project team usually FORGET exactly how important these instructions are. Imagine going to buy groceries and forgetting your list at home, and how your mom would react once you got the groceries home. Exactly like that. User stories are a key way in describing exactly what the requirements are.

From Muneeb Ali, Co-founder of Clickchain Inc. I learnt:

Exactly how important release planning is for products, and how agile methodology can help you in managing product launches and releases better. Again, for someone who is new to the agile methodology, this was an excellent session through and through.

My second favourite, after Naveed, was this boy, Muhammad Ibrahim. An MS student from Peshawar. From him I learnt:

If you believe in what you have done, and in yourself, there’s no force on this planet that can stop you from achieving what you want. He presented his research paper on Scrum vs. XP and showed great promise up on stage, without hesitating to call out on all those professionals who did not help in obtaining research results.

How many of us, when requested, do not fill out research questionnaires? Or fail to give a callback when someone is asking for help in their research? This is on us.

From Sumara Farooq, an SQA professional and trainer at Five river technologies, I learnt:

No matter how you are, how experienced, or how tall, or short, big or small, you have in you to show the world all that you’ve got. She talked about organizational elements with respect to new methods, technologies and methodologies. What SCRUM means to organizations. However, the meaning ran much deeper. Those organizations should come out of the shell of jargon and terminologies and focus on what is real – the people, and bringing people together to achieve results.

From Owais Ashraf, one of the big guns from Contour Technologies, I learnt:

The differences between SCRUM and Kanban. Each organization and each project works differently. The choice of process models and tools comes from the way the product, project or organization is structured. His session covered critical aspects, and for any newbie, was a great one to help distinguish between the two.

From Moshin Lodhi, a brilliant trainer with tons of years of experience, I learnt:

I have always maintained two elements, capacity and capability- this was a principle I learnt during my studies as part of financial studies. That every loan taker would have both capacity, and capability to pay back the loan. BUT, this principle works for everything and everyone. Any team member would have capacity AS WELL AS the capability to achieve something, otherwise, the team will have bottlenecks, and they will be unproductive. Also, servant leadership is about coaxing both these functions to work together for the team achieve great results.

Majd made an excellent observation in his blog about the “selling problem”, which I teach my business plan coaching clients as well. Your idea, product or service needs to be marketable. Nobody gives two hoots about the technicals. In most cases, they don’t even UNDERSTAND the technicals. Which is a key problem especially in the IT industry where we use tons of techniques, tools, methodologies and process models, but we forget that jo dikhta hai WOH bikta hai.

Special mention to Anum Zaib, one of very few conference hosts I have seen who did a truly tremendous job. Hosting is difficult, especially when it involves a big crowd. So kudos!

Also, another special mention. I usually find events and conferences that don’t follow time and schedules, extremely irritating. I like predictability in outcomes, and this conference truly delivered. I would absolutely love to attend again and learn more.

All in all, I am really glad I went and was bowled over by the hospitality of the organizing committee. Thank you for that!

AND, the best part, #ACP17 and #AgilePK were top trends in Pakistan for several hours. Truly amazing.

I Was On Vacation Last Week and Its Helped Me to Focus As An Entrepreneur!

Vacations and Redirecting my focus as an entrepreneur

If you are a career professional, your choice of vacation time and your idea of vacations may be different than mine. I tend to take vacation time when I need to clear my head, bring more focus to my work, and rethink the higher purpose behind my venture and my life.

Sometimes, living in the city of lights, Karachi, becomes overwhelming. Overwhelming to the point that I can’t sleep, my brain is always on, always thinking, always working. My social media inboxes are overflowing with messages that I am unable to keep up.

Lately, I had been going through that. I was unable to focus, I was feeling frazzled, and I wasn’t getting anything done. Hence, vacation time was needed. Incidentally, I had planned this mini getaway earlier, because there was a conference that I wanted to attend as well.

My quickest and safest go-to place is Islamabad – the place where the conference was being held. What a double WIN!

You know why I go to Islamabad? Becuase everything is literally five minutes away, there are no traffic jams, there are no traffic noises, and people are friendly. The roads are safe to walk, and usually, during these days, the weather is beautiful too. Don’t believe me?

Islamabad, Vacations and Entrepreneurship

This is Islamabad, on a busy Sunday afternoon! Picture Courtesy: Faiza Yousuf

Now, this meant I could hear myself think. And this is exactly what I needed. Time and space to clear my head from the daily grind, and think on the larger meaning of what I am doing and why. Here are the things I discovered while on vacation, and how they relate to my entrepreneurial journey:

  1. I have been unable to focus because I multitask way too often. And it’s important I reduce that to achieve more. I finished three books while I was there and started on my fourth. I also ended up making a to-do list of things to achieve half of which is done. I relaunched my blog after coming back. And there’s more in the pipeline.
  2. I have been thinking too much about the details and ended up forgetting to look at the bigger picture- both on life as well as on business. I took out my to-do list later when I got back and jot down a little brain dump to help me analyze which direction I want things to be in.
  3. I have been taking too much on my own plate and not delegating. Vacation time is such a key way for me to force myself to delegate and get everyone to take over the ropes of things. It literally helps me when I am so frazzled that my head is unable to focus on a single task at all.
  4. I have been targetting the wrong things literally both in life and professionally. Nothing like some spare time on your hands for your brain to start making connections that you hadn’t seen before. These include my 2018 goals and areas of focus in business that I have to work on. I was only focusing on minutiae for all that while.
  5. I have been neglecting major areas of health including sleep and food. I literally had all the time in the world to catch up on lost sleep and eat healthier. Which of course didn’t happen but I was getting three square meals when usually it’s just one or at max, two rather hurried meals. My Fitbit was quite happy with me, kept sending me goals achieved emails.

Any other entrepreneur on vacation would give you literally the same five reasons post vacations. But, inevitably, it is our nirvana moment when we step back into the plane to head back home. I was more than ready to head back home and get the ball rolling on the goals I had tweaked.

I like laid back vacations for this reason when not too many things are planned; it helps me catch a breather and give my brain a break.

Have you ever felt that way, that taking a vacation opened your eyes to things you hadn’t noticed, or you had been ignoring for far too long?

Why I Participate in TCF Rahbar and How It Has Helped Me Personally and Professionally

ss [2:22] Why I Participate in TCF Rahbar and How It Has Helped Me Personally and Professionally

Do you know about TCF Rahbar? I have been part of this program, and have been associated with TCF as an employee in the past. My association goes beyond seven years and counting. Let me tell you a little bit about TCF Rahbar itself and then how it has helped me personally and professionally.

TCF or The Citizens Foundation is a dream that five people collectively dreamed of in 1995. It was about educating Pakistan. They kept a seriously lofty goal, to establish 1,000 schools across the country. Imagine that. But you know what. They have gone BEYOND it. It was unimaginable, but lofty dreams can change SO MUCH in life.

The year 1995 has a special significance to me, my grandmother passed away in that year. I was quite close to her and I remember one thing specifically from my past times that I spent at her house. She would recite with me any lessons I had when I would learn for tests or exams. You see, she wasn’t educated. But she was fascinated by languages and math and art and whatnot. And she would try to learn through me.

My passion has always been education, that my parents inculcated. And my grandmother found so fascinating – so joining this institution gave me a purpose in life like nothing before.

But, this institution has not just given me purpose. It has given LIFE to so many people these past 22 years. With 1,441 schooling units and 204,000 children currently in school, and with so many children who have already graduated, TCF is HOPE for the future. Afterall, 1.3 BILLION hours have been spent in teaching children so that they can be the future we all need.

And you know what TCF Rahbar is? How they define Rahbar is a link in a larger chain that helps in developing or nurturing the minds of children to become better people tomorrow. In millennial terms, help them to adult better when they grow up. It is a 7-half-Saturday plan that runs thrice every year to inculcate some life principles into these children – where we get paired with a few of them and help them learn these principles that they can use to navigate their life better.

But here is the catch. And here is what it has taught me personally and professionally, so much that I can’t stop going back again and again. TCF Rahbar isn’t just a life lesson for these children. It has taught me so many life lessons that every single time, I want to sign up again, and want to learn more.

When I started my first TCF Rahbar journey, I had a life transition happening. And it became a voyage of self-discovery.

Today, it is a continued voyage to discover the goods and bads in me and to learn that the world is always a better place with more positivity and an upbeat outlook towards life. Every day, I learn these lessons when I participate in this program:

  1. Positivity can help change your life around
  2. Every single thing you do starts with the right seed of thought
  3. Relationships are built on trust and mutual self-respect
  4. Self-reliance can teach you that you can achieve anything you put your mind to
  5. You can find friends and mentors in the most unexpected of places
  6. Money is just a means to an end and life is more than the sum of your bank accounts
  7. When you put your mind to your goal, you can achieve so much more
  8. Giving up means you give up on life and there’s no going back from there
  9. You stop learning when you stop exploring or asking questions
  10. Never stop putting in the effort – your effort is your gain, everything else is secondary including MONEY!

If you have participated in the TCF Rahbar program, do share the lessons you’ve learnt. I would love to know.

If you haven’t participated and would like to know more, why not check this page here: http://www.tcf.org.pk/volunteer-programmes/

My Top 5 Time Management Hacks as an Entrepreneur

Time management for an entrepreneur is perhaps the most insane and ludicrous notion especially when we are working and thinking in overdrive all the time.

Gary Vaynerchuk claims to work 19 to 20 hour work days and we have read his articles and heard him on videos on how to embark the straightest, quickest path to success.

On the flip side, we have scientific research that says working more than 40 hours a week is hazardous to health!

So how can one manage time, get things done, be always on top of their to-do’s and live to tell the tale?

With these five time-tested hacks that I have not only come across, but have used, for several years, and continue to do so regularly. To tell you how effective they are, let me give you a run-down of my routine.

I wake up anywhere between 5 am to 6 am, pack in a workout, and work on my morning routine, which includes responding to all the late night messages that have accumulated and meditate/watch funny videos to start my day with positivity. After that I get my clothes and breakfast ready, have breakfast, and leave for work. I am usually at work by 8.30 am, about an hour before my team- pack in any work that is pending and which needs my utmost attention and zero distractions and then my real work day starts.

My work day generally ends by 6 pm or 7 pm — lately I was helping with chores around the house which included cooking and dishes atleast three times a week. Over the weekend, I am usually working on strategy, accounting, administration and other odds and ends.

These are actually my better days. During my busy days, I have taken flights in the evening, to land in another country and start meetings and work with clients there, and then come back during that evening — to come back to my office the next day, without taking any extra hours to rest.

There have been busier days too, which included part time studying most evenings and on the weekends, as well as working on a side gig while working full time.

In all that while, I socialize with my friends, AND volunteer half days on Saturdays.

So, I suppose my time management hacks actually work! I give you my top five here:

  1. Keep a running list of things that need attention:

Don’t create a to do of the day, or things to do for this week. Keep a running list of all the things that need to be done, work, business, personal, private, house, anything and everything goes in that list. Like a bullet journal, I mark the priority ones with a star, the ones that are non-work/non-business, with a circle, and only then focus on the stars first, work/business ones next, and the personal ones after that.

Since I can tackle the personal items only in the evening, they get crossed off at the end of the day. Since its a running list, I keep crossing off items and adding more to the list. If the page gets too dirty being crossed out, the pending list gets copied on to the next day.

Over time, I have discovered that Wunderlist works really well for me as a running to do list and it functions the same way sans the dirty, crossed out, messy lists in my notebook.

2. Always carry a notebook like its your third arm:

I carry a notebook with me everywhere except to the loo. Everywhere. It has all sorts of notes regarding a conversation, brain dumps, minutes of meetings, to do lists, and random lightbulb moments.

The good part of having one notebook that has everything in it, is that you can always use it as a reference to one of your previous meetings, go back to look through old conversations, strike out to do lists, and basically build a whole system of remembering things right from that notebook.

I also use it as a catchall, so my receipts, and business cards I collect, all can be picked out right from the pages of the notebook. If I dont carry one, I feel empty handed, and I forget what I have to work on.

The biggest advantage, however, is since its a catchall, literally and figuratively, I can dump my brain’s thought process on paper and forget about it. This helps me to align my focus on things that need my attention at the moment. Less distracting, more focused, means more work gets done in shorter time.

I haven’t found any technology alternatives for an analog notebook. I am also working on a bullet journal/planner for myself which will be done by end of October — a souped up version of my notebook.

3. Build routines and follow them to the letter:

The one thing I have always worked with, for the past fourteen years, is routines- morning, evening, daily, weekly and monthly plans that are now ironed out, well laid out, and dictated to the last minute. I have these routines written down and well established. I follow these routines, because they help me save time, bring my think time to zero when it comes to getting ready for work, or for the day, or ease my evening out after a full day’s worth of work, and more. My weekly and monthly routines work the same way too.

Productivity has increased because now I don’t have to think about when I have to do my laundry, or what to eat or wear for the day; or what day of the week will I get time to do my groceries or chores. I have a day for everything and each routine has been practiced till its an unconscious activity that does not require think time, aka, better focus on things that need my actual time.

4. Set pattern for clothes for work:

This you will find, is the weirdest time management hack, I can tell you. I have 6 to 8 articles of clothing that I wear to work and rotate on a weekly basis. I also have one pair of jeans and some standard black shirts that dont require me to think about matching the right colors, and accessories. On days when I dont have a meeting, I pick out the jeans and a shirt, and wear that to work. On days, when I expect a meeting, its either one of the six outfits, whichever is the handiest at that time.

This makes the thinking and accessorizing process in the morning a fifteen minute job, from choosing the outfit, to ironing to wearing my clothes. I pick from one of two pairs of shoes, and pick up my standard handbag that goes with everything.

I may not be the snazziest person when it comes to work fashion but I am probably the fastest person to get dressed and get moving.

5. Define blocks of time and assign activities:

I have learnt this over time, and have read upon this on various forums and in time management books. It has helped me to define how I spend my waking hours, and be most productive. It has also helped me during the busiest of days.

I take my entire week, and create a sample of how it should be spent. I make time blocks for each activity that needs to be done, for example, 1 hour workout, 1 hour to finish my morning routine, get ready and leave for work, half an hour lunch break; you get the picture. This is how my ideal week should look like. This includes my weekends too.

Then I try to follow this to the letter — it makes my week productive, it helps me to focus on core activities that need my attention, and again, it helps me to avoid using brain power where it just gets wasted due to ill or no planning.

These my not look like time management hacks but they give you the power and equip you with tools to bring your life to focus on core areas that are attention worthy. Which means you reduce waste of time, and learn to think on important elements only.

These are MY top five time management and productivity hacks and they have helped me immensely as an entrepreneur- especially when things can be all sorts of crazy. What are yours?