Friday, April 28, 2017

Fahrenheit Email

My heart starts beating fast whenever I look at my Inbox. I am unable to fathom how I reached this stage. There are tons of messages which I haven't read. I have tried a few techniques - bottom-up, top-down, today's emails, this week's emails. Every time, I attack it with renewed vigor. The number of unprocessed emails goes down. But before long, I am back to where I started. How does this happen? My stubbornness prevents me from accepting defeat. During an informal chat with my friend, I realized where I was going wrong. It was always staring in my face. Sometimes it is a herculean task to recognize the obvious. 

My friend had attended an interview. During the interview, he was present with a simulated scenario. He has come back from a long weekend. There have a couple of incidents which has gradually escalated. Now everybody is on a war footing, an expression preferred by my friend to convey the urgency. I am against this usage because people who have not seen any form of combat mouths this phrase. The interviewer presents a simulated Outlook client and asks to sort out his emails. At this point, I was impressed with the ingenuity of the interview process. In the modern workplace, Outlook client is a tool. There is no better way to judge a professional by how he manages his emails.

I know you will be wondering about how my friend fared. He performed well and cleared the interview. Now that is past us, let us turn back to the important lesson of the day. There has to be a strategy to deal with emails. Most of are caught up in the email maze is because we don't have a strategy. We talk about strategies in a lot of contexts but never related to email. My friend fared well because he understood this point. He dedicated the first five minutes to devise a strategy. Then he started tackling the emails. He didn't get to Inbox Zero. But he was able to demonstrate his abilities which are what counts at the end of the day.

I took a leaf out of my friend's experience. I worked out a system. I categorized the emails based on hierarchies. The hierarchical structure was very simple. There are two levels above me, and there are two levels below. My boss and his boss constitutes the two levels above me. My team and their team are the two levels above me. Then there are my peers. In total, there are five levels. Based on the categorization, I created five search folders named L-2, L-1, L0, L+1, L+2. The next is the tricky part. How do I prioritize these levels? I decided to keep it simple. I will focus on two levels that immediately above and below me. So I scanned constantly for L-1 and L+1. Some of the activities from L-1 converted to actions for L0 and L+1. At L+1, I had to ensure nothing mutated into an issue. I still have a truckload of emails, but my stress levels have reduced.

There is also another way to have a fresh start. This approach is easy to adopt when all attempts to Inbox Zero fails. We can declare Email Bankruptcy. This process is similar to financial bankruptcy. Though both the approaches take courage, declaring email bankruptcy is a much simpler process. If you are interested, Michael Hyatt has guidelines on how to declare bankruptcy and start fresh

Photo Courtesy: Clint Lalonde 

Monday, April 24, 2017

Movie Review: The Great Father

The Great Father is the debut feature film of Haneef Adeni. The movies capture our attention because of two things. Mammootty wears a lot of stylish costumes and sports a long beard. It is the season of beards. The beard and the clothes are looking good on Mammootty. The neatly cut trailer also adds to the curiosity factor associated with the movie. When all the above adds up, we are expectantly waiting for what Haneef has to offer.

The Great Father is a worthwhile movie to watch primarily because of the glimpses of promise shown by the director. It is a tremendous responsibility to direct Mammootty. At some point, you are forced to play to the gallery which in this case is the fanbase. The trailer promises a thriller, and the movie starts as a thriller. After the first five minutes, the movie concentrates on the mishap that falls on the family of David Ninan played by Mammootty. The tragedy deals with a difficult to palate yet commonly prevalent mental disease. Haneef shows courage in dealing with a taboo subject. At the same time, he sensitively handles the theme. It walks a tightrope, but Haneef balances it very well.

Haneef portrays the travails of a family suddenly thrust into a crisis. Before the crisis, they lead a happy life. The tragedy changes the comfortable atmosphere. The dad, the mom, and the daughter struggle to come out sane. During this part of the story, Haneef brilliantly places the camera in front of the various actors and let them emote. He can extract the best performances from all his actors. After this point, the movie transforms itself into a full-fledged thriller. The dad decides to take the law into his hand. If you look at the recent movies by Mammootty, the action scenes tend to repetitive. Haneef brilliantly avoids these repetitive scenes by showing the aftermath. There is still adrenaline and goose bumps aplenty.

Overall, the movie tackles a difficult subject. Although it is a touted as a small movie, there are a lot of familiar faces and has good production values. Haneef shows his brilliance at many places, but he is constricted by the larger than the life image of his hero. Arya as Andrews Eapen sticks out like a sore thumb. So is the case with Malavika Mohan. I am really looking forward to the next movie by the same director. The next movie will be the real test by the fire. As for the Great Father, it is a thriller with quite a bit of drama thrown in. The topic is disturbing even though the treatment is sensitive. Forget the hype and see the movie. It is interesting to see Mammootty emote as a father in the first half.

Language: Malayalam

Genre: Thriller

Rating: ***


Saturday, April 22, 2017

Embrace the differences

Ever since the Brexit vote, there has been uncertainties and discomfort. First, nobody could believe the need for isolation. Then there was this complicated process of divorce from the European Union. Now, there is a question of snap general election. What is the need for it? Is it another way of shirking responsibility? Is it a clever decision to gain majority? I understand the need for majority. You see this phenomenon play out at workplace too.

Every one complains about long meetings without producing any tangible outcome. Have you contemplated on the why? We get into a meeting to have a consensus and it is not easy to arrive at one when they are differing views. As we become increasingly busy, our reserves of energy and patience are easily depleted. Hence we dread long winded discussion about the pros and cons. We prefer to hear ayes instead of nays. It is easier to get ayes from a like-minded group.

Though I do not possess infinite supplies of energy, I do not denouce clash of opinions. In fact, I encourage it. The different viewpoints add the much needed drama in our life. We may always steer differences into consensus always. But that is not the reason to fear differences. On the contrary, it is all the more reasons to embrace it. The age of healthy debate is dying at workplace. The fear of security is bringing silence. The irritation of discussion is leading to ousters.

Recently, I heard a discussion between two friends. They had come out of an unpleasant meeting and comparing notes. One of them was praising the other. The leader was suggesting impractical solutions. The first friend showed him the cons of the approach. So the second friend was praising his bold approach. The rest of the people were silent and the first friend was the only courageous person to voice his opinion. Once the second friend finished his praises, the first friend said. "I am the only one giving unpleasant news to the leader. This may be the reason I am moved into a different team."

We cannot change others. But we can change ourselves. When someone gives you a different viewpoint, listen to their view. Try to understand why they are saying so. Don't be afraid for a debate in your life. Who doesn't like a good drama? Without drama, it is a mundane boring life.

Photo Courtesy: Rodrigo Soldon

Is Paris burning?

Is Paris burning? It is the title of the non-fiction book written by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre. Although the topic of the book is the liberation of Paris during World War II, I am forced to think about the title considering what is happening in Paris in the past two years. Two days back, there was a shooting on Champs-Élysées. The shooting is one of the several instances of violence in Paris in the previous two years.

I have spent two and a half years in Paris. I hated the city first and fell in love with the city. I always found the city to be peaceful. The city brings smile to your face and it does make you smile from inside. To think it to be city beseiged with violence is not a pleasant thought. But why? Paris is such a beautiful city. Why would anyone want scar the city with violence and terror?

Friday, April 21, 2017

Aspirations and Preparations

The magnitude of the job is sinking in for him. The headline caught my attention. White House correspondent Maggie Haberman is talking about Donald Trump. I find it hard to believe. He has run a business and should surely have an idea about the future. But it is not this statement that I want to address. All of us have aspirations. We want better roles and bigger pay packages. While we endlessly strive for these, do we ask ourselves the simple question? Are we ready for what we have asked?

We often see the benefits but not the hardships. The benefits may justify the costs. Often the costs are overlooked. So we fumble in the new role. The lack of help and absence of a guiding hand makes things worse. As a result, we feel increasingly lonely. Having ambition is a good thing. But not readying yourself for what we aspire for is a bad thing. The wise has always told us. Be careful about what you wish. The worst is not that you will be disappointed. Instead, you get what you wanted. But you are ill-equipped to do what you wished for.

Thursday, April 20, 2017


Redundant. We hear this term often in our daily lives. There are no layoffs. People are no longer fired but made redundant. A layer of misdirection takes the distaste away. If you are not affected, the distractive method works on you. The misery of affected cannot be distracted by misdirection. The announcement of snap general elections has kicked off efforts to appease the public in the UK. Yesterday, Corbyn and May were showering insults at each other.

Today, Corbyn wants to take on the cosy cartel. I understand the enthusiasm to bridge the gap between the wealthy and the poor. As a result, Corbyn wants a fair system. But why is he using the term "cosy cartel"? Aren't cartels formed because of shared interests? Isn't it akin to cozying up?

I wanted to find out what is used to describe two words appearing side by side but meaning the same thing. I was surprised to find redundancy as the term. It also means that I have forgotten the actual meaning of the word and has started associated it with something else. If you go through such usages, you will also be surprised to find that you may already be using them in your daily conversations. Have a good laugh at your mistakes and change.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Photos: A bridge in Stourhead

The Bridge on River Kwai
A Bridge Too Far
The Girl on the Bridge
The Bridges of Madison County
The Lover on the Bridge

The last one is a lousy translation of a French title which is romantic and musical in the original. You might have already understood these are all names of famous movies. It doesn't take long for one to realize the common denominator, the bridge. What is behind our fascination towards bridges? To be honest, I can't recall any books which have this word in the title. I can recollect the names of the movies or even iconic photographs. 

A structure over an obstacle is defined as a bridge in a simplistic way. A bridge is about problem-solving. The bridge plays a significant role in romance. We read about lovers meeting on a bridge. We anticipate the kiss between lovers on a bridge. There are men who goes down on their knees to propose on a bridge. There are bridges where people get married too. If you are surprised, then you haven't heard about Stourhead. Situated at the source of River Stour in Wiltshire, there is a bridge, a mansion and a whole lot of things in Stourhead.

The bridge is one of beautiful sights to be seen here. The bridge is there not for connectivity between two sides but for adding beauty to the place. From the bridge, you can see the Palladian mansion. You can take breathtaking pictures of the bridge at any time of the day. Even a lazily composed shot ends up being a beautiful one. There are other things to do at Stourhead. You can walk around the estate. There is a nice little restaurant over here too.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Pappettan moves in

At work, you perform various roles. Usually, you play a role for a brief period and then move on to another position. The lesser blessed ones have to carry out multiple functions at the same time. There comes a time when you have to hand over your responsibilities to another person as part of moving on. If you are fortunate, the handover happens when there is no relevance for the role. If you are unfortunate, it happens during the peak of the project because of constraints. These limitations can be anything from a contractual end, a new project that is awaiting to you, conflicts with another team member, etc. Recently, I watched Pappettan moving into a new role.

Pappettan is one of the unfortunate ones. The project was not progressing the way the right way. The manager in charge wanted to move to a new role. Pappettan came in to take charge. I was present when the manager in charge made the announcement to a broader audience.

Manager in Charge: *seriously* There is a new member in this meeting. Pappettan. Pappettan will take up my responsibility.

All heads turn to Pappettan. Pappettan gives everyone an acknowledging nod and a great smile.

Manager in Charge: *continues* There are multiple reasons for the extension. So my plans to join elsewhere were temporarily halted.

Everyone is confused at this point.

Manager in Charge: *keeping a straight face* I looked around to find a suitable person. But I couldn't find anyone ignorant to say "Yes."

The audience reacts in various ways - nervous smiles, laughter, tension.

Manager in Charge: *hitting the final nail* Finally, I found Pappettan. He will be replacing me.

There is a sudden silence.

Pappettan: *smiles and introduces himself* Consider me as an upgrade. A better and newer version of Manager in Charge.

I quickly looked away to hide my smile. There was a sudden wave of laughter and small talk in the crowd.

Photo Courtesy:

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Sell it, dear

We are all salesmen. It seems to be the new mantra. A few months back, a friend of mine was coerced by his boss to don the hat of a salesman. But my friend resisted and his boss metamorphosed into a guru imparting wisdom on how we are all salesmen. Not only it is part of the job but also a necessary trait for progressing in the career. My friend was always involved in the execution phase. In common parlance of the IT industry, he is a delivery guy and not a sales guy. When someone is not interested in doing a particular type of job, what is the point in forcing him to do so against his will? Despite chanting the famous adage about riding a horse into water and inability to make it drink it, we often try to do the opposite.

Recently, there has been changes in the ownership of the local dry cleaners. It is under new management. They have kept the previous staff who were primarily senior women. Most of them have a kind and melancholic look on their face. They bring back memories of home. They also make you think that your clothes are in the right hands. With the new management, there have been changes. There are additional services like key cutting and shoe repairs. When I took my suit for dry cleaning last time, the kind old lady at the counter asked me. Would you like to go for our premium service?

Of course, I was confused. The dry cleaners were already giving me a good price. If I dropped my suit today, I could always pick it up the next day. As far as I am concerned, it was premium service. So I asked her if she could explain. They will iron the pockets of the pants and the waistbands. They will be using a better hanger and covering the clothes with a better cover. The explanation did not help me at all. I was unhappy to find they are not doing a thorough job all this time. I have many hangers in my house.  The cover is always a pain to throw away. Although these questions were playing out in my mind, the kind old lady could quickly read mine. Suddenly, her face reflected discomfort. She suggested the way out. Probably, you don't need it.

The flushed out face of the old lady kept coming back to my mind long after I had dropped my suit. I was perplexed, and she was uncomfortable. Why was she uncomfortable? There was the only one explanation. She didn't want to do the peddling. Then why was she doing it? There is only one explanation. The new management intends to increase the price without invoking anger in the existing clientele. What better way than to use the existing workforce to do the job for them? It is a brilliant solution. Where is the new management failing? They are not training their staff for donning different hats. Unless their workforce is comfortable with selling, there is no point in forcing them to do so.

Unfortunately, asking someone to do something without providing the adequate support or training has become commonplace. Even while we drive to get the numbers up, we forget the basics. People are built differently. Their interest and aspirations are different. When the interest, aspirations and the skills do not match, people will do a sloppy job. If you are the management, you should set people for success and not for failure.

Photo Courtesy: Todd Lappin
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