How I struggled with depression

How to cope with Depression

This blog is about my struggle to fight depression despite doing good business.

I used to be quite arrogant about the fact that I am quite disciplined when it comes to managing my time. I do everything on time and when they are supposed to be done but over the past few months, 5 months to be precise I am loosing this good habit of mine. As an entrepreneur or freelancer you need to be self-disciplined to do accomplish your daily tasks. Last 5 months were not really very great for me, it is not that my work is suffering or I am not making money but I have this feeling all the time of not achieving enough. It is really causing lot of trouble to me and I feel sad most of the times. Initially I didn't even realize anything was wrong with me.

Personally I like to challenge myself all the time and though last quarter was quite great for my company but personally I didn't do much myself. Everything was in fact great for the company - because I worked really hard in the 2nd quarter and sparxsys did really well but in the 3rd quarter I just didn't do enough, may be because everything seemed so right. Due to that fact I feel the work might suffer in coming months. I lost few leads and could not deliver some of the projects on time. I also planned to finish the JIRA video series which I wanted to launch last year. There are just so many "Pending" tasks in my issue tracker. I feel very bad about it. I realized that the reason for all this bad feeling that built up in me was primarily because I was not using my mind very much for doing new things. I worked really hard for few months followed by hardly any work for couple of months and it really affected me.

I was depressed
May be I didn't want to say that but probably this what depression is :) I have been working from home a lot these days and eating too much. Gained little extra weight. I am watching too much TV and just spending time on useless things. I think it is ok to get into low phases, you can't stay happy all the time but good thing is that I am getting out of it now. I did not even work at all for many days continuously because there was no motivation left or may be I was not doing anything exciting enough to give me "kick" (like Salman Khan movie).

It is not at all good to stay depressed as it will lead you to make bad decisions and it affects your relationships with clients. I really fought with few clients (sorry for that). Clients are usually annoying but since they pay us so we have to learn to tolerate them and still provide good service. There are lot of factors that contributes to depression and you need to keep a balance of every aspect of your life.

I think I am almost getting back to normal now and following things helped me. Just wanted to share with everyone.

1. Stick to a routine
I forced myself quite harshly to follow a daily routine. I started with organizing my work-rest-eat-sleep time on google calendar and I pasted notes all over my room. Yes this is crazy, when there was no space left on the walls I started writing on the door. I went crazy but I really need to remind myself to get into a discipline. Nobody likes to work hard and especially without any motivation it is even difficult but once you spend your day productively it feel really good and gives immense satisfaction.

2. Track your activities
I have been creating weekly sprints for our team every week, but it doesn't really help if you are struggling to manage your time and without a boss it is more difficult. I cannot expect my team to complete the weekly tasks if I am not doing it myself. I tried a different technique for few weeks. I simply kept track of how many hours I am working vs planned hours. Plain old effort variance technique. I know number of hours at desk doesn't mean productivity but I just wanted to stay focused and wanted to make sure that I am at least sitting in front of computer. During my down days I didn't even feel like looking into my laptop. So this technique kinda helped me. If my work efficiency was over 75% for 3 consecutive day then I would reward myself (more on that).

3. Find a boss
Leaving my full time job was a major decision. Of course I did that only when sparxsys business was well above threshold and we were making good money. One thing I didn't foresee before leaving my job is how to stay disciplined without a boss. I have been my own boss for a long time now but it happens all the time that I start loosing my focus, mainly because there was no one to ask me questions or there is no weekly report to submit to anyone. I felt the need of a boss. After lot of thoughts I finally made my wife my boss. She has her own business and she stays quite busy with her work and taking care of our 2 year old daughter but I asked her to spend some time on keeping an eye on me and my work. Now I share status of all the tasks, projects, revenue with her and she make sure I do what I am supposed to do to achieve the targets and I started paying her salary for her time. May be I will hire a new boss if more time is required in future.

4. Reward yourself
As I just said earlier that sometimes when you achieve something you planned for you should reward yourself. I really like to eat rogun josh, I could eat it every day but I tried to first finish my tasks and also achieve work efficiency of over 75% for atleast 3 days in succession to treat myself.

5. Separate Workplace
As I am writing this blog I can hear discussion on upcoming Delhi elections on TV in the other room. Sometimes when something really interesting comes up on tv, I leave everything I am doing and run towards the other room to watch the whole thing and when I check the clock, it is already 2 hours wasted. It is very easy to get distracted and I cannot help it, I am also human being and I too get distracted. There is no other way but to cut the distractions. I work in my separate home office where no one is allowed to come when I am working. I also try to keep this room as clean and organized as possible. Dirty room doesn't motivate to work for long hours.

6. Share your targets with others
During my weekly sprint meeting with my team I discuss the the upcoming personal and team targets with everyone and we discuss how much was achieved out of what we planned, we don't use any metrics to measure but it is mostly a feel of work done. We discuss openly and it really is embarrassing to achieve the least amount of work. For the past few months it was me who was not achieving a lot but I knew there was some problem that I need to fix with myself. When you share your goals with your team it also encourages you to take action on those goals no matter how small or big they are.

7. Ask family members to not disturb you
Working from home is something very new to Indian culture. When family members see you working from home they think that you are available for daily chores and little stupid chit chats. It is difficult to say no to them and even if you do they don't take it seriously. So you have to be harsh and make rules. I do my daily chores like bringing Milk, Eggs, Bread, throwing garbage early in the morning and other misc things are scheduled post 7 pm. I am still struggling to make more effective rules but I know this is quite important and you too should make a point to ask your family to understand that if you are at home all the time it doesn't mean you are useless creature. I am probably earning more money than ever, all by sitting at home and people who travel to Gurgaon and waste many hours in traveling are still better than me, at least in my family's mind. Indian families are not ready yet to accept that money can be earned by working smartly.

8. Unwind after work
I wake up between 3-4 AM and then I work till 6 AM and then I go to gym everyday. Health is prime important to me and even during my down days I made sure to not miss the gym. After 7 PM I usually go for evening walk. It really helps to unwind and relax your mind. I usually call my friends around this time. During the day I really look forward to this time. I come back home and spend time with my family and play with my daughter, by 9 PM I am usually dead tired and find it difficult to stay awake.

9. Take vacation regularly
Last month I took a small vacation and it really helped me to relax. When I came back I was quite energized, in fact now I feel that vacation was all I needed. Last year I worked really hard to bring business to sparxsys and achieved lot of goals. As of now we are probably the best JIRA Consultancy and Training company in India. During the last few months of the year I was probably too tired mentally to think straight and I made this mistake to continue working without taking any breaks. Now taking regular vacations is my goal. In fact this year I am planning to work even less. I will experiment working only 4 days a week and lets us see how it goes.

10. Pomodoro - really amazing technique
Finally I would like to mention one technique that really helped me to stay focused on the work. It happens with me quite a lot and in fact everyday that I am working on something and all of a sudden I switch to something else for few minutes not realizing that the other task/activity will suck my energy and when I come back to the original task I am all drained. Also it is difficult for me to keep working on a task continuously for a dedicated amount of time. Pomodoro technique says that you work continuously on a single task for 20 minutes, take a break of 5 minutes and again work for another 20 minutes followed by longer breaks. If you interrupt yourself then start again from 0 till 20 minutes. There are lot of apps for this technique. Search on google to know more about it. Really helpful.

Lastly I forgot to check what I wrote long time back - Are all startup founders unhappy? Things are fine with me now, I am back to normal work. After all this I am quite happy with the fact that I know what went wrong and I will make sure that I will not make the same mistakes again. One of which is over working. I wasted couple of months because I was exhausted myself completely and it took time to recuperate and just like body, mind needs rest. Most importantly I knew something is wrong with me and I tried ways to change it.

I am exploring ways to meditate these days. Lets us see how it goes. I will share the outcome and also I have been writing after a long time. Writing is really my passion. Whenever I am in doubt I write and it clears lot of confusion just by writing my thoughts.

Have a nice day! Enjoy

How I usually start my new month (to increase the cash flow)

Every month in the beginning I take 3 empty page, write something on it and stick them in my room where I can see them everyday. What are these three pages?

Page 1: Pending Money
I don't have the luxury to hire an accountant or someone who can simply take care of collecting money for all the work that we guys do at sparxsys. At any given time we usually do 5-6 projects, sometimes more, sometimes less but we do have lots of projects which are in maintenance. Every month we need to ask our dear clients to pay us pending dues, that is important activity for us so that we can pay our salaries and cover our expenses. Every month I prepare a list of all such pending payments. The active projects priorities are also defined by how much cash flow is coming and from which client.

For instance there are two client. One is paying x amount for 2 month project and other is paying x amount for 1 month project, so obviouly we give more attention to the later. We make it very clear to the client that amount of money is directly proportional to the service and quality of work. Of course we never work below a certain limit.

Page 2: Open Leads
We always have projects in pipeline and many people contact us regularly, either for Drupal services or JIRA Training. Getting new projects and making new clients is also important. It also ensures that we have plenty of work that will pay for our expenses. Now sometimes we do get lazy on this aspect but as a business owner who need to make sure that business is coming otherwise the company will eventually fail.

Page 3: Daily Time Table
I follow a well defined time table everyday, expect when I need to meet someone. I divide my day into various slots and each slot is dedicated to my work based on their priorities and more importantly the value they bring to the company and every month I spend some time thinking about what activity need to be done at what time, so I can utilize my time wisely and have a productive day in the end. I keep improvising my daily schedule a bit but I always keep some uninterrupted time only for myself that is usually 3AM to 6AM in the morning when no one calls me. I don't check emails or browse the net. I disconnect internet sometimes during this time too. Rest of the day can never be planned ahead. A new client could ask you to meet or people will call us.

Running a company is not easy. In the end the cash flow matters, especially in service industry where we work under pressure. We just work 4.5 days a week and this has only been possible because we plan ahead with great precision.

How to unbrick Netgear WGR614v9 router after failed upgrade

Today I was playing a bit with my router, trying to explore what all I can do. Actually I was trying to enable port forwarding, though it didn't work yet. I noticed that in the router there is an option to upgrade, I click on it and it said that there is an update available, I downloaded the new firmware "WGR614v9-V1.1.2.30.chk", but when I uploaded it on the router, the upgrade procedure started but failed and as I feared, the router stopped working at all. I also reset the router, it didn't help either.

I search and found this link, where it is explained very well on how to fix your router in such situations.

I am just repeating the steps here, with very little changes.

  1. Disconnect the router from all cables except the power cable.
  2. Push reset button for 30 secs.
  3. Without releasing reset button, disconnect power cord.
  4. Hold the reset button for another 30 secs.
  5. Replug the power cord.
  6. Still hold the reset button for another 30 secs.
  7. Release the reset button and give the router about 10 secs to resettle.
  8. Disconnect power cord for another 10 secs and then reconnect.
  9. All should be in default settings now.

After that I connected the LAN wire with my computer and tried to open the default ip 192.168.1.1 and nothing happened. I also tried to ping but in vain.

What to do if you are not able to access 192.168.1.1

If pinging 192.168.1.1 does not work, check the IP Address of your computer and make sure it is assigned an IP address in the subnet of the router IP. For simplicity sake you can assume "192.168.1.x" is good. If you do not have a good IP, the DHCP Server might not be working. So set your IP manually to something like 192.168.1.77 with 192.168.1.1 as your gateway and then try pinging the router again.

Power the router on with a continuous ping running in a command window:

ping -t -w 2 192.168.1.1

(The -w 2 parameter forces a lower timeout for the ping answer, this makes easier to get an answer from the bricked router.)

Prepare your PC, firmware file and TFTP software and play with the timing of powering it on and starting the TFTP session just after applying power (or as soon as you start to see ping replies). If you try it a number of times (at least 10) you will probably rescue the router with no fuss!

Microsoft Windows contains a TFTP client. Windows Vista will require that you enable it in Programs and Features. With TFTP, all of the information about the transfer is specified during the initial setup; there is little client/server interaction as compared with standard FTP. To flash a router using Microsoft Windows, open a command prompt, change to the directory containing the original firmware to use for this boot (this example assumes the firmware file name is firmware.chk), and then enter the following command (assuming your router IP-address is 192.168.1.1):

tftp -i 192.168.1.1 PUT WGR614v9-V1.1.2.30.chk

Here I gave the path of the latest firmware. The command will take few seconds to finish.

If you don't have a TFTP client installed, it doesn't work or something else, then try using this TFTP program called tftp2 available here (this will start the download): tftp2.exe

Now your Netgear WGR614v9 is working like before, but with latest firmware with default settings, and all there is left to do is set it up using the normal web interface using http://192.168.1.1!

Source: http://forum1.netgear.com/showthread.php?t=30453

Best time so far for Sparxsys

The first half of this year was not so good for our company, there was a tremendous drop in our company's revenue, we had some projects running but were not able to deliver the best quality work. There were no good projects coming in too. Also personally I made some wrong decisions in the company by hiring wrong people and choosing wrong clients, but most importantly I didn't work hard enough. Somewhere in the middle I knew that things are not going in the right direction but I didn't act promptly. It continued like this for 6 months, since we are a small company we often see results - either good or bad, too quickly. In July I decided to change all this. I know my capabilities really well and in the past I have able to come out of such situations so why not this time. For the past 3 months and now in Oct I have been working extra hard, with focus on minute details and not delaying anything at all. We all have tendency to procrastinate but there is no cure for it. Sometimes you don't like a particular work but you have to do it because it is important for your business. Since July I am working like that only, if something has to be done then I do it without thinking much about it.

You just need to start
I have realized that we delay things without any reason. Of course not everything is exciting to do I understand that but by just delaying tasks we make things worse. So now I just start those boring tasks and break it down so it doesn't look too difficult. The moment you start acting, things get into motion and you start liking your work.

Keeping reminding yourself
I have been working mostly from home these days, as I don't want to waste time in traveling, even though our office is quite near. I just stay at home. I have a big whiteboard where I write by major goals, I stick paper notes all over my iron almirah and I didn't even spare the door in my room. I have written my time table all over it.

So I have created an environment where I just can't forget what I really need to achieve. The moment I walk into my room, I am in the zone, you can say ;) Of course I was in trouble, I had a pressure from family to take up job. I could easily get good package in big MNCs but I don't want to get back to the job thing. It is not for me. Earning decent money is quite important and that was also one of my goal. so I had no option but to succeed again and to bring things back on track. For few days I did consider going back to job but I realized I would probably get salary one third of my current salary. So it was not worth it.

I plan not just my day but even my hours
When you have lot of things to finish in a day then you need to make sure you do things in right order and at right time. Everyone has a to-do list. I have it too, but I start my day spending some time on the to-do list and allocate them in the right hour of the day. So when my days starts I already know what I need to do that day.

Enough of gyan :)

I wanted to share that Sparxsys is back on track. We have recently won 3 great Drupal projects that we need to deliver by November and December. One of them is in fact a government project. We have 4 confirmed JIRA and Confluence trainings for the next 1 month and we recently delivered 2 projects successfully. I focused on sales aggressively in the past 3 months and that's why we have been able to win these new projects.

Things have never been better. This quarter our revenue is all time high, but by the end of this financial year, we will surpass this figure too and I am really very happy.

Now get back to work
We are totally booked for the next 3 months, we have couple of project leads that we will probably convert too but it is currently very difficult to manage all this work.

Take a look at our JIRA Dashboard, the burn down chart is no where ideal but I love new challenges, it will be fun to burn all those story points that we never burned in 15 days.

JIRA Dashboard, Oct 2014 Sprint

When one problem goes, another one comes, and that's the fun thing about entrepreneurship!

I always wonder why nobody complains about how difficult it is for any startup to survive. Especially those who are in service industry. I always try to be honest about my journey. I don't want to pretend that I am doing great. I would say I am doing just fine, there is no end.

Never ever work without a written contract

Contract

I formally started Sparxsys in March 2010. I am just an engineer by education and never really learned anything about managing a company or a team. There are specialized courses like MBA for such stuff, I do feel sometimes about not knowing all these things when starting out, but I know from my experience that you can always learn it in the field and that learning is life long.

Today I want to share something I learned.

At Sparxsys we are currently into Drupal development services and JIRA trainings. This post is all about software services and how you should deal with clients. In web development services client will share the requirements of what they want to build. May be they are looking for a web portal or some web based application. Over the year I have learned so many things about requirement gathering where you understand the client's requirements and store them in written format, finalize it and offer a solution to the client. This is better known as Business Analysis, I am not an expert on this topic and I don't want to be, but I can definitely share my experience here. This post is not about on how to do requirement gathering, probably I will write another post on it but I want to share how to deal professionally with your clients. It will give you peace of mind and also make sure you are safe legally.

Never ever work without signed contract
You know what I mean. When you start your own company, you may not know about these things, I didn't know too, there is no one who can guide you well. You can't afford to hire lawyers, they are a**holes anyways. What I have learned in all these years is that contract is just a paper where you write what all X number of services your company will offer in return of Y amount of money in Z many days or months. Don't worry about fancy language, it could be in simple English that everyone understand. As you grow your clients you can improvise this contract.

Your contract should have.

  • Amount
  • Attach the finalize proposal that contains the list of features
  • Deadlines/Timelines of deliverable
  • Payment Schedule
  • Termination clause
  • Penalty for non delivery
  • Penalty for non payment or on time payment

Make two copies of the contract, both parties should sign it and keep it with them. Also mention in the contract that additional features or any changes will require separate discussion and will be treated as change request. After certain point of time your client will say that "I want this feature too" or "You promised that and didn't deliver it". You can always refer to this contract to remind your client about your initial agreement. Of course this contract is for both the parties. Your client can also refer to this document if you don't actually deliver what you promised. More importantly it will give you peace of mind and that really means a lot, at least to me personally. Nobody wants to get into legal matters and in case of disagreement court cases are worst thing to do but having a document will ensure that you have clearly written down your offerings. In most cases this is just enough. We never really had a situation we had major disagreement with client and signing a contract is something that we always do.

I did make several mistakes where I didn't ask the client to sign the contract and due to that had conflicts later on. Client can refer to the conversation you had long time back but if it is not written and signed then it is not part of the agreetment.

There are few other things that I want to share with everyone. Nothing related to the contract. Just my experience.

Never do any personal favors to your clients
Your client may ask you to do some favor like "creating a website for their wife", "Add this feature for free", "Setup this for free".

Never do anything for free. Personally I know and can do lot of different things. I am quite comfortable in server manangement. I know hardware stuff really well. I am also good in excel. I am comfortable working on linux, windows and mac. Overally I have good technical understanding of things, thanks to my experience of over 11 years as of 2014 but that doesn't mean I will do thing for free. Usually client's ask me for favors all the time. I define favors as something that you can do without charging money. Usually I say no to things I don't specialize in, even if I know how to do it but more importantly I know from my experience that people don't respect for things that they get for free. I have done lot of favors to people and now after bad experiences I have learned that people don't remember these favors.

Money is all you should care about
You will hear and ready everywhere that people want to start business because they want to do something good for the society or world, that is bullshit. I believe that you should first care about yourself. Business is all about making money. I have no hesitations in saying that I need to get paid really well. Of course that also means that I will provide good service to my clients and always be honest with them, but whatever decisions I make are always oriented towards making profits, otherwise there is no point of doing business. I guess it is true for everyone but people don't want to openly accept it.

  • Never hesitate about asking money
  • For small to medium project, at least take 60% advance
  • Do not start work until payment is received

I want to emphasis on the last point. Client might agree to the payment and payment terms but never believe them when they ask you to start the work and payment would be made in few days. You will make clients for a long time, be strict when it comes to the timely payment, otherwise client will take you for granted. I made this mistake intially and that resulted in late payments by several months, during that time client will also add new features and knowing that your earlier payment is due, you will be under pressure to accept that. So be strict about the payments from the very beginning.

Client's are not your friends
Never ever make friends with your clients. Ocassionally socializing with them is ok, May be you can go out with them for lunch or drinks but I personally avoid it all the times. The more you become casually with them the more your business will suffer. In my case, being a very small company client's usually interact with me, right from the very beginning till the final delivery, and even during the support. Right now I can't really afford to have multiple people taking care of various departments in our company. I do multiple roles like sales, business analysis, project management, accounting and client support. Clients know that and they also know that I am the owner/founder of the company and have most of the decision making powers. So just keep your interaction with them very formal.

and finally..

Prefer formal wear when meeting clients
People make judegments by looking at you. This may seem like a small thing but the way you dress up does give a strong message to the people you deal with. You don't want to hand over an Invoice of Rs. 2 Lakh to your client wearing a torn jeans and t-shirt. I hope you get the message. In winters I even wear blazers, of course it is not comfortable but it is all about the money!

These are just things I wanted to share based on my experience. I am no way an expert but have learned from my mistakes. Hope it helped you. You can always reach me at ravi at sparxsys dot com to share your experience. I will be glad to know how you guys are doing these things. We can always learn from each other.

Good bye and have a great day!

P.S. - I will soon share the sample contracts and other legal documents in this blog.

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