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Do we really need to work 15 hours a day to achieve success?

I don't remember the last time I worked late nights or even more than 10 hours. My window of productive working hours is from 4 AM till 5 PM in the evening. I work usually 6-8 hours when I have the peak workload and frankly I work 4-5 hours most of the time. Am I working too less? May be. Is it bad thing? May be. Will I be able to achieve a lot more if I put in more hours? I don't think so. I am happy with whatever I doing and that is more important. I look at people these days, mostly working professionals or startup guys and sometimes I feel guilty of not working like them. I want to confess that although I am good in what I do but I don't like working for long hours. I prefer finishing my work as soon as possible and have fun for the remaining day. Now you must be familiar with the non sense logic of love what you do and you will not feel like working. That is stupid. There are trillions of things to do in life and work, you can't possibly love each and every single thing. Things that give you most value or reward may not be interesting, it may be boring also but you still have to do it.

There is nothing wrong in doing things that you don't like. I say start doing those boring things and you would start liking them. Generate interest. I do feel guilty sometimes of not working enough. There are days in the week when I just don't do anything at all and few days I work religiously from 4 AM to 5 PM, but I never really work more than 8 hours.

I like planning things and believe in doing things efficiently. Even if I have to do something beyond my work, like a side project or learning a new skill, I plan it and do it but I never stretch. Everyone works differently and people have differently level of intelligence. I know few people who don't rest until they have a task to do, same is the case with me. When I have a delivery to make, I give my 101% and even more. I think about that task all the time, but I hardly work for long hours. It is not like I can't, I can certainly work without sleep for 3 days, I have done that in the past but when you plan your work really work, you would hardly need to do that.

When I was struggling in my early days of career, I used to freelance in my free time and then after few years I started my company and I struggled a lot, but even in those days I never worked long hours. I planned my week and what work I would do everyday in advance. I tried several tools but keeping a notepad is the best. For instance after company back from job I used to spend at least 2 hours everyday on other projects and on weekends I used to give additional 8 hours. I used to take office cab and I tried my best to utilize my time reading books. Even in the office I didn't make lot of friends. Eating lunch with people, meeting over tea is all great but kills not only time but your energy and most importantly your mind has limited energy every day. If you fill your mind with unnecessary information then you will not feel like working after coming back from office. Try to isolate yourself when you have to achieve something.

These days I am more on a free mode where I don't plan much and I work as things come. I enjoy it. I do work at my own sweet pace but I have earned it by working consistently over the past 15 years. I do give myself few light months of no-plan mode every now and then. It relaxes me. I work on plan-mode from March till August this year and from September onwards I am working quite comfortably. Ask yourself what will you achieve by working 15 hours every day? Unless you are sure that your 15 hours per day will give you lot of money or satisfaction, don't do it. It is not worth it. Instead do other activities like exercises or play some sports. Join some meetup club and go there once a week. Meet regularly with your friends and give time to your family. There is nothing wrong in enjoying life. Work not hard but consistently, that is my rule.

Why you should bootstrap your startup

These days everyone is talking about startups and entrepreneurship. It is quite cool to start a company, build a product and get funded. I am writing this blog based on my own experiences that how I am able to run a company successfully for several years and why you too don't need a funding.

So you have decided that you want to start a company, it is a topic of another discussion and I will write more about it but you should always think twice, thrice and ten time before starting a company and you should have solid reasons for that. Now coming back to the topic why you should not take any funding and why you don't even need it in first place. One thing I feel is very important for all the wannabee entrepreneurs is to answer whether they are starting a company to gain something for themselves or to give back something to the community and society as a whole. In my case I had very strong reasons to start something on my own. I never got satisfaction (technical) in any company work wise. Except my last company my managers and colleagues in previous companies were not technically sound as I am and I never really enjoyed working in company of non intelligent/smart people. May be I am little harsh here but this is just the fact for me and I always wanted to do something cutting edge or at least do something were I have control over my work so eventually I know where my effort is going and the money that you earn working for someone is good and decent but there is always a saturation after few years. More than anything else I always wanted to do something on my own. May it is the way you are brought up. Money was never really the concern for me. I was earning decent salary and but I could never give my 101% on my job. For me starting a company was always about myself and personal gains. I never really wanted to do something for the world. I have always been quite selfish person. I do everything for myself. I could not imagine even now how people can spend 12 hours in traveling and working for years and they don't get much in return. They miss out time with their family and they sacrifice major part of their lives. I knew from the very beginning that I will eventually do everything for myself only.

So before you even think about getting funded you should have the reason to start a company very clear because getting funded depends on that reason.

Now why people seek funding. This is my opinion.

1. It is cool to get funded.
2. You will get respect from other after getting funded.
3. You need money to sustain your company.
4. You want to hire more people to work in your company.
5. You will get rich after getting funded.
6. You and your company will get famous

Technically all these seem like valid reason to seek funds but you should keep in mind that someone will give you money in return of control/stake of your company. You will not be free to do whatever you want. You will loose authority over your company.

For a moment lets go back to the reason why you want to start a company and for whom you want to do it and think again about these points above. Getting funded is sometimes really need because you may want to scale up your already running successful business but these days I see people think that will build something after getting funded. I think it is stupid to jump in the funding process with just an idea or prototype. Recently I also came across people who want to be like serial entrepreneurs, they want to start with an idea, develop prototype, launch and seek funding all within a span of few months and if that doesn't work, do everything again with a new idea. I think this is again very stupid. One should spent sometime in the market, at least few years. Nothing really happens in few months. When I met these people I ask them again the reason why they want to start the company in first place and they could not convince myself or even themselves. They just want to look cool.

I realised this a little late in my career that earning money is probably the easiest thing that one can do. If you have the skill then you will find a market for it. I think everyone who is working for someone as an employee and frustrated in life can do something outside their job to earn money and which is again starting a business only but you need a good reason to start a company. It is not like you wake up one day and start a business. Your reason to do something on your own should be very solid. In case you are not happy with your job then you probably need another job.

There is no shortcut
Do you know that I have worked in 10 companies in my career? I changed many jobs until I found the one that was somehow not bad for me and I stayed their for my last 6.5 years. I have been freelancing since my college days. I started taking small projects back in 2002, so when I started my company in 2010, I had already worked in the market for 8 years. I started with Visual Basic projects then Linux consultation and training and then I started doing Excel VBA work before moving to web development. I started working in 2003 and did job for almost 12 years. Starting from 2002 till 2015 for almost 13 years I was working almost 7 days a week, After my job hours, I would work on my projects and I got married, had kid and also managed to live a normal life but it required lot of discipline and extreme hard work. I had very strong reason to work hard continuously for 12 years. I sacrificed a lot, I hardly took family vacations and spent time with my friends but it was all worth it now. I did all this because I just wanted to reach a point where I can easily leave my job. May be in your case you need to give at least 5 years but I do not understand why people expect magic to happen in few months. There are no shortcuts. If you do not have the determination to work hard then you are probably better with your job. I did all this and gained a lot now. At this point of time I am of course generating more revenue, I have regular clients, big clients and we are the best in what we do. It took us 12+ years, so what. If I include my freelancing time then I am in the market for 14 years now. That is a lot of time.

Seeking funds in the very beginning is for losers who don't know what they want in life and they just want to follow others. You should first start a business, start generating revenues and seek funding only when you want to scale up. By the time you are running a company successfully you will probably not worry about getting funds. You will find ways to scale up yourself without external inflow of money. I am by no means highly successful business but being a 6 people company we are making quite an impact in the market, we are one of the most sought after Atlassian consultants in India and whole Asia pacific for that matter. We have been into Drupal development since the beginning and have developed expertise for Non Profit Organizations. All this is done by just 6 people. We do not have a fancy turnover to showcase to other but we are quite content and happy about our work. We are growing steadily revenue wise, client wise and we hire more people only when we really need to, not for the sake of it.

In the past I did have low time and thought of winding up everything and going back to comfortable job but I never could do that, not because I am emotionally attached to the company but because I am used to earning a lot more money in less time now. No job could pay me the money that I am earning now. I worked hard for it and I want to grow more from here now. I live a pretty humble life but I enjoy earning money. It gives me high and I feel good and happy. I may have become greedy but we have developed a skill set and people need us. So why not get the most out of it.

So coming back to the topic that you should think first about the reason to start a company and for whom you are doing it - yourself or for the society. One should take funds only after you are running a successful company but not in the beginning. You will loose the focus right in the very beginning. One should start with the ambition to learn something, one should focus on earning money from the very first year and stay in the market for few years then decide that do you really need more money or not. May be someone will give you money based on just an idea and a stupid prototype but it is like begging someone to support you. Why should you take money from someone when you don't exist anywhere in the market. I think one should stay in the market and run the company for at least 3-5 years before even thinking about getting funds. In Sparxsys we are primarily into services and we have had few successful products in the market, we will probably build more products this year too and based on my experience I don't think I will ever think about seeking funds. There is no fun in it for me. I find it shameful asking someone to give me money and finally one should learn about running a company. You run a company for 5 years and you will learn far more than any graduate from A grad business school.

If you want to get in touch with me to share your experiences then you can write to me at ravi [at] sparxsys [dot] com. May be we can learn from each other.

Building good habits, learning french and yes I am writing after a long time

When I was little kid I used to hate the idea of going to school everyday at the same time, follow a strict routine everyday for several years, preparing for exams, going through school tests and final terms. Now when I look back I can not even image going through all those tough routines. I was really glad when I got out of school. Then I started college. It was comparatively easy, we can always bunk classes, go out for movies during class time and we actually had little freedom to spend time where ever we wanted, but still I used to get scared about the idea of exams. I never liked doing something without any reason and the only reason I studied and somehow managed to pass engineering was the fear of getting failed. What will happen if I fail? I was scared of so many things.

While in school the only thing I wanted was to get out, the same was the case in college. I used to think that I will do this and that when I get out. I was waiting for something but never knew what was it.

Then I started job, it was no better, going to the same place everyday through out the year without vacations. It was horrible experience. Since school time I was looking for freedom but never really got it and I was never really sure what was it that I was looking for, I never liked the idea of doing something because someone else wants you to. I worked for 11 years.

Finally I started my company, it felt really nice, I can choose my own working hours, work anytime and any day I like. After leaving my job I felt really good that finally I got the freedom to do whatever I want in life but somehow I never really felt completely happy, after all it was all about happiness, you do things to stay happy in life, this is the prime goal of human beings. My company Sparxsys have been doing really good every since we started except last year when for few months we didn't get much profit but I was able to run and stand up a successful company and we are good in what we do. Our client are happy and it feels good but for me it was exhausting. I felt tired all the time and honestly I was never happy. In fact when recall my old phases of life school, college, job. I was happiest in school when I used to follow a very strict routine. My parents were strict too, I remember I used to study during festival time too but during school whenever I got time I used to enjoy it a lot. I loved playing cricket, football, video games and spending time with friends. Now I feel it was the best time. Now I have all the freedom but still I don't enjoy that much.

Every since I started my company I was working hard to deliver projects but never really maintained a balance in life. I never traveled, took vacations and spent time with family & friends. I used to work 7 days a week and every day I used to feel tired and exhausted. I was not sure how long I can manage like this. It also affected the performance of our company and I thought this is not the real reason why I started my own company.

Recently I read the following two book.

Essentialism

The Power of Habit

After reading both the book I realized I should try making some changes in my daily schedule. First of all instead of trying to achieve too much I started focusing on few important essential tasks that brings the most value and also to be able to enjoy life I started building good habits and will power to follow these habits regularly.

Here is the list of things that I started doing now.

  • Start the day by reading a book for 20 minutes. Earlier I used to start the day by checking my email, which is like giving yourself stress in the beginning of the day
  • Go to gym everyday
  • Plan what things I will be doing today and remove every non essential item from my to do
  • Plan your weekly goals ahead
  • Plan your short term and long term goal. What you want to do 5 years from now? All the things you do should be towards achieving these goals. If not then don't do them.
  • Check Email only few times a day only after finishing the scheduled work.
  • Make No as the default answer, saying Yes to everything that comes my way is not good. You cannot keep everyone happy
  • Delay all new tasks that come in your way
  • Work means work, no facebook, twitter, internet browsing, whatsapp during the day
  • Follow the time table, like we used to do in school
  • Never travel more than 3 times in a month

Basically if you want to become any entrepreneur and do what you love it is fine but it is not fun either, you have to work hard to achieve your goals and most importantly never work day and night, you will burn yourself. We human beings have only limited amount of energy in the morning and as we work on our tasks we burn that energy. We need time to relax and away from work to refuel ourselves.

When you finish your day as you planned and achieve things you feel sense of satisfaction and whatever little enjoyment you do by rewarding yourself like watching TV or with beer that sense of satisfaction will make that reward more enjoyable. It is not possible to enjoy all the time. You have to do some work that you don't enjoy or if it is tough but that is ok. Once you get over those difficult tasks the feeling of completing them is really great. Till few months back I used to work all the time and there was no separation of my work and personal life. It was all mixed up.

You don't have to read any book to bring your life on track but it is not harm either. Apart from reading book everyday for 20 minutes I recently enrolled myself in French classes. It is really amazing to learn a new language and after a long time I feel good about doing something different. In the past few years I have acquired different skills but learning a foreign language is totally new for me. I knew little but french earlier but now I have decided that in few months I will try to converse with someone totally in french. I learning how to read, write and of course speak.

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

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.

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