Category Archives: Productivity

The Cure for Mommy Brain

I used to wonder what stay at home moms did all day. I was annoyed and frustrated when friends told me they were “too busy” to hang out or return my phone calls because they now had kids and were stuck in the house all day.

Now being a mother of two small children, I certainly feel the pinch in being able to complete certain tasks, such as responding to a sensitive text or committing to making plans with a friend for an outing. But I still sometimes wonder why people tell others they are “too busy.”

“Too busy” is really a poor use of semantics to describe a lack of mind space. What we should say is “I’m too distracted.”

Being a mother of small children is an absolute doozy on a woman’s brain. Even the most efficient women find themselves pulled between multiple tasks at once, which stretches her short term memory capacity to the maximum and her patience to shreds. Being regularly interrupted for years on end breaks the power of her concentration and trains her mind to be constantly multitasking. Then she beats herself up when she can’t focus. This is nothing but a law of nature, yet she fights it.

Yet somehow in our Western culture, we are feed young moms the white lies like they are recent graduates at a cheesy commencement speech –  “the time is now”, “now or never”, “seize the day.”

Why does Western culture insist on torturing young moms by dangling the unrealistic notion that it is easy to have a monetized mommy blog, write a book on your maternity leave or go back for your online MBA while bouncing a toddler on your lap? Enough already.

These things are all achievable, for some people. But for a caretaker of young children, there are actually much better times in life to do certain things like start a business, go back to school, or work on certain areas of your own professional development. This is the time to give your overachieving self a break and focus in on the tasks at hand in the next couple of years – raising healthy human beings.

There isn’t a cure for “mommy brain.” But you can learn to accept it.

So here is a challenge to all my young mom friends. When you’re fed the cultural lies, refuse to digest them and make them your own. Hold onto that extra baby weight for a little bit longer. Push away the lies that you need to be a productive, career woman and have perfectly behaved children, all while baking homemade bread and brewing kefir. It just isn’t gonna happen right now.

You really can’t “have it all.” At least not all at once, right now.


India and the Art of Mindful Lingering

As one walks down any Indian street, you will find one thing which is unmistakably unique to South Asian and Middle Eastern cultures – lingerers.Chai Stall

Men running chai stalls, taxi-drivers, tailors running a store – most of them just waiting around for a customer to come by. Not to mention pedestrians teenage boys crowded around a single mobile phone or aunties sitting on a mat on the stoop of their homes, just shooting the breeze. They’re just kind of all hanging out, not really doing anything. Lingering. Passing the time.

Lingering has been forgotten in the West. Lingering has been replaced with constant stimulation. We can not wait for a single thing. We expect our minds to be constantly occupied, endlessly performing.

America and India are on the opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to our sense of time. In India, time happens to you. In the US, we tell ourselves that we have control of time. We schedule it, put it into our calendars, find every possible way to avoid wasting it, and define our lives by fighting against it.

On one side, there is the temptation to leave no margin in life and being constantly busy. Whereas on the other side, there is the temptation to leave too much margin and be constantly in a state of ease and boredom.

These are two extremes where I believe, it may be best for us to fall somewhere in the middle.

We can see our value even by the words we invent. In the West anti-aging, productivity and quality time are concepts we all understand. Anyone who has visited South Asia has an understanding of “time pass.”


Environment and Capacity for Chaos

In India, the noise level and sensory overload is unlike any you will see anywhere else in the world. However, I would argue that the mental clutter, distraction and constant activity of the West is just as harmful and possibly more difficult to shut down. Perhaps both cultures react with the way they spend their time because of the atmosphere surrounding them.

In India you will find people sitting and spacing out while the whirlwind of noises, traffic, animals and constant clutter of activity. In the West, you will find people in silent corporate offices, headphones in, with a mind racing 100mph with tasks, meeting requests and project deadlines. The human mind can only handle so much clutter, yet we also seek it out. We do our best to balance the equilibrium of “busy vs idle.”


How do we create the “linger factor” in our lives? 

  1. Expect the unexpected – because you know deep down that life throws curve balls at you.
  2. Unschedule your schedule – it might feel terrifying, but spontaneity will do you some good.
  3. Diversify your friend group – when you hang out with people of different cultures, maybe they will be constantly late, will stay at your house “too long” or will take 2 hours to eat a meal at a restaurant. Maybe they will stretch you. And maybe you will love it.



Three Tips for Succeeding Professionally in India

Living and working in India can be a strange mix of personal and professional, informal and formal, fascinating and frustrating.

Indian White HandshakeAs a Westerner, one of the biggest struggles I had was figuring out how to navigate personal and professional life while remaining in the appropriate frame of mind for the moment or context I was in. What are the unspoken rules of professional life in India? Where are the invisible lines of work vs play, colleague vs friend, or manager vs peer?

Here are three tips which I’ve learned through my own mistakes in my personal and professional life:

1) Know your place in the Hierarchy

Have you been hired as a contractor for 6 months to do training? Are you an employee of a large company sent for a long term project? Are you a manager of people? No matter what your place, it is essential to find out who is “above” and “below” you as far as the corporate hierarchy is concerned. If you’re a Westerner like me, you probably cringe that I’ve just written “above” and “below” in this way. Western companies are great at pretending that we are all equal and that people should feel open to knock on the CEO’s door at any time. In Indian companies, this hierarchy is simply acknowledged and consistently reinforced according to who has more power. This hierarchy is not written anywhere on paper, and others are unlikely to give you an organizational chart. This is discovered through observing others, asking indirect questions from other staff, and finding out who you are able to go to and ask direct questions to when you are confused.

One of the most important ways you can immediately implement this is by learning who to address as “Sir” and “Maam.” These are basic manners in the office place, and you may be surprised to know that even someone just a year older than you, or someone in a slightly different position than you could be cause to call them “Sir.”

Also learning to interpret age is important (don’t be fooled by a thick mustache on a 23 year old). Even though the person who picks up the garbage or the person who brings chai might be 60 years old, it is not appropriate to call them “sir” or “maam” in an office context, but it could be nice to express gratitude and respect for them as a person by adding “ji” to the end of their name. This is another example of acknowledging hierarchy in an appropriate manner. There are endless rules of hierarchy and where people’ s place social status puts them in how they relate to you, and how you relate to them.

You have even more responsibility if you are a boss or manager to respect the hierarchy. You must realize the power that your words have. People may just bend over backwards even at your slightest suggestion. You are not seen as an “equal” but as a superior. Even though you may relinquish this power and attempt to implement a flat structure, your employees have it hard wired in them to put you in your proper place in the hierarchy.

2) Don’t take cues from other foreigners

I made this mistake of taking cues from a male boss who was about 10 years older than me, a clear authority figure in the office. I was in a role where I was just an employee of the company, around average age of the other employees and an unmarried female. How I addressed other employees and colleagues needed to be different than my boss. I made the mistake of picking the wrong role model given my age, gender and position in the office. He had figured out behaviors that worked for him, but would not work for me.

I also made the mistake of mimicking the dressing style of my friends who were not in the workforce, when I should have been watching what other working women of my age and marital status were wearing instead. I showed up to work in everything varied from ripped jeans to a saree. In India, what you wear speaks volumes about who you are, where you come from, and what you do. This is infinitely more difficult for women than men. I made the common mistake by dressing either too casual or too “wife-like.” Selecting the right amount of jewelry, applying the right kind of makeup (if any at all), wearing the appropriate length and style of clothing, with appropriate texture and fabrics is all a matter of great delicacy. If you work for a larger company in a metropolitan area, they may have clear guidelines on what to wear, then you don’t have to wonder like I did.

3) Learn where you fall on the personal scale of society

The biggest factors your place on the societal scale, are your age and marital status.

Age – If you are a young person, you may think you automatically deserve respect based on your merit or achievements. The fact of the matter is, older people always know best in Indian society, regardless of either of these. Indians know that no matter how old you are, there is always someone in the family older than you, who will have the final say. You are always a youngster in someone’s eyes. Seeing oneself in the context of your family (including ancestors), your caste or religious group is an integral part of the Indian mindset. Even if you don’t belong to an Indian family, figuring out who deserves respect because of their age alone, is an imperative part of successfully understanding where you fit on the personal hierarchy.

Marital Status – Simply put, being married equates being an adult. Married life is one of the ancient philosophical ideas of Hindu Stages of Life and is still very much in practice today. For example, even if you’re 45 and unmarried, people may not know where exactly to place you in society. This is a invisible social system, yet highly important and envelops all parts of life.

Other qualities which you may be judged on while ranking on the personal hierarchy scale:

  • what kind of a career you have
  • what kind of careers your parents and siblings have
  • your basic ability to speak politely to elders
  • your physical appearance (height, weight, tone of skin, good looks)
  • how nicely you dress/ quality of your jewelry and accessories

Becoming friends with a few key people that you naturally connect with in the office is a helpful both personally and professionally. Getting to know an Indian family in the home environment by attending festivals and family events will help you understand important aspects of personal life which affect each professional outside the walls of the workplace. You will gain insight on new parts of Indian life which help you understand why people do what they do. This is not only important for your professional life, but your overall survival in the country.

Ways to master this:

Find an informal mentor of your age and gender. Find ways to learn their lifestyle and kind of copy them until you’re enculturated enough to have confidence in your own ability to make culturally accurate judgements. By spending time with various types of people outside the office will help you understand more of where you fall on the social scale and therefore, the professional scale.

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, but find a trusted friend to make them with. Find that special friend to whom you can ask questions. without being judged.

Other applications: The workplace, is not the only time I’ve run into troubles with these three challenges. These rules also apply in organizations like religious clubs or social societies.

Lessons on Global Competition from India

Even with the deepening of global business relationships and the influx of immigrants coming into the US, many American professionals still don’t realize how globally competitive markets really are. The past few years in the US, we’ve felt the pain of a tight job market. And I’m not convinced that my generation is prepared for the next wave of competition from abroad.

In the small town I grew up, it seemed we all deserved to be handed jobs once we graduated high school. If someone lost their job, it was NEVER their fault. And if someone’s job was outsourced, uh oh! Not fair!
Like my mom always used to tell me “Jessica, the world is not fair. Get used to it.”

But maybe the world is more fair than we think….

With the global nature of markets and the ease of communication between East and West, maybe we should seek to learn from our peers across the world who are putting in extra study time, specializing from a young age and sacrificing greatly to get ahead.


When I lived in India, I noticed a few major differences in the way that middle class children are raised in comparison to American kids. Especially regarding the expectations that their parents have for their academic performance.

  • In America, we want our kids to be involved in activities which they enjoy. Allow them to explore their creative and athletic abilities.
  • There are no extra-curricular activities in India. After school kids go to ‘tuition’- which are extra study sessions.
  • In America we want our kids to be ‘well-rounded’.
  • In India, parents want their kids to be specialized in a steady field which guarantees employment in the future.
  • In America we want our kids to be in at least one competitive sport, and some parents push their kids to perform and compete. Parents participate in the support of athletic events and show ‘team spirit’.
  • Indian kids don’t really play sports unless its cricket (typically only boys). Girls and boys also play some light badminton on the roof of their house. They stay in their neighborhood within yelling distance of their mother. The only ‘team spirit’ that they feel is for Indian Cricket.
  • In America, the ranking and division of the sports teams are a major sway factor and reason for fame of a particular school.
  • In India, schools are known only for their academic quality and ranked accordingly.

Indian kids and American kids are happy. It all depends on cultural norms and the way the parents formulate and communicate expectations.

Desire for Security

One of the possible explanations for this Indian focus on academia is the desire for security. In America, many middle class families have grown up with a sense of financial security for generations. Our grandparents remember what it was like to live a life of uncertainty (due to the Depression), but our parents may have never been directly affected by severely tough times.
In India, the possibility of poverty  is not a distant reality. It is right here, right now. Indians are forced to face this every day as beggars and slums confront them on every time they cross the street. Striving for financial security is a must and a driving factor for most middle class Indian families.

So what can we take away from this?

The world will only become more competitive.
I think we will start seeing trends of American families who give their children a bit more guidance in academia. Clearly setting expectations of which fields they hope their children will go into. Parents will creatively find fun ways where kids can be involved in academia outside of school. Parents will allow time for sports and video games, but will set more stringent boundaries on the child’s free time.

We need to make sure that kids who grew up in America are ready for the wave of competition that is about to come. Instead of feeling entitled to a job, American kids need to be prepared to compete with peers like most middle class Indians, who started doing computer programming in 3rd grade.

Dos and Dont’s of Working from Home

I’ve found that there are only a few activities I can successfully get done from my home office: answering simple short emails  that take less than 3 minutes, conference calls, and reTweeting others’ material  on Twitter. That’s it. Pretty pathetic, huh?

Why is it that my tea cupboard tempts me, the pile of laundry on my closet floor annoys me and that pile of leaves in the yard beckons me to go out and rake it up?

At home sometimes my creativity is so zapped by distractions, that I can hardly write a Tweet, much less create a semi-intelligent blog post or edit my company’s  sales process outline. Why does this happen to us?

Q: How does working from home zap our creativity?

A: We don’t eliminate the wrong distractions parts of our day by creating boundaries.

Lets examine the big distractions and challenges and how we can overcome them.

The ‘No Nos’ of Working from Home

1) Assume that Work Will Happen on Its Own

You probably don’t have a boss looking over your shoulder, nor do you have a detailed schedule that others are imposing on you. You must schedule times for tasks on your own and stick to it. Working from home requires an immense amount of discipline and one should be prepared to ‘be your own boss’. Schedule times to blog,  make sales calls, catch up on personal emails, etc. Honor your schedule.

2) “I Work Alone” Mentality

You are fiercely  independent, which is maybe why you are working for yourself or from a remote location. however, we don’t operate effectively in a vacuum. Seek an accountability partner who also works from home. Chat once a week to talk about your schedule, how well you are honoring your scheduled tasks and what your goals are for next week.

3) Bringing Work into your Personal Spaces

It sounds like common sense, but I have been guilty of this many times. When a 6am conference call is required to chat with colleagues in a different time zone, sometimes it feels good to snuggle under your bed covers and prop your computer up on a pillow . Don’t do it! Get up, make some tea. Find another warm chair in your house and get comfy there. This is one reason why your office should be comfy-see next point) under “Must Dos”.

Must Dos for Working at Home

1) Make your Workspace Enjoyable

Get a comfortable chair and a desk that you enjoy working at. Decorate your office (or designated work space) with pictures,  a nice color of paint and a nice ambiance. You should look forward to sitting in your office. If your office is uncomfortable and staunch you’ll probably end up sitting on the couch and eating Fritos instead. This hurts your personal productivity. Enjoy your office space.

2) Find Creative ways t0 Multitask

Eating and working at the same time is not the only way to save time (nor is it the cleanest).  Podcasts and audiobooks are my personal favorite to personal productivity! I can listen to business podcasts or audiobooks at any moment and you can do many other things simultaneously.

Here are some of my favorite ways to use audiobooks or podcasts:

  • while loading the dishwasher or cooking lunch
  • while exercising
  • while riding your bike to a meeting (or driving)
  • while getting ready or putting on makeup
  • while doing mundane tasks like data entry
  • while doing yard work

3) See Other People…Daily!

I can’t stress this enough. Schedule time to see people face to face every day! Even if this means going to visit your 90 year old next door neighbor for 20 minutes in the middle of your work day, do it. I find that being alone all day actually hurts my personal productivity. I need of social interaction I spend too much time on social media browsing my friend’s pictures, but the fact of the matter is- we need to talk to people face to face! I learned this the hard way when I looked at how many hours I was spending on different tasks per day. I was taking way too long to get even simple tasks done. I was bored. My advice is to get out! See people. I promise it will help your productivity.

Working from home can be one of the most challenging and rewarding endeavors. Be sure to set yourself up with the right circumstances to be productive.

A Cold Inspirational Start

Last winter I was sitting in my Chicago bungalow, under a blanket with a space heater next to me and a typing on my computer with gloves. It was the biggest storm of the season and I hadn’t left the house for days. But hey…I was still working!

I needed advice. My frozen fingers typed into google ‘work from home’, ‘working from home advice’, ‘Chicago work from home groups’…nothing but a few measly sites that gave me 10 tips which I already discovered myself long before.

Was there anyone else out there who wanted to know hot to be more productive by working from home? Anyone else who was going crazy sitting in their house all day?

One November afternoon during my work day, I contemplated what I’m uniquely good at. As I sat under a tree reading Selling the Invisible in my front yard taking my routine afternoon break from emails, it hit me like an apple allegedly hit Newton on the head- I am an expert on working from home.

I was inspired to start this blog from Andreas Kluth’s Global Nomad article on the Economist which I originally heard about from a favorite podcast of mine Indicast. The article’s point is that “Global Nomadism’ is changing the way we interact with each other. It is changing the way we work. It is changing our productivity. It changes our boundaries between work and personal.

As a lone US based ranger of a company based overseas, I wondered if anyone else was out there who felt like they were at work all the time. I’ve started this blog to create a Global Nomad community and place where other nomads can read funny stories and share thoughts about the advantages and frustrations of working from remote locations

Here are some of the topics I plan on covering:

  • Maximizing your time at work
  • Creative ways to multitask
  • Staying disciplined
  • Keeping productivity up
  • Social Interaction
  • Separating ‘work and personal’
  • Saving money for yourself and your company
  • Connecting with other ‘nomads’
  • Fun travel stories and tips
  • Managing your schedule

Three cheers for a nomadic lifestyle!

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