Friday, January 30, 2009

Fighting procrastination or Need of Focus

I started to write this post about a week ago. I needed to focus on writing about focus :)

So! It appeared so that the whole January I was unemployed and had a lot of free time for finishing my unfinished tasks, making new year resolutions, self reflection and everything in general.
Still, i haven't succeeded in completing all of the tasks that i have set for myself, productivity as well as satisfaction of how i spent the day was sadly low.

The saying that the more you have to do, the more you manage to do is sadly true for me.
Some years ago I used to study for Master's, had a full-time job + one part time (classes, teaching) + self-studying Italian. But now, when i don't have any assignment other than doing housework, I feel that i'm not doing anything valuable and i'm not even bringing my tasks to finish.
Since the beginning of January i started several things that i still didn't finalize. I left them undone and it's like a stone hanging from my neck.

Months ago i started to read the famous "Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity" by David Allen and tried to implement it, but I failed.
The basic concept of GTD is getting all those commitments, bits of information and must-dos out of your head and into a trusted system. I tried different tools for that but it didn't work. I couldn't get all that in one place and couldn't force myself checking that one information repository constantly.
In fact, GTD has got many fans and many people write about it, make applications for it. It's simple, seems easy but in fact, you're spending more time on collecting, organizing, planning than actually doing anything. You need to change a lot of your habits to adapt to GTD. So this method certainly has its weaknesses. The following article gives more opinions: What is wrong with GTD? In any case it's worth reading since personally for me, it helped to realize many things about productivity and planning.

Then i read a lot of posts that came across in my Reader, and learned a lot from them. For example:
Then i realized the main reason of the failure. The multitasking isn't always favorable. Especially when i have to write something, make something, i'm being badly distracted by gtalk conversations, email notifications, unread items in Google Reader, etc... I have read lots and lots of articles on productivity and getting things done and analyzing all the information i got, i made the most important conclusion: I need to FOCUS.

And here are my follow-up points:
  • Do a planning for 5 years (inspired by "What would you do with five years?") 
  • When writing tasks, write them in S.M.A.R.T. goals format *.
  • Be online only when it's necessary and there's time and wish to talk (gtalk, odnoklassniki, etc)
  • Connect to the internet only when it's necessary
  • When writing, reading or working on smth, leave only the windows and applications necessary for that. close all others.
  • Check the to-do lists in the morning and in the evening,
  • Check the email 4 times a day: morning, lunch, after work, before sleep.
  • Clean-up the Google Reader from time-killing useless feeds and leave only the ones that are necessary and are enough to read daily and setup time for reading feeds, morning for and before sleep, for example
  • Setup daily and weekly things to do that would include gym, reading, movies, etc...
  • When there's need for motivation and good mood, put on nice music on shuffle and sing aloud :)
  • Don't leave open tabs in FF or Chrome!
  • Define ONE place for writing tasks and plans. Here's a nice list of GTD tools.

* From AIESEC, among all other useful things i've learned, is the goal-setting and especially the S.M.A.R.T. goals, what a wonderful invention of humankind :) SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely.

And now i'm setting a SMART objective to plan the tasks i have written and set smart goals for all of them.
S: Write the goals in SMART format
M: All of the goals have timing and a detailed plan
A: It is achievable :)
R: Sure it is realistic
T: I put a deadline Sunday midnight.

If you would like to read further, i'd recommend following blogs:

    Thursday, January 29, 2009

    How i fixed my phone and became an experienced Nokia user :)

    I'm a happy owner of Nokia 5700 XpressMusic. As i read in some reviews, it is "For those not obsessed with anorexic phones" :D It's a smartphone with advanced music features. It fits my needs since I'm a music person and a geek :) I use it as a music player when I'm out and walking by myself, I use it to check my gmail and browse something on the net, I even have office applications that let me read word, excel, ppt and html files :) I watch videos when I'm in a public transport and bored, and i use the photo camera to take photos of some new clothes and shoes that i try on in boutiques, but hesitate about buying them. So i make their photos to review them later and decide to buy or not.
    I use notes to write down thoughts and i use calendar for my schedule. So i use it fully and i can't imagine my life without such gadget :)

    That's why i was so desperate when it died 2 days ago. A friend called me home (!) since i wasn't 'picking' the phone. In fact, i didn't receive any calls and when i tried to check it, it suddenly froze. I switched it off (normally, from the menu) and couldn't turn on again. It wasn't going further after the initial white screen with Nokia logo and didn't react at anything. It also refused to turn off normally, i had to take the battery out for that. I took it to the service center on Lusavorich street. The customer service guy was nice, he asked what had happened and i described.
    Luckily it's guarantee expires in June so i could have it fixed for free. He told that they'll call within 3 days and also told that they might format it and reinstall the firmware so all the data will be lost. I was lucky to backup it couple of days ago. I wanted to install an audiobook application (Audible) and downloaded the latest Nokia PC Suite (7.1). It installed normally and i did the full backup of my Contacts, Address book, Notes and Calendar memos and the phone settings just in case.
     The backup process with Nokia PC Suite
    The next day morning they called and i went to pick it up. It had a new firmware installed and i happily took it home and started to restore my data from the backup. In the middle of restoring the phone suddenly restarted and the same story with the white screen with logo happened. I was so upset! I had to took it back there, and maybe also the backup file asking to reformat it restore it again. The problem was that the customer service guys supposedly wasn't the one fixing it and he was passing it to other technical people, and when i was telling him about PC suite, backup etc, he was looking at me as if i was speaking Chinese. Oh and he called the memory card - "chip". I hate it :D I had to get in touch with technical people and ask to perform the restore themselves and identify the problem.

    1. Then i tried googling about it and found other people having the same problem. I found different discussion boards with some solutions offered. Mostly they were recommending to format the phone and reset the factory settings by pressing "* + 3 + call" and switch the phone on.

    I tried it, but my phone didn't react. Some hours later, when i was about to take it to the service center again, i tried the  "* + 3 + call" again and it worked !!!!!!!!!!
    I got a newly formatted phone with factory settings. It asked to select the country, date and time :)

    And i tried to restore my data again - with the PC suite content copier, this time only the contacts. It stuck in the middle again, the phone restarted with white screen with a logo. I did the reset of factory settings again and started to find alternative ways of recovering my address book. I realized that the problem might be in the backup file and not the phone.

    2. I downloaded the Nokia software updater and tried to update the firmware of my phone, which turned to be up-to-date.

    3. I browsed for the backup file in my comp., and it had ".nbu" extension. I searched for .nbu extracting software and found Noki. It is sharewere and i could extract only limited amount of data. I downloaded the latest version 1.7.

    So i tried to extract the backup file but it failed. Noki returned an unknown error :(
    4. Then i tried doing another backup of my nearly empty phone and extract that backup with Noki. It returned the same unknown error :) so this time it could be a problem with Noki.

    5. I googled again to find other applications that could extract the backup and in one discussion thread in Nokia forums, I read about another client - "NBU parser" made by Russians :)
    I looked for it and seemed like all the links were broken and the only place that it might download from - was some vbulletin forum which required registration for downloading files :(
    I hate registering for a single-time purpose, but it seemed like the only solution for me. I registered and it turned out that i should wait for the confirmation from administrators :(
    then i tried to yandex for that application, since it was mentioned to be russian :) and i found many links!
    i downloaded it and it looked strange :D

    However i could orientate in the buttons thanks to the help file that contained a normal screenshot :)

    6. I exported the contacts in .txt (the first button) and they contained the descriptions in russian :/ So they wouldn't go well in my phone with english interface.
    Then i tried exporting them in .csv and the same story with Russian :(
    Then i tried the .vcf format, and it turned to be the one i needed :)
    .csv (comma-separated values) opened with Excel
    .vcf format in a notepad 
    7. Then I imported the files with Nokia PC suite's Communication Center.
    Importing .vcf files with Nokia communication center
    So the most important part was done, i recovered all my 176 contacts to the phone. The messages from inbox could be recovered with NBU parser, but they were in .txt format and didn't go back to the phone with similar way. The messages tab of Nokia Communication Center didn't had importing messages active for some reason. And they were in .txt so it wouldn't display normally as before (with the correct sender, dates etc). I decided to keep them as an archive in the computer and not to try to put them back, i didn't have any message to be kept in phone.

    8. Then i tried to do something for the notes. The Noki application was crashing and i searched for other versions of it. I found and downloaded an older version - 1.6, and it extracted all perfectly :) The messages were in .vmg format, recognized by the PC suite. But still i couldn't put them back (though didn't try hard for that), and there were only 50 of 270 messages. Noki is sharewere and extracts a limited number of messages at the trial period. But i exported the Notes and Calendar entries in .txt. I put back the notes by copying them to the phone. As for the calendar entries, i didn't try to put them back, since there were not important.

    So that's it :)

    After this, i did a backup of the phone again and started to customize and put the settings. I browsed for themes and found my recent addiction - "House M.D." tv-series theme ;)

    I spent the whole day fixing my phone and some hours after midnight - customizing, but i don't regret any bit :)
    My phone is working great again! :)

    Hopefully my description will be helpful to somebody else.

    1. Always have an up-to-date backup of at least the Address book of the phone
    2. I was happy to have bought the phone from the authorized dealer, so that i had the 1-year guarantee and the normal customer service. 
    3. Before taking the phone to the customer service for alternative solutions :) some things can be done easily at home, like reverting the factory settings. Google for the similar issues.
    4. Never stop trying, even if it seems useless.
    5. Don't install suspicious applications or at least backup the phone before.
    6. There are other search engines :D When google can't get the right page, better to try alternatives, and especially for the Russian content, is the best :)
    7. In case of the encoding problem with an application, try to open the help file, it should contain some screenshot :-D

    Friday, January 9, 2009

    New Year celebrations - The Armenian Way

    The New Year celebration is one of the most anticipated holidays for an Armenian family.
    Through the years, the traditions and customs are being kept but also a bit modernized :) Some of the customs come from Soviet times, they are quite similar to the ones in Russia and former USSR, but some are typical only in Armenia. Families with modest means and low income do their best to save money for New Year table. People even do more than they can afford, since it's believed that "You'll spend the year just the way you've welcomed it" and also people will be welcoming guests the following days, so the table has to be as "rich" as possible.
    The preparations start weeks before the New Year. People start attacking the food stores and supermarkets, trying to do the shopping beforehand, since the last days many things become more expensive (others like to leave everything till the last moment and the shop owners are earning on it).

    The Table
    One of the most anticipated New Year table "accessories" is the pork leg. It has become one of the main symbols of the holiday and there are already many jokes connected to that "cult" - like the question "how days in advance do you buy the pork?" asked to everybody or the greeting "happy pork holidays!". It costs about 100$ for an 8-10 kg piece. The recent years, some families that are trying to be original, are replacing the pork with turkey or some fish. In my family, we never betray this tradition since for my father, the pork is a "must-have" and traditionally my mother cooks it the best way. So the pork in our home is something to try out at the new year ;)

    a typical table at new year - my uncle's house example

    Other traditional things for the table are meat snacks (ham, basturma, sujukh), various salads ("stolichnyj", "olivier", chicken breast with nuts or mushrooms and other), …

    On the table you can find pastry (mostly eastern ones - with sweet honey syrup and nuts, since they can stay eatable longer because there's no milk cream), fruits (orange, apples, pomegranate, bananas, grapefruits),   various nuts (pistachio, hazelnuts, almonds, walnuts, etc...), and the sweet sudjukh - walnuts, threaded and soaked in thick syrup of grape or mulberry juice. Dried sweet snacks from all kinds of fruits (sometimes also vegetables) is also a must-have for the table. Apples, blackberry, peach, apricot, pear, prunes, watermelon, cherries, etc... (my friend's granny makes sweet dried carrots !)

    Dried fruits on our table
    on the left - Հոն (couldn't find its name in English and even in Russian for translating), apricots on top, peaches on bottom and watermelon slices on the right, figs in the middle.

    Sudjukh on the top, sweet dried figs on the left and dried prunes

    For the bread we usually put Armenian thin lavash since it lasts longer fresh. For about a week we don't do any shopping (actually we wouldn't be able to do it since the stores are closed), so all that days we are eating the food prepared in advance. Many people's stomachs won't easily survive this holiday.
    my favorite eastern pastry on our table
    it's Pakhlava on the top (eastern pastry with walnut stuffing and honey) and "rshta halva" on the bottom (again with walnuts and honey)

    There's an unannounced competition among the families and housewives - whose table will be richer and more original?. In addition to the traditional dishes, my mother also makes "chicken Kiev" cutlets, and traditional "Ishli kyufta" - chopped meat of different kind - stuffed one in another. Usually meat-stuffed pancakes are also an important part of the new year table, as well as traditional Armenian Dolma made by grape leaves.
    No female family member can skip from the responsibility of making these preparations (cutting vegetables, rolling dolmas, and baking pankaces).

    The House
    The preparations are not only for the table, but also for the house. A very important tradition for Armenians is cleaning out the house. These days girls are going upstairs on the stairs cleaning chandeliers and ceilings, also tops of wardrobes, cupboards and other wall units. This tradition is believed to be very important so that the house have to be totally ready to enter the new year clean. If you call an Armenian house on the last days of December, be sure that if you ask what are they doing, they must be either cleaning, or cooking :)

    So the new year is traditionally being met with the family. In some families women are busy preparing the table and cleaning the house up to the last minutes of the year. Then we are watching the Catholicos' and President's speeches, watching the Republic Square clock ticking. With the ticking, we raise glasses, say toasts, wishes and start eating :) pork, salads etc...

    Later some close relatives may arrive. Some families meet the new year also with the Moscow time (1 hour later), since Russian TV channels are very popular in Armenia and we watch also Russian president's speeches, compare them with ours' :D

    Then the fuss with phone calls begins. You have to be very lucky to be able to make a call or have your sms delivered. The telephone operators have the most extensive traffic load this night. It's also funny getting sms from unknown numbers with standard phrases "happy new year, i wish you happiness".
    Also, during all the holiday days, with all congratulations and wishes that one is saying to another, one very meaningless and stupid question is being asked always ! It's "How did you spend the New Year?". Of course, it's not about spending upcoming the year, but about the holiday, and you should really do something notable to tell since that question is just un-skippable.

    For the recent years it has become a tradition to meet the new year in Tsakhkadzor (a small town that became a winter resort, about 30 mins from Yerevan). All the guest houses and hotels are already fully booked before October! Most of the venues have their new year eve celebration show mandatory to attend and included in the price. It's nice when families can arrange to rent a house with their friends families and spend a week in this popular winter resort, enjoying the snow, skiing and climbing the mountains with the ropeway.
    Some families go to the restaurants for the night, where the Armenian pop stars start visiting the whole night. It's their most packed season :)

    New Year eve's TV shows of Armenian channels become more and more professional each year and you can notice that their budgets also increase by each year. But still if you switch the channels that night, you'll see the same pop stars singing the same hits :( The most popular shows are humorous films and recordings from previous year's humorous films.

    Guest/Host or "tun-tunik"
    The next day the holiday routine begins… endless visits and guest welcoming. It lasts from January 1 till 7-8. Families start visiting each other, one after another. In a day on average 3-4 visits are being completed, some people manage to visit more! It's kind of annoying but you may visit the families that visited you, just the next day. I wonder, are there so many things to talk and discuss ? :) On each visit, everybody has to try all the dishes that the hosts have prepared, even if it's your 5th ishli qyufta or pork ham slice. They will insist badly and you won't resist :D
    a family visit :) at my uncle's
    There's some kind of a priority system for the visits - the first two days are mainly for the close relatives and on Jan.1 it is required to visit houses where somebody has died that year.

    Armenian Christmas
    Armenian Christmas is being celebrated on Jan. 6. On the eve, people usually go to the church and bring consecrated fire from there (lighted candle that will clean the house from dark spirits). On the Christmas day families gather to eat rice prepared with dried fruits or raisins, eat fish and drink wine. No meat is allowed. Then some people visit a church and light a candle again.
    The next day of the main church holidays (including Christmas) is called "merelots" and that day people visit the graves of their relatives. From 2008, all the "merelots" days are declared non-working and are replaced by the nearest Saturdays in the week.

    In Armenia the Christmas is not as much anticipated and celebrated as the new year's eve, but i guess it depends on the family traditions.

    Thursday, January 8, 2009

    Il mio pensiero (è con i miei amici)

    I'm back to my Italian music addiction. I've downloaded the new album of Negrita "Helldorado" and Negramaro's new single "Meraviglioso". I also got addicted to Tiziano Ferro's "Alla mia età" and downloaded that album too (though i never thought i would like him at all).

    At the moment I'm listening to the Ligabue's one of 2008 hits - Il mio Pensiero and thinking of my friends who are far - in LA/D.C., Mauritius, Berlin, Sweden, somewhere in Germany, and also in Yerevan, but far.

    Ligabue is a master of meaningful and interesting lyrics. A volta, i'm amazed how he can sing right from my heart....
    Cosa c’entra questo cielo lucido
    Che non è mai stato così blu
    E chi se ne frega delle nuvole
    Mentre qui manchi tu
    E adesso che sei dovunque sei
    Chissà se ti arriva il mio pensiero
    Chissà se ne ridi o se ti fa piacere
    Dedicated to all my friends that are far.

    Wednesday, January 7, 2009

    Sunny Jan. 2

    I woke up and saw a clear blue sky, with no single cloud on it. Everything was white outside and the bright reflections were blinding if watched longer.
    I couldn't miss the opportunity to go out and walk a bit in the city, especially when it's a festive mood everywhere around.

    So I went out and it was chilly but sunny and no wind. -5 C outside officially, +7 shown by our thermometer under the sun :) Some streets (like mine) were still in a thick layer of snow (with a thick layer of ice under it), only the major ones and avenues were partly cleaned (by the traffic I guess).
    Cars had difficulties trying to get out of the yards and only ones like jeep or Niva are able to get out of the thick layer of snow and are able to drive on the layer of ice… Yesterday we could reach at my aunt's (a small neighborhood on a hill called "blur" /meaning "hill" in Armenian/) with some difficulties... the public transport is still rare and luckily we could reach there by metro + 10 mins walking. On the way we were watching the cars trying to drive in the neighborhood. If any car could go up the hill everybody were applauding and showing respects :D but most of the cars were doing useless attempts to climb the icy road on the hill.

    ....I was walking on the central streets and looking around. People were in groups, mostly families rushing to visit their relatives and friends, and some school or student groups. There were attractions and some fun activities organized for kids at the Republic Square.

    The sun was incredible. I couldn’t not to smile at it :) I was walking by myself on my favorite streets, taking my favorite routes. I was thinking about the big changes that happened to my life and about ones that are still waiting to happen. My favorite cafes were all closed. Rare stores and cafes were open. Many of them will open already tomorrow.

    "Bitter sweet symphony" was brought by shuffle of my XpressMusic and I started to sing it silently and my step became similar to the Richard Ashcroft's walk in the video for the great song :)

    I saw champagne bottles lying on the snow with some plastic cups near, I saw icicles melting, dangerously hang from the roofs, i saw remains of colorful balloons and decorations.

    Tuesday, January 6, 2009

    new year, new life :)

    I haven't published anything here for a while!

    I just had to take my time and think about the recent major changes happened to me.
    2 days before the new year, my life has completely changed. The change was unexpected, moreover, it was very unpleasant and not in time at all!
    So I had to recover and analyze for myself.

    There was something that was occupying most of my time, my thoughts and it was all that my expectations, hopes and my growth were connected with. My friends, my leisure, my plans were connected with it too. I quit my all other assignments to concentrate myself to that one thing that I set as a priority. It was my current job and i lost it.

    Actually, I have been fired, .mm .. no, how could they fire me, if i quit myself before :D

    I was in the company since its creation and even before (I worked on one of the projects that this current company inherited from my previous company on the base of which my current company was created). I was the oldest employee, and was involved in everything, and was helping also other departments. But I was also a competitor :)
    The thing is that since December, the management staff has changed, including my department's director. The new guy came and treated us as we were doing nothing and getting blown salaries, didn't do anything right, didn't have any discipline etc... (a common case i guess).
    Then he started to get rid of people he thought he won't need. And so my turn has come.

    Dec. 29 was a very bad day for me. I was destroyed and deserted not from the fact that the company didn't need me anymore, but from the way they presented it to me. Completely inacceptable and incorrect. 
    They just welcomed me saying that they have to say good-bye to me since I haven't done anything for my job, moreover, they don't see any willing to work from my side and I don't bring any profit to the company.
    They started to press me, blaming for things that i was hearing for the first time, that were so unfair and unreasonable... so cruel and shocking, i couldn't believe my ears.
    They made me a "generous" offer to stay either as an assistant to my boss (write texts etc... it was funny since i have never been an "assistant" in my life and my first ever serious job was a "Web developer/programmer") and i should get half of my current salary, or the next choice was - staying on my current position, doing the same job + bringing projects and clients to my company (that turned out to be a main responsibility of "projects manager", funny huh) and get that same half. They told me that expected me to happily accept it since it's such a nice offer!
    They told me that sometimes it's good to start from the beginning. It could be true, but not in this case and not with my experience and skills.
    There's one person guilty for it and it's not me :) Taking out all the uncensored expressions that are associated with him in my mind (so far he beat everybody else and occupied the first line in my worst-top list), I'll just say he isn't worth being mentioned in my positive blog :)

    I know i'll find my way. I'm so much open to everything. I'm free and i can do whatever I want. I can go abroad for a job or an internship or study... I don't have hungry kids awaiting me at home and i have no obligation. I can erase and start from the beginning. I can take a course, do more of my hobbies.. learn finally the Portuguese which classes' schedule were not compatible with my previous job. I'll finally take the driving classes and get my license.

    And so, i'm open to job offers :D

    My ex-colleagues - Mariam, Masha, Ruzanna and me. at the corporate new year party.