Sunday, March 25, 2007

Finding out what you want to do

Let's say, you have some time on hand. Do you feel afterwards that you simply whiled it away without using that rare opportunity to do something either you enjoyed or mattered to you? Many times we do. We would have whiled away a nice afternoon browsing the net aimlessly, searching for the 10th time some update on a news story we are actively following. But, if this was not what you wanted to do then a strong wave of regret that follows can easily push you into depression.

Came across this simple exercise somewhere (not sure but may be from one of Brian Tracy's books). Idea is simple. First start listing as many activities you can. You can write anything and everything. More activities the better. As they say - "best way to get  a good idea is to first get a lot of ideas".

It is better to do this exercise on some spreadsheet program. You can do it on paper too but you would not have the benefit of being able to sort, change etc. easily.

To being with a simple spreadsheet with just two columns suffices. First column to list the activity. Second column to assign some factor to quantify how much you enjoy doing that. Let's stick to higher the number lower the enjoyment factor.

After you think you have written up good number of activities (say 15-20), start assigning priorities to them in the next column. Do not worry about repeating priorities. You can assign multiple ones for those activities that you enjoy almost equally. So on multiple 2s and 3s and 4s as needed.

Now sort the spreadsheet by using the priority and in the ascending order. So, you should get a list of activities sorted with the enjoyment factor in the priority order.

If you have listed good number of activities. You will have at least a few activities with same enjoyment factor. But, the fun is to resolve the tie. So, start with the first row. How many ones you have? Let's say 3 activities with enjoyment factor 1. All 3 can not have enjoyment factor of 1. So, what we do is to make 2 of the 3 activities with enjoyment factor 2. That's it for this part of exercise. So, now you have one activity with priority 1 clearly identified.

Now sort the entire list in the same fashion as did before. What do you have now? One activity with enjoyment factor 1 clearly identified at the top and whole bunch of activities with many requiring ties to resolved. Start the process again. So, how many activities with enjoyment factor 2 you have? At least 2 in this case because we had 3 activities with factor 1 and we made 2 of them with 2. So, now break the tie between activities with enjoyment factor 2. Remember only thing to do is to choose the one you think deserves priority 2, leave that like that and assigning the priority of 3 to remaining activities with priority 2. Sort the list and repeat.

This can get quite involving if you try it sincerely and can be useful in identifying a list of activities you really enjoy. But, point is break the tie incrementally and not randomly. Every activity can be downgraded by a factor of 1 only at any iteration so that it has a fair chance to compete with other activities. It does not make sense to attach the enjoyment factor of 15 to an activity that you originally assigned 3. When you assigned enjoyment factors the very first time, chances are you got them quite right as your intuition was at work. Incremental refining  only takes it to the next level.

This simple spreadsheet can be extended in innumerable ways. Next may be to add another column say utility factor. Enjoyment factor is one criterion and the second criterion is utility factor. Utility factor can be viewed as return on investment. While doing an activity you are doing, you have to invest time and other resources. What did you get out of it? Enjoyment is certainly one thing but it helps to consider utility as well.

So, now start assigning utility factor to each activity in the same fashion as you assigned enjoyment factor. Value 1 means you reap maximum  benefits from doing what that particular activity. Value 2 means little less than maximum and so on. In this case also do not worry if you assign same utility factor to multiple activities.

Now sort the list with using enjoyment factor as the first criteria and utility factor as second criteria. Now, it is time resolve ties between utility factors. Do it the same way. Shifting the utility factor by 1 for every activity that does not merit a particular factor. Sorting after each set of reassignment is important to get the most updates list.

The product of enjoyment factor and utility factor gives the net ranking of an activity. Basically we want to do those activities that we enjoy most and that benefit us most.

Some examples (individual choices vary :))

Enjoy 1, benefit 1 - Reading
Enjoy 3, benefit 2 - Exercise
Enjoy 2, benefit 3 - Movies
Enjoy 4, benefit 4 - Shopping

As you can see, there can be ties in the net ranking. Exercise and movies in this case. Product of two factors is same (i.e. 6). What to do in this case? One way is to introduce another factor or attach different weightings to enjoyment and utility. That is to say - factor 1 in utility means more than factor 1 in enjoyment.  So, in the above case, someone who puts more weight on benefit will rank exercise higher than movies although product is same for both of them.

You can add other columns such as which activity takes other people, what is relative cost factor, risk factor and so on and fun never ends. You can introduce another factor that is last done and weight it inversely so that you do get to do some activities even if you do not enjoy them much nor are they too useful. It's important to make time for such at least once in a while else it gets too routine doing only high ranking activities.

If I remember correctly, this exercise was originally created to help people understand there are a lot of activities they enjoy which they can do with friends and family and do not require any money or major effort to do them. In other words, the message was 'it does not take much money to have a lot of fun.' For those of us who understand that already or money is not a concern (lucky ones), that is a moot point.

Have fun.


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Saturday, March 17, 2007

Prayer & Intution

"Prayer is when we are talking to the God.
Intuition is when the God is talking to us."

From Wayne Dyer's lecture.

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Saturday, March 10, 2007

Ego to God

Inspiration philosophical bit that I came across somewhere. Sorry do not remember well enuf to give the credit it deserves but nevertheless it is such a jewel.

"Take out E out Ego and add a D at the end and you have transformed Ego to God."

All scriptures scream 'get rid of that ego, get rid of that ego. that's the only thing that is stopping you from realizing your true self." How true?

Ego is a loaded term. Understanding what it means itself may take several life times. But, simple explanation is that all those thoughts, things that are very much related only to you and nothing to do with others. Ego is exactly opposite of what should ideally be thinking on the lines " if I work for the welfare of others, then I am naturally taken care of. My welfare is part of the bigger welfare."

Spiritual teachers have a knack of driving this point home. They ask a pointed question. Remember a time when you were really happy? If you can carefully replay that incidence, how much of you psyche was thinking about you, your problems, what you want, what you like or what you do not like. Chances are many of us say, during those ecstatic times, there was a very little mind energy focused on ourselves but most of it was on something else. Even if it is completely absorbed in a game we like very much. That is closer to ego less state. Although it is far from complete ego less state. Point is when we lose ourselves in doing something that takes away our mind from brooding on ourselves, we become happy.

Great starting point to start thinking less and less about what we want, what we like or what we do not like is to start accepting things as they are. This does not mean that we should stay put that way all the time but if we do not accept things as they are then we spend more time being unhappy about the state of things than doing something to change them. After we accept the way things are, then we can throw ourselves into fully into changing things that we do not like if it bothers us so much. If we are that passionate about changing things we do not like, we will become so engrossed in that endeavor that our initial problems with how things were just evaporates and does not bother us. Many times it so happens that when we take into doing something so much passion, divine insight will start appearing from somewhere to let us advise if we are on the right path or not. If we are smart enuf, we heed to signs and change our ways. If not the process repeats, things start becoming difficult, we get unhappy and time to repeat the process. Accept the situation and start doing something about it.


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Saturday, March 03, 2007

Stock Market...down

Last week has been quite rough, eh?

If you held PALM then you must have made a killing. PALM went up more than 10% due to some rumors of buyout. If you held that stock, good for you. My portfolio had a tiny amount of PALM but it was okay. I sold mine not because of nice run up but for the reason that it is over priced now with P/E more than 20. That is 'buy low sell high'. Here the reference is P/E and not price. Price is way too subjective and is based on how Mr. Market feels on any given day.

Down market also provides nice opportunities to start buying. But, do not expect the market to come back very strongly. Not because of any fundamental reasons but people I guess have seen rising market for quite some time. When they see the same trend, they have to do something differently. It's all behavioral finance. That's it.

Some people choose to hold on to appreciated and over priced stock to avoid short term capital gains taxes. That is not a very good idea because you do not know when your stock is going tank. When investing actively, do not go by short or long term gain. If the price (as determined by P/E) is above 18 or 20, SELL. That's assuming you bought the stock when it traded below P/E of 15. Buying anything more than P/E of 15 is not very wise. Greater fool theory that you can sell  it some other person if you bought an over priced stock can be sheer wishful thinking.

So, what are some good buys now. Toyota motors which has gone up by more than 30% in last 6 months or so is still an attractive buy as it's around P/E of 15. Pricey stock but worth your hard earned money. Also gives decent dividends.
Tata Motors (TTM) is also a good stock around P/E 15. Moreover, Indian stocks have been swinging quite a bit. So, this may present an opportunity to make some quick money. Most of the other Indian stock traded in the US are very over priced, especially IT companies. Even considering explosive growth in Indian economy, anything more than 20 P/E is still a way too high.

DELL may become still cheaper. Then it may become a good buy. This is because the management team seems to have been kicked in the pants with founder Michael Dell coming back into active management. So, keep an eye on DELL. Also, if DELL goes down, it is going to take down few other stocks such as WDC and other, so they all become attractive buys. One thing to be careful is not buy too much into the same sector but if companies are good, go for it.

AMAT is another great buy. AMAT, largest semiconductor equipment manufacturer, is trading at a very attractive price. AMAT also acquired Brooks Software a few months back. This is going to be great thing for AMAT as Brooks Software was the most comprehensive software provider for the sector and AMAT is going to become one-stop-shop for semi conductor automation. OK, I have some bias as Brooks Software is one of the companies I worked for in the past. I would like to see anyone who acquired all of our hard work prospers and makes all those nice people part of AMAT rich as well :)

Overall, down market is the time to fish for great buy.


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