Sunday, January 26, 2020

Get Things Done

Where does the whole day go? 

Almost every night, I seem to ask myself this question even after being up for almost 15-16 hours and doing something or the other nonstop all day long. Most of the time, I feel that 24 hours in a day are just not enough to pack in all the activities that demand our attention. At the end of the day, I may feel tired physically but mentally I am still stressed out about things that have not been done and are smirking at me from my daily To-Do list.

But after some soul searching and introspection, I realized that there are quite a few habits that waste our time and though we are busy doing something or the other all the time, we are really not getting important things done. Hence the list of daily chores does not seem to diminish and we feel unsatisfied with what we have accomplished during the past 24 hours.

If you feel you are in the same boat, read on to know the reasons and how to fix them.

1) Social media addiction: 

This is the biggest culprit when it comes to time guzzling. With friends and family members spread all over the world, most of us spend a lot of time on Whatsapp, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram checking messages, reading emails, watching videos, laughing at memes and then spending a lot of time answering them. Just the amount of time we spend on social media is bad enough, but what compounds the problem is that every beep and ping makes us check our smart phones, breaking the momentum of the work we are involved in and making it harder to re-start or concentrate. 

If you need to work on a project that demands your full attention, create a specified, uninterrupted time frame where you focus solely on the project at hand. Turn off phones and resist the urge to peek at your Whatsapp after every five minutes. You will be surprised how much more efficiently you can work.

2) Know what needs to be done today: 

Every day I start my day with a to-do- list. This has helped me a lot to focus on things that are necessary and cut the time wasting activities from my life. Right after breakfast; I make a to-do list that comprises of chores, tasks or assignments that need to be tackled. Doctor’s appointment, visit to the bank, parent-teacher meeting, cleaning the fridge or completing an article, making a list helps me to prioritize the activities that need immediate attention. The upside is that a lot more gets done as compared to starting your day in a haphazard way.

3) Unclutter your mind: 

Modern day life is very hectic and there are usually lots of things on our mind. Whether it’s an illness of a near and dear one or children’s grades in school, financial problems or a family feud, it is very hard to focus on work when our brain is occupied with unpleasant or negative thoughts. Though these things are harder to relegate to the back of the mind, you have to train yourself not to let them affect your office work or other areas of your life that demand your full concentration.

4) Be more organized when it comes to shopping: 

Once again making lists can make your life much easier when it comes to shopping, whether you are buying household groceries or clothes, shoes, medicines etc. I even write the names of shops I need to visit for my shopping so that I can plan my route and not waste time going from Point A to Point Z and later remember that I needed to go to Point S in between.

5) Don’t procrastinate: 

Most of us procrastinate when it comes to tackling a long, tedious chore or facing an unpleasant situation. But the more we delay, the bigger a hassle it becomes. Have a disorganized cupboard at home or over cluttered drawers or if your fridge needs a thorough cleaning, tax documents needs to be filled or files are to be organized, allot a day and time for your tasks. Have a firm deadline for getting it done. Remember “Someday” is not a day in any calendar. Also keep in mind the advantages of getting the chore done.

It is a sad reality that many of us do not value time. We waste it doing things that have no positive effect on our life. Instead of watching endless hours of TV entertainment or chatting on social media, this time can be spent on being productive or enhancing our personality by learning new skills. Read a good book, start a fitness goal, enroll yourself in an online class or start a freelance business. Cut out the unnecessary from your daily routines and get things done!

Friday, January 17, 2020

The Three Gates of Wisdom


If you propose to speak, always ask yourself, is it true, is it necessary, is it kind?”

These wise words have been accredited to almost every sage ranging from Buddha to Greek philosopher Socrates to Sufi mystic Rumi to Hindu guru Sathya Sain Baba and even to Hazrat Ali (ra)

But irrespective of its origin, I wonder what will happen to our society and people in general if we were to apply this adage to ourselves for a week or even a day. I personally think that at public meetings, family functions, work, home, social media and wherever there is a gathering of more than one person, most conversations would come to a complete standstill.

For what would a mother-in-law say to her son about his ‘wayward’ wife when he comes home from work? Or the daughter-in-law about her ‘susral’ when she is among her own family members during a visit to the ‘maika’? What would colleagues talk about when one of their own is not among them?

How will a team discuss their boss as soon as his back is turned? How will the print and electronic media survive if every word they say or write about politicians, sports celebrities and movie stars has to pass through this sieve of “Is it true is it necessary, is it kind”?

How would we survive if after coming home from a family wedding, we would not be at liberty to discuss the bride, her bridal dress, her looks, her make-up and jewelry, the groom, his family, the food, the dowry, the guests and the general arrangements, without adding our own tarka and spice to the real thing.

Unfortunately many among us thrive on just this diet of gossip, rumor mongering, scandal sharing and telling tales. We derive a certain satisfaction from criticizing, ridiculing and saying cutting things about each other. We like to talk about the failures and disasters that befall our family members and colleagues whom we do not like and take a certain satisfaction in the misfortune of others.

In schools and other educational institutes, we constantly find children lying, bragging, backbiting, being rude to teachers, using abusive language and bullying. Children are capable of saying horrible stuff and adults too seem to have little self censorship.

In homes, couples sometimes say cruel words to each other in anger. Parents can say taunting words to children while scolding them. We do not realize how much impact our heedless words can have on the psyche of the other person and how harsh words can gradually destroy relationships.

Parents especially should be very careful of what they say to their children and the tone they use. Saying things like “you are useless/worthless” or “you are nothing and doomed to failure” can have a very bad impact on parent-child relationship. If we learn to control our words and just think before saying something whether it is kind, true or necessary, many relationships can be saved.

Our use of social media adds another dimension to the way we communicate with the world around us. Social media makes it possible to spread gossip, rumors, lies and scandals like wildfire in a matter of minutes.

In fact, according to social media experts, gossip and rumors on websites such as Twitter and Facebook spread in the manner of a contagious virus, To borrow a scenario from a biology book, viruses undergo subtle genetic changes through mutation and major genetic changes through recombination. Similarly facts, information and reality also undergo alarming changes when being spread through social media sites. In matter of seconds, reputations can be murdered and characters slandered.

One look at the content that is shared or goes viral shows that people can become the subject of online or media ridicule due to their beliefs whether religious, social, cultural, political or more. Experts also say that there is an overwhelming flow of fake news and false information spreading across social media which travels faster and further than the truth.

Sitting in our homes, safe behind our computers, smart phones and laptops, most of us never even pause for a second while sending a text, meme or message forward. We never imagine how a person’s life can be destroyed in one moment because of an idle joke, a malicious image, a remark or a false report. Reputation has become a very fragile cheap commodity and when damaged the loss is absolute. Tragically, it can cost people their jobs, relationships, freedom, and their very lives.

Today, more than ever, we need to stop and think about the words we speak and the news we share. One of the best ways of not becoming a part of this rat race is to stay out of the matters that do not concern us. Develop a reputation as a person who does not invite gossip, rumours or tell tales. Try to stick to the truth as much as possible. Think before you discuss a person in his absence or press the “forward” button if you receive a text, meme or joke that is not in good taste.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Shattered Illusions

We often talk about the negative impact of social media, Hollywood/Bollywood movies or video games on our children but we forget that children are exposed to a lot of violence many times a day through television, newspapers and the Internet.It has become quite a norm for news channels to air detailed and repetitive visual coverage of gory crimes, heated political debates, global conflicts and scenes of great tragedies.

Recently, I got a firsthand insight into how 24 hour breaking news bulletins, exclusive news coverage and detailed news analysis is affecting the minds of our young children.

I had volunteered to check some essays written by young students on the theme of peace.

I was amazed and a little dejected by the content of those essays. I was amazed because children as young as 11 year olds had shown keen observation and understanding of our political affairs as well as national and international conflicts which plague our world today.

But I also felt extremely dejected because those essays exuded hopelessness, anger, frustration and fear felt by our children. And I feel as adults we have failed them!

In all the essays that I read, I found three things were uppermost in the minds, hearts and souls of our children when it came to the theme of peace ….our politicians, TV talk shows and Syria.


Our children have a very poor view of politicians. They see them not as leaders or statesmen but as figures that rave and rant against each other, make false promises and are wholly corrupt. But you might ask how does it relate to the topic of peace?

From the children’s essays I found that children blame the politicians for the divisive society that we live in. I felt that the children believe that our politicians set us against each other for power. The concept of unity as Pakistanis has become vague as we identify ourselves more as followers of a particular political party or diehard fans of a party’s infallible chairman.

TV Talk Shows

Talk shows, their hosts, anchorpersons and guests were blamed for destroying peace of mind and shattering tranquility in homes. Children believe that people in talk shows behave very badly. They are rude to each other; they fight and abuse each other verbally, interrupt conversations and are unable to listen to each other with any semblance of tolerance or open mindedness.

They feel most people on TV talk shows behave in a way that would never be tolerated by adults if children were to behave in a similar way in homes, schools or public places….food for thought indeed!


It was surprising how many young children wrote about Syria. Too young to know much about ISIS, Daesh, Putin, Assad or Trump, they vented their anger on the “so called” world leaders and the UN for allowing the children to suffer and bombs to fall.

Bombs…that are all their young minds comprehend …..Bombs falling on homes in which children live with their families; Bombs reducing houses and schools to rubble; Bombs falling while crying parents carry dead and severely injured bodies of their infants in their arms.

A great deal of anger was displayed by children when talking about use of pellet guns in Kashmir by the Indian Army. Similarly harsh treatment of Palestinian at hands of Israeli soldiers at checkpoints also frustrated them, but from their essays I felt that the Syrian war has truly shaken the confidence of our children in the adults around them.

Maybe, a child psychologist might be able to read more between the lines and give a better analysis than a layperson like me, but I sensed that children feel not only the anguish and pain of their Syrian brothers and sisters but also anger at the state of the world.

They also lay the blame on those they feel are most responsible for all the bloodshed…we, the adults, the leaders and statesmen, the diplomats and heads of states that have been unable to prevent such horrific events from taking place.

What touched me most was that at the end of almost every essay, each child had shown fierce determination to work for peace and make Pakistan a peaceful place. I pray that their determination and patriotism never wanes.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

The True Test of Our Inner Strength

There is a very famous Chinese saying: “Great souls have wills; feeble ones have only wishes.”

Whether we want to be more organized, more punctual, have a cleaner home, whether we want to learn a new skill, get rid of bad habits, save more money or get in shape, we need resolution and the strength of will to make it happen. Yet time and time again we prove ourselves weak and powerless against temptations and distractions. 

When our dreams do not materialize, we blame the circumstances, lack of resources, means, money, time, friends and family members and even the neighbours and yet we do not realize the extent of our own fault and lack of willpower.

Simply put, our willpower is our ability to resist short-term temptations in order to meet long-term goals. If I want to save money for a rainy day, I will have to stop myself from running after designer suits every time they are launched or refrain from buying branded accessories. 

The temptation to splurge and throw all caution to wind is very strong as we are constantly bombarded by advertisements in print and digital media that threaten to destroy our resolve. However this is where a strong will power and self discipline come to our rescue.

Similarly, if someone wants to get in shape, he will have to stop eating foods that are bad for his health and get involved in some sort of physical activity. The urge to sit in front of TV and watch the latest Turkish soap or every match that is being aired around the globe may be strong but once a person decides that remaining fit is more important he will have to resist such temptations.

Willpower determines whether or not we will reach the goals that we have set for ourselves or that we can persevere at tasks that are assigned to us. Willpower is the key to success and yet most of us have misplaced this important key to a better life.

Many people complain that they do not have the time or resources to pursue their dreams and goals. I feel that most of the time these are excuses that hold us back. Each one of us is blessed with 24 hours a day. It is how we chose to spend our time and resources and the choices we make that make us successful or frustrated in life.

Instead of watching a mind numbing morning show or keeping up with every Hollywood/Bollywood movie or spending excessive time on social media, we can choose to spend this time on self improvement. The key is having enough resolve to prune away unnecessary activities, expenditure and even people from our lives to be more productive. To have a strong will power we need to look at the following steps:

Know what you want: 

Be very clear about your goal, ambition or dream and set your priorities right. In most instances, what you have to do and the way you have to do it is incredibly simple. For example if you want to lose weight, you have to make smart food choices and get moving. You want to be in a better financial position, you have to cut down unnecessary expenses. You want to have better options in job and career, learn new skills and look for constant ways to improve. What you want and how you can achieve it are simple. The real test is whether you have the will power to do it.

Make a list: 

It always helps to have the goal in writing. It can serve as a reminder every time you lose self resolve.

Believe that you can do it:

Our past mistakes and lapses do not have to define our future. If we have been unable to keep our promises to ourselves, this does not mean that future efforts will also go in vain.

Remove temptations: 

If you have not developed a strong will power, then remove temptations from your vicinity. Avoid window shopping or online surfing if you can’t stop yourself from buying new stuff all the time.

Be Ready for the Struggle: 

It is not always easy to cultivate a strong will power. It is more fun to do things that we want to do rather than things that need to be done, isn’t it? So start in small doses. Let’s suppose eating out frequently is shrinking your bank account and increasing your waistline, decrease the number of time you eat out one trip per month till it is no longer wrecking your life.

Charles Dickens once said: “The most important thing in life is to stop saying ‘I wish’ and start saying ‘I will.’ It’s worth trying.

Friday, January 3, 2020

OMG! I Sound Just Like My Mom

There are a few dire warnings, threats and statements which desi mothers are prone to make, and these are handed down generations like precious heirlooms.

When I was growing up, I would roll my eyes, grind my teeth, or swear to myself that I would never say such things to my children but I guess unconsciously we absorb a lot of things from our parents. Now that we have children of our own, and we face similar obstinacy, battles and questions, we cannot resist using the same ploys our parents, especially moms, used on us.

The Flying Chappal Threat:

This is the perennial threat that is issued most during summer vacations and weekends. Sick and tired of seeing children lying comatose on beds all day or walking like zombies between the fridge and television, this “Uthtay ho ya jooti aye” threat was issued to me and my siblings on a daily basis. Maybe my mother thought she can frighten us into doing something constructive with our time. I am sorry to say that it failed to galvanize us siblings 25 years ago and falls on deaf ears in my household too.

The “Because I say so” dictum:

The ultimate response to every “Why” question throughout history has to be “because I say so.” It is a feeble way to establish authority or put an end to all pesky questions children come up with. Mothers use it as a way to re-assure themselves that they are the ones laying down the rules in the house and not the pint size toddler asking mutinously why she cannot have the fourth scoop of ice-cream.

The “if your friend jumps into a well” question:

Throughout my school and college years, if I dared to bring up a friend’s name in order to win an argument, the “If your friend jumped off a cliff/into a well, would you do it, too?” was the pat response that my mom used to win every debate.

It was no use telling her that my friend was not jumping into a well but was going to a cinema to watch the latest blockbuster or visiting the latest mall for some window shopping but in eyes of my mom, these activities translated to the same thing. I also use the same dictum with reasonable success against my children because it is so much fun to say it and then see them roll their eyes.

The “famine in Africa” reminder

Mealtimes are constant battles nowadays with picky eaters who refuse to eat anything remotely healthy and nutritious. They think it is an affront to eat plain rice, daal, chapatti and vegetable dishes when there are pizzas, burgers, tacos and street food available.

When I remind my children there are children starving in Africa who would love to have the food that they are wasting, I can almost hear my mother say the same thing.

The addiction-to-TV accusation:

In my childhood cartoons were precious and we were seldom allowed to watch movies. However on rare occasions when we were allowed to watch TV, we would get as close to the screen as possible as all family members would crowd in the same room to watch the favorite programme or cricket match. So I felt it was very unjust when our parents said “TV ka nasha hai tum logon ko” or “TV may ghuss ker baith jao.” Guess my horror when I find myself saying the same words to my children.

The ‘does money grow on trees’ question:

I must confess that this question which we grew up listening to whenever we asked for new clothes or shoes is a little obsolete now. Our children know that money does not grow on trees. They think it spills out of ATM machines.

The eyes vs button comparison:

Isn’t it strange that children’s eyes are usually very sharp when it comes to most things that they should not see or observe but send them to find a certain item from a drawer or room, and they will always come back empty handed?

Children also spend a lot of time looking for books, pens, and other stationary items that are right before their eyes on the study table and can waste an enormous amount of time looking for them while studying.

Often exasperated by our inability to find our socks or a matching thread, my mother would say “Aankhain hain ya button?”And yes, I say exactly the same words to my children for the exact same offense.

The hygiene mantra:

Brush your teeth. Comb your hair. Use soap and water. What’s that smell? When did you last change your socks? What’s THAT on your bed? What’s THIS under your bed? When did you last clean your room? Every time I hear these questions coming out of my mouth, I mentally apologize to my mother for this can only be cosmic retribution for my childhood misdemeanors.

Well history tends to repeat itself and I guess, I do sound like my mom while dealing with my own children. And maybe it is not such a bad thing after all.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

The Stranger In My House


How was your day?


Anything new in school?


Everything alright?


While conversing with your teenager, you might wonder if there was really a time when your child used to talk nonstop. As toddlers, from the moment they opened their eyes to the minute they went to sleep, all they did was chatter and all you wanted was just five minutes of silence in the house.

Everything around a young child is a source of inspiration and a topic for endless commentary…toothbrush, teddy bear, egg and toast, butterfly, drive in the car, clouds, rain, ice cream, flowers, teachers, friends, school bag, colour pencils, lunch-box, Dora the explorer, Tom and Jerry…even an ant crawling up the wall is enough to make them talk incessantly with bright eyes and an animated expression.

Fast forward a few years and you will be justified to feel that some moody, silent stranger has replaced your exuberant, talkative child and the two of you do not even speak the same language.

Every question you ask is answered by a monosyllabic yes, no, or fine. Getting a proper answer out of them is as painful and arduous as getting a tooth pulled out and believe me when I tell you that tooth extraction is a truly painful procedure.

Have you ever wondered when it is that our children start shutting us out of their lives? When they feel they no longer need to tell us anything that is going on in school or after school or they can longer confide their worries to us. When did their problems get so big that that they started thinking that we, the parents, will be unable to help them? When it is that our approval or even permission becomes unimportant or irrelevant.

I feel a lot of this has to do with the way we communicate with our children. The words we use, how we respond to things they say and above all, our body language affects our relationship with our children. This can have a huge impact on whether they will feel comfortable talking to us about the big issues they will one day face as teenagers.

Renowned author and cultural historian Catherine M. Wallace says: “Listen earnestly to anything your children want to tell you, no matter what. If you don’t listen eagerly to the little stuff when they are little, they won’t tell you the big stuff when they are big, because to them all of it has always been big stuff.”

These are wise words indeed.

If we do not listen to our children or support their little achievements or encourage them not to be afraid of failure when they are young, our children in later lives will become moody, silent and secretive.

Teenagers love to test their boundaries, That is why in most homes there are battles about what they eat, what they wear, the amount of time they spend on gadgets or watching TV and movies, the friends they hang out with, the company they keep, when they sleep and how much of their focus is on their studies.

Frustrated by their attitude, parents sometimes say harsh things in anger or desperation. Phrases like “how can you be so stupid?”, “don’t bother me” or “you will amount to nothing in life” can really hurt your child’s self esteem. And next time they feel justified in doing things secretively or not letting you about certain things they are encountering in life.

Similarly if parents are always criticizing their children’s appearance or choices, they will hesitate to confide in you or listen to what you have to say.

Instead of lecturing or scolding, the best way to talk to a teenager is to ask his opinion. For example instead of saying, “have you seen how dirty your room is?”, ask your child “how can your room be made better?” The chances are the teenager will see his room with new eyes.

Instead of saying, “You are always wasting your time,” ask, “Are you interested in learning a new skill like swimming or tennis?” Engage them in conversation, give them options and respect their opinion too. Otherwise they may start having thoughts like; “They are always scolding me”, “They don’t understand my problems,” or “They would be so disappointed in me!”

While talking to my own teenagers, I find that instead of taking part in a yelling, glaring and shouting match, it is best to give them space and time if they are upset. Just tell them that you are here to listen to them and they can come to you anytime.

The onus is on the parents to keep communication doors open and not make the teens feel alone and alienated. Otherwise teenagers might prefer to get advice or comfort from friends or social media which is not always the best or the safest option.

Get Things Done

Where does the whole day go?  Almost every night, I seem to ask myself this question even after being up for almost 15-16 hour...