Monthly Archives: April 2017

How Green are my Movements? 100 Days of Data

It is worth reflecting on HOW you move

Global warning: This conversation might make you plan your life towards benefiting the planet.

Quick Background

With a clear interest in protecting the health of our planet, and a strong belief that data tells us more than what we would ‘choose to remember’, I started collecting data about my transportation modes at the start of this year. Yesterday was the 100th day of the year. Here are some thoughts on the subject that I felt were worth sharing with you.

Since the Summer of ‘69

“Mummy” is no longer a mode of transport for me

In the summer of ’69, my father was navigating a Boeing-707 flight from London to New York that he did on a weekly basis when my mother packed her bag in their home in London, dropped my elder sisters off at a friend’s and drove to the hospital where I was born a few hours later. Apparently, my father was pleased when he was given the news, “it’s a boy”, upon landing at JFK Airport.

A few years later, growing up in Mumbai, I loved cycling, and although my father drove a British car on Indian roads, we were always encouraged to walk wherever we could. Those were the 70s and 80s, times when even the upper middle classes, if they owned a car, typically owned just one.

Cycling back from lectures

Moving ahead in time, as a student of engineering and management at the University of Cambridge I learned a fair amount about inefficient modes of transport from a ‘green perspective’. In fact, since the start of motorized transport, the rule at that university was “no cars permitted for undergraduates” and so, no matter what your social status, you would typically move around Cambridge by bicycle or foot. Whether it was to the boat house to row early in the mornings, or to parties in colleges across town, the common feature about the transport was green. The environmental benefit of such a culture will be obvious to you even if you were to visit Cambridge this summer.

Mumbai: when motorized transport is so slow, pedestrians will walk on the road (PC: Mid Day)

Mumbai: when motorized transport is so slow, pedestrians will walk on the road (PC: Mid Day)

Moving ahead another 30 years, back in Mumbai today, it is awful to see how the city has only become worse in many respects, as each decade has rolled by. One of these, familiar to anyone who has spent even a few hours in the city, where I spend a good chunk of each year, is the terrible state of roads, and inefficient use of public money. The popular media has published many reports [see this for an example from 9 years ago, and this one more recent] on how most tax dollars are spent on providing facilities for the limited number of car users when in fact the largest percentage of travel is done by public mass transportation (bus, train, metro) or bicycle and foot. What makes the situation sadder still is that despite the disproportionate allocation of tax money to the roads, those roads are in a terrible state and the transport on them crawls along – and that is when it does move! May God help you if you need an ambulance for an emergency in that city!

From BMW to Bicycle

With many claims to be green and being someone who generally likes to walk his talk, I thought it would be interesting to collect broad level data on my transport modes. My first car 24 years ago was a BMW but for the last 10 years I have not owned a car. In Mumbai, I own a bicycle instead. I have a strong preference for ‘as green a form of transport as possible’. Public transport is not particularly comfortable in Mumbai but I have typically opted for a bit of personal discomfort to benefit the city.

Bombay Bustle – Bicycles Faster than BMW

Data Collection and Behaviour Change

Normally, the commencement of data collection about oneself tweaks one’s behaviour (for instance, there is some evidence that those who weigh themselves daily, tend to lose more excess weight than control groups who don’t). Because of my choices for many decades now to minimize my carbon footprint from transportation, there was no sudden change in my travel methods. In my on-going quest to understand myself, the data simply gives me a better handle on my claims about being greener than the next guy stuck in traffic.

Simple Data Collected

Easy to record the data every night

All I recorded each day was the number of different journeys I did and their modes of transport. Often to meet someone, I might cycle to the station, take the train, and then walk at the other end. In many European cities that is not unusual at all. In Mumbai, a city that could really do with what I call CTW (cycle-train-walk) it is very unusual – especially for those who live in million dollar homes!

What I recorded was simply a count of the number of journeys, not the kilometres travelled. Given that the two transcontinental flights that I did take in February were of 8000km length each, whereas most of the bicycle journeys are for just a few Km, the story would be quite different if represented by carbon footprint. Having said that, there are clearly some journeys that cannot be done by greener modes of transport. Mumbai to London for a week with family is one of them!

How Green are my Numbers?

Breakdown of # Journeys by Mode of Transport for 100 days

How Bad am I?

I could be doing much worse

At first I felt terrible that I was not at 90% green. But then it struck me that I was still doing a lot better than most well-educated and reasonably wealthy people in pretty much most of the urban centres of India. Not that they ought to be anyone’s benchmark, but still.

What can you do?

You must not leave it up to your government to make the change you want to see. Even as I clicked on “Publish” for this article, I received this news snippet from a friend. If the news reporting is correct, it is tantamount to expecting people to eat less because grocery stores are shut on a Sunday. No, I’m sorry, that will not work!

Wherever you live, and in everything you do, you always have hundreds of choices daily. Every decision that you make that helps the planet, will help you in the long run. You might think that ‘since the bus is going there anyway, I might as well ride it’ is a green choice. But even getting off a stop earlier and walking 500m does have a positive impact on the planet. Whenever you are green, you can probably go even greener. If you collect data about yourself, you are more likely than not to make wiser decisions. I urge you to try that.

It is not about competing with your neighbour

Although it is not a bad idea to compete with your neighbour to be greener (why care what he drives!) you should keep your focus on simply becoming better yourself. Once you appreciate that everything you do has a definite impact on the only planet you have, you will make other changes that are better for your own health too. For instance, unless you are predominantly plant food and drink (please say NO to milk whenever you can!) human it is likely that giving up meat and dairy (yes, Mrs Vegetarian, give up milk – it did not come from a plant!) will have an even bigger positive impact on the planet than taking that bicycle to work. Better still, do both!

My Lucky 13

Today is day # 101 of the year 2017. I plan to take my son to an afternoon appointment a few kilometres away. He is visiting from London after 2 years but is comfortable cycling wherever we need to go in Mumbai. If he can do that at age 13, I reckon that just about everyone in this city can.

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Dr Purnendu Nath spends his waking hours focusing on helping individuals and organizations reach their goals, to make the world a better place. He speaks, writes and advises on topics such as finance, investment management, discipline, education, self-improvement, exercise, nutrition, health and fitness, leadership and parenting.

Attempting Work-Life-Balance? Instead, plan for Time-Optimized-Living

Daily Work-Life-Balance is great, but what about Time-Optimized-Living?

Daily Work-Life-Balance is great, but what about Time-Optimized-Living?

Happiness warning: This conversation might make you plan your life towards greater lifelong joy.

From Work-Life-Balance to Time-Optimized-Living

I hope you have what the world calls ‘work-life-balance’. Perhaps you have figured out some method in your busy life that works for you in achieving that. But what if you are still missing something? Something much bigger that you had not given much thought to! In fact, I am willing to bet that the vast majority of people with ‘work-life-balance’ are missing what I think is of greater and overriding importance. So, today, I am going to talk to you about what I call ‘time-optimized-living’. I will also suggest a few tips for your journey towards achieving it.

I am addressing Everyone

This topic is of relevance to everyone. I consider myself lucky to have friends with accomplishments in various domains. Blockbuster movie stars, championship sportsmen, international sportswomen, fashion models, poets and book authors, award winning surgeons, globetrotting dentists, journalists, tech entrepreneurs – the list can go on…

As I state very clearly to billionaires or to those with a millionth of that, we all have only 24 hours in the day, but we don’t all have the same number of days. And it’s not clear that for a given 24 hours, that each of us spends it wisely. Yes, we all do things that we think maximizes our happiness (and often it doesn’t even do that). And, yes, we all try to do it with intelligence – but do we do it wisely?

Time is Money – Demonetization in Different Currencies

Thank God I’ve had a lot of minutes!

I am quite obsessive about time and how I use it. Besides being disciplined about punctuality with meeting times, I like to keep track of how my time is used once a meeting commences. Humans are not naturally programmed to have a supremely optimal handle on time. Besides the circadian clock that is controlled naturally by the light-dark cycles driven by the earth’s rotation, human perception of the passage of time is very subjective. That subjectivity is captured beautifully by Einstein’s quote about a pretty girl, a hot stove and the passage of time. Most of this relates to short time spans – a minute, an hour, a day, a week or even a year. But what about longer periods – multiple years, decades or even large lifetime fractions? Unfortunately, the phenomenon of mishandling time, at a practical level, gets worse – for individuals and, therefore, for society.

You WILL die – you WILL leave it all behind

I would like you to now internalize this ultra-simple graphic of your financial life. Whether you are one of my billionaire friends or one of my friends who struggles to make ends meet, ignoring debate about the slope or the lengths of any of the lines, this pretty much captures it succinctly. What is clearly not up for debate is that you came to this life with nothing and you will go with nothing.

A picture worth remembering

Satisfying our Professional Passions or Hobbies

Partly because of the need to survive and thrive, but mostly because corporations tell us we need to do it, we spend a very large part of our adult years uncontrollably engaged (I wrote ‘enslaved’ and as an afterthought changed it to ‘engaged’) in some form or the other by the corporate world. Whether we have very satisfying professional careers, whether we started off our adult lives with large amounts of endowed wealth or whether we build profitable businesses from scratch ourselves over decades, the connection to the world of business is strong. And that is perfectly fine, as long as there is balance. And by ‘balance’ I mean balance in all time-intervals of life. In that ‘all’ lies the key to my message.

Do you think working to make too much money is risky?

Work-Life-Balance does NOT necessarily imply Time-Optimized-Living

We are all aware of the general idea of ‘work-life-balance’. Whether your business is in New York and pays lip service to it, or in London and encourages it, or in Mumbai and doesn’t care about it, you will have a decent idea of what it means – even if you do not have it. We even have businesses that are built around that concept (hey, why work in the kitchen when you can order in, with a few clicks on your smartphone? never mind that this habit will kill you slowly).

Now, here is the central point of my chat today. What I would like to draw your attention to is the distinct possibility that, perhaps, if you focus on daily or weekly work-life-balance, you are highly susceptible to incorrectly reaching the conclusion that you have achieved a state of time-optimized-living – balance across the time span of, not a working day, or a work week, but over your expected lifetime. Although work-life-balance is very important, it is only one, perhaps necessary, component of time-optimized-living – it is not time-optimized living.

We think we have a good handle on certain time spans

Mind you, if you do not even have work-life-balance then it is near impossible that you have time-optimized-living. I have friends, some younger than I am, who have shortened their lives significantly with the false belief that a terrible lifestyle to accumulate financial assets is some form of time-optimized-living. Intelligence being applied, I’m sure, but wisdom, not!

Do not let it be a vague fear; face it, deal with it, and then move on

Money has Time Value, Time has Money Value, in all Denominations

In my career as a finance professional I have been fortunate in being able to work in settings where the intellectual focus of problem solving has spanned across time horizons of micro-seconds to multiple decades. Typically, in any of these settings, at any future horizon under consideration, the typical goal is to maximize benefits with respect to the costs incurred. Whether it is to execute thousands of stock-portfolio trades a minute, or set strategic asset allocations for pension funds with future promises to beneficiaries, 70 years from now, the problem statement is clear – maximize profits, minimize shortfalls, keep costs low.

In my years of advising professionals on their career plans or individuals on their wellness, it is evident that, as humans with cognitive biases of all kinds, we do not necessarily optimize across all the relevant horizons in optimal ways. Because the human species is not specifically designed to do this well, that is nothing to be ashamed of. However, the “wise person” inside of you ought to be extremely conscious of it – that ‘awareness‘ is the first step to positive change. Being focused on daily or weekly ‘work-life-balance’ without also paying attention to lifelong time-optimized-living is similar to studying very diligently for medical school entrance exams when, in fact, you want to major in computer science! You might even get into and go through medical school, but you will have thereby missed the big picture of where your true happiness might lie.

Practical Tips for Thinking about Your Solution

Everyone has different circumstances, so a one-size-fits-all solution cannot work. However, the problem-solving framework for every one of us can be common. Here are just a few tiny pointers on the heavy stones in your bag.

Financial

Create a simple spreadsheet model that simulates your future financial wealth. It needs to have just a few columns, for example:

[1] month (e.g. May-2019)
[2] future income
[3] future expenses
[4] their difference i.e. monthly savings and
[5] accumulation of savings shown in [4].

Even a simplistic approach such as this is extremely powerful in the insights you will gain. You can even assume, to get started, that your investment return on savings will be 0%. Once you have set it up going out into the future, you will begin to place appropriate weight on the true risks of living with less wealth. In fact, if you do not do this, you run the risk of focusing on the accumulation of too much wealth beyond your needs! It might seem odd that someone with a doctorate in Finance is suggesting that you worry about the risk of accumulating too much wealth, but the actuary in me is saying precisely that!

When was the last time you knew someone yourself who died penniless? On the other hand, when was the last time you knew someone who died with a fair amount of wealth left behind? My guess is that the former is quite rare and the latter very common. Food for thought, eh!

In many urban cultures (e.g. Indians, Chinese) there is a popular lifegoal of working towards leaving ‘a separate home for each of the kids’. If that were to happen for you by chance, that’s great. But to have that as a general goal, to me, is clearly unwise. As for ‘wedding costs’, if you are reading this, you are from a socio-economic background that would normally imply that your child should be able to have a wedding that they can afford for themselves. Pay for a decent well-rounded education, and that’s all.

Medical

A very real fear that many humans have is that of healthcare costs when they’re much older. Given that physical health is so closely tied to mental, emotional and spiritual health, this is a concern that I do think you should take seriously, especially because it pertains directly to you – and not to someone else in your generation, previous generation, or future generation (see previous points about leaving homes for your kids or paying for their weddings). The vast majority of my conversations with you over the last few years have been about precisely this aspect – your physical existence and, if you’ve been paying close attention, to other dimensions of your existence.

The best medical insurance you can get for yourself is an improved lifestyle! Anything you pay for over and above that in term of insurance premiums should really be just for the unexpected large medical problems. [Note, of course, medical insurance companies do not exist to make your life easier, they exist to make profits for their shareholders. So, watch out for exclusions, deductibles, sum insuredsub-limits and other features that might leave you ‘open to risk’ when you are least prepared for it.]

Recently, an old friend who was forced to quit what he described as “the corporate banking rat race” wanted to get back into it very soon because, in his own words, “I will get medical cover”. Besides the numerical value of providing that perk being meagre (cost of medical insurance being small in the grander scheme of things) it was going to ‘allow’ him to continue complacently down the same path of unhealthy living that he had been taking for decades. Please do not get me wrong – I have nothing against working for large corporations per se; what I am against is unhealthy living – across all time horizons!

It is not easy, but it is definitely not impossible

If I were to grade the people whose lives I know fairly well, on a scale of 0-to-100 for time-optimized-living, they would span that entire range. Even the wisest urban yogis will not get very close to 100. And, perhaps, the most intelligent among us is closer to zero! Developing wisdom will help us get closer to 100. But, we have to work towards it, on a daily basis. It definitely doesn’t just happen overnight – even if you have had a sudden and unexpected heart attack!

Although I talk about lifelong time spans, do not leave it until some future day. Whether you die later tonight, or 10 years from now, you will go with nothing. You have been guaranteed that. Get started with a plan for time-optimized-living today.

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Dr Purnendu Nath spends his waking hours focusing on helping individuals and organizations reach their goals, to make the world a better place. He speaks, writes and advises on topics such as finance, investment management, discipline, education, self-improvement, exercise, nutrition, health and fitness, leadership and parenting.