Archive for October, 2014

Productivity Hacks, October: The Anti-To-Do, Eisenhower and Eye-Stress Hack


Being big on workplace innovation, we’re also pretty addicted to ‘productivity porn’. This is our attempt to translate that addiction into ah, something productive. So starting today, every month the Frontier blog will give you the lowdown on a few productivity hacks tried out by team members.

The Anti to-do List

We’ve all had those days. Really busy days on which we look back and struggle to remember what exactly it is that we did that kept us so busy. We look at the depressingly un-ticked boxes on our to-do lists and wonder where all that time went. This can leave us feeling frustrated and empty, regardless of the fact that the day may actually have been good and useful.

Enter the ‘anti to-do list’ concept. It is pretty simple. In addition of keeping a list of things you have to do, also keep a list of things you have done. This simple step can have mind-blowing consequences as your brain at the end of yet another exhausting but seemingly unfulfilling day looks at your anti to-do list and realizes that hey, my day wasn’t such a waste after all.

I like to include every little thing I do on it. Spoke to a contact for a good 30 minutes on work related matters? Put that down, it’s great network building and learning. Browsed Facebook for 3 hours instead of getting on with your work project? Put that down, it’s great er.. market research.

In addition to telling you exactly what you did and giving you that warm glow that arises out of knowing that you spent the day well, the anti to-do list can also tell you exactly where your time is going. Allowing you to cutback and expand on various areas as appropriate.

The Eisenhower Hack

Like all influential men, Eisenhower also said and did a few profound things that seem simple and obvious in retrospect. Find yourself needlessly checking email instead of getting along with an urgent piece of work? Or perhaps you get absorbed in your immediate tasks too many days a week to get in a good workout session or two. Well, Dwight Eisenhower Nailed A Major Insight About Productivity, and maybe his tips will help you and I organize ourselves better.

The following matrix is worth looking at.


The biggest quadrant we all tend to ignore is that one marked ‘important yet not urgent’. Working out, spending time with family etc can give us long term benefits that’ll keep us happier and productive over the long haul.

In politics, for example, current U.S. President Barack Obama has dinner with his family when he’s in the White House and works out for an hour every morning. His logic was always, ‘The rest of my time will be more productive if you give me my workout time’.

The Eye/Head Stress Hack

This is something I learned from an eye specialist a couple of weeks ago. My eyes would get teary, not out of grief but presumably out of weakening eyesight. I also started getting migraines and dull aches in my temples and throbbing headaches. Obviously I thought I needed glasses, but it turns out my ailments were a simple result of imagination (in other words, I was crazy) and stress.

To help my eyes and migraine, my doctor gave me one single hack, and so far it seems to be working brilliantly. He told me to take a break in-between every 20 minutes of work. Go out and focus your eyes on something natural and far away, instead of something unnatural (i.e. my computer screen) and close by. After just about two weeks my eyes now feel restive and relaxed and my headaches are reducing.

Apparently, it’s a common problem. The 20-20-20 rule is something a colleague told me about later; “working at a computer or even staring at a small cell phone screen for long stretches at a time can lead to eye strain, blurred vision, dry eyes, and headaches — a condition known as Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS). You can avoid this by following the 20-20-20 rule”. i.e. look away from your computer screen every 20 minutes at a spot 20 feet away for 20 seconds.

As for psychological stress, well the only hack for that is to relax. Don’t let work affect your emotional well-being.

Innovation Learning

While Frontier offers very little ‘training’ in the traditional sense, we do encourage “learning”, and that too often in areas not directly related to the work we do. Team members carry out regular ‘learning presentations’ where they impart knowledge to each other based on their own specific areas of interest. We also regularly send team members to regional workshops and conferences quite early on in their stints; a reward mechanism that also broadens and expands knowledge and experience.

Most of this learning has very little to do with the actual work Frontier does. Rather than being nonsensical, we believe this approach to learning forms the core of what we are about. As the authors of The Innovator’s DNA: Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators point out, the key to innovating is engaging in ‘discovery activities’.

Innovators combine elements of various ideas and practices that other people don’t put together. They draw connections that cross boundaries, linking concepts from one discipline or culture with those from another. To build your associative skills, try “forced association,” linking objects that don’t logically fit together. Use metaphors to highlight associations. Assemble a “curiosity box” of random items and try to relate them to jump-start your creativity

Innovators make a point of meeting people whose lives and training give new and different perspectives. This is one way to “build a bridge into a different area of knowledge.” Innovators look at different disciplines that solved similar problems and borrow from their ideas. Travel builds bridges to multiple perspectives; living abroad builds even more.

Many innovators seek forums or events that promote interdisciplinary discussion and creativity, like the Technology Entertainment and Design (TED) conferences. These gatherings bring experts and interested thinkers together to discuss topics that intersect with several of the forum’s broad, complex fields. Attend a conference outside your field, or join a networking group for innovation

Innovative organizations extend their discovery processes to an institutional level. For example, instead of just hoping that their employees network, Google and Procter & Gamble swapped staff members for a few weeks so they could see how the other company worked and experience each other’s processes. Some firms have contests or tournaments in which people outside the organization give or build ideas, sometimes in response to specific challenges. Innovative companies offer materials, time and funding for prototyping.

Forward-looking firms believe “innovation is everyone’s job.”While most companies focus on incremental change, these firms invest heavily in “disruptive innovation.”

Keeping ourselves constantly refreshed with diverse experience is a primary way in which we grow and improve. Simply restricting yourself to one field is not possible any longer. Fields today are merging and diverging at an unprecedented, unpredictable level. Staying on top means keeping ahead of the pack, and that means learning from any and every source that catches our interest.

We Usually Have Too Much Time on Our Hands; but Sometimes We Have Too Little

At Frontier Research, we work under-capacity for most of the year, but in brief intense periods, we find ourselves under severe pressure to perform. Here’s how we deal with the issue.

We cater to corporate clients with sophisticated needs. And aside from great research products and good calls that help them in their businesses, it is really important for us to be good at the basics of entrepreneurship; things like being consistent and delivering on promises matter a lot.

We can’t for example frequently delay the delivery of our reports, or decide to not send our Monthly Economic Report in September for instance because we feel lazy and expect to maintain positive client relationships.

Clients also expect ‘going the extra mile’ to come with the package, so aside from delivering on our contractual obligations, we must also be ready to deliver on any and all possible requests that come in addition.

Also, as it usually happens at some points of the year, a lot of work comes due at the same time, and here especially we cannot fail individual clients just because many clients want presentations during the same week. The result; days and sometimes weeks of working long hours, be it at home, office or somewhere else! The peaks get more intense and unpredictable with our business expanding into new areas such as information curation; making it more important than ever for us to have extra capacity.

We take this very seriously, and usually over-recruit. As a result team members will often have free time on their hands, which they will use in the way they like; most use it to carry out their own projects and to advance within Frontier thereby, others may use it for private projects of their own, and will consider that time well spent also.

Usually our team performs at 40-60% of full capacity. And the extra capacity (manifested in time, resources etc.) they are free to use as they see fit. This is different from organizations with required work hours that will want team members to be in office (taking away time perhaps more productively spent elsewhere) regardless of whether they are needed or not.

However, when it’s crunch time, like when the Sri Lanka Government Budget comes out (late-nights are usually guaranteed then!) team members are expected to buck up and perform at 100%. A chart of this will probably look something like the below.

All this comes in line with our mission to provide the most flexible and sensible working culture possible for our team. Having what we call a ‘symmetric entrepreneurial culture’ means that, when it comes to work, the relationship we have with our clients reflects the relationship our team has with the firm; team members are expected to pitch in at peaks when client demands exceed the usual, at other times they are required to work only for as long as actual work lasts, and are free to spend the surplus time in self-improvement projects of their own choosing.

A team with a lot of free time on its hands is also a team with lots of free time for creativity. Research has shown that working more than 40 hours a week is useless. Overworking leaves you stressed and inefficient and in an industry like ours where creative thinking and sharp analysis is as equally important as attention to detail and robust professionalism, overwork can create huge dis-benefits. Therefore we believe that our work arrangements are a huge competitive advantage to Frontier in terms of what we can offer to our clients.

Going ‘Da Vinci Code’ With Our Research

At Frontier we rarely use conventional methods of forecasting and modeling such as Technical Analysis. However, during a recent ‘Frontier learning trip’ to Singapore Thanuri and I had a chance to attend a workshop on Harmonic Trading held by the Singapore based Harmonic Forex.

Here are some key insights gained on using Harmonic patterns for currency trading from the workshop and through our own subsequent research into the subject.

Harmonic trading, a branch of technical analysis, utilizes price patterns and Fibonacci ratios to determine trend reversals in financial markets. The assumption made here is that trading patterns/cycles repeat themselves and therefore this can be used to predict future price movements. The key steps are to first identify price patterns with the use of Fibonacci ratios, and then determine entry and exit points in a trade with the assumption that the same historic price pattern will follow (Please refer Harmonic Trader). However, it should be kept in mind that these patterns do not replicate with 100% accuracy.

An important branch of study under Harmonic Trading is the use of Fibonacci ratios (a very popular theme in culture, hence the Da Vinci Code reference) . These ratios are derived by the following Fibonacci sequence discovered by Leonardo de Fibonacci de Pisa.

0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144, 233…

This is a simple sequence where each successive number is the sum of the previous two (0+1=1, 1+1=2, 2+3=5…). However, the primary ratio derived from this sequence, better known as the Golden Ratio, is deemed to be a universal ratio applied in many forms of study, such as aesthetics, architecture, painting, music etc.  As the sequence advances, it brings about a constant relationship between the numbers. For example, if a former number is divided by the latter the answer is approximately 0.618. And if the latter is divided by the former, the answer is 1.618. Harmonic Trading utilizes many number of ratios either directly or indirectly derived from these primary Fibonacci ratios.

Following are some of the ratios used in Harmonic trading:

Primary Ratios: 0.618 & 1.618

Primary Derived Ratios:

0.786 = square root of the 0.618

0.886 = fourth root of the 0.618

1.13 = inverse of the 0.886 (1/0.886)

1.27 = inverse of the 0.786 (1/0.786)

Other Ratios: 

0.382, 0.50, 1.41, 2.0, 2.24, 2.618, 3.14, 3.618

Source: Harmonic Trader

These ratios are also used in determining support and resistance levels of price movements under technical analysis.

In Harmonic Trading these ratios are used to identify Harmonic Patterns which help determine trend reversals in price movements. There are number of price patterns which conform to certain Fibonacci ratios which signal bullish or bearish trend reversals in the market. (E.g Gartley, Bat, Crab etc.) With the help of a Fibonacci retracement tool, which usually comes with any trading platform, one can identify such patterns in price movements and determine their market entry/exit points.

For further reference on this subject:

While we don’t plan to use technical analysis anytime soon at Frontier, as we usually look at market fundamentals, we  believe it is very important to expose ourselves to ideas and techniques very different to our own. Perhaps over time we will look to see if technical and ideas like this might be useful to add on to what we already do.