Imran Saleh

A Product Manager living in Toronto, Canada

Author: imransaleh (page 1 of 2)

Life in COVID Times

Work from home in Covid-19

Since March 19 I’ve been working from home.

In short, I’ve been loving it.  I had a 1.5 hour commute before COVID.  I love not having to wake up by a certain time (7:45AM) in order to make my train, and run to the train station to make sure catch it, and getting to spend a bit more time with my wife.  If I need to take a nap in the day, I can do that, and I can take a walk downstairs to the kitchen to get something healthy if I’m hungry.

I used to loathe working from home before, because I would just sit on the couch and mostly do personal items and find it hard to focus.  Now that I have created a dedicated environment with a desk and a monitor and an external keyboard, I can get much more done than I would have on my laptop on the couch.  I also create a routine where I wear my same work clothes and shower before my first meeting.

I’m also a little less intimidated to participate in meeting.  It’s just a group of people on a screen, and somehow it feels a little less daunting.  On the flip side, when I’m in meetings which I don’t always feel like I need to be in, I can multi-task without being disrupted! (although the better idea might be just to excuse myself).

I used to eat out every day, and now I’m able to cook for myself.  Let’s be clear, I’m not a master chef.  I end up cooking two meals that last me for 5 days, so it is repetitive, but it works.  It’s a start and it saves me a lot of money.

Some of the highlights of COVID have been my wife cutting my hair twice and doing a great job.  We’ve set up a daily family Zoom call at 7:30PM to say prayers.  I’ve also set up monthly Zoom calls with both sides of my family to connect, usually around birthdays.  By introducing these new forums to interact I am connecting much more frequently with my extended family than I would have otherwise.  It still takes more to cultivate.

I admit this COVID climate has allowed me to indulge in my natural state of being a little bit of a homebody, but I am going to indulge while I have the chance.  I know not everyone has had such a great outcome from COVID – there have been job shortages, illnesses, loneliness.  I know a lot of issues around race and class have also arisen during this time, so this is only one perspective of many.

 

Buying a House

New home

In May, we bought a house in Richmond Hill, Ontario, which was about 30 minutes of Toronto.  The cool thing about the house is that it’s now a canvas to “create,” and I find creating to be so much fun.  You can make it your own — Zahra does a lot of the aesthetic and design decisions, for me that’s meant adding new gadgets – keypad locks, a smart doorbell, a home security system, wifi upgrades.

We had been searching for a house on and off for about a year.  We found a rectangular area that had good schools, was a nice neighborhood, close to Zahra’s work, and near the highway, and we had set up daily alerts for new listings.

We stopped when COVID hit, as there was a lot of uncertainty about doing showings and we didn’t want to buy a house based on pictures alone.  We started looking again around May when things started opening back up.  We were expecting to go for a semi-detached house, but were able to find a house in our price range that was detached (standalone).

before renovation

Bathroom before and after our renovation

Bathroom before and after our renovation

When the listing for this house came up, we had nearly put in an offer on another place the week before, but the seller wanted more.   So we knew what fair prices were for the market, and how to act quickly.  The morning the alert came, up, I was working from home (as usual), and Zahra happened to be off .  We saw the house in the afternoon, made an offer around midnight (to try to get ahead of other bids), received a counter offer around 9AM, and accepted around noon.  Talk about a fast process!  My dad summed it up as “you don’t find the house, the house finds you.”  I think I found that little bit hocus pocus, but I will admit looking back, there were a lot of things that fell our way.

After our offer was accepted, I played through many scenario in my head – did we pay too much, what if we hadn’t rushed, could we have bid lower and then seen the response?  I studied the market so closely the next few weeks to see if I made a mistake.  I learned that you have no control over these things.  We made the best decision with the information we had at the time.

In contrast to the quick offer process, the closing process took over 6 weeks to actually get the keys.  As a first time buyer, very psyched about moving it, it feels like you’re on pause.  We could visit once or twice, but that’s it!  We wanted to do renovations before we moved in, but had to settle on some contractors that we were able to bring in during our one visit.

We painted the house, made some minor additions (gas stove and a glass range hood), and then renovated the master bathroom to add two sinks and a glass shower.  The bathroom renovation was a great primer in this process.  You literally have to pick everything – the floor tile, the shower tile, the paint colour, the vanity, the faucets – there are a lot of decisions to make!  It forces you to see how many things are involved in making something, but it was a great learning experience.  Some of our furniture is still on back order, but we’ll get there.  I just bought a 65” TV, and am now trying to convince Zahra its not too big.

 

First Year Anniversary

Lake Louise

Lake Louise

Its been a year since I got married.  Looking back, I do really feel happy with my life now that I get to spend it with Zahra.  I tend to enjoy positive reinforcement, and I find with many other things (job), you have to continue to perform to stay in good graces.  With a good relationship, it feels I have an instrinsic, continuously reinforced contentment that I don’t have to “perform” to maintain.

I notice my wife has a really good design sense, and on matters I’m proud of my accomplishments in (cooking, managing finances), she can actually outperform me in some ways.  Sometimes this can exacerbates my own sensitivities about myself and the value I bring to the relationship.  But I feel it’s a process, I remind myself to go easy on myself, and we are continuing to enjoy learning how to live with each other.

Zahra and I had planned our honeymoon to Germany, Switzerland and Italy in May, but as you can imagine, that got cancelled due to COVID.  So for our anniversary we did a 5 day trip to Banff.  This is us at Lake Louise.   We had such a good time on that trip, it was so beautiful out there, I had no idea.  We explored nature, ate good food, were a little bit active, and had a lot of fun. We splurged to stayed at the Fairmont one night and it was a great!

Unfortunately no travels for now, but looking forward to connecting virtually with you if you’d like!

Until next time – Take care,
Imran

Update from Imran – March 2020

The Home Front

Life after wedding

Zahra and I got married on August 10, 2019 (Video and Photo Highlights).  We are planning a Honeymoon for 2 weeks in May to Paris, Heidelberg, Interlaken, Rome, and Amalfi Coast.   Open to any suggestions you have!

I really enjoy the experience of growing with a partner.  Admittedly though, I had some post-wedding blues:  It was hard moving out of Downtown Toronto, switching to a 50 minute commute to work (instead of a 15 min one), and leaving behind the bachelor lifestyle where I could leave my clothes in disarray and not do the dishes for days.

I learned that it’s sometimes difficult for me to make changes to my routine, even when its a positive change.  But if I can give myself some time, and pull through (using whatever support mechanisms I need as an outlet), it can work out.

Cooking

Life after wedding
I’ve started cooking at home for myself rather than eating out.  It took me years to start, but now I realize, like many changes – it’s not so bad!  It’s just like following instructions (which I’m good at).  My go-to recipe is Lemon Chicken in Foil.

In our next big challenge, we’re looking for a House.  A nicely renovated, detached 4 bedroom house in the Richmond Hill, Ontario Area is around $1.4M.  Not sure we had planned for that in the budget…

Work

Life after wedding

No this isn’t what I commute in (borrowed it from my uncle for a weekend), but anyway

I continue to manage a team of 4 people at PriceMetrix.  My biggest challenge has been learning to be an effective manager.   I swing between being totally hands-on and trying to do people’s jobs for them, to being completely hands-off and potentially not adding as much value and guidance as I could.

I think a more sustainable way is to set goals, let the team figure out they want to achieve them, but have check-ins to help them if they get stuck.  Another good tactic is to find people’s strengths and deploy them in those areas.  If you have any good books on people management, I’d love to hear them.

Coaching

Life after wedding

I’ve been working with a coach, Trevor Timbeck, on shifting from an “auto-pilot” mindset (continue on the treadmill of life until retirement) to a more “creator” mindset (what do I actually want to create with my life).

This is in part after I learned Kobe Bryant died at 41.  I thought Kobe was someone for whom everything just worked out. For such a person to have their life end so suddenly, almost capriciously, it really made me appreciate how fragile life is, and how much of a gift it is.

The next big change I want in my life is to start a company, or a project, of my own.  It’s long been a goal of mine.  Now that I’ve found a great partner, I want to bring more of my attention and intentions to this goal.

Travels

Life after wedding

In January my dad moved to Nairobi, Kenya where he was named Founding Director of the Cancer Centre at the Aga Khan University in Nairobi.  I’m happy that he’s found a way to continue his calling.  Being aged 65+ though, I’m finding in his passion he can work himself too hard.    I’m starting to reverse parent — trying to make sure he takes care of himself!  We do weekly Zoom video conference calls to stay in touch with him.

Over Christmas, we went to Orlando to see Harry Potter World and a Disney Theme park.  My wife is a huge fan of these series, so it was fun to experience it with her.  The best $40 I spent was on a flapping Porg toy.  This picture above is us having lunch at the Leaky Cauldron.

Our next family trip hopefully will be a Safari to East Africa in late June where we will visit my dad as well.

Piano

Life after wedding

As I’ve been digging through my old files, I came across a one hour piano recital I put on when I was 18 and graduating highschool.  You can check it out on Youtube  or Spotify.  I’m not quite so polished anymore, but its nice to hear something that is your own creation.   I played one of the pieces at my wedding (above).  Looking forward to more creative adventures.

Until next time – Take care,
Imran

Wedding Planning

Wedding Planning

Wedding Planning

The big work for the last few months has been wedding planning!

First off – I haven’t been able to everyone I wanted — but please know that we will be thinking of you and will send photos (like our engagement shoot) after! 🙂

The big date is August 10. At this point, I’ve learned to focus on the important things that matter (like my speech, and the dancing) and not sweat the smaller things (like the font on the seating chart).

Zahra and I are doing a mini-moon to Vancouver Island for a few days afterwards, but hoping to do a proper honeymoon to Europe (Italy hopefully) sometime later.

Wedding planning has taught me a new technique for planing events — Use Google Reviews to find good vendors, email the 10 best ones and get them to explain the options so you become competent in the subject.

Overall I have enjoyed the planning, and I find organizing fun. While its a lot of work, I like the chance to bring our families together to make decisions. There is also a lot of negotiating, and so it forces you to start managing how you do that. I think I’m most excited to enjoy the festivities but then be married and start the new chapter!

For those of you who have had a wedding, welcome any tips/stories you have!

Moving to Northern Toronto

Moving to Northern Toronto

Part of the new chapter is moving! My fiancee Zahra just finished her Internal Medicine residency and will be starting a job at a hospital in Richmond Hill. Its a suburb of Toronto, a 30-minute drive north of Downtown.

Given the traffic, we’ll be moving there, and I’ll start taking the train downtown to my work. We initially looked at buying a place but weren’t able to juggle that with wedding planning, so we’re going to do a 1-year rental.

I’ve scoped out the new commute a few times. It adds 40 minutes to my current trek, but the train is comfortable to work on, and living out of downtown might be more quiet and a nice for a change of scenery.

New Role at Work

New Role at Work

In June, my boss announced he was leaving the company. At first I was flabbergasted. But it has opened a pathway for me to step into his role, which may not have happened otherwise. I now oversee the entire product portfolio and the whole product team of five people rather than one. I have a new title but have not been “promoted” yet. It will be up to me to prove I deserve it over the coming months into the review cycle.

So far, it is definitely more work, although I enjoy the role and am learning a lot!

Training and Travels

Training and Travels

I just came back from Cambridge, England where I was at a training for work. The big take away for me was it’s important to cultivate “sponsors” at your job: People who are more senior and who can advocate for you. It involves learning how to be proactive and not “wait” for leadership to tell you what to do, but actually taking responsibility upon your self.

Not easy to but something I want to do!

Update From Imran – New Job

New Job

New Job

In February of last year year I had to leave my old job due to downsizing. But good news — in August I started a new job! I’m back at McKinsey & Company, the consulting firm. I’m working as a Director of Product Management at PriceMetrix, a Financial Analytics software company they acquired.

This is fun because
– The people at McKinsey are very ambitious and I like the culture
– But its not the typical McKinsey hours and is more balanced
– This plays into my strengths I believe which are in executing on a plan, vs trying to whiteboard a new idea
– I also have some more context around financial advisors and the landscape, so that helps me be conversant

Summer in India

Summer in India

Having the summer off allowed me to volunteer as a counselor at the Global Encounters Camp at the Aga Khan Academy in Hyderabad, India. I was one of 10 counselors, for 60 participants aged 15-17 who were from 13 different countries (like Syria, Tajkistan, Afghanistan). It was amazing! The participants and their diversity was so amazing to be part of and it was nice to get out of the usual office/computer job to a role where you can develop real, meaningful relationships with people.

It was definitely physically demanding. I was probably getting 5-6 hours of sleep everyday for a month, and when I was awake it was go, go, go, and not just participating but having to lead activities or groups. The food in Hyderabad is known for being very spicy so at times I would feel my stomach getting unsettled and would have to be careful.

It really taught me a lot about humility. It was difficult sometimes when I wanted to do something a different way or felt like I needed more rest. But when I ultimately realized I was there to support the participants it keeps it all in perspective. And looking back while it was definitely difficult during the process it was a lot of fun and I would do it again.

Mumbai

Mumbai

Before camp I traveled to Mumbai, India (whose Sealink bridge is pictured above). The best part was meeting people. I had about 4-5 people that I got in touch with and was able to meet them for lunch and they pointed me to the right sites, restaurants, and shops. I ate at good restaurants but they were all very affordable (compared to Canada at least).

I got around the city very easily with Uber. The traffic is pretty bad, a 12km ride across the city will take you roughly 45 minutes on average. The corresponding Uber ride costs you about $5.

One of the interesting aspects was going on a tour of the Dharavi slums. I was expecting it to be very poor but the government is modernizing the area. There are various industries within the slum — recycling, aluminum, etc. and workers live in the factory itself to save on money. They are earning about $8 a day, but people had internet and smart phones in the slum. It was sanitation that is lacking — Having your own toilet or one that is not shared by too many people seems to be among the biggest commodities in this part of the world.

Tokyo

Tokyo

On the way to India I stopped in Tokyo to visit a friend from college and her family.  The food is excellent in Japan. There are over 160 restaurants with a Michelin star, many are just small 8-person type establishments. I had to be careful with the Sesame allergy, not eating pork, but was been fine when asking.

The Japanese culture I found to be very polite, orderly, and perhaps a little reserved.  When they say the flight will board at 12:05, it boards then and not at 12:06. The restaurant service is great, but there is no tipping done. In general the city is very clean, and has this calm aura to it. It is surrounded by a lot of water, which I think contributes to this, but also you don’t feel like on the streets there is a lot of beeping, noise, or people shouting or playing music into the open air. The signs help you get around everywhere very easily, and they are all in English, so it is very comfortable place to be.

The flip side of this systematic culture is that people can be very rule abiding and exacting and not very flexible. They asked me a lot of questions about my India visa to make sure it was valid and correct — they didn’t just “go with the flow” that it looked ok. However they are always very polite about doing so!

Wrapping up

I stayed in Toronto with my family over the holiday break.  No upcoming travel plans for now, but perhaps to Europe over the summer.

Drop me a note sometime.  Hope things are well with you!

Take care,
Imran

Update from Imran – April 2017

Toronto Life

Toronto Life

I am on a break from work which has been a nice opportunity to take a step back and learn some new things!

In February there were 9 layoffs at the software startup I worked at (Influitive) and my position was included. The company has been facing slower than expected growth and it was the second round of layoffs since October 2016.

I have since gotten into coding through work on a mobile app side project. If you’re up for being a beta tester let me know and also I’m working on a software development with Different Licensing Types for Software so any help on that I’m here to help and advise you the best way possible. I feel like in some ways I’m learning more off the job, and am enjoying this time while it lasts!

improv class

Improv

In September I started taking Improv classes at The Second City in Toronto. They have a 5 course program (Level A-E), and each level meets for 3 hours a week for 7 weeks.

Some friends had suggested trying it out, and some of the main things I’ve learned are:

1) In Improv you want to “Yes and” your partner as much as possible.
If your scene partner tells you that you’re wearing an XL tie dye shirt, tell them yes you are, and that you made it right here at Mt. Rushmore Summer Camp.
That is accepting their “offer” (the “yes”), and amplifying it creatively (the “and”).
2) Its about having fun, not trying to be funny
The funniest things happen when you are in the moment on stage, responding with whatever seems normal. “Trying” to be funny usually comes across as forced, and this takes the pressure down quite a bit.
3) Emotions / Characters / Object work add a lot of depth to the scene
If you want to make something compelling, add some emotion (anger, sadness, disgust) and give yourself a character/something to do (accent, a nervous habit, pretend you are making some coffee)
I am now on Level D and we just completed our class show. As I’ve progressed, I’ve made friends in class that push me to keep going, so I am on track to complete the basic Improv program in June. If you’ve ever wanted to try something new that extends your comfort zone I’d highly recommend it!

Biking & cooking

Biking and Cooking

 I continue to use the Toronto Bike share to get around downtown. I learned the hard way that you have to be careful turning along the infamous Toronto street car tracks. I had a skid in October that required a few stitches, but I’m all good now.

My new favorite cooking discovery is my Rice Cooker. I’ve been using it to make white rice, brown rice, and steel cut oatmeal. I’m now trying to branch out into lentils, beans, and quinoa. The flexibility of this device and the ability to just “set it and leave it” is really nice and lowers the barrier to getting into cooking. If you have any good rice cooker recipes send them my way!

Upcoming Travel

Upcoming Travel

For the most part I’ll be in Toronto the next few months. I have a trip to Boston May 25-29 planned for a College Reunion. In July, I am going to Hyderabad, India as part of a summer program I am volunteering at.

Hope things are good with you! Let me know how you are doing and if we might overlap in any of those places.

Take care,
Imran

Update from Imran – Sept 2016

Toronto in the Summer

 

torontoinsummer

So the Toronto summer is about over, but its been a pretty hot one. It was consistently in the 80s Fahrenheit for a high (27 degrees Centigrade). I can’t even remember what winter felt like. I live on King St. where there are plenty of lounges and restaurants (including Drake’s) so people are taking full advantage of it.

I now have a membership to the Toronto Bike share and use it on my morning commute. Biking in any city can be kind of scary at first, but with some practice you get the hang of being a regular. I still get passed all the time on the streets by the “pros”, but I just appreciate being able to get somewhere fast without having to take the bus or walking, and a workout while I’m at it!

secondimage

There is a roof top pool/restaurant in my apartment building that has a new restaurant called Lavelle. The lines are pretty crazy to get in on the weekends, but the view is nice. If you’re in Toronto – come over and we could hang out here!

smoothierecipe

I have also discovered that I love making smoothies. I first got a Magic Bullet but upgraded to the NutriBullet which I find works better on frozen fruits. Here’s what my Freezer looks like. I’m continuing to experiment with new combinations — this is my current formula: Blueberries, Raspberries, Mangos, 2 Tablespoons Aloe Vera Juice, Cranberry Juice, 1/2 Cup Spinach, 1/2 Cup Kale.

If you have any good smoothie recipes, send them over!

worklife

Work Life

Work is good. Our company Influitive (a startup of about 140 people) unfortunately just went through a round of layoffs in order to better get to profitability. Going through that experience is not fun, because you lose some good friends, but it also makes you realize the importance of getting a business model right in a startup. Right now I’m trying to better figure out how help us grow more strongly.

Influitive is a software company, and I work in new Product Development, which is responsible for building new features and maintaining the existing software. We are organized into “Squads” which is made up of one Product Manager (me), five engineers, one designer, and one quality assurance tester. We each name our squad. Ours had a hard time coming up with a name, so we went with “The Squad that cannot be named” and that turned into the Voldemort Squad below. Here is our Squad photo, see if you can figure out where I am…you might be confused!

voldemortsquad

One interesting thing we do is every day at 11:51AM we have a 9 minute sync up meeting. One person in the company does a 3 minute presentation on some topic to the whole company. So far I have given presentation on overcoming anxiety through meditation and one on my squad’s deliverables for our Summer Solstice deadline. Definitely a good way to get over nerves.

In addition, I made a (small) appearance in our company recruiting video (see below – skip to 1:30)

Dubai

imagewithsisterindubai2

From July 21 to 31, I went with my sister to Dubai (photo album here) to watch and volunteer at the Jubilee Games, an Ismaili Sports tournament. Some of my duties were to write articles for TheIsmaili.org and do sports highlights.

Dubai was pretty hot (like over 100F, 40C) but its a dry heat. If you stay in doors, and keep in the shade when you are walking outside (and do it only for a few minutes at a time) it’s actually not too bad.

Outside the games, I made a trip to Abu Dhabi to see the Sheikh Zayd Mosque, which is this beautiful mosque full of jewels. You would think that it is an ancient relic, but it was actually constructed in 2006.

Upcoming Travels

No upcoming travels for the time being! Just staying put in Toronto so let me know if you are here. Always love to hear from you!

Take care,
Imran

 

How to fill out and sign a PDF form that is not editable

  1.  Open the PDF in your web browser and download it.  Then click the arrow to the right of the file icon and select “open with system viewer.”  It should now open with Adobe PDF Reader.

Screen Shot 2016-07-05 at 12.01.12 PM

 

1b.  If in Step 1, If it does not open in Adobe PDF Reader, then open Adobe Reader (press Cmd + Space and type in “Adobe”), and then open the file from there directly.

2.  Click the “sign” button in the top right corner

Screen Shot 2016 07 05 at 12.02.42 PM

 

3.  Click the “Add Text” button that appears on the right

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4.  Click the “Add text” button on the toolbar that comes up

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5.  Click your cursor where you would like to insert text and start typing

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6.  You can do other things like Place signature, add checkmark, place initials using the tool bar at the right

My 10 Favorite Productivity Tricks — Product Management Edition

My 10 Favourite Productivity Tricks — Product Management Edition

Being a Product Manager differs at every company depending on the specific process, tools, and structure you use. Here are some of my top productivity tricks I’ve developed in my first 6 months working at Influitive. I’ve ranked them roughly by impact

1. Quickly file JIRAs using keyboard shortcuts on Bee

Countless times I’ve been in a meeting, a standup, walked over to someone’s desk, overheard someone talking, or witnessed a conversation in Flowdock (our chat app) and it’s lead me to need to file a story in JIRA to cover the thing that needs to be done. Logging into JIRA and creating a new issue from scratch or cloning an issue is kind of tedious.

Bee is native Mac application which I have set up so that when I press Shift+Cmd+Space, a Quick Add JIRA screen comes up and I can easily capture the fields and file it. It nearly instantly generates me the Issue Key so that I can send a link to the JIRA in whoever needs it, or just keep it in my backlog.

This has had HUGE impact for me because instead of writing things down in some memo pad or Evernote entry I may not come back to or forget about, I can immediately note issues for a future backlog and later come back and prioritize them when I have more time instead of forgetting about it.

Bee costs about $30 USD, but I’ve expensed it and I think it’s absolutely worth it. If you don’t use JIRA, Bee has integration with GitHub and FogBugz.

2. Awesome Screenshot Chrome Extension for Help Articles / Emails

The Mac’s native screenshot tool is great for quickly capturing images. However annotating that screenshot with arrows or notes has long been a pain. I’d have to open the image in Paint or another tool, edit, then save.

With the Awesome Screenshot chrome extension I can instantly add a red arrow, to much more easily point to what I’m talking about in an email to a user/customer, or in a help article I put in our Knowledge base.

I now use this even when I’m communicating with my family to make things ULTRA clear. It saves me having to type things like “click on the button in the bottom left that says Confirm.” I can now just say “click this button” and add an arrow. Voila!

3. Record Support Tickets from Freshdesk using Zapier

I could probably write a whole article just on my use of Zapier. I use it to remind my team about cleaning up the JIRA board once a week. We also used the Zapier Webhooks functionality to to some end-to-end testing of our Public API integrations with outside applications like Shopify.

One of the best Zaps I’ve created is one that logs all support tickets tagged as “Reports” or “Referrals” (the two features I’m the lead Product Manager for) in a Google spreadsheet, and then notifies me after 24 hours, so I can see what the issue was. I rely on our support team to help triage and answer tickets, and they will always escalate to me if needed. However, even in times when they don’t need my input, its useful for me as a Product Manager to see what’s causing our customers to complain or what they are noticing. That way it helps me sanity check what I’m doing. I try to review these tickets once a week, to see if there are any learnings, and update my planning accordingly.

4. Blocking weekly prep meetings for Planning, Grooming, Scoring, Release notes deadline, and other meetings in my calendar

One of the things I like about being a Product Manager is the regular cadence, rhythm, and repeatability of the development process. Each cycle you can get better at what you do and at anticipating things. At Influitive, we have 2 week dev sprints. We have a planning meeting and a grooming (pre-planning we call it) meeting on alternate Tuesdays. Retrospectives every 2 weeks on a Monday. And Release notes emailed to clients every 2 weeks on a Wednesday.

The day before each of these meetings I block time in my calendar to prepare. In the calendar invite for these blocks of time, I have my own agenda, that serves as a checklist. So I don’t even need to think about what is involved in getting ready for my meeting, its all there for me. I continue to tweak this and add/edit items over time

Sample Agenda for my “Pre-Planning Prep” Meeting

  1. Prioritize the stories in the next sprint
  2. Drag up stories from the backlog to the next sprint if we want to talk about them.
  3. Put stories into the next sprint that we want to score tomorrow.
  4. Make sure every story in next sprint has a spec
  5. Look at the action items from last Retrospective and check-in
  6. Review backlog bugs

5. Having customers schedule time with me at youcanbook.me and have it automatically send calendar invites.

I have my own Free youcanbook.me URL where if I need to schedule a meeting with someone outside of the company (A customer, a partner), I can just send them a link and tell them to pick the time that works.

I have it set up so as soon as they pick a time, I get an email, they get an email, and a calendar invite is sent out blocking that time.

I ask them for their name, email, and preferred method of communication:

  • Imran should send a GoTo Meeting link (allows screensharing)
  • Imran should call me
  • I will call Imran at 647–xxx-xxx(this is a Toronto, Canada number. Long distance may apply)
  • We will use Google Hangout (a URL will be sent in the Calendar Invite)

This saves me from having to do a back and forth dance, adjust for timezones, remember to send a calendar invite, etc. It’s all done for me.

Another alternative is calendly.com but that costs money.

6. Symlinking my Desktop folder into Dropbox so it syncs across my home and work laptops

I like to leave my laptop at work so I don’t have to carry it or worry about it getting stolen if I stop somewhere on the way back home. To ensure I can pick up right where I left off, I have Dropbox sync my files so that I can pick up where I left out.

My strategy is to have all of my email attachments, downloads, and desktop files go by default to a “My Files” directory on Dropbox. You can choose where downloads and attachments are stored, but you can’t move your desktop into Dropbox. However, per lifehacker you can symlink your desktop to a folder in your dropbox. That way it will sync. Problem solved!

Now almost any file I save on my work laptop will be synced to my home laptop. I also use Google Docs for spreadsheets and Simplenote for note taking which automatically sync as well. So it allows me to really be anywhere and feel like I’m at work!

7. InboxPause to prevent me from getting distracted by email and focusing on thing at a time

It’s really easy to get bombarded by notifications coming in from Email during the day. Using InboxPause I basically prevent myself from automatically seeing new email in my inbox until 4:30PM. I can still search for an individual subject or message, or manually unpause if I would like. But it limits those urges just to sit on inbox and click refresh and wait for work to come. It forces me to be a bit more proactive.

8. Hey Focus to block access to Facebook and other sites

Similar to above, sometimes its too easy to just have a free moment, type facebook.com and suddenly 10 minutes are gone and focus is lost. I personally use Hey Focus but also StayFocused has been a good Chrome Extension that I’ve used in the past. It auto populates a list of common distracting sites, and then I can add my own. If I try to visit a blacklisted site, it blocks me and reminds me that is blocked with a motivational quote. Sometimes just that one barrier can be all it takes to prevent me from getting sidetracked.

9. Mac Automator scripts to remind me to go to sleep and to close out my email client so i’m not checking it constantly

Mac Automator is a great tool I have for reinforcing habits. You can write an automator script and then have it run at certain times of the day using the calendar feature. I have automator scripts to close my open browser windows and applications to remind me to go to bed or leave the office. I also have an Automator script to re-activate my HeyFocus distraction blocker from above, incase I unpause it over lunchtime and forget to re-enable it, so I don’t mistakenly leave the flood gates open.

10. MixMax to schedule emails and also monitor read / opens

I often schedule emails that I write late at night to be sent around 10AM the next morning, when people in the company are more likely to read them. This helps me get it out of my system and finish the task say at 9PM at night, but then have it go out at an optimal time for others to read it. I also do this to let people know I’m on vacation. Usually I’m rushing around the day of vacation, so scheduling a reminder that “today is the last day I’m in office” allows me one more thing to free off my mind.

I can also use Mixmax to track if an email has been read/opened. Sometimes when people haven’t replied I’m not sure if they got it. The read rates give me that confidence that it has been processed, even if someone hasn’t responded.

Well those are some of my best tips! I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments as well other tricks you might have that I missed! I’m sure I’ll have another edition of 10 ready in a few months, so stay tuned. If you’re interested, follow me and you’ll get a notification when I post with the next batch.

Update from Imran – Feb 2016

Hope you are doing well! Wanted to send you one of my email updates on how things are on my end.

Toronto

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I’ve just turned 31 and am writing to you from sunny but cool Toronto, Canada where the temperature is -5° Fahrenheit (-20° Celsius). You may be wondering — wasn’t I just in Portland? What am I doing in Toronto?

I liked Portland but decided I wanted to try living in a different place where there was a large Ismaili Muslim community (of which I am a member) and also a good tech scene. I was considering Vancouver, Seattle, Toronto, and Dallas. I ended up finding a good job in Toronto and also have a lot of family here, so there is where I settled. The diversity of people, cuisine, culture have been great so far!

I moved to an apartment in downtown Toronto on King and Bathurst. I have a view of the CN Tower (the big skyscraper in town) and it’s facing away from the street so it is usually very quiet, which I love. Now I just need to get all my furniture assembled!

Working at Influitive

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In Toronto, I’ve joined a new company called Influitive as a Director of Product Management. Influitive is an advocacy marketing software company, which helps companies leverage online reviews, social media, and word of mouth referrals from their existing customers to “advocate” for their product and drive new customers. Advocacy marketing has been around for a while, but the software industry around it is relatively new.

The company is growing and there has been a lot of opportunity to take on more responsibility, which has been fun. As you can imagine, it can been very easy to get caught up in all the work. I have been trying to meditate to help myself stay settled despite all the changes in work and environment.

Serving on a Vipassana Retreat

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Before Toronto I had about 6 weeks off, I volunteered on a 10-day Vipassana meditation retreat in Kauffman, TX. The difference between going as a volunteer server instead of a meditator is you meditate a little bit less (about 3 hours a day instead of 6-7 hours) and you’re allowed to talk. The volunteer duties include cooking food, preparing the halls, and other management tasks so the meditators can focus on their practice and keep silence.

It was a great experience. Like in daily life, I had to interact with people, face conflicts, and other issues which might be difficult or challenging. But I could see how much better I was able to deal with things when I had a bit of meditation. Like I said above, I want to keep it up because I can see the how it helps me deal with every day life a little bit more calmly and thoughtfully.

Peru (Machu Picchu)

View of Machu Picchu with Urubamba River below.

Over Thanksgiving I went to Peru with a group of 10 people to hike the Salcantay trail to Machu Picchu. We flew into Lima, and then into Cusco where we got acclimated for a day or two to the altitude and then began our 4 day hike.

The uphill wasn’t so bad, but the downhill and the length of time each day was the biggest challenge for me! We did 8-10 hours of hiking a day, and some days we had to wake up at 4 or 5 am in order to get to the next camp site before dark. So it was certainly not a vacation by any means, but it was definitely an experience!

Seeing Machu Picchu was the pinnacle. It was a 15th century Incan city built in the mountains that has very impressive architecture and a magical, perhaps spiritual feeling to it. You can tell just how much effort went into building this place. It feels like the peak of human endeavor.

Upcoming Travels

Here are my travels for the next few months. If we are overlapping, drop me a line and perhaps we can meet up!

Birmingham, AL: Feb 25-29

San Francisco, CA: Mar 6-13
San Diego, CA: April 29 – May 1

If you’re in Toronto please let me know and I would love to see you! My new contact info is below.

Take care,
Imran

Update from Imran – October 2015

I wanted to resend this note since it went to Spam boxes a lot the first time. Sorry if you are getting this twice!

It’s been about 3 months since my last note like this, so I wanted to send you an update on what’s been happening in Portland.

Portland

View from Angel's Rest Trail in the Multonomah Gorge, 45 minutes outside Portland

View from Angel’s Rest Trail in the Multonomah Gorge, 45 minutes outside Portland

I’ve moved on from living in Airbnbs into longer term apartments. But I’ve discovered in Portland I have all kind of allergies I didn’t know about! Because a lot of the homes here tend to be older construction (early 1900s) there is a large propensity to have dust, mold, other issues.

I have started getting “immunotherapy” shots for allergies, which over time is supposed to cure it. In some ways its a nuisance, but overall I’m glad I discovered it. All this time growing up when I’ve been sneezing on occasion when I thought I just had a “cold”, maybe it was actually an allergies!
I have been trying to get outdoors a bit more, and there are plenty of great hikes within a very close distance. A friend invited me to hike Machu Pichu in November, so now I have some incentive to begin training more!

Silent Meditation Retreat

Meditation Pagoda at the Southwest Vipassana Center in Texas

Meditation Pagoda at the Southwest Vipassana Center in Texas

From August 26 – September 6 I went on a 10 day silent Vipassana meditation retreat. This was my second one. It was held in Kaufman, Texas about 30 minutes outside of Dallas.

Some of the basic principles of the retreat:
– no talking to anyone except the meditation instructor (only if you have questions)
– no phone, computer, music internet, reading, writing, or any distraction besides meditating
– vegetarian meals for breakfast and lunch. no food for dinner except tea
– wake up around 4:30AM every morning, mostly meditation throughout the day, and lights out at 10pm.

Although it may sound very daunting, I appreciate that is it is a very structured environment that not only teaches you a meditation technique, but also gives you guidance on how to find satisfaction within oneself as opposed to chasing after “external” accomplishments which one has a much harder time controlling.

I felt good after the retreat because i progressed in my meditation practice at level i was happy with. I was happy also happy because I better understood what it means to be equanimous, which is one of the most important parts of wisdom from the Vipassana teachings for me.

It is by many measures an intense experience but also an intensely rewarding experience. I would encourage you to check it out if you haven’t heard of it!

Jehangir Saleh Lecture Series

Jehangir Saleh Lecture Series

In other news, I have been helping with the organization of a lecture series in honor of my cousin Jehangir. He passed away a few years ago from a genetic condition called Cystic Fibrosis. We were only a few months apart in age and he was a very good friend to me, and it made me appreciate the ephemeral nature of life.

In his honor, our family started a lecture series at the Philosophy department of Ryerson University, his alma matter. The first lecture will be held on October 27 in Toronto, Canada on the topic of The Art of Wellbeing: Living with Illness. If you in the Toronto area please come attend!

Even if you cannot attend, I thought I would let you know as we all have loved ones who deal with illness, and finding ways to remember them can be very rewarding. If you’d like to donate to the lecture series click here.

Upcoming Travel Schedule

Marin Software Co-workers

With my Marin Software Portland office co-workers on a hike

Here is a list of places I will be in the next few months. Let me know if we are overlapping and perhaps we can meet up.

Tampa: Oct 9-12
Los Angeles: Oct 15-18
New York: Oct 22-25
Toronto: Oct 26-28
San Francisco: Oct 28-Nov 2
Lima, Peru (Machu Pichu): Nov 23 – Dec 1

Would love to hear from you as always!

Take care,
Imran

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