Dec 29, 2011

The Project Begins

I have started on my 6 PM Project and I wanted to tell you about the first few steps that I am taking.

Firstly, I am aiming not merely for a Clean Desk, but for an Almost Bare Desk. No piece of paper shall be on my desk, unless it actually requires me to take some specific action on it. Once the action is taken, the document must be thrown away or filed away.

Next, I am tidying up my hard disk. I am setting some new rules to create a more rational system for organising all my soft-copy reference materials. This will save me time whenever I need to search for something.

One new idea is not to just save one copy of a document, but to make multiple copies, and cross-file; them in all relevant folders. For example, if I have a document concerning commodity derivatives in Thailand, I would not file it just under my "Commodity Derivatives" folder, nor just under my "Thailand" folder, but in both folders. So in future, the document should be easier to locate.

As for relevant information available from public online sources, I will continue to use my blog, The Asian Banking Lawyer, to hyperlink to them. I will also be making greater use of Google's Email Alert service, to track industry developments relevant to my work.

You might be impressed to know that I usually have less than 10 emails in my office email inbox. I have a system for processing my emails quickly. They are rapidly filed away in a system of moveable folders and subfolders in Lotus Notes. These folders and subfolders themselves become my to-do list. Low-priority matters are pushed to the lowest parts of the list, while important matters go to the top.

I am setting an alarm in my iPhone to go off at 5:30 pm, from Mondays to Fridays. The alarm is to remind me to start wrapping up my work, in preparation for leaving the office at 6 pm.

I will be getting an alarm clock and placing it on my desk. If I need to focus on an important piece of work, I will hang up my phone and set myself a definite time (eg 45 minutes) to tackle the piece of work. I won't be taking any calls during those 45 minutes.

I have printed out a monthly calendar. This one gets to stay on my desk. I will tick the days on which I do succeed in leaving at 6 pm sharp. For the days on which I fail, I will jot down the reason why. After a few weeks or maybe a month, I think that I will have some useful data to to identify any recurring obstacles for my 6 pm project.

That's it for now. I expect to roll out more ideas in the near future, for greater efficiency and effectiveness.

Dec 27, 2011

My Six O'Clock Project

When I was a kid, my parents often emphasised the importance of hard work. My mother would even say, "It doesn't matter if you score badly in your exams, so long as you had studied hard and tried your best". At first sight, this philosophy sounds plausible enough. However, upon closer scrutiny, you might find that it doesn't quite hold up.

Consider your workplace. Make a list of the most successful people (those who are on the promotion track, those who got the biggest bonuses, and so on). Then for each of these people, write down what you think are the top 3 reasons for his or her success. I suspect that you'll end up with quite a variety of different reasons. For example:

"good interpersonal skills",
"smart and talented",
"very experienced",
"handles the high-profile work"
"outstanding problem-solving ability"
"because he has plenty of important clients"
"excellent communication skills"

Less politically-correct reasons (which is not to say that they are invalid) may include:

"his skin is of the right colour"
"sucks up to the Boss"
"very good at taking credit for other people's work"
"her father is the CEO"
"PSC scholars always get promoted even if they are idiots"

Anyway, my point is that there is little correlation between hard work and career success. People who actually get ahead in the workplace may get ahead for a wide variety of reasons, other than old-fashioned hard work.

Laziness is probably detrimental to your career progression. But diligence is definitely no guarantee of success. To see if this is true, check your workplace again. Make a list of the most hardworking people. You'll probably notice that some of your colleagues work very hard, but don't seem to even get appreciation, much less achieve career success.

(Actually, this is true of our education system as well. There are plenty of students who slog very hard and produce only mediocre grades).

Unfortunately, many Singaporeans are culturally conditioned to work hard. I say that this is unfortunate - because as I've already pointed out, hard work doesn't necessarily get you anywhere. On the contrary, there is a personal price to pay for hard work (think migraines, heart disease, stomach ulcers and hypertension). And excessive diligence at work will also deprives you of your personal time, including time with your family.

So ....

Come 2012, I am going to launch a new personal project. I call it my 6 p.m. project. My mission is to leave the office at 6 pm sharp as often as possible. Ideally, 5 days a week, for most weeks. I'll even keep a log.

On average, in 2011, I left the office around 8 pm. So if I now succeed in leaving at 6 pm instead, I save 10 hours per week, or 40 hours per month. That sounds pretty good to me.

I don't intend to get sloppy with my work. I do intend to become more efficient and productive. I plan to find good ideas and clever ways to get all my usual work done on time and done well, despite my working 40 hours less per month.

How exactly will I do that? Stay tuned. I'm still figuring it out myself. As the 6 p.m project progresses, I'll let you know the details.

Dec 19, 2011

Poetry by the People

Moving Words was a literary project that launched in Singapore earlier this year. I was one of the 12 featured poets in Phase One, which meant that a poem of mine was chosen and displayed on a billboard featured at various MRT stations. If you are a regular train user, you've probably seen some of those poems from the different writers.

This was part of the promotional publicity for Phase 2, a writing competition which was open to all members of the public. The response was quite excellent, and the organisers received nearly 2,000 entries. In the final phase of Moving Words, about 125 of these entries were selected for publication in a book, which was then launched during the Singapore Writers Festival. The editor was Alvin Pang, a well-known face in the Singapore literary scene.

One interesting thing about such a book is that it shows you new, fresh writing by people whom you had never even heard of before. The vast majority of writers featured in the anthology have not previously published their own books nor won any literary award. Nevertheless the quality of writing remains decent, for these are, after all, the best 125 pieces culled from a much larger pool of nearly 2,000 entries.

As Moving Words was a multi-lingual project, the poems come in four languages - English, Chinese, Malay and Tamil. All the non-English poems in the book also come with an English translation. The editor You can order the book directly from the publisher here or from Select Books.

From the book, I offer a sample poem, written by one Gan See Siong, who is a lecturer at Temasek Polytechnic. It's a rather mischievous poem, with a particularly naughty ending.

You Need Me

"You like to enter me in the wee hours of morning
That part of yours in protective sheath
And go romping with me
Three to four times a week.

A gentle man you are not
For without warning you would spread me wide
To accommodate the full extent of you.

You strapped me up
With those dexterous fingers
So close I can see your grim determination
The even rise and fall of your chest.

And just like that
You would head me
Down the pleasure road
Growing all hot and hard in me.

If only you knew how I long for these sessions,
They are the reason why I even exist," said the pair of running shoes.

Dec 18, 2011

The Ups and Downs of 2011 for Me

As the year draws to a dark and rainy close, I thought I would pen a few thoughts about how 2011 has played out for me.

It wasn't the best of years. It wasn't the worst. The biggest change was moving to my new house, getting all the renovations done and helping everyone to adjust and adapt to the new home. It wasn't always easy, but now we are nicely settled down and I'm grateful.

We had a few incidents with unpleasant neighbours. There were also various unhappy incidents between other neighbours (not involving me). One of them reached the point when a defamation lawsuit was actually threatened. I spoke to friends and acquantances and it seems that such unhappy incidents aren't exactly that uncommon in cluster houses.

A contractor told me point-blank that in his experience, the owner of the largest unit always has problems with neighbours (I happen to own the largest unit). According to the contractor, the underlying cause is their jealousy. Well, I put all that unpleasant stuff behind me now. But there is a particular neighbour whom I will completely ignore for the rest of my life. Either that, or I will give her a cold glare. My children call her the "fat bitch". In this particular instance, I won't object to their language.

I was pleased that at the start of the year, we managed to get our son transferred to a better primary school. He is now a Catholic High student. He has adapted well to his new school and enjoys being there. At his previous school, he was shy and quiet and had been targeted by bullies more than once. Catholic High seems to have given him more confidence and he has even assumed a leadership role as class monitor.

My daughter had a great Primary 1 year in school and enjoyed herself thoroughly. She isn't in one of the top schools, but sometimes maybe things work out better that way. She's having a fun time being one of the top students. It's a self-esteem building experience which  she probably couldn't have had, if she had gone to a more competitive school.

At work, I had two surprises in the early part of the year. The first was a surprise of the disappointing kind. Despite many earlier promises and positive words, I didn't get promoted. The second surprise was that I received what was a rather large bonus (considering the state of the financial industry these days).

I think that to some extent, the organisation was trying to make up for my non-promotion by giving me a bigger bonus. Oh well. All in all, not such a bad deal, after all. Between an improved corporate title and a big sum of cash, I'll take the cash anytime.

The work itself was pretty interesting. I did a lot of legal work relating to very new developments in the industry, concerning how the governments in various  countries are creating new laws to regulate the OTC derivatives industry, post the 2008 financial crisis. I think I've carved out a niche in this area. I was invited this year to speak at a conference on such topics, and I have another invitation to speak at a conference in April next year.

I took another CMFAS exam, and passed. I am now qualified to be both a stockbroker and a personal financial adviser. Not that I have any concrete plans to do so anytime in the near future, but hey, everyone needs some kind of Plan B. In 2012, I may sign myself up for more CMFAS exams.

I didn't travel much this year. I did take the family to Penang and Langkawi in June, and to Korea this month. Penang has plenty of good food, and a temple or two that's worth a look, but otherwise it's still a rather sleepy town. I found Langkawi more interesting, for the eco-tourism aspects. We explored a bat cave and fed some eagles and visited a fish farm, things like that.

It was very cold when we visited Korea. The temperature was down to -2 degrees in Seoul, and even colder when we went to the mountain area to see their national park. But the kids had plenty of fun in the snow and ice. We also went to the northernmost point of South Korea, where after passing several military checkpoints, we got to peer at the mysterious land of North Korea, using telescopes at an observatory.

On the writing front, I had a few old poems published in new anthologies. I was a featured writer in the Singapore Writers Festival. I was also part of the Moving Words project, and had a poem featured on Singapore's MRT trains. Those were the highlights, but overall it wasn't a great year as I hardly wrote anything new.

A dear old aunt of mine passed away in February. Colorectal cancer. I worry sometimes about my uncle (her husband), who's in his 80s and now lives all alone in a little HDB flat in Ang Mo Kio. I know that he was very, very affected by my aunt's death. I hope he's gotten over it by now.

It waa a crap year, as far as my own health and fitness was concerned. For a while, it appeared that I had borderline high blood pressure. I resolved to exercise regularly, but it didn't quite work out that way; I just never managed to stick to the plan. All the good intentions would peter out in a few weeks, then two months would pass, then I would try again, then the cycle would repeat.

I did succeed in eating more healthily (I now often have a salad for both breakfast and lunch). My BP has fallen back into the normal/healthy range, but whatever the reason was, it sure wasn't because of exercise.

I'd say a few things about Mrs Wang's year too, but she's told me not to. She likes her privacy.

My happiest moments of the year were the same kind as the happiest moments of the past seven years or so. Private moments with my two children - playing with them, talking to them, hugging them. I love being a dad, and watching them grow up.

P.S. My daughter just asked me why my blog is known as "Mr Wang Says So", and not "Mr Koh Says So". Long history, my dear. Tell you another time.

The MRT Train Breakdown - Passing the Buck in a Blame Game

One year ago, I had already written several posts about the falling standards of public transport in Singapore. Of course, those posts attracted a few of the usual criticisms that I was irrationally anti-PAP.

Well, as you know by now, the MRT trains broke down very badly a few days ago. Service was disrupted for many hours. Passengers were trapped in darkness without ventilation. Someone had to use a fire extinguisher to smash the glass panel of the train door, so that everyone else could breathe. Passengers had to force the doors open themselves, in order to get out.

Problems like that don't happen overnight. They never do. They are just symptoms of deeper systemic failures. What those failures are, we'll eventually know - if the goverment actually reveals its findings in an honest manner.  But the point is that when something like this happens, it's typically the result of an extended period of time over which the trains are badly managed. If the train system had been regularly inspected and properly maintained, it wouldn't just massively break down like that.

I read the news, and I see that Mr Lui Tuck Yew, the Transport Minister, is making a big hue and cry. Oh, how clever. Immediately, he shoves all the potential blame at SMRT and talks about how he's going to get a panel of experts to inspect SMRT and find out the problems yadda yadda yadda.

Well, I'm sure that SMRT is to blame. But what about the PAP government itself? After all, this is public transport. Mr Lui, do you mean to say that the government has no regular role in making sure that the public transport actually works? That the trains run properly, that buses are safe, and so on? Come on, Mr Transport Minister. What has your ministry been doing all this time?

I'm scared, you know. I am a regular train user. I don't want to be trapped underground, for who knows how long, in the dark, without ventilation, on a crowded train, with oxygen running out.

If Lui and the SMRT can't solve the problem quickly, I suggest that as an interim measure that every train must be equipped with emergency torchlights and sledgehammers. The torchlights are for lighting, and the sledgehammers are to prevent suffocation.

"Singaporeans must be self-reliant and not expect the
Government to do everything for them."