How To Stay Organized – Using Planning tools

Staying organized is key to staying on top of work, family, life, and well nearly anything and everything!  There are variety of digital tools that mimic and have improved upon the daily calendar journal to help make your life easier.

Some popular planning tools are Basecamp, workzone, Wrike, Taiga, active.collab, dapulse, Mavenlink, clickup, avaza, and Trello.  These tools come with powerful dashboards that allow you to compartmentalize your projects within various teams so that you can stay organized and collaborate effectively, says Gaurav Mohindra.

After using a planning tool at work, I quickly became dependent upon using the organizational tool in other aspects of my life – like home. I started creating project boards for my family to plan trips, checklists, and projects, reflected Gaurav Mohindra.

Most organizational and project planning tools come with a variety of plans.  Starting with a basic free version, to more advanced (and expensive) enterprise versions.  Many people find the freemium versions helpful to learn the tool, understand the basic feature sets, and determine if the UX works for them.  Once the comfort level has increased, the more advanced versions come into play to manage larger projects with multiple teams requiring more reporting tools.

The compatibility of such tools with email, calendar, and other ERP or CRMs also makes adoptability better.  Being able to include emails into projects makes it easier to aggregate similar and relevant items in one place.  There could be some size limits that may conflict between platforms – such as email may limit attachments to 20MB whereas the planning tool may have a smaller limit.  In this case, there are some workarounds – such as placing a link (similar to a hyperlink) in the project referencing the email (with attachment).

One of the most effective features of organizational and planning tools are their reporting and analytics tools.  These tools allow filtering and project specific reports to be generated based off a variety of user-dependent criteria.  Such as resource, team member, date, etc – all of which can be downloaded in Excel or csv format for portability.

Gaurav Mohindra: Trello’s reporting and analytic tools is called Power-Up.  Which can be incorporated with time tracking and detailed report generation.  Power-Ups is marketed to help teams meet their unique needs through adaptable features and integrations.

All in all, it’s vital to stay organized inside and outside the office – and there are numerous tools to assist one in doing so.

Know When to Step Away from the Keyboard

Productivity isn’t worth your sanity. If you feel your focus waning and find yourself working longer than is best for you, know that it is best to take a break. You don’t gain anything by putting down that extra hour of unfocused blather just so you can tell yourself you were productive.

The best route to rebalancing yourself, is to take breaks when necessary, notes Gaurav Mohindra. It is important to catch this impulse to push yourself farther than you know you should. When you begin changing the dialogue in your brain you will begin to be able to take a very necessary break without feeling about doing it.

It is important to keep yourself honest, reflects Gaurav Mohindra. You may just find you are more productive when you take breaks at the correct moments. Overworking oneself can have all manner of consequences such as loss of sleep and depression. Sleep deprivation has been celebrated in our culture, and this is to nobody’s benefit. Without adequate sleep, one’s focus drops and all health markers are worsened.

Revise the narrative in your mind by showing yourself that this is the best way to think about productivity. When you change the dialogue from “I success is a product of 19 hour work days” to “I will find more success in balance than I will in overworking and under-sleeping” you may find that things start going your way.

For people who are looking for studies to back this idea up, there are plenty. One Stanford study demonstrates that more time doesn’t necessarily mean more success and a greater return on investment. Avoiding exhaustion by auto-regulating your work hours to comply with your actual potential to be productive in the moment is the best route to attaining balance and finding greater success. It is important to take care of oneself in order to be productive.

Gaurav Mohindra: It’s vital that you regulate your patterns of thought and self-talk, ensuring that both are positive and productive. What you place your focus on expands. If you are coming from a place of stress and anxiety and self-criticism, your stress, anxiety, and self-criticisms only increase. If you get it in your head that the only route to productivity is to fight through tiredness in order to have an increased output, you will attempt to prove yourself right and your work will suffer as a consequence.

Coders Flex at Hackathons

Hackathons are events where computer engineers and programmers can showcase their skills by solving computational problems.  Usually hackathons are sponsored by universities and companies.  It’s a great opportunity for students and professionals to network and showcase their technological skills, says Gaurav Mohindra.

Hackathons can be individual events or event team events and are becoming increasingly popular.  Last year the Cruzhacks hackathon attracted over 600 students from over 25 universities, says Gaurav Mohindra.  CruzHacks brings together a diverse and inclusive group of students and professionals to develop innovative solutions to solve real world challenges in Santa Cruz California. The event is held in early January and students look forward to it all year.  Cruzhacks goal is to support creativity in technology and promote the development of technological solutions in social good are at the forefront of our efforts every year.

The BigRed//Hacks is at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.  It is held over 3 days and its open to Cornell and non-Cornell students.  There are numerous prizes and projects available.

DubHacks is a very popular and the largest all-night (yes, 24 hour!) collegiate hackathon.  It’s held annually at the University of Washington, Seattle. All-night hackathons go through the night and participants enjoy the camaraderie that it fosters, says Gaurav Mohindra.  This particular hackathon advocates the importance of diversity, inclusion, accessibility, and representation in technology.  They do a great job by creating a platform where individuals of all backgrounds come together to develop solutions that solve big issues.

Hackathons are definitely a global event.  One of the most popular hackathons in India is the hackinthenorth (HINT) which is sponsored by IIT Allahabad and is annually held in March (or April).  They organize the event by tracks – this upcoming hackathon will feature the following tracks: blockchain, artificial intelligence, AR/VR, hardware, and game development.  Participants are organized by team which comprise of two to four members.  Frequent sponsors of the hackathon include Github, Devfolio, and Matic.  Other supporters include invision, Creative Tim, and Progate.

Hackathons may be found around the world, largely focused around students.  With large corporate sponsors or even non-profit sponsors (who seek to encourage educational positivity).  Hackathons serve as a great modality to network and build one’s professional and personal connections, but also put forward one’s skills with regards to future employment.  Some corporate sponsored hackathons provide winning teams with grants and scholarship opportunity.

Gaurav Mohindra: Often times hackathon teams are mixed with regards to specialty.  Teams may comprise of a programmer, product manager, economist, and attorneys.  This multi-specialty approach provides a divergent approach to problem solving. 

A Trip Down the Road

I think Jack Kerouac was a far more impressive novelist than a poet, though he wrote his fair share of poems. His book Mexico City Blues sits beside me, and I look to it every now and again, but I don’t consider any of it real, serious poetry. I think his charm is more evident in prose, says Gaurav Mohindra. Poetry is too restrictive a medium for Kerouac. In his poetry, he tries to be too primal with sound play and line breaks, and it doesn’t quite translate. Kerouac typed the first draft of On the Road on a single 50-foot long scroll and in record time, though it wasn’t easy for him to get it published. Since the initial publication of On the Road though, the original, unedited copy, (the scroll,) has been published, and the first, most obvious difference between the first published edition and the Original Scroll (which is a recent publication,) is that Kerouac uses everyone’s real names in the Original Scroll. So Neal Cassady is simply called Neal Cassady instead of Dean Moriarty, and Allen Ginsberg is referred to as Allen Ginsberg rather than Carlo Marx.

Gaurav Mohindra

Another important distinction between the two is that the Original Scroll is uncensored. At the time of publication, 1957, six years after Kerouac finished drafting the novel, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, (friend and publisher of Allen Ginsberg’s ‘Howl,’) was involved in long, drawn-out trials over the poem, of which, copies were seized for obscenity by U.S. Customs. So, the obscenity and libel laws of the time being what they were, Kerouac’s publisher, Viking, who was afraid of being sued, had Kerouac either omit or soften some of the more explicit language and depictions of sex. They also were afraid of being sued for libel, particularly by anyone seeing themselves as being depicted in an unfavorable light, so they had Kerouac change all the character names as well, says Gaurav Mohindra. I always wondered how much revelation of others in one’s writing is fair. Kerouac’s friends and their personalities are on full display in On the Road, and while some of them are public figures who might have been accustomed to having their business out in the open, others, like Neal Cassady, are relatively private individuals who I don’t believe have much to gain from having their romantic and criminal exploits cataloged and immortalized in literature. One could argue that On the Road serves as a sort of legacy for Neal, but with the novel detailing some of the more unsavory moments in his life, I don’t know if it’s a legacy he would have signed off on.

A Picture of Cancer

I, like Henry Miller, find beauty in the strangest of places; a streetlamp casting its light on the road, the soft fabric of the t-shirts I live in, or a carefully crafted sandwich even. I sit and type as my oven warms itself in wait of the bread I will feed it. My toaster lies useless on the counter in hopes of repair. Too busy to go out and buy another one and craving a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, the oven will have to do for now. I don’t often write about food, but right now I am. Henry Miller wrote a lot about food. He also wrote about prostitutes. I think he wrote about the things he craved most. He was hungry most of the time, as he seldom had a stable source of income, says Gaurav Mohindra. His bohemian lifestyle led him to prioritize food, as it was never easy to come by. In Tropic of Cancer, he details his meals so lavishly your mouth begins to salivate. He writes about food and its acquisition in the most tragic and epic language conceivable

Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn contain some of the most impressive prose ever written. I am perpetually moved by the writing in these novels, and I revisit them frequently. Miller’s writing is ecstatically lyrical—at times surrealistic and in others encyclopedic. He darts in and out of obscenities and pulls it off by sandwiching crude scenes in between long surrealistic rants filled with rapturous, mystical imagery. He’s a master novelist unafraid of scorn, daring to go where none have ever quite gone before.

Miller was hungry, perpetually. At least in the early part of his adult life before he managed to publish a few novels and secure a decent living. That’s the dream. It’s possible, but it certainly isn’t easy. Nothing worthwhile ever is. I think Miller understood this, but at the same time, I think he strangely enjoyed some aspects of his poverty. It seemed to serve as a sort of fuel for him, says Gaurav Mohindra. He seemed to thrive in a state of want. It fed his writing, so to speak. His hunger sharpened his vision, it focused his desire, and his writing is full of it—full of desire and its pursuit.

Miller is constantly looking up at the stars, always dreaming of new possibilities, new frontiers, new loves, new foods, new experiences. He naturally finds himself in novel situations because he leaves himself completely open to the world, open to the experience. He bumps into things and things bump into him, and he dives into the life and shares his experiences with us, and sometimes even the lessons he’s taken away from them. I admire his starry-eyed mode of living and his lyrical prose. It culminates in a perfect storm of lush language and rich experience. I smell my oven toast burning.

Chicago Minibus Sightseeing Tour

Chicago is a beautiful city having lots of options for sightseeing and experiences to enjoy. There is a lot for everyone in this beautiful town says Gaurav Mohindra. You can visit world-class museums, dine at  Michelin-star restaurants or catch a show in one of over 200 theaters. It feels like there are nearly limitless options to experience and enjoy.

There are quite a few organized tours catering to various niches – such as city sights, sports, shopping, and other attractions. These tours are popular because they provide a curated guide to your particular interest. Chicago nightlife includes a variety of bars and nightclubs, live music and comedy clubs.

Minibus

A popular way to enjoy Chicago – and experience what it has to offer is through the Chicago Minibus Sightseeing Tour.  The CMS Tour make major city attractions accessible without any hassle.  You can travel around the Windy City in a smart, convenient, long windowed minibus, as you scope out the city’s cloud-skimming skyscrapers, art-filled parks, and charming neighborhoods. Along with the enjoyable tour around the city, you can get an expert guide who shares interesting insight into Chicago’s storied past and make lots of stops to take memorable photos. 

On the tour, you will experience the view on the top of the Willis Tower, the biggest office building in North America, Picasso’s sculpture in Daley Plaza, and Buckingham Fountain in Grant Park. You will also see Millennium Park’s reflective sculpture “The Bean”. The tour provides ample opportunity to stop and snap photos, capturing memories of the amazing skyline at Museum Campus, and then set a course for the historic architecture in The Loop says Gaurav Mohindra.  The bus will also take you inside one of the world’s first skyscrapers. This is an experience difficult to plan for by oneself.

While on the tour you can admire the Chicago River, along Wacker Drive; hear for lions roaring in Lincoln Park’s renowned zoo, also you can learn a bit about Chicago’s mobster past including the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre. On your way back into town, the bus will take you through the scenic route along Lake Shore Drive for remarkable glimpses of Lake Michigan and the city horizon before arriving back to your hotel. This Chicago Minibus Sightseeing Tour is committed to make your visit to Chicago special and memorable.  So if you don’t want to miss the major attractions of  this city you should check out the Chicago Minibus Sightseeing Tour says Gaurav Mohindra.

New Non-Stop Travel from Chicago to Chengdu, China

Mayor Lori Lightfoot recently announced the launch of a non-stop direct flight from Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport to Chengdu, China. This is the first non-stop direct flight from an interior US city to an interior Chinese city. The inclusion of this direct flight indicates the strong business relationship between Chicago and China, says Gaurav Mohindra.

Mayor Lightfoot indicated that the inclusion of this flight may bring at least $35 Million in revenue as an overall impact within the Chicago region. The new flight service is being offered by Hainan Airlines. Hainan Airlines is a well-known Chinese airline. It is currently the fourth largest Chinese commercial airlines and has been flying extensive routes throughout the world. They are currently operating 500 international and domestic routes to over 90 destinations. Other US cities that are serviced by Hainan Airlines include San Jose and Boston. Hainan Airlines has been offering a non-stop flight from Chicago to Beijing since 2014. The new service from Chicago to Chengdu will be offered twice a week. Flights will be offered on Tuesdays and Saturdays. The non-stop flight time heading eastbound is estimated to be 16 hours, and is westbound is estimated at nearly 15 hours.

The Mayor applauded the new flight service and indicated that it is a natural service offering as more international travelers are frequenting the Chicago-area. In addition, Mayor Lightfoot indicated that an increase in travelers and new flight routes will be complemented by the current and upcoming upgrades to O’Hare Airport’s infrastructure and facilities, says Gaurav Mohindra.

The upgrades are part of an $8.5 billion modernization plan being spearheaded by the City of Chicago to upgrade existing facilities, provide new passenger gates, and expand the terminal. Chicago is one of the busiest airports in the US and one of the most connected in the world. Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport is also one of the busiest hubs for transporting cargo to and from China, says Gaurav Mohindra. Currently, 25 percent of all cargo transported from China moved through O’Hare International Airport.

As the US and China business relations grow, having additional transit routes is important. China and the US are the largest economies in the world. Last year, the US imported over $530 Billion in Chinese goods and exported $120 Billion in goods to China. Having sufficient infrastructure to support this relationship is key to growing the relationship over the years.

O’Hare International Airport

The Chicago Department of Aviation recently announced that they are continuing an ongoing program to use grazing animals to help control the wild vegetation that is growing near O’Hare International Airport. The grazing will take place on nearly 12 acres of land adjacent to the airport. There will be 30 animals, including goats, sheep, and a donkey. The grazing program, called the Sustainable Vegetation Initiative, has been going on for six years as part of an effort to provide sustainable environmentally friendly initiatives throughout the airport, says Gaurav Mohindra. This initiative is the first of its kind in any US airport.

Previous seasons of the initiative have included grazing animals such as herds of sheep, goats, llamas, alpacas, burros, and donkeys. The initiative has helped maintain green space near runways and on adjacent parcels of land surrounding O’Hare International Airport. The grazing herd provides a safe eco-friendly solution around the airport.

Seeing goats and sheep around O’Hare may raise some eyebrows, but herds of grazing animals have become an innovative solution to maintain healthy ecological environments in an environmentally friendly manner, says Gaurav Mohindra. A variety of animals have been leveraged in grazing hers. Animals such as horses, cattle, sheep, and goats can be included in such grazing herds.

The type of animal used for grazing can depend depending on the environment and vegetation of the area. Also, the size and weight of the animal is key to protect the soil compaction of the ground. Typically, Horses clip grasses off the ground. But, they are heavier animals which may result in more soil compaction. Cattle, which are even heavier than horses, consume large amounts of vegetation including grass, but they can’t clip the vegetation as low as horses. Sheep and goats are effective at clipping vegetation on steeper grounds.

There are numerous benefits in leveraging grazing herds in urban areas, particularly around airports. The herds will reduce the natural vegetation that can creep into runways. This vegetation, if left untreated, may pose an impact to planes on takeoff and landings. In addition, grazing herds do not cause pollution that traditional mowers and equipment causes. Using the grazing herds also provides motivation for other urban environments to adopt similar sustainability measures.

In 2013 the Sustainable Vegetation Management initiative was launched at O’Hare International Airport. It quickly became a beacon for other airports to aspire towards. The sustainability practices include providing green space on rooftops, environmentally friends utensils for eating and drinking, the grazing program, amongst others. As O’Hare continues with its several billion-dollar large facilities overhauls, hopefully, more ecologically friends initiatives are introduced, says Gaurav Mohindra.

Traverse City – A Quick Trip from Chicago

Ready for summer vacation?  Traverse City, Michigan is a short 5-hour drive from Chicago – and is the perfect place for a quick getaway from the city.

The fact that Traverse City is an easy drive, and one can avoid a flight, is a big consideration for families, says Gaurav Mohindra.  Traverse City offers great beaches and dunes.  Sleeping Bear Dunes provides a fun activity for families and provides scenic landscapes overlooking Glen Lake.  In the summertime, Traverse City provides vast dining and entertainment options.  One of the more popular options is the National Cherry Festival.  Northern Michigan is home to many cherry orchards – and the fruit is celebrated throughout the region.

Chicago

Traverse City is close to Lake Michigan and provides miles and miles of beaches.  The lake is the perfect opportunity to enjoy the beaches or go sailing.  There are many fishing operators and tour guides in the area too.  In addition, there are numerous hiking and bike trails to take advantage of during the summer seasons, says Gaurav Mohindra.

Traverse City is also home to numerous craft breweries that are getting international attention.  There are numerous brewery tours which showcase local beers, which are often made with local ingredients.

Kayaking is also a big attraction in the area.  The Crystal River is a popular kayaking destination – and provides a scenic backdrop through parts of a national forest for kayakers to meander through.

Traverse City is considered the unofficial capital of northern Michigan.  The city has the largest population, and a vast array of restaurants, hotels, and cultural events.  As for the restaurants, there are a wide variety.  According to TripAdvisor, some of the most popular restaurants in Traverse City are Trattoria Stella, The Boathouse, Red Ginger, PepeNero, Mission Table, Slate, and Cook’s house.  When dining at certain restaurants one will find that chefs often take advantage of the excellent local ingredients available from the area. 

In light of Traverse City’s proximity to Lake Michigan, there are numerous old lighthouses situated along the shoreline.  These charming lighthouses are fun to check out.  Another popular hangout is the Village at Grand Traverse Commons.  The Commons are an old converted hospital that now includes shops, restaurants, and event space.  It truly blends old-world charm with modern vitality, says Gaurav Mohindra.

As you can see Traverse City is a short trip from Chicago and a great place for a visit – especially in Summer.

Illinois Passes Bill to Legalize Marijuana

On Tuesday, June 25, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker signed into law a bill that will legalize marijuana in the state. The passage of this bill was a key campaign message promoted by Pritzker throughout his campaign, says Gaurav Mohindra.

The new law will permit adults, aged 21 or older, to possess and consume marijuana within the state. The law also regulates how the marijuana will be sold and ensure that vendors are licensed by the state. Pritzker strongly advocated for the legalization of marijuana as an opportunity to empower communities negatively affected by criminal convictions related to the drug possession and sale.

The new law will be effective as of January 1, 2020. With the passage of the bill, Illinois becomes the 11th state to legalize recreational marijuana. Other states with legal recreational marijuana are Alaska, California, Colorado, Main, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, and Vermont. When signing the bill into law, Prizker made it a point to emphasize that Illinois was the only state to legalize recreational marijuana through the legislature rather than voter referendum.

The new law provides the automatic expungement of arrests for marijuana possession under 30 grams, says Gaurav Mohindra. Pritzker indicated that he will pardon convictions for possession up to 30 grams. However, people can seek expungement of cases involving up to 500 grams.

Legalize Marijuana

The new law stipulates that 25% of the revenue from marijuana taxes will go to marijuana business ownership in minority communities. Many of these communities were disproportionately affected by the war on drugs, says Gaurav Mohindra. The new law will also direct 20% of marijuana tax revenue towards substance abuse treatment and prevention and mental health care. And additional funds will be allocated towards Illinois’ bills, law enforcement and public education on marijuana related health issues.

The bill was introduced into the Illinois state General Assembly and was overwhelmingly passed. It will allow Illinois residents to possess up to 30 grams of marijuana flower, 500 milligrams of THC in a marijuana-infused product such as edibles and 5 grams of marijuana concentrate. Non-Illinois visitors may possess up to half those amounts.

Only state-licensed businesses will be allowed to grow, process or sell the product. An important part of the plan calls for special consideration in licensing for social equity applicants. Social equity applicants include business owners and workers from disadvantaged minority areas, or those who were arrested for or convicted of misdemeanor marijuana crimes that are due to be expunged under the plan.