The Anti-Productivity Manifesto

After a barrage of recommendations on my twitter, I finally ended up reading Oliver Burkeman’s Four Thousand Weeks. The central premise of the book is simple: everyone has got about four thousand weeks to live, and spending that limited time chasing efficiency is wrongheaded.

The message seems old. The entire self-help industry revolves around saying variations of it. Stay in the present. Enjoy the moment. Seize the day. But where the book differs from the rest is that it’s both poetic and philosophical. It’s the kind of the book that, once you finish, you end up mumbling: gosh, I should have written it...  Read the entire post →

Notes from “Ogilvy on Advertising”

This one is a dated book – it describes advertising in the age when digital channels didn’t exist. But that doesn’t make it irrelevant.

Rather, the basic principles that made a great ad in the TV/print era remain the same. Consumer psychology is shaped by a million years of evolution, so while mediums change, what makes people buy stuff doesn’t.

A beautiful book!

My notes from the book

How to work with an agency

  • Leaf through the medium you’re interested in and see which ads strike you the most
  • Find out who made those ads
  • Talk to their head and creative director
  • Ask them to give their best ads
  • Go with the one who appeal you the most

Principles of writing headlines

  • Spend a lot of time getting the headline right (5 times more people read it vs copy)
  • Headline should promise the reader a clear benefit
  • News style headlines work (introducing, amazing, now, suddenly)
  • Include brand name in headline (most people don’t read copy and wouldn’t know what product is being advertised)
  • Personalise. If a product targets certain people, put a word in the headline to address them.
  • Specifics work better than generics.
  • Helpful information work great as headline (e.g. how to do xyz).
  • Don’t put full stops in headlines, as they stop the reader.
  • Use a standard font that everyone can read easily (those that people are accustomed to reading)
  • Drama belongs to what you say, not in the typeface.

Principles of illustrations

  • The job of illustrations is to catch interest while the reader is leafing, though. It should inspire curiosity (what’s going on), that the copy will answer.
  • Photos work better than drawings.
  • Keep illustrations simple (one person)
  • Before and after ads work great
  • People notice advertisements that feature models of their own sex only (men notice men, while women notice women)
  • More people read captions under images than copy, so always put captions under images. The caption should include brand name and promise.

Principles of copy

  • Write in story format (hook people)
  • Write in everyday language (simple words)
  • Don’t use analogies (people don’t understand)
  • Don’t use celebrities (people remember them, not the product)
  • Include the price always (people move on when they don’t know the price)
  • Long copy works better than short copy (as the more facts you tell, the more you sell), but with long copy, the first paragraph should be a grabber (and not generic)
  • A subheadline helps whet the appetite for the copy
  • Limit opening paragraph to 11 words


  • Readers first look at illustration, then at headline, then at copy (so put them in that order)
  • Headlines below illustration are read by 10% more than headlines above illustration
  • Advertisements shouldn’t look like ads (they should look like editorial)


  • Copy what’s working (don’t innovate until you have a better idea)
  • Pretend you’re an editor (not an ad creator) and you’ll get more sign-ups
  • Never set copy in black background over white (they’re hard to read)

Posters ...  Read the entire post →

How to change habits

What’s the most effective way to change habits?

I’ve been diving deep into this topic lately, and here’s what I’ve learned. Relied mainly on two sources:

Why habits are important?

Habits allow for certain actions to happen by default whenever a certain context/cue is encountered. You wake up and you brush your teeth. It’s not something you do with any cognitive load. It just happens.

This automaticity of habits makes them powerful because you can pretty much rely on you executing the actions you’re habitual to. For example, research has found out that healthy eaters don’t inhibit themselves in front of unhealthy snacks. Instead, they simply eat better and exercise without conscious thought. That’s the power of habits. ...  Read the entire post →

Notes from the book: “The Spike”

Recently finished “The Spike: An Epic Journey Through The Brain in 2.1 Seconds” by Mark Humphries and here are my notes from it.

1/ As the book’s subtitle suggests, it’s about the neural code our brain uses for doing what it does.

The book is rich with details and I learned a lot of new facts and ideas about the brain. I highly recommend the book to anyone who has an interest in neuroscience.

2/ Since writing about an object as complex as the brain can fill encyclopedias, I will focus my notes on what I know now that I didn’t know before reading the book. ...  Read the entire post →

How my 2021 went

At the closing of the last decade, I reviewed the intellectual progress I had in 2010s. Then I reflected upon the year 2020 by writing 20 lessons I learned in that year. Such reflections haven’t been part of any process – I’ve simply enjoyed taking a pause and doing stock of where my time went. Since time is the only limited resource we have, as I’m aging, I’m realizing that being conscious of how it’s getting spent is extremely important. In fact, such reflections are a fantastic way to nudge your future into a direction that you intentionally choose (v/s reacting to circumstances and drifting from year to year). ...  Read the entire post →

Notes from the book ‘First Three Minutes’ by Steven Weinberg

It’s mind-blowing that we humans are able to talk about what happened in the first 3 minutes of The Big Bang. This book was written in 1976 which was quite a while back but it’s interesting to note that while there have been extensions in the ideas presented, I’m not aware of any idea being rejected or overturned yet. This should perhaps be unsurprising because most scientific ideas that are accepted as truth are consilient, i.e. they’re supported by multiple lines of evidence. ...  Read the entire post →

How much can science tell us about reality?

1/ Reading and re-reading The Brief History of Time when I was young, I grew up into adolescence with an unshakeable faith in science to reveal truths about reality. At school, we were taught scientific laws as if they’re the gospel of reality, never to be changed and never to be questioned. Once you understood magnetism, for example, you could seal that part of reality forever as being understood and then move onto the next thing.

2/ Except that’s not how things happen. Our scientific understanding gets revised all the time. Once the western civilization believed that Earth was created 4000 years ago. Today, most know that it can’t be true.  ...  Read the entire post →

Is the world becoming better?

This essay is inspired by the book Factfulness where the key idea explored is that the world has witnessed significant progress over the last few decades, but most people are unaware of that fact because they hold distorted views.

Talking of distorted views, to get a sense of how much do you know about the world, I highly recommend taking this quiz. Hans Rosling, the author of the book, had been quizzing thousands of people across the world and most of them (including Nobel laureates) performed worse than random chance on such questions. ...  Read the entire post →

How money works

(a massive, 100-part essay)

I recently finished this excellent short book titled What Has Government Done To Our Money. It’s available on the Internet for free and I highly recommend reading it. But in case you want the key insights, here are my notes.

Money as a medium of exchange

1/ In an economy, there’s a variety of people. Different folks specialize in producing different things and each one of them desires different things.

2/ If there are only two people, they can barter (i.e. directly exchange) what each one of them has with what the other one needs. Even with two people, an exchange rate emerges (e.g. how many loaves of bread you both agree on for a pair of shoes?) ...  Read the entire post →

20 lessons from 2020

The most beautiful aspect of a SaaS business is that your monthly revenue is more or less stable. Unlike buying a soap, an automatic monthly or a yearly subscription means that customers aren’t frequently re-evaluating their decision for what to purchase.

However, when times are hard, people do think deeply about where their money is going. This year’s pandemic forced everyone to do such introspecting, including customers of VWO – a product that my company builds.

Even though the impact of economic slowdown due to coronavirus pandemic was not existential for our business, we did get impacted. ...  Read the entire post →