A good plan makes a great day. Digital world presents us with plenty of choices and distractions. We struggle to organize our day, leading to missed deadlines, not keeping up with commitments, and as a result, loss of trust. Failing to plan also leads to working overtime, missing personal and family time which in turn leads to stress and anxiety. Also, people spend a considerable amount of time on various administrative tasks, which when delegated, simplified, or automated, frees up time for important tasks or initiatives.
Nudge theory is a Nobel prize winning concept in behavioural economics, that proposes positive reinforcement and indirect suggestions, to influence the behaviour.
A decluttered and organized life enhances wellbeing and improves productivity. Nudging people plan their day, optimize the schedules, and focus better, increases productivity, and helps manage work-life balance.
Below are the pictures of my desk board at home and the notebook I use to take notes, to-dos and plan my day.
Ways for Improvement
Nudge people make daily, weekly plans, disconnect distractions and focus.
Nudge people make progress, one task at a time, one day at a time.
Nudge people develop better habits and monitor.
“The biggest influence in life is habits. To get better results, develop better habits.” ~ Vala Afshar
Visual Boards & Notebooks: From my experience, visual boards, notebooks, and reminders are nudges which are right in front of my sight and have aided me in making my day organized, accomplishing tasks and being productive.
I also have a few pages in the back of my notebook, to note down the distractions and analyse once in a while on how to eliminate them during office hours.
The hack that helps me prioritize the important tasks to start first: Just imagine power will go off in the next 2 hours. What is the one important thing you wanted to complete before that, which, when not completed can lead to missed deadlines or an escalation? The chatbot can use such hacks to help people prioritize better.
Focus Mode – Disconnect distractions, Timebox & Deep work: While I learnt exploratory testing, we used a methodology called Session Based Test Management (SBTM). A similar thing in business parlance would be timeboxing. You take a task, fix 1 hour, and commit to be focused only on that task for the next 1 hour. You just do deep work or do nothing during that time. If the chatbot can nudge people to timebox, eliminate distractions like pausing email & chat notification and commit to deep work, it will help focus better and finish tasks with ease.
Routine Tasks: Nudge users to complete routine tasks like booking cabs in advance, filling timesheets by end of every week or month, submitting expenses and tax documents before deadline, deleting old mails once in a week and decluttering.
Habits are a superpower. What habit do you want to develop and monitor? Ex: Did you read for 15 mins today?
Reflection: Nudge people to spend 5 mins daily evening, reflecting how the day was? And, to have a quick glance at the next day’s calendar.
Gamify: A gamified approach can create an inherent motivation. Ex: When the user consistently achieves his plans for all days of the week, present him with a “Hurray! You earned a 5-star badge.” Else, gently say “Oops! you missed the plans for this day. No issues. Let’s rise tomorrow.”
An ideal solution would be a Microsoft Teams or Google Workspace based chatbot that acts as a virtual assistant and nudges people to plan, focus and relax.
Why a chatbot? At the office, we have goals and learning plans in various applications. We take notes physically in a notebook or keep it digitally as documents or in emails. We have emails to respond, meetings on calendar and minutes of meetings in email. We also have routine tasks like booking cabs in advance, filling timesheets by the end of every week or month, submitting expenses and tax documents before the deadline…etc. Like this there is lots of information scattered between many apps and we forget to check them all leading to missed tasks or deadlines. However, we check the chat window multiple times in a day, which has become a habit for many and hence having an AI enabled chatbot on MS Teams or Google Workspace, can assist in planning the day better, making smarter decisions and nudging users to act on the important.
The chatbot should nudge users,
To track their long-term goals and daily plans
To make commitments and set deadlines
To act on pending tasks by sending reminders
To create a habit of learning with 15 mins daily learning plan
To take regular breaks.
To delete mails and declutter the mailbox.
To glance at the next day’s calendar before logging off for the day.
And by the end of the day assist in gauging the mood of the user
What made me happy today?
What worries me?
What distracted me today from achieving my plans?
While nudging users, we should make the users feel confident that their privacy will not be violated, and their activities are not tracked by anyone else other than the user and be mindful that high frequency notifications can also be overwhelming. The Nudge should be framed in a way that motivates and enables rather than pressurising.
A good plan makes a great day.
When you can anticipate the needs of your day, you can prioritise what is important.
Organised day helps manage time smartly and increases productivity.
Crazy schedule feels overwhelming. An organized day reduces the stress.
Helps us evaluate the progress.
Striking off completed tasks is satisfying.
We can have a clear mind and feel positive.
We get time to relax.
Increased work-life balance.
We feel a sense of accomplishment and can have a better sleep at night.
The individual nudges, when multiplied by the total number of employees in the organisation, can create value at scale.
PS:Submitted this internally, when my company solicited ideas to implement AI/Chatbot/NLP based services across various functions, so as to become smarter/faster/leaner/better.
Would be nice if a similar self service chatbot can also be implemented by phone based chat applications, to help individuals better manage their day.
Addendum: I read that Wednesdays are the most stressful days of the week. I prefer to have Deep Work Wednesdays with no meetings of any type & Learning Fridays, which would helps us think, plan, learn or share something new professionally or personally.
Recently I came across a video clip about TWG’s Yellow Gold Bud Tea. This tea is believed to have been once the favourite of Chinese emperors and as precious and costly as gold. In fact, each tea bud is lavished in 24-karat gold, which once infused, yields a delicately metallic and floral aftertaste.
In the Sixties, during our childhood days, back home in Kottayam, the regular morning brew was coffee. Ripened red coffee beans were plucked from the coffee trees that grew in our homestead and after being sun dried their outer covering was removed. The beans were then fried until they turned black and ground to a powder at the nearby mill, to be stored in air tight containers. The coffee powder was put into a copper vessel with boiling water and was left for a few minutes for the coffee to be infused and the thick powder would…
Lots of work related meetings are happening online leading to meeting fatigue. With the online meeting service providers having a record option for meetings, people tend to record meetings with the assumption that people can refer to the recordings in future. However, any meeting recorded for playback occupies a lot more digital space than it would, had it been saved as a transcript or as simple meeting notes. I understand from general reading that people rarely view the recordings later. These recordings sit on servers and occupy lots of space and energy. When we calculate the amount of meeting recordings for an entire company or across the world, it would be massive, and the energy spent to maintain those recordings would also be massive.
We can tend to reduce the number of meetings. If a meeting must happen, then we can think of options to take notes or transcribe the discussion points rather than recording the entire meeting.
For a learning or educational meeting, a recorded video would be useful as people understand better through demonstrations, visuals, and illustrations. However, meetings recorded for future references can be transcribed using Artificial Intelligence / Natural Language Processing and the recordings replaced with just text. Texts are also easily searchable.
Nudge 1: Firstly, when a meeting is set up, prompt the meeting organiser with simple questions like,
What is the purpose of this meeting?
Does this meeting have a clear agenda?
Can the purpose be solved with quick ad-hoc discussions or chats rather than a meeting?
Nudge 2: Next, when the planned meeting happens and when the meeting organiser clicks on record button, prompt him with questions like,
Keeping in mind our sustainability goals, is it necessary to record this meeting?
Will anyone ever watch this recording later?
How long do you wish to retain this recording?
Is this meeting recorded just for future reference or is this an educational session?
Will taking notes suffice rather than recording?
Nudge 3: When there is 5 mins left before the meeting ends, nudge the participants to summarise the meeting points. Show the transcript of the meeting and enable the participants to remove the noise and retain only the important points. Enable collaboration of the meeting notes so that participants can mark if their actions are done.
Nudge 4: An Effective Meeting = Agenda + Action Items + Responsible Individual + Timeline. Nudge the participants to see if all the agenda items are discussed and based on the discussion, add the responsible individuals to actions identified, along with the deadline to act on it and an option to notify either 1 day or 15 mins before the deadline ends.
As a meeting happens, enable a sidebar and using Natural Language Processing, capture the meeting transcript.
Enable the participants to edit the transcript, removing the unnecessary noise and keeping only the important points from the meeting.
Enable the organiser to do a quick check if the agenda items are discussed.
Enable the organiser to list down the action items, assign responsible individuals and set deadlines.
Enable the organiser to trigger alerts before the deadline approaches. Ex: 1 day or 15 mins before the deadline.
Any meeting involves time and money and simplifying it saves time and money.
Not recording a meeting is an opportunity to save storage space and contribute towards sustainability.
When we calculate the amount of meeting recordings for the entire company and across the world, it would be massive, and the energy spent to maintain those recordings would also be massive.
Transcripts are easily searchable. Acts as quick reference. Important points from an hour long meeting can be quickly glanced and grasped probably in 5 mins.
Employees feel overwhelmed due to too much meeting time online and hence lesser meetings and no recordings, reduces stress and improves wellbeing.
Assigning actions with timelines, nudges participants to keep up with commitments.
Helps follow up on the action items.
No confusion as responsibilities can be clearly assigned.
Reading has been described as an active activity while watching videos has been described as a passive activity. Watching videos does not put the cognitive senses into any use close to how reading puts it.
A few years back, when I was preparing to give an internal company talk, my then boss suggested, I listen to a few TED Talks and improve my presentation skills. I had never heard about TED Talks before that. Over time, I developed a habit of watching at least one TED Talk per week and enjoy watching these talks and taking notes for personal reference. Based on my interest, the content, the enthusiasm of the speaker and the presentation styles, I have created my watch list and am delighted to share it here.
Many of our classmates take time off their busy schedule to attend the Alumni meeting at Sainik School Amaravathi Nagar, held during the last weekend of June. Many undertake this pilgrimage to their Alma-Mater purely to relive their childhood and partake of for the tea and food the school mess served. The menu was based on a weekly ‘Bill of Fare’ which hung on the notice board of the mess. The only variation during our entire stay at the school (1971-1979) was the date on the top and the name of the vegetable served, mostly based on seasonal availability.
The senior cadets (Grade 8 to 12) were divided into four houses – Chera, Chola, Pandya and Pallava- named after the ancient Tamil Kingdoms. We along with the teaching staff dined on tables which were also placed house-wise. The waiters were permanent and they served us with love and affection. They…
The word ‘Movember‘ is derived from the combination of the word ‘Mo‘, which is the Australian-English abbreviated form for ‘Mustache‘ and ‘November,’ as the event takes place every year during the month of November. This involves growing of mustaches in order to raise awareness of different men’s health issues like prostate cancer, testicular cancer and mental health challenges.
Using the mustache as a catalyst, Movember encourages men to invest in their own health by more openly talking about their health concerns and more proactively seeking necessary medical care. The idea is to bring about change and give men the opportunity and confidence to learn and talk about their health and take action when needed. Participants of Movember are called ‘Mo Bros’ and the women who support are called ‘Mo Sistas.’
I have been reading on how to run meetings effectively and be considerate of others time. Here is a compilation from what I learnt. Studies indicate that we spend anywhere from 35%–55% of our time, and sometimes much more, in meetings. Of the approximately 11 million meetings that take place every day in the US, a third are unproductive. It comes at a cost. An estimated $37 billion is lost every year to unproductive meetings, in the US alone.
Successful executives like Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, and Steve Jobs developed their own techniques to combat bad meetings and here’s how Steve Jobs did it:
At Apple, any meeting should have a clear agenda. (Also, it is good to be clear of the venue and the time)
He kept meetings as small as possible. To Steve Jobs, the core idea of an effective meeting is for it not to be crowded.
He made sure someone was responsible for each item on the agenda. He called that person, Directly Responsible Individual or DRI. The DRI would own the task, facilitate discussion around the agenda item and often manage post-meeting actions about it. (Research shows that clearly and publicly attaching a name to a task fosters accountability. This, in turn, increases follow-through)
Conclude agenda topics with actions or next steps. Each action item will have a DRI and the deadline or time to complete.
Virgin Group founder Richard Branson insists everyone stands in meetings. If you’re standing, you’re not going to chitchat for too long, and you’re not going to have long, drawn-out conversations.
Agile teams have standup meetings, timeboxed between 5 to 15 mins, with participants standing up to remind people to keep the meeting short and to-the-point and usually take place at the same time and place every working day, with the simple 3 point agenda:
What I did yesterday?
What will I do today?
Am I facing any challenges in accomplishing my sprint goals?
Now, let’s see how to create the Perfect Meeting Agenda. Consider creating it as a set of questions to be addressed:
Instead of a topic titled “Budget Problems,” consider a question such as, “How will we reduce our spending by 100K by the end of the fiscal year”?
Instead of a topic titled, “Customer Process Improvement,” consider a question like, “What are the key ways of improving overall response time to customers by 25%?”
Instead of a topic titled “Leader Succession,” try changing it to “Where are we vulnerable from a leadership turnover perspective and how might we address these vulnerabilities?”
Instead of a topic titled “Continuing Our Strategic Planning,” try changing it to what exactly will be worked on in the meeting such as, “What is the key market threat we need to be aware of, how could it affect us, and what can we do about it?”
Instead of a topic titled, “Miscellaneous Updates,” try changing it to “What key pieces of information do each of you have to share or need from one another?”
A question-and-answer approach makes it easier to determine your invitation list, for one: it’s the people essential to answering the questions. This approach also better informs when to actually end a meeting — when the questions have been answered to satisfaction.
Design questions that are specific and challenging.
Collaborate to identify questions that truly matter.
Privilege the most important questions first.
Execute on the agenda.
And remember: if you can’t think of any questions to be answered in a meeting, that may be your sign that a meeting is simply not needed. Give back the gift of time to would-be attendees. They will thank you.
Let’s also see a few Meeting Mistakes:
You don’t have a strong agenda.
You invite too many people. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos follows the Two Pizza Rule: No meeting should have more people than can be fed with a pair of pepperoni pies. This not only allows for quicker decisions, it also lets teams test their ideas without the interference of groupthink
You don’t have a facilitator.
You don’t establish and follow ground rules.
Not starting a meeting on time. A whopping 37% of meetings start late, mostly because someone attending it was late
You listen to the loudmouth, rather than the expert.
You use your phone.
You drink too much coffee or eat during the meeting.
You indulge in small talk. (Leave the small talk for the water cooler.)
Term of the post: meetingitis – An excessive tendency to hold unnecessary meetings.
Addendum: During a Lean Coffee meeting at office, we discussed on how to stop small talks during meetings and save time.
Start the meeting on time and not wait for latecomers.
The organizer can strictly stick to the meeting agenda.
The meeting rooms shall have printed notices saying “Please keep the casual conversations at water cooler points or at cafeteria” and also some stats on the time and money wasted by unnecessary meetings, so that the participants are conscious.
If the agenda items are discussed, close the meeting and give participants their valuable time back.
A pen and a notebook have been a great productivity tool for me. I take notes and ToDos. I write down deadlines and important dates. When a ToDo item is Done, I strike it off, so as to keep track of what is pending. For taking notes, I prefer to use a spiral sketchbook that is turned over by the side rather than a notepad that is turned over at the top. Why note taking has been a crucial skill for me as a tester. I take notes,
About an application under test
During requirement discussions
During testing, making notes of issues
For test idea generation
To keep track of the queries
To keep track of the issues
To keep track of the deliverables, deadlines and it’s status
To remember important points during calls and conferences
To note down ideas or suggestions …etc.
The benefits of note taking:
“Note taking isn’t just about recording information. Effective note taking is thinking on paper.” – Nicole Liem Yang of Show Me the Notes
Not only do good notes help us recall facts and ideas, there’s good evidence that the act of writing things down helps many of us to remember them better.
By jotting down what you need to remember later, you can then turn your focus on what you’re hearing or reading. You will have room to ask follow up questions or clarifications
Notes help us to prioritize the important.
Notes help to eliminate the communication gap.
We have smartphones and laptops. Then why use notebooks?
You have a significantly higher chance of achieving your goals if you write them down. This is likely why vision boards or lean visual controls have become popular.
We can always have that handy and in sight, thus reminding us of our priorities.
A few tips on note taking:
Keep it short. Yet, it should be clear so that you understand when you refer to it next time.
Don’t write down every single word.
Focus on important points.
Use abbreviations or short-hand writing.
Forget spelling and grammar.
Here are a few note taking methods
Cornell Style of Note Taking
The Outlining Method
One of the greatest note-takers was Leonardo Da Vinci, whose notes (Codex Leicester) were bought by Bill Gates for over $30 million and are exhibited today to the public.
Telecommuting, also called working from home, remote work, telework, or teleworking, is a work arrangement in which employees do not commute or travel to a central place of work, such as an office building, warehouse or store and work from home, coffee shop or a place of their choice. Below listed are a few points to help you telecommute / work from home effectively:
Take pride in your work.
Start early – you can get a lot done with a fresh mind.
At the home office, no one’s watching. You are responsible for what you do.
Communicate expectations with anyone who will be at home with you so that they don’t distract/disturb you.
Pretend like you are going to office. Don’t stay in the nightdress/pyjamas. Structure your day like you would do in office. This helps you to be focused and productive.
Choose a dedicated workspace – Setting your work space apart from your home space allows you to better delineate the two, and lets your brain know when it needs to be in work mode or home mode.
Set goals for the day, create a To-Do list and commit to doing things. Using a simple notepad and pen works better. Write down and strike off as you finish a task.
Set deadlines for tasks.
Work in Sprints – to allow yourself dedicated time to a task at hand, work in sprints of no more than an hour at a time before you take a break. This way, your main task gets your entire focus for the allotted time, and then you can take a break for a few minutes to recharge.
Save calls for the afternoon.
Use technology smartly, to stay connected. (Ex. Skype, Slack, Hangout, Microsoft Teams)
Communicate Deliberately. Remote workers have to be better at communication than their office brethren.
Communicate well and often. Check in with co-workers and the boss several times a day.
Find the team’s golden hour – it makes sense to find the time when the majority of the team is available, so that you can schedule daily standup or all-hands meetings or other important events during that time.
Be virtually present in meetings.
Every 1 hour, take short and clear breaks. Get up and get outside to the balcony, for a while. Coffee breaks and lunch allow for some respite and time away from the desk and screen.
Follow the 20/20/20 rule – look away from the screen, every 20 mins, to something 20 feet away, for 20 secs.
Don’t go to non-work appointments in the middle of the day.
Make it harder for yourself to mess around on social media and TV. Resist the impulse.
Resist the urge to snack often.
Set office hours. Pick a definitive start and finishing time each day.
Have a shutdown ritual – this could be anything, from writing up what you did during the day and planning what you want to achieve tomorrow.
Do not forget to update the status for the day with the team and the manager.
Follow a routine – waking up, exercise, breakfast, logging in to work, lunch, logging out of work, evening family time, dinner, sleep. Routines help you to be organised.
As a manager,
Be proactive. Reach out to your team members regularly to set clear goals and expectations, offer support and assistance, and show you care about them as people, not just employees
Provide the right tools for the employees
Set clear expectations
Remember to stay healthy,
Clean home creates a positive environment and helps focus.
Drink plenty of water
Maintain proper hygiene
Get some fresh air, take a few deep breaths
Maintain a good posture
Take short breaks, quick walks, and do a few stretches
Put aside your devices at night
Have enough sleep at night and feel sufficiently rested
Every remote worker can have their own version of this list that helps them work to their full potential and be 100% productive for their team.
PS:I had compiled and shared this with my team 2 years back, when we had to work from home for a few days. Sorry that I do not remember the exact links or the sites, to provide reference here. Re-sharing it now for the benefit of all those who are privileged to have an option of working from home.