The Morning Nudge & Evening Mood

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.” 

Suggested Solution 

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 

  • Happy 😊 
    • What made me happy today?
  • Worried ☹
    • 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.

Benefits

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. 

Additional reading:
https://ashokprabhu.com/2022/01/02/sustainable-meetings
https://ashokprabhu.com/2020/11/05/how-to-run-effective-meetings
https://alifeofproductivity.com/rule-of-three
https://www.forbes.com/sites/carminegallo/2012/07/02/thomas-jefferson-steve-jobs-and-the-rule-of-3
https://hbr.org/2019/03/the-case-for-finally-cleaning-your-desk
https://hbr.org/2018/03/why-you-need-an-untouchable-day-every-week
https://hbr.org/2019/02/why-you-should-work-less-and-spend-more-time-on-hobbies
https://sheilgandhi.medium.com/how-atomic-habits-improved-my-life-f3981b22797b

Sustainable Meetings

In continuation of my earlier post on how billions of dollars are lost every year due to unproductive meetings, I would like to share my suggestions for having sustainable online meetings.

Ref: https://ashokprabhu.com/2020/11/05/how-to-run-effective-meetings 

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.

Suggested Solution 

  • 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.

Benefits

  • 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.

Ref: https://infovoresecrets.com/reading-vs-watching-videos-what-science-says/ 

Let’s strive to have fewer meetings. And if a meeting needs to happen, let’s strive not to record and instead take notes of important actions, responsible individuals and the timeline.

TED Talks I liked

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. 

The Danger of a Single Story – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

What Makes a Good Life. Lessons from the Longest Study on Happiness – Robert Waldinger

The Danger of Science Denial – Michael Specter

Why You Should Make Useless Things – Simone Giertz

The Happy Secret to Better Work – Shawn Achor

Your Body Language May Shape Who You Are – Amy Cuddy

Inside the Mind of a Master Procrastinator – Tim Urban

Less Stuff, More Happiness – Graham Hill

How to Get Your Brain to Focus – Chris Bailey

The Best Stats You’ve Ever Seen – Hans Rosling

The History of Our World in 18 Minutes – David Christian

The Power of Introverts – Susan Cain

How Great Leaders Inspire Action – Simon Sinek

How a Single Voice in Your Head Can Save Your Life –  Sabina Nawaz

How to Speak So That People Want To Listen – Julian Treasure

The Puzzle of Motivation – Dan Pink

How to Make Stress Your Friend – Kelly McGonigal

Where Joy Hides and How to Find It – Ingrid Fetell Lee 

How I Made Friends With Reality – Emily Levine

A kinder, gentler philosophy of success  – Alain de Botton

Why We All Need to Practice Emotional First Aid – Guy Winch

There’s More to Life Than Being Happy – Emily Esfahani Smith

The Art of Saying No – Kenny Nguyen

My Stroke of Insight – Jill Bolte Taylor

Strange Answers to the Psychopath Test – Jon Ronson

How to Be Happy Every Day: It Will Change the World – Jacqueline Way 

How to Achieve Your Most Ambitious Goals – Stephen Duneier

My Journey in Design – John Maeda

Happiness and its surprises – Nancy Etcoff

What Really Motivates People to be Honest in Business – Alexander Wagner

PS: Browse the Playlists on TED
TED encourages sharing the talks, under Creative Commons license. Please refer TED Talks Usage Policy

Addendum:

The Single Biggest Reason Why Start-ups Succeed – Bill Gross

How to run meetings effectively

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:

  1. At Apple, any meeting should have a clear agenda. (Also, it is good to be clear of the venue and the time)
  2. He kept meetings as small as possible. To Steve Jobs, the core idea of an effective meeting is for it not to be crowded.
  3. 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)
  4. 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: 

  1. What I did yesterday?
  2. What will I do today?
  3. 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.

To summarise: 

Effective Meeting = Agenda + Action Items + Responsible Individual + Timeline

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.

References and Additional resources:

Note taking – a productivity hack

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
  • Mind Mapping

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.

References: 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Note-taking

The Importance of Note Taking to Being Successful

Note-taking as a Skill for Testers

https://www.lifehack.org/articles/featured/writing-and-remembering-why-we-remember-what-we-write.html

https://www.lifehack.org/articles/featured/advice-for-students-taking-notes-that-work.html

Lean Visual Management Tools: 5 Types of Visual Controls

How to telecommute / work from home effectively?

What is telecommuting?

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
    • Communicate clearly
    • Set clear expectations
    • Track progress
    • Be transparent
  • Remember to stay healthy,
    • Exercise regularly
    • Clean home creates a positive environment and helps focus.
    • Drink plenty of water
    • Eat healthy
    • 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.

Enhancing the Messages app for a better User Experience

One morning around 6.30 am, my phone beeped upon receiving an SMS. Usually, I get my office cab details in SMS around the same time every day and thought it might be the same. When I took the phone to check the message, I was shocked to see that someone abroad had used my credit card to transact around 900 GBP. My sleep went off in the shock and I immediately dialled my bank to notify that the transaction was not done by me. 

Of late, we have started receiving lots of spam and marketing messages/SMS on mobile. We receive transaction alerts from banks as SMS. It happens, we fail to notice these alerts as they get buried with the rest of the other spam messages in the Inbox. In case, any unauthorised transaction has been made and if we fail to notice the banking alert SMS, it could prove costly.

With Android rolling out RCS (Rich Communication Services) messages, I thought I can share a suggestion to organise the messages in a better way so that we don’t miss out any messages that are important. Besides, too many spam messages are annoying, which keeps me away from opening the messages app and there certainly should be an option to filter these spam messages. Google has implemented tabbed messages in Gmail and thought why not we have a similar option for the messages too with four tabs. The first tab can be for Important alert messages like bank alerts, ATM withdrawal alerts, credit card spending, OTPs, stock market trade details, online wallet transfers and purchase receipts …etc. The second tab can be for the messages From Contacts. All other messages which might not be important and might not be spam too can be in the third tab, Updates. The marketing and spam messages in the fourth tab, Spam.

Below are a few layout suggestions to organise and display the messages. They are the candidates to experiment and understand which serves the users best and which the users love. The layout can have grid, list and tab views to display the messages. This UI presentation makes the messages to be organized and well presented. More importantly, it helps in noticing important messages and making decisions quickly, which is missing today in the messaging app. The time to act upon a required message will be less here when compared to the current message inbox.  Apart from the layouts suggested, it would also be helpful if the user has feature to sort unread messages, follow-up messages and add reminders to the messages. All these improvements can eventually make the experience of using the messaging app much better.  

Mock-up of grid view
(Designed using Marvel)
Mock-up of list view
(Designed using Marvel)
Mock-up of tab view
(Designed using Marvel)

References:

A Plan for Spamhttp://paulgraham.com/spam.html

Better Bayesian Filteringhttp://paulgraham.com/better.html

Filters that Fight Backhttp://paulgraham.com/ffb.html

Mobile UX Design: List View and Grid Viewhttps://uxplanet.org/mobile-ux-design-list-view-and-grid-view-8f129b56fd5b

Web Layout Best Practices: 12 Timeless UI Patterns Analyzedhttps://www.uxpin.com/studio/blog/web-layout-best-practices-12-timeless-ui-patterns-explained

Thanks to Pari & Ravi for reviewing the draft and the feedback 🙂

Addendum:

These days, after shopping at stores, very few people save the physical receipts, which would be used in case of exchanges, warranty or for any other tracking purpose. It would be of great help if the messages app also has options to categorize and store receipts, that are sent as messages after billing through POS machines. Additionally, these receipts can also be useful to redeem loyalty points. Gradually, shops can eliminate the necessity to issue physical copy of receipts. If the Messages app can summarize all the spends for a month or year that would be an added delight, which would help us manage budgets.

Also, I m interested to have Google pay integration with Messages. If I receive my monthly notification for credit card payment or phone bills, I should be allowed to pay directly from the Messages app.

A common man’s wish list for good governance

The newly elected government in India has just assumed office and here is a common man’s wish list for good governance.

A website with information on various government services – A lot many people find it difficult to figure out how they or their family can avail various government services or schemes. It would be better, if the government can create a website like howto.gov.in and posts instructions either as text or videos in English and other prominent Indian languages, on how someone can apply for a birth certificate, new gas connection, enrol a family member for Aadhaar, open a new bank account, apply for health or life insurance, submit grievances to government offices…etc. With almost everyone having a mobile phone, these instructions should be sharable so that many people can be made aware of the various procedures.

Reference: https://ashokprabhu.com/2013/03/30/creating-a-better-nation-with-well-informed-citizens/

People help desk at government offices, run by private agencies – When I had to apply for a passport in 2006, after I graduated from college, I had no clue on how to do it. I was told, I need to go to the collectorate and apply for it. I was anxious, as getting it done in a government office is not an easy task without bribing people. However, I noticed something good that time. I was told, there is a helpdesk and upon paying Rs. 40 service charge, they would prepare my passport application and inform me what all needs to be done. I paid just Rs. 40 service charge and they took care of everything and finally provided me an acknowledgement slip. Creating such help desks in all government offices and setting time frames for every application like birth/death certificate or any other official documents would help the public to a great extend besides reducing corruption.

To improve transparency in government tendering process, the government should publish all tenders online on a website like tenders.gov.in

To increase transparency and reduce corruption, various government departments can voluntarily submit the statement of accounts online for which the government can commission a website like fundsandspends.gov.in

To track and audit donations made to government and non-governmental organisations, the government can create and maintain a public repository, donations.gov.in, where all the donations made and how it was used are reported and maintained, and can be under the watch of the government auditors.

Reference:https://ashokprabhu.com/2013/03/30/tracking-and-auditing-donations-made-to-government-and-non-governmental-organisations/

Increasing transparency in hospitals – Some hospitals and doctors take patients for a ride, taking advantage of critical situations. Make hospitals, nursing homes and clinics display the charges levied for various procedures and all the cost of consumables used during treatment, at the lobby, prominently visible to patients and also on the hospital’s website, online.

Exercise India – Poor health cost people peace of mind, besides making them financially poor. Like how the government launched Swachh Bharat Mission or promoted Yoga, the government should also launch campaigns urging people to exercise daily or at least go for a brisk walk for 20 minutes every day, which would make them people healthy and happy. Besides, the government can also fund building walking tracks for every locality in the towns and cities.

Of late youngsters are losing motivation to join the armed forces. Sainik Schools are considered to be feeder institution to the armed forces. Sainik Schools can be further improved to attract talented youngsters, and also students from economically weaker sections of the society, by means of scholarships. To enable this, it would be ideal to bring all the Sainik Schools under the full purview of the ministry of defence and provide full scholarships for 50% of the students from the rural and economically weaker sections of the society, in each Sainik School, from the budget allocated to the armed forces. On my alma mater’s (Sainik School Amaravathi Nagar) website, I see that the full fee per year per student comes to around Rs. 1,55,000/-. Each Sainik School has a strength of around 600 and there are around 25 Sainik Schools across India. So the cost to the government per year would be approx. Rs. 233 crore to cover for the entire students or Rs. 117 crore for 50% of the students, which is much less than 0.1 % of the budget allocated to the armed forces in India.

Renaming of airports and railway stations – While some airports and railway stations are named after the city or town they are located in, a few are named after political personalities. For ease of use and to remove biases, let the emphasis of naming the airports and railway stations be on the location or the city rather than personalities. A good precedent is the renaming of all the districts and transport corporations in Tamil Nadu in the year 1997.

The government had earlier mooted the idea of ‘One Nation, One Election’. However, in the event of not conducting one common election every five years, the government can look at one election every year for all the states scheduled for election in that year, to be held during the summer holidays.

One elected representative per family – If someone wants to contest election, his/her direct blood relatives i.e parents, spouse, children or siblings should not be an elected representative. Let there be policies which prevents more than one MP or MLA from the same family. India might be a democratic country and everyone might have the freedom to contest elections. However, people take undue advantage and this only leads to family politics. Also with a population of 130 crore, there should be no dearth of good people to contest elections.

Digitise all police stations across the country and build a robust Case Management System that is integrated with various investigative agencies. Below is a suggestion for a Case Management System specific to Child Protection:

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1TIkG8ae409ETrcyh1079w79a_c3PKXjirzZvY4QNAtw/edit?usp=sharing

Need for more smaller states – Currently, many Indian states in terms of landmass or population are larger than many countries in the world. Create more smaller states in India, which in turn would bring the government closer to people and make administration more efficient.

References: https://www.firstpost.com/politics/logic-of-telangana-is-sound-why-india-needs-small-50-states-999325.html

https://qz.com/india/513927/is-it-time-to-restructure-india-into-smaller-states/

This year we will be celebrating the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, who stood for non-violence and suggest we celebrate by focusing on one issue, that is, bullying at school, which when addressed will help bring up kind and polite students, who will go on to be good citizens and in turn build a better society around them.

Reference: https://ashokprabhu.com/2019/05/28/150-years-of-mahatma-gandhi/

Jai Hind!

Originally submitted at https://mygov.in

150 years of Mahatma Gandhi

This year we will be celebrating the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, who stood for non-violence and suggest we celebrate by focusing on one issue, that is, bullying at school, which when addressed will help bring up kind and polite students, who will go on to be good citizens and in turn build a better society around them.

Bullying in school is a significant problem worldwide and is one of the most common antisocial behaviors among children. It is a public health problem and can threaten students’ physical and mental wellbeing at school and can negatively impact their ability to learn.

The victims, in the short term, may feel depressed, anxious, angry, have sleep disturbance, excessive stress and nightmares, have a significant drop in school performance, or may commit suicide. The consequences include missing classes, avoiding school activities, playing truant or dropping out of school altogether. This in turn has an adverse impact on academic achievement,  future education and employment prospects. Being bullied is also linked to a heightened risk of eating disorders and social and relationship difficulties.

In the long term, they may feel insecure, lack trust, develop a mental illness or develop further health challenges. They may also desire vengeance, sometimes leading them to torment others in return. Involvement in school bullying can be a predictor of future antisocial and criminal behaviour and both bullies and their victims can later fall prey to alcohol, substance abuse and violent behaviour.

The best way to address bullying is to stop it before it starts. Training the staffs of schools and educating students to prevent and address bullying can help sustain bullying prevention efforts over time. Governments should advice schools to implement comprehensive bullying prevention programs and help in developing and enforcing curriculum that is culturally responsive and sensitive to all. Governments along with NGOs can produce educational programs, class lessons, videos, anti-bullying posters and educate students, teachers and parents on the effects of bullying and pave way for a peaceful co-existence. Governments and schools should also help students to connect better by helping them  develop skills in conflict resolution, problem solving, negotiations, listening, communication, and decision making. As a society, we should teach children kindness and empathy and help them build understanding of those around them.

“In a gentle way, you can shake the world.” – Mahatma Gandhi

Spring cleaning the physical wallet

Wallet3

A fat wallet  is terrible looking. It gives you that big bulge that’s just ugly. The smartphone can lighten up a heavy wallet. We’ve seen mobile phones displace cameras, music players, books, credit cards and a lot many and we can also digitize stuffs in the wallet like business cards, receipts, ID cards, loyalty cards …etc. Here is yet another suggestion from the Google fanboy on digitizing business cards and eliminating them from your wallet.

  • Digitizing physical business cards

Business cards help us share contact details and make use of it over a long term for mutual benefit. It is pretty much a necessity for networking. But how do you deal with a bunch of 100+ business cards when you return from a conference or trade show. Stuffing the cards inside the wallet or maintaining a box of cards or a rolodex is burdensome, occupies physical space and cannot be carried with us wherever we go. I propose a solution wherein, Google, which also has apps like Google Goggles and PhotoScan, should come up with a mechanism to integrate business cards with contacts by provisioning users to scan business cards using the phone’s camera, transcribe what is written on the card and save or merge it to contacts. From the digitized card, the user should be able to contact them via call, e-mail, SMS, or add them on LinkedIn.

Once the user captures the business card on the contacts screen, it should display the image of the scanned business card followed by the below fields, which should be fetched from the transcribed text on the card and the user should be allowed to edit/enter the missing information manually.

  • Title
  • Name
  • Job Title
  • Company Information
  • Address
  • Phone – with options to add multiple phone numbers
  • Email – with option to add multiple email addresses
  • Website – with options to add multiple URLs
  • Blog
  • Birthday
  • Social Media – (LinkedIn, Google+, Facebook, Twitter, Skype, Others)
  • Label/Category
  • Option to add a note like how and when they met

In some cases, business cards are printed on both the side and hence there should be an option to capture the rear of the card too, which should be displayed at the bottom. When the user taps on a saved card, an expanded view of the card should be displayed with the front image of the card on top, followed by the details, followed by the rear image of the card.       

  • Design, store and send electronic business cards to other mobiles

Your business cards are something that you may need, especially if you are in a profession that needs to build contacts. Handing out your card is a much useful way of making new contacts and it should be just a swipe or flick away with your mobile device. Converting business cards as digital  entities and making them shareable peer to peer using NFC or any other wireless contact sharing would save a lots of physical space and also a few trees. The user should be allowed to capture and save his/her own card or create a customised card, which can be shared over phone to phone wireless sharing or over email.

My card section on top should show the captured image of the business card along with the editable contact details below,

  • Title
  • Name
  • Job Title
  • Company Information
  • Address
  • Phone – with options to add multiple phone numbers
  • Email – with option to add multiple email addresses
  • Website – with options to add multiple URLs
  • Blog
  • Birthday
  • Social Media – (LinkedIn, Google+, Facebook, Twitter, Skype, Others)

Alternatively, if the user wishes to create/design his/her card rather than scanning it, the user should be provided with a create option in the My Card section. Upon clicking create, the user should be displayed a form to fill in the above contact details along with option to upload the company logo under company information. Once the user completes entering the details the next screen should prompt to select from a few available templates of business card. In order not to confuse the user too much and to keep the creation process simple, only limited templates should be provided with options of background colour limited to White, Grey and Blue and prefixed text colours complementary to that of the background. The text font should initially be limited to only one, which looks professional and pleasing. Once the user selects the template, a preview of the user’s card should be displayed with options to finalize the card or to go back and change the template or edit the details. The finalized card should be displayed in the My Card section of the business cards tab in the contacts screen, with options to share wirelessly to others.

Design

Mock-up of Contacts screen with an additional tab for Business Cards. (Designed using Marvel)