Suggestions to curb OTP related monetary frauds

Image source: Google image search – AppIndia News

One-Time Passwords (OTP) are used by banks to authenticate user login & authorize transactions, by ecommerce companies to confirm delivery, by UIDAI, for Aadhaar based verification, by stock brokers to confirm trades, by taxi aggregators to confirm trips and so many other similar use cases. 

There are numerous news articles which state, people are being scammed by obtaining their OTP, losing their hard earned money, and as a result of the loss, suffering serious health issues. Scamsters are well trained to talk in a way that sounds very genuine and earn the trust of their prey.

Currently most of the OTPs are in the format of a 4 digit numeric value. What if we have a unique alphanumeric format of OTP that prefixes some meaningful words like “BANK”, for transactions that would debit money from a user’s account. A format that clearly distinguishes and denotes that it is a money related transaction and one that could be easily understood by common people, so that they become aware money will go out or debited from the account when they key in the OTP.

Below are a few examples for OTP that could be standardized for money related transactions: 

  • BANK1234
  • BANK123456
  • BNK1234
  • PAY1234
  • SEND1234
  • DEBIT1234

If there are technical difficulties in having alpha-numeric OTP, then we can think of something like prefixing the OTP with 2 or 3 zeros, which can symbolically denote a transaction that would debit money from the user’s account once the OTP is keyed in.

  • 0001234

If the central agencies can arrive at a format, the same can be standardized for all money related transactions across all banks. The public can then be educated so that they are able to identify/differentiate an OTP for monetary transactions and not share the same with anyone. Also, we can keep educating the public that they do not need any OTP to receive money.

News references:

RBI Press Release

RBI warns against fraud calls, messages, emails and OTP scams | Mint

How to avoid OTP fraud

India: number of OTP frauds recorded by leading state 2021 | Statista

Rise of OTP based Frauds 

SBI OTP fraud alert! Lender says know how to make online system work | How-to

SBI Customers Alert! This OTP fraud can be dangerous; here’s how to avoid it

KYC, OTP and PIN theft, the biggest trends in financial cyber-crime: Report

Mumbai: Woman claims did not share OTP with cyber-fraudster but lost Rs 3.63 lakh | Cities News,The Indian Express

Punjab CM Amarinder Singh’s wife reveals ATM pin & OTP to fake bank manager, loses Rs 23 lakh – The Economic Times 

Beware of these 4 frauds while making payments via UPI amid lockdown – The Economic Times 

SMS Spoofing: How scammers are using this technique to steal money from your account – Times of India  

Two OTP frauds reported every day in city | Mega Media News English 

Cyber Crime: New form of OTP theft on rise, many techies victims 

Walk-in fraud: How this gang steals money via OTP | Delhi News – Times of India 

Tips to Avoid OTP Fraud – Bajaj Finserv 

Tips to keep your OTP safe from online fraud 

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What could improve my twitter experience?

I glanced on this tweet and thought of sharing my little suggestions.

The people I follow tweet on multiple topics. However, not all the tweets are relevant to my interests. If I can have an option to either follow all tweets from an account or tweets on specific topics from an account, it would make my experience better.

In the twitter Bio or below the Bio, people can be given an option to add approximately, 5 -6 topics of interest.

Ex: Design, Startups, Health, Football, National Politics, Local News…etc. 

Or something like, Tweets on #design, #startups, #health, #football, #nationalpolitics, #localnews…etc. 

While Tweeting, users should be presented with their topics of interest, as tappable buttons to quickly select the tweet’s topic. Once the user selects the relevant topic from the available options, the selected topic should be added to the tweet as #tag. Ex: #design, #startups, #health, #football, #nationalpolitics, #localnews…etc

Also, when I open Twitter, I wish to have quick filters in the form of #tags or tabs, above the feed, to view tweets on the topics of my interests.

I retweet a lot of tweets from others, many of which are part of my learning, and I wanted to refer to those retweets later. If there is an option to easily search and filter all my retweets, based on the account and topic, it would be great.

I also wish to see the profiles differentiated based on if they are individuals, companies, magazines, news papers, political parties…etc. and then would like to have search filters to view tweets based on these types. 

Thanking you in anticipation 🙂

PS: I predominantly use Twitter on desktop.

A better Google Photos app

When people were having film roll cameras, they took it out during special occasions, clicked a few pictures,  developed them and put them into albums, which were later cherished as memories. With the advent of mobile photography, we click too many photos and sometimes we also miss enjoying the moment. 

We went on a family trip for two days, along with our cousins. In those two days, we took nearly 600 photos. In a dessert shop that had Instagram worthy background, we clicked 37 pictures. For a portrait shot inside a tea estate, we clicked 15 pics of the same person, where I just needed one photo with a good facial expression and great background.

To capture a portrait picture when my friend was best dressed for a marriage, we clicked 25 photos with 3 different backgrounds. To get the best shot, my friend posed for photos with different styles like having free hair or plaited hair, wearing spectacles or without spectacles, smiling widely or without a smile, and with the face looking at the camera or looking sideways. 

Of late, the albums are filled with too many photos, mostly because we click around 3 to 10 pictures in the same spot, so as to get the best shot and also because our cameras do not have film rolls like the old analog cameras, we don’t care how much ever we click. 

A few months down the line, I might not appreciate having too many photos per album. I prefer minimal photos per occasion, somewhere between 10-50 photos per album. So after each occasion like picnics or wedding functions, I sit and diligently delete most duplicate or unwanted photos. Deleting these photos is a very boring task! But I still do it, to keep my albums clean. As I deleted the photos, I made notes of what I deleted, so that I can share with Google requesting them to use their AI prowess, image recognition capabilities and come up with algorithms that would help users declutter the photos.

How did I shrink the size of my albums and retain the good looking photos, the ones in which people are smiling, facial expressions are positive and the background is nice? By deleting the not so good photos. Here is what I did:

  • Toggle between successive shots, look for if all the people in the pic are seeing the camera, are they smiling, decide on which one is better to retain and delete the other one.
  • Between multiple photos of the same frame, I retained the one that looked lively. For me, being lively means smiling. Laughing means it is livelier.
  • Compared between smiles that are wide with the ones that are gentle and retained, the one looked lively.
  • Deleted photos if there are non welcome objects seen in the photo, like scattered clothes, unused chairs in the background…etc.
  • Deleted photos in which people were seen talking and hence the facial expression was not good. 
  • Deleted photos in which people were trying to make children smile or make them look at the camera by uttering some jokes or using some gestures.
  • Deleted photos in which the face was obstructed due to hand movement or some other objects.
  • Deleted photos in which people were seen with eyes fully or partially closed.
  • Deleted photos in which people were not smiling, seen frowning or staring rudely.
  • Deleted photos if someone’s eyes or face is looking elsewhere.
  • Deleted photos in which people were looking downward or the head was too up and faces were not clearly visible.
  • Is the frame of the photo good? Has someone gone out of frame? Delete if someone is only partially covered in the frame than the one in which they are visible fully. 
  • Deleted photos with too much or too low lightning. 
  • Deleted photos if there is a glare on the face
  • Deleted photos with poor shadow disturbing the frame.
  • Deleted photos with hand or lip movements or if a part of the body part is blurred due to movement while taking the photo.
  • Deleted if the person was giving some instructions or talking while taking the shot and the lip movements were not looking good.
  • Deleted photos in which someone has photobombed.
  • Deleted photo in which the baby was seen crying.
  • Deleted photos if they were holding some props which are not fully visible. Ex. My daughter picked some strawberries from a farm and wanted those to be visible in the photo.
  • Had multiple pics of the baby eating strawberries. Retained the one that had a lively expression.
  • Deleted pictures where the costumes might have misaligned.
  • If I have to cover a background with some name on the board or letters, deleted the ones where the names were partially cut
  • Deleted photos that were taken from behind and were not looking great. 
  • For photos taken in front of monuments, compared with poses where the person was sitting, with the ones where they were standing and deleted the one that was not looking good.
  • Took photos of a strawberry farm with family members and without family members in the frame. Retained the pic with family members. Might be it were a monument, I would have retained a pic that doesn’t have anyone else other than the monument in the frame.
  • If everyone is asked to pose in a certain way, are all doing the same? Ex. Pouting, thumbs up, laughing, smiling. Does the pose look natural?
  • I was choosing between photos with half frame and full frame, photos with feet visible and if they are looking good or ugly.

A few patterns I noticed:

  • For pictures of people with good natural landscapes in the background, landscape mode looked better than portrait mode. 
  • Portrait picture with half frame, full frame and longshot. Full frame looked good. Long shots in portrait mode did not look good.
  • Portrait shots with people standing far behind don’t look good.
  • When there are more than 3 people in the frame, a photo in landscape mode looks good.
  • In a spot, compared to a selfie, a photo taken by someone else looked good.
  • When a pic was taken on hills with the photographer standing on highland and the person being photographed standing slightly below, then a photo with faceup looked better than a photo with face down. Similarly, when a pic was taken on hills with the photographer standing on lowland and the person being photographed standing slightly higher, then a photo with chin down looked better than a photo with chin up.

Let there be a Nudge: At the end of the day, if the photos app can show suggestions and provide tools to compare and delete duplicate and not so good looking photos, it would be great. The tool can prompt the reasons as to why a photo can be deleted. Ex. Someone looking away, blurred hand, foreign particles in the background, someone photobombed …etc. 

Nudges can also be applied to delete not so useful videos, forwarded memes, good morning messages…etc.

Medical Archives: I regularly take photos of medical prescriptions and test report sheets, so that I can refer to them later. It would be great if there is a separate medical archives folder. When the labs send me the reports as pdf, in email, I can save it to Google Drive. However, if I get a physical copy of the reports, I click pictures of it, which would be in Google Photos. It would be helpful if there is an integration between Google Photos and Google Drive and I can have a common medical archives folder that can be accessed from both these apps seamlessly. 

Casual Pics: When my wife had a new haircut, we took multiple pics to see if it looks good for her. I don’t intend to keep these photos for long. Also, there are lots of photos we take casually, while on a car ride or in a local train, but will not be a special long term memory and these photos can be classified as casual photos and have some option like delete these casual photos after 6 months or 2 years …etc.

Apart from albums, it would also be nice to have categories for photos, like family, friends, vacations, sports, work, medical documents, professional mode photos, other documents …etc.

Let the process of organizing and managing photos be simple and delightful and the memories cherishable. Also, clearing the clutter contributes to a sustainable earth, in a small way.

PS: Professional photographers will be able to add more ideas, to shortlist the best photos.

Thanks to Ravi for reviewing the draft of this post 🙂

Addendum:

I have enabled partner sharing on Google Photos. I click multiple photos and delete the not so good ones later. However, the photos I delete, only gets deleted on my account and not on my partner’s account. I would appreciate if there is an option to set sync settings for partner sharing, like sync with partner’s account immediately, after an hour, after 24 hours or after a week, so that I can delete the not so good photos and later only the good left over photos gets synced. Else, when I delete, the partner account could be notified highlighting the photos that were deleted and prompting if the partner would also like to delete or is ok to retain the photos.

I was casually capturing the building landscapes at my office and felt that the left most photo with the full building visible, looked better than the middle one, which looked better than the right most photo

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.