You know the feeling when you stand at popular ice-cream outlets such as Gelato, Baskin Robbins or Natural’s. There are more than a hundred choices. If you’ve had a difficult day at work, you are tempted to walk out as your brain feels the fatigue of taking one more decision from a staggering number of choices. “Let’s just go eat the falooda from the road side vendor”, you say as you walk out. What should you do when you are overwhelmed with choices? Continue reading What to do when choices overwhelm you… everyday!
Mise-en-place is a French term that means that there is a place for everything and everything must be in its place. The use of French is because the term originated in culinary circles in France where chefs emphasise the importance of a clean and organised kitchen counter to do things efficiently and ensure high food quality. As a result, just like everything culinary, saute and hors d’ouvre, words from the romantic language stuck around in English too.
Having worked with leading chefs in the United States, the author Dan Charnas talks about how to plan, organise and clean up so that you get the best out of your activities. Throughout the book he illustrates stories and scenes from the America’s top restaurants that exhibit thorough planning, organisation, cleanliness, minimalism and maximum utilisation. Charnas extends the knowledge gained from cooking into his personal and professional lives. In this book, he teaches us how to do so. Continue reading Book summary: Work clean by Dan Charnas
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You are making a delicious recipe which calls for chilly powder. You reach for the magic red stuff, when you realise to your horror that the jar is … empty!!! How could you have missed it? Damn it! You have to do without chilly. Or you have to stop cooking and go shopping. If you are like what I was a couple of months ago, you have been caught in this position several times. Delaying replenishing your supplies until you run out of them and then either making do without them or making a dash for it to get fresh supplies.
While some of you may be good at re-stocking the kitchen, you probably run out of talk time in the middle of a call with your spouse, who is half-way around the globe on a project. Only when your laptop pings about the hard disk being full after copying 7.7 GB out of an 8 GB Blue Ray HD movie do you realise that you should have paid attention to the free space.
How can you be more pro-active about replenishing things on time? What is a good time for a refill? There is no universal good rule, but you have to be consistent with one or two rules that make you act in a surefire way every time you begin running out of stuff. In this post, I introduce you to the 50% rule or the half-filled glass rule. Then we will see another variation of the rule.
The rule is exactly what it says. You start planning action as soon as something depletes to 50%. It doesn’t mean that you rush out to shop right now. 50% is significantly less than full, but it still is sufficient enough to last until your next regular trip for restocking. I suggest that you use the trigger to put some things into your system. Set some reminders to remind you that a refill is needed. E.g. if the salt in your jar is down 50%, it is time to update your shopping list to buy fresh salt during your next weekly or monthly grocery shopping. At 50%, it is time to renew your phone talk time sometime within this week. So schedule a time for it on your calendar on a day free from other work, like a Saturday or a Sunday. Your digital wallet needs a recharge from your bank account, so set a standing instruction for the money transfer if such as facility exists.
Also don’t obsess with the number 50% to the dot. Do not tense up if things go down to 45%. Let’s say your talk-time was at 75% when you started a call. After the call, you see that it’s only 48%. You need not rush to recharge right now. Treat it just like the 50% rule. Let’s rephrase the rule: “When the level was above 50% and after another usage it dips to or below 50%, then it’s time to set a trigger, that will lead to action just in time, so that you don’t run out”. You can read about nudges and triggers in the post Grow awareness, but nudge yourself. The idea is to give yourself a reminder now, so that you will follow up before you run out of stuff.
Why not refill when the level is 80%?
A valid question. But be warned that you don’t want to replenish too soon. You will caught in a loop of quick refills. Imagine you want to refill a jar of tea as soon as it goes down to 80% after 20% of it is used. Refill packets do not come in such small sizes. So you will end up buying too much and hoarding. Why renew things at 80% when 50% works quite well?
Frequent refilling also causes stress. Your attitude will change to one that fears scarcity. Even when you possess 80% of something, you will feel like you possess too less and start refilling. It’s only a matter of time before your hoarding gets out of control.
The 50% with other conditions
What about a large 10 kg sack of wheat, a 10 terabyte hard disk or ₹ 10,000 cash in your wallet? With the 50% rule, at 5 kg of wheat, 5 TB of space and at ₹ 5,000 cash, you are still weeks, sometimes even months away from running out of stuff. Isn’t the 50% rule wasteful here?
First, I don’t recommend hoarding so much. 10 kg of wheat is too heavy to handle. You may hardly ever use 10 TB of space. It is unsafe to carry ₹ 10,000 in your wallet. But I get it. You expect guests and you need a lot of wheat over the next month. You are hoping to collect a lot of movies, videos and animation over the next 3 months or you are going to use your computer as a server machine. After 4 withdrawals a month, the bank starts charging you for any more withdrawals. So it makes sense to withdraw a large amount of cash in one go.
Let’s vary our 50% some more, so you get more rules to guide you. First consider you how much you already have. Secondly, consider the rate at which you use it. 10 kg of wheat is a lot if you use only 200 – 300 grams per day. But if you have a lot of members in your house and you end up using a kilo every two days, then 10 kg will run out in 2 weeks. A 10 TB hard disk is an ocean if all you work on are Word documents, but not when you work with 3-D animation. If the shops in your area take cards or digital money then keeping ₹ 10,000 in cash is an overkill. But in a small town with cash economy, that cash may be depleted within a week.
I suggest you look at past usage and estimate how many days something will last. If you haven’t been recording past usage, maybe you should start now. With that estimate in hand, here are three rules that work well.
- If you keep running out of stuff every 2 – 3 days, you should consider increasing the capacity to start with. Refilling too frequently is stressful and distracting.
E.g. if you eat 4 slices of bread everyday, then a loaf of 12 slices of bread will keep running out every 3 days. I suggest that you start buying a loaf of 20 slices. That way, bread can be purchased along with your weekly shopping.
- Sometimes, increasing capacity is not desirable. Some vegetables start dehydrating or rotting beyond day 2. Your smartphone’s battery is going to run out every day and you cannot just fit a higher capacity battery into it. A routine of replenishing every day or every two days is then inevitable. But you can at least look for delegation or automation instead of having to do it yourself. It helps if the local dairy drops fresh milk to your doorstep every day. You can link your digital wallet with your bank account such that if the balance goes below a certain value, then a certain amount is refilled automatically (e.g., this is possible with PayTM). The latest versions of Android can be set up to back up photos to Google Photos and automatically delete photos which are backed up. This saves previous space on your phone’s SD card.
- The ideal situation is if you are at 50% and your stuff will last more than 3 days and upto two weeks. You can schedule your refills / maintenance for a day which focuses on re-stocking, e.g. a day dedicated to shopping, a day dedicated to taking backup. E.g. During your holidays, if you take 20 pictures on a DLSR camera everyday in RAW format, you would consume 400 MB per day. After 5 days of photography, you’d consume 2 GB. That would be 50% of a 4 GB card. You would still have 5 days of photography left. So a 4 GB card can last for 10 days. This is great if you have a weekly backup routine. A 4 GB card is a sweet spot for your rate of photography.
- If you are at 50% and your stuff will last several weeks to months, then stop using the 50% rule! It is time to apply the 10% rule for those items, i.e. act only when 10% remains. E.g. A sack of 5 kg or 10 kg sack of wheat for a family of two.
Where not to use the 50% rule at all
50% rule is not panacea, nor is it a good idea to apply everywhere. Here are two cases where you shouldn’t use the 50% rule.
- Charging electronic devices should not follow the 50% rule. Electronic batteries containing Lithium Ion composition are sensitive. Their lives are affected by the pattern in which they are charged.
Ideally you should not start charging a battery until only 20% of its charge remains. Nor should you disconnect the charger before it has charged upto 80%. The second rule is not easy to follow if you need to leave and take your electronics with you.
- If you have finished eating 50% of the food on your plate, you shouldn’t go for a second serving already. You should finish whatever’s on your plate and if you still have the appetite, go for a second serving.
If you are a busy bachelor not able to stay on top of your rations or a busy mom with too many things to do, the 50% rule hopefully provides you with an easy framework to replenish your supplies on time.
Live events have a mystery about them. They appeal to your attraction for the unknown. They give you the high of watching something unfold in front of you. You have a sense of being the first to know before others do. An elite group. On the flip side, missing a live event can induce FOMO, the Fear Of Missing Out. You feel terrible that others got to know something that you don’t. And that you’d be the last to know.
Personally, I feel that the importance of live events is overrated. Knowing things as they happen is irrelevant. Unless you are a day stock trader, war strategist, natural calamity rescue operator or someone from the weather bureau watching the progress of a devastating cyclone or a tsunami, you don’t really need live information. That’s why I have stopped watching live events. And perhaps you should too. I have also talked against live events in a previous post, The magic of planning for the next day. Continue reading Breaking news: Live events defer your life!
Recently, Maharashtra banned the use of plastic bags. Shops stopped handing out polythene bags overnight and people found themselves carrying things in their hands or going back home to set out with a cloth bag. It caused some confusion and friction for a week. Then everything felt okay. Carrying a cloth bag seems like second nature as Maharashtra has accepted and fully integrated the ‘no plastic’ rule.
Why wouldn’t people bring their bags before the ban? Why did it take a ban to spur them into action? And how could people change so quickly?
People already knew that use of plastic is questionable and that cloth bags are environment friendly. There were thousands of awareness programs about the ‘evils’ of plastic. But the systems were in favour of plastic. With polythene bags costing a fraction of a Rupee, shops would give you polythene bags free of cost. People didn’t need to carry bags with them and would set out empty-handed. Not anymore. With cloth bags being costlier, vendors stock up only paper bags. But paper is unsuitable for wet (curd) or really heavy (watermelon) grocery. People had to take stock of their behaviour and alter it. They needed a nudge.
And nudge, we too did. The featured image of this post shows our home’s front door, with a cloth shopping bag attached to the hook. It is nearly impossible for us to forget our bag behind. In this post, I want to emphasise the importance of nudges and triggers. I want to say why mere awareness is not enough and why you should have a system of triggers to make you really do something you plan. Continue reading Grow awareness, but nudge yourself
The biggest problem in our modern life is that we overload ourselves with information and objects, but don’t have a good system to organise them. As a result, everything is a tangled mess, where we can hardly find what we need. Be it our houses or our email inboxes, we always face two problems.
- We search all over the place and don’t find what we need immediately. This wastes a lot of time, which could have been put to productive use.
- Eventually we give up our search and get copies of the same thing. This adds to our clutter and the size of the proverbial haystack, making it more difficult to find things the next time.
In his book, Getting Things Done, David Allen attacks the problem with a 5-pronged plan that you can start applying right now. Continue reading Book summary: Getting Things Done by David Allen
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Let’s rewind to your morning today. Did you wake up with purpose, knowing exactly what to do for the next six hours? Or did you open your eyes with your brain all clouded, knowing that you have zillions of things to do, but with no idea about where and how to start? In this confused state, it is very easy to pick activities that need very little effort. For instance, snooze the alarm & stay back in bed. It is very easy to cling to activities that make your brain feel busy, but you aren’t doing anything productive. For instance, reading the newspaper all morning, browsing your email or watching TV. Continue reading The magic of planning for the next day
Reading is an activity fraught with choices and distractions. You know how it is when you walk to a book shelf at a library or a book store. Too many books call out to you and you are paralysed. Reading online is more difficult. Apart from millions of articles on a single topic, articles often have a rabbit-hole of hyperlinks leading to other articles or even other topics. In the post, Get more out of your reading, we explained how to avoid distractions and focus on what you are reading. We even suggested that you discard all content that isn’t relevant to your life. We gave you some good habits to follow to keep your reading fun.
What if you can fine-tune your reading even more, so that you get the best results from your sessions? What if you walk into a library and know exactly where to start and how to proceed in your next few visits? What if you set reading goals for your upcoming year? What if you set seasonal topics that you will stick to? What if you are more proactive with your reading, using techniques like note-taking and deliberately practising the skills introduced by your books. This post takes your reading experience to a new level where you will start mastering a few skills that you have always wanted to learn. Continue reading Why have a reading plan
Let’s start with a cliché. Our protagonist, Asha, is usually untidy, leaving her backpack on her bed and throwing her shoes in the middle of the hall after she comes back from work. Usually one of her socks finds its way under the furniture. A few pens spill out of the half open zipper of her backpack and fall on the bed. Asha has a hard time clearing out her bed every night she wants to sleep and an even harder time finding a matching pair of socks when she is in a hurry to leave for work. She is irritable and often harasses her mom to find her things for her.
Bunty wants to shed that extra fat from his tummy. He has enrolled for the gym and goes occasionally. But most of the time, life happens and Bunty either finds himself overeating while celebrating with friends or not going to the gym because he has something else to do. Even at the gym, he ambled around from machine to machine, getting a few reps, but doing anything effective.
On new year’s eve, both Asha and Bunty set resolutions. They vow to get tidy and get trim respectively. For the first week, everything works great. But, just after a week, things are back to what they were. Asha’s shoes are in the hall and Bunty is binging on extra large pizza, not having gone to the gym for two days.
How can we help Asha and Bunty stick to their resolutions? There are many solutions, but some of them work better than the others. My favourite is a method that political parties, engineering standards organisations and committees follow religiously. Writing and referring to a manifesto.
I have talked about how to intentionally schedule your days here and here. The first post talks about chucking a simple to-do list and using a calendar to put a date and time to activities. The second post mentions that the activities in a single day should strictly follow a theme, such as book-writing on Mondays, marketing on Tuesdays, etc.
To help you really boost your productivity, I talk about the rule of 3 x 200 to take control of your day and get the most important things done effectively. Continue reading 600 minutes for your most productive day