What 10 things will you do before you touch your electronic screen today?

Are you ready? In this post, I am going to give you a challenge harder than quitting smoking or attempting a diet. I want you to wake up in the morning and do 10 activities, that’s right, 10, that don’t involve looking at an electronic screen, before you pick up your mobile phone, tablet or laptop. I don’t want you to do it everyday, but just ONE day EVERY week. No email peeking, no time check, no social media, no games, until 10 non-screen activities are finished. Are you up to it? Continue reading What 10 things will you do before you touch your electronic screen today?

Escaping the seduction of social media

When it comes to using a smartphone, I am a vetaran. This is my 9th year with an Android phone. I started from the November of 2010 with a Samsung Galaxy S running Android 2.2 Eclair. My latest phone, Honor 7, runs Oreo 8.1. I have seen my usage patterns over nearly a decade and boy, I know what addiction to a smartphone, especially to social media means. The compulsions were many. Photos had to be shared on Instagram instantly. Wherever I was, I felt the urge to check in using Swarm. I repeatedly checked my Facebook timeline for the latest from everyone and I too constantly updated my latest status. WhatsApp was constantly buzzing on my phone. My addiction peaked between 2011 – 2014.

Since then, with the help of several habit-building podcasts and books, I have successfully set up habits to de-addict myself. These habits have been so successful that I don’t touch my phone for three hours after waking up. Nor do I touch my phone between 8:30 am to 5 pm on days when I am busy with my freelance work. Finally, I have a compulsory ‘turn off all electronic screens’ time after 10 pm. My laptop shuts down automatically if I don’t stop working.

None of the methods I suggest is radical. They are simple habits that make it hard for you to get to your social media apps. If you are an addict, then this post will attempt to cure you of social media addiction too. Please let me know if they work for you. Continue reading Escaping the seduction of social media

Nail your hands-off tasks to get more hands-on

If you are making a vegetable pulav, do you boil the rice first or chop the vegetables? If you want to learn Android, do you download the software first or start reading the tutorials? If you answered the first choice in both cases, then you are on the right track. You have the ability to spot invisible, trivial, but important tasks that need to be kick-started and performed in the background, while you move onto focus-requiring important tasks.

Life is full of tasks where you pay active attention to what you are doing. You can only do one, or at most two, such activities at a time. Let’s call them hands-on tasks. However, some other tasks chug along merrily in the background not seeking your undivided attention. But they need you to kick-start them before you walk away. Ideally, you want the results of such tasks to be ready by the time you are done with your hands-on tasks. These tasks are called hands-off tasks.

Often, the most productive days in your life are when you remember to start the hands-off tasks, with their results waiting for you when you need them. You sail smoothly from one activity to another in a seamless fashion.

Continue reading Nail your hands-off tasks to get more hands-on

What to do when choices overwhelm you… everyday!

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!

Book summary: Work clean by Dan Charnas

Book title: Work clean – The life changing power of mise-en-place
Author: Dan Charnas
ISBN-10: 1623365929
ISBN-13: 978-1623365929
Buy on Amazon.in | Amazon.com

Introduction

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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When your glass is half filled

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.

50% 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

Conclusion

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.

Breaking news: Live events defer your life!

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!

Grow awareness, but nudge yourself

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

Book summary: Getting Things Done by David Allen

Book title: Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity
Author: David Allen
ISBN-10: 0142000280
ISBN-13: 978-0142000281
Buy on Amazon.in | Amazon.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

Intro

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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The magic of planning for the next day

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