Clean up act

It’s that time of the year, where most people here in India begin an extensive cleaning exercise for the big festival – Diwali. Home improvement, fixing the furniture, getting the walls done to much simpler things like throwing away unused items are on the to-do list. I decided to start a bit earlier than usual, considering its our first Diwali after getting married. As i dusted and picked up random receipts, card statements, brochures and bills i could retrace some wise and a few unwise buying decisions. While most of the stuff we had stashed away wasn’t of any utilitarian value, I had to keep some of it because of sentimental connect. Somehow there is always an emotional connect to inanimate things like books etc.

With every irrelevant and broken item i put away, i felt much better. It got me thinking to how much we accumulate over days, weeks and months without actually realizing the burden we are creating for ourselves. The burden, if that’s what we choose to call it for now – can be physical, emotional or materialistic. But no matter what, its important to pause and reflect. The cleaning bit is always a good way to let it off.

Another aspect that came to my mind about cleaning up centered on how a major cleaning of the mindset is required. In the past few weeks several stories have done the rounds on social media. First there were photo leaks due to a icloud hack, then Emma Watson got threatened after her UN speech and a powerful media house took on a popular actress. In most cases, women were objectified and blamed that they were asking for it. While the explanations defeat logic, all of this has left a lot of tongues wagging. Sure we are talking about gender equality, women empowerment and work place equality. But what would it take for us to break out of the regressive mindset? Some men would be intimidating the wife at home, getting intimidated by the female boss at work and end up going for the latest movie released to go watch some lead actress being objectified over celluloid. I cannot even begin to connect the dots and put all of it in perspective. All i know is that a major cleaning of the mindset is required. It’s not going to be easy. But given the number of decades and generations we’ve spent discussing, its most required now.

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Rationally Thinking

Stumbled on an idea? Well, good luck in fitting it through a logical process. Many people like to take the rational approach to make decisions and anything new makes us uncomfortable. So how do you break this down?

A neat website i stumbled on exploits all the logical fallacies that could be thought of. While you may enjoy the varieties, the one i could relate to was the “Texas Sharpshooter”. The fallacy states,” You cherry-picked a data cluster to suit your argument, or found a pattern to fit a presumption”. Now this could have anything to do with marketeers, research folks, business decision makers or even the police i dare say. Let’s figure the first one of the lot. You are in a discussion where the latest customer insight is being torn to pieces. Someone pops up saying that a variant of the new soap is doing well in some of the target markets and hence budgets need to be allocated to achieve more penetration. They drill down the data till it begins to please the quorum. Now there lies a sharpshooter. While the soap variant did do well is some of the markets, it was marketed across several others. The lack of data from other regions is also talking. A change in perspective would show that its not doing well in a majority of the regions. In that case, where does our sharpshooter go? Can he still paint a canvas sitting on a pile of budgets to put out?

Similar cases happen in several other areas. When it comes to creating new products, finalizing on target markets, to may spotting organised crime or figuring out patterns. Sharpshooters are going to be everywhere to give the pattern a voice. Will it be a rational approach or just another subjective take that is coloring decision making? I leave that to you for figuring it out.

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Blend in or stand out?

Individuality. The one notion that drives us all. I’m sure most of us don’t want to be versions of others and strive to be unique. However there are times, when one begins to wonder if they would be the thorn in the situation or blend in like the petals around a flower. Be the rock in the river or ride along the waves.

Reading a recent WSJ article on Success outside the dress code made me wonder the same. Dressing up is what we think defines us. Afterall, we normally begin sizing up people, opportunities or situations more often than not. Getting in to a client meeting? They will be building their first impressions. In today’s always online world, they have to put in minimal effort by just checking out your linkedin profile. If they are lucky, you’re on twitter too to feed their inquisitive needs.

The point really is then should you be guided by the notions that others seem to have of you or drive your own instead. The article refers to accomplished people walking in to luxury stores in their gym clothes. If people there recognize you as a part of the elite who have accomplished something, then you would be looked up to. Heaven’s forbid, if you aren’t from that set then you would be most likely tagged as a wannabe. I think the context also depends which part of the world you are from. For example, in India at a luxury store let’s just take any of the premium stores at Palladium in Phoenix, Lower Parel in Mumbai. Most of the people are pretty dressed up but if anyone with ordinary clothing walks up asking for details in a regional language, chances are they will be taken as novices. Or as many people say, “Maybe they got rich too quick”. The same idea doesn’t hold true. In the corporate culture too, you would rather be well dressed for that meeting than be dismissed on the first look. Of course, that can be taken lightly if one works in the creative side of things.

But my question really is whether one must blend in or stand out? Standing out, playing the devil’s advocate as the article suggests would be something that would go noticed. I think people would remember the person who made the most daring points, but that also depends on how dismissive they can be. Blending in works well for most of us. However, being original and driving the point across – that’s what we need to see more of. The change is already happening across B-Schools, where more recent graduates are opting to take their own route with start-ups. We will see more of this in coming years and it would be interesting to see where this heads out too. For now, standing out is the one thing that seems to be “In”.

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Facing The Music

Against all odds. That’s what first came to my mind when i had to get down to implementing a lot of things some years back at work. However, it’s just the approach that needs to be changed. Instead of all the odds, i began to think of all the opportunities that i could be on. That minor change in perspective made me believe in pushing myself against all boundaries.

So a deliverable at 7 AM? No problem.

4 hour commute. Can be managed.

Can you work on this aspect (something i’ve never heard of). Sure. {Factor in late nights spent awake in reading about how it really works}

Ad-hoc meeting, I just have to pull you in to this one. Sure, you can count on me.

Among many other such situations, i reveled in the pressure. After all, what is a day worth when you don’t learn something new? I’ve learnt to read up more than my clients do, understand more than the intern can throw at me and deliver more than i possibly could imagine. It’s said that we overestimate ourselves in the short run and underestimate in the long run. In my case, i would say overestimating actually helped me in accomplishing more than i thought was possible. Against all odds, it may have seemed to others. But to me, they were in my favor. Facing the music as many would think. In my head, i was loving the music and finding meaning in the rhythm. Isn’t life itself like that? I sure do believe it is!

 

My Top 5 Productivity Hacks

Let’s face it. It’s mid-afternoon & you’re perplexed about the 3 mail drafts opened on your mail client. You’re trying to balance it out by running a quick pivot to get done with your analysis & in the meanwhile coffee is on your mind along with the 3 meetings you have lined up before 5pm. Looks like little will get done for you today and anxiety is causing you to scream murder!

What happened to my productive time? You wonder. Pretty sure many of us are in similar situations and seem to be stuck in a rut. So here are my top 5 productivity hacks that help me get by. Maybe these could help you too:

1. Prioritize, prioritize: Much has been said about this before. I think the challenge is keeping up with your list of priorities. You have them listed up but one minor distraction & you’re drifting already. The hack is to start using notes, get an app that will keep reminding you about key tasks. Apps that are helpful are Any.do, Reminders on Evernote or even Google Play can help you with this.

2. Toughie on your table? Eat that frog! : A popular book, “Eat that frog” talks about finishing the tougher tasks in the beginning in the first part of your day (no matter when that starts). Once you’re done with the uphill tasks, you can slide on the easier ones downhill as you wind up the day. Finish it off with a treat?

3. Put that phone face down: This is a good trick & so simple to implement. Scores of time, you’re in a meeting and notifications begin to pop up. Not only are you swaying from the discussion, but if at your desk your productivity will go out the window for 10 minutes at least. So respect those around you & your time by putting the phone face down when you need to stay tuned to the task at hand.

4. Social media sidenote: Yes, many of us have the habit to drift away in unending timeline updates and newsfeeds cluttered with wedding or baby photos. The new one is that facebook 10 years video (i’m tired of it). But the hack here is to time yourself. You can check it but maybe set a limit to say once in 2 hours. Rather than checking every hour & loosing 15 mins of your time, you can minimize the time lost by widening the time limit.

5. De-clutter. Your desk & your mind: I’m an ardent fan of the minimalist approach. A clean desk not only shows you as an organized person, it actually helps you work better. I feel that an empty space helps me focus more on the tasks i’ve prioritized. It helps me feel i have this in control. Maybe you could try it out & see if this helps. Sure helps me keep a clear perspective!

So that’s about it. These simple hacks help me do more & achieve most of my work goals. There are days when you can use these hacks to save up to 2 hours of your work day. So finish that day faster & head back to have a great dinner or a nice drink to wind up the day!

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