Productivity Tips for Professionals

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Let others know what are you doing

You were deeply engrossed in an interesting idea. Suddenly, your phone rang. On the other side was a colleague, who wanted help on installing a software. You fixed her issue in a jiffy and got back to attend your idea. Oops, you have lost it and mind is rambling in thin air. We all have been through this situation and even worse. I sometimes forgot what I was working upon.

So, it becomes really important that we block some time just to finish our work. This is also advocated in Chris Bailey’s best seller Hyperfocus. Our best work comes when we are at peace. Our mind does not give a linear output, rather it is a bell curve. Our output improves as we start working, peaks and then over time recedes. Therefore, catching the most efficient phase of our working minds is important.

Henceforth, next time before you start working, let your family know that you will not respond for x hours. Ask your supplier to call you only in a particular slot of time. Let your customers know that you will call them by x pm/am.

Work in temporal compartments

80% of our work is done in 20% of the time. You must have had a friend in school who studied half as you did but scored same as you or sometimes better. What a heart burn! With due respect to your and your friend’s mental faculties, I want to admit that it was not your ability but your friend’s efficient utilizations of the brain’s productivity cycles. As I explained before, brain’s efficiency increases initially to a peak and then falls rather than showing a linear trend. So, working for extra hours, would lead to utilization of less productive cycles of your brain which naturally would give attuned output. Whereas the friend who studied only a fraction of time you spent with books, has utilized the most efficient cycles of his brain and misleadingly rubs his intelligence on your face.

So, try to fix a reasonable time for work and try to complete it within that time period and move on. This will have multiple benefits: firstly, you will be able to keep a track of time. Secondly, you would not spend time on that work inefficiently. This will not only save time for other work. But also boost your morale, once you start doing a lot of work in very less time.

Take frequent rest

Just like an engine cannot be run forever and requires a cool down period, our mind and body requires rest to heal injuries and recuperate from fatigue. Rest is the best medicine for a good health. Lack of it, does not have a direct side effect but has a domino effect on other aspects of our health and wellbeing. Don’t sleep well one night and you feel tired and sluggish the whole day, leading to incomplete work, leading to spending extra time, which ultimately culminates in to a vicious cycle of sleep deprivation, increasing fatigue and reducing work efficiency.

Experts suggest, that after every 45- 60 minutes of high intensity work, 5-10 minutes of rest is necessary to recharge batteries and take a fresh look at the problem at hand. It also helps in disconnecting from the work for some time and then coming back with new perspectives. Therefore, habituating oneself with taking frequent rest just like we drink water frequently will do wonders in productivity enhancement.

Have a method

Next time you watch Rafael Nadal before a tennis match, observe his actions. In the early stage of his career he used to sit exactly at the middle of the bench, keep a drink between his feet, take a bite from his banana – just a single bite, before starting the game. Just an illustration of a small process. Industry leaders like Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and Late Steve Jobs, all put a lot of weight on having a process in life. When there is so uncertainty in life, why not make the controllable parts predictable and constant?

This also brings discipline in life and saves a lot of time and effort. Over time these become a habit and don’t require conscious thinking to execute. Hence saving time for the bigger puzzles of life.

Have fixed time for social network

A recent study stated that an average Whatsapp user checks it 23 times in a day. If they spend a minimal 2 minutes per instance, still they lose 46 minutes in a day which is a very conservative figure. Similary, the numbers are not at all encouraging for other social media platforms too. It is not a surprising fact, that they are one of the most unproductive time guzzlers. Though they have their own entertainment and knowledge value, but we should agree that we spend disproportionate time on social media.

Therefore, there is a need to bring some discipline in its usage. It is best to allocate a time to use social media during the day. Instead of peeking into our phones every now and then as an excuse for rest between work, it’s better to use that time for physical interaction with colleagues as a refreshment. This will keep our cognitive senses sharp and recharge our body and minds. But instead if we keep peeking into social media every now and then, we drain ourselves – both straining our eyes and brain as they have to process tonnes of junk information which have miniscule value. So, managing personal time on social media is important to boost office productivity.

Focus on timely completion rather than perfect completion

When asked, what is your biggest weakness in an interview – a common answer is I am a “perfectionist”. Though it sounds cliché and self-flattering, but it has a tinge of truth in it. We tend to spend hours one time too many on our work hoping to sharpen the edges of our diamond. But we misunderstand the true nature of most of our work. They are not the end but means to an end. Majority of the time our work is a work in progress. We don’t know the definition of the best work but continuously strive to achieve it.

The need is to finish the work and move it into evaluation phase asap. This has multiple benefits: One, we can quickly course correct if we are going in a not so ideal direction; Two, it frees up time for personal improvement which will help in better execution of work next time.

So, these are some of the quick tips on productivity improvement in a professional setup. A lot can be incorporated in our personal lives as well. Hope it helps someone. Do let me know your ideas on personal productivity and what you think about this article.

Extending Lockdown and Plan of Action

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Text Box: Figure 1: Credits- https://www.livemint.com/news/india/48-new-coronavirus-cases-reported-in-tamil-nadu-as-of-8-00-am-apr-09-11586404853967.html
Figure 1: People infected in last 14 days, recovered and deceased. Picture Credits https://www.covid19india.org/

Look at the graph above. India is in the acceleration stage of this deadly disease. There is no chance this graph can plateau by April 14. Susceptible-Infectious-Recovered (SIR) modelling predicts that plateau will not be reached before May 9[1]. This is without taking into account the jump in infections due to the Tablighi Jamaat Markaz. There was a time when cases increased by 5-10 daily. 20 days from then, today it increases by 500 daily.

If the lockdown is opened there is no way India can save itself from the fate of Italians. The whole hard work of last 21 days will go down the drain. This is a time when even more stringent measures need to be taken. In hotspot areas like Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu something of the sort of curfew needs to be imposed. There are people who think that the war is being fought far away from them. They don’t understand by the time they will see the glimpse of that war, it will be too late. People have to trust the government and do as said. Those not cooperating should be dealt with a stick.

Time for pleading and convincing is over. Such people are not only themselves vulnerable of the disease but are also a threat for people around them. Enough has been written and said about the Tablighi Jamat and its followers about their callous attitude towards this disease and how their obtuse understanding of the disease has made them a threat for the society. As per the latest reports, more than 90% of all infected patients today in Tamil Nadu, have Tablighi Jamaat links[2].

Figure 1: Credits- https://www.livemint.com/news/india/48-new-coronavirus-cases-reported-in-tamil-nadu-as-of-8-00-am-apr-09-11586404853967.html

Way forward:

The lockdown should be increased further for atleast a month. It is high time India takes strict actions against people not falling in line. That can be started with an ordinance to lay down strict statutory measures against careless individuals.

In this pandemic, the most affected are the poor people, agricultural labourers, migrant workers and daily wage earners. Shifting them to their hometowns can be a dangerous move. Rather government should arrange for their shelters in the places where they are currently situated. For that railways makeshift isolation wards can be used – yes, they can also be used to shelter the poor since the capacity is not fully utilized. Their fooding should be arranged by government probably for the next 2 months. This cannot be done all by the government alone. So, NGOs and Self-Help Groups should be involved.

At this stage, India should prepare a volunteer league which can take care of the requirements of these poor people. They should be given a basic training and involved in helping police and medical staff.

A separate wing of COVID-19 testing labs only for testing medical staff, police and the volunteer league must be established. These tests to be done on a weekly basis. So that the support staff does not become a vector for mass transmission. Also, these staff should be provided with standard PPEs. The main focus of the government in the coming weeks should be identification of people who cannot feed themselves and create a temporary PDS kind of a structure across India. So, in the coming weeks government should focus upon keeping infected patients isolated, identifying and testing the potential COVID vectors and feed the poor. If this is done successfully, people will not be tempted to dodge lockdown and we may come out of this tragedy successfully.


[1] https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/this-week-critical-spread-could-recede-early-may/articleshow/74998924.cms?from=mdr

[2] https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/tamil-nadu-reports-69-new-covid-19-cases-one-more-death/articleshow/75032538.cms

New twist in India’s fight against Covid-19 : The Tablighi Jamaat Markaz crusade

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It took Covid to reach from 2000 to 4200 infections and 50 to 120 deaths just 4 days – from April 1 to April 5. Are we still not in stage -3? I hope not. The biggest dent was caused by Tablighi Jamaat Markaz. At a time when Delhi government ordered no assembling of more than 50 people at a place, there were more than 2361 people holed up in the Nizamuddin centre. Now 1 week after the distressing discovery, there are more than a 1000 Covid 19 cases in India linked to Tablighi Jamaat Markaz. This is almost 30% of all the total active cases today! 

The Tablighi Jamaat attendees evacuated from Nizamuddin. Image credits: Deccan Herald

How can people be so irresponsible. I used to think, why there are so many dying in Italy and Spain? Why they are not following the government directive of social distancing? Why government has to force people into quarantine? Such a small country, how difficult is it to follow a simple directive? Now I can understand. When an educated and developed society like Italy couldn’t convince its people to realise the deadly nature of this disease, we are here, in India, trying to convince all sorts of people including these misguided Jamaatis. 

Then started coming out the Tiktok videos and WhatsApp videos of random Mullahs prophesizing that Corona virus is sent by Allah as a response to CAA and NRC. It will kill those who had ill intentions against muslims and all the faithfuls will survive. Then came out complaints of Jamaatis who were not cooperating with the doctors trying to treat them of Covid- 19 infection. They were spitting here and there, misbehaving with female nurses- who ultimately had to be replaced with male nurses and causing ruckus. Do these people believe that Corona will selectively kill the non-faithful doctors and they will survive? Is there a sensibility like this? 

In a 1.3 billion population like India, which is at the cusp of getting swallowed by the pandemic, if this kind of stupidity will prevail, will we be able to overcome this disease successfully? I don’t think so.

Indian Premiere League and the changing nature of cricket

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Today IPL has become an annual ritual after a pompous start in 2008. In these 8 years it has become a huge money churner and made BCCI the world’s richest cricket organization. In 2015 , it contributed Rs 11.5 bn in India’s GDP. Also, similar leagues have emerged in other countries as well like Big Bash League in Australia, Caribbean Premiere League in West Indies, Natwest T20 Blast League in England, Ram Slam T20 league in South Africa, Pakistan Super League, Bangladesh Premiere League and many others which host 20 overs cricket matches.
These leagues have taken cricket to another level in terms of game intensity, popularity and money. It came at a time when cricket was losing popularity due to series of match fixing cases, increasing predictability of the game and declining interest of people due to its long match plays.
It has also given talented domestic players a chance to perform at international level and hone up skills. Players who earlier could not go beyond Ranji and Duleep trophies get a chance to earn big bucks even if they are not able to play for the country even once in their careers. This will give a boost to popularity of cricket and sports as a whole as a viable career and change social perceptions about sports.
Even it has affected skill level of players and given a new dimension to cricket. A decade back it was unthinkable to make 200 runs in 20 overs. Today runs above this are not only scored but even chased down by the opponent. No score seems safe today. This is also due to improvement in bat quality, dead pitches and smaller boundaries which favour batsmen.
But the type of shots players are innovating which each passing year is changing the game in a big way. Players like AB Devilliers, Dilshan, Chris Gayle, etc are the moving force behind this transition. Players are showing that power hitting can trump skillful manoeuvre of the cricket ball. Chasing 15-20 runs in last over is no more a nightmare and just an everyday job.
These skills are being spilled over to other forms like ODIs and test matches as well. Scoring at 4-5 runs per over is becoming normal in test matches. Runs in excess of 350 are chased every now and then. Flat pitches are becoming popular in countries like England and Australia as well.
But the flipside is that young players are getting attracted to power hitting and improvised shots more than proper game play. This may work in T20 cricket but definitely not in test matches. This is reducing popularity of test cricket not only among players but also younger generations. This may eventually lead test cricket to extinction. Also, there is an increasing tendency of players choosing league tournaments over their national duty.
Additionally, these days bowling has taken a secondary position in cricket. Rules are more inclined towards batsmen. Pitches are not bowler friendly. Even public likes bowlers getting hit sixes and fours much more than their taking wickets. Bowling is no more glamorous as was in the yesteryears when the likes of Malcom Marshal, Wasim Akram, Courtley Ambrose, Saqlain Mushtak used to make life of batsmen difficult.
Therefore, we are living in an age where cricket is in a transition stage and we can hope that it transforms into a popularity level atleast comparable to other sports like football, hockey and badminton across the world.

Why being caste centric in marriage proposals is not a bad thing after all…

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Recently,  a mother put up a matrimonial advertisement for her gay son looking for a partner. This ad created a splutter in social media not only because of India’s low acceptability of LGBT rights but never has it happened that a mother has came out in support of her son’s sexual orientation. It can be celebrated as a watershed moment for India’s gay rights in light of Supreme Court’s order of criminalizing people indulging in unnatural sex. This purportedly brings LGBTs into criminal fold.

At the same time it raised eyebrows for its casteist undertone as the ad also mentioned- “preferably Aiyyar Brahmin”. So, I just wondered, is looking for same caste all that bad? I don’t think so.

Caste system has evolved from “Varna Pratha” in ancient India, according to which a society was classified on professional grounds. Like, Brahmins were the educated and intellectual class; Kshatriyas were the warriors and defenders of society; Vaishyas indulged in business activities and Shudras were the service class. In due course of time this system got rigid and after lots of alterations and modifications came to be known as today’s castes as we see them.

But in these thousands of years of evolution or adaptation, every one has inherited some traits, customs, practices, body language, reactions to certain stimulus and overall mentality which is typcial of a particular caste. So there is a greater chance of a spouse from same caste fitting into the family better. This doesn’t mean that other caste spouse will find it extermely difficult to fit in, but will have some greater adaptations to do.

This becomes even more important in a joint family system which is largely prevalent in this part of the world. Also, it has helped in saving many marriages where families have created that extra glue to keep the partners bound to each other who would have otherwise broken apart.

At the same time, I would say, Charles Darwin will differ from my argument as same caste marriages hinder diversification of human genome. Therefore, it may lead to magnification of certain genetic diseases and if not, will atleast slow down the propagation of good traits. While, intercaste children will have a more favourable genome.

So, bottomline is everyone who talks about caste may not be a casteist. What is needed is more openess towards all sections and non discrimination on caste/class lines.

Indian Railways, please raise your standards

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Come winters and the annual nightmare begins for the Indian Railways. North India is shrouded in dense fog and trains passing through this region are late by anything like 10 to 18 hours. These days, nearly 200 trains are running late. People are stranded on the railway platforms facing bitter cold and all sorts of inconveniences like lack of proper food, drinking water, medical facilities, poor information services, etc courtesy sub standard facilities of Indian Railways (IR).

Recently I had the privilege of being part of the mayhem. Travelling by Jharkhand Express, my train started 7 hours 15 minutes late from Delhi. I had an idea about what was there to come as the train was recording an average delay of 10 hours every day for last fortnight. We could finally board the train at 3 am on a bone chilling night. Later, had to face a food shortage on train, a supply demand mismatch common with late running trains. At least, the authorities could have made adequate arrangements given their years of experience with the annual mayhem.   Also, we had to buy water bottles “Rail Neer” at Rs 20 instead of the MRP of Rs 15. Some people also had to fight to get their bed sheets and blankets.

Adding to that, the toilets of 2nd AC compartment were so stinky; I wondered what would be the state of Sleeper coach toilets. The conditions made me think why should one pay extra for 2nd class AC when there is no practical difference between the 3rd and 2nd AC. The only visible difference was an extra wide berth. Even that was not available for the Side Upper and Lower seats. As if people getting side seats are not paying for them. Other differences can be curtains and reading lights. But personally I won’t consider them “facilities”. The curtains are not necessary and the reading lights are so poorly placed that they cause more trouble than reducing them. Also, you switch them on and half an hour later they double up for room heaters. Good for the winters though. But their body gets so heated up, that switching them off becomes difficult. Looks as if the designer of these coaches was not well paid.

By evening, I was feeling the driver had lost interest in running the train. We were already 12 hours behind schedule. Then I discovered a chewn chewing gum brushing against my head and wondered if the train was even cleaned before this trip. This incident really spoilt my mood. Do these people who stick chewing gums like this even have a basic sense of cleanliness? Do they spit and stick chewing gums beside their bed    s in their homes? I wish they try doing it for once.

Then, I don’t understand why the Train Collision Avoidance System (TCAS) is not yet installed? They say such systems will cost around Rs 2000 crore. But will be used only for 1 month annually and that too in the northern region. So they don’t see the benefit. IR is already in huge debts. I beg all the politicians to put a moratorium on their corrupt activities for 1 year. We will save more than Rs 2000 crore. At least, we deserve this little favour from them.

Why Modi should have shook hands with Pakistani PM?

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India is seen as a team leader by SAARC members, other than Pakistan. Even if it was not the case, India should target to lead this forum and take additional steps to strengthen it and make it a success. Not shaking hands with a neighbor was very non-leaderish. By this local Pakistani media got a chance to show that India is the one which doesn’t care for peace in the region. It would have used it to show India as a bully and confrontational country. At least, it created an uneasy environment at the summit which somewhat subdued in the end, however.

Instead of that, Modi should have taken the initiative to greet Sharif and used the momentum to persuade him to sign the 3 agreements- of which finally only 1 could be signed. Only, agreements will take SAARC forward and raise geostrategic significance of India, not petty symbolisms which will only raise Mr. Modi’s TRP.

Indian side should focus more on tangible activities like supporting socio-economic development of neighbours, greater economic integration with them and creating an economic union in future. Indian act will do nothing more than mollifying a section of chauvinist Indians who consider hating Pakistan as a patriotic act.

India lost a point here.

Dhoni’s Comment spark media furore over his insincerity

After conceding defeat for a second time in this series, Dhoni while speaking to media, said, “The good thing about losing in 3 days is you get 2 days to rest”. Media has forgotten the defeat and is focusing on this particular comment now and making a villain out of Dhoni. Even some senior retired cricketers have expressed their disapproval of such a comment.

I think it was very natural to speak like this. I can see two things- either Dhoni is very frustrated and was sarcastic. Or he is a very strong personality. Even after this demoralizing defeat, he is looking forward to take some extra rest of 2 days and come out fresh to fight for the final test. An exemplary courage from an exemplary captain- definitely the best leader Indian team has ever had.

On Ashok Khemka transferred for 44th time in 22 years of his career

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IAS officer Ashok Khemka got transferred for the 44th time in his career span of 22 years. This puts a question mark on the government’s approach towards handling its civil servants. Sometimes I think, is this not a violation of his right to a dignified life and liberty? This seems to be a violation of article 21 of constitution which confers this as a fundamental right. This act ensures not only right to life but a good standard of life which is enriching in terms of physical, mental and social health of an individual. If he has committed a crime he must be duly reprimanded and legal proceedings should be initiated. But using “transfers” as an indirect and stealth mode of getting an officer to comply with the vested interests can be termed no more than arm twisting and that too a severe one. Such continuous transfers not only harasses the victim but also puts a dent on his professional morale and also of others like him. And such examples create a negative impact on the image of governance among citizenry. It shows how the Indian bureaucracy can be so harshly pressurized by the political class and made to act puppets of their free will.

At the same time, the officer has shown great resilience and his willingness to stand by his duties and not wilt under duress. Also, respect and sympathy flows for his family which has stood by him and has shown exemplary courage and willpower to support Mr. Khemka in his pursuits.

Ex Coal Secretary PC Parakh releases his book “Crusader or Conspirator”

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India’s former coal secretary PC Parakh, an eminent retired IAS officer who was charged in an FIR by CBI over alleged involvement in Coal Block Allocation Scam released his book “Crusader or Conspirator” which has opened a pandora’s box of allegations and counter allegations. In this book he has called Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh a puppet PM who did not have any control over his council of ministers. Also according to him the decisions were taken mostly by Sonia Gandhi, the Congress President and Dr. Manmohan Singh had no say in it.
This allegation has not surprised anyone as it is a widely known fact, only strengthened and reaffirmed it as it comes from a highly respected and responsible statesman PC Parakh who had a clean track record throughout his career. Even PM had himself confessed as stated by Mr Parakh that he did not have much control over what his party was doing and what his ministers were up to. PM said, “But if I tend to resign on every such issue, it will not be in national interest”. My question is sir, which interest are you talking about? And is that interest really worth maintaining of status quo? You have done more harm than any good. Today India has lost tens of thousands of crores in scams which have far exceeded the 5 year Plan allocation of many sectors. And you are talking about national interest! Sir, those who abet crime are as guilty as those who actually commit it. Mr PM you stand exposed.
This is a really ugly situation for Indian democracy right now. Both the political and permanent executives are pointing fingers at each other. One is using CBI to indict the other to save oneself and the other writing books to bring out the “truth”. Our constitution makers wouldn’t have dreamed of such a day.
So in the end of all this drama what are we left with? A dilapidated political system, a dissatisfied and demoralized bureaucracy (or civil services) and India left with a lot of corruption, poverty, illiteracy, bad health and education parameters, economy trying to resuscitate itself, private sector struggling with policy paralysis and the list goes on. There are some positives also (if we look harder) but this missive is not about that. What should people do? The only power they have is a “vote”. But will it work? Don’t think so. Which party to vote for? All are the same competing with each other over who can launder more . In the end we are left with the same bunch of corrupt people. The civil services is divided over what should they do? Try to follow a straight path and get shunted, persecuted, tried in false charges, etc or give in to the demands of political class and become silent spectators of the game occasionally being accomplice in such acts and reap some benefits out of it?
Who is responsible for it? I think we need a bit of R&D into this. It’s we the people of India. The mentality has to change. We have a short memory. We tend to give in to small and short term or rather petty incentives. This has been the case since British times. What I can see is just a continuation of the age old problem which has entered into our genes now. We are ourselves corrupt. We have a tendency of “adjusting” which has become a killer. We need to change our attitude towards life and some unsaid rules have to be changed. In all these years I have learnt that what values of morality we were taught in schools which motivated us are slowly unlearnt as we grow up. Many times people have told me, “You are very theoretical, be practical. Else you will face great difficulties. I don’t know what are they talking about”. Definitely I have to learn a lot from my surroundings but some things are there which I am not willing to learn. I really don’t know how this situation in which India is, will change. Or will it ever change? Or is this the way we are destined to live our lives?