Category: Improve

Struggling with To-Do Lists and Staying Productive?

A lot of us struggle with staying productive. Especially so in these times of lockdown and uncertainties. And also when you are focusing on larger goals that don’t really offer much daily satisfaction of accomplishment.
I have heard of some really brilliant people, especially from the behavioural science and behavioural economics communities, struggle with staying motivated and on top of their tasks. I guess that is enough to confirm that it is clearly a human challenge, and not one that those who understand behaviour better than the rest of us can easily solve.
It also does not mean it cannot be solved. Just probably not in the ideal, smooth-flowing way we expect it to.

Staying productive and to-do lists are something I do struggle with. And I have tried many apps to help me. Some have worked, to some extent. Some have worked well in combinations with other apps. In short, it has been a messy process at least for me.

I started creating Excel spreadsheets to keep track of my tasks during my venture capital days. And over time, I’d realize I am falling back, so I’d rework the layout, find some effectiveness, and the cycle would repeat.

I have since, used Google Keep, EverNote, more spreadsheets, Trello, and well over a dozen other apps that I didn’t seem to work for me.

Recently, I read the book, ‘To-Do List Formula‘ by Damon Zahariades. And, it is brilliant.
The book has been beautifully written. The author literally describes different approaches from the perspective of a newbie, and then tells you why that one doesn’t work or where it falls short. That way, by just reading the book, you quickly go through the process of discovery and progress that could otherwise sometimes take years. Ask me.

Anyway, I created a list of key points from the book to serve as a ready reference. Sharing the overview of key points I created from the book here, in case some of you find it useful.
Of course, this is simply to give you a flavour of the book itself, which I strongly recommend you read. For those of you who have a Kindle Unlimited plan or trial plan, it is available there as well!

Anyway, he highly recommended the Todoist app. I have been using it for almost a month now.
Of course, still too early to say, and obviously, it is not the tool itself that will compensate for shortfalls in our enthusiasms or anything, but so far, it has been a good tool.

I love Trello, that I have been using for over a year, and still do. But this one somehow edges it out when it comes to the layout and experience. Still haven’t figured exactly how though yet.

In the next post, I share a RattL ’em idea I suggested to Todoist recently.

Till then, here’s the overview of key points I created from the book.

What if the Comments Section on Social Media had a Search Feature?

Image: source

Say you create a post on social media, and friends or acquaintances comment on it over the next few days or weeks.
Now, sometimes it gets tricky if the comments function is basic.

If there are a few new comments before the next time you check that account, finding them could be a little tricky. Especially if someone comments in reply to your or someone else’s reply. Or if the platform takes you broadly to that section but not specifically to the new comment.

Facebook does a decent job of highlighting the region around a new comment, making it easier to spot.
And LinkedIn gives you the option of sorting comments by Most Relevant and Most Recent.

However, this still leaves a lot to desire.

What if social media platforms could include a search function as a feature on comments?

For instance, LinkedIn has a fairly good search function on messages. It allows a user to sort messages by Archived, from Connections, Unread, InMail, and Spam. However, commenting on posts can get messy really fast if you have a conversation in comments with multiple people, and each one replying to their respective sub-threads.

Facebook gets a bit tricky on birthdays, especially if you are someone who tries to respond to everyone who wished you, and then there are a few small interactions happening in those sub-threads.

Would be nice if the search feature in comments across social media platforms would let us sort by recency, maybe even filter by commenter, etc.

Social media platforms also collapse the comments section for appearance and probably speed, and show only a few comments at a time. With each ‘next’ click, Facebook (and probably LinkedIn) show the next 10 comments, Instagram shows the next 3 only!
Would be great for social media platforms to have a ‘See All Comments’ feature.

From a development perspective, I would imagine it would be similar to adding the Filter function to a spreadsheet.

Do you feel the need for a more effective comments section on social media?

Reading and Writing Smarter

While looking up an old blogging account of mine, I stumbled upon a #RattLem idea from many years ago.

I had made a suggestion to Google, sometime in Feb., 2013 regarding composing of emails.

People sometimes want to, or even unintentionally tend to write lengthy mails.
And people’s attention spans have become shorter [or unchanged, as per some reports, while number of distractions have increased]. Which means, most of us have lesser and lesser time and patience to read through any written matter. And since most of what we read is online, I felt there is scope for improvement.

My suggestion was that emails could have the option to group sections [remember the ‘Group’ option available in Microsoft Excel]. These sections would become collapsible. That way, the recipient of the email can quickly get a gist of the content, and could then expand any or all section if they want more details, and toggle back to birds-eye view whenever needed.

This would be better than overloading the reader with an endless sea of paragraphs that stand the risk of going partly unread.

Main points or key news headlines could be listed out, with  details kept hidden by a [+] sign, so that recipients could expand and read more.
Let me know what you think, and if you have any better suggestions.

Sample Size of One: Towards a Possible Solution

This post explores an alternative to fix the replication crisis (particularly in the behavioural science and economics fields, and if relevant, in other fields too). This post is in continuation to an earlier post titled Sample Size of One: The Rose Negotiations. It would help to read that one first before coming to this one.
 
What can we do to solve our human desire to create or find patterns and thumb rules to how we function? Or to find keys to getting humans to behave in a particular manner, be it to drive a more healthy culture, or improve finance sense among populations. Especially when few patterns exist. And when our desire might be overly simplifying a pattern which might be far broader than what we might want it to be.
 
Here is a broad suggestion towards what a possible solution looked like, at least in my head.
Consider a “hypothetical” scenario where a group of researchers wants to find the effects of an ‘opt-in/opt-out response’ for organ donation.
Up until now, behavioural economists or scientists would identify a large, diverse study group of volunteers, and conduct the experiment. Let’s suppose at the end of the study, they found that 70% of respondents opt for the organ donation program when the form requires them to physically opt-out of organ donation.
Now, a non-profit across the world tries this tactic on a local population, but perhaps has a less than encouraging (and far less than a 70% success rate) outcome. This leads to questioning the research findings, and the broader hue and cry around the reproducibility and replicability of such studies/ experiments.
 
For a moment, consider currencies. They are always fluctuating, and there is a definite exchange rate to convert between any two currencies at at a given point in time.
Or consider diverse marketplaces across the world. Any single product would be differently priced in these different marketplaces. And within a single market, the price variance might not be too much. But it might vary if you went to a market in the next village.
 
Coming back to trying to find an alternative to traditional experiments that try to find thumb rules to then apply to social or business causes.
 
The alternative I see, is where the economist or scientist creates a simple experiment or study around the hypothesis they would like to test. They would then put it on an online platform (and share it with their colleagues and counterparts across the world, who would then deploy it among local populations).
The experiment would be introduced via a website. Deployment could be done online with voluntary participants, or random people. The experiments would run in perpetuity (hence online), and results of the same would keep evolving over time and geographies.
 
The outcome for the same opt-in/ opt-out hypothesis with this alternate deployment might look something like this:
The experiment is designed to be unbiased, simple (easy to deploy without the original team of researchers being physically present), and yet robust enough to provide meaningful data.
The results of this experiment would not be captured as a single value (like 70% in the first hypothetical scenario), but rather as a function of (age/sex/location/study response/point in time).
As a result, what the outcome might look like, is diverse data points from across the world at diverse points in time.
It is possible that patterns will emerge in localized groups, or even at a nation-level for some experiments (since respondents or the general population might share a similar national history, current political and economic environment, and similar fears and concerns – whether it is about inflation, unemployment, or a multitude of other variables that were possibly getting ignored when a research study focused on finding a thumb rule.
With a global, perpetual study, for the same opt-in/ opt-out experiment, we might perhaps get results like an average of about 65% in Mumbai, India, but a 20% on the outskirts of Mangalore, India, and maybe even an 80% in Itanagar, India.
That way, researchers and anyone trying to use these research findings would be mindful that it isn’t a one-size-fits-all finding. But rather that perhaps (cautiously), one might expect to get a similar response to an organ donation campaign in a town in Country 1 and a city in Country 2, because their outcome values over a particular period of time have been similar.
 
And these values that emerge across individuals and locations are not fixed values. They are ever-evolving, to reflect the evolution of humans in a particular society, given the context of its changing sociopolitical and socioeconomic landscape, among other variables. So perhaps the same individuals too could participate in the same experiment multiple times over the years, with different results. In that sense, it would be similar to taking an IQ test or an MBTI test.
Which means, the same non-profit that is driving an organ donation exercise in a particular country in a particular year, would refer to the current result outcomes for different parts of that country, to determine what strategies they might have to employ (government intervention, financial incentives, etc.), towards driving a more successful change effort.
 
An obvious extension of this proposed solution will be in the next post.
 
#SampleSizeOfOne #BehaviouralScience #BehaviouralEconomics

Sample Size of One: The Rose Negotiations

Image: source

The Replication Crisis is an ongoing crisis where it has been difficult or impossible to reproduce findings of scientific studies.

The field of behavioural science too, has had its challenges with replicating past research findings. Some years ago, peer-reviewed scientific journal, Nature Human Behaviour, attempted to replicate 21 social and behavioural science studies published in the top peer-reviewed journals, Nature and Science. It could replicate only 13. Other such studies conducted too, resulted in disappointing results.
 
Is it surprising if behavioural science and behavioural economics research findings are difficult to replicate? Till recent decades, many studies were undertaken by professors on captive university students; a long shot from representing world diversity. Findings from one country could throw up different results in another country based on many variables like the history of that nation, recent and current economic progress, poverty levels, trust levels, level of ethics in government, enforcement and business, among other factors. We see diversity even in our interactions with foreigners on social media.
 
And yet, we as humans, are always trying to find a simple common denominator. A thumb rule. A recipe or formula that we would like to think would apply to the world population.
 
Instead, what if we looked at behavioural science endeavours the other way around? Why struggle to have larger and more diverse sample sizes to represent world diversity and improve study accuracy? Instead, what if we started with a simpler sample size? One that we are more sure of, and that offers more accurate data points. What if we start with us as individuals? The observations, feelings, rationale or reactions of the individual (hence ‘Sample Size of One’)? And from there, cautiously see if and to what extent, it applies to other individuals or groups?
 
Whenever we experience a situation, we could try and assign values to various parameters. Then, similar situations created for others in other parts of that city, country or the world, would give us more data sets. We could then look for a single line passing through diverse cultures, or spot similarities in diverse groups. Similarities in similar groups from contrasting countries too? Or not.
 
What we will have, is readings across these situations or experiments across countries and cities. At present, if an experiment with a sample size of 10,000, finds 70% respondents behave a certain way in a scenario; we extrapolate it and believe 70% of world population might behave in a similar way.
 
Instead, what if we had that scenario, but had different data sets for different locations? That way we might find clearer patterns (there goes the human in me again) among groups in diverse cultures where a certain improvement intervention might respond similarly to another one which had similar outcomes from an experiment.

This thought occurred to me during a recent festival and an interaction with a flower woman in the market. Here’s the story.

Sample Size of One: The Rose Negotiation

My family is a bit religious. During Dussehra puja a few weeks ago, I was back at the market, buying flowers and fruit.

A woman in the market has a flower stall and sells bouquets. I always buy roses from her. On regular days, a rose costs INR 10. On festive days, she sells them for either INR 12 or 15.
I asked her how much for one.

“INR 15”, she smiled and replied, “but you can have them for INR 12. How many do you want?”

I asked for ten. Like always, I asked her to cut them to a particular length. I said I’ll pick up the other stuff on my list and come back for the roses.

Back at her stall 15 minutes later, she said the total was INR 150.

I said, “but didn’t you say you’d give them at INR 12 a piece?”

Now she seemed confused, like she had goofed up the prices.

In the past too, I have always paid her the full price, whether she offered a discount or not. After all, these vendors pay a premium to buy flowers during special occasions. And on that day too, I had intended to pay her the full INR 150 either way.

But there’s the funny thing.

When she first offered a discount and later forget about it, I felt a mild disappointment or something. And it is possible others might have felt the same way in that situation. It is odd, since I was ready to pay full price, right? A loss aversion of sorts.

Trying to quantify my feeling on a Disappointment-Delight scale [-10 to +10] (-10 being very disappointed, 10 being very delighted), I got:

  1. If I go to the stall on a regular day, and I am charged INR 10 for a rose: 0 (on the scale)
  2. When the woman first quoted the festival price of INR 15: -5
  3. When she said she’ll let me buy them at INR 12: 5
  4. When I made a mental note to still pay her INR 15 a piece: 9 (it is always priceless to expect and see smiles on the faces of those who work hard to make a living, when you pay them full price and not be the asshole who squeezes an extra buck out of them)
  5. Her later quoting the original rate of INR 15 a rose: -8
  6. Me then paying her the original rate of INR 15: 3

Despite my intended payment amount and her final quote being the same, my delight level dropped from a 9 (in pt. 4) to probably a 3 (pt. 6).

-End of story-
 

What do you think? Could experiments/ experiences like this one, experienced by a single person, be then gauged on a list of parameters for other people in the same city, country, and in other parts of the world? The objective not being to find a single global thumb rule or measure (like 70% or 8/10 on delight). But rather, to see how different groups of people fare on each such experiment/ experience. It need not be a labour-intensive effort. Data could be crowd-sourced.

Could this approach be a little less presumptive and a little more accurate than prevailing forms of research studies?

Read about a possible alternate solution that I propose, here: Sample Size of One: Towards a Possible Solution
 
#SampleSizeOfOne #BehaviouralScience #BehaviouralEconomics

What if We could Mute Serial-Forwarders on WhatsApp Groups

A recent ‘RattL ’em‘ idea was for Will Cathcart and Matthew Idema at WhatsApp.

Through the lockdown, a lot of people began spending considerable time on WhatsApp. And some, let’s call them ‘serial forwarders’, dump forwards literally like there is no tomorrow.

While it is possible to block or mute individuals and entire groups, currently one cannot mute an individual on a group. Which means either the Admin has to tell them, or remove them. Something that can be difficult and delicate in some groups.

What if WhatsApp had a feature that allows a user to mute specific person(s) in groups? The user who mutes another user on a group is simply not shown messages from that user.

And, both sides win. The serial forwarder gets whatever pleasure they get, and no one has to suffer for it.

***

This idea is part of our RattL ’em initiative.
What is RattL ’em?
We are constantly fascinated by companies, products and services.
So, every few days, we send out an email to, or share an idea online, about a random company anywhere in the world that caught our fancy. What we share is either an idea for a new product or service, a concern area to focus on, or a new feature or improvement to their portfolio.
We do it for free. And for fun. And the company that receives it is free to use the idea, with no financial or other obligation toward us. We think of it as our way to be the best at what we do in the field of innovation and design strategy.

Idea for a Review Mode for Note-taking and Planner Apps

A recent ‘RattL ’em‘ idea was for Note or Planner apps like Evernote, Google Keep and others.

Such apps could include a ‘Review Mode’ for existing entries.

In this mode, users could be given a few function options such as Highlight, Bolden, Italicize, Strike-through, etc. on the toolbar.

That way, the user can use review functions on an existing note or entry, without the keypad constantly getting in their way.

***

This idea was part of our RattL ’em initiative.
What is RattL ’em?: We are constantly fascinated by companies, products and services.
So, every few days, we send out an email to, or share an idea online, about a random company anywhere in the world that caught our fancy. What we share is either an idea for a new product or service, a concern area to focus on, or a new feature or improvement to their portfolio.
We do it for free. And for fun. And the company that receives it is free to use the idea, with no financial or other obligation toward us. We think of it as our way to be the best at what we do in the field of innovation and design strategy.

Elevators and Nosocomial infections

Nosocomial infections are infections that patients contract inside of a hospital, due to contamination or germs present there. A patient undergoing treatment at a hospital is almost always has a weak immune system, which is more susceptible to infection. And the odds of contracting an infection are higher in operation theatres and ICUs. Most likely because those needing to be in the ICU or get operated are in a far more immunocompromised state.

Now ordinarily hospitals are brilliant at spotting and solving hospital related risks and challenges. Having been an examiner for a prestigious award that company, hospital and educational institute teams compete for in areas of innovation and improvement, I have seen the top projects being showcased, and they are impressive. The meticulous tracking and calculating of various data points, identifying causes, finding and implementing solutions, and tracking effectiveness, and then setting up a cycle for continuous improvement.

So it is concerning when nosocomial infections account for 5-10% of all patients in an acute care hospital in the US [+]. And the numbers are even more concerning in India, where our hospitals are far more crowded, with little concern or respect for regulation. Here in India, nosocomial infections are as high as 11-60% in ICUs [+].

While this one is quite obvious, assuming ICU cleanliness follows the highest of standards and procedure, I think a bulk of these infections occur in elevators. Elevators are known to be extremely contaminated, the buttons in particular.

While I unfortunately don’t have a broad solution idea to offer for this challenge, I do have some almost obvious suggestions:

  • If a new private hospital is being constructed, try and create an isolated elevator between ICUs and operation theatres. Often, patients are carried for surgery in common elevators, exposing them to every visitor who might have visited someone with another infection, which they are likely to catch
  • Again, for new hospitals yet to be constructed, ideally have the wards frequently visited by visitors on the lower floors, and have sloped ramps for people to walk up and down to those floors (say up to second floor). That way, a bulk of the visitors who would ordinarily use the elevators could be saved, thus perhaps making it economical to dedicate at least one elevator purely for shuttling only patients between  ICU and/or operation theatres.
  • A shield-type enclosure (might look like the mosquito nets for beds) over the patient’s trolley while being moved might help contain their infections and reduce spread while in the elevator
  • Limited options for public hospitals or those with limited budgets, seem to include:
    • stricter laws for visitors,
    • encouraging the use of staircases by visitors,
    • installing affordable disinfection tunnels, and making masks compulsory for visitors
***

This concern was part of an initiative called RattL ’em.
What is RattL ’em?: We are constantly fascinated by companies, products and services.
So, every few days, we send out an email to, or share an idea online about a random company anywhere in the world that caught our fancy. What we share is either an idea for a new product or service, a concern area to focus on, or a new feature or improvement to their portfolio.
We do it for free. And for fun. And the company that receives it is free to use the idea, with no financial or other obligation toward us. We think of it as our way to be the best at what we do in the field of innovation and design strategy consulting.

The Middle Seat

In 2019, the US FAA approved the company Molon Labe Seating‘s (MLS) landmark seat design for commercial airplanes.
 
What MLS did, is take the problem of discomfort of middle-seat passengers, and attempted to solve it by:
(i) widening the middle seat (from 18″ to 21″), and
(ii) placing the seat slightly lower, and slightly behind the other two seats.
Like this: https://youtu.be/LbWyXPYAXU0 
Unless I’m wrong about this, the FAA’s blessings might make the middle seat passenger more uncomfortable than she already is, if airlines buy into the new design. Here are my limited views about this. I did enjoy studying this. Hopefully MLS finds these inputs helpful in making flying a bit more comfortable.
 
For clarity, let’s break the challenge MLS was dealing with, into its components:
  1. Seat width
  2. Seat position
    • Position (backward)
    • Height
  3. Wing passenger movement
For simplicity, let’s consider an obese person who gets the middle seat.
 
Looking at the above components:
  1. Seat width – going by the video, actual seat width has not increased, but only the seat (stretching under the armrest) and backrest are wider. This would undoubtedly be more comfortable than the present seats. However, the armrests would still press into the stomach region of an obese passenger. Fixing this would need a seat redesign, as it would be tough to widen the gap between armrests without narrowing the passage area
  2. Seat position
    • Position (backward) – Purely from a position perspective, the MLS design is an improvement. Ordinarily, middle-seat passengers perhaps have even less privacy than others (ever been in the middle seat looking into your phone, and realized your co-passengers were too? :P). With the centre seat slightly behind, its passenger would at least get some privacy for suffering the seat.
      My bigger concern: The back of any person, is not a flat plane. It curves slightly at the shoulders, more if the person hunches. In the current design, an obese person’s shoulders might extend into the backrests of seats on either side, whether they are all in upright or reclined position. With the new offset layout, it would be very restrictive (and for some, claustrophobic even) as it obstructs at arguably a person’s widest cross-section.
    • Height – If the obese passenger is short (maybe under 5’3″, the lower new seat position works fine. But for an average to tall passenger, it is a transition from uncomfortable, narrow seats; to uncomfortable, narrow and low seats – which means not only might their back hurt afterwards, but also their thighs and calves
  3. Wing passenger movement – currently, the wing seat passenger moves straight in and out. With the MLS redesign, they would have to zigzag their way in and out (and for loo visits) – a partial inconvenience

Image [2018]: source

Using the above 2018 seat comparison by SeatGuru of popular US airlines, I took a simple average to arrive at:
Seat width: 17.885″, and Seat Pitch of: 33.35″.
 
Now, here’s an alternate layout that I’m suggesting. It takes MLS’s new (wider) seats, but at normal height.
I rounded down Seat Width to 17″, and Seat Pitch up to 34″ for ease of scale and representation.

In the above image, the section on the left depicts a sample 9 rows of economy seats on the left section of an aircraft with the existing seat layout. The aisle would be on the right of this section. Similarly, the right side of the image is my suggested new seat layout pattern. For a sample 9 rows (total 27 economy seats in the existing layout) on the left section of an aircraft, my suggested design (right) offers hopefully a better layout with the trade-off of 1 seat (total 26 seats). 

Possible advantages of my suggested design:

  1. Seat width – the new MLS wide seat design, which seems marginally more comfortable. However, only a complete redesign allowing for wider gaps between armrests would actually make it better for the passenger
  2. Seat position
    1. Position (backward) – 3 seats slightly offset from the other, forming an “A” layout (if you consider all 6 seats, three on either side of the aisle in a given row, they would form an A pattern, with the aisle seats forward, and the wing seats further behind for the same row). Seemingly more uniform level of privacy irrespective of seat. And each passenger has zero obstruction of adjoining seat backrest or passenger on one side
    2. Height – all seats of same height to prevent added leg/thigh and lower back fatigue for middle-seat passengers
  3. Wing passenger movement – currently, passengers need to turn 90° into or out of their row. In the suggested layout, while visits too the loo would involve a bigger angle of turn, but only boarding and disembarking would be at only a slight angle from the aisle.

Thoughts?
@MLS, like you, I am simply looking at it from trying to improve passenger experience. Hope you find this useful.

On the topic of airline seats, here’s an old thought I had.

The Middle Seat analysis was part of an initiative called RattL ’em.
What is RattL ’em?: We are constantly fascinated by companies, products and services.
So, every few days, we send out an email to, or share an idea online about a random company anywhere in the world that caught our fancy. The email either contains an idea for a new product or service, a concern area to focus on, or a new feature or improvement to their portfolio.
We do it for free. And for fun. And the company that receives it is free to use the idea, with no financial or other obligation toward us. We think of it as our way to be the best at what we do in the field of innovation and design strategy consulting.

Between Optimism and Pessimism

Image: source
 
It helps to have a positive mindset, especially in a crisis or trying time, since those with a negative mindset crumble quickly. But even optimism and some values have their limits, especially if the related (undesirable) circumstances stretches longer than one’s optimism.
 
In junior college, I used to attend these tuition classes. In my batch, were these two buddies from another college. I had become friends with them. One of them was a smoker, and I’d often see the other friend try to reason with him with a real sincerity, to quit smoking. On one or two occasions, when only the non-smoker friend was around, I’d ask him how confident he was of getting his friend to quit smoking. He was very certain about it, and it was reassuring to see the power of friendship.
 
There was a gap of a few months before I met them again during that year. And it was perhaps the last time I met them, during the preparatory tests before the year and the tuition class ended. And when I met them, I saw something I had not factored in. The non-smoker was smoking outside the building.
 
Similarly, I’ve seen friends and relatives languish in jobs they hate, simply because their optimism was regularly fed with hope from their boss, about a promotion or increment or the glorious career path that lay ahead.
 
So if pessimism isn’t desirable, and if optimism has its limits, or can be harmful, what could be an alternative?
 
How about if we simply focused on being efficient? That way, we might be almost equally prepared for both scenarios (good and bad), while working toward the best direction in the best way we can.
 
This obviously isn’t some breakthrough finding. Think about notable individuals in your life. There’s a good chance they are neither pessimistic nor overflowing with optimism. They keep their emotions in check, focusing on doing the best, in the best way they can. Undeterred by outcomes or people’s fickle opinions.
 
Be efficient.
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