October 10, 2014

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“Come! Make in India” to “Made in India” – A Mammoth Transition

There is a lot of rhetoric on the recent call for “Make in India” riding on the hopes and aspirations of a billion+ people. While much has been written on policies, infrastructure and investments to make this happen, I would like to take a page from the “Clean India” campaign and talk about how each and every one of us can do our little bit to create the “pull” factor to make this dream a reality.

Here are five simple habits which every Knowledge Worker (myself included) can inculcate to improve the perception of a nation:

1. A neutral accent: Most knowledge workers across Asia invariably carry a dictionary to be able to communicate in this predominantly English speaking world. Luckily, thanks to our history, we do not need the same, as English has been the unifying language in a nation of multiple languages and dialects. However, in addition to the meaning, the dictionary also clearly specifies the pronunciation of every word.

An hours’ study to understand the single depiction of English pronunciation (Vowel and Consonant Phonemes) can help us read the dictionary properly for not only the meaning but also the pronunciation of words. You will be surprised as to how much unlearning is needed before you help your children and their teachers. A dictionary would then also be an essential book for Indians like other Asians.

2. A subconscious skill: When we learn to drive, we tend to learn multiple activities one by one till they become subconscious. This is how, we learn to use the clutch, brake and accelerator sub consciously while consciously looking at traffic signals, other vehicles (bus, truck, cycle, motorbike, etc.) and pedestrians on the road. Similarly, typing, as a skill is extremely essential from an IT developer who is writing complex codes; to a receptionist who is filling in forms; to a security guard who is issuing an entry pass.

A few weeks of effort, to be able to type subconsciously (speed does not matter) on a QWERTY keyboard can go a long way in programmers being able to concentrate on the complexities of the code rather than the spelling and syntax (with multiple back spaces interspersed to correct errors). The same goes for a manager trying to follow the points of dissension in a meeting while jotting down notes to counter the same.

3. A simple work environment: In this connected world, the quantum of disturbance has grown exponentially, what with most of us getting emails as a CC, Mailers, Newsletters, Mobile chat conversations, Whatsapp, and so on. The noise to signal ratio has gone up so much that one needs to be superhuman to juggle the various conversations with work.

A simple discipline like closing the Mail App (or Mobile App) for a couple of hours until planned activities are completed can reduce the noise to signal ratio and improve productivity dramatically. This can be followed by a “mail” period for you to identify the next set of tasks to be accomplished which you can take up in the next “no mail” period.

Trust me! Nobody expects you to reply to mail within a few minutes. If it is urgent, they will call you.

4. A focus on starts: One of the issues with work is the debilitating effect of procrastination. While most organizations focus on the completion of activities, nobody monitors starts and invariably most activities eat up their buffer time due to late starts rather than actual issues. During project planning, we try and use the reverse Pareto principle (20:80 rule) to think up every remote possibility that can go wrong and pad sufficient buffers. Despite this, a majority of projects get delayed due to late starts rather than issues beyond our control.

If we make it a habit to “start on time, every time”, we can be rest assured that more activities will be “completed on time” as the buffers will be utilized for actual exigencies rather than human delays. Please note that Murphy’s law also follows the reverse Pareto principle.

5. A step by step approach: The biggest issue hampering our productivity these days is multi-tasking. Often times, we are so bogged down by the number of tasks to complete that we waste too much time planning and worrying about them. If we take up tasks one at a time without worrying about the rest, we can complete the list much earlier than planned.

The same goes for managers as well. Instead of allocating multiple activities to the team well in advance, if you allocate it one at a time, as and when activities are completed, you can see a huge improvement in productivity.

The best advice, I got when I was struggling with over a 1000 mails in my Inbox after a 2 week trip (despite an out of office message) was: “Archive it! If it is important, it will come back. You can then tackle it, one at a time.”