A couple of weeks ago, I spent some time building a couple of “automation tools” for myself. It is still early days to talk about their impact, but I have already noticed some changes, and have some thoughts to share.

Thanks to the lock-down, I felt like I needed to do something to get more fresh-air and sunlight. I figured out a nice setup to work from my balcony, when I feel like it. It’s nice to sit in the balcony, since there’s not as much traffic, and there’s enough fresh-air and sunlight.

I usually work with dark themes in all my tools - code editor, terminal, OS, chat clients, etc. But, switching to the balcony during the day makes it harder to read text in dark mode. I have to switch all my tools to light mode. And then switch back, when I come back in. It takes me about a minute or so, each time to make this switch. In a few days, this started to seem like work! And I could see myself needing to push myself to step out, or step back in.

A few days later, I spent about half a day writing a tool that could switch modes for all of these programs with one command. If I was doing the switches manually each time, it would take 2-4 months for the switching time to add up to the 4-6 hours, I spent on getting everything working correctly. So, it’s not really a bad investment. But, what matters more is that I don’t feel a mental block to alternate between indoors and outdoors because of all the extra work that manual theme switching felt like. I am getting some fresh air and sunlight everyday. :)

The other tool I wrote recently was for generating a daily summary of what I worked on from my org-mode based clock entries. I add more detail to the bulleted-list summary that gets generated, and then post it on our team’s Zulip. I noticed a couple of changes because of this.

First, I clock things more diligently than I did before. If I forget to clock into something, I go back and add some manual entries, to maintain a proper log. Second, a couple of other people on my team also have started posting a summary of their day’s work, which is quite nice. This tool may have triggered a change in my teammates’ behavior, though I didn’t really intend it to.

We are creatures of habit, often going through the motions, without needing to think about what we are doing. This is evolution helping us save energy for the more critical tasks. But, our environments can have a big impact on our habits. Having tools around us, that are easy to use, can help us nudge ourselves in directions that we want to be nudged in.

The tools we build can change us; if we let them.

Thanks to Rajesh, Ritesh, Tejaa and Shantanu for reading drafts of this post.