An original KÖZGAZDÁSZ ONLINE post.
The Activity Planner “Practice Living” helps you organize your life in new situations like the Covid-19 crisis. You can reach out for this neatly designed free-of-charge booklet in any life situation when you feel the need to thoroughly reconsider your daily schedule.
The creators of the Activity Planner have interviewed people living in the lockdown in Italy during the past one and a half months. They created the new product from their homes, and they have identified a lot of problems that affect us, university students. In this interview they are talking to us about the exciting and innovative creation process, about how we can use the Activity Planner, and why to fill it in at all.
Our conversation partners:
Attila Miklya, product owner, project leader. Attila is a behavior analyst, currently a Master student in psychology, works for Pine Design and Demola Budapest.
Fanni Szilvás, mastermind, member of the design team. Fanni is a psychologist, and also works for the above two companies.
Kitti Jakobovits, mastermind, member of the design team.
Gabriella Csányi, co-founder and managing director of Pine Design
You can download the Activity Planner free of charge here: https://www.practiceliving.org/
To whom do you primarily recommend the Activity Planner?
Attila: Having to follow a completely different daily schedule all of a sudden is a relevant problem for many people. These problems did exist before and will exist in the future as well. Many people find the current Covid-19 situation similar to starting a maternity leave or moving abroad.
It makes sense, since your social environment and the activities you can pursue have changed drastically from one day to the other. But it is also useful to just go through the Planner, have a good understanding of it, and you start using it when you think it becomes relevant to you.
Fanni: When I imagine a person representing our target group, I see someone who is eager to have some self-awareness, who has freed up some of his/her time, or, on the contrary: has no free time, but wants to imagine that he/she does. We have just talked about this booklet to some elderly people, members of the “Életet az éveknek Egyesület” (Give Your Years a Life Association), as the lockdown affects retired people, too: their daily schedule turns upside down and they need to do some re-planning.
The main message of the leaflet may be different for everyone. For me it is that it is only through trial and error we can reach a balance in our lives in terms of what we need to and what we would like to do.
I believe our target group is made up of people who are ready to approach these topics on a trial and error basis.
What is the main problem area that this planner is built on?
Kitti: It took me a long time pondering until I landed on the “it does not matter” approach. Then, when the lockdown started - which was a crisis impacting everyone – suddenly and intensely I experienced a powerful positive reaction to it as well. I started to feel – and I had similar feedback from clients and friends - that seeing the world in crisis is stressful already, while on the other hand you get messages saying you should read 3 books, do some body-building, because this is when you have time for it. In the beginning they seemed to be good ideas for entertaining yourself, but the sheer amount was overwhelming, and you had the impression that you had to spend time productively.
In between the two extremes you had no chance to sit down a bit and say to yourself: I feel rather anxious, I am not sure what the future brings, I am worried not only about the pandemic, but there could be various indirect anxiety factors as well: like I am worried about my job, my family. Alright, I have read a short story, but I am not capable of reading a book like “War and Peace”.
I have come to the conclusion that for a few weeks it is fine not to be completely positive, not to be sure what to do. This booklet may be useful when you do not yet know what to do. You start filling it in, and by doing so you will get closer to the solution.
How did this project start?
Attila: We kicked off more or less when the lockdown started in Europe. The situation evoked a lot of intensive emotional reaction suddenly, a lot of enforced situations, so lots of pain occurred at the same time.
We did not have an immediate solution at first, but we were open for a redesign, eager to understand what is happening to people.
Fanni: as a psychologist we are very much interested in rare data collection opportunities. We did not know in the beginning what outcome this project might have. We did not know whether the interviews we conducted were the first steps of a data collection process preparing an academic research or will they serve a redesign process. It was interesting that we started off with investigative interviews, which doled out a few topics we could have built a product development process on.
Kitti: Attila asked me to join this project, which I did immediately. We wanted to design something to help the mental state when articulating your thoughts in writing is very important. I felt this is something to which I can contribute with my professional knowledge.
Gabi: We were inspired by this concept mainly because we are not only developing digital products at Pine Design but we also like supporting businesses or projects that have some impact on society in their early stages. There was no question that we will join in and support Fanni and Attila.
How was this product born?
Fanni: On the 11th of March, when we did not know yet how serious this pandemic will be in Hungary, it had already escalated in Italy. This was some sort of a great opportunity, since for me as a psychologist this was a very rare situation: I could approach people in extreme situations as a researcher, and they we able to spend time with me, talk to me for 1-2 hours during an interview. We started to recruit people in Lombardy, a hotspot of the pandemic. They were open to share their experiences with us. We did not start the conversations with preconceptions, our goal was to let them reveal those topics that affect them the most.
Attila: We saw after a while that certain topics tend to recur in these interviews. People are over their panic reactions, they are beginning to get used to this new situation, and to get bored, with a lot of free time at their hands. We identified a problem cluster with the following keywords: boredom, confused time perception, a change of daily schedule and all the related challenges.
Demola Budapest and the decision makers of Pine Design supported us from the background. Then, during a design process, we selected the problem area of daily schedule change, a topic that can easily be targeted with a product. We quickly found the right format, the booklet. We brainstormed about the tasks, the start and end points of the process, and then we started working on the details. We did everything hurriedly right from the start, as we knew the people in Lombardy were only 3 weeks ahead of us, and the restrictions were soon to come to Hungary, too.
Fanni: Still, our minds were not focused on Corona-specific issues even from the beginning, but we tried to go towards designing a product that may be relevant in other situations as well. However, right now, many of us may encounter intensive experiences, which may result in a demand for trying the product.
Another important aspect of the process is that ethical considerations must be of utmost priority in any research activity. We were keen to come up with a direction that involves the smallest possible psychological risk. This situation may bring up all sorts of things, from grief to serious anxiety, for which we are not ready to offer a solution. It is very important to note that this tool is not meant for therapy.
How were you able to successfully work together in this situation?
Gabi: It is very interesting, the complete product development process was carried out in home office, which is extraordinary, as design sprints normally take 5 to 7 days, and it is almost compulsory for participants to work in one room physically. This makes these events very valuable, as a lot of professionals with different backgrounds sit together and take part personally in the creative process. It was a very interesting experience for me that we had such a valuable product ready by deadline without meeting any of the contributors in person.
Fanni: I think having trust in each other upfront, before starting the work together, results in higher efficiency. We don’t worry about questions whether the other one spends enough time on work, we do not control their productivity. This improved the situation a lot.
From a methodological point of view, sometimes home office is advantageous. Alternating individual and team solutions is very good. I believe the individual thinking processes that I create in my own environment in my own working style will result in a completely different quality, than the same performance in an office environment. Moreover, you can adjust your work to the needs of the other team members in a more flexible way. We can accommodate each other better in home office.
How can the Planner be filled out efficiently? How much time do you recommend for users to spend with it?
Attila: You go through it and keep thinking about the questions for a few days, as it has lots of associative, open-ended questions that you cannot immediately answer. So, it helps if you get some sleep over it, and then you can fill it out in more or less 1 or 1,5 hours.
Based on feedback the focused time spent on it may be short, but it may take time to think about the questions, to let the questions work on you.
When we piloted it, we aimed at not making it too abstract, we wanted to make sure no-one gets stuck completely, but at the same time we wanted it to also offer some challenges. As by filling it you realize that you have never thought of your daily activities in such a way.
Fanni: I think some of the ideas about efficiency are contra-productive because the time aspect is not well calculated. The time necessary to empty your mind and get rid of the cognitive load is not accounted for. If we don’t schedule these breaks, we will not be efficient or well-organized in the long run.
Doing nothing always plays a role in efficiency, and you need to practice how to do it in a qualitative way.
On the first pages of the booklet you recommend users to put all answers down in writing. Why do you consider writing to be important?
Kitti: I think putting a thought in writing instead of only thinking it over is more important, because I imagine the human brain to work in a way that all the thoughts swirl in it, one crossing another, taking over, ending up in a collision.
Once you start writing them down you get your thoughts start to have a structure.
Once you write them down, you are forced to think everything over one by one, as you are able to write only one thing at a time.
And finally, you can review it, you won’t forget what your thought was two steps earlier, you have a written track of it. Filling in this booklet is like a flowchart: when you reach the end and you go back, you can see the process of where you started and where you arrived at. You can review all you were thinking in one and a half hours: what it is you want to keep, and what are the ones that, by putting them down on paper, you can let go. Another important function of writing is that you can let go of some things. Distancing your thoughts a bit may in itself bring relief.
What user feedback have you received so far?
Gabi: The majority of the feedback we received was positive, not only regarding the booklet and its content, but also its design. I have received several "Thank you" messages personally, most said that this had hit the nail on the head. A lot of people suffer from being extroverts who can’t handle being closed, working from home office or the upside-down daily schedule. They feel they should be creative, they would like to do something with their free time, but they don’t know how to organize their activities, how to befriend this new situation. Some mentioned they liked this planner because it is not Covid-specific and they would fill it in later again, they can see how it might be useful again in another new situation.
You can download the Activity Planner free of charge here: https://www.practiceliving.org/
Written by: Tünde Taxner Graphics: Balázs Csizik, Source: Hype & Hyper