As a product manager at IBM, Anamita Guha works on bots, AR/VR technology and AI - including Watson, the most famous AI that doesn't come packaged on a phone. She also leads analytics for TEDxSanFrancisco and serve as a technical consultant to a clinical research lab at UCSF. We talked to her about her work habits, as general as deepening relationships and as specific as colour-coding notebooks.
Location: San Francisco, CA
Current Gig: Product Manager at IBM Watson
One word that best describes how you work: Organised chaos
Current mobile device: iPhone
Current computer: MacBook Air
First of all, tell us a little about your background and how you got to where you are today.
I spent my childhood living in many parts of the world, including Kansas and India. My parents loved to socialise wherever they went, so they'd often let me tag along to dinner parties and cocktail hours on weekends, where I got a chance to meet different people from all types of backgrounds. That opened my eyes to see how people live and cope with different life stages, like starting a family, adjusting to a new job, or moving to a new city. I became intrigued by people and specifically, how they think and process situations.
I was also lucky to grow up in Silicon Valley, where both of my parents worked in tech, and always brought home the latest tech gadgets or taught me about emerging trends. I actually began designing websites for others as a side job when I was just nine years old! These experiences led me to study Cognitive Science at UC Berkeley, where I learned how people perceive and learn about the world around them through other humans and technology, like smartphones and bots. Fast forward to today, I get to apply my expertise in human behaviour to develop interactive and "human" products at IBM!
Take us through a recent workday.
One of the best things about my job is that every day is different, and I'm thankful to have a flexible working environment. A recent work day: Take early morning calls as I get ready at home, then speak on a tech talk webinar, followed by a quick yoga class. After that, I walk to work (usually multitasking by taking another call while on the way), connect with coworkers over a cup of coffee once I'm in the office, then I get back to checking emails, attending meetings, participating in brainstorms, and more. Sometimes, I attend client dinners after work, but most of the days I meet up with friends for a quick drink or dinner then unwind at home with a book and cuddles with my husky, Milo.
What apps, gadgets or tools can't you live without?
I am obsessed with colour coding and handwriting notes, so I can't live without my colourful set of pens, notebooks and Post-It notes. I also need music or noise to focus, so Spotify is a must-have. Additionally, I rely on my Google Calendar to help me organise my day, and lastly, I use voice-centric gadgets like Siri on my Apple Watch a lot.
What's your workspace setup like?
I carry my MacBook around with me everywhere! I have a movable desk that can be adjusted to a standing desk, and there is nothing on it besides my computer charger. I don't use any extra monitors, although I end up cluttering my desk throughout the day (don't worry, I clean up before I leave!). When I'm focusing on a particular project or brainstorming new ideas, I tend to visualise my thoughts by writing them down.
Who are the people who help you get things done, and how do you rely on them?
I believe that people are your most valuable assets, and I spend time getting to know anyone I meet on a personal level. Having these strong connections not only helps me forge trust with my peers, but also helps me understand what they do best and what they like to do. I am also very honest about my weaknesses. By doing so, I find that people are always willing to lend a hand.
How do you keep track of what you have to do?
I make a lot of handwritten lists. As mentioned above, I colour code everything, to a point where I have a specific-coloured notebook and pen assigned to one project, and a separate colour for another project. It helps me context-switch easily and be more efficient with my time. I started doing this when I was in high school (maths was red, science was green, foreign language was blue, et cetera), and I never stopped!
How do you recharge? What do you do when you want to forget about work?
I love observing the world around me. In fact, I walk to and from work every day from my house, which is about 3km away, and I also regularly walk to the beach after work (perks of living 20 minutes away!). During this time, I try to stay disconnected from work by simply listening to music or catching up with friends or family over the phone.
I also practice yoga regularly. In fact, I started yoga in Year 5 (albeit only began regular practice three years ago)!
I consciousness-journal all the time. It is fun to look back and get multiple data points on my life.
What's your favourite side project?
I'm obsessed with the idea of human happiness. I'm constantly pondering topics like what makes you happy, and how can we form habits that that help increase our baseline happiness. As a result, I love creating little side projects to help people be happier.
What are you currently reading, or what's something you'd recommend?
I feel strongly that everyone should be reading books, and my goal is to read at least 25 books a year. I always recommend Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It to everyone! Recently, I finished reading Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur. I loved it so much that I read it three times in 24 hours.
Fill in the blank: I'd love to see _________ answer these same questions.
What's the best advice you've ever received?
I have a few pieces of advice that I've received over the years: As a woman, learning the difference between sponsor and mentor has been a key to my success. I recommend all women (and men) to understand what the difference is and find someone different to fill each role. It's OK to ask for help.
Is there anything else you'd like to add that might be interesting to readers and fans?
Artificial intelligence is not going to take over the world! I like to think of AI to be augmented intelligence, as it exists to make our world more efficient and easier.
We've asked heroes, experts and flat-out productive people to share their shortcuts, workspaces and routines. Want to suggest someone we should feature or questions we should ask? Let us know.