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Optimizing Isn’t Just for Work: How to Simplify and Automate Your Life

Divya Amarayil
Senior Principal Consultant, Global Transit Program
Pronouns: She/Her/Hers
Riverwoods, IL

The new normal… with a toddler and kindergartener

For me, COVID-19 was challenging because I suddenly had my two kids at home during work hours. On top of my own work, I had to manage my 5-year-old’s remote learning and keep my 2-year-old occupied. 1 week into this new arrangement, I realized this setup wasn’t just temporary. I needed a long-term solution. So I shifted our lives into this new normal.

Flipping schoolwork and learning

At first, I spent nearly every night with my son, helping him with his remote learning. I hated spending most of our time together on schoolwork— I wanted to enjoy our evenings together. So, I slowly started training him to become independent and responsible for his schoolwork. I taught him the broad concepts at night and asked him to try to work on it during the day. This simple shift gave me time back to spend with him, and he was more occupied during the day with the structured work.

Making the small things count

I also introduced earning privileges. My kids earn a privilege for their good behavior every day. They get to pick their favorite dish, which I cook for them in the evening. I add small things for them to look forward to and find little ways to encourage them to do better.

One of the festivals we celebrate is Vishu, which occurs in the month of April. Vishu marks the start of New Year in Kerala, a state in India. On the day of Vishu, I wake up early and cook at least 20 dishes. We serve the dishes on a plantain leaf. Adults give younger ones money. Everyone at home really looks forward to this festival, especially kids.

Automation beyond just code

Another time-saver was automating everything I could. My kids forget to drink water during the day and I found myself having to regularly remind them. So I set up reminders on our virtual assistant. Because my kids always forget to turn off the lights, I installed sensor switches. Now, the light turns off automatically in 5 minutes if they forget. I use my automated slow cooker pot for a ton of meals. I schedule cooking, receive alerts when the food starts cooking and when it’s done. My one pot dishes are cooked fresh and stay warm for when it’s time to eat.

Community safety

In my neighborhood community, one of our residents’ moms passed away after being hit by a shipping truck that was driving recklessly. The accident happened near the entrance, where there’s a sharp turn with a poor lateral view. We also have a straight road with no traffic calming measures, which encourages people to speed. I didn’t know who to approach or how to make our community safe— but I was ready to work towards it.

Making change without the title

I soon discovered there were several other issues in the community that weren’t getting addressed by the board at the time, so I researched and pushed for resolutions on behalf of all homeowners. I created a homeowners database and started group chats to increase communication and foster connection. I setup a meeting and walked everyone through the issues in the community and proposed possible solutions.

One thing led to another

Today, I’m the president of our HOA. I’m now working with the city to conduct traffic studies to implement necessary traffic calming measures. Within 2 months of becoming president, I brought our operational costs down by $5,000. Landscaping was our biggest cost, so I got new quotes and negotiated a lower price. I picked a company that was expanding its business. I negotiated the price down by offering to help build their online profile and leave positive reviews if the work was great.

How one person has time for all this

Time management is everything. I avoid piling my work. I try to finish what I can the same day it bubbles up so that it doesn’t carry over and become a burden the next day. I put my kids to bed by 9:00 PM. That gives me time to walk on the treadmill, read, watch videos, or work on board-related activities. When my kids are busy playing, I cook. I wake up early when my kids are still deep asleep. I’ve pretty much carved out time for every activity. I keep a consistent routine for my kids’ meals, play, etc.

On top of it all

I love everything about my role at Discover. I work in a domain (transit) that I’m most passionate about. I get to work and learn from a bunch of talented individuals. I have one of the best managers in the world. He understands me, supports, coaches, and motivates me to do better. He’s a great combination of a good heart and a sharp mind.

The key to everything

I’ve learned not to do anything I don’t love doing. When I stop enjoying what I do, I know it’s time to move on. I’d give my younger self this advice: Don’t believe everything everybody says. Don’t shy away from saying you don’t know something. Admitting when you’re uncertain fosters learning and growth. Don’t be afraid to say “no.”


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