Value your precious time like gold. I have always been an early riser. My daily routine begins with a 45-minute workout, shower, and then 30 minutes of meditation. This clears my head and keeps me grounded for the day ahead. I end the day with a 15-minute meditation followed by five minutes of reflection, which helps me unwind and get a restful sleep.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Seeta Hariharan, GM and Global Group Head of Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) Digital Software & Solutions (DS&S) Group. Seeta possesses a unique combination of entrepreneurial spirit, passion for IT and business, and deep belief in the power of technology to improve the human condition and transform industries. She has many “skills,” but perhaps the top one is self-confidence. This skill has enabled her to take a deep breath, relax, yes “slow down,” and envision her tasks, goals and dreams. As young girl growing up in the southern part of India, she was taught that if took a step back, “slowed down,” and believed in herself, she would have the confidence to see her dreams fulfilled. And, she has. Hariharan has 25 patents to her name, and she now heads up the Digital Software & Solutions (DS&S) Group at Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), the largest IT organization in the world.
Thank you so much for joining us, Seeta! Based on your experience, can you explain why being rushed can harm our productivity, health, and happiness?
Some folks in the corporate world seem to relish rushing from one meeting to the next. Years ago, I heard a senior executive boast that he flew from LA to Frankfurt, conducted a meeting at the airport and then boarded a flight back to LA on the same day.
I avoid filling my day with meetings nor would I be proud of flying 12,000 miles in a day to attend one. Whether you’re in a large or small organization, it’s not the number of actions you take that matter, it’s the impact your decisions and actions have on the organization. Being in a constant state of rushing tends to encourage egocentric behavior and an inability to appreciate and acknowledge the work of other team members. This can make an organization be less cohesive and prevent a sustained focus on the activities that improve the quality of teams over time.
On the flip side, can you give examples of how we can do more, and how our lives would improve if we could slow down?
Here are four techniques that I use to slow down:
a) I insist people come prepared for meetings. Taking the time to review materials before a meeting results in a more productive and efficient discussion.
b) Even on the busiest of days, I insist on a 15-minute break between meetings. This allows me to reflect on conversations and be thoughtful and deliberate in constructing actions for the business.
c) I take the time to engage with my team on a regular basis. It goes a long way towards building trust and relationships and creating an environment for success.
d) I reserve the most productive part of my day — for me it’s the early morning hours — for our most important business initiatives.
3. We all live in a world with many deadlines and incessant demands for our time and attention. Can you share six strategies or your unique approach to “slowing down to do more”? (If possible, a story or example for each?)
a) Value your precious time like gold. I have always been an early riser. My daily routine begins with a 45-minute workout, shower, and then 30 minutes of meditation. This clears my head and keeps me grounded for the day ahead. I end the day with a 15-minute meditation followed by five minutes of reflection, which helps me unwind and get a restful sleep.
b) When I have several deadlines to meet, I prioritize. Once I prioritize work items, I devote 100% of my attention to the task at hand.
I recall my father teaching me how to focus to get things done. I was studying for fourth grade exams in a noisy house filled with chatty guests. I retreated to the upstairs terrace in the middle of a hot day to study. The noise and heat made it almost impossible to concentrate. My Dad spotted me and told me that to do the best job, concentration was critical — that even an earthquake shouldn’t bother you. His advice resonated with me back then and has stuck with me ever since.
c) Don’t sweat the small stuff.
d) Remind yourself that there’s no space for individual gladiators in any organization. Take the time to build a strong team culture.
e) Make the time to express your gratitude to those around you from time to time and even your boss for the work they do for the organization. An act of kindness goes a long way.
f) Finally, start with and focus on only what’s needed to deliver results for the organization. Don’t start with what you will get in return — it will follow.
4. How do you define “mindfulness”? Can you give an example?
Mindfulness is a way of living; it is freeing the mind of six qualities: desire, greed, jealousy, attachment, ego and anger. My parents and grandparents inculcated these values in me when I was young. What I have learned is that you get to the state of mindfulness by consistently training your mind. In my case, it continues to be a life-long journey.
Approaching my life with this view helps me tackle successes and adversities evenhandedly. For example, I don’t not get overly excited by material successes nor by disappointments. I accept disappointments and setbacks, and use them as motivators to drive my performance in this life to the next level.
5. What makes you happy?
Doing charity and being of service to others gives me an immense amount of peace and happiness.
6. Can you give examples of how people can integrate mindfulness into their everyday lives?
Mindfulness begins with the desire to change your way of living; the desire to become self-aware. It is a life journey.
The first three steps to mindfulness are:
a) Left to itself, the mind is like someone watching TV who’s constantly channel surfing — hastening through various topics from the past and future. The first step to mindfulness is taking control of the remote and bringing the mind back to the present.
b) Work on developing the ability to observe and appreciate everything that is happening in the present moment without attachment, greed, envy or desire.
c) Approach others with acceptance, not just tolerance.
7. Do you have any mindfulness tools that you find most helpful at work?
I was taught about mindfulness from childhood and had role models in my parents and grandparents. Yet I still had to learn that the mind must be trained every single day, just like physical exercise. I had surgery recently and so, I ended up missing my exercise regimen for six weeks. I could tell my body had lost some of its endurance and strength. It’s the same with our mind. We must make a conscious effort to train our mind with the goal of getting better every day.
8. What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to use mindfulness tools or practices
Mahabharat, one of the greatest Indian epics, is my favorite. I’ve read it and watched it several times and continue to draw lessons from it. There are endless examples of how to (and how not to) conduct oneself in life and it teaches you lessons on values like righteousness, perseverance, belief in the good, compassion and patience.
9. What is your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? How is this relevant to you in your life?
“You have a right to perform your prescribed duties, but do not hanker for the fruits of your actions.” — partial quote from Bhagavad Gita.
I love this quote because it is difficult for me to follow consistently. My version is: Do your work the best that you know how and care for the people who work in your organization, and the rest will take care of itself. In other words, if I do right by the company, the organization and the people that work with me, I will be taken care of and have nothing to worry about.
10. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I am truly fortunate to have the life that I live today. There are so many people who have touched me and helped me along my journey. I feel a strong need to give back to them using all the power that I have at my disposal.
Today there are groups in our society that are uncertain of their future because of the potential impact of artificial intelligence and automation on their jobs. Many of them lack access to new technologies which could help them prepare for the new digital era. I believe business and technology leaders have a responsibility to help reskill the current workforce by introducing them to key technologies shaping our future. They could partner with local organizations to create a more digitally inclusive society, for instance. Last year my business group worked with a local non-profit, Uniting North Carolina, to mentor two individuals, one of whom found a permanent job at a local technology firm.
I would like to see business and local legislators join forces with non-profits and labor unions to help these groups get reskilled in digital technologies — and I would like the technology leaders to provide the impetus.
Thank you for all of these great insights!