Sometimes it takes hours to ride one kilometer in Dhaka (sometimes more). This is a city of cars and grand traffic that does not end. Long queues of traffic are a regular scene. You can’t find a single person who escapes this inevitable drudgery. If anyone does he must be one of two things: he is a magician or he knows something about how to live in Dhaka productively.
The estimated cost of only delays caused by this traffic congestion is $3.8 billion per year and there are air pollution, missed meetings and opportunities, life wasted in bus, quality of life and more.
In a recent New Republic article Michael Hobbes mediates about the traffic jam in Dhaka:
I am in a tiny steel cage attached to a motorcycle, stuttering through traffic in Dhaka, Bangladesh. In the last ten minutes, we have moved forward maybe three feet, inch by inch, the driver wrenching the wheel left and right, wriggling deeper into the wedge between a delivery truck and a rickshaw in front of us.
Up ahead, the traffic is jammed so close together that pedestrians are climbing over pickup trucks and through empty rickshaws to cross the street. Two rows to my left is an ambulance, blue light spinning uselessly. The driver is in the road, smoking a cigarette, standing on his tiptoes, looking ahead for where the traffic clears. Every once in awhile he reaches into the open door to honk his horn.
This is what the streets here look like from seven o’clock in the morning until ten o’clock at night. If you’re rich, you experience it from the back seat of a car, the percussion muffled behind glass. If you’re poor, you’re in a rickshaw, breathing in the exhaust.
In Dhaka, days are short to make things and meet deadlines and to have fun but traffic jams are long and cruel to go home!
The Story Of Missed Meetings And Lost Opportunities
A study conducted by Tanzila Khan, Senior Lecturer, Stamford University Bangladesh, and Md. Rashedul Islam MCIPS, Assistant Engineer, Bangladesh Water Development Board claims that the estimated cost of only delays caused by this traffic congestion is $3.8 billion per year and there is air pollution, missed meetings and opportunities, a life wasted in bus, quality of life, and more.
This is only about traffic jams and there is more!
The Public Transport System And Toil Of Using It
Public transportation in Dhaka is another grand story. In brief, if you are a user of public transport then life is a perpetual disaster for you. It’s extremely hard to get on a bus and after a prolonged battle when you get in there is no seat to sit and after a few minutes the bus is full like a bottle of sugar, even movement hurts. Using public transport is detrimental to energy and physical and mental conditions after a long day of work.
By now those of you who get confused with the title of this article might get the point-why we need a productivity deal only for Dhakaians. Dhaka is a different and difficult place to stay productive. You need to be very strategic to be productive and accomplish your goals here. Every day people waste hundreds and thousands of collective hours of their lives on the street, sitting idle in traffic jams. Fighting this stalemate and becoming a product is an uphill battle. If you don’t think through how you are going to design your days then you are going to be in serious problem. You will miss meetings, deadlines, and opportunities. And you will always be in a crisis of shortage of time.
Background: Suffering Is The Great Master
As a startup founder, I myself always struggle with time and deadlines, and meetings. In the last couple of months, I canceled meetings, missed deadlines, and got into trouble just because of my lack of time or better way to say: my inability to be productive in Dhaka.
Suffering is a great master. It teaches you a hard way but these lessons last. After missing multiple deadlines and screwing up dozens of relationships I have come to realize that I need to take control of my time.
As an attempt to find a way out of this downward spiral, I started to contemplate and read productivity tips from top experts and media outlets. I re-adjusted my sleeping rituals and started to use new and most popular time management techniques with no use. Nothing works.
I got frustrated and I got angry.
I don’t blame productivity tips or those time management techniques. It was not like all those productivity tips were just bluff or click-mongering tricks nor that I failed to apply those tips properly. The important difference was context. Those productivity tips were simply not written for Dhaka. That’s it. That made all the difference.
The important difference was context. Those productivity tips were simply not written for Dhaka. That’s it. That made all the difference.
Context is the king. In life and work and relationship, context plays a very critical role. Now I have come to understand context is also important when you are thinking about ‘productivity’.
For Dhakaians productivity is managing time and energy while struggling with traffic and terrible public transport system.
This article is not for everyone. This is for the people who are living in Dhaka or a similar type of traffic-congested city and struggling with their time and productivity and falling short of their ambition.
Life is too short to live in a gridlock and limited way.
Let’s find some practical and effective ways to live to the fullest in Dhaka. Don’t be a pessimist, even in Dhaka you can accomplish more. And also remember everything has a trade-off.
1. Stop Attending Too Many Meetings
The deduction is the first step to the way to productivity. Free up your schedule. Attend as less number of meetings as possible. Most meetings are unnecessary and produce very trivial results. Only attend meetings that are really important and make those meetings time-bound. However, if you need to attend multiple meetings a day, take the help of technology: Skype is a great way and there are hundreds of useful and effective collaborative tools to do meetings and more. Few things I do: i) I schedule meetings early in the morning and for a shorter period of time. ii) I try to avail technology to do out-of-office meetings.
2. Stop Attending Multiple Events
You can’t do everything like a magician. You have to be pragmatic and realistic like a dying man. Cut off events that are not critical to your growth and progress. Attending multiple events has become a new lifestyle and way of proving one’s capacity and progress in recent times. Stop going with the flow and start living a life that matters. As an entrepreneur or person who is passionate about getting things done, you need to be a little bored and out of touch to be productive.
3. Work Remotely
This is a tough decision to be made and for service holders, this is an impossible idea. However, for entrepreneurs, this is a good idea. If not every day, decide to work remotely for a few days a week. Yes, this is an unknown territory and you can’t adopt it right away but you can experiment. Start with one/two days per week and expand that routine to 3-4 days. The good part of working remotely is that you will be able to save lots of hours. But there are downsides to this approach as well: managing culture is difficult and also as we don’t have a culture of working remotely it makes it difficult to keep employees active and accountable. However, many companies around the world are doing this and garnering good results.
Prepare a structure, set some rules and metrics, and plan for keeping everyone motivated and launch you into the world of remote.
4. While Planning A Visit/Meeting, Consider Traffic Condition And Schedule Accordingly
Early morning is the best time to do office meetings. If it works for you take this opportunity. The most important thing is: to plan your meeting and visits ahead and consider traffic and other issues while planning. Don’t hurry; you have no wings for sure. Rather plan well.
5. Wake Up Early
This habit is a huge productivity boost. Just by waking up early, you can double your productivity easily. You can have a head start from the very beginning of the day. And traffic is often free this time.
6. Reschedule Your Office Time
There is a common office time in Dhaka practiced by everyone which is between 9-5/10-6. This is convenient but inconvenient as well. Reschedule your office time, say for example: start at 8 and finish at 4 and also take the advantage of holidays like Friday and Saturday. There will be issues with this kind of schedule but you know everything has a downside. If your business type is over-reliant on a few other stakeholders like banks and government offices then rescheduling might be a difficult choice but still, you can give it a try.
7. Keep A Handy Device With You All The Time
If you employ all these tips even then there will be days you will find yourself in the gridlock of traffic moving inch by inch. Keep a handy device, like an iPad or a smartphone or any other workable device that you can use while sitting in the back seat of your car or if you use public transport keep a headphone with you and make a playlist for you. You can read an ebook or watch a TED talk or listen to a piece of good music or a verse from your Holy book.
For those who use public transport, I strongly suggest walking as a vital tool for boosting your productivity. If your office is within walking distance or a bit further take a walk. It will save you time and also be beneficial to your health. Using public transport during and after the office is extremely hard if you are not lucky. Walk, save time, and stay fit.
Start using bicycles. It helps in two ways: you can take a shorter route and save time. Riding a bicycle is also a healthy habit.
What do you do to be productive in Dhaka? I would love to know your strategy.
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This is a great article with some awesome practical tips about saving hours that we waste everyday in Dhaka.
I would like to add one more point:
If someone can move to a place that is close to work, that benefits in terms of saving time and a lot more.
Point seven tells about reading e-books and listening to music. Unfortunately, those don't work for me. I got ear infection from headphones 🙁 and what's worse than that is the bumps and jerks on the road disturb our focus on the screen of mobile phone/tab/ i-pad which is not good for your eyes. People who take "local" bus trips to work and other places probably know what I'm saying.
taking public transport is worse option and for most people it is inevitable one. Yes, listening music and watching something or reading is not that much good option but still considerable.
And your point about moving close to work is good and many people really consider it at times. But more often than not, it's hard to find suitable housing to move as well.
Thanks for reading and caring
I can remember the day when It took just 02 hours to commute from Shahbag to Kakrail. I was standing in a local bus and waiting for the traffic to be cleared. I don't know for what I was waiting for such a long time, and its a reality for most of the city dwellers.
I think Walking is the best solution a person can do to remain productive in Dhaka.
It happened to me as well. Willingness and a bit comtemplation can solve a lot of problems
Number 5 is the most important tips. It worked for me. Unlike other busy cities i have visited, Dhaka wakes up late and sleeps late. If you start very early in the morning, you can reach one end to other end of the city in 30-40 minutes.
Thumbs up for such a nice article
I agree. Besides, there are other benefits to rising early as well.