Should We Keep Working From Home?

Over the past year did you get an opportunity to work from home? In my case I did it for a couple of days, but otherwise worked in my library office. My case was different from many people who shifted to a part time or fully virtual work situation. To reduce COVID spread, companies across many industries offered their employees the flexibility to work from anywhere. However, the big question yet to be answered is whether this change has enabled greater productivity and satisfaction or if it has become an impediment to creative teamwork. The initial answer to this question is a big maybe!

I recently came across two good explorations of this topic. The first was an article from The Guardian titled The empty office: what we lose when we work from home. Reporter Gillian Tett explored the this idea: For decades, anthropologists have been telling us that it’s often the informal, unplanned interactions and rituals that matter most in any work environment. So how much are we missing by giving them up?

Of particular interest is a look at the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), a group that designs the underlying architecture of the Internet. Over the years the IETF developed a fascinating way to poll the collective body on decisions. In a conference room, the group will ask members to hum to show support or opposition to an idea. It is a type of decision making process that can only work effectively in a real world environment. As Tett notes:

When the IETF members use humming, they are reflecting and reinforcing a distinctive worldview – their desperate hope that the internet should remain egalitarian and inclusive. That is their creation myth. But they are also signalling that human contact and context matter deeply, even in a world of computing. Humming enables them to collectively demonstrate the power of that idea. It also helps them navigate the currents of shifting opinion in their tribe and make decisions by reading a range of signals.

Photo by Vlada Karpovich on Pexels.com

Other view of the effects of work from home can be found in a recent Freakonomics podcast titled Will Work from Home Work Forever? In the middle of the podcast host Steven Dubner interviews economist Steven Davis about his studies on working from home prior to the pandemic and then a year afterward. Davis’ findings are illuminating.

The real benefit to being at the office is face-to-face interaction — which might be painful if it’s your boss reprimanding you, but this concept of a knowledge spillover — all of that causes, we think, productivity to be higher at the office than at home. But we also think working at home is not as unproductive as it used to be. Because we have all of these tools at our disposal.  

Later on in the podcast, Dubner interviews Raj Choudhury of the the Harvard Business School. His multiple year study of remote work done by U.S. Patent Office employees demonstrated measurable benefits from working at home. He found the examiners were 4.4% more productive at home than in the office. However, he also discovered another factor at play, increased loyalty.

And the story that came was one of loyalty. That “I was really helped by this policy because now I could move to Philly and my daughter needs some medical treatment, which is only available in Philly. No other organization will let me work in Philly and do the kind of work I’m doing. So I have to give something back.”

The factors that will determine the long term success of working from home are still being figured out. To learn more about the direction of work from home, I highly recommend both these Guardian and Freaknomics pieces. They are well worth the read and listen.

Will Libraries Get Credit for their COVID-19 Response?

As vaccines are now widely available and many people have had their first shot or both, life across the United States is returning to something like pre-COVID days. This includes libraries. In Florida, library service has been amongst the most available in the country, such as The Palm Beach County Library System which has been open for over a year! Other libraries across the nation have only recently opened their doors. However, that did not mean they were on the sidelines. Throughout the crisis, library staff were constantly working to help our public in this time of need.

In a recent article on CNN, public libraries across the country were profiled for the great work they did to assist their communities during the pandemic. One example was the work of Ramses Escobedo of the San Fransisco Public Library.

For more than a year, however, Escobedo hasn’t been lending out books. Instead, he’s worked with a Covid-19 contact tracer team for San Francisco’s Department of Public Health.

Covid has affected American schools, hospitals and businesses. But libraries — which often serve people who have nowhere else to turn — have responded in unprecedented ways. Like many of us, they’ve had to pivot, going from providing extensive in-person services and programming onsite in branches to quickly establishing virtual lectures and classes, and contact-less material pickup, as well as services that were strictly Covid-related like Escobedo’s assignment.

As a city worker, Escobedo’s contract states he can be activated in an emergency. After his library closed in March of 2020, Escobedo was reassigned to a disaster service detail.

As well as special duties, libraries also took advantage of their position in the community to help people.

In Hartford, Connecticut, some public libraries became Covid-19 vaccine administration sites. Librarians there also cleared obstacles to allow patrons to use outside electrical outlets to charge cell phones. In Leominster, Massachusetts, about 50 miles west of Boston, librarians installed mobile hot spots at the city’s senior and veterans’ centers, both of which have large parking lots, enabling many more people to log onto the Internet.”Anyone can go to the parking lot and connect to the WiFi for free,” Nicole Piermarini, the library’s assistant director told CNN.

Read the rest of the article on CNN to learn other ways that libraries made a difference.

Is Productivity just is a Phase?

When did you decide to seek out personal productivity practices?

Many people do so when they feel overwhelmed by their work. Perhaps they have been given more and bigger projects or received a promotion with lots of responsibility. Others might have changes in their home life, such as a new child, that prevent them from putting in overtime. For these reasons and more they must become more efficient. Either way, personal productivity practices often make a huge impact on our work, but are they an end in themselves or a means to another end?

According to Tiago Forte of Forte Labs, learning personal productivity practices is only one step on a person’s journey. In fact it is an early stage. In a recent post on his web site he states:

I’ve begun to realize that the concept of “personal productivity” is just a season in people’s lives. It is a temporary phase that we each pass through on our way to other things.

Productivity as we know it is largely an entry-level concept. It caters to people just beginning their careers, starting their first professional jobs, or moving to new roles that demand a higher level of personal output.

Why is it attractive to people in an early stage of their professional life? Tiago believes it is due to leverage.

The reason productivity is just a phase is that it is relatively low leverage. “Leverage” refers to the ability to do more with less, such as using a lever to lift a boulder that you’d never be able to lift on your own strength.

You do need to reach a certain level of proficiency in your personal productivity. But once you do, you can go beyond it to greater sources of leverage. And you must, if you want to accomplish more while working less.

What are those other sources of leverage? There are many options.

Learn about these other sources of leverage by reading the rest of his posting.

An Interview With David Allen

Discovering Getting Things Done by David Allen ten years ago was a huge professional turning point for me. GTD provided a way to structure work that allowed me to achieve more than I had thought possible. In fact one of the best training tools I ever purchased was a ten CD recording of a GTD Live seminar which I listened to a dozen times. Over the years I have frequently returned to David Allen’s ideas and still find a clarity of thought this is always inspiring.

If it has been a while since you read Getting Things Done, or maybe have yet to open it, I highly recommend this interview with David Allen on Medium. He covers a lot of the basics of the GTD philosophy and how to apply it. For example:

These are the 2 elements of productivity:

  1. What am I trying to accomplish?
  2. How do I allocate resources, attention, and activity to make that happen?

They’re not automatic decisions. No email will tell you outcomes or actions. No thought you wake up with tells you that. You actually have to sit down and think and use your cognitive muscle. Put yourself through this thought process.

Later on in the interview he discusses priorities and clears up misconceptions around how they are set.

You’re making priority decisions every moment. Now you are talking to me, that is your priority. And that’s the best thing you can be doing right now. Otherwise, your head would be totally somewhere else.

If you’re always thinking about priorities … I’m not saying to not set priorities, but don’t try to oversimplify that and give yourself some formula that determines your purpose, your core values, your vision in where you’re going. The goals you need to accomplish, the things you need to manage and maintain to make sure you’re healthy.

Read the full interview to learn more.

Public Library COVID Restrictions

This week I provided an article for Public Libraries Online regarding the current status of library COVID-19 operating restrictions across the country. Here’s the opening of the piece:

Fourteen months ago the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the country. By the beginning of April the vast majority of public library buildings were closed to the public. Over the subsequent months, some libraries dipped their toes into offering curbside checkouts before opening their doors for limited services. Other systems remained stuck in a full closure aside from virtual services. Now that vaccines are available and virus transmission rates are dropping, public library service is largely being restored across the United States, but at vastly different timelines.

To read more about the current operating restrictions in New York, Florida, California, and Missouri, which following recent CDC guidance are fast changing, read the full post on Public Libraries Online.

Understanding the Role of Public Library Directors

Public library directors fill a unique role in their organizations as leaders in both policy and culture. Whether it is a single building rural library to a multi-location big city system, all library directors face a series of similar problems as they strive to keep operations going. Between budgets, politics, policies, and staffing, no two days are the same.

On Tuesday I will be moderating an online discussion with experienced directors who will share their stories about why they chose this career path, its challenges, and their thoughts on the future of the profession. If you are interested in becoming a director, already a director looking for some tips, or simply want to learn more about the role, this is the panel discussion for you. Even if you are not a librarian, the leadership lessons alone will be worth your time.

Joining me on the webinar will be Roberta R. Phillips of the Prince George’s County (MD) Memorial Library System, Mark Williams of the Milton (Ontario) Public Library, Mary Ellen Icaza of the Stark Library (Canton, OH), and Jessica Hudson of the Fairfax County Library (Fairfax, VA). It is hosted by the Public Library Association.

The webinar will take place on Tues. May 18, 2 pm EST. To sign up, please visit the webinar page. Registration is free but space is limited. This panel discussion is organized and hosted by PLA’s Leadership Development Committee.

Happy Mother’s Day – Now Clean Up Your Bedroom!

As we celebrate Mother’s Day, there are lots of ways to show appreciation for everything our mothers do. Flowers are nice. Chocolates are sweet. A prepared meal hits the spot. However, one thing your mother might really appreciate is if you take the time to tidy up your room! (BTW, May 10 is National Clean Up Your Room Day!)

Thankfully, the KonMari Method provides an easy solution to tackle that project. In an article on the Linen & Homes web site, Marie Kondo lists eight tips to keep your bedroom clean and organized. For example, Tip #5 states one should organize belongings by category.

When it comes to organizing, we have a tendency to store the same item in different places. So it’s more effective to start with categories than it is to start organizing by room. For the purpose of organizing in your bedroom, you can at least start with clothes then when the time comes, branch out to books, before going to the sentimental items like photos and letters. She even gets more granular with her process, suggesting to start with all your shirts before your pants, your pants before your socks, and so on.

To help you along the article links to a KonMari checklist that covers every possible thing you might own.

Cleaning your room will not only make your mother proud, but give you a peaceful place to rest your head after a busy day. Check out the other tips in the article.

Second Brain Myths

Forte Labs signature course, Building a Second Brain is one of the best ways to get your digital life under control. Through a combination of simple practices it is possible to create a great online resource for all your notes that will enhance your creativity and improve your productivity.

However, there are many misconceptions on what it means to Build a Second Brain. In a recent post on his web site, Tiago Forte explores nine of them. For example, one of the issues he lists is a concern that doing this work will require a major overhaul of a person’s digital life.

Tiago explains:

This couldn’t be farther from the truth. A Second Brain is adaptive, like a living organism – messy, organic, and highly adaptable. Just like your first brain, a Second Brain has natural “plasticity,” with many ways of accomplishing any given task. When one part of your system is missing, another part can adapt and evolve to make up for it.

In the 4 steps of my CODE framework – Capture, Organize, Distill, Express – any incremental improvement immediately makes a difference, whether or not the other parts of the system are already in place. You don’t have to wait for each of the pieces to work in perfect harmony to start producing value.

To learn more about the power of Building a Second Brain and to clear up other misconceptions, please read the rest of the article.

Shortcuts are the Long Way Round

Let’s face it, work can be hard. Faced with the burden of putting in long hours to perfect a skill many of us search for ways to shorten the time. Some of these approaches are useful. From my own experience learning GTD was a great shortcut to being more productive and it helped clear my head to make better decisions. However, not all shortcuts are created equal. In fact, some are a waste of time.

In an article on his web site titled Focus On Your Skills—Not On Finding Hacks, Darius Foroux shares from his experience how searching for shortcuts to success can never replace building building skill in a discipline.

Look, one thing I can share from personal experience is that building a business or career is HARD. It takes a lot of time and energy to learn new skills so you can provide value

And trust me, I’ve tried to look for shortcuts and hacks over the past ten years. Maybe I’m missing something those geniuses are selling, but I can’t find it. To be sure, I’ve connected with many successful entrepreneurs over time.

I’ve been very lucky with my father, who’s a successful businessman himself. Through him, I met many people who’ve done well for themselves and their communities.

And every single one of them said the same thing. There’s no way around hard work.

He goes on to share what he claims is the least exciting advice in the world.

Keep yourself to a very high standard. Ask yourself: “Am I proud of the work I’m delivering?” 

Whether that’s in your creative or professional work, don’t settle for “meh” work. It doesn’t have to be the best in the world. It just has to be your best. That will do two things for you.

It will help you to improve. And it will help you to value your own work. 

Read the full article on Foroux’s web site.