Are We Too Busy?

How busy are you?

Often in America being seen as busy is a badge of honor. There is an assumption that we need to fill our days with as much work as possible. This formula can lead to extra stress and exhaustion.

The pandemic has given many people a chance to pause and reconsider their work day. In a recent article by Shayla Love on Vice, she notes how this unusual year has allowed many workers a chance for reflection.

The pandemic offered a rare window of opportunity for some people to become literally less busy, and perhaps more importantly, to get perspective on their cultural beliefs about busyness. Instead of being caught up in the inertia of always projecting a busy life, they had time to reflect on how they used busyness to define themselves—and how it led to stress and the conflation of productivity and self-worth.

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Later in the article, she explores the how people view business and happiness. It actually interferes with how they use their downtime. Looking at a recent study on the topic, Love notes:

But the paradox and masochism of busyness is also laid bare: the study found that while people aspire to be more like a busy person, they also consider the busy person to be less happy. An obsession with busyness also taints how people spend what little leisure time they have, … by wanting leisure to accomplish as much as possible in as little time as possible—called “productivity orientation.”

Read the rest of the article online at Vice.

Is that a Decoy?

Imagine walking up to movie theater concession stand. On display are three bags to show popcorn sizes. The first is a small bag that costs $4.99. The second bag is a little bit larger at $6.99. The third bag is huge and costs $7.99. Which one do you pick? When people are exposed to this set of options they often pick the largest on the perception that it is the best value. However, have they been tricked into spending more than they normally would? In other words, have they fallen for a decoy?

In an article by Gary Mortimer, the Decoy Effect is demonstrated to be a classic sales trick. What is a decoy?

The decoy effect is defined as the phenomenon whereby consumers change their preference between two options when presented with a third option – the “decoy” – that is “asymmetrically dominated”. It is also referred to as the “attraction effect” or “asymmetric dominance effect”.

What asymmetric domination means is the decoy is priced to make one of the other options much more attractive. It is “dominated” in terms of perceived value (quantity, quality, extra features and so on). The decoy is not intended to sell, just to nudge consumers away from the “competitor” and towards the “target” – usually the more expensive or profitable option.

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Later in the piece, Mortimer shares a very illuminating example of how the Decoy Effect can change people’s choices, even when the decoy is obviously worthless. This comes from the work of Dan Ariely.

In one scenario the students had a choice of a web-only subscription or a print-only subscription for twice the price; 68 percent chose the cheaper web-only option.

They were given a third option – a web-and-print subscription for the same price as the print-only option. Now just 16 percent chose the cheaper option, with 84 percent opting for the obviously better combined option.

In this second scenario the print-only option had become the decoy and the combined option the target. Even The Economist was intrigued by Ariely’s finding, publishing a story about it entitled “ The importance of irrelevant alternatives”.

So next time you shopping in the mall or online, keep your eyes open for the Decoy Effect. It might be a fun game to play and save you money at the same time.

Libraries Service for the Incarcerated

This past week I wrote an article about public library service for the incarcerated that was posted to Public Libraries Online. The article looked at the work being done by three major North American library systems to serve a population that is physically unable to come to their buildings. Below is the start of the article.

Libraries have been providing service to the incarcerated for many decades. While this past year has challenged the ability to serve the general public, many library systems continue to reach out to jail and prison populations. Here are examples from three large library systems that reflect the variety of creative programs and the outstanding efforts libraries are making in this work, despite the difficulties caused by the pandemic.

St. Louis Public Library

St. Louis Public Library has been very active serving the local imprisoned population under Director Waller McGuire. St. Louis has provided paperback materials for many years both to the adult population and the Juvenile Justice Center. In years past they provided programming within the Juvenile Center.

To learn more about the program in St. Louis, and then read on to discover what is happening in Salt Lake County and Toronto, please visit Public Libraries Online.

Tidy the Home Office

Are you working from home all the time or a few days a week?

The pandemic radically altered the way we approach work. Many people no longer commute and instead work from a home office. This can be a great arrangement since it cuts out commutes and coworker distractions. However, setting up a home office to make it a welcoming productive space can be tricky. Is there a way to do it well?

Marie Kondo, creator of the KonMari Method, recently offered advice on her blog about how to tidy the home office space. She first explains that you should set an intention for how you want the home office to look and feel. Next is her signature move, discarding!

Go through your desk drawers and toss out old receipts, corral loose change, and recycle catalogs or other paper items that are no longer needed. When it comes to more sentimental items, such as photos or notes from friends and relatives, express gratitude for these belongings and their significance and then let go—Marie sends off such items using salt

Read the rest of her advice for your home office on the KonMari web site.

Can you have purpose without passion?

There is a long standing idea that if you are not excited about doing something, then it is not for you. Passion for our work is said to drive us to do it better and stick with it when we are in rough times. How true is this idea?

According to David Allen, passion and purpose may be misunderstood. In a recent blog post titled, Go beyond passion to peaceful purposefulness, he shares thoughts about the connection between the two. To begin, he points out his resistance to passion.

I have been attempting to understand why it bugs me to hear professional motivators talk about the necessity for “passion” to be successful. Perhaps I’m just getting too old and lazy to be interested in jacking up my emotions about anything. (Getting passionate about something usually seems to me like hard work.) Or perhaps it’s the fact that jacked-up emotional states are not something you need or even want, to be successful.

Instead of passion, Allen shifts the mindset to the concept of identification.

I think I know what the motivators are referring to. There is a quality of intensity of commitment that resides with successful people. But rather than “passion” I would suggest the word “identification.” When you really identify with something, whether it is some intended outcome or some internal standard about your reality, it creates a true motivational energy to make it happen. But that does not at all mean a hyperemotional state.

Read his full post on the Getting Things Done web site.

4000 Weeks

It is easy to think that with enough time we will be able to accomplish anything we want. However, the truth is that our days on this earth is limited. Some of it is restricted by commitments that others put upon us, but most comes from those we place on ourselves. With limited time, most of the items on our Someday/Maybe list will never be completed. This may seem grim, but it also serves as the inspiration to do great things.

In a recent article in The Atlantic, reporter Joe Pinsker shares an interview with author Oliver Burkeman about his new book, Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals. In the book, Burkeman states that the average life span of a person lasts around 4000 weeks, roughly to about the age of 80. With this finite perspective in place, a person can tackle the challenge of determining what is most important to them.

“The average human lifespan is absurdly, terrifyingly, insultingly short,” he writes. Given this limitation, it makes sense that the typical approach to time management is to seek ways to cram ever more into our finite number of days.

But Burkeman argues that this is the wrong way to manage time. Rather than looking outward to productivity strategies and hacks, Four Thousand Weeks encourages an inner shift in perspective. It confronts a series of comforting illusions that many of us hold onto instead of internalizing colder truths: that we will die not having done a tremendous number of things we care about; that every commitment we make to a person, place, or line of work rules out countless others that may fulfill us; that our lives are already ticking away.

Later in the article, Burkeman makes a statement that seems to sum up his philosophy.

The only way to get around to the important things is: Instead of trying to eradicate all the other stuff, [make progress] on the important stuff first. You just have to let the other chips fall where they will.

Read the full interview on The Atlantic web site.

Three Random Words

How many passwords do you have for all of your online accounts? 10, 100, 1000?

I calculated my own situation and found over 200 passwords on my list. Nowadays it seems that every web site you visit or service you use requires setting up an account with a password. On top of it, many sites have complex protocols, such as requiring numbers, capital letters, or special characters, which make those passwords hard to remember. Is it possible to find a simpler way to create passwords that are easy to remember, but hard to hack?

According to a recent article in The Guardian, science editor Robin McKie pointed to a recent study that claimed the best passwords are phrases composed of three random words. Her article begins:

It is much better to concoct passwords for online accounts that are made up of three random words as opposed to creating complex variations of letters, numbers and symbols, government experts have said.

In a blogpost, the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) – which is part of Government Communications Headquarters – said a three-word system creates passwords that are easy to remember. In addition, it creates unusual combinations of letters, which means the system is strong enough to keep online accounts secure from cyber criminals. By contrast, more complex passwords can be ineffective as their makeup can often be guessed by criminals using specialist software.

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Of course, many sites still have strict character requirements, but if this idea is true, we can all move away from odd rambling passwords composed of letters or numbers that are impossible to remember. Instead you can go with such combinations as: Tree-Car-Garlic; Rose-Titanic-Algae; River-Doughnut-Tornado; or Sewer-Stop-Gloat. (A random number could be added at the end if needed.)

To learn more, read the rest of the article on the Guardian’s web site.

Libraries are an “investment that’s well worth it”

Those who work and frequent public libraries are well aware of the value they provide to their local communities. However, one challenge public libraries face is getting awareness of their value out beyond their core customers. So it is always great to see a national publication or program talk about the positive role that public libraries play in their community.

On a recent episode of NPR’s Marketplace, host David Brancaccio interviewed reporter Chris Farrell about the return on investment that libraries provide to their local residents.

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Brancaccio: Well, do we know that? It’s a decent return on investment?

Farrell: Well, there’s this recent study — this one grabbed my attention — [by] three economists [from] Montana State University, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago and Miami University. And they calculate by some measures a healthy return on investment. So among their findings, library capital investment increases children’s attendance at library events by 18%, children’s checkout of items by 21% and total library visits by 21%. Now, OK, that’s interesting, but increases in library use translate into improved children’s test scores in nearby school districts.

Read or listen to the rest of the interview online at the Marketplace web site.

Leadership Perspectives – Organizational Health

Who is responsible for the health of the organization you work for? Most people assume it is the top leader and there is lots of truth to that belief. However in reality everyone in the organization has a role to play in building a strong culture.

The ALA Learning Exchange newsletter recently published a short article I wrote about this topic. It starts out with this question.

So how does one determine organizational health? Many people think it is through the measurable outputs and outcomes laid out in the strategic plan. These can be such factors as visitor counts, circulation numbers, program attendance and more. Other factors such as employee turnover may point to job satisfaction. However, all these pieces are just a part of the equation. After all, you can have an organization that achieves its goals yet is stressed out and hostile. In the end, an organization’s health is determined by the strength of its culture. Strong cultures thrive no matter what the situation, while weak cultures disintegrate at the slightest sign of stress.

To learn more about how culture directly affects an organization, please read the rest of the article which has been posted here for your review.