Basecamp’s Written Approach to Communication

It is a cliché nowadays to say how much people hate meetings. However, very few organizations have found a way to successfully avoid having them on a regular basis. It would seem there is a natural tendency for people to come together in a real or virtual room to discuss issues or advance projects. However, some organizations have tried to eliminate meetings by crafting a different priority straight into their DNA.

Basecamp, a company that produces project management and internal communication software, has decided that the company works best when its employees focus on written communication. According to their Guide to Internal Communication:

You can not not communicate. Not discussing the elephant in the room is communicating. Few things are as important to study, practice, and perfect as clear communication. Real-time sometimes, asynchronous most of the time. Internal communication based on long-form writing, rather than a verbal tradition of meetings, speaking, and chatting, leads to a welcomed reduction in meetings, video conferences, calls, or other real-time opportunities to interrupt and be interrupted.

Basecamp Press Resources

Why do they believe long form writing is the better way? It has to do with an understanding that most communication is asynchronous.

Communication shouldn’t require schedule synchronization. Calendars have nothing to do with communication. Writing, rather than speaking or meeting, is independent of schedule and far more direct.

Read the entire Guide to Internal Communication to learn more about how Basecamp encourages employees to keep each other updated on their projects.

Reflections on How to Read Self-Help

Throughout my life I have been a regular reader of self-help books. Whether they spoke about yoga, leadership, productivity, habits, or grit, I often found fascinating tips and tricks to apply. However, there are times when I feel burned out by self-help material. Sometimes it can feel trite or repetitive to the point of annoyance. In down times it makes me wonder whether one can really change at all.

Recently, I was pointed to a fresh understanding of the value of self-help books in an article on Tom Cleveland’s blog called How to Read Self-Help. In the article, Tom reflects on the paradox of people’s feelings towards these books.

We’re embarrassed by self-help, but we’re also attracted to it. We like reading it, but we’re skeptical that it works. We suspect self-help isn’t useful, but every serious list of business books turns out to be comprised entirely of self-help books.

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As he explores it further, Tom comes to the realization that that subject of self-help is more complex than it first appears.

I’m going to argue that it’s both. Some self-help is terrible, individualistic hucksterism that the US has exported around the world. But good self-help also exists, and it provides a high-leverage way to lead a better, more fulfilling life.

He then formulates a theory about the way that self-help works. To find out what it is, read the full article.

Making Successful Resolutions

With 2021 a reality, many people around the world made New Year’s Resolutions. Unfortunately, most of those resolutions fail to make an impact. According to U.S. News, 80% of people give up on them within six weeks. Does this mean resolutions are useless to make? Not necessarily.

In an article from Forbes Magazine, journalist Jennifer Cohen shares reasons why people fail to achieve their resolutions. In those reasons are embedded ways to make them successful. For example:

We Fail To Pick Realistic Goals

According to Statista, the most common New Year’s resolutions are to lose weight, exercise and eat more healthfully. These are achievable goals, yet so many of us can’t follow through. It’s because we don’t take an approach that’s rooted in reality.

Ask yourself the following question—which goal is more achievable? Losing 100 pounds or cutting refined sugars from your diet? The answer is obvious. If you cut sugar from your diet, you’re more likely to lose weight. 

You should also keep in mind that choosing realistic goals or resolutions and achieving them improves our mindset. Even a small victory is still a victory (like 30 days without sugar) and you end up preparing yourself for a much larger one.

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Not sure what resolution to make? Then you might benefit on a period of structured reflection. The good folks at Getting Things Done created a simple document to guide a review of the past year and to look ahead at the new one. The PDF handout can be found here.

Wishing you all a Happy New Year!

The Benefits of Gratitude

As 2020 comes to a close I think we all agree that this was a tough year. The stress of the pandemic, the summer of protests, and the Presidential election were unavoidable. However, after enduring these challenges the end of the year offers a time to reflect on our journey. Specifically, it is a good opportunity to take stock of what we are grateful for in our lives.

Gratitude offers a surprising amount of benefits. In an article from Time Magazine published several years ago that still has great merit today, journalist Jamie Ducharme highlighted seven specific benefits of living with gratitude. One of the seven she highlights is that gratitude can ease depression.

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(Susan Peirce) Thompson, the cognitive scientist, says experiments have shown that people whole partake in the “three good things” exercise — which, as the name suggests, prompts people to think of three good moments or things that happened that day — see considerable improvements in depression and overall happiness, sometimes in as little as a couple weeks. “If there were a drug that did that, whoever patented that drug would be rich,” Thompson says. “Gratitude is very powerful.”

Read the other six benefits on the Time Magazine web site.

With this last post of the year, I want to say thank you for following these weekly musings on productivity, leadership, and libraries. I wish everyone a Happy New Year full of good health, success, and lots of love.

When Will Amazon eBooks Come to the Library?

Libraries and publishers have had a long complicated history over access to eBooks. Libraries routinely pay multiple times more per copy for each title than the regular public, face limited availability for the number they can order, and have their copies expire after a fixed number of uses or a set time frame. However, did you know that one of the biggest eBook publishers in the world still refuses to sell their eBooks to libraries? That publisher is someone everyone knows very well: Amazon.com.

Recent developments indicate that pressure is building to change this situation. An article in The Hill found that many organizations and even elected officials are working to convince Amazon to change their practice. It might be having some positive effect.

An Amazon spokesperson said the company is in “active discussions” with the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) to make its e-books available for library distribution.

The company expects “to be testing a number of different models” early next year, the spokesperson added.

“We believe libraries serve a critical purpose in communities across the country, and our priority is to make Amazon Publishing eBooks available in a way that ensures a viable model for authors, as well as library patrons,” the spokesperson said.

Amazon declined to provide details regarding pricing or the lengths of licensing deals it plans to test in 2021.

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If Amazon does not create a viable model on its own, it may face legislative pressure to do so.

Two states have proposed legislation that would seek to regulate Amazon’s ban on selling e-books to libraries. State senators in Rhode Island and New York proposed bills this year that would require publishers to offer licenses for electronic books to libraries under reasonable terms.

A spokesperson for state Sen. Rachel May (D), sponsor of the New York bill, said the senator will pursue the legislation in the next legislative session.

“New York’s public libraries are one of the state’s greatest assets. In order to fulfill their democratic function, librarians must be able to access the materials their clients need on fair and equitable terms,” May said in a statement.

Read more about the current status of the Amazon eBook situation.

The Second Brain Manifesto

Over the years I have highlighted the work of Tiago Forte whose signature course, Building a Second Brain, will be a major book release. In anticipation of this event, Tiago has posted The Second Brain Manifesto. This document expresses the core reasons why we should all improve our digital note taking skills.

At the core of the manifesto is the notion that ideas are the new currency. The manifesto starts with the following:

We believe that ideas represent one of the most powerful forces in the world today

Ideas are not mere playthings. They are the building blocks of the modern world. Ideas inform our thinking and behavior every day. We depend on new ideas to improve our health, productivity, and relationships. To understand culture, politics, science, and history. New ideas breathe fresh life into how we view the world.

View the rest of The Second Brain Manifesto on the Forte Labs web site.

What Your Brain Really Does

The human brain remains one of the deepest mysteries in biology. It is the most important part of our body, but even with all the advances in neuroscience we still don’t fully understand how it works. In productivity circles it is often assumed that better knowledge of brain function might improve efficiency and creativity.

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In a recent interview in GQ magazine, neuroscientist Lisa Feldman Barrett reveals surprising facts about how our brains really work. For starters she reveals what the brain’s most important role is:

The brain’s most important job is not thinking or seeing or feeling or doing any of the things that we think of as being important for being human. Its main job is running a budget for your body—to keep you alive, to keep you healthy. So every thought you have, every emotion you feel, every action you take is ultimately in the service of regulating your body. We don’t experience mental life this way, but this is what is happening under the hood.

Read the rest of the article on the GQ web site or pick up her new book: Seven and a Half Lessons about the Brain.

How to Run Smarter Meetings (or just Appear to be Smarter at Them)

Meetings are vital to a successful workplace, but at the same time they can be a bane to all involved. When a meeting has no clear objective, is run poorly, or has become a weekly routine it ceases to add value. Yet we also know that meetings can be important to ensure unity on projects, clear the air of misunderstandings, or keep people connected. So what are the secrets to holding good meetings?

One point of view comes from Terri Williams at the Economist magazine. In an article titled, “How to stop wasting your time—and everyone else’s—in meetings” she shares this startling fact:

“A Clarizen/Harris Poll survey reveals that the average American worker spends 4.5 hours in general status meetings each week, and workers spend even longer (4.6 hours) just preparing for those meetings. Almost half of the survey respondents stated that they would rather perform some type of unpleasant activity—including visits to the dentist or nightmarishly-long commutes—than attend a status meeting. “

So how do we hold good meetings to ensure everyone’s time is well spent? The first step is to understand the purpose of the meeting before even scheduling it. Williams identifies five types of meetings:

  1. Problem Solving
  2. Decision-Making
  3. Planning
  4. Status Reporting/Information Sharing
  5. Feedback

In her article she highlights the best practices for each type of meeting. However, in all cases meeting improve substantially when there is an agenda in place with clear objectives, participants don’t get sidetracked to non-essential items, and the meeting starts on time.

Of course if you don’t want to go through all the trouble to prepare for meetings, or are stuck in one that is going no where, it is not a total loss. You can still do your best to look smart at these meetings by using the techniques of comedian Sarah Cooper. One of her most famous satirical pieces is the 10 Tricks to Appear Smart in Meetings. For a good laugh click over and see if any of them are familiar. I have personally done this one:

#7 – Pace Around the Room
“Whenever someone get up from the table and walks around, don’t you immediately respect them? I know I do. Walk around. Go tot he corner and lean against the wall. Take a deep contemplative sigh. Everyone will be freaking out wondering what you’re thinking.”

Have fun with the other nine!

Top Ten Challenges Facing Public Libraries

Public libraries have survived many ups and downs over the past century. Throughout it all they are remained core institutions in communities large and small. However, their survival going forward is not guaranteed. Right now COVID-19 is the biggest challenge facing libraries today, but even after a vaccine is widely distributed other problems await.

In an article from last year, Mark Smith of the Texas State Library wrote about the top ten challenges facing libraries going forward. The very first one listed has been on prominent display the past few years: a growing distrust in government.

As a unit of government, typically at the municipal or county level, it should be of concern to public libraries that the percentage of Americans who mistrust government is rising sharply. In 1958, 73 percent of Americans said they trusted the federal government to “do what is right” just about always or most of the time. In 2015, that figure was 19 percent (Pew Research Center 2015 “Beyond Distrust”). This appears to be a trend across demographic and ideological lines even as it shifts along partisan lines depending on who is in power in Washington (Pew Research Center 2017). … Currently, the public library is the rare public institution that bucks this trend. … As managers and workers of public-sector organizations, this trend should strike us as deeply alarming.

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Read about the other nine challenges facing public libraries in the article.