What is Your Next Action?

One of the most fundamental moves in productivity is identifying your next physical action.

You may have heard this statement before especially if have studied Getting Things Done (GTD). In fact the question is at the center of the David Allen’s famous workflow diagram. Why is it so important to identify your next action in a very specific way? Because vagueness is the antithesis of productivity.

The reason is simple to understand. When our actions are undefined the mind has nothing to focus on. Sure it may have a sense of what our completed projects will look like in the end, but to get there involves a series of steps. Most of the time our next actions are self evident and require little thought. However when a project becomes stuck it creates stress and avoidance. That is when defining the next physical action is vital to forward progress. Getting specific forces the mind to focus through visualizing success. Often it only takes a minute to figure out an appropriate next action.

In the book Getting Things Done David Allen provides a classic example of what it means to think this way. Imagine you are overdue to take your car in for an oil change. The next action for almost everyone is not “change the oil” unless you are a DYI car mechanic ready for grease. The next physical action might be any of the following:

  • Call to schedule an appointment at your favorite garage
  • Talk to your colleague down the hall who recommended a shop
  • Search the Internet for local oil change deals
  • Check your calendar for an open day/time on your vehicle in
What is your next action?

Not having clarity on the next action could mean that oil change will not happen for a long time. Deciding on the next physical action creates greater clarity and makes it far more likely for the project to be completed.

Your challenge is to identify all the stuck projects in your life and decide on a next action for all of them. Taking these steps will boost the odds of completing them while reducing your stress level at the same time. Sounds like a win-win!

The Ripple Effect

How do we make Work work for everyone?

By that I mean how can we create physical or virtual workplaces where teams come together in the spirit of friendship, respect, and trust? One person who has thought deeply about this is Shola Richards. I would like to share a portion of one of his teachings about kindness from a post on his web site titled: Make Someone’s Day, Every Day:

The Ripple Effect

You likely know how deeply I believe in the power of kindness, so I won’t rehash that here. Here’s what I will say, though:

Kindness is the fastest, most effective, and easiest way to positively change the world. Just the simple act of making someone’s day can positively affect three (or more) people:

  • The person delivering the act of kindness
  • The person receiving the act of kindness
  • The person (or people) witnessing the act of kindness

Can you imagine if everyone reading this blog post committed to making someone’s day, every day? Can you imagine the positive impact that could have on literally millions of people? You (yes, you!) could literally be the person who restores someone’s faith in the goodness of humanity.

I believe that this “ripple effect” (one that we are responsible for starting, by the way) could be the key to healing the world.

And yes, the world needs healing.

Read the rest of his blog post at his web site.

Taking Better Notes

The secret to success in knowledge work lies in successful note taking. In my article for Public Libraries Magazine I defined a note as an information artifact of perceived value. Notes are necessary because we simply cannot rely on our brains to remember everything of importance. So the art and science of note taking is a field worth studying.

In an article by Kenneth A. Kiewra called A Seven-Step Guide to Taking Better Notes, the author starts out by focusing on why it is important to take notes in the first place, especially in an academic setting.

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Students who take notes during a lesson achieve more than those who listen to the lesson without note taking. This is because the act of note taking staves off boredom and focuses attention on lesson ideas more than listening without taking notes.

The primary value of note taking, though, is more in the product than the process, more in the reviewing than the recording. Students who record and then review notes almost always achieve more than students who record but do not review notes.

Read the rest of the article on the Quartz web site. If you haven’t done so already, learn the best techniques for digital note taking over at Forte Labs and their signature course, Building a Second Brain.

REALM Results 3 and 4

In the last few weeks the REALM Project, a partnership between the Columbus Metropolitan Library, OCLC, and the Battelle research labs, provided two new rounds of test results regarding library material and the survivability of COVID-19. Round 3 looked at five different item types including DVDs and Talking Books cassettes. The summary finding was as follows:

Results show that after five days of quarantine in an unstacked configuration, the SARS-CoV-2 virus was not detected on the storage bag (flexible plastic) or the DVD. The storage container (rigid plastic), plexiglass, and the USB cassette all showed detectable virus at five days. Day five was the final time point tested.

Round 4 looked at materials from Round 1 but this time left them stacked to simulate items in a book return. The study indicated the following:

Results show that after six days of quarantine the SARS-CoV-2 virus was still detected on all five materials tested. When compared to Test 1, which resulted in non-detectable virus after three days on an unstacked hardcover book, softcover book, plastic protective cover, and DVD case, the results of Test 4 highlight the effect of stacking and its ability to prolong the survivability of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Learn more about both studies and more at the REALM Project web site.

The Power of Appreciation

“Why should I thank them?  It’s their job.”

Many years ago I heard a supervisor say those words about her staff and to this day it still makes me cringe.  This person assumed that merely paying people for their work was thanks enough.  After all, to her mind it was not as if they rescued someone from a burning building or something else extraordinary!

I hope that you agree with me that people deserve to be appreciated beyond financial compensation.  Gratitude is not only reserved for big things that happen, but the little daily actions that contribute to workplace success.  In fact, this is an argument that appreciation for small actions has an out-sized effect.  According to the O.C. Tanner Global Culture Report, an employee’s satisfaction with their job is directly related to the amount of positive micro-experiences they have.

What are micro-experiences?  They are the tiny things that happen every day that together shape our overall impression of a workplace.  For example, do your colleagues say good morning every day; is the work evenly shared; is there laughter and fun in the workplace;  and does the team stick up for its members in a crisis.  Positive micro-experiences connect to a sense of purpose, success, and well-being, while negative ones do the opposite.

To my mind the most powerful micro-experiences come from genuine appreciation.  The most basic form of which is the simple, “thank you.”  Those two words have done more to improve employee morale and team connection than any other reward system or program.  I’ll ask you this question: How often do you thank your colleagues for helping out, completing tasks, or simply listening to your concerns? 

On my Library Management Team we started a practice to open every meeting with a round of appreciation.  Each team member offers gratitude to another team member for something specific they have done.  They can even offer appreciation to staff from that person’s division.  Opening the meeting this way creates a subtle but significant impact on the quality of the meeting.  It gets everyone into a team mode and demonstrates how simple appreciation quickly lifts the mood.

To that end, I challenge you all to make appreciation for your colleagues a more deliberate part of your day.  One habit is to thank at least five people every day for something specific they did at work.  Write kudos to them for an extra surprise.  Then watch how the power of appreciation creates an amazing work experience.  Thank you all for reading these thoughts!  It is appreciated.

Second Brain Crash Course

Recently Forte Labs launched their first ever Second Brain Week. Bringing in experts in digital note taking from around the world, founder Tiago Forte lead a free week of training on how to up your electronic productivity game. Their promise was simple:

Come join us to learn about digital note-taking, organizing, productivity, knowledge management, and online education, and how creating a system of knowledge management for yourself can help you do all of them far more effectively.

While the live sessions are over, everything was recorded and available for free on the Forte Labs web site. So if you want to take your productivity up to the next level, take advantage of the free Second Brain Week sessions available now on demand.

The Missing Link?

How easily can you decide on what to do next at work? The answer to that question goes a long way towards determining your daily success.

The basic building blocks of knowledge work are next actions and projects. The two are deeply connected. Projects themselves are essentially the outcomes we want, such as finishing a report, losing weight, buying a home, or hiring a new assistant. The next actions are the physical things we do to move projects forward, such as call Joe, read the article, draft an essay, or schedule the next gym class.

In a recent piece piece on the GTD web site, the connection between projects and next actions was explored. It discussed why sorting actions by context rather than project is more helpful than first apparent.

Sorting next actions by context, not by project, can initially seem awkward. Some people are used to having multiple files, piles, notepads, documents, and spreadsheets related to a project, with next actions for the project buried amongst all of that information. Next Actions lists don’t replace project plans—we would just call that data “project support.” In our experience, it rarely works to have current next actions stored with project support for day-to-day action management.

Read the rest on the Getting Things Done web site.

Brutal Truths About Productivity

The feeling of being productive is awesome. There is a deep satisfaction in checking stuff off our to-do lists. However, there is a difference between being productive with simple tasks versus complicated projects. In the book Joy at Work, which I summarized last week, Marie Kondo makes a distinction between the urgent and the important. Urgent things are usually the small tasks that are easy to do but ultimately make little difference to our lives. The important tasks are hard to do, but make the most impact towards our larger goals and objectives. True productivity comes down to focusing on the latter and not the former. But how do we do this?

In an article in the Pocket web site, Thomas Oppong share 6 Brutal Truths about Productivity that can help people focus on what is truly important. For example, one of the six truths has to do with power of getting started.

The biggest hurdle for many of us is simply getting started. Making that important decision to take a step. You can be as big and successful as you can possibly imagine if you build that mindset you need to push yourself to make that all important decision to just start.

You have everything you need to make an impact in the world if you can get past the many reasons why should postpone that task. Don’t think too far into the future.

Use what you have right now at where you are and witness the magic of getting things done.

Read the other five truths on the Pocket web site.

The Ninety Minute Self Help Book Challenge

Below is the opening of a new article that can be found on the Efficient Librarian web site.

Last month I highlighted a strategy by Darius Foroux. He claimed a reader could get just about everything useful out of a self help book in only ninety minutes.  To explore his technique I tested it out on Joy at Work by Marie Kondo & Scott Sonenshein.  Here’s what I found.

Step One in Foroux’s method was to pick the book wisely.  I choose Joy at Work. It is a follow-up to Marie Kondo’s best selling The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up which focused on the home. My family had fun applying the Konmari principles to our house last summer, so I was curious to see how the philosophy could be transferred to the workplace. Given that I am a firm believer in GTD, I was also interested in learning how her techniques complimented and contrasted David Allen’s classic approach to getting things done. 

Learn what happened in Steps Two, Three and Four by reading the rest of the article at the Efficient Librarian web site.