Living Through Strange Times

On my list of all-time favorite films and books is the Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien. The core of the story is about a Hobbit named Frodo Baggins who is tasked with destroying the dangerous One Ring to prevent it from falling into the hands of the dark lord Sauron. During the first book/movie, The Fellowship of the Ring, while traveling through the dark and dismal Mines of Moria, Frodo confides his despair to the wizard Gandalf. (Watch the clip.)

Frodo: “I wish the Ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.”

Gandalf: “So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”

I find myself revisiting Gandalf’s advice as we move deeper into these strange times. Often I find it easy to be like Frodo and wish this invisible enemy would go away so that we can resume life as normal. But Gandalf’s words remind us that while we all must endure bad times, the best way to get through them is to decide how we will respond to them.

Recall the formula, E+R=O from our friends at Focus 3. It stands for: Event plus Response equals Outcome. It acknowledges that we are always impacted by external events beyond our control. However, we can mindfully take control of our response to those events in order to get a better outcome. This is essentially what Gandalf is sharing in that moment and it is a wisdom that has profound implications.

Across the world we see normal people stepping up to make a difference in seemingly small but amazingly meaningful ways. Whether it is shopping for those who are home bound, sewing masks for first responders, or giving free food to those out of work, the ways to contribute are endless. For me, an amazing example came out of Spain where a fitness instructor lead quarantined residents of the neighboring apartment buildings through an exercise routine from their balconies. Everyone has the capacity to impact lives. As with Frodo, the small Hobbit in a big and dangerous world, it is ultimately through his perseverance and his friendships that he succeeds. As we walk this path together (in a socially distanced way of course) we can commit to make small differences that will have profound positive impacts on all of us.

So I invite you to consider what you will do with the time that is given you to make the world a better place.

Tips to Relax

Staying productive and calm are challenging in normal times. This past week the country saw a health care crisis kick into a higher gear, deepening our sense of stress. There is no doubt it is very important to take the situation seriously. However, since we do not know for certain how long the COVID-19 threat will affect us, it serves no purpose to burn out early.

Therefore, this week, I bring to you a couple of simple relaxation tips from our friends at WebMD.

1. Meditate

A few minutes of practice per day can help ease anxiety. “Research suggests that daily meditation may alter the brain’s neural pathways, making you more resilient to stress,” says psychologist Robbie Maller Hartman, PhD, a Chicago health and wellness coach.

It’s simple. Sit up straight with both feet on the floor. Close your eyes. Focus your attention on reciting — out loud or silently — a positive mantra such as “I feel at peace” or “I love myself.” Place one hand on your belly to sync the mantra with your breaths. Let any distracting thoughts float by like clouds.

Photo by Elly Fairytale on Pexels.com

2. Breathe Deeply

Take a 5-minute break and focus on your breathing. Sit up straight, eyes closed, with a hand on your belly. Slowly inhale through your nose, feeling the breath start in your abdomen and work its way to the top of your head. Reverse the process as you exhale through your mouth.

“Deep breathing counters the effects of stress by slowing the heart rate and lowering blood pressure,” psychologist Judith Tutin, PhD, says. She’s a certified life coach in Rome, GA.

WebMD offers eight more easy tips to reduce stress. I invite you to review the rest of them.

Above all, I wish you all safety and good health in these trying times.

Is Leadership Right for You?

“Leadership has long-since subscribed to the belief that the best way to reward and keep the keepers is to give them other people to keep watch over. It’s just the way the weird world of work works.”
– Jodi Wellman, Forbes Article, What If You Don’t Want To Be A Leader

This past week I presented the first in a three webinar series on Leadership in libraries for the Panhandle Library Access Network. The opening webinar was titled: Leadership – Challenges and Rewards. In the early part of the webinar, I took aim at the idea that everyone can or should be a leader. In fact, leadership has some serious downsides for anyone aspiring it and I listed five downsides of leadership. Here is one for example:

1/ Leaders are Exposed

A leader assumes responsibility for the team’s actions and accomplishments, but there are many factors they have no control over.  Often, leaders have to make decisions in the face of limited information.  Whether it is bad luck, environmental conditions, mistakes by team members, or just simply running into more talented and eager competition, the leader often gets more of the blame for their decisions than is warranted by the actual circumstances.  A leader’s mistakes are often out there for the whole organization to see.

Although it is challenging, leadership does have many upsides. So the webinar also presented six simple steps for those at the start of their leadership journey.

The text for the webinar is available right here at the Efficient Librarian. The recording of the webinar is available on the PLAN web site.

Join myself and Adam Davis, PBCLS Director of System Services, for the second webinar, Leading Diverse Groups and People this Wednesday March 11, 3 pm EST, 2 pm CST. The webinar is free, so go ahead and register today.

Is Your World Outrunning You?

Are your ready for the next surprise? Did you know there is a surprise coming? It is inevitable that something will occur in the next week or so that you were not expecting to happen. It could be a pleasant surprise, or a shocking and jarring one, but it will happen. So, how will you handle it?

David Allen built his GTD system with the understanding that life moves quickly and we can not possibly anticipate everything that is going to happen. In a recent blog post called “Is Your World Outrunning You?” he considers how we came to this point and why systems like GTD help us navigate these fast-changing times:

David Allen – Founder of GTD

There is nothing new in the world, except how frequently things are new, and the number of people having to accept and adapt consistently to that reality. The difference between your world and that of your parents is in how much less you can count on anything providing stability in your life and work, for any significant length of time. Perhaps your father and mother had to totally reconfigure their worlds two or three times in their adult life, if that. You might have to do that two or three times this year.

(Why is GTD successful?) Quite simply, the need people have to create more room in their heads, less stress in their lives, and more control over all the facets of life and work that now impinge on most all of us.

Read the rest of his article on the GTD web site.

The Zen of Bridgewater

“The traditional relationship between “leaders” and “followers” is the opposite of what I believe is needed to be most effective, and being maximally effective is the most important thing a “leader” must do.” – Ray Dalio

Although I have been a librarian for over twenty-two years, it still amazes me that certain books can have a deep impact on our view of the world and ourselves.  This is happening to me right now with a remarkable book called Principles by Ray Dalio.  

Ray Dalio founder, co-chairman and co-chief investment officer of Bridgewater Associates, has written a book that seeks to encapsulate the amazing culture that he built in his company.  Bridgewater is designed as an idea meritocracy, where seeking the truth is paramount to all else. It is believed that a culture which prizes openness and vigorous debate above authoritarian structures is the key to success.

Dalio’s views on leadership were so intriguing to me that I wrote an article to explore them deeper. The excerpt below discusses why Dalio believes that leaders should not be afraid to ask questions.

Dalio places a high premium on asking questions.  While some leaders may hesitate to ask questions out of concern that they may look ignorant or uninformed, Dalio believes that asking questions is, “necessary in order to become wise and it is a prerequisite for being strong and decisive.”  Taking it even a step further, he believes that leaders should not hesitate to seek out those who are smarter and wiser then themselves, and even let staff who are better equipped in an area take the lead.  Ego and self promotion have no place in a true meritocracy.  As Dalio states, “The objective is to have the best understanding to make the best possible leadership decisions.”

Read the entire article and let me know your thoughts on this challenging approach to leadership.

Stoic Time Management

Given the high speed of modern life, it would seem that the need for daily time management skills is a recent development. However, a look through history shows that busy people in every age were concerned about making effective use of their time.

In Ancient Greece and Rome a simple but profound philosophy of life developed called Stoicism. An article on the Daily Stoic web site defines stoicism as this:

“The philosophy asserts that virtue (such as wisdom) is happiness and judgment should be based on behavior, rather than words. That we don’t control and cannot rely on external events, only ourselves and our responses.

Stoicism has just a few central teachings. It sets out to remind us of how unpredictable the world can be. How brief our moment of life is. How to be steadfast, and strong, and in control of yourself. And finally, that the source of our dissatisfaction lies in our impulsive dependency on our reflexive senses rather than logic.

While browsing the Daily Stoic, I came across an article on stoicism and time management. The five principles highlighted in this article show that the wisdom of the ancients still has value in our busy 21st Century society. For example:

Take Your Time On Things That Matter

Nothing great is created suddenly, any more than a bunch of grapes or a fig. If you tell me that you desire a fig, I answer you that there must be time. Let it first blossom, then bear fruit, then ripen” Epictetus, “Discourses”

Sometimes we’re forced to rush things. Maybe our boss is putting pressure on us to meet certain deadlines, or maybe it’s our own internal pressure; our own internal deadlines. We live in a fast-paced world where everything is an emergency. But if we truly wish to improve our time management skills, it’s more important that we slow down and be still.

Read more about this principle and four more on The Daily Stoic web site.

Minimalism ≠ Tidying Up

Here is a question: is tidying up your home simply about getting rid of all your unneeded belongings so that you can live with as little as possible? This approach to living is defined as minimalism.

Marie Kondo is often asked if her approach to tidying up is simply a form of minimalism. On her blog, Marie recently explained the difference between her KonMari Method and minimalism.

“Many people have equated my tidying method with minimalism, but it’s quite different. Minimalism advocates living with less; the KonMari Method™ encourages living among items you truly cherish.

The first step in my tidying method is to imagine your ideal lifestyle. For some, this vision might be to surround yourself with the bare essentials; for others, it could mean living in a home teeming with beloved art, books, collections and heirlooms.

“Joy is personal. Each individual’s ideal life – and space – will look different from the next. If minimalism is a lifestyle that sparks joy for someone, I encourage that; in the same way, if someone has determined that many items in their life spark joy, that’s okay, too!”

Marie Kondo

Read the rest of the post on the KonMari web site.