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.

Make a habit about not worrying about your habits

Developing great habits is one way to succeed at life. Whether it is being productive, healthy, or financially free, our habits drive our daily behavior towards the longer term goals that inspire us. However, there are many days, especially this year, where sticking to good habits is a struggle. Whether it is the temptation to watch TV instead of work, eat a big bowl of ice cream, or splurge on a fancy new toy, it is easy to slip out of our desired habits. When they happen should we feel guilty about these indulgences?

In a recent blog post, Darius Foroux argues that we should stop worrying about missed habits. Being too strict around them is actually counter productive. He writes:

We humans have this tendency to take everything to the extreme. And when it comes to habits, I found that majority of my friends, family, readers, and students have an all or nothing mentality.

You either work out every day or you do nothing. You either write every day or you do nothing. Why so serious? The reason for this is negative self-talk. We assume that we messed up if we miss our habits for a few days.

Darius Foroux

Foroux advises that we not worry about missing one day of a habit.

If you practice true mindfulness, there are no streaks. There’s only now. You shouldn’t care about what you did yesterday. Only care about what you’re doing today. And always try to make the best of it.

Every day is a new day that has nothing to do with yesterday.

Read the full post on his web site.

The Cost of Perpetual Crisis

I was speaking with a colleague recently who confessed that he was lacking ambition. This is a man recently promoted to a challenging position and very active in his profession. Yet now he was wondering if it was time get a new job. As we talked it occurred to me that his true problem had nothing to do with ambition, it was all about being stuck in perpetual crisis.

The COVID-19 pandemic presented leaders across the country with a new type of challenge. Normally when we face a crisis there is a limited time frame in which it happens. For example when a hurricane threatens there are stages of events from tracking the storm, boarding up, hunkering down as it passes, then cleaning up afterwards. Due to the short term duration of most crisis we often move on shortly afterward with our longer term goals secure.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

However, when a crisis persists we face a different struggle. COVID-19 is a long term problem that has placed many aspects of our lives on hold indefinitely. Vacations, conferences, social events, and more have been replaced by virtual meetings which provide limited appeal. Long term disruptions force us to place our ambitions off to the side while we handle the slow day to day grind of survival. When we lose focus on long term goals, the short term needs become a path to burnout and dissatisfaction.

Is there a secret to staying ambitious in the face of a long term crisis? For me, I realized that it is okay to let long term goals lie fallow for a while. In fact, it is a good test to see they were really wanted in the first place. The crisis can serve as a reflection point to see if the direction you are heading is still one worth traveling. Our goals may still be desirable, but we have to practice flexibility to keep them alive. For example, as a seminar presenter I no longer have the option of in person training. However, virtual presentations allow me to keep my toes in the water. In fact it provides valuable experience so that down the road when in person events resume I will be able to offer more training options than before.

2020 has been a very long year. It is okay if your ambitions and goals have been set aside. With 2021 closing you may want to be kind to yourself and allow your goals to lie fallow for the rest of the year. Even COVID-19 will pass, allowing for a restitution of normal to take hold and a long term perspective to return. Crisis leads us to reevaluate our lives. Allow yourself the freedom to explore new opportunities with the lessons learned from this year. That will help make 2021 the best year yet!

Notes = LEGOs

I love to build LEGO sets with my daughter. One of my favorites was the TARDIS control room from Doctor Who and right now the Razor Crest from the Mandalorian. The reason why LEGOs are such a successful toy is that any piece has the ability to connect to any other piece. This means that the combinations are endless, limited only by the imagination.

Recently Tiago Forte of Forte Labs wrote a post on his web site that showed why notes, especially digital ones, are the basic building blocks of knowledge work. He proposed a new definition of a digital note:

A digital note is a “knowledge building block” – a discrete unit of information interpreted through your unique perspective and stored outside your head. 

This is similar to a definition of a note that I made in my article on Efficient Librarianship in Public Libraries magazine. In that article I stated that a note was “an information artifact of perceived value.”

In his post, Tiago illustrates a different perspective on how to view digital notes. They are the LEGOs of knowledge work.

Like a LEGO block, a knowledge building block stands on its own and has intrinsic value. Yet each block can also be combined with others into greater works – a report, an essay, a website, or a video for example.

And just like LEGOs, these building blocks are reusable. You only need to put in the effort to create a note once, and then it can be mixed and matched with other notes again and again for any kind of project you work on, now or in the future.

Read the whole article for free on the Forte Labs web site.

The Positive Effects of Growing Up with Books

As a librarian I naturally appreciate the value of a personal library of books at home. While my daughter was growing up we bought many classic and favorite books to supplement the ones I borrowed from the library. This lead her to become a proficient read and excellent student. While my daughter clearly benefited from a robust home library, it raises the question about the impact that access to books at home has on children across the population.

In a Smithsonian Magazine article, reporter Brigit Katz points to a study that “suggests that exposure to large home libraries may have a long-term impact on proficiency in three key areas.”

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The study, published recently in Social Science Research, assessed data from 160,000 adults from 31 countries, including the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, Turkey, Japan and Chile. Participants filled out surveys with the Programme for the International Assessment of Competencies, which measures proficiency in three categories: literacy, numeracy (using mathematical concepts in everyday life) and information communication technology, (using digital technology to communicate with other people, and to gather and analyze information).

Learn more about the results of the study on the impact of home libraries on children’s development by reading the rest of the article.

Why Did I Make that Dumb Decision?

Have you ever made a decision you quickly regretted? We have all made choices in our life that seemed well thought out at first, only to have the results turn out sour. Decision making is something we do every day, but very few people take the time to examine their decision making process. Even fewer attempt to understand the hidden factors that effect our cognitive process and cloud our view of the world.

In a recent workshop for PCI Webinars I explored the role that fallacies and probability play in our decision making process. I started out the webinar with a quote from former US Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld that demonstrates the complexities of our ability to understand the world.

“Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns—the ones we don’t know we don’t know. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tend to be the difficult ones.” – Donald Rumsfeld – US Secretary of Defense – 2001-2006

To learn more about six big fallacies the effect our decision making and to discover how our inability to understand probability leads to bad choices, read the text version of the workshop on the Efficient Librarian web site.

Leadership Lessons Learned from the Pandemic

This past year has been a trying time for everyone including those in leadership positions. Many leaders had to make health and safety decisions for the staff and the public they serve in the face of a threat that no one had any experience dealing with before now. For me this past year was a tremendous challenged but it provided many deep insights into how to guide an organization through a crisis.

My thoughts on leading through a pandemic were summarized in an article published in the Learning Exchange newsletter this past quarter. One of my first observations was that to be successful in their job leaders would be wise to over-communicate.

Photo by Christina Morillo on Pexels.com

Over-Communicate – In times of crisis constant communication is vital.  However, it is easy for leaders to fall quiet in the face of uncertainty or be too limited in their sharing.  The stress of a crisis prompts fear.  One underappreciated fact about fear is the creativity it spawns.  This creativity can be directed towards solving problems or it can be used to fuel angst and discord.  I have found that in the absence of effective communication, people fill the space with negativity and worse case scenarios.  To avoid this trap, leaders must over communicate.

The rest of the article is available to view right here on the Efficient Librarian.

The Ongoing Library Publisher eBook Saga

The pandemic has impacted public libraries in many ways, most significantly being the number of visitors. With many libraries on reduced operating hours or offering only curbside/walk up service it means access to their physical collections is limited. As well vulnerable populations that make up a significant portion of public library users are still staying at home for their own safety. These factors have combined to generate large increases in eBook borrowing. At the same time it has renewed simmering concerns about publishers and their eBook pricing models.

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A recent article in Wired Magazine provides a good overview of the interaction between libraries and publishers in the age of COVID-19.

The rising demand for digital materials has prompted some librarians to shift what they buy, even as they fear shrinking budgets amid the economic downturn. A recent survey of 400 librarians in the US and Canada found that one-third are spending less on physical books, audiobooks, and DVDs, and more on digital versions since the pandemic began. Twenty-nine percent have had their budgets frozen or reduced.

But the publishers’ licensing terms make it “very difficult for libraries to be able to afford ebooks,” says Michelle Jeske, director of the Denver Public Library and president of the Public Library Association. “The pricing models don’t work well for libraries.” Between January and July, the Denver system saw 212,000 more books downloaded than the same period last year, a 17 percent increase.

Read the rest of the article at the Wired Magazine web site.