Leading Your Team to Productivity

Back at this year’s Florida Library Association annual conference, the FLA Professional Development Committee released a video highlighting productivity practices, tips and tricks from three leaders in the library field. I was included along with Dr. Leo Lo, Dean and Professor of the College of University Libraries and Learning Services and Dr. Vanessa Reyes, Assistant Professor for the School of Information at the University of South Florida.

I was interviewed by Amy Harris, Instruction & Assessment Librarian at Saint Leo University. During my portion of the presentation, I discussed the basic principle of GTD and how to apply them in the workplace.

The full video can be found on YouTube.

Empty Inbox – Less Stress

With the high volumes of incoming email we all receive, it can be very tempting to let them pile up. In fact, most people use their inbox as a workflow management and archival system. This approach is highly inefficient and creates unnecessary stress. Thankfully, there is a simple way to resolve this problem: empty your inbox regularly.

For the past ten years I have enjoyed the clarity of an empty inbox. I was inspired to do this after reading Getting Things Done by David Allen. In the book he provides a simple approach to clearing out the inbox no matter the volume. At the core of his technique is the workflow diagram. In a way, the GTD approach is similar to a plumber who ensures that water remains flowing through pipes.

Photo by Solen Feyissa on Pexels.com

To clear any inbox, there are three important things to understand:

1 – An inbox is only for in: The best use of an inbox is to identify new messages. Once they have been read, they must leave the inbox. No skipping over items. Go through every message from newest to oldest until complete.

2 – Empty it regularly: To cope with the high volumes, it is important to clear the inbox every day. Not only does this prevent serious backlog that can impact your efficiency, it can eliminates the stress which comes when important messages are buried under junk.

3 – Create functional folders to store messages: An “action” folder will hold items you need to respond to as soon as possible. A “waiting for” folder will hold reminders of actions you are waiting for others to do. An “archive” folder will hold all non-actionable messages you need to retain. Finally, be sure to trash as much as you can early to reduce clutter.

If you want to enjoy a less stressful work life, be sure to clear out your inbox every day. I speak from a decade of experience on this point. An empty inbox is an awesome sight to behold.

Declutter your Life

Did you get any presents over the holidays? Between gift exchanges, Secret Santa, and surprise items, no doubt your home is filled with lots of extra stuff. Now that the holidays are in the rear view mirror, it is the perfect time to consider to declutter. The challenge is where to start.

This topic was tackled by Ashley Abramson in a recent article on the getpocket web site. Titled How To Declutter Your Life in 15 Steps, she give suggestions to tidy up and clear out both for physical and electronic spaces. Her first step is to focus on the trash!

This is the fun part. Before you can organize the items you want to keep around, you literally need to trash the stuff that doesn’t belong. To begin the process of decluttering your home, walk through each room with a trash bag. Be ruthless with all the knick knacks, papers, and crusty cosmetics that are occupying valuable space. Of course, if there’s anything you can donate or recycle, keep that in a separate pile.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Abramson does not neglect our digital world either. In fact, she starts out by suggesting something that all too many of us forget to do: back everything up!

Backing up photos and important documents not only speeds up your device and frees up memory; it also ensures that if your phone or computer crashes, your information (and memories!) are safe. Enter cloud storage. Take some time to backup the files you want to save on iCloud, Google Photos, or a paid cloud service with more storage space. You can also set your device to automatically back your files up periodically.

Read the rest of her suggestions to declutter your life on the getpocket web site.

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.

Think Like a Chef!

Have you ever had a day when new information, emails, and calls were flying at you in record speed? The nature of knowledge work is that we move between times of quiet and reflection to periods of rapid action. It is in those hectic times that we can easily fall behind and get flustered. So to master those busy periods it is helpful to consider another profession that works on rapid deadlines and continuous input: Chefs!

In a recent blog post, Tiago Forte examined the work environment that chefs create in their kitchens to handle the daily dinner orders. It is called mise-en-place. Tiago describes it this way.

Mise-en-place is about bringing together all the tools a chef needs in close proximity, prepped for immediate use, so that they can just execute – quickly, consistently, and sustainably.

Observing the way that chefs work to handle the flow of orders, Tiago highlights six principles that he believes can be applied to knowledge work. The first is sequence. As Tiago describes:

In a kitchen, sequence is everything.

The biochemical realities of food demand it: the meat can’t go onto the chopping block if it’s frozen; the pasta won’t absorb the sauce unless it’s been cooked; the garlic can’t be added until it’s been chopped.

In knowledge work, the importance of sequence isn’t always so clear. Does it really matter whether you send that email or write up that report first? It often feels like we should be doing everything immediately and all at once.

But consider that we can never do more than one thing at a time. The flow of time is linear, which means at some point, even our most complex thinking and planning has to get distilled down to a simple, linear to-do list: what comes first, what comes next, and what comes after that.

Once we realize the importance of sequence, it becomes apparent that not all moments are created equal: the first tasks matter much more than the later ones. In a kitchen, the few seconds it takes to start heating up a pan or start defrosting the chicken will have the biggest impact on the overall timeline, because these steps can’t be accelerated. They take as much time as they take.

Discover the other five principles by reading Tiago’s post.

Happy Mother’s Day – Now Clean Up Your Bedroom!

As we celebrate Mother’s Day, there are lots of ways to show appreciation for everything our mothers do. Flowers are nice. Chocolates are sweet. A prepared meal hits the spot. However, one thing your mother might really appreciate is if you take the time to tidy up your room! (BTW, May 10 is National Clean Up Your Room Day!)

Thankfully, the KonMari Method provides an easy solution to tackle that project. In an article on the Linen & Homes web site, Marie Kondo lists eight tips to keep your bedroom clean and organized. For example, Tip #5 states one should organize belongings by category.

When it comes to organizing, we have a tendency to store the same item in different places. So it’s more effective to start with categories than it is to start organizing by room. For the purpose of organizing in your bedroom, you can at least start with clothes then when the time comes, branch out to books, before going to the sentimental items like photos and letters. She even gets more granular with her process, suggesting to start with all your shirts before your pants, your pants before your socks, and so on.

To help you along the article links to a KonMari checklist that covers every possible thing you might own.

Cleaning your room will not only make your mother proud, but give you a peaceful place to rest your head after a busy day. Check out the other tips in the article.

Spring Clean Your Komono

Spring has traditionally been a time to clear out our closets and drawers of the things that no longer serve us. However, tidying up can be psychologically challenging not only due to the sheer amount of spaces where things are stored but also the psychological weight of our belongings. Many items we possess carry sentimental value that makes them hard to part with even when they no longer have any practical use.

Marie Kondo understood this problem which is why she created the KonMari Method. Through a simple process the Method helps people tackle their home cleaning through a five stage system. Recently on her web site she spent time providing tips on how to tackle the broadest category of items, komono.

We all have them: spaces and drawers where komono (miscellaneous things) live. These are the places where items sit idle because they haven’t found a true home. Designate a day to tackle your komono, give your objects final destinations and take back control. Remember, it is key to tidy by category – not location. 

Marie goes on to share what I consider the most important tip to cleaning any space which is to empty it out first. This aligns with Newton’s First Law of Motion. Objects at rest tend to stay at rest. Objects in motion tend to stay in motion. By getting the komono items moving it is just as easy to throw out or properly place an item as it is to put it back in it s initial spot. Marie advises:

Taking everything out of your komono hot spots and laying it out provides a fresh view of all the contents. You may find something that was once missing or something you forgot you owned. It is an opportunity for re-acquainting yourself with the objects that live with you and recognizing those that spark joy and those that don’t. Once those drawers or storage spaces are completely empty, take a moment to tend to them. Clean well with a soft cloth, replace drawer liners or add air fresheners if you’d like.

Read the rest of Marie Kondo’s tips on tackling komono on her web site.

Have Less to Do

Our society values more. We are constantly pushed in our careers to gain more responsibility. Commercials continually encourage us to buy more stuff. Having more to do than can be ever be done is seen as a sign of success. However, having more is only good up to a point. After that, having more is actually an impediment to happy and productive life.

Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, co-founders of Basecamp, wrote about this in their book, It Doesn’t Have to be Crazy at Work. They set out to make their company the opposite of how most technology companies operate. No 60-80 hour weeks; no endless meetings; no pressure to perform every day. One of their fundamental operating principles is that having less to do is better than more. As they wrote on page 172-3 of their book:

Management scholar Peter Drucker nailed it decades ago when he said, “There is thing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all!” Bam!

At Basecamp we’ve become ruthless about eliminating either work that doesn’t need to be done or work we don’t want to do.

I have recently appreciated that eliminating extra items from my work life is the best way to become productive. Just as it is easier to juggle one ball instead of ten, having only a few top projects is easier to manage than dozens of low value projects. I often think back to a conversation with Pat Losinski, CEO of the Columbus Metropolitan Library. When I asked him for advice on being a Library Director, one thing he shared was, “Focus only on what the Director can do.” By that he meant don’t get caught up doing work that other people could perform. Do only the things that are your own responsibility, then delegate or eliminate everything else.

To that end, how can you find ways to purge your workload? After all, the less you have to do, the better you will do what you are doing.

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.