Can you have purpose without passion?

There is a long standing idea that if you are not excited about doing something, then it is not for you. Passion for our work is said to drive us to do it better and stick with it when we are in rough times. How true is this idea?

According to David Allen, passion and purpose may be misunderstood. In a recent blog post titled, Go beyond passion to peaceful purposefulness, he shares thoughts about the connection between the two. To begin, he points out his resistance to passion.

I have been attempting to understand why it bugs me to hear professional motivators talk about the necessity for “passion” to be successful. Perhaps I’m just getting too old and lazy to be interested in jacking up my emotions about anything. (Getting passionate about something usually seems to me like hard work.) Or perhaps it’s the fact that jacked-up emotional states are not something you need or even want, to be successful.

Instead of passion, Allen shifts the mindset to the concept of identification.

I think I know what the motivators are referring to. There is a quality of intensity of commitment that resides with successful people. But rather than “passion” I would suggest the word “identification.” When you really identify with something, whether it is some intended outcome or some internal standard about your reality, it creates a true motivational energy to make it happen. But that does not at all mean a hyperemotional state.

Read his full post on the Getting Things Done web site.

Should We Keep Working From Home?

Over the past year did you get an opportunity to work from home? In my case I did it for a couple of days, but otherwise worked in my library office. My case was different from many people who shifted to a part time or fully virtual work situation. To reduce COVID spread, companies across many industries offered their employees the flexibility to work from anywhere. However, the big question yet to be answered is whether this change has enabled greater productivity and satisfaction or if it has become an impediment to creative teamwork. The initial answer to this question is a big maybe!

I recently came across two good explorations of this topic. The first was an article from The Guardian titled The empty office: what we lose when we work from home. Reporter Gillian Tett explored the this idea: For decades, anthropologists have been telling us that it’s often the informal, unplanned interactions and rituals that matter most in any work environment. So how much are we missing by giving them up?

Of particular interest is a look at the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), a group that designs the underlying architecture of the Internet. Over the years the IETF developed a fascinating way to poll the collective body on decisions. In a conference room, the group will ask members to hum to show support or opposition to an idea. It is a type of decision making process that can only work effectively in a real world environment. As Tett notes:

When the IETF members use humming, they are reflecting and reinforcing a distinctive worldview – their desperate hope that the internet should remain egalitarian and inclusive. That is their creation myth. But they are also signalling that human contact and context matter deeply, even in a world of computing. Humming enables them to collectively demonstrate the power of that idea. It also helps them navigate the currents of shifting opinion in their tribe and make decisions by reading a range of signals.

Photo by Vlada Karpovich on Pexels.com

Other view of the effects of work from home can be found in a recent Freakonomics podcast titled Will Work from Home Work Forever? In the middle of the podcast host Steven Dubner interviews economist Steven Davis about his studies on working from home prior to the pandemic and then a year afterward. Davis’ findings are illuminating.

The real benefit to being at the office is face-to-face interaction — which might be painful if it’s your boss reprimanding you, but this concept of a knowledge spillover — all of that causes, we think, productivity to be higher at the office than at home. But we also think working at home is not as unproductive as it used to be. Because we have all of these tools at our disposal.  

Later on in the podcast, Dubner interviews Raj Choudhury of the the Harvard Business School. His multiple year study of remote work done by U.S. Patent Office employees demonstrated measurable benefits from working at home. He found the examiners were 4.4% more productive at home than in the office. However, he also discovered another factor at play, increased loyalty.

And the story that came was one of loyalty. That “I was really helped by this policy because now I could move to Philly and my daughter needs some medical treatment, which is only available in Philly. No other organization will let me work in Philly and do the kind of work I’m doing. So I have to give something back.”

The factors that will determine the long term success of working from home are still being figured out. To learn more about the direction of work from home, I highly recommend both these Guardian and Freaknomics pieces. They are well worth the read and listen.

Second Brain Myths

Forte Labs signature course, Building a Second Brain is one of the best ways to get your digital life under control. Through a combination of simple practices it is possible to create a great online resource for all your notes that will enhance your creativity and improve your productivity.

However, there are many misconceptions on what it means to Build a Second Brain. In a recent post on his web site, Tiago Forte explores nine of them. For example, one of the issues he lists is a concern that doing this work will require a major overhaul of a person’s digital life.

Tiago explains:

This couldn’t be farther from the truth. A Second Brain is adaptive, like a living organism – messy, organic, and highly adaptable. Just like your first brain, a Second Brain has natural “plasticity,” with many ways of accomplishing any given task. When one part of your system is missing, another part can adapt and evolve to make up for it.

In the 4 steps of my CODE framework – Capture, Organize, Distill, Express – any incremental improvement immediately makes a difference, whether or not the other parts of the system are already in place. You don’t have to wait for each of the pieces to work in perfect harmony to start producing value.

To learn more about the power of Building a Second Brain and to clear up other misconceptions, please read the rest of the article.

Tips for Virtual Speaking

It used to be that many people were afraid to stand up in front of a room to give a presentation. With COVID sidelining most public gatherings, the fears have moved to the virtual realm. On the surface it should seem easier to speak on Zoom. Many virtual participants leave their camera’s off or the presenter can choose to minimize them away. However, this makes for an even more challenging problem: audience disengagement. Virtual speakers have to up their game in order to hold the attention of the audience. In turn, presentations require even more preparation and practice to make them engaging.

To help improve virtual presentations, Ljana Vimont managing director of Stinson Design wrote an article for the web site Presentation Guru. In it she provides ten tips to create and present great virtual presentations. For example, number 5 is:

Involve Your Audience

When you give a live presentation, you probably ask the audience questions, tell them to raise their hands or involve them in some other way to help keep them engaged. The same is true when giving a virtual presentation.

Get comfortable with the presentation software and learn how to ask people to raise their virtual hands and let them know at the beginning of the presentation that you will be calling some of them out and asking them questions. Create a plan for how you will incorporate audience interaction.

Photo by Julia M Cameron on Pexels.com

Take a look at the other nine tips on the Presentation Guru web site.

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.

Photo by Zen Chung on Pexels.com

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.

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!

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.