Thriving in Uncertainty

With all the rapid changes happening around us, it seems like the only certainty is more uncertainty. While some enjoy the chaos, the everchanging landscape makes it hard to set worthwhile goals that can be realistically achieved. Rather than give up, is there a way to cope with uncertainty?

Tiago Forte explores this question in a recent post on this website titled How to Thrive in a World of Uncertainty. It is part of his exploration of the concept of 12 Favorite Problems. In this piece, he shares an important shift to our thinking that makes all the difference.

Goal-setting was once central to our conception of what it means to navigate the future successfully. But goals can no longer serve as guides to an unfolding future that we have so little control over.

But this doesn’t mean that we have to throw up our hands in defeat. It doesn’t mean there’s nothing we can do to influence our fate. It just requires us to make a shift from leading with goals to leading with questions

What does he mean by this? In essence, he proposes a way to embrace the uncertainty and use it as a force for creativity and accomplishment.

Questions ask you to start with what you don’t know but would like to discover. They draw in others to pitch in and make their own contributions. They serve as open invitations to collaborative projects, versus the solitary path of individualistic achievement envisioned by goals.

In a world of uncertainty, questions are more powerful than answers. Answers serve you for a season, but a question lasts forever.

Read the posting to learn more about this shift in perspective, including three values proposed by physicist Richard Feynman that can make the transition smoother and more enjoyable.

The Fear That Should Scare You the Most

It is the day before Halloween (All Hallow’s Eve Eve?) and most people’s thoughts turn to frights! This is the season when we enjoy being scared. Of course, fears stay with us the entire year, but in the spirit of the spooky season, now is an ideal time to consider the fear that scares you the most.

Shola Richards has looked fear in the eye and blogged about it. In a post titled, Never Too Late, he shared the one thing that he fears the most. It is not snakes, vampires, the dark, or taxes, but something much simpler and profound.

I have always found it so strange when people say that they’re fearless. Let me tell you upfront that I’m not one of those people.

Just like most rationally thinking human beings, I have fears (quite a few, to be honest). And without question, this is the fear that scares me the most:

Looking back on my life and realizing that I haven’t lived fully.

How is that his greatest fear? Shola proceeds to tell us exactly why over the next few sentences.

If you are going to be afraid of something, don’t be afraid of what may happen if you decide to fully live your life and chase your dreams.

Instead, be afraid of what will happen if you decide not to fully live your life and allow the ghosts of “what might have been” to haunt you relentlessly for the rest of your days until you finally die with a pitiful whimper.

That’s freaking terrifying to me. It should be for you too.

Through this post, Shola is issuing a challenge. What plan or dream for your life is being left to gather dust on the shelf due to fear of failure or ridicule? Just as on Halloween we face illusionary frights then laugh about it afterwards, why not do the same with the fears around your goals?

Face the fear and see what happens next.

It may not be as scary as you fear.

Five Meeting Rules from Ray Dalio

Bad meetings are inevitable. Good meetings are fortunate. Great meetings are designed.

Meetings are a core component of knowledge work. However, very few people are trained on how to run them effectively. A focused, structured meeting benefits all the participants and moves everyone closer to their goals. Therefore, it is important to understand how to run a successful meeting.

Ray Dalio, founder of Bridgewater Associates, has thought very deeply about the workplace. In addition to the unique methods that comprise the Bridgewater culture, Dalio has set out specific rules for productive meetings. A recent article in INC magazine focused on five of them. The first is very simple yet often overlooked: clarify the meeting’s purpose.

Dalio says that you should emphasize a meeting’s purpose well before it begins. That way, everyone can walk into the meeting prepared and the group can be intentional with their time. He also adds that “Meetings without someone clearly responsible run a high risk of being directionless and unproductive.”

Another rule of successful meetings is to avoid “topic slip”:

Topic slip, as defined by Dalio, is the “random drifting from topic to topic without achieving completion on any of them.” If you’ve ever left a meeting feeling more confused than when you walked in, topic slip is a likely culprit.

To dive deeper into these two rules and then learn the other three, visit the article on the Inc website.

From Hope to Trust

How confident are you that all your priorities have been captured outside your head?

For most people, their regular practice is to keep their responsibilities and duties saved only in brain cells. Storing these things in our fallible minds makes it hard to be confident about our next actions. Once people discover this problem, they often try to create elaborate systems to remember. However, this may prove just as problematic. GTD founder David Allen explored this problem in a recent blog post:

It’s natural to want to create a system for priority coding (like “A, B, C” or the flagging feature in many apps) to tell you the most important things to do. But it’s a short-term insurance policy that won’t give you the trust you need when the time comes to take action.

If these complex approaches don’t work, is there a better way? David certainly believes so as he adds:

People would often love to be able to give up the non-stop accountability for their intuitive judgment calls about the moment-to-moment allocation of their resources. That’s why the ABC-priority and daily-to-do-list structures have often seemed so attractive as a way to “get a grip.” But reality has a way of requiring us to be more on our toes than that.

So how can we really know for sure what action to take? Prepare for the worst, imagine the best, and shoot down the middle.

Dive deeper into this philosophy by reading the rest of the post.

Projects vs Areas

Do you have something that is lingering on your to-do list? If so, it could because you have confused a project with an area.

David Allen has often said that the major challenge for knowledge workers is defining their work. Unlike task workers whose duties are given to them by others, the knowledge worker must figure out how to complete their assignments. In many cases they have to determine the specific tasks that needs to be done.

One stumble that knowledge workers encounter is mixing up projects and areas. Failure to differentiate between these two can lead to frustration. In a recent blog post, Tiago Forte clearly identifies the difference between the two.

project is any endeavor that has 1) a desired outcome that will enable you to mark it “complete,” and 2) a deadline or timeframe by which you’d like it done.

An area of responsibility has 1) a standard to be maintained that 2) is continuous over time.

In short, projects end, while areas continue indefinitely.

Understanding this can help clear up a lot of confusion. To explain further, Tiago provides examples:

  • Running a marathon is a project, whereas Health is an area
  • Publishing a book is a project, whereas Writing is an area
  • Saving 3 months’ worth of expenses is a project, whereas Finances is an area
  • A vacation to Thailand is a project, whereas Travel is an area
  • Planning an anniversary dinner is a project, whereas Spouse is an area

Learn more about how to approach projects and areas by reading through Tiago’s post.

Should You Trust Your Gut?

Have you ever faced a tough decision and been given the advice to trust your gut? We tend to assume there is an unconscious but highly aware part of ourselves that intuitively knows the right answer. All we have to do is trust it. However, is that true?

According to a new book by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, called Don’t Trust Your Gut, the answer is no, especially if we want to be happy. In a recent interview article on Vox, journalist Sean Illing shares that “it’s wrong because our intuitions are often influenced by false impressions or dubious conventional wisdom.”

In a conversation with Stephens-Davidowitz, Illing asked him about which conditions are conducive to trusting your gut:

There have been these studies that show if you do something in a controlled environment, many times, then your intuition is able to sense things that it would be impossible to otherwise sense, such as a firefighter who can sense that there’s a fire even before it reaches conscious awareness or is visible.

So I think there are times where our gut can be useful. But I think our gut is massively overrated.

Photo by Liza Summer on Pexels.com

Later on in the interview, the discussion turns to the connection between our gut reactions and happiness. Stephens-Davidowitz says about recent studies on the topic:

And they found all these things like, socializing, being with friends: really, really important. Being with your romantic partner: really, really important. Many of us think that we’re gonna have a good time if we just lie on our couch and browse the internet, or go on social media or play an iPhone game. And the data, when you actually ask people doing that, they tend to say they’re not particularly happy doing that.

Read the rest of the article on Vox.

The High Cost of Delaying Decisions

Have you ever had a tough time making a decision? If so, were you tempted to delay making that choice? If so, did it make the situation better or worse?

Most of the time we think that delaying making a decision will give us more useful time to deliberate which should ultimately lead to a better decision. However, is that true?

In an article by Hollie Richardson called, Decision-Making: Research Shows What Happens When We Wait for “Something Better”, it becomes clear that there is a cost to delaying decisions. As she points out:

Christiane Baumann, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Psychology, explained the way people think as being like: “The price that I am prepared to pay increases every day by the same amount. That is, the further along I am in the process, the higher the price I will accept.”

This principle can be applied not only to purchases, but also situations such as choice of an employer or a romantic partner: “At the beginning perhaps my standards are high. But over time they may lower so that in the end I may settle for someone I would have rejected in the beginning.”

Basically, the longer we leave it to make a decision, the more we’re prepared to gamble, and our standards can drop.

With this in mind, what decision are you putting off making? What if you made that decision right now?

Read the rest of the article to learn more.

The Theory of Constraints

Tiago Forte recently opened up the members only posts on his web site to all readers. Now his hidden gems can be explored by productivity enthusiasts across the world. In honor of this event, I want to highlight an early set of postings that really drew me into his work. It is an eleven-part series breaking down the key points in The Theory of Constraints. Each part in the series is a short read for quick understanding.

What is the Theory of Constraints? I’ll let Tiago describe it:

The Theory of Constraints is deceptively simple. It starts out proposing a series of “obvious” statements. Common sense really. And then before you know it, you find yourself questioning the fundamental tenets of modern business and society.

Eliyahu Goldratt laid out the theory in his 1984 best-selling book The Goal. It was an unusual book for its time — a “business novel” — telling the story of a factory manager in the post-industrial Midwest struggling with his plant. The problems this manager faces are universal, of course, and not only for manufacturing. For 30 years now, readers have recognized their own situation in this fictional story. This flash of recognition is the hook drawing you deeper into the TOC world.

In the first posting Tiago introduces the central concepts of the Theory that are truly paradigm changing.

The first statement that TOC makes is that every system has one bottleneck tighter than all the others, in the same way a chain has only one weakest link.

This is followed by another key statement.

The second statement is that the performance of the system as a whole is limited by the output of the tightest bottleneck or most limiting constraint.

Read the first posting to learn more about this celebrated system improvement process. The entire series is posted here.

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.