Brutal Truths About Productivity

The feeling of being productive is awesome. There is a deep satisfaction in checking stuff off our to-do lists. However, there is a difference between being productive with simple tasks versus complicated projects. In the book Joy at Work, which I summarized last week, Marie Kondo makes a distinction between the urgent and the important. Urgent things are usually the small tasks that are easy to do but ultimately make little difference to our lives. The important tasks are hard to do, but make the most impact towards our larger goals and objectives. True productivity comes down to focusing on the latter and not the former. But how do we do this?

In an article in the Pocket web site, Thomas Oppong share 6 Brutal Truths about Productivity that can help people focus on what is truly important. For example, one of the six truths has to do with power of getting started.

The biggest hurdle for many of us is simply getting started. Making that important decision to take a step. You can be as big and successful as you can possibly imagine if you build that mindset you need to push yourself to make that all important decision to just start.

You have everything you need to make an impact in the world if you can get past the many reasons why should postpone that task. Don’t think too far into the future.

Use what you have right now at where you are and witness the magic of getting things done.

Read the other five truths on the Pocket web site.

How Leaders Make Decisions

Leadership at one of its most basic levels is the science and art of decision making. To be a leader is to be someone who makes decisions.

This past week I had the honor to present a webinar for PLAN titled “How Leaders Make Decisions.” The webinar explored ideas such as “kind” vs “wicked” environments, the dangers of decision making fallacies, and how to bring a team together around a decision. The script of the talk is available in the Articles section of my web site.

Photo by August de Richelieu on Pexels.com

Here is a short sample of what I discussed:

We make decisions constantly ever day of our lives.  Most of our decisions are small and only affect ourselves.  However, leadership decisions directly affect others, ranging from a small few to an entire organization.  Therefore, it is important for leaders to understand the art and science of decision making not only for themselves, but their colleagues and customers.

Decision making can be very challenging for leaders because of the impact.  Since leadership decisions often have public implications, leaders are subjected to second guessing regularly.  Psychologically the very act of making a decision is stressful because of the risk of making the wrong choice.  Every decision we make means all other options were rejected in favor of one choice.  This sense of finality can be scary.  Sometimes people avoid making a decision altogether.  However, not making a decision is a form of decision making with consequences in itself.  Deferring decisions may be useful at times, but often there comes a point where making a decision is unavoidable.

Read the rest of the article to learn more.

Are You Being Tricked (By Your Own Mind)?

Here is a quick test. Which would you prefer to receive: $150 today or $180 next month? When this experiment is run most people would rather take the smaller amount now than wait one month. But consider this fact, if you were able to invest $150 now at a 20% rate of return, you would have $180 the following month. In the world of investing, a 20% return is massive. Yet for some reason our minds discount future money, even if it is worth more. This is a prime example of a cognitive bias.

In The Atlantic a while back, Ben Yagoda wrote an article diving into the many cognitive biases that affect everyone. He notes that there are over 185 different biases listed on the Wikipedia page. While not all are important, some affect us more frequently.

The gambler’s fallacy makes us absolutely certain that, if a coin has landed heads up five times in a row, it’s more likely to land tails up the sixth time. In fact, the odds are still 50-50. Optimism bias leads us to consistently underestimate the costs and the duration of basically every project we undertake. Availability bias makes us think that, say, traveling by plane is more dangerous than traveling by car. (Images of plane crashes are more vivid and dramatic in our memory and imagination, and hence more available to our consciousness.)

Photo by meo on Pexels.com

In the article, Yagoda’s explores the question of whether it is possible to educate ourselves to avoid cogitative biases or if we are doomed to always fall for them. To learn his findings, please read the full article.

Deal or No Deal Mr Hall!

I have always enjoyed game shows. Although I have never been on one it is fun to think about different strategies to win.

Recently I was listening to a episode of a great podcast series called Choiceology. It is about how we make choices especially focusing on the factors that lead us astray in those decisions. The specific episode dealt with how framing decisions in terms of potential loss leads us to different decisions than framing them in terms of potential gain. In the episode they interviewed a contestant from the show Deal or No Deal.

I finished the episode not only pondering how we frame problems, but realizing that the contestant made a huge mathematical error that skewed his thinking even as much as the framing. In fact, it is a problem that is encountered on other game shows including one called Let’s Make a Deal.

To explain why a poor grasp of probability not only hurts our ability to win game shows but also to make other important life decisions, I wrote an article to explore the topic. The core of the piece discusses a classic puzzle known as the Monty Hall Problem.

Here is the puzzle. You are a contest on Let’s Make a Deal. Your game is to pick one of three doors. Behind one is a new car and behind the other two are goats. (For purposes of play assume you want the car.) Monty Hall invites you to pick a door, so let’s say you choose Door #1. Monty, who knows what is behind each door, opens Door #3 to reveal a goat. Then he gives you the opportunity to switch your choice to Door #2. The question: Are your chances of winning the car better, worse, or no different if you switch doors?

Read the entire article to learn the correct answer to this problem and how the Deal or No Deal contestant should have behaved.

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.

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.

The Secrets of Strong Cultures Revealed!

For the past month, I have been studying the O.C. Tanner Institute 2020 Global Culture Report.  It contains valuable insights for leaders everywhere:

Below is a summary of my top takeaways from the report.

  1. To create a better overall employee experience, organizations need to focus on high-impact, daily micro-experiences that define an employee’s life at work.
  2. Micro-experiences connect employees to purpose, opportunity, success, appreciation, well being, and leadership.
  3. If you want to build a thriving workplace culture, create great micro-experiences.
  4. Great workplace cultures generate energy that fuels people to innovate, to wow customers, to draw in the best people, and outperform competitors in virtually every aspect of business.
  5. Diagnose if burnout is a problem in the organization and then find the cultural issues causing it.
  6. The outdated leader-knows-best style and lopsided power structure are not working. Encourage a model of shared leadership with their teams.
  7. Build connections by utilizing regular one-to-one conversations between leaders and their team members.
  8. Successful teams feel a strong sense of autonomy and psychologically safe.
  9. Actively listen to understand your people—don’t ask for feedback just to “check the box.”
  10. My biggest takeaway: Extra time spent at work with employees improved company performance, while extra time at work spent with people outside the company didn’t make a difference.  While CEOs are expected to be the public face of their company, the reality is that interacting with and supporting employees is a more effective use of time.

Thanks to Peter Bromberg, Director of the Salt Lake City Public Library for bringing the report to my attention.  Read the full O.C. Tanner Institute 2020 Global Culture Report for free online or in a downloadable pdf version. It is not a long read, but well worth it.