Basecamp’s Written Approach to Communication

It is a cliché nowadays to say how much people hate meetings. However, very few organizations have found a way to successfully avoid having them on a regular basis. It would seem there is a natural tendency for people to come together in a real or virtual room to discuss issues or advance projects. However, some organizations have tried to eliminate meetings by crafting a different priority straight into their DNA.

Basecamp, a company that produces project management and internal communication software, has decided that the company works best when its employees focus on written communication. According to their Guide to Internal Communication:

You can not not communicate. Not discussing the elephant in the room is communicating. Few things are as important to study, practice, and perfect as clear communication. Real-time sometimes, asynchronous most of the time. Internal communication based on long-form writing, rather than a verbal tradition of meetings, speaking, and chatting, leads to a welcomed reduction in meetings, video conferences, calls, or other real-time opportunities to interrupt and be interrupted.

Basecamp Press Resources

Why do they believe long form writing is the better way? It has to do with an understanding that most communication is asynchronous.

Communication shouldn’t require schedule synchronization. Calendars have nothing to do with communication. Writing, rather than speaking or meeting, is independent of schedule and far more direct.

Read the entire Guide to Internal Communication to learn more about how Basecamp encourages employees to keep each other updated on their projects.

Making Successful Resolutions

With 2021 a reality, many people around the world made New Year’s Resolutions. Unfortunately, most of those resolutions fail to make an impact. According to U.S. News, 80% of people give up on them within six weeks. Does this mean resolutions are useless to make? Not necessarily.

In an article from Forbes Magazine, journalist Jennifer Cohen shares reasons why people fail to achieve their resolutions. In those reasons are embedded ways to make them successful. For example:

We Fail To Pick Realistic Goals

According to Statista, the most common New Year’s resolutions are to lose weight, exercise and eat more healthfully. These are achievable goals, yet so many of us can’t follow through. It’s because we don’t take an approach that’s rooted in reality.

Ask yourself the following question—which goal is more achievable? Losing 100 pounds or cutting refined sugars from your diet? The answer is obvious. If you cut sugar from your diet, you’re more likely to lose weight. 

You should also keep in mind that choosing realistic goals or resolutions and achieving them improves our mindset. Even a small victory is still a victory (like 30 days without sugar) and you end up preparing yourself for a much larger one.

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Not sure what resolution to make? Then you might benefit on a period of structured reflection. The good folks at Getting Things Done created a simple document to guide a review of the past year and to look ahead at the new one. The PDF handout can be found here.

Wishing you all a Happy New Year!

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.

What is Your Next Action?

One of the most fundamental moves in productivity is identifying your next physical action.

You may have heard this statement before especially if have studied Getting Things Done (GTD). In fact the question is at the center of the David Allen’s famous workflow diagram. Why is it so important to identify your next action in a very specific way? Because vagueness is the antithesis of productivity.

The reason is simple to understand. When our actions are undefined the mind has nothing to focus on. Sure it may have a sense of what our completed projects will look like in the end, but to get there involves a series of steps. Most of the time our next actions are self evident and require little thought. However when a project becomes stuck it creates stress and avoidance. That is when defining the next physical action is vital to forward progress. Getting specific forces the mind to focus through visualizing success. Often it only takes a minute to figure out an appropriate next action.

In the book Getting Things Done David Allen provides a classic example of what it means to think this way. Imagine you are overdue to take your car in for an oil change. The next action for almost everyone is not “change the oil” unless you are a DYI car mechanic ready for grease. The next physical action might be any of the following:

  • Call to schedule an appointment at your favorite garage
  • Talk to your colleague down the hall who recommended a shop
  • Search the Internet for local oil change deals
  • Check your calendar for an open day/time on your vehicle in
What is your next action?

Not having clarity on the next action could mean that oil change will not happen for a long time. Deciding on the next physical action creates greater clarity and makes it far more likely for the project to be completed.

Your challenge is to identify all the stuck projects in your life and decide on a next action for all of them. Taking these steps will boost the odds of completing them while reducing your stress level at the same time. Sounds like a win-win!

Taking Better Notes

The secret to success in knowledge work lies in successful note taking. In my article for Public Libraries Magazine I defined a note as an information artifact of perceived value. Notes are necessary because we simply cannot rely on our brains to remember everything of importance. So the art and science of note taking is a field worth studying.

In an article by Kenneth A. Kiewra called A Seven-Step Guide to Taking Better Notes, the author starts out by focusing on why it is important to take notes in the first place, especially in an academic setting.

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Students who take notes during a lesson achieve more than those who listen to the lesson without note taking. This is because the act of note taking staves off boredom and focuses attention on lesson ideas more than listening without taking notes.

The primary value of note taking, though, is more in the product than the process, more in the reviewing than the recording. Students who record and then review notes almost always achieve more than students who record but do not review notes.

Read the rest of the article on the Quartz web site. If you haven’t done so already, learn the best techniques for digital note taking over at Forte Labs and their signature course, Building a Second Brain.

Second Brain Crash Course

Recently Forte Labs launched their first ever Second Brain Week. Bringing in experts in digital note taking from around the world, founder Tiago Forte lead a free week of training on how to up your electronic productivity game. Their promise was simple:

Come join us to learn about digital note-taking, organizing, productivity, knowledge management, and online education, and how creating a system of knowledge management for yourself can help you do all of them far more effectively.

While the live sessions are over, everything was recorded and available for free on the Forte Labs web site. So if you want to take your productivity up to the next level, take advantage of the free Second Brain Week sessions available now on demand.