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.

Recording of Tiago Forte Interview

Last week I had the honor of interviewing Tiago Forte about his new book, Building a Second Brain. In a sixty-minute Zoom interview with audience Q&A, we touched on a wide range of aspects around digital note taking and how it compliments a GTD practice. A link to the recording can be found on the Palm Beach County Library System web site.

Below is a selection of the questions I asked Tiago:

  • Briefly share how you became interested in the power of digital notes?
  • Explain the concept of CODE and how it applies to digital note taking.
  • What are the four principles of PARA and do they contribute to designing a Second Brain?
  • What are the best practices around processing digital notes for discoverability?
  • The book highlights how notes can be applied over many different projects. To that end, please explain what is meant by an intermediate packet.
  • What are the biggest mistakes people make when taking digital notes and how can they be avoided?
  • What prompted you to share your publishing journey through your blog?
  • Share a book recommendation (fiction or non-fiction) other than your own.

Stay tuned to the end of the interview where I subject Tiago to a fun game based on the podcast, Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me.

Building a Second Brain Now Released

After many years of anticipation, Tiago Forte has released his book, Building a Second Brain. It is the distillation of the ideas and exercises originating from his signature course of the same name. Here is how Tiago introduces the book on his web site:

What if you made use of the ideas, wisdom, and resources available to you online instead of stockpiling and hoarding information with no end in sight? 

What if you knew with total confidence that you could find the information you need when you need it instead of wasting time looking for notes you swore you’d saved? 

What if you could leverage technology to think better, clear your mind, and get more done instead of letting it disrupt you with constant notifications and demands? 

All this and more is possible with a Second Brain – a trusted place outside your head where you can collect and organize your most important ideas and insights and use them to do your best work.

As part of his promotional tour, the Palm Beach County Library System is honored to host Tiago for a virtual meet the author session on July 14, 2 pm EST. Preregister to receive the Zoom link.

Congratulations Tiago on this great achievement!

12 Steps to Build a Second Brain

I have frequently written about Tiago Forte and his Building a Second Brain program. It is the definitive approach to unleashing the power of digital notetaking. In fact, his first major book is being published in June.

Recently Tiago wrote a concise summary of the practice by listing the 12 Steps to Build a Second Brain. This is a very fast crash course in how to create and utilize digital notes. For those wanting to get started, here are the first two steps:

1. Decide what you want to capture

Think about your Second Brain as an intimate commonplace book or journal. What do you most want to capture, learn, explore, or share? Identify two to three kinds of content you already value to get started with.

For an extended intro to capturing and taking digital notes, check out this workshop covering how to capture and save the best information you consume each week.

2. Choose your notes app

If you don’t use a digital notes app, get started with one now. But I know that choosing your notes app can feel overwhelming and paralyzing. 

My recommendation is to choose an app based on your notetaking style since notetaking is a highly personal process based on intuition and feeling.

In this video, I introduce you to 4 notetaking styles and the best apps for each.

Read the other ten steps on the Forte Labs web site.

Finding Your Leadership Pathway – Plan of Action

In most journeys, complications arise that force us to take alternative paths. Two weeks ago, I discussed how to anticipate roadblocks. Once these obstacles are apparent, the next step is to formulate plans to detour or bypass them. There are several ways to develop these strategies. Two are highlighted below.

A solitary method to address potential roadblocks is by brainstorming options. I suggest using map maps to avoid the trap of linear thinking. Take a sheet of blank paper and write the name of the roadblock in the center. Around that center point start listing potential solutions. Avoid early self-censorship by writing down everything that comes to mind. Don’t worry if ideas seem unworkable. The point is to get them out of your head for full review. In fact, sometimes ideas that seem silly at first might have merit upon closer examination.

Challenge yourself to come up with a least five options. For example, let’s say the roadblock to succeeding with your project is lack of funding. Here are several ideas to solve it:

  • Ask the owner/director for additional funds
  • Seek out grant opportunities
  • Arrange for a loan from a bank or colleague
  • Identify options to reduce the project’s overall costs
  • Recruit investors to the cause
  • Close out other projects to divert funds
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

A collaborative way to overcome roadblocks is through a support network. There are many people out there with experience and resources that could be amenable to assist. Too often we fail to seek help due to embarrassment or ego. However, being willing to reach out to colleagues can be the difference maker.

One way to do this is through existing professional networks. For example, I am a member of the Urban Libraries Council Library Director/CEO listserv. Through that network I have access to hundreds of years of professional executive experience. Whenever a question or request is posted to the listserv a dozen or more people may respond. Quite often, solutions and options arise very fast in the candid conversation.

To that end, seek out professional networks, even ones that are not within your occupation. Oftentimes the way to overcome a roadblock is by applying ideas from another profession. Lawyers, doctors, accountants, construction workers, and librarians all have different mindsets. Join the local Chamber of Commerce or attend a Toastmasters club. Both are examples of cross professional organizations. Tapping into alternative viewpoints is a helpful way to find novel solutions.

With the end in sight, next time I’ll discuss how to reflect on the journey.

When is it Best to be First or Last in a List?

Every day we make choices. Usually, we believe that our decisions are made rationally and fully under our control. However, studies have clearly shown that our minds are influenced by factors beyond our recognition. In fact, it is possible to design systems that guide people to make specific decisions without them even knowing it.

One way this happens is through choice architecture. This is the science of building the system through which the choices are presented. Whether this is a survey, restaurant menu, or car building web site, the order and types of choices can bias the decision maker. It need not be nefarious; it is simply an aspect of the limitations built into all choice architecture designs.

In his book, The Elements of Choice, Eric J. Johnson discusses the field of choice architecture in great detail. One specific example he explores is how placement on a list affects choice.

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Lists are a common choice architecture design. No matter if it is a list of three items or three hundred, the placement of items on the list impacts decisions. However, the format in which the list is presented also has an impact. It changes the location on the list where someone would want their preferred choice to be located.

For example, if the list is text only and the reader is in control of where to place their eyes, then the first spot is almost always the most selected. Examples of this type of list presentation are restaurant menus or short option lists, such as election ballots. However, when the decision maker is listening to a list or has no ability to move backward or forward by choice, then the final slot is the most selected. Examples of this are judging competitions that involve artistic merit, or simply having a friend recite a list of potential movies to watch on a weekend night.

This is a key difference. In the first case, people are judging their choices based on the first item presented. It anchors the decision. In the second case, the decision maker is working off memory, which tends to be strained as the list grows longer. This causes the most attention to fall on the later items.

Read more about how choice architecture affects our decisions in The Elements of Choice.

Second Brain Summit

Some very exciting happened this past week. The first ever Second Brain Summit was held online! Tiago Forte of Forte Labs brought together a series of speakers to excite and educate everyone on how to build a second brain and maximize its potential.

Here’s what Tiago had to say in a recent email:

Incredibly, we had over 12,300 live participants across 15 sessions led by 18 experts and thought leaders. Thank you to everyone who made it possible.

This week you learned:

  • How to avoid self-sabotage in your productive efforts
  • How to apply a “systems mindset” to your life
  • How to reframe productivity through the lens of ADHD
  • How to use apps like Notion, Logseq, Evernote, and OneNote
  • How to automate your notetaking using tools like Readwise and Matter
  • Insights into the future of digital notetaking
  • How to use “meta” thinking and adopt “habits of learning”
  • How to choose the perfect productivity app for you
  • How to appreciate the inherent joy of thinking
  • How to leverage your Second Brain to do your highest value work

And you know what? In case you missed anything, we’ve made every recording available on a YouTube playlist you can revisit and watch anytime.

Learn more about Building a Second Brain at the Forte Labs web site.

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.