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
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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.

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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.

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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.

Personal Productivity Stacks

We rely on a wide range of technology to get things done. However, if we don’t apply the right tool in the right way, we can end up undermining our efforts. To avoid this problem we need to spend time understanding the structure of knowledge work. This will guide us to use the right tool the right way for better results.

Tiago Forte has thought deeply about how to be more productive and creative at the same time. In a recent posting on his web site called How to Build Your Personal Productivity Stack, he discusses how technological change can both make our work easier and more frustrating.

Each wave of technology does legitimately solve a new problem from the previous wave, and – if harnessed correctly – can move us closer to our goals: the experiences and feelings that we want more of. 

But if you’re like most people, you’re probably using email for multiple purposes far beyond what it was designed for:

  • You use email to send messages
  • You use email as a to-do list
  • You use email to keep track of notes and ideas
  • You use email to manage complex projects and areas of your life

These are extremely different use cases, and using one platform for all of them ensures it fails at all of them.

To be more effective, Tiago breaks down the four key components of knowledge work.

To perform each of them effectively, you have to break apart each of the four essential activities of modern work – Email, Task Management, Notetaking, and Project Management – and use the right tool for each of those jobs.

I call these four functions a “Productivity Stack,” since each one is layered on top of and builds on the one before.

To learn more, read the rest of his post on the Forte Labs web site.

We’re All Alone in this Together

Organizations that are able to form reliable teams tend to accomplish more goals and provide better internal and external customer service. However, there is an unspoken tension around teams. In order for them to work effectively, everyone has to know their assignment. The distribution of work needs to be clear otherwise important items fall through the cracks.

David Allen has explored the intersection of personal productivity and teamwork. In a recent blog post he notes the following:

Have you discovered yet that no matter how big the button is that says “TEAM” you’re wearing at the conference, nobody’s on yours?! That in order to get done what you have to get done, there aren’t a lot of people at your beck and call, making sure your specific actions and projects happen? Ever have the feeling that you’ve got to hold on for dear life to your own projects and outcomes, against the hurricane of events and other people trying to get their world defined and done?

Later in the post, David considers the reason why teams fail to clarify their work.

Problem is most of us never had training or experience in dealing with that syndrome efficiently and effectively. We grew up in a world where you just went to work, and the work to be done was visible and obvious.

What is the solution to this problem? It could be as simple as acknowledging our struggles.

The best teams and relationships, from my experience, are the ones in which the players all acknowledge they’re each alone in the endeavor together. That’s when we can really experience team, and function as one.

Read the entire post on the Getting Things Done web site.

Declutter your Life

Did you get any presents over the holidays? Between gift exchanges, Secret Santa, and surprise items, no doubt your home is filled with lots of extra stuff. Now that the holidays are in the rear view mirror, it is the perfect time to consider to declutter. The challenge is where to start.

This topic was tackled by Ashley Abramson in a recent article on the getpocket web site. Titled How To Declutter Your Life in 15 Steps, she give suggestions to tidy up and clear out both for physical and electronic spaces. Her first step is to focus on the trash!

This is the fun part. Before you can organize the items you want to keep around, you literally need to trash the stuff that doesn’t belong. To begin the process of decluttering your home, walk through each room with a trash bag. Be ruthless with all the knick knacks, papers, and crusty cosmetics that are occupying valuable space. Of course, if there’s anything you can donate or recycle, keep that in a separate pile.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Abramson does not neglect our digital world either. In fact, she starts out by suggesting something that all too many of us forget to do: back everything up!

Backing up photos and important documents not only speeds up your device and frees up memory; it also ensures that if your phone or computer crashes, your information (and memories!) are safe. Enter cloud storage. Take some time to backup the files you want to save on iCloud, Google Photos, or a paid cloud service with more storage space. You can also set your device to automatically back your files up periodically.

Read the rest of her suggestions to declutter your life on the getpocket web site.

Superhuman Email Management

Knowledge jobs of all types require quick communication. Despite the prevalence of chats, channels, and text, email remains the key way to share detailed information. This makes mastery of email an essential modern skill. The catch is that most people never received training on how to handle it effectively. Thankfully, there are easy to learn principles that make email processing effective and fun.

Tiago Forte first learned email management through GTD. From there he expanded on the practice to create a seamless system to completely process his inbox with ease and turn it into an enlightening high value experience. In a recent article on the Superhuman blog, Tiago spoke to Rahul Vohra at Superhuman for an article that highlights four steps to email mastery.

It starts with changing your perspective on email.

“The key to having a more positive outlook toward email is to nail the management,” says Tiago. “Anytime you don’t have a place for information to flow to, it will pile up, multiply, and become a problem.”

“The solution to having too many emails — and not knowing what to do with them — is not found in your inbox,” says Tiago. “You have to solve that problem elsewhere.”

Later on in the article, Tiago shares a key approach to reframing email, slowing down your reactivity.

“When someone sends you a message — especially a colleague, or someone senior to you — there’s a built-in feeling of urgency,” says Tiago. “But is that urgency real? What is the real expectation of this person?”

“Low reactivity is a spiritual discipline,” reveals Tiago. “Go slightly beyond your normal response time. If you normally respond within an hour, try to respond within a day.”

Discover the whole systematic approach to handling email at the Superhuman blog.

The Six Step Guide to Library Worker Engagement

Over the past four years I have focused on building a strong culture in my library system. Unlike revising a policy or plan, strengthening a culture takes time to achieve. One of the key books I have used is Primed to Perform : how to build the highest performing cultures through the science of total motivation. It included ideas such as creating a Firewatchers committee and measuring your culture based on six key factors.

This year a new book has come out on culture that focuses solely on libraries. Written by Elaina Norlin, it is titled, The Six Step Guide to Library Worker Engagement.

In the book, Norlin demonstrates how library workers can easily become disengaged from their work. To prevent this from happening, she identifies the following areas as key to building a strong culture:

  • Leadership and Management
  • Trust
  • Recognition and Praise
  • Feedback and Performance Evaluation
  • Teamwork and Collaboration
  • Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

To show best practices, Norlin includes interviews with library directors, managers, and leaders from public, academic, and special libraries. I was honored to be interviewed for the section on Feedback and Performance Evaluation. Here’s a portion of that interview.

If a new library director or manager wanted to know how to get started inspiring a more engaged workforce, what would be your advice?

The first step is always to listen. Often a new leader may come in with great ideas and pet projects to launch. However, if they don not take the time to learn more about their organization and connect with the people who comprise it, they may end up going in the wrong direction very quickly. Typically there is a problem or an old way of doing things which is a pain point for the staff that needs to be resolved. A new leader can show their support by tacking that issue first and only afterward start advancing their own ideas.

Find the book at your local library or from the ALA store.