Stoic Time Management

Given the high speed of modern life, it would seem that the need for daily time management skills is a recent development. However, a look through history shows that busy people in every age were concerned about making effective use of their time.

In Ancient Greece and Rome a simple but profound philosophy of life developed called Stoicism. An article on the Daily Stoic web site defines stoicism as this:

“The philosophy asserts that virtue (such as wisdom) is happiness and judgment should be based on behavior, rather than words. That we don’t control and cannot rely on external events, only ourselves and our responses.

Stoicism has just a few central teachings. It sets out to remind us of how unpredictable the world can be. How brief our moment of life is. How to be steadfast, and strong, and in control of yourself. And finally, that the source of our dissatisfaction lies in our impulsive dependency on our reflexive senses rather than logic.

While browsing the Daily Stoic, I came across an article on stoicism and time management. The five principles highlighted in this article show that the wisdom of the ancients still has value in our busy 21st Century society. For example:

Take Your Time On Things That Matter

Nothing great is created suddenly, any more than a bunch of grapes or a fig. If you tell me that you desire a fig, I answer you that there must be time. Let it first blossom, then bear fruit, then ripen” Epictetus, “Discourses”

Sometimes we’re forced to rush things. Maybe our boss is putting pressure on us to meet certain deadlines, or maybe it’s our own internal pressure; our own internal deadlines. We live in a fast-paced world where everything is an emergency. But if we truly wish to improve our time management skills, it’s more important that we slow down and be still.

Read more about this principle and four more on The Daily Stoic web site.

Moments of Kindness

For my staff newsletter this week I tried something different. In addition to the usual updates about system-wide projects and County Commission items, I included a short piece on kindness. The feedback was strong, so I thought it would be worthwhile to share it here.

In this day and age, it seems like our society is more politically divided than ever. Thankfully, libraries remain one of the few non-partisan institutions supported across our communities. I believe part of that reason is that we are an organization built on kindness. This kindness is expressed by our willingness to help anyone who walks in our doors and by providing our residents with books and other items for their educational and entertainment needs. While we demonstrate kindness every day to our members, it is equally important to share this kindness with our colleagues. Kindness is free to give and its benefits outlast the moment in which it happens.

Yet, as we move through our day, kindness can seem elusive. When things go wrong, it is easy to point fingers and criticize others. In times when our emotions are raw, the temptation to say or write hurtful things can be tempting. In those times it is important to press pause and take a breath. If we remember that our colleagues are human and trying their best, our response can be more measured. At that point we can offer a helping hand and an encouraging word instead. Our strength comes from the bonds of teamwork and trust. Kindness is the glue that holds all this together.

So I invite you to spend a few moments writing a kudos to your colleagues. Thank them for their hard work and support. You may even want to nominate someone or a team for an ERA to recognize their outstanding work. Small moments of kindness create peak experiences that truly make someone’s day.

To that end, I thank you all for the work you do every day to connect communities, inspire thought, and enrich lives. Your combined efforts help make our library system the best place to work.

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Where to Find Good Ideas

When was the last time you had a good idea?

Think about that question for a moment. Does something strike you as odd? Most obvious is the problem of how can we judge if the idea was “good.” What seems awesome in the moment can turn out to be faulty later. Conversely, what was dismissed as so-so now could have great merit when applied.

Most striking for me, the question implies that each person is solely responsible for creating their own ideas. But the funny thing is that ideas are not commonly born straight out of divine inspiration. Even if it seems that the idea come from nowhere, it likely has mundane origins. The truth is that ideas require other ideas to give them form and to evolve.

After all, fires don’t start just by thinking about them. They originate from the combustion of different elements, be it two sticks rubbed together or a match and lighter fluid. It is the same with originality. New ideas do not appear on its own, but show up when different ideas are combined together to produce something new.

Photo by Vlad Bagacian on Pexels.com

This means the fastest way to create “good” ideas is to expose yourself to as many ideas as possible. Whether they come from books, articles, conversations, or observations, having an abundance of ideas to work with greatly increases the chance of finding one that is transformational. Like puzzle pieces, pick up as many as possible and place them together in different combinations. Play long enough and you soon end up with a beautiful picture.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

So when was the last time you had a good idea?

Don’t worry about answering that question. Instead ask, “Where will I find the next great idea?”

Then expose yourself to as many ideas from as many different fields as possible to see what sticks. Don’t wait, this post has ended, so start looking now!

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.

Why People Cooperate

Think of the last time you cooperated with someone? It was probably a friend, family member, or work colleague. If we want to retain good relations with close individuals, cooperation is the natural thing to do. However, our lives lead us into situations where we interact with strangers. How do we decide if we should cooperate then?

In an article on his blog, David Perell explores why we cooperate with others. While pursuing the question, he came to this discovery:

“Cooperation is determined by the length and frequency of interactions. If two individuals are likely to meet again, they will likely cooperate. If not, they likely won’t. “

David Perell

Regardless of the situation, there is a research tested scientific strategy for cooperation. It is a classic conflict model known as Tit for Tat.

“Believe it or not, there’s an optimal way to behave in repeated interactions.  This simple strategy is called Tit for Tat. Reciprocity is the name of the game. Under the rules of Tit-for-Tat, players cooperate on the first move in a series of repeated interactions. Then, they mirror the other player in every subsequent move. After the first interaction, if the other person cooperates, they cooperate. If the other person defects, they defect. It’s simple.”

I was drawn to this article for a very personal reason. In my college days at the University of Toronto I studied Tit for Tat under one of its premier researchers, Anatol Rappaport. He was an amazing college professor and remains today one of my favorite teachers ever. Rappaport developed computer simulations that proved the power of Tit for Tat. Unfortunately, the Professor passed away many years ago.

Read the rest of David’s article on his blog.

The Culture Secret – Legos!

Did you play with Legos as a kid?  I grew up with those multi-colored blocks carelessly scattered around as my siblings and I took them from room to room in our endless youthful play times.  Those plastic building block toys have been entertaining children for generations.  

However, did you know that Legos hold the secret to understanding why some organizations develop strong dynamic cultures while the majority of others flounder?

For my final Write of Passage assignment, I prepared a short article based on my research on how to build a strong culture at work.  Read the article to learn how Legos provide a vital clue to creating a motivated organizational culture.

When you are finished reading, you might be inspired to build one of the biggest Lego sets available – the Millennium Falcon!

The Kernel of Creativity

We use the word a lot, but what exactly is creativity?  It seems like everyone wants more of it from ourselves and our colleagues, but it is not like a faucet that can be turned on at will.  David Allen used a recent blog post to ponder the subject:

“The time and energy required for creating something goes through a cycle, one that is seldom as easy or as immediately evident and as clear as I would like to imagine it is. … I still don’t know much intellectually about the nature of that creative process. What is the underlying principle at work here? Why do we seem to have to work so hard to get the kernel? And my interest in productivity causes me to ask how I can get to it faster, easier, more effectively, with less mess and the frustrations that often accompany it.”

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While reading David Allen’s post, I was reminded of an article from David Perell.  He explored the topic in a post called, The Magic Moment.  In the article he brought up the idea of inspiration.

“The Magic Moment is a moment where you have the freedom to create without the demands of publishing. You can’t predict a Magic Moment. They’re spawned by long periods of incubation, but they strike when the mind is at rest. They’re likely to come when you’re showering, driving, or exercising because that’s when the mind is at rest and you can finally hear yourself think. Like a surfer in the ocean, when a special wave swells up, you have to catch it and ride it to shore.”

Creativity is a large and fascinating topic.   I challenge you to think about your relationship with creativity?  When is it easiest for you to be creative?  When it is hardest?  Finally, what do you do when the moment of inspiration strikes?