You Don’t Need More Content … Yet

Yesterday I finally subscribed to Netflix. Given that the streaming service already has 75 million subscribers in the US alone, it felt like I was the last one to sign on! Why did I wait so long? Quite frankly, my family has subscriptions to Disney+, Discovery+, and HBO Max. Between all three of those services I have enough movies and TV shows to keep me busy for three lifetimes of endless viewing. I resisted Netflix because I didn’t need more content.

As a trainer in productivity, leadership, and libraries, it is tempting to load up presentation with content. This is a useful approach when doing an introductory seminar or presentation. However, I have come to believe that most trainers focus too much on content delivery and not enough on integration. In short they sacrifice the cultivation of knowledge for the sake of information overload.

This insight came to me while developing a leadership clinic for TBLC, a Florida library cooperative. For weeks I struggled to decide what content to share with the students during the 2.5 hours of training. After picking and discarding many different ideas, I fell back to a training approach I learned years ago. The concept divides training into four sections:

  • Content Delivery
  • Written Component
  • Small Group Reflection
  • Large Group Share

Based on this model, delivering content is only a quarter of the learning experience. The other three components are designed to allow participants to integrate the information into their own experience. By offering students time for quiet written work, such as answering a question, they begin to wrap their mind around the material. Through communication in small groups followed by large groups, knowledge is deepened through conversation. By the end of the four sections, the student should have a strong understanding of the material and how it impacts their lives.

At the leadership clinic, the students spent a third of their time in breakout rooms. The conversations were deep and honest. In fact, the students afterward said they wanted more time in the rooms than we had available. Many stated how useful it was to talk through their issues and identify points of resolution.

Whenever you feel you need more content, it may actually be time to reflect on the information you already have. Only after you identify gaps in your knowledge is it time to seek more information.

The moral: Don’t go looking for more content, at least not yet …

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.

Time Hack: Choice

The old saying goes that everyone gets the same 24 hours a day. What we do within that time shapes our life. While large parts of our day are spent sleeping and working, there are hours where we get to pick our actions. In a recent article on MIT Press, author Michelle Drouin notes that the average amount of available leisure time has increased. However, there is one activity that dominates this free time.

The average American spends 22 minutes a day participating in sports, exercise, and recreation; 32 minutes per day socializing or communicating; and 26 minutes per day relaxing or thinking. In contrast, they spend 211 minutes per day watching TV. That’s 2.6 times more time watching TV than exercising, relaxing, and socializing combined.

Photo by Burak Kebapci on Pexels.com

This huge devotion to screen time limits our productivity and also makes us unhappy. In order to get out of this rut, we need a new tool.

But research also shows that by taking steps to make sure our social compromises are our own choices — not based on the way technology makes us feel — we can employ the best time hack of all. It’s called social economizing, and it means we make active decisions about how we spend our time, and we then save and invest our time where we want.

To learn more about how this hack works, I encourage you to read the rest of the article.

As well, check out Michelle Drouin’s book Out of Touch: How to Survive an Intimacy Famine.

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.

Do the Easy Stuff First?

Everyone likes to get a quick win. It would seem that disposing of small items would generate momentum to tackle larger work. However, does this tactic lead to lower productivity?

In an article on getpocket called Why Doing the Easy Parts of Your To-Do List First Can Be a Bad Idea, Stephanie Vozza argues that studies show that tackling the low hanging fruit first may dissuade you from attempting more meaningful work.

“In the short-term, the person could actually feel satisfied and less anxious,” says Maryam Kouchaki, associate professor of management and organizations at Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. “But avoiding hard tasks indefinitely also cuts off opportunities to learn and improve one’s skills.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Part of the problem with working on easy tasks is that they are often low value and procedural, making little impact on a person or organization’s larger goals.

Finishing tasks provides a sense of progress and makes us feel good. “We all have limited time and attention,” says Kouchaki. “In any moment, if you have a choice of doing an easy or difficult task, most of us tend to pick the easy task. Easier tasks are often quicker to complete, and they are more likely to be chosen first when people are busier. We call this ‘task completion preference.’”

The problem is that when you create a habit of choosing easier tasks over hard, you can impact your long-term productivity.

Read the full article on the getpocket web site.

Make a Simple New Year’s Resolution

With 2021 almost done, it is time to look ahead to 2022. Of course, the new year’s holiday is a traditional time to make a resolution to change something in your life. Whether it is losing weight, exercising more, kicking a bad habit or starting a good one, there are unlimited ways to make a resolution. Sadly, these self promises are often unsuccessful. The web site Discover Happy Habits offers some sobering data:

According to a 2016 study, of the 41% of Americans who make New Years resolutions, by the end of the year only 9% feel they are successful in keeping them.

It goes on to share that the top reasons for failure to keep a resolution include unrealistic goals, failure to track progress, forgetting about it, and setting too many goals.

Photo by Breakingpic on Pexels.com

To help you set a resolution you can stick to successfully, here is my own advice from personal practice.

1 – Set only one resolution: Too much change is stressful. Instead identify one thing that will make the most impact and focus your energy on that.

2 – Make the goal realistic: For example, promising to run ten miles every day gets old quick. Getting 10,000 steps a day is simpler to achieve and once you are on a roll the target number can be increased.

3 – Identify a simple change that is easy to implement: If you want to eat healthy, it can be jarring to jump from a regular diet to a low calorie one overnight. Instead, select one food item to eliminate, like processed sugar or salty chips. Sometimes a single change is enough to get the desired result.

4 – Track and celebrate: Make a note of your progress at the end of the day. Whether it is tracking your weight or recording exercise minutes, seeing continual progress is encouraging. Even more exciting is building a streak! Once the momentum starts it will see you through tough days.

5 – Set a time commitment– A resolution doesn’t have to be a lifetime change. One way to beat the inertia to get started on a new habit is to put a time limit on it. For example, commit to exercising one hour a day for 60 days. This makes the change reasonable and offers a way out if it doesn’t work for you. Of course, if the change sticks, keep going beyond the initial time commitment.

Good luck with your New Year’s Resolution and have a happy 2022!

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.

GTD Wisdom

David Allen’s insights into the nature of work and how we approach it can be career changing. That was certainly true for me. Below are a few classic David Allen quotes. I invite you to take time to ponder them. They may seem obvious at first, but on deeper reflection there is wisdom that may challenge the way your approach your daily tasks and long term goals. Enjoy!

“If you don’t pay appropriate attention to what has your attention, it will take more of your attention than it deserves.”

“Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them.”

“The big problem is that your mind keeps reminding you of things when you can’t do anything about them. It has no sense of past or future. That means that as soon as you tell yourself that you need to do something, and store it in your RAM, there’s a part of you that thinks you should be doing that something all the time.”

“Anything that causes you to overreact or under-react can control you, and often does.”

“You must use your mind to get things off your mind.”

“You don’t actually do a project; you can only do action steps related to it. When enough of the right action steps have been taken, some situation will have been created that matches your initial picture of the outcome closely enough that you can call it “done.” The list of projects is the compilation of finish lines we put before us, to keep our next actions moving on all tracks appropriately”

“Things rarely get stuck because of lack of time. They get stuck because the doing of them has not been defined.”

“There are no problems, only projects.”

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.