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.

Benefits of Relaxation

This past two years have been a stressful time. We see it in our politics, our workplaces, and even in our private lives. Chronic stress is well known to be a health hazard which is very problematic with COVID-19 still circulating in the population. With Thanksgiving a few days away, right now is a good time to dedicate yourself to purposeful relaxation.

The benefits of relaxation have been widely studied. They impact us physically, mentally, and energetically. On their website, Advent Health provides a list of ten benefits of relaxation. Here is the first one, improved concentration:

If stress begins to overpower your ability to focus, it may be difficult to accomplish even simple tasks. Relaxation techniques can help give you something else to focus on, allowing your mind a chance to clear. 

Photo by Artem Beliaikin on Pexels.com

Another important reason relaxation is very important is that it lowers blood pressure.

As your body reaches a state of relaxation, your breathing becomes slower and causes your body to slow down other functions. As your heart rate slows, your overall blood pressure lowers.

Read other eight at the Advent Health web site.

If you need some tips on how to relax, Healthline provides six simple ideas such as breathing it out and writing down your thoughts.

Finally, I wish everyone a very Happy Thanksgiving.

Do You Want to Be Happy? Are You Sure?

Are you happy right now? Were you happy today? How about yesterday?

Most people when asked would say that experiencing happiness is an important part of life. When polled, people said they had the most happiness when socializing with friends and family. Yet why is it that we often prioritize spending long hours at work which prevents us from having fun?

An article on Quartz by Ephrat Livni, explores this seeming paradox and uncovers a potential explanation why were behave this way. The article discusses research findings made by Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman that point to the balancing act between happiness and satisfaction.

Kahneman contends that happiness and satisfaction are distinct. Happiness is a momentary experience that arises spontaneously and is fleeting. Meanwhile, satisfaction is a long-term feeling, built over time and based on achieving goals and building the kind of life you admire. On the Dec. 19 podcast “Conversations with Tyler,” hosted by economist Tyler Cowen, Kahneman explains that working toward one goal may undermine our ability to experience the other.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

A key factor in how people navigate the line between happiness and satisfaction is linked to memory.

The key here is memory. Satisfaction is retrospective. Happiness occurs in real time. In Kahneman’s work, he found that people tell themselves a story about their lives, which may or may not add up to a pleasing tale. Yet, our day-to-day experiences yield positive feelings that may not advance that longer story, necessarily. Memory is enduring. Feelings pass. Many of our happiest moments aren’t preserved—they’re not all caught on camera but just happen. And then they’re gone.

Read the rest of the article on Quartz.

Is Life Better When You’re Busy?

Are you busy right now?

I ask because our modern life seems designed to offer too many options for things to do such that it is impossible to ever do them all. Yet there is a persistent fear of missing out (FOMO) that drives people to chase one thing after another, filling up every hour of the day with stuff. All this running around raises an important question: does being busy make life more fulfilling?

That is the question Scott Young addresses in his article Is Life Better When You’re Busy? In order to answer it he first focuses on the possible reasons why people are busy, of which none have to do with the actual volume of necessary work to be done.

  • Busyness as signaling. Busy people are important. Complaints about busyness are like complaints about paying too much in taxes—something that allows you to subtly communicate your status.
  • Busyness as dodging commitment. Claiming busyness is a socially acceptable way to decline social obligations. “I wish I could, but I’m too busy,” is more polite than, “No, your nephew’s piano recital doesn’t interest me very much.”
  • Busyness as self-deception. When you work on things, your goal is always to move toward a state of having less stuff left to do. Since less outstanding tasks is better within the context of your goal, you may incorrectly extend that to assume that having no outstanding tasks in life is ideal.
Photo by Alexander Dummer on Pexels.com

We seem biologically driven to be busy, perhaps as an evolutionary trait to ensure we keep on the lookout for food and avoid dangers. Boredom is viewed as a problem that must be resolved. Young takes time to consider whether this is a sweet spot where business and idleness meet for maximum satisfaction.

Later in the article, he considers if being busy is really a function of having too little time to complete our tasks.

Strictly speaking, we all have the same amount of time each day. Nobody has more or less. What feels like a lack of time is, more accurately, a conflict between priorities.

One problematic form of busyness occurs when your activity has low intrinsic enjoyment. If you’re forced to work long hours at a job you hate, then you need to somehow meet your psychological needs in the little time you have left. This can be tricky.

Read the entire article on Scott Young’s web site.

Are You Scared of Lists?

Do you like your lists?

Making lists is a standard time management tool designed to put everything that needs to be done front and center. However, many people have trouble using their lists effectively. Often the reason is that the items on the lists are too vague and thus difficult to act on. Other times lists may seem overwhelming because they are long and contain everything that needs to be done. Can we just trash lists and do something else instead to manage our affairs? Perhaps not.

David Allen is a huge proponent of using lists. He has a way to demystify them for maximum effectiveness. In a recent article on the Getting Things Done web site, David discusses why lists are often considered a dirty word.

You are either attracted or repelled by your lists and everything on them. There is no neutral territory. When you look at any one item you will either be thinking to yourself, “Hey, when can I mark THAT off?” or “Yuck! Back away!” My educated guess is that 98 per cent of people’s responses are some version of the latter.

Why? Because 1) they’re hard work and/or 2) they’re scary and/or 3) they’re disappointing.

After dissecting the reasons why lists frustrate people, he proceeds to provide ways to make better use of them. For example:

1) Make them complete, so your brain gets to graduate from the job of remembering; and organize your action reminders by context (phone, computer, errands, at home, etc.) so you only need to review what you actually can do at the time.

Read the other two ways to make lists more useful on the Getting Things Done web site.

Pay Yourself First and Do It With Time

If you have ever tried to save money for retirement, you might be familiar with the “pay yourself first” strategy. This approach recommends that people take the first portion of their pay check and set it aside for savings. The rationale behind this strategy is that we have so many opportunities to spend money that relying on leftovers at the end of a month will lead to little savings or none at all. While this approach works for money, does it work for time?

In his book Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals, author Oliver Burkeman argues that many people spend their limited time on this earth doing things the feel they need to do, not what they want to do. As David Allen has long pointed out there is always more to do than we can ever do. If a person want to accomplish the things that matter most to them, their time must be preserved for those things. As he writes:

If you try to find time for your most valued activities by first dealing with all the other important demands on your time, in the hope that there’ll be some left over at the end, you’ll be disappointed. So if a certain activity really maters to you – a creative project, say, through it could just as easily be nurturing a relationship, or activism in the service of some cause – the only way to be sure it will happen is to do some if it today, no matter how little, no matter how many other genuinely big rocks may be begging for your attention. (pg 74)

Four Thousand Weeks

Now reflect on this question: what project or cause in your life do you want to give more attention to on a daily basis?

Once you know what it is dedicate a sacred time period each day to do it. Whether it is an hour in the morning to write that novel, or your lunch hour to attend a Toastmasters meeting to work on your public speaking, or even two nights a week to make phone calls to raise money for your favorite charity, these priorities only happen when you block off the time to do it.

So, how much time to do you want to pay yourself first?

The Leader as Diplomat

I am happy to share this article that was recently published in Learning Exchange: The Newsletter of the Learning Round Table of the American Library Association.

Oftentimes the first thoughts of leadership are about the internal relationship between a leader and their team. However, leadership also involves interacting with others beyond that leader’s chain of command, whether they are in another part of the organization or completely external to it. This is where a leader must take on the role of a diplomat.

To paraphrase the definitions of diplomat and diplomacy from the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a diplomat is someone who practices the art of conducting negotiations between groups. They must have skill in handling affairs without invoking hostility, and handle awkward situations with tact. To be a diplomat requires sound leadership skills.

What does diplomacy have to do with library leadership? Think about the diplomats who work for the United States. They are appointed by the President with the consent of the Senate to live in another nation in order to represent America’s interests. To be successful they need to understand the culture of their assigned country while at the same time demonstrate American values. The goal is to create a productive relationship based on regular communication and trust.

Read the rest of the article on the Efficient Librarian web site.