Whiz! Bang! Tilt! Twirl!

My co-blogger Crystal turned me on to a book by Maura Nevel Thomas called Personal Productivity Secrets. I have now read the first chapter and am already impressed, and taking my time thinking about it (given that I am an overeater, I think of this as taking time to digest what I’ve read).

Frankly, part of that first chapter terrified me. She went through several of the symptoms of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), and every single one of them applied to me. Symptoms such as intolerance of boredom, many projects underway at once, difficulty getting organized, procrastination, trouble following through, etc. are symptoms I live all the time. However, she goes on to say that one doctor believes that many people in our highly-connected, high-stimulus world have a culturally-induced Attention Deficit Trait (ADT). The theory is that the brain gets addicted to anything that provides a high level of stimulus, including the stimulus of constant computer/social interactions made possible by new technologies.

I was reading these words on my Nook Color e-reader and tablet (it has full web browsing capabilities) while in my recliner. On the left arm of the recliner sat my laptop. On the right arm was room for the Nook, my smartphone, and my telephone I use with a VOIP service. The telephone only has a microcontroller, but the VOIP box has computing power. I look across the room and see my Tivo, which is also a full computer running Linux. All this computing power for one person, and it doesn’t count my office computer. These devices have some overlapping capabilities, but each has its strengths for different tasks. Mostly what they do, though, is keep my brain busy.

A further hypothesis Thomas posits is that while this level of stimulus has some good effects, it also means the brain is not giving any time to deep, reflective thought. It is this quiet time of mulling over ideas that the brain makes connections and uses creativity to solve problems. These were not entirely new ideas to me, I had seen similar in William Powers’ Hamlet’s Blackberry. Powers solution is pretty simple – take some time in your life to disconnect entirely from electronics and reconnect with your own mind and with the people you interact with face-to-face. Thomas promises much more; she offers a combination of process and tools that allow you to take control of your attention, that fragile thing so under assault in a world where people are so busy and so hyperconnected.

Another really important concept Thomas has is that so much of what we do is reactive. If we start the day with email, for example, we react to our emails and that can wind up taking the whole day. leaving one at the end wondering what has been accomplished. I started this post a couple of days ago, over the weekend, and have noticed exactly this tendency in the two days I’ve been back at work.

I thought it would be good practice for me to stop reading and see if I can think of my own ways to get accomplish more substantive work. Then I’ll compare mine to hers as I read more. First of all, I don’t think I can entirely abandon checking email in the morning. there are some things my job requires me to respond to. I know already that part of her plan involves to-do lists. I’ve played around with them but not made them a center piece of my activities. That is the first positive change I can make. Another might be to take 15 minutes in the morning to write – doesn’t matter what – a blog post, ideas for an article, perhaps a mind map of a project. People who have gotten into the habit of writing, from what I read, tend to produce more and find their thoughts are better organized.

A particularly difficult project would be deciding what to read. I have so many RSS feeds I follow that I’ve gotten busy and dropped all of them. I get a lot of email that I delete unread. Crystal does a lot of reading on PKM topics, I read more on the tools side, but it is still too much. Comments on how you keep your professional reading to a reasonable level would be welcome.

I’ll post more on what I read in Personal Productivity Secrets, whether her plan agrees with mine, and how well I manage to implement my own plan.

Teaching PKM in library research sessions

This is my first fall semester as an academic librarian (I was a special librarian for about fifteen years, though I worked mainly in institutes in universities).  Therefore it’s my first time meeting and teaching large numbers of beginning graduate students and putting my convictions about personal knowledge management to use in the graduate library instruction classroom.

I have been fortunate that most faculty who have invited me into their classes have accepted my proposals about  how to work with students.  Since I am the librarian who works with graduate students in humanities and social sciences, my first goal is to ensure that they recognize me as their personal contact in the library, and that they know how to get in touch and what I can do for them

If I have an hour and a half or two one hour sessions with them, I divide it into two parts, with the first emphasizing preparation: the personal knowledge management ecosystem and defining a  search strategy.  The second part consists of looking at databases and sample searches. ( If I have three hours, it’s usually because the department has asked me to talk about how to incorporate source material properly – which they often have labeled plagiarism).

In the first part, I have time (though barely) to talk about the chaos of thinking about research – how our brains don’t neatly wall off time for thinking about intellectual projects from the grocery shopping from getting ready for a conference with little Veronica’s teacher or trying to remember everything you have to discuss with the doctor this morning.  (I have often sold this to the professor as citation management program, but at this point I am usually getting new interest).  Once we’re searching a database, we often find material that is of general interest to us, or might be useful for another project, though not necessarily for this one.  So we need a way to save that, possibly with some attached reflections we will want to remember later – but without disturbing our current workflow too much (ah, now I’ve really got the professor’s attention; there’s no one who hasn’t had this happen).

I ask people how they manage their workflow.  With some, it’s color-coded note cards and highlighters – but sometimes, like earlier this week, someone is using Evernote and RefWorks or another citation manager.  It’s very effective if there’s a student available to talk about how to use EverNote or OneNote to organize their research, and to describe how to use a citation manager!

When I introduce the subject of mapping, I can show them mapping subject terms, but I can also use a mind map to help them plot out a research project.  This one uses space on the left for their library research plan, and space on the right for an outline of the paper:

Generally, I stop this session at this point.  We have covered the general idea of the messiness of research, some tools for taming the chaos, and the steps that constitute a strategy.  In the next part, we will actually look at library databases and how to use them.

So far, the reaction has been positive.  However, I will follow these students, especially those in cohort programs, and hope to have the chance to assess the effectiveness in some more concrete way later in their programs.

Push vs Pull Learning

paranoia I’ve been catching up on some of my blog reading this weekend.  One of the bloggers I like to follow is Harold Jarche. His blog, Life in Perpetual Beta, focuses on learning in the socially networked world, both from the perspective of business organizations and from the perspective of academic and personal learning. His June 4th post, Pulling Informal Learning, refocused my thoughts on conversations we have been having in a tutorials committee at work. Conversations with graduate students have assured us that we are offering the kinds of topics in our workshops and training sessions in the library that the students want.  Yet attendance, while growing, is still low.  Students want the knowledge, but they want it when THEY want it.. not usually when our classes happen to offer it.  And the answers of when to offer the classes varies by individual.  They want the Pull learning that Jarche discusses in his post.

We’ve started creating short tutorials.. both screenshot instruction sheets and some 5 minutes or less video clips for short topics. We have also been using our research guides (we use LibGuides) to expand our class outreach.. most of our library classes have companion research guides with numerous resources on the topic of the class, as well as our PowerPoint presentation that they can download. But I feel like our grasp is still falling short.  We have so much to offer students to help make their passage through the university easier and more rewarding.. how to match up our knowledge and their attention is the challenge.

How have others been addressing these challenges?

Tuesday Tool Tip: Hojoki

Hojoki is another integrative web service. It isn’t like ifttt (see a previous Tuesday Tool Tip) but it does give you reminders of what you have done using specified cloud services. You get a daily and weekly roundup of what you’ve done using services including Evernote, Dropbox, Delicious, Twitter, Box, Basecamp, Mendeley, To Do Lists, Google Calendar, Google Contacts, Google Drive, Github, Yammer, and more. At first I gave it a try on a whim, not thinking it would be terribly useful, but find I really like having something I can go back to to see when I posted a certain link on Facebook (I see this because links I post to facebook are saved to Evernote through an ifttt recipe), or what links I’ve recently saved in Delicious. If I were doing a lot of academic research, it would be more valuable in keeping track of actions in Mendeley.

Hojoki is, to no one’s surprise, another social site. You can create a workspace, configure it, and invite other people to work on it with you. This increases its value for academic workflow by allowing researchers at a distance to share information on their collaborative work. It doesn’t take much time to set up and then it runs automatically, sending you emails plus gives you a personalized web site with your timeline. It is to be hoped they will add more services, such as Facebook (your status posts only), WordPress, and LinkedIn.

Hajoki is simple. Sometimes simplicity is a beautiful thing.

The morning after I wrote the above post, I had an email from Hojoki saying my connection to Dropbox was broken, as Dropbox had recently made some security enhancements and changed URLs. It gave brief instructions on how to fix the problem, and had a link to a guide with detailed instructions including screen shots. At first I was irritated at the need for such a change, but later thought about what great customer service it was to notify me of the problem and give quality help on how to fix it. For a free web service, it is particularly nice to be so valued as a user.

What recharges you?

electricityOver the past week I have been listening to an audiobook as I have been out and about in my car.  I particularly love audiobooks that are read by the authors who wrote them, and this was just such a book.  Brendon Burchard is a motivational speaker and NY Times best-selling author. In his newest book, The Charge: Activtating the 10 Human Drives that Make You Feel Alive, Burchard outlines what he believes to be the ten basic human drives that inspires and gives individuals the charge to illuminate their lives. The five basic drives are Control, Competence, Congruence, Caring and Connection.  His five Forward Human Drives are Change, Challenge, Creativity, Contribution and Consciousness. The term ‘Personal Knowledge Management’ is nowhere in sight, and the topics tended to relate more to business people than academics. So why am I writing about the book here? 

For me, PKM encompasses much more than tools and plans and changes to our lives that let us manage our lives more efficiently.  For me, an important aspect of the PKM lifestyle is focusing on the way we think and feel about ourselves, those around us and life in general.  All the productivity tricks in the world will be useless if we don’t have the mindset and focus to apply them.

I actually began the book rather skeptically, not really expecting to gain much from it that I didn’t already know.  The author is so energetic and enthusiastic that it felt like he was right there in the passenger seat of the car prodding me to pay attention and stay engaged.  I found, that even when I was mentally saying “yeah, I know that”, hearing a message or concept repeated in such a motivational way was actually starting a spark in me, and I found myself musing over several ideas that he put in my head during his “exercises”.  

One such idea was to plan out a year’s worth of goals, assigning one to each month.  While the idea of coming up with 12 challenging goals to add to my already overextended life made my mind go tilt, the idea of a monthly focus had appeal.  One of the challenges I sometimes have in making changes is just in getting started..  I know things I want to do, but get distracted by responsibilities at hand and end up pulling a classic Scarlet O’Hara (I’ll think about that Tomorrow!)  “What if,” I mused, “I assigned myself very small changes to incorporate in my life and tackle one more each month?”  What if all I had to do was remember to drink twice as much water every day, for example. The one month deadline makes the change more doable and somehow easier to start, simply because of the time constraints involved (afterall, I can do ANYthing for just one month, right?).  Then next month, I would very likely find myself better capable of keeping up the new habit of drinking more water and can continue that while focusing on another small change for the new month ahead. 

Was this brain science? No.  Had I never heard of chunking deliverables (or changes) into smaller, more achievable chunks?  Of course I had heard of the concept.  That is one of the most basic project management rules out there.  What I did discover anew, however, was the benefit to listening to (or reading) motivational or enlightening books and speakers even when I felt like I already knew about that topic.  It made me think of all the great books I had in my bookshelves… positive thinking books that were full of highlighted passages marked by ME.   I marked those passages because they made an impact on me when I read them.  I bet they would make an impact again today if I read them again.  And they might just make me think about a problem or challenge I am facing today a little differently.  Sometimes, seeing things from a different perspective can make all the difference in getting a “stuck” project going again.

What’s in your bookshelves that motivated or made a difference in your life?  Maybe it would be worth dusting it off and taking a second look.

Tuesday Tool Tip: ifttt

We are planning to offer a re-occurring feature on our blog called Tuesday Tool Tips. While not offered every week, these posts will describe tools that we find most useful or recommended by other trusted bloggers/sites.

Today’s tip is on ifft, which stands for If This, Then That.  If you use a number of social media tools, then you often spend too much time in repetitive tasks.  For example, you add a post to your blog, you then link to the post with a tweet.  ifttt wants to automate as many of those tasks as it can by providing you with snippets of code to accomplish a task without your intervention.  It does this by creating channels – that is, web services such as Facebook, Twitter, Evernote, and many more.  “Recipes” trigger actions from one channel to another.  For example, every time a post goes up on my WordPress blog, add it as a note to Evernote, or send it to Twitter or Facebook.  Another recipe might be every time you update your Facebook picture, update the Twitter one as well.  ifttt has even created a couple of its own channels for a calendar and weather.  So, for example, one recipe sends email whenever the forecast for the next day is for rain.  Others send emails when new books or albums hit Amazon’s top 100 list.  Other recipes include such actions as add photos from Flickr or Instagram to a Dropbox folder.  As of this date, there are 48 channels available.

ifttt used well can save you time.  Used poorly, it can add more time wasters to your email or other media.  It is all in how you use the tool.

This kind of tool is so new that there is no name for the category.  I’ve considered web service synchronization tools and web services interoperability, then settled on integrative services. Let me know in the comments if you have a better name.