Here at Kennesaw State, we in the Sturgis Library have just started a professional development reading group. Our first book was on neither librarianship nor education, nor even on leadership. It wasn’t one of the year’s hot new books, either.
We kicked our group off with Edward de Bono’sSix Thinking Hats, first published in 1985. It’s simple, direct, and fun. We applied it to two related issues we are facing right now and found it so helpful we want to spread the technique beyond the ten or so people who attended that session and start applying the technique to certain kinds of decisions and discussions.
So why do I mention this on a personal knowledge management blog? Because in the end, personal knowledge management is more than collecting. You have to plan and come to decisions, and for that you need a process.
Six Thinking Hats is a method of thinking that sets up a process of using one thinking skill at a time. Unlike approaches that identify which type of thinker one is, Six Thinking Hats is based on the premise that each of us can learn to use all of the thinking skills. The key is to separate the skills and concentrate on one at a time so that the brain isn’t fighting itself by engaging in multiple types of thinking at the same time. In other words, you don’t need a creative thinker and an analytic thinker and a planner; you can do it all yourself, it you will stop and take the time to set up the method and then stick to it.
The hats are:
White: the information hat; neutral facts and figures; thinking about what information is needed and how to get it
Red: emotion, hunches, and intuition
Yellow: speculative, finding value and opportunity in ideas, optimism, why things may work
Black: caution and analysis; critical thinking, difficulties, why something may not work
Blue: thinking about how to think, control, process, overview, structure, action plans
You can arrange these in an order that suits you, probably starting and ending with blue. I find that different types of decisions or stages in a process may call for a different order, or more or less time spent with a different “hat.” I also find that I need to iterate certain stages. When I am going through the hats on my own, I can be more ad hoc than I would when working with a group, but it is worthwhile to set up the method and stages carefully, and stick to them. On my own, I put on the red hat perhaps more often than I would, at least formally, in a group, especially if I feel like something is holding me back or if I am procrastinating. While many people just make themselves get on with the task, I do better if I go to work on myself laterally and identify what’s holding me back. Often, it’s an emotion.
One of the great things about the Six Hats method is that it prevents you from either getting carried away with enthusiasm (yellow hat) for an idea, nor killing off an idea prematurely (black hat). Also, acknowledging the role and validity of emotions helps me deal with them more fruitfully. When I am looking at the emotions separately, rather than letting them rumble under the surface, I can better identify them and their source, see how they are influencing me and decide what kind of action I need to take.
I also find that I enjoy the playful aspect of the six hats; the whimsy relieves what would otherwise be tedium of the routine and the stress that occurs when I tell myself I it’s time to be creative. We used to think of work and play as opposites, but they certainly don’t need to be, and in some situations it’s counterproductive to try to eliminate joy and playfulness from work.
There is a ritual aspect to the six hats that appeals to me as well. I know I have overdeveloped my black hat skills, and I love to wear the blue hat. I can happily plan and design processes forever! But I need to get on with the actual work, and wearing the hats in turn, combined with a timer, can help me move along.
This is what a Six Hats process to write a blog post on using the Six Hats for PKM would look like, expressed as a concept map: Not very comprehensive, a bit tongue-in-cheek, just some basic thoughts so you get the idea —
Map developed using Cmap.
Have a good week everyone, I’m off to Chicago where I will need another kind of map entirely. – Elisabeth
“There’s a reason there’s still so much paper around in this hyper-connected, everything-online age: the stuff is cheap, portable, compatible with all your applications, and everyone masters the interface by the time they’re out of the first grade.”
His list has stood the test of time and all of his suggested sites are still active link destinations today. There are sites that offer free downloadable paper types (graph paper that you can even customize the block size), printable rulers for measuring on the go, a template for students using Cornell’s method of note-taking, a nifty format tool that will convert a PDF into a printable booklet, and, what I consider to be the jewel overall, the D*I*Y Planner. This outstanding site allows you to create a paper planner that is customized to your own needs and whims. Best yet, the templates are all free. If you can’t find the perfect form at D*I*Y Planner, head on over to David Seah’s site. He also has a collection of templates to master paper-based workflows. Some are creative commons and some are for a small fee.
Note-taking and Paper:
In a brand new NY Times bestselling book out this year, Mike Rohde introduces his visual method of note-taking. The Sketchnote Handbook illustrates his method even as it imparts guidance and principles to enable the reader to apply the method for himself. Chock full of free-form, quick drawings and multi-sized lettering, it has the appeal of a graphic novel, enticing readers to explore its pages and enjoy its fun presentation while it imparts a clear, easy to implement method for better note-taking. If you are a person who constantly finds yourself doodling during phone calls, webinars, meetings or presentations, this might be just the method for you. I think this method will also appeal to students who grew up with the graphic format of the technique.
The Sketchnote method only requires the ability to draw five simple shapes: a circle, a square, a triangle, a straight (relatively) line, and a dot. Any sketch can be formed from these shapes. The idea is not to create art, rather, a visual representation of a thought. While Rohde prefers a small moleskin notebook and pen(s), the Sketchnote process could also be performed digitally on tablets or smartphones with a stylus. Another option is a new product that is discussed in your exercises. A nifty “Evernote Smart Notebook” produced by the Moleskin folks!
Regardless of whether you use paper productivity forms or sketch your notes, the underlying states of clutter and information overload from paper-like items is a challenge for each of us. Some swear by the method of going “paperless”, others say paperless is not the answer either. Dr. Audri Lanford coined the term “paperitis” to describe this situation. She, along with her husband host the site by the same name: Paperitis. They have “been helping businesses save time, money and trees by going paperless since 1985”. While they are a consultation service, their site is rich with articles and tips on making a start with taking back control. If for no other reason, they have a great set of cartoons that will make you smile.
The final topic we are going to consider today is the Pomodoro Technique. This technique, developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late ’80’s (per his book intro), is a way of breaking time into small chunks (25 minutes) of intensely focused time. A free pdf of his original book on the technique is available. In 2010, Steffan Noteberg, also published a book on the method worth considering. It offers a nice introduction to the technique as well as discussing the psychology and physiology that is behind the success of the system.
The technique itself is simple. Choose a project you need to complete. Block out time to work on this project, and arrange that time in 25 minute intervals with 5 minute breaks between. During those 25 minute intervals, you may do nothing but the project. No answering phones, no reading emails, no putting out fires… Well, ok. If your office is literally on fire, you are allowed to evacuate until the fire professionals call the all clear, but when you come back, start that 25 minute block over again.
The original technique was developed using a simple kitchen timer (hence the picture of the tomato and the name Pomodoro which is the Italian term for tomato), but application developers have quickly jumped on the bandwagon, creating a plethora of apps that apply the technique and even produce progress reports for your use of the technique over time. Wikipedia has a nice list of a number of different Pomodoro applications. There are apps for your iphone and ipad, for your Chrome browser, your android devices… just a google search will pull them up. One that I find useful is focus booster – Live. It is available as an app, but I like the simple online version that can start that 25 minute countdown by just a click without any messy downloads. If you are an online gaming buff that is motivated by the sands of time slipping away on your quest, Pomodoro might be just the technique for you to try. (Magic sword and damsel in distress not included.)
The Moleskine company has collaborated with the Evernote folks and created a special Evernote Smart Notebook. Take a few minutes now and check it out here at the Getting Started Guide. How might this tool help your workflow and productivity? Could you combine it with the Sketchnote method?
Review the Pomodoro Technique. Try to apply the method on a project you need to start today. How often did you have to keep yourself from straying from the task? How much did you accomplish during the session?
Wanted to give a shout out to Addictive Tips website and newsletter. They do nice reviews of apps/software for a variety of platforms. The reviews are especially useful in that they mention other apps that do the same thing, and they also give details on features, screenshots, and links to download the app.
GMail on Steroids – article from Ask Bob Rankin. He generally does a good job of explaining geek speak for the non-geek or geek wannabe. This post talks about Google Labs and third party add ons to GMail.
What does it mean to be productive? Working efficiently, getting the most done with the least effort and time. Working efficiently requires CLARITY about what projects need to be done, what the project looks like when it is done, what deliverables it will produce, and what resources (human and other) are required to produce those deliverables. Clarity needs an organizational tool that can capture all those pieces of information. The human brain, by itself, is not enough. It can only pay attention to a few things at a time.
To-do lists were created to help fill this need. Sometimes they are prioritized, sometimes organized by date due on a calendar. Most of us have made lists only to find it is one more thing to keep track of, so adding to the clutter instead of reducing it. David Allen in his megahit Getting Things Done mentions a woman who, after attending one of his seminars,
looked woefully at her to-do list and remarked, “Boy, that was an amorphous blob of undoability!” (Allen, p. 27)
The core process that I teach for mastering the art of relaxed and controlled knowledge work is a five-stage method for managing workflow. No matter what the setting, there are five discrete stages that we go through in order to deal with our work. We (1) collect things that command our attention; (2) process what they mean and what to do about them; and (3) organize the results, which we (4) review as options for what we choose to (5) do.
(p. 33). So to-do lists are a part of Allen’s system, but a small part and fairly useless without the rest of the system. This lesson was originally designed to be on to-do lists, but like a Pac Man critter it got eaten by the GTD system. The bad news is that there really is no substitute for reading the whole Getting Things Done book. While blog posts like this one can summarize the parts of the GTD system, and Allen’s video embedded below also give a sense of how GTD works, they sound a bit arbitrary without reading how he explains (a) the rationale behind the system; and (b) the steps required to implement the system.
Every person writing about GTD is going to view it and explain it differently. Each mind has perceptual filters that highlight what it sees as the most important elements of the system. So what is in this post is my inadequate way of interpreting the GTD system, and it is hoped that those of you who have used it will jump in with your comments on its utility and how you have used it. We also hope that those who haven’t used it jump in to ask questions of those who have.
So remember that, in our view, the purpose of any such system is to provide CLARITY, which in turn produces workflow EFFICIENCY. Allen is convinced that things are in our minds because we haven’t yet decided what we have to do, and what actions are required to accomplish what we need to do. Therefore the brain continually pays attention to these things which eats up all of our focus.
Therefore, the system starts with what I call (Allen does not) a data dump. Put everything you are committed to down somewhere. Does not matter whether you write it on paper or in electronic form. Does not matter, for now, whether it is a professional or personal commitment. Does not matter for now whether it is an action or a project or a category of work. Just put it all down to begin the process of getting it out of your brain and into a system. Keep adding to it as your brain remembers one more thing. And one more thing. And, hey, oh yeah, whatever you do, don’t forget THAT!
Once you have the data dump, you can start organizing it. Most things should fall into certain categories. Scan your list and then create new lists based on your review. The first is a project, something that has a timeline associated with it. To do a project requires actions, and the actions need to be done by a certain date. We’ll talk more about projects shortly. Secondly, scan your list for items which are actions that need to be done. Most of these will fall under projects, and if they don’t fit into a project you’ve identified, add a new project to that list. Now add your actions under the project they fall into. Your last category is, well, categories. These are things you have to accomplish for your work or personal life but do not have an associated timeline. You can organize them similarly to projects.
Now go back to your projects list. Can you identify the next action that needs to be taken to get this project done? It is likely, that for most projects and categories, you haven’t done the clarifying process of defining exactly what the project is. What is the reason for doing the project? Why? Envision what the project looks like when it is done. What are the required deliverables? Is it your thesis or dissertation? The syllabus for your class? For a Librarian, perhaps it is a guide for a subject or a class, or an outline of an instructional session on finding and using library research resources. Next is the question of HOW? What actions are required to accomplish the deliverables? What decisions do you have to make in order to do the required actions?
Many people have reported having trouble coming up with specific actions that are action items – things to be done. Instead they tend to be fuzzy formulations of goals, say, for example, “write dissertation” instead of (a) search the article-indexing databases in my field. (b) capture the useful citations in EndNote (c) download the papers into Mendeley. (d) search the library catalog for books on my topic. (e) check out the books… and so on. For a librarian a project to create a course guide might be (a) search for other guides on the same or similar topic (b) get ideas from those guides for resources and design of my own guide (c) create guide (d) add resources to guide (e) if the guide is for a course, run it by the professor for approval and (f) publish the guide. For a professor or teaching assistant, a category of work might be Instruction, while a project might be teach class Ed Tech 2010: Instructional Design.
Once you have everything out of your mind, where your brain can see it, and sorted into projects with their associated actions and categories of things that need doing but don’t have a time line, then it is time to make decisions. This can be the hardest part, and the point where many systems break down. Allen has a useful workflow diagram on p. 38. If something is actionable, then do it, delegate it, or defer it. If something is not actionable, then trash it, add it to a someday maybe list of things to do eventually when the time is right, or add it to a file of reference material – facts you need to know to inform actions, but are not themselves actions.
Allen stresses that for the system to work, the brain has to trust that it works. For it to do so, the final important part of the system is a review. Allen suggests reviewing your lists weekly. Try that until you get a feel for what works for you. If your brain starts nagging you again about things you haven’t done yet, you’ve left the review for too long. Also be sure you have made enough decisions about what actions to take. Some of them may be wrong, but you can go back and correct these. Decision making is a habit that has to be cultivated and gets easier with time.
So those are the basic elements of the GTD system. (1) Do a data dump of all your commitments, (2) sort them into projects, actions, and categories, (3) make decisions, (4) act on the decisions, and (5) review the system for next actions and evaluations of the status of projects and other work.
There are, of course, a lot more details, and it is advisable to read the whole book through at least once to see if Getting Things Done is the system you want to adopt. There are alternative systems out there. One good alternative is the one found in Maura Thomas’ Personal Productivity Secrets. If you have tried or developed an alternative system or your own twist on GTD then let us know about it in the comments.
Lots of software has been developed to make adopting GTD easier. Our suggested readings includes a site that lists and reviews such software. For myself so far I use Evernote, as it as adaptable, easy to search, and works on almost any device. Again please add comments to let us know what system/software/hardware you use.
To bring this lesson back full circle, remember that it is clarity that leads to efficiency. If your system isn’t working for you, examine each part to see if a part or parts isn’t clear enough. For a project, perhaps your mind isn’t clear on what the project is to accomplish. Try again to visualize what it will look like when finished. Or perhaps your list of actions needed to finish the project is missing a crucial step. This is another part of reviewing your system.
May your work be as clear as the light of day!
From David Allen:
Allen, D. (2001). Getting things done: The art of stress-free productivity. New York: Viking.
There are several different flavors of tools floating around the web who all promise to solve all your inbox problems and enable you to achieve greater efficiency in managing your email. One of the more promising applications is the Organizer by Otherinbox . I was intrigued by its claims and the wide variety of email platforms that it will handle. I was hoping to introduce our readers to a wonderful email handling solution, so I decided to give it a try.
I installed Organizer on both my Yahoo and Gmail accounts. (It also runs on AOL and iCloud.) While these accounts were not linked, I made the mistake of first creating my Organizer account when installing the service on my Yahoo account, and then adding an installation on my Gmail account without creating a totally new Organizer account. Within a short time I realized that only one daily Organizer email was being sent to my Yahoo account and it combined the folders (tags) created in BOTH Gmail and Yahoo accounts. This could have been cool, but upon clicking on the organized Gmail items in the summary memo, the system was confused, first asking me to log into Gmail, but still being unable to link to the specific email showing up in the Organizer summary email. This was frustrating. I do not recommend linking more than one email account to this service for that reason unless you are able to create two separate Organizer accounts.
Upon installing, Organizer started working right away. Don’t install this service until you are able to work outside your email on other projects for several hours as Organizer will be trying to sort and file your current inbox. For me, those inboxes were substantial and Organizer sorted what it could, but I never achieved anything close to a zero inbox, though I have worked with the system, tweaking folders, adding folders, “teaching” it where to file certain email addresses, etc.
I discovered a number of Pros and Cons to Organizer during my experiment:
My installation doesn’t distinguish between Gmail and Yahoo emails being organized.
Since it works on email address as the sort key, trying to send emails to different OIB folders will confuse the system. Likewise, once you send an email to an OIB box, you will need to be prepared for all subsequent emails sent from address to be automatically put into that box. This seems like an obvious characteristic of creating a filter, but one that I had not thought through with regards to consequences. I did not realize how often I made evaluations and treated emails from the same address differently…whether that meant saving, filing or deleting them. For example, I have a number of FeedBlitz emails from various feeds. I would not optimally sort all of those together into the same folder since they are on different topics. You can remove an address from Organizer’s sort list and send it back to your inbox, but if you hand file a lot of emails into OIB folders once you review them, Organizer will “recognize” the email again and start sorting that address to the last OIB folder location you chose.
Organizer’s Daily Digest is its summary notice of emails that the system has filed. I like the format of this email as it lists every email it has sorted since the last time the Digest was published. I have not been able to nail down how often during the day Organizer actually scans my new emails and files them. I have seen emails normally sorted still in my inbox in the mornings at times, but also seen emails which arrive during the day go to my OIB file folders before I see them pass the inbox as well. This is a little confusing to me since I end up checking the individual OIB folders anyway if I want to be sure I don’t miss emails that arrive between the delivery times of the once daily “Daily Digest”.
My organized mind still feels the urge to “clean out” the OIB folders of “junk” that I don’t want to hang onto once I’ve seen it. I have discovered that I already had been doing a pretty good job of quickly sorting emails as they come in. While it is nice to have all Shopping emails together in one place when I want to purge/sort, it is still somewhat irritating to have to go through each folder.
After a month, I find I’m getting tired of teaching and correcting Organizer. It is doing a lot of things well, but there is still clutter and misfiled emails to correct/consider. I’ve started wondering how much time it is actually “saving” and how much time it is “costing” me.
It is easy to create and customize folders/tags for Organizer. Just create a folder or tag with the folder name you want and begin that name with “OIB “. I created “OIB Astronomy”, “OIB dogs”, “OIB authors”, etc. and then placed the emails in each of those folders as appropriate. Organizer “learned” from my example and then sent all subsequent emails from those addresses to the new folders.
I like that expired offers (shopping in particular) are automatically deleted from the folders after several days.
The most significant plus for me is that Organizer has made me think through how I deal with email and given me several good ideas about possible filters I would (or sometimes would NOT) want to set up on my own. I can apply these lessons to my work email box and other accounts that Otherinbox does not currently support.
I will be disabling Organizer from my email accounts in the near future. I have found that I prefer using my own foldering system that I do my hand. Experiencing Organizer has made me think more about filters that I would find helpful. I will probably create a few of those for specialized categories of emails, but I’ll be using the filtering features of my individual email accounts instead of another outside application
Don’t just take my word for it! If Organizer intrigues you, try it out for yourself. Even if you do not find it to be the tool for you, I can guarantee that it will make you consider email organization in a new way. Or if you have found another email organizer tool, tell us about your experiences with it, good or bad.
Here’s the beginnings of a great idea – a group has formed called AQuA, the App Quality Alliance. They have begun a Quality App Directory, described as “a directory of mobile apps that have met a certain quality level: a quality level specified by the AQuA members: AT&T, LG, Motorola, Nokia, Oracle, Orange, Samsung and Sony Mobile.” You can search by app title, suitable device, or developer. Would like to see them devise categories for apps, but I guess that’s the librarian in me.