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.

Integrative Services: Time Savers Extraordinaire

The internet is full of silos – web sites or services that don’t play well with others.  Whether you’re retrieving or disseminating information, this requires a lot of duplication of effort.  Librarians and researchers are especially aware of this problem, simply due to the number of databases that must be searched to get a comprehensive view of the literature on a topic.  First federated searching and then web-scale discovery services were attempts to get around the problem and provide a simple interface to information scattered across many silos that require subscriptions.

But the open web has its silos too.  Both work and personal life may require using various social media such as twitter or facebook.  To get the same information on different sites required multiple data entry.  This is beginning to change in ways that will become more and more useful as time goes on.

My first real awareness of this phenomena was the blogging platform Posterous.  It allowed you to make the same information available on numerous web services.  For example, I had my personal blog set up to post simultaneously to Posterous, Blogger, facebook, twitter, and Live Journal.

So I was very impressed when I found iffft, the service that allows integration of many services through the use of recipes that trigger actions.  For example, photos you send to facebook can be sent automatically to Dropbox or Evernote, as can a WordPress blog post.  An upcoming Tuesday tool tip will focus on iffft and include more on using it to perform some tasks more efficiently.

Other products that I haven’t used are doing something similar. Hootsuite integrates social media and more, while there are products similar to iffft that are aimed at business users. Hojoki integrates cloud apps, and sends an a daily and weekly email summarizing your recent uses of these. on{x} (I hate that name) is similar to ifttt and allows you to remotely program an Android phone using a JavaScript API.

I’m the type of person who is more likely to notice the big picture rather than the details – just call me Meta Mary – so I find this an exciting trend that augers much for the future.  Being able to automate yet control how one interacts with the flood of information available (and constantly growing) will be helpful in dealing with information overload.  If anyone has come up with a name for such services I’m not aware of it, so I’m calling them integrative web services.  Corning has made compelling videos about such a future with their “A Day Made of Glass” and “Day Made of Glass 2” videos – while it focuses on devices, notice how smoothly simple the interfaces they use are:

Day Made of Glass [YouTube videos have not been working for me in Firefox, but are working in IE]:

Day Made of Glass 2:

Tuesday Tool Tip: Create Your Own WordPress blog in 20 minutes

For today’s Tuesday Tool Tip, I’d like to recommend a July 16th blog posting by Michael Hyatt at his site michaelhyatt.com entitled: “How to Launch a Self-Hosted WordPress Blog in 20 Minutes or Less.”  He includes a very nice video tutorial that steps you through each part of the process, using BlueHost as the sample hosting service.

I wish I had Michael’s post when I was creating our site here at academicpkm.org. He does a wonderful job of letting you see exactly  how to proceed and lets you view the entire process before you ever start so that you won’t be surprised by any information or decisions that have to be made along the way.  Don’t expect him to show you how to alter the default WordPress theme or how to handle the backend beyond typing your first post, but if all you want to do is create a place to blog, he takes the mystery out of the process.

I’ve been following Michael Hyatt’s Intentional Leadership blog for several months now.  He is best selling author of the book Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World and is the former Chairman and CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers. His blog covers topics that range from personal development and  leadership to productivity and utilizing social media just to name a few.  I really enjoy his straightforward, easy style. I’ve listed his blog in our PKM Related Blog Roll if you are interested in exploring more.

Do You Have Information Anxiety?

Decisions Do you see yourself in any of these descriptions listed by Richard Saul Wurman in his book,  “Information Anxiety 2”?

  • “I find myself frequently bemoaning the fact that I just can’t seem to keep up with everything going on.
  • I feel guilty whenever I think about all the reading that is piling up in my inbox, my briefcase, my ereader and desk.
  • Everyone else knows all about the topics that I don’t.
  • I have a fear of “missing” critical information when I’m searching.
  • I’m so busy finding all the information sources, I don’t have time to read and digest what I’ve found.
  • I have difficulty efficiently sorting through all the “noise” of information I receive to identify the nuggets of information I am seeking.”

If any of these sentiments sound familiar, you may be joining the growing crowd of individuals who suffer from “information anxiety”(IA).  Information anxiety is the cost we experience when information overload occurs.  Wurman defines IA as “the ever-widening gap between what we understand and what we think we should understand. It is the black hole between data and knowledge, and what happens when information doesn’t tell us what we want or need to know.” 

Baldwin and Robertson (“The Dark Side of Information: Overload, Anxiety and Other Paradoxes and Pathologies”, Journal of Information Science 35(2) 2009, pp. 185) says IA is more than just a reaction to the volumes of information that we are faced with on a daily basis. Also adding to our stress is the difficulty experienced when trying to locate information when needed  as well as the inability to use and understand the information that is already available. Sometimes, they assert, the information may be incomplete, but just as often the problem may be that the information obtained is disorganized and gathered in a piecemeal fashion from a number of different resources.

Carol Tenopir (“Online Information Anxiety”, Library Journal  115(13) 1990, p 62) relates the effect of IA to the challenges faced by librarians, stating, “With access to hundreds of bibliographic, directory, full-text, numeric databases online, the fundamental problem of today isn’t finding information, it is filtering and helping users make sense of all we find.”

So what does this mean to us as librarians? Even as some voices are declaring the library (and its librarians) superfluous in this age where individuals can consult the Web for all their information needs, we also see a refocused attention on the issues of information overload and information anxiety in business, academia and the general population.  And people are stepping up to address the issues.  They call themselves information experts, business consultants, social media gurus and productivity coaches just to name a few titles. The underlying concepts they are applying, however, are very familiar to librarians. They are simply applying and adjusting them to address the information environment of today: a world connected by information streaming from many different media forms at a faster pace than ever before.  We need to repackage our very capable skill sets and redefine what the world imagines a librarian to be.  Our users need us as never before.  They just have to realize it.

Mary’s Information Ecosystem

Whirling Piece of Chaos

Organization?  We don’ need no stinkin’ organization!

Sadly, I am not one of those people for whom organization comes naturally.  At one time I thought of myself as a whirling piece of chaos.  It’s not that I approved of this, or wanted it, but things just seemed to spin off that way out of my control.  My mind is also the kind that sees the big picture but can be oblivious to details, and I like to think I’m the creative type. For those familiar with Myers-Briggs personality typing, I score high on both intuition and perception.  I’m envious of my co-blogger Crystal who manages to be both creative and organized.

I finally realized that work was a place I could be better organized, and I’m slowly working on it.  My email is now much better organized than it was, with folders and subfolders.

As a librarian, I don’t do a lot of original research.  I get to know about a lot of research tools (you should see my page of Google Alerts and my RSS feeds – Oy Vey!) but tend to focus on the forest rather than the trees.  For example, I’ve used Zotero for a project or two but am by no means a power user knowing all the tricks and nuances.

Evernote I am using and loving, learning to be a power user.  So far I have used it more for my personal life.  For example it is marvelous for storing information about an upcoming appointment at a place I’ve never been.  I save the name, phone number, and directions/map, and have it all accessible in the Evernote app for my smartphone.  We have been using it to organize our plans for this blog, and have a notebook for ideas for new posts.  So it is evolving into more of a tool for work life as well as home life.

It may seem odd, but I consider LibGuides, the software for creating research and class guides, a part of my information ecosystem.  As a librarian, it is how I package information for the use of my students and faculty in my liaison areas, and this is much more a part of my job than doing original research.  We have around 16 subject librarians at my university, but I’ve probably published half or more of the research guides.  In part it is because I’d rather do a set of related guides than have three or four rows of tabs (pages) on one guide.  Partly it is because two of my liaison areas, Public Policy and International Affairs, have many great web-accessible sources.  Another factor is that I was responsible for training other librarians on using the software, so I had to jump in and use it.  So now if a professor wants a session on using library resources for her class, it is a snap to spin up a LibGuide to use as a framework for teaching the session and something the students can use to jump start their research.

If PKM is only about managing the amount of information one absorbs, LibGuides doesn’t count.  But if PKM includes the tools one uses to be productive, and in my mind it does, LibGuides is a top tool in my information ecosystem.

I have also recently begun to use mind mapping.  I am not an expert yet, but was shocked at how well a mind map brough clarity to the organization of an article being written.  I used Mindjet  Connect, because it is free, web-based, allows links and attachments, and exports to Evernote.

To summarize, my information ecosystem includes: