Productivity Tip: Rescue Time

People are always trying to squeeze more productivity out of an increasingly fragmented day.  I find for me one of the best tools for this is Rescue Time. It’s an application that tracks how you spend time on your computer, and based on information you provide it, can give you ongoing productivity scores.  I find it really helpful for keeping me on task.  You can restrict the information it has access to (so for example, I would have it record that I was using Outlook, but not the title of my Outlook windows).

It’s great for discovering just how much time is really spent on communication and scheduling.  As demands on one’s time increase, managing those becomes yet another demand on time. Timeboxing email and scheduling has really helped me to reduce some of that timesink.

I also found it really interesting in that I always thought my most productive time was the morning, but I fairly reliably am actually more productive in the afternoons.  I’ve been able to adjust when I book things and take better advantage of time when I’m at my best.

Give it a try if you’re interested in better tracking and managing your time!

Taking charge of your professional development

87% of millennials (as much as I hate the term) rate professional development as important to them on the job. I would hazard a guess that most employees would agree with this. Despite this, many organizations are less and less willing to invest in professional development for their staff.

As a insatiably curious person, this can be challenging for me. I constantly want to learn, to network, to share knowledge. Professional development is extremely important to me and has been throughout my career, though I’ve frequently been in the position where development budgets are cut and support is restricted.

Rather than let this discourage me, I’ve taken charge of my own development. If I’m not willing to invest, why would my employer be? Knowing I like to attend events and conferences, I’ve started to seek out low-cost ways to do this. I’m involved with industry organizations and frequently volunteer time in exchange for passes to events. Some industry conferences provide free registration for speakers, so I propose sessions to conferences I’d like to attend. I program PD events in my area and am able to attend these at no monetary cost. I’ve found my companies more willing to give me a PD day here and there than they are to approve budget for tuition or registration feeds. I make use of free resources at the library, read LinkedIn voraciously, join open slack channels, buy books on sale, and constantly seek out new low-cost opportunities to learn.

Even with all this, sometimes I do still want to attend an event or course where I can’t get a discount. To cover these things, I have a personal PD budget. I set up a separate savings account, and auto-deposit 3% of my pay for professional development. I’m able to draw from this fund to cover costs that I can’t cover other ways. It’s a big priority for me, and so I invest in this area. I have found that since I started doing this, I’ve been able to advance significantly in my career. If you’re struggling with getting the development you need and want, give this approach a try!

LinkedIn and how I use it

I make no secret of the fact I love LinkedIn. LinkedIn gives me so many opportunities to network and learn from other professionals that would be tough otherwise- sometimes it’s tough to make it out to events or conferences, and when I do, I don’t want the conversation to be limited to these events!

I am a bit unusual in the way I use LinkedIn, however, based on what my network tells me. It seems that most LinkedIn users use the platform to maintain a (fairly high-level) profile, and add mostly co-workers and former co-workers to their network. If they get a connection request from someone they don’t already know, they find that strange and are likely to ignore the request or block the person.

Somewhat different from that approach, I maintain a pretty extensive profile, with details of accomplishments and media from past positions. I include my volunteer work and achievements with community organizations, rather than just professional experience. I think of my LinkedIn profile as a way to capture all my skills and accomplishments, and keep me focused on my career goals. I actively give and seek recommendations and skill endorsements (though I don’t give out endorsements for skills that I haven’t seen evidence of).

The thing that I do that is most different from many of my colleagues is that I will add anyone and everyone to my network. People I met for 2 minutes at an event get an add, people who work in roles that I’d like to learn more about get an add, people in leadership for companies I’m interested in get an add, people with interesting headlines get an add.  I send out hundreds of invites, usually at least a few a day.  Plenty of those people won’t be comfortable adding me, which is fine, but some do, and I have found these people to be invaluable. They share interesting perspectives I might not have seen otherwise, I get to see the kinds of articles and content that interest them, I can cheer their career advances.  There’s so much interesting stuff happening on LinkedIn!

Through building up my network in this way, I have been able to connect people to mentors, become aware of jobs that I might not have known about otherwise, and been able to closely track the pulse of the industries that most interest me.

If you’re a reluctant networker, I recommend giving this approach a try. It has been very useful in my career and could be in yours as well!

Jargon, acronyms, and buzzwords- oh my!

Communication challenges are the basis of so many business problems. At the same time, businesses and the people who work in them are incredibly attached to their jargon, acronyms and buzzwords.

The idea behind these things is making communication among those “in the know” more efficient- why would I say “Analysis-Design-Development-Implementation-Evaluation” when I could say “ADDIE”?  But for whatever small efficiency gains among a small group- it causes much bigger challenges for those outside the group.  I do my best to limit my jargon and buzzword usage, but I still struggle with this!

In order to help facilitate better communication, here’s a list of 15 buzzwords, jargon, and acronyms that come up frequently in my day-to-day:

ADDIE: Analysis-Design-Development-Implementation-Evaluation, a widely used instructional design framework

Agile: Methodologies for (software) development that involve requirements and solutions evolving through collaborative effort and adaptive change

Asynchronous: Learning that combines self-study and asynchronous interactions (discussion boards, etc) to achieve objectives

Buy-in: Approval and support of an idea or action

BYOD: Bring your own device- meaning content may be accessed using any number of different devices or methods

Cloud: a tech term referring to external configurable resources that can be used for software, storage, or other computing needs

Design Studio: A method for early designs that speeds up initial design processes

Gamification: The application of game principles in non-game contexts

Kirkpatrick model: A commonly used “4-level” model for learning evaluation.

Microlearning: Comparatively smaller learning units and activities

RACI: Responsible-Accountable(Approver)-Consulted-Informed, a common method for illustrating responsibility assignment

ROI: Return on investment

SAM: Successive approximation model- a framework for instructional design project management that draws from agile methodologies

SWOT: Strengths-Weaknesses-Opportunities-Threats, A structured planning method that evaluates these four elements of a particular team or venture

Universal Design: designs intended to be accessible to the largest possible population of users

Training Industry has a more instructional/learning related glossary to check out. If there are any plaguing your daily life, add them in the comments!

 

Universal Paperclips, engagement and visual design

I played a game this week, called Universal Paperclips. On the surface, it’s a simple clicker game. But through the course of playing it, I kept thinking about engagement.  What had me coming back to make more paperclips? What about this game was so irresistible?

There are an awful lot of articles and studies out there that talk about increasing engagement, and one of the strategies to do so is adding more visuals. Visual design is one of the main vehicles for communication. Some say, without visuals, experiences fall flat.

But Universal Paperclips isn’t much to look at.

It’s just text, a couple lines and buttons. As you play through the game, there’s a bit more complexity that is added, but there’s no color, and the bulk of the experience is text. So what keeps it so engaging? Here’s a few techniques that the game employs that reeled me in:

  1. It provides constant feedback. You always know how many paperclips you have, and if you click “Make Paperclip”, ta-da! Another paperclip. That instant feedback is incredibly engaging and kept me coming back to adjust, optimize, and buy in order to make that number go up faster and faster.
  2. There’s no rush. While you are timed (a little notice appears in the black bar with your time when you complete each phase of the game) there’s no countdown clock, no push to sort things out more quickly other than your own sense of urgency. If you walk away, you can come back later and make sure everything is running along smoothly, and then progress to the next inputs required from you.
  3. There’s no artificial pacing. There’s no mandatory tutorials or obastacles designed to slow you down- you can (and do) pick up the pace as you go.
  4. It keeps you guessing. Each time something new appears in the game, it presents more questions than it answers. As with a well-written short story, your creative mind will fill in the blanks, identify patterns, and develop a story that’s far better than anything more prescriptive.
  5. You have a clear goal. Throughout, you’re always making more and more clips. There’s various steps you have to take to achieve this (including spending clips!) but that number is always there at the top of the screen, incrementing ever upward.

These same techniques can be used in your learning experiences- keep those goals front and center and build in opportunities for frequent feedback!

 

 

Mindset and adoption of technology

Technology adoption.  That has been one of the biggest and most important challenges I’ve faced throughout my career. For nearly all of the enterprise problems I’ve worked to solve, the solutions incorporated some kind of technology- a software platform, hardware device, web application, database, automation, cloud service, the list goes on and on.

But the biggest challenges to overcome in effectively implementing these solutions tend not to be the technical challenges, but the people ones.  No matter how elegant the technology and well-designed the solution- if people aren’t using it, it can’t fully succeed. Resistance to adoption of technology can come from anywhere, and sometimes it’s not the people you expect that present these challenges. It can often be folks who have quite a lot of technical skill, but for various reasons are operating with a fixed mindset.  If you haven’t already been fully exposed to Carol Dweck’s work on fixed and growth mindset- here’s a video with some background:

Resistance can come from the user audience, from project stakeholders, contributors, but the most challenging resistance comes from people in leadership positions. When project leaders or sponsors aren’t embracing tech solutions, the obstacles grow to 10 times their height. Important to remember when you’re in a position of leadership!

So what can you do, if you are in a position of leadership and you’re faced with adopting a new technology you’re not quite ready to jump in with? Here are a few tips to help you build your own growth mindset and get ready to tackle your problems using technology.

  1. Recognize that you have a choice in your approach and actions. You can master new technology, you can try doing things you haven’t seen work. It’s your choice to build new skills or not. It may mean some temporary setbacks or failures, but ultimately you can (and should) embrace tools and technology that have the potential to help you reach your goals.
  2. Recognize when your resistance is holding you back. If you’re pushing for a “same-old-way” solution because you’re worried you won’t know how to function with a new tool- acknowledge that. You may find there are more supports than you thought for gaining the skills you need to adopt new technology. Remember, the cost of not changing is often higher, and there are so many resources to learn from!
  3. Change your inner monologue.  When you hear that inner skeptic going “sure, but I’m never going to figure out how it works”, start inner-talking-back to it.  “I can figure out how it works, I learn new things all the time, and skill comes through practice and effort”. With effort and time this will become easy!

Working through your own resistance will pave the way for your team to innovate and get better access to the competitive advantages that come from early adoption. As you begin to embrace the growth mindset and take on new challenges more readily, your team and colleagues will benefit, and follow your lead to success.

Reflections on: Intersections between L&D and Marketing

It’s interesting- there’s so many professionals who shy away from sales and marketing, but somehow training is seen as totally separate.

Over the past few years, it has become very clear to me that sales and marketing skills form the basis of many things we do in business, but especially L&D.  It’s all sales really!

Marketing promotes products and services- raising awareness, the same way we might raise awareness in a wellness program or other training program. In sales, the key task is convincing someone to do something- buy a product, try a service, upgrade a subscription, etc.

At the core is influencing behaviour- the very same thing we do as learning and development professionals.  It’s the basis of learning, the basis of leadership, and the basis of overall human performance improvement.  Many of my colleagues are well tuned-in to this similarity and have been incorporating tips and tricks from marketing for a long time (and vice versa- many marketing departments are adding more instructional material to their content marketing strategies!)

Even with these clear similarities, L&D seems to rely a bit on “captive audiences”- they way you would with a mandatory compliance course.  If everyone is required to complete training, no need to influence them to do so.  Good luck if you want any of those new skills and behaviours to see the light of day though- your influence ends with that mandatory multiple choice quiz (80% or higher, please!).  This approach undermines the learning culture of entire organizations.

If as and L&D professional, you’re not paying attention to developments in marketing and sales, you’re missing out on huge growth potential.

Just like marketing and sales, learning and continuous improvement require ongoing strategy, analysis and engagement. We can all learn from each other and benefit our customers, organizations, and employees.  Start now- try the Marketing Foundations course on LinkedIn Learning, or check out great resources from the American Marketing Association!

Reflections on: Work out Loud Week

Last week I made some efforts to participate in Work out Loud Week, which I think is a really great initiative. I think the thing I learned the most is that I need to get better at articulating what I’m doing and why.  Focusing on how to share what I’m working on is a great way to do that!

I’m also in the initial stages of a project, during which so much of the work doesn’t always have a clear output- there’s a lot of learning and strategic thinking that happens at that point that I found hard to capture.

I did do a bit of prototyping for some potential simulations based on a project team request. After noodling around with a few different tools but not quite getting at all the things I wanted, I wound up using Captivate, which was a great experience. I haven’t used Captivate much in a while, the last time would have been Captivate 8 or 9 for a small project, but not for anything bigger than a couple little tutorial videos since Captivate 5. It was way easier and smoother than I remember, and I found it really pleasant to use.  The output didn’t rely on flash, overall, I was pretty impressed with it for that application.

I think working out loud is a great way to both capture some of the tacit knowledge that people carry around in their heads, and demonstrate the value in the day-to-day things people do.  Especially in HR and L&D, this is something that’s so sorely needed.  Overall, the experience was good, and I’m hoping to do a lot more working out loud in general.  I recommend you try it out as well! Here are some additional resources to get you started:

Reading List

While I love reading fiction, I often get into stages where I read mostly non-fiction- lots of career focused and professional things. I wanted to take quick stock of my reading list to get an idea of what kinds of things I’ll be learning over the next little while (on bus commutes, etc).

Recently Finished:
Do Over: John Acuff
Team Building: William Wyatt
Never Eat Alone: Ferrazzi

In progress:
Show Your Work: Jane Bozarth
Yes, And: Kelly Leonard
Lean Enterprise: Humble, Moelsky, O’Reilly
Continuous Learning: Tussing

In the list for sometime soon:
The Confidence Code: Katty Kay and Claire Shipman
Emotional Intelligence 2.0: Bradberry, Graves
Thanks for the Feedback: Stone, Heen
The Big Book of Team Motivating Games: Scannel, Scannel

Lots of interesting things on the go!  Aside from that, it has been a really busy summer, and I’m learning a ton as it is just in my day-to-day work and volunteer activities.  I’ve been back at work for 3 months, and have done a crazy amount of stuff since then- worked on a project that delivered 4 large online courses, designed and delivered 3 different day-long training workshops on various topics, done consulting,  instructional design, development, worked on planning events for the local CSTD chapter, I’m taking on some new responsibilities as well, and it’s fast-paced and a little stressful at times, but overall kind of exhilarating.

I’ve also been working with a designer on a project to redesign this site, so hopefully there’ll be some major design changes here soon as well.  I’m excited, I feel like I’m really kicking off a new chapter in a lot of ways.

Book Review: Do Over by Jon Acuff

So it all started with some tweets:

And the Twitter #bookclub was born. A group of us are reading Do Over, by Jon Acuff. I’m now a few chapters in and wanted to check in and share my thoughts so far!

When I first picked up Do Over I thought it might be related to iterative work- perhaps some kind of application of Agile, wherein you “do over” your work based on feedback.

As I dove into the first chapter, I saw that I wasn’t in the right area at all- “Do Over” seems to refer to the ability some have to “Do Over” things in their lives or careers. The first chapter focuses on the concept of a “Career Savings Account”- basically an idea where you build up a rainy-day fund for your career through investment of time in some key areas. These areas include:

  • Skills
  • Character
  • Relationships
  • Hustle

Nothing crazy and groundbreaking so far, but the tone is conversational and fun, and I’m sucked in. There’s a chart that illustrates how each of these areas can help with various career changes and issues- things that might cause you to call a career “Do Over”.

In the chapters following, there’s some exercises that help you work on the Relationships area. I’ve filled a few pages already with great people I know- I’m continually surprised by all the knowledge and skills and general awesomeness in my network. You guys are awesome. Pause for virtual hugs.

Anyway. we move into different types of people, friends, and foes, and advocates. There’s a big focus on the value of casual relationships, and the best things to do about foes. I got some great tips here- I don’t think I have much in the way of real foes, but what I might have probably falls more under “clueless” than “calculated”. Awesome. There’s a lot of focus on choosing a good approach and attitude- one line that stuck with me was:

“Misery loves company and also recruits it.”

Ouch. I can’t think of many people who would want to knowingly perpetuate misery! But it happens- and books like this help break the cycle.

Advocates are one place I think I’d really like to do some more work. I want to more intentionally shape my career, and an advocate is a good way to do that!

I’m about a third into the book now, and enjoying it. What do you think so far, bookclub?