Tuesday 25 February 2014

The Secret to Peak Productivity : A Simple Guide to Reaching Your Personal Best / Tamara Myles, AMACOM

Tamara Myles, a Certified Professional Organiser, outlines her tips and tricks for becoming more productive both at work and at home. By climbing the steps of the Peak Productivity Pyramid you can organise your life, align your goals and reach your full productivity potential.

The Peak Productivity Pyramid is much like the traditional hierarchy of needs used in so many business models. Starting with paper organisation, moving through electronic organisation and taking in time management on the way there is something for even the most productive of people to learn. The reader is encouraged to take stock of their particular situation and then decide where they need to start rather than taking each step in turn.

The book takes the time to explain the reasons why people feel the way they do about organisation rather than just launching into an explanation of what needs to be done. Tamara also talks about taking time to orgainse your mental clutter before launching into your physical space. I found this really useful as it helped me to think about new ways of achieving productivity. 

Full of simple, practical suggestions the book is written in a very easy to read style which makes the points made easier to take on board. Each chapter ends with productivity pointers which act as a useful summary. Not only do these highlight key points but they help the reader to see if the chapter is something that they need to explore in more detail. Good use is made of real-life anecdotes to illustrate the points made and I found myself relating to many of the people mentioned. At the end of the book there is a case study chapter which brings together many of these anecdotes into a readable narrative. Every step of the pyramid is further broken down into clear easy to achieve steps which can be put into practice by the reader as needed.

The main aim of the book is to persuade the reader to manage their time, align their tasks with their key goals and achieve their peak productivity. Although this is nothing particularly groundbreaking, the style of the book is as uncluttered as its approach to organisation. I would highly recommend this book to those who are looking for sensible, actionable tips to help them achieve their productivity goals.

For more information on this title please visit the O'Reilly product page.

Friday 21 February 2014

Encouraging Innovation

This blog post stems from this week's SLATalk, as I wanted to follow through on a couple of ideas mentioned in a way that wouldn't fit into a 140 character Tweet! A Storify of the full discussion can be found here.

One of the questions in the chat focused on ways that managers can encourage innovation amongst their staff. Although I'm not a manager myself this is something I've given some thought to in the past. Below I've brainstormed a few ideas that I've been thinking about. Most of these I've found on Twitter or through my professional reading but I've also seen them mentioned at various conferences and events:

Encourage feedback - don't underestimate the importance of this. Asking people about events or courses they have attended will encourage learning and pride in accomplishments. It could be formal, such as a report or a presentation, or informal such as a few words in a department meeting. This encourages staff to actually reflect on what they've been doing and to share it with their colleagues which can lead to new ideas. It also helps to develop presentation and writing skills.

Comments from users - this is also feedback, even if it's not presented that way. It can be positive or negative but it can highlight issues from a user perspective. To the librarian it might seem that certain processes work but your users might be telling a different story. Take the problem on board and then open the floor up to suggestions. See complaints as a challenge and try to solve them as a team.

Learning boxes - these can be either real or virtual. The idea is that staff post about learning experiences they've had during the week and then meet to discuss them. This can be done anonymously which encourages people who might not normally contribute to these discussions. Don't give yourself a narrow definition of learning experiences either. It's not just about courses and conferences but the little things that happen during the course of day to day duties such as dealing with a customer complaint. Practice the three whats - what, so what and now what? Share what you learnt from the experience as this can help others in a similar situation and they can advise you as well.

Innovation/CPD hours - something I first came across mentioned on Twitter (itself a good source of ideas for innovation). I know that time is limited in a lot of jobs but if you can spare a hour a week then you can encourage your staff to undertake some CPD or use the time to come up with ideas to solve a problem. This is something that companies like Apple and Google do quite frequently. One of the most common complaints I hear from people is that they don't have time to do any CPD. Giving people an hour a week of work time, maybe on a Friday afternoon when most people are at less than full productivity, can help to overcome this. They can use this time to work on a development activity of their choice; taking a MOOC, reading blogs, taking a webinar. The crucial thing is that they keep some sort of record of what they've done. This approach does require trusting your staff not to waste their time and I appreciate that it wouldn't fit in every organisational culture but it's worth thinking about.

I'm sure there are many more ideas out there, feel free to share any tips in the comments below. This is just my small contribution to encouraging innovation.

photo credit: nhuisman via photopin cc

Saturday 8 February 2014

The Project Management Toolkit : 100 Tips and Techniques for Getting the Job Done Right / Tom Kendrick, AMACOM

This is the first in a series of book reviews I'll be posting as part of the O'Reilly Reader Review Progam.

In this handy guide Tom Kendrick aims to outline the basics of project management in an easy to use format.

The main content of the book is based around the PMBOK guidelines from the Project Management Institute, so some familiarity with these and the associated terminology would be an advantage. Having said this the book includes clear explanations of key concepts which will be useful to readers.

The book is not designed to be read cover to cover but used as a desk reference during both the planning and implementation stages of a project. There are many features in the book which make it a handy time saver. Short easy to use summaries of each chapter help the reader to navigate to the right point, with cross-references also aiding speedy navigation. Selected terms are highlighted, making skim reading simple and handy what, where and results panels help the reader understand what they will get out of the selected chapter.

I especially liked the chapter on transitioning to project management which clearly explains both the role of the project leader and the roles of those in their team. The importance of the human element is also highlighted, with tips on communication and motivation. This is an area that I think other similar books often neglect by concentrating only on the practical elements.

All in all I think that this book is a very useful guide for the right audience. If you're about to begin a project management role this book provides a handy desk reference to guide you in the right direction and help ensure that your project is a success.

For more information on this title please visit the O'Reilly product page.


Monday 3 February 2014

MOOC-ing Around

This month I'll be taking part in my third MOOC (Massive Open Online Course), with a fourth lined up for later in the year. There's been a lot of talk about these courses in the last few months so I thought I'd use this post to add my own opinions to the mix.

I first decided to take a MOOC to find out more about what they were. I'd read a couple of articles and blog posts describing the courses but I believe that the best way to find out about something is to try it out for yourself. Luckily for me this happened to coincide with the launch of a couple of library specific courses so I signed up. Both of the courses I've taken so far have been library related (The New Librarianship Masterclass and The Hyperlinked Library) as they seemed relevant to my current learning interests. The next course I have lined up is also library related but after that I'm going to try taking one on management. Whilst not library specific I hope that it will help me to develop the skills that I'm interested in. I think this is the main attraction with MOOCS, they help people to develop skills that they want to work on in a way that they can fit around their everyday lives. The courses can give you an understanding of the theory but taking what you've learnt and applying it in the real world is the key to making it a great learning experience. I've completed both of the courses I've taken part in but it was tough going at times. Like a lot of people, I underestimated the time commitment and got in a little over my head. 

To me MOOCs work better if they have a limited amount of participants. Yes, this does undermine their openness a little bit but it makes them more manageable for both student and teacher and helps to create a community. They also need to be well structured with a range of accessible readings and interesting assignments. Quizzes are one way of testing knowledge but I think including some practical assignments is a better way to test understanding and put theory into practice. It's also harder to Google the answers!

I'm not convinced that MOOCs are the future of education and in fact some are already predicting that they've hit their peak. These courses may claim to be open to everyone but we still have the issue of the digital divide which stops some accessing them. I'm not convinced that they're really a substitute for traditional methods of teaching either. That one-to-one in person interaction (and interaction with fellow students) was one of the best ways to learn for me. It also seems to me that a lot of institutions have started to offer these courses just to jump on the bandwagon. MOOCs need to be thought through and planned carefully to be a good learning experience. 

Having said this, MOOCs look likely to be around for the foreseeable future so how should libraries respond to them? The most obvious way is by helping to close the digital divide and providing access to the Internet so that people can take the courses. Library staff can use user participation in MOOCs to help with information literacy skills or compile lists of further reading, a sort of beyond the MOOC learning experience. These are just random ideas off the top of my head and I'm sure people will do more research on this in the future. Below I've included my top tips if you're thinking of taking part in a MOOC as well as a list of resources from the web. If you have your own tips then feel free to share them in the comments section as this is a subject that I think we all need to learn more about.

My top tips for MOOCS:
  • be aware of what you're getting yourself into. Read the guidelines to the course carefully and decide if you can fit in the required work. It's easy to underestimate how much time these things will take but most courses give you a rough idea of the amount of time a course can take a week
  • pick something that you'll find interesting over an extended period of time. This is especially relevant if you're signing up just to experience a MOOC and find out what it's all about. Even if it's not directly relevant to your current CPD goals at the moment, choosing something you're interested in means you're more likely to complete the course and get the full experience
  • don't be afraid to pick something that's not directly relevant to your work. If it interests you then it's worth learning about. You might even find it comes in useful at work in an unexpected way!
  • if you find yourself unable to make a full commitment to the course they why not try auditing it? EdX has an option which allows you to audit selected classes which means you have access to the experience without having to complete the work
  • get the most out of your MOOC experience - engage with other participants. If this is provided through the course itself, for example commenting on the blog posts of others, then great. If not them why not set up your own network on Twitter or Facebook? Working towards something in a community is much easier than doing it in isolation and the importance of peer support shouldn't be underestimated
Resources on MOOCS:

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