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Productivity & Organizing Myth #10 – We need to be at all those meetings!

Productivity & Organizing Myth #10 – We need to be at all those meetings!
Meeting

Myth: We need to be at all those meetings and events that have made their way onto our calendars.
Reality: We can succeed at work and be happy with a modest number of meetings and activities. Do you say any of these things?

  • I haven’t been home at 6 o’clock in the evening for weeks.
  • We are constantly trying to balance work with kids’ activities with family commitments.
  • I have to schedule a date with my spouse so we have time to talk.
  • If only I had 30 hours in a day.
  • My meetings are back to back all day.
  • Time for myself – ha!

If you are feeling overbooked, you probably are! The solution… manage your meetings!

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In many environments long meetings are held. Often these meetings are two to three times longer than they need to be. And, quite possibly you are needed for only a fraction of the time you’re in the room.

Examination of attendance at some meetings reveals that 25% of people there we necessary to conduct the business at hand. That is to say that 75% of the people there were not necessary and wasting their time. Other meetings the necessity for attendance 50/50 and sometime everyone needs to be there.

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If you feel meeting overload step back and use a critical eye to view your role in them. If you’d like to alter your meeting load consider if any of the following suggestions could free you up.

  • Do you ask for an agenda for the meeting so you’re certain of the scope of the topics fits your involvement?
  • Is there are ways to run the meetings more efficiently?
  • Could someone summarize the meeting for you in person or in a memo in a fraction of the time spent in a meeting?
  • Could you attend just the portion of the meeting that pertains to your role and responsibility?
  • Could the minutes or notes from the meeting serve your need for information?
  • Are the meetings contributing to your success in your position or moving you toward your next position? If not, give it a miss.
  • Is this an enjoyable group of people with good intentions but the topic is not really related to your goals? If so parforce, is it just throwing your day schedule off more than helping it? (particularly applicable for non-job-related meetings and volunteer/community committees).
  • What is the worst that could happen if you don’t attend?

Experiment. Think like the CEO of your career that you are. As CEO everyone wants your time but you only have so much of it. Jack Welch, when the head of GE, would give presenters 8 minutes to make their points then he’d cut them off. Presenters learned to put only their important points out there and to stick to the time schedule. Do you, could you, deliver your important points in just a few minutes? Could you require others in your meetings to be brief and relevant? Could less significant topics be covered offline if they have to be covered at all?

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A very difficult reply to meeting invites is, “No.” So, try softer versions such as, “No Thanks for thinking of me though.” “I would like to but I have other commitments.” “I’m pretty sure I couldn’t’ contribute to the meeting because I don’t have the expertise and time to give it fair attention. I, however, think that TJ might be able to help you.”

It’s your time, protect it!

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Previous Myths:

Susan Sabo is an intrepid traveler who has organized her life to be out of the country for months at a time. She’s visited South & Central America, Europe, Asia, ‘Down Under” and traveled across North America. Susan writes at productivitycafe.com, consults with professionals on improving their personal productivity and presents motivating productivity programs & tips to groups. The most popular presentation topic today is, How to Get Ready for the Busy Season.

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Last Updated on August 20, 2019

Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard. Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

Curiosity

Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

Patience

Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

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When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

A Feeling for Connectedness

This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

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1. Research

Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

Learning the Basics

Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

Hitting the Books

Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

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Long-Term Reference

While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

2. Practice

Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

3. Network

One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

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These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

4. Schedule

For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

Final Thoughts

In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

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Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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