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A few thoughts and insights from my "stuff" workshop

Yesterday I put on part one of my two-part six hour workshop How Do I Deal with All this Stuff!?: A simple system for taking control of work and life. For me, preparing and presenting these workshops has a ton of value, not just (hopefully) for my participants, but to me as a student of personal productivity. (As I wrote earlier, if you want to learn, teach!) They're also a lot of fun!

I wanted to share a few observations from yesterday I thought you'd enjoy.

Brain dump topics

Here are a few of the fascinating topics that came up during the brain dump exercise:
  • enzyme research project (experimental research)
  • school volunteer calls (20 of them)
  • bottling schedule (olive oil business)
  • tag sale
  • gift visit reports (development office)
  • box of inherited photos (parent passing away)
  • Disney trip (school band)
  • grad school application

Activities using index cards

OK I admit it - I love using cards and activities in my workshops. If I'm talking for more than eight minutes, I figure it's too much. (No PowerPoint for me!) Here are two exercises that went over quite well:

1) I created a set of 22 "diagram cards," which were central to a "build the workflow diagram" exercise. I had people form groups of around 8 people, and build up (with my guidance) the processing and organizing diagram. I like doing this much better than simply showing the thing and talking for 15 minutes. It gives participants a chance to stand up, move around, have fun, and get some tactile experience. (Note: I created these using StarOffice, and printed them on my awesome Canon PIXMA iP3000, found via this discussion.)

2) Relevant quotes and statistics can enhance points during workshops, but instead of reading them aloud (boring for everyone) I have folks break into groups of three, and give them each a randomly-selected card from a batch of stimulating ones. I then have them read each one in the small group, discuss them, and pick the "best" one to share with the larger group. This worked great because it gave them choice, got them thinking, and let them show their smarts. Here are a few that I included:
  • A key to excellence is being able to recover quickly.
  • It's not always the actual work that is the hardest part of a job and success - It's the decisions, compromises and choices that need to be made.
  • Who can focus on life goals while totally preoccupied by the chaos at work? No one. However, once you've gained control of your working life, you can easily find the time, energy, and focus to seriously pursue your dreams. And that is the essential ingredient in restoring a positive balance between your work and your life.
  • Keep your desk clear and free of clutter. The primary purpose of your desktop is to work on one and only one project at a time.

A great summary of modern life's challenges

Finally, here's how one of the participants described the overall challenge of modern work:
I can think of example of where I get bogged down. For example, I need to write SOP for the office (and that is a federal requirement and a pretty important thing to get done) but the phone is ringing with questions, staff are constantly needing assistance and new initiatives keep coming in that have to be squeezed into the same time frame. Then I act like a chicken with its head cut off running from one thing to another and never really feeling like I accomplish anything at the end of the day (especially making any progress on the SOPs).

Currently my desk is full of little piles, each one with a little different twist, but each one requiring some quiet time to think through. Quiet time is difficult to come by in my environment. If I go off to some other space, then I am not here to field the questions. And so it goes.

Philosophically I want to be known as a responsive and available "service" for the community, but I think I have to lower my standards about that somehow.
I found this to be a great summary, and it really addresses why I'm doing this work - to help people with these challenges. Of course it helps having such a great bunch of people attending!

Reader Comments (2)

preparing and presenting these workshops has a ton of value

Matt, this reminds me SO much of when I was teaching high school, and then went on to do some work with various teacher education (graduate) programs at three of the local colleges.

Simply sitting down with an intention of building something for presentation is huge. It takes guts, focus, and trust. Great work, and I'm sure you're on to the next one (at least mentally!) already!

October 9, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterJasonWomack

Hey, Jason - Thanks a ton for your support. I know you really think hard about this stuff, from many angles (the content, teaching, and just plain deep questioning). Much appreciated! ( And yes, your comment definitely [ gets a star | http://www.matthewcornell.org/blog/2006/09/use-gmails-star-to-highlight-your-good.html ]. )

October 10, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Cornell

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