At year end

My very best wishes for 2007. I’ll return in the new year.

You are not your Inbox

How did we end up here? Now there are whole books written about managing your E-mail, and Jeffrey Sazlow of the Wall Street Journal in Big Brother mode is telling us that the way we manage the inbox marks us as possibly the result of bad parenting if we treat it like our adolescent untidy bedroom. But if we clean it out we just might be totally anal retentive. We can’t win.

He goes on to say that E-Mail addiiction is a cultural given. Let’s stop that kind of talk – now. As I say in my book, its quantity and our response to it puts other people in charge of our lives. Though I talk in the book about subfolders and filing, here is one area where we can really start cracking down. Until recently, even though I recommend reading mail on your server if it is not pre-filtered in your office, I still plowed through all the penis enlargement and hot stock tip spam quickly just to be sure that something legitimate wasn’t lurking under all that piffle. It wasn’t. So since my server allows automatic deletion of spam, I bravely followed through. It adds about 20 minutes to my day to do something worthwhile – and I haven’t missed a thing.

But even legitimate mail can waste our time. If I have entered an appointment into my calendar, why am I also keeping the notice that prompted me to set it up in the first place. But the real spam may not be in the message you receive. It might be the message you send. It cuts both ways. Before we broadcast to the world we might want to think about whether our missive becomes part of the 1,000 E-Mails that are dragging down other people’s inboxes.

“Because inboxes are metaphors for our lives …..” says one psychologist in my morning paper. Uh uh. Life has more meaning and purpose than that. Let’s look for it better places.


On With the Show

I got through last week with the help of the hand drawn map, and accomplished my volunteer tasks as well as the usual work related ones. The week ended with a major dose of receiving rather than giving, – something compulsive doers should remember that they need from time to time. It was a marvellous show called Riverdale Share.

Riverdale is a Toronto neighbourhood popular with young professionals that also has those with special needs. Fifteen years ago a group of volunteers conceived the idea of a benefit concert for organizations offering service to the community and asked its resident artists to perform. The show is now a sold out heartwarming tribute to the season that is entirely directed, produced and executed by members of the community who volunteer their services. It appeals to audience members of all ages. There are appearances from stellar professionals like Luba Goy, of the comedy show, Air Farce, Steven Page of the Barenaked Ladies and Jim Cuddy of Blue Rodeo – and of course they are great performers. There are also about sixty kids from one of the local school choirs singing along with the stars and 30 little girls from the local dance school. The climax is always an appearance of Santa Claus.

But what always amazes me is the band. It is composed of well known performers and studio musicians who are used to working quickly. Music director Tom Leighton’s arrangements for them can range from rock to opera, but they always come through to support the solo performers in just the right way. It looks as though the show has been in preparation for months. The truth is that the sound check preceding the show is often the only rehearsal.

If only our organizations and companies could operate with the same finesse. Instead, so often we argue and fumble in subordinate roles when we back up the leaders. We all need to be on the same page quickly and effectively as the musicians are. That’s one of the real benefits of maps.

Among the events that I used to be heavily involved in were annual conferences. They are very similar to arts productions I have also been involved in. To make the event itself run smoothly there are often years of planning to create it – and then last minute changes can throw unexpected curve balls. Mapping plans in advance is an excellent way to see both the details and the big picture – and even see where those curve balls might arrive. This map is one of the ones appearing in my book, See What You Think, How to Work Better and Faster with VisiMap. You can preview and buy it here.


Mapping by hand

Yesterday I reviewed the events of the coming week that were not work related. They seemed quite demanding with many advance preparations and I felt somewhat overwhelmed. So rather than running to the laptop, I reached for a flower vase full of coloured pens and started drawing a bunch of coloured strands depicting what seemed to be interwoven ribbons of complexity – and voilà – a map centre. It seemed logical to list the days of the week on branches of different colours – and start with the events of the days. Then I thought about what had to proceed each event in terms of actions on my part. Since I already had a colour code, I added some tasks for each day relating to the coming events – all in their selected colours.

If I could put the events of the week on one page, they suddenly became manageable. So I’ve included the map here, just to demonstrate the value of putting it all down. There were not any real work assignments on this map. These involve my personal rather than my professional life. But because I felt less stressed and better organized, I got the items on the Outlook Task list done too.

It’s only Tuesday, but I feel much better already about the busy week. Using this notation and using the related capability of colour is the lesson of this exercise.

Best regards
Norah Bolton


Self-deception – and what to do about it

Two nights ago I went to a presentation by Bruce Alton, a retired University of Toronto professor of philosophy and religion on the subject of self-deception or lying to one’s self.
We all do it, he says. He cited examples such as spouses knowing of their partners’ infidelity and not admitting it, or parents knowing their kids were using drugs and pretending it wasn’t happening. He contends that self-deception is part of the human condition and not something we will escape totally. At the same time, we can move toward greater self awareness as life unfolds.

Joan Chittister, a writer whose continuing challenge I benefit from, talks about a similar issue in her book, Becoming Fully Human. She quotes Ivan Illich, who wrote “In a consumer society, there are inevitably two kinds of slaves – the prisoners of addiction, and the prisoners of envy.”

What both Bruce and Joan have in common is their conviction that coming to know ourselves honestly is part of human responsibility. While in my book, I have used the example of ourselves and our roles, it is important to note that they are not one and the same thing. Joan Chittister reminds us not to buy things we can’t afford to enhance our sense of self importance – or to hide behind titles or degrees to fool ourselves about what we really know.

Bruce commended the benefit of finding wise listeners in our lives, who share the journey and allow us to hear ourselves work through the important questions. I have also found value in two other methods, – writing it all down in longhand or mapping the issues. All three methods can be applied to the mundane day-to-day questions at work and at home – and also to the big questions of our lives.


Productivity Software – and Blogs

Chuck Frey has recently posted an article about my new book, See What You Think! How to Work Better and Faster with VisiMap. I’m very grateful to him for the nice things he has to say about it. He is one of the best proponents of Mind Mapping and you will enjoy reading his blog if the topics on this blog interests you. You will also enjoy Chuck’s ebook on the same subject. Chuck also publishes Innovation Tools a regular newsletter on productivity and effectiveness for business readers. I have enjoyed it for years and commend it highly.

In a recent video cam conversation with my son, Michael, a consultant who travels the world to teach software testing, I remarked that one of the difficulties with visual mapping software is to fit it into the familiar categories. It’s not database software or spreadsheet software or really project management software – though most of us use it frequently for that. Michael had a better category. “It’s productivity software”, he said. Like a wordprocessor, it helps a writer do what he or she has to do faster with more options. So for a mindmapper, visual mapping software takes the process well beyond the capability of using it by hand.

Productivity counts. So use tools and blogs to increase your imagination and effectiveness.


Understanding Balance

With all the emphasis on life balance these days, there are some profound insights to be gained from an understanding of the qualities that the HBDI measures. These letters stand for Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument, an assessment tool explained and frequently referred to in my book, See What You Think! How to Work Better and Faster with VisiMap. You can also find out more about it on my website.

One of the things we discover in dealing with the four aspects of thinking that the instrument measures – facts and figures, sequence and organization, humanity and expressiveness, future orientation and integration – is that those in a diagonal position are often viewed as polar opposites. Those who stress facts and figures think the humanistic types are too touchy feely; the humanists regard the facts and figures contingent as cold and unemotional. Similarly those who are focused on action find little use for those who seem contemplative and dreamy – and vice versa.

Nearly all of us will prefer one or two ways to think. That doesn’t mean we have no potential whatsoever in the other areas. Balance comes from recognizing that both facts and feelings matter – and that we are made for both action and contemplation. Such wisdom comes to us from both the ancient philosphers and religions world wide and their validation in the findings of modern psychology. And since the HBDI is based on research into brain physiology, all these disciplines are congruent and make sense.

So value facts and feelings,action and contemplation – that’s what balance is really about.