Have you ever thought to yourself that if you were only more organized you could be more productive? On today’s show Lisa Johnson, an information professional in the school setting provides for us ideas from her book, Creatively Productive, to help tackle time wasters and clear clutter for success.
She shares the importance of having passion and purpose while using the best tools for calming the chaos, both for ourselves and for the information seekers in our organizations. Making sense of it all will be easy after you listen to this show.
This podcast is brought to you by the School of Library and Information Management from Emporia State University, where library leaders are created, with program sites in Las Vegas, Nevada; Sioux Falls, South Dakota; Denver, Colorado; Salt Lake City, Utah; Portland, Oregon; Boise, Idaho; and Emporia and Overland Park, Kansas; and by the Park City Library, making film and podcasting possible with green screen and sound recording resources.
Have you ever thought to yourself, if you were only more organized you could be more productive? On today’s show Lisa Johnson, an information professional in the school setting, provides for us ideas from her book, Creatively Productive, to help tackle time wasters and clear clutter for success.
She shares the importance of having passion and purpose, while using the best tools for calming the chaos—both for ourselves, and for the information seekers in our organizations. Making sense of it all will be easy after you listen to this show.
Welcome to the show, Lisa. Your book’s called Creatively Productive. It holds great lessons for all of us for ways we can tackle time wasters, clear clutter, and succeed in life. It’s so important for all of us as leaders. I liked your dedication in the book to your boys, and I’ll read it. My hope for you is that you will find passion and purpose in the perennial and hold on to what matters most in this fast paced world. May we all have that, I love it.
Question #1: Will you share with us how your book will help all of us to do just this? I know some of your writing is geared specifically for the school setting, but the concepts apply broadly. 01:29
Absolutely. Well, first of all, I love alliteration. So obviously you see the past, the purpose, and perennial, and things like that. The book was really intended to offer a duality. Rather than books that teach you how to teach a particular content, specific tool, or process just for students, this book has topics like digital organization, time management, note-taking skills, goal setting, reflection, and Reader’s Notebooks. Yes, they’re all tools and processes, and pathways that can be used by teachers. But really, they can be used by students, and really anybody.
I’ve noticed a lot more books coming out in the past few years that focus on analogue and mental health, and goal setting. Bored and Brilliant: How Spacing Out Can Unlock Your Most Productive and Creative Self was excellent. There’s another one called, The Revenge of Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter. Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World, and Notes On a Nervous Planet.
So, I think one of the biggest takeaways is mindfulness, and really knowing and valuing what matters to you. And, in a world where you can literally do, or be almost anything, you have to remember you can’t do or be everything to anyone, or everyone in that case. So really, being creatively productive is productive with passion, and purpose, and using the best pathways, and tools for the job—whether they be analogue or digital.
I always thought of perennials, because my mom had the green thumb that was clearly not passed down to myself, unfortunately, but you know—you think about perennials, or those things that come back every year. That’s what I wanted to look at. What are those things? We don’t know what tools and technology will be in the next ten, twenty years. But, there are things that over the past fifty, hundred, however many years these things keep coming up. So, those are the things I really wanted to focus on.
Question #2: Your book is so beautifully visual. I think if someone is a visual learner it’s going to really help. Can you tell us a little about that? 03:26
Sure. My first book—I have a whole chapter dedicated to visual literacy. I’m an educational technologist at a high school. I’ve worked there seven, eight years now. Something that I feel really passionately about is visual literacy, and designing content with that in mind. Being able to—especially with all the different populations that we serve. You have students with ADD. You have students who are on the spectrum. You have ESL students, and everybody. I think the more that we can duel-code things, and provide those visuals and texts together. I think it just benefits everybody. Because, I think we learn in so many different, multiple modalities. That’s really why I wanted to make sure that visuals paired with text are so important.
Question #3: Definitely. If you haven’t seen this book yet, take a look. It’s beautiful. So, let’s start out talking about where you jump in the book, which is calming the chaos. How can we all do this and also, help our information seekers do this in our organizations? 04:29
Yeah, absolutely. And really, I feel like this is going to become even a larger issue. I mean, looking back—I graduated when we were just using five and a quarter inch disks, and we really weren’t storing things online. We had folders and binders that were actually tangible. So now, students and educators, and really the entire world—they’re creating content all on the internet.
I really started thinking about the idea of digital minimalism, and if there are already repercussions to what we’re doing. You can do a search for things, but if you don’t remember the exact file name, or what service you housed it in then that becomes a problem. Right now, we’ve got social media tools. We’ve got Evernote. We’ve got Google Drive. We’ve got Pinterest, all of these different tools that we house content in. That’s good, in the sense that we’re organizing and aggregating things. But, it will become a problem eventually, because it’s very hard to find things if we’re not organizing it in such a fashion.
I really started thinking about even the idea of digital content–it seemed like, Oh, it’s just kind of there, but not there. But, it actually does take up space. It takes up space on the device, and it also takes up space on web servers, which are actual tangible things. At some point we might have some sort of call for digital environmentalism, who knows?
But as to the things we can actually do, I think it’s just being really mindful about each tool we create, and account for, finding ways to streamline our services, and resources, whether it be looking at—almost a digital audit every year. These are the tools I publish content to, or organize content to, and looking at them. Are there ones that I want to continue with? Is there a better tool for this? Also looking at portfolios, or having a website that houses everything in one spot, I think, is really important, too, as we move forward. Because after all, the information we
seek is only as good as our ability to find it.
Question #4: Definitely. And, I find this to be a real stumbling block both for myself and with teams I work on—if we’re not clear where that is. So, I love this part of your book. Further on you tackle the concept of goal setting, and habit tracking, an essential component for effective leaders. What can you tell us about this? 06:54
Well first of all, I love reading, [laughter] I always have. What’s fascinated me about this particular topic of goal setting was that no matter what profession or industry was giving advice on goal setting, they all started with values. I think that’s really, really important.
Too often we set goals before really thinking about who we are at our core—who we want to be. So our goals don’t really reflect our values. Trying to achieve goals that aren’t really tethered to that core value won’t do us much good in the long run. So, once you set goals, you still have to think about the micro-steps, and the habits to get that goal. And, that’s where the habit tracking piece comes in. I’m fairly certain that habit tracking has been a thing long before the goal setting community trend happened, but it’s definitely brought a lot of life to that.
When I was writing this book there were a lot of things that I wanted to do more of, and there were things I wanted to do less of, and both of those were going to lead me to the finish line of completing the book. That was my goal. My value has always been to create. I love creating, and so what that looks like might be different goals, but my values have always led me to creating and designing content.
So, back to the habit tracking thing, I was looking at things I could do more of, or do less of, to then reach that goal of finishing the book. One of the things doing more of would be reading, because the more you read, and research, the better the content you write will be. Something that was very—I don’t think detrimental, but definitely took away from my writing was Netflix. So looking at monitoring my progress, I had almost—like a little mini calendar. Every day that I was reading a book, I would check off. And, everyday that I didn’t watch Netflix, I would also check that off, and monitor that progress.
So, just to recap values—looking at those. That for me would be creating content for people—a deep core value of my own. Then goal setting would be a big goal, as finishing a book. The habit tracking is looking at—what are those micro-goals, or micro-steps that will help me achieve that goal?
Question #5: Those are so important. And, what are goals and habits without reflection? That’s what you go do next. Why is this important and how do we unleash its power? 09:17
Absolutely. So I think too often in a lot of different aspects, reflection happens as an afterthought. I honestly think you can’t do much to move forward before you look behind or inward. I think there are multiple ways to do this, both personally and professionally, and I share a lot of those in the book.
In the book, which was one of my favorite series—To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, she writes these letters to the boys she’s loved, and she never has any intent to mail them. The idea is to write down those thoughts and feelings as a way of releasing them, almost like a poetry slam.
I just finished Slammed, and Point of Retreat by Colleen Hoover, who is an amazing author. She’s actually a Texas author. Both of these books include a lot of slam poetry. One of the quotes, which I think is more geared toward poetry slams, is the idea—the point is not the point, the point is poetry. I think that’s getting at the heart of this. Like the point is not, you know, that we need to do this reflection piece. The point is why we’re doing these reflections. It’s moving us forward. It’s getting to the heart of why we’re doing things, or what we did wrong, or what we did right, or what we’re doing at all.
There’s another quote in the book that I absolutely loved as well. I’ll have to remember that book later [laughter], it’s called, feelings can act as an impediment to intellectual capacity. It’s from the book, The Takes of Time. I think that idea, too—we’ve got to clear the clutter in some ways. Sometimes we’ve got so much on our mind being able to reflect or journal, things like that, it removes those impediments which really are blocking our intellectual capacity as well.
Question #6: I really like that, Getting to Why, about this reflection part of your book. It feels like everything builds so beautifully, calming the chaos, getting your goals set, and tracking your habits, and then really reflecting on the why we’re doing these things, is so important. In the next chapter you deal with, you focus on Readers and Writers Notebooks which is perfect for librarians, just something that really spoke to me. Will you tell us about this? 11:23
Yeah, absolutely. I could talk about Reader’s Notebooks for [laughter] hours. I just absolutely love them. About three or four years ago I started going back to analog note-taking for a variety of reasons. I felt like I wasn’t finding what I was writing, and it was all over the place. Or, if I would take notes on anything I really wasn’t going back and looking at them, or doing anything with them.
At the same time, I also had a friend who was exploring sketchnoting. So, I started thinking about taking notes on books that I’d read, which is obviously not a new concept—I realize that. At the same time, I started exploring the bullet journaling world, and washi tape in color, and all those sorts of things. Normally I would just highlight, or make notes in a book, and then put it back on the shelf and that was pretty much the end of it.
Now, I’ve read books—I’ll add it to my Reader’s Notebook. So, I will take out two-four pages, whatever it is. I’ll write the title. I will use color hierarchies. So, the title might be one color, whereas the text might be another.
When I was reading Ellen Hopkins’ book, she has—actually all of her books, because they’re written in prose, or the majority of her books are written in prose. So, I really wanted to look at certain words and how things were structured. So, I might use two different colors to do that. I designed the page with different drawings to represent the mood and the tone. I would keep a lexicon library of my favorite words, my favorite phrases, quotes, things like that. Then I would also keep a list of research that I wanted to go back to if I was reading a nonfiction book.
Slowly over time—the past three, or four years it’s been more solidified to a very specific process. I think it gets back to the idea of reflection, really taking time to dig into what we digest, rather than just digesting and kind of moving onto the next thing, spending some time. Yes, I will get books from the library, but sometimes I will also buy books. They can be costly, not just reading it and being done with it, but really figuring out what was important in that book that I wanted to take on with me, and absorb into my practice.
So, I will tell you that I remember more. I definitely refer back to them quite a bit. I used them a lot when I was writing this book, as well, even the first one. So, I think it’s a professional practice that I think is really, really important.
Question #7: I keep a Reader’s, and Writer’s Notebook. And, it’s one of my joys. I reflect back on it a lot. And, I think it’s something that I’m going to cherish moving forward. So, I love that you advocate for this. You also talk about taking notes, which I haven’t touched on earlier. Do you want to share anything about taking notes, and how as leaders we could be better at this? 14:14
Yeah, absolutely. So, again, I work at a high school and what I was noticing is—if students were taking notes, it was pretty much whatever the teacher had told them, whatever format. A lot of times that a Cornell note, or something like that. What was really interesting to me is I noticed very quickly that students didn’t know how—like why they were taking notes in that style, let alone the elements that they needed to take notes well.
Active listening, you know, listening for certain keywords, just all of those certain things. So, I did some research. I asked our teachers, What type of note taking styles do you advocate for in your classroom, and what are students taking notes on. A lot of them were taking notes on slide decks, and they’re taking notes on what they read. They’re taking notes on lectures, things like that.
So, I built a session where—I researched note-taking, and ferreted out some of the things about note-taking, because I think a lot of time people think, Oh well, note-taking isn’t really an important sort of skill, it’s just regurgitation. Sure if it’s regurgitation, it’s not necessarily an important skill because we have lots of tools that can regurgitate what people say. It’s not about that. It’s more about really making sense of, and what we’re hearing. Then also, connecting those things to other things, and retrieval processes, and all those sorts of things.
So, I did a lot of research on the front end of note-taking best practices. Why is note-taking even important in the first place? And then, walking through the four types of note-taking skills basically, or formats. So, Cornell notes, a mind-map note, or chart notes. Then also—I’m leaving out one off the top of my head.[laughter] But, looking through those and telling them why each one—oh, outline notes. Why each one would make sense.
In an outline, if you’re going to choose that type of format, it’s a great format, but if you have a very fast-paced lecture it may not work so well. So teaching them that, because really, they’re going to leave us and not have the ability to know these sorts of things. I mean, in college I pretty much just took outline notes. I didn’t know any better. Now that I’ve studied note-taking, and looked at these things, it’s really important to me.
The other piece I’ll mention is—so yes, I front loaded it with things that you can share with your students or staff, or whatever. But then, I’ve also included notes that you would take in professional development, how you might take notes in a Ted Talk, how you might take notes on a webinar, things like that.
One of the interesting pieces of research that I found talked about how if you provide somebody with a template for their notes, then they will be more likely to take notes. I don’t mean fill-in-the-blank notes, by any means. But, I do mean a template. So, I’ve played around a little bit with that idea. There’s some examples in the book of different types of templates, both digital, and analog. So, that’s what I was looking at. I wanted to provide a lot of resources for people who either want to explore note-taking, and make it more of a practice, or I’ll just share out those ideas with other people.
Question #8: We all help information seekers, and learners. And, we are ourselves information seekers, and learners. So these tools seem so useful. I know many of us sit in meetings and take notes. Like you say, get involved in a professional development opportunity. What are those connections we need to make? How can we best do that? I think that’s a great part of your book and I would absolutely encourage everyone to go to Creatively Productive and read through that. I’m finding it super helpful in my own life, so thank you. Anything else you’d like to share? 18:09
Sure, actually, I do have some favorite books and resources for leadership that I thought I would mention. I don’t necessarily read books about leaders, per se, because I feel like most anything can be applied to the role of leadership, and people in a leadership role. But, I think the big takeaway should be to know who you are leading, and where you want them to go.
So for me, I have both worked with students and staff. I always keep that kind of support forefront in my mind. So, three books that came to mind that I thought I’d share were The Decision Book, which is absolutely fantastic. It is fifty models of strategic thinking, which is an excellent book. I’ve used it in note-taking. I’ve used it in a variety of different things.
Overloaded, and Underprepared. If you do work with students, this is an excellent book to look at, and the trends that are happening in education. Then, the last one is How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci, which is absolutely an amazing book. It was one of the very first books that I really started taking notes with. And then anything by Austin Kleon. He’s actually got a new book coming out, I think this month, or next month.
Question #9: Those sound great. I’m so happy to have you on this show today, Lisa, someone in the school setting. We’ve talked to a lot of people in the public setting and the university setting. This school setting is so foundational. So your feedback, and your resources, and your information, and your book are great because they give us good starts that we can build upon. Anything else about that? 19:31
I appreciate it all. Thank you so much for your kind words. Yes, I will just mention if you want to go either read the first chapter for free, or read the introduction for free, what the book trailer, any of those things, all of those resources can be found at www.techchef4U.com/books. All of those resources are there for you.
Question #10: Perfect. Thank you for referring us to those. In closing, what does being in the information profession mean to you, personally? 20:11
You know, I think it’s important to take care of what matters most to you, and I think recording and archiving things in such a way that you can return back to them is so vital, because the information is going to continue to be available to us more and more. And it’s just a matter of figuring out what’s important to us, and what we really want to locate again, and return to, and absorb into our practice.
It’s what we do. How perfect. Perfect ending. Thank you, Lisa Johnson. It’s been great to have you on the show, Library Leadership Podcast. Your book, Creatively Productive would be great for any leader looking to get organized, find their why, and calm the chaos in their lives, something we all need. It’s been a pleasure.
You’ve been listening to Library Leadership Podcast. I’m your host, Adriane Herrick Juarez. Our producer is Nate Vineyard. More episodes can be found at libraryleadershippodcast.com, where you can now subscribe to have new shows delivered right into your email inbox. You can also find the show on Apple iTunes, or wherever you get your podcasts. Thank you for listening. We’ll see you next time.