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First Thoughts

This month's theme: measurement. And no, this has nothing to do with Trump's hands. I've included a book that helps you assess (and improve) both the quantity and quality of the work you do, a blog post about why going paperless could kill your productivity, a headhunter shares his tips on why assessing soft skills is critical, and how you might rethink how you compile and present data.

In the age of the quantified self and computational outsourcing to ever-more-intelligent machines, it's no wonder we're a data-rich, information-poor society. We have all the numbers, but none of the impact. What are we using the data for? Like the curriculum director at my first job used to say, "data lies and liars use data."

Reader's Digest

Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World

Cal Newport


  • Clear differentiation between "deep" work and its nefarious counterpart, "shallow" work (though you can probably figure out what each of these are)
  • Attention residue. It's real. Every time you switch tasks (shallow work) a little bit of attention stays behind.
  • While we might assume deep work gives us a higher quality of output, Newport shows explicitly how it also generates more quantity as well 
  • Several specific tools & methods for digging into deep work plus some suggestions that I found helpful. (Roosevelt Dashes were particularly intriguing)
  • It's time for you to start measuring how much of your work is 'deep' vs 'shallow.' It might also be time to ask your boss for a 'shallow work budget.'

Key Quotes:

“We spend much of our day on autopilot- not giving much thought what we're doing with our time. This is a problem."

"In the absence of metrics, most people fall back on what's easiest."

"People play differently when they're keeping score." 

This blog has done a far better job reviewing (and interpreting/integrating) than I could hope to. If I've piqued your interest here, I would recommend checking out their more in-depth look at this book. 

Around the Web

Want to be More Productive? Don't Go Paperless.

Chad Hall
To borrow a phrase from Kevin Honeycutt, I'm a fairly "tradigital" guy. I have a Master's degree in education technology, but prefer to take notes with old fashioned pen and paper. I am an avid Todoist user, but still have a dry erase board in my home office and sticky notes. Oh, do I love sticky notes. This piece (incidentally posted on the Todoist blog) really hit home with me as a practical approach to integrating the digital with the physical. Bits and atoms. Enjoy.

Key Quote:

"It’s faster and more natural to jot something down on paper rather than switching to the right app or firing up your computer, and you won’t get distracted by notifications along the way. It’s easier and much more visible to stick a post-it somewhere than it is to remember to look at an app or device that requires opening."


Soft Skills are Hard to Assess. And Even Harder to Succeed Without. 

Lou Adler 
A couple years back, I co-presented with Tracy Clark on "Measuring What Matters: Soft Skills Made Visible" (her inspiration; I just rode her coattails) working from the idea that we measure what matters and what matters gets measured. This piece from executive headhunter Lou Adler will get you started in the right direction.

Key Quote:

"Let's stop calling them soft skills. The squishiness of this minimizes their importance. Instead, let's call them non-technical skills. Let's embed some of these non-technical skills assessments into the technical assessment process."


Did you know the Peace Corps has a "soft skills questionnaire" that is now part of the standard application process?

Just for fun:

The fine folks at EdNC (an education non-profit here in North Carolina) have created an incredible data dashboard to help provide context to all the numbers, reports, and quotes that get flung around from one source to the next. Even if you don't live in NC, this is a great example of making data accessible and meaningful. How might you use their insights to data presentation to better equip your audience next time you're trying to get your point across?


In related news, I'm a HUGE fan of Stephanie Evergreen. You should read her blog. You'll see what I mean.
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