Do You Set Your Priorities to Add Value or To Avoid Pain?

Pain LaDonna Coy and I ended up in an interesting email conversation over the weekend that got me thinking about how we set priorities for ourselves, both as individuals and as organizations. We were discussing that working from home gave us more flexibility and time for continuous learning and then LaDonna mentioned that a friend of hers was going to be spending Saturday in the office, "catching up on paperwork." I have to say, that set me off a little as I began to think about how some of the least value-add activities can end up taking up most of our time.

One of the major reasons for not engaging in continuous learning that I hear from individual people as well as the organizations that they work for is lack of time. I understand and sympathize with this, but I also have to wonder if it's really lack of time or if it's about how we prioritize what we're doing--or about the priorities our employers seem to be setting for us.

Essentially what I see all too often is that things like paperwork and lengthy meetings of questionable relevance take precedence in most organizations over spending time on learning. It's like what happens in a lot of marriages, where everything but the couple's relationship is a priority and then the next thing you know, you're in divorce court.

Even though ongoing learning is critical for the success of most workers and their organizations, learning is usually where we spend the least amount of time. Few supervisors will call us into the office if we stop learning, but if we fail to attend a meeting?  Then we'll hear about it. Even though what was discussed in the meeting could actually have been posted to the company blog or wiki, taking up 5 minutes of our time rather than 55 minutes.

I also see this in individual choices, where people will make time for an hour of American Idol, but not for an hour of professional development in their off-time. The thinking seems to be, "If they aren't going to pay me for it, then why should I learn?" Unless you're independently wealthy, this is a dangerous attitude to have.

What I think happens for many of us is that we set priorities based on "avoiding immediate pain" rather than on what adds the most value. I'll spend time on paperwork because I don't want the pain of being called on the carpet but I won't engage in continuous learning activities because not learning doesn't cause me immediate pain. This happens on an organizational level, too--we'll engage in endless crisis management meetings, but it will "take too much time" to have meetings that might help us avoid the crisis in the first place, so we don't have them.

There are obvious problems with this approach. If you think about it, "avoiding pain" is a pretty negative and short-sighted criterion to use in deciding how we spend our days. It  tends to put us into a cycle that creates even more pain because we aren't focusing on the kinds of activities that build us up (individually or organizationally), but on the things that constrain us. If you believe that you get what you focus on (which I do), then focusing on pain is just a way to keep inviting it back into your life.

Ultimately what happens when we use the pain avoidance approach to setting priorities is that our lives become a sequence of short-term activities that feel limiting (because they are) and meaningless. Avoiding pain isn't a strategy for having impact. It's simply a way to get through the days.

I think a good question to start asking ourselves is if an activity is something we're doing to avoid pain or if it's something that will really add value, for ourselves or for our organizations. Sometimes we'll still have to do the things that help us avoid pain--it's part of the human condition, I'm afraid. But maybe by evaluating what we do in this light, we can also start making the things that add value--like learning--more of a priority.

How do you set your priorities? Do you think that you set them to add value or do you find that you're doing more things to avoid pain? And how does this make you feel about what you do each day?

Photo via The Rocketeer

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Another Reason Why I Love Jott

Jott_reminder On Monday I'm meeting with two clients and need to get some materials unrelated to our meeting from one of them. Usually I write myself a note to remember this kind of thing. Half the time I somehow don't see the note or for some other reason I'll STILL forget to get the materials. But this was before the awesomeness of Jott.

Now, on Monday at 10:15 a.m., during my client meeting,  I'm going to get a text message reminding me to get those materials.  If I forget them this time, then I'm just going to have to give it up.


Create On-the-Fly Micro Job Aides to Support Staff

Job aides are tools, checklists, scripts etc. that help people perform specific on-the-job tasks.They've been around for years, usually created by training staff or managers, but also by workers themselves as "cheat sheets" or other tools to help them get the job done.

The other day I realized that as it has with most things, technology is transforming the idea of the job aide, at least for me.

Last week,  Shari emailed me to ask about how to embed a slidecast and documents into her online portfolio. I was reading this at 7 a.m. (4 a.m., Shari's time), so I couldn't pick up the phone and explain what to do. And I definitely didn't feel like writing a few paragraphs of instructions.

Luckily inspiration struck. Instead of sending Shari written directions, I fired up my FastStone Image Viewer (Free), took a quick picture of the relevant menu, and then drew on the screencapture to point out what she needed to do. She got the graphic you see here, rather than a long email. Wikispaces_instructions




It took me less time to pull together than writing directions, Shari found it much easier to follow, and now Shari has it to refer to later if, for some reason, she forgets what to do--something she wouldn't have if I'd told her how to do it over the phone.

I see something like this as a sort of on-the-fly, micro-job aide--nothing full blown. Just a quick little screenshot with a few instructions. I could see this method working very well for quickly responding to many questions that people have about using just about any technology tools, from how to set up colored labels in Gmail to explaining where the "save" button is in Word (for the seriously technologically-impaired).

If you wanted to take this to the next level, a few other ideas come to mind:

  • Have staff download the Image Viewer or a similar tool to their desktops and then show them how they could use it to begin creating job aides for themselves. The first time they go through a software package, for example, and are afraid they'll forget how to do something, they can take a quick screen capture, annotate it  on the drawing board in the software and then save it to refer to later.
  • Teach people how to use Jing, where they can quickly record up to 5 minutes of audio and video of what they're doing on their screens, which is especially useful for explaining multi-step activities.
  • Have people upload their micro job aides to an organizational wiki where they're readily accessible to everyone.
  • Encourage staff to create Jing recordings or screencaptures for productivity tricks and tips they've discovered for your commonly used software. Again, these can be uploaded to your organizational wiki where they're searchable and accessible to other staff. They could also be embedded in a blog.

They say a picture's worth a thousand words. Maybe we need to start creating more of them on the fly.


Job Searching the Web 2.0 Way: Organizing with Google Calendar, Google Alerts and Jott

Over the past few days I've been sharing with you the story of how I'm working with Shari, a mid-career training professional who's currently looking for a new job. Yesterday I talked about how Shari and I set up a customized job search dashboard using i-Google. Today I'm going to share some of the other tools that Shari's using to organize her job search.

Calendar_details_2 Google Calendar
Calendars are critical for a well-organized job search.  One of the big challenges for many job seekers is getting into a work rhythm following a lay-off because the familiar structure to their days has changed so radically. They don't have to be at work at a certain time, nor do they need to work on specific work projects, which can leave many people feeling uncertain about how to structure their daily routine. They say that when you're unemployed, your new full-time job is finding another one, and your calendar can be a valuable ally in that process.

In Shari's case, she's working with a career counselor, so I didn't have to get into the specifics of how to organize her day as I might with another client. What I did want to show her, though, was how Google Calendar could support her job search process. (If you want to see a sample job search schedule, check out this one).

Shari already had a Google account, so we just clicked through to the calendar option and within a few steps she was set up. Then I showed her some of the features of Google calendar that make it my personal calendar of choice:

  • A very intuitive quick add feature--I can type in "Interview next Tuesday at 3 p.m." and Google will put the item on my calendar on the appropriate date.
  • A description and comment section for each item--I use this to include any key information related to the content of my appointment.  For example, if I have to do a call, I'll put the number into the description, along with the names of any other people I'll be talking to in the call. If it's an appointment at an unfamiliar location, I'll run a Google Maps search for directions and then cut and paste the URL into the description so that it's there when I'm ready to go. Shari could also put in the names of people she would interview with or a link to the job opening.
  • An option to have your agenda automatically emailed to you each morning. For some reason, this makes me feel like I have a personal assistant.
  • Integration with other tools, including i-Google and Jott. The more these tools can work together, the more steps it will save Shari and the more time and energy she'll have to focus on job searching, rather than on organizing and keeping up with paperwork.   

These options got Shari excited about using Google Calendar, especially since she was no longer going to be using the Outlook calendar she'd been using with her previous employer. She decided to give it a try and embed it into her i-Google page.

Google Alerts
When you're job searching, you're going to want to keep an eye on what's being said about you online. You'll also want to stay on top of research and information in your field so you're current during interviews and you'll want ongoing information about what's happening with specific companies that interest you. This is where Google Alerts come in. These are customized searches that you can set up so that you're automatically emailed every time your search terms appear online. I've written here about how to set them up, in case you're new to the process. You can also download this one-page PDF from Tim Davies.

I explained to Shari that she might want to set up a "vanity alert," which is simply a search for your name. We also discussed setting up alerts for key search terms in training and development and for specific companies that interest her. Then I walked her through how to set one up and suggested that she create more to follow her priority companies and topics.

Jott
Jott_screen_3 Shari had mentioned to me in our first conversation that she's a "talker," which is one of the things that has attracted her to the idea of blogging. I also know that when you're job searching, you need to keep track of a million details and pieces of information when you might not be at your computer, so I thought that Jott might be a great option for Shari to consider using.

I've written before about using Jott for personal productivity. Basically it's a free service that allows you to turn voicemail messages into emails. You can also post to your blog or calendar. I've been using my own Jott account for over a month now and it's been a real help.

For Shari's purposes, with Jott she'll be able to:

  • Leave herself a voice message about an item to add to her to-do list or some follow-up she wants to conduct after an interview. This will then appear in her inbox as an email when she gets home. So when she leaves an interview, for example, she can leave herself a message to send a thank you note to Jane Hardy and Joe Jones with whom she just interviewed. That "to do" item will be waiting in her inbox. Or if she hears about a job lead while she's away from her computer, she can simply call the information into her Jott account and she'll have a written record of it waiting in her email.
  • Use voicemail to add items to her Google Calendar. Once Shari signs up for her free Jott account, she can link it to her calendar. If she's on the road and needs to add an item, she simply calls the toll free Jott number, says she wants to add something to Google calendar and then leaves a message with the appointment details, date and time. She could also use this to create her daily agenda--for example leaving a message to send a thank you note to Jane Hardy on February 14 at 9 a.m. Then when she gets up on Feb. 14, her agenda will be waiting in her inbox and she'll know exactly what tasks she needs to get done that day.
  • Blog with her Jott account. Shari wants to set up a blog as part of her personal branding efforts. Once she does, she can link it to her Jott account and create her blog posts via voice mail from anywhere. She can then edit the post when she's at her computer and post it to her blog.

I also pointed out to Shari that she can use Jott to send her husband emails in case he's in a meeting or she wants to leave him a message that maybe is less urgent. She simply has to set her husband up as one of her contacts and then when she calls the toll free number, she can leave him a message that will be converted into email.

Shari loved what Jott might be able to do for her, so we decided that she'd look into signing up for her free account and incorporating that into her job search.

Next Steps
Each of these tools seemed like they would help Shari better organize her job search, so her plan now is to explore how to integrate them into her overall organizational efforts. Again, these are tools she'll need to get into the habit of using. She can integrate Google Calendar into her i-Google page, so it will be right there in her job search dashboard. She'll also need to program Jott into her cell phone and start remembering that she can use it, rather than written notes to keep herself organized. As with all these tools, it's about re-working your processes to make them replace the old ways of doing things and make yourself more productive.

Up Tomorrow
Now that Shari has her job search activities a little more organized, it's time to look at how we can organize and document her skill sets. Tomorrow we'll take a look at how Shari might use Wikispaces to set up her own online portfolio.


Job Searching the Web 2.0 Way: Setting Up a Job Search Dashboard

Yesterday you met Shari, a mid-career training professional I'm working with who's currently engaged in looking for a job. We're in the process of looking at Shari's job search needs and then finding the Web 2.0 tools that might complement and improve the strategies she's using to conduct her job search.

Getting Organized
Job searching is a big project. If you're engaged in passive job searching--you're still employed but open to possibilities--then being really organized is nice, but not critical. However when job searching becomes your full-time job, as it should if you're laid off, then getting organized is one of the first things you need to do in order to get a handle on all your job search activities.

When Shari and I first spoke, she had already signed up with several major job search agents, like Monster.com, Careerbuilder, etc. to be emailed when jobs were posted that met her search criteria. For those sites that didn't have that option, she'd created a word document with links to each site. These were great first steps.

I mentioned, though, that she might want to think about re-organizing things a little and creating a job search dashboard for herself using a start page option like i-Google, Netvibes or Pageflakes. This way when she fires up the Internet, the first place she goes is to a start page that has everything she needs for job searching in one convenient location. The start page option would also allow her to add additional modules, like a calendar, a "to do list," etc. so she could see everything at once. Shari loved the idea, so we decided to explore further.

Setting Up I-Google as a Job Search Dashboard
Because Shari was already using a few Google tools (she has Gmail and was starting to experiment with Google Reader), I decided it made sense to continue down the Google road so she could tie together what she was already using. Netvibes or Pageflakes could also work, but my theory is that it's better to build off of what people are already comfortable with.

During another call with Shari, I walked her through the process of setting up an i-Google page. The directions are fairly clear and Shari was quick to pick up on things, so it was a pretty easy process.Igoogle_job_search_3

Setting up a Job Search Tab
We first set up a tab in Shari's i-Google for "Job Search." We could have put everything on the home tab, but Shari will be using i-Google for more than just job searching, so it made better sense to create a separate tab.

This also worked well because i-Google will pre-populate new tabs with content it thinks you might want based on your name for the tab. In Shari's case, this meant that she immediately got several job search widgets (Google calls them Gadgets) added to her page. These included Monster.com, Careerbuilder and Indeed.com.  With those modules added to the page, Shari can simply add in her search terms for job type, location, etc. and the gadget will set up an automatic feed to Shari of the jobs on those sites that match her search terms.

Adding Google Gadgets
I then showed Shari the extensive library of modules that she could add to her job search start page. For example, although in an ideal world the job search sites she's using would have RSS feeds to individual searches, that's not the case, so Shari needed a place to bookmark some of those sites on her Job Search tab. I showed her how she could add a Google bookmarks module and then bookmark any key job search sites that she might regularly visit.

We also added modules for:

  • Google Maps, so that if Shari saw a job she liked, she could just plug in the info to see how close it was to her home or find directions in case of an interview.
  • An online dictionary, which Shari said she uses frequently.
  • Google Calendar for keeping track of appointments and activities.

Google has a ton of other gadgets, so I suggested to Shari that she spend a little time browsing through them to see what other modules she might want to include that could further support her personal dashboard. I emphasized though, that she should make sure that these modules add value for her. I don't want her to gadgetize so much that her page gets overwhelming and, therefore, less useful to her. I also shared with her this link to 70+ Tools for Job Seekers, where she can find more job search engines and other sites to use.

Next Steps
Now that Shari had her customized job search dashboard set up, we discussed the fact that she should look at the job search agents she'd set up previously and decide if she wanted to keep those or if she wanted to use the Google gadgets instead. In some ways this is a personal decision--some people might be more comfortable using email to be notified, while others might like the RSS feed option. Shari needs to find the strategy that will make her feel the most organized and on top of the process.

She'll also have to get into the habit of using her new start page. It's great that we created something, but in order for Shari to get the most bang for the buck, she'll need to think about how to integrate this into her job search process. At a minimum she should set her browser to start up on her i-Google page so she gets into the habit of checking there first. She might also want to keep an eye on which Google Gadgets are helping in her job search and which may just be cluttering things up so she can continue to refine and customize in a way that will best meet her individual needs and approach.

Up Tomorrow

Getting organized isn't just about having a customized start page. Tomorrow we'll look at how Shari is using a few other Google tools, including Google Calendar and Google Alerts. I'll also discuss how Jott can be used to support the job search process. It's a great tool for follow-up and for those people who prefer to talk rather than write.


Getting Productive in 2008 with Jott

Jott_screen_3 This week I'm sharing some of the tools and tips I've been using in my ongoing quest to achieve productivity nirvana. One tool that I'm really enjoying using is Jott. Here's how it works.

  • Sign up for your free account. You'll be prompted through getting your account and phone set up.
  • Once you're signed up, use your cell phone to call the Jott toll free number.
  • Leave a message for yourself.
  • Receive an email within about 5 minutes with the transcript of your message.

Yes, that's right--you can call Jott and leave verbal reminders for yourself that will then be sent to your email inbox for later action. I'm LOVING this thing!

Now, when I'm driving, I can call Jott (which I've programmed into my cell phone) and babble all those follow-up items into my Jott account so that when I get home, my "To Do" list is in my inbox, waiting for action. This is especially helpful if you've been using your email inbox as the collection point for all of your "To Do's," something else I've started doing and which I find extremely helpful.

You can also use Jott to leave reminders or updates for other individuals or even for groups. Again, you leave a voice message, they get an email--or even a text message to their cell. And of course, they can do the same with you.  It's all extremely convenient.

I told one of my colleagues about this and her first question was "But aren't your email messages all garbled?" Actually, no. So far Jott has done an excellent job of accurately transcribing my voice messages into emails. But even if there was a problem, when I get my email, there's a link to the voice mail so that I could go listen to it just to make sure I got the info right.

This has been my best tech find to date to support my "getting productive in 2008" plans--definitely worth checking out.

What's your favorite tech tool to improve your productivity?


Getting Productive in 2008: The Two Minute Rule

Two_minute_timer All this week I'm sharing some of the time management tips and tools I've been trying out, many of which are based on David Allen's Getting Things Done system. Today I'm going to talk about one of the parts of GTD to implement, The Two Minute Rule.

Allen's premise is that part of what gets in the way of our productivity are all the little items that pile up in our heads and on our desks, making us crazy. With the Two Minute Rule, we can clear many of them up immediately.

Here is the rule in a nutshell:

When something comes up that will take you two minutes or less to act on, do it now.

This seems pretty simple, but it's actually an incredibly powerful way to handle things, especially for procrastinators. who often think about some "to do" item and then another and another and another and pretty soon we're overwhelmed. We may write all of these things on our "to do" list, but then we'll just feel overwhelmed by the list. By implementing the Two Minute Rule, we can start to clear up many items immediately, creating both the psychic space and the time for the bigger items on our list.

I have to say that this rule has been working pretty well for me. I've installed the GTD Inbox extension in Firefox, which helps me use my Gmail account to help manage my activities. One of its cool features is that when I start to reply to an email, a 2-minute timer automatically pops up so I can get the email response done in two minutes or less. (Note that right now, you have to go back to the older version of Gmail to use this, as it's not yet compatible with the new one). You can also download this free Two Minute Timer, which will  help you keep track of other tasks, too, like phone calls, filling out paperwork or forms online, etc.

An added benefit of the Two Minute Rule for me has been that I don't get bogged down in doing things that will take me longer than two minutes until I really have the time to do them. I've been notorious for flitting task to task in some very disconnected ways. Many a day has ended with me wondering what exactly I managed to accomplish. By asking myself if it's something I could accomplish in two minutes, I've been able to be a little more deliberate in planning my time, so I stay more focused on the work that needs to get done.  This is one time management tip I highly recommend.


Getting Productive in 2008, Starting with GTD

Gtd_cover It's the New Year and one of my resolutions is to try to get a better handle on my time. I'm also in the middle of planning for a time management webinar, so I guess I have productivity on the brain.

This week I wanted to share some tools and tips I've been trying out as I suspect that I'm not alone in the desire to get more done in less time. Some of these strategies are working well for me. Others are more of a challenge. My theory, though, is that just because it doesn't work for me, doesn't mean that you might not get something out of it.

Most of what I've been doing is based on David Allen's Getting Things Done (GTD), a time management and organizational system that for many devotees approaches cult-like status. It's a system that succeeds because it helps you get all the amorphous "stuff" that's clogging up your thinking and planning out of your brain and into a coherent system where you can do something actionable about it. As this 43 Folders article on getting started with GTD points out:

Stuff is bouncing around in our heads and causing untold stress and anxiety. Evaluation meetings, bar mitzvahs, empty rolls of toilet paper, broken lawn mowers, college applications, your big gut, tooth decay, dirty underwear and imminent jury duty all compete for prime attention in our poor, addled brains. Stuff has no “home” and, consequently, no place to go, so it just keeps rattling around.

Yep--that about sums it up for me.

So what GTD does is give you a system for collecting and organizing all of your "stuff." From the same article:

This is a really summarized version, but here it is, PowerPoint-style:

  1. identify all the stuff in your life that isn’t in the right place (close all open loops)
  2. get rid of the stuff that isn’t yours or you don’t need right now
  3. create a right place that you trust and that supports your working style and values
  4. put your stuff in the right place, consistently
  5. do your stuff in a way that honors your time, your energy, and the context of any given moment
  6. iterate and re-factor mercilessly

So, basically, you make your stuff into real, actionable items or things you can just get rid of. Everything you keep has a clear reason for being in your life at any given moment—both now and well into the future. This gives you an amazing kind of confidence that a) nothing gets lost and b) you always understand what’s on or off your plate.

As someone who has a LOT of "stuff" cluttering up my psychic space, you can imagine why this system appeals.

Now serious GTD enthusiasts can apparently spend hours talking about the merits of technology vs. non-technology-based systems and the tiny variations and adaptations you can make for yourself. For me, that's a little much, so I've been acting as more of a dabbler, trying out some of the key principles of GTD, as well as playing around with some nifty tools to help me keep track of and act on all my "stuff." These are the things I'm going to share the rest of this week.

If you want to get all hardcore on me, though, there's plenty to get you going with GTD. Here are the best resources that I found:

  • Beginner's Guide to GTD--there are links to many different sites for getting started. Take a look around to find the one that suits you best. This is a pretty long list.

That's more than enough to get you started. Tomorrow I'm going to talk about one of the key principles of GTD that's been working well for me--The Two Minute Rule.


Google Calendar + Remember the Milk= I Should Be Getting More Organized

Remember_the_milk For someone who is always extolling the virtues of Web 2.0 technologies, I can be surprisingly low-tech. I've made half-hearted attempts to get better at using Google calendar, but honestly, I've had a hard time weaning myself from my paper calendar and to-do lists. My work schedule is getting impossible though, as I attempt to juggle way too many disparate projects, so yesterday I decided I needed to get a little more serious about practicing what I preach.

Google Calendar
I started with transferring all of my appointments to Google calendar. In the comments section, I added phone numbers for calls I need to make. I was also able to add a couple of appointments directly through my Gmail inbox by clicking on the "Add to Gcal" link at the bottom of emails that confirmed appointments. Duh--why have I thought it was easier to write it on a paper calendar?

Remember the Milk
As I added my appointments though, I thought to myself that I REALLY needed to include my daily to-do lists, so I did a quick search on "Google Calendar" and "to do lists," which led me to this lovely Lifehacker post on Remember the Milk, a nice little "To Do" list application that I'd signed up for awhile ago, but fallen out of the habit of using. With a click of a button, I was able to integrate Remember the Milk into my Google calender. Now I can create prioritized To-do lists directly through Gcal, which I THINK (hope?) will help keep me organized.

So let's see how long this lasts--any bets on whether or not I return to my paper and pen within a week?  Typically I start out strong with these sorts of efforts, but old habits are hard to break, and I'll find myself backsliding, even as I know that this method actually makes my life easier if I can just keep up with it.

Perhaps there's a lesson here for me in understanding why other people don't quickly adopt blogging and other tools. Maybe it's a matter of establishing new habits and having to push through old ways of thinking. Sometimes it's easier to stick with what I know works a little, than to go through the pain of getting to something better.


Want to Get People to Pay Attention in a Meeting or Training Session? Bring in the Toys!

Playdoh The other day I had to meet with 20+ high school seniors, so I decided it was time to go back to one of my tried and true meeting strategies--Toys. It was so successful (as it always is), I thought I'd share the idea.

Bring on the Play-Doh!
About 9 years ago I was doing a retreat with 30 people. This was for a nonprofit that provided manufacturing training and about half of our group was made up of the trainees, who were extremely hands-on and fidgety when they had to sit still for too long. I needed everyone's participation in the meeting and knew that I had to do something to keep them all focused.

I'd read somewhere that if you can keep people's hands busy, they are more likely to pay attention for longer periods of time, so I thought I'd see what I could do. I ran out to the store and grabbed Play Doh, Legos and a few Slinkys and brought them with me to the retreat. I just threw everything on the table, explained why I'd brought the toys, and then waited to see what happened.

At first, people were a little tentative and looked at me like I was crazy. Then one guy grabbed some Play Doh and started forming some shapes. A woman took one of the Slinkys and began shifting it from side to side while a few more people took some Legos and started building. Within a few minutes, about 3/4 of the group was doing something with their hands.

Here was the cool thing, though. They ALL paid attention and participated in our discussions, more so than they'd done in previous meetings where I didn't bring the toys. By the end of the retreat a few days later, they were all thanking me for helping them see how they could stay focused, as many of them thought that there was something "wrong" with them that they had a hard time participating when they had to sit for a while.

Since then I've almost always used toys for training sessions, retreats, etc. I've used them with all ages, from high school seniors to senior citizens. Participants often think I'm a little crazy at first, but by the end of the day, they're generally convinced that this is a great strategy for keeping people focused. It's been particularly useful when I work with youth organizations--staff finally realize that there's a productive way to work WITH young people's energy, which is a real eye-opener for both them and the youth.

If you're worried that people will pay more attention to the toys than to your meeting, don't be. In 9 years of using this strategy, I've found that for most people, the toys actually get them MORE focused on what we're doing, not less. And if they do start to pay more attention to their Lego building than to what we're doing, then I know it's time for a break.

Give it a shot--let me know what happens.

Photo via samoube