Be lazy. Automate everything.
Productivity hacks for your learning design team.
What makes a great learning designer? They have to be curious, creative and an excellent communicator. They have to be good with people. They should be technically savvy. Crucially, they should be lazy.
‘Lazyness’ is an under-rated quality.
In the Oxford Dictionary, it’s defined as ‘unwilling to work or be active; doing as little as possible’. For clarity, the folks at Oxford have labelled this definition ‘disapproving’, lest we read it as aspirational.
But why isn’t it aspirational? I want my team to be doing as little as possible. As long as they are delivering for clients and users, then minimizing the time that takes is in everyone’s interest.
So this week in The L&D Dispatch, we thought we’d share some of the approaches we take to embrace laziness.
In short? Automate everything.
Here’s some ideas.
🖊️ Outsource your memory
One of the best learning experiences I’ve ever had was David Allen’s ‘Getting Things Done’ workshop. Overnight, it changed the way I work.
In essence, Allen argues that we use up far too much cognitive resource trying to remember things. Short-term memory has a finite capacity, and when we rely on it to get things done we find ourselves overwhelmed, our head swirling with thoughts. Inevitably, we forget things - or don’t remember them until it’s far too late.
Long-term memory on the other hand has incredible capacity, but retrieving the right information at the right time can be difficult. Where did you save that file?
Fortunately, there are some easy fixes.
First, if I agree to do something then I add it to my ‘to-do list’ there-and-then (I recommend Todoist). That way, I know I won’t forget and I also don’t have to think about it again until I review the list.
Second, I take extensive notes during client calls, internal meetings and 1:1s. I use EverNote at home, and OneNote at work.
What I like about them is that they are searchable. For example, these tools are far better at retrieving the notes I made on ‘cognitive load theory’ than my brain is.
🗃️ Share by default
You may have spotted a flaw in the system above. Two different note taking apps?
There’s a reason for this.
I use OneNote at work because our default behavior is to share everything within our team. Details of every client call go in there, so that others can take over conversations if I’m absent in the future.
Projects are stored on a shared drive, so that every team member has access to every project file.
There will be occasions when you need to limit access: but that should be the exception, not the rule.
📄 The ‘Gibson Rule’: Template everything
There are some tasks that are, by their nature, somewhat repetitive: setting up project reviews, creating proposals, writing statements of work, performing quality assurance, accessibility checks, writing a podcast script.
Create templates for all of these and, per the above, share with everyone.
I’ll refer to this in future as the ‘Gibson Rule’ because, when I went to our shared drive to get an example of our QA self-check, I found a new template that Claire Gibson from our team had made yesterday.
🤖 Set up automations
When I record a podcast, I change that episode’s status on Monday.com and it triggers an email to Ady.
When Ady is finished with the edit, he updates the status and it triggers an email to me.
When I mark the edit as approved, it triggers a reminder to Ady to invoice us.
⚙️ Schedule posts
Every so often, someone will tell me I spend a lot of time on LinkedIn. That means the magic is working!
I actually schedule our social content in one session: usually taking a few hours once a week to do this.
Then Buffer does all the work for me, posting across our channels every day.
📅 Stop emailing your availability
Much of my job involves meeting with clients, potential clients and partners - so a lot of my week has historically been spent discussing availability.
Calendly ended all that.
Now folks can see when I’m available at book a call when it’s convenient for them. I think that, after my to-do list, this is the best productivity hack I’ve ever adopted.
Outlook also offers a similar service.
💬 The obligatory ‘AI bit’
I won’t belabor this one, as I wrote about how we’re using ChatGPT last week. But it’s useful to sit with an AI chat window open in case you get stuck.
“Give me 10 ideas for X” is a near-daily prompt!
All of these productivity tips help free up our team to get closer to clients and users. So, if you’re looking for learning design support, why not get in touch?
Contact email@example.com or reply to this newsletter from your inbox.
🎧 On the podcast
In the latest episode of the Mind Tools L&D Podcast, we celebrated twenty years of the Learning Performance Benchmark by speaking to some of the key players behind it.
Interestingly, at its birth, the LPB wasn’t designed to be used as a benchmarking tool. As Laura Overton explains, the survey evolved into what it is today when patterns began to show up in the data:
When those patterns started to emerge consistently, we thought […] this can help people think about the decisions they want to make, and make those decisions that really count, that lead towards impact.
Listen to the full episode here:
📖 Deep dive
This one was painful.
Long-term listeners to our podcast or readers of this newsletter will know that I’m a big fan of nudge theory. I’ve even written about how to apply nudge techniques to workplace learning.
So you can imagine my horror when the smug smart alecks at the If Books Could Kill podcast came for Nudge, Thaler and Sunstein’s bestselling 2008 book.
If you’re not familiar with this podcast, it’s a series of hour-long takedowns of the books that have shaped our public conversations over the last 20 years or so. Previous victims include Freakonomics and Outliers.
The criticisms made by hosts Michael Hobbes and Peter Shamshiri follow a fairly consistent format across episodes: the books you read that you thought explained how the world works are actually dramatic simplifications, based on shakey data and - in some cases - outright lies.
The show is pretty mean-spirited in general, setting out as it does to trash each book from the outset, but it’s also a useful counter to the notion that bestselling pop-science books are the key to understanding.
In their takedown of Nudge, they concede that what the book did was create a useful language for discussing the factors that influence human decision-making. However, they find the actual suggestions made in the book ideologically-problematic and - in many cases - point out that they don’t actually work.
Check it out and, if you want to discuss the pros and cons of Nudge, we can argue in the comments 😉
Hobbes, M. & Shamshiri, P. '"Nudge" Part 1: A Simple Solution For Littering, Organ Donations and Climate Change’. If Books Could Kill.
👹 Missing links
First of all, excessive drinking is bad for you and even moderate consumption could cause harm. Read the article for details. But what I liked about this piece from Brown University economist Emily Oster is that it presented a different way to think about this kind of question. Less: ‘Is alcohol bad for me?’ More: ‘To what extent am I willing to accept this risk because I get some other value from it?’
Do you find that you keep returning to the same old solutions to familiar problems? This approach is great for efficiency, but can start to feel de-motivating and cuts us off from new ideas. Enter the ‘Oddly Specific Design Generator’, from Pleo’s VP of Design Pete Lacey. This Excel spreadsheet spits out random problems for Pete’s product design team to solve. For example: ‘Buying in store as a bookkeeper who has very very fat fingers’. I love it, and am going to start using something similar with my team!
I just enjoyed Arnold on Netflix, a three-part docuseries on the evolution of Arnold Schwarzenegger from athlete, to actor, to politician. It’s a fascinating insight into what drives someone to excel in three different fields, while not shying away from his mis-steps and bad behavior.
👋 And finally…
Want to kill five minutes? The ‘Find an invisible cow’ game challenges you to… find an invisible cow. The closer you get, the louder the word ‘Cow!’ will play.
If you’re in an office, I suggest putting on headphones.
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