Year-End Review: Thinking about Your Use of Time

an hourglass

The year is winding down. Many organizations are near the halfway point of their fiscal year. This is the right time to take stock on your work and processes. You have time to improve processes for the second half of the year.

Where should you start when you take stock? You might start with the way you and your organization use time. Why? Time is the greatest resource your organization has and the one that you most likely squander. Before thinking about next steps, let’s think a little bit about the relationship between time and work.

Salary and Time

Most organizations give the most work to staff who work on a salary. Those people are paid a flat rate, and if they are exempt from overtime, their pay does not increase even if their workload does. In the short-term, organizations can get more work for less when they add labor to their salaried staff. The workload is often allocated based on prior performance. Work hard, and you might be congratulated with more work (and no raise.)

Often, workers find it challenging to mitigate overwork. They might not be able to explain their workload stresses to their managers. They might not have any colleagues who can take on some of their workloads. They might feel too cash-strapped or work uncertain to want to make waves. However, in the end, they will have to accomplish the work.

But, in considering the workload struggles, it is often that you are being required to work beyond what you were contracted for. In other words, you are not receiving immediate financial benefits from this extra work. You’re gambling your time away in hopes of earning future financial benefits. As they say in Vegas, the house almost always wins. Organizations will benefit from you working beyond your salaried requirements.

What can you do about overwork?

This is probably the hardest question to answer. You entered your career because you love the work. You want to do your best. You might have a long history of feeling successful thanks to hard work during graduate school. Overwork might be your natural inclination.

First, you need to reconsider your feelings about your workload. You need to be honest with yourself about all the work you do. What tasks have been added since your salary was negotiated? How have these tasks impacted your time? What is the benefit to you to do these tasks? Are these tasks worth it for you and/ or for your organization? Basically, you need to tally if the time you are donating to your organization is worth it to you.

Next, you need to decide when your time is being wasted due to your own poor habits:

  1. Email is the biggest suck of time. I am a reformed obsessive email checker. I understand the way that it can feel to have things lurking in your email. I also understand the spark you can feel when you see the number of emails increase. But, obsessively checking email is just a way of letting people chip away at your time and sanity. Check email at specified times in your day, like at lunch and at the end of the day. Follow through with this plan for a few weeks, and you will train your colleagues about your new emailing behaviors.
  2. Meetings are a time suck that you can’t completely control. When you run the meeting, come with an agenda and leave with action items. Immediately return to your space, finish any tasks that are easy to accomplish like emailing your notes back to the team. Basically, don’t let the meeting suck more time than absolutely necessary.
  3. Choose when you waste time otherwise you will waste time uncontrollably. Breaks are a great way to increase your productivity. This might seem counter-intuitive. But, think about running a long race. You will not be able to sprint the whole distance. You need to pace yourself. Work is the same way. If you don’t find a way to create downtime, you will instead waste time pretending to work. (Another useful analogy might be snacking. Avoid eating for a long time, and you will find yourself stuffing your face full of potato chips instead of a healthy meal.)

Managing for Sanity

Managing others is often the source of overwork. You are often assigned a series of your own work tasks plus the work of managing others. But management isn’t just an asterisk on one’s workload. Good managers understand the importance of investing time in your staff. Any task that requires more than one person takes exponentially longer than something you do alone.

How can you value your time but also value your staff?

  1. First, put in time at the onset. Set up systems that work for you and your staff. Give them the time they need consistently so that you don’t get burned down the road with a more time-consuming problem.
  2. Don’t ignore staff emails. Of all your emails, your own staff emails should be the most important to answer. Triaging those emails efficiently will save you time in the long run. (Also, communicate an email policy to your staff so that you know that they are communicating in ways that work for both of you. Consider asking staff to add “Attention Needed” flags to items that need your answer and “FYI” to the subject line of emails that are just notifications.)
  3. Systematize as many management tasks as you can. Do payroll the same every time. Create form emails as often as you can. But, do not systematize the personal things, like making personal connections to your staff.
  4. Don’t waste your time doing your staff’s job. Micromanaging feels bad on both the receiving end, but it actually feels bad on the managing end as well. Micromanaging can occur for a number of reasons. You might not be confident in your staff. If this is the case, reconfigure how you communicate expectations to the staff and how you evaluate success. You might be micromanaging because your staff is accomplishing their work using a different process than you use. In this case, if the work is accomplished well, you need to let go of your need to control the process. Remember, the variety of solutions signals a staff that your department can fix many different problems.

Conclusion

Overall, you need to be an advocate for your time. You need to analyze how you use your time and understand why you make those choices. You also need to understand how and why you are using your time with your colleagues and your staff. Your time is a resource that you cannot get back. And, your time is worth more than you probably earn.

 

Starting your DEAI path

Recently, I was asked how to start on the path to understanding the issues of Diversity, Equity, Access, and Inclusion. These are complex issues that take years to grapple with, and even then, you may never truly understand them. Since I have been asked this question often, I wanted to put down some big-picture ideas.

There are many steps you can take. But first, there are some intellectual changes you should make to place yourself in a good position to make a change:

Think differently:

It’s not me, it’s you: Slavery is one of the most inhumane aspects of human history. A portion of our current American population is on this continent because they are the descendants of slaves. Much of the current white population came to the United States after the Civil War; the population nearly doubled in the second half of the 19th century. These facts set up some complicated issues. White Americans might find themselves thinking (or saying), but my family didn’t own slaves. As an Asian-American whose family came on TWA in the sixties and seventies, I could say pretty categorically that my family didn’t own slaves. But, I wouldn’t. Why? Because arguments about actual ownership are not the point. In the US, the descendants of slaves have faced incredible prejudice and economic hardship from the moment they left the African continent. People who are white have not faced those same hardships, even if say, your Catholic ancestors faced certain prejudices. If you ancestor’s children weren’t sold as possessions, it wasn’t as bad for your people as the slaves. Saying that your family didn’t own slaves is immaterial. There are people in this country who ancestors were own like furniture, and this country is inextricably tied to that terrible fact. What your ancestors didn’t do isn’t the point. The point is what you are doing now.

White guilt isn’t the Trip we need: White privilege is a truth in society. Ceding your privilege by centering others is the best way to assuage your guilt about the privileges you were born with. But, many people with white guilt act in ways that don’t make our racially-problematic society. Guilt is often the reason white people might feel uncomfortable speaking about race or couch their conversations in euphemisms. Guilt might make white people choose to center their feelings about race rather than focusing on the actual injustices of racism. Guilt should not be a way to continue the current oppression; it should be an impetus for change.

Don’t look to Black Saviors; This fight is for whites: The people in power generally are the ones with the most power to change society. People of color have been doing this work for a long time. But, they can only make change up to a point. White people need to think of themselves as change-agents.

Intersectional; not siloed: Diversity, equity, access, and inclusion is not about adding a few people from one minority into the majority. Historically, African-Americans are the most marginalized in America. Often, organizations use the term “diversity” as a code for adding more African-Americans to their community. DEAI efforts have to deal with the ways that African-Americans are positioned in our society (and the breakdown of structural racism in our institutions.) But, DEAI is by definition broader than one racial group. People are marginalized in our society for their race, gender, ethnicity, ability, neurodivergence, nationality, and class. True DEAI efforts need to think of the way organizations deal with all types of differences and therefore require the transformation of processes.

Diversity isn’t like seasoning old dishes; It’s about new meals: Diversity isn’t about adding in a few new folks. DEAI initiatives need to be fundamental reworkings of thought and processes. Adding a couple “gay people” or “black people” isn’t the way to make these changes. You need to question everything that occurs starting with the underlying thoughts about who, what, and whys of your organization.

 

Act Differently:

Listen to people marginalized people, but don’t burden them with your questions: We are taught to ask questions in school. So, asking questions seems like a good way to test your understanding of issues. But, remember life is accumulative. So, your question of your marginalized friend is one of the thousands they have been asked.

Center Others: Attention is not an infinite resource. Take stock of who is getting the most attention. If you were born with more privilege, your voice has mattered more for longer. Use that privilege by centering other less privileged voices. Give someone the center to this argument so that you can learn.

Study like your future depends on it, bc the equitable future does: In the end, the issues of DEAI are about our society as a whole. How can we ensure that all of us in this country have a future? Imagine we are on a life-raft together? If some of us sink, the whole raft is toast. Our country might still be afloat, but if inequity keeps some sectors of our society down, our whole country suffers. With this level of import, you can understand why information is your best way to help improve the future. Learn as much as you can. Read everything. Find voices that are different than your own. Question everything you know. The future is in your hands.

Make mistakes: I can’t tell you the number of mistakes I have made and thought the wrong thing. I still have major blinders thanks to my education and background. If you don’t admit to your biases and faults, you are doomed to maintain your bad behaviors. The only way you can improve is to make mistakes. Learn about other people, but also interact with them. Be truthful about who you are. Don’t pretend to be a different class, race, or gender. But, then, interact with other people. Communicate. Listen and take criticism well. You will speak incorrectly. And, learn from your mistakes.

 

 

#MCN2018 Recap

Most years, on my plane back from MCN, I am furiously typing up notes from sessions. This year, I was volunteer co-chair and Human-Centered Design SIG co-chair. As a result, I was ever-present but not always there when it came to sessions. However, I had a better sense of what people felt about what they heard. Here are the five ideas I heard most often:

AI, Machines, and Thoughtfulness:

Amber Case said in her keynote, “I don’t want to be a systems administrator in my own home.” She was alluding to the prevalence of digitally-enabled devices in contemporary life. Museums are now more commonly using iBeacons, RFIDs, and other tools that collect data on patrons. This data can be incredibly useful for improving experience and operations, however, data collection is also incredibly challenging. First, and foremost, data is a responsibility. Our institutions need to be thoughtful about honoring our tacit relationship with our visitors to treat them well, including by treating their data well. We also need to help visitors understand how we use data, anonymize data as often as possible, and be thoughtful in the conclusions we draw from the data. Finally, visitor data is only one part of decision-making. Staff feedback is an essential tool. Most museums do a poor job of aggregating staff data on visitor experience and an even poorer job of honoring and acting on that data.

Humans make Mistakes:

No person is faultless but many museums are still reticent to be honest about failures. Sharing failures and working collaboratively across institutions to find better solutions could save the field money and headache in the long run. Many museum professionals find strictures prevent them from being honest with peers at other institutions. They also find it challenging to find places other than conferences to share their challenges, particularly places where they can publish failures.

Humans together are better than apart or against each other:

Collaboration remains a perennial topic. Collaboration with other organizations is particularly hard for many as their internal systems are in disrepair. Even when collaboration is successful, many of the collaborative projects are grant-funded, or time-restricted. The lessons learned about collaboration are often not folded into the museum processes.

Bias isn’t Mitigated without Action:

Everything is biased because humans are. Data is created by humans and therefore biased. Many of our technology-projects are outcome-focused and deadline-driven, like a DAM that must launch in six-weeks or an interactive for an exhibition. Timelines and ignorance have meant that these technology projects have often been produced without considering and mitigating bias.

Design for Accessibility is Actually Good for All:

Accessibility and inclusion are about being thoughtful to accommodate the widest range of people. But, in doing so, everyone is helped. Accessibility, however, doesn’t happen by accident. Thought must be taken to make the right choices so all patrons are included. While upfront cost might make this seem frivolous, the increase in audience engagement for the broadest audience makes designing for all worth it. User Experience Design, Service Design, and Human-Centered Design are useful ways for organizations to make sure to develop accessible projects. These processes can be adopted by all types of professionals. There are many resources, including these from me and MCN’s HCD SIG workshop. (Join by DMing @artlust).

Girl Surrounded by Technology objects

Conclusion

Overall, while the conferences was called humanizing the digital, I felt that the conference was really about humans and their existence in a dense digital environment. The ideal is to create digital that does not destroy nor negate our humanity. This ideal will only occur with careful thought. When digital is seen as the medium and not the message or the meaning, people are able to have superlative experiences.

 

Finally, I heard over and over that MCN is attendee’s annual chance to recharge and reconnect with champions. The MCN community comes out in full force at the conference. For some of us, it remains with us during the rest of the year, like on social media. Yet, many people mentioned how they wished they had more chances to share ideas, like in publications. Think of how much better the field would be next year if all of the 500 plus attendees shared one idea to a peer at their institution, one idea to a supervisor/ director, and one broadly to the field. These ideas could be shared in emails, tweets, talks, blog posts, published articles, or books. The community of MCN is only as strong as its participants and their strength is in their ideas. By sharing these ideas, attendees can exponentially expand the good happening in the field.

Simple Steps to Increase Equity: Considering Gender Pronouns

A human brain is basically a pattern-deciphering machine. People make millions of judgments daily, mostly unconsciously. Their brains match all new inputs against all the data that resides in their brains. When the first white flake falls from the sky, they don’t consciously match this information against all the memories in the brain. But, unconsciously, they are connecting this image to frames of reference in their minds. They need not fear invasion by cold, wet aliens; it’s just snow, they know. (For some of us, that’s scary enough.)

Our mental framing devices are constantly evolving. Babies quickly acquire the frames to understand that eyes mean humans, for example. But, later, we learn that things that look like they have eyes might be inanimate.

Some of our most central frames are imbued with social norms. Consider the question about how you identify. You likely spent the first couple decades of life honing your identity. Your style, for example, might be incredibly important to how you see yourself. I, personally, have a strong correlation between my identity and my style. I see myself as an outgoing, rule-breaker, and my style is part of that. For others, punctuality might be part of their personality. Musical taste, hobbies, vocal intonation are other examples of how people externally express their identity. And, each of those external expressions is imbued with social constructs. By choosing those expressions, people are engaging with other people’s frames of reference (even if unconsciously.)

External identity markers are based on choice. Other identity markers are inherent to people. Gender, sexuality, race, and class are all accidents of birth. The way you express and live these characters are likely a mix of nature and nurture. The way we perceive other people’s gender, sexuality, race, and class often come down to our frames of reference.

Gender can be particularly hard. Many people have a frame of reference formed in youth that suggests two genders.  When we get input that goes against this frame of reference, we can feel confused, confounded, or even incensed. All of a sudden, our accepted frame of reference is being called into question. But, destabilizing your frame of reference can be an important way to evolve your thinking. Confronting new ideas about gender can feel like you are coming against your most deeply held beliefs about your identity. But, other people’s gender identity isn’t about you. It’s about them. Learning to be flexible in thinking and communicating about gender is a way of increasing equity in the world.

Sometimes it is helpful to remember that our frames of reference are culturally constructed rather than absolute. Gender, for example, is considered differently in many societies. A friend recently mentioned Fa’afa, an element of Samoan culture, as well as gender in New Zealand,  that is completely different than the binary concept of gender many Americans perceive as a given. In reading some of the resources she passed on (see below), I was struck at how different this conceptualization is my own. This is not a question of debating rightness between any one way of seeing gender. Instead, the frameworks in Samoan/ and Maori society highlight how culturally constructed mine is and therefore helps me remember that my ideas are not absolute or immutable. When you have a hard time thinking about someone who is different than a frame of reference you know, remember the binary is a construct of our society and not an element of all human societies.

Even in our own society, our conceptualization of gender can be more than a simple duality. Look at this example of how gender is expressed in common spoken American English:
 Person 1: What time did this letter come in? Who sent it?
Person 2: I don’t know. I didn’t even see the Postal worker
 Person 1: So, you don’t know what they said?
Person 2: No idea. Just call them and stop bothering me.

In this example, there is one postal worker who is referred to as them. In spoken English, when a gender is not known, we turn to the collective nouns, they/them. This linguistic norm is so naturalized, you might not realize that you do it. So, when you have problems using a collective noun when a person has expressed their pronouns to be they/them, think of this example. You can do grow to change how you use pronouns.

Like all things human, there are many ways of seeing the world. Remembering that our conceptualization is culturally constructed can help you learn to evolve your way of thinking. Evolving your frames of reference can be an essential way to improve the ways that you interact with others. It can make others feel more welcome, but it can also help you connect with many more people.

Resources about Fa’afa and Gender in New Zealand:

A Video about Fa’afafine

Maori approach to transgender (often included with LGBTQ+ under the term ‘Takatapu’ )

This is part of an ongoing series about small actions you can do to increase your ability to increase equity in society.

The previous post was:

Simple Steps to Increase Your Ability to Fight for Equity

 

Elements of Content Strategy

Content strategy is a framework that shapes all verbal communications and messaging within a brand. It ensures that all writers working with the brand have a cohesive approach while meeting their specific goals. Ideally, the strategy means that every piece of the text supports the overall feel of the organization.

Why write to a strategy?

Writing is a form of communication, but not an objective one. However, as anyone who has read a confusing email knows that language often obfuscate or confuse rather than inform. Written communication is more than the words on the page. Word-choice, framing, and sentence construction all project ideas and feeling beyond solely the meaning of the words. One projects a certain sentiment by employing erudite language. The mood is straight-up transformed when the words are switched up. Facile writers know all the tricks to manipulate readers. While manipulation might sound ominous, all writing is about swaying readers towards the writer’s ideas and point of view.

The content strategy, therefore, helps writers build their text within an accepted and common framework. Rather than manipulate wildly, a good content strategy hones language so it influences people towards a specific goal. In the end, influential language can help brands want to use language to build loyalty, trust, and connection.

What is in a content strategy?

Ideally, a strategy is like formalizing a language. You set rules and systems that help the team say what needs to be said.

The ideal strategy includes:

Norms: Every organization has a set of rules and norms. Some of these norms are expressed in the mission of the organization and its actions. However, many of these norms are unseen, like the unspoken but clearly felt accepted behaviors with the spaces. Surfacing these unspoken norms is incredibly important in developing a successful content strategy.

Limitations: Often organizations are able to find and articulate positive unspoken norms like we are a space that allows people to feel smart. However, often organizations have a blind to limitations. Without clearly facing limitations, and understanding their source, a content strategy will fail. One entry point to looking at limitations can be to explore words your organization avoids. Let’s say your organization doesn’t use slang. Exploring why might help your organization find that you fear seeming colloquial conflicts with your intellectual approach. Uncovering and address this unspoken norm would be essential before drafting your strategy.

Approach: What is the approach you hope to project to your audience? While the content strategy should fuel all written and visual communication, your overall approach to front of house is a good way think about your content strategy. What is the feel you want customers to have?

Tone: This is the most critical aspect of approach. You will likely want to send a spectrum of tone for different types of language. Remember, everything you do sets a done, so make sure you are doing it purposefully.

Scope: In this case, scope is about the breadth of communications you will use and the ways that each communication form ties into your brand. You can think of scope as how each external communication expresses an internal raison d’etre.

How does this all play out?

Google offers a useful concrete look at content strategy in practice. Google is constantly updating and improving the language. What are some of their considerations? Google is customer first, so they remove technical language in favor of user-centered communication. They also smartly front-load information while cutting unnecessary words. In the end, they say what they need fast because users want clear, concise, useful language. (For more about Google’s writing.)

What does Google’s approach mean for museums? Museums serve people with different needs. They can’t get away with quite the simplicity of Google’s approach. However, Google understood that their strategy is only successful if it is iterative and human-centered. Also, Google worked within the norms of their organization. For example, Google never moved into the passive aggressive humor many other sites use for error messages.

Overall, museums can learn that developing a content strategy is not just good for visitors/ customers but also for all of the people working in the museum. Frameworks support writers to do their best work.

User-Experience Design/ Service Design: Planning versus Feedback Tools

While many people are focused on the testing/ feedback tools, there are other tools that user experience designers/ service designers use to collaborate and plan within teams. These tools can be broadly broken down into tools/ processes that help shape a project (i.e. expand ideas) and ones that refine a project (solidify an idea). The ideal project uses a balance of tools from all four quadrants of the diagram.

What are Personas and How can Museums use them?

 

What are Personas?

Personas are sketches of sample users that help designers plan products in user-centered ways. Research can be hard to understand. Numbers are not warm and fuzzy, for example. Turning research into an idealized person makes it digestible across the team. The final personal is like an anonymized, fictionalized version of your research.

Creating personas usually requires the following steps:

  • start by determining the users
  • perform research on a set of users
  • develop generalizations and conclusions based on the research (surveys, focus groups, and/ or interviews)
  • writing a set of stories about a set of mock people.

Working with personas helps the whole team create a shared focus, i.e. a tangible client. In the end, you will find that using personas will help your team surface latent ideas. Also, personas are a wonderful benchmarking tool that helps your team stay on track throughout the project.

What are the components of the Persona?

Personas are like a snapshot of an idealized person.

Personas vary considerably but always include:

  • Start with some demographics like age, marital status, and education level. Your set of personas should touch all the key demographics your project hopes to affect.
  • A description of the person’s interests and dislikes
  • A photograph or drawing of the “person”

Personas should also include statements related to the project, like their feelings and behaviors about museums, for example. Include non-museum behaviors as needed, like leisure behaviors or attitudes towards technology.

How can I make the perfect Personas?

Personas are essential to user-centered work. Here are five tips to succeed in creating perfect personas:

  1. Turn research into characters: Each part of your persona should draw from research but don’t keep it dry. Imagine the person who makes up that data point.
  2. Short and Sweet is Key: Personas are sketches not finished portraits. These personas will help guide your work to ensure that they are easy to use by keeping them succinct.
  3. Feelings, ideas, and details: Good personas touch on motivations, pain points, and behaviors. But, the special details are what make stellar personas, such as categories like triggers, goals, wow factors, and/ or dreams.
  4. Stay objective: Personas need to be completely objective. Don’t draw on real people. Take care to avoid personal biases.
  5. Doll them up: Before sharing your personas with your team, create one-page, designed documents with photographs of the “person”. There are plenty of templates online. The designed persona will feel more concrete.

Choosing the Right Design Tool to Solicit Feedback

While there are many User Experience and Service design tools, people are often most interested in the tools that help solicit customer feedback. These tools are essential in human-centered design, of course. How do you know which tool to use when? This grid helps make sense of the tools. An ideal study balances behavioral and attitudinal research, as you need to not only know how people interact with a product/experience but why they act this way.  Quantitative research can be quicker and less costly, but the feedback will not be as rich as qualitative research. In the end, your timeline and budget will impact how many tools you can use.

Adapting User Experience Design and Service Design tools to Museums

Many Design tools are often about collaborating to create the best solution for the customer. What professional doesn’t want that? The challenge, however, comes when trying to think out how to use these tools in your workday. These tools and systems can be broken down into many different ways. But, one useful way to consider these tools is to think about learning styles. Most of us work in places that preference textual communication. Textual communication has drawbacks. Not everyone has the same level of verbal competency. Written and spoken language has limitations. For example, certain feelings are hard to verbalize, like think of verbalizing the feelings you get when your favorite food hits your tongue.

Visual Learning:

Sketching and drawing out ideas is a useful way to communicate across individuals. Many people fear drawing, particularly those who feel uncertain about their skills. In collaborative drawing sessions, consider using a scribe who is a terrible, but unashamed sketcher. Invite them to use simple shapes. Remind them this is not art. Sketching is a means to an end. When would you use this? If your team is tasked with planning the customer experience, you can collaborative sketch parts of the experience

Storyboarding is a set of sketches that show a sequence. Many people have played with storyboarding in school when working on creative writing. In the work situation, you are storyboarding a sequence of parts of an experience. The ideal storyboard combines pictures, annotations of those pictures, and text describing the moment. When would you use this? If your team is tasked with planning the best program ever, you can sketch the event from signing up to leaving.

Mapping is a broad category of tools. Journey mapping is a common tool that user experience designers employ to show the steps in using a product. Empathy mapping is used to describe the feelings associated with an experience.  When would you use this? Every museum customer experience would be improved if they mapped the feelings people have from entering the building to leaving.

Kinesthetic Learning:

Card sorting is a feedback tool where people rate topics on cards. Placing the cards in order is a different form of meaning-making than surveying or rating, for example. When would you use this? When your internal team is trying to find consensus about ideas associated with a new space, card sorting can help surface major trends. This is a particularly useful tool in teams with many introverted members.

Prototypes can be high-tech or low. They can be refined or guerilla. However, all prototypes are useful for making ideas seem concrete. Some people can’t really understand an idea until they see it. When would you use this? You are trying to figure out the right types of signs for a new installation. Put up samples and solicit feedback.

Mapping can be considered kinesthetic, in that teams need to walk around to create their maps.

Aural Learning:

All of these tools have an aspect of aural learning. Encourage everyone to talk out the ideas that come up as they use these tools. You will find that many of these ideas would have remained hidden if they hadn’t used the processes.

 

 

 

Comparing User-Experience Design and Service Design Tools

User-Design and Service Design continue to grow closer together as disciplines. There are many process and tools associated with both fields. It can be challenging to keep each of these processes straight, as well as understand how they play out in each discipline. This cheat sheet helps make sense of some of the most common tools.