How to Get Away: Finding Balance in Our Overworked, Overcrowded, Always-On World (book review)

July 21, 2019

There is much ongoing discussion in Student Affairs regarding wellness and self-care. However, it is rarely discussed comprehensively and, in most cases, ends up being lip service when actually applied to our day-to-day professional lives. A great book to help with this discussion is How to Get Away: Finding Balance in Our Overworked, Overcrowded, Always-On World by Jon Staff and Pete Davis. They are both are the founders of Getaway, which is a company that designs and rents small cabins in the woods for personal relaxation and rejuvenation.

The book has 186 pages of content (not including appendices, etc.) and is divided into three sections or “virtues” as referred to in the book: Balancing Technology & Disconnection; Balancing City & Nature; and Balancing Work & Leisure.

The first section explores the current problems we face with using technology as much as we do and some suggestions for how to disconnect without completely going off-the-grid.

Virtue I – Balancing Technology & Disconnection

  1. Technological Overload is a Problem
  2. Technology is Hurting Our Relationships
  3. Technology is Hurting Our Work
  4. Technology is Hurting Our Memory
  5. Technology is Hurting Our Health
  6. Do a Digital Detox
  7. Audit Your Tech Use
  8. Dumb Down Your Phone
  9. Carve Out Space for Disconnection
  10. You Are Not Alone

The second section expands upon the first section and offers lessons from historical figures, such as Henry David Thoreau and Margaret Murie, as well as modern examples of individuals who have found the importance of purposefully including nature in our lives. There is also a look into how we can more effectively balance our urban lives with the ability to be outside more and why that is so important.

Virtue II – Balancing City & Nature 

  1. We Are Experiencing Massive Urbanization
  2. We Aren’t Going Outside
  3. Nature is Good for Our Bodies and Minds
  4. Nature is Good for Kids
  5. Nature is Good for Our Neighborhoods
  6. Join a Community Garden
  7. Take a Forest Bath
  8. Ask Your Doctor about Park Prescriptions
  9. Participate in Cabin Culture
  10. Reimagine Cities

The final section explores how we can and should balance both work and leisure. Particularly for those of us in the United States, we are working more than ever. This is clearly taking a toll on our lives in many unproductive and unhealthy ways. This section I found to be the most salient for the Student Affairs arena given the ever increasing demands and pressures that we face every day with our work.

Virtue III – Balancing Work & Leisure

  1. The 40-Hour Workweek We Fought for Is Eroding
  2. We Are a No-Vacation Nation
  3. We Are Part of the “Cult of Busy”
  4. Breaks Are Key to Creativity
  5. We Don’t Spend Enough Time Being Bored
  6. Vacation really Works, and We Need More Of It.
  7. We Are Experiencing The Great Spillover
  8. We Should Experiment With 4-Day Workweeks
  9. Hygge Can Help Us Learn to Slow Down
  10. We Can Practice Holy Leisure

I found How to Get Away: Finding Balance in Our Overworked, Overcrowded, Always-On World by Jon Staff and Pete Davis to be an interesting and very practical read. It was also a good personal reminder that I need to do a better job at consciously slowing down and doing my best to avoid the “FOMO” (i.e., Fear of missing out) ethos that can very much plague Student Affairs professionals. The book can serve as a great resource for staff professional development discussions as well as a way for supervisors to symbolically (and strategically) communicate to their employees that slowing down does matter.

We cannot serve our students and employees fully if we are constantly on the go and not taking care of our own wellness. Furthermore, this would be an excellent resource to share and discuss with students, particularly those in First Year Seminar or First Year Experience (FYE) courses and programs, as we continue to see anxiety and depression on the rise within our student populations. The book offers many suggestions and strategies that could be easily explored with our students.

Thanks to Jon and Pete for writing a wonderful book!


We Need to Talk: How to Have Conversations That Matter (book review)

May 31, 2019

Now more than ever, the ability to have honest and impactful conversations is a critical skill everyone needs to have. We Need to Talk: How to Have Conversations that Matter by Celeste Headlee is an excellent book for those looking to improve their conversation and listening skills while fostering relationships and solving problems through the process. In the book she shares personal stories of success and failure along with lessons learned from others about the importance of being able to communicate effectively through conversation. Celeste is currently the host of a daily news program on Georgia Public Broadcasting and shares from her wealth of experience interviewing people on the radio.

The book is divided into two sections: the first part illustrates a contextual basis for the problems we often encounter by having poor conversational (and listening) skills while the second part focuses on direct solutions and sound advice:

Part I

1. Conversation is a Survival Skill
2. Communication and Conversation are Not the Same
3. You Can’t Outsmart a Bad Conversation
4. Set the Stage
5. Some Conversations are Harder than Others

Part II

6. Be There or Go Elsewhere
7. It’s Not the Same!
8. Get Off the Soapbox
9. Keep it Short
10. No Repeats
11. That’s a Great Question
12. You Can’t Know Everything
13. Stay Out of the Weeds
14. Travel Together
15. Listen!
16. Sometimes We Shouldn’t Talk

While I’m a practicing scholar at heart and love research, I do, however, appreciate books that are practical, a quick read, and can be easily applied for the professional development of both staff and students. This is definitely one of those books. With the introduction, the book is 252 pages of content and can be easily read over the course of three or four sittings. This book would serve as an excellent resource for the basis of a student programming series (i.e., leadership, career services, etc.), a great “Lunch and Learn” or professional development discussion for staff meetings, and to potentially frame supervisory one-on-ones among your team’s managers and employees. I highly recommend it to you and encourage you to share how you have used the book in your work in the comments below.


Turn the Tide: Rise above Toxic, Difficult Situations in the Workplace (*Book Review*)

February 9, 2016

Turn the Tide by Dr. Kathy Obear

Dr. Kathy Obear recently published Turn the Tide: Rise Above Toxic, Difficult Situations in the Workplace, which is a resource that you can use yourself or with your staff and / or students. The book is available as a $2.99 Kindle download on Amazon.

While Dr. Obear explicitly states in the text that she herself is not a therapist, the book is essentially an illustration of rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT). “REBT’s basic hypothesis is that our emotions stem mainly from our beliefs, which influence the evaluations and interpretations we make of the reactions we have to life situations” (Corey, 2013, p. 268). Through the REBT process, individuals can replace ineffective ways of thinking and thereby change their emotional reactions to various situations they encounter in their life. Likewise, Dr. Obear walks the reader through a similar process in which individuals, particularly those who are having challenging times in the workplace, can shift their thoughts and reactions to more positive and proactive outcomes.

The book is organized into ten chapters: 1.) I can’t control how I react! Maybe I can; 2.) Step 1 – What pushed my buttons; 3.) Step 2 – Intrapersonal Roots; 4.) Step 3 – Making meaning: Change your story, change your reactions; 5.) Step 4 – Common physiological, emotional, and mental reactions; 6.) Step 5 – “Choosing” your intentions; 7.) Step 6 – Tools to Respond Effectively; 8.) Step 7 – The impact of our triggered reactions; 9.) Maximize our effectiveness: Focus on Self-Care and Healing Practices; and 10.) We Always Have a Choice. The book has many self-directed exercises in them, which helps the reader to explore and work through the various feelings and thoughts they may be having as a result of being in a challenging work environment. While the content of the book centers on one’s own personal reactions to the day-to-day dynamics of working with others, it does not cover the more nefarious and even illegal issues that can and do occur in the workplace, such as bullying, discrimination, harassment, and how to manage those particular situations.

I highly recommend Turn the Tide: Rise Above Toxic, Difficult Situations in the Workplace for graduate students, new professionals, and those supervisors who are responsible for developing staff training and professional development opportunities. 

Works cited:

Corey, G. (2013). Theory and Practice of Counseling and Psychotherapy. Stamford, CT: Brooks / Cole.


Overcoming Mobbing: A Recovery Guide for Workplace Aggression and Bullying (Book Review)

January 20, 2015

Overcoming Mobbing

It is my contention that the workplace should be a place of collegiality, integrity, and respect. Unfortunately, as long as there are differences in agendas, opinions, personalities, and power there will always be conflicts at work. Some of these conflicts can become downright nasty and end up costing individuals their jobs, and more insidious, their health, well-being, and subsequently, the welfare of their families.

I came across a great resource when doing some research on workplace bullying that I thought would be helpful for Student Affairs professionals. Overcoming Mobbing: A Recovery Guide for Workplace Aggression and Bullying (2014: Oxford University Press) by Maureen Duffy and Len Sperry is a must read for those professionals dealing with or attempting to prevent organizational bullying. Duffy and Sperry define “mobbing” as “a destructive social process in which individuals, groups, or organizations target a person for ridicule, humiliation, and removal from the workplace.” Mobbing is different than bullying in that it occurs en mass involving multiple workers, administrators, and managers willing to participate in unethical communication that is both written and verbal. Bullying, on the other hand, occurs when one individual, such as a supervisor alone, targets an employee.

The process of ganging up includes such behaviors as the following: workplace conflict, people taking sides, unethical communication, other aggressive and abusive acts, involvement of management or administration, elimination of the target from the workplace, and post-elimination unethical communication. Mobbing is caused by a mix of individual, group, and organizational dynamics. An example of mobbing in Student Affairs can include colleagues ganging up on someone who is in line for promotion to a senior position in their department because those individuals do not want that person to assume that role. Tactics they use include spreading false information about their performance, befriending executive decision-makers and giving inaccurate and negative reports of that person, and purposely not inviting them to informal department meetings outside of normal work hours. As a result, they do not receive the promotion, begin to come under undue scrutiny from supervisors, and ultimately leave the institution because of the abuse.

Given the highly bureaucratic and politically-charged nature of higher education institutions, it only stands to reason that mobbing can and does occur within colleges and universities. Overcoming Mobbing: A Recovery Guide for Workplace Aggression and Bullying is a great primer that administrators in Student Affairs departments can use to facilitate discussion on how to create and nurture a “mobbing-free” environment. While it is unreasonable to think that colleges and universities are the bastions of collegiality and civility, we as Student Affairs administrators should ultimately work toward that goal, particularly as we serve as role models to our students.

What are some strategies that you feel should be used in order to create a “mobbing-free” workplace in Student Affairs?


Social Media is Bullshit by B.J. Mendelson (*book review*)

January 11, 2013

9781250002952

With the advent and ubiquity of social media over the past 10 years, everyone seems to be a social media cheerleader, including myself. That’s when I came across a book with a completely different perspective titled Social Media is Bullshit by B.J. Mendelson. The basic premise of the book is that social media, particularly from a business standpoint, has been artificially hyped beyond actual results.

The book is separated into four parts: Social Media is Bullshit; Meet the People Behind the Bullshit; How to Sell Bullshit Without Really Trying; and How to Really Make It on the Web. Mendelson illustrates that alleged social media successes always come on heels of large corporations with big wallets, celebrity-backed promotions, and traditional media.

Mendelson states the following in his book: “Offline matters more than online. This will never change. Your location, your circumstances, your audience, that determines everything. Trying to make a niche platform on the Web is a bad idea. Not many people can do it, and most of those who do are either trying to sell you something, were in the right place at the right time, had the right connections, or get backing from the media in some form.” Mendelson’s biggest criticism is against those high-fee-charging marketing consultants and speakers who push the virtues of using social media, but cannot actually demonstrate success or ROI (return on investment) for small companies or the bootstrapping entrepreneur.

The book is 179 pages of actual content, and I was able to read it in one evening. I thought it would be a useful resource for higher education administrators and students alike, particularly those who are involved in social media marketing efforts on campus. Mendelson’s argument offers a different perspective that is rarely discussed on our campuses. To his credit, his argument holds true within the realm of higher education because hundreds of likes and retweets does not necessarily translate into higher admissions numbers, increased student engagement, and more fundraised dollars. While Social Media is Bullshit needs to be read with a grain of salt, particularly since our target market (i.e., college students) are the largest users of social media, the contents of this book would provide great content for staff development discussions and even department and institution strategic plan sessions.

Not only is the book informative, but it is entertaining as well as Mendelson writes in a very tongue-in-cheek manner. However, he is not afraid to hold punches against those he criticizes and offers many examples and case studies throughout the book. Social Media is Bullshit offers a cautionary tale for those who think that social media is a magic bullet upon which you can obtain immediate fame, money, and success.


The Leader’s Pocket Guide (book review)

December 5, 2012

LeadersPocketGuide_lg

The road to leadership begins with self-understanding and so does John Baldoni’s leadership book, The Leader’s Pocket Guide.  “Leadership has often been defined as a journey. The journey begins with a starting point, and that starting point is the self.” He immediately catches the reader’s attention as he describes leadership as a journey of understanding, learning, growth, and humility. The first of three sections (“SELF”) provides the reader with 20 suggestions for improving their self-leadership skills and helps the reader understand how they interact with others as a leader. At the end of the section, there is an assessment that evaluates how well a reader leads and understands who they are as a leader. Baldoni outlines tips for growth and learning as a self-leader.

In the second of three sections (“COLLEAGUES”), Baldoni declares that one of the most challenging aspects of being a leader is leading your peers. He captures the essence behind interacting with peers and improving the relationship with them in the 33 different suggestions. He encourages the reader to understand how they are influencing their peers and gives them knowledge on how to do it in a positive manner.  The book also gives the reader an opportunity to evaluate how they interact with their colleagues and tips for improving those relationships.

In the final section, (“ORGANIZATION”), Baldoni coaches the reader on what it takes to lead an organization. He addresses everything from authentically interacting with your people and instilling a purpose in them to making time for yourself outside of the organization. Like the other sections, he provides the reader an opportunity to evaluate how they lead their team. To lead a team successfully you must execute positive change so that your team is learning and growing together. Baldoni understands what it takes to be a leader and passes on his knowledge so they are developing into positive and productive leaders.

The Leader’s Pocket Guide is an excellent tool and resources for all leaders because it provides well-rounded and diverse suggestions for improving leadership skills that can be applied to any field and any leader. It would be an excellent resource for new supervisors because it would help them evaluate how they lead themselves, interact with their peers, and supervise their workers.  It is a book that can be used over and over again to improve how a leader learns and grows.


What Makes Great Leaders Great (book review)

August 12, 2012

Every once in awhile a leadership book is published that is easily read and pertains to both management executives and student leaders alike. What Makes Great Leaders Great: Management Lessons from Icons Who Changed the World by Frank Arnold profiles important leadership lessons from 56 iconic individuals, including Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Barack Obama, and Benjamin Franklin.

The book is divided into three sections, including Managing Organizations, Managing Innovation, and Managing People. Each two to four page chapter is dedicated to a different individual and provides a short biography of that person. The leadership lesson is presented along with a final bulleted Action Points and Food for Thought that is intended to provoke discussion related to your own organization. Some of the lessons include: Demand Effective Management (Warren Buffet), Innovate Systematically (Thomas Edison), Embody Integrity (General George Marshall), and Create Trust (Levi Strauss).

What Makes Great Leaders Great is an excellent resource that can be easily incorporated into student leader training or as a text in a leadership development class. The book is versatile in that various chapters can be assigned and discussed without having to read the entire book. Lessons from chapters can be easily incorporated into meeting discussions and for staff development activities.

This book can be purchased via Amazon.com in hardcopy or Kindle versions and makes a perfect gift for a leadership-minded colleague or student mentee.