The last section of Leading for School Librarians: There Is No Other Option is called “Maintaining Joy.” I discuss ways you can keep yourself fulfilled. The four chapters build on each other, starting with “Writing and Presenting” to prove your value to yourself and others, followed by chapters: “Delegating” so you don’t do it all; “Giving Back” which gives you more than you gave; and finally, “The Gift of Time” which is what I want to focus on today.
I can hear you saying, your schedule is packed. You don’t have time. I’ve been there. I understand and it wasn’t until I made it important to live my priorities that anything was able to change.
I spent most of my adult life being task-oriented. I loved my job as a librarian and worked hard at it. It was important, and it deserved all that attention. What I didn’t see was my beliefs and actions were in opposition. I would tell you my family was my first priority, but that’s not what my behaviors indicated. As a result, even when I was present with my family, my mind was somewhere else. I missed a lot.
I eventually realized what I was doing to myself and the people I cared most about. I developed a mantra that I kept repeating, “Everything will get done. It always does.” And it did. If it was a priority and important, I did get it done. Sure, some of the lesser tasks got pushed down and some minor ones never got done. But no one noticed anything lacking. By contrast, I truly enjoyed my time with my family and friends.
Today, while I am nominally retired, which is to say I no longer work in a school library, most of you are aware that I teach an online course, write books for school librarians, and am active in my state association and at ALA/AASL. And I still make time for what is truly important. I have a monthly lunch date with a friend. I take long walks 3-5 times a week. I shut my computer off at 6 p.m. When my son drops in, I stop what I am doing—even if I am in the middle of writing a blog. I spend the evening with my husband. Somehow, it all works. My life is richer, and most importantly, not only am I happier but I can see how my change has had a positive effect on those I care about.
You need to devote time to what matters most. You can fit in a massage once a month. You are worth it. You can take the weekend off to be with your family and not worry/think about Monday. You can do what I did – find a mantra, a saying, even a song that reminds you to look at your priorities and schedule your time accordingly.
The business world agrees with me. In an online article entitled 5 Myths of Work-Life Balance Debunked by an Entrepreneurial Dad, James Sudakow speaks to dads with big jobs who “lament” missing important events in their kids’ lives and other family times. Their work-life balance has become seriously skewed toward work. As the title indicates, he rebuts five myths.
- You won’t kill your career by setting firm boundaries between work and life. The tasks will get done. I find they get done more efficiently and better because I come to them refreshed with a positive attitude. Even if I have to scramble as a deadline approaches, that mindset powers me to complete what’s on my plate and give it my best. How many days are you staying late? It shouldn’t be more than one a week unless you are in a new position. Even then, three days is the outside limit.
- You can put family first. Not just “can” but “must.” You can’t say family is your priority if that’s not how you are choosing to spend your valuable time. Since we all have the same 24 hours in a day, you need to prioritize more honestly. I find if I am just focusing on tasks, I am also likely to allow more time-wasters to creep in from checking emails too many times to playing solitaire on the computer.
- “Work-life blend/integration” is not the only viable solution (despite what many say). Here Sudakow refers to allowing work to “blend” into your life. He says it’s better to compartmentalize. I agree, although there are occasions while my attention is focused on my family or my own rejuvenation activities, I come up with an answer to a work-related question that was troubling me. It most often happens while I am walking, but it has also occurred while getting a massage. Jot it down – go back to your family.
- Work-life balance is not a 50:50 proposition. No one is suggesting you divide out your day evenly between work obligations and family time. It’s what’s most important now that helps set the balance. Some days you need to be at your kid’s game and watch the whole thing without working on your cell or laptop. Other days you may only be fully present at dinner. If family is at the much lower end most days, you are not balancing well.
- Work-life balance comes down to hard choices we haven’t forced ourselves to make before. The discussion of the other four de-bunked myths shows how true this is. To stay on course, remind yourself you will never get back time lost with family – and friends. The work never goes away. Which memories do you want to look back on—time spent with your family or the hours spent working?
And remember to make yourself a priority. Positive Self-Care, which I’ll be talking more about this next week, is critical to your long-term success. You are what matters most, because if you don’t feel good about yourself, if you are not taking care of yourself, you will be drained, frustrated, and frankly cranky and I know that’s not what you want to bring to your library program or your teachers. Take a little time this week to notice how you’re using your time and where your being guided by your to-do list over your priorities.