ON LIBRARIES: The Thief of Time

We have all heard that “procrastination is the thief of time,” and “don’t put off ‘til tomorrow what you can do today.”   And yet, we all procrastinate. Then we beat ourselves up for doing it.  Even on our busiest days, we almost always put off some things and waste valuable time. Why do we do it?  Is it possible not to procrastinate?

Newton’s first law of motion may be one part of it. “A body at rest tends to remain at rest…”  There is something challenging about starting.  For example, many of us have experienced staring at a blank page and not knowing what to write.  When Ruth Toor and I use to write The School Librarian’s Workshop, we sometimes agreed to write badly just to get started.

The fact that no one seems to be immune to procrastination suggests it is normal. According to an article on The Neuroscience of Procrastination—Why It’s So Hard to Get Things Done, we have been doing this since civilization began (although it’s a little hard to picture cavemen/women sitting around drawing with coal rather than getting work done). The neuroscience explanation is:

“procrastination happens when the primitive,  pleasure-seeking and pain-avoiding limbic system acts too quickly for the rational pre-frontal cortex to catch up. In this way, procrastination is described as the art of making intentions that get overridden even if this is disadvantageous.”

Apparently, my limbic system loves to play Klondike, but there is work to be done.  What is necessary is to find some balance, giving ourselves some time for procrastination but not so much that we find we are scrambling to meet deadlines.

It helps to know yourself.  What tasks are you most likely to put off? Which ones do you get to with no problem.?  I teach an online course for pre-service school librarians. I love starting my day checking my university email (not many messages), reviewing my students’ posts on the Discussion Board, and grading their papers because I enjoy the “conversation” with them.

I am more likely to put off starting this blog. As with all writing, it requires a degree of creativity. And again, there is that blank document staring at me, waiting for me to put something on it.  Maybe if I play one more game of Klondike, I will know where to get started.  Or I can look at my Gmail account….. Guess what?  That never really works.

It’s usually the bigger more serious tasks we put off.  Partially because it is big. Sometimes it carries with it an element of uncertainty.  We don’t know exactly how to get it done.  And then there is the low-level (or high-level) fear of failure, so our ego protects us by avoidance. What we need are strategies that get us past that “body at rest” stage and the sudden desire to see if there is anything important in your email or on social media.

The internet has loads of articles on the topic.  Business is always concerned by this issue since procrastination reduces productivity.  Of all the ones I looked at, I found that MindTools offered the best suggestions on How to Stop Procrastinating: Overcoming the Habit of Delaying Important Tasks.

The first two steps, Recognize You Are Procrastinating, and Work Out WHY You Are Procrastinating are important, but easy to get clarity.  I think most of you know when you are procrastinating, and the why’s are usually connected to fear, uncertainty, newness, levels of importance and our own insecurities. The clearer you can get on the why, the easier these next strategies will be for you.

The eight strategies listed under Adopt Anti-Procrastination Strategies are:

  • Forgive yourself for procrastinating in the past – As you notice you are procrastinating, don’t start beating yourself up. That will just spiral you down. Tell yourself what you are doing and then move on to the task at hand.
  • Commit to the task – Write it down. If you keep a To-Do list, it’s already there but give yourself a realistic amount of time to work on it. When it’s a writing task, I vary between giving myself a certain amount of time or a number of words.  Very often I exceed what I set which gives me a boost.
  • Ask someone to check-up on you – When we tell someone we will get something done, we are much more likely to accomplish the task. In my Weight Watchers group, we have noted that people who have a “partner” do much better. Accountability can be very motivating
  • Act as you go – It’s easier to get a task done as soon as it’s given. Back to “Don’t put off until tomorrow ….” First determine the priority, however. Don’t do something that will cause you to put off something that should be done now.
  • Rephrase your internal dialogue – This is about mindset. If you are thinking, “I have to…” you are taking on a burden. Instead, say “I want to …” or “I choose to….” When we notice how our actions support us, it becomes easier to follow through.
  • Minimize distractions – Oh, there are so many of these. Put your phone away so you don’t get distracted by incoming messages. If you have a television on, turn it off.  Work on a desk with no computer. If you can, turn off your social media and email.
  • Aim to “eat an elephant beetle” first thing, every day! – Look at the picture of one of those! They’re kind of horrifying. Do the most difficult, uncomfortable or least desirable job first. Then you can feel positive about yourself and go on to complete whatever else is waiting for you. When you have eaten that beetle, congratulate yourself and consider some reward. (A bit of procrastination can help you to switch gears.)

And when your favorite procrastination behavior surfaces, remember fact that it’s normal. Take a breath, refocus and get on with the tasks that will help you feel great at the end of the day. There will be time for Klondike (or Candy Crush, or Words With Friends…) later.

Advertisements

ON LIBRARIES: To Be a Leader

Yes, we’re back to one of my favorite focuses (advocacy being the other): What does it take to be a leader? Sometimes the list of qualities and abilities seems endless. And although countless books and articles are written on the topic, most of the time they end up repeating each other.  When I discuss leadership qualities and skills at a workshop, the responses I get show me librarians are aware of what it takes and when leadership is absent.

Given the repetition and the awareness, why aren’t there more good leaders?  I have discussed the barriers, most recently in last week’s blog, When in Doubt, but beyond the fears and negative self-talk, there is also a lack of specific directions on how to be a leader. It’s like being given a list of ingredients for a recipe but no instruction on how to assemble the meal.

Lolly Daskal offers ten steps in This Is What You Need to Learn to Become A Successful CEO.  If it works for CEOs, it can help you too.  As the head of the library, you are its CEO.  The school library reflects the personality, mindset, and philosophy of the librarian. As such, you have more control than you think, and by being aware of Daskal’s ten steps, you can more easily step into being an active, positive leader.

  1. Define your character I think this is a great start. It includes many of the qualities of a leader such as integrity, visionary, and “empowerer.” Your philosophy of what a school library should be, also affects your character.
  2. Act as the brand and ambassador You are the face of the library program. A teacher doesn’t represent the entire subject or grade, but you represent the library. If you live in the town where you work, you meet your students and their parents in the supermarket and local restaurants. And they see it as meeting the library. You must carry your character and your belief about the library program into the world. It brings great returns.
  3. Create a thriving organizational culture – At first, this would seem to be out of your realm, but remember the library reflects who you are. Is it a safe, welcoming place? Does it promote collaboration and discovery? If you get this right, the library can become students’ favorite place in the building — and for teachers as well.
  4. Communicate consistently and with candor – You need to use all your tech expertise and your emotional intelligence to reach all your audiences. This includes the design and content of your website as well as your social media accounts and how you interact face-to-face with all who come into the library and those who primarily visit it digitally (parents, some administrators, school board members, etc.).  You need to find the most effective ways to reach all of them. For the library program to be successful, all stakeholders need to know what the program provides them.
  5. Under promise and over deliver For those of you who are afraid to take risks, this is a no-brainer, but don’t under promise so much that your project/idea seems unimportant. When you do deliver (or over deliver), praise all those who helped.  You take responsibility for mistakes and share successes.
  6. Stay curious Another no-brainer for librarians. We are endlessly curious.  We have to be to
    copyright Margret and H. A. Rey, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Co

    keep up with the latest in resources, apps, technology—and books. Build relationships with those who have different interests so you can learn new things from them. You will gain new knowledge, and they will be flattered they can help.  This includes learning from students.

  7. Embrace change We do this continually. I do hope you are embracing the new National School Library Standards for Learners, School Librarians, and School Libraries. I have met a number of librarians who have not yet bought their copy and begun to dig into them.  You need to do this or risk being left behind.  We don’t teach with yesterday’s technology or yesterday’s standards. Change feels hardest at the beginning. Like an exercise routine, consistency will make it second nature – and maybe even fun.
  8. Implement diversity In the business world, this refers to those you hire. In our world, it means our collections.  Students need to see themselves in the books they read.  And students need to develop understanding and tolerance by reading about those whose lives are different from theirs.  Don’t limit diversity to ethnicity, sexuality or gender issues. Think of students who have a parent in the military who is serving in Afghanistan, or those who are homeless.   We don’t always see what is happening in our students’ lives. Books are an important window as well as a mirror.
  9. Manage relationships We are in the relationship business. Even after you have built relationships with teachers, students, and the administration, you must continue to look for places to build more.  With parents.  With the community.  The more people you reach, the more successful your advocacy will be.
  10. Lead by example We are role models for lifelong learning. Let students and teachers know about what you have learned recently, the book you are currently reading or even the YouTube creator you discovered.  By giving respect to all students, you not only get respect back but also encourage tolerance and respect in your students.  It’s not what you say that counts.  It’s what you do.

Look over the list.  Which of these come easily to you?  Which are difficult? Become aware of how you are implementing all of them and observe how your leadership abilities grow because of them.

 

ON LIBRARIES: When In Doubt

It takes a certain amount of courage to be a leader.  If you read this blog regularly or attend one of my workshops, you’ve heard me say leaders must take risks and move out of their comfort zone. That leads me to my question – do you doubt you have the kind of courage necessary?

For some of you, the idea of taking a risk is paralyzing.  It’s natural to want to keep your head down and continue doing what is working.  You may have some good reasons for not taking a chance.  Librarian positions have been drastically cut not only in this country but worldwide and those that remain are frequently overloaded. You may be covering more schools and lost any staff you had. There is no time to add anything to your schedule.

So the doubt creeps in.

If you take a risk and get it wrong, you could be putting your job on the line. At least that’s the story you tell yourself. Seeing this in print may remind you of a blog I did in 2015, The Stories We Tell Ourselves or the one I did last February, More Stories.  Since we all have a tendency to fall back into old habits, it bears repeating.

The self-doubt is tied to Imposter Syndrome which I have discussed in Leading for School Librarians: There Is No Option.   Imposter Syndrome is the voice inside your head that says you can’t do it. You don’t know enough.  You will fail. It may even be there when you succeed, telling you this was a onetime thing. There are probably a number of other negative things this voice is telling you and when you listen, it’s keeping you from taking that risk, from moving out of your comfort zone.

This week I have two articles which I think offer some great ways to move through self-doubt. I’ve added my comments and connections to our work for each one. First, Jeff Barton suggests four ways to help you get past self-doubt in Why Self-Doubt Keeps You Stuck and How to Begin to Overcome It:

  1. Self-Reflection Make an honest self-reflection of your strengths and weaknesses. You do have strengths – quite a few, in fact. You might want to work on the weaknesses, but for that first step past self-doubt try a project or take on a task (run for an office, do a presentation) that focuses on and uses your strengths.
  2. Avoid Perfectionism –You will never get it all right. Any author can tell you they proof-read many times. So does their editor.  Then the book (or the blog) comes out, they immediately see an error.  Nothing I have ever done has been perfect.  Reach for excellence and for improving on what you’ve done before.
  3. Comparison to Others – We always see what others do better than us. This is related to focusing on our weaknesses. We don’t look at the corollary—what we do better than others. Our assumption is, if we do it well, others must also be doing it well.  We can’t really know if that’s true. In addition, you can’t know another person’s struggle or process. Comparing yourself is a waste of time and attention.
  4. Self-Compassion – Treat yourself as you treat others. You are kinder, gentler with others than you are to yourself.  We would never say to a friend or loved one many of the things we say to ourselves.

Petrea Hansen-Adamidis gives 5 Steps to Deal with Self-Doubt and Trust Yourself Again. Some of you may never have trusted yourself, but this is a big factor in dealing with self-doubt.

  1. Ground Yourself – The thought of taking risk is likely to have your brain whirling with the many negative comments you are saying about yourself making it hard to go beyond thinking of the potential risk. Notice the noise. Then focus by writing down the pros and cons of a project.  And ask yourself that classic question, “What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?”
  2. Balance the Negative – Find more ways to answer the negative self-talk with kindness. Keep a journal/log of your successes.  Include any positive comments you get from students, teachers, parents, administrators. Read through them before tackling something new.
  3. Take a Break – Step away from the problem/issue. Do something else. I walk. By the time I get back, I have come up with several ways to deal with it. You may want to knit, listen to a podcast, color, bake.  Get creative – and fun – with the ways you choose to step away from the challenge.
  4. Nurture Yourself – This is like self-compassion, but it can also mean healthy eating and getting enough sleep as I recommend last week in Positive Self-Care. When you aren’t tired and filled with junk food, you are in a better frame of mind which will mute much of the self-doubts. It’s also a way of acknowledging your own importance to yourself and others.
  5. Connect with Others – Who are your cheerleaders? We all have people in our lives who believe in us.  Talk to them. Let them give you a pep talk.  After all, you would do it for them.

Bestselling author Brené Brown, whose work on shame, self-doubt, and leadership is truly inspiring writes, “You can choose courage, or you can choose comfort, but you can’t have both.” Give it a little thought. What’s your choice?