ON LIBRARIES: Making the Most Of Your Time

Just about all of us could use a few more hours in the day or days in the week. Unless you develop strategies that support you, you’ll end almost every day and week exhausted. If you don’t do something about it, you will eventually burn out. Much of our exhaustion comes from doing tasks without having them connect with the bigger picture.  When you have a Mission and a Vision for your library program you can better see the ultimate purpose of even small tasks and quickly notice if you are furthering your Mission or being pulled away from it.

To-do lists in whatever format you like are a classic way to manage time, but just noting down tasks is not enough and can be overwhelming to look at. And if it’s overwhelming, you’re likely not to look and end up missing something. Consider putting a star by high-priority tasks, then look at your schedule and decide when during your day the priorities can be done.

You can also identify tasks by how long they are likely to take. Don’t start lengthy tasks if you only have a few minutes. You’ll likely end up having to repeat much of what you have already done. Instead, it can be helpful to keep a list of essential tasks broken down by time. This way, if you have fifteen minutes between classes, look at the list of things that require that time or less. This is not the time to start creating a LibGuide.

Most time management experts suggest scheduling non-urgent tasks for near the end of the day.  These are the tasks which, if you dig into them too early, are likely to take you away from important jobs. Checking email or social media falls into this category.

We all know that part of our challenge is the time that gets “wasted.” It’s important to note that there’s a difference between procrastinating and doing what is helpful to switch gears. The brain requires a pause before shifting from one activity to another. It’s one thing if I play another game (or ten) of Klondike rather than move on to my next task. It’s different when after I finish writing my blog, which is a creative task, I insert something before I work on my lectures for a new course. I can switch more easily to checking on my students’ posts on the online course’s Discussion Board where I am responding rather than initiating.  Once I have done that, my brain is ready to move onto writing my lectures.

No surprise, I found a great article from the business world which is always looking for ways to maximize available time.  Naphtali Hoff offers A List of Suggestions to Become More Productive and all thirteen, in a random order, begin with the letter “S.”

  1. Stop – Before plunging into the next task, Hoff says to reflect on what you want to achieve. As I would say, “What will best further my Mission?” Remember to couple this with the amount of time you honestly have available.
  2. Set Goals – As Yogi Berra said, “If you don’t know where you are going, you will wind up someplace else.” Goals, especially ones based on your Mission, remind you of what you want to achieve.
  3. Segment and Celebrate – Small, short term goals are best. Each time you accomplish one, it gives you a boost to the next one. Break down large jobs into small, attainable goals.  Give yourself small rewards when you reach a goal. Knowing your reward in advance can be a fun motivator.
  4. Simplify – What can be done to make the task less complex? Creating short term goals are part of this.
  5. (Get) Serious – Let someone know about your goal. We are more likely to hold ourselves accountable if we have a partner who is aware of what we did or didn’t do. Find someone you can check in with. (Our Facebook group could be a good place for this)
  6. Schedule, Schedule, Schedule – Hoff is not a fan of to-do lists, but he recommends blocking out time for tasks. Time blocking allowed you to look at your schedule and match it appropriately with your goals and to-dos.
  7. Strategize – This is related to #6. What is the best time for each task? And what is the best time for you? If you’re most alert in the mornings, then schedule your priorities then. This will also help you feel accomplished for the rest of the day – always a good motivator.
  8. Snooze (Your Devices) – Hoff wants you to set a time to focus on email, which also means not checking it while you are in the middle of another job that requires your full attention.
  9. Smile – It creates a positive atmosphere, not only with others but also affects your posture and demeanor. We feel better about what we have to do when we’re feeling good overall.
  10. Stretch – As a walker, I know the benefits of stepping away from the computer and doing something physical. It doesn’t need to be long, but it needs doing.  Supposedly the American Heart Association has said that sitting is the new cigarette smoking.
  11. Snack – Eat something healthy like fruit, vegetable sticks, or a small yogurt. It will power you back up.  Do not indulge in junk food or sugars that could lead to an energy crash.
  12. Sleep – Trying to get more done by cutting down on sleep doesn’t work. Your brain fogs and you become less productive.  And you make errors. Turn off the devices, grab your newest favorite read and snuggle in earlier.
  13. Self-care – Hoff and I are in complete agreement, as are other experts. Not taking care of yourself, which includes the above mentioned not getting enough sleep, is debilitating.  You stop giving your best.  Your job is not your first priority (or it shouldn’t be).  Stop behaving as though it is.

There are many ways to get the most out of the time you have. Honoring what works for you, noticing when you’re avoiding something, and allowing your Mission to support and guide your actions will help. And remember, some days none of this works.  Life happens.  Accept it.  Tomorrow is another day.

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ON LIBRARIES: There is Always Risk

We are not firefighters or astronauts. We don’t put our lives on the line each day. But risk is not only about life or death situations. It is about choices we face daily and the decisions we choose to make.

Leadership is not about preserving the status quo.  Leaders must be willing to take risks.  It’s the only way you will achieve your vision. It may even be necessary to carry out your mission. I have frequently quoted James Conant who allegedly said, “Behold the turtle who only makes progress by sticking his neck out.”  You can’t make changes, stay relevant, or be involved unless you take risks.

I can almost hear some of you saying I don’t understand your situation.  Times are tough for librarians and the safest thing to do is to keep your head down.  That might prove to be the riskiest possible course of action.

Back in the days before the economic crisis of 2008, I used to encourage librarians to develop cooperative or collaborative projects with teachers and find a way to keep their administrators in the loop while knowing their priorities. Elementary librarians would tell me they didn’t need to worry.  They were part of the teachers’ contract.  I reminded them that contracts are changed, but few listened.  And then we had the great recession and elementary librarians suddenly didn’t seem necessary. At first middle and high school teachers thought they were secure.  After all, they taught research skills and kids needed that for college.  When times got tight, administrators in many places decided that with the internet they didn’t need the librarians.

I am not blaming all the librarians who lost their jobs – and the ones who are still at risk. Many excellent, pro-active librarians got swept up as school boards wrestled with severe budget cuts.  But librarians who kept a low profile created the climate that made administrators and teachers believe nothing would be lost by eliminating librarians.

In other words, not risking is a risk.  Naftali Hoff says much the same thing in The Risk of Staying in the Safe Lane.  He uses the highway as an analogy, pointing to two different types of drivers.  Some stay to the right, going at (or below the speed limit), feeling safe and secure in abiding by the rules.  Others drive in the fast lane, pushing past the speed limit and cutting in and out to get one or two car lengths ahead.

Those fast drivers are clearly risking getting into an accident. But as Hoff points out, while crashes in the left lane are more serious than those in the slow lane, the right lane has a higher accident rate.

Hoff says those who choose safety over risk in the workplace do so for the following reasons:

  1. Believing nothing surrounding the current circumstances will ever change (for example, my industry, company, and job will always be there)
  2. Believing if so many people in front of us are doing the same thing, they must know what they’re doing.

The first reason overlooks a basic truth.  There is no status quo.  Life is always changing.  As a leader, you must accept that, be alert for changes in the wind, and be ready to get out ahead of them.

Hoff offers these methods to help you be more risk resilient:

  • Acknowledge that our natural state is risk aversion. From that vantage point, it is easier to take notice where we’re hesitating, then take the necessary action to grow and break through.
  • When you’re about to make a decision and you feel afraid, ask yourself: “What is the worst-case scenario?” In most cases, it won’t be so bad after all.

You might one day take a really big risk – job hunting.  I did it to the shock of many after a long time in the same school system.  Few of us in education with tenure do not risk voluntary leaving their jobs. By doing it from a position of strength and on my terms, I found a new position which matched my goals.

Life isn’t safe.  Risks are in an integral part of it.  Thinking you are avoiding risk could easily cause you to lose more than those who are out there trying new things and being a visible presence.  Look at your program and your mission. Look for where you can try one risk this week and see where it takes you.

 

 

ON LIBRARIES: Brand Your Library

Your message about the library program and its value to the educational community needs to out there constantly.  You work at collaborating with teachers.  You build advocates for your library program. You create programs that demonstrate the vital role you play. Leadership and advocacy have become an integral part of your program. To make sure that parents, administrators and school board members are aware of and connect with all you’re doing you need a library brand that is recognizable. I blogged about Branding Your Library over a year ago, but the topic is one worth repeating. Once you have established your brand—and consistently maintain it—it becomes a 24/7 messenger of your value.

Believe it or not, you already have a brand.  Or possibly multiple brands.  It’s what people think when they hear your library mentioned. As I noted in that blog post, it could be “the shushing place,” or the “dusty book place.”  Your brand carries an emotional message. It’s what you promise your customers, and it’s how they connect to you. If your brand is the dusty book place, you are not likely valued.  Any messages you send are going to hit up against that emotional reaction to your library.

You need to carefully and consciously create the brand that will add weight to your message. Doing so takes time, but you can do a lot of it when you are away from your desk. It’s the kind of thinking and connection making I do when I am walking.

In the Basics of Branding, John Williams takes you through the steps, starting with preparatory ones.

  • What is the Mission of your program? (I would add Vision as well). – This gives you the foundation on which your brand will be based. Some of the keywords you use here could be in your brand.
  • What benefits do you provide? – In answering this, be sure these benefits are unique, that no one else in the school is doing it.  And do these benefits have value for your stakeholders. In other words, are these benefits something they need and want?
  • What do your customers think of you? – What do you want them to think of you? Are you the dusty book place or the place everyone wants to be? If it’s the former, you must work extra hard to correct that image.
  • What qualities do you want stakeholders to associate with your library? – This may vary with your stakeholders, but there should be a unifying theme.

These four steps should lead you to your brand but play with the wording for a while.  Brands are not taglines which may change with your target audience or over time.  Your taglines will reflect your brand, but they are not interchangeable. Your brand is core to who you are, the heart of what you want people to feel when they think of the library.

When I go to the supermarket, I often look at how brands are ingrained in us by the various companies.  My current favorite is Oreos. When I was growing up, Oreos meant two chocolate cookies with a distinctive design and a cream filling.  Today they come in many different configurations, but they are still Oreos.  And you still think of how you eat (and savor) them, which is the emotional connection. If they tried to make this change as a new product, they would have had more trouble creating their brand as the world’s most fun cookie.

My personal brand is “Inspiring librarians to be indispensable leaders.” When people in school librarianship think of me, they think of leadership.  They know my books and workshops are all about how to become a leader.

Your brand might be “Finding your answers in a safe and welcoming space.” This works even if your library goes beyond its four walls.

Once you know your brand, your next step is to live it. How do you talk to students, teachers, administrators if “Finding your answers in a safe and welcoming space” is your brand?  What could you use as a tagline?  Perhaps, “You have questions.  We have answers.”  Note that the brand has emotion while the tagline, in this case, doesn’t.

Williams suggests you write down the key messages you want to communicate with your brand.  This will help with taglines as well as solidifying in your mind what your brand is. You need to know who you are first.  Then find ways to send it out.

As a final piece, a logo can help to get your brand ingrained in your stakeholder’s awareness. Designing one makes a great project for art or marketing students.  Find out if it’s possible.  Even if you are in the middle or elementary school, speak with the art and/or marketing teachers at the high school.  They can decide if students should do it individually or as a team.

Be prepared to explain your needs.  For example, if you are using “Finding your answers in a safe and welcoming space,” the logo needs to reflect the safe space and the answers. Have some sort of prize for the winning design or an event for all who contributed.

Let your world know who you are. Make an emotional connection.  In the words of Staples (brand and tagline), “That was easy.”

ON LIBRARIES: Making Leadership a Habit

When you want to change a behavior or achieve something, one of the best ways to ensure success is to turn it into a habit.  Whether it’s daily exercise, going to bed earlier, or making sure you have a monthly date with your significant other, when a positive action becomes a habit, success is the result. Leadership can become a habit if you tune into the behaviors which are a part of it.  To give you momentum – and early success – start by choosing the ones most comfortable to you.

To get you started, Lolly Daskal presents twelve “C’s” in a post, saying It’s Never Too Late to Learn These 12 Powerful Leadership Habits:

  1. Care – As the saying goes, “No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.” Good leadership is built on relationships.  It’s through caring about others you grow as a leader.  I used to tell my staff (unbelievably in today’s world I had a co-librarian, a secretary and two clerks in a 12,000-student high school), “Don’t leave your problems at home.  Let us know and help you.”  This way, I never expected too much from someone who was struggling.
  2. Conviction – Your philosophy about what school librarianship must be, along with your Mission Statement, form your convictions. When they are strong, they are part of who you are.  The passion is communicated to others who are then more inclined to follow where you lead.
  3. Clarity – You need to be able to succinctly set a direction. Too much verbiage or including too many alternatives clouds the issue. Where do you want to go?  A leader knows and can express it easily and whenever asked.
  4. Confidence – This goes hand in hand with clarity. People don’t feel confident following leaders who continually waver and change direction.  This doesn’t mean you have to know everything or have all the answers all the time. You do need to have confidence in your skills, your mission and your ability to get things done eventually if not always immediately.
  5. Courage – For me, this is all about being confident enough to take risks. You need to be willing to leave your comfort zone. You will not do this every day, but you have to be ready to take the chance when the idea or opportunity surfaces. It goes well with confidence and clarity. It also includes taking responsibility for any mistakes. This can be a huge challenge and feel risky and uncomfortable, but when people see you doing it, it goes a long way toward them trusting you in the future.
  6. Commitment – Your stakeholders need to know you will follow through on what you propose. In a district (not the one with a staff of 5) that voted down 20 budgets in 22 years, I regularly got funds for projects because the superintendent knew I would produce results. The more you can show this, the more often you will get the “yes” you are looking for.
  7. Celebration – Recognize and celebrate the achievement of others. No project gets done alone. Praise and gratitude go to those who participate.  Everyone likes to be recognized. It’s the first step to them saying yes again.
  8. Collaboration – I know you are trying hard to do this and there are times when it feels as though the door is continually slammed in your face. Remember, collaboration is also about being open and willing to get ideas from others. Teachers, students, administrators, IT people, and others bring a different perspective. Keep an open mind and listen attentively. (And then celebrate the collaboration after!)
  9. Communication – Getting the word out to the right people at the right time with the right message and using the right platform is a critical leadership skill in today’s world. Who needs to know? How can you best reach them?
  10. Candor – Tell the truth. Never blindside an administrator.  Be willing to admit you are seeking help and advice.  You can still be confident when doing so. Hiding full truths (expense, the time necessary, etc.) will not endear you to other people in leadership roles.
  11. Courtesy – This is closely related to care. We are in a relationship occupation. Whether it’s a custodian or an administrator, show you value them as people. You should treat your students with respect as well. It’s amazing how memorable courtesy is.
  12. Credibility – Your track record builds credibility. People believe you will get something done based on what you have accomplished before.  Success breeds success. This doesn’t mean you can’t fail.  Keep going so any failures are outweighed by all your successes.

That’s Lolly Daskal’s list.  I have one more “C” to add:

  1. Confidentiality – You don’t repeat gossip. What a teacher or administrator says to you does not get circulated.  You are trustworthy. Remember at the beginning I mentioned encouraging staff and volunteers not to leave problems at home. Keeping what they say confidential is critical.

To add to your success and see your progress, I also recommend creating a leadership notebook where you record when you have exhibited the leadership behaviors/qualities you are focusing on.  There’s nothing like filling up those pages to see how far your habit has come.

Which habits from this list struck a chord with you? Choose two or three habits that you’d like to start. See how often you can practice them. Over time you will find that leadership is really habit-forming.