The school year has just begun, but do you already feel as though you’re behind? Our job can easily be overwhelming. Every school librarian I know wrestles with time management. It affects you and how you do your job. It can be what stops us from introducing a new program, starting a project, or stepping into leadership positions in our state library association. How can we possibly fit it into our schedule?

The fact is, we can’t.  There is no room.  As I blogged in Making the Most of Your Time, there are only twenty-four hours in a day. No one gets more (I’ve asked).  If you want to add a new task, you first must discard one.

When I’m in this situation, I base my decisions on my purpose (or mission) and my priorities.  What will I achieve by adding something to my list?  Is it worth it?  Do I really want to do it?  Why or why not?  Once I determine the new task will move me forward in a direction I want to go, I have to look at what I am already doing and decide what I want to drop. This is typically harder.  Everything that’s on my list needs doing. The first thing I do is see if anything is almost done and if I can speed up the work to complete it. Sometimes I can get a partner and minimize my contribution.  The process isn’t easy, but it’s do-able.

You have all read numerous suggestions on how to manage your time better.  Variations on to-do lists are common.  I use one and can’t function without it. The blog post I did has thirteen ways to become more efficient with your available time.  They are all good suggestions, but in some ways, I wonder if they may have added to your stress about time.

Elizabeth Grace Saunders suggests you may have been setting yourself up to fail. She offers 5 Lies You Have Been Told About Time Management. She offers a worthwhile – and calming—perspective on the topic. The five lies she identifies are:

1.     If You Were Better at Time Management You Could Do It All – No, you couldn’t. If you actually tried to fit everything in, you would be in constant motion.  It’s unrealistic.  Thinking “doing it all” is an achievable goal only makes you feel you are not as organized or capable as other people.  I sometimes forget this.  I look at colleagues who are getting so much done and think I have no time for all that.  True, I don’t.  But they don’t have time for all that I am doing.  It’s back to making the decision about what is really important to you.

  1. There’s One Perfect System – No, there’s not. But chances are there is one that works well for you. I love paper and pen to-do lists to keep me on target. Others like organizing by priorities. Some prefer to keep track digitally. My daughter sings the praises of the bullet journal. It may take some tweaking and changing until you find your best system, but if you focus on how you like to think and organize, you’ll find one that’s right.
  2. You Can Learn Time Management in a Day – Or Even an Hour – No, you can’t. Workshops may help. I give one on the subject, but I don’t expect participants will be able to implement their ideal approach as an immediate result. Instead, my goal is that they leave with ideas they can try to find what will support them best. It takes trial and error to determine what does work best for you in part because there are habits to overcome. These have been ingrained and can be hard to kick. I’ve learned to do my high priority work first because I am most creative and focused in the morning.  Except on the days I am lured into my emails. Or I decide one game of Klondike (or 10) will jump-start my thinking. Even if you are proficient in time management, there will be days you waste more than you’d like.  Don’t beat yourself up. That’s definitely a time-waster.  Accept that sometimes your brain and your body need a rest and move on.
  3. You Can Be Tightly Scheduled 24/7 – No, you shouldn’t. That is like “you can do it all.”  It’s unrealistic. Your brain doesn’t work that way.  You need breaks otherwise you’ll burn out, and you definitely don’t have time for that. I go for a walk after I complete something- like this blog.  If you don’t plan breaks – and fun – into your schedule, you will take them anyway and likely not notice or enjoy them. It’s like the difference between choosing a dessert you enjoy and mindless eating that happens without your notice.  One is calories without satisfaction, the other is time loss without any benefits.
  4. You’re Hopeless – No, you’re not. Some people are naturally more organized just as some people are naturally neat.  When something is important you can learn it.  It just might take you more time to master it. You will improve as you go along and you’ll learn from your setbacks. Thinking you are hopeless gives you an excuse to do nothing which will keep you from improving in your time management. Given your roles and responsibilities, that is not an option.

It’s never a bad time to discover the time management techniques that work best for you and begin implementing them. Talk to people who you think do this well. Ask if they have recommendations. Then as you feel more confident, choose a project or job that will move you further into leadership – and practice your new skills by deciding what you can postpone, delegate, or drop.  You’ll be giving yourself the time to shine

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