Procrastination – Good, Bad and Ugly

We have too much to do, not enough time to do it, and still we procrastinate. Why do we let ourselves waste time and get off track? Despite resolutions to focus on the tasks at hand, somehow, we find something to divert us. How can we change this and when should we?

First off, there is a good side to procrastination. Our brains need rest. If we have been tackling a complex or a boring job, when it’s through we need to pause and give our brains a chance to shift. Additionally, we need different types of thinking depending on the task. That said, the pause shouldn’t last an hour. Once we go to our procrastination of choice, we tend to linger there too long. Time gets sucked away and we are upset with ourselves.

Procrastination becomes “ugly” when we use it to avoid a task. Instead of diving in and taking a break when we complete it or come to a natural resting spot, we put off starting. By the time we get to it, we are annoyed with ourselves and are not bringing our best to the job.

How can you manage procrastination so you can use it in good ways and avoid the bad and ugly ones? Amanda Pressner Kreuser presents 5 Easy Tricks to Beat Procrastination You Should Start Today. Here’s the list, along with my adaptations for our world.

  1. Be realistic about your bandwidth. There’s always too much to do. When facing the stress or overwhelm of a big project, you are apt to try clearing your deck of the little tasks, but these don’t move you forward and your deadlines loom closer, adding to your stress. Instead, prioritize the larger tasks based on your availability and look for ways to do the smaller things at a later time. If at all possible, delegate so that you can still enjoy checking things off without having to do them yourself. For example, if you feel pressed to get a cart load of books shelved, make a sign suggesting students look over these recent returns for  a suggestion of what to read next.
  2. Break up large projects or deadlines into small tasks. The old advice works best. Chunk the project up into workable tasks. This way you get a sense of accomplishment as tasks are completed, and your project gets done on time, or even early. An added benefit is that you have a chance to review what you have done as you tackle each new part making it more likely that you’ll find ways to improve and streamline your plan. If you use my telescoping (visualizing the full project), microscoping (focusing on what needs to be done now), and periscoping (popping up every now and then to be sure you are aware of upcoming tasks as deadlines), you will stay on track and keep stress levels down.
  3. Put time blocking into action. Our brains need a pause. Kreuser says studies show we need a break after 90 minutes. Don’t fight against this. Instead, plug this into you schedule, then set a timer and stay on task until you reach that pause point and stop. If you are on a roll, make yourself a note that will help you get you back to where you were when you stopped. What to do during the pause? Moving is one good choice, reading for pleasure could be another. But whatever you do, set a timer for however long you plan to take. This way you won’t fall into the bad aspects of procrastination.
  4. Eliminate distractions — or at least put them on pause. This one is tough. In the library people are always coming in, and you must do what you can to respond. Eliminate the ones you can such as keeping your phone on mute so you are not tempted to respond to it. If you are working from home, let partners and children know when you’re busy. Tell them when you will be ready to talk and ask them to wait until them. If you have a door you can close, post a sign for when you will be “available.”
  5. Reward yourself in small ways. We are naturally motivated by positive reinforcement so make a plan for this with each successful milestone. Take the reward you earned. Do a Wordle or other computer game. Physical activity is always a good change after doing a mental task. Take a walk. Plan a trip to your favorite coffee shop. Then set up the next task and the next reward.

Caveat emptor. Don’t expect this to work every day. Some days you end up going down the procrastination rabbit hole. Somedays will have more unexpected interruptions than others. You are human. Be compassionate. But the better you are at learning to manage procrastination the less stressed you will be, and we all need that.


Managing Frustration

You know the feeling. The internet is down just as you are setting up for a lesson. You had the item in your hand, put it down some place, and now you can’t find it. The secretary called to say the principal can’t make the meeting you had scheduled to discuss a project after you spend days preparing.

You just want to scream.

Worse, as frustration and anger fill your mind it becomes almost impossible to figure out what to do next. Now, with so much waiting to get done, you are frozen in your tracks. Your self-talk is turned up to a litany of negative phrases. This is too hard. Why am I even trying? No one cares. It goes on.

So here you are again. The new challenge is to get past the emotional turmoil as quickly as possible and tackle the tasks at hand. John Mattone in How Leaders Can Control Their Frustrations with Team Members, offers sound advice to the business world. Much of what he says applies to us as well. It all goes back to managing our emotional response to whatever has triggered the frustration.

First Mattone discusses the importance between Reacting vs. Responding – When you react, you let other people or situations take control. A leader needs to keep that from happening. is instinctive. Responding is proactive and puts you back in control. Look at the obstacle that has caused the frustration. Is it a permanent situation or is it temporary? If it is permanent, work on alternate means of achieving your ultimate goal. If it is merely a postponement, consider how you might make good use of the unexpected time.

In order to respond rather than react, it’s important to be aware of:

  • Emotional Control –When emotions are ruling you, your cognitive thinking isn’t functioning. It’s not about ignoring or denying your frustration or the connected emotions, it is, as Mattone says, being aware of the emotions and not letting them rule you which is “proof that a leader has mastered self-awareness and is emotionally intelligent.” When frustration rises, pause. The age-old advice for anger is to count to ten. A pause is vital. Take a deep breath. Acknowledge the emotion. That will reduce it immediately. Then, once you’re thinking clearer, begin the process of how you are going to handle the situation.
  • Understanding Emotions – Emotions are an important part of our lives, giving us feedback as to what is working and what is not. When positive emotions are present, your self-talk is encouraging and you acknowledges your ability to make things work. You are also more supportive and positive with the people around you. The sooner you understand your emotions, the sooner you can respond (not react) and work effectively with those around you.
  • Preparing for High Stress Situations – They are going to happen, and they’re rarely (unfortunately) predictable. Accepting and anticipating the inevitability of these situations will help you to respond rather than react. Accepting means when one occurs you say to yourself, “here it is again.”  Not in high emotion, but with understanding. Anticipating means you have identified potential obstacle that may interfere with your plans and/or work flow so that when it happens, you’re as ready as possible.

The better you are at dealing with the frustrations inherent on your job and in your life, the more people will see you as the calm in a storm. It allows others to see you as a leader. And hopefully will lead to fewer frustrations in the future.

The Curious Importance of Curiosity

From the moment of our birth, we are curious. It is how our brain has programmed us to survive. Babies touch, explore, and taste to learn and understand their environment. Toddlers interminably ask questions. But too often, in the quest for grades and good scores on high-stakes tests, the urge to satisfy curiosity is overwhelmed by the need to produce the right answer. Albert Einstein famously said, “It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education.” And knowing the right answer is not a preparation for life.

Correct answers say you know what has been done before. Innovation and growth come from thoughtful questions, and not questions which can be answered with a Google search or by asking Alexa. In fact, they might never be answered, but the pursuit will bring new knowledge and understanding – and perhaps more questions.

How can we apply this in our work as librarians and to ourselves? In our super busy lives, our own curiosity has been diminished. Who has time to go down a research rabbit hole (curiouser and curiouser, indeed) to explore a topic of interest? And yet, curiosity is how we continue to learn and grow. It feeds us intellectually in a way food does intellectually.

To satisfy our curiosity, Diana Kander suggests we cultivate Deliberate Curiosity. Being deliberate connotes focus and mindfulness. She proposes 3 Questions CEOs Should Ask to Practice Deliberate Curiosity. Answering these questions can speed up our growth and help us achieve our goals. You may not think of yourself as a CEO, but when it comes your library, your role as the one guiding and standing for the Vision and Mission makes you just that. Kander asks us to consider:

  1. What are your blind spots? We have become more aware of having blind spots as we look at our implicit biases, but we have many more places where Kander says there are “gaps in how we see the world.”  If you’re curious where yours are, try asking for feedback. Frame your questions to give you honest, worthwhile answers. Don’t ask teachers if your collaborative lesson went well. Ask what you could have done better, what they learned, or where they struggled. Ask students which part of the lesson they liked – and which they didn’t.
  2. How will you know what’s not working? Kander refers to the advice often given to authors to “kill your darlings,” and labels projects that yield far less than the effort that goes into them as “zombies.” Do you have a favorite unit or project you look forward to every year? When was the last time you revisited it? If it takes a lot of time but isn’t giving you the results you need, it could be a zombie. Your administrator assesses you each year, but you need to do a self-assessment. Have you fully integrated EDI into your program? Do your programs support your Mission statement? Do stakeholders know what ethical principles are foundational to your program? How well are you communicating with all stakeholders? Answering these kinds of questions will help you get curious about what is and isn’t working.
  3. How do you create accountability? We have become far too accustomed to doing things alone. As the African proverb states, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”  You need a mentor, or, better yet, mentors, a professional learning network (PLN) and other supportive resources. Get curious about where you can reach out and talk to leaders. Think of the people in your life you trust. You’ll want even more than feedback from them. You want to bounce ideas off them and hear their suggestions. And you want them to hold you to your goals once you set them. They’ll also help you get curious and creative about how to improve by asking what is missing that needs to be included or what is new that should be and hasn’t been incorporated. Schedule regular time with these mentors. It doesn’t have to be long, and it could be monthly or done with a check in of some type. The important thing is to be accountable to them – and yourself.

Don’t let your curiosity wither. Be deliberate at including it in your life and your program. Combine curiosity with knowledge and see how your program thrives.

Creating an Advisory Board

As a school librarian you are accustomed to getting the job done on your own. There is rarely a clerk or even volunteers. And now you have to keep in mind the growing movement to ban LGBTQ+ and race-related books while upholding the ALA Code of Ethics and the Library Bill of Rights. This is the time for lateral thinking. If you haven’t done so as yet, consider creating an advisory board. Common in corporations, they are a rarity among school librarians but can be a huge benefit in the current changing climate.

First, get approval from your principal to set up the board. Let them know you’re doing this not only to help the library, but to help the administration and school should there be an issue. (This is a good time to check your negotiating skills). When looking for members, you want them to represent diverse perspectives. Teachers, students, parents, and public librarians are obvious potential members as are administrators (this may be a condition of having the board) and even local business owners. 

Next, keep your board a manageable size. Five to six members are a good number. Small boards will get more done as members can easily see why they are each important. It’s also easier to get a mutually agreeable meeting time and if you need a vote, a consensus is simpler as well.

In CEOs Make or Break the Value of Advisory Boards, Larry Robertson presents the business world’s three “pivotal questions.” Libraries can use the same three as you set up and maintain your advisory board.

  1. What’s the Role? – Before you can fill the advisory board, you will need to know what they will advise on. Yes, you want their input and views on issues/topics affecting the school library, but what are the specifics of this? Perhaps you want to discuss the possibility of a diversity audit and what to do with the results. You could solicit views on how the library can best communicate with different audiences. Another possibility is looking at policies such as fines, payment for lost books, use of cell phones, eating in the library, or other practices that have been in place without re-evaluation.

The longer the list you can make before starting, the better feel you will have for how to proceed. The list will also guide you in whom you want to serve on the advisory board. You might include the list when you present the idea for the board to your principal.

  • What’s the Commitment? – You are asking busy people to volunteer their valuable time. How much? How often? There’s also your time investment as well. You can’t expect people to take on an extra responsibility if you aren’t doing the same. Will there be regularly scheduled meetings? Will they be after school? Evenings? Weekends? The decision will affect who can make the commitment. Those asked will need to know how often these meeting will occur and how long they will they last. Will there be follow-up tasks?

In addition to how much time will be involved, you also need to be clear about the location of any meetings. Are you going to use Zoom or a similar platform? Do you want to hold some meeting in person? If so, is the school a possibility or do you need another place? Being clear on this will help people say yes when you ask them.

  • What’s the Relevance? – You identified the Advisory Board’s “what” in listing the roles and tasks it would undertake. You and Board members need to know the “why” as well. In other words, the Board needs a Mission Statement, and you should develop this together . It’s the ideal way to start your first meeting. It will bring the members together as a unit and increase their understanding of what they are here to do. Have sample mission statements to help. Here is one from a public radio station. Try to keep the Mission Statement under 50 words. Then you can easily include it in follow-up communications.

As time goes on, let members know about any changes or projects that have resulted from their work. They need to know they are having an effect on the program. At year’s end, thank them all for their contributions. Some members will be leaving. Encourage them to find their own replacements. When a new year and new members start, Robertson suggests reviewing the three questions. It will get the new people up to speed.

Beyond these questions from the business world, I would add one more. What do Board members need to know about the library? Even those who think they know a lot about libraries are probably not aware of the ALA Code of Ethics and the Library Bill of Rights. They may not know about the policies your school has in place and what your job really is.  Use the first meeting to share this or send out information before the meeting and discuss the material during that meeting.

In addition to having the Board bring their perspectives so that you don’t overlook diverse members of the educational and larger community, creating an Advisory Board builds library advocates. When they learn about the library, becoming involved in its practices, and have a stake in its success, they become your supporters. As this school year wraps up, think about what it might take to start an Advisory Board for the fall and the benefits to you and your library.