Get Your Motivation Back

Finally, it’s summer break. Time to recover and rejuvenate. And to get your motivation back. You need the time to recover, but summer will slip away before you know it. First, take the time to relax, and then set a date to get yourself ready for the fall so you can bring your passion back to your job.

Need some ideas to spark your motivation? Eric Barker gives some great advice in his article How to Stop Being Lazy and Get More Done – 5 Expert Secrets. While being stressed and exhausted is more our issue than being lazy, his tips will work to help us get on track for a successful school year. Here are his 5 with my usual comments:

  1. Define Goals Properly – Barker recommends four steps to get clear on your goals.

Frame goals as an “end” not a means –By identifying what we want to get, we don’t focus on the boring, “don’t feel like it” steps. We want our goals to excite us, not feel like an added burden.

Keep goals abstract – Rather than focusing on the “How” something is going to get done (more inline with SMART goals), think about your “Why” as you write them.

Set “approach” goals, not “avoidance goals – Keep it positive. Don’t focus on the negatives, such as not doing something. Be aware of the outcome you’re working towards. Bonus points for being clear about how this aligns with your Mission and Vision.

Make goals intrinsic, not extrinsic – Don’t make this about what you think you should be doing. What is it you want to be doing? What excites your passion? Creating a goal from this adds to your ongoing motivation.

2. Set a Target – This is where you can be specific. By when will you start? When do you want to finish? What are some of your target numbers – students reached, modules completed, teacher collaborations. Be clear on the steps you wish to accomplish. And as an additional recommendation, make the steps small so you get lots of wins along the way. The goal and a target together support your motivation.

3. Monitor Your Progress – Keep track of all the targets you achieve. It spurs you on. This is why I keep a Success Journal next to my computer. You can create a spreadsheet, keep a log, reward yourself. Whatever works, so you see the steps you’re taking.

4. Beware the Long Middle – Life is a marathon and so are goals for the school year. As the days go by, it can get harder to keep pushing through, and this is where you can lose that motivation. Every so often, pause and note how much you have accomplished. Barker recommends you “shorten the middle.” If you’ve been tracking progress monthly, switch to weekly. If weekly, switch to daily. The extra boost will help. When you are past the midpoint, look ahead and note how close you are to your goal.

5. Think about Your Future Self – This is an important shift that allows you to look at the bigger picture. Baker writes that thinking about our future results allows us to make better choices in the present. Reflect on the difference between how you’ll feel about yourself if you keep putting off the hard work rather than going for something you are passionate about.

Wherever you are on your summer break, this is a short reminder that you can have fun and still be productive. And when the school year does begin again, these five tips can keep you going. Recovery is important. But set a date to get motivated for fall. Put it on your calendar. Set an alarm. The important thing is get started.

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Achieve Your Goals

I often cite Yogi Berra’s quote, “If you don’t know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else.” It’s goals which help us identify our direction and give us a focus for what we do. Goals motivate us to go forward, raise our awareness of procrastination, and give us a sense of achievement.

Except when they don’t.

Setting goals isn’t the hard part – reaching them is. So many goals, whether personal or professional, are set with great enthusiasm. But we don’t always get what we aim for. The result is we feel defeated. We lose faith in our ability to make changes. Rather than blame ourselves for not achieving our goals, we need to look at what may have gone wrong in our approach.

A post on Dialogue Works entitled “Have You Ever Eaten a Bicycle? offers 11 steps for achieving your goals. The title refers to the author’s college roommate attempted to eat a bicycle – one teaspoon at a time. Here are the steps along with my reflections.

  1. Start where you are – Sometimes the way we write our goals sets us up for failure. Be realistic about your starting point in connection with where you want to go. If teachers aren’t collaborating with you, don’t start with a goal for getting an entire grade or department to work with you before the year is over. Find the best first step.
  2. Strive for 1% improvement – A small goal with regular progress is better than an overwhelming large goal that leaves you feeling defeated. Having one teacher collaborate with you who has never done so before is an achievement. Succeeding with one give you the motivation to reach for a second.
  3. Create a specific plan – It’s the “S” in a SMART goal. Without the specifics, it’s hard to find your starting point. Using the collaboration assignment, a goal to work collaboratively with a grade level is too general. Instead, identify a teacher you are friendly with and a unit you know that teacher will be doing. Start specific and build from there.
  4. Be consistent – Related to “strive for 1%, if you can’t be consistent in the steps toward your goal, then it may be time to change the goal (and go back to 1-3 for that). When working consistently, be aware of the steps and timeline of your plan. The plan is your “How,” the timeline is the “when” in your goal. Without a timeline, you are always starting tomorrow.
  5. Expect setbacks – Not only expect – accept them. It is rare when a plan goes exactly as outlined. Be prepared to adjust. For example, if the teacher is absent on the day you planned to initiate the conversation, you will need to go back a step and set up a new date. The date changed, not the goal.
  6. Forgive the fail– This is critical. Beating yourself up is an excuse not to keep trying. The article stresses, “You are not your performance.” Failing isn’t missing the target. Failing is not staying committed to the goal. Learn from what happened to tweak your plan.
  7. Keep moving – The author’s roommate didn’t stop after the first bite. Expand your plan and build on your success. Where can you reach out next? What’s the next 1%?
  8. Make adjustments – Different from “expecting setbacks,” this asks us to look at our results when they aren’t what we want. Is there something we’re doing or saying that is causing us to miss the mark? (Look for an upcoming book on successful communication I am doing for Libraries Unlimited.) Becoming attuned to how people react to you – and your reaction to them affects whether you will reach them with your plan.
  9. Build support – Mentors are great. Do you know another librarian who frequently collaborates with teachers? Ask for their help. Have them explain how they established their connection. Use social media as another source of advice. You can also look for someone with the same goal and work to support and encourage each other.
  10. Don’t compare – Only compare with yourself. Measure your success and progress against how far you’ve come, not based on how someone else looks as though they are doing. You don’t know the other person’s entire situation. I have a friend who says, “Don’t compare your inside with someone else’s outside.”
  11. Celebrate your successes – Each step accomplished deserves a personal acknowledgement of your achievement. Each 1%, consistent step, failure released, and adjustment made deserves recognition. Don’t wait for the big finish – although you definitely need to celebrate that. Keep yourself motivated by noticing your wins along the way.

Four months into the year and most of the way through the school year, it can be hard to remember the goals we started with, but by remembering where we want to go, making a plan, and taking the action to get closer, our goals are within reach.

Move Closer to Your Vision

You live your Mission every day. You incorporate your Core Values or Philosophy into all you do. But what about your Vision?

Your Vision is your aspiration. It is how the library will be perceived in an all-perfect world. Although the world is not and will never be all-perfect, if you aren’t moving toward achieving it, your Vision can’t come to pass. It remains wonderful words. A dream that has no hope of becoming real.

So how do you incorporate a goal that won’t completely happen? As always, start small. Develop a plan to take you one step closer to achieving it. When that’s done, review your Vision and determine the one part you will focus on next.

Consider this sample Vision:

The Blank School Library Media Program is the center of collaborative learning, producing creative students who have an appreciation of literature, critical thinking skills, and a respect for others and self, and who are prepared to make a contribution to the world.

First, identify the key concepts of your Vision. In this example, these would be: collaborative learning, creativity, literature appreciation, critical thinking, respect, and possibly activism. It’s a formidable list.

Since collaboration is needed for so much, this is one good place to begin. What do you need to have the library be a center for collaborative learning? Look around your library. Does it promote collaboration? How is the furniture arranged to encourage that? Are there resources that would help? How can you showcase them so teachers and students will use them?

Now that you know what you want to achieve, create a plan to get you there. Will there a be a cost associated with it? Can some of the work be done for free? Can you fundraise? Who are your logical allies? Who will you need to convince? How can you sell it?

The three-step process Paul B. Thornton puts forward in Leaders: Clarify Your Ideas Before Communicating Them, with some modifications, can help you turn your ideas for achieving your Vision into reality.

Step No. 1: Clarify your thinking – You begin this process when you determined which part of your Vision you will focus on. Take time to think about what you want to do first. Yes, there is so much to do, but thinking is doing in this case. Get clear about your priorities, what you have time for, and what might make the biggest initial impact (early wins are helpful for motivation!) Then before going forward, test it out with allies and those you trust.

Going back to the earlier example, you might ask a teacher ally if they thought the library promoted collaboration and how it did so.  Speak to one or two students who use the library frequently. Do they think it is comfortable to collaborate in the library? What, if anything, would make it simpler? How close are their ideas to yours? Share what you are contemplating. Do they like it? Have other suggestions? Fold any new ideas into your planning.

Step No. 2: Prepare Your Message – As Thornton says, you need to engage emotions and address “heart and head.”  Think about why would your audience want this? What would appeal to them (and what’s the emotional appeal)? Hit the big idea quickly and don’t give too many details. They will ask if they need it.

Thornton also suggests blending optimism with reality. Too much optimism makes you sound like a dreamer. Too much reality, and it’s likely to sound overwhelming. Prepare questions that focus your audience on their values and priorities and show how this will mesh with them. Again, try your message out with your allies and make any necessary modifications.

Step No. 3: Deliver Your Message – You have worked long and hard at this. Let your passion and conviction show. Thornton says to make your idea visible, dramatic, and consistent. Use pictures of libraries that have achieved what you want. On the create a space that promotes collaboration example, you could rearrange the furniture to show what the changes will look like.

Don’t let your Vision be just a dream. When you make a plan, create a lesson, consider a new project, look at your Vision and remember what you are always working toward. Every step brings you closer.

ON LIBRARIES: Tackling Time Management – Again

I have yet to meet anyone who said they’ve mastered time management.  No matter how much we have learned and put into practice, we have far too many days when we feel like a hamster on a wheel. Part of the problem is with so many tasks, both professional and personal, we can’t possibly finish them all.

The truth is, no matter how good you get at time management, there will always be days that are so hectic by evening you are exhausted.  If the large proportion of your days are like this, the energy drain will rob you of your enthusiasm and joy in what you do.  And that’s not good for you, your students and teachers, or your relationships family and friends (check out the last two weeks posts on burn-out and resilience).

Most time management articles and posts repeat much of the same things, which suggests they work. Most of the time we are not thinking of these practices as we dig into the day’s workload. So rather than going through a long list again, let’s try a simpler approach.

In an Edutopia post, Matthew Howell talked about Balancing Effort and Efficiency: Three Tips to Help School Leaders Establish and Achieve Their Goals While Keeping Their Workload Manageable. Focusing on just three behaviors might be just what you need to keep from becoming overwhelmed.

  1. Use Time Well – Setting goals with a clear why/purpose is a great way to avoid misusing your time. Think about what you are trying to accomplish and why. Once you know what the goal is, stay with it. It’s all too easy to get distracted. If you leave the room where you are working, you are bound to see something that needs your attention. Unless it’s a real emergency, train yourself to ignore it. Those pings on your phone?  Ignore them until you have reached your goal. The messages will be there later.
  1. Simplify, Simplify, Simplify – If the task (and goal) are too large, you will find ways to procrastinate because you don’t think you will ever get it done. As the saying goes, the way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time.

Ask yourself, is there a way to get to the goal with fewer steps or pieces?  If not, how can you break it down into small, manageable goals? Reaching them gives you the impetus to move onto the next small goal.

I have discussed my technique of telescoping, microscoping, and periscoping as a means of managing big jobs.  The first step, telescoping, has you look at the whole picture and breaking it down into smaller manageable chunks.  Next is microscoping where you focus completely on that small chunk.  Every so often you pop up a periscope to see the next task, just to be sure you are prepared for it when you get there.

  1. Prioritize People –   Those who know me now would be surprised to learn this was the most difficult lesson for me to learn. I would always put tasks first.  If I was working with someone, I lunged into what needed to get done, saving the “chit-chat” for when we completed the work. I’d skip right over the opportunity to build relationships.

Always put people first. In the long run the tasks get done faster and better.  It’s also a way to learn if someone can help you with a current project. As we find our way in these days of virtual learning and communicating and social distancing, it’s more important than ever to make meaningful contact with people.

One of your goals (and possibly a modification to your Mission) needs to be about creating community.  So often administrators say, “the library is the heart of the school.”  True, their actions don’t always back that up, but the more you can show that you are at the center of the educational community, the more indispensable you will be.

One more idea to help with focus.  See the graphic on the left?  That’s a .pdf for you. Just click, download, and print (SLW – Time management info).   Post it where you can see it while you are working. It will remind you to stay on track and do better at managing your time. Most of the time.