Diffusing Pressure

We are all under pressure. The bad news is, it’s not going to get better. The worse news is, if you don’t do something about it, the pressure will (and undoubtedly has) affected you physically and emotionally. The good news is you can learn to manage pressure. You can develop strategies that reduce its hold on you. Mostly, it’s about how to reframe and change your mindset.

When we’re under pressure, we feel an adrenaline surge. This surge gives you the energy to stretch your physical, creative, and/or emotional drive. Unfortunately, the crash that follows depletes you, and you still have more on your plate.

Strategies for developing the right mindset can help you from escalating pressure and lowers the anxieties you are feeling. Theodore Kinni in Leading Under Pressure offers Dane Jensen’s four-step technique for diffusing pressure. It applies to the business world, the world of athletes, as well as your professional and personal life.  

  1. Ask yourself what’s not at stake – When you focus on a big project, a deadline, a chosen or imposed job change, remember to pause. Take the time to identify what in your life is not hinging on this one thing. Intense focus may be needed, but it also blocks out everything that’s not in our face. We cannot see the complete picture. Stop and took for what is good in your life, personally or at work. This hasn’t changed. These things will to be there however this one big thing plays out. The perspective can help you breathe easier.
  • Avoid the anxiety spiral – We have overactive brains which usually jump to the negative. We tend to escalate things. It’s a form of catastrophizing. A simple example might be when your principal asks to speak with you. Immediately, your brain goes to, “What did I do wrong?” “Are they going to eliminate my position?” “Did a parent complain?” You haven’t learned the purpose of the meeting, yet you assume something is wrong. It could be something positive, but you are already in a panic about what might be coming. The energy wasted is enormous. Your stress is high for no reason. This is another time to pause and remind yourself that until you know, you don’t know. You can’t deal with an issue that is still unknown. Wait for further information.
  • Let go of ego-driven stakes – This usually applies when we’re leading or initiating a big project. Maybe you launched a “One book, One School” event. Perhaps you are planning to genre-fy your collection. You’re out on a limb and everyone is looking at you. Besides the anxiety spiral of “what if it doesn’t work?”, you may also find the Imposter Syndrome has taken hold. “Why did I try this?” “What was I thinking?” With support from your PLN and others who have done this, you will get through it. Plan to get help and share credit. Leadership involves risk. The more risks you take, the more successes you have as compared with projects that didn’t meet your expectations. What did you learn from it that you can use next time? Whatever happens, it’s not the end of the world – or your career.
  • Gauge what is truly urgent – Too often we expend time and energy on what is immediately in front of us. Using Jensen as a guide to deal with this, ask yourself, “What might happen if I rush to get this done?” Then ask yourself, “What will happen if I delay for a while?” Not everything that lands on your plate is urgent. How does it relate to your Mission and Goals? What/who is the source of this task/request? Is there a due date on it? If it is immediate, does it make sense to request a delay? Focusing on the high priority items in your to-do list, however you keep track of your tasks, reminds you of what needs doing first. I use a star and sometimes multiple stars.

We don’t need to eliminate pressure. Pressure is not the problem. It can, in fact, be useful. It powers us to go beyond ourselves and do better than we knew we could. However, the anxiety pressure causes drains us. By developing the strategies to reduce the anxiety, we gain the benefits of pressure with fewer negative effects of accompanying anxiety.

Taking Charge of Your Life

“You’re not the boss of me,” is what kids say when they don’t like being told what to do. While it may not be something we’d say as an adult, it is important to be aware of when we are allowing too many people to tell us what to do and direct our lives.

To make others happy, we often say yes to things we don’t have time for, or which don’t support our priorities. Then when we’re asked to do something for an administrator or which we want to do, we’re stressed because there’s already too much on our plates. How often do we say yes because we’re worried about what others will think if we say no – and what’s the cost to us when we do it?

Why do we worry so much about what other people think of us?  If we are living our lives based on our values and principles, our actions and choices speak for themselves. Those who judge us should not matter. But somehow, they do. It can make us compare ourselves to others and find ourselves lacking. Or keeps us from setting boundaries because the opinion people have of us matter more than our wants and needs.

In The Trap of Caring Too Much about What Other People ThinkGregg Vanourek says, “Life is too precious and short to let others determine our path.”  People pleasing is a trap many of us fall into. He offers eight tips to prevent what he refers to as “the downward spiral.”

  1. Acquire more self-awarenessWhat is your heart and mind telling you to do? Your inner voice when you are not letting it criticize you, knows the truth. When you hear your thoughts say “no, I can’t” don’t say “sure, no problem.”
  2. Develop clear and compelling personal purposes, values, and vision – You have them for your library. You need them for your life. Who are you? What do you want to accomplish in your life and be remembered for? Write these down if it helps and refer to them before taking on anything new – in or out of work.
  3. Cultivate self-acceptance – Talk to yourself the way you would speak to a good friend who is dealing with whatever is happening in your life. You certainly wouldn’t criticize or only point out what they’re doing wrong. Self-compassion goes a long way when setting healthy boundaries.
  4. Take time before saying yes – New tasks always take more time than predicted. Before saying yes, go through tips one and two. Be aware of what you can do and if the new requet first with your purpose, values, and vision. If it doesn’t, say no. (For help with this – you can read my blog post on this topic.)
  5. Gain perspective – How important is their opinion in the overall scheme of things? In the long run, will it matter? In the moment, it can feel very important, but when you stop and think (see point #4), you’ll likely realize you’re reacting out habit and not out of an active choice to do something that works for you.
  6. Experiment with experiencing disapproval – Vanourek suggests mentally picturing what would happen if others disapproved of your choice or action. Does it feel less right because of them?  Or do you see how the choice represented who you are? It’s important to separate feelings about others from the feelings we want to have about our decisions.
  7. Notice how people may respect us for setting boundaries – A favorite phrase of mine is, “If you act like a doormat, people step on you.” It goes well with, “We teach people how to treat us.”  When you are clear about what you will and won’t do, your communication carries that message and is invariably respected. And people are less likely to comeback and step on your again in the future.
  8. Imagine and pursue the freedom on the other side of this mental block – In the moment, it’s hard to keep a boundary, but think about how you will feel after. It will likely feel as though a weight has been lifted. There is a huge difference between what we do for others because it’s who we are and what we believe in, and what we do because we fear the criticism or judgement of others.

It’s important that we take responsibility for our choices and not let the responses of others be our primary motivation for making those choices. Setting and keeping boundaries allows you to have more of the life and career you want. You’ll be known for saying yes with clarity and you’ll be doing more of what you want. There will be mistakes and successes, but they will be truly yours.

Lessons Moving Forward

We have gone through what has been an exceedingly challenging year and survived. There are scars, and there are lessons. The scars are a tribute to our resilience and will always be with us. The lessons need to be as well. What life lessons helped sustain you and others in the last year and a half?

One of my big lessons was the need for scheduled connections. In my pre-pandemic hectic life, I reached out to family and friends as the mood struck and time was available. Now these important people are on a schedule and/or on my to-do list. I don’t see them as work, of course, but I don’t trust myself to be consistent without reminders. I am too likely to get caught up in the returned busy-ness and forget. I don’t want to lose the connections that were deepened.

As we relax over the summer and make plans for the year ahead, this is a good time to take stock of what we learned or what we’d like to make sure to keep in the future. I found LaRay Quy’s article The Best Advice People Can Give Their Younger Selves touches on seven recommendations to help us:

  1. Make plans but write them in pencil – You need a direction, but you also must be prepared to change it as the situation demands. Being flexible was key in the last fifteen months and that will not change. If you are traveling on a highway, accidents and construction can force you to detour. Life’s journey is no different. Sometimes the detour allows you to see and experience what you might have overlooked. Sometimes it slows you up, but you still saw something new. That’s life. Or as Ursula LeGuin said in Left Hand of Darkness, “It’s always good to have an end to journey toward, but it’s the journey that matters in the end.”
  2. Read better books – We read –we are librarians. Have you been denying yourselves the pleasure because of too much work?  We need our reading to help us grow. It’s not necessarily significant texts. It’s new authors who present a different perspective.  I have found important insights in romantic fiction. The genre is not what’s important. The author and their message is.
  3. Invest in friendships – As my opening example shows, we need friendships and connection in our lives. We need our old friends and need to make new ones. Quy notes we attract people like us. Focus on your positives and your friendship circle will be enlarged by equally positive people. Find people who want to grow and learn as you do.
  4. Know when to leave – This is true in relationships and in work. Reflect on the relationships in your life. Are there some that are draining? You don’t need people who only take. Some jobs are toxic as well. I left one, and it changed my life for the better. Don’t stay in bad situations because you fear losing tenure. If you are good, you will get tenure in the next position – and you’ll have a situation where you can thrive.
  5. Forget about following your passion – Here is where I disagree with Quy, but it’s mainly a question of definitions. She says passion is fleeting and self-serving, and it’s better to follow your purpose. I emphatically support following your purpose. But my purpose has become my passion, and it has been my passion for many years. Take time to look at what you’re passionate about and see how that weaves into your purpose – the connections you find will surprise you.
  6. Solve harder problems – It’s easy to continue doing what we have always been doing, but growth comes from leaving your comfort zone. This is where you truly live your purpose. Take it onto a larger stage. Volunteer for a committee with your state school library association. If you already do that, move to the national level. Scary?  Yes, but as you grow, you become better at your job. Your new knowledge will affect how you present yourself and boost your confidence. The result – your colleagues and administrators will recognize you as a leader.
  7.  Forgive first – This may seem like an odd piece of advice for this list, but anger and resentments weigh you down. It gives the other party power over you. You don’t have to forget, but recognize the issue is in the past. You don’t want it in your future. And don’t forget to forgive yourself.

I would add two more to Quy’s lists; Being Aware of Others, and Gratitude. I am far more conscious of the many people on the fringes of my life whose work makes my life possible. Delivery drivers, sanitation workers, the employees of my local supermarkets, and health care providers are among the many people who make my days easier. I am more aware then ever of the work they do and I am very grateful.

It’s time to reflect and plan. As expected, our post-pandemic world is a changed place. We need to envision how we will be in our new normal, and that means integrating the lessons we learned. What would you put on your list to help you move forward?

ON LIBRARIES: When Everything is a Priority

Time management starts with focusing on your priorities, but what do you do when everything is a priority?  You always had a full plate, but these days that plate is piled high – and more seems to be added regularly. When you have so much to do, it can be nearly impossible to know where to start. You might start with the one you notice first, or you might choose the hardest task or the simplest one. Yes, you’ll get through everything eventually, but is your approach the most efficient?

Breaking the to-do list down can be a good beginning. First, divide what you need to do into two groups: personal and professional.  Divide the professional into those directly connected to your library, ones required by your school, and then your additional commitments such as course work, professional development you are doing, responsibilities for your work in your state school library association, and any other related tasks.

For your library tasks and those for your school, choose the ones that support your mission first, that way you know you’re supporting that important goal. For the other professional responsibilities, evaluate where you might need to adjust deadlines and/or get help.

And don’t forget the personal items that need your attention. Those are another kind of priority and you need to allot time for this as well. Be sure you are giving this some time each day, particularly making time for yourself regularly.

To help you determine what to do first, consider the recommendations of Naphtali Hoff in his post on How to Identify the Most Important Tasks. His six-step approach to dealing with your MITs (Most Important Tasks) – with some of my tweaks and comments — should help you deal with your overloaded plate.

  1. What are the most 2-3 important things that I need to do today? Good question. If you identify these and complete them, the result is a tremendous sense of accomplishment. But how do you identify them? Choose one of your groups. Look for tasks that have an upcoming deadline.  Are they of high importance?  Are any of them tasks you enjoy doing?  Will the professional task promote your Mission?

Naftali also suggests you take the Pareto Principle into consideration. In brief, the Pareto Principle, named for the Italian economist who first observed the 80/20 relationship in many places in life, is used to note that 80% of the work is done by 20% of the people. Applied here, it means that 80% of your outcomes result from 20% of your work.  You want to invest your time first where it will bring the greatest result.

  1. What is the task’s value or ROI? ROI means – return on investment. What will you get back from the time and effort you spend? Related to the Pareto Principle, look at your list and determine what will bring you the greatest return on the investment of your time. Also look where completing some tasks may make another task easier.  These connections will support your success.

As you determine a task’s ROI, you must consider advocacy. How will others know of your accomplishment of the task?  It’s always been true, but as budget belts tighten again, this is truer than ever.  You do great work, but if no one knows about it, it won’t make a difference in the long run.

  1. Is it related to your goals? Is it part of a strategic plan you have created? How does it relate to your Mission? Other than things aministorators have directed you to do , your answer to this question should set your priorities for what task you should do next. The more distantly related – the lower the priority. These are the things that should be relegated to the end of the day or week, if/when there is still time.
  1. Is it a task that you’ve been thinking about for some time? I really like this one. If it’s been on your mind, it’s worth considering. And this includes your personal tasks.

And don’t discard it or put it off because you have other more well-defined items on your list.  It most likely connects to a passion of yours.  Bringing it to fruition will give you a great sense of satisfaction and accomplishment and will likely spur you on to deal with the other tasks you have. (That gives it a high ROI!)

  1. Have you been putting it off for too long? This is the flip side of #4. There are always things on our list that get moved to the next day and then the next. Why have you been putting it off?  Do you dread doing it? If so, why?  Is it very time consuming? Is it boring? Think about way to break it into small steps and focus on those. Does it take you out of your comfort zone?  It can be hard, but these can be the tasks that help us to grow the most. Turn to your PLNs for advice on how to accomplish it.  With support, you are more likely to tackle it and come out on top.

6.      Is it a task that will free you up to work on your real MITs? Sometimes you do need to complete small jobs so you have a large enough block of time to work on what is really important. Hoff suggests setting an artificial deadline to complete these.  I love artificial deadlines.  They create a cushion, so I don’t miss the real ones when life “happens.”

The Hoff article didn’t cover two additional things I consider vital.

Know the best time of day for you to tackle the tasks on your list.  He does refer to the things you need to do, but when?  For me, it is the first thing in the morning.  If it is something that has a deadline (even an artificial deadline) I can’t look at email or anything else until I get the highest priority task of the day finished.

Don’t forget to apply these questions to the tasks you put in the Personal group.  You must make time for family, friends, and for yourself. There’s a huge ROI when we honestly take care of ourselves. Laundry can wait another day. Taking time for the personal will make you happier which will likely make your professional tasks easier.

ON LIBRARIES: Should Have – Could Have

Do you give yourself credit for all you are accomplishing?  Our days are jam-packed.  Many of you stay late to complete tasks that can’t fit within the regular school day.  By the time you get home, there are more things that need to be done.  You are tired, cranky more often than you like, and are feeling worn out.  And as it is now November, you’re facing getting ready for the holidays.

We are experts at finding fault with ourselves, but it doesn’t help us do better. More often it becomes a type of self-sabotage because these thoughts make us believe we are failures. Too often we speak to ourselves in ways we’d never speak to another, focusing on our weaknesses and believing everyone else does or achieves more. Of course, this isn’t true. We know we have had successes, but when all we can hear is the negative self-talk, none of that matters.

So I ask you again – Do you give yourself credit for all you are accomplishing?  Probably not. You are

most likely mentally beating yourself up with “Should Have” and “Could Have.”  You should have gotten more done. You could have if only you were more organized.  If only… you fill in the blank. I’m sure you have a list. What would support us better is go through the important process of deciding what priority, what isn’t, and do what we can to stop listening to the rest of the noise that’s distracting us.

Kristin Hendrix reminds us of the power of self-talk in her article Words Matter, Choose Carefully. We tend to be aware of that with others, but don’t treat ourselves with the same consideration.  As goal-driven people, we have a lot of “need to’s” in addition to the “should have’s” and “could have’s.”  It’s important to take a realistic look at what you have been saying to yourself and consider whether it’s really true.

Very often, negative self-talk is a story we tell ourselves, and it keeps us from focusing on what is important and remembering where our strengths lie.  Hendrix suggests you begin by looking more closely at the “need to’s” that have been swirling around in your brain and ask yourself – Is this true?  Do you really need to do it, or is it something you would like to do?  Is it a priority? What level of importance does it have – honestly?

If it isn’t a high priority, you might not need to do it.  If it is, then take the time to look at why you haven’t made the commitment yet.  Is fear behind it? If you’re unsure if you can do it, maybe you need a mentor. Or if the project is too big, perhaps you can delegate part of it.  Be honest with yourself and get you’ll find it easier to either move forward or delete it for good.

How many times do you say, “I should…?”   Unless you figure out if this is true, you will continue saying it and make yourself feel unworthy because of it.  Should you exercise more? Take a course related to librarianship? Maybe the answer is yes, but the answer could be ‘not yet’. Whatever it is, do your best to be honest (and kind!) with yourself. Too many times things are on the list because we’ve bought into the belief that they should be (ironic, yes?) on the list. They aren’t our priorities yet we’ve taken them on. Taking the time to look at the truth then accepting what’s true for you can go a long way in stopping the negative self-talk.

Hendrix notes that we complicate this problem by saying we don’t have time.  We can’t because we’re too busy. As I have written in past blogs, this, too, is a story we tell ourselves.  It has an element of truth as we are exhausted by the time we fall into bed (or long before we fall into bed), but it’s far from the whole truth. When something is important and we know and can feel why it is important, we take the time to do it.

For years I said I should exercise.  I didn’t. When I made it a priority, I was able to fit it into my life and it’s off my “should have” list. I also make it a point to turn off my computer by 6 p.m. each day. Maybe I should continue.  If I did maybe I could have finished the task.  But turning the computer off is the priority because it gives me the time I need in the evening to be with my husband and do other things for myself.  And I don’t think about those “should have’s” or “could have” because I’m clear about my priority.

Do I manage to stick to my priorities every day?  No.  Some days I goof off.  Too many games of Klondike (my weakness as you know). But I have learned not to beat myself up for it.  Rather than fall into negative self-talk, I know there’s a chance I needed the day off, and I can get back to my priorities tomorrow.

The golden rule of treating others the way you wish to be treated may need to be revised.  We need to treat ourselves the way we treat others.  We are much more understanding of the shortcomings of others than we are about our own self-styled failures. Be good to yourself this week. Notice where the negative words are draining you. Take a breath, look for the truth, and let the rest go. Honor yourself and your priorities, leave the shoulds and coulds behind, and – one more time –  give yourself credit for all you are accomplishing.

ON LIBRARIES: Positive Self-Care

Last week we talked about knowing your priorities. This week we move on to self-care. You are your most important priority because if you aren’t taking care of yourself, you will be doing a poor job with everything else. Maybe you can hold out for a while, but eventually, it’s going to catch up with you. Making the change is going to be hard work.

It’s going to be hard because you are likely resistant to doing it.  There is so much on your plate demanding your attention and the societal norm is to put others first. Even those priorities I discussed last week—your family and friends—can take time away from you.  Finding balance is going to be key.

Recognizing how it affects the bottom line, the business world (guided by psychologists) is working to make their people aware of the importance of practicing positive self-care.  Schools are also dealing with this as they move into Social and Emotional Learning (SEL), but SEL is focused on students. You need to develop your own practices that ensure you are taking care of yourself. 

Elizabeth Scott offers The Top 10 Self-Care Strategies for Stress Reduction. Most are obvious and can be found in many places.  Implementing them, as I said, is the challenge.  Here are her ten with my comments:

  1. Get Enough Sleep – Easier said than done. If 8 hours is out of the question, go for 7. And develop a sleep routine as you would for your children. Have everything ready for tomorrow so you don’t fret about what you have to do in the morning. Read a relaxing book.  I love HEA’s (happily ever after), so I know my main characters will be together by the end no matter how bleak things look. Also, trying to go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day, even on the weekend, can be beneficial.
  2. Maintain Proper Nutrition—This one is also going to need a plan. Stress makes you grab for the unhealthy snacks (as Weight Watchers keeps reminding me). Part of your positive self-care is creating a plan that results in healthy eating most days – nobody is or should be perfect. For some of you, this may mean making dinners for the week on Sunday. For others, it’s a matter of planning breakfast and lunch and keeping healthy snacks at work.
  3. Exercise regularly – My personal goal is to walk 12,000+ steps 3-5 times a week which is a huge difference from when I started years ago on an exercise bicycle and all I could do was 5 minutes. Do what you can to choose an exercise you like doing. This could take some time to identify, but if you don’t like it, you won’t continue.
  4. Maintain Social Support –This is what I discussed last week. Your family and friends are not only a priority but are also part of your positive self-care. Make time for getting together.
  5. Find Hobbies—For me, it’s always been reading and I’ve written about how I enjoy my games of solitaire on the computer. I find it’s a good break as long as I don’t overindulge. Walking, much to my surprise, has become a hobby which is true of any sport you like. But it could be yoga, gardening, coloring in the new coloring books, scrapbooking, knitting, or whatever suits your fancy.
  6. Pamper Yourself – I love this one. I joined a local chain (Massage Envy) to ensure I schedule a facial or massage once a month.  Then there’s manicures and pedicures and other spa treatments that you can do at a salon or at home.
  7. Keep Your Mind Sharp – An easy one for librarians. Scott encourages you to see stress areas as a challenge—what I call a “chopportunity.” I have been disciplining myself in reading one article a day in one of my professional journals.  I always end up with new ideas and ways of looking at things (and new blog post ideas!).
  8. Have the Right Attitude – This is all about Mindset. What you think about something conditions how you react which causes either an up or down spiral. You are in control of how you think, and frequently the only thing you can control in a situation is how you respond to it. Take a moment to look for ways to make it work for you.
  9. Process Your Emotions – Be honest about how you are feeling. For example, suppressing anger doesn’t make it go away and instead causes an increase in stress. Acknowledge it. Consider where it is coming from and how you can either deal with it or change your attitude about it. Journaling, which could also be a hobby, can be a way of processing your emotions and so can talking to friends, which connects to maintaining social support.
  10. Maintain a Spiritual Practice–Having belief system that grounds you whether it is a religion, spirituality, meditation, or a firmly rooted philosophy is a resource you can turn to when feeling stressed. This sort of foundational belief can offer strength, grounding, or a place to return to when, once again, stress levels get high and life is out of balance.

And as a reminder of how easy it is to fall back into your bad old ways, see Cammy Pedroja’s 7 things that are good examples of self-care, and 7 things that aren’t.

Remember Positive Self-care is you focused on you to ensure you are in the best possible frame of mind to take care of others as well as do what needs to be done. If this is new for you, I recommend picking two from the list and integrate them into your daily life – maybe one that sounds easy and one that seems like a stretch.  Once you feel you have incorporated them into your life, pick two more and see how it goes.