Calming Your Inner Turmoil

Over the next weeks, the school year will begin again. Much as we love our jobs, it’s not easy to step back into work as responsibilities and tasks, old and new, fill our to-do lists. Time management skills notwithstanding, it’s a challenge to slow down and focus on what needs to come first. What is the priority? What is urgent? 

The old slogan, “haste makes waste,” is a reminder that if we go too fast, we will skip things and miss what really needs to be done. But knowing this and doing something about it is difficult when people are coming to you, sending emails, and demanding your immediate help.

In Inner Peace — Be Cool, Calm, and Collected, Frank Sonnenberg offers fifteen guideposts to calm your swirling brain. To help you find a little focus and calm try any one or more of these:

Accept Responsibility – In our frustration, we sometimes blame others for what is going wrong. Sonnenberg reminds us to recognize our part in making the choices we did.

Find Your Purpose–Look to your Mission and core values. Post them where you can see them. Review them as you start your workday and connect to the positive feelings they bring to you.

Live with Honor You are a leader. Integrity is an integral component of that leadership. People need to count on you. You keep your word and don’t compromise the core values you hold.

Be Reasonable–This is with yourself. Perfection is an illusion. Excellence is the goal–but know when good is enough. Not every task requires the same level of effort. Save your time and energy for what really matters.

Develop Trusting Relationships–Our relationships support us, and we need to support them. Reaching out and helping brings people to us. Our integrity keeps them. We build advocates and extra hands when needed.

Make Everyone a Winner–Putting others in the spotlight and giving meaningful compliments makes people feel good. The practice makes us feel good as well. Definitely a win-win habit.

Be Thankful – Gratitude for what you have rather than longing for what you don’t gives you a better outlook on life. This translates into how you present yourself to others. They are then more likely to respond positively to you.

Strive for Balance – Sonnenberg reminds us the journey is as important as the goal. Those you meet along the way, the time you give them, are as important as meeting the deadline you set. Make the time for family and friends. And make the time for yourself.

Learn to Say “No” – Set boundaries for yourself. You can’t do everything. The fuller your plate, the less likely that important stuff gets all the attention it needs. In dealing with teachers, try “what if we….” By offering an alternative that requires less of your time, you will do a better job and stay calmer.

Live in the Moment–Whenever you can, don’t worry about past mistakes or potential future failure. You can’t change the past (although you can learn from it). You don’t know what the future will bring, so worrying about it is a waste of energy.

Unclutter Your World–This is an extension of living in the moment. We have so many conversations with ourselves during the day. Too many of them are negative. Be kind to yourself. You deserve it.

Control What You Can–You can’t control others’ behavior or what life throws at you. You can control how you respond and act. And the choices you make are what define who you are.

Be True to Yourself–This includes living with honor. It also means seeing who you truly are and celebrating you. You earned it. Be proud of what you achieve and how you achieved it.

Build Good Karma– Doing good is no guarantee of good karma, but, as Sonnenberg says, “seeing others’ happiness is, by itself, a worthy reward.”

Hold Your Head Up High–Be proud of yourself. You are a good person. When you start by believing in yourself, others will follow.

Don’t try to do everything on this list! You’ve got enough to do. Choose the ones that speak to you, keep them in mind and to help you stay calm as the new year gets underway.

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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.

In the Heat of the Moment

We are all stressed. And we are dealing with people who are stressed. The combination can lead to sudden eruptions of temper. Words spill out. More are exchanged, and you are left with the fallout. It’s not pretty, and it can have long-term consequences.

How do you feel after one of these verbal explosions? Exhausted? Still simmering? Annoyed with yourself? Are you re-thinking what the other person said? What you said or should have said?

We are in the relationship business. Having a professional relationship with everyone in the building is a job requirement for school librarians. We can’t afford to lose our temper in the heat of the moment. We need to quickly defuse the heat whether it’s ours or theirs.

It’s important to anticipate these outbursts and possibly more important to know how to deal with the consequences. Knowing these confrontations are bound to occur, have a plan for dealing with it to lessen occurrences and/or any damage it does to relationships.

The Leadership Freak’s blog post offers sage advice, giving 7 Proactive Responses to Hot Emotions. The title refers to the focus of the post: reactions are too often an out-of-control response to a situation. As he says in his list of “7 Dangers of Reacting, “The more you react, the more your thinking congeals,” and “The more you react, the more negative consequences you experience.”

The “5 Emotions that Switch on Reaction-mode” according to the Leadership Freak are ones we experience frequently. The first he mentions is Stress, and, as noted we are living with high stress. Discouragement is another emotion he identifies. So many librarians are feeling frustrated about schedules that keep them from doing their job as librarians. It’s no wonder that things boil over.

To deal with these situations, Leadership Freak suggests “7 Powerful Proactive Responses to Hot Emotions.”

  • Gratitude – Thank the person for bringing the issue to your attention. When you do this, focus on the message the other person is sending, not the manner of delivery.
  • Acknowledgement –  Recognizes the other person’s feelings. There are two of you (or more) in this moment. Notice what is happening for them.
  • Space – A time-tested technique for any relationship, personal or professional. It’s counting to ten or the parent classic, “Go to your room, I am too angry to deal with you now.” In the work setting “Give me some time to think about this” achieves the same aim.

If you respond offensively or defensively when someone’s hostility is directed at you, you set off an escalating confrontation. You will need to invest time and effort to restore the relationship to where it was previously. If others were present to hear it you may have some repairs to do there as well.

The scenario is somewhat different when you are the one who starts the conflict. It maybe you were asked to do one more thing and just exploded. Whatever triggered your reaction is not as important as what you do after. That step is crucial.

As soon as possible, apologize, another of Leadership Freak’s proactive responses. It’s best to do so without adding reasons. Start with, “I’m sorry. There is no excuse for my behavior.” Justification is a natural way to remove some of the blame (and shame), but you will get the relationship back on track much faster if you take full responsibility.

And remember, what is true in the work world is also true in your personal life. These outbursts will happen. Be pro-active to de-escalate them rapidly. The more clearly we can communicate, the less stress we’ll have in our relationships and our lives.

Take Time to Get Outside

We live in an almost constant state of stress, and this was true before the pandemic added a new layer and level. In the words of the late comedienne Gilda Radnor, “If it’s not one thing, it’s another.” There is nothing new in our need to deal with too much pushing in on us. One of the best methods of managing stress is taking time out of usual environments and, if possible, into nature.

The Romantic poet. William Wordsworth wrote this sonnet around 1802.

The World Is Too Much with Us

The world is too much with us; late and soon,

Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—

Little we see in Nature that is ours;

We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!

This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;

The winds that will be howling at all hours,

And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;

For this, for everything, we are out of tune;

It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather be

A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;

So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,

Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;

Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;

Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.

Apparently even back then, “getting and spending” was a preoccupation,” and we were already out of touch with nature. “We are out of tune” – then and now.

Getting out is about moving at the pace of your choice.  It’s taking the time to see the world around you. It’s about greeting people as you go. And it’s about thinking– literally — outside the box that is the place you work.

We need to make getting out a priority in our lives. No matter our work and life schedule, we benefit from choosing a way to destress. The caveat is the choosing because what we mostly see is where there is too much to complete, too many errands to run – and doing errands is not getting out.

So, with all you have to and need to do, how can you get out? Ryan Tahmaseb proposes 7 Ways to Get Outside More Often. Hopefully, one or more of these will work for you, and the benefits are enormous.

  1. Schedule a walk – Until this becomes a habit, you need to put it on your to-do list. Plan the time.  Will you do it at lunch?  If so, you will come back energized and are likely not to experience the afternoon slump. Does the timing of your free period work better?  Or maybe it’s after you get home and before starting dinner – or even after dinner. Whatever works, schedule it. Tahmaseb suggests, consider going with a friend.  You will hold each other accountable. Think about what best fits you and your life.  Set yourself up for success.
  2. Take Phone Calls Outside – This can be a great addition to any personal calls you make.  It’s not my favorite idea since your mind is preoccupied with whatever is happening on the phone, which may be stressful, but you are breathing outside air and that helps. It may encourage you to get off the phone faster and since you’re already outside – stay a little longer.
  3. Move Small Meetings Outside – This may not be an available option but is worth considering to see if it’s an option.  The meeting is likely to go better. Suggest it to your principal or a committee chair. 
  4. Eat Outside – You can eat your lunch, and then go for a walk.  Burn off the calories.  You may enroll any lunch companions to join you. Before long you might have a cadre of walkers. Even just sitting in the sun for that time with a book will lighten your stress.
  5. Try Walking Meetings – If it’s no more than 3 or 4 people, this may be a possibility. You can record your notes as you go.  It is worth trying and it may stimulate creative approaches to the discussion. Or make meetings go faster!
  6. Bring Your Work Outside – If you can’t afford to give up the work you do during your free period, do it outside. The work will feel easier.  You will breathe better.  And you may find, as I do, the creative juices flow when you are outside.
  7. Just Take a Short Break – Step outside for a few minutes.  If you are attuned to it, you will be aware of the change in your mindset.  If you can’t eat outside, try to finish lunch a little early and take those minutes to yourself.

There is no doubt that changing your environment can change your outlook and being outside can almost instantly change your mood. Watch for the birds, notice the clouds. Take a deep breath and enjoy the moment. Do what you can to get into the habit of going outside now.  It will be easier to continue it when winter comes. You will be healthier and less stressed if you do.

Being Effective

As you pivoted your way through the pandemic, goals and needs kept changing. Being effective was and is a challenge. Being efficient was even harder. With the heavy time constraints we have, we need to improve our techniques for being more effective – and by doing so – become more efficient.

Merriam-Webster defines Effective as “producing a decided, decisive, or desired effect.” It implies knowing what needs to get done and then getting right down to the task. It’s a good goal for students and for you. But it is elusive.

We know that working harder is not the solution. It is draining, making you less productive and therefore less efficient. John Rampton says the way to do it is to Work Smarter, Not Harder: 10 Ways to Be More Effective at Work.

  1. Trim the Fat – This sounds like a good diet idea, but it refers to making your to-do list work for you. Putting too much in sets us up for feeling frazzled, not accomplishing everything, and encourages multi-tasking which doesn’t work (we’ll get to that). Besides identifying your three highest priority (and goal-related) tasks, get at least one finished early, giving you a feeling of success.
  2. Measure Your Results, Not Your Time –Whether it’s weeding or collecting books, measure your success by what you accomplished in one day. You know how to eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Rampton quotes Leo Widrich, who recommends keeping a “done” list. It allows “you to review your day, gives you a chance to celebrate your accomplishments, and helps you plan more effectively.”  I do the same with my Success Journal which I keep next to my computer.
  3. Have an Attitude Adjustment – Your mindset has a powerful influence on your effectiveness. When you feel you are getting things done, when you recognize your help to others has made a difference, you don’t have the weariness that keeps you from being effective.
  4. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate –Communication is key to our success. It’s not just our words or our texts. It’s the choices we make in using them and the silent communications happening simultaneously. Active listening is your responsibility in communication. Suiting the message to the communication channel enhances the chances of it being received as intended. Long emails often don’t get read completely. Don’t bury the lead. Say what needs to be said—and stop.
  5. Create and Stick to a Routine – The more things you don’t have to think about, the more effective you become. To help make this happen – use the next tip.
  6. Automate More Tasks – There are apps and programs for planning, calendars, reminders, and more. Ask your PLN what’s helping and see if it makes sense for you. The best automation can help you get through your day with fewer decision points leaving more energy for bigger issues.
  7. Stop Multitasking – Once the touted way of getting more done, studies have proved it doesn’t work. Unfortunately, we do this more often than we realize. The worst offense is when we are mentally planning what we will do or say next while we are talking to someone. Stay focused and you are more likely to stay effective.
  8. Take Advantage of Your Procrastination – Historian Cyril Northcote Parkinson, author of Parkinson’s Law said, “If you wait until the last minute, it only takes a minute to do.” Not that this should be a general practice, but it suggests we cloak our tasks in more time than they need. Give yourself shorter, clearer, deadlines and you’ll find yourself getting more done.
  9. Relieve Stress – Stress impacts work performance. You’ve heard this before and likely know the techniques that work for you. Get up and move for a while. Take a break in another part of the building. Look out the window or find a way to sit in the dark for fifteen minutes. Lowering stress increases effectiveness.
  10. Do More of the Work You Enjoy – You have many roles, but you like some better than others. Put your emphasis on those. It will give you the positive attitude you need to do the other ones. It’s also a good reminder when it seems like most of what’s on your to-do list are the tasks you like less. Use the things you love to jump start your day or as a reward for getting other things done.

Chances are you already do some of these to make your days go smoothly. If you’re looking for ways to be more effective, choose some of the ideas on this list and put them into practice. Hopefully, you’ll see an increase in your own effectiveness.

Why Is It So Hard?

Somedays are just too hard. I have big plans for the day.  My to-do list is at the ready.  Then one by one, life happens, and the day is drawing to a close.  I still haven’t done my number one priority, I’ve added more things to my to-do list, and I am too tired and brain dead to deal with any of it.

I remind myself tomorrow is another day. I focus on having a positive mindset. And then tomorrow brings its own set of obstacles to my plan. Or I have one or two great days and feel confident I have a handle on my life. And then stuff happens again. I know I’m not the only one feeling this way. Social media is filled with tales of life continually interfering with plans and intentions. 

I give advice on time management. Surely, I should manage my own better.

Some answers came from an unexpected article. A post by Scott Mautz, 5 Reasons Why Your Middle Manager Role Is So Difficult (And What To Do About It) provided answers I could see where school librarians are middle managers and how their challenges are ours. You are the Program Administrator for your library with the responsibilities it carries, and you also have a boss–your principal.

Consider how these five reasons reflect your situation.

  1. Self-identity – Mautz points to the many hats you wear and their differences. You move from directing what is happening in your library to working collegially with teachers, and then bringing a “deferential stance with your boss.” These “micro-transitions” exhaust us. Probably more so because we are not recognizing them as such. It’s hard.
  2. ConflictExhaustion and stress are everywhere, which means tempers flare. You may be in challenging situations with teachers, students, and parents. As librarians, you are expected to have a positive working relationship with everyone, but no one seems to have that responsibility with you. You are using many of your relationship skills to soothe tempers and reduce tensions. It’s hard.
  3. Omnipotence – Mautz says you “feel you are expected to know everything,” The saying that “if librarians don’t know the answer they know where to find it” heightens that expectation from others. But they have questions and needs from so many different fields. Every moment you’re uncertain adds to the weight of your day. It’s hard.
  4. Physical – All that micro-switching, uncertainty, and desire to be at your best takes its toll. You’re probably not getting enough sleep and the sleep you do get is not always restful. You wake up exhausted with the entire day to face. Then it’s coffee and/or sugars to give you an energy boost even when you want to eat better. And exercise? When? It’s hard.
  5. Emotional – Mautz points to the emotional toll of middle managers who felt isolated. Librarians know this deeply as most are the only ones in their school– or perhaps spread over multiple schools. No one else has our responsibilities, goals, or challenges. PLNs definitely help. But it’s hard.

Mautz follows up these challenges with several “reframes” which I have abbreviated:

  • Recognize your micro-transitions are all one job–Keep your Mission Statement in mind. Mautz writes: “The 100 jobs you belong to add up to one vital job you’re uniquely suited to do well. Take pride in that and value the variety.”
  • Leading and Influencing Up – Know what your principal expects of you (and what they need) and keep them apprised of how you are doing it. Offer regular reports or, at the least, an annual report (see last week’s blog).
  • Leading and Influencing Down–Mautz talks about the importance of giving feedback. Watch your words and body language to ensure your message comes across as feedback, not criticism. Create strong relationships and partnerships and the emotional toll is decreased.
  • Influencing Across–These are the people in the larger community. Here is where you can spread the word about the importance of school libraries and having certificated librarians run them. Even where you have no authority, you have an opportunity for great influence.

It is hard. Understanding what causes some of your daily frustration may ease your feelings that you aren’t doing enough or not organized enough. You are doing more than enough. Yes, it’s hard, but it’s also important work.

ON LIBRARIES – Do You Need a Mental Reboot?

Are you feeling drained?  Let’s see why:

  • You have been working hard to keep your library a valuable presence while we are doing distant learning and you still don’t know what’s coming for the fall.
  • Although you have been aware of the importance of having a diverse collection for some time, Black Lives Matter has put the challenge front and center in everyone’s mind. You need to be ready to communicate to the administration and teachers the diverse resources you have acquired for your collection.
  • Your own fears about the virus and coping with stresses at home which can include your children, partner, and parents combined with health and economic challenges you may be facing.

It’s a lot. You are handling so much; you don’t have time to think.  And therein lies a problem.

When you don’t think – you just react and that isn’t sustainable. What you need is a mental reboot. A chance to clear your deck and allow yourself the time to get your head back in order.  The first recommendation of most health practitioners is to breathe deeply. When we are harried, we shallow breathe which reduces the oxygen flow to the brain.  You need your brain working on full power. Deep slow breathing helps. It also slows our heart rate, making us feel instantly calmer and more focused.

Another common recommendation is to get outside and walk. This is a favorite of mine. (Take a mask with you if there is any likelihood that you will encounter other walkers and bikers.)  If there are woods nearby, so much the better. The combination of a change in scenery, fresh air, and physical activity does wonders – and it doesn’t have to take a lot of time.  Fifteen to twenty minutes can make a difference.

After your deep breaths and walk (and any other self-care that works for you), you can then contemplate the advice given by Marcia Reynolds in How to Help Others Do a Mental Reboot. In this instance, it’s a case of “physician heal thyself.”  Once you get your head back in place, you can help others do the same. She has a relatively simple two-step approach, and simple is needed now.

Her first recommendation is to do a safety check.  When you feel threatened, you go into fight or flight mode which, as you know, shuts down the cognitive part of your brain.  Ask yourself “Do I feel safe?” or, perhaps a better questions is “What is making me feel unsafe?” The virus is ever present in our minds, but have you been following the guidelines?  Is there anything you could do differently? You have been managing it well so far.  Is there any reason to think you won’t continue to do so? If you can start noticing where you’re doing well, you will start to relax.

Perhaps you’re feeling unsafe about how school will look in the fall. It may be distance learning or back to a physical space with differences.  Or a combination of both.  Yes, there are unknowns and things you can’t control, but, as a librarian, you are flexible and good at adapting to change.  You will adjust.

You may also be feeling unsafe about job security.  Many places are making cuts. To help you feel safer, up your advocacy.  Consider giving your principal reports on the ways you have supporting teachers and students.  Have you been talking to them about the diversity issue and what you are doing and can do to help with it? You are needed now more than ever.  Be sure administrators know how vital your work is to the continued success of their school.

The second step is to take time for reflective inquiry. Reflective inquiry allows us to separate what is real from what we imagine.  It’s not that we don’t have concerns, but we may be worried about things that haven’t happened. We take what we know and project it into the future.

To make a change, consider what you can do about each of the situations that have been draining you or taking up space in your thoughts. Then, decide whether to tackle the one that is most concerning or least concerning.  Identify it clearly, recognizing why it has been wearing on you. Gently ask yourself

  • How real is the possibility?
  • What did you see/read/hear that is making you more concerned? Is the information accurate and reliable? (We’re good at checking that!)
  • What can you do about it?

While advocacy should always be part of what you do, you may have been worrying unnecessarily. Even though other places may be losing jobs, that might not be the case for you. If you have a good relationship with your principal, you cab even ask about it.

Are you very worried about getting the virus?  Tests are much more available now.  See if you can have one done. It will be a relief to know you are not infected.

Finding the daily tasks of managing your home overpowering?  Maybe you can have a family discussion and find a way to organize it better. There could be things you don’t have to do or things other people would be willing to help with.

And once you’ve taken time for doing a safety check and a reflective inquiry for yourself, you’ll be better able to check in with the people around you and give them support. Reynolds quotes John Dewey (so appropriate!) who said that provoking people to think about their thinking is the “single most powerful antidote to erroneous beliefs and autopilot.”

We’re all prone to unhelpful, panicky thoughts. Do what you can to give yourself a break. Once you do that, you’ll not only feel calmer and more focused, you’ll be able to help you colleagues and family do the same.

ON LIBRARIES: Scoping the Future

We are starting our seventh week of social isolation and distance learning, and everyone is looking to see when it will end and “life will get back to normal.” Prognosticators are coming out of the woodwork but no one knows what our future will look like. The question is, how do you plan for an unknowable future?

A method I developed when my district added a wing to the high school including a new library may help you get through this with a minimum of fear and a readiness to take on the next stage. I call my method Microscoping, Periscoping, and Telescoping.

Microscoping is what you do first. You only focus on what is happening and possible in the here and now.  It includes the things under your immediate control.  You do whatever is next and it allows you to feel grounded in the moment. This can mean planning tomorrow’s lesson, creating a video to send to teachers or families, or doing laundry.

Telescoping is how to plan for the future. It’s done rarely, but is still important. This happens when you look down the road to see what’s ahead. It allows you to make your best estimate of what needs to get done in order for you to be back in your library working with students and teachers or what’s necessary to end the year online. It keeps you aware of the steps in between today and the future.  At this point, you can’t spend too much time on Telescoping, but you can create lists and steps for what will most likely need to be done.

Periscoping is what keeps you from missing something important. In Periscoping you pop up and look around.  What is the next step you can take in connection with something you identified when Telescoping?  Is it coming up soon?  Does something need to be altered or changed?  Once you’ve taken a look at what’s happening around you, Periscoping helps you adjust your daily Microscoping to ensure you are staying on track.

We can never forget that the truth is we are still living through a crisis and don’t know how the ripple effects are going to play out. Becky Robinson says A Crisis Is Not a Marathon — But It Is a Call for Endurance.  She acknowledges four ways this crisis is different.

  • This crisis is not predictable– Unlike a marathon we are uncertain of the distance or the route we need to take. Different states will make different decisions and some are having a harder time than others.
  • We did not train for this – As a profession, we are good at tech, but no one was ready for full-time distance learning, supporting both teachers and students and dealing with the trauma they (and we) are living with all while dealing with other things happening on a personal front. Many of you are doing double duty on distance learning as you help your children as well as support the needs of your school.
  • We are isolated from our support crews – We miss the daily interactions with our students and teachers. Some of you didn’t even have a chance to say good-bye.  You went home on Friday and were told over the weekend not to come back. And I’m sure many of you hoped for a return before the end of the school year. This separation is a huge challenge. I hope you’re finding ways to use your PLN’s Facebook groups as a source of information and strength as well as finding ways to stay connected with friends and family who can give you support and strength.
  • We can’t see the finish lineThis is much like the first on the list. It’s not only that we can’t see it, we have no idea of where it is. We can hope and plan, but not knowing when restrictions may ease up is a huge challenge.

These key differences add up to a great deal of stress – both personal and professional. Robinson’s recommendations on how to face this call for endurance are very similar to my approach. She cites Ryan Hall’s book Run the Mile You Are In reminding us that you cannot look to far ahead. If you see how far you have to go, or notice that you can’t see the finish line at all, you will want to give in. It’s not unlike trying to lose a lot of weight. If you focus on 50 lbs it can seem impossible. Instead, you must take it in small goals, daily challenges, and doable steps.  It may not be a perfect solution, but nothing is.

This pandemic more like runnng a marathon on a treadmill. Lots of energy required but not getting anywhere – or so it seems. To get to the future, we can only manage the now. Keep a close focus on what we can do today, how we can be there for each other, and what we need personally so that when the finish line finally comes into focus, we’re as ready as possible.

 

ON LIBRARIES: Overwhelmed

No fancy title needed.  It’s just what it is. At this point in the school year most of you are feeling this, and so are the people around you especially teachers and administrators.  It leads to short tempers, feelings of not being good enough, and exhaustion. It also affects your ability as a leader.  And while you are in overwhelm you don’t want to even think about being a leader.  It’s just one more thing you have on your plate and no time to do it.

You know the effects of overwhelm, its dangers, and perhaps how to deal with it. Your school may even have done a Professional Development session on this topic to help with times like this. But while you are in it, you have no time to put any tools into practice.  It’s a catch-22 situation. To get to the point where you can implement strategies for dealing with overwhelm, there is one simple remedy which is good, because you need simple at this point.

Breathe.

That’s it. Go to a place in your library where you won’t be disturbed.  Or go to the restroom. Close your eyes.  Take a deep breath in, and then let it out slowly. Take another and another.  When we are tense and overwhelmed, we shallow breathe.  This adds to the problem and ramps up the feelings.

Once you have made this method into your “first response” to feeling overwhelmed, you can employ special breathing techniques such as “square breathing.”  Breathe in for four seconds.  Hold for four seconds. Breathe out for four seconds.  Hold for four seconds.  The effects are immediate. And immediate is also good.

Now that you have a way to deal with those moments, you need a plan to minimize the frequency of attacks.  If you live in an almost constant state of overwhelm, your logical thinking is affected, you don’t bring your best to your family and friends (actually, you probably bring your worst), and your attitude sends negative signals to teachers and students.

Our world seems to be a 24/7 place. Information, questions, and problems keep coming in, and you feel duty-bound to respond—sometimes immediately.  This gives you little time to think and set priorities and the result is becoming more overwhelmed.

Breathe.

We are hardly alone in this challenge. The business world deals with this as well, and the Harvard Business Review offers a post from Rebecca Zucker on How to Deal with Constant Overwhelm. She offers five suggestions. (Keep breathing as you read on.)

Pinpoint the primary source of overwhelm – In the moment, we tend to give everything equal weight, but that’s not reality.  Something is stressing you more than other things. Is it a project? An aspect of your schedule? A personal issue? You may not be able to take it off your plate, but by identifying it, you can analyze why it is weighing so heavily on you, and maybe discover what can be done to reduce the stress somewhat. For example, if it’s a project, break it down into pieces so you don’t feel the weight of the entire thing all at once.

Set boundaries on your time and workload – This is hard for some.  We can’t work late every day and spend weekend hours doing more work for school.  Make sure you give yourself at least two days when you leave at a regular time and one day free on the weekend. You will have more energy and because of this, you’ll be able to produce more in less time.  This is one of those cases when less can lead to more.

Digitally generated My brain has too many tabs open

Challenge your perfectionism – Not everything needs to be completed to the same level of “perfect” whether it’s a display or end-of-day cleanup.  If you are working at two (or more) schools, stop trying to do full-time work in all your schools.  Discuss priorities with your administrators letting them know what you think is most important and what you cannot do because of your schedule.  Ask them for their advice and work with it.  (This is related to boundaries on your workload.)

Outsource or delegate – This can be a challenge (but then again, what isn’t).  Can you get student volunteers?  They may be more work at the beginning when you’re training them, but they can help.  Can you incorporate some tasks into your lessons? At the elementary level, kids can learn to put returned books on the cart in shelf order.  Little things help. Or how about a parent volunteer committee? On the home front, perhaps you can hire someone so your weekend doesn’t also have cleaning or lawn care as part of it. Even once a month can make a big difference.

Challenge your assumptions – What would happen if you didn’t do one of your jobs? I used to be upset about having new books and racing to get them on the shelves. Instead, I let teachers and students see them.  If they wanted one, they could borrow it. I would make a note of it and process it when it was returned. It got material out faster and was a lure to be the first to take the book out.

As you start putting these suggestions into practice you may notice many require a change of thinking.  (See last week’s blog). These incremental changes will add up and hopefully lead to fewer times of overwhelm. Just knowing it’s possible can be a good start. But since there is no getting rid of it completely, just remember:

Breathe.

ON LIBRARIES: Managing Stress

The stress. It’s back. You knew it would happen, but maybe you were hoping it wouldn’t come back quite so quickly. At the beginning of the school year I blogged about this (Stressed Out) and I made mention of the distinction between being stressed and distressed. A recent article I read, and the fact we’re at the beginning of a different type of year, made me think it might be a good time to look at this challenge again.

Stress can simply be having a lot on your plate, but you know what to, how to do it, and in what order to do it. If you are like me, that kind of stress is exhilarating. It’s an adrenaline high. I’m getting things done with ease, moving from one task to another. I feel like a superhero. If it goes on too long that level of stress is exhausting, but it feels great at the time.

The problem is when you are distressed. As in the first instance, you have a lot on your plate but instead of feeling energized, you’re so overwhelmed you move from one task to the next never able to catch your breath. You don’t have time to think about the best order for tackling the jobs. You take them as they come up regardless of their actual priority. Exhaustion sets in quickly, but you still keep moving.

There is nothing good about distress. It keeps you from being your best, and from being a leader. It causes a negative mindset that spirals downward and drains the passion you have for being a librarian.

Making distress worse is that most of the people around you, who all too often include your students, are also in “distress.”  It seems the whole world is overworked, overtired, and overextended. In that state, people get angry quickly and say things they really don’t mean. Which leads to more stress/distress.

Your administrators are frequently in the same situation, which you can usually tell by how they are interacting with you and others in your school. ASCD, the national organization for supervisors, recognizes the importance of stress management and recently ran a column by Chase Mielke in their newsletter entitled The Five D’s of Destressing. Here they are, tweaked for school librarians.

  1. Distract from It – Good teachers and parents know when a kid is getting frustrated or angry, the best intervention is a distraction. You pull the child from focusing on the source of distress and onto something else. It’s an instant change of mindset. Adults need to distract as much as kids. If possible, go for a walk. Open junk mail. Check the shelves to see if any need to be made less tight. Even a short funny video that always makes you laugh can help. Anything that will move you from the source of your immediate stress.
  2. Deal with It – Why would this work? It’s what you were doing trying to do when you became so stressed. The idea here is to really focus. Take stock of the situation. Is it something that must be handled? Now? If so, what are your options? Depending on what the issue is, apply strategies to resolve and/or work with it.

Can it be an opportunity rather than a problem?  Being required to cover a class (or having an extra class come in because of a problem with their room) can turn into an opportunity to introduce them to a new resource or app. If you think, “How can I use this as a teachable moment?” you are likely to come up with a solution.

If a class went badly, and you are beating yourself up about it. Pause. It happens to the best of us. Take a moment to reflect as to what you might have done differently, and then put it out of your mind. It’s over. As Judith Viorst so wisely observed in Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, “Some days are like that.”

copyright Judith Viorst

  1. Dispute your Distortions We tend to think in negative extremes when we are stressed. “This was the worst…” “I never get this right.”   Recognize that these absolutes are false.

Mielke proposes you use Martin Seligman’s methods:

  • Review the evidence: Was it really a total disaster?
  • Question the usefulness: How is this getting me to a positive outcome?
  • Check the implications: How does this measure up in the larger scheme of things?
  • Consider the alternatives: What was at the root of the problem?
  1. Discuss It – Bring it to your PLN of librarians whether on a listserv or a Facebook group. They have all been there at one time or another. Get it off your chest where it’s creating a big lump. Journaling is another alternative for many. You might even discuss it with students, modeling how to deal with situations that cause stress.
  2. Develop Frontal Control – When you become highly stressed your brain identifies it as a danger. You go into flight or fight mode. Your limbic system takes over replacing the cerebral cortex. Cognitive thinking flees. The response is automatic. You can’t stop it from happening, but you can shut it down by recognizing it. Take those deep breaths. Review those first four recommendations, especially the distraction solution. Allow the thinking part of your brain to take back control.

The good news is that Mielke’s advice is great. The bad news is that it won’t always work, particularly if your distress has been building. Do your best to turn into your body and your mind right now and then do a little bit more tomorrow. Identify the warning signs so you can institute preventative measures before the situation gets too bad.