ON LIBRARIES: Time Management – Truth and Lies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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ON LIBRARIES: Making the Most Of Your Time

Just about all of us could use a few more hours in the day or days in the week. Unless you develop strategies that support you, you’ll end almost every day and week exhausted. If you don’t do something about it, you will eventually burn out. Much of our exhaustion comes from doing tasks without having them connect with the bigger picture.  When you have a Mission and a Vision for your library program you can better see the ultimate purpose of even small tasks and quickly notice if you are furthering your Mission or being pulled away from it.

To-do lists in whatever format you like are a classic way to manage time, but just noting down tasks is not enough and can be overwhelming to look at. And if it’s overwhelming, you’re likely not to look and end up missing something. Consider putting a star by high-priority tasks, then look at your schedule and decide when during your day the priorities can be done.

You can also identify tasks by how long they are likely to take. Don’t start lengthy tasks if you only have a few minutes. You’ll likely end up having to repeat much of what you have already done. Instead, it can be helpful to keep a list of essential tasks broken down by time. This way, if you have fifteen minutes between classes, look at the list of things that require that time or less. This is not the time to start creating a LibGuide.

Most time management experts suggest scheduling non-urgent tasks for near the end of the day.  These are the tasks which, if you dig into them too early, are likely to take you away from important jobs. Checking email or social media falls into this category.

We all know that part of our challenge is the time that gets “wasted.” It’s important to note that there’s a difference between procrastinating and doing what is helpful to switch gears. The brain requires a pause before shifting from one activity to another. It’s one thing if I play another game (or ten) of Klondike rather than move on to my next task. It’s different when after I finish writing my blog, which is a creative task, I insert something before I work on my lectures for a new course. I can switch more easily to checking on my students’ posts on the online course’s Discussion Board where I am responding rather than initiating.  Once I have done that, my brain is ready to move onto writing my lectures.

No surprise, I found a great article from the business world which is always looking for ways to maximize available time.  Naphtali Hoff offers A List of Suggestions to Become More Productive and all thirteen, in a random order, begin with the letter “S.”

  1. Stop – Before plunging into the next task, Hoff says to reflect on what you want to achieve. As I would say, “What will best further my Mission?” Remember to couple this with the amount of time you honestly have available.
  2. Set Goals – As Yogi Berra said, “If you don’t know where you are going, you will wind up someplace else.” Goals, especially ones based on your Mission, remind you of what you want to achieve.
  3. Segment and Celebrate – Small, short term goals are best. Each time you accomplish one, it gives you a boost to the next one. Break down large jobs into small, attainable goals.  Give yourself small rewards when you reach a goal. Knowing your reward in advance can be a fun motivator.
  4. Simplify – What can be done to make the task less complex? Creating short term goals are part of this.
  5. (Get) Serious – Let someone know about your goal. We are more likely to hold ourselves accountable if we have a partner who is aware of what we did or didn’t do. Find someone you can check in with. (Our Facebook group could be a good place for this)
  6. Schedule, Schedule, Schedule – Hoff is not a fan of to-do lists, but he recommends blocking out time for tasks. Time blocking allowed you to look at your schedule and match it appropriately with your goals and to-dos.
  7. Strategize – This is related to #6. What is the best time for each task? And what is the best time for you? If you’re most alert in the mornings, then schedule your priorities then. This will also help you feel accomplished for the rest of the day – always a good motivator.
  8. Snooze (Your Devices) – Hoff wants you to set a time to focus on email, which also means not checking it while you are in the middle of another job that requires your full attention.
  9. Smile – It creates a positive atmosphere, not only with others but also affects your posture and demeanor. We feel better about what we have to do when we’re feeling good overall.
  10. Stretch – As a walker, I know the benefits of stepping away from the computer and doing something physical. It doesn’t need to be long, but it needs doing.  Supposedly the American Heart Association has said that sitting is the new cigarette smoking.
  11. Snack – Eat something healthy like fruit, vegetable sticks, or a small yogurt. It will power you back up.  Do not indulge in junk food or sugars that could lead to an energy crash.
  12. Sleep – Trying to get more done by cutting down on sleep doesn’t work. Your brain fogs and you become less productive.  And you make errors. Turn off the devices, grab your newest favorite read and snuggle in earlier.
  13. Self-care – Hoff and I are in complete agreement, as are other experts. Not taking care of yourself, which includes the above mentioned not getting enough sleep, is debilitating.  You stop giving your best.  Your job is not your first priority (or it shouldn’t be).  Stop behaving as though it is.

There are many ways to get the most out of the time you have. Honoring what works for you, noticing when you’re avoiding something, and allowing your Mission to support and guide your actions will help. And remember, some days none of this works.  Life happens.  Accept it.  Tomorrow is another day.

ON LIBRARIES: A Matter of Time

white rabbitWith the start of the school year, the demands on your time just increased exponentially. By the end of the first week some of you feel you are already a month behind. To prevent yourself from spending the year in a constant state of overwhelm, you need to develop time management techniques that work for you, allowing you to get your work done and still be able to be with family and friends.  In other words, have a life outside of school.

Leaders know how to manage their time. They have to.  Last October I blogged about the stories we tell ourselves as to why we can’t be leaders. The first one was you didn’t have time.  As you take on more tasks and responsibilities, you can quickly find yourself buried in tasks.  Even with good time management, you can get swamped.  You just need to know how to minimize those times when you are in work and some techniques for getting your life back in order.

You almost undoubtedly have days when you feel you will never get done.  Mostly, it’s a matter of finding out what organizational techniques work best for you.  Then you must become sufficiently disciplined to use them.

No one has more than twenty-four hours in a day.  Realistically you need time to sleep, eat, and be with family and friends.  That leaves a limited number of hours to get everything done.  Yet if you look around, you will see that some people do it very well and others are constantly floundering. time management

The truth that you know, but hate to face, is you are probably wasting a great deal of time. It’s getting easier and easier to do so with lures such as Candy Crush or other Facebook games, checking email, or looking at posts on your social media of choice. Procrastination has always been with us, and it seems we have more ways to avoid what we don’t feel like doing.

Take an honest inventory of your habits.  Make of list of how you spend (squander?) time.  What tasks do you avoid doing for as long as possible? This is not meant for you to blame yourself for these habits.  Even the most organized people need downtime. You can’t shift from one task to a dissimilar one without a brief break of some type.  The brain doesn’t work that way.  The difficulty is not to turn that brief break into an extended waste of time.

Make another list of your daily routines and your “regular” ones.  Which ones require a deep focus and which are “no-brainers?”  It is important to be recognize that all tasks are not equal in how much concentration they need. You should know what time of day you are best suited for the ones that involve the most attention, so that to the extent possible you can deal with them at the optimum time for you.

daily plannerThink about how you spend your average work week. I sometimes characterize many librarians as living with a fire extinguisher and duct tape as their prime tools.  They are spending much of their time putting out fires or patching up problems.  That’s draining.  For the most part it is caused by not having a Mission and Vision (which I hope you have since I have blogged about it previously), and setting goals for attaining desired objectives.  As the great philosopher, Yogi Berra, is reputed to have said, “If you don’t know where you are going, you will wind up someplace else.”

Stay focused and be productive by finding a way to have a to-do list that works for you.  Some highly obsessive, motivated people can have one for the day with a list of all tasks prioritized.  They consider completing it a mark of their success.

The nature of your job makes it unlikely that you can do that.  Your day can be very unpredictable.  Consider a weekly to-do list.  I have one that is for two or three days.  I have a column on the right where I list the different categories of my tasks.  For you it could be “back room” for tasks such as cataloging, ordering books, etc, “administration” for doing reports, and “teaching” for getting materials for a class.  You would be the one to best set the categories.

I put stars next to my high priority tasks.  Another way to do it is to identify tasks by whether they take concentrated time or can be done whenever you have a few free minutes.  Writing a report is one that takes focused time.  If you stop in the middle, you need to review what you did before continuing. Checking email can be done between complex tasks.

Some of you will find it most efficient to keep your to-do list on your phone or tablet. Others prefer a traditional pencil and paper to have it in view all the time.  This is not one-size-fits-all. How you organize your available time is personal and must fit your personality, work style, and your situation.  Keep experimenting until you find the one that works best for you.

For those of you who routinely stay late, it’s time to pack it up.  Allow yourself only one or two late days.  You have a life waiting at home.  You will never finish everything. Tasks keep coming. My mantra is, “If it’s important, it will get done.  It always does.”

What’s your best time management tip?