I had my annual review and goals chat with my supervisor earlier this week. Like probably every other year, the topic of time management came up. It’s not that I’m particularly bad at managing my time, but more that our working environment is one that requires we be pretty adept at juggling multiple projects at the same time. As I spend more of my time as an embedded librarian, time management also becomes more important. And more difficult.
I’ve written about the topic in previous posts (one example, Don’t Forget to Change Your Clock), generally pointing out resources and a mindset to help an individual become better at the skill. This year, however, as Rebecca and I were talking about time management, I said, “You know, time management is really a team sport.” What I mean by this is that the saying, “Your time is not your own” has a lot of merit when you work on teams, committees, collaborative projects, and anything (everything) that involves other people and their time. One of the biggest challenges that I think we face when we list “improve time management skills” as a personal goal is that it doesn’t take into account this fact. And interestingly, neither do all of the gurus out there in the business world who write popular books claiming, “If you only do this, you’ll succeed.”
I did a quick search at Amazon to find some of the best sellers in the category and noticed a common characteristic of the authors that I think may explain why they can espouse this… every single one of them works for him or herself:
- David Allen, Getting Things Done, productivity consultant
- Tim Ferris, 4-Hour Work Week, author, entrepreneur, angel investor, and public speaker
- Laura Vanderkam, 168 Hours: You Have More Time than You Think, author and freelance journalist
- Julie Morgenstern (no relation to Rhoda’s sister), Time Management from Inside Out, runs her own eponymous enterprise
- Steve Chandler, Time Warrior, coach and “ultimate personal transformation guide”
- Brian Tracy, Eat That Frog, motivational speaker and author
Now please don’t hear me saying that you can’t learn a thing or two or twelve from these authors’ work, or that self-employment frees you from having to manage your time within the context and/or limitations of others. I know plenty of people who work for themselves and I know very well how they have to work to deadlines or deal with customers’ schedules. Of course they do. No one is an island, so John Donne said so long ago. We all live and work with others and their priorities and their calendars. Still, I do believe that the more that your work involves answering to yourself first, the more control you have over your time. For most of us who work in departments and institutions and businesses, we strive to perfect the dance between our own and everyone else’s priorities and expectations and schedules. And that makes time management a team sport – a team goal.
When we were writing the grant proposal that ultimately led me to my first informationist role, the team worked out a detailed timetable for when the different aims would be worked on and deliverables delivered. I remember one of the PIs asking me specifically, “Do you think that you can do all of this in 18 months?” Looking at the work on paper I replied, “Sure,” but just like any fantasy baseball team, everything looks better on paper. My schedule on paper didn’t also include the rest of the team’s schedule. It didn’t include the Library’s schedule. It didn’t include the schedules of the other projects that would come along during those 18 months and the people and their schedules that came with them. And thus, at the end of 19 months now, everything isn’t finished. This isn’t a whine or a complaint or a “whoa is me, I’m overwhelmed” moment. This is simply reality; the reality of how we work.
It’s easy to think you’ve failed at something or that you lack skills or discipline when this happens, but that seems pretty shortsighted and not terribly fair. Can we all improve, as individuals, in time management? Probably so, but let’s also be a bit kind to ourselves and others if/when we drop one of the balls during our juggling acts. And as we enter into March Madness, don’t forget what the coaches always say: There is no I in TEAM. Corny, but true.