Tag Archives: time management

Time Management is a Team Sport

7 Mar
March Madness!

March Madness means Clock Management

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.

Don’t Forget to Change Your Clock

5 Nov

It seems appropriate that I spent part of Saturday, the day that we set our clocks back an hour and returned to standard time (goodbye, sun! <sniff>), at the Worcester Public Library, picking out some books on time management. I think it’s a pretty lame idea, time management, and most writing on it is shallow and trite, however I did come across one that resonated with me. Laura Vanderkam’s, 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think, is, so far, terrific. What I like about it is Vanderkam’s premise that we have a tendency to think we’re a lot busier than we really are. If you know me or have read some of my other blog posts (both here and on my home blog), you’re aware of the fact that I find the “I’m so busy” and “I’m too busy” and “I just have SO MUCH to do” laments of this day and age overused.

The badge of honor busy-ness is worn out on me, mostly because I just can’t believe that I’m the only person in the world who, most of the time, isn’t busy. At least I don’t feel that way. Busy, that is. I have a full life and enjoy pretty much all of it. Like most folks, I have places to be and things to do and deadlines to meet (sometime several at one time), but I rarely say that I’m “busy”. Granted, that’s a conscious act. I stopped using the word awhile back when it was used, one time too many, by a friend as an excuse not to have lunch. I thought to myself, “Why don’t people just come right out and say that they have something else that they’d rather do?”

Thus, I was overjoyed when I found a like-minded spirit within the first few pages of 168 Hours. Just as I suggest to individuals trying to lose weight and become more active to keep a diet and exercise journal, Vanderkam suggests tracking your time to really see where and how you’re spending it. I’m a BIG fan of tracking. It’s proven the most effective way to lose weight (and maintain weight loss) that we have. Diet recall isn’t all that great. The same holds true for time. What we think we ate and how we think we spent our time are often vastly different than the truth. Tracking helps us see the real picture.

As Vanderkam points out, we have 168 hours each week. That’s a lot of hours to fill. Am I really using them all? I started tracking today, so I’ll let you know what I find out in just a couple of weeks. If you want to join me, you can download free pdfs of Vanderkam’s time-keeping spreadsheets by signing up for her newsletter, and you can find her book at your local library or bookstore.

The other book that I borrowed is called Building & Running a Successful Research Business, by Mary Ellen Bates. Bates is well known in the world of business research and has written extensively on how to become an independent information professional. A lot of this particular book’s content falls outside of my current role as an informationist, but I checked it out so that I could look more closely at the chapters Are You a Potential Independent Info Pro?, Work and the Rest of Your Life (time management, again), and the sections on deliverables and entrepreneurship, in general. These topics  are very much relevant to the work I’m doing and I felt I could learn a tip or two from reading them.

You might have guessed by now that managing my time and tasks as an informationist is the biggest struggle I’ve faced so far. The rest of my job did not go away when I became a part of the research team. I’ve been able to pass off a few things, but mostly I feel like the 10 hours each week that I’m to give to the research study are just 10 more hours added on to my work week. [Note: My decision to track my time is the first step in figuring out (a) if this is a valid feeling, and (b) where my priorities really lie, as depicted by how I spend my time.]

In Bates’ book, I came across a page with a box titled, “What About the Home Front?” (p. 46) Though she’s directing her thoughts here towards independent professionals striking out on their own, I couldn’t help but see the ties between the literal “home front” and the “home front” that is one’s library. As more and more librarians move out of the library, becoming embedded in different projects and centers, many of the questions Bates suggests that the independent professional ask are the same as those that library directors and informationists need to ask themselves as they move in this direction. Replace “spouse or partner” with “administration and colleagues,” “household chores” with “daily responsibilities,” and you’ll see what I mean:

  • Is my spouse or partner fully supportive of this venture?
  • Does my spouse or partner respect the time I spend on my business? Does he or she understand that I have regular hours that I work?
  • What household chores can we outsource?

Additionally, I need to heed Bates’ call and make an assessment of my own abilities to set boundaries for myself, stick to them, set the expectation that others stick to them, and learn how to deal with distractions (see another book that I checked out, 18 Minutes by Peter Bregman, for thoughts on this).

This week (Wednesday and Thursday), we are welcoming the other recipients of the NIH informationist grants for two days of learning and sharing. On Wednesday, we’ll host a day-long professional development program for the region, focusing on the role of libraries and librarians in the research process, Embedded with the Scientist. Thursday, the informationists will gather for a morning of discussion, asking questions, and planning ways that we can support one another, as a cohort, in the future. The answers to the questions from the “home front” are ones I hope to hear from my colleagues. I wonder if they’re facing the same issues as I am, the same difficulties in trying to juggle tasks, and set and maintain boundaries. I wonder if their colleagues in their libraries are supportive of what they’re doing. I wonder if they have some helpful hints that I can take away and put to good use in my work.

I really look forward to finding out – and I’ll report back on the meeting at the end of the week.