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productivity

Horribly destructive habits start early

I’ve been striving to stop talking about how busy I am. It’s not easy:

“How did we end up living like this? Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we do this to our children? When did we forget that we are human beings, not human doings?

Whatever happened to a world in which kids get muddy, get dirty, get messy, and heavens, get bored? Do we have to love our children so much that we overschedule them, making them stressed and busy — just like us?”

From “The Disease of Being Busy” by Omid Safi.

Removing parts from the yak shaving machine

One of the goals I’ve been working on this year has been to gradually reduce the number of systems (read: networks, apps, channels, things-which-need-checking) in which I take an active role. Since my first foray into cobbling together tools like rss and bookmark managers circa 2006, I’ve long been fascinated by productivity-tech hacks. The result is that over the past decade I’ve built and habituated a number of workflows. I’m now beginning to think many of these are no longer necessary. I’m using technology less and less of late, preferring paper and pen to tools like Evernote or Dropbox. I don’t check feeds daily anymore and most of the time simply hit the “mark all as read” button in my rss reader.

With all that in mind, the latest two episodes of Back to Work have been a calming breath to my troubled mind which, despite my best efforts, still gets frequent bouts of fomo.

Task blocking to get things done

my week, january 25 2016

I have long been a proponent of the GTD method for managing my to-dos, but recently I’ve been finding that it does very little to help me stay on top of my constantly growing project list and shrinking free time.

problem #1: contexts

The use of “contexts” has always helped me to prioritize what I ought to work on first: do what you can, when you can, and only if you have the right tools and resources on hand. But in my current position, I am always in the right context. I can work on almost any task regardless of where I am using my tablet or smartphone since so much of what I do happens via email, on social media, in a text file, or using web-based design tools. Prioritizing by context is no longer effective.

problem #2: calendaring

I have always been religious about my calendar. I never put anything on it unless it is date and time specific. Unfortunately, this leaves my time wide open for commandeering since anyone at MPOW can view my calendar and request a meeting. Granted, one of my main responsibilities as an Outreach & Communications Librarian is to make connections with people and the best way to do that is face-to-face, but I still have other projects that need attention. Spending all day in meetings only to bring solitary work home every night is just begging for burnout.

solution: task blocks

So for the next few weeks I’m trying something new. On Sundays while I’m doing my weekly review, I plan to block out times on my calendar to focus on specific, prioritized projects. I’m setting aside time each day to focus solely on email (so that I don’t have to worry about it at other times of the day) and leaving up to 20% of each day unscheduled for things that may come up unexpectedly. I’m also adding a three weekly “productivity and creative” sessions:

  1. Discover & Imaging: a time to think creatively about a problem or project (usually over coffee).
  2. Research & Writing: a time to focus on whatever research project I’m working on at the time.
  3. Weekly Roundup: a time to review all my email, tasks, and notes from the past week, reflect on what I’ve learned, and begin prioritizing projects for the next week.

From another Outlook user’s perspective, it looks like my calendar is completely booked. On the one hand, I’m worried this will make my colleagues less likely to request a meeting. On the other hand, I know that if someone really wants to request a meeting, they will contact me before trying to do so, and in most cases, I will be the one setting up the meeting so it shouldn’t be a problem.

Ultimately, I am responsible for my time. I need to ensure that my projects get the attention they deserve.

An academic librarian through and through

The get-more-done, put-off-leisure mindset that is common to American work culture can easily be found in the library professional as well.

Hi, my name is John, and I’m a workaholic. 

I love what I do and get immeasurable fulfillment from my work as an academic librarian, but I also realize the need to step outside Libraryland to recharge.

Liz Danzico has good advice for people like me. From “Banking time“:

“While we’re taught the value of saving money, we’re never really taught the value of saving time. Not saving time so we are more efficient elsewhere, but actually banking time. Saving it for later.”

Danzico briefly offers five recommendations:

Max out your vacation days: I’ve already put in a request for a day off in Febrary “just because” and I’m planning a family road trip for the summer.

Keep 10-20% of your day, every day, free: This is more difficult. I have a rule that nothing goes on my calendar unless it must be accomplished at a specific time. Blocking off free time works against that philosophy, but I could do a better job of saying no to meetings that phone calls could easily replace.

Schedule make-up events on a monthly basis: If it’s an important event/meeting, I should do this. I may start making this part of my weekly review on Sundays.

Pay attention to recurring meetings: I have 24 hours of recurring  meetings each month. It’s hard to figure out what I could ignore. I could certainly reduce some of those down to 30 minutes, especially if I did a better job of planning what I want to accomplish ahead of time.

Promote your time of: Last year, I detailed my work week. I’m planning to do that again in my new position but I also want to do a librarian anti-day in the life during which I record everything I do during the week that isn’t work related. It’s not much, but it’s worth celebrating.

When it comes to my relationship with the profession, “work-life balance” is not an ideal to which I aspire. Instead, I try to focus on the creative benefits that time off, reflection, and distance can bring to my work. I also try to remind myself that stress in any portion of my life can negatively affect my productivity, my relationships with others, and my health. There are some portions of my life, mostly family related, that I keep separate from my work, but for the most part I am an academic librarian through and through.

The devil of productivity

I am starting to become comfortable with the fact that I cannot accomplish everything that needs to be done in the time that I expect it should be done (excepting those action items with deadlines). The devil of productivity has decided to take longer lunch breaks and given me a reprieve from his incessant tapping (“did you do that yet? did you do this yet?”). So I’m more in inclined to spend time chatting with colleagues and my student workers than before and I’d like to think I’m better for it… though I’m told I still come across as “antsy.”

You are what you do

Good thoughts from Gina Trapani (someone whose work I greatly admire). This year, let’s define ourselves by what we do instead of what we like or how we feel at any given moment.

“Your todo lists, and at higher levels, your project list and life list say more about you than the movie you saw last weekend… Think of your todo list as less of a list, and more of a map. It’s a map of where you are now that points you in the direction of where you want to be in the next few days or weeks. Your done list is the route you’ve taken in the past few days or weeks. Your projects list is the next few months or years, and so on. Dissatisfaction is the difference between where you are and where you want to be, and your lists are the map plotting the route ahead.”

Source: Smarterware