I’m a firm believer that people make time for the things they find most important (emphasis on they). That’s why the phrase “I don’t have time” irks me, especially at work. If it is your job, and clearly stated in your job description that it is your responsibility, you don’t get to say you “don’t have time” to get it done. Yes, people are busy. Yes, they have a lot of demands on their time. Yes, some workplaces have unreasonable expectations of what is possible. No, you still don’t get to say “I don’t have time.”
Harsh? Maybe. The reality is that time management is difficult for many, many people. Wonderfully creative, productive people, in fact. I’m here to offer some tips on how to get stuff done – and prioritize what’s really important.
First, I grade everything on a scale of “have to,” “should do,” and “want to.” Things get done in the order of their grade – have to being first priority and want to being last.
Stated, written priorities come first. Does your library have written goals and objectives, either for the institution as a whole and/or for your position? Those are have-to’s. If your library does not have stated priorities, consider asking your supervisor for some. If you are the supervisor, consider giving them to your employees so they are clear about the institution’s priorities and can adjust their own accordingly.
Other have-to projects are anything that other people rely on you for. For example, they don’t get paid until you do payroll. You really have to do payroll! Or, maybe you have one action item in a chain of action items and the next person can’t start on theirs until you finish yours. You have to do your part to keep the ball rolling. Often, committee work falls in this category.
Next are the “should do’s.” I should read Library Journal before placing my book order so that I am up to date on reviews and upcoming publications. I’m still getting that order placed (because that’s a “have to”), and I’ll have new things coming into the library for patrons, but I should make sure that I’m offering the most up-to-date books possible, not books that are already months old. I should write up that post for Library Lost and Found that I’ve been noodling over in my head because I’ve agreed to contribute. I’m not the only contributor, so it will go on without me, but I should hold up my end of the bargain. Am I going to get payroll done first? Yup.
Finally, there are “want to” projects. Everyone should dream big and innovate. In my position, that is a luxury. “Want to” projects become should do’s and have to’s when patrons ask for them, or when the stated priorities of the institution turn in those directions. For example, I have wanted to move the newspaper back issues in my library to a different location. For four years, it sort of nagged at the back of my mind, but other things took precedence. This year, it became a library goal to create a new collection, and those newspaper shelves were the perfect spot. Now I have to get those newspapers moved because it’s a written priority. The new collection can’t get started until the newspapers get moved. This is happening.
Other tips for time management:
1. Schedule specific time for specific activities. Maybe from 2-3 on Wednesdays is your collection development time. Set aside that time every day or week for that particular thing.
2. Use Twitter, blogs, listservs, and other social media as rewards. It is really easy to get distracted when there are interesting things happening in real time. When you finish your work, log on to Twitter for 15 minutes to see what’s going on. Schedule 15 minutes for Twitter time, then get to your next project.
3. Use Twitter, blogs, listservs, and other social media as vehicles for efficiency. Certain projects lend themselves well to crowd sourcing. Ask who has done your project before and get tips. Don’t reinvent the wheel. (But also don’t get distracted by irrelevant threads while you’re at it…)
4. Just do it. Don’t set things in a pile to get to them later. Just do them. Do them while they are fresh in your mind – especially if they are quick to finish. Take the five minutes to do something simple so it is finished and off your plate.
5. If you do have to set things aside (because you can’t do everything at once!), put very clear notes on them. Sticky notes are wonderful! If you have a conversation with someone, attach notes to the document so you remember later what you talked about.
6. Delegate. Librarians are resourceful people, and we are surrounded by resources. Get volunteer help, student help, Page help, or bribe your own children for help. (You want new sneakers? I want a display created. Win-win.)
(Ok – this Library Lost and Found post is done, so I get 15 minutes of Twitter time! See you online!)