Saying No

photo of the word "no" spraypainted on a concrete pillar

cc-by Marc Falardeau on flickr

Your plate is full. You’re just keeping up. That’s precisely when a co-worker or boss comes to you with a new project, right? Let’s be honest: sometimes you just need to say no. How does one say no tactfully but firmly, without burning bridges or causing drama in the workplace?

What’s the Time Commitment?
This is the first question to ask. What, exactly, is being asked of you and how long will it take? If you could bang it out in a few minutes or an hour, maybe it’s do-able. If you’re signing up for months of committee meetings…maybe not. Before you say no, be clear on what is being asked of you and simply ask how long they expect it to take.

It’s fine to say no, but you may want to offer an alternative or a counter-offer. Here are some examples:

  • Yes, but I’ll have to give up something else…
  • Yes, but it will have to go to the bottom of my list…
  • Yes, but I can only do this portion of it…
  • Yes, but I will need overtime pay to do it…
  • Yes, but I will need a favor in return…
  • No, but I will find someone else to do it for you…

Know when to say yes!
Seize opportunities to grow, to learn, and to show off your skills! This very well might be an inconvenient time for you, but ask yourself what you get in return. You might really impress someone and have their attention for a raise or promotion in the future. You might really be interested in the project and know you have a lot to offer. You could see it as an opportunity to learn something new, and new skills are rarely a waste of time or effort.

Bosses: let your co-workers say no!
Be reasonable with workloads. Part-time staff, in particular, are often stretched incredibly thin. All of these tips apply to you. Be clear on the time commitment you are requesting, and be willing to schedule flexibly to make it possible. Pay for extra time on the clock to accomplish the task. Offer a reasonable compromise or let your co-worker counter-offer. And lastly, do push for a yes when you know it is a great opportunity for the person you asked, but be as flexible as possible. Be willing to take on something extra yourself in order for your co-worker to be able to seize an opportunity.

Email is a hungry monster

photo credit: Biscarotte via photopin cc

photo credit: Biscarotte via photopin cc

Email can gobble up loads of time (if you let it). Prior to my departure from my previous job, the library director asked me to create a list of key duties and associated time estimates so that he could get a handle on how to best fill my position. I went to work listing out various tasks and time estimates but found that I was coming up short. I racked my brain and then realized I hadn’t jotted down email and the time I spent with it.

Email and online communication turned out to consume a significant chunk of time each week. This was an alarming realization to me. If I was spending major parts of my day reading, writing and managing email, that meant I was spending too much time parked in front of a screen rather than getting out and interacting with people (both public and staff).

Can you relate to this factoid? “According to a 2012 study from McKinsey Global Institute, the average worker in the knowledge economy spends 28 percent of his or her time reading and answering e-mail. Doing the math, that comes to 11.2 hours per week, if one assumes a 40-hour workweek.” (See this article for more details.)

Once you realize how much time you sacrifice to the email monster, you can make changes to save your workday.

– Rather than staying glued to your monitor throughout the day, schedule times during the day that you’ll be at the computer. Use non-computer times to get out of your office, get around the library, do work with the collection, talk with patrons and interact with staff.

– If you need to respond to an email that really warrants a discussion with someone, pick up the phone or walk to his or her desk. Just because you receive an email doesn’t mean you have to respond with an email. Voice conversations may be the more efficient response.

– If you can’t pry yourself from the computer, try this one. Hold office hours in public spaces. Take your computer, sit at a public table and get to work. Tell people where they can find you and encourage them to stop by. Talk to people around you. See what it’s like on the public side of your library.

– Find periods of time that you disconnect from email entirely. Don’t check email on your computer or phone. Use the time to clear your head and do something productive. If you’re concerned people won’t be able to reach you, make them aware of your email vacation in advance.

– Take a look at the Email Charter.  It contains some superb suggestions to make our email lives more sane.

Email can be a useful tool for communication. You can accomplish a lot with it. It can also be a constant distraction. Don’t let it become your job. Keep your goals and duties in perspective. Make sure the time you’re dedicating to tasks is an accurate reflection of who you want to be and what you want to accomplish.


Vacation vs. Email – The Final Battle


photo credit: Stéfan via photopin cc

The fear starts right around the middle of your vacation.  It starts with voice inside your head stating with immense trepidation, “You are going to have so many emails when you get back to work.”  Then you start checking the number of emails on your phone even though you promised your family you would not even think about the library.  When the number starts to grow you secretly find ways to answer the ones that only require one word answers like “Yes,” “No,” and “Custard.” Eventually you start to wake up early just to tackle some correspondence even though you should be sleeping in.  In the end, when panic fully sets in, you simply take your iPad to the beach.  Email has defeated you again while on vacation.

This year I vowed to not let email defeat my vacation again.  My plan involved doing a few things before, during and after my time off.

  • In the days leading up to vacation, I worked diligently on the emails residing in my Inbox.  I replied, filed and deleted until I was left with a very manageable number.   Don’t try and do it all in two or three days.  Start a week or more before you leave ands only work on emails for no more than an hour at a time.
  • While on vacation, use travel time to answer emails.  I find that the times riding in a car or sitting in airports are wonderful for quick replies.  It is in your best interest to never respond to an email that requires an involved or more sensitive response.  I’ve regretted quickly replying to emails that actually required a more extensive answer., save those for when you return to the office. Another great tactic is to simply delete all the junk mail or group messages that do not apply to you because you are off from work.  Be very selective when using downtime to check emails during vacation.  Remember this time off is essentially for recharging the battery!
  • When you return to work make it a goal to only reply to emails for one hour chunks, two to three times a day.  This will give you time to attend to other non-email type work piled on your desk as well as opportunities to check in with your staff and team.

During vacation last week when the fear started to invade my brain, I was able to fight it back with the knowledge that I had a plan.  This in turn allowed me to have a great time with my family.  When I returned to work one colleague even remarked, “You must of had fun because I noticed you were not on email as much.”  Take that email.  I beat you.


I Don’t Have Time

clock2I’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!)

Do It Now


Do It NowI have a tendency to procrastinate. Well, let me think about that and I’ll tell you tomorrow if I have a tendency to procrastinate….You get the idea. Whether it is a project that is overwhelming, a phone call or email that I don’t want to make or some other onerous task that I simply don’t want to deal with it is easy for me to find a lot of other things to do in its place. Occasionally procrastinating pays off, but usually it is just an energy drain. My brain keeps thinking about the task I am avoiding and when I finally get around to doing the task I find that it was not as bad as I imagined.

I’m a list maker. I’ve been known to put things on my to-do list after I’ve done them just so I can check them off. But again, that’s a waste of time. Some of the to-do items take longer to list than they do to do them.

Last year I got frustrated with this endless cycle and decided to make a sign for my desk that says DO IT NOW! As you can see from the photo, I resisted the urge to make this complicated and and perfect by creating a fancy sign in Publisher or by laminating it or using cute stickers. I grabbed a piece of note paper on my desk and a black marker and followed my own advice. DO IT NOW!

The sign reminds me when I see an email or think of something to do, to just DO IT NOW when it makes sense to do so. Time management principles aside, often the moment to act is NOW. Works for me.