Lost Time is Never Found

It was three months before I realized: each week I was working four hours on the reference desk, but my assignment sheet said I was supposed to be scheduled to work three. One hour – that’s not a big deal, right? I wrestled with this discovery for days! Should I speak up? Was I being petty to point out the discrepancy? I finally emailed one of the librarians that crafted my assignment sheet – he spoke to the desk scheduler and the discrepancy was resolved, no big deal. Only three hours a week on the desk from here on out!

It was one hour! Out of forty. ONLY forty! Never in my past life as a non-librarian would I have worried about a single hour, but since I’ve begun the tenure-track life, I measure each minute by productivity achieved, or lack-thereof. I identified completely when Erin Miller, the other (also tenure-track) FYAL blogger wrote, “I have never had to be so concerned with the minute-by-minute flow of each workday,” in her first blog post.

Time management! This is nobody’s favorite phrase. I felt little-to-no pressure in my past life as library staff to achieve Great Things. I usually had a few projects going, but deadlines were of my choosing. I’ve long been amused by people that stress how busy-busy-busy they are – especially when I read articles like this. Busy-ness is just another social competition. But as a tenure-track librarian, I now find myself falling into that trap! I’m just TOO BUSY these days! Do you realize what I could do with that extra hour each week? Great Things! And as Benjamin Franklin said, “lost time is never found again.” This is especially true on the tenure-track.

Managing Yourself

When I started my new job, I was basically left to my own devices on the afternoon of my first day. I was suddenly in a brave new world where I had to figure out what I was supposed to be doing and set my own schedule. I hereby admit that lack of structure makes me uncomfortable! So I made two decisions off-the-bat: I would work 8:30 to 5 every day and I started a work diary. I’ve had a lot of jobs in my life. (I once tried to count them all – somewhere around 12 or 15. All but two were hourly). I know that the first days of a new job can go by in a blur. And my job wasn’t just new to me – it’s a brand new position at my library. I didn’t want to feel like I was running on a hamster wheel with nothing to show for it. I decided that a work diary would help me see where my time went and what I accomplished.

And it has helped! My “work diary” is really simple – I set up a notebook in Microsoft OneNote and use a page for each month. I fill out a row in a simple table for each day: what time I worked and my accomplishments. It’s only a sentence or two for each day, but I can tell you how much I worked and what I worked on for any day since August 1st. I even started including what I did on the weekends, since I’m one of those people that can hardly remember what I ate for breakfast, let alone what I did on Saturday.

There are Four Reasons to Keep a Work Diary as listed by the Harvard Business Review: focus, patience, planning, and personal growth. Writing down what I do each day keeps me accountable and on track (focus) and also shows me that I am making progress on a project even if it doesn’t feel like it (patience). I can see how much time something takes, and that helps me set realistic expectations for deadlines (planning). The article recommends writing 100 words a day about your feelings – I don’t write nearly that much – but if I am feeling especially emotional one day, good or bad, I include that and when I re-read what I wrote I can remember those feelings and think about how I can avoid frustration or find more “wins” in the future (personal growth).

I happen to use Microsoft OneNote because it was already on my work computer, but I also like the way it looks and is organized, and that it syncs across platforms. Evernote is also a good choice, or even a simple Microsoft Word document.

15-Minute Rule

Keeping a work diary also showed me how heavy my workload was. Seeing how much (or how little) I could accomplish every day quickly helped me discover that I needed to do as much as possible in my work time or I was going to end up either (1) working too much, or, (2) not getting enough done. I love this job but I have no desire to work over my forty hours each week because I also love having a life. Only a month or so in, I was already stressing about all the projects that I wasn’t making any progress on!

Enter the 15-minute rule. Juggling multiple projects often means making progress on one or two to the detriment of the others. I committed to working at least 15-minutes a day (on average) on each of my ongoing projects. And guess what? I now get stuff done!

When I got here, I told myself to take it easy and not sign up for everything that came my way. But, alas, I’m a compulsive overachiever and I stretched myself thin my first semester. I signed up for an online class through our Faculty Development Center on Universal Design for Learning and made zero progress on it the first two months. Funded by a grant, the facilitator sent out regular emails promising to enter course-finishers in monthly drawings for $100, but even regular promises of financial gain failed to spur me to action. Realizing I wasn’t getting anything done did. When I started scheduling 15-minute chunks to work on the class, I made progress and finished. And then I won that month’s drawing for $100. Personal satisfaction and monetary winnings: best week ever!

Schedule ALL the Hours

I used the 15-minute rule in conjunction with advice from academic Cal Newport, who runs the fantastic Study Hacks Blog. Newport recommends planning out every minute of your work week. I thought my schedule was packed when I first started here – so many meetings! And so many projects! Now, I spend a half-hour every Monday morning planning out my week. I have a recurring appointment with myself where I keep a list of all the tasks that need to be scheduled, and all the projects that I’m working on. Here’s what my schedule looks like now:

Weekly Schedule
My weekly schedule now. (ID means instructional design time!)

Okay, so I’m still working on not getting anxious just looking at my weekly schedules, but I’m constantly reminded to stay on track and to get work done. It also forces me to work on things I don’t want to – like doing collection development in GOBI. Scheduling time to work on it in little chunks has helped me make progress instead of waiting until the last minute to order, and now GOBI doesn’t seem so bad.

I also build myself in little buffers – like I’m not really going to spend an hour on email every day, but I’ll also use that time to catch up on my reading for professional development, or I’ll get started early on the next task. (Also, I’ve gotten really good at managing my email from attending one of librarian Anali Perry’s Inbox Zero presentations. HIGHLY recommend perusing her slide deck.)

Take a Walk

Finally, here’s a counter-intuitive tip: to better manage your time, take a walk. It’s been easy for me as new tenure-track faculty in a brand new position to feel overwhelmed, so whenever it gets too much, I go outside. Often by myself, sometimes with coworkers, and sometimes I grab coffee with coworkers. It helps me to step away from thinking so hard about what I need to do, and it also helps me to clear my mind and find inspiration.

Cal Newport talks about using this state of mind to manage your projects. He says to “forget your project ideas (until you can’t forget them).”

At first, in this position, I kept a list of projects I’d like to work on – then I’d look back at it and feel like I was already behind. But let’s be honest – I’m the only instructional designer at my library, and I only have so much time to dedicate just to design. Something like 8-12 hours a week in an average week. Not much! Now, I might sketch out an idea or two for a project on one of the scratch papers in my office, and then I forget about it. The things that really matter and I really want to accomplish never leave my mind. This tactic is especially coming in handy as I start to write my prospectus and need to clarify my research interests.

How about you? How do you stay sane and manage your time?

About Lindsay O'Neill

I'm a shiny new Instructional Design Librarian at California State University, Fullerton. I'm a bike commuter, triathlete and compulsive reader trying to figure out this whole tenure-track librarian thing. Tweet me: I'm @lindsayontherun.

11 thoughts on “Lost Time is Never Found

  1. Well, I set the status for everything (EDIT: non-meetings) on my calendar as “Free,” so that colleagues can still send meeting makers through Outlook. If I end up consulting with someone, or just chatting with a colleague, I’m likely to go back to my calendar and see what I missed. If it was something I need to do, I just rearrange. I also go for a lot of walks, which isn’t reflected in my calendar. I just stay flexible and use Outlook’s scheduling to make sure I make progress on my projects.

  2. Even though my calendar already looks pretty full I think your idea of scheduling EVERYTHING is a good one to try, especially since I have been falling behind ever since the holidays. Thanks for the tip!

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