Tag Archives: time management

Turning the Research Lens on Ourselves

I’m working on a research project again this year exploring the scholarly habits of undergraduate students at my university. One of the methods we’re using to collect data is a mapping diary. We ask students to record all of their movements through the course of one typical school day–time, location and activity–and draw a map to accompany their time logs. Last year’s responses from students at my own campus were fascinating, and I’m looking forward to interviewing this semester’s students when they finish their logs.

Many of last year’s participants told me that they really enjoyed the opportunity to reflect on what they do and where they go all day. Now that the semester is firmly underway and things are busy as usual, I wonder whether it might be a good idea to do some research on myself. I’ve often wanted to join the Library Day in the Life project in the past, but it always seems to be scheduled for days that I’m either out on vacation or before the semester has begun (that is, not really a typical day for me). Maybe it’s time for me to pick a day (or week, or month) to record my activities?

It’s all too easy to fall into the trap of thinking that there’s not enough time for everything I want to do. Of course that’s true on one level, because no one can do everything, but I also think that we may be less busy than we realize. A post on Prof Hacker over the summer popped into my mind when I was considering this, a review of a book called 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think (168 is the number of hours in a week). The review isn’t completely positive, but does highlight the use of time logging to inject a dose of reality into how we perceive that we spend our time.

Judging from my interviews with students last year, this kind of reflection can help with both time management and task prioritization. Though it sounds like more work to add a time log to my to-do list here in the thick of the semester, I think it’s worth a try. And maybe the next time the Library Day in the Life date rolls around I’ll be ready to participate, too.

Damming the Information Streams

It’s incredible how fast the library gets busy again once the semester starts. This week started out quiet as I caught up on email after returning from vacation, but by the end I was spending my days attending several meetings and in the thick of scheduling classes. I generally prefer to be busier than not, so I’ve been happy for the increase in activity in the library and on campus.

But as my workdays fill up I’ve begun to worry that my strategies for keeping up with library and higher education news and scholarship are wearing thin. It’s so much easier during the summer. Not only is there more time to breathe at work – fewer meetings and classes, quieter reference desk – but there’s also less to read. The publication pace of everything seems to slow down, especially online information sources. My summertime RSS feeds are well-mannered and easy to control, my email inbox usually hovers near zero.

Now that the new academic year has started, there’s much more to read and browse. Items linger in my feed reader for days at a time and emailed table of contents alerts from library databases pile up. On my desk there’s a stack of articles I’d planned to read over the summer, and several books I requested from other libraries at my university have come in all at once. This week I realized that I’m suddenly swamped by my information streams.

Clearly this calls for a new strategy. This week I re-read Sarah Houghton-Jan’s excellent article on information overload published in Ariadne last year, which offers loads of good advice for keeping up and staying sane. Encouraged by her suggestions, I headed to my RSS reader and weeded feeds mercilessly. I also reorganized them by priority into several folders—critical, desirable, and optional—which I hope will make it easier for me to ignore less important items until there’s time to read them.

I also plan to cull many of my table of contents alerts, as I’ve found them to be something of a double-edged sword. It’s important to me to keep up with what’s new in the library literature, but ultimately I’ve printed more articles than I’ve had time to read (which accounts for the pile on my desk). So I’m going to cancel several of my alerts and let myself off the hook with the journals that remain. If an article catches my eye, I’ll try to take the time to scan through it before adding it to my To Read folder. I’m hopeful that this will help shrink my current stack of articles, and maybe facilitate more thorough reading of the articles I do print out.

Finally, I’m going to try and build intentional time for reading into my schedule. For many of us this time is built into the daily commute. That won’t work for me, but I still think I can carve some time out of my daily schedule to devote to reading. Once I’ve made all of these changes I’m not sure if I’ll end up reading more than I do now, or less. But if these strategies help me read more thoughtfully and feel less buried, then that’s a worthwhile trade.

Finding Topics & Time for Scholarship

Laura’s recent post about faculty book projects has me thinking about writing. Even though I’ve been at my job for over a year, I still feel lucky to have landed a tenure track position at an academic library that I truly enjoy. During my hiatus from the academic world between my time as an archaeologist and when I started library school, I hadn’t realized how much I missed research, and even writing. So I’m pleased to have a job in which research and writing are required.

Of course, it’s one thing to be happy that scholarship is expected of me, and another to actually do the research and writing. When I first started at my job my biggest stumbling block was about the What. What topics could I write about? What could be a subject for a research project, big or small? What ideas were better suited to more informal writing?

Many librarians write about aspects of their jobs: projects and programming they’ve worked on, issues or problems they’ve addressed. So looking to my job responsibilities seemed like a good place to start. At various points over the past year I’ve made a list of everything I’ve worked on at my job and used the list to pick out possible writing topics. As an extra bonus, the lists came in handy when it was time for me to fill out my annual self-assessment a few months ago.

I also keep another list, one I call “research thoughts.” This one’s for ideas that come up as a result of something I’ve read, heard, or seen in the blogosphere, journal articles, conference presentations, email lists, podcasts, and casual conversation. Sometimes they’re directly related to my job, and sometimes they’re not — these ideas are usually not much more than half- (or even quarter-) baked. I check in with this list every so often, and it can provide a much-needed jolt of inspiration during a dry spell. In fact, my current research project started out as an entry on this list after attending a particularly interesting presentation at a conference two years ago.

The other big factor affecting my scholarly goals has to do with the When. When do I research and write? How can I make the time? As a junior faculty member I’m very lucky to have reassigned time during the early years of my tenure track, as do junior faculty in other departments at my college. So I do have some time specifically set aside for scholarship, which has been an enormous help in getting research and writing done this year.

Over this year I’ve found that, for me, frequency counts: I need to write often to be able to write often. This is certainly not unique — many librarians, academics, and writers offer this advice. But it’s a realization I’ve come to slowly as I’m unsure where to fit near-daily writing into the rest of my life. Some days I can grab time in the mornings (I am definitely a morning person), but some days I can’t. Figuring out how to make space for frequent writing is a major goal of mine for the near future.

If you’re a librarian-researcher and -writer, what are some of your best sources of inspiration? And how do you find time for scholarship?

I now know why people say, “Where did the semester go?”

Are you serious? Is it over already? When did November sneak by? What about all the projects I wanted to finish before break?

As a student watching my librarian friends go through their days, I always thought “I’m too busy” was an exaggeration. A flimsy excuse, if you will, for not taking on some particular project. Maybe even a sign of weakness…?

My view on that one sure has changed. Somewhere in the past several months I got caught up in the library whirlwind and many of the things I had imagined I would have done by now are still sitting in their various locations — on my desk, in my files, in my email — unfinished. I am still in the state of new librarian enthusiasm that leads me to say “yes” to practically everything, but as I look back over the semester I am beginning to think that I may need to experiment with the alternative.

I am young, I am ambitious, I am enthusiastic, and boy am I tired! My new year’s resolution is to bone up on my time management skills. I hereby acknowledge that I cannot do everything I want to do in the time I am given. I will continue to take on the projects for which I am most enthusiastic, but every so often I will have to seriously consider whether I have time to do the others. I accept that I will need to say “no” sometimes.

And perhaps I may even need to try out the line, “Sorry, I’m just too busy.”