Better Work Habits Through… Animal Crossing: New Horizons

Remember March 2020? We didn’t really know what to expect from the next weeks or months, and sought comfort where we could find it… some baked bread, some finally learned to play guitar… I’m one of the ones who chose Animal Crossing: New Horizons. I’ve played almost every day since its release on March 20, 2020, and my island is still my happy place. The other day, I realized that it has taught me some good habits I can apply to my work, so I wanted to share these insights. Don’t worry… if you don’t play, it’s still good advice.

Welcome to Xanadu 1 (My husband named it before we knew we had to share an island, don’t judge me)

Keep Your Tools on You, and in Good Shape

A lot of what you do on your island requires tools (bug net, shovel, fishing rod, etc.) and you never know what opportunities you’ll run across while walking around, so you should always keep your tools in your pockets, so you’re prepared for anything. Also, your tools will break after a certain number of uses, but you can reset that clock by customizing them, so if you keep on top of that “maintenance,” you can vastly prolong the life of your tools, and have to buy or craft new ones less often.

This advice overlaps with the number one lesson I’ve learned from years of watching Food Network: mise en place. Set up your physical AND mental workspace with all the tools you use frequently close at hand and ready to be used. Sharp pencils, fresh notebooks, a fat stack of Post-Its… and for your mental workspace, dust out the cobwebs with a brain teaser, or write down the to-do list swirling around in your head. Whatever you need to get the job done, have it ready to go.

Hard work pays off… my first lily of the valley appears!

Ten or Fifteen Minutes a Day Is Enough to Keep Things Tidy

Most days, I just do a single pass around my island to pick up fallen branches, dig up new fossils, pull any new weeds, and check on things in general. This takes about ten minutes (unless it rained the day before and there are a ton of rogue flowers springing up everywhere). It’s enough to keep the island tidy and earn me rewards, like the particular flower that only grows if your island is in really good shape. I don’t have to rearrange houses or build a new waterfall every day.

I also spend ten or fifteen minutes every workday morning just tidying up… my calendar, my to-do list, my email inbox, my desktop (both physical and virtual). Dedicating that time every morning keeps things tidy enough to make room for the actual work to happen. I wouldn’t start construction on my island without pulling weeds and transplanting flowers that are in the way; I don’t start work projects until my schedule and email inbox are under control.

Greta gives the best advice

Skipping a Day is Okay; Skipping a Lot Is Not

(I’m not talking about vacation… Use your days off, they’re part of your compensation!)

Sometimes, if I have a busy day, or I go out of town, or I’m just not feeling it, I don’t log into the game, and I skip a day on the island. No big deal. There will be a few more weeds the next day, I miss an opportunity to buy things from a particular vendor who only comes once a week, it’s fine. But if I don’t log in for weeks, I get cockroaches in my (virtual) house, the weeds overrun the island, and the animals that live on the island start to think I don’t like them anymore and get upset.

Having a light, easy day at work when you need it is like skipping a day in the game. When you can, give yourself a day where you’re not working on big, heavy projects, and do whatever type of work you find relaxing and easy. (In my case, schedules and agendas are very relaxing work.) But if it turns into procrastinating and never tackling the difficult work, your island (work) will be overrun with weeds (projects) and the villagers (your coworkers) will get made at you (will get mad at you).

Sometimes mental health looks like a pocket full of scorpions

Visit a Mystery Island for More Resources

You can collect a lot of usable resources on your island: stone, gold, clay, wood, weeds, flowers, etc. But your island is a finite space, and sometimes you can’t find enough resources there, so you can buy a ticket to fly to a “Mystery Island” and collect resources there to bring home.

In this metaphor, the resources are your patience, inspiration, creativity, and sometimes literal resources like people to work with or space to work in. If you’re in a rut (out of resources), try visiting a different space. I know that, where COVID restrictions are still in place, this can be difficult, but if you can’t pick up your laptop and go work in another room, building, or campus, try rearranging your office. Even if you can’t move the furniture, redecorating your desk can make it feel like a new space. If possible, go work in a coworker’s office with them for a while. If you’re working from home, move from the living room to the dining room (or my favorite, the porch on a nice day! Soak up that beautiful fall weather, if you have it!)

I spent a whole weekend last October blocking out every blank space of grass on the island, so the randomly-assigned rocks would pop up where I wanted them. A. WHOLE. WEEKEND.

Planning Terraforming Is More Fun than Actually Terraforming

This is an ongoing joke in the Animal Crossing community. You have a lot of control over the layout of your island… you can build up a second level above the ground, dig up waterways, add inclines and bridges, and move buildings around. But many players have found that planning major changes like this is more fun than pulling out your shovel and actually digging it up, because it can be tedious.

Don’t get stuck in planning stages. It’s a problem I frequently have: I love a list, a plan, and a schedule, but getting to the actual work is a whole different story. I have read a little about how you get dopamine in the planning stages and for some people, that’s sufficient and they (we) no longer feel motivated to seek the dopamine from accomplishing the planned-for goal. Don’t give in; do the terraforming!

This would not have been possible without visiting someone else’s island… Get by with a little help from your friends, as the Beatles would say.

Get Help from Friends to Accomplish Your Goals

When you first start your island in the game, it is randomly assigned a native fruit (peach, apple, orange, pear, or cherry). You can find two of the other fruits by visiting Mystery Islands (see above), but the other two will never show up for you naturally… you must visit other people’s islands to collect them. There is no way to collect all five fruits without help from another living human being.

The lesson here, of course, is: teamwork makes the dream work. Expecting yourself to accomplish everything alone is not realistic (and sometimes, like in the fruit example, literally impossible), so bring in outside help when you need it. And know that everyone else is in the same situation; sometimes you can trade fruit (help) with someone, win-win!

The tambourine makes me happy, it makes the cat happy… best in-game item, if you ask me.

It’s Your Island

Do things your way. Not everybody logs in every day. Not everybody participates in the world events. Not everybody buys and sells turnips (it’s called the Stalk Market, you can extrapolate from there). Not everybody plays all parts of the game, and that’s fine… it’s your island, play it your way. I carry around a tambourine in my pocket because it makes me really happy to pull it out and hit it sometimes. I put up signs naming my waterfalls and bridges, and not all of them are family-friendly. It makes me laugh. You do you; it’s your island.

The flip side of “it’s your island” is that it’s your responsibility, too. Nobody else is going to log in and move those trees around the way you want them. The villagers aren’t suddenly going to dig up that rose garden you made a year ago and are sick of now. You have to change it if you don’t like it.

So do your work your way (within the confines of the rules of the “game,” of course), but also take responsibility for it.

Call for FYAL Bloggers!

With the new academic year coming up soon (or perhaps, for some of you, already begun!), we’re looking to bring on a few new bloggers here at ACRLog. We’d like to thank our 2020-2021 FYAL bloggers Valerie Moore and Kevin Adams. We’d also like to encourage new academic librarians — those who are just beginning in their first position at an academic library — to blog with us during their first year.

FYAL bloggers typically publish posts monthly during the academic year. If you’re interested in applying to be a FYAL blogger here at ACRLog, applications are due by Monday, September 13. Send an email (please include “ACRLog FYAL” in the subject line) to aharrington@pennstatehealth.psu.edu that includes:

– a sample blog post

– a brief note describing your job and your interest in blogging at ACRLog

Proposals are evaluated by the ACRLog blog team. When selecting FYAL bloggers we consider:

  • Diversity of race/ethnicity/gender/sexual orientation/ability
  • Voices from a range of academic institutions (for example, community colleges, research universities, etc.) and job responsibilities within academic libraries (for example, instruction, cataloging, scholarly communications, etc.)
  • Clear and compelling writing style
  • Connection between day-to-day work and bigger conversations around theory, practice, criticism, LIS education, and other issues

Please send any questions to aharrington@pennstatehealth.psu.edu. We’re looking forward to hearing from you!

You Can Only Lend a Helping Hand if Your Hands Aren’t Full

Self-care is so important. I think we’ve all learned that in one way or another over the past year. We’ve also learned that there are a lot of different types of self-care: responsibilities to ourselves (eat right, get exercise, sleep the right amount), doing fun things (eat your favorite food without thinking about calories for once, splurge on the thing you’ve been eyeing for a while), and recognizing and respecting your limits (take a mental health day, avoid energy vampires, learn when to say no).

I want to look at a related scenario: recognizing when you’re actually in a good place right now, and finding ways to help the people who aren’t.

If you aren’t in a good place right now, put on your own mask before helping others with theirs. (The metaphor isn’t great during COVID… don’t touch others’ actual masks.) If you aren’t in a situation where you can add to your plate, this post is not about you. Come back to this when you’re ready. Stop reading, put on a lo-fi playlist, and have some hot chocolate.

If you look around right now and think, “I’m feeling pretty good right now: I’m not overwhelmed by my workload, responsibilities, or emotions,” that’s great! You’re in a position to offer to help out your colleagues who don’t currently feel that way. Don’t forget, though: these feelings come and go. Next week you might find that your workload is piled high again. In a couple days, you could take stock and realize, “This is too much for me right now.” And that is totally fine. You have moved into the previous paragraph, and should join them until you’re ready to come back. (I hear they have hot chocolate. Maybe they’ll share.)

Before you start looking for opportunities to help others, I want you to promise to do the following:

  • Protect your own boundaries. People who volunteer for everything, I’m looking at you. (And at a mirror, because… been there, done that.) If you try to help with everything, you’ll quickly overdo it and wind up needing more help than you can give. That is not the goal here.
  • Protect your energy. Along those same lines, don’t pick up tasks that drain you. If there’s someone you find it emotionally taxing, don’t volunteer to work closely with them.
  • Protect others. Make it clear that you aren’t making offers on behalf of the library, your colleagues, your supervisor, your direct reports, or your successor whenever you leave your position. Protect future-you as well: make offers specific to avoid getting stuck with an ongoing responsibility you weren’t planning on.

Now that I know you’re going to continue to take care of yourself, here is some guidance for offering to help your coworkers out of a tough time:

  • Don’t babysit or nag them. You are not taking it upon yourself to decide what they can and cannot handle. If they decline your offer, it is declined. This doesn’t mean you can never offer again, but don’t bug them constantly… that is adding to their plate, not removing from it.
  • Know their preferences about offers. Some people like their schedule or to-do list to stay as it was when they came in that morning, or when it was set weeks ago. Others welcome the opportunity to make last-minute changes. Know who falls into which category and time your offers appropriately.
  • Know their preferences about tasks. The same concept applies to the tasks and schedules you’re offering to help with. I think of Friday afternoon reference shifts as unappealing. As the person who makes the reference schedule, if I took that shift from someone to help ease their burdens, but they think of that shift as protected time to work on something else while reference traffic is slow, I’ve caused a negative effect where I thought I was causing a positive one. (Even worse if I gave that shift to someone who dislikes it… Now I’ve made things worse for two people!)
  • Be specific. This falls under “protect your own boundaries” too: Make an exact offer so the parameters are known. “I can help you plan that workshop when you’re ready,” could come back to bite you if “when you’re ready” happens to coincide with a time when you suddenly get busy with other tasks. “I can meet with you this Thursday afternoon to plan that workshop,” makes it clear that the offer does not necessarily stand for other days or weeks, or even this Thursday morning.
  • Make it about you (a little). This is confusing advice, so let me clarify. A person who might say no to, “Do you want to take a break? I can go for a walk with you if you like,” might say yes to, “Would you like to go for a walk with me? I need a break.” (This is another time to know their preferences though, because some people might say yes in an attempt to help you, even though they are swamped.)
  • Spread out the pain. If you’re in a position where you make schedules or assign tasks, try to share the load across as many people as possible. Don’t always schedule the same person for the busiest shift (unless they prefer it for some reason). If there’s a difficult or annoying ongoing task to be done, rotate the responsibility for it in an equitable way.

A lot of those depend on knowing things about other people that they may not share readily. Personally, I’m always going on about how much I love to make a PowerPoint or take notes during a meeting, so people ask me to do those things and I’m happy to. Others aren’t as obnoxious as I am about their favorite work tasks, so if you don’t know… ask! Communication is always better than assumptions.

Don’t forget to ask when you are the one who needs a hand. If you’re the person who offers when others need help, you’re more likely to get a positive response when you need it. (Which is not the only reason you should do it, but a nice perk!)

Institutional and Departmental Diversity Statements

Your institution probably has a diversity or DEI (diversity, equity, & inclusion) statement. Take a minute and go read it, even if you’ve seen it before. Now check the diversity statements of a few other institutions; they’re pretty similar, aren’t they?

This is not a bad thing. The purpose of an institutional diversity statement is mostly symbolic: to publicly state support for DEIA initiatives and make members of marginalized groups know that the institution is paying attention and working to be better. The statements you just read probably accomplish these goals.

But they’re vague, aren’t they? That’s okay. If your institution is really on top of things, you might also find a diversity strategic plan (or maybe DEIA efforts are incorporated into the general strategic plan). If you take a look at one of those, you’ll see more specific – but still institution-wide – information about how the goals of the statement are meant to be achieved.

(Also, I know I’m making some broad generalizations. I’ve been working on a project which has involved reading a lot of diversity statements, so I know they aren’t all the same… Take a look at my own institution’s statement here; the bullet points have the specificity usually reserved for a diversity strategic plan.)

I say all this to get around to this point: While you and your library are beholden to the institutional diversity statement, that doesn’t mean it should be the only one you use for guidance. I am here to encourage you to create a library diversity statement, assuming you don’t already have one. (If you do: well done! Keep up the good work. Continue reading to see why you’re awesome.)

After reading so many institutional diversity statements that say pleasant but admittedly bland things about what the institution wants to be with regards to DEIA matters, I have decided that they don’t say much at all. It’s like if Dasani started putting “gluten-free!” on its labels… all the other brands of bottled water would have to do it too, so it wouldn’t seem like they had gluten in their bottled water. An institution needs a diversity statement to make it clear that they don’t support oppression and prejudice. (What a world we live in.)

I think the role of the departmental diversity statement, though, is more practical. It’s more like the diversity strategic plan, because it can get more specific. A library’s diversity statement can refer to the accessibility of library spaces, diversifying the collection of resources, and other library-specific concerns. Other departments would address different specifics: the library wouldn’t address the cultural diversification and dietary needs compliance of the menu in a cafeteria, but dining services would.

Additionally, a departmental diversity statement gets the people in that department more involved. The vast majority of people at an institution had nothing to do with the writing, editing, and approval of the institutional diversity statement. They feel less connected to it because it was made elsewhere, by others, and they probably first saw it in an email announcing its implementation. While I like our statement, I don’t feel involved in it. The library’s diversity statement feels closer to me. It feels like the difference between seeing your state and your city being mentioned on national news. I hear, “In Pennsylvania,” and I pay slightly more than average attention; I hear “In Hershey,” and my ears really perk up. That closer connection creates more buy-in from the individuals in the department.

In that same vein, a departmental diversity statement can take a different tone or voice than the institutional statement. Go back up and read the Penn State statement again, then read our libraries’ statement. The libraries’ statement has a stronger upstanding, more active tone. It is a call to action, while the institutional statement is a description of what the university would like to be: both important, compatible, but different approaches to the same goal. I see in the libraries’ statement a fist held high in the air, and in the university’s statement, open and welcoming arms.

If your library does not yet have a departmental diversity statement, I encourage you to advocate for one. You can make concrete the abstract intentions of your institution’s diversity statement, lend the library’s unique voice to the conversation, and put a “gluten-free!” sticker on the bottled water that is your library.

Virtual Holiday Parties

With the holidays starting, yet another surreal “I guess this is COVID” moment is upon us: we’re really going to go a whole December without office holiday parties? Did we ever think we would miss such a thing?

I have only worked in three libraries, but I have been fortunate enough to work in three libraries with amazing cooks and bakers. Missing out on a library potluck is a top ten COVID-year bummer for me. But we’ve gotten pretty good at this remote celebration thing, right? Here are some ideas for how to safely celebrate with your library staff (and maybe some of these will work for your family non-gatherings as well):

  • Games:
    • Many in-person games translate well to Zoom or other video chat platforms:
      • Pictionary (using the whiteboard feature)
      • Charades (no risk of accidental talking; just mute yourself!)
      • Trivia (use the hand-raising feature or chat to “buzz in”)
      • Scavenger hunt (pick items people are likely to have at home)
      • Themed hunt (for example, have people pull from their bookshelves at home the oldest book, longest book, book with a blue cover, etc., and compare your finds! Other themes might be the fridge, things within reach of where they sit when they work from home, or clothing.)
      • Online scavenger hunt (find pages/links/information instead of objects)
      • Name that tune (play instrumental versions over host’s mic)
      • Buzzword (each person gets a holiday-themed word; if you catch them saying it during the virtual get-together, they’re out!)
  • Contests:
    • Ugly sweater contest
    • Holiday costume contest (get elaborate, you don’t have to wear it in public!)
    • Gingerbread house contest (send out kits ahead of time)
  • Gift exchanges:
    • A virtual gift exchange (gift card codes, for example)
    • If everyone lives in the same area, arrange for them to pick up a gift from a local shop
  • Other activities:
    • Holiday playlist (share screen with audio sharing enabled)
    • Holiday photo booth (create your own props, interact Brady-Bunch style!)
    • Take an online class together, either live or a pre-recorded class
    • Recipe exchange: share what you would have brought to a regular potluck, or have a theme, like cookies

Keep these important considerations in mind when planning your celebration, some of which you should already consider when planning in-person, in-office celebrations, and some that are new this year:

  • Keep employees’ diversity in mind:
    • Know the dates of holidays you’re not familiar with; someone may be taking the day off to celebrate. Try to find a date everyone is available and that doesn’t conflict with other celebrations.
    • Be aware of holidays with food restrictions, like daytime fasting or abstaining from certain foods. It’s easier to not include food in a virtual celebration.
  • Keep employees’ privacy in mind:
    • While a tour of everyone’s holiday decorations sounds fun, not everyone will want to show you the inside of their home.
    • Remember to schedule your celebration during work hours, just as you would an in-office celebration.
    • Gift exchanges are nice, but some people may not be comfortable sharing their mailing address with colleagues.
    • If playing an online game together, choose one that doesn’t require the sharing of personal information to access it. Games that don’t have to be downloaded are preferable, too.
  • Keep employees’ needs in mind:
    • If you’re doing anything food-related, remember to consider allergies and dietary restrictions, as you would for an in-person potluck.
    • So many people are on their second, third, twentieth wind of Zoom fatigue. Don’t try to do all of these things; pick one or two and do them well.
    • Be considerate of everyone’s time: the party is over at the designated time.
    • December is a busy time for the whole family. Some employees may be caring for others who also are participating in holiday-related activities. Be understanding of those who can’t dedicate extra time and energy for activities like the suggested costume or gingerbread contests.

One last idea: Anecdotally speaking, I’ve heard several of my friends express that something they really miss about working in person together with their colleagues is the casual conversation time. Remotely, that’s something you have to carve out time for and decide to do, since you don’t bump into each other in hallways or stop at the desk or a doorway to chat. Maybe your staff would really just like to get together and have an hour of dedicated casual chat time?

Whatever you and your staff do, I hope you do it safely, comfortably, and happily, and that you get to do it in person for the 2021 holiday season.