Quality Time: The Presentation That Changed My Work Life

Have you ever learned something that radically changed the way you work? I experienced that kind of paradigm shift this summer during a Professional Development Day on my campus.

The session was on time management, led by David Gurzick, a professor of management at Hood College. I walked in expecting to hear about tools like Trello and Evernote, or maybe bullet journaling. But the session wasn’t about the HOW or WHAT, but the WHEN. Using workplace research and Daniel Pink’s book When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, Dr. Gurzick talked us through how our brains function throughout the day, and how to match the right task to the right time. Dr. Gurzick’s talk and the book When have transformed how I structure my day.

Both Dr. Gurzick and When emphasize the importance of timing and becoming aware of what researchers have found to be the natural pattern of the average work day. Over the course of a day, most peoples’ moods follow a consistent pattern that starts high in the morning, dips in the afternoon, and rises for the rest of the evening. Pink calls these phases of the day the peak, trough, and recovery:

Image of graph that spikes, dips low, and gradually rises again over the period of 12 hours.

“During the peak, which for most of us is the morning, we’re better at analytic tasks. That’s when we’re most vigilant, when we’re able to bat away distractions and concentrate deeply. During the trough, which for most of us is the early-to-mid-afternoon, we should do our administrative tasks—answering routine emails, filling out expense reports. And during the recovery, which for most of us is the late afternoon and early evening, we’re better at insight problems. Our mood then is better than during the trough. And we’re less vigilant than during the peak. That looseness—letting in a few distractions—opens us to new possibilities and boosts our creativity.” (Daniel Pink, interview on Scientific American)

Being invited to notice this pattern hidden in everyday life was personally revolutionary. I can easily see the clear rhythm of peak-trough-recovery in my day. And if this pattern doesn’t resonate with you, you might be a night owl. For night owls this rhythm is actually reversed – you wake up in the recovery phase, hit your trough in the middle of the day, and are the most alert to detail in a peak phase till bedtime.

So how did I work these ideas into my library life? Well, at my library we don’t have a strict schedule for desk shifts. Like I imagine many directors and department heads, my boss doesn’t direct my day hour by hour. So I have at least the illusion that I’m in charge of how I spend my time, which can be both good and bad. There are definitely days where I feel like I’ve lost half the day fighting my own distractions and discouragements.

In fact, during the quiet of the summer, structuring my own day was particularly challenging. Without classes to teach or students to interrupt me, I struggled to prioritize tasks. My habit was to do the “easy” things first, like reading email and shelving books. What I didn’t realize until Dr. Gurzick’s talk was that I was wasting my strongest brainpower on the tasks that required the least attention and energy. Simply by becoming aware of when I focus best and when my mood is the most hopeful, I have been able to harness the work hours more effectively. For example, I’m working on this blog post at 11:00 in the morning because I know this is the best time for me to write thoughtfully.

Dr. Gurzick also shared this matrix, which illustrates a few types of work that we all have to do every day:

2x2 grid that shows an axis of high to low engagement and an axis of high to low challenge. Highly engaged, not challenging work = rote; Hihgly engaged, challenging work = "focus"; Low engagement, low challenge = "bored"; low engagement, high challenge = "frustrated"From Bored Mondays and Focused Afternoons: The Rhythm of Attention and Online Activity in the Workplace by Gloria Mark, Shamsi T. Iqbal, Mary Czerwinski, Paul Johns

In the mornings, I am tempted to do “rote” work: tasks I find fun but not challenging, like shelving books or cutting out images for the bulletin board. According to When, this is my peak time – the time for vigilance and analysis. So now instead of wasting my sharpest attention on clip art, I tackle writing first thing in the morning. An unexpected benefit of this: the afternoons are more fun, now that I’m not forcing myself through punishingly slow writing sessions. I’ve learned to downshift into rote tasks that match my energy level during the afternoon slump.

I also let this awareness of my brain’s peak, trough, and recovery times help me choose meeting and break times strategically. Although I might have no say in when a class takes place, if I’m scheduled to teach right after lunch (during my sleepy time), I might take a brisk walk to jumpstart my mind.

When you learn a new way of seeing the world that resonates, it’s hard not to evangelize it to everyone you meet. “Hey, have you heard of minimalism?” “Have you ever tried yoga?” But one gem from this book did catch on with my co-workers – the reason we’ve all been crabby and directionless during our staff meetings is because we keep scheduling them for the end of the day! We now shoot for 10:00 or 11:00 am, when people are more alert and less prone to pessimism.

You don’t always have control of what you need to do in a given workday, and sometimes your day is derailed by the surprises of librarianship. But being aware of your brain’s peak functioning times may help you structure your day to best advantage. Especially if you have some flexibility in your daily schedule, I recommend checking out Pink’s book and thinking about what you do when.

Notes:

  • Many thanks to David Gurzick for his talk and sharing his slides with me!
  • For a preview of Daniel Pink’s book, you can check out this planner he has made available online.

Were You Taught to Teach?

Earlier this year on a search committee, I had an embarrassing realization: I couldn’t answer one of my own interview questions. “What is your teaching philosophy?”

Until now, I haven’t had to face this question head-on. I’ve always felt like I learned how to teach by sneaking in the back door: on-the-job trial and error. Thinking of the teachers I know, who went through a curriculum of education theory and supervised student teaching, I felt inadequately prepared. Realizing I couldn’t articulate my teaching philosophy only reinforced my sense that I wasn’t a “real” teacher.

That question sparked a summer of contemplation, reading, and informal interviews with the teachers in my life. What is my teaching philosophy? Can I put it into words, and how does it actually relate to my day-to-day practice?

If, like me, you don’t feel like library school prepared you for the reality of the classroom, you’re not alone. Merinda Kaye Hensley, who evaluated 10 syllabi of LIS courses that cover library instruction in this study, concluded: “…there is a severe mismatch between the ways our library schools prepare graduate students for the classroom and that librarians don’t receive much, if any, on-the-ground training for learning how to teach.”

Maybe you’re thinking that the librarian’s professional identity is quite distinct from that of the professor, and that feeling like a “real teacher” should not be the priority of our LIS programs. But so much of our work involves teaching, even if you don’t stand up in front of a class on a regular basis – consultations at the reference desk, for example. This piece from College and Research Libraries introduced me to the term “teacher identity,” which has transformed the way I see my work. In the article, Scott Walter says: “Teaching skills are clearly recognized as important to the professional work of academic librarians, but to what degree do academic librarians think of themselves as teachers when they consider their place on campus, and to what degree is “teacher identity” a recognized aspect of the broader professional identity of academic literature?”

At schools where librarians do not have faculty status, the conversation is further complicated. But for me, embracing a “teacher identity” has changed how I see my presence in the classroom. I stop thinking of myself as a guest speaker, here for the one-shot and never to be heard from again. If I am a teacher, I am building relationships with students. This changes my expectations, and affects the very language I use. For example I find myself closing an instruction session with “It’s nice to meet you,” instead of “Thank you for having me” or similar.

If you develop a strong teacher identity, new avenues of inspiration online and support on campus become available to you. In search of language to form my teaching philosophy, I began looking beyond library literature and traditional information literacy learning activities, reading more about pedagogy than had ever been assigned in my LIS program. I found a multitude of practical, approachable resources for teachers developing their teaching philosophy. This resource from the University of Minnesota had particularly helpful prompts to get me started.

If you’re not a teaching librarian, or you want to take baby steps toward writing your teaching philosophy, I recommend exploring the elevator speech. I’d first learned of elevator speeches from ALA’s advocacy resources, during a time when I was advocating for my department to be fully staffed. An elevator speech is a more all-purpose message to the public or to your larger institution, and can be on any topic. Writing brief statements to sum up my vision for the Reference department helped me learn to put my daily practice into more abstract, inspiring terms. This has been a helpful exercise as I develop a teaching philosophy. Even if you only break it out to answer an acquaintance’s smug “Aren’t libraries obsolete?” with something thoughtful and pithy, an elevator speech is a nice thing to have in your pocket.

Taking the time to identify the values I want to support – curiosity, persistence, failure as a part of learning – has influenced the way I design class activities and how I interact with students. Having my teaching philosophy fresh in my mind as I walk into the classroom has helped me be more a more thoughtful teacher.

If you’re not like me, and pedagogical training was built into your library degree, how have you experienced the transition from theory to practice on the job? In your opinion, what are the essential readings in pedagogy or teaching philosophy? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Featured image by Wokandapix via Pixabay.

Finding My Voice

Editor’s Note: We welcome Emily Hampton Haynes to the ACRLog team. Emily is a Reference and Education Services Librarian at Hood College of Maryland. Her research interests include information literacy, pedagogy, and outreach.

After grad school and learning on the job, I have been trying to ease into the discourse of our profession. One big step for me was to co-present a session at a local library conference (TCAL in Maryland). Our session was called Self-Care Isn’t Selfish: How Mindfulness Practices Can Benefit Librarians and Library, and discussed how mindfulness can improve an employee’s workplace wellbeing and performance, particularly in fields requiring emotional labor. Presenting at my first conference was an incredibly satisfying experience, from the support of the conference committee to presenting with a colleague I have a lot of chemistry with. But there was one takeaway I hadn’t expected: the feeling of having a voice in librarianship.

I’ve been to several conferences during and since library school, and I walked into them with wide eyes and the expectation that I’d be meeting loads of library folks between sessions and during meals. Up until TCAL, I’d exchanged as many business cards as I’d had meaningful conversations (zero). What was that about? Was it me, that I couldn’t overcome the shyness I wear comfortably, like an oversized sweater? Was it that conferences take a lot out of people, and most of us just want to check our phones (aka refresh Library Twitter) and drink water between sessions? Or was it something else?

Scholarship as a Conversation, has always been the ACRL information-literacy frame that resonated with me most. I was introduced to the Burke metaphor my third year of undergrad, in a literary criticism class. To hear as a 20-year-old that I am in conversation with Brontë critics (and maybe even Brontë herself) was a shift in mindset that transformed the rest of my time as an English major. And it took about two and a half years on the job to feel that same shift as a librarian.

Growing professional confidence seems to have come to me in stages: first, I had to understand the lay of the land at my first job. Then I learned to connect the day-to-day responsibilities with the theories and values I’d studied in library school. Following library listservs, bloggers I respect, and formal library research was a way to listen and learn. And the process of researching, proposing, and presenting a talk was the next major step. I entered the parlor, I listened for a while, and I contributed my own thought to the “unending conversation.”

TCAL was so welcoming largely because it was a local academic library conference designed to facilitate that warm conversation between peers. But I’d attended TCAL a previous year, and I’d perched on the edge of my chair and spoke very little – not even to ask questions. The difference for me this year was great: I felt like I had a seat at a table I didn’t realize was too tall for me before. Moving through a space as Someone Who Has Something To Say shifted my sense of belonging, and for the first time I experienced the satisfaction of real participation in my field. And that was thrilling.

The sensation of having a voice unlocks new thresholds of confidence in me. Until I stepped into the classroom, I didn’t think I could teach students only a few years my junior. Until I submitted a proposal to a conference, I didn’t think it would be accepted. Until I spoke in front of colleagues, I didn’t realize I was part of a larger professional community. I believe it could be the same for you. Until you try it out, you may not realize that you have a voice here. Join the conversation.