There are only 24 hours in a day…and we are open (almost) all of them
April 17, 2007
“I could never do your job.”
“I don’t think access services is for me.”
“I can’t handle it. The people, the problems, the running around.”
“Too fast. Too furious. Too much!”
I am not going insane. Those are not voices in my head. And the comments were not meant to be disparaging. They were honest statements made by several of my friends, who are currently in library school or have just begun their first professional position, after I gave a lengthy rundown of how my new job was going. (It is going really well in case you were wondering!)
Do I need to be a superhero? No.
Possess magical powers? No.
Be cloned? Sometimes that would be really helpful.
Be able to juggle and multitask? Absolutely.
I think there is an incorrect assumption made about the mid-30s and younger set: that we are all able to, without thinking, multitask. Since we are used to being plugged in all the time and are digesting lots of information at once it shouldn’t be a problem right? Well, yes and no. There is a big difference between writing an email-while reading an article- in the middle of IM-ing a friend- while music is playing or answering the phone-while signing a purchase request- while trying to locate old copies of JAMA- while explaining to a patron the lost book fees- while a fire alarm test is going off in the background.
Multitasking by yourself is a lot easier than multitasking by or for other people…lots of other people. ADS is all about being able to multitask and I find that most people are very surprised when I tell them that you don’t have to be born that way. With practice you can improve your ability to juggle all the responsibilities that come with the department. Practice and knowing yourself and how you best operate.
Here are my some of my strategies for dealing with all the demands that come with public service:
1. Learn to prioritize and stick to deadlines. If you have to make a “To Do” list to help plan your day/week/month then do so. I am one of those people who thrive under pressure. I make weekly, sometimes daily, lists of things I need to finish, find an answer, follow-up on, etc. Crossing items off the list feels great, and I know that I am not forgetting the small tasks that sometimes get lost in the hustle and bustle. I work best with firm deadlines and base those completion dates on the level of importance. Importance varies depending on a number of factors: who is making the request, who needs the request, who does this impact, the nature or purpose of the task, and how much time it will take to accomplish. Based on one or all of those criteria, I plot my course.
2. Your time is not your own. When I am at work I realize that most of my time is not my own. Yes, I have downtime where I can work on projects, but the bulk of my time belongs to my department and other library staff who need me. There are meetings, problems, projects, issues, discussions, people and events that require attention. So I have to make a choice, come in early or stay later. I tend to work better in the morning before all the staff arrive. It is quieter and there are less interruptions so I can get more finished. Figuring out when you can get solid blocks of time to devote all your attention to a task is key to being successful.
3. Identify those individuals who you can confidently delegate small projects or tasks. I wholeheartedly believe that I would never be as successful in my position as I am were it not for the terrific staff I work with on a daily basis. Knowing that I can hand off tasks with minimal explanation and that they will be completed efficiently and expediently is a huge help. Identify people in your department that you can work with collaboratively and who can work independently. If you feel that no one fits that description then work on creating these types of relationships.
4. Plan ahead. When dealing with large projects, problems or issues, it is always good to have a pre-game warmup whether it includes getting some background information, or discussing the issue with colleagues prior to a meeting. Having a clear idea of how you may want to proceed before making a move, and getting input on a course of action is always helpful.
5. Follow-up/through is critical. Ask questions. Send an email. Make sure things are going smoothly. Reply to email. Return phone calls. Care about the consequences of actions. It can mean everything.
6. Preserve your sanity. If this means that you do not check your email or log into the network when you are home, then so be it. I check once a night, if there is an emergency staff know where to reach me. Sometimes you have to let go of things and not think about them anymore. It took me a long time to realize that, but I am much happier at work and at home now that I leave my work in my office.