And I Won’t Screw It Up This Time

I have written more than a couple of posts about organization and productivity. They have become snapshots in time versus the solid basis for a fully organized work life, but on the other hand, they could still be the latter. If only…

As I allude to a couple of times, I struggle to make time to set routines into habits. I can do something consistently for a period of time, but as soon as something happens to disrupt the routine, I can’t get back into it. And then I beat myself up over it here!

But because I’ve written about all of that, I have the documentation to get back on track. Field Notes’ motto is “I’m not writing it down to remember it later, I’m writing it down to remember it now.” That is true, but beyond that, because I wrote it down earlier, I can jog my memory now.

As mentioned in my previous post, I have been reading Messy by Tim Harford, which makes the case that disorder can help spark creativity, and probably leads to more creativity than a perfectly ordered life.

I feel like that last sentence is also the main plot to any movie about how awful the suburbs are.

Anyway, after describing how Twyla Tharp manages her work, Harford discusses how he keeps track of all his projects and plans and stray ideas.:

I have a related solution myself, a steel sheet on the wall of my office full of magnets and three-by-five-inch cards. Each card has a single project on it-something chunky that will take me at least a day to complete … I’ve chosen three projects and placed them at the top. They’re active projects and I allow myself to work on any of the three. All the others are on the back burner … They won’t distract me, but if the right idea comes along they may well snag some creative thread in my subconscious.

pp.53-54 of the Libby ebook version of Messy on an iPhone with the font size increased because my eyesight is poor

There is room for some sort of organization so long as you make room for the disorganization that could lead you to new discoveries. One of my challenges, then, is not letting the organizational part get in the way of the discovery part.

For example, I use Pocket to save articles that I love or that I want to read later. If a bunch of articles pile up, I will get overwhelmed and then skim each article and archive or delete them to clean up my list. It took a long time for me to realize that all this is doing is forcing me to organize without understanding why I saved articles in the first place. There’s no point in archiving files or getting to inbox zero if you are only cleaning up for the sake of cleaning up. Thinking about why you left something where you did helps you understand its potential.

Which gets me back to my original idea for this post. I have all these tools I created to help me get organized, but maybe the reason why they didn’t stick is because I didn’t think about why I thought they were important. That’s my next step.

It’s So Hard To Say Goodbye To Yesterday

Blake Carver announced yesterday that LISHost will be shutting down in 2020. I’ve used LISHost for years to host my personal site and the Eurovision Lemurs blog, and I’ve always appreciated how helpful Blake has been in keeping them up and running. He’s amazing.

Of course, the first thing I thought after reading the announcement was that I needed a new place to host my sites. Since I don’t update this blog very often, I didn’t want to spend any money on hosting and whatnot. So I just imported my old content into a new WordPress site and am chugging along from there.

I have been reading Messy by Tim Harford, which is about how disarray leads to creativity. Reading about unexpected disruption at the exact time I was experiencing disruption made the book more enjoyable.

For now, inspired by Kendra K Levine, let’s let Boyz II Men take us out…

Kick Like We Used to

I chuckled a little bit while reading Brendan Schlagel’s “Weaving a public web, or, why don’t I blog more?” It’s something I could have written when I was lamenting the demise of biblioblogging in the social media era.

I have these dreams of reviving the form, but I don’t know if I have the wherewithal to lead the charge. I feel like I don’t have the time because of my commitments to work, home, and… well, the other blog.

That’s just an excuse, of course. My goal right now is to write at least one blog post here each month. It seems modest, but the side goal is to spend more time preparing to write, versus only posting stuff when the magical inspiration fairy deigns to visit my brain.

Since I’ve been thinking about library blog history, which is now totally a thing, Schlagel and Tom Critchlow’s new blogchain on networked communities is really interesting to me. They are covering a lot of the same ideas I had been musing on, but in a more proactive and interesting way. It’s pretty inspiring.

Of course, posting this doesn’t move me away from my habit of writing about writing when I’m not feeling inspired. Old habits die hard!

I See Shadows Moving Around

One of the things that I have always taken pride in is my ability to pick things up quickly. I’ve had a lot of different tasks thrown at me over my career, and I’ve always been able to either run with them or at least fake it while I frantically research what I’m supposed to do until I make it.

So when I come up against something that I feel like I should be able to do and all of my usual tactics for learning on the fly don’t work, I feel gut-wrenchingly deflated.

I’m speaking from recent experience, of course. While I have been reasonably assured I’ve not let anyone down, it’s tough for me to think that this is true. I don’t think I realized how much pressure I put on myself to perform, so when I flopped, I got a bit weepy.

Once I dried my eyes and enjoyed a pint or two with an old friend, I expected to say that I could see clearly and got a new perspective . But I didn’t: I only gotten worse. I was irritable! Touchy! Frustrated! A bit of a jerk!

To whom the Thursday version of me can say, “Get over yourself.”

In hindsight, I can call upon all of those simple little lessons about learning from failure and knowing when to ask for help and not going in against a Sicilian when death is on the line and stuff like that. All of that is obvious now. But when I’m in the thick of it, even those most obvious life lessons are hard to access.

I like to think I generally keep cool and have a measured response to whatever comes my way, and maybe that’s even true. But every now and then I fall apart, like Bonnie Tyler in a boarding school, and how I bounce back from that is key.

I’m making a bit of a mountain out of a molehill here to stress the importance of checking your mental health. Be aware of how you are feeling, and if you are not feeling so great, talk to someone who knows you well. Don’t be afraid to let your guard down and admit you’re struggling. And don’t beat yourself up. We need you cool. Are you cool? Good.

Where Troubles Melt Like Lemon Drops

We’re halfway through the year and I ended the first half of 2019 on vacation in Hawaii. That also means I spent a couple of weeks wondering why I don’t live there. I may spend the next couple of weeks trying to suss out the answer to that question before daily drudgery sweeps over me like a wave that I didn’t quite catch because I suck at surfing.

I take responsibility seriously, so seriously that I frequently forget about being stupidly irresponsible, which is more fun. I tend to put off the fun stuff until the serious stuff is finished, except that there is always more serious stuff. I have to make room for the fun stuff, not wait for the perfect time to do it. That’s a hard lesson for me to grasp.

So I was pleasantly surprised how I was able to let vacation envelop me. Maybe that’s because of where I was vacationing. But I think that a lot of it had to do with getting the hang of letting things go. I wasn’t perfect: I still got my usual pre-travel jitters and I had a couple of anxious moments during the trip. But on the whole, I relaxed in a way that I hadn’t for a long time. It was great.

Then I got home and immediately fell back into a lot of bad habits. Oh well. More work to be done!

Your Energy Is Loud

There is this thing called #1000wordsofsummer. It’s the brainchild of Jami Attenberg and it encourages writers to write 1,000 words a day from June 17 to July 1. A friend of mine mentioned it on Twitter the other day and suddenly I’ve decided it’s a good idea to participate.

(Don’t worry, that doesn’t mean I’m writing 1,000 word blog posts every day for two weeks. Although it doesn’t not mean that…)

I’ve always loved to write and I have created a couple of outlets for myself to do it, but I am always trying to write more. Not necessarily because I want to broadcast it all for public consumption, but because I think it’s fun. I have thought about branching out more, and maybe this will give me the encouragement to do so.

Or I just come up with something that amuses me and no one else because only I get all my in-jokes.

First Train Into the Big World

I spend a lot of time doing small little tasks to make myself feel productive. But I rarely stop to think if those tasks are helping me accomplish bigger goals or consider whether or not they are necessary. I do them because I’ve always done them.

As my work and home duties are evolving in considerable ways, I’ve become more conscious of how much stuff I do just for the sake of doing it. Keeping the work journal should help me sort everything out, but I would need to sit down and look at past journals to do analysis and my goodness, do I have time for that, look how busy I am, my journal clearly says so!

You can see how I walk around in circles. Thinking I don’t have time to plan my day or my week and so forth because I am too busy with all my day-to-day duties only distracts me from prioritizing what actually needs to get done.

Productivity gurus commonly recommend scheduling time in your calendar time to do something that is detail-oriented or requires high levels of concentration. It has the external effect of letting co-workers know not to bother you and the internal effect of giving you the space to complete important tasks.

Of course, it does require you to adhere to your calendar. Whenever I’ve done this in the past, I’ve gotten my notifications, dismissed them, then keep chugging away on the minutiae I was engrossed in.

I’d like to think publishing a post about this would motivate me to do it, but I also know I’ve written about it before, then not followed up because I had fallen off the wagon and was embarrassed to admit it. There’s no shame in having trouble breaking bad habits, so long as I own up to my mistakes and try again. That’s how I learn.

By the way, I am using a lyric from a snarky song as a headline for something sincere. I’ve got layers.

Coming Up for Air

The past couple of months have been ridiculously intense. Part of the reason why is public knowledge, and you’ll know when the dust has settled from that when I update my LinkedIn profile.

I’ve also had to deal with some more personal issues, and I’m not so much waiting for dust to settle as slowly understanding that I am standing in fog and occasionally there will be a thunderstorm. But mostly things are just pleasantly misty.

I have to stay on top of a lot of things right now, and writing it all down makes it seem daunting. I started to adapt the project management techniques I use at work to manage it all, with little success yet. There are kinks to work out, because the tools and formats I use at work don’t necessarily mesh cleanly at home.

But I also accept that no matter how much honing I do, it’s a perpetual work in progress. There is no one perfect way to do anything, no one weird trick. Something works for awhile, but a small adjustment or even a major overhaul may be necessary. For now, if I can learn how to keep all the plates spinning, I will be doing okay.

It’s also nice to have a good little brewery walking distance from my house!

The Feeling at the End of the Page

91b54-old-school-librarian.pngWhen I first started teleworking back in 2011, the staffing agency I worked for and my supervisor at the time asked me to keep track of the work I was doing from home. I would send them an email at the end of each work day. When the bureau I work for set up G Suite back in 2014, I began writing my reports in Google Docs.

On February 29, 2016, I began to write up a report every work day, rather than just on my telework days. (I had to look up the date!) It had become useful for me to keep track of all of the projects I was working on. It became part of my daily routine.

I didn’t really think of it as a work diary per se until I read Amanda Leftwich’s article in The Librarian Parlor, “Reflecting Journaling: A Daily Practice.” I wouldn’t describe what I do as reflective and more as reactive. I’m just keeping track of what I’ve done in a day. That said, having all of those details written down has helped me when updating my duties in my contract, tweaking my LinkedIn profile, and (very occasionally) coming up with ideas for posts.

What I really took away from “Reflecting Journaling” was that I could get more out of my daily routine. I don’t really use the diary to work through problems I am trying to solve or projects I am trying to wrap my head around, but instead as a way to catalog my routine. This has a lot to do with the fact that the original diary entries were shared as reports with my original onsite and agency supervisors. I haven’t had to file telework reports for years, but the report format has stuck.

Despite my proclivity to play around with productivity tools and tips, I never used journaling as a way to help me manage my workload. Given that I tend to pick up and drop hacks, it makes sense to work within something that I already do on a regular basis. Maybe it will be easier to adapt habits I already have to new purposes.

But Researchers Never Found All the Pieces Yet

I have spent the last couple of years at my job wrangling data: visitor numbers, electronic resource fulltext downloads, activity reports, things like that. All of the numbers and reports and the like are stashed in Google Sheets and Google Docs, in SharePoint and in OneNote, and they are shared constantly through email and Slack. And we can put them all together to tell compelling stories about the work we do.

But I know that this isn’t quite enough to really capture the whole story. There are better data points and better ways to collect and manage those data points and better ways to evaluate them.

(I am giving some of my spreadsheets the short shrift when I put it that way. They are beautiful spreadsheets and like Big Daddy Kane they get the job done.)

I’ve thought a lot about how we can improve our data collection and management over the past couple of years. I’m not thinking about little tweaks here: I’ve done those little tweaks already. I want to make significant changes, and I’ve put a lot of thought and done a lot of work to figure out how to do so.

My office is presently implementing a new two-to-three year strategic plan. As the plan has fallen into place, a lot of the work I had done has been incorporated into it. Even better, my colleagues have come up with new ideas that either complement or improve on mine. Fresh sets of eyes bring fresh perspectives, and people who haven’t lived with the day-to-day tasks of data management can help those who do see the forest through all of the trees.

We recently had a meeting with folks from outside our office to talk about our data plan. They will be helping us put it into motion. One of the social scientists we met made a point that summed up how I’ve felt the past couple of years: How do we move from data management to data evaluation? We all agree that we’ve come up with a framework to make that leap.

I love it when a plan comes together. Now if we can just continue our work without further interruptions, everything is going to be great.