Can you always do “just one more thing”?

by Jaclyn McLean, Electronic Resources Librarian
University of Saskatchewan

I grew up hearing the refrain “just one more thing” about my dad, usually around 6 p.m., as we were all sitting down to supper and his chair sat empty. One of us would say, “well, he probably had just one more thing to do.” And then we would sigh, or laugh, and eat. Now, this isn’t a post about nature/nurture, but I do find it curious that I often find myself trying to squeeze in just one more thing, at the end of the workday, or before going to sleep, and this attitude that I’ve always got time to squeeze something else in can get me into trouble.

Like now, as I am diving into not one, or two, but three new research-type endeavors (and wrapping up a fourth). All with specific and overlapping timelines; and different methodologies and topics. So how did I get there? It’s entirely my own fault, not that I feel negative about it. All of the projects are interesting, variously collaborative and solo, focused on publishing, presentation, and art curation. I am excited about all of them, and can’t wait to dig in and get past this beginning stage.

Planning how the projects will intersect and cohabitate in my brain for the next few months is key. To that end, I’ve been working out a detailed Gantt chart, and working on accepting that this chart will change on a weekly, if not daily, basis. I enjoy having lots on the go, different projects and ideas to divert my attention. I also like making lists, schedules, and organizing my time (and that of others, my collaborators should be warned). A key to my success is going to be paying attention to this careful planning and checking in regularly on the established timelines, shifting and nudging things around as things change.

I need to accept that this will all feel overwhelming at some point down the road. Probably when the days get shorter, and the deadlines loom much closer than they do today. Because you see, this isn’t the first time I’ve found myself with a lot on my plate. And I’ve learned that if I can do all the pre-planning, and have an established plan to shift and flex with, I am more effective. Flexibility and rolling with the punches is not my nature, but I am optimistic, and excited about the opportunities coming my way with these projects (and those that might emerge out of them in the future).

But it’s also time to sit on my hands, and stop coming up with new ideas of things I would like to do. Because I need to make sure I don’t exceed my capacity, and switch my perspective from excitement to dread, from optimism to overwhelmed. Stopping the flow of new ideas isn’t something I’ll be able to stick to (it’s good to recognize your own flaws, right?), but I am committing here, in this public forum, to write them down for later, or share them with someone else who might be able to take them and run. And I will keep reminding myself that my slate is full for this year. And as we head into a fresh new academic year, doesn’t that sound exciting?

This article gives the views of the author and not necessarily the views the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

An Uneasy Cult(ure) of Stress in Academic Libraries

by Lise Doucette
Assistant Librarian, University of Western Ontario

Academic librarians’ stress levels are not unusual when compared to other types of workers employed in social services, healthcare, and information settings (Shupe et al., 2015) – but that doesn’t mean we should accept this status quo.  Shupe and her colleagues found that academic librarians’ stress is often due to ambiguity and overload in our roles.  How do these factors also affect our research practices and research productivity?

Hoffmann et al. (2014) performed a content analysis of 42 papers on research productivity, and found that one of the most prevalent factors was “time.”  In discussions at my university, librarians and archivists also identified “lack of time” as a barrier to research productivity.  I’ve heard myself and colleagues talk about cancelling pre-planned research time for professional practice work, to deal with never-ending emails, and to get started on new work we’ve volunteered for.

There are many ideas in popular science and psychology literature about solving these problems of uncertainty and overload.  At the root of some solutions is managing the uncertainty, and at the root of other solutions is accepting that uncertainty.

  • Time management systems and project management software abound, promising to make you productive and happy. The title of a recent blog post – The Perfect System – made my heart leap.  Finally!  The true solution!  Alas, the actual post pokes fun at my (and others’) quest for this ultimate system, and the uncertainty and fear that drives us to seek it out.  The answer, says the author, is acknowledging, becoming comfortable with, and even embracing the discomfort of uncertainty, while pushing yourself to do hard and important work.
  • Many time management systems are based on negative descriptions of time, like scarcity of time and time famine. There are also interesting physical descriptions of time – visualising time or talking about the volume of busyness or work, as if it’s a heavy, physical burden.  Other approaches to managing time and work use more expansive words like acceptance and mindfulness, and suggest building slack or a buffer in your schedule (see blog posts Why I’m Eliminating the Word ‘Busy’ From My Vocabulary or Why You Can’t Stop Being Busy Even If You Want To).
  • One approach recommended by Cal Newport, professor of Computer Science at Georgetown University and author of Deep Work, is blocking time for doing important thinking work (like research and writing) and developing the ability to concentrate without distraction. His book and blog talk about ways to achieve this.  A similar approach is identified in the book Essentialism by Greg McKeown – identifying the things that are essential and where you can contribute the most, and eliminating the rest (i.e., doing fewer things but doing them better).

We have the right and the responsibility to be deliberate and selective about our work, within the bounds of how workload is set at our institutions.  When reading Ryan and Koufogiannakis’ (2007) viewpoint ‘Librarianship and the Culture of Busy,’ I laughed out loud when I came to their tongue-in-cheek use of the term ‘busy excellence.’  They and others also identify the problems with busyness as a performance – whether to supervisors, colleagues, or oneself.  If we associate busyness and stress with productivity and recognition, we neglect to address the real physical and mental impacts of stress on individuals and groups, and we neglect to make and take time for the important and time-consuming (but not always urgent) parts of our roles, like research.

Books and articles:

Hoffmann, Kristin, Selinda Adelle Berg, and Denise Koufogiannakis.  (2014). Examining success: identifying factors that contribute to research productivity across librarianship and other disciplines.  Library and Information Research, 38(119), 13-28.

McKeown, Greg.  Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less.  New York: Crown Business, 2014.

Newport, Cal.  Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World.  New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2016.

Ryan, Pam, and Denise Koufogiannakis.  (2007.) Librarianship and the Culture of Busy. Partnership, 2(1).

Shupe, Ellen I., Stephanie K. Wambaugh, and Reed J. Bramble.  (2015). Role-related Stress Experienced by Academic Librarians.  The Journal of Academic Librarianship 41, 264-269.

This article gives the views of the author and not necessarily the views the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.