Thursday 12 December 2013

Making Time for What's Important

This is a busy time of year for everyone, both personally and professionally. There are social and family commitments, professional activities, study and of course our normal work responsibilities. So when SLA announced their Time Hacks: Managing Day to Day and Long Term Projects webinar on time management I signed up. I'm as guilty as anyone of taking on too much sometimes so I thought that the webinar would be a good place to pick up some tips on how to stay sane!

I'm not involved in any formal project management as part of my current role but I have a lot of professional activities that I need to keep on top of (including Chartership, which I think these tips work really well for). Anything that we take on can be considered a project in that it needs to be worked through in stages and completed. I've outlined my main takeaways from the presentation below:
  • it's important to set goals when working on a project. The key is to focus on what you want to achieve and how you plan on getting there
  • don't underestimate the process of writing things down on paper as this can help you focus on what really needs to be done
  • use a calendar to schedule your time
  • identify your most productive time of day and make the most of it. If you're at your best in the morning then this is when you should work on the big projects. This is called 'putting yourself first' and may be easier said than done in the real world, but could still work some of the time
  • it's scientifically proven that people are more productive when writing if they work in small daily sessions rather than large chunks of spread out time. For example, schedule in thirty minutes a day to work on your writing rather than several hours over a weekend. This is something that I know people have tried with Chartership through things like #chapowrimo
  • find a way to manage your email. Use filters to direct certain messages away from your inbox. Be ruthless!
  • when managing projects use technology to make your life easier. Create a dynamic list of all current projects in a spreadsheet which lists things like the name of the project, its status and its importance. When a project has been completed move this to another spreadsheet. This keeps things clearer and provides a framework for end of year reports or reflection. Use Google Drive or Github to organise and share information with others
  • the human brain cannot concentrate fully for extended periods of time. Learn to balance tasks which need a lot of attention with those you can do in your sleep. This will give you a change of pace and ultimately make you more productive
  • distract yourself with shiny things to make mundane tasks more enjoyable. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I have a slight obsession with stationary and probably keep the local branch of Paperchase in business. Having a nice notebook and pen to do your work can trick your brain into thinking that the task is more fun than it is. Works for me anyway!

I think the thing that struck me most was the portion of the webinar about making time. The presenters were keen to stress that although everyone has demands on their time the key thing to do is to make time for what's important to you.

There was a real focus on the importance of reflection throughout the webinar which links to a lot of what I have been doing recently whilst working on Chartership. The presenters suggested doing a 'quick and dirty' inventory of your current activities to see what could be improved using five minute lists:

  1. What are you doing? - what takes up your time at the moment?
  2. How long is it taking? - don't be too precise, estimates are fine
  3. How important is it? - rate this on a scale of 1-5 (where 5 is the most important)
  4. Must it be done right now? - make some notes about what you need to accomplish
Use these answers to construct a table to reflect and improve. Mine is included below:

How’s it going?
Things to change/try
Set up library collection blog
Really enjoy this but it takes up a lot of time
Could let go a little and get some help to manage the blog
Write article
Good, just needs a final proof read
Learn to expect good enough rather than perfection!
Volunteer work
I love it but I find it hard to make time for everything I would like to be involved in
Maybe limit how many things I get involved with – three a year?

You can then use the table to decide what you do less of, more of, what you could ask for help with, do differently or relax about. I found this a really useful exercise which I think will help with my time management in the future as I try out new projects.

Remember that time is not the only impacting when things get done. If you feel burdened with something then it's likely that it will take you longer to complete than something you enjoy. Of course, there are some things we don't like that we can't avoid doing but maybe this should be a lesson in only undertaking the projects that are important to us in our own time. I think that this is the most important thing I'm going to take away from the webinar and it will certainly influence my choice of projects in the future.

Suggested reading:

The Truth About Getting More Done / Mark Fritz
Time Management for System Administrators / Thomas A. Limoncelli

photo credit: Tania Ho via photopin cc


  1. Really useful ideas here Claire - must make use of some of these tips. I'm all too guilty of taking on too much.

  2. Thanks, I'm glad it's useful. Many of the people I know in the library world are guilty of taking on too much but we just don't seem to be able to stop ourselves! Hopefully the tips from the webinar will make things a bit easier for people.

  3. Great tips! Thank you for sharing!

  4. Hi Kirsten, I'm glad they're helpful. I'd really recommend trying to watch the original webinar. I think it should be available online by now.