Iris recently wrote,
Throughout each school year as I run crazily from meeting to meeting, class to class, and project to project, I keep a little list of all the projects I want to do over the summer. And during the academic year, this seems to make perfect, logical sense. Summer shimmers out in the distant regions of my imagination as this expanse of unscheduled time just waiting to receive these projects into its outspread arms.
Then summer arrives. Classes let out sometime in the first half of June (This year graduation was on the second weekend of June), and then it takes us all until the end of June get ourselves back on our feet. During this first half month of the summer, our fiscal year ends (read “we panic and run around getting facts and figures nailed down so invoices can be issued”), we have our end-of-year all-staff meeting, we realize that in the mad rush of the end of the year there are still hundreds of emails buried in our in-boxes, and the piles on our desks have become so entrenched that we don’t even notice them any more… they are the decor.
That all sounds eerily familiar. I ran through it with a friend, trying to make sense out of my own chaos, and came up with this timeline. Last summer, we had construction in the libraries, and I was awarded some reassigned time for research, so I was working from home, and on a ‘relaxed’ schedule — doing research, writing, and not focusing on in-building projects, since we were out-of-building. Practically speaking, it means I put things off because they could not be conveniently accomplished under those circumstances. When the school year started in 06-07, I was understandably busy managing my existing Collection Development projects, getting caught up post-reassignment, and becoming more involved in my new responsibilities as team leader for Technical Services. I would be presented with a great new idea, an unfilled need, or a project request, and would think, “I’ll do it during our breaks.” But winter break came and went, spring break came and went, and now summer’s here. And I’m not sure I can get much of those things done.
I spent half of June’s work days out of my office for professional development and off-campus responsibilities. I’m hoping to take a vacation (which is well deserved) in July, I’m supervising the culminating 150-hour project of an MLS intern, I’m working weekly with a second MLS student volunteer, my unit has new staff to train and integrate, it’s the season in which I need to lead our annual planning exercise (in both of my areas), I promised to coordinate (and desperately want to accomplish) some technology training for our staff, and I have over 60 small projects on my to-do list that I thought I would get to this summer. But I have to ask myself… When?!?
Our annual planning process includes recognition of the things we must stop doing in order to move forward with the things we wish to add to our services. I can see that it’s time to plan for me as an individual, not just for the areas of the library that I help coordinate. I need to proactively decide what I will stop doing, because right now I’m not doing half the things I wish I were. The problem with the way things are now is that I’m choosing what I do not by any solid criteria based on importance, but rather by an amalgam of “what do I have time for right now, and what needs to get done in the next hour?” My priorities have become an exercise in organizing urgency, made worse by the idyllic vision of summer as an ‘expanse of unscheduled time’. And that can’t be sustained.
So what should I give up? That’s my new question to ponder, in between projects, meetings, and training sessions. I’m thinking that if Iris and I could ever find the surface of our desks underneath those landscaped piles, we might be able to sit down and come up with a brilliant solution to what looks like a systemic problem for engaged librarians.