A warning to 2015

So, 2015.

Let’s talk.

I had really high hopes for you. I wanted to make something awesome with you.

I still do.

But this thing you’ve been doing for the last two weeks, where you go from the sublime to the ridiculous to the horrifying AND BACK AGAIN approximately every four working hours?

That shit needs to stop, or we’re going to have words.

Sincerely,

The Management.

mindfulness and balance

As I start a new calendar year and a new semester, I, like so many Americans, am making resolutions. Establishing my resolve. Reminding myself of what I value. Making choices about how I live.

In my personal life, I’ve resolved to meditate daily, exercise regularly, eat better, and sleep more. Those are all self-care activities that will lead to better health, more energy for the things I love and value, and, in a very concrete objective, lower blood pressure.

In my professional life, I’ve resolved to be mindful about my choices, and to balance my desires against my resources. I dream big — in fact, my birthday present from my mom includes a MantraBand that reminds me to Dream Bigger — but I also have a MantraBand coming that says Persevere, which is what I have tattooed on the small of my back. And I remind myself to persevere in large part because I dream bigger. Big dreams are harder to realize. They require more work. And often, they’re worth it.

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But not always. And not always right now. Sometimes you have to look at right now and acknowledge that you don’t have the resources to dream any bigger than you already did. That right now is as good as it’s going to get for a little while, and that right now is okay. That balance doesn’t come easily to me, but we all have limits. The goal to which I am fixing my resolve for 2015 is to balance my dreams against my resources, and to dream just big enough that I’ve stretched my wings but also left myself room to breathe.

One small tactic to get me there is the sign I just made and printed for my monitor.

The things we see regularly imprint in our consciousness. I put it where I can’t miss it, and it reminds me to do things I value with the time I am given. If you’d like to do the same, here’s my template. It’s just a Word template, and you could easily make your own if this format doesn’t speak to you.

May we all find our balance in 2015!

Staying on top of of it all

I ran into a campus friend in the cafe while I was picking up lunch, and we commiserated about the state of our workloads at this point in the year. I said, “I spent my morning dealing with the minutia of running two libraries and having 20 staff who need things, and I have this sense that there are about 15 relatively easy emails I need to send, and all I need is 90 minutes to do that in. But after lunch I have two student appointments, and then I have to go get Gwyneth from daycare because her father has a doctor’s appointment, then when he comes home I’m back to campus for the Presidential Scholar’s dinner… so maybe I’ll have 90 minutes tomorrow?” She understood. We all understand. Yesterday’s to-do list becomes tomorrow’s, and tomorrow’s becomes next week’s, and then suddenly it’s January.

But I’m not giving up. I’m teetering on top of a pile of disorganized to-do items — 32 emails in my inbox that require action (I am staying on top of those, if nothing else), six discrete piles on my desk, a construction project ongoing, two big “don’t screw this up, okay?” campus projects that I’m contributing to and/or leading, and the endless minutia of running two libraries and having 20 staff who, quite reasonably, need things. I’m tired of teetering. I’m tired of thinking I’m probably forgetting something. I’m tired of knowing I’m forgetting something.

So yesterday, on a whim because a friend was offering out codes for free upgrades, I started using Trello. This isn’t the first time I’ve thought that some piece of software was going to solve all my problems… and it probably won’t be the last. But for right now? I’m in love. I’m actually choosing to take the time — time I pretty much don’t have — to set this thing up well, because I think it might really be that useful for me. I have Boards for all my major responsibilities. I have Lists in each Board that represent the major areas of work for each responsibility. I have cards in each list that represent discrete projects or work. And I have checklists on cards so that I can plan, do, and record each step of each task. And I can set due dates. And all of it is accessible as a subscribed calendar, and via an app on my phone, so the tasks get ported in every day to the place I’m most likely to see them and add them.

I think in hierarchies. I think in groupings. I think in categories. I think on the fly, all over the place. And Trello lets me organize my work that way.

And just maybe I’ll feel a little more stable as I perch on top of it all.

 

borrowing energy

Late November and early December is always a hard time in the academic cycle — the semester is almost over, and everyone’s wearing down, but we haven’t hit the frenetic energy of finals week yet. The pile of things you planned to get to “during the fall semester” or “before the break” or “after Thanksgiving” is staring at you balefully and you’re staring back thinking, “I have to kill it before it develops language skills.” It’s also registration time for students, when they choose classes and projects for next semester — and set up internships.

Next semester I will be acting as site supervisor for between 3 and 7 interns, supporting the college’s Bicentennial. These are project-based internships, in that each of the interns will be working on one or more discrete projects, on their own schedule, with weekly check-in and collaboration meetings with me and the other interns. The projects are things like “use the digitized college newspaper to find facts, events, and people we can showcase in a This Week In SUNY Potsdam History series” and “find photos that are suited to doing Then And Now recreations with current students” and “help me make sure we’ve hit all of these Big Themes in our online timeline of the College’s history.” We’ll do some scaffolding work early in the semester, meeting with various Bicentennial stakeholders (the Organizing Committee, our Public Affairs staff, the Archives team), discussing themes and communication throughlines for the Bicentennial, teaching them to use our online historical resources, discussing how the research they do will be used in social and traditional media, and giving them a crash course in the history of the College. And then I plan to set them free, to sink, swim, or fly, as they can. (I also plan to be waiting by the side of the pool with inflatable floaties, as necessary…)

And up until this week, I was thinking about this project with a mix of resignation and duty. It needs to get done, and this is the best way to do it while meeting all of my varied priorities — I have limited time to ask of my full-time staff, the Archives cannot handle a huge influx of volunteer alumni workers (another option I had), we have been offering very limited internship opportunities and there are always a few Museum Studies students who want to work with us, we’re on a tight timeframe, we want to appeal to a student audience with this information, etc — but it really just seemed like more work.

Right up until I started talking to the students interested in the internship itself. Their energy, and their interest, is an amazing and powerful thing. One student, who wants to be an archivist, was so excited when the internship coordinator told him I’d take him on that he gleefully asked if he could have a hug. Another, a creative writing major, just lit up when I started describing the social media aspects of publicizing something like a celebration of 200 years of history, and wanted to talk about hashtags as a cultural phenomenon. A third has emailed me several times, clearly eager and just waiting for me to take the next steps.

How can you be resigned, or apathetic, or simply dutiful in the face of that? I can’t. Now I’m excited. This is going to be fun. It’s going to be hard work on my part, but that’s my  job, to work hard on behalf of this institution. And our institution exists to work for our students. It’s rare that the Director of Libraries gets the chance to work directly and meaningfully with students, but if this goes half as well as I suspect it will, I’m going to make sure I have more opportunities to make those connections and foster that excitement.

Because that’s the point of this gig, really: the students.

Inbox: manageable

I decided this afternoon that I’m tired of suffering under the tyranny of my email. Here are the new rules I’m going to try out for a while:

  1. My email program will only be open when I am actively working with email or away from the office and using email as my communication channel.
  2. Every email I’ve read that requires no action will get filed in a monthly folder.
  3. Every email that requires action will be flagged with a color-coded flag.
  4. At the end of every day I will triage the inbox for rules 2 and 3.
  5. I will strive for Inbox: Less than 20 at the end of every day.

It’s gotta be better than having 35 red-flagged messages and 127 yellow-flagged ones and 2557 messages in my Inbox, which is what I was just staring at, and which felt utterly unmanageable.

Worth a shot, right?

Jenica Rogers. I thought that you were driving, but you've given me the wheel.

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