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On Getting Stuff Done Without Working 24/7

February 2, 2011

Happy Wednesday! I hope your week (and day) is going well. Today we’re going to talk about getting stuff done without working like a mad person 24/7. I think this is a good time to touch on the subject as it is still early in the new year and you may be experiencing the twin, somewhat dichotomous thoughts of 1. Oh, my goodness, who said it could be February? I have so much to do and so little time, while at the same time thinking 2. I have so much time. No need to panic, yet. So let’s talk about getting stuff done so you don’t panic and you do have time for a nap without feeling guilty (or needing a TARDIS or time-turner).

This isn’t expert advice on time management. In fact, I’m not sure what makes one an expert in time management. I suppose doing research studies. So I’ve not done any research studies, but I have been able to get quite a bit of work done without working 24/7, no matter how skeptical my work colleagues may be about that claim. So first a bit of context.

I’ve been at my current position for 2.5 years. It’s a tenure-track position so I’m expected to do research, publish, and serve on university-level committees. I also managed somehow to assume management of the University Archives during my second year on top of my position as one of the library faculty members. Oh, I also supervise SJSU Library School Student Interns who teach with us in the information literacy course that is mandatory for first-year students. My job also includes the usual things like reference and collection development, plus grant writing. I’m also, unsurprisingly, very into sharing my love and knowledge of technology with others so I often teach workshops for the Faculty Development Office. So, my work life is pretty busy.

With my workload, and the workload of librarians and people in general, it is easy to be sucked into the vicious cycle of working 24/7 because you need to be connected 24/7. I thought like that when I first started my current position, and I literally had no life. I worked through the weekends, developed a wicked case of insomnia, and basically was looking at burnout before my first year was up. Obviously something had to change and I’ll tell you what I did, and no, this isn’t one of those “happy thought” advice columns about giving up what you don’t like and only doing what you do like–that’s not realistic and I’m definitely a realist (or an insane optimist, it depends on who you ask). So here’ my advice for not working insane hours and still getting insane amounts of work done:

  1. Don’t even think about multi-tasking. Multi-tasking as a productivity tool is a myth. Except for listening to music when I work, I don’t multi-task. I single task. When I’m in hardcore writing mode, I basically shut down my internet connection and everything else, but my writing program. I refuse to bounce around among multiple tasks. I single task and it completely increases my efficiency.
  2. Be ruthless about your to-do list. I write my to-do list on a Post-it each day and then just get into it, no matter how much I don’t want to do something. I’ve gotten pretty good at estimating how much I can get done in a day and I find it satisfying to cross things off my list
  3. Get to work early. I admit that I’m lucky in the fact that I’m a morning person. (If we are being completely honest, I’m more of a siesta person–work early in the morning, take a nap during my slump time which is around mid-afternoon, and work later in the afternoon to the evening. But that schedule doesn’t work here, so let’s get back to getting to work early.) Most of my faculty colleagues aren’t morning people and don’t show up until around an hour or so after I’ve gotten to work. Without interruptions, I get a ton of work done. Plus morning hours are usually my most productive times of day in terms of creativity, writing, and other tasks that require a significant concentration level. Basically find the time that is most productive for you and safeguard it against interruptions.
  4. Don’t indulge in any perfectionist leanings or tendencies to procrastinate. If you want to ship work, as Seth Godin would say, you need to do the work and then get it out the door. In order to do excellent work, you need to do the work! Being a perfectionist will only keep you from getting work done and procrastinating will keep you from ever starting the work. Inertia can be a terrible or wonderful thing, dear readers.
  5. Leave work at work. I no longer stay at work for horribly long days as much as possible and I leave my work at work. I don’t take work home because if I can’t get it done in the 8-9 hours that I’m at work, it can just wait until tomorrow. Now, since I’m an instructor, I do have to answer student emails at home and sometimes work can’t be avoided. But my pretty firm rule is that work doesn’t come home with me.
  6. Say no to extra projects (and committees) when you don’t have time, have no interest, are able to say no and/or all of the above. Now I know you can’t say no to every unappealing project or committee that comes your way, but you should get used to flexing your “no” muscle on those occasions where saying “yes” will only increase your stress level and workload and not really help you in any way. It took me a while to be okay with saying no to people and raising objections to projects I knew wouldn’t work out. But flexing that “no” muscle is the surest way to keep your workload to at least a semi-manageable level.
  7. Get some sleep. Honestly, just get more sleep, it will help. Just listen to this video (it’s funny and makes a compelling case for getting more sleep). If you take nothing else away from this list of advice, please take away that you need to sleep. You will be more effective and efficient, not to mention feel better, if you get some sleep. Being sleep deprived isn’t a badge of honor, it’s bad for you and your health.
  8. Find something you are passionate about outside of work and someone(s) with which to share it. I don’t think it matters whether you are passionate about art, collecting coins, or finding the best tea shop in the neighborhood, as long as you have something fun to look forward to outside of work. And, hopefully, you have awesome people to share in your love of whatever outside of work. I love my work, and I’m hopefully that you do too. I love working with the students, doing my research, going to conferences, helping people, etc., but I also know that it’s important to get out of the archives and library mindset. Don’t forget your friends, your family, your hobbies, and having fun while you are climbing the professional ladder.

So that’s really all I have to say about that. I hope it inspires you to at least think about not working 24/7. If you have tips or stories about what has worked for you, I’d love to hear about it in comments.

And finally, to end, check out this interesting video by BBC Horizon, What is Reality?.

Have a fantastic rest of your day and I’ll be back with some tech news on Friday. Allons-y!

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