This is going to be one of those “Blogger, heal thyself” kind of posts, so be forewarned. You may have noticed I missed a blog post and a podcast in the last few weeks (or maybe you didn’t, not sure which I would prefer 😉 ). One was skipped due to travel, the other due to burnout. I’ve been burning my candle at about 13 different ends since the end of the PhD (don’t ask me how that works), partly because I said yes to too many things this year, partly because of some unexpected surprises that ate up entire weeks of my schedule and put me behind on scheduling tapings. I don’t know exactly what happened, but what I do know is this– I make a shitty leader when I take on too much stuff. Lots of little things keep nipping at your heels and demanding your attention, to the point you don’t know where you are or what you’re doing–or even why you’re doing it. This spate of over-scheduling (which seems to happen at least once a year, more often if I’m going through major transitions like I am this year) ended in me losing all motivation to do ANYTHING. I spent my entire fall break playing Civilization 6 (GREAT Game, BTW, it’s the most challenging Civ at release ever and I’m pretty sure I’ve played them all). As much as I enjoy mauling the Aztecs with my Scythian horse archers, I really need to figure a way to either escape this cycle–or at least short circuit it before I go into total meltdown.
All of us leaders have a limited time to make our mark on the world and our libraries, and running around doing far too many things is a singularly bad strategy to make sure we leave our libraries better than we found them. So over lunch, after finally digging myself out from under a pile of small “pebble” tasks that have been taunting me for almost a month as I traveled too much, worked too much, and took too little care of myself, I brainstormed a few ways I (and by extension you) could get the right amounts of the right things done, and not get overwhelmed by smaller tasks that lead to being “nibbled to death by goldfish”.
- Be nicer to yourself. The trouble started when I was so exhausted and overwhelmed that I stopped eating right and exercising. thus began a vicious cycle of angst and self-flagellation. Getting to the gym started feeling more like a luxury I couldn’t afford, and so I eliminated it. Not my smartest move. A leader needs to be at her best, and he or she can’t be at their best if they’re not eating well, moving appropriately, and getting rest. My body was trying to tell me there was a problem, but I tuned it out and kept working harder. That’s unsustainable, and leads to the aforementioned video game binge.
- SAY NO. Yes this is hard, and I am terrible at it. But it’s necessary. As I’ve worked toward becoming a library leader, more and more cool opportunities came my way, many of them of a once-in-a-lifetime nature. So I seized them ALL, because I Carpe Diem to a fault. However, other things got added to a pile because I said yes to a friend, or to an interesting but tangential project, or simply listened to the evil voice in my head that tells me I can pack 30 hours of stuff into 24. I’m pretty sure this is the same voice that tells me that since fish is nutritious, it’s OK if my husband and I get another deep fried tempura sushi roll at dinner. I’m experimenting with some ways to put a hard limit on how many active projects I have at any one time, through fiddling with my bullet journal and assigning big rocks and pebbles to particular time slots in my schedule (so when the time’s up, something has to give). But the most important thing is going to be saying no more often. A leader is no longer about polishing up their own resume–a leader should care about building a stronger library and stronger library team members. By saying no, you’re giving someone else a chance to say yes to an interesting project that will help them grow. You’re also protecting your mental energy so you have the ability to truly judge what tasks are and aren’t worth your team’s energy.
- Set your priorities. If you know what the next step in your life is, you will be able to set priorities that help you know when it’s best to say no (or yes) to something. I don’t think I’ve talked much about personal missions or values, and i probably should at some point. The older I get the more convinced I am that goals aren’t always very helpful in attaining big things, simply because life is so unpredictable. That said, if you’re in tune with your core values and the big picture of what you want to accomplish with your career (and your life), then you can find clarity about which projects will help you get where you want to go, and which are distractions.
- Delegate, delegate, delegate. Something that took me a while to learn it the fact that one person’s overwhelming task is another person’s exciting project. At first I was scared of delegating very much, worried I would turn into one of those asshole bosses who had his people do everything and takes all the credit. (Silly, but true). Part of a leader’s job is actually to figure out who does a given project best, and what projects will help a person grow. I benefited from leaders who spotted my eagerness for more challenges and allowed me to tackle projects that gave me experience in their world. In retrospect, i can see more clearly that some of these tasks were simply things they needed to get off their plates. However, those kinds of projects were important in my professional development and stretched me as a leader. If that isn’t a win-win, I don’t know what is.
And that’s it for this time. Good leadership is sustainable over the long haul. Doing EVERYTHING nonstop till you are ready to collapse is not sustainable. Be honest with yourself, and try to figure out what your balance point is. For me, with this project, I’ve decided that for the next little while I’m just going to blog and podcast on my (hopefully regular) schedule, and stop worrying about turning this into some sort of income stream.
Well…except for one little experiment that is going to stretch me in a new direction, and which will determine a LOT about where I take the BLL project in 2017. I’ll tell you about THAT in next week’s podcast. Take care. 🙂