Structuring My Time

This is part of the ongoing ACRLog/HLS collaboration. Check out ACRLog for Madison Sullivan on “Librarianship Doesn’t Need Professionals” Read more about the project here! 


Heidi Johnson is the Social Sciences Librarian at University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. She earned her MS in Library and Information Science from GSLIS at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in May of 2015. Heidi was asked to write about the most difficult aspect of transitioning from a student to a new professional.

Kevin Harber, Flickr (CC:BY:NC:ND 2.0) 

The thing that has been most pleasantly surprising, but somewhat difficult-to-adjust to, as a new professional (besides the 40+ hour work week), has been the freedom that I have in managing my own time at work. I have some meetings, sure, and instruction sessions and research consultations, but compared to being a student, my time – 8+ hours a day – is largely unstructured. As a student, I had regular assignments and readings that I had to work on, that were chosen for me. Now I have goals, but they’re not “due” until the end of the year!

It feels magnificent to have so much free time, in all honesty. (LIS students, take comfort in knowing there are jobs out there where you may have a bit more freedom to decide how you spend your time, and that may be something to look for as you hunt for jobs. I don’t think too many people like to be micro-managed, although maybe some do…) However, the price to pay for that is that the responsibility falls on me for making sure I actually make sufficient progress towards my goals.

How am I managing these new freedoms? At first I tried to work non-stop, with few breaks, and short breaks only. I found myself going a bit stir crazy and found that my productivity was waning (as my eyes became glazed over and my shoulders more and more slumped). Then I changed that, after talking to my supervisor and discovering that it was ok to take (somewhat) longer breaks. (She told me about a finding that the most productive people work 52 minutes followed by a 17 minute break!) Those longer breaks were necessary in order to be productive; I found myself working in shorter spurts, and feeling more on top of things.

I also try as much as possible to work first on things that I really want to work on the most. By picking things I really want to work on first, I build up a little momentum, then the other tasks seem less daunting (although I have no goals or tasks that I really dread, which is great). I work on each goal or task until I get a bit tired. Then I take a nice break before picking something else to work on. This has been effective for me. I feel productive, and I’m making sufficient progress towards my goals. Recently, I’ve also started to list my goals on my white board, and make a check mark by each one as I work on each. Then, once I’ve worked on each and every one, I’ll erase the check marks and start over. This helps to insure that nothing falls by the wayside.

Other people may have different strategies, and you have to find what works for you. For example, some may schedule blocks of time in their calendar for working on particular projects. Others may have a particular order in which they work on their goals that they stick to everyday. So try different strategies, and then stick to the one that’s most comfortable and effective for you.
I’ve also taken advantage of these freedoms, and picked things to do that are intellectually stimulating and rewarding, yet still move me closer to my goals. For example, I’ve done a bit of reading. I finished Pedagogy of the Oppressed (for learning about key instruction practices and theories) and also a couple books by faculty in the departments to which I am a liaison, all during working hours! This reading is really important, both for learning about the disciplines that I work in, for learning about theories within librarianship, and also for having some extra intellectual stimulation – for keeping my mind sharp. Reading regularly and keeping current is important for my identity not only as a librarian, but also as a scholar and student in social and political theory, and a Las Vegas resident and faculty member at UNLV. (Many faculty members’ publications are very much influenced by place, which is something I blogged about in my first ACRLog post as a First Year Academic Librarian blogger.) That is one thing I appreciate most about my job – that it is also personally fulfilling on a very basic level. So my final word of advice is to find a job where some of the requirements also overlap with your own requirements for a happy and fulfilling life!


1 reply

  1. Great advice. I’m always trying to find ways to make best use of my time, although I don’t have similar deadlines as you, but when you only have 9 months to get things done: book repairs, orders, ensuring everything is accounted for before final exams and the last day of school, you start to truly feel the pinch once time starts looming over like a dark cloud.
    – Krys


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