Hacking your assignments with business mantras

I asked some of my classmates for suggestions about what to write about this month so here’s a shout out to my friend Olivia S. at the University of Alberta for giving me a great suggestion. Have you ever wondered how you could make your course assignments more efficient? How you could save yourself from doing hours and hours of extra work you don’t actually really need to do? I have been asking myself that every time I sit down to work on an assignment. The old saying goes to write what you know; and that’s what Olivia suggested I talk about this month: about the idea of tying your course work into stuff you are doing or learning about at your job. Make one work for the other. She’s right: that’s incredibly efficient and something I am desperate to be doing; but it’s not something I’ve actually managed to implement yet. Is this something you’re interested in trying to put into practice? Well, here’s some handy business mantras that can help with that.

“Don’t reinvent the wheel.”

This popular saying is all about learning to use what you know to build on something that already exists rather than starting from scratch and building something completely new from the ground up. It makes sense because it’s definitely easier to get a project going when the foundation is already laid. In the teaching world, it would be scaffolding your learning, you build up on the existing layers of knowledge, and it makes perfect sense that you’d want to do that with your MLIS assignments as well.

Here’s an idea for how to use this way of thinking to improve your efficiency and cause yourself less stress. Take an assignment you’ve already done in a previous semester, look at all the work you did on it, look at all the research that you gathered. Think about how you can take all of that and shift if to look at it through a different angle or lens in order to make it work for any other assignment you’re working on. By doing that, you’ll already have done a large chunk of the leg work that you need so you don’t have to do the hard part of starting all of your research from square one again.

I was sort of able to implement this strategy in my second assignment for my leadership and management course this semester. We had to create a training module on a leadership topic and one of them was library advocacy. I hadn’t previously done an assignment on advocacy, but I convinced my group to go with that one because I did have volunteer experience doing library advocacy research for The Harry Potter Alliance. This meant less work for us at the start of the assignment because I could quickly get them all up to speed on the basics of library advocacy so that we could really dig into it and build upon the base of knowledge I was able to provide.

“Work smarter, not harder.”

This is a controversial one. There are two camps out there: those who fully believe in this mantra, who live it and breathe it and preach it; on the other hand, there are those who do not like it and who believe it’s a myth. I’m firmly in the middle. I think it’s a good mantra to put you in the mindset of finding efficient ways to tackle assignments and projects. I personally think about it very similarly to “don’t reinvent the wheel,” to me working smarter doesn’t mean you’re not working hard – it means you’re not doing needless work just for the sake of looking like you’re working hard. It’s another statement that’s meant to get you to stop and really look at the assignment you’ve been given and figure out how you can approach it with the minimum risk of burnout for maximum mark.

So, to that I say, look to the work you’re doing at work. How can you bring your job or your volunteer work into your class assignments and make it work for you? Our professors keep telling us they want us to incorporate out personal experiences into our class discussions, so let’s manifest them into our assignments as well. If nothing you’re currently doing in your job or volunteer work is applicable, then consider your research interests. You know you have a niche that you’re interested in, something you read about a lot. So, take either of those things and do like we did with the previous strategy: think about what angles you can tackle with those topics so that they can fit your assignment. You’ll still have to work hard; but by working smarter at the start, you can focus that hard work in easier for maximum impact.

I’m hoping to do just that with one of the assignments I’m working on now. We have to do a business case on a library trend. Luckily, my group was into the trend that I suggested: open educational resources in academic libraries. It’s a subject that I think about and read about a lot, I’ve gone to loads of conferences about it, and it’s something I would love to do more with in my current job and going into the future. So, I’m using that interest ton inform our assignment and then with any luck that assignment will be able to re-inform my future work and professional development.

“Keep it simple.”

An oldie but a goody, we’ve probably all at some point in our lives either told someone or been told by someone to “keep it simple stupid.” There’s just so many areas of life where this mantra can be applicable and MLIS assignments are absolutely one of those areas. Yes, it is a graduate-level professional program; but that doesn’t mean that everything needs to be complex and convoluted. There’s beauty in simplicity and sometimes the simplest solutions really are the best. This can definitely be the case for assignments. We often overthink them and second guess ourselves. We really do tend to make things harder on ourselves in the search for impressiveness for our CVs and future job applications. But complicated isn’t always better. If you can take a simple idea and do it really well, that’s a lot better than running with a complicated idea and then only getting it half done.

Publishers and agents tell writers to edit, edit, edit. Students should be told the same thing. Think about scale and scope the minute that you come up with an idea for an assignment. Can you really do that complex topic justice in the amount of words you have? Does it really suit the medium of the particular assignment? You don’t always have to run with every idea the first time you have it. Write all your assignment ideas down and then before starting every assignment look at that list and see if any of them will work with the parameters that you have. Focus on doing things that help you develop knowledge and skills that you’ll need; but don’t go overboard and leave yourself room to build on those topics and projects in future assignments so that will make you doubly efficient.

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