We are very happy to have another post by Bria Parker this week. Even better, after much begging on my part, she has joined the NewArchivist team as a Regular Contributor. Welcome Bria! ~ ed.
Fact: Slow-moving bureaucracies are slow. Like, “being able to feel the rotations of the earth” slow.
I started my first job six months ago. I was gung-ho and ready to change the world (or at least the world of audio preservation at my library). I worked with fervor, reviewing literature, brainstorming, developing documentation, completing tasks. Then I would proudly send out what I had accomplished in an email to those involved in that particular aspect. I would receive a reply of “great – let’s have a meeting to discuss this sometime in [insert name of faraway month here].” Now, I knew that it would take a while to get everyone on the same page and get the project moving forward, but I just was not prepared for things to drag on for months.
Yikes. What was I supposed to do in the meantime? Sure, there were other tasks and aspects that I needed to address. But what happens when several of these tasks hinge on the decisions waiting to be made? When you’re coming right out of graduate school, the land of ever-imminent deadlines, it can be hard to get out of the “I must get this done RIGHT NOW” kind of attitude and realize that sometimes you have more time than you think you do to finish something.
This is not a post on how to look busy so your boss doesn’t give you more to do. That’s not how I roll. This is about how to plan ahead, how to (try to) take the lead, and how to gently poke and prod people until you see some progress. Delay is inevitable. I am near, if not on, the bottom rung, so my responsibilities number few, so when I have to rely on others whose responsibilities exponentially outnumber mine it’s hard to press for progress without feeling like a petulant toddler. “Want juice, want juice!!” (or “want metadata, want metadata!!).
So what should a new archivist (or new librarian) do when faced with this reality? How can we continue be efficient with our work when faced with delay? Here are a couple tips to help ease the frustration:
First, before setting off on any task, outline it in detail. Don’t just outline the actual content you hope to collect, or the desired outcomes of the task, but map out who you will need to communicate with in order to get it through the next step, or who you will need to hand it off to when you’re done. Keep open communication with these people, and do let them know that you hope to finish “xyz” soon and want to know if they have time in the near future to look at it/give feedback/move forward with it. I know it can be hard to do this without seeming like a nag, but it is worth it. It lets both parties know where each other is at.
Second, use all of this information to create a clear and flexible timeline for when you need to have these things ready. I have also found it helpful to ask straightforward questions about the timelines of others. For example, I need some programming done for some creation and digital validation routines for the project I’m working on. I am not a programmer. Thus, I’ve asked when this programming will fit into the production schedule of that department. Not only does it give me a better idea, but it let’s others know “Hey, don’t forget about this. We need to get this worked in soon.” This is better than just handing something off and waiting. Don’t assume that anyone will tell you anything about any timeline.
Third, I suggest initiating meetings with people. Yes, I know, everyone dreads meetings. But my experience thus far is that it has been the best way to meet people, and conversely, let them know who I am and what I am doing. When you’re new, it helps for people to have a face and a personality to match to the countless emails you plan on sending them. If they recognize your name, they’re more likely to help you. Even if you just drop by someone’s office to chat for ten minutes, it is ten minutes well spent. That brief encounter can help remind someone to finish something up for you. Again, don’t be a nag. Be friendly and respectful.
Hopefully by doing the above, you will be able to prioritize your work based on a more realistic timeline and will spend less time waiting. The planning and outlining may also help you notice other work that has yet to be done or assigned. Be proactive and do it!
I realize this is wishful thinking, as it does not always work out this way. Sometimes you just have to wait. In the meantime, revisit other things waiting in the queue with fresh eyes. You may find that you have completely different ideas about how to approach something than you did a month ago when you first worked on it. If you find yourself with absolutely nothing to do, don’t sit on your hands, do research! It’s always a good idea to go through the literature looking for new ideas and trends.
So that’s my take on staying sane. What about you? What tips do you have for us?
2 responses to “When Efficiency is your Best Friend (then your enemy, then kind of your friend again)…”
I know what you mean when you describe the eagerness to get things done coming out of the grad school environment. While in my first job, I felt like I was pushing staff who had been there 30 years with tasks that I had come across, ones that they needed to play a role in to get the task accomplished. These tasks were things that had been sitting around for years and I took the initiative to finish little things here and there that had been sitting around since the mid 1990s. It was nice to hear from my superiors though, that my work was forcing them to get things done in a good way. So your hard work and eagerness to accomplish things can and will have a positive impact, even when it feels like it will not.
Thank you for writing about this topic. I’m in my first job right now and have found myself waiting around a lot more than I had expected to. Some of these tips I have already divined for myself, but it is good to see them clearly spelled out. And it is great to know that my time management isn’t quite as out of whach as I have been fearing.