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GTD for Librarians?

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  • GTD for Librarians?

    I am a librarian for a mid-size high school with 1000 students and 80 staff. I am the only person staffed in the library and I am responsible for all of the daily operations (circulation of books and videos, maintaining a 30 computer lab, supervision, and teaching) as well as all of the planning and management of the library and resources (purchasing, cataloguing, and processing books; developing curriculum, setting goals and achieving educational targets) I tried to implement GTD almost a year ago and was initially very pleased with the focus that came from the collection and processing of “stuff”. My problem is that I have not been able to maintain the system on a daily basis with any consistency.

    My biggest stumbling blocks seem to be:
    Interruptions. As anyone who works in a service industry knows, when a customer (student or teacher) approaches me with a need, my immediate responsibility is to meet that need as quickly and effectively as possible and get the student back to class. I don’t have the ability to limit interruptions by blocking out time during the day, working in another location, or to funnel requests through my inbox (which are some of the suggestions I’ve found in other forum posts). As such, I will frequently begin work on an action in the morning and it will still be unfinished (and quite possible spread all over my desk) at the end of the day…or week. At which time it has often been ignored for other more pressing tasks and projects as they crop up, I’m not referring to my lists and the whole thing falls apart.

    Backlog of menial tasks. There are a number of tasks I do that are repetitive, not in the sense that they occur every week or month, but that the same task seems to repeat endlessly. I think of these as my “factory jobs”. For example, I purchased 250 novels for our library earlier in the year. In order to protect the books, I have to cover each paperback with a plastic laminate. This is a job that because of financial limitations, I can’t outsource and because of time limitations, I can’t tackle all at once. How do I incorporate this kind of task into my system? I have several little jobs of this nature and the pile-up of this kind of work seems to be my major source of stress. I don’t want to leave “Laminate Paperbacks” as a Next Action because it gets stale and overwhelming on my lists. If I leave it off, I haven’t captured all my stuff and, again, the whole thing falls apart.

    Are there any other librarians out there who are implementing GTD? Or anyone who can offer some suggestions on how to implement it more effectively in my particular job? I am trying to get back on the wagon again this week and would really like to find solutions to these challenges and get my system set up right!

    Thanks so much for reading this long post!

  • #2
    I'm not a librarian, but I wonder if what you need is a staff of volunteers from either the student body or the community.


    • #3
      I second kangmi's question. When I was in high school, the library had a whole group of unpaid student aides who did many of the lower level tasks.

      Also, repetitive tasks like "laminate paperbacks" sound like the sort of thing that would be easy to fit into the small chunks of time between interruptions. One individual paperback doesn't take too long to do, and the overall job doesn't require much focus. Perhaps you could keep one or two jobs like that handy during periods that you know will be interruption-prone?

      Good luck!



      • #4
        David Allen's podcast recently talked about dealing with interruptions. There's some good stuff in there, so I'd recommend taking a listen sometime. I think, though, that the key is coming back to your lists and your Next Actions when the interruption is finished. David says that when he's engaged in a task and an interruption happens, he shovels what he's doing back into his inbox and comes back to it after the interruption. Would that kind of approach work for you?

        As far as incorporating a backlog of short-duration actions goes, I find it helpful to add a next action to my system for small blocks of the task. For example, what if you wrote, "Laminate 5 books" on your list as a Next Action? If you did something like that every day, would that help?

        As someone intimately familiar with libraries (I worked as a computer system analyst for a college library once), I second (third?) the prior suggestion about getting student workers/volunteers to help with some of those more mundane tasks.

        -- Tammy


        • #5

          I've been lurking on this forum for a while; finally decided to register.

          What helps me with "factory task" type things is to have a list of things that get added back onto the list at every weekly review, if they are not there already. If I complete the task, I get to cross it off. Then it's not ALWAYS on the list, and I get to cross it off when I've accomplished something.

          Sometimes I'll have checkboxes, if I want to (try to) get several of something done before the next weekly review. To use your example from the first post:

          [ ] Create Bookcovers ( ) ( ) ( )

          I'd check a circle off every time I did one cover (for example-- "making covers" isn't really part of my current job), then cross the entire thing off when I did three. I'd add it back on at the next weekly review (making more or fewer circles, depending on whether I doubt I'll be able to get to that many or whether I really need to do more.

          As for inturuptions: Is there a way you can mark a task as "in progress"? I use a paper-based system, and if I think I'm likely to get inturupted in a task, I'll mark it "in progress" when I begin-- so next time I scan my action list I'll see it's still there.

          I only allow one task to be "all over my desk" at once. If I have to put something else on the desk, then everything already on my desk gets whisked into a folder. This makes re-starting tasks much easier, because I don't need to sort out which peice of paper went with which project. The folders stay on a step-file on my desk until they are "done" (at least for the moment) at which point they go to my file drawer.

          Can you take 15 minuites at the end of each day to "hide out back" and adjust your system-- a sort of end-of-day review where you can bring your lists up to date? I find this makes the next morning much easier-- enough so that it might be worth doing on your own time on the 15 minuites after you get off shift.

          Edited to add: I also really, really try to avoid leaving a task spread over my desk when I leave at night: I'll whisk it all into a folder for my step-file instead (or if I really want a reminder to start on THAT the next morning, I'll leave the folder on my keyboard). I've found it's better for my state of mind in the morning to come into a desk that isn't still covered in the previous day's undone tasks.
          Last edited by LJM; 11-14-2006, 09:28 AM.


          • #6
            Come in early

            One thing that David mentioned in the podcast above, is that he would come in early to the gas station that he managed (!), and process all of his stuff, before the day of interruptions begins. So I suggest you do the same, come in a 1/2 hour before to clear out your inbox and straighten out your system before the people show up.



            • #7
              HSLibrarian, what is your job? Are you supposed to "serve" the students all day long or you have any other activities that should be done? What's more important: serving or doing other activities? What is your usual daily schedule? What's your weekly schedule?




              • #8
                Well this turned into a LONG post! My apologies.

                First, let me say I know how hard you work. I have worked in school libraries for years, from the time I was a teen til my kids were in high school. I was a substitute librarian in their school system too.

                You've stated your obligations very well. I am wondering if you find time for a weekly review? While it doesn't get the projects moved forward, it can provide ongoing documentation for arguing a case for help. I'm with the other GTD'ers here who say, you need some volunteer help.

                I know that as kids grow up in the schools, the parent participation drops off drastically. If you can get your principal or other bosses behind you, start requesting that help thru the PTA/PTO newsletters.
                Ask teachers (especially the teachers who use the library heavily) to pass along requests for part time help.

                Hopefully you can involve the students also. Talk to the office skills teachers, even the woodshop or auto mechanics teachers. I'm sure there's people in those classes who wouldn't mind a little extra credit and would be reliable and responsible enough to do your laminations.
                Maybe your early child education teachers would have students who would like to help out with student requests.

                How about a one hour help session after school sometime. Hand out treats afterwards. Maybe some rewards will keep the trained ones coming back.

                While I know you can't just shut down the library, maybe you could at least close it one period a week. That period can float so no one class is always shut out. Just communicate it well to everyone so no one is suprised to come up and see that "Back in one hour" sign.

                I'm afraid I don't have any good suggestions GTD wise. At least you know what you are not doing, which is better than before. One of the things about GTD, is that eventually, with hard work, and extra hours, you do pull out of all those undone things. Your backlog didn't happen in a day, and it will take longer than a day to pull out of it. I hope GTD is helping you to manage your ongoing tasks much easier.



                • #9
                  I'd echo the suggestion to get volunteers.

                  When I was in Jr. High School, we were able to take one of our study hall periods a week and volunteer in the library during that time. It was a formal program that you signed up for at the beginning of the year and were assigned the period for the library.

                  Also, today, many students need volunteer hours. If your students do, you may want provide some type of sign up method where they will get credit for volunteering. Also, if it's not easy for them to volunteer and be present in the library during the school day, perhaps you could give them a certain amount of work that they could do at home and turn back to you. For example, could they laminate the books covers at home or do they need to use equipment in the library.