Managing my time

with 4 comments

One of the training needs I identified in my initial Personal Professional Development Plan for CILIP Chartership was to ‘improve my time management’. I’ve looked at how I cope with lots of deadlines to meet in a short space of time before, but I thought it might be a good idea to think about how the ways in which I organise my time have developed over the last couple of years and whether there are things I can do to manage my time more effectively.

Time management

I’ve always had to manage my own time at work. As a Library Assistant in the Academic Liaison team, I spent 10 hours a week assisting customers on the Help and Information desk. For a while, I digitised resources for taught modules for one morning each week. But apart from that I was given a range of tasks and jobs to do and it was largely up to me when I chose to do them, as long as they were completed. So I organised this by putting all of the activities which had a scheduled time into my Outlook calendar.

Let’s have a look at my Outlook diary…

That was then – November 2010:

November 2010 calendar

And this is now – April 2012:

April 2012 calendar

The obvious change is that the balance of what I spend designated time slots on at work has definitely shifted. In 2010, the vast majority of appointments were the green and orange hours on the service desks. Fast forward to 2012, and there are very few service desks, but I’ve traded them in for lots of meetings, one off appointments like the Staff Information Fair, and regular visits to other sites.

The good thing about having less desk slots is that I can manage my time so that I can try to create longer blocks of ‘free’ time (Tuesday, Thursday afternoon and Friday morning look quite empty in April 2012!) so I’m able to concentrate on detailed tasks such as design work. My 2010 diary, in comparison, wasn’t massively efficient as I kept having to interrupt tasks to go out to the service desks, and then just when I was getting into the customer service tasks, head back to my desk to pick up where I left off.

And the times where there’s nothing in my diary? Well, when I started working towards Chartership, a lot of the things I was working on were long-term Library activities – processing records for the institutional repository, checking reading lists, administering our student book request service – so I just tried to spend a bit of time each day on them. That’s certainly different now, because although there are things I do regularly (such as updating the Library webpages, creating notices, putting things onto our digital displays, etc), most of my work is project-based or made up of small individual tasks.

And for those kind of jobs, I have a ‘to do’ list.

Here’s what my ‘to do’ lists look like:

To do list

I absolutely love ‘to do’ lists. That hasn’t changed, since I started Chartership back in 2010. But the thing is, when I started writing these lists as a Library Assistant, they were usually fairly short and contained. A 2010 ‘to do’ list would only have perhaps six or seven items, because there wouldn’t be that many unique tasks to do.

Now, as you can see, my to do lists have become really long. I usually fill almost the whole page before I even begin – enough to add only one or two more things before I need to start a back up list (sometimes I have two or even three going at once when I’m really busy).

Let’s have a look at this list in more detail: there are three ‘statuses’. Items which have a massive tick at the front of them, perhaps unsurprisingly, are the activities I’ve finished. Jobs which have a heavy dash after them (but don’t have a tick at the beginning) are jobs that I’m in the middle of, or I’m working on, but haven’t yet completed. And then things which don’t have a dash or a tick are things which are still ‘to do’. So far, so straightforward.

But there are some problems with my beloved ‘to do’ lists.

Firstly, I’m pretty much inseparable from these lists. If I go to another site for a morning and I don’t have my reporter’s notebook which contains the list, then I am pretty much lost (in fact, I regularly email myself a mini-list when I know I’ll be away from my normal desk to avoid this very problem). But I think there’s probably an argument to say that something that I could access online might be more effective there.

Next, there’s very little prioritisation of the tasks on my ‘to do’ list. They pretty much go down in whatever order I think of them in. So as you can see, I don’t necessarily do the things at the top of the list first. And the time required to complete the tasks that go onto the list is massively varied. Putting up a pull up banner, for example, will take me 5 minutes. All of the design work, however, will take a good few hours, and will require some time when I’m not likely to be interrupted as I need to be able to concentrate.

And the other problem is – and this is probably the biggest – that not all of the tasks I need to do go onto the list. Some of them live in my inbox as ‘tasks’ – I’ll flag emails if I need to do something with them, and then mark them as complete when I’m done. But worse still, some jobs just remain in my head and seem to come back to me in waves, so I’ll forget and then remember them again at odd times, usually when I’m not in a position to do anything about them (like at 3am in the morning).

I’d also like some way of knowing when I actually completed things. This would be really useful because then I could match up particular publicity activities with web analytics, visitor numbers, etc.

So what’s next?

I read Jo Alcock’s Getting Things Done column in this month’s issue of CILIP Update, so I’ll be following this with interest. I could probably use my work calendar more effectively by blocking out time for particular activities, so I might start trying to do this more! I also think I can’t continue to avoid ‘to do’ list software… does anyone have any recommendations?

And next up, I’ll be blogging about how my project management skills are shaping up…


Written by missrachelsmith

January 22, 2013 at 19:30

Posted in Chartership

Tagged with , ,

4 Responses

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  1. Glad you found my column this month useful. From what you have identified as things to improve, I’d recommend taking a look at David Allen’s GTD (Getting Things Done) methodology. That should help get you into the habit of recording things consistently in the same place – no more actions in the inbox! I’ve found it has really helped me clear my head of all those things I was previously having to remember to do which gives me chance to focus my mind on actually getting stuff done.

    You need to really trust your system for this technique to work, so I have tried a number of different online tools. For me, Omnifocus is working well (sadly Mac only) but I also really liked some of the other tools I’ve tried so it will depend on your needs. I’m sure I’ll be mentioning them in future columns, but for a brief overview of GTD and some recommend tools to try, you might want to read my How to get things done article from last October (now available via my blog thanks to CILIP Update).

    Jo Alcock

    January 23, 2013 at 11:46

    • Thanks for the advice, Jo – I’ve just borrowed David Allen’s book as we have it in stock so I’ll give it a read (I’ll put it on my to do list, ha ha!). I’ll also try and read your earlier article from your blog, as I don’t think I ended up getting the October issue. I recently switched my CILIP Update subscription to my home address rather than work, as I often found it ended up with our Serials team!


      January 24, 2013 at 15:18

  2. Hi Rachel

    I must admit, I’ve been experimenting with a new concept – which is the anti-to do list. This addresses the situation where you look at your to-do list at the end of the day, and don’t feel you’ve acheived anything as you haven’t been able to cross anything off. What the list doesn’t account for is the unplanned work you had to do instead.

    So as well as using ‘Remember the Milk’ (which syncs with my Google calendar), I also have ‘I done this’, which is an app that sends an email every day. You simply reply with what you actually acheived that day. I’ve found it absolutely brilliant for recording chartership work – and providing motivation so that when I feel I’m not getting anywhere, I can look back and check what I’ve already achieved.

    The non-high tech version of this of course is just to add the ‘I done this’ to the bottom of your list. You might spot patterns in reactive work that enable you to plan for them in the future. (For example, I discovered that Tuesdays – for some reason – were a day when we recorded the highest number of enquiries. This had an impact on the amount of unplanned, reactive time I spent on enquiry work.


    January 23, 2013 at 22:50

    • Hi Jo,

      I like the idea of an anti-to do list! I get unplanned work all the time (as I get so many tasks coming in through emails from my colleagues, and surprise work like information requests from student media, building work disruption that I need to tell customers about, etc). Jo Alcock recommended iDoneThis too in her column, so it sounds like I should definitely give that one a try. And it might be interesting to record how many times people ask me to do particular tasks, so I can prove how much work I’m picking up in particular areas and what impact that has on my time.

      Might be a bit late to have much of an impact on the Chartership work though! This is probably the sort of thing that CILIP should advise on in their ‘Building Your Portfolio’ and ‘Preparing for Chartership’ courses… (I’m on the CDG NE committee so I might bring it up as something to include in our sessions).



      January 24, 2013 at 15:26

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