I remember going for an interview for a job in a commercial law library. Two members of staff, lots of oak paneling and claustrophobia. The best interview question was “what kind of library do you want to work in?” Worried that I would be offered the post I described a large academic library. It did the trick. No job offer. In fact academic libraries is where I ended up.
The great thing for me working in an academic library is their size. They generate lots of momentum. Constant re-organisation, new projects, career progression and a changing cast of co-workers. I fitted in just fine. Spin the wheel of fate forward a few years and it’s all change. I now work in what wikipedia tells me is an OPL (one person library). So it’s all down to me. This is a reflection on motivation. What it takes to keep going when you are the only one around. In particular when finding the motivation for “motivation” is hard work.
One. Distraction and how to combat it
This is doing something easier or more interesting than the thing you know you must do. Sorry, what was I writing about … ? Oh yes, distraction. It’s hard to combat but you can apply the one rule rule. Ask what is the one most important thing you must do whatever the other calls on your time are. For me it’s anything that has a user at the end of it. Enquiries, searches all take priority over everything else. So you just do that first and only do the other things if there is time. Otherwise it’s the next day for … whatever it was.
Two. How to eat an elephant
Well, I was on Facebook and I saw this link to motivation tips from special forces and then I saw this heading … . Turns out it’s an elaborate description of problem solving methodologies. Q. How do you eat an elephant. A. One bite at a time. If you research problem solving methodologies there are many from three to ten stages. The basic principle is to break things down to manageable chunks. Take for example a full LQAF with policy documents, costings, templates, annual reports, action plans, responses to action plans, any number of projects and surveys is months of work. The classic elephant problem.
Three. Imagine happy customers
Colleagues who deal mostly with users asynchronously over a computer network will recognise the problem of wanting a person to respond to you and give feedback. Instead you send off that search and may never hear back from the user. Or just get a cursory thanks. In nearly all cases that does not reflect how they feel, but they are almost certainly under pressure with 100 things to do. They may be on the move. So just imagine the joy they feel when you respond quickly and professionally even when they can’t let you know.
Four. Making lists
I have spotted a few colleagues who use Bullet Journaling. You may have been using something like this for years and just not known it had a name, or a system or some rather expensive stationary items dedicated to it. Anyway making lists is a great way to identify what it is to be done and how to allocate time to do it. You get the satisfaction of crossing things off your list too. I can’t claim to be dedicated Bullet Journaler, but I have learnt a new trick of having three lists Future Log (this year), Monthly Log (this month) and daily log (today). Best bit is to look back and see just how much you actually do. It’s more than you think.
Five. Review and reflect
Thinking about work, not just doing things, is an underrated activity. Step away from the everyday and contemplate work from a distance. Ask yourself where is this going? To be motivated you need the bigger picture, the helicopter view. If you lose that then work becomes mundane. After all what is it all for? Working alone, however, means you do have to be your own strategist. Take some time off to sit and think.
Six. Being Positive
It’s hard to be positive all the time. Starting from a negative might be an instinctive response but generally it makes it harder to generate motivation to do a job that has to be done. This tool for thinking about personal reactions to work/life situations comes from the NHS Leadership Academy Edward Jenner Programme. It describes four levels of the Stages of Personal Development.
Level 1. I am a victim of the situation. Everything is black and white. I take no responsibility. I believe everything is imposed from above/outside.
Level 2. I accept that there are different points of view but I still choose not to take any responsibility.
Level 3. I take some responsibility. Feel empowered to take action to address the situation.
Level 4. I can apply knowledge of the world, wisdom and experience to lead change.
We might experience any of these levels over the course of a day depending on the situation and mood. Probably we lurk at Levels 1 & 2 but aim for Level 3. Level 4 is just aspirational. Back to the point. If you feel your are at Level 1. then a quick talking to might be in order or just buy some time to readjust your mindset.
Seven. Doing something you enjoy
Being a good delegator is not a skill you are going to use much in an OPL. Just have to knuckle down and grind through the boring stuff, statistics, Open Athens Administration, LQAF Returns, ILL Records, etc. However, there has to be something you enjoy doing too. A reward. Having something you enjoy is the motivation that gets you through the other stuff.
Eight. Letting something go
Stay around anywhere for a while and you start to accumulate stuff. A radical clearout is sometimes necessary. What do you not need to do? Or how can you do the same with less time and effort. Making space for the things that interest you is an essential OPL skill.
Matt Holland, NWAS LKS supported by HCLU North, January 2017.