Strategies for managing an increased workload

As I mentioned in my last post I had my first proper speaking gig last week at the CILIP UC&R West Midlands event Lean and Mean Library Machine. Here are the slides from my presentation and below is (roughly) what I said.

Following on from Dave Parkes and Stuart Hunt who both presented on applying lean at a service level my intention was to present a more personal perspective and look at what strategies we can implement as individuals to increase our productivity. Before I looked at the strategies I use to manage my time at work I provided some context by looking at the department I support, how the library service in this area has changed in recent years and some of the main aspects of my job.

As my job title – Academic Support Librarian for Business and Management – suggests I am responsible for providing support from the library to the business school at the university. Warwick Business School (WBS) is one of the largest departments and over the past ten years has grown significantly – doubling both its undergraduate and specialist masters programmes. The way these students are taught has also changed; they can study full-time, part-time or by distance learning. This year nearly 40% of students at WBS are on distance learning programmes.

The library service in this area has also changed over the past ten years. In 2000 the service was provided through the separate Corporate Information Library (CIL) – now we are integrated into the main University Library. At the time in the CIL there were 5 library staff or 4 FTEs providing support for business, management and economics. There are now 3 of us or 2 FTEs. I am the only person working in this area full time. My two colleagues divide their time between multiple departments.

The CIL had an extensive collection of print market research and annual reports. Many of the databases were accessible on CD-ROM within the library and were slowly moving online and becoming available remotely. Journals were still primarily taken in print but e-journals packages such as Business Source Premier were beginning to be explored. By contrast this year our focus is on electronic resources – we no longer take market research reports in print and have stopped collecting annual reports. We are expanding our e-books collection and moving towards e-only subs for our journals. In 2000 training was largely provided face-to-face. Now, given the makeup of the student population we are taking a blended approach to training and increasing the support materials we have available online.

The main aspects of my job are as follows:

  • Liaison – building relationships with staff and students in the department. This is done through SSLCs, programme meetings with teaching staff + programme managers, training sessions, and meetings with individual academics and students
  • Enquiries – I receive many enquiries on a daily basis. They can be simple or complex. They can come by email, phone call or in person. Enquiry handling is possibly the most difficult aspect of the job to manage because you cannot plan for it.
  • Access to e-resources and guidance using them – this is perhaps a bigger element for me than it is for other departments simply because of the number of distance learning students I deal with.
  • Training – training is provided throughout the year, starting with induction and culminating in dissertation workshops. We also have an information skills tutorial online which I am in the process of developing further and rolling out to other departments.
  • Communication of library news – this is done in a variety of ways, through the business school’s intranet, library blogs and SSLCs.
  • Collection development – although the transactional elements of this, such as reading list processing and ordering are no longer part of the role of the ASL we still play a large role in collection development; providing buying guidelines for reading list items, selecting items for stock and processing donations.

A couple of colleagues have asked me recently how I manage to support one of the largest departments in the University and still leave on time at the end of the day. At first I was worried that they thought there was something I wasn’t doing and were gently trying to alert me to this. What they were actually interested in however were the strategies I use to manage my workload and the answer to this is simple – organization.

There are a few areas of my work which have the potential to cascade out of control if I don’t keep my eye on the ball. I have identified them here and presented my solutions to the problems.

Email overload
I read a blog post recently by David Lee King called Dealing with Email. In this he asks the question: is email you ‘real work’ or is it something you deal with so you can get on with your real work? I commented to say that for me it is part of my real work because I receive so many enquiries by email but that it is something which I find can overwhelm me if I don’t keep on top of it. So how do I stop this from happening? I work towards inbox zero – it’s not something I can achieve on a daily basis but my goal is to clear my inbox before I leave on a Friday afternoon.

To achieve this I use three simple steps:

  • First I apply the 5 minute rule – if a job can be done in 5 minutes or less do it. Then it’s out of the way and you can move on to something else.
  • Next and this is an important one, don’t use your inbox as a to-do list – I use the Outlook task list because this allows you to convert emails easily into tasks and set priorities and due dates.
  • Finally set yourself up a simple file structure and as soon as you’ve replied to an email or added it to your task list file it or delete it.

Repetitive enquiries
I spend a lot of my time answering the same enquiries from different people, especially when there’s an assignment due. One method I use to prevent this becoming overly time consuming is to post the answers on the Business and Economics Information Solutions blog that I manage. This helps in two ways; it saves me time so that rather than writing lengthy emails in response I can provide a link to the blog and students can also go directly to the blog to see if there’s an answer to their question before they need contact me.

Constant interruptions
I often find that it is at times when I need to just get my head down and do something that I get interrupted the most; from phone calls, emails or by myself finding easier or more interesting jobs to do. I’ve recently learnt one very effective way to get around this – I use my calendar to its full potential. I don’t just schedule in meetings and events but block out time to work on specific things. This becomes even more effective if you share your calendar with your colleagues.

When I find that this isn’t sufficient to allow me to get on with something I put the do not disturb sign up. It took me a long while to feel comfortable about doing this but I realise now that the world won’t end if I can’t be reached for an hour or two. I turn my voicemail on, close Outlook and occasionally will move away from my desk and work somewhere else in the library. It’s amazing how productive this quiet time can be.

One final piece of advice I will leave you with is to make sure that you take your breaks. I find getting some fresh air and having time to clear my mind is essential for a productive day.

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