Time Management and the Woman Library Manager
Making the best of dual work environments—career and home
YOU’VE GOT your first big break in library management, but after a few months on the job are beginning to wonder if you really can cut it. There never seems to be enough time to get everything done that’s expected of you. Your husband’s complaining about your long work hours, and the children are getting into trouble at school and constantly fighting among themselves. Or, maybe you are in a position where you feel you could and would like to move into a management role but are wondering if you will be faced with some of these problems.
The dual environment
Does this mean women should stay out of management? Definitely not! But new women managers or women seeking management positions need to recognize the value of ETM – efficient time management – in their dual environments of career and home. Even before a woman takes a paying job, whether she is single or married, has a family or not, she is in most cases a home manager. While everyone, male or female, who moves into management for the first time will find ETM an important job skill, the woman manager soon learns that if she is not going to join the ranks of the harried, overworked executive, she will need ETM not only at work, but also at home.
The Women’s Movement has brought about increased opportunities for women to move into positions of greater responsibility with better pay. Men are more open to sharing the workload at home, thus enabling women to take advantage of these opportunities. Yet, the primary responsibility for household management continues, for the most part, to belong to women. For today’s woman manager, the slogan “work smarter not harder” is not just a maxim but a survival necessity.
Time, or its lack, according to some writers, is one of management’s most pressing problems. An American Management Association study indicated that most presidents and vice-presidents of U.S. companies work 62 hours a week or more. That’s an alarmingly high number of “workaholics.” If time is indeed the “stuff life is made of,” as Benjamin Franklin suggested, then it appears that managers are paying a very high price for their careers. Perhaps it is not time that needs to be managed—but ourselves.
Experts on time management recommend that in order to develop ETM, you need to gain an accurate picture of how you are currently spending your time. Block out a grid with either 15-minute or half-hour intervals and write down what you have accomplished within each time frame. Chart your activities for a week, rating each one as A, B, or C in terms of priorities.
If your work varies considerably, you will find it useful to pick three or four weeks out of the year to keep a time chart. If you don’t have time to keep such a record, have your secretary or other person keep it at work. You are probably on your own for keeping track of those hours away from work, but you could be lucky and talk a family member or find into keeping it for you. Once you have an accurate record of how you spend your time, you can identify where you are wasting it and then begin to make changes to improve your ETM.
Phone call management
Many time wasters can be turned into time savers or can be effectively dealt with to one extent or another; take telephone calls for example. Few people could survive the busy and demanding life of a manager without a phone, but it is always at the top of the list in studies intended to identify the worst time wasters. The telephone can be a time saver if it takes the place of a meeting or helps to improve communication.
Train your secretary or other staff members to screen calls. Be sure to leave a list of exceptions such as the mayor, president of the library board or city manager, and the child care center director. Not everyone will like it when they can’t get through to you, and you will need to weigh how serious this problem is against the need for ETM. If too many phone calls are a serious problem, take and return calls only at specific times of the day. When calling an individual who is loquacious, phone just before lunch or closing time.
The meeting game
Meetings can either be time wasting or productive. Examine the need for frequent meetings to determine their necessity, and be sure to go in with a written and well-planned agenda. Keep the group on track by not permitting individuals to wander off onto topics not on the agenda.
When the meeting is over, make two lists. One should note everything that you did right, and the second, what you could have done better. File the two lists and review them before your next assembly. Holding a meeting to determine how meetings could be shortened, made more productive, or just plain abolished might be a good idea. Remember, you will never be more effective in bringing about change than in your first six months to a year on the job.
Nine steps to ETM
Most experts on time management agree on the basic steps necessary to achieve greater efficiency:
1. LIST your goals. Note both long- and short-term goals. Include family as well as career goals, such as taking a vacation or sending a child to computer camp or to college.
2. NEXT, rank your goals as A—most important, B—second in importance, and C—least important. Reexamine your B goals and turn them either into A or C goals. Once you have established your A goals, discard the others.
3. SET priorities in terms of what you need to do to reach your A goals. We all know what those priorities are, but sometimes we get bogged down in doing tasks that lead nowhere.
4. MAKE a daily “To Do” list. If applicable, the woman manager will want to keep in mind her dual roles as library and home manager. It may even be useful to maintain two lists, one under each heading. Make each list at the same time of day.
5. PRIORITIZE your list. Not everything on the list is an A. File the Cs and start with the As remembering that the As are those tasks which are going to help you reach the priorities that you have set in terms of both long- and short-term goals.
6. CONTINUALLY ask yourself, “What is the best use of my time right now?” If you know that you are going to have a 15- or 20-minute wait at the dentist’s office, take along that professional journal article that you haven’t had the time to read, or put together the agenda for the next staff meeting. It may also be a time to sit and be quiet for a few minutes if that’s the best thing for you to be doing at the moment.
7. HANDLE each piece of paper only once. This recommendation is probably one of the most difficult for library managers. Librarians are awash in paper. In spite of computers and automation, paper remains much of what our work is about.
8. DELEGATE an appropriate amount of the workload. As a manager it is up to you to set parameters and guide others in the operation of the library.
9. DO it now! If you have earned a position as a library manager, you are probably not given to procrastination to any serious degree. However, there are always those jobs that few managers enjoy doing, such as preparation of the budget, writing the annual report, or doing staff performance evaluations. One way to make the job easier is to use the Swiss cheese approach—take one small bite of a large project at a time until it is completed.
How accessible should you be?
Many managers like to maintain an open-door policy for both library staff and the public. It’s certain to be good for staff morale and public relations, but every person in a position of responsibility needs blocks of time to work and to think. Here again, a well-trained secretary can be a great help in screening people.
Consider limiting the open-door policy to certain hours and days of the week, which can be flexible. One successful departmental head, without a secretary, had three signals using the door to her office to indicate her availability. A closed door meant that she was not to be disturbed unless it was an emergency; partly open indicated that she was working but could be disturbed for something important; and wide-open was an invitation to visitors. Her reference staff was quick to check the door before showing patrons to her office, and regulars soon learned to interpret the signals for themselves.
Another factor that affects time is visitors. Understanding nonverbal communication can be useful: stand when a drop-in visitor comes to your office and do not ask the person to sit down. This action will keep the meeting short. Office arrangements affects the number of people who drop by. If your desk faces the door, you invite more people to walk in than if your back or profile is toward the door. This action will keep the meeting short. Office arrangements affects the number of people who drop by. If your desk faces the door, you invite more people to walk in than if your back or profile is toward the door.
Preparing your staff
Every new manager should take time to discover whether a mission statement, along with recent goals and objectives, has been written for the library and major departments. Mission, goals, and objectives statements form the basis for development of policies and procedures—all of which should be in writing. If such statements do not exist or have not been revised within the last three to five years, they should be developed, with staff input, as soon as possible.
Although much time is involved in such planning activities, they help ease the burden of confused responsibility and lines of authority, and help clarify communications. Every staff member should be familiar with the statements and be able to interpret them to the public with a conviction born out of understanding, because he or she has had a hand in shaping them.
Emergences are difficult to anticipate. One time saver is to keep a list of emergency numbers at the reference and/or public service desks. A once-a-year briefing on disaster plans is a good idea, as is CPR training and a briefing from the local psychologist on how to cope with difficult or emotionally disturbed patrons. Other less catastrophic events also arise, and achievement-oriented people plan well ahead so they are not constantly putting out fires and missing deadlines. Setting up artificial deadlines that are earlier than the real ones and keeping clocks ahead of time are two ways to maintain EMT—even when a crisis does arise.
People & their problems
The people you manage may come to you with personal problems. A wise woman manager will listen carefully and make notes for the individual’s personnel file, but will be cautious about falling needlessly into the “nurturing mother” role. Listen with understanding and empathy to staff’s problems is important to their morale, but it should never become an excuse for poor job performance—not for more than a short period of time. Nor should a manager attempt to counsel staff members about their personal lives. If problems persist and job performance is a serious problem, insist that the individual seek professional help.
The chronic complainer is another story. One way to deal with this individual is to immediately turn the conversation to his or her work. Ask how a certain project is moving along or what does the person think about a given problem in the library. This communication tells the person you are interested in their work and their ideas, but you are not willing to spend time in a personal gripe session.
There are many ways of wasting time, and you will be able to come up with a few of your own. Some of the most frequently noted time wasters from the literature on time management are listed below. They are divided between “external” or those time wasters that are essentially environmental, and “internal” or those which are closely related to our personalities and habits.
External time wasters Internal time wasters 1. Telephone calls 1. Unclear communication with others 2. Meetings (both planned and unplanned) 2. Indecision and procrastination 3. Drop-in visitors 3. Attempting to do too much at once and estimating time unrealistically 4. A lack of objectives, policies, and procedures 4. Inability to say no 5. Handling emergencies 5. Personal disorganization, such as cluttered desk and/or inadequate filing system 6. Dealing with the personal problems of employees and patrons at work 6. Lack of self-discipline 7. Confused responsibility and lines of authority 7. Failure to delegate appropriately
Organized at work
If you are seriously interested in EMT, the internal time wasters are a good place to start because they are the ones over which you have the most control. Stephanie Winston, an expert on managing time and paperwork, believes that disorganization is a universal problem, and that the root of it is psychological. When the disorganization becomes chronic, the cause may go back to a parent who was too controlling. Old childhood habits of resistance can continue into the adult years without our even being aware of it.
Clutter is one of the handmaidens of disorganization. Begin with keeping your desk well organized but also check out your handbag and briefcase. Do you really need all that stuff to carry around?
Be certain that you are not doing excessive office record keeping. This practice is a symptom of insecurity. Comprehensive files are useful, but are they worth the time and money to keep up? What is the worst thing that could happen if you got rid of some files or part of their contents? Is there another source where you could locate the same information? One rule of thumb is that if you haven’t used it in a year, it probably should be filed in the wastebasket. Office filing items should be a librarian’s forte, but, all the same, remember not to overspecify the subjects on file folders. Regard a file that lacks bulk with suspicion: perhaps it could be combined with others.
Paperwork can be one of a manager’s biggest headaches. Some EMT tips in this area include using speedletter forms with carbons already inserted with space for a reply. If possible, use a dictating machine or a microprocessor. A well-trained secretary can answer many letters with only a few notations on the original for guidance. Letter forms are also useful and can be personalized by changing a word here and there.
Deal with correspondence and other paperwork during one period of the day, keeping in mind the maxim to handle paper only once. It is becoming an acceptable practice to answer some kinds of letters on the bottom of the original. Robert Townsend suggests that in order to speed up this process, correspondence should be answered on the top of the copy machine. Keep responses short and to the point; don’t perpetuate polysyllabic obfuscation.
Organized at home
Getting organized at home is often as important for the woman library manager as it is at work. Stock your car with the essentials you need to keep it operating—a compressor for flat tires, extra belts, water in a hot climate, and traction grids in a cold one. Keep extra gloves, an umbrella, change, stamps, a city map, and other useful objects in the car. Organize shopping trips and errands so that you only need to make one trip instead of several. Better yet, consider whether you can afford to hire a service such as “Rent a Wife/Husband” to do it for you.
Take care of yourself. Don’t try to do too many things simultaneously. Finish one large project before starting another. Bear in mind that there is difference between excellence and perfection. The first is striving for that which is attainable and gratifying; the second, not attainable and neurotic. It is not necessary to be perfect all the time and at everything you do.
Nor does ETM mean scheduling every minute of the day and then killing yourself to accomplish unrealistic goals and objectives. ETM does mean working smarter, not harder, and building flexibility into your schedule. For example, don’t apologize for leaving a meeting that has gone on too long. Jean Fitzpatrick advises that the working woman flaunt her efficiency and make it known what she’s accomplished during a day—talking up her time-management efficiency.
It may be a dichotomy, but managers need time out for relaxation and exercise to be more efficient. If you are too busy to exercise or spend time enjoying the company of friends and/or family, you are too busy for your own good. Pay attention to your eating habits as well. Large meals and alcohol are not a good idea for lunch; they make most people sluggish in the afternoon.
You might find it helpful to postpone lunch until 1 p.m. so you can use the noon hour for work when you are less apt to be interrupted. Restaurant rush hour is over by that time, and you will get quicker service. Ross Webber, well-known management expert, reported that medical research supports skipping the working lunch in favor of eating alone because talking while eating is stressful.
You can’t do everything
Delegating work is crucial to EMT—recognize that it is not a matter of dumping unpleasant work on subordinates. Giving more responsibility is one of the keys to better management and improved job performance as long as people have the skills or are given the training to carry out the work to both their and your satisfaction.
One example of a failure to delegate is the library director being a member of every library committee. If a committee cannot function without her, then the manager should be the chair; otherwise, meet with committee heads in one meeting instead of many. Brief written reports of committee activities are appropriate to supplement such meetings. In making judgments about whether to delegate or not, consider these three guidelines:
- Maintain control over those activities or projects where as a library manager you have considerable more expertise and information than your staff.
- Maintain control over those activities where change in current practice is involved.
- Delegate those activities or projects that are routine and maintain stability and work flow.
Give thought and consideration to how in-service training or other educational opportunities could be used to broaden the responsibilities of professional and other library staff. A common example is training library assistants to answer ready-reference questions, especially in a library where a telephone reference service has been established. This leaves the professional reference librarian free to answer more difficult questions and assume greater management responsibility.
A word of caution is in order here. When you take away lesser job opportunities and give them to a person in a lower-ranked position, let the person whose duties you are going to change know that you feel he or she is good on the job and capable of doing more sophisticated work.
Don’t permit others to make too many demands on your time, including staff who want to delegate their problems upward. Expect achievement, keep organizational structure as uncomplicated as possible, and encourage staff competence with the zest of a football coach. Learn to say no. Although our society is changing, many women are products of earlier environments where they were expected to always provide support and nurturing. Don’t be afraid to say no to a superior if the demand is unrealistic or the deadline impossible.
Webber reported on one study which indicated that managers who ignored demands that interfered with their own job performance were given higher rating by their supervisors than those who conformed. If you are new to the community or state, or are a new library director, every library professional organization and local community service organization is going to want a piece of your time. Give yourself a few months on the job before accepting outside obligations. Suggest that one of your staff would be suitable, thereby giving others an opportunity to grow and yourself time to learn the job. You will also gain time to find out which organizations will be helpful in achieving your priorities.
Effective time management takes self-discipline and effort. In some initial cases you must spend time to gain it later on. Keep in mind the words of an anonymous philosopher:
BibliographyYesterday is a cancelled check.Tomorrow is a promissory note.Today is ready cash. Use it!
Askenas, Ronald N. & Robert M. Schafer, “Time: Managers Can Avoid Wasting It,” Working Woman, January 1984, p. 38-43.
Bliss, Edwin C. Getting Things Done: the ABC’s of Time Management. Scribner, 1976.
Braid, Robert W., “Learning To Say No,” Supervisory Management, July 1983, p. 9-14.
Davenport, Rita. Making Time, Making Money: a Step-by-Step Program for Setting Your Goals and Achieving Your Success. St. Martin’s, 1982.
Fitzpatrick, Jean Grasso, “Time: Stop Working Late,” Working Woman, October 1983, p. 7, 72.
Heyel, Carl. Getting Results with Time Management, 2d ed. rev. by David V. Lewis. Chicago: Education for Management, 1987.
Lakein, Alan. How To Get Control of Your Time and Your Life. Peter H. Wyden, Inc., 1973.
Mackenzie, R. Alec. The Time Trap. AMACOM: American Management Assn.m 1972.
LeBoeuf, Michael, “Managing Time Means Managing Yourself,” Business Horizons, February 1980, p. 41-46.
Roe, Jessica, “The Top 20 Time-Wasters,” Working Woman, October 1982, p. 74.
Steffen, R. James. “How To Stop Wasting Time,” Supervisory Management, May 1982, p. 22-25.
Townsend, Robert. Up the Organization. Knopf, 1970. rev. 1984 under the title Further Up the Organization.
Webber, Ross A. “Finding More Time,” Working Woman, October 1982, p. 113-116.
Winston, Stephanie. “How To Get Organized at Work and Home,” U.S. News & World Report, May 7, 1979, p. 76-81.
Helen M. Gothberg is Associate Professor, Graduate Library School, University of Arizona, Tucson