Staying productive while working from home

Image by Pavlofox from Pixabay

So I’m officially on Day 8 of my telecommuting exile and it has been…a challenge. Like I said before, I miss my office. I miss my colleagues. I miss my routines. Generally, I just miss the way things used to be.

Still, like everyone I need to do what I can to stay productive even as it sometimes feels like the world is falling apart. I thought I’d share here some strategies that I’ve been using so far to do that that are working for me.

As always, I want to acknowledge that I’m speaking from a place of privilege as someone with a job that is allowing me the opportunity to continue to work through all of this and the flexibility to practice social distancing to keep myself and others safe. Not everyone has that right now. Also I’m privileged in the sense that my time and my space are my own—I don’t have to share them with anyone on a day-to-day basis except for an occasionally pushy cat. So the point of view I’m writing from is someone whose only responsibility at the moment is herself (and her pushy cat).

That said, here’s what I’ve got on how I’m staying productive:

Limiting exposure to the news: Like most people, when this thing first started, I was pretty much glued to my favorite news sites. As soon as I woke up in the morning, I’d check the headlines from the New York Times. Then when I got to work, I’d read through the various local and national newsletters I receive in my inbox every day. Then I’d check some headlines on some other news sites I like just in case. Then I’d go back to the New York Times in case anything had changed. Before I knew it, I had fallen into a black hole of anxiety and stress and hours had gone by with no work getting done. Pretty much the same thing would happen when I got home at night. Before I went to bed, I’d check the number of new infections in my area (in New York State, where the number of known infections is now said to be doubling every three days) and then not be able to sleep.

The thing is, compulsively checking and re-checking the news made me feel like I was doing something. As if by informing myself about what was going on, I was somehow taking action. I wasn’t. I was just freaking myself the f*ck out.

A certain amount of freaking out right now is probably healthy, given the sheer magnitude of everything that’s happening. And staying informed is definitely important. But not at the expense of living life.

So now I’ve limited my news intake. I put my phone in another room while I sleep so I won’t reach for it first thing in the morning. Instead, I wait until I open my work e-mail. I look at the newsletters I’m subscribed to, absorb this new information as best I can, and then I put it away. I don’t look at the news again until I’ve finished my work for the day. I definitely don’t look at it right before I go to bed. It’s not easy but if I want to do anything besides spend my day worrying, it’s necessary.

Creating a structure to my day: One of the things I’ve always liked best about my job is the near-complete autonomy I have over how I spend my time. Sure, there are meetings and reference shifts and instruction sessions. And of course I have to check in with my supervisor regularly to account for what projects I’ve been working on and what progress I’m making. But overall, the layout of any free time in my day has always been pretty much up to me.

Luckily, I’ve always been pretty good about managing time. Like, I have a color-coded spreadsheet that lays out what tasks I want to get done on which days for an entire week and I generally manage to stick to it. But what order I do things in and how long I spend on them has always been a bit loosey-goosey. Mostly I just drift from one item to the next based on what I feel like working on in a given moment or what I know I have to get done. This system has worked well for me the last five years or so that I’ve been using it. Which is to say, I managed to get tenure a year early by organizing my time this way.

Except it turns out a system like doesn’t work as well in a full-time WFH situation. I mean, I still have a color-coded spreadsheet but drifting from one task to another like I did before leaves too much room for that compulsive headline-checking I talked about above or getting distracted by non-work related things. So now I have a schedule for myself, which lays out the order in which I will work on my tasks throughout the day and between what hours. That order is the same every day and I’ve been forcing myself to follow it as much as possible—especially the part where I stop and put all of my work away before dinner in the evening.

To be clear, this structure is not one of nonstop work. Full disclosure: my color-coded work task list has never consisted entirely of actual work-related activities. I always have a few spaces for “personal” activities like the twenty minutes I would use to work on a personal creative writing project at lunchtime. Those personal activities are now things like a short walk in the morning and a 10-minute Headspace meditation in the afternoon. It may seem ridiculous to include stuff like that on a to-do list but I feel like these are things I really need to be doing right now to keep my sanity and I know myself well enough to know that if I didn’t put them on the list, I wouldn’t do them.

Connecting with colleagues: I am a loner introvert who lives by myself and there are frankly ways in which this social distancing thing was made for people like me. I mean, before all of this happened a weekend in which I didn’t leave the house and didn’t talk to any other people was, like, a good weekend for me. That was something I looked forward to.(1) Now I’m a little worried that by the time all of this is over, I’ll have forgotten how to talk to other human beings and will instead start talking to my co-workers the same way I talk to my cat. And this is all assuming that I remain healthy while I’m doing the social distancing thing.

So I knew I would have to take steps to make sure this didn’t happen. I contacted some colleagues I was social with (in a work-related way) in the past and invited them to regular virtual coffee and chat sessions where we can talk about what we’re working on and check in with each other in a more general way. I did the same with my research/writing partners on a recent research project and some former library colleagues as well. This way, I can practice social distancing without becoming too isolated.

 

So, yeah. It may be that I need to change all of this up as things continue to develop, but this is what’s working for me right now. If you have any strategies for keeping yourself productive and sane right now, feel free to share in the comments below.

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(1) I told my therapist this once. She was not impressed.

Ya got trouble: Library life in the time of coronavirus (so far)

The last few weeks have been a roller coaster and the world has become a strange place.

Things here in New York State are changing about every hour or so. Last week was complete chaos as my campus was among those unexpectedly ordered by the governor to move classes online for the remainder of the semester. Up to that point, we had been thinking they would be online for a couple of weeks at most. Then came the news that even though classes were moving online, the campus was still open and those of us in the library, along with a number of others, were being required to come into work with opportunities for telecommuting limited to just a few special cases which needed to be cleared with HR. There was a lot of back and forth about that but it’s since been resolved. I’m now officially telecommuting until further notice.

Meanwhile, almost all the local businesses are quiet or shuttered completely and there is no toilet paper or paper towel to be had in any grocery store in the entire town.

Not that long ago, I was looking forward to my sabbatical in the fall and excited about the idea of not having to come into the library every day. Now I’m finding myself grieving for my everyday worklife. I miss my office (especially my Buster Keaton poster). I miss my colleagues. I miss my routine. I miss my sweet used-to-be (as Willie Nelson might put it).

So the last week or so has been filled with a lot of negative feelings. Anger, sadness, anxiety. It’s hard not to dwell on the negative when every news headline gets worse and worse with no relief in sight. Instead of adding to that, I decided that I wanted to write a post about good things. Things that are making my happy despite the current misery, things that I’m grateful for, things that I’m looking forward to.

Before I get to my list, though, I feel like it’s a good idea to acknowledge my own privilege. I am lucky enough to be in a job where I am being given (after a bit of a fight) the flexibility I need to protect my health and the health of those around me. At this point, I don’t have to worry about missed paychecks (knock on wood). I have plenty of sick leave accrued if I need it. I have the means to access what I need to make myself feel safe and prepared. Not everyone has those things or even some of them. They should. But for right now I recognize that I am in a very privileged group.

With that said, here is a list of things that are making me happy, that I am grateful for, and/or that I am looking forward to, in no particular order. Some of this is work related, some of it’s not.

Please feel free to share your own happy things in the comments.

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People are asking each other how they’re doing and they actually mean it: Earlier this week, when I was still going into the office, I would pass colleagues in the hall and they would ask, “How are things going?” or “How are you doing?” This was nothing new—we all ask each other this all the time—but suddenly it was a real question. We actually wanted to know how the people we worked with were doing and how they were coping with the situation at hand. It’s been the same in other places, too. I had a whole conversation with a grocery store clerk the other day (with the proper amount of space between us), someone I had never met before, about how we were each holding up with everything that was going on. This never would have happened before everything changed.

It’s okay to admit that you’re not okay: This goes hand-in-hand with the one above. Before, if someone asked how you were doing, you’d say “fine” and move on, no matter if that was the truth or not. To do otherwise was a serious breach of social etiquette or possibly a sign of mental illness. Or both. Now it’s okay to admit (in a blog post, for example) that you’re anxious or scared or angry or sad or all of those things. True, this can sometimes result in a conversation where everyone feeds into each other’s anxiety by talking about their own. But it’s nice that for once we can all just be open about the fact that we’re not okay, if that’s the case (and that’s okay).

Renewed motivation to get a social life: I mentioned that in the fall, I’m going on my first sabbatical. My goal leading up to that sabbatical (and something I had planned to post about) was to get more of a social life than I have now by going out more and participating in more social gatherings so I wouldn’t become too socially isolated during those six months. I started working on this goal in November and I actually had some good momentum going. I’d started going to some yoga classes, I had a couple of meetup groups whose meetings I was keeping track of and occasionally attending, I had taken the first few steps to starting a writing group at my local library. Then around mid-February that momentum left me and I more or less went right back to where I’d started. I’d set a goal for this month to start things up again but obviously that went out the window when social distancing became a thing. I don’t know if I would have met my goal if the world had stayed the same, but I know now that once this social distancing thing ends, I’m going to take the idea of going out and doing things and meeting people a lot less for granted because of it.

If social distancing had to happen, at least it’s 2020 and not 1918: The Spanish flu epidemic of 1918 has come up a lot lately in the news and in my conversations with other people. I admit that I haven’t done a lot of reading about it because I don’t want to scare myself so I don’t know what measures were taken at the time to curtail its spread (if any) but imagine if you lived back then and you were told to practice social distancing. You can’t go out. You can’t see anyone. The internet does not exist. Cell phones do not exist. Telework for those who normally work outside the home doesn’t exist. Video games definitely aren’t a thing. You may or may not have electricity or running water in your home. At least if we have to practice social distancing now, we still have the means to keep busy, entertain ourselves, stay in close contact with people we can’t see in person and practice good hygiene (knock on wood).

Staying physically and mentally healthy: I wrote not that long ago about how this time of year is when I  usually restart my running habit because I get tired of working out indoors. Unfortunately, it’s not warm enough yet for outdoor runs where I am (at least not for me) and I have no access to a treadmill at the moment, so running isn’t an option. But the fitness platforms I always use (DailyBurn, Fitness Blender, Yoga with Adriene, and Popsugar) are still available to me right now, so I can still stay active which helps me maintain not just my physical health but also my mental health. And in between therapy appointments, I’ve been using Headspace to help me deal with my various emotions. I restarted my paid subscription but right now they’re offering a set of meditations and videos for “Weathering the Storm” for free to anyone who uses the app. I’ve also liked Calm in the past and they’re currently offering free resources as well.

An excuse to indulge in things that are comforting: I tend to read a lot of entertainment news sites like Vulture and AV Club. Those sites have been coming out with a lot of lists lately about comforting television or movies to watch or music to listen to or books to read while you’re trying not to go crazy from everything that’s happening. For me, I’m spending a lot of time rewatching Stargate Atlantis for the first time in maybe about ten years and so far it is working wonders for me in that department. I also started rewatching The New Girl, which I didn’t love the first time I saw it but seemed like a fun, mindless piece of entertainment to return to right now. And because I heard Nick from The New Girl is now on a show called Stumptown, I started watching that too and I’m enjoying it so far. What I’m saying is there’s a lot of TV-watching going on for me right now. But where before I might have felt bad for watching six episodes of a dumb sitcom I happened to enjoy in a row, I feel like now it’s okay to indulge a little. Which is to say, I’m still doing what I can to maintain a normal, productive routine but it’s nice to be able to give myself permission to lose myself in some guilty pleasures when I need to.

 

So that’s my list for now. I hope that wherever you are, that are you are staying safe and well and that you have your own list of happy things. I know this blog doesn’t get many comments, but if you feel like sharing any of your happy things, I hope you will.

As for this blog, my plan right now is to continue to post regularly. I already have enough posts written to last me through about mid-May. Of course, these were all written pre-coronavirus, so they all seem like a bit of a time capsule now. I’ll also write some new posts about current events as needed/inspired in case that information might be of interest.

Until then, stay safe and well and feel free to keep in touch through the comments or the contact form.

 

 

 

 

 

Libraries in pop culture: The Station Agent

Image source: https://outtake.tribecashortlist.com/escape-and-companionship-in-the-station-agent-ae9f31f9b58d

I feel like I’ve spent a lot of space talking about what pop culture gets wrong about libraries. The natural question is: are there any good or accurate examples of libraries in movies, books, or TV shows?

On the whole, The Public, a recent movie by Emilio Estevez, does a good job because Estevez took the time to do actual research about actual libraries—he even came to the ALA Conference in New Orleans a few years ago to talk about it. But the situation in that movie is both fictional and heightened. Except for a few short scenes early on, you’re not seeing the library as it would function in an everyday sense. (Although the questions the patrons are asking the librarian at the beginning are 100% spot on.)

A better example is probably a brief scene from The Station Agent.

The Station Agent, if you haven’t seen it, is a movie starring a pre-Game of Thrones Peter Dinklage along with Patricia Clarkson and Bobby Canavale. In the movie, Dinklage plays a quiet guy who seems to prefer solitude (basically the opposite of Tyrion Lannister) but gets drawn somewhat unwillingly into a tentative friendship with Clarkson and Canavale’s characters (Olivia and Joe), who are also both alone and/or lonely in their own ways. There is also amateur train chasing and a brief lesson on the origins of the phrase “right of way.” That probably doesn’t sound very appealing, but it’s really a lovely movie. Highly recommended.

Anyway. In the movie, Dinklage’s character, Finn, is new in town. He goes to the library to find a book about trains, a subject for which he has a great deal of passion, to put it mildly (he literally lives in an abandoned train depot). He goes to check out the book. In doing so, he startles Emily, the librarian played by Michelle Williams.(1) She screams in surprise. After recovering, she asks him if he has a library card. He doesn’t but wants to get one. She asks if he has a piece of mail with his address on it. He doesn’t. She tells him that to get a library card, he’ll need proof of address. Olivia arrives and offers to check the book out for him on her card. Finn refuses the offer and leaves. “Oh my God, I just screamed in his face,” Emily says to Olivia, embarrassed. The scene ends.

That’s it. That’s the whole thing.

What makes this such a great library scene?

So many things.

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Off for the holidays

Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

I’m off for the holidays and won’t be posting any new content but I thought I’d pin a thing here highlighting some favorite past posts in case you missed them.

Thanks for reading and see you in the new year!

Finding my research path: Taking a big swing

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

About a year ago, my article “Research is an Activity and a Subject of Study” was published in College & Research Libraries. This article represented something of a turning point for my research and writing, first because it drew inspiration from outside the library and information science field and second because it was a much bigger swing than what I’d previously written. But the big ideas in this article have led me down a path of discovery that has made me more excited about research and writing than I was before. And it’s led to some great conversations. So I’m really glad I took that big swing.

I wanted to take some space now to reflect on what taking that swing was like in part as a way to encourage others to do the same with their own ideas.

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The Contextual Nature of “Un-Research”

Image by David Mark from Pixabay

At this point, I’ve written a few things about the contextual nature of research and offered some thoughts on how to bring that idea into information literacy classrooms. I’ve also mentioned that my opportunities for changing my own teaching in the way I’m advocating for are somewhat limited at the moment.

Then I realized that some of these ideas actually have connections to something I tried in the past and wrote about in an article that was published in Communications in Information Literacy called “Teaching Information Literacy Through ‘Un-Research.’”

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Hedwig and the Angry Inch is secretly about the ethical use of information

Image source: Wikipedia

One of my favorite pieces of scholarly literature in the library and information science field is an article by Emily Dill and Karen L. Janke called “New Shit Has Come to Light: Information Seeking Behavior in The Big Lebowski.” It is exactly what it sounds like: a study of the information-seeking strategies of the characters in The Big Lebowski.

I think of this article every time I watch Hedwig and the Angry Inch because every time I watch Hedwig, all I can think about is how, underneath all of its other themes, it is, at its core, a lesson about the ethical use of information.

Let me explain.

(The following includes spoilers for Hedwig and the Angry Inch, both the movie and the play.)

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Using the annotated bibliography as the “establishing shot”

Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

Lately I’ve been reading some scholarly literature from the writing studies field for a project I’m working on. I’m always fascinated by the parallels I see between how writing studies practitioners/scholars and information literacy practitioners/scholars talk about what they do and the challenges they face. I really think we need a space for practitioners and scholars in these two fields to talk to each other about their work.

Anyway, I found what I think could be an interesting new parallel in the article Documenting and Discovering Learning: Reimagining the Work of the Literacy Narrative by Julie Lindquist and Bump Halbritter.

This article has me thinking: what if the research we ask students to do in information literacy classes came at the beginning of the course instead of at the end? What if we used it as an “establishing shot”?

Let me explain.

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