by Ashley Ahlbrand
There are myriad organization systems and tools out there today, even entire books and classes dedicated to the topic. From project management sites to list-making apps to the tried-and-true pencil-to-paper to-do lists, there are any number of options out there to help you get organized. Finding the right fit for you is the real challenge.
During my time as the Educational Technology Librarian at Indiana University’s Maurer School of Law, my job responsibilities have grown and changed over time – increased teaching, new technologies, evolving patron needs. Early on this change happened fairly organically and was easy to stay on top of. During the first year, my reference requests increased, as did my activities outside of my job – presentations, articles, committee work; as my activities grew, things became a little harder to keep track of. I looked into various organization tools and stumbled onto Trello. Trello allows you to organize content by creating various boards and cards. I create boards by month, with each board having a series of to-do cards by topic, such as Teaching or Reference Requests.
While I am a fan of Trello overall, it’s not without its imperfections. The feature I least like is that you cannot create multiple rows of cards on a board – they continue to be placed side by side, off screen, so you have to scroll right, rather than down, to see them. However, Trello continues to be an excellent tool for my annual reports. It has been helpful to go through these monthly boards and see what my calendar may not tell me, such as major faculty reference projects I undertook or articles I have been working on.
This summer, my workload expanded into new areas. First, I decided to enroll in a certificate program in instructional design, so I had to dive back into the world of homework deadlines. With the departure of a colleague at the end of the summer, I also assumed new job responsibilities. To top it all off, I have been working on a writing project for several months, and I have a desperate desire to finish it. All of these new experiences combined to create an overwhelming start to the Fall semester – a lot of change, a lot of seeming chaos, and a lot of concern that I was going to neglect something because there was so much more to wrangle. I was having trouble figuring out how to keep track of it all in Trello. I needed a better way to visualize it at a glance. I went to my favorite visualization tool, Canva, and created a visual for myself.
I charted out 7 vertical bars for each day of the week, and started blocking off chunks of time each day to work on a particular task – teaching preparation, LibGuides work, website work, electronic resources work, committee work, writing, digital signage, social media, and coursework. Apart from Friday, which I’ve tried to set aside solely for writing, and Sunday, which I’ve tried to set aside as a day to relax, I plugged in different activities for each day of the week. The idea is that I could get to work on, say, Monday, look at the chart, and see that I should spend at least a couple of hours prepping to teach and a couple of hours editing and authoring LibGuides. Each day had some room for flexibility, because most days are unpredictable and pop-up tasks arise that take precedence no matter how carefully you try to plan out your day. The result? As often happens with efforts like this, the original idea was a little too regimented and idealistic for me. I don’t think I’ve had a day yet this semester where I have strictly adhered to this schedule. Clearly, it’s time to re-conceptualize.
There are aspects of the initial visual that I would like to keep – for instance, I like being able to quickly glance up at a chart and see the different aspects of my job that need to be done. Whether I work on LibGuides on Monday or Thursday may be irrelevant, but the reminder to work on them during a given week is nice.
Most currently, I redesigned the visual to resemble something more like a checklist – by the end of the week I can easily determine which tasks I have dedicated time to. I hope that this will give me more flexibility while providing a quick reminder of the major components of my work life to help me stay on top of all aspects of it. In the end, I believe this will pair nicely with Trello, where I still maintain the nitty-gritty details of my day-to-day work.
This is just one librarian’s system. What system do you employ to keep your chaos controlled? Have you found a handy tool or app? Does pencil and paper still do the trick?