Pop Goes the Library

Using Pop Culture to Make Libraries Better.

by Sophie Brookover, Liz Burns, Melissa Rabey, Susan Quinn, John Klima, Carlie Webber, Karen Corday, and Eli Neiburger. We're librarians. We're pop culture mavens. We're Pop Culture Librarians.


On Not Doing It All -- Further Thoughts on Life Hacking

Since my column on work-life balance ran in Library Journal, I've received more than a few e-mails from new parents asking me How I Do It All. Let me first say that I don't, and that choosing not to Do It All is the first step towards Doing What You Actually Want To Do.

Here are a few other things that have worked for me. Your mileage my vary.

I got myself a career coach. Actually, I have two: Pete Bromberg of Library Garden fame, and Alice Yucht, of all things school library fame. I meet with each of them monthly -- sometimes in person, sometimes virtually, and we IM or e-mail regularly in between meetings -- and after each meeting, I always feel re-focused and refreshed.

I started using Remember The Milk, a free, 2.0-y task tracking service, and I made a commitment to using it every day to capture the things that need doing. Everything, large or small, goes into RTM, which now has the handy capability of integrating with one's Google homepage. Nice!

Related to using Remember The Milk, I started to chunk my tasks -- that is, I break them down into manageable mini-tasks. Example? I'm writing an article on libraries with blogs for Library Journal, and instead of "draft blogs article for LJ", due December 8, I've broken it down into "draft blogs for LJ -- internal blogs" and "draft blogs for LJ -- external blogs" and "draft blogs for LJ -- directors' blogs" (hey, I just gave you a sneak preview! You're welcome!). Mini-goals are more manageable, and less likely to make me procrastinate, because I don't feel overwhelmed and struck by "I'd rather do [insert task here]"-itis.

I relate stuff that I take on outside of work to my larger, long-term professional & personal goals. It would be more accurate to say that I intend to relate extra-curricular commitments to my long-term goals. I don't always do it. I am a lifelong devotee of what my husband calls the Ooooh, Shiny! Syndrome, and of course, it's always flattering to be asked to lead a workshop or speak at a conference. Sometimes, I say yes before I think it through as carefully as I should. Baby steps, people!

I started making myself do fun things. After Nell was born, there was no time for knitting, or baking, or TV, or any of the things that used to fill my long-gone free time hours. Now, Nell's in bed by seven most nights, and Marcus & I are free to rage against the machine all night long. Usually, said raging takes the form of catching up on TiVoed episodes of Gilmore Girls and knitting, but to each his own, right? The point is, I decided to make time for the things I really want to do, not just the many things I need to do.

I gave up some things I really liked to do, but that didn't fit my life anymore. I tendered my resignation as NJLA blog manager a few months ago. I'm still a contributor, and I believe we've found a wonderful new manager, but as much as I love coordinating projects, I knew I couldn't continue that level of commitment to the project, and I wanted to bow out gracefully before I screwed up.

Of course, I learned to do that by first messing up grandly another long-standing & beloved project, the NexGen Librarians' Listserv. Co-owner Christine Borne had moved on, and I just never got back on track with keeping up with the list's increasingly discontented conversation threads. Finally, in August, I saw that things had come to a very unpleasant pass, and I let it go. It was mortifying to me that I'd let things get so bad on my watch (such as it was). The list is thriving now, under new management as a Google Groups listserv. It was an embarrassing exit from a project I'd undertaken with so much pride & good intentions, but it was a useful learning experience, too.

Finally, I try not to be too hard on myself. I am still learning that, like generations of my alma mater's alumnae have said, Done Is Good. Done Is Good doesn't mean don't do your best; it means do your best and then move on.

How do you Not Do It All? Leave suggestions, tips, and tricks in the comments!


  • At 1:16 PM, Blogger Susan said…

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  • At 1:17 PM, Blogger Susan said…

    First, let me say that I agree that “choosing not to do it all” is the first step to “doing what you want to do.”

    Second, I am in complete and total awe of working moms and dads. I can’t imagine feeding an entire family a nutritious breakfast and then clothing them and getting them out of the house in the morning for work, school, daycare, soccer practice, etc. while taking care of a cadre of family pets. It seems to me something akin to a daily military maneuvers exercise. I am single and responsible only for the raising of two cats. Yet some mornings I can barely get the cats fed and me dressed and out of the house in the morning.

    Breakfast for the cats consists of ripping open one packet of Whiska’s and spooning it on to two plates, one for each cat. Breakfast for me may consist of bachelor-girl food such as leftover, slightly-charred, chocolate chip cookies (made from refrigerated Nestle’s Toll House cookie dough from the grocery store) and ignoring the more nutritious oatmeal packets as they require making hot water and cereal requires pouring milk. If I can’t get my act together enough to brew a cup of coffee at home, it will be Dunkin Donuts on the road. A few years ago, when I commuted into the city, a buddy of mine who was an editor at one of the New York newspapers had one of his reporters call me at work. The reporter was looking to interview real Bridget Joneses for a feature article. I missed the call and so received the message via my voicemail. By the time I called back they already had their quota of real Bridget Joneses. I never knew quite how to take that phone call anyway.

    The other day, while getting ready for work, havoc struck my finely tuned schedule. I dropped a contact lens on the bathroom floor. Actually it bounced. I am not the most awake person in the morning. I dropped the little soaking cage holding the contact lens and it landed on the sink counter at an angle that released the spring of one side of the cage. This launched one of my contact lenses catapult-style into the air. I then spent 5 minutes on my knees blurrily searching the bathroom floor for the lost contact lens (let it be noted that I wear expensive, hard contact lenses as I cannot wear soft contacts or the disposable kind. I would, if I could).

    I then got the brilliant idea to use a flashlight to find the contact lens. Maybe a little extra light would help. However, as soon as I started searching the bathroom floor with the flashlight, my cat popped out of her kitty litter box. Chasing a ball of light on the floor is just too much fun! Then it was kitty paws swiping the floor after the bobbing ball of light and kitty litter everywhere. I thought my contact lens was gone for good.

    Then I remembered something I read long ago in one of those handy household “how to do it all” tip books. It advised putting an old pair of pantyhose over a vacuum hose and sucking up the contact lens safely. It would stick to the soft pantyhose, which would prevent the lens from being sucked into the inner-belly of the vacuum. Then I thought, “Do I even own a pair of pantyhose?” Then, “I have black tights…can that substitute?” Then I surveyed the kitty litter on the floor and thought “Screw it. I will just find my eyeglasses and call the eye doctor later.” As I stood up I saw something glinting on the tippy-top of the medicine cabinet. It was my contact lens. It had never hit the floor at all. I cleaned it, popped it in and dashed out of the house. It was easier for Frodo to climb mountains to find the Ring. But since I got to work right-on-time, despite the contact lens fiasco, and after navigating the Garden State Parkway, I win.

    And on some mornings when I arrive at the library I am greeted by freshly-baked goodies that some working Mom or Dad, with kids and 9 cats, baked from scratch for the entire office the night before. Ok, you win.

    So, this is me “not doing it all.”

  • At 5:21 PM, Blogger Sophie Brookover said…

    Awe, thanks, Susan! I really do think that the main reason I can get Nell & myself out the door every morning (breakfasted, in clean clothes, and accessorized, no less!) is because I have to. It has to be done, so I do it. I think most working parents (not that there are no non-working parents, but you know what I mean) would say the same.

    How we get it done is a whole other sack o'rats, as my grandmother would say. Mostly, either Marcus or I do everything ahead of time that can be done ahead of time, and we set our alarms early. That's it: the incredible secret is packing lunches & setting out the next day's outfit before bedtime and setting my alarm about 15 minutes early. Oh, and going to sleep by 9:30. A decent night's sleep makes everything better. I am a fuddydud, yes, but I'm a well-rested fuddydud, by Jove! I should get a shirt with that on it.

    Parenting has been the kick my tush needed to get on the road to lifehacking in earnest. Before, I could do it or not, as I chose. Now I have to do it, or the laundry won't be washed or folded, the food will not be purchased or cooked or eaten, the baby will not be bathed, the cat's litter box will not be emptied...you get the picture.

    Oh, and this: "It was easier for Frodo to climb mountains to find the Ring. But since I got to work right-on-time, despite the contact lens fiasco, and after navigating the Garden State Parkway, I win."

    Is the funniest thing I've read all day. Thanks!

  • At 5:23 PM, Blogger Sophie Brookover said…

    I meant to say: "Not that there are any non-working parents..."

    Yeesh. I do know how to write a coherent sentence, and when not to use a double-negative. Honest!

  • At 12:46 AM, Blogger Kathryn Greenhill said…

    I'm mum to 2 little boys, work 2 days a week looking at new web tools for my library, and do professional development many, many hours more. My trap is that my employer lets me do half my work from home, around the household chaos.

    Thing 1. For me, it's the maxim "SLEEP COMES FIRST". Sounds simple, but every time things go out of whack with us, it's because I'm not sleeping enough. With babies, that meant restructuring so I slept when the baby slept, no matter what else needed doing, or other interesting adult fun was to be had.

    Now, it's turning the PC off at night so I get enough sleep. I've not been doing it in the last few weeks (working on projects, having too much fun) and am a gumpy messy b*tch. I know I need to go back to that first principle for my life to work.

    Thing 2. I live by my PDA. Have bought one for my Co-Pilot and we sync. to the home PC, so I can share the load by putting tasks on my calendar I know he'll pick up.(They have his name next to them - he has to :))

    Thing 3. I've been experimenting with saying "yes" more. When I did that, I realised that most of the things I'd been saying "no" to were things that I said I couldn't do becasue I had a family. I was saying "yes" to baking cakes for the kids' schools, but "no" to professional opportunities and fun nights out. Worth the experiment. I've become happier, but now need to re-tweak my life to get it back in balance (see Thing 1.)

    Thing 4. Exercise. It works. I sleep better and have more energy, so the time pays for itself by making my other hours much more fun and productive. Now, after a 5 week family holiday, I have to get back into it. (see Thing 1)

  • At 9:55 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Thank you for admitting to "messing up grandly"! So few people have learned the value of doing that.

    I know nothing about that specific situation, but I do know that coming clean to the world about letting your responsibilities get away from you can be a hard thing to learn to do. Often, the tendency is to quietly go beat yourself up for not being able to "do it all". I've found it to be a very liberating and positive experience to occasionally say "mea culpa!" and do some damage control. I've seen the best of others when folks who barely knew me started volunteering to help out.

    Kudos to you for 'fessing up with panache and for being so open about the challenges we all face to find the balance in our lives!


  • At 9:26 AM, Blogger Sophie Brookover said…

    I've thought of a few more hacks in the days since I posted the above:

    I'm not afraid to ask for help when I need it. One of the best decisions Marcus & I ever made was to settle in South Jersey, close to my family and many of our friends. Four family members live within ten minutes of our house, and we are surrounded by longtime friends ready to help us whenever we need it. When we need it, we ask. Setting our pride aside is a major help.

    Working for a family-friendly library. I was the third of five women at my branch (it's a big branch) to give birth in an 18-month period. We all have found different solutions to the problems presented by balancing work and parenting -- one works part-time, two decided to quit and stay home with their kids, and two of us are back working full-time -- but all of us were given options by our library. Having options made me feel not quite so tense about the decisions Marcus & I were faced with.

    Work itself. Although there have been a few days when I've wished I could chuck it all to stay at home with Nell, they've been few & far between. I have to work. I have to be around grown-ups. I am fortunate in that I find work re-energizing for home life, and home life re-energizing for work. It's the opposite of a vicious circle.

  • At 9:29 AM, Blogger Sophie Brookover said…

    Thanks for the encouragement, Jen! Messing up every now & then is a great learning experience. In fact, your comment reminds me to post John K's and my conversation about our respective, problematic Teen Read Weeks. Let's just say that neither of ours went as expected.

  • At 9:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    How totally ironic that various hacks in life (finals, etc) have prevented me from seeing this post until just now! I have to say that I'm totally with Susan, except that I sometimes find the whole "bowl" thing unecessary for cereal, as it involves washing a dish, which is also unlikely to happen in the a.m. around my house. And we Ph.D students are famous for our scavenging abilities. I once went an entire day on the various leftovers I found in various places on campus. :)

    Technically, the Ring was found by Bilbo in a Gollum's cave and later carried up a mountain for the purpose of getting rid of it (a fair bit of the climbing being done by Sam). Which just goes to show how morning time is better spent reading than washing cereal bowls!


Post a Comment

<< Home