Wednesday, September 1st 2021 from 4:00pm to 5:00pm
The following is a summary of the event by Mary Bakija, Program Manager, METRO, published on September 15, 2021.
The pandemic didn't create productivity culture, but in many cases it exacerbated situations of overwork. April Hathcock, Director of Scholarly Communications and Information Policy at New York University, and Kimberly Springer, Curator at the Oral History Archives of Columbia, joined us for a conversation on Zoom moderated by Traci Mark, METRO's Program Manager - Equity, Archives & Media Preservation, on Wednesday, September 1 to discuss how our relationship to productivity has changed.
Reflecting on how the panelists' own productivity has evolved during the pandemic, Kimberly admitted she has become more productive. That intense pace of work made her worry that hitting the brakes would lead to disaster. "I started to feel that if I stopped, I might completely crumble," she said. "So I did a slow easing up on the throttle instead, and attended to my mental health that way."
April said she was able to step back and take a wide view of what she does and how she wants to spend her time. Getting work done is important to earn a paycheck, but she's also focusing on being present in each moment and maintaining important relationships. "If I can get through a day where I stay healthy, and everyone that I love stays healthy," she said, "that is enough, right? That's productive enough."
That balance of work life and personal life has grown increasingly challenging, however, when both take place in your home. Kimberly and April shared tips for creating boundaries:
- Create a workstation, a space within your space that's only for work. Once the work day is over, leave that space and don't look back
- Use music to create separate spaces. Have work playlists and home playlists
- Don't work from bed. Keep that as a space for rest, not for work
- Make appointments for yourself to exercise, go for a walk, take a break, etc., and keep those appointments
They also advised managers to set a good example of work/life balance for their staff. Their first recommendation is to ensure everyone has a reasonable perspective on the work that's happening in libraries.
"The work that we do isn't unimportant, but we act like it's in crisis mode all the time," April said, noting that this has been true well before the pandemic. "But it is not, and it doesn't have to be. As a leader or a manager, being able to model that for your staff makes a huge difference to them down the road, because it allows them to feel more empowered to engage with that as they do their work."
Kimberly agreed, reminding everyone that there's not much anyone is doing in this field that is truly urgent. "If somebody marks an email urgent, that's the easiest way to get me to take my time," she said. "I just can't think of anything that's urgent in that respect."
They offered these ideas for managers to model a healthy approach to work:
- Tell your staff you're only available during work hours, and that you won't be checking or responding to email outside of work hours
- Schedule emails to send so they arrive within other people's work hours
- Be honest. If you're having a bad day and can't get to a task, say so, and allow space for others to do the same
- Manage up, so the people working under you don't suffer. For example, if a manager from another department has an idea that will create work for your staff, say no
- Allow people to take their earned time off, and don't require lengthy explanations for why they need that time off
- Do research into what burnout looks like, and what different remedies exist. Offer avenues for help
For managers and for their teams, April said, all of this comes down to doing just enough to collect your paycheck, and nothing more.
"Your organization will never love you, will never value you, will never cherish you. It's an organization," she said. "My staff, I think they're fantastic people. But in evaluating them, I'm just looking for them to do the bare minimum. I'm fine with that. And I'm also looking to do the bare minimum, and I've made myself fine with that, too. Because the organization doesn't deserve any more."
Figuring out who you are beyond work is the other part of the balancing act. "Connect to who you are outside of your work," April said. "Shift from living to work to working to live."
You make time in your day for work, you set goals and plan projects with deadlines. Why not take a similar approach for the other things you do? Kimberly recommended the Passion Planner, which she uses for professional and creative goals. Whatever she's doing, she can refer back to those goals and determine if that activity works toward one of those goals.
"If I want to binge watch something, and my goal is to rest, it fits in," she said.
Within capitalism, we've been acculturated to identify strongly with our work. We often reinforce that in conversations with new people, when we ask or are asked about what we "do," and the expectation is that we mean "what we do for work." Kimberly offered two ways to change those expectations.
"I try to ask, 'What do you do for enjoyment?'" she said. "Or, if someone asks, 'What do you do?' I respond with what I do for enjoyment instead of what I do for labor."
April added that scheduling time for your personal pursuits, and sticking to those appointments, can help you define your answer to that question. "Find time at least once a week, or better, once a day, to do things that remind yourself that you're not just your work," she said. "You're a person who has other activities."
Kimberly and April created this list of resources to help regain some balance. We're grateful to them both for the time and guidance they shared.