We librarians are great at helping others but we can be terrible at helping ourselves, especially when that means talking about our own accomplishments. We do a lot of important things (right?), and they’re hard to track. An extended reference question here, a printer jam there, a report drafted and edited, a book budget spent: the odds and ends don’t always fall nicely into memorable boxes. Come performance review season, it can be impossible to remember what precisely it was that we spent all our time on.
Keeping track of my work sounds mundane, but it’s seriously one of the most valuable gifts I give myself. There’s no better feeling at the end of a tiring day than knowing I’m tired for lots of good reasons. It’s not just for my private benefit: telling my boss what I do is so much easier when I have a roadmap to what I need to say. And best of all, it helps me zero in on what’s important to me and my career. If I’m spending a lot of time on something, it’s either something I’m passionate about and need to cultivate, or something I’m tired of and need to cut.
It’s possible to reconstruct a surprising amount of my activity from email logs and archaeological digs through The Piles of Stuff™. Even so, not a fun way to spend Friday afternoon. So in August 2012, three months into my first professional job, I decided to make a better system.
It boils down to keeping a private, daily log of what I worked on that day. Think Library Day in the Life, but for my eyes only. (Sound riveting yet?)
Your mileage may vary, but five priorities rose to the surface as I started designing my methods:
- It needs to be frequent. It’s no fun to forget on the 20th of the month what you did on the 2nd.
- It needs to be fast! If it took me a long time to add something to my logs, I’d never keep up with it. A spur-of-the-moment rapidfire process works really well for me.
- It needs to be private. It’s not unheard of for me to throw in something like “Wrote passive-aggressive email to [name very redacted], the jerk” or “Had freakout session in office.” If it’s going to be quick, I need the freedom to just write out what actually happened, unfiltered. Bonus: when I’m trying to figure out why some project took so long, these personal notes become super helpful. Why couldn’t I get my act together that week? Because I was holding an unproductive grudge against [name very redacted].
- It needs to be flexible. I experimented with a bunch of scripted formats, but a blank page seems to be best. Sometimes, I write little narratives. Sometimes, sparing bullet points. Remember, it’s all about making notes that will be useful to you when you look back at them months or years later.
- It needs be a part of my normal workflow. I already did a lot of notetaking in Evernote, so that’s where my daily logs live. If you live by pen and paper, that works too.
And being the nerd I am, I’ve spent some time automating it. (Relevant xkcds. You’re welcome.) Now, I just press CapsLock+J, and a little dialog box pops up on my screen to ask “What did you do?” (See the picture above. [Editor's Note: Click the picture to see a larger version.]) All the rest is taken care of behind the scenes. I don’t have room for details here, but get in touch or ask in the comments below if you want the gory version. For the adventurous and Mac-centric, start here and here and here, and be creative. I can’t help as much with Windows, but AutoHotkey will get you a fairly long way. Godspeed.
When I started my job, remembering what I did from week to week was tricky. Now, two years in, I can tell you what I did on November 5th, 2012 (mostly reference questions and fighting with link resolvers. Very little gunpowder, it seems.), and I can rest easy writing a self-evaluation about what I accomplished over the last year.
What about you? What have you found helpful in keeping track of what you do all day?
Tyler Dzuba is the head of the Physics-Optics-Astronomy Library at the University of Rochester, River Campus Libraries. Twice an alumnus of UNC-Chapel Hill (BS, MSLS), he’s glad to be in cooler weather for a change. He is passionate about citation instruction reform, early-career leadership, personal information management and the tools for it, and coffee. Tyler is serving as the inaugural chair of the New Professionals Section of the Library Leadership and Management Association (LLAMA), a division of ALA. (Ask him about it!) He would love to chat further about keeping track of accomplishments by email (tdzuba [at] gmail) or on Twitter (@silent_d).