21 Jun

10 things that energise me at work (and an intro to a week of lists)

This week, I wanted to make a post a day, Monday to Sunday, containing a list about something. I was going to base it on the Listers Gotta List challenge list for this week, but those prompts are all about summer things, and it’s not very summery here! So I thought I’d make up my own prompts on the fly.

But then I had a crappy day yesterday and I didn’t have any brain power left to come up with a prompt or write a post, so I’m starting today. I’ll still aim to post seven list posts this week though.

So, onto my first list!


Public domain image courtesy Unsplash at pixabay.com.

A few days ago, Ruth wrote a post asking people what energises them at work, because she’s thinking about how she can get her own energy levels up. At the time, I thought this was a great topic and I planned to respond, but it feels even more important right now because I’m in the final phase of a research project and I’m flagging. And I really can’t flag right now, because the deadline for pulling it all together is only nine days away. And there’s still a lot to do.

Here’s 10 things that energise me at work.

  1. Starting things. I love to start new things but I don’t love finishing them. I am not good at the back end of a project. Need ideas? I’m your girl. But I’m certainly not your girl if you’re looking for a completer-finisher. I can do it, and I do get stuff done, but I have to do deals with myself and engage in some stern self talk to get stuff done.
  2. Shiny things (aka distractions). I’m easily distracted but I draw energy from the things that I see out of my peripheral vision that grab my attention. The promise of opportunities, new things (ideas, tech, projects, possibilities), learning, conversations. I often think I need to put blinkers on and stop noticing all the shiny things so I can get stuff done, but when I do that – when I force myself to be really focused – I slump.
  3. Teaching. Going into a class, my energy is often low. As an introvert, it can be overwhelming to think I’ve got three hours of constant engagement with people ahead of me. But the conversations I have with my students, watching them make connections, seeing them progress… Those things do energise me, even though they are tough for my inner introvert. I leave classes talking and thinking at break neck speed, and when I teach at night, I’m grateful for the time my commute gives me to wind down.
  4. Being under pressure. I operate best when I’m under pressure. It gives me energy and pushes me forward.
  5. Buzz around me. I’m really affected by the energy around me. A noisy, energy filled office gives me energy. This is an ironic thing to have on my list because my office is deathly silent, all the time. It really saps my energy.
  6. Working independently, together. Sometimes I’ll spend time working in a collaborative space with a colleague or two. For example, on Sunday, a couple of colleagues and I spent the day in the office, working in our meeting room. We did some pomodoros, working fast and hard, then stopping and chatting.
  7. Being creative. It’s really important that I have opportunities to be creative and to make beautiful things. I try to find little opportunities to be creative every day. Making graphics for my teaching sites or creating pretty slide decks gives me a creative fix.
  8. Talking / debating / arguing about ideas. We’re working on establishing a domain of research and some related concepts, and every now and then, we’ll stop and have a conversation about definitions, what these things are and aren’t, and how they relate to other concepts. It’s all so new that there aren’t any fixed answers and we’ll often get into some quite heated debate and I really love it. I love the banter and the back and forth. I love how it pushes my thinking forward.
  9. Seeing others succeed. My colleagues, people I’ve been informally mentoring, my students, graduates… I love watching the people around me succeed and I enjoy contributing to or supporting their success.
  10. Concerts in my car. I’ve always had a habit of listening to dance music really, really loud on the way to work. It psychs me up and gets me ready to smash it out when I get to work. I’ve done this since my retail days, when I really needed the music high to set me up for a day of selling, or standing around on the shop floor, looking for things to do to make the day go faster. I no longer need to look for things to make the day go faster, but if I’m not in a great mood, I’ll have a car concert on the way to work and it always helps me start the day well.

What about you? What energise you at work?

And now I’m off to have a concert in my lounge room, seeing it’s a work from home day!

#blogjune 16/30

04 Jun

what i’ve learnt from using a time tracking app

I spend a ridiculous amount of time dealing with email.

I always knew this. Everyone spends too much time on email, right?

But earlier this semester I asked my students to track their time spent on social media for a week and I decided to track my time too. I started using RescueTime to track how I spend my time generally, not just on social media. It’s been enlightening.

I’m not going to show you how many hours I logged last month (because it’s actually a bit embarrassing and it’s also not accurate because I don’t have RescueTime on my other computer) but I am going to show you the percentage breakdown of my time on my primary laptop for May. Here it is.

Screen Shot 2016-06-04 at 4.54.44 PM

See that 32% for communication and scheduling? That is basically time spent in Outlook.

The 10% social networking is almost exclusively teaching related (posting announcements on course Google+ sites, responding to questions on Google+), and is basically the same as email except that I’m talking to a bunch of people at once.

There have been weeks since I started using RescueTime that I clocked more than 30 hours on email, and it’s pretty much always around the 20 hour mark.

Perhaps this would be okay if the time I was putting in meant I was living my inbox zero dreams, but the reality is I’m about to bunker down for the night to process a massive email backlog and I have to do this every couple of weeks. I try to stay on top of my email, but it’s an uphill battle.

The other thing I’ve learnt is that I don’t spend enough time writing – something else that I already knew, but it’s interesting to see the extent of the problem. Only 13% of my time last month was spent on design and composition, which is where writing sits. And it’s also where time I spend in PowerPoint is logged, and I use PowerPoint quite a lot to prepare lecture slides. Which means my writing time is basically non existent.

I need to do something to change the way I spend my time. I’m just not sure what! But knowing the extent of the problem is definitely a motivator to fix it.

Anyway, I know I’m not alone in the struggle to balance the time I spend on communication with the other aspects of my job. So I wanted to write this post as an encouragement to try time tracking tools, because even if you think you know how you use your time, seeing a graphic breakdown is pretty powerful.

#blogjune 3/30

24 Jun

words that don’t belong in the 21st century

Ok, so I need to fess up that this post is actually a re-hash of one I made a few years back on my now archived blog Virtually a Librarian. (You can find the original plus interesting comments in the National Library of Australia’s Pandora archive.) I’m pulling it out for another go round today for two reasons:

  1. I just used the word ‘moreover’ in my thesis and cringed.
  2. I just saw a tweet that reminded me of how much I hate some of these words.

Now before I start, let me just say that I am not suggesting I’m a perfect writer. I once used the word ‘generalisability’ in a conference paper so I really shouldn’t be casting any stones. I’m a fan of using words and punctuation creatively. I am incapable of using tense consistently. I’m an editor’s nightmare. (Just ask the editor currently working on my thesis.) But you will never, ever catch me using the word ‘whilst’.

I initially wrote this post in response to seeing the word ‘whilst’ in one too many assignments, but it turns up everywhere. And I really dislike it.

Fifty shades of grey is a really good example of formal language gone wrong. The dialogue is stilted because it’s unnecessarily and unrealistically formal.

Just as the dialogue in Fifty shades clunks because of its formality, some words commonly used in academic and business writing are archaic, wanky and off-putting. For me, these words fall into two categories: unnecessarily formal, and clunky joiners.

Here are some of my (least) favourites.

Unnecessarily formal

These are a bunch of words that people tend to use instead of simple language when they’re writing something formal or academic. There’s a common misconception that ‘academic’ means ‘verbose’, ‘complex’ or ‘not everyday’. Stick a couple of extra letters at the end of a common word and you’ve elevated your writing to a different level of quality, right? Uh, wrong.

There is never, ever any need to use these words. Unless you’re the Queen.

  • Whilst: while we *always* do. I hate this word more than any other in the English language.
  • Utilise (even worse if it uses a ‘z’): what’s wrong with ‘use’?
  • Thus: often used in really complex sentence structures and it just doesn’t work for me at all.
  • Therefore: I can deal with this one sometimes, but very often ‘so’ will do the trick.

Clunky joiners

These are words people use to link sentences together and they are most annoying when they are used in a completely arbitrary way. An old friend of mine uses these words at random, without any recognition of the fact they actually have a meaning and need to be carefully selected. A few that really frustrate me:

  • Furthermore
  • Moreover
  • Heretofore

Used correctly and very sparingly, these words are okay. But there are much more elegant ways to craft separate sentences into paragraphs that flow. It’s just a little more work to pull them off.

Simple is beautiful

Writing economically is a bit of an art and it’s also a bit risky, I guess. If your language is simple, your content is on display. IMO, sometimes people attempt to hide less-than-perfect content with verbose sentence structures (I’m sure this is why some of the assignments I mark are laden with these words). For other people it’s less deliberate. They just think they have to use formal words in certain types of writing. But if you use these ugly, unnecessary words, you’re causing extra work for the reader. They have to dig through your language to access the content. This means you’re stopping your readers from understanding what you’re saying. And that’s never a good thing.

Does anyone else have a problem with these words? Or others? Please share yours in the comments!

#blogjune 23/30

05 Jan

a year of being a *real person*

A year of being a real person

I think it’s kind of fitting to start my first work day for 2015 with my new year goals post. Ironically though, my goals in 2015 are all about working less and being a *real person* – a three dimensional, present, engaged person who isn’t defined by work.

There are lots of things I want to do this year. Big things. Big goals to hit. Big changes to make. A thesis to finish. A new degree to implement. New units to design.

But when I started thinking about what I wanted to do this year, I realised those big ticket work goals weren’t at the front of my mind. Yes, I totally want my PhD to be done. Yes, it’s also time for me to think seriously about my career trajectory and decide if I’m still following the right dream. But when I thought about what I wanted to do this year, I found myself returning over and over to those things I love doing that fell off my radar in 2014. Not work. Not career. Not PhD. But the little things I love to do that keep me sane and happy.

In 2014, I didn’t read a single book. I went about eight months without sewing, finishing a total of two small projects all year. I did very little non-work writing. I hardly baked at all. I didn’t do enough making, and making is really important to me. Because really, as American graphic designer Saul Bass once said, ‘I just want to make beautiful things, even if nobody cares’.

I was pretty much a hermit this year too. I hardly saw my friends at all. I spent a lot of time saying, ‘I’m sorry, I have to work’ to everyone around me, including the twins. I followed my sorries with, ‘It’s just one more year’, and then, ‘It’s just a few more months’, and then ‘I just have to get past this intense phase of writing’, and, ‘My thesis will be done by the end of the year and then I’ll be back in the land of the living’.

Recently my sister called me out on this. She said there will always be a ‘I just have to…’ I realised my family fully expect that, once the PhD is done, I will find other projects that become my ‘I just have to…’ excuses. And I realised that although this is definitely not what I want, if I am not careful, I will do it. Because that’s how I roll. I see the shiny, pretty, exciting things I could be doing as part of my job and I want to do them all. And then I take on all of those things and I lose all capacity to be a friend and a daughter and a sister and an aunty and a maker and a reader and… a person.

2014 was a pretty unfun year. I let the things I love go out of necessity; work was stressful; I got caught up in trying to get myself into a permanent position at work; and I jammed an incredible amount of thesis writing into a very short period of time.

I get to be creative at work, and I found thesis writing to be a creative process too (especially because I struggled with the linearity of thesis writing, so I have spent quite a lot of time thinking about the design of the final document). This helped to balance out the lack of sewing and non-work writing and the fact I didn’t really make anything beautiful at all (except some pretty slidedecks). But no matter how much I get to flex my information design muscles at work, it’s not the same as being creative for fun or being creative for the sake of being creative. I miss reading, I miss sewing, I miss writing for pleasure, and I miss my friends and family. These are things I want to focus on this year.

Doing all of these things means having (or making) time. I know that the single most important thing I need to do to make this stuff happen is to reclaim my weekends.

I’ve been reluctant to set goals for 2015 (and maybe even more reluctant to share them) seeing my 2014 goals were great big flops (more on this in a later post). But I really want to change the balance in my life and I know I can’t do that without giving myself a framework for what I want to change and how I might make it happen.

I questioned whether I should share these goals here. But I think in two ways: with my fingers on the keyboard, or by creating a visual narrative. I sensemake by creating a story in words or images or a combination of both. So writing these things down is about planning and making sense and working out how to get to where I want to be. I’m naming these goals here as a way of claiming them and thinking through how I’m going to achieve them.

I don’t want to set myself up for a series of fails so I’m setting goals that I think are definitely achievable. There are four of them, with the first being the condition for the other three.

In 2015, I am committing that I will

  • work weekends as an exception
  • sew one thing every month
  • read one fiction book every month
  • spend time with the people who matter most.

Work weekends as an exception

Over the last five years, I’ve gradually gotten into the habit of factoring Saturday and Sunday into my work schedule every week. Having a weekend off is currently the exception, not the norm. I don’t mind working weekends to meet deadlines, but I am pretty over working a full day every Saturday and every Sunday. I’m sick of missing out on doing fun stuff and it’s really exhausting.

I made a single resolution last January: to take a day off every week. That seems like a pretty simple, achievable resolution, but it went out the window by the end of January. I had days off, but not as regularly or as many as I should have. And in the second half of the year, I basically worked non-stop, juggling the usual family commitments and curve ball after curve ball on the personal and family fronts with my very busy job and writing my thesis.

I know that shifting my mindset to see weekends as separate from the work week will be the hardest change I make this year. It’s also the most important because all the other changes I want to make hang on reclaiming some downtime.

To help me reclaim my weekends I’m going to do a number of things:

  • Set boundaries and stick to them. Mostly, this is about telling my students I’m unavailable on weekends and then actually following through. Over time, I’ve learned that students generally respect boundaries as long as I respect them too. Once I start engaging during my designated off-the-radar time, I send a message that I’m available. In short, my students aren’t the problem here. I am.
  • Set aside one hour every Saturday afternoon to respond to social media posts and email from students. I don’t feel I can be completely unavailable on the weekends because I know part time students in particularly do most of their study on the weekends. But I can restrict my availability to a certain timeframe.
  • Define types of work that I will and won’t do on weekends. For example, everyday, operational work should fit within my Monday to Friday work week. Unexpected, time critical or one-off work might need to be done on the weekends. For example, I often need to work weekends when I’m marking. I also expect to put in weekend time on my thesis. And I invariably need to work weekends when grant applications are due.
  • Manage my workload better by distinguishing between what actually needs to be done and what I’d *like* to do. I’m a bit of a perfectionist. (Haha! A bit!) I’m also heavily invested in my students and my teaching. I also have lots of interests and a fear of being bored. Together, these things mean I generate heaps of work, all of which I see as important, and all of which I want to execute perfectly. I need to rationalise my workload by looking at what I’ve got on and working out which bits of it actually don’t need doing (and I know there’s quite a lot of stuff that falls into this category). To get started with this, I need to spend some time with my current project list and my to do list and work out what really matters.
  • Ask people to hold me accountable. I’m going to need help to do this, so I plan to ask my family to help me by calling me out on working weekends if I’m doing too much of it.
  • Track my progress. I’ll note my weekend activities on my planner so I can keep an eye on how I’m going with this.

Sew one thing every month

I’d like it to be a garment for myself each month, but that might be more than I can manage, so I’m calling it ‘one thing’, whatever that thing may be. To help me achieve this, I’m going to:

  • Organise my office / sewing room. I’ve almost finished doing this. I now have a cutting table set up all the time. After today, my sewing machine will be out on my sewing table all the time too, and I’ll have all my supplies to hand on my sewing table. Less set up means I’m more likely to sew.
  • Add projects I want to make to my sew in 2015 Pinterest boardThere are a few on there already:Follow Kate’s board sew in 2015 on Pinterest.
  • Track my completed projects on my sewn in 2015 Pinterest board.
  • Work through the tips in this blog post about transitioning to a mostly handmade wardrobe (this is such a good blog post – I highly recommend it) to help me get started with sewing clothes for myself. I’m going to start by working out what my favourite fabrics are (by checking out what’s in my wardrobe) and creating a wish list of items of clothing I want to add to my wardrobe, which I’ll add to my sew in 2015 Pinterest board. Then I’ll plan my first item (I think it will be the Staple Dress from April Rhodes).
  • Use the tips in this post to make sewing more fun (including limiting myself to only one or two projects at a time – having a million unfinished things hanging around is not productive).
  • Buy fabric for specific projects, not just cause I like the fabric. I also plan to go through my stash and sell off anything that’s been there for a while without being used. I have SO MUCH fabric in my stash that it gets overwhelming. It also makes me feel like I can’t buy more fabric when I need something in particular for a particular item.

Read one fiction book every month

Reading for as little as 6 minutes reduces stress by more than 60%

Yep. It’s been proven that reading lowers your stress levels. And it’s just fun. This year I’m going to read a fiction book a month. I used to read significantly more than this, but over the last few years, the number of books I got through each year steadily declined, and then plummeted to 0 last year.

I’m going to make this happen by:

  • Building a 2015 hit list bookshelf in Good Reads. I’ll fill my hit list with the latest offerings from my favourite authors.
  • Tracking my reading progress by adding books I read to a things I read in 2015 shelf on Good Reads.
  • Choosing a tried-and-true, easy-to-read author for my first book – I’ll read the latest Marian Keyes novel The Woman Who Stole My Life.
  • Reading in bed at night. Which means stopping work at a more reasonable time and choosing to read instead of trawling social media.

Spend time with the people who matter most

This is about catching up with my friends – especially those that have patiently stuck it out with me through my PhD, with seemingly unending understanding. I’ve been a shitty friend a lot over the last four years. I’ve been there for the big stuff – for the births and the deaths and the crises and the happiest moments (although not always in the way I would like to have been) – but not for all the little moments. My bestie’s little girl is almost two and she hardly knows me. That’s something I want to change.

It’s also about saying ‘yes’ to the twins as much as possible. It’s about being more available to them so they default to assuming I’m going to be there for the important things, rather than defaulting to assuming I’ll have to work.

It’s also important to me to be a bit selfish with this. I’m a massive introvert and I can’t be endlessly social or I end up exhausted and unhappy. I need to manage my energy and be social when I can and in the ways that work best for me.

Most of all, it’s about being present when I’m with the people I love, so that I’m not half heartedly engaging with them while I answer email, or stressing about what I should be doing.

So that’s my grand plan for learning to be a person again in 2015.

Happy new year! May your year be full of fun, as I hope mine will be too.

07 Jun

contribute to a list of must-follow LIS, GLAM, ed tech etc tweeters

I’m taking advantage of #blogjune to make a self serving work post 😉

Every year, I share Twitter lists with my Library and Information Studies students. I teach a unit in which students are encouraged to begin developing their own personal learning networks. These Twitter lists help them get started with building a network on Twitter.

Help me compile lists of LIS, GLAM, IM, records, archives, ed tech, digital humanities, research support and data management tweeters. Add your suggestions to this Google Doc, and then I’ll set them up as Twitter lists that others can follow.

Thanks in advance for your help!

Blog every day in June 5/30