Monday, 20 May 2013

23 Mobile Things // Thing 1 // Twitter

I've been using Twitter comfortably now for about two years. (If you feel like it, you can read my post on CPD23 Things : Thing 4 : Current Awareness : Twitter)

It was only when I acquired a smart-phone that the idea of Twitter started to make sense, and become a viable way of keeping up to date. And only when I discovered TweetBot that it became an enjoyable way to keep up to date.

Using Twitter personally

I'm not really keen on the idea of following 'celebrity Twitter accounts'. Although I'm still amazed by the idea that I can send a tweet to @DrBrianMay and there's an outside chance he might read it and think 'Oh, it's that nice lady that gave me a fairy cake last time I was in Bristol'. Maybe. Or that I can share a tweet with an author who's book I am reading. I did have a proud moment when @JannArden tweeted me recently. But mostly, I tend to use Twitter Lists to follow the musicians I adore along with the authors I read, rather than following them as part of my main feed.

Using Twitter professionally

Being part of the conversation on Twitter has changed the way I perceive myself as a librarian. I now feel part of a community. It's enabled me to get involved in Continuing Professional Development, follow conferences I'd never be able to get to in person, develop contacts, and get involved in projects like 'Voices for the Library'.

It's also allowed me to develop more confidence in teaching research skills to the Scientists I support at work. Working in a government library means we're slightly cut off from the rest of the world in terms of our ability to access and engage in social media and use it as a research tool. That's only just started to change. Being on Twitter, actively using it to keep up to date means that I feel I can talk with some authority when discussing social media with researchers who are wide eyed and apologetic when they explain that they don't use it, don't understand it, and wonder whether it's more than just ranting about the weather and last night's football results. I've started creating information sessions specifically for Researchers's looking to promote their research, both internally and externally. Twitter is a key part of this toolkit. Twinned with our organisation winning an award for it's social media communications during recent extreme weather incidents, there is also an interest in the research around use of social media to change risky behaviour such incidents. I've been able to harness this interest to engage people in using social media and exploring the use of new tools to support their research and the way they communicate and raise awareness of their services. There's also an argument for official organisational tweets - along with any responses -  to be archived and indexed as part of our 'corporate memory. If the organisations knowledge is stored in it's structures, it's culture, business processes along with an archive of it's data, information and communications, then I think there is value in preserving the tweets as a way of studying both the organisation and the impact it has on external customers.

Although I've been aware of tools like Storify, I haven't yet used them as a way to present information. This Thing gave me an excuse to explore the tool as a way of gathering interest in a recent project I've been involved in. It was a bit clunky in places and felt it was missing some functionality. Searching could be long and tedious, but the main idea - to blend different kinds of online media together - is a lovely way to write compelling stories created with content from around the web. So far, a Storify board I created has generated over 75 views - maybe not much, but more than my average blog post :-). Perhaps that's because it's easier to digest than a wordy, rambling blog post?

Due to the length of the Storify, I've embedded it into a separate post. I'll let the Storify take it from here... 

23 Mobile Things // Thing 1 // Storify // Could you be a 'Voice for the Library'?

This is a copy of the Storify I created for 23 Things. The original can be viewed here.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Making time to think

The lack of time to think is probably the biggest complaint I have about my current role and the way I work.

I work part time. 22 hours spread over four days so I can be there for my son to take him to school. 12 miles away from our home, then pick him up again. It means I get in to work most days around 10.00 in the morning, only to leave again four hours later, with the exception of one day where I work through until 19.00 in the evening.

That short window of working time means that when I get in to work, I throw myself straight in to it. Working in a hot-desk environment, finding a desk is the first challenge of the day, and locating my colleagues to check in and catch up the second challenge. Logging on, the first thing I do is check my email. I work in a library at a distant from my customers, in a fast reactive enquiry environment where I pride myself on a quick, accurate response to customer needs. Email is also the only way I know what reactive work I need to prioritise that day. But it does leave me feeling like a proverbial slave to the email. I'd much rather be a Slave to the Rhythm.

The two phone lines,two email accounts, interruptions from colleagues, a noisy working environment and a short working day means that I don't stop until I leave the building. And it's only later when my son is finally in  bed, I've cleared the dishes, packed our bags ready for the next day, cleared my own paperwork and collapsed into bed and I suddenly have a little peace and quiet that I find myself reflecting on the day and pondering solutions to the challenges thrown at me. My notes and thoughts get typed quickly into an email to remind myself the next day. But it doesn't feel very efficient, and work life is bleeding over in to home life, especially with the additional task of attempting to complete a portfolio for Cilip accreditation.

I'm not a big fan of the over-used philosophy of 'working smarter, not harder'. It suggests that we're inefficient and all we need to do is implement a technique to suddenly create space... but the likelihood of that space being filled with more reactive work, rather than thinking time is high. I've worked to ensure email's get automatically tagged and filed, use 'If This Then That' to reduce the amount of time I spend moving information from one platform to another. I already use an on-line diary, and an on-line to 'to do' list that I use for both home and work and have identified and reduced efficiencies in our admin for processing requests. So 'working smarter' means I can get more of the same kind of work done, but that's it. I still hadn't found the space to just think.

Two weeks ago, I found a rather dramatic solution to the problem of not having any thinking time. My office was involved in a fire, making it unsafe to work in the office for a week. I found myself at home wondering what on earth a digital librarian does without access to the digital library. Or email. Or the files on the network that I wasn't able to access from home. 

Firstly, I did what I could. British Library Document Supply Service, Athens, and many other resources were all available to me on-line to enable me to carry out some of my reactive enquiry work. I stayed in close contact with colleagues who were set up to access everything from home, in an attempt to respond to priority users. But there was a large hole looming in my day where email, sending post, answering phone-calls, meeting partners and all the other little distractions would be. 

I did what every sensible librarian would do. I made a note of all the things I could work on from home that didn't require access to email or anything else that was stored on my computer back in my office. It looked like this.

Doodle To Do

Looking at my list, apart from reminding me that I really need to take some coloured pens in to work so I can do this more often, I realised almost all of the things on it had been delayed at work because they involved thinking time. They weren't every day, reactive enquiries that I could easily complete. It was one-off unique pieces of work, or the start of a project that needed a different approach. They needed planning. They needed creativity. They needed time to think and ponder.

I was working from home for five days. Divorced from my work email, I discovered the freedom from the day-to-day urgency of routine tasks and found a new way of working. It took a few days to adjust. It didn't feel right to just sit down and start work. It felt like I needed the trigger-routine of sitting in a traffic jam for 30 mins, running madly to the office from a car park 20 minutes away and to scroll madly through my email before I could access my 'work head'. That routine got replaced with a new one instead. Clear desk, pour myself some water, grab some bourbons, and text line-manager.

Those five days at home, I felt like I achieved a lot. I was inspired by posts on Twitter. Read blog entries that contributed to my though-processes. Found examples of other organisations achieving things I wanted to do in my own work place. Created new templates, pondered on notes I'd made myself months back and only just rediscovered, found new ways of approaching a problem and... strangely... wrote down a lot more in an old fashioned notebook, rather than typing things out. I need to stop framing 'thinking time' as 'time wasting'. And I wanted to carry this new way of working back to the office when all the usual distractions were back in place. The Google philosophy of offering it's software engineers 20% of work time to develop their own projects and work on whatever they like is well known. It's a concept that was first created by 3M, resulting in the creation of the little yellow sticky note. [1] The science behind daydreaming as a powerful tool for problem solving is also documented. [2] And I loved this Guardian Blog [3] about a teacher implementing the 20% idea in to the classroom to engage the kids in their own learning.

I also realised that I'd actually created this thinking space for attendees who came on my ' Essential Searching Skills' course where the last hour was dedicated to surfing, playing, and random clicking leading to new discoveries and idea's about how to integrate the techniques we'd been discussing into their every day research practice. I offered it to them. Why not give myself the same option?

So how could I create thinking time in my own day (both at work and home) and feel that I could still justify that time?

Challenge my workload

Although I'm part-time, I'm a key member of the team. And I'm a sucker for sticking my hand up first to volunteer to take a lead on new projects. Which often means I bite off more than I can comfortably chew. I need to get better at giving others the opportunity to take on new and interesting projects, and give myself the chance to focus on what's already filling up my plate. My eyes really are bigger than my belly sometimes.

Focus on objectives

I had taken a sneaky short-cut recently, when I tied in my own work-based objectives into my Cilip accreditation objectives. But to follow on from the task above, I need to make sure that every piece of work I do fits in with my objectives - if it doesn't, I need to challenge myself - why am I doing it? Would it be better done by someone else?
Turn off email

I've recently started using 'Sane Box' to manage my email at home, combined with to work towards the ultimate goal of 'inbox zero'. What Sane Box does is remove the clutter from your email box, and save it in a 'Sane Folder' to access later. Unroll.Me does something slightly different. It takes all the newsletters and regular emails and rolls them up in to one to read / dismiss in one step. I already filter all my work email's so that current awareness bulletins, RSS feeds and newsletters, community alerts, Jiscmail messages and LinkedIn email's go in to one folder that I can access later when I have the time.

But email is also used a lot in our workplace to communicate across the team. We're a dispersed working team, operating across different working patterns and geographical locations. I want to change the way I communicate with my colleagues. Swapping email from Instant Messenger for quick messages will reduce the amount of email traffic. It can also remain open when email is closed, so I'm still marked as 'available' to colleagues and easy to contact. I dislike using the phone due to my deafness, but there is always the option of getting up from my seat, playing 'hide and seek', taking a walk and a break from the screen to go and find my team mates. [1000 workers spread across four floors in an open plan hot-desking environment - it's often harder than it sounds! But the break from the screen and the chance to stretch my legs is one I welcome]
The third task might be the hardest to implement in a reactive work environment - to reduce the amount of time I spent dealing with incoming mail. A constant flow of email can be distracting and need to get better at setting aside time to focus on email - and separate that from time to focus on other tasks.
Break tasks down

I already use a 'to do' list. Now I want to start separating tasks in to 'thinking time' and 'doing time'. I think just focusing on completing the physical task itself masks the true amount of time needed to spend on it.

Find the space to 'day dream'

The problem with working in an open plan office is the silent pressure to be seen to be 'doing something'. And although I know I'm doing something productive when I'm reading a book about metadata, I'm still concerned that that time on self-development activities is judged by others that I clearly don't have enough to do to keep me occupied. Luckily, the joy of working in a flexible working space is that I do have other options. A designated 'quiet space' where there is a strict 'no phone' policy, and less passing foot traffic is an ideal place for 'thinking time'. Little high-backed sofa's creating an enclosed world in the corner of the office, providing shelter from on-lookers is a great place to sit and read. Heck, there is even a public library over the road, with all the inspirational reading material we could need to feed new ideas. I need to improve the way I interact with my working space and move away from the idea of sitting at one desk to do my work all day. Moving to a new working space gives a chance for new habits to form. Now I've worked from home for a week and proved it can work, I have the option - and trust from my manager - to do it again.

Develop new habits

Rather than diving head first in to the new day, I want to spend the first part of the day reflecting on what I didn't get done the previous day - and what I need to prioritise for the day ahead. I also want to start scheduling in 'thinking time' into my calendar. This needs support from my line-manager. I can't guarantee that 'thinking time' will always come up with innovative solutions and I need buy-in from the boss so that thinking time is recognised as a valid part of my work.

The next goal? Make my office more playful. If only I could replace the central stairs with a Google-like slide...

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Chartership Portfolio Writing Month - 1st May - 31st May 2013 - 30 days and nights of portflio writing joy and abandon

You're all familiar with #ChaPoWriMo now aren't you?

You're not?

If you've not come across it before, it was an idea created by Helen Murphy in November 2012, creatively adapting the idea from National Novel Writing Month to complete an outrageously impossible task in one month - Write a novel. The birth of Chartership Portfolio Writing Month is documented in a Storify by Emma Davidson

For those of us attempting to complete a portfolio to submit for Certification, Chartership or Revalidation, the process can often feel just as daunting as writing a novel.

I didn't take part in the first cohort of #ChaPoWriMo graduates. I forget why. There was something else I had to do. There always seems to be something else I have to do. Which is why this time I realised I really needed to buckle down and get on with it if I were ever to hand something in.

So. I've decided I really shouldn't get distracted and sign up for Coursera's Introduction to Data Science. Bank Holiday Monday will not be spent doing the garden and decorating the hallway. And I need to stop pulling faces at the Body of Professional Skills and Knowledge, take a deep breath and fill it in.

I have a silly fear. It's a fear of showing people work I've done. It's a fear of that work being criticised and ripped apart. And it's a fear that it won't be good enough. Every time I hit 'publish' on a blog post, I hold my breath. Who is going to respond and tell me what I've written is nonsense? The idea of sending something to my perfectly lovely, honest and very supportive mentor worries me. (Even though I actively sought her out for feedback when she previously my line manager, I trusted her so much.) So I hold off. Then when I do have to send her something, it has to be perfect - because I've been sat on it for so long. So nothing gets sent.

On top of that, life in general, just gets in the way. So I start something. And six weeks later, come back to it, scratch my head and wonder what on earth I was doing. By the time I've got back in to the swing of it, it's 2.00am in the morning, the seven-year-old is due to get up in two hours and I've started a cycle of sleep deprivation that takes me days to recover from and means it's another few weeks before I'm brave enough to look at it again.

This time. It's going to be different. It needs to be manageable. So I've set myself a target of 1 hour a day, 5 days a week. Anything else I do on top of that is a bonus. I'm going to write down the specific tasks I want to achieve - and look back at the end of May and see how well I did. Here goes...

  • I need to get organised and make it easier to dip in and out of portfolio work when I have the odd half an hour between leaving work and dashing to school to pick up the kid. Most of my digital evidence is stored in Dropbox, but I know I've got a few pieces floating around both at work and on my home computer. I've already signed up to 'I done this' and use this to record what I work on (or delete the daily reminder with a guilty click!), but I could probably sync it to my Google Calendar and get smarter about collecting evidence using Evernote or a Google form to enable me to share it with my mentor.
  • I have three boxes of printed stuff. Collected from projects and Continuing Professional Development going back to 2003. I'm not going to be able to use all of it for my evidence, but I at least need to have a better understanding of what it is, and which criteria it fits. It's no good. I need a matrix. Anything that isn't suitable for inclusion needs to be scanned, filed and discarded. (gulp)
  • Implement light touch project planning techniques. I want to map out my route to completing my portfolio with a clear set of tasks and milestones so I can track progress. It also means that if I have to abandon the work for a few weeks, I can come back to it and pick it up with a bit more ease. I need to implement a daily/weekly/monthly routine so that good habits are formed and it feels a little easier to manage.
  • I've recently mapped all my experience, skills and knowledge to a set of capabilities, giving me a dataset of examples to use when applying for jobs and revising for interviews. I'm wondering if I can re-purpose this for my portfolio.
  • My CV currently weighs in at seven pages. I need to seriously cull it and whip it into a much slimmer shape to meet the guidance of four pages.
  • I need to read Reflective Practice : Writing and Professional Development. And actually put it in to practice. I've read a lot of books over the past two years about marketing, digital libraries, data librarianship and metadata. But  haven't built on reading the books by writing a review and reflecting on the contents. I need to develop better book habits rather than just furiously reading it as fast as I can before I need to return it to the library, scribbling a few notes in my 'CPD notebook' and forgetting about it.
A lot of this feels like a student's way of revising for an exam - making a pretty timetable and spending far too much time deciding on a colour scheme. But I'm hoping that starting afresh and creating some good habits will make the rest of the process easier - and that the enthusiasm for completing my portfolio will continue long after 31st May has been and gone. I need to find the joy in writing the portfolio.

As for the word 'ChaPoWriMo', it reminds me of Julie Andrews singing Do Re Mi from the Sound of Music. That's my earworm sorted for the month then...

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

LGBT Careers Unconference: Part two : Personal Reflections

This post has been sitting in my drafts folder for... yikes...just over a year. A pretty good reminder that I'm sometimes like an over enthusiastic puppy that takes on a little too much, but sometimes forgets to go back, tie up the lose ends and finish things off. Having said that, coming back to the post and re-reading it, I've realised how much I've gained over the past year from attending this unconference, and it has enabled me to reflect on what has changed in that year - and whether that change came from me or from the external environment. I've posted the draft as it was intended to be posted at the time. I'll write a reflective post shortly. The post which introduced the themes of the Unconference is available here: LGBT Careers Unconference: Why do LGBT people need specific careers advice?

A few weeks back, I attended an LGBT Careers Unconference within my own workplace and blogged about why LGBT people needed specific careers advice. I noted that I felt being a working single mother held me back more than being openly queer at work. I left the workshop feeling enthusiastic about possibilities that had appeared to open up. And just as I was ready to blog and take some positive action something happened: My child was threatened with  permanent exclusion from school. It was a reminder that actually, my first job will always be a Therapeutic Parent.

For those that follow me on Twitter, you might be aware that I'm a single adoptive Mum to a child with special needs. I choose to work part-time, and I'm aware that this choice limits my ability to get involved in CPD activities, to develop contacts and network, travel to other offices and attend training events. But I'm as active as I can be in my own development. It's my career. It's up to me to push it in the direction I want it to go.

As anyone working in government libraries will know, the sector has changed a lot over the past few years.

I was lucky in that job restructuring. I didn't get the job I wanted, but I did have a job. I spent the next year Being Grateful. The job I loved changed shape. I lost a lot of what I saw as 'professional responsibilities  to another team. Took on old responsibilities that I thought I had long ago left behind when I accepted a promotion. But took a deep breath and got on with it.

One year later, I stopped being grateful for having a job. I was bored. I looked around me. The organisation had changed a lot. Could I step outside of the comfort zone of  the library team and find a role elsewhere? I wasn't sure. I went on a mission to fall back in love with my job again. I had no idea how to do this, but it looked something like this:

1. Figure out what I was unhappy with.
2. Remember what used to inspire me about working for the organisation
3. Which parts of the role did I dislike?
4. What did I still find exciting and motivating about this role?
5. Talk to my boss

My boss was sympathetic and helpful and helped me take stock and develop an attack plan. I stuck my hand up. I volunteered for everything I could feasibly do inside of work, and a few things outside of work. I worked on improving my relationship with key colleagues in the team. And then an unexpected opportunity came up for a promotion within my team. I applied.

I didn't get it.

It floored me. Totally and utterly floored me. I'd been working for the organisation now for seven years with one promotion. The feedback I had was that I 'wasn't working at the level above'. Yet I felt I had outgrown the role I was in. I scratched my head. Time for a rethink. I needed inspiration. An advert for the LGBT careers unconference came through. My first thought was that I didn't have a career. There was nothing I could contribute. And what did being gay have to do with it anyway? The second thought was 'Sod it. Attend anyway'.

So I arrived feeling a little like a fraud, with the expectation that most others attending would be much further on in their careers with more to contribute. I left that day with a notebook crammed full of notes and ideas and lots of things to consider.

The first thing I discovered was that almost everyone suffers from Imposter Syndrome. Even Executive Managers. What I hadn't considered was how much this fear of being found out was holding me back.

The second thing I realised was that I had made a crucial mistake around two years ago, when I developed a goal for myself to progress within the organisation and based it around a particular team and a particular position. When that team shifted, my goal had been taken away. It was no longer there. So here is my first tip.

Describe your idea role. Describe what skills you want to be using. Don't describe the team or the place. It might not be there.

The rest of this post may well look like a scrapbook of idea's, prompts and questions. But I'll put them here because I found them useful. It's my own personal reminder, and maybe it will be useful for you too...

Once you've figured out what skills you have, the next task is to consider what you want from career progression. What are you looking for?

  • To improve your own performance?
  • Personal growth?
  • More recognition?
  • To develop others?
  • Increased pay and rewards?

And how are you going to get there?

  • Vertical promotion - moving sideways into a different role
  • Structural responsibility - moving up in your current line of command
  • Line management
  • Increased productivity - taking on more responsibility within current role

Consider what options you have for developing opportunities. I made a list. It looks like this.

There are two priorities for me:

Keep a reflective diary
Expose yourself and consider what is it you are avoiding? Figure out what scares you - and do it more! An Executive Manager, having progressed past Grade 7 dug out his diary from 10 years ago, when he worked as a Grade 1 assistant. He read an entry from his early days. He was scared of standing up in front of people and giving a presentation. He says he reads this now and laughs. He's known throughout the organisation for giving engaging and inspiring talks, motivating people to take action. He did it simply by doing it more often and asking for feedback.

Stop asking for permission
Where you have come from has an impact on your self confidence and career. My career path has been rocky and shaped by early experiences that left me with a lack of confidence. It means I'm often grateful for opportunities, but stranded by a fear that I don't have the skills to deliver what I've promised. I've also got a habit of asking for permission, rather than making a positive suggestion and creating an environment where I give managers the confidence to say 'yes'. I want to present a more positive version of me, and project a persona that instils confidence rather than gives away ideas to someone else to implement.

In terms of 'what does being gay  have to do with it anyway'? We considered how the organisation benefited from our diversity. It turns out that there are some positives to being a gay manager. We are more likely to allow people to be themselves. And we understand when people break rules. On the negative side, we're more likely to be hyper-sensitive to criticism.

I wonder whether the research evidence supports this? Sounds like I've got some research to do on the benefits of diversity in an organisation...