A new kind of normal

Quick, write. Before I manage to distract myself with a job search or the Christmas newsletter I’m yet to finish and post.

This is a (very) personal post, not one I would normally write here but one I feel compelled to write to my professional friends who have shown their support on Twitter, and/or have had me in their thoughts and prayers over the last month or so.

For those who don’t already know, my life changed forever on the night of the 5th of November. An exact time, I don’t know. But I received news around 10.30pm. My Mum had suddenly passed away.

As I move the bag of packing supplies I purchased on Friday afternoon away from my desk to sit, it is another reminder of the task before me – packing up my mother’s life and home.

My Mum who I’d have a cuppa with, weekend paper strewn over the table. My Mum who cleaned the gym to reduce my training fees. My Mum who loved Christmas morning. My Mum who sat in a workshop I co-presented at NLS6. And took notes.

As ‘big sis’, I bear a lot of responsibility at this time. There is no manual or set ‘to do’ list, though as a friend pointed out today, I could probably manage to write one. I’m fumbling my way through. Mum, in ways made recently evident, always knew I’d take care of her no matter what happened.

I’m into my third week of returning to work and not quite at capacity yet. I returned to work on 27th November, the day after my birthday. I was looking forward to seeing the team who sent me flowers and just wanted to see I was okay. But my return was harder than I thought. As I walked up the pathway towards the door, my chest started to feel like it was caving in. I walked through the corridor and up the stairs to my desk cautiously, conscious of who might see me. I spotted a colleague of mine who had checked in on me every day since the 5th. She had a hug for me. The tears threatened and I started shaking. Another colleague-become-friend walked up to me for a hug…. I continued to shake. My chest hurt. Before anyone else could approach me, she had me downstairs in the tea room for a cuppa. No matter how I felt the previous day, the positive thoughts of returning to professional me, nothing prepared me for what I experienced as I stepped inside. I was little more than a zombie for the rest of the day but I made it through, thanks to members of my team.

One thing I really, absolutely suck at is leaning on others (no surprise to some). I have received incredible, generous support during this time. My best friend from primary school (whose life was also touched by my Mum) flew in from Mackay to stand beside me and turn the pages as I presented the eulogy to a full church. And yet I still feel I need to take all the burden on myself. My hands shook as I put flowers in a basket that I had decorated, minutes after the service but I did it. Mum’s day was going to go off without a hitch if I could help it.

One of my strengths however, is to do what’s required and get on with it. Find out if I don’t know how.

A few things have seen me through this last month:

  • Writing, journaling. As much as I can. It can feel like crap, but, better out than in.
  • Communication (and being honest) with others and what I needed. I’m fortunate to have an amazing partner, my travel companion and teammate of six years.
  • A small circle of people who looked out for me, checked in on me, while I was busy informing people, making phone calls and consoling others.
  • A workplace that is understanding of my mind wandering off, distracted from time to time.
  • Accepting help.

In the week before Mum’s passing, I had notified my manager I will not be signing a renewal to my contract in my current role beyond end of January. I still feel this is the right decision. Much like Amy Steinbauer has advised over at INALJ, job searching gets extra challenging during these times. Keeping the goals and what I want in sight is more important now than ever. I hope the new year will bring me meaningful work and a new stage to my career.

I will continue to write as I move into a new kind of normal. My posts here may be scattered for a while during this time, but writing this post marks a step in the right direction.

Make your mark. Develop a career statement.

Following my last blog post about how a personal professional development plan can assist LIS newbies with discussing career aspirations, I got to thinking about another valuable activity (completed as part of my Masters ePortfolio) that has assisted me with gaining a sense of direction. So while I’m on the subject on career and professional development planning, I’ll share with you the “career statement”.

I share this experience as a LIS newbie professional, a testament of how important and valuable developing a career statement can be for future reflection and planning. I’m by no means an expert on the subject. I recommend this exercise to students and newbie info pros just starting out, as well as any more established professionals seeking clarity or to explore alternatives.

Over four years ago now, I was faced with this task of developing a career statement in the study guide for the Professional Practice unit of my Masters course. I’ll admit the task appeared daunting, and like the personal professional development plan, I tried to seek out all the resources I could to gain a clear idea of what this statement might look like and say. Turns out there is no magic formula to develop a career statement. Completing the task itself is the only way. Probably my most used resource was “The Personal Development Handbook” which allowed me to explore my values and strengths, among other things. And even still, this book didn’t see me arrive at my career statement ‘tah dah!’

Whether you start with the personal professional development, goal setting or the career statement, I don’t think it really matters. I started with defining what I really valued and the sort of things I’m seeking in a career, and goal setting. I brainstormed possible sectors I could find myself working, my professional interests and what I feel I’m good at. I went back to the roots of why I’m in this profession in the first place and the joys I had from an early age from learning, reading, seeking new and interesting information and facts and curiosity. From here, the career statement evolved. My career statement has two distinct parts:

  • what will I do, provide, give
  • to what end, what outcome/s, what difference do I aim to make in the world, the profession, the community, whatever.

There is no set format for how a career statement should look. I thought of a career statement as essentially like a mission statement for a company. You could do a video of yourself, a presentation, a painting, a collage, a poem or even in the humble written form. I’ve temporarily decided on the written format, but perhaps one day I’ll explore my creative side with it.

Here are some questions I asked myself to get you started.

  1. What interests or draws you into the LIS profession?
  2. What gives you joy?
  3. What is your mission? What contribution do you seek to make?
  4. What would you like to see as fruits of your labour?

There are a number of reasons why you should have a career statement. Here are a few I’ve thought about:

  • looking at job advertisements and position descriptions while job hunting it can be easy to be swept up. A career statement can help you to be strategic with your search and avoid the risk of potentially heading in the wrong direction. This is not to say that an unexpected turn in direction can lead you up the career garden path. But a career statement can be a good reminder about what you seek in different positions.
  • as a newbie there is so much to learn, you might ask ‘how am I supposed to know my career direction?!’ But what you could do with your career statement is turn it into a skills shopping list. What skills and experience will you need to fulfil your mission?
  • a career statement is a call on you to commit to making the difference you wish to make. Use it however you wish or feel comfortable to make it happen.
  • finally, and this is one of the purposes for my career statement, is that it can be a useful reflection tool. I’d like to look back on my career statement in about three, five, ten years time.

Ultimately, I believe a career statement is a personal process. There are no right or wrong ways to do it or answers. It took me a long time to figure that out! A career statement is not set in stone, but I think it captures your thinking at a given time and gives you something to refer to when in need of guidance. It certainly does that for me.

Professional development planning: thoughts for LIS newbies

The New Year is both a time for reflection as well as for planning. At the moment, I’m going through a process of putting together a ‘Performance and Development Plan’ for my work role. I’m sure that on some level, others are doing the same. For a newbie to the information profession, and with all the possibilities available to our career in this profession, professional development and even career planning can be a difficult task.

Last month I had a meeting with the big, big boss at my workplace. Originally, this meeting was intended to discuss a program of work I’ve been working on with a manager. But, this meeting turned into a very important one. The discussion moved from the agenda to the ‘pink elephant in the room’ – a recent decision I have made about my current (new-ish) role. A stickler for keeping to agendas, I wasn’t prepared to discuss my professional development and career aspirations at this time. Not only was this meeting more than slightly nerve-wrecking, but the meeting was also my first face-to-face meeting with the big, big boss. I was fortunate to have a manager, who is in my corner, with me to support what I needed to say. In case I’ve lost you for a bit here, I’ll come out and say it – basically I was asked ‘What are your plans? What do you want to do?’

I’m not sure about others, but this was an incredibly tough question for me to answer. On reflection, I really appreciate the interest the big, big boss had shown in my professional development and my career. If she didn’t give a damn, she wouldn’t have asked. I’ll share with you how I handled this by letting you in on what helped me.

As part of my ePortfolio for my LIS Masters course, I had to produce a personal professional development plan. In my opinion, this was probably the most valuable task of the entire ePortfolio. This was largely given by my agonising over the task throughout the course, attempting to ensure that the plan was ‘just so’, had taken into account pretty much everything. I consulted relevant texts, blogs, templates, you name it to develop the ‘perfect’ professional development plan. As the deadline approached, quick decisions needed to be made and so I went with my gut. The decisions I have made and the things I included in the plan turned out to be the right ones for me. I’m surprisingly happy with the result. The epiphany came when I took the pressure off myself and decided that it was okay to be an early career information professional. I’m allowed to explore. I also think of my professional self as a jigsaw puzzle, looking for learning experiences and skills in order to become my own professional with an unique contribution.

Now to draw on both of these experiences – my meeting with the big, big boss and my personal professional development plan, I can advise other early career information professionals with the following:

Planning and discussing professional development as an early career information professional can be difficult. This is especially so when there are various pathways one could take. But there needs to be a clear enough path to work with. 

My approach to the discussion about career direction with the big, big boss was with honesty. I believe this was all I could do. I’m a fairly direct person, so honesty in these situations is really my strength. I mentally referred to my personal professional development plan in my response and let her know that I’m exploring career directions and that there are three I am currently contemplating. It is my goal within three to five years that I will know the path which I will specialise. I emphasised that I am an early career information professional and am open to different learning experiences. My personal professional development plan I had completed as part of my LIS Masters definitely assisted with my rationale and the composure of my thoughts on this topic. I may not have everything bedded down right now, but I have a clear enough path with which to explore the possibilities available to my career.

The result? The big, big boss appreciated my honesty. There is understanding. Together with my managers, we can now move forward to devise ways I can develop in the sector.

My personal professional development plan will now guide me through the similar, formal process for my work role. I know what I need from my current employer and understand their limitations. I may not know to the letter what would bring me the greatest satisfaction in my career, but I can identify the jigsaw puzzle pieces I will need to put it all together. For now, I’m an early career information professional. And I will permit myself to be one.

Over to you now.

To the newbie information professionals, how do you prepare to discuss your career aspirations and professional development with your employer or supervisor?

And to the managers, what initiative do you like to see in a new LIS graduate regarding their professional development? What do you expect they bring to the discussion table?

Planning Sessions – a summary & final thoughts

For my final ‘Planning Sessions’ post, I’d like to share some final thoughts, benefits I’ve experienced and describe how my planning tools come together in the form of the ‘Weekly Review’.

In my first planning session, I identified five tools to use to assist my planning and keeping on track.

  • Diary
  • Task manager
  • Year Planner
  • Quarterly Planner
  • Checklist

At this point, I haven’t completed the quarterly planner, I’m feeling little need to do so. Perhaps I don’t need one? Though I suspect I’ll do a planner for the university semester.
For the other four tools, they’re serving their purpose beautifully. And I’ve been strict with myself to stick to the purpose for each tool. The result is not only minimising clutter, but I also know which tool to go to retrieve information about something. For example, I don’t record my exercise in my diary, it goes on the checklist. When I’d like to know how I’m tracking with my exercise goals, I don’t need to sort through appointments and due dates to find this information. I can view my progress with a glance at the checklist.

Possibly the single most important part of maintaining my capturing and processing system has been the ‘Weekly Review’. Last week I had a brief thought to do away with my ‘weekly review’ because I had other things calling for my attention. My recommendation is to ignore those urges. I kept my ‘weekly review appointment’ and glad I did. The ‘weekly review’ keeps me on top of my commitments and provides me with a clear idea of what I need to do. I’d fall behind and induce feelings of being overwhelmed if I missed a ‘weekly review’. It is a process where all the tools and their functions come together. The general process involves going through each ‘inbox’ and deciding each item’s next action (or inaction). Tasks are input into the task manager. I identify, from my year planner, which projects I’m currently working on and their next action. I then go through each task and assign a due date.

A challenge I’ve faced in developing trust in the system is recording tasks, ideas, etc as soon as possible, when it comes to mind. If something is on my mind, my mind isn’t clear and restricts thinking and ideas. When something is on your mind, before it starts to bug you, write it down, capture it in the system. Even if it’s a scribble on a piece of paper and placed in a physical in-tray. Come to the ‘weekly review’, the item will be dealt with.

By going through the process of planning and setting up a system, I’ve certainly honed my personal learning environment (PLE) tools used for capturing and processing – naturally I’ve stuck with what’s handy and meshes with how I like to record and retrieve things.

So here’s an idea: Record or pay attention to what you grab when writing down an idea or task. Do this for a week or two. Do you always have Evernote open? Do you grab whatever scrap of paper you find? This exercise will help determine which tools work for you and will be handy to incorporate into your processing system.

Final thoughts….

Plans and planning is guided by a direction or goals. I’ve discovered two approaches to planning. One is to plan to prepare for opportunities, the other is to plan towards set goals. So it doesn’t matter if you have set goals or not, planning is useful to everyone.

Planning doesn’t mean to imply being rigid or taking a rigid approach to following plans. Instead, I believe planning is key to being flexible. By knowing what projects are happening, commitments, essentially the big picture, at any one time actually allows for flexibility. Since implementing my planning tools and system I’ve identified an opportunity I’d like to take on. I can refer to my year planner, be reminded of my priorities and focus areas, and perhaps find a way I can work it in. Or I won’t be able to. But by having a planner, I can save myself from, well, myself and re-affirm where my energies are to be directed.

Remember, the only constant in life is change.

Planning Session 4 – the Checklist

There are two more posts in this “planning session” series which has detailed the process and approach I have taken to organising and planning the year ahead – the checklist and a summary, pulling all the planning tools together. I would’ve liked to have shared my thoughts on goal setting, but I’m still trying to work the process out. It’s been tough. After a three hour session, I’d made progress but I need to re-think my approach. Suffice to say, there is no one method, template…..any right or sure way to set goals. I have short to mid term goals, absolutely, however these are yet to make it to a piece of paper or be well defined enough to be able to tackle each element of them.

In this post, I will focus on the development of a ‘checklist’ I now use to tick off regular tasks, including habits I wish to establish.

I may have said this before, but not only am I a visual person, I’m also results driven. I like to see progress being made, as well as seeing when to celebrate successes and little wins. I didn’t want to clog up my task manager, this would be too overwhelming. I didn’t want to set aside a block of time for regular tasks and habits in my diary or calendar, such as exercise. I found last year this didn’t work for me. I became immune to those scheduled time blocks, I ended up booking appointments over the top, studied, etc. Self imposed due dates also became useless to me. I set too many tasks for myself and saw the due dates rush past in a flurry. No wonder I felt swamped, guilty (for not exercising or completing a task), trapped and buried in ‘have to’s’.

Primarily, the idea behind the checklist is habit development. Other uses include regular tasks, such as blog posts, professional readings, and also drawing my focus to the projects I’m currently working on. I initially thought to create a fortnightly checklist, but have now opted for a monthly. I’ve used (Kikki K) A4 monthly planners. A spreadsheet or table would also be effective, they were in my undergrad years. :) The purpose of the checklist is to visually see progress, and also see when it is not made or identify which area (or habit) is falling behind.

I’ve noted my goals on the bottom of the planners. One of them is to do physical exercise four times a week, three times as a minimum. By not ‘booking’ in exercise, I free myself to achieve those three to four workouts at any time during the week. If I don’t feel like exercising one day, no matter, I have the week to complete my quota. Flexibility in my schedule is also realised and achieved this way. I am satisfied when I see the ‘ticks’ at the end of the week and end of the month.

I can say, more than a month in using the systems I have put in place, the plans I have made and the tools I have used, it’s all working for me. I can elaborate more on the benefits of my planning sessions in my summary post. So for now, here are some additional resources for establishing habits.

5 Steps to create a new habit – zenhabits

How to not change a habit: 7 common mistakes – The Positivity Blog

What rituals do you include in your work life? – The Bamboo Project

A compact guide to creating the fitness habit – zenhabits

The two-headed beast of successful habit change – zenhabits

Planning Session 1 – Get it all out!

I couldn’t wait to plan my fresh start. It was difficult to know where to begin, but with pen, paper and a whole lot of ideas jumping round my head, one way was to just write. Here, I detail my first planning session, kicking off 2012.

Write, list, draw, whatever, all commitments for the year. For example, I have subjects to complete towards my Masters degree, ALIA NewGrads and writing here at Flight Path. Some times I can’t do things (or think) in any coherent order, so I’ve written all over a piece of paper. Whatever came to mind, seemingly random items. Questions which assisted my thought process included: -

  • What did I learn from last year?
  • What worked? What didn’t work?
  • What area/s of life do I want to work on?
  • What area/s of life need working on?
  • What behaviours or habits do I need to look out for?
  • What is stopping me from achieving goals?
  • What projects/events will I have on this year?
  • (for me) What will be my research/exploration focus?

Write down everything. I mean, EVERYTHING.

Guidance may need to be sought during this process. I looked to position descriptions (for jobs I’d like to aim for) and ideas of mid to long term plans and goals. I then highlighted items of particular importance, my focus areas – fitness, writing, well-being – with a bubble. But whatever takes your fancy.

I wrote down everything from what I definitely knew I had on, to what I’d like to do, such as learning Mandarin. As projects and commitments jump onto the page, this process may seem quite overwhelming, and it was. It’s supposed to. For me, it was like some sort of shock therapy to bring some perspective and realise I can’t achieve and do everything that’s landed on the page. Believe me, without established priorities and planning, if I attempted to pursue everything on that piece of paper, I’d most likely end up burnt out again, or on a bathroom floor, literally.

The second activity in this session was to identify what planning tools I’ll need to help me see the year ahead. Planning tools I’ve chosen are: -

  • Diary – for what’s on and due
  • Task manager – to be an inbox for tasks and managing next actions for projects
  • Year planner – to view all projects for the year on a Gantt chart-like spreadsheet
  • Quarterly planner – for a closer look at projects and due dates, particularly for the university semester
  • Checklist – to tick off regular tasks, such as reading, blog posts and exercising.

Each tool will be assigned a function. For example, my checklist is for habit development and repeating tasks. I will not be writing in due dates, events or appointments. This is what my diary is for. And this way my repeating tasks won’t bulk up my task manager.

I also started to think about my personal learning environment, systems and processes I need to have in place. I’m a systematic type of person. I like to plan and set in place whatever I can to free my mind from mundane, day-to-day processes, and time-wasting moments like ‘where did I file away my last bank statement?’ and the hunt that proceeds. Systems and simple processes that become routine and habit can save time and allows for focus on other, more complex tasks. I’ve already proven this to myself.

Some questions to ask are: -

  • Where and what tools serve as in-trays or inboxes?
  • How are day-to-day things processed?
  • Where can efficiency by improved so I can routinely capture the information and tasks I need?

For example, work emails, Gmail, physical in-tray, Evernote and Google Reader are probably most places where I’ll find tasks to action and ideas to organise; inboxes for things ranging from mobile phone invoices to blog post ideas and professional reading. For this first session though, I didn’t think too much about this and I still haven’t. At this point I figured once the projects and goals are set, I’ll have a better picture about what tools and processes I’ll put in place to facilitate them.

At the end of my first session, I had a piece of paper with scribbles, a rough list of planning tools and began to co ordinate regular events, like study, beach volleyball seasons and ALIA NewGrads, into a year planner. Details of said planner will come….however at this point I needed a boost of inspiration, so I spent an afternoon starting on my vision board by painting decorations.

For another example of conducting annual reviews and planning, see post from The Act of Non-Conformity.


Setting the Scene – 2012 Planning Part 1

Ah, new year resolutions. A new year, a fresh start. Goals seem to be flying about all over the place, and not without every tip under the sun about how to keep them. Well, I believe there is no point in having resolutions and goals without accompanying those with a plan to achieve them.

I achieved a lot last year, but at an expense to my well-being. It was a fabulous year for me professionally, but I didn’t set myself some boundaries. Without boundaries I tend to have no sense of when enough is enough; I didn’t consistently recognise limitations to my time and energy and I didn’t set any goals for the year. Funny that. I didn’t set any goals, yet I’ve accomplished more than what I remotely thought to be possible. I just went all out, hard, with no real defined direction. I took up every opportunity that came my way. Of course, my projects and writing this blog had purpose, but I did not deliberately say to myself, “Hey, let’s aim to present at a conference this year”. Basically I saw opportunities then did whatever I could manage to seize them.

This year will be much the same, but strategically and aligned with plans, focus, direction and goals. Seizing opportunities as they are created or presented is a great trait to have, but I believe I need to reign that tendency in a little, so to not jeopardise the efforts I plan to invest in other parts of my life which I also consider important and are very dear to me.

My lessons learnt from last year has inspired me to do some planning for next year, sorry, this year. Even before the new year began, I had my first planning session. I started tweeting my planning sessions, where a request arose that I blog about my process. This introductory post, as well as in a few posts to follow, I will detail what I have done to develop to a big picture view, down to a week-to-week system of keeping projects (and new habits) on track. Plus, I’m thinking it’s a good idea to document my planning process for reference at a later date.

Now, to return to the topic of new year resolutions and goals, here are some of my thoughts. Where goals arise, a balance needs to be struck between the efforts planned to be invested into those goals and the rest of life itself. There can be more time dedicated to writing, for example, but which part of life is going to be sacrificed in order to achieve related goals?

I’ve come to understand that I can’t achieve a goal without taking time away from another part of my life. This is where determining a (very) few focus areas, I’ve found to be important. These areas are what I’ll place above all else, when push comes to shove. I need to know what my priorities are, regardless of the goals I wish to achieve.

The purpose of my planning is to define focus areas for myself, determine when my projects are and identify any times I could pursue things I’d like to.

I define or use the term ‘project’ loosely in this context, to mean any series of tasks toward a completion of something. Projects could be completing a unit in my Masters course, organising an ALIA NewGrads event, research I’d like to do and even planning my travels.

My planning aims to: -

  • Look at what I can realistically achieve
  • Prompt strategic thinking
  • Break down goals by identifying building blocks (stepping stone projects and achievements)
  • Apply lessons learnt from last year.