Let’s Get Together Thursday – Doing What is Important Versus What is Urgent

Former U.S.  President Dwight Eisenhower has some advice for school librarians:  “What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.”

Actually, this advice is good for all professions interested in reflective, continuous improvement.  So much so that Stephen Covey developed the idea into quadrants called “the Eisenhower Matrix” to help people evaluate their daily tasks and prioritize them for efficiency and effectiveness.

But how does this apply to school librarians?  Well, we are constantly faced with dealing with the urgent thing in front of us–putting us in a reactive mode (see last week’s post)–rather than making time to be proactive and getting to the things that are important.  We need to take time to visit this matrix as we’re evaluating our programs and seeking balance between them.  By achieving that balance, we are building a collaborative culture and a program that is at once responsive to the community and leading the community in forward thinking practice.

If you find your days are spent more like a reference or circulation staff member and less like a library administrator, you need to take some time to look at your tasks and reevaluate them on the Eisenhower Matrix.  Here are a few tips to get you on track:

Start by recording your daily activities on a calendar for an average week.  At the end of the week, do a break down of how your day is spent.  You might be surprised by how little you are doing the important things because the urgent things don’t go away.

Next, identify unneeded, outdated, or inefficient tasks for strategic abandonment.  When I was a new librarian, our district director made a huge impact on me by asking me to figure out my hourly rate by dividing my annual salary by number of contract days and hours in a required work day.   I was actually somewhat surprised.

Finally, figure out how to let those tasks go away, be delegated, or simply wait until you can come back to them.  When I realized that circulation was taking up almost all of my time I wasn’t directly teaching a class, I knew I had to make a change. I needed to stop guarding the circulation desk and personally checking in and re-shelving all library books myself to be sure it was done correctly.  So,  I turned it over to student aides and parents.  Sure it took time to train them, and I’m not ashamed to say that the quality control freak in me had a really difficult time letting second graders check in books.  However, the gain to me in moving me from circulation tasks to teaching and working with students and teachers was the most important thing I could have done for my very heavy circulating library.

I sometimes laugh at how seriously I take my work, answering emails in the evenings and on weekends.  It’s not like I’m a surgeon on call for an organ transplant.  But the customer service component of our profession makes it hard for us to not respond, to let even little things go, to go above and beyond wherever beyond actually is to help our community with their library needs.  The urgent things, our patron’s immediate needs, are notunimportant.  However, if we spend all of our time on them, they detract from the balance of getting to those important things–creating a library program that is the center of a successful school, where teachers come to collaborate, and students come to engage in authentic learning.

Check out Covey’s book if you need a refresher or would like to learn more.  Originally published in 1989, it’s a classic of time management that has stood the test of time.


Author: Jennifer Laboon

Jennifer LaBoon is the Coordinator of Library Technology in Fort Worth ISD. She serves on the AASL Blog Committee, on the Executive Board of the Texas Library Association, volunteers with a local children’s musical theater group, and is an avid TCU fan.

Categories: Blog Topics, Community/Teacher Collaboration

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