Time Tracking and the Reality of Self Care

Everyone likes to talk about the importance of self care. I did a podcast episode on it last fall. I think where we are in the discourse on this is that what we call self care for some people we call indulgence for others, and this is tied to class and race. For some reason pedicures seem to be the thing people talk about the most. That isn’t at all appealing to me, and speaking of class and race problems, pedicures are also a gold standard for those.

What I call “self care” is usually a not all that fun thing to do. Getting exercise or going out to professional networking events aren’t necessarily fun, but you rarely regret having done it. Self care is about creating an appealing life for yourself, but with the recognition that creating long-term happiness requires a lot of day-to-day unhappiness and sacrifice. The reality of this struck me about six weeks ago when I did a 168 hours time tracking project, as described by Laura Vanderkam. She’s a prolific writer and has four kids, so she knows about making use of time. I read her book I Know How She Does It last summer and expected to disagree with it. I’d been a devotee of Cal Newport and Deep Work for some time, but the ideals of that book are hard for me to work right now, and I was spending a lot of time feeling bad about myself because of that. Basically the two are saying the same thing: figure out what you need/want to happen, and make the time to do it. But I Know How She Does It is about looking at the entire tapestry of your life and figuring out where things go, and not feeling bad about how it looks. You can work a lot, spend a lot of time with your kids, and sleep a lot, but it takes some thought to see how things are going and what needs to happen to improve it.

The way she has people does this is to fill out a spreadsheet with your entire week in 15 minute increments, and then track how much time you spend on each thing. For instance, the week of March 28 I got approximately 7.8 hours of sleep on average per night. Not bad! I spend about 4.5 hours a day on average with my kids, though with a lot more of that on the weekends, and some at 3 in the morning. On the other hand, I only spent 4.5 hours total the whole week doing what I would characterize as truly relaxing. My other non-work time was (that week) doing an 8K race, going out for a pre-race dinner, doing yoga, attending a book group, pumping milk (4.25 hours), shopping, podcast recording, and many other things. It was a weird week, but showed me I could get a lot done in a week that made an interesting life. I did this for another week as well, and got similar results, but managed to not fill out the whole thing. It was a good exercise to make sure that I was thinking about what way I was using the next 15 minutes.

And that, right there, is the crux. You can’t do everything. If you want to work out for 15 minutes, you can’t spend that 15 minutes cleaning. If you want to read for 15 minutes, you can’t write during that same time. You can listen to an audiobook while cleaning, or write while commuting by train, etc. But mostly, you have to pick what to do. Looking at that tapestry of a week you have to figure out what to sacrifice to make something else happen. And with kids or other care taking responsibilities, you often don’t get to pick–your plans can change in a moment. I meant to write this post weeks ago, but kept postponing because other things came up. Today I am procrastinating on another project, so I decided to spend my 15 minutes writing. I’ve sacrificed another opportunity, but in acknowledging that I can also acknowledge that what you do shapes your life, and you should choose when you can.

I’m Running for LITA Board

I’m running for the LITA (Library Information Technology Association) board as a Director-at-Large. My official statement and ballot information is available on the LITA website. I thought it would be useful to expand on that official statement and say a little more about why I chose to run.

First, a little history. When I was in library school, I ended up getting involved in three different student chapters: ALA, SLA, and PLG (I was a founding member of the UIUC Progressive Librarian’s Guild Student Chapter). I had leadership roles in all these chapters, whether committee chair, secretary, treasurer, or president (in various combinations for each). In fact, when I think back to almost any volunteer organization I’ve been part of, I usually end up on the board. Why is that?

I really commit to organizations, for one. I am generally careful about how I spend my professional time (though leaving lots of room for experimentation and new ideas), and so when I commit to something it’s because I believe in the mission and aims, and in maintaining and building on those. Another thing is that I understand and enjoy the un-fun but extremely necessary work of governance: paying attention to the procedures, documenting decisions, and following the by-laws– and the laws those by-laws reference. That’s why you’ll often find me in the role of treasurer, and why I was the one to complete and submit the paperwork for the Read/Write Library Chicago to become tax-exempt. In my day job I spend a lot of time thinking about procedures, workflows, and documentation. As LITA Chair Coordinator, I am constantly reminding chairs about where things need to go.

This is not to say that I am a boring person obsessed with following the rules. I’m very interested in pushing things forward and getting rid of outdated policies, but with reference to what makes sense for the organization and its history. For instance, when I chaired the LITA Web Coordinating Committee, I realized that there was a major gap that needed filling for the LITA Blog. It was a platform that lacked direction, and while technically the LITA WCC was supposed to be in charge, this didn’t seem like it was going in the right direction. I read through old meeting minutes and talked to a few people to try to understand what the original intentions were for the blog. Ultimately I realized we needed to add a LITA Blog Editor position, and worked with the committee to solicit and vet candidates. The blog editor has become an officially appointed position now, and the blog is actually a living thing with interesting posts that is good outreach for LITA . I’ve seen the social media stats–I know those posts get a lot of clicks. (The current blog editor, Lindsay Cronk, is also running for the LITA board!)

I’ve been fortunate to work closely with all the LITA presidents as an Emerging Leader and then WCC chair. LITA is a flat hierarchy as ALA divisions go, and I love that about it. But I’m particularly excited about this upcoming year for LITA, because Andromeda Yelton will be president of LITA starting in July. As vice-president she’s been doing a lot of great stuff, and I know she will continue this as president. I’ve been working with Andromeda on LITA projects for years now, and I would love to continue to nerd out on association management philosophy. I just found an email exchange we had 5 years ago almost about deep philosophical and perceptual issues in LITA and Code4Lib, and the themes in that email exchange are things I know we still both bring with us in our daily LITA work.

So while the slate for Director-at-Large is almost impossibly good, I hope you’ll consider voting for me. Either way, I’ll still be there for LITA.

I live in a dense urban environment surrounded by apartments, taxis, etc., but I happen to live in a house with a wonderful backyard where we grow vegetables, fruit, and flowers in addition to a lawn I mow with a manual push mower. It’s winter now, but we still manage to find some joy in the garden with my “visual interest” plantings that may more signal lack of weeding. (I have a 5 month old, it’s hard to keep up).

I’ve been reading a lot about rural life and farming lately. Various things converged to make this happen. Anyway, there’s a lot of writing about the contentment that comes in connection to land and place, even if it appears to outsiders to constrict choice. I’ve never really read Wendell Berry before, but I’m going to start, because I think he has a lot of value to say about life in rural areas that comes from a more useful point of view than the bloviating in political discourse.

I don’t think technology entrepreneurs need to farmsplain rural life to people who live there, who aren’t all the same and don’t think all the same.