“No amount of spider diagrams will sort my life out.”

Straight away I have to credit that title, Lauren Smith tweeted it last night, I read it on my way home from Umbrella 2011, the CILIP conference & expo, as my brain was still fizzing, my feet aching, my writer’s and tweeter’s cramp throbbing and information overload level surpassed for the umpteenth time this year.

I never even blogged all my exploits last ruddy Summer, I send myself emails from work to home, from home to work, from work to my Kindle, from my phone to work and occasionally accidentally to my dog. I might be an okay librarian professionally, but personally I’m information addict with a real problem. My approach to information gathering is hit and run, haphazard and with a barely-controlled level of information anxiety much of the time. I’m trying so hard to develop my career and get my first post as a professional (at my age, pah!), I’m trying to help set up a trial for donor breastmilk to be used on the special care baby unit at my local hospital, I’m researching health information for myself and my family, I’m teaching my partner how to use the social web, I’m balancing debts accumulated getting my master’s degree, I’m constantly battling with my hardware (I don’t want to have to know how to fix it and cobble it together all the time, I paid hard-earned cash, I just want it to ruddy work) but most of all I’m doing my best to be a good mother – and of course, researching the hell out of every possible parenting method I like the look of. And loads of other things I just can’t keep in my head all at once.

I was so lucky to win a place at the Special Libraries Association annual conference in 2008, so lucky. But I never really capitalised on my experience; I made some contacts and I learned loads and loads but I wasn’t so wise to how you have to follow up on those leads, write reflectively and make the most of everything straight afterwards, not let the vitality of the experience fade before you act. As soon as I got home I had to finish my dissertation which I couldn’t because I got ill, then I got pregnant, then I got ill when I was pregnant, then of course I had my baby. Which is the single most focussing experience of my life. For a while everything professional fell away as I immersed myself with my beautiful child and how having her made everything worthwhile. Then when she was 5 months old I started writing my dissertation up, submitted when she was 7 months old. I have to say, I can’t really recommend that as the ideal way to write up but I sure as hell started to manage my time ruthlessly, and it worked. Thinking all along that I just wanted to do a “good enough” job, get it finished, submit it then never think about it again, it seemed that I was incapable of doing a bodge job of it and ended up with a distinction from the University of Sheffield. Bloody hell! I surprised myself there, and slightly irritated myself for not being able to leave well alone, not switching off, letting my brain get carried away with itself again. I remembered why I’d chosen this profession, because I love it and I can’t switch off from it, I love to learn all the time and connect with all the great folk I’ve met in person, virtually and now both. I realise that I spend most of my time outside my comfort zone, that’s who I am and I need to accept that, embrace it and move on.

So here’s what I’ve decided to do. This idea fully crytallised this evening when I was watching our customary pre-bath, pre-bed episode of Come Outside (yes, inspiration strikes at the strangest times), Auntie Mabel and Pippin the dog were moving house and packing everything up in boxes, big boxes, little boxes, boxes for everything (you think I’m watching too much children’s television? I’m inclined to agree). She had boxes full of the crap you drag around your life, a box of buttons because you never know when you might need it. You know the kind of thing. I recently read a Lifehacker post that suggested having a box to put in all those little things for which there’s no home but which you can group together until it’s full then you can sort it out. Well that’s my house, that’s my brain, that’s my files and crap on my various devices. Conclusion: that day is never going to dawn. There will never be a time when I can sit down and review, categorise, sort and generally get all my shit together. Not going to happen. Life seems to be permanently set at breakneck speed, so it’s time to stare reality full in the face.

I’m going to draw a line in the sand, that line is going to be Monday 10th July. Anything that I set aside before that date, set aside to do later, read, think about, get to grips with: in the bin. Away with it. No keeping stuff in case it comes in handy one day. What’s the point in keeping gazillions of pdfs of academic papers from my master’s degree? If I ever need to refer to them, I’ve got my bibliographies and oh yeah, I’m a librarian – I will find it if I need it.

I’m drawing the line pre-Umbrella cos it’d be churlish in the extreme to cast that aside. I’ve got shedloads of notes and things to follow up on from that; current, relevant, bang-up-to-date LIS gold. So, in order to maximise the usefulness of all that splendour, I’m going to blog every day until I’ve milked it for all it’s worth. Not for some imagined reader who’s going to trawl through my drivel, for myself. I owe it to myself to let up on my perfectionism and just crack on with this.

I need to create a research strategy for myself, a way to move my other projects forward. I need to write everything down. I need to get that massive piece of paper and draw that spider diagram, extract priorities from it, devise strategies for addressing them and throw the rest in the bin. Leave it alone, move on.

A bold promise, perhaps rash, but I’ve got to give it my best shot.

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5 thoughts on ““No amount of spider diagrams will sort my life out.”

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  1. I think you should be much kinder to yourself. You come across as a very engaged, enthusiastic, caring person and I’m inspired by your ability to juggle motherhood, work and professional development. I don’t have a child to look after and I definitely have similar chaos problems! I think it is a symptom of trying to do too many things, all at the same time and having high self expectations. This isn’t always a bad approach to life, as the world could do with more dynamic, motivated folk trying to improve things! However, sometimes you just need to give yourself a break 🙂

    1. That’s so kind, Stella. That means a lot coming from you. I’ve just poured a glass of wine and am about to power down and watch a film. Thank Crunchie it’s Friday!

  2. This is a lesson I could do with learning. I nearly ‘binned’ a load of feeds just now, and ended up reading this one – and that serendipity leads me not to be as ruthless as I should be.

    Good luck with the blogging campaign.

    1. Thank you! I have also decided that on those days I don’t manage it, I’m not going to hassle myself over it, just dive back in as and when. It’s just about getting the habit going I think. Ta for not chucking me away. I’ll make sure I post interesting links as well as reflective stuff.

  3. Good for you! Would agree with Stella, above, that you’re probably too hard on yourself – I am similarly in awe of anyone who manages to do professional-type stuff *and* look after small people! Can’t believe you did your dissertation while taking care of a baby – you are my new hero!

    I think the “do or delete” strategy is a good one. I probably need to have a bit of an “audit” of my to-do list as well – time to chuck out some of the stuff that, realistically, I am never going to do!

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