Administrative and Management Skills

From Mess and Stress into Success

I’m a color-coder. I dabble in bullet journaling, and the office supply section of any store is my favorite place to window shop. I’ve always been a tidy person–until I became a children’s librarian. As I write this, I am surrounded by piles of books, egg shakers, weeding reports and a few hula hoops. Sometimes I do programs where I am surrounded in actual garbage.

Around last fall, I noticed that the mess and the constant go-go-go of my job were taking a toll on my productivity and stress level. Things were literally piling up, which was leading me to feel overwhelmed. I signed up for the ALSC mentoring program, and when the time came to set a goal for myself, I went for a not-so-glamorous choice: get organized.

Blogger surrounded by Egg Drop Challenge materials
Guest blogger surrounded by Egg Drop Challenge materials

I am so glad I made that choice. With the support of my manager and ALSC mentor, I’ve researched and tested a variety of methods for managing projects, minimizing distractions, and becoming more productive. I now use–to varying degrees of loyalty– five different tools and strategies. Here are my top three.

Strategy 1: One Big Thing

What does it solve?

Have you ever tried to do all the things on your to do list at the same time and then accomplished none of it? This helps.

How does it work?

Pick one big thing to tackle each day. Then do it.

Did it work?
Yes. Somedays I am more interested in the smaller tasks that pop up throughout the day and get distracted, but usually the guilt of seeing the One Big Thing still waiting to be done is enough to get me back on track.

Strategy 2: Tickler file

What does it solve?

It organizes those heaps of post-it note reminders and half-formed lists that otherwise litter your workspace.

How does it works?

Any paper that ends up on my desk–timesheets, weeding reports, my “One Big Thing” lists– go into the folder for the date or month it needs to get done. Each morning, I look at that day’s corresponding folder and tackle what’s inside.

Did it work?
To an extent. This is great for keeping my desk tidy and setting aside non-urgent tasks. It is, however, a paper-centric strategy that doesn’t always play well with tasks assigned through email.

Strategy 3: Stephen Covey’s “Time Management Grid”

What does it solve?

This is for when absolutely everything feels like it is a “top priority.”

How does it work.

I’ve printed off blank copies of Covey’s grid and put them in my tickler file’s month folders. Each month, I look at my calendar and what I need to accomplish. I then try to determine what is urgent, what’s important ,what is neither, and what it both. After laying everything out using Covey’s grid, I prioritize the important things.

Did it work?

Somewhat. I think this is a valuable exercise everyone should try at least once using their job description. In reality, I found this tool to be a bit idealistic. While I’d love to spend the bulk of my time in big picture planning mode, usually those urgent but unimportant things still win the day. On the bright side, at least I am now able to discern better between what is important and what really is not.

So with varying degrees of success, I’ve slowly been feeling like these tools are helping me get my messy world back in order. Just taking time at the start of each day, week, and month, to pause, tidy up, and prepare myself for what’s ahead has done wonders for my stress.

What are your favorite ways of managing tasks and getting organized? Have you tried any of the methods I’ve mentioned? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Our guest blogger today is Dana Johnson. Dana is a Youth Services Librarian at La Crosse Public Library, where she focuses on school age collections and programming with a smattering of storytimes thrown in. She sends special thanks to her ALSC Mentor, Sarah Wethern, from the Douglas County Library in Alexandria, Minnesota.

Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC.

If you’d like to write a guest post for the ALSC Blog, please contact Mary Voors, ALSC Blog manager, at


This post addresses the following ALSC Core Competency: VI. Administrative and
Management Skills.

One comment

  1. Deana

    I love using Google Sheets to organize my programs or any large projects. I have one document for the year and a different sheet for each program or project. I searched how to set up a spreadsheet for project management and followed the instructions, but Google now has templates you can use. It takes some time to get into the habit of checking it at the beginning of the week, but it allows me to keep track of all of the little details of multiple different projects and has made planning less stressful.

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