NB: This is not a sales pitch so I will not recommend any classes or teachers by name. This is simply an ode to the experience.

A few weeks ago, I participated in a day-long workshop on project management, led by a big university’s IT project manager — someone who runs big, year-long, multiple-facet projects — and focusing on the basics for all of us floundering librarians.

The Georgia Tech Library is renovating its building and renewing its services, a project that will finish in 2020 after almost a decade of planning and construction. I have been part of working groups, task forces, committees, and design teams related to this project; I have consulted, interviewed, workshopped, brainstormed, focus-grouped, and assessed for this project. It has been a lot of work and there’s a lot more coming, and during this time, we still have a library to run.

The workshop went over how a project manager thinks of projects, operations, tasks, needs, and resources, giving us a vocabulary and tools to apply to our work.

I’ve written elsewhere on how I get things done (which is a great euphemism for fulfilling my job responsibilities while developing my professional identity) but to put it simply, I keep a list of everything I need to do, and I try not to get behind. That’s it. It is a pathetic but (I think) completely understandable strategy.

The workshop was magical in its effect on the way I understand and articulate my work. Something as simple as “A project has a beginning and an end. It’s not a project if it keeps going indefinitely. Those things are operations,” helped me re-evaluate how I am using my time and whether all the responsibilities I’ve taken on are sustainable (the answer is no, turns out). It even gave me the language and context to explain to my associate dean why I couldn’t take on a subject-liaison role, even if the work was “minimal.”

The key here is that it’s easy to think of your work as just a set of tasks that you’ve agreed to do, i.e. a to-do list, and then to try to do all those tasks. That attitude, however, will keep you adding new tasks to the end of a list that you will never complete. Applying some project-management concepts to your responsibilities and plans will change your relationship to your time, your resources, and your manager.

So do it. Take a project management workshop/seminar/whatever, and fill your metaphorical “getting things done” toolbox. And beware the unending to-do list.