Insights from practitioners in Information Management

Information Overload – January 2016 – Plan for the Year

Shirley Cowcher

Don’t make New Year resolutions

It’s the start of the New Year and I wonder if you’ve been asked what your New Year’s resolution is.  I have; and my response is “I don’t make New Year’s resolution because I don’t want to see my resolve fail at the beginning of the year”.  You may think that it is not a very positive approach to achieving self-improvement but I have been doing some reading recently that indicates that will-power and self-control are like muscles – they can only exert themselves for a limited time before they fail. Muscles need to be trained for endurance and weight bearing and that is also what is needed when we consider our will-power and self-control.  If you don’t use it you lose it.
This also applies in the work environment.  Many of us start the New Year with an attitude of things are going to be different this year!  We decide that there are at twenty or more projects that need to be addressed and some of those projects may be so big that they need to be broken down into twenty or more smaller projects (an issue we may not have recognised when the initial list was made). Using the basics of time management we identify the important projects and break them into urgent activities and non-urgent activities and we are satisfied that we are moving forward.  Then something goes wrong.  What is important to you is not important for the organisation or others in the organisation have a different agenda and before you’ve even started the projects seem to be sidelined and you are back to doing the daily grind tasks that need to be done but won’t result in change.  It is at this point that we need to do some training in terms of will-power and self-control.  

Just Do It! – Sounds so easy

I would suggest that now is the time to reflect on what you have achieved in the workplace over the past few years.  If you feel like you’ve been constantly climbing up hill and as yet have not celebrated a success in the workplace then you might need to consider your approach.  I applaud persistence and perseverance but if you keep doing the same thing and nothing is being achieved in terms of important projects then you may need to consider changing your approach.
So how do you change your approach?  If you’ve identified the important projects relevant to you and your functions (information management, records management, library management etc.) then consider how the projects feed in to the goals and strategies for the organisation.  Make sure you have that clear in your mind so that you can articulate it to others.  In addition, consider others in the organisation that may be able to contribute to the projects and what’s in it for them.  Once you’ve done that consider how you will tackle the projects.  Don’t spend too much time on this otherwise you’ll end up with analysis paralysis.
Now you have a rough outline of what, who and how, go and ask for opinions and help.  Consult and collaborate.  Seek the opinions of those that will be impacted and benefit from the projects as well as those that have the skills or network contacts that can help you achieve the outcomes required to succeed.  This is where you have to shine and sell the projects with conviction.  You’ve done your preparation, you know why it is important to the organisation convince them.  This might be where you have failed in the past so make sure you are well prepared and aware of likely objections and have responses ready.

One bite or step at a time

Be prepared that you might have to compromise in what can be achieved.  This is why you may have to have smaller projects that link together so you can show compromise but still move forward to achieve goals. Which projects are essential, could provide significant improvements and can be broken in to smaller independent projects?
If you can get approval and support to complete only one small project in the year then don’t despair; celebrate that you have flexed your resolution muscles and plan for the success of that project.
No matter what the size of the project you are going to commence make sure that you have it well planned.  Break it down in to smaller projects or specific tasks.  Make sure you know the dependencies of each task and the resources required to complete the tasks and the project overall.  Success is achieved through planning, focus, and persistence.  Face your project taking one step at a time.  Don’t make any project or task that big that you are daunted by it.
If you have limited experience in project management then ask for help.  Find someone in the organisation that may be able to support you in this part of the project.  You may be able to find that resource if you have an honest discussion with the sponsor or major benefactor of the project.  Remember if the project you are addressing is important to the organisation and supports the goals and strategies of the organisation, the sponsor is likely to be someone other than you (you are not completing a project to satisfy your needs, that’s a by-product).
The important part of any project is to commence and follow through to completion.  Don’t be distracted with daily mundane time wasting activities.  When the project gets hard keep going.  Flex those will-power muscles and finish each task until you complete the project.

Blow your own trumpet

Congratulations, you have just completed a project that is relevant and important to the organisation and you have achieved it through consultation and collaboration with others in the organisation.  Give yourself a pat on the back and experience what it feels like to have flexed and strengthened your resolve.  Now don’t rest on your laurels.  Revisit the list of projects you started with and consider what will be the next project you are going to commence and complete.  Just before you press the rest button and do that spend a little time documenting the completed project and your success.  What were some of the highlights?  Where could you have done things better?  How does the completed project fit in to the overall aims and strategies of the organisation now and perhaps into the future?  Present this brief synopsis to your immediate supervisor and update your CV to include the project.  Consider writing a small article for the organisation newsletter or even a local professional newsletter or journal.  Celebrate your success and let people know.  This will reinforce your own sense of ability and will demonstrate your capabilities to others.
Now you have made yourself that bit stronger, extended your network within the organisation, improved your reputation and can start the process all over again.  The next project may be a little bigger but you know you can do it.