Blog/ Writing

Hat Tricks

I was contemplating posting the latest variation on the post I always post, which is, of course, something about OMG The Very Serious And Challenging Challenges Of Balancing LibrarianLand and WriterWorld.

And then I thought, geez, speshul snowflake much? What, you have more than a single role in your life? Amazing! So does basically everyone else on the planet. How about instead you write up some strategies that you actually use in order to work effectively (read: not lose your mind) on multiple projects, in multiple roles?


I strive, always, for an empty email inbox. This is a pretty common technique for enhancing productivity. Fewer emails=less stress. But because striving, by itself, sadly does not make any actual difference, here are some ways I back up the striving. (Caveat: some of this is Gmail-centric.)

  • Folders. Will the project generate multiple messages? I make a folder.
  • Labels. I label any and all project-associated messages as soon as I receive them. I don’t file them until after I respond. That way, when I look at my inbox, I get a quick visual sense of what requires my attention. You can set up rules so that any message that comes from a particular address is labeled automatically; I have rules set for my agent, editors, the friends with whom I frequently correspond, and all the groups & discussion lists I’m on.
  • Is it from a discussion list or a group? Are the archives online and searchable? Then I delete the messages after I read them.
  • Multiple addresses. It’s not just a good idea, it’s the law. I have a librarian address, I have a writer address. It keeps the boundaries distinct. If someone contacts me at the wrong one, I just forward the message.
  • Err on the side of under rather than overcommunicating. I may come off as less supportive online than I’d like to think I am; I don’t often join choruses of congratulations, and I lurk more than I comment.

Social networks: all stripped down. I’m on Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace. But I don’t get email notifications, and I ignore and block relentlessly. I understand that this means I’m not Taking Fullest Advantage Of The Great Networking Opportunities, and I certainly don’t think it’s the One True Way To Manage A Social Network Presence. Minimalism works for me because it takes a lot of dilemmas out of the equation: if I ignore ALL the requests to become a fan of Whatever, then I don’t have to explain (even to myself) why, for instance, I said yes to Friend X Who Made A Fan Page For Their Book but no to Local Nonprofit Y. I do respond to friend requests, and I keep an eye on comments. I prefer not to use Facebook messaging, because it’s a gray area between writer address and librarian address. Again — not the One True Way, just what works for me.

So I’ve talked a lot here about organizing and coping with email and social networks, because for me, that’s where a lot of the logistics of project-and-role-balancing happens. What are your favorite ways to balance, juggle, and perform other circus acts of project management?

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  • sara z.
    February 8, 2010 at 9:07 am

    Ooh, good tips. I do a lot of the same, but have not availed myself of folders in gmail. I use labels for almost everything, and am constantly reminding myself to delete rather than archive stuff that is not important or archives elsewhere online.

    As for undercommunicating, I’m learning to handle most email correspondence with 2-3 sentences, but my blog posts still tend to be epic in context of micro-blogging culture.

    Another management approach – I used to deal with every email right away. Now I tend to let it pile up and set aside one or two largish chunks of time a week to clean it out. I read once in a time-management book not to use your inbox as a to-do list, but I don’t know if I agree with that…

  • Sara
    February 8, 2010 at 10:15 am

    I love long blog posts! They underscore the distinction between a post and a status update. I mean, if everything you said was brief enough for Twitter, it seems that folks would have less reason to visit your main site.

    That email management strategy is intriguing. I’ve always been of the “leap on it as soon as it appears” school (as though each message is a spark that must be stomped out before it starts a wildfire) but I can definitely see the value of declaring set times for inbox-scouring.

  • Emily Wing Smith
    February 8, 2010 at 3:36 pm

    Loved these tips and how manageable they all are. Sometimes I read a list of time/career-balancing tips and get confused by the second one. Thanks!

  • Sara
    February 8, 2010 at 4:14 pm

    Emily, I’m glad they were helpful! And folks are posting their own tips, too, which is what I was hoping would happen. For instance I did not know that you can ALSO use COLORS! in addition to labels and folders, so I am now deploying them. (I wish Gmail’s available colors were prettier, though.)