Busy Signals: How to deal with “busy” and volunteering

flickr photo shared by Tom Simpson under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-ND ) license

Lately there’s been a lot of talk about the Cult of Busy, how to escape it, and why you shouldn’t use it as an excuse because we’re all busy.

I totally get it, especially for librarians who have to be involved in professional service. We all have our obligations that keep us busy. In addition to my actual job I am involved in SLA and TRB, and try to stay active in local civic hacking groups. There’s also my extracurricular activities; volunteering at a college radio station where I also DJ, playing soccer, organizing a neighborhood group, and a bunch of other miscellaneous things. (If I had kids, this would be a different list, but I don’t think the message would really change.)

The thing with professional volunteering/service, is that everybody’s busy. It’s also, by nature kind of voluntary. That means you have some control over the terms of your engagement. Want a more active role with more responsibility? Then you’re going to have to give more time and energy. Don’t have much time to spare? Then there are less demanding opportunities. These organizations depend on volunteers, but they really need volunteers who know how much they can commit and follow through with that.

It’s why I am pretty much over the refrain”I can’t because I’m busy” when the task in question is part of a commitment they made to the group. This is especially vexing from people in leadership positions because they should have known better. It’s human nature though – people don’t want to say no, many like the feeling of being in a position of power and responsibility, it looks good on a resume, you need it for promotion, and many other reasons. The thing I’ve learned (the hard way, through embarrassing disappointment), is that saying no or stepping down when it’s clear you can’t really follow through on the time commitment looks a hell of a lot better than drowning in deadlines and letting things just ebb. This is why when I was asked this year to step up to some pretty big things for one group I said no, because I already agreed to a very time intensive role for another group. I know my limits.

So if you know you’re busy and you have a bunch of stuff going on, just say no to more stuff. Or if you say yes, don’t be surprised when people expect you to do stuff. This is something they really should teach you in school, but it’s usually something you learn through experience.







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