March 21, 2018

It’s About Time | Office Hours

Michael Stephens“I Don’t Have The Time.”

Have you said this in a meeting or a discussion with a colleague? Has this rolled off the tongue when confronted with an unexpected change, a new technology, or another initiative?

Many of us are stretched to our limits. I applaud the folks I meet who have absorbed more and more duties as staffing patterns have changed. Just recently, at a meeting of the Council of State Library Agencies in the Northeast in Cape May, NJ, I dined with librarians who were wearing many hats in their evolving institutions and working hard to meet the needs of the agencies they serve.

However, I bristle when I hear the “no time” response, because sometimes I think it’s an excuse. It’s a catch-all phrase to sidestep learning something new, improving processes, or making a needed but oh-so-scary change. It leads me to ask a question in response: What do you actually make time for?

Do you clear your schedule for the pet project you just love? Do you personally handle every detail of your favorite task or responsibility, even when in the back of your mind you realize it might be done better, quicker, faster with some changes or streamlining? Do you hide out in your office or cube furtively reading gossip blogs when the rest of your department is off for development time or training?

Time after time

If you catch yourself at these avoidance activities, stop and consider the underlying reasons. It might be a trap you’ve fallen into before and many folks you say it to are probably quick to back off or drop the discussion when you invoke the buzz of busyness. Henry Ford once said, “Most people spend more time and energy going around problems than in trying to solve them.”

Sometimes we respond with “I don’t have time” as an honest reflex and to elude the more difficult task of determining if there is something we should be giving up, or delegating, to make room for this new activity.

Other times, it may look like this: the library development staff works hard to bring a shiny new 23 Mobile Things learning program adaptation to your institution. “I don’t have time to participate,” you say as a department manager. A possible translation: “I don’t need to learn these things, I’m in management.” The research I did on the impact of Learning 2.0 style programs found that staff members take cues from the participation or lack of participation by supervisors and administration. It sets a definite tone if those in charge of the “learning organization” don’t take time to learn themselves.

Moving a process online to save time sounds like a great idea, but it can become a daunting proposition if you don’t feel your tech skills are up to snuff. “My time is very important to me” might translate to a confession that learning a new system is overwhelming and that feels embarrassing. One of the best things we can do is own up to our need for time to learn, explore, and play with technologies that just might not be second nature to us. Put it out there and ask for help but also offer your guidance and expertise to those who might be lacking in those areas as well.

Clock of the heart

It may also be weariness, plain and simple. Let’s call this “Techno-fatigue,” a close cousin to the infamous Techno-stress. One more web form or one more thing to click on—and, yes, I actually heard someone say that in a meeting years ago—may be the last straw in a too-connected, too-techie workflow. Here, we might benefit from some of the mindfulness that comes with reflective practice (see “Reflective Practice,” LJ 1/14, p. 52).

Of course, we’re not really talking about tech here, we’re talking about how people respond to the demands of a constantly changing and evolving ­workplace.

Going forward, here’s what I hope you’ll make time for in your full and rich days: any opportunity to fine-tune skills, tech and otherwise; a chance to have a conversation with a mentor or mentee—we can learn from being both; or a frank discussion with your team about training needs, developing skills, and managing our most precious resource, the topic of this column. What can we do differently? What delivers the most impact for the minutes and hours we spend? A person’s priorities say more about him/her than most other things.

Measure what you do. Look at the time you spend on every task during your day, during your staff’s day. Where can you save?

Embrace constant change. “I have no time” is another way of saying, “I can’t change, I’m too busy.” Change allows growth, and without growth we will simply be running in circles.

One of my favorite songs reminds us that “time makes you bolder,” and maybe that’s a good thing to remember when someone requests a bit of your time. Be bold and try that new process, new learning opportunity, or new idea. Another line from that same song? “I’ve been afraid of changing….” Don’t let that happen to you.

This article was published in Library Journal's November 15, 2014 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

Michael Stephens About Michael Stephens

Michael Stephens ( is Associate Professor at the School of Information, San Jose State University, CA



  1. I am so glad the “no time” response “bristles” you. It bothers me as well. Especially in volunteer work, when your are ask for more help with the same functions you are already performing.

    What does the “no time” response say about my schedule?
    I guess I am just a slacker who has too much time on my hands.
    I should be as busy at work and home as they are.

    Of course there is an alternative view. Ha.

    Thanks for the article. Well said.

  2. This is a good article. One of the points that really hits home is, “Do you hide out in your office or cube furtively reading gossip blogs when the rest of your department is off for development time or training?…” There are those fictitious creatures who have time to stop or hinder others from doing their job, but they never have time to help or build up.

    This article is timely. This will make me think before I use that excuse again.

    Thank you.

  3. This column bristles me as well, because I had to read several times to understand what I was reading. “Do you hide out in your office or cube furtively reading gossip blogs when the rest of your department is off for development time or training?” – seriously? Who has the time to do that, when the doors have to be kept open, the materials ordered, and the delivery unpacked? And how many librarians actually have a cube, let alone an office? The author says he dined with librarians from the Council on State Library Agencies – how far removed are they (and he) from the front line, where demand is up and hours and resources down down down? I hope that his attitude is not being passed on to the future librarians he is training, because it’s quite a patronizing one.

    • I agree with Joneser.
      I normally don’t have time even to fully read these articles, but this one grabbed my attention because I thought I might learn something more about time management. Instead, I was incensed by yet another blanket statement and assumptions that there can be even more ways you can cut back, streamline, delegate etc. Every workplace is different – maybe there are places where some do spend time seeking out the gossip columns, but I suspect those places are well funded and/or badly managed. I spend a lot of my own time trying to keep up-to-date with technology – as well as other library trends – much of which I feel is not significantly useful. Many of the library patrons themselves are equally frustrated with those “innovations” many of which fall into the “fun but non-essential” category. There are still so many people who cannot even operate their own television beyond basic viewing functions – or even read.
      Libraries are supposed to be about connecting people with resources to help them live their lives well and happily. Technology is magic when it works well and solves problems. Our job is to sift through the plethora of gadgets, widgets and websites confusing us all by the gluttony of choices. But how many apps, how many phone plans, how many updates, do we really need to learn and to maintain our quality of life? Why can’t we be brave and recognise that we need to slow down; why can’t we say that enough is enough, for the moment?
      I think we should seriously be looking into the damage that is being done by this age of information overload. Apart from stressing people, and wasting time, it aids super-consumerism and contributes to even more inequality in our societies.
      Perhaps it would be more productive to learn, to research, why so many people cry “no time!” and offer solutions rather than accusations.

    • Check out any social media venue where librarians gather, and you’ll see who has the time to tweet complaints about patrons all day, fight with and play around with each other on Facebook, police their own blogs and cultivate their “personal brand.” I just want to say, you are not paid to surf the Internet at the library! You aren’t paid to tweet about how crappy the public is, or your armload of Harry Potter tattoos or pink hair or what you’re wearing today. If we’re really as busy as we say we are, when did that become okay?

  4. I am also front-line staff with “no time” but this article is definitely aimed at management; some of whom, yes, do have “no time” for innovation, delegation, or streamlined practises and thus *cause* more work for the staff downstream from themselves. And setting the tone is important, if management does not see the value in getting out of their comfort areas and learning new things they should not be expecting their frontline staff to find the time and energy to improve their competencies, keeping on top of trends, technology, and community needs without reducing any of their other tasks as front-line staff.