This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

January 27, 2011 - where should you spend your time?

Whether staff or supervisors, eventually professionals ask themselves: what should they spend their time on?

Working, yes (the better to get paid). But, broadly speaking, where should they concentrate their efforts? How should they prioritize their time?

Over the years I have put together a mental model. It looks like a series of concentric circles. I use it to evaluate the people who work for me, and I use it to evaluate my own performance. It works for libraries. But I bet it works for lots of organizations, both public and private. I'd be curious to find out about that. (Email me here.)

At the center is "Department." Most of a professional's time is spent doing the work of a department or work unit. In the library, this might be "the reference department." In a business, it might be "payroll."

Surrounding that is "Organization." By this I mean that professionals should also contribute outside their department to the organization as a whole. So someone in the reference department should also be spending time working on other committees or task forces important to the larger activities of the Douglas County Libraries. In business, someone in payroll should also be available for inventory.

Surrounding that sphere is "Community." Another way to think of this is "the authorizing environment." It is essential to pay attention to the people who make decisions about the organization, or pays its bills. In the case of the library again, that would be the larger community of Douglas County. For other professions, it might be the market that purchases its services. I'm not just talking about "sales" -- contact with customers. I mean involvement, actively observing and participating in the world of that authorizing environment. For example, public librarians should be connected to Chambers of Commerce, and civic organizations. Medical equipment producers should hang out with, and seek leadership positions among, people in the medical professions.

Surrounding the community sphere is "Profession." Professional people not only take jobs within a field, they have an obligation to contribute to that field's knowledge. Part of this is continuing education: staying abreast of trends through reading, workshops and conferences. But it also includes presentations and writing: the creation of new knowledge, feeding the larger theoretical universe with reports from the front.

For most organizations, these four spheres do a good job of setting boundaries for the expenditure of professional time. The department probably involves at least 65% of the work, and perhaps more. In combination with work for the organization, the percentage may approach 90% of work time.

But the remaining two are still important. Not only does activity here rejuvenate the professional (by getting his or her head out of the trenches and comparing notes with others), but it also feeds a deeper understanding of the work.

Sometimes, I think there's a fifth sphere: "Society" or "Culture." It might happen, for instance, that a chemist working for a pharmaceutical company gets concerned about the many casual, anti-scientific sentiments that show up over and over in the media. So she decides to do something about it, speaking and writing to groups outside her field to advocate in the broadest sense for scientific education in the United States. At this point, she's not just working for her department, organization, or community. While she is still working for her profession, she's trying to influence the much larger society in which it operates.

I suspect there aren't many professionals who fall into that last sphere. If they do, I doubt they spend much more than 1 percent of their time there. But it just might be that this big, ambitious endeavor ultimately means more than the rest of the spheres together.

LaRue's Views are his own.

1 comment:

  1. I agree completely with you that what you term "Society" or "Culture" is probably the most important aspect of all of these circles, or mandala. I would also say that it runs through each of these circles as an all encompassing sphere, where everything within affects the larger whole.

    Since this column is focused primarily on the professional side of our lives it would be interesting to see how the mandala would look as a holistic view of our interactions with society in our everyday lives. Assuming that we all are working within our passions in what ever profession, we naturally are more than the sum of our workplace interactions. We would be unable to stay merely within our respective departments or 'discipline' and would be naturally inclined to interact with those of other disciplines within our organization, in our larger profession, and within our community.

    As part of our duty to a more enlightened society we would be compelled to not only share our knowledge within the profession, but to share with the community as a whole, as you said "influenc[ing] the much larger society in which it operates." To me, that is the purpose of our existence and we each do it through our respective passions/professions.

    The question now is how to convince others that spending time 'outside the walls' is a valuable piece of a healthy organizational culture.