You may have noticed a distinct lack of posts here over the past – good golly, that’s a long time. The reason for this has just turned one, and loves dancing, stealing keys, and making me regret putting the bookshelves in the dining room Every Single Mealtime.
So, I’m back at work, and the first four weeks have flown by much more easily than expected. I’m in partly the same role I was went I went off, and things are similar enough that I remember just enough of my job to be dangerous, but different enough to be disconcerting. It’s a very odd feeling to look up how to do something you used to do every day and realise that you’re now having to consult documentation you wrote, for processes you implemented.
But overall I’ve got used to working, and concentrating, and thinking, rather more easily than I expected. My brain still feels about three sizes too small a lot of the time, and tends to cut off entirely at around 3pm unless jolted back to life with caffeine, but I’m finding that I stay in work mode while I’m at work, and parent-mode doesn’t kick back in until I’m out of the office and on the way to the station.
I’m also far more confident in my work and my abilities than I expected to be. In fact, far more confident than I was when I went away. I appear to have come back into my professional life with a considerably diminished does of imposter syndrome. Whether this is why I’ve come back in at a high-functioning level or because I’ve come back in at a high-functioning level I’m not even going to start trying to unpick now, but whichever it is, I can say: ‘I can still do this. I like doing this. And you know what? I’m pretty good at it.’
One thing I do know is that some of this confidence is because I didn’t ever entirely disengage with the profession. While on maternity leave I stayed involved with SLA, serving my first year on the Board of Directors. I’m not going to pretend that it was easy. I found managing parenthood and Board involvement very challenging at times, especially as they so often overlapped and conflicted. I’ve listened in to conference calls on headphones while doing bedtime. I’ve been called (screamed/yanked) away from calls to comfort a teething baby. I’ve nursed a baby while video-conferencing (with a very carefully angled camera).
But as well as challenging, it was incredibly rewarding. I had to think: to read and digest complex documents, to listen to in-depth discussions. I had to concentrate: video-conferencing into all-day Board meetings at conferences I couldn’t attend. And it was brilliant. It meant that I always had that undercurrent of ‘yes, you can do this’, reminders that my brain and abilities hadn’t atrophied.
An illustration: I’m very pleased that I’m going to be giving a contributed paper at the SLA 2015 Conference in Boston, on Jisc data sharing initiatives and services. It’s a great honour to have had my proposal accepted, and even more so because of how I wrote the proposal. It was pretty much my first piece of formal writing for about eight months. It was the first time I’d really thought about the projects involved since going on maternity leave. It written late at night, just before the deadline, after dealing with a baby who had eaten part of a foam ball just before bedtime and then very distressedly regurgitated it (and an enormous amount of milk) all over me and his poor, poor Twilight Turtle. And it was accepted. That was an enormous personal and professional boost: look out, world. I’ve still got it.
And so I was primed to come back to work much better, I think, than if I’d had a totally uninvolved year. The main challenge now is time management. I’ve been lucky in never having a restrictive commute, or anything else that meant I had to stick strictly to my hours, and so was used to staying as late as I needed to get the work done. It turns out that the ability to work extra time whenever you need to is a luxury.
Sounds odd, I know: extra, unpaid hours as a luxury? But it really is. It won’t ever make you money-rich, but it does show that you’re time-rich. Now I’ve been plunged into this strange new world of caring responsibilities, where every minute is precious and could be filled with a dozen tasks, I’m suddenly unreasonably jealous of the time-rich.
My new time-poverty means a rethink of how I work. I don’t have the option any more of staying on to finish a task. If something has to be done, it has to be done before I leave for the train I have to be on. This means that every day is suddenly fuller, every ‘I should’ becomes a time-critical ‘I must’. And the days themselves are fewer. I’ve come back part-time, and it turns out that four-day weeks are much more then a fifth shorter than five-day weeks. A day at a meeting or event, and suddenly my working week has almost vanished.
So I’m having to find new ways of time, workload, and performance management. This doesn’t just involve a change in working procedures, but in attitude. I have to be more focussed and selective in my workload, which goes against my usual attitude of ‘ooh, that sounds interesting! Can I help?’. I have to be more realistic about my performance. I’m going to have to accept that ‘good enough’ is, well, good enough. I can continue to strive for excellence, but within different boundaries.* Finding those new attitudes and boundaries is one of my challenges- not just for the week, or month, or year, but as an ongoing assessment and reappraisal of what I do and how I do it. It seems that continuous performance management isn’t just the best way forward, but the only way to retain a modicum of sanity and control.
*Not spending time on blog post titles being one of them…