New Year, New Projects


I am a big believer in volunteering in the professional community and giving back to it. But it is easy for people to get over-committed and over-stretched. From time to time, we should evaluate why we are volunteering and if we are still being challenged.

I am lucky enough that I have time and energy to volunteer with both the Special Libraries Association and the Toronto Association of Law Libraries (TALL). Recently I took over as chair of TALL salary survey committee. but one of its members has left. Amy Barton had done her time with over 5 years of service. She has developed skills, met people and enhanced her reputation but it was time to move on, and devote her energy elsewhere.

When I volunteer, I think strategically about skill development or networking. Many SLA activities have been great for networking, as I learn more about Toronto or Ontario library services. My survey work with TALL is an extension of developing similar surveys in British Columbia before 2003. I developed skills in creating a survey instrument, and understanding issues with print and electronic distribution in a project environment. I plan to continue on.

After awhile some people get reputations as the go-to person and get involved in many extra curricular activities, so how do volunteer for projects that you really want to do? I found this post from the Harvard Business Review blogs about setting priorities and streamling social web communications. The author Alexandra Samuel isn’t saying anything new but her intention is to manage extracurricular activities so you are really doing the stuff you love. Like many things in life, we are afraid of being judged or don’t want to disappoint someone, so we get roped into things reluctantly. Using a standard e-mail template for firmly and gently saying “great idea but I can’t commit the time” is a great idea and softens the guilt of saying no.

A flurry of both positive and negative comments follow the post, and have some insights. Alexandra Samuels has this rebuttal below:

I often find myself saying yes to things because I’m afraid that I’ll get judged or criticized for saying no, or because I don’t want to disappoint someone.

Saying no is a positive way to honouring commitments to your own priorities in life. And I agree that Alexandra Samuel’s post works best with volunteer work or social activities. Some commenters don’t think the strategies are adaptable for work environments. I leave it up to you, when you read the original post. A new year and a new way to do things, even if it is to say no.

– Brenda


2 Responses to “New Year, New Projects”

  1. 1 Emma

    “Saying no is a positive way to honouring commitments to your own priorities in life.” What a powerful way of looking at things! Thanks for your thoughts – this is a topic that is always relevant.

  2. Brenda, thanks so much for sharing this with your readers. (And I’m delighted to discover you’re also living on the BC-TO axis, though it sounds like we’ve migrated in opposite directions.)

    I have to admit that I personally fight it as hard to say no in my volunteer/personal life as in my professional life, but I suspect the relative challenges depend a lot on context. But I do think that, perversely, the accelerating pace and pressures of new tech are bringing out new skills around saying no on all fronts, just because it’s the only way to survive!

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