Book Review: Productivity for Librarians

Productivity for LibrariansHines, S. (2010). Productivity for librarians: How to get more done in less time. Oxford: Chandos.

I am now Officially Jealous.  Samantha Hines has published the book I would like to have written on productivity.   Productivity for Librarians is concise (158 pages including index), written in a clear and smoothly-flowing style, and provides an excellent introduction to productivity concepts, techniques, systems, and tips that is useful to anyone.  And, being a librarian, she provides an excellent list of resources in chapter 8 for those who wish further study.

Hines starts with an expanded table of contents that not only lists the chapters but also the subsections, allowing the reader to quickly find the information sought.  The preface defines what she hopes to accomplish with the book:

I define productivity and success in terms of balance. My ultimate productivity goal is to have a good work life and time for a good personal life. That is what I hope this book will impart to readers… (p. xvii).

The chapters follow a logical progression.  Chapter one, What is Productivity, gives a history of the concept.  Chapter two is on motivation,  including setting goals, improving communication, and ways of dealing with burnout and stress.  Chapter three covers procrastination,  chapter four discusses time management, chapter 5 systems of productivity,  chapter six is for managers, chapter seven covers how to stick with better habits of productivity,  chapter eight is the resource guide, and chapter nine wraps it all up,

In chapter one, the author states that formal study of productivity began in the early twentieth century when labor economists examined how workers perform their tasks in order to design more efficient workflows. (p. 1).  As the field has grown larger it has encompassed self-help as well as scholarly work in management and systems engineering.  She also discusses what NOT to expect:

… productivity is not about the book or the website you are reading or even reading more of these resources. It is about taking action. It is also about deciding what actions should be taken, and working more intelligently to get the right things done.. (p. 4)

That one quote is worth the price of the book!

Overall,  there is not a lot that is new to those who have read other works in the field.  One of Hines’ great strengths,  however, is in her ability to define a topic.  Here she proves stellar.  See, for example, this definition of time management:

What is time management? I see it as ensuring that your time is under your control, that you are aware of how you are using your time, and that this use meets your needs. A large part of time management is time organization and, beyond that, work and life organization. In order to be productive, the key resource you will need is time, in big uninterrupted blocks. You can only achieve this by managing your time well. (p. 57)

One discussion that does have new information for me was her discussion of procrastination (chapter 3, pp. 35-56).  This is really a vital topic, as it is one of the biggest sources of inefficiency.   First she defines what it is and is not:

To fall into the category of ‘procrastination’, a behaviour needs to be counterproductive, needless and delaying (Schraw et al., 2007)*. Delays in work faced by simply having too much to do can be a symptom of overwork or burnout and should be dealt with accordingly…. Procrastination also differs from simple laziness. With procrastination, you have the desire to do a task, which is missing with laziness, yet you desire to delay the task even more. Procrastination is usually accompanied by guilt and anxiety in a way that laziness is not. (p. 35)

According to Hines, there are three current theories on causes of procrastination.  The first is fascinating and gave me one of those lightbulb moments of making my own life much more understandable.  The main underlying cause of procrastination is fear:

Part of the ‘ fear factor’ in procrastination can be found in perfectionism. The worst procrastinators I know are perfectionists. And most of us cannot do our tasks perfectly. So for perfectionists, getting started on a task sometimes translates, either subconsciously or consciously, into setting themselves up for failure…. To become an efficient and productive worker, you will need to manage any perfectionist tendencies you may have. (p. 36)

While Hines doesn’t mention it, I’ve recently seen some discussion of guilt culture and shame culture and how societies instill deep levels of these feelings as a means of social control.  This is the root of the culture we live in where perfection is the expected but rarely delivered norm.  In light of this, Hines’ discussion makes even more sense.

The other two theories about procrastination are (1)  procrastination as an avoidance mechanism for things we dislike doing; and (2) poor impulse control when there are so many things one could pay attention to (in our hyperconnected world) that the difference between “what is important and what is immediate” gets lost. (p. 38)

Chapter 5, on systems of productivity, is also particularly useful:

This chapter will review seven of the major recent productivity systems : the Seven Habits series,  Getting Things Done,  Never Check E-mail in the  Morning , Bit Literacy,  the Four-Hour Workweek,  Zen to Done, and One Year to an Organized Work Life.  After a short discussion of each, I will compare and contrast the seven and offer some sugestions on how to choose a system should you want the guidance and organization that is provided by one. (p. 79)

I had not heard of all of these.  Her reviews cover each system sufficiently so you can tell which of them might interest you enough to go to the sources and find out more.  Also valuable are a couple of quotes about why you might want to investigate such systems in the first place:

This book thus far has been introspective.- analysing why you do what you do and how to best work with your habits and tendencies.   Systems question you on why you have these tendencies in the first place and suggest complementary activities or wholesale replacements.  (p. 79-80)

The second is:

Another thing a system can do is minimize the number of choices you have to make.   By relegating your actions to a few different choices,  it becomes much easier to make good decisions about how to spend your time. (p. 80)

Table 5.1 is a quiz.  Take it and score it to determine which, if any, might work best for you. (p. 99-100)

The resource guide in chapter 8 is annotated, and includes books, articles, and web resources.  Hines does not spend a lot of time discussing electronic tools other than a general discussion of paper vs. electronic.  She does list resources on tools in chapter 8 in such categories as email or to-do lists.  Since tools change so fast, it was probably wise to not go into great depth on them. She also admits to a tendency to prefer paper.  The book does say she has a library productivity site on Ning, but I have confirmed with her by email that the site no longer exists.

The loss of the library productivity site is one of the few negative things I can say about the book.  Something amusing is that the author bio clearly indicates Hines is American, but since the publisher is British, British spelling is used throughout.  A more serious problem in my eyes is that she recommends not following the news as a time saver – that you will hear anything important from family, friends or colleagues.   She thinks this is one way of freeing up more time.  I find this abysmal advice as democracy works best on a foundation of informed citizens.  Besides, I listen to NPR when getting ready for work and driving to and from work – all of which I would be doing anyway.

Hines admits to having always been a generally well-organized person, and you would think that would make it difficult to relate to perpetually chaotic types like me.  However, I think the book does work splendidly for …well, everyone, from the well-organized who want to fine tune their system to those who need a radical productivity makeover.   I particularly recommend giving the book to anyone just beginning to think about organizing their life.  So, in tribute to the late Roger Ebert, two thumbs up.


* The full reference for Schraw, et. al. is

Schraw, G., Wadkins, T. and Olafson, L. (2997)  ‘Doing the things we do: A grounded theoriy of academic procrastination’, Journal of Educational Psychology 99(1): 12-25.


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