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How I Work: Ashley Maynor

How I Work: Ashley Maynor

June 19, 2019

With the 2019 American Library Association (ALA) Annual Conference and Exhibition getting underway this week in Washington, D.C., is profiling members of the librarianship community from the United States.

Ashley Maynor is the Digital Scholarship Librarian for New York University and co-founder and program director of The Library Collective.

Location: The City of Dreams: New York, NY

Current Gig: By day, I’m the Digital Scholarship Librarian for New York University, which means I collaborate with faculty and students who are creating innovative research projects—from podcast series to interactive websites to immersive storytelling and much more.

By night, I’m working on creative endeavors that include my own video and audio projects and my time-consuming but pure passion work as co-founder and program director of The Library Collective, a non-profit dedicated to innovation and education for better librarianship. We’re all about supporting kickass librarians doing the good work and inspiring other organizations to follow our example of fun, affordable, and useful professional development.

One word that best describes how you work: Flow — I try to schedule my days in a way that works with my natural rhythms and energy fluctuations, which for me means immersive/focused/creative/challenging work in the morning and trying to keep meetings and email/reactive work to the afternoons. (If you wanna find out your ideal routine, I recommend starting with this great worksheet from Unstuck.) This is not always possible—some days my word is probably more like flounder, but flow is the ideal.

Current mobile device: My iPhone 6S is still hanging on (with not-so-great battery life) and I’ve become dependent on the alerts that come through my Series 4 Apple Watch that keep me from forgetting meetings. I appreciate the reminders it sends me to stand up each hour, though…in a weird technology twist, I think my smartwatch helps me disconnect more from my phone and other devices. I can step away from the screens and know that I won’t miss any important meetings.

Current computer: 13″ MacBook Pro with those pesky Thunderbolt 3/USB-C ports that require I also carry around a bag of adapters and dongles. When at my work desk, I plug into a beautiful 27″ LG UltraFine 5K Display which makes all the media editing work I do both possible and a pleasure. I count myself lucky to work for an organization willing to invest in the tools I need to do my best work.

What apps, software, or tools can’t you live without?

I currently have 1247 logins (yikes!) to various apps, tools, and websites, so my password manager, 1Password is essential for keeping all of my login passwords unique/secure and not losing my mind.

The free and non-data-collecting OneTab browser extension for Firefox (and Chrome) is one of my most trusty app sidekicks: it’s the antidote to my 100+ open tab addiction. It’s such a simple tool yet so powerful for saving and restoring tabs while doing deep web dives, consults (and sending all the links to a patron easily afterwards), and keeping my browser from crashing.

Also, because of the above-mentioned bazillions of apps and tabs, I use Evernote to keep track of endless sources of inspiration from web reading/browsing, to easily type and search through meeting notes without creating more docs to sort or file, and to keep track of cool projects and tools I encounter that might come in handy for future consultations. I even use the presenter mode to teach when I don’t want fussy slides or need the freedom to just click on a ton of links during a workshop.

(If you want to see some of my favorite apps and tools for living a creative life, I’ve got a bunch up on my website here.)

What’s your workspace setup like?

I try to keep my workspaces inviting, cozy, and uncluttered yet full of beautiful and useful things. A lot of people I know don’t decorate their offices much, but since I spend so much time there, I really want it to feel like home. When people walk into my space, they often comment on that warmth I’ve created, which is exactly how I want them to feel—like a guest who’s invited to sit, relax, and get the help they need.

Some of many objects you’ll find in my office: an origami paper crane from Sandy Hook, a sculpture of a librarian made out of old books, a Dolly Parton votive candle, a poster from the International Poster Museum in Warsaw, a vintage poster advertising Agnes Varda’s film Jaquot de Nantes, a 2008 photo of me sitting on Agnes Varda’s lap, and tiny vintage cat images scattered in curious corners and nooks.

My desk has a minimalist sit/stand desk, Humanscale’s QuickStand Eco, for my LG UltraFine 5K monitor, which has pretty good built-in audio as well. And there’s a wide comfy chair for reading that my service dog, Cardamom, often claims as hers when she gets tired of laying on her dog bed behind my desk.

There are also wooden cabinets, a filled bookshelf, and a fabric pin board lining the wall covered in quotes, notes, and images, including wise words from everyone from Anne Lamott to Steve Jobs, photos of Bob Ross and Dolly Parton, and notes from former students that remind me why this work is important.

Even though I rely heavily on my iCal/Google Cal for my daily schedule of meetings, each week I make an analog version of key to-dos and reminders using some bespoke office supplies (like Designworks, Inc weekly planners) because paper is beautiful and it feels so good to just check something off on a real list.

My home setup is similar minus the standing desk. There’s art everywhere, warm lighting, and even more beautiful paper and notepads for all my list-making, brainstorming, and reminders.

What’s your best time-saving shortcut?

Turn email off when you need to get things done.

Multitasking is a myth—no one can do it and email is a big interrupter. It’s counterintuitive for many and scary for some, but turning email off for big chunks of the day lets you do work in a less reactive and more intentional way: you choose what’s important rather than letting the inbox dings rule your life and tell you what to do next. Instead of all-day-every-day, I set aside a limited, dedicated time each day for email only and then blast through using a ruthless InboxZero workflow.

What’s your favourite to-do list manager?

For my work with The Library Collective, we’ve tried out many a project management software and workflow, including Airtable, Basecamp, Trello, Asana, and Confluence. The one we’re currently using is ClickUp, which has over 1000 integrations (for Slack, Dropbox, Calendars, etc.) and is the best I’ve used yet. It’s multiple view options, robust assignment and dependency features, and clean interface are tops.

Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can’t you live without and why?

Wireless bluetooth headphones! I spend time each week walking or traveling by public transportation, so these allow me to binge on all of the amazing podcasts that are out there. Feeding curiosity is essential to my week!

My favs are :
FIIL CANVIIS On-Ear Headphones – These are great for noise-canceling and have various settings such as “open” and “monitor” mode, which still allow you to hear your surroundings and not be a jerk (or in danger) as you navigate the mean streets.

YurBuds In-Ear Wireless – These are perfect for lower profile listening/calls and they stay put during running or exercise.

Do you find yourself always working on something? Or when you finish a project, do you take time to let your mind wander without concern for what’s next?

I have more ideas than I have time, so that leads to more projects than I have time for and there’s always something I’m working on…that said, many projects incubate in my mind for years before I start to bring them into being.

I make sure to let my brain rest each day. And I’m a big believer in boredom to spark creativity. My dog helps keep me balanced since she most enjoys long, monotonous walks and she literally stops to smell the roses.

What do you listen to while you work?

When I’m working with media or other immersive work, such as writing, I prefer to work in silence. I love the quiet of arriving early in the library when hardly anyone is there and I try to take that with me into the office for my morning work.

If I’m in the mood for soothing tones, the Calm Down Now app is one solution I like—you can mix and match many ambient sounds from chimes to rain to purring cats. If, however, I’m trying to jam through a bunch of emails, I’ve got various Spotify lists to rely on, including an amazing 80s playlist made with/by all the fabulous volunteers of The Library Collective.

I often can’t listen to anything narrative while working because I get too distracted, but if I’m collating handouts or something mindless, I’ll put on a great podcast. Some that I’ve enjoyed include:

Bear Brook
Everything is Alive
Last Seen
The Dream

What are you currently reading?

I just finished Simon Van Booy’s The Sadness of Beautiful Things, which left me feeling both gutted and entirely full at the same time and have started Alice Munro’s The Beggar Maid, which is my NYC book club’s next pick.

How do you recharge?

I’m by no means a yogi or fitness guru, but for many years I’ve relied on a Sunday evening yoga class to keep me feeling refreshed. I currently go to one called “Stretch & Relax” at my local studio—it’s exactly that, a great way to relax before the start of the week.

As librarians we do a lot of desk and mind work which is hard on the body, and, if you’re like me, I’m often exhausted at the end of the day—too exhausted to even think about exercising. So, earlier this year, I started doing 20-30 minutes of yoga each morning right after I wake up to make sure I ground myself and stretch those muscles. Now it’s like brushing my teeth—it’s something I just have to do. It’s my time for peace and quiet before the busyness of the day sets in.

Believe me, I don’t wake up excited to exercise. I’d rather snooze for a bit longer. But I tell myself I just have to get on the mat—that’s it. (This is a strategy I learned from renowned choreographer Twyla Tharp in her wonderful book The Creative Habit.) If I can do that first step, the rest is always easier than I built it up to be in my mind…which is a nice little metaphor for life and work in general.

What’s your sleep routine like?

If I’m not sleeping enough, I don’t function. I know a lot of people who sacrifice sleep to get things done, but that is not an option for me. If I skimp, I will get even less done. And I’ll likely start to get sick and face other health consequences.

So, I time manage the shit out of my deadlines and responsibilities so that I can get 7.5-8 hours in a night. Don’t hate me.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

About ten years or so ago, a Roanoke yoga teacher gave me some guidance during a class before heading home for the holidays. I was in a pose that’s challenging for me because it requires flexibility where I have very little. As she made her rounds adjusting students in the class, she came to me and said just two words: “Less resistance.”

She was talking about backing off on the pose, but I felt like she was talking about my whole life. It’s become a mantra for me, especially when I find myself pushing really hard to make things the way I want them. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes our lives and our profession need some stubborn stick-to-it-ness and I have that in spades. But it’s helpful at the end of the day to see and accept things just as they are.

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