The Pivotter Series explores the themes of ambition, motivation, and productivity as experienced by high-performing women.
Robin Davis, Emerging Technologies Librarian & Assistant Professor, NYC
What are some of the most important things to know about you?
I work best with a deadline and a snack. I tend to be optimistic, often as a way of being a contrarian among cynics. My favorite movie of all time is The Mummy.
What drives you?
Curiosity about how things work and feedback from people around me. I love to make things that other people enjoy — whether that’s a library website with millions of hits, a whimsical Twitter bot, or a murder mystery party.
What does ambition personally mean to you - what place does it have in your life?
Ambition is a collective term for long-term goals, or maybe their culmination. My career ambitions are continuing to come into focus the more I learn about my field and about myself. Ambitions may change, but they should always feel personally fulfilling, rather than rote or prescribed.
Do you think our culture perceives “ambition” to be a dirty word for women? Why or why not?
It’s not a dirty word — but it’s not always rewarded. Sometimes ambition requires setting aside traditionally feminized traits, such as being nurturing toward others (a.k.a. providing free emotional labor), and this can backfire when a woman is then seen as unlikeable. We’ve also been told we should aim for the goal of “woman who has it all,” which is a setup if I’ve ever seen one! I’ve been lucky to have a lot of ambitious women as mentors in my life, and they’ve modeled many ways of being ambitious.
Please share one of your current, important goals (can be personal or work-related). Why is this a goal and how did you realize it was something that you wanted to work on?
I’m working on several writing projects. One of them is about my approach to user experience on the library website I design. This site serves a diverse audience, from students who’ve never used a library before to expert researchers on our faculty, so it’s a challenge to design something that can serve everybody’s needs without being confusing or irritating.
Why is this a goal and how did you realize it was something that you wanted to work on?
Writing is a goal because my tenure-track job requires it… but also because I like sharing my work experiences. I have benefited greatly from others who share strategies and statistics from their libraries, and I enjoy being a part of the conversation.
What’s your plan for achieving it?
I already feel pretty behind, to be honest, but I’m sending off one article within the next week, and I’ve declared this summer to be my Summer of Writing. Lists help me stay organized, so I’m ticking off checkboxes as I work my way through smaller goals (outline finished, journal query sent, etc.).
What do you do if you are having a hard time defining goals?
I went through this last year. So I made a 5-year timeline, month by month. First, I filled in the things I already knew I needed to achieve by a given month — about a year’s worth of deadlines I knew I wanted to hit. Then I filled in major goals that were achievable in a few years, and worked backward to define what I needed to do to get there. It really helped me to take a long-term look at my career goals.
How do you stay motivated to fulfill your goals and sense of ambition, and what do you do when you get stuck?
A personal weakness of mine is allowing myself to take a break after achieving a goal. That’s not necessarily a bad thing — except when your break lasts a year. (2017 was my accidental sabbatical.) I’ve talked about this with my partner and with mentors in my workplace, and told them they’ve got the right to nag me about projects I should be doing. Social pressure is the next best thing to deadlines. When I get stuck, I turn to a long list of backburner projects. Giving myself small, achievable goals is great way to restore my sense of productivity and momentum.
What is one tool/trick/lifehack/resource/service do you use to stay productive?
To force myself to write, I use Croissant, a paid app that books seats in coworking spaces all over NYC. I know, I know — I work in an academic library! I’m surrounded by public library branches! I’ve got free writing space galore. But when I have use up 10 hours a month that I’ve already paid for, it really does motivate me to bring my laptop to a seat and hunker down over an article. Being somewhere outside my office helps me focus on that one task. (There are other options besides Croissant, but their croissant-hat logo won my heart.)
What activities do you do outside of your full-time gig? How do you find time to do it? How does it make you more successful in your full-time gig?
Outside of my job as a librarian, I enjoy doing fun code projects, like whimsical Twitter bots (including @MechnicalPoe) and generated novels (If on a winter’s night a library cardholder, made for NaNoGenMo). This keeps my Python skills sharp, even when I’m not working on anything code-related at my job, and I love sharing my work online. These whimsical projects are great conversation-starters.
How do I find the time? Lately, I’ve become a huge meal prep nerd, along with my partner. On Sundays, we prepare 2 double-size meals that we alternate for weeknight dinners, as well as 10 grain bowls that we take to work for lunch. Extra servings get frozen. This has honestly been life-changing — I used to pick up ingredients every day on my way home at 7, cook a complicated recipe at a leisurely pace, sit down to dinner at 9, and feel like the day was already over. I now realize that I was procrasticooking — using the productive-feeling activity of cooking as a way to put off more important daily tasks. I still get to enjoy cooking with my partner, just in one big 3-hour extravaganza rather than throughout the week.
What would you do with an extra 15 minutes a day?
Journal! I used to journal every day, and I love that I have a written record of my life for almost 2 decades. Recently, this habit has fallen by the wayside, but I’d love to take up the reflective practice of journaling again.