Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Small Museums & Task Saturation

I'm an avid follower of the blog at the Small Museums Online Community, a professional affinity group of AASLH. It's updated infrequently, but it always gives me something to think about when there's a new post.

Recently, one post talked about the dangers of task saturation for employees in small museums. I've been thinking about it on and off since.

More and more studies are saying that multitasking can be detrimental to overall productivity, and blogs like Unclutterer emphasize a more focused, one-task-at-a-time approach to work and life. I've thought for some time now that the instant gratification attention grabbing distraction that is the internet is a danger for me personally - I rarely even turn my home computer on unless I'm home for a full day, in order to concentrate on reading, offline writing, or tasks that are right in front of me in the real world.

There's also no doubt that many small museums struggle to get everything done with limited resources, as the blog post eloquently describes. I don't see any horizon past which things will get easier, either.

Here's the thing though: the kind of task saturation they're describing? It's exactly why I love small museums.

Cleaning the bathroom one minute and writing a grant proposal next, then leading a school tour and writing a collections article later in the afternoon? That sounds like pretty much the best day ever for me. Before I learned about the field of public history, I knew that I loved history, but I struggled with the prospective narrow focus of an academic career. I love research and writing and teaching, but spending all day, every day, doing just that wasn't for me. I'm an active, energetic person by nature who needs lots of new things to try and lots of different things to do.

I suspect that a lot of public history professionals who are drawn toward small museums feel the same way. Yes, burnout is a real danger, but for some of us the demand and variety of tasks in a small organization are a reward, not a penalty.

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