Last week, my library brought in Pat Wagner of Pattern Research to talk to the staff about customer service. I saw Pat just about a year ago when I was an intern at the Princeton Public Library finishing up my Master's degree.
Pat is just great. She really re-energizes you about working with the public. I'd been feeling kind of down in the past month. We're getting ready to complete our construction and I've been busy with the anthology and the zine, and really just taking too much work on. I was driving myself nuts trying to stay on top of everything.
While I haven't learned to take on less work, something that Pat said stuck with me: "I can only do what I have time to do." What Pat meant by this wasn't that you should not do work, nor that you should try to do as little as possible, but rather to realize your limitations as far as time constraints, and do the best job you can in the time you have. It doesn't matter if you could do an awesome job on a reference question if you had four hours when you really have fifteen minutes (or two!). Take the time you have and give the person the most complete answer you can in that time. Don't give them fifteen minutes of a four-hour answer, give them a fifteen minute answer.
This is not an easy thing to do, but it is important to keep in mind. And, if the patron needs more from you, let them know that it will take more time and you will get back to them later. If they aren't willing to wait, then they will have to take your fifteen-minute answer.