Time Management: Todoist and Other Tools

I have previously blogged about how much I enjoy my job and offered advice for students and others about time management. Like most people I am juggling multiple deadlines, projects, and trying hard to get stuff done. How I have done this over the years has varied. Last Fall, I downloaded a few apps that worked like glorified lists and some were useful and fun.

A fun app that I used last Fall and for a short period of the Winter was Carrot. This app gamified my productivity and rewarded me with praise when I accomplished lots and punished me with insults, when I fell behind. Of course, I wanted the accolades and not the missives from Carrot. I see that there is a Carrot exercise app, but I have not interest in that. I have since deleted Carrot, as it was not really an effective app for my use at work.

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My productivity changed drastically by my immersion with Todoist. At first I was using lightly; however, I started to increase my use as I got more busy with the demands of teaching, administrative work, and service. Where was Todoist, when I was a grad student? I have talked about productivity apps with my TS 300 students, and students in my office and I keep on referring them to Todoist. It is important that I note that I am a Type A person and enjoy apps of this nature. Todoist keeps me organized.

What I like best about the Todoist is that I am able to manage projects with different deadlines, integrate the app with my Outlook, and look long-term at projects or deadlines. I also like the way in which I can prioritize or share projects. I am not using the priorities as much as a I did at the start; however, it is useful for me to track what I am doing and what is coming up for me. Did I mention that I also like the look and feel of the app? I’ve bought other productivity or list apps and used them for a day or a week, and most of them were not intuitive for me or aesthetically pleasing. Developers will smile here, as they think of the app experience. I need the app experience to work for me. For all of these reasons I am an evangelist for Todoist.

The Online Academic Community: Enterprise WP Environment

This post ran almost two months ago on Inside Higher Education for the University of Venus. I have revised it.

I would like to speak to  my use of our Online Academic Community (OAC) at the University. This is the enterprise WordPress site on our campus. It is in its first year of “real” (non-pilot) use and my hope is that more users were join the OAC for teaching, learning, research, and community building for scholars and student groups.

I had used the OAC during Summer 2013 term, but the 2013 Fall term was the first regular term in which I used the OAC. The OAC is our internal WordPress site. What makes it better than the regular WordPress site is that the cloud is on our campus. We only use themes, widgets, and plugins that comply with the provincial privacy regulations that keep my students’ data and all information in Canada. While I encourage my students to occasionally Google themselves and mind their digital footprint, it is important in the learning environment that any education technology tools I ask them to use as part of their evaluation maintains the integrity of their information. The other advantage of the OAC is that WordPress is my preferred blogging platform and I am quite comfortable with it. Plus, how can I say no to technical support from colleagues on campus? They are a tweet, email or phone call away from helping resolve a student query or the occasional odd troubleshooting. You cannot put a price on having technical support–it is priceless.

 What are we doing with the OAC? My students are blogging, vlogging, and uploading Wikipedia entries into the OAC. We are also using the OAC environment as portfolios for all of their work. Their blogs are academic research assignments that require the same care of an assignment that is submitted as a hard copy. Some of the students opt to make a particular post or vlog private, and this is acceptable. Given that the nature of my courses focus on issues of gender, politics, and sexuality, it is not uncommon that the students are blogging or vlogging about sensitive issues. The last major assignment is a research paper related to the course materials, and this also is uploaded into the OAC.

During this time, I have thoroughly enjoyed seeing their writing and analysis improve on their sites. Many of the students have been in my office working on their sites and discussing their work. In the beginning there were growing pains for some of the students as they figured out the technology and I helped them figure out the themes, widgets or overall set up of their blog site. And, this term the students are group blogging, placing their apps, and their TS Talks on their group sites.

The students are getting their fair share of writing opportunities, but they are thinking critically and learning transferable skills at the same time. The transferable skill really is the ability to use the OAC, publish on Wikipedia, and use Vimeo or YouTube for their vlogs. In previous terms, when we have used the regular WordPress site or other blogging platforms, I usually hear from a few students that using the technology was lots of work, but others note that the skills they learned were useful with their current job or their search for work.

 I am hopeful that the OAC site and technical support continues to make these assignments dynamic for my students. I am optimizing technology in the classroom in a way that works for most of them. While I have offered blogging assignments during the last six or seven years, I am more cognizant of protecting my students’ privacy and more familiar with effective social media platform use in the classroom. I like to try new things and I find that many students are open to using technology in different ways.

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Revise and Resubmit

What would you do if you had a second chance? In my line of work, when I submit an article or proposal I can often get the opportunity to revise and resubmit the article or proposal. Well, a rejection requires assessing where the article goes next!  But, this post isn’t really about me. Instead, I am thinking of students and their need for second chances. There are moments when a second chance is needed. I do not like to think of myself as heartless when it comes to special situations; however, I also do not like feeling like I am someone’s rube.

There are these moments, when I have to step back and think about what is the cost of allowing a revision for a student. The revision might offer the student the chance for success or the opportunity to try to do better on the particular assignment. Ultimately, I do want students to learn and feel success. However, the means by which this is done is through their hard work. Then, I need to balance the entire group and think about my willingness to offer a second chance to 20-200 people. This is when it get tricky.

One thing that I am having to grapple with is the trickle of students who come to my office hours informing me that they did not do well on an assignment based on not just feeling prepared or some other issue that sounds like mere excuse. Here, I am not speaking to an illness or other major issue. Part of life is managing multiple stressors and responsibilities; yet, a cold before a major assignment is supposed to make a major difference. I cannot comprehend this as an excuse. Perhaps I am contradicting my last post. I feel patient, but less patient due to excuses. And, my syllabi include all the due dates and all the assignments. Is this a rant post? Tilts head and thinks–yes, but a short one.

I love Grumpy Cat and I suppose it is well-known. A colleague from another unit gave this to me and I keep on taking photos of it–knowing that Grumpy Cat would hate it.

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Patience and Mid-Terms

I come to my classes with a sense of compassion. The first week is a major clusterbug for everyone. And, we can ratchet this higher for the new students. What I find that I need to work on is my sense of patience during the upcoming weeks. No matter how many times I gently remind students, some will not bother to review the syllabus and email me queries that can be answered ever so quickly with a glance to the course syllabus. This term I have done something different–the quiz and the mid-term have a question related to the syllabus.

I also am aware that my class is one of four or five and once the students get into the routine, they will have a better idea regarding the protocol on campus. Until then, I read the emails, pause, smile and reply that, “As the syllabus states…” If anything, the flip side, is that the student is bothering to care to make sure that s/he gets the right information and reads the material, shows up to class on time, comes to my office hours at the right time, right? And, let’s be honest, there are moments when a keen student eye finds an error on the syllabus and I appreciate it! So, I am not perfect and I know that my students aren’t either.

I also wish that patience worked the other way. Students need to remember that I am one person serving many. My office hours are limited to some 4 because I have to teach my classes, get some administrative work, prepare for my courses, and possibly steal time for my own work. We are at the start of month two of the new term, and I am sure it will be another great, busy one. At this moment, I am thinking of Guns and Roses. Smiles. This is a reference to their song.

Do Not Burn that Bridge

I am in the throes of letter writing and giving job references for former students and staff and have edited this post from May 2013. One of the things that I have heard from prospective employers is the ways in which a candidate or hired employee fails miserably and burns a bridge. In my line of work as an instructor, advisor, mentor, coach or supervisor, I also occasionally see a student or staff member burn a bridge. Occasionally this is done with a positive attitude or the expectation that rewards are instantaneous upon merely doing the job.

I have heard repeatedly that a good attitude can help a new employee. If you are new to a job that you are not sure about make sure that during your shift you act like you care. This job could turn into something else for you and it is hard to shake off a bad impression. Be careful with social media. Do not post negative statements about your employer or co-workers. Nothing is private online and the worst thing that you can do is make you or your employer look bad. Likewise, if you have some terrible customers you also do not want to post information about them. Be careful and smart.

Make sure that you are dressing in a way that fits the environment. If there is a dress code, follow it. If there is not a dress code, ask your immediate manager what she or he suggests. There is nothing more embarrassing than having a manager speak to you about your clothing. In my early twenties, this happened to me twice and I never wore that blouse or the skirt again. Both seemed fine with the ensemble, but giving further thought I realized that they did not meet the conservative norms of that work place. I always suggest to my students who have job interviews to think about the dropped pen exercise. If you have to pick up a pen, will you feel comfortable as you lean in to grab the pen. Bend with your knees–not your back!

Other hints for looking for work–keep in contact with people who are well-connected or who you might want a reference from at a later date. This might be a bi-annual email that updates or an occasional hand written note. Make sure that you keep your circle of references up to date with all the wonderful things that you are doing. Related to this, be careful on social media. There are numerous examples of poor use of social media. I imagine that the communications staff at one East Coast university spent part of this last Monday chatting about a student’s racist post and the follow up posts that only made his original tweet worse. While his Twitter account is now deleted, many screen-shotted the tweet. Plus, the response against his racism was swift. That original tweet could haunt him.

Overall, be smart while you are looking for work and new on the job. Even if you do not have a probationary period, your first few days, weeks, and months are scrutinized. Check in with your co-workers and manager. If you do not have regular performance reviews, ask if you could have some assessment. Think of it as a work tune up. Reflect and learn.

Students with an Edge

In my sixteen years of teaching, not one term has gone by when I do not have at least one student athlete in one of my classes. One thing that I have noticed with the vast majority of the student athletes is that they have drive. These students usually want to excel on the class. Their competitive edge extends into the classroom. They know that their coaches and education team (whoever this may be at the respective institution) expects them to show up to class and to practice. Most of these students will introduce themselves to me during the first week or two and my standard practice is to ask that their contact send me any invitational or team related travel dates. While I have taught at four different institutions none have been at a major sports school–no top ten football programs, which is often a marker for a “big name” institution. I have taught at Division 1 institutions; however, this was at the start of my teaching career.

I truly wish that more of my students had this same drive and felt accountable to their coach or team. This does not mean that my students who are not athletes are slackers! Not true. The typical student wants to do well, but knows that among their array of courses some get more effort. The student athletes are generally more competitive and want to do well in all of their courses, so it is not a big surprise to see at the annual fundraising breakfast that many of them have strong grade point averages. Can I just spend a quick moment to say that I am proud of them. Very proud. And, I know that my colleagues are, too.

It is less common for one of the student athletes to phone it in with their coursework. When I have had a student athlete under-perform, the student has immediately contacted me via email, come to office hours, or in one instance the basketball coach called me to meet with him. When I met with the coach, he made no excuses for the student and said, “His first job is being a student. Do not go easy on him.” I wasn’t going to, but let me tell you that walking into the office was an intimidating experience. I felt empowered and I know that many of my colleagues will counter with examples of grade changes or pressure by the administration to change grades; however, this is not my experience. Getting back to the students–when they under-perform they want to know what they can do to fix it. Thankfully, the student athlete under-performing in my classes is not very common. They are competitive through and through and want to do well. I do not give them any extra credit or leeway. What I want to see is more students with that fire in their belly. Be competitive and humble. The photo below is one I took at the McKinnon Pool–one of the pools where the student athletes swim.

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2013 The Year of Reflection

I’m reading lots of top ten posts about 2013 and thinking about the last year. The last year was consumed with having to find balance. This was not having some idealistic want for balance, but rather out of necessity. What have I learned in these last 12 months? Well, I’m going to share my top ten thoughts from 2013.

1. Stay Healthy–this includes exercise, sleep, and eating right

2. Say no strategically

3. Work smarter–this meant rethinking my productivity

4. Make time for family and friends

5. Say yes strategically

6. Read, relax, and run

7. Be firm

8. Honesty is important

9. Unwind

10. Happiness is more important than just about everything

The list is in no particular order. I will say this there is nothing like a health emergency to force you to rethink everything. I am forever grateful to the family and friends who were supportive during the last year, as we coped. I am looking forward to 2014. I am sure it will hold lots and I look forward to tackling it with my family by me.

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Make a Difference

I bought a writing prompt book and I do not use it as much as I would like to do so. This post is a response to, “Believe with all your heart that how you live your life makes a difference” by Colin Beavan. This quote made me think about work and university life in general. I use the quotes as a writing response and try to put pen to paper (yes, I hand write them out first) my first thoughts to the particular quote. Here are my first thoughts about Beavan’s quote.

Some people like to think of the university as this quaint place where professors reside in Ivory Towers or perhaps silos and are completely shut off from the rest of society. In fact, some opine that professors are clueless about the so-called real world. We professors are at times depicted as this uber-privileged class who are disinterested in students and teaching. Our students are often depicted as this group of youth who are hiding out in university learning about books or issues that will not help them get a job. Yes, that coveted job is the end result or want for our students. These depictions might offer an accurate view of some of my colleagues and some students; however, I would argue that for most these stereotypes or caricatures are false based on 16 years of teaching in universities in the US and Canada. Yes, this is my opinion.

The reality could not be further from the truth. Many professors are engaged in a myriad of work related projects that stem from research, teaching, service, governance in their units or across campus, as well as some community building in their disciplines or the wider community in which they live in locally. Sure, there are research intensive colleagues who are focused on that next book and their army of graduate students that they supervise. The university needs these different types of professors. This post is not about the army of exploited contingent faculty, as that deserves a monograph or at least its own post. It speaks volumes that I have this footnote or sidebar note in my scrawl on the writing prompt sheet.

Many do not understand that prior to smart-phones and other advances with digital technology, professors’ flexible schedules means that there is always work to do. There are always assignments that require marking, emails to get to, research to do, writing to think about and maybe do, and then more emails to respond to from students, colleagues, and others. With the advent of increased use of technology, people expect to hear back faster and in many instances you will get follow up emails about an email that was sent 15 minutes earlier or perhaps a few hours earlier. I have been emailed three times within my lunch hour by an administrative assistant about a meeting. The meeting was not a life threatening situation; however, my lunch hour meant that I was available. I did not respond until I was done with my lunch and my errand across campus. But, let me say that I was not keen to see a flurry of emails about something that was not pressing. My point is that boundaries are thin. Perhaps you think that I have moved away from the quote. But, I’m sitting here thinking about work and how I try to live my work life as if it makes a difference to those around me: my students. Do not get me wrong, I like my colleagues across campus, but my primary role right now is teaching and mentoring. This means that I need to go in each day and remember this quote. The little things that we do can make a difference.

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Academic Conferences: Discussants Discuss

I have spent many years involved with different academic conferences. This has provided ample opportunities for networking and the next phase is giving back and serving as a chair or a discussant on panels. I have had the distinct displeasure of having some terrible discussants and then some wonderful discussants. I remembered each and have channeled the good examples and make sure that I do a few things. This list is a suggestion and certainly is not exhaustive.

1. Give the panelists as much as time as possible to get their draft to me. I’m usually traveling to the conference and I am perfectly fine with reading papers and making comments on the plane. I know that many prefer the papers a week prior; however, I rather have a more complete draft.

2. Explain to the panelists how much time they will have prior to the conference starting, so that they are aware of this prior to the actual conference. Then, reminding them at the panel and having a five minute and one minute warning. This is good to make sure that everyone gets ample time to present. There is nothing worse than the last panelist getting half as much time.

3. Read the paper closely and try to place it within the proper sub-field and make constructive comments and suggestions. This includes offering possible places for publication and other general supportive points. By reading the papers closely, the discussant should also tie the panel together with the preliminary comments to the audience.

4. Show up on time to the panel and make sure that the technology is in working order and that the panelists all have water. These little things are important and the panelists might vary from the seasoned presenter to the undergraduate co-presenting with their mentor.

5. Make your comments and then field the question and answer period with the audience. Thank everyone for coming and then give the hard copy of the papers back to the panelists or email them the copy with track changes or other comments.

An organized discussant can really help the panelists’ conference experience. We go to conferences to network, but the presentations are incredibly helpful to share works in progress or other research with our colleagues. The conference experience should be positive and a good discussant will contribute to this. Let me add that I now really understand certain conference policies about getting faculty to serve as a discussant. The discussant role is a time intensive one and this person should have some expertise if not more than familiarity about the area of research. I welcome other suggestions to my five points.

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Frosh Chants and Consequences

In the last few weeks, three Canadian universities have made headlines within days of one another and not the way that development officers like to see. Students at St. Mary’s University (SMU) in Halifax, NS chanted a truly unfortunate chant at a university sanctioned event. Students from the University of British Columbia Sauder School of Business said the same chant during some Frosh activities. Then, the Engineering students at Memorial used an unfortunate term on their mugs for their pub crawl. Student leaders at SMU and UBC have resigned. All three schools have noted that investigations will take place and awareness campaigns or sensitivity training workshops are forthcoming.

As a feminist social scientist I was not surprised that the students felt it was acceptable to engage in the chants. We live in a hypersexualized world where social justice activists, rape crisis workers, and academics working in Women’s Studies or other fields continually explain that rape culture thrives. During the last sixteen years, I have dedicated my career in Political Science and Women’s Studies to teaching courses related to gender and difference in an academic setting. I work with undergraduate students and I see and hear things on campus. While the chants are offensive–these are not isolated events, we need to ask why students feel compelled to participate in the chants. I have seen posters on campuses for different student events, like a sailing club’s pub crawl event called: “outrigger and gold digger” pub crawl. One only has to walk around a university to find some very interesting posters for events usually held off campus.

Thanks to the chants we are talking more about Rape Culture. But, what is Rape Culture? Rape Culture is the end product of the hypersexulization of women and men and excuses harassments, chants, and acts of violence against women and men. Rape culture causes people to think that joking about having non-consensual sex with a minor is not rape–but a light hearted moment. Rape Culture allowed the sexualized violence of Steubenville to take place, where at first the town appeared to defend the young men involved and attacked the victim. And, I argue that this hypersexualized culture makes posting questionable photos on Facebook acceptable, but a photo of a nursing mother objectionable. Rape culture also educates boys and men that girls and women are always sexually available to them. We need to have more conversations about consent and sexualized violence. We also need to discuss what make up the components of healthy sexuality.

What is telling about these episodes is the varied reactions. For instance, the comments online on newspaper sites or other platforms. My students chide me and say, “Don’t look at the comments.” I try to not do so, but then occasionally I wonder what people are saying.  The comments are at times instructive and then illuminating about the sheer depth of rape culture. Why do I say this? Well, when people post that they should be able to joke about sexual assault and that it’s just a joke, I take issue with that. There are certain things that we should not joke about and instead understand that violence against women is not a joking matter. I have a great sense of humor, but there are some issues that deserve serious conversations. Let’s continue the learning and the conversation.