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.

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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Presence as a Gift

This quote reminds me what a gift mindful listening is. I refer to being present and communicating. We are all so busy and giving the gift of our time is a real present. This is really about the gift of mindfulness when we are with others. Are you a good listener? Are you present when you are with your loved ones, friends, and co-workers? I remember one of my professors from my undergraduate days could never be bothered to actually look at me or near my direction during office hours. She was too busy doing her mail and putting together her next lecture. I never felt like I had her attention. I learned something from those visits to her office, though.I learned that I would never do this during my office hours. I am present.

I have my limits and know what times of day that I am best for better listening or office hours, for instance. It is important to know when you are productive for the work that you need to do. As much as I would love to have my office hours one day a week, like some of my friends, I just can’t do that. I need about an hour or hour and a half at tops to focus, listen, and help. Then, I need to take care of the paperwork from the meetings, and get to the next task. I feel that I can offer my full presence two to three designated times per week and then for appointments as needed another hour in the week. Now these are the sort of meetings where I am working with my undergrads. I’m not referring to meetings with my graduate students or colleagues.

I attend lots of meetings based on sitting on different committees and I have to say that it is easiest to be present with the focused or organized meetings and most of the university meetings have an organized agenda, which I really appreciate. When the Chair of the meeting leads effectively, the meeting is more successful. One colleague from the Law Faculty would also time the different points on the agenda. These organized meetings kept all of us present. I wish that I was able to follow suit with this tactic, but overall, I learned lots from her. She was present and made sure that we all were present at our meetings.

Thinking of friends and presence is important, too. I really need to feel like the friendship is mutual in order to be present and give my attention. I can recharge after a great coffee or lunch with a good friend and I hope that they feel the same way. And, of course, I try to be present at home with my family. How do you focus? How do you stay present? One easy tactic is to keep the technology at a minimum or to have technology breaks. I will do this with girlfriends, a social media break when we all spend 2-3 minutes checking in or we agree to no phones. My family keeps me on track: they ask me to unplug. How are you mindful?

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Happy New Year!

Happy New Year! I hope that 2013 bring you joy, happiness, and good health. What else do I hope for with this New Year. Sure, I can say world peace, a cure for Cancer and AIDS, and for the government to really take action with the Fiscal Cliff/Idle No More Movement. And, I truly do wish for all of the above, but this post will instead focus on what I hope for my students in this new year.

The 2012-13 school year is essentially halfway through and I hope that first year students learned how important time-management was during their September term. I also hope that all students realized that office hours are priceless. You might have to queue up and wait for five or fifteen minutes–but those meetings with your Teaching Assistant or Professor really is worth the wait. I have never heard a student tell me that it was a waste of time to see me or one of my Teaching Assistants. In fact, I get follow up emails, note cards, or tweets thanking me for suggesting that we meet or that they met with their Teaching Assistant. So, dear student, please take advantage of our availability!

I also send the gift of reading the syllabus to students. This means highlighting due dates and the instructions for assignments. This is a rich You Tube video about Reading the Syllabus. This made me laugh! Oh, wow. How many of us have had one of these moments?!  There is also a Facebook page about Reading the Syllabus. In all seriousness, the syllabus is the contract between the professor and the student. We expect students to read and review the syllabus.

Get into the library. Attend a workshop about research or citation. Learn how to use the databases and get outside of your Wikipedia or Google comfort zones. Learn other better ways to conduct research. The vast  majority of you are not yet skilled at researching and could use a workshop or two to hone these skills. The A students are the ones who have taken the time to use databases and dig deeper. Do not be embarrassed -go speak to the Reference Librarians and your academic mind will be blown.

My last wish for 2013 is that students stay healthy and this includes their physical well-being and mental health. I feel terrible when a student gets hit with a serious illness that turns their term upside down. I also feel for the student who is dealing with mental health issues and is having a really difficult time. I am not a medical doctor and I certainly am not a mental health professional, so all I can do is be supportive and suggest the health center or the counseling center. Remember, when you’re having a tough time, don’t be embarrassed -contact your professor. We are here to help and it’s much better if we are in the loop.

Happy New Year!

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Managing Projects: Having More Balance

I did something radically different this Summer with my writing. I didn’t have a strict schedule and I worked daily on different projects. Normally I would have spent 60-120 minutes on different projects over the course of the day and work on multiple projects each day. This Summer was one per day–OK occasionally 1.5 per day. I have not decided which I preferred. Moments have taken place where I’ve wondered the veracity of this tactic. But, overall it’s freeing to try something new and then think about if it worked for me.

I’ve also made a point of taking some time off during my vacation this year. I ran twice a week with two close friends and kept this date firm in my schedule. I also was not the usual office rat. What this meant was that I did not go into the office every darn day, too. I was in the office 2-3 days per week. What I did differently–I worked at libraries, coffee shops, and outdoors. This meant more distractions and more conversations with people. And, looking at my bank account it also was a little more pricey. But, another way to look at this is that I was able to actually turn myself off from work. Some might say that this sounds unproductive or maybe less productive. Occasionally someone looked over my shoulder and would ask me some questions–even though I had my ear buds and music going. I was polite and engaged in some conversations. These interruptions were usually good. The best part was always the senior citizen who never believed that I was old enough to be a professor. I joked that they could go to the website and see me on the homepage. The screen shot below is of the new site that goes live in a few days, but the photo is the same one that has scrolled on the university website this Summer.

In all seriousness, I also spent as much time as I could outdoors–running helped me stay outdoors. I read outdoors–even if it was for only an hour. I am a Summer person and usually go back to Southern California for the Summer. I didn’t this year, so I tried to get as much Vitamin D as possible in Victoria, BC. This takes effort, as occasionally if you shower, you could miss Summer! No offense to fellow Victorians, but our Summer is sometimes forgetful. It seemed appropriate to try something different, since I was at home for the Summer.

I’ve thought about this again and again and at the end of the Summer I will evaluate what it meant for me and my productivity. To clarify, I am in a teaching tenure-track position and due to my heavy teaching load (8 courses per school year)–it really means that I have to write during the Summer months. Now, I realize that this situation is common for my colleagues who are lucky enough to teach half as much and more than common for my colleagues who don’t really get that much time off, since they have to teach year round to survive. Regardless, this Summer meant a few thing: write and relax! Oh, academe, thank you for these gifts! I know–I have a full-time job and should not complain. But, I’d like to remind that I did my time adjuncting (we call this sessional work in Canada) for more than 10 years.

Now that I’m in the last push before the term resumes, I can honestly say that I got less work done. I didn’t fret about it either. Oh, maybe I did a few times, but then I’d look at my kids and remember that I have to do better, as they observe and learn.  I had more balance in my life during these last two months. I spent lots of quality time with my family and by myself. Sure, I was in the office a day or two per week, but on my terms. The papers were revise (not ready to resubmit) and projects are further along, but I am happy. I won’t put a price on happiness, and all the time I spent with my two daughters. I also took up golf. Can you believe that? It was a great Summer!

The two photos are shots of my girls. I don’t post photos of them on my blog, so these are not direct face shots. My two loveys.

Boundaries: Saying No

I have had a hard time saying no. This is the nature of one dozen years as adjunct or sessional faculty–what many refer to as the New Faculty Majority. Now, I’m about to start my fourth year as tenure line faculty and this will mark the fourth year out of fifteen when I shut my door. My door is only open during office hours. I make no apologies for this. I am open and available for consultations during my office hours or appointments. Truthfully, a senior colleague insisted that I shut my door to get my work done. To this day, I thank him for his honesty.

Likewise, I’ve  become better at allowing myself to take a vacation. This means not responding to student emails and more importantly not feeling guilty about it. Of course, I never got the sheer volume of emails previously. This changed when I got my tenure line job and was also made an Undergraduate Advisor. Students need advising year round. The department where I work has assigned other faculty during my vacation, but that doesn’t stop the emails from trickling in. Perhaps it helps the deluge!

This May I started an email to myself where I remind myself of my professional declines. I cannot do everything and anything. I note my achievements via my CV, but what about those moments when I protect my time and sanity and say, “no.” Well, I have an email to self that shares my no accomplishments. I started this in May and I’m only at 18, but each one of these declines allowed me to spend more time on teaching, advising, myself, and work/life balance. So, I suggest that we remember to celebrate boundary keeping and those moments when we must politely decline.Don’t get me wrong–I say yes to lots of meetings and opportunities. I do believe the department head would concur that I am a good citizen in the department and for the faculty at large.

But, the department head has also encouraged me to say no more. I’ve had colleagues who have a printout that read: Just say NO within their field of vision as a reminder when they are on the phone. Oh, that reminds me to add another point. I’m at 19! And, I am also reminded me of themes at Breathe Now, a conference that I co-coordinated with Janice Mansfield, Angela Rafuse-Tahir, and Yukari Peerless. Many of our speakers noted that it’s important to take time for yourself–breathe. Say no, when you need to!

Managing Expectations

This is probably an annual exercise that I go through each year as the new school year looms in front of me. I need to manage my expectations for how much work I can get done during the day or any week. Of course, as an educator I have to constantly manage my expectations about student work and it has to vary between the first year student and the honor’s student.

Thinking of students~ I’m always amazed at how few will complete the assigned readings. Some students will share that I just need to assign less if I want them to complete the readings. Well, I have trimmed the numbers of readings over the years and still find that I’m in the same situation. This term, I’m actually contemplating no exams in the third year level course and more of a focus on writing and reading with different exercises. I like to mix things up for them and for me.

One student comment noted why so many of our classes have a student presentation component. It’s not busy work. I feel it is important for the students to give presentations in front of their peers. And, I speak to good or strong presentations in letters of reference or on the phone as a job reference. So, I will not cut that assignment out of the course outlines.

I am thinking of ways to work smarter and I am not sure if a day dedicated to my own projects will work. Instead, I find that few hours blocked out makes more sense–a day can slip away during the 13 week term. I don’t have the answer, as each term is so different, but I know that it’s a continued struggle to manage my own expectations about my productivity. These next two years I’ll have  reduced teaching load, but my administrative work and attendance at campus wide meetings will increase markedly. I know that managing my expectation will continue to be an ongoing exercise.

How do you manage your expectations? And, how do you manage your productivity?

Working in Short Bursts

These last two weeks have offered me an exercise in extreme patience. My “to do” list is growing, but somehow when I’m not teaching other stuff creeps up. This other stuff varies from my usual advising responsibilities, mentoring, general department business, and the good old work/life balance concerns. I’ve freed up my schedule from teaching, yet those hours are replaced with meetings–meetings that are important.

Having children caused me to get more used to working in short, productive increments. I had to throw out my wonderful daily planner and move to a weekly planner of sorts. This has worked well for me. I have found that with my heavy teaching load I still use the weekly planner of sorts, but I have modified this some to a monthly to do list, as well. Yes, monthly.

This morning I am trying to reconcile my lists and see what I can manage for this week and for the next month. I have also reminded myself to fill in “my time” in Outlook via bubbles. Why? Well, colleagues can schedule or invite me to meetings if they see free space! I don’t feel guilty about scheduling my project time. The one thing that so many of us know is that you can schedule the time, but will you actually write that day? That is another blog post! Until then–working in increments.