Time Management: Todoist and Other Tools

A new year is here. I’m updating this post. Which apps are you using for time management or productivity? I’m still using Todoist.

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 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.

carrotone carrottwo todoistone todoisttwo

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.

Fri Fun Facts: Women in #HigherED #IT

Today’s Friday Fun Fact post is dedicated to women. Women are a minority in higher education information technology workforce. Here is a great infographic from Educause.

educause gender higher ed IT

From the infographic you see that men comprise 2/3 of the higher education information technology workforce. The numbers look accurate based on my experience in higher education. I find that the highly technical work is often completed by men; while the teaching and learning with technology support staff are more likely to be women. There is definitely some interesting data here to think about related to specific areas in higher education.

Great Book: How to Deal with Difficult People

I have found that some books work as great conversation starters. Several months ago I read Gill Hasson’s How to Deal with Difficult People: Smart Tactics for Overcoming the Problem People in Your Life. This book caused more nervous reactions from people in my office than other books. I later moved the book out of eyesight so that people would not nervously asked if I bought the book in preparation for a meeting!

difficult front cover

The truth is that I did buy the book to review the array of skills that are needed to work effectively with difficult situations and difficult people. The book is about communication and it’s a great addition to my library. I have also suggested the book to others. I appreciate the back cover, “This book explains how to cope with a range of situations with difficult people and to focus on what you can change.”

The table of contents is clearly divided into three main areas: Dealing with Difficult People, Putting It into Practice, and When All Else Fails. Each section is about communication; however, the sections also provide opportunity for introspection. What can you do better? And, tips for dealing with different types of hostility. We all have dealt with the co-worker who is unwilling to take on work. “Oh, I’d do it, but I just don’t have the capacity to do one more thing.” And, I know that this is typically a way to not share a work task.

The book also gives some great tips. Listening. I am getting better at listening, but this is a real skill. I have ideas and I am bursting with them, but I have to remember to pause. This takes work! Hasson notes that it’s important to be direct and honest, and offers some assertive phrases:

I need you to…

Can you explain?

Can you tell me more?

I think it would be better to discuss this at another time.

There are certain phrases that many of us understand that can escalate a situation. Using “you” instead of I. Starting off a sentence with: I’m not racist/sexist/homophobic, but. With all due respect. These phrases usually contradict what the person is trying to say and can escalate a conversation. The phrases are anything but part of effective communication. The backdrop of the book is that we need to communicate honestly. Never send an email when you’re angry. Pick up the phone or make time to speak face to face.

Hasson also explains that some people are impossible. That’s right–it’s not that they are difficult, but they are impossible and there is no way to compromise or communicate with them. You need to put on your thick skin and plan how you will communicate and feel about the engagement. And, Hasson notes that with the impossible person, you might want to not engage. The impossible person envelopes themselves in drama and relishes pulling you in. Run. Run as fast as you can and stay away from this person. But, if you must engage, try to make it on your terms.

I try to protect my time and will make sure that I have an immediate other appointment after a meeting with a really difficult or impossible person. I have also protected my personal time from people what some refer to as emotional vampires and seem to only need me. This is not real friendship. Gill Hasson’s book is perfect work and your personal life. The book is filled with lots of tips and I will likely offer a post related solely to one chapter. There is a great chapter on bullies, and that chapter deserves its own post. Here is a screen shot of the back cover.

difficult back cover

The Way You Work: Revisited

Academic work requires so much solitary work and this makes it flexible and at times impossible. Work always beckons and the to do list can become burdensome. We are at the start of Summer term at the campus where I work, and it is the perfect time to think about how you can re-focus on the way you work. What works for you?
Right about now academics are thinking about the long list of things to accomplish during the Summer. Honestly, though, how do you work?

I find that I need some white noise when I am doing certain tasks and other tasks requires quiet or music at a low volume. At the day’s end when I am completely alone this is the time that I listen to music set high. I like to chunk out as many tasks as I can during these evenings alone at work. My job requires lots of meetings and this means that I have to catch up from the meetings. I am an early riser and tend to get lots completed before anyone else in my family wakes up.

I have blogged previously about the importance of having good work and life balance and boundaries. I know that this is extremely important, but the reality of work is that some months are more busy than others. I am also trying to think about the way I work and what keeps me organized and able to get things done. I love coffee and the entire process of making and savoring it. This ritual is part of my morning and reading the papers. I also realize that the caffeine is necessary most days.

I need desk time to plan and think, and I need to walk around and will find myself in walking meetings. <They are awesome!>  . I will talk into my phone and dictate notes from a meeting or send myself emails to update. I also use this time to clear my head and plan for the next meeting, task, or day. I need some alone time to organize my day. I use Todoist to organize my tasks and I have found this tool works well for me. While this is not a feminist rant, I was thinking about this quote and feel it fits.

Aragon Rant_Twitter

 

Friday Fun Facts

I am trying to get back on the Friday Fun Facts bike. My Fun Facts will be about conferencing.

  1. I started attending academic conferences when I was an undergrad. One of my mentors was supportive and shared that I  needed to get used to presenting  my work and the entire conference experience.
  2. My first terrible conference experience was at an APSA. I was a grad student and the discussant was unpleasant to the entire panel. I listened and learned and have taken my discussant role seriously. I am thoughtful and supportive.
  3. Once I earned my PhD, I always made sure that I took a grad student out to breakfast or dinner at a conference. And, I always introduce grad students to my network. I know what it is like to feel like an outsider in the at times clique-ish academic environment.
  4. If I see poor behavior by a discussant at a conference, I contact the conference organizers. I will not be a bystander to someone needlessly being an ass to people. See number 2. I will usually respond to the colleague who is not using a filter.
  5. I have multiple copies of my presentation and travel with my own dongles/connectors. I learned the hard way and have become very agile and ready to present my talk.
  6. I often invite a student or more junior colleague to present with me on a panel or round-table.

Hope these six, fast facts are useful. Share your conference facts! Sharing an image from Twitter. I love this mug.

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Whine Weds

I’ve seen the #wineWeds and #whineWed tags on Twitter and both have made me smile. Although I do prefer the sarcastic #whineWeds tag. Lately, I have followed the #wellnessWeds tag on Twitter and other social networking sites. I am trying to spend any extra time thinking about the positive and surrounding myself with people who really bring me joy. Yes, I have read Marie Kondo’s books and I have decluttered lots in my house, and other parts of my life. There is something truly liberating for me to be able to protect my time.

Recently I was at a regional conference in my home discipline and I took special care to protect to my schedule, and outside of conference commitments I was very careful with any extra time that I had. I brought along some work and I needed to take care of it. I read reports, and graded in the sun, and kept up with my email. I also attended fewer obligatory receptions, and I am fine with that. I was in charge of my time. I did get some networking in, but it’s not the feverish networking of someone who is looking for work and trying to make all the connections. I’ve been there.

I am hearing from vendors or other partners about the need for a conference call and the one to three day warning for the meetings is not enough. The emails that note ASAP are not a priority for me and my time. The people who I work with regularly and have access to me and my time do not need to flag the message as important. It is often the vendor or someone who has not planned their time well, who uses that flag or note.

I need to balance my work and it is getting easier for me to offer a polite no and suggest the call or meeting for next week or the week after. So, on this #wellnessWeds I lift up my coffee and say, “Protecting your time, protects you.” It is perfectly acceptable to say, No. No, I am not available. No, I will not engage with you. No, I will not respond to your passive aggressive email with a passive aggressive response. No. But, always say yes to Tacos.

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Dear Professor: My Parents are Lost at Sea and I Need an Extension

I have revised this post. Today’s Fri Fun Facts is about keeping it real. I give lots of advice on the Fri Fun facts and today it’s about not crafting elaborate stories in order to get an extension on work. During the last several school years I am seeing that the grandparents are safe and not dying at the high rates that they used to and this might be related to how clear my syllabus is about providing proof. And, the proof about a death in the family usually is from the service—the funeral home or church typically puts together a program for the service. This might seem like an onerous request, but I find that it has kept many grandparents safe! In the last three years, I have stopped asking for this and have met one on one with the student who needs an extension. I just do not have enough mental capacity to ask for the proof. I need to come from a place of trust, and take my student’s word.

I am giving some quick advice about due dates and managing your time. In case you’re wondering, I did get a student email about parents lost at sea. I contacted tthe Coast Guard. The student was embellishing and did not get an extension. Today, I likely would not contact the Coast Guard–who has the time? I offer some advice, though.

1. Manage your time well. In my courses the paper assignments are included in the syllabus, so from day one the students know what the assignments are and when they are due.

2. If you’re in over your head, make an appointment or come to your instructor’s office hours. I’ll be honest, I do think that I am more likely to be more flexible when a student “owns” their education and sense of overwhelm and talks to me face to face and asks for an extension. I do not always give the extension, but I think I am more apt to weigh the request differently than a last minute email.

3. Rely on resources around campus. At UVIC the library has an assignment calculator and students can type in the due date and a schedule is calculated that helps students organize their time. Attend class, go to tutorial, office hours, and schedule the time to conduct research and writing time.

4. Re-read points 1-3. I cannot emphasize how much guidance you will get from your professor if you ask for it. There is a reason why I had 8 hours of office hours this last week and that there was a line up–I care and I’m here to help. The only way that you’ll get guidance from your professor is if you talk to her/him.

With this—I ask that you finish your term on a high note and organize your time before the final exams begin. Good luck!

Disclaimer: This post has nothing to do with any of my current courses or students. It is merely the time of year when a post of this nature is appropriate. Again, this is not about my current class! You are rocking it.