The accountability approach to productivity

In my last post I talked about the importance and impact of scheduling your day, or at least having a general schedule for those days where you’re not rushing from meeting to meeting. Today we are going to talk a little more about schedules, but more specifically about how knowing your schedule can help with productivity.

I’ve tried a lot of things when it comes to increasing productivity. Having a schedule is just one component of that equation. For those of us in academia, especially in the summer, our days are mostly up to us. Sure, meetings happen, but if we aren’t teaching classes or leading programs, we can choose what we work on each day. We get to pick where to spend our time. It’s both wonderful and terrible at the same time. A lot of us got here because we are very good at following the rules, showing up, doing what we are told, and then suddenly, once your PhD is completed, your schedule is your own. What do you do with it? There’s work to be done but…the deadlines are often weeks or even months away. How do you cope?

For me, it’s accountability. I need to have some kind of report or product to show me where I’ve been and what I’ve done with my time. I’ve tried a few different things, paper planners, to-do lists, evernote, but what seems to work best for me is a time tracking app. It’s similar to what an independent consultant would use, or a contractor, or anyone who needs to estimate hours spent on different tasks. There are several out there. Damon over on the Art of Productivity has reviewed several options so I won’t repeat his efforts, but you should check them out (Link: http://artofproductivity.com/top-time-trackers/).

Personally, I like ATracker. I used it on and off during grad school but now that my time is really under my direction it helps me be accountable to myself and know where I’m spending the bulk of it (no shocker that it’s meetings and email…). It took me a little while to remember to use it and I admit I still forget sometimes, especially on days that my schedule gets thrown off, but I can always go back and edit the hours and add in what I missed.

Here, you can see how I’ve spent my morning so far. Again…mostly email and organization.

Accountability and productivity | ProjectsHalfDone.PNG

I like the fact that I can color code my tasks. For me, each of the colors represents a portion of my PRS (research percentage, university service, etc) and allows me to quickly see how much of my time I’m devoting to those activities and then compare it to my PRS document in my annual review.

If I look and yesterday’s breakdown I can see that I spent a little over 70% of my time on Professional Practice (red categories in my world). I can also look at the past 30 days, or entire year. Again, great data to take to that annual review.

The accountability approach to productivity | ProjectsHalfDone.PNG

By having a clear graphic (even though it is a pie chart….ugh) of how I’m spending my day, I feel a sense of accountability. I need to make sure I’m spending my time effectively. It’s not always perfect, but it keeps me on track. If I check the app at the end of the week and see that I did little to nothing in the Research category….I know I need to up my game and work on that next week.

Having some type of accountability helps you stay focused and on track. Accounting for your time can give you a huge push in the direction of increased productivity. I know it’s worked for me. How do you account for your time? Have you used any other apps or trackers? Leave a comment down below!

The accountability approach to productivity | ProjectsHalfDone.jpg

 

The beauty of scheduling your workday

After many life changes in the last year I ended up taking some much needed time off from blogging, social media, and most of the internet to just adjust. Since January of 2016 I’ve gone from PhD graduate to postdoc to job searching to landing the dream job I never dreamed of and moving a thousand miles across the country. With so many changes it was very easy to get off schedule and sure enough, that’s how I’ve been feeling. So that got me thinking about how important and….well…beautiful a good schedule can be!

I’ve always been a planner and a fan of scheduling things. It just works for my brain. On Saturday we do laundry and on Sunday we grocery shop. I like order and organization. So why not schedule my work day in a similar way to how I schedule the rest of my life? Sure, my life-schedule doesn’t always go exactly as planned but the structure is there to give me direction. It’s not a big deal if I don’t stick to it exactly…but the purpose is to help make sure the most important things on my list do get accomplished. I’ve always got clean clothes and food for the week thanks to my schedule….so why not apply that to my workday so I can always have things like productivity and satisfaction?

I find that if I don’t have a decent schedule outlined for the day, I tend to get off-task or spend WAY too much time on one task when two others need attention that day as well.

So how to develop a schedule for a workday that can go in a million different directions? For me, I read several things about scheduling before I even realized I wanted to create a scheduled day. For example, I read somewhere that keeping your email open all day is a huge distraction and it leads to task switching and a reduction in productivity (more on productivity in an upcoming post). The article suggested scheduling email checks at 8:30, 12:00, and 4:30. Or in general, when you get to the office, mid-day, and at the end of the day. Not a bad plan.

In order to create a schedule I outlined the things I needed to do each day. Check email is a must…and I like the idea of scheduling it so it’s less of a distraction. Then I need some organization time, I need to schedule writing time. A lot of my work is project based so “Project time” is a good catch-all. Then there’s always the possibility of meetings. I also need to be able to read for my job so reading time is important. And so is lunch. We can’t forget lunch time.

I schedule mine for 9:30, 1:00 and 4:00. I didn’t like checking email before lunch….as I would often get wrapped up in something from my email and then have to rush to eat my lunch so I could make it to the next task. I don’t want to digest my email when I’m trying to enjoy my lunch. By keeping email off and having a notification from my calendar to check it….email is not forgotten and it’s not a distraction.

After I had email on my calendar I knew writing time was important based on several things I’d read and my own experiences…so I added that from 8:30-9:30 with exceptions for the days that I have 8:00am meetings….which are a lot of days. In my perfect world, no meetings would ever be scheduled until after lunch. I’m a morning person and I’m going to do my best work in the morning. Meetings aren’t (productive) work. Meetings are talking. I can do that anytime with little to no caffeine needed. But we don’t live in my perfect world so I have to build my writing time around the people who have scheduled 8:00am meetings. So some days I get an hour to write, some days it is just a half hour…but any time is better than the large expanses of no writing time scheduled….

Now that we have email and writing down….what other job requirements do I have? For me, I have a lot of projects I work on but they vary. So I scheduled my lunch and project times in one hour increments. In the afternoon I scheduled project work OR meeting time just as a reminder that if the meeting time is up to me, it will be after 1pm.

Then I also need to do a good deal of reading for my job. I can’t write or do research if I don’t read. So I schedule writing time with coffee (BONUS) for 10:00am.

Here’s what my ideal day would look like:

Scheduling | ProjectsHalfDone.png

 

I typed this up in word and set the background to black and took a screenshot. My computer background is black and so this image pops up on my background…to help me remember how to have my best day. I find that when I can stick to this schedule or as close as possible to this schedule, I have a very productive and happy day. Who doesn’t want to make it to 5pm and feel satisfied and productive?

For me, scheduling works. Keeping the email turned off works. Scheduling writing time is how this blog post happened. I hope it’s how more continue to happen.

Do you have your ideal schedule written out? What do you do when meetings or other things get in the way of your plans? What’s one part of your day you try and keep at the same time each day? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

What’s Your Googleability?

No, we aren’t talking about your ability to use google to find a local restaurant. I’m talking about how googleable are you?

ProjectsHalfDone | Googleability Blog

Professional friends – When is the last time you searched yourself on google?

As a former high school teacher, I’ve searched my first and last name many times. Why? Because you KNOW your students will. And students? We search you too. Same goes for college students that you teach, and potential employers. These days, it’s highly likely that employers will not only google your name, but also specifically search for you on social media to see how you have been presenting yourself in public.

That’s right, folks. The internet is public. In case you have forgotten.

I try to stress the importance of searching yourself to my students, but it’s worth a mention to colleagues as well. Think about how you would want that perspective employer, colleague, student, person you meet at a conference, etc to see you? What do you NOT want them to see? What are you doing in public (i.e., social media) that you maybe should not be doing? Are you advancing your career with your public image, or are you doing more harm than good?

Personally, I want my blog, my university affiliation, and my LinkedIn to be what people see. I’m proud of those things, I’m comfortable with those things, and I don’t care who sees them. In fact, I would like it if potential employers saw these pages, because I feel like I am demonstrating professionalism and capability in these venues.

Thankfully, when I google, these things do come up. (I always google both with quotes around my name, and without. Taking the quotes out doubles my search results but also makes the results much more inaccurate) 

ProjectsHalfDone | Googleability 1

Scrolling further down, all still things I would be fine with other professionals seeing.

ProjectsHalfDone | Googleability 2

I happen to be one of those (un)lucky individuals with a rather uncommon name. Most of what comes up, is truly me. Or related to me somehow. If you have a name like “John Smith”, well then, unless you are the most famous John Smith, you will probably have tens of thousands of google results, and none will actually be you. For myself, I’ve only got about 10 pages. It’s pretty easy to click through a few and make sure there’s nothing I wouldn’t want anyone to see. The worst thing that comes up is a negative review I left for a restaurant when I was displeased with their service. I’m fine with that.

What wouldn’t I want someone to see? Well, thankfully there isn’t much about my life, even college life, that I wouldn’t want someone to see. Now I’m sure there are posts (opinions) out there that I have written and probably regretted later, but they are few and far between. I’m sure someone somewhere has an embarrassing photo of me, in fact, I know there are some less-than-flattering photos of me running in races, but again, I’m ok with those being public. I don’t love the idea, but I’m proud of my running accomplishments, so the photos are fine too.

Speaking of pictures, DO NOT forget about pictures. I hadn’t thought about this much, but I did a google image search for myself. It was a little odd. Somewhat creepy. But still, good to look through and make sure there isn’t anything that shouldn’t be there.

ProjectsHalfDone | Googleability Images

Mostly, these are pictures of me, and then some pictures of people who clearly are not me. These mostly appear to be professional contacts. I think those are popping up from my university affiliation and from LinkedIn. Which, again, I’m fine with. As for the random picture of garlic….no idea, but that’s fine too.

Now, what didn’t come up in my search was also interesting. My “real” Facebook page did not come up. The one that did appear, was a highly searchable one that I made specifically for interacting with my students. This way, no friends could post things that I wouldn’t want my students to see. I kept all adult humor, politics, and opinions off this page. Also, my personal blog and instagram does not come up. That’s fine. I wouldn’t be upset if anyone saw either of those. I think the reason they do not come up is that I am somewhat careful not to use my name on those sites.

Overall, my google search is pretty accurate. You find my professional web presence, some of my local race results (and to be honest, I need to run more so these come up more. It’s a point of running pride to have a lot of race results pop up), and then some sites that clearly are not related to me, random “phone lookup” sites and the like.

If you’ve never googled yourself, here’s an article that might persuade you to consider it, if my suggestion is not good enough. Also, Google does provide some resources on editing your search results.

What about your search results? How often do you check google for yourself? Are you an employer, do you have tips for potential employees? Leave your thoughts in the comments!

Academic Reading Journal

This week was the first at my new job, which is awesome. Still in the “newness” phase but I think the awesomeness will continue. But all that aside, I made a goal for 2016 to read an academic-related article every (work)day. This could be a journal article, or an article in The Chronicle or even a blog post related to my field (Ex: My blogroll).

I’ve been doing pretty good and tracking my progress. So far I’ve only missed….7 days….haha. Well still. That’s 14 articles I’ve read that by this time last year…I probably would not have.

However this week, sitting at my new job, I started thinking about how just tracking the fact that I’d read a certain number of articles was not actually helpful to my future career. How much of what I read did I remember? For some reason, I find that non-fiction seems to stick in my head far better than academic articles, even if it is on a topic I love, like Evaluation. I also have a really difficult time remembering “who said what”. Usually I can place that I read something about evaluative thinking and the connection to evaluation culture but I can’t remember WHO wrote that article (Had to pick on Tom there really quick, kidding Tom. I know who the ET expert is).

I keep track of what books I read in the Good Reads app, so I wondered if there was something like that for tracking your academic reading. Turns out, there’s basically not. However I did find several good articles, most recommended using a citation manager like Endnote or Zotero. I’m only semi-enthusiastic about that idea. Usually, I read the articles online or in my hard copy of the journal and don’t download them to my desktop, so I would just be typing in the citation info and I can do that in any program. Plus…I don’t feel that Zotero’s notes feature is terribly helpful. (I’m not familiar with Endnote so if it’s better, please let me know.) Also, I am kind of hyper-organized when it comes to Zotero and my articles have to have a category…and since I’m not reading for any specific project, this could lead to creating new categories or having a lot of stuff fall under “General Evaluation” only for me to later realize that four of them were similar and could go over here in Category X.

So what to do…

As you may recall, I did have a coding system for my dissertation using Excel. Here’s the original post and it has a link to the Excel template if you would like to use it. I thought about using Excel and making a database of everything I’d ever read. I could search it, and that would be great.

But…that would also be a massive file.

Then I thought about Evernote. (More on Evernote and it’s wondrous ways in this post.) I can type out the citation for the article in Evernote without having to file the article somewhere. I can also make notes on blog posts I read. I can also tag, endlessly tag, what I read. And I can store it all in a “Notebook” in the cloud and not actually on my computer. Furthermore, I can search Evernote very easily, so even if I don’t tag the article for “Evaluative thinking” at the time, but I wrote one little note about it in there…it will pop up in my search. Here’s an example of Tom’s recent article in AJE that I read recently.
1.28.16 Academic Reading Journal

Also, because this reading is just for my own learning, I can just copy and paste quotes of the text from the article, directly in to Evernote, making it really easy to cite later. Additionally I can create my own notes or reflections on the article underneath those quotes. And search it ALL.

I started by creating a notebook called “Academic Reading Log”. I’d already had some articles in Evernote from doing my dissertation work. I moved those articles and continued with the format I had established of using the APA citation as the title of the note. Then, I can put all the info on the article inside that note.

I think I will still use my Excel method for specific projects. I can search the literature I’ve read from Evernote, and copy ONLY the relevant articles in to Excel, and write my literature review or article off of that.

So far, I’m liking this system a lot. Do you read an article a day? Do you track your academic reading? What method do you use? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
ProjectsHalfDone | Academic Reading Log

The Difficulty of Dissertating (or working) From Home

ProjectsHalfDone | Dissertating from home

 

It’s over.

Finally.

Dissertation defended. Edits done. ETD submitted. Done. (Oh, and I passed, by the way)

For the last 6 months or so, I’ve been working and dissertating from home. My assistantship with my department ended, and although I did secure some part-time employment, it was all computer based so I worked from home. Every day I had to find the motivation to get up and do some actual work, whether that was writing my dissertation or doing work-related items, I had to force myself to get into that mindset.

Working from home…and being motivated every day was hard.

So.

Very.

Hard.

There were days when I wanted to lay in bed all day. There were days when I wanted to binge watch all of Netflix. There were days when I didn’t want to shower or put on real pants. There were days that those things happened. But how does that help me? Aside from the fact that everyone does need some down time…doing those things didn’t move me any closer to my goal of graduating. But I pushed through, and while it wasn’t easy, I did learn a lot, and I did finish. Finally.

So I want share some of my tips on managing the work/life balance when work and life are happening in the same space. Whether you are working on your dissertation or just working from home, the struggle is very real! These tips are what got me through the last 6 months.

Tip 1: Dress the part! You’ve heard this. I know you have. We all know we should do it. Get up and get showered and get dressed like you’re going in to the office. Or at least put on jeans. Or real pants. You can do this. It will cue you to be in “work-mode”. It sets the tone for the day. Sweat pants are for watching TV and being a bum on the couch. Yoga pants are for yoga. Put on your big-girl-work-pants and do work!!

Tip 2: To-Do list your day. Write down what you want to accomplish. Use a planner or a schedule or just a piece of paper, but set some goals for the day. It will help you become focused and it will also feel really awesome when you get to check off an item. Start with little things like “Shower” if you have to. I use the Bullet Journal system (more on this in another post) and instead of putting a check in the box, I fill it in. This way, if I’ve made progress on an item I can halfway fill it in, to show that I worked on the task but didn’t complete it.

Tip 3: Have a designated work space. Again, you’ve heard this. Don’t work where you sleep. Don’t work where you relax. Don’t work where there are distractions! We know this. It’s easier said than done. Fortunately, I do have the space in my home to have a designated “office”. Technically it also serves as a craft room, but I keep the desk fairly clutter free so I have space for my laptop, books, and of course my To-Do list. Wherever your space, make sure you set it up for your work each day. Even if you are using your dining room table, make sure that you’ve got things cleared away, and your workspace defined so you can focus.

Tip 4: Time yourself! No, I don’t mean work as fast as you can. After reading a lot of news articles and blogs on productivity, I decided to try working in increments. The advice is to work for around 48 to 90 minutes, and then take a 12-17 minute break (This depends on which article you read.). Using the timer on your phone or any other timing device can help you break up your day and keep you from getting super-bored. I used the 90/15 minute ratio. It also allowed me to shift from doing my work-work to working on my dissertation. I didn’t feel guilty for watching a 5 minute funny video on youtube…because I’d scheduled that break. Find the ratio that works for you and stick to it!

Tip 5: Leave the house. Seriously. At least a few times a week, leave your house. This could be to go outside and exercise, putting on real clothes and going to the grocery store, or my favorite, going to work in a coffee shop. By nature, we are social creatures. Being home alone, by yourself, all day long, all WEEK long, is not good for the long-term. Even if you don’t talk to anyone, go outside. Switching up your environment will also refresh your brain and generate new ideas, moving you closer to your goals with work or with your degree.

For me, working from home is coming to an end as I am getting ready to start my post-doc. I’m excited to join the real world again on a daily basis, but I’m glad I did have this opportunity to work from home temporarily. I learned a lot about myself and my work habits. A lot of these I will carry over into my new job. Especially the Bullet Journaling and the timed breaks.

Do you work from home? What do you do to stay focused? What roadblocks have you found when trying to stay focused? Share your tips in the comments!

Operation: Dissertation Organization

As I’m coming to the final stages of my doctoral program I’ve thought a lot about what I wish I had known when I first started. Over the next few weeks I’m going to try and share some of these thoughts with you all. Today’s tip is probably my favorite. I’m going to share with you my organizational system for my dissertation literature.

First off, I wish I had thought of this as soon as I started reading relevant literature. But life doesn’t work like that. The good ideas only come when you’ve got a problem. But thankfully I found a solution and I’m going to share it with you so maybe if you are just starting your graduate career, this will help you out.

Also, before we go any farther, let’s be honest…I’m a data-geek. And an organizational nerd. I like Microsoft Excel. I like clean lines and tidy folders. My desktop is barren. Everything has a label and everything has it’s place. If this is not your mindset then that is fine. I am not saying this system works for everyone out there or that it’s the most perfect system ever, I’m just saying it’s mine, and I like it.

Let’s get to it, shall we?

The reason I do things way I do, is not for any academic reason. It’s because I’m poor. I have no fancy programs. Therefore, I use what the computer gods gave me. And that would be Zotero and Excel. (Pretty sure all the gods rejoiced when Excel came in to being. I know I did.)  

Basically, I take my document/book/article, (and for the purposes of adding something to look at in this jumble of words…we will use the latest SOTU’s, because it’s a public document and something we can all somewhat comprehend) and code it. Yeah. Like qualitative research. Coding. And I’m more of a quant girl…but hear me out. You’re basically doing a document analysis. You have to read and sort through hundreds of articles. There is too much to fit in your head. It’s just too much. You HAVE to take notes. So why not be systematic about it and code them?

So let’s look at the latest SOTU and say we want to write a paper on presidential stances on inequality and social justice over the last 30 years. Think about some keywords: Poverty, race, socioeconomic status, women, minorities, wages…and so on. Keep this list handy as you read. It’s not your limit, it’s your starting place. With your dissertation this list would be your topics and relevant words. As you read, this would be where you highlight the topics relevant to your study. Here’s a basic example I did in a word document with a SOTU. (I do the same thing with paper and highlighters)

Projects Half Done | Dissertation Literature Management

Then, once I’ve coded my document, I take my quotes and codes and stick them in Excel. I also number each quote I pull (meaning the order it came in on the journal article) so that if I want to sort it IN ORDER I can, so the first document I input and the first quote would be 1. Now moving on to the second document I continue the numbering, for sorting purposes. Then the next column I put the APA bibliography information. Next I put the quote in or a summary of it, and then the last column or sometimes two are codes.

This is hard to explain…let’s use some pictures. The first image is the codes and information being input in the order I read them. Sometimes it’s also nice to include the page number for reference. Also notice the use of the second code column.

Projects Half Done | Dissertation Literature Management

Here, we sort for the codes alphabetically, so all my codes for race are now together. This way I can see all the information relevant to the topic of race, and begin to shape my paragraph that relates to this topic. Notice there are two different SOTU’s in this example, 2014 and 2015. I can see who I need to cite and write up my thoughts!

Projects Half Done | Dissertation Literature Management

I really like this system and I kind of do my qualitative coding in the same way. Being able to sort the columns and pull all my quotes on one particular topic together is really helpful. I realize other systems and applications have great tagging features and you all know that I’m a huge Evernote fan, but this just works for me.

If you really like this system, feel free to grab this free Dissertation Literature Management System and enjoy! I would appreciate credit if you do discuss it publicly but I can’t guarantee that I’m the first to come up with this method.

How do you sort through all your dissertation literature? I’d love to hear about it. Leave a comment down below!

-C

The Great Job Hunt of 2015

Well, it’s about that time.

I’m slowly starting to head towards the light at the end of the tunnel. My advisor gently suggested it’s time to start applying for jobs.

*cue panic*

But it’s alright. I prepared for this. I’ve slowly been updating the CV. Brainstorming locations I’d like to apply to. Making lists of job hunting tips.

Let’s take a look at the CV shall we?

Here’s the old copy (some information redacted) from 2013:

Projects Half Done | Updating the CV

It’s kind of outdated. Chunky. Blocky. Boring. I realized during this process that it wouldn’t be a bad idea to reconsider my formatting. Modernize a bit. I looked around at some templates and ended up stealing one from a friend. (Thanks Dr. A)

Here’s the new version:

Projects Half Done | Updating the CV

I know this may seem like a silly little change, but it is important to have your CV be easy on the eyes, so to speak.

Also, the CV should be adjusted to each job you apply for.

Yeah.

Listen to me one more time.

Adjust. Your CV. For EACH job. 

Ok not literally each job…but in general that’s a good rule. If I’m applying to basically the same job at two different places, then I won’t tweak it much. But I will at least look at it.

So what do you adjust? A lot. Organization, your bullet points, highlighted experience. Add, rearrange and delete the information that best showcases your skills for that particular job. For example, I have a varied skill set. I’m a classroom educator and I’m also an evaluator. If I’m applying for an assistant professor position in an education department, I move my teaching experience and publications forward, higher up in the CV. If it’s an evaluation related position, then my evaluation experience comes up in the ranks. Make sure the potential employer can quickly see the skills you have that relate to the job. Don’t make them dig!

The same goes for the cover letter. For academia it is critical that each cover letter be specifically written for each position you apply for. This is an absolute, non-breakable rule. Yes, I do copy a few paragraphs or lines if I’m applying for two assistant professor positions at two different colleges. But I change a lot. Each job description should have a set of required and/or preferred qualifications.

READ THEM.

Know them.

Reiterate them in your cover letter. However do NOT say “I see that you want someone that knows quantitative analysis”, rather state your experience with that particular skill. For example “During my graduate studies I have utilized both qualitative and quantitative data analysis in educational research projects”. Add context to their requested skills. If they are looking for “social science research” then phrase your cover letter using these terms. Reflect what they want in your cover letter. This is the place where you can elaborate on your CV. Talk about specific experiences. Explain why you’re the best candidate for this position. And always, always, thank them for their consideration.

Here’s a little infographic to help you remember:

Projects Half Done | Updating the CV

Are you job hunting too? What are your post-PhD plans?