Data Visualization Basics: Color Palettes

Color Palette Basics | ProjectsHalfDone.jpg

In the last few weeks I have gone over a few aspects of data visualization that help craft the foundations of visualizing your assessment data, but in my opinion none are more critical than color. Color takes a plain microsoft excel graph from generic to representative of your organization or institution. It’s the foundation of branding in most organizations, especially when those organizations are universities. If you’re from Virginia as I am, you know the difference between Virginia Tech orange and Tennessee Volunteers orange. Moreover, if you’re a Tennessee fan you know that there is only one correct orange and you will correct everyone in an off-color.

Before we get into the specifics of applying these colors to your graphics, let’s do a bit of an experiment. If you carefully look over your university’s page, you’ll notice the main colors but you will also see some that you do not recognize as your university colors, however those colors are most likely still a part of your universities color palette and were carefully selected to go with the main colors. Let’s look at my institution, Iowa State University.

Here is our main homepage. You clearly see our university red and yellow colors, complimented with some white accents in font and line choices. These are all part of what everyone in the midwest will recognize as ISU colors.

Data Viz Secondary Palettes | ProjectsHalfDone.png

Then if we move over to the library’s home page we see the ISU red banner, but then the tabs here are blue, green, and yellow. Yellow is an ISU color but not THAT yellow…and blue and green aren’t anywhere in a traditional ISU logo.

Data Viz Color Palettes | ProjectsHalfDone.png

What’s that about? Well, those colors are actually still part of the university color scheme, from the “secondary color palette”. All universities I’ve ever interacted with have at least one if not two color palettes. Here you can see ISU’s primary and then secondary color palette.

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Secondary Colors.png

 

Now we can see where those blues and greens come from. And seeing the colors all together really allows us to understand how these colors work together. Someone designed this for us. Our job is halfway done thanks to them!  Try searching your university followed by the words “color palette” and see what you find. I’ve yet to find a major institution without some type of color guidelines easily searchable on the internet. If you can’t find your colors, but your university does have a logo you can still get the colors with a bit of work. Feel free to drop me a line if you want some help or stay tuned as I will cover that in a future blog post!

Along with a general sense of the colors associated with our universities, we can also often find other “brand guidelines” that we are supposed to adhere to when representing our institution. How many of us have messed that up at conferences? For example at ISU we are never to use purple with any of our colors or in any presentations. If you’re at Virginia Tech as I once was, you know better than to use blue with any orange, lest you look like those hoo-vians from up north. (Kidding, UVA) If we are using the microsoft default palette…what are the first two colors to come up? Yes, blue and orange. Blue and orange doesn’t represent ISU and it certainly doesn’t represent Virginia Tech. So why are we putting those basic blue graphs on our assessment reports?? Let’s do a better job at representing our data AND our institutions in our reporting practices!

So go find your color palettes. In my next post we will learn how to get those exact colors into your data visualizations!

Other posts in the Data Visualization Basics Series can be found here:

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Five quick tips for a new semester

 

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It’s that time again.

The Targets and Walmarts of the country are filled with shoppers holding lists of school supplies, once vacant college towns are jammed with traffic, and summer research projects are coming to a close. It’s time to get in gear for the 2017-2018 school year.

Are you ready?

Like many academics and teachers….I’m a back to school nerd. I love shopping for office supplies, I love pencils, I love new notebooks and I love fresh starts. I think this is one of the most beautiful things about life in academia, while in most jobs you keep moving forward, there’s often not a clear delineation, there’s often not the excitement of a new year, new faces, new starts. I appreciate that I get that excitement at least once a year.

But back to school means more than shiny new office supplies. It means a new chance to be your best self. Your best research self, your best teacher self, your best academic self. Here are some quick tips on how I try to start the semester off to reach my goals.

Five tips for a new semester:

  1. Get organized – Get a paper planner, use Evernote, use Trello, something. Make sure you have a way to organize your day, your week, your semester. Something beyond post-it notes. Make sure you’re able to look ahead, and go ahead and outline what is coming up for the next month. The more organized you can make things, the less stress you will have later in the semester.
  2. Make a schedule – More on how I write my schedule in this blog post, but overall, it’s good to have a plan, even if most of your day is devoted to research or devoted to teaching, plan to protect your research/writing time, plan some time for moving around during the day, plan some time for project work, and then stick to the plan.
  3. Make a reading plan – Dr. Raul Pacheco-Vega has some great tips on how to keep up with the reading that is important for your class and your career. Check out his blog here.
  4. Set a student-related goal – If you are in academia, you’re here because of and for students. At the end of the day, no matter your research agenda, research dollars, role as an administrator or as a maintenance worker, you’re here for the students. What’s your goal for students this year? If you’re in the classroom, that’s easy, set a goal of learning everyone’s name by the end of the month. If you’re an administrator, or a researcher or someone who doesn’t often interface with students, make a goal to say hi to students in the hallway, make a goal to meet 3 students this semester. Build bridges with someone new. Welcome the students to our institution. It’s theirs now too. Set at least one goal devoted towards them.
  5. Clean your office – I know this seems simple but when is the last time you cleaned out that filing cabinet, or cleaned off that shelf? What is even up there on top of the book case? Take some time during the day, or maybe come in on the weekend if you don’t want to be seen standing on your chair in the middle of the day, but take an hour and some disinfecting wipes…and clean things off. You’ll feel better in a clean and organized space and it’s better for your health too.

Good luck with the new semester, your research goals, and the traffic! I hope these tips help you have a productive and less stressful start to the new school year.

 

5 Tips for a New Semester | ProjectsHalfDone.jpg

What are your tips for heading back for a new semester? Are you a back to school junkie or do you dread this time of year? Let me know in the comments.

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.

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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!

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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!