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.

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Student Evaluations: The comment section

Congratulations! Most of us have successfully reached the end of another semester. Well done!

Now that things are winding down, those pesky little things called “evaluations” are being sent out, far and wide, in every student inbox across every campus. Soon that feedback will be compiled and land in the inbox or mailbox of faculty everywhere. Half the time it will sit there for a long while. Ignored as we go into the summer holiday or summer research venue. But eventually you have to look at it.

Well you SHOULD look at it. Right?

Yes, of course you should! It’s not just there to sit in judgement of you. It’s there to help you. It’s there for you to respond to as well. No, not directly to those students, but to the next class. And the next. Your response comes in the changes you make, the ways you continue to improve over the course of your career. Yeah, sometimes the feedback is painful. Sometimes it’s funny. Sometimes it could be more constructive, but it’s feedback nonetheless. It’s an assessment. And that data needs to be utilized. Not just by your administration, but by you. How will you respond? How will you use YOUR data?

I suggest ripping off the band-aid. Just sit down with a strong cup of coffee (or a strong drink, I don’t judge) and skim through it. I would be willing to bet that you find at least one compliment.

We know that if given no incentive, typically we get the most satisfied and most dissatisfied individuals that respond to evaluations. They love you or they hate you (unless you gave them credit for filling out the evaluation, in which case you get the good, the bad, and the ambivalent ones that are here for the points). So don’t go in expecting all sunshine and daisies. Expect to get feedback that is less than pleasant (and sometimes downright immature) and know that you have room to improve. We all do. I do. My boss does. My mom does. And you do too. No one is perfect. So go in prepared.

The quantitative feedback is easy. The ratings are right there. High or low, simple. Often, that’s where most of us stop reading. We close the document, and go on our way. But typically there are several more pages in that report.

Yes, the comments section.

That’s where the discomfort starts.

So how do you examine the comments? You don’t have to do an in-depth analysis. Just a quick read-through of each comment is enough. See where the majority of student opinion is falling. Get a blank piece of paper (or spreadsheet, Evernote note, whatever) out and divide it in two columns. Do a quick scan of the comments. Read each one and write the general theme down. If there are lengthy comments then sure, two themes. See what students are liking about your course. Write those things down in one column, just short notes. Then look for things you may want to change based on the less-than-positive feedback. Write those in the second column. Maybe it’s that lecture at the start of the course where students all seemed half-asleep. Maybe it’s the pace of the course. Maybe it’s that one guest speaker who got way off topic. See what changes can be made. Don’t avoid the discomfort by not reading the comments.

quote-discomfort-brings-engagement-and-change-discomfort-means-you-re-doing-something-that-seth-godin-40-40-13

Take all the feedback with a grain of salt. Not just the bad parts, but the good too. You may be perfect in the one student’s eyes, the one who got an A, loves the discipline, knew you from another class and thinks you walk on water. But are you really all that that student makes you out to be? No. And are you really a horrible, terrible, mean, imbecile like the other student said? Also no. Where are you? Probably in between. So be humble and self-reflective. Know that you aren’t perfect but know that by reading and analyzing your feedback, you can make your teaching practice better.

I know it’s hard to read your feedback. Some students are malicious in their responses, but some are highly complimentary. Print those compliments. Save them in a document for a pick-me-up on a bad day. You’re not doing everything wrong. (And….well, if the comments show that you are, you may want to take them a bit more seriously)

But it’s your data. The assessment of your efforts (but not of you as a person, remember that). Either use your data to move you to change….or let your data sit and stagnate. Either way, you can’t make that data not exist. So use it to your advantage.

Who run the world?

 

9d6db7c9eb13027ba753335418fcf66a(Image credit: http://advancedrestorativedentistry-tmj.com/)

Happy Administrative Professionals Day to everyone out there that makes the world run smoother. You book our travel, listen to our whines, hand us the tylenol, get us shiny new toys when we break our old ones, organize our schedules, stand in for us when we can’t show up, and support us in every way possible. Thank you. You’re the reason we can do our jobs. You’re the reason that anything actually gets done. We have an advanced society built on the talents of amazing organizers, planners, coaches, therapists, travel agents, all rolled into one thing…administrative professionals.

Throughout my life I’ve encountered so many administrative professionals who held things together and kept the ship on course. I’ve never forgotten everything you’ve done for me, for the office I worked in, and for the institutions we’ve served, so a big thanks and much love to:
Sandy, my mom’s administrative professional who always put me through to her when I was a little kid or annoying teenager trying to get ahold of mom at work.
Jinky, words cannot express how much I miss you. You were an amazing lady. You kept the halls of MHS filled with laughter despite your battle with cancer. We miss you.
Michelle, Nothing. Would. Happen. Without. You. Miss you tons.
Kim, you are amazing and talented and you crack me up. Thanks for always being my go-to for literally everything I needed.
Teresa, thank you for being a bright start to every one of my days in UAA.
And Melody, you’re invaluable and we couldn’t accomplish all that we do without you guiding the way.

So whatever you do, stop and think about who has helped you, find your administrative professional and thank them. They deserve that and so much more.

b30891d4753570a7391ba0868733171b(Image credit: google)

The Language of Evaluation

Language of Evaluation |projectshalfdone.wordpress.com

At a recent staff meeting, I presented my colleagues with a variety of evaluation terms. I was interested to see their reaction to the terms in order to open up a dialogue about evaluative practices in our office. Evaluation culture is something that fascinates me and I thought that perhaps starting at the most basic level, the words we use when talking about evaluation, could give some insight in to how people view evaluation practices in my particular workplace.

I instructed my non-evaluator work-family to write down whatever came to mind regarding the term on the card I had given them. The evaluation terms I had chosen were:

  • Monitoring
  • Assessment
  • Evaluation
  • Performance
  • Judgement

After a few minutes we went around and discussed their thoughts on the words. Not surprisingly, there were several negative connotations surrounding evaluation terms. But let’s focus on the positive for a minute.

The most “friendly” evaluation term seemed to be “Performance”. Responses to this word included “Evaluation”, “Artistic”, “Scale” and “Skills”. I wouldn’t necessarily classify these terms as positive or negative, however this was one of the only cards without the perception that evaluation was a threat.

Regarding “Monitoring” the words that came up were “Fiscal duties” and “Transactions”. Monitoring appears to bring up more financial and budgetary thoughts within my group.

“Assessment” had a lot of writing and a lot of discussion. A few of the concerns that came up regarding this term were academic freedom and accreditation. Within the realm of higher education, this word tends to have more of a threatening connotation than does “Evaluation”. Other terms associated with this word included “Measurement”, “Process”, “Formative/summative”, and “Accountability”.

Assessment  |projectshalfdone.wordpress.com

The first thing written on the card for “Evaluation” was “Sounds better than assessment” which did make me laugh. Other responses included “Not sure if it is the same as assessment” and “May scare some people”. Although this term was decidedly less threatening within the group discussion, there was still a lot of worry and concern surrounding the word.

Evaluation

Somewhat unsurprisingly the term “Judgement” was almost completely negative in perception. Responses included “Criticism”, “Evaluation”, “Unfair” and “Picking sides”. It is easy to see how this term would be threatening or negative to most people, but seeing the exact parallels drawn is really interesting.

After reading over the responses from my colleagues and listening to their thoughts on their language of evaluation I have begun to rethink how I approach conversations with my group. Understanding what each organizations “evaluation language” is can help an evaluator to gain footing with organization members. Perhaps by slowly introducing evaluation terms in a non-threatening way, we can change the perception of some of these more negative terms.

I may even consider doing this activity with a new group of stakeholders when starting a new project or working with a new organization. I think that it would also provide insight for ECB and evaluative thinking work. If nothing else it may be a good icebreaker for new groups. As a field we have to work to show the positives than can come from evaluation, and in many cases we also must demonstrate how evaluation is not a threat. In order to develop a culture of evaluation and a dialogue around evaluative practices it helps if you start off speaking the same “language”, or at least understanding the meaning behind the words that you share.

Have you discussed appropriate evaluation terms in your workplace or with stakeholders? Do you find “Assessment” or “Evaluation” to be more acceptable in your particular field?

 

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!