Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Handling Paper Correspondence

A letter arrives from Joe Smith. In it, he talks about a donation he is making to your playground project. Exactly what do you do with the letter?

First all of, realize that this letter is probably two kinds of items rolled into one. You may need to act on this letter in some way, such as calling him or writing back to him. His letter is an action item and needs to be handled as such. Throw it in your in-box until you either take the necessary action or make a note in your planner as to what action you need to take.

Now the piece of paper becomes a reference item. Just where do you file it? As a general rule, I file correspondence by the name of the person or organization who authored it. So, do I now label a folder “Smith, Joe” and file the lone piece of paper in it? If that were the case, I would soon have many folders each with only one or two pieces of paper.

The solution I have found is a single set of 26 folders labeled A through Z. The letter from Joe Smith is going to go in the back of the “S” folder. Should I need to put my hands on it again, I don’t need to wonder if I filed the letter in “P” for “playground” or “D” for “donations.” I simply ask who authored the letter, and I have my answer. Since Smith was the author, it will be in the “S” folder.

Notice that I said I would file the Smith letter in the back of the “S” folder. A study by Stanford University revealed that 87% of filed papers are never looked at again! The chances are that I will never have to put my hands on the Smith letter again. For this reason, I am interested in a system that makes filing as fast and fun as possible even if it makes retrieval just a little longer.

Filing the Smith letter in the back of the “S” folder is very quick, much quicker than filing it between “Si” and “Sn.” In addition, my chances of misfiling are slim when I file to the back of the folder. As we go through the year, the “S” file is chronological. What I receive near the beginning of the school year is towards the front.

What I receive towards the end of the year is near the back. To retrieve the Smith letter, I think, “About what point in the year did I receive the letter?” I then look towards the front, middle, or end of the folder depending on whether I received the letter towards the beginning, middle, or end of the year.

How important is it to save a particular letter? The answer is often unclear when you receive it. Six months down the road, you have a much better idea of whether a letter needs to be retained. For this reason, I err on the side of saving too much rather than not enough.

During the summer, I purge the 26 A-Z folders. I open the “A” folder and look at each piece of paper for about 2 seconds. The papers that look to be of lasting value are placed face down in one stack. Everything else goes in another stack. When we have finished with the “Z” folder, I am looking at a stack of papers maybe an inch in height that need to be saved. I label a folder “Correspondence 2004-2005” (or whatever the school year may be) and file that slim stack of papers. They will be retained permanently. What about the other stack, which measures about 3 feet tall? That is where a couple of big garbage bags come in handy. At the end of the process, I have 26 empty folders ready to start the process over again.

To review, your system has to be fast, it has to be fun, and it has to be easy enough you will actually use it.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Saving correspondence so you can actually find it again

We write letters, memos, and e-mails to others. Others write the same to us. Putting our hands on those pieces of correspondence later can be tough.

This week, we will look at correspondence you write. With a good filing system on your computer, there is little need for you to make a hard copy for yourself of correspondence you send to someone else. You will find exceptions where you need a hard copy when it is part of a file you are required to submit to someone else, but as a general rule, keep your copy in digital form. I say this for several reasons:

1. When you print a hard copy for yourself, you have yet another piece of paper to handle.

2. Files automatically sort themselves alphabetically on your computer.

3. Should you need to see files sorted by date created or modified, you can do so with the click of a mouse.

4. Retrieval is quicker. A click of the mouse is quicker than thumbing through the file drawer.

5. Should you forget exactly where you filed something, you can use the “find” command. Should you forget where you filed something in your metal filing cabinet is somewhat more cumbersome.

The first secret of being able to find correspondence you have written quickly is a combination of having a consistent method of naming documents and having a consistent way to file them. When I write a letter to someone, I name the file with the last name of the person, a hyphen, and several words descriptive of the subject. For example, the letter to Joe Smith regarding a donation he made to the playground fund is going to be titled “Smith—Playground Donation.” When I want to see that file, I don’t have to wonder whether I named it “Donation for Playground,” “Playground Donation,” “Letter to Joe Smith,” etc. The question I ask myself is, “To whom did I write the letter?” Answering that question tells me how I named the file.

The second secret to being able to find my correspondence is being consistent about where I file it. Inside My Documents is a folder entitled “Memos & Letters.” If I write correspondence, it’s going to go there. One thing to notice is that the letter I wrote to Joe Smith is automatically going to appear together with all of the other “Smith” letters.

What about correspondence others send to you? Next week, we will look at how to handle this task with paper correspondence. In a future week, we will look at correspondence that comes to you via e-mail.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

To allow comments or not to allow comments…That’s the question

With apologies to Shakespeare, the decision about comment is one you will need to make as you establish your blog. In this pair of posts, we will examine the upside and downside of comments and then show you the mechanics of how to control comments in your blog.

Here are my thoughts on the upside and the downside of comments:
1. Readers can give you feedback as to what they think about your post.
2. By adding their own ideas, the depth of meaning in your posts is enhanced.
3. Spirited debate can result.
4. Return visits may be encouraged because of the interest of the comments.

1. One person with strong opinions may become a “thorn in your side.” You may take on the cyberspace version of a “heckler.”
2. If you feel the need to respond to those who leave comments, you are accepting a time commitment you could later regret.
3. You run the risk that someone may leave vulgar comments.
4. You run the risk that spammers can leave comments.

Controlling comments

When you log in to your blog, you will see a “Settings” tab. After clicking on it, you will see a “Comments” link. This link gives you access to the controls you can exert over comments.

Comments—Show or hide. If you readers to be able to leave to comments, choose “Show.” If not, click “Hide.”

Who can comment?—I would recommend that you select “Anyone.” You have other controls that will prohibit inappropriate comments. To limit comments only to those have their own Blogger blog would be a severe limitation on readers.

Enable comment moderation—I would recommend selecting “Yes” on this feature. A box will appear for you to put your e-mail address. When a reader submits a comment, that comment will be e-mailed to you for approval. If the comment is vulgar or consists of spam, you simply do not approve it. The disadvantage would be if you were going to be away from your computer for several days and comments would sit in your e-mail for some time waiting on approval.

Show word verification for comments—This tool is designed to keep spammers from posting to your blog. Readers will see a group of letters. In order to post, they would have to type the series of letters accurately. Word verification ensures that a real person is composing the comment. If you are using the “Comment Moderation” as discussed above, you would not need “Word Verification.”

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Keeping Little Eyes Away from Inappropriate Material

People can take just about any good thing and find a bad way to use it—the telephone, the automobile, prescription medicines. The list could go on and on, and the Internet is a candidate for that list. This post and the next address the potential for someone reaching inappropriate material through a blog.

Sure, I realize that anyone sitting unsupervised at a computer and looking for inappropriate material will find it quickly without ever visiting my blog. I do, however, want to remove the possibility that by visiting my blog and clicking on link, a youngster could be seeing something he or she has no business seeing.

There are two points which have concerned me:

  1. By far my biggest concern is the link at the top of Blogger blogs that says “Next Blog.” At first glance, it looks like a good feature. You can visit blog after blog you never knew existed, and you can find some real treasures. You can also find some real trash. You could be one click away from a blog featuring pornography, profanity, or hate speech.
  1. A second concern is the graphic that says “I Power Blogger.” Clicking on this icon takes the reader to the Blogger site. While there, a person can create a blog or visit any number of random blogs. Again, the potential exists for the reader to click on a blog and reach inappropriate material.

You will notice neither of these objectionable items on this blog, the blog I use to communicate with parents (GrahamSchool.blogspot.com) or the blog I use to communicate with staff (GrahamStaff.blogspot.com). Two simple measures prevent someone reading your blog and being a couple of mouse clicks away from trouble. The next post gives step-by-step instructions on what I did to address these two concerns.

Removing the Navigation Bar and Blogger Icon

First, make a copy of the html code and save it:

  1. Go to the Blogger homepage, log in, and click on your blog.
  2. Click on the tab that says “Template.”
  3. You are going to copy all of the html code and paste it in a Word document. To do this, click in the large box where the html code appears. Hold down the Ctrl code and hit the letter “A”. This will select all of the html code. Copy the text. Open a new Word document and paste. Save the document and minimize Word on the screen

Why do this? First of all, if you somehow mess up and want to start all over, you could go to this document and copy/paste it over the html code on your blog. Secondly, you can search for a piece of code easily in Word using the “find” command. You can get a good idea of how far down the page that piece of code, see what lines of code are close to it, etc.

Removing the Navigation Bar

  1. Find the line of code that consists of the word "body" surrounded by the < > in the Word document you saved. Use the find command to search for. Be sure to surround the word “body” with the <> signs. See about how far down it falls in the code? See what other lines of code are near it.
  2. Now, minimize Word again, so that you can see your blog again.
  3. If your entire set of code of highlighted, click somewhere in the box to un-highlight it. (You would hate to hit one letter and delete every bit of the code.)
  4. Scroll down until you find in your html code.
  5. Just above the line that says , "body," you are going to type the word "noembed" Leave off the quotation marks. You will, however, enclose it with < > Just below that "body" line you are going to type "/noembed" Again, leave off the quotation marks but enclose it with < >
  6. Would you like to see the results? Click the “Preview” button at the bottom of the page. The navigation bar should be gone.
  7. Close the window so that you are again looking at your html code.
  8. Click “Save Template Changes.”

Removing the Blogger icon

  1. Basically, what you are going to do is highlight a delete one line of code. Just as before, pull up the Word document you created and use the “Find” command to locate "www.blogger.com" It appears one time. You will also see in that line of code the words "Powered by Blogger" and "bloggerbutton." You will highlight and delete the entire line.
  2. Click “Preview” to see your results. Did it work?
  3. Click “Save Template Changes.”
  4. You will probably now see a message that says, “You must now republish your blog to see changes.” Click on the “Republish” button.

That’s it! I doubt the folks at Blogger would be happy about my doing this and even less happy about telling you about it. I am more concerned about being an accomplice to youngsters seeing stuff they shouldn’t than I am keeping folks happy.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Article in Principal Magazine

I invite you to read my article on blogging in the Nov/Dec 2005 issue of Principal magazine. The article is designed to introduce principals to the concept of blogging and show them how they can use a blog as a communications tool.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Routine Maintenance

Technology is great—when it works. A few simple maintenance tricks can help you avoid problems that would bring your system to a halt. On a weekly basis, you should run each of the following programs:

ScanDisk (not present on Windows 2000 and XP)—Checks for and repairs errors on your hard drive before they become serious.

Disk Cleanup—Identifies unnecessary files that are taking up space on your hard drive and eliminates them.

Disk Defragmenter—Over time, your files become fragmented. Parts of a single file may be spread over a variety of sectors on your hard drive. Disk Defragmenter rearranges the files on the hard drive so that all parts of a file are together.

Updating Virus Definitions—When you buy a virus program, the program protects you from the viruses that were known when that program was produced. It will not protect you against all of the new viruses which are released daily. As new viruses are written, the manufacturer of your virus software will release patches via their website. The process of getting those patches is known as updating your virus definitions.

To perform any of these maintenance routines, you will go to “Start” and choose “Accessories” from the “Program” menu. You will look for “System Tools.” There you will see each of the options we have discussed.

On Windows 2000 and XP, ScanDisk has been replaced with “CheckDisk.” CheckDisk is not even on the menu. To run it, go to Start>Run, and type chkdsk followed by pressing “enter.”

The real beauty lies in the fact that you can set your computer to run these routines automatically. One of the items on that same menu is called “Scheduled Tasks.” There, you can tell the computer when to run each of the maintenance routines. Generally, you would want to run them at night when nobody would be using the computer. (Again, chkdsk is something you will simply have to do on your own.)

My suggestion is to pick one evening of the week and have all of the routines run then. All you have to do is remember to leave the computer on overnight that particular night each week.

The time you spend setting up these routines will be saved many times over by the problems you will be preventing from happening with your computer.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Preventing Disaster

Being able to recover from disaster is good, but preventing disaster is better.

There are several tasks that, if done regularly, will prevent problems with crashes, performance, and viruses. This week we are going to talk about one of them—running Windows Update.

Windows is full of security problems. You may have even read in newspaper articles about security flaws that would allow another person to take over your computer. “Why doesn’t Microsoft do something to fix them?” you might ask. The good news is that they do.

When Microsoft finds a flaw in Windows, they write a patch for it. Each month, they are posted to Microsoft’s website. Getting the patches is very easy to do:

  1. Open Internet Explorer
  2. On the “Tools” menu, go to “Windows Update.”
  3. You will be taken to Microsoft’s website
  4. Microsoft will scan your computer to see what updates you need. (When you are asked questions, go ahead and give it permission to do what it needs to do.)
  5. You will see a message telling you if there are any “critical updates” that you need. “Critical updates” are the only ones that need to concern you.
  6. Follow the instructions to download and install the updates.

The first time you update Windows, do not be surprised if you are told you need several dozen updates. You will find a large group of updates will be downloaded and installed, and you will then be prompted to restart your computer and run Windows Update again to continue the process. You are looking at as much as an hour even with a T-1 line, so have at hand some other tasks to keep you busy. Do not despair, however. After the first time, updating Windows takes only a couple of minutes a month. You will find many months you are told that you do not need any updates at all.

How important is updating Windows? In a word—very. In August 2003, a worm called “Blaster” was infecting computers all over the world. One source estimated the cost in lost productivity, lost revenue, and lost services to restore infected computer was in the neighborhood of $500 million worldwide. All of that stress and heartache was totally unnecessary. In July, a full month before this worm infected computers, Microsoft had already released a patch. Everybody who ran Windows Update in July avoided the worm in August.

“Making the simple complicated is commonplace;
making the complicated simple,
awesomely simple, that’s creativity.”

—Charles Mingus

Monday, September 12, 2005

Backing Up Your Work

Once you have your filing system set up in My Documents, you can move on to establishing a backup system to keep you from losing everything you created should your hard drive go down this afternoon.

The problem most people have with backing up is that they don’t know what files to back up and can never be sure they have gotten them all. The key is pretty simple—if everything you create is being saved inside your My Documents, then all you have to back up is My Documents!

Here is the process:
  1. Insert a flash drive into the computer.
  2. Double click on “My Computer.”
  3. Now you are going to double-click on the picture of the flash drive.
  4. Create a new folder inside the flash drive. Label it with the current month and year.
  5. Open the folder you just created.
  6. Double-click on “My Documents.”
  7. Hold down the Control key and hit the “A” for “all.”
  8. All of your documents will be highlighted.
  9. Click on any one of them and drag to the window for the flash drive.
  10. All of the rest of the documents will follow.
  11. As the files are copying, you will see a box with pieces of paper flying across from one folder to another.
I use the example of backing up with a flash drive because most everyone has that method available to them. If you have an external hard drive, backing up to it is preferable.

The important thing is to have a good system and use it. I would say backing up at least one per month is a must. How much more frequently you back up would depend on how much you save, how value the documents are, how replaceable they are, etc.

When you put this message together with the one we discussed last week, the bottom line is that you will have a system you can trust. You won’t find yourself printing hard copies of documents simply because you don’t think you would ever find it on your computer again. You won’t live in fear of what might happen if your hard drive died.

In the next couple of posts, we will look at some maintenance tips so simple that you will wonder why nobody ever told you about them.

In the end, it is the attention to detail that makes all the difference. It’s the center fielder’s extra two steps to the left, the salesman’s memory for names, the lover’s phone call, the soldier’s clean weapon. It’s the thing that separates the winners from the losers, the men from the boys, and very often, the living from the dead. Professional success depends on it, regardless of the field.
David Noonan

Saturday, August 27, 2005

More on "My Documents"

Setting up your “My Documents” folder in a logical way takes some time and some thought (as you have seen if you have done it), but it is a tremendous timesaver from there on. The average professional spends a total of six weeks a year looking for things! You don’t want to be part of that statistic, and having a filing system that makes sense is vital.

Vilfredo Pareto was an Italian economist around the turn of the 20th century. Pareto observed that 80% of the wealth of Italy was held by 20% of the population, and that the remaining 80% of the population accounted for only 20% of the wealth. That observation has become known as “Pareto’s Principle,” or the “80/20 Rule.” It has been applied in many circles. A salesman may find that 80% of his sales are made to 20% of his customers. In your school, you may find 80% of the discipline problems coming from 20% of the students.

The application of the Pareto Principle on your computer is that you will surely have a very few files that you use a great portion of the time. For example, I have our school letterhead on my hard drive. Every time I compose a letter or memo, I use that letterhead. I also have a fax cover with our school information and my name already completed. I use that every time I have to send a fax. I have a spreadsheet where I keep up with expenses and balances in various pots of money. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t consult or update that spreadsheet. I have another spreadsheet that houses various assessment data for all students. I use that data continuously.

All of the documents I mentioned composed “the vital few”—those few documents which are in constant use. I want to have them at my fingertips. For that reason, I have a file right on the desktop in a file called “Fingertip.” With one double-click, I am looking at the contents of that file. Since I use those few files constantly, having them at my fingertips saves considerable time.

Finally, when I am working on a project, I will let that project stay on the desktop until it has been completed. Seeing that file on the desktop serves as a reminder of work still to be done. When the project has been completed, the document must find a home at the appropriate place in the My Documents folder.

All of this means that everything I have created is in one of three places: the vast majority of files are in My Documents, the most commonly used files are in the Finger file and the current projects are on the desktop.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Decreasing the Junk

In an earlier post, I talked about the situation we all face: many sources of incoming stuff. My least favorite has always been the telemarketer (who somehow can always sense when have just sat down to a meal). One solution is to get on the "National Do Not Call Registry." That can be done by going here. Even before this registry came about, one technique that worked extremely well was this letter:
Direct Marketing Assocation
P.O. Box 9014
Farmington, NY 11735-9014

To whom it may concern:

We have become annoyed by the frequent and unsolicited telephone calls to our home from telemarketers. We wish to be placed on your "do not call" list. Various companies selling their mailing lists will have us listed using, perhaps, any of the following names:

(I list here different ways my name or wife's name appear, such as with a middle initial, without middle initial, using my wife's maiden name, etc.)

Other pertinent information is as follows:

(Here I put my home address and phone number, and then close the letter.)

The letter seems to do the trick, reducing the number of calls from daily to almost never.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

E-Mail Makes Us Stupid??

We now have research that shows E-mail makes us stupid! A study released this past April found that e-mail lowers our IQ by 10 points. Hewlett-Packard commissioned the study which found that the constant interruptions of e-mail, instant messages, and cell phones temporarily lower a person’s IQ. The 10 point drop is more than double the IQ dip associated with smoking marijuana—a mere 4 points.

Is it really e-mail that is the culprit? I certainly don’t so, at least not when e-mail is used correctly. E-mail when used properly is one of the best tools we have going for us. We ignore it and take care of other business. At some point in the day, we turn our full attention to our e-mail, handle every message, and get “in” empty.

On the other hand, there are those who check their e-mail constantly to see if anything new has arrived. They read and re-read messages without ever making a decision about what needs to be done with any of them. Their in-box grows with each passing day. I don’t doubt that their IQs drops and their stress levels rise.

Likewise, the cell phone can be a blessing. You can make calls from anywhere. The problem is people can track you down anywhere and at any time. (We have probably all had the experience of being in the restroom and hearing the phone ring in the next stall.) That’s where technology can become a curse.

Our challenge is to be sure that our technology makes our lives easier, reduces our stress levels, and functions as the wonderful servant it can be. Technology can trap those calls in voice mail, quietly hold those e-mails until we choose to handle them all, and beautifully organize our to-do lists so that our minds can engage in creative thought.

Technology—a valuable tool or terrible distraction? As technology becomes ever increasingly central in our culture, we had better determine its function.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Feedback for Improved Teaching

As a teacher, one of the best self-help tools for me was to tape record a class every now and then and then simply listen to it. We are always going to be our own worst critics, so if we can get to a point where we are pleased with what we hear on the tape, it will probably come across as GREAT to your kids. Many of my teachers will recall my making this suggestion on an individual basis in a PEPE conference. I never have to ask someone if they have taken me up on that suggestion; it's very obvious in later observations.
I was reminded of this recently in this short essay: http://www.stevepavlina.com/blog/2005/08/videotape-your-performance/ In it, author Steve Pavlina suggests going a couple of steps further--video taping yourself and getting feedback from other people.
I will never forget a certain class my junior year in high school. It was the first day for the brand-new student teacher to conduct a class. Within the first few minutes, it was painfully obvious that she had a few verbal "tics." It seemed every sentence started with or ended with "you know." (Some sentences started AND ended that way.) Add to that a bushel of "OK" and a peck of "and-uh," and before you know it, all my friend Darrell and I could do was count the verbal "tics."
The smiles, suppressed laughter, and glances back and forth between Darrell and I did not go unnoticed. And the end of the class period, this student teacher asked us what we were doing, and we showed her the paper with the tally we had been keeping. The use of "OK" numbered over 70 all by itself, and that was just in a 45-minute class period.
What happened next is what makes this story from almost 30 years ago memorable. Rather than being angry or hurt, this student teacher asked us if we would run that same tally each day for a while, and we agreed. Within two days, this young teacher had virtually eliminated all of the vocal tics even without the help of audio or videotape feedback.
For veteran teachers, "routine" becomes "rut" unless there is a guiding force to shape improvement. Without the feedback, we only become more and more like ourselves. As veteran teachers, we also have the ability to step out of a rut and lay new tracks. The feedback we can give ourselves through audio, or as this author suggests--videotape, is an easy and significant step.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Setting Up "My Documents"

I like to use the analogy of a metal filing cabinet when thinking about organizing your computer. If you are going to organize your metal filing cabinet you would need the following:

1) Plenty of file folders

2) The ability to label (or re-label) the folders

3) A logical system in mind for organizing the files

4) Attention to where you are filing papers

When organizing your files on the computer you need the following:

1) Knowing how to create new folders

2) Knowing how to label (or re-label) folders

3) A logical system in mind for organizing your files

4) Attention to where the computer is going to try to save files so that they go where you want them to go

The My Documents folder is the heart of the system. Think of it as the filing cabinet where you are going to store all of the work you create. On the attachment, the first slide shows you how the My Documents folder on my computer looks. There are folders in there just like you would have in your metal filing cabinet. The folders you choose to have will differ from mine, but I think it helps to have an example. Here is what I would suggest you do:

1. Take a good, hard look at the system you have set up in your metal filing cabinet.

2. Tidy up that system.

3. Create a parallel system on your computer. That way, if someone hands you a good lesson plan on the solar system, you have a place in the metal filing cabinet for it. If you see a good lesson plan on the solar system on the internet, you will be able to store it in a similar folder in My Documents.

A couple of skills are essential when trying to set up a digital filing system:

To create a new folder:

If you are going to create a filing system, you are going to need to know how to create new folders. Here’s how to do it:

1. Right-click in the My Documents folder (if that’s where you want it to go).

2. A menu pops up

3. Choose new

4. From the menu, choose “Folder”

To re-label a folder:

1. Right-click on the folder

2. Choose “Rename” from the menu you see

3. The title is now highlighted, and you can type a new name for the folder.

The final skill to mention today is knowing how to save a file where you want it to go. Before the computer saves a file, it will open a box called a “dialogue” box. Whatever is in the title of that box is the folder where your work will be saved. If that is NOT where you want the file to be saved, you job is to navigate so the proper folder name appears in that slot.

A good filing system on your computer is a huge time saver. It’s about time you had a model of how to do it.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Your Filing Cabinet-Friend or Foe?

Is your filing cabinet a trusted friend or a dreaded foe? Can you quickly put your hands on documents, or do you stack them on top for fear that they will disappear into a black hole if you open one of those drawers? If you want to save time, spend a little time organizing the filing cabinet. Be sure that you block out enough time to do the job well. It might mean a Saturday morning at school where you can work free from distractions, but it is time well spent.

To begin, gather several large garbage bags and reclaim some of the drawer space that has been occupied by papers that have no value. The process of purging your filing cabinet will not only get rid of the unwanted and unneeded, in the process you will undoubtedly run across some real gems you had forgotten you had.

You will also need a generous supply of blank folders on hand. The last thing you want to do is compromise your system simply because you didn’t have enough folders available. I prefer to use manila file folders as opposed to hanging files for general reference filing. Manila folders are much cheaper and take up less room than hanging files. If you want great-looking labels, a Brother labeler is a good investment. Of course, if your penmanship is good, there is certainly nothing wrong with hand labeling the folders.

Scrutinize the system you have for labeling your folders. If you begin labels with nouns, you will find it easier to develop a logical filing system where you can find your documents. Certainly, you can be open to the possibility of using subcategories (Field Trip—Museum, Field Trip—Zoo, etc.). Identify the folders that are too thick and see how they can be subdivided. You will probably find other folders with only a few pieces of paper each that could be combined under one category. If you are in for a major renovation, find a couple of teachers in your building that seem organized and see what sort of system they have developed.

Be sure to leave some room in each drawer. Three-quarters full is plenty. When drawers get tight, you will resist filing like the plague. Classrooms all over America sport stacks of files piled on top of filing cabinets, counters, and every flat surface imaginable—all living proof that overly-stuffed file drawers are no picnic.

Next week, we will look at the companion to organizing your paper filing system—organizing a digital filing system on your computer.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Palm Training--Day 2

Getting organized is such a major part of the teaching profession. The major thrust of today's training was getting all of our "stuff" in order to have the handheld project up and going the first day of school--unpackaging every handheld, every keyboard, labeling every handheld, issuing caddies we will use to store and charge the handhelds, etc. There is still some work ahead between now and the start of school: charging the handhelds (I will be securing power strips for everyone that will allow half-a-dozen chargers to be plugged in at one time), syncing each handheld with the computer (so that the handheld will have a name and all of the software), and planning lessons using the handheld).

If we can get past the "learning curve," I see us as being on our way to engaging activities for students with no papers to print out, duplicate, or shuffle.

Palm Training for 6th Grade Teachers

Our school system purchased Palm handhelds for the 6th grade classes. During day one of training, our teachers learned the basics of getting around on the handheld, how to install software and synchronize the computer and handheld.

In particular, we downloaded and installed a free program called QuizWiz. Our teachers will be able to create quizzes and beam them to students. Students get immediate feedback, and it’s paperless. For those who like the concept of mind mapping, check out Idea Pad, another free program we installed. We also examined mdesk. Teachers attach the Palm to the computer using their sync cables. When mdesk is running, the teacher’s Palm is emulated on the computer screen. With a projector, scan converter hooked to a television, or SmartBoard, a teacher can then conduct whole-group instruction using his/her own Palm as a demonstration tool.

Thanks to Janet Taylor, Technology in Motion specialist from the University of Montevallo for conducting our training.

Monday, July 04, 2005

How Many “Ins” Do you Have?

Life used to be simple (or so we like to think). Those who worked in an office had an “in” box. When the in-box was empty, you were up to date! The organized teacher could adopt the same idea. Incoming paper went in the box. Phone messages were jotted on slips of paper and dropped in the box. Ideas could be jotted on a scrap of paper and dropped in the box to be handled later.

In the “old days,” work did not show up in many places. Check the mailbox at home (and dump the contents into your in-box at home). Check your mailbox in the teacher’s lounge and dump the contents into your in-box at school. When you saw the bottom of the in-box, you could relax. Getting “in” to “empty” was the name of the game.

Getting “in” to “empty” is still the state you want to achieve. What has changed is how many “ins” you have. Before you can get a handle on everything that calls for your attention, you have to first get a good idea of just how many “ins” you have. Ask yourself if you have:

…a mailbox at home for U.S. mail?

…a box at school where your receive mail and paper messages?

…voice mail at home?

…voice mail at school?

…voice mail on a cell phone?

…e-mail at home?

…e-mail at school?

…more than one e-mail account at either home or school?

…a notepad that lives by the phone that must be checked?

…a fax machine that must be checked?

…a bulletin board at school where information is posted?

…a school website where information is posted?

…a legal pad where you take notes during meetings?

…a memo pad in your pocket?

…a brief case or purse that collects papers?

You may have more in addition to what is listed above. I ask you to sit down with pencil and paper and list the “ins” that you have. Use this list as a starter. Before you can organize all of your “ins” and have any hope of getting them to “empty,” first you have to know where they are.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Tickler Files

I frequently run into people who attended one of my workshops. Of all of the ideas we covered in the workshop, the one that seems to be the favorite is the tickler file. For me personally, it is the tool that has allowed me to work with a clean desktop and a clear head for over 20 years.

Wouldn’t it be great if all of the papers that sit on your desk would go away and magically come back exactly when you need them? That is exactly what the tickler file does for you.

A set of tickler files consists of 43 folders. Take the first 31 and number them. Each file will represent a day of the month. Label the remaining 12 with the months of the year and your system is ready to go.

The idea is very simple. When paper comes your way that you will need to see again on some future day, slip it into the appropriate folder. If that day is going to be within the next month, slip the paper into the correct numbered folder. A piece of paper you drop in folder 17 will resurface on the 17th day of the month. For papers you will need to see again in a month or more, slip the paper into the correct monthly folder. The paper that you do not need to see again until sometime in November is filed in the “November” folder. You have earned the right to forget about that piece of paper!

At the end of the month, you have a nifty ritual—opening next month’s file. At the end of February, you open the “March” file, make a decision about what DAY in March you need to see each item, and file them in the 1-31 folders accordingly.
I prefer to use hanging file folders. I have a file drawer in my desk where I keep the tickler files. Having the files handy is extremely important, because throughout the day as papers come your way, they are going to be slipped into the appropriate tickler files.

Here are is a partial list of the kinds of items you might put in your tickler files:
  • You receive tickets to an event that occurs 3 weeks from now. Drop them in the numbered file corresponding to the date of the event. On that date, the tickets appear. You don’t have to carry them in your wallet for fear of losing (or forgetting) them. On the day they are needed, there they are.
  • You can buy birthday cards for all of your friends and relatives with one trip to the card shop. When you get home, address all of the envelopes and attach the return address labels to the whole batch. Pencil in the date each card need to go in the mail in the spot where the postage stamp will later go. Now you simply drop the cards in the appropriate folders. Throughout the year, cards will keep popping up on the exact day they need to go in the mail. You will never forget a birthday again!
  • You are attending a workshop and have a flyer giving you the driving directions. You will need that item on the day of the workshop, so put it in the tickler file. It will appear the morning of your workshop.
  • You are completing a report and do not have all of the information you need. Jot down in your planner what information you need to get and make a plan for how you will get it. Slip the report into a tickler file. When the report resurfaces, you will have the information and can complete the report.
  • You have prepared a “problem of the day” for your classes. Drop each one in the appropriate tickler file.
  • You have prepared a test and need to duplicate it, but the copier is down until Thursday. Drop the test in the file for Thursday. It will be out of sight and out of mind until the day you can do something about it.
  • You duplicate the test on Thursday even though you won’t be giving the test until Wednesday of next week (because after all, that copier could go down again). Put the tests in a manila folder and put the whole folder in next Wednesday’s tickler.
The list could go on and on. See if you don’t find this simple set of folders can do great things for you.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Creating a Master List

Take a look at your to-do lists from the last few days. How do you feel about how they were organized and what you accomplished? For the most part, are your tasks grouped by context—phone calls listed together so that you can run through the list when you pick up a phone, errands grouped together so that you can run them all when you are out?

The problem all too many people face is that they try to list everything they have to do on tomorrow’s list. At the end of the day, most of those things remain undone and are rewritten on the list for the next day. At the end of the next day, the same thing happens. The avalanche begins as tasks are rolled from day to day. Soon, we dread all of the re-writing we will face at the end of the day. Some may give up on the idea of making a to-do list altogether.

One simple way around this cycle is to compose a “master list.” The master list is a page (or several pages) in the back of your planner. When a task comes your way that does not have to be completed in the next few days, add it to the master list. Each week, look at the master list to see which tasks you want to “feed into” to-do your lists for this week.

You will not forget any of the tasks, because they have “trapped” on paper. You are also free from having to decide on what day you will accomplish each task. Because you look at the entire master list each week, you are giving it the kind of regular review which will keep tasks from slipping through the cracks.

Go ahead and block out an hour or two in your planner when you can really concentrate on composing this master list. Maybe Saturday morning is a good time for you. Maybe a weekday evening is best. Your first master list is an opportunity to “download” everything that your brain has been trying to keep up with—the plans for your vacation, the Christmas gift ideas you are coming up with for your relatives, ideas for your Professional Development Plan. Let your pen flow as you empty those thoughts on your master list.

In the end, it is the attention to detail that makes all the difference. It’s the center fielder’s extra two steps to the left, the salesman’s memory for names, the lover’s phone call, the soldier’s clean weapon. It’s the thing that separates the winners from the losers, the men from the boys, and very often, the living from the dead. Professional success depends on it, regardless of the field.
-David Noonan

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Repeating Task List (Paper Planner)

With the start of school drawing ever closer, we are all planning for the coming year. Some of those plans involve new projects and new ideas we will be trying. Other plans we will make involve thinking some of the same thoughts we thought through last year. What tasks do we need to perform to be “ready” when students walk through the door? What materials will we need? Do we have a good idea for the bulletin board? Will we write a “welcome to my class” letter to parents?

As we think through the year, what field trips or other special projects will take place for your class? What plans need to be made? Do you need to reserve busses? What information will you prepare and send to parents? What purchase orders will you need to secure?

Monday, June 20, 2005

JSU Inservice Center Workshop

If you attended "It's About Time" at JSU, welcome and thanks for visiting this blog. Also, if you went to one of my workshops at AETC last week, I am glad that you are visiting. We covered a great deal of ground today.

The best place to begin is to invite you to read the articles I have already posted starting with "Choosing a Capture Tool." Please feel free to add comments, let me know in what areas you would like me to go into more depth, etc. Again, the idea is to make today so much more than a "one-shot workshop."

The master thinker knows that ideas are elusive and often quickly forgotten, so he traps them with notebook and pencil. He heeds the Chinese proverb: “The strongest mind is weaker than the palest ink.”
--Wilferd A. Peterson in The Art of Living

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Goals (Palm)

Tracking goals is one of the big advantages the Palm has over a paper planner. While I have outlined a good system for how to track goals on paper, the process is quicker (and more fun) on the Palm.

When something comes my way that I realize is a goal, I phrase the goal as a statement that is either TRUE or FALSE. I am answering the question, “I can check this goal off as done when what is true?” For example, let’s say I notice the piano is out of tune. (It I had the tools at hand and the expertise to do the job myself, it would be one action, and be entered on my Home list as "Tune the piano." Since I don’t have the tools nor the expertise, and getting this piano tuned is going to involve determining who to hire to do it, arranging a time, etc., I am going to create a new task (In the "None" category in Outlook or the "Unfiled" category on my Palm) and enter this:

+Piano has been tuned

Notice the “+” sign. That is my signal that what follows it is a goal. Any time I see a task which begins with a “+” I know I have a goal that has no action step associated with it. On Outlook, any item such as that is going to sort to the top of the list of whatever category it's in.

The next step towards accomplishing that goal is going to go in front of the +. In this example, the next step is to go to the yellow pages and contact some piano tuners. My task now looks like this:

Look up piano tuners in yellow pages+Piano has been tuned

Other action steps may come to mind. I am thinking of questions to ask during the phone call. I will need a place to wrote information I gather during the conversation. I will use a note attached to this task to house all of this type of thing. I will assign this task to the “Home” category since I am going to be consulting the yellow pages while at home.

Let’s say found three people in the yellow pages. It's 10:00 PM, so calling them right now is not a good idea. I jot down their names and numbers in the note section of the task. I don’t check off the task.
Instead, I change the task line to read:

Call piano tuners+Piano has been tuned
Sam Jones-555-8091
Joe Smith-555-1999
Jim Adams-555-8111

Ask during call:
When are you available?

(Since the next step is to place the calls, I change the category to Calls.)

I have talked to 2 piano tuners and left a message for a 3rd to call me. I am waiting on his call before I make up my mind who to hire. My task would look something like this (the first line is what would be in the task line. The rest is the attached note):

Jim Adams+Piano has been tuned
Sam Jones-555-8091-Charges $100 for the job. Is booked up until June 15.
Joe Smith-555-1999-Charges $75 per hour. Can come any Saturday.
Jim Adams-555-8111-LM 5/24 9:00

Ask during call:
When are you available?

(Since the status of this goal is that I am waiting on a call from Jim, I change the category to “Delegated.”

Jim Adams calls back and says he is returning my call. I know to go to the Delegated category, and there is all of the info so far. Jim has the lowest price, so we go ahead and schedule a day and time to come. Now I have:

Jim Adams-Tuned piano+Piano has been tuned
Sam Jones-555-8091-Charges $100 for the job. Is booked up until June 15.
Joe Smith-555-1999-Charges $75 per hour. Can come any Saturday.
Jim Adams-555-8111-LM 5/24 9:00. Charges $80 for the job and should take 3 hours. He will come Saturday at 9:00.

Ask during call:
When are you available?

At this point, I will do a couple of things. I will copy this info:

Jim Adams-555-8111-LM 5/24 9:00. Charges $80 for the job and should take 3 hours. He will come Saturday at 9:00.

I will leave the category as Delegated (since the next step--showing up to tune the piano--is in someone else's court), and enter this appointment on my calendar. I will attach a note and paste:

Jim Adams-555-8111-LM 5/24 9:00. Charges $80 for the job and should take 3 hours. He will come Saturday at 9:00

Saturday afternoon as I review the Delegated list, I see the entry: "Jim Adams-Tune piano+Piano has been tuned." That original statement--"+Piano has been tuned" is now true, so I check it off the task. The goal has been completed!

Let's say Jim did not show up at the appointed time. His contact info is in the note attached to the appointment, so it's easy enough to pick up the phone and call him. I find he has decided not to do the job. The contact info for the other piano tuners in that one task. I would probably remember to look for it in the Delegated list. If not, I enter this in a search:


Since I won't have many goals that begin with the word "piano," Iwill hit on the correct item quickly. I can now call one of the other tuners.

In summary:

1. Each goal is tracked in a single task.

2. The task line includes the next step to be taken, a “+” sign, and the goal. Everything else goes in a note attached to the task.

3. As each step is completed, nothing is checked-off. Instead the completed task is replaced by the next one.

4. When the goal has been achieved, the task is checked off.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

AETC Palm Workshops

I had a terrific in today's two sessions. If you attended the "PDA Productivity" and did not get the handout beamed to you, I am posting it here.

The next post I do will be a more on handling multiple projects using your Palm, so please check back.

PDA Productivity: Getting More Done and Making It Look Easy

Dr. Frank Buck

***This outline is presented as very simple text—no bullets, italics, bold faced-print, etc. The intention is that as you view this online, you will simply “select all” and electronically copy this entire outline. Then go to your Palm desktop or Outlook (whichever you use), create a new task (called something like “Set up my Palm”) and paste this outline into the note section of that task. Feel free to e-mail or beam this outline to a friend who has a Palm but isn’t quite sure how to use it as the productivity tool it could be.

-Frank Buck

Dr. Frank Buck, Principal

Graham Elementary School

403 Cedar Street

Talladega, AL 35160

(256) 315-5777



Categories for Task List:







Unfiled (Syncs to “None” on Outlook)



I have achieved my goal when WHAT is true?

What’s the next step


Next step+Goal statement

Other steps and information related to the project are the in the note section.


Backing-Up Outlook

Your data is kept in a “.pst” file

Backing up on Outlook 97:

Right-click on “Outlook Today”

Choose “properties”

Click “Advanced”

You will see the path to your data

Close Outlook

Copy that .pst file and save it as your backup

Backing up on Outlook 2003

In Outlook, under the File menu, select “Backup”

Click on Options and make you selections

Browse for a pathname and choose “My Documents” as the place where you want the backup to go

Maintain the data by running scanpst every month


What place does paper have? (3 phases of workflow)

Collect-May be best to do on paper until you get really good with the Palm

Process and organize-Do on the Palm

Do the work

Collecting on the Palm (Meeting notes)

Press task button

Enter name of meeting and due date

Create a note

Turn off

During meeting, turn on & off with power button


Palm To-Do Preferences

Sort by Category, Due Date

Uncheck “Show Completed Items” (As you check off things, they disappear.)

Check “Show Due Dates”

Check “Record Completion Date” (Gives you a record of when you really completed things)

Uncheck “Show Priorities”

Check “Show Categories”


Outlook-Getting categories to synch that first time:

Launch “Chapura Settings.”

Click the “Settings” button.

Double-Click “Outlook Calendar” (for example).

In the Chapura dialog box that pops up, click “Categories/Folders.”

Select “Handheld category = Outlook’s ‘Categories’ field.”

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

AETC (Alabama Educational Technology Conference)

Thanks to the 168 people who came to this morning’s workshop! It was a wonderful experience for me to see so many who are interested in what I have to say. I hope you took from the workshop ideas you can use immediately, whether it be organizing your files, backing-up your computer, or expanding the ways you are using Google.

I want today’s experience to more than a “one-shot workshop” for you, and my thinking is that this blog is going to be the best way keep the material fresh and be able to go into more detail than the one hour this morning allowed.

If visiting this blog is your introduction to blogging, welcome to what has become a very popular (and easy) way for people to communicate their thoughts with the “world out there.”

Please take a few moments to read through the few entries I have posted to this point and feel free to make comments. Over the coming days and weeks, I will be taking some of the topics we talked about today and expanding on them, not to mention giving you some random thoughts on personal productivity. Please check back often!

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Goals (Paper Planner)

The accomplishment of worthy goals is not only rewarding, but a central aim of time management. Achieving goals virtually always includes multiple steps. Rather than listing a single task on a to-do list and checking it off as “done” after a single action, goals are composed of anywhere from a few to a great many tasks. When each one has been completed, some type of follow-up remains. All too often, lack of follow-up stalls the progress towards a goal. “Falling through the cracks” describes far too many well-intentioned goals.

Fortunately, setting and achieving goals (big and small) is not complicated. The process involves only 4 steps:
1. Define your goal in such a way that you will know when it has been achieved.
2. Define as many of the steps involved as is practical.
3. Develop a methodology for incorporating those small steps into your total daily activities.
4. Seal the cracks through a good system of follow-up and follow-through.

Define Your Goal

I define my goals as statements which answer the question, “I can mark this goal as done when what is true?” Examples would include:

· The piano has been tuned.
· My weight is at 170.
· Income tax returns have been mailed.
· Surprise party has been held.

In each case, it the statement is true, the goal has been accomplished. If the statement is false, I have more work to do.

Where do you write your goals? For those using a paper planner, reserve a section in the back of the planner and stock it with blank, lined paper. Each goal gets a page. Begin by defining the goal at the top og the page.

Define the Steps
Defining your goal tells you where the “finish line” is located. Defining the steps takes you from where you are to where you want to be. For some goals, you will be able to list every step. For most goals, you will be able to list the first few. For some goals, you will only be able to list only the first one.

One the page where you define your goal, list beneath it each step in the order they need to be done. You may even want to list out to the side a target date for when you hope to accomplish each one. If the goal will have many steps, it would be advisable to work out the steps on scrap paper first and when you are satisfied that the list is complete and in the proper order transfer it to its page in your planner.

Whereas your goal will be a statement with a noun up front, the steps to achieving your goal will begin with verbs. Common examples include:

· Call
· See
· Decide
· Write

The critical element is that every step is worded in such a way that it is doable. Make no mistake; if what you write is the least bit “fuzzy,” you will skip right over it. Take the time on the front end to define your steps so they are doable and you will more than recoup that time in how quickly you are able to execute them.

Do not worry if you cannot list every step between now and the completion of your goal. If you can list only one step—but get it right, you are ahead if most people. Often, you really won’t be able to list more than a few steps. “Call Buford” may be your next step. What comes after that? The answer may well be that you do not know until you talk to Buford. The information he gives you and the agreements made in that conversation may determine what the next steps will be.

In addition to defining your goal and listing the steps to its successful completion, you will use this page for one more purpose. On the road to accomplishing your goal, you will need a place to write information you gather. For example, as you plan the surprise party, you will need a place to jot down prices for paper goods, phone numbers for entertainers, and names of guests to invite. You will use this page to list this type of information.

Incorporate the Steps into Your Daily Activities

At this point, you have defined your goal and know when it has been accomplished. You have defined at least the first step that will lead you towards the completion of that goal. Now, look at the first step your listed and copy it onto your to-do list. This act insures that as you go through your day, you will be making progress on your goal.

The chances are that you are working on several goals at any one time. By having the next step for each one on your to-do list, you are pushing each goal forward a step at a time as you go through the day.

Seal the Cracks

You have defined your goal, listed the steps, and put the first one on your to-do list. You complete that task and check it off. So far, so good. You go about the rest of your day checking off tasks without another thought to you goal. Soon a week has passed still with no more thought about that goal. What happened? Your goal has just fallen through the cracks!

To seal the cracks, add one simple thing at the action step that will refer you back to your goal. An easy way to do this is to simply number your goals. If “Piano is tuned” is goal #5 and your next step on that goal is to call Buford to ask who tunes his piano, you would enter this on your to-do list:

Buford-Who tunes your piano? Goal #5

Adding this ending serves two purposes. When you call Buford and need a place to write the information he gives you, looking at the “Goal #5” directs you to the page where you are tracking the information for that goal.

More importantly, before you check-off that call to Buford, you are reminded to turn to the back of your planner and refer to your goal. You will pick up the next step and enter it on your to-do list. Every time you accomplish one step, the next one will be added until your goal has been accomplished.

To summarize the process:
1. Define the goal.
2. Define the steps.
3. Add the next step to your to-do list.
4. Add a tag that will refer you back to the goal.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

The Categories on My Palm Task List

These are the categories I have in my Palm task list:
  • Building--This category houses all of the tasks that I need to accomplish when I leave the school office and go out into the building. These include reminders to check on maintenance problems, talk with the custodian in the hallway, visit with the child nutrition program manager, stop by a teacher's room.
  • Calls--Here I will find a complete list f all of the phone calls I need to make.
  • Delegated--This category holds a list of what I am expecting from other people. When I place an order with a company, an entry in this category reminds me of what I ordered, the order number, and who I placed the order with. When someone borrows a book, I make a note of it here. When I delegate a task to a teacher in my school, I track it here.
  • Errands--I will spend less time running errands if I "batch" them. This category provides a place to collect all of those errands. When I decide I want to run errands, I have a complete list.
  • Home--This category is obvious. When I arrive at home, I see a complete list of all of the tasks I need to accomplish at home.
  • Office--When I am in my office, I look here for a complete list of what I need to be doing.
The idea is that these categories allow me to see a list of what I can do right where I am at that time. By the same token, when I am not in that location, that list is out of sight. While it is important to see a list of what I can be doing at home when I walk in the front door, it is equally important that when I am not at home, that list is not in front of me since I cannot do anything about those items anyway.