Monday, January 30, 2006

PDA Article

A little over a year ago, I submitted a piece to the McGraw-Hill/Glencoe "E-Zine." If you are thinking about joining the ranks of those who use a PDA, I think you will enjoy the article. It can be found here.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

An overheard conversation

One experience which we probably all share is being in a public place and having our attention drawn to a conversation too loud to ignore. This happened to me during a recent holiday as I stopped off between appointments to grab a bite of breakfast.

At the table next to me sat two mothers engaged in what was essentially a contest to see which could bad-mouth her child’s teacher the worst. The emotion and volume of their conversation made it hard for me or anyone else at the surrounding tables to tune them out. One particular point, however, got my attention.

“My son got a zero on an assignment,” one mother stated, “and I didn’t find out about it until 5 days later in the weekly folder.” She continued, “If my child makes a zero, I expect to know about it that day!” Her point was clear. Keeping her informed (and on an up-to-the-minute basis) was the responsibility, and total responsibility, of her son’s teacher.

It took every bit of self-control I could muster to keep from turning to her and saying:

“Excuse me, but I couldn’t help overhearing your conversation. I agree with you 100% that if your child makes a zero, you should find out about it that day. But I disagree with you on who should be the bearer of the news. That responsibility belongs to your child. It’s called sitting down around the dinner table and making a discussion of how the school day went part of the conversation. It’s called giving an 8-year old some 8-year-old responsibilities so that when he’s 30 he can hopefully take on some 30-year-old responsibilities. It’s called having some expectations in your household, and being honest with Mom ought to be one of them. Then when the weekly folder does come, if there are surprises in it (like that zero that he somehow forgot to mention), you hold Junior accountable.

“Your child’s teacher is not going to be with him 24-7 to give you an instant update on who he is with and what he is doing in the community. If the only information you are getting on what Junior is doing is from his teacher, you are going to be looking at far worse problems in the next several years than a zero on an assignment.”

As I continued with my meal, a battle was going on inside my head. Part of me was urging me to speak up. After all, there is a young man who needs to accept responsibility for reporting to Mom the bad news, and a teacher who deserves better than being the subject of this conversation in a public place. The other part of me was saying to just to be polite and eat. After all, it’s none of my business—or is it?

As we think back to our own childhood’s, we probably remember fondly the various responsibilities our parents gave to us and for which they held us accountable. Responsibility was a gift they gave to us, and we are better people for it. In this day of “instant everything,” it is so easy to leave the child out of the loop and remove responsibility altogether.

As the situation played itself out, I simply finished my breakfast and paid the check. As I walked out the door, I could not help having felt that by remaining quiet, I had become part of the problem.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Monthly Tickler File in My Documents

We have talked about the value of having a “Repeating Task List” to prevent you from having to rethink the details of those activities that come around every month or every year. I found that many entries on my list had to do with updating documents. One entry would remind me to update and print the “Welcome to School” letter. Another would remind me to update the student handbook. Many of the documents would require no more than simply being pulled up on the computer, printed, and Xeroxed. The list gave me the freedom not to hope I remembered what routine information needed to be updated and sent to other people.

I took this idea one step further. Wouldn’t it be great if all of those routine documents were organized in one place? Here is how you can accomplish exactly that:

1. In My Documents, create a new folder and name it “Monthly Ticklers.” (Right-click and from the menu, choose “New” and then “Folder.”)

2. Double-click on Monthly Ticklers. Inside that folder, create 12 new folders. Name each one with a different month of the year.

3. Identify the documents you will need to update or use at a particular time of the year and drag them to the appropriate monthly folders.

4. On your Repeating Task List, make an entry that says, “Check Monthly Tickler on Computer.” You will need to make this entry 12 times, one for each month.

From now on, as you work through your Repeating Task List, each month you are going to see a reminder that will send you to the Monthly Tickler folder on your computer. I would suggest blocking out some time when you can work through all of the documents in that folder at one sitting. Some months may have few, if any, documents in them.

In all too many schools, intelligent people sit around racking their brains trying to remember what routine documents need to be handled. All too often the reminder comes when others start to ask, “Where is the XYZ form that we always get this time of year?” In the worst cases, those documents are created from scratch because people either can’t remember where (or even if) they have saved the document last time it was used.

Our business is filled with opportunities that require creativity and spontaneity. Our business is also filled with repetitive tasks. We can spend all our time, energy, and creativity on overdue repetitive tasks nipping at our heels. Our alternative is to set up simple systems that handle the routines and remind us our obligations at the appropriate times.