Friday, September 28, 2012

Navigating the Digital To-Do List

The last post talked about the digital calendar, the extent to which I am seeing them used among the people attending this summer's workshops, and recommendations for how to move to better productivity with them. This post looks at a second pivotal part of the organizational system—the digital to-do list.
Time Management

While audiences are approaching a 50/50 split between those who keep paper calendars versus those who keep digital ones, far fewer are keeping to-do lists digitally. In an average group, less than 20 percent raise their hands when asked who keeps the to-do list digitally. I believe several factors contribute to this relatively low number.

We have always been better with calendars
Our ability to use a calendar effectively has always been superior to our ability to construct a to-do list, regardless of the form in which it is kept. The average person can pull out of a pocket or purse a calendar, navigate quickly to a date, and read to you any appointments on that date. When adding a new date, the average person can flip to the correct date and quickly jot the new commitment.

When it comes to the to-do list, ask someone what tasks are scheduled for next Thursday, and you likely receive a blank stare. To-dos are jotted on scraps of paper. Many claim they can simply remember their to-dos. Is it any wonder when our ability to organize a to-do is weak using paper, it will also be weak with its digital counterpart?

The literature on time management reveals conflicting strategies on how to construct the to-do list. Some authors recommend ABC priority codes. Others recommend scheduling tasks for specific times on the calendar. Still others recommend listing to-dos according to the contexts or locations where they will be performed. We have none of this conflict with the calendar.

Digital to-do lists can be confusing
The methodology for using a digital to-do list has been lacking. The flexibility offered by the software adds complexity. When entering a new task, we can select a start date, a due date, and even set a time. We can set a reminder, a context, and a repeating pattern. We can add tags, indicate the task's status, specify a location, and add an expected length. We can add contacts to that task, as well as related notes. Sometimes, we feel it would take less time to do the task than to enter it in the first place.

Which fields do we really need to complete? How can we get in and out of the list as quickly as possible? Until we can answer these questions for ourselves, we are likely to resist the digital list.

Syncronization is more complex
The ability to synchronize our phones with our computers presents a second challenge. Synchronizing calendars and contacts has been something the makers of smartphones have made easy. The task list has been a different story. Those who use the Outlook task list have always been able to sync with a Palm, and later, the BlackBerry. Syncing with the Outlook tasks list with the iPhone was a challenge until iCloud, and syncing with Android devices requires third-party software as a go-between.

Many people have been on their own to figure out a solution. The Catch-22 situation is to make a good choice on software, one needs to have some experience with digital to-do lists. But how do you get experience without using the software? Rather than wade through a research project on available options and the nuts & bolts of making synchronization happen, it's simply easier for most people to stick with paper.

Finding direction
I made the transition from paper calendar and paper to-do list to digital calendar and digital to-do list almost 11 years ago. The software then was good and had all of the components I would look for today: start and due dates, the ability to handle repeating tasks, a note section to record details about the task, and the ability to search the list for a particular word or phrase.

The thing that made the digital system work was the ability to synchronize data from the computer to the mobile device. I could type on the computer with all of my fingers and make small additions with two thumbs on the mobile device. When I got up from my computer, I was taking all of my organizational information with me on my mobile device. As smartphones have become more the norm, more people have the ability to do what I was doing way back then.

In the next post, I will share suggestions for those getting started with a digital list. In the mean time, I would welcome your comments. How to my observations stack up with your own? What parts of your system are digital and what parts are paper?

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Navigating the Digital Calendar

This summer, I enjoyed presenting at the Forum for Innovative Leadership in Memphis, the Alabama Educational Technology Conference, the Fort Bend Leadership Institute, workshops for the Lewisville Independent School District, the Huntsville Center for Technology, and Fort Bend's Ridgemont Elementary School. Working with that many people from such a variety of locations keeps in touch with the trends in tools people are using to stay organized and manage their time. It also lets me know where the holes exist in peoples' systems.
Time Management

Smartphones are the rule. Whereas the tipping point on cell phones happened some years ago, we are ow seeing the vast majority of people having a phone hich also sends and receives email, and has the capability of the serving as the owner's calendar and to-do list, along with performing many other functions. While Android devices account for over half of all Smarthones in the United States, iPhones seem predominant among the audience of educators. The number of BlackBerry users is considerably less than a year ago, a trend we are seeing nationwide.

The percentage of people using Smartphones to keep their calendars is growing. The audiences are generally split 50/50 with half keeping paper calendars and half keeping digital ones. While many have a good system for syncing the phone with the computer and other devices, many have calendars only on the phone, and are doing all entry with two thumbs.

I am interested in how adept people are at navigating on their digital calendars. One of the activities we do during my flagship workshop is to ask give people a date in the future and ask them to navigate to it as quickly as they can using their calendars, regardless of whether it is paper or digital. When they have found the requested date and time and can tell me whether or not they are free, I have them stand. The time between the first to stand and even the point at which 50% are standing is remarkably large. I know from experience that if using a tool is difficult, we don't use the tool, whether we admit it or not. Human nature dictates we do what is easy. We have got to make using our digital calendars easy.

Paper-based people flip a few pages and are looking at the requested date. Some of the digital folks are able to access the calendar with a single stroke, are instantly on the monthly view or can get there with one more tap, and can fly month-to-month with one tap per month. They arrive at the requested date as quickly as their paper counterparts.

Far too many people, however, spend far too much time trying to figure how to get to that future date. Without a doubt, in their day-to-day lives, they are finding themselves telling people, "I will get back with you," because finding the information is too cumbersome. Or, they wind up keeping both a paper calendar and one on the phone, doing double entry, so they can see the "big picture."

The most surprising—and disturbing—are the ones who stand almost immediately, and when asked how they found the date so quickly, reply they know the date is free because they simply never schedule anything that far out. Imagine the glass ceiling they have imposed upon themselves and the opportunities which invariably be missed. I could not image operating that way. My calendar includes those dates which are firm, dates that my wife has commitments on a second color-coded calendar, and FYI dates and a calendar of a third color, all displayed together on my digital calendar and available to me on my computer, tablet, phone, or on any computer anywhere which has Internet access. My calendar traps those dates—the ones which are firm as well as the potential opportunities. My brain is free to handle more creative ideas.

My calendar has been in digital form for over 10 years. I offer three suggestions to help make functioning with a digital calendar satisfying:

Practice navigating
Spend the few minutes it would take to learn the quickest way to navigate to a future date. In short, it will involve opening the calendar with the fewest strokes, getting to the monthly view, and moving from month to month to the date in question. This procedure parallels what we have always done with paper calendars.

Practice searching
Learn to search the calendar. The area were the digital calendar shines is its ability to find that appointment without the person having to visually scan the screen looking for it. For example, if someone is looking for the next hair appointment, a search will turn up every hair appointment as far into the future as they have been scheduled, and do so quicker than someone attempting the same with a paper calendar.

Get the phone "in sync"
Sync the calendar with the computer. If I had to do all of my entry with two thumbs, I would go back to paper. But, if I can do the entry on the computer and then sync it to my phone, that is easy enough I will do it.

Back in the days when the Palm was the only game in town, the company recognized entry on the computer and then syncing the data to the handheld was the way to go. Performing a "hot-sync" was a key element, and they even provided the desktop software to do it. They also realized Outlook to be a giant in electronic organization and included the ability to sync with it. RIM realized the importance of entry on the computer, and to this day includes software which will sync Outlook to the BlackBerry.

Other Smartphone manufacturers have not emphasized synchronization to the same extent, and have left that job to third-party manufacturers. With many phones and many software programs available, the job of figuring out how to get the phone syncing fall more on the owner.

Do not let that situation be a deterrent. The Internet is full of videos and sets of instruction for getting your Smartphone syncing with whatever calendar you are using. The bottom line is to make getting that sync happening a goal, and don't stop until it's happening. The flexibility you gain from being able to enter information here and see it there is worth any research you have to do.

In the next post, we look at keeping to-dos digitally.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Social Media Right Now...By the Numbers

Want to know how fast things are happening in the world of social media? Watch the change happening just in the seconds you are reading this post.

This tool was composed by Gary Hayes. For more information, go to the original website and check out Gary's Social Media Count.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Great Time in Quebec City

Time Management
Davonia and I spent a wonderful several days in Quebec City. Thanks to Marielle Stewart for bringing me in for a full-day workshop for the Central Quebec School Board administrators. What a great group!

Quebec City is a beautiful place, and we were glad to have able to spend a day seeing the historic city with it's many restaurants and shops. Despite differences in location and climate, we share the same challenges when it comes to staying on top of the demands of our work.

We covered a great deal of ground during the day, addressing everything from handling the paper in our lives to using Twitter more effectively. When asked to complete the thought, "If I had one more hour every day, I would..." here are some of the answers we got:

...take a walk
...finish work an hour early
...regularly clean out my e-mail
...have "me" time
...sleep the guitar
...walk my dogs
...spend more time with my grandson

 I hope that as a result of our day together, you have just found that time!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Case Against Multitasking

Sure, we want to accomplish a great deal in a short time. It is the nature of our fast-paced world. Many brag of "multi-tasking"——originally a computer term—as being the answer to their problem. More and more research suggests multitasking is the problem.

This infogram from Online provides illustrates the demands we face, the solutions we try, and what multitasking does to our brains.

Digital Stress and Your Brain

Do you see yourself in any of these statistics? What changes can you see yourself making?

Monday, September 17, 2012

Welcome Assisted Living Association of Alabama

Thanks to everyone visiting here for the first time following the session at the Assisted Living Association of Alabama Fall Conference.

In the sidebar, you will see a number of ways to keep the conversation going:
  • You can subscribe to this blog, so that new posts come straight to your e-mail.
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  • Follow me on Pinterest. The pictures link to blog posts related to the topic of that Pinterest board.
  • Subscribe to the newsletter. You will see a button you can click a little ways down the sidebar. 

Friday, September 14, 2012

Changes Coming to reQall

I have shared reQall many times during workshops over the past several years. It allows me a quick way to take information received on the fly and get that information into my organizational system. Specifically, I grab my mobile phone, hold down one speed-dial key (which calls reQall), and speak. My vocal message, which can last up to 30 seconds, is transcribed into a written message and delivered to my email inbox. When I handle my email, I am also handling the information from reQall.

This video demonstrates some of the capabilities of reQall:

Changes coming...
Changes seem to be coming to reQall. Going to reveals information about reQall Rover, a new service which is similar to as Siri and Vlingo. Here is a video demonstrating the capabilities of reQall Rover:


Can I still have the old reQall?
Yes! When you go to reQall, you will notice a message on the right-hand side of the title bar which says, "Looking for the old site? It's here." Clicking that link takes you to You can create an account, manage your account, and do everything reQall users have always been able to do.

I know about Siri, what you mentioned something called "Vlingo"?
Yes, anyone with a television knows about Siri. (If only it worked as well in real life as it works on the commercials...) Vlingo is a similar service, and one I have been using for well over a year. I have written about it in this post and this post. The videos you see in those posts demonstrate the capabilities of Vlingo. It's free for BlackBerry, Android, and iPhone.

For years, we have wrestled with how to get information into our mobile devices with two thumbs. As voice recognition programs continue to improve, keyboard input may become a moot point. But...we still have a long way to go to get to that point.

How many of you use some type of voice input app? How well do you like it? What are your favorite uses?

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

From Stagnation to Life

The last post made the case for reviving a dead blog and putting plans in motion which would keep it alive into the future. Let's begin building that bridge—a bridge to the past and one to the future.

If your blog has been neglected, let the first post be one that offers an explanation for why the ox wound up in the ditch in the first place. Be honest, because your audience will probably relate to what caused your blog to run out of steam. Your readers have started gym memberships in January and never used them past Groundhog Day. They have gone on a dozen diets and quit smoking 49 times. They understand, "I dropped the ball." Readers have all experienced those projects in their lives where neglect has happened. Recognizing it is the first step to recovery.

The second message that post will convey is what will be different. We all know the definition of "insanity" is doing the same thing and expecting different results. Readers will welcome some assurance that something will be different this time. A plan which will avoid neglect lets readers know they will not be disappointed.

Even for those who don't discover, or rediscover, your blog for some time, that bridge will explain what might seem strange—huge gaps in the dates of posts, as well recent posts which have energy while preceding posts were lifeless.

Perhaps it goes without saying, but let's say it anyway: Write quality content. There is no point in reviving a blog only to provide content nobody wants to read. Let the writing reflect your blog is fresh and worth the read.

If you are not going to revive it, bury it
When a television program reaches the end of its run, we like to see an episode which brings finality. Nothing is worse than leaving viewers—or readers—hanging.

If your blog has fulfilled its purpose, if you have run out of ideas, or if you have simply lost interest in blogging, say so. Write a post that lets readers know "that's it."

As a principal, I created a blog to communicate with parents and a second to communicate with staff. Graham School took the place of the paper newsletter sent to parents. The ability to include pictures easily, to embed video, and insert hyperlinks into posts made it superior to its paper predecessor. Graham School Staff Page replaced the weekly memo, offering the same advantages of the ability to include pictures, video, and hyperlinks. When I moved from the principalship to the central office, my successor did not continue the blogs.

As a central office administrator, a co-worker and I started a blog to communicate with teachers across the district and one to communicate with the community. When I left that position, my co-worker continued the blog until higher-ups killed it a couple of months later.

In each case, there is a final post which explains to readers there will be no more posts, and at the same time points out the value of the content in the older posts.

What's your decision?
Do you have a blog you have neglected? Perhaps this is the time to renew the passion which caused its creation. Do you have a blog you would like readers of this blog to discover? Tell me about either case in the comment section.

Monday, September 10, 2012

How to Revive a Dead Blog

Cyberspace is full of school blogs with links to calendars or lunch menus two years old. We see blogs which sport 3 posts from the first day or its existence, 4 more posts over the next week, 2 over the next six months, and nothing new since last Christmas...Another casualty of a good idea for which someone no longer has the time or interest.

Our blogs are "home base" for our online presence. They define who we are, what we do, and what we think—in a context where we can dig deeper than 140 characters will allow. In short, of all of the social media options, blogs are the thing that is definitely "worth it."

Dead blogs don't have to stay dead. In fact, rekindling a dead one has advantages over starting a new one. The URL has been established. Some content is already written. There are some who are already subscribed through an RSS feed. Blow the dust off and begin where you, or someone else, left off.

What will be different this time?
How will the blog pump out quality content year after year when it died an early death before? What will keep fresh content coming...even during the busiest of times?

Planning is the key in so many areas of life, and it is what makes this time different. Specifically, the plan will include:
  1. How often to post.
  2. Where to trap ideas for posts.
  3. A trigger to cause you to write.
Decide how often to post
Posting "when I feel like it," "when I have a good idea," or "when I think about it" are all recipes for disaster. I would suggest posting at least once per week. That may be enough, Your favorite television program likely airs weekly. Less-frequent posting would lose your attention, you look forward to the weekly episode.

Posting daily would likely be too much for both you and your readers. Producing that much quality content is a challenge. People are busy and may burn out if they are seeing your material every single day.

For me, fresh posts on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday are the norm. Unfortunately, good ideas don't come three times a week, nor does the time to pen them come in such nice, neat blocks of time. Sometimes I write several posts in one day. Sometimes, I go for a week without writing anything. Blogger allows me to automatically schedule a date and time for each post to appear. Publication appears regular even if composition is anything but.

Establish a place to trap ideas
Ideas for posts come at the most unlikely times, and are often motivated by a situation just encountered. We need a place to trap that idea—not the complete text of the post—but just the idea.

Since writing the post is a "to-do," I use my to-do list to trap ideas for posts. The subject line of the task will include the word "blog" along with a germ of the idea. If I also know some details, and want a place to trap them, the note section of the task provides the perfect storage place.

For example, on my list, the "to-do" which eventually became this post was "Blog-How to a revive neglected blog." In the note section, I had entered:

World is full of neglected blogs. 
1. Decide how often you want to post. Schedule posts into the future 
2. Have a place to trap new ideas. 
3. Have a trigger which causes you to write the post and schedule it.

When I sat down to compose the post, I already had the beginnings of an outline.

A trigger to prevent forgetting
If "when I think about it" is what causes writing to happen, we should not be surprised when a month has passed without a fresh post. Life happens and we get busy. One month of inactivity turn into two. Two turns into four, and soon the blog is dead.

I talk about putting everything on a list and then working the list. Writing for your blog can't be something you do when the list is clear. It has got to be part of the list. Two things make it impossible for me to forget to blog.

First, my to-do list has a weekly repeating task which states, "Post drafts to my blog." If I have already composed several posts that week and scheduled them, I check off that to-do. If not, selecting an idea and turning it into a post becomes top priority. I search the to-do list for "blog," which is easy to do when the list is digital. I am now looking at a list of all my ideas for blog posts.

Second, because all of those ideas for blog posts are scattered through my list, each with its own due date, I am assured each of those ideas will be "in my face" at some point.

In the next post, we will examine making the transition from stagnation to vibrancy. We will also look at what to do when the blog has outlived its usefulness.

Friday, September 07, 2012

Do You Have This in Your Pocket?

Much has changed over the years, but one thing that has been a constant for me since college has been a notepad in my pocket. Even today, when getting information into my signature tool gets easier and easier, there are times when the quickest and easiest thing is to pull out the memo pad and a pen.

I think we all need a memo pad. After all, we need something to house our credit cards, driver's license, and insurance cards anyway. Why not have one tool which holds those items plus a small memo pad? Because of that little memo pad, I don't carry a wallet in my back pocket, and don't find myself sitting on one day after day.

I am not alone in being a fan of the memo pad. I have posted before on this subject, referencing a blog post I had found on "The Pocket Notebook of 20 Famous Men." In this post, I pointed readers to another article on "The Manly Tradition of the Pocket Notebook."

I first talked about the pocket memo pad in a post called "The Best $10 You Will Ever Spend." You will notice in that post, I provide a link to where readers could get the same memo pad I described. You will also notice that link is now dead. That point becomes important as you read on.

After years of daily use, my memo pad has been showing its share of wear, and the time has come to buy a new one. I had no idea how hard it would be to find a replacement. The office supply stores didn't have them. I even found a site called One would think if anybody would have what I was looking for, they would. And they did...if I wanted to buy at least 25.

The good news is that today I found exactly what I was looking for. I found one that would hold my credit cards and diver's license, a few business cards, insurance cards, and that all-important memo pad. It's the same size I talked about it my original post. The price was even lower...$9. The place was Things Remembered.

If you don't have a memo pad in your pocket, you need one. I would recommend heading over to the nearby mall and grabbing one. But don't wait too long. The price was so low, $9 for a soft leather cover, because it's being discontinued. If you hurry, you may get one of the few remaining.

The memo pad may seem a small thing. However, if you are serious about not letting things fall through the cracks, serious about having total control, and serious about having peace of mind in a complex world, that little memo pad can be a big thing. Whatever comes your way, jot it there and you earn the right to forget about it. Pretty good value for $9.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Technology PLU Though CLAS

If you are an Alabama administrator and want to gain a Professional Learning Unit (PLU) in technology, read on.

I have just finished a five-part webinar series with CLAS which focuses on the nut & bolts uses of technology which administrators can apply every day.

For more information and to register, go to this address.

Monday, September 03, 2012

If I Had one More Hour Every Day...

If you had one more hour every day, what would you do with it?

We recently asked a group of around 300 special education professional from the Lewsiville (Texas) Independent School District that question. Here are some of the answers we received.

If I had one more hour every day, I would...
...sleep. Yoga. out. with my dogs.
...clean up. a good book.
...make a puzzle. my cat.
...make more jewelry.
...tap dance.
...make beads.
...spend more time with my kids.
...spend more "fun" time with my kids.
...relax with a glass of wine.
...write my dissertation.
...spend more time with my family. sure my house is always clean.
...walk outside.
...plan a sail to Europe.
...spend more time with my 3-month old and my mom who has stage-4 cancer.
...volunteer my services to needy people at an adult day stay.
...walk my dogs.
...start classes for a master's degree.

These are real answers from real people. The point is this—when you implement the tools from this workshop, you save—conservatively—an hour every day. An hour a day less spent looking for things, being in doubt about what needs to be done next, dealing with the consequences of forgetting, or feeling the stress of a world that is harder than it needs to be. An hour more to do the things we would like to do.

If you had an extra hour every day, what would you do?