Friday, May 31, 2013

How to Save Items to Read Later

Our mobile devices allow us to read digital material from anywhere. Often, we read something we want to review later. Perhaps we want to discuss it with someone else. Maybe we want to view some of the links in the article and don't have the time right now. Perhaps we simply want to re-read the article later. How do we handle that sort of thing in a digital world?

My digital reading material falls into four categories:
  1. Articles of interest in the 100 blogs which comprise my RSS feed
  2. Links to articles in Twitter messages
  3. Documents I have downloaded
  4. Websites I am reading and wish to re-visit

Articles in my RSS Feed
I use Feedly to gather into one place new material from the 100 blogs to which I subscribe. I can flip through articles which are of no interest. The next time I check Feedly, those articles no longer appear. I can read an article, and Feedly automatically marks it as "read." When I return to Feedly, that article no longer appears.

One situation remains. I read an article and decide I want to read it, or do something else with it, later. On each Feedly post, a small ribbon icon appears. Scrolling over that icon reveals a message, "Save for later." Clicking that ribbon turns it green and marks it as saved.

At any time, I can open Feedly and click on "Saved for Later" in the left-hand column. All of the articles I have marked are now before me. As long as the ribbon is green, the article will be available in the "Saved for Later" section. When I am done with the article, I click the green ribbon to "unsave."

Links to Articles in Twitter Messages
I find out about many good articles through links in Twitter. I usually read Twitter during spare moments. It's a great way to handle "waiting time." Clicking those links to read the articles is something that generally happens later.

When a tweet looks interesting, I click the star to "favorite" it. In Hootsuite, I have a stream labeled "Favorite Tweets." Everything I have marked on my phone while reading tweets during spare minutes shows up in this stream. When I am done with any tweet, I click the star again to "unfavorite" it.

Documents I Have Downloaded
Reading is something I like to handle in spare minutes. With printed material, I have a decorative inbox where I collect magazines and books. When I anticipate downtime on any errand, I throw some of that reading material in my briefcase.

With digital reading material, I have a folder in Dropbox called "Read." PDF or Word documents I want to review go there. I can then read then from one of my mobile devices. Periodically, I examine that folder while at my desktop computer and remove materials already read. From there, the material goes into my computer's digital filing system or is deleted.

Websites I am reading and wish to re-visit
When reading material on a website that I wish to re-read later, the trick is to get the URL for that article into my to-do list. If I am at my desktop computer, I click the Toodledo bookmarklet on my toolbar. A box opens, representing a new to-do. In the note section of that task, the article's URL will already be displayed. I set a start date and due date for when I want to see the article again. The title of the task will be something like "Read this article on (subject of article)." Clicking "Save" finishes the job.

If I am on a mobile device, touching and holding my finger on the URL gives me the option to share it and by what means. The easiest is option is to share by email. As a Toodledo user, I am assigned a special email address. Anything sent to that address goes into my Toodledo task list with start and due dates of today. When I share the link via email and must choose a recipient, the Toodledo address will be the choice. The URL will appear in the body of the email. Whatever subject line is entered will become the name of the task in Toodledo.

Plenty of special apps exist for handling the concept of saving websites for later viewing. My preferences has always been to pick a very few tools and use them extensively. So, if the task can be accomplished with tools already in my arsenal, I generally reject the additional tool or app.

I only do two things
Those who have heard me speak know that I do only two things every day: check the tickler file and work my to-do list. Everything I have to do feeds ointo one or the other. On my list, you would see a repeating task prompting me to check the saved items in Feedly. You will see a second prompting me to check my "Favorite Tweets" in Hootsuite. Both of those repeating tasks appear weekly.

A great deal of new material comes my way on a daily basis. The ability to get through it quickly, mark what needs to be revisited in depth later, and move on is a key to productivity in this information age.

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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Advice to a Frazzled Reader

I recently received this email from a reader:

I heard you in person about 1 year ago and bought your book. I looked through it and didn't read it. I'm as unorganized as ever and now I have an old iPhone and that's not really helping either. I am teaching full time special education and taking two graduate classes.  Any ideas?

Of course, my first suggestion would be to read the book. Aside from that, what follows is my response in hopes that it would not only help that one reader, but many others who find themselves overwhelmed.

I would suggest starting by reading the chapter on handling paper. The major concept in that chapter is using tickler files to keep your desk clear of papers and have paperwork appear on the day you need to see it.

Start by clearing one drawer in your desk and putting your tickler files (and nothing else) in that drawer. Next, start going through the papers which have accumulated on your desk, on top of the filing cabinet, on tables, etc. Pick up each piece of paper and ask yourself, "What does this piece of paper mean to me? Why is it here? What needs to be done with it?"

You will find some of it going in the trash as a result. At the bottom of most peoples' piles, paper which has outlived its value can be found. Throw it away.

You will come across other papers that serve as reference material. These will include forms which need to go in student folders, correspondence from parents which you may need to keep for documentation purposes, lesson plans, etc. Take time now to file them.

You will likely come across papers that you have no idea what to do with. Ask yourself who would be able to help you understand what to do with them and when you would likely see that person. Put a sticky note on the paper with a reminder to yourself of who you were going to ask about the paper. File it in the tickler file for when you think you will see that person.

You will come across other material which you are going to need at some future time. Instead of allowing it to stay on your desk and hope you will look at it at the right time, make a decision about when you want to see the paper again. File it for the appropriate day in the tickler file.

You mentioned having an iPhone, but it's not helping. As you are finding, having a smartphone does not make you organized. It would be the same as taking someone who does not understand math and giving them a calculator.  Digital systems are good for people who have a good organizational system but need more speed and want to the portability a digital system offers.

I am attaching a paper form to give you a start. Print it, being sure to select "landscape" mode. Put it on a copier and make 30 or so copies for the next month. Date each page and put them in a folder. At the beginning of the day, list any appointments from your calendar. In the "Fab 5" section, list that 5 most important or most critical items for today. In the "Organized Task List" section, list the other things you want to do today in the order you want to do them. Things you want to do during your planning time should be listed together. Things you want to accomplish after school should be listed together.

Keep that one sheet of paper with you throughout the day. On the right-hand side is a place for you to jot down whatever comes up. When you talk with a parent on the phone, take notes in that space. When you meet with a parent or attend a faculty meeting, take notes there. If you fill up that section, continue on the back of the page.

When the day comes to an end, read the notes you have written. Decide what you need to actually do about any of them. Write the results of those decision on your to-list for the next day, some day later in the week, a day next week, etc. If there are items you had on your list for today that you did not do, re-write them for tomorrow or another day.

At the top of the page is a place for you to answer the question, "How did you make today count?" That question forces you to think about whether or not your time was spent accomplishing something of worth. File the completed page in the the same folder where you have the blank pages for future days. You will now have notes from all of your parent contacts, faculty meeting notes, one place. You will have your to-do list for future days waiting for you.

Ironically, the time to move to a digital system and keep your to-do list and calendar on your iPhone will be when your paper system is working really well. Again, it's like the math and calculator example. Once a person learns the concepts and can do math without a calculator, that's when he or she needs to start using a calculator. It adds speed and efficiency. When your paper system is working well, you can move the same concepts to a digital system on your computer and sync it with your iPhone. So, for now, give the paper planner page a try.

Let me know it works for you.

Frank Buck

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Monday, May 27, 2013

The Words of President Reagan...On This Memorial Day

This short video reminds us, through the words of President Ronald Reagan, of the sacrifices made by those who have defended our country.

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Friday, May 24, 2013


Sometimes you just have to believe in your ability when nobody else does.

This video is of Paul Potts. His performance of "Nessun Dorma" stunned the judges of "Britain's Got Talent" and brought the crowd to its feet. While I had seen this video before, it doesn't hurt to bring back reminders that ordinary people can do extraordinary things, and that the old saying about not being able to judge a book its cover is alive and well.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

It's "Why" Not "What"

In this Ted Talk, Simon Sinek argues, "People don't buy what you do. They buy why you do it."

See if you agree with his argument. I found the talk to be inspiring

Monday, May 20, 2013

How to Keep Others Informed About Your Calendar

Throughout the workday, adding appointments to your calendar is part of the every-day drill. But who else needs to know when you add an appointment? I am not talking about who has access to your calendar and could reference it when needed. I am talking about who needs to be alerted that right now, you have just added something to your calendar.

For many, nobody else needs to know. For others, however, a secretary or business partner needs to know this information. For still others, a spouse needs to know. In addition, there may be some appointments where this other person needs to be alerted and others where he or she does not. How do you handle this notification?

In you use Google Calendar, look at the "Add guests" feature. When you create a new calendar entry, enter the email address of the person who needs to know about it and click "Add."

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Adding guests in Google Calendar

If you are using Outlook 2007, while creating your new event, click on "Invite Attendees." Also look for the "Invite Attendees" option on any other version of Outlook.

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Enter the email address (or addresses) for each person who needs to be alerted about your new calendar entry.

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Notifying others with Outlook

This one, easy, technique keeps notification of that other person from becoming a second step that you have to remember to do later. Who do you need to keep abreast of new events on your calendar? Would this technique do the trick for you?

Friday, May 17, 2013

"Smart Tools" App for Android

I love it when one tool does many things. Smart Tools is like a Swiss Army Knife. This video illustrates what this app will do. At $2.50, it's a bargain.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Leading With Lollipops and the Art of Leadership

Have you had a "lollipop moment" because of something someone else said or did? Have you told them about it?

Take the next six minutes and twenty-one seconds to learn what a "lollipop moment" is all about and how each of us demonstrate leadership and may never know it.

In this TEDx Toronto Talk, Drew Dudley uses a simple story to illustrate the lasting impact we have on each other and why it's important to let each other know.

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. 
―Marianne Williamson

Monday, May 13, 2013

Why You Need Comment Moderation

If you read this blog regularly, chances are good you author a blog of your own. One of the decisions before you is whether or not to allow comments. If you choose to allow them, something I prefer, "comment moderation" is a must.

You never want to put yourself in a situation where someone else can leave inappropriate material on your blog. Even though you could delete the comment, you canot afford for others to see it in the mean time.

The biggest source of unwelcome comments will come from "web bots," robots which roam the web looking for blogs and leaving their comments. The comments will always be very generic and complimentary. When you read the comment, you feel good that someone has appreciated what you write. But when you read the comment more closely, you see that it would be equally applicable to any post on any blog. The comment will always include a link, taking readers to their website.

Here is one example of a comment (complete with its grammatical problem) submitted on my blog:

Just wish to say your article is as astonishing. The clarity in your post is simply nice and i could assume you are an expert on this subject. Fine with your permission let me to grab your RSS feed to keep up to date with forthcoming post. Thanks a million and please carry on the enjoyable work. My webpage [I am omitting the link].

Here is another:

I am really impressed with your writing skills as well as with the layout on your weblog. Is this a paid theme or did you modify it yourself? Either way keep up the excellent quality writing, it is rare to see a great blog like this one these days. Here is my homepage : [I am omitting the link].

And it looks like this person wants me to be his mentor:

Heу! I know thiѕ is somewhat οff toρіc but I wаs ωondeгing which blοg platfοrm are уou using for this ѕite? I'm getting sick and tired of Wordpress because I've had iѕsues with hackerѕ and I'm looking at options for another platform. I would be awesome if you could point me in the direction of a good platform. Feel free to surf my web blog [I am omitting the link].

You get the idea. The comments, together with the links they include, take my readers to their websites. "Comment moderation" is a way to combat the "web bots." With comment moderation turned on in my blog's settings, comments go to my email. I read them in my email and either approve or disapprove them. If I approve one, it appears instantly on the blog.

Another option for battling the web bots is to use a "CAPTCHA." It is an acronymn for "Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart." We have all seen them. You are presented with a series of characters which you must correctly re-type in a little box. The CAPTCHA will stop the bots, but I do not recommend them for two reasons.

First, the CAPTCHA gives legitimate readers a hoop through which they must jump in order to leave their thoughts. The last thing I want to do is discourage thoughtful comments. I personally find when I am confronted with a CAPTCHA, most of the time, I mistype it initially. Some of them are so difficult to read, I frankly can't figure out what the characters are supposed to be.

Secondly, the CAPTCHA does not stop real people who want to leave something inappropriate. Any teacher who has taught secondary school knows that providing a way for someone to write whatever they like, and do so anonymously, is a recipe for disaster.

With comment moderation turned on, you take care of both problems with a single solution. You can't control the comments others leave, but you can control whether or not those comments appear on your blog. If you are a blogger and do not already have comment moderation turned on, I encourage you go to your settings and take care of that task today.

Friday, May 10, 2013

What's My IP Address?...and More

Could you answer the following questions about the device on which you are reading this blog post:
  • What operating system are you running?
  • What browser are you running and what version?
  • What's your IP address?
  • Do you have Javascript enabled?
  • Do you have cookies enabled?
  • What's your screen resolution?
  • What's your browser size?
  • What's the color depth?
  • What version of flash are you running (if any)?
You could answer every one of these questions if you knew about this website:

Go to the site, and you will see the information about the device you are using. Think about times when you have needed to know your IP address and didn't know how to find it. Going to this site on your computer gives the answer. Perhaps you weren't sure what version of system software your phone is running. Go to this site on your phone and the answer will be revealed.

Add this site to your social bookmarks and let your friends know about it. It may not be something you will use often, but when you need it, it's nice to have,

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

How to Stay on Top of Reading Material

We all want to rise in our chosen professions. Even if we have attained our desired position, staying there often requires as much effort as getting there. One of the secrets is reading in our field. The wealth of material makes it easy. The scarcity of time makes it difficult.

My professional reading material comes from three general areas. First is what I receive through printed journals or books I either purchase or borrow from a library. Second is the material which appears in blogs related to my professional interests. Third is online material referenced on Twitter.

Handling the Hard Copy
I have a decorative wooden letter tray beside my desk. Magazines, journals, and books are placed there. That arrangement puts all of my printed professional reading material in one place. While I am watching television, I can grab whatever is on top of the stack. Whenever I leave the house and could possibly have "down" time, I throw some of that reading material in my briefcase. Waiting time becomes reading time.

Some articles require some action. I want to do further research, write a blog post related to the article, or discuss it with my wife. I tear that article from the magazine. The article then goes in the tickler file to handle at an appointed future date. The rest of the magazine is discarded.

Online Reading
Every day, information related to any field imaginable appears on the many thousands of blogs. Finding good blogs is not a problem. Keeping up with reading them can be, especially when one has 50 to 100 blogs found to be useful. Thankfully, a little automation makes it easy. I use a service called "Google Reader." It's free, and all you need is a Google account (also free).

When you find a blog you wish to read on a regular basis, copy the blog's URL. Go to Google Reader, click "Subscribe" and paste the URL into the blank. From this point on, when new material from that blog is posted, it goes to Google Reader. You now have only one place to look for all of your subscriptions. On my tablet and smartphone, I have created shortcuts to Google Reader, so that I am one tap away from freshly-created material related to my interests.

Google Reader presents me with a list of titles. I pick and choose the articles which look appealing. When I am done, clicking "mark all as read" clears the list. Those articles do not appear again. Therefore, each time I open Google Reader, I am seeing never-before-seen material.

One caveat exists. Often an article is good enough that I want to re-read, save, or take some sort of action regarding it. I click a star, and that "starred" article will remain in Google Reader for me to handle when I get back to my desktop computer.

Those who think Twitter is only about what people had to eat for lunch are badly mistaken. Twitter is a great place to recommend great material to others and read the recommendation of others. Generally, the tweet includes a link to an online article. I find I can breeze through my Twitter feed quickly, often while standing in the checkout line at the grocery store.

When a tweet links to an article I want to read in depth later, I "star" the tweet, and handle it back at my desktop computer.

One of the great things about this age in which we live is the wealth of reading material that is ours for the taking. Developing a method for tapping this rich resource is well worth the time to develop it.

How do you stay on top of your reading material?

Monday, May 06, 2013

"If I Had a Daughter"

This TED Talk, filmed in March 2011, seems particularly timely for Mother's Day.

The speaker is Sarah Kay. She is the founder and co-director of Project V.O.I.C.E., a group dedicated to using spoken word as an inspirational tool. Her website is located at

Friday, May 03, 2013

How Many Does it Take to Screw in a Light Bulb?

When we put a new practice in, we must let it replace something else. "One in—one out." In the world of the tech-savvy leader, it's more like "one in—one dozen out." In the world of those who are barely hanging on, it's "one in—one more in—here's another—and another." When we don't fully understand the new, we hang on to the old. We do double-duty.

As a starter, here are three quick practices which make changing the light bulb a one-person job:

1. Take teachers out of the receipt-writing business

As an elementary principal, our school stopped issuing receipt books to teachers. Any student with money brought it in a sealed envelope with his name, homeroom, amount of money, and purpose written on the outside. Students went to one designated place in the school and turned their envelopes in to two designated people. These two staff members received the money. When the tardy bell rang, they  would count the money, enter the information into a database, print receipts, and print a record of the transactions which was submitted to the office with the money.

The practice worked like a charm. Teachers had more time at the start of the day to teach, rather than practice their accounting skills. With a new procedure planned, I began making the needed changes in the faculty handbook. I was amazed at how much we had been asking of teachers in order to satisfy auditors.Entire pages came out of the handbook as we took this burden and its regulations off the back of our teachers. What went into the handbook instead was a simple paragraph explaining where to send students who have money and what information each student was to have on his/her envelope.

The procedure meant freeing up two people to handle the load of receipting money for the entire school. The larger the school, the more time required. However, the larger the school, the more time is already spent on receipting money. The light bulb is simply being turned by 100 people instead of 20. Since that time, the software to handle the job has gotten better. Let's take teachers out of the receipt-writing business.

2. Never ask a teacher to produce a report from the computer when one person can run the same report for the entire school.

Progress reports and report cards should be printed by one person in the front office, not by every teacher in the school. Ditto for award certificates. On my website is an all-purpose certificate and companion spreadsheet. When it comes time to print certificates for perfect attendance, honor roll, or membership in any school organization, the entire job can be printed in one huge batch. Let's get away from the antiquated model of dividing work amongst an entire faculty. Instead, let's use our technology efficiently.

3. Data data everywhere, but that doesn't mean we have to hand-copy.

Every year, the "high-stakes test" results arrive. Every year, in all-too-many schools, principals pass out computer-generated reports and ask teachers to copy figures from those printouts to paper grids. They call it "analyzing data." I call it copying numbers. The tech-savvy leader figures a way to deliver those figures in their final form to the teacher. The teacher's time is then spent making meaning of the data, not mechanically copying it.

How many of your co-workers does it take to screw in a light bulb?  What can you do to end the madness?

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Another Clean Desk

I thought this recent exchange on Twitter was really neat...

Always glad to hear when people are seeing results and feeling good about it!