Saturday, August 30, 2014

Happy 10th Birthday, Blog!

“For as long as I can remember, I have been interested in systems that people had that helped them get their ‘stuff’ done—or what kept them from getting their stuff done.” That sentence began the first blog post I ever wrote. It appeared exactly 10 years ago today. A decade and nearly 1,400 posts later, my blog still serves as the major way I communicate to whoever may be interested in reading what I write.

This post celebrates the 10th birthday of this blog. It also serves as the final post which will appear here.

In a 2009 interview including Seth Godin and Tom Peters, two of the giants in the business world, Peters states, “No single thing in the last 15 years professionally has been more important to my life than blogging. It has changed my life. It has changed my perspective. It has changed my intellectual outlook. It has changed my emotional outlook.” I could not agree more.


Ten years ago, we didn't have Twitter or Instagram. Facebook was a mere six months old. What we had were blogs. A decade later, blogs still influence readers and provide flexibility for writers better than any other social media.

Practically every business has a website. Most are static. They provide the permanent information about the company. When changes must be made, a call to the webmaster is in order. For the business with ever-changing, ever-emerging news to share, a blog is the perfect vehicle to communicate with its customers.

If you can write an email and attach a picture, you have the skills needed to write a blog post and include a photo. When news happens at the business today, it can go on the blog today. The reverse-chronological order of the posts puts the most recent piece at the top. Everything else which has ever appeared on the blog is available for easy access. Readers can “subscribe” to your blog, so that every time you post something new, it goes to their email.

Blogs are also a great way to communicate within the organization. When an idea occurs to the boss that he needs to communicate to the staff, firing off a quick memo or email is one solution. The upside is that it gets the idea off of the bosses mind and transfers the responsibility to the staff.

The downside is that the ability to communicate through these means is only as good as the ability of staff members to organize these random bits of information. In all too many offices, inboxes house hundreds of email messages, and stacks of papers a foot or more in height decorate desktops. Stress levels are high and productivity is low.

Most of those memos and emails contain extraneous information. Often the real “meat” consists of only a couple of sentences. In order to fill the page, we begin with some type of introduction, setting the stage for the message to come. Likewise, we feel compelled to include some type of “conclusion,” so we thank the staff for their cooperation or provides some other type of rhetorical closing.

Is there a better way? Absolutely. Jot down those random thoughts so they are not forgotten. Save them. Once per week, organize the whole batch into a single blog post.

The blog can have multiple authors. Posts are easy to edit. There is nothing to print, nothing to copy, and nothing that can get lost.

I wrote an article in Principal magazine, arguing in favor of using blogs in a school setting. Today, more and more school principals use the blog as a sensible way to communicate with the faculty. That article can be accessed here. Want to give blogging a try? Here is a link to an excellent get-started guide.

Top 10 Reasons to Blog: 

  • Blogs are free. Multiple sites allow you to create and host your blog at no cost.
  • Blogs are easy. Creating a blog post is no more complicated than composing an email message.
  • Blogs are quick. One click of the mouse makes the message available to the world without photocopying, collating, or mailbox stuffing.
  • Blogs save trees (and money). Because blogs are paperless, you save reams of paper.
  • Blogs are forever saved. Every post is retained in reverse chronological order.
  • Blogs are 21st Century. They have become a standards part of communication in our culture.
  • Blogs unite businesses and their customers. When communication becomes easy, the volume of communication increases.
  • Blogs reach anyone, anytime, anywhere. Any computer with Internet access can access a blog.
  • Blogs celebrate excellence in business. They provide the perfect venue to allow the business to frame its story.
As stated towards the beginning, this post will be the last to appear on this blog. To say starting this blog was a good thing would be an understatement. Yet, good things are often replaced by better things. 

I created a new website in April 2014. The website and the blog are now under one roof at All of the posts you have enjoyed here have been copied there. Every week, new content appears. I hope that you will visit often and use the material to help you better manage your time and organize your life.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Better Choices, And It’s Easy

Jim decided to visit the new restaurant in town. As soon as he sat down, the waiter approached. 

“Could I take your order?” asked the waiter. 

A little surprised, Jim replied, “Well, could I see a menu?” 

“We don’t actually have a printed menu. Some of our items are there,” the waiter said, pointing to a chalkboard over the counter. “We have most of what’s there, although we are out of some things. We have some other things listed on that sandwich board just outside. We have a couple of specials, but I forget what they are. Anyway, we have lots of stuff. What’ll you have?” 

Perplexed, Jim looked over at the table next to him and replied, “I’ll just have whatever she’s having.”Jim never returned to that restaurant. 

When we visit a restaurant, we expect to see a complete, well-organized menu. Why is that tool important? Very simply, you can see your choices.

Therein lies the point of the story and the point of this post: When you can see all of your choices, you make better choices.

If we are to make better choices about how we use our time, we must be able to see all of our choices. Property constructed, our to-do list is that “menu” which makes it possible. Many peoples’ to-do lists resemble the restaurant in the story. The menu is incomplete, and pieces and parts are scattered. Many others wait until the pressure is on, and then stare at a blank piece of paper, trying to pull from their heads the most urgent items. Both approaches are recipes for failure. The pitiful part is that having a good “menu” is easy.

Make It Digital 
In today’s world, a huge percentage of communication, information, and obligations arrive digitally. Doesn’t it make sense to allow what arrives digitally to be handled digitally? My digital to-do list is Toodledo. Remember the Milk, Wunderlist, and Asana are also great tools. Each is web-based, free, and offers corresponding apps which sync the to-do list across all devices. The Outlook task list is also excellent, although syncing with mobile devices can be tricky.

Keep It Simple 
Some well-intending books spend as much as 150 pages instructing you how to set up the software. What I have used for over a decade, and what I teach, is simple:

  1. Every task gets a due date. 
  2. The due date is the answer to the question, “When do I want to see this item again?” 
  3. Sort the list by due date. 

That’s it! While digital tools offer the options to assign a priority, location, context, group, star/no star, color, associated people, and more, you don’t need all of that stuff. In fact, the more of it you use, the more time it takes to get the task in your system.

When you assign a due date to each task and sort by due date, you have one list containing everything you have to do, and it is ordered by when you want to see it each again. To move a task higher or lower on the list, change the due date. It’s that simple.

Search is King 
One of the huge advantages of a digital list is its ability to search, and any good list is going to have that feature. When John comes walking in the door unexpectedly, searching the list for “John” provides a list of every task you need to discuss with him.

When phone calls are added to the list, using the word “call” in the task (Call Jim, Call Mary, Call Bob, etc.) creates a powerful capability. If you want to see every phone call to make, searching for “call” returns a list of every phone call in order by due date.

Repeating Tasks Rock 
How many tasks do you have in your professional or personal life which need to be completed about the same time every year, every month, or every week? Instead of trying to remember them all, add them to the list and use the repeating task function to have them come back to you at just the right time.

When you can see all of your choices, you make better choices. Let’s construct our own “menu” starting today. See how much better your choices become.
New posts will continue to appear on this site for the remainder of June. After that, continue to enjoy new material at

Friday, June 27, 2014

Staying Focused

New posts will continue to appear on this site for the remainder of June. After that, continue to enjoy new material at

Monday, June 23, 2014

Are Interruptions Driving You Crazy?

InterruptionsIn these disparate environments—cockpits and hospitals and IT workgroups—the right behaviors did not evolve naturally. Nurses weren't “naturally” given enough space to work without distraction, and programmers weren't “naturally” left alone to focus on coding. Instead, leaders had to reshape the environment consciously. With some simple tweaks to the environment, suddenly the right behaviors emerged. It wasn't the people who changed, it was the situation. What looks like a people problem is often a situation problem.

The above paragraph is taken from Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard. The chapter is entitled "Tweak the Environment" and the subject is interruptions and their impact on performance. Statistics show that we are interrupted, on average, every eight minutes. Not only do we lose time due to the interruption itself, but the time to recover, to regroup our thoughts, and get back into the flow of our work can often take more time than the length of the interruption itself.

To make the problem worse, we live in a world that gives us more and different ways to interrupt each other. We carry phones in our pockets and whip them out when it is convenient for us. We give little thought to what the person on the other end of the phone call might have been doing before the phone call interrupted it. Leaders profess the merits of an "open-door policy" and at the same time bemoan they can’t get anything done due to non-stop drop-in visitors.

Let's face it, to get anything done, we have to have uninterrupted blocks of time. I have written before in this space how we can each carve uninterrupted time for ourselves. But what if you or I are the leader of the organization? What if we are in a position to tweak the environment?

Is email a help or hindrance in the culture of your workplace? If everyone is expected to check email constantly and respond ASAP, expect little work of real value to be accomplished. If, on the other hand, email is used instead of drop-in visits, email becomes a time-saver. We can check and respond to email with the ebb and flow of the day instead of responding to whoever appears at the door.

Are meetings being held simply purely for the purpose of making announcements and random information? One well-worded page can often replace a three-hour meeting. Are meetings called on the spur of the moment, teaching everyone in the office that constructing a plan for the day is an exercise in futility? 

My background was educational leadership. I witnessed numerous schools where intercom announcements were made randomly throughout the day. The result was each of those announcement interrupted learning in every classroom in the building, all for the sake of administrative convenience.

Likewise, parents, family friends, and salesmen often wanted to “visit” teachers who were busy teaching students. While each visitor wanted “just a minute,” they failed to realize that “just a minute,” multiplied by the 20 students in the room, has just turned into “just 20 minutes.” Factor in the amount of time needed to recover from the “just a minute” of interruption, and an entire lesson is easily derailed.

When someone else is in charge, we are at his or her mercy to protect our time. Good policies and practices will protect our time and allow us make significant progress on worthy projects. Poor policies and practices fragment our days and try our patience.

Every good thing we do for our students is done through the dimension of time. Preventing interruptions helps us get the most out of the time we are given. Protecting the time of our colleagues helps them be more productive. We can and we must "tweak the environment." The right behaviors are then sure to follow.

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New posts will continue to appear on this site for the remainder of June. After that, continue to enjoy new material at

Friday, June 20, 2014

Organizing Your Students

Organization is a gift that wise teachers give their students, and it is a gift that is useful long after the goodbyes are said in May. In Organization Made Easy!, we devote an entire chapter to organizing students.

One of the central topics is the use of student planners. While some schools have adopted and then left the idea, we explore the subject in enough depth and emphasize the follow-up that is needed from teachers to make the tool work.

We also look at habits and techniques that increase productivity and decrease stress for students:
  • Writing it down
  • Breaking goals into little parts
  • Getting the book bag empty daily
  • Learning to deal with papers
  • Getting everything ready the night before
  • Organizing the locker
  • Using the "one-binder" method
You can order your copy today. Use coupon code IRK95 at checkout for a 20% discount.

New posts will continue to appear on this site for the remainder of June. After that, continue to enjoy new material at

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Amazing, Time-Saving Way to Fold T-Shirts

Folding t-shirts is not something that would normally draw my interest. This video clip from Lifehacker, however, was so easy to follow that when it worked the first time, I was hooked. Grab a t-shirt and follow along as you watch.


Did it work? If you are like me, when the hold thing fell into place, I was amazed. I will never go back to folding t-shirts the old way again!

Incidentally, the video you see in this post was produced on a site called Tube Chop. The original video I viewed is located here. It talked about several different subjects, but I was only interested in showing you the segment on folding t-shirts.

I highlighted the URL, went to Tube Chop, and pasted the URL in the blank provided. The site allows you to choose the starting and ending points. Once you have made a decision and "chopped" the video, Tube Chop provides both a URL and an embed code for the clip. Give it a try the next time you want to use just a portion of a YouTube video.

New posts will continue to appear on this site for the remainder of June. After that, continue to enjoy new material at

Monday, June 16, 2014

Are You a Pinterest User?

If you are a Pinterest user, have you looked at my boards? Check out The boards are built around "The 5 Keys to Organization & Time Management." You will see a board devoted to each of the following:

  1. Handle the Papers
  2. Signature Tool
  3. Repeating Tasks
  4. Managing the Incoming Flood
  5. Handle Multiple Projects

In addition, you will find boards for these subjects:

  1. Technology
  2. Speaking and Coaching
  3. Books Worth Reading
  4. Human Greatness
  5. Music

The majority of the images are drawn from my blog posts. Click on the image, and you will be taken to the corresponding blog post. So, if you are interested in handling multiple projects, click on that board. You will see images from posts related to that topic.

Feel free to re-pin items of interest to your own board so that those who follow your boards will be able to enjoy the posts as well.

If you enjoyed this post, share it with others. Click one of the social media buttons below to share om Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google Plus, or email to a friend. New posts will continue to appear on this site for the remainder of June. After that, continue to enjoy new material at

Friday, June 13, 2014

The One Question to Ask

You are never at a loss for things to do. The piles of papers, sticky notes around the perimeter of the computer monitor, and notes scrawled across numerous legal pads are monuments to the demands on our time. We know we can only do one thing at a time. Yet, we surround ourselves with everything we have to do. We cannot fully focus on what we are doing because of the all of the constant remembers of what we are not doing.

to-do listLet's face it, at the end of the day, most of the papers that are lying around today will still be there tomorrow. Some of them will be buried even further down. Much of it represents things you had no intention of doing today anyway. In many cases, you couldn't do them. Here is a folder you need for the meeting on Tuesday. This folder needs to go with you when you meet with Mr. Smith on Thursday.

Sure, you could put it all away somewhere. But what happens on the day you need it? Will it still be tucked away wherever "somewhere" is?

If you are surrounded by too much to do, there is only one question you need to ask about all of it: "When do I want to see this again?"

I have written often about the benefits of tickler files. Start picking up those random pieces of paper and files that are lying around. Ask the question of each one, "When do I want to see this again?" Put it in the tickler files for that day. The folder you will need for Tuesday's meeting goes in the file representing Tuesday's date. The papers you need for the conference on the 17th of the month go in file number 17. When you start removing the papers on which you cannot act, the ones on which you can act begin to stand out.

Take the same approach with the "to-dos" written on the backs of envelopes, random napkins, sticky notes, and floating around in your head. Put them in a good digital to-do list (I like Toodledo). Take each item and ask yourself, "When do I want to see this again?". Enter the item on your digital to-do list and give it a due date corresponding with when you want to see it again. Keep the list sorted by due date. On the day you wanted to see that to-do, there it will be.

You can't do everything today. So get real about your commitments. Ask yourself, "When do I want to see this again?" and use your system to make sure that you do.

New posts will continue to appear on this site for the remainder of June. After that, continue to enjoy new material at

Monday, June 09, 2014

How to Procrastinate Effectively

The title of the post is taken from a chapter title of an old time-management nugget. Time Power (1987) by Dr. Charles Hobbs, is one of the hallmark books on time management. Since its publication, much in our world has changed, due to technology. The concept that procrastination can not only be good, but is essential, is one which still rings true.

Time-management literature is full of articles on overcoming procrastination. Each one tells us how to avoid "putting off" our tasks. Authors portray it as a practice to avoid. Procrastination, however, is a friend for those who strive to get the right things done and get them done at the right time.

Procrastinate on your email
Let your email accumulate during the day. Handle it all in one batch at mid-day and again in one batch at mid-afternoon. As people begin to see your responses coming within the day rather than within the hour, you will receive fewer emails with inquiries the sender could have handled with a Google search or five minutes of thought.

You will begin to see little "batches" within your email. For example, work for one of my major clients normally results with several emails each day from teachers around the state who have questions about their data. To respond intelligently, I consult a spreadsheet housing a password for each school district, access one particular website, and with that password, log into that school district to view the data in question. That set of emails goes much quicker when I open the password spreadsheet once, access the website once, and handle those several emails back-to-back.

If you work with a large group of employees, your email will likely include items which seem to follow the same theme, such as questions regarding a recent communication. You may find you can fashion one response to handle them all.

Procrastinate on placing phone calls
School administrators are easier to catch after school. Procrastinate on making calls to them and handle however many you have in one batch.

Procrastinate on reading 
I would include in this category books, magazines, your RSS feed, and social media. During the day, you will find yourself with odd blocks of time: waiting at the dentist's office, sitting in the audience waiting for the concert to start, arriving early for a meeting and waiting for the other participants to show up. Having a supply of low-priority tasks which can fill the gaps turns potentially wasted time into productive time.

I read my RSS feed during those odd moments. While standing in line at the grocery store, I open Feedly and read the items from the blogs to which I subscribe. What I read there is certainly more beneficial that skimming the racks at the checkout aisle. Reading my Twitter feed happens at these odd moments.

When magazines arrive in the mail, I throw them into a decorative wooden letter tray. When I check books from the public library, I put them there also. I procrastinate on reading them. When I leave the house, I always throw some reading material in the briefcase.

Procrastinate on some writing
I am writing this post while sitting in the audience at a concert band festival. After the performance of each band, considerable setup for the next group is needed, leaving small blocks of time for audience members. I came with ideas for five different blog posts and hoped to write those five during the "breaks in the action."

Jason Womack talks often about his practice of keeping blank note cards in his briefcase. After meeting Jason the first time, I received a hand-written note a few days later.

Procrastinate on those items which need to "bake"
Some projects simply need time for more thought and maturity before being launched. Additional, helpful information comes at the most unexpected time from unexpected sources.

Need to buy a car? Procrastinate on the decision to purchase and you will be surprised at how many reviews of your desired model show up, how many friends you see driving that model, and how many dealerships have that model at bargain prices.

Actually, all of that information was probably already available. Now that you are in the market to purchase a car, information which you would have unconsciously filtered out is now the information on which you focus.

Procrastination frees time
When those things which are best done later are out of the way, you "clear the deck" for the things which are best done now. After all, doing what you should be doing in the order you should be doing them is what time management is all about.

Friday, June 06, 2014

Job Hunting? Could You Spice Up Your Resume Like This?

Over the years, I saw many resumes and received many phone calls from people looking for teaching jobs. Some are more innovative than others. This one, got my attention...

No, it was not one sent to me. You can view this one, view some similar ones, and read about the project on Presentation Zen.

The video is entertaining, but it's also food for thought. Whether it's finding that first teaching job, or trying to break into administration, I ask those who come to me for advice one question, "What makes you different from all the rest?" It's a question applicable not just within education. Every field is looking for those who stand out from the crowd, those who can look at the same problem as everyone else and see the opportunities nobody else see.

Maybe we can't showcase our uniqueness in a video such as this, but identifying our own special qualities and communicating them is essential, regardless of the job we want.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Motivational Slideshow

Thanks to Phil Gerbyshak for this collection of motivational quotes.

Monday, June 02, 2014

Preventing "Overwhelm"

One principal who helped mentor me described the end of the school year as “…like being on a sled going down a steep, snow-covered hill. Things just get faster and faster and there’s nothing you can do about it. You just try to avoid running into a tree.” We forget just how much hits us until it arrives. The end of the year just seems the logical time to bring closure to just about any activity you can name. Everyone is trying to clear up everything all at the same time. Work shows up faster than we can possibly get it done. Without intervention, next year will be no different.

As the year comes to a close, we would actually like to enjoy it. Everything we have worked for all year long is now blooming. How nice it would be to savor the moment instead of feeling the stress of so much to do in so little time!

It doesn’t all have to be done right now.
Some of what is on our plates could wait until the dust settles. Our fear is that by the time we actually have the time, those good ideas will have been forgotten, so we try to cram it all in while things are fresh on our minds. Three simple tools allow us to take those worthy tasks and carve a place for them in our future. One more gives hope that we could prevent this onslaught next year.

The Tickler File
There are the physical things which are lying around in the form of papers and files. Their physical presence serves as reminder of the work to be done with them. Every time we look at them, we are distracted from the task at hand. That’s where the tickler file comes to the rescue. We have a pretty good idea of when the dust will settle and life as normal will resume. Drop those papers in the tickler file for that time. They will resurface exactly when you have decided you wanted to see them.

The Signature Tool
There are the mental things rolling around in our heads. Every one of them screams “Don’t forget to…!” yet still we forget. Those things which could be done later compete for our limited attention with those things which much be done now. Our signature tool, be it paper or digital, is the answer. Pick a date when things will be more settled. Write it down or key it in. Either way, you have earned the right to forget about it. It will come back on its own, and it will do so on exactly the date you had chosen.

The Repeating Task List
Some of the avalanche is caused by other people. Some of it, we likely have nobody to blame but ourselves. It seems as soon as life settles down in June, we forget the feeling of overwhelm and what we might have done to minimize it.

The world of education is a cyclic world in which many of the same tasks and same projects repeat every year. Some of what we are doing in May could have been done in March, if only we had thought of it in March. You can structure a system which will cause you to think of it in March, or at any time you choose. I have spoken often of the value of the repeating task list, a simple tool which allows us to think of something one time and then let our system remind us at just the right instant.

Finishing teacher observations, scheduling next year’s dates, grading mountains of make-up work, or taking inventory of our equipment are just a few examples of the tasks which need not be left for the mad rush of mid-May. If all of what we are trying to fit into a small window of time was actually written down in one place, we would instantly realize that we have set ourselves up for failure and begin to do something about it.

Master these three tools and watch your productivity go up and your stress level go down:
1. Tickler File
2. Signature Tool
3. Repeating Task List

End the Insanity
Mid-May is a terrible time to fix the problems of mid-May. June is a perfect time to lay the plans and implement the procedures that will make next May the perfect end of a perfect year.

Our two greatest problems are gravity and paperwork. We can lick gravity, but sometimes the paperwork is overwhelming.
— Dr. Wernher Von Braun

Friday, May 30, 2014

Why "That's the Way We've Always Done It is a Myth"

When you or I question a practice that seems to defy logic, the answer is likely to be, "That's the way we've always done it." The response shifts whatever blame there may be to some unnamed person at some unnamed time in the past. The response also indicates no thinking is going to go into whether or not what has been done in the past is the best course for the future.

Time Management At best, "That's the way we've always done it" is only partially true. Consider the story of the young girl helping her mother prepare Easter dinner.

Before placing the ham in the oven for baking, the mother cut off both ends. “Why did you cut off the ends of the ham?” asked the daughter.

“That’s the way my mother always did it,” was the reply.

The daughter quickly vanished. In moments, she was on the telephone to the grandmother verifying whether or not what she had been told was true. The grandmother replied that she did, indeed, always cut the ends off the ham. When asked why, the grandmother replied, “That’s the way my mother always did it.”

As fate would have it, the next week brought about a visit from great-grandmother. Overcome with curiosity, as young children often are, nothing would do but to pose this same question.

“Great Grandmother, Mommy always cuts the ends off her ham before she puts it in the oven. Mommy says she does it because that’s the way Grandmother always did it. Grandmother says she did it because that’s the way you always did it. Is it true, Great Grandmother? Did you always cut the ends off of the ham?”

“Yes, indeed, my child, I always cut the end off the ham” replied the elderly woman.

“But why?” asked the young girl.

Holding her hands about 12 inches apart, she replied, “Because my pan was only this big.”

Decades ago, Great Grandmother was confronted with a set of circumstances. Her pan was not large enough to accommodate the ham. She came up with procedures to handle those circumstances. She did the best she could with what she had.

What if we were to confront today's challenges the way Great Grandmother in the story confronted hers? What is we did the best we could with what we have? What we have keeps getting better, meaning what was "best" back then is far from "best" by today's standards.

What if we re-framed "that's the way we've always done it" to embody a standard of quality rather than a particular act? I imagine we would spend more time challenging outdated practices, more time learning the tools at our disposal, and less time carrying on with practices which worked in a bygone era.

If we look to the past for examples of doing the best they could with what they had, we also throw down the gauntlet to generations to come. We issue the challenge not to mindlessly carry on as we did, but to build on our accomplishments.

Our circumstances change. Our procedures must change with them. Our ancestors understood that. Do we?

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Monday, May 26, 2014

Does Email Make Us Stupid?

We have research that shows email makes us stupid! A study done in Great Britain, conducted back in 2005, found that email lowers our IQ by 10 points. Hewlett-Packard commissioned the study which found that the constant interruptions of email, 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. Since that study was commissioned, we now have Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other diversions competing for our time.

Is it really email that is the culprit? I certainly don’t think so, at least not when email is used correctly. Email can be 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 email, handle every message, and get “in” to “empty.”

On the other hand, there are those who check their email 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-boxes grow with each passing day. Productivity drops; stress rises.

Ending the Insanity
You can take control of your email. These steps show you how:

  1. Check email only once or twice a day. If you check your email throughout the day, you will never get out of your email. You respond to people only to have them send you a follow-up on the same subject. You wind up playing "email ping-pong," and the exchange would be better handled with a 2-minute phone call.
  2. When you handle email, handle it all. Start at the top and open the emails one at a time. If it needs a response, respond. Outside of that, you can only do five things with that email. Read this post to see what those are and how to handle each case.
  3. Learn how to send emails to your to-do list. Many emails sit in our email because they embed vague reminders of things we need to do. The better digital systems allow you to forward an email to your to-do list. The subject of the email becomes the subject of the task, and the body of the email appears in the note section of the task. I composed this post on how this concept is handled in Toodledo.
  4. If you use Gmail, turn on the Priority Inbox. Gmail offers another option. It's been around since 2010 and works quite well. It's called "Priority Inbox." Priority Inbox presents all of your emails on one screen, but segments them into three groups. At the top are the emails Google has determined are important. At the bottom is a section Gmail calls "everything else." In the middle is a space where emails you have "starred" are grouped. That segmentation gives me all I need to see what might need my attention first or may need considerable time to handle, and what can be handled quickly and with no time deadline. This video demonstrates the concept of the Gmail Priority Inbox:

Gmail learns which emails are important using criteria such as which ones you open and which ones you reply to. If Gmail makes a mistake, you manually mark an email as important or not important. In the future, Gmail will treat emails from that sender according to those preferences.

If you are a Gmail user, you can turn on Priority Inbox at any time. If you are using the new tabbed inbox, you can change to Priority Inbox. On the left-hand side of the screen, mouse over the "Inbox" label and click the drop-down arrow which appears. From the menu, choose "Priority Inbox."


On your mobile devices, go to the Gmail app. On the settings, tap on your email address. Select "Inbox type" and then "Priority Inbox."

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 emails 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 increasingly important in our culture, we had better determine its function.

What are the challenges that you face with email? 
What solutions have you found?

Friday, May 23, 2014

Are You the Bottleneck?

We've all experienced it? We are driving down the highway when everything suddenly comes to a standstill. We sit and wait. We creep ever-so-slowly.

Twenty minutes later, we see the problem is a stalled car blocking the entire lane of traffic. Three lanes funnel into two. We have come to the bottleneck!

At work or home, are you the bottleneck? How many of the organization's projects have as a next step something you must do? None of those projects can move forward until you act.

You feel you are working hard, yet the piles continue to grow. You are interrupted constantly by people asking you for a "status report" on those projects.

Moving from "bottleneck" to "done"
  1. Take a look at the physical representations of work to be done. Look at the papers on the desk, credenza, windowsill, or any other flat surface. What does each piece of paper represent? What are the "to-dos" associated with each one? Are those "to-dos" on your list and are they worded clearly? 
  2. Look at your to-do list. What items have been sitting there far too long? What is keeping them from moving? If you need a piece of information in order to move forward, what will it take to get that information?  We do what's easy. Therefore, breaking tasks down and wording them in a way that makes them easy to do spurs people into action.
  3. If the workload is still too much, look at delegation. Who else can do this task almost as well as you can? Select the right person, spend the time to teach the person how to do the task, and give that person the needed authority. Do less of what others could be doing so that you can do more of what only someone with your training, experience, and good looks can do. 
  4. If you still have too much, some things simply have to go. What reports are you doing that nobody reads? What materials are you reading which are doing you no good? If you have handed off all you can, are working hard, and still finding yourself as the bottleneck, you have no choice but to start cutting. Don't be surprised if you stop doing some things and nobody seems to notice, since those tasks didn't matter to anyone anyway.
There is an old saying that goes, "Lead, follow, or get out of the way." If you feel as if that statement is too often directed at you, stop being the bottleneck. Use this article as your first step to get the actions flowing.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Check Out the New Website

I now have a totally re-designed website, and invite you to take a look. The URL is the same as before: Everything else is new, including a new hosting service. While I still have content to add, I wanted to make the site live, because I do think it is a significant improvement and one readers will enjoy.

Why the Change?
While I have been blogging for almost 10 years, my first experience with designing a website came in 2009. After purchasing a domain name (, I had one of those "now what?" moments. My hosting service did point me towards a set of free templates. I chose one and, through trial and error, was able to enter content and upload images and files.

Much has changed since 2009. From the standpoint of the reader, many more people today are reading their content from a mobile device. That's why a year ago, I changed the template for my monthly newsletter. Instead of continuing with the two-column design, I replaced it with a single-column design. (You can subscribe to that newsletter here.) The display on mobile devices is much better, and readers no longer scroll from side-to-side in order read content.

This blog's appearance on mobile devices is good, thanks to the folks at Google. I didn't understand exactly how it happens. All I know is when I read my blog from phone or tablet, all content aligns vertically. My website, on the other hand, appeared as a miniature version of what displayed on the computer monitor. Viewing content meant pinching and scrolling from side-to-side.

Secondly, the level of technical support available was far from satisfactory. Talking to a real person was impossible. I started to see some weird formatting, and could get no help.

Here is What I Did
First, I changed hosting services. I have been a reader of Michael Hyatt's blog for some time and had heard his recommendations for BlueHost. In particular, he talked about the high quality of customer service. I contacted BlueHost and created an account at a cost of $3.95 per month.

Since creating my account, I have utilized their tech support frequently. You get a live person, and the hold time for getting to a live person is surprisingly short. My experience has been that you get someone who is knowledgeable, friendly, and doesn't mind spending time with you.

Secondly, I needed a "theme" or template. Here again, tech support is important. BlueHost is not going to be familiar with the details of a particular theme.

My Theme Choice: Creativo
I purchased a theme called "Creativo." Ordering information is here. You can also view a demonstration of the theme. The $49 I paid for the theme has turned out to be a bargain due to its design, quality of the documentation, and the email tech support. A series of videos walks you through installing the theme, installing "demo data" (and believe me, you want to install the demo data), creating a home page, how to work with the "sliders" you see at the top of my homepage, and how to create blog posts.

My approach was to start with the demo data and modify it, following the video each step of the way. As I became more confident and understood the concepts, I began to get more creative.

Creativo is a "responsive theme." That term is important. It means that the site adjusts to the device on which it is viewed. When I view the site on my phone, the content aligns vertically and fits within the width of the screen.

Tech Support
I had my share of questions and ran into my share of problems along the way. Every single time I emailed RockyThemes tech support, I received an email response in less than a day (usually within less than hour). Sometimes, the response was to simply tell me where to go in a menu to find the controls I needed. Sometimes the answer was in the form of some html code and instructions on exactly where to paste it.

I could not have done what I did on the new website without the tech support from Stef, who is the person who responded to each of my emails. There is an old saying that you get what you pay for. I am glad I went with a paid theme, both in terms of the features this theme offers and the outstanding tech support.

Pulling the Switch
I spent several weeks slowly building the site, waiting until I had large blocks of time to devote to the site. During this time, my old site remained functional. When the new site was ready, another phone call to BlueHost provided me with the information I needed to move my website and email. One day, took people to the old site. The next day, that same URL took people to the new site.

Sometimes we don't think about everything ahead of time. Yes, if people went to, they wound up at the new site. But, if they had a link to one of the interior pages of the website, they wound up at a dead end. Since my old site was no no more, I had no way to go back to it and record the URL for each interior page. It was time to go "back in time"!

Did you know the Internet has a "Wayback Machine"? Go to and enter a URL. Select a date from the calendar which appears. You will see the site as it appeared at that point in time.

I selected my own URL and chose a date a couple of months in the past. I was able to navigate the site as if it was still live, and copied the URL from each page.

The next task was to figure out some way to have people directed to my new site if they entered a URL for one of those interior pages from the old site. A call to BlueHost tech support produced even better results than I had hoped. Rather than tell me what to do, tech support did it for me, taking each URL in turn and creating a redirect that would take readers to the appropriate page on the new site. (Now you see why I like this company so much.)

Future of This Blog
Eventually, the website and blog will be "one." All of the posts from this blog will be migrated to the website, and will become the new address for the blog. At the bottom of the homepage, previews of the last four blog posts will always be displayed. Even now, you can see that element. At this point, only a handful of content exists. I expect the migration to take place sometime in June.

If you subscribe to this blog and get its contents in your email, I am investigating options which would not require you to do anything. When the migration happens, your content will still flow to your email, only from a different source. That's the plan, anyway. Let's keep out fingers crossed.

I do plan to keep the Blogger blog intact indefinitely. Many people have linked to it and to its various posts. At the appropriate time, information in the sidebar will be added letting visitors know where they will go to find new content.

Everything Under One Roof
Having a "responsive" website is the biggest motivation for making the move. Quality of technical support is a second reason.

The third and final reason for the move is to bring everything under one roof. Once this blog has been migrated, everything will be located at I hope that when people visit to read blog posts, they will stay and read about workshop offerings and other resources. Those who come to read about workshops will hopefully explore blog posts while they are on the site.

Making the move is one that has taken time, and that time commitment is far from over. It has been a challenge. I must admit, it has also been fun.

It's your turn. If you have a website or blog, what advice would you offer others who are starting their own?

The Question to Ask at the End of the Day

GoalsSuccess in any area of life comes from doing good things on a regular basis. We all have those small, easy-to-perform tasks that when knit together, make life significantly better. Some involve routine maintenance which keep big problems at bay and allow us to focus on our goals. Others involve those bite-sized steps, repeated at routine intervals, which help us reach those goals. In any case, identifying those repeating tasks, and organizing them in such a way that they are in front of us at the right time, increases productivity exponentially.
How will you answer the question when today comes to a close? How did you make today count? How did you make today count?

If you use a digital to-do list, add a task which reads: "How did you make today count?" Set the task to repeat daily, meaning when you check it off, it disappears and reappears tomorrow.

In the note section of that task, answer the question. Think back over the day. What did you do that was significant? What did you do that moved you closer to an important goal? What did you do that was significant in the life of another person?

As you enter your answer to "How did you make today count?" you will also be looking at how you answered that question in previous days. You begin to get a picture of whether you are using your time to move forward or simply to tread water.

At the end of the month, cut and paste your responses for those last 30 or 31 days to a Word document, a notebook in Evernote, or wherever you would like to keep a running log of how you are spending your days. You may wish to enter your answer right on your calendar. Whenever you choose to record the significant accomplishments of your day, the process generates a sort of a "mini-diary." It also provides a compass that will help plan for the days to come.

It is a sobering question. Perhaps the knowledge that the day will end with your asking yourself that question will work on your subconscious from the time the day begins.

How will you answer the question when today comes to a close? How did you make today count?

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Photo Credit: SalFalko via Compfight cc

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

What My Dogs Have Taught Me About the Real World

The last post introduced readers to Sally, the 4-year-old Sheltie we adopted Friday from the Sheltie Rescue of East Tennessee. Ironically, as we were making the five-hour drive from Tennessee back home with Sally, another blogger was writing about his five-hour trip back to Tennessee with his new dog.

Michael Hyatt's blog is one of my favorites. In his post this past Friday, Hyatt talked about the conversation he had with the dog's trainer.

“What happens if he has an accident and eliminates indoors. How should we respond?”

“No problem,” replied the trainer. “Just take a newspaper and roll it up real tight—like it’s a stick. Now hit yourself on the forehead and say, “Bad owner!” 

She went on to explain, “If he has an accident, it’s your fault. Either you got distracted or ignored the signals.” She continued “Charlie’s trained. Now we just have to train you.” That last statement, together with my experience with Sally at that Thursday-night class, caused me to reflect.

A Flashback
Twenty-four years ago, my wife and I acquired our first Sheltie, an 8-week-old puppy we named "Lassie." Sometime before her first birthday, we enrolled her in Saturday-morning classes at the "Dick Lovelady School for Dogs," located near our home. Dick's experience with training dogs dated back to World War II, but it became evident from the beginning that these lessons would have much more to do with training the owner then with training the dog.

We learned that training Lassie meant devoting some time each day to reinforce what she had learned and add just a little more. Small, logical steps was the only way to go.

Dick practiced what he preached. Birmingham's Summerfest Theatre was preparing a production of Annie. Dick was hired to handle all aspects of the character "Sandy," the dog. Dick was to secure a dog, train the dog, attend rehearsals with the dog, and be just off-stage during performances.

Dick went to a local animal shelter and rescued a dog that looked the part. From "square one," he began training "Sandy," all done with hand signals. During the performances, Dick was just off-stage, directing Sandy's every move. The audience watched as Sandy would trot on-stage at just the right moment, sit, lie down, speak, exit the stage, and other tricks. The entire time, Sandy was keeping a close eye on Dick and his hand cues.

Sandy was the star of the show. After the production ended its final performance, Dick was approached by a number of people, all with the same question: "How much will you take for Sandy?"

The reply was always the same, "Sandy is not for sale."

Wealthy individuals, who wanted Sandy as a pet for their children, begged Dick to reconsider. They were willing to pay a handsome sums for this well-trained dog.

You see, four months earlier, they could have had this dog for a song. Who knows how many people walked right past this adorable dog at the animal shelter with no consideration given for adoption. Who knows how many other dogs, also in that same facility, were capable of "stardom" if the right person had come along and knew how to unleash their potential?

The Clicker
When Lassie died a dozen years later, we adopted Bonnie, our first rescue. We began classes at the Birmingham Obedience Training Club, where she and I were introduced to the concept of "clicker training." The process started by clicking the clicker and giving Bonnie a treat...repeated over and over again. The point was that she would come to associate hearing the click with the prospect of a treat to follow.

I thought it was the most ridiculous idea I had ever heard...until I saw it starting to work. At first, Bonnie was scared of the sound the clicker made. After a few treats, that sounds became music to her ears.

The hardest part was to train me. Being late with the clicker would confuse her on what behavior was being rewarded. Expecting the "finished product" in the early stages of learning a trick was setting us both up for failure. Extending a training session past he length of her attention span was an exercise in frustration for both of us.

What Did I Learn?
What works with our dogs spills over into so many areas of life:
  • Timing is everything. The "click" must come at the right time, or the opportunity is lost. The challenge is to pay attention and seize the moment.
  • "Shaping" is important. The ability to play the beautiful cadenza, catch the touchdown pass on the run, or roll over on command each start with a simple skill. Defining what merits a "click," deciding how to progressively raise the bar, and knowing when we have achieved the finished product, lead to success.
  • Consistency is King. When we are sure of the expectations, and the expectations are reasonable we perform at higher levels and with lower stress. When we work on our goals a little each day, the results are rewarding.
  • Occam's Razor is alive and well. This theory translates that the simplest solution is most often the best one. In our busy lives, we tend to resist what is hard. That which is easy gets done. 
  • We run across "stars" in the most unlikely places. The ability to recognize potential, and the willingness to develop it, produce results in all walks of life.
We are beginning our journey with Sally. She is quickly proving to be well-mannered, loving companion to me, Davonia, and Cabrio (our other Sheltie). We hope that she is as pleased with her forever home as we are with her.

Sally (the taller Sable) is pictured here playing with her friend, Shiloah, at the rescue

Monday, May 12, 2014

Sally: The Newest Addition to the Family

Our dogs are important to us. Anyone who knows me and Davonia well at all knows that. On Friday, we welcomed a new addition to the family.

Sally is a four-year old Shetland Sheepdog. Several months ago, a family surrendered Sally to the Sheltie Rescue of East Tennessee. A very shy girl, she had been attended classes to learn obedience, but mostly socialization. That investment paid off. Everyone at the class talked about the transformation they have seen in her.

Thursday, we traveled five hours to Greenville, Tennessee to meet Sally.We had the opportunity to attend her class, see what she was learning, and even begin working with her. Friday, we brought her home.

This video shows Sally playing with Shiloah, a 7-year-old male, while at the rescue. Sally is the taller sable.

Sally had to be shaved when she came to the rescue, the only way to remedy her overly-matted coat. We look forward to watching a beautiful coat come in over the coming months. She loves any sort of attention. Having her coat brushed is surely something she will welcome.

We saw Sally's shyness when we visited her on Thursday, but she quickly warmed up to us. She responded beautifully at her class. Now at home, her favorite place to lay is under my desk. In fact, that is where she is right now as I am composing this post.

On-leash, she walks right by my side without ever pulling. Off-leash, she still walks right by my side. Her classes employ clicker training, and so the sound of the clicker is a loud she already relates to having done something well, and that her treat is coming.

We took Cabrio with us on the trip. He had the time of his life. Cabrio had his first  stay in a hotel Thursday night. Taking his bed with us made him more comfortable. He enjoyed playing with the other dogs, both at the rescue, and at Sally's class. He is teaching Sally how things work at our house, just as Bonnie did for him almost four years ago.

In the next post, you will see pictures of Sally along with thoughts about our experience with these beautiful creatures over the last 24 years, and the truths about life they teach us.


Friday, May 09, 2014

How Do You Know You're a Teacher?

This Jeff Foxworthy routine has made its rounds around the Internet for some time. It's always good for a laugh, mainly because of some of the truth it embeds.
  1. You get a secret thrill out of laminating things.
  2. You can hear 25 voices behind you and know exactly which one belongs to the child out of line.
  3. You walk into a store and hear the words, “It’s Ms./Mr. ____________ and know you have been spotted.
  4. You have 25 people who accidentally call you Mom/Dad at one time or another.
  5. You can eat a multi-course meal in under 25 minutes.
  6. You’ve trained yourself to go to the bathroom at two distinct times of the day, lunch and planning period.
  7. You start saving other people’s trash, because most likely, you can use that toilet paper tube or plastic butter tub for something in the classroom.
  8. You believe the Teacher’s Lounge should be equipped with a margarita machine.
  9. You want to slap the next person who says, “Must be nice to work 7 to 3 and have summers off”.
  10. You believe chocolate is a food group.
  11. You can tell if it’s a full moon without ever looking outside.
  12. You believe that unspeakable evils will befall you if anyone says, “Boy, the kids are sure mellow today.”
  13. You feel the urge to talk to strange children and correct their behavior when you are out in public.
  14. You believe in aerial spraying of Ritalin.
  15. You think caffeine should be available in intravenous form.
  16. You spend more money on school stuff than you do on your own children.
  17. You can’t pass the school supply aisle without getting at least 5 items!
  18. You ask your friends to use their words and explain if the left hand turn he made was a “good choice” or “bad choice.”
  19. You find true beauty in a can full of perfectly sharpened pencils.
  20. You are secretly addicted to hand sanitizer.
  21. You understand, instantaneously, why a child behaves in a certain way after meeting his/her parents.

Friday, May 02, 2014

Which Blogs Should You Be Reading? My Starter List

How do you stay on top of trending information in your field? For me, it's blogs. I have identified about 100 blogs which provide me in the information I need or want. Visiting 100 blogs would be time-consuming, so I have relied on one RSS reader or another to take all of the new content from the blogs I like and put it in one place.

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."

Mobile App
On my Android phone, I downloaded the Feedly app from Google Play. An app for iPhone is also available. You will want to visit the "Preferences" menu on the mobile app. I accessed it by touching an icon in the upper-left corner of the screen. On the "Advanced Settings" in the Preferences menu, I checked "Auto Mark as Read," so that when I read or scroll past an article, unless I mark it as "saved," it's gone the next time I access Feedly.

You may want to adjust the "Article Font Size." Also, experiment with the "Default View" to see what appearance you like best.
Our mobile devices allow us to function from anywhere. In most cases, however, we work best at our desktop computers. It's hard for a single, small screen to keep pace with my large dual-monitor setup. It's hard for two thumbs on a piece of glass to do what the fingers of two hands can do on a keyboard. 

Using Feedly on my phone is proving to be an even better experience than viewing it on my computer. For this reason, reading Feedly becomes something I can do from anywhere. Because I can read just one article or the entire feed during any given session, it becomes a perfect option for filling spare minutes. I can read it while in line at the grocery store or waiting for an appointment.

Passing good content on to others through social networking is important. I am able to that so as easy from my phone as I can on my desktop computer. Icons allow for instant sharing on Facebook or Twitter. Another icon allows me to share an article through other options.

Google ReaderFor example, I use Hootsuite on my desktop to organize social media content. I also have a Hootsuite app on my phone. While reading an article in Feedly, I can choose to share an article through Hootsuite. Hootsuite lets me decide whether the article goes to Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, Google+, or any combination thereof. In addition, I am able to schedule a day and time when the item will be shared.

One of the features sure to become a favorite is Feedly's appearance You see beautiful images together with the title and snippet of each article. You skim articles by simply sliding through them with a thumb. Sliding upwards advances to the next article or page. Sliding downwards allows you to move backwards. Tapping on a article opens it.

My favorite Feedly feeds
So what are the blogs I have in Feedly? I don't think you want the list of over 100. Below are 17 of my favorites with a link to each one.
  • Barbara Blackburn writes about "rigor" in education.
  • Engadget keeps me informed about the latest in technology.
  • Fast Company reports on what's hot in the world of business.
  • Lifehacker provides hints on how to do most anything quicker and easier.
  • PC World helps me get the most out of my computer
  • Tech Crunch keeps me abreast of what's new in technology.
  • Copyblogger provides a wealth of information about blogging.
  • Connected Principals provides a variety of perspectives from practicing principals.
  • Dotto Tech provides short videos on hot to use popular technology services. His explanations are great.
  • Eduflections contains the thoughts of a tech-savvy teacher and author.
  • Eduleadership is a great source for principals, especially those who are interested in technology.
  • Free Technology for Teachers provides superb guidance on a wealth of free sites for educators. This site is probably my favorite on the list.
  • Gmail Blog is a must for users of Gmail.
  • Jason Womack writes about leadership, time management, and making "your best better."
  • Michael Hyatt is a social media giant.
  • Raymond L. Young is a great example of an elementary school blog.
  • Seth's Blog provides interesting perspectives on "selling," and does it in a few words. 

I read Feedly from my phone. When I have a minute here or there, I'm not checking email or Facebook; I'm reading Feedly. I never read every article. At any one time, five titles and the first couple of sentences from those five posts appear on the screen at a time. With one flick, an entire screen can be dismissed. Tapping on the title opens an article. Touching and holding on the article saves it to read later.

As I read Feedly in those spare minutes, I flip through pages where none of the five articles interest me. Of those article which do look interesting, I read the "quick reads," which are then automatically marked as "read" and will not appear the next time I access Feedly. For those articles which will take a little more time, perhaps because they include video, I mark those to read later.

From home, I access Feedly on my desktop computer and review the "read later" articles. When I am finished with an article, I "unsave" it. That way, the section of saved articles is zeroed-out periodically, and the current articles on my phone reach "empty" every few days.

For me, the careful choice of blogs and a methodology for reading them during those spare moments keeps me on top of my game.

How do you stay on top of your game? What is your strategy for your managing your own learning? Leave me a comment and let me know.

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Monday, April 28, 2014

Excel 2013: Do You Know About "Flash Fill"?

How many times have you encountered an Excel spreadsheet where the first and last names were in two different columns and you needed to combine them? Or, perhaps you need to do the reverse. Yes, Excel contains formulas that will handle these sorts of tasks. I don't use those functions enough to remember the formulas and find myself looking them up.

A great new feature in Excel 2013 called "Flash Fill" makes tasks such as these easy. This video by Mike Thomas demonstrates this new feature.

If you think others would benefit from seeing this video, please click on one of the social media icons below to and share this post.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Who Can You Get to Help? The Art of Delegation

Some teachers are masters of delegation. They take simple classroom jobs and delegate to students. These teachers realize two important concepts:
  1. A teacher cannot do it all. When we delegate those things which a student can do we create more time for that which requires our expertise. 
  2. Allowing students to help with running the classroom gives them a "stake in the program," gives them a sense of ownership, and builds responsibility. 
What is it you find yourself doing that your students could do every bit as well as you? In Organization Made Easy!: Tools for Today’s Teachers, we examine this idea. We all have those morning “routines” for getting the day started. We also have chores to perform that end the day and get the classroom ready for tomorrow. Have you ever stopped to list them all? Once you do, you begin to realize why you are so tired and feel like you are falling further behind.

We can lower our level of stress, stay on top of our game, and help build responsibility in our students, all at the same time. Let 2014 be the year you change all of that. Take the time to list the tasks. Then structure a system whereby ever student has a job, even a small job. Yes, you will spend a little time teaching what needs to be done, but the rewards quickly become evident.

A dear friend and master 1st grade teacher called her system “Adopted Areas.” Imagine with 3 minutes to go before the bell to end the school day, this teacher standing before her class and saying, “Students, it’s time for our Adopted Areas. Let’s take 2 minutes and then be back in your seat. Ready? Go.” Imagine her standing calmly as 20 students each begin rearranging books, straightening the reading area, cleaning the board, and a host of other duties. Two minutes later, 20 students are in their seats, looking at their teacher, waiting to be dismissed. As the students leave, this teacher is smiling, knowing that 20 jobs were done that she did not have to do, all because she was organized enough to use her students as helpers.

“Adopted Areas” are not only for young students. In every high school, the laptop and projector must be turned on in the morning and shut down in the afternoon. Chairs and bookshelves straightened. Homerooms are used to distribute various flyers. During the day, we collect and distribute papers. Why do all of that ourselves?

We can lower our level of stress, stay on top of our game, and help build responsibility in our students, all at the same time. Why not give it a try?

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Friday, April 25, 2014

What's at the Center of Your Social Media Life?

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest. The list continues. We have so many options for getting our message out to others. I have often remarked that the blog should be the centerpiece of your social media life. It's the place in cyberspace you own. It's the place where you can communicate your message in as many or as few characters as you like. It's a place where you can add a picture or a dozen pictures, a video or a dozen videos. It's a place which offers the flexibility you don't find anywhere else.

Conventional wisdom says that your blog should have a single focus. To stray from that focus would confuse your readers. A blog about organization and time management should contain posts only about organization and time management. 

My last post strayed from that conventional wisdom. In doing so, I think it points out one of the strengths of the blog and why it is the centerpiece of the social media experience.

While this blog has organization and time management as its focus, for nine years, it has also served as a vehicle to communicate what is important in my life to anyone who cares to read about it. Those who know me and Davonia well, they know that our dogs are precious to us. Of the five Shelties who have been with us, four have been rescues. 

When this life ends for one of our pets, this blog has honored that faithful pet. If you read the tribute to Lucy in the last post and followed the links to read about Bonnie and Skipper, I think you will understand why I view the blog as the social media centerpiece. 

Sure, I can tell friends about these events on Facebook or Twitter. I can pin pictures of our pets on Pinterest or upload them to Instagram. Each of those platforms, however, pales in comparison to the depth of a blog post.

Sometimes a story needs more than 140 characters. Sometimes a story needs to fill the screen, and the next screen, and to be augmented with pictures at just the right places. Nothing does the job better than a blog.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Lucy (???-April 16, 2014)

Lucy’s birthday is a mystery. Like Cabrio, she was picked up as a stray. While the rescue estimated her to be around 3 years old, several vets estimated her age to be much older.

Lucy adapted well to life as an inside dog. Her sweet disposition endeared her to us from the beginning.

Sadly, she was with us for only five months. Without warning, she collapsed. Despite every effort to save her, the emergency animal clinic attributed her death to pancreatitis.

We will miss her sweet personality, the way she would jump around like a puppy, and the way she was content to lay at our feet and simply be near. Most of all, we will miss the way she would wait patiently at the side of our bed for one of us to stir. She would stand on her hind legs and place her head on the bed between her front paws to receive her first petting of the day.

Lucy joins Lassie, Bonnie, and Skipper at Rainbow Bridge. As she talks to them about the last five months, we hope she will say it was her very best five months.
Lucy on the day we adopted her

Monday, April 21, 2014

How to Organize Your Most Commonly-Used Files

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 good filing system is vital. The heart of a digital system is the "Documents" folder on the computer, where you construct a logical set of folders.

All documents are not created equal, however. Some, you will file and never access again. Some, you will use multiple times every day.

Vilfredo Pareto was an Italian economist who lived 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 the “Pareto Principle,” or the “80/20 Rule.” It has been applied in many circles. A salesman may likely find that 80% of his sales are made to 20% of his customers. In a school, 80% of the discipline problems generally come from about 20% of the students. Likewise, around 80% of absences in the school or workplace come from approximately 20% of the people.

All documents are not created equal, however. Some, you will file and never access again. Some, you will use multiple times every day. The application of the Pareto Principle extends to the files on your computer. Each of us has a few number of files that we use a great portion of the time. For example, the letterhead for your organization, stored digitally, is a document you use every time you compose correspondence. Do you regularly make use of a fax machine? If so, a fax cover, stored digitally is a great time-saver. The information about your organization is already there. You simply add the name and number of the recipient. As a school administrator, I used a single spreadsheet to keep me abreast of expenses and balances in various accounts. Hardly a day would go by that I didn't consult or update that spreadsheet.

All of the documents just mentioned composed “the vital few”—those few items which are in constant use. I want to have them at my fingertips. For that reason, for many years, I have maintained a folder right on my computer desktop called “Fingertip.” Inside are those few files which I use constantly. Instead of working through nested folders to access one of those documents, that set of commonly-used files is one click away.

In today's world of "cloud computing," I am a Dropbox user. Having my commonly-accessed "Fingertip" files accessible from anywhere, via Dropbox, makes sense. One quick technique allows me to have that access. I moved my Fingertip folder into Dropbox. I then created a shortcut to the Fingertip folder, and moved it to the desktop. No matter where I am, I can use Dropbox to access my Fingertip folder from my mobile devices. At my desk, a shortcut to the folder is on the desktop.

What are those few files that you use all the time? Create your own "Fingertip" folder and store them there. You will be surprised at the time you will save every day.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Digital Organization: How to Fit All of the Pieces Together

Time Management

Two decades ago, the solution for our busy lives was one book to house everything. Our calendar, to-do list, address book, and notes were in one place. The Franklin Planner and Day-Timer were the survival tools of that era. Many continue to reply on the one-book method for staying organized. For 10 years, I was a devoted Day-Timer user. The intrigue of being able to put it all in one place was great.

Today, many of us look to digital tools to organize out lives. My transformation came in 2001 when I traded my Day-Timer for a Palm and began syncing it to Outlook. Over the years, the specific tools have changed. The strategy has remained the same. I still need a place to house my calendar, to-do list, contacts, and notes. We can now add email to that list. Respectively, I achieve my aim through following tools:
  • Google Calendar
  • Google Contacts
  • ToodleDo
  • Evernote
  • Gmail
What if you could group these five elements of your productivity suite together? What if the entire set was always available anytime your browser was open? What if each one was only one click away at any time?

Take a look at the screen shot of a portion of my browser's toolbar:


Just under the address bar, you see an icon representing each of the five parts of my productivity suite. Each one is a button. When clicked, that site opens. How did I create those buttons? The techniques is unbelievably simple.

First, be sure that you bookmarks toolbar is showing. Right-click somewhere on the toolbar and be sure there is a check beside the "Show bookmarks bar."

Next, you will go to each site, one at a time. Navigate to your Google Calendar, for example. Notice the URL in the address bar. Notice that just to the left of that URL is a small icon. In the example above, that icon looks like a blank piece of paper with a corner turned down. The look of that icon will vary according to the website, but you will always see some type of icon.

The trick is to click on that icon and drag it to the bookmarks toolbar. That's it! In just a few minutes, you can have a button for each part of your productivity suite.

What other buttons might you want to have? For me, I have the following additional buttons:

  • Toodledo Bookmarklet Clicking the link will take you to a blog post explaining what this does and why it's so handy.
  • TV Guide. I can see at glance what's coming on in my area. I have this button on the computer in my office.
  • Google Bookmarks. When I am reading an online article I want to add to my bookmarks, one click on this button brings up a box with the name of the site and URL completed. I can amend the information and adds tags and a description.
  • Blogger. When I want to compose a new blog post, one click takes me there.
  • Update website. When I acquire a new speaking engagement, I add the date to my website. I frequently makes small updates to the site, and the URL for where those updates are made is not one I can easily remember. With this button on my toolbar, I am one click away from being able to compose updates.
  • Feedly. Read the post on how Feedly is one of the major source of information to keep me on top of the subjects which are important to me.

In just a few minutes, you can have your own browser toolbar buttons. It's easy enough, you will actually do it!

Does anyone already have a helpful set of browser buttons? Let me know what you have.