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.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Why the Principal Should Be a Blogger

This article is an "oldie but a goodie." It's one I wrote for  Principal magazine back in 2010. The article encourages principals to use blogs as a means of communication.

Because blogs have been around for a while, they don't generate the same buzz as some of the newer social media platforms. Make no mistake, the blog is at the center of one's social media life. It's the place on the Internet you own. It's the place where you can express yourself in as many or as few characters as you like.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Heartbleed: What You Need to Know to Protect Yourself

If you are like me, the technical surrounding the Heartbleed virus go right over your head. What we need are simple instructions for what to do about it. From everything I have read over the last few days, protecting yourself boils down to three key points:

  • Determine what sites you use have been impacted by Heartbleed, and if they have patched the vulnerability.
  • If the site has been impacted by Heartbleed and has not been patched, don't change your password yet.
  • If the site has been impacted by Heartbleed and has been patched, change your password.

So, how do you know what sites have been impacted by Heartbleed? How do you know what sites have been patched? To help answer those questions, here are three sources I have found helpful:

  • This article lists major sites which were or were not impacted. It is a good starting point, because it addresses such sites as Paypal, Evernote, Yahoo, Amazon, Twitter, and Google. Virtually everyone will see a listing which either eases their mind or puts them on a heightened state of alert. 
  • This post from is constantly being updated. Visit it daily until there are no more sites labeled as "awaiting response" which you use.
  • LastPass has established a page which allows you to enter any URL and see its Heartbleed status.

As with any other security compromise, changing your password is the way to stay protected. However, wait until the site is patched before doing so.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Memories Fail. Blogs Remember.

Where memory fails, the written word reminds. We write thoughts on our blogs to communicate what is important today. Later, those posts serve as a reliable record of that which is now history.

I was thrilled to receive an e-mail from a teacher with whom I had worked in my former school system. I retired, and her family relocated to another area. In the e-mail, she told me just being named "Teacher of the Year" in her new school system and asked me for a letter of support as her application moved to the next level.

I wanted to be specific enough about her accomplishments, yet careful to be accurate. A hazy memory about events from several years ago made it impossible to accomplish both objectives.

Then, a thought occurred. During my time in that school system, our school started blogging. When I left from the principalship for a position at the central office, we used blogs as our major method of communication with staff and the community. Every school had also started blogging.

I searched through old blog posts from her school and found details about a wonderful science night she had planned. The post gave me the details to give the letter the power this master teacher deserved. I also found a post on the blog the district maintained during my time at the central office. This post chronicled her being named "Teacher of the Year" for our system, confirming the year I had thought she received that award.

We blog for many reasons. Not one of the least of these is to capture the best of the present, so that when memories fade, the reminders are there.

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

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Simplicity: Could It Move You to Action?

Several years ago, Fast Company included an article by Dan & Chip Heath entitled, “Analysis of Paralysis.” The essence of the article is captured in the sentence which ended the article’s first paragraph: “Simplicity allows people to act.”

I find that when I look at my to-do list, I gravitate to the tasks which are easy to do, and you probably do as well. We are human, and we like to find easy ways to do things. When a task presents complexity and ambiguity, we procrastinate. We choose instead which presents more clarity, even if the task provides less payoff.

Perhaps the answer is to make everything simple and make everything clear. The paradox is that some work is required in order to make things easy. The work consists of thinking a project all the way through from beginning to end. The work consists of figuring out all of the steps as well as knowing when it may not be possible to know all of them. Furthermore, keeping all of the notes and documents related to that project neatly organized takes some thought.

The good news is once we have structured a system and are willing to spend a little time keeping it clear, the rest becomes easy, incredibly easy.

Imagine looking at your list and knowing in which order to tackle the items and exactly how to proceed on each one. How simple that would make your day. Simple enough, you would actually act.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Gene Hackman Talking About Basketball...and Life

Tonight, the NCAA will crown a new men's basketball champion. It seems particularly appropriate to feature this clip at this time.

From my favorite movie of all time. Listen to what Gene Hackman is saying. While he’s talking about basketball, his message is just as applicable regardless of the task at hand.

Friday, April 04, 2014

6 Survival Strategies for Ending "May Madness"

I enjoyed creating this segment for the School Leadership Briefing. I hope it helps you solve "May Madness."

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

How Can I Convert My Files?

Ever have a document, spreadsheet, presentation, ebook, audio file, video file, image, or anything else that is in one format, and you need it in another? Sure the "Save as" menu in your program probably includes a number of options. But what if you need more?

In this post, you will get links to sites which will convert, for free, your desired file from one format to another:

  • CloudConvert supports archive, audio, cad, document, ebook, image, presentations, spreadsheet, vector, and video conversion.
  • CometDocs supports conversion of PDF files to Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. The service also supports conversion of various file formats to PDF.
  • Have a PDF and need it converted to Kindle, mobi, or azw? Try this site.
  • This site convert a CSV file to XML.
  • Scanning a document and having it save as PDF is easy. Depending of what type of scanner is being used, the result could leave you with a set of one-page scans rather than one document which scrolls from page to page. PDF Mergy allows you to upload those individual PDF pages and have them combined into one document.
  • I have found that while PDF mergy does a great job of combining individual pages into one document, the resulting file size is large. Compress PDF allows you to upload your PDF and it returns to you the same PDF in a much smaller size.
  • If you have an image whose file size you would like to reduce, is a great site. Upload your document, and the service removes unnecessary bytes.
  • Zamzar supports over 1,200 different conversions, including video, music, ebooks, images, and CAD.

Tweet: Need a file converted for free? via @DrFrankBuck #productivityHow else needs to know about these file-conversion services? Click the image to send a Tweet.

Do you already use one or more of these services? What comments would you like to add?