6:30 am As I wait for the water to boil for the French press, I scan my email. Outlook is set to show the preview pane similar to the experience using the Mail App on my iPad. When a message is selected, it is previewed without the hassel of double clicking to open. Messages are not read; rather they are skimmed. I do a preview to see what issues, requests, and correspondences await me. This frames the beginning of the work day.
7:30 am Several mornings a week, I commute an hour down the interstate in Connecticut. Driving allows me to think. The caveat is to have commercial free music that won’t invade my thinking zone. Before setting off, I launch Voice Memo on my iPhone and start a new recording and immediately pause it. The trick is to capture thoughts, plans, or messages I want to send. As things pop into my mind, I add short sound bites to the recording on the iPhone.
9:00 am After checking in with the staff at the office, I process my email inbox. Using OmniFocus and a paid subscription account with Evernote, I go through the email sorted oldest first. Old messages have been previewed at 6 am. As they are reviewed a second time it is easier to make some snap decisions on what to do next. Applying the principles of David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD), I process the messages. If it can be answered in under 30 seconds, a quick reply is dashed off. Anything that requires more than two minutes is transferred into the inbox of OmniFocus as an action item within the inbox. Short emails are copied and pasted into the text area of the action item while email with attachments are forwarded to Evernote. At this point I don’t worry about projects, contexts, or time needed, instead it is more important to capture the “to do” within the program. Effectively, I perform the mind dump on a mini scale which is at the bedrock of a GTD habit.
If the email is reference, I forward the message to Evernote and use additional language in the subject line in the form ”# <notebook> @ <tag>”. For example, an iTunes receipt for an App gets forwarded to my Evernote email address with the addition in the subject line of “@IT #receipts”.
To digress for a moment, one of the many powerful features of Evernote is the ability to put multiple tags on a message (or note) and place them in broad notebooks. Evernote has excellent search features and with the paid account, you can email messages with attachments. Furthermore, PDF and image files are searchable. While I use Dropbox as well, there is no metadata for a file stored in a folder. Evernote allows me to add context to the file. In fact, folders are fairly useless. This one feature alone is a major reason and advantage to forward messages to Evernote as opposed to merely saving the message within my email system. I avoid quota issues,add additional text, transfer a message into a project, and search quickly saved email messages. More on this transformation later.
Every message is deleted after I read it. Everyone. Some are deleted immediately. Others have a quick response and then deleted. Some are forwarded to Evernote, and then deleted. Still others have an entry in OmniFocus as an action item, and then deleted. By the end of this session, I achieve inbox zero. No need to celebrate, I achieve an empty inbox every day. David Allen’s assertion that this freedom is euphoric is actually very true. I don’t worry about the email inbox, avoid stress of searching through saved folders, and satisfy my obsessive compulsive disorder.
Once email is processed, I listen to my voice memos and create entires in the OmniFocus inbox. Lastly I look through my notes taken in Notability from meetings I attend the previous day as well as any other action items from voicemail, hand written notes, mailbox, etc. When done, I have a long list of new items in my GTD program of choice, OmniFocus.
I try very hard not to schedule meetings first thing in the morning since it conflicts with this discipline.
9:30 am My colleagues who are skeptical of my system, quip at this point. “You have merely moved email from one inbox to another. In fact, you have taken more time.” As Lee Corso would say on ESPN’s College GameDay, “Not so fast, my friend.”
There are many GTD mobile apps and programs for consideration. My criteria is my product has to be full featured. I have used several web based systems from Remember the Milk to Nozbe. OmniFocus, a Mac product, is great because it ties into my calendar and with the iPad App shows (or forecasts) items with my appointments. What is important is that my GTD software allows me create an action item that includes a note field, a project name, a context, start and due dates as well as the ability to sync to the cloud and additionally there is an iPad and iPhone App.
Each item in the OmniFocus inbox is now processed. Simple items go into a single action list called “Miscellaneous”. These are basically either longer email responses or items that require one step to complete. The action name is the next step.
Anything that requires more than one step is transformed into a project. A project has multiple steps to complete. What is important at this point is to record the next step needed to move the project forward. If more than one action is obvious, I add these additional steps. If I am pressed for time, I only focus on exactly the next step. This may seem trivial but it is the leverage needed to move a project forward. When I return to this project at a later date, the next step item is my starting point and allows me to immediately dive in without the need to review the whole project and accompanying documentation. I have learned from experience not to limit my projects just to work. We all think of personal items that need to be done and if neglected in this process I can not achieve the peace of mind. I group projects into folders. My broad folders are IT, Home, and Officiating (for three sports where I am a referee).
All action items are given a context. Contexts are either verbs (research, phone, email, review) or nouns (computer, meeting) that specify what tool is needed to complete the action step. Contexts are given to the next action step and with a click of a button can be grouped for review. For example, I can sort all the action steps and see the context “email”.
Lastly, I add time boundaries. Start date is always “today”. If there is not a specific time due date I pick “Friday” giving myself this work week to return to the item. If there is a specific date something is needed, I make sure to make the due date the Friday prior to allow OmniFocus to remind me of the task and have some time to review.
Nothing feels better than checking off action steps during the day. It adds a great sense of accomplishment during the work day.
9:45 am - Lunch. My work day consists of either meetings or desk time. During meetings I use my iPad heavily and the App Notability to take notes and Evernote to search for saved documentation. If the meeting involves a great deal of dialogue and interaction, I sometimes use the record feature in Evernote to embed an audio recording that I can later review and transcribe into notes.
Meetings often have take aways or action steps. I transcribe these immediately during the meeting in OmniFocus by adding one entry to the inbox. Later, when I process my inbox I expand the items and add context, project or list names, due dates, and next steps.
If the meeting has an electronic agenda, it is forwarded to Evernote. If there is paper items given out at the meeting, each item is scanned to a PDF on the office multifunction printer, and once received in my email, forwarded to Evernote. Therefore, I eliminate almost the need for actual filing cabinets. What gets stored in these mechanical dinosaurs are booklets, contracts, schematic drawings, or anything too large and complex to scan. However, I often use my iPhone to take pictures of drawings or white boards and then the iPhone Evernote App to immediately file them away with the proper tags. If there is physical document saved, I make a notation in Evernote.
Notability is great for text editing and hand written notes or diagrams. I keep the Notability files to add content but always make a PDF to Evernote to make sure I have a copy in one place. This also gives me a series of updated notes on a project as I collect numerous PDF updates.
Desk time always has a duration from fifteen to 90 minutes. At these times, I go back to OmniFocus and look only at items with a due date of this Friday. Larger review items that require more focused attention are slated for the morning as I sip coffee. They are completed or if progress is made, updated in OmniFocus with the next action step recorded when I stop. When I find myself drifting, I know it is time to move on to another task. I scan the list of projects/action steps and resolve several that take longer than 30 seconds but needed no more than 5 minutes. By the time the next meeting or lunch occurs, I have completed several tasks.
Before leaving the office, I process my email inbox once again. It takes me far less time than the morning routine because I left it in an inbox zero state. Once done, my inbox remains empty.
Afternoon. At some point everyone takes a break and for me I usually catch up on social media which includes twitter, blogs, Facebook, etc. Evernote has both a Mac OS plug-in and browser add-ons to help you take screen shots, selections, or full web pages. Interesting links are saved with a “R&D” tag. (GTD disciples: this is effectively my someday/maybe list.) Tweetdeck will allow me to send interesting tweets directly to Evernote. Again, there is beauty of having one place for all my stuff.
Fridays. Fridays are a little different. This step took the longest to implement in my GTD system. On Friday I schedule “close door time” to attack any action items that are time sensitive and have fallen off the plate the previous days. I try to literally clear off my desk. Papers are sorted and filed, snail mail opened and read, and if necessary new action items created in OmniFocus and next action steps recorded. Bills are paid, voice mail cleaned out, any coffee mugs washed. While it does not always happen, when accomplished it allows me to relax more on the weekend and address home tasks. If the Friday predates a vacation period, tis ritual becomes nonnegotiable and must be done. Even if I have to stay late on a Friday, I won’t start a vacation period without clearing the desk. When I have failed at this task I struggle to let go on vacation. Some part of me continues to churn with those pesky tasks.
Results: I don’t wake up in the middle of the night and stress over all I have to do. On the very rare occasions this happens, I get up and write out single action items. This is a warning sign that my discipline has slipped on the daily routine or I am overbooked. These early morning sleep interruptions happen far less frequently than when I began down this road. It took me time to try and test various GTD tools. I made refinements in my buckets. I tried several variations of contexts. I was never discouraged to reorganize my folders, projects, etc. Applying GTD is an organic process.
Evernote changed my life.
Choate Rosemary Hall embarked on an iPad program this September by requiring all students to either have an iPad 2 or latest generation iPad. After a full year pilot and infrastructure improvements, iPads have already transformed the School in two short weeks. Here are some initial observations from my perch as IT Director.
Some of this can be attributed to the excitement of a new program. I think it is a larger shift. Time will tell.
edAccess is a constituent group of Educause for small colleges and independent/secondary schools. Their annual conference in June was one of the first to use the “unconference” model with all session topics derived from attendees. Small in nature, the summer conference offers a great combination of peer gatherings, keynote speaker, and networking.
Ten topics, tidbits, gems, and observations I made this year at edAccess 2012 in no particular order:
Graphic interpretation of Bill Gates keynote at NAIS Annunal Conference 2012.
“Jobs asked some questions about education, and Gates sketched out his vision of what schools in the future would be like, with students watching lectures and video lessons on their own while using classroom time for discussions and problem solving. They agreed that computers had, so far, made surprisingly little impact on schools—far less than on other relays of society such as media and medicine and law. For that to change, Gates said, computers and mobile devices would have to focus on delivering more personalized lessons and providing motivational feedback.” (pgs. 553-554) Couldn’t agree more!
This is part two in a series regarding Walter Isaacson’s biography Steve Jobs. Link to Part 1: Insanely Great.
But Jobs had latched onto what he believed was a key management lesson from his Macintosh experience: You have to be ruthless if you want to build a team of A players. “It’s too easy, as a team grows, to put up with a few B players, and they then attract a few more B players, and soon you will even have some C players,” he recalled. “The Macintosh experience taught me that A players like to work only with other A players, which means you can’t indulge B players.” (p. 181)
For most things in life, the range between best and average is 30% or so. The best airplane flight, the best meal, they may be 30% better than your average one. What I saw with Woz was somebody who was fifty times better than the average engineer. He could have a meeting in his head. The Mac team was an attempt to build a whole team like that, A players. People said they wouldn’t get along, they’d hate working with each other. But I realize that A players like to work with A players, they just didn’t like working with C players. At Pixar, it was a whole team of A players. When I got back to Apple, that’s what I decided to try to do. You need to have a collaborative hiring process. When we hire someone, even if they’re going to be in marketing, I will have them talk to the design folks and the engineers. My role model was J. Robert Oppenheimer. I read about the type of people he sought for the atom bomb project. I wasn’t nearly as good as he was, but that’s what I aspired to do. (p.363)
I have been at both ends of this spectrum. In some jobs I was consider a B player and at others an A player. Sometimes you start as an A player and then become a B player. The longer I have worked in educational management, the more I see the similarities of leading a department to teaching a high school class. As a student, the right teacher can be the difference between becoming an A player or settling as a B player.
Jobs would only want to teach the honors classes. He would seek out the gifted and talented and push off the others to somebody else. He would have the current students select the next enrollment. In most of our school environments this is neither realistic or practical.
We all strive for the best people to work at their peak performance. What distinguishes a great manager is his/her ability to teach, coach, encourage, empathize, and motivative department members to grow professionally and produce efficiently. Bill Gates was the keynote speaker at the National Association of Independent Schools Annual Conference in Seattle this week. When asked what qualities of Lakeside School (which he noted was the only school from which he graduated) allowed him to write a scheduling program for the city of Portland as a student, he answered: “You let us try and didn’t get in our way.”
We stress the need to create environments in our schools that are safe to experiment and fail. We want our students to work collaboratively. We desire innovation. We value independent thinking and ask many to “step out of the box”. Yet, so often, our adult managerial styles do not reflect our mission statements. Far too often, micro-managing is the default working ethos. We create frustrated employees who lack a desire to succeed and think our class is full of B players. We do not look critically at our manager styles and ask, “Did I do everything possible to help this person succeed?” We assume that everyone can just do their job without our help. If we are judged as teachers, would we be A players?
Teachers are now being asked to think differently. There are several movements, the most popular have names such as 21st Century Schools, flipped classrooms, and blended classes. We in management need to take those principles to heart and shape our administrative departments in similar manners.
This is not to say that everyone fits and at times people do not need to be counseled to move on to another position. This should be the last resort. We should strive more to be a well oiled, efficient navy, rather than a band of pirates who self-select their own membership.
During my winter weekends, I am reading Walter Isaacson biography Steve Jobs. Several passages have struck me. Too many to share in one blog post, I have group them together in a short series with some thoughts on each.
Regarding the creation of the Macintosh:
“Well, circles and ovals are good,” [Jobs] said, “but how about drawing rectangles with rounded corners?”
“I don’t think we really need it,” said Atkinson, who explained that it would be almost impossible to do. ”I want to keep the graphics routines lean and limit them to the primitives that truly needed to be done,” he recalled.
“Rectangles with rounded corners are everywhere!” Jobs said, jumping up and getting more intense. “Just look at this room!” He opined out the whiteboard and the tabletop and other objects with rounded corners. “And look outside there’s even more, practically everywhere you look!” He dragged Atkinson out for a walk, pointing our car windows and billboards and street signs. “Within three blocks, we found seventeen examples,” said Jobs. “I started pointing them out everywhere until he completely convinced.” (p.130)
I realized that I often ask lots of questions to my staff. Challenging them to bend straight into rounded corners resonates with me. Managing a department of adults is not that different from teaching a class of students.
At the calligraphy class he had audited at Reed, Jobs learned to love typefaces, with all their serif and sans serif variation, proportional spacing, and leading. “When we designed the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me,” he later said of that class. Because the Mac was bitmapped, ti was possible to devise an endless array of fonts, ranging from the elegant to the wacky, and render them pixel by pixel on the screen. (p. 130)
I loved typography in high school and worked for a short period on the school newspaper. My deficiency in editing, somewhat a result of dyslexic and learning challenges, made this pursuit impossible. In fact, my near inability to write by hand forced me on to a typewriter and then to the DEC PDP mini-mainframe, where I was saved by a text editor. It began my vocation in technology. I have always loved design and it has been part of my educational career stretching from complex drawn play books as a head lacrosse coach to teaching web design. My ability to write in any coherent fashion is a directly attributed to the use of a word processor and a GUI interface.
From Mike Markkula he had learned the importance of packaging and presentation. People do huge a book by its cover, so for the box of the Macintosh, Jobs chose a full-color design and kept trying to make it look better. “He got the guys to redo it fifty times,” recalled Alain Rossmann, a member of the Mac team… “It was going to be thrown in the trash as soon as the consumer opened it, but he was obsessed by how it looked.” (p. 134)
Not until I read this passage did it occur to me that I always save an Apple product box for over a year. I struggled to throw it out. At my school, faculty have been known to return a used Macintosh three years later in the original box.
This holiday season, with my young adult children home from college and high school, I had several moments to question my station in life. Not quite at the half century mark, but too close for comfort, I noticed that I could not rattle off all those technical tips, tricks, shortcuts, and “cool” and “impressive” factoids that kept me in their conversation in years past. Climbing the treadmill incline this morning, I pondered this troubling evolution or more accurately degradation in my life.
I serve on the Connecticut Association of Independent Schools (CAIS) Commission on Technology (COT). A wonderful group of professionals in the academic, administrative, and information technology sectors of independent schools from kindergarten to high school, day to boarding, tiny to mini-college size, the COT offers a service to members schools to perform a technology review. (Search #caisct on Twitter.) I had the privilege to serve on two and lead one team this past fall. Schools are uneasy but eager to seek support at a time as technology changes. They sense a seismic change approaching and want to be prepared.
Each of these three schools, vastly different in size and scope, had a common theme. The schools had one or more resources to perform break/fix operations. They had specialists to focus on infrastructure and administrative systems. Organizationally, their technology departments were fire departments waiting for the next call, rushing off to drench small blazes, and constantly monitoring potential hot spots to avoid large scale wild fires. The missing piece was a resource to take a long view of all their systems and academic technology. There was no fire battalion. In other words, there was no one serving as a technology generalist, whose mission was to form strategic vision and keep the school aligned to the growing transformation happening within education and academic technology. Devices such as the iPad are forcing all of us to question all of our established paradigms.
As the treadmill increased to incline setting number seven, I realized that I had transformed from a specialist to a generalist. Hired to originally to oversee the school’s help desk and day to day operations, I prided myself on all the small details of my school’s technology operation in years past. Now as director, and in this role I serve as chief information officer, I think and act with a much broader stroke. Several years ago, I attended a Educause seminar in Snowmass, Colorado for new directors of IT. A major theme of the conference was to become the big thinker and allow your other department members to work on the details. For the institution and department to succeed, I would have to perform this metamorphosis. I pause at the end of this calendar year to acknowledge my successful completion of this transition.
Of course my kids want the immediate answers to their questions. They, in fact, attempt to finish my sentences for me. They are not interested in a discussion of educational technology in 24 or 96 months. They are not debating the classroom of the future, overhead projectors versus LCD panels, ubiquitous wireless to accommodate a shifting model towards mobile technology, STEM integration, video on demand, or iPads everywhere. They are specialists in their world. I am a generalist in mine.
A major challenge for small independent schools is to create a position that serves this role. Always a battle and a question of budget, this type of guidance is no longer optional. There is a dedicated resource in all schools to handle finances and perform budget forecasting. To join the exciting transformations facing education today, schools need to have a similar person in technology.
I love radio. Yes, I admit it.
During the height of the Watergate hearings, my family moved to then West Germany. I had awful homesickness, to which my father bought me a Blaupunkt AM/FM radio to offer companionship. I listened to US Arm Forces radio broadcasts from Frankfurt and fell in love with rock-n-roll. Edgar Winter’s Frankenstein, the Rolling Stone’s Wild Horses, and Paul McCarthy’s first major hit as a solo artist Band on the Run were at the top of the charts.
When I returned to New York City as a teenager, I discovered a variety of stations on the airwaves, back in a time when disc jockeys had artistic license over their play lists. I hosted a short lived show in college called Stuck in the Drift with my roommate (Macalester is in Minnesota) and then early in my teaching career I commuted from Connecticut to New York during the first days of sports talk radio.
A move to Virginia coupled with the commercialization of radio lead me to discover NPR especially Click and Clack, Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me, and Morning Edition.
Over the past decade, I commute from northern to southern Connecticut for work and all over the state as a sports official. I continue to listen to radio. However, the free public offerings have gotten worse, with more commercials, and overall the experience is less satisfying. I have contemplated paying for satellite radio but something in my DNA rebels at the thought not to mention the budget.
While I have listened to podcasts for several years, in the last two years, the iPhone, Internet radio, and podcasts have rescued me. The addition of a new car with a input jack has allowed me to create an audio personal learning network (PLN). All of these solutions are free.
To expand these offerings, you may want to consider a few paid services.
As I am currently reading, that is through my Kindle App on the iPad, Will Richardson’s book on PLNs, I realize that often the inclusion of audio options is missing My PLN includes the usual suspects through my blog, Twitter, and professional organizations but the core is centered around radio.
I love radio.
This past week, Choate Rosemary Hall celebrated the Investiture of our new Headmaster Dr. Alex Curtis. The keynote was by Sir Ken Robinson author of The Element. He spoke about the intersection of technology and education.
Robinson makes the following points. While we can not predict the future we can shape it. Schools, he argues, have three purposes:
This past year I struggled with this intersection. (I blame my mother. Growing up in New York we never obeyed red DON’T WALK signs while crossing streets. ”Look and go” was her motto.) I find myself asking a great deal of questions about the role of technology and teaching at the high school level. My quest to find the Holy Grail, conjure Monty Python, has led me down several different paths all a bit strange, somewhat frightening, and often leaving me with more questions. I find myself in a state of deja vu writing my undergraduate major thesis in philosophy.
This turmoil began with an exploration of online courses. Our school was invited to join a consortium. Attractive at first, I saw this as repackaging. I was not interested in changing the delivery method with very little added value. These conversations with other schools in Seattle gave me the opportunity to think. (See my post Blending, Blurring, and Online Classes. ) While online classes allow students away from campus or abroad to benefit from our faculty, in the proposed form it did not transform our teaching or enhance the student experience.
Choate, a member of the Eight Schools Association (ESA), agreed to explore the concept with other New England boarding schools. In preparation, all attendees were asked to read Disrupting Class by Curtis W. Johnson, Michael B. Horn, and Clayton Christensen (As an aside, I read this as an e-book on my iPad using the Kindle App. The ability to highlight and retrieve these sections via the Amazon Kindle site is wonderful.) A few points resonated:
A core principle of this intersection involves teachers working with students individually as course material becomes specialized and individualized. Here is where the conflict begins. I endorse this approach; however, I struggle to understand how a school could be structured in this method. Similar to many educational evangelists, it is rich in theory and sparse in practicality.
Will Richardson spoke to the ESA group. A few of his highlights:
Again, an interwoven thread of individualized education with global connectivity permeated Will’s talk. Technology allows our students to connect and break through the box. Our current schools often stuff students back into the box. I remember the long debates of computers in the classroom and how frightening a prospect this invasion was for many teachers. Asking them to unlearn, relearn, and change the orientation seems from the base a high mountain to clear.
These themes were also central at the NAIS national conference in Washington. The concept of the flipped classroom and a keynote by Salman Kahn on Khan Academy made me ponder the model of new material via video for homework and collaborative instruction during class time. Video is static and old technology. Sure it is great for students to be able to rewind and fast forward but it is not very engaging. I heard recent testomonials from other private Connecticut schools on “how liberating” this approach was for faculty who spent curriculum stipends this past summer experimenting with this approach. I see the value but know it will only be adopted by a percentage of the faculty at my school. Interactive modeling combined with video attracts me more.
The value of an iPad is tantalizing. As we explore this device in a faculty pilot, I am conflicted with a one-to-one device mandate. At one point in my career I advocated for such programs. Then I developed into an opponent. My objection wasn’t the technology; rather, supporting the faculty into developing curriculum that utilized and enhance the laptop. Are we going down the same road again? No clear sign posts are visible at my intersection.
As Dr. Curtis gave his keynote and referenced Ken Robinson, I mentally scribbled some opportunities and challenges. In no particular order:
All of this excites me. It awakens my passion to teach and validates my vocation to educate. My professional goal this academic year is to clarify my options at the intersection. Go left, go straight, or go right but do not turn around.