August 18, 2016
I love the start of a new semester. It is a fresh chance to set personal and professional goals, get organized, and see what I can accomplish in a short period of time. It’s like New Year’s Day comes twice a year (three times if you count summer session, which of course I do!).
I’ve decided to start off the school year by writing up some advice for my students on how to do well in school, particularly in a distance education program. My hope is that you’ll pick up some useful tips and get your academic year off to a strong start.
Today’s tip relates to remembering due dates. Meeting deadlines for assignments is fundamental to being a good student, for a variety of reasons:
- In almost every class, late work will cost you points and missing a lot of deadlines will pull down your final grade. If grades are important to you, then it is silly to lose unnecessary points.
- Organizing your work and meeting deadlines is a core professional competency. Developing an organizational system now sets you up for success after graduation.
- Related to the above, repeatedly turning in late work doesn’t reflect well on your ability to be a successful professional and therefore affects my willingness to write a positive letter of reference or connect you to my professional network later.
- Missing deadlines causes unnecessary stress. School is stressful enough (so much to do, so much to learn) without adding to it with a last minute rush to finish something on time or waking up to the sinking feeling that something was due the night before.
At the same time, I get it that you are really busy. Believe me, I get it. Between teaching three classes, raising kids, writing professionally, and volunteering, I have trouble remembering deadlines, too. Seriously, I will forget to grade assignments without an organizational system for remembering due dates (the due dates I assigned).
So here’s my system:
- Get a calendar, ideally one that lets you see a month at a time. I prefer a printed calendar, since online ones often obscure all but a few appointments in the monthly view (ultimately, I have two calendars, an online one that is more effective for day-to-day appointments and a printed one for tracking due dates).
- Gather up pens or markers, one color for each class or major commitment in your life. If you are using an online calendar, you should be able to change the color of appointments and tasks – assign a color to each class or commitment.
- Starting with your first class, take the syllabus and put every class meeting and due date on your calendar. You don’t need to have a lot of detail, since these are just reminders. For example, if my 567 class has a forum post for Professional Reading 3 due on Friday, my calendar says, “567 PR3.”
- Next, read every assignment sheet and add any additional due dates to your calendar, then look at the course website for any additional dates. Some instructors get all the due dates in the syllabus, but not all do, so the goal here is to be as thorough as possible.
- Switch colors and do the same thing for the rest of the classes you are taking.
- Switch colors again and add any major non-class commitments. I define major as things that will interfere with my normal work routine (weekend travel, an all-day commitment) or that require a lot of prep work on my part (a big party, photo day at my daughter’s ballet company).
Yay! You now have your due dates organized! My September calendar looks like this:
Of course, now you have to work the system.
- Once a day, look at your calendar. Take note of what is due tomorrow (last chance to not miss that deadline!) and what is coming for the next few days (to avoid unpleasant surprises).
- Once a week, look ahead for at least a week or two. I use Friday afternoon as a planning day to block out my upcoming week and create a to-do list for the weekend. This is also a good time to break down large assignments into smaller tasks and put them on your calendar as weekly goals.
- Cross off assignments as you complete them. This has two benefits – it feels good to see what you’ve accomplished (all those lovely crossed out things!) and creates a visual reminder of what you still need to do. (Note: for weekly meetings, I make a check after the reminder when I’ve completed the readings and course prep and then cross it off when class is over.)
I hope the above helps you get organized to meet all your due dates this fall!
March 17, 2014
This week I’m intrigued by the Pomodoro Technique.
One of the things I struggle with while working at home is staying focused on a task. It is easy to jump between paid work, volunteer work, and writing since they all inhabit the same desk space or to be distracted by tasks around the house (case in point, I just got up to stop the dog from ripping another hole in her bed). I’m also easily distracted by incoming email, Facebook, and online news sites.
In the true Pomodoro Technique, you are supposed to work on one thing for 25 minutes, then take a 5 minute break, then move on to another project. The idea is that working for a limited amount of time helps you focus, if for no other reason than the satisfaction of crossing an item off your list before being forced to stop, and frequent breaks keep your brain rested and fresh.
I’m taking liberties with the Pomodoro format. First, I’m working in 30 minute chunks. It matches my 30 minutes a day of writing and appeals to me as nice, round number. I’m also open to shorter periods of time for smaller tasks or when time is limited. Today I had only a bit of time between teaching class and a school pick up, so I challenged myself to spend 15 minutes doing “annoying” tasks – things I’d procrastinated doing, but that I wanted to get off my to-do list. And it worked! Instead of frittering away time like I usually do after class, I knocked out three little things that were nagging at me.
Second, I’m not so good at the 5 minute break. I’ve been using the break to do other tasks around the house, sometimes for 5 minutes, sometimes for 10. What I am trying to do is get up from the computer after a 30 minute task or consciously switch to another task so that I don’t get distracted and fritter away time.
Third, I may have been convinced to turn the Pomodoro Technique into a competitive sport. My writing partner is a fan of Pomodoro and so this week, we are supposed to email a report anytime we’ve successfully completed a Pomodoro. I call it developing self-awareness and being accountable, she calls it a friendly competition.
And I admit, I don’t have a little tomato shaped timer. The computer clock works perfectly well for me.
March 8, 2014
Woot! I accomplished 35 minutes of writing yesterday and took a step forward on a big book project.
This was a nice contrast to the mixed emotions I have about my shoulder, which could be summed up as the good (I’m getting PT earlier than last time, Aleve is helping with the pain, I still have good range of motion, and all things considered, life could be worse) versus the bad (I can tell this is going to be an uphill battle with me and my PT on one side and my shoulder on the other). I’ve had a pretty relaxed attitude about my shoulder for the last month as I felt the “freezing” begin (my mantra, “it is what it is”), but yesterday I struggled with a creeping sense of discouragement.
Meeting my daily writing goal became something I could control and then a tangible accomplishment in a day that started with frustration. I appreciate how simple the goal is – write for 30 minutes, period. I don’t need to finish a chapter, I just need to write for 30 minutes. This, I can do.
If you are interested in the 30 minutes a day idea, here are two resources:
- Why You Need to Write Every Day – a short and sweet explanation
- Writing 20 Minutes Every. Single. Day. – a nice write-up from the Chronicle that reminds us academics of all the other work that wants to get in the way and the necessity of making time to write
March 7, 2014
I’m working on two books at the moment, neither of which is moving very fast. My usual mode of writing has been to set aside a few substantial chunks of time each week, allowing me to really dig into what I’m doing. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been working as well as it did in the past, in part because of the difficulty of finding those chunks of time in my schedule.
Inspired by my writing partner (She Who Keeps Me On Track), I’m going to try the “30 minutes a day” approach. The goal isn’t to produce great work everyday, but to build the habit of writing regularly. As part of that, I realized how much I enjoy writing for “fun.” I occasionally write Ares the Beta Fish, but it is self-limiting since I need to borrow the neighbor’s beta fish to blog on his behalf. I just took over Loki the Frog and in addition to being fun, it is pushing me to write consistently and to craft my actual words and sentences carefully. As part of writing 30 minutes a day, I’d like to use that blog and this one as warm-up exercises.
The 30 days seems like an appropriate amount of time to commit to building a new habit. It also coincides nicely with my physical therapist suggesting I try anti-inflammatories for 30 days to combat a worsening frozen shoulder. So, there you go – I’ll be popping the pills and gluing myself to the computer for the next month. Let’s hope that by this time in April, I’ll have at least a partial book, if not a pain-free shoulder.
May 12, 2011
Note: This post is for my Illinois readers.
If you’ve been following the GSLIS general forums for the last few weeks, you’ll know that the School had a town hall on April 20th. One of the issues raised was that the School needs to do a better job of creating an inclusive environment for students of color. As a follow-up, the School had moderator-led conversations and town halls on May 5th and 9th; as a result of those meetings, the School has formed multiple committees to work on areas such as curriculum, cultural competency, faculty recruitment, and support for students.
The committees are looking for volunteers – including students and alums! – to help with this work. I strongly urge you to consider volunteering. This is important work – you have an opportunity to improve the culture and curriculum of the School for future students. Although the conversation is currently focused on race, I also see an opportunity to increase awareness of other forms of diversity within our profession and our patrons – socioeconomic class, gender, sexual orientation, disability status, etc.
In addition to making your voice heard, serving on a committee could be great professional experience. Some of the committees are dealing with issues of curriculum and pedagogy – if you are interested in instruction, this is a chance to get experience with curricular and pedagogical change. For those of you going into academic librarianship, this is a chance to get experience serving on a committee (you can put it on your vita! you can talk about it when you interview! you can learn important skills for effective committee service!).
If you have questions, I’d be happy to talk to you. If you’d like more information on the committees, please see the Town Hall forum available on the main LEEP Moodle page.
May 10, 2011
We have a really lovely outdoor, three story mall near my home. The first two floors are primarily restaurants and shops, along with a skating rink, and part of the third floor is a large movie theater. There’s also a large fitness center that takes up two floors at one end of the mall; a preschool, again at one end; and numerous offices for doctors, a nail place, and an investment firm, primarily on the third floor and at the ends of the mall (there are some second and third floor spaces that are near the parking structure and don’t open directly onto the “mall” space).
At first it seemed like the diversity of tenants was a reflection that a large mall couldn’t find enough shops to rent space, but I’ve come to really appreciate the convenience of having so much in one area, as well as how one set of tenants can drive traffic to another set of tenants. Our kids’ dentist moved in and now we’ll stop in a shop to run an errand or grab a snack after appointments (when our son got a tooth filled, I was able to go straight to the toy shop as a reward). Our kids went to preschool there for two years and I loved the convenience of being able to run an errand or grab dinner before I picked up the kids – in fact, the ease of not having to make an extra stop encouraged me to try new restaurants and stores that I otherwise would have ignored.
All of which is to say, I would love it if the library were there, too. Not only would it be convenient for me, it would be good for both the library and our local businesses. On some days, a planned trip to the library would easily result in an unplanned stop for ice cream or coffee, while other days running errands would result in a stop at the library. Now granted, I’m a regular library user already, but I do wonder about our non-users – could location be part of attracting non-users? And if so, where do we need to be in our communities?
February 23, 2011
Whether or not you have an online portfolio, you will want to think about your professional online identity.
Susanne Markgren gives us a step-by-step guide to owning our online identity, starting with “Step 1. Accept that you have an online identity, that you exist online, and that people can find information about you.”
Markgren, Susanne. “Ten simple steps to create and manage your professional online identity.” College and Research Libraries 72 (Jan. 2011); 31-5.
February 21, 2011
There’s a page full of useful information and good advice on interviewing at Mr. Library Dude. The page includes potential interview questions, questions you can ask the search committee, links to job search resources and tips for interviewing.
February 2, 2011
For my readers in the Midwest…
The Information Literacy Summit is an IL conference held in Illinois each year. It is a great one-day conference and is held at three locations, so there should be one close to you.
January 26, 2011
This video should remind us all of the importance of proofreading.