Using Technology for Personal Goals

I have almost always turned to technology for assistance with my goals.  Way back in 2004, I wanted to use blogging as a way to keep track of my thoughts and comments on online news and web sites.  And I used blogging to help me stay accountable for writing my dissertation.  I’ve been using various to-do apps for years (current is, but I’m trying out TickTick right now as well).  My RSS reader (currently feedly) has been a great tool for keeping up with my field, the news, and even friends.  And Mint has helped with setting financial goals. No tool is ever perfect, and as my needs shift, I’ve had to turn to new tools.  Periodically, I evaluate what I’m using to see if it’s still working for me.  My favorite tools tend to work across platforms–web and phone, maybe even a tablet–so that no matter what device I have on me, I have a way to access the tools I need.

As I’ve been thinking about what I want my goals for 2015 to be, I’ve been keeping an eye out for useful tools.  I started by evaluating a new to-do app.  Jury is still out, but I’m still with it.  As luck would have it, I ran into this MakeUseOf article* on apps to help with various goals you might have.  The very first app on the list immediately appealed to me.  There are two things I know about myself: 1) I do not like to do housework (but I like a clean house; go figure) and 2) I love playing video games.  The main thing I like about the video games I play is the element of randomness and change in them.  Housework has none of that.  It’s all about doing the same thing over and over, which annoys me.  Why is there not an automated loop for it yet!  Unfuck your Habitat is the perfect answer for me.  I’ve tried other methods of gamifying housework: Chore Wars, FlyLady.  But they don’t last because either I have to make my own list or the lists they have just don’t match what I need.
The very first item in the app is a random challenge.  You can choose a 5, 10 or 20 minute challenge.  If you don’t like the one they’ve given you, just click new challenge, and voilà, a new one appears.  A 5 minute challenge might be to wipe down the shower walls and throw out empty shampoo bottles.  A 20 minute challenge might be to do the ironing or do the dishes.  They also have random challenges by room, so if you’re determined to deal just with the living room, you can do that.  You can make your own list, and there’s a built-in timer.  You can also earn achievements and get (un)motivational messages.  There’s a companion web site with so much more.  How sad is it that I’m now excited to start cleaning the house?  I guess that’s the point.
So one possible goal facilitated by technology.  Maybe I’ll find some more.
*Though the site is overwhelming, I find enough useful stuff there that I keep it in my feed.

New Year, New Goals

It’s about that time.  Meetings will start next week, students return the week after.  I’ve got meetings this week already, some with new students, some with administrative staff.  So I feel like I’m already working.  Every school year, I set goals or resolutions and reset them at the real new year in January.  It’s kind of nice to see what’s working and what’s not.  And I like that I have a record of them.  Even though I probably miss 80-90% of my goals, I still feel like I make progress.  If I set a goal, for example to lose 10 pound and I lose 7, I count that as success.  I set the goal high on purpose.

Last year, I set goals for my health, for working with colleagues and for expanding understanding of CS.  I mostly accomplished them, except for the social media use.  Getting there.  In January, I had the idea that I was going to focus on a theme each month, but that lasted all of one month.  Clearly, concrete goals work better for me.  So here’s some things I want to work on this year:

1. The house.  The clutter is taking over.  It’s well hidden in rooms we don’t use–the 3rd floor, a guest bedroom, a weird porch area.  I’ve tackled this before and I’ve periodically purged some things, but now I want to get serious.  Every time I see the clutter, it drives me nuts.  And those areas could be useful to us.  In addition to dealing with the clutter, I’m hoping to keep the visible areas cleaner.  For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been doing okay with this as have other family members, but we’ll see.

2. Keep on walking.  I got a fitbit and it’s great for letting me know how the walking is going.  I’ve been trying to walk every afternoon for 1/2 hour to 45 minutes.  Doing that usually gets me to my 10,000 steps, combine with my regular walking around that I do.  I plan to walk after school at school while waiting for Geeky Girl to finish sports.  The ultimate goal is to lose some of the weight I gained back after losing it last year.  I kept it off until around January or February and then life just got in the way.  My habits slipped.  I blame all the snow.

3. Be mindful of time.  I have a good schedule this year, though I am still busy.  But I only have 3 preps instead of 7.  So that is going to help.  I still run one committee and am on a task force that is tackling something huge right now, but I have more time in the day to accomplish what I need to.  I’m hoping to do a better job of working in stretches and keeping track of what needs to be accomplished.

4.  Work stays at work.  This is related to the above item.   I’m pretty good about not bringing work home, and sometimes it’s necessary to work at home because of a pressing deadline, but I would rather stay an hour after school to finish something than to bring it home and have it interfere with family time.  I’m planning to focus on those relationships and keeping work out of my family time.

That seems like enough to start with, yes?  We’ll see how it goes.

Achieving a goal

I haven’t quite done it yet, but I’m almost there.  I have lost a little over 11 pounds. My goal is to lose 15.  I’ve been surprised how relatively easy it’s been.  Mostly it’s taken consistency and a little willpower.  I’ve changed a lot about how I eat and live, but the changes were actually kind of minor.  I cut out soda, desserts, alcohol, and carb-loaded snacks as daily occurrences.  They became treats.  I substituted fruit and vegetables, water and Crystal Light.  I can’t remember the last time I had a dessert, but I’d have one if I wanted to.  I’ve had wine a couple of days a week.  I have not gone hungry.  If I felt hungry, I ate something.  I just made sure it was healthy.

I’ve also moved more.  When I started school this week, I made sure I carried my phone with me wherever I went.  My phone is also my pedometer.  The first two days of school, I walked over 2 miles each day.  Yesterday, I didn’t get to that point, so I went for a walk when I got home.  My plan next week is to take clothes with me and go for a walk after school.  We have our academic evenings next week (3 in a row for me on T/W/Th) so I will be stuck at school until about 9 p.m. At the end of the school day, I plan to strike out on a walk, come back, shower in our lovely gym, change into nice clothes and be all refreshed for parents.  This is going to be my biggest struggle, keeping up the exercise when life gets busy.  But, now that I’ve made it a habit, I actually look forward to it.  It feels good to be outside in the fresh air.

Achieving a long term goal like losing weight, writing a book (or a dissertation), or reaching a savings goal takes some work, but mostly it takes patience, and small changes that lead to big things.  When I was writing my dissertation, I either set a page goal or a time goal.  I aimed for a single page or two or I wrote for an hour.  Doing that every day got me to almost 200 pages.  I think people look at a big goal and don’t think about the little steps it might take to get there.  They think it has to get done now!  They underestimate the time it might take, or they don’t, and are discouraged by the time it takes.  Maybe if I was someone whose eating habits weren’t already pretty good, losing weight would have been harder.  But still, I think you could take it one step at a time.  Start by not drinking soda, for example.  Then worry about the french fries.

I’m working on a couple of other long term goals right now.  They’re a bit harder, but making this much progress on the weight loss goal has made me feel like I can achieve other goals.

Big Goal Number 2: Debt

Three years ago, we had nearly eliminated our credit card debt.  We had at least gotten it down to some level that could be paid off in the forseeable future.  Now, not so much.  There are a number of good reasons why we ended up here: school expenses, medical expenses, home repairs and improvements.  But there are bad ones, too.  A “need” for new things. Travel.  We spent a ton of money going to see family last year.  Kind of necessary, but we could have probably done it cheaper.  Instead, we charged it.

I’m not proud of this fact, but I’m not alone.  Many Americans out there face this same situation.  It doesn’t help that there’s a lot of shame (sometimes) surrounding credit card debt.

I’m trying to whittle away at it.  And despite having a kid going off to college this year, I think I can make some significant progress, but it’s going to take work.  It’s like the weight loss thing in many ways.  Things go up and down, but you want the trend to be down.  My trend has been up for far too long.  It’s such a slow process.  While I can see progress for weight loss in weeks, progress in this area will take months at best (barring some kind of windfall).

I have to kind of trick myself into dealing with this, using game techniques to keep myself on track and interested.  I try to see how long I can go without spending money.  I make payments that create an even balance.  I write little programs to generate savings goals for the week.  If I don’t do things like that, it just seems boring and awful and depressing.

Anyone out there have little tricks that work for them to achieve long term goals?

Goals and resolutions

Every school year, I set goals for myself. I generally just try to do better than last year. My first year in this job, my goal was simply to survive. Last year, I had specific goals. This year, too, I’m thinking about specifics. Here they are.

1. Make my classes fun and useful. I’m just going to keep this in mind every time I’m preparing for a class. Most of the time, I don’t have to worry about this, but occasionally, I fall flat. Technology is already a subject many girls reject as uncool. I don’t want to make it worse.

2. Keep up with research. I want to take some time every week to do some reading and thinking–on teaching and learning, on computer science education, etc.

3. Publicize my work and my students’ work. I try to keep up with this, but it’s foment the last thing on my list. The school has a blog and twitter and Facebook. I want to make sue I continue to educate everyone about what computing is, and what it can do.

4. Stay positive. When you’re busy and overwhelmed, it can be difficult to stay positive. This isn’t usually a huge problem for me, but I do find that when I complain about work, I don’t have as much energy.

5. Stay organized. I keep a to-do list and with the help of several devices, it’s never away from me and always synced online. I’m planning to stay on top of things.

On the home/personal front, I have just a couple of things.

1. Eat healthier. I’ve cut out sugar and most carbs. I eat salads almost every day for lunch. Last night, I ate eggplant soup, which was yummy. I plan to make soups on the weekend to eat during the week. I haven’t cut meat completely (we had tacos a couple of nights ago), but it’s a once or twice a week thing.

2. Move more. I am going to try to get back into yoga at least once a week, but I’m not going to try to fit a structured exercise routine into my crazy schedule. Instead, I’m going to move when I can. That means walking instead of driving to places, using stairs, and parking far away. It will do for now.

3. Keep decluttering. I did well this summer in getting rid of a bunch of stuff and reorganizing a couple of rooms. I’m going to keep at it, mostly on the weekends.

So that’s it. What are your goals this school year?


I’ve made some significant progress on the goals I set for myself.  I’ve outlined the CS II class through about winter break.  I’ve got the first 3-4 weeks almost completely fleshed out, complete with lab directions and video explanations of key concepts.  I submitted my Google Academy application, so now it’s just a waiting game. My video is here, if you’re interested.  I’m almost done with rearranging/organizing my front room–will finish that up this morning.  And, of course, I actually did tweak the blog.

I still have the most work to do on the CS II class as I’m having to learn some of the very concepts I’m teaching. I’m doing pretty well on that front, but I think I’m going to dip my toe into a Udacity class I signed up for to solidify what I know.  I just need the practice.

I’ll be adding to that list soon–I’ve already thought of a few other things I need to get done before the school year begins.  Yikes!

Goals and resolutions

I was starting to think about goals for the school year, but then decided I was getting ahead of myself. I still have summer! So here’s what I want need to do:

  • Plan CS II class, at least through winter break–this is going to require some quality time with data structures, classes and objects
  • Put together Google teacher’s academy application–this should go first since it’s due in two weeks!
  • Tweak CS I class–this will be easy since I only want to change a couple of things
  • Revamp 8th grade tech class with a focus on data visualization
  • Write a chapter or two for a project on CS education–also has some priority since there’s a deadline. Will likely set aside a day or two to hash something out.
  • Clean out/purge and rearrange my front room. This is in progress and something I’d like to complete by the end of summer as a good start to creating a sustainable living area.
  • I’d also like to revamp the blog, but that’s not a huge priority.

Better get started! Gotta go!


Picture I made for my goals article
Image via Wikipedia

Mr. Geeky started off our before-dinner conversation by asking what everyone’s goals were this year.  Everyone was a little goofy at first but then got more serious.  Our goals include focusing more on school/work before doing “fun” things, spending more time together, walking every day, and getting up on time.  We also set goals for each other, many of which were things we would set for ourselves.  It will be interesting to see if we stick to them.  But it definitely feels like we have some accountability.

This time last year, I was on the eve of a new job, and didn’t really know what to expect.  This year, I know most of the kids (except the new ones), and I have a good idea what things will be like on the first day.  As I told someone in a meeting, my goal for last year was to survive.  This year, I have specifics.  In general, I want to do a better job.  To that end, I’ve done a heck of a lot of preparation for my new class.  I’ve established a grading scheme for my middle school classes, and I’m planning to really assess the middle school curriculum after this year.  I talked to some people over the summer whose curriculum was similar to mine, but arranged slightly differently.  I think I’m going to do some rearranging next year, but it needs some thought first.

I also want to connect more to the girls in my homeroom.  I think this will be easier this year because I know all the kids.  It’s this part of the job that seems easiest on the surface, but is actually the most difficult.  Every kid is different; every group of kids has a different dynamic.  Figuring how to deal with all of that in a positive way is a real challenge.  But I find it to be an extraordinarily important part of my job.

Personally, I have lots of things I want to do this year–staying relatively healthy among them.  I’ve pledged to watch what I eat–mostly food, mostly green, less sugar.  And I’ll walk every day.  And I want to keep working on my programming skills–which are coming along quite nicely.  I spent a lot of the weekend working on a pet project that has pushed my skill limits.  But it’s been fun, and every day, I feel a little more confident about what I’m doing.

All in all, I think we’re ready for the year to begin. Bring it on!

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WoW Wednesday: Rewards and Motivation

Other than perhaps some increased endorphins, most people receive no real reward for playing a game like WoW; however, there are lots of rewards in the game that provide motivation for many people to participate in certain activities. And Blizzard is constantly tweaking this reward system so that players are motivated to do different things. I am easily amused and, at the same time, easily discouraged. What can I say, I live at the extremes.

For example, the reward for most achievements–things like finding a bunch of different kinds of creatures or cooking a bunch of different types of meals–is just a little flashing thing on the screen and some points (which, as far as I can tell, you can’t do anything with in terms of buying other things). But I get a kick out of that flashing thing on the screen that announces the achievement. So, I’m easily attracted by that and will often pursue these achievements just to see that appear on the screen. I know, I’m like an infant. Bright and shiny things.

On the other hand, there’s gear (a primary reward in the game) that’s quite difficult to get. It drops off of certain monsters or can be obtained from so many tokens which are themselves obtained through doing many different dungeons. I’m at the point where what I need in terms of gear is of a high enough level that it’s going to take some work to get it. And it’s going to take help. You can’t run a dungeon by yourself. And whether it’s doing something on my own or gathering enough people to do it, it takes effort. And I get discouraged by that. Because also, just because the item drops off a mob deep inside a difficult dungeon, there are 20 other things that could drop and the percentage chance of the one thing that you really need dropping might be 1%. And, then, if it drops, there might be 3 other people in the group who want it. And then you have to roll on it and then you might not win. So, sometimes, I just don’t even want to try.

Another common reward is rep rewards. These rewards come from gaining a certain reputation with factions in the game. Each area has a number of factions with names like Sons of Hodir and Knights of the Ebon Blade. Reputation goes from hated up to exalted and usually once you reach exalted, there are rewards that you can buy from a certain vendor (called the Quartermaster, usually). Reputation is gained by doing quests, daily quests (which are repeatable once a day), running level 80 dungeons while wearing the faction’s tabard (not all factions have tabards), by turning in tokens that drop off of mobs, or by killing certain kinds of mobs. So, there are lots of ways, usually, to gain reputation and you can choose your path depending on your personality. If you run a lot of dungeons, wearing a tabard while doing so works really well. If you like questing, then this path is a good one (also the rep points gained per quest are usually pretty high). Some tokens can actually be purchased in the AH, so if you have a lot of gold, this can be a fast way to the top. The rewards vary. Some factions have good gear and some offer mounts (like the flying dragon I got once) and still others give you enchants or other enhancements that can’t be found anywhere else. And some get cute pets. Although gaining reputation can be a lot of work and take a lot of effort, it’s a slow and steady sort of progress and you’re guaranteed something at the end, even if it’s just a little flashy thing on the screen.

The game also rewards gold for almost everything you do–but that is a topic for another post–maybe next week.

So, perhaps this isn’t very enlightening, but it’s been interesting to me to consider what I’m willing to do in game based on the likely reward. And then to think about mapping that onto real life. Being easily amused means I am likely to reward myself with simple things when I complete a task–like a snack or a break. But I’m also likely to slog through something over the long term for a guaranteed reward. I wrote a dissertation, after all. But if there’s a slim chance of a reward and a lot of work involved, I’m gonna need some serious support and convincing that it’s worth the effort. Exercise is kind of like that for me. It’s a lot of work and, for me, at least, there’s not much of reward. It’s not like I’m seeing the pounds fall away. I have to invoke the first reward system of the simple flashing thing in order to motivate myself to walk every day. Being able to see the progress toward a goal is also very motivating, so, for example, seeing the page count increase in writing feels good while not seeing pounds lost is counterproductive. You can see this progress in many of the reward systems in game. There’s a place to see how much progress you’ve made towards a reputation and how much further you have to go. And that’s true for many of the achievements as well. So, I guess the big lesson–not new really–is that motivation is higher when the rewards are concrete and it’s clear how to attain them and when progress toward your goals is easily measurable. The trick is to try to make all your goals like that.

Resolutions past

Before I post this year’s resolutions, I thought I’d take stock of previous years’. I make resolutions twice a year, now and at the start of academic years. Let’s see how I did.

According to this post from 2004, recording resolutions for 2005, I wanted to do the following:

1. Walk at least 30 minutes per day (may be substituted with other exercise)
2. Write at least a page a day.
3. Cut my debt in half. Ideally, I’d eliminate it, but I think that’s unrealistic.

That first one has been a perennial item on the list. The desire to exercise in some form or another comes up almost every 6 months on this blog. Earlier this month, I started walking–running even–but then weather and/or illness have prevented me from being outside and/or mobile for a couple of weeks now. I’ve decided that trying to exercise every day is crazy. If I miss a day, I feel horrible and that’s just counterproductive. Three to four times a week is more reasonable. I can almost always do something on both weekend days and that just leaves two days during the week to squeeze in time. I obsess about this for two reasons. One, I’ve gained about 15 pounds over the last couple of years. Two, I’m not getting any younger. I really do want to be in decent shape as I age.

Two and three are pretty moot. I’d like to get back maybe to writing for fun (besides here), but I’m not sure if I’m ready to add that to my life. The debt is more than cut in half, but not eliminated. It seems likely that I could do that this year, but it’s not a top priority.

One new year and one academic year saw finishing the dissertation at the top of the list. There are some other interesting things on that academic year list: taking hikes, going to kid events, quitting the inadequacy schtick. I’ve done okay on the second and third items, but the first, not so much. I might be able to add that this year. January 2007 was also a year of interesting resolutions. Family game night didn’t pan out. We did plenty of stuff as a family, but it wasn’t always game night Date nights worked out pretty well also, especially after the dissertation was handed in. And work is, well, work. I’ll have more to say about that later.

Most recently, of course, I made another set of academic year resolutions. I still think I could work on relaxing. I’m planning some meditation or something. The exercise, of course, a struggle. Publishing something–I think that’s going to happen. We’ll see.

So, I’ve kept a few resolutions, missed others, but haven’t let failure hinder me from continuing to put them on the list. A quick Google search brings up some interesting articles on how to keep resolutions and/or set goals for the coming year. I like the idea from this article of setting mini goals each month that are part of the greater goal. I especially like this post from, which suggests doing what I just did–looking back at past resolutions and seeing what didn’t work and why. What resolutions have you not kept and why? What’s on your list for this year?