Productivity goes to 11

We’re in the middle of exams.  Mine was on Friday, then we had the long weekend, which I spent celebrating a friend’s 50th birthday, which is to say no work was done over the weekend.  Because of exams, I have no classes until 12:30, my one middle school class.  So, I have hours of rare free time ahead of me.  Yesterday, I situated myself in the faculty lounge, set a timer, and started grading.  Then I shifted gears to working on the new school website, then back to grading, etc.  I had lunch, went to my class, met with the 1:1 director, met with one of my department members, did some more grading, went home, worked on the web site, ordered pizza, worked on the web site, answered email.  Broke for an hour for dinner.  I did an interview, then ran a Twitter chat (#makered).  And I didn’t feel insane or like I was rushing around trying to get things done.

I think I have to thank UFYH for this.  For all of that, I used the 45/15 method.  45 minutes of work followed by 15 minute breaks.  Knowing that you get to stop and that you have only a small amount of time to work has a couple of benefits.  If the work is drudgery, then you know it has a limit and won’t go on forever.  The limit helped me set goals, like getting a whole section done or getting so many exams graded, which was also nice and probably helped me work more efficiently.  On my breaks, I tried to walk around rather than sit and play games or read since most of my work this week requires being stationary.  Yesterday was admittedly a low step day for me.

At any rate, I’m hoping for super productivity the rest of the week, so I can enjoy the weekend at Educon and be ready to start the semester off next week.  Do you have productivity tips that work for you?  How do you trick yourself into doing work you may not want to do?

Time, take 2

Yes, I think I’ll be writing about the time crunch issue again and again.  I went into this week thinking I was going to get a hand on the time thing, that I was going to make it through my day feeling accomplished and with time to spare. Ha!

The Bad:

  • Interruptions.  My “free time” at work, the time I use to plan, grade, tackle projects is not only brief, but often interrupted.  Some of these interruptions are necessary but some aren’t.  Much of my work is done in common space, prone to interruption.  I have no other option.
  • A *lot* on my plate.  In addition to teaching, I have a bunch of other things that are taking up my time, things with deadlines and stuff.
  • Working at home, during “family time”.  This is the what I didn’t want to do.  I wanted to try to make a clean break, but see bullet one.
  • Illness.  I took on a cold at the end of spring break, which I thought would be gone by now, but it’s holding on, wearing me down and keeping me from sleeping well, which makes me less productive the next day.

The Good

  • No screen time.  I vowed to keep 5-7 every day away from the computer or tv.  This has meant that I’ve puttered around doing little projects or reading.  But see last bullet above.  Once I’m feeling better, I think this will be more productive.
  • Saying no to things I think I’m obligated to do.  I was taking an online course that I thought would be helpful, so I dutifully sat down to watch some of the videos.  Midway through the second one, I stopped watching because I realized a) none of the material was that new and b) it therefore wouldn’t be helpful.

I want to work a little more on the home front, especially recruiting more help.  But that’s going take, you guessed it, more time.

Time

Did you notice that I had a flurry of posts and then disappeared?  After yet another snow day on Monday, I’ve been running at about 100 miles an hour.  Right now I’m in an airport, taking care of business.  Emails are flying back and forth about several pending things.  Everything has to be done before spring break.  I’ve mentioned before that 50% of my job is managing the Academic Tech stuff at work and that’s where most of my work is right now.  We rolled out a 1:1 program last year and we’re expanding it this year, which involves all kinds of communications, training sessions, budgeting, and other administrative tasks.  I have several colleagues that work with me on this but just keeping us all on the same page is a challenge, despite using a variety of technologies.

In addition, I wrote a little web application to manage student voting, which is going on now.  I have to “close the polls” in a little bit and run the code that calculates the results.  It’s not a huge amount of work, but it’s on a strict timeline.

That leaves little time for you know, the teaching stuff.  Grades were due Tuesday, so I did a lot of work on that, and a new trimester started, so I got new kids.  I’m busy getting them ramped up, but we’ll be disrupted a bit by spring break.  I really just want some time to structure some lessons, to look forward through the rest of the year and make sure we’re all on track in all my classes, and I have to think about next year as well, where I’m building a whole new curriculum.  I’m building in an 8th grade elective as well, so there’s a lot going on, and I just feel like I haven’t had time to really think about all that and think through all the moving parts.

And that doesn’t even include the time I need just to eat, sleep, hang with the family, etc.  I feel like my house is a hotel right now.  I show up to sleep but otherwise, I’m not really there.  Once spring break hits, I know I’ll see the light at the end of the tunnel.  And having busyness like this makes me even more grateful for summer, where I can spend some time tinkering with things, thinking about stuff and yes, some relaxing.

Going down the path

Day 45: The Melting Path
Day 45: The Melting Path (Photo credit: lorda)

We ended up with a 5-day weekend, which turned out to be fantastic.  We had school cancelled on Thursday, in-service cancelled on Friday, and my robotics team’s competition was cancelled on Saturday.  So what was going to be a busy weekend for me ended up being an opportunity to hunker down.  As on previous snow days, I did my fair share of nothing.  But there’s only so much nothing you can do.  I started doing some neglected household chores and some random work stuff that I’d left on the back burner for too long.  I set myself an actual schedule for the next few days, and, despite the snow, I actually went on not just one, but two walks.

I think the last month or so, I’ve felt like I was on a treadmill, a lá The Jetsons.  When someone turned the treadmill off, I just stopped going.  This weekend, I got off the treadmill and actually walked on a path I set myself.  Even though I still have lots to do, I’m at least moving forward of my own accord.

Some people might make fun of my little goals I set for myself: to walk every day, to program a little every day, to read more.  But these things are not just simple self-improvement for vanity’s sake.  They’re important for lots of reasons.  When I go for a walk, I’m not just exercising, I’m out in the world.  I run into neighbors and chat or I just think about things.  Sometimes I listen to music.  Sometimes I listen to books.  Basically, it gets me out of my own little world so I can see things differently.  Reading does the same thing.  I think about and talk about education all the time.  I do love it, I do.  But reading gets me away from that focus a little.  I still bring the lens of education and computing to almost everything, but reading gives me new ways to look the things I do every day.  Or sometimes, it’s so different from my everyday life that I can forget about everything.

This long weekend reminded me to make space and time for everything, including the “other stuff” I never seem to have time for.  That other stuff seems unimportant and gets pushed to the side.

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Distraction and breaks

I’ve basically done nothing this Thanksgiving break.  Oh, I made Thanksgiving dinner, attempted to rescue the house from the clutter build up from weeks of a busy life, and even got a Christmas tree.  But that Arduino project I brought home? The reading I was going to do? Lost to TV, iPad games and board games with my family.  Whenever, I find myself lost in a silly game, I usually recognize two things.  One, I’m in need of a break from work, and two, there are better things I could do with my time.  I’ve often discussed on this blog the strange combination of Puritan work ethic and Catholic guilt that seems to permeate my thought processes.  And school breaks bring that two-pronged pitchfork down on my conscience fairly swiftly.  I have time, I think, to do some course planning, to work on a project, to read that book I’ve been wanting to read!  I’ll get back to my exercise routine!  But then I squander it, and then, on the last day, apparently, I blog about it.

I’m often lamenting the way my students cram too much into their day, and our faculty generally advocate for balanced lives for our students, and yet, I feel guilty if I pursue my own balanced life.  I think a break often tips me toward the relaxed end of the work-life balance spectrum and that prods me into feeling guilty.  It’s also true that I’ve been conditioned by the ebb and flow of the school schedule.  It is very much a work, work, work, work, long-ish break, work, work, work, even longer-ish break.  So rather than take smaller breaks each day, I cram all my relaxing into a long weekend, winter, or summer break.  Maybe the answer is a more steady work-relaxation pattern.  I’m not sure that’s achievable.   I’m staring down a week until CS Ed Week where I’m hosting a public event that includes a Rube Goldberg machine.  Robotics season is coming up and our robots are no where near finished.  And there are exams to make and grade as well as long-term planning for next year and for an in-service day and a new course second semester.  That’s in addition to the daily grind.

Usually, we make resolutions at the new year, but I find it useful to try to set good habits when it’s hardest to do so, amidst a very busy schedule.  So here are some things I’d like to stop and start doing:

Stop:

  • Playing goofy games for hours
  • Watching random tv (meaning just sitting on the couch and flipping through the channels)

Start:

  • Exercising again
  • Reading more (in place of games and tv)
  • Putting things away
  • Spending time with family

We’ll see how this goes.  I’m aware that it takes time to change old habits, but I’m feeling the need to shift my actions, not dramatically, but slightly.

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One Day at a Time

Today, the students come back.  They don’t have classes.  Like us, they have meetings, with their class deans and advisors.  They get their final schedules.  They sort out where they’re going.

I have several meetings today as well, with students, with faculty, with my classroom.  My to-do list keeps growing, and I keep thinking, “Oh yeah, I need to do that next week.”   I’m taking it one day at a time, getting done what needs to get done for today, then moving to tomorrow, etc.  It’s the only way to stay sane.  As I’ve said many times before, “It will all get done.”  And it will, one thing at a time.

What’s Left to Do

So, there’s about 1.5 weeks until school begins.  Since I’ve returned from my trip, I’ve done basically nothing regarding school.  I’ve checked and responded to email.  That’s it.  I haven’t set foot on campus.  I haven’t cracked open a syllabus or assignment sheet.  I don’t think I could have until after we dropped Geeky Boy off.  That moment weighed more heavily than I thought.  I’m resisting calling him right now to see how his first night went.  Yes, I’m that mom.

Now I think I’m ready to dive back in.  So here’s what’s left:

  • 8th grade prep–all of it, videos included.  I have a rough schedule.  Now I need to put in some details.
  • Physical computing–need to make a schedule and plan at least the first few weeks.  Waiting for the book to arrive.
  • Intro to CS–I have the first few weeks laid out.  Need to go over that again.  This will be my third time teaching it. Mostly it’s just tweaking at this point.
  • Need to work on our Haiku site.  We’re set up.  I need to see where we are with getting classes and students in, and transfer the teachers’ courses who worked on an individual Haiku site (including me).  Training is Monday.  Yikes!
  • Classroom.  Need to unpack and set up and hope that the requested work on it has been done.

I think that’s enough for now.  I have a bit of a break in that my wacky schedule means I don’t have class really the first week.  I meet my CS classes for about 20-30 minutes the first day, but then not again until the following week, thanks to Rosh Hashanah.  That gives me some time to get some prep and other work done.  It’s still going to be some day-to-day prep, I’m sure.  But I like having a general plan so that I can at least say, “Oh, tomorrow we’re doing X.”  Then I can fill in the details as I go.  My mantra for now: It will all get done.

One thing (maybe two)

As the end of the year approaches, I’m realizing a) how much I have left to do; and b) how much I want to accomplish this summer.  It feels a little overwhelming, so I need a plan to help me focus and feel like I’m making progress without getting stressed out.  On the way home, I came up with a plan.  Every day after school, I’m going to one home thing and one work thing.  Each night I’m going to decide what the things are, so I don’t come home and go, soooo what should I do and then three hours of blog reading goes by.  And here, to keep myself honest, I’m fleshing out what I have to do and posted in the sidebar is my list of things.  I love public accountability!!

The house has descended into a bit of chaos and with Geeky Boy graduating in just a few weeks, we need to get back on top of things.  I’ve asked the whole family to subscribe to the one thing concept as well, so I think that will work out.  Today, I tackled the kitchen.  The kids have slacked a little on keeping up with it, so I just dove in today and made that my one thing.

Work stuff is slightly more complicated.  For what I’m doing at home, I’m mostly focusing on planning for next year.  This year’s remaining work is going to get done during the school day.  I’m trying to be more explicit about my curriculum for both CS I and II, so I’m expanding my existing Google docs, and I’m going to build out some things in a course management system.  I’m trying to basically create a textbook for CS I, thus the Google docs.  I’m also revamping my MS curriculum.  I’m still thinking through what I want to do, but I have a lot of ideas, including adding more hands on, working with things stuff, and some blended learning stuff–which I’m *very* excited about.  Also I have to prep for my new Physical Computing class, which is going to require some learning on my part.

Yes, that’s a lot. But I do think it’s doable. I could see getting most of the CS I stuff done before the end of the school year since it’s basically tweaking what I already have. And since my MS classes only meet a couple of times a week for 10 weeks, there’s not that much material. The physical computing class involves my crazy gps cat tracking idea.  I’m too excited about that one for my own good.

Productivity, Priorities, and Preferences

I’m a failed participant in at least two productivity schemas–GTD and Flylady most recently.  I’ve been trying to think about why I failed at those programs and what would be the best approach for me.  The thing is, in my work life, I’m pretty darn organized.  I make lists.  I plan well in advance.  I keep a good schedule.  I communicate with colleagues when necessary.

On the home front, things are less organized.  I had great plans a year ago.  And while I kept up the pace for a while once school began, all it really took was a couple of longer than normal days to throw me off.  I didn’t stress about the home front, however.  I just let it go.  I kept things at a minimum level I could deal with (which is pretty good).  But now I want to simplify.  I want to purge the stuff that I don’t need.  I want to remember to make those appointments (and remember when they are after I make them).  I don’t want thoughts that I might have forgotten something disrupt the work I need to get done.

There are things from my previous failed attempts that I like, and that I think are doable. Taking 15 minutes to declutter an area is completely doable.  Making lists (sometimes while decluttering) is something I’m good at.  Getting the rest of the family to pitch in? Hit or miss.  So I’m going to try to do just those two things this summer.  Declutter in 15 minute intervals–even if it’s just once a day.  Make lists.  Cross stuff off the lists.  Relax.

Front-loading

My typical approach to a week is to front-load it.  I do more from Monday-Wednesday than I do Thursday or Friday.  I used to lament the fact that I hit Monday with both feet running and that by Thursday, I was worn out.  But then, I thought, who cares.  I get the same amount done, I just don’t spread it out.  This week, and the next couple are packed.  The kids’ birthdays are coming up and we still haven’t really planned what we’re going to do.  So that’s on the list.  I have some house projects I put off while I was in the interview process that I’d like to finish in a week or two.  I’ll be volunteering at Geeky Girl’s school this week for which I need to pick up materials.  I now have job-related stuff to do.  I have summer plans to make and confirm.  I’m also training for the 3-Day (today, 5 miles), and I need to continue fundraising for that. I’m working on a big plan for fundraising that I’m very excited about (because it’s kind of geeky), but that will also take some time.  And things fall out of the sky all the time.  I find out about events or projects for the kids at the last minute. Sigh.  I think I’ll be able to breathe in late June with little breaks on the weekends.  Until then, I’m plugging away.