Thursday, June 28, 2012

Digital hoarder

My path as a rigidly organized person is well documented in this blog. From the label maker to my color-coded filing system, everything has a place. This is true of my digital files as well. I have clearly labeled folders that lead directly to sub-folders (and sub-sub-etc.-folders). Everything is easily accessible in my office.
Screen shot of my digital files. No random documents, everything has a place.

The point of clear labels and purposeful organization is easy: it saves my sanity. Having everything in a digital "home" keeps me from a cluttered desktop, avoids random files getting lost, and maintains accessible files (which helps productivity!). I can find and place items with ease. My various email accounts all have the labels, folders, and sub-folders applied. I like my organized world. It gives me comfort.

Beware of this comfort, however! It is important to realize just how much you are saving--especially in those pesky email accounts. Readers, how many email accounts do you have? If you have over ten (I'm not saying I have over ten, but I'm not denying it, either), then you may want to take some time to check up on your digital files. Some of us may slowly become digital hoarders. Now, I'm not admitting to full on hoarder status with my digital files, I will own the fact that I have a tendency (okay, a STRONG tendency) to collect and hold on to many (okay, MOST) files.

I am the type that saves the various rough drafts and edited versions of each article, I have my data files in various stages, I can easily locate-in under 30 seconds or less-a teaching, research, or personal file. I have a bit of a reputation for this in my department. Folks stop by to say, "Can you forward me the minutes from that departmental meeting last fall where we did XYZ?" They know I kept the minutes that were emailed to us diligently by our Chair months ago. I'm just like that. Better to be safe and keep something than sorry you don't have it later. This is ONLY true in my digital world. I am incredibly streamlined and avoid saving excessive items that may clutter up my physical world.

But all of that well-intentioned organization can get in the way if you don't have a filter. Recently, my filter has become weak and I've begun unintentionally stockpiling one specific type of digital item: emails. 

My proud file trees made it so easy to just drag and drop an email into the appropriate space. This resulted in a tiny feeling of accomplishment that my inbox was once again returned to a manageable number. Over time, I apparently started to skip the important filtering of the keep/trash options and just filed the emails. After searching for an important email for nearly 15 minutes, a previously unknown process, I had to manage the sense of panic and discomfort before finding the email nestled in the wrong sub-sub folder. I realized just how quickly digital files can become digital junk. My nice collection had become a hoard. Important emails shared space with conversation threads about a meeting changing times or a conversation thread with a student. This set off a half-day email cleaning marathon that resulted in removing many sub-sub folders and shaking my head in wonder while I mentally groaned, "why on earth did I save that?"

If I were the type to have over 10 email accounts, I might have also spent that time grooming those accounts and even removing several that are out-dated resulting in another sense of accomplishment. Now, I (er, I mean that hypothetical person with more than 10 email accounts) would benefit from stopping the backlog of emails that can pile up in accounts that are not often utilized.

Don't wait for an intervention. Check yourself. Check your files. Check your in-boxes. Are YOU on your way to becoming a digital hoarder?

See additional organizational topics in previous blogs, including: 
Prepping for RTP - September 2011
When Sticky Notes Attack - June 2011
Working through Deadline Distress - May 2012
The Black Sharpie - January 2011

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Thursday, June 21, 2012

Faculty professional development (on a budget!)

Whenever someone asks me what I do for a living, I brace myself and mentally caution that I must not get snippy when he or she invariably says, "I wish I had summers off, must be nice!"

Most of us at small institutions never have summers off. Since I was hired, I have taught every summer a minimum of two courses a summer, but usually three. This is true for many of my colleagues who are the sole tenured/tenure-track faculty member in their areas. We get a week or two away from campus each summer. I find it can be exhausting to navigate the shortened summer semester with quick turn around times with focused, demanding students who have several classes at these quick paces. We all feel the stress. But summer somehow still holds that potential for renewal, self-reflection and growth even if we don't have a "break." Each summer I strive to make research productivity a goal and work to find new ideas for the next academic year. I also make it a point to work on my professional development plans for the upcoming year. In summer I ask: How am I going to advance? To push my pedagogy? To consider new research ideas? How can I explore additional grant funding opportunities? Professional development opens ALL kinds of opportunities and now is a great time to plan your development goals.

I know, professional development CAN be expensive. Budget cuts may seem to kill your goals for professional growth. As states continue to pull from higher education funds to offset budget crises, we may see our institutions cutting travel funds, refusing conference trips, and removing programs about teaching and learning. Here are a few strategies I have embraced that have worked very well for me and cost very little (if anything). We'll start at your home institution and branch out from there. 

Visit your Faculty Development office/site. Do you even know if you have a place on campus that works with faculty professional development? Often time new or junior faculty members are not made aware of the resources right on their own campus. More senior faculty can easily forget the great programs offered. Reacquaint yourself with your committee, office, council, or webpage for faculty development.  See Cal Poly Pamona's page as an example of the great resources we may already have at our fingertips.

Get neighborly. Check your state board of regents and check in with nearby institutions to see about their programs for faculty development. Often times, collaborative efforts are appreciated and you may find yourself welcomed with open arms to events focused on professional development hosted at a neighboring institution. Additionally, your state could have a variety of programs that would assist you (and your university). We sometimes bury ourselves so much in our offices that we forget we even have colleagues, let alone neighboring institutions. If the folks at NextDoor University don't want to collaborate or share, they will let you know and you are no worse for the wear. However, if they DO you have just created a great network for yourself, your colleagues, and your institutions to share many future endeavors together. Check their websites, too, to see what they're offering and what might be free use for you!

Companies/Conferences. Ask for demos of new products. Though conferences are great places to roam the exhibition halls and make contacts, many of our budgets are getting cut. Click on your national or regional conference's website, click to see who will be in the exhibitor's hall, and scroll through to find anyone or anything that interests you. Contact a company directly for an overview about their product. Just learning about three lecture-capture software programs pushes your understanding about online learning, course delivery, and opportunities for your university's LMS that you can share with colleagues or use to grow your approach in your own classes.

Online. No surprise to regular readers, I find a lot of what I need online. One of the best places to go for ideas and information is the Web where we can craft and cultivate our Personal Learning Networks (PLN). From Twitter to Edublog and LiveBinders, the resources are readily available to foster professional growth. Twitter is a great source for PLNs (Personal Learning Networks) that ALSO serves as a way gate to may favorite resources: webinars.

Webinars. Granted, you may need to pay for some webinars, but you don't HAVE to. There are so many great FREE webinar options for faculty members these days. This is, by far, my favorite way to learn about new technology, teaching trends, and emerging issues in higher education. Even if you have a busy day, you can generally access webinar archives at your convenience after a live webinar closes. Here are a few of my tried and true sources:
  • Blackboard. Check in periodically to Blackboard's Webinar Archives. The topics are diverse and can be applicable even if your institution does not use Blackboard as their chosen LMS. They have partners who co-host some webinars and are great at having "real" faculty members comment alongside the Blackboard folks.
  • Sloan-C. Rarely free, the Sloan C webinars are full of information and may be worth a group rate or for one faculty to attend and share findings with others through your Center for Teaching and Learning or departmental meetings. You can explore Sloan Webinar offerings on their Upcoming Webinar page
  • Companies. Check your favorite (or your most desired) companies for their webinars. These are nearly always free and easily accessible. You can often sign up for mailing lists to stay up to date on future webinars and products. Some webinars say "by special invitation only" -- this generally means YOU need to send an email and ask for an invitation. Then, you will be specially invited! Free. Easy. Often companies just need you to reach out to them to get connected to an upcoming webinar. See, for example, the way ConnectYard urges you to contact them for details about a webinar. 
  • Organizations and institutes. Explore places like the National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development webinars. These webinars are free if your university is a member. Do you even know what institutional memberships your university holds? If not, find out and take advantage of it (this is true with Sloan, too!). Find a list of NISOD webinars on their page. There are many places offering free webinar series (like ASCD) that are a great benefit to educators. Organizations like the Professional and Organizational Development Network are great for resources of all kinds for its members. Remember, some of the organizations you already belong to host webinars often that you paid for in your membership dues (see National Communication Association as an example).
Get creative! If your university won't pay for you to attend a conference, ask if they'll cover the virtual conferences many organizations now offer in tandem with the physical conference. Or, ask if they'll pay your individual membership to PODnetwork ($95) instead. If any financial support is out of the question, start brown bag lunches for anyone at your institution interested in teaching online, writing grants, publishing, etc. Reaching out can be easy and it might surprise you how much you can learn from the folks you see every day. 

If you struggle to find the time or the funds to grow professionally, consider some of these paths toward professional growth  and make this the year of professional development!

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Wednesday, June 13, 2012


I love completing a task before the deadline and do a mental victory dance when I mark items off of my to-do list, so it is no surprise that I am sharing David Perlmutter's article, Varieties of Procrastination on the Chronicle of Higher Education's website.

I enjoyed the review of the benefits for beating deadlines with early work in our academic environment while I somewhat smugly patted my organizational grid detailing what work needs to be done this month, color-coded, with mini-deadlines. Hopefully, my ridiculous propensity for all-things-organizational will lead me to beating a few big deadlines this summer. However, I think I might warrant the addition of "over-organizing when you should be writing" as one of Perlmutter's varieties of procrastination (see previous post, "Mock productivity" for more on this). 

There are some great resources and points of advice within the article for those of us who often juggle (and struggle) multiple projects. My favorite gems included: "Sometimes putting off work is the right choice," and "dare to be early."

When it comes to organizing (and procrastinating), you might also explore these previous posts:
"Mock productivity" - September 2011
"Prepping for RTP" - September 2011
"The black Sharpie" - January 2011
"Working through deadline distress" -  May 2012

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Thursday, June 7, 2012

Closing the door...Prioritizing research

This summer I'm trying a new experiment since I have a new office (with a door!--a first in five years of shared office space). Though I will have an office mate, she won't be in for a few months. I am relishing the summer with visions of extreme productivity.

In my shared office spaces in the past we had no doors. I couldn't seem to stop folks from dropping by and chatting...endlessly. While being collegial is vitally important, I also need to meet my deadlines. Now that I have a door, I wondered if it would be easy to tuck myself inside the office and just work.

Imagine my surprise when I found it hard to actually close the door. I even bought a door-stop to prop open the door. I didn't even realize what I was doing, at first. I walked in, propped the door, sat down, worked, got frustrated when interrupted. Of course, this was ridiculous. I just didn't or couldn't close the door. Why on earth was I mentally struggling over such a silly thing? I had to really reflect about this. Why did I feel so anxious? In the end, I realized that I have to be aware of self-sabotage and unfairly blaming others for a lack of productivity.

I like to feel needed. I like to help others. I like to be engaged and connected while I am at work. Closing the door seemed to send the signal that I was unavailable and unapproachable--two things I certainly NEVER want my students or colleagues to think about me. But, the open door does mean I am "on call" for anyone, all of the time. Students drop by, colleagues chat, noise flows freely.

Today, I closed that door. It is a small victory to some, but it was a big step for me. After my office hours ended, I kicked away the door-stop. I then set my research power hour goal (see previous entry, "Research Power Hour"). And I worked and worked. I did not flinch when someone knocked--I kept working (in the exciting world of data cleaning). In short, I fully committed to prioritizing my research for this time frame.

It worked beautifully. I only had a twinge of guilt that I anticipate will slowly fade away. By making myself available often and regularly, I can take time to shut the door and prioritize other work that often requires uninterrupted thought without coming across as unavailable. I will now fully appreciate the long sought-after door!

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