Holding It All Together On the Go

This week marks the beginning of the Fall semester for me, and as usual, I have a crazy schedule. I thought I might share some of the things I do to manage the frenzy that the life of an adjunct can be, in the hopes that it might give you some ideas about how to deal with the craziness of your own schedule.

First, some background. I’m an adjunct professor, which means I teach essentially as a temp, renewing my contract each semester depending on the needs of the departments I work for. At the moment, I’m teaching five sections of two courses at two different schools, a university and a community college (the worst was a couple semesters ago when I taught at four different campuses, one almost 40 miles from where I live). I have three offices, one at home and one at each college. Over the course of the week, I use computers in six different locations: at home, at one of my two offices (which I share, by the way, with other adjuncts), and in each of three classrooms. In addition, I write, both here at lifehack.org and elsewhere, and for both mainstream and academic audiences.

All this moving around means that I have to work pretty hard to make sure I have what I need with me at any given moment, and that I can work wherever I happen to be — with or without a computer. Here are some of the things I do to manage all that:

  1. Centralize everything. The most important thing for me is that there be a single place where I know I can find everything I need. Since I don’t have an office of my own at either school, and since some of my work is unrelated to my teaching, it makes sense that this place would be my home office. Essentially I’ve transformed my office computer into a server, allowing me to access whatever I need from wherever I happen to be. For this purpose, I use LogMeIn Free, a free service that allows me to access my computer through their website. A client runs on my PC, and when I log in and maximize the screen it’s almost as if I were sitting in front of my home PC.

    The upshot is, I can create files or work on already-existing files wherever I happen to be and they’re saved on my hard drive at home. In fact, I can even leave a file I’m working on open, and it will be sitting there ready to be worked on more when I get home or when I log in from another computer. I can also read my email, access my grade books (kept in Excel), read RSS feeds, print stuff out on my home printer (ready and waiting to be read when I get home), download files, and so on.

  2. Carry a notebook everywhere I go. I mentioned this before in my tips for students but it bears repeating: my Moleskine is never out of reach. For example, I had the idea for this post this afternoon between classes, and am now writing it from the outline I jotted down then. Since ideas are the lifeblood of my many roles (teacher, researcher, writer) I have to be able to capture them at a moment’s notice or risk losing them forever.
  3. Follow a morning routine. My workday starts at a different time almost every day. My partner, though, has to be at work at 8 am every morning. So I follow her routine, for two reasons: a) if I wake up at a different time every day, I’ll quickly go insane, and b) keeping on the same schedule means we get as much time together as our busy schedule allows. On days that my classes start later, I can get work done in the morning before I leave.
  4. Schedule everything. As much as possible, I try to put every significant block of time on my calendar: classes, obviously, but also writing, shopping, events, family time, house cleaning, even goofing off. Because I never know where I’ll be when I have to check my calendar, I keep my schedule on my Treo, synced with Outlook at home; I’d love to use Google Calendar or 30 Boxes, as Outlook is a little too much for what I need, but until they offer excellent Palm synchronization, I can’t consider them.
  5. Always have work with me. I never know where I’ll have downtime, and whether I’ll have access to a PC, so I always have some material to review, some grading to do, or a book to read in case an opportunity to work arises. Since I also have my Moleskine, and all my todos and notes are in there, I can also do a mini-review if I don’t have enough to fill whatever free time I have.
  6. Organize the night before. Here’s something about me: I’m an idiot in the morning. Just a big grunting blob of brainless meat. I obviously can’t trust my morning self to be on the ball, so my evening self has to take care of everything. I lay out my clothes, set up my bag, gather up whatever work I’ll want to work on the next day, put all my “pocket stuff” (keys, chapstick, wallet, etc.) next to where my Treo is charging, and so on. I do whatever I can to make the following morning totally automated; if I could get one of those Wallace and Gromit dressing machines where robot arms dress me and brush my teeth, I would.

For all this, I admit to getting petty worn out as the week wears on. I definitely learn to cherish the rare quiet moment when I can sit and stare and not worry about anything; it passes all too quickly. My system, such as it is, is far from perfect; I’d love to hear other people’s advice on how to hold it all together when you’re constantly on the move.

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