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Holding It All Together On the Go

Holding It All Together On the Go
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.

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    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.

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    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:

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    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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    Last Updated on January 13, 2020

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

    No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

    Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

    Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

    A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

    Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

    In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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    From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

    A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

    For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

    This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

    The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

    That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

    Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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    The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

    Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

    But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

    The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

    The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

    A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

    For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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    But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

    If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

    For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

    These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

    For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

    How to Make a Reminder Works for You

    Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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    Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

    Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

    My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

    Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

    I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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