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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 November 5, 2019

    How to Cultivate Continuous Learning to Stay Competitive

    How to Cultivate Continuous Learning to Stay Competitive

    Assuming the public school system didn’t crush your soul, learning is a great activity. It expands your viewpoint. It gives you new knowledge you can use to improve your life. It is important for your personal growth. Even if you discount the worldly benefits, the act of learning can be a source of enjoyment.

    “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.” — Mark Twain

    But in a busy world, it can often be hard to fit in time to learn anything that isn’t essential. The only things learned are those that need to be. Everything beyond that is considered frivolous. Even those who do appreciate the practice of lifelong learning, can find it difficult to make the effort.

    Here are some tips for installing the habit of continuous learning:

    1. Always Have a Book

    It doesn’t matter if it takes you a year or a week to read a book. Always strive to have a book that you are reading through, and take it with you so you can read it when you have time.

    Just by shaving off a few minutes in-between activities in my day I can read about a book per week. That’s at least fifty each year.

    2. Keep a “To-Learn” List

    We all have to-do lists. These are the tasks we need to accomplish. Try to also have a “to-learn” list. On it you can write ideas for new areas of study.

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    Maybe you would like to take up a new language, learn a skill or read the collective works of Shakespeare. Whatever motivates you, write it down.

    3. Get More Intellectual Friends

    Start spending more time with people who think. Not just people who are smart, but people who actually invest much of their time in learning new skills. Their habits will rub off on you.

    Even better, they will probably share some of their knowledge with you.

    4. Guided Thinking

    Albert Einstein once said,

    “Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking.”

    Simply studying the wisdom of others isn’t enough, you have to think through ideas yourself. Spend time journaling, meditating or contemplating over ideas you have learned.

    5. Put it Into Practice

    Skill based learning is useless if it isn’t applied. Reading a book on C++ isn’t the same thing as writing a program. Studying painting isn’t the same as picking up a brush.

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    If your knowledge can be applied, put it into practice.

    In this information age, we’re all exposed to a lot of information, it’s important to re-learn how to learn so as to put the knowledge into practice.

    6. Teach Others

    You learn what you teach. If you have an outlet of communicating ideas to others, you are more likely to solidify that learning.

    Start a blog, mentor someone or even discuss ideas with a friend.

    7. Clean Your Input

    Some forms of learning are easy to digest, but often lack substance.

    I make a point of regularly cleaning out my feed reader for blogs I subscribe to. Great blogs can be a powerful source of new ideas. But every few months, I realize I’m collecting posts from blogs that I am simply skimming.

    Every few months, purify your input to save time and focus on what counts.

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    8. Learn in Groups

    Lifelong learning doesn’t mean condemning yourself to a stack of dusty textbooks. Join organizations that teach skills.

    Workshops and group learning events can make educating yourself a fun, social experience.

    9. Unlearn Assumptions

    You can’t add water to a full cup. I always try to maintain a distance away from any idea. Too many convictions simply mean too few paths for new ideas.

    Actively seek out information that contradicts your worldview.

    Our minds can’t be trusted, but this is what we can do about it to be wiser.

    10. Find Jobs that Encourage Learning

    Pick a career that encourages continual learning. If you are in a job that doesn’t have much intellectual freedom, consider switching to one that does.

    Don’t spend forty hours of your week in a job that doesn’t challenge you.

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    11. Start a Project

    Set out to do something you don’t know how. Forced learning in this way can be fun and challenging.

    If you don’t know anything about computers, try building one. If you consider yourself a horrible artist, try a painting.

    12. Follow Your Intuition

    Lifelong learning is like wandering through the wilderness. You can’t be sure what to expect and there isn’t always an end goal in mind.

    Letting your intuition guide you can make self-education more enjoyable. Most of our lives have been broken down to completely logical decisions, that making choices on a whim has been stamped out.

    13. The Morning Fifteen

    Productive people always wake up early. Use the first fifteen minutes of your morning as a period for education.

    If you find yourself too groggy, you might want to wait a short time. Just don’t put it off later in the day where urgent activities will push it out of the way.

    14. Reap the Rewards

    Learn information you can use. Understanding the basics of programming allows me to handle projects that other people would require outside help. Meeting a situation that makes use of your educational efforts can be a source of pride.

    15. Make Learning a Priority

    Few external forces are going to persuade you to learn. The desire has to come from within. Once you decide you want to make lifelong learning a habit, it is up to you to make it a priority in your life.

    More About Continuous Learning

    Featured photo credit: Paul Schafer via unsplash.com

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