Confession: I manage my volunteer mailing list on a Word document.
Glue Henge by sappymoosetree on Flickr
It’s true. Even though I enjoy Excel formulas and mail merges, have harsh words for presenters who don’t know the ins and outs of PowerPoint, have actually built more than one relational database, and love to find the optimal information tool for a given task. I am that person, and I copy and paste my mailing list from a Word document.
It didn’t used to be this way. In my old job at the main office, my Outlook contacts list was a well-organized-frequently-mail-merged thing of beauty. But when I got to my new job at the learning center a little over a year ago, I only had Outlook Webmail. Managing contacts solely with webmail is pretty much impossible. Word was there, I used it, and it worked. Months later, my nonprofit helped me install real, actual Outlook Anywhere on the learning center’s laptop (I’m unable to install anything on the main computer, which is library property). And months after that, I have yet to rework my emailing system.
Three thoughts on this:
Spoon theory by scribbletaylor on Flickr
And now to the teaspoon:
This type of situation leads me to think broadly about the fact that people need more than initial training and ongoing Q and A to work effectively with digital technology; we need support in the form of quality tools. Even the people who “get” digital technology are severely hampered by slow, outdated, and/or limiting applications and hardware. When we have to figure out how to make our antiquated or locked-down equipment be good enough “in our spare time,” it either just doesn’t happen or it happens at the expense of the rest of our jobs.
I wish that the demands put on educators, especially in this age of obsession with computer-based and distance learning, could be accompanied by thoughts like, “Do they have the tools to accomplish this well?” or even better, “We should ask them what tools they need to facilitate these desired outcomes and then follow through.”
If all I have is a teaspoon and you’re surprised I’m not hammering nails with it, there’s a problem and it’s not with me.
My organization has a one-page strategic plan, and it’s pretty much the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.
Seriously, I’ve been a skeptic of the net value of a strategic plan given the amount of time put into writing it and the likelihood of it being used. With this one, though? Consider me on board!
At work, I’ll periodically get this sinking feeling that I’m forgetting to do something.
Juggling Now, Soon, and In Two Months is hard for me – they don’t feel like they should be on the same list. Also, a list with 25 things on it, some huge and some small, can be kind of scary.
Pen and Paper by LucasTheExperience on Flickr
I’ve tried Checkvist and liked it, and I’ve tried Google Calendar Tasks, but the main problem with both is two-fold: it doesn’t feel concrete to me when it’s electronic, and I can avoid the list by just not opening the list’s webpage. Lifehacker has an interesting poll on the five best To-Do List Managers, and for them as for me, pen and paper won.
My latest strategy:
- Write down every task or project I can think of. I work on this for a day or so to ensure it’s as complete as possible.
- Estimate time per task. In the left margin, I write in the estimated minutes it will take. This step eliminates a lot of “this list is scary!” for me. “60 minutes of stats” is easier for me to tackle than “annoyingly time-consuming volunteer stats.”
- Rewrite the list in two columns: Longer Term and Shorter Term. I fill in some details like due dates and collaborators in Longer Term. I just make a plain bulleted list of the shorter-term projects (which are usually 60 minutes or less). The process of rewriting it helps me internalize it.
- Circle my first four tasks. This way I can evaluate what my next priority is in a quick and ongoing way.
- Check them off when they’re done. It feels gooood. :)
- Keep my list in plain sight. The list lives just to the left of my computer. It does not get put away, it does not travel, it does not get buried. And it gets more and more crossed off until it’s done.
It’s not perfect. I think they keys that make it work for me are that I sit down and really think about it in terms of minutes and that it’s always on my desk and in my face.
What makes a To-Do system work for you?
Juggle Strobe by Sam UL on Flickr
Wednesdays are new student registration day at my learning center. I’d never get anything done if I took new students whenever they walked in or called, so I have everyone come to fill out their application and take their placement test on one evening out of the week.
Yesterday I had 8 students signed up for registration, and I usually get additional people who haven’t contacted me. That would have been pretty chaotic, even for me. So I did the unthinkable. I asked for help.
It was great. My volunteer told people about the schedule and helped with the application. Then I could focus on finding the right test for each student and monitoring their progress. We ended up only having five new students (it was about 3 degrees outside, so I wasn’t surprised) but it was still a much calmer, more controlled process than other nights with five or so intakes.
So I want to know why it took me so long to ask for help, and why it still feels a little like cheating to change the system so that I’m not needing to juggle five (or eight) people at once.
Sometimes we still think like the small program we were just a few years ago.
Our program has seen exponential growth in the past few years. We have accomplished amazing things. Our trajectory is to double again in two years, which is both daunting and exciting. One way to smooth this is to focus on processes: you need them, you need to be able to share / replicate them easily, and they need to be as streamlined as possible. In other words, you should take the time to write them down.
I think we could have been much more efficient even just in these past couple of months by simply writing down everything we taught a temp how to do, or even having our temps keep up the lists. It would have taken slightly longer to do the first time, but would have left us with an easy-to-replicate process. Simple time-investment. Instead, with every new temp and new employee, we’ve had to reinvent the wheel, racking our brains to figure out what to teach them when and how. It’s a waste of time. It happens because we go into it in a one-time mentality when it’s really a piece of a pattern that will repeat.
I’m really not a person who’s all about standardizing and formalizing, but when you have a big program, it’s the only effective way to do it.
How do you go about transitioning your thinking from small-scale to large-scale? What are best practices for understanding what should be a process and creating and using said process?
This was an amazing weekend. I had four glorious days to myself! I got a lot done in my apartment that I’d been putting off, and the result is that I have room in my closets, a desk, and a much smaller population of dust-bunnies. I’ve effectively expanded my living space now that my desk is a place where I can spend time, and all those pesky tasks of day-to-day living will be easier now that I can find things and put them away.
Even though I’m not quite prepared to start thinking about work again just yet, I definitely noticed myself thinking that it would be nice to spend some time getting a handle on my office environment again. I think it would make a huge difference in how I feel at work and in how fast I can find things. I don’t think I’ll be able to work in cleaning/organization/de-cluttering time this week, but I’m thinking that it needs to become a priority for a day sometime before mid-July. Because wow.
There are a million tips for getting and staying organized all over the Internet. I didn’t look at any of them. Three mindsets that worked for me this weekend:
- Go for high-impact bulk stuff first. In other words, don’t start by dusting your DVD collection; start by washing and putting away the 11 loads of laundry floating around the apartment.
- Get rid of things. Ask yourself, “Am I really going to take this item with me if I move in a year?”
- Take a moment to decorate your space. For instance, my desk is now clear of piles of junk, and that’s great. I also took 5 minutes to decorate the area with miscellaneous pictures that were floating around – a fun reward for present-Emily and future-Emily.
I’d love to hear what works for everyone else out there!
I looked back at last week’s posts on investing time. I still think the points that I made are valid, which is a good sign I guess.
Something that framework overlooks is analyzing why the present feels the way it does. Why do I feel overwhelmed today? What is weighing on me? What can I do about it?
For me it came down to a large, long-term database project I had taken on. I was having a lot of trouble finding time to work on it; even though it was a huge investment in the program’s future, it kept getting trumped by the mini-crisis of the day.
Time was very seriously running out. Whenever I flee the office to work off-site I feel like it’s a bit of a cop-out, but I put any of those reservations aside. The database was too important to worry about that. I badgered around the office until I found a PC laptop to borrow. I looked at my calendar, saw some blocks of time with nothing scheduled, and then I scheduled them as busy. I told my supervisor I would be working on the database off-site at those times.
Then I did it. And we now have a database.
Why did it take me so long to do what I knew would work? Is working at the local Bean Factory actually a cop-out? What could I have done if I’d had no choice but to work on-site?