Posts in Web/Tech
Four Reasons Against Working From Home

There was this guy.  He wore casual clothing and seemed to be present at 100% of his kids' school events.  

I secretly wondered what he did for a living but never had the guts to go over and ask him.  

As it turns out, he worked from home.  Doing something related to software (that's usually enough of a response at the neighborhood cocktail party as in "yeah, I'm in software"), he managed to support his family and live to talk about it.  Even more, he seemed quite happy with his life.  

His name was Kevin.

There are a lot of Kevins out there- people who work either occasionally or often from a home office.  This seems odd, as something luxurious and novel but not as something that "normal people" do.

The modern workplace, broken and dysfunctional as it typically is, wants us to think that a long commute is normal.  Add in frequent interruptions, bad lighting and boring meetings.

I was that guy and those were normal things for me.  While I wondered what Kevin did for a living, I secretly envied him.  

Fast forward five years and I now work from home about half of every day.  My wardrobe, unless I'm at a meeting, is business casual.  You don't want to come between me and my kids' basketball games.  It's a new normal for me and it feels very good.

Still, it's not for everyone.

In fact, there are four reasons why you should not consider working from home:

  1. You crave people contact on a daily basis.  If this is a big deal for you, don't work from home.  When you work from home, you can have as much contact as you like or need but it will be contact that you make happen.  There are no "drop-ins", etc.
  2. You can't see technology as a viable replacement for face-to-face contact.  For me, a Zoom or Skype call "counts" as real communication.  If you can't see yourself ever making that substitution, working from home isn't for you.
  3. You don't have a dedicated space.  This is big.  I don't think you necessarily need an entire room (although that helps) but you do need some space that is only used for work. If no desk/room/nook exists at your home for you to work in, working from home might not be for you.
  4. You worry too much about what others will think.  Your neighbors will wonder what you do.  Other parents at your kids' school will do the same (as I did with Kevin).  If you can't handle that level of scrutiny, working from home might not be for you.

Here's an experiment that you might want to try: work from home for two hours one day and see how you like it.  It doesn't have to be an all-or-nothing affair.  Being honest with the four conditions above can go a long way towards determining if home-working is for you.

BONUS: while no longer an active podcast, the best one I've found related to working from home is called Home Work.

The Productivity Awards 2016

The beginning of a new year provides each of us with a great opportunity to look back, take stock and prepare for the new year.  I have a particular approach for this outlined here.

This year I'm publishing The Productivity Awards, a brief summary of the top productivity apps that I've used in the past year.  A few caveats on this list:


1. I acknowledge that I'm a Mac user. As such, many of these will reflect a "Mac-centric" perspective.  Still, nearly all of the apps mentioned are cross-platform so to my Windows friends, do not despair!
2. This is not meant to be exhaustive by any means.  Many excellent products are available that didn't make the list.  What I have included are simply the most outstanding apps from my point of view.

3. None of the links are affiliates.  The Productivity Awards are a sincere way to express gratitude to the developers and productivity enthusiasts who make our work easier and more fun.  If you like the list and want a PDF version, use the form below.

Download the Productivity Awards Worksheet

A free PDF list plus "Conquering Email CheatSheet"

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Best All Around Todo App: Nozbe
Nozbe is available on Mac, Windows and online.  Their customer service is exceptional.  They update the app regularly.  They have a companion podcast.  With a GTD-framework behind the app, Nozbe is fast and reliable.  Now with both teamwork and collaborative features, it stands above the crowd.  Their CEO, Michael Sliwinski, is always pushing the envelope when it comes to rethinking how we work. 

Runner up: Todoist
Todoist is a phenomenal app.  It's light, feeling like a sleek sports-car with just enough to tackle all of your projects but without a high barrier of entry.  Their new shared-projects feature is awesome and the many colors allow for plenty of customization.  You can't go wrong with Todoist.


Best GTD-Specific App: Omnifocus
Sure, the UI may feel dated and it's still pricey, but Omnifocus is tops when it comes to a rigorous GTD-approach to productivity.  Think of it as a BMW of apps- not the prettiest but will stand the test of time and be user-reliable along the way.  That may be why OF is the app of choice for many GTD enthusiasts.  

Runner up: NirvanaHQ
Nirvana what?  This app may surprise you since it doesn't have a desktop app.  Still, you can use it within FluidApp if you really need to have a desktop version.  Nirvana is super-fast and has perhaps the best quick-key shortcuts of any app on the list.  Their team is really hustling to move this app into the upper levels of GTD software.


Best Project Management App: Asana
I first used Asana a few years ago and felt that it had too many features. Now, a few years later, it's simpler, more intuitive and very fast.  Their team-approach to shared projects is excellent and Asana truly allows your team to tackle projects with ease.  Asana can also serve as a personal todo-list manager in a pinch.

Runner up: Basecamp
Basecamp is sort of the grandfather of this category, owning it for nearly a decade. Basecamp still allows for some wonderful features (the daily check-in, chat) and their team (i.e. Jason Fried) is among the best in the business.  


Best Graphic Design App for Beginners: Canva
If you need something to look beautiful online, Canva is the app of choice.  From social media posts to your personal resume, Canva is a Swiss Army knife of online graphic design. It's simply the best and it's free for almost all of its templates.  Try Canva and you'll likely never need another design app again.

Runner up: Pablo by Buffer
Similar to Canva and with healthy Buffer integration, Pablo offers some nice templates that are very easy to use.  It may not be as full-featured as Canva but Pablo is a reliable app with enough bells and whistles to get the job done on your next Instagram or Twitter graphic.


Best Productivity Podcast: This is Your Life by Michael Hyatt
It's hard to find a podcast with better production, quality and frequency than Michael Hyatt.  His team consistently puts out thought-provoking content and reinvents the way we think about productivity and life.  Michael is quickly becoming this generation's Stephen Covey.

Runner up - Tie: Beyond the Todo List & Productivityist Podcast
Both Mike Vardy (Productivityist) and Eric Fisher (Beyond the Todo List) do a great job with the consistency and quality of their casts.  Each host is honest and slightly unscripted which makes for a more compelling show.  Too close to declare a winner!
 

 

 

What My Non-Smartphone Taught Me About Life
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I'm a techie.

 

I admit it- if it's new, shiny and requires a power cord, I'm interested.  If Apple makes it, I'm looking for my wallet.

 

For better or worse, this "trait" has been passed on to my children.  They know the value of data.  They routinely look for wifi in public places.  They are a chip off the old block...

 

And then something serious happened about a month ago: we ran out of data.  This was cause enough for a Family Meeting, which of course the kids hate.  Bear in mind that not ten years ago, this concept (losing data) would have made no sense at all but in 2016, data is a big deal.

 

We see data as a right, an entitlement and a part of everyday life.

 

I was traveling for work that month and needed to use a lot of data and returned with two weeks left in our billing cycle with (gasp!) very little data to spare.  Since we have a family shared-data plan, this became a family problem.

 

We shut down almost everything that would consume data and by the end of the month, just made it with .07GB to spare. Phew!

 

But you know what?  Those two weeks with basically zero data taught me a few things.  First, I learned that most of the stuff I do on my phone is kind of lame and going without it was no big deal.  So I can't check Facebook?  Ok.  So I can't see Instagram updates when I'm at the grocery store?  No big deal. 

 

And, even better, I learned to daydream.  I learned to be bored again.  To stare out the window and watch stuff.  It was nice.

 

As it turns out, my not-so-smartphone without data taught me a great deal.  It made it easier for me to unplug and just be with my family and friends.  It taught my kids the value of margin and open space. 

 

One final thing: it taught me that Facebook and Instagram aren't nearly as interesting as I had previously thought. 

 

Here's to the simple things in life... With or without data.

How to Be More Authentic on Social Media
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Authentic is the buzzword these days when it comes to job interviewing.  Recruiters will tell you to walk the fine line between "just be yourself" and "boldly promote your talents".  Somewhere in the middle is authenticity. 

But how about when it comes to your online presence- do others see the real you?

It’s worth a bit of reflection to consider how social media outlets like Twitter and LinkedIN fit into your career.  A savvy approach is to consider them as part of your total portfolio.  They should "fit" into the kind of person you want the world to see.

Don’t get me wrong- I’m all for social media and enjoy Facebook and the rest of the crew.  Still, many are finding that social media can feel overly self-promotish and a tad bit like reality tv- not actually real at all.

Consider the person who only posts photos to Instagram when things are good.  Follow them for a while and you’ll feel as if their entire life is one big party.  Newsflash: it isn’t.  They still put their shoes on the same way as you and me.  

Or, take the person who only rants on Facebook about the latest Democratic debate and how awful the candidates are (in their eyes).  Follow them for a while and you feel as if all they care about is finding a new issue to complain about.  

Quick tip: when you read something from someone else on social and it bothers you, it’s time to step back.  This may mean a week away or limiting your “checking” to once a day.  

Complete abstinence is easier than perfect moderation.
— St. Augustine

Seriously, you could do this if you wanted or needed to.  I recently deleted Instagram from my iPhone.  I was spending too much time checking for updates.  

Here’s some advice from others who suggest a more moderated approach to social media:

To conclude, we’re not suggesting dropping off of all social media outlets.  Rather, moderation is best.  Post to Instagram when you feel like it rather than because you feel you “should”.  Update your Facebook page because you want to instead of a response to guilt or as a way to procrastinate other more meaningful things.  

Do social on your terms.  You’ll feel more in control and I would be that you’ll come across as more authentic.


6 Steps Towards a Simpler, Smarter Digital Life

He wants to be fully present to his kids... but Instagram calls out his name.  She wants to be giving her full attention to the drive in front of her... but the chime on her phone signals another tempting text message.  

Sound familiar?  

Millions of folks sign up for social media sites like Twitter every day.  Millions of others wish they hadn't.  Somewhere in the middle are those (like me and you, you know the good looking ones!) who want to live a simpler, saner digital life.  

This week's video is all about how you can take back control of your life online.  It outlines a formula that you can start using TODAY to restore simplicity to daily life.  

See what you think and let me know of future video topics that you'd like me to cover.

If you enjoyed this post and would like to read/see/experience more of what Mike has to offer, join his mailing list, the Speak Digital Network here.

The App Every School Leader Needs For Making Better Decisions

Today's post is from fellow educator and friend, Justin Baeder of EduLeadership.  We both use ToDoist and have a passion for helping school leaders achieve maximum productivity.  Justin also provides excellent professional development opportunities for school leaders via The Principal Center.  You can read my recent post about Asana on Justin's blog here.

Better Decisions with Better Information The most important decision we make, over and over again, is "How should I be spending my time right now?"

It's not an easy question, but it's one that we can answer better with the right tools in place. Every school leader's day is jam-packed with decisions to make, and an electronic to-do list offers the most concise overview of all of your work. If you don't have such an overview—one that's easy to update as circumstances change—it's hard to make good decisions about what to focus on.

When most people think of to-do lists, they're thinking about planning and organizing their day. Our verbs reveal our mindset:

  • "I need to make a to-do list."
  • "I'm checking off everything on my to-do list."

A paper to-do list will suffice if planning and executing are the only steps. But I want to suggest that electronic to-do lists serve a different function for school leaders: helping us maintain a single source of up-to-date information about what we could and should be doing.

Backup Systems

In my work with school leaders, I've found that very few people use an electronic to-do list—or at least, use it to go beyond the limitations of a paper list.

Paper lists are hard to revise, and aren't really up to the task of holding everything. When your task management system is anemic, other systems have to pick up the slack—a job they do poorly:

  • When you keep your to-do list in your head, you devote mental energy to simply remembering everything—and you inevitably forget a sizable percentage of what you intended to remember
  • When you keep your tasks on sticky notes, you're unlikely to integrate information that comes in via email or when you're talking to people away from your office
  • When you keep tasks in your email inbox, other people get to decide what you should work on—you'll tend to give the greatest weight to tasks that are most clearly articulated in the subject line
A purpose-built, cross-platform task app is the solution.

Beyond Functional

But many people have tried electronic task apps and found them less than inspiring to use. I believe that the tools we use should be not just functional, but enjoyable to use, and that's why I recommend ToDoist. TodoistToDoist certainly has all the basics:
  • Easy adding, editing, and organizing tasks
  • Apps for every platform, including email integration
  • Reminders and notifications
Todoist also has other features you'd expect from a modern app. But ToDoist really shines because it's been designed with human factors in mind. As busy humans, we often need to change our plans, and that means postponing, reprioritizing, and revising our tasks. This begins with knowing what's coming our way, so ToDoist gives you helpful views like Inbox, Today, and Next 7 Days, as well as project-specific lists:

7 day view

It's easy to use keyboard shortcuts or the mouse (or a few taps on your mobile device) to keep your list up-to-date and trustworthy.

ToDoist is also good at reminding you that you're using it. You'll get a daily overview email, lest you forget to look to your to-do list first thing in the morning, and this email links directly to your tasks for the day. ToDoist is great software, and it's a great tool for improving your decisions about what to work on—and ultimately increasing your impact as a school leader.

Whether you use ToDoist or another app, ask yourself this: Am I giving myself a single dashboard where I can plan and organize my tasks? One that's easy to keep up-to-date so I can rely on it?

Justin Baeder helps school administrators become high-performance instructional leaders. He writes about principal productivity at eduleadership.org