Task management: theories and approaches

I’ve been promising a series of posts about task management for a while now. Welcome to the first one, where I’m going to talk about some of my own background, and then some different basic philosophies. I’ll have links to resources as I talk about different approaches. (Next post will be looking at some different tool options, and then I’ll talk about my actual system.) I’ll also touch on some things we as educators are not really teaching students about these topics in various places.

Many task management systems were originally designed for use by business executives – or at least people with offices (and doors that close), appointment calendars, assistants, and who could plan on at least some chunks of focused time. As a librarian and educator, that’s not reliably a part of my work life (and it isn’t for a bunch of other professions, either), so one thing I’m going to particularly focus on is creating a system that works for those of us who are frequently interrupted, regularly have to switch priorities, or who have variable amounts of energy and focus for whatever reason.

As with other posts in this file and information management series, this series on task management is going to be about half general theory and things to think about, and half “here’s what I do, and why”. I promise screenshots when they’re useful, too!

Continue reading Task management: theories and approaches

Links of the Week, March 22nd, 2011

Welcome to a middle-of-the-week roundup (as I said last Friday, this coming Friday I’ll be running around making an event happen, so you get links today, and then a week from Friday.)

Here, on this blog:

You’ll notice I’ve rearranged the sidebars – added is a new box with quick links to some of my favorite posts and post series. (I think the new layout works a bit better, but please let me know if something doesn’t work for you.)

You’ll see that one of those links is to Copyright Videos: this is the round-up of videos about copyright. My focus was on videos that were short enough (5-10 minutes) enough to be played briefly at the beginning of a discussion, but that also informative enough to give students or teachers something to dig into. (There are a few longer ones that I thought were especially interesting.)

I looked fairly broadly, but I’m sure there’s lots of amazing stuff I missed. If you have a favorite that fits the criteria, please leave it in comments or use the contact form.

Information bits and pieces:

Brian, at Swiss Army Librarian, has a neat post about the American Library Association Library, which posts some of the reference questions they receive (with answers) and links to some of their other resources. Brian also has a post showing how Delicious (whose future is still up in the air) and Diigo compare, using the same links and basic structure.

Joyce Valenza shares several posters she and her practicum student, Jenni Stern, made to illustrate how both traditional and new information skills matter.

One of the things I’ve been thinking about since the earthquake and tsunami in Japan has been about how information is communicated. I don’t want to do a roundup of links, but I do want to highlight two that I found particularly interesting. One was a conversation on my favorite Minnesota Public Radio show, Midmorning, talking about news and journalism relating to the quake. It’s actually one of the least smooth conversations I’ve heard from the host in a long while, but that shows how hard it is to have a conversation about some of the deeper issues (and it does settle down into the goal topic eventually.)

I’m also fascinated by the geek comic xkcd’s illustration of radiation levels. You can see some more about the design over on their blag, and his source for the data has a different presentation of it (with more about some specific effects) as well. (She’s a senior reactor operator at the Reed Research Reactor, and as she says “.. one of my many duties is being aware of radiation levels in the facility and adjusting my behavior appropriately.”)

Connecting online:

There’s a great post about what social networking might mean in academia from the Tenured Radical. I definitely agree that it’s much more about making things easier than anything else.

And in the latest round of privacy issues in online settings, Etsy (which has been moving towards adding more social networking tools) made people’s past purchases visible online. Fortunately, they turned this off, but in the meantime, there were some interesting posts about the specific issues of privacy in a purchase setting. Ars Technica has a summary, and Yvi has a roundup of several other posts, as does The Consumerist.

Jonathan Martin has a great post on edSocialMedia about the dilemmas and tensions of blogging as an educator. Personally, I blog because writing for an audience (even a very small one!) makes me think about what I say (and how I say it) in ways that improve my life (and my professional work), because I like sharing neat stuff with other people (hi, librarian), and because it also helps me have a record of what I was thinking about (at least partly) at a particular time.

(I’ll also be honest here and add that I’ve spent more time on the professional blog rather than other forms of writing in the last 10 months or so because it’s also a great way to demonstrate my technical skills, information literacy interests, and much more to potential employers. But I’d been blogging in other settings long before that, and knew that once I found the right tone and focus for this space, it’d be great, which it is.)

Ebooks:

The big conversation this week has been about ebooks, and more specifically pricing. First, there’s the question of how much money is saved by having an electronic version rather than a print version. iReaderReview has an older post from 2009 breakdown of costs with links to some other analysis. (but the print book numbers probably haven’t changed that much: I wanted something for context.) Here’s another take from an eBook publisher. There are definitely various ways to look at pricing, but the short answer is: the costs aren’t always where readers expect.

(The rest of this gets long, so you get a ‘continue for more’ cut at this point.)

Continue reading Links of the Week, March 22nd, 2011

Links of interest: March 11th, 2011

Hello, welcome to this week’s links-that-intrigue-me.

First: Marianne had some great comments about the copyright videos I linked to last week. One of my other browser windows currently has a bunch of open tabs where I am looking for more varied perspectives (in video form). I hope to get that posted sometime early next week. (I was hoping for this week, but forgot about the part where it takes me more time to watch videos than it does to scan most webpages for the useful bits.)

Changing world:

There continues to be a lot of discussion in various online spaces about ebooks, ebooks and libraries, technology and education, and much more. This fails to surprise me, somehow. This week has brought:

21 things that will be obsolete by 2020 covers.. well, 21 things in the world of education that may not be here. I disagree with a number of points (I’m pretty sure print books will continue to be around, in part because it’s not like the existing print books we have now are suddenly going to vanish in a puff of smoke or anything), but it does raise some interesting issues about the assumptions behind our current educational models, and what could change, what should change, and what might be really amazing to explore.

Banned Library has a post on 5 Reasons Libraries Should Not Use eBooks … Yet. There’s some vociferous disagreement in the comments that makes further interesting points. (Me, I agree that there are some very real technical, practical, and funding challenges there, especially for public libraries, and that it makes sense not to put too much weight on any one solution or option until some things settle more.)

Brian, at Swiss Army Librarian, has a roundup of links and conversation about the current ebook situation and Harper Collins. [ETA: I realised when making another edit I forgot to mention something here: my understanding from folks I know in the publishing industry is that most of the costs in publishing remain for ebooks - it's just the shipping/distribution bits of the cost that disappear, which are not as big a part of an individual book's cost as you might think at first glance. I'll see if I can dig up some useful discussions of this.]

Steve Lawson and Iris Jastram have the beginnings of a plan for libraries and ebooks: it’s articulate, thoughtful, and addresses a number of specific frustrations and issues. It also can continue to grow, so they’re looking for feedback. Jenica and Marianne both also have additional excellent comments on the plan. (I’m still thinking about the questions Marianne raises.)

Interacting online:

The other major theme in my reading this week was some interesting approaches to interacting online.

Mark Thompson, at Poynter, has a great post called “A 5-minute framework for fostering better conversations in comments sections” that looks in particular at the challenges of figuring out a better way to do that for NPR’s comment threads, that includes links to a lot of different examples (both of what works, and what fails).

Library Journal Online had a piece on whether incremental or major website redesigns are better for libraries (and there’s some discussion in comments). My own take is that it depends very much on what you’re using on the back-end: sometimes a big leap into a new scaffolding is the best way to be able to be more flexible and incremental in the future.

Tyler Tevo0ren had an interesting guest post at Zen Habits on creating a mindful digital life. I particularly am mulling over the advice to “Choose the traits you like about yourself, and exemplify them online.” and the idea of a digital home versus embassies.

There have been a series of posts by various people on the concept of a “YA Mafia” – namely, the idea that YA authors are using their power to ruin up and coming authors, and that’s turned into a more general discussion about cliquishness, friends, and social connections in the publishing industry.

Holly Black’s initial post on this summarises the flaw with the first part very simply: as she says

“But even if there was a YA Mafia, I very much doubt that they’d be able to ruin your career because writers are basically lazy and impractical people. We live in our heads a lot and we can barely get it together to do anything. Seriously, it took me until after 3pm yesterday to get myself a sandwich.”

She’s got a further link round up in a later post, and the DearAuthor site has some thoughts, links to past discussions related to the romance community, and links to other notable posts related to the bigger discussion of interactions between readers, authors, and reviewers.

And finally:

Sarah, at Librarian in Black, has a fascinating if distressing post talking about the results of a survey around book challenges. I find it distressing, but not precisely surprising that there are more challenges than get reported, and that many challenges are not handled in accordance with the actual policy.

Links of interest : February 11th, 2011

Welcome to this week’s installment of interesting links! Coming soon, another post on file management – naming conventions (I’m about halfway through a draft.)

Credit where it’s due: Do you use Creative Commons materials? Do you get frustrated figuring out what you need to cite and how? The OpenAttribute project is designed to help: it’s a browser add-on that looks for information on the page to formulate the citation.

What should people know about dinosaurs? Ok, I admit, I never entirely outgrew the “dinosaurs are neat!” phase of my childhood, but I’m actually equally fascinated by the question of “What *should* people know about a particular subject, and how do we figure that out?” So, imagine my delight in getting a pointer to a post that combines the two. Tom Holz (a paleontologist who focuses on the tyrannosaurus rex) has written a guest post about that very topic, with both general and specific things he thinks people ought to know about the field and why they matter.

A follow-up from last week – namely the bit about BitchMedia’s 100 Best Feminist YA list removing some titles. This week, I bring you Scott Westerfeld on the topic (author of many things, including the Uglies/Pretties/Specials series, and more recently Leviathan

On the issue of diversity, there was a fascinating article from a professor, Margaret Price, about the ways that academic hiring processes are particularly challenging for people with particular learning styles, or disabilities. The article also makes some interesting points about how a gruellingly lengthy interview day (of 8+ hours with very limited breaks) is not actually showing you someone at their best – or as they’d be during a regular teaching day. As more and more schools recognise the importance of diversity and pluralism in all directions, I hope that some of these ideas will become more common.

I know that I’ve deeply appreciated interviews that pay attention to these things, including sharing names of the people on a committee in writing before or during the interview (so that I can match the name and the person and their role as we go rather than try to sort out names and their correct spelling afterwards), and that give reasonable breaks to collect my thoughts and remind myself of what I want to focus on for the next conversation.

As a librarian, how I talk about things with faculty is often different than what and how I want to talk about things with technology staff, for example – and both are definitely different than how I interact with kids.) Obviously, I’m good at changing modes on the fly (that’s part of the job, really), but I do better at it with a moment to get a drink of water, gather my thoughts, look at my notes, and take a deep breath (all things that I’d plan into a typical workday on the job.)

Looking for a good guide to Facebook settings? Mashable has just come out with a really nice, new summary of settings to be aware of. I like to keep an up to date (last month or three) in my bookmarks because they do tend to change things, don’t they?

What technology changes: Henry Jenkins has a great post about how open book exams must change in a wired educational setting - all excellent points. Personally, I’m convinced that it’s possible to design exams (and other projects) such that online resources are helpful – but only if you already know the subject pretty well. This does mean moving away from simple identification questions (which are trivial if you have online access to resources), and moving into questions that require you to understand those terms, but which focus mostly on doing something else with them.

Joyce Valenza is also thinking about this general topic, but from a different direction, in her post about creating a new Research Tools resource online (as she’s moving her materials to LibGuide)

Links post: February 4th, 2011

Short list today: this week has been full of job stuff – last week was sending out lots of applications, this one has been visiting Boston mostly for a hiring conference today and tomorrow which has so far gone well (I liked all three of the interviews I’ve done so far, and I think they’d all be interesting jobs with great kids, but they’re rather different settings, which is also cool.)

Tech literacy:
LG, a maker of various electronic gadgetry, have combined forces with Jane Lynch (of Glee and various other TV fame) to do a series of short videos about various aspects of texting behavior. They’re funny and informative. Their website has links to the videos, but also other resources for parents looking to talk to their kids about texting and electronics-mediated behavior.

Mashable has a nice guide to creating a Facebook engagement policy that’s aimed at businesses, but just as applicable to libraries and other organizations.

Tools:
A discussion on one of my library boards pointed out a great resource for people taking over archives as a project – particularly apropos for me, because one of my interviews had just asked about my experience with it (I have some, in fact, but more tools are always great.)

Other amusements and news:
Most of you have probably already seen links about the hawk trapped in the Library of Congress’s main reading room, but they managed to catch it on the 26th. (It’s getting checked out by raptor rehab folks, and will be released in a more natural location.)

John Scalzi has a post about an interesting issue - the inclusion or removal of titles from a “100 best titles” list – in this case, a list from BitchMedia of 100 best YA titles for feminist readers. (I do sort of wish he’d left comments open, because his comment space is a very different place from that thread, and I’d have liked to see both approaches to discussion.)

And Jessamyn West, of MetaFilter, had an essay on the NYT about the recent news that only 15% of Wikipedia contributors are female. (MetaFilter, where she is a moderator, takes several steps to make the site a space that is more inclusive of women.) The comments, however, are pre-101 level on this issue: for further reading on related topics, I recommend the Geek Feminism blog.

Me, I think it’s a complex issue, but I’m fascinated by the question of how the choices we make in online settings create places people do or don’t feel comfortable contributing. I don’t think every space has to have the same goals (and in fact, don’t want them to – that’d be boring), but I think more sites being more deliberate about their choices and particularly what those choices mean is never a bad thing.

Links of interest: January 21, 2011

Welcome to the return of the links posts! I’ve got an interesting collection again, so here we go:

Continue reading Links of interest: January 21, 2011

Links of interest: December 6, 2010

(Yes, I try to do these on Fridays, but last Friday I had an interview, and the Friday before was Thankgiving. This week is busy too, so I’m doing this now.)

Last Wednesday and Thursday, I took part in a free WebJunction conference that focused on 21st century librarianship. There were lots of great ideas and discussions (and the WebJunction staff and software worked very smoothly). You can now see all the conference materials (including the presentations and the simultaneous chat sessions) online. I particularly liked Pat Wagner’s presentation on staying committed to great customer service, but there were lots of other good conversations.

On the topic of learning more, how had I missed the site fivebooks.com until now? They ask experts in a field (anything from architectural history to political satire to mysteries to .. well, anything) to recommend five books that would give someone a solid understanding of the topic. And why, which is in many ways the more interesting bit.

And Discover Magazine has an intriguing article about using a simple writing exercise to vastly improve student achievement in a challenging class.

What’s the goal of being online?

Several links I’ve come across in the past week or so have talked about both the powers and perils of online interaction.

Doug Johnson revisits an old post of his from 2005 that talks about why restricting online access in schools is problematic. What I find interesting is how much is still like that – but also how much things have changed in some schools.

And I love Scott McLeod’s post about the things we’d be doing (differently) if we truly supported educational technology. (I’m glad to say I’ve done more than a few of them.)

Common advice to authors these days is to be involved online – but how? A post from Betsy Lerner (an agent) looks at a few of the complexities.

I’m very fond of Common Craft’s explanations of media and technology – and they’ve got a new one about social media and the workplace. Particularly great if you know people in smaller businesses trying to figure out where to get started with the subject.

And BoingBoing shared a presentation that makes one think about the power of online tools, and the importance of teaching evaluation skills – and common sense. (The actual combination of events is, as commenters point out, unlikely, but at the same time, I think it’s an interesting case study in looking at other ways to send a situation.)

For librarians and library geeks:

Links of interest : November 5th, 2010

Today is Guy Fawkes Day which always reminds me of how people interact with information, and how what we know about an event can shift with bias. (And which, if you know some of the history, is a really fascinating example of how to evaluate information about an event.)

Anybody for…? Emily Lloyd at Shelf Check (one of my favorite library comics) has a fascinating post about creating a social physical library – allowing people in the building to connect with other people who are there doing similar things, or would be interested (a spontaneous story-time, a chance to practice a language, play a game of chess, etc.) Folks in the comments there mentioned a related conversation at thewikiman, with more ideas in the comments.

Let’s try that again. Related to some of the posts last week, Iris has a post about a discussion at her college’s Learning and Teaching Center about Harvesting Our Mistakes. Both some of the specific there – and a reminder to keep up with the process of reflection and adjustment – spoke to me.

First attempts: Scott McLeod (who focuses on technology in K-12 education, and who does a lot of work with administrators trying to figure out how to implement technology in their schools) has an interesting post on how to look at the first steps of technology practice.

More things we’re not teaching: His post made me realise that I missed something in my Things we’re not teaching post: how many schools are teaching students how to find a task management technology that works for them that goes beyond “Write it in your planner”. These days, kids with access to their own tech devices (whether that’s a phone, mobile device, laptop, or home computer) have a lot more choices in figuring out how to manage deadlines and assignments – and it might be good to talk about them, show off some options, and so on.

What’s getting asked: Brian Herzog has been writing about his experience at the NELA 2010 conference, and has a great post about changes in reference questions in public library settings, based on Pingsheng Chen from the Worcester (MA) Public Library presentation.  Summary: libraries are getting fewer of the easy questions, but more of the time consuming or challenging ones. (Since people are tending to do their own searches for the simpler stuff, and only coming to the librarians when they get stumped.)

Community concerns: The Disruptive Student series at ProfHacker (a Chronicle of Higher Education blog) has an interesting post today on dealing with bullying in academic settings. While focused on teaching settings, there’s some interesting stuff in there for people in libraries to think about too.

Understanding other experiences: While browsing around ProfHacker, I found a couple of posts on dealing with students with disabilities or other access needs, with some useful information for anyone who teaches.

For another take on this situation, FWD/Foward has a post this week on how teachers and professors can help students with disabilities. (FWD focuses on an intersectional approach to disabilities.)

The problems with copying: Seanan McGuire, author of a number of books (the October Daye series, and as Mira Grant, the NewsFlesh series) made a post this week about Internet piracy and who it hurts. She has a follow-up post with a few clarifications and additional points, too.

In a related area, my reading lists have been full of people talking about a really blatant example of why copying is stupid. Author writes an article (a comparison of apple pie recipes.) A small local newspaper publishes it – without permission or recompense. Author writes politely, requesting a donation to a program of her preference, in lieu of payment.  Editor responded that, well, it was online, so it was in the public domain – and oh, by the way, she should be grateful for publication and badly needed editing.

You can guess at the outcome, but John Scalzi’s blog, Whatever, has the best overview of it: The Stupidest Thing an Editor With Three Decades of Experience Has Said About the Web Today. (With links to the author’s original post about it, including a copy of the relevant email.) He has a follow-up post, too.

Dear people: stuff on the ‘Net is not automatically in the public domain. Please share with anyone who has not yet learned this.

Links of interest: October 29, 2010

Learning outcomes : Iris Jastram talks about an insight she had about using learning outcomes to do better user instruction, and Jenica Rogers has some more ideas about applying that to the work of the library as a whole.

Technology and the librarian : Michael Stephens, on the MLIS faculty at Dominican University, has begun writing a new column for Library Journal. His first column talks about the need for library students (and librarians) to be comfortable using (and use) online communication, beyond the closed systems of classes and workplaces. Various people, including Angel Rivera have commented about it. (I’ve got more thoughts about this one, but they’re still gelling.)

Steampunk considerations: Nisi Shawl has a great article at Tor.com on some of the issues of steampunk in terms of reflecting the experiences of people of color in that reimagined world. She talks about what she’s writing to explore that, and also links to a bunch of other fascinating resources.

When the library’s not handy: Hugo, Minnesota (a suburb of St. Paul) which has no town library has instituted a Library Express program: programmed lockers outside of City Hall which allow residents to pick up books they’ve reserved. A Wall Street Journal article talks about this and some other similar programs in other places, which also talks about the complications of shorter library hours due to funding cutbacks, and library patrons who still want to use resources.

Conference notes: Sarah Houghton-Jan of Librarian in Black went to the Internet Librarian 2010 conference and made lots of useful posts on presentations – everything on learning from failure to the community as center of the community, to great free tools for cash-strapped libraries.

Time-consuming reference: Brian Herzog talks about doing triage on reference questions in a public library setting. Not only having circulation staff handle some things, and then refer to reference librarians for more detailed needs (common if the reference desk is not obvious or as available as the circ desk) but also how to handle the much more complex questions that take 15 or 30 minutes to handle.

How much management is just right? Jenica Rogers has a great post on what she’s learned in her first 17 months as Director of Libraries. She focuses on the problems of micromanaging – or more specifically, how she doesn’t want to, but other people want her to give more direct guidance and direction on a day to day basis, and how that needs to be balanced against her own work.

Interesting resources:

  • Two additional ways to search Flickr: FlickrStorm goes beyond your initial search by finding other items that might fit and Compfight makes it easier to find creative commons items and original images.
  • OpenFolklore is a project of the American Folklore Society to make materials more widely available for study and learning.
  • The Wisebaden Codex of Hildegard von Bingen’s work is now available digitally. Click the manuscript page image to get into the document reader. (Things that make the medievalist bits of my brain happy!)

What we’re not teaching

I’ve been thinking for the past few weeks, reading various of the ‘back to school’ blog posts, about how much we’re still not really teaching.

What would change if we built “How do we find the online experiences we want to have, and make them work better for us?” into what we teach, and what we learn? Not the fear-based online safety lectures, not the online privacy lectures – as important as that last one is. But the bigger question: how do we do the stuff with this information source that improves our lives?

What would it look like if our information literacy classes didn’t just focus on writing an academic paper, and instead included how to find and evaluate resources for regular life tasks. Which recipe sites are good – and how do you pick a good recipe from them? Whose DIY instructions are great, and whose leave out important safety tips? Where do we go for good financial advice for a particular goal? And oh, yes – where do we find good consumer health information? Evaluating news sources, too.

It’s not that learning to write an academic paper is a bad skill: it’s worth teaching, and worth experiencing, and there are lots of other good skills and experiences it ties in with really well.

But let’s be realistic here: out of a class of 20 kids, how many of them are going to go on and write academic papers for the rest of their lives (i.e. go into academia)? Maybe one, and chances are, that one would have figured it out pretty fast with a little guidance. And how many of them are going to going to cook dinner, buy a car, need to figure out their budget, make a medical decision, or need to find out what happened in the news? Pretty much all of them.

I wonder if something’s skewed in our perspectives and proportions, and what would happen if we focused more on general evaluation of information, and brought in the academia-specific bits when they apply, rather than the other way round.

And, on that note, how often do we teach how to avoid scams and phishing online? Probably not as often as we should.

My favorite quick quiz is SonicWALL’s (found at http://www.sonicwall.com/phishing/index.html) because it includes actual sample emails. But rummaging around for that link, I came across a US government site, http://www.onguardonline.gov . They’re a little uneven in terms of their audience (some things are clearly aimed at teens, others are clearly aimed at adults), but there’s some fun Flash games, some good short videos, and some other good information.

Hi, I’m Jen

Librarian, infovore, and general geek, likely to write comments about books, link collections, and other thoughts related to how we find, use, and take joy in information.

I'm the Information Technology Librarian at the University of Maine at Farmington, the small liberal arts college model campus in the University of Maine system.

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