Links of interest: August 20th, 2011

Welcome to the promised “links of doom” post – there’s 39 links in here. I am doing this before I acquire more. (I am also working on a set of job hunting resource links, and some other stuff.)

In other news, I had a lovely short hike in some nearby trails this morning. Maine remains gorgeous.

sunlight falling through pine trees in a forest in Maine, landing on a birch tree

(here, have a photo I took on my walk: this is a maintained set of trails about a mile from my home.)

Continue reading Links of interest: August 20th, 2011

My personal set up

Here’s the thing: when you go looking at comments about different tools, you’ll probably find what I did: lots of people talking about the tools, but not as many talking about the meat and bones of how they set things up. (There are a few, but not, in my opinion, enough!)

So, I wanted to do a detailed overview of exactly how my system’s set up. (It got long, but I think having it all in one place is easier than splitting it up.)

Continue reading My personal set up

Task management: tools

Step two in the task management series: figure out which tools are going to work for you. (Part 1: a summary of theories and approaches is a good place to start.)

Starting points:

There are so many things to consider when picking a tool. If you’re like most people, it may take a couple of rounds of trying different ones out, before you find the one that really clicks. Here’s some things you might think about.

Some people really want a satisfying user experience (whether that’s the scratch of a good pen on good paper, or a beautifully designed user interface for the program.) Some people want the bare bones: a plain piece of paper or the blank possibility of a text file. Likewise, some people have a strong preference for specific features or tools, and other people have no need for those same things. So, in this post, we’re going to look at some general questions you might want to think about, and then a couple of different tools, so you can see a range of differences.

There are a ton of free options out there, so if you have trouble figuring out what you like, you can play around with different tools and see which features matter to you, even if you settle on a paid option eventually.

Continue reading Task management: tools

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

Day in a geek’s life

A phone conversation got me thinking about making this. Here’s my day on Wednesday:

Wake up. (To a playlist of amusing music via my alarm clock program, Aurora)

Read email, the various online fora I check daily, my daily round of web comics (because hey, starting the day with either interesting narrative or humor is never bad.) I plan for this to take me between 30 and 60 minutes most days, as it gives my brain time to wake up properly.  Time variable, because it depends on what replies I write immediately.

Check my to do list in Things and figure out which things really need to get done today (and roughly what order). I do plan to talk more about how I use Things in the near future, once I finish the file management posts. I even have screenshots ready for it!

Spend some time answering emails about an upcoming community event, make a couple of quick changes to the event website. (This takes me about an hour, because it’s a bunch of emails and fiddly tasks.)

Respond to a couple of emails with possible referrals to potentially interesting jobs. Pause to read professional list mails that have come in in the last couple of hours. (about half an hour)

Write a draft  for a cover letter for a job I’m interested in, and set it aside to let it gel a bit in my head. (about forty-five minutes)

Have an early lunch (while reading in front of the computer: joys of living alone.) While it’s cooking, do a bunch of housecleaning in between stirring. While eating, check Twitter, which I’m trying to get better about doing and my Google RSS feeds, including bookmarking several links for this week’s links post.

Come back to working on that letter, and get something I’m happy with, and send it off. (Takes me about an hour, including some more detailed reading about the school.)

Get a call from the programming chair for the event: he’s finalizing the schedule, and has some questions for me about details, since I’m the overall chair of the event and the hotel coordinator. (We’re using a really cool website, sched.org, which makes the schedule available online, on mobile devices, and in various other formats.)

Work on three more letters for other jobs I’m interested in, and send them out. (This takes me a substantial portion of the afternoon, but the letters are more straightforward than the earlier one.)

Settle in to read a book for a bit, while petting the cat. (She never minds this part.)

Have dinner. Watch the lighting of my computer screen slowly change – I’ve been playing with an add-on called f.lux which shifts from blue light (daytime light, inducing wakefulness) to warmer light (more like typical indoor lighting) on the theory that it’s less disruptive to sleep cycles. I’ve been using it for a few days, and it’s definitely easier for me to fall asleep more quickly (after some reading in bed time.)

I have mine adjusted to shift over the course of an hour, and currently shift from daytime to halogen, but I’m considering going all the way to halogen. (My actual lighting in my bedroom, where my laptop and I mostly hang out in the evenings is usually a single lamp with frosted glass and a CFL bulb.)

Write the previous blog post here, on naming conventions and things to think about.

Have a bath. I believe in baths, because it is hard to read books  in the shower. In this case, I take time to finish a nice light reading book so it can go back to the library in the morning.

Pull a number of library books together on their appointed shelf, so I can easily drop them in my library bag and take them tomorrow while I’m doing other errands.

Get a phone call from a friend and a friend of hers, asking for help setting up a Dreamwidth account with icons and some other details. I get to do something I dearly love, which is explain technology to someone who is not entirely sure about it, and do so in a way that makes sense to her.

Yay! I get called a goddess for it, which never hurts. (There is a reason my personal business card now includes the line “speaker to technology” on it. As well as “librarian, process geek, infovore”.)

Figure out what I want to have with me tomorrow as I both want to get out of the house for a bit for a change of pace and do various errands. Locations likely include

  • Coffee shop (where I will find wi-fi, outlets, and a nice range of drink options)
  • Laundromat (wi-fi, tables, and sensibly placed outlets) I’m taking advantage of a thaw to do a big batch of comforter/pillows/other such things that are a pain to haul into the car in Minnesota winter temperatures (and icy pavement), hence the laundromat stop.
  • Library (wi fi, but really, just there to grab holds and drop off returns because there isn’t much nearby parking, and I always feel sort of guilty taking a space for long.) [1]
  • YWCA (no wi fi, but I’m going to be in the pool, so don’t need it).

Three years ago, this amount of wi fi – not so much. How quickly life changes. (And that means that I can do meaningful, useful, productive stuff at any of those first three places, rather than at home, if I feel like it. Which, tomorrow, I do.)

Wrap things up, grab a last drink of water, do various other useful ‘time for bed’ type things, and prepare to curl up with book and cat for a bit before going to sleep, at about 9:30pm.

Things I did not do on Wednesday that I wish I had: It was really nice out, and I wanted to go for a walk, but extra housecleaning won. I was also hoping for some time to work on a personal project or two, but I can bring them with me tomorrow. Also, I have an iPod touch, but did not actually use it today. (It got a good workout on Tuesday going grocery shopping with me, though.)

[footnote 1] Also, if I am in my public library branch for more than about 5 minutes, and not obviously wearing an outdoor coat, I tend to get asked if I’m a librarian.

To which the answer is “Yes, but not here…” and depending on what they need, either helping them (if it’s something simple like using the catalog or a self-check-out) or pointing them at the information desk. I don’t mind doing it, but it always feels a little weird, even if I am clearly giving off “Librarian with something of a clue” vibes.

File management: self-awareness and philosophy

Welcome to part 1 of the “How I manage my files” reports. (You can read the prequel, in my previous post: My Computer Geography)

A few starting principles:

I work on the following theories. I list them so you know where my preferences are, and can adjust to whatever your preferences are (as yours are almost certainly different.)

  • Huge piles (well, lists) of files are not my friend.
  • I like seeing what I’ve done when it’s done.
  • I like to focus on the current thing, not see all the other stuff I should think about.

Continue reading File management: self-awareness and philosophy

Information literacy skills we’re not teaching

I got to thinking recently that there are a whole lot of information literacy skills we’re really not teaching at the moment – many of which are actually quite useful (or potentially so.)

[edited to add: I did get a question about 'we' in the above, so it's probably worth noting here that when I write on this blog, I'm writing from the general perspective of a librarian with strong experience in the secondary school setting, and a general background in formal educational settings (high school, college). I certainly know individuals who are teaching some or all of the things I talk about below, but I know of very few where all of these things are clearly a part of the structured learning expectations, or taught/discussed in any sort of clear way (maybe beyond a few minutes of "Remember to back up your files" kinds of things.

Also, because I've had about three people go "I wish someone would talk about that" I'm going to make it a priority to write up some of how I do these things (and why I do them that way) in the near future.]

Tagging and other folksonomy issues:
Tagging is a lovely thing – being able to put labels on things, so you can find them again later. However, it’s also painfully easy for a tagging system to get unwieldy, especially after a year or two. What would happen if we talked about the process of creating a system (figuring out which tags are likely to be useful to you later), and also about maintaining a system (reviewing it every so often to make sure it’s still working well.) Plus, things like how they work on different systems: tagging someone on Facebook, for example, has different implications than tagging a particular book on LibraryThing.

File management:
I don’t know about you, but how I manage my files continues to change and grow. I’m still prone to organizing things in folders, and to creating quick links (via aliases, my dock, and other options) to the files I use most frequently. But at the same time, I also know that there’s some powerful search tools built into my computer these days (that weren’t there in the dawn of time, when I started using an Apple IIc, way back when.)

Searching is great, but like all searches, it involves some knowing what you’re looking for (for example, when the file was last edited, the name, a reasonably unique search term.) If I search on my computer for files containing the word ‘librarian’ or ‘book’ or ‘writing’ for example, I get hundreds, sometimes thousands of files, so I have to pick different terms. There’s also the question of maintaining different versions of files, and keeping them straight. And when we start sharing files – either by emailing an attachment, uploading to a central server (or something like GoogleDocs), it gets even more important to pick meaningful file names.

There are all sorts of techniques for these – but I know a lot of people don’t really know about them. We should change that, somehow.

Making thoughtful choices about time:
One of the real challenges of the online age is .. well, there’s so much to do. It’s so easy to get distracted by some interesting link, and lose track of time. I’ve been thinking a lot about how we can build the pattern of self-awareness into more of our online interactions, but I think talking about it is a good start. Where do we spend time online? Why?

Doing something because it’s fun is often fine, but sometimes we stay in online spaces that are no longer fun, because we’ve got the habit. What happens when we change that? All these questions – and many more – are conversations I very much want to see in broader conversation, not just with current students, but with everyone. (And it’s in my list of topics to blog more about here…)

Productivity tools:
One thing I kept pointing out in discussions about the 1:1 laptop initiative at the previous job was something that seems like a small change, but can be huge. What happens when every student in the class has reliable access to class resources? When a teacher could, say, create a calendar with deadlines and reminders, and have every student sync to it, so they’d know about deadlines or other details?

We’ve taught students about analog calendars for years – but what happens when students can tap into the wide range of productivity and task management tools out there, and use them to manage their assignments? Not only will they be better off now (and hopefully, a bit less stressed), but they’ll be learning great skills for the future. (Even though the tools will certainly change, the basic process of getting used to entering it somewhere, managing lists of tasks, etc. will probably still be there.)

(There will be a return of the links posts on Friday: over the holidays, I was getting many fewer links I really wanted to share, but I’ve got a nice collection again.)

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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