The administrative side of teaching can be painful sometimes. Who isn’t overwhelmed with all the things that go on during the day? There are so many things jockeying for our time, that sometimes it can be very overwhelming. Technology is great, but it is a double-edged sword. In one context it has certainly made our accessibility easier, but it has also made us more accessible to others. The internet has become much the same way. Between email, social networks, news, and information, just logging on to the net can generate feelings of anxiety and information overload. So what do we do to take control of the daily grind and flood of emails, cell phone calls, and various things that steal away our time. Here are a few things that can help.
- Set up a Web Email Account: Much like the homepage, most of the search engines offer this for free. I personally use Gmail (by Google) because it is very good as removing spam and junk mail. Web email has really grown up from the days of just a simple browser based system. You can now centralize all of your email account s (work, home, and others) into one location. Web email also offers the benefits of checking your email from anywhere, such as your cellphone, pda, or any computer with web access. I would suggest only checking your email three times a day. Many of us keep email open all the time and one would be amazed at how much time that eats away. Check it first thing in the morning, just before lunch, and at the end of the day. You will be amazed at how much time you free up, by setting limitations on email time. Centralizing your email will make this process easier. I would recommend only spending 30 minutes at a time checking and responding to email. If you feel really brave, only check it twice a day.
- Set up a News Reader: A news reader (also known as a news aggregator) searches websites you designate for news and important information. With a news reader you can set up the various sites you find your news and it will consolidate it into one location. Now instead of having to go to the many websites you track, you can just go to one place. Click on the headlines you are interested in and skip the rest. You can also use these to research specific topics that you might use for a class or for some other need. Unless you are doing research for a class, I would recommend only checking this once a day. Spend about 30 minutes, depending on what your schedule permits. I use Google Newsstand on my phone. Easier to scroll through the news.
- Set up a Web-based Calendar: Much like the email, web-based calendars have really matured. You can track multiple calendars, share with others, and sync it with almost any type of software. You can also edit and manage one from a computer, cellphone, or pda. Also, reminders can be set to go to appear on your screen, ring your cellphone, or email you (but you are only checking your email a few times now…right?). I usually keep this up all the time (either on my homepage or in my browser). I can always reference my calendar at any time to keep up with meetings, deadlines, and so forth.
- Turn off your phone: Telephone time eats up a lot of our day. Cellphones have made this worse. Let the phone go to voice mail and only check messages twice a day. The best times are at 11:30am and 4:30pm. This way you have time to return phone calls, but your day is not dominated by the calls.
- Take Your Office Software to the Web: There are now about 20-30 excellent web-based office packages. Many of them free. By going to a web-based system, you can access your documents anywhere (even from your phone.) Think about how nice it would be to go into a class to teach, login to a computer, go to the web and open your presentation. It’s that easy.
All of the items mentioned here can be centralized on your dashboard (most of the big hosts have something like this). You can view and access your information at a glance. Items that might have required a lot of scanning websites, and working through mundane tasks, can now be automated. If you go this route, it does not matter which system you use, but I would recommend using the same for all. For example, if you set up Google for you homepage, use Gmail, Google Reader, Google Calendar, and Google Office. The reason I say this is that it will make integration easier and the various items will work well together.
Good luck and if you have some additional ones, please share.