For this month’s Carnival of Journalism, we were asked to share “life hacks, workflows, tips, tools, apps, websites, skills and techniques that allow us to work smarter and more effectively.”
Like many of those Piled Higher and Deeper in Journalism, I have always taken nerdly glee in organizing things, office supplies, lists, and websites/apps that promise to track our every movement and squeeze more productivity out of our already impossibly over-committed selves. Nearly all of my academic friends can point to some geeky child project they once did, like my lending library that was complete with a due date stamp and check-out cards and my friend’s highly organized Entertainment Weekly collection.
However, I’ve tried to consciously let go of some of this impulse because I fear that these things can easily get out of control and end up taking up the time they are meant to save, at least for me. I think back with some remorse over those color-coded notebooks, impeccably written assignments and carefully designed study sheets I made in high school when I probably should have been drinking Natty Light down by the river or otherwise spending time really living in the manner of normal American teenagers. These days, I embrace a messy desk and some self-organizational disarray, to the point where the husband semi-regularly calls me a slob, and I know that right now that there are items languishing on my over-long to-do list that I probably promised somebody long ago. Sometimes you just have to put out the fires and hope for the best, best usually meaning actually quitting work prior to 10 p.m.
That said, yes, I do have some of my own lifehacks, though I kind of doubt any of them are especially original to the types of people who participate in journalism blog carnivals. I’ll begin by focusing on the one I get asked about all the time: How do you possibly have time for all that social media? I’m sort of my department/university’s “That Social Media Person,” not because I’m some kind of genius at it, but, well, because I’m the Enthusiastic Early Adopter, and let’s face it, it doesn’t take all that much to attain dreaded “guru” (ugh) status in academia where technology is concerned. I’m the one you call if you can’t set up a Facebook page for your campus organization, the one you forward any and all emails to announcing something tangentially related to social media to, etc. But this recognition-of-sorts also comes with it some gentle derision, e.g. other people have Very Important Work To Do and can’t imagine how they could possibly find time for social media like I do, often implying that I must be perishing in the publish or… world of academia. I’ve even had an old high school friend tell me that if they used Facebook like I do it would amount to nothing short than child abandonment.
So HOW DO I DO IT you may ask? Well, contrary to popular belief, I monitor the time I spend on social media networks pretty carefully, limiting myself to no more than 10 minutes on Twitter and Facebook a few times a day, e.g. morning, afternoon, and evening, barring a situation in which I’m waiting in line or similar and it’s the perfect way to pass the time, or a big deadline that keeps even the likes of me semi-offline. I may pop on quickly to share a link that I’ve read or a thought at other times, but that’s it, and I’m pretty rigorous about this. But, yeah, I do make social media a priority. It’s important to me. To be honest, I question those who say they don’t have time to keep up with what is going on in their profession and the world. This is what leads to stale, outdated, ineffectual teaching and research and poor citizenship. I’m often shocked at basic things about journalism and the web that some academics and reporters and editors don’t know. I think it’s our responsibility to know those things, even when it’s hard. It’s impossible to keep up, but you have to at least make an effort to try. The most challenging thing for me is not social media itself, but of course the zillions of great links to smart and interesting stuff shared there. I save non-pressing or longer articles on Instapaper for reading later, even though I sometimes get giggled at for sharing links that are a few months old when I get behind, though let me just point out that articles don’t “go bad” like spoiled food in a few weeks, even those dealing with “newer” media. I do much the same thing with email, and I definitely don’t turn on notifications or I’d go crazy. I tell students and others that if you need something from me immediately, send a text.
So, what else? One thing I’ve done over the past couple of years or so that has been very effective is to designate one hour, just one, every day for an important but non-deadline long-term project, which in my case means research. It doesn’t mean this is the only hour I spend, but it ensures that in an otherwise chaotic day of trying to do pressing stuff I spend at least some time working on it. When you are teaching and serving on a billion committees and managing various organizations, yeah, often it is the only hour, but it’s better than nothing, and it adds up. At least you can move the ball forward on various projects a little bit. I also try to shift focus between my handful of major projects so that I work on a different one each week – time enough to dig in, but changing it up often enough that all of them show at least some progress instead of most utterly languishing.
I’m an extremely heavy user of Google Calendar and Google Tasks, synced with my phone, which is how I organize my life, appointments, and to-do lists. As previously noted, I’d need a search function to even find some items on my massive Google Task’s lists, which I have separated into work/personal. Every day I prioritize the very top of the list and star items that absolutely must get done today. I try to bite big projects into small chunks as all the gurus tell you to.
I’m a major fan of Delicious for tagging and saving links for later use in my teaching, research, and writing. I would be utterly lost with out it. Who needs to assign your students an expensive, outdated, poorly-written textbooks when you have a bazillion great links on stuff like reporting and writing written by respected journalists and Poynter leaders saved and searchable? And I don’t know how else you can keep track of things like the short videos we show in class to engage students and give them multiple ways of learning information – I am especially fond of my stable of Daily Show videos where Jon Stewart gives us hilarious but apt insights into core journalistic concepts like the importance of verification.
I love Dropbox and thank it daily for not forcing me to carry around a friggin flash drive all the time, and it makes collaborating with far-flung colleagues on research projects about one million times easier than constant emailing, although I do wish they had a way to know if somebody else was editing a document at the same time as you, because conflicted versions is the only drawback.
As noted, nothing too crazy here, but this is what I do. Been loving reading the savvy tips of others and have been inspired to try again to get into an Evernote rhythm – I’ve tried and failed before, but maybe this will be the time I can integrate it into my workflow.