Brainstorming and Mid-Term Planning

I have some time this afternoon freed up, partly from an efficient and effective morning, partly due to a canceled meeting. Not one to want to waste time I moved myself to the dock with two of the three boys.. The third is in the kitchen prepping dinner.. This week is the last week of summer vacation for the boys. My oldest starts High School next Tuesday. Having worked in education so long I still think of my years along the academic calendar.. Making this sort of like New Years Eve and time for some planning and prioritization for the next year. My most effective planning and brainstorming usually involves multicolored markers on a whiteboard or water colors. For this fall my goals are going to be efficiency and routine in the everyday things so I can give more attention to my students. A completion of my doctoral dissertation. Significant research and work in the area of creativity and fostering creativity. And I should probably start hitting the gym again when we get home and loose my summer weight (and then some). That’s probably enough for the fall semester.. All while trying to work from fun and inspiring places ..

Summer Vacation ! !

IMG_3801Summer Vacation Has Arrived ! !

At least for the children.  Having gone through a week of summer vacation so far I can say that my neat and tidy morning routine is.. well.. shot.

I am lucky that we have good kids, and I’m not sure why I forget each year that when summer comes my routine will be knocked for a loop?

As nomadic teachers we do have some freedom of movement and I have taken a day to work at the pool so the boys could play in the water while I worked on a few things.  But I crave routine.

The goal that I have is that starting Monday I will once again wake at 5:00am only this time it won’t be to hit the gym but instead it will be to try and push through as much of my work as possible double time before anyone else in the house wakes up.

Another interesting thing about our family situation is that in the summer months we jump back and forth between our home in NH and the inlaws house in Maine.  With them being retired and used to us both being K12 teachers they tend to run with the assumption that we are on vacation the whole time we are there.  Overall my goal for next week will be to build back a summer routine that works for me.  After a week of “Sleeping In” till 7:00 kicking myself back to my usual 5am is going to be the more difficult of the challenges.

I would love to hear what others have as their solutions for adapting to kids at home when they still have to work from home all summer.  We’ve developed a checklist for the boys including “Art Time” that they need to complete daily which has helped build the routine for them.  Flexibility through a routine that works.. that’s what I’m looking for this summer.

Doing the most important tasks first.

IMG_3710My dissertation is off again.  I’m catching up at work. And most things in the world are going well for me.  Teaching online is a fantastic way to make a living.  What I love most is that I am able to give more individualized attention to each student.  Being able to do so from pleasant locations is an extra bonus.

Building my routine, organizing each day using Asana, masking distractions with Pandora and headphones have been the most effective way for me to stay productive while enjoying where I am.

Today though I’m being productive not to the sound of my favorite Pandora station, but instead to the sound of sprinkles and birdsong.

With my dissertation draft (still only in chapter three of five) sent off for revision and comments I had some extra time this morning to get some extra things done.  These mornings are great.  I do my best to organize my days with the most important tasks first.  The most important tasks have the longest terms.

The first thing I do in the morning is to go to the gym with my teenaged son.  Simply the most important longest term goal I can think of is to have a good relationship with him and to improve my health. (On days when I wake too early to get him up I write here first while I wait)

I drop him off at school and then move onto another highly important task.  Breakfast with my two younger sons for the same reason.

Most mornings I also try and deliver a breakfast in bed to my wife.

Then I get down to writing.  The moment the boys are all out the door heading to school I work on the next most important task.  The dissertation.  I have an hour blocked off for it.  30 Minutes of mandatory writing, then I have permission to cry about my lack of progress in the 2nd half hour if I hit a wall, but most times I fill the whole hour.  I do look forward to when the dissertation is done and I can use this time to start writing a few books I have begun to outline.

Then I start on my day job.  Student questions, student grading, student feedback, and student outreach.  I try to keep my mornings completely student focused.  The days that I’m lucky I can convince my wife that we should roam to a random coffee shop.  I love the mornings when I can get ahead of everything and end up with an hour or two of “free time” I tend to use that time to go down my list of students and ask the question what does this student need from me today or this week.

I break early for lunch, clean the house as I go and if I’m lucky I can convince my wife that we should treat ourselves to lunch out.

After lunch and until the boys get home from school I try to focus on whatever project of the day is here.  When I’m caught up I use that time to look for opportunities for efficiency or automation in my day.

Self Control

IMG_3686I have fallen in love with a simple app called “SelfControl” the app is free and simple.  You place a list of websites in the “blacklist” and then when you need some help with self control you open the app, choose a time, and hit start.  Not it doesn’t stop all distractions, Facebook on the phone still works fine, as do many other distractions.  Still I find it helps.  My list is short, Facebook and a few others, and for those times when I need to get work done quickly so that I can be ready to play and have fun later.  It is very helpful.  The only thing that is more helpful is moving to an outdoor location that has no wifi, which is getting more difficult to do as wifi where we are is becoming more ubiquitous.

Speaking of needing to get work done quickly so that I can be ready to play and have fun later, yesterday morning I spent with my youngest son on a school field trip to an agricultural research center at a local university.  I’m a bit behind so, time to catch up and get ahead.

The Propper Working From Home Mindset

Skitch_Image_from_Industry

Working from home is great.  Being location independent with regards to work is simply an amazing experience that can open up opportunities.  Working while traveling though can raise some challenges. Most of these are work life balance issues.  I’ve been saying for a while now that if the work needs to be done anyway you might as well choose a pleasant “where” and for the most part I have been able to make that happen.  I run into two major working from home challenges that do take a bit of a mindset work.

The first is work.  Avoiding work through trips to the water cooler may not be a major concern but the productive and helpful task of doing the dishes is always a risk.  I have adapted to the thinking that work is work, so I hold a morning meeting with myself where I plan out the priorities of the day either over a cup of tea or over the sink doing dishes.  Better the dishes distract me for 20 minutes while I’m doing them than have the dishes distract me for hours as a potential excuse for not doing what needs done.

The largest working from home mindset has been the separation of work and home.  I am lucky enough to have a home office for some tasks, coffee shops for other tasks, and several outside spaces that work.  Also the separation of time.

One of my challenges has been that during summer and other school vacations we travel up to my wife’s parents’ house.  A beautiful house but finding a quiet place to work, and being the only one working finding the isolated time without interruption and distraction can be a challenge.  The wifi in the tent (attached photo) works sometimes which helps a bit in the summer when combined with noise canceling headphones (for the people noises not the nature noises).

It is still a challenge that I am working on.  We were up for the long weekend and I found that I was significantly less productive then I usually am.  I suppose less efficient would be more descriptive.  I finished all of my work, but the work took longer and I didn’t have time for the extra writing I wanted to do.

Building the separation of home and work is apparently more difficult for me when it isn’t my home.

Writing Every Day

IMG_3583Writing every day since the start of the year has been a challenge.  Especially since I have been primarily working on my dissertation with few breaks for any other writing projects.  I have a growing list of what I would rather be writing including a series of children’s chapter books I would like to write for my younger sons, several articles that take parts of my dissertation in different directions, and two or nonfiction books.

Not to mention the blog posts and podcasts I would love to start but simply don’t have time for.

Staying focused on a project until that project is complete is a huge challenge for me.  Especially as the going gets tough.  To help with this I try and work on my dissertation as early in the morning as I can, and preferably before anyone else is up, no kids, no wife, no boss, no students.  If I can wake up before all of them and get an hour in each day I can do so without as much distraction as I would have otherwise had.

Luckily the seasons have shifted up in Northern New England and warmth has once again found us.  Most days are still in the 60sF but a welcomed change from the sub zero temps and several feet of snow.  Although I remember enjoying the winter quite a bit when I was younger, thinner, and skied each weekend.   The ability to step outside and refocus my thoughts has been helping my focus, as has a project I’ve set up in ASANA called “Random Writing Ideas”.  With the random writing ideas project when I am distracted by a new topic or idea I can place it there and let it go.

We can only do one thing at a time, and our minds can only focus on one thing strongly enough at a time in order to act upon it.  Coming up with a system to offload the things I “could” or “will eventually” do so that I can focus on the dissertation has been the best thing I have done for making progress save for scheduling the time each morning to sit down and do the work.

 

A Morning off From Writing

IMG_3582The past few months have been exceptionally busy.  Most of that busyness has been a small writing project.  I need to finish my dissertation before the end of the summer.  This is for several reasons, the biggest one is I’m exhausted, the second reason is that I want to start collecting documentation of payments made while working full time for a qualified non-profit.  A doctorate is expensive and having income contingent payments for ten years and then qualifying for student loan forgiveness is high on my list.

Last night I sent another draft of my dissertation in for review, I usually get it back in a day or two so the breaks are short.

The key I have found so far is to schedule some writing time in each morning before I do any other work.  This has really helped.  The regular writing schedule has helped me move several chapters in just a few months, at this pace I am most likely going to make my self imposed summer goal.

So armed with a morning off from writing my plan was to organize my list of post dissertation projects, of which this site is among, so that they can serve as a beacon of hope as I push through the last few chapters.  Alas no, I did not have time this morning to regroup when my strength was up and I still had all of my energy from my trip to the gym.  The elementary school called.  Seems one of our boys forgot his shoes.

Yes.  One of the boys forgot to bring their shoes to school.  He decided to rollerblade to school instead of taking his bike, and forgot his shoes.

Ahh yes another benefit of working from home seems to be not the coffee shops, not that every day is “Jeans Day”..  For me it seems a benefit is running a pair of sneakers down to the elementary school.  Not that I minded.  It was a quick run in the rain and did serve as a reminder of why I decided to focus on teaching online and working from home.  Although I dream of exotic locations, being here for my family is an even better benefit.

Simply the best benefit.  Today I was reminded of how I am able to go to the gym with my soon to be Freshman in High School each morning, and eat breakfast with my younger elementary aged boys.  Reminded of how I am here each day when they get home from school.

The Need for Tea

IMG_3170This month I have been enjoying a significant amount of tea.  I have also submitted the first two chapters of my dissertation into my committee in hopes that I will be given permission to move on to chapter three.  I’m hoping to hear today so I’m transitioning from one writing project to another.  The committee has two full weeks to get back to me and so for the past two weeks, and for about two weeks whenever I submit revisions I find that I need to transition to another project in order to not loose my daily writing habit.

This has given me a significant need for tea.  Lots of tea which is my usual writing vice making me feel quite lucky.

My second writing project which has been taking a back seat to my dissertation is another children’s book.  This time as part of the exercise and to help teach my children a bit about story telling I have been going a bit formulaic in my approach outlining 12 chapters that align with the 12 stages of “The Hero’s Journey” as described by Joseph Campbell the point of the exercise is to on the one hand keep my daily writing habit, and on the other entertain and educate my boys about The Hero’s Journey so that they can see the arc when they are presented with it in the items they both read and watch.