Easy online office hours

IMG_0384Oh my gosh.

I feel horrible for neglecting the blog.  Each week Asana pops up a reminder that I should be writing on the site and sharing what I have been learning.  Yet each week I have been ignoring the call.

It isn’t that I haven’t had time.  It is simply that I have been spending my time on other projects.  The key project being the methodology section of my dissertation.  Who knew writing a dissertation would be so hard?  Oh yeah everyone.

In my efforts to save time while servicing my students I have made two changes over the past few months.  The first is adding the use of ScheduleOnce.com to allow students to schedule appointments with me instead of just calling and hoping I was available.  The most recent has been the addition of Online Office Hours.

Many who teach online enjoy the “almost” complete lack of a predetermined schedule.  I am one of those.  Yes I have a few meetings but for the most part I can work when I want and when I am at my best.  For me that is in the mornings, the earlier the better.

I have decided to offer online office hours from 8pm to 9:15pm on Thursdays since that is the one evening each week that I am guaranteed to be home due to my own life circumstances.  Since I live a time zone away from most of my students many of them have me from 7pm to 8:15pm.

So what is the method for setting up Easy Online Office Hours.

  1. Choose your URL, for me I registered a new one, but if you have something like pretty links on WordPress you will need to choose the URL you are going to use.
  2. Set up a scheduled Google Hangout about a year or so in the future.  I’m not sure why but this makes the link more stable.
  3. Copy the link to your scheduled google hangout
  4. Forward your convenient URL to your google hangout URL
  5. Show Up.

That’s it, the method is so stable I added a line to my email signature.  And just like real office hours there is no obligation for students to show up.  The ones that want to will, sometimes those who need to will, but it is a self selecting bunch so I always have a great group of students.

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


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.