Time management — get out the sticky notes and masking tape

Who can’t use some fresh ideas about how to manage a killer workload and competing life demands? (Especially in March!) Not me – I still struggle with this every day. Although I have my “system,” which consists of a to-do list that I rework every morning, this post struck me as a goldmine.

What I often fail to do is to prioritize well. My good energy probably goes into seemingly urgent tasks much of the time, with the truly important to-dos being relegated to “later.” The result is the “just in time late-night delivery” for which I am all too well known.time management

In this post on Lifehacker (January 20/15), Alan Henry describes Chris Penn’s adaptation of the Eisenhower Decision Matrix for easy use by anyone who wants to know how to prioritize quickly – and with a built-in mechanism for easy adaptability.

In his piece, which links to Chris’s work, Alan shows how Chris blew the ED matrix up “into a simple grid he has on the wall behind him while he works, laid out with sticky notes for his to-dos and masking tape to keep everything in place.”

The grid assumes that everything is not equally important and creates quadrants. Here’s how it works:

  • upper left corner — important tasks that are urgent
  • upper right corner — important tasks that aren’t urgent — as in they don’t need to be done immediately
  • lower left corner — less important tasks that are urgent — as in they’re not critical but do have a time limit
  • lower right corner — tasks that are neither important nor urgent (but still need to be done eventually)

Then use sticky notes for each to-do, so that they can be moved around quickly as priorities change, as priorities have a habit of doing.

The grid may sound familiar to you. I know that I have encountered this matrix before.

But, as Alan says,

The beauty of Chris’s particular setup …is that the masking tape is easy to put up (and take down if you need to), and the sticky notes adhere to the wall without damage and can be moved around easily. It’s analog, but it works like a charm, and you don’t need to spend a ton of time entering to-dos into a system or copy/pasting to move things around. It’s a simple system to put in place, and all you need is a spare bit of wall to make it work.

You can follow this link to learn more — http://lifehacker.com/prioritize-your-to-dos-with-sticky-notes-and-masking-ta-1680447902

“Public Skills” and the Humanities PhD

Paul Yachnin argues in “Rethinking the Humanities PhD” (University Affairs March 2015) that Humanities PhDs need to be envisioned in new ways. He calls for an embrace of the word “skills” on the part of the Humanities, urging them to work to modify their PhD programs in ways that will encourage their students “to turn outward toward the world.”

I find his notion of “the particular value of public skills” to be interesting and persuasive. So much of what is presented in this blog amounts to encouraging students to consciously develop – while they are still students in graduate programs – the soft skills that will help them to present themselves well to potential employers of all kinds. These “transitional” skills or “parallel” skills – in addition to their research knowledge and accomplishments – can make candidates stand out in competitions for jobs or placements of any kind.skills and humanities

However, Yachnin’s characterizing of these kinds of competencies as public skills intrigues me, as does his argument that the development of such proficiencies should not be add-ons to graduate programs of study but intrinsic to them.

He notes that the idea of a “skills gap” in the preparation of graduate students for employment is still very prominent in public discourse. He believes, however, that the thinking about “professional skills” is too often thought of in purely economic terms, which is to say tightly focused on questions of economic agency and economic growth.

His argument is that there are also skills that can be thought of “in deeper terms,” as having to do with preparation for public life and public service: after all “society is a society and a polity as well as an economy.”

He believes that Humanities programs are particularly well-positioned to nurture what he sees as “artisanal” skills – skills that are “embodied, social and ethical” and linked to the old idea of craftsmanship. Skills are abilities that you practice in an effort to assist and to “bind people together across generations.”

He is thinking of the skills that we have always associated with graduate training in the Humanities: the cultivation of reading and writing, and the ability to think through problems, gather evidence, question evidence, organize arguments, and teach and listen to the ideas of others.

But he asks us to think in terms of the ways such skills can be transformative in the world beyond the university, as mechanisms for “knitting people together into communities of practice.”

He offers a number of practical suggestions for building such public practices into PhD programs of study in the Humanities, by urging (if not requiring) that students move outside of the university environment while completing their degrees, and by asking them to move back and forth between the departments and other fields in the community as a component of their degree studies, cultivating their public skills in the process.

Clearly this amounts to a revised “pathways” focus on the part of graduate programs in the Humanities. By “reorienting the humanities towards the world,” he believes that Humanities degrees will “lead to a multiplicity of career pathways rather than to only one.”

You can read Paul Yachnin’s article in full at http://www.universityaffairs.ca/features/feature-article/rethinking-the-humanities-phd/

Ben Laufer: a social-media-savvy graduate student

We hear a lot these days about the importance of having a strong online presence for graduate students, a profile that emphasizes their research and their collateral strengths and skills.

In University Affairs (February 26, 2014), David Smith profiles Ben Laufer, a PhD student in Molecular Genetics at Western University. Ben uses his personal web page to promote his excellent research record and to advance his career. Ben was concerned, he says, “that the exciting findings we were publishing on the epigenetics of moderate fetal alcohol exposure would get buried in academic journals and never reach their intended audience,” and hence turned to social media to help publicize their findings.Media savvy

Smith notes that this strategy has worked very well, in that Ben’s “citations have garnered an impressive number of citations and media coverage in a relatively short span of time.”

What particularly interests me is how direct and focused Ben’s strategy is. His profile consists of a single well-designed page (hosted by a free personal web service), which includes a picture of himself, a brief summary of his doctoral work, a list of his various social media links, as well as links to his publications.

Ben does offer a cautionary word to those thinking of using social media for professionalizing purposes, and it’s an important one:

“I’m certainly very mindful and strategic about the things I post and say on social media, much more so than when I was as an undergraduate.”

Those who encourage graduate students to use social media in this manner concur. It’s important for your social media presence to be linked and coordinated, because people will find you on other sites than your web page, whether you provide those links or not. You need to be evidently the same respectable person everywhere that you leave digital tracks.

See Ben’s profile at http://www.universityaffairs.ca/career-advice/career-advice-article/meet-the-next-generation-of-social-media-savvy-graduate-students/


University presidents and the use of social media – any take-aways for us?

In a post appearing in The Chronicle of Higher Education (Jan. 7, 2015), Lee Gardner reviews #FollowtheLeader, a newly released book written by Daniel A. Zaiontz, a special-projects coordinator at Seneca College.

The book developed out of research Daniel did for his master’s thesis in strategic communications in 2013 and is based on his interviews with 22 presidents at colleges and universities in the U.S. and Canada who were active in social media

Follow the leaderHis focus is on the way that senior administrators at the highest levels have become adept at using social media to their institutions’ advantage.

What Lee Gardner suggests is that there is much to be learned from Zaiontz’s study about the advantages and pitfalls of using social media to reach and influence far-flung audiences.

Lee makes four key points:

  • that one size doesn’t fit all — Zaiontz observes that different platforms offer different advantages, and university and college leaders (and you and I, for that matter) need to identify what kind of social media will work to our best advantage, given our individual interests and goals.
  • that sharing in any sort of “broadcasting” way requires that we keep in mind the sensibilities of the different audiences who may pick up on our posts, which is true whether we are higher education presidents, or much smaller fish (like you and I) who also need to get our messages out to different potential groups of users.
  • that you need to be yourself — effective social-media use is just that — social. Robotic feeds are uninviting. The personality, voice and genuine concerns of the poster or tweeter needs to come through, even in the tersest of social media releases. People respond to the people they perceive behind the posts more than to dry posts per se.
  • and that you need to have a plan — presidents of universities and colleges are clear about what they want to achieve and then doing what they can to measure how close they come to the mark. We too need to decide the purpose of our social media forays: what do we want to accomplish? And are we succeeding in doing that as time goes on?

Check out Lee’s post at http://chronicle.com/article/College-Presidents-Get-Their/151049/?cid=at&utm_source=at&utm_medium=en to see what take-aways you find from listening in on presidential thoughts about the effective use of social media.

Look for our next post on Thursday (March 19) to find out how one graduate student is using social media to publicize his research.

Solo researching — you’re not alone

Pursuing graduate work in the humanities or social sciences – where retreat into the ivory tower for solo reading, thinking and writing is a given — can add up to a solitary existence. Michael Perfect, who graduated with a PhD from the University of Cambridge in 2011, knows that for humanities students in particular completing a PhD can make you feel cut off from the rest of the world.

In a post in The Guardian (July 8, 2014) he offers five of his “top tips” for preventing fruitful solitude from slipping into dysfunctional isolation.

He says that the early stages of his doctoral research “were marked by an intense and heady mixture of anticipation, excitement and gratitude.” However, by the time he had handed in his thesis and defended it, “there was so much relief that there was barely any room for enjoyment.”

Solo researcherHe believes that his experience affects many PhD students and not only those in the humanities. Yet powerfully negative experiences of feeling isolated – and as I see it – subsequent feelings of alienation are not often talked about. It’s important to realize that you are not alone. After all, he says, “all PhDs are solitary affairs” because “when you carry out doctoral research you are, by definition, the only person working on the precise topic of your thesis. There will be others whose research is closely related to yours, but nobody else is doing quite what you are doing.”

He goes on to say that you may arrange to have lunch or coffee with friends, “but it’s unlikely that you’ll develop a routine of doing this more than a couple of times a week. You’ll join or create reading and study groups, but these will tend to offer a pleasant distraction from your research rather than a means of developing it.” In fact, “on an average working day, you may not speak to anyone at all until the evening, unless it’s to ask a librarian about the intricacies of a particularly bizarre cataloguing system.”

His tips for survival?

  1. As far as possible, don’t work at home and do stick to a routine. Whether it’s in the library, in your department or – if you’re really lucky – in an office that has been provided for you, find a space in which you can be productive and commit to using it.
  2. Make coffee with friends part of your working day. (And don’t spend the entire time talking about work!)
  3. Go to conferences and give papers. Presenting your work, getting positive feedback on it, and meeting people who are working on similar topics at other institutions will prove to be invaluable, professionally and psychologically.
  4. Join, or create, a writing group. In the early-to-middle stages of your PhD, be part of a small group (generally made up of people working in the same discipline) who read each other’s chapters and then meet weekly or fortnightly to discuss them.
  5. Don’t confuse stress (which is normal) with hating your PhD (which isn’t). You started your PhD because you cared about it. Avoid indulging in naysaying or naysayers. Try to retain a sense of why it’s important, both to you and – in its own, small way – to the world.

I like Michael’s practical approach to a subject that needs to be brought forward and discussed. Read his post at http://www.theguardian.com/higher-education-network/blog/2014/jul/08/humanities-phd-students-isolation

Speaking, not reading — moving beyond a script

The grad launch post of Jan. 29/15, Worried about public speaking? Ten tips for academics, focused on advice for making academic presentations. The list of tips highlighted the importance of talking rather than reading oral presentations and suggested that, over time, you consider moving beyond using a script.

For some of us – including me – the idea of speaking without a script is uniquely terrifying. It has often been said that public speaking is the number one fear for most people. If that’s so, I would say that for many of us in the academy speaking unscripted in public is the uber-fear in this regard.Presenting without a net

So what’s it like to go that route, I wonder?

Rachel Toor, writing in The Chronicle of Higher Education (March 2, 2015), offers a compelling personal narrative that tells us how the transition went for her.

Rachel, an associate professor of creative writing at Eastern Washington University’s writing program in Spokane, starts with her previous incarnation as a public speaker:

“In an ideal world, whenever I was invited to give a talk or a lecture, it would go something like this:

“I would spend a few weeks thinking about what I wanted to say. After a sufficient percolation period, I would sit at my computer and sweat out a complete draft.

“Then I would spend months revising it, shoring up the structure, getting rid of ideas that didn’t fit, and dumping whatever seemed extraneous. I would add anecdotes, vivid images, and sparkling, funny phrases. I would hunt down -ly adverbs that seemed weak or lazy, and go on a search-and-destroy mission for needless this, that’s, and there’s. Finally, having driven myself crazy with perfectionist anxiety, I would tell myself I was ready.”

In her “fantasy world,” people would swoon afterward:

“Women would want to be my best friends and men would want to date me. I would be offered an endowed professorship with a multizillion-dollar signing bonus, and Helen, my dog, would get to lead a parade through the campus.”

Rachel’s transition to speaking rather than reading was not easy and was not smooth. Where would she have been without her sense of humour, I ask myself. She is a lively writer. Why would her scripts have been boring or uninviting to listeners?

And here I think she has some insight to offer:

“Reading a … scripted speech is a physical manifestation of the fatal flaw of much scholarly prose: Too many academic writers stop thinking about the readers. They concentrate on what they’ve researched, uncovered, or analyzed and forget to reach out to those they need to win over to show why their findings matter.”

In other words, whether you are writing or speaking (or communicating in mime), for that matter, what matters is to remember that the audience comes first. Listeners are a different audience than readers, and academic audiences are used to reading for themselves.

So how can you get to audience-engaging “speeches” of a professional or academic nature? Read about Rachel’s experience to find out: http://chronicle.com/article/Presenting-Without-a-Net/228087/

I’m saving it as a primer for my preparation for my next talk – maybe I will then rivet the audience (welcome to my fantasy), though I don’t expect there are going to be ticker-tape parades in response to academic talks in my own future.

Making a memorable first impression – tips from the Columbia Business School

In a recent post (February 16, 2015), Julia McNamara says that it takes less than 30 seconds for someone to form a first impression when meeting you for the first time.

It’s something to think about when preparing for job interviews.

Julia is a graduate of the Columbia Business School. In an article published in the school’s alumni magazine, she says that within those 30 seconds you will be instantly evaluated on the basis of what you say, your body language, and your general demeanour.Columbia tips

Sounds daunting. However Julia has some tips to help you achieve an initial good impression.

  • Be Early: Arrive at the meeting location 20 to 30 minutes early. Pre-compensate for any potential delays — traffic jams, taking a wrong turn, or any number of things that might sound like good excuses but will not impress your interviewer. You need to demonstrate that you are taking their time seriously.
  • Adopt a Calm Demeanour: Arrive early so that you have time to organize your thoughts and put yourself at ease, for example, by taking a few good breaths and literally relaxing to some extent. You may think that running on high adrenaline looks good, and makes you seem sharp, but you need to avoid looking stressed and disorganized. Julia says that the problem with appearing to be stressed is that it makes the other person uncomfortable, and may even put the person on edge. Not good in terms of a first impression.
  • Be Aware of Your Body Language: Good, straight posture conveys confidence, she says, while slouching gives the impression of defeat. Leaning in to the other person suggests that you are interested and attentive. Eye contact, smiling and a firm handshake help to project self-assurance.
  • Say Something Unique: You need to stand out from the herd. Interviewers can interact with many, many candidates in a given week. It’s good to have something fresh to say – something that suggests that what you have to offer will help them out in some concrete way. Research is the key here — make sure that you know what this organization does and how you could fit in if they hire you.
  • Close Well: There are first impressions – and last impressions. It can be helpful to summarize the meeting in your closing remarks – and to make clear your understanding about any follow-up that you are to undertake. And then, of course, it’s important to follow through on any action items that you have committed to.


Here’s the link to Juila’s post: http://www8.gsb.columbia.edu/alumni/publication/1719?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=cpc&utm_term=first%20impression&utm_campaign=exec%20ed



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