Do-It-Yourself “I Did This” Productivity-Tracking Hack

In his most recent newsletter, Daniel Pink, author of A Whole New Mind and Drive, highlights five of his favorite digital tools.  A couple of these were quite familiar (Dropbox, Instapaper, TypeIt4Me), but there was one I hadn’t heard of:  iDoneThis.  Aside from the grammatical problem, being a productivity tool addict, I was intrigued.

In short, this service sends you an email every day asking you to jot down what you have accomplished that day.  When you reply to the email, the service stores your notes on a calendar that is then shareable with others who can ‘like’ it or comment in the usual social media ways.

This sounded great, so I checked out the website, but then balked at the $5 a month fee. (Update: the good folks at IDoneThis sent me a comment with a link to a free personal service which I have signed up for – see below).  I don’t know about you, but my monthly fees are starting to add up: Evernote Premium, Crashplan, Netflix, Amazon Prime etc.  I really like the idea of tracking what I have done, and I have tried a variety of solutions (Lift, for example), but none have stuck.

So, what about making a DIY similar service?  Here’s what I did.Screen Shot 2013-03-27 at 11.43.32 AM

  1. On my calendar, I created a daily event labeled “Trigger.”
  2. Using If This Then That (a service that allows you to identify an event that automates another event), I identified as “This” the “Trigger” event in my calendar, and then “That” as an automated email asking “What did you get done today?”
  3. I made sure to include “@IDidThis” in the subject line of the email.
  4. I set up an “IDidThis” notebook in my Evernote
    account. (Including “@notebook_name in the address line to Evernote Uploader will send it directly to this notebook,)

Now, every day at 7:30pm, I receive an email asking me what I did.  I click on the “forward” button, type in my Evernote Upload address, write the email, and send.  Each day’s notes are then collected in the IDidThis notebook.  If I like, I can share this notebook with co-workers or even my wife!

While this solution may not have the rich social media functions of iDoneThis, it is free, takes about 5 minutes to set up, and stores my notes in my go-to digital notebook, Evernote.


Handy Chrome Extensions for Productivity and Workflow

Extensions are handy extra features that can enhance the functionality of your browser without leaving a webpage.  The extensions in Chrome and most other browsers can eliminate many workflow steps for a variety of activities.  The picture right describes some useful extensions for productivity, and specifically for:

Chrome Productivity Extensions

  • Adding or clipping to to-do lists (Google Tasks, Wunderlist)
  • Eliminating the clutter from webpages for easy reading (Evernote Clearly)
  • Shortening web addresses ( URL shortener)
  • Clipping content to a notebook (Evernote Web Clipper)
  • Saving content directly to cloud applications (Google Drive, Drop Box)
  • Adding items to a shopping wish list (Amazon Wish List)
  • Article notification counter for favorite websites (Lifehacker Notifier)

All of these extensions can be found on this page, or accessed by clicking on the button (with the three lines at the far right corner of the Chrome extensions:

Accessing Chrome Extensions

Watching Teachers Teach

There is one aspect of my current position which I value greatly, not least since many of my colleagues do not have the same opportunity: as an academic dean, I get to observe many teachers teach class.

Some of the classes I observe are demonstration lessons by candidates for positions at my school, and other classes are taught by faculty members and colleagues. Some of the teachers are straight out of college, and others a close to retirement. I observe classes containing students of all age ranges, from excited and enthusiastic kindergartners, to world-weary seen-it-all-before seniors. Sometimes I am in a science class, sometimes a ceramics class, and at other times a calculus lesson (I don't always follow all of the content of the class!) Some of the classes are breathtakingly awesome, and a few are absolutely cringe-worthy.

The one constant though, is the learning opportunity for me as a teacher when watching a class. On each occasion, I have the opportunity not only to observe what is happening through the students' eyes, but also to attempt to see the class from the perspective of the teacher. I am able to follow the content and activities that make up the class, but also to reflect upon the choices the teacher has made: how the is class organized, how s/he manages the engagement of the students, the activities, the pacing, the assessments.

And in reflecting upon these various choices, I have the opportunity to consider what I would have done, what I will do, and what I can learn from this class.

I would argue that there is no better framework for growing as a teacher than this: observing a class, and reflecting upon each and every aspect of the class from both the students' and the teacher's perspective. This growth opportunity is heightened greatly if there is the chance after the class to discuss the lesson with the teacher, for each of you to describe what you saw from the two perspectives, and to discuss the choices made and reflect upon successes and opportunities for tweaks.

I am saddened then, by the fact that this kind of observation and reflection happens much too infrequently in schools. I have taught for 20+ years in six schools, and I could count the number of times other teachers have observed my class on one hand. Too often, we as teachers work in isolation from each other. We may be teaching the same course or the same students as the teacher next door, but we almost never get the opportunity to see each other teach or talk substantively about the actual craft of our teaching. While we may have one or two planning periods a day when we could visit another teacher's class, we tell ourselves that there are so many other things we could be doing. In reality, the reason why class observations are so rare is that they are not part of the culture of the school: it just doesn't happen. While there might be lip-service paid to this best practice by administrators, it simply is awkward to go to another teacher's class.

If we are serious about growing as teachers, about really developing as professionals, about maximizing the learning opportunities for our students, we need to watch each other teach. Some schools are beginning to develop observation groups where teachers observe each other, and discuss their observations. In providing a framework/ process for observing classes, the awkwardness is removed, and teachers can tap into the most relevant professional learning network available, the one that surrounds them every day.