Batch email and get time back in your day

Batch email and get time back in your day

Email. I once liked you. Now you are a stream of ‘pass the buck’ communication, inappropriate ‘CC’s and straight up time wasting. In fact, email is the one thing I would give away in a heartbeat. For such a long while, email has been kicking my butt but I’ve think I’m gaining the upper hand. A technique I have used to take email down so that I don’t spend all day play email ping pong is batch emailing. I learned this technique from Shane Parish’s fantastic blog ‘Farnham Street

Set aside a half hour three times a day. In that half hour, you have two tasks, sort, and reply. The first task requires you to skim through your inbox and find the most important emails to respond to first. I always start from the bottom. In Outlook you have the ability to minimise Today, Yesterday, and any previous days of the current week and I use this feature so that I don’t get into the habit of instantly replying to email. I personally don’t think that there should be an expectation that an email is responded to immediately, no matter who it is from. Once you have located the emails, you have a few options to sort them from the rest. In Outlook, you can simply open all emails to full screen by double clicking on them. I prefer to use Trello to help me with my email sorting. I use the email to board functionality and I send all emails to my To-Do list board and they end up on my Email list. You can also drag/send emails to Outlook/Gmail folders as well. Whatever your preferred technique is, you are really only highlighting the emails that you must respond to. Give yourself a time limit with sorting. 5-10 minutes is ample. Don’t get edgy and start responding just yet. You are solely in the sorting phase.

Once you have sorted your emails and highlighted the ones you will respond to. It is time to respond. The emails that you have deemed unimportant are exactly that. Of your designated thirty minutes, you should have 20 minutes or so to just respond to emails. You can then get into a groove of reading and responding. No attention switching, no distractions, just read and respond. Set a timer for this so that you stick to your schedule. I use the Focus extension for Chrome to help me with this. Once the time is up, close your email client and work on your next big project. Channeling your focus on a particular element of the task is to keep attention residue to a minimum. Attention residue was a term devised by Sophie Leroy, a business-school professor at the University of Minnesota to explain the attention carryover a person has when they switch constantly between tasks. When you move from one task to another, some of your attention remains on the first task. This attention residue has been shown to impact a person’s ability to work productively on a future task. Keeping the switching between tasks to a minimum and bringing closure to the tasks when you are due to switch, helps keep the majority of focus on the task at hand. If you are sorting, spend the time sorting until that is finished. When you are responding, spend the time responding. This will make the half hour you devote three times a day much more productive and will free up your schedule to work on what Cal Newport calls ‘deep work’.

750 Words A Day To Make You A Better Writer

The doing part is the only difference between an aspiring writer and a writer. The daily practice of sitting down and putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard is what separates aspiring and practicing. Through habit, we develop our abilities. Incremental improvement every day. It is about quantity versus quality. Why? Theodore Sturgen, the famous science fiction author sums it up best.


If we apply that to our own work, the volume that you produce then starts to play a key part. To get the gold, you have to wade through a sea of crap. Not every word that comes out of your favourite author’s brain is good. The same goes for us. The establishment of a daily habit where you sit and do is key. Volume is the driving force. Now for many people, the idea of sitting and writing 750 words a day will conjure up excuse after excuse. I know. I am that person too. I aspire to write more but life gets in the way. Sometimes life is the excuse. What we need along the way is some help. I set out to establish a regular writing habit. Commit to thirty minutes each until the habit was established. Challenge set.

I started a 5 minute morning journal habit a little while back and found it incredibly cathartic to sit and write. I would write down mostly what was on my mind. Work, home, health, personal, money, whatever was battling away in my subconscious. I wanted, however, to expand on this and start to create a larger contribution. I set myself a daily target of 500 words. The challenge with this was it was too far a jump for my will power. I also didn’t establish the right conditions to write under. I didn’t have a collection of ideas collated prior to sitting down (I know use Trello to compile any ideas that I would like to write about). I jumped between platforms. From Word to Pages to WordPress to Flow State and back again but always found that it never gelled for me. Another key factor was my process for writing. I tried to write and edit at the same time and this just doesn’t work. These are two different states of mind and phases of writing. I needed to blurt out whatever was in my head and then when I was finished, whittle away the crap to start to shape the writing. Writing is very much like ideation. The below graphic from Bryan Mathers, inspired by Tom Barrett sums it up best.

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Then I discovered

This website is devoted to exactly that. The daily writing of 750 words. No fancy editor, just a blank canvas. Your words are counted on the bottom and you work daily towards hitting the 750 mark. Now if I was struggling to hit the 500 words a day mark, what I was I thinking extending that to 750. I didn’t think that it was an achievable mark at all but when the mark seems so far away, I just started to write. I wrote about whatever was in my head. In essence, I merged the cathartic process of morning journaling with the professional writing that I was seeking to establish. I just kept writing. Like a runner puts one foot in front of the other, I just kept my fingers typing on the keyboard. The funny thing is that I spent less time overthinking things and more time just saying them. If it didn’t sound good, I would rewrite a sentence. Sometimes I would rewrite that sentence 5 or 6 times. Iterating on the words allowed me freedom to not care about the order but about the way the words were accessed by the reader. It also allowed writer’s block to budge.

In fourteen days, I have written 10,775 words. That’s an average of 769 words per day. I have missed four days mixed in there but have quickly jumped back into it. In fact, I look forward to it. Once you have finished your writing for the day, also breaks down your writing logistically, mechanically, and emotionally.

Once you have finished writing, you can export your writing really easily as a text file. The export is a month’s worth. Nothing like seeing 10,000 words appear in flash. I then sort through the pieces to arrange them in OneNote for further writing or just simply reflecting upon.

750words is free for a month and then $5 per month after that. I’m still on my trial but I’m signing up for sure.

Podcasts, podcasts, podcasts!

I have a slight obsession with podcasts. Since I first discovered them back in the good ole iPod days, I have been a regular listener. The EdTech Crew was the first education podcast to grab my attention and I would often extend my drive (the measure of a podcast in my mind) to finish an episode. I caught up with Tony Richards (@itmadesimple) recently and was hounding him to get the band back together so here’s hoping! Since then my listening tastes have shifted. I still enjoy education podcasts but find my interests lie now in more diverse areas.

For education, I personally can’t go past the TIDE (Today in Digital Education) podcast by Doug Belshaw (@dajbelshaw) and Dai Barnes (@daibarnes) or The Education Review (TER) podcast by Corinne Campbell (@corisel) and Cameron Malcher (Capitan_Typo). Both provide tremendous perspective and depth to all things education.

Podcasts that align with my values in life have been growing in popularity on my podcast list. This all started with the Minimalists podcast, a podcast about two guys who gave up six figure jobs and a live of gathering wealth and possessions to live a life of value, joy and fulfillment. The reason I love this podcast is that it makes you question where your values lie and then challenges you to do something about it. This podcast led me to 10% Happier by Dan Harris and Waking up with Sam Harris. Dan Harris is an ABC news anchor that had a panic attack on national television, which led him to take up meditation. Dan claims that meditation makes him about 10% happier, hence the name and he regularly talks to inspiring people about their meditation habits on his show. Being a Weezer fan, I especially loved the Rivers Cuomo episode. Sam Harris (not related) is unbelievably intelligent and his podcast challenges contentious issues in the world as well as discussing the most interesting of topics.

My latest favs are the Unmistakable Creative by Srinivas Rao and The Tim Ferris Show by Tim Ferris. Both Srinivas and Tim look at business, learning, creativity and innovation through interesting perspectives and by interviewing amazing guests. Local representatives on my list are the Huddle Show by Huddle, a human centred design firm based in Melbourne and Future2 by Steve Glaveski (@steveglaveski). I have had the pleasure of getting to know Steve through his coworking space Collective Campus over the past year and his knowledge as well as the calibre of the guests on his show are second to none when it comes to innovation and entrepreneurship expertise. Although this one was a once off podcast series, Seth Godin’s Startup school was also a great listen. I find Seth to be an amazing thinker who can take complex topics and make them accessible through clear narrative and anecdotes. He always blows my mind.

Other great podcasts to check out are Finding Mastery with Michael Gervais, IDEO Futures by IDEO, Office Hours by Dan Pink, Stanford Entrepreneurship videos, Stanford Innovation Lab and Freakonomics radio.

What’s on your podcast list?

Trello & Pomodoro

How do you keep on top of your workload?  When the emails and to-do tasks pile up, how do you manage to keep afloat?  I am always keen to hear how others manage the information of their day and their responsibilities.  The strategies they use, the workflows they choose.  Are they thriving or surviving?  For me, I have tried a range of strategies and bounced between them trying to find the flow that would allow me to get through a busy time.  This is the workflow that I keep coming back to.

Trello is the key to managing my workload.  Why?  It works on all devices.  You can set up the lists any way you like and the drag and drop functionality make it easy to move items around.  I have played around with a few list structures.  I used a priority matrix structure for a while.  With the priority matrix structure, I had six lists in Trello.  The first list was called To be categorised. This list is where I placed all tasks to begin with.  The next four lists made up the priority matrix – Do Now, Do Next, Do Later, Don’t Do.  The sixth list was titled Done.  This structure worked for me for a while but I found the six lists increased my categorisation time and not my productivity.  The standard set up for Trello is the Kanban system and this is for me the best out there.  It is made up of three lists.  A To Do list, a Doing list and a Done list.  I just love the simplicity of Kanban and find it really sharpens by focus.  Doug Belshaw writes extensively about Kanban and Trello and you really should check out his Kanban 101 Open badge.

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I still have a paper to do list that I use all the time but I find it more a place to scrawl and take quick notes then a way to organise.  Once I have written down my notes or tasks, I transfer them to Trello to hone my focus.  This helps when I spend extensive time away from my desk.

Through listening to the TIDE podcast (Today in Digital Education) by Doug Belshaw and Dai Barnes (an absolutely brilliant podcast), I was introduced the Pomodoro technique and this coupled with Trello has revolutionised my work habits.  The Pomodoro technique is a way of working with time as opposed to against it.  Basically you work on one task for a timed 25 minutes and then take a 5 minute break.  You can repeat the Pomodoro for the previous task or change the task completely.  To assist me to stay on time, I downloaded an app and use that to manage my Pomodoros.  You can find out more about the Pomodoro technique here.


When I start my day, it starts with my Trello list.  I list the items that I am going to work on first.  I then input these into my Pomodoro app and then I get to work.  I have found that this has really improved my work output and also increased my time away from a screen. During my five minute break, I go for a walk, talk to a colleague, get a coffee whereas previously I would just try to work through.  This often would lead to distraction or just bouncing from task to task without actually getting stuck into any one.  I thoroughly recommend that you check out both Trello and Pomodoro.  What is your workflow like?  I would love to hear from you.

Thanks for reading.


Coding and Swifty

I really enjoyed learning Italian at school, it just seemed to make sense to me.  I enjoyed the decoding and the challenge of getting the pronunciation right.  When my wife and I moved to Brasil a few years ago, the years of learning Italian really helped me during the complete immersion.  During this time I was also bought up a heap of Dummies books on website building, PHP coding and database building.  I had basic HTML knowledge prior to this and I really felt a common connection between my use of Italian to learn Portuguese and my HTML capacity with PHP.  Watching the young people at the school learn languages at ease and become bi & tri-lingual, I remember thinking to myself that all students should learn a language by immersion and that all students should learn a coding language and become fluent.  I still believe this.  I’d be impressed by a CV if the person was fluent in Spanish and Objective C.  For me I trudged through Dummies books and forums to learn but these days there are so many amazing tools, apps, websites and online courses to help someone learn a coding language.

For this particular post I am going to focus on Swifty.  Swift is the new programming language for iOS and OS X.  Xcode is the Apple developed platform for building iOs & Mac apps and has been on learning bucket list for some time.  Every time I start, I get lost and intimidated by the sheer volume of tools and options.  And then in swooped Swifty.  Swifty is an iOS app that works on both iPhone & iPad and it breaks down the language of Swift into small tutorials.  You progress through these short tutorials quickly and with a great deal of quick feedback.  It is hands on and the explanations are clear and concise.  I am working through the 200+ tutorials at the moment and working towards the goal of getting an app (that I have written) into the App store.  I enjoy that I can chip away at coding fluency in bite size steps at any point I have a spare minute.  I am then using this knowledge in Xcode to play around in the Playground and to work on my own (at the moment, very simple) app.  Life long learning all the way!!


Chrome extensions


As far as browsers go, Chrome is my browser of choice.  Fast, powerful and organised.  The power for me is not in the Apps available through the Web Store but the Extensions. This post will talk about a few of my favourite Chome extensions.

Snip20140930_17      Dropbox – a quick link to my virtual filing cabinet

Snip20140930_22          Hootsuite – my Twitter organiser of choice

Snip20140930_8          EverWebClipper – All rivers flow to Evernote, especially with this great tool

Snip20140930_24        Readability – declutter webpages and make them easier & cleaner to read

Snip20140930_26        Select & Speak – highlight text, hit the extension and have the web read to you

Snip20140930_16          Pocket – my Read Later of choice

Snip20140930_10           Flipboard – curate your links into an easy to read digital magazine

Snip20140930_23         QuickMark QR – create a QR code for any webpage easily with this extension

Snip20140930_14           OneTab – Collect your tabs into one easy to share tab. My absolute favourite!

Snip20140930_15          Drive – A no brainer

Snip20140930_11             LessonPaths – easily collect and create lesson paths for your students

Snip20140930_12           OneNote – Clip any resource into a OneNote notebook of your choice

Snip20140930_21             Hangouts – Hangout or instant message straight from Chrome

Snip20140930_20            GooglePlus – Spread the word to your Google community or +1

Snip20140930_19             Feedly – organise your feeds easily

Snip20140930_18                EMS ePub reader -read ePub books online.

If you have any other great extensions, please share them in the comments. I am always on the lookout for new tools. I do also hope that one day that iOS will come to the party and allow these extensions to work on the iPad/iPhone. Thanks for reading!

Learn to build games and apps using Touch Develop

Learning how to build an app or make a video game are interest areas for many students and as such I am always on the hunt for technology solutions that enable students to achieve these goals.  Previously I have used Sploder and GameStar Mechanic for game making, used AppMakr and iBuild App to make apps and even have used PowerPoint to make virtual board games. There are so many great, easy to use tools available online. The latest one that I have been using with my students is TouchDevelop.  TouchDevelop is a Microsoft Research website that allows you to build apps and games for iPad, Andriod, PC, Mac and Windows phone. Launching from the website is the web app which works on any device and it is completely free to use.

photo 1Students can learn how to make games such as Flappy bird or Mario Bros by following step by step tutorials. These step by step tutorials are easy to follow and expose students to the coding required by the video games and apps that they know and love. Students can also add their own flair to these games and change the sprites or background to suit their own tastes or interests. Once students become more comfortable with their coding, they can build original games or apps from scratch.  The great thing about web tools like TouchDevelop is that it puts the keys of creativity and learning in the hands of the learner and there is no better way to learn than by doing.

photo 2