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No more snow days.

IMG_2913In the past seven days we have had three and a half feet come down where we are.  The kids have had three snow days and a two hour delay.  I have had none.  Don’t get me wrong, I am of course super excited about that. I would rather work 5-6 hours a day for 7 days a week then do the 8 hour a day thing, and I would rather have beach days instead of snow days.  That said the snow and cold is starting to get to me.  Especially with this morning’s surprise.  My son and I got up to go to the gym before he had to go to school and BANG the snowblower blew apart, it is about 12-15 years old I can’t remember so it has lasted well.  The past week has certainly made me think more about my long term goals.  For me the long term goals are generally wrapped up in travel, sailing, and the combination of the two.  Teaching is a great way to fit travel in or to design your life around longer term travel.  We are pretty much location independent ourselves but since my wife and I were both married before and have kids from those marriages our kids won’t be location independent for a few more years.  It gives us a clear date and room to prepare and plan.

IMG_2938The long term plan is simple earn money and save money using location independent means, buy a boat, go sailing.  Shorter term plans are much the same.  I have picked out the boat I want to save up for as my short term goal boat.  Something large enough for me to enjoy offshore a bit, large enough for my wife to feel comfortable on, and small enough that I can both take it out on my own as well as afford to buy and enjoy.  In the end I suppose I’m just done with winter.  It was great while I was younger but I’m done.  time to put myself to work setting myself up to sail away somewhere warm where I can teach online from the boat, write books, and give workshops in amazing places.

So the basic plan, teach, write, save, and eventually sail.

Yeah I am done with winter.

 

The Coffee Shop Hop

10514527_10153027090154321_8694645056098395572_nI like to call my nomadic habit “The Coffee Shop Hop” although to be more accurate it is a restaurant hop.  There is a pizza place nearby I work in sometimes that has BLAZING fast internet, a coffee house that has a fantastic mix of people and other such places.  I keep my favorite places in my ASANA “my tasks” list as section headings.  It serves as a reminder that if I stay in my home office all day and work with no one around I will be less productive and start to implode after too long.

Don’t get me wrong I can sometimes go days without leaving my office, I am lucky to have a nice office space.  Still I’m reminded of a quote from Jim Rohn, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” That is why the people are the primary reason I chose locations on my Coffee Shop Hop.  Food and Internet are secondary concerns.  Working from home and teaching online are simply fantastic ways to earn a living, but if you stay home alone all of the time and aren’t around anyone how can you ever grow or change.  One of my favorite coffee shops is called Screenshot_1_17_15__12_54_PMAdelle’s, it is a local shop with a crazy mix of people, full of college professors who work from home and those who work at one of the local universities, students, lawyers, local ministers, laborers, construction workers, and every type of personality you can imagine.  A mix of everyone, but one constant is that everyone is alive and you can feel the positive nature of all of the regulars.  It also helps that they have a great selection of locally blended tea, a yummy veggie bagel sandwich, and multiple points of internet access that are all fast.

Each of the places on my list has a different personality.  By matching the personality of the environment with the needs of the work to be done I can build a routine that involves being in a physical location where I am best able to do the work at hand.  Places and people that fill me with energy and help remind me of my goals and where I am going.

Although eventually I may need to add in the lounge at our Gym as a work space with my health raising in priority for me?  What do you think, workout a bit, grade a bit, workout a bit, answer emails..  No perhaps coffee shop to coffee shop is more my pace..

What places fill you with life and energy?  Who are the people you want to be around?  Who is the person you want to grow into, and how can changing your environment help you achieve your goals?

A Standing Desk & A New Beginning

IMG_2585-1.JPGThis fall I have taken some effort at getting a bit healthier.  Part of that goal has been getting myself to the Gym with my 14 year old each morning before he goes to school.  More recently that has been lifting my desk into a standing desk.  I don’t stand all day since I do enjoy doing the “Coffee Shop Hop” where I move from coffee shop to coffee shop throughout the day.  Although I do have one personal favorite local coffee shop that I prefer to work from.

2014 has certainly been an interesting year.  And as end of years tend to be a natural place to outline goals I have been working on my goals this past month and have narrowed down some goals for 2015 that I’m fairly certain I can reach with a bit of effort.

My big goal is to finish my dissertation before the end of the spring term.  Even if I miss the cut off date for marching in the spring as long as it is approved before the end of the term and I don’t have to pay any more money toward the process I will be happy.  After that I want to maintain my writing habit and turn my efforts toward a book.  I have a few ideas one of which is an idea I have on a book on leveraging distance education for lifelong learning.

My second goal for the year is to create some sort of public facing media across all of the platforms every day.  Something new and original every day.  This blog fits into that a bit in that I want to commit to getting a blog post out at least weekly for 2014.  I was doing well for a while but fell a bit short in the fall with the new job I picked up and getting adjusted.

Third on the list is to break 200LBS.  I have always either had no commute like I do now or super commuted at 80 miles or so each way.  The times when my commute grew to 80 miles my weight would go up when I had no commute I would shrink back down.  This year though I want to break 200LBS again.  Going to the gym each morning has certainly helped get me started on this goal.

My final goal for 2015 is to double my income.  Today I’m at 150% of the income I had on this day in 2013 so even if I fail at doubling and only have the same type of growth I had this year it’s still a great improvement.

Reflecting on 2014 is interesting.  It was certainly the most stressful year I’ve had in a decade or more.  There were significant changes to my work, I overloaded on doctoral courses so I could finish my coursework early, and there were some challenges in Family Court with my ex-wife returning to my boys’ lives after, well that decade.  Still with all of the stress and challenges I was able to have my best year ever achieving so many personal goals such as working from home full time, finishing my doctoral coursework, making progress on my dissertation, and identifying my post dissertation writing project.  Even the goals I didn’t quite make still resulted in great success such as not getting to 200% of my previous income “only” getting to 150%.

So that is how I’m ending the year.  Realizing that the most stressful year so far has also been the one where I have grown so very much.  And I’m entering 2015 with just four huge goals.  Write every day, share every day, get to the gym every day, and add value to the world every day.

What goals have you set for yourself for 2015.  And what are the tiny but tangible things you can do every day to make those goals happen?

Mobility vs Portability

Over the past month and a half I have come to truly appreciate the difference between Mobility and Portability.

This difference has had a significant impact on my productivity, and my volume of work.  The basic difference is mobile phone, always on and always connected in your pocket where you can work while in motion and your portable laptop which you can bring with you to any location and set yourself up to work.  It seems like a small difference but it is a significant one.

Recently my son found himself in desperate need of his own cell phone due to a new development with the iPhone 6 release date set I tossed him my iPhone 5 and gave him three rules.  1.) No Games. 2.) No Bragging. 3.) To Remember He’s on the Unlimited Plan.

We ported my number to an ancient phone I had in a drawer knowing that the iPhone 6 would be shipping in just a few weeks.  Just a few weeks.  I am now in my 5th week of my 4-6 week estimated backorder.  I still do my work on my laptop and am very portable.  Meaning I can get up and move to anywhere I need to be, but I am no longer mobile.

There are several things I have noticed through this time and several areas where the flow of my day has been altered.  I had known that I was a heavy mobile user, but I hadn’t realized just how much I had shifted onto my iPhone and how much time that was saving me in the course of the average day.

Planning & Organization:

I’ve mentioned that I use ASANA to plan and organize my days.  It is a system that works very well.  One of the things that works well with the system I have is the ability to have tasks repeat and their fantastic mobile app.  There is a significantly different feeling to planning your day on the laptop with all of the tabs and apps and distractions.  Previously I would sit out on the deck in an adirondack chair, my feet up, and a hot cup of tea.  I’d add in the tasks that were my personal priorities, adjust them and the automatically scheduled tasks in priority order, and then move my locations (Section Headings in Asana) to break the work up.  Doing the same task at my desk doesn’t have the same feel, and without the phone always with me.. I have a new apprehension that I’m going to forget to put something into ASANA.

Email:

Luckily the Exchange Server at work is configured to send text messages.  Without this I would be completely distracted and checking my email constantly.  I don’t receive a ton of email, but enough.  Faculty to faculty emails usually only require a sentence or two as a reply.  Even emails to students are rarely over a paragraph or two.  The perfect length for Siri to dictate.  One of the things that I love to be able to do is to offer quick response times.  Being mobile meant that I could go to the grocery store and if there was an issue I could deal with it immediately and let it go.  I think that is the biggest difference between being mobile and being portable is that although being mobile meant I was carrying my email with me, and could respond at a moments notice. Emotionally I was able to “let go” if there was a need my phone would buzz, I would deal with the need, and I would be finished.  Having this reassurance meant that if I was walking the dog with the boys I was walking the dog with the boys.  Now my mind wonders.  And if there is an issue that comes up.  I need to drop what I’m doing and find a place where I can be portable open the laptop and deal with it.  The delay is frustrating, and I can’t help but think that the length of the delay is simply time lost.

Research:

I’ve shared before that I’m working on my dissertation, and many who follow me on social media know that I keep up with research and articles related to Distance Education, Instructional Technology, Digital Marketing, and Media Communications.  Those are my four big areas of interest.  For my dissertation work I spend quite a bit of time on ERIC and EbscoHost.  EbscoHost has a great iOS app that I use to email myself articles all of the time.  And I have quite a few feeds in my RSS Reader, the iOS app “Reader” which sync’s with Feedly.  For articles of interest I send to Quick Read through a fun IFTTT.com script.  Much of my reading is done in those stolen moments when waiting in line, standing at the printer while it prints, and other moments like that.  Needless to say without a mobile phone my research and reading this past month have been frustratingly less than is typical.

Social Media:

I do my best to stay connected and share via social media.  Again in those “stolen moments” where otherwise I would get frustrated that I’m standing in line, or wonder why I walked to the printer so soon.  When I’m sitting at my desk I am completely focused at the task at hand.  Not much time for social media outreach there.  As a result my social media outreach and sharing of useful articles via social media have both taken a significant hit this past month or so as my “Buffer.com” buffer ran out of things to share and I wasn’t filling it back up and not taking the time to interact.

Writing:

The overall hit on my productivity has taken a hit on my writing schedule.  I have made less progress on my dissertation, and have had virtually no time for any blogging.  Although I didn’t do much actual writing on my mobile phone I did use it to free up time that I would use my laptop for more writing.

Overall I have discovered just how much more productive I have been with my iPhone.  Once the new one comes in I’m going to try and use this awareness to intentionally streamline my workflow in the effort of both getting more done while simultaneously adding more freedom of movement back into my day to day.  After hearing me talk about the difference in my workflow and knowing that it is the iPhone 6 plus on it’s way my son has challenged me to try and work exclusively on the iPhone for the first month I have it, to make note of any time I need to use my laptop, and to try and find an iPhone way to make those tasks happen as well.

Home with a sick kid

Outside OfficeI spent this past Tuesday home with a sick kid.  He spent most of his day laying on the couch watching episodes of the classic Doctor Who series.  I spent most of my day except for a mid morning one hour meeting enjoying my outside office, also known as the back deck.  I love the opportunity to work outside when the weather is nice and we are lucky enough to have a great back deck where we can work when the weather is as nice as it has been these past few days.

I try to have my back to the sliding glass windows so that I focus out rather than in, and Tuesday was no exception.  Part of my teaching online Tuesday task was to systematically go through each of my classes, look at each of my students, and see what if anything they needed from me and then take care of their needs.  My list of student needs did spill over into Wednesday but overall it was a productive day filled with multiple pots of green tea, lunch done on the grill, sunshine, and birdsong.

Now I didn’t ignore my son in the other room, I make sure that I take breaks between tasks so that I don’t end up with back problems from sitting too long.  Sometimes I just stand and stretch for a second or two but this day I walked into the living room, commented on whichever Doctor Who episode he was watching at the time, and checked on his status and what if anything he needed.

I have several favorite working places that change with the seasons, for this season working on the back deck and enjoying my outside office while simultaneously being able to care for a sick child certainly does make teaching online one of the best career moves I ever made.

20140729-132120-48080985.jpgAnd as for my mid morning meeting when I wasn’t working in the outside office, well that was done the same place I try to have all of my meetings, because we are on video I attend those meetings from my home office, that way my background doesn’t look any different then anyone chiming in from their offices on campus and I don’t have to feel guilty about being able to work in such a fantastic and varied set of places.

I like the idea of the “boring office” for video based meetings even when I’m in areas that I should brag about since in the end I don’t want to waste time talking about where I am so that I can get back to work and enjoy where I am that much sooner.

Tackling Time Wasters

SAMSUNGHow do currently manage your time? What are your time wasters? What are your other obligations? What is your overall goal and how do you want to achieve that goal?

Teaching online, working from home is absolutely fantastic.  But there are challenges to over come.  One challenge that most of those who work from home will face are the “Time Wasters” that stare us down and steal our time.  For me my goal to work from home has been a long one, I think I first really had the desire to work from home when my son was born.  I tried a few different things, some worked okay, others not at all, and then I discovered distance education and started teaching online.

The great thing about working from home is that for the most part you can structure your day however you’d like and there is no one watching over your shoulder.  Want to clock in an hour early and then take a two hour lunch? Awesome!  No one watching over your shoulder.

But that is where the time wasters come in.

Many people think that the time wasters would be Facebook or TV or general Sloth, but those aren’t really an issue for me.

For me the time wasters always look the same, some type of work that falls into that important for someone (not always me) category.  Sometimes urgent, usually not. My biggest ones fall into the category of helping others.  It can take some effort to realize that by helping others in the moment I am actually doing them a disservice since it is cutting into my productive time and taking time away from when I can help them better when my work is done, not to mention that if we don’t finish out work, we don’t get paid, and that is really not helping our family.

Dishes (cleaning in general)

The kitchen is my nemesis.  Well a messy kitchen anyway.  We do our best to keep a clean house, but with three active boys and a dog there is always a mess somewhere and there is always something to clean up.  Working outside of the home you get to walk away from it each morning and hopefully forget about it as you move through your day.  Working from home though all of those important tasks that need to get done, such as the dishes just stare at you.  For this one I take a two pronged approach, first I try and give myself some time in the morning to get some cleaning in before I start my working day.  And when I’m tempted to stop the work I’m being paid for to spend an hour or two cleaning the house top to bottom.. I RUN.  Well I don’t really run, but I relocate to somewhere other than my house, coffee shops and tea shops are my favorite.  They have just enough noise and humanity to keep me focused but not too much (and the caffeine is a great bonus for productivity as well).

Waiting for someone or something

People are another one of my time wasters, or rather the way I can sometimes stop and wait.  Who said I have to stop in order to wait?  Every once and a while I find myself thinking “Oh I just need…” and then I slow down and wait for it.  I’ve been doing much better at this one though.  Now I take the waiting for other people as a blessing.  Waiting for the meeting to start?  Give a single student feedback, return that email, there is always something that can fill the time we spend waiting, even if you’re all packed up waiting for your wife to pack herself up so you can relocate to the next coffee shop.

Email

Email saves a lot of time.  Teaching online I send and receive a LOT of email.  But there are times when you can get lost in your email.  I think the only thing that really works for email is turning off the notifications for email and only checking email at regular intervals that are appropriate for your environment and the use of a whole lot of filters.  I’ve unsubscribed from every mailing list I was on and have my email set up to text me if my wife or my boss emails me other than that I check my email at regular intervals.  With email being large I check between each task to see if a student needs help, and for those times when there is an email that doesn’t immediately impact a student then I toss it to the bottom of my Asana list and keep working.

Beating my time wasters is a daily challenge.  What are your biggest time wasters?  How to you beat them?

Asana Popcorn

I am rounding out my first month at my new job teaching online full time and it is fantastic.  But staying focused and being efficient is something that everyone who works from home should probably put a priority on and I’m not any exception there.

Asana.com

One of the ways that I have been able to help stay on track and get work done has been through the use of Asana.com the project management and collaboration tool.  Although the rest of my department isn’t using the tool yet I’ve been finding it very helpful for keeping myself organized and on track.  I have set up a unique “Workspace” as they are called in Asana for my school and have set up each of my classes as an individual project within that workspace.  I also have a project called “General Organization” as well as projects that show up as they are assigned to me.

Set Reoccurring Tasks

Reoccurring tasks, even the simple ones such as check for “student emails” and “reach out to struggling students” that we should remember to do every day I put in as reoccurring tasks so they don’t get lost in the shuffle of the ordinary days.

Plan Each Morning

Each morning while I’m making a pot of tea I scribble down the items that I want to get done for the day on a piece of paper, and during my first cup of tea I organize my day.  With the reoccurring items already in my “Today” list I add in the items I want to get done, review my upcoming tasks pulling any that need done up, and then I check my email to add in any tasks that have come from others. Adding them in and assigning them to their respective projects, adding in due dates, and moving them to the different Asana lists of Today, Later, and Upcoming.

Then I close the views for “Later” and “Upcoming” to focus on today.

Enjoy Popcorn

I don’t remember when I first read about the “Workstation Popcorn” method of productivity but it so closely resembled what I was already doing I adopted it whole heartily.

The basic premise is that you need to move throughout your day so you don’t get bogged down in unproductive and unfocused work.

I’ve used the Asana “Section:” feature to pre-populate my “Today” todo list with locations that work for different types of work.  Some of the locations are just different places in the house, “Office Early:” is my office downstairs, probably the quietest place in the house when there are kids home,  “Outside:” refers to my back deck.  Then there are a number of coffee and tea shops nearby, a few restaurants, and parks.  Places with WiFi and the right environment for me to get done what I need to get done.

Pre-populating the Asana today list with the different potential working locations using the section feature makes it much easier to plan the day quickly and get right to work.  And yes when working with students things always come up, but by being the most efficient with the things I can plan throughout the day I am that much more prepared for when a student needs help right away.

 

Finding Balance

IMG_1997We’ve been at the in-law’s house for the past few days.  It is a beautiful place and they are lovely people.  Finding a place to work has proved easy since my in-laws ran a company from their home for years and they still have their massive office set up.  But when it comes time for my live meetings with video and audio I have been retreating to our bedroom upstairs where I can close the door.

I’ve been trying to keep a balance and not work all of the time.  It can be hard when there is a lot to do, when the work is fun, and when you don’t have to go “into the office” to do your work.  Finding a way to turn off at home was slightly easier since I have been using different physical spaces to do different work.  It is more difficult here because I’m still working on setting up those spaces.  And perhaps I’m feeling a bit guilty being in such a great place while my counterparts are working in an office.  Well maybe not that guilty.

The answer of course is to find groove and build a routine, I’ve only been working from home in this new job for a week and a day so I’m sure the groove and routine will come.  Building a work from home routine is probably going to be easier once the kids go back to school themselves next week and I’ve had a couple of weeks on the job to figure out what needs to be done when.

Finally getting started.

IMG_2473Off on a plane with a connecting flight and I’m reminded how much better direct flights are.  My second leg was delayed by a few hours so I was stuck for a while in Chicago.  Not a bad place to be but there are better places to get some work done then an airport terminal.  SO in my quest to get some work done I decided to go exploring a bit, hopefully somewhere with WiFi.  I was surprised to see that there was a significant lack of WiFi in the airport when I went to sit down.

Luckily though I had my trusty iPhone and it’s personal hotspot capabilities.  So I still was able to work and get things done.  Mostly last minute postings for my last three classes (ending in just a few days).

In the end there was an hour long layover that turned into a three hour layover.  Tired I did what I could but without the iPhone I would have been sunk.  I was surprised there wasn’t free WiFi at a major US Airport.

I was picked up at the airport by my new boss and made it to the hotel where I’m staying for a few weeks.  I was able to get my homework for the weekend posted before the midnight deadline and even managed to visit the 24 hour Walmart next door to pick up some Tea and other essentials such as Prosciutto Panino.

After my day of traveling, shopping, writing, and rushing I was quite happy to have my “Relax Melodies” app on my laptop to block out the sounds of the city a cup of green tea and a bed.

Today is my second day of a two week training stretch and I’m learning so very much about the team and the way they organize themselves.  At first I was reluctant to come and spend two weeks so far from my children and family but I’m not sure I would have been integrated as well with the team as a whole without the trip.  It will be interesting to see the difference when I head back home to New England to see the difference in the way I organize my day and my routine.  If anyone has any suggestions let me know.  I’m teaching a full load, several on-screen meetings each week (mostly Monday’s and Tuesdays mid day) so there will be a lot to do.

It’s a great group of people in a great program.  I honestly think I will learn as much if not more from my counterparts then I will teach to my students they are that great.  And the more I immerse myself in what I’m going to be teaching the more I’m positive this was the perfect move for me.

So again, if anyone has any telecommuting and working from home organizational ideas let me know.  I’m going to need to hit the road running when I return and I’ll share what I find works.

Persistence Pays Off

20140729-132120-48080985.jpgHere is a rare photo of my home office setup.  Since I like to work early and I try to get as much work done here before anyone else in the family wakes up I start my mornings here after a pot of tea is ready and the day’s priorities are set.  But the space is not all mine Note the three “homework chairs” for the three boys to use each afternoon.  The whiteboards (yes four is probably overkill) I have for brainstorming, strategic planning, and motivational goals/reference.

Over the past several months I’ve been approaching the end of my doctoral coursework and had started to look for work in ernest.  Sending sometimes as many as a dozen CV packets a day.  Like the whiteboards it was probably a bit of overkill.  I also joined the “Teach Online Bootcamp” offered by The Babb Group.  The end result is that I’ve been hired as a full time online instructor at a school out west.

Persistence pays off.  Sometimes you just have to keep pushing and keep trying.  I fly out this coming Sunday for two weeks of training and immersion.  So the Nomadic part of my teaching is starting in full force as well.  After the two weeks I’m going to return home and have my routine set here where I will start each day in my home office, then roam needed to keep focus and productivity up.

The new job has made me think of what I want to do with the Blog as I move forward.  Since I don’t want to talk much about my specific position, my students, and hunting for an online teaching job is less interesting to me now then it was a few weeks ago that does help limit my topics.  Moving forward I want to write about how I teach online, how I work from home.. specifically how do I handle the work-life balance, the isolation of being at home, and keep my productivity up so that I can adapt as needed to life as it comes.

Although I will be specifically approaching these questions from the point of view of someone teaching full time and that will by my primary audience, I am hopeful and confidant that my insights and the things that I learn will be helpful to anyone who works from home.  Especially with noisy children in the house.  As I continue to make this transition I may end up with more questions than answers.