Hello, I hope you are well and that you are reading this after you get back from vacation. This Coaching Letter is ONLY about the tools that I use to keep myself organized and (more or less) productive. This is in response to multiple requests over the last few months—it’s not like I think I have a lock on productivity, but I have spent some time trying to figure out how to make apps & extensions work for me, because I have so many contracts and projects to keep track of. So if you’ve already got apps and integrations that already work for you, skip this. And if you’re new to the Coaching Letter, this one is a complete outlier—you can find the archive of regular Coaching Letters here.
Some of these tools are paid for but most have free versions—it just depends how many bells and whistles you want. Anyway, I hope this is helpful; I’ve created this CL as a Google Doc, so you can add it to your Table of Contents (see below, under Google Docs) and you can let me know if you have additions or amendments.
Google Chrome—I know everyone probably uses or at least knows about Google Chrome, but it has added some cool features lately that make life easier. Here are the ones I know about.
- You can pin a tab to the browser window by right-clicking on the tab and clicking Pin. (You can do other cool stuff with right-click, like duplicating the tab and closing other tabs).
- You can create a new window by dragging a tab from the existing window. And then you can name the new window! You do that by clicking on the New Tab tab (+). So for recent projects, I have a window that I call homepage that has all my usual tabs, many of them for the sites below; I have a window called Accountability for a Kappan article that I bailed on for interesting reasons involving afternoon tea and Monday evening bridge; and I have a window called IS for all the improvement science resources I’ve been using lately. I also usually keep my calendar in a separate window so I can access it easily.
- If you close a tab by mistake, you can right click on the + and Reopen closed tab.
- From the search bar in Google Chrome, you can bookmark a website by clicking on the star, you can sometimes install an app, or you can share the link—this is particularly useful, as you can share many different ways, including to another device, to your computer, to Twitter or other social media, or it will even generate a QR code for you. Very cool. When we re-branded, we didn’t get new business cards, so I created a Google doc with my bio and created a QR code that people I met at conferences could scan with their phone—to be transparent, that was Rydell’s idea, and it worked very well.
Google Docs—again, I’m sure everyone is using Docs already, but it took me a really long time to figure out how to organize files and folders so that I would be able to locate them easily. Finally I figured out that the best way to organize notes was to create a single doc for each project—rather than a separate doc for each meeting—and just add at the top. Then whenever I go to that doc, the most recent thing I did is immediately accessible. I also add links to other related files, such as slides and spreadsheets and contact information, at the top of the doc, so that I don’t have to search Google Drive for where I saved them. If I need to find something within the doc, I just use ctrl+F.
The best thing I did, and I can’t recommend this highly enough, was to create my own personal Table of Contents to all my contracts, projects, and clients. In other words, I have one master doc called Isobel’s Projects that has a sections for People, Districts, Writing Projects, and any other stuff that I might need to get my hands on quickly, like links to frequently used YouTube videos. This saves me a ton of time.
CamScanner is a phone app that allows you to scan documents using the camera on your phone. Then you can share the scan as a PDF, a JPEG, and other formats. The app syncs with the website, so I can pull up the scans on my computer. I use the app most often to scan the work that our workshop participants have done on chart paper, so that there’s a record which can be added to slides, or added as a picture to a shared Google doc, or stored in a shared folder for future reference. There are other scanning apps – I use GeniusScan to keep track of receipts, and just the scanner on my phone camera for posting to Twitter and sending texts—but CamScanner has the widest range of options that I’ve seen, so I keep my subscription.
Bitly allows you to create a link to a website so that you can share that link with others and track whether they opened it or not. I used to use it for the Coaching Letter because then I could see what resources had caught people’s interest, which was really useful—I learned, for example, that videos were more likely to be popular than articles, and that people were much more likely to click on links when I gave them a reason to, as opposed to links that were just embedded in the text without additional explanation. I stopped using it when CL readers in districts that blocked Bitly asked me to, but it’s still a good way to catalog websites that you want to come back to later, especially since Bitly allows you to create tags, which makes it easier to search among the websites you’ve saved. Bitly is also available as a Chrome extension.
Google Scholar is a fantastic amenity. It allows you to search for research, via a variety of search terms—the trick is to use Advanced Search, which for some reason is not on the front page; you have to go to the hamburger (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, you need this guide) You can use it as a web-site, but it’s also available as a Chrome extension, which is really handy; in other words, if there I’m on a web site reading about something or other (the history of the paperclip, a taxonomy of cloud types, whatever, you can highlight a phrase, question, or citation, and paste it into the Google Scholar extension, and it will search research for you and post the results. And if it’s the case that the article you want is available on the web, it will show you that. And if you need a citation for a book or paper, you can type the author and/or title into Google Scholar and then click on the quotation mark icon and it will give you the citation in a variety of different formats: APA, MLA, etc. It’s brilliant.
ReMarkable is a tablet that is the closest I’ve found to actually writing on paper. I used to have a crate in my car with a Levenger Circa notebook for every project, but now I just have the ReMarkable, with folders for all my district contracts, my coaching clients, and anything else work-related. It’s a really cool gizmo, and I think so many people have bought one having seen mine that I ought to get a commission. It has a large memory and can also be used for reading PDFs of articles, which means that I can upload articles to read when I’m traveling—I can take notes on the PDFs. There are also apps for my phone, iPad and computer, so I can access the notes and the PDFs from any of those devices. I can also upload directly from Google Drive or Dropbox. I can email my meeting notes to others who we were in the meeting. It will also convert my handwriting to text, but I haven’t had much use for that. Also available: Chrome extension. (btw, does anyone want any of my discarded Levenger Circa notebooks???)
OneTab is a Google Chrome extension. When you’ve got too many tabs open, you can click on OneTab and it will sweep them all into a list for that day in a tab that hosts every list you’ve created. So you can scroll through the list to look for websites you were using. You can also create a link for a list that you can then email to others. It’s not completely infallible, but it’s really useful and I use it a lot.
StayFocusd is a productivity app that lets you control how much time you spend on certain websites. You can set it to allow so many minutes on apps like Twitter, Facebook, Ebay, Amazon, or whatever your preferred procrastination source is. I have it set so that I can’t spend more than 30 minutes a day on my Blocked Sites list. I also use the Nuclear Option, so that it will only let me open the pages on my Allowed Sites list—I use that pretty regularly when I have work to do that I would avoid if I could, like writing Kappan articles or correcting proofs.
Otter is recording and transcription software. There is a free service which gives you 600 minutes per month, 30 minutes at a time, but I upgraded to the paid plan which gives me 6000 minutes per month, with a maximum of 4 hours at a time. I love it. I have the app on my phone linked on my calendar so that I can start recording with one click. I can pull up the meeting transcript on my phone or computer, I can identify the speakers, I can share the transcript with the meeting participants, and I can export the transcript in various formats. I can use it to record the first draft of articles, and I can use it to interview people who don’t like to write but have a lot of really interesting things to say.
ToDoist is a very elaborate version of a to do list. I record everything on it—not only so that I know what I’ve got to do, but also so I’ll know whether I’ve done it. I can organize by due date, by project, and by priority. I can tag tasks; for example, I tag all my writing projects so I can pull them all up at once. Also, they publish a very useful blog about productivity—I know exactly how geeky that sounds. As with other apps listed here, there is a free version, and a Google extension, and also Gmail and Outlook integrations, and I can use it on my computer and my phone and my iPad. I would love it if everyone I worked with used it, because then we could share projects and assign each other tasks even though we belong to different organizations. Oh well…
Google Sites is a free website creator. It will never look like a pro created it, but the upside is that it is easy to learn, attractive, functional, and is a really great solution for providing a hub for a project that cuts across multiple organizations. Credit to Michael for turning me on to this one.
As usual, all feedback gratefully received. Please let me know if I can do anything for you. Best, Isobel