Tony Danza, Starfish and Making a Difference

classroom with teacher and childrenI just finished listening to Tony Danza read his new book: “I’d Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had: My Year as a Rookie Teacher at Northeast High.” Tony, known by many from his TV sitcom days, originally graduated as a teacher, but had never used his teaching license until 2010 when he spent 1 year teaching a high school English class at Northeast High, Philadelphia’s largest urban high school.  While his year was filmed as a reality series, only 7 episodes were ever shown.  The book, however, was a delight that I would recommend to anyone in the education industry.  I think he did a very good job of accurately portraying the difficulties and culture shock of a first year teacher.  It is clear that he is very passionate about the importance of education and does everything he can think of to encourage his students to take advantage of the time in school to help them prepare for tomorrow. I loved his honesty, his vulnerability and willingness to share the bumps and successes of his year.

I felt upbeat at the end of his book, even though he doesn’t sugarcoat a happily ever after.  The kids he had in class still had immense challenges ahead of them, as did the teachers and administration as they continued to deal with low standardized test scores and pressures from above.  I was sad that Tony decided to not teach after that year.  I think he would have been a good influence on the children of that school.

So why am I talking about this book on a PKM site? I think because his book really started me thinking about how the difficulties that high school and elementary school teachers are experiencing in trying to prepare students for life will be directly effecting us in higher education more and more as students from these environments become a part of our student bodies.  As an academic reference librarian, I do one-on-one consultations with students, but often I only see these individuals once or twice in their career.  We have tools and knowledge that could significantly enhance their research experiences, enrich their learning and make their work easier.  But how do we present this knowledge in a way that the students will hear it, will seek it out, will even try to use it? How do we position ourselves in our academic community so that we can identify the “teachable moments” where we can insert ourselves and offer a tool, a research strategy, an idea that could make a student or a faculty member’s life easier or more productive?

At our school, students, faculty and researchers alike are all dynamic, creative, and often driven individuals.  Their plates are more than full.  Even if they could do a job much easier a different way, the sheer process of learning that new way may be the straw that breaks the academic camel’s back at that particular time.  I teach a one and one-half hour workshop on productivity tools for graduate students at my library.  I have reasonably good attendance, but what strikes me as most significant, my companion LibGuide is consistently ranked in the top five of all LibGuides at my school in terms of hits.  They are finding the guide, AND they are looking at pages other than just the first one.  They are making a clear statement.  The need is there.  The interest is there. Yes, they want to magic bullet, when we know that does-it-all product doesn’t yet exist.  But they are motivated to at least search for it.

Like Mr. Danza, I don’t have the answers.  I don’t even know all the questions. But I resonate with his passion to reach another individual and offer them something that might enrich at least one aspect of his/her life.  Tony ends his book with a description of a story that he was given, inscribed on a plaque from one of his teaching associates as a parting gift at the end of his year of teaching. I had heard the story before, but it is fitting for us to remember, nonetheless.

After a storm, a man is seen walking along a beach littered with starfish that had been blown up on shore.  He would stop ever few feet and pick up a starfish and throw it back into the ocean.  An observer asks, ‘why do you bother?  There are so many other fish that it hardly makes a dent in the problem.’  He responds, ‘True, but it means everything to the life of that one I touched.’

Maybe that is our message as well.  Someone asked me, why do you spend so much energy writing the blog posts when you don’t even know if they are being read?  Perhaps for the one person for whom that particular post might impact just at their point of need.  We need more starfish throwers.

Link Roundup #8

western saddle with a lasso on it


Happy Birthday, iPad: How Apple’s Tablet Revolutionized Business Computing. Thought it was important to notice, from deep within the revolution, how quickly it is happening. The article also makes the important point that one of the things that changed in business (and education) computing is the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) concept. It frees the user to use productivity apps/websites anywhere they go – while increasing security problems for the IT people.

5 School-Worthy iPad Alternatives for Education. Article covers a mix of Android and Windows tablets that can work well for educational purposes, and points out education-friendly features of each.

40 Years Later: 11 Game-Changing Phones. The tech world is having fun this week celebrating 40 years since the first call on a cell phone. This article is a good discussion/slideshow of how cell phones have changed and innovated over those 40 years. Now they are fundamental parts of our productivity, and it is fascinating to contemplate where communications will be 40 years from now.

A Matter of Perspective – Elsevier Acquires Mendeley…or, Mendeley Sells Itself to Elsevier. This acquisition has been rumored for months, and is now publicly announced. Note that this post is from The Scholarly Kitchen blog, which is produced by scholarly publishers and reflects their point of view, but it has an interesting perspective. See Elsevier’s take on the acquistion and Mendeley’s.

Become an Evernote Power User: 10 Must-Know Tips. While I see a number of similar articles, this one has some of the better and most up-to-date tips.

5 Best Firefox Education Addons. Includes short descriptions of ImTranslator, Evernote Web Clipper, Zotero, Wired Marker, and Biobar.

Best Video Editing Software for Enthusiasts.  Mostly this article is about software for sale, but does mention the video editing software that comes with Windows and Mac.  I’m including this article because so many college assignments now include creating videos.

Foxit Reader 6.0 Adds PDF Creation, Handwritten Signatures, and Office 2013-Style Ribbon.  Sounds like some good added features to one of the favorite PDF readers.

Skitch Brings Markup Tools to Evernote PDFs.  Skitch is a basic drawing tool that is now owned by Evernote.  The new relsease for iOS now includes support for marking up PDFs, and even generating a cover sheet with links to the annotations.

If you are a blogger, you might want to have a look at the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s (EFF) Legal Guide for Bloggers.  It covers legal liability issues, bloggers as journalists, other legal topics, and has an index to questions and a list of additional resources.

Ultimate Evernote Guide – an ongoing and quite up-to-date series of tips and tricks posts on Evernote from Teleread.  Hmmm…lots of useful Evernote articles lately.  Another one is 15+ Tips and Tricks to Use Evernote Like a Pro.  It is also up-to-date and mentions a lot of tips left out of similar articles.

How to Get Organized with Reference Managers for Science – An Overview.  Brief overview of what reference managers do, and a comparison table of useful features for several reference management software programs.  Included are Mendeley, ReadCube, Papers, Endnote, and Zotero.  This is the first of the series, with the next post on Mendeley published as of this writing.

iAnnotate – Whatever Happened to the Web as an Annotation System?   I’ve been wondering about the potential for exporting annotations of ebooks and other digital documents.  Seems like that could be important in scholarly research.  This article talks about that and more, an overview of the state of the art in annotation.

5 Alternatives to WordPress – if you are a librarian looking for a Content Management System (CMS) or a researcher thinking of starting a blog, this article offers some good options.  This blog is on WordPress, and it has a lot of features, but there are things that could be easier.

You’ll Never Learn! . Article about the damage multitasking is doing to students abilities to learn. The various studies looked at students from elementary school into college.

Year for Productivity: Session 7: Notebook Software

year_productivity_graphic_7We’ve spent several weeks now talking about ways to manage our calendars, our mail and our to-do lists. What about all those websites, blog posts, articles, quotes, images, emails, slide presentations, videos and the like that we all run across each day as we go throughout our day?  They may touch us, inspire us, spark ideas that we want to go back to implement later – the only thing we know for sure is that we want to be able to find these items again when we want them. It would also be very nice if we could categorize them somehow so miscellaneous items on the same or similar subjects were together.  How to capture and file this mishmash of varied topics and formats so that we can get them again wherever we are at the time can be daunting.  This is where the power of Notebook Software can add real value to your productivity tool chest.

What is notebook software?  I’ll bet you have used (or even created!) collections in notebook software already and not even realized it.  Have you ever used LiveBinders?  This application is a very simplistic example of notebook software. It allows the creator to save websites, articles, etc under tabs and subtabs with one tab for each item.  If you are a librarian, chances are very good that you have created research guides using LibGuides (or a similar system). LibGuides is an excellent example of notebook software.  It provides a framework that allows the user to customize the look as well as the content of the guide.  Each guide is made up of tabbed pages and subpages, and the information on each page is arranged via containers (or widgets or “boxes”… however you think of it). All sorts of information can be stored in those containers – textual as well as graphic and video.  If you love LibGuides (or LiveBinders) you will probably find Microsoft OneNote to be appealing.  It is like LibGuides on steroids with many more layers of sections/pages/subpages/ etc. and where items reside in freeform container arrangements on a page.

While Google is currently in the news regarding its launching of it’s beta product, Google Keep, which some are calling the newest notebook software on the block, there are already two powerhouse options in the notebook software arena that I would like to suggest you explore: Microsoft OneNote and Evernote. Both products have free versions with varied limitations on their functionality and storage space, and both have full-featured versions that can be purchased.  Microsoft OneNote is automatically a part of Microsoft Office packages or can be purchased as a stand-alone product. Evernote Premium is an annual subscription.  I’m not going to take our time today to compare/contrast all the capabilities and features of these two products.  Mary and I have already done that in an article we published last year for Online where we also outlined lots of examples of how librarians might use notebook software at work; reading it will be one of the exercises for this session.

Which product should you use?  That decision is somewhat based on personal preference and is not necessarily an either/or choice.  I actually use both products.


    • Mary and I share Evernote (Premium version) notebooks where we store links, book covers; notes on readings, etc for our blog topics.  We’ve actually organized this entire year-long productivity program using a combination of Evernote and Docear(for the initial mind map brainstorming of the program structure).  It has been working pretty well for us. We created notes for each of the 26 sessions and both of us add links, text snippets, graphics, etc to all the notes as we run across items that fit the various categories.  I love this organizational setup.  Often, by the time we reach the week for a topic, we already have a long laundry list of items to consult.


I choose to use OneNote for my personal notebooks. The hierarchical organizational structure with all the different levels of pages, sections and notebooks appeals to my “scrapbooking” mentality.  I have a variety of different notebooks:

    • I have one notebook on Astronomy – another of my research interests. It contains lecture notes from open source classes, stunning photos, books I’d like to read, links to interactive sites, notes I’ve taken on articles & books, etc. I always make a point of showing this notebook to my graduate students as an example of how notebook software could help the research process go more smoothly as they create their theses, dissertations and research articles.
    • I also love using my OneNote notebook called “wish list” where I save ideas for gifts for others, lists of books I want to read, borrow from various libraries, find in used book stores or order new.  Likewise for music, dvds, figurines, etc.  Using this notebook has freed me from stacks of lists, screen prints and scratch paper reminders of items I’m thinking about. It has also given me a common place to keep track of which sister got which gift last year.
    •  I have a health notebook where I keep articles, websites, etc about health issues that I research.  By scanning copies of my bloodwork or other lab results, I also have one easy place to find all the details I need on those topics.
    • I particularly love my Quotes notebook.  I have pages and sections by topic, storing inspirational quotes, quotes I know I’ll use sometime on my blog or in my work, passages from books that I want to keep, etc.
    • I have a quilting notebook.  I collect pictures of quilts, books I’m interested in on the subject, I have one whole section devoted to pictures of quilts to which I contributed blocks for the ALA Biblioquilters’ quilt auctions. I keep articles and videos describing quilting techniques, a list of websites and notes from classes I’ve taken.

The more I use Evernote and OneNote, the more uses I find for them both.  Consistently, the feedback from students taking my Productivity Tools for Graduate Students workshop cite learning about Evernote and OneNote to be the most valuable thing they learned during our time together.  As you are exploring these two tools, I challenge you to also consider how your users might also benefit from learning about them.  You might find you have a double-hitter: a new tool to help you be more productive AND a new way to offer additional value to your users.

For Further Exploration and Insights:

1. Read our article “Noteworthy Productivity Tools for Personal Knowledge Management.”  Can you think of other practical applications of these products?  Share with all of us in the comments. A community of minds makes a better experience for all.

2. Explore The Secret Weapon site.  How could part (or all) of this system work in your life?  If you are not an Evernote user, what techniques could you apply in OneNote or the application of your choice?

Selected Readings:

Multi-Platform Resources:

Axford, Mary, & Renfro, Crystal. (2012). Noteworthy Productivity Tools for Personal Knowledge Management. Online, 36(3), 33-36.

Notebook Software: Evernote and Microsoft OneNote LibGuide

Sheffner. (March 2012)  Going paperless: tips from a OneNote and Evernote user

 Evernote Resources:

Cybrary Man’s Educational Web Sites:  A large list of links on Evernote:

Jones, Jordan. (November 2012)  How to Use Evernote for Genealogical Research. Jordan, president of the National Genealogical Society recently wrote this piece on the Evernote blog.

Malespina, Elissa.  Evernote In Education.  This is a LiveBinder which includes an extensive list ideas for using Evernote in the classroom.

Murray, Katherine. (February 2012) My Evernote. Que Publishing.

My Simple Curiosity Blog. (January 2013) GTD with Evernote:

Pontefract, Dan (December 2012) I Wrote a 90,000 Word Book Entirely in Evernote.

Peironcely, Julio. 3 Mandatory Tools For Digital Scientists

Samuel, Alexandra. 8 Ways Evernote Can Help You Get More From Your Research in 2013.  “ The Evernote blog has some useful items, and it has “ambassadors” – blog contributors who blog about using Evernote in their profession and/or areas of interest. Alexandra Samuel, the author of this blog post, might be a good person to follow, as her ideas about managing research using Evernote in this blog post are worthwhile. As a bonus, at the bottom of this article are links to PDFs for using Evernote in different contexts, including 10 Ways to Use Evernote for a Productivity Boost.” (Mary posted this annotation in her Link Roundup #3 here on our blog.)

Sarna, David E. Y. (April 2012) Evernote for Dummies, For Dummies Publishing.

The Secret Weapon site.  GTD + Evernote:

Witson, Gordon. (March 2013).  I’ve Been Using Evernote All Wrong. Here’s Why It’s Actually Amazing.  Be sure to also read through the comments.  There is a good discussion of IFTTT and Evernote buried in there.

 OneNote Resources:

Basu, Saikat. (August 2012) 10 Awesome OneNote Tips You Should Be Using All The Time [Windows].

Office OneNote GEM Add-ins: Learning and OneNote.  Nice overview of how college students might use OneNote.

Oldenburg, Michael C. (September 2011) Using Microsoft OneNote 2010, Que Publishing.

One Note and Law School: Beginner’s Guide. Posted on, this is a nice example of how a workflow might incorporate OneNote. Lawyers have some of the most detailed examples of using OneNote in their work of any profession I have found to date.

Pointer, Caroline. This genealogist recently put together a fabulous YouTube video, Using OneNote for Research Plans, that I found to be incredibly helpful. (only 12 minutes)

Ramsdell, Heather. (November 2011) LiveBinders and OneNote: Eliminating Paper in Course Projects

Wheatfill, Michael (2011) Using GTD with OutLook + Onenote:  A series of blog entries:


Calendar Image courtesy of ammer/

Link Roundup #7

western saddle with a lasso on it


Intentional Change Theory: Achieving Manageable, Meaningful Change. Useful post on five steps to achieving real change.

Relax! You’ll Be More Productive. Article from business consultant on being more productive from being more rested and refreshed. Recommends working in 90 minute cycles then taking a break. Has some science and experience to back this up.

Make Use Of – “Welcome to MakeUseOf, a booming daily blog that features cool websites, computer tips, and downloads that make you more productive. The aim of MakeUseOf is to guide you through the web and tell you about hot websites that you have never heard of, best software programs, and all kinds of “how to” tips for Windows, Mac and Linux computer users.”  Looks like a nice place to find out about useful apps, and has some basic useful downloadable guides to popular software and operating systems.

Teens Stay Online More than They Did Just 3 Months Ago: Tablets a Big Reason Why.  What are the implications for college students?  For example, is this making studying more or less difficult?

Research management tools are getting more sophisticated, and I suspect will get much better over time.  ReadCube and Utopia Documents both add some interesting capabilities for exploring PDF documents.  See, for example, this article from Computerworld:   Utopia Documents Makes PDF Articles Easy to Explore, Not So Much to Read.  Also Readcube: An Excellent All-in-one Tool for Organizing, Finding, Reading, and Annotating PDF articles.

South Illinois University Picks Windows 8 Tablet over iPad; Highlights Costs and Managability.  I’m fascinated by stories of how higher ed is deploying and using tablets.  Some experiments will fail, some will succeed, will be nice to start hearing reports at conferences on which is which.

Google’s Keep Note-Taking Web and Android App Gets Its Official Public Launch.  Seems to have far fewer features than OneNote and Evernote, and those two already have a large user base, but might be useful for someone new to notebook software.

Create and Share a Virtual Wall of Documents and Media with Padlet.  App allows instant creation and sharing of a variety of formats of information and it can be easily disseminated.  I can see a lot of use for this for college students doing group work or for assignments in class.

Using iPads at School?  Sophia Now Provides Free Training to Teachers.  About tablets in higher education.  The article sounds like it is not aimed at teaching how to use an iPad per se but tips on using tablets in the classroom and using certian apps such as Dropbox and Evernote.

American Chemical Society Introduces ACS ChemWorx (TM).  Chemworx is built on colwiz, and research management software developed by scholars at Oxford University.  I’ve been interested in colwiz for a while, as it has more features than Mendeley or Zotero, but haven’t found much information on it.  It is also interesting that ChemWorx is designed to be a software that guides the entire research process, from the literature search to publication and collaboration.  There’s a little more detail from CAS, a division of ACS.

Can You Really Be Productive with a sub-$100 Tablet? While this is a review of a particular tablet, the title’s question is of interest to the education market, and the answer, for this tablet at least, seems to be yes.


Book Review: Bit Literacy by Mark Hurst

Bit Literacy Book Cover

Bit Literacy is not a particularly new book (it is currently available free on Kindle and iBookstore!).  It was, after all, published in 2007, but its tag line: Productivity in the Age of Information and Email Overload, still strikes a familiar chord in us all.  Hurst also recently floated to the top of the public eye again with his February 28th blog post “The Google Glass Feature No One Is Talking About”  which has been shared in multiple languages more than 20,000 as of March 12th.  It is a piece worth reading, but at the risk of being somewhat cliché, I don’t intend to really talk about Google Glass today.

My current focus is Hurst’s book.   Hurst defines Bit Literacy as the toolbox of skills and applications that allow an individual to thrive in the information age of the world today.  He begins the journey in our email box.  His premise, like those of many productivity experts, is that email should only be touched once and that email is not the place to store to-do list items.  A discussion then follows on the features of common to-do tools and the limitations.  Hurst describes a method of handling to-do lists that I love.  He also created a tool that applies the method very cleverly called Good Todo.  It works with all email systems, on various platforms but comes at a price.  His free trial is very limiting as you can only have ten to-do items a day.  The full version is currently $36 a year.

What I like about his tool and his method of handling to-do items is two-fold.  First, effective to-do lists should be more than a simple notation.  Instead, Hurst advocates items that are similar to email in that there is a single descriptive line, but that can be clicked to see more details of the item.  Second, he advocates having to-do items split onto separate days like a calendar.  We only look at the to-do items we will be actively working on today and place other to-do items on subsequent days.  Each day, any incomplete to-do items would move to the next day’s list.  This concept allows us to create a workable method of moving emails and reminders for future events to the date on which they need to be addressed and solves the problem of keeping track of to-do items that might be weeks or even months away.  Hurst’s tool is also set up with an almost infinite series of email address variations so that emails can be forwarded to the correct to-do list date.  This can be accomplished by duration (ie, send an email to the to-do list one week later) or date.  It is a slick method that is intuitively appealing to me.  The only other application (or combination of applications) that I am aware of at the moment that comes close is Microsoft OneNote in conjunction with the Microsoft Outlook calendar. Outlook has the capability of linking with OneNote pages and thus could be used to link more detailed to-items in a method similar to Hurst’s method.  The catch is that a large subset of the population doesn’t use Outlook as their calendar, and my place of work falls within that subset.

But Bit Literacy does talk about more than just to-do lists.  Hurst also addresses the information overload from all types of media today.  The reality is that no one can keep up with the pace of the information bombarding us each day.  There should be no guilt involved with this realization; rather, the goal is to identify a small subset of sources that we consider essential to being informed.  There can be work sources, sources informing your hobbies and personal life and sources that are consulted on a less frequent basis.  The key is carefully considering and then deliberately choosing which sources we allow onto our list, and keeping the “stars” (sources we regularly read cover-to-cover) a very small, elite list.

The author next discusses methods of organizing and handling photos.  The goal is to collect photos in one place, keep only the very best photos that are taken, and organize them in a way that will be easy to retrieve, to share and to enjoy.  Scrapbook aficionados  will resonate with his ruthless discard of multiple shots, keeping only the very best photos of a given event or subject.  While I like his ideas of take a lot of photos, keep only a few – the best- I personally find his organization scheme (by year photo taken, then by month) to be unwieldy.  I would personally  never find my photos again if I had to remember the year I took them.  While this does make sense as metadata to capture (to identify how old the subjects were, when that vacation happened), organization by topic makes more sense as the high-level sort for me.

I have not covered all the topics that Hurst addresses in his book.  He has chapters devoted to file management, management of items you create, etc.  I have only hit the highlights.  Do I recommend his book?  I found it to be very readable, and as I indicated at the start of this post, an ebook version is currently free on Kindle and Apple’s iBookstore.  I have hit what I considered to be the highlights here.  The major take-away for me is his method for handling to-items.  I’m not ready to invest in his Good ToDo app yet, but I will continue to ruminate on his concepts and framework as I consider my current systems and how I might improve them.

Year for Productivity; Session 6: Calendars – As Old as Time, as New as Tomorrow

year_productivity_graphic_6 Now that we are past the Mayan Calendar scare of 2012, we can talk about the use of calendars in productivity without looking at the date and wondering when the world will end. The problem is that writers on productivity are divided into two camps as dogmatic as “You got chocolate in my peanut butter” vs. “You got peanut butter in my chocolate”. The first camp argues that your calendar should only be used for events that have a specific time associated with them:

Out came a rule that fit those times, and it’s embedded in today’s productivity books: “Only put appointments with other people in your calendar.” (Its corollary is: “don’t put anything else in your calendar.”) Some have modified this to say that you should only put major commitments that “must” happen on a particular day and time in your calendar. (The weak definition of “must” makes the rule a hazy one.)

(Wade, Evolution of the Calendar). The other camp argues that you should schedule everything that you need to devote time to, including scheduling time for creative, brain-intensive work, time you are available for meetings, etc. (see, for example, the Feltner post).

In MPOW (My Place of Work) we use Zimbra, a web-based software that combines calendars and email. Calendars can be shared among users of the system if all parties agree to the share, which makes it easier to schedule meetings. It is fascinating to look at and compare how people use their calendars. One of my colleagues who is particularly busy and organized, schedules time to work on specific projects among all the meetings she attends. Other people people looking at her calendar have a hard time figuring it out, since there are 2-4 items on her calendar for every time period. However, since she accomplishes so much, it works well for her. I have fewer events I’m required to attend, so I only mark those on my calendar and use the unscheduled time for working on the projects in hand.

Sometimes you have had an idea percolating in your head for some time, at an almost-but-not-quite conscious level. Then you read or hear someone express that idea so eloquently that it bursts into your consciousness like a thunderbolt. That happened to me the other day while reading Francis Wade’s “8 Edgy Ideas from Time Management 2.0“. He refers to Time Management 1.0 as static systems some productivity guru has devised and expects readers to follow step-by-step, year by year, forever after. What he calls Time Management 2.0 is a dynamic system wherein each person takes the skills most useful, uses them, and updates his or her system with new techniques as needed to improve the system or take into account new circumstances. I think most all of us do so, but either don’t articulate it to ourselves or feel guilty that we aren’t, for example, following every single GTD step. So that is what my colleague and I are doing – we each use our calendars in the way that works for us. What’s important is to take some time to read about other people’s techniques and adapt what seems useful. In other words, ideally one should be open to ideas for improving productivity but not get locked into just one system. Instead, adopt a methodology that is flexible, fits the way you work, and is updated as new techniques or life changes may suggest.

Now that we’ve had that refreshing digression, back to how to best use your calendar. The practice of setting up appointments with yourself for working on projects is called time blocking. As already mentioned, some people are for it, and some are against it. Maura Thomas, in Personal Productivity Secrets, approaches it sensibly. She has three rules: (1) Don’t time block too far in advance, as schedules change often; (2) use it selectively for the most important things; and (3) don’t make your time blocks too long. (Thomas, p. 158). A recent New York Times article (Schwartz) discussed research about natural work cycles. It arose out of sleep research that showed that people cycle through the different depths of sleep approximately every ninety minutes. So researchers then looked to see if a similar cycle applied to time awake, and found that it did. People are most able to pay attention for ninety minutes and then need a break. So if you do time block, it makes sense to do so in ninety minute intervals.

A couple of the readings mention an interesting productivity tip using calendars known as either Jerry Seinfeld’s Productivity Secret or Don’t Break the Chain. It involves deciding on a few goals that you’ve had difficulty achieving. Set aside a specific amount of time to work on them. As you get that done, put a red X on your calendar for every day you work on that goal – and don’t break the chain, i.e., work on it every day. (see Isaac and Dachis). Dachis, for example, set aside 15 minutes a day for each of three goals, and found himself accomplishing a remarkable amount in that time. This is a version of the Pomodoro technique, though he doesn’t call it that, combined with marking progress on a calendar.

The best way to be productive using calendars may be to take something from all of these ideas, in a way that works best for you. Combine time blocking, Pomodoro, Don’t Break the Chain, and the ninety minute energy cycle. Block off ninety minutes each day to work on your top three goals. Work on each for thirty minutes. At the end of the ninety minutes, put a big red X on your calendar and then take a break. Get up, walk around, don’t look at your computer for ten minutes or so. Lets call it the Modified Don’t Break the Chain technique.   My co-blogger Crystal reminded me that our calendar system Zimbra allows us to mark an appointment as either free or busy. If you are in a job that requires you to be highly responsive to the needs of colleagues or your users, you might want to mark your time blocks as free, if the calendar you use has a similar function.

Those of you who decide to try one of the methods discussed here, please add your comments as to how well it worked, or if you use another technique that works for you please share comments on that as well.

For Further Exploration and Insight:

(1)  Try the modified Don’t Break the Chain Technique for a week.

(2)  Write in a comment how well it worked for you.

Selected Readings:

Allen, D. (2001). Getting things done: The art of stress-free productivity. New York: Viking.  Section on calendars and the tickle file is p. 136-139.

Dachis, A.  “How Seinfeld’s Productivity Secret Fixed My Procrastiantion Problam“.  Feb. 20th, 2012,

Doodle – great online site for scheduling meetings.

Feltner, J.  “Use a Calendar and a Schedule to Improve Productivity and Reduce Stress“.  June 14, 2012,

Isaac, B.  “Jerry Seinfeld’s Productivity Secret“.  July 24, 2007.

Schwartz, T.  “Relax!  You’ll Be More Productive“.  New York Times, Feb. 9, 2013.

Smith, C.M.  “7 Ways You Shouldn’t Be Using Your Calendar“.  June 22, 2011.

Thomas, M. (2012). Personal Productivity Secrets: Do what you never thought possible with your time and attention … and regain control of your life. Indianapolis, IN: John Wiley.  Discussion of calendars is on p. 155-158. – Calendar page.  Includes printable calendars of various sorts.

Vardy, M.  “How to Use a Calendar to Create Time and Space“.  March 7, 2012.

Wade, F.  “The Evolution of the Calendar:  How to Use a Calendar Today“. September 21, 2012.

Wade, F.  “8 Edgy Ideas from Time Management 2.0.”  Special report available from

Wax, D.  “Back to Basics:  Your Calendar“.  July 18th, 2008.