A new year brings a renewed resolve to really get things done. As graduate students, finding strategies to improve productivity are worth their weight in gold. While there are countless mobile and web applications that can improve one’s workflow, I thought I would highlight a few here that have helped my workflow in my three main “resolution” areas: teaching; research and writing; and staying healthy.
One of the most difficult aspects of teaching online for me is how to assist my students with the workflow. It’s easy to forget to check the website and my students, who are mostly working full-time while pursuing their Masters degree, don’t always check their university email accounts on a regular basis.
Two great services that work for both face-to-face and online students help solve this dilemma. The first is our old favorite: Google Calendar. My University is a Google Apps for Education school which means we are provided the Google Apps through our University emails. Google Calendar not only is a good way to share a calendar with students, but they can also subscribe to the calendar (which I make public) on any of their accounts, as well as set up both email and SMS notifications. I set up all of my own deadlines with SMS reminders both a week and a day before they are due. These text message nudges remind me of what I need to accomplish well before I forget. Finally, Google Calendar has Appointment slots, which has made scheduling synchronous meetings a whole lot easier.
Another great service is Remind101. Remind101 allows for instructors to group text message students as well as for students to text the instructor. What is useful about Remind101 is that the instructor does not keep track of students’ numbers (or vice versa): the actual phone numbers are not even shared between the two groups. Rather the website facilitates the messaging, keeping all the numbers private. As an instructor you can also schedule reminders about due dates ahead of time and the messages then go out when it is most useful in assisting students to meet whatever deadline has been set. Students can also sign up for email reminders instead if SMS rates are of concern.
Research and Writing
The Gradhacker writers love to write, so we’ve had a number of excellent posts about Distraction Free Writing Tools, Going Paperless, and Surviving the Lit Review. To add to this, I wanted to point our readers again to Evernote. The Evernote application is both web-based and available on smartphones and tablets. Evernote is one giant brain to organize pictures, text, websites and more. As a teacher, sharing a notebook of readings is a breeze. As a student, Evernote can help keep track of readings, ideas, and other bits of information for a particular project, topic, or paper. The Evernote blog is an endless treasure-trove of ideas about how to better get things done with the application and my resolution is to use the functionality of this multipurpose app to its full potential.
Writing and keeping track of content can also be an issue when engaging with various web services, from Facebook to Twitter to Flicker to Evernote–it can be overwhelming to manage the flow information in these spaces. ifttt is a web-based service that is based on the simple idea of “if this, then that.” ifttt is a community of users who submit “recipes” to the site which users can then enable for their own workflow. For instance, I use Twitter’s “favorite” function to flag links I want to return to. Using an ifttt recipe, all of those favorited tweets are then saved in my Evernote account for further reading, archiving, or deleting.
Health and Wellness
The Holiday Season of 2011 found me channeling my inner Donna Reid and baking like a mad fiend. I used 15 pounds of flour, I don’t even know how much sugar, and 5 pounds of butter in a few weeks. Needless to say, come New Years, my diet needed some attending to. I also read a very depressing article about sodium, so I wanted to start tracking my sodium intake as well. Lose It! is a free web-based service that also has a smartphone app to support tracking one’s caloric intake as well as any additional nutrients one is interested in tracking. Using my iPhone’s camera, I can scan the barcode of something I am eating and it automatically updates to my daily log. I can also enter recipes or use the huge database to search for nutritional information on what I am eating. The site helps me set goals and also tracks physical activity as well. While others don’t see my actual weight, my friends can track my progress (pounds lost or gained), which helps with accountability. I do think that I wouldn’t get as much out of the service without having it on my phone, but it is a nice way to get back on the healthy living track with friends.
Another great application for measuring fitness goals is RunKeeper. RunKeeper has mutiple smartphone applications and will use your phone’s GPS functionality to track routes, time, and speed. Manual entry for gym equipment is also available. Runkeeper syncs with social media sites which allows you to tweet or facebook update your activities. I like that Runkeeper allows me to set up “training teams” to help keep me on track, and my favorite feature is that it emails me whenever I break my own records for distances or speed.
What are your favorite apps for productivity? We’d love to hear from you in the comments!
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