Friday, June 6, 2014

My 7 Must Have Productivity Apps

I received a new MacBook Air as part of my job today. When I set it up I noticed that there were a few productivity apps that I had to install right away, just to help me stay organized with all that I have to do at several schools, plus participating in many district wide training opportunities. These job responsibilities will require me to be more organized than I ever was before.

When I set it up my new laptop, I noticed that there were a few productivity apps that I had to install right away, just to help feel like all the information I need was right at my fingertips. So here they are,  my seven go to apps that I can't live without, plus two browser extensions that I absolutely love.


All right, so I cheated on this first one. It's not really an app and I simply logged into my iCloud account as I set up the laptop, but I really, really can't live without it. I've bought into the Apple ecosystem and absolutely love it. I have two laptops, an iPhone, and iPad, and a Mac Mini. iCloud lets me have my calendar, contacts, and Safari bookmarks everywhere I go. I add an event on one device and it shows up on all the others. It just works and it just keeps me organized.


I am a HUGE fan of the Get Things Done (GTD) method of productivity by David Allen. I read his book and practice his methods. The app that I use for keeping my tasks organized is OmniFocus. It follows the GTD methodology and helps me keep all of my tasks organized. I can capture my thoughts and tasks, organize them by context and by project, and review them as needed to make sure I'm getting done whatever has been dumped on my plate. I also have the app on my iPhone and my iPad. They all sync together seamlessly, so no matter where I'm at I can quickly capture what needs to be done and make sure I stay focused and on task.


Of course I need to access my email every day. My district uses FirstClass for email, calendaring, and collaboration. Since that is the backbone of communication within the district, of course it has to be near the top of my list of productivity apps!


I haven't yet moved all of my documents to Dropbox. Too many of them still reside on the laptop I primarily use for work. I realized that as my work load expands to include multiple sites and multiple devices, that perhaps my documents shouldn't be confined to a single device. One of my mini-goals for my new position is to make my documents and information accessible where ever I need them, which means I'll be making more use of Dropbox.


I know that I'm not using Evernote to it's fullest potential. But so far it's been invaluable for keeping information organized and at my fingertips. I use it mostly to categorize websites for different topics and tech integration ideas. I love that it has a Safari extension called Web Clipper that I can use to quickly and easily add content to my notebooks.  I've also started using it for online journals for professional development classes. At some point I hope to start using it to capture other information such as meeting notes.


In today's digital world it seems like we all have a bajillion accounts scattered all across the internet. And each one has it's own rules for passwords - must have a number, only 6-8 characters long, a capital letter, a lower case letter, etc. To make my login life easy I use 1Password to keep track of all those usernames and passwords. Then with a click of a button I'm automatically logged in to the website without ever knowing what my username and password are. It also stores my banking information and school alarm code!

Microsoft Office

Microsoft Word isn't my favorite app. In fact, I'm usually muttering under my breath every time I have to use it. I prefer Apple's Pages and find it much easier to use and get things done with. However, my district is heavily invested in the Microsoft ecosystem, so to make it easy to share documents with many individuals around the district, I have the Microsoft Office for Mac 2011installed.

Except for Microsoft Office, all of these apps have equivalents that I can use on my iPhone and iPad. All of them sync across all my devices, enabling me to have all my information with me no matter what device I'm on or where I'm at.

Bonus Apps

These two bonus apps don't really help with my productivity as much as they help me from getting irritated with the internet. And they aren't apps either, but are actually browser extensions I use with Safari.


I hate Flash videos, Flash ads, Flash games, and pretty much any Flash element on web pages. The Flash elements never seem to work right, the fans on my computers are always spinning up when I'm on a web page that uses Flash, I can't download Flash videos, and the browsers are always crashing when Flash is involved. So I installed ClicktoFlash Safari extension to block all Flash content. I have to manually click the Flash element if it's something that I want to access. I save battery life on my portables and my browser rarely crashes anymore! A bonus benefit is that for Flash video it substitutes an HTML video player that allows me to download video content.


Besides Flash, the next thing I hate on the Internet are all the ads. Usually they are obnoxious and have nothing to do with what I'm looking for. I never click on them and they can sometimes be confused with the actual content on the page. I installed AdBlock which blocks the ads from even being downloaded to my computer. Not only does it block the ads, but I know that my surfing and spending habits aren't being tracked and targeted, plus it also blocks those annoying ads at the beginning of YouTube videos.

I know everyone's productivity habits are different and how you use your computer is different as well. This just gives you an idea of those apps I have found indispensable for keeping myself organized. I'd love to hear about other apps that might help as well. Share what you use in the comments!
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Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Reflection: My Reading Door

Today was the last day of school with students, so I took down my reading door. It was a nice walk down memory lane, briefly reliving each book as I looked at the cover. My goal with the door was to have book conversations with students, to get them excited about books and sharing what they read. It turned out to be a wonderful experience!
My reading door in August

My office is at the end of the 5th grade hallway, so not many classes passed by it each day. It still elicited many comments and conversations with students and staff alike. There were lots of excited whispers when students walked by and saw I put up World War Z on my Want to Read list. 

The entire fifth grade read Esperanza Rising. When I got my own copy I added it to my Currently Reading list and they just had to tell me about their favorite parts. My school participates in Battle of the Books and I decided I wanted to read those books to see what all the fuss was about. When one of the boys saw all 6 books on my Want to Read list he brought his personal copies of three of the titles so I could read them. I work with a group of nine students to broadcast our morning announcements. Several of those students are avid readers and recommended new series with such passion that I had to add them to my To Read list.

At the end of the school year

I had many wonderful conversations with staff members as well. The teacher across the hall from my office seemed to have similar tastes in books so we chatted often about a series we both enjoyed. I talked her in to finishing a series she had started, she lent me copies of another she thought I'd enjoy. We both talked about our love for certain books and how we couldn't put them down. I had some staff members email book recommendations to me. And of course the school librarian acted as my dealer, constantly feeding and encouraging my reading addiction.

Being public with my reading was a great motivator for me as well. I was excited to add new books to the lists on my door. If I took too long with a book or couldn't find the time, I would get worried that the students would think I wasn't reading anymore. I would make more time to read so I could finish the books!

Was my reading door successful? I would say yes! I was able to finish over 40 books, not counting all the picture books that I read. This was more reading than I've done in a very long time. The only thing I would change would be to move my office to a more central location so more students from different grade levels could be involved with the conversations.

The best thing about this whole experience? My Want to Read list now has over 120 books on it, more than half from recommendations from students, teachers, and my PLN! That should keep me busy this summer!
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