May 9, 2012

Planner 101

This may be least helpful time of the year to write about planners, but I am anticipating my new 2012-2013 Quo Vadis Academic Minister planner. [See example above.] I love this time of year in a geeky, detail-oriented way. New planner time is all about being able to put things in order when it seems possible. From a distance of a few months, my planner always looks very organized and reasonable. Of course, by the time we're a week out it is a mess of information, things I need to complete, big deadlines, crossed out meetings and rescheduled meetings.

Prior to graduate school, I didn't actually think much of planners. As it turns out, if you don't use them well, they don't work. By my second year of grad school, I needed to schedule practicum clients and balance my academic work to really start to appreciate using a planner. In college, I used one of the weekly "block" style planners. [See example below.]

The problem with the block planner is that if you have anything else other than a few assignment deadlines a week it gets really hard to read efficiently. Also, most don't have that many hours listed. The Quo Vadis one that I use goes from 8am to 9pm vertically with hash marks for every 15 minutes. What I like about the vertical alignment of the days is that I can get a good rough estimate of time between meetings just by looking. You can see the gaps. This was especially important when I needed to factor clients, paperwork, and travel time between clinic offices. Also, I learned that it is very important to put in a lunch time and breaks or make sure you have time to run home, walk the dog, and have a meal before your evening classes.

By the way, I couldn't trade a paper planner for an electronic one. Between the expense (and my propensity for breaking and/or losing things) and the easy mindless habit of being constantly attached to electronics, I'll stick with paper. I like the feel. I can cross stuff out, bend the pages, tape in important notes or business cards, and tuck paperwork in the edge of the cover. I can spill coffee on it and flip through it to see earlier weeks. It gets messy and documents the fluctuation of demands throughout the term. Sometimes there are editorials in the margins or doodle from interminable meetings. Paper feels more real and is less likely to be defeated by me dropping it in a puddle.

 Regardless of what planner you choose, here are some important things to remember:

 1) If you don't use it, it is guaranteed to NOT work. Using it involves writing things in it (assignments, deadlines, meetings, plans, etc.) and reviewing the planner daily both for what you need to do today, but also later in the week and maybe next week. You must carry the planner with you or be really diligent about making sure you update it in the evening when you get home and review the planner before you leave. Making this a habit is the goal. Keys, wallet, phone, planner.

2) If you are a student, take your syllabi during the first week of class and write in all the due dates for assignments. Write in the other important dates: school holidays, student club meetings, exam week, drop/add deadlines or withdrawal dates. Get in the habit of writing in your job shifts, even if you can remember them without writing them in. You're building a habit. Also write in any doctor's appts or other non-work/non-school appts. Write in weekends away with friends. Heck, highlight and star vacations that you are excited about.

3) Like your planner. Pick one you like and will enjoy whether it is high tech or something that gives you a chance to use multi-colored gel pens. Put stickers on it. Put pictures of your dog or cat or kids in it.

4) Mark time passing (though this may be specific to the paper planners). Have some habit of marking time. The Quo Vadis kind have a perforated lower right hand corner, so that at the end of the week you can tear off the corner and flip to the next week. You can cross off days on the full year calendar at the front or just cross them off by day. Again, it makes you realize deadlines are approaching and gives you something to do that will help make going to your planner regularly a habit.

May 6, 2012

Best Gift For the End of The Term

Last Thursday in a three hour Abnormal Psychology class two things happened that made my day. Before I explain the two things, let me give you some context. It is April. Everyone's ass is dragging. The students' and the teachers'. We're all a bit fried and distracted. It is nice outside. We have one more week of the school year after this week. The three hour class is from 5:30 pm - 8:20 pm. The last hour of which is always painful.

And yet, I came prepared with a slideshow to cover the highlights of the reading and to prompt discussion and pretty much didn't need it. I opened class by soliciting comments on the reading and off we went. Quite a few students pitched in and covered just about all the important parts of the chapter that I planned to cover. They also took the ideas to new places and connected it with material that we read previously. It is one of those moments that the teacher just needs to hang on... One that I don't think I can adequately express how cool it is to students. Did they think that night's class was cool too? Was it different for them?

The second thing: When we broke into our two paper project groups, we separated into two rooms that are across from one another. Since it was late and there weren't any other classes in the building, I could stand in the hall out of sight of both groups and listen. Ease drop. [It is good to maintain my skills that I developed as a dorm parent in a middle school dorm back in the day. Although I was accused of needing a bell so that I couldn't sneak up on them.] I happily listened to productive conversations. No one or two group members dominated the conversation. People critiqued and added to each others ideas. They tested their order of ideas. They found greater and greater complexity in the topic and had to balance recognizing that with the finite task at hand. [Again for context: One group was working on a position paper on the proposal to eliminate the bereavement exclusion from the depression diagnoses in DSM5 and the other group was working on a paper responding to the creation and use of the pediatric bipolar diagnosis. Real current professional controversies.]

And I know that no amount of preparation on the students' part or my part will guarantee a night like that, nor will starting a class less prepared than I would like guarantee that this sort of experience won't come together. I don't need to reference alignment of stars or anything else to give me a predictable narrative. I'm willing to except that somethings things just work out. It is a major gift at the end of Spring Term. One I'll gladly accept graciously.

It just makes our graduating seniors' departure in a few weeks all the more bittersweet.