# Category Archives: Profhacks

February 6, 2010, 7:26 am

# Handling the opening moments of a course

Classes started for us this week. It’s gotten me thinking about what profs do on the first day of class and their overall concepts for how to approach the first few days of a class, where students form those crucial first impressions about the course and the instructor. Here’s my overall approach:

• I prefer a quick, energetic launch directly into the course material. I spend maybe the first 7-10 minutes on course structure. Then we start right into the course content through a lecture/activity combination.
• To help with the first point, I will often create screencasts for some of the course management stuff (like this screencast for how to navigate Moodle) and email students the links to these, often before the first class meets.
• I do not go in for icebreakers, get-to-know-you activities, exercises intended to discover students Myers-Briggs types or learning styles, or any of that. Not…

January 13, 2010, 7:30 am

# Daily routines

John Cook shared this interesting article on Twitter the other day. It lists 25 great thinkers and their daily rituals. This got me thinking about my daily routine, the little rituals that I observe, and how the rhythms of a routine help me find balance, stability, and productivity in my life and work. I’ve seen the value of a routine through my kids (ages 6, 4, and 1), who early on needed routines to help them learn day from night and know when to eat and nap, and who still need to stick to a routine or else become incorrigible.

While having three kids this young makes routines and rituals more a matter of probability than anything and routines hard to follow, there are a few rituals I like to keep around no matter what happens:

• I get up at 5:00, and from 5:30-6:15 I do Matins from the Treasury of Daily Prayer, eat breakfast, and get all the stuff the kids need for school that day as…

January 1, 2010, 6:00 am

# Ten rules for financing a transition to academia (Rerun/bumped)

This post is a rerun from December 2008, which was itself a re-posting from an article I wrote for the Young Mathematicians’ Network. If you’re headed to the Joint Mathematics Meetings this month to interview for academic positions, or if you’re one of the lucky ones who have already lined up a job for next year, or if you just want some ideas for New Year’s resolutions about money management, maybe this will fit the bill. Enjoy, and Happy New Year.

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Right now, if you are on the job market, you are thinking of two, maybe three things. The top attention-getter, if you’re in graduate school, is getting your thesis done. Next down the list, you’re probably wondering what all those search committees are thinking, particularly what they are thinking of you and where they put you in the pack of applicants for their positions. And third, you might be thinking about the

October 3, 2008, 7:46 pm

# Back to Jott

After trying either to live without Jott or to use an alternative speech-to-text service like reQall (which seemed very unwieldy to me), I finally decided to go back and give the new, for-profit version of Jott a spin. And actually, it’s fine.

The service is still the same — you call 866-JOTT-123 and leave a message, and Jott transcribes it to text — and it appears to work just as well as it used to (which isn’t always so great, depending on the signal strength and your enunciation skills). What made Jott the killer app for me, before it went out of beta, was that the text transcription of voice messages was sent directly to GMail. (Or your choice of several other links.) Some of the links from Jott to the rest of the web are still free (such as Twitter) but the others, particularly all the Google apps, are “premium links” which you can have for $3.95 a month. Having to go to a web… September 29, 2008, 6:20 am # Monday GTD moment: Scholarship and GTD This is the third installment of Monday GTD Moment, where I take a post to blog about Getting Things Done and how it applies in an academic setting. If you’re unfamiliar with GTD, here’s a good overview, and make sure to read David Allen’s book that started it all. Last week I wrote about grading and GTD. I noted that grading is kind of a poor fit in traditional GTD. A prof can grade anywhere, so the idea of contexts fits awkwardly; and grading “tasks” are usually projects, although we think of them as tasks and although the next actions contained in those projects are usually nothing more than smaller projects. GTD wasn’t really made for the academic profession, and so the staple activities of academics don’t often fit well. Another area similar to grading in its relatively poor fit within the canonical GTD philosophy is research, or more generally scholarship. By “scholarship” … September 22, 2008, 6:32 am # Monday GTD moment: Handling grading in GTD This is the second installment of Monday GTD Moment, where I take a post to blog about Getting Things Done and how it applies in an academic setting. Here’s the first post. If you’re unfamiliar with GTD, here’s a good overview, and make sure to read David Allen’s book that started it all. It’s week 5 of the semester for us, which is crunch time for students — and professors. This is the time of the semester when everybody has tests and papers all due, usually on the same day, which means there’s lots of grading. I don’t like grading, but it has to be done. And if I treat grading lightly or let it pile up, I will make mistakes when I grade and students won’t get the feedback they need to improve in a timely way. As an academic type, grading is one of the most important, difficult, and time-consuming features of my job and therefore requires careful management. But it doesn’t fit… September 15, 2008, 5:24 am # Monday GTD moment: The tickler file circa 1888 This is the first of what will hopefully turn into a weekly feature here at Casting Out Nines — a Monday morning post on workflow/task management in general and GTD in particular. Hopefully a GTD post will get everyone out there motivated to manage our time and work better through the week. The tickler file is one of the more memorable characters in David Allen’s Getting Things Done. It consists of 43 different folders — twleve of them labeled by month and the rest labelled 1-31 for the day — which you use as a system for physical items from your inbox that you choose to defer to a later date. The tickler file is set up with the current day up front and then subsequent days behind; the months are at the back, next month first. If you have an item from the physical inbox you are deferring to a later date, just chuck it in the appropriate folder, and — this is what makes it work –… August 20, 2008, 2:23 pm # Farewell, Jott, I hardly knew ye Jott, the voice-to-text program I have blogged about a couple of times, has come out of “beta” (you mean Web 2.0 apps can be something other than “beta”?) and, sadly, is no longer a free service. (You mean Web 2.0 apps aren’t always free?) There will be a “Jott Basic” plan that will remain free, but all it allows you to do is leave voice messages to the online “Jott desktop”; it does not include the feature that made Jott so addictive useful, namely the ability to have voice messages transcribed and sent directly to your email account, Google Calendar, Twitter, or other supported services. For that, you have to pay$3.95 a month for the regular plan or \$12.95 for the “Pro” plan. Also, the basic plan includes ads.

I can’t begrudge Jott for wanting to have some kind of a revenue stream, but I have to say that I am very disappointed in this move, and I won’t be using Jott from here on out….

August 18, 2008, 9:01 pm

# Teddy Roosevelt's to-do list

I’ve just finished reading Edmund Morris’ splendid biography The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt. I can’t remember how I got interested in this book, but I came away from it greatly appreciative of Roosevelt not only as a great President but as a man whose capacity for both thinking and doing were almost superhuman. Although some aspects of his life seem questionable to me (there’s a distinct subordination of his family life to his career, for instance), I do admire his voracity of mind, his passion for public service and for doing what’s right, and the sheer force of his personality in getting things done.

Here’s one snippet from the book that really stood out to me. Shortly after Roosevelt was nominated for the Vice-Presidency in 1900 (the previous Vice-President, Garret Hobart, having died suddenly the previous year), he went out on the campaign trail for William McKinley. His schedule…

August 8, 2008, 4:19 pm

# Tao on time management

Update: Welcome, readers from Terry Tao’s blog. I invite you to browse, starting with the Top 12 Posts retrospective page. I’ve got more articles on math and on time/task management if you want them.

Have you ever wondered how a Fields Medalist does time management? Terry Tao is happy to oblige. It’s not your standard GTD-esque post, as Terry discusses some of the pecuilarities of managing time when practicing a subject so unpredictable as mathematics, where long periods of going nowhere punctuated by massive flashes of insight wreak havoc on calendars and to-do lists.

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