Guest post: How I work by Lucy Cragg

In my previous post for the ‘How I work’ meme I named my sister, Lucy Cragg, as the person I would most like to see answer the set of questions about working habits. She didn’t take much persuading, but needed somewhere to share her answers. The logical response to this was to offer up a guest post spot on my blog. And without further ado, here it is:

Location: Nottingham, or more specifically Beeston, East Midlands.

Current gig: Psychology lecturer at the University of Nottingham.

Current mobile device: Samsung Galaxy SIII mini and iPad2.

Current computer: iMac at work, MacBook Air and old desktop PC at home.

One word that best describes how you work: Intensely.

What apps/software/tools can€™t you live without: I don€™t know how I€™d work now without Dropbox. It makes working on the same document from multiple machines/locations trivial and allows me to easily share files with collaborators and students.

What€™s your workspace like? I€™m lucky to have my own office which I try to keep reasonably tidy. I inevitably end up with various piles of papers on my desk but make sure there€™s always some clear space.

What€™s your best time-saving trick? I€™m not sure about time-saving but my best productivity trick is to try and dedicate mornings (when I€™m most productive) to research and arrange all my meetings for the afternoons. I check my email first thing and then turn it off until lunchtime so I don€™t get distracted. I find this works better than devoting whole days to specific tasks.

What€™s your favourite to-do list manager? I sometimes use Evernote for a to-do list but in the office I have an €˜information central€™ mouse mat by the fabulous knock knock. In one section I put my morning €˜research€™ jobs, another contains afternoon teaching/admin jobs and the third is a list of emails that I need to send (if I remember a message I need to send when my email is turned off I can jot it down here). I also have a calendar print-out on which I will roughly plan out my week with any meetings/seminars first and then fill in the gaps with morning and afternoon jobs. I find this gives me deadlines to work towards for things like writing papers and also stops me doing small but non-urgent jobs just to get them out of the way as I know I€™ve allocated them time at some point in the week.

Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can€™t you live without? I€™ve found my iPad much more useful than I thought I would, especially since Emma introduced me to the Bamboo stylus and Upad app. I also think it€™s important to have time away from gadgets though. In our house we have a 9pm curfew when iPads and laptops have to be put away.

What everyday thing are you better at than anyone else? I€™m quite good at knowing what I€™ve got on, at work and socially, over a good few weeks without referring to my calendar.

What are you currently reading? I usually only read novels on holiday as once I get into a book I can€™t put it down and don€™t get anything else done. The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng is top of the pile for my next holiday.

What do you listen to whilst you work? I usually only listen to music when I€™m analysing data or writing papers. The music I listen to at work tends to differ from what I listen to outside work as it has to be something I can€™t sing along to €“ so usually classical or jazz (baroque tag on is my current favourite).

Are you more of an introvert or an extrovert? An introvert €“ I don€™t like being the centre of attention. Having said that, I have no problem standing up in front of lots of people to give a lecture or conference talk.

What€™s your sleep routine like? During the week I€™m usually in bed by 11 and up around 6:30. I always fall asleep easily but often wake up very early when I€™ve got a lot on my mind.

Fill in the blank: I€™d love to see __________ answer these same questions. There are a number of contenders for this. I have a friend who€™s studying graduate entry medicine and I€™m intrigued how she learns everything she needs to know for exams, however I€™m going to pick David Clarke who€™s a professor in my department. He always seems the epitome of organisation and I€™d like to know how he managed to fit everything in when he was head of department.

What€™s the best advice you€™ve ever received? The advice about devoting mornings to research, which really has revolutionised my approach to work, came from my friend and colleague Camilla Gilmore. I was also reading a blog post by Radhika Nagpal recently with advice for dealing with academic life. One of her tactics was to have a quota for non-teaching/research things like reviewing papers, one of those extra jobs that academics are expected to do. This is something I find it hard to say no to and often end up doing at evenings or weekends so I€™m going to try the quota approach from now on.

Is there anything else you€™d like to add? Nope, I have to stop now, it€™s nearly 9pm!

How I work

Last month there was a post on Lifehacker that encouraged people to share the details of how they work. With it they provided a set of questions to follow and I’ve seen quite a few people blogging their responses. The latest was from Jo Alcock and in it she named me as the person she would most like to see share their working habits. I had identified this as something I would blog about eventually, and now there’s really no excuse…

Location: The beautiful North East of England. Living in Newcastle, working in Durham.

Current gig: Learning Resources Designer in the Centre for Global Learning and Executive Education at Durham University Business School.

Current mobile device: iPhone 4 and iPad2.

Current computer: Windows 7 PC at work and a little used iMac running Snow Leopard at home.

One word that best describes how you work: Systematically.

What apps/software/tools can€™t you live without: Evernote. The UPad iPad app and my Bamboo Stylus. The humble pen and paper, for as much as I would like to think I can go paperless there are some things I just need to scribble on a scrap of paper.

What€™s your workspace like? Tidy. If my desk is messy I find it affects my ability to think. I would thrive in an office with a clear desk policy!

What€™s your best time-saving trick? Chunking. The first thing I do when I start work is mentally chunk up my day. I intersperse the more meaty tasks with quick wins and often include clear break points like making a cup of tea, or stopping for lunch. The chunks aren’t necessarily time-bound, as in ‘I’ll spend an hour on this’, it’s more a process of lining up a schedule of activities. I’m not sure it’s a specifically a time-saving trick but I find it helps my productivity and therefore I guess in the long-run saves time.

What€™s your favourite to-do list manager? I don’t get on with to-do lists, digitally anyway. I’ve tried numerous apps and none has stuck. The latest I’ve tried, and really want to work is Weave, but a few days in and I’m back to scribbling notes on scrap paper.

Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can€™t you live without? Definitely my iPad. It’s rarely more than an arms length away from me. Although I have just realised that there’s nothing I do on there that couldn’t be done on another device (fixed or mobile) as it’s all web based. It’s clearly all about the flexibility it offers.

What everyday thing are you better at than anyone else? This is a tough one. I’m going to go for keeping calm which is based on what former colleagues have observed in my approach to work. Something I know about myself, and I’m sure it’s true of others, is that if you’re stressed or rushing around it’s difficult to focus and you often end up either wasting time or getting things wrong. It’s far more useful to just stop and re-group before attempting to tackle what’s challenging you.

What are you currently reading? Professionally I’m reading a lot broadly about instructional design and online learning, having just moved jobs from the library to learning resources. Then socially, I am currently between books. I’ve just finished Black Swan Green by David Mitchell. What I go on to next is between two books I’ve borrowed from my Dad, either The Fear Index by Robert Harris or Pat Barker’s latest, Toby’s Room.

What do you listen to whilst you work? I mostly listen to radio. I pick a different station dependent on my mood. If you don’t know how it works, you pick an artist and get a radio station based on their music. Top picks currently are Of Monsters and Men, Brandi Carlile or for a bit of nostalgia, Longpigs. I do a lot of video editing as part of my job so the music fills the gaps between this.

Are you more of an introvert or an extrovert? Introvert. Definitely.

What€™s your sleep routine like? Once I’m asleep I’m fine, but getting to that point is difficult. I blame my lack of discipline and an addiction to Netflix.

Fill in the blank: I€™d love to see __________ answer these same questions. I’m going to pick my sister, Lucy Cragg. She’s an academic and I’m really interested in how on earth you establish any kind of routine or working pattern in such a diverse role. She’s also very methodical and I’m sure she’s got some great processes that she follows.

What€™s the best advice you€™ve ever received? This isn’t so much advice as a productivity tip, and that’s the five-minute rule. Basically, if you’ve got a task to do and it will take you five minutes or less, do it there and then. If you put it off and add it to your to-do list it will seem like a much bigger task and you’re likely to keep avoiding just getting on and doing it. I use this rule at home as much as I do at work.

Is there anything else you€™d like to add? Um no, I don’t think so.

Visual note-taking

I was asked recently on Twitter if this picture of my notes from Steve Wheeler’s keynote at LILAC 2013 could be used in a student skills session as an example of good note-taking:

learning 2.0 by ekcragg, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License  by  ekcragg 

I was delighted, and of course said yes. The request made me think whether I’d ever written anything on this blog about my visual note-taking. A quick search brought up this post from 2011, in which I wrote about a new approach to note-taking that I wanted to try. Given now how hooked I am on the technique I think it’s interesting that I’ve not followed-up on the original post…. until now.

When I started out I used a pad of plain A4 paper and a Sharpie. Later, to keep everything together I progressed onto a spiral bound sketchbook. In the beginning I wouldn’t say my notes were particularly visual and I don’t think that mattered. Anyone can do this, you don’t need to be an artist. I included the odd image used as a memory aid but found that the most liberating factor in this new technique was the move away from a linear style of note. With visual notes, and crucially a blank canvas, I could easily make links between ideas from different points in a talk. It also made my notes more concise and appealing, and therefore more likely to be returned to in future.

Here’s an example of one of my earliest notes:

Notes from ’Social Media and the Academy by ekcragg, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License  by  ekcragg 

In the past year or so the tools that I use for note-taking have changed; I’ve gone digital. I now use the Upad app on my iPad and a Bamboo stylus. I find this gives me much more flexibility and ultimately gives me a much more useful note.

Over the years I have been developing my own visual note-taking style and I’ve found some great resources to help with this. First up is the wonderful Sketchnote Handook by Mike Rohde. I’ve learnt a lot from this and it is also one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever seen. Finally, for anyone thinking they’d like to give visual note-taking a go I’d encourage you to start with this TED Talk from Rachel Smith: