Bye Bye Procrastination, Hello Productivity! Part 3: Focus for 25 Minutes with BreakTime

Bye Bye Procrastination!

The Pomodoro Technique® is something familiar for those of us who want to improve productivity, and we have a wide range of options and apps that allows us to implement this technique.

My personal favourite is BreakTime app on Mac. It lets you set how long you want to focus on an activity and how long a break you want to take between activities. You can see the detailed settings below:

BreakTime screenshotThe screenshot of the Preferences window

What I really like about this app is that it forces me to take a break from the computer. Unless you choose to “enforce break” in the Preferences, you can always finish a break by clicking “Done” or go back to an activities for 1, 5, or 15 minutes as you can see in the following screenshot:

BreakTime screenshot 2

I find this app particularly useful when I am making notes from readings. After reading a book or an article, I annotate quotations in Scrivener and this process takes me quite a lot of time. This process is usually exhausting but taking five-minute breaks in every 25 minutes seems to make it less wearing.

You can try BreakTime for free, so I highly recommend you to try it out!

Bye Bye Procrastination, Hello Productivity! Part 2: Internet Diet with WasteNoTime

Bye Bye Procrastination!

While the Internet, including social media, is a useful tool to find various types of information as well as to communicate with people, it can easily distract us from focusing on tasks that we are trying to achieve and reduce overall productivity.

If you use Mac, you may want to try WasteNoTime, which is a browser extension available for Safari and Chrome.

WasteNoTime Screenshot 1
WastNoTime from the Safari toolbar

Here is the description of WasteNoTime from its website:

WasteNoTime is a browser extension which is designed to help you manage your time spent on the Internet more efficiently.

Time Tracker feature gives you reports on what web sites you spent most of your time. Instant Lockdown feature allows you to focus on your work for a period of time with limited Internet access. Time Quota feature automatically blocks selected web sites when you have spent a preset amount of time on them each day.

Time Tracker shows top 5, 10, or 20 sites that you access for the day, the past 7 days, and the past 30 days. In its setting, you can specify sites to exclude from being tracked.

In Block List, you can not only add sites that you want to block but also set how you want to block them—”global time quota,” “custom time quota,” and “always block.”  The time quotas are particularly useful when you want to block some sites that you want to access for limited time or you do not want to access for a specific time of day. Similarly, Allow List lets you indicate which sites to be allowed.

You can set global time quote under Time Allowed. You can see its options in the below screenshot:

WasteNoTime Screenshot 2

You can further tweak the settings under Advanced Settings, make it difficult for you to change the settings through the Challenge setting, and even import or export all the settings under Import/Export.

If you are struggling to deal with distractions from the Internet to be more productive, you definitely want to give a shot at WasteNoTime! The less time on the Internet, the more time for research!

If you do not like WasteNoTime or use Safari, you can try either StayFocusd for Chrome or LeechBlock for Firefox.

Using Twitter Timelines to See the Trends on Your Research Topics

I don’t know how long Twitter Timelines have been available to regular users, but it is a simple way to see what people are talking about on your research topics. Major news outlets like CBC News, The Toronto Star, and The Globe and Mail are using Storify, which is a useful website to create and share your own “stories” through various social media. If you want to develop some kind of narrative, Storify would be a great tool for you; if you just want to see the trends on your research topics, Twitter Timeline may be a better option for you.

Here are two sample Twitter timelines that I made:

Twitter Timeline for the search term “affect theory”

Titter Timeline for the search term “deleuze cinema”

You just need to go to Settings > Widgets (on the side menu) > Create new. If you are an average user, you have four options here: user timeline, favourites, list, and search.

  • The user timeline option allows you to create a timeline based on a username, which could be your own or someone else’s.
  • The favourites option shows the tweets that the username of your choice has marked as favourite.
  • The list option creates a timetable based on your own or subscribed lists.
  • The search option generates a timetable based on your search query.

If you use TweetDeck, you can use the last option: custom timeline.

To find the tweets that include specific keyboards or your research topics, you may want to tweak your search query. Twitter seems to use the same kinds of basic search operators as Google. For example, if you want to find an exact phrase, you search it by adding double quotation marks at the beginning and end of the phrase like “exact phrase.” If you want to exclude tweets with specific words, you just add a minus mark in front of them like “-word 1 -word2 -word3.”

If you are not familiar with these special operators, you can just use Twitter’s Advanced Search. Just fill the search form, hit the search button, and copy the search term that appears right next to “Results for” at the top. For example, if I wanted to find the tweets that include “affect theory” in the exact phrasing but does not contain “emotion,” I would get ““affect theory” -emotion.”

(If you want to know about search operators, you can check this page from Google Help!)

Of course, we can always use more authentic online platforms for academic work, Google Scholar and JSTOR, but following the tweets relevant to your research topics may lead you to recognize a developing trend from there! Since I am interested in the nature of becoming, emergence, and affect through screen media, this may be one way to contemplate my research topic.

Bye Bye Procrastination, Hello Productivity! Part 1: Tracking Weekly Progress on an Ol’ Good Whiteboard

Bye Bye Procrastination!

Since I finished the coursework for my PhD degree requirement, I’ve been slowly and persistently developing and going through my comprehensive exam reading lists. If everything had gone as I planned, I should have finished much more readings than I have actually finished so far, but hey that’s life. The obvious reason why I’m not making as much  progress as I want is procrastination. I may be googling something continuously, checking books and some other interesting items on amazon, or watching some cooking shows on the Food Network website. Moderate procrastination may be a good way to relax during short breaks, but I definitely need a means to control the amount of procrastination.

Then, I thought that I need to have a system that makes me accountable for my (lack of) progress in the reading lists. I can do this by making to-do lists on a sheet or paper, or using to-do apps, but I wanted to have something visible but unobtrusive all the time for this.

I was initially searching for a regular whiteboard that I can hang on the wall, but then I eventually found Wall Pops! White Dry-Erase Board. It is basically a sheet of film that you can stick to (and peel off from) almost any surfaces, and you can write on it as you do on a regular whiteboard. (I bought mine at a local Home Depot store but you can easily buy one online as well.) As some of the online reviews were pointing out, it was not easy to stick the film on the wall nicely; after several tries, I gave it up and ended up putting in the side of my bookshelf. 

And, this is how I’m using it right now:2014 Week 1

Several Positive Outcomes from Tracking Weekly Progress

Since I was little, I always loved making daily, weekly, and monthly plans, but I barely stuck to them—I just felt I had accomplished a lot just by making such plans. For the past few years, I still plan my study in my head but have stopped writing/typing down the actual plans. After I started tracking my weekly progress, I’ve re-realized that what I need to do for these plans is to keep tracking the progress of my work and re-evaluate my working patterns and habits. I have noticed some positive outcomes from tracking weekly progress so far:

  1. The visible indicator of progress encourages me to keep working.
  2. This allows me to see how much work I can usually handle in a week.
  3. Lack of progress on a specific day makes me really accountable for that.
  4. It reminds me that I am making progress!

I think that the last point is particularly encouraging and crucial for PhD students since we often feel that we are not making enough progress at all.

On the top of this weekly progress section, I’ve written major deadlines such as an upcoming conference and conference abstracts, but I still need to add a section for monthly goals. I do not have much extra space on this whiteboard, so I may need to write my monthly goals somewhere else, like in my lovely Moleskine. I hope that this way of tracking progress will encourage me to work more and make me forget to procrastinate!

Teaching Plagiarism: How to Avoid a Sad Situation

10 Types of Plagiarism
Ten Most Common Types of Plagiarism from Plagiarism.org

Have you ever needed to deal with students who ended up having plagiarisms in their assignments? Unless the students took phrases or sentences from obvious sources, identifying plagiarism has become nearly impossibly thanks to the Internet and computers. If you are living in the era of postmodernism and believe in postmodernist sensibility, plagiarism may not matter anymore. In academics and education, plagiarism is a really big deal, and it is essential for students to learn how to cite and use someone else’s ideas properly and for teaching staff to provide useful resources that can potentially prevent plagiarism.

Screen Shot of Plagiarism.orgThe top page of Plagiarism.org

I found this website, Plagiarism.org, last year, and it is a great website for students to learn about plagiarism. A company called iParadigms is behind the website, and its intention to create such a website is obvious: to encourage students to try out its new service WriteCheck, which is basically a lesser version of Turnitin. Regardless of the company’s intention, the website itself is useful and informative. It has four main sections as you can see in the screen shot of the top page: Plagiarism 101, which provides essential knowledge about plagiarism; Citing Sources, which guides students in learning how to cite properly; Ask the Expertswhich shares responses to previous questions asked from students; and, Resourceswhich provides further information about plagiarism. In the last section, I found this four-minute YouTube video that explains 10 types of plagiarism:

Showing this video is definitely an effective way to make students (re-)aware of plagiarism, but also sharing the top image in this post with students as a handout may be a better way for them to retain what they watched in the clip. The Resources section provides student materials that you can use as handouts in class. I have no idea how long the company will maintain this website, so you should download and save the files before the website disappears. The combination of the following articles may be also useful to raise awareness of plagiarism:

If you can use one tutorial session or a part of lecture, showing RiP! A Remix Manifesto by Brett Gaylor may be an interesting way to engage your students in the issue of plagiarism in general:

You would be very sad if you find out that one of your students has committed plagiarism. Your preventive actions for plagiarism by talking about it or sharing any of these resources can definitely decrease the chance of plagiarism in your classroom!

Let’s Use an iPad (Mini) as a Moleskine Notebook – Part 4: Adobe Collage App

Moleskine+iPad?

In Part Four of this series, I want to expand on the visualization of ideas, the main idea that led me to use Prezi‘s iPad app to recreate the Moleskine experience on my iPad. While the Prezi app provides a basic way of taking notes on iPad, its limited functions means that we can’t enjoy the process of visualizing ideas fully. I have been searching for other apps that have similar functionality as Prezi, and I found the Adobe Collage app.

4. Create idea collages…

The Adobe Collage app provides its users with a platform to combine text, images, and drawings. For designers, this app may be useful to create mood boards, collections of text, images, and objects to visualize design concepts and ideas. The following sample collage on the app may give you a good sense of what you could make:

Adobe Collage Sample
 A sample collage on Adobe Collage app

As you can see, this app allows you not only to add text and images but also to draw. You can even mask images! (The coffee cup is the masked image.) This function is similar to the web version of Prezi: you can search and import images from Google and Flickr as well as videos from YouTube. You can even add web clips as well! Like Prezi, you can rotate and change the size of images and text, so emphasizing specific text and images is relatively easy.

If I had taken the same notes that I took on Prezi as seen in Part 3, it might end up looking like this:

Prezi's Notes

I didn’t change the relative positions of the original text, but I added some relevant images and some drawings. Since my handwriting is rather messy, typing text makes it easier for me to read what I wrote later, and the drawing function allows me to add lines, shapes, and marks as I would with a pen. The capacity to add images and videos is such a benefit for me especially since cinema and media studies is my field.

I would definitely choose Adobe Collage over Prezi on iPad to recreate Moleskine notetaking, but this app has few minor weak points:

  1. Less intuitive ways of rotating and scaling images and texts as in Prezi
  2. Limited size and expandability of its canvas
  3. Lack of presentation mode

Maybe you will get used to rotating and scaling images and text in the Adobe Collage app, but if you’re impatient, it may not work well. If you want to keep adding text and images to a canvas, you will quickly face limitation with this app. If you want to present your canvas like Prezi, Adobe Collage isn’t your best option to take notes. Beyond these points, Adobe Collage is my ideal app to take notes, collect ideas, and (attempt to) create ideas as I do in Moleskine.

For now, the combination of DODOcase Classic and Adobe Collage may be the best way to make your iPad (Mini) physically and functionally feel like your favourite Moleskine. With its compatibility with video clips, Adobe Collage can definitely make your iPad Moleskine 2.0!

–––––
Let’s Use an iPad (Mini) as a Moleskine Notebook Series

  1. Evernote and Moleskine suggest: Evernote Smart Notebook by Moleskine
  2. Dress an iPad like Moleskine: DODOcase and Moleskine Covers for iPad
  3. Think like Prezi: Prezi App
  4. Create idea collages: Adobe Collage App

Let’s Use an iPad (Mini) as a Moleskine Notebook – Part 3: Prezi App

Moleskine+iPad?

In Part Three of this series, I want to focus on the functionality of Moleskine and how we can re-create a similar experience on an iPad. When I think about the functionality of Moleskine, I can think of these basic criteria:

  1. Collection of ideas
  2. Creation of ideas
  3. Association of ideas
  4. Flexibility of writing on paper with a pen

Obviously, the advantage of Moleskine derives from my fourth point, which, in turn, allows us to explore various ideas freely. At this moment, even if you use the best stylus available on the market and an app that lets you write and draw freely, I don’t think you can achieve the same flexibility of writing on paper with a pen. If this is the case, I need to think of a way to achieve the first three criteria outside the box. Enter Prezi.

3. Think like Prezi…

For those who are unfamiliar with Prezi, it is a web-based presentation application and is a great alternative to PowerPoint. Prezi uses a canvas instead of slides and its primary purpose must be to encourage its users to think about developing a stronger storyline while allowing them to jump from one idea to another easily. I just started using Prezi recently, but its strength over other presentation applications is, for me, its ability to allow us to see ideas visually.

Reading and writing allows us to develop our capacity to understand and generate ideas linguistically, but freely sketching out our ideas on paper or Moleskine can let us see previously unnoticed connections among ideas, and such an identification of links among ideas further strengthens our engagement with them. I think that the flexibility of writing on paper with a pen must enable us to visualize ideas easily and that a lack of such flexibility on computers and tablets still make some of us to rely heavily on notebooks like Moleskine. I think this Prezi’s “Idea Matter” introduction video may be a good place to start thinking about the visualization of ideas:

Indeed, the narrator says, “Prezi is about creativity and the visualization of thoughts in motion.” But how does Prezi actually work? The following Prezi tutorial video “3 Steps to a Great Prezi” will show you to understand what you can achieve by using Prezi:

This video clarifies the three key steps to creating a great Prezi:

  1. Brainstorm
  2. Organize
  3. Direct

The first two steps – Brainstorm and Organize – are crucial in visualizing ideas on an iPad as we do in Moleskine. A basic notetaking process involves organizing ideas on pages while a more elaborative way to take notes likely integrates brainstorming processes in order to deepen our understanding of the ideas.

Prezi has an iPad app, and I thought I might take notes on it as I usually do on Moleskine, and this is what I got at the end:

This may be only understandable for me, but it is much better than what I would have jotted down in my Moleskine notebook. The advantage of taking notes on the Prezi app over Moleskine was constantly to change the position of words and phrases to clarify the relationship among them.

The Prezi iPad app has very limited functions though: to add texts and photos and to rotate and resize them. In the future, this app may receive more functions so that we can add shapes like arrows and lines, which are essential to clarify connections and relationships between ideas. Prezi has constantly kept updating its app since its original release, so it may add more functions in the near future.

For now, Prezi’s iPad app may not be the best app to recreate Moleskine experience on iPad, but considering that we can continue editing on iPad and the Web, it is a decent app to capture and develop ideas on iPad as we would do on Moleskine.

–––––
Let’s Use an iPad (Mini) as a Moleskine Notebook Series

  1. Evernote and Moleskine suggest: Evernote Smart Notebook by Moleskine
  2. Dress an iPad like Moleskine: DODOcase and Moleskine Covers for iPad
  3. Think like Prezi: Prezi App
  4. Create idea collages: Adobe Collage App