The Bored and Brilliant Challenge

One of the many things I like about sabbatical is that it allows for some mental clarity, time to figure things out, to get organized, to think. It is no coincidence that I went vegan on my first sabbatical. I think I’d been moving in that direction for a while, but having the time to think about it, plan for it, learn to cook from vegan cookbooks, etc. certainly helped the process along!

I’m hoping that the mental space that sabbatical provides will also help me develop some better habits. On that note, I’ve signed up for the “Bored and Brilliant” challenge this week. Essentially, this challenge asks participants to think about how much time we spend on our smartphones each day, how automatic it has become to whip out our phones at the first sign of a lull. Standing in line at the grocery store? Check your phone! Commercial on TV? Pull out that phone! Waiting for a friend to show up? Squeeze in a game of Two Dots. The organizers of this challenge argue that by rushing to fill any downtime with whatever app catches our fancy, we are forgetting how to daydream, we aren’t taking advantage of the imaginative potential of those duller moments in life.

This challenge has certainly helped me to think about my daily habits, and in just a few short days I’m quite a bit more mindful about my screen time. Will these habits last? Only time will tell!

Sabbatical 2015 Starts Now!

Today is the first official day of my sabbatical. Ok, technically it started yesterday, but since yesterday was a holiday I’m not going to count it. Making brunch and drinking mimosas with friends isn’t exactly an auspicious start to a sabbatical year. Or maybe it is!

Is it weird that I’m already worried about running out of time during this next year? So many things I want to do, and I know that the year will just fly by! I think some people think I’m “on vacation,” but I think it might be the opposite. I’m know I’m going to be trying to cram as much writing/research as I can in to the next 52 weeks. Sabbatical is such a gift and I want to be sure to use it wisely!

I need to finish up the book manuscript I’ve been working on for a while. I had hoped to be able to get more work done on it while I was Department Chair. No big surprise that this didn’t really work out as planned. Being Chair was a lot more time-consuming and energy-draining than I had budgeted for. So, this is the first big thing I’m going to focus on. But, I’ve got some new projects that I want to work on too, projects that will take some time to set up. I need to do some background reading and research to get them started. I’m also developing an online version of my first year course. Throw in some conferences and some research travel, and all of the sudden 12 months doesn’t sound like that much time! Eeep!

I never make new year’s resolutions. For me, as an academic, September is the time for new beginnings. This year is different though because of the sabbatical. So, while I hesitate to call them “resolutions” (that just feels like setting myself up for failure), there are some things I want to put in place as this year begins — good habits that might help me stay on track and get the most out of the sabbatical. Things like making sure to get some exercise each day and to drastically reduce my time playing around on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

I’m also reviewing the tools I need to help keep me organized and to keep the writing/work flowing. Evernote, Dropbox, and Zotero are an essential part of my research process and have been for a while. I would like to transfer my writing from Word to Scrivener. I have had Scrivener for a while, but haven’t quite had the time to learn how to use the software properly. I think it has a lot of potential though. Word is getting on my nerves. I’ve also started a 60 day trial of Basecamp because two of my new projects are collaborative. I’m still getting up to speed on what Basecamp does, but so far it seems like a great way to work with others.

Here’s to a great 2015! I look forward to seeing what it brings!

Spring Cleaning (the online version)

This morning I started doing a little online spring cleaning. (The dire need for the old fashioned version of spring cleaning in my house and yard is a totally different post). I noticed that I’ve been feeling overwhelmed by online stuff lately. My inbox is overflowing, I’ve always got 1000+ new feeds in my Google Reader, etc., etc. These kinds of tools are great, but I suspect I’m not the only one that has gone a little overboard in subscribing for feeds and updates. This stops now.

I spent the morning cleaning out my subscriptions on Google Reader. I re-organized folders, deleted subscriptions that no longer interested me and tried to declutter so that this goes back to being a functional tool instead of another source of angst. We’ll see how long this sense of digital cleanliness lasts!

Web 2.0 and e-learning in the classroom

Over at Read/WriteWeb there are two great posts discussing e-learning tools. All very exciting stuff!

And on the subject of e-learning, I am going to try having course blogs for the first time this year, although it is something I’ve wanted to do for a while. The blog for each course will be a central portal for information, handouts, pdfs of slide shows and other such things, but I’m also hoping it will be a space where students share their ideas about topics covered in class. I think when studying topics like visual culture, where there are so many different ways of thinking about images and ideas, space for exchange and dialogue is essential. I know that not everyone is comfortable speaking up in class, so the blog will provide an alternative way of discussing themes related to the class.

Writing tools

I’ve got several ideas for new research projects I want to pursue, but am feeling all over the map right now. I’m looking up a wide range of different topics, jotting notes in multiple notebooks and trying, of course, to fit this in amongst my other work such as course prep and admin stuff. I sometimes only have a few minutes a day to work on these projects and, inevitably, I return to my notes after spending the day doing something else and thinking “what was I going to do here?.” I’ve got scraps of paper in my laptop bag, notebooks full of scribbles in my on-campus office, post-it notes all over my home office and inter-library loan material in the car. It’s a mess! In short, I need to get a system to keep myself on track! It was so much simpler when I was writing my dissertation. I had one project, one work space and one goal. Even if I fell into a few days of procrastination I still knew where all my materials were, where I’d left off and what direction I was going in with the research/writing. I didn’t realize at the time what a luxury that was!

Anyhow, I have been thinking for a while about how I would like a piece of software to manage my random thoughts and jots. I have heard wonderful things about Scrivener, but it is only for Macs. I don’t have a Mac and I don’t want a Mac, but I really, really want Scrivener! If I end up with a Mac sometime in the near future it will be entirely because my desire for Scrivener has taken over. We’re not there yet though, and I’m holding out hope that I can find a comparable PC product. I’ve tried out Writer’s Café which seems like it might do the trick. I’ve also just downloaded Liquid Story Binder which also looks like it would be good. Liquid Story Binder appears to have a few more bells & whistles which may or may not be a good thing depending on the time it takes to learn how to use it.

Anyone have any other suggestions for a PC user who needs to get organized?

Home again!

We’re back from our little jaunt over to Montreal, Ottawa and Kingston. The main purpose of the trip was to see some of the gardens that I’m writing about while they are in full August bloom. I also got to do two things that I have been wanting to do for a long time: 1)attend International Flora Montréal and 2)see one of Gunther von Hagens’ Body Worlds exhibitions. We also managed to work in a little kayaking while we were in Kingston. It was quite the week and I’ve got no shortage of things I want to write about, but today is all about getting unpacked and doing laundry.

In the meantime, I wanted to post the link to Digital Arts & Humanities, a very neat resource exploring ideas, issues and applications in the world of Digital Humanities. I’ve spent most of the evening checking it out and following the various links.