Earning my PDPs

American teachers 1 are required to stay current with the latest educational trends, practices and theories. In fact, the state has formalized the process by requiring them to earn a certain number of Professional Development Points, or PDPs, per year. My wife is in the process of picking some up which made me think … why aren’t I?

Staying current, sharpening skills, pushing forward professionally … these are things all professionals should do. Unfortunately, most industries don’t have a formal system in place. It’s worse for independents like me; I can progress or stagnate with no one to answer to but myself. With that in mind, I’ve devised a system to identify professional areas of need and make sure they get fed.

I’m going with a college semester model. Right now I’m in my spring semester. What will I study? Well, that was determined by answering this questionnaire.

  1. What do you want to learn?
  2. What is the next step in your career?
  3. What concrete, observable actions can you take to take the next step?

The answer to number one was simple: I want to continue to write about Apple, Inc. The next step is twofold: To improve my current skills and to write for a wider audience. Step three gets to the meat of it.

I’m taking two “courses” per semester. Each course is worth 3 PDPs. The first course is “Writing for Independent Professionals.” The required texts are

The Little Red Writing Book by Brandon Royal
On Writing Well by William Zinsser

Royal is first. During Week 1 (January 21 – 27), the assignment is to read chapters 1-3 and complete all exercises. During week 2 (January 28 – February 3), the assignment is to read chapters 4-5 and complete all exercises. This continues for 10 weeks until I’ve completed the book and all exercises. At the end, I’ll demonstrate mastery of the course’s lessons in some way (haven’t figured that out yet).

On week 11, I start again with Zinsser. Once that’s over, I’ll again take another “final” followed by a 2-week break. Then my 2nd semester begins.

Future courses will stray from grammar, style, structure, etc. and focus on Apple, writing for the web, networking, etc. I’m looking forward to it and I’ll tell you how it goes. And now … time to hit the books!

  1. Other professions have something similar in place. For example, RNs must earn annual CEUs (Continuing Education Units).

Storing URLs for later

URLs

I need a new way to store URLs, because this sucks.

I don’t mean articles to read. Instapaper and Pocket handle that task fine. The links depicted above represent videos to watch, products to consider buying and research. Dragging them into the OS X Dock is easy, and it keeps them in front of me, reminding me that they need attention. However, the identical, spring-loaded icons give no indication of where they’re pointing.

I need quick way to store URLs that require follow-up that isn’t too disruptive and won’t disappear from my consciousness minutes after I save them. Evernote clip? Pinboard? Safari Reading List (I use Chrome). If you’ve run into this, let me know.

Break projects into small tasks for increased success

autumnleaves“Write article” is unfathomable to me. “Brainstorm ideas” is not. This is how I get through the day. If not for a house full of autistic kids, I never would have had that realization.

My malfunctioning brain puts every task into one of two categories: easy or impossible. Most people, I’ve learned, have more than two. For example, when I consider raking the autumn leaves in the yard, I step outside and see what looks like every leaf that has ever existed, spread across a track of land the size of the Louisiana Purchase. I think, “This is literally impossible. No human being could rake all of these leaves.” Then I go back inside, and the leaves enjoy a quiet victory.

I also know that “Find rake” and “Buy landscape-quality trash bags” are two discreet, simple tasks I can complete easily. So is, “Rake around fire pit” and “Move the car to the end of the driveway.” Each has a distinct beginning and an end. Each can be completed within a few minutes. The behavioral technique of chaining allows me to perform these small tasks which, when complete, form the more complex behavior of finishing the larger task.

Many years ago, I supervised a group home of seven students with autism and other developmental delays. As a good little behaviorist, I wrote my students’ annual educational objectives with an eye towards Applied Behavior Analysis. My staff and I often taught the kids their lessons by breaking them down into very small steps, which could be chained together to form a complex task. It worked very well.

Today, I do the same thing with myself. When a project falls on my plate, 1, I begin breaking it down into several small tasks. Deadlines are attached to these small parts. As I move through them, the large task will get done. Like magic. While a large project can feel overwhelming, each component feels quite manageable. Here’s a good way to get started:

  1. Consider one project.
  2. Ask yourself, “If I had nothing else to do, what’s the first step I could take on this project?”
  3. Write it down. Repeat with step two.
  4. Continue until you’ve written every step necessary. There’s your next to-do list.

One note: action steps start with a verb. Call the garage. Brainstorm ideas. Talk with Janie. In other words, “The procrastination article” is not an action step. “Outline the procrastination article” is.

I’ve spoken about this on Home Work a few times, and it does work. People with fantastical brains like mine often go through life feeling inadequate, untrustworthy and just plain stupid. Setting oneself up for success combats that, and this is the best way I know how.

So watch out, leaves.

  1. I use David Allen’s definition of project: anything that requires more than one action step before it can be marked as “done.”

How to create a blogger’s newsroom with IFTTT and WordPress

I’ve been searching for an easy way to move stories I want to blog about from my RSS reader to WordPress for a long time. Thanks to recent changes in IFTTT’s WordPress actions, I can now do exactly that with a single keystroke. I’m elated about this, as it’s going to save me a lot of time. If you write about news, re-blog or comment on interesting stories of the day, you’ll like this, too. Here’s how to create a blogger’s “newsroom” with IFTTT and WordPress.

The setup

Before you begin, you’ll need the following pre-requisites:

  1. A WordPress blog
  2. An IFTTT account
  3. Google Reader for RSS

That’s it. Note that you aren’t required to use Google Reader in a browser. In this tutorial, I’m using Reeder for Mac. All you need is an application capable of starring Google Reader items. Here’s how to set it up.

Continue reading →

Apple’s Reminders for iOS 6 is a huge improvement

Apple’s Reminders app for iOS 6 is a huge improvement over the already great original. I’ve been using this app since it debuted and it’s become indispensable. The current update provides more information, offers faster input and eliminates my pet peeve. Here’s why I love Reminders for iPhone.

Faster Reminder Creation

You can now add details to a reminder as you create it. Previously, you had to create the reminder, tap out of it and then tap back in to add details. Now, a disclosure triangle appears as you’re typing. Tap it to add a reminder location, date or time. Thank you, Apple! That was my pet peeve with this app and I’m so happy it’s been fixed.

iOS 5 on the left, iOS 6 on the right. Note the disclosure triangle on the right that’s not present on the left. Also, the note itself is a bit wider in iOS 6, and the “Done” button is silver and much easier to see.

New List, Swiping

The screen of completed items has changed as well. The list and date buttons are now gone, as are the small buttons indicating the number of active lists. The former creates a tidy appearance while the latter is my only disappointment with this new version. I liked that subtle visual queue.

Continue reading →

Use shortcuts for faster typing on the iPhone

The software keyboard that’s a part of the iPhone and iPad is divisive. Some are happy to use it while others find it frustrating. The best advice I have for those after improved speed and accuracy is to simply type and trust the results. If that’s not enough, consider the keyboard shortcuts feature.

Shortcuts let you create short combinations of letters that will produce a larger word or phrase when typed on your iPhone or iPad. Think of it as TextExpander lite. For example, you could type “omw” and have your device replace it with “On my way!” (Incidentally, that one is enabled by default. Try it.). Here’s how to create typing shortcuts on your iPhone, iPad or iPod touch.

  1. Open the Settings app.
  2. Tap General.
  3. Tap Keyboard.
  4. Tap Add A New Shortcut…
  5. The shortcut creation page appears. Type the complete word or phrase you’re after in the Phrase field, and the short abbreviation in the Shortcut field (note that a shortcut cannot contain spaces).
  6. Tap Save and you’re done.

You can view the list of available shortcuts at any time by navigating to the keyboard settings in the Settings app. To edit or delete a shortcut, just tap it in the list.

While this little feature is handy, it’s no match for the full-featured TextExpander. However, since TextExpander isn’t system-wide, meaning you must be in the app to use it, shortcuts are useful for lengthy, common phrases in apps like Mail, Safari, Notes and so on. Plus, it could reduce frustration for those who loathe time spent with Apple’s software keyboard.

Here’s a final tip: use a shortcut to replace a common spelling error. For some reason, I tend to type “iPHone” instead of “iPhone.” The built-in spelling correction usually gets it, but not always. This is also useful if you’ve got to remember an unusual proper name that isn’t in the iOS dictionary. For instance, I have a friend named Jutta and my brain loves to subconsciously type “Jetta” instead. A shortcut takes care of that.

Thanks to Brett Kelly for inspiring this post.

If Twitter kills its Mac client

There! Are! Four! Lights!

9to5 Mac suggests that Twitter will cease development of its Mac client. I sincerely hope that does not happen, because I depend on these indicator lights. I must monitor several accounts. The Twitter for Mac app lets me see which one has received a new message, mention or DM at a glance, via these handy lights.

Other apps don’t do this as clearly or at all. It’s not a convenience for me, it’s something I depend on. As much as I might not like it, I must monitor all these accounts all day long.

I’ve been wondering why Twitter would kill the Mac app, and my buddy Berserk Hippo make a good point: “[Killing the app makes sense] It does if they want everyone using the web because that gets them the most money.”

I cannot and will not use Twitter in a browser. This change would not only be an inconvenience, it would affect my workflow in a significant and detrimental way.