Best Practices: The Myth of Being Busy

By Kathryn Magura

It’s September, and I work at a quarter school. Over the next month I will be training staff and getting 4600+ students moved onto campus. I will certainly be busy, and justifiably so. This is the busiest month of the year for me, and I expected as much when I got into this work.

That said, I think there’s a degree to which we find a certain satisfaction in being busy. Busyness equates to self-worth and job security in a way that is often more smug than accurate. As I watched most of my colleagues around the country go through their busy season in August (yay semester schools always being ahead of the curve), I took mental notes of things I’d like to try on my own campus, or lessons I could learn from others. I never questioned the fact that when someone mentioned they were busy that it was true, because I know what they were going through.

Busy starting (or ending) an academic year is one thing, but at what point are we always busy? I see a lot of posts on Facebook from friends who seem to always be working, and always be looking to be told how great they were for always working. What’s the point? When do you stop working and start living?

A couple of friends posted this article on Facebook over the weekend that articulates very well how we seem to equate how busy we are with our importance – like some sick status indicator. I work 14 hours a day, which means I’m more important than you! Ridiculous. So how do we keep from perpetuating this busy culture?

  1. Don’t take on more than you can reasonably accomplish. Seems like a no-brainer, but it seems that we’ve created a culture where people feel they have to always take on more tasks or they will replace you with someone who will. Are we really that insecure? I really don’t think our supervisors are that cunning. In my experience, a good supervisor may not know how busy you are unless you tell them. If they try to give you a project, and you have another deadline looming, tell them you can’t take that on and why you can’t.
  2. Schedule your time better. Some of the people who I’ve heard complain the most about being busy seem to have plenty of time to do things like play on social media all day. It’s these same people who get “surprised” by a deadline because they didn’t manage the time they had wisely. Try scheduling time on your work calendar to work on a project to see if this helps you with time management. Also, if you can’t balance the time you spend on social media vs. the time you are working, then I suggest you stay off social media.
  3. Ask for help. This one seems to be the hardest thing for most people to do. For some reason, we seem to have an insane amount of ego wrapped up in being the “go-to” person at work, which results in long hours and eventual burnout. No one expects you to work 15 hours a day in order to get everything accomplished! Who knows, maybe asking for help will result in the addition of staff to assist getting the work done.


These are some of my ideas on how to keep from perpetuating the busyness myth. What are yours?

Best Practices: The Myth of Being Busy

Best Practices for Making Life Easier: Presentation Platforms

By Kathryn Magura

I’ve had the opportunity to present on a number of topics over the years, and have tried a variety of presentation platforms and applications. Today I thought I’d discuss some of the platforms I’ve used, and what I like or dislike about each:

  1. Prezi: A few years ago, Prezi was all the rage for presentations. As someone who typically embraces new technology, I was eager to learn Prezi. While I enjoyed the online platform utilized for Prezi, and the ability to edit a presentation with co-presenters, I never felt like the usability became intuitive for me. Sure, I could put together a decent presentation, and knew not to have the path of travel jump around, but I felt like I had to re-learn how to use Prezi each time I created a new presentation. Not exactly what you’re looking for when needing to create a presentation. 
  2. Dropbox: One thing I’ve really found useful, especially when working collaboratively on research projects, is the use of Dropbox. Dropbox allows you to save data on servers that can be accessed anywhere. If someone has permission to access your server repository, they can access the data you have there, and use it for whatever collaboration project you are working on. While there is no specific presentation platform associated with Dropbox, I do think it’s helpful for shared data storage – especially if there is a significant amount of data to share.
  3. Google Drive: Lately I’ve been using the software available via Google Drive for a variety of things, including presentations. Google Drive has an application called “presentation” that resembles PowerPoint, which has made the learning curve very small. Google Drive Presentation also allows you to work on something online, and therefore provides the capability to edit a presentation collaboratively. I have been able to work on a presentation simultaneously with a colleague in Chicago, and see the changes she makes instantaneously. Plus, it helps that Google Drive saves automatically and frequently. The last thing you want is to spend a ton of time on a presentation only to lose it when you don’t save it.

So those are some of the presentation platforms I have used recently. What are your favorites?

Best Practices for Making Life Easier: Presentation Platforms

Blogger’s Choice: Networking IRL and F2F

by Valerie Heruska

I don’t think it comes to anyone as a surprise when they hear that social media and technology changed the way that we interact with one another.  Of course, it bolsters relationship building to a whole new level. I think that networking online is great, but what about when you take the networking offline and network in person?

I’ve been to receptions and  social gatherings where the phrase “Oh hey, I follow you on Twitter” has been said. In fact, if I had a nickel for every time I heard that, I could probably afford to renovate my residence hall and then name the building after myself. I’m not sure if there are best practices to taking the networking from online to offline, but here are a few of  my practices:

1. Do not stalk someone from Twitter. Seriously.. I’ve seen this happen. I’ve heard people say: Oh I must find (insert twitter handle here)… let’s go look for them. Holy stalkeratzi, Batman. Why not set up a time to meet. You can begin by sending them a DM and asking if they have time to meet for coffee. Don’t creep on them at a conference and hover… that’s just weird.

2. When you’re getting coffee with said person do no… I REPEAT DO NOT say… remember that thing you said on twitter. Really? Why just not tweet at them. Talk about something other than Twitter. You’re there to meet the person who could be a potential mentor or supervisor or professor. There needs to be a reason to meet with them and to not just boost their ego.. though… I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like a little ego-stroking every now and then. I digress. Have a reason for meeting with someone. Don’t waste their time, be insightful, and don’t mention twitter.

3. Keep the networking going. Don’t just stop at people who are on social media – meet people whom you’ve never met before. Have your colleagues introduce you to someone new. Go in, be bold, and talk to someone new. Additionally, after any conference, social, gathering is over: keep in contact and keep building that relationship. Just because you are separated geographically, doesn’t mean you can’t talk. Ask them to Skype lunch (Skyping while eating lunch) or something along the same lines.

What are your tips for talking networking offline? Share them here!

Blogger’s Choice: Networking IRL and F2F

Best Practices/Making Life Easier: Summer = Break Time

By Brenda Bethman

In the previous best practices installment, Anitra wrote about summer projects — and I, too, have a list of summer projects that is longer that I can accomplish. For this post, I wanted to talk about the importance of making sure you find time to relax during the summer as well. As we all know, it’s easy to get wrapped up in summer projects and forget to take care of ourselves. So here are some things you can do this summer to refresh you:

  • Install an app like BreakTime on your computer and get out for some fresh air and sunshine every 1-2 hours (BreakTime is for Mac, but there are apps for Windows-based machines as well).IMG_1057
  • Go on vacation (or staycation) and turn off your email. Really. All the way off. It will be okay.
  • Play Dots (or some other addicting game).
  • Read a good beach novel — my favorite author in this genre right now is Elin Hilderbrand. Don’t like beach novels? Try a good detective novel — Yrsa Sigurðardóttir from Iceland is a great writer with a feminist protagonist.
  • Explore your area — is there a museum near by that you’ve never been to? Check it out.
  • Go to the movies.
  • Hit the beach.
  • Do all of these things at least once.

At the end of the day (summer), it doesn’t matter which you choose — the key thing is to remember to take some time to recharge and relax. Student affairs folks are notoriously bad at self care, so be sure to include some break time in your summer. The work and the projects will still be there after you get back. I promise.

How do you recharge and relax in the summer? Tell us in the comments!


Best Practices/Making Life Easier: Summer = Break Time

From Annual Reports to Invitations, it’s always better to say it Visually

by Jess Faulk

As an occasional infographic creator and lover of graphic design I am always on the lookout for ways that companies and universities are using visual design to communicate their message effectively.

It’s worth pondering, would we all go to Facebook as often as we do if all Facebook had was words with no pictures?  Why is Tumblr so popular with Millennials? Pictures.   Would we stop and read flyers if they didn’t catch our eye with beautiful design?  Visuals matter.

Despite knowing this information, we still produce wordy emails, and pages of written reports.  I want to present to you some innovative alternatives that are certainly ‘outside of the box.’

Annual Report using Data Visualization or Instagram

MSU Annual ReportMichigan State University is just one of the many institutions rethinking how they share their institution’s annual data.  This year they chose to present some of their most interesting statistics in a visual dashboard, with clickable links to drill down into each area.  This engages the readers because it is interactive, but most importantly, it also make data worth checking out.  It’s interesting!

Calgary Zoo did something even more shocking when it turn it’s annual report into a digital format on Instagram.  Gathering photos taken by staff and visitors, the Calgary Zoo administration presents information about the zoo’s achievements in the comment section of each photo.  The photos themselves paint a picture of the what the zoo offered, and what was most appreciated, while also allowing space for more details attached to each image.

Chart your data to tell your story

Often people are intimidated by creating visuals because they feel they need to be an expert in Adobe products in order to create great graphics.  Luckily, when the need arises, from the internet rises a solution.  Two data visualization tools that might fit the bill – and Piktochart.  Both offer some free templates with minimal customization. The website also has some tools available for making your own graphics.  New options are popping up everyday, and we should be using them to make our information pop!

Tell a story, and invite people to an event with visuals

Perhaps you’ve sent one too many paperless post ecards and are looking for something new.  Or perhaps you would like your event to feel more meaningful to your audience by giving them a little history.  Have you ever thought of creating a simple infographic to invite students to a historically significant event at the college?  It’s a whole lot more tweetable/”like-able” if you make it interesting enough to pass on.  One simple example is an infographic I created for my wedding.  After viewing this graphic, my hope is that potential guests know a little more about both of us, laugh a little, and remember it more than they would with a regular email or paper invitation.

faulk samuels infographic

Want to know more? Check out these articles:

From Annual Reports to Invitations, it’s always better to say it Visually

Best Practices/Making Life Easier: Summer Projects

By Anitra Cottledge

When summer comes, we all – and I mean, all of us in higher ed – tell ourselves that this is the time to go back to that massive to-do list. This is the time where we will make some headway on that fantasy list of dream projects AKA all those things that we couldn’t get done during the fall and spring semesters.

There is some truth in this narrative that we tell ourselves. Personally, I’ve been able to get quite a few things done so far (and it’s still early on):

  • Some re-organization and thinning out of paper and digital files
  • Completion of small projects and tasks that had been lingering on
  • Beginnings of projects for next academic year

This is what we all do, in some way or another, during the summer months. So I don’t want to make it seem as though we’re all just telling ourselves a big lie about summer productivity. But, I do think that there are a few things we should all keep in mind when planning.

  • Be realistic. In addition to the things that have to get done, I also have a list of things that I want to do. There are all sorts of ideas that I want to explore, connections that I want to make. Some are tiny things that would only take a phone call or email to complete. Others are large-scale projects with many moving parts. This may seem like the obvious, but I can’t do them all. Yes, for our office, summer is three months with virtually no programming (except some trainings/workshops), but those are still months made up of days that still only contain 24 hours each (and truly much fewer hours if we’re just thinking about the work day). It pays to be realistic about what you can accomplish, both in the summer as a whole, and on a daily basis.
  • Pay attention to the ebbs and flows. I think that student affairs professionals are, by and large, already pretty good at this. The summer, just like the rest of the year, has peaks and valleys. Just as we are attuned to times of high and low activity throughout the year (e.g., Homecoming, semester breaks, Women’s History Month, etc.), we should also pay attention to timing throughout the summer. For instance, I think there’s a really productive window between the end of spring semester and the beginning of say, New Student Orientation. You may have various signature events that take place on your campus at different times, and depending upon your level of involvement in these events, those events can serve as brackets for your time and ability to get things done.
  • Build systems for yourself. There are lots of resources here on the SAWTT blog about how to build systems that work, and lots of tips about using technology to help you do this. Some people keep it “old school,” and jot down lists on sheets of paper. Some people use the Tasks list inside of Gmail. Some people (like me) use both. There’s color-coding, planners, apps, working in the coffeeshop on Friday afternoons, etc. It all depends on the resources available to you, the tactics that work best for you, and the nature of the tasks you have to accomplish. The trick is both finding those methods that work, that keep you moving forward, as well as having the flexibility to let the systems evolve over time.

What projects are you hoping to accomplish this summer? What are some tools/ideas that help you?

Best Practices/Making Life Easier: Summer Projects

Higher Ed Websites: a Work in Progress

By Kathryn Magura

As I sat down to write this post tonight, I felt uninspired for a topic. I asked Twitter if anyone had a suggestion, but came up empty handed (to be fair, I had only given people about 30 minutes to respond). I then decided to check the #sachat hashtag to see what the Student Affairs community on Twitter had been talking about today. Perhaps I could find inspiration there? Sure enough, I came across this tweet from Erica Thompson that got my attention:

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Before I get into discussing my thoughts on websites in higher ed, a disclaimer: I am not responsible for my departmental website. I do not get to say what goes where, or edit the content. That said, I am part of a team that continually revises our website, and am responsible for the customer experience our current and future residents have via our website. I’m also a big fan of social media, and helped get our department started on Facebook and Twitter years ago. What does this mean? While, I do not have the web development or programming background to make a quality website, I DO have strong thoughts on how a website should be organized. Basically, when I don’t like something on our website, I’m that pain in the ass who will continue to talk about it until something changes. 😉

I have spent a lot of time looking at higher ed websites. If I have a job interview, I like to research the website for the office and see what information is available to me. I have also done quite a bit of research for the work I do with my national association in terms of benchmarking best practices based on what I can find on other university websites. So when I say this, know that it comes from a lot of experience. For the most part, I find most higher ed websites I encounter to be difficult to navigate and unintuitive. Basically, they suck. Sorry, it’s the truth. Why can’t I find things like a staff list or departmental policies easily? Why can’t I figure out what your department does when I go to your website? Isn’t that sort of the point?

One thing I stress with our web management team is to continually look at our website through the eyes of our customers. Can a student find everything they need to know to make an informed decision about the services we offer? Can a parent find who to contact about a specific concern? Why do we in essence “bury the lead” so often? In my experience, most higher ed websites are organized in ways that align with various departmental desires and goals, not for easy navigation by a customer. Does the content on your website help a customer (yes, students are customers, that was the topic of another post) get the information they need without having to call or email you? Does your website look like a boring link farm of over-saturated information? Do YOU know how to find information on your website without using the search tool?

So here’s my challenge to you: I would love to see examples of higher ed websites you perceive are doing things well. What do you like about their site? Let’s share examples of best practices with each other so we can help each other improve for the better.


Higher Ed Websites: a Work in Progress

Best Practices/Making Life Easier: Travel Apps and Tech

By Brenda Bethman

It’s finals week here at UMKC. Combine that with what has become a fairly intense travel schedule, and I’ve got summer travel on the brain. This summer, I’ve got three trips coming up — taking students to St. Louis in May, a seminar in Germany in June, and a vacation in Wisconsin in July. Arranging and keeping track of all the details for those trips requires some assistance from technology, so for this edition of Best Practices, I want to highlight the apps I use to keep track of everything, as well as a couple of non tech helpers I use to make travel easier.

Apps and Websites

First the apps and websites — when making reservations, I rely on several sites for researching prices and then booking flights, hotels, etc. For flights (and more), I like both Expedia and Travelocity, and use both their websites and apps. I’m also a big fan of, as I find their recommendations and reviews to generally be solid (I found two of my favorite places to stay in Frankfurt through

Hands down, my all-time favorite travel app — and the one that truly does make my life easier is TripIt. Available as a website, iPhone/iPad, Windows, Blackberry and Android apps, TripIt is the one-stop shop for storing all your travel information.


TripIt Welcome Screen
TripIt Welcome Screen

TripIt syncs between the website and my iPad/iPhone, so I always have the information for all my upcoming trips available. You can also set it up to auto import from an email account or simply forward emails to an address that then imports the information into the appropriate trip or creates a new one. TripIt will accurately import from most major airlines, hotels, etc., as well as OpenTable reservations. For some smaller companies, you may need to manually add the information. Since using TripIt, I no longer print out and carry a bunch of paper confirmations — it’s all on my phone.

TripIt also syncs with other travel apps and websites, including FlightTrack Pro, GateGuru, and TripDeck (just to mention a few). There’s calendar integration and social sharing (in case you want your Facebook friends to know your comings and goings) as well.

My other go-to travel apps (both of which sync with TripIt), are FlightTrack Pro and GateGuru:

Track your flights and find something to eat with travel apps
Track your flights and find something to eat with travel apps

As its name implies, FlightTrack Pro tracks your flights for you — need to know if your flight is on time or delayed? What gate it’s at? Just check the app and all the information you need is there. You can import flights from your TripIt trips or add manually. GateGuru is an airport directory on your phone, so when you’re delayed at that airport you’ve never been at before, you can find the bar closest to your gate (or food, or shop to pick up that last-minute souvenir for the folks at home). GateGuru also has reviews and has saved me from bad food on more than one occasion. Recent updates have added the ability to integrate with social media as well as the ability to check in on Facebook, Twitter or Foursquare from the app.

Organizing Your Tech

As I’ve mentioned here before (see here and here), I tend to travel with a fair amount of technology, which unfortunately means carrying a lot of small items (cords, chargers, dongles, etc.). Recently I’ve found two items that make traveling with all of those small items a LOT easier: Tom Bihn’s Clear Organizer Pouches and their Travel Tray. I use the pouch to carry all my cables and chargers, and the travel tray to get my phone, jewelry, etc. through security without losing things and as a place to keep loose items in the hotel room (again without losing or forgetting them).

Tom Bihn Travel Tray (in purple, of course)
Tom Bihn Travel Tray (in purple, of course)

The travel tray, in particular, really does make my traveling life much easier. I only wish I’d bought one sooner.

What about you? What tech or non tech essentials do you use to make traveling easier? Let us know in the comments!

Best Practices/Making Life Easier: Travel Apps and Tech

Technology in Times of Tragedy: #BostonMarathon


By Jess Faulk

As a Student Affairs professional in Boston, I lived through one of the most emotionally and physically exhausting weeks I could imagine.  The bookends of the week were Monday’s  Boston Marathon explosions, and then Friday’s city-wide “shelter in place” (aka lockdown) and killing and capture of the suspects.  This is never something you can can fully prepare for, but when tragedy does strike you feel very fortunate for systems and technology you have in place to help you manage the crisis.

All week, I have been reflecting on the tools we have used, both to communicate among each other, but also more importantly those used by our students to communicate with their friends and loved ones.  I’d like to share a few of technologies that I feel have been indispensable this week.

Camera and Video Phones

Thanks to the ubiquitous nature of smart phones, investigators had access to thousands of photo and video files.  Following tips from witnesses, they were able to pour through this overwhelming  volume of data and identify several photos and videos of the bombing suspects.  It’s amazing to me that anyone in the crowd might have a photo or video that leads to identifying those responsible.

Texts/Text Alerts/Phone Alerts

Shortly after the explosions on Monday, Boston news sources began pushing out important information about safety measures and street closures. Texts, email and phone alerts were used by Universities to communicate these updates with students. Cell phones became useless as everyone tried to call from and to Boston to check on loved ones. Until cell phone lines cleared up, texting became the most expedient way to communicate with the Resident Director (RD) on duty, my family and friends, and the Campus Emergency Response Team. This made me reflect on our need to come up with separate emergency plans in case of complete cell phone outages.  Do you have plans in place for communicating via home phone?  Office phones? Walkie Talkie?

On Friday, I awoke to a phone alert that Boston and several surrounding towns were on “shelter in place” alert because police were hunting down the 2 suspects.  These phone alerts allow us to quickly respond to incidents as they are happening.

Facebook & Twitter

I was extremely grateful these technologies were available.  They did not exist when 9/11 happened. Back then you couldn’t message your entire community with one post to let everyone know you were okay.  In my first official email communication to the Simmons residential community, I suggested all students post status messages on Facebook and Twitter to let loved ones know they were safe. While we certainly received some concerned parent phone calls after the explosion, and during the manhunt, we received many fewer calls because these communication tools were available.

Opportunities for support also popped up all over Facebook as the week progressed, including information about community vigils and OneFund, which was set up by Boston Mayor Menino and Massachusetts Governor Patrick to support survivors.

Google Docs

While the explosions happened 1.4 miles from the Simmons College campus, we knew that many of our students could potentially have been hurt or killed in the blast.  The Boston Marathon coincides with Patriots’ Day a statewide holiday. Therefore, thousands of students from Boston’s 53 colleges and universities have the day off and chose to line up along the Marathon route to cheer on the runners.  Some Simmons students go the extra mile and volunteer at the finish line and in the medical tents.  Several of our student life staff were also running in the race.

As soon as we were able coordinate communication, each RD sent an email to the students in their building and asked everyone in their building to check in either in person or via email.  We were adamant in tracking down every student, whether physically on campus or off.  Many students were at home with their families because of the long weekend.  By the end of the day, RDs were able to confirm they checked in with 99% of the students in their buildings. RDs entered all of this data onto a shared Google doc spreadsheet. I shared the Google doc with the Emergency Response team, Dean’s office, and ResStaff so everyone had access to real-time head counts.

When parents or friends called in to check on a student, we were able to check the Google doc to confirm that we had heard from the student and they were safe.  Not only was this extremely useful in verifying that our students had all (thank goodness) survived the blasts without harm, but it also made the students FEEL extremely well taken care of.  RDs reported receiving dozens of emails from residents thanking them for checking in on them.

Google doc spreadsheets were also used by the Boston Globe, to set up an “I have a place to stay” document for the thousands of Boston Marathon runners who could not go back to their Back Bay hotels immediately following the blasts.  Google also set up a “Boston Marathon Explosions Person Finder.”

For more information on how how technology and social media played an important role in supporting the Boston Marathon investigations, check out the stories below:

Technology in Times of Tragedy: #BostonMarathon

Best Practices for Making Life Easier

by Colleen Riggle

Tis the season, in the world of student affairs, for banquets, end of the semester this and that, awards ceremonies galore! But how do you keep it all straight? How do YOU practice self care when you’re eating roasted chicken, mashed potatoes with a side of veggies 3 nights a week and delicious desserts for lunch?

For me, it’s using an app to track my food intake because aside from the start of the year when I’m eating cheesecake until September this is a very high calorie season! Not only are the students under deadlines to wrap up classes, finish projects and prepare for exams. We as professionals have end of the year reports, evaluations and assessment to do, too. And if you’re like me I stress eat, so using something that will help assess my intake and more importantly make sure I’m staying hydrated in HOTatlanta!

Maybe it’s the end of the year tiredness or perhaps I’m getting older, but I’m having a difficult time remembering as much as I used to. And I’m old fashioned when it comes to “to-do” lists but I’ve been digging the notepad on my new iphone 5. There is nothing special about it, other than it’s great to have something with when I’m jetting from meeting to meeting, and yet another meeting.

So as you embark on these last few weeks of the semester and make your way into summer, use this time to make life easier. Develop new ways of managing your schedule, keeping track of projects, long term goals, and planning for that vacation
with the notepad, or calendar on your iphone, ipad or even using the icloud! Good luck, summer is in site!

Best Practices for Making Life Easier