Too Busy To Be Busy

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Photo Credit: Raul P via Compfight cc


Like so many of us, I often had times as a teacher/administrator/parent when I was overwhelmed with being busy. I often let the events and schedule run me instead of taking ownership and working to focus on being productive. Often, we focus on being busy, doing things one after another, getting things done with the hope that at some time in the future there will be time to do “the other things”. Unfortunately, there is always more to do and, it seems, more being asked of educators especially during this current time of change where different reform efforts are pulling in different directions. Instead, finding ways to focus on what is important and using different tools to streamline and focus what you plan to do can lead reduce stress and allow you to make decisions based on what is most important not what is demanding your immediate attention.


Where Do I Begin?

I am going to recommend a few tools that I use but these are only examples of the plethora of tools available. Instead of the tools, determine what you are doing, what your current needs are and see if they can help them to focus and improve your productivity. Also note that because of all the apps available vying for your use, it can be easy to get into the ‘rut’ of trying thing out but not getting things done. Do some research and find tools that fit your lifestyle and work for you in the context of where you work. Remember that the tools should be working for you and helping you make your life easier – if they aren’t, then maybe it’s time to do something about it.


Find more time – Rory Varden in his book Multiply Your Time by Procrastinating on Purpose outlines that there are times when we need to take time to do things that may not be giving us immediate payoff today but will multiply our time later on. For me, this means doing such things as planning the various things I will be doing in the upcoming week at specific times. If you want to become more organized and focus on specific things, saying “I’ll workout on Monday or I’ll blog on Tuesday” may work but, if the immediate demands become too great, you can get lost in the moment. This doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for being spontaneous. In fact, since I have begun to do this, I find I have more time to be spontaneous since I have the option to move things around. It also means I have to really focus on what I’m doing and not doing to get done. As Stephen Covey first introduced in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People in 1989,  we sometimes get caught up in the Not Urgent/Not Important or the Urgent/Not Important quadrants instead of taking time to focus on the Not Urgent/Important quadrant which can really benefit us, the people around us, our organizations, our families and, depending on the level of engagement, the society in which we live.


Organization – The two tools I use for helping me organize are Evernote and Sunrise calendar. Evernote has been my productivity tool for some time – I have notes, recipes, pictures, clipping from the web, writing ideas – all sorts of things collected in my notebooks. To start the year, I rearranged my notebooks and archived a number of items that I haven’t used in a long time. The great thing is that if I ever want to look at them, I can open them again with Evernote. The one thing I found Evernote was lacking was integration with a calendar. Then I found Sunrise. This app integrates seamlessly and allows me to plan my day and have it then show up in Evernote PLUS I get the added bonus of getting an email each morning with what I am doing that day as a quick reminder of what I have on my agenda. There are a great many tools and apps that one can use to organize and plan but these two apps allow me to plan, integrate with my iOS apps like Calendar which means what I add to my calendar in Evernote/Sunrise can, if I choose, be added to the family calendar and I can see what is going on in Sunrise. This is pretty handy since I sometimes want to do planning without filling up the calendar I share with the family – they really don’t want to see my blog post ideas! I can also track my use of time in this way – without it messing with the family calendar.


Going Paperless – This has been a goal of mine for some time and although I have not completely been successful, I have been able to eliminate a great deal of paper that I use. The tools I use for this, besides Evernote and Sunrise, are Google Drive, Dropbox, Notability, and the Kindle for iOS app.

Google Drive – I use this exclusively for creating documents and sharing with other people when working on projects or creating forms and presentations. It allows me to create and work synchronymously with others and access the items from anywhere as long as I have internet.

Dropbox – this is where I store all my photos and my documents since it syncs with other apps. I really like the new app Carousel for my pictures as it automatically uploads my camera photos to Dropbox and allows me to access the photos in a user-friendly interface.  It’s a great way to ensure photos are uploaded without having to check. I just have to make sure that I open the app in order to allow it to upload the photos since, to conserve battery, I have very few apps working in the background!

Notability – this is my note taking and PDF reading app that allows me to mark up, highlight, copy and paste and annotate PDFs. It also allows me to do research on a topic and include the URL and other items in the body of the writing so I can easily reference it. I find it great for taking notes at meetings, writing ideas down and making sketches of ideas since there is a draw option.

Kindle – what can I say – it allows me to read my amazon purchases on any of my devices, syncs what I am reading and allows me to highlight and take notes. I still like a paper copy of a book but sometimes the digital version is cheaper and allows me to access it on my phone which I usually have with me. It has allowed me to read for 10 minutes here and 15 minutes there which is great.


This is a good article with ideas about going paperless – How to go paperless in 10 minutes/day. Evernote Paperless Ambassador @jamietr shares his workflow for going digital


Curating from the Web – I have been using three different apps for different purposes – Pearltrees, Flipboard, and Evernote Clipper.

Pearltrees – this has become my favourite tool for web curation and, as it expands and improves, I am using it for more and more. Because it allows me to share my pearls with anyone, even if they don’t have an account, I can curate articles on different topics knowing I can share them with anyone else. I am also beginning to use the grouping function to group different collections in themes. The upload function is something that I’m also beginning to use uploading photos I’m using and document simply by dragging and dropping into a collection. It is very handy! I just really like what this company is doing with the tool and how it seamlessly works with what I am doing. See my Evernote collection as an example.

Flipboard – allows me to create magazines which I then “flip” different articles into for later reading. I can share these with others and other “flippers” can see my public magazines. Because I can add different magazines from other users to my clipboard timeline, I have access to articles of different topics which I can then flip through. I have the option to flip them into one of my magazines, share them which I sometimes do into Pearltrees or share on another of several platforms – twitter is my platform of choice.

Evernote Clipper – a great extension that allows me to capture parts of pages and save them into my notes for use as I write and research. I originally wrote this post as an Evernote note – adding the clipping below as an example of how I use the tool.

This is a clip of some of my pearltrees collections which I clipped into the document. I can also annotate my clippings


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Using the annotate function, I quickly created an image that I could share in a screencast or on a slide or in a blog post. Simple and functional.

These are just a few tools I use to get organized and stay focused. I’ve been using some of these tools for a few years while I’ve added a few more recently. The idea is to add when you need something not because it looks cool or you read about it in an article. Do you really need to add this app? Does it help you be more productive? How does it sync with what you are already using? What apps/tools will it eliminate because it should eliminate something! I’d love to hear your ideas for productivity and how  you manage to tame busy to be more productive, less stressed and accomplish your goals.

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I am a husband, father, son.... I am currently working on my PhD in Education - Curriculum and Instruction. My focus is teacher professional development and social media integration. I have a beautiful, supportive wife who has been my partner for 28 years. We have 8 wonderful children who are amazing individuals. Together, we are exploring the world around us, sharing our stories, and enjoying the journey!


  1. Great post, Kelly! Interesting how part of the challenge is finding the tool/device/method/mindspace, etc. that is a good match for each individual. It is so important to recognize that there is no “perfect” tool but rather each person must find what’s best. To me, the key is to not become frozen in the overwhelm but rather pick your journey out and begin!

    • “A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step” is something I always remember. Too often, we get stuck planning, thinking about, figuring, organizing and forget that part of the great joy of being on a journey is being on the journey. I’m learning that just because someone mentions a new tool doesn’t mean I need to check it out! I like sharing and seeing what others are doing because, once you establish something, tweaking it to make it better involves seeing what others are doing, talking about their experiences and seeing how these mesh with what you do.

  2. I should’ve put as much time into listing and explaining my productivity tools as you did. You added a few tools to your list that I have also found very useful. Flipboard for example, as become an important feed for me to use each day. I also have dropbox, but it has become less useful to me since I began using Google Drive. I organize school pictures through Flickr. Notability is also an app I ought to have mentioned. I use it for anecdotal notes during meetings, however I’m not really excited by text writing features.

    • I really like Flipboard and Pearltrees and have shifted to using these two almost exclusively while sometimes posting to but not as much as I was in the past. I also use Instapaper a bit but more out of habit sometimes. I use to use Pocket but Pearltrees is just so much more functional, has so many more options and is much more user friendly.

  3. I’m not familiar with Sunrise, but it sounds fantastic from the way you’ve described it here. This year, with organizing research and classroom sharing, organization really isn’t an option… I’d like to combine my “worlds” a little better. Evernote may be the way to go!

    • Co-teaching and sharing a class would make organization, at least between the two of you, essential for sanity! It’s like organizing between my wife and I, if we aren’t on the same page someone gets left somewhere! 😉

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