The Frenzy of Multitasking: A Recommitment to Focus

I have been resisting the third exercise, Observing Multitasking, from the book Mindful Tech, for at least a month now.

At first, my resistance was grounded in the fact that I hadn’t yet started the semester and felt like my multitasking habits weren’t at their peak.

Now that I’m fully in it, however, and feeling the strain of multitasking, I’ve transitioned into a full blown refusal to look in the mirror and realize that the multitasking that I’m engaged in is a response mechanism, and not a healthy one.

Multitasking allows me to feel “responsive,” but I don’t feel productive, focused or intentional.  This leaves me completely drained and unsure at what I’ve accomplished.  It also puts me in a state of mind where I am no longer reflective (but, again, responsive) and in denial that I put myself into this frenzied state through overcommitment.  I can’t get everything done, so I feel like I need to respond to everything immediately or I’ll be aware at how far behind I’m falling.

I guess, in a way, I have been “doing the exercise” after all, just perhaps not through video-recording my screen captures.  I’m definitely more aware of all of the ways and times in which I’m switching my focus.  Even in writing this blog post, although I intentionally shut off my e-mail, I’ve responded to three text messages (in two different conversations), one of which, also buzzed on my Apple Watch (distracting me twice even though I had already responded to the message on the iMessages feature on my computer); opened 3 browser tabs (2 related to the blog–pixabay for the opening picture & amazon to link Mindful Tech and one related to one of the text messages–google maps); and I’ve glanced at my phone which notified me about a tweet from a friend that’s getting noticed. It is not even 8am.  I am not even technically “working” (although, because of my overcommitment and poor boundary setting, I seem to be always working).  Many of these distractions are actually technically “leisure” as I’m arranging meetings with friends and family, blogging and engaging in social media practices.

Without a mindful start to my day, without an awareness of the way my day is set up to breed distractions and shift my focus, I know I will end the day frenzied and exhausted.  I am already starting the day, feeling how tired this pace will make me, is making me, has made me, in the 3-4 weeks since the start of classes.

So this morning, I am admitting that the multitasking is a problem, and (re)committing to more mindfulness and intentionality in my technology use, and in life.  If I can’t get it all done, it almost certainly is a sign that I’m doing too much.  There is no badge of honor for a frenzied state.  I am likely not even getting more done because it is hard to focus on any one thing I’m doing.

One thing at a time. One step at a time.  Pushing through resistance towards greater learning.

I Guess I Should Write That Book…Thriving with Technology Part 1…

It’s the first day after the 30-day blogging challenge I just finished with my friends, and what am I doing? I’m blogging. I guess 30-day habits die hard.

I mentioned in one of my blog posts that I’m working on a book on more sustainable educational technology practices for teachers and academics.  My friend, Anna, asked if I meant environmental sustainability or life sustainability.  The simple answer is the latter rather than the former. But more than just sustaining our lives, I hope to approach my use of technology as a way for teachers and academics to thrive.

So, if I’m going to write this book, let me share some thoughts on how technology has helped me to thrive as an academic since it will help me to also further organize and sort through my thoughts as I’m presenting them to you.  Today, I’ll start with these 3 tips to thriving with technology use as an academic:

  1. My LMS is my best friend

A learning management system (LMS) is a standard 1-stop platform in academic settings.  All LMS platforms have their advantages and disadvantages including the one my university currently uses.  But, I have made it my mission to make my LMS my best friend.  This has been wonderful.  In doing so, I’ve been able to reach out to the company that designed our LMS, and get information on how to embed my Twitter feed; I never have to recreate my course from scratch, and can import files I need from other courses in seconds (such a huge timesaver) to adapt or update; my students get access to all the information they need in a timely manner; and everything is in one place.  In the semesters when I’m really on top of it, I can set up my flipped modules to release automatically so that I’m not trying to remember to do it at a specific time each week.

2. My social media game is strong and specific

I use Twitter for my professional network.  I have a Facebook, LinkedIn & Instagram account, and have used several of those social media platforms in the past to connect to my professional work, but I focus my professional interactions on Twitter.  I participate in specific Twitter chats that have helped me build up a professional network. I keep in contact with former students; tweet resources for educators and teacher educators; I live tweet from conferences. I also let my students know that Twitter is one of the fastest ways to reach me and integrate opportunities to Tweet and establish networks in class. But, I’m also not on Twitter all the time when I’m on breaks from school.  I am intentional with my Twitter use and it’s helped me to connect with amazing educators (K-12 & higher ed) that keep me motivated and focused professionally.

3. I am learning to set boundaries on my tech use

This is a hard tip for me because this one does not come naturally.  But, if you want to thrive, you can’t be available 24/7.  I’ve begun engaging in more mindful technology practices like those named by David Levy in his book Mindful Tech.  Levy’s exercises have helped me to become more focused on my use of e-mail and reign in my tendency to multi-task.  I am trying to communicate these boundaries with students and give myself more time to respond, even if my natural tendency is to see a notification and take care of it before it even gets on my to-do list.  It’s a slow process, but, I remind myself that, moving from an “as immediate as possible” response rate to a 24-hour response rate isn’t slacking. Instead, it’s building in greater personal sustainability and setting a foundation to use tech as a tool to support my goals rather than being enslaved to those red notification numbers.

This is a starting post, for this book that I’m working on writing.  Would love your feedback, thoughts, tips and tricks (or questions) about how technology helps you to thrive in your work and life (or how you wish it would but it doesn’t)! Comment below if you have thoughts…


The Challenge of Intentional E-mail

If you’ve been reading my posts as part of the 30-day blogging challenge that I’m currently in with my friends, Wes & Darlene Kriesel and Anna Smith, you’ve seen that several posts have been about establishing more intentional practices related to technology, with a couple of these posts focused the exercises in David M. Levy’s Mindful Tech book.

For the last 5 days, I’ve been working on the 2nd exercise in Levy’s book called “Focused E-mail.” Unlike Levy’s first exercise which is observational, this exercise is prescriptive and revolves around exclusive and intentional focus on a particular technological platform/ application/ activity.  I started with e-mail and have continued with that, trying to incorporate both the principles I set up for myself during the first exercise and Levy’s exercise of just doing e-mail, in 15-20 minute (minimum) spurts, not deviating for real life or virtual distractions.

The first day when I started this exercise, I had to laugh at myself.  As soon as I opened my work e-mail application, I got a text message notification from a friend (or family member–I can’t even remember who send the text) and I quit the e-mail application so that I could answer the text and still technically do the challenge.  I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me to just turn off the message notifications on my computer, but if I were to do that, I’d still have to take off my Apple Watch, close down all my other applications, notify my family that I’m just doing e-mail (which means this cannot be done at any time when my 3-year old is home because she does not care that I’m trying to focus on e-mail) and make sure my phone was on silent.  And, even if all of that had been done (which it wasn’t, in truth), I would still have been foiled this day by the doorbell. I am just not set up to give my full attention to any one task.


Focused e-mail is super hard.  Although I’m doing Levy’s adapted version where other applications can be open in order to “take care” of the tasks related to e-mail (e.g. opening my calendar to note dates articulated in an e-mail or downloading documents from the e-mail), it’s still a real challenge not to get distracted by other dates on the calendar, by other documents on my desktop, by my sudden overwhelming urge for a cup of tea, and by the fact that somewhere someone likely needs my attention. This is part of the purpose of the exercise, but it was also fascinating to see the degree to which this type of mindfulness is difficult for me.

But, it’s also been a good exercise in many ways.  I would estimate that I typically spent between 90 minutes – 2 hours answering e-mails/ workday previously.  I haven’t spent more than an hour on e-mail since I’ve been doing this exercise. (I’m sure part of this is due to being on break between semesters, but even before engaging in the exercise during break, I was spending a lot more time on e-mail.) Fires sometimes just put themselves out without me, and sometimes, because I’m not rapid-fire responding to e-mails, I realize that many messages don’t need a response at all. I find myself able to focus more on the work that I am doing when I don’t have to leave and come back to it to answer an e-mail that seems more pressing than the work I’m doing.  I’m also much more aware of those distractions that do draw me away from tasks: text notifications, calendar notification, dropbox change notifications.

I think I really just need to turn off notifications. They seem to notify me that I should be stressed.

I appreciated this exercise and think I’ll adopt it, to some degree, as a more regular practice.  I do like setting aside time for e-mail and not having e-mail notifications pushed at me constantly, but focusing to the exclusion of everything else is really, super hard.  It’s probably something I need to work on in all of my life, but for now, I think that I’ll be content to move onto the next exercise in the book which is “observing multitasking.”

Stay tuned…

Why Am I Doing This? Pushing Pause Instead of Pushing E-mail

A week ago, I began the first exercise from David M. Levy’s Mindful Tech book, and started observing my e-mail use.  Levy encourages his readers to share both their observations and personal guidelines they’ve established after completing the exercise, and, well, I need to write a blog post today anyways, so here goes 🙂


It didn’t take long for me to notice several patterns with my e-mail use:

  1. I check e-mail automatically, as a routine when I’m bored or when I don’t have anything immediately to do in the moment.  Over the last week, I noticed that I’ll instinctually reach for my phone to check e-mail (and social media notifications) first thing in the morning, but also, when I’m the passenger in a car (even when someone I love is talking to me!), when I’m walking on the street, waiting for a light to change, when I don’t feel like doing something that I should be doing. I do this with social media too, but I start with e-mail, which I feel more justified doing as it’s ostensibly “productive.”
  2. E-mail is generally very stressful for me, but much more so when I’m on my mobile device.  My phone is great for many things, but it is not ideal for e-mail.  Over this last week, I felt my anxiety rise when my e-mail was loading slowly (or not loading at all), and when I saw an e-mail come in on my mobile device that I couldn’t respond to right away (or that it would be extremely inefficient for me to respond to using the device itself). When these things happen, I get SUPER anxious, which translates into tense shoulders and short breaths. I’ll either keep checking/ refreshing until I can get to the e-mail I need or I’ll inefficiently respond so I can feel like it’s off my plate.  If I don’t respond, I am afraid I’ll forget to respond.
  3. I feel obligated to get back to people as soon as I see their messages.  My work e-mail is the most stressful, followed by my gmail, which is stressful because it’s the one I’m most likely to forget to check or respond to, and email gets lost quickly in that account (i.e. I don’t have a good system to track who I need to respond to).  I am actually the best with my personal yahoo e-mail account which is basically my e-mail where all the Groupon, Target, charity, listserv e-mails come.  I feel ZERO stress checking that account, even when there are 57 notifications because if I start to get stressed out, I literally just delete almost every single e-mail and it feels cathartic. In fact, that e-mail makes me feel awesome because with a few checks and the trash button, I’ve just dealt with all those e-mails! Sometimes, I will check/ read the e-mails in that account, but I don’t feel beholden to them, like I do with my other e-mail.

Personal Guidelines

What can help me to use my e-mail more effectively?  Levy is clear in his text that personal guidelines are just that, personal.  They work for an individual and aren’t necessarily generalizable.  I’m going to play around with these personal guidelines for e-mail and see how they work for me, at least for the next couple of weeks, and then I’ll reconsider and revise as necessary:

  1. Put a pause on pushing e-mail.  On my phone, I changed my mail settings to fetch e-mail manually.  This means that I won’t automatically see the number on my mail icon.  I’ll need to open the app and ask it to download my e-mail. As a bonus game, I’m challenging myself to check only when my Apple Watch signals for me to stand (so, a maximum of once an hour, but not in the hours when I’m actually active and getting something done). When I’m focused on a task, I will quit my work e-mail app on my computer and only open it when either: a) I’m done with my task or b) I get my stand cue.
  2. Don’t respond to work e-mail or gmail on my phone.  I thought about deleting both accounts from my phone, but the calendar syncing is really helpful. So, I’m going to try just being intentional about not responding to these e-mails on my phone which I hope will help me establish a pattern of addressing them when I’m more present to my e-mails, on my computer.
  3. When reaching for my phone, pause, and ask why and if that’s really what I want to be doing? In reflecting on the past week and on my present “vacation brain,” I know that I use my phone (e-mail and social media particularly) to avoid things I don’t want to do, or to avoid being present.  I don’t think this is always bad, as sometimes my brain needs a rest, and I work extremely hard. However, I also think that being mindful and finding alternatives that feel more intentional and less stressful could be helpful.  It’s not necessarily that mindless, automatic habits are bad, it’s that this one actually can be really counterproductive.

So, that’s the first exercise.  I’ll keep you all updated as I continue to move forward in mindfulness….

#TeamNoSleep & the Quest for More Mindful Tech Use

That espresso in the corner symbolizes the #TeamNoSleep of this post; the rest symbolizes my quest for a more mindful relationship with technology

I’m going to start this post off by saying that I didn’t sleep well last night.

This happens when, every few months, I have a very strong coffee.  I am usually a tea drinker because coffee gives me the jitters, but I had a strong cup of delicious cuban coffee with milk and then I didn’t sleep.  So, if this post seems a little off, blame the indulgence of a cafe con leche.

That preface has nothing and everything to do with the rest of this post, which is on mindfulness is relation to technology.  It has nothing to do with the post because, well, it’s about sleep and delicious cuban coffee, and this is mainly a post about technology.  It has everything to do with it because it’s about mindful (or non-mindful) consumption.

In my life, I am fairly disciplined in terms of what I consume (within reason).  I know what makes me feel really sick and I know what keeps me up at night (clearly); I know that I need to eat, sometimes even when I don’t feel hungry or don’t love the choices presented to me; and I know that moderation is best for most things. I also don’t always make the best choices.  I generally choose well, but not always, and sometimes, I choose the opposite of the best thing for me in that moment, because, well, an occasional indulgence is part of life.  But, I’m very aware of what I eat and drink because my physical and mental health depend on it.

I can’t always say the same thing about my technology consumption.

I’m (ostensibly) working on a book about intentional tech use for sustainability. (I say ostensibly because I have the ideas for the book, but haven’t actually written a lot of it…) As part of my work on the book, I decided to buy, and read Mindful Tech by David M. Levy which is about bringing more balance into our digital lives.  I’ve been wanting to read this book for awhile and I know I need more digital balance (I’m a Libra. I need more every kind of balance), but, honestly, I was worried that the book would prescribe some kind of technology fast (which I’ve done before, for Lent, with Facebook) which hasn’t really worked for me in the past.  I mean, I fast, but then once I’m back on, the old patterns return, and I find some other tech tool to replace Facebook while I’m fasting.

Thankfully, the book really isn’t about fasting.  It’s about observing technology use and then changing to be more intentional (mindful & effective), which, as someone who does action research, is exactly what I need to do, without judgment, and with a lot of curiosity and self-compassion.

Yesterday, I began the first exercise in the book, which was about observing my e-mail use.  It’s funny because Levy’s first exercise is about focusing on one technology tool (e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) of your choice to observe.  I thought I’d focus on Facebook because honestly, I think I have more of a problem with it than e-mail.  But, what was interesting was that I actually wasn’t even aware of how much e-mail rules my life. I check automatically, feel stressed when I can’t respond right away, manage mail across 3 different accounts, and allow it to distract me when a message comes up and I’m around others that I love.  Whew! That’s a lot to realize in 6 hours of observation.  It’s one of the first things I do in the morning, and I get extra annoyed when I see a number (signifying unread messages) next to my mail app.

What I love about mindfulness is that it’s really about accepting what’s so without judging it.  I see my use of e-mail.  I see how e-mail has been occupying (so much) space in my life in ways that aren’t aligned with who I am or my priorities in life.  With this awareness, I can make better choices (like I tell my 3.5 year old).  Even more importantly, if I can start to bring more awareness to how I’m feeling when my use of a tech tool is counter-productive (usually stressed and obligated, which means a physical pit in my stomach and tightness in my shoulders), then I can observe what I’m doing in that moment and (hopefully, eventually) work to change that behavior.

Awareness can empower change.  And I’m excited about this journey towards more mindful tech use.

Using Technology to Build Community

Photo by Joshua Rawson-Harris on Unsplash

Technology often gets a bad rap in terms of taking us away from those we love.

Don’t get me wrong. I know first hand that technology can be a huge distraction from being present (in fact, I may have been reminded of as much by a dear friend during my 40th birthday weekend celebration), but there’s been a lot written on the “evils of technology.”

So, in this post, I’d like to offer the start of a different story, a story from another perspective.

I want to talk a little bit about how technology has allowed me to build a personal and professional community beyond distance, space and time.

The last week has been a tough one, as I’ve been dealing with all that’s been happening politically in the United States. It’s also been tough professionally, in dealing with a situation at work.

Plus, honestly, life is tough being an academic mother every day.

But, my social media community often offers me faith, grace, hope and a space of community when I only have a moment and access to the internet, and when I’m stressed to the gills. They totally came through for me in this last week.  My community offered resources that I couldn’t think of when I was tired and stressed.  My community offered kindness when I felt like I just couldn’t understand why things were the way they were. They empathized and reflected. They cared and followed up.

It’s not all roses. Sometimes my community tell me hard truths. Sometimes they correct me. Sometimes they don’t get me.  But, more often than not, my virtual community helps to connect me when I feel completely disconnected. And when I see those people I’m connected with on social media in person, they check-in because they already know without me having to relive the things I’m struggling with.

I’m a work in progress in terms of using technology productively, rather than letting technology run the show in my life, but today, I’m grateful, because technology affords me community, reminds me to reach out, and shows me that I’m not alone.

Considering Online Interactions


Around 15 years ago, when e-mail was my major form of online communication, I remember sending a somewhat entitled e-mail to my Masters thesis advisor who had generously offered her feedback on a draft I had written.  After initially telling her I didn’t need the feedback prior to Spring Break, I had decided I could use the time on my flights to and from my Spring Break destination for revision, and pressed her to leave me the draft before I left for my trip.  She ended up leaving the draft for me before my trip, but it changed our relationship which had previously been very strong and left me feeling awkward (to this day) about my behavior.

Five years ago, I posted something that was innocent (and I thought, innocuous) on my Facebook page about students not posting pictures of their drawings on standardized testing (blank) scratch paper to avoid getting in trouble or getting their teachers in trouble.  A parent saw the post, reported it to the state department of education who launched an investigation into my administration of the test (which cleared me of wrongdoing because I did nothing wrong), causing unnecessary grief to my students and myself.

I bring up these story because lately I’ve been thinking (perhaps over thinking) about my current online identity and interactions.  I’ve also been thinking about the things my students post and the ways they interact with me online.

All this thinking has led me to three questions that I’ve found helpful to answer when I’m about to post something online and that I think might be a helpful guide for my students.

Who is my audience? 


Who you’re talking to…


Who actually is reading your post…

So, this question is interesting because in the online world, you often have two audiences: your intended audience (who you want to see your post/ message) and your possible audience (who can actually access your post/ message).

Because of the aforementioned testing incident, I’m hyper-conscious of privacy settings, who can see my stuff and how it might be interpreted which leads me, generally, to under-post, have two twitter accounts (my professional twitter and my more-snarky, but still appropriate, mom and foodie twitter account), keep my Facebook friends as only people I actually know and like and to be careful.

But not everyone is like this.

I was reading through discussion board posts and tweets recently and, in both instances, saw posts/ tweets that were not directed towards me, but that were visible to me.  In both cases, I wanted to respond to the posts, to correct the originator about misconceptions or tone.  Perhaps, the originators of these posts didn’t consider the public (or semi-public) nature of the posts, or perhaps they didn’t find their post offensive, but who sees what you write is something critical to consider, particularly given the pre-professional teacher preparation that I do. That leads me to question #2…

What’s the worst way this could be interpreted? 


What you look like when someone’s misread your post….

This question is critical.  So often, on the internet, things are taken out of context.  More often than not, people who don’t know you (or don’t know you well) misinterpret your words, tone, intention, etc. to sometimes very real consequences (particularly in the professional world).  I’ve done this to Facebook acquaintances and tweeps, despite trying my best to assume positive intent.

So, I’ve started to prepare myself to do the opposite or think about my words, before I post, and the worst possible interpretation.  Again, this leads to some reservation in posting, and more careful composition, but I imagine it’s saved me a lot of grief.  If I’d had this policy in the two opening incidents, perhaps I wouldn’t have acted in the same way.

Is it necessary to say? 


Because there’s just so much blah, blah, blah out there

What I mean by this is: 1) Is it worth the effort to try to explain something that could be possibly misinterpreted or to correct someone who possibly didn’t mean what I thought they meant? 2) Is this issue important enough to possibly generate a conversation beyond my initial statement and to weather the implications and fall-out that the conversation might cause? 3) Is it contributing something to someone in some way? and/or 4) Am I in a position where my attempted contribution may actually impact or influence the audience I’m trying to reach? (Even if this is a possibility, I’ll probably go ahead and post)

There’s not definitive answer on a post’s necessity so I eye-ball it a lot.  I’ve stopped engaging in A LOT of political discussions in this election season because honestly, I’m not going to change beliefs on Facebook.  I’d rather discuss my disagreements with a friend over a cup of tea, in person, where I can be present to their humanity.

If I go through these three questions and I end up still wanting to post, then I do, and I deal with consequences and possible misconceptions.  So, now, I’m going to post this and deal with the rest of the work I have left to do today so I can start my weekend. Happy posting!

Walking the Talk: Twitter Chat as Online Pedagogy

twitter-117595__180 Last night was the first time that I actually required extended use of twitter in one of my classes.  For a few years, I’ve required that students establish a twitter account, follow me and follow their colleagues.  I’ve used twitter as a communication tool, to share resources, as an outlet for students to post what’s going on in the classroom (or their exit slips), and I’ve even integrated optional assignments involving twitter chats and one-time required tweets from class.

But, this semester, I’m teaching a Masters course (Introduction to Educational Research) which is meeting online 5 times over the course of the semester.  As part of the online portion of the course, I decided to try holding a 30-minute synchronous twitter chat using our class hashtag (#edp400) to check-in with where students were in relation to their research questions, potential problems of practice, and the process in general.

I’ve always wanted to require a twitter chat in one of my courses since I’ve found them to be one of the most accessible ways to connect with fellow professionals in informal professional development settings.  Everyone’s there to talk about a particular topic.  People are interested, interesting and engaged.  The chat passes quickly and is done before you know it. But, I worried that it might overwhelm my students with its pace, particularly some of my more novice twitter users who had just established their accounts.

After weighing the pros and cons, I decided to try this 30-minute format, with 4 questions.

And….it was actually amazing! While it was rapid-fire, and I’m still not sure (even after spending 30 minutes after the chat trying to look for responses that I hadn’t gotten to during the chat) that I was able to address all the tweets that I wanted to, but from what students reported, they felt better about their topics, were able to connect with others who were investigating similar things, were able to think through problems of practice, and were clearer about where they were in the process.


What I am learning through this semester and this process is to push beyond my comfort zone.  I can only grow and experience new things if I am willing to risk confusion, rejection and failure.  In the end, this growth (as painful and difficult as it can be) is inspiring, renewing, and pushing me to be better as a teacher, scholar, mother, and person.