Category: Tech

This is how I work (March 2016)

This blog post was inspired by a similar post on Oliver Quinlan’s blog here; which I was directed to through his weekly Quinlearning newsletter (find out more here – it is a useful weekly round up of developments in edutech with other wider information).  This it itself is based on the lifehacker ‘this is how I work’ – which make interesting reading and can be found on the US Lifehacker site or the UK lifehacker site.


Location: Live in Brentwood and work in Islington, North London

Current Job: Head of Humanities teaching Geography and Politics as well as managing a team of teachers.

One word that best describes how you work: Efficiently – I am quick to try and get through things and clear them off the list; though sometimes it means that I don’t proof read as much as I should.

Current mobile device: An iPhone 6s. I love the phone though recently the battery life has been awful. I need to investigate whether it is an app or a malfunction – as the phone is too new to just suffer from an elderly battery.

Current computer (and what OS is it running?): My school laptop is a Dell laptop – though that stays at work. It runs Windows 7.

My personal computer is a mid-2010 MacBook pro that is still going strong. I have upgraded it to 8GB memory and it is currently running OSX El Capitan. I keep thinking I should replace it – however there is no need at the moment as it is still works like a charm.

What apps, software, or tools can’t you live without?

Dropbox – it syncs my key files on all the computers I use; allows me to access files on my phone and effectively backs up all my files. It is also a really easy way of sharing large files without clogging up email.

Evernote – in the last few years I have essentially gone paperless; this allows me to maintain a virtual filing cabinet which I can access anywhere. I use it for keeping electronic copies of financial statements, periodicals, and anything else that traditionally would have been kept in a filing cabinet.

Endnote – this is used as a filing cabinet for academic papers – storing copies of PDF and creating references and bibliographies for writing. The iPad app is perfect for annotating papers on the go without printing. Its integration with Word makes writing  academic papers much easier as it automatically compiles bibliography and formats references.

Lastpass – this is a great way to remember passwords; I use this with the yubikey 2-factor authentication and I am just experimenting with their authenticator app.

Google Drive and Docs – at school we use Google Apps for Education. This allows sharing of documents among the team and with students. It is great value for educational institutions (free); and I currently have 85gb of files in the drive – this can be accessed from any computer and by mobile app.


Physical tools that I can’t live without is my HP printer and Canon flatbed scanner; sometimes you need things on paper and my HP P1005 is cheap to run (if you use compatible cartridges), quick and good quality black and white. The scanner is essential in scanning paperwork and then getting them into evernote.


What’s your workspace setup like?

Both at home and at work I have a twin monitor set up (the laptop screen and an external screen). I find working across two monitors a huge time saver; particularly when looking at data or putting together lesson resources. I also have my iPad docked on my desk at home – this is great as it stays charged and can also function as a third monitor if needed.

I have stuck on the wall in eye line my teaching timetable. I will always have my moleskine notebook at arms reach. This is where I keep notes from meetings, to do lists, and facts that I use correctly.


I also have a book shelf with textbooks that I regularly use and other reference tools at arms reach. I try to keep this well curated – with less use texts being demoted to other bookshelves or stored in the garage.

What’s your best time-saving shortcut or life hack?

Screen Shot 2016-03-20 at 19.38.12

Using the same calendar for both home and work (I use google calendar) – and putting everything into the calendar. School deadlines, birthdays, even down to every lesson on my teaching timetable. This means I can instantly look either on my computer or phone and work out what I have coming up and if I am free to meet with colleagues or not. I used a free tool called timetable convertor – however just checking it seems to have disappeared – so will need to find a new tool next academic year. It took a couple of hours to set up at the beginning of the year but pays dividends many times over.

What’s your favourite to-do list manager?

I don’t use one – I have tried doing all kinds of electronic apps and websites however I find nothing beats pen and paper. I use my notebook for medium and long term to-do do lists. I sue a post it stuck on the outside of my notebook for that days list.

I also obsessively file emails – anything sitting in my inbox needs me to do something with it.

Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can’t you live without and why?

My external battery pack – my phone will usually run out of juice on the commute home unless I charge it at some point (particularly if I have been watching TV on the journey in the morning). The one I am using at the moment is this RAVPower 16750mAh; it is not the smallest but I find it convenient that it lasts the whole week so I only need to charge it at weekends.

I also really like my google chromecast. It is great to be able to steam digital media to my non-smart TV.

What are you currently reading?

With two hours a day spent commuting I read a significant amount; I usually manage about two books a week. Though recently I have read less, and been watching more TV on the train – this is something I need to redress.

At the moment I am reading:










I read about 100 books a year; and use goodreads to manage my reading; you can see more information about what I read on Goodreads. However I will frequenly just mark a book as currently reading when I start reading – and every few months tidy up the finish dates by estimating when I finished the book.

How do you recharge?

I recharge through getting outside. This could be through walking in the countryside or just pounding the streets and people watching in a city. I also will spend time geocaching, particularly more rural geocache trails (my geocaching profile).

I also watch TV, currently working my way through DVDs of Chicago Fire.

What’s your sleep routine like?

My alarm goes off at 5am every weekday morning; therefore I am normally in bed around 10pm. I don’t have any problem sleeping most nights. The only problem is it means on weekends I am normally up by 6.30 as I can’t get used to lying in bed!

I try not to take my phone to bed – and instead put it on charge in either our office or the living room.

Fill in the blank: I’d love to see _________ answer these same questions.

I don’t have a named individual, instead it is a group of people. I am not a personal fan of all politicians; though I think politicians do a fantastic job of multitasking. They have to manage pressures of Parliament, Party, Constituency, along with family and personal life.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

Don’t go to work to get your love. That doesn’t mean that you should not love your work; but don’t do things at work for love, praise, or approval – do them because they need doing or are in the pupil’s best interest.

Taming the Links

lion tamer

The internet is wonderful; and I would not be the same teacher without it. I use twitter as a source of ideas and new information. I mostly check twitter on the go; and use the ‘favourite’ star as a way to save information for later.

The problem with this approach is I then end up with over 200 favourite tweets in no discernible order.

I needed a way to sort and organise my links.

I posted a request for help on Twitter and Richard Allaway of suggested Diigo. When trying to create an account I realised I had signed up in 2009 but never used the site.

There is a plugin from Diigo that can be added to Chrome that allows websites to be added to the site instantly. You can also email links from the plugin.

Screen Shot 2013-10-27 at 19.35.40






There are a number of other features such as annotating websites which I have not used. One useful features is the ability to mark a website as read later, this is useful when you come across something  but you don’t have time to read it then and there. You can add tags to your links to make finding them easier; and sort your links through lists (categories).

To keep everything in one place I have also set up a IFTTT Recipe to send any blog posts I favourite on Feedly to Diigo.

So far I am very pleased with the service and it is Free. They do offer paid accounts, but for educators they offer a special account that offers more than a free account but for free! There are also a number of tools for teachers to use Diigo with their classes. I will be trying these out in the future. More detail can be found here:

You can view my links here: