Earlier this week I presented a session at TASA Midwinter in Austin about how our district is engaging our community, parents, students and staff. After the session, I got a common question about how I’m using the Google Sheets Add-On, Autocrat, to automatically generate printable certificates for our district employee recognition program. Check out the short video below for the steps you can take to set up your own work smarter, not harder system using Google Forms, Google Docs and Google Sheets. Then, check out the presentation for 21 other ways we are engaging our district and community stakeholders. Let me know if you have some ideas to share! I’d love to collaborate with you!
I was recently contacted by a newly hired school PR professional who is building a brand new PR program in her district. Having done that very thing 3 years ago, I was happy to offer my input and share my resources. With the help of MANY veteran school PR pros (thank you CASPRA, TSPRA, and NSPRA!), I’ve filled my toolbox and developed some documents that anyone can use to get a school PR program off the ground. I’m so happy to share those documents with you!
Please feel free to make copies of any of these documents and use them to develop your school PR program or share them with someone who can benefit! They’re all in Google Doc format, so you just have to go to File > Make a Copy to create your own version. Sharing is caring! We’re better together! 🙂
- Communications and Community Relations Plan – having a road map to guide communications efforts is incredibly helpful in beginning a new program, keeping it on track, and evaluating it annually for effectiveness.
- Annual School PR Tasks Checklist – I find that having a sort of “dashboard” for my annual and monthly tasks is helpful for big picture planning, prioritizing and making sure nothing slips through the cracks.
- Branding and Style Guide – I looked at dozens of style guides, some simple and some very in depth, before developing this one for our district. I settled on a simple and straightforward version, leaving room for the addition of details in the future, if needed.
- Communications Scorecard – each month I send this communications scorecard to my superintendent and our board of trustees. This is a great way for me to analyze our content and locate trends, as well as illustrate our growth and top efforts.
- Stay Connected with our ISD – this is a great publication for parents and the community to see all of the many ways they can stay connected with your schools!
In addition to the documents above, I also want to offer two presentations that I shared at TSPRA last year that may also be of interest/help. One contains ways in which we have engaged various stakeholder groups and the other is a presentation I also use internally to start a dialogue about branding and public education.
I love to share good news about the awesome work our students and staff are doing, but sometimes I feel like I’m only getting part of the story. It can be difficult and time consuming to go back and forth trying to get adequate information for a complete press release. I recently found this press release request form from Austin ISD and immediately started developing something I could use in my own district. I am sharing a generic version of this flyer in case it’s something that might help you, as well! I shared this with our campus and district administrators, as well as put it out to all staff members in our district via our district intranet. Hopefully this will better inform our staff about the information necessary for a press release, and make our jobs a little easier!
Last week I attended the monthly CASPRA (Central Area region of TSPRA) meeting in the Austin area. If you are in school PR and you are not a member of NSPRA and your state chapter, DO IT! The folks in these organizations are my LIFESAVERS! In fact, I drive an hour and a half there and back each month just to attend the monthly regional meetings. It’s worth every second, especially when the discussions turn out some great tips like the ones below.
Marco Alvaredo, Director of Communications & Community Relations for Lake Travis ISD, led one of the CASPRA round table discussions on time management and below are 5 tips, tricks, and tools I took away from the talks. In school PR, time management is a tough one, especially if you’re an office of one, but these practical ideas might help!
1. Use Google Keep for prioritizing daily tasks.
I recently shared how I use Google Keep for prioritizing my daily tasks. I still contend that my “Fab Five” list is the one trick that keeps me on track to complete the most important tasks before moving on to less pressing issues. If you’re not familiar with Google Keep, check out the getting started post here.
2. Group related emails into folders, then check by topic to keep from having to switch gears multiple times.
I thought this was a really interesting idea. I strive for zero inbox, and I usually start from the top of my inbox and work my way down. I archive anything that I have already attended to and keep everything that needs my attention in my inbox. I do sometimes struggle with having to switch mental gears from one email to the next as the topic changes. By first sorting emails into folders, you can keep your momentum on one topic before moving on to the next. Do you check emails this way? I would be curious to know how it works for you!
3. Tackle your biggest projects first.
Jennifer Bailey, Director of Human Resources & Communication in Jarrell ISD, recommended completing the most daunting tasks first before moving on to tasks that require less time and effort. There have been many times when I have slid a project from one day to the next on my calendar because I just don’t want to deal with it. I like this idea, though, to just dive in and get it done! Eat the elephant one bite at a time!
4. Use Boomerang for Gmail to streamline email checking.
I have been using Boomerang for years and I love it! Boomerang allows you to schedule emails to send later, temporarily archive emails and have them pop back up in your inbox at a certain time, and “Boomerang” an email back to your inbox to remind you to follow up if you haven’t gotten a response from the sender.
5. Recognize capacity and strategically abandon, if needed.
Jennifer Bailey of Jarrell ISD also introduced a very thought-provoking term during our CASPRA time management discussions … strategic abandonment. She shared how her team at a previous district was reduced and the skeleton crew finally had to strategically abandon some initiatives to operate within their capacity. School PR departments can can become the dumping ground for every project and idea and initiative in every campus and department. We have to consider, however, if we’d rather go far and wide with shallow projects or deep dive into initiatives for maximum quality.
Two more tidbits…
I recently heard about Redbooth, a project management tool. I haven’t checked it out yet, but it’s on my list. Anyone out there using it? I would love to know how you like it!
The book Sense of Urgency by John Kotter was also shared at the CASPRA meeting. It’s currently on the way from Amazon to my door. Have you read it? What did you take away?
Last week I shared how the use of Google Keep transformed how I organize and prioritize daily tasks for maximum productivity. Some of you had questions about what that looks like, so this week I want to share how easy it is to get started using Google Keep, plus a little Chrome trick that can help you pull it all together.
Go to keep.google.com.
Make sure you’re logged into your Google account. Below is what your screen will look like if you don’t have any notes yet.
Create your first list or note.
It’s so much more than a list!
Google Keep is SO much more than just notes and lists. Check out the options by mousing over each little icon at the bottom of your list/note.
- Remind me – get an email reminder with this information
- Add a collaborator – helloooooo shared shopping lists 🙂
- Change the color – my Fab Five list is red, so I can’t miss it
- Add an image – great for screenshots to accompany the note
- Archive – you can still recall archived notes/lists in left sidebar
- Delete note – notes in your trash are permanently deleted after 7 days
- Add label – great for organizing and searching
- Add drawing – I gotta be honest … have never used this feature!
- Make a copy – easily duplicate a note/list
- Hide checkboxes – but WHHYYYY? Checking the box is all the fun!
- Copy to Google Docs – cool feature, copies everything over to a Google Doc … this is helpful if your notes become too much for Google Keep and really need a Doc all their own.
Organize and prioritize notes and lists.
If you click the little push pin in the top right corner of your note/list, it will pin that note to the top of your collection. I use this trick + color coding to keep my lists organized and prioritized. You can click and drag your notes to put them in a specific order. My Fab Five list is always pinned to the far left corner since those tasks are my first priority.
Get the app for notes on the go!
Check out the Google Keep quick start overview from Google here and make sure you download the app on your phone so you can access your notes/lists from anywhere! Look for the little yellow sticky note / lightbulb icon in Google Play or the App Store.
Bonus trick: Set Google Keep as one of your startup pages in Google Chrome!
It’s easy to make lists and take notes, but you’re only as good as your follow through. I have found that setting startup pages in Google Chrome helps me start the day with everything I need for success.
To do this, go to your Chrome browser settings and scroll down until you see “On startup.” You can set your browser to open a specific set of pages every time you open your browser. I have mine set to open Gmail, Calendar, Drive and Keep. This simple trick removes one step for me when I begin my day and ensures that I attend to my Google Keep lists.
I used to think I was a “do one thing at a time until it’s finished” kind of person, but since moving into a school PR role, I have discovered I am more of a “squirrel” type of worker. In school PR, we have to be able to switch gears quickly because we never know what’s going to come up. Many times I am in the middle of one project and another one gets thrown on the pile, or I am researching one topic when a new one comes up. This work environment can contribute to a lack in productivity and sometimes an increase in frustration.
Two years ago at our annual district leadership retreat, I shared this challenge with a colleague during one of our team building/reflection activities. I told him that despite my endless attempts at prioritizing and list making, I never felt like I accomplished what I needed to at the end of the day and that it was hard to really feel productive and strategic. He gave me such a simple suggestion that I had a real “DUH” moment.
Why don’t you make a list of your top 3-5 priorities for the day and tackle those tasks before you move on to anything else on your list?THANK YOU, BMS Assistant Principal Larry Hughes!
Simple. Genius. Why didn’t I think of that?!
The very next day I set up my “Fab Five” list in Google Keep. I had been using Google Keep for years, but more for more for taking notes on the fly, not specifically for list making and task creation. It suddenly made so much sense to replace the notepad on my desk with a digital list that could be accessed from any device at any time and rearranged with a simple click and drag. (Is anyone else like me … if I have to reorder tasks on a paper list, I will just start over rather than scratch out!)
I typically update my Fab Five list before I leave work in the afternoon so when I arrive the next morning, I know exactly where to start my day. I set Google Keep as one of my startup tabs in Google Chrome so it pops right up when I login each morning. I also created several secondary Google Keep lists to keep track of ideas, tools, articles, etc. that I come across.
Admittedly, this is not a perfect system and there are times when I have to deviate from my Fab Five, but this method really has changed my daily routine. It’s like having a daily dashboard that helps me stay organized and makes me feel more productive and strategic.
What methods do you use to stay organized? Do you have any tricks for productivity? Leave a comment below – I’d love to read your ideas!
When you work in a small school district, you have to find creative ways to work smarter, not harder. There aren’t secretaries at every turn or levels of assistants for delegating tasks. We’re not “top heavy” and we all wear many hats to get the job done. (Fun fact: Even our superintendent shares his secretary!) The tools below are my staples for staying organized and completing tasks efficiently.
1. Google Calendar
Warning: dramatic statement … I LIVE by Google Calendar. Like, really. There are times when I am walking in the hallway of a campus, hear the ding, and do an immediate about face to head in the opposite direction for a meeting that slipped my mind. Google Calendar is my TOP survival tool! Here are 3 of my favorite things about Google Calendar:
- It’s searchable. Can’t remember when you met with that guy last year? Do a search! I put TONS of details in my calendar events so I can search them easily later. This has saved me on several occasions!
- It’s a time management tool. I schedule EVERYTHING on my Google Calendar, including blocks of time to work uninterrupted on big projects. If it’s on my calendar, I know I will take the time to get the job done instead of putting it off, AND it keeps me from overbooking myself (usually!).
- It integrates with YouCanBook.Me. This is an AWESOME scheduling tool that I use regularly to allow teachers, principals and everyone in between book time on my Google Calendar. It’s user friendly, and the free version gives me everything I need.
2. Google Keep
I am pretty much a “Google Girl.” I love all things Google – especially when the tools help me do my job better and keep my sanity (win-win!). Google Keep is such a powerful tool, but it’s not one of the main apps, so I think it’s underutilized. Google Keep allows you to create digital sticky notes and task lists. Here are 3 of my favorite things about Google Keep:
- It’s with me wherever I go. Because these digital sticky notes sync to my Google account, I can access them from anywhere and on any device. Long road trip and your mind is racing with ideas/tasks? Open up Google Keep and make a list. Check the tasks off when you get back to the office!
- Notes and lists are sharable. Need to brainstorm with a colleague or share tasks? No problem – just share the digital sticky note. (This works really well for tandem grocery shopping, too!)
- It’s a productivity tool. I use Google Keep stickies for daily priority lists and “top tasks.” I have a “Fab Five” sticky note that is pinned to the top of my Google Keep screen with the five things I must complete today. This little nugget keeps me on track (and can keep the stress at bay!).
Boomerang for Gmail
If your inbox is a disaster or you are one of those “wake up at 2am and work” kind of people, you need Boomerang in your life. Boomerang does these things for you:
- Schedule emails to send later (like, NOT at 2am … don’t be that guy!).
- Temporarily archive emails and have them pop back up in your inbox at a certain time. (It’s like snooze for your email!)
- “Boomerang” an email back to your inbox to remind you to follow up if you haven’t gotten a response from the sender.