Do Something & Nothing at the Same Time

Friday was our last day of school– summer is finally here! (For non-teachers, I understand that you probably have no sympathy for me.)

LakeWhile it’s really nice having the summer off, with the lake and pool calling my name, I often find it very challenging to actually get anything accomplished.

I get a lot done during each day of the school year, but I’m guessing it’s because I have daily pressures and deadlines to meet. In the summer, it’s more important for me to set goals because I have more free time than during the school year when my time is competed for. In order to stay focused, I’ve developed a system that works for me.

You may not have an entire summer of down time, but these tips may be helpful for vacations, long weekends, or extended time off. If your goal is to do nothing and escape from the daily grind, these tips may not help. However, I really enjoy what I do, and I agree with Seth Godin in his book Tribes when he says, “Instead of wondering when your next vacation is, maybe you ought to set up a life you don’t need to escape from.”


5 Ways I Do Something and Nothing at the Same Time:

  • Make a to-do list. Each week I make a daily to-do list. I take my big goals and divide them into manageable tasks. While I may accomplish a few small goals each day, by the end of the week I’ll have made a ton of progress. Plus, setting daily goals helps me manage my big tasks and gives me time to enjoy not working. On Sundays, I schedule “no work” as my goal and this past Sunday I swam all day with my kids. And it felt great. I know that I have a lot to get done this week, but because I budgeted “no work,” it was easy to accomplish. Once Monday rolled around, I hit the ground running.
  • Find a place to work. I’ve learned that I image can’t get anything done at home because I’m too easily distracted, and although going to my empty classroom would give me some time to focus, I’ve found I get more done when I’m around people. The solution? I take my laptop and iPad to Starbuck’s and set up shop. It turns out they also sell coffee, so it’s a win-win!
  • Start early. In the summer, if I’m not careful, I won’t get anything accomplished because I’ll keep saying, “I’ll do it this afternoon.” Knowing this, I start early. Starbuck’s opens at 5:30. I don’t arrive that early, but 6:30 does work for me.
  • Create a routine. If I’m not careful, it’s easy for me to say, “I’ll do that tomorrow” and then nothing ever gets done. Instead, I work from 6:30-12:00 and no later (and usually I finish earlier). Somerset Maugham once said, “I write only when inspiration strikes. Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o’clock sharp.” Find a time, create a routine, and stick to it.
  • Protect my time. I want to accomplish personal, professional, and family goals– to do all three, I have to protect my time. From waking-up until lunch, that’s time for personal and professional goals. After that, I get to hang out with my family, go on adventures, and have a whole lot of fun. I’m very careful about not mixing the two. Whatever I’m doing, I work to be present and focused.


I don’t know what the next few months will look like for you, but I know what mine look like because I’ll be doing what I love doing every day. It sure doesn’t get any better than that, right?


What are you listening to?

I have headphones in my ears often, so it’s not uncommon for someone to stop and ask, “What are you listening to?” To their surprise, my response is almost always, “The ____ podcast” which is usually followed with, “Oh, that sounds boring,” or “What’s a podcast?”

I then explain the basic concept of a podcast and what I specifically like about the podcast I am currently listening to.


Stitcher Playlist

I listen to several podcasts every day thanks to Stitcher. Here is a list of the podcasts in my current Stitcher playlist:


Business & Education


There are a few other podcasts I listen to occasionally, but I wouldn’t consider myself a regular so I didn’t include them in this list.


Finding Time

It seems on a daily basis I’m asked, “How do you find time to listen to so many podcasts?” I teach six classes each day, so I’m not able to listen to anything during the school day; however, I am able to find time throughout my day. At first the answer seemed somewhat obvious to me, but because I’m asked so often, it must be a worthy question.


3 Times I Listen to Podcasts

  • In the car. My commute is really, really short (2 miles– nice, eh?), but I use that time to listen to something inspirational. If I’m ever going somewhere else (by myself!), I also use that time to listen to podcasts. If my wife and/or kids are with me, podcasts aren’t an option (yet). However, once my kids are older, I can’t wait to introduce them to some of my inspirational heroes. As of now, though, my oldest just keeps saying, “I don’t know this song” until I play the Curious George soundtrack (although I’m not complaining about listening to Jack Johnson!).


  • While lifting or running. Switching from music to podcasts took some getting used to, but it works well for me now. If for some reason I’m just not feeling it or I need an extra bump, I’ll listen to music– but those days are getting fewer and fewer because I’ve found it’s a great time to fit podcasts into my schedule. While exercising and listening to podcasts, my mind just starts racing with ideas. If I have a great idea that I need to hang on to, it’s not uncommon for me to stop, take a screenshot on my phone to bookmark the spot so I can go back and listen later. There’s something about engaging the body and the mind at the same time.

    Screenshot to time-stamp podcast for re-listening


  • While completing routine tasks. If I’m mowing the yard, folding laundry, cleaning the house, loading the dishwasher, or doing any other routine task, more than likely I have my headphones in and I’m listening to a podcast. Obviously if it’s a distraction, I don’t, but more often than not, it makes doing chores pretty enjoyable (all things considered).


Find Your Own Time

Audit how you spend your time and identify what you listen to (if anything) during that time. If you spend a lot of your time listening to music, consider substituting in a podcast. I heard Jim Rohn say, “The books you don’t read can’t help you.” I feel the same about podcasts. The podcasts I don’t listen to can’t inspire me. I can listen to music any time (and I do listen to music– in fact, I’m listening to Mumford and Sons right now as I type this), but there’s something special and inspiring about podcasts.

By reflecting on your current habits, I bet you can find time to listen to some podcasts. Your next challenge is to find the perfect ones for you. Good luck with that one!


We’re Writing a Book! (pt. 2)

If you missed the previous “We’re Writing a Book!” post, you can read part one here.

After two weeks of writing a book in class, I don’t know who’s learned more: me or students.


Week One

This is not going as planned.

After one week of writing a book in class, not much happened other than ideas being shared. It was really hard for me to not just jump in and start telling students what they need to do because I want this to be their book. I’m having a hard time finding the balance of suggesting ideas and suggesting ideas. This is a tough balance for me.

To help get some ideas for balancing the text and video inside our book, I emailed Patrick Carman for ideas. Most of my students have read the Skeleton Creek series and loved it! (If you haven’t read the series, you should.) Patrick wrote us back and gave us some great tips. It was a cool experience for my students one, because they didn’t think Patrick would write us back, and two, Patrick helped show the importance of using best practices when working on something new.

After a few days of the writing process, I kept finding myself struggling to just tell students what to do, so I adopted the mantra, “I will answer the questions you ask,” and many of my students began asking some awesome questions! Because I like to be in control, I tend to give answers to questions students haven’t even figured out how to ask.

Isn’t learning to ask the right questions a really important skill? If so, who in my class asks more questions– me or my students? Ouch.

Lesson Students Learned: How to ask the right questions (and more of them).

Lesson I Learned: Give students more opportunities to ask questions. Let their questions drive instruction.


Week Two

Compared to the first week, week two was much better. I set a rough draft #1 due date, and my classes came through. It truly was a rough draft and needed A LOT of work! I projected the book and we read it as a class while students pointed out corrections that needed to be made. This was tough for many students because I wasn’t the one judging the quality of the work– and it wasn’t private.

Before we began the “constructive criticism” in class, I coached my students through the art of giving and receiving criticism. That’s a tough skill to master. As we went through the book and students began voicing their opinions, I hovered over the conversation like a cobra ready to strike at the first scent of personal criticism. But nothing happened. In fact, it was the recipient of the criticism who needed the most coaching. It’s tough to not get defensive.

Lesson Students Learned: Use constructive criticism to improve without getting defensive.

Lesson I Learned: I am not the only one with an opinion in the classroom. I need to give my students more opportunities to share, lead, give criticism, and accept criticism– as long as it’s constructive.


What’s next?

After reviewing the first draft, it’s time to really get to work. Students have new goals, deadlines, and ideas to work on. We’re starting to see a book form and it’s getting exciting. I’m still trying to stay out of the process and coach students along. Again, this is so challenging for me because I like to be in control. I’m learning to find the balance. I’m also learning that this whole writing a book thing is way more than writing a book. My students are learning some serious lessons about accountability, communication, collaboration, leadership, and questioning.