My latest at ProfHacker: Tools for an Effective Workflow

Flowing waterMany of us have favorite tools that suit our workflows well, helping us accomplish our tasks and keep track of needed bits of information. Below you’ll find a list of applications, services, and utilities that I use almost daily.

  1. Workflow. I a big fan of ToDoist, my preferred Task Manager. For the way I work, it’s a better option than Apple’s Reminders. The catch is that it doesn’t integrate with Siri, which is really handy for adding items on the go. To get around that problem, I use the workflow Henry Bourne describes here. I can use Siri to create tasks on the go during the day, then just run the workflow once each evening to send those tasks to ToDoist.
  2. Thanks to Lincoln’s introductions to Markdown and Pandoc, I do most of my writing in plain text these days (my preferred editor is Sublime Text 3). But I also like to keep a copy of my work in Evernote, so that it’s easily searchable. That makes the Evernote package for Sublime 3 really useful for me.
  3. I like to keep up on news of all sorts, and Reeder, makes it simple to find the most important stories for me to read each day. It’s very easy to share items that I want to save for reference to Evernote, or to Pocket for things that I don’t have time to read at the moment, but want to read later. If I find something worth sharing, I can quickly send it to Twitter or Facebook.

  4. I don’t like getting work-related emails late in the evenings or on weekends, and I suspect my colleagues don’t, either. Sometimes, though, I need to send an email, and it’s most efficient for me to write it while I’m thinking about it (otherwise, I’ll have to take time to add it to my to-do list with a reminder and the time to write it!). So I use RightInbox to schedule such messages to be sent at the beginning of the next business day.

  5. Text expansion is a wonderful thing (something we’ve noted here before). I do a lot of typing and there are some blocks of text (e.g., paper marking comments, routine emails to users of a WordPress installation that I manage) that I need to use repeatedly. TypeIt4Me is great for calling up those snippets of text with just a few keystrokes. (I soured on TextExpander after their recent move to a subscription model.)

  6. Finally, I like to make sure my personal website has new content on a fairly regular basis, but I don’t currently have a lot of time to create that content. An IFTTT recipe ensures my ProfHacker posts get cross-posted to my own site.

What tools help you manage your workflow effectively? Let us know in the comments.

CC-licensed image by Flickr user SB Archer

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My latest at ProfHacker: Through Another’s Eyes: Troubleshooting with User Switching

Two different views of the same objectLast week, I introduced readers to Installatron, a tool that’s very useful for backing up and cloning WordPress installations. This week’s post continues the WordPress thread.

Many of us who use WordPress use it for maintaining a personal website and/or a professional portfolio; we’re the only users registered on our sites.

Others, however, use WordPress for course sites to which they invite students to contribute, or maintain a Multisite installation. They may have a lot of users. Adminsistrators will need to set user roles appropriately, but once that’s done, users can take care of such things as resetting their own password should they forget it. There’s all kinds of good WordPress documentation available online, and those inviting students to contribute to a site generally provide explicit instructions not only about what to contribute, but also how to contribute.

But even when those instructions are well-written and illustrated, things can go wrong. Sometimes, what a user sees in her dashboard doesn’t look like what’s found in the documentation — and, since the administrator has (or should have!) a different role than the user, she may not be able to reproduce the user’s problem.

To troubleshoot the problem for the user, it may be essential for the administrator to be able to see the dashboard as the user sees it. That’s where the User Switching plugin can come in really handy. It lets administrators (and Super Admins for Multisite installs) easily switch to a user’s account (without revealing the user’s password).

I’ve found this plugin invaluable for troubleshooting. On a Multisite installation I run, it let me help a student figure out why her site didn’t look the way she’d intended (she’d created a menu, but not activated it). On another setup, it helped me figure out why a user’s dashboard didn’t look the way it was supposed to (I’d assigned her the wrong user role).

What are your favorite plugins for working effectively with WordPress? Please share in the comments.

[CC-licensed image by Flickr user Blondinrikard Fröberg]

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My latest at ProfHacker: Backup and Development with Installatron

A screenshot of cPanel

It’s no secret that we love WordPress here at ProfHacker. It powers this blog, and many of us use it for our own personal, professional, and/or course sites.

As with anything else digital, it’s important to back up your WordPress installation, and to check those backups regularly.

We’ve also noted that, when making significant changes to your site, it’s good practice to work in a development environment, rather than on a live site. So we’ve also covered how to set up a development environment on your computer.

The ability to manage one’s own backups either manually or with a plugin, and to set up and maintain a local development environment, are good skills to have. Still, not everyone has the time or the inclination to develop these skills — and sometimes, even those who have the skills just want to get a job done quickly.

Happily, there’s a tool available that makes it easy to accomplish a number of the tasks associated with maintaining and developing a WordPress site. It’s worth checking to see whether your hosting provider makes Installatron available.

If they do, you’ll find it in your cPanel, as shown in the lead image. Installatron can be used to install a number of different applications, including WordPress. If you installed WordPress independently, Installatron will give you an option to import the installation.

Once that’s done, backing up your WordPress site requires all of two mouse clicks. Cloning your site for development purposes is nearly as simple. If you want to clone your site to a subdomain in your webspace, you’ll need to create the subdomain. (Alternatively, you can clone it to a directory of the address you’re already using.) Once that’s done, it’s again just a matter of a couple of mouse clicks, and you have a fully-functioning clone of your site that you can experiment with.1

If you’ve tried Installatron, what’s your experience with it been like? Do you have other favorite tools for WordPress backup and cloning? Let us know in the comments!

[CC-licensed image by the author.]


  1. There is one important caveat: if you’re cloning a WordPress installation on which you’ve enabled Multisite, Installatron appears to clone the entire setup. The main site will appear at whatever address you chose during the cloning process. However, other sites in the network appear to retain the same address as the original, so I would not recommend doing development work on any but the main site. (I did my testing cloning to a subdomain; I haven’t yet had the chance to clone to a directory to see if that makes any difference.)?

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My latest at ProfHacker: Keeping Track of Bills with FileThis

Bundles of messy files stacked on a deskBills! Sigh.

There’s no getting around it: finances are one of the many things we have to keep track of. Fortunately, there are tools that help keep us organized and on top of things. Heather’s covered personal finance software, Erin’s suggested ways to check in on your insurance, and Adeline’s looked at a helpful tool for reorganizing your finances.

I recently learned about another tool that may be helpful to some: FileThis. Using the service is simple: you connect your online accounts (including, in addition to banks and credit unions, accounts such as Amazon, Paypal, your mobile phone carrier, etc.). FileThis will then pull in the documents associated with each of these accounts; if there’s a payment coming due, it will show you that on your calendar (and will even, helpfully, send an email to remind you).

What’s to like? The document repository is very helpful. If I can’t recall just what an expense was as I’m looking at my finances, but I know it was something from Amazon, I can quickly find it in the document repository. What’s really helpful is that documents are searchable, which makes searching across multiple accounts at once a breeze. You can also filter the document list by account, and FileThis helpfully adds labels according to document type. Finding all of my phone bills for the past year took just one click.

Plans are reasonably priced, too. The free plan allows you to connect up to six accounts, and runs a check on those accounts once a week. You’ll also get 500 MB of storage on their servers (they explain their security features here), but if you prefer, you can store your documents in whatever storage space you prefer: Evernote, Box, Dropbox, and Google Drive are all options. If that’s not sufficient to meet your needs, their Premium and Ultimate plans are reasonably priced ($2/month and $5/month, respectively), with good discounts for paying in advance.

What’s not to like? Well, FileThis is only helpful if it works with the accounts you have. While most of my accounts can be connected to FileThis, the one that’s most important can’t. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a way to check which financial institutions and services will work prior to creating an account. If your accounts will work, though, FileThis might be worth checking out.

What’s your experience been with FileThis or similar services? Do you have a favorite to recommend? Let us know in the comments.

Creative Commons licensed image by Flickr user lobsterstew.

from ProfHacker » Amy CavenderProfHacker – Blogs – The Chronicle of Higher Education http://ift.tt/1Vfb3CM

My latest at ProfHacker: Using Google Forms for In-class Polling

Drawing of a clickerRecently, I found myself involved in a conversation about clickers. The topic under discussion wasn’t their usefulness in the classroom, but the fact that there are a number of different types available, and as the manufacturers update their products, equipment that’s already in use may end up obsolete.

As I listened to the concerns being raised, I thought that, if I needed to do in-class polling (which I’ve not as yet had occasion to do), I’d probably just use Google Forms. The thought wouldn’t have occurred to me a year ago, but some months back Googe started keeping Forms responses in the form itself, which makes it much easier to see poll results.

To see how it might work, I quickly put together a two-question poll:

A poll in Google Forms

I then filled it out multiple times, so there’s be some data, and clicked on the “Responses” tab:

The results of a Google Forms poll

I got informative, easy-to-read charts. In a classroom setting, it would be simple enough to provide students with a link to the poll, have them fill it out using their device of choice in class (or they could fill it out prior to class, if that’s more appropriate). Poll results could be shared with students immediately.

Google Forms may not be a good solution for everyone, but for those who don’t need to do in-class polling very frequently, or who only need to use very short polls, it has the potential to work very well.

As it (unsurprisingly!) turns out, others have also thought of using Google Forms this way. Shortly after I thought about exploring Google Forms’s suitability as a clicker replacement, I stumbled on Michael J. LaGier’s post at Faculty Focus.

Have you used Google Forms for in-class polling? Please share your experience with it (or other tools) in the comments.

[Creative Commons licensed image by Flickr user Oliver Tacke]

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