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#MyWorkflow: Sue Dunlop

Sue's Workstation
Sue’s Workstation

The #MyWorkflow series asks educators who are active creators on social media to share how they do their work. Today we speak with Sue Dunlop, a long time Ontario Education PLN member. Sue has been a trailblazer for system-level leaders who share their thinking openly online. Through her blog and Twitter presence, she regularly interacts with all manner of stakeholders in very honest online conversations. While it would be easy to step away from such encounters due to the complex, often political nature of her work, Sue walks the open learning that she so often talks about. Rather than leveraging her positional stature in these spaces, Sue is vulnerable, questioning, and humble. Reading her tweets and blogposts gives me great hope for the direction of our great province’s education system.

How do you pay the bills?

I’m a superintendent of schools in Hamilton-Wentworth. It’s a great job. While highly political, it’s super interesting. I have to use all the skills and experience I’ve acquired over the years. Some days are tough, but I learn from everything. You’ll often see me sharing some of that learning in my blog.

What regular activity brings you little money but loads of happiness?

I love to sing! Most of my singing these days is as part of a choir which is very satisfying when things go well. Did you know that when a group of people sings choral music, their heartbeats sync? The other amazing thing about singing is that when you are fully engaged, body and mind, you can’t think about anything else. It is the definition of flow.

I do a few other things that make me really happy.  Riding my bike brings incredible freedom and I really get to know my city.  Swimming outside in a lake, stroking through the water, turning my head, taking a breath and seeing blue sky and trees makes me feel part of our world. Walking in the woods during all seasons surrounds me with sounds, smells, and colours. So good.

What’s your current phone? Which phone do you miss? What will be your next one?

I have an iPhone 6. It’s a work phone. I like it fine, especially the syncing between my other Apple devices. I also use a Basis Peak, which is a watch that tracks my activity and gets notifications from my phone. That’s pretty cool. I attend a lot of meetings and school visits, so my phone is always on silent. Having my wrist buzz to let me know that I have an incoming text or phone call means I miss fewer important ones.

I can’t say that there’s ever been a phone I missed. I’m not big on talking on the phone, and I do so much of that for work that I tend to not to do it while at home. And the screen is really too small to do any work, reading or creating. My preferred future is no phone at all!! (Is that realistic, do you think?)

What’s your current laptop? Which laptop do you miss? What will be your next one?

My beautiful blue covered laptop is a 13 inch MacBook Air from 2012. It’s not a work laptop. I would not give it up! My very first computer was a Commodore 64 back in university and after that it was all PC’s. I jumped to the MacBook and after some initial adjustments I’ve loved it. One battery upgrade and it’s still going strong. I hope it lasts a long time.

After reading the rest of your series, I felt like I was underachieving because I didn’t have a name for my laptop. But I don’t.

What apps and/or methods do you use to stay productive?

A few years ago, I read Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress Free Productivity  by David Allen. It really streamlined how I organize myself and keep track of all the things I have to do. The key is a simple system that you scan and update regularly, whether analog or digital. I use OWA at work for email and calendaring, but fortunately, it syncs quite well with my Mac native calendar, reminders, and mail apps. I use OneNote for meeting and other topic notes. There’s nothing else except a notebook to track phone calls. I tried to go digital for those, but it’s too hard to type when you’re on the phone – and I’m on the phone a lot.

I can also tell you that if my unread work emails go above 20, I can get a little obsessed with dealing with them. I’ve never gotten to inbox zero. Maybe when I retire?

Which apps do you check persistently, even if you wish you didn’t?

I have to say I’m pretty good at not checking.  I only keep phone notifications for text messages and phone calls, as I find the banners or badges for other apps can be like a little electric shock. I try to check apps like Twitter once or twice a day at set times.  I am constantly encouraging colleagues and friends to take the notifications off their phones and other devices and check email and other social media at certain times of the day. If something is urgent, someone will call you. Really.

How do you carry your gear?

Ah, the neverending search for the perfect work bag! I’ve tried so many. It really comes down to being the perfect size more than anything else. It needs to be big enough for my stuff but not too big so it’s hard to carry around.  I currently carry a gray leather tote with enough room for what I need as I’m out and about around the district. It’s always ready to go.

What other hardware rarely leave your bag?

Laptop, phone, cords, dongles, portable charger, wallet, coin purse (the best thing), lip gloss, lipstick, Advil, access pass, notebook, and paper copies of emergency contacts, policies, and procedures.

What piece(s) of analogue technology is a must in your life?

A purple pen. And a tiny notebook to write notes.  Oh, and cash. I’m a big believer in using cash. You spend way less.

What drink, snack, or food sits next to you when you’re being creative?

Nothing. When I’m really into something, I don’t need the distractions of a drink or snack. Even if I pour myself a coffee or tea, I can forget about it until it gets cold. So I eat first – eating is always a priority with me! – and then get to work.

When working, do you prefer the cafe, library, couch, office, kitchen table, or other?

I prefer to be sitting up straight or standing but the location isn’t as important, I have an office but I’m not usually in it as I’m out in schools most days. I have a nifty little device called the Furinno laptop desk that you can configure in all kinds of ways. It turns any counter or desk into a standing desk, which I enjoy. I’ve also been known to lounge on the couch while working, but I find it hard to be as productive. I guess my mom was right when she said good posture was the key.

When working, do you need quiet, ambient noise, speakers, or  headphones?

Quiet. And I prefer the door closed. Eliminate distractions.

Morning, afternoon, evening, or the witching hour?

Absolutely morning. I’ve always been this way. If I have a big project to do, I go to bed early and then get up at 5:00 to get to work on it. My brain works much better on lots of sleep than trying to crank something out late at night.

How do you get from idea to shipping that idea?

I’ve been reading an amazing book called How to Fly a Horse: The Secret History of Creation, Invention and Discovery by Kevin Ashton. Ashton makes the convincing argument that ideas are everywhere, but it takes a lot of time and sustained effort to create. Creation is not some magical moment – it’s a culmination of trials and successes and failures. I try to keep this in mind so I create times in my week where I have some space to think. But that’s just the idea part. Then I have to sit down (or stand!) and get down to work. I make sure I’ve got some time, I eliminate distractions and go. Then I leave it for some time, which depends on how much I have – but at least overnight. If I think it’s ready after that, I ship.

What’s one piece of advice you have for people that have difficulty with their workflow?

Two pieces of advice:

  1. Eliminate distractions.
  2. Find a daily routine that works for you and stick with it.

How can we find and connect with you online?