Working from Home Advice from a Very Disorganized and Lazy Person

Several of my students have asked for advice about how to stay on task while working from home, how to cope with the pressure of school during quarantine, how to complete college coursework when most of us are far away from campus and its resources, our peers, and our professors. So I’ve made a list of personal advice. But before I get into it, I want to remind you of one thing:

Go easy on yourself. This is the most important piece of advice here. It’s very hard to do, but crucial. This COVID-19 situation is not normal. Don’t expect yourself to operate at 100% efficiency right now. Some things are not going to get done, and that’s OK. The most important thing—seriously—is your physical and mental health, and that of your loved ones.

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Believe it—because it’s true. Of course, you may be saying to yourself, “that’s great Ms. Ready, but I still have shit to do—I have profs demanding papers and exams and zoom meetings and I have to clean my house and go to the store for my mom and babysit my little brother and walk the dog.”

Because there is a lot we still have to accomplish here is my list of advice on working from home and staying on task.

Creating a New Normal at Home

  1. Make a home office. One of the reasons it’s hard to work from home is because our
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    home space is our chill space. When we’re at home, our brains are programmed to be on weekend mode. So create a home office. This may look very different from your workspace at school, but I encourage you to get creative with it and work with what you have. Find a folding table and turn a corner of your room or the kitchen or basement into an office. Put all your books and cords and computer and everything you need. Put a pretty picture on the wall to look at and a potted plant. If you’re living with family, let everyone know that this is your workspace that you need to focus and complete your schoolwork like the badass you are. When you sit down at this workspace, your brain will recognize, “ah, it’s time to work.”

2. Minimize distractions. This is tough, because I know a lot of you are home with a large family, including kids and pets. Try to create your workspace in the quietest area of the home (even if it’s the basement or back porch) and try to identify the hours during the day when you have the most alone time. This may mean getting up early, staying up late, or it could mean working in short snatches when the kids are watching a movie. This will also involve having gentle conversations with your family to GTFO of your space.

3. Get dressed.

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Treat your home office like an actual office. Wake up, eat, take a shower, get dressed. Yes—get dressed. Put on clean clothes and fix your hair. Then sit down at your workspace and get started with your day. This is going back to tricking our brains into thinking “it’s time to work.” I promise you, it sounds unnecessary, but it is one of the easiest ways to get yourself to focus on work at home. It’s also pretty good for your mental health.

 

4. Make a daily task list. Never underestimate the power of a list. Sit down and make a list of what you need to accomplish today. Now pay attention, because this is important: Do not put everything you need to accomplish in life on the list. Don’t include items that need to be done next week, or could be done tomorrow, or really don’t need to be done at all. This requires being honest with yourself and with the situation around you. What do I absolutely need to accomplish today? This is important, because if you put too many things on the list, you will inevitably fail at accomplishing them, and then tomorrow it will be even harder to get to work. Let yourself make several drafts until you reduce the list to just the things that have to be done today. Keep this list right next to your computer or on the wall in front of you.

5. Make a weekly/monthly task list. Once you’ve been working from home for a while,

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you can begin to create a weekly list of what needs to be done, and a monthly list. This will help you prevent assignments from piling up. But you have to follow the same rule as the daily list—don’t put a bunch of stuff on there that you want to do or hope to do or think you should do. Just what you have to do. Hang the list on the wall where you can see it and then have the immense pleasure of crossing things off the list. Tip: don’t try to do this right away if you’re behind and have a million things to do. Save this step for after you’ve accomplished the daily task list a few times.

6. Stay in touch with friends from school. On campus, you have classmates, friends, roommates—you are surrounded by thousands of other people doing the exact same thing you are doing. Being away from that environment makes it hard to remember how to focus, especially when you’re living with people with very different lives from yours. It helps to have a friend from school (or another school) to check in with. Even just talking to this friend about your struggles with schoolwork can make a huge difference in your motivation, so please call/text/facetime.

7. Find a Check-in Buddy. See if one of your friends from school wants to be a check-in buddy. One of my classmates and I have a video chat once a week to discuss our work. Then we hang up and sit and work for three-four hours in our own home offices. If we have questions while working, we can text each other, and we can joke and commiserate. Then at the end of the time we text about what we accomplished. This is a guaranteed three hours stretch of work, and I always get a lot accomplished because I don’t want to let them down! 😊

8. Take breaks. One of the reasons we fail when we work from home is because we

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actually take on too much. Because our time is unstructured, we make ourselves work too long with no break and then we crash and can’t do anything the next day. But humans can’t work without breaks, so just like you would if you were working in an office, when you’re hungry, stop for an hour and have lunch. Physically leave your workspace and take a break. Eat something, walk around the block (if you are allowed to), or watch a 20 minute episode of TV. Give yourself a set time to completely disconnect from your school work and focus on something else. You will return to your work and your workspace refreshed and thinking more clearly.

9. Take weekends. Same as above. We can’t work every day. Breaks not only help us relax, but when you return to work after a weekend, you’ll be able to focus better. Give yourself days off, hopefully two days in a row. On those days you are not allowed to think about school. Use this time to cultivate your island on Animal Crossing.

10. Eat normal meals and get some exercise. I am not an expert at this, but this is a really good way to help yourself feel “normal.”

 Dealing with Professors

11. Reach out to your professors. If you are struggling with something in one of your

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classes, please email the prof. I can’t guarantee that anything will change, but there is a chance that it will. I thought an assignment I gave my students was easy peasy—but three or four people emailed me that they were struggling with it, so I ended up changing it. This would have never happened if nobody emailed me. Just be polite and professional. In emails to profs, it helps if you explain a specific problem or ask a specific question, and demonstrate what you have done so far to solve the problem, and what exactly you need from them.

12. Ask for extensions. If you need more time to complete some work, ask for it. This is an easy way for a prof to help you with an assignment. It requires literally no work on their part. Just ask. I know it feels embarrassing to ask (I feel that way too), but the very worst thing they can do is say no. If they do say yes, imagine how much more amazing your life will be.

13. Decide which tasks to throw overboard.

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If your profs can’t give you extensions to complete your work, and you know you can’t complete it, it is very tempting to just give up on everything. Trust me, I’ve been there. But if you find yourself in this situation, the best thing to do is take a hard look at your task list and just delete the least important stuff. This will involve some hard choices. Consider the value of the assignments (percentage of final grade), your current grade in the class, and how much of your time/energy the assignments will consume. You can’t do everything, and an important skill for a college student is educated prioritizing. If your prof is open to questions, this would be an excellent question to ask them, and they will likely be able to give you a clear answer (or maybe reconsider giving you that extension!).

You are all superheroes for accomplishing schoolwork in the middle of a global crisis. Please know that you are AMAZING, and that I am here for you if you need me.

It’s Easy AF to Read More Books by People of Color

It’s Easy AF to Read More Books by People of Color

For the last few years, I’ve set myself a Goodreads challenge. I set the number of books higher each year, pushing myself to do more of my favorite thing—reading. Last year’s felt pretty easy, and at the end of the year, I sat down and did the math to see how many of the (34) books I’d read were by women (24), how many by men (9), and how many by people of color (4!!!). I was stunned by the numbers. I’ve always favored books by women, and I’m OK with that, but I’d never consciously chosen to read books mostly by white people, had I?

My 2018 book challenge was that half of the books I read would be by authors of color. It was hard at first. Because there aren’t a lot of great books in my favorite genres by POC? Nope. Because there are so many great books by white people? Not even.

First, I kept buying books on sale on Amazon. MOST BY WHITE PEOPLE. Second, I commute 12 hours per week, and I check out audiobooks from my library. MOST BY WHITE PEOPLE. Third, the book reviews I was asked or volunteered to do were all for books BY WHITE PEOPLE.

There was no dearth of books I wanted to read by POC; at any point during the year, I had a TBR list a mile long of books by POC writers. But I had been just sitting back and reading the books that crossed my path for free or for cheap. I was letting my reading choices be determined by the books Amazon chooses to promote, those the library chooses to stock on audiobook, and those the publications I review for want to promote.

It felt to me like I had been choosing my books, but I wasn’t. I had been sitting back and letting a racist world choose my reading list, and so my reading list was white.

You can’t expect that all the books you need and want to read will be promoted by corporate America or acknowledged by local libraries. You have to put a very small amount of effort into getting them into your hands (or your ears). Here are some ways I was able to do that this year:

  1. When I read lists like “Octavia’s Daughters: The Amazing Women of Black Sci-Fi,” I don’t just read it and hope I’ll remember the titles and authors later on. I look the books up on Amazon and put them in my cart, even if I can’t buy them right then.
  2. When I hear of a book by a POC I want to read, I follow the author on social media, put the book on my TBR list on Goodreads, and put it on hold at my library, if it’s available. If it’s not, I request it from the library. All these steps make it more likely these books will be promoted to a wider audience.
  3. Once I find a writer of color that I love, I seek out all their other books. E.g., everything by Octavia Butler is amazing.
  4. I use the Libby app through my local library. They have the books grouped into genres and they have groups like, “African-American Interest” and “Multicultural Reading.” I have feelings about the titles of those categories, but I go to them first now when I’m looking for a new book.
  5. When I have a few extra dollars to spend on a full-price e-book or used book or, on a very big payday, a full-price real book, I choose to give those dollars to a writer of color. This includes when I buy books as gifts. Spread the love!

So, that’s it. Easy AF.

The results of my year of trying to read books by POC? I read many books this year that I would not have chosen otherwise. THEY ROCKED MY WORLD. No joke. Here they are:

The Changeling, Victor LaValle. I stay away from horror or scary things in general, but this was recommended by a friend, was available on audiobook read by the author, and had folktale themes. It is terrifying, gruesome, and amazing. You will never see it coming.

Hunger, Roxane Gay. I don’t typically read anything but fiction. This book, this writer, has changed my life forever. Devastating, honest, gentle, heartbreaking, empowering. Goddess bless Dr. Gay.

I am Malala, Malala Yousafzai. I have long admired Malala, but this is a kids’ audiobook, so it wasn’t on my radar. I am so glad I found it. I wept throughout. Her shocking story is captivating. Her ambition and perseverance in spite of terrible conditions…she is now my role model.

Merci Suarez Changes Gears, Meg Medina. Speaking of tears. This is such a sweet story of a beautiful family taking care of each other and sticking together through a difficult time. Highly recommended middle-grade novel.

When Dimple Met Rishi, by Sandhya Menon. I’m not into Romance, or happy stories in general (SORRY). But this was adorable, and I really enjoyed reading about young badass tech women.

The Black God’s Drums, P. Djèlí Clark. This book is totally weird. Alternate timeline New Orleans. Social justice warrior nuns. Goddesses incarnate. I dearly hope it turns into a series.

I also read The Fifth Season, by N.K. Jemisin, the Tensorate series by J.Y. Yang, Fledgling by Octavia Butler, and Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado, among others. I loved them all A LOT. Check out my Goodreads reviews. These were not just good books, they were amazing books, and they made my 2018.

I hope your 2019 is full of excellent reading!

Writing Assignment for Composition Students

I’ve been working as the Lead Designer for a new, peer-reviewed publication through George Mason University. It’s called the English 302 OER Collection, and it’s been an absolute pleasure to work with my colleagues on developing this during 2018.

Our purpose is to create an online compendium of resources for faculty who teach English 302, George Mason’s required third-year writing and research course. I’ve been teaching 302 for two and a half years, and I was happy to contribute a Writing Assignment prompt to the inaugural issue, a Literature Review Assignment.

Check it out, and please check out the other excellent submissions in the first issue! We hope to have the second issue out in January 2019.

Hire me to perfect your academic writing!

I added a page to this site describing my editing services. I’m trying to pick up speed with my side hustle, freelance editing, now during the summer when my teaching paychecks are few and far between.

I love editing–it’s such a pleasure for me to read and perfect other folks’ writing. Over the last few years, I’ve read a couple dozen dissertations and theses, I’ve edited English in translation, I’ve helped folks with citations and references, and I’ve made a lot of weird sentences less weird.

I’ve read papers on transitioning from the military, inspiring ninth graders, GPS apps, ISIS, microalgae, and craft beers. It’s fun!

Anyway, hire me!

ITL

I had the opportunity last week to participate in a conference here at Mason: Innovations in Teaching and Learning. With co-presenter Julianna Miner, we presented to a group of peers on a topic we are both passionate about: helping our students identify and appreciate evidence-based arguments and texts. In other words: avoiding Fake News. Our presentation was titled: “Is it true? Helping Students Assess Information Credibility.”

I became interested in this topic, like so many people, during the debacle of 2016 news. I brought in a lesson plan for my students on Fake News, and to my surprise, it worked perfectly with the curriculum of Advanced Composition.

In our talk at ITL, we discussed the results of a recent study from Stanford, and how we used that to inform our instruction. I focused on giving students a lesson plan based on rhetorical analysis of online texts–a crucial skill we teach in Advanced Comp.

I’m sharing our presentation below. I hope you make use of it, and the data we reference! Our goal was to give our peers some useful tools to put into practice right away in their classrooms.

ReadyMiner2017FakeNewsPresentation