Asana as Editorial Calendar

Back in November, during a discussion session at Confab Higher Ed, I mentioned that at Roosevelt University we had started trying to use project management tool Asana as a team-wide editorial calendar. @wrstknitterever asked in the backchannel how we did so.

It’s taken a couple of months, but I’ve finally been able set down some notes on our process as it has evolved.

This post assumes at least a passing familiarity with the conventions of Asana. If you’ve never used it before take a look around their site. Essentially, it’s an easy-to-use, inexpensive (in many cases, free) project management tool that added calendar functionality relatively recently. So while we found that it works as an editorial calendar, it’s also a sneaky way of introducing project management into a traditionally decentralized office.

So here are my hints and tips for using Asana as an editorial calendar:

  • Chances are, not everyone on your team will be as excited about adopting this technology as you are. Start building buy-in from all the people who will be using it as early as possible. Explain to them why an editorial calendar is necessary, demo it for them, make it as easy as possible for them to adopt it, even if it means a little extra work for you.
  • Set up a separate workspace for the editorial calendar. If you use Asana for personal tasks as well, it may mean the occasional double-entry in another workspace, but depending on how many editorial tasks your team is involved in, the workspace can get crowded very quickly.
  • Add each new content “package” as a project. For example, you might have a one-off press release on a new faculty hire as a project, or an entire issue of an alumni magazine, or a week’s worth of multimedia content surrounding commencement, each as its own project. 
  • Each project can then be broken down into tasks, preferably with a due date since you’re building a calendar. For example, “write story X,” “edit story X,” “post video for story X to YouTube,” “post story X to the website,” and “promote story X on Facebook” might be tasks (each assigned to a different team member) for package/project “Story X.” Or, if your project comprises a lot of smaller pieces (e.g, an alumni magazine), you can make each story a task and then create subtasks for “write, “edit,” “post,” etc.
  • If the project is centered around an event, like commencement, create an unassigned task with a due date for the day of the event — that way the event will show up on the “Team Calendar.” The Team Calendar serves as your master calendar, but each team member can choose to see just their own set of tasks, or all the tasks related to a given project, then jump back to the Team Calendar.
  • Use Asana’s attachment and commenting abilities to keep your assets and discussions centralized and reduce miscommunication (as well as the number of emails with 3MB photo attachments filling everyone’s inboxes).
  • Have weekly meetings with as many of your team members as possible to review what’s on tap for next week, and to clean up the calendar. Add new projects and tasks as necessary, and archive projects that have been completed or killed. We do this in a room with a projector and only one person manipulating the calendar, so everyone can see the changes immediately.
Are you using Asana in a similar way? Have additional tips or ways to improve our process? Please leave them in the comments. Asana also has some tips available.

My 2014 Mixtape

Another New Year’s Eve has come and gone, but I’m only slightly past due for the posting of my 2014 mixtape. It probably won’t help your hangover, but maybe give it a listen anyway.

This year’s mix was tougher to put together than last year’s, since while I bought or was gifted over 50 albums this year, only a handful actually came out in 2014—I bought a lot of back-catalog stuff and classic country (Dolly Parton, Pee-Wee King, Buck Owens, etc.). As a result, I threw in a couple of tunes released in 2013 by bands I saw live in 2014 to fill it out (there were also a couple bands I would have added in if they were on Spotify, so you should definitely check out the Jumbo Shrimp Jazz Band and Sarah McCoy if you’re ever down in New Orleans).

Turns out there’s a heavy New Orleans influence in this mix, even without the two artists just mentioned—it includes two acts out of the Crescent City (Big Freedia and Hurray for the Riff-Raff), as well as several tunes that mention NOLA. It wasn’t on purpose, but seems fitting given that the city seems to have become our go-to vacation spot.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy it, and here’s to another year of great music.

What Does the Web Say? #confabEDU edition

I’ll be once again presenting “What Does the Web Say? Thinking about Sound on the Internet” at Confab Higher Ed in Atlanta tomorrow, November 13.

Audio (and video) used in the presentation:

Additional sites to explore:

Making #heweb14 Sausage (Not a Sandwich)

On Thursday, I returned from the Higher Education Web Professionals Association (or “HighEdWeb” if you’re more into the brevity thing) 2014 Annual Conference (#heweb14) in Portland, OR. This was my third HighEdWeb, after getting the band together at #heweb11 and a twofer of presenting at #heweb12 (see my wrap-ups here and here), and, along with presenting this year in the Usability, Accessibility, and Design track, I helped cochair the Management and Professional Development track with Henderson State’s Tonya Oaks Smith (with whom I also had the pleasure of presenting a talk back at #heweb12). From great sessions, even better social events (shout-out to Karaoke from Hell), and a final keynote with Chris Hardwick that brought the house down, #heweb14 was probably the most consistently awesome conference I’ve ever attended.

This was my first time being on the other side of a conference, and I have to say that, despite the fact that I have frequently hung out with the organizers of conferences I’ve attended, I had no clue how much coordinated effort goes into putting on an event of this size. Between the conference and program committees, there were a couple dozen of us involved, all ably captained by Conference Chair Sara Clark of Missouri State. It really is amazing that something with so many moving parts, all of whom are volunteers, manages to run as smoothly as these things do every year. To give you an idea of what I’m talking about, consider the fact that from the week before the conference until the day after, the committee sent over 1200 text messages to each other. Not a few of these were just us goofing around with each other, but they also included everything from “Does anyone have a key to the office?” to “My presenter isn’t here yet, what do I do?” Somehow, though, this is all seamless to the attendees.

At the wrap-up, debriefing dinner, Sara asked us to share three things about the conference: something we thought was positive, something that could be improved, and something that we’d overheard from the audience (or “OH,” in Twitterspeak). I can’t think of a better way of summing up my experience then repeating what I said there.

Positive: I think that what sets HighEdWeb apart from any other conference I’ve been to is the fact that it is put together by people who are really there for the right reason, they are having so much fun and are so enthusiastic about what they’re doing, and that is infectious for the attendees.

Improvement: All of those moving parts make for a lot of confusion if you’re not familiar with the processes, so I felt a little bewildered and overwhelmed occasionally. I’m sure that if I’m lucky enough to be involved in next year’s conference, though, that feeling would lessen.

Overheard: I spent much of the sessions in the MPD track monitoring the backchannel on Twitter, and what struck me — and I think this was borne out by Dave Cameron‘s “Human at Work” presentation winning best-in-conference — was how many of the talks that had little to do with the web itself were really resonating with attendees. A conference that was ostensibly about technology turned out to really be about nurturing peoples’ humanity.

At various points in the conference several attendees, some of whom I’d never met, made a point to come up and thank me and my fellow organizers for everything we did to make the conference happen. Really, though, it’s the organizers who should be thanking the attendees for giving us the opportunity to get so deeply involved in something so incredible.

“What Does the Web Say?” Redux #heweb14

I’ll be presenting “What Does the Web Say? Thinking about Sound on the Internet” at the annual HighEdWeb conference in Portland on October 20.

If you’ll be at #heweb14 and we don’t already have plans to meet up, drop me a line… and if you won’t be there, you still have the chance to come see me present this talk at Confab Higher Ed in Atlanta on November 13.

Audio (and video) used in the presentation:

Additional sites to explore:

New Beginnings

This post was begun several weeks ago, but I haven’t had time to proof and polish it until now. Better late than never, right?

Many of the folks who have any reason to read this blog already know through other channels that I recently left my job as Senior Manager of Electronic Communications at the University of Chicago Law School in order to become Assistant Vice President, Web Development at Roosevelt University in downtown Chicago. After nearly 14 years on the UChicago campus as both a student (5.5 years) and a full-time staff member (8 years), making a break is simultaneously exhilarating and slightly scary.

Challenges I expect to face

  • New systems and technologies: The most immediate challenge is having to learn the nuts and bolts of a new content management system, as well as all of the technologies behind it. UChicagoLaw’s site was relaunched on Drupal 6 in 2009, and while I knew next to nothing about Drupal at the time, it became something of a second skin for me. RU’s site is run on Sitecore, a proprietary platform built in ASP.NET, and its approach to everything from the structure of data to user interface is completely different than Drupal’s. Even the server technology we use at RU is different; it’s a Windows server, and I’ve only ever used Apache. Luckily, I have two great developers working with me, which brings me to…
  • New responsibilities: At UChicagoLaw I was basically a one-man web shop. While my title included the word “manager,” all of the management I did was basically horizontal, working with content editors across the Law School over whom I had no authority. While there will be plenty of that at RU, for the first time, I have two people reporting directly to me. My hope is that the skills I learned in “soft” management will translate well to this new situation.
  • New audiences: One of the consistent challenges of working in higher ed is having to serve such a wide variety of audiences, from prospective and current students to alumni, faculty, and the general public. With this move, I’m going from serving a set of audiences that I knew well, having worked with them for many years as well as being myself an alumnus of the University, to a set of audiences with whom I am largely unfamiliar. Additionally, there is also the switch from serving a small, nationally renowned professional school to serving an entire university, well-respected within Chicago but unfortunately little-known outside of it. On the web side, this can mean new having to learn new techniques; for example, search engine optimization was not something I had to worry about much in my previous position, while at Roosevelt it’s important. I also have to learn a new voice, and jettison old assumptions about how users are using the web — after all, the expectations of high school students looking at colleges and college seniors looking at graduate schools are almost certain to be different. I expect a decent learning curve in getting to know our current and prospective students.
  • New brand: Part of learning the new voice of the institution is adjusting to a new brand; while UChicagoLaw was very much about the “life of the mind,” Roosevelt’s centers around a commitment to social justice. Luckily for me, the language and the values surrounding the RU brand are not that different than that at my undergraduate alma mater, where I got my start in higher ed communications.
  • New bureaucracy: Universities are like anthills — incredibly complex and nearly unique in their organization. Figuring out how they work — how best to conceptualize, let alone navigate, an unfamiliar university org chart is a daunting task, but a vital one if you hope to get anything done.

What I’m excited about

Pretty much everything listed above. Except maybe the bureaucracy part.

Notes for “What Does the Web Say?” #hewebMI

I’ll be presenting “What Does the Web Say? Thinking about Sound on the Internet” at HighEdWeb Michigan in Ann Arbor on May 22. Here are the supplementary materials for that presentation.

Download my “audio slides.”

Audio used in the presentation:

Additional sites to explore:

Solving a Drupal Timestamp Problem

This is a post that will not be of interest to 99.9% of the people who see it, but since I’ve spent the last two months or so trying to remember how I solved the problem the first time I faced it, I feel the need to put it down in writing.

The Problem (Part 1): Drupal’s webform module makes it possible for submitters to edit their previous submissions, but while it tracks when the original submission is made, it does not do so for subsequent edits.

The Solution (Part 1): I created a hidden field [‘edit-submitted-timestamp’] in the form, and added a bit of javascript in a block at the bottom of the form [document.getElementById(‘edit-submitted-timestamp’).value = Date()] so that every time the form was edited, the browser would insert the current date in the hidden field.

The Problem (Part 2): Just using “Date” meant that browsers would insert the date in an unwieldy format (usually something along the lines of “Wed, Mar 19 2014 09:24 GMT -0500 (Central Daylight Time)”), and worse, did so inconsistently (since the format seems to depend on the user’s browser, operating system, etc.)

The Solution (Part 2): A bit of tweaking to the javascript was necessary to ensure a consistent and sortable date was being inserted. The final script I wound up with is:

<script>
function addDate(){
date = new Date();
var month = date.getMonth()+1;
var day = date.getDate();
var year = date.getFullYear();
var hours = date.getHours();
var minutes = date.getMinutes();

document.getElementById(‘edit-submitted-timestamp’).value = year + ‘-‘ + month + ‘-‘ + day + ‘;’ + hours + ‘:’ + minutes;

}
window.onload = addDate;
</script>

UPDATE: This turned out not to be the best format for sortability (no padding 0s for numbers under 9), so here is the updated Javascript:

<script>
function addDate(){
date = new Date();
var month = date.getMonth()+1
if(month <= 9)
    month = ‘0’+month;
var day = date.getDate();
if(day <= 9)
    day = ‘0’+day;
var year = date.getFullYear();
var hours = date.getHours();
if(hours <= 9)
    hours = ‘0’+hours;
var minutes = date.getMinutes();
if(minutes<= 9)
    hours = ‘0’+minutes;

document.getElementById(‘edit-submitted-timestamp’).value = year + ‘-‘ + month + ‘-‘ + day + ‘;’ + hours + ‘:’ + minutes;

}
window.onload = addDate;
</script>

Higher Ed Web vs. the Academy

This month marks eight years since I made the decision to withdraw from a PhD program at the University of Chicago Divinity School and become a full-time web professional. It was a difficult decision to make, given the five years, the lord knows how much money, and the amount of my own identity I had already invested in the idea that I was one day going to be a religion professor. As the anniversary rolls around, I’m still sure I made the right choice; not the least of the reasons for this has to do with an observation I made recently about the nature of life within the respective spheres of the academy and the world of the higher ed web.

I recently spoke on a panel about potential non-traditional career paths with a Div School master’s degree. The students I met were all very nice, and of course very smart; but there was a certain look in many of their eyes, a demeanor that I recognized all too well from own time there. It was a wary cautiousness, bordering on defensiveness, that immediately brought me back to how it felt to wander through academic conference rooms where a cloud of insecurity seemed to hover in the air, a general fear that a single well-placed question might reveal one as a fraud who had only been admitted to this world of frighteningly intelligent people through some sort of clerical error.

I thought about how different that feeling was than the time I’ve spent at higher ed web conferences, where a strong sense of community and “we’re all in this together” camaraderie always seems to reign, and where being able to play a good hand of Cards against Humanity or belt out a karaoke song without fear tend to be more important than maintaining any sense of professional decorum. I think this difference is due in part to the respective media within which academics and webbies live. The academic process, in my experience, seems inherently individualistic, and thus isolating; from the admissions process to the dissertation defense to the job hunt and beyond, the experience is a largely adversarial one, with a single individual’s work being held up for scrutiny and judgement by more senior authorities or one’s own peers.

Web professionals, on the other hand, must quickly accept that our field changes so quickly—total paradigm shifts can occur within months, rather than a generation—that we are dependent upon our community for help. Very few of us can possibly know everything we need to know in order to do our jobs well, and most of us either are lucky enough to either work in teams or are constantly asking colleagues for, say, a bit of javascript help or some quick design feedback for our latest project. Building the web, I would argue, is inherently collaborative, more like putting on a play than writing a book, and thus cultivates a sense of the need to share, to help one’s peers, knowing that you yourself will almost certainly need their help in the very near future.

To be clear, I’m in no way claiming that there is not a sense of community among academics in a given field or a given graduate school cohort; I know that many of my friends who have remained in academia gain much from their support networks within the academy. But I would argue that the structural differences I’ve just described make that sort of community far more difficult to create and maintain within academia. If higher education is interested in improving the quality of life of its budding professionals, it could do worse than taking a page from the folks who build its websites.