By Leah Flanagan, Mohammed Hamza, Cian McDermott
It’s that time of day again. The first alarm has gone off. You roll over… and check your phone again. Social media and technology has permeated many aspects of our daily lives. In many ways, it is an incredibly useful source of education and collaboration but it can also become all-consuming, distracting and ultimately, a bit of a waste of time. Emergency Medicine as a specialty continues to spearhead the use of technology and up-to-date software in order to facilitate communication and increase our productivity. Yet, as we access the app store, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the multitude of software promising us improved workflow, results or even a “better life”. So what’s best? How do we use technology to streamline our day and genuinely make the most of our time? Well, from a group of self-avowed, unabashed nerds, here are a few tips and tricks. Caveat lector – this workflow may not suit everyone but it makes life easier for us…..sometimes
Tip #1: Add structure early
Inevitably, mornings are the time of day that can often make or break us. Take five minutes to organise and structure your day with an app such as ToDoist. There’s a huge variety of to-do apps available but ToDoist has, so far, been the most user-friendly interface that we’ve come across. Start easy. Create a handful of lists; personal, work, projects, shopping/ grocery. In the morning, clean the brain of the “oh I must do that” and type in your tasks for the day and prioritise them with p1, p2, p3 or p4 and add them to the various lists. It’s easy to add a task and add a time if you want to but as with any technology, start easy and then as you become more comfortable with the app, branch out into project boards and collaborative lists.
Tip #2: Use a calendar
As an early disclaimer, we are not employed by Google. In a way, Google’s branding is all about an interface that works for us. Get a Google address to start off with and access your Google Calendar. It’s an easy way to add and schedule meetings throughout the day as well as keeping track of clinical shifts. Any email with appointments sent to your Gmail will also automatically be added to Calendar. Get familiar with adding events and sending invitations. You can also add a video conference directly to your Calendar and share the invite with others.
Tip #3: Get to grip with virtual meetings
If we’re honest, virtual meetings can be difficult. Start off with a platform such as Zoom or Cisco WebEx. Send out any invitations early as the host and try to start making use of the chat functions or hands-up if needed. The next thing is taking notes. Many people find typing notes or writing notes digitally difficult which is understandable. Sometimes, nothing beats a paper and pen. Yet, it’s important to keep track of those notes when bits of paper go flying out of pockets. Once notes have been taken, apps like Adobe Scan will allow you to easily take a picture of your notes and convert them into a digital “scan” and even a searchable document (provided your writing is somewhat legible!)
Tip #4: Make a slick presentation
Despite our Google predisposition, we have to admit that we are dyed in the wool Mac fans. When creating presentations for ultrasound education, Keynote takes preference as presentation software. Primarily, for its ability to handle videos and images. It also comes with a range of proprietary fonts, magic move options for slide transitions. It comes free as part of the MacOS experience but unfortunately, as with all things Mac, is limited to that interface. The drawback can often be transferring Keynote files to new computers when you arrive at a new venue. Pro tip – save your presentation as a HTML file and save this folder to your USB. Open that html file using any desktop browser on any computer and away you go. Everything is fully functional as you created it!
Canva is an online (mostly) free design software that allows you to create visual graphics, social media posts and even presentations. It has a huge variety of fonts and built-in images and themes that look great and transfer easily onto any platform. If Keynote isn’t an option (or even if it is), sometimes Canva can slip in easily as an alternative.
Tip #5: Real-time learning is important… and beneficial
Education has really changed over time and continues to do so. As the day progresses and you’re called to carry out a variety of procedures in the Emergency Department, we’re unlikely to pull out a textbook these days. Have you ever been left trying to remember some video or tips and tricks that you saw somewhere online, but can’t recall in that moment when you need it if, and where, you saved it? Pocket is an easy to use app or web-based software that allows you to save any videos, images or articles that you find online to “read later”. Cuts down time online but ultimately, it’s where you need it, right when you need it… in your back pocket. (Yeah, we’re proud of that one).
Tip #6: Collaboration
Our working environments are changing, and so is the way we work with our teams. Whether we’re navigating different shifts or different time zones, we need to find a way to communicate efficiently and conveniently – and avoid the dreaded whatsapp group! There are a number of apps that will facilitate this out there now, and each have their specific strengths and advantages, whether it’s seamless audio/video, streamlined messaging, third party integrations or the ability to subdivide your team into multiple streams. We’ve used Discord, Slack, Teams and Google Chat. Try them out and find the one that suits your team or project’s needs.Another useful tool for collaborating with your team is Google Workspace and its suite of office apps. While other options surely exist, Google Docs for one has become synonymous with cloud word processing and enables multiple members of the team to edit a live document in real time. And beyond the obvious utilities of this suite, check out this example of a creative use of Google Slides.
Tip #7: Get on top of the research
There’s a huge amount of research being published daily that is becoming more widely available online. Keeping track of those papers that you don’t have time to read but want to bookmark for later, is important. Paperpile is a super little Google Chrome extension and a smartphone app. It appeals to us as it’s a web-based simple reference manager with a special emphasis on integration with Google Docs. It’s possible to import a paper to your account directly from the URL and sort those papers into individual folders. Best of all, it is amazingly easy to “cite while you write” using the Paperpile add-on in Google Docs. There are many alternatives available such as Papers or Mendeley but Paperpile takes the win for us.
Tip #8: Stay focused
Staying focused can be a challenge. When there seems to be nothing but distraction, some apps have been designed to cut out the noise and help us focus for short bursts of time. Forest is a simple and rather wholesome application that allows you to plant virtual trees throughout the day while focusing or studying. The app blocks use of distracting apps (unless you whitelist certain ones) while you focus for short bursts. If you cheekily try to check social media while on your 25 minutes focus time, you get a devastating message asking if you really want to kill your cute little tree. Trust us, you don’t. After a productive evening of short bursts of study, you’ve a lovely little forest of different trees. Other alternatives include online Tomato or Pomodoro Timers which operate on the same concept. Focus for twenty five minutes and break for five.
Tip #9: Our Personal Learning Network
One of the most powerful hidden concepts on social media is that of a personal learning network. This is a group of people that you trust and refer to on a regular basis – your ‘go to’ folk for the latest on a particular topic. Ok this may sound fancy but I’ll bet you have your own network already – maybe it is your exam study group or the group of peers that you practise your interview prep with.
Even if you don’t, you can harness this concept – networked online learning. Maybe you want to watch & listen quietly in the background like most of us. However sometimes you might want to contribute yourself and exists a 2-way flow of info when we feed in as well as take out. Finally you can use your network to filter out unwanted noise and amplify the pure signal on social media.
Tip #10: The Twittersphere
So what does a Personal Learning Network look like in real life? Hashtags are one of the best methods to curate material that you would like to see. #foamed is an example. With this, we’ve connected with lots of folk that continue to share high quality material related to topics that we are interested in.
Lists are another way of keeping relevant content in your social media feed. Lists are like folders for people that you follow on twitter. While a hashtag will curate tweets and actual content, lists will collect all the content from specific people. There are some super ready-made lists out there or you can just create your own. Using a combination of both lists and hashtags probably is the way to go.
Hopefully we have given you substrate to allow your online educational time to be more effective, productive and maybe even more enjoyable. Technology is genuinely there to make out lives a little bit easier and not more difficult.
Using Google Sheets for the first time will not be effortless so give your self time to discover the benefits and use it more than once. Flanagan’s Principle (coined by one of the authors) suggests that we try these apps for seven days. If you like it after that then consider building it into your longer term workflow. And as we cautioned at the start, these are just our ideas. There is no one single best solution so try them out and make them your own.
By Leah Flanagan, Mohammed Hamza, Cian McDermott