Triage Email with Notification Center

As a school principal, I get a lot of email. My approach to dealing with the deluge has evolved since I first became a school leader three years ago. In year one, I spent too much time reading and checking email when I wasn’t working. In year two, I broke that habit and had a healthier relationship with my inbox. Year three – last year – saw even more change.

One of the things that has always kept me tied to my email is the red badge that shows up next to the mail icon on iOS to indicate that I have # unread emails. Once I spot that red badge, I almost always open my inbox to see who the message is from. Sure, it only takes a second, but those seconds add up. There have been far too many occasions where I unlock my iPhone to do something else but then end up in my inbox after seeing the red badge indicating that a new message has arrived.

Roughly six months ago I changed my email practice. The first step was to turn off the red badge in Settings > Notification Center > Mail (see screenshot below). This can be done on a per-account basis. In other words, I could leave the badge on for one of the three email accounts, but turn it off for the other two. I’ve chosen to turn it off for all three. Farewell, red number badge!

Notification Center Email
Secondly, I’ve started to use notification center to triage my email. Though I’ve turned the red badges off, I do allow new email to show up in the notification center which is accessed by swiping down from the top of the screen. This gives me a quick view of who has emailed me and what the subject line is. I can open notification center whenever I want but I don’t have a big red badge tempting me to do so. When I see the list of emails that I’ve received in notification center I can tap on a message to open it and read it or simply clear out all the email notifications if the messages can be dealt with at a later time. I usually end up doing the latter.

My practice of turning off the red badge for email has now transferred over to other applications as well which means that I only see the red badge on select apps when something is overdue or very important. As a result, the red badge now represents something that is actually important and worth looking at.

Systematic #109 ⇢

SystematicI was honored to be interviewed this week for episode #109 of the Systematic podcast. Host Brett Terpstra and I talked about education, history, trains, photography, New York City, iOS apps, and beer.

Saving Time with Google Calendar Notifications

I’ve written about the importance of having separate calendars for different areas of life and mentioned that I use three calendars: Work, Personal, and Family. Only I can edit the first two while the Family calendar is editable by both my wife and I.

Until recently, when scheduling something on the Family calendar, I would have to send an email to my wife to let her know that something had been scheduled. If I neglected to do this, she wouldn’t know about it until she happened to see it on the calendar (usually when trying to schedule something for a time when she thought one or both of us was free). While this hasn’t caused huge problems for us, I recently realized that a solution is built right into Google calendars (and iCloud calendar, too!).

Each calendar has it’s own settings for reminders and notifications which can be accessed by clicking the disclosure triangle next to the calendar’s name which is listed in the left column of the main Calendar page.


I have no idea how long these options have existed but I’m glad that I found them. Using the settings screen, I can customize when and how I want to be notified of changes to the Family calendar. I can be notified when an event is added, changed, canceled, or when someone responds to an event. The two options for notifications are email and text message. I prefer email as it is not critical that I get these notifications instantly.


Now, when an event is added I don’t have to type an email to my wife because she automatically receives an email notifying her that this has been added to the calendar. Since I’m all about efficiency, this automatic email notification is a welcome addition to our busy lives.

Relay FM ⇢

A new podcast network from Myke Hurley and Stephen Hackett:

Relay FM is an independent podcast network for people who are creative, curious and maybe even a little obsessive — just like its hosts…The shows you have known and loved for years are being rebooted as part of the new network. Everything we have done so far in our podcasting careers has led us here, and we’re pouring all of our love, knowledge and attention into this thing.

The Case for Saving Catholic Schools ⇢

An article in the New York Daily News last week argued, effectively in my opinion, that Catholic schools in NYC are helping the city’s poor students and should therefore receive more assistance from the state.

Probably no institution has done more to lift families out of poverty than the schools of the New York and Brooklyn dioceses. Catholic schools do an excellent job educating kids and instilling strong values, at a third of the cost of public schools.

It is well known that the per pupil cost of educating children in Catholic schools is indeed lower than in public schools. The more interesting part of this paragraph is the first claim. While I don’t doubt that it is true, I would love to see data proving that Catholic schools are more effective than any other institution at lifting families out of poverty. That would be an incredibly powerful statistic.

Protecting the Principal’s iPad

Some people put colorful, bulky cases on their iPhones and iPads. I am not one of those people. When I started using an iPad 2 regularly for work two years ago, I looked for a case that wouldn’t stick out like a sore thumb. I wanted something that I would feel comfortable using while working as an elementary school principal. It was also essential that the case be protective but not too bulky. Viewing angle was also important, as I alternate between using Apple’s Bluetooth keyboard and typing on the screen.

Ultimately, I found the case with the perfect combination of features. For two years I used Devicewear’s The Ridge for iPad 2-4 and I liked it so much that I recently bought the iPad Air version after upgrading to a new iPad.

Devicewear makes a big deal out of the fact that this case is made of vegan leather. Frankly, I have no idea what that means. I chose this case because it is exceptionally slim and highly protective. It doesn’t add a significant amount of bulk or weight to the iPad and all but the control surfaces, speaker grill, and ports are covered.

Devicewear Ridge case front  Devicewear Ridge case back

There are two main orientations for this case. The cover folds back on itself like Apple’s Smart Cover which is perfect for typing on the screen. It can also sit upright, at four possible viewing angles. The latter orientation is perfect for when I am sitting at a conference or in class taking notes with the external keyboard. Adjusting the iPad between the four viewing angles nearly always eliminates glare from overhead lights and I can sit upright while typing and easily see the screen. By contrast, the Apple Smart Cover’s viewing angle when it is in the upright position is far too steep and I find it hard to view the screen without slumping down in my chair. The Devicewear case’s four angles eliminate this problem entirely.

Devicewear Ridge case typing angle  Devicewear Ridge case viewing angle

The case still looks decent after two years of use. The corners are a bit frayed but this doesn’t bother me much. It still looks professional and continues to protect the iPad’s corners.

Devicewear Ridge case corner  Devicewear Ridge case corner

I recently spent some time looking at other cases on the market to see if there was anything new that would be worth buying instead of another Devicewear case. The CaseCrown Omni came highly recommended but it doesn’t offer anything more than Apple’s Smart Case and the viewing angle looks just as steep. In the end, I ended up getting the new version of Devicewear’s case. It is exactly the same as the previous version (except smaller because the Air is leaner than the iPad 2).

I highly recommend this case for the principal who is looking for a way to protect his iPad with a minimal case that looks professional.

“Leading Online” ⇢

I somehow missed it when it was published in January, but this iBook by Stephen Valentine and Reshan Richards is excellent summer reading for school leaders of all types.

This is a book about organizational leadership, framed through the lens of school leadership. Published online, in the very world it seeks to describe, this book offers instruction, examples, and a network with which to connect. Reading it and interacting with it will, indeed, help you to build some of the skills needed to thrive in today’s rapidly changing leadership landscape.

Wunderlist 3 Available Today ⇢

While this app doesn’t offer several of the features I consider essential (start dates, nested folders/projects, etc), it is great for making and sharing lists, it’s available for nearly every platform, and it’s free for basic use (with a Pro subscription that unlocks unlimited subtasks, files, and sharing).