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Monday, February 27, 2012

iPad productivity tools

I have been considering getting an Apple iPad for some time now, but needed a true work related justification given the price tag.

Twice a year, I produce the Virginia Consumer Sentiment Index for the Institute for Policy and Opinion Research at Roanoke College. I was on the road in the days leading up to the release of the February report. Quick responses to questions from our PR Department or reporters are crucial to the success of the index. I worried that I would get a call that required me to check my data while on the road and an answer would have to be delayed for hours. Data analysis via my iPhone, while possible using a variety of applications, is not reliable or realistic for me. It is so easy to make a mistake toying with such a small screen. Finally I had my justification for an iPad purchase. If a call was received, I could easily access a workable version of my spreadsheets and documents and respond to most questions.

I have had the iPad for a week today. WOW! I continue to find additional work related uses for it. On Friday I asked my Facebook friends to tell me the apps that they found most useful for enhancing productivity. One of my running buddies, Gabe Salinas, said that "Numbers" was one that he could not live without. The app has a $9.99 price tag, but has already earned its weight in gold.

"Numbers" is a spreadsheet application with remarkable capabilities. Data entry, including the use of formulas, is similar to Excel. Attractive and professional forms and visuals (graphs, charts, etc.) are easily created and inserted into reports. Additionally, all creations can be printed or shared and can be backed up using iCloud and Dropbox.

On Friday I clerked at the Old Dominion Athletic Conference Indoor Track and Field Championships hosted by Washington and Lee University and held at Liberty University in Lynchburg, VA. My husband is the Head Men's Track and Field Coach at Washington and Lee University and I work at Roanoke College and am a big supporter of their track team, so I was more than happy to lend a hand. Typically there are considerable down-periods clerking, so I took along my iPad. Using "Numbers", I was able to be quite productive during these periods working on my regression tables for one of my manuscripts. I accessed the Excel spreadsheets via Dropbox and was able to sync all of the progress I made while at the meet. The iPad was much easier to tote than a laptop as it fit neatly in my purse and I could easily turn it off and on when athletes were not checking in for an event.

As a researcher, "Numbers" is well worth the price. I can imagine its usefulness for coaches keeping track of stats or for anyone needing to access forms on the go. If you have an iPad, you must give this app a try. Plus, it has fully justified my iPad purchase and I can get on playing "Words with Friends".

Tweet your favorite apps, work-related or not, @RnningEconomist

Monday, February 20, 2012

Benefits of changing work environments

The past 10 days I have been on the road.  First to Wilmington, NC to see my mother and sister, run with Without Limits and see other friends, then on to Myrtle Beach, SC for the Dasani Half Marathon.

I brought my laptop, notebooks, etc. and was very productive research-wise, particularly on the depression project with Bill.  Over that time period I wrote code using the svy function in Stata for both the difference in means and regressions, tabulated the difference in means and continue to work through the regression results.  The svy function is great when using weights!  Additionally I organized (at the request of Bill) a session proposal for the 2013 ASSA/AEA meeting (the big economics conference...yes, the nerds will invade San Diego in January 2013).  We got folks from Duke University, UCLA, NCSU, Washington and Lee University, University of Minnesota, and the Thought Leadership Institute on board.  Hopefully our session is accepted as it looks fantastic.  The topic of our session is the effect of mental and emotional health and stress on labor market outcomes over the business cycle.  If you just got giddy, well... never mind.

I had to stay an extra day in Myrtle Beach due to the snow storm in Virginia.  Despite this, I was quite productive.  I have found that changing environments enhances my productivity.  When I stay in one location for too long I lose my focus and find myself watching too many reruns of Real Housewives of _________.  Don't get me wrong, we all need a little NeNe, but eventually I have to put my foot down and find a new place to work.

Changes of environment don't require five-six hour drives and hotels.  Simply moving my setup from home to Mill Mountain Coffee & Tea does the trick.  I am not sure why this works for me or if it works for others, but on this sabbatical I am desperate to get a large amount of research done and I will do what it takes.

I returned to Virginia this afternoon and am hopeful that this productivity rush will continue.  Otherwise, I might have to move on from NeNe to Tamra.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

A day of mixed emotions

Today was my first and last big race before the Quintiles Marathon at Wrightsville Beach.  I ran the Dasani Half Marathon in Myrtle Beach.  The weather was fantastic and I was excited to see what I could do with workouts under my belt that I could not have dreamed of this time last year.  Result: less than a minute faster than at this same race last year and a minute slower than a different half marathon at Myrtle Beach in October a month before the Philadelphia Marathon.  Dangit!

Luckily I saw my coach, Tom Clifford, soon after crossing the line and he put it in perspective.  I felt springy and strong last October, but by the marathon felt flat.  He thinks I peaked too early in the fall.  Wouldn't I rather reverse the scenario this year and feel flat due to lack of taper now, and run my goal time in the marathon in a month?  YES!

Of course, he is right.  Although my mileage is down this week, it is still going to be in the 80s, with last week in the 90s.  Not my highest of the macro-cycle but certainly not a taper.  The only truly easy day I did this week was yesterday.

The marathon is a test of patience, not only on race day, but in the weeks leading up to the race.  It is so difficult to run fast on tired legs.  Even though I would immediately tell a friend this if they were in my situation, it is so hard to accept it yourself.  I feel so close to a breakthrough, and am growing impatient.

Today was also a difficult one as two years ago today I suddenly lost my father.  The days leading up to this one are full of "remembering where I was" when certain things happened.  Getting the call from my sister that he was in the hospital, leaving him thinking he was getting better, rushing to the hospital after a 4 AM call that he was leaving us, etc.  I hoped to smash a PR for him today, but he will just have to wait a bit longer to lift his toddy in celebration.