My #Workflow: An Interview with @RoyanLee

My interview with Royan Lee about my Workflow.

The #MyWorkflow series asks educators who are active creators on social media to share how they do their work. Today we speak to Rusul Alrubail, a renaissance educator who does just about everything. Currently dedicated to being a full time mother to her beautiful daughters, Rusul remains incredibly active in education through her writing and connecting. If she’s not facilitating an Educolor Twitter chat or writing another powerful piece for Edutopia, she’s working hard to organize EdCamp Toronto, or blow people away as a featured speaker at the next TEDx education event in Ontario. To make a connection with Rusul is to broaden your pedagogical horizons and worldview.

How do you pay the bills?

I work part time with Edutopia as community facilitator. We engage the community in positive ways, help educators, parents and students when they reach out. I also work with them on copywriting. It’s a fun job that works really well with my schedule and being a full time at home with my two little girls. I am also a freelance blogger and consult occasionally with several organizations. I am also a co-founder of The Writing Project, an essay writing app for students that the Design Cofounders team is currently piloting with several schools and universities. Before that I was a contract professor at Seneca College for 5 years, I taught English literature and composition to undergrads and college students.

My husband is also the founder and CEO of Design Cofounders. That’s also very helpful when it comes to paying the bills.


What regular activity brings you little money but loads of happiness?

Probably freelance blogging for education publications, and writing on my site. I do it because I love writing. It brings me joy because it opens up ideas and conversation to many people, and it always surprises me when someone new engages with me because one of my posts resonates with them. I especially love that they’re usually from somewhere across the world. I also do online webinars and presentations and those are fun too, to connect with other educators.

What’s your current phone? Which phone do you miss? What will be your next one?

iPhone 6s. My next one will probably be another iPhone. I’ve been an apple girls for the past 8 years, it’s what I’m used to. Even though I still dislike the way my photos sync, so I use Dropbox instead. It’s counterproductive but it’s working for now. My husband has encouraged me to go android, he loved how everything syncs with cal and gDoc, but I use those apps on my iPhone anyway. But never say never.

What’s your current laptop? Which laptop do you miss? What will be your next one?

I have a 13 inch MacBook Pro. Before that I had an 11 inch one. The next one will probably be the MacBook light. My husband got one and it’s the lightest, most elegant looking laptop.

What apps and/or methods do you use to stay productive?

I just started using Evernote again after deleting it. I wanted to give it another try. I mostly use Dropbox for photos, google calendar, and Google Keep on my iPhone.

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Google Keep was actually my most used app till recently when it comes to brainstorming and outlining ideas for my blogging. Here’s a rough outline of one of my blog posts “the heart of teaching” which was Edutopia’s #2 most viewed blog last year. I had woken up one night with the baby, and an idea came to me and wrote it. You can also see that I omitted some parts in the final post.

Which apps do you check persistently, even if you wish you didn’t?

I check Facebook and I hate it. I joined Facebook because of Edutopia work. Working on Edutopia’s social media requires me to monitor Facebook posts and comments. I don’t like Facebook because it feels noisy for me. I also merged professional connections with family, and I have conflicting feelings about this. It’s a bit too late to go back unless I create an entirely new Facebook account and that’s not happening.

I check Twitter a few times a day to read news and connect with online friends. But I do have my notifications turned off because otherwise they’ll take up way too much of my attention.

How do you carry your gear?

My purse! I mostly work from home at the moment so not a lot of carrying, but when I do work outside I just put everything in my bag and run.

What other hardware rarely leave your bag?

Not much else can fit there since I have to leave room for my kids’ snack, water bottle etc.

What piece(s) of analogue technology is a must in your life?

A notebook! This is probably the most cliche thing ever but I love using agendas and notebooks, ever since I was a student. It helps me to organize my to-do lists and keep me on the right track in terms of deadlines. I used to use my Edutopia notebook. My husband got me a new agenda the other day and I’m getting used to it, it’s really cool because you can log in your diet, ideas, conference notes, health goals etc.

When I worked on The Writing Project last winter at Design Cofounders, I learned a lot about Design Thinking and started using a lot of the same strategy we used in the office: brainstorming, using sticky notes, making documentation visible, sharing workflow and process with others for feedback and iteration. So now I try to implement the same techniques in my writing, planning and facilitating.

What drink, snack, or food sits next to you when you’re being creative?

Tea and fruits recently. It was coffee, but now I have such an aversion to it, not sure why. I enjoy my tea with cardamon and some oranges, apples, whatever I have in the fridge. Of course, chocolate is a bonus.

When working, do you prefer the cafe, library, couch, office, kitchen table, or other?

I work in the evenings mostly after kids are asleep so unfortunately my choices and limited, but I sit on the couch, put a show in the background on Netflix and work. Often it becomes distracting when I’m writing something important, but most of the time it helps to keep me awake and focused.

Sometimes if I do have childcare, which is rare these days, I like to work at the Design Cofounders office, the same place we held EdCampToronto. Or a local coffee shop or Starbucks.

When working, do you need quiet, ambient noise, speakers, or  headphones?

I do if I am writing a new piece. I can’t concentrate with music or TV in the background. But if I’m doing social, or editing, emails etc I am good with music or TV in the background.

If it’s one of the latter two, what’s on your playlist?

This is odd but I don’t have a playlist. I know weird right? I do put the radio on in the background during the day, I listen to CBC metro morning and the current. I also listen to flow 93.5 in the car. In the evening I listen to my husband’s playlist, he listens to a lot of hip-hop: Drake, Big Sean, etc.

Morning, afternoon, evening, or the witching hour?

Evening, that’s when I’m most productive if you don’t count being a mommy all day lol!

How do you get from idea to shipping that idea?

I think about it a lot, then I outline and brainstorm, then think some more. Then change and solidify my outline. Writing an outline is the hardest part, then everything is good from there. But I go through this stage where I’m stressed out because a deadline is lurking and I have no clue what I am going to write, then a topic comes and that brings me some relief till I come up with a thesis statement, outline etc. I call the earlier stage of writing that awkward phase, you know you have to write something but not sure what. I also talk about it with my husband, he’s so supportive of my work and his feedback is always so helpful. He gives me critical feedback that others might not, and it helps to make my work better.

What’s one piece of advice you have for people that have difficulty with their workflow?

Do what works for you! We often try to use things that work for others, and get caught up in trying to make it work for us but it just doesn’t. Others are not living your circumstances so just do what works well for you at that moment in time.

How can we find and connect with you online?

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