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The Nitty Gritty on Organization, Productivity, etc.


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I hope you're all doing well and that you and your loved ones are healthy and safe during this strange time!

I checked the thread and couldn't find much related to these topics, though I did find some useful information on other forums within Grad Cafe.

I'm always interested in systems and optimization. My systems have been haphazard up until now. I'm using some of the current stay-at-home time to prepare to hit the ground running next year. So, I thought I'd start a thread to hear from those of you who are further down the road.

Here are some questions to get the ball rolling:

  • What software do you use to write papers, theses, and dissertations? Why?
  • How do you manage your time?
    • How much of your energy goes toward teaching responsibilities (if you have them)?
    • How much time off do you take during the week?
    • How do you split up coursework and other research interests?
    • How do you invest in languages (ancient and research) consistently?
  • What do you use for reference management?
  • Have you found any resources especially helpful that you wish you had known about when you started out as a student?
    • Books, podcasts, etc.

If it is relevant, mention your general research area and how far you are into your current program. And if you think of more questions, please add them! I'm sure more will occur to me as I hear from you all.

 

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Me: sixth year PhD candidate, broadly ancient history, specialty papyrology (mostly Greek, lots of Coptic et al.), late ancient reading practices, scholars, Septuagint, ancient grammar, etc.

I have toyed around with various word processors, but always come back to Word. My school has a paid subscription for OneDrive, which syncs remarkably well with Word, autosaves, etc., which makes it an easy choice. 

Bibliography. This one is hard. I use Endnote online, mostly because my Uni has a paid subscription. I mostly use it to store and organize references related to my dissertation and books/articles I need/want to read at some point. But honestly, I didn't use any kind of software before my dissertation and I never found it to be a hassle. I suppose you could start using something like Endnote now, especially if it's free for you.

Resources I wish I would have known about. Hmm...A big one that comes to mind is to invest in the cheapest new ipad and ipencil (or similar stylus--the new base ipad supports ipencil now, used to be only the pro). I was one of those people who hated reading articles/books electronically. But I realized that with the pencil, it feels basically the same as the real thing. The biggest advantage for me reading this way is I can pull up the article/book on my laptop/desktop and see my notes/highlights. This helps immensely when you are returning to certain references over long spans of time (dissertation work). Another tech item is getting more than one monitor, but the benefits of this are largely contingent on the kind of work you do (or will do). For me, I spend lots of time looking at digital images of papyri alongside text documents; I have to do a lot of transcribing, etc., and with only one monitor you will make mistakes. I doubt you are/will be doing this kind of work, but the benefits are still there even if you are only looking at multiple (modern) text documents.

Language upkeep - good luck. How many languages? Dead and/or spoken? You will probably have to give up competency in some over time, increase competency in others. So it goes. 

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I'm ABD from a university in the southeast and currently working as an instructor in Texas as I finish up my dissertation. My field is contemporary theology in the US: how evangelicals discuss theodicy and its implications on the environment and marginalized populations, part. people with disabilities.

Time management has always been a struggle of mine - I'm still shitty about keeping my eye on assignments due and prioritizing them. So, I went old school about two years ago and got one of those large paper monthly calendars you use to see on people's desks. It's now mounted on the wall in front of my desk so that I always see it while working. It lets me write in meetings, assignments, "Read 15 pages of X on the 15th, 10 on the 16th," etc. My close friend actually secured a whiteboard on wheels that they use instead, which I like as a probably more longterm solution but I live in a studio so space is precious.

I teach full-time now at a small college in Texas while I finish my dissertation. My actual teaching workload is probably 15 hours a week, with another 10-15 on preparation. The rest is advising some students and minor administrative duties that average less than 5 hours a week.

I've tried multiple word processors from Word, Google Docs, Open Office, etc but I always come back to Word for the same reasons that @sacklunch noted - it syncs well with OneDrive and Dropbox. I'll take this time to stress that you need a subscription to OneDrive, Dropbox, or some type of secure place. Computers fail and you don't want to lose your work. My wife kept her dissertation on her laptop, not backed up anywhere else, and sure enough her laptop crashed one evening and we could not get it to work again. We took it to a tech who advised us that the laptop was garbage now but he was able to salvage large parts of her dissertation and other documents so she could rebuild it. Lesson learned but it was an intense two weeks that seriously caused her to contemplate dropping out.

I reserve one full day a week for non-school time, usually Sunday (I also work as a supply priest so it's convenient) and then a half-day somewhere else in the week. If I have to give up on something it's the half-day but that hasn't happened in quite a while.

I use Zotero for references and cataloging my research. It was a mandatory workshop for my M* so I've just kept using it and don't have any experience with other software.

When I was pre-comp I dedicated myself to reading an article or chapter a week from my school's reading list in preparation for comps. Sometimes I could get two done in a week if it was short or more directly relevant to my research. My process was to quick skim the text to understand framework, let that simmer for a day or so, reconstruct from memory, and then using the text as a guide I filled in the holes and did a more thorough analysis.

I still don't like taking notes on PDFs so I print things out and write in the margins. If it's a lengthy file I'll use the Notes feature on Mac because I don't want to print out 100 pages for something that might have 15 pages that are relevant. Otherwise my notes are categorized somehow: pre-comp they were sorted to their relevant exam/class/etc., now its done by chapter in my dissertation.

I admittedly haven't really touched languages since passing my reading exams given the contemporary nature of my field and a focus on North America (spec. USA), I don't see that changing. I did exams in French and German, and one in Latin though I studied it in high school and college and have kept up with it some, but it's not relevant to my work.

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On 4/30/2020 at 9:40 AM, sacklunch said:

For me, I spend lots of time looking at digital images of papyri alongside text documents; I have to do a lot of transcribing, etc., and with only one monitor you will make mistakes. I doubt you are/will be doing this kind of work, but the benefits are still there even if you are only looking at multiple (modern) text documents.

Yep. This became all but necessary with everything being online right now. Because many are having to dedicate a whole screen to Zoom calls and screenshares, I think a second screen is a must. Aside from the current climate, any translation work is hugely helped by more screen realty.

On 4/30/2020 at 9:40 AM, sacklunch said:

I have toyed around with various word processors, but always come back to Word. My school has a paid subscription for OneDrive, which syncs remarkably well with Word, autosaves, etc., which makes it an easy choice. 

This is the same reason I'm stuck on Word right now. I have a lot of free storage in OneDrive, and the autosyncing can be a life saver.
I'm toying with LaTeX/Overleaf and a couple others, but it's tricky to work with Semitic languages in any program that doesn't have easily accessible formatting.

On 4/30/2020 at 9:40 AM, sacklunch said:

Language upkeep - good luck. How many languages? Dead and/or spoken? You will probably have to give up competency in some over time, increase competency in others. So it goes. 

I'm in ANE Studies/HB, so I right now I have 3 ancient languages that I'm trying to maintain/develop. In the Autumn I'll add Egyptian and a research language. My Greek may have to shrivel up at that point.

Thanks for your response! Really helpful.

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On 4/30/2020 at 2:31 PM, xypathos said:

I've tried multiple word processors from Word, Google Docs, Open Office, etc but I always come back to Word for the same reasons that @sacklunch noted - it syncs well with OneDrive and Dropbox. I'll take this time to stress that you need a subscription to OneDrive, Dropbox, or some type of secure place. Computers fail and you don't want to lose your work. My wife kept her dissertation on her laptop, not backed up anywhere else, and sure enough her laptop crashed one evening and we could not get it to work again. We took it to a tech who advised us that the laptop was garbage now but he was able to salvage large parts of her dissertation and other documents so she could rebuild it. Lesson learned but it was an intense two weeks that seriously caused her to contemplate dropping out.

Wow. Glad that she was able to salvage and rework what she could manage. That's a scary thought -- I may double down on backing up properly when I get into longer research and writing projects.

On 4/30/2020 at 2:31 PM, xypathos said:

When I was pre-comp I dedicated myself to reading an article or chapter a week from my school's reading list in preparation for comps. Sometimes I could get two done in a week if it was short or more directly relevant to my research. My process was to quick skim the text to understand framework, let that simmer for a day or so, reconstruct from memory, and then using the text as a guide I filled in the holes and did a more thorough analysis.

This is a great system! Reading lists can be overwhelming, so setting a steady, manageable pace sounds really helpful. Reconstructing the article from memory is probably the most beneficial step (active recall and all the evidence for memory retention).

On 4/30/2020 at 2:31 PM, xypathos said:

I still don't like taking notes on PDFs so I print things out and write in the margins. If it's a lengthy file I'll use the Notes feature on Mac because I don't want to print out 100 pages for something that might have 15 pages that are relevant. Otherwise my notes are categorized somehow: pre-comp they were sorted to their relevant exam/class/etc., now its done by chapter in my dissertation.

I'm the same way, but trying to figure out a way to do this digitally (that I can actually utilize for effective notes). Do you just have file folders full of marked up articles, organized like you mentioned?

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  • 2 weeks later...

I defended my dissertation last April (2019). I used Scrivener to write my diss and then exported it to Word for my committee and when it was time to submit to ProQuest. 

Advantages I saw in Scrivener:

- I found it really easy to keep everything organized. Some of what you can do with Scrivener I'm sure you can do with Word. But I thought the layout of Scrivener was really easy to use. You can keep a menu open on the left that lists each section/chapter of your diss. However you want to break it down. Then what shows up in the writing window is whatever chapter you have selected. So you can flip back and forth between chapters really easily, re-order them really easily (if necessary), etc. This also allows you to very quickly keep track of any stats/targets that you need to keep track of (e.g. word count targets or restrictions you set for yourself, etc.)

- FOOTNOTES. Scrivener keeps your footnotes listed on the lefthand side of the window making it very easy to find the notes you're looking for. I honestly never used Endnote or any footnote tracker because everything can be done in Scrivener. As long as you import/enter your bibliographic info as you go along, Scrivener does a very good job of keeping everything organized.

- Scrivener has a "cork board" feature where you can "pin" notes to yourself, reminders, etc. It's basically a separate tab like the chapters that can be pulled up just be clicking on it. I found that much easier to use than a running list of notes in a Word doc (which I still had) or even a physical board. It also has a comments feature that's much easier to use than in Word.

Drawbacks:

- The major issue was exporting to Word sucked. I used Turabian citation style, but Scrivener doesn't have that as an option. Chicago is obviously very close, but even then, the export didn't get the formatting exactly right. The main thing was that all the footnote numbers were superscript and not indented at all. So when I did my final export for my committee before my defense, I had to go through and fix the numbers on 400+ footnotes. It didn't take as long as it sounds it might, but it was still annoying. Had to do it again after I cleaned it up for ProQuest.

I'm starting a new book project now, and I've gone right back to Scrivener.  

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1 hour ago, marXian said:

I defended my dissertation last April (2019). I used Scrivener to write my diss and then exported it to Word for my committee and when it was time to submit to ProQuest. 

Advantages I saw in Scrivener:

- I found it really easy to keep everything organized. Some of what you can do with Scrivener I'm sure you can do with Word. But I thought the layout of Scrivener was really easy to use. You can keep a menu open on the left that lists each section/chapter of your diss. However you want to break it down. Then what shows up in the writing window is whatever chapter you have selected. So you can flip back and forth between chapters really easily, re-order them really easily (if necessary), etc. This also allows you to very quickly keep track of any stats/targets that you need to keep track of (e.g. word count targets or restrictions you set for yourself, etc.)

- FOOTNOTES. Scrivener keeps your footnotes listed on the lefthand side of the window making it very easy to find the notes you're looking for. I honestly never used Endnote or any footnote tracker because everything can be done in Scrivener. As long as you import/enter your bibliographic info as you go along, Scrivener does a very good job of keeping everything organized.

- Scrivener has a "cork board" feature where you can "pin" notes to yourself, reminders, etc. It's basically a separate tab like the chapters that can be pulled up just be clicking on it. I found that much easier to use than a running list of notes in a Word doc (which I still had) or even a physical board. It also has a comments feature that's much easier to use than in Word.

Drawbacks:

- The major issue was exporting to Word sucked. I used Turabian citation style, but Scrivener doesn't have that as an option. Chicago is obviously very close, but even then, the export didn't get the formatting exactly right. The main thing was that all the footnote numbers were superscript and not indented at all. So when I did my final export for my committee before my defense, I had to go through and fix the numbers on 400+ footnotes. It didn't take as long as it sounds it might, but it was still annoying. Had to do it again after I cleaned it up for ProQuest.

I'm starting a new book project now, and I've gone right back to Scrivener.  

Haven't read much about this program. You're using OSX I assume?

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Posted (edited)

@sacklunch Yep. I actually just upgraded to the newest version of Scrivener (3) because I got a new MacBook in January. Hadn't had a need for Scrivener, but since starting this new I've gone back and it's fantastic.

But it works on PCs as well.

@Deep Fried Angst Congrats on finishing exams! I look back at that as both the most stressful time in my program but also ultimately the most helpful. Huge foundational portions of my dissertation and even future syllabi that I've designed came from my exams. Good luck as you start the next phase!

Edited by marXian
typo
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  • 1 month later...

RE: readings/tablets/technology -- I just bought a reMarkable tablet for PDFs, eBooks and notes. One of my friends had one in Div School and recommended it. I have an iPad as well, but found the glare and notifications to be distracting, hence the remarkable tablet. So far, I love it. I'm just about to start my PhD and I don't know how it'll hold up when I'm back in the classroom, but for summer reading it's been excellent.

I second what was said about Scrivener. It's my go-to. I used to like Pages because it synced to iCloud, but it got frustrating over time. 

Also, following because I'm intrigued what others have to say!

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  • 2 months later...

Re: timing and time organization:

For my first year or two I just swam as hard as I could as long as I could and didn't really take any time or days off until I collapsed. I could handle about a year of that and should have stopped then. Now, I make sure I have one full day off from all responsibilities every week. It changes according to the timing of each term's teaching and studying responsibilities. I feel this is enough for me, and sometimes even find myself working on schoolwork anyway because I am interested. But the point is you have at least one day every week where you are "allowed" to feel no pressure to do anything other than what you want to do, including being a lazy ass and sleeping all day. It is fun when this single day happens in the middle of the week, because everything is less busy out and about. 

For splitting coursework/research interests, I figure out how long coursework is going to take each week, and I figure out which time of day and timing works best for me to complete my coursework (this actually took me over a year to figure out). For example, certain types of work I do better in the evening; certain types of work I do better in the morning. I prefer to knock out a single course's coursework for the week in one chunk of time if I can, but you may be the type who likes to work on something a little bit every day, it really depends on you. In my program, it is more common to let your research suffer in order to do well in classes, since your performance in them makes an impact on the faculty. I am able to let my adviser(s) know I have x-amount of a course load and my writing/research will increase/decrease accordingly that term. I never get any flak for it. 

I like to have a combination of structure and flexibility, so after establishing class hours, office hours, etc., I schedule one or two multi-hour blocks each week that are solely for working on my own research, and then I schedule half the amount of time needed for homework, and then set aside several more hours that is for "academic work" generally that I can fill in however I want, whether that's more homework, more research, etc. 

As for keeping up languages, I have heard of people doing things like setting a goal of x-number of articles per week or month dealing directly with, or in, the target language. As for the ancient, find something that interests you whether or not it's related to your current research that you will want to look at regardless of whether it's required of you. Fight off the feelings of guilt that you are spending time on something that isn't your research; remind yourself you are spending time investing in yourself with this valuable skill. It is OK and actually helpful to reread the same things, don't feel guilty for this either.

As to other organization:

I only recently finally stopped wrestling with the fact that I have a very, very strong preference for reading things in hard copy, and I am more attentive, read more quickly, and am able to find quotes more quickly in hard copy. For that reason, just this summer I have begun switching out to an old-school hard copy filing method with file folders and all! I'll let you know how it goes. That said, I keep a running "master" bibliography of what I read and that is invaluable. I also recently began keeping a "master" reading-notes document on the computer that I seriously wish I started earlier. 

However you do it, I recommend you have all your types of things in single places, even if across types-of-things those places or systems are different. My "master" reading notes document is an example; before that, my reading notes for everything were in different places and different formats both online and off, making it very difficult to find them two years later. 

Good luck! 

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@jujubea all your advice is amazing! Can you talk a bit more about your master bibliography and master reading-notes doc? I would love to do something like that, so I'd love to know more about how you do it. Thanks!

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I also have a few "master" notes/bibliography documents: e.g. I have a master secondary sources bibliography for my dissertation (word document) and also use Endnote online, which is split up into different research groups. I other documents for ancient sources: e.g. what editions I follow, citation methods (for authors like Galen this is essential), etc. Other documents record phenomena of potential interest down the road (I work in papyrology, so e.g. I have a document recording sigla of interest in papyri I encounter).

I must say in response to jujubea that I am not envious of all that physical paper-collecting! I tried something similar for a few years and ended up with more than was feasible to manage. Not only that, but I made more mistakes--juggling multiple books side by side, attempting to keep them flat with multiple weights(!). I much prefer scanning everything, reading and annotating on my ipad with ipencil (which automatically saves and takes the place of the pdf on my computer) and then doing my juggling electronically. I have 4 monitors, so that helps as well, but I find myself making less mistakes and checking references far faster. Plus, you can OCR documents/books after scanned and then search text for keywords, which is a great benefit for those many books without (good) indices.

cheers

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  • 4 weeks later...
On 9/20/2020 at 10:47 AM, sacklunch said:

 

I must say in response to jujubea that I am not envious of all that physical paper-collecting! I tried something similar for a few years and ended up with more than was feasible to manage. Not only that, but I made more mistakes--juggling multiple books side by side, attempting to keep them flat with multiple weights(!). I much prefer scanning everything, reading and annotating on my ipad with ipencil (which automatically saves and takes the place of the pdf on my computer) and then doing my juggling electronically. I have 4 monitors, so that helps as well, but I find myself making less mistakes and checking references far faster. Plus, you can OCR documents/books after scanned and then search text for keywords, which is a great benefit for those many books without (good) indices.

cheers

Mmmm. You raise some good points that I must consider, as my tower of papyri (hah! get it?!) begins to loom magnificently overhead........

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On 9/15/2020 at 8:09 PM, NTGal said:

 

@jujubea all your advice is amazing! Can you talk a bit more about your master bibliography and master reading-notes doc? I would love to do something like that, so I'd love to know more about how you do it. Thanks!

Basically just copy-paste the citation form of all sources I ever read into the Master Biblio document. It works better when you are more consistent about it ........ 😬

As for the master reading notes, I guess it's more like a master thought-notes. It's where my impressions of reading materials go when they don't belong in any current writing project. In other words, if I am reading something to find a citation to include in something I am actively writing, I inevitably find other interesting material in the manuscript that is not useful for my present projects, so I will take those extraneous quotes or my reactions/impressions and put them in the master notes document along with title, author and page.

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On 9/20/2020 at 10:47 AM, sacklunch said:

I much prefer scanning everything, reading and annotating on my ipad with ipencil (which automatically saves and takes the place of the pdf on my computer) and then doing my juggling electronically.

Does anybody on Windows with and Android tablet have a system similar to this? I haven't had much success with getting annotations to sync. Once, I lost annotations on a 600+ page book in PDF form. So I would love to do something like this, but would like to hear from someone that it's working before going in that direction again.

 

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13 hours ago, Hebaram said:

Does anybody on Windows with and Android tablet have a system similar to this? I haven't had much success with getting annotations to sync. Once, I lost annotations on a 600+ page book in PDF form. So I would love to do something like this, but would like to hear from someone that it's working before going in that direction again.

 

If it helps I think the reason it is so good in my situation is I am using Microsoft's OneDrive (premium subscription, which my Uni pays for). My guess is that the OneDrive app would work just as well at syncing between Windows 10 and an android tablet. I also imagine that these days most free cloud services would work just as well (e.g. Google Drive).

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