Links Roundup #10

western saddle with a lasso on it

PKM LINK ROUNDUP

Review:  Springpad Serves as Your Virtual Personal Assistant.  We haven’t discussed Springpad much on this blog as it seemed merely a less successful competitor to Evernote and OneNote in the Notebook Software arena.  But it seems to be carving out a niche for itselft, sort of a cross of Evernote and Pinterest with features that neither has.

Remember The Milk:  Evernote: Introduction.  Remember the Milk is a popular online reminder service, one of the best in the genre.  While Evernote has just added reminders to the desktop and iOS versions, this linking of Evernote and Remember the Milk can help the rest of us until the Evernote for other platforms adds the reminders.

Ah, events have caught up with me, and I have pleased to say Evernote Reminders Now on Android.  The article linked to, from PC Mag, explains the functions of reminders and includes a video on using them.  One of the gold standards for productivity tools just got even better.

6 Excellent Free Linux Reference Management Tools and 21 of the Best Free Linux Productivity Tools – we don’t mention Linux much here, since (a) there are probably only a few of you that use it; and (b) none of us have experience of it.  You may need to support Linux users, however, and this web site offers a number of similar articles on best Linux tools for various categories.

Research Management for Dummies – interesting article on managing research data and new tools to help, written by the creator of a data repository called Figshare and part of a company that has developed data management software called Projects (Mac only, so far, and not free software).  I view it as productivity related because these products aim to help researchers save time and be more organized about research data management.

Google Gives Printing from Android Devices a Boost with Cloud Print – with the sales of tablets skyrocketing, it is good to see that equipment makers are making it easier to print from tablets and smartphones.

How to Start Getting Organized – another of Jill Duffy’s Getting Organized columns in PC Mag.  This one is on how to start getting organized, and we all know that first step is a doozy!  This post from her is my favorite so far.

Wow! — Schools can Now Buy Surface RT Tablets from as Little as $199.  Offer only until the end of August, but what a deal.  Includes K-12 and colleges and universities.

Evernote Rolls out Web Clipper for Gmail.  If you use Gmail, Chrome, and Evernote, life just got easier.  Now you can clip emails into Evernote, which has a more powerful search engine than most mail systems.

If you ever used the EverDo.it app for to-do lists based on the GTD system, it is rolling out a major upgrade and a new name:  SmartGTD.  “SmartGTD is a smart task manager based on the Getting Things Done methodology which synchronizes with Evernote, and will soon be compatible with Gmail, Microsoft Exchange, iCloud, Dropbox, Microsoft SkyDrive, Google Calendar, iCal, which enables the user to create a list of tasks from e-mails, notes and assigns reference materials from files, photos and other forms of data. SmartGTD is available on iPad and in the upcoming weeks will also be available for iPhone. In the near future there will be a cross-platform version hosted on Android, and a Web solution.”

Turbo Boost Your RSS with Feedly and IFTTT.  Talk about task automation!  This article discusses using Feedly and IFTTT to save RSS news feed items and redistribute them in multiple ways.  Describes apps such as Buffer for scheduling social media, sending to Google+, via HootSuite, or sending to a Google Spreadsheet.  Great example of using IFTTT, an nice to know Feedly can support this kind of interaction now that Google Reader is close to death.

 

 

 

Year for Productivity Session 14: Research Management – One Ring to Rule Them All

Session 14Research management is much more than managing references or bibliographies.  It involves the process from having an idea through to publication.   There are many steps along the way:  searching for the relevant literature, reading and annotating relevant materials, capturing the citations to useful publications, doing original research alone or in collaboration with others, analyzing the results, organizing the ideas, writing with the intent of formal or informal publication, finding the best publication venue, submitting the work in accordance with publisher guidelines, editing until the final work is approved,  then finally  basking in the warmth of the shiny new publication.

Even in the days before any of this was automated, managing research required discipline and organization.   Every time an electronic information revolution happened – first with computers, then personal computers, then the internet, then mobile computing – new tools were added into the mix and they did not always play nice with each other.  So the Holy Grail or the One Ring for research management is an integrated software or suite of apps that can manage the entire process from start to finish.

It has taken some time for such tools to come into being, and they are still evolving.  In the way of universes and humans, that process of evolution isn’t going to end for the next few millenia, but there are some useful tools already out there.  The tools often begin as a tool for a specific purpose, and then the design team decides that it really needs this feature too, and maybe that one.  Or a group of designers start fresh by asking what tools an academic researcher needs and writing software that fulfills as many needs as possible.  An example of the first is Docear (pronounced, believe it or not, Dogear), which grew out of the academic mind mapping tool Sciplore.  At some point the design team decided to start again and create something much more full featured.  Colwiz was an example of a design that, since its announcement to the public, offers a suite of tools, accessed from a dashboard, that include reference management, storing and annotating PDFs, managing projects (including calendars and to-do lists for individuals and groups), collaborating with other researchers, and more.  Qiqqa (pronounced quicker) is another tool with a robust set of tools that handles reference management, storage and annotation of PDFs, optical character recognition of PDFs which allows searching across one’s library, organizing papers by theme, and other features designed to allow maximum automation of research tasks. It promotes connecting ideas across papers and discovering similar papers, and also has some collaboration features.

Other systems are offering some of the most useful tools, many of which have reference management as their main function.  Mendeley is offering an evolving feature set with robust collaboration tools and recommendations of useful papers.  It will be interesting to see how the Elsevier acquisition of Mendeley will influence its evolution in the future.  Zotero is strong in handling many types of documents in the database of references and has collaboration options.  Readcube is excellent at adding valuable information to the PDFs being read.   We  know that it is still the Wild West out there, with so many tools available which work together well, poorly, or not at all.  This is not entirely undesirable, as each researcher has different needs and style of working.  However, moving between so many applications creates unnecessary inefficiencies.

So which is the Holy Grail of one software that does everything?  Sorry, it just doesn’t exist – yet.  Which makes it difficult to advise the new researcher as to which tools to start with.  Even for just the reference management component there are a LOT of available products, each of which have unique features and do some things better and some things worse than their competitors.  The Wikipedia article Comparison of Reference Management Software is the most complete starting point, comparing around thirty programs.  Quite a few librarians have created guides to such software, but the most they discuss is four or five – and they all differ in which ones they cover, whether they provide comparison charts, and which features they list in the charts.  Software that must be purchased might be available by site license, of which the most common is EndNote, followed by Refworks.  The free programs mentioned most often are Mendeley and Zotero.  Other software mentioned occasionally include Papers, Sente, Citavi, and CiteULike.

My personal top two recommendations at this point in time would be Colwiz and Qiqqa (which is very Oxbridge of me since Colwiz was developed in Oxford and Qiqqa in Cambridge).  It must be admitted that these recommendations are based on comparisons and reviews (some of which are listed in the Selected Readings section below), not personal working knowledge.  I don’t do a lot of the kind of in-depth research that graduate students and faculty typically engage in.

If you are a researcher, try out a couple of the tools mentioned here.  Search GradHacker and Profhacker to see if there is a discussion of the tools you are interested in.  If you are an academic librarian, look at the Wikipedia article and some other comparisons. and set up Google alerts on the most interesting-looking ones to get a sense of the buzz around that tool.  Remember Bamboo DiRT is the most extensive directory of research tools and it plans to add reviews of tools in the future.  Perhaps one librarian in your organization could take on the these tasks and share the most important updates with colleagues.

Tame the chaos, my friends.

For Further Exploration and Insight:

Yes, I’m repeating myself…

(1) If you are a researcher, try out a couple of the tools mentioned here.  Search GradHacker and Profhacker to see if there is a discussion of the tools you are interested in.

(2) If you are an academic librarian, look at the Wikipedia article and some other comparisons. and set up Google alerts on the most interesting-looking ones to get a sense of the buzz around that tool.

Selected Readings:

Note on the selected readings:  there are so many library guides to tools, and so many reviews of tools, that it is impossible to include them all.  Those chosen are representative, not comprehensive.

Library Guides to Research/Reference Management Software

Choosing a Citation Manager – very nice advice page with comparison tables from Penn State, though it only compares EndNote, EndNote Web, Mendeley, and Zotero.

Citation and Research Management Tools – Guide from the Metropolitan New York Library Council.  Guide has comparisons and pages for Zotero, Mendeley, Qiqqa, Refworks, EndNote, BibMe, and EasyBibBibMe and EasyBib, by the way, were not mentioned above.  They are great tools for undergraduates, not as full-featured as the other tools mentioned in this article.

Citation Management Tools – guide from the University of Findlay with a table suggesting a citation tool based on what user wants to do.  Suggestions include BibMe, EasyBib, EndNote Web, Mendeley, Qiqqa, and Zotero.  Below the table is a list of comparison charts of citation management tools from other research guides.

Comparison of Features for Bibliographic Management Tools – from UC Berkeley, compares Refworks, EndNote, CiteULike, Sente, and Zotero.

Managing Your References – guide from Oxford University Library.  This page has comparison tables for Refworks, EndNote, EndNote Web, Zotero, Mendeley, ColWiz, and Papers.

Social Bookmarking/Research Management – page from my Current Awareness Tools research guide.

WizFolio – guide to yet another reference manager with a lot of features.

Zotero – guide from the Georgia State University librarian, Jason Puckett, who literally wrote the book on Zotero.

 Journal Articles

Childress, D. (2011) Citation Tools in Academic Libraries – “…With an appointed Citation Tools Team, they researched tools and their uses, polled public service librarians and staff, and held workshops and discussion sessions to outline a set of best practices and to assess user, librarian, and staff needs. The result is a set of best practices for supporting, recommending, and teaching tools for the many aspects of citation management.” Publication in RUSQ. Article DOI is 10.5860/rusq.51n2.143.

Steelworthy, M. and Dewan, P. (Vol 8, No 1,2013).  Web-based Citation Management Systems:  Which One is BestPartnership: the Canadian Journal of Library and Information Practice and Research. p. Compares Refworks, Zotero, WizFolio and Mendeley.

Reviews of Specific Tools

Qiqqa – Reference Management System – Mini Review.  2013 article that, despite the name, has a lot of information on Qiqqa’s features and usability.  Warning:  the top of the page has a lot of irrelevant stuff, scroll down to see the review.

Review of Colwiz – Hicks, A. Collaborative Librarianship 3(3):183-185 (2011).  One of the few reviews so far of Colwiz.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: Productivity for Librarians

Productivity for LibrariansHines, S. (2010). Productivity for librarians: How to get more done in less time. Oxford: Chandos.

I am now Officially Jealous.  Samantha Hines has published the book I would like to have written on productivity.   Productivity for Librarians is concise (158 pages including index), written in a clear and smoothly-flowing style, and provides an excellent introduction to productivity concepts, techniques, systems, and tips that is useful to anyone.  And, being a librarian, she provides an excellent list of resources in chapter 8 for those who wish further study.

Hines starts with an expanded table of contents that not only lists the chapters but also the subsections, allowing the reader to quickly find the information sought.  The preface defines what she hopes to accomplish with the book:

I define productivity and success in terms of balance. My ultimate productivity goal is to have a good work life and time for a good personal life. That is what I hope this book will impart to readers… (p. xvii).

The chapters follow a logical progression.  Chapter one, What is Productivity, gives a history of the concept.  Chapter two is on motivation,  including setting goals, improving communication, and ways of dealing with burnout and stress.  Chapter three covers procrastination,  chapter four discusses time management, chapter 5 systems of productivity,  chapter six is for managers, chapter seven covers how to stick with better habits of productivity,  chapter eight is the resource guide, and chapter nine wraps it all up,

In chapter one, the author states that formal study of productivity began in the early twentieth century when labor economists examined how workers perform their tasks in order to design more efficient workflows. (p. 1).  As the field has grown larger it has encompassed self-help as well as scholarly work in management and systems engineering.  She also discusses what NOT to expect:

… productivity is not about the book or the website you are reading or even reading more of these resources. It is about taking action. It is also about deciding what actions should be taken, and working more intelligently to get the right things done.. (p. 4)

That one quote is worth the price of the book!

Overall,  there is not a lot that is new to those who have read other works in the field.  One of Hines’ great strengths,  however, is in her ability to define a topic.  Here she proves stellar.  See, for example, this definition of time management:

What is time management? I see it as ensuring that your time is under your control, that you are aware of how you are using your time, and that this use meets your needs. A large part of time management is time organization and, beyond that, work and life organization. In order to be productive, the key resource you will need is time, in big uninterrupted blocks. You can only achieve this by managing your time well. (p. 57)

One discussion that does have new information for me was her discussion of procrastination (chapter 3, pp. 35-56).  This is really a vital topic, as it is one of the biggest sources of inefficiency.   First she defines what it is and is not:

To fall into the category of ‘procrastination’, a behaviour needs to be counterproductive, needless and delaying (Schraw et al., 2007)*. Delays in work faced by simply having too much to do can be a symptom of overwork or burnout and should be dealt with accordingly…. Procrastination also differs from simple laziness. With procrastination, you have the desire to do a task, which is missing with laziness, yet you desire to delay the task even more. Procrastination is usually accompanied by guilt and anxiety in a way that laziness is not. (p. 35)

According to Hines, there are three current theories on causes of procrastination.  The first is fascinating and gave me one of those lightbulb moments of making my own life much more understandable.  The main underlying cause of procrastination is fear:

Part of the ‘ fear factor’ in procrastination can be found in perfectionism. The worst procrastinators I know are perfectionists. And most of us cannot do our tasks perfectly. So for perfectionists, getting started on a task sometimes translates, either subconsciously or consciously, into setting themselves up for failure…. To become an efficient and productive worker, you will need to manage any perfectionist tendencies you may have. (p. 36)

While Hines doesn’t mention it, I’ve recently seen some discussion of guilt culture and shame culture and how societies instill deep levels of these feelings as a means of social control.  This is the root of the culture we live in where perfection is the expected but rarely delivered norm.  In light of this, Hines’ discussion makes even more sense.

The other two theories about procrastination are (1)  procrastination as an avoidance mechanism for things we dislike doing; and (2) poor impulse control when there are so many things one could pay attention to (in our hyperconnected world) that the difference between “what is important and what is immediate” gets lost. (p. 38)

Chapter 5, on systems of productivity, is also particularly useful:

This chapter will review seven of the major recent productivity systems : the Seven Habits series,  Getting Things Done,  Never Check E-mail in the  Morning , Bit Literacy,  the Four-Hour Workweek,  Zen to Done, and One Year to an Organized Work Life.  After a short discussion of each, I will compare and contrast the seven and offer some sugestions on how to choose a system should you want the guidance and organization that is provided by one. (p. 79)

I had not heard of all of these.  Her reviews cover each system sufficiently so you can tell which of them might interest you enough to go to the sources and find out more.  Also valuable are a couple of quotes about why you might want to investigate such systems in the first place:

This book thus far has been introspective.- analysing why you do what you do and how to best work with your habits and tendencies.   Systems question you on why you have these tendencies in the first place and suggest complementary activities or wholesale replacements.  (p. 79-80)

The second is:

Another thing a system can do is minimize the number of choices you have to make.   By relegating your actions to a few different choices,  it becomes much easier to make good decisions about how to spend your time. (p. 80)

Table 5.1 is a quiz.  Take it and score it to determine which, if any, might work best for you. (p. 99-100)

The resource guide in chapter 8 is annotated, and includes books, articles, and web resources.  Hines does not spend a lot of time discussing electronic tools other than a general discussion of paper vs. electronic.  She does list resources on tools in chapter 8 in such categories as email or to-do lists.  Since tools change so fast, it was probably wise to not go into great depth on them. She also admits to a tendency to prefer paper.  The book does say she has a library productivity site on Ning, but I have confirmed with her by email that the site no longer exists.

The loss of the library productivity site is one of the few negative things I can say about the book.  Something amusing is that the author bio clearly indicates Hines is American, but since the publisher is British, British spelling is used throughout.  A more serious problem in my eyes is that she recommends not following the news as a time saver – that you will hear anything important from family, friends or colleagues.   She thinks this is one way of freeing up more time.  I find this abysmal advice as democracy works best on a foundation of informed citizens.  Besides, I listen to NPR when getting ready for work and driving to and from work – all of which I would be doing anyway.

Hines admits to having always been a generally well-organized person, and you would think that would make it difficult to relate to perpetually chaotic types like me.  However, I think the book does work splendidly for …well, everyone, from the well-organized who want to fine tune their system to those who need a radical productivity makeover.   I particularly recommend giving the book to anyone just beginning to think about organizing their life.  So, in tribute to the late Roger Ebert, two thumbs up.

 

* The full reference for Schraw, et. al. is

Schraw, G., Wadkins, T. and Olafson, L. (2997)  ‘Doing the things we do: A grounded theoriy of academic procrastination’, Journal of Educational Psychology 99(1): 12-25.

 

Year for Productivity: Session 13: Annotation Software

If you are like meyear_productivity_graphic_13, you probably spent a good many years in school reading articles, textbooks and class notes.  You, like I, were probably also busy highlighting and writing notes in the margins of those same items.  I have spent so many years in study that I can hardly read a non-fiction book any longer without a highlighter and pad/pen by my side.  While I was in school, I would then go back through all my notes and highlights to try to piece together my report or paper.  Do any of you remember having a pile of numbered slips of paper with quotes which would be mixed and matched for content?

These days, I try to rely more and more on totally electronic methods of organizing my resources from start to finish.  I haven’t found the perfect method for me, but I continue to try new things and adjust my workflow.  Have I totally broken the habit of taking notes with a pen and paper notebook?  No, I’m not there yet, but now if I take notes by hand (often when reading a library book), I scan my notes so I can file them electronically.  I also tend to file them either in OneNote or Evernote.  Both will OCR the documents so that I can search within them later.  Yay!

This year, Mary and I have been using Evernote to complete and track all the research we are doing in order to bring this series to all of you.  I have found it to be a nice application for our purposes.  We created a note for each topic planned throughout the year, and then have been adding links, quotes, pdfs, etc that we find on each of the topics as we go through our daily curation activities. Some of our notes have become very long, which is not my preference, but it has been quite adequate for our purposes.  And isn’t that the key? Not necessarily looking for the most elaborate tool, but the tool that fits the need of the task at hand.

Today, as you have guessed by now, we are going to focus on one of the key tasks in the academic research workflow: annotating our research.  Let’s begin by thinking about the characteristics of note-taking. What kinds of tasks do we ideally want an annotation tool to solve for us?

  • Highlighting in multiple colors
  • Ability to add in-line notes of any length.
  • Ability to sort on keywords in the in-line notes.
  • Ability to export pdfs with notes/highlights intact.
  • Ability to ALSO export without notes/highlights (professors like this in particular so a clean copy of an article can be distributed to their class)
  • Ability to print highlighting/notes with the article.
  • Can handle citation creation or a tool that “talks to” other citation software.
  • Ability to share pdfs with others and to “discover” like research in a community of users.

Annotation software is one area of PKM that I feel still has a long way to go.  I have yet to find a product that I am totally happy with, and some of the most promising products are written for those in a MAC environment (Devonthink or Sente , for example) or have recently been purchased by major academic vendors (Springer’s purchase of Papers, Elsevier’s purchase of both Quosa and Mendeley to name only a few).  I’ve listed some key articles on several of the more popular annotation tools in the Selected Readings section, and the Wikipedia article “Web Annotation”  has a nice table comparing a list of web annotation systems on various criteria.  While there are several alternatives for MAC and mobile tools, major PC annotation program options took a big hit when Mendeley was purchased by Elsevier.  While it is still a good tool, and may even have exciting improvements for Elsevier clients, it’s long-term future for non-Elsevier clients is less clear.  Endnote, a key player in the citation software arena, has added annotation features to its product, however, it still has a long way to go.

I’ll close our discussion today with one newer tool called Qiqqa (rhymes with “quicker”). Created by a Cambridge University graduate, Qiqqa’s beta version launched in 2010.  By 2011, it was winning several award competitions.  It features reference management and annotation capabilities, a mindmapping feature and manages to plays nice with Microsoft Word and LaTeX.  It offers a free version for desktop use with a small(200 MB) online storage option.  Best of all, it works on Windows and Android operating platforms.  The Professional version (8000 MB) is $3.99 a month. I plan to play with this tool a little more myself, and will hopefully be able to post a more detailed review in the future.

For Further Exploration and Insight:

  1.  Take five minutes and think about your research process.  Do you annotate as you read?  How do you use those annotations?  How do you store both the PDFs and the annotations? Outline your process, noting any weaknesses or disconnects in your process.  Put a star next to any parts of the process that are working well.
  2. Explore one of the products listed either in the selected readings below, or from the Wikipedia article on Annotation Software.  Does the tool you explore solve any of your weaknesses in question 1?  Does it create other problems instead?

 

Selected Readings:

Especially for Mobile Devices:

Springer Gets Reference Manager Papers (2012.)
http://newsbreaks.infotoday.com/NewsBreaks/Springer-Gets-Reference-Manager-Papers-86228.asp
This newsbreak from Infotoday discusses many of the various tools that compete with Papers, outlining their capabilities.

Sente vs. Papers: What is the best PDF management system? (Parts 1 &2)
Part 1:  http://www.joachim-scholz.com/academipad/2012/04/09/sente-papers-best-pdf-management-system/

Part 2: http://www.joachim-scholz.com/academipad/2012/04/16/sente-papers-pdf-management-system-2/

The ultimate guide on how to annotate PDF files on the iPad:
http://www.joachim-scholz.com/academipad/2012/01/29/ultimate-guide-annotate-pdf-files-ipad/#more-219

DevonThink (MAC):

Steven Berliner Johnson provides two illustrative posts on how he uses DevonThink:
First Post: http://www.stevenberlinjohnson.com/movabletype/archives/000230.html  Followup post: http://boingboing.net/2009/01/27/diy-how-to-write-a-b.html.

Chad Black, an Associate Professor at University of Tennessee-Knoxville, did several posts back in 2008 on how he used DevonThink:
http://parezcoydigo.wordpress.com/2008/12/18/posts-on-devonthink/

Qiqqa:

The Qiqqa User Manual:
http://www.qiqqa.com/Content/Client/The%20Qiqqa%20Manual.pdf

Qiqqa YouTube Channel:
https://www.youtube.com/user/QiqqaTips/videos

Good Review which highlights the strengths and weaknesses of this product (March 2012):
http://professor-phd.tumblr.com/post/20262981851/qiqqa-review-complete-workflow-for-research

ReadCube:

This review suggests that what ReadCube does is good, but may still miss key research elements:
http://blog.everydayscientist.com/?p=3025

PCWorld Review (11/2012):
http://www.pcworld.com/article/2010271/readcube-an-excellent-all-in-one-tool-for-organizing-finding-reading-and-annotating-pdf-articles.html

 

Clutter, physical and mental – or, organizing for the differently organized

I’m finally going to read all the books I have stacked up on de-cluttering and getting organized, and then I’m going to share the accumulated wisdom with you.  That is, I’m going to read them if I can find them.

One of the basic themes of this blog is managing mental clutter to become more productive in academia.  However, the world of things can also impinge on our ability to produce new knowledge.  Can you find the receipt from the hotel that you need for your expense report?  Did your library books get shoved onto a shelf of your own books, and then pushed into the back row of two on that shelf – or worse, lost under a pile of clothes that you might give away sometime?  Etc.

If you have consistent problems with organizing things, you may have wondered if it’s because you don’t know how to organize (lack of knowledge), you are bored by organizing (lack of willpower), or you just weren’t meant to organize things in the ways commonly done here and now (lack of ordinary brain wiring).  There are books (and websites, and TV shows) out there that offer all these explanations, and my next few posts are going to look at some of the books and a few of the websites.  (You can tell me about the TV shows – I don’t have TV service.)

When I decided in midlife to become a librarian, I started to visit librarians in their offices for the first time in many years, and I noticed that for the most part, their offices were piles with papers and books.  Just like me!  Except that I suspected that their houses might not be quite so out of control.

I had started reading up on clutter by the early 1990s, because during my twenty years in international development work, I had certainly amassed plenty of paper (someone estimated that professional employees at the World Bank had an average of 100,000 pages of paper cross their desks annually, and I kept a lot of it to read later).  I also bought textiles to display and wear in the countries I travelled to; I had some of my mother’s and grandmother’s painting and collages; and I collected vintage clothing and china.  My family considered me the family historian.  I had just completed a dissertation – can’t get rid of those notecards, or the back-up disks (5-1/4″ and 3.5″).  Or the working paper series I had edited years before, multiple copies in case the organization that produced them ran out.  You get the picture – or if you don’t, see below; but I swear, it’s not all like that table.

Can alternative ways of understanding help, since human intelligence has not?  Evaluna of Interspecies Solutions scopes out the problem

Can alternative ways of understanding help, since human intelligence has not? Evaluna of Interspecies Solutions scopes out the problem

Paper has always been hardest for me, but other things are certainly challenging, and nothing obvious has ever worked, including the books from the 1980s with their here’s – how – to – do – it systems. This first wave of books assumed that people lacked knowledge of how to clean, how to get rid of clutter, and how to be neat.  None of this ever really worked for me, any more than did the well-meaning friends who occasionally re-organized things so I couldn’t find anything.

So I abandoned the how-tos and started looking at the books that came along by the 1990s that promised that if I understood why, I could figure out how. These books have titles like Organizing for Creative People and Organizing from the Inside Out. It was comforting to have someone else tell me what I already knew: that solutions devised by left-brained people wouldn’t work for right-brained people like me/ creative people like me / kinetic thinkers like me – or whatever new style the book at hand had identified.  Furthermore, these books often recognized that being neat and being well organized are not the same thing. Things can be out of sight but unfindable, and conversely one can have lots of piles but know where things are in the piles.

This second generation of books eschew one right way for everyone in favor of several right ways, depending on one’s type,and they’ve been much more fun for me to read.  Some of these different solutions (like how to pile effectively) have helped. And this new way of thinking about neatness and organizational challenges offered insights that allowed people like me to feel better about ourselves in several ways:

  • they uncoupled neatness from functionality (if you can find the bill, it doesn’t matter if it’s in a file drawer, revealing a preference for neatness as a cultural bias (to a point)
  • they developed a sensible rule of thumb to separate cultural preference for neatness from serious dysfunction (are you unable to use most of your furniture because there’s so much stuff piled on it?)
  • especially for women, they eliminated shame and redefined the standard of housekeeping (are you going to keep friends out of your house because it’s not as neat as your mother’s was?)

I’m now seeing a third “generation” of resources, based in part on experience with adults with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).  At first these resources also were prescriptive, with neuronormative (or neurotypical) people telling neurovariant people how to get organized.  The difference between these books and those manuals of the first generation is largely that the newer books understand the problem as one of different wiring, so they do explain why the problem exists and they do propose solutions with great empathy for the challenges of working from brains that work less easily in the dominant mode. However, even newer approaches are less prescriptive as to organizing solutions; instead, they recommend that neurovariant (or highly creative, or right-brained, or ADHD, or organizationally challenged, or chronically disorganized) people do research on themselves and come up with their own solutions, based on their unique energy and interest patterns and our knowledge of habits and how they are formed and broken.

As Mary reported in May I Have Your Attention?, attention deficit sometimes seems to have become the new normal in our hyperconnected world.  I have long known that I have many symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, as do others in my family.  The ways of diagnosing adults seem unreliable to me so I don’t really worry about whether or not I actually have the disorder – but I do know that following some of the suggestions for adults with the disorder does help me.

While I have characterized these as different “generations” of self-help approaches, all of these strains of self-help material still exist side-by-side.  The earlier resources, with their “one right way” approach, have not disappeared, and they can still be a source of useful ideas.  And while multiple approaches to getting organized now exist, the issue of clutter has by no means disappeared.  Indeed, as older households downsize and the ideology of living simply or lightly on the earth takes hold, living with fewer objects may become desirable for more people.

In this series, I want to focus on the practical, but I also want to look at how the solutions are framed.  The field has come a long way; few authors now try to motivate with shame (originally connected with women’s failure to make beautiful, neat, clean homes or their families), and I recently came across a very interesting book addressing the gender elements of the self-help and life organization movement (Micki McGee, Self Help Inc: Makeover Culture in American Life, Oxford University Press, 2005). Even the question of how to characterize the subject under discussion has become charged:  The National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization became the Institute for Challenging Disorganization in order to sound less clinical and more positive, since they try to offer education and strategies for overcoming (or at least dealing with) disorganization.  Some members and interested parties like the change, others seem to find it counterproductive.  The terms neurotypical, neuronormative, and neurovariant have entered the mix at (I would say) the fringes of this discussion.

I don’t mean this as a historical survey, but the earliest book I am going to look at is Messie No More (Sandra Felton, 1989).  In the same vein, I have:
Organizing for the Creative Person, Dorothy Lehmkuhl and Dolores Cotter Lamping, 1993
Organizing from the Inside Out, Julie Morgenstern, 2004 (second edition)
Organizing for Your Brain Type, Lanna Nakone, 2005
Organizing Outside the Box, Hellen Buttigieg and Sari Brandes, 2009

On clutter, I have:
Let Go of Clutter, Harriet Schechter, 2001
Organizing Sourcebook, Kathy Waddill, 2001
When Organizing Isn’t Enough, SHED, Julie Morgenstern, 2008 (she wrote Time Management from the Inside Out, which I may tackle)
Unstuff Your Life, Andrew J. Mellen, 2010

Of the latest wave, my  main source right now is a website, Ariane Benefit’s AgilZen.  From the ADHD literature, I have ADD-Friendly Ways to Organize Your LIfe, Judith Kohlberg and Kathleen Nadeau, 2002.

And I do want to take a closer look at Self Help, Inc. by Micki McGee.

So, assuming I can keep these all found long enough to read, or in some cases, re-read them, you will hear more.

 

 

Year for Productivity: Session 12: In Number Like the Stars – Choosing Software for Academic Workflow

year_productivity_graphic_12From our survey of the readers of this blog (thanks so much for responding,  and if you haven’t you still can –  hint,  hint) we know most of you are academic librarians,  with a few academic researchers and others in the mix.   So why are we devoting a third of this course to productivity for the academic researcher?  We hope to be directly useful to them,  first of all.   Secondly,  those of you who are librarians may do research yourself and want the best tool for the job.   Finally,  and perhaps most important,  academic librarians want to help their students and faculty find ways to be more productive.   Some of you may teach classes on productivity tools,  or point out useful tools in other interactions with students and faculty.

The first problem, then, is identifying the tools that might be useful.  The difficulty isn’t a lack of software tools – some days it seems the number of them is almost infinite.   The problem is identifying the most useful,  and finding good reviews or other comments to separate the wheat from the chaff or the gold from the dross or (enter your favorite metaphor here).   Another problem is that productivity tools span across operating systems (PC,  Mac,  or Linux,  anyone?)  and app ecosystems (iOS,  Android,  Windows,  BlackBerry) and you will have users who use all of the above.

Identifying tools for undergrads is easier,  as their research needs are not as intense.   They need the most help identifying where to start their research and find information,  but librarians have that down stone cold and have been teaching these skills all along.   Beyond that,  undergrads need a good word processor and one of the easy-to-use reference managers such as Easybib,  for example.  Some of the productivity apps useful for everyone,  such as Evernote or OneNote,  are useful for them,  and there are plenty of good apps that help them with time management such as the Research Project Calculator.   A Google search of,  for example,  “apps for students”  turns up a number of useful articles,  including some guides written by librarians.

The biggest problem is with finding the best tools for those beyond the undergraduate level,  those doing research over the long term,  of longer length,  and for professional publication.   They need rich,  full-featured tools for finding literature in their fields,  collecting,  analyzing,  and managing data,  keeping track of references,  writing,  time management,  and more.  Where to identify these is a cosmic question almost as important as the answer to Life,  the Universe,  and Everything (which,  as all readers of Douglas Adam’s Hitchhiker series know,  is 42).

Blogs written by and for academic researchers are one fruitful source.   Of course,  it can be a little frustrating that every post you find by a grad student,  faculty member,  postdoc,  or researcher describing his/her academic workflow uses a different set of tools.   There are two blogs we think are the gold standard,  though.   ProfHacker and GradHacker.   Both started with a focus on research tools,  though have broadened out to include other aspects of life as a professor or grad student.  They still have plenty of great posts on tools,  however.

Research guides written by librarians are another good source.   In exploring them for this post I did not find any more extensive than the one Crystal wrote for her Productivity Tools for Graduate Students class.

Still,  what would be ideal is a directory of research tools that covers all the needs of the academic researcher.  When oh when,  you may ask,  will such a thing exist?  It is my great pleasure to tell you that one does.   It is called Bamboo DiRT.   Bamboo is a project for digital humanities researchers,  and DiRT stands for Digital Research Tools.   “Bamboo DiRT is a tool, service, and collection registry of digital research tools for scholarly use. Developed by Project Bamboo, Bamboo DiRT makes it easy for digital humanists and others conducting digital research to find and compare resources ranging from content management systems to music OCR, statistical analysis packages to mindmapping software.”

Choosing one of those topics takes you to a list of tools.   The entry for each tool has the name,  a link,  a description,  tags,  and comments.   This extremely useful web site is about to get even better with the addition of reviews for tools.   You can by browse the directory by New and Updated,  Recommended,  Category (these are similar but not identical to the topics on the top page),  Tags,  or View All.

Another directory of tools is the Top 100 Tools for Learning.  It is a list in alphabetical order, with the type of software, and its rank in the annual listings since 2007.  It is based on recommendations by educators worldwide.  There is a 300+ page PDF A Practical Guide to the Top 100 Tools for Learning that discusses each tool and is available for purchase.

So,  how to choose the best tools?   It is going to be different for each researcher depending on the kind of research done,  the computer system,  and what tools the researcher is already comfortable with.   For the new researcher beginning from scratch,  I would suggest starting with DiRT,  looking at Crystal’s guide to productivity tools,  checking to see if your library offers a similar workshop,  and starting to follow ProfHacker and GradHacker.

As always,  if you know of any other directories of tools,  useful research guides or blogs,  please let us know in the comments or by email.   We like to share,  and we like to learn from you.

For Further Exploration and Insight:

(1)  Choose one of the Bamboo DiRT categories above, and read descriptions until you find a tool that interests you.

(2)  Go to that tool, play around with it.

(3)  Report on whether you would recommend the tool, and for what purpose, in the comments or by email, and tell us if we have permission to post it in the comments.

Selected Readings:

Wax, D.  Ultimate Student Resource List.  Article from Lifehack that is a compilation of previous articles on the best tools, websites, and advice for students.

Experiencing the iPad – “This blog is about…well, iPads of course and how people experience them. In this case, it’s how people in higher education experience the iPad. We’ll review apps (both educational and entertaining- and those instances when the two collide). We’ll highlight personal experiences through photos and video of actual iPad users. We’ll offer insights about extending the use of certain apps in and out of the classroom for both students and instructors. And, hopefully we’ll engage the educational community around this topic of iPads in higher education on a broader scale.”

Educational Technology and Mobile Learning – blog aimed at all levels of education, heavy on iOS/iPad apps.  Great categories, can find posts on a variety of tools and types of tools.