Links Roundup #15

Academic Workflows

ProfHacker has an interesting example in Digital Workflows for the Archive.  Post is by a researcher who works a lot with manuscripts in archives, and describes the tools he uses (including Turboscan, Dropbox, IKeyboard (now TacType), Byword, and iAnnotate) and how he uses each tool to manage his workflow.  Mac-centric set of tools, but there are similar ones for Android and Windows.

Apple Updates

Apple is offering Education Seminars Online: “Explore webcasts that offer firsthand knowledge from educators and IT professionals, along with our own best practices.   Bring new ideas to your school and help your students achieve more than ever.”

Buying Guides

‘Tis the season, so lots of buying guides coming out now.  CNET has one for laptops.

Content Management Systems

The Computing Site has a brief yet useful article Pros and Cons of Jommla, WordPress, and Drupal.

Evernote/OneNote Updates

Jamie Todd Rubin’s Going Paperless column has another well-written post Using Shortcuts in Evernote to Speed Up Your Work.  As usual, his post is clearly written with screenshots illustrating the use of shortcuts.  I have started using them and love them – makes it so much faster to access the notes/notebooks/saved searches/tags you use most often.

Microsoft OneNote’s Clever Trick Lets You Copy Everything on a Whiteboard – this is a great tip for keeping notes from a meeting, class, etc.  Evernote can take a picture and OCR it to make it available for searching, but I don’t think it transcribes it into typed text.

Crystal pointed me to the find of the month, the post How to Write a Paper Using Evernote.  It goes into detail, and would be a great introduction to students on (a) organizing a paper; and (b)  using Evernote.  I think I’ll go now and add it to a LibGuide or two….

Google Documents

ProfHacker has a good post From the Archive: Google in the Writing Classroom which discusses and has links to previous posts on using Google Docs with students, for grading, for keeping track of comments on students’ papers, and more.

At Long Last, Google Sheets Doesn’t Need a Network – discusses various improvements to the Google spreadsheet program, including the ability to work with a spreadsheet offline.

Holiday Tips!

Jamie Todd Rubin in his recent Going Paperless column has guidelines on Using Evernote to Create a Quick, Ad Hoc Thank You List for Holiday Gifts.  It has a link to a post he wrote last year on Creating Interactive Holiday Wish Lists in Evernote.

Lifehack gets into the holiday spirit with The 50 Most Productive Gift Ideas for Your Friends.

IFTTT Updates

A new app adds location information to IFTTT – called, naturally, LIFTTT.

Mind Mapping Tools

The ever-wonderful Mashable has an article 24 Essential Mind Mapping and Brainstorming Tools.  Sure, there are lots of articles similar to this, but such tools change so quickly it is useful to have a recent compilation.

Chuck Frey produces the Mind Mapping Software Blog:

The Mind Mapping Software Blog is your leading source for news, trends and resources related to visual mapping. It covers a variety of topics that are focused on the needs of users of mind mapping software, including:

  • Best practices to help you be more productive with this type of software
  • Tips for getting the most out of it
  • The most valuable tools and resources that will help you to enhance your visual mapping experience
  • Reviews of visual mapping programs, add-ins and web-based applications
  • New versions and enhancements to mind mapping programs

Increasingly, this blog is also becoming a valued resource for visual thinking news, information and strategies – including the topics of diagramming, infographics, sketching, sketchnoting and graphic facilitation.

Productivity Apps

In the article 5 Habits of Productivity App Super Users, the CEO of, looked into the habits of’s users and found certain shared habits that led to more success.

Rapid Skill Acquisition

Great GradHacker post Rapid Skill Acquisition: the First 20 Hours.  Gives 10 principles for success in RSA:

As a grad student, it is incredibly difficult to learn how to perform new skills at the level necessary for academic work.  And yet, we’re expected to do so, whether it’s learning a foreign language, technical equipment, digital skills, or research methodologies. What’s more, if there’s something we want to learn just for the fun of it or for our health (yoga or meditation, for example), forget about it! We often feel our schedules couldn’t possibly accommodate it. Josh Kaufman’s book, The First 20 Hours, offers a solution: rapid skill acquisition (RSA).  Kaufman defines 10 principles of RSA, walks the reader through each one, and offers tips and suggestions from his own experience. In this post, I’ll briefly outline the ten steps.

Roy Tennant on Tech

Roy Tennant in a recent column bemoaned You Don’t Have Enough Tech.  He points out that we’ve known for 30 years how important technogy is in libraries but still don’t have enough librarians with sufficient technical skills.  Sadly I resemble that remark, being a geek wannabe more than a geek.  If you haven’t seen Roy at conferences check him out, he’s a terrific speaker.

Whiteboard Apps

I try to be as device agnostic as I can, but whiteboard apps are such an important college tool I’ll make an exception and mention this article 5 Best iPad Apps for Team Collaboration and Brainstorming.

Year to Productivity Session 25: Sources Revealed


We had planned for this post to be on other productivity tools that might be of interest,  but we have covered quite a few and plan to do more next year.   So I thought I would take this opportunity to discuss sources of information on productivity techniques and tools that we follow.   Hopefully you will join in the comments and let us know your favorite sources so that this post becomes a compendium.   Some of these sources you will have seen us mention before,  or they are in our blogroll,  but this is meant to be a more systematic and informative look.

First off are two blogs near and dear to my heart,  ProfHacker and GradHacker.   ProfHacker was first and initially focused on useful technology for professors.   It is a Chronicle of Higher Education blog.   Gradhacker followed,  with a similar focus on tools for grad students.   Both are group blogs,  with participants from a range of disciplines,  and both have broadened their focus to how to perform well in the role of professor or graduate student.   As a librarian who finished both of my master’s degrees before the web revolutionized the world,  I am removed from recent such experience.  I wind up reading all the posts on these blogs because it helps me to understand being in one of these roles in a world that continues to evolve in innovative and perhaps disruptive ways.

The word innovative above sometimes causes me to cringe, as it is overused and overhyped.  It has been applied to things in use years ago and also to things that throw the baby out with the bathwater,  causing whole organizations to troop out solemnly to retrieve the baby and restore it to a place of honor.  When I first read Aaron Tay’s Musings About Librarianship blog, one of my first thoughts, and one that continues with every post, is that he is the real deal.  He has an original mind and is not afraid to use it, and to use it in helping the people and profession he serves.  Happily I am not the only person who thinks so as he was named one of Library Journal’s Movers and Shakers.  I was lucky enough to meet Aaron at ALA in 2011, and he is as kind as he is original.

Two columnists I have cited often in the Links Roundup are Jill Duffy and Jamie Todd Rubin.  Duffy has the Get Organized column in PC Mag, and is the recent author of a book on a similar topic.  Rubin is the Evernote Going Paperless ambassador, as well as senior application designer for a think tank and a science fiction author.  While neither of them writes about academia, they do often discuss productivity tools and techniques in an exceptionally well-organized, well-written, clear and concise way.

Two blogs with confusingly similar names that often discuss productivity tips and tools are Lifehacker and LifeHack.  Both offer posts on all sorts of lifestyle topics, and each has a section specifically for productivity (Lifehacker and LifeHack).

Francis Wade is an author and creator of the site 2TimeLabs.He wrote a book, Bill’s Im-Perfect Time Management Adventure.  It was on managing a company to be more productive, rather than on individual productivity, but I would love to work for a place that followed his management advice.  He makes a report freely available called 8 Edgy Ideas from Time Management 2.0 that is for individuals rather than companies.

There are “billions and billions” of sources on technology, with maybe millions and millions being on productivity tools.  I really like ReadWrite and Mashable, although I don’t get a chance to follow either as much as I would like since they are high volume sites.  Both write mostly at the layperson level.

Another great technology source for the layperson and easier to follow (being less voluminous) is Ask Bob Rankin.  Rankin and Patrick Crispin wrote the Internet Tour Bus from 1995 – 2008.  It was one of the first good places to announce quality new web sites.  Rankin went on from there to his own newsletter/website with technology tips that made the mysterious workings of technology understandable for those without IT training.  He has articles on specific topics as well as his weekly Geekly Update, a compendium of technology news told with humor.  It is startling to realize I have been following him for almost 20 years!

These are just a few possible sources. So what are the best strategies for finding usable gems in a world of too much and largely irrelevant information?  One is to set up a Google alert for the specific tools or techniques in which you are most interested.  I have alerts ranging from “academic workflow” to “research management” or “reference management”.  Alerts can be customized as to what kinds of sources they include (all, news, blogs, video, discussions, books) and how often you want to receive the alerts.  There is also no substitute for human-powered sources including mailing lists, blogs, and forums.

I hope Crystal and Elisabeth add their own most interesting sources.  Crystal is much more conversant than I with the PKM sources, for example. Your assignment this week is to add the sources you follow in the comments.  Or email us and tell us yours, and tell us if it is ok for us to add what you have said in a comment and whether we can use your name or if you’d rather be anonymous.  Help make this post a truly useful resource.

<Warning, shameless plug follows>  Please do keep reading us.  We plan to look at more tools and techniques in the coming year.  Since this is my last post in the Year for Productivity sessions, I want to thank you all for reading the blog and wish you all a happy holiday season.

For Further Exploration and Insight:

(1)  Your assignment this week is to add the sources you follow in the comments.  Or email us and tell us yours, and tell us if it is ok for us to add what you have said in a comment and whether we can use your name or if you’d rather be anonymous.

Selected Readings

2Time Labs, blog and website by Francis Wade.

Ask Bob Rankin, email newslettter and website.

Get Organized column by Jilly Duffy

Get Organized:  How to Clean Up Your Messy Digital Life, ebook by Jill Duffy.

Going Paperless blog by Jamie Todd Rubin

LifeHack blog and website, with a section on Productivity

Lifehacker, blog and website, with a section on Productivity

Mashable website and blog

Musings About Librarianship blog by Aaron Tay

ProfHacker, group blog hosted by the Chronicle of Higher Education

ReadWrite (formerly known as ReadWriteWeb) website and blog



Book Review: Personal Learning Networks by Will Richardson and Rob Mancabelli

personallearningnetworks_2Personal Learning Networks – Using the Power of Connections to Transform Education is by Will Richardson and Rob Mancabelli.  It was a Bronze medal winner for Education Book of the Year in 2011.  Will Richardson ( is also the author of Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms (2010).  Rob Mancabelli ( is the co-founder of BrightBytes, an organization that uses technology to improve student learning outcomes.

If you are an educator, you will be interested in this entire book, as it is in large geared toward implementing PLNs as a learning tool in the K-12 classroom with the goal of creating “globally connected classrooms”.   Of particular interest would be the number of examples of real world educators who are already applying these concepts in their classrooms. The authors carefully develop a clear framework of how an educator can create a networked classroom, how to then expand this networking concept to the entire school and how to address the common issues of school policies, money, politics, technical support, and dealing with those individuals who are resistant to change.

I review the book here, however, because I also think it has several chapters that could be of interest to individuals just getting started with their own PLN.  In particular, Chapter 1 focuses on how learning has changed in today’s globally connected world and Chapter 2 discusses how to create your own PLN.  The authors identify five specific online tools that they suggest as cornerstones to any PLN: Twitter, Diigo, your RSS reader of choice, Blogger and Facebook.

Twitter is a great source for links to other content.  The authors suggest that “the best way to begin attracting connections is to provide value on a fairly consistent basis.” This holds true for any of the social networking tools. They discuss using @ to alert other tweeters of items that you think might interest them and also to utilize hashtags # to categorize tweets.  While not mentioned by the authors, there are several sites (,, and to name only a few of the most popular) that categorize hashtags and help users find any existing hashtags for their topics of interest.  Finding already active hashtags on your topic can be a great jumpstart to locating others who share your area of interest.

The authors give a brief description of how to begin using each of their five tools and suggest that the networks from the different tools will begin to blend over time.   Personally, I would focus on the use of one tool at a time; the output might require the majority of the time you have allotted for these learning pursuits.  After an initial evaluation period, use of the new tool will likely stabilize (or even prove less helpful than you hoped) and then additional tools from the authors’ list can be explored.  The authors also do not dwell on how the information you begin collecting should be organized or curated for yourself.  This is also an important piece of the puzzle that should be considered before you get started. If you have been following our blog for a while, you have been introduced to several different tools that might help in this regard.

Year for Productivity: Session 24: Characteristics of a Vibrant Personal Learning Network


We’ve talked at length about what Personal Learning Networks (PLN) are, ruminated upon what makes up our own network right now and we’ve hopefully even explored  a few new sources for connections. We’ve also recognized the need for participation and identification of other professionals who share our interests and with whom a dialog can be started.These individuals begin to form our learning community.Now we need to consider the characteristics of a healthy PLN and what our roles and responsibilities are as community members.

 Common Topic or Field of Interest: A Clear Purpose

                 Most successful learning communities have a clearly defined area of study (such as personal knowledge management for academics) or a specific purpose (for example individuals from diverse areas of study that are all dedicated to improving their presentation skills).  To have this clearly stated and agreed upon mission or statement of purpose available to group participants helps keep the group targeted and on task.

 Affordable Alternative Method of Professional Development

                 One of the many benefits of online learning communities is that they can help participants work toward personal development and training objectives in their formal job reviews.  Some of the larger and well organized groups especially embrace this aspect of their learning community and even develop programs that individuals can complete for “certificates” to add to their annual evaluations.  Many participants in online learning, however, simply embrace the convenience and affordability of the venue and consider it a vital part of their personal development.

 Potential for Global Participation

                 Global participation is one exciting aspect of online learning communities.  The opportunity to communicate with other professionals around the world enriches discussion and growth for everyone.  The potential learning for individuals in isolated areas is immense, but equally valuable is the mix of experience and social, political or logistic context from participants of differing cultures and backgrounds.

 Can contain both synchronous and asynchronous features

                 The ability of online learning communities to develop both synchronous (Google+ hangouts, twitter chats, webinars) and asynchronous (posting boards on topics, blog rolls, etc) adds vitality to the community, fostering the development of connections between participants. Using different methods of engagement also allows individuals with preferences for active interchanges and brainstorming kind of interactions (chats) and those who prefer more methodical and thoughtful contributions (board posts, blogs etc) to both participate in ways that are most comfortable with their style.

Common commitment to the growth of the topic/group

                 For a group to sustain itself for the long term, a common commitment to the growth and feeding of the group purpose is essential.  Many groups fizzle after a vigorous beginning because the participants have not reached a common sense of ownership and commitment to the group and each other and individuals fail to faithfully seek and provide new insights, resources, questions and participation.

 Flexible and Customizable to an Individuals Personal Learning Objectives

                 All of this talk of common purposes and commitments does not suggest that the group should become rigid.  Rigid groups are also subject to shattering. A group that is flexible and that an individual can see how they can customize and suggest threads of conversation, activities, etc that help them meet their own personal learning objectives is also important.  If the common commitment to the group is there, individuals can be more assured that they will have others participate on their topics as they also participate in the topics others put forward.  This being said, it is possible that an individual will have more than one learning community.  I might belong to one group to improve my presentation abilities, yet still have a different group that focuses on the creative writing process, for example.

 New Knowledge is created and explored via the collective collaboration

                 The most successful and sustainable communities are those where active collaboration and brainstorming  results in collective sharing that gives birth to new insights, new concepts and new knowledge.  An online learning community that promotes this kind of rich exchange of ideas, experiences and resources will continue to attract motivated individuals, thus enriching itself and assuring its longevity.

 A Variety of Viewpoints are represented and Trust and Respect for Others Exists

            To consistently grow and expand as a community it is important to attract individuals who can contribute a variety of viewpoints and who offer various backgrounds and areas of expertise to bring to the table.  In order for all individuals to bring their own voices to the community, it is essential that an environment of trust and respect for others be a pervasive element in the underlying framework of the community. And yet, Sharon Booth (2012) recognized that “ Yet among the most difficult challenges faced by online communities is fostering and sustaining knowledge sharing and trust.”  Her study found “  knowledge sharing and trust were cultivated and sustained through a clear purpose and common identity, multiple options and opportunities for social learning, the active involvement of an experienced and credible moderator, as well as modeling and enforcement of appropriate online behavior.”

An environment conducive to cultivating professional networking relationships

                The underlying purpose of any learning community is to provide a vehicle for individuals with common interests to gather together.  A secondary purpose is to provide a platform where individual networking can occur, whether this is for professional opportunities, to identify possible partnerships for future projects or to find collaborators and mentors who have the potential to become long-time professional relationships. 

Experienced and Credible Moderator(s)

                 The value of an experienced and credible moderator cannot be underestimated.  Such individuals can help a community to maintain its focus, to spark conversation, and to deal with the rare issues that may occur which, if left unaddressed, could threaten the underlying layer of trust and respect that is so important for thriving communities.  The most skilled moderators can blend so well into the general conversation of the community that their role of moderator is virtually invisible. Wenger (2009) calls effective community moderators as ‘“social artists” whose energy, skills, and craft are a driving force in the success of the community.’

So now that we have reviewed all the wonderful benefits of learning communities and explored some of the essential characteristics for a thriving community, where does this leave the individual who isn’t interested in starting a new community but simply wants to  enter the personal learning network world  and get their feet wet?  There are a number of things that a beginner can do when beginning to explore learning networks.

Choose a community that interests you and begin to read the posts and resources on this site on a regular basis.   After listening and exploring, does this community still seem to be a good fit for your goals?  If so, introduce yourself!  Be genuine and don’t be afraid to let community members know this is a new experience for you.  If it is a supportive community, they will help enfold you into the community. Look for opportunities to share posts, articles, etc that are on topic for the group or to provide possible feedback  to others who are looking for input. When it comes to learning communities, you get out of it what you put into it, so stretch yourself to participate.

 For Further Exploration and Insight:

 1.       Take a closer look at a learning community that you are a part of or are potentially interested in joining.  How do the characteristics of this group compare to the list of advantageous  elements that we discussed above? 

2.   Spend some time in an online community that interests you.  Over the next week, keep in mind some of the topics they discuss an follow some of the links.  Make comments on a line of discussion or post a link to a resource on the topic. Make a goal for yourself to interact a minimum number of times each week and before you know it you will be a part of the discussion.  Get involved!

Selected Resources:

Ardichvili, A. (2008). Learning and knowledge sharing in online communities of practice:
Motivators, barriers, and enablers. Advances in Developing Human Resources, 10(4), pp. 541-554.

Booth, Sharon. (2012) Cultivating Knowledge Sharing and Trust in Online Communities for Educators. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 47(1) pp1-3.

Cooke, Nicole A. Professional development 2.0 for librarians: developing an online personal learning network (PLN)  Library Hi Tech News  29(3) pp 1-9.

Hew, K. & Hara, N. (2007).  Empirical study of motivators and barriers of teacher online knowledge sharing. Educational Technology Research & Development, 55(6), pp. 573-595.

Jenkins, H. (2006) Convergence Culture, NYU Press.

 McDermott, R. (2001), ‘‘Knowing in communities: ten critical success factors in building communities of practice’’, Community Intelligence  Labs, retrieved online:

Richardson, Will and Mancabelli, Rob. (2011), Personal learning networks : using the power of connections to transform education. Solution Tree Press.

Tobin, Daniel R. (2011) Learn Your Way to Success: How to Customize Your Professional Learning Plan to Accelerate Your Career, McGraw-Hill.

Wenger, E., McDermott, R. and Snyder, W.M. (2002), Cultivating Communities of Practice: A Guide to Managing Knowledge, Harvard Business School Press, Boston, MA.



Tuesday Tool Tip: Using Scrivener for Complex Academic Writing Projects

I became aware of Scrivener, an alternative writing tool, several years ago, and have been intrigued ever since.  At first glance, the benefit for creative writers is clear, but numerous scholars also use Scrivener.  Here’s part of the description from the product page:  “a powerful content generation tool for writers that allows you to concentrate on composing and structuring long and difficult documents . . . . its focus is to help you get to the end of that awkward first draft.”  While word processors really focus on generating text in linear fashion, Scrivener is adapted for managing writing projects which take shape in a more reflexive or piecemeal style.

How could this fail to be of interest to academics?  However, because I no longer undertake such project, I’ve looked at how academic researchers report using it.  This post summarizes what I’ve found.


As an example of a general endorsement, Ryan Cordell had this to say on  ProfHacker on March 8, 2010:  “Scrivener is essential [to daily workflow] . . . . I don’t remember how I wrote before discovering it, and I can’t imagine writing without it.”  When I first became aware of it, I spoke with a researcher who estimatedtimesaving at 15% over Word.  I found examples of academics who use Scrivener for writing books, articles, literature reviews, and dissertations, as expected, but I also found other imaginative uses:

  • a professor who uses it to put together syllabi, keeping all related course material in one place
  • a PhD student who expected to use it as the main locus for studying for comprehensive exams.

The features that make Scrivener so useful are that you write in chunks and can keep multiple documents open at the same time.  That facilitates reorganizing material, invaluable to those of us who think and organize as we write, maybe even through the writing process.  You can bring your associated research material (standard files like pdfs and text documents, but also audio, video and image files) into Scrivener, so that you don’t have to open multiple applications to see your support material.  This is what makes Scrivener more project than document driven.

A “corkboard” allows you to develop index-card sized summaries of portions of your work and to keep those in front of you as you go.  In short, Scrivener allows you to begin with bits of ideas, flesh them out in parallel, shuffle them around, comment on what you’ve written and on your background materials, and iterate the process until your work makes its best sense.

You can have multiple views of your work, such as file structure on one side, one or more open documents, the corkboard or, when you want it, the document you are currently writing in full screen mode.  You have flexibilty to design the screen you need for different stages of work.

There is a companion product, Scapple, for making maps of your ideas, which can then be imported into Scrivener.  Scapple isn’t either a mind mapper or concept mapper, though it could be used as either.  Rather, it’s a free-form tool for making visual connections among ideas.  It imposes no form, unlike other tools which are usually either hierarchical or radial, or both.  Scapple’s main purpose is to allow the quick generation of thoughts and the capture of the relationships among them.  You can expand in any direction and apparently as far as you want to go.  Scapple’s strengths would appear to be flexibility and ease of use, whereas I would think a potential drawback is that you could get lost in a large set of ideas as your map goes off the visible area of the screen.  (Some other mapping programs, such as CMap, allow you to nest or hyperlink maps when they get large and complex; this can help the user stay oriented).

Scapple map of a few take-aways from my note-taking reading: it’s very simple, but I did this in under 10 minutes. I could drag in or attach images and other files, and I could do more formatting:

Scapple map



One user loves Scrivener for solo projects, but not for collaboration, since a draft has to be converted to a standard word processor to be shared for co-author’s edits and comments (see Macademise, 11/20/2012).  As stated on the Scrivener site, the tool is meant for drafting, not producing final versions.  This leads to the next point, one that has to be considered very seriously by anyone preparing citation-heavy manuscripts.

Scrivener has some internal citation function, but it does not work seamlessly with many citation management programs. There has been extensive discussion of using different citation managers with Scrivener in the forums, so advice from seasoned users is available. Users report different processes for handling citations.  One reasonable-sounding approach was suggested in the Scrivener forums: use Scrivener’s internal citation handling in the drafts (“insert the unformatted reference in your footnote (e.g. {Jones, 1931 #21} and never convert it until the document has been converted from Scrivener to Word”; KevinR, 2012). Once the document has taken good shape, you can work with Word and your citation program on final format.  Other users follow more complex processes involving exporting to RTF and then to ODF (open document format), and then having to fix citations.  This, combined with the way Scrivener is meant to be used to move text around, can lead to citation problems.  One professor who has advised dissertation writers reports seeing an error rate of over 50% with Scrivener, compared to 10 – 15% with conventional word processors (reported in the Zotero forums by DWL-SDCA on 10/20/2013).  This person believes that “the typical writer of a thesis is more likely to need to think more about the topic and citing authority than the process of writing.”

Clearly this is a big worry, but I think this writer has hit the nail on the head.  People write differently.  Some, like me, are more circular writers, and for us, Scrivener can be a great tool. Others won’t want to invest time in learning something new, especially if their writing process is straightforward, if outlines are adequate guides for them, and if they do not want the uncertainty of exporting to a word processor and back while writing drafts and getting comments.

Scrivener has been around since 2006.  Both Scrivener and Scapple are affordable: full price $40 and $14.99, respectively; academic prices $35 and $12.  There are both Mac and Windows versions.  The developers are focused on delivering a stable tool for complex writing; they state that their intent is not to deliver ever-more elaborate versions which seek to be everything to everyone.

Support is provided via pdfs, an online knowledge base, and support forums. The forums seem quite active.  A search turns up a modest number of videos and demos.  There are now also several commercially published manuals available:  Scrivener for Dummies (July 2012) and Scrivener Absolute Beginner’s Guide (June 2013).

See also:

Five Things Scrivener Can Do for You (Besides Word Processing),” Kim  Mann at Academic Technology at the College of William and Mary, 6/26/2012

One More Reason to Use Scrivener for Thesis Writing,” Aleh Chirp, at Academic Workflows on the Mac, 11/12/2013

Scrivener – A Perfect Program for Dissertation Writing,” Daniel Wessel at Organizing Creativity, 8/26/2009 (Wessel says this is mainly still valid in 2013).

Scrivener, Scrivening, Scriverastic,” Ryan Cordell at Profhacker, 3/8/2010.

Using Scrivener to Prepare for Comprehensive Exams,” Steve Thomason at Deep in the Burbs, 5/18/2013.

Writing Academic Texts with Scrivener: Making Your Non Linear Writing Projects Pleasurable,” at Macademise, 12/11/2013.


Year for Productivity Session 23: Productive Meetings; or, Oh, No, Not Another %$*&%^& Meeting!

year_productivity_graphic_23Most people at least profess to hate meetings.  They do, however, seem to be a necessary evil at this point, and they are a more confusing topic than ever, given that now, besides the traditional kinds of meetings, we now have online meetings, webinars, web conferences, etc.  So let’s consider the topic, from organizing meetings, to presenting at meetings, to tools to make more productive meetings.

The Mindtools article Running Effective Meetings gets one thing exaclty right:  there are good meetings and bad meetings.  We’ve all beein in meetings that went well, and in others that were a waste of time.  The article discusses what makes an productive meeting:

Effective meetings really boil down to three things:

  1. They achieve the meeting’s objective.
  2. They take up a minimum amount of time.
  3. They leave participants feeling that a sensible process has been followed.

If you structure your meeting planning, preparation, execution, and follow up around these three basic criteria, the result will be an effective meeting.

The literature on the topic of running effective meetings is immense, especially since the advent of blogs and managment consultants.  Not surprisingly, they sometimes contradict each other, and the problem is that different types of organizations find different kinds of meetings useful.  Moreover, the same organization may find different kinds of meetings useful for different kinds of projects.  Jill Duffy, whose Getting Organized Column for PCMag is a favorite, discussed four types of meetings in her post More Productive Meetings:  informational, discussion/collaboration, check-in, and working.

In the informational meeting, information is disseminated by one or more people, and there is not much interaction.  Several articles on meetings mention that informational meetings should be rarely, if ever held.  Information can be disseminated effectively by email or other means.   However, if a manager has important information to be given to everyone, and it is important that it is given to everyone at the same time, an informational meeting can be useful.  Discussion/collaboration mettings are probably the most common, often for problem-solving or brainstorming.  Information flows in all directions.  Check-in meetings are often most useful for a team working on a project with specific deliverables, and allow the project manager to gauge if the project is on track and what problems are causing delays and what the possible fix might be.  In working meetings, work actually gets done.

In my organization, I have participated in all of these kinds of meetings with different groups of colleagues.  My department has twice-weekly meetings that combine all four types.  My library has committees around varying functions, such as meetings for everyone involved in collection development.  There are campus committees that librarians can be elected to, and there are state and national professional organizations that have committees that one can join.  In this respect academic librarians are not much different from faculty and students.  Public, school, and special librarians can also have committee work as part of professional development.  Meetings therefore are ubiquitous, and most professions have an abundance of them.

One of the more difficult problems with meetings is highlighted in Paul Graham’s post:  Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule.  A couple of friends who are IT professionals have pointed me to this article.   It points out that managers work with a meeting-heavy schedule, as they need to understand the progress being made on the projects they oversee.  But for knowledge workers whose job centers around creating something, meetings interrupt the sustained workflow necessary for that process of creating, whether it be writing a computer program, creating a class, writing a dissertation, etc.  Managers really must be sensitive enough to this to hold meetings as infrequently as possible, and scheduled such that their workers have at least 3-4 hour blocks of time free during the day, two of them per day on those rare occasions this is possible.

When meetings  are required, making them productive means having a plan in mind for that meeting that fits best with the type of meeting.  Create an agenda that explains (a) the topic for the meeting, and (b) the items to be covered.  Share the agenda with the participants at least a day before, so they are prepared with any information they need to provide.  A good meeting organizer follows the agenda, and acknowledges remarks that would throw the meeting off-track, promising to come back to that topic later.  Another nice idea is from 4 Expert Tips for a  Productive Meeting.  It is the idea of having a closing round, where each participant speaks for 30 seconds, ensuring that everyone has a say and can give their best thoughts on the topic of the meeting.


Everyone is bored by Powerpoint, and has seen joke presentations that make the point of how bad it is.  Microsoft over time has over time made improvements to Powerpoint, but effective presentations still come down to effective design.  Other presentation software is appearing, such as Prezi, which can make for more dynamic presentations.  Personally I dislike Prezi because I have vertigo and Prezi presentations literally make me dizzy – and I’ve heard this reaction from others who don’t have inner ear problems!  Covering presentation design and tools would be a post in and of itself, which we will do at some point.  For now, if you have to give a presentation, just remember everything you’ve hated about presentations you’ve seen and don’t do them.  😉


Notetaking in meetings is an art.  The post How to Take Notes in Meetings by Stever Robbins is a bit overly cute in tone, but has excellent advice that includes useful links and a summary at the end:

Use a pencil and paper so your attention stays in the room, not in your lap. Record a summary at the end of the meeting. If you need your notes electronically, type them in. Review as you type, and group the to-dos, decisions, and reference information so it’s easy to view at a glance. Consider using fun technology to capture hand-written notes electronically, and file everything labeled and tagged in your filing system.

Why use paper and pencil?  There is some evidence that writing something improves recall better than typing it.  However, it is not clear that this evidence is solid and, if typing works for you, by all means type.  If handwriting works better for you, then how best to digitize the notes?  You can, of course, type from what you have written, which gives you the chance to organize the notes better and to be sure your notes emphasize the decisions, to-dos, reference information, people assigned to tasks, and has a summary at the end.

The note-taking technologies that Robbins suggest are (1) Evernote, because you can scan or take a picture of the notes and Evernote will search words within the image (OneNote has similar capabilities); and (2) Livescribe digital pens.  Livescribe digital pens are the most popular brand of digital pen in the U.S. and will save what is written for downloading onto a computer.  Similarly, a lot of tablets and even smartphones can be used with a stylus so that you can write directly onto the device.  Evernote has teamed up with Penultimate, the handwriting app for iPads.

Mario Armstrong in a post suggests two other useful software programs for meetings. One  helps schedule meetings, and the other tool he suggests is mind mapping software.  If you have read this blog for any length of time you already know that we are all big fans of mind mapping, as it can bring clarity and organization to ideas.  As applied to meetings, it can present clearly what was discussed and the decisions made, capture action items and who is assigned to accomplish each, and export the resulting maps into word processing or slide software.

Another post, The Complete Guide to Taking Notes Effectively at Work, also  makes a lot of excellent points.  One is that not everyone is good at taking notes and listening at the same time.  I know this first hand, and don’t usually take notes for this reason.  However, I am not good at recalling what happened later, either; some of the audio recording technologies can be helpful for people like me.  The post suggests to individuals leading a meeting that a brief break after each agenda item increases note-taker’s ability to capture the important points of a meeting.

So what makes an effective meeting?  Preparation, effective presentation design, and efficient capture of important decisions are the strongest elements.

For Further Exploration and Insight:

(1)  Write a comment on your best tips for effective meetings.

Selected Readings:

Baker, S. C. (2013)  Make Library Instruction Zoom: Prezi as a Presentation ToolULS Blog.  For those interested in using Prezi, this post provides a good introduction.

Bates, S. (2013).  5  Steps to Pain-free, Productive Meetings.  Bates Communications.  This post focuses on the interpersonal aspects of meetings, such as making sure that everyone provides input.

Cobert, A. (2013).  From Chaos to Control:  How to Lead Super-Productive MeetingsForbes.

Duffy, J. (2013)  Tips and Tools for Managing a Project.  PC Mag.  Different from the Duffy column listed above, this has additional good tips on effective meetings.

Hedlund, U.  (2012).  How to Take Good Meeting MinutesBusiness Productivity.  Some good tips, including the tablet with stylus for taking notes, and a mention of the Cornell Method for taking notes.

Norback, J. S. (2013). Oral communication excellence for engineers and scientists: Based on executive input. San Rafael: Morgan & Claypool.   Written by a Georgia Tech professor, this book has many ideas for creating effective communications.

Wikipedia.  Comparison of Notetaking Software.  Compares around 40 software programs.