Wednesday, December 17, 2008

It's chaos but it's MY chaos!

A nyt blogpost that tackles one of the biggest trials and tribulations of academic life: how to roganize all the materials you work with. As someone who has a gazillion documents called 'proposal', 'terr' or 'final paper' with random numbers after it this post is after my own heart.

The basic point being made is that it is so easy now to just download and save articles that you often end up with more chaos on your computer than you can handle- multiple copies of the same article with different names depending on idiosyncrasies, emails with the same paper saved every 5 minutes etc. She's absolutely right that what happens now is that you end up re-researching every paper you write, even if it is substantively close to other things you have done before. It's just easier to re-google scholar an article and download it than sift through various folders and oddly titled files named pdf.17973567. The small enviornmentalist in me is also aghast at how easy it is to print off reams of articles, most of which remain unread (studying by osmosis anyone?) and then get thrown into recycle bins. Recycling does not mean that we should be printing copies of the same article every couple of weeks.

The article suggests some new software to get around this problem that seem worth checking out. They sound like more organized and functional variants of endnote.

But it only addresses the download problem, not other hassles like how to back up work in an organized fashion or how to arrange your own materials. Also, it still means that you have to be disciplined enough to enter the information about each work into the database. If you're struggling with an impending deadline, or if endnote is bugging as it seems to on Mac, that's easier said than done.

I could be a lot more organized (for those familiar with my desk, this is patently obvious) but there are a few things that I do that seem to work (ie. I can generally find things I need, I don't have tons of copies of the same things) that I'm surprised to see my friends and peers don't. So, in the best tradition of unsolicited advice, here are some tips for more organized filing:

1. Save things in multiple places- not just on a flash drive. I strongly recommend a gmail account- there is more space than you will ever know what to do with and it's free.

2. Email yourself your work every 20 minutes or so when working on a paper. I've learned the hard way of never going too long before saving and backing up work.

3. Name your documents in a standard, logical manner with some sort of numbers. like Version/V 2 or really helps later on

4. Delete! Delete! Delete! Every few months go through your computer and delete the multiple copies, the million emails with the every-20minutes-backed up paper. It makes life a lot easier and a lot less daunting to look at 600 emails all sent to yourself with identical looking attachments. Just keep the final couple of versions of any completed papers.

5. Use folders on the desktop instead of just putting individual paper icons..

Those are my words of wisdom. Now if I could only practice what I preach. I think I'm going to try extra hard...

...and give up chocolate, take up jogging and write 5 pages by 10:00 am every day. (Don't get your hopes up papa!)

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