They must often change, who would be constant in happiness or wisdom.
One of the great risks when you start to deliberately attempt to improve your workflow is that doing so becomes a goal in itself. It’s fun, improving one’s workflow. Using more and more features for ever more intricate purposes, before switching to another solution altogether, because some “tiny but crucial function” was not possible in the old workflow.
I really think there is something of a valley of “almost-perfect-absolute-discontent” in work flows. You have a work flow that is almost perfect. And if you get really close to perfection the discontent with this almost perfect solution skyrockets. Because it is so close. It can really take the drive out of any creative endeavor.
So, I think it’s best to have something rugged, something that works good enough — and screw perfection. Times change and nothing is perfect forever, so why invest almost unlimited amounts of work to get to a very time-limited almost perfect solution?
Personally, I know that there are things I could optimize in my workflow, but in doing so, I would have to concentrate all my time and energy on optimizing that workflow, and not on doing any work. So good enough is actually enough. And I’m happy to report that my workflow is more or less stable over time. Meaning I’m on to something that works for me long-term. Yeah me 🙂
Currently, that’s my workflow:
There are a few minor differences to the workflow depicted here over a year ago. But hardly anything of importance. But still, let’s go through the workflow in detail here:
- Staying informed on current research (green)
I use RSS feeds offered by many journals to stay informed about the articles they publish. Published articles are at least 6 months to (a) year(s) old, but still, better than nothing. I also use it to subscribe to blogs or interesting YouTube channels. Interesting things do happen outside of peer-reviewed journals as well.
I also use Firefox to actively search for literature (and to download the articles from the RSS feeds).
Also, some articles do come in via eMail. It’s nice to have colleagues — inside and (mostly) outside the organization you currently work for who provide you with interesting articles.
- Collecting “interesting” articles (blue)
Actually, not only articles. Anything interesting I encounter ends up in DEVONthink. There’s a database for articles, one for websites (using a handy “get me this website as PDF in one click” browser plugin), and even one for private sources (if you get to a workflow that really works, suddenly even your private stuff ends up caught in it ;-)). But still, interesting is one thing, actually reading and working with the content another. So, anything I encounter that I find interesting ends up in DEVONthink. No matter whether I read it and work with it, at the very least it gets saved in an author_year filename. Meaning I can quickly find out whether I already have this article. And I can use this naming scheme to quickly reference to an article — which becomes important later on. And in case someone writes multiple articles a year, or people sharing the same name, _a, _b, _c gets used. Thing is, DEVONthink is my “catch all” box for the interesting articles I notice.
- Reading Articles (yellow)
I am a big fan of reading digitally. Okay, you don’t get the nice smell of good books, but let’s face it, most articles smell like ozone anyway. And used books more often than not smell like cigarette. Cold cigarette smoke. But reading digitally got it’s advantages. You can quickly highlight interesting passages and get the highlighted text exported for later use. E.g., in topic notebooks. I use my iPad (3, I think) and GoodReader to read articles and highlight interesting passages. I also make notes to ensure that I get the gist of the article. It’s embarrassing to cite author x for proposition y when in fact, this person just mentioned something for y but is actually for z. Using the “E-Mail summary” feature all the highlighted text and the notes get exported via eMail. Really convenient.
- Reformatting the notes (orange)
Even when the notes and highlighted text arrive via eMail, some reformatting is often needed. Luckily, TextWrangler is really helpful in this regard. Have a look at this posting. You get tidied up notes of the text you have read.
- Read and Topic Notebooks — and Papers 2 to actually use the literature (red)
The redundancy here might seem strange, but there’s method in it. I copy and paste the highlighted text into Read notebooks (using Circus Ponies Notebook) as well as topic notebooks. I got notebooks on general work related issues, data analysis, and some regarding my research topics (e.g., mobile media/persuasives, or critical thinking/reflection). Really useful.
Also, I put each paper I have actually read into Papers (2, because the software is buggy and puts style over stability — version 2 works … well enough). With the sync feature I have all papers I refer to available on my iPhone and iPad. It also allows me to use the cite-while-you-write feature to quickly refer to the literature I have read when I write a paper. I cannot stress this issue enough. Do not put all the literature you stumble upon in your reference manager. It will make it so much more difficult to refer to the literature you have actually read when you write a paper. Reserve the literature manger — no matter which program you use — for the articles you have actually read (and are willing to cite).
- Scrivener and Microsoft Word (gasp!) for writing
Okay, this is my dirty little secret. Or rather, my rotten little secret. Dirty sounds way to appealing. But while Scrivener is simply the best program I have encountered so far for writing, too few people use it. The people who do use it get more every day (recently converted someone — yeah!), but still, when you have to work with a proof reader or submit a paper, frequently you do need to use Word. So I write the text in Scrivener, often I need to compile it to Word to allow others to read it. But anyway, Papers (2) cite-while-you-write feature is really useful, especially when you put your content outline in Circus Ponies with the sources as keywords next to Scrivener (see the last image in this posting).
And that’s pretty much it. A relatively stable workflow to deal with the incredible productivity and information in science, and to — relatively easily contribute to science. Although this is my solution — and even the best workflow cannot compensate … let’s say rather unfortunate environmental factors … it’s something I am relatively proud of. I went into science (or rather: Academia) blind. Without knowing how to deal with the work — and I found a working solution. Perhaps it is helpful for you too.
Whether it is or not — in any case, I wish you good luck.