Thing 01: Organisational and productivity tools.
23 Research Things kicks off with a look at some great tools to help you organise your work: Doodle, a very useful scheduling tool; Diigo, a tool for managing and organising web-based references; and note-taking tools, such as Evernote and Wunderlist. This week’s Thing has been written by Craig Patterson, Client Services & Liaison Librarian (Science & Engineering) in collaboration with Hero McDonald, Arts Librarian, and Bernard Lyons, Electronic Services Librarian (Law Library).
All four tools—Doodle, Diigo, Evernote and Wunderlist—require you to create an account and this can be done using your email address. If you’re worried about getting too many emails, you could use a secondary or ‘junk’ email account for testing; you can use this email to sign up to these things when you’re trying them out for the first time. Once you’ve finished exploring, you can then create a permanent account using your preferred email address if you decide to make use of the tool/app regularly. Doodle and Wunderlist also allow you to login using your Facebook or Google account; so does Diigo, which allows you to log in via Twitter or Yahoo.
Doodle is a web-based scheduling tool. Technically, you can use it without creating an account, though it does offer additional features to registered users. The program sends an email out to the people you’re trying to meet and allows them to respond with their availability. You can see an example here. The great thing with Doodle is that the people you’re trying to meet with don’t need to have Doodle accounts to participate. It’s particularly useful for scheduling meetings with people outside your own organisation. Most University of Melbourne staff, for example, can use the university’s Outlook Calendar to schedule meetings but Doodle comes in handy if you’re working with people outside the university. It’s also handy as a way of finding out a range of convenient times; if you’re trying to meet with a large group of people, Doodle can let you poll your group for preferred times. You can also link your Doodle account to other calendar programs, such as Google, iCloud (premium users), Outlook and iCal. It also helps to reduce email clutter by creating a visual representation of when everyone is available, without a lot of back-and-forth emails to set a time and a date.
It’s recommended by Gradhacker.org, which highlights the ease of use, and the value of taking the initiative in scheduling meetings. Doodle isn’t the only online scheduling tool, but it is one of the most popular. You might want to explore other options such as Meet-o-Matic or Scheduly.
Diigo is another web-based tool, this time for bookmarking and tagging webpages. It’s particularly handy for those times when you’re not on your ‘main’ computer and you want to access sites that you use all the time. Although it’s web-based, there are app versions available for iOS, Android and Windows Phone 7, which allow you to access your bookmarks from any mobile device as well as a computer. Diigo lets you organise your bookmarks using tags, lists, and virtual sticky notes and these can be shared with anyone you choose. Diigo saves your annotations in a Library associated with your account, so you can easily retrieve them. If you’re regularly engaging with websites as part of your research, Diigo is a great way to organise your notes.
Gradhacker.org gives it a brief mention but I don’t think that they really do it justice; I recommend you check out the 3 1/2 minute video from Diigo itself. There are also quite a few more short video resources here. My one criticism is that the interface is rather small, and I find myself hunting around for the bookmarking tool.
Try this: Create a Diigo account and bookmark this blog. Highlight or put a sticky note on something you find interesting and share it with someone you know. Use Diigo to keep a list of your essential bookmarks.
Evernote is perhaps the most popular of note-taking tools, though its extensive features allow you to do more than just take notes. It can be used across different platforms; there is a web-based interface but it can be downloaded as a program for both Windows and Mac, and also offers an app interface for iOS, Android, Windows Phone, Windows 8 Touch and Blackberry. By creating an account, you can then sync your notes across your devices and computers, as well as access them through the Evernote web interface. It can also sync across platforms, so if you have a PC and an iPhone, you can access your account on both. The basic package is free but a paid version is available with additional services and a larger amount of online storage space.
Evernote allows you to type up notes, of course, but it also allows you to take audio notes, save image files and, like Diigo, lets you bookmark and highlight useful webpages. There are a few extensions to Evernote that I’ve also found very useful including Web Clipper and Clearly. Web Clipper lets you save anything from the web, mark it up and share it via your Evernote account. However, this does not include content from behind proxy servers, so you can’t access an ebook from the Library and use Web Clipper to store the content – nor should you! Clearly will remove everything from a webpage except the text and associated images and save it to your Evernote account; you can then read online content without distracting adverts or banners.
You can organise your notes into notebooks and you can also tag them with different headings. Evernote also allows you to share your notes with your colleagues. One drawback, though, is that with the free version your colleagues can’t edit the notes you share with them, so you would need the premium version if you wanted to use Evernote for collaborative writing.
Evernote provides a good guide for getting started and their blog covers a range of topics. The astronomer blog AstroBetter has a great overview of some of the additional features of Evernote—the ‘Long Trunk’ as they call it—with a particular focus for scientists.
Try this: Create an Evernote account, follow the instructions to download the software (including the webclipper) and explore how to take text, image, audio and webpage notes. Over the next week, as you take notes as part of your usual research practice, see how you might use Evernote to organise and search your notes. Tag them and create a notebook.
Wunderlist is probably the simplest, no-frills list-making software available. Again, it has a web-based interface and has app versions that allow you to sync your tasks across devices. Wunderlist is free but a paid version provides more collaborative features. Basically, Wunderlist allows you to manage your to-do lists; you can add due dates, reminders, sub-tasks and notes. You can also email your Wunderlist account to directly add tasks. A browser extension—Add to Wunderlist—allows you to import content from email clients such as Outlook and Gmail and also from certain websites, such as Youtube and Amazon. While not as sophisticated a tool as Evernote it is a quick and easy way to keep a list of tasks. It is also a very convenient way of setting yourself reminders and is much more stream-lined and user-friendly than most calendar apps and programs.
Try this: Create a Wunderlist account, download the app for your smartphone or tablet, and use it for your next set of lists: to-dos for the day or week, or a list of the references you need to chase up.
Craig Patterson, with Hero McDonald and Bernard Lyons.
Another note-taking tool that I would recommend is Simplenote. As the name suggests, it’s a very straightforward, light-weight piece of software: a plain-text application that can be synced across devices. Like Evernote, it has a web-based interface but it works particularly well for iOS, with apps for iPhone, iPad and Macbook that sync seamlessly with one another. Adam Pash on Lifehacker has a good write-up that covers the principal strengths of Simplenote. Like Adam, I enjoy the no-frills approach and the lack of distraction this provides. I also mostly use it on my iPad with a bluetooth keyboard, which allows me to take extensive notes ‘on the go’; as a part-time PhD student, it’s very handy to be able to write up some notes during a lunch break at work and then sync them to my computer at home for access in the evening. The simplicity of Simplenote is in deliberate contrast to Evernote, which has so many additional features that it can be a little off-putting at first. Personally, I’m starting to come round to Evernote and it does pay to spend some time getting to know it; it can seem like a bit of an ‘everything bucket’ but if used effectively, with clearly arranged notebooks and judicious use of tagging, it can be a very powerful note-taking tool indeed.
All the aforementioned tools are changing the way we go about taking and organising research notes. For a long time, we’ve been able to write up notes using word-processing software such as Word but I never found this a particularly effective way of managing and retrieving my research notes. It was very clunky when it came to incorporating images, which—as an art historian—was particularly frustrating. I’m finding Evernote to be a much easier way of associating specific images with a set of notes. If you’re using a tool such as Evernote, how has it changed your habits and practices? Do you find it easy to use and do you feel you use it effectively? How challenging has it been to adapt traditional, pen-and-paper, note-taking techniques to new digital formats? I certainly miss the arrows, bubbles, emphases and occasional doodle that cover my old handwritten notebooks. I also tended to use the Cornell method, with distinct space for direct notes, summaries, and my own commentary and reflection; this is hard to replicate digitally (any advice gratefully received!). If you’ve never tried any of these tools before, why not give one a go for your next project. Let us know in the comments what you think.
That’s all for Thing 01. Next week: collaboration tools.
(Photo by Sarah Williams: Stock.XCHNG)