Using Evernote vs Todoist as your todo list

I’ve been a happy user of both Todoist and Evernote for a few years now – see my post on using Todoist and Evernote together with Google Calendar to get things done. 

However, last year following a period of illness I’ve reconsidered the tools I use. In this post I explain why I switched from Todoist+Evernote to only using Evernote, and why I later decided to go back to my trusted system. 

Downsides of Todoist

My main problem with Todoist is that it is too easy add tasks.

That might sound a bit weird. Of course the adding tasks functionality of Todoist widgets is great, and it is easy to capture all the little things you need to do. But since all tasks have the same “weight” (even if you give them different priority), your overall task list becomes too focused on not-always-important, little tasks. Although I was regularly organizing my list, just having all the other tasks there was kind of weighing on me.

A related problem is that when you add a task, you don’t see what tasks you already have scheduled. So you can be too optimistic when adding a task for “tomorrow”  when you already have various meetings and other tasks scheduled. 

Finally, Todoist has a desktop app, but it doesn’t work if you start it when you are offline. 

Evernote as your todo-list

Evernote is not a specific todo-list app, but it is possible to use it as such. You can see notes as individual todos, and then organize them via notebooks or tags, or you can create a checklist in a single note. I decided to go with the checklist approach, and created two notes  – “Current” and “Maybe”.  “Current” was for anything that was coming up, and “Maybe” for projects that I might or might not do. 

Most of the time I worked with the “Current” list, where I made a table with one row for each week, and columns for different types of tasks. I started with “work” and “home”, but later split these up into more categories, based on priority.

This system had several advantages that I missed with Todoist. When adding a task, I had to add it to a specific row, so I would already see what other tasks I had planned for then. Also, I became more aware of the weight of the different tasks, and I feel that overall my todo list became more balanced. 

This way my todo list was also accessible offline, and it was in the same app as my other project-related notes. 

Downsides of Evernote

Unfortunately, there were a few disadvantages as well, that made me miss Todoist. 

The main thing I missed was the integration with Google Calendar – in Todoist I would enter a date and time, and an event would show up on my calendar. Now I had to create a separate “Planning” calendar, and add tasks manually – which I didn’t do consistently.

Another problem was recurrent tasks, which I did once a week or once a month. In Todoist this is basic functionality, but Evernote does not have this feature – you can set a reminder for a note, but when it’s time, you have to reset the reminder yourself. 

Back together

After 2-3 months of using Evernote only, it felt good to create a list in Todoist again. I’m more mindful of the downsides and am trying to manage them better, for example by using filters for my tasks and scheduling tasks for next week on the calendar. It’s not yet the ideal system I wish I would have, but I think using it consistently does help in the long run. 

Do you have any tips of how to create a better todo-list / calendar system? Let me know in the comments!

Checklists for productivity in academia

As I get more responsibilities and work on more projects, I find myself increasingly using checklists. Especially with things that do not occur too frequently, I have to think “how did that go again, what should I not forget?”. After reading The Checklist Manifesto, where Atul Gawande discusses checklists in airplanes and in surgery – where you really don’t want to forget anything, I decided to try it out for myself. 
So far I’ve made myself checklists for the following:

  • Student starting a project  
  • Planning a conference trip  
  • Giving a talk
  • Having a paper accepted

I keep the checklists as templates in Todoist. I’ve broken down each of these into different stages (for example, before the trip and after the trip), with various one-off tasks I need to do, such as booking travel, or filling in reimbursement forms. Sometimes I add links to the tasks, which will take me to the website or Evernote note I need to complete the task.

One of my conference travel checklists in Todoist | veronikach.com

Then as soon as one of these events comes up, I copy the template to a new project, and fill in dates for each task which are suitable (this could be automated somewhat, but I prefer to have control over this). This way I will never forget all the details that need to get done.  

I like this approach and would like to apply it to more things I do in my job. For example, I’m thinking about making teaching each class into a template. Although my materials are prepared from the year before, I still need to go over the materials, post all the details on the learning environment, grade exams etc. Since I already know all these things are coming up, I might just as well add them to my todo list (and reserve time for them!) with a few clicks. As I’m trying to improve estimating the time I need for a task, I can become more and more specific with this.

It would be great to have such a checklist for every new project. I can imagine such a checklist would contain, for example, creating a directory structure for the code. These tasks are of course much easier to estimate than actually working on the project, but perhaps some day I will get there as well. 

However, there are other things I do in my job that I can plan in advance. For example, this year I have also been documenting how long I needed to prepare for lectures and to grade assignments. I can use this information to create a checklist for each course, and just repeat the checklist every year. For activities that do not take place on fixed dates, for example reviewing papers or giving talks, I could already budget hours, and move them around as needed. This would probably also help with saying no to more things.  

Do you use any checklists? Or is this an overkill? Let me know by commenting below or on Twitter!

How I Fail in Open Science

Last week I had the pleasure of giving a talk at OpenMR Benelux event, wonderfully organized by @fmrwhy.  Although the slides and a video of the talk will be available online, for those of you who prefer reading, I thought I would write a few of the things I mentioned during my talk. 

As I mentioned in my talk, I was feeling a bit like an imposter speaking at this event, since I neither do a lot of MR, nor a lot of open science”. Nevertheless I’ve decided to be open about how open my science is and share my experiences with it so far – hence the title “How I Fail in Open Science”. 

Open science during my PhD 

My story begins in 2011 when I started my PhD. After focusing on workshop papers for two years, I realized I needed journal papers to graduate. I submitted three papers that year and followed the suggestion to post them on arXiV because the review process could be lengthy. I used public datasets and a publicly available MATLAB toolbox, and since both the data and tools were online, I didn’t think it was needed to share the rest of my code. 

In 2015 the papers were finally accepted and I finished my PhD. Because the papers were already online for two years, I was able to benefit from the preprint bump. I would also occasionally get emails about the experiments in my paper. I then decided to share my (non-version controlled) experiments code to reproduce the results table in the paper. Miraculously even after two years I was still able to run my code AND get the same results. So I shared the code with a CRAPL license, which I felt absolved me from doing any other “cleaning up of the code”.

Open science during my postdoc

After starting my postdoc in 2015 I felt like I should publish as fast as possible. Instead of investigating the best tools for my project, I decided to go with my tried and trusted method. This was not a good strategy and in retrospect, I would have been much better off investing some time into switching to Python, creating clean code and so forth. In the end I didn’t publish much at all that year.

The publishing situation became even worse in 2016 when I started searching for my next job. However, since I was updating my CV often, I did also decide to share a few more things online. I also started using social media more often, and learning more about open science in general. 

Open science now

In 2017 I found myself in a tenure track position. Inspired by everything I saw on Twitter, I wanted to do everything right – switch to Python, publish in new open access journals, share everything online. I quickly discovered that this is not feasible next to all the other responsibilities you have when starting on the tenure track.

The only thing I have been doing consistently is posting preprints on arXiV. Here and there I have a paper for which I’ve shared data or code (still not version controlled), but it’s not something that happens by default. 

Why is my science not as open as I want it to be? It’s easy to say there’s too little time, but in the end it is a question of priorities. I am still influenced by my grant reviewers who tell me “that’s nice, but you should have published more”, and the funding agency who agrees with them. And although overall my experience on Twitter has been positive, people with strong opinions about what counts as open science, can be quite intimidating. 

How can I do better? I cannot change the system, but I can at least try to create a habit out of being more open. To do so I decided to draw parallels between open science and another area of my life in which I’ve had both successes and failures – running! 

Strategy 1: Start slow and focus on process

The first strategy is to start slow and focus on process. Find a thing that’s easy to do, and do it often. For running, my thing was “go for a run three times a week”. Note that there’s no distance or time – I just had to go out of the house, and even running 10 minutes was a success. If I had set a more difficult goal than that, I would get discouraged and quit – something that has happened to me several times before.

Translating this to open science, it’s a bad idea to try to do everything at once. I started with preprints and am now slowly adding sharing things online. I do this by using templates in Todoist. For example, every time I agree to give a talk, I import a fixed set of tasks, including “Create slides”, but also “Upload slides to website”.

Todoist project for the OpenMR talk, which includes preparing the talk but also sharing the slides

Strategy 2: Find accountability and support

To motivate yourself to continue with the habit you need to find accountability and support. With running, I find accountability by signing up for 10K races and then deciding that it’s probably going to be better for me to train on a regular basis. I also have a few friends who have either been running for a long time, or are just getting into it, so we can support each other. 

With sharing data and code, I feel accountable towards my students. I want them to do things better than I did myself, so I’m helping them set up their projects on Github from the start (inspired by Kirstie Whitaker). The code might still not be clean and run out of the box, but I feel like it’s an important first step.

As for support, I’m in a Slack group with other academics where we discuss this and other issues. And of course Twitter is a great place to learn new things and find people who are trying to improve their open science too. 

Strategy 3: Reward yourself

Finally, to create a habit don’t forget to reward yourself! After a race I might get a beer and a badge in my Strava app. But of course there are also long term rewards such as overall health, and being able to socialize with others. 

For open science there are also various metrics such as the Altmetric – here’s an example for a recent preprint. There are also gamified ewards, for example badges on ImpactStory. But more important is feeling the impact of your work on others, such as a thank you email, or an invitation to talk at an OpenMR event 🙂 

***

Do you struggle with sharing your work online? Or do you have any other helpful strategies? Leave a comment or let me know on Twitter!

My review of #AcWriMo 2018

One of my goals for the first three months of 2019 is to write a lot of things, and to achieve this by writing (at least) 250 words a day. This is in part inspired by #AcWriMo (academic writing month) in November 2018, where I joined the challenge and found it very helpful to do so. On several of those days, I wrote reflected on this practice. In this post I share my #AcWriMo diary with you ? 

Sunday 4th of November

After two successful days of writing 250+ words for #AcWriMo2018, I failed with writing anything on day number three. It was a Saturday, and since I didn’t take the train like on the other two days, I didn’t have a set time to do my writing. In general I don’t have a habit of working in the weekend (although I do write for my blog sometimes), so I decided not to force myself and to let it go. Plus, yesterday I picked up two Dot and Pixel – two kittens – and I’ve enjoyed watching them for several hours. I hope they will become good #AcWri assistants, same as Buffy was.



The thing that I think is working for my #AcWriMo goal is having a rather small goal of 250 words. That’s about three paragraphs for me, and that doesn’t feel daunting, so it’s easy to get started. That’s why today, on a Sunday, I did manage to do it while watching the kittens play ? 
It also helps to in advance think of the topic I’m planning to write about. Ideally, I should already prepare a list of concrete paper sections or blog posts I want to finish. I’m almost there for blog posts, as I have an Evernote notebook with blog post drafts, so I can choose something from there. For papers, it is more difficult at the moment, since the ones I plan to write next at rather early stages, so I need to do more reading and/or experiments first. 


Wednesday 14th of November

Another important thing for successful #AcWri is having a set time and place to do it. The first few days of November I was doing my usual commute to work. Since I sit in the train for an hour, it’s a good time to get some writing done. It’s kind of a nice ritual, because I try to take the same train and sit in the same place, etc. Taking out my laptop and starting up Evernote just seems to complete the ritual. It also feels great to have an important task complete early in the morning! 

The days after that were more challenging though, due to the weekend and then a week off. Since my days are less structured then, it was more difficult to keep up with writing, and I often procrastinated until the evening to get it done. Having a streak of several days, plus feeling like I have to tweet about it, definitely helped with getting it done. In these days off, I’ve been only writing for my blog since I try to not work when I have time off. 

So far I’ve written most of this blog post writing on the couch, which is a place I never usually work. I like associating the blog with the couch – it feels different than sitting down at my desk ready to work. So perhaps writing in the morning while sitting on the couch is a ritual I could try to build up for when I have time off. 

Tuesday 27th of November

This weekend was not successful from an AcWri point of view. On Friday I had a lot of things to do in a limited time, so in the end I just ran out of time. On Saturday, I just forgot. Sunday I thought about it, but it was too late in the day and I decided to let it go. It’s definitely true that it’s easier to forget a habit if you miss it twice in a row. But fortunately on Monday I was able to get back to writing, even though it was for a blog post instead of my planned paper revisions. 

Verdict

Overall I really enjoyed this challenge and am definitely not planning to wait till next November to repeat it again ? I think 250 words is still a good goal, I just need a list of prompts / things to write so it’s easy to get started each day, and rituals on when and were I write. 


I hope you enjoyed this post! Would you try a challenge of writing 250 words a day? Why / why not? 

Self-care as a habit

As readers of this blog may know, I use Habitica to keep track of habits, such as writing, exercise, eating healthy – the possibilities are endless. Habitica allows you to track what you do in three ways: habits you could do multiple times a day, dailies which you do every day (or every Monday, etc) and todos. For the writing example, a habit could be writing 500 words, a daily could be writing for 30 minutes first thing in the morning, and a todo could be writing a specific section of your paper. Completing any of these gives you experience, gold, items – all ways in which you could associate the habit with a reward.

Habitica also has a fourth category you can use for motivate yourself – rewards. Some rewards are defined by Habitica, such as items you can buy with gold collected from your habits. But you can also define real-life rewards, like going to your favorite restaurant, which you can buy with gold (you do still have to pay the restaurant, though!). I have not talked about this category much before, and in this blog post I explain why.

Habitica has examples of rewards you could define for yourself here. Here are a few examples that I am uncomfortable with:

  • Leisure reading
  • Call friend/relative
  • Long hot bath
  • Time alone with favorite music
  • Take a walk

For me, these are habits, not rewards. I am perfectly capable of just doing the productive things that need to be done, and not taking time for a bath or leisure reading. Not very healthy!

So instead, I intentionally add habits that are enjoyable for me to do, do not have negative effects (other than “wasting” time and perhaps a little money), but do not necessarily HAVE to be done. Next to reading and baths, here are a few other options:

  • Listening to a podcast episode. I learn a lot from various podcasts I listen, including how to be more productive, so perhaps this isn’t even such a “time waster”
  • Trying out a new recipe
  • Going out to dinner or movies. I tend to stay in a lot so it’s a nice change of pace.
  • Organizing things around the house. I realize this is a chore for many but I find it relaxing.
  • Dressing up or doing something special with my nails or make-up
  • Having friends over
  • Playing with the cats
  • Looking at photographs or notes from your “be kind portfolio

To be honest, I had a bit of trouble coming up with a few of the things above and they were not on my list. Most things I thought of straight away, were “too productive”, which just goes to show how necessary it is to pay attention to these things. Then I remembered a thread I saw on Twitter about mental health and doing things that make you happy, which had many other ideas I could borrow them.

There is one suggestion from this thread struck me the most and I will definitely be adding it to my list: “Having a day with nothing to do”

Tips for managing email as an academic

After a conference most academics probably face a fairly full inbox. In this post I share a few tips I’ve found helpful with managing my email. I am by no means an expert, but I’m happy with some of the strategies I use, which I share below.

Inbox zero

The idea of inbox zero is exactly what it suggests – once you process your email, ideally you should have ZERO emails left in your inbox. Following the “getting things done” system, I try to either handle an email immediately (if I can delete it or if I can reply quickly), or put it on my todo list for later (if I need to look things up first, can’t take action immediately, etc). Once an email is on my todo list, I archive it, so it’s not just sitting there staring at me. I can’t imagine how stressed I would be without this strategy.

I have a few things to improve though. A few emails do not fit into either category, for example if I read my email on the phone, but need to use my laptop to reply. This is not helpful since I am revisiting this email several times, instead of once.

Send later

I try not to email on evenings and weekends. The goal of this is to enforce boundaries on my work time and manage expectations of others, both with regards to when they can expect to reach me, and what I expect of them. I appreciate that people might have different working hours. Therefore, when I do email outside of my normal hours, I usually schedule the email to be sent later. I use the Streak plugin for Gmail, but there are others, like Boomerang, and Outlook has delayed sending functionality as well.

Snippets

Some of the emails I send are very similar to each other, for example with information about student positions. To avoid typing the same information over and over, I use the Snippets feature for Streak. The same functionality is possible with Canned Responses by Gmail, but I like the user interface of Streak more.

Skip inbox

For mail that’s not urgent to read, I have filters that skip the inbox, and deliver it to a folder I call “Snooze”. For me these are typically newsletters and announcements that are not personally addressed to me.

Although this type of functionality is offered by Gmail with automatically labeling emails, I prefer to define my own rules of what is important or not. This means that there is an initial time investment, every time I receive a newsletter, to create a filter for it.

Other tips?

These are the main strategies I use, but I would love to hear more of what has worked for other people – let me know in the comments below or on Twitter!

Ups and downs of habits

I recently read the book Superhuman by Habit – a quick read that I definitely recommend. The book got me thinking about what I’ve been doing with regards to habits the last two years or so, and especially what I have not been doing.

I started with the whole habit thing while struggling with anxiety and depression. I started organizing things – from my todo list to my house – as an attempt to reduce overwhelm.  Keeping track of habits was a natural next step. Being able to check things of a list gave me a feeling of accomplishment. One of the habits was blogging, which helped me a lot with starting to feel like I had a purpose.

I have a tendency to overdo things if I put my mind to it. For example, when I was 18 or so I decided to had to lose weight. I didn’t actually need to, but I thought I’d be more confident and people would like me better. So I started counting calories. I got really good at it and would never miss a day. I even started to decline events where I wasn’t in control of what I would get to eat – kind of counterintuitive if the end goal was to have more friends.

A similar thing was starting to happen to habits – I got stressed about doing them, and feeling like a failure if I wasn’t able to keep them up. Not great if the original goal was to feel better. I definitely was not feeling like a superhuman.

Thankfully I now have people in my life who say things like “be kind to yourself”. I thought that was good advice and let a few things go, and was enjoying this new “freedom”. A morning where I would just have breakfast and then play a computer game, but not exercise, meditate etc. suddenly felt like a luxury.

But, reading the book, I realized I’ve let go of too many things. A lot of them were really good for health, and I shouldn’t let those benefits disappear. So I’m giving habits another try – but hopefully allowing myself more space to NOT do them when I need to. This hopefully also means more blog posts again – please help me stay accountable 🙂

Balancing responsibilities in academia

In this post I discuss how I divide my time as an assistant professor and whether it is any different from being a postdoc or a PhD student. This is inspired by this tweet by @jayvanbavel (the plot is from this presentation), that got quite a lot of attention. Since I also had a few questions from readers about how I balance my responsibilities, I thought this would be a good topic to talk about. Spoiler: I do not identify with the message of this plot.

The categories in the plot are very fine-grained, but I will just talk about the larger categories: research (which for me includes manuscripts), service, grants, teaching and advising.

https://twitter.com/jayvanbavel/status/980071519505338369

As a PhD student

It’s true, as a PhD student I spent most of my time doing research. I would have whole days just for my exploring papers, drawing things on paper, trying out things in Matlab, meeting with my supervisors and writing down my findings. I suppose that going to talks also counts as “research” in this categorization. But more often than not, I did spend time on other categories than research and manuscripts.

First there is teaching. In my department, PhD students did not have to do a lot of teaching, but would be expected to help out with practical exercises in various courses. I did that, and volunteered for other teaching opportunities. I gave a few lectures about my research topic – the first took me approximately 30 hours of prepare. I’m quite shocked at this number now, and think I must have miscounted, but I did blog about right when it was happening, so I should probably trust my past self. I also had an opportunity to help redesign a module of a course, which was very insightful, but was also time-consuming.

Then there were activities in the “service” category. I had started reviewing papers, organizing workshops and giving outreach talks. I also organized the lab meetings for a while and kept various websites up to date. I enjoyed these activities and never consciously thought of them as “taking time away from my research”, which is probably why my grant reviewers are complaining now about my publication record.

The only category I didn’t spend a lot of time on was “grants”. But even so, I did manage to get a few rejections in that time.

As a postdoc

Most of the activities I was doing as a PhD student, continued into my postdoc, so it definitely wasn’t mostly “research”. While teaching decreased a little bit, service definitely increased – not because of the obligations of my contract, but my perceived obligation to the community, for which I was reviewing etc.

The big difference was “grants”. I had a two-year position, but given the low probability of getting funding, I started applying for things 6 months into the position. Since most things were rejected, this did take a lot of time away from research, and further worsened my position with grant reviewers.

Sometimes I hear the advice “only spend time on research during your postdoc and don’t worry about grants”. It’s nice to think how things would be now if I did have more publications from my postdoc. But at the same time, if I didn’t do what I did, I probably would not have the job I have now.

As tenure track faculty

In my current position, I am for the first time expected/paid to do all the things I was doing before  – research, teaching, advising, service and grants. I think if I had spent the previous years doing only research, this would have been a very difficult shift. But having a bit of experience in each area has helped the transition a lot, even though my research did suffer compared to my PhD.

I am not sure what % of my time I spend on each category because this varies per week. But I do – for the first time – consciously think about it.  I say no more often now (especially in the service category – while still doing my fair share). I try to group meetings, so that I have a few days without meetings, which I can then dedicate to research (although I do get distracted by other things I’m involved in).  My weekly review, where I write down what I did in different categories, also helps to see whether I’m spending too little time on research.

All in all, balancing responsibilities is difficult, but I feel that it’s possible to learn to do it better, which is one of the things (I realized) I’m exploring on this blog. I feel very fortunate to have the support – from colleagues, mentors and the community on Twitter – to do so.

I would love to hear from you – how do your spend your time, and has this changed throughout your career?

15 productive ways to use Evernote

15 productive ways to use Evernote | veronikach.com

If you are a reader of this blog, it’s probably no surprise that I love Evernote. In this post I summarize all my favorite ways to use Evernote – a few that I have written about before, and a few that still need to become blog posts. Enjoy!

15 productive ways to use Evernote | veronikach.com

15 productive ways to use Evernote | veronikach.com

15 productive ways to use Evernote | veronikach.com

1. Blogging

I write my blog posts in Evernote before transferring them to WordPress. I like this because I can use Evernote online, so I can write when I don’t have Wi-Fi, and I get less distracted in general.

2. Weekly review

I use Evernote in my Getting Things Done system, which I’ve blogged about here. During the weekly review, I use Evernote to write down a summary of what I have done each week for different goals, such as writing or exercise.

 3. No list

Also during the weekly review, I write down what opporunities I have said yes to, and what opportunities I have said no to. This has made me more aware of how many request I get and accept, and easier to say no.

4. CV

For the things I did say yes to, I might forward the invitation to Evernote and tag it with “my_CV”. When I need to update my CV, I can add all these items based on the tag. I do the same for any media that mentions me, just in case I need this for an annual review or a grant application.

5. Read later

The first thing I started using Evernote for was to save blog posts or articles to read later. I wrote about this in the “capture’ part of the GTD process. The saved posts go to my Evernote inbox. During the weekly review, I briefly look at the posts and either delete them, or add tags and move them to my ideas notebook. When I need information on a specific topic, I just search the ideas notebook for that tag.

6. Organizing literature

Evernote is great for saving PDFs, so I use it to organize the papers that I’m reading. I find the tags very helpful in finding the exact paper that I need. Read more about my system here.

7. Organizing travel

When travelling for a conference, I keep all the reservations and other important information in a notebook for that specific trip. Read more in this post.

8. Happy thoughts

I forward emails with that made me happy to Evernote and tag them with “happy”. This could be anything from getting a paper accepted, to a comment from a blog reader that my posts have helped them. The idea is similar to the “jar of happy” – review these notes when you are feeling down. Similarly, you could add photos, drawings, handwritten notes – anything that can remind you to appreciate life.

9. Journal

I have used Evernote as my 5-minute journal, although I have now switched to paper so that I don’t use my phone just before bedtime.

10. Text snippets

I have several notes where I store pieces of code I often use for my blog, such as:

  • hiding an image (great for attaching Pinterest graphics to the post)
  • shortcodes for WordPress
  • embedding newsletter sign-up forms

Of course I can always find these snippets from within WordPress, but I find it easier to keep these snippets in a single note.

11. How-to guides

I have started writing guides for myself, on how to do things that I have to do from time to time, but not often enough to remember all the steps. For example:

  • Installing essential WordPress plugins for a new website
  • Installing and configuring software if my laptop dies
  • Creating a yearly financial report

12. Meal planning

Evernote is great for keeping track of your favorite recipes! I have two notebooks (both shared with my partner) to plan my meals – one with recipe ideas, and one with recipes where we drag and drop recipes for the upcoming week. This way it becomes really easy to create a shopping list!

13. People

I do not really use Evernote as an address book, but I might keep important information about people I know, like food they don’t eat, their favorite beer, what gift I gave them last year, etc.

When people recommend me books or podcasts, I tend to add a short note to Evernote about it. This way if I check out and enjoy the recommendation, I can thank the person later!

14. Buy later

When I think I might want to buy something online, I often save the item to Evernote first and tag it with “buy”. From time to time, I go through this tag. Often I’m able to delete a lot of items – a few that I bought, but most that I decided I didn’t need. Great for keeping your place uncluttered AND saving money.

15. Gift ideas

No “best ways to use Evernote” list is complete without gift ideas! Similar to the “buy later” section, I save items that could be good gifts to Evernote, and tag them with “gifts”. The difference is that I don’t delete the note once I’ve bought the gift. Instead, I can edit the note to include who I gave the gift to.

 

If you like these ways to use Evernote, check out my Pinterest board where I’m always collecting more ideas:

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How I manage my bibliography with Evernote and Jabref

Today I’m staying with the theme of managing bibliographies (see my previous post on syncing .bib files). Now I describe the process of how I actually add papers to my bibliography, and keep track of my bibliography with Evernote. This process is fairly recent so this post is rather an exercise in me thinking out all the steps, but perhaps it might be useful to somebody else.

Capture

Most of my ideas for which papers I should read come from Google scholar alerts or Twitter. When I think “this might be interesting”, I immediately save the PDF (if I can access it) or the link to my Evernote inbox.

Organize

As part of my weekly review, I go through all the notes in my Evernote inbox. When the note is a paper, I decide whether it’s really something I want to read, and if yes, I now definitely get the PDF and put it into the note. I also rename the note by its Bibtex key, for example “cheplygina2017transfer” for a recent paper of mine where the first word in the title is “transfer”. Then I tag the notes with different keywords, which tell me what topics the paper could be relevant for.

I then move the paper to either “Literature Inbox” or “NextPaper Inbox” notebooks, where NextPaper is the “codename” of the paper I’m going to submit next.

Process

OK, so now the papers are collecting in these two literature inboxes – what next? I need to actually read some papers. Recently I’ve been scheduling tasks like “Process 5 papers” on my calendar to get this done. When I do this I usually select papers which have similar tags, which I would write about in the same section of my paper.

Then I go through the paper and type notes in Evernote, in the same note that already has the PDF. This (the note writing) is inspired by Dr. Raul Pacheco-Vega’s “PDF to memo” method.

This should give me an idea of what I want to say about the paper, if I reference it later. I might also add or remove tags as needed. I can also add Evernote links to other related papers, although I don’t do this very often.

Once this is done, I move the note to “Literature Processed”. This is also when I get the bibliographic details of the paper (by searching the title on Google scholar), and add them to Jabref (by copying and pasting the .bib details). It is also possible to add a link to Jabref that will open the corresponding Evernote note, but unfortunately this uses the URL field, so you wouldn’t be able to have links to both Evernote and the online source of the paper.

Reference

I also schedule tasks like “Literature Processed to 0” which means I have to actually include the processed papers in the paper I’m writing. I go to the section where I want to reference the paper and write something about it, based on the notes I made before. This is also a good check to see if I really have the biliographic details – if I don’t, ShareLateX will not suggest me the reference.

Finally, I tag the note with “NextPaper” since that’s where I referenced it, and move it to the “Literature Reference” notebook. I should review these tags upon publication of the paper (I haven’t gotten to that part yet since I started using the system). But if the tag stays, I could even include a short snippet of what it is that I said about the paper.

Future projects

In a next project I might want to reference some of the same papers that are in Reference, and do not go through the process above. However, once I’m working on “NextPaper2”, I can just go to my Reference notebook, do a search for the relevant tags, and then tag those papers with “NextPaper2”.

Verdict

This is not a perfect system, since several things to be updated manually. Perhaps Mendeley or Zotero sort out these things for you – I’ve tried both in the past and was never quite satisfied, but this was before I had this process in place.

The process – not the tools – is probably what is helping me the most. But another advantage is that I’m using tools I already use a lot. Since I have Evernote open all the time, it’s easy to decide to read a paper, when I have a bit of time before my next meeting, for example. It also gives me a overview of how much reading/writing I need to do, based on the number of notes in each notebook, and it’s rewarding to see the “Inbox” numbers go down. I think I’ve got the ingredients to successful habit adoption right here – now hoping these will in fact translate to written AND published papers.

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