Shifting Gears

Shifting Gears

Yesterday, GEARS wrote about how his lab group seems to be gaining some momentum.  This got me to thinking about how I’d recently had my momentum redirected temporarily and ways to handle it better in the future.

I am not a person who likes to change what I’m doing very often.  I find that it’s hard to redirect my attention to a new project, even if it’s one that I’ve worked on recently.  Having a meeting first thing in the morning is like walking through quicksand for a while afterwards.  This is a problem, though, as I’m usually working on 3-4 different projects at work; I have to spend a good chunk of my time interacting with other people on my teams to make sure we’re keeping appraised of each others work.

However, a few weeks ago, I had a huge lurch.  A project deadline was coming up and we basically had the “All hands on deck!” call to finish it up.  This meant throwing everything else to the side until the project was completed.  While I really appreciated being able to focus on one thing, I also found myself worrying about all the other projects that were laying dormant.  I think I understood why after I was able to transition back to those projects: I was worried I was going to forget where I was. In fact, that’s almost what happened in a couple places.

This led to me think about how I could handle such a transition more effectively in the future…as well as just juggling better the projects I’m working on currently.

  • Whiteboard: I keep a list of goals for each of my projects on my whiteboard.  I need to update this daily rather than weekly.  And maybe add a few more notes about where I’m at.  The whiteboard is great for general reminders, but it’s hard to get into detail and certainly not portable.
  • Notebooks: I have a notebook where I write down notes from meetings, calculations, things I’m thinking about.  The problem I have with notebooks is that they aren’t searchable and, once I flip the page, I’m not good about going back to review what I wrote later.  This one is certainly portable, but I often forget it.
  • Online document/lab notebook: I was keeping an online journal for my research.  I actually found this worked fairly well…except that for many projects, it’s not allowed.  I used to use Google documents to keep my grade sheets for classes, as an example.  Unfortunately, I was told I could no longer do that because it violated policies that dealt with protection of private information.  Some of the projects I work on now involve proprietary information or stuff that various government agencies would like to keep relatively internal.  Therefore, putting things in the cloud or on dropbox or that sort of thing can be problematic.  For my own projects, though, it works well and means I can access it from any computer.  (There are days I really start to resent dragging a laptop around.)  I like the fact that I can search the entries and add keywords.
  • On the computer: If you use one computer almost all the time, this works great.  Some people I know just keep a text document of their work and progress.  Others like fancier programs like OneNote.  I find that people who use this method often have a laptop which they have with them all the time.  In my case, I don’t like it because I have a laptop for my PhD research and a computer for work.  Ne’er the twain shall meet…or at least share data.
  • Smartphone: I have to admit that having an iPhone has changed the way I do a few things.  I would always buy calendar/date books to try to organize my life.  And then I would never use them.  I have found that having the ability to make notes, lists, and use the calendar on my iPhone, which I ALWAYS have with me, has made it easier to keep track of things.  However, there is a limit to the detail I can use for this one.
  • Email: As stupid as it sounds, I have found email to be one of the best ways to keep track of things.  I have an undergrad working for me right now, and I ask him to send me a short email at the end of his work periods.  It’s amazing how much easier it is to glance back and compile this information for things like monthly reports or to gauge how much progress has been made.  I’ve also emailed myself several times and think I’m going to to more of it.  It’s easy to search, easy to get access to, and works a lot like journal, if you do it right.

As it turns out, I have to use several of the methods simultaneously.  Some work better in certain situations than others.  Also, I like to keep my work stuff separate from PhD separate from personal things, and I imagine I would do things differently if integrating everything.

So what do you do to keep track of where you are?  Has it been successful?  Where do you think you could improve or what other ideas do you want to try?

Thanks to motorvista for the image.

1 comment

Try Evernote. It’s free and also has an iphone app. I have a notebook for each of my projects and I can “tag” notes. And of course it is searchable. Every time I add something, I type in the date so that I can easily pick back up where I left off.

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