So, part of the reason that I have not been blogging much lately is that I’ve been trying to refocus myself on what I’m really doing with my dissertation project.Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â It’s amazing how easy it is to literally forget what you’re doing, what the whole darn thing is actually supposed to be about!Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â In such a large project, with so many sub-projects and sub-sub-projects, hundreds of sources, and as many issues to follow and sort out…well, it’s easy to lose site of the forest for the trees.Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â I’ve been trying to get reacquainted with my forest lately.
Part of that effort has been an attempt to get myself organized.Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â I realized that I have a great system for managing my research, including Reference Manager for managing bibliographic information, with a corresponding online backup/citation sharing service at CiteULike, a custom database application built with FileMaker for managing annotations, quotes, people, organizations, events, etc., as well as online collection tools including Furl and and Del.icio.us.Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â I was even able to write a Reference Manager import filter for Furl.Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â I can now clip articles from the web, save a personal copy, and export the citation to Reference Manager.
So, when I’m diligent about using it all in the right order and in the right way, that all works great.Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â But I realized that I did not have a similar system for the project management aspect of the dissertation.Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â I had no way of figuring out what needed to get done, when, to track tasks, relate them to higher-level goals, etc.Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â Consequently, I’ve read a lot and cut a lot of quotes (45 sources and 175 quotes in the database so far, with 200 more cut and ready to go in), but still haven’t made a lot of progress towards getting any one chapter off the ground.
I decided to do something I don’t normally do: Pick up one of those annoying, self-helpy, pseudo-psychobabble, business management books.Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â Of course, first I Googled for information on project management, related software, etc.Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â I found that a lot of people were mentioning GTD.Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â What the heck is GTD?Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â It stands for Getting Things Done, which is also the title of a famous book by a guy named David Allen.Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â So, I went and bought the book.Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â I have to say, it’s been helpful so far.Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â Some books like this are so general and abstract, so touchy-feely, that it all sounds great and might make you feel better, but does not give you any concrete advice about what to do.Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â Other books like this are so specific to business, or a particular technology (e.g. MS Outlook), that they are equally unhelpful.Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â Allen’s book is a great mix of general and specific.Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â His method is general enough that it can apply to business, academic, and other professions.Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â It does not rely on any particular technology.Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â In fact, it can be implemented in a very low-tech way, and he actually encourages that.Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â But, he walks you through the steps of his method in a very specific, directed, step-by-step way.
Even though the GTD method does not require the use of any type of software, because I do so much work on the computer, I immediately began looking for free, open source applications that could help me implement GTD.Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â I settled on two applications.Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â One is an extension for the Firefox browser that allows you to implement GTD in Gmail.Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â It is called GTDGmail.Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â While it would be possible to fully implement GTD within Gmail with this extension, I did not like the fact that it would force me to have an Internet connection to check my "Next Actions" and figure out what to do next.Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â So, I’m just using GTDGmail to help keep my emails more organized.Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â For my general GTD I am using a brilliantly simple little application called MonkeyGTD.Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â It is an adaptation of TiddlyWiki, a personal, wiki-style notebook application that runs all in one HTML file.Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â It’s just a file.Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â That’s it.Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â All the code that makes it run is embedded within the file itself.Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â That means that it can run in any web browser, from a memory stick, on any computer with a USB port.Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â It is brilliantly simple to use and offers a great "dashboard" feature which allows you to see all the "Next Actions" required for all "Contexts" and "Projects".Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â It has a nifty little reminders feature and a calendar as well.
GTD, GTDGmail, and MonkeyGTD have all been very helpful in the last couple weeks.Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â I’ll continue to provide updates here about their usefulness in managing long-term, academic research projects.Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â Heck, since MonkeyGTD is just an HTML file, maybe I’ll even post a copy of my schedule to the web for readers to check out!