Reworking the Workflow

This is an installment in a series of posts about moving to the UK for a Ph.D, specifically at Durham University.  To read more posts like this, see our list here.

One of the first questions to address when starting a Ph.D. is the one of workflow.  There are many tools available to manage your time, your data, your writing, your projects, your life in general.  Many of these solutions compete for your time and attention and, yes, money.  There are more apps, methods, and solutions than I can count.

I have used some sort of system for managing my tasks and responsibilities, of course, in my professional and academic life for years.  However, this level and type of academic work is different.  So I decided to embrace a new workflow method for a new academic life.  In the fall, I utilised a favourite note taking application in some new ways.  I embraced the University’s recommended citation management software.  I set work on my trusty word processing application.  I used familiar systems to balance to-do lists, calendar appointments, and goals and tasks with my professors, family, and friends.

Things seemed to be flowing along pretty well, until this spring.  Things started slipping here and there.  I was thoroughly ashamed that I stood up a fellow student for coffee–that I invited him to!  The appointment never made it from my email to my calendar and it slipped my mind.  I was having trouble thinking about large projects when little ones kept blocking my view.  Planning my academic work, family life, and the demands of the upcoming move was taking up more time than the work we were planning.  Then I hit what could have become a major snag with my writing.  I discovered that my trusty ol’ word processing program is not going to work for a thesis of 100,000 words.  New updates came out for the program that will prevent it being used as a quality academic writing application.  I am glad I discovered it now when my up-to-now-completed 40,000 words are still in smaller projects.  It will take some work to make the shift, but less work now than in the writing up stage in a year or so.

So what did I do?  I remembered hearing about professional golfers, at the top of their game, who break down their swings and completely reinvent them.  They analyse everything and redo each step. They keep the parts that work and replace the bad parts with better ones. I decided to do that same.  I carefully considered the academic and professional word processing softwares out there–the ones beyond MS Word and Pages.  I studied workflow systems.  I looked at several apps for time management, note taking, to do list, project management, etc.

Some will want to know what I did, how I did it, and how can they replicate it for themselves.  I will give you this bit of advice that I learned in that process.  The workflow system cannot be replicated in cookie cutter fashion for everyone.  My reserach project, family life, and personal goals are different from another’s.  That’s just the way it is.  You need to find the workflow that works for you.  Books, blogs, and apps will tell you that they have the perfect solution for everyone.  It may be a wonderful plan. But is it for everyone?  Probably not.  I equate it to asking which is the perfect car for everyone: Ford, Chevy, Honda, Toyota?  They all have their strengths.  You go find the one that works for YOU!

The workflow system is not one the same scale as my marriage- a lifetime commitment. Instead, it is a tool to use to accomplish the goals before me. It should work for me, not the other way around.

So I am not going to put forward a list of my new apps and solutions as the ultimate workflow.  That would be just more noise in an already noisy conversation. A simple Google search will tell you the field is already crowded. I’ll say it again: You go find the one that works for YOU!  Besides, I’ll probably reinvent mine before next season anyway!


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