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Notes from a digital notebook: Part 2, writing and organizing ideas

Randall F. Clemens

In my last post, I discussed the use of Evernote as a tool to store and organize fieldnotes. For this blog, I transition to the writing process. 

I am fortunate to have mounds of digital data from my dissertation. I also have a list of papers that I am either planning or authoring. Although I enjoy working on and thinking about a number of projects at once—which has become a prerequisite for 21st century academics—coupled with different topics for teaching as well as readings for current or future projects, the diversity puts my mind at danger of becoming a schizophrenic jumble. For instance, last week, I worked on a book about social media, a conference talk about ethics and representation, and a paper and prospectus about neighborhood capital. Most of the topics overlap in some way or another; however, they also include vastly different literature bases and ideas. As a result, I spend a lot of time exploring answers to one pressing question: How do I balance a number of projects and stay productive? 

As I mentioned in a recent blog, time management is key. I use Google Calendar to organize days into blocks for research, teaching, and service. From Monday to Friday, I try to allot at least four hours a day to writing. Even though I am not a morning person—by any means—I schedule the process from around 6:00 to 10:30 a.m., when I have the least distractions. On the two days a week when I do not teach, lesson plan, attend meetings, or conduct research, I return to writing in the afternoon. I use weekends to work on odds and ends like blogs and proposals as well as papers or chapters in need of extra time. I use a work plan to track the number of hours and pages I should write during a week. To my fellow hyperactive (and planning-phobic) researchers, none of this organization comes naturally; however, the process creates some order from messiness.

In addition to organization and planning, another key to success is idea management. To that end, note-taking apps provide a useful tool to document and organize multiple projects. I use Evernote; however, numerous apps exist.

Note-taking apps improve both access to and organization of ideas. I think about projects throughout the day. While driving, I get an idea for an introduction. While walking to class, I remember to insert a statistic into an article. While reading, I find a useful quote for a work in progress. Just before bed, I stumble upon a series of worthwhile websites. In the past, those ideas and found goodies ended in scribbled notes and emails to myself. While that system worked, it was hardly efficient. Thankfully, technology has intervened.

Just as with fieldnotes, Evernote helps organize and simplify multiple forms of data and thinking into one user-friendly, searchable hub.