How to get from this:
1. Fix your space. This is a serious point. You need to aesthetically discover where you like to work and how you are most productive. Fixing your space involves asking yourself questions about whether you prefer to stand or sit; are more productive in the morning, afternoon, evening, or night; and prefer looking at a blank wall, a favorite picture, or an outdoor view. If you need an environment completely free of distractions, then find a closet where you and your computer can commune in peace. If you need people, find a good local coffee shop where you can spend a few hours.¹ Study gurus will say a proper habitat for production is a chair and desk with good lighting as few distractions as possible. Do not let them influence you too heavily. I know I am most productive between 4:30 a.m. - 3:00 p.m., and between those hours I know I need an outside view, mood lighting, to sit on the couch, NPR radio playing at a moderately low level in the background, and something to drink next to me at all times. Know what you need your space to be. Make that space a reality.
2. Do not neglect your computer backup. This is also a serious point. I hear too many stories of computers crashing, laptops stolen or smashing to bits on the hard linoleum of airport flooring, and lost jump drives. I wrote a warning before in this blog and I write it again: your life is inside your computer so don't play Russian Roulette with it. Backing up your computer is easy. Get an external hard drive and use it at least once a month. Set an infinite appointment on your Google calendar. Keep the external drive someplace safe. Never take the external drive containing your computer backup on the road with you. For current projects, use a cloud to store interview questions, survey templates, and protocols. Also use the cloud to back up recently completed interviews or other recently obtained data before you leave the collection site.² Protect your data. Do not leave your research work to the mercy of the unpredictable and sometimes cruel technology fates.
3. Organize your computer files. I may be pushing my OCP on my readers on this point, but it is actually my main reason for writing this blog post. I believe in the importance of having an organized computer. I can't tell you the number of desktop computer screens I have seen that are a cluttered mass of computer folders and documents, but it's been too, too many. I can tell you my emotions move from pleasantly calm to kill-me-now! in a matter of seconds when I cannot find a document or work with someone who has to open five or more files before s/he finds the relevant document. Do yourself and your colleagues a favor and organize your files. Organizing your files saves time, frustration, and working relationships. Here are some tips to get you started:
- Devise a standard naming scheme. Having more than one file named, for example, Smith.docx is neither helpful nor logical. Having multiple files of the same name makes searching your computer for files more difficult and risks misplacing the latest version of a draft or an important document. The same pitfalls are encountered with documents named Smith1.pdf, Smith2.pdf, etc. Figure out a way of naming your documents that allows you enough information to be informed about the contents of the file. I usually use the following:
[Author Last Name] + [Year Authored] + [Abbreviated Title of Piece] + [Source]
Example A: Mitchell.2016.When_worlds_collide.Jrnl_of_Extraordinary_Rsrch.docx
Example B: McDonald_Mitchell_Elliott.2015.Granito_de_arena.Jrnl_of_Extraordinary_Rsrch.docx
Words in the file name are separated by underlines to meet PDF file name requirements. If the file is a chapter of a book, you can add page or chapter numbers. The scheme can be modified as needed, such as working on drafts of an article for publication or a book chapter.
The key to organizing research is knowing you never want to discard information. I may discard a paragraph in the second working draft of an article I may want to reinsert in the fourth working draft. A naming scheme helps save previous drafts for easy recall. I use the general guideline that a new day begins a new draft ensuring properly tracked changes. (I am not religious about the guideline often ignoring the guideline in favor of common sense.) It's unnecessary to keep all of your drafts forever, but only keep them until the article passes the publication review process and is on its way to press.
In creating a naming scheme remember to keep the scheme simple and straight forward. Also remember, there is a learning curve to using a naming scheme; however, the more you use your naming scheme, the easier it becomes to use.
- Keep everything in folders. Get everything off your desktop. Use your file manager. Name your computer folders in a manner that best makes sense to you for easy recovery. Folders are like an outline, so keep the titles of main folders general moving toward more specific titles as you move into the file tree. Here is the set up of my computer folders highlighting the folder containing my research projects:
Microsoft word allows you to create shortcuts to the "Favorites" menu bar to the far left of your file manager window. If you make your current research project(s) one of the "Favorites," you do not have to click through the file tree but rather go directly to your work. You can then remove the folder from "Favorites" when you complete the project.
Keep all information related to one project in one file and create subfolders within the project as needed. The more you use your file organization method, the easier it becomes to use, and the faster needed files are found.
- Create a library for your journal articles. I understand researchers use Endnote, Mendeley, or some other reference manager. If you are proficient with reference managers, you are a superstar and do not need advice on organizing journal articles. I know many researchers who do not know how to use reference managers or how use them proficiently, so this advice is for those seeking an alternative. A journal article library looks like this:
Next, create topic folders. These folders contain all the articles used in your research on a specific project.
The biggest inconvenience to this filing method is that you must remember to cross-reference the lists. Cross-referencing means the article will always be saved in two places: in the alphabetical folders and the proper topic folder. This ensures that (a) you have all of your articles in one place for a project so you do not have to keep locating the article in the alphabetized folders, and (b) you can find a seminal article or an article you used for a research project last year even if you do not remember the project you used the article for. I re-emphasize the more you use your file organization method, the easier it becomes to use. I can testify the amount of time searching for articles decreases substantially when you have your articles organized. If this seems like too much work for you, there is the beauty of a reference manager when used proficiently.
¹ If you are spending time at a coffee shop, buy something and leave a tip. These owners and workers must earn a living and you are taking up profitable customer space. A decent rule to follow: buy something (with tip) every 1.5 - 2 hours. If you can't afford to be decent, please be considerate and stay at home.
² There is discussion about the use of online cloud storage and ensuring confidentiality of research participants and data. A researcher should be aware of these conversations, understand the risks, and minimize those risks. I personally use cloud storage because it is a safe backup when I am conducting a full day of research interviews or research away from my space. For example, I can load my research database to the cloud and have it available to me when I get to the library and again when I get back home. Interviews and data containing personal information inhabit a grey area of cloud use. I rely on the cloud to back up the information obtained before I leave each interview or data collection site pulling the collected data from the cloud immediately upon returning home. Especially when I am conducting field research outside the U.S., a cloud, to me, is simply a more secure and confidential storage solution.